Sunday Morning~

In Shamwana, I would have a hard time sleeping on Saturday nights.  Well, I had a hard time sleeping a lot of nights, but on Saturday my mind would be full of everything I wanted to write and I’d try to organize it in my head to be more efficient on Sunday morning. I was always worried I’d run out of time and leave untold stories floating away. The guards would bring thermoses of hot water at sunrise and leave them on the table where we ate our meals. The water was boiled and filtered and parasite-free, and we used it for our tea, softening it with powdered milk.  Luxury. I often got up before sunrise and would ask the guard to fill the thermos early. They’d take the pot of water from the fire, fill the thermos, and politely deliver it to me. In the beginning, they thought I was working all morning, and were so grateful I would make all this effort for them.  It took time to explain that I was writing home about the week, telling their story. I was so worried that another team member would get up and I’d have to give up the laptop for a more important purpose; I wrote frantically.

Now my Sunday routine is not a matter of life and death the way it was then. Not that I was I saving lives with my prose, but I felt it saved me. It was an outlet for my frustrations, a chance to use my native language, and a means of connecting to the world I left behind. I had agreed not to put anything in the public domain while I was working for that organization without it being approved first. Safety concerns being the rationale. With teams in dangerous areas, it made sense that information distributed was monitored to prevent inadvertent danger. That’s why I kept it all as emails. I could say whatever I wanted. It cramped my style to be edited by people I didn’t know and it had a propaganda-ish feel to it.

This blog is not intimate correspondence and I have no idea who reads it.  I am continually surprised when I hear from people commenting on a post. I started writing  this when the publisher told me I should, and I just did as I was told. I never thought people would actually read it! And now it seems a responsibility (one I enjoy) and a risk. The risk being, I’m not anonymous. When I put it on here, I need to consider who’s affected. When I write about my own thoughts and feelings, so what? It’s just me. But leaving my job, falling in love, struggling family members, all wove their way in here and now I’ve got a cast of characters to consider. It’s fun to write without regard. The Writing Down The Bones mentality is freeing and more satisfying. Go for the jugular, feel free to write the worst crap in America, gets rid of the nagging editor and good shit comes out. Ah, but what if people read it?

What if I wrote about abuses I see in our system? Real abuses? Dangerous abuses? I have as many frustrations in our system here as I did in Shamwana. I have written about them in general terms, but have started wondering how powerful it would be to get more specific. The risk: everyone knows where I live and where I work. How hard would it be to put names to those characters?

When people are marginalized in a system, there are patterns that keep the abuse alive. Fear is a biggie. Fear of losing health insurance, one’s home, kids’ education, paid vacation, the list goes on and on.  There are all sorts of ways to keep people repressed. Many are subtle, some overt and we can get so entrenched in our own patterns it becomes more and more difficult to identify it as repression.  And so it goes on.

For all the times we, at the Women’s Center, have had to counsel women about breaking abusive patterns they find themselves in, we often don’t recognize how we end up in similar patterns. We work in a system willing to sacrifice women for fiscal gain. Shocking? True.  And it is happening everywhere. And what do we do?

Deciding to resign wasn’t easy.  I thought long and hard about how I could still advocate and work for women without enabling this corrupt system. I didn’t have any firm answers when I made the final decision to go, but I must say, watching the fallout has been-––what’s the word-––affirming, maybe?  Oh, really?  Can’t find someone to do what I was doing? Really? Let’s see….have I been saying that for five years?  Hmm, yes, I think so.

Ugh, I’m stuck. This is getting too heavy and bogged down. I want to write about the phone call. The one when I was in the garden. Happily planting peas and beans and topless in the warm sun. Oh, how modern technology has allowed this.  Business calls where we don’t have to be attached to a wall or a building or a booth. In my garden in bikini bottom, seulement. When I started on my say, I thought I should put a top on. Even though no one could see me, I thought perhaps I’d be more assertive if I weren’t  in a vulnerable state of dress (or undress).  But my hands were dirty and I started on my tirade and was on a roll and didn’t feel like interrupting. In fact, as it went on, I felt like the sun was charging my batteries. I stood up, faced the sun, and felt the sun goddesses egging me on.

I’m getting clearer.

Sunday Morning~ Well That Was Fun

Ok, so now I have a good idea what people want to read. Romance stories. Or at least some romance in the hard knock stories.  Well, this will be a great motivator to keep this love alive (aside from never being happier).  There are moments when I feel like I’m losing my mind, though.  For instance, I just left my pocketbook in church!  I never do that! I’m all head-in-the-clouds, ga-ga, walking on air, can’t wipe the smile off my face, and I have to remind myself that the electric company doesn’t care.  They want their bill paid. Down girl. Down.

So now, having retrieved said purse, I’m way behind in my day.  While waiting for the woman who (luckily) picked up my bag, I ran into some friends who hadn’t yet heard I was leaving my job.  They are retired professionals in health care and had had long prestigious careers here.  I couldn’t stop myself from babbling on and on about the destruction of our system, how all my ideas for improving services have been ignored or sabotaged, how women are being discriminated against, and how I just couldn’t take it anymore. Ah, they are kindred spirits and had plenty of their own frustrations to add. I apologized for dumping on their sunny Sunday morning of bird watching.  The osprey were out fishing and they had come to watch. Like everyone else, they asked what my plans were now. I explained, I honestly don’t know. I am not ready to retire. I love what I do and love the women I care for. I desperately want to advocate for women in our screwed up system, but am not sure yet how to go about it. I could just work to bring home a paycheck, and there might be some of that, but there is something bigger out there I’m supposed to be doing, and I need to figure out what it is.  Until that becomes clear, I’ll keep plodding along, now with a bit of a spring in my step.

I feel like I’m all over the place. I want to write about how it came to be that my religion is so important to me. I want to write about falling in love. I want to say that straight vinegar is the best thing ever for washing windows. Why is that such a secret? I want to go running, clean out my car, pick all the dandelions and make wine. I want to work on the wedding plans (Not mine. Calm down everyone), plant fennel, plan the road trip. I feel like a puppy who can’t stop jumping. I need to run her.  Take this girl out for exercise. Let her figure out which frisbee to go after.

When the kids were very young and complained about going to church, we explained that church was like seat belts.  Not optional. There were lots of young children in the churches we attended, and it was a social event after the ritual. Kids had a community just like adults did. As they got into their teenage years, and the questioning got more complex, we had to agree that the dogma makes no sense in today’s context. We tried to put it in historical perspective, and agreed that there may (should) be a time in life to question all this.  If you don’t, and just drink the cool aide, that’s a cult. The way I looked at it, was not that ours is the one true religion.  It’s not. That’s absurd.  I’m only Catholic because I was raised Catholic, not because it’s right. It’s familiar. My experience had been a mostly positive one.  Growing up in an unhappy family it was a safe haven for me. The ritual was a comfort, predictable, soothing. I always wondered why people read so much into it and focused on the guilt.  Maybe I was never listening.  The rules seemed abstract and for historical interest only. At Sunday dinner growing up, my father would ask what the priest said in his homily. (He was exempt from the Sunday requirement and only went on Christmas and Easter). I remember thinking, “Why don’t you go and hear it for yourself?” though, to say that out loud would have been certain death. But I could never report what the priest said in his homily. That seemed the least important thing in the mass. (Actually, still does.) For me, it was all about the friendly people, the music, the mystery, the meditation. I felt like it was really Mary in that statue, always caring and kind.

When my oldest was making his confirmation, we had a priest here who was difficult, to say the least.  We’d spend the whole ride home from mass telling the kids we didn’t agree with what he said today. They’d ask, “They why do we have to go?!”  And we explained, priests are like teachers. You get some good ones and some bad ones, but you don’t stop going to school because you happen to get one you don’t like.  It makes you think about your values but doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Priests are human beings and we get along with some better than others, but the ritual doesn’t change.  And the good thing is, their time here is limited. It did stimulate some good family discussions.  Nothing like bonding over something(one) everyone mutually dislikes. But confirmation was hard that year. This priest made some ridiculous requirements for the kids and many of us parents were confused about how to deal with both sides of it.  The parents would say to each other, “Why is he making this so difficult? It’s hard enough to get kids this age to even go to mass and now he’s asking them to write a letter to the bishop explaining why they should be confirmed? We all know it’s because we are making them, for God’s sake!”

I begged my son to comply.  “Please just write something respectful. Please.”  I did stop short of bribing (I’m pretty sure), but I did beg. I said, “Look. If someday, God forbid, you lose everything: your family, your home, your money, your self-respect. You will always have a community to go to.  You will be part of that community, no matter where you are in the world.  It will be familiar. And if you walk out of this house as an adult and never go back to church again, that will be your decision and I’ll respect it. But you’ll never have something to come back to if you don’t go through with this. Please.”

And he wrote the letter. And the bishop read it aloud at the mass.

Wow, I really am all over the place today.  Going running.

Sunday Morning~Coming Clean

Ok, so last week was a teaser. I was still afraid to believe it was real, but with every passing day I am more and more sure. I’m in love. With a man. And he’s in love with me. My substantial defenses have been unable to repel this onslaught of kindness, wit, intellect, energy, and love. I feel like our lives have been on a trajectory toward each other for a long, long time. The graph illustrates exactly where we were supposed to intersect. I have an image of the universe giving a power-point presentation on it. I am so happy. Love is a powerful hormone.

I keep asking myself how I could be so lucky? But then I think, how much of it was really luck? That we showed up on the platform at the same time?  Maybe. That the train was late? Definitely. That we discovered within the first two minutes of conversation that we had a lot in common?  No. Pure skill. That his meeting got over in time to get to my talk? Sure. That he asked me to dinner? That I said yes?  No. Not luck. That was motivation and risk taking. I’m going to give us credit for that. Ok, might have been a little lucky that I had a free evening. Ok. There’s that.

I have been single for thirteen years.  I can’t believe it has been that long. I got married young and we grew together into our marriage and family and were (I thought) a really good team. We created rich, shared experiences, raised five kids, traveled all over the world, built a house, built careers, and loved each other. It was unthinkable that he would leave all that. When he did, I picked up the pieces of my shattered world, and figured I’d find someone else rather quickly. I’d never been alone or without a man in my life. I had boyfriends through high school and college, usually overlapping. When the reality of divorce sunk in, I realized I didn’t know how to be single. I’d  been half of a couple for most of my life and single was a foreign land. Enter the hell hole of middle-age dating. In rural Maine. When you have a job that requires being on-call 24/7 and five teenage kids. It wasn’t pretty.

I dated a couple of guys I thought had potential. I’d consider the compromises I’d have to make, and when the list got longer than my weekly shopping one, I would think, no. Not going to work. There were a few I scared away right off the bat.  I think that was when I suggested our second date be a day-long hike or bike trip or something. The most noteworthy retreat happened when Mr. X asked me for a date and I told him I couldn’t as I was a little over my head with a project I started at home. He offered to come over and help with with it.  I told him, it was kind of a big project.  Oh, that was fine.  He was very handy. So I said, okaaaay, come on over. When he got here and saw the huge hole in the ground where we were pouring footings, the look on his face was really rather hilarious.  I said, “So we are pouring a foundation and then moving that house there onto it, and adding a kitchen and bedroom.  Did you bring your own tools?”  I’m pretty sure he figured he was going to help me hang pictures or put up a shelf. He went and bought lunch (for himself), came back and ate it while watching us work, and I never saw him again. Surly teenagers scared off a couple more.

So I decided dating was not worth more rejection and I was meant to be alone.  I think, deep down, I felt completely unlovable, so why even bother? (Note the defenses reference in paragraph one.) When I started writing the book in earnest, I used to say that I didn’t have time to date anyway, and the book was my boyfriend. I consoled myself with a fantasy that there was a man out there who was perfect for me and when the time was right we’d meet and live happily ever after. The man was impossibly perfect. But so what?  It was my fantasy, and I could make him anything I wanted. I described him to Ruth, gushing as if he were real. “He is amazing! He is smart and funny and loves to do all the things I love to do! He surprises me with tickets to concerts! He plans backpacking trips! He’s in great shape!  He writes beautifully! And he loves me so much!” She asked where he lived?  I thought, a city.  Yes, definitely a city.  That would be perfect. Winters in the city, summers in Maine. Yes. I told her I think a studio in the East Village.  How’s that?  She replied, “Linda. This is a fantasy. Make it a brownstone in the East Village.” Ok. Sure. Then we’d have room for guests. There’s no parking, but I won’t need a car in the city anyway. She asked how we would meet, but I hadn’t worked out those details. But for sure it would be something completely romantic and random. Out of the blue!  Neither of us were expecting it or looking for anyone! It would hit us like a ton of bricks! I left that to the universe to work out. I shouldn’t have to think of everything. She asked if he had kids? I told her I hadn’t decided yet. “Oh, surprise yourself”, she said.

Well, I’ve got to say, the fantasy gods were pretty darn generous. No, he doesn’t live in the East Village. But everything else is about spot on. Frighteningly so. Well, we haven’t gotten to the happily ever after part yet. I’ll have to report back on that. And seeing the reaction of my friends, well, I have not had this much fun in a long time. I told him we cannot disappoint everyone. We have a civic duty to keep this fairytale alive. It really is community service.

Sunday Morning~ Falling in Love

It’s Mother’s Day and I wonder what I have written about before on this day. Forced expressions of gratitude and love? Sad stories about mother’s who have lost their children? I can’t remember.  And because two of my kids called early this morning, I didn’t get to this until my creative juices have been drunk, but I’ll give it a whirl.

So it’s spring, and it’s mother’s day, and I seem to be falling in love. I’ve always wondered if love at first sight was possible.  I’d certainly never experienced it before. Even though I was completely in love with my husband, it took some cultivating and nurturing to get there. It wasn’t the star-struck freeze-frame type deal the moment our eyes met.  I’d heard credible stories of it happening.  I’ve heard older couples, clearly devoted to each other, talk about meeting and knowing instantly s/he was the one. I sit and absorb these stories and wonder how they knew? Were they just more loving people? Did they have more loving upbringings? Were they more open to it?  Just lucky?

My experience of absolute and complete love at first sight happens when I guide that baby up to her chest. Her hands instinctively reach out to enfold that child, and her head tilts back with thanks and relief.  Ironclad dads weep and embrace and are overcome with the energy and love of it all. I wish I could bottle it. It’s a moment of purity.  Before sleepless nights, inexplicable crying jags, and tantrums color the tapestry, there is a moment when love is all that exists.

Sunday Morning~A recurring memory of nowhere special

I spoke at Boston College this week to the Global Health class. Seventy-five bright faces with eagerness to know the world. It’s a high for me.

I did my undergraduate education at BC and the campus is not that big. Most of my classes were held in the nursing school but I had a few core courses in the other buildings. Stokes Hall was where I was to speak and I had no recollection of it. I wracked my brain trying to remember where it was, and ended up having to look at the campus map to find it.

I had two hours to kill, so walked the campus looking for memories.  I loved my four years there, though, a fair amount of those years were tortured with the angst of burgeoning adulthood, breaking away from a controlling and abusive father, and the recurring heartbreak of a boyfriend who wouldn’t leave his other girlfriend for me.  (So I guess he wasn’t really my boyfriend.) The memory of those struggles did not dampen the joy I felt  walking around that beautiful campus last Tuesday. I went over to St Mary’s Chapel, where I used to go to Mass at noon on weekdays.  It is a sweet sacred place, with gorgeous stained glass and no sign announcing it’s presence.  I wondered if it was still open. I tried the door and it bade me enter into peace and calm. I sighed as if I were enveloped by loving arms. I sat in the second pew for awhile and gave thanks for this holy refuge that saved me.

I walked by the Newman Center where I’d go on Sunday evenings. A bunch of us would sit in a circle on the floor and really cool young Jesuit in jeans and a black turtleneck would celebrate Mass. That was a lot of Masses to go to! Not that any of this was required. We did have to do some credits of philosophy and theology but no one was required to go to Mass. I wonder why I went so often? Coming from such a strict upbringing I think I looked for a structure to replace the one I was leaving. It seemed so safe and accepting and affirming.

I crossed the grass to Bapst Library.  I wondered if it was still a library and if anyone in college read books anymore (hoping for obvious reasons that they did). I walked up the stairs to the main room, unchanged since my days there, aside from students on laptops at the heavy long tables. Still present was the soft sound of pages turning. If I added up all the hours I spent in there reading it would amount to months. I looked around at the spectacular stained glass windows and wondered if I appreciated the  beauty of the place during those hours.

The lawn facing the library was where we had our pinning ceremony the day before graduation. I was 21, engaged to a new love, happy and bright, and the world contained all that was good. What promise exists in this setting!  I wondered if they would hire me to teach without a PhD?  I never wanted to leave.

I found my way back to Stokes Hall.  There was a cafe near the entryway.  I thought this has certainly been renovated; there were no cafes back in my day.  It was irritating me that I had no recollection of this place. I told the professor that I didn’t remember this building at all.  She said, “It’s brand new.  They built it to look old to fit in with the other buildings.”

Oh sweet affirmation.