A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

Celebrating Guarjila

Yesterday, our little church celebrated a fifteen-year sister relationship with Guarjila, a rural community in El Salvador. As part of the celebration, Tom, who has been the leader in sustaining this relationship over the years, organized those of us who went on the first delegation to share our reflections from the time, April 16, 2000, and now, 15 years later. I tend to have a lot to say (I'm sure you're not surprised), so I only shared my current reflection, but I'll share both with you now.

On the airport home from that first delegation, I wrote: 

As the eleven of us from Wallingford United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington, climbed out of the van, Vicky and I commented on the absurdity of what we were doing:  "Hi.  We're from North America.  We want to be your friends."  As an idea, the concept of establishing a relationship had seemed so right, but as we arrived, it seemed bizarre and somewhat comical.

An hour later, however, as we sat with community members in their concrete block church, the graciousness of the people in the directiva and the church leaders made it clear that not only was relationship possible but also that it was important for those of us in the USA, North America, as well as for the people of Guarjila.  

The Salvadorans began to tell their stories of displacement in Honduran refugee camps after years of struggle, murder, torture, poverty and then the story of their return as a community to build a town that would be a testament to their belief in the value of every person; the commitment to basic needs of shelter, food, water, health, and education for all people; the power of faith and of love.

We told them about the money we had raised to come ($15,000) and about our questions concerning this expenditure:  should we have sent the money and stayed home?  Emphatically, they said "No.  What is important is our mutual relationship, our love, our increased understanding."  

I was skeptical, but as the week went on I came to believe them. So much of what they have suffered has been caused by or exacerbated by the government to which I pay my taxes.  To take responsibility for that pain I must know them as people.  To take responsibility means not only to recognize that these people are not some sort of demons, which I suspect anyone who would take such a trip would understand already, but to recognize that I must hold my own government responsible as if it were murdering my own sisters and brothers.  Which they are.

And while the people of Guarjila could separate the government of the US from the people, I can not.

"Hi.  We're from  North America.  Now I realize.  We are your family."

That, it seems to me, is the point of this travel.  And it is a point with broad ramifications, not only for the people of Guarjila or El Salvador, or Central America or Latin America, but for the homeless and tortured and desperate on the streets of Seattle, too.

   -- Mary Edwards
      April 16, 2000

For the fifteenth anniversary reflection, I wrote: 

Traveling El Salvador’s dusty roads with nothing in my hands to do or to offer, with only broken Spanish and an open and curious (and nervous) heart, changed my life.

From the people of Guarjila, I learned how tasty pupusas are; I learned that one can be overwhelmed by too many tamales; I learned that friendships across borders, like friendships in the neighborhood, begin with listening; I learned what my own country had done in the name of right (and in the spirit of fear); and I learned that I would live my life for justice, that I would learn from the poor, that my life’s work would be about hope.

After that trip, I returned to the U.S. and began working in schools served people living in poverty. In my last teaching years, I helped start a small school called Global Connections that served students living in poverty, many of them refugees from the world's civil wars, including significant numbers of students from Somalia and Mexico and Central America. 

I am so grateful that I did this work before my brain tumors, when I could still work in schools. 

Guarjila memories are like slides from an old Kodachrome:

Young Lupe, front teeth missing, running through the season’s first rains to catch mangos and deliver them to Ann and me.

Teenage Graham, sitting on a boulder with Martin in the middle of Rio Sumpul, the two talking for hours though Graham didn’t speak Spanish and Martin didn’t speak English.

Invisible children shouting, “Clarita!” from the hillsides, appearing in visible bodies at last, running to jump in teenage Clare’s arms, who sometimes looked over the shoulder of a young hugger to mouth, "I have no idea who this child is."

Ten year-old Mary addressing the Radio Sumpul youth as the group struggled with an ethical issue, telling them that they needed to consult the United Nations document on The Rights of the Child. Holy cow.

Sister Josephine in Seattle telling me that on the night of my brain surgery, the community had gathered in vigil for me.

Parting words from the directiva in response to the question, “What do we do now?” The response: “Learn about your own country.”

I remember: 
Tears of joy and of sadness;
Pain and soothing kindness in connections;
Beauty and laughter in the dust.

 May 4, 2015


As I shared this reflection, my voice cracked a few times with the losses of these tumors: because of these disabilities, I no longer teach in schools, and I will not visit Guarjila again (though I love hearing from previous students and people from Guarjila will sometimes visit us in Seattle.) 

Each member of the first delegation who was present (and some who have moved and were not able to be there) shared our reflections, and Tom closed with his own story. He had been a reluctant visitor that first time, only agreeing after three requests to join the delegation. (His recounts of denial reminded me--and I'm sure him--of Peter denying Christ three times.) 

At the end of that first trip, Tom really didn't know what to do with his heart's learnings, so he went on the next delegation, hoping to discern what he was meant to learn on that first delegation.

At the beginning of that second trip, the group visited the tomb of Archbishop Romero (after this Saturday's beatification, the martyred archbishop is now Blessed Oscar Romero). Tom wanted to pray for understanding at Romero's tomb. The group leader was in a hurry to go, but Tom insisted he have time at the tomb. He knew he would need to hear God's word quickly.

As Tom prayed, someone tugged at his sleeve. Believing this was a beggar that he did not have time for, Tom ignored the tug and continued to pray, "God, what was I meant to learn from my trip to Guarjila?" Again, the tug at his sleeve, which again he ignored. 

Tom continued to pray: "God, I'm in a hurry here. I need wisdom fast. What was I meant to learn from my trip to Guarjila?" A third time, there was a tug at his sleeve, and this time he turned to see an old woman. He used his little bit of Spanish to tell her that he didn't speak Spanish and couldn't help her.

She persisted and asked him to write her name in the visitors' book at Romero's tomb. She had not learned to write and could not write her own name. Somehow, Tom understood (he likens this to Pentecost, when people of many languages could miraculously understand one another), and the woman spelled her name out as he wrote it in the guest ledger.

So perhaps he was meant to slow down and listen. Perhaps God spoke to him through this old woman. "Slow down. Accompany me. Listen to me." 

This lesson has changed Tom's life, as the connections in Guarjila have changed so many of us. And perhaps Tom's lesson is a good lesson for us all:

Slow down. Accompany. Listen. Each of us is a child of God and deserves my attention. I deserve to take the time to pay attention.

As our church's birthright blessing goes:

Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world, there is no other exactly like you. In all the millions of years there has never been another exactly like you. You are a child of God. And you will be a child of God forever. No one can take this birthright from you.
May you continue to grow into the fullness of life that is God’s intent for you. And may you always know that you are loved.

A poem by Ernesto Cardenal, 
Adapted by Rev. Kathlyn James

We gave a gift of this blessing to each visitor on the most recent delegation from Guarjila.

Bendición de la primogenitura – para Julietta, Maria Jesus, Rosaly, y Armando

¿Sabes lo que eres? Eres una maravilla. Tú eres única. En todo el mundo no ha habido otra exactamente igual. En todos los millones de años, nunca ha habido otra persona exactamente igual que ti. Tú eres una hija de Dios. Y serás una hija de Dios para siempre. Nadie puede quitarte la primogenitura.
Julietta, siga viviendo siempre en la plenitud de la vida que es la intención de Dios para ti. Y conozca siempre que eres amada de Dios.

And I want you to know:

Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world, there is no other exactly like you. In all the millions of years there has never been another exactly like you. You are a child of God. And you will be a child of God forever. No one can take this birthright from you.
May you continue to grow into the fullness of life that is God’s intent for you. And may you always know that you are loved.

A poem by Ernesto Cardenal, 
Adapted by Rev. Kathlyn James

 Yes, you are a marvel. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Ann's voice kept cracking as she read to me the close of Mel Ryane's memoir Teaching Will. Ryane ran an elementary school Shakespeare Club that started with twelve members and closed ten actors in a tear-jerkingly successful performance of Shakespeare's Mid Summer Night's Dream. Ryane’s memoir may be the best on teaching that I’ve read. (High praise.) Suffused with the humor, self-doubt, and joys of teaching, Ryane's memoir reminded Ann and me of our own teaching: we worked hard and worried a lot. We had some successes and some failures. We knew that some things were out of our control. We lost some students, either literally or spiritually, and we were cheered as others made it through tough times.

Teaching Will was no Dead Poet's Society, and neither Ryane nor Ann nor I were Robin Williams. We were all real teachers dealing with real kids, putting our hearts into what we hoped would make a difference. Ryane, Ann and I share the passion of working with students, but our content differs. Before Shakespeare Club, Ryane loved acting and Shakespeare; for Ann, Calculus is a beautiful thing, and for me, writing and reading can provide hope for a different future. For us all, there was humility in learning what we could and could not do, and grace in the moments when students transcended us and our teaching.

The friend of a childhood friend, Ryane inscribed our copy of the book with her name and this exhortation: "Read, write, give" with a long squiggle after it that she must have learned from the kids in Shakespeare Club. I like Ms. Ryane. We’re peeps.

Ann and I loved the book from page one, as Ryane got the humor of teaching right from the beginning. Once the kids learn her last name, they use it repeatedly throughout the rest of the memoir. "Ms. Rayne…Ms. Rayne…Ms. Ryane…."I remember wanting to change my name during my first months of teaching because students called it out so often that I got sick of it. (Then my student Jonathan decided that my first name was Rachel, and he yelled, "Rachel!" to me from all over campus. He thought I was ignoring him because he was using my first name--inappropriate in this Dallas private school. My name is Mary, so I was ignoring because I didn't realize that he was talking to me. When I told him my name was Mary, he wouldn't believe me, so I got a new name without even trying.)

Ann cried with joy, as she often does in lovely moments, throughout the last two chapters. I'm not such a weeper as Ann: either in joy or in sadness. When I graduated from mental health therapy after seeking emotional help when I was coming out, my therapist told me that I should cry regularly (I can't remember if it was once a week or once a month.) She told me that crying is good for mental health, so if I hadn't been crying, I should watch a sad movie. (Ann has only to watch a Coca-cola commercial.)

After brain surgery, I remembered my therapist's exhortation, and sometimes I cried, but I haven’t cried so much as I’ve settled into my new life. However, I have tried to be better about crying, which I think means being real with myself. If I were to get a grade in being real with myself, my grade would certainly be higher than it was before I came out, but I'm pretty sure I'm still not an A student in this way. I'd still fail in the weepy category.

Yesterday, I presented to twelve women in a Care Management class about what's it's like to be a patient. I had known one person in the class, Rebecca, before my presentation, so I had asked her what she would like to know. She had told me, "I want to know what it's like to walk in your shoes…And how you might have used a care manager."

Rebecca and I agreed that patients walk in non-slip socks, not shoes, so I tried to share something of my experience by having them walk in my socks, a metaphor for the loss of control and identity as a patient. Each of the women in class obligingly donned a pair of socks that my most resourceful Value Village friends had gathered for me. My socks had been grey, but many of theirs were bright colors. Mine were non-slip on the bottom only, so I had to put them on correctly (a challenge after brain surgery), but many of these socks were non-slip all over, so a patient didn't have to put them on correctly as there was no "correct." Excellent improvement!

I shared with these women my experiences and my thinking much as I have on this blog. I emphasized the importance of listening. (One person asked how to improve doctors in this skill…if you're a doctor, please take this on.) I also talked about the support I've had, the many surprising gifts from slowing down and seeing the world from the perspective of someone without quite so much privilege, and my frustration when people with power stood in the way of my ability to live what would be a meaningful life to me.

When I left the class, I reflected on the presentation and thought of things that could have been better like I always did when I was teaching. This time, however, there's not a next day for me, so I'm sharing my thoughts with you.

When I talk with others, especially health care professionals, I am so aware  about my health issues and disabilities and the cultural tendency to feel sorry for me and/or to think of me as an exception because I insist on living a meaningful life that I emphasize the upside of brain tumors, and I wonder if I don't say enough about what's been hard.

In reflecting, I especially thought about how I have grieved my losses, about the sadness and the awareness of the person I was who is no more. That grief has faded over time but has never completely gone away, and sometimes it re-emerges with surprising force. I should have talked a least a little about that. Because grieving--and a new sense of vulnerability in the fragility of life--are certainly a part of this post-brain tumor experience.

I am lucky to have people in my life who don't just tell me to buck up when I'm sad, but who honor that feeling of loss in me, too. I should have said that.

Another therapist, this one my post-brain tumor therapist, encouraged me to create a ritual that recognized my losses as well as the gifts, so Ann and I wrote both the losses and the gifts on rocks we had gathered in a bowl in out dining room. Sometimes, now, friends add their own losses, and I have added the names of people I've loved who have died recently (including my childhood friend Brian, who died of cancer last week.)

Grief has been a tough part of healing. At times, I have had the sensation that my world is spinning, a physical sensation of being groundless, of being out of control. 

I don't know what it means that I didn't talk about this grieving when I talked with the Care Management class. I wish I had. 

It's lovely on the sunny side of the street, but the dappled shady side of the street has its beauty, too. And then there are the absolutely dark places that I have walked through but have never gotten lost in. I need to learn to talk about the darkness, too. I need to weep and talk about weeping. 

I could especially share this darkness in this group that was listening, such a gift. And thus, (like John Donne at the end of "Valediction: Forbidding Morning"), I end where I begun :

Teaching Will is a really good memoir because it embraces the joy and the sorrows in teaching without minimizing either. It's neither saccharine nor pitiful. Maybe I can learn to be like that. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crushes and Connections

My junior high school assistant basketball coach and I talked recently about the difference between a crush and a strong connection. The discussion arose because my sister told me years ago that I once had “a school girl crush on a motorcycle-riding basketball coach.”

My sister is generally right about things, especially when they’re about me, but I didn’t think I had had a crush on Coach Rose. I thought we had a strong connection. How do I know the difference?

The only person I’m sure I had a crush was Ann (before we became a couple, of course.) I remember the first time I saw her. She had a different lunch period in the high school where we were working than I did, and she stopped by the table where I was eating to give another teacher a home-made chocolate chip cookie. I remember thinking, “I want that woman to give me a cookie.”

At the time, I wasn’t aware that I was a lesbian, and as Ann and I got to be friends, I was constantly poking her, kicking the bottom of her shoe, or jumping out from behind a corner to scare her. I recognized that I was acting like a junior high school boy with a crush, but I didn’t recognize for a long time that this was a crush. (Sister Jen would have known for sure, but she was on the East Coast falling in love herself.)

So I did have a crush on Ann, I’m realizing, and there was a strong connection, too. So the two aren’t mutually exclusive. That makes the knowing even harder. Maybe especially at the time.

Can you help me out with this one? What is the difference between a crush and a strong connection?

I’m flummoxed. And the fact that Coach Rose is interested in exploring this, too, shows that thirty-seven years later we still have a strong connection. Which is just really cool.

Crushes and Connections Comments

Question: What is the difference between a crush and a connection?

Crushes and Connections Comments

Question: What is the difference between a crush and a connection?

I think a crush is not sustainable without a strong connection. It would fade and fizzle out. Allyson Zerba

Two millimeters. Margaret Anne Cashman

A crush is a flower; love is a garden. Mary Latham

If a crush is mutual, it can become a VERY strong connection If it's not mutual--well,
the crush-er will get over it eventually.
Jane Soder

I think of a crush as a rather private (and often painful!) one-sided affair that one usually experiences in adolescence before you've learned much about yourself and what you want/need in a romantic relationship so you project all sorts of desires and fantasies on to some person you have an attraction to (whether it's hormonal or some other ephemeral affinity, who knows?), while a strong connection comes from both parties and takes time to develop. They aren't mutually exclusive- both people could have crushes on the other which motivates them to get to know each other better to form that strong connection- but, if it is an unrequited crush (or even a requited one in which neither person is brave enough to make a move) than ouch....That's why it's called a crush-it hurts! So I guess I'd say that having a crush is being in love with the idea of being in love with one's romanticized idea of another person, whereas a strong connection necessarily takes time to develop and requires experience and respect-both for one's self, and the other party. Danielle WhoDatb

Agree with the crush definition, but I think strong connections can sometimes happen relatively quickly, and don't necessarily have a romantic component - just authentic, open sharing. Rita Smith

crush-idealized, one sided relationship where the best parts of what you think are present in another person may or may not be there

connection-possibly more mutual, a relationship based on 1 or more events/issues both real and imagined, regarding the other person/object/ A connection could be one sided as well, which might make it difficult to differentiate from a crush (except a crush tends to be more idealized and fantasy-based,) Solely my opinion, and too wordy. Jennifer Gotto