GIFTS FROM GAIA

April 21, 2020

STOP, LOOK, LISTEN

What I learned from the Iris:

The steel grey sky pressed down heavily. There has been no rain. The snow has disappeared except for blackened remnants of icy mountains in the northern corners of parking lots and a few icy patches hidden in pine groves. The world is brown and dirty and unkempt.

I bought an armful of iris. Their buds shut up tight, waiting for the gentle caress of sunbeams and a drink of water.

The sun has come and the iron clouds have flown. Golden light is pouring through my windows. It bathes my purple iris. The buds are swelling, a few peeking open. One beginning to unfurl. By afternoon another has broken open fully, showing the streaks of sunlight woven into her purple petals. My heart hears her song, just beyond hearing.

Then, my iris just, stopped. Day two, day three — I watch them slowly wither. They died, unopened. Their beauty hidden, never shared. Were they afraid? Was it too overwhelming to split their protective shield and expose themselves to the wide-open world? Is the world too scary?

They withheld their one small gift to the world. Perhaps they thought it didn’t matter. Perhaps they thought their gift was insignificant, too small, unworthy.

They didn’t understand that withholding their gift meant some winter weary person never experienced a smile curving upward to ignite even briefly a sparkle in her eye and a lightening of his heart. They didn’t understand that a tiny insect was denied a sip of needed nectar.

All they had to do was unfold. All they needed was to BE… to open to who they were intended to become.

What I learned from the Trees:

“Find your place, accept it with grace. Grow roots before you grow branches. Give shelter, shade and nourishment to those who seek your protection. And in your passing, leave the earth richer for those who follow.”   Kent Nerburn — Road Angels / Avenue of the Giants

I walked among the trees today. I touched their skin. I picked a Pine needle and broke it and breathed it’s perfume. A stand of Birch commanded the steep and rocky river bank. I grasped the strong sapling as I carefully navigated my descent to the river. I sat on a shelf of rock under a large Cedar and watched the river roar by, carrying the last of the winter melt.

I remember the Grandmother (Oak? Maple? Cottonwood?) that grew along a pathway near a river in a different time and place. I used to sit in the niche between two of her huge roots that protruded from the earth and rest my back against her trunk. Here I would seek comfort, peace, wisdom. Sometimes in the deep dark of night. One morning following a viscous storm that had riven the night skies, I found her fallen. Her body lay across the path. Men came with chain saws and took her away. I felt her absence. I missed her.

Slowly my body fills with peace. I head home full of earth and rock and trees and rushing water.

THE TEDDY BEAR’S PICNIC

April 13, 2020

THE TEDDY BEAR’S PICNIC DURING COVID-19

If you go down in the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today
You’d better go in disguise!
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the Teddy Bears
Have their picnic…

“Mr. Flynn, do you know why we’ve been stuck out here in this freezin’ cold?”

“I don’t, Little Boo. It is a bit frigid compared to our warm quarters inside.”

“I’m scared out here. ‘Specially when it gets dark and  creatures come investigatin’!”

“Oh, but have you noticed the stars? And the great large moon? I like watching them. They do this slow kind of dance as they glide slowly down the dark.”

“Of course YOU would, Billy. Yer always lookin’ at the bright side of things. Don’t mean there ain’t a dark side!”

“But Little Boo, Billy, makes a good point. When have we ever gotten to be in the great out-of-doors? What amazing things we’ve seen stationed out here. The melting of the snows. The rain streaming down. The flowers suddenly appearing in the garden below us.”

“But, Mr. Flynn, there’s been dogs! And big horsey things sniffin’ ’round the fences!”

“Boo, those horsey things are called deer.”

“How do you know, Billy?!”

“Don’t you pay attention to anything? That’s why the folks put up the fence. To keep the deer from eating all those little flowers that started appearing!”

“Billy’s correct. And deer only eat plants. So you’ve nothing to fear young Boo.”

“But, Mr. Flynn, dogs love to chew on little bears like us!”

“So they do. But, have you not noticed that they are tied to a person when they walk by?”

“And anyway, Boo, we have an important mission being out here! Maybe you should pay more attention to it!”

“What’s that, Billy?”

“We’re here for the children when they walk by. To wave at them and send them a happy blessing!”

“Really? Is that so Mr. Flynn?”

“It is indeed, Boo. And we can send that happy blessing because of the happy blessings we are enjoying.”

“Wow. I suppose yer right. I mean, I was livin’ in a closet. And now I’m gettin’ to feel the wind in my fur. The mailman smiles at me when he comes by. I’ve watched the flowers bloomin’. The birds sing to us. I like watching them fly up into the sky. I wonder what that would feel like–to fly way up high above the trees and the houses and look down?”

“That’s right, Boo. And don’t forget the smell of the rain. The color of the sky when the sun slips down behind the bluff. The twinkling of the stars as they appear, The moon sailing down the sky, following the path of the sun.”

“I love being an outdoor bear. I feel bad for Sally Jo who’s still inside.”

“Well, she at least gets to sit in the window, Billy. She can see some of this.”

“Oh, look sharp, boys. Molly and her Mom are coming down the street.

************

“Mommy! Look! The Bears are still there! The big brown one is sitting on top of the rocks, now. The little black one is on the railing!”

“I see them, Molly. Where’s the little brown one?”

“He’s hanging on the mailbox!”

“Oh, Molly, look! There’s a Bear upstairs too! The Mailman Bear in the window!”

“I see him, Mommy. And look, the curly one is in the window in the front. She’s like our cat Sammy. She likes to sit in the windows and watch everything.”

*****************

There’s a National Bear Hunt happening! Join in the fun!

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared…

 

 

THE CROCUS

March 30, 2020

THE GIFT IN THE DEBRIS

Despite the sun shining brightly this morning, and the orange tulips blooming on my table, I felt like the dried up lawns and dirty remnants of snow glimpsed through the windows. Everywhere lies winter’s decay, matted and brown and grey.

Despite my energy deficit, I finally talked myself into going out on the porch for the mail and to move the teddy bears into more visible positions for the children who go on neighborhood “Bear Hunts” with their parents. That’s a thing here in Duluth while we’re all home-bound.

The sun felt good. The air was moving gently. I looked out over my little front yard garden. Dead stuff, debris, a tumbled inukshuk, matted remIMG_1901ains of last fall’s final blooms. We had to put the deer fence back up last week to protect the tiny tulip tips who were waking up early, a delicacy for the deer. I noticed that they’re now an inch, some two or three above the dirt.

And then the splotch of purple caught my eye. A flower? Blooming? With snow still on the ground? A crocus!

I put on my shoes and went to investigate. Pulling the dead ornamental grasses aside, I found three crocus in various stages of bloom! I looked around at my wreck of a garden took a deep breath and went and got a rake. As I worked I noticed a robin hopping about in the grass, picking away, whether looking for food or nesting material I’m not sure. Both of us looking for new life. With each pull of the rake I found more green. I even found a dandelion growing in the middle of the Siberian Iris.

Standing there with my rake, I felt like I’d swallowed the sun!

 

FINDING THE GIFTS

March 24, 2020

SEARCHING FOR TREASURE IN THE DARKNESS

“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
~ Mary Oliver ~

To say we live in troubling times is a bit of an understatement. The world as we’ve known it seems to be ending. I can’t help but consider that that may not be such a bad thing.

Primarily I’m hearing reports that people are maintaining their sense of humor in the face of the spreading Coronavirus, reaching out to one another with compassion, and mostly cooperating with what needs to be done to slow this modern day plague. But I’ve also heard reports that gun sales are climbing. Liquor stores are considered an essential service on par with grocery stores and the shelves are emptying. Some of us are suffering an economic crisis —  our paycheck is gone, we don’t have any savings, our small business is tanking, we can’t pay the bills, and our kids are home from school and need supervision to successfully navigate distance learning. I guess that’s why the beer is sold out.

Yep, it’s really scary. And I’m not even talking about the possibility of getting sick and possibly dying. We are trying to cope in a world we never imagined. Living in the middle of what for some is a nightmare from which they can’t wake up.

As challenging as it may be, this is a time that calls for each of us to shift our focus as best we can away from fear, away from the anger that is churned up as our bodies and minds are flooded with stress.  Fear and rage and frustration are not going to solve our problems. Certainly violence will not. But holding an energetic resonance with hope, with gratitude, with Love, all attributes of the heart, will allow the creation of peace. And in a state of peace and gratitude we will discover solutions. We will increase our compassion quotient (CQ) — our capacity to act in service even when it may not offer any immediate or visible benefit. [Key phrase: may not immediately offer a visible benefit.] There will be a benefit. Gandhi suggested that we as individuals and cultures must align our “hands, head and heart” and ultimately learn to lead with the heart. Here’s a chance to do so on a global scale.

With change comes chaos. With great change, expect great chaos. Anyone who’s deep cleaned their closets knows this. Anyone who’s built a house knows this. Any woman who has borne a child knows this. Our world is in chaos — from the political systems and indeed, all of our “systems” all the way to the suffering our Earth is experiencing. The old ways are being shaken to their core — and something new is trying to be born. The only way we can diminish the pain of moving through this time, even if only a little, is to look for the treasures hiding in this darkness. To seek the gifts that this time offers. To notice the little blessings that daily surround us and offer gratitude.

Let us discover the gifts hiding in plain sight, and bring forth treasure from this darkness.

I invite you to begin posting on your social media platforms the blessings you note, the gifts you find, the treasures you discover. Let’s create a great light to counter this darkness.

 

LOVE: THE BREATH OF LIFE

March 9, 2020

WE ALL NEED TO START BREATHING

“It’s the type of love that says ‘I believe in you.’ It’s the type of love that says, ‘You don’t have to be like this.’ Not the love that’s like ‘I just want to hug you.’ It’s the love that’s like, ‘You’re going to be better! And I’m going to stand here until you get better. I’m not going anywhere. That’s how much I love you. I’m not going on to buses. I’m not going to lunch. I’m not. I’m going to stand here and wait for you to do better and be better because I love you.'”     Mauri Melander Friestleben — about loving students

Love them first. This was the directive at Lucy Laney at Cleveland Park Community School in North Minneapolis under Ms. Friestleben’s leadership. “What if we all did that?” she asks us in the Kare11 documentary Love Them First.

And I ask the same question.  Whether we are their teachers and educators, their care-givers, their probation officers, the police driving through a neighborhood full of youngsters who live in homemade war zones, what if our first response to children and youth was to breathe deeply and love them first?

How would we need to “see” these young ones regardless of their exterior behaviors?

How would we need to view ourselves in order not to have their negative or disrespectful behaviors trigger our self-defense system?

I have been providing support services to several teachers in some notoriously dis-regulated third grade classrooms. The goal is to re-create the environments of these classrooms into healthy, thriving learning environments. I have been teaching the teachers the necessity of shifting their culturally inherited punitive mindset to a mind that is set on always honoring the dignity and value of each child. I teach that while we must hold firmly to the expectations and boundaries that  provide the structure in which we can all be together in a good way, we must also support and nurture our students at all times. That means we support them in taking responsibility and making amends for harm they have caused as well as supporting them through their very real crisis and stresses.

It always sounds so good in theory. The teachers never disagree with me. But then, here I am in this third grade classroom early on a Monday morning to facilitate a discussion Circle with the students. After 15 minutes and three attempts to get them to come and sit down quietly in Circle, we finally succeeded and were able to begin. They did well listening to each other without interruption or side-comments or total disregard for what was happening for about 10 minutes. Then it slowly began to unravel so I cut to the end and closed the Circle.

I watched how the teacher, who is young and only a few years into her career, handled the constant inattention and commotion. She uses affirmations, encouragements, call & response, all good things to settle them, redirect them, provide positive affirmation to those who are trying to pay attention and learn. I also see that she is stressed. I am surprised that she hasn’t just blown up!

But I also noticed that there did not seem to be an emotional connection between the teacher and the students. It seems on the surface that she is regarded as just another tiresome adult who they have to endure. Across the city at another school with another equally chaotic third grade, I sense a similar attitude.

I’ve sat with a Circle of teachers who have actually cried because they are so stressed and unhappy and finding it impossible to “reach” these children, none-the-less teach them.

So how does someone like Ms. Friesleben inspire an entire staff to so thoroughly love their students that it transforms an entire school? How is their love different? How come they are effective and the classes I’m observing never seem to be out of chaos for more than a few moments at a time?

I believe it begins with us. Do we love ourselves? Do we see the light within us? Are we gentle and compassionate with ourselves, while also holding ourselves accountable to make right any mistakes we’ve made or harm that we have caused? In other words, are we doing our own work so that we are able to receive love, and allow love to flow through us to others? “Love your neighbor (others) as yourself” is a tenet of most spiritual traditions/practices. So, it begs the question, how can we fully and freely love another if we don’t love ourselves? How can our self-defenses not be triggered when we are treated disrespectfully if we have not done this work within us?

And then, can we truly see the divine light within each of our students? Do we look deeply into them and see what they’re not saying? Do we believe in them? I mean, not just cliches we might parrot — but really believe in their inherent worth and goodness, in their potential?

Something else that Ms. Friesleben says:

“There is a level of investment that comes at a cost. Because when you choose to press into that, you do get great outcomes from kids, you do. But [to do that] you also [must] choose to press into the pain. And for some people it’s too much. But it’s worth the cost because the return on your investment is pretty powerful.”

They are worth the cost. So, let’s all take some deep breaths and remember that even as we are surrounded by the air we breathe… we are surrounded by Love. It is the Breath of Life — the breath of the Universe, the breath of the Creator. It’s the type of love that says, I believe in you. It’s the type of love that says you are worthy of love, you are valuable, and you have something important to give to the world.

“No child should feel locked into a box that they can’t fight their way out of. It is our job as grown ups to find the keys and open them up and open the box and say “Fly!” “Breathe!” “Live!” “You will NOT be confined to a box. Not on MY watch!” Mauri Melander Friestleben

LIGHT AND WATER WALTZING

March 2, 2020

MOMMA IS DANCING

My mother once told me as we stood on a bridge overlooking a creek, “After I die and you see the sunlight dancing on the water, think of me. I will be in those sparkles. I will be part of the Light.”

My mother always loved to dance. I wish my father had taken her more often. When she lived alone she would put on a rousing piece of music and dance around her house. It was her exercise. Now, whenever I drive her somewhere I have classical music on. If it is upbeat and cheery she will wave her arms as though she is dancing or maybe conducting the orchestra. A big smile on her face, she will exclaim with childlike wonder about everything she sees.

In November I noticed an advertisement at the library for a dance class for folks with Parkinson’s or other disorders affecting mobility. I took her to one. She was in a terrible mood when I picked her up. But a few minutes into class she was smiling and doing her best to follow along with a dozen other people sitting in a Circle doing an odd mixture of ballet and movements to support brain pathways. Dancing in chairs!

Momma needs all the brain support she can get. She suffers from vascular dementia. She was only able to attend the class twice as she began to rapidly decline from Stage 5 into Stage 6 of her illness making it much more difficult for her to process information and also for her brain to direct her body what to do. Only six weeks later she is stumbling now and then into Stage 7, the final stage of this disease that devours a brain.

Occasionally she will cling to me… “I’m going to lose you!” she says.

“No, Momma. You won’t lose me. I’m here. I’ll always be here.”

Her eyes pleading, she shakes her head. “You will lose me. I’m, I’m, I think I’m slipping away.”

She’s right. We are losing Momma a brain cell at a time.

The other day I sat on her bed holding her hand after a severe episode had left her exhausted and sleeping. Whatever bitterness and disappointment still lingered in the holes and scars in my heart because of who my mother was not, because of what she was unable to do or give, because of what she didn’t know…quietly dissipated like shreds of fog succumbing to the Sun.

She was Enough. She is Enough. I gaze at her withered and ruined body in which she holds Divine and Sacred Light. Her body is a vessel meant to be filled up with Love. Mine too. All of us. Our bodies are vessels meant to hold Love and Light. She did her best to do so in the ways that she understood.

She did her best.

And soon, Momma, you will be that Light I see waltzing with the water in the bay.

UNDECIDED

February 24, 2020

TO DO OR NOT TO DO…

I read somewhere that this is to be the Year of Clarity. Usually the events of my life provide my own naming of the year — sometimes as prelude, sometimes as epilogue. But whomever floated this one out there for us — having a year of clarity for our nation, as well as for many of us in our individual lives is a welcome thought. I could use some clarity about a good many things; welcome rays of sunshine burning through my mind-fog even as the late winter sun is melting down the heaped up snowbanks.

Juxtapose this with Lake Superior Writers 2020 Writing Contest theme — Undecided. The first time I read the theme title I thought, well, I could write a piece titled To Keep or Not to Keep a Husband — Undecided. But since then he and I have had a month of counseling and some amazing dialogues and I can feel our hearts healing and so, well, I guess that title’s out because it appears I will be keeping him.

I’ve been casting about trying to hook a new title: To cheat or not to cheat on my diet; work on my book or clean the basement; repair the garden pond or fill it with dirt; repair the car the deer broke or give it to the insurance company; sign up for medicare or ignore them… Ahh, that one took the bait. I’ll reel it in, try that one out.

Medicare. I think it is a bloodsucking parasite masquerading as a good Samaritan. We’ve given them a percentage of our salaries for decades so that we would be taken care of in our retirement. We also paid a hefty percentage of our salaries for  health care insurance, whether we needed it or not. Whether we used it or not. And if we did, we had to pay more money for the privilege, especially if anything was actually wrong with us that cost a pile of pennies.

I just turned 65, whether I wanted to or not. And because I did, I now have to sign up for Medicare, whether I want to or not. I get the hospitalization part for free, except there is a deductible if I actually do go to the hospital. And, I have to stay there for a few days because I’m really sick or severely injured. If it’s just for observation, that doesn’t count even though the hospital charges just as much for either. Medicare won’t pay anything for “observation”. But, hey, it’s free because I paid them all that money for the past 49 years.

But then there’s this thing called Medicare Part B. I can sign up now for $144 a month. It will cover most of what any of my medical doctor visits cost — clinic visits, urgent care, medical exams. But, again, there are deductibles and co-pays just like my regular insurance. And a list of things they won’t cover. However, IF I continue to keep my current medical insurance plan, or get some other supplemental insurance plan which will probably cost me between $170 and $200+ a month, well THEN I’m covered completely. They will scratch each other’s backs and cover me — no deductibles, no co-pays. Of course, there will still be some things nobody will cover, and there will be rules about where I go and who I see and how many times a year. And of course, neither of them cover vision or dental or hearing — three things that typically are a big deal as we age even if the rest of our body is radiant and fit. I suppose that’s why they won’t cover them.

I went to the doctor twice last year. Once because of pain in my thumb that I was concerned was a fracture but turned out to be arthritis. The second time was my annual exam that I hadn’t had since 2016. They said I’m healthy and fit as a fiddle except for some osteoporosis in my hip. So, I’m now spending money on supplements to get more of the calcium and magnesium and Vitamin B and D that I need.  Of course my insurance won’t cover this.

The year before I didn’t go to the doctor at all.

The year prior to that I had a stroke and needed a device placed in my heart to block a tiny hole that was letting small blood clots through causing havoc in my brain. I was glad I had insurance but it still cost me several thousand out-of-pocket.

Most health care I seek out is alternative and so my insurance pays very little or nothing. I will continue to do so. So the insurance is really only there in case another flying deer tries to dance with my car, or I slip on some black ice at the top of the steps at city hall and end up in a broken heap at the bottom or I fall off my daughter’s horse and break my thin-boned osteo hip. So, I don’t want Medicare’s $144 a month Plan B. That’s $1728 per year. Last year it cost folks $135 a month. What will they raise it to next year? For my husband and I together that is $3456 a year in addition to what we currently pay for insurance which is roughly $5000 a year. We don’t have this kind of money. We both grew up middle class, but our current income rates at the poverty level.

So, simple, just say No. Right? Right??

Wrong. I mean, yes, I can say no. But then if I decide at some future date that I want to join up, they will punish me for not having signed up when I turned 65 and handed over my nearly $2000 a year. They will charge me an additional 10% of whatever the going rate is by that time for every year that I rejected them. So, if I decide at age 70, when I also sign up finally for my Social Security benefit of less than two grand a month, then I will have to pay an additional 50% of whatever the going rate is. If by some miracle it were still $144 a month, I’d have to pay $216 a month or $2592 a year. In addition to my supplemental insurance. Because unless I have both, I’ll also be paying deductibles and co-pays.

I could just walk away. Keep the health insurance I have. Pay my deductibles and co-pays like I always have. And hope I keep body and soul together until I’ve had enough and decide to leave this crazy, cracked, beautiful, wonderful world. I mean, if nothing goes wrong, I’ll save me a lot of money. Might even get out of debt and be able to go ride horses in the mountains or sail up the Alaskan Intercoastal Passage looking for whales. Or buy a RV and live the life of a vagabond.

I don’t know what to do.

I’m undecided.

STANDING AT THE FORK

March 13, 2019
THE CHOICE
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
     Robert Frost; The Road Not Taken

Last Weekend:

Twenty-one men and women who are involved in doing Restorative Justice work sat in Circle for an evening, a day, and half a day. Fifteen hours. A number of us were descended from people who were the original keepers of these American lands, many descended from people brought here by force from Africa as slaves, one who came to be in America from Korea through adoption; a few more who had come to America to study and to work; twelve altogether. Nine more of us were descended from ancestors who came to America from European countries, most of them in need, escaping oppression, famine, servitude, and poverty.

We had come together to work at bridging the divide between white-skinned people who enjoy privileges we barely know we have because we take them for granted, and black and brown-skinned people who have been deprived of even the most basic human rights of respect and safety.

The United States is a country who lays claim to being the greatest, to wearing the white hats in an evil world, to being the benevolent keeper of whom we perceive as lesser brothers around the globe. The United States is a country whose hands are bloody, and whose heart is sick with the lies and corruption it has hidden, whose foundations are crumbling under the weight of its violent legacy.

I am one of the white-skinned descendants of European tenant farmers who came seeking a better life for their children. Like the majority of Americans who are seen as “white”, I grew up believing what I was taught in school was true. I and my peers and my parents and grandparents were conditioned by our communities, our religions, our cultural backgrounds to see the world through a particular lens — America was great and good; a land of opportunity and equality.

Depending on where we lived, some of us white skinned Americans grew up entrenched in views that feared and dehumanized black and brown people. Many others, my family among them, did not hold with such views, but were oblivious to the subtle ways systems we took for granted — education, housing, economics, employment — were booby-trapped, even closed to non-white people.

But no longer. Very few remain who can honestly say that they have not been confronted with an alternate reality. The truth of America’s founding legacy of genocide, appropriation, theft and plunder, of slavery, and of our continued oppression of non-white people in many insidious forms is pretty much available for everyone to know. The silence has been shattered. The truth is mainstream news now. Perhaps in part because of social media. But even still the lies proliferate as those in power and those who are afraid (of what?) try desperately to discredit these realities. But even as the lies are told, reality and truth are holding their ground.

The first question posed to the Circle in which I sat was, “So, what are YOU going to do about it?”

It is a question that every white skinned person in this country needs to be asked, and needs to answer.

Most of us who are white, if we are even willing to look at the depth and breadth of the pain and suffering, don’t know what to say.

Many of us, at least initially, shrink back from the magnitude of our nation’s crimes against humanity. Many of us are shocked when we uncover the truth of the perpetuation of these crimes by government and corporate power and wealth. Those of us who are educators and social service providers feel trapped and entangled in the oppressive and harmful rules and regulations to which we are expected to comply.

I feel very small standing before this Goliath. I feel very weak looking up at the mountain that needs to be moved. I feel very confused by the chaos swirling around me.

It isn’t enough to say, “I’m sorry.” What am I sorry for? How will that change anything?

It is a beginning, though. Victims who have suffered great harm might say they want revenge. But often this actually translates into, “I want you to understand the pain you have caused me. I want you to acknowledge the suffering you have caused. I want you to take ownership and responsibility for it.”

So I begin by listening and acknowledging the pain that I hear and saying, “I am sorry for what has been done to you”.

But then what? What can I do to make amends? What can I do to make reparations? What can I do to bring healing? What can I do to dismantle the systems that have prevented my black and brown brothers and sisters from participating in the same privileges that I have taken to be my inalienable right? What can I do to stop the suffering?

I left that Circle on Sunday afternoon heavy with these questions. Heavy with the pain. Despair had injected its venom and my stress responses had kicked in and were screaming, “Run away! Quit! Who do you think you are to do this work (teaching restorative justice in education). Who the fucking hell do you think you are to write a book for educators on creating healthy learning environments?!”

And then I took a swig of Alice in Wonderland’s elixir which packed a heavy dose of anger. Where I had been shrinking to something very small and helpless, I suddenly began to grow. I got bigger and bigger. I didn’t sleep. Through the dark hours of the night and the sunshine of Monday I sat with the questions. I walked with the questions through the new layer of snow that belied the coming of Spring. I examined my work and my motives for doing it. I will not quit. I will not run away.

Tuesday

“The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world is in the people of no account.”   Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

This morning I received an announcement from Minneapolis based Mixed Blood Theater in my inbox. A one time member it has been awhile since I read what they are up to so I explored their website. I found the following under their [Community] Engagement page.

Mixed Blood’s Cedar Riverside neighborhood has long been a home for immigrants and refugees, including one of the nation’s largest concentrations of African and Muslim immigrants and refugees in the U.S. today. Mixed Blood is working on multiple fronts to engage with its neighbors:

Health Care — In partnership with Hennepin County Medical Center, Q Health, Cedar Riverside People’s Center Clinic, and Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association, Mixed Blood uses artistic endeavors to help health care providers improve patient-centered care for the residents of Cedar Riverside

Education — Mixed Blood resident artists teach drama classes to neighborhood youth and host performances and workshops for teachers who serve the schools that Cedar Riverside children attend.

Safety — Through Mixed Blood’s work, Minneapolis Police officers and young adult Somali men, change places to gain knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity of the other’s experience and perceptions. One recent participant entered the police academy and is currently an intern for Transit Police.

Performance — Mixed Blood hosts plays by Somali writers and directors as well as story circles with Somali elder women.

Assembly — In a neighborhood choked for common space, Mixed Blood’s auditorium and rehearsal hall provides a steady place—without charge—for meetings, performances, trainings, and social and political events.

Hope rekindles in me when I know things like this are happening.

Here in Duluth (where I live), there have been several campaigns during the past 10 years with town hall meetings, billboards and other lectures and plays to raise awareness of Race and Racism. Next week there is another community discussion on Anti-Racism sponsored by a local TED TALK style forum held once a month on a variety of issues. Last month it was on Restorative Justice, which is the field in which I work.

Are there still mountains to move? Yes! Does it take too long? Yes! But with each swing of the pick-ax, with each bucketful of mountain dirt removed, that mountain shrinks a little more. With each white-skinned soul that wakes up, each heart that is turned to love and justice, each step taken to right the wrongs, we are closer. There may be thousands of star fish stranded on the beach at low tide, dying in the hot sun, but for each one that the small boy throws back into the water, one more life is saved.

Before Trump won the election, as I read the various articles about his campaign and those who followed him, I turned one day to my husband and asked, “As terrible as this sounds, do we (mainstream, white America) need this to happen in order to fully wake us the fuck up? To blow us out of our comfortable slumber where we expect some vague “they” to solve the problems we abhor?”

We talked a long time. I cried in anger and frustration and it took me days to rise back out of the funk I sunk into.

And then to the shock and dismay of the majority of Americans, Trump won. But what I have seen happen in the years since is exactly what I asked my husband that long ago June day in 2016. We are being dragged out of the poppy fields of Oz and waking the fuck up. We are being driven to action. To our shame, it has required these awful times for the wool to be stripped from our eyes and the rugs to be rolled up exposing the garbage that has been putrefying there to motivate us to care deeply enough to do more than read, think, shake our heads and cluck our indignation. Now we are arguing and debating, screaming in pain and reaching out to one another to do something about it all. It is chaos out there. Confusion. Pain. Just like cleaning out a house, it is messy and ugly and chaotic and layered — it has to be before it can be put back together. We have to expose the wound before it can heal. Every ugly inequity, every lie, the destructive and violent acts — whether against a culture/race, against women, against children, against our economy and our environment, or to the detriment to our health…hell, fill in the blank! Truth is exploding out of long perpetuated lies and suppression. But in my opinion, the biggest whopper of all is the myth about our great and noble, innocent, America.

American people have done some great and noble things. And everyday great and noble people live and work and write and make art and teach and fix cars and dispose of our garbage and save our lives on operating tables. But the other side of that truth is that these United States were founded on genocide and slavery, both of which have been perpetuated into today even though disguised by other names and practices. The absolute dishonoring of life in this blatant way has allowed us to do the same in all the other categories where we are complicit in the destruction of life — whether of the minds, bodies or souls of people — especially our children, or of the Earth, or of animals, or of cultures.

It is a hard choice to leave safe havens and walk straight into the war.

Because of my white skin, my European ancestry, and the privileges accorded to me because of that heritage this debt and the responsibility for it is laid as equally upon my shoulders as those directly responsible, past and present. My attitudes and past actions have sprung from a heart that as long as I can remember desired to bring healing and restoration and equality. But since most of our current destructive systems were developed and are still perpetuated by white people, systems that have benefited me, I am complicit simply because my heritage makes me a member of this mainstream culture who wields the power.

It has been said, “to whom much is given, much is required.” My white skin has inherited a measure of freedom and privilege. The question I am confronted with is “What do I do… and what will I do with this privilege to make a better world for everyone — especially for my brothers and sisters who are Indian, who are Black, who came or are coming  from countries torn by war (a war probably supported by my government), or who came because they had little to no opportunities to better their lives. Within my small world, within my sphere of influence, within the possibility of what my personal strengths and gifts and resources are… what will I do with this privilege I carry in my skin?

“Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.”    Louise Penny, The Long Way Home

A group of educators and I were recently discussing the idea that hurting people hurt people. Healed people, heal people. There is a lot of information out now about how stress and trauma affect the brain and our behavior. There is also a lot of information about how to heal our trauma, how to manage our stress, how to move from mindless reflexive reactionary behaviors that ultimately perpetuate harm, to responses that allow us to remain compassionate and kind even in the face of someone else’s negative behavior.

Those of us who have the privilege of being able to do our own healing work have no excuse for ignoring it. I don’t have bombs blowing up in my city. My children are not starving. I am not fearful every day that my son might be shot or arrested for just existing. I have all I need at my disposal. I need to do whatever self-work I need to do so that I might be able to be a source of healing and help in our world — whatever that might look like based on my gifts and skills and sphere of influence.

That is the beginning.

I will do what I can do today to make a difference for healing, for change, for equity in my city, my state and my country. And tomorrow and next week? I will know what to do as I listen, as I pay attention, as I choose to keep my heart and my mind open.

I am standing at a fork in the road of my journey. A choice lies before me.

I choose the road less traveled. It is the one my heart knows it is meant to walk. The one that disappears in the undergrowth and I can not see where it leads. I fear it will not be a comfortable or easy journey. I fear there may be land mines and monsters. But I also know it is where love flourishes. It is the only path that will allow those of us who travel there to attempt to heal and re-create this suffering world.

I hope I find you there. We can walk together.

 

 

 

WE THE PEOPLE…OF NO ACCOUNT

April 28, 2018

WE ARE THE HOPE LEFT IN THE WORLD

“I had forgotten how much light there is in the world, till you gave it back to me.”   Ursula K. Le Guin,  A Wizard of EarthSea (1968)

My eyes came to a halt on the page. I closed the book upon my finger and sat, with tears trickling down my cheeks, so grateful for those who have brought light and beauty into my life the many times when I have despaired that there is any hope remaining; hope that the world might be whole again; hope that I can make any difference.

“The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world is in the people of no account.”   Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

I went for a walk. I sat and watched the Spring-thawed creek tumble happily over the boulders and brush, freed at last from Winter’s grip. I have felt like one “of no account”. And in terms of society, I suppose I am. Of no account. I have not done anything spectacular. I am an unpublished writer. I am an unemployed teacher. I am a very quiet activist. I’m a bit of a recluse.

But again and again I have been brought back to this: That simply BEING here in the world matters. And if I am willing to allow the Light that is in me to shine, if I am willing to keep on the journey that allows my heart to be open so that Love and Grace can easily flow, unrestricted, uninhibited into and through me, radiating beyond my physical space into the world… I am nourishing life. If I take deeply to heart that words matter — that there is great power in words — that all things are created through our words — if I consciously and diligently choose words drawn from love and not from fear — I am creating life.

“You can’t hide true power. Not for long. It dies in hiding, unshared.”     Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

I began to scribble in my journal…

“Why do I hide? What Fear drains away the energy to act, to do that which I set out to do? Is my small act of kindness or my words on paper so insignificant that I shouldn’t bother — an insignificant drop of water? How many times over how many decades now have I heard that we are powerful… that we hold the Creator inside? That the power to create worlds lives in the cells of our bodies?

We are not, I am not without power. Love is not powerless against Fear and all that Fear spawns. What is intolerable is that I listen to the Lies and shut down; hide.”

And so I call gently to my Self… come forth again. Just Be, today. Just Be Grace.

And I call gently to you, as well. Just Be, today. Be kind. Be Grace. Be Light.

“Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.”    Louise Penny, The Long Way Home

 

WHAT’S UP WITH HER?

APRIL 17, 2018

THE MOODS OF MOTHER NATURE

One day last week…

I open my eyes to a lightening sky, grey melting into translucent blue — faint streaks of pink deepening into rose; setting the sky on fire. The ball of the Sun, orange and shimmering shyly peeks over the hill. The rosey clouds turn yellow then white as the Sun gathers all the color back to himself, now a flaming golden sphere slipping through the trees, breaking free, leaping high above the rooftops. Piles of charcoal grey clouds come racing across the ocean of sky, sails full. Soon a ceiling of slate has slidden into place, closing off all view of yellow Sun and blue ocean sky. The light of the Sun filters through — a cold drizzle of grey the color of water.

******************

Three days ago — April 14, 2018…

I wake up in the dark of dawn — the windows and doors are rattling, a great howling swirling about the eaves. After breakfast we decide to drive down to the Lake. It is difficult to open the back door as the wind presses hard against it. Running for the car, my mug of tea is nearly snatched from my fingers.
Arriving at the pier, we stand stunned watching Mother Nature roar and rage. FuryShe comes twisting down the Lake, pushing 12 foot waves over the pier walls, beating against the lighthouse, the bridge, and flinging herself as far out upon the land as she can reach, seal coating everything in ice: people, lamp posts, benches, birds, bushes and branches of trees. The parking lots are filling up with water. I stand silent, leaning into her, witness to her grief. My coat is crunchy with ice. My mittens stiff.

******************

Today — April 16, 2018

I drove past the Lake this afternoon. She is flat and brown, the color of rage spent.  She quietly kisses the shoreline.  The Sun is breaking up the clouds, shining through.

 

* Photo of Duluth Lighthouse on the shipping canal taken by David Jensen on 4-14-2018. Used with permission.