Follow by Email

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dance of Life

They stood facing each other, holding hands. The lights were dim, the room was quiet. A few people milled in and out, quietly checking in and taking care of tasks. But the couple didn't notice the comings and goings, aware only of each other and what was before them. I sat in the corner of the room, waiting for the moments I could offer help or encouragement, and, as I watched them, their pose reminded me of what I had seen as I watched them speak their wedding vows to one another. And still, looking at them four years later, I saw commitment. And love. They rocked gently back and forth, the movement became almost a dance, swaying slowly and reminiscent of their wedding celebration.

But, at the expected time, the gentleness ended. The contractions began again. Her knees buckled. Her head dropped onto his chest. She moaned and cried. He stood steady, giving her assurance and presence.

The labor seemed interminable and was relentless for 72 hours. She never wavered. I have no more respect for anyone than I have for her. And him. He didn't leave her side.

The interminable seemed suddenly soon. Push. Push. Push. Their child arrived. A son. A tiny new life in this great big world. He has parents who will nurture and care. Oh, that all children would know that. Blessed be this child. Blessed be mother and father. Blessed be the God of all creation. Blessed be love. Blessed be life.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Racism in the South ... and the North, and the East, and the West

The southwest United States was before me. That wondrous open sky, stark and blue and beautiful provided a backdrop for snow capped mountain peaks. The cracked windshield of the borrowed ranch Jeep I was driving added to the authenticity of my experience. Even though just a visitor in this part of the country, I could understand the draw and desire to claim a part of this land. There is something Divine here, something that draws the soul to the mightiness of creation here in the mountains and deserts.

At the high, dry altitude, it felt good to be free of some of the heat and humidity of my home in the south, that area defined by the Mason Dixon Line, where one of my young daughters had once exclaimed upon stepping out our front door, "It's soggy out here!" I found myself thinking on further distinctions between southeast and southwest United States and it wasn't lost on me that many people flee, oppose, disdain, and caricature the southeast with one big word ... and it's not "humidity." The word would be "racism."

Just minutes after that thought, I entered the National Park Service Bent's Old Fort just east of Pueblo, Colorado in La Junta, and my whole concept of racism and the south changed. The fort is along the Arkansas River, which you may or may not know was formerly the border between the United States and Mexico. Today, the Fort stands well reconstructed. Peacocks and chickens roam the grounds, donkeys make their way back up from the river to check out who's come to visit. It's a bucolic representation of what was at times a bucolic place in history. A merriest of trading posts and forts on the Santa Fe Trail, it had a bit of European attention to formality and beauty.

And then ...

As so often happens in histories of forts and castles and ships  -  and industries and cities and nations and schools - came the moment in the video of the introduction of dominance, injustice, and wars against the native people, all leading to containment and elimination imposed on the natives by the incoming.

So, yes, the south has struggled with racism and hatred and injustice. But, so has the southwest. Randomly, I thought on the kindhearted mid-west United States, and I remembered some of what I've read of the oppression of the immigrants to Chicago and other urban areas in the beginning stages of industrialization and meat processing in the US. And the Northwest United States, the fresh and glorious Northwest? What comes to mind as I'm still at Bent's Old Fort is the Chinese labor brought in to work the gold mines and build the railroads in the 1800's. Cheap labor. Generally no opportunity for advancement, and generally no hope of return to China. Riots. Discrimination. As if grasping for hope against hope, my thoughts turned to the Northeast United States, surely free of prejudice and oppression. But, sadly, no. From the very foundations of the United States of America there has been dominance of one people over another.

It may be accurate to say that no region of the United States is without a serious, complexion changing blemish with regards to human relations. It may be accurate that no part of the world or of world history is free of those blemishes and outrageous acts against humanity, whether that humanity be the same or different.

But, neither is any region or era of history completely that. Always there are people who not only act against the injustices, but live completely free from any desire for oppression or dominance. It's true. Today in the south, and the north, and the east, and the west there are people of all races and religions living, laughing, loving, and working together with no thought of the race or religion of the other. In the south there are white women and children sitting in a restaurant with a corner full of Middle Eastern men, speaking loudly their Arabic language and robustly cheering a soccer game. I know. I was there. In Alabama.

And such it is that much of what I can claim I know comes from "being there," traveling and meeting people and hearing their stories, watching their passions. It also comes from reading books and accounts of history, and visiting museums. The startling weapon room at Alcazar in Segovia Spain, and the Naval Museum in Halifax come to mind immediately, as do the National Parks of the United States, and the Smithsonian Museum of American History. All have helped tell tales that are inspiring as well as disturbing. A visit to the National Museum of Prisoners of War in Andersonville GA fuels my passion that we have to take the best from the worst, learn from it, and try our darndest to repeat the best. We must.

The honest truth is that I live in the south. I have a love hate relationship with the warmth and humidity. With the struggle for edifying human relations. But, I also have a love for all the people who call this same place home. Many have that same love. Please be a part of that small many with me. Wherever it is you call home.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Photographic Autobiographies

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good tale as much as most people, a well spun story or fantastical adventure, or a thriller with just enough thrill to kind of tingle the back of my neck. But when having to choose just one genre of literature, I invariably choose biographies. Or autobiographies. I've often said that there are so many inspiring, death defying, injustice challenging, riveting life stories out there that I find myself less and less intrigued by fiction. I'd rather spend my time walking along side someone in their real life experiences. I want to gobble up all the fortitude I can muster from someone who's gone down a path that causes me to re-evaluate what I consider to be so darned important or challenging in my own life.

Biographies that influence me are often stories like Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt), from whom I recognized I'd rather be the oppressed than the oppressor, and Christy (Catherine Marshall) that stretch of a biography that draws upon the experience of the author's mother as a teenaged "Christy" who traveled into the dark recesses of Appalachia to learn from a young student that we ain't got no right to not like anybody that God Himself has created. Or, Nelson Madela's Long Walk to Freedom which requires no further explanation.

In a similar way, I see photographs. Sure, I like posed studio photos that capture the best of everybody in the shot, but they've started feeling a bit contrived to me, all a bit the same except for the subjects, and maybe a bit fictitious. Those photos are controlled, staged, one step out of real life drama and experience. According to me.

These days, many people have the means to provide the world with impromptu visual offerings of their life and experiences. I like seeing photographs of families, individuals, groups, friends, or strangers all caught spontaneously in a moment that matters. These moments tell a story of being somewhere, living and breathing and seeing and smelling and hearing and laughing or crying ... not thinking about the pose, not creating a fictional setting.

And now, added to the mix, we've got the infamous "selfie." As I gazed upon a particular selfie recently, it occurred to me that selfies get a bad rap. This person was sharing with me a part of a real life experience. I was getting to journey along with them just as I would in an autobiography. This selfie happened mostly because this happened to be a solitary "journier," a sole person with no one else to capture them in that moment that mattered. Artists have long provided much appreciated self portraits, interpretations of themselves. Now we are merely offering and receiving digital self portraits.

Henceforth, therefore, I shall appreciate the selfie, photo bombers and all. I shall remember what value there is in the moment shared, whether it be one person or a group who doesn't want to have to leave anyone out of the picture. Just as I might choose not to read certain autobiographies, I might choose not to enjoy certain selfies, and still, I am pleased that my new awareness is that Selfies = Photographic Autobiographies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


They looked at me like I had a fatal disease, and I ought to know. I've seen that look before when I sat on a table in the examining room and got the news no one wants to get. Fortunately, and thanks be to God, I lived to tell about it. But, many years later, against all odds, after chemo and radiation, losing my hair and other parts of my body, I saw "the look" again.

This time, though, I sat in a chair under the bright diagnostic lights of the cosmetics counter, the make up artist and technician consumed with concern about what they were seeing. The concern was about my eyebrows. I'd gone by department store just to pick up some make up, but, what the heck, "the make up artist was free for an hour, did I have time for a refresher course in new products and application?" Sure. Why not. I'd just left Clearview Cancer Institute where I'd had my 18th six month check up, and I'd just had my infusion of a drug to take the calcium out of my blood and put it back in my bones where it belongs ... or that's what I think I know about it anyway. Kind of makes me feel like I have the flu for a couple of days, and my eyes were bloodshot. But time in the make-up chair seemed appealing.

And, it was. It was relaxing to get pampered and shown ways to perk up my skin tone and make my cheeks pop with color. But, the eyebrows. Oh, dear. I sensed something was wrong when the artist picked up a brush and came toward me. "Well, you see," she said "... as we age we sometimes lose some of our hair. Oh yes, that's it, but you could try this or that," and with that she drew the perfect brow. "And always, but always, pluck any brow hairs that fall outside this particular brow line."

I flatly, but politely?, tell her I lost all my hair and most of my eyebrows and lashes to chemo a few years ago, and that I'm quite fond of the eyebrows I have now, even the errant hairs that buck the system and grow outside the brow line. Pluck those plucky daring darlings? I don't think so.

Monday, November 24, 2014

He, She, It

The giggles of my elementary aged classmates still resonate in my head as I recall the introduction of pronouns in English grammar when we came to the third person singular "he, she, it." There was hilarity, for some, in slurring "she" and "it" together to sound out a certain four letter word. There's some irony to that for me now. I am aware that the combination of she and it is what we often find ourselves in when pronouns are used frequently.

Oh that we could avoid the confusion of she, he, they, them. Who are all these people? We may think we know, but have we lost track of the thread of reference, for example, when she told her that they didn't want to do what he had suggested to them?

Rhonda's advice? Just watch out. Repeat names when necessary, no matter how cumbersome and ineloquent the repetition may seem.

After working for many years as an English speaking link to our community within a church congregation where the native language barely includes any pronouns at all,

I think they're on to something. Or should Rhonda say, Rhonda thinks languages that include virtually no pronouns are on to something.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Peace in the Garden

It seems too early. It's only late July after all. But the time seems right. I've remarked before that I am thankful to know signs of life even when they are barely visible. I consider it a gift. And now, standing in the midst of my garden, among the lush, green tomato plants I recognize there is also a gift in knowing signs of death. Of end. Of knowing the time has come to pull the tomato plants from my garden, and to call the season done. Even if I'm not ready, it is time. And there can be rejoicing and thanksgiving even as the seemingly vibrant plants are pulled up by the roots.

There still hangs tiny fruit on the plants. Seems hopeful. But, I've watched these fruit grow grotesque simply by not becoming what they are meant to be ... growing not in size but in hardness, never ripening.

The plants on the other hand, would easily fool a passerby. Mighty plants they are, standing head and shoulders above me. They look productive, as though a bounty of fruit should be released daily. But, sadly, what they do instead is absorb all the nutrients of the soil for themselves. Whether the plants themselves actually have what they need to do so or not, they are  not passing the necessary ingredients for life to their fruit. By making a canopy of shade that is beautiful and beckoning to onlooker, it appears the plants have denied the life sustaining elements that would be the fruit's.

As I do when watching for signs of life, I've watched this phenomenon of stagnation in the garden. Every morning and evening I've headed to the backyard with great hope of the turn where I'd see some withering of the plants and some growth and ripening of the fruit. But, no, and there on the day in late July, I knew the truth. And I also understood better the fig plant that did not bear, and the withered branches that were pruned so that the remaining vine could be strong and healthy and produce fruit.

Even in this great disappointment of knowing there shall be no tomatoes, I feel peace. There is peace in the garden, because things are as they should be, even when my hopes are disappearing and my plans are failing. There is a rightness to doing what's hard when the time is right. There is peace in knowing, in watching the cycles and knowing the process, and seeing that wondrous coming together of everything needed to sustain the growing fruit. Knowing gives a peace about decisions and direction. Knowing gives a confidence and understanding beyond our own.

I have learned to say that in making decisions, I do what gives me the greatest sense of peace. Because what brings peace is right.

Perfect Flaws

Even as I write this I am at one of the world's most beautiful white sanded beaches. I am with just my husband for a week in a house built for 10. In this sanctuary, I was drawn to the bookcase and found In the Sanctuary of Women, written by Jan L Richardson. Yes. This is it. This is what we women need. We need not the threats to inner assurance from the next "Most Beautiful Woman." We need not the threats to our own confidence from those who steal the glances. We need not to be weighed and measured and then be found wanting. We women need the sanctuary of women. And, we too, need to be that sanctuary.

How many times, in an effort to encourage other women to keep the faith, or stay the course of personal validation of their very selves, have I said, "True, the opposing voices are many and louder, but there are voices speaking a different truth. They just aren't as easily heard." So, having gained from the wisdom of Dr. Seuss with Horton Hears a Who!, I shall keep adding my voice  just like Jojo's "Yopp," in order to grow the hearing of what matters for humanity ... and especially for womanity.

You see, again the promotion of perfection is plaguing me where I am. Perfection in the physical manifestation of womanity. And, I find that not only am I not impressed when that perfection is brought forward for us all to applaud, envy, and emulate, I am disgusted. And offended. Because the very moment that perfection is cracked, or wrinkled, or blemished, it is no longer of any value. And, so goes the message, is the person bearing that perfection.

All of us, even those born with something close to this perfection, will eventually or have already moved out of it. Beyond it and into a world of, what? Trash? Garbage? A world of discard? According to the message of this culture in which I live, yes.

However, this message is not according to the culture in which I live, this is according to me. And, according to me, just as it is the flaws in a diamond that make one different from the rest of the perfect ones, it is the "flaws" in each of us that set us apart. Make us matter in some way that matters. There are stories, and life experiences, and wisdom and understanding in many of the marks of "imperfection" we carry. For your enjoyment, however, let me add that I have a tray with 22 cosmetics that I apply virtually every day. But, I do that because it pleases me. I like it. It's fun. I am not afraid to be without those cosmetics, although my spider veins in my legs have been known to scare children, so in certain circumstances the make-up frees me to think on things other than hiding my legs from children. And make-up on my face lends a certain power with other people that doesn't seem to be generated without it. Oh. There's the rub.

Ladies, if we're not careful we'll be our own worst enemy. Every time we doubt our value, every time we doubt our beauty, every time we hide ourselves away under layers and layers of anything we apply to gain someone else's approval, we diminish the opportunity to be wholly ourselves. And we deny the world the opportunity to know that whole self. Women must lead the way as only women can. And I mean with a confident and gentle best, and the ease of grounded certainty.

Each generation must learn for themselves, and that to me is a sad truth. And so, we older women must be present, and gather round the young women to nurture that wholeness. This morning, even as I applied my own regimen of make-up, I recognized that I am friend to many women, young and old. I have what some would consider to be unusual friends, being the older white woman that I am. But what I know this morning is that this diverse assortment of woman can rest with me, as we ought to get to rest in this world in which we live. They can rest from expectations and self-perceived shortcomings. Women can rest with me as we ought to get to rest in the world in which we live. We don't easily have that luxury, though, so we must, we simply must, ladies and gentlemen, be and offer that rest to as many as we can.