Sunday Morning ~ Filling the Basket

Sunday Morning ~ Filling the Basket

Mtanga ukoma mdi kusomera. ~ The basket of maize looks good when you have really topped it up.

~ Chewa proverb

October 13, 2019

Hi Everyone,

This week I drove to Brunswick for a TEDx celebration and reunion for those who’ve participated in Maine since it’s inception ten years ago. The TEDx talk I did was in May of 2016 and is one of the most exciting and scary things I have ever done. I don’t think I ever would have been chosen if it weren’t for my luck to have friends who believed in my message and had skills to make a professional one minute video to submit with the application. My friends Kathy and Desiree had the knowledge and skill and generously gave of their time. I totally credit them with my being there. I so badly didn’t want to let them down. Once accepted, there was the writing and re-writing of the script, the practicing, the re-learning how to hold my body, stop pointing at the audience, stop swaying, remember the pauses and (not being a theater person) oh my God, it was hard. I felt so much pressure. I felt like I had nine minutes to make a difference in women’s lives. TED talks can be so powerful and I thought I had a chance and didn’t want to blow it. I watched about a million TED talks in the months leading up to it, and learned a lot! I watched some of them several times trying to glean from the speakers what made them powerful and riveting. I prayed. I did the wonder woman pose trying to gain confidence. I freaked at every criticism of my posture and gestures thinking I just wasn’t going to be able to pull it off. I wondered how people got through this? I’ve done scary things before! I’ve done lots of public speaking! I thrive on it! What was so terrifying about this? The lights! The rules! Still, it was an amazing experience and I am so grateful for it. I was euphoric when it was done. I received lots of positive feedback. But the women I spoke about? They have not felt any benefit.

I arrived at the celebration and mingled with the crowd. i didn’t see anyone from my May 2016 group there. I found my coach and reconnected, telling her how much I appreciated her. I chatted with some people from other groups, some were organizers some were speakers. I asked all of the speakers, “Was it the scariest thing you’ve ever done?” and there was a pretty good consensus that, yeah, it was. One guy I was talking to who’d done a talk in 2013 asked me about my topic. It didn’t take me long to get worked up into the frenzy that motivated me to do the talk in the first place. I started ranting about what’s happened in the rural parts of the country for maternity care for women. How the c-section rate is astronomical and is killing women, especially poor women and women of color. I was in a froth again and he asked, “So what came out of your talk?” I stopped and thought and said, “Not much, if anything.” Then went on saying, “It was a different world then. There was so much potential and there was so much hope for women’s issues. It was spring of 2016. We were about to have our first woman president and the focus should have been on how we should be cleaning up our act, refocusing our priorities, and joining the rest of industrialized countries with offering health care as a basic human right not an expensive luxury. We should have been addressing our gender inequalities and discrimination. But then November happened and the world changed.” I didn’t need to say any more. He nodded. He’d been mayor of a city in Maine for six years. We talked about the changing tide now in our state and both expressed hope that the pendulum is starting to swing. We’ve got a great woman governor, we’ve got potential for a brilliant new senator who is motivated to work on this. I told him about my dream of starting a graduate program for midwifery in Maine and we kicked around how to go about that. He finished his beer, I finished my cider. We exchanged business cards and moved on to other conversations with other interesting people. 

I’d thought about whether making the three hour drive to this party was worth it and decided to go, noting I could visit friends and get some errands done along the way. It was a luxury I am privileged to have. I traveled three hours in my well serviced car with a full tank of gas on dry roads. The foliage was spectacular. But imagine being a woman in active (painful) labor in a car that has no gas, faulty brakes, and bad tires in an ice storm traveling three hours to the closest hospital that will care for you. That ride would not be pleasant. But that’s what we are forcing women to do. It’s inhumane. It is a crisis. I got to sip a drink and schmooze with people as we ate fabulous food. I am so well aware of my privilege and fortune. I left there thinking, thinking, thinking, very glad I went, needing to do something tangible. 

I’d been thinking for some time about how to get a graduate program for midwifery started in Maine. Having more midwives is a very realistic solution to this problem but there are very few educational programs and none are in Maine. I’ve talked about it but didn’t know how to go about taking the first step. This reunion was a booster shot and motivator. I drove to Husson University parked in one of the lots and walked around looking for the nursing school. I found it, went to the deans office, introduced myself, and asked the secretary if I could make an appointment to talk with the dean. I was expecting a refusal or at least some hassle, but she said, sure, next week? We set a date for when I’m back from my current trip and then she asked, “Can I tell her what it is about?” I said, “I want to talk with her about starting a midwifery program here.” Then thinking she was going to act as if it were a ridiculous request, I added, “I know it’s a tall order.” The secretary wrote it down and said very sincerely, “Oh wow! She is gonna love this.” 

Step one. Done.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Seed

Sunday Morning ~  The Seed

Ndidyeretu, chire anasowa mbeu. ~ The one who ate all there was discovered the bush had no seeds.

~ Chewa Proverb

October 6, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I usually get up early on Sunday and write a draft of this before I go to mass. Today I woke early but fell back into a deep sleep with dreams so vivid that waking up was confusing. I’d overslept by a lot. I dashed to the garden to let the chickens out and getting distracted as I always do, stopped to pick a lonely pepper on the plant growing since May. One lovely, mid-sized pepper was the only resident on the plant I lovingly tended. One pepper! I spent a frustrating summer watching one blossom after another fall off and die even though the plant looked healthy. I’d given it the sunniest spot, and though I’d pictured myself picking dozens of peppers, only one lived. This morning I gave up on getting anymore, picked that solitary pepper, and put it in the bowl of random, partnerless vegetables on my counter. I looked at it and wondered what to do with it? Something special? Make a salsa so it can be spread out among a few meals? Or would it’s specialness get lost with that? Maybe I should stuff it and make it a whole meal, but having no one to share it with seemed sad. Oh hell, I thought, maybe I’ll just eat the thing right now, raw and naked while it’s still as fresh as possible. But I was late for church and ran out thinking about that pepper as a metaphor for my life. I’ve only got one. What to do with it? Solitary and healthy with resources and energy I feel a responsibility to use it wisely. As usual, I was late for mass. I blamed the pepper. I have a different excuse every week.

My usual spot was open and I slid into the pew just before the first reading and I settled into the comfort of the familiar ritual: the readings, the responses, the gospel, the sermon. I often don’t listen to the sermon. My mind wanders and my list of things to do replays a loop especially if the delivery is dry. When George was coming to church with me I was always worried the sermon would be something open to criticism. I felt the need to defend the priest even if I agreed with George that the message was less than inspiring. But then I’d think, who cares? No one listens to the sermon anyway. It’s all about the ritual. Today though, the priest hit it square. My current state of limbo made me spongy for soaking up the message. I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about how I can make a difference or have some kind of lasting influence. I’m a bit stuck trying to transform lofty goals into achievable steps and figure out what the first step actually is. Today’s story about the mustard seed, that tiniest of seeds which grows into the largest herb (or tree, or other large vegetation that feeds the world depending on whether you like Matthew, Mark, or Luke) seemed especially poignant and obvious.  We can all relate to the metaphor but it struck me hard today and, judging from the conversation at coffee hour, others as well. The priest spoke from the heart and his authenticity was refreshing. He wasn’t preachy. I loved that. He didn’t need to describe our current state of scandalous, racist, corrupt government or national shame, but the message was as clear as if he’d spray painted it on his vestments. Maybe others heard it differently; I know we can have personal interpretations. But for me focusing on the tiniest seed was brilliant, though I got distracted a bit with wondering if mustard seeds were really smaller than say, cabbage?  Actually as I write this it sounds corny as hell, but there was a shiny moment when I thought it was the most profound thing I’d ever heard. Like I said, I was yearning for a sign, and my mustard crop is always the most reliable of anything I plant. I wondered if I was stretching it too much.

Graham Nash gave a concert in Bar Harbor this week. He was my coming-of-age celebrity crush and I always credited him with saving the world with those protest songs. He sang in our little town, looking pretty darn good, reminding us to do something and have hope. Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that you can bring? We can save the world, re-arrange the world, it’s dying to get better. I thought the chance to see and hear him sing those words was long gone but there I was singing along with the rest of the audience, and I felt the same way I did after church today–– there’s a lot of us and we can change the world. But then I talked with a friend who told me she’d never heard of Graham Nash and I was shocked! “Really? Chicago? Teach Your Children?” I asked, horrified. “Nope, never heard of them.” she said without embarrassment. And I thought, good God, what kind of work is ahead of us? 

…Now it is Monday. I left this to attend the memorial service of a friend who was killed in a car accident. Like me, he’d been a Peace Corps volunteer right out of college. He was a bit older and I learned yesterday that Peace Corps saved him from fighting a war he didn’t believe in. He spent four years in Africa in the 60’s as a volunteer, came back and worked in many different capacities as well as a boat mechanic here on the island. He was my son’s baseball coach. He was a lover of music. He played the violin and I’d often see him at concerts in town. He came to many of the presentations I gave and we often talked about life and work in Africa. He was recently back from working with Doctor’s Without Borders in Central African Republic and two weeks before he died we had a long philosophical discussion about that organization. On August 13, I was driving back from the beach with the grandkids when we saw a firetruck blocking the road. In any other situation I would have eagerly exclaimed to James, “Look! A firetruck!”  But I knew at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon in the summer, this was not good. We got directed to a detour and as I turned I could see a demolished car near the woods. I had a sinking realization that any occupant of that car was most likely dead. I read the next morning that it was Ted, hit head on in his little old economical car. His memorial yesterday was beautiful with music and poetry and fabulous food. Many of his photographs of Africa were on display, stunning beauty both of the landscape and the people. I left there sad and confused. 

I went to my French group, then to a concert and got home late thinking I would continue writing. But everything I put down was crap. I was trying to be philosophical and it sounded pandering and pathetic, painful words my son once used to describe my writing. I thought he was right. I reread what I wrote about the priest’s sermon yesterday and realized I really hadn’t said much about it. How much of it did I really remember? The metaphor of sowing a tiny seed and believing something great would come out of it was what I heard, and thought, Right! Start with that! How obvious! But I’m not sure now that’s what he said. I thought of how messages get interpreted. I might consider something inspiring and think everyone must see it the same way. Of course this isn’t true. God knows this has been the start of many an argument I’ve had with others. I realize a lot depends on what I want to hear and what I want to be true. I think now of how many roads this has taken me down and how lucky I am that most of them have led somewhere positive. 

Love to all,

Linda