What’s The Story?

Palm Sunday I was walking towards Friends Meeting at Cambridge (FMC) when I caught sight of a small procession outside the Swedenborg Chapel. Or, as a little boy walking along Kirkland Street near me exclaimed to his father, “It’s a little parade!” Members of an African-originated faith group, I’m guessing, the singing procession-members wore white clothing and red hats and, waving palm fronds, marched single-file along the chapel’s sidewalk behind one of their members who held a carved, wooden cross a foot or so above his head.

As we stood together watching this procession across the street I wondered: Will the father tell his child the story behind this little parade? He did not. So, I confess, I actually considered telling it, myself (Yikes!). But, thank you Jesus, instantly I realized the pair would simply dismiss me as crazy, a zealot, a weird old lady—so kept my mouth shut. And, soon, off they and I went in different directions.

Sitting in deliciously-long silent worship at FMC, I realized that the next time I’d be sitting in that space would be Saturday, April 2oth, at my mother’s memorial—where plenty of Pat Wild stories, celebratory and bittersweet, would be told. (Wilds are storytellers.) And about Story. And about the story I’d been tempted to tell on Kirkland Street. About why I’d been tempted. (More about Story has come since.)

On Sunday I realized a couple of things. My impulse to share the Palm Sunday story had been about my belief that it’s important to listen to the Stories most meaningful to our friends and neighbors. (Such gratitude for Robin Wall Kimmerer and all she has taught me about origin stories.) I shared this belief with my Sunday school students—high school students—when we studied the Bible. “This book, which early Quakers knew very well, remains incredibly important to millions of people throughout the world,” I told them. “Your lives will be filled with references to this book. So whether or not you believe every word,  as world citizens you’re going to need to have at least a cursory understanding. Otherwise, you’re going to miss a lot.”

Had that father not explained why those beautifully-clad, dark-skinned people across the street waved those palms and sang because he didn’t know? Or, perhaps, he did know, maybe better than I, but bore such pain around twenty-first century Christianity that he chose to remain silent? His silence invited me, sitting in silence, to go deeper about that story. And suddenly I realized something.

In storytelling there’s a device known as “a McGuffin”: a thing or a situation important to a character but which listeners (or moviegoers),  who know more about how the story is unfolding than the character does, care nothing about. (The most famous example is the envelope filled with money Janet Leigh steals in Psycho. That envelope is a McGuffin.) Thinking about the Palm Sunday story, I suddenly wondered if, perhaps, Jesus’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem isn’t a McGuffin.

Because why’s he going there? To celebrate Passover. We tell Jesus’s triumphant entrance with such sadness—because we know what will happen later in the week. We know how this story ends. Jesus didn’t. A Jew, he was observing one of his faith’s most significant rituals by deciding to join his dearest friends to collectively remember The Exodus Story. (And what a powerful Story!)

So, now, okay, here’s where my Wild DNA kicks in; I am compelled to leave this tale better than I found it. Why did Jesus pick Jerusalem to celebrate Passover? Well, because those famous sisters, Mary and Martha, who’d patched up their differences and had agreed to perform the pre-Passover cleansing rituals together, to cook together, and discuss theology with Jesus together while their brother, Lazarus, did the washing up, had invited Jesus and his followers. (Their hometown of Bethany’s near Jerusalem. I looked it up.)

The denouement: As I write this, the world mourns the terrible destruction of Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral, an ancient, wondrous edifice I, like so many, have visited and been awed by—so much so that whenever I despair of my species, I remind myself, “Well, at least humans built Notre Dame.”

Nothing gold can stay,” Frost tells us. Things fall apart. A mighty cathedral can collapse.

But Story stays.

Let’s tell some.

 

 

Least of These

Somerville High School Temporary Ramp, March, 2019

There’s a wonderful cartoon depicting an elementary school entrance after a big snowstorm. A group of winter-garbed children, a couple in wheelchairs, wait at the foot of  the school’s ramp as the custodian shovels the school’s stairs, right next to the ramp. “If you shoveled the ramp first we could all get inside,” a child says.

A couple of weeks ago I remembered that cartoon while attending a memorial for Chuck Woodbury (1920-2018), beloved member of my Quaker meeting. Attentive father and grandfather, noted psychologist, ardent violinist, Chuck was also so hard of hearing that in his last years attending our meeting for worship, needed someone to sit beside him to write down the vocal ministry shared that morning. So it was fitting that at his memorial, people who wished to share a story about Chuck would stand and wait until the hand mic would be delivered. (This mic usage a first, I think.)

Two things happened because of this. Like all those children able to get inside their school, everyone could hear. Like those folks my age who, for now, may be pre-hearing aid—but not for long. Or, as so often happens, when a speaker dropped their voice at the end of a sentence—we all do that—anyone could catch those last three or four words. And because the woman tasked with delivering the mic walks slowly, we all had ample opportunity to reflect on the previous message and on what Chuck’s full, graced life meant for us.

How would this world be if “What will work for everyone?” were our guiding principle?And isn’t asking this question without ceasing another way to be a peacemaker?

 

 

 

Tea For Two Or More?

May I be a boring old woman who talks about her health? 

Thank you.

Because what I’d like to say just might be helpful to you:

Like many people my age, my cholesterol’s not been great and, like many people my age, I’ve been told by both my primary care provider and my cardiologist I should go on statins. But I’ve resisted. Mostly because I’ve heard many things about statins’ nasty side effects—muscle cramps being the one I’d feared the most—and would prefer to not wonder, with every other ache or pain, “Is this the statins? Or something else?”

But a dear friend’s stroke this past summer forced me to look at my own mortality more honestly—so I succumbed. And started taking this new medication in late September. The day before the Kavanaugh hearing. And during that hearing, had a violent, horrific reaction!

Was this the statins? Or my body’s revulsion at what I was watching unfold in a United States Senate chamber? I guessed both —but mostly the meds. So stopped taking them.

Here’s where my story gets weird. Because at this same time I was also reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, a novel about China, mothers and daughters, and puerh tea. Towards the end of the book, one character references Alice Waters (a household god around here); Waters states that by drinking puerh tea, she cut her cholesterol in half! Hello!

So I made a deal with my cardiologist. For two months I would drink a mug of this tea, a tea which quietly invites me to sit, to ponder, contemplate, savor with others, every day. And then I’d have my cholesterol tested. 

Dear reader: It’s working! In two months my cholesterol has lowered enough so that it is not longer flagged as a health concern. 

You’re welcome.

One Small Thing

El Salvadoran mural featuring Monsenor Oscar Romero by Allison McKeller, December 7, 2007

I am delighted to report that the Friends Journal will publish my “Sweet Baby Jesus” on December 1st!

And that of the four choices I’d offered for the article’s accompanying illustration, they chose this mural! My favorite. Yes, it depicts sweet baby Jesus. (I love that his swaddling clothes are green. As in verdant, growing, life-giving.) And offers a visual tribute to liberation theology, referenced in my piece.

But to look at this mural, the same week asylum-seekers were tear-gassed at our border, is to be again reminded of Oscar Romero’s murder. We remember the upheavals and horrors of Central America—and our country’s role in those upheavals and horrors. We remember why people seek asylum. We remember.

 

“Where To Begin?”

A Katrina Leftover, New Orleans, 2017

In the process of retrieving a much-needed toy from my granddaughter’s stroller parked on my front porch, I’d stepped outside to discover a white, curly-haired, slightly chunky young man about to ring my doorbell. Grandma on a mission, I think he told me he was soliciting for WGBH— but I could be wrong. I really wasn’t listening. For sure he launched into a spirited spiel lauding NPR; he even listed several programs and, to his credit, having taken note of the stroller and the toy in my hand, made special mention of  “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”

“I know what NPR is,” I muttered.

“Then I’m sure you want to support it,” he countered.

Approaching the front door I turned to face him. “I truly believe in what NPR does but, no, I can’t.”

“May I ask why?” he demanded and, to my consternation, took on an offensive pose, widening his stance, inflating his chest. (My guess? He played football in high school.)

Ahh, dear reader, what a teachable moment! How I would have loved to explain to that young man that for aging Quakers like me and my husband, living on retirement funds, charitable giving is incredibly complicated. Babies starve in Yemen, there’s relief money desperately needed all over the world because of climate change, and, locally, the Somerville Homeless Coalition always needs money; so does the Welcome Project. Every year my husband and I receive thousands of nudges and tugs and polite requests and the occasional solicitor at our door. Yes, we believe in God’s unlimited love, yes, we believe that “There’s enough” but, sadly, yes, our ability to support every worthy cause— I’m not even getting in political contributions!—is definitely limited. (And, sadly, because of inflation and rising health care costs, especially medications, actually shrinking.) How I would have loved to tell that young man that it took my husband and me almost two years to come up with a careful, thoughtful formula for giving. So, sorry, young man but NPR didn’t make the final cut.

But his belligerence on my own front porch—his aggressive posture triggered something very primal and territorial—meant I was Done. And besides, I was still Grandma on a mission!

“Where to begin?” I asked, stepping inside. (Sorry, young man. That’s all I got.)

And firmly shut the door.

 

Be Peace

Saturday afternoon, I’d gone to the 70th birthday party for a dear, dear F/friend, hosted by her dear, dear husband. Reluctantly. Jet-lagged after a wonderful trip to LA, overwhelmed by my ever-growing To Do List, and, most critically, horrified by the news from Pittsburgh, I wasn’t sure I was up to spending a rainy and chilly afternoon chitchatting.

But there are some friends who are so wonderful, so amazing, you just have to show up for them, right? So I did. And was immediately glad. Her two adult children, who’d gone to First Day School (Quaker-style Sunday School) with mine had come; it was wonderful to see them, again, and to hear about their intriguing, fulfilled lives. The food was plentiful and delicious. I caught up with other good friends. It was a wonderful party. Until . . .

I’d gone into the kitchen to get something to drink and there I met—let’s call him “Bob,” a grey-haired, older man and, like the rest of us, in New England fall weather garb. A neighbor of my F/friends, I’m guessing. And, I’m also guessing, had either been drinking or, sadly, as is the case with some of us over seventy, might have had “cognitive issues”?

Because here’s our conversation went: “You a Quaker?” I nodded. “You look like a Quaker.” And without pausing: “You know what I like about Quakers? I can beat the shit out of [our host] and he wouldn’t fight back.”

“Why would you want to beat the shit out of him?”

“Don’t analyze it!” he scolded.

“Why not?” I retorted. Sharply. “You tell me you want to beat the shit out of someone, I want to know why!”

But apparently Bob, besotted by his presumed freedom to beat the shit out of someone without resistance, wasn’t interested in engaging in meaningful dialogue! At least not with a woman he’d just met and who’d just challenged him. (And, yes, Dear Reader, it did briefly occur to me that Bob may very well be another aging, cis, white male perpetually bewildered and threatened by women like me who, you know, want to smash the patriarchy!) Shrugging, I filled my glass and left.

Here’s the thing: I may look like a Quaker, Dear Reader, but that doesn’t mean that in the moment I’m automatically able to do or say The Right Thing. I may want to “Be Peace” as my license plate holder enjoins. But, sometimes I don’t know how.

What might I have said, instead? A couple of ideas came to me the next day, during silent worship, as we collectively mourned the eleven elderly Jews murdered while they had been in worship.

How about “[Your host] is your friend, yes? What else do you like about him?”

How about: “There is so much violence and hatred in the world. Like what just happened this morning in Pittsburgh. I think lots of people, not just Quakers, are looking for ways to not keep adding to it. Don’t you?”

How about “Been drinking, Bob? Off your meds, maybe?” (Okay, so sometimes snarky things come to me, too.)

Here’s the other thing: While I am chagrined I couldn’t be peace, I couldn’t find a way to move the conversation into something enlightened and transformative and nice, I’m not going to feel bad about what I said, either. Because this patriarchy isn’t going to smash itself!

 

 

Living Into What’s Next

Recently my heroine, Elizabeth Warren, declared that we would “use our pain to make power.”

Transformation happens. And change is incremental. Week 1, post Kavanaugh’s confirmation, may I share my first, baby step towards empowerment?

Here’s something I’m beginning to understand: Cruelty is a blunt, crude tool being used to demoralize and weaken those of us who believe that Love is Love is Love, or that Black Lives Matter, or The Golden Rule, or When In Doubt, Choose Kindness, or that climate change is real and, ohmygod, we don’t have much time!

I have discovered this week that when I recognize this fundamental, cruelly- brilliant strategy when, for example, learning more about the proposed changes to “Public Charge,” or when reading despicable tweets or online comments, my experience feels different! Feels as though I’ve laid down my self-righteousness and strapped on armor. Feels as if I can let those hateful, nasty words go—or, to put it another way, feels as though I don’t get caught up in mentally arguing about these hateful words, one by one, but see them for what they are.  A strategy.

Something Else (and still a little foggy): I think Cruelty is unsustainable. I think its practitioners shrink as they wield their blunt, crude tool. They get small. And, like the public outrage when the truth of caged children became known, cruelty is not invincible.

Something Else I AM Sure Of: Love is love is love. And renewable. Sustainable. Invincible.

But, then,The prologue to John says much the same thing, doesn’t it! The Light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it.

 

 

Thought and Prayers

As I write this, the day after another September 11th anniversary, a truly terrifying hurricane inexorably approaches the Carolinas. And like those painful days following the Twin Towers attack had felt, this morning I sense a collective pause as millions of us hold our breath. We wait. And, yes, as hackneyed and ill-used as that phrase has become, we pray.

At some point in my life, I was made aware that all over the world were people, many of them women, who spent their lives in constant prayer. Yes. Always. What a joy to discover this!

This past summer I had the good fortune to meet one, Sister Virginia, who lives—and prays—in a convent in France, and is the (biological) sister of my husband’s ex-wife. For me, meeting this aging, slight nun, who radiated Love, who hugged me when introduced as if we were old, close friends, was like meeting a rock star!

Saturday, exploring the Italian section of Gloucester (MA), my husband and I discovered its magnificently decorated Mother of Grace Club. The club, I later learned from Google, had begun during World War II by Gloucester mothers who prayed for their sons serving in the military to return. And they did. (I also learned that Saturday was The Blessed Mother’s birthday. Which explains those amazing decorations!)

But walking past before googling about it, I’d already intuited what that club was about. Sitting on a folding chair just inside its garlanded, ruffled, opened doorway sat an older woman. Praying. And having sat, alone, in my completely empty meetinghouse when, during the week after September 11th, my Quaker meeting has opened its space to anyone who wished to come—although nobody came while I was there—there was something about her body language that spoke to me. Reminded me what it had felt like to pray without ceasing. To be like Sister Virginia and her spiritual sisters and brothers all over the world. To truly and whole-heartedly embrace the power of prayer.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tempus Fugit

Trash Day, March 10, 2018, Dane Street, Somerville, MA

This will be brief and, I hope, to the point: Several people have recently posted on Facebook that the extraordinary heat we’re experiencing all over the globe is the result of the carbon we collectively put in the air years ago! (Thirty, maybe? I was too appalled to keep reading.)

Which, somehow, this hot, muggy afternoon, makes something very clear: It all matters. Right now! Over time, our undoubtedly small and puny, individual efforts to Do Right in our daily lives mean something. Collectively.

Cool!

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!