MIA: my tears

Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.

I no longer cry. It is not a blessing. It is, I believe, a kind of malady of my psyche. Instead of crying at yet another body blow–the slaughter of friends and lovers celebrating in a bar in Orlando, the drowning of families and children in the Mediterranean Sea, or the smug entrenched immorality of Congresspeople voting against gun control, or any other routine daily cataclysm–I stand and absorb, let it hit the soft organs beneath my ribs, my heart, lungs, and stomach.

The cows from my Iowa childhood did that. They stood in cold pelting rain, heads down, absorbing the blows, even of sleet and hail. They gathered in a circle, heads in the center, and waited it out.

I am the elephant mother that lost her baby. I am not the baby that lost her mother. That is panic, confusion, bafflement, devastation. I am the mother who knows she may have another baby, who knows what dying is, who knows the cycle of birth, being, dying, and who knows the importance of continuing even through grief.

It worries me that I cannot cry. Rationally, I know crying is natural and a relief, a cleansing of priorities, a showing to yourself of what matters to you if you did not already know.

Because I do not cry does not mean I don’t feel. It means that if I begin, I do not know when the sobbing will end. Grief could knock the feet out from underneath me, deplete me, break my heart. It could take weeks to recover.

I am not alone in this. Perhaps you and I are the same. I believe many of us are the same, feeling pain but losing faith in the value of crying yet again, or afraid to start. Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.

Perhaps like you, I fear crying could leave me vulnerable. Blurry-eyed and exposed, could I protect myself or others from continuing harm? Am I not counted on to rise to the occasion? Get the others out? Be a pillar during chaos? Signal a colleague I’m with them when they are frightened or when they are brave. Be the sanctuary?

Why doesn’t President Obama have these fears? He stands there, truly exposed. A mensch with tears on his cheeks. I stare at him and my definition of bravery changes right then and there. I understand I have a weakness, not that of crying but that of not crying.

Yet, I cannot.

That is not completely true. Tears stung my eyes three times in the last year, each when I thought of women I know, or do not know, who are truly suffering and I can do nothing to help. A Syrian friend made three attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Greece before she made it and then she walked most of the rest of the way to Amsterdam to make a future for her teenage daughters who will follow. A mother in Orlando spoke of her beloved son among the dead. A Palestinian student (on video) was shot until dead in Israel because she had a knife and was as dangerous as a butterfly.

Yes, it is for the women my eyes sting. I don’t know all the reasons why but it contains the element that I know how to help these women, how to hold them, how to stand up to their oppressors, how to listen to them and sometimes give them words for their pain. This is not hubris, it is the knowing of how I work in crises and of my experience of more than a decade with women around the world. I could help them if I were there, but I am not. I cannot hold them, I cannot make the world change enough for them soon enough.

I did help earlier with women in Palestine, Afghanistan, Burundi, Turkey, Argentina, Bosnia, Israel, and more. I let them cry and reveal horrors and find their way back to plans and hope. I absorbed their body blows and did not cry then because they needed me not to cry. They needed me as a witness.

Now I need to witness flowers, and friends, and poetry, and fortitude, kindness, and joy. I need my grandchildren’s laughter, jokes, and questions. I need to know good people come together and nudge each other to act upon their goodness. I need us. I NEED US. I need to cry at beauty if I cannot at hate and violence.

I need to cry in gratefulness that you exist, and I write all of this for you so we become more aware of if we cry or not, and how that affects us, our actions, perceptions, attitudes, and happiness.

I may cry now. Or next week. Or perhaps the next.

Trump: our snake charmer

. . . he is pathological and has succumbed to the hate and rage born from his sense of inferiority and his deepest knowledge that he is a fraud and cheat. I believe his dark side is in control. He would be the last to know.

I have not written a blog in some time because I am focused, as a woman of a certain age, on writing a memoir. It takes up almost all of the space in the Puzzling Things Out part of my mind. Yet life continues around me, annoyingly so, and it has been disturbing.

None of us can pretend when we see evil and ignorance gathering that it doesn’t affect us, cause us to fear, to be amazed such things are happening. How many people are saying, “I never expected this in my lifetime”?

Pundits are having their say, and in the process reveal their wisdom or their calculations on how to be provocative and increase their media face time and their audiences. Some of these pundits, and many of my friends on Facebook, are far better writers than I am. Perhaps not in depth, but in words and information. It is intimidating.

Yet, my forte is how things work inside of humans on the personal level, so I venture out because it is time. My audience is small, and mostly liberal, and mostly with advanced degrees. If you are not in these categories, I welcome you and ask you to stay with me.

Let’s get to it. We are watching an uber-narcissistic con-man call up the snakes inside people. He sings them songs that mesmerize them, that tell them it is okay—natural, brave, and right—to hate and it is good to be violent against those you hate. He has vast circles of adoration that increase daily and allow him to feel he is a demi-god, answerable to no one and not to truth. He has his followers and that is enough truth for him.

I do not believe he is a carnival barker who takes cynical pleasure in toying with naïve people or scaring them with horror houses. I believe he is pathological and has succumbed to the hate and rage born from his sense of inferiority and his deepest knowledge that he is a fraud and cheat. I believe his dark side is in control. He would be the last to know.

Think about it. This is a man with the goofiest hair in the world and he doesn’t seem to realize it. This is delusion.

I’m not yet comparing him to Hitler, but I can’t help but think of that mustache that stayed on throughout the Holocaust.

Of course, the real issue is not a singular madman, but that he has watered and fed the possibilities in humankind to rise and hate en masse. How did so many of us as a people become susceptible to a snake charmer?

The mixed blessing of democracy is that it allows the worst to come out in people as well as the best. Pandering to fear-filled conservatives, Bible-belt prejudices, censoring of scientific truth, gun-toting urban cowboys and cowgirls, and xenophobia in order to get votes has come home to roost.

We have a large portion of the population who are educated by television reality shows and violence and Fox news.

We have a large portion of the population who gain their sense of power by open carry.

We have a large portion of the population who do not travel, learn other languages, study other religions, or read books.

We have a large portion of the population who are under-employed or trying to survive on a shameful minimum wage.

We have a large portion of the population who feel humiliated, correctly or incorrectly, by most of you who will read this.

We have a large portion of the population who are ready to believe someone selling them snake oil, someone even paying enough attention to them to sell them snake oil.

Is it too late to change this? Of course not, because it cannot be. Those of us with more influence need to spend more time caring and acting for mutual good and less time lamenting and accusing others of not being so brilliant as we are, tra la.

This is the time to acknowledge these people, to look into root causes, to expose Donald Trump for the malicious opportunist he is. This is the time to reach across our neighborhoods and our country, to invest dramatically in education and truth in media, to bring everyone into a democracy that is fair and equal, and to broaden lives and opportunities.

It is not only the right thing to do but we need to immune our democracy not only against people like Donald Trump but against people like Ted Cruz. He is even more scary because evil has solidified inside him. In Trump it still whirls like nauseous gases.

These people drink their own Kool-Aid. It is a concoction that makes them pompous, manipulative, power hungry, delusional, and dangerous, especially to those so looking for someone to help them that they cannot discern when they are being duped, when they are considered only to be a power base for personal power.

If we as a democratic people do not support and provide comprehensive education, financial opportunities, truth and depth in media, and exposure to other cultures, those of us who receive the least will continue to be susceptible to the people who would harm them the most.

Is it not a prerequisite of democracy that we care for all of our citizens out of common decency and mutual respect? Democracy is a responsibility. If we privileged do not come out of our comfort zone to help those with few comforts, we will have reneged on that responsibility.

 

CUBA: Art & Soul

The beating pulse of artistic creativity permeates everything in Cuba. I am not talking about souvenir art like papier-mâché 1950’s cars in chartreuse, red, and royal blue to be used as desktop ornaments, or Cuban flags or Che t-shirts. I am talking of art that transcends the bounds of the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary, art that draws back the veil.

A US citizen can still only enter Cuba from the US with a US-vetted educational group. My group was mainly Jungian analysts. I am not a Jungian analyst though I have my visions, and was as excited as the Jungians about the symbolism and archetypes of Cuban Christianity that overlay the African religions.

Sightings of Jamaya (Ee-mai-YA; also spelled Jamalla), the Cuban personification of the archetype of the Black Madonna, goddess of land and sea, led to ripples of excitement in our group. Her flowing robes, her golden aura, her white baby.

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It rained every day except one, but even on the rainy days we went singly, in duos, threes and fours, or as a group to museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, and concerts, or strolled through old Havana, Cienfuegos, or Trinidad. We struggled to grasp the dichotomy to our Western minds—Jungian or not—between the vibrancy of the art, colors, tastes, and sounds with the dilapidated buildings, meager goods, and government repression.

I became obsessed with the question: Is creativity expressed most radiantly by indomitable people under duress? Perhaps because it is the carrier of life itself?

Even the most “transcending” art I saw, including of Jamaya, was infused with humanity, with human emotions, gestures, and instincts—humans merging with animals, Jesus sitting on a chair after the Crucifixion looking very worried.christ for blog
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Sometime a wry sense of humor, or not, speaks to the current political situation. In the center courtyard of the magnificent National Museum of Fine Art in Havana is a sculpture that is a masterpiece of ambiguity. A rusted iron smoke stack rises as a steeple out of a small Monopoly-style church. Sitting at the top is Christ on a cloud, seemingly all of smoke. As my Jungian analyst friend Jean Shinoda Bolen said, “Holy smoke!”Jesus on smoke stack.

Yet, is it a write-off of religion as nothing but smoke? Or an embracing of the Christ spirit as generated by believers? Or something else?

Christianity has come back in force in Cuba, but remains vaguely frowned upon by some. Is this sculpture debunking religion or showing the tenacity of belief in something beyond the tangible, perhaps even manifesting something beyond the tangible? We went to a church service. The place was rocking.

We were told that Cubans have freedom of speech (and, thus, of artistic expression) but they don’t have freedom after speech. That is, for the most part you can say what you feel and think, though it might need to be somewhat camouflaged, but you cannot ask others to join you in a movement and you cannot do active protest. This demarcation holds social protest in place, supported by years of masterful maneuvering by Fidel that makes most Cubans feel grateful to him and the on-going government for what they receive, including full free health care, an excellent free education up through doctoral degrees, and government institutions that support advanced art education in painting, sculpture, dance, and music.

The poverty line has been lifted way above where it was before the revolution and the people seem happy, though income discrepancies are rampant. Hotel workers, through tips, earn more than medical doctors. (Cuban joke: A man tells a stranger he is a bellboy. His wife clarifies, “He has delusions of grandeur. He’s really a doctor.”)

To continue: housing is, by and large, very decrepit, and luxury goods are not available. There are no large grocery stores, or, it seems, large stores of any kind.
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There are many car repair service stations, but you have the feeling every Cuban male has learned how to repair cars with tin cans and wire. The cars themselves are works of art.

Our hotel had a grand marble lobby and wonderful restaurants. Still, the light fell out of the ceiling of my bathroom and crashed in the sink, my coffeemaker didn’t work, and my curtains were missing a third of their hooks, and the apartment elevators were so slow I used the stairs from the fifth floor. We rejoiced with the general manager—a woman—the day the embargo on parts from the US was lifted so the elevators, and hopefully many other things, could be properly repaired. That said, the hotel spaces were filled with the best art—beautiful, creative, whimsical, celebratory, exquisitely painted—I have ever seen in a hotel anywhere.

Perhaps this containment of artists in a stratum of life where they can express themselves fully only through their art is like a greenhouse. The art is required to burst fully open, ignoring deprivations, expressing the world of beauty and so much more precisely because it does not have access to what is beyond the greenhouse. Then again, it could just be that Cuba is warm and sunny.

Surely it is the “warm and sunny” that has fueled the exuberant music that has supported Cubans throughout their history, but what blew me away was the choir Cantores De Cienfuegos directed by Honey Moreira. choir for blog, bestWe had a private concert with this a cappella chorus of angels!

They have won international contests, which seems beside the point when you are lifted in their embrace. (You can hear them on YouTube to get an approximation of this extraordinary experience of musicianship.) 

The last day we ate at a privately-owned restaurant that had three large prominently displayed paintings of Fidel Castro. On first look, even second look, they seemed simply to be photo-realistic paintings. Yet something was “off.”

Fidel tongue copyLooking closer at the profile view, I saw behind the straggly moustache that Fidel’s tongue appeared to be sticking out like that of a silly yapper. Perhaps it was that he has a strange lower lip. Perhaps the artist was leaving the question open?hands for blog fidel to crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

In the study of his hands, I realized his left hand is in his sleeve as though he has a trick up there and the thumb of his left hand has traces of red, like blood, on it. But then again, his right fingers have the same red. What to make of that? Nothing or something?

In the final painting the viewer sees Castro’s back with his arms raised before a crowd. His left hand points further to the left. He is exhorting his audience, which the viewer sees as faceless blobs as, the artist seems to be saying, Fidel saw them also.

Is this an artist “speaking” his truth?

Our group is gravely concerned about what will happen when the international hotels and luxury stores arrive, when Americans arrive by the tens of thousands, when ceiling lights no longer crash into the sink, curtains hang right, and new cars arrive.

I’m not sure the Cubans will know what hit them. How will their exuberant humanity hold against the onslaught? What will save Cuba from becoming Miami?

Perhaps there will be help from Yamaya who protects land and sea or Jesus who rises out of the ashes, but I suspect it will be up to the Cubans to save themselves and protect their humanity through their warmth, ingenuity, and creativity. For this, they do have one more god to help them, Elegua the Trickster, a direct import from Africa.

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Elegua is a child, either male or female. Here she is in the all-white dress of the Santeria sect of Christianity, sitting in the entry room of a small temple to Jamalla nestled between shops in Trinidad de Cuba.

Elegua should not be confused with childishness. She is powerful and uses wiles to make things right. I place my bets on her ingenuity. I place my bets on Cubans. I place my bets on art. It matters. Cuba is a triumph of creativity and humanity over circumstances. We have much to learn from her.

Strange Gods and Manifest Destiny

Several years ago a woman served me apple pie from a recipe of her cousins in Chicago, the descendants of her great-aunts and great-uncles who fled to America after yet one more Russian pogrom. She left more recently, only a decade or so ago. She is a Jewish settler on the West Bank. She explained to me that the land around us was all part of Greater Israel promised by God to the Jews. She returned home to a place she had never been.

As she spoke, my mind and senses disassociated from each other. The sweet smells and tastes, the kindness, and her patient sincerity in explaining this God-given truth, did not fit for me with the root meanings of her words, i.e. this land is a Jewish right that trumps the legitimacy of the non-Jews who have lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years, so we are reclaiming it.

She wished no harm to the Palestinians. In fact, she wanted to join them in one state. They could even fly their own flag if they wished, though they wouldn’t be allowed to vote, of course, or run structures that would govern their lives. When she saw my perplexity, she added, “At least not at first.” That is, they would be disenfranchised second-class citizens on their own land, which would be called “Israel.” That the land had been called “Palestine” for two thousand years had no substantive meaning to her. “If you read the Torah you would know . . .” she said, that Greater Israel extended even into Jordan and Lebanon.

Manifest Destiny is a dangerous concept built on myths of entitlement.

In the name of Manifest Destiny, northern Europeans decimated the native populations in North America, and the Spaniards and Portuguese did the same in South America. Pox in blankets. Death marches. Death as slaves in gold mines. Betrayals. Confinement on barren lands. Outright slaughter. Separation of children from parents for indoctrination. But, of course, the white man is superior. We are entitled to be savages.

Combine Manifest Destiny with self-serving human distortion of the teachings of a group’s chosen god and you have apologias for mass brutality. We live in this world now. The fanatical fringes of the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism – grant themselves free rein to murder and oppress because they have created their god in their image, with their prejudices, greed, and lust for power.

God, whatever It may be, has nothing to do with war, hate, and land-grabbing. If such a sentient Lording-Over-Us Being exists, there is no way He/She/It could have created a world in which love exists so bountifully while also advocating slaughter – or poverty, prejudice, hate, or dispossession.

To be plain, Israel was promised to no one. America – neither south nor north – was promised to no one. The counties Germany claimed during WWII were not part of an Aryan right. The nations Russia claims under Putin are not an inherent part of a greater Russia. Neither India nor Pakistan have a heaven-endowed right to Kashmir. China does not have a Manifest Destiny to claim Tibet. The clashing interests and claims in some nations in the Middle East and Africa have no justification from any god.

It is a myth. It is all human invention. Whatever Source created and propels an expanding cosmos of more than 10 trillion galaxies – a number used but generally considered a gross underestimation – is not interested in real estate apportioning on earth.

The woman who served me fresh apple pie did so while a guard with a gun sat 8’ away because the law of the settlement required a guard when “outsiders” visited. She saw nothing wrong with her perception that the West Bank was Jewish property. She did not make the connection that the reason a guard was necessary was because her belief might not be heaven blessed. To her it was the highest perception possible. God-given, and, Lord knows, God is above secular rule.

When we create God in our image with our prejudices, our demands to be recognized as superior, and our lusts for control and ownership, we create a petty god. We create excuses not to share, have compassion, or love. The belief that we are an elevated people chosen to follow the dictates of a god we ourselves created tramples “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Syrians are slaughtered, refugees fleeing horrors from their home nations are turned away from other nations, fanatics behead people who don’t follow their beliefs, barrel bombs are dropped on civilians, and gun killings in the US explode in numbers – and are justified.

Living in a commune four decades ago I was taught that if I believed I was God, I was correct because we all are made of whatever God is, but if I believed only I was God, I had gone insane.

I believe this principle expands to: If you believe only you and people like you have the inside track with the Source – call It whatever you care to – that created us, then you are on a path towards harming others, harming the earth itself, justifying your damage, and never coming into full awareness of love, sweetness, and wonder. It is more than a waste, it is a self-imposed cage of insanity.

 

 

Song of Miracles: being here is enough

We each have a song that is our own and that needs protecting from the clang and falseness of the world. When the noise is too loud we cannot hear our own melody, our violins, triangle, bassoon, our cello providing the soul-filled bass.

Many of us idealize the pastoral life, the convent, the walk in the woods – places where we can not only hear ourselves think but can hear our own song, consciously or not. We are refreshed and returned to our inner harmonies through the quiet of meditation.

Some people’s songs are strong enough to hold their own against the roar of the crowd. They even change the melody of the collective. We trust these songs. They inspire us, enlighten and lift us up to actions. They reveal underlying truths of inclusion and caring.

Yet, other people have songs that are also powerful but call us towards prejudice, harm, and power. I don’t believe these are true inner harmonies. They are sirens that cajole us to fear and lure us to greed and exclusion.

Discerning the difference between the song and the siren is harder for some of us than others. It is, perhaps for all of us, the most important struggle of our lives. It determines how we experience life and what we create. It forms our morals, ethics, and beliefs.

Do we recognize truth from fantasy? Generosity from greed? Joy from self-aggrandizement? Love from power?

My own song is delicate these days, a thing of lutes, flutes, and countertenors – a circumstance of physical and emotional issues.

I rest, see new doctors, take new medicines, and contemplate limits. If I listen, I hear my melody again.

Such times make us re-evaluate our history, our friends, our priorities, how kind we are, what we expect of life, if we are doing what we are meant to do, if we care and love adequately.

They make us examine our long-held beliefs, whether of God or personal strength, and prompt us to divest of anything that may be false. I have a ferocious need to strip down to what is, to shed what I may wish, hope, and fantasize. I want to touch rock.

In the process of losing much, some long-held beliefs remain. These include:

Black loam is the stuff of life. Ask any crow diving for worms behind a plow.

Betrayal and abandonment may on rare occasion be necessary, but they are always sins. Whether or not there is a God.

Education should be free as a right of all humans. Brains require the light of knowledge.

People with perfect color-pitch exist just as do people with perfect tone-pitch. And these people suffer when colors clash as much as people with perfect tone-pitch suffer when something is off-key.  

Parking angels exist. But you must believe and must say “thank you.”

No god exists that cares if you believe in Him, Her, It, The. It only matters to you.

Nothing can be explained. Though some things can be known.

Forgiveness requires that you ask less of others than you do of yourself. Annoying, but there it is. No choice.

Everything is energy. From thoughts to stones.

People who died a couple generations back are pretty much forgotten. You are fodder to the future.

There is value in doing good even though you will be forgotten. Love really is the way, the truth, and the light.

Each person is many people. Talk to other’s best selves.

Universal love has great power. But crazy fundamentalists often operate on a different frequency.

Prejudice relies on being willing to lie to yourself. As do a lot of lesser things.

Life is a larger miracle than any God we imagine.

That’s my bottom line: life is a larger miracle than any God we imagine.

Sensing there is a miracle somewhere, we construct an exterior God that watches from someplace else – a God small enough to contain inside our imaginations when the truth is that existence itself is the miracle. This is it. This is the rock that lives.

I want to relish what is right here right now, no fantasies, no compromises, beyond comprehension. I celebrate that perhaps the most I can know of what is beyond me is the song inside me. Ah, yes, where does that come from?

 

Paris, after being with Syrians and Palestinians

I sit by the Seine on a chilly day with a blue sky and languid clouds overhead. I love my new coat, a motley blue and black fuzzy thing, wrapped around me. The river runs grey.

If I do not write today, it feels I may never again. It has been months since I have written as I have sunk deeper and deeper into a vast well of being without expressing that I feared and resisted, even as I knew I, somehow, chose it. I was – wasn’t I? – meant to achieve something with my life, to be not only a contender but at least in the semi-finals.

Instead, I am coming to terms with . . . being. Only that. Not achieving, not defining. It is a state not subject to interpretations, comparisons, or judgements. Out of it something discernible is starting slowly to bloom. It has no relationship to what I expected of myself or how I defined myself. Whether it is a result of a lessening of faculties or a gaining of new ones I have no idea, and I hardly care.

It is a sensuous state that is not actually sexual. Sex? What is sex? Will it ever return to my life? Do I wish its disturbances?

The issue that slightly rankles is not being anyone’s #1. That is different in nature than lying in bed with someone, being held, having dinners together, deciding together which movie to watch. It is having some one person who knows, more or less, where you are and what you are thinking, though I don’t believe anyone knows what someone else is thinking fully, which may be a good thing. Thinking is over-rated.

I lied to you. I am not by the Seine, not yet anyway. I am in an apartment a couple blocks from the Seine with intents to go to the Seine. I described the sky accurately though, and I do love my new coat. See, you believed I was by the Seine even though I wasn’t.

My little deception is nothing like the terrors (damn that word, so sick of it) happening to the women from Syria I was with the last week of August. We were in Turkey. I was one of a team of people giving leadership training and trauma healing to Syrian women in Gazientep, which has hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in it and seems to be the site of the Syrian government in exile. We presented more than 20 male leaders, including the Prime Minister of the government in exile and the President of the National Coalition, with a statement and plan on protection of civilians and we told them they needed the help of women. We brought all these male leaders together in one room for the first time. Everyone needs the help of women to get things done, including other women.

Those women have more to deal with than small lies and the picayune problems afflicting a woman with a new coat and a warm apartment a couple blocks from the Seine. These women had family members murdered because of the work they did and they choose to continue. These women have lost husbands, brothers, fathers, and cousins if not to barrel bombs, snipers, bombs, gas, and drones, then to the irreconcilable differences of being on different sides of the multi-faceted divides.

I wonder if the pharmacy is open Mondays. I need to replace my LeClerc compact (color: Ivoire) that I got a year ago.

I have a new Facebook friend who chastises herself for feeling great pain over her losses when so many people in the world are suffering such larger losses. I don’t know her but I like her and assured her, pulling up remnants of wisdom from that which remains and seems so far away as to be up from my big toes, that a loss is a loss and the Syrian women know this, too. They equated the death of one team member’s brother as a teenager to a car accident to their own losses. They cried together.

I’m reading “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit. It was recommended to me over and over when it came out a couple years ago. Now I’m reading it, safely ensconced in the 6th arrondisement, after having spent last week in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It takes a Jew to tell Jews that Jews have and do perpetrate terrors (damn that word). They did it deliberately and calculatingly in the claiming of Israel and they do it today in Palestine. Mass slaughter then and picking people off daily now, one by one, in the West Bank. Gaza is excluded from the ping here and ping there death. Gazans are, instead, cyclically slaughtered in mass.

Right! I have to remember to call my grand-daughter who, due to a decision by her mother when she was 12, is Jewish. Today is her 7th birthday. 

I had my first up close and personal experience with tear gas 10 days ago – my god, was it just over a week ago? – in Beit Jala alongside Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers were on all the rooftops waiting for our quiet walking protest of 150 or so people to approach their police tape. Not touch it, just get within 10 feet of it. No conversations, no give and take, no telling the marchers to back off. We were instantly bombarded with tear gas, front, back, center, and sides. The intent wasn’t to disperse, it was to punish us for holding any thought that civility and rationality would have any influence on where they build the wall, that nonviolence had a chance against an establishment determined to divide Beit Jala and to appropriate parts of it. Land grabbing is as routine as chewing gum. Take over Palestinian villages that existed for hundreds of years through generation after generation? Did it in 1948, doing it now.

The inside skinny on tear gas is that it is worst than you imagine. Well, worse than I imagined. There was the moment when I thought my lungs would implode and I would die. Then there was the moment when I realized my lungs were not going to implode, nor would I have permanent eye damage and the skin on my face probably would not peel off – all while running uphill for two blocks with a younger male colleague pulling me along, and the fuck moment when I realized the canister in front of me and rolling towards me was going to explode at my feet just as I reached it.

It’s unfortunate the Picasso exhibit at the Grand Palais doesn’t open until the 22nd. I know some more cerebral art critics pay little attention, but, give me a break, the man was a god. An annoying human maybe, but a god. Gods tend to be annoying. 

So Germany is leading the welcoming of Syrian refugees to their country. Isn’t that amazing? Has the middle of the human populace attitudinal bell curve in Europe shifted enough so people in some nations can gather together and act as humanitarians? Our hearts thump louder at the possibility even as I am among those getting pissed as hell at the wealthy Arab states who allow in zero Syrian refugees even as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon stretch and stretch and care.

And the US? When did such a large portion of our populace, and our representatives, become stingy? What, we’re afraid people who are better educated and more resourceful will come in and help our economy and standard of living?

I need more protein. Not eating four legged creatures and finding fowl less and less appealing . . . the health food store at Place de Furstenberg should have tofu, or a protein powder. Ah, there’s Yen and that incredible thing they do with tofu where they make it taste like . . . well, nothing else I know, but so delicious.

I have the right to mourn my losses. Friends have died, few close relatives remain, my ex-husbands are forgettable, my beauty requires good sleep and good hair days, my body weakens, the avalanche of words is sometimes a dry bed creek. I am no one’s #1. It is the bane of almost every incredible woman I know over 65. Not all of us, but most of us. If we have not already come to terms with living alone and dying without having rocked the world, we need to do it now. Otherwise, all realization of existing beauty now and in the future is lost – not only our own beauty, but that of being here in what, on the best days and even most of the worst, is an incomprehensible miracle despite the killing and slaughter and madness and, yes, terrors.

The grey Seine

Today’s grey Seine

 I need to go out.

Will I think of the Syrian women and weep by the Seine? Has this writing released the damned flood? What will become of us all?

Paris has survived terrors.

I wonder if that place that gives Thai massages is still open on rue Christine.

Why I Don’t Trust the Republican Establishment: an exposé

Know from the get go, Republican establishment, I am cutting you no slack. I learned of your dark hearts when I was 27. You’ve had to work to gain trust from me ever since. You haven’t succeeded.

I am not speaking of rank-and-file Republicans, those Americans with hankerings for pure capitalism and fears of big government who hold a vision of our nation being settled by self-reliant individuals protecting home and property. For the most part, I respect these Republicans and I am related to some of them.

Nor am I speaking of lower income Republicans, though I don’t understand why they are Republicans since their party has not benefited them in decades.

I am speaking of Republican policy-makers, big donors, elected officials who set agendas, stir up fears, have no trouble propagating mass delusion, block programs to help people in need, and who know “trickle down” is a scam. I’m talking of people who connive.

Here’s how I first learned of them.

In 1965 I was 23 years old and hired for my first real job in DC, the city where I had arrived from Iowa two years earlier with no employment, no place to stay, one suitcase, and $500 of borrowed money. During the first year I was often unemployed and occasionally a receptionist or cocktail waitress. The second year I was an editorial assistant for a trade magazine. I was fired from that job one year to the day while typing my resignation letter. My boss was right, I never took corner pharmacists, our clients, to heart, but the real reason I wanted out was she was a tyrant who kept trying to give me shoulder massages.

Mid-January 1965 I became a writer-editor at the Office of Economic Opportunity established in 1964 under President Johnson. Led by Sargent Shriver, those of us at national headquarters and on staff throughout the U.S. were filled with fervor to help the poverty-stricken and the under-served gain what they needed to raise the quality of their lives – to give the poor a chance whether they lived in the inner-city, Appalachia, migrant camps, or on Indian reservations. Whether they were white, black, Latino, young, old, or in-between.

We started the Head Start Program, VISTA, Legal Services, the Community Action Program, and Upward Bound. We were the War on Poverty. Working directly with and organizing those in need, we worked for justice, equality, financial opportunity, and early education. We gave people a chance.

The man who hired me left a month later. He had been the in-house photographer. When a call came from Shriver’s office that they needed a photographer in two hours for photos with the civil rights leader Roy Wilkins, I unlocked the closet that held the Nikons, called our photo agency, and asked them how to use a camera. At 1:00 pm I appeared in “Sarge’s” office and introduced myself as our new photographer.

Here’s the crux of it. As the in-house photographer, in addition to being a writer, I hired free-lance photographers to document the many forms of poverty across the nation, and to document our programs that were helping people change the course of their lives.

Every day I studied incoming contact sheets (36 negative-size black-and-white photographs per sheet) of poverty and programs. I selected the photographs to be printed as 8″ x 10″ glossies for distribution and publication.

I was the person, more than anyone else in the world, who knew what our nation’s poverty looked like. The contact sheets came to me, I examined them, and chose the best. I looked at between 500 and 1000 images a week.

We had a photographic archive equal in quality and scope to that gathered during the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We had many hundreds of photographs the quality of those taken by Dorothea Lange. The photographs were tragic, inspiring, revealing. They did what the best photographs do – reveal and convey the unique humanity of every person within the circumstances of his or her life.

This was my job for two years before I stepped back to start a marriage and a family. The process of getting photos slowed down, but continued.

In early 1969 I was 27. Two months after President Nixon took office, I received a call from one of my top free-lance photographers who was visiting the offices: “Patricia, they’re taking the photographs. They have a huge bin on wheels. I saw it going down the hallway filled with photos dumped in it. I grabbed an armful, but they stopped me. They are throwing everything out. Everything. The filing cabinets are empty. There’s nothing left.”

I called the photo lab instantly. It had been two years, but they recognized my voice immediately. Before I could ask, my guy there said: “Patricia, they just left. They took every negative.”

“Every negative?”

“They walked in and demanded them. We had no way to stop them.”

An historical archive of the American people was obliterated. A national treasure was destroyed.

Not only did the Republican administration set out to destroy the evidence of poverty in the U.S., it set out to destroy the Office of Economic Opportunity. Some programs were dismantled entirely, others siphoned off in pieces to other government departments. The War on Poverty was over.

Has anything changed?

It seems systemic to the Republican hierarchy to disempower and disenfranchise minorities and low-income people by gerrymandering voting districts, setting up discriminatory voting restrictions, exporting Latinos, putting Afro-Americans in prisons, having unequal criteria for providing loans for homes and businesses, refusing to support affordable advanced education, endorsing a tax system where it is corporations and the wealthy that get breaks, promoting Islamophobia, and fighting a respectable minimum wage while protecting the right to accept unlimited donations from extremist right-wing billionaires who promote their personal agenda.

I do not understand how people come to hold perspectives that dehumanize and denigrate the needy and under-privileged. I do not understand how people are willing to denigrate their own humanity by shutting off their empathy, understanding, and compassion.

I do not understand people who do not experience other humans as real and valuable, and I pray I never learn what that is like. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to believe only people like you matter.

The loss of understanding and compassion for all members of the human family, each desiring opportunity, justice, fairness, and love, would be horrific. I think it would be even worse than the loss of irreplaceable photographs that revealed and celebrated all the members of our human family.

That is why I dislike the Republican establishment. I have been watching them closely for more than four decades. They haven’t gotten better.

 

The Dalai Lama and My Soul are Running Buddies

My soul insists that the 14th Dalai Lama is a personal friend, is kin. The Dalai Lama turned 80 a week ago, but my soul says the two of them are the same age, timeless. They are running buddies. They have stories they could tell each other but neither bothers because they already know each other’s stories, infinite.

If an age were demanded of them, if they were forced, they would probably say they were 11 years old because of the mischievousness. Or something over 2000 because of the knowledge they have that I cannot normally access.

The Dalai Lama and I had our moment. It was a few miles north of Santa Fe in 1995, maybe 1996, and started over a breakfast of huevos rancheros at a five-star resort in the desert.

Out the dining room window I saw Tibetan flags leading towards the mountains. Moments later, monks in orange robes walked by the window.

I grabbed a waiter, “Is the Dalai Lama here?”

“He’ll be here soon.”

“What’s happening?”

“There’s a press conference.”

“I’m supposed to be there.”

“It’s private, it’s closed.”

“I’m supposed to be there.”

“Talk to those people over there.”

Abandoning huevos rancheros and my husband, I rushed to the very official looking people “over there.” They had clip boards and check off lists.

“I’m supposed to be at the press conference.”

“It’s closed.”

“But I’m a reporter and a photographer,” I sort of, vaguely, exaggerated, even as I knew I was supposed to be there. I was.

“Show me some i.d.”

I don’t remember what I showed them. I think I rattled off places where I worked years earlier.

“Okay, but you better get in there. It’s starting in five minutes.”

I sprinted out the door to my room among the cacti, grabbed my Nikon, and sprinted back past the monks, and slipped through the double doors as they were being closed.

Not a single chair was available. Everyone was silent, waiting His Holiness.

I stood alone against the wall inside the double doors. They opened and six monks entered. Together we stood in a line against the wall.

When the Dalai Lama entered, he came in with his head down and palms together in front of his chest. He bowed to each monk in turn without raising his head.

Orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe . . . to levis. The Dalai Lama was bowing to me.

He looked up, surprised and curious, his head 12 inches from mine. Then he smiled.

He smiled just for me, his eyes sparkling. The Dalai Lama and I shared a joke, a visual joke, a quiet joke, a timing joke. A joke of the misplaced and unexpected. Fifteen minutes before I had been eating huevos rancheros.

His eyes have been called “laser eyes.” It is true. Their amusement and curiosity etched into my mind. It was only a moment, but it was timeless.

And the memory, the reality of the memory, returns now with good timing for I have been weighed down by the suffering in the world. Old questions such as “How can any of us be happy when so many of us are in misery?” are unanswered and seem to me to be unanswerable.

Yet, the Dalai Lama tells us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. He shows us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. But he’s the Dalai Lama, it’s his job description. How does it become ours?

In the last week of my father’s dying, he laughed in that time of the dark night of the soul around 4 am. It was a muffled laugh. He had only one-half of one functioning lung.

But it was enough to wake me on the cot next to his hospital bed. Well, I was in a listening sleep and heard his every breath.

“What’s happening, Dad?”

“It’s a joke. It’s all been a joke!” He was in bliss, radiant, and highly amused by his 82 years of life.

The next morning a nurse asked in that loud voice nurses sometimes use, “Howard, are you in pain?”

“Why be in pain?” he answered.

Only a week before he had been remembering every injury ever done to him. He started with my mother and worked his way backwards through time until he was in his twenties. He spoke of people and things I had never heard of. He was angry, resentful, and fed up. He was not going to leave this earth without letting someone – me – know every time he had been cheated, betrayed, humiliated.

After three days, I asked, “Dad, is this how you want to do it?” He stopped talking to me for the next two days. Then in the dark, he muttered something incoherent, a guttural sound.

“What’s happening, Dad?”

“I’m trying to get my head on straight.”

Two nights later, he saw life was a joke and he abandoned pain. Three days after that he abandoned this physical life.

The Dalai Lama and a farmer from Iowa have the same message. The difference is one has had decades to tell it to millions while the other had only a couple days and told it only to me.

But the message is the same. Everyone has a right to be happy, joy is possible, the suffering do not wish us also to suffer, it is ego to think our sadness helps their suffering. It is also ego to turn away from those who suffer.

My soul is quietly saying, “Go girl, you’re getting there.”

Joy is not a luxury item. It is as basic as corn and potatoes were to my father, and as the twinkle in his eye is to the Dalai Lama.

I think, yes, that the point where we do not belittle those who suffer by thinking they are different from us – that we are greater and, therefore, somehow guilty –  but that we realize we are all equally deserving of joy, it is native to each of us, that is the point where we have gained a little bit of new understanding.

To take on suffering gratuitously that has no benefit to others is its own hubris. It is saying I think my suffering will make a difference when, in fact, it is our joy that makes the difference.

None of us is god, and each of us is god. My soul and the Dalai Lama have this conversation all the time. Perhaps I am just starting to hear a little bit of it.

When we feel joy, we are not ignoring those who suffer, we are keeping the light bright. We are accepting our natural state, and it is from this natural state that we have something more to give than our grief. It is light that clears darkness, our own and other’s.

 

What I Want: from Richard Gere to urban wolves

I want to lie, lazy and nearly naked, in the languid embrace of a sleeping lion with a scratchy mane, sweaty flanks, and the rank smell of wildness.

I want to regain for a moment the moment when I was 21 and walked into the sea wearing a black bikini of two 5″ bands across my white body and every head turned to watch.

I want the Israeli government and the Hamas and Fatah governments put on a boat and dumped on a small sandy island with only flowered shirts and baggy shorts to wear and packets of freeze dried hummus and bitter lemons dropped on them at random intervals. You might call it a blockade.

I want my ex-husband who is with a woman twenty years younger to know I’ve had the best sex of my life in the six years since I found out about her and left him.

I want Richard Gere to move in, wear white linen shirts, bake bread, and come up to me every day with a wine bottle in one hand, a glass in the other, and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

I want to swim again with the sea lion that whirled and twirled in front of me and looked into my eyes, stopping only to chase off two small sharks beneath us before returning to me to whirl and twirl again.

I want every poet, musician, artist, father, mother, farmer, and dreamer killed by war and violence – and all of their offspring who never were – to be returned to us.

I want addicts loved, the homeless sheltered, all sexes embraced, all ethnicities valued, and all children to be fed.

I want fewer liars and deceivers.

I want my dog to love me as much as he loves the people who take care of him when I am away even though I don’t walk him as much as they do or take him on paths where he sees deer.

I want the polar bears to survive, and wolves to proliferate so much that they enter urban centers, still with a glint in their eyes but politely moving to the side on sidewalks as they sniff out the nearest park with good water, or a coffee shop if they prefer.

I want to lie on my belly on new grass, my toes wiggling in a divot of mud, and hear the earth whisper that she will tend us the best she can even though we have not tended her.

I want the courage to hear the music that must exist across the cosmos of pain, grief, loss, desire, longing and even more of joy, brilliance, ecstasy, and light. I want it to permeate me but not vaporize me so I can return and try to tell others.

I want to accept. I want no child to lose his or her parents. I want love to prevail more often, more quickly, more evenly, and more obviously.

I want to hear every birdsong as though for the first time.

I want Richard Gere to move in, bake bread, and come up to me every day and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

 

Being Enfolded: Separate Lives & Secret Languages

So much of wanting not to be alone is specifically about having someone enfold you in their arms, of being able to regress to being a baby, safe, cradled. I don’t believe this requires actually having history of being held. I believe it is universal even as so few people recognize it as one of their needs. Especially males find this difficult. Bless those that don’t.

My earliest memory was of not being held, and was of crying, and of being a baby so young I could not yet turn over. Don’t tell me this couldn’t be true. I was there.

I was familiar with the sound of crying and of the scrunched up face of my 2-year-old brother wet with tears when the crying sound happened. Babies imprint instantly.

Only this time the blond blue-eyed being looking down at me over the small enclosed bed looked different. There was no scrunch, there were no tears – yet the sound continued, followed by a peculiar sensation that I later knew to be wetness on my cheeks.

If the blond blue-eyed being wasn’t scrunched, could the sound be coming from somewhere else, somewhere closer? I felt the puzzle as surely as I can look out the window at this moment and see that the rain that has been threatening all day may finally be coming in.

At the moment, I realized I existed and I was separate.

My next memory is from when I was 3 ½ years. I invented a secret language, a language for separateness. My own language, not one to share with the blond blue-eyed brother or either parent. Children learn quickly who is safe.

So I looked for someone safe to share my language. Hannah at the butcher shop met my criterion. There was something different, soft, giving about her.

“Do you know what I am saying?” I then said a sentence in my new language.

She leaned over the counter and cocked her head.

“Do you know what I am saying?” I repeated the sentence.

“What?”

“Do you know what I am saying?” I repeated again, a little annoyed. It was a simple code and it seemed to me that any adult who really tried or cared would understand it.

“No,” she said.

My mother grabbed me by the hand, yanked me out of the shop and pulled me up the narrow cracked sidewalk. I felt another new sensation, like ants running down her arm into mine.

“Don’t you know Hannah is deaf?”

“What is deaf?”

“She can’t hear. She can only tell what you are saying by looking at your lips.”

I may have been stunned, but I knew I was not actually guilty. You can only be guilty if you did something you knew was wrong. I deflected the ants as best I could, and had my first lesson – that I remember – in disabilities and in the nature of justice.

Since then, in one way or another, I have been trying to communicate, not knowing if what I try to communicate is individual or universal.

I asked my parents about this memory when I was in my mid-20’s. Had I imagined it all? They said she moved away when I was three, and went to another small town where she stepped in front of a train. The theory is that she didn’t hear it.

I suspect she had no one to enfold her.

. . . .

And so we scream at the skies, as though they are responsible for the state of the world, for the monsters that harm others, for the blindness and denials and superiority, and idiocy, and murderous intents, and savage actions. I use the word “sky” here as a placeholder for your favorite god or goddess.

At bottom, it is that god or goddess that we want to enfold us, to take us back home, wipe our tears, stroke our back, perhaps make love to us. We want to go back home, this world can make us weary.

But we cannot, can we? Not yet. Maybe some day.

So I looked at the blond blue-eyed boy, who has himself now gone back home and I pray it enfolds him dearly, and knew he and I were separate. Existential realization in the first months of your life can be a heady thing.

So I looked at him and learned with time to fall in love and to listen, and that when you do not feel heard, you can still listen. That when you are not enfolded, you can still enfold at least in your heart and mind. That when someone does not understand you, it may not be their fault that they are deaf.

But you can, as I did, put your little toes on the ½ protrusion of the baseboard and your little fingers over the edge of the butcher’s block with its smear of blood, pull yourself up, and say again your personal message in your secret language.

It is what we can do. It is what we must do. Some people will hear. Some people do hear, they do, they really do. It is a kind of enfolding.