Sunday Morning ~ A New Village

Sunday Morning ~ A New Village

Ndi cilaka galu fupa la m’matongwe. ~ Even the dog fails to eat the bone from the abandoned village.

~ Chewa proverb

January 17, 2021

Hi Everyone,

In January four years ago a black curtain fell over many of the women I know. Our male partners, though they agreed the situation was bad, did not feel the same foreboding. The darkness clouding the future could not be described in a way that articulated our fears without making us sound hysterical. “Overreacting” was a term used more than once. At the time I thought it was only in my house, but the more I spoke with other women, I learned they faced the same fears, the same admonition––– “Stop overreacting!” But it felt like the abusive boyfriend, husband, father, brother, boss was coming home to roost, boast, and prey. The restraining orders were on hold. The fear was out there in our psyches, looming, gloating. Men who mocked our achievements, stole our money, forced bad sex, took our credit, belittled our strengths, were back and in charge, bolder than before. We thought we were rid of him. Though the restraining order was never really enforced, we’d trusted things were getting better. Our girlfriends who’d had our backs were scared too. Punishment for progress was in store. We could see it coming but couldn’t describe it.

What was it we foresaw? It was not a universal clairvoyance. It was more of a common shared experience we all knew could go very bad. One we’d fought years and years to extract ourselves from. Young girls waiting to turn sixteen to leave the house, wives waiting until they’d  saved enough money to escape, mothers staying because they believed he’d kill their children. The women in the world knew all this in our deepest selves. We knew the harm inflicted, we held our friends as they struggled to escape, knowing they’d go back because it was the path of least resistance, knowing that path would extinguish their light, but it was just too hard to keep the flame lit. At some point you stop fighting the wind; you let the candle go out. 

This is what we saw. Men could not understand it. They had their own demons to deny and faces to maintain. They got angry and insisted we deny our fears along with theirs. It was a time when we wanted, needed, them to hold us up, agree the future was scary, reassure us we’d get through it, let us talk, listen, listen! Listen to the stories we had about working so hard, being bone tired, fighting for fairness and dignity. We needed them to keep us safe while we slept, feed us, walk beside. Some shamed us, as if that would help quell their own anxieties. They knew they were in trouble, too. The village belonged to all of us and it was about to burn. 

We looked at others whose oppression was compounded. We saw them in a light we’d not bothered to shine before. We learned from them. We saw their strengths. We saw how they kept their candle lit, shielded from wind coming at them from every side. We saw it was possible to keep the flame alive. They welcomed us, though we didn’t deserve it. We followed them. We learned to survive. They told us it would not be easy. We said we knew it wouldn’t be. We grew and learned. We shared what we could  in return for their strength, their brilliant fortitude, their acceptance of such small bites of chewed progress. “Here”, they said, “eat with us.” We were sorry we hadn’t seen this before, this strength of theirs, this belief in the future on this difficult road. There was no turning around. They’d been waiting for us to learn we needed them. So we gathered what riches we still had, we sat and spread them out. We took an inventory of powers and divided them up: the wise women, the workers, the nurturers, the caretakers, the planners.

Many, many women suffered blatant abuse. Many had filed restraining orders and lived with constant threats of harm. But there were others: women betrayed by other women, family who’d cut them out, women denied a promotion, women passed for an award. It was a cellular memory of being treated as less than what we are, of a time when we only wanted to feel safe, be angry or sad and have someone make space for that, let us be, listen. It was watching a woman we admired maligned to a degree hard to imagine, and we felt it, because it had happened to us, too. 

We’d argued in late night kitchens screaming, “Listen to me!” Too many of us knew what it felt like to be silenced. We lacked those perfect words, the ones we were sure would break through. We decided protecting ourselves and our kids was all we could do in the end. Press submit. We’d been there. And that January we felt it. The world of women felt it. It was having our opinions disregarded, our progress belittled, our faces mocked, our voices shouted down until either the plate or our spirit would break. We felt it. We watched a woman we admired accept a decision with superhuman dignity, a true leader. We felt robbed. Again. We knew our house would burn with our cat, our kids, our grandmother, inside. 

We weren’t military strategists who could have predicted what events would unfold. It was more a collective wisdom, both comforting and terrifying when we’d hear other women felt the same. We were not crazy and we knew it. Maybe our foremothers were telling us to beware, prepare, unite. Our time for tears was short; we needed to watch for clues, stay alert, survive. We needed to wrap our children and our hearts in impenetrable cloth and hold on. We looked for steps, small but steady, and movement was slow, allowing us to take note of every clue. 

As the collective abuse, the feeling of dread, the darkness, no longer needs words, the boil has burst. We find ourselves intact. Watchful. Hopeful. We wipe away this infection as it oozes over us, again. What else can we do but spread out what we’ve got: clean cloths, antiseptic, nourishment, energy, spirit, and love. We’ll heal while we rebuild our multicolored village. And the dog doesn’t mind waiting. And the candle is still lit.

Stay safe my friends. We’ve got this.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Trusting Our Teeth

Sunday Morning ~ Trusting Our Teeth

Kacirombo kofula m’njira katama mano. ~ The insect that digs a hole on the path must trust it’s teeth.

~ Chewa proverb

January 10, 2021

Hi Everyone,

I spent a restlessTuesday night worrying about the outcome of the Georgia runoffs. I was tortured by imagined images of two possible futures and my mind played a recurring loop of both. First I’d think of losing the two senate seats and living in a world where sad women in black coats with ill-fitting triangular head scarfs tied under their chins tromped through snowy streets to food lines. Their heads were bowed against the wind; they carried stale bread in their baskets and had thin soup on their tables. They had wrinkled joyless faces. The images are all in black and white. These were photo images I saw in my childhood of life behind the iron curtain, a strange and dangerous place. Then I’d imagine winning the senate seats and a future of  hearty meals in warm well-lit kitchens, summer vacations in short shorts and tank tops, rosy futures, first homes, career opportunities and good health, all in National Geographic color. I tossed and turned and wondered which it would be? I finally fell asleep by willing myself to believe the rosier future was in store.

When I woke a couple of hours later, I felt optimistic. I thought just maybe it was going to be a good day. I saw that Warnock had won, and though his opponent was a weaker one (I thought) it gave me hope for the second seat. When it started looking better and better for the technicolor future, I was able to focus on a sewing project and put the news aside. I was on pins and needles, literally and figuratively, and wanted to keep myself busy. I pulled out my new sewing machine. I threaded it and wound the bobbin. I gathered what supplies I needed and began to sew. I was actually happy. The kind of happy you feel when you realize the terrible sickness you’ve been afflicted with is definitely getting better. The way you feel when the fever breaks and you have an appetite again. The feeling of relief when you realize you will be able to take that vacation you’d been planning. That kind of happy. 

I went to get a cup of tea and saw a few messages on my phone. I read them and ran for my laptop to lifestream the news. I was shaking. All I could think of was first graders hiding in closets. The black, white, and grey future flashed before my eyes again. I thought about being a school girl and learning about governments collapsing, wars beginning. I could not believe this was happening. I had flashbacks to all the betrayal in my life, all the people I trusted to keep me safe, letting me down. I felt confused. I started panicking and needed to calm my heart rate. I took deep breaths. I paced. I wished I were with someone else. And this, I thought, is from the comfort of my living room. I’m safe by my fire. How are those people hanging on? My heart is beating out of my chest and they are hiding under tables?! Again, I thought of kindergarten students. I thought of teachers having to practice this drill. I started knitting to keep my hands from shaking. I prayed for them and everything I believe in to hold. 

Since then I have listened almost continuously to news reports, pundits, speculators, optimists, and fatalists. I’ve reread parts of the constitution. I’ve learned more about prosecution and conspiracy. I’ve thought about having a child-like faith in institutions I never really understood to protect me, protect us, my kids, my grandkids, people I don’t even like. I tried to list all past events we’ve survived that might have been similar:  Pearl Harbor, Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11. I did all this to reassure myself we’d be ok.  I’m relieved when I hear a reassuring voice saying something I want to hear. We’ll be ok. We will survive this. I start to panic again when I hear the opposite. I think of the possibility my brother could have been there and that makes me shake again. I think of people in countries who live with this for years and years, futures uncertain, governments unstable, lives expendable. We’ve been so sheltered and coddled.

I recalled a poem I read years ago, a few lines of which I repeat to myself when I am confused and unsure. I tried to find it so I could cite the author but my internet search turned up nothing. The lines I remember are:

Two horses fighting, one white, one black

Which one will win?

The one you feed the most.

Again, the one you feed the most.

A black man and a jewish man won senate seats in a state famous for it’s racism, while white supremacists staged a coup on our government. Which future will win? The one you feed the most. Again, the one you feed the most.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ A New Net

Sunday Morning ~ A New Net

Ukonde uyambira ku bwakale. ~ You start weaving a new net using the old one.

~ Chewa proverb

January 3, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’m at my desk surrounded by notes I scribbled at various meetings. I jot things on scraps of paper and later piece them together into a coherent report. My haphazard style of note taking consists of columns up the side of pages, fragments of sentences tucked in a corner, a stray word here and there. They’re a portrait of my brain trying to conglomerate factions. It’s like I dumped a jigsaw puzzle of thoughts around my laptop and piecing it together is oddly satisfying. Once a whole picture, I crumple the scraps, thank them, and watch them go up in flames as a second offering. My thoughts about the past year don’t seem as easy to assemble.

Walking through the woods, noticing the decidedly longer day (even fifteen minutes seems remarkable), I laugh, thinking the trees and animals just go about their routine without fretting about bad habits or new goals. This man-made mark on the calendar doesn’t affect them. They just adapt to the landscape around them. As I see more and more windblown trees on the ground I notice the saplings ready to take advantage of the open sky and improved light. The decomposing elders feed them and there’s no ceremony or regret.

Did someone plan to end the calendar with back to back celebrations or was this coincidence?  Christmas and New Year were certainly celebrated when I was young and I have happy memories of the week marked by such bookends. Looking back it all seemed so simple, though, I wonder if my mother thought so. Expectations were realistic. I felt the magic but it was modest. My most exciting gift was the girl scout uniform Santa brought when I was nine years old. I remember my mother laughing when I screamed “I got a girl scout uniform!!” like it was a million dollars. To me that uniform, which I had begged my mother to buy for months, was the absolute living proof that Santa was real. My mother had told me she wouldn’t buy a uniform until I had shown I would stick with the program. (Were they really that expensive?) But I was desperate for the gloves, the sash, the patches and badges. The beret! The longing was too much! When Santa brought the delight my mother had so ruthlessly withheld, I couldn’t contain myself. It lay so perfectly folded in the box, perfectly framed by tissue paper. The yellow bow tie was perfectly tied and centered. Even the Hudson Dress Shop box was beautiful. I remember jiggling the top with my fingers wedged underneath until the bottom fell out, peeling the tissue paper back revealing the absolute masterpiece inside. I was so happy. I loved that my mother loved I was happy. That was magic.

We did not travel for holidays. On Christmas Day my father would stand in the hallway, elbows resting on the bookshelf beneath the phone attached to the wall. He held the receiver to his ear and spoke loudly in Italian to his mother as we played nearby, ignoring his conversation, understanding none of it. At one point he would tell us to line up, hold the phone out to our little faces, and order us to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. We complied like little chipmunks but hearing no feedback from the receiver the size of my arm, were not inclined to prolong the performance. Obligation fulfilled, we’d turn back to our toys, praying there would be no encore. Throughout the day, the phone would ring as calls came from other relatives. My mother would dash from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron before taking the phone to her ear. In her wool dress, pearls, and high heels she looked as if she were on her way to a formal event instead of cooking for her family.  She’d smilingly greet the caller with a careless laugh and I’d watch from the living room, happy to see her happy. Kids were not allowed in the living room fifty-one weeks of the year, but the week between Christmas and New Year the colored lights and tinsel made it a sacred wonderland. Maybe such simplicity was my childhood viewpoint. A phone call was expensive and the calls were gifts from extended family. No one expected anything else. 

New Year meant football, a buffet, and the end of school vacation. No one spoke of resolutions or the joy of saying goodbye to an era. Even during the tumultuous 60’s of my childhood when social upheaval was the dish of the day I don’t recall a notion of changing the fourth digit meaning anything was going to be different. Is it really this year in all of time that people have suffered such? Or have our expectations changed along with Christmas lists? In the 1980’s the population of Malawi was nearly wiped out by HIV. I doubt they turned the calendar each New Year and thought how glad they were to start anew. It’s a continuous circle and we keep weaving with what we’ve got. I am excited by the youth and energy bubbling up to fix some ancient wrongs. There must be a way to hold on to what was good and true, acknowledge what was not, and create something fair and just. Making it a happy new year is up to us.

Wishing you all a fair and just year ahead.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Eyes of a Christmas Snail

Sunday Morning ~ The Eyes of a Christmas Snail

Kuona maso a nkhono n’kudekha/ kufatsa. ~ To see the eyes of a snail you must be quiet and patient.

~ Chewa proverb

December 27, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Christmas week has been the most quiet I’ve ever experienced. I am not complaining. I started railing against the Christmas machine as soon as I had kids and was expected to comply with the unalterable routine of my in-laws. They had good reason to attach themselves to Christmas rituals. Rituals are a valuable comfort and the family had a daughter/ sister taken from them on Christmas Eve. I was sorry and sympathetic about what they experienced, how could you not be? But after several years the routine had little to do with memorializing and a lot to do with thousands of presents. Declining the invitation was not an option. No excuses. Even having to work was invalid. Get there when the shift is over, no questions or complaints tolerated. It became a noose around my neck. I tried to extricate our young little family. I was told if I just went along uncomplainingly, everything would be fine. I was the one causing the problem.

Christmas was the thing we argued about most intensely in my marriage. Every time I tried to reason that we create our own Christmas traditions (smaller, more moderate), in his eyes I became the drunk driver who killed his sister. It seemed he subconsciously thought if we did everything exactly the same, year after year, somehow she would still be alive. That was my analysis anyway, we couldn’t go deeply into it during the arguments and I wasn’t insightful enough about this until long after he was gone. At the time I felt like he valued his family more than me. My anger didn’t matter as he saw it as temporary; I’d eventually get over it if he waited it out. Instead, my anger simmered until the following year when it started to boil again. So, Christmases were hard. 

When we were young parents with three babies we lived an hour and a half away from our families. I usually had to work part of the holiday, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and it was stressful. I was a visiting nurse and loved my home-bound patients. I should have been able to relish that and weave a Christmas celebration around it. We had no money; I was making six dollars an hour and my husband was a student. We made presents for everyone because we couldn’t afford to buy them. I complied with gift giving rules, pretended to enjoy what I called the glut fest, and then we’d fight all the way home. I felt the money spent on our presents could have fed us for months. What I remember most about those years is not the warm glow of advertised family togetherness, but exhaustion, worry, sleep deprivation, arguments about having to leave one house to get to the other in time for another meal we were not hungry for. I paid a price and no one benefitted. Trying to do it all, be what everyone expected, disappointing myself with unrealistic expectations, believing this year would be better, led to the pleasing of no one, marital strain, and tears. I started dreading Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. The only comforting thought I had when my husband left me was the thought of Christmas without him. When the rest of my life collapsed I finally got the Christmas I wanted: quiet, peaceful, spiritual, loving. 

I remember talking with my neighbor and dear friend back then about the obligatory Christmas nightmare and she commiserated. She’d also dealt with family traditions that didn’t blend well with her marriage. I said, “You know what I think is the cause of all this Christmas grief? Mass transportation. If we didn’t have a car and good roads we would not be expected to travel to two houses in a day a hundred miles away.”  That analysis illuminated her face. “You are right! Without snowplows we wouldn’t be expected to get anywhere!” Yup, we would be hunkered down, cuddling, talking, praying, and playing among those within walking distance. We could go to bed at a reasonable hour! We could be rested! The thought had made me long for the horse and buggy days. I’ve asked myself many times in my life, why was I born into this century? Even chamber pots seemed preferable. 

And here we are, celebrating Christmas in an old fashioned pandemic. Introverts of the world rejoice! I am not an introvert, but much prefer my socializing around the perimeter of this holiday, let’s say in March when days are longer and pressure is off. But no matter how many times “the true meaning of Christmas” has been layered upon us, it’s been more a reminder of what slipped away rather than a reckoning. But this year gave us a chance to look for the eyes of the snail, measure the weight of our holiday baggage, and decide what we can unpack and leave behind.

Peace. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Cataloging Regret

Sunday Morning ~ Cataloging Regret

Matenda nga mfulu, kapolo ndi ulesi. ~ For a free man it is “being sick”, for a slave the same is called “laziness”.

~ Chewa proverb

December 20, 2020

Hi Everyone,

It is the fourth Sunday of advent. Ordinarily, I’d be at mass this morning, looking at the four flickering candles, reflecting on the symbolism, trying to stay grounded in the season, trying to maintain a balance between gluttony and contemplation. This year it is much more weighted toward contemplation. I have lots of time to think and, though, I’m trying to live in the present,  recently I find myself reconciling a niggling list of regret. 

I’m sitting here with a red shawl over my shoulders, a gift from my friend Donna for my fiftieth birthday. It’s an expensive shawl, rich red, soft fiber that might be cashmere or alpaca. It’s  elegant. I keep it over my office chair and no one sees me wear it. Donna often wore one, dark grey, to mass but I’ve never worn mine outside my study. It’s chilly. The heat went off in my house this week, of course, on the coldest night of the year, and it hasn’t quite warmed up yet. I was indulgently heating the greenhouse, and used way more propane than I ever had. Tiny bit of regret there, but did enjoy the use of the greenhouse. The shawl is warm and reminds me of my quirky friend. I regret not having been in closer touch before she died. I wonder if she felt isolated and alone. No one expected her departure. A devout converted Catholic, she studied scripture and was every bit sincere in her spirituality. That is not to say she was saintly; she was often irritating, and while I didn’t know any saints personally, I never think of them as irritating. But now that I think of it, Jesus was probably irritating to Pilate and Herod.

While most people were having holiday parties, shopping and overeating, Donna would go on retreat during advent. That always appealed to me as I continually bemoaned the commercialism overtaking the season. Though I have spent solitary weeks during advent traveling it wasn’t really a retreat. Walking, through strange cities, I’d try to pretend I was on retreat but honestly, it was cheating. I knew I was on vacation. I’d chat up strangers and window shop every chance I had. Taking a break in a glorious cathedral for a half hour, craning my neck at mosaics and frescos didn’t count.

This year I shuffle through snow in the woods, cold and spiritual in their own way. I do a lot of thinking and that’s sort of a retreat. I have only gone to mass once since the pandemic on the Sunday after the election. I wanted to get on my knees and thank God for the outcome and it seemed silly doing that at home. But I don’t think I’m going back for awhile. I miss the community and the ritual, but not enough to take the risk, careful as they are. Until the vaccine has reached most of us, it’s another gathering I’ll avoid. 

I think about the vaccine on my long walks and am grateful for the intellect and drive that made this one possible. How incredible a time we inhabit. I think about cemeteries I visited solely dedicated to plague victims and imagine carts rumbling along the streets collecting the deceased. I imagine a family dragging out one or more members to the cart and imagine what they’d think of an argument against having to get a vaccine to prevent the disease that was killing them. It is laughable. I think of how grateful I am for really smart people who thrive on problem solving, science, and ethics. I think of what an enchanted age I’ve lived in, vaccinated against most terrible diseases and taking that all for granted. I think about a boy in my school who wasn’t so lucky and was handicapped from polio. He limped around town dragging his legs attached to heavy metal braces. They looked like huge contraptions on his tiny frame. My pity was immobilizing and I regret I wasn’t kinder to him. I mean really, what was I afraid of? I regret I never told him I was sorry he’d had polio. I wish I’d sat with him when he was alone at the lunch table in the cafeteria. I wish I’d been that brave, for that’s what it would have taken at the time: courage not kindness.

A friend asked about the vaccine and if I were sure about getting it. I said, “Of course!” knowing my response was judgmental of the question. I know I’ll be way down the line and it will most likely be summer before I am eligible, but it is the only way we are going to stop this. I asked if she had any kids in her school crippled from polio? She said she had. I wonder if there was controversy about that vaccine at the time, an argument to let the population become immune naturally? Perhaps the iron lung lobby? The native population of Hawaii was nearly eradicated by measles and smallpox while those diseases ran their natural course toward herd immunity. 

I recalled my Malawian colleagues being flabbergasted about the anti-vaccination discussion in our country. They could not wrap their heads around why anyone would not want something that prevents disease? I’d explain that many people have not seen what these diseases do and think their risks are overblown. They haven’t carried their dying children miles to a health center. We have been so removed from the horrors of communicable disease that some people think the vaccine is worse than the disease. They’d shake their heads in disbelief. I’d be embarrassed about having to explain this; it almost sounded like a mockery of their situation. I felt like a rich person complaining to someone starving about the price of caviar.  

And yet, all this thinking changes nothing. I can’t go back and sit with that boy. I can’t change advents past filled with overspending arguments and sugar tantrums. Maybe cataloging regrets can be an opportunity to put them aside now and leave them in a pile to burn while welcoming north stars and lighter days.

Love to all,

Linda

Avoiding the Pit

Sunday Morning ~ Avoiding the Pit

Kulumpha dzenje ndikulionera patali. ~ To leap over the pit one must must see it from afar.

~ Chewa proverb

December 13, 2020

Hi Everyone,

In the fall of 1973, I’d just turned seventeen and was starting my senior year in high school. We had a good football team, I was a cheerleader, and our squad had big plans. For homecoming we organized a rally, which included a parade through town. Our captain, Patti, got a permit from the police department and we enlisted the marching band and pep club. We polished our saddle shoes and megaphones, practiced our moves, and got the spirit of the town revved up. When I think back, it was a pretty big accomplishment for a bunch of teenagers. I don’t remember adults helping out with that. 

It was October of that year when the vice president of the United States resigned, but that barely appeared on my radar. I guess I assumed someone else would come in to do that job, whatever it was. What did a vice president do anyway? I had no idea. I’m not even sure I could have told anyone what his name was. I was thinking about college campuses and future boyfriends. I imagined myself carrying an armload of books, walking through shaded paths with gothic buildings in the fuzzy distance. Sweaters in the fall, caps and scarfs in the winter, tank tops without bras in the spring. I pictured myself lying on a blanket in the sun studying for final exams. Life was so perfect in my dreams.

I was on a college-bound course and knew I wanted to go into nursing. I packed my senior schedule with advanced chemistry, calculus, and physics. I think English was required, so that was in there too, but I never took a civics class. The first three high school years I took the required history classes but remember only how comically the teacher pronounced Mesopotamia, with a little pause after the “Mesopo” as if he had to recall the rest of the word. After what seemed like a long time he would finish with “tamia”. It generated endless amusement, but to this day I couldn’t tell you what I learned in that class. I have no idea how I passed any of the tests. Probably memorized a few treaties and the dates they were signed, guessed at the rest and managed a C. I was always amazed traveling with my kids when they were in high school and they’d bring up some historical fact about where we were: “Ah, so this is where the Treaty of Nantes was signed!” I would look at them in amazement and say, “You learned that in school?” 

It wasn’t until I was in Peace Corps that my interest in government and world affairs started to flourish. I consider myself fairly well informed now but the more I read, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I listened to a pod cast this week about Spiro Agnew called Bag Man. I highly recommend it and I’m eager to read the book by the same name. It delves deep into the series of events that led to the vice president of the United States resigning, which had never happened before, (news to me), and how young obscure prosecutors and law students brought that cataclysmic event to pass. It was absolutely fascinating, and I had no idea at the time it was happening. I may have heard it mentioned in the background as Walter Cronkite serenaded us after supper, but I never considered it something I should care about.  I guess I figured the grown ups could handle whatever was going on with our society. I couldn’t even vote yet! And was only peripherally aware I’d be able to do so the following year. Gun to my head I couldn’t have told you how the voting rights act came to pass.

I remember hearing my brother saying that Nixon had Agnew for a vice president as insurance against impeachment. That comment went straight over my head and I would never have asked for an explanation as that wold have been admitting he was smarter than me. He clearly had been paying attention to current events. I wonder if he was worried about things or if he, like me,  thought the grown ups would work this out. I wanted nothing to mar my senior year glory. We had tournaments to win and boyfriends to chase. I literally shudder when I think of it. 

Though I never saw it as an important addition to my resume, civics was taught at our school and I hear the teacher was great. In fact, our yearbook was dedicated to him. I wonder how deeply they dug into this as it was unfolding. Did he identify the underlings who started uncovering all the corruption, the steps they took, little by little, under the radar, to lay the trap? Did it ignite any flame in any student to aspire to participate in our justice system? Or at the very least, have faith in it? 

I am the first to admit how fortunate I am to be in my situation during this pandemic. I have a beautiful place to live, plenty of food, outdoor isolated activity, and technology keeping me connected to those I love. It’s frustrating watching projects I care about sit dormant and wondering what I could have done better, but it has certainly been an opportunity to educate myself. Digging into history that transpired during my oblivious youth is somehow unnerving. I wish I could ask my mother what her experience of it was. She watched the news. Was she worried? There are lots of parallels between what happened in 1973 and what’s happening now: vilifying the media, lying to supporters, blatant extortion, and outrageous abuse of power. It’s an encore performance. But it didn’t bring us down and learning how conscientious truth sayers guided the course toward justice, I’m hopeful. We should be better able to see the pit ahead of us and take a collective giant leap.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Way It Was Leaning

Sunday Morning ~ The Way It Was Leaning

Mtengo ugwera komwe udaweramira. ~ The tree falls toward the way it was leaning.

~ Chewa proverb

December 6, 2020

Hi Everyone,

We’ve had a couple of big storms here with strong wind and gusts up to seventy miles per hour. I was worried part of the roof would come off. The rain was coming sideways from the south, hitting the house where it’s least protected. Storms usually come from the northeast not the south and the rain was impressive, let me tell you. At one point, water dripped from my kitchen ceiling and I scurried around looking for the point of entry. Finding all floors above it dry thereby eliminating any broken pipes, I figured the sideways rain had found it’s way in through a window and decided to ignore it while I had a taping for a radio show we were doing about midwifery in Maine. I was grateful the internet hadn’t gone out. I figured the water would dry up sooner or later, but I needed the internet for the next hour and a half. In my hierarchy of needs at the time, internet was more important than a collapsing ceiling. When we were done with the taping and happy with how it went, I went to check on the ceiling and it had stopped. The rain had lessened to a light mist and the wind had died. It was eerie how quiet it was after twenty four hours of howling. Darkness had set in so I had to wait until morning to see how many trees I’d lost. Thank God the huge maples standing close to the house were safely split into sixteen inch logs in my wood rack and I no longer had to worry about them falling on my house. Others however, are still out there leaning.

The last time my son was home he pointed skyward and said, “That pine is dead at the top.” I looked straight up; that’s how tall this tree is. It’s trunk is like a wall next to my car. I said, “Holy smokes, you’re right. I never look up at the top.” I could see the top third of the tree was dead and branches the size of smaller trees were hanging over the cars. It’s not a redwood or anything, but the tree is at least sixty feet high, and I couldn’t imagine having to take it down. It’s part of the landscape here. Small spawns struggling for sunlight crowd around it. Each storm brings down more and more branches and it’s only a matter of time before one hits the car. My gaze followed the way it was leaning and I could see if it fell it would crush my cabin, and depending on the time of day, it’s inhabitant.

When we first bought this land I fell in love with every tree. We mapped out where to build the house around some of the most beautiful pines, maples, and oaks. We hired a guy with very small equipment who was willing to work around them when digging the foundation. I piled rocks around their bases to protect them when we backfilled around the house. Given new space and sunlight, they grew like crazy. Their branches sprawled out until they were scraping the house during each storm, and heavy snow would have them resting on the roof. It got to the point where I would lie awake at night listening to them creaking close to my ear, envisioning them entering through some window. Two years ago I said goodbye to four of them, the ones closest to the house, and had them taken down. I tortured over it, but when I finally made the decision, I thought better to do it surgically then have them fall and take the house with them. About ten minutes after they were down I barely missed them. No one even notices they’re gone. 

In September, standing in my bedroom I heard a loud quick crack. I looked out the window and watched a large birch fall by my pond. I watched it drop as if lightening was striking, just missing my garden fence. It bounced a little as it hit the ground, then just laid there. I imagined it sighing, as if grateful to rest. It had been leaning that way for awhile and I shuddered, not because I loved that tree (which I did) but because my grandkids were always out at the pond looking for frogs. I imagined them under that tree. It would have killed them. I wondered which way they would have run. In a panic, they might not have escaped. It fell rather cleanly, missing both the garden fence and the teak love seat, so no damage done, but I couldn’t shake the what ifs. Birches don’t live that long. They shoot up gorgeously, dot the woods with their pretty bark, offer up canoes and baskets, yield sap for syrup in the spring, dappled shade in the summer, and pretty yellow accents in the fall. But their base rots earlier than other species, and they fall the way they are leaning, easy, dropping to the ground becoming food for various insects and an occasional mushroom. Or in this case, pretty logs for the fire.

I have loved this land from the minute I first set foot on it. We walked two steps into the thickly wooded lot and I said, “This feels right”. I could feel the slight incline and thought what a nice driveway it would be. I saw the diversity of trees and imagined the yard and garden surrounded by them. Thick evergreens would protect us from the road. I’ve spent a lot of time with these trees. We cleared the lot ourselves, cut smaller trees with a chainsaw and  dragged them out to a pile. That allowed us to see which others had to come down as we sculpted the woods into a frame for our lives. Life was always so full, so many people, so many guests, so much living on this land. I have always felt connected, but the tie I feel now is more so. To be here, without distraction, alone and continual, gives me an even deeper connection to the trees. I see the buffer from the road getting spindly and tired. Each storm leaves more and more of the weaklings either leaning on their superiors or supine. I haven’t pulled them all out, a chore usually reserved for the day after Thanksgiving when in (what I consider) a fun afternoon, guests and I create a teepee for the bonfire. That didn’t happen this year; I will leave them where they lay for now. I will have the huge pine taken down before it falls. The first thirty feet of it are so straight and solid, I’ll be sad to see it go. Turn, turn, turn.  My guy came to give me an estimate and I lamented the change it would create. He said, “Within two years you will see all this small stuff flourish once the sun is allowed to get in theyah.” I looked up at the hundred pound branch above my little car and said, “Okay. I’m letting it go.” 

I looked at the nail in the trunk where I hung a vase of flowers for Rachael’s wedding, where I hung a candle for winter parties in years past. Below that were missing chunks of bark where drivers misjudged this landmark, the sap immediately dressing the wound. Just like other stuff I’ve had to let go in life, I’ve got the stories and the memories, and the vacancy will allow others to grow.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Well Fed

Sunday Morning ~ Well Fed

Cidziwa ndi mwini mkhuto wa fulu. ~ Only the tortoise can know how well fed it is.

~ Chewa proverb

November 29, 2020

Hi Everyone,

As the snow fell on Wednesday I realized I could just enjoy it without anxiety. It was the first thing to be grateful for the day before Thanksgiving. I didn’t have to worry about people traveling, only smile as I looked out my kitchen windows at the ground turning white, then turn back to my pies. There was no need for two pies this year; there was not even a need for one, but I like pie and love the smell of them cooking. I figured breakfast for the week would be pie. I usually make three: pumpkin, pecan, and apple, but this year I got seduced by a photo of a cranberry pie with streusel topping and decided to go wild. I had already intended to embrace this isolation and refused to get all weepy over the lone state of the holiday, my favorite of the year. I love cooking and I love feeding people, and I also like being grateful so Thanksgiving is my idea of the perfect culmination. I get that it’s history is steeped in rosy lore that has a very dark side. But at it’s core, wise, generous people helping refugees survive should be something to celebrate. The fact that those newcomers were terrible guests is another side of it. But I wanted to focus on the very basic idea of Thanksgiving. A desperate group of people fleeing persecution saved by a native group of people who held human decency in higher regard than ownership. It’s historical simplification is a fantasy, a boiled down version of the truth, but I appreciate a holiday focused on giving thanks for what we have, sharing a harvest, and valuing togetherness. The side dish of understanding how history gets distilled into snippets for good ratings is just starting to be served. We’re growing up.

This year we all agreed to stay put, either solo or with their household and be safe and responsible. Lord knows we’ve suffered enough as a country this year and the thought of adding risk to an already volatile situation was just not acceptable. So I watched the snow and thought how nice it was that I did not have to worry about anyone driving up that day. I usually busy myself frantically until everyone is safely parked in the driveway, often not until after midnight. It’s a lot of effort to get here: traffic, early winter weather, last minute travel delays, all moot this year. 

I didn’t need to make the whole meal, but I still wanted the house full of the holiday senses, and I realized I could do that without exhaustion or worry. I made everything smaller and simpler. It was rather nice. I love that we can all be adaptable without mourning about it, after all, we are so very fortunate compared to many others. So we adjusted and accommodated and I heard no whining at all. We video called during the day, compared recipes and menus, and shared sentiments but not pathogens. I was glad to see everyone safe en place and my single place setting in front of the fire was quite lovely. I texted with friends from Malawi recalling the Thanksgiving dinner we hosted for sixteen when the power went out just as the meal was to be cooked. Chimemwe and Catherine lit a fire for me and we cooked everything outside, which, in the November heat there, made more sense anyway. This menu was definitely not designed for the tropics.

A small group of friends planned to walk in the morning then have an outside fire here with coffee and cider. We woke to pouring rain on Thursday, stunning how the temperature swings, and a fire was out of the question. We walked in rain gear, dripping from hat brims while we talked and appreciated the beauty of the island we live on, no matter the weather. A park ranger here said, “We have golden days and we have silver days.” and Thursday was definitely silver. After our soggy walk I made coffee on the porch and we stood apart, lowering our masks to sip. After coffee and chat we all went our separate ways, glad we could figure out a way to make the best of it.

And now that the soup is made, the pie shared, and garden vegetables gone, I’m turning to advent season where I’ll take stock and do my part to share what I have in hopes that everyone may be as well fed. The darkness is setting in but I look forward to the brighter days I know are coming. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Coming In

Sunday Morning ~ Coming In

Imfa ilibe odi. ~ Death does not ask, “Can I come in?”

~ Chewa proverb

November 22, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Tomorrow would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. She died ten years ago, a week before we were to gather for her 90th. Instead the gathering was her funeral, but it was still beautiful and she would have loved it. We had five days with her before she died and I was able to gather my siblings from across the world to be there for her last days. She was ready. There wasn’t a moment of anguish as she slipped from joking around while watching jeopardy to a deep sleep, to a permanent one. I miss her but I feel her always with me. I was happy we had that time together as a family, all surrounding her as she drifted deeper and deeper into another world. It was so peaceful. We took turns sitting on the bed with her once she stopped talking. It was a perfect passing with all her children together, talking and reminiscing, laughing, caring for each other. I am so grateful for that. When the priest came to give her last rites we all placed our hands on her. She was covered with a quilt I’d made, an appliquéd tree, with leaves, the shapes of our hands, hanging from the branches. I couldn’t imagine it any better–– leaving this world under the touch of her children, loving her and thanking her. Nothing existed outside that room. 

A dear friend died this week without the warning my mother gave us. So there was no last goodbye, no reminiscing at the deathbed, no hands on him as he received the final sacrament. I never asked him over the forty five years of friendship if he’d have wanted that. Maybe not. And now in this strange and tragic time there is no sitting with his family, no making tea for them, no bringing a plate of food, no encouraging them to take a bite. No planning a funeral, picking music, deciding who does the readings or what to wear. So strange and unnatural. We sit in our separate spaces, a circumstance we read about in novels and history books, not live through. But here we are.

I’m still working through my stages of grief. The reality hasn’t completely taken hold yet; it’s only been a couple of days. I go in and out of denial and grief, still thinking I might get an email or text from him. I think about an after life and what that means. I was certainly raised with talk of heaven and hell with purgatory in between. I was young when my maternal grandmother died and remember overhearing my mother on the phone saying she wanted her dressed in a blue chiffon. Later, I told my mother I saw a lady in a blue dress flying up to heaven, conjuring up a Mary Poppins-like ascent. My mother was washing dishes, and she turned her head toward me and laughed but said nothing. I remember looking at the knot of her apron in the middle of her back and wondering if she knew I was lying. I guess I was trying to reassure her the system was working and didn’t quite get the humor. I don’t know when the literal shifted but during some developmental stage somewhere the whole notion became more spiritual and fluid. It’s not an actual “life” in the “after”. So what is it then? It’s hard to describe but I feel it as more of a presence, a peaceful and serene presence. 

When our friend, Dan, died of AIDS (a painful, tortured death) I had a vivid image of him at his funeral saying, “No! Hey! I’m ok!” as the organ played Danny Boy and we cried our eyes out. Was this my mind playing tricks? Maybe. But so what? It made me feel better and believe him at peace. And now I want to believe Pat is with him, old friends, roommates, groomsmen. Not sitting together drinking beer, but somehow cognizant of being back together in the same club, relieved of gravity and painful joints, tube feedings and nausea, floating free. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Promises, Threats, and Possibilities

Sunday Morning ~ Promises, Threats, and Possibilities

Fodya ndi uyu ali pa mphuno; wa pa cala ngwa mphepo. ~ The real tobacco is in the nose; the one on the finger is for the wind.

~ Chewa proverb

November 15, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Don’t believe all you hear. What we can taste is the reality. Empty promises are blown away on the wind. Oh how I miss Malawian wisdom punctuating my daily conversations. Along with stepping into the backyard to pick a lime or ripe avocado, the experience of life there amid the steadfast belief in a better day was a rich existence. I think I’m allowing myself to miss it more now that I have hope for our state department. It feels like a fire was recently extinguished and we are assessing the damage but haven’t gotten the insurance check yet. I’m in the imagining stage of how to reconstruct. 

What is the difference between an empty promise and an empty threat? They really are  similarly cruel. I have spent many hours counseling women in abusive relationships and it’s incredibly frustrating. As my mother said to me, “When someone tells you you are stupid for thirty-six years, you believe it.” It’s a long hard process to get them to believe otherwise and understand how much better their lives would be without the stress they endure. Leaving an abusive relationship is not easy. The threat of never seeing their children again, of killing their cat, of being murdered keep them in a dangerous and toxic situation. Fear is a powerful motivator and those threats are real. These examples are blatantly and extremely abusive, but there are more subtle, craftier abusers. The ones that tell you everything is your fault, who dangle the pursestrings, who promise glory if only you behave, who tell you they really are leaving their wife this time. I’ve sat with these women and heard all the promises and threats in different varieties. And I struggle with how to get a chink in the wall to shine a light, gently, lest she never come back. Who wants to hear we’ve been duped? It feels so shitty. Especially when your bank account is now empty and there’s some serious egg to wipe off that face of yours. 

When I found myself facing the end of my marriage I spent $125 for one visit to a divorce lawyer an hour away. She’d been recommended by a friend and I was still in crisis. I drove there, crying the whole way, somehow thinking she was going to fix this whole thing. She welcomed me into her office and I blubbered the abridged story and asked her what I should do until he came to his senses and came back. She, in an apparent attempt to save my money as she charged by the minute, said, “He’s not coming back.” I stared at her in disbelief. How could she say that? I was outraged! How dare she? She didn’t even know me! Or him!  I didn’t hear much of what she said next. She may have listed some things to do but she may as well have been talking to a mannequin. I got up numbly and left her office and told myself all the way home what a terrible lawyer she was. She, of course, was right. He didn’t come back but it took some time to accept that my world was crumbling around me. Once the reality took hold, I took care of it myself, went to the town hall and bought a packet titled “Divorce With Children” for a dollar. Then it was a step by step walk toward independence and solvency which wasn’t easy, but it was doable. The first step in that long walk out of the woods, however, was recognizing the difference between empty threats, broken promises, my own illusions, and reality. 

When it was all final I took a trip to France to visit Michel, a missionary priest I was very close to in Malawi during my Peace Corps days. He was the godfather of my son born there, had been to visit us here twice,  and was then retired in southern France. I dreaded telling him about the divorce; he was so close to our family and it felt like such a failure. I couldn’t bear that he’d be disappointed in me or us. I’d written to him ahead of time so it wasn’t a surprise when I arrived. I knew he’d still love me, that wasn’t ever a concern but just having to admit my marriage failed was hard. I stayed in a guest room in the retirement home and shared daily meals and mass with the White Fathers. I prayed and cried, still sorting out how to rebuild what I lost. I prayed for my family, that my kids would be ok, that I would figure out how to make a good life on my own. I was careful not to demonize my ex and Michel never asked for many details. One afternoon, after an amazing lunch in the dining hall where the retired fathers swallowed their medications with their wine, Michel took a nap. I sat quietly in his room and looked around for something to read while he slept. I pulled a photo album off a shelf labeled “Visit to America 1995” and opened it. The album held photos of his last visit to Maine when he’d visited the kids’ school and told stories of D Day. There was a photo of me sitting at our dining table and underneath was written “Linda, my great friend from America”. Next to it was a photo turned backside out. I pulled back the plastic and turned the photo over. It was my husband with the line under it, “Joe, my great friend from America.”  I looked at Michel asleep on his bed and wept. He must have done this when he’d received my letter explaining what had happened to us, turning the photo over as a statement. Finding his gesture was an incredible validation for me. I thought how he hadn’t ripped it up and thrown it away. He was leaving room for the possibility of healing and reconciliation. I put the album back on the shelf and never told him I’d seen that. A few weeks after I returned home, Michel wrote to tell me he’d been diagnosed with acute leukemia and he died six weeks later. I am so eternally grateful I made that trip.

I know I am only a small speck in this complicated country. I know my story is only one of zillions that didn’t turn out so well. But I do believe we can recover from this blight in our history and build something better. We’ve got so much of the world behind us who know what’s in the nose and what’s in the wind, ready to turn over the photo of the last four years.

Love to all,

Linda