Tagged with " spirituality"

When Spring Isn’t Spring

The sanctuary of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (photo by Pete Seeger (no, I don’t know if it’s *that* Pete Seeger)).

My favorite thing about my church is the massive wall of windows in the sanctuary. They look out on the woods of oak and birch that surround one side of the building. I always make sure we’re sitting on the side that looks out that magnificent window. It’s the thing that most settles me into a sacred state of mind.

I love that my church home gives my family and me the community of faith that was the backbone and most important legacy of my upbringing in the Methodist church, while still embracing my personal faith in nature-based Wiccan pagan theo/thealogy. And the window is like the lodestone in my compass of the year, where I watch the parade of seasons caught in the same frame.

For a few weeks, I’ve been pointing out to the boys that the gusty winds were blowing off the last of Fall’s dead leaves to make room for the first Spring buds. But this week, I was so stunned by the apparent lack of progress in temperature and Spring-like disposition, I was moved to write a poem. (It may be terrible; I hardly ever share my poetry, so I don’t have a good sense of how it rates.)

Spring suffered a setback today.

Flurries fell and danced like dervishes

      in the parking lot.

Cold crept under my soles and

      froze my winter-pale toes.

 

Birch trees that, only seven days ago,

      seemed ready to move their magic

            above ground,

      now look tightly shuttered,

            their yellow-green hazy life still locked away.

 

This frigid season will visit a bit longer,

      and feels quite comfortably at home

though its hosts wish it long gone.

 

Spring,

      waiting politely in the driveway

            for its turn in the guest room,

must wait.

When I was in college, I had the great good fortune to see Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. speak on campus. He was as hilarious, irreverent, and insightful as his books. I wish I remember more of what he discussed, but just one thing has survived the years and leaks of memory.

He said we have our seasons all wrong. January and February, those are really Winter, when it’s cold as hell, he said. And May and June are really Spring, that glorious warm, flowery season. July and August are really Summer, when it’s hot as hell. And September and October are really Fall, all crisp and fruitful and wonderful.

But March and April aren’t wonderful and flowery. They’re cold and rainy and squishy and miserable, which isn’t our idea of Spring at all. But what the Earth is doing in those months is necessary for the glory of Spring and Summer to follow. He called it The Unlocking. And November and December aren’t really Winter–they’re frigid and gusty, without the beautiful white covering to hide the brown shades of dead grass and bracken. And that season, Vonnegut said, the one that protects the earth from true Winter, is called The Locking.

Perhaps the reason this explanation is the only thing that’s stuck with me from his visit is that it’s the most sensible description of the Wheel of the Year I’ve ever heard. March isn’t really Spring, and the sooner we stop expecting it to be, the happier we’ll all be. This is when the Earth unlocks itself for magic. Suddenly, the rain and sleet, the slush and melt, all seem much more tolerable.

Witchin’ in the Kitchen

I wrote this essay almost 15 years ago, deeper in the dark of winter than I am right now. But at a friend’s request, and because every word of it still rings as true today as it did when I wrote it. The only thing that’s changed in all this time is that I’m a better, more inspired cook than I was when I was just starting out. I’ve delved into ethnic cuisines, and I’ve learned to trust my senses and my reading skill when combining ingredients. That’s another kind of magic: the confidence that comes with age and practice. But that’s a different blog post.

*****

The time for ritual is at hand. I stand in the place of my power, tools of the magic I will work laid out before me– silver, wood, and steel. Fire and water are at my command, earth and air held back by my will. In this time, I will draw on the forces of creation, shaping elements. Here, I am an alchemist, a hand of the goddess herself.

For I am a kitchen witch.

I embrace this title proudly, despite lingering associations with the silly wizened dolls on brooms available at most craft fairs. As a name, it covers it all–my faith, my pleasure, the locus of my greatest power. No hallowed circle, no standing stones could imbue me with more strength or more possibilities. One friend firmly maintains that, when it comes to the Craft, if I can’t do it with Morton’s salt and a wooden spoon, it can’t be done.

While I am not so bold as to commit to such a statement myself, the power of the kitchen, and what it summons and creates, is not to be denied. Though I began down the path of Wicca in solitude, I learned the magic of cooking as all good magics are best learned : at the elbow of a wise and laughing grandmother. The rules were simple. Wash your hands. Clean as you go. Read the whole recipe before you start. Measure with care. And, most importantly, share the joy as often as possible–that’s why there are always enough beaters and spatulas and bowls for everyone. If you abide by that last rule, no spills or scorches can spell failure. Just vacuum up the oatmeal, wash the egg out of your hair, and laugh about the fun you had.

I know, it doesn’t sound much like the holy tenets of any faith, or even much of a New Age philosophy. But the results simply could not be missed. Even as a child, I recognized the phenomenal power of what we created in that tidy sanctuary of counters and appliances. We’re talking full sensory miracles here, folks. The smell hits you when you walk in the door, enveloping you in a warm blanket of knowledge that, here, you will not go hungry. Someone cares enough to spend time and energy to refresh and nourish you. That simple understanding, at the most primal level, cuts loose the weight of the world, letting your spirit rise. The sight of flushed skin and flour smudges brings light and laughter, and sneaky little dips into aromatic steam and unfinished delights allow you to keep a greedy secret that heightens anticipation. All these things seal the feeling of community as you finally join in the simple pleasure of sharing tastes, sensations, and satisfaction, even if only with one other person. No wonder “communion” takes place with food in so many religions.

But I have to be honest about something, and it’ll probably blow the lid right off any sort of “kitchen witch mystique” I may have managed to build. I am no gourmet. I’ve never taken a cooking class. Those brownies which my friends and co-workers steadfastly maintain are the best they’ve ever tasted? Betty Crocker, Fudge Supreme, $2.49 with coupon. That chili whose aroma wafts out like tickling fingers when I open the door on a cold winter night, drawing my husband in all the quicker? Packet of spices, canned beans and tomatoes. Simmer on low for 20 minutes. That’s it. And I’ve never made a secret of it.

The rave reviews continue, with every potluck dish and party treat. Is it because I always stir clockwise, letting goodwill flow into the smooth batters and sauces? Most likely not. And I’d feel terribly silly if I sprinkled water and invocations over my electric oven to ward off burnt bottoms or mushy middles. My power as a kitchen witch, so far as I can tell, comes solely the enjoyment I take in doing something simple that will produce happiness in others. As I skim my finger down the well-worn page of my favourite cookbook, I’m already thinking of the smiles and hums of pleasure that my “magic potion” will summon into existence. As I clean shortbread dough from my utensils and fingernails, I can already hear the surprised exclamations of delight ringing in the doorway as visitors first hit that gorgeous wall of aroma. And hours later, after the cupboards are closed and the counters are clean, I can still smell the lingering scent of crushed herbs and sweet essences on my fingers, and I fold them beneath my nose and breathe prayers of thanksgiving for the chance to bring joy to those I’ve fed.

So I may not always remember all the poetic invocations when I call the Watchtowers in a Circle, but I remember the favourite food for every loved one in my life, and most of the recipes. And so I might be dreadful at keeping a proper herbal grimoire stocked–my spice racks are the envy of all who survey. I consider myself well on the road to the Lord and Lady’s wisdom, because I know the seat and value of a generous, abundant power within myself, one of the greatest signposts on everyone’s spiritual journey. And when I get there, I’ll be sure to have a dish to pass.

Dear previous me … : Reverb Broads 2011 #1

I don’t have many reasons to write creatively (or any other way) in the course of everyday life. That’s no criticism of my work or my family life, just a statement of fact, similar to my frequent lament that intellectual conversation can be hard to come by as well. And NaNoWriMo isn’t my deal, because while I very much enjoy writing descriptions and dialogue, my plotting skills are woefully inadequate.

I’ve been really enjoying the mental and spiritual exercise of writing this blog, and only the lack of regular direction has kept me from writing even more entries. So you can imagine my delight when my friend Dana Carlisle Kletchka pointed her fellow blogifying females at Reverb Broads 2011. The organizers have assembled a fun and daunting set of prompts, and an impressive list of clever women to write on them.

So, today it begins with the first prompt: If the you of today could go back in time and give advice to any of the previous yous, which age would you visit and what would you tell them?

I maintain that I wouldn’t change anything in my life, because I’ve ended up almost exactly where I want to be. But there are just two points where a bit of perspective might have helped me endure, or not endure, as the case may be.

I would tell my 15 year old self that, though leaving the faith of my mother and her mother would be a scary thing to do, Christianity was not the world view that would feed my soul or bear me up in the darkest moments of my life. I would tell her that the lessons of faith that I’d observed in those women my whole life would actually inform my search, and that I would recognize the ring of truth when I heard it. Most importantly in all of this, I would tell her that setting out to find our way wouldn’t mean a life without spiritual community — there are so many more people on that road, who will love and support your search, than you ever dreamt. In fact, there’s a whole religion devoted to that free and responsible inquiry.

I would go back to my 18 year old self and tell her that I’m worth better treatment in relationships than I’d received so far. I already had a fairly warped view of what I should expect from significant others — I had experienced the wildly romantic, but I also thought I would never be enough for anyone, and I’d put up with some pretty egregious and thoughtless exploitation. I would tell 18 year old me that she isn’t wrong in thinking she would have to go to the ends of the earth to find the person who would complete us, but not to worry — the Internet would turn out to be a much bigger thing that any of us thought in 1992.

And I would tell my 24 year old self not to tell my History department that I was considering a semester of medical leave to deal with my fibromyalgia. She didn’t know that they would take “considering” to mean “had decided to,” and that they would screw things up in ways that would never be repaired. I would tell her that fibromyalgia has its ups and downs, that it’s not always going to be as bad as it was right then. It lasts longer than grad school, but grad school has an end, and you can outlast anything finite.

Also, when people ask you to rate your pain, and you tell them that you’re leaving 9 and 10 on the scale for childbirth? You’re totally right.

Finally, I would tell 30 year old me that the odd things about her beautiful, hilarious son aren’t her fault. Sure, he’s been doomed to geekdom since before his conception — that will only enrich his life. But all those strange, inexplicable, seemingly unconnected things? They’re real, they’re something, and they’re not caused by bad parenting. And finding out about the Asperger’s Syndrome that underpins them all will reveal a piece of our own self that we never imagined existed, lighting up connections that have dwelled in dark mystery since our earliest days. I would tell her to be kind and patient to him, and to herself, even at those most frustrating moments when it looks like he’ll have to fight the same battles we’ve already struggled through.

And to all the previous mes: be easy with yourself. People will love and value you, not just despite all your weirdness — they’ll love and value you for it.

10 Wonderful Things For Which I’m Giving Thanks

I like Thanksgiving fine as a holiday, but I work hard all year long to give my thanks in the moment; saving it up for a day- or month-long burst of gratitude is too hard. But I don’t always tell people who aren’t there each day all the things I’m grateful for, so I suppose if you’re not with me all the time, you might just hear the whinging. So here are ten things I’m grateful for, right now today:

1) I’m grateful it’s going to be in the 50s today, which is warm enough to send the kids outside to play when the Macy’s parade is over, but dinner isn’t ready yet.

2) I’m grateful that the turkey we bought yesterday thawed overnight, and fits in my nice old spackleware roasting pan. I’m also grateful that it didn’t come with giblets inside, because ick.

3) I’m really grateful that my mom came all the way up from Florida to be with us. Money’s too tight (and our car is too small) for us to make it down there comfortably for the holidays, so it’s been almost two years since I’ve seen her, and she’s seen the boys. It’s not easy for her to take off work, or be away from my dad and brother, but here she is, and that’s awesome. My mom and I never went through that awkward phase when I was a teenager and was supposed to hate her and the world, and though motherhood has changed our relationship in ways neither of us could’ve predicted, she’s still one of my best friends.

4) I’m grateful that the new Muppet movie was so completely awesome. I’m a hardcore Muppet fan (the Onion t-shirt that says, “I understand the Muppets on a much deeper level than you do” was practically made for me), and I’ve awaited the movie with a mix of wild anticipation and stomach-clenching dread. Knowing Jason Segel, as much a mega-fan as I am, was helming the project was a comfort, and the movie was everything I hoped it would be. I smiled until my cheeks hurt. I am content.

5) I’m wildly grateful for my job. I work on cool products and projects, with awesome creative bosses who value my contributions, serving customers who really appreciate the efforts I make. And the money doesn’t hurt either.

6) I’m beyond grateful for Jill Gebeke, Kim Hwang, Lori Brown, Kris Christensen, Melanie Hjelm, Nicole Tschohl, Alicia Liddle, and all the fantastic teachers and staff at Chelsea Heights Elementary. From the moment we walked into that school last year, they embraced Connor and Griffin with love, compassion, and understanding. They really want every kid to be happy and fulfilled, and they appreciate our efforts as parents to support their education. We could’ve moved Connor to the gifted magnet school after he blew the top off his aptitude tests last year, but we really couldn’t imagine a better school for our boys.

7) I’m so very grateful for our fantastic church home, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s further away than other UU churches in the community, but completely worth the hike to hear our phenomenal minister Victoria Safford, to have our boys in the hands of the wonderful Religious Education coordinator Janet Hanson and her dedicated volunteers, and to sit in the beautiful sanctuary and watch the seasons pass outside the gorgeous wall of windows. It’s a place that feeds our souls in ways we never even knew we needed.

8) I’m crazy-grateful for the outrageously cool friends I have all over the world, and the magic of Facebook and Twitter and email and Skype that make it possible to feel close to them every day. I revel in the successes they enjoy, and marvel that so many diverse, smart, and brilliantly creative people would lavish their time and attention on little me.

9) I’m intensely grateful for the roof over our heads. We live in a safe neighborhood, with neighbors who love our kids and share theirs with us. It takes a village, and we’ve knit a little one among these apartment buildings. Our community looks out for one another, and forms a safety net we haven’t enjoyed almost anywhere we’ve lived since the boys were first born.

10) And finally, today and every minute of every day, I’m grateful for my husband. I’ve already enumerated some of the awesomeness that is our marriage, but I can never say enough how lucky I am to have a partner in all my earthly endeavors.

May your bellies be full, your hearts be light, and gratitude settle into your bones and move you to lift up those thanks to the people who bring love and light into your life.

Nov 20, 2011 - Sex Ed, World Religions    4 Comments

To my friends, who are exactly as they should be

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I don’t want to diminish the grief and anger that is right and righteous at the discrimination, mistreatment, ignorance, imprisonment, torture, and killing of transgender people one bit — we need every single ounce of that outrage to keep fighting for a more just and welcoming world.

But today, I want to count my blessings more than my tears.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have several trans friends. Some are new acquaintances, some I’ve known for almost 20 years. Among them are scholars, writers, counselors, teachers, and public servants. Some are activists; some expend all their available energy to fight the battles in their own lives. I’ve held hands and marched with them. I’ve shared dinners and debates with them. I’ve sat through long nights, separated by miles but joined by phone lines or computer screens, bearing witness to the confusion, pain, and sorrow that comes in crushing waves.

They make me feel so, so lucky. Lucky not to have to fight and explain why I am who I am — lucky that they count me a friend.

I’ve never had a moment of doubt with them. It’s very simple: each one is precisely who they are meant to be. I couldn’t imagine calling them or seeing them as anything but the person they are, because the beacons of their souls shine so clearly and brightly. Refusing to accept something that so obviously is what it is would be absurd. There’s a name for doing that: delusion.

Trans people pay an enormous price when they stop resisting the voices, internal and external, that insist that they be something they’re not. But it hasn’t always been that way. A variety of cultures, across time and distance, haven’t just not repressed or reviled trans people; they valued them as closer to the universal sacred. They walk between worlds, working the shadowy seam of human existence. It’s no great leap to think they have insight or power over other liminalities.

So today, as I light a candle for my friends whom I treasure — some I’ve come so terrifyingly close to losing to the darkness — and for those whose family and friends’ lights were extinguished, I do it with the words of this prayer by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern from “We Pray: Prayers  To and For the Transgender Community”:

“To all trans and other folk who are hurting and afraid, I wish you peace and happiness. No god worthy of our worship could do anything but love you, and no true church could ever exclude you. I feel very blessed to share this life with you.

The Hindu god Indra is said to have created reality as a great net, with jewels at each intersection of the threads. Every jewel is reflected in every other, and they are all connected by the infinite, intricate web. The jewels are sacred and so is the net that connects them. And so I pray:

Dear God, you are the between-spaces of our lives. Where one hand reaches to touch another, you are there. Where eyes meet across the crowd and confusion and find understanding, you are there. Where the spark leaps from one mind to ignite another, that is you. Wherever we connect, you are the connection.

Each of us is a jewel in Indra’s net, shining like dew in a spider’s web. Praise to you, the web that connects us one to another!

When we are in the in-between, on our way from the intolerable to the unknown–

When we defy the categories that small minds invent and dare to imagine something beyond–

When we seek others who are on a journey, on a threshold, on the margins, any of the shimmering intersections of our lives–

When we listen to the possibilities whispered within and step into mystery, with trust, with fear, with trembling– may we find peace, for we dwell in your sacred place.”

To my brave, beloved friends, you have my love, my gratitude, my admiration. Be good to yourself, for you are nothing but good to me.

On a Note of Triumph

It’s Veterans Day, a holiday which I think is getting a whole lot more notice this year on this uncommonly parallel date. Of course, the day and the men and women it honors deserves this much attention every year, but we Americans aren’t particularly gifted at long memory, with such a skinny history on this continent, or laser focus, as our culture is built on perpetually scanning the horizon for the next and the new.

I’ve been incredibly blessed with extraordinary history teachers, from a very early age, as I’ve mentioned earlier. This only fed my inborn affinity and curiosity for the subject, so add what I’ve learned  on my own perambulations to all the excellent instruction I’ve received. In all, I’d like to think myself pretty broadly informed about our past.

So I was shocked and kind of appalled at myself when I discovered a gap in the shape of a man named Norman Corwin. Corwin was a writer and producers of radio dramas for CBS, a colleague of Edward Murrow’s. He made weekly radio dramas throughout World War II, and because CBS was the underdog network, they gave him absolute free rein to do his war dramas however he liked, without having to show scripts or even titles to executives before the hour of its airing.

I’ll give you a minute to just imagine about a world where that happens.

On Armistice Day in 1945, his drama “On a Note of Triumph” aired to an estimated audience of 60 million listeners. America’s population as of July 1, 1945 is recorded as 139,928,165, so that’s almost HALF of the people in America, listening to the same thing at the exact same time. Again, take a minute to just imagine that. It’s a vaguely appalling thought, when we consider the things that get “big ratings” these days, though they’re just a fraction of the population compared to Corwin’s audience.

But they weren’t listening to anything like what we get in media these days. Carl Sandburg called On a Note of Triumph “one of the all-time great American poems.” This isn’t any exaggeration. It is elegant and poetic, reminiscent of Walt Whitman’s work. We just don’t write like this anymore, and we certainly wouldn’t expect an audience comprising half of all Americans — adult and child, more and less educated — to hang on every word of this kind of text anymore.

I found myself crying in the warehouse today, though, listening to some of the most beautiful literature I’ve ever heard in my life. I cannot urge you strongly enough to listen to the entire thing, but I want to share the passage called “The Prayer” here. I’ve got a lot to say about this passage — about the claims of moral rightness that it makes about science, for instance, so foreign from our current cultural notion of ignorance as somehow desirable — but I’ll do that later. For today, please just absorb Corwin’s words about sacrifice and justice and peace.

And share them, because if people made speeches like this, that articulated the best of America, in her halls of power, maybe we would look our veterans in the eye more often when we thank them for their service.

***

“The Prayer”

An Excerpt from On a Note of Triumph, by Norman Corwin (first broadcast on CBS May 8, 1945)

Music: Preparation: a slow, quiet, reverent theme which builds, not too quickly or obviously, under the Petition:

NARRATOR. Lord God of trajectory and blast,
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the plowshare.
Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;
That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves Your hand;
That freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol
Which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly.
Lord God of the topcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer’s brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the milltown among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and a hedge
Him who You made in Your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock,
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow,
And clothe himself with dignity in December.
Lord God of test-tube and blueprint,
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors
and give instruction to their schemes;
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father’s color
or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream
as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of little peoples through
expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come
for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.

Music: up to a grand conclusion.

Oct 28, 2011 - Fine Arts    16 Comments

I Still Believe

Sunday night, I was born again in the fires of rock and roll.

I’ve never experienced the bliss and fervor I see on the faces of people at religious revivals, so I can’t be sure it feels the same. But if their god can’t offer them the same welling joy, the fullness of heart, the redemption of primal psychic and sensory needs, then I can’t fathom the attraction. And if some would say the bone-deep delight, the hope for the continued existence of love and beauty in this world, the honest-to-goodness peace on Earth and goodwill to all men that settled onto me with every blessed chord isn’t divine, well then, I would have to tell them that they’ve never touched that state of being.

By now, you think I’m exaggerating, overstating the case for the sake of a writerly challenge or a philosophical argument. I’m really not.

A big part of it was the music. If you’re not a fan of Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, let me deliver unto you that great good news. Theirs is a happy polyamory of punk, folk, and old-fashioned rock and roll — if you need an equation, maybe this will help: Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls = Green Day + Flogging Molly + Buddy Holly. Turner’s got a singular voice that fits all three genres perfectly, if you can conceive of such a thing without hearing it, equally at home in the cozy black box of a venue that is the famed Triple Rock Social Club or singing wrenching tales of blood and rebellion in a militia camp. And his ability to hold true to pitch and somehow stay melodic, no matter how raucous the refrain gets, is a rare thing as well. The band is equally accomplished, from the metronymic steadiness of the drums, to the ruffled arpeggios the keyboard layers on top of classic guitar and bass.

And the songs — Turner’s got the gift of nailing the catchy hook and rousing chorus, in both tune and lyric. The best of his songs should be the anthems of nations or, at the very least, the downtrodden masses. Even the ones that bemoan the toll of age and cynicism on a generation too tired to be the happily angry punks we once were bestow an unexpected optimism and communal goodwill. As a result, fans come ready to sing along, and I watched with keen curiosity to see whether an arms-around-shoulders biergarten sway, or a rollicking mosh pit would break out (a bit of both, at various points, as it turned out). And when you’re singing every song en masse, it’s no stretch to smile and talk with your newfound allies, in a way that just doesn’t happen at even the most intimate of other concerts. This was a show to restore a person’s faith in his fellows.

That we were even there was the definition of Serendipity, or Destiny, or whatever you will. I took the wrong pair of headphones (broken) and the wrong exit for home on a trip to the doctor’s one morning this fall. So while I’d been keen to listen to my own playlist, and to do it for a lot less time, instead I had the company of The Current, MPR’s excellent modern station, as I waded through snarls of traffic. About 15 minutes after I should’ve been home, “I Still Believe” came on the air. I was smitten — new favorite song, on the spot. When I got back, I queued up the YouTube video to show my boys. After it finished playing, up popped a little box, announcing: “Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls at the Triple Rock Social Club, October 23. Would you like to know more?” Why yes, yes I would. And at $13 a ticket, how could I pass up the chance?

So there we stood on Sunday night. We’d enjoyed the opening act, Into It Over It, enough to buy the guy’s album, but I knew I couldn’t make the whole show on my feet. We slunk off to the old bar next door, and I felt like a lame, hollowed-out, decrepit old punk. But a nice long sit, enhanced by some unexpectedly excellent comfort food, at least left me feeling competent to remain upright for the rest of the night. I was sore, and glaring at the hale and hearty 20-somethings occupying the few seats, when Turner and company took the stage.

And then they played, and I went to a different place. By the end of the first song, my jaded concert-going self was tingling with the knowledge that this was going to be an exceptional show. By the end of the second song, I forgot my pain and fatigue, no mean feat these days. And by the end of the third song, I found myself unexpectedly crying a little, as my senses sizzled like Fourth of July sparklers. My body thrummed, comforted and content as the heartbeat of my long-lost rock and roll mother lodged next to my own, bass in my belly and drums in my feet.

I was over-joyed, the pleasure of it all spilling out my fingertips like light. I couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to run outside, take everyone by the hand, and bring them into this place, this time, this feeling. And I left the show restored in all the thirsty crevices I didn’t know were cracked.

So I’ll just let Frank and the boys sing us out:

“I still believe in the saints
In Jerry Lee and Johnny, and all the greats
I still believe in the sound
That has the power to raise a temple, and tear it down
I still believe in the need
For guitars and drums and desperate poetry
I still believe that everyone
Can find a song for every time they’ve lost, and every time they’ve won
So just remember folks we’re not just saving lives, we’re saving souls and we’re having fun…

Now who’d’ve thought, after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all?
Who’d’ve thought that after all it was rock n roll.”

 

Sep 27, 2011 - Domestic Engineering    1 Comment

Picture Day

Picture Day is an act of faith. I mean, even more than the usual act of faith that is bundling your children out into the world, delivering them into the hands of strangers to have their minds and bodies nourished in the company of their peers. But there’s a certain divine grace about Picture Day.

Maybe it’s in the frantic warnings of the parents, different than every other morning, as the kids clatter toward the door. There are the usual questions — “Do you have your homework? Your lunch money?” And of course, there are admonitions — “Be good. Don’t cause trouble at the bus stop. No swordfighting with your recorder in music today, okay?” But today, there are pleas, urgings, prayers almost — “Look, just try to stay tidy until your picture. Please make sure your breakfast goes in your mouth. No splashing in the sinks. Whatever you do, don’t play in the dirt until afternoon recess.” They stop, nod more solemnly than they usually do; none of the usual eye rolling. Your kids understand, for one rare moment, that your happiness rises and falls on their ability to follow directions, once they’re beyond your control.

Or maybe it’s in the lines of kids standing against the gymnasium walls, nervously awaiting their turn before the camera. They’re not in their Sunday best, usually — that would be too conservative — though a few boys are buttoned and knotted into miniature Brooks Brothers shirts and ties, oddly serious as if rehearsing some stifling notion of adulthood. No, most kids are in their peacock finery: their brightest, trendiest clothes, little hipsters who will leave not only the stamp of “THIS IS ME” on their pictures, but a clear declaration of “THIS IS NOW.” The girls, especially, no matter how young, have special permission today to embrace the sparkly, the dangly, the poofy. Hair is teased and curled, contraband lip gloss gleams in the fluorescent light. They, too, are rehearsing for adulthood, but it’s not stifling. It’s exciting, and they are lined up, clutching their picture orders like tickets to get on the biggest, best ferris wheel in the world.

It might be in the careful eyes and hands of the adults who guide the process. They’re intercessories for every parent who can’t be there in person: the teachers, even more so today than every other day; the PTO volunteers standing by with tissues and combs; and the photographers themselves. They stand guard to avert disaster in those last critical moments. They advise on questions of monumental importance: top button buttoned? hair over the shoulder? glasses on or off? They tame cowlicks and smudges with beneficent hands. It is holy work, to make a child feel beautiful, to want to smile.

Ultimately, that’s what makes Picture Day an act of faith. Each child, exactly as they are — that day, that moment — sits, smiles, and is recorded. Whether they buy photos or not, they are worth the dignity of a photo, so they will be in the class picture. For that one second, no matter what awaits them back in the classroom, or back at home, they have something to smile for. It’s a message to their friends, and their future selves. It says, “Remember me, just like this.” And if you look at them that way, no class picture can be anything but beautiful.

What are your Picture Day memories?

Working the Beads

I bought my mala beads almost ten years ago, in a huge bead store in Mountain View, CA. To be perfectly honest, I liked the way they looked in people’s hands. I wanted to try to cultivate that practice, in hopes that they would bring me some of the peace and acceptance I saw reflected in the aspect of those who wore them. I had just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and I was locked in the first of many struggles for respect and funding with my university department. I desperately needed peace and acceptance.

The beads, at least, were only $1.99.

I’ve worn them on and off over the years, but I never really picked up the habit of using them as a spiritual focus. Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a mantra girl (note to self: awesome new superhero name). I can’t settle on just one idea and focus on it for very long — I’m the Queen of Lateral Thinking (2nd note to self: awesome new Nobilis character).

But my stomach had been tying itself in knots for days over the impending Troy Davis execution, and by the time I left work yesterday afternoon, I was well and truly sickened in heart and belly, on top of the upper respiratory thing that already had me at a disadvantage for air and sleep. So, desperately needing peace and acceptance, I fished my mala beads from the depths of my jewelry box with 75 minutes left before the scheduled time of death.

And, while I believe as an article of my faith that the focused will can change the unfolding of the universe, neither my will nor that of the hundreds of thousands watching and waiting last night stopped the killing of Troy Davis. This can’t be a hopeful, new-world story like the Repeal Day one, and in 12 minutes, I’m going to have to wake Connor and tell him that all the hope and doubt and logic and justice didn’t save a man’s life. I’m afraid of what little piece of him will disappear forever with those words.

But I learned something about the practice of the beads as they clicked through my fingers steadily for over five hours last night. I didn’t stick to just one thought that whole time; in fact, it was the evolution of my focus that tells the story of the night better than any news report can.

When I first lit a candle and picked them up, I started whispering, “May you find peace,” and again, in the spirit of total honesty, I probably didn’t just mean Troy Davis. I meant the crowding protesters in Jackson GA and Washington DC and London. I even meant, judgmentally, the parole board that had voted 3-2 the day before to deny clemency, and the GA Supreme Court that had refused a stay of execution. But mostly, I meant my own roiling stomach and twisted heart.

At 15 minutes to 7.00pm Eastern, tears started falling, and I asked Griffin to come sit with me and snuggle. He knows when I need comfort, and he’s more at ease sitting with my grief without trying to fix it than I often am, so he just nestled into my side and started to play with the beads too. He asked what I was saying, and at that point, I realized the words had changed. Now it was simply, “I wish you peace,” and I was trying to speak directly to Troy. Griffin liked those words, and he liked the slide of the beads, so I held the string’s tension and we went back and forth, each saying the tiny prayer for a little while, as we waited for the news to tell us that a man was dead.

But the news didn’t come, and the TV networks faltered — those that were covering it, shamefully few — and so the click of my mouse on Twitter joined the click of the beads in my other hand as I waited for news. And the words changed again as the first messages of the delay came through: “Please stop this.” As it became apparent the US Supreme Court was considering a stay, they changed again: “You can stop this.”

They didn’t. Not couldn’t — didn’t. And the process reversed itself. I wished Troy Davis peace as the tears rolled down, until they announced his death. And I whispered, “May you find peace” as the media witnesses spoke and the analysis began and the verb tenses changed.

But my object had changed. I was wishing peace to the families, to the guards, to the lawyers, to the activists, to the witnesses.

I was wishing peace to those who had waited, those who had held their breath, those who had hoped for the hope and justice that our system almost never delivers.

I was wishing peace to those whose hearts hunger for something so deep and unnameable that they think the death of another human would quench it.

I was wishing peace for those who would sleep and get up and fight on, and those who would not find sleep that night, in the shadow of too much doubt.