Love In & All Around Us

 

I sit and feel the rage — mine, and that which doesn’t belong to me –. the pain of

violence–words and actions–and I notice the yellow sunlight throw itself

against the leaves; complete trust in its’ trajectory.

 

My heart is big enough to swallow the world with every surgical mask, homeless man, and seething crowd in it. Like the feathers of a duck swallow the eggs

beneath her.

 

A duck with a red beak and brown feathers warms that nest of eggs and watches me

warily like she did last spring when

someone else walked by her sacred workplace and the crises on our lips

were not yet anticipated.

 

Crises bubble up, toxic tar ignored past expiration, a message

as blatant as nature’s rhythms:

we are dying

nature keeps living, keeps

 

thrumming her steady bass note:

love woven into the calloused bark,

cutting currents–like whiplashes–down the trunk, telling

us the story of ourselves.

a list of healing things

I’m healing myself, again. It might be

the hundredth time, I’m not sure. Anyway,

I’m keeping a list of what works:

(it’s an odd list, I’ll admit)

 

eating three meals a day–seated, not standing, with good manners and frequent pauses–

using colorful Sharpies to fill blank pages with swirls and triangles

squishy yoga poses that feel so good I want to take a picture of myself in them and send it to someone

water, remembering to drink it (and not just right before bed when it will keep me up all night on trips to the bathroom)

ignoring calls I don’t want to take (actually making the calls I need to, too)

writing letters to people I like and putting stickers on the outside of the envelope

knowing deep down (in my bones) that I am doing what I can to make the world a better place (and thus not feeling compelled to blast my opinion socially on the social medias about the latest injustice committed in the world. The peace that comes as a result of action: that’s enough to allow my silence.)

sex. The kind of sex that doesn’t mean I belong to someone. Actually, they taught me that if I had sex without handing a man the legally binding deed to my belonging (a document drawn up by the father at any woman’s birth, they said), I would be immediately dismembered. I would be irreversibly damaged. Barbarously maimed. Beamed up, Scotty. Something along those lines, they said, is what would have happened, they said, had I have had sex without a husband. They said, with a no-husband, it would have been horrendous, horribly. Suffice it to say that somehow sex is on the list of things that are healing me. (They couldn’t have been more wrong, could they?)

books, quiet indulgent hours with my nose close to the page

walks first thing in the morning to awaken my legs

telling trustworthy friends what I need to tell them, and staying quiet about the things I’m not yet ready to share

practicing the art of to listen to (another person)

listening, also, to the bluejays and insistent sparrows

baths

taking my medicine and talking to my therapist

meditating with my legs hung over the big black cushion that I bought several years ago, which was a time slightly after the time that I last healed myself.

 

Seva Unity Fund

In honor of the four young people who I have mentored for nearly ten years, I have created a Pay Pal money pool into which I will put 10% of the profit that I earn for giving yoga classes. Class attendees are also welcome to donate to the money pool at any time. Two of the young people that I have been mentoring for years are approaching college age. I remember the struggles that I had as a college student with little-to-no family support. Car problems and small expenses could have become major setbacks for me if it weren’t for the community of generous people who surrounded and supported me at that time. Ginger, my employer when I started college, gave me a used laptop that worked until I graduated from college. Lisa let me live with her for an entire semester of college and I stayed (rent-free also) in Kristin’s spare bedroom for almost three full semesters. Not to mention that my (financially stable) parents paid my phone bill throughout that time, despite the status of our broken relationship. The point is, I had a community of privileged people who were the safety net that I couldn’t have graduated college without. 

Not everyone has the luxury of such a community. Very few people are given a free laptop. Many people’s parents cannot afford to keep their grown children on their Verizon Family Plan for four extra years.

Small expenses and inconveniences can become complete roadblocks when a young person doesn’t have financial support to fall back on. It costs over $60 to take the ACT, a price that could keep someone from being able to take it once, much less take it multiple times in an attempt to score high enough to earn an academic scholarship. Good laptops cost $500 or more. That is just a couple of expenses that can make it nearly impossible for young people from low-income homes to get accepted to and find success in college.

Both of the students that I mentor come from single, working parent homes.

They come from homes with multiple siblings.

They are people of color in a racist world.

One of them comes from a family ridden with untreated mental health problems and addiction.

Both of these students have so much to give. I have known them since they were vivacious little kiddos! They have unique talents and ideas, as well as great work ethics.

They deserve the chance to excel in college and not be held back by what should be minor concerns.

The money we are going to start gathering in the Seva Unity Fund will allow me to step in when these two students face a financial setback. It will allow them to take the ACT without being stopped by the cost. Hopefully, it will allow them to purchase functional laptops that they can use throughout their college education (and beyond)!

This fund is Love Yoga’s way of giving back. Seva is the yogic ideal of selfless service. This is our Seva. It will connect the practices that we share every week here in Little Rock to a purpose greater than ourselves. We are beings capable of moving for our own sake and for the sake of others. We practice, we share, we exist as one.

 

Namaste!

 

https://paypal.me/pools/c/8pcxnA9wKp

The Veil & The Edge

There are times when the veil is thin between insanity & wholeness. Sometimes we think that in order to be whole, well, okay, we have to be as far away from insanity as possible. We buy the lie that in order to be anything orderly & good we must be light years away from chaos & evil.

What if we belong to the chaos as much as we belong to the order? What if we are equal parts good & bad? What if that’s okay?

I’ve heard people talk about a veil between themselves and their loved ones. We watch & read countless stories about that veil, that part-way space between here & the mystery of there. When there is a ouija board or tarot cards or a Bible passage or a loved one breathing their last breath, we want to be as close to that space as we can. We lean up against it as though it isn’t the most terrifying place to be. We do that because we are desperate for a connection to what (or who) we believe–what we know-to be on the other side.

There’s another veil, I see it now, shielding me from the brunt of my emotions. Just as death feels to us like swirling, scary chaos, so our bottled emotions can appear threatening. We pull things into the space between us and the feelings we were made to feel because we feel letting the darkness in. We fear the sleepless nights. We fear saying things to our loved ones that we will deeply regret. We fear letting anyone–even ourselves–into the dark abyss of what we feel lurking beneath the surface of our emotional sphere. We fear that we’ll be labeled “crazy”, that we’ll cross a limit where “mentally ill” will be indelibly stamped upon us. We feel we will never come back up for air; that it will be relentless darkness upsurging until we are no more. We fear that our bodies aren’t big enough to hold the pain that laces each wave.

When the emotions are strong I feel that they will overcome me & I will not be okay.

What does it mean to not be okay? Have I ever not been okay? I have felt that I was not okay more times than I can count on two hands, but none of those feelings have been final. None of that chaos has had the last word.

Some of us smoke, drink, binge, overwork, snark, or over-exercise to deflect the cloud of dark emotions that threatens to envelope us. I tend to bring people and situations and feelings into the space between myself and those feelings, rather than allowing myself to be in the present moment, and to feel those feelings I was made to feel.

I deflect and disassociate rather than face them. The fear of darkness is lodged so deep in me that I’d rather abandon myself than face that darkness with a united front.

The work is to face it. The work is to open yourself up, to let it in, to feel it all, though it drive you bonkers. There is a space where all is chaos; you don’t belong to that space, but you sure as hell have the strength to move in & through it. You might be mentally ill because you won’t let yourself feel it deeply enough. Because you’re deeper & stronger than you ever knew.

I have the strength to move in & through it. There is a part of me that says I won’t make it through if I stop disassociating & deflecting and just bow to the chaotic woundedness of my soul. The truth is that every time I have faced it I have made it through, and it has made me better.

Inside of religion we honor the veil. When we face death we honor the veil. Even our superstitions pay homage to the veil between the known and unknown.

Why not also honor it while we live? Why not fiercely move towards it, fully aware of our own indelible ability to overcome whatever we face in life? We have the ability to keep moving, and avoiding the darkness & the message it brings only inhibits the journey that each one of us is on.

What if we feel the most terrible things in the world, and stand strong in their aftermath? What if we let the darkness in as readily as the light? It may make us crazy. It may push us over the edge.

Maybe that’s because we were meant to fly.

Questions Knocking

April starts tomorrow. We’re looking towards it with a sense of foreboding. We feel our questions bubbling up inside of us like we’re a soda can and we’ve been shaken.

We fear we might explode. We feel that every outlet and every coping mechanism that we’ve counted on for years has been taken from us and we understand why, cognitively, but we are asking ourselves: can I be okay without it all?

What if April is an exact replica of the past 17 days? What if we’re stuck here, the virus worsens, I lose my job, or I get evicted because I already lost my job and unemployment is alarmingly high?

What if the economy takes decades to recover? What if my kids don’t return to school for the rest of the academic year? What if I can’t hug my friends until summer?

The questions swell within us, they press in behind every thought and interaction we have with ourselves and each other.

The questions are in us. But they are not us.

Uncertainty is at the door and it is ringing the damn doorbell. We decide on a daily basis whether to open the door or not, and honestly, it’s exhausting either way. We ask ourselves: will I open the door without a bra, without washing my face, without good manners? Or will I put actual clothes on, take a shower, and show up to the door to guard my home from the thoughts that won’t stop knocking?

Damned if I know.

It feels like the walls are closing in on us but the entire universe may actually be opening up within us. We start to notice our little salvations: the cat wedging herself between the blinds and the window. The cherry blossoms winking against the clouded sky. Kisses in the morning and sticky kid hands helping with household tasks. Inner restlessness abating as we sleep through the night for the first time in a long time.

Perhaps we aren’t the questions. Perhaps we’re the bright spring green of leaves where droplets perch regally after a rain. Perhaps we’re the mystery of the sun’s rise and set.

We may just be every breath of stubborn, hopeful resistance that floods our lungs. We are: no matter what is on the other side of that door and no matter how I choose to face it, we can make it through.

The questions are rising in us. But they aren’t us.

Why This Christmas?

 

 

My soul has questions. It came to me like this. I’m fairly certain my soul thinks this whole life thing is an interrogation. I face questions everyday such as: why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Where can I find meaning? Do humans all find the same meaning in life? Why are we so fractured? 

The list goes on. When I was a child the questions were a crushing weight (no adults seemed to have answers that I could hang my hat on); now, well, we get along better.

I suffered severe depression and anxiety from the latter part of 2016 until the fall of 2019. For those blessed to not have experienced this ailment of soul, body, and mind, allow me to make something inescapably clear: spirituality doesn’t work when you’re depressed. Honestly, the desperate struggle that I made to hold onto my spirituality contributed to my depression (that’s another story). 

My current working theory on this is that (western) spirituality becomes unhelpful when one is depressed because depression disconnects us from our body, and muddles the mind terribly (think slicing pain, forgetfulness, loss of will to live. You’re jealous, I know.). Traditionally in the West we have held our spirituality in the mind and spirit. See how the two don’t jive? Depression=mind muddled, disconnection from body. Western spirituality=lives in the mind and spirit, rather than in the body. See?

Leading up to and during this season of depression (not my first, probably not my last, but, hey, I’m getting good at it!) my faith slowly slipped away. You say Jesus, my mind says “but was he real? And resurrection…really? Even if it did happen, how is that relevant to my inability to get off this couch?” You say mysticism, my spirit says, “I still want to die, and no matter how much you meditate, that feeling won’t go away.” See what I mean? Spirituality just didn’t work for me anymore, so the faith of my mind and spirit, well, it slipped away. 

Not that I didn’t try to hold onto it. Desperately. If I was Jack Dawson and the door under Rose was faith, I was pushing her off to save myself. That’s how fervently I wanted to keep believing. Even if I didn’t go to church. Even if my relationships with practicing (mostly conservative) Christians continued to deteriorate. I wanted Jesus. I wanted the moral code that I had studied and followed for my entire life. I wanted to be able to read Psalm 139 without throwing my Bible against the wall. I wanted the comfort that spiritual songs used to bring me. But I couldn’t do any of it. Trying to was nearly torture. 

My beliefs in Jesus from strong, to non-existent, to a gentle acceptance of it all.

What stopped my clinging to the Christian tradition and finally pushed me over the edge, you ask?

The Christians. The people I would have called my community. The self-proclaimed gate-keepers of the Kingdom (so much for Peter, up there taking heavenly role). People who had seen me energetically greet refugees and immigrants from other countries. People who had funded missions trips I went on and bragged about my service and joy. 

I kept my distance from the entire Christian community during the course of my depression (except for a select few friends who manage to love and respect me despite our differences), not wanting to kick the hornet’s nest. Then, through a series of events involving a roommate (you know how that usually goes, damn it), word got out that I was–gasp–a universalist. 

The Christians couldn’t take it. I was met with, told I was wrong, told I was no longer invited to their community. 

A social media post about my new, more open and inclusive beliefs, that I hadn’t posted with the attention of offending anyone, was met with pages of cruel comments. I was told that I could say blank but I could not say blank. It wouldn’t have hurt, I would have written them off as your run-of-the-mill jerks, if it wasn’t people who had known me for so long. If it wasn’t the same thing that I had grown up hearing. If it wasn’t what my own blood says. 

It hurt. I was done. Christianity could die a cruel death (the tradition has a history with that sort of death anyway). 

That was, until Christmas this year. 

Of course, it wasn’t just Christmas season popping up that helped me find my way back to a loose hold on Jesus. I had remembered, over the past few months, the importance of stopping to smell the roses. I’ve never been a fan of how roses smell, personally, but it’s the concept I am after here: pauses are essential components of mental and emotional health. Pausing to absorb something good all the way into the body is a holy practice. Returning to meditative practices such as reading poetry slowly, taking walks, letting go of fear-driven action, and pausing to look at flowers, trees, my cat, etc. had begun to pull me out of the lingering fog of depression and anxiety (along with good food, deep rest, and frequent exercise) by the time Christmas decor appeared in the Anthropologie window display. 

My relationship with Christmas over the years hasn’t been particularly noteworthy–I don’t watch Lifetime movies and I’ll be fine if I never walk into another Hallmark store. 

As a child, I did love staying up late in my room on Christmas Eve to soak up the soft glow of the Christmas lights hung over my curtains. My family took a yearly trip to visit relatives that left me over-stimulated (I hadn’t yet learned the importance of 10-20 minutes per day with my eyes closed and my legs up the wall to reduce my ever-present anxiety), over fed with rich food that caused me severe stomach aches (gluten intolerance and dairy sensitivity, both unidentified until I was in high school), and uncomfortable (I have needed regular movement since I was a child, and was generally denied it on these trips). 

So, by the time I broke ties with my family when I was 18, I needed a break from Christmas. One year I was suicidal on Christmas and spent the evening in my car listening to beautiful, melancholy songs by one of my favorite bands, Gungor. Later, I spent two years overseas for Christmas (in a country that celebrates the holiday on a far less extravagant scale).

That was my break from Christmas. Last year, I felt pretty meh about it as well. 

This year is different. Oh ho ho, my friend, this year, some magic has infiltrated me. Did you know there are stickers in the shape of glittery gingerbread shaped men at Michael’s? Do you know how delectable the Holiday Spice Yankee Candle smells? Have you felt the utter joy of sitting on a couch in the dark, staring at the lights and ornaments on a two-foot-tall tree with your hand stroking a black cat’s smooth fur? 

I know it isn’t the Christmas things that are making me feel this way. Not entirely, that is. But since I have cultivated that practice again of pausing and absorbing, and probably due to the long break from engaging with Christmas, the Christmas ish is digging its way through sensations in my body, into my soul. The Christmas lights pinned against dark winter nights, the yumminess of Christmas cards, the warmth emitted by Thistle Farms candles, the exchanges of good cheer and song. It’s priceless, and it is bringing my heart, body, and spirit back together as one. 

 Last Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church that I semi-regularly attend (per the insistence of my inquisitive soul that relentlessly longs for conversation about all that is impossible to put into words, i.e., spirituality), the Reverend Jan said something that made me catch my breath: “We need not leave behind the stories that hold meaning in our hearts.”

We need not leave behind the stories that hold meaning in our hearts.

Jesus. I need not leave behind Jesus. 

I need not leave behind Christmas–a holiday who is shrouded in painful memories for myself and many people–because it brings light into my dark spaces. I need not leave behind the stories of Jesus, and of unconditional, all-encompassing Divine Love that the Christian tradition handed to me.

Let the bullshit be as it is. Let Jesus be who he has been for you, Lydia. Let the Psalms be what they have been. Leave the rest out of your mind. 

If Christmas can be redeemed and redemptive in my life, than maybe Christianity can too. 

As my favorite Christian author, Sarah Bessey said in her new book, “I pray that you will bless the box you once needed for God and that you will treat it tenderly even as you leave it behind.”

 

There is tons more to this story. Religion and spiritual beliefs are an undeniable, inevitable part of my life (how else could I hold this soul?). I’ve experienced my greatest pain and greatest joy at the hand of religion, of this idea of Jesus, of God. I’ve read books about indigenous sacred beliefs that are arguably more peaceful and inclusive than the Bible. There is the reality that I am a white woman of European descent and I’m not sure about how I feel that my people have hijacked the holy book of the Jews. There’s a lot to this. Clearly. But for now, this is the story of Christmas season for me this year, and a splish of redemption in my story of spiritual exploration

Re-embracing the stories that hold meaning in my heart may be just as sacred and healing of a practice as staring at my Christmas tree and its’ beautiful orbs of light nearly every December evening is. Encountering abysmal darkness on the path of our lives is unavoidable. We may as well allow every light–even that of the smallest or most inexplicable candle–to glimmer over our secret souls. I can let the stories of Jesus, and my memories of Christmas, shape-shift before my eyes. Holding them loosely allows them to breathe, allows them to become relevant to my constantly changing experience.

 

That being said, I’ll leave you with a blessing:

 

May the scent and sensation of Christmas light fill your spirit. And if your spirit is lost to you this Christmas, and you are unable to connect enough with your body to feel the goodness of the Holiday in your bones, because of depression or any other suffering you face, may you experience a breath of relief and a whiff of hope on the heels of this season. 

“There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it.” ~ Joan Chittister

Favorite Things List

 

  1. (A list inside of a list) The books I have read during the last revolution around the sun, that have shown new light on my spirit: The City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, When They Call you a Terrorist by Patrisee Khan-Cullors, Rumbo Hacia el Norte por Luis Alberto Urrea, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.
  2. The cool humidity that seeps under the windows into my apartment on rainy fall days.
  3. Remembering (for the thousandth time) that what other people think about what I do doesn’t matter one iota.
  4. The sound of my pencil scratching across the page as I pour thoughts and feelings onto the page, and slowly some painful knot inside of me is undone.
  5. Movement & the way my breath changes when I ride a stationary bicycle, walk, do a yoga practice, or swim laps. The way my muscles tighten and slacken consistently, on the pendulum of physical action or inaction.
  6. The bold disregard of children–they don’t care if their words make sense, if they have been said before, or if they’re sharing horribly ignorant ideas. They just speak. They speak because they have a voice and they’re practicing the use of it!
  7. The circle of colored light that the Christmas lights strung over my bedroom window cast onto the wall behind them.
  8. The circle of Love that I enjoy; my intimacy partner, my cat, myself, wrapped around one another on rainy or sunny days. We whisper love to one another. We breath together in the kitchen after, before work. We trip over one another’s feet, paws, and feelings, We do nice things to make the  home more homely for the three of us, we eat together, we cry as one, we sigh when it is already Monday again. We ride the waves of beauty and struggle that life washes our way, together. No wonder the Holy Trinity is three: father, son, spirit, all hung together in unity, harmony, teaching us to exchange Love relentlessly.
  9. Fair compensation laid in my hand after I provide quality instruction, be it yoga, meditation, English, Spanish, or otherwise. I will never stop working because so far it has not ceased to give me a sense of dignity and a place in this world. I love when people tell me that my work was good, because it confirms what I already know, what I have worked so hard to bring into the world.
  10. Friends who laugh at the same things as I do, even from afar. Friends who I dream of going on adventures with, waking and sleeping. Friends whose messages bring light to my spirit. Friends whom I hold loosely in my hands, grateful for their existence, trusting the Universe to bring them to me in person, in Her own sweet time.

 

Shalom, all.

Let’s Talk About Money (TCICF Part 5)

 

Let’s talk about money. Let’s talk about how it makes us feel, how it makes our children feel.

During a study hall class period in my room last week I heard students discussing the wealth of one of their classmates’ family.

“His home is called Garrett Manor. Can you believe that?” The tone was sneering, cynical, envious. As an energetically sensitive person, I could tell that this was a recurrent conversation topic & I was glad the 14 year old boy who they were talking about wasn’t there at the time.

Let’s talk about how paranoid I have been about money for so long. It isn’t that I compulsively check my bank account. Oh no, I wouldn’t do something that ridiculous. But often I shake my head when I realize I’ve been lost in a day dream (more like day sweat) about ways to earn more money, to line my bank account.

Let’s talk about how wealthy folks compare themselves only to the even wealthier (similar to how men compare their life to those men who have “everything”. Ever noticed that?), creating a skewed perspective of economic dynamics in society. Two students went to buy chocolate for me from the vending machine (yes, I’ll shamelessly admit this. It was a study hall–of course I didn’t send them to get my snacks during instruction! Have some faith, people ;)). They got back & returned my dollar looking uncomfortable. “You didn’t have enough,” they said.

“How much are the M&M’s?!” I asked.

“$1.75.”

“Oh, I’m not spending that.” They looked pinched now & one sheepishly mentioned having a dollar to loan me. “No way!” I said. “I have the money but I won’t pay that price for a tiny bag of M&M’s.”

That interaction has stayed with me because of how uncomfortable it made them feel that I hadn’t given them enough. I’ve spent time with people whose lives are defined by not enough. More people than not, actually. Yet these children of wealthy families could barely handle the idea of not enough. They would have preferred to give me some of their own, than witness me experience not enough.

Let’s talk about parental concerns about money effect their children. How children will go above & beyond to save their parents pennies — even to the point of stealing or going hungry.

Let’s talk about how if a parent tells their child they will lose all financial support should they come out as gay/trans/bi, refuse to be a member of a specific religious sect, date a certain person, or otherwise act in a way contrary to that parents’ own viewpoint. Let’s talk about the pain that causes the child who is then forced to choose between their own conscience & their physical safety. Instead of being protected they are attacked from within–the dagger of betrayal drawing a line in the sand between family & true self, forcing an isolating choice.

Let’s talk about sleepless nights, years without seeing a doctor (either for lack of resources or due to a paranoic need to conserve resources), and months of eating only what is on the Kroger sale rack–or worse–what is offered cheaply from the closest Fast Food joint.

Let’s talk about feeling inferior for having less money than some, & feeling guilt for having more than others. There is at once the urge to give the money you have away, & the desire to hoard until you too have enough to make you good (enough).

There is a desert created by people who spend their money on immediate external things. It is dry & shallow there, a moment dominated by the dictatorship of pop culture.

The oasis is where people invest their money, able to put away, indulge a bit, & invest continually in education, & a better world. Let’s talk about how that should be the reality for everyone.

Why do we feel wrong no matter how much money we have or don’t have? Why is it so easy for wealthy people to write off & minimize the ferocious dilemma of poverty?

Money is a topic infrequently broached because of the dark emotions it is hidden beneath. Were we to shed those emotions like heavy cloaks we could see that underneath is the same skin. Beneath the costume we face the same questions & fears. We need to look in one another’s eyes & say confidently, “there is enough for you.” Then we need to live it.

The Cloth I’m Cut From (Part 4)

 

Last Friday & yesterday there has been a homeless man posted on the corner with a limp cardboard sign. He panhandles early in the morning, in the burgeoning Arkansas heat. I encounter homeless folks multiple times every day because of the neighborhood I live in, & because it is nearly impossible not to in Little Rock. According to this site there are 9 homeless folks for every 10,000 members of our general population.

When I passed that man the first time, his hair slightly dreadlocked, I tried to make eye contact but saw that his eyes were unfocused. He was grunting & talking to himself, making jerky movements with his hands & neck. Signs of internal suffering were there as clearly as the dirt under his fingernails.

I won’t say that folks who are not Cut from the Same Cloth as I (any number not 4 on the Enneagram ) would not see this man with compassion. I do, however, know that an innate part of me makes it impossible to not identify a part of myself in that homeless man.

A couple of weeks ago I sat at my parents’ long dinner table with Christian conservative friends of theirs. The opinionated woman of the couple said, “I felt bad coming out of this fancy sushi restaurant while homeless people stood outside.” She laughed, the flab on her arms waving. “A lot of them are crazy, you know.”

That’s a perspective that I have never seen people from, a distanced other-ing. It is clear to me that circumstances beyond our control are what make or break us. Imagining myself in those oversized lace-less shoes on the street corner (pictured above) is easy.

Part of who I am is an active imagination, the compulsive tendency to identify with the suffering of others.

I missed that man when I drove by & he wasn’t there this morning. His suffering (although vastly different from my own suffering) feels familiar; it reminds me of my vulnerability. The Cloth I’m Cut From ensures that I tire of guarded, shallow interaction. The honesty of homelessness breaks open my heart in a way that grounds me. I want every person to have a home, but as long as they don’t, I want to see it on my way to work. 

 The sky was clear this morning, heavenly.

Until Earth becomes Heaven I want to bear witness to what makes it Hell. Probably because of the Cloth I’m Cut From.

Whiteness

The past epoch of my life is divided primarily into two time frames: before Chile (and an onslaught of mental illness that flared during & after that life-abroad experience) & after Chile.

Before Chile I wrote & spoke very little about how not to be an asshole to black folks. Some of my dearest friends were black at the time, but when I was with white folks, I rarely defended their experience or contradicted the pro-institution (pro-white supremacist) statements that white friends were made. At the time, I thought this was respect for my elders (most of my white friends, particularly the uber-conservative & racist ones, are well older than I). Now, I see that it was something I didn’t do because, due to my personality type & experiences I had within my family’s structure, & in the conservative protestant church, I identified with black Americans more than with white. Subconsciously, I equated my experience to theirs. It was a very naive & mistaken way to see things. No matter how great my suffering was as a young person, it was in no way comparable to the American black experience. That’s an apples to oranges comparison. Yet in some ways this time was beautiful in a simplistic, temporary way. I really just enjoyed being with people who I saw as being very similar to myself,. I was able to show great empathy & compassion without doing the same annoying shit most white people do in interactions with POC. .

At that time, I saw my role in undoing the horrendous & continual effects of the translatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws, & the global history of racism against POC, as primarily involving my own interactions with black folks.

Fast foward to AFTER Chile. I returned from 5+ months of life abroad with severe mental illnesses on my tail. Integration back into United States university culture only heightened the depression I had, & gave birth to a new illness: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Not only was I wrestling with an illness I had known since adolescence, now I grappled an unfamiliar monster.

Needless to say, this mental/emotional cocktail brought the worst out of me. (Rumi said that the wounds are where the light come in, but I’d like to ask him what he has to say regarding the times when the wounds are where the darkness gooshes out? Anyway…)

I returned to Little Rock, hoping to reconnect with friends (white, black, hispanic, asian–everybody!). In interactions with black folks I immediately noticed strain. Strain that hadn’t been there a year & a half ago when I had moved away. I heard myself saying things to black friends that had made me cringe to hear white folks say in the past. Things like, well, you just have to work harder sometimes, or mentioning skin color off hand. Also, I would compulsively do things to “help” them & their families, buzzing around like a grandma on thanksgiving, instead of sitting down, listening, showing compassion & love–like FRIENDS do. Only recently did I realize that I had moved from treating black folks as subjects of their own stories, to objects of mine.

That, friends, is the ego. The ego LOVES to scapegoat minorities. (See: all of western history.)

Noticing the lack of health in these relationships, & my growing frustrations as I continued to buy gifts & “help” these friends (unsolicited, mind you! This was all me) without allowing myself to see them as humans & receive the beauty of their stories & relationships, (Note that not many of my white friendships were going well at this point, either. However, it is easier to dance around the ego in spaces that offer no hierarchy of being/ingrained subject-object bluepring for interaction.) Finally, I took steps back & lowered my interaction as much as possible with POC.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Real bad.

Yet I am glad I distanced myself. No one deserves a friend who gives & gives only to get more frustrated with the person who is passively recieving ! No one deserves to be the warm body in a race-based ego-tango!

I wish I had some gorgeous epiphany to share regarding race & what I have learned, & how enlightened I am now. I sure don’t, though. The insights into why I did what I did, what racism had to do with it, & what I needed to do to stop being white supremacy’s puppet, are what I wanted to share here.

I hope to circle back around, as my  heart heals & the ego’s sway over me weakens, to those beautiful relationships that had been built on mutual trust, shared experience, & radical generosity (on everyone’s part), despite GREAT odds. But I will wait. I will wait until I can interact without responding to external impulses. I will wait until I can love my friends as people, as sacred individuals, not as sounding boards for my latest black/white realizations or observations. I will wait until I can have a conversation in which I smile due to joy — not because I have to somehow acknowledge the blackness of another person. I will wait until my anxiety is healed enough that I can carry my own weight in a conversation with someone who is different from me, & refrain from perpetuating racism in my words & actions.

Sometimes, all I can do is try not to be another white asshole. That’s it. I can’t save black people from the continual injustices. That was never my job. (I couldn’t anyway–talk about ego.) Sometimes I can’t even INTERACT with black folks without wearing a forced “I’m white, you’re black,” smile! That’s the embarassing truth. Racism lives in me, fuck it.

I show myself grace because I am human. I am allowed to be human, to mess up continually. I am just not allowed to be racist & EVER think that is okay. I am grateful to artists like Tayari Jones, Ava DuVernay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Austin Channing Brown, & others, who give me a window into a world that is far different from the one I live in. By grace, I can learn.

Watching When They See Us helped me see that my role is to engage whiteness & white supremacy’s hold on my people. The incarceration of those 5 innocent boys happened because of two white women who spun a racist story about them, & pinned them with blame. We have to reckon with this part of our history, our present, & our future. It is my job to engage white folks more than it is my job to “rescue” black folks. It is my job to rail against the system. To vote for black life. To shop at black-owned businesses. To champion black authors. To defend truth & justice at dinner tables, post offices, classrooms, etc. It is my job to look my (white) loved ones in the face & say, “that was racism. That needs to change.” Over & over. Until things get better. I don’t do these things because of what happened in the past. I do these things because I want to live a good life. I don’t want to be an asshole. I want life to be better for EVERY GOD DAMN HUMAN ALIVE.

Until there is justice for all, there will not be peace for any of us.

 

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“Don’t say, “Oh, it’s not really race, it’s class. Oh, it’s not race, it’s gender. Oh, it’s not race, it’s the cookie monster.” You see, American Blacks don’t actually want it to be race. They woud rather not have racist shit happen. So maybe when they say something is about race, it’s maybe because it actually is? … Don’t say “We’re tired of talking about race” or “the only race is the human race.” American Blacks, too, are tired of talking about race. They wish they didn’t have to. But shit keeps happening. Don’t say, “Oh, racism is over, slavery was so long ago.” We are talking about problems from the 1960s not the 1860s. …Finally don’t put on a Let’s Be Fair tone and say, “But black people are racist too.” Because of course we’re all prejudiced…but racism is about the power of a group and in America it’s white folks who have that power. … White folks don’t get denied bank loans or mortgages precisely because they are white and black juries don’t give white criminals worse sentences than black criminals for the same crime and black police officers don’t stop white folk for driving while white….Try listening, maybe. Hear what is being said. And remember that it is not about you. American Blacks are not telling you (non-American Blacks) that you are to blame. They are just telling you what is. If you don’t understand, ask questions. Sometimes people just want to feel heard.”

~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah , 2013, p. 403-406

 

*DISCLAIMER: This post is about ME. This is a personal blog. Racism & the black experience in the USA is not, never has been, & never will be about me, or any other white person. These are my encounters, my growths, my shames, my confessions as they relate to my whiteness & the injustices I see (& have learned about having happened) in the lives of black Americans. I do not & will not speak for any POC ever, & should not be seen as a spokesperson for the black experience. Never lived it. Never will. I am extremely limited in communicating around this issue, but I wanted to share my experience. It haunts my days & nights.*