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The #MeToo movement has reached ubiquity: We all know what it means when a woman (or man) posts these words to social media. Ruth gave a powerful breakdown of the situation. In fact, she changed the way I thought about my own history. I believed I could never forgive the men who have harassed or assaulted me over the years. But then a funny thing happened — I made a list.

I listed all the times I could remember someone making me feel unsafe, or someone physically or verbally assaulting me. Over the days, the list grew. It is now quite substantial. But in making the list, the power these people had over me dropped to zero.

Maybe it’s seeing their names, or the lack of them — some names I never knew, some I’ve forgotten, like “Warehouse Creep” and “King of Bear Country.” Just faceless, nameless ghosts. Not even worth remembering. In other cases, it was a matter of perspective. I can look back now on the man who kept calling me “Kiddo” and rubbing my thigh on a car ride home from the first (and last) time I babysat his 6-year-old son, who spent the entire night talking about big breasted women — as if such a thing could mean anything to a child that young — and think, “How little he must have had in his life!” It’s almost sad.

Ruth is dead right: These people aren’t brimming with machismo and confidence. They are insecure. A real man doesn’t need to harass women to get attention. How frightened they must be! How alone! I found myself praying for them: That they find ways to get the attention they want through other means; that they can learn to feel important not by subjugating others but by doing positive things.

But most of all, I pray for a world where no girl or woman has to make a list like mine. Because although making it was cathartic, it’s not a task I would wish on anyone. Because no woman should have to have a list. Because it shouldn’t happen to begin with. Because being sad and pathetic is no excuse.

Forgiveness is divine. But wouldn’t it be nicer if there were nothing to forgive?

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Every time a mass shooting occurs, The Onion runs the same headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” And every time a mass shooting occurs, Facebook explodes with opinions from both sides of the gun control debate. Because apparently some people are perfectly content living in a country where they and their children are 20 times more likely to die by gun violence than in any other civilized country on the map.

There are no arguments. Not anymore. Don’t tell me “guns don’t kill people; people do.” Yes. People with guns. Do you not get that? Don’t explain patiently that the killers on 9/11 didn’t use guns. I know that. And we immediately did something about it — we changed the way we fly; we put people on lists; we went to war (with the wrong country, but whatever). But there’s nothing we can do about guns? Fine then. What’s the other near-constant in gun violence? White guys. Shall we legislate against them? Oh wait. They’re the ones in charge of absolutely everything.

Well, I’m done arguing. Your right to own an object does not supersede my right to live.

In better, calmer times, I wrote the following (as Ruth recently reminded me). I’ve decided that it will be my version of The Onion article. Get used to seeing it, folks. Because we may worship God here in America, but guns — ah! Those are our real deity.

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

 

(for my mother)

“I hope you never go through this,” she says, but there is no other way.
All roads lead here. All things must pass.
Think of life as a beautiful bird,
watch as time plucks your feathers one by one.

You sail through childhood like a happy ship
until you hear, “Girls can’t do math.”
Or “girls aren’t strong.”
You are young enough to wonder why. Pluck.

You grow into womanhood, revel in newness
like a just-born foal, kicking up its heels.
The world notices in strange new ways.
You learn fear. Pluck.

Then — when did it happen? You’re not so young
and it comes to you at once that your worth,
the price tag of your being, was bound in what you were.
You disappear like vapor. Pluck.

Menopause takes what you’ve finally learned to love,
memory, ripeness, uncanny feminine ability.
You ask yourself, what are you now?
Thinning bones and lost days. Pluck. Pluck.

When does it dawn that you are mostly chicken flesh,
shivering and practically naked?
When do you know that you
no longer know?

Perhaps when the last feather falls you see:
God was there all along, collecting your plumage,
saving it, knitting it into a most fantastic garment.
And when you die, you wear your feathers anew, this time as wings.

And you soar, at last.

1. Never sneeze with half-chewed nuts in your mouth. I’m still picking bits out of my hair.

2. If your wife makes something for the potluck, remember to actually bring it. (Owen, that’s you I’m talking to.)

3. Folks can say in one breath that they voted for Trump because he is pro-life, yet in the next breath fully countenance the forcible removal of immigrants, the yanking of health care to thousands — making pregnancy a “pre-existing condition,” while simultaneously denying prenatal care, and failing to understand why Black Lives Matter.

4. When one only has herself to cook for, one tends to eat sporadically and strangely. Creamed kale for supper, anyone?

5. God makes God’s-self known in loud trumpeting…and barely perceivable whispers. Both. I am much better at hearing the trumpeting. Although it is jolting.

6. As a brilliant artist friend reminded me with his painting of Jeremiah being lifted from the cistern (the biblical prophet’s enemies throw him into a dry cistern; a court official rescues him, not just with rope, but — thoughtfully — with pieces of cloth to place under his arms while he is being lifted, so the ropes don’t chafe him), you can lift a person up by throwing them a line and expecting them to be grateful for it, OR you can lift someone up with special attention to their individual needs — i.e., gently. How do you lift people up?

7. There is always a third option: To not lift people up at all. This is becoming less and less acceptable to me, yet more and more common in the world.

8. I need to speak less and listen more. This will render me pretty much selectively mute. That’s okay; the world has enough noise in it. It will, however, make phone calls awkward.

9. I need a nap. A year or two ought to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me….

That’s Shakespeare, by the way, opining on the unbearable heaviness of being. As per usual, I’m with Sweet William. I always thought that if I could choose a super-power, I’d choose incorporality — the ability to lose my physical body, pass through walls, fly (or at least float) and be incapable of being touched or hurt by human hands. (My husband tells me Rogue from X-Men is like this, but my nerd credentials can neither confirm nor deny.) In other words, I want to be body-less. Why? Because I hate my body.

I was too thin growing up, and now I’m much too fat. (When was I “just right”? I don’t remember that ever happening.) I am too tall, my features are insignificant, I’m graying, and just now I have a rash on my face — stress dermatitis — which makes me want to stick my head in the ground like an ostrich.

My gorgeous redheaded sister-in-law tells me to try body positivity (or at least body neutrality). My friends tell me not to engage in negativity. They’re right. I know this. I also know that it is shallow and wrong that society puts so much emphasis on a woman’s looks; that when male professionals are described, words like “leader” and “strong” are used, but when women professionals are described, words like “hot” or “cute” prevail. It’s ugly. It’s unfair. It’s the way things are.

It is also unfair to God, who made me as I am: tall, yes, but also smart. Unremarkable, but in better health than many. Temporarily red-faced, but a good listener.

I suspect that we all struggle with ourselves to an extent. I’d hate to meet someone who was totally self-satisfied, who honestly felt there was no work to be done on their innards (or out-ards). We can all do better. But honoring God means honoring ourselves, too.

I suggest a compromise. Let’s each try to think of one thing (per day) about ourselves that we like or value. I value that I can reach the top shelf at the grocery store. I will never have to ask a man to get something for me that I can’t reach. I like that my eyes show everything I am feeling. I like that my hands look like my mom’s.

That’s three things. So, how about you? What do you struggle with? What can you celebrate? How can we move past focusing on the physical to focusing on the spiritual?

I bet our souls are absolute knockouts.

Well, I might as well go all in and tell you about my colonoscopy. Oh, I’m fine. I got the all-clear from the doctor. But (there’s a pun. Sorry. First of many.) I have to say, I was confused by his report to my family physician.

To me, he said, “You’ve got pockets of diverticuli, which everyone gets as we get older. Maybe get some more fiber,” and he shrugged, as if to say, nothing to worry about.

In the report to my doctor, he wrote, “Counseled the patient at length about the importance of adding fiber to diet.”

Huh? At length? Let me think. Okay. He shrugged. Was that supposed to be code for: make sure to eat shredded wheat (despite the fact that it tastes like hay and you’ll hate your life every day of your life for the rest of your life. Enjoy!)  Finger wag would have made the point more clear.

My suspicious New Jersey mind went places. Why didn’t he tell me to eat more fiber? Hmmm? Is it because he secretly HOPES I’ll get tumors and he can make more money off of me in the future? Perhaps?

But I thought it through. He actually wouldn’t make any more gross income (there’s another pun! Yikes, indeed.) off of my tuchus if I did get cancer. He’s just the one checking the plumbing. An oncologist would be treating me in that case. Still being from Jersey, I wondered: what if he gets kickbacks for every patient that does develop tumors? Hmm? Perhaps?

Talk about your back room deals! 😕

Eventually, I came back to my senses and realized it’s just a matter of words.

The way doctors talk to patients is informally, to make sure we understand. The way doctors talk to each other is informed by legalities. They write in a certain way to protect their own ass..ets (hey now!) in case they get sued.

Overall, it was a moment I’d like to put behind me. Yuck/yuk. Kind people, that’s my TMI story du jour, but please allow me one final pun:

The End.

We try to tackle the big topics on this humble little blog: life, death, spirituality, peace, love, justice, mercy. So, in comparison, my topic today seems ludicrously flimsy and terribly vain: I am going to write about my recent decision to let my hair go gray, as it has been wanting to do, lo these many years.

I started going gray — white, really, if I’m honest — in my thirties. I’ve been dying my locks ever since. I consider being brunette part of my identity. I could never wear colored contacts, for instance. My brown eyes are also part and parcel of who I am. A good deal of this identity is wrapped up in pop culture: Brunettes are serious. They’re smart. My earliest role models were Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas on “That Girl” and Catwoman — all brunettes, all “making it after all,” on their own terms. That was my tribe!

So why change now? Why not go to my grave with my roots intact? Well, for one, my husband recently encouraged me to go natural. And if he doesn’t care, why should I care what the rest of the world thinks? Secondly, it’s a drain of time and money to continue to color my hair, and the chemicals involved are not as healthful and innocuous as one might think while watching a Clairol commercial. Third, why lie, even to myself, about what I look like? I like to think I embrace truth-telling. My white hair is a truth about myself.

But here’s the big one: I truly believe the purpose of life is in embracing the little “yesses.” After all, at the end of our lives, there is going to be a huge “yes” that we will have to embrace, like it or not. By accepting and welcoming each little “yes,” I prepare myself daily for the big “yes.”

And this is, despite being firmly entrenched in female vanity, a tough yes. I look at other women who are letting their hair go natural and I judge. It looks slovenly. Like a lack of self-care. And yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to think. I’m appalled at myself. But there it is. And this is what I will have to see in myself as my “skunk stripe” covers the crown of my head and extends, inexorably, downward. I will have to confront the worst in myself. I will have to deal with my own feelings about aging and about how women are judged and valued on their beauty and youth. I will have to see myself lacking.

And I will have to find God in all of this. I will have to grapple with a God who loves everything about me, but who created humans to love what is aesthetically pleasing. I will have to align myself with a God who expects my power to come from something bigger than a bottle of dye. I will have to say “yes,” not just once, but over and over again, every time my fingers itch to solve the problem with a box from the drugstore.

I am hoping all of this will be good for my soul. Because that’s the part of me I care about most. And it doesn’t need anything artificial in order to be beautiful, does it?

The middle-aged among us are in a curious position: We are becoming caregivers to our parents. This is certainly not a new phenomenon, but it is more prevalent these days — in the past, people simply didn’t live as long as they do now. My longest-lived grandparent was in her early 70s when she passed away. My beloved friend Marcelline is 101 and still doing yoga.

This shift presents real moral and spiritual dilemmas, as grown-up children navigate the line between respecting their elders and celebrating their independence and wanting to make the path smooth for their parents in their later years. It is not easy.

My mother lost her mother when she was barely 20. I know it was traumatic for her. But it also makes it hard for her to understand my concern for her: She never watched her mother live into her 80s. But in this period of adjustment, I have stumbled upon an important piece in the puzzle of my own aging — letting go. Because that’s what getting older is — the process of letting life go, piece by hard-won piece.

I have to let go of my hopes and expectations for my mother’s “golden years.” Of course, I’d like to see her waited on hand and foot, tempted with fine food, made to do little more than recline while being fanned by palm-bearing attendants. That’s not going to happen. None of us gets to write the ending of her own story, let alone someone else’s. And there is my mom’s own tenacious will to contend with, too.

In the end, God will bear us up, as God must. In the meantime, there is poetry.

She never had to do it, so she doesn’t know
how it feels to touch the bird bones
of her hands, feel blood click a pulse
through ropey veins, the flat of her hand
a creased map of a strange valley,
each gnarled finger a beloved isthmus.
What to do with this hand when I cannot
take its lead, but equally cannot force it
to follow? I can only love it, seeing in it
my own hand marching quickstep, just
inches, really, behind it.

 

There is a very real phenomenon called “Jerusalem Syndrome”: Someone visits the Holy Land and experiences a psychotic break, fraught with religious obsession. Obviously, this isn’t something one would wish on anyone, but it illustrates rather vividly how some places can overwhelm us with their deep spiritual “footprints.” Some places simply seem more touched by God than others. I was in one of these places last weekend, and it provoked a poetic response:

There are places God has glanced
with lightest touch of hand, some swept,
palm to earth, and some in which God’s hand
sinks into soil like a sculptor’s hand in clay, that shout,
“Here I’ve sent saints; look the proof is all around you.”
And the heart stills, stops, halts — no, you are not
on the moon; the ground grasses green, sky pulses blue,
the smell of the place is ancient but known. And yet.
The silence is deeper, divine, the air crowded with
exemplary souls, and you want to join them —
shrug off your body like an old coat and disappear
into ether. Pierced to the root, overcome by a sun
that seems more heavenward than most, you
fill your lungs with quavering promise and slide
between worlds as easy as a body entering water.
If you could only stay, you would be saved.

Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.

Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.

I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.

I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.

And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.

So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.

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