April is The Cruelest Month . . .

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. . . and this year, ridiculously busy! Yet despite my too-long To Do list, I’ve been led to organize a “thank you note” party at Somerville Community Growing Center in honor of Arbor Day—and my beloved community’s trees!

A little background: Somerville is the most densely populated community in New England, with lots of people and buildings and cars and parking lots; trees and open spaces? Not so much. So whatever trees we do have that have managed to survive development and pollution and gas leaks and neglect certainly deserve our entire community’s hearty thanks! Especially since, given our heating-up planet, this summer promises to be, as New Englanders say, “A Skawchah.” (translation: Scorcher, i.e. hot as hell.) And with both an interstate and several major thoroughfares transecting our 4.209 square miles, we need every leaf from every tree to help mitigate all that heavy traffic!

So, Friday evening, weather permitting, we’ll write “thank you” in many languages on hanging-style names badges, decorate them, too, and then hang our grateful creations on trees all over the city!

A problem: that huge To Do list! Which means, dear friends, that I haven’t actually done much to get the word out that this little event’s even happening. Especially to those people, many of them poor, who live along the I-93 corridor and whose health and well-being is so compromised by where they live and what they breathe. A definite FAIL!

But as we also love to say here in New England: “Wait ’till next year!” (Actually: yee-ahh)

“Its Hardship is Its Possibility”

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[“Upheaval”: Arlington, MA sidewalk, 2016]

So many stories! There’s the story of an orange-haired, petulant racist we’re forced to hear again and again. And, oddly, there’s another story, the Feel the Bern story, notable for not being told—or gets “stealth-edited” within hours! (“Get me Rewrite!”) There’s an ancient, horrible story we lament this morning about innocents losing their lives in war, this time in Brussels. There’s another story many tell this week, the Holy Week story, that begins with strewn palms and hosannas and ends with betrayal and death.

I am trying to listen to another timeless story. It comes out of the earth. You can hear it in birdsong and the soughing of pine tree branches. (A wind chime will do.) It’s told every spring when the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun. It demands we listen when a blizzard or hurricane or tsunami strike.

But because so many of us are not listening to this timeless story, it’s editing itself. And not by stealth, either, right? Superstorms, record-breaking temperatures, drought; undeniable plot twists.

Troubled by this edited story, fearful it is doomed to end tragically, grieving for Mother Earth and for my grandchildren’s future, I turn once again to Wendell Berry. (No, not “The Peace of Wild Things” this time.) This one:

A POEM

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
To stand like slow growing trees on a ruined place,
Renewing, enriching it,
If we will make our seasons welcome here,
Asking not too much of earth or heaven,
Then a long time after we are dead
The lives our lives prepare will live here,
Their houses strongly placed upon the valley sides,
Fields and gardens rich in the windows.
The river will run clear as we never know it,
And over it the birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be green meadows,
Stock bells in noon shade
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down the old forest,
An old forest will stand, its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground.
They will take nothing out of the ground they will not return,
Whatever the grief at parting,
Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove,
And memory will grow into legend,
Legend into song, song into sacrament.
The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds,
Will be health and wisdom and indwelling light.
This is no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.

Wendell Berry

 

 

Water: The New Oil?

[Fresh Pond, Cambridge, MA]
Sunday afternoon as my Loved One napped, I took a delicious post-snowstorm walk around Fresh Pond. (Loved One’s long term care facility sits on the Fresh Pond Reservation, 162 acres of open space and nature trails protecting the 155 acre, fenced-in, Fresh Pond Reservoir, the City of Cambridge’s water supply.)

Until Sunday, my relationship with Fresh Pond had been mixed: YesI’d always relished joining the parade of dog walkers and bicyclists and strolling couples and joggers circling the pond. (It’s about a 2 mile walk). In fact, walking around Fresh Pond on New Year’s Day has become a hallowed tradition in my life, a contemplative (and usually freezing) way to begin a new year. Yet, inevitably, as a Somerville resident, I have also resented that in order to enjoy this urban treasure, I have to drive to Cambridge! Where, as a non-resident. I might easily get a parking ticket.

No more. My car now neatly parked in Loved One’s facility’s parking lot, Fresh Pond is mine!

So, on Sunday, instead of muttering “Why can’t Somerville have acres and acres of unobstructed space—maybe beside the Mystic River? Nature trails and woods and community gardens as far as the eye can see? Huh? Huh?”* or stressing about a possible parking ticket, I was able to appreciate where I actually was. To be present. To grok.**

So, of course, walking past Cambridge’s water supply, I thought of Flint, Michigan. And how black lives didn’t matter when it came to making viable, decent decisions regarding that struggling city’s water supply. How inexpressively outrageous! And how, more and more, we’re seeing water as A Thing. A commodity as precious as oil. (and, like oil, a liquid to spill blood over.)

So as I walked listening to the pond’s gentle lap lap with newfound gratitude, I was also sobered by a water-scarce future suddenly more clear and more fraught than it’s ever been.

“Is Clean Water The New Oil? “What am I called to do?

 

*So many things to love about my community but its long-term commitment to open space is not one of one.

** A verb meaning to really, really get it and used in that 60s classic, Stranger in a Strange Land—in which for the protagonist, a human raised on Mars, “sharing water” was a Huge Deal.

“Ambiguous Loss”

[Community Bulletin Board, Somerville Public Library, October, 2015 ]
I’m learning how to live with ambiguous loss. Since Christmas, I’ve been enrolled in a crash course.

I’m learning how to mourn someone I haven’t yet lost.

I’m learning how to mourn what has been lost yet never was.

I’m learning how to live with ambiguity. And both-and. (Early lessons learned : it’s exhausting! And pervasively sad.)

As I learn to live with ongoing stress and grief, I’m learning how to live with the Good Enough. I’m shooting for a C- in this class; maybe a solid B on a really good day.

I’m learning how to go with the flow.

But maybe all of us are living with ambiguous loss. The loss of weather we can recognize. Loss of seasons we remember. Loss of polar caps. Song birds. Clean water where and when we always expected it to be. And yet good ol’ Mother Earth keeps circling the sun, doesn’t she; for many of us—God, not all—life just keeps rolling along; doesn’t it? Maybe the pervasive anger all around us is about our collective, pervasive sadness. But maybe we can’t quite admit to that sadness. It’s SO much easier to be pissed! Our loss isn’t obvious, maybe. Yet we’re all mourning a Mother Earth who, yes, is still here but irrevocably changed.

The Opposite of Fear is Love

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[Entering Trollfjorden on a rainy, misty day]

How does living with constant fear affect us? Change Us? Scientists tell us that climate change has irrevocably changed our planet. What about our species, our hard-wiring, our DNA? How has living with the fear of climate change irrevocably changed human beings? That seems to be the question my next book will address. (This could definitely change. Stay tuned.) A related question: How does the trauma experienced by a people—slavery, the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide—get passed down from generation to generation? There’s good data, good research to support that such trauma is, indeed, experienced by later generations. What does this inchoate fear feel like?

In the face of All That, is this poem waaay too facile?

“West Wind #2

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.”
― Mary OliverWest Wind

 

Beat Your Swords Into Train Tracks *and* Affordable Housing

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Good news: a new subway station/light rail is probably coming to my neighborhood (Cost overruns are making important people like the governor look twice at the project). More Good News: Many car-repair and other businesses dependent upon the fossil-fuel industry which once dominated my neighborhood are, seemingly overnight, being transformed into housing. In other words, the status quo of living in a world dominated by cars, is shifting. Changing. VERY Bad News: This new housing is NOT affordable housing.

“If you want peace, work for justice,” has been my mantra since the 90s. So on Sunday, instead of attending the International Day of Peace on Boston Common, I am abandoning my Quaker peeps to attend a forum on the future of my community, hosted by Union United, a grassroots organization advocating for, you guessed it, affordable housing!

“Where are All Those Babies Coming from?”

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[Third Rail, Harvard Square T, 2015]

In conversations a couple of times, lately, I’ve heard the word “upriver” used to anchor whatever that person—usually young, usually progressive, usually really smart—is talking about, a shorthand for systemic, overwhelming, we need to look at and deal with the root causes of whatever social ill you and I are presently talking about.

The backstory to “upriver” (Skip this paragraph if you already know.): Upriver references a much-told story I’d heard back in the early 90s; the third-hand way I’d heard the tale, it had been told by Kip Tiernan, a righteous, early-on advocate for the homeless. Kip’s story went like this: Once upon a time there was a village beside a river. One day someone from the village saw a baby on a raft floating by so rescued that baby, took it home, clothed it, fed it, built a crib for it to sleep in, etc. Next day, two babies, two rescues, next day, more and more until the people of that village were doing nothing else but rescuing babies. The story ends, of course, when someone in that village proposes that someone should walk upriver to find out what’s going on!

Here’s the thing, though: Even though you or I can think upriver about, say, why it’s hot as hell right now in the Northeast although the calendar’s saying it’s early fall—another day in the 90s expected today—or why, right now, close to 60 Million People have been forcibly displaced worldwide (Take whatever time you need to take in that obscenely astronomically number), such thinking doesn’t alleviate our pain, does it.

May our ability to connect dots, to be mindful, to think systemically, to acknowledge root cases, may such mindfulness lead to a precious moment for each of us to hear the answer to our question: “What is it am called to do?”

Re rebranding?

 

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[Coal Barge, Ohio River, Louisville, Kentucky, 2015]

Along the same lines as thinking that fussing over a Confederate flag will truly address the deep, deep brokenness of this country, last week I tried to remove the visible label from a Coal purple, acrylic beanie my grand-daughter wears. (She loves the color and looks adorable in it.) Really?

The label wouldn’t come off. (Let’s hear it for Chinese workmanship!) So I was forced to, you know, accept, embrace, move on, maybe even consider that by naming their clothing company after a hated fossil fuel, the Seattle hipsters who started Coal were trying to tell us something about moving on, about transformation; rebranding, so to speak.

(Or not. Got into a conversation with a hipster recently about the coffee beans sold at a neighborhood cafe. He’d just bought a bag but had abandoned it on the counter—where I picked it up. I was reading the coffee beans’ label when he showed up to claim his purchase. “Is it fair trade?” I asked, handing it over. “I don’t know,” he answered impatiently. “I just know it tastes good!” )

Here’s where I am: I accept that my attempted label-removal was ridiculous, nutzo. But given that NStar, purveyors of another fossil fuel, just rebranded itself Eversource, thereby discarding that pesky N for natural gas—slick move, NStar, but I say fossil fuel and fracking and the hell with it—I shall remain vigilant!

[I will be on vacation next week. Check this space in 2 weeks.]

 

 

 

 

Asterisked (It’s complicated)

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Saturday I went to a rally in Boston in support of Cape Wind*, a proposed wind farm that would lie off the coast of Cape Cod and is, once again, threatened. For fourteen years, this  sustainable-energy project has been fought by a) the fossil fuel industry** b) wealthy, Cape Cod home-owners concerned about aesthetics*** c) Bird lovers **** d) the Cape and Nantucket Sound islands’ Wampanoag tribe. *****  Twenty-six lawsuits! Not to mention that an offshore wind farm has never before been built in this country ******  so that, although several top politicians, including President Obama******* and former Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, have been in favor of the project, the actual implementation process, even without repeated, obstructive lawsuits, has been complicated by its steep learning curve. And, finally, some say Cape Wind was a lousy deal from the get-go. That took the wind out of my sails! (Temporarily)

Know something, though?  If there will be more pro-Cape Wind rallies, I’ll show up. Even though I have deep concerns about its shaky business practices. Because, know what? Sometimes, even when you do know all about those pesky, complicated/complicating asterisks, sometimes you have to just show up in support of a very simple and uncomplicated and non-asterisked idea. Like Peace. Like Justice. Like Truth. Like, in this case, supporting renewable energy. Sometimes you just have to show up.

* My late father, a Republican and a long-time, loyal employee of the General Electric Company, the world’s biggest nuclear equipment supplier, was nevertheless a huge supporter of Cape Wind. (He was also a sailor and a thrifty Yankee who, no doubt, saw the value of harnessing free, just-going-to-waste wind power.) So I went in his honor, too.

** Especially one of the Koch brothers, who also happens to own several homes on the Cape.

*** Like the late Teddy Kennedy

**** Yet Mass Audubon has endorsed the project.

***** Who claim they need an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound to welcome the morning sun. Yet their land on Martha’s Vineyard does not face Nantucket Sound. So while, in principle, I am in sympathy with this Native American tribe, whose name, indeed, means greeting the morning sun, that I also know they’re trying to open a casino I find confusing!

****** Meanwhile, while all the Cape Wind dithering goes on, another wind farm off the coast of nearby Rhode Island has recently been approved!

******* The same week as Boston’s Cape Wind rally, President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline, definitely NOT a renewable energy project, and so made climate change history by saying “No! Keep fossil fuel in the ground. Unburned.”

“Gets Me Every Year”

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[Limestone Mine, Louisville, KY]

Went to a badly acted, poorly-written play Friday night yet because its themes—climate change and our broken political system — were so much what needs to be said and explored and talked about, the play’s essential goodness, its gem-like imperative to be aired shone through: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Until a couple of days ago, Christmas had seemed mostly dark this year. Devastating headlines, dear friends facing hard, hard times, day after day of no sun/lots of rain (what climate change looks like in the Northeast) had made me blue. Had made me Christmas spiritless. Had made me feel like I was going through the motions. Had made me wonder: why bother?

But then, Sunday morning at my Quaker meeting’s Christmas pageant, when we all sang “Silent Night” to a real, live baby, I welled up. (This year’s baby has shining, golden hair—lots of it—so really, really did “radiantly beam”!) That sweet and gentle moment when over a hundred people of all ages quietly sang together in tribute to this new, precious life among us? It gets me every year!

My tears opened me to the words of another carol we sang that morning: “The hopes and fears of all the years are meet in thee, tonight.” Yes!  I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Thorton Wilder’s Our Town: “It’s like what one of those European fellas said: ‘Every child born into the world is nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being.’ “ 

That’s what we celebrate. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Hope. Our collective hope for peace, for justice, for “The Great Turning.” And our collective faith, despite the overwhelming and ubiquitous darkness, that Way will open and the Light will shine forth.

 

“Dear White People”; Part 2

Show up. Strategically. Be that white face in a black crowd, especially when it really, really matters. Sad But True: when I showed up at a racial-profiling trial for a group of Somerville teenagers, one of the defense attorneys told me that my presence had an impact on the jury. Horrifying? Yes. Absolutely. But, hey!  If we’re to dismantle racism, brick by brick, let’s use the tools that work!

Be in community with other white allies. Don’t do this work alone. And don’t ask your friends of color to hold your hand or give you advice. (Or, for that matter, thank you.) Download soon and often. And, supported and cherished for the wonderful person you truly are, keep on keepin’ on.

Be in community. Work local. Work one-to-one. Keep in mind Mother Teresa’s “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” (Love, compassion, forgiveness; they’re in our dismantling racism tool boxes, too.)

Here’s your homework: Connect the dots. How are Racism, War, and Climate Change inexorably intertwined? (Hint: it’s complicated. And fear and A strongly held belief there’s not enough are definitely involved.)

Got it? Feel it? Great. Now: let your deep and powerful understanding fuel your passion and guide your actions, especially in those moments when you’re overwhelmed.

We shall overcome.

 

“God in the Hard Places”

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[ Monday, in front of the Massachusetts State House just before a Mothers Out Front rally]

LIke many women these days, I am no longer a Woody Allen fan. But the director/writer got one thing right: It really is about showing up. So on a rainy and chilled day when I would have much preferred to stay home and play with my precious grand-daughter, I reluctantly donned my high-performance long underwear, my warmest clothes, my thickest socks and my rain gear and took the T downtown. A veteran of outdoor showing-ups since Vietnam—indeed, many of my clothing choices are strictly based on “Will it keep me warm and dry if I’m standing for hours at a vigil or demonstration?”—I understand how these things work: It’s all about the body count. So I knew I had to be counted.

Now, I have devout friends whose discernment process to test whether or not they’re really called is to ask: Is this act or choice hard? Challenging? Painful? Am I struggling? And only if the answer is “Yes,” do they trust they’re doing God’s work.

Makes sense, right? If doing God’s work were easy, maybe we’d all be doing it! And it’s hard to trust facile—like sending off, with just a few keystrokes, this or that petition to save this or that. (Let’s hear it for “AutoFill”) It’s too darned convenient!

However: My own compass telling me if I’m on the right spiritual path is: Am I overcome by unexpected joy? So I was not expecting a spiritual experience when I grabbed my umbrella on Monday.

I showed up. Sixty others did, too, an awesome and deeply moving turn-out for such a miserable day. Which, need I say this, filled me with unexpected joy!

That evening, warm and dry, when I got the news that the Senate defeated Tar Sands, I gave thanks for the millions who have ever shown up, “in snow or rain or heat or gloom of night,” to protest injustice, to witness against war.

Thank you!