Sunday Morning ~ Dance is for Everyone

Sunday Morning ~ Dance is for Everyone

Gule ndi ali yense, kulakwa ndi kuthyola mwendo. ~ A dance is for everyone, but the wrong thing is to break your leg.

~ Chewa proverb

September 27, 2020

Hi Everyone,

The summer before my first year of college, my father sat me down to discuss finances. Well, calling it a discussion was a stretch. My father didn’t really discuss anything, though, he always advertised the encounter as such. They were more like declarations. He would tell us what time we were to be seated at the table, he in his captain’s chair, the one enduring his painfully drawn out proclamation sitting diagonally across in the smaller mate’s chair. It always took place after supper but never before the stock market report. Digesting the meal was problematic for the victim (me in this case) anticipating the familiar tete á tete, so it was best to eat lightly. Sometimes it would be sprung on us just as we were going out with friends. That was the worst. One never knew how long these would last. It would depend on his mood and how much he’d had to drink. Usually the more wine the better, but post prandial often meant only one glass and that was not a mood changer. The stock market report was also a factor. His stamina was impressive; it could last for hours. My friends were familiar with my family dynamic and knew not to wait around.

That summer I was happily getting ready to move out of the house and on to college. I couldn’t wait to eat a meal without being told what a disappointment I was and was looking forward to freedom. So when summoned to this financial meeting I took my seat, assuring myself these ego-crushing lectures were numbered. On a positive note, one never had to worry about having a response. He did all the talking and the subject’s role was to nod and agree with whatever he said. That was the quickest way to get to your evening plans. However, sometimes, depending on what I was being forced to agree to, I’d argue. This always came as a shock to him and would send the entire family scattering. That never went well. In my seventeen plus years I’d learned when to confront and when to submit. This took skill. Submission usually meant spending the tortured hour (at least) mentally problem solving how to work around his demands with the least possible damage and detection. I can nod and plan at the same time. 

The lecture often started with the same preamble: how hard he had to work to support us, how lucky we were that we had all the comforts we did, how he was discriminated against and worked from the time he could remember (he had to sell newspapers on the sidewalk for fifteen cents a week! A WEEK!). This would then merge into how ungrateful we all were, how we didn’t understand how hard he had it, on and on. If it had been in a softer tone it may have evoked some sympathy, but it was always angry, like he hated me for having an easier life even as he gave it to me. He was paying for college. That was never even questioned and I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t overly appreciative at the time. I felt like it was combat pay for getting through childhood in that house. I also worked since I was ten, taking over my brother’s paper route. I babysat from age eleven on and when I was fifteen got a job in a tailor shop downtown making $1.75 an hour. I loved that job. My father required all my earnings go into my savings account, an account with his name on it. The five of us had been warned that the first person saying, “That’s my money and I can do what I want with it.” will be kicked out of the house so fast “you won’t even know what happened!”  We silently acquiesced, I for one, thinking what a relief it would be to be kicked out of that house. The only money I kept was from babysitting, careful not to buy anything that would reveal my stash, which, was literally under the mattress concealed in a flimsily locked diary. I was told my bank account was for college so felt I was contributing, though never would have pointed that out. If you liked your job it wasn’t really a job. You were not suffering enough.  

On that August evening, plans with my friends on hold, I was given a list of all the college expenses I would be responsible for: books, fees, transportation, and food. This was three weeks before my first class. I said, “Ok, no problem.”  thinking, wow, that was easy. Then he erupted, “What do you mean NO PROBLEM?! You talk like you are making a million dollars!”  Uh oh. There’s a different agenda going on here. Danger. Shouldn’t ever think it’s going to be easy. I cautiously said, “What I have in the bank should cover all that.” He smugly sat back in his chair, raised his newspaper and smirked, “You can’t use that money.” 

I cannot describe how much I hated this man. The goalpost was always moving, rules never clear, and sabotage always around the corner. He had utter control and enjoyed watching the destruction his bombs created. The realization sunk in that my last three weeks home would now be an anxiety ridden mess figuring out how to earn more money quickly. I stood up, resolved not to break, and left to meet my friends, making sure I was out of sight before i started crying.

Extra babysitting was easy to come by then so I was able to earn extra cash. I planned to eat as little as possible and never come home. That would eliminate transportation costs. I kept my last few paychecks from the seamstress job, and got another babysitting job once I got to school. People in my college neighborhood had well stocked fridges so night time babysitting meant I could eat there and get homework done. I would never admit defeat but I didn’t flaunt success either. It was a stealth game and it always irked him that he couldn’t flatten me, though in later years, he respected me for it. 

I spent years recovering from growing up with a man who hated women and thought he was indestructible. I think of this now for obvious reasons. Perhaps my past is what gives me my sense of optimism that creatures like him bring about their own downfall, which, in his arrogance, he did. Survival and thriving means finding a support system, learning how to get around sudden roadblocks, keeping our energy up, and relishing the sweet reward whenever that becomes ours. And it will. 

There’s a way through, always. Plan. Be strong. Don’t give up.

Love to all,

Linda   

Sunday Morning ~ New Shoots

Sunday Morning ~ New Shoots

Bango likauma, libber linzace. ~ When one reed becomes dry, another one shoots out.

~ Chewa proverb

September 20, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’m sitting on a small cliff overlooking Cobscook Bay. The sun just came over the horizon, the tide is going out, the campfire is blazing, and the water is boiling. I’ve got my tea and that makes my morning about perfect. It’s the last day of summer, though you’d never know that by the temperature. My tent is just behind me and on this cold morning it was an effort to get out of my toasty sleeping bag. But I could sense the sun about to break over the distant trees and needed to be out here to feel it’s first light.

I was lucky to get this spot. I arrived at the ranger station an hour before they opened hoping to nab a spot on the water. A ranger pulled up in a truck and asked if I needed help. I told him I wanted a campsite which, I know are first-come-first-serve. He told me I could drive around and see which are free, “But” he said, “ I know number thirty is open and it’s a nice one for tent only.” I drove through the quiet park to number thirty. I had to walk through a bit of woods from the car, up over an outcropping of rocks, onto a peninsula that jutted out into the bay.  I caught my breath and ran back to the car to save my spot as first in line. What a sweet birthday gift it would be to get that spot. When other cars started pulling in I decided to go stand by the window, masked and cold in the drizzling rain, but determined there would be no question about who was first.  

I got the site, gleefully set up my tent in the rain, covered all my other gear with plastic, and went back to the car to explore the area. There are plenty of coastal trails to hike and the forecast was for clearing. I walked for miles in the grey, windy drizzle but the coast is always gorgeous no matter what weather. I was back at camp well before sunset and as I cooked my supper the clouds started breaking up. I ate amid the most glorious light performance. It was a great start to the next year of my life. I thought of my mother, who hated camping but would have been happy if I was happy. I looked around for a sign she was with me but didn’t find one, so thanked her knowing she’s out there somewhere.  

When it was dark and I saw the first few stars, I crawled into my tent to read until the book got bleary, listening to the calm water and loons calling, and slept like a baby. I hadn’t angled the tent flap appropriately to watch the sun rise from my sleeping bag, so got up early and lit a fire. Sunrise with tea. I sat for awhile, taking in how quickly those rays could warm me, happy, and thought I’d check my cell phone and see if there were any birthday messages to make my morning even better. The first one I saw was a cryptic group thread saying how bad this year was going, and on Rosh Hashanah no less. I panicked. What? What happened now? I scrolled and found voicemails and other texts with the news. My heart fell, sinking into the rocks I was sitting on. 

I’ve always been as fascinated with the passage from this life as with the passage into it. I worked as a hospice nurse before going to midwifery school and find the experiences similar. I’ve thought about how death gives meaning to life and how cognizant I was of minute details every time I was with a person who had just passed. I remember standing on the doorstep of a family’s home to direct the coroner to the house. It was after midnight in a rough neighborhood and I remember watching how the streetlights reflected on the cars as if it were magic. I looked at the scroll of peeling paint on the railing. I watched the doctor get out of his car and thought how big his eyebrows were as he looked at house numbers. I wondered if he kept his clothes laid out next to his bed for times like this. I wondered at myself for wondering all this as a young woman riddled with cancer lay stiff in her bed, her mother wailing in the living room. I’d had to tell her she was gone.  

I recollected while absorbing the magnitude of the loss for our country now. I watched the dry wood catch fire and thought about how amazing it is to strike a match and have it burn. I put the matchbook back in my pocket with the toilet paper. I put milk from a nearby farm in my tea and wondered why it hadn’t separated. I noticed the water boiled almost as fast as it does in my electric kettle at home and wondered why some fires are hotter than others. I looked at how huge the tides are here. I thought about how the tide doesn’t care who died. I thought about the power she had. Was it like the tide? Could I somehow relate the two? I thought about the collective gasp of horror that rose when the news broke. I thought how strange it is that one person should carry that kind of weight and wondered what it felt like to her. I thought of her like an ant, so tiny, so strong. 

I admit I have been frustrated with all the handwringing the past few years with every new illness. I’d cringe at what was at stake. Why not be calculated in handing it over to a protege with fewer health problems? There was a tiny window, but nothing was guaranteed and who could have known what would happen. It’s no use thinking about that now. Face it. We’re here, left to pick up and carry her torch on the path she paved for us. We have the power and she knew that. She is an angel on our shoulders now. Face it. 

I drove to Reversing Falls and walked along the coast, in and out of denial. Reversing Falls is formed by a narrows separating two bays where the water current reverses with the tides. The Passamaquoddy called this “Place of boiling water”. When the tides are changing the outcropping of rocks beneath the water and the change of directional flow make it look like the water is boiling. I sat and painted on a rock in the sun, the water boiling all around me, and thought, yes, things can be so different from how they appear. I thought of how my perception of this country has been shrouded by unrealistic notions of goodness and reality is now sinking in. I felt the same way as my marriage ended. This can’t be happening as it most certainly was. Then I thought of how everything got better when I accepted reality and worked with what I’d got. I wondered how we let so many women’s lives rest on the shoulders of this one woman, now gone at the worst possible time. 

I watched the boiling, roiling water and wondered how many brilliant women like her had been exterminated in the camps? That thought led me to think of what a strange species we are for all the reasons that make no sense to survival. 

I thought I’m happy I believe in angels. It’s comfort now.

Rest In Peace and thank you. We’ll take it from here. We’ve got this. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ All in Good Time

Sunday Morning ~ All in Good Time

Cikacita mang’a, cileke, mawa cituluka. ~ When it shows a crack, just leave it alone, tomorrow it will come out.

~ Chewa proverb

September 13, 2020

Hi Everyone,

A calm has come over me this week. The anxiety I carry about our future has been building to the point where I felt short of breath and panicky on a daily basis. Taking a break from the news and being with my granddaughter has been the healthiest thing in the world. I know California is burning and our Democracy is on the brink of extinction, but this week thoughts of impending doom were relegated to some distant corner of semi-reality. 

Amelia and I took a little camping trip to Moosehead Lake, 118 square miles of fresh water in the northern Maine woods. Forty miles long, it’s the largest lake in New England and a landmark in Maine I’d not visited. Living on this beautiful Island and working at a job requiring me to be constantly available, kept me close to home when I wasn’t traveling internationally. It’s time to explore the parts of Maine I’ve ignored. The drive north was dotted with Biden signs, a reassuring sign in a part of the state known for it’s conservatism. The sun shone, roadside stands displayed pretty stacks of vegetables, traffic was minimal, and I had good company. We sang songs. I pretended everyone could do this. We lived in a fantasy world for a few days. 

As we drove through Monson, the beginning of the 100 mile wilderness on the Appalachian Trail, I thought about a friend who had through-hiked the trail several times. My last text from him was at the end of July telling me to enjoy the canoe trip. He was being treated for pancreatic cancer and said he was feeling better and was hopeful about the new treatment. I told him I was glad, but wondered. He died last week. I let the unfairness pass over me like a wave, thought about his pragmatic spirit, and resolved to embrace whatever goodness there is in this life.  

The state park we were heading for was on the lakeshore. I’d tried all summer to get a reservation there but none were available until this week, and even then I could only get two nights. It seems everyone was heading for the woods. Embrace. I taught Amelia how to set up the tent, how to blow up the sleeping pads, and stake the rain fly. She told me she was excited and nervous to sleep in the woods. She wondered if bears would come. I told her the tent looks like a very big animal so nothing would bother us but there would be no nightlight. When we finished reading the light had to go out or every insect in the woods would be attracted to us. That made seven year-old sense. We spent the afternoon at the lake (sort of) swimming. The water was warmer than I expected but still cold so up to my knees was all I could manage. She, however, was all fish until the shivering made her retreat to the towel. We went back to our site and lit a fire, ready for the next lesson: campfire cooking. The woman next to us came over, socially distanced, to introduce herself and ask if we needed anything. She saw it was a “girls” outing and wanted to let us know they were well equipped if we were short of supplies. Lovely and considerate. We thanked her and told her we’d come over if we found ourselves in trouble. We cooked our pasta, cleaned up, let the fire die out, too full for marshmallows, and got ready for bed.

Next morning we packed up and drove 20 miles north up the western shore of the lake to the boat launch that would take us to Mt. Kineo, an impressive mountain with a side of sheer cliffs, situated on an island. I had hiking on my agenda and Amelia struck a deal that she’d hike the mountain as long as I went swimming afterward. “All the way in.” she demanded. I agreed, thinking it was an easier concession than my own kids would have demanded. They usually wanted something like toys or candy. This I could commit to, even though I hate swimming in cold water. An uncomplaining partner on a hike, however, is worth it. 

We arrived in time for the eleven o’clock boat, to discover it’s cash only and the fee was about quadruple what I expected. I didn’t have enough money on me and wasn’t sure I’d have time to find an ATM. Arriving at the same time were a couple from Wisconsin, lamenting the chilly temperature. I asked if they knew of an ATM close by? They didn’t but offered to pay our boat fare. I said I couldn’t let them do that, but they said, “No really, we have plenty of cash.”  I’m telling you, the world is full of wonderful people. We just don’t hear enough about them and I am determined to tell their stories. I found out there was an ATM just up the road and had time to run there, get cash, and get back in time, but that couple put a smile on my face the rest of the week. I was sure to let them know that.

Amelia made good on her end of the deal with nary a complaint and on the boat ride back she reminded me of mine. I told her I wouldn’t think of reneging on my end and she looked smug as she planned the itinerary. “You have to stay in as long as I tell you.” which, I didn’t remember as part of the deal, but acquiesced because I imagined having some control would feel good as a child, something I certainly never experienced when I was seven. It was emotionally satisfying, though physically painful, to hear her squeal with laughter as I forced myself to submersion in water that would have been a bit cold for me to drink. 

Driving home a physical calm came upon me. It was like some divine swaddling of reassurance that we would all be ok. I wondered if the woods could really have that much power, but it was more than that. I don’t know what the future holds but believe somehow in our collective good. Not in a passive naive way, more in a way that makes me feel like all this effort will be worth it. Maybe it was the Biden signs, maybe it was the dose of childhood wisdom, maybe the decision to let go of relationships dragging me down. Or maybe it’s just the Lyme is gone and I feel better, but I feel lighter and ready to face the challenges again. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Glad Game

Sunday Morning ~ The Glad Game

Madzi adzala, mlamba usekera. ~ The waters become plentiful because of all the side rivers.

~ Chewa proverb

September 6, 2020

Hi Everyone,

My granddaughter is with me for two weeks, her delayed start of school turned problem into gift for me. It is such a balm having her here. I have been craving human contact, a hug or even a handshake would be nice, so being with her for two weeks of endless cuddling is the healthiest, most healing thing possible. If ever an event could illuminate the importance of therapeutic touch, this is it. 

Amelia has an impressive movie inventory at her disposal. She could play all the leads, knowing scripts by heart and able to perform with flair. I regaled her with stories about my childhood movie experience: We could watch them only when the networks decided to show them, usually once a year, AND we had to be ready at the time they started. That meant, dinner done, pajamas on, channel and seats chosen. She looked at me wide eyed. “You could only watch Frozen once a year?” she asked incredulously. I told her Frozen wasn’t a movie then but the movies I loved were only shown once a year. She asked which movies I loved? Wizard of Oz was a biggie, but my favorite was Pollyanna. She’d never heard of it. I wanted to show her an alternative to the animated musical extravaganzas she adores and thought watching it together would be fun. I tried Netflix but it isn’t there. I checked the actual brick and mortar library but they didn’t have it either. I thought I would have to buy the DVD but that meant Amazon which I have been boycotting. A big dilemma.

My neighbor invited us to a campfire Monday so Amelia and I masked up and walked over there to sit as far away as possible from the two other women and still be able to toast marshmallows. We started talking about movies and I told them I wanted to watch Pollyanna with Amelia, a movie they probably never even heard of. They told me of course they’d seen it! The Glad Game! They loved all the Haley Mills movies! I found this so sweet and incredibly reassuring to hear affinity for feel-good entertainment is something we share in the neighborhood. I’m clinging to shared values anywhere I can find them. Amelia got more excited with such a ringing endorsement from women closer to her age than mine. 

We walked home in the full moonlight determined to figure out how to watch that movie. I braced myself for a day of figuring it out, subscribing to a service I didn’t want, prepared to pay whatever it cost. I set aside the whole day Friday to work on it. This is how inept I am at passive entertainment. I am completely dependent on my children for this. I’ve had boyfriends willing and able but they come and go and are currently gone. I was determined to become self-sufficient. I can build my own house I should be able to find a movie to watch. A friend told me all the Disney movies are now on Disney Plus which Amelia excitedly told me she could get on her iPad. That made me feel foolish and a poor provider but it saved me a whole day of fretting. I said we’d check it out after all our other activities. I had built this movie up to be the epitome of entertainment and I started getting worried it would flop. I hadn’t seen it in at least fifty years. I started thinking it probably moves slow and she’d get bored. I, of course, wanted her to love the movie as much as I did. Wanted her to go through life looking at the bright side. Maybe even dissuade her from sneaking out at night in the future. We talked about it all day Friday. As we hiked a lakeside path to swim off the rocks, she asked more questions about what life was like when I was her age. “How old were you when you first saw Pollyanna?” she wanted to know. I told her I was about her age. I told her what it was like to negotiate with my brothers about what we would watch in the evenings as everyone had to watch the same thing. There was only one TV and three stations to choose from. This struck her as the depths of deprivation. (I wonder if we learned better negotiating skills because of that?)

Friday evening, after we’d eaten and cleaned up, Amelia handed me her iPad. She showed me where Disney Plus was, I typed in Pollyanna, and there it was! Yup, 1960. That was it. I saw it was a two hour and fifteen minute commitment. Do attention spans even last that long now? I felt both ridiculous and ecstatic. I was literally getting my credit card out but all we had to do was hit play. Miraculous. The only problem was we had to watch it on her iPad. When I lamented this to my daughter she said, “Mum, your TV is not much bigger than her iPad, c’mon.”  Which is sort of accurate. Then she wanted to watch it in bed. I reluctantly agreed with the understanding it was a big concession for me. I insist on eating meals at the table and watching whatever in the study. But as Amelia said, “It’s Covid! We need to be flexible!” And the idea of just turning out the light and going to sleep was appealing. And if she got bored and fell asleep I wouldn’t have to carry her upstairs. I’m going soft. 

The movie has held up well!  Amelia loved it, laughed a lot (which thrilled me), and buried her head in my shoulder when the old man caught them sneaking around his house. I cried at the end (as I always did), and we both raved over the costumes. The acting is silly and mediocre, but in keeping with the period, so forgivable. I was struck by how airbrushed the sticky situations were but found it a relief from real life right now. I was horrified when the doctor carried her downstairs like a bride. She had a spinal cord injury for God’s sake! Couldn’t they make that scene a little more realistic? But otherwise, seeing everyone come together for a cause (and orphans no less), standing up to a bully (philanthropic but controlling), and melting hearts, well, it has given us lots to talk about. Amelia asked what my favorite part was. I had to think about it, but said my favorite part of the movie was that they showed how powerful one little girl can be. She changed a whole town just by being kind and finding good things to focus on. Then she asked what was my least favorite part? I said, that she was climbing a tree at night in slippery shoes and didn’t get inside the window and make herself more secure before reaching for that doll. She listened intently then asked, “Wait, did that really happen?”

News blackout this week. Bliss. 

Love to all,

Linda   

Sunday Morning~ Feeding Ourselves

Sunday Morning ~ Feeding Ourselves 

Pa thindi nkhwali, mkango uli pomwepo. ~ The partridge is in the tall grass, and so is the lion.

~ Chewa proverb

August 30, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Basic human needs: 1. Food, water, warmth, rest. 2. Safety and security. 3. Relationships, sense of belonging. 4. Self esteem. 5. Self actualization. Maslow maintained that each level must be attained before the next can be accomplished. We cannot care about anything else if we are starving; food and water are imperative. Once nourished, warm and rested, then our basic need is to feel safe. Teaching this in Malawi required me to delve to a deeper understanding in order to explain how to apply it to caring for people. Having to articulate something you’ve incorporated for years without thinking, gives a new perspective. Doing this for people for whom English was not their first language and whose needs were much more basic than my own, highlighted the hierarchy even more. Self actualization is reserved for few.

When we were heading to Africa for Peace Corps in 1979 many people worried about our safety. (2. Safety and security.) It was when Idi Amin was in the news a lot, a ruthless dictator in Uganda, one country on continent comprising fifty-four. My response was, if you only knew the United States by what you hear on the news, would you ever come here? Ever feel safe? That usually ended the conversation. At the time, Central Park in New York was equal to the front lines of war. The news made it sound like very few came out of there alive. Bussing in Boston (where I lived) was creating tension and violence, to put it mildly. Yet, people in New York and Boston worried about us going to Malawi. Interesting. They somehow felt safe enough in those cities to worry about us. 

Attending college in Boston I was well aware of dangers in certain neighborhoods. I took a self defense course because, you know, I was a woman and therefore fair prey. I didn’t walk around alone at night and avoided certain places altogether. But I don’t remember constantly fearing for my safety, I just adapted my behavior. Our system accommodated my adaptation. I was able to finish my education without feeling threatened. I could apply for jobs which would enable me to feed and clothe myself (1. Food, water, warmth, and rest). But remove that systemic safety net and then what? There is no safety and security, and if that need is not met, we can’t move up.

More and more I feel we are dangerously approaching a culture of constant fear for our safety. When a guy from my hometown I barely know, writes threatening comments on Facebook in response to a comment saying police who shoot an unarmed person in the back seven times should be held accountable, well, we are in deep trouble my friends. The good scenario is they are exposing themselves and when we do restore some sanity in our society we can address their threats. The other scenario? Too scary. 

There are more of us, and though it may be unrealistic optimism on my part, I believe we will get through this dark time. First, we need to feed ourselves, even if that means risking the lion to hunt the partridge.  

Love to all, 

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Hearts of Our Neighbors

Sunday Morning ~ The Hearts of Our Neighbors

Mtima wa mnzako n’tsidya lija. ~ The heart of your neighbor is on the other side of the river.

~ Chewa proverb

August 23, 2020

Hi Everyone,

The first Democratic convention I listened to in it’s entirety was in 1984. I felt like everything was at stake in that election. We were renting a drafty shack of a house where the dog’s water would freeze on the kitchen floor in the winter. I was making six dollars and twelve cents an hour as a visiting nurse in the slums of Holyoke, Massachusetts. I had three little kids and was putting my husband through school. Life was hard, I thought. When my husband came home from class he left our old Volkswagen running in the driveway. I’d be standing with my coat on in the doorway ready to run out to go to work. We couldn’t afford a babysitter so he took morning classes and I worked evenings. One time we were talking with one of his professors and he told us about his days of being in graduate school when he and his wife lived like us. All elbow patches and pipe tobacco, living in a comfortably heated large home in Amherst, chuckling as he spoke, he said to us, “You know, my wife and I often look back and say those were the best days of our lives.”  I looked at him in horror and said, “Please don’t tell us it’s downhill from here.”  I prayed that election would bring more equity to people in our situation. We had to borrow the money for Joe’s education, couldn’t buy or even rent a comfortable house, couldn’t afford child care, and we fought a lot. We got through it, but it wasn’t quaint or romantic. Our kids are probably still scarred. 

I’d recently been to my tenth high school reunion and was shocked at the number of my classmates who were supporting Reagan, someone I considered the antichrist. My big focus was the ERA and with that some reasonable child care and decent pay for me. I could not understand how any woman would vote for a candidate who did not support that, let alone actively block it. I remember the convention night when Mondale spoke. He was a good man, not charismatic, but a smart decent man who would have made a smart decent president. We didn’t have a television; I listened on the radio, the idea of live stream was science fiction. Ted Kennedy spoke before Mondale, riveting and passionate, speaking for everything I believed in. I paced around the room pumped by what he said. I worried Mondale would fall flat after that. It was as if his speech was going to win the election. He was trailing in the polls by huge numbers and I wanted to believe this speech alone would turn things around. He didn’t let me down. He spoke from the heart about how he could help the majority in our country and I surely thought anyone listening would agree. I was sure the polls must be wrong. Everyone would surely climb aboard the equality train. 

Well, after that depressing defeat I remember looking at my perfect little children, those faces I just wanted to smother with kisses all day long, those cuddly little bodies tucked into crooks in my elbows as I read to them. I’d look at them and try to picture them as adults and think, “What if they turn into republicans?” I mean, I don’t vote like my father! Holy shit! I was not going to let that happen! We took them to marches for women’s rights in Washington, played only NPR on the radio, had elevated conversations at the dinner table as they grew, and felt confident they’d mature with open minds and hearts. But still I worried. All those outside influences. Raising them Catholic brought questions from friends of mine who focused on the church’s stance on abortion and homosexuality. We’d spend many Sunday’s driving home from mass telling the kids we didn’t agree with what the priest said. They’d ask, “Then why do we have to go?”  We’d explain that even though we don’t agree with everything, there are many aspects of the Catholic culture we value and don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. No one has to buy the whole bundle. We told them when they turned eighteen they could decide if they wanted to continue to go to church. No one would force them or even persuade them. There is a difference between religion and cult. We have a choice. We can leave if we want to. We can question and criticize, understanding that change comes slowly to ancient traditions.

When we lived in Samoa our neighbors and friends belonged to a religion we struggled to understand. They told us they were questioning their faith and one Sunday they decided not to attend services.  By eleven a.m. there were six cars in their driveway with maybe twenty people pouring out of them. They circled their house to find out why they hadn’t gone to church. Those cars came every day until they returned to services as encouraged (instructed?). Whoa man. That gave me some insight into why people continue to follow what they’ve been taught. Freedom vs coercion. Those people went back to their church and I struggled to understand why. They described themselves as libertarians, didn’t believe in immunization, thought breast cancer was a hoax, and yet, they belonged to a church that controlled so much of their daily activities. We were friends and I really liked them! They were loving parents, smart, generous toward others, but had been brought up with a belief system they could not extract themselves from. Participant or hostage? I don’t know what happened to them. We lost touch after we all went our separate ways. It seems though, as they started to question, they may have begun the process of moving on. I wonder. In my research about cults I learned the first step in leaving is questioning. I’m focused on this now as I believe so many in the republican party now belong to a cult. It’s fascinating.  

I watched the Democratic Convention this week. I’ve listened to all of them since 1984 except for 2008 when I was in Congo. I thought about how different my life is now, how comfortable I am, how grateful I am for that. I wondered how anyone in my position would not want that for their fellow citizens? I was so proud to be under this diverse umbrella. The stakes are so high now it makes 1984 quaint by comparison. I let myself go down the fantasy track of what the world might be like if the ’84 election had turned out differently. I wondered why I was so focused on an election that turned out so badly. Am I prepping myself, I wondered? I felt the same anxiety for Kamala Harris as I did for Mondale, having to follow a speech as powerful. As I watched and listened, I slowly let out the breath I’d been holding. I thought, why was I so nervous? I already support her. I admire her. She can handle herself. I realized it was because I was worried about enduring the incessant criticism, the scrutiny, the sound-bite pettiness, the woman-bashing, the audacity of anyone different claiming their justified place at the front. I am under no illusion that this convention turned the hearts of those who disagree. If my brothers watched it, it was only to mock what they saw. I’m torn between the enthusiasm I feel for those willing to put their lives out there to help our country move toward justice and equality and the sadness I feel for those who promote the hatred. We don’t know the heart of our neighbor, really. But we can question what in life brought us to where we are and whether that is truly who we want to be. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ A Different View

Sunday Morning ~ A Different View

Cakudya cimodzimodzi sicinonetsa. ~ One kind of food does not make you fat.

~Chewa proverb

August 16, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’ve lived and worked in a few different cultures and the idea of being fat has different connotations. In our culture the commonly accepted form of “beauty” as promoted by advertisers, is thinness. But elsewhere in the world, being fat is beautiful. I was mocked in Samoa for being too thinly unattractive. The nurses used to say to me, “Doesn’t your husband want a better mattress?”  They were always trying to pop pieces of fried dough in my mouth. They are the largest race of people in the world and they did not view small, white skinned people as beautiful. The fact that we colonized their beautiful island probably had something to do with their perception of our attractiveness as well, but size was important. 

I think about opposite viewpoints as I grapple with understanding how our country got to where we are, how people I used to respect, maybe even admire, are now so far gone down the cultish political hole I can barely remember who they were. It’s terrifying to me. Being too young to really understand what was happening in Vietnam at the time, I’ve felt sandwiched between tragic world events and, though have had my share of hardships, have lived a blessed and privileged life. Stories of war time heroines fascinated me but I could no more imagine myself in that role than I could be Cleopatra. It was serious fantasy of an era long past. I think I truly believed that past conflicts and travesties happened because humans were not educated or informed in a way we are now. I think of the line from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication.” I always liked that line and thought that’s why that story went down the way it did. But here we are, watching our democracy being dismantled before our eyes and I find myself wondering, is this what it was like for them? What if Ann Frank was not the only one to keep a journal? Would we have been better able to relate if we’d learned a few different perspectives first hand? 

The proverb alludes to, fat, being a good thing, requires many kinds of food. One can not become healthy and beautiful without variety and balance. Extrapolate that out to life and a variety of opinions, careers, forms of entertainment, colors, weathers, landscapes, all make us a rich and healthier nation. But to what extreme? I in no way believe the cult forming now will succeed or survive; there are too many of us who will not give up the protest. Though history is bizarrely repeating itself in the most evil manner, history also shows us that steady and sustained protests are the only way to bring this insanity to a halt. I guess there is comfort there but also trepidation, knowing the price that many pay for their protest. I am digging deep to question how much I am willing to sacrifice. Time and money are easy, injury and death, not so much. What are we each called to do? 

I’ve had several dreams this week, vivid ones, about having lost something. One was my car. I trudged miles in my subconscious looking for the car I knew I had left in a certain spot. I was exhausted by the time I woke, still carless. This morning I dreamt I lost my grandchildren. I’d let them run ahead of me in a city, believing they were safe. I had to navigate a huge area of construction and got confused about which way they had gone. I was frantic and ran around every building looking for something familiar that might lead to them. I heard my granddaughter crying, explaining to some adult that they’d lost me and we reunited before I woke. I walked around the garden this morning wondering what I’m looking for that is giving me these recurring themes in my dreams. I was calmed by the fact that today’s loss was resolved before waking. I didn’t have the lingering anxiety where I have to reassure myself over and over that it was just a dream. Lord knows there’s already enough anxiety going around. 

Yesterday I went for a hike with friends in an area I had not explored before, off the island and further west. I thought it would be an easy hike being a little snobbish about having the National Park in my backyard. I was wrong. The hike was more strenuous than I imagined, and though less crowded, took some effort. My blueberry muffin was definitely not enough fuel. When we arrived at the summit, I was stunned by the view looking back toward home. It was magical, a perspective I’d not experienced before. I was discouraged by how much the hike took out of me, still tired from the Lyme and unable to eat much because of the treatment, but I was grateful for the stunning new view. It makes me consider the value in looking at things from different angles, being more open to new perspectives and possibilities, while staying focused on the common goal.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Stones In The River

Sunday Morning ~ Stones In The River

Mtsinje wopanda miyala  sasunga madzi. ~ A river without stones does not keep water. 

~ Chewa proverb

August 9, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’m home, humbled, grateful, chastened, sunburnt, and awed. Turns out, you need some skill in a canoe to maneuver around stones and rocks, especial when that canoe is weighed down with gear for five nights of camping. I didn’t consider weight. I thought the boat would take care of all that. Also, there is a fair amount of skill and experience required for “reading” the river. Yes, the river will tell you where stones are if know how to read it. Let’s just say it was a steep learning curve and there is plenty of green paint on stones marking our path.

I know the basics of paddling. I can move the canoe forward, slow it down and generally get it to go in the direction I want. My experience in a canoe consists of leisurely paddles down a calm river to pick cranberries, youthful outings with boyfriends on some protected pond somewhere, and full moon excursions with girlfriends on a calm night. My expectations were a tad off. I didn’t fully grasp the consequences of low water levels. I thought that meant we had a lower chance of drowning, not that we’d be maneuvering between two big rocks three feet apart in swift water. There was plenty of excitement, and honestly, I loved every minute of it with the absolute understanding that it was not my skill that got us through it. It was Nancy’s. She was way more stressed than I was. I’m hoping the good meals were payback. She said in the car on the way home yesterday that if she’d known how hard it was going to be she wouldn’t have gone. I asked her if she were glad she did, and she said, “Oh yes! I loved it. But I don’t think I would have done it had I known.” Well there. I guess the same could be said of marriage and parenthood. 

We picked the busiest week on the river in the driest year in a century. Oh, and throw in a hurricane on Tuesday night, then searing hot days with baking sun while taking an antibiotic that makes you prone to burning. (I advise anyone taking doxycycline to heed that warning. If you’d like I can send you a photo of the second degree burns on the sides of my fingers.) This is not to say the trip was not fun. It far exceeded my fun prediction. It was thrilling and exquisitely beautiful. The inevitable discomforts are part of the experience, they were just different discomforts than I envisioned. I was much more worried about being wet and capsizing. There was also an element of tension and pressure as the campsites are first come first serve and most of the other paddlers were half our age and a lot faster. 

Last Sunday, Norm, the outfitter where we rented our canoe said there were many fewer big groups this year because of the pandemic, but lots more smaller groups. Families were doing this trip as opposed to bigger camp groups. It made for a lot of congestion in certain spots, like Churchill Dam which is about a third of the way into the wilderness waterway and the starting point for many, including us. They open the dam from Churchill Lake from eight until noon every morning, giving the first four miles of rapids more water. The ranger there will transport your gear to the other side of the rapids for a ten dollar fee so you can do the rapids in an empty canoe. Almost everyone uses that service, though we saw a couple go through with all their stuff looking like the boat was empty and they were having a ball. They’d done that before and totally knew what they were doing, both looking like they’d trained for the olympics. I was not about to compare myself, though I was envious of their skill. Our friends and companions, Karen and Dave went through the rapids, but they have been doing this for decades and Karen was an outward bound instructor and again, I was not about to compete. Nancy and I had the ranger transport us as well as our gear. We hadn’t paddled together yet and as she put it, who needs more stress? Norm had said to us the night before, “There’s no shame in taking the portage.” and Nancy gave me a looked that said, “See?”  It was his canoe we were taking and I guess he cared about it. He regaled us with horror stories about canoes breaking in half. I was like, “Okay, okay, I get it.” Then when I watched a few of the boats go through I thought, thank God we didn’t do that. Maybe I’ll do it another time, but this was not the week to be a show off. I was just starting to feel myself again after treating the Lyme disease and was willing to admit I didn’t have it in me. So we took the ride from the ranger, found Karen and Dave soaking wet and telling us we made the right decision, then loaded up our canoes, and set off at Bissonette Bridge where the rapids are not actually finished yet. We had another couple miles of them, and though not as challenging as the first ones, it was definitely a hairy way to start off learning how we are together in a canoe. We hit a few rocks but didn’t capsize! I thought that was good! I got used to Nancy barking orders at me, was actually grateful for it, though could tell, she didn’t think this was funny, or maybe even fun. I heard her mutter, “I wish we’d started out on a lake.” I did not comment as I was the one who talked her into this and felt responsible. She’d done this trip before with her partner when there was a lot more water and fewer exposed rocks. They’d also had a guide and a lot of experience paddling together. I was falling way short. Better to be quiet and do as I was told. Once we got through that, which we did without capsizing (a big hooray in my book), we then had to contemplate the number of people vying for campsites as a storm threatened to dump three to five inches of rain with twenty to thirty mile per hour winds.

The ranger in a motor-powered canoe was going up and down the river checking on people telling them which campsites were open. I thought that was very considerate of him. We had to paddle way past were we’d planned to stop that night to get to the first free spot. (More grumbling from the back of the canoe.) I love storms and was looking forward to lots more water in the river but was not liking the possibility of a tree falling on the tent. It’s funny, we all had different anxieties. “What if lightening hits the metal tent pole?” “The trees would fall on us first!” “I hate packing wet tents.” “What if we can’t move for a whole day?” The olympic couple showed up at our site shortly after us as they’d been thinking of staying there too. We decided it was big enough for all of us so shared their company that night. They seemed to me like good people to be with in a hurricane. And he had a fishing pole, which, at the time, I found very reassuring. The wind was kicking up as we set up our tents and put the tarp over the ridge pole so we could eat in a dry space. I tied my tent to surrounding trees and asked them kindly not to fall on me. Nancy built a fire and I cooked lobster risotto. Dave shared the beer he brought. We sat on the high bank and watched the clouds gather, listened to the loons calling, and I relished the moment with absolute contentment and gratitude. There is nothing that comes close to the feeling of having found a safe harbor and a secure spot for the night.

I woke several times during the night when the wind gusts were coming at us like a train. They shook the tent but the heavy rain never came. It rained lightly and sporadically, but in the end we only got about a half inch according to the ranger. By daybreak when I went to sit on the river to paint, the clouds were breaking up, the wind dying down, and small specks of blue sky were peeking through. No layover for us! We did take our time in the morning breaking camp, cooking a big breakfast, and letting the tents dry out. It was after nine when we started out for the day, thinking there were so many campsites at Round Pond we’d have no trouble finding a spot. We were wrong. So we had another day to paddle more than an hour and a half longer than we wanted to find an empty spot. And that spot was in the middle of a set of rapids which, I really would have preferred to do in the morning. But as afternoon wore on and we got more tired and hot I would have done anything to get to a campsite. I was very happy to come around a bend and see Dave and Karen on shore waving their arms with thumbs up in front of an empty site. Hallelujah. We unloaded, set up camp, took a gorgeous swim in the eerily warm river, ate a beautiful supper, and sat watching for moose as the sun was setting. Heaven. We did not see a moose but we did see a group of ten college students coming through the rapids toward us. They pulled in and asked to share our site as every one they’d stopped at was full, something we already knew. Ugh. This was hard. It was a small site and was already full with our three tents. There wasn’t room for five more tents, though we could have fit them in an emergency. There was another site less than two miles away and we politely told them it really wouldn’t work to have them with us. We were old, it was a pandemic, it was a small site, etc. They reluctantly got back in their canoes, put on headlamps and kept going. I worried about them, wondering if we should have just sucked it up and squeezed them in. I said a prayer for them as I was falling asleep, envisioning them in a bigger campsite to themselves just a short paddle away. The next morning as we set off, back into the rapids with low water and lots of maneuvering I felt worse and worse that we sent them away. I can not imagine doing those rapids when I was tired and it was getting dark. When we passed the next site we saw them, five canoes stacked up on shore, a few of them sitting on the river bank. I yelled, “I’m glad you are ok!” but could imagine them hoping we’d capsize in front of them. 

After the initial rapids that day, the paddling was much less rigorous. The sun, which was not in our faces but must have reflected off the water, was harsh. My lips burned like never before. I had a hat, long sleeves, gloves, and sunblock but must have missed my lips. Holy cow. Mental note not to get shipwrecked. 

I lost count of the times during the week I said, “This is so beautiful.” We watched lots of eagles and osprey circling above us, kingfishers darting around, and families of ducks and mergansers. We always had our eyes out for moose and the last day we saw a young one, standing in the shallow water all alone. I assumed the cow was nearby, but she chose not to reveal herself. In our campsite one evening we were entertained by a group of nighthawks that swooped around and through our site like the blue angels. Bats were flying between them. I could have stayed there forever. 

At Allagash Falls we had to portage about a quarter mile on a nice trail which took three trips for gear and one for the canoe. That took over an hour and gave our entire bodies a workout. After that the water level in the river really dropped. For short distances we had to get out and walk the canoe over some very shallow spots, then get back in and feel that sweet balance as the current took us. I would look ahead and see nothing but stones and think we are never going to get through there. We’ll have to walk the entire way! But as we got closer, a channel became more evident and the way through became clear and we would float through with Nancy’s skill and my enthusiasm. It seemed a fitting metaphor for life.  Even before I found today’s proverb I understood the stones play a purpose and it’s all connected. 

It was a great week. 

Thank you river. Thank you stones. Thank you friends. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Sweet Taste

Sunday Morning ~ The Sweet Taste

Kanyambitira sikakufa. ~ What has touched the mouth does not die.

~ Chewa proverb

August 2, 2020

Hi Everyone, 

The gist of this proverb is that once you’ve gotten a taste for something good, you can’t easily dismiss it. I’ve thought about that this week as I prepare for this week-long canoe trip. I have only gotten the taste from photos and stories, but those morsels fueled my love of the outdoors, navigating under my own power, and moving from one place to the next in a beautiful wild setting. For many adventures like this, I’ve just gone off on my own as finding someone with a similar time schedule or desire became more work than I wanted to invest. But this is one I can’t do alone, or am not willing to at this point in my life (and skill level). So there has been plenty of coordinating with companions about food and logistics. Several times I thought it wasn’t going to work, one thing after another came up, but slowly everything has come together. 

The census job started much later than I had expected so I was just getting oriented to that last week when we got a tremendous heat wave. I thought the combination of the driving, entering data into the phone, ninety degree heat, and 100% humidity was making me sick. I am not prone to headaches but would come home every day with a tremendous pounding head that left me useless. It was hard to get all my chores done, organize packing, and leave the house in order with feeling sick all the time. I decided to take a couple of days off before the trip to get my head back to normal and reduce my stress. 

Thursday I still had a headache. Not good. It was hot so I blamed that and pushed fluids but could barely eat anything. I thought I was turning into a wimp, unable to tolerate a heat wave. I decided to cut my hair, that always makes me feel better. I spent some time blaming my hair in my eyes for yesterday’s headache. I stood in front of the mirror to take stock in the job ahead and noticed a bright pink round rash on my hip. It was practically fluorescent. It was in a place I’d never have noticed without a mirror, and I only stand in front of a mirror about every six weeks to cut my hair. I instantly knew the headaches were not from the heat or the data input. I had Lyme disease. I knew it. I rushed to get a blood test done, pick up the antibiotics, and ingest one as soon as I could get the bottle open. I prayed they would work quickly and I’d feel better before today. I thought, it figures I’d need to be on a medication that makes you super sensitive to the sun on a canoe trip. Was the universe telling me not to go? After twenty-five years of longing, and getting this close, what message was I being sent? Should I persevere and overcome? Or admit defeat?  I decided to wait until I felt better before letting my mind take me down an illness-induced rocky road. Not good to make decisions when you don’t feel well.

Well, I feel like superwoman after three days of antibiotics (yay science!) and am packed and ready to hit the long road to the Canadian border where we’ll camp tonight on the St John River. Tomorrow they will transport us to our starting point and we’ll end back up there in a week. Whew! Looking forward to a week of being disconnected from media and super connected with the earth. Stories next Sunday!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way to a Fair Count

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way to a Fair Count

Kufunsa mdi kudziwa njira. ~ To ask is to know the way.

~ Chewa proverb

July 26, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I heard an interview with Stacy Abrams in early February about the importance of the census and her establishment of the organization Fair Count 2020. I hadn’t previously given much thought to the census. I knew it was done every ten years but haven’t investigated the history or significance. I’m assuming I filled out the 2010 census but honestly can’t remember. But listening to Stacy Abrams describe the consequences of an undercount, I immediately contributed to her organization. I guess I hadn’t considered that political districts are drawn based on the census count. Federal programs in schools are dependent on the census count. Potential for business development is dependent on the census count. And the tidbit that really caught my attention: for every person that goes uncounted, the state loses $2,300 in funding. That number is for Georgia and varies state to state but it’s a lot of money when thousands of people are not counted. Communities that are undercounted don’t get their fair share of resources or representation in congress. Resources include funding for head start programs, highway and bridge repair, Medicaid, and other community based programs. So yeah, given our current political shit show, I felt that was a good place to put some money. 

Not long after hearing that interview I was walking out of Marden’s (a Maine salvage discount store) and there was a table where two women were recruiting census workers. I had never considered actually going door to door but these two women were so enthusiastic, claiming they really needed someone on the island here, I could work as much or as little as I wanted, and they made it sound like fun. I took the information and it sat on my desk; at that point I was hoping to go back to Malawi. Then as I watched the political situation disintegrate even further I thought maybe this was one tangible thing I could do. It was clear I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile. So, I applied. Once the severity of the pandemic became apparent it took a while for the census bureau to regroup and make a plan for conducting this safely. A month later I got a call to report to a site in Brewer (about an hour from here) to get fingerprinted. That’s like the fifth time I’ve been fingerprinted. Don’t they keep these on file somewhere? I mean, they don’t change, right? We had to wait in our cars to be called, then we entered masked, one at a time. The mask came off only to be photographed for our badge, then I left and heard nothing for another month. In the meantime, I heard that Maine had one of the lowest census return rates in the country.  One possible reason being rural residents do not have reliable internet access (makes online school hard too). My county has an appalling 22% response rate. 

Three weeks ago I finally started my training and Friday was my first assignment. I was nervous.  I’m not afraid to go door to door, I like doing that for canvassing. I’m not afraid of dogs or angry anti-government types. I was more nervous about the way we have to enter the data onto a device, and though the training was excellent, it’s always hard until you actually do it. Friday I was sent to Deer Isle, a mere hour and twenty minutes away, and started the monumental task of finding the houses! These are addresses who have not sent in a response. I found many of them were summer residences and no one was there on April 1st, some were rented, a few were people who just hadn’t submitted their responses so I filled it out right there and submitted it. It’s actually kinda fun. It reminded me a bit of my visiting nurse days, trying to find obscure places down infrequently used paths. It’s an adventure. And I finally feel like I am doing something. I did come home with a splitting headache and was useless, but I’m out of shape in the employment department. I’ve grown accustomed to the princess lifestyle around here, putzing around, gardening, reading, painting. Whew! A reason to pull out the summer dresses! 

And there have been no angry responses about not trusting the government. We have a scripted response to questions, but mostly people have been lovely. When I can find them. One older man yesterday gave me information on a vacant looking apartment above a garage. I asked him if I could use him for a proxy and he was so kind and helpful. I thanked him a million times and asked if I could come back to him if I had problems finding others on that road, He said, “Why don’t I just come with you and that will save you some time?” Total sweetheart. He stood on the street and explained why the residences were empty, having lived there his whole life, he knew every coming and going and who went to the prom with whom. It was a hoot. It restored my faith in humanity. There are SO MANY good people out there and we need to remember that. 

I’ll put in some hours every day this week then next Sunday I leave for the Allagash! Can’t wait! Got my map, got my gear laid out, logistics are coming together, and I realize how much I thrive on having an adventure on the horizon. 

Off to today’s assignment! Make sure you all have filled in your census form. Go to census.gov if you’re not sure or haven’t done it. Think about the thousands of dollars your community will get from your participation. Thank you!!

Love to all,

Linda