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“I had to break away from her,” my friend Alice tells me over the phone about someone she once called a friend. Alice isn’t the only one. Lots of folks lately seem to be dealing with toxic people. You know them. We meet them everywhere in the jungle of life. Some are outright predators; others hang back, like vultures, waiting to sink their talons into the weak and weary. The hardest part of dealing with toxic people is that maybe only you see that person for what they truly are. The rest of the gnus keep grazing, blissfully unaware. Yet God commands us to love everyone. It may take time to find a way to love our enemies — difficult things always do — but it also demands of us a certain primal common sense. To wit, the following poem:
This is not a litany of sins.
You have taught me things,
a veritable National Geographic
special. Some creatures,
for whom all touch is enemy,
strike — even if the stroke
is light, a caress.
Some people know pain,
and let it go, others
grow it and sow it,
sweat it from their pores
like tropical frogs or
hold it in their craws
like komodos who will
pursue you, slash you with their claws,
consume you or, in a pinch, lick you,
(a flick of the tongue, breathlessly quick),
let the poison in their maws do its work.
Whichever way they come for you, you die.
How do you love a komodo?
From afar, perhaps, and pityingly.
Several years ago, I helped teach a class on prayer. One of the types of prayer that we learned about was the Irish blessing. These simple prayers call down God’s blessing on even the everyday from the breakfast we eat to the household tasks that we do. Bless this task, bless this house, and bless those who reside within. Amen!
If peace is a place, where is it?
Do you know it when you find it,
like the Northwest Passage
or the Cape of Good Hope?
Can it be detected only in solitude,
or can others come along?
Do you know it only from the absence
of its opposite? Does peace scream
“Here I am!”?
Does it steal upon you in moments,
like a hummingbird buzzing against your palm,
or does it descend in a wash, like rain?
Can you live there?
Has anyone ever known it,
known it like the scar on the heel
of their hand, like a song sung by heart?
Is it blue (a color that isn’t really there),
like calm seas; does it live in winter,
cracking and thawing like birthed icebergs?
Will I ever find it? — Is it just outside
the reach of my hand or
hovering above my head?
Or will I only see it, minutes before I go,
like a mole I always had but never noticed?
Or is it a destination?
There was a women’s march last weekend. Then, there was a backlash. (Of course there was a backlash.) Most of the content of that backlash centered on the marchers themselves — specifically, their looks. Certain male politicians characterized these women as “ugly” — a word often consigned to feminists — or “fat.” These men know how to push buttons. They know exactly how to hurt us.
And yet: To look at these naysayers objectively, it is clear that we are not dealing with young Paul Newman lookalikes. There is nothing beautiful, graceful or aesthetically pleasing about them. They are, as my mother would say, “as homely as a mud fence.” You could tell these men that, but they wouldn’t care. Because it doesn’t matter. A man doesn’t have to be beautiful. His entire worth to society — to the world — isn’t bound up in his looks.
But ours (as women) is.
Why? Why? The question keeps ringing in my head like a plaint. Because you see, I know women who marched — in D.C. and other areas. They are beautiful inside and out. More importantly, they are smart. Most importantly — and I use this adjective with the gravity it deserves — they are holy. Which is a darned sight more important than beautiful. Which is, in fact, much harder to obtain.
I vacillate between gentle, head-shaking wonder and furious rage when I examine the dichotomy between what we say we are as a nation and what we do. Politicians, especially conservative ones, like to call us a Christian country. But what would God think of building a wall to keep people out? I’m talking about the God who sent his son to say, “What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” What would God think about denigrating whole swaths of people, trying — quite calculatedly — to shut them up and shut them down?
I have been told a hundred times to “accept” what is happening politically. To smile and accentuate the positive. But this isn’t about policy differences. It’s about opposing what I see as evil. I will never back down from opposing evil. It is my moral right — my moral imperative — to oppose it.
It is also my imperative to disabuse the notion that a woman’s looks define her. Until we are all judged by the content of our souls, no one here — or anywhere — is free.
Tell me this. When, exactly, do the cows come home? They must be the Ultimate Party Animals. People always say, “We’ll stay out until the cows come home!” as if it’s a measure of the amount of fun they’re having. Now, I’ll get along with anybody, but if Elsie Moos and Mambos at five AM outside my window, I’m going to be pretty darn lactose intolerant!
I wonder why we phrase it this way: “Nightfall” and “Daybreak.” To me, they should be reversed. Night actually breaks, if you think about it. The sudden presence of pitch-blackness disrupts us as we’re going about our daily lives. Oh! Not even 5 o’clock. Night-time already! Well, better get the knitting. Warm up the cocoa. We’re in for the night!
But if you’re an early bird and have ever (voluntarily) seen the sunrise, you know it comes gently, gradually. Often beautifully. It doesn’t “break” upon the scene, no, it rolls in. Perhaps even strolls in.
It isn’t always clear why “things have always been done this way.” Sometimes it’s out of habit, or tradition, or maybe it was whoever won “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
It may take a few years, but eventually, you’ll realize that it’s okay to be yourself. There was a time when I’d check in with friends to see what they’d be wearing to the party, or to make sure I knew where the action was later on that night.
Nowadays, I don’t get out as much as I’d like due to health issues, but as I sat in my sunroom and watched my cat watching squirrels, I realized something startling.
This is the peaceful life I always wanted. These are my druthers. Sure, there are things I’d like to do: it would be good to get out and explore the world more. See my friends in person. It would be nice to be able to “impulse-shop” once in awhile.
But I don’t miss the hustle and bustle, or the “schlepping” to get where you wanted to go – the place where you thought the action was.
Just as the church isn’t a building, but the people, the party isn’t the location, but the company you keep. Sometimes it’s the whole family, or just you and your cat. It’s all good.
My definition of blessings? A home that’s peaceful, prayerful and positive. Just like this blog.
Here’s to the good life!
There’s an old children’s rhyme (quoted famously in “Singing in the Rain”) that goes like this: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” It’s a bit of doggerel that keeps popping into my mind as I reflect further on the subject of forgiveness. For aren’t we all a little like Moses in this way?
We are quick to excuse, expunge, understand and let slide our own sins because they are ours. We know our own motivation. We think ourselves to be, at heart, good people. We cut ourselves slack. We suppose our toes — or our sins, in this case — are roses. But we suppose erroneously. All sins stink.
Imagine extending the kind of compassion we show ourselves to others! Instead of mentally berating the mother who is shrieking at her children at Walmart, perhaps we could recall the last time our own tone was harsh — understandably so, because of the day we were having! What has that mother’s day been like? Or among our own families: Do we not sometimes take for granted that our families will love us no matter what? And does this assumption sometimes carry with it the further assumption that we need not try as hard with our own kin as we do, say, with outsiders? Again, we suppose erroneously. Our families deserve our first fruits, not our leftover scraps.
I’m not advocating beating yourself up for every error you make. Rather, loosen the purse strings on your bag of mercy in the same way you would for yourself. You remember that you are only human. You know you get tired, frustrated, out of sorts. But you forget that other people do, too. You want your own opinions to be accepted and understood, but you’d rather others not express opinions counter to your own. If your own toeses need a little compassion, so do everybody else’s — whether or not they smell much like roses.
I am feeling my way around the subject of forgiveness because it seems to be a prominent need in my life. But it’s prominent for all of us. Forgiveness is not only a gift we give others, it is a gift for ourselves, a letting go of pain and anger that can drag us down and make us stink just as bad as the person who sinned against us. For the health of our own toeses — as well as the toeses of others — maybe we should remember: We are all sinners, and we all smell. Mercy, grace and compassion are just what we need to cover up the stench.
When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the news lately, we’ve been hearing about people committing awful acts of terror, and this term seems to come up more often than not: “self-radicalized.”
It might be more accurate to call it “metastasized.” Something incompatible to life taking root at the cellular level.
I’ve noticed that this word isn’t applied to everyone equally.
We don’t call these two grandmas in a shoot-out at Wal-Mart “radicalized.”
In most cases, the term is used when speaking of Muslims involved in violent acts, but I think it could be applied to people of any race, gender or religion who feel disenfranchised.
That being said, I still believe that most of the world’s population is comprised of peaceful, law-abiding people. Of course, there are some exceptions, but there are still many reasons to be hopeful about life.
God’s grace is still the oxygen of the universe.
Here’s what buoys my spirits.
To know that there are people like this four-year-old who read a thousand books and was made Librarian for a Day at the Library of Congress is like a vitamin for the soul.
To know that this elderly lady in distress dialed a wrong number and it turned out to be a police detective who stayed on the line to help her is evidence of Providence at work.
To know that these stray dogs in Turkey were given shelter at a mall by kind-hearted locals during a snowstorm warmed my heart.
To know that young and old can connect, as this 82 year old man found out when a 4 year old said, “hi, old person, can I have a hug?” brought a tear to my eye.
What if we took back ownership of the word, “radicalized,” and used it in the spirit spoken of by Dr. King?
We might self-radicalize toward full-scale compassion. Mobilize in the direction of brazen kindness. Maybe if we open our hearts and reach out our arms, we’d find we could embrace the whole world.