White Friends, this is difficult and constant work that we’re doing, that we must do, and continue to do. How can we really know how deeply we’ve been indoctrinated into this culture of white supremacy until we know it? And then know it more deeply? And then again. It’s not like a Bandaid that you rip off, and deal with the sting, and then everything’s fine. It’s layer after layer after layer.
And yes, it’s exhausting. And yes, it’s painful. But we have to do this work. Now. And always. It’s exhausting and painful for BIPOC folks to have to deal with microaggressions and explicit racism and systemic racism and inadvertent racism every day. We have to do this work. And keep doing it.
There is so much to learn on the way: new ways to articulate powerful ideas, new ways of exploring our own difficult feelings, new ways to see people and the world, new ways to experience the history of all of us, new ways to become more fully human.
I don’t quote many Bible verses here, but there’s one that fits pretty perfectly in this rhetorical moment. It’s in Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world. Instead, be transformed by the continual renewing of your mind, that you may discern the will of the Holy One: what is the good and acceptable and perfect.” The patterns of white supremacy in this (US) part of the world are institutionalized and powerful. It’s going to take some intentional and constant work to break and transform those patterns.
If you hear a new thing that challenges and unsettles you–about white supremacy, or privilege or fragility, or about taking a new look at US history and ideals–I urge and challenge you (me, us) to not begin in defensiveness and argument, but to simply sit quietly a moment, and ask yourself (myself, ourselves) how it applies, how the integrating of this idea might be transformational and renewing. And then begin to rip off that bandaid.
There are doorways all around us, leading us to places where we can be more fully human and humane, and right now there are constant opportunities to see them, to walk through them, to learn and to grow. Let’s join the Good Work, beginning with ourselves.
Gratitude List: 1. So many good and challenging things to learn. 2. Watching a thunderstorm from the shelter of the pavilion by the River. 3. Good exercise. Moving my body. Healthy, limber, and strong: That’s my mantra for the summer. (It includes a lot of aches and pains on the way, but they’re the good ones.) 4. Toads. They’re such wise and ancient folk. 5. Finishing projects
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“You are a pure Soul in darkened soil.” —Rumi
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” ―Helen Keller
“What we need is here.” —Wendell Berry
“Million-to-one chances…crop up nine times out of ten.” ―Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites
“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.” —André Gide
“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” —Ms. Frizzle
“We stand guard over works of art, but species representing the work of aeons are stolen from under our noses.” —Aldo Leopold
“It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a half-brick in the path of the bicycle of history.” ―Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites
“Hilta laughed like someone who had thought hard about Life and had seen the joke.” ―Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites
Monday’s Muses: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” —Robert Frost
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet in order to learn how to do it.” —Vincent van Gogh
“Have you been to jail for justice? Then you’re a friend of mine.” —Anne Feeney
“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.” —Naomi Shulman
“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” —Maya Angelou
“Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.” —Louise Erdrich (via Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog)
“This is the season of owl, of winds that howl through the hollow, the season of the sharp bark of the fox, voicing longing in the bosque.
This is the season of bitter, of fierce flakes feathering cheeks and hands, the season of crystal, crisp and cutting, of beauty that will slice you open.
This is the season of rising, thin and pale, into the dawn air, but also of burrowing, huddling deep into the layers that hold you.
Walk the thin line of today with care, one foot precisely placed, the other. . .
Perhaps you will notice, when you raise your eyes for a moment, how the line curves out ahead of you, bringing you always back home.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (1/13/16)
“Love the earth and sun and animals, Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, Stand up for the stupid and crazy, Devote your income and labor to others… Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book; Dismiss whatever insults your own soul; And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” —Walt Whitman
“In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.
“The unconscious wants truth, as the body does. The complexity and fecundity of dreams come from the complexity and fecundity of the unconscious struggling to fulfill that desire.” —Adrienne Rich
Gratitude List: 1. This Jungian Life podcast. The one on Shame, in particular. Reminder that finding delight in each other combats shame. Reminder to examine the ways I live by shame instead of by belonging. 2. I think I am ready for the new classes to start. I love the three classes I am teaching this semester: Speech, AP Composition (College Composition I), and Creative Writing. 3. Yesterday’s lovely weather–practicing archery with the kid. 4. Remembering: I don’t have to be perfect. Just good enough. And me–just me. 5. Church fellowship meals.
Some of the things I have learned, or internalized more deeply, this week, in the wake of the clashing of worlds at the Lincoln Memorial last week:
* I am quick to jump into the dogpile, to join the mob. We think of mobs as being misguided bigots destroying the objects of their hatred, but there are also vigilante mobs that take justice into their own hands, destroying those who are rightly deserving of justice before reasoning justice itself can take place. And this makes the original crime scene so very messy. I think the internet this week has been a little like a vigilante mob, tearing into those boys before reasoning justice had a chance to take place. I might never be the one in the mob who yells death threats or speaks of punching and hitting rude children, but my own energy was certainly part of that mob, and I feel a little sullied by my egging on of the ones at the center.
* I am not ashamed of my rage at the obvious racism, only at my part in the dogpile.
* I think one of the reasons vigilante mobs form IRL and in the virtual world is because we don’t trust reasoning justice to intervene. In the current political climate, with our awareness of the terrible injustices committed by our government toward families trying to enter our country, with our own knowledge of the moral rot at the center of our administration, it is only natural that the mob feel like we are the only justice available when boys seem to be taking cues from our bigoted president to disrespect an elder with a drum.
* I think perceptions are at the center of this story. Those who watched the first video and saw (like myself) aggressive, chanting, jeering boys were not wrong, exactly, but we were not privy to the whole story. Those who watched the longer video and saw a slight difference in how the scene played out were not wrong, exactly, but we were not privy to the whole story. And mostly, I think it’s really important to look at Mr. Phillips’ perceptions. Viewing the second video caused people to question his veracity, but if you were to come upon a large group of mostly white boys wearing MAGA gear chanting and dancing to their sports chants in the direction of a small group of black men, what assumptions would you make? Who would you see as the aggressor?
* The Red Hat and Hatred: We’re that divided. If you support this president, please understand that it’s no longer as simple as us having a disagreement about how this country should be run. We who question his competency as president don’t just think he makes bad policy. We see a dangerous bigot who is not only racist and misogynist himself, but who brings out those things in his supporters. To us, MAGA hats are declarations of one’s own racism and misogyny. Red hat has come to signify hatred. Yes, we’re triggered, but we have reasons to be, and we need you to try to understand why, or we begin to question your intentions as well.
* Sports chants. I am not a sports fan, so perhaps I am not the person to discuss this. Or maybe that makes me the perfect outsider to explain what I see. Sports chanting is aggressive. Sports are rivalries and competitions, and while good sporting behavior is often taught and learned in the context of sporting competitions, the chanting and dancing often moves past simple support for one’s team into primal aggression. Whatever adult said yes to those boys responding to taunting by doing their sports chants was irresponsible and thoughtless. And watching the videos of past sports events at Covington Catholic, it becomes pretty clear that these boys took their chants to a fever pitch of aggression, and aggression which included clear racist markers. I struggle to believe their claims of innocence of the knowledge of the implications of wearing blackface.
* More on perceptions: Did the boys perceive themselves to be acting out of racism there by the Lincoln Memorial? I’m not sure we can say. But I do think, either way, that we can say it was a racist incident. Yes, they were provoked. Yes, they were unprepared. Yes, they were woefully and unconscionably un-chaperoned. But they were acting with all the signs and markers of completely unquestioned white privilege. I might be working to eradicate the racist biases in my own soul, but when I act unconsciously out of my racial biases, then I am being racist.
* Even when (especially when) stories are more complex than they appear on the surface, there are no two sides to racism, no two sides to disrespect for elders.
* Where were the chaperones? I think if we bring a reasoning sense of justice to this situation, the boys certainly need to be held accountable for their actions, but if they’re the only ones who receive opprobrium in this situation, then injustice has been done to them as well, and the real culprits are left to continue ignoring their culpability: the teachers and parents, the school administration, and the chaperones on this adventure. These children have not been taught to question their privilege. They’ve been taught to lean into it, to revel in it, even. They’ve been encouraged to take on the mantle of wealthy white patriarchy. They’re being groomed to carry on the traditions of powerful white men controlling the religious and financial and political institutions of the world. The real culprits, in my opinion, are the ones who are grooming them. Real justice will only be done when the invisible adults are held accountable.
* And the moment I point my finger at those people, I feel a ripple of a shock wave in my own direction. While my own teaching and parenting are geared, to the best of my ability, at tearing down those structures, at getting the young people of my life to examine their privileges and their biases, I know that I, too, work out of my own biases and my own privilege. We who parent and teach and mold the next generation have a great weight of responsibility. And the boys of Covington Catholic, and especially their invisible chaperones, draw that into high relief.
* Addendum: I am so tired of that picture. I feel so manipulated. I feel confused. I feel sullied. I feel the continuing outrage that flows from me, through those boys, to the president. I am so tired of that picture. But: It is a mirror. No matter who put it up, no matter their intentions, no matter the unclarity of the boy’s own intentions and perceptions, it is a mirror. It is a mirror. Can I dare to keep looking into it?
Gratitude List: 1. Mirrors. The mirror of Nathan Phillips and his drum. The mirror, ugly as it is, of the Covington Catholic boys–I will never learn to question my own privilege if I don’t have to confront it in the ugly mirror of my own assumptions. 2. The holy blue of winter 3. Being able to lay down the weight of first semester and focus on the work of second semester 4. How the cats come up and gently greet me throughout the day when I am at home. 5. Silence and solitude.
May we walk in Awareness.
“Like water, be gentle and strong. Be gentle enough to follow the natural paths of the earth and strong enough to rise up and reshape the world.” ―Brenda Peterson
“Tyrants fear the poet.” —Amanda Gorman, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate
In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” —Jonas Mekas
“Are you enhancing your power to discern the difference between rash risks motivated by fear and smart gambles driven by authentic intuition?” —Rob Brezsny
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. . . . Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. . . . The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.” ―Ursula Le Guin
“I wonder how the world would be different if we grew down?” —Someone in my House, a few years ago
Today is the feast day of St. Hildegard of Bingen. If I have a patron saint, it would be her. She loved music and art, herbalism and stones. She was mystic, poet, doctor, composer, artist, and theologian. I’ll include some of her quotations in the mix below.
Here, to begin the curated quotations of the day, is something I wrote last year about writing poems, and then a poem I wrote about Sadness.
“I feel like I want a disclaimer before I write a poem about sadness. I realize that my life has been free of the iron grip of sadness that many people experience through depression or trauma or deep, recurring grief. I wrote this poem because I am trying to be Rumi’s GuestHouseand welcome in any and all who come my way, to learn from them what they would teach me. Sometimes I am a poet sitting at a pool, fishing out a single word at a time. Other days, I sit beside the stream, and the poem jumps right out into my lap and only needs to be tidied up a bit before it’s ready for the page. This is one of the latter.”
She’s a strange guest, is Sadness.
She knocks on the door
and when I open it
she turns her face away, says,
“You probably shouldn’t invite me in.”
But when I close the door,
she comes in anyway,
seeping in around the edges
and standing with her back to the wall.
And then she grows.
When I look directly at her, she dissipates
into the indigo shadows,
and all I can see are her eyes,
full of grief, full of resignation.
Sadness. It’s hard to know her, really,
to understand what she wants of me.
Sometimes she comes in as a cold wind
and I feel my senses tingle with the approach of her
before the world goes numb in her silence.
“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
“The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ―Ram Dass
“If you spell HA backwards, you get AH! Put them together and you get AHA!” ―Jeff Raught (I think I got the quotation right)
“Like billowing clouds,
Like the incessant gurgle of the brook,
The longing of the spirit can never be stilled.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
The Red Wheel Barrow
by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
“She is so bright and glorious that you cannot look at her face or her garments for the splendor with which she shines. For she is terrible with the terror of the avenging lightning, and gentle with the goodness of the bright sun; and both her terror and her gentleness are incomprehensible to humans…. But she is with everyone and in everyone, and so beautiful is her secret that no person can know the sweetness with which she sustains people, and spares them in inscrutable mercy.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
Gratitude List: 1. I keep learning new things: There is so much to give away, to let go, before I know I have enough.
2. Patience. I have enough Patience, if I can find it behind that stack of Busy-ness that keeps getting in the way.
3. Wisdom. I know I have enough Wisdom here, but it keeps getting lost behind the boxes full of Knowledge and Know-it-allness.
4. Sleep. I can get enough of that, if I just work at it. Sleep is such hard work lately, but it’s better than insomnia.
5. Feathers. What does a feather mean?
“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” –Rumi
“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
~ Khalil Gibran
“If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu
“In a moment of pure frustration today, I realized that there is no angry way to say ‘bubbles.'” –Anonymous
“God is an artist. It invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. It has no real style, it just goes on trying other things.” ~Pablo Picasso
Gratitude List: 1. Yesterday afternoon, a monarch making lazy loops through the echinacea patch behind the old classroom building at school.
2. The day before, a pair of goldfinches twittering in the same patch of echinacea.
3. A very pleasant (if a little hot) first day of school. All those thoughtful, shining faces!
4. My thoughtful and compassionate colleagues
5. Love and Learning. Love and Learning.