A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks

My nine year-old niece Lucie and I talk on the phone each Wednesday about a book we're writing together. We started with some ideas (all Lucie's good ideas, really), and now we're studying a book with some similar themes: Sharon Blake's The Skin I'm In.

We read and discuss two chapters each week. Today, Lucie asked the questions to get us started, and I talked about what I was thinking and she added ideas. We always talk about the questions, "What did you notice?" and "What ideas about our book did these chapters give you?"

The process is superfun. Since I live so far away and see my nieces and nephews so seldomly, I proposed the idea as a way for us to connect regularly. I didn't anticipate how diligent and thoughtful Lucie would be about the work, nor how smart she is.

Every auntie probably thinks her niece is supersmart, but mine really is.

Today, Lucie told me about her three best friends. "They talk a lot," she said.

"Do you talk a lot?"


"Do you talk in class when your teacher wants you to be quiet?"

"No. I have a great teacher. I want to impress her."

"What makes her great?"

"She's just totally awesome."

Thanks to Lucie's teacher and to all the totally awesome teachers out there.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Miss Pig

Growing up, I didn’t have an enduring nickname, but my cousin Lori was always “Miss Pig.” I don’t know how she got the nickname, but she always got pig-themed gifts.

The nickname was never ironic or sarcastic. I’m sure the nickname indicated fondness.

My mom was two years older than Lori’s mom, my Aunt Mary Ann, and Lori was four months older than I was. Thus, she was my elder, a fact she didn’t let me forget when we were younger, and I don’t let her forget now that we’re nearing fifty.

I think my first memory of Lori was when Sister Jen and I visited her family in Winston-Salem, and I staged my first non-violent protest. Lori and I were six years old and Sister Jen was three when we made brownies in Lori’s easy-bake oven.

Lori’s dad, my Uncle Tommy, ordered me to give my brownie to my boy-cousin Jeff, who was four and had been watching football with his dad, and as a feminist protest I popped the brownie in my mouth. (Sorry, Uncle Tommy—I know you didn’t know the whole story and more than forty years later you must be tired of hearing about it.)

As punishment, Uncle Tommy sent me to the bathroom to reflect on my bad-doings. Instead, I was indignant and then delighted when Cousin Lori joined me with the left over brownie mix. As I remember it, Cousin Lori and I scooped the brownie mix out of the bowl with our fingers, talked about the ways of being a woman in the world, and became fast friends.

Cousin Lori and I were both the eldest children of three children, and we were both redheads, though her hair was strawberry blond and mine was auburn.

Their family lived in Raleigh for a while when we were young and then in a nearby town called Cary, so we saw each other often. Cousin Lori was always fretting about her split ends and her weight (because of the fashion of women worrying about their weight, not because she was overweight). She also mourned our aging as we moved from “child” to “kid” to “pre-teen” to “teen.” The designations didn’t bother me.

I think it was when we were in sixth grade that we went up to the front for communion in our large Southern Baptist and we got the giggles so badly that I could only tremble and pass her the bread and the little grape juice glasses instead of saying somberly, “This is the body of our Lord, broken for you,” and “This is the blood of our Lord, poured for you.”

After church Mrs. Mackee scolded us for our irreverence. Unaccustomed to being scolded by an adult other than my parents, I remember trying not to giggle again.

When we were in middle-school, Cousin Lori had moved to a different city (Charlotte, I think), and her family went to a more conservative church than our family did. One day, Cousin Lori asked me, “Are you saved?”

Not knowing that term and already slightly suspicious of it, I asked, “What does that mean?”

“It’s when you accept Jesus into your heart,” she explained, and she told me about the day that she was saved. I think Cousin Jeff was with us, and he told me about being saved, too.   

“We don’t talk like that in my church,” I told them. “I wasn’t saved on a particular day. It just happened gradually as I grew up.”

My cousins seemed satisfied with my response and didn’t quiz me further.

Later, for college, I went to the small liberal arts Davidson near Charlotte, where Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Tommy lived, and Cousin Lori went to North Carolina State University (NCSU), the state university in Raleigh, the city where my parents lived.

Though NCSU is a large university, Cousin Lori and my high school friends Becky and Catherine lived on the same floor in the same dorm and became friends. I visited them when my college was out for Christmas break before the university was.

Becky and Catherine were roommates, and Becky was frustrated because Catherine and her boyfriend had taken to going into the room and closing the door. This happened while I was visiting, and Cousin Lori decided to find out what was going on: she would “spy” on them.

Cousin Lori donned what she imagined a spy would wear: a trench coat, hat, and dark glasses, and went to the closed door. She threw the door open, jumped into the frame, opened her eyes and mouth wide, then covered her mouth with a gasp, and ran from the room.

I still don’t know what, if anything, happened, but the scene seemed straight out of “I Love Lucy,” and I laughed so hard that I wet my pants a little.

Fast forward to our adulthood: We live different lives now. Cousin Lori has married, has two kids, and lives in a small town outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, where she grew up.

I moved to Dallas, got married, moved to Seattle, got divorced, and came out as a lesbian.

When I came out to Cousin Lori twenty years ago, she called and said, “I don’t understand.” I really think she still loved me. She sent me a membership to Focus on the Family, which I believe she intended as a gift of kindness.  

When my partner and I have visited Charlotte, my Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Tommy have hosted us, and everyone, including Cousin Lori, has been loving.

When Cousin Lori and her family visited Seattle a decade ago, however, she didn’t contact me. I thought that was strange.

After this year’s presidential election, I was relieved at the outcome and emailed my family to say that I knew some of them felt like I would have felt had Romney been elected: afraid, sad, worried for my country.

Cousin Lori emailed to share her sadness, and she mused, “I wonder why we are so different when we came from such a similar background.”

I wonder that, too. Maybe it’s because her parents are more conservative than mine, and so was her church. Maybe it’s because I had a young feminist sister as my next sibling, and she had an athletic brother. Maybe because she stayed in North Carolina, and I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Maybe because I’m a lesbian, and she’s not. The possibilities go on.

Maybe, partly, we were just born this way.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Right and Left: Daly and Lamott

The conservative head of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, made a lot of sense to me as he reflected on conservative election losses in his recent interview with columnist Mitchell Landsberg.

He said, “I think what we’ve got to do in the Christian community is be far more humble.and not call it a war, a culture war.”

He also said, “Frankly, after the election, I felt sorry for President Obama in one respect: He’s got a tough job. We need to pray for him, as the Christian community.”

I’m guessing that Jim Daly and I don’t define the Christian community in the same way, since the organization he leads invested lots of money in anti-gay initiatives, and I see myself as a gay Christian.

I appreciated his reflections on the current state of politics and the Christian right, though. About immigration policy, he said that the evangelical community should have been considering immigration reform years ago, “but we were led more by political-think than church-think.”

Jim Daly started sounding a lot like the progressive Christian writer Anne Lamott, a comparison that surprises me and would probably surprise each of them.

He started sounding humble and thoughtful, down-to-earth and kind.

Last night my partner Ann and I attended Anne Lamott’s reading at Queen Anne’s United Methodist church. Our friend Ellen, who is Jewish, attended with us, and we saw lots our progressive church friends there.  

Lamott is an open kind of Christian, though she too (like me) is political. She opened her talk by saying, “No offense to any Republicans in the room, but…Yea!!!” With “yea!” she raised her hands in the air and danced in a circle.

Lamott talked about her new book: Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.

She says that “Help” is the first prayer, a prayer she uttered 27 years ago when she converted. “If you’re very, very lost,” she said, “just say, ‘Help?’ Someone asks, ‘What if you don’t believe in God?’ Just say help.”

About her conversion, she said, “I converted by accident. I was drunk.”

Twenty-six years ago, she had her last drink, and her prayer turned to gratitude, the second essential prayer: “Thank you,” or really “ThankyouThankyouThankyouThanyouThankyou.”

She said, “If somebody is grateful and funny, I want to sit by them.”

I thought, “I’m grateful and funny. Maybe she’ll sit by me. I would say thank you.”

The third prayer, “Wow!” is “when we’ve run out of words to express the stunning wonder and beauty of the natural world.”

If there were a fourth prayer, she said it would be “Hi.” She said, “I believe that when I say ‘hi,’ and someone hears, that’s prayer.”

Lamott is down-to-earth and funny. My favorite quote of the night was from her friend Pammy, who had cancer and was in a wheelchair at the time and has since passed. Lamott was trying on a dress and asked, “Does this dress make my hips look big?” Pammy responded, “Anne, you don’t have that kind of time.”

Lamott’s thinking about how she wants to spend her time now. “I just want to sit by someone and talk about God,” she said.

Lamott’s honest about her shortcomings in the Christian lexicon. (“I’m not one of those Christians who’s heavily into forgiveness,” she said.)

One of my favorite themes of the night was the impossibility of naming God. She likes the name “Howard,” as in “Our God, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.”

She also likes “Chris” but I’ve forgotten why—maybe because a gender neutral name is a good one for a father-mother God.

Her best name for God, I thought, was “not me—not Anne.”  She would pray, “Oh help me, not Annie,” meaning a being bigger than she is, a being outside of herself.

Lamott has a transcendentalist’s concept of God as a kind of oversoul, a great being.

Maybe one hope of this election is that the Christian right and the Christian left (yes, there is a Christian left) will talk to one another again.

One of the gifts in my family—some conservative folks and some liberal ones—has already been that we are talking to one another in ways that we haven’t before.

A couple of cousins and an aunt and uncle are ultra-conservatives, but they have always been loving to me, even when I came out as a lesbian.

(My cousin Lori sent me a membership to Focus on the Family, which I believe she meant as a kind gesture.)

They shared with me their thoughts and feelings about the election, and I appreciated their respectfulness and their honesty.

As I consider Lincoln’s famous observation before the Civil War, an observation that is still true,  "a house divided against itself cannot stand," one of my hopes is that this divided country may heal.

I feel hopeful.


Monday, November 12, 2012

We did it!

Yesterday, our minister Karla opened church with a jubilant, “We did it!” She threw her arm in the air, and I think she would have done a cheerleader jump if she hadn’t been wearing that long white robe.

Karla was celebrating the passage of Referendum 74, a vote by the people of Washington allowing same-gender marriages.

Annie, a straight woman, cried during a prayer of thanksgiving for the referendum’s passage. “This gives me so much hope,” she prayed through her tears. “We are becoming a more just place to live, and there’s hope for more justice.”

My partner Ann said to me, “I think it’s interesting how passionate straight people can be about this. It’s great, and it’s interesting.”

I wonder if I would have been so ecstatic were I not a lesbian myself. I wonder if I would have gotten to know GLBTQ people and seen their fight for justice as mine. I hope so, but I don’t know.

I feel pretty sure that I wouldn’t have taken on someone’s issues if I hadn’t known people who were GLBTQ. Maybe that’s the case for all of our justice issues: we need to know people who lives differently than we do—economically, socially, culturally, religiously…--and it can be hard to get to know people different than we are.

A decade ago, Ann and I hosted an adoption party for our friends Katie and Diana and their tiny, almost translucent baby Bailey. We weren’t making a political statement by having this party: we were celebrating a sacred and joyful time with supportive friends.

Our straight friend Marcia asked if she could bring a guest (I think it was her sister-in-law) who was visiting from Missouri, and Marcia now says that the visit totally changed her sister-in-law’s attitude towards gay and lesbian people. She saw us as normal people celebrating in a way that normal people would celebrate.

Our church’s relationship with Guarjila, El Salvador, has been much like that, too. We have traveled to their rural town, founded when a group of people in Honduras refugee camps organized for an intentional community. We have hosted some community members in our home, too.

In Guarjila, we met people who became our friends and who share their lives with us. We also learned about some ways that our government, afraid of Communism and Socialism’s spread, funded their Civil War and trained their soldiers in torture techniques.

Could our government have done that, and could I have remained oblivious if I had known these people? I don’t think so.

Some say that technology is making our world smaller, but I wonder if we’re becoming more isolated, more sequestered in relationships with people who are like us, more unaware of people who are different than we are.

And yet we humans still write and gather and take to the streets in joy and in anger. We blog. We want to connect.

I have learned so much about people I did not know twenty years ago: people living in rural Michoacan, rural El Salvador, Ethiopia’s cities. People who have immigrated to the United States, sometimes as refugees from violence and poverty. People who live with disabilities and life-changing health conditions. People who identify as GLBTQ.

And yet, in so many arenas, I’m sure I remain oblivious. How do I hear their stories, and how do I share my stories with them?

We need to know each other. Our survival, our spirits, and our world demands that we know each other.

Yesterday, I gathered with six other educators to discuss the possibility of writing a book together, a book that would share stories from our lives in schools. Which stories, we’re not sure yet, but the importance of telling stories seemed clear to us all.

In church on Sunday, we celebrated Referendum 74 for the rights it provides to those of us who are GLBTQ. We celebrated the possibility that our world could be more just. And we celebrated, I think, the belief that our stories had been heard, and through our stories, we are becoming people to those who did not know us before.

In celebration, we shared a wedding cake with the figurines of two grooms arm in arm and two brides arm in arm, and we toasted the day and one another with sparkling cider.


To us all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No Muskets

Last night, I watched President Obama win a second term as president and Washington’s Referendum 74 approval, allowing gay people in the state to marry. I did not whoopee so much as breathe deeply in relief.

As I told my family before the election, this time the election for me was personal. Because Romney promised to eliminate Obamacare on his first day in office, I was terrified. For the first time, I felt that an election could have immediate personal consequences for me.

So I took the unusual step of contacting my family, many of whom live in the swing state of North Carolina, and I asked them to vote for my health care by voting for Obama. Some did, and some didn’t, but North Carolina went narrowly to Romney nonetheless, and I felt respect  for those who told me that they would vote for Romney and why.

In sending the email, I felt a little like I was the first person stepping onto the moon: I was going where no man (or woman) had gone before.

In an email from one aunt and uncle, I read that they felt so strongly about the dangers of an Obama win that they were tempted to move to another country if he were victorious. My aunt and uncle are good people, smart people, and I was struck by how differently we viewed the election but how similarly we believed the outcome’s impact on us would be.

As I watched election results roll in surprisingly early, I thought of how I might have felt last night if things had gone differently, and I thought of how they might feel this night.

Born a Georgia peach and raised a North Carolina tar heel (the state, not the university), I thought of the Civil War and the fact that family disagreements at that time culminated in bloody Antietam and Sherman’s destructive march through Georgia.

I thought, too, of a Somali high school student a few years ago who told me that any president, no matter how much she disagreed with him, was better than the chaos of no president. She knew: her mother and sisters were raped as she escaped through a window in a time of chaos in her home country.

Last night, as Romney made a classy exit and Obama launched his second term, I thought to myself, “Thank heavens that we make these decisions without muskets and other kinds of violence.”

Thank heavens.



Sunday, November 4, 2012

For All the Saints

Today we celebrated “All Saints Day,” at church, a ritual where congregants make an memorial altar of folks they’ve loved who have passed and we recite the names of those who are no longer in our everyday lives.

I didn’t rise to light a candle as others did because, with my disabilities, I was afraid that I might knock over the tea candles and start a fire, sending more saints to heaven.

I did, however, say a prayer of thanks for the many saints of my life, and today I thought especially about Margarita, a woman in my ependymoma online support group who passed this summer.

In our online support group, when someone told an amusing or appreciative story, Margarita often commented, “Blessed be.” I think about that phrase when I think about her now. I think about the way that she noticed blessings in our lives and was a blessing for me.

Last fall, I told my support group about a book of interviews with people with life-changing conditions that I’m writing and asked if anyone were interested in being interviewed. Margarita was, so she and I talked on the phone and exchanged several emails.

I’ve never understood it when the younger generation thinks of people they’ve never met in person, only on social media, as a friend. Now I do. Margarita was kind and funny, and I felt so lucky to get to know her.

During the interview, she talked (as so many do) about the positive impact that having a brain tumor had on her life: “I’ve always said that I was not that good a person before the tumor. Now I’m a better person. I am a more grateful, more empathetic person,” she said.
She also shared an amusing post-surgery anecdote: “A funny event happened after surgery. In May, I had surgery, and at a Christmas party, a woman commented on my haircut. I was almost bald with a comb-over and another tuft of hair, and she said that I had such a progressive haircut. [My husband] Jeff and I just roared.”
Nine months after our interview, Margarita was diagnosed with a different cancer, and the cancer quickly took her life. Her husband graciously emailed the group, telling us about her passing and her final words to him: “Ta-ta, my love. I’ll see you on Rainbow Bridge.”
Though I don’t know exactly what that means, I do understand the sentiment, and in it I hear her love and optimism and faith.
After her passing, our support group leader, Bruce, wrote that she had often advised him on difficult interactions in the group. “Our group,” he wrote, “has lost its mother.”
I think of Margarita and the family she loved so much this All Saints Day. I’ll bet her family misses her. I’ll bet our ependymoma support misses her. I miss her, too.
I think of all my saints. Some were church-goers and some were not. Whether or not they went to church, and whether or not they proclaimed a particular God, they lived the commandments that Jesus said were most important: “Love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and soul; and love thy neighbor as thyself.”
So Granddaddy Edwards, Ms. Schuler, Granddaddy Matthews, Uncle Tommy, Rick, Grandmom Matthews, Grandmother Edwards, Horte Joyce, Margarita, and all the unnamed saints, I sang for you today:
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who to the world their steadfast love confessed,
Your name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia! Alleluia!