Breaking Through (?)

This morning I was having a wonderful, searching conversation with a dear friend when I heard myself begin a sentence with, “I feel as though . . . ” and used that cautious, questioning tone I hear a lot from Millennials. (Even now as I write this I am strongly tempted to add a question mark to that sentence?)

What a gift! To be able to efficiently and clearly state: “Okay. I am now moving this conversation into how I feel. And that’s pretty confusing, right? But it’s feeling as though [See what I did just then?] I want to speculatively make a statement about non-factual, totally subjective, more-than-likely-inaccurate or, at the very least, clumsy stuff. Here goes:”

This shorthand announcement, by the way, is pretty much the opposite of another introductory phrase used by young people: “I want to say . . . ” Sentences begun this way are also spoken tentatively, with the speaker sometimes looking upward as if to trying to remember something, but without the question inflection? And these sentences usually end with a fact. A number. A statistic. A clarifying adjective. But, like “I feel as though,” the speaker is giving their listener a useful heads-up, in this case basically saying, “I may very well have no idea what I’m talking about. Don’t go posting this on Facebook for all the world to attack you for. This could not be true.”

Seems as though—yes, another variation—in the polarized, divided, contentious time we’re living in, to hone our ability to engage in conversations, especially when speaking with those with whom we disagree, with caution, with humility, with, if we’ve really got it going on, Love, is something worth working on?

Bending That Arc A Tad (Maybe)

Yesterday afternoon I had the extraordinary good fortune to show up at two trials at the Moakley Courthouse, both trials dealing with immigrant justice. A former journalist, I would have preferred to offer a carefully-written, researched and cogent report about my experience. But for a number of reasons, the chief one being that at the first trial, the young attorney representing the defendant, Donald Trump (Yup!), spoke so rapidly and so frequently dropped his voice at the end of his rapid-fire sentences as to make his arguments incomprehensible. (He seemed to have a bad cold, too. That didn’t help.) Also, duh, I’m not a lawyer. So, sorry, Readers, the best I can offer is impressions and “feels,” as my daughter, Hope, says. ( I can offer some hope, too.)

The first trial was held in Courtroom 11 which was packed, so standing-room-only that one of the immigration-rights lawyers asked the judge, a Woman of Color, if those people standing out in the hallway might be allowed to come inside and sit where a jury might ordinarily sit. She, someone whose own ancestors had for years been denied a jury of their peers or, if attending a trial, had been shunted off to sit in segregated seating, agreed. Thus a group of brown and black-skinned men and women from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras silently filed into the courtroom to fill the two rows of jury seats. The “optics” couldn’t have been better!

And what was this first trial about? It pitted a coalition of immigrant-rights lawyers/plaintiffs against a defendant who’s decided to send Temporary Protection Status (TPS)  people back to their countries of origin. And, no, everyone seemed to agree, these people were probably not a national security threat. “Why are you pursuing this?” the judge asked MotorMouth at least twice. (He’d presented first.) If he had a cogent answer as to why the president has rescinded TPS, I didn’t hear it.

But his “brothers” at the next table offered an explanation: (The opposing lawyers referred to each other as “brothers.” The all-female-attorneys at the second trial called the women on the other team “sisters.”) “Racial Discriminatory Animus,” the immigration-rights lawyers declared more than once, pure and simple and appalling.  Trump has made his abhorrent feelings/animus toward immigrants crystal-clear. Which is why he’s the defendant in this case.

There was lots more, of course. Numerous references to other cases; how the defendant has misread the original TPS law—and what “intervening events” really means; lots about procedure and jurisdiction and (I sure hope I got this right) how the president willy-nilly changed a law without proper notification and allowing the public to comment on this New Rule. And how He Can’t Just Do That! (If, indeed, I understood this correctly, it gives me shivers. Because I’m pretty sure this is what happened in Nazi Germany when, incrementally, things slowly changed without fanfare.)

The trial ended precisely at 3:00 with the judge promising to consider all she’d read and heard. So stay tuned.

The second trial—which I only found out about because I’d gotten on the wrong elevator and someone I know was on it and urged me to join her—featured a law firm of young women representing a Brazilian mother who’d entered this country in Arizona  and who has been separated from her nine-year-old-son for forty-three days. The mother’s lawyers demanded that the government reunite this mother, currently in Massachusetts (although I don’t know how or why she’s here), and her son, currently in a detention center in Texas!

Yes, mysteriously, here it is. The Story we’ve all been sleepless over, told again in a federal courtroom in Boston, Massachusetts: violence and domestic abuse and the threat of drug trafficking to be foisted upon the child in a “country of origin,” a difficult journey, detention, and side-by-side cages on a concrete floor and a wailing child and a mother unable to soothe her son.  And a government official, in this case a young woman lawyer wearing a white jacket, spouting nonsense. White Jacket Sister “justified” this separation because—are you ready? Our government has separated thousands of children from their parents and it would be, what? Unfair? Unseemly? Just wrong somehow if this child should leapfrog (her word) over all those others. As if the mother and child had cut the line at the deli counter. (She offered other justifications, too. This leap-frog nonsense was the most egregious.)

And it elicited a spirited response from the lead lawyer who sputtered something to the effect of how the United States government has caused this horrific situation and why should this child be held hostage because they’d f**cked up?!

And again, the judge, this time an aging white man, promised he’d carefully consider all he’d just heard and read. I pray he does so quickly.

I’d promised hope. Here are three hopeful take-aways:

  1.  Many amazing, brilliant people, many of them immigrants, many of them lawyers, are working feverishly to counter Trump’s racial discriminatory animus. And where there’s (amazing, brilliant) energy there’s hope, right? (Organizations like Centro Presente need our support BTW. Spiritual and financial.)
  2. There are fifty federal courthouses; many of the immigration cases cited yesterday happened in other states.The future of justice in this country vis a vis the Supreme Court may give you nightmares right now but it’s not the only game in town. I chose to believe that, case by case, something will shift. (But start praying anyway. Just in case.)
  3. Both courtrooms were SRO with TPS folks, aging lefties, community activists—and many, young Women of Color in black suits. Law students. Who will bend that arc even more. God bless them.

. . . Not A Sprint.

Today, apparently, because of relentless, vociferous, worldwide protest, 45 announced that his pernicious policy of separating children from their parents at our nation’s borders will discontinue.

But don’t get too excited. He has also, in the past 24 hours, used the word “infest” when tweeting about immigration issues. A word to use when talking about rats, bed bugs, cockroaches.

I suggest we allow ourselves to take a brief moment to celebrate the power of collective action/ Love in Action. Praise God! Eat chocolate! Ceremoniously sip a delicious glass of pinot noir! Listen to music that brings you to tears.

And then let’s get back to work. Let’s keep showing up*. (Fascism is relentless, too.)

*Boston-area folks: let’s flood the Moakley Courthouse on July 12th at 2:00!

 

 

“Fallen On Hard Times”

So many stories here.

Once upon a time, my beloved grandmother, Florence Moulton Mirick Wild, born in 1877, lived at 130 Beacon Street, Worcester, with her large, extended, closely-knit, and well-to-do family. My brother and I grew up listening, saucer-eyed, to her adventure-filled childhood stories; she was a gifted storyteller of the Always Leave A Story Better Than You Found It School. (When she got to a good part, like the time she almost got trampled by Mr. Jones’ horse and sulky when she’d run into Beacon Street without looking, she’d clutch her pearls. Literally. Not in horror but in sheer, unmitigated excitement!)

Friday I spent a few hours exploring my grandmother’s childhood neighborhood—which, like so many neighborhoods in so many American cities, has “fallen on hard times.” So this will not be a story about my beloved grandmother.* This is a story about brokenness.

View of downtown Worcester from Beacon Street

This is also a story about how you tell the story. For as I learned at my grandmother’s knee, language matters. Specificity matters. Facts matter. For example, little Florence didn’t just willy-nilly run across Beacon Street. No, she ran into the path of a speeding horse—who, by the way, always sped down Beacon Street—because Mrs. Doane across the street had just invited Florence to come have ginger cake. Of course that little girl, looking like a Kate Greenaway illustration, just “dashed into the street!”

So let’s get real. Let’s tell real stories of real people who’ve lost their jobs. Let’s use concrete language when we talk about poverty, when we talk about the bottom-line decisions to close down factories or to move them elsewhere; let’s admit there’s nothing benign about neglect! Let’s not say “Fallen on hard times,” okay?   As if that neighborhood—known (ironically) as Beacon Brightly—had accidentally, clumsily stumbled when, in fact, it was pushed.

An interesting development: Right around the corner from my grandmother’s house, where a spacious and elegant home—maybe two?— once stood, there is now YouthGrow Farm! Where youth from that neighborhood can learn about urban farming, leadership skills, teamwork, and so much more. And are paid to do so.

Hallelujah!

 

 

*As a sign prominently displayed in an antique store wisely advised, “The only person interested in what your grandmother had was your grandfather!”

What Do I Yearn For?

A memorial reception with gluten-free or other diary-needs offerings carefully labeled, Friends Meeting at Cambridge, January, 2018

Walking to Meeting on Sunday, I passed a couple of  Ant “dockless” bicycles in front of Harvard’s Science Center, a new company that, like Hubway, the other bike-rental company in greater Boston, uses crossbar-free bikes. Exclusively. “Girls’ bikes,” we used to say. (When I was a kid, I wore dresses. That crossbar was highly inconvenient!)

During the unusually long quiet I found myself deeply moved that Ant’s and Hubway’s bikes are inclusive, accommodating, and account for “the least of these.” (Someone in a pencil skirt, a kilt, a sari? Anyone for whom swinging a leg over a crossbar could be challenging?)

More came to me during the quiet: I remembered a concert a while back, given by Daniel Parker, a former Quaker Voluntary Service fellow, now studying piano at Julliard. (Daniel’s concert was a fund-raiser for QVS.) Before he began Bach’s Goldberg variations, he asked the fifty-or-so-member audience if we wanted him to play straight through or if we’d prefer a break. Some of us—perhaps the same demographic who’d prefer not to swing our leg over a bike’s crossbar?—indicated we’d like a break. “I think we need to respect that,” Daniel said. There was pushback: “Put it to a vote!” someone called out. Gently but firmly, Daniel reiterated that we all needed to accommodate those who’d expressed need.

“What do I yearn for?” I have been asking myself that question a lot lately. Sunday I was offered a glimpse: I yearn to live in an accommodating, inclusive world, a world where day-to-day decisions are made after asking: How will this effect the poor, the homeless, the undocumented, the abused?

Sound good?

 

 

 

 

Random Acts of Beauty, Kindness

Between Nor’easters, Somerville, MA, March, 2018

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes—especially now—a news story is not the news story. Sometimes what seems significant isn’t. All the time, stuff just happens and making meaning of all that stuff can be exhausting and confusing. (And, must say, New England’s disquieting, alarming, climate-changed weather—for months!—hasn’t helped!)

Just coming out of one of those confusing and exhausting times, I’m moved this morning to lift up three instances, recently, when Spirit broke through the fog:

  1. Friday night, at our monthly Somerville worship-group gathering, a dear, long-time F/friend offered this query: “What do you yearn for?”  Try it. Let me know if simply posing that question to yourself is grounding. Do you find that coming up with An Answer not that important? That it’s the process of asking yourself, opening yourself up to look at, to wonder about your deepest hunger, that matters? (Thank you, Chris.)
  2. One of the things I yearn for, apparently, is declarative sentences about love. “Because he’s a twelve-year-old boy. Dogs love those.” (Thank you, Wes Anderson.) Bonus: this declarative sentence is voiced by a female.
  3. Random, anonymous acts of beauty and kindness. Like three packages of Jello, each a different color, artfully arranged on front yard wall. (Thank you, Neighbor, whoever you are.)

“CONTEXT!”

Front page of the local section, The News & Advance, Lynchburg, VA, October 12, 2008

Dr. Lynda Woodruff, my mentor and friend, died last week. Hearing this awful news, I registered both gut-punched grief and that my first question—Did she die because she’d received inadequate healthcare?—came to me only because I’d been schooled by Lynda.

A woman of “grit and salt” (her words), Lynda schooled so many! My first tutorial with this fierce, brilliant woman happened after I’d mailed her a draft of a book manuscript which, eventually, with her guidance, became Way Opens. “Context!” she’d written in bold letters on that first, pathetic draft. Meaning: You neither know the backstory nor understand its implications. Meaning: You’re a clueless white woman. Meaning: Do your homework.

So I began. And, with Spirit’s guidance, keep on keeping’ on. (Although I already know I’ll earn a C+ at best. )

Something else I note with deep sorrow. “The burden of the race” resting on her shoulders since she was thirteen, over the years Lynda “just got tired.” (Her words.)  Can you imagine how exhausting, how debilitating our current political nightmare must have been for her?

Rest in peace, dear Lynda.

 

 

Who Is My Neighbor?

Maybe another foot of snow due tomorrow, maybe another opportunity to use our “neighborhood snowblower.” After a very snowy winter a couple of years ago, a bunch of us chipped in to buy one. The next year? It collected dust in our carriage house. But it’s been worth every collective penny this winter; that’s for sure. (Is it wishful thinking to believe that since that gas-powered sidewalk-clearer is shared by several households, our neighborhood reduces its carbon footprint? Anyone? Anyone?)

Who is my neighbor?  Buying a snowblower together, sharing ripe tomatoes and zucchini together from the raised-bed vegetable garden in their (more sunny than ours) back yard. These are my neighbors. But what about that woman whose anguished, Haitian-Creole lament woke me up yesterday morning as she walked past my house? Isn’t she my neighbor, too?

What am I called to do?

 

 

(Almost)-Spring Cleaning

A Rainy Day at Castle in the Clouds, Moutonborough, N.H.

Sunday, chilled, rainy, very windy, I’d almost wished there’d been a fireplace fire in the meetinghouse fireplace. Surely a hearty blaze would brighten my spirits?  But, no, I realized. If there were to be any cheering up going on that gloomy morning, it would have to come from within!

And I remembered something someone in my yoga class had said on Thursday. (Actually, this was at our pre-yoga class, when we discuss a poem someone has brought in, or the Sutras, or a piece of writing our gifted teacher wishes to share.) One woman talked about sadness, hard times, grief and loss; how we’re sometimes too eager to be happy. “There’s good reasons to feel sad,” she said.

So I let myself sink into despair. Not to “wallow in it,” as my father always cautioned when anyone in our family dared to be sad. (You were allowed to be sad in my family for about five minutes. Then you had to get over it.)  But to be honest! To honor the countless reasons we all have to feel sad.

And, mysteriously, after way more than five minutes of sitting in silence and letting myself “feel the feels,” as my daughter, Hope (!) says, Something happened. As if something inside me had been decluttered, de-cobwebbed, dusted or lemon-oiled or rearranged. As if I’d cleared a space within me to hold this sadness. And it was okay. More than okay. It was exactly what I was supposed to do.

What Joy when we do what we’re supposed to do!

New Year’s Affirmations:

Malden, MA Bike Trail, Christmas, 2017

May good people walk beside you.

May you find strength and joy in community.

May you receive “Good Will, Support, and Healing”* from others.

May other living beings guide you, teach you, sustain you.

May you find your way.

 

 

 

 

 

*One of the Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Wednesday night sharing circle’s most cherished values.

“This Turning Year”

Winter Light at 7:39 AM, EST, December 21, 2017

Pretty sure I learned about the winter solstice from a textbook—in sixth grade, maybe. Dimly I can conjure up the rudimentary, line-drawing illustration that accompanied the text. I’m betting “solstice” had been on that week’s spelling test, too. Sound familiar?

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if Mr. Phelps, our natty, bowtied, horn-rimmed glasses science teacher, had exclaimed: “Think about it, boys and girls,” his voice rising in excitement.* “Our shared ancestors knew about the winter solstice because they noticed it! They noted, they studied, they watched the world around them, the seasons, the weather, the night sky. They figured out a way to keep track of what they’d observed. Think about it!”

Here’s what most moves me about this simple, elegant fact about those ancient souls: That we’ll never know who first figured out this “turning year” phenomena. But I’m guessing the cumulative observations leading to our understanding were collaborative, communal; I’m guessing women and children participated in that ancient data collection.

And, today, right now, December 21, 2017,  it brings me to tears to be reminded that our greedy, selfish, warring species can also be curious. Such a simple yet wondrous quality of being human. Yes.

A Winter Blessing
By Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker

In the shadowed quiet of winter’s light
earth speaks softly
of her longing.
Because the wild places are in tears.

Come, she cries to us.
Kneel down here
on the frosty grass,
and feel the prayer buried in the ground.

Bend your ear to my heart
and listen hard.

Love this world, she whispers.
Distill peace from the snow
and water the cities
with mercy.

Weave wonder from the forest
and clothe grief
with beauty.

Rest in the rhythm of the turning year,
Trace the bending arc
Rounding the curve toward justice.
And vow anew to do no harm.

The winter trees stand watch
haloed in the last gleams of the slanting sun.
Glory sings here.
Heaven echoes the call:
Repeat the sounding joy.

Make your life an answer:
Bow.
Praise.
Rise.

*For all his bowtie primness, Mr. Phelps was, on occasion, passionate. His marveling that the Russians had launched Sputnik was both unexpectedly adorable and illustrative; that my Cold War-era teacher had been so gaga about this historic event taught me something fundamental about science.

“Right There I’m Sort Of Glued Together”

Last week, doing warrior pose in yoga class, I remembered how, right after Trump had been elected, my usual teacher,  Annie Hoffman, was out of town—so we’d had a sub that day. A wonderful teacher, the sub had prepared a themed class; a series of poses and movements readying us to become women warriors. “Cool idea,” I thought; my body felt differently. Moving slower and slower as if weighted down, I finally stopped altogether.

“What’s going on?” the teacher asked.

“I’m not ready to be a warrior yet,” I realized. “I’m still too sad.” ( So she Immediately set me up in a restorative pose. Where I cried. And felt my muscles twitch and relax.)

Since the tax bill vote I’ve been in a funk. (Yes, today’s news from Alabama is definitely lifting my spirits!) After a year of being a warrior, though, I no longer deny my occasional need to crawl under my quilt for twenty-four hours. “Re-covery,” my yoga teacher quips.

When in this melancholy state, a favorite Rilke poem, “Title Poem” from The Voices, always comes to mind (Eerily apt vis a vis that tax bill, yes?) :

It's OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still, 

no one wants to know about them anyway. 

But those in need have to step forward, 

have to say: I am blind, 

or: I'm about to go blind, 

or: nothing is going well with me, 

or: I have a child who is sick, 

or: right there I'm sort of glued together. . . 

And probably that doesn't do anything either. 

They have to sing, if they didn't sing, everyone 
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees. 

That's where you can hear good singing. 

People really are strange: they prefer 
to hear castratos in boychoirs. 

But God himself comes and stays a long time 
when the world of half-people start to bore him.