Sunday Morning ~ Protecting Ourselves

Sunday Morning ~ Protecting Ourselves

Nkhanga zinapangana kusanapsye. ~ The guinea fowls made an agreement before the grass got burnt.

~Chewa proverb

November 17, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Guinea hens hide in tall grass. It’s a problem when the grass is gone. 

I’ve always been a worrier. When I was six or seven I overheard my mom chatting to a friend, “Remember being a kid and being so carefree? No worries in the world!” I remember thinking: What is she talking about? I have a ton to worry about!  What if my friends don’t like me? I might get in trouble for something I didn’t do! I don’t know when (insert some adult in my life) will be in a bad mood! I don’t know how to handle that! The list went on and on. I was constantly worried. After college many anxieties subsided but came back with a vengeance when my children were born. It was basic worry when they were babies: Am I right to let him cry it out at night? Should I start solids before he is six months old?–––stuff that seemed huge at the time but as they got older seemed wasted energy. That was JV worry. The real stuff was yet to come. When teenage years arrived, the worries multiplied explosively. It was before cell phones. If my kids were five minutes late coming home I was sure they were dead. I envisioned them under an overturned vehicle calling out for me as the life oozed out of them. I would be frantic by the time they got home, though my welcome was not a loving expression of relief they were safe. I was angry they’d caused me so much concern. After that my worry turned to thoughts of damage I was doing to their psyche because of my anxiety for their safety. Then I worried they wouldn’t win an award in the jazz competition. I worried they would lose a track race. If my kids felt bad I worried about that. I worried about how it would influence their decisions as they grew into adulthood. 

But want to know what I did not worry about? My kids getting shot in school. Never once crossed the very vivid landscape of my mind loaded with potential hazards. Nope. I never thought of how some kid might start shooting and killing their classmates. Never thought that one of my five kids would be caught in gunfire. When my kids were in high school they walked into the entrance of their choosing, getting out of the weather and into their classroom. We’d drop them at the most convenient door and watched them walk in, proud of them, awards or not. Now, there is one door to enter. The others are all locked. 

I pondered this as I walked into the high school to see Mama Mia Friday night. I thought back to when my kids were in the pit orchestra for the fall musical. I remembered the evening rehearsals, the worry they weren’t getting enough sleep, anxiety they might fail a test because they were putting all their energy into the show. I don’t have kids in the show anymore, obviously, but I was at the birth of many of the kids up there and my friends have kids in the show. It was wonderful and creative and a fun night. One of the leads got pulled that very morning and they had to replace him with another student with only six hours to prepare. She was amazing and pulled it off with grace and confidence. There was excitement in the audience as families got ready to watch their kids perform. I got nostalgic remembering that feeling and what our family was like then.  Earlier that day I’d been preoccupied with other thoughts and was looking forward to a night out. I drove to the high school, parked the car, and had to walk around the whole school to the one unlocked door. It was cold and inconvenient. I passed four locked doors. It was then I gave appropriate thought to the kids who had died the previous day in California, shot at school as they went to their first class. In sixteen seconds two kids were killed and three wounded. The news story about it lasted less time than it took for the kids to be murdered. The sick feeling in my stomach when I heard the news was resignation, not shock. I thought of that as I entered and found my friend and we took our seats. I was thinking of that when we heard of the last minute replacement for Sam, a leading role. I thought something bad must have happened for a role like this to be replaced at the last minute. I wondered if the student had gotten terribly ill but learned it was a rule infraction that morning. I wondered if the five Californian students, children, were in their school play? I wondered if there was a scramble to find five others to fill in? I wondered if they would cancel the show? Then was incredulous I was wondering any of this. 

It seems not a day goes by now without some call to action, yet I still have some deep feeling of hope. Children are dying in a bizarre war waged by cowardly adults guarding their piles of gold. But wars end, countries heal, communities rebuild, times and worries change. Brave people speak truth to power, others follow, and burnt grass grows again.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ We’ve All Got Our Part

Sunday Morning ~ We’ve All Got Our Part

Khoswe wa pa tsindwi adaulula wa pa dzala. ~ The rat on the roof revealed the one in the rubbish heap.

~ Chewa proverb

November 10, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I learned a lot from my ex husband. He was the smartest person I knew, though he didn’t do well in school. He probably had what would be diagnosed as a learning disability now, and if he were in school today instead of the 60’s I’m sure his life would have been very different. As a student, I memorized a lot of facts and dates, got good grades on tests, then promptly forgot all the facts and dates. I learned almost nothing about history or politics. I made the honor role but only because I’m a good test taker and can memorize. All I learned about world history I learned from travel and conversations with Joe. He taught me to read newspapers and be interested in the world. He knew names and dates of treaties I’d never heard of. He knew the chronology of world events way better than the history teachers I had. He could name every president in order. I used to be shocked by the stuff he knew wondering where on earth you get all that knowledge. It was way before Wikipedia. He was horrible to play Trivial Pursuit with. 

Joe asked me to marry him when we’d been dating two months. I grew up seeing a terrible example of marriage and didn’t want any part of it, sure that marriage would kill the love we had. Joe convinced me it could be different. He knew I wanted to do Peace Corps right out of college and he said he wanted to do it too. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just saying it because I did. I suggested I go and we could get married when I got home. He said we’d be different people then; having that kind of experience would change me and we should experience it together. I thought about that and it made sense. We looked into going together as a couple without being married, but at that time there was no guarantee of being placed together if you weren’t married. The more we talked the more I was convinced he was sincere about wanting to go. He had dropped out of college and was looking for some direction. The thought of telling my parents I was marrying someone who had dropped out of college, someone they’d never even met, was out of the question. I reasoned with myself…if you can’t tell your parents you want to marry him, do you really want to marry him?  But the more I got to know him, the more I understood that dropping out of school was a good decision. He was paying for everything himself, whereas my father was paying my tuition. Dropping out would have been suicidal for me but he wasn’t happy with what he was studying and didn’t want to waste the money until he knew what he wanted to do. How utterly mature and practical. It seemed brave and wise. I admired that and still do. 

We had long, long talks about how we would respect each other, help each other grow, support each other and learn from each other. And we did that. I had a better marriage than anyone I knew and always felt it was my reward for having a really crappy childhood. The fact that it fell  apart colossally does not negate all the good we had and, though he is a very different person now, I still love the man I married. 

In our first year together he talked about The Hobbit, a book I’d never even heard of. He’d read it several times. He related it to life situations in ways I found fascinating, and he just seemed so worldly for a guy who hadn’t traveled as a kid. It was a book we would read over and over again to our children, and when they got a little older we graduated to the whole Lord of the Rings series. We didn’t have a television, making a conscious decision to raise our kids without one. That was partly because of Joe’s addiction to TV. His mother always said it was because he had colic and would stay up and watch Jack Paar with her. This is how kids got diagnosed in those days. Ha ha ha. When we were first married and staying at his parent’s house I was in the shower and asked him to get the shampoo which was downstairs. I waited and waited and waited standing under the water until the hot water was gone, then grabbed a towel, wrapped myself in it and went down the stairs looking for what happened to him. He was standing in the living room, shampoo under his arm, watching something on TV. In those early days this was a funny family story. Believe me, that behavior got less and less funny as time went on and we agreed it would be better to not have a TV in the house. Not having that distraction gave us lots of face to face time in the evenings which I still cherish. We would read aloud to the kids every night all piled up together on the couch. Once a year we’d read the whole Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. We got to know the story well and we’d insert lines from the books into our daily discourse. I loved it. We had a cat named Galadrielle, renamed after we realized she wasn’t a Gandalf. I just thought we were the coolest family.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Hobbit series lately. It seems there are so many parallels in our current state of affairs. I want to be careful. I don’t want to jinx anything by being optimistic about the future, but I am a little more hopeful after Tuesday’s election and I rewrite the script to fit daily events. I haven’t decided who all the characters are yet, but who can deny there are evil and good characters in this drama we call America? Anyone can see that. Yes, there are differences of opinion about who is evil and who is good, but here, I’m the one writing so I get to decide. When Gollum got more and more threatening, Gandalf’s cautionary words were to wait and see as Gollum may yet have a part to play leading us to our ultimate destination. I’m still deciding if Gollum is Giuliani, Stone, Eric, or Barr; there are just so many evil characters to choose from! Gandalf is taking on a more feminine appearance to me in the form of Nancy Pelosi (wise wise woman), but I’m also impressed with Adam Schiff. The Orcs are all the republicans in congress and Sauron, well, who else could it be? Evil eye? World domination? Please. It’s just too easy. I feel like I’m watching the drama unfold and await each episode figuring out who is Frodo and who is Sam. I hold onto the belief that this evil will “be maimed forever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows…” (The Return of the King) and all us hobbits and elves will live in peace having done our part to make sure evil is destroyed. Some will take the journey and some will keep the fires burning at home awaiting those words: “Well, I’m back.” 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way

Khote-khote wa njoka, usata rumene kwaloza mutu. ~ Crooked is the way the snake moves, but follow where the head points.

~ Chewa proverb

November 3, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I drove over 4,000 miles the past three weeks, south to the Gulf of Mexico then north to Frenchman’s Bay again, crossing eighteen states. I just counted them. When we were kids on our big cross country camping trips (a book I need to write some day) my father would read a map laid out on the front seat of the car and navigate as he drove. My father was known for driving long distances at a time without looking at the road. It was terrifying. I’ve often thought that the only reason we are alive is that God wasn’t ready to take us yet. My mother would scream at him and he’d berate her for being scared, then point out he’d never been in an accident, as if that was logic for driving dangerously. We kids would huddle in the back seat and laugh as if his dangerous driving was an exciting family joke. It did become a sort of legend and  whenever people joked about his driving, he’d point out he’d never been in an accident. Until the day he drove off the road after he retired, someplace in western Massachusetts. He had to call my mother to tell her. I never knew the whole story. He was supposedly blueberry picking (I do remember that because his new galvanized bucket had been smashed). By then he was driving a smaller car and would take off for weekends without telling anyone where he was going. I always suspected he was with another woman, but never said that out loud. I was smugly congratulating myself for being right when that truth came out, but I so wanted to rub his face in that accident. I wanted to ask him if he was still so proud of the way he drove? What was his rationale now that the past record was ruined? By then none of us would get in a car with him; I guess as we got older all our suicidal tendencies took on a more independent nature. It’s terrible, but as I write this I can remember thinking, “Figures he’d be ok but the bucket was smashed.” sort of disappointed I still had to deal with him. Wow! Big introduction to say I don’t read maps while driving! Lots of unpacked baggage there! To be fair it is more dangerous than it used to be. My car is tiny whereas the front seat of our Chevrolet was the size of our living room couch. And there are zillions more cars on the road now. But still. All this brings me to how I think GPS is a wonderful invention. Me who rails against the overuse of technology, who loves paper maps, who rarely buys things on line––– I love GPS. I love having that nice lady tell me where to turn and give me a ten and two mile heads up. Love it. Now, if someone else is in the car, I’m happy to do it the old way. My friend Chris is a very good navigator and sat with the map on his lap as we traveled the Natchez Trace. He’d read the map and point out all the historical points of interest. I’m all for that. But when I’m driving alone in unfamiliar surroundings, it’s just quicker and more streamlined to hit the “Go” button and be magically navigated. It takes hours off my arrival time since I don’t have to keep pulling over to see where I am, never mind ask directions. 

Last Monday morning I left Chris and Sarah in New Orleans and headed for Montgomery, Alabama where I wanted to visit the Legacy Museum. Having just read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, I really wanted to see the tribute to his efforts to fight for justice in our modern day slavery of mass incarceration. He takes us through the history of slavery, emancipation, lynching, Jim Crow, and now mass incarceration of minorities, mostly black, in a for-profit system. The museum was…I still struggle to find the words to describe it… haunting? shocking? depressing? paralyzing? It was the same with the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Just gutting. Facing our sordid history with such nakedness. And both places have done it with a kind of grace. Not a (completely understandable) anger or fury. Grace is the only way I can describe it. The reality is plenty enough to be shocking. I felt such shame for my race but came away with a better understanding of what’s needed to start a healing process. In our midwifery organization we are confronting the institutionalized racism within and we are told not to come to the table out of a sense of shame or guilt. I wonder how we can feel anything else? I’m grappling with this.  

From the museum a bus took us to the Lynching Memorial. I handed my ticket at the entrance and was told I could take photographs as long as they were respectful. I didn’t understand what I was about to see. I’d only just learned of this memorial. I was confused and thought the glass jars labeled with the lynching victim’s name, filled with dirt, dug from beneath the lynching site, by families hoping to capture some of the DNA of a loved one, victims who had been strung up before a crowd of spectators without trial or burial… I thought this harrowing representation on this way-too-huge wall in the museum, was the memorial. But there is another. It is a six acre site on a hill overlooking the city. As you enter and walk along the walkway, you pass sculptures of slaves in chains. As you continue along, there are large, standing metal rectangles with names of lynching victims and the county they came from. Each rectangle, maybe twelve feet tall, has the name of the county and the names of the victims that could be found in the archives. As inscribed on the way along the path, these are the names that could be found, 4,400 of them. There are many more whose names could not be found. The path descends and the rectangles are hung from the huge ceiling until you are walking underneath hundreds of these heavy metal rectangles inscribed with names of people who were hung without trial or evidence. As I passed underneath my knees started giving out. They have benches to sit on. A few people were sitting down looking up. I wondered if they also felt they couldn’t walk. I didn’t ask. Speaking aloud felt sacrilege. 

I first heard of Bryan Stevenson when I was watching every TED talk I could as I was getting ready to do my own. He is one of those people who was born to do great things. A pied piper, almost holy. I sit in the great shadows of people like him and wonder what I should be doing? I need to find a job. The one I really wanted doesn’t seem to be coming through for me and I need to figure out how to make a simple living with a meaningful purpose. I was looking for inspiration on this trip. I had a long drive home to think about it. 

I spent that night in Montgomery, a city much nicer than I expected. I have so many judgements about the south. I was nervous about traveling there alone, afraid I’d see lots of confederate flags or some other signs that made me despair. But I saw none. I saw a beautiful city on a river, a city with a sordid history of injustice for sure. The museum is housed in a slave warehouse where slaves were shackled and brutalized until they could be sold. They were brought there by boat or train on a railroad the slaves were forced to build. The domestic slave trade I hadn’t really thought about. Spending time in Africa I’d always been focused on the transatlantic trade not realizing that after that was banned in 1808 we just bred our own. That kind of a history leaves it’s mark on a place. Whites were made wealthy on the backs of slaves and they did not want to give up that wealth or power. The civil war started there. I didn’t sense of anger or fear. I felt safe walking alone. I was struck with the thought that, wait a minute…all this talk about the country being divided because people feel they are being left behind is just hogwash. This culture of white supremacy is generational. Witnessing an attempt at making our country face it’s history of racial crimes and thus giving us a chance at redemption was incredibly humbling. I wondered what is being taught in schools there? Do they take field trips to this memorial? That someone had the energy and conviction to start this process in a loving and respectful way…what a model. If we can acknowledge our painful past in an honest way, maybe this country could lean a little more toward justice…what a dream.   

The next day I drove back to my friends’ Kathy and Michael in Tennessee. I’m so comfortable there. I was nurtured and fed and left early the next morning with the wonderful feeling of being loved.  I was heading for Pittsburgh to stay with friends from my old Peace Corps days and set Google Maps on my phone with their address. I had eight and a half hours of driving ahead and looked forward to catching up on my podcasts and finishing the book I’d been listing to. I just love road trips. I love being in motion and having some place to go. And, being alone, I find having that little voice telling me which exit to take reassuring. It had been a great trip but I was looking forward to heading north again. The weather was terrible. It poured rain through a lot of Kentucky then let up as I got into Ohio. It was slower going than I expected when my electronic traveling companion told me there was an accident on the highway ahead and I should turn off onto this country road to save thirty-one minutes. Isn’t that just amazing? How do they know that? Incredible, I thought, as I finished the book I was listening to. What incredible privilege I enjoy, smiling, now that I was on a smaller, prettier road without big trucks throwing spray in my face. I stuck an Alison Krause CD into the player thinking the last stretch of the trip would go faster as I sang along. George had made me the CD when we first got together and I’d been thinking of him a lot. Then my phone went black. The map, with it’s reassuring arrow on the blue line, disappeared. Hmm, I thought, maybe it’s tired. I know it’s charged. I’ll wait a bit. The voice just told me I’d be on this road for 68 miles so I’ve got time for her to rest. Well, the road ended and so did my phone. I could not get it to turn back on. I had another hour to Pittsburgh and had to navigate to their house with no directions. I stopped at a small gas station in a panic. I couldn’t even text to let them know I’d be late! The horror!! I ran into the little store and, thank God, there was a person under thirty at the counter. I said, “My phone died and I have no way to figure out how to get where I’m going!” The look on this girl’s face was just what I was hoping for. Sheer horror and pity. It was as if I’d told her one of my kids had died. Yes, I could read the map to get into Pittsburgh, but not to take the fifteen lefts and rights I needed to find their house. She pulled out her phone and asked for the address of where I was going. She typed it in and handed me her phone. I was incredibly relieved but my heart sunk when I saw the length of the instructions. I grabbed a sales slip out of my bag and started writing them down. I ran out of paper. Every time I touched her screen to scroll down it disappeared and she had to leave the pizza she was making to come back and fix it for me. I realized I was shaking as I was writing. I looked at the time on her phone and prayed it wouldn’t be dark by the time I got there. I would never be able to read all these road signs. And, bless goggle maps’s little heart, it doesn’t say “Take the third left” it just says “Go left on such and such street”, so how was I going to be able to do this without reading the signs or having that sweet little voice telling me how many more feet to go? Mom! I wanted my mom! (No idea why I wanted her, she was a terrible navigator, but I did.) I thought to ask this kind young person if I could use her phone to call my friend to say I’d be late, but no. I couldn’t do that because her number was on my phone, which, had betrayed me and died. Never even said goodbye. 

I got into Pittsburg at rush hour in the rain. I was getting a little panicky, partly because of being late, partly because of the coffee I had so stupidly drunk at three pm, and partly because I wondered how to communicate with everyone I usually text with. Would all communication be lost? Then worried again I’d never find their house. I reminded myself that runaway slaves had to grope the trees at night to feel the moss so they’d know which way was north. You’re being a sissy, I told myself. We used to travel like this all the time. It took an hour to go about two miles through the city traffic and it was dark by the time I took my exit into the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. I could barely read my writing on the sales slip and definitely could not see the road signs until it was too late to turn. I had to stop three times and ask people directions. Every one of them pulled out their phone. I pulled up to my friends’ house an hour and a half late, which, was kind of a lot when I was only staying an evening with people I hadn’t seen in years. I considered it a miracle.

Thursday it was to Vermont, super easy with only my paper atlas and knowing the road. I had a lovely visit with my cousin and 108 year old aunt who is another inspiration. Friday, I was anxious to get home as there’d been a huge storm the night before and I was worried about what I’d find. Long country roads took me back to a house with no heat but other than that my place was pretty much undamaged. The tremendous wind and rain left many trees down but mostly in the woods around my place. I was grateful I’d had the ones near the house removed last year and for the safe, familiar welcome.  And then realized I had no phone to call the plumber.

Love to all,

Linda