Thursday, July 13, 2017

Things White Friends Tell Me (and My Answers, Only Sometimes Spoken Aloud)

Some time ago, the Divine (as I conceive and perceive It/ Her/ Him) gave me work to do, and I am doing it. It is a lifelong journey, opening my eyes to bias, privilege, and racism, and trying to resist the urge to sink back into the comfortable space of blindness and denial where I dwelt for most of my life. I do not know if I am doing anyone any good. I do not know what success would look like. but as I told someone recently, It is what I have to do to save my soul. And I have to share it with others. Our humanity depends on it.

Not infrequently, I share things, say things, or write things that make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe sometimes they think about their discomfort. Sometimes they just want me to stop, or to shut up. I am unable to do that, most of the time. and believe it or not, I am restraining myself. Here are some of the things I get told (and what I think when I see or hear these comments):

  • Not everything is about black and white, you know. 
    • Not for me, nor for you, my fellow white person. But if you were black or brown, your experience might tell you that absolutely all experience is different based on the melanin content of your skin. Every single inequity that I can think of leans against people of color and favors people with light skin. 
  • You are getting a bit obsessive about your cause. This is usually in response to a post about a white person who did something, or interacted with police, and I pose the query (which I am also asking myself,) "What would this look like if the person involved were black?"
    • Racial justice is not a "cause" for me. The term "cause" is very limited in expressing how important this has become in my life. I don't do this, or think about it daily, just because I want to make the world better, and certainly not because I want to help "those people." I do this because my humanity depends on it. I do this because my life depends on it. I do this because my soul depends on it.
  • Are you calling me a racist?!? or, I am not a racist!
    • I am not calling you (or myself) a bad person. I am saying that we live in a society rooted in systematized racism. We white people benefit every day from the color of our skin, and we are very rarely aware of it. This system was created by white people. It is maintained by white people, intentionally and unintentionally. Anyone benefitting from this (ie, every white person in this country) who is not actively anti-racist and doing anti-racism work every day, is perpetuating racism. Does that mean you are a racist? You decide. (PS: I do call myself a racist, and I attend Racists Anonymous. More on that another time!)
  • I really admire the work you do.
    • Don't get me wrong, this is a nice thing to hear. But I still haven't figured out how to respond. I think about this stuff, read about it, write about it, and offer education to others about it because my soul depends on it. (see above.) I love hearing your appreciation, but I would be happiest if you begin your own self-examination, education, and discovery. I want you to be my companion on the journey, because you are my friend and I love you.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


June 23rd used to me a day of note in my life; now it is just a day. Except it isn't.

In 1979, I was married to my (now ex) husband, Dan. That means we would have celebrated our 38th anniversary yesterday. Instead, I have been single again for 11 years, and the anniversaries probably had little real meaning after the 24th. 

The wedding was a blast, in very 1970s ways. A good time was had by all. The marriage had its ups and downs, but was overall pretty good for a long time. We raised our two children together, went on fun trips, had a beautiful house on the edge of the woods in Vermont. My career as a physician went well, his as a teacher also went well.

But then we grew apart, as often happens with 2 kids, 2 careers, and busy lives. I somehow thought that when the kids were out of the house we could get to know each other again and prepare for a nice time growing old together. But, as often happens, things did not go as I envisioned. Another woman secretly entered the picture. When I discovered the relationship I offered him the choice of a counselor or lawyers, and he chose counseling-- but his heart really wasn't in it. It became very clear that our lives would be better apart, and we were divorce just before what would have been our 27th anniversary. 

We are both happier now. He remarried (another story about that one!) and I remain single, but am in a good space feeling that I am enough. If the right partner appeared in my life, I would be delighted, but I am not going seeking one on!

Still, every year June 23 rolls around and I wade through a flood of fun memories, sad memories, angry memories, guilty memories. All are only echoes of their initial intensity, which makes it livable. I know life is so much better now; yet still, sneaky inward gnomes tell me I am a failure. I don't assume all the blame for our divorce-- far from it-- but I know I contributed, and I sometimes wish it had worked out otherwise.

When I was still working and met an older patient with a spouse and a marriage of 40, 50, 60 years. How wonderful for them, ("you failure," says the gnome.) When my friends celebrate their 35th, 40th anniversaries, ("you failure," says the gnome.) when I wish I had a partner to travel with, ("you failure," says the gnome.) When I miss having someone to cuddle with, ("you failure," says the gnome.)

I have learned to greet the gnome, offer her a cup of tea, and sit with her for a while. then I send her on her way, hoping she won't feel the need to visit again for a while. But on June 23, I know she will be joining me. I brew a pot of tea, get some cookies, and sit down to wait for our annual chat.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Uses of Poetry

Every day we start our interdisciplinary palliative care meeting with a poem. It helps us center, and we are able to focus on our patients, their families, and how we can best serve them. Today's poem, read by our chaplain, is by Pat Snyder, who started the Amherst Writers & Artists Workshop:



It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes.  How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

I hope today I can be as generous as my shoes, as open as a window.

And today's NaPoWriMo prompt:

"Today’s prompt is drawn from an idea that Kelsey Howard gave me — that of a poem that tells a lie. I think you could have a poem that’s all lies (that could be very funny — full of things like “the sun is the size of a nickel”) or a poem that steadily builds to telling one big whopper. I can imagine these being very poignant, or very much like goofy shaggy-dog stories. I suppose it all comes down to what you want to lie about!"

Maybe I will get to that one later. 

Blessings on this day!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Or, to put it in less confusing terms, National Poetry Writers Month.

I am not a writer or a poet except that I write sometimes and sometimes I write things that could be a poem if you are being generous. But, today I will try to use a prompt!

"write a poem that has the same first line as another poem"

Rather than overthink it, I will choose a random first line from my shelf. And the winner is...

What name do I have for you?
(first line of "Just Walking Around" by John Ashbery.)

What name do I have for you?

You are the nameless one; we call you by all names.
I call you mother, mama, mommy. Or father, daddy, grandpa.
You are my dearest friend and my beloved. You
Are the stranger who knows my deepest secrets.

Sometimes I call you in wordless cries, with tears and moaning.
Or, in silence, in stillness.
Your name is in the wind.
In the call of the whippoorwill, the red-winged blackbird.

Your name is the purring of the cat.
Your name is the shriek of the owl at night.
Your name cannot be voiced; your voice cannot be named.
The name I have for you comes to me clearly only in dreams.

You are eternity.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grief Journey

I sat this morning in quiet worship-- somewhere between centering prayer and waiting worship, letting go of the thoughts and images that scurried through my conscious mind. As things settle down, my mind had fewer thoughts and more images. Suddenly, a box (yes a box: I am sure that means something to Jungian analysts, but it may just mean that I like boxes and seem to collect them) popped open like a bubble and what emerge was a word in illuminated letters: grieve.

Grieve? Grieve.

Grief is often in my thoughts, partly related to my work in the world with patients and families facing serious illness. And partly because of my own journey with grief as my companion for much of my adult life. We all live with loss, major and minor, small and large, every day. Some losses drift like the melancholy fall of a leaf in autumn; others hit like a tidal wave, where all boundaries and bearings are swept away and even breathing is not possible without extreme effort. Grief is a companion we learn to live with, and maybe even welcome at times, but who never really leaves us completely. she may stay secluded and quiet for a long time in an upstairs room, then suddenly the rhythm of daily life is again upset by her mercurial moods. 

It is like riding a roller coaster  (and I love roller coasters, by the way.) Unpredictable at times, exhilarating and frightening at others, and sometimes cathartic. Every time I think I have learned the lesson of letting go of trying to control grief, the sudden storm arises from an unexpected source.

Grief is a dedicated teacher. I am still learning. We are traveling together through the seasons of my journey. So, Rainer Maria Rilke's poem speaks to me today:

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~

Blessings on your journey today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sunrise Surprise

Photo = "Sunrise Surprise" by Buffy Curtis

I have been in a dry spell. Perhaps the change of seasons with its darkness affecting the season of my soul is part of it. More is my own lack of discipline, of spiritual laziness, my seeming inability to *force* myself to take care of my spirit in the ways I know will help: making time for the holy spirit to heal me. 

and now I sit, with cold November sun shining outside the window, knowing that in Singapore, where my son is attending a conference, it is warm and sunny and he is probably glad he is in air conditioning. Knowing that in Buenos Aires, where my brother is vacationing, it is the beginning of summer and they are welcoming the longer days with wine and dance.

Seasons of the soul will come and go, as do the seasons of the year; yet we persevere, we survive, we, "keep on keeping on." Perhaps it is will to survive. Perhaps it is deep knowledge-- the knowing before knowing-- that the season will not last forever, and that the sun and spring will come again.

I sometimes engage in the practice of sitting with-- just being with-- my pain and my sorrow. Not asking for it, nor feeding it, just being. And eventually, sorrow says, "OK, we have spent enough time together for now. Have a good day. I will be back." and meanwhile, I see the glory and miracle of another sunrise, or sunset, or of the cat jumping in my lap full of black purring warmth. 

and so I say (with e. e. cummings), "thank you god for most this amazing day!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Speaking Christian

For our next residency, I am again reading in Marcus Borgs's Speaking Christian. What a wonderful, enlightening, and eye-opening book! Surely if all Christians taught as Borg does, I would see myself as a Christian through and through. Just for instance, think about the word, "believe." What does it mean to 'believe' in god, or in Jesus? Does it mean that every word in the Bible is literal Truth? If so, then I certainly cannot believe. And this is where I have had my trouble with the whole religion thing, even among Friends. Twenty years ago, I was put off by Christ language. Ten years ago, I could take the Christ lingo OK, but it sure wasn't me. What did it mean to be saved? What did I have to be saved from? I couldn't (and can't) deal with a world where you must adhere to a strict set of ideas or be damned to fiery Hell for all eternity.

So here is what Borg says: In English prior to about 1600, people did not use the verb believe connect with a statement (as in, "I believe that the King is a deity.") Rather, the verb always referred to a person or being, and had the same meaning as saying "I believe in you." That is, to believe in God meant to put one's faith in God, one's trust in God. It had not much to do with fact or reality. Additionally, believe comes from the Old English be loef. That means "to hold someone dear." Belove comes from the same source, and believe and belove in that time were synonyms. To say you believed in someone was to say you had confidence and trust in them, and that you hold them dear. So, to believe in Jesus is to hold him close to the heart, to love him, to trust him.

We don't have to believe in the literal facts of the Gospels to believe in Jesus. His teachings, his works, his hopes for the world are all wonderful, and are held dear to my heart. I trust in the way.