activism, Poetry, race, Take Action

Out Loud, With Your Very Own Voice

The way the kindergarten teacher called it on the first day of class.
The way the receptionist spoke it into the waiting room before the annual checkup.
The way the librarian whispered it when entering information on the card.
The way the coach boomed it during lineup.
The way the camp counselor hollered it at the YMCA summer Olympics.
The way the local newspaper listed it among the loving grandchildren she left behind.

The way the principal announced it during the graduation procession.
The way the future in-laws enunciated it during that first meeting.
The way the minister intoned it when asking the dearly beloved to witness this holy union.
The way the nurse confirmed it before writing it on the birth certificate.
The way the HR assistant checked its spelling when setting up the job interview.
The way the emcee declared it at the awards ceremony.
The way the children proclaimed it when asked who their people are.

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activism, Children, growth, Parenting, prayer, race

This Sweet Thing We Grow For Him

For me, the honeysuckle does it. Out walking the dog, I pass through that place behind the apartment building where the vine-covered shrubs form a loose fence line with the neighboring townhouses. There, the scent lifts me up from whatever chaos is in my head. I pause and find one underneath, going for the yellow blossom. While the fulsome white catch the eye, I’ve learned from experience. The yellowed, crepey petals store astonishing sweetness.

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Letting Go, Outdoors, prayer, spirit

You Think You Are Small

creek_david-latorre-romero

You think you are small. You crouch at the edge. This one like so many before, the low riverbed where you seek sustenance.

It’s far from a river, really, barely a trickle. You crouch here and watch how pebbles below the surface make water glint. In the copse of trees between one set of houses and the next, the big road bearing down just around the bend, this is the closest you come to a sacred place.

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community, Fitness, Mindfulness, neighborhood, Parenting, spirit

This Bubble, Spinning and Viscous

world-edwin-hooper

Our governor gave us the stay-at-home order yesterday. With presumptive positives surpassing 1000 in the state, it’s a wise directive. That said, judging by the volume on I-66 right outside my condo, only a handful of my fellow Virginians are complying. And no, they still have not finished replacing the sound wall as they ravage the land around us for new express lanes. Which means even as spring explodes from the tulip poplar and cherry trees all around the complex, my balcony door stays sealed tight.

I am ashamed to admit that even after listening to the Governor Northam’s press briefing, I headed out. When home is the office, closing out the work day means throwing a bolt across it. At 5:00 every evening, I heed the call to flee. Yesterday, I headed to the W&OD trail and ran a hard 4-1/2 miles alongside dozens (hundreds?) of my neighbors. The sun’s glory and run’s boost notwithstanding, that was my last afternoon visit to the trail. It’s impossible for swiftly moving humans to maintain a 6-foot distance on a recreation path no wider than a train track. That sprinting cyclist breathing hard as she passes a hair’s breadth from my shoulder? How much of her exhalation is landing on me as it falls to the ground?

We’re finally seeing all the neighbors outside. Everyone. All the preschoolers on training wheels, parents jogging with tweens, old women held steady by their daughters. Everyone outside, yet everyone a possible vector. Everyone floating inside their personal outdoor 6-foot bubble.

I notice that inside my outdoor bubble, I keep my eyes down. When passing someone even at the recommended distance, my gaze shifts away. It’s as if the call to keep ourselves physically apart has translated into pulling back emotionally, relationally. Pulling back attention. Pretending we aren’t sharing a physical environment which we very much are. As if the bubble has actual material dimensions.

The effort to combat this turning away, to push against a calcifying of the walls, is momentous. The long days teleworking alone with the dog tax my spirit. On the other long days when the kiddo is here and the partner comes back early, I feel crowded and irritated and desperate for space. I want quiet so I retreat to a corner with my book. I curl up inside the bubble, then immediately grow squirrely, lonely, and end up scrolling messages for connections with friends.

None of the emotional responses make sense. Of course, the entire world is topsy-turvy, so maybe a little discombobulation is rational.

Every institution is cracking along the fracture lines that have been deepening for decades. Our national leaders are a bunch of buffoons drunk on power and hoarding wealth. Feeding our most vulnerable children requires them to be in school. Having health care requires us to have salaried jobs. Protection from a deadly virus only applies to that small percentage of the professional population whose work involves no direct contact with people. Education, income, 6-foot distancing, social connections with mental health support or recovery resources all require a home environment with privacy, high-speed internet and functional devices for everyone who needs them. Our prisons and immigrant detention centers can’t even protect their wards from sexual assault and violence, let alone from a viral infection that thrives on crowding and lack of sanitation.

So yes, it is understandable that mind is troubled. That the heart hurts. Of course I both long for and recoil from company. Of course the bubble both protects and suffocates.

And yes, it makes sense that staying inside and fussing over the kid’s writing exercises feels like an utter waste of energy.

Which is exactly why staying inside and fussing over the kid’s writing exercises is what I need to be doing.

In times of upheaval, small acts of service matter most of all.

The big world is reeling, and no one of us alone can set it right. What we can do is create a little order, healing, and spiritual nourishment in the places we touch. Even if it’s just a little pocket of goodness touching down before alighting again. Even if it’s just staying home.

I have been trying. I will keep trying.

With the thirteen-year-old, we set up a loose structure for schooling and implemented it at the end of last week. He does a little reading every day. He writes 150 words on any topic he chooses. He engages in some creative activities (so far, all have involved cooking or baking). We engage together in learning activities across subjects available through our county’s school website. We even have PE every day, which so far has involved bike rides around the neighborhood. After all this and a few chores, he can Google hangout with his girlfriend or chat with his gaming buddies on Discord.

Meanwhile, I am back to setting work goals for every day. I write them big on a piece of unlined paper and cross them off aggressively (and joyously) when each is done. When I reach the bottom, I give myself a check+. Gold stars are next.

I have also begun The Artist’s Way again after my last attempt 11 years ago. Julia Cameron’s magical re-introduction to the creative force is exactly the structure my simultaneously spinning and viscous brain needs. Her morning pages and exercises are working their way past my defenses and into my stubborn spirit. Every day, the writing comes, even though it is about nothing more than my complaints, my bad dreams, my terrors. No matter. It is writing, it scatters wildflower seeds all over the muck and stuck-ness of the deep places.

The body also requires its care. My partner has seen me doing my living room dance fitness and has decided to join in. We have gone back to the beginning, learning the basic Zumba steps and giggling breathlessly as he oils the hinges in his long-rusted hips.

Other small quarantine activities in our makeshift family: We play board games, prepare meals we’ve never had before (lentil dal, shahi chicken), make bold yet ultimately failed attempts at the pastries we’re most craving (brioche muffins, cinnamon rolls), take long walks with the dog, participate in Zoom conversations through church and with our dear ones, and read side-by-side at bedtime.

And I will keep trying.  Trying to lift my vision. To make eye contact with the other human walking a dog on the other side of the street. To hold the gaze. To breath through the porous, lumnious, transparent skin of this protective bubble, which is only a temporary creation. I will keep trying to pay attention to what’s blooming outside the sealed balcony door, to name what’s gone missing, the to grieve the losses that are coming.

I will keep trying to welcome the world as it changes. And keep trying to notice — and honor — how each of us, even at a 6-foot distance, is changing the world.


Image: Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Family, Relationships

Close Quarters

crowded-house-pau-casals

My university made the announcement that all buildings will be closed starting tomorrow. Some students still live on campus, some international students have not been able to get home. “Essential services,” as we call them now, will remain functional. Grab-and-go meals in a few dining halls. Campus security. A couple of residence halls. The rest of campus shuttered. All of us that can telework are doing so.

In the span of a week, an entire faculty has figured out, more or less, how to teach online — a skill some sizable percentage has been resisting for a decade.

Today I went into my building for the first time since March 10. With a gloved left hand and a “clean” right, I navigated to my office to collect my ergonomic keyboard and a standing desk floor mat. My partner and son have assembled a plywood contraption on casters that will work for me to stand at home. This small condo is quickly shrinking, and it’s good to have a place to work that isn’t the dining table. Especially now that we’re eating three meals a day there.

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Choices, Living in the Moment, Mindfulness, spirit

Just Stand There

cristina-gottardi-tunnel

At this point, I check the news only three times a day. The rationing is keeping me steady. When this all started a few weeks ago, broadcasts from the various corners of the world helped me make decisions. I pulled my son out of school a day before the county caught up. The conversation with his dad about the decision was tough — I had to make the case for why our boy’s academic well-being was less critical than flattening the curve. This meant providing evidence from the Italian news, from scientists who were begging for distancing in the absence of any kind of coordinated response from our leadership.

Like so many people, I read and read and read. Tracked curves from around the world, learned why South Korea looks so different from Iran. Then not 24 hours after I made the call, our school board followed suit. That early vigilance validated, I continued to gulp down news from every source I could find.

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body, Choices, Love, Poetry, Relationships

How to Write a Love Poem

dance-couple-john-moeses-bauan

1. Here is your blank page.
A crease deepening in the fold of their neck.
A spiderweb alongside the eyes.
Knuckles nicked and gnarled
from every saw blade that has ever gone sideways.
Their hull with its jagged seams lashed back together
more times than even they can count,
Yet strength enough still to flip you like an egg
over easy, your wet yolk intact (but not for long).
Their silhouette against the moonlaced slats,
looming, flesh-wrapped,
lifting the crenulation of your ribs
smoothing the oil they somehow coax
from pockets
you forgot you’d sewn into the edges of your whispers.

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Letting Go, Purpose, spirit

You Carry Your Best Song

trail-cliff

“You’re doing your best,” they say. You nod, you shrug. Okay, sure.

Inside, you sneer.

“Your best” belongs to brighter days. Not so far off, those days, but somehow also remote. Like they belong to someone else.

Best You learned things. Made decisions snap-snap. Took on the project. Invited people into your home. Best You learned a new language, the names of trees, how to roll sushi, and the most exhilarating route through Manhattan by bike.

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