A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

With Feathers

Saturday, my partner Ann and I joined Seattle’s river of womxn and mxn marching through Seattle’s streets to say we’re angry and scared and paying attention. Our friend Linda’s daughter Emma gave me a “pink pussy hat” at the end of the march, which was great because the shadows were lengthening and it was getting chilly. I hadn’t brought my own mostly because I’m an over-the-50-hill Southern lady and I just couldn’t bring myself to display such a thing. (As we talked with our friend Leslie and our minister Ann a couple of days before the march, Pastor Ann opened her eyes wide in a moment of insight: “You know,” she said about those pussy hats, “that has another meaning.”

As Pastor Ann left the sanctuary, I said what any good Southerner would say to a somewhat na├»ve but lovely sentiment: “Bless her heart.”

My partner Ann didn’t need a hat for the march. In fact, a hat would have covered the wide pink stripe down the right side of her silky white hair: at once bold and lovely.

We had taken the bus from near our home with our friend Marion. (Marion had planned to take the #48 to our house, but the buses were all full, so her partner Wolfgang gave her a ride. Another friend and her partner attempted to catch the #48, too, but because the buses were all full, they went to the place where the #48 begins its route and waited two hours with a long line of others.)

The march stretched over three miles, and the first marchers arrived at the end point before the last ones had left the gathering space, so those who were late had plenty of time to join in.
As we marched, booms would travel from the back of the march to the front, giving us a sense of just how big it was. The first time we heard the roar, Marion and I looked at the blue skies above for the jet. That’s what it sounded like.
There’s been a lot in the news estimating how many people were there: 100,000+… 125,000…175,000…200,000? In marches nationwide, I’ve heard a million total.

That’s a lot of people, and I felt hope of a resistance for the first time since the election.

I wonder if Trump paid attention. Maybe. Whatever the number, it was Seattle’s largest political march ever. But a few years ago, after the Seahawks won the Super bowl, a reported 700,000 attended the welcome parade down Seattle’s snowy streets. That’s a lot more. At that time, the numbers in one city approached the national total of marchers on Saturday.

I worry that our culture still celebrates football more than it attends to a threat to who we might be as a country.

So I feel hopeful but not secure in the resistance.

The Sikh Valerie Kaur made me think about the possibility of hope in her rousing talk at a Christian church. I was particularly struck when she said, “The mother in me asks, 'What if? What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?... What if this is our country's great transition?" (The whole speech is short and worth hearing: http://stage2.sikhnet.com/news/video-valarie-kaur-delivers-rousing-speech-church )

Maybe this thing waiting to be born will be a different creature than Yeats’s “rough beast…slouch[ing] toward Bethlehem waiting to be born,” a creature imagined after World War I.

At church on Sunday, we read the story of Saul, a beast who persecuted Christians but had a conversion experience on the way to Damascus and became a good guy. The focus of the reflection was on the essential idea that even the most awful people can change. I like that idea, but I kept focusing on the line, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

I have seen suffering in El Salvador, Michoacan, Ethiopia, Cuba, and Seattle. I have read about World War II, Rwanda, and Syria. And the lists go on. I have seen that there is a grandness, a largeness of spirit, that grows out of suffering. That’s all well and good, a thing to admire from a distance, but I don’t want the suffering to enter my world.

Trump seems to be the parallel to Saul, and maybe he will be enlightened, but like Ananais in the story, I doubt it. To be honest, I’m not thinking about Trump suffering, though that seems like it would be healthy. I’m worried about my own suffering. How much will I need to suffer in this brave, new world? I want to be faithful to a vision that we might have a more just world, that this may be the darkness of the womb and not of the tomb, but I would prefer not to suffer along the way. Really, suffering is not my strong suit.

So I’ve been thinking about hope, about the vague and energizing spirit of it and the more exacting and nagging question of hope for what.

One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, writes about hope as a kind of spirit, a substanceless thing to be described only through metaphor:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Perhaps hope in this time will be asking a crumb—or more—of me. Perhaps I will learn, as the poet, actress, teacher and activist Leticia Nieto, said, “There’s hope, but hope is not what you thought it was.” Perhaps hope will be harder than I had hoped.

It is true that through my struggles with brain tumors and disabilities, my soul has grown deeper and wider. Perhaps it’s time to grow again, and I know from experience that growing may be more painful than I want it to be, but I’ll be richer for it.

Perhaps this is another way of agreeing with the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

And perhaps for now that is the thing with feathers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Be Not Afraid

"Let's get together," my friend Dave suggested over email as if we'd seen each other over last six years since I left my work in schools. Dave had read my Facebook and blog posts and knew that I have been struggling since Trump's election--especially since Trump started appointing people to his cabinet and other leadership positions.

Simultaneously, I've heard from elders, Jews and people of other faiths who were in Europe during Hitler's rise: Pay attention. This is how the Third Reich began.

"Okay, I'm paying attention," I've  thought." But how does paying attention change anything? I've noticed things haven't gotten any better since I've been paying attention."

It's not that I expected Dave to give me all the answers or that I would believe him even if he did; it's just that Dave's a good and thoughtful person, and I knew I could count on his thoughtfulness, intelligence, and wisdom. 

My friend Stephen had told me the night before about the Jewish tradition of the Hidden 36 saying that there are in this world at any one time 36 people who will save the world from misfortune. (You're probably one of them, so go to https://www.hidden36.com/call-to-action/ to order bagels for a food bank or a food voucher for a person or family in need.) 

The Hidden 36 don't know who they are, and we don't either. It's good I'm not Jewish because I think there are more. Waking from my nap just now, I quickly listed my first fifteen and figured if I kept going I'd get to 36 pretty fast...and I suspect that there are really good people I don't know.

Dave is certainly one of the good persons of this world, so we got together for lunch and a good talk. 

As I ate my crepe and salad, Dave observed that I was a person who sought peace and comfort. Yep. He pointed out that the American experience of a safe and comfortable world is not the experience most people in the world have. He also pointed out that, in his travels, he's seen so many people affected by war, political instability, and poverty. 

"I have, too," I thought to myself. He continued that there is surprising joy in those places, and I remembered how surprised I was during my summer in rural Michoacan in the 1980s. The people there were poor, very poor, and they experienced more joy than I had imagined possible. (Yes, there was tremendous pain, too.) I also thought of my friends in rural El Salvador who experienced torture and the murder of their communities in the 1980s and yet are teaching me about kindness and faith.

Dave also pointed out that the struggles I've faced--he alluded to my brain tumors and disabilities without naming them--have probably deepened me as a person, enriched my life in ways I would not have anticipated. That's true. He noted difficulties in his own life and, acknowledging that neither of us would have asked for those times, said that difficult times had deepened him, too.

"All of this is true," I thought, "but the Holocaust and the Rwanda genocides and the list goes on are too terrible to grant as darknesses that deepen us and are therefore okay."

He didn't say they were okay; merely that as a person of faith (any faith, I will add) I am called to keep my faith even when the world goes dark. After all, God hasn't changed since the election. My country has changed (and will likely change more).  I am changing, too. 

Dave reminded me of the New Testament story where Jesus is asked, "Should we pay taxes to Caesar?" and Jesus replies, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." In this passage, Dave pointed out, Jesus separated our responsibility's to the state and to God. Dave's perspective was so clear and thoughtful, so full of kindness and humility.

Dave separates church and state in his mind. He told me, "My mission isn't to fix the system. It's to save people." As excellent as his points were and as solid as his faith is, I don't separate church and state, however. My whole life has been both about the individual and the system. My work in schoolS, for example, was about teaching individuals as well as confronting the system. (I was more effective with teaching individuals, and it certainly brought me more joy.) 

On Christmas Eve in our church, our minister told the story of Jesus's birth and asked us to consider who we are in that story: Were we Mary or Joseph or even the donkey, headed to a foreign land under the proclamation of a powerful leader? Were we the angel who appeared to Mary and told her not to be afraid, that she'd be having God's child (how do those two ideas fit together?), or were we Joseph whose fiance was pregnant with someone else's child? Were we the inn keepers who had no room or the person who offered up a stable? Were we the baby born to give hope to the world or the animals in the stall who watched him? How about the emperor whose power was challenged by this baby? Maybe we were the wise ones, astronomers, who carried gifts from afar. Or maybe we were the shepherds watching their sheep by night who were frightened by an angel. 

No question. I'm a scaredy cat: I'm a shepherd, and having a celestial voice tell me not to be afraid wouldn't give me peace but would scare the heebee jeebees out of me. If I follow the shepherds' story, though, I'd see a bright star, follow it, and end up at a manger by a new baby, his parents, barn animals, and rich guys with fancy gifts. If I follow the story, I am not afraid: I am a believer from the beginning. 

In hearing the story again, it helped to consider the world that Jesus was born into: a world of corruption and despotism... and I see that the world has other possibilities. 

As I write this, stuck for a moment about what to write next, I glance to my right, and I see a page of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotations. I read: "We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope."

As I read this, I wonder, "How will I keep faith and hope if my country becomes the Fourth Reich? How will I be part of the hope in this brave new world?"

I suppose I will do what I have always done in a new and perhaps more courageous way: I will seek to bring more love into the world.