Sunday Morning ~ The Way of the Butterfly

Sunday Morning ~ The Way of the Butterfly

“Ndaonera momwemo” mamba wa gulugufe. ~ That is how I have seen it. It is the way of speaking of the butterfly.

~ Chewa proverb

April 9. 2021

Hi Everyone,

The violets have strewn themselves all over the front and side of my house. I don’t remember them in such mass before, but I love them and am grateful for their appearance on this Mother’s Day. They brought me back to little patent leather shoes with slippery soles, special and shiny, worn only for church, weddings, and wakes. I wore them with white ankle socks and chilly legs under my puffy ribbon-waisted dress. Someone had to tie the bow for me in the back. Those shoes would be surrounded by little purple flowers as I picked violets for my mother before we left for Sunday mass. It was always sunny on Mother’s Day but I may be remembering only one or two of those years. I’d carefully hold the little bunch, and place little green leaves around the perimeter, framing the bouquet. What was I, six? Seven maybe? 

The Mother’s Day ritual began with bringing her breakfast in bed on a Japanese motif bamboo tray. The tray was small, only enough room for a cup of instant coffee, glass of orange juice, toast of Pepperidge Farm bread slathered with grape jelly from an oversized jar, and an overcooked scrambled egg. My brother did the cooking. I did the arranging and he carried the tray. I carried the cards my father bought and had us sign, crowded around the kitchen counter. One card read, “Do you remember when I was a wee wee tot, and you took me out of my warm warm cot, and made me sit on a cold cold pot, and made me wee wee, whether I could or not? Happy Mother’s Day” We thought this was the funniest thing we’d ever read. We laughed hysterically in the kitchen as we signed our names in big letters. It was conspiratorial and exciting. My mother obligingly set herself up in bed, propped the pillows behind her and squealed her delighted expressions of surprise and joy at the (nearly inedible) feast before her. The window shades were tugged just so and they’d rise and coil around the wooden rod so the room would fill with morning light. We had to be careful not to pull too hard or the shade would fall flaccid and just hang there. Then my mother would have to get out a fork and wind the spring to tighten it–– miraculously it worked again. I never understood why we needed those shades. For some reason we had to cover our windows at night. It felt like we were hiding. What were we hiding from anyway? Who looked in our windows? And if anyone did, so what?

The violets came after breakfast. The tray was too small for any vase, even a tiny one. So after the merry making and jolliness of the (rather insulting as I look back on it) cards, we’d be urged to hurry up and get ready for church and into the party dress and straw hat. While I waited for the family station wagon to fill up, I’d scout for violets, my offering to a woman who got very few thanks in relationship to how much she gave. 

In later years we’d make her cards. I think this was initiated in art class, our required half hour per week of cutting up construction paper and using the crayons unavailable the rest of the week. We’d fold a piece of spring-colored paper in half and decorate it somehow, usually just a crayon drawing with a offset message inside. Did we get graded on this? I remember getting an A in art but I wonder what metrics they used? The art teacher came into our classroom with a tray full of supplies. I wonder if she hated her job? Was she an artist? If she was, the creativity was quite repressed, though granted, she didn’t have much to work with. We’d take these creations home, hide them until the anointed Sunday and they gradually started replacing the store-bought ones my father provided. Eventually, the breakfasts in bed stopped, too. 

When my mother was dying, we sat with her in those last days, surrounding her bed, talking to her quietly, and reminiscing amongst ourselves when she slept. I’d brought her here when she said she was ready, and by then she had only a few days left. I’d packed up her possessions, which by then, were few. While we sat with her, I pulled out some boxes I’d packed from her apartment.They were full of bits of her past: her father’s birth certificate, her marriage license, a hotel receipt from their wedding night, and bundles of our Mother’s Day cards. We each took a few and read them aloud, barely able to breathe we were laughing so hard. One I’d made said, “It’s Your Day! You won’t have to wash floors! (A stick person bent in half with a rectangle meant to be a sponge in her hand was next to this declaration.)  Wash dishes! (Same stick person holding a circle) Do laundry! (Same stick figure with arms up apparently putting rectangles on a clothes line). And then the large “Happy Mother’s Day!” and the exclamation point had a purple flower at the top, which I’m sure, was meant to be a violet. I’d sobbed realizing these cards were among the few documents she chose to keep.

I’m not sure when I stopped picking the violet bouquets for her. Probably when I stopped wearing the patent leather shoes. This morning when I went out to feed the chickens and saw the violets, I thought of how much I miss my mother. I imagined recounting past Mother’s Days with her. She’d laugh and we’d sip cheap wine and reflect on how it doesn’t seem that long ago. She seemed so content with her meager breakfast and her violets. Like a butterfly satisfied with enough from each flower. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all who have cared for another in a mothering way. It means a lot.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Being In The Moment

Sunday Morning ~ Being In The Moment

Kunja kuli kutali. ~ Outside is far away.

~ Chewa proverb

Hi Everyone,

When I was twenty years old my future husband borrowed a boat and took me out sailing in Boston Harbor. He’d brought a bottle of wine (drinking age was eighteen back then), and packed a picnic. It was a beautiful late summer day. He’d asked me to marry him a few weeks before and I’d refused. I’d been completely blindsided by the proposal, not even thinking we were in a serious relationship. I’d panicked and suggested we make a clean break as he was way more serious than I was. He didn’t want that and asked if we could be friends. I agreed, emphasizing I was not ready to get serious. I loved him but had places to go and people to see and the last thing on my agenda was being tied down by marriage. We were too young. I had too much to do.

When he asked me to go sailing I agreed and the day on the water was beautiful and romantic. I felt safe with him in the boat. At twenty, he was already an experienced sailor and watching him get us out into the harbor was admirable. I could follow simple instructions but was not much help. I trusted him. I felt safe, which is saying a lot since I rarely feel safe in a boat. I should have been completely content. It was the perfect temperature. The sky was bright blue. I had the day off from work and was out on the water with a great guy. He was smart and funny, handsome and competent. He loved me. I took a lot of that for granted. I had one more year left in school and could not stop thinking about the possibilities. 

I think my yearning started with the family subscription to National Geographic. As a kid, I read little of the text, but pored over every photo and caption. I wanted to travel to every single one of the exotic locations. I wanted to wear safari outfits and sleep in primitive tents. I skimmed the underwater stuff, ruling that out as a destination, but flipped those pages until I got to the jungles, mountains, lakes, and savannah. I imagined myself as one of the healthy-looking explorers. I spent hours daydreaming about sitting around an open fire in the evening, tin cup of something delicious in our hands, discussing the findings of the day. How convenient that the Peace Corps commercials coincided with my youthful longing. I was going there. Nothing would stop me. I hadn’t imagined a marriage proposal from someone who mostly stuck to home. He didn’t wax poetic about distant lands. True, he’d tracked whales around Labrador on a sailing scholarship as a teenager; that was noteworthy. That, however, involved a boat so was instantly off my list of enviable experiences. But I did think it was pretty cool that he did it. I just never saw myself marrying until later in my life. Say, twenty-five or so, time to be single and carefree, flirty, flingy, but with plenty of childbearing potential left in me. I imagined meeting Mr. Right on one of my adventures, not in a bar on Charles Street, a street not nearly as elite in the 70’s as it is now. Students could afford apartments on Beacon Hill back then for God’s sake.

There are many times over the years I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. I’ve said many hurtful things in my life; most were out of anger but many were unintentionally insensitive. Some stand out more than others and that day sailing in Boston Harbor was one of them. I didn’t mean it to be hurtful. I meant it to convey my desire for adventure, something he said he admired. He was proud of himself having organized the whole day, and it was incredible. I don’t think I said that enough that day. What I did say I wish I could have reeled back in as it was coming out of my mouth. A plane ascended from Logan airport and we watched it pass over us, heading east. “Europe”, I thought. “That plane is going to Europe.” And all I could think of was strange lands and foreign languages, cheap hostels and interesting people, trains taking backpackers to remote locations, alps, experience. I had another whole year of nursing school. I had weekends to work yet, angry father to placate, exams to pass, and papers to write. It seemed it would be a year of stress and toil. That’s what I was thinking when I said, “I wish I were on that plane.” 

The look on his face is branded into my brain. In all the fights we had in our twenty five years together, all the mean and nasty things we said to each other in anger, that sentence is the one I regret the most. He’d worked so hard to put the day together. I don’t even know where he got this big boat. He might have had to pay a week’s wages for it. And I said something that stupid because I wasn’t living in the moment. I was always looking ahead for something more exciting. 

There’s a balance between having future goals and being content with the present and I’ve struggled to achieve that. Much later in life did the idea of mindfulness come in to my consciousness. I’m always itchy to move, anxious for the seedling to come up so I can start planting, then anxious for the harvest, then to eat. When I’m home I’m always thinking about where I can go, when I’m traveling, I’m thinking about where I can go next.  I thought of this when I looked for the meaning of this proverb about things being far away, to stop complaining about not having them, to use what I have, and stay present. This year has been a good lesson for me. I feel the agitation diminishing. I’m looking at every leaf and bud with a new appreciation. I’m grateful for my warm dry home when it rains. I’m less apt to fill my calendar. I understand more those who don’t crave adventure, relish what they have, grateful for where they are. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ One Rotten Groundnut

Sunday Morning ~  One Rotten Groundnut

Nshawa yoola ilabvulitsa zolimba. ~ One rotten groundnut makes you spit out the good ones.

~ Chewa proverb

April 25, 2021

Hi Everyone,

A member of your tribe behaves in a way you don’t condone. What do you do? How do you keep your personal reputation intact? Who’s approval do you seek, the public or the boss? What if, per usual, money is involved? How hard is it to call someone out with resulting consequences? In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult. We should butt in, pushing the offender out of the way, stand up for what is right. But in reality, that’s often not what happens when it is a member of our tribe. 

Take medicine. I’ve seen doctors, skilled practitioners, behave atrociously. The murmurs of disgust are hushed and ineffective. The behavior does not stop because there is often financial gain. When I worked at a prestigious teaching institution, an obstetrician would leave bloody footprints down the hall, high heels clicking, after needlessly and roughly tearing out a placenta, causing massive pain and unnecessary blood loss. Many who knew her practice abhorred both the act and the result. Nurses complained. Those in charge said nothing, shook their heads as if, oh well, what can you do? Well, they could have done a lot. Revoked privileges for one thing. And this is just one example; there are many more. Were women harmed? In my opinion, yes. Did they recover? Probably. Did they know they could get better treatment elsewhere? Don’t know. No one went into the room and said, “Hey, between you and me, you can get better care from someone else.”  No one did that. If a woman died there would have been a review, but would the doctor be banned from practice? Probably not. What was her motive for this behavior? It was not standard of care. No research supported her practice. Was this one bad apple? This excuse is not unique to the police force. 

While this is not a fair comparison to the police brutality we’ve seen thanks to Steve Jobs, it is about peer review and what we tolerate from our professional colleagues. I quit my job, a job I loved, because of a dangerous practitioner working on the medical staff. The doctors knew he was unethical and immoral, the nurses knew it, the administrators knew it, some of the patients knew it, but many didn’t. He brought a lot of money in to the hospital so his transgressions were tolerated for years longer than they should have been. The one doctor who stood up and spoke out was herself targeted and bullied until she, too, quit. Ultimately, the community pays a price.

Look at the Catholic church. How many years was despicable, criminal behavior overlooked or tucked away? Every accusation and revelation made me crumble. Not again. Not another. The way the world regarded Catholics after that put me on the defensive. But there are so many good priests, I’d argued! And there are. But if they keep the bad ones propped up, for whatever reason: ignorance, shame, confusion, or arrogance, it hurts all of us. After thousands of lives shattered, and millions of dollars in reparations, they are cleaning up their act. Why isn’t this a lesson for other professions? 

It seems to matter who the victims are. Those without a voice, or video camera, have little ground to stand on. Perpetrators, seeking power over a group, get consumed with power once they get away with it, repeatedly. If a woman with means feels she has been cared for improperly, or if there is a bad outcome, she can sue. This practice dramatically changed the face of medicine. Monetary settlements was the driving force in attempting to make the medical community accountable. But it did not remove bad apples. It just makes insurance costs higher and those costs are passed onto patients. So, “bad apples” have made medical care more expensive and invasive. Unethical practice (for which there is financial gain) props up profitable treatments. Then this hurts all of us when the public does not trust medical research.

Defensive medicine is not the answer, but being financially accountable changes the landscape. If that’s what makes the decision makers stand up and take notice, decide they won’t tolerate inappropriate  or dangerous behavior, then bring it on. Start suing. The ones who have real reason to sue, often don’t. They don’t have the resources, the energy, or the inclination to force the system to treat them fairly; they get depressed and mistrustful. What if municipalities had to pay large sums repeatedly for civil servant’s abuse? Would the mayor finally say, “Enough!” and fire these suckers?

I was so incredibly relieved this week when the guilty verdict was announced. I tried to manage my fear when the jury went into deliberation. I prayed. I thought of Rodney King. I prayed we’d made progress. My anxiety of the past four years bubbled up as soon as I heard the verdict was imminent. I couldn’t breathe. I thought about that, I couldn’t breathe! I kept trying to inhale deeply to calm myself down. I prayed that we as a nation were turning a corner, finally taking responsibility for our past abuses. My relief was tremendous, and that’s just little me. It wasn’t my son murdered. We have to make the abusers start paying. We have to create a system where we aren’t excusing the whole because of a bad  apple or groundnut. I was guilty of this. I got defensive about the fact that all priests were being branded as child molesters. I get it now. We’ll all rot. 

What a waste to spit out the whole mouthful when we are usually so painfully clear about exactly which ones are rotten.

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Avoiding the Pit

Sunday Morning ~ Avoiding the Pit

Ng’ombe ya ukali imagwa m’mbuna. ~ The angry cow falls into the game pit.

~ Chewa proverb

April 18, 2021

The angry cow, consumed by it’s anger, stomps around, does not see the trap set out in the form of a pit, and stumbles into it. The calm cow sees the pit and walks around it, avoiding an embarrassing and undignified situation. In this proverb I’m assuming the calm cow is also angry but uses anger productively and rationally and avoids traps. That must be so nice. I always wanted to be the calm cow, but I’m really not. I’ve fallen into more than one pit. I watch measured responses, well thought out and even, spoken in calm words, that can be quoted and marveled at, and always wondered how their brain works that they can deliver with such composure. Is it a God given talent or inherent serenity? Or did they grow up in a home where anger was rationally channeled? Not sure, but it never ceases to impress me. 

I listened to an interview yesterday with the Reverend William Barber, a man who has every right to be angry. As I listened to him, I thought, he does not fall into the huge American pit. I listened to him lay out the timeline for the journalist in a methodical and calm way. He described how slowly change in a culture like ours unfolds. They were talking about the union vote in Alabama. The flashy news cycle declaring defeat, triggering anger and frustration, to him is irrelevant. What is relevant is progress, not winning or losing. It is progress, he says, that there was a vote. I’m moved by his lesson and I am grateful to him. I’m impatient for all the changes I want to see in my lifetime. He made me think about measuring progress in a new way and how easily we  can get discouraged and burn out if we have unrealistic goals. It is the progress, slow and sometimes imperceptible, but always a step forward we need to focus on. I see how, when I am the angry cow, my vision is blurred. 

In college I attended an assertiveness training for women. This was an effort to teach us how to speak up for ourselves without being angry. I watched with awe as the instructors modeled assertive behavior with integrity, grace, and ease. To be assertive and not angry is an effective skill and I wish I had mastered it better. It’s a joy to watch. Nancy Pelosi has it down. As I’m teaching this course about the history of women’s health care, it’s bringing me back to the 70s when assertiveness was angry, or labeled as such. Anger welled up as women were being demeaned and finally decided to say something about it. This justified anger resulted in them  being mocked, ridiculed, and punished, but it was a first step. I took the new notions home with me, thinking, surely everyone would see the light and get on board, but that’s not how the story went. My father regarded any woman speaking up for herself as a personal affront, as if he’d lose his livelihood. He referred to them as “Libbers” with undisguised contempt. It was a decade full of controversy and struggle, but for me and many young women, it was a step. 

It’s so strange to be teaching about an era I lived through as history! I feel like Cleopatra or something. It just doesn’t seem that long ago. These years have all melded together and it’s hard to separate the steps forward from current issues that take us back. But when I break it down, I see the steps more clearly and it’s easier to gauge the progress. When I feel like we are fighting the same battles over and over, I look to differentiate the similarities with the progress, cognizant of the common thread that connects us. I see a dying gasp of patriarchy clinging to desperate artifacts, knowing their line won’t hold. This history, the courageous women who struggled  before us with far fewer tools than we have now, teach us to be clear and calm, put one foot forward, and avoid the pit. It seems a solid strategy for longevity.

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ To Keep From Rotting

Sunday Morning ~ To Keep From Rotting

Pamodzin di pamodzi padaolera citsononkho. ~ Always on one place made the cob rot.

~ Chewa proverb

April 11, 2021

Hi Everyone,

We are moving from faux spring into real spring, which is a bit early this year in Maine. Tomorrow I’ll get my snow tires off, which, should guarantee a snowstorm later in the week but today the crocuses and daffodils are blooming, day lilies and tulips are starting to poke up. I had my last day of downhill skiing this week, the first time ever I have skied without a jacket. It was nice, but felt a little confusing. The snow was like soft brown sugar, just this side of slush, and it was hard on the legs. I’m glad I went though; I’m all about proper goodbyes. I liked knowing it would be my last day for the year. It was a healthy way for me to get through a solitary winter. The peepers and frogs are singing in the evenings. I haven’t got the screens in yet so I’m a little nervous about sleeping with the window open. I’m not too worried about insects, but I’m afraid a squirrel might come in and that would be a hellish nightmare. Neighbors would be calling 911 for sure. Today I’ll get at least the bedroom screen in so as not to miss the most perfect Maine lullaby.

I drove an hour yesterday to get my second dose of vaccine, waited in line in the warm sun, wearing only one jacket as opposed to the three layers I wore three weeks ago. The people in line were much younger than the last time I was there and it was heartening to see so many young adults. Maine is doing something right. Again, the system was incredibly efficient, friendly, and professional. My heart was full as I waited my post-dose fifteen minutes. Even the parking lot was a pleasant place with people pointing to spots about to open up as they headed to their cars. It was so sweet. I thought, if an alien landed in the middle of this lot and looked around they would believe that earthlings are very helpful people! They’d write stories about how very kind and attentive we are to each other. There is no controversy or disagreement, only polite and friendly chatter, assistance for those in need, and subtle greetings with funny cloths over their faces. Maybe the air is bad to breath, they might think, but the people are remarkably kind to each other. 

Now that I’m fully vaccinated I definitely feel a sense of relief, though I’m not feeling so great today. Thank you immune system. I have been exceedingly careful as the thought of spreading this virus unnecessarily is abhorrent to me, but in two weeks I’ll feel safe having dinner with my vaccinated friends. I can’t wait to share a meal.

I started teaching at the local college and am settling in to my class via zoom. It’s incredibly awkward. I spent the first week wondering why I did this to myself. When I taught at this college ten years ago I was given a class list and a room number. I showed up and taught. Good God, now I practically had to take an entire course just to learn how to navigate the online system, fulfill my orientation requirements, and figure out how to set up the class with students joining from various locations. I’m still unsure about etiquette and boundaries. Not sure yet if I should require the video be on and struggle with measuring what each student has learned. I dread grading them. 

I had very few college courses that I considered fun. They were mostly a chore, a slog through piles of required dry, boring reading. I want the students to look forward to this class, yet don’t want to be a sap. I had a couple of college professors who were inspiring and that’s what I want to be. This one class, a total of three hours a week face to face, screen to screen, or whatever you call it, seems like a full time job! I don’t know how full time teachers do it. I really don’t.

The first book I had them read was Witches Midwives and Nurses, a history of women healers written by two women from the Boston Women’s Collective. (It is sinking in that these students could be my grandchildren, and the women’s movement is ancient history to them.) I stress the importance of telling your own story, in your own voice. No witch got to tell her story. Imagine how our perception of women healers might be different. So much of their wisdom was lost. And for what? I wonder how much fear they lived under? Or with no mass communication, did they know they were burning midwives down the road? Now we are reading A Midwife’s Tale, a historical account of colonial midwifery in Maine from the diary of Martha Ballad, a midwife in Hallowell during the revolution. She made a daily record for twenty-seven straight years at a time when few women could write. It’s fascinating to compare the focus when the story is gleaned from women’s perspective. The day to day tasks recorded in this diary were passed over by many male historians as insignificant women’s work. But she was the first person in America to keep birth records. It is astonishing. 

I thought about the comparison between historical accounts, how stories are now being told from different voices, how this can turn us over and create healthier minds and beings. Being immersed in readings about racism I’m learning how the history books of my youth colored my perspectives and how organizations have systematically contributed to racist oppression. It’s painful to read and process. But, as I’ve said to many women in labor, there’s no other way but through. 

Love to all, 

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Rising

Sunday Morning ~ Rising

Kanthu aonenji adagwira kanthu mu mdima. ~ Mister “How can we see something” (blind) caught something in the dark.

~ Chewa proverb

April 4, 2021

Hi Everyone,

Easter this year is the anniversary of the day Hannah died seven years ago. It’s cold today. Seven years ago the day was cold, but in an April way. Today is cold in a December way, freezing and sharp with a biting wind. The light betrays us. On April 4th seven years ago I was painting my kitchen. It was half done. I never liked the color after that. I kept it, though, for five years. It was always a reminder. But it was never right. I never looked around and thought what a nice warm color. I always thought, I was painting that day. The day my friend’s child was gone on April 4th.

“Never a cross without a resurrection!” That’s what Irene used to say when I worked in her Stitch It Shop. Whenever I was upset about something she’d chirp, “Never a cross without a resurrection!”  I believed her, after all, she was living proof. Her life before I worked there had been difficult for a good long while. She told us of the years she carried her cross having one day off from the shop and traveling between the mental hospital and the prison. Husband at the first stop, son at the second, she’d visit them both every Sunday after mass. She told us stories of these visits without bitterness or self pity. At least I didn’t notice any, though as a teenager I may have missed some nuance. I marveled how she could still have a sense of humor. She told us the Lord had rewarded her after her husband died with a loving second marriage and more material comforts than she’d ever dreamed of. She’d list the presents she got for her birthday or Christmas. When I marveled at the romanticism and generosity, she said, “God is rewarding me because I went twenty years without a gift.” For her, the connection was evident. Famine followed by feast for the faithful. She spoke of bible stories as if she had been there when they happened. There was always meaning for her in real time. She was generous. She often opened the cash register and handed out bills to the less fortunate who’d stop in to chat. I never heard them ask for money; it was small town compassion. A masterful storyteller, she recalled details about our town in the depression, war time, the aftermath. I learned a lot about our town’s history from her. She was born in that town and never left. She knew all the players and many of their secrets. Her stories were raw and honest. Coming from a family where troubles were not aired and personal failings never discussed, I found this incredibly refreshing. It was a relief. I felt permission to do the same. A son in prison and you talked about it? That would have been unthinkable in my house. My parents took mysterious family history to their graves and I still wonder if I’ve got a step sibling out there somewhere. No one is left to tell the story.

I’m teaching a course at College of the Atlantic this term and asked the students to write a story about an experience they had in the healthcare system. Keep it tight, I told them, don’t waste words but tell us what happened. I asked them to consider all the women’s stories that have never been told and how much history has been filtered through a male screen. Imagine, just imagine, if your brother, boyfriend, husband, priest or father were the ones to tell your story. Imagine how your story might be told. Then imagine what you’d like unborn women to know.

I went to church today for the second time in a year. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it until I walked in and felt a wave of safety, calm, and peace wash over me. I sat at the back, the church much fuller than I expected. I’d believed during this pandemic that going to church was something I could omit along with grocery shopping. Why add to the chances of contagion? But the Easter tug was strong and I’m glad I went. I thought about the twelve who got to tell the Easter story. I went over the list of historical tools: artifact, autobiography, documents, deeds, journals, diaries. I thought about the privilege of telling your own story. As I listened to the gospel I thought about the power of storytelling before written language existed and how things changed when it was possible to write an account. “Then when we retire we can write the gospels so they’ll all talk about us when we die.” I listen to Jesus Christ Superstar. Brilliant. 

I have been following the coup in Myanmar and am horrified by the stories. It’s not only the shocking violence but the reported daily death toll. Curiously the media did not report similar death tolls of the Rohingya. How many innocent protestors have the military killed today? The voice is evocatively shocked. The numbers are rising daily, as if once the killing starts they might as well keep going; the world is getting used to it. When the number rose to a significantly shocking number, reported as such, accumulated deaths, numbers stacked upon corpses, reported with the emphasis on the number, total, since the coup began, I decided to look up the number of people killed in this country, my country, by white men during the same time frame. The numbers are similar. Wounded. Killed. The numbers pile higher and higher. But I don’t hear reporters on NPR stating how many people were killed by white men in America each day, total.  Unless it’s a flashy mass murder, the two here, four there, an ex-wife over here, aren’t shockingly reported since their lives weren’t apparently lost to a noble cause with a storyteller nearby.

Who tells their story? Will it still be told in two thousand years? If Mary Magdalene knew how to  write, if she’d been given the tools, how might the world be different?  I wish I could have said, “Mary, you really should write this all down. Keep a journal. Your story is really important. Keep it tight. Don’t waste words. People will want to know this story. It may help someone.”  

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ What Would the World Be Like?

Sunday Morning ~ What Would the World Be Like?

Ufulu ubwezera ufulu. ~ Kindness calls for a return of kindness.

~ Chewa proverb

March 28, 2021

Hi Everyone,

It’s Palm Sunday, and as with most of the holy rituals I celebrated from the time of my birth, I knew little about the actual meaning of the day. I dreaded Palm Sunday as a kid because it meant a very long mass. The reading of the passion was done while we stood and it took forever. I was bored as well as frightened by the solemnity. I hated the smell of the incense and thought it would never end. Getting palms to take home was fun, though I’m not sure why. It’s not like we got to play with them or anything. But I liked laying them on the kitchen counter next to the box of doughnuts, a simple brown box from the local bakery, another Sunday ritual. The honey dipped, jelly, and chocolate covered Sunday breakfast would be surrounded by dry palm on this day and I thought little else about them except that they made the day feel special somehow. There was the anticipation of holy week and fasting, but as Easter approached it meant new dress, new shoes, new hat, and the end to the deprivation of whatever we had to give up for lent. 

I’d never given thought to the significance of the palms. I knew they were blessed and we couldn’t just throw them away. They had to be burned. I knew the ashes for the next Ash Wednesday would come from the burnt palm fronds, but hadn’t considered the palms being laid across Jesus’s path as a reason for naming a whole Sunday after them. For much of my life I’d accepted what I’d been taught in this regard and let the unanswered questions contribute to the mystery and intrigue. 

Palm trees evoked exotic fantasies for me. They grew in lands where I imagined everyone walked slowly and with grace. But they also grow in places that were harsher in my imagination. Dry, hot, desert lands where dust was part of existence and sandals kept the feet from burning had palm trees framing images of the holy family. Depictions of bible stories made me never want to go there. It looked too foreboding; something bad would surely happen. Angry mobs might kill you for no reason. Funny, images of polar exploration, starvation, and frostbite all seemed preferable to me. At least, I reasoned, if the elements kill you, you’ve only yourself to blame for being unprepared. 

This all makes me think of the deep seeded biases and unconscious preferences I have. Where I want to go, live, or travel has been shaped by stories I’ve heard and images I’ve conjured. Palm trees beg romantic scenes of luscious sunsets with soft trade winds caressing the landscape. Silhouetted, they are so unthreatening, so tame. I know little about the different types of palms though I have researched them when I’ve traveled. Date and coconut were all I thought existed, but there are over 2500 types of palm trees. Their fronds make lovely functional baskets. They are woven into mats. And they can even be laid upon the road to soften the way for a special guest, riding on a humble animal, about to face his death for being such a good community organizer and healer.   

Palm Sunday comes near Passover, but I never learned about Passover as a kid. In fact, I learned nothing of Judaism until my freshman year of college when I had a Jewish roommate.  I was spellbound listening to her stories of Jewish ritual. That was a time in my life when I created a strict new structure, based in religion, to keep me from having any fun. When I look back, it was an interesting time. I went to mass every day; going to a Catholic college, this was not difficult. There were masses all over campus at different times. I chose a twenty-five minute noon mass at a beautiful gothic chapel, grounding me in a familiar ritual when I was feeling alone and lonely. I hadn’t gotten on-campus housing so shared an apartment off campus with three roommates from different colleges. They were older than me and had established friendships and social lives. I did not fit in, though they were kind to me and became like big sisters. I sat at the knee of the one who practiced her religion and listened with rapturous interest about how her family life was protected and enriched by it all. I felt like we had a lot in common, though her stories had more background and intriguing food. I had never even heard of a bagel before my freshman year of college. Once introduced, they were the epitome of deliciousness,. Cream cheese and smoked salmon? I felt I had been given the keys to a new universe. How had this bulky, filling, rich, chewy vessel been hidden from me? We had a few Jewish families in my hometown but I don’t remember a single bagel in the bakeries. It was doughnuts and eclairs. And Good Friday? Everyone got that day off no matter which god you worshipped.

I remember asking my mother what would have happened if they didn’t kill Jesus. I remember her laughing at the question. She was busy doing some kind of house work––ironing or defrosting the refrigerator which took an entire day. Her response was, “No one knows.” and for some reason, I was satisfied with that. 

I have spent plenty of fantasy time rewriting stories of painful parts of my life. Not in a denial sort of way, but in a what-if sort of way. Today, I thought about rewriting the story of Easter and Passover. No exile, no crucifixion. What if… the kindness people showed Jesus by laying the palm fronds on the road were mimicked by his persecutors? What if they’d looked around and thought, how nice they treat each other! How kind is this man who cares about the poor and downtrodden! What if we winnowed out the kindnesses and celebrated those? What if the haters were stopped by the kindness. What if those were the stories we told children? Would it leave them unprepared for reality? I imagine Jesus on his donkey crossing the palm fronds, sharing a meal, hashing out differences, splitting up the leftovers, and making a plan to hand ladles of water to thirsty voters. What would the world be like?  

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Power of the Tail

Sunday Morning ~ The Power of the Tail

Mphamvu za ng’ona zili ku mcira. ~ The strength of the crocodile lies in it’s tail.

~ Chewa proverb

March 21, 2021

Hi Everyone,

Thirty nine years ago today, at 7:29 a.m. I was clutching my new baby boy to my chest. He was nine pounds, two ounces and I was shocked at how my little body grew such a big baby. What a miracle. I’d labored through the night, walking the halls to make labor move along, worried it would stall like my first labor did. I should have rested. It was a long hard night. Images of a rosy future played in my mind as I got myself through each contraction. I imagined my two children growing up as best friends. I pictured them playing together in sandboxes, then on ballfields. I thought about their acne covered faces studying together, skiing together, laughing together. It was a time when we learned of the baby’s sex at birth so my fantasies were gender neutral. Then, as the sun came up on the first day of spring on that Sunday morning, I pushed this robust, healthy boy into the world.

My second child was born on the cusp of an ongoing fight between medical and midwifery birth. I was lucky to find a midwife to care for me during my pregnancy; it was before there were many practicing in our system and I clung to her to protect me. I was terrified of being medically manipulated and felt I needed a human shield. I’d wanted a home birth but had no cash to pay for that. My job as a visiting nurse, paid six dollars an hour, but at least provided health insurance. That meant I would pay nothing out of pocket for the birth and hospital stay, but meant I must subject myself to their routine procedures and (what I considered) torture. In 1982 my baby went to the nursery instead of staying with me. I was in a “quad” with three other women so no visitors were allowed. All babies came out on a schedule to feed. I was woken at 2 a.m. with unannounced overhead lights and four babies loudly rolled in and distributed. Exhausted, we four were startled awake, blood pressure cuffs attached, thermometers inserted, and name bands checked to make sure we were handed the correct child. It was absolutely barbaric. Completely spent from laboring the entire night before, I was nearly hallucinating. When my son was placed next to me, I said, “But he is sleeping!” The nurse (let’s call her Ratchet) said, “You get that baby on a schedule!” and proceeded to unwrap him and flick his feet to wake him. I pulled him toward me, rewrapped him, and when she left, we drifted back to sleep together. I barely woke up when they came to collect him, maybe they thought he’d eaten and burped and went back to sleep. I was scolded for sleeping with the baby there and didn’t see him again until six when they wheeled them all in again. A few hours later, the midwife came in to do rounds and, crying, I begged her to get me out of there. She agreed to discharge me as soon as the pediatrician let the baby go. It felt like prison.

I was so grateful to gather my tortured perineum, hemorrhoids, and sore nipples and take them home to a soft chair, loving husband, my two year old, and my sister who was staying with us. What a relief. My husband was a student and we lived in a cheap rental with no insulation and a wood stove for heat. When we got coats off and settled, my husband hit play on the cassette player and Elton John started singing, “The Greatest Gift”. It was romantic and sweet and I had all I could ever want in the world. My husband prepared a meal, my sister cuddled and read to my two year old, and I fell in love with my newborn and tried to forget the abuse. 

I appreciate many medical advances, vaccines for instance, but when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, we’ve gone so overboard dehumanizing this natural event that I devoted my professional life to changing that. Like so much else in our culture, it’s evolution was based on power and greed.  We could have created a system ensuring mothers were safe, shielding them from infection and hemorrhage. Basic measures and education would have reduced maternal and infant mortality. Soap and clean water goes a long way. But the profits that could be had off the backs and vaginas of women were there for the taking. They scared women into believing their babies would die, subjecting them to unnecessary (but profitable) tests, tortured them with straps and monitors shown over and over to improve nothing. “Cause no harm” never seems to resonate when women’s bodies are concerned.

What we have done to women in our system and how we have failed them and motherhood at large weighs heavy on me. How I wanted to be part of fixing this problem. How I struggled as a midwife to resist becoming part of the machine that profits off of maternal anxiety. Always on the birthdays of my children I think about my experiences as a patient in a health care system I always found lacking. Yet, I was part of it, always struggling to make into something I believed in.

I thought about all this yesterday when I got my first dose of Covid vaccine. I’m fortunate that I can drive, have a functioning car, have fuel, and the ability to schedule a time slot. I drove an hour to the massive vaccination site. I parked, donned my mask and got in line. I had my identification, my confirmation number, my insurance card, all ready to hand over. I moved forward in the long line, stepping from marker to six-foot marker. I was met by a greeter who directed me to a woman who handed me a second mask. I put that over the one I wore and went to the next station where hand sanitizer was squirted into my palm. I rubbed my hands together and moved to the table where a volunteer asked my name. I was ready to show all my documentation, but ended up putting all that back in my pocket when he checked me off the list and thanked me for coming. I said, “That’s it? You don’t need any of this?” I showed him my cards. “No, you are all set, move this way” and he pointed to the next station. There, a volunteer entered my information about allergies, confirmed my name and birthdate, gave me my card and information about the vaccine, and pointed me toward the next station. As I moved forward on the floor markers, other volunteers greeted me, their eyes showing the smile the mask hid. I was nearly crying. I thought, see what we can do? See how we can give people the health care they need with compassion! See how this can work? It is possible, we can do this. My turn came, I rolled up my sleeve, got my shot from the friendly nursing student, and moved on to the waiting area, where I was choked up watching the appropriately-spaced chairs fill with people from all walks of life. I thought about Yo Yo Ma playing the cello while he waited. I thought of how all the horrors of the past four years was becoming less vibrant in my mind because of all the goodness I saw around me. This is possible. We’re proving it. 

The proverb I chose today teaches that it’s not the head with the real power, it’s the tail. The leader is important, yes, but the power really comes from those in back. We can make this so much better.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mindful Movement

Sunday Morning ~ Mindful Movement

Mtunkha-tunkha udatayitsa lipande. ~ Moving all the time spilled the pounded maize.

~ Chewa proverb

March 14, 2021

Hi Everyone,

Among other things, the pandemic has forced me to stop moving around. It is unfamiliar but I’ve tried to embrace it, and I’ve had some success. I’m more settled, take more stock in what I have, what I need and what I don’t. I’ve connected with many distant friends, read a lot, walked a lot, written. I’m still in motion but the circle has diminished to my kitchen island. I thought about this as I paced around it today, eating cornbread, wondering why I can’t sit still to eat anymore. Someone, somewhere said that’s not good for you, to stand and eat, but I don’t believe it. 

It’s been a year since this enforced homestay began. A year in a long life is a blip. I think of the years in school, wishing them to be done so I could move on to exciting things. I could have, should have, relished those years  more. My constant motion always had me looking ahead to the next adventure, planning another before I finished the one I was on. I think of the years with babies, loving them but also wishing for the days when they could buckle their own seatbelt, carry their bag, zip their own jackets. It always seemed like life would be easier around the bend. And so, I have tried to relish this year of being home, knowing I am so much more fortunate than many. I am trying today, the day when the time lurches forward, to sort through my feelings about this year.

Guilt crops up. I’ve felt guilty about having so much comfort and security. Not immobilizing guilt, I’ve worked hard for what I have. I know many people who would blame my Catholicism for this guilt, which always makes me laugh, since they don’t say this to guilty-feeling non-Catholics. I experiment changing the internal dialog from guilt to gratitude. I’m grateful for what I have and wish others could have the same. We all make choices and I chose a road that led me to a comfortable life. But I was also lucky. I had parents who worked hard and paved the road I walked. I was lectured at length as a kid that hard work was the only way to a comfortable life and I learned that lesson well. I also acknowledge there was much more circumstance to that end. I chose a profession that allowed me to work anywhere around the world, there being a universal need for nursing. I recognized my calling fit well with my need to move. While friends were reading What Color is Your Parachute? I was moving closer and closer to my career goals and always found moving an exciting prospect. Settling in to new places and creating a new life has always been my default setting: when upset, move. 

Once settled into this house that took so much of our resources, heart, and mind, I vowed never to move from it and it has been my mooring ever since. Moving and returning has been my pattern. Until now, however, I’ve never spent this much time in it. I’ve traveled or spent days away at my workplace, returning to this anchorage in a whirl of accomplishment and relief. I took this place for granted. Now, day in and day out, I’m here looking around at ceilings and walls, decor, window latches, door knobs, floors and newel posts. I watch the angle of the sun coming in and have been analyzing it’s progression.  It’s given me an attention to detail new in perspective. I haven’t decided if it’s good or bad; I’m still thinking about it. Sometimes I think I’m going crazy, and sometimes I feel smart and handy. I move through the house this time of year when the light is a tease, the temperature deceives, and lose myself in details and what to do about them. 

I look out the window and feel I should be outside. But more than any time of year, I want to be in. This is not new; it’s my reaction to spring. I’ve always resisted this but I’m not a spring fan. The light says, “Come out!” But when I do, the air is like a cruel boyfriend who teases and lies. It tortures me when I step out. I think, “This isn’t what you promised!” Your light said, “Lightweight sweater! No long underwear!” But in reality, I must bundle up and watch my step because the going is hard and dangerous. It’s not easy or fun. And so I admit to myself that I’m out of sync. This season does not love me and I don’t love it back. I cling to my beloved winter, knowing it’s leaving and won’t be back for awhile. I pick my skis off the dirty snowbank, toppled after a fleeting thaw, and hope for another go on the white trails, the soft scene surrounding me with happiness and gratitude. It’s so fleeting. It’s like an affair, a lover you know you can’t keep. It’s that ugly time when the affair is over but you’re still fighting. You know it is right to end things, it’s best. But you only half believe that. You want things the way they were and now need to sit with your grief and find pleasure in other things. A thaw is around the corner now, but it’s only to mess things up before freezing again so the softness is turned to a treacherous dare. 

Eventually the sadness will fade. As the forsythia start to bud I’ll anticipate the next lover, and one day I’ll open the door to a welcome breeze that says it’s real this time.  Then I’ll leave the bitterness behind, barely remembering how I ever felt anything but joy. Those days are coming.

Mindful movement, keeping this dramatic year in perspective. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ First Words

Sunday Morning ~ First Words

Nchenzi inamva mau oyamba. ~ The rat heard the first words.

~ Chewa proverb

March 7, 2021

Hi Everyone,

The rat, hearing the trap would be set tomorrow, got caught when he failed to hear: “On second thought, I’ll set it today.”    

Our women’s writing group met yesterday over zoom. It was odd initially, this simulated gathering, but as we wrote and read it relaxed into a comfortable acceptance; for it was this or nothing. It was uplifting, nourishing, accommodating. Almost thirty years ago a discussion about women telling their stories morphed into this group and a monthly Saturday morning of writing. With a desire to tell those stories we learned to abolish the editor, the ghostly voice telling us we can’t write; it’s not good enough, no dangling participles please! We write without judgement. Then we read. It is a treasured part of my life, this group of women. It began with women who wanted to write, that’s it, their lives revealed in short, raw, funny, painful, garish segments. The authors alone decide whether to reveal them anywhere aside from this safe and sacred place. There is no judgement and the only commentary an occasional sigh, a nod, a tight smile, a tissue handed across a room, a pat on the knee, an outburst of laughter. Silence. Then another story. 

To get to know a group of women by what they write then choose to read, in short segments, six or nine minutes, sometimes only three, has been deeply meaningful. Our souls and hearts bared, our deepest worries, questions, regrets, triumphs, joys, and sorrows laid out in poetic phrases, unpunctuated, often illegible. It’s all okay. No judgement. No advice. Just gratitude. All this makes for a unique human connection. Our monthly gatherings are personal, we’re older, with varied pasts and skills. Ordinarily, we sit in crowded living rooms, the most comfortable chairs are first come first serve. The windows, the teacup, the scone, the artwork, all highlighted as we seat ourselves. Hallways filled with boots and scarfs, coats and purses, frame the scene. Apologies for icy walks and distant parking places all shaken off with smiles and hugs, warmth, welcome. It’s as healing as a full day at the spa.

This ritual stopped a year ago. While everyone shook off the shock and adjusted to the new rules, the women’s writing group sat on a shelf like an classic novel. Creative outlets sprouted here and there, there may have been talk of frustration, of missing this, if so it wasn’t to me. I only felt it. I still wrote, but missed these friends. Turns out, others felt the same. So they organized a way to do it over zoom, again, odd, but it’s what we have to work with and are lucky for that. I was excited! In the morning I flitted around the house, feeling like I should make scones and clean the bathrooms, as if they were all about to arrive at my house! I wanted everything ready, the smell of bread baking, coffee brewing, and some sort of living green dotting mantlepieces and side tables. I came back to reality, adjusted to the times. I arranged the laptop for an attractive backdrop, a comfortable writing space, a perfect angle of light. 

While I waited, I sorted and organized piles of stuff from a cabinet I impulsively opened and emptied earlier in the week when I’d received an upsetting phone call. A little side bar in my brain wondered what I was doing? It seemed my arms belonged to someone else as they pulled piles and piles of stuff out on to the floor. I listened intently. offering only, “Oh,” and “I’m sorry” and “What now?” and “I’m glad you called.” I hadn’t opened this cabinet in a very long time. I had to move stuffed baskets away from the cabinet doors just to open them. I put it all in the hallway: baskets, bags, bundles, cast offs, and well-intentioned future projects. Half done or less, they looked up at me from the hallway floor, pained, like the voice in my ear. I looked at the hallway, now nearly impassable, and thought, I’m sorry I’ve hidden you away, imperfect and incomplete, unacceptable, and undone. I just shoved you away waiting for a day when either I or my prodigy would decide what your future would be. The voice in my ear said goodbye and thanks for listening. My heart was like a stone in my chest, not cold and uncaring, but heavy, bulky, solid. It weighed me down. I looked around at the mess in the hallway and wondered what I had done? Why did I just pull all this out? Knowing it can not go back in the way it was. Maybe I needed something to control as I had none over the pain on the phone. Clear out what I’m not using, haven’t used, held and stored. I need to make space to breathe and think, organize, control, reorder to a form that makes sense and in the end, might keep someone warm.

I wrote about this, about letting go; how we decide what to keep, what to abandon. I think many of us are considering this now. We’ve been home so much, noticing cracks, collections, sentiments gone stale. Framed gems that seem hollow and well past their expiration date. What to compost and what to trash? Then there are the words. I found old journals. I refrained from reading them, knowing I’d neglect the piles for days to come once I started. I stacked the journals and wondered, if I died today, would anyone read them? And if they did, my kids for example, would it be painful? Would they devour them and discover who their mother really was? Or would it all get scooped up in a weekend, deposited in a burying site, lost, because no one has any space for anyone else’s stuff anymore. Armoires, dishes, linens, and silver relegated to archeological overload. I consider how much we are learning now about incentives of historical figures, dredged from their journals that someone has finally taken the time to read.  Paper fades. Words don’t. Their meanings morph and first words may not reveal the truth. 

Love to all,

Linda