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.

 

Rachmaninoff and Me

I haven’t written because I have too much to say, but question the validity of saying any of it. Recently on Facebook I have been adding “friends” who are poets and authors, and I don’t know who they are – well, some names are slightly familiar – and they all have books, and write beautifully, which adds to my writer’s block; but I just came from seeing the play “Preludes” at Lincoln Center about the composer’s block of Sergei Rachmaninoff after a disastrous – and I do mean disastrous – debut of a new symphony. The conductor was drunk and the orchestra not prepared, and Sergei got skewered by the critics. If seeing that play doesn’t unblock my backlog, I think nothing could except drunkenness, which isn’t my style. It didn’t work for the conductor, it wouldn’t work for me.

Afterwards I sat under the trees in front of the theater in this blessed balmy air that is the same temperature as your skin surface, which is, of course, heaven, and the guy who played Rachmaninoff walked by. He was talking to an obvious friend who left and then as he walked back, I said “Thank you,” and he came over and I told him about the Rachmaninoff wars between my 7-year-old grandson who adores Rachmaninoff, though at first he thought it was Mozart he adores but it is Rachmaninoff, and my 5-year-old granddaughter who thinks music isn’t music unless it has words and a singable melody, while Ben doesn’t like music with words. He is gifted in math so it makes sense. Rachmaninoff was mathematical also.

So the writer’s block has been both about that I cannot keep up with the magnificent writers who are suddenly all over my FB thread even though they don’t know me, but probably did a quick check, saw I looked harmless, and were willing to accept me as a “friend.” And it is also because I have lost my sense of having a profile, any i.d. Nothing makes sense anymore regarding who I am. And if you don’t know who you are, your literary impulses, which depends on what you think and feel, can get pretty confused.

Wendell Berry – one of my new literati friends posted this magnificent poem by him – described this well. Well, my dislocation takes it a bit further than he does, but he really described not knowing. See?

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Now, it seems the impeded stream may not be singing – more like gurgling eddies – but he sums up the bafflement and makes it all good somehow, as having the purpose of no purpose might actually get you somewhere.

I haven’t been fighting losing my identify. I invited it and have yielded to it even as I now question it. Several years ago I decided to strip myself of definition and it has been working. I mean, people think I am serenity, except for my closest friends who still think I am serenity and rely upon my being serenity for their own serenity even when some get occasional glimpses of churning waters underneath.

Joan Didion wrote that as she got older she couldn’t write as she once did, words eager to rush onto the page, internal rhythms known even before the words arrived. Now she just tries to use the right words, the accurate ones, the authentic ones. Each word done with such care. I tell myself to do the same but I am not Joan Didion, and to include a reference to myself in a paragraph about her is narcissistic blasphemy, but . . . yikes.

Plus, there is a residue inside me that is rococo. I would love to be able to use words like verisimilitude, laconic, obfuscation, lexicography, and lassitude as nimbly as I use words like harvest, fever, raspy, and earth.

It is imperative to use the right words, but it is work. It is a meditation, it is knowing what is. And knowing what is is, generally, beyond words. See the problem?

Other problems include that I’m just plain lonely in this transition to non-description. This is, by the way, an essential struggle of most elderly. Have you any idea how many people who were my friends or acquaintances a couple months ago are no longer here?

My second ex-husband sent the word out, through a convoluted route that found me across the U.S. and after 35 years, that he has dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t his lungs, after all, that got him. It was Lewy’s body disease, the second most common form of dementia, the top of the list of all those kinds of dementia that are not Alzheimer’s. Do you think I’m losing use of my vocabulary not because of seeking rockbottom truth but because words are disappearing? I am afraid of that. In any case, no-frill words tend to be truer. Something may be “transcending” but it is more accurately “rising, delicate and vaporous.”

Rachmaninoff really suffered. Brilliance hiding is not a pleasant thing, especially when you need to bring in rent money. Brilliance molding? What is a sorry state for others is a horror for a genius. I am not a genius. My suffering has been real but it is not a case of having a gift that could blow the minds of others into the stratosphere and that the world will forever ache over from its loss. Mine is more closely aligned to the loneliness felt in the gap of not hearing one’s self express one’s own understandings, of not taking something to the next level, of stupefied energy.

This is not outwardly visible. I look pretty good, and my health is good. I had it checked out of fear that the gloom eyeing me along the edges of my campfire was partially physical. My health is fine, my loneliness isn’t really.

Did I tell you my past is littered with bad husbands? Men who failed me on the simplest of terms. Fidelity, safety, things like that. It is a cluttered landscape behind me. Debris beside the road, but it is okay. I am blessed, and I saw this play today “Preludes” on the composer’s block of Rachmaninoff. He was 28, I’m 72. He got over it. I will too . . . or not.

It is not important to be able to use words such as pulchritude, dipsomaniac, vermiculite, or phrases such as “it hit him the way formaldehyde hits a lizard, “ or “she circumambulated the offering, an oracle tied to the thread of a vision” No, it is enough to be able to say, “She loves with her entire body. She loves so much she does not know her body from her mind. She loves more than fits conventional wisdom. She loves beyond calling. She loves with the clarity of a baby’s drool. She loves. She loves mindlessly. She loves so much she trusts losing herself even though she has no choice in the matter.”

Rachmaninoff went on to write his “Prelude in C# Minor.” I wrote this.

 

The Barrel Roll Was the First Clue

Corporal Eric Casebolt of the Metropolitan Police Department of McKinney, Texas practiced for this moment. How many times must he have done that barrel roll wishing someone could see him, see how fast and agile he is?

And, by gum, if, after the roll, the fight wasn’t going to come to him, he’d go after it. He’d make it happen. He would turn a 14 year old girl into the enemy, throw her face down, knee her in the small of her back, and pull his gun on teenager boys who wanted to help her.

Now maybe that girl had said to him, “Stop it” or “You’re a racist cop.” But if she did, he wasn’t able to parse out this truth from the affront he felt to his personal sense of law and order, which includes African-American youth on the ground, immobile, some handcuffed, and one in a bikini face down with his knee in her back. Do you think she weighed 100 lbs? A little more, a little less?

He probably didn’t hear her call for her mother, either. It would have disturbed his belief she meant to do him bodily harm.

Cpl. Casebolt, the video seems to show, fits the profile of someone who bullies because as a child he was bullied or was afraid of being bullied. The macho strut became a habit, the obscenities the rule, the tough guy persona his self-image.

There were other policemen. We saw one stand with the youth and quietly tell them “Do not run.” He said it as a mature adult providing life advice for their good. The teenagers themselves said there were policemen who were helpful, and two rushed in when Cpl. Casebolt drew his gun. What would have happened if they hadn’t?

Those policemen are the policemen we rely on. I would like to know these policemen.

We also rely on videos – those recording eyes that bring the fight to all of us. Cpl. Casebolt may not have thought he was being videoed when he showed off his barrel roll. At that moment, it may be been just fun and games for him, but more people than he may have wished got to see him in action – and it was not fun and games.

Perhaps Cpl. Casebolt believed doing the tough cop thing was necessary against African-American youth when some of them were loud at a birthday pool party, when some of them didn’t live in the neighborhood, when a couple of them had a run in with a white woman who had yelled racist remarks at them.

Perhaps he believed he would teach them respect – or at least fear – by throwing them on the ground and drawing his gun. Surely he felt he was doing this for all policemen maligned for shooting African-Americans. Surely he felt he had their back and their backing. I want to think he was wrong about that.

I believe what he did puts other policemen – rational policemen – in a difficult and uncomfortable position. You can bet there are interesting conversations in the homes of the policemen who were with Cpl. Casebolt: Should I have intervened earlier? Done more? Why did I wait? Oh, right, it took me awhile to realize Casebolt had gone berserk, and I thought we could talk about it later but then, oh, man, he drew his gun.

In some ways I feel more for the good policemen than I do for the youth. I can’t help but think that the African-American youth had a civics lesson that has not ended – one in which people of all races rallied for them.

They will each need to come to terms with what happened to them and each other at the time and as the video went viral and as people reacted, and as justice is or is not served.

What do they plan to do about it? How does this change their plans for their future work? Let’s hope that resolve enters their bones to make of themselves people who work for justice and who make our world better in whatever way is best suited to them.

When the rest of us as youth, or adults, have had a party interrupted by police because we were too loud, it followed a pattern. The police arrived, possibly rang the doorbell. We answered and the policemen said, “Hey the neighbors are complaining. Keep it down, okay? If I have to come back, I will have to take someone in.”

That’s not a civics lesson, that is privilege, and it is easily forgotten. These young people will not forget. What they do with it is up to them, and they will decide that partially on what the rest of us do about policemen who have their senses of right and wrong skewed. Perhaps Corporal Casebolt did too many barrel rolls. That’s not a legitimate defense.

 

Memorial Day: stories with my brother

It is Memorial Day and my brother has come roaring into my mind on his Harley. He is turning it in a small circle and parks it, grinning at me. His white beard is stubbly. He is a large man. The hair on his head is still salt and pepper. It will not turn snow white like my father’s.

He taught math to high school students, coached girls basketball, was addicted to fishing, especially ice fishing on the Mississippi, and died nearly 15 years ago. I miss him terribly today. I am mourning all the men and women who died too early.

When Mom had a heart attack 28 years ago, Les got the word at school and jumped on his Harley as the closest vehicle and tore up Interstate 35 out of Des Moines straight north to Mason City. A patrolman was just as fast but Les didn’t stop. He shouted what happened, and the patrolman went in front of him, clearing the rest of the way of the 2 hour trip. We Iowans love heroic stories. My brother was a storyteller, my father was a storyteller. I’m telling you a story.

My mother survived and lived another 27 years, dying on the penultimate day of 2013, unwilling to endure another Iowa winter. She was 96.

And so they are gone, my mother, my brother, and my father who died 26 years ago at age 82. Les was 59. A clot blocked his blood from going through his lungs.

Mom tippy-toed towards death without complaint or questions over years of lessening. Les left, in protest, in eight minutes. I was there for both of them, as I was for Dad who made up in the month gifted him from diagnosis to completion for his decades of silence during my childhood. We solved problems that stalemated for years. I seem to be the designated Guide to the Gate.

One of Les’s favorite stories was from when we were in high school and in the band. He played second clarinet. I played first flute. Our director was Ralph Drollinger. You know how you always remember your best teacher?

Each year we competed in the statewide Iowa band competition. Sheffield was the runt of the schools in our league, but we had practiced hard and had mastered our piece. Through the morning of the day of our competition, Mr. Drollinger had listened to the other bands. They were larger. They had better instruments.

Minutes before we went on stage he told us if we wanted to get a #1 rating, we could not play what we had prepared. The competition was too good, we had to play something more difficult. Then he handed out an atonal piece we had played only once in a mangled practice.

The piece had no rhythm or rhyme to it that we could figure. It had no melody for us to know when to come in. We had no familiar guidelines.

This man we adored said, “It’s this and we make it or we fall on our faces.” Our little band of players took our places on stage. Jay Crawford on trombone, Nancy Galvin on French horn, Gene Brouillette on trumpet, Sue Foster on oboe, Walter Stover on drums, Les and Karen Davolt on clarinet, Jan Davolt and me on flute, and maybe 15 others.

We may not have known the music but we knew everything depended on how we played it. We counted out our measures to know when to come in against all intuition. I played the flute solo with meticulous passion, surprising even myself. It seemed to be in the right place.

The applause was as loud as our relief was deep when we reached the end. We received a #1. We received much more than a #1. We went up against the big boys, not sure of anything, counted our measures, played our hearts out, and we won.

Les told that story better than I did. It is a story of life where some melody lines end abruptly and where individual players can’t grasp the whole of it at any one moment, but we each have our turn, play our best, and pray it all works.

Les, I miss you. You were to be with me until the last coda. You were to be with your wife and your daughter and your friends.

And this story of loss too soon is repeated with every man and woman who fought and died too early because of human greed, cruelty, and stupidity. It is repeated with every child and innocent killed because we do not rise to do what we are called to do, to live in harmony. We have no excuses. Death will do what death will do, but we have no excuses for hastening it.

 

Bad Husbands Are People Too

I didn’t set out to marry bad husbands. It was something that happened along the way, and rather like unhappy families are unhappy in different ways, my bad husbands were bad in different ways.

This first I won’t talk about because he is still in my life as the father of my daughter and grandfather of my grandchildren – and because at her wedding he suddenly burst out with an incredible backhand apology in the reception line after more than three decades of silence. It was poorly timed, and was a kick to my heart. I collapsed in sobs in a corner while my third husband tried to shield me from the wedding party.

The second one I will talk about because he had someone track me down a week ago after two decades of silence. He is the catalyst for this blog. I had not known for years if he were dead or alive. I last saw him over 20 years ago in a banana grove on the side of a mountain in Maui.

Husband number two is alive, but dying. We will return to him, but, first, let’s do a fast review of husband number three.

No, first of all, I want to say that I am blessed beyond measure. My life is an astonishment of good things outside of my husbands. The dichotomy between the rest of my life and my husbands is an endorsement for reincarnation and karma. I must have been a real bitch in my past lives.

Husband number three was in some ways the worst because his motives were purely self-serving. He had the power to behave differently. He had options. His decision to lead a secret double life with a woman twenty years younger and to buy apartments in Beijing and San Francisco was calculated and deliberate. I saw how power corrupts, seduces, and confuses. It can make you believe you are above the rules that apply to others. He had never considered that I might refuse to accept an arrangement where he would be with me 50% of the time and with her 50% of the time.

It never crossed his mind I would leave, which I did within 25 minutes of reading the 2 ½ pages of revelations and future conditions that he handed me – oh, so sweetly and with such love in his eyes – in our garden. I left 24 minutes after smashing the glass with my strawberry smoothie into the wall.

It got worse after that, a stunning reversal from his being my soul mate since college, mate for 18 years, and champion. His acts were perhaps those of an angry, hurt, and emotionally immature man, but they were not the acts of a broken man. He had choices and options. He could have behaved better, but chose not to.

My second husband, however, was broken. His violence and rages were not calculated. They answered to an internal skewed gyroscope. He blacked out during his violence, though I didn’t know that until a year into it. They were frightening, controlling, and twice just skirted being fatal “accidents,” but they had little or nothing to do with me, or with us. We actually had times of peace, even as I had to be very careful.

His attempt to let me know that he was very ill came by a circuitous route. He asked his wife to contact a mutual friend from 35 year ago, who found my daughter through an Internet search and sent an email to where she worked. That was a week ago. By now I know that he has Lewy Body Disease, the most common dementia after Alzheimer’s. He also has Parkinson’s.

He cannot use a computer and has trouble with telephones. He was recently moved into an assisted living home in Tucson. They had moved from Hawaii to Tucson, he had bad lungs. He always thought it was his lungs that would get him.

I was given his mailing address. What? I’m to write and say . . . what? What does he remember? What does he know? What does he want from me? Do I owe him anything?

He was a failed yogi who meditated hours a day. Everyone thought he was so gentle. He was not. He wore drawstring pants and flip-flops and yogi shirts. At one time he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. People thought he was so gentle. He was not. He controlled my life and blamed me and felt unloved by me even though he was, though with time he was not. He was beaten as a child by his father and thought he deserved it. He smiled serenely and I heard the electricity snap in his back when he meditated. People thought he was so gentle. He was not. He was living proof that if you are going to mess with intense high energies you better have your psychological shit together or you can become very bad.

Life doesn’t follow nice clean script lines. Am I to write to him and say I forgive you when he may not be able to make sense of that? He did, after all, a decade after we separated (30 years ago now) visit my city and beg to see me. I refused. He begged again. I allowed it. He fell on his knees and begged my forgiveness. I told him the forgiveness he needed was his own, not mine. Did he forget that? Does it need renewing? Does this have anything at all to do with harm done?

Perhaps he just wants me to know he’s wrapping things up, and I am glad to know that, and I wish him no harm though my tongue has gone over the scar inside my lip more often this week than it has in many years. After that first time, he learned how to hit without blood.

The past week has included the resurrection of old memories. Disoriented bats of fear and trauma flew at me, shrieking “remember me?” But they have calmed down now, murmuring in a far back corner, wings folded, returning to sleep – so that the week also became one of reflection on him and our time together – and also, for reasons having to do with the dispensing of art, of reflection on my third husband who made choices consciously and deliberately. (In writing this blog, I may forfeit pieces of art I adore, but I’m bloody well finished with self-censoring.)

Forgiveness. Everyone thinks it’s about forgiveness. But I don’t think so. I forgave husband number two soon after the separation, and I forgave husband number three so quickly that it was almost simultaneous with each harm over several years. I don’t seem to have filing systems that store hate. For disgust, grief, momentary anger, repugnance, yes. Hate, no. It always breaks down when I focus on the individual.

Bad husbands are people too, and perhaps there are different kinds of broken. Some are brittle and snap people into fragments. Others are sloppy and bend people to do stupid things and cruel things – and to become blind and deaf to what is good and what is clear.

It is interesting how people who are not clear themselves often cannot tell who around them is clear, or helpful, or good. Projection is a demon.

Yet, I have become the person I am because of life experiences, including three husbands. Perhaps if enough harm is done, one gives up hate because if you did not, it would destroy you. What a perverse way to surrender to love.

Perhaps I will write husband number two. I sent a message back through the circuitous route thanking him for letting me know and telling him I wish him peace. But as his mind leaves, he may forget that. If I send a note saying that same thing, then he has something that he can hold in his hand. Maybe he can manage to remember the good parts. Something in me would like that.