Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Freedom From Fear & Terror

What is more important than freedom from fear and terror?

When was it last year that I stood on the top of the play structure in the middle of the children's park and felt fear streak through me as I watched my three-year-old and 9-month-old sons, thinking, where will we take cover? The woods are too far. A shooter could pick us off so easily here.

Somewhere in the south mothers march dressed in orange for gun regulations that might lead to something more or less than this agony of sending our children to schools afraid that today will be the day they're shot and killed as they sit in their tiny chairs learning letters, numbers, how to hide in a closet, become soundless.


My husband is doing the dishes, a week before Christmas.

Why should anyone be allowed to have a handgun, I ask.

I think people should have the right to own a gun.

A handgun?

Not an assault rifle, he says.

But handguns are the biggest killers.

Look, I believe in the second amendment.

What do you mean? What about it? What about it do you believe...what about it... in it...what?

The water is swishing and I'm trying not to steam, not to blow a mouthful of rage, a rage I was born with, a rage that only love has ever calmed, only slow breath has ever mitigated.

Somewhere in the east women are marching, yes, women, of course, women, and every one is silent and pretending they don't care--numb--it's December 14th. Three years have passed since twenty children and six teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Women are marching and men, white men, are standing with assault rifles slung over their shoulders as they pass. Someone is saying, why are they always blaming white men. I'm speaking, telling my class, it's ideology, it's--do you understand? It's not just white men, it's how do I explain this isn't about individuals it's about a dominant world view that excludes most of us. And when I say exclusion I mean violence, that is violently suppressing most human beings.

We get it. They nod. But I can't be sure and I don't understand why I keep saying this over and over. I'm not saying it's you, white man, it's not that. How do I explain?

Why should anyone have a fucking gun? I'm asking my husband and he is still doing the dishes and the children are playing. The one-year-old is riding his horse on wheels back and forth across the kitchen, the three-year-old is stomping dinosaurs under the table, pretending he doesn't feel the lightening between us.

I deserve to be free to live in peace. I deserve to be free of violence and fear. Don't we deserve this. This is not a question.

I want to hate. I want to hide under a rock. I know, I know acutely that hate is a form of the disease, that anything that takes me away from the truth that you and I and you and I and you and you and you are of the same living force--breath of body of earth of evanescence, this impermanence, this one life--anything that separates me from you is a part of the disease.

But still, I don't want to feel the truth of loss, fear, terror.

Then today, in class, a student-- a white boy--speaking. He had a conversation with his grandfather about racism. He has thought about the limits of our freedoms. He is interested. He is thankful that we talked about all the hatred and the rage and the genocide and the endless violence.

Baby's thrown against electric fences, humans buried alive in Sierra Leone by child soldiers, twelve-year-olds, Black men killed in the streets of Baltimore, Ferguson, Minneapolis, Chicago. A wall being built and no Muslims allowed. Women's bodies criminalized. No end to global warming. Women jailed for miscarriages and the names of the dead children and their teachers. Here they are. Read each one. Let yourself say their names aloud and let yourself feel the weight of each life on your lips, from your breath and whole being. Do not stand numb with the fear that you can't carry the burden of this sorrow. It is not true. You can. Let your voice be the wind horse of prayer. Sing.

Charlotte

Daniel

Arielle

Victoria

Benjamin

Dawn

Caroline

Josephine

Rachel

Jessica

Anne Marie

Madeleine

Catherine

Noah

James

Ana

Mary

Lauren

Emilie

Allison

Chase

Dylan

Jesse

Olivia

Jack

Grace

Yes, yes, I choose love.




Sunday, November 1, 2015

Let The World Come


This fall has been a mess of work and work and children and love and inner change. Fall always strips me to a bare and raw center. I cry often, I feel the veil of death lifted and yet so close it seems to burn through me. On certain days I stare long into the faces of others and try to see how it is they move through this life, this one journey, with their loved ones or not, knowing the end. At times, I tell myself questions about death are my depressed self talking, but at other times I think they are the voice of the divine calling me back to the cradle of the world--it's radiance, it's lesson of constant change. Death reminds me of why I am here. Death cultivates change in me. It pushes me to question suffering.

In my classes, I try to come prepared to be open. I try to come willing to be changed by my students and by our discussions. Last week one of my classes read and discussed Cynthia Ozick's short story "The Shawl," a story that like no other cuts through me, ravishes my heart, leaves me raw. It's a story about the Holocaust, a young Jewish mother, her 15 month-old daughter, and her 14-year-old niece. It is so well written that from it's first line you, as reader, are gripped by the inevitability of doom, of death and loss of the worst kind (if you are a mother), and the terrible realities of human cruelty.

One of my students did a short presentation on the story. She is a mother of five. She asked profound questions about human experience; she voiced belief that education could change us. "If all of us in this room were the world would we do this? Would be act like the Nazis after having read this story?"

We didn't know. We were not sure. We knew that more genocide had occurred since and that genocide had taken place before the Holocaust. But mostly we believed that we were good and we would not. Mostly we believed that there were "bad guys" out there and we couldn't stop them.

One student raised her hand and told a story about studying the Holocaust in high school. They took a trip to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and spoke with Holocaust survivors. One women, a survivor, said, the moment she knew there was no God was when she was standing in line beside a mother with her crying baby and an officer came up and ripped the baby from the mother and holding him by the leg smashed his head against the wall, killing him.

I do not know how anyone goes on living after experiencing such things. I do not think God faults this women for not believing. But mostly, when reading about violence and cruelty I remain in a perpetual state of not-understanding. I try to stay open though I do not, as a rule, go to see movies about the Holocaust because it hurts too much. We know a great deal about this event because so much has been written and there was documentation.

My class and I went on to discuss human behavior, studies like the Stanford Prison Experiment and the shock experiment done by Stanley Milgram. Then we watched a Ted Talk on The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo. We learned his ideas about human cruelty, which he speaks of as "evil." We learned that it is from structures of power that people are turned into monsters and that the idea of a "bad apple" or a "bad guy" is not only inaccurate but it allows us to believe that evil can be contained in one body and that body is not us, it is other than us. Therefore, we aren't at risk for engaging in evil. But the studies suggest otherwise.

This fall I have spent more hours grading papers and preparing for classes than I ever have in my life. I feel perpetually unprepared, I feel disconnected from my loved ones at times, I cannot keep up with my friendships, I only exercise once a week, but I have somehow felt the core of my being radiate into what is now November, the darkest month of the year and the month of my birthday. I have not written much but I have written some and I feel hopeful that there is beauty in our work and we can grow and change and grow again. I feel hopeful that my work as a teacher is a higher calling and that if I can stay present and open and alive in the classroom, I can connect with students and help them find their way.


                                                            * * * * *


Let the World Come

Gather devotion, love,
Gather radiance –light of light—
Gather these leaves in the wind,
Gather the children, let them into your lap,
Into your being—
You came to change and be changed
You came to grow your hands open
And you will walk among the gods of this earth 
Until your fingers break and you learn
That your hands were never made to hold, to fist,
They are glowing stars, point them at the sky
Bend your knees let the world come

Let it take you.

Monday, August 3, 2015

August Poem

August again and all is quiet here
everyone gone to Iceland, homeland
of ancestors and family myth

we lay in the white yellow sand as the sun slides,
my sister and I, the children too
one naked, one crawling, one burrowing in the sand

the light is playing,
its magic game, cut here
where she and I have long lingered

years have passed and
with luck, more will
in the quiet presence of this lake

being children or with the children
or old as crows--then I remember,

just this morning, I watched
two black birds fling and flip
and peck across the beach

they have all gone but us and our
sister with the new baby
so we swim and drink our coffee
and light the sauna and talk awhile

with the sweat coming down the brim
of our noses, with our bodies floating out into
the water, and the moon rising between the pines
as we wade through the shallows back to shore

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dear Spring, Let Us Make Revolution

Today the coiled green buds appeared on the tree beyond the living room window. Yesterday, Wylie, my downstair's neighbor, and I sat out in the backyard with our children. I watched the two babies (mine and hers, they're a few weeks apart in age) while she filled in mulch and planted flowers. Our big boys Moses and Asa played in the dirt hole she had made for them.

Feeling the grass against my body and watching the clouds float in the cradle of blue sky made me want to cry--I could feel my body opening again. Living in the north it's as if we wear two bodies, the winter bones and the summer skins. The winter body closes in, tightens in hibernation against the cold. The summer body floods out, a loose uncoiling. All my life I have felt this rhythm.

As a college student I lost my mind every spring. All the winter angst pushed to the surface and I felt absolutely mad. It was a little bit thrilling. My dorm roommate and now longtime friend and I sat beside the Mississippi drinking cheap beer and probably speaking in tongues or so it seemed. Her hair in dreadlocks, mine sheared in a bob and dyed blonde.



*

Josh and I have been married five years now, lived in this apartment most of them. Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever move. Maybe we'll just live forever in this lovely little home on a street filled with expensive houses and Moms at the park whose first question is "which house do you own?"

Last night after a circus dinner (that is what dinner out with a baby and a toddler is like) with children at our local restaurant-coffeeshop-music hub, we sat for 15 minutes together on the couch. The radio on Josh's device broadcast the Red Sox game. I insisted on a foot rub. "I have been crying every morning this week about Baltimore," he told me. I look at him and feel the heavy depth of loving another person to the core. He says it's not his struggle. But I insist it is everyone's struggle. Injustice anywhere is our struggle. But when I talk about the recent suicide epidemic on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and he says it is not for us to fix. I understand this idea, that a white person cannot help American Indians as in I cannot go there and save them from their struggle because I don't have some sort of specialized knowledge to offer just because I don't live in abject poverty or carry the weight of a history of genocide of my culture and ancestors--just because I live a privileged life, but my heart aches over the desecration of their culture, their homes, their lives.

I am continuously shocked by the capacity for cruelty that we as humans possess. We. Each of us. Each human. Mind you. I teach my students and my children that every human being has both good and bad in her. But Moses wants to label the "good guys" and the "bad guys" because this is what he has learned in his short life. As do my students.

This past week in my class I showed the students a speech Angela Davis gave at a conference in Rhode Island in 2012 in which she talks about racial violence in American in connection with the Trayvon Martin killing. She says that prosecuting individuals (she is a death penalty and prison abolitionist) will not end the systemic problem of racial violence. We need to see how each murder is connected to the epidemic of racial violence in our country or we don't see the true meaning of the killings.

I also watched a short clip of an interview she did in prison in 1971 in which she talks about how when people ask her about acts of African American violence as protest it is absolutely incomprehensible to her because it shows that these individuals have no idea what African Americans go through on a daily basis. They live in fear. They live violence everyday. So if they react with violence it is no surprise because their lives embody an economy of violence.

The history of that violence is muted out, erased unless you happen to go to college and take a history course about African Americans. We do not teach students in high school the extent to which African Americans have and continue to be terrorized and brutally murdered in this country. We do not teach the American Indian genocide. We are silent. History lost and so the suffering continues. The terror and the violence go on. People turn away and pretend there is some justification for the systemic murdering of groups of people in our country. Others are completely unaware and react with disbelief because it is too painful to sit with the truth and not find someone to blame or punish.

Davis points out in her 2012 speech that because we go immediately to the punishment when someone hurts us, we skip the step where we try to understand what is happening and why. Punishment does not fix the action. Since Trayvon we have seen the murders of black Americans continue with nearly monthly reports of police brutality and murder. The media coverage is pretty good unless you are a Fox News watcher, and people are taking to the streets to protest and demand justice. The road to change is long and hard and probably never-ending, human beings do not evolve morally, contrary to historical opinion. Genocide continues though we pretend in high school history class that the Holocaust was the only one and that we will never let it happen again (to white people). The reason we don't teach it is because children would be outraged, are outraged, and would demand to know why we (the grownups) are allowing this to happen. Just as when we were young and learned of American slavery or the Holocaust we were outraged.


*

When I think about the future of my marriage, I hope for more time alone with my husband someday. I hope for strength to guide our two boys through this complicated and beautiful world. I hope for joy and occasional days of bliss. I am not opposed to struggle. I struggle. My husband struggles. Our children struggle. Struggle is good. I want to spend more time in nature and visit more cities. I want to enjoy what I have and the smallness of my life. I want to love this moment I occupy though it is incredibly challenging for a variety of reasons. I want to give my husband the space and dignity to live his own life while in communion with me and the children. I want to find silence and cultivate mindfulness in myself. I want to be of service to the world.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Pictures

Little Willem Timothy 
Moses & Ruby future album cover 

Honey & The Virgin

Friday, January 2, 2015

Oh, New Year

With the new year came a hazy depression. Sinking and intimidating. The baby slept beside me in his cradle on New Year's Eve, while my husband tried (unsuccessfully) to get Moses to sleep. Finally, near ten or eleven, Moses climbed into bed beside me, curled up and fell to sleep--his tiny body like a pillow of heat. A bit later my husband lay down beside us and I recall the soft crackle of distant fireworks in the night.

The first of the year I went running with a friend. Mid-morning, we jogged beside the lake. I looked down at the cracked pieces of ice floating along shore as we crossed a footbridge. The sky was a mix of blue and cloud, not gray. Not that sinking, dimensionless gray so common to Vermont winters. Afterwards we inspected the new paint in her bathroom and then I drove home and ate fried eggs.

*

The baby's perfect skin surprises me. The pink blush of his cheeks, the clear blue and white of his eyes, the downy fluff on his infant head. I like to kiss his cheeks; I like to coax his smile. His newness, an aberration against the pool of my own warn skin.

*

How not to feel pain. How not to fall into melodrama. How not to become a dramatic explosion of wild pity. The heavy lidded sky of this feeling, this coarse mood, lowers itself and I feel the wave that wants to drown. But having lived this long beside such seas, I have my tricks.

The thing about depression is that it moves like grief, surprising us. The thing about me is that I only get depressed in the winter and usually just as the light begins its slow return.

This morning I was alone with the baby and he screamed and screamed. I could not figure out what was wrong. I wrapped him close and pressed our cheeks together. I smelled him and then set him back in his seat but he was not having it and started in again. I carried him around and around for a while. I bounced him. I tried to nurse him, to coo at him, to shush him to sleep.

It is like this with depression. All the work of trying to keep it quiet exhausts me. The disease takes root in isolation--a language of isolation. People will say, it gets better, it will go away, it will be OK, or (dreadfully) they will offer advice: why don't you run, do yoga, try these vitamins, eat like this or that, drink more tea or water, don't eat this, and so on. The problem, of course, is that the depressed person feels hopelessly defeated and sees no possibility of not feeling this awful nagging angst, coated in the lingering fear of one's own end or the end of loved ones.

This paper cut that won't stop aching.

Though it does pass, while you are under the wave, it feels like drowning and thus in this compromised position the depressed person has a hard time believing it will. Believing in the shore, believing in some sort of salvation of the spirit.

On the other hand, what is more annoying then this self pity and self squandering?

Today the wind felt vicious, vindictive, as I walked with the baby.

I think of a white goose. I think of a golden egg. I think of frozen water broken into small islands that crash into each other (again and again) as the wind rushes and the wave pummels shore. I think of the distance of time and the fact that my grandfather's twin sister died two days ago, the last child of his family to die. And how odd that now this entire childhood family has left the earth just as someday mine will too. Someday none of the four of us will be here and yet tonight here we are in this apartment with the cold winter slipping in, the soft song playing on the stereo, the baby's hungry cry, Moses asleep in his bed, my bare feet pressed into the wood floor beneath my desk, cold, cold, the sound of my husband's voice as he comforts the baby, the tingle in my breast as the milk comes in.