What to Learn from a Murder of Crows?

Photo courtesy of free downloads from Pixabay.com.

The crows woke me up this morning, yelling at each other from trees in my yard to those skimming the branches in the next door neighbor’s yard. It came to me, in that moment while I was waking, that this must be why a group of them is called “a murder.” I was certain they were in the midst of committing such an atrocity and for a fleeting moment, I worried that the victim was the big orange cat.

My husband was away golfing, having left very early on a lovely Father’s Day to enjoy time with other men. With two daughters in the house, both sleeping, I got up to investigate both the noise outside the house and the quiet within and then started the ritual of streaming through Facebook to see what I have missed.

The name Philando Castile came up in my feed, as it had through the last two very busy days, and murder came up in my face for the second time on this very lazy morning.

Murder isn’t always noisy, like those crows. Sometimes murder is loud like the bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang of shots being fired into a young black body. But sometimes, sometimes murder is quiet, the low tones of a cat, sluicing through the tall grass, capturing the mole or the vole or the tiny baby rabbit. Or the quiet of the single voice saying “not guilty.”

I don’t know murder. I’m a middle-aged white lady who was zipping down the Interstate last night and saw a white Trooper with his gun drawn on a car, stopped, with one black arm stretching out of the driver’s window, fingers splayed. It didn’t register what we were seeing until we were beyond the blue car with the black arm. The white arms steady, with a squared off rod at the end of it.

I don’t know what happened there, but I assume there was no murder because when I search the interwebs, there’s still nothing there. And yet, there was something there. And perhaps the man in the blue car attached to that black arm was a bad man who did something beyond driving fast while black. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But the murder of crows called me out of my sleep this morning, wondering what’s all the fuss, while the Baptists gather in the church behind my house, and a food truck waves a blue lives matter flag and I work in a place where there are signs that tell people how to dress for respect (read: white) and a white man walks in with a t-shirt with the confederate flag and the words “it’s heritage not hate” and it is okay because it has sleeves but I think you can’t have heritage without knowing history, and the history may not be hate, but it sure isn’t about respecting black lives.

Crows are symbols of prophecy, I read on the google. What prophecy did they bring me this morning in their insistent call to wake up?

Frogs, Train Whistles and the Heart that Prays in sleep

So hot today. Sticky hot today. Hair not working hot today. Went outdoors and sweat so quick and then back inside where the air nearly froze my skin to my clothes. And back outside. Home again, to dry clothes and a blanket against the air conditioning.

And then that rain. No wait. First there was hail. Hail like wobbly marbles, all elliptical and such. Maybe as round as a nickel, maybe a dime. And then the hail became the rain we needed, rain we’ve been asking for, rain we look for when the grass goes brown.

And then the pastel sunset, all pinks, purples and blues and that fireball red in the center of it all, shaking it’s light all out against the clouds white and gray, making them sing like they, too, were the light.

And darkness. Time for bed and the realization it is cool enough now to open the window and feel neither too cold nor too hot. And listen to the night sounds as I lay me down to sleep. Teenagers just going out for the night because it’s summer, duh. The train five blocks–or is it six–down the way, running west to east, using its night horn–low and long–at every. single. crossing.

And now the frogs call out to each other. I’ll fall asleep to their trill and wake in the morning to the early birds who are fat with night worms, drunk from the rain, forgetting to dive deep before the light.

For now, I practice my writing and say my prayers and offer blessings to the train engineer for safe crossings and a light touch on that horn. Pray for things to change in ways I can’t understand and for the opening to learn new ways to meet the day. And try not to scratch the mosquito bites that adorn my body like nubby lace after using the late evening as my canopy against the heat to plant flowers in pots so I can see the beauty of a midwest summer, when my heart still aches for the desert.

My prayers are like the frog song, ongoing until interrupted by the whiz of a moped zipping toward that late-night meet up, and the horn, again, sounding off with the rumble of the wheels on track, clickity clack, wheels on track. And I start my prayers all over again.

Blessings to you, my friends. May you get what you don’t yet know that you need and may you lose what you don’t yet know that you don’t. And may you find the way to be useful where you are, in bringing peace, love and justice to you and yours and mine and ours while remembering we are all each others.

And now the sirens start from down the road and the calico cat snuggles deeper into my covers and tells me, with a flick of her tail, it’s time to turn the light out and the prayers off and move the computer so she can stretch out on my belly.

But even in my sleep, the frogs still sings and the prayers collect in my heart.

And goodnight says the guy with the busted muffler and I still will keep the window open all night.


Thanks to Sarah Bousquet at One Blue Sail, who wrote a beautiful post with a writing prompt in it that led to this bedtime meditation.

Not one picture

The bonfire was huge, lighting up our corner of the universe and the faces of the friends who gathered. But I didn’t take one picture.

Earlier, when the sun was still up, but definitely at least at a 30 degree angle, there were more people than chairs, huddled around tables and make-shift conversation areas, laid out in sets of fours that morphed into one large amoeba shaped grouping and a few smaller ones. It was a beautiful evening, no rain though some was predicted and the sky was a perfect backdrop for a selfie or several with friends from near and far. But I didn’t take a single one.

Even earlier, as my daughters gathered in the kitchen, making food and drinks for the party to celebrate my birth and life (and privately, in some small region of my heart, that I am still here), I didn’t take a single picture of them, singing Disney songs from nearly one score ago and dancing while they chopped and whipped and stirred and danced, and, because they are sisters three, fought a bit, as well.

And even still earlier, no pictures of my spouse, taking control of a party I wished for, out loud. Inviting, planning, shopping and asking all the right questions and pulling together an event, simply because I asked.

And not one picture was taken, at least not by me.

And not one picture is needed, as the night, the evening, the afternoon and the weeks leading up to this party well up within, and now, I can call up those feelings and those faces and the taste and feel of that champagne butter cream frosting and feel all the feels again–of love and kinship and a knowledge that the world is good (even when it is bad) because these people are in it and have shared themselves with me.

So here is a picture of the outline of trees taken from inside the house, illuminated by the light shining from the church behind our house. It can stand in for all the photos not taken–the light that shines from light bulbs, flames, and the love in each other’s eyes.

What’s Beautiful Here

What’s beautiful here is a house whose furniture belongs in a house of old, old things and old, old people. Broken or nearly-so. Fragile fabrics, like thin skin, bruising at every brush of a knuckle or seemingly kind word.

What’s beautiful here, where everything seems to be lightly stitched and held by twines and tufts of cat hair and dust.

What’s beautiful here. This is not a question. Because the answer is obvious, however much we like to hide it behind table cloth curtains and a ceiling of curses that fall on us with a laugh.

What’s beautiful here is … here.

Here where we gather. Here where we hurt full-throatedly and heal incrementally.

Here where we hang our art and tend to forget it until that day each quarter or so, when we take the dusting wand and swipe it lightly over the tops of frames and stop, if only briefly, to say “ah, I remember you.” Here where we relive the day we picked it out together and said “I do” all over again. I do love this. I do love you.

Here is what’s beautiful so we remember. As we look about, beyond the shoes and the books and the dishes that stack up on side tables and couter tops. Here is what’s beautiful.

What’s beautiful here is you. The you beyond your skin and hair and pants growing too saggy in your bottom even as mine grow tighter around my belly.

What’s beautiful here is your steadfastness, your loyalty, and your strength. Many men can benchpress the weight of me, but you, you carry me even when I am nothing but dead weight as you usher me forward, even while I draw you down and back.

What’s beautiful here, where the carpet and the couch are stained from a life of living with kids and kittens and a bevy of friends is not what is visibly here. Though some of that  is beautiful, too.

What’s beautiful here is the thing unspoken, the thing unseen, but often felt. It’s the thing that has broken us down and broken us open and the thing we rest our hearts on when we sleep.

What’s beautiful here is … us.

 

Buoyancy

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m sinking. Not bobbing up and down like I’m treading life, nor even my own weird little breast stroke toward a known shore. Just sinking, a teensy bit here and a teensy bit there.

I can feel the tug on my ankles, on my spine, and even, sometimes, at the base of my neck.

Of course, my initial reaction to this feeling is to think of it as negative: I’m drowning! Something is wrong! I must have a foot tumor! (I don’t. I have the fairly common and treatable plantar fasciitis–maybe, I see the doctor next week.)

This is me. “I’m sinking!” waving my arms toward a shore I can’t see and certain that no one is paying attention as the water covers my heart, my ears, my eyes.

Instead, I could rid myself of the water metaphor and simply tell myself: “I’m landing! I’m getting grounded! I’m finding my footing–even with a foot tumor!” and then rest in the damp grass while smelling the newly blooming flowers.

It is a choice, isn’t it? To decide if what I am feeling is a good thing or a thing of dread. Though most days it takes the form of dread and anger, until I look around me and see that I am cared for by someone who deserves so much more from a partner who isn’t partnering much these days–like he threw me the lifeline and instead of helping him to pull me back into the boat, I’m either floating, fully buoyant, or resisting with dead weight because that’s what I feel like right now. Dead weight.

You know, I sat down to write about underpants. Yup. Underpants. He hates when I write about such things. But I was remembering how I opened the underpants drawer the other day as I got dressed and there was a fire of joy lit when I saw that the ones on top were The Big Underpants–the cotton, stretched out but still functioning, REALLY big underpants. It was like, oh, THIS is going to be a comfortable day.

And then, boom, the realization that all my days are “comfortable” right now. None of my days require anything but the big underpants–or at least very few of them. This is when I feel the tug that feels like drowning.

Like when I am enjoying eating an orange as I sit on the steps of the back deck, sun shining on my face and the orange cat stretched out behind me in the shade of my body. And then, BOOM: I don’t deserve this. I have not worked for this moment of joy. And there isn’t enough grace in the universe to cover my not working, not deserving.

I am floating gracelessly these days–even floating between being fully buoyant and easy to move to being the full dead weight of myself. I’ve been floating from one thing until I land at the next, pretending I am laying the groundwork for economic recovery down the road. Except I’m not really pretending, because I believe it. I believe that I am planting seeds even when it feels like I’m just sitting on the wet turf, my bottom sinking deeper and deeper.

But it doesn’t buy bread or wine, this seed-planting.

And maybe I’m a fool for believing in myself when there is no evidence to point toward that ever working before. But this is me, putting one sore foot in front of another. Trying to find my ground again. Trying to remember that gravity is my friend and being pulled down is not always a bad thing.

Oh, and all days should be big underpants days. Just sayin’.

 

#UULent: Peace

I came to my blog not to write about UULent, but to give voice to the panic that is arising within me as world leaders play chicken with the threat of nuclear annihilation.

And then I peeked at the calendar where I wrote the topics that I have been ignoring for way too long. (Did I mention that I’m not real good at this Lent thing?)

Peace.

For Good Friday, talk about peace. Picture peace. Put peace in a picture.

Peace.

The church bells just went off so I know it is noon and I’m thinking about drinking or taking a few anxiety pills because … annihilation. Because some people think that war is good and our President just made a bunch of money when he sent all those Tomahawk missiles into Syria. And then the Mother of All Bombs. Parenthetically: Can we talk a bit about how we name things here? Don’t include mothers in your killing and why are you appropriating words from the culture you tried to annihilate without nuclear weapons.

But I digress.

Peace.

It was just last week when I posted the following to Facebook after the first airstrikes–a post uncommonly full of expletives for me. Sort of.

So, in the middle of writing this post, I just went upstairs to eat a f*cking orange. Because the advice and the oranges are still good.

But it doesn’t bring me to peace.

Nor can it. Because the peace I’m seeking isn’t out there so much as in here–in this swirling brain and body who take too much in sometimes for it to be healthy. And I’m not just talking about carbs. Though … carbs.

What’s really got me mad at this moment is the realization that I’m am on the verge of being more mentally sound than I have been in ages. Color is coming back into the world–which is not a metaphor. I’ve been rereading Crossing to Avalon, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, and she talks about the grayness of depression that I hadn’t yet recognized was part of the problem.

I’ve been acting like a toddler lately: look, there’s yellow. Look at those blues. And it isn’t just because it’s April in the midwest where it is always gray, but it is because I have been living in my own gray cave for much too long.

And I just started poking my head and toes out into the world beyond (sort of a hokey-pokey for the soul) when all thus f*ckery and gamesmenship started between the man in our whitehouse (or his gold hotel, wherever he is right now) and this crazy man in North Korea. (And what is it about authoritarians and bad hair? I don’t mean to be superficial here, but you’d think by now we would have spotted the trend.)

So … peace.

I know I won’t get it by chasing it or by eating an orange in one fell swoop because I want it to make me feel better.

Don’t tell me I’ll find it in God’s love right now. Or the love of Jesus. Because for the love of Jesus, we need to stand up for decency right now. We need to say that Black, Brown and Indigenous lives matter. We need to say that women are owed primacy in the decisions affecting their bodies. We need to say that we could pay for the lunches of all children for one year with one presidential trip to Florida. And what would Jesus think about our president making money off of bombing people?

So here’s the thing, before all the Christians come getting up in my grill for blaspheming during Holy Week: I believe in God. I believe in goodness and I believe that people who hate others for whatever reason have been wounded and are fearful. And I believe that God lives in the divide between fear and hate. And more than anything, I believe that there are many paths to God because not everyone will come to Jesus through a book written by many men long after Jesus died.

So on this day that is holy for many and this time that is fraught for many more, I’m still going to hold out that orange and say: eat this and remember what is good. Especially to myself.

Peace is in that divide, with God. And I’m doing my best to get there, too. Even with a foul mouth and a cranky attitude.

So I will sit with my fear and the hatred I’ve felt and recognize my own wounds even as I try to love my neighbor as my self.

So, if the world does end today in a fiery ball of fission, let these be my last words: I love you. Even when I’m cranky. Even when the oranges are gone. Even when I am gone. You just can’t nuke that out of a body.

Peace out.

 

New Poem: My Whiteness

I didn’t see how my whiteness
wore me like a protective bubble

Last night I participated in my very first Poetry Slam at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts and … I didn’t make it past the first round. I learned so much though and heard some amazing poetry. The woman who eventually won read directly before me in the first round and the man who came in second read directly after me. I knew I couldn’t beat them, but I wish I had been able to read this poem then. But man, it was a good night.

And if you just want to hear it, here’s the audio recording.

My Whiteness
April 6, 2017

With not a stitch of hair on my head,
my whiteness came first

My femaleness came next
but, first, and not at all
unexpectedly, came
my whiteness

For years, as I rallied
my feminist cries from
age twelve on,
my whiteness was the
first thing served up
allowing me to bellow
at certain men
with little to no risk

I didn’t see how my whiteness
wore me like a protective bubble

to keep danger out
consequently keeping me
safe from understanding
the differences in the
parallel lives lived by
women of darker hues

My whiteness blind-folded me,
slapped my ass
and sent me out in the world
as if my path were the only one

My whiteness came first
hard, bright and loud
like a flash bomb
that tamped down the
voices that spoke in
frequencies my ear was not
tuned to hear
that told stories in a code
I wouldn’t crack
because
I didn’t have to

My whiteness paved my way
and bought me drinks
and changed my tires
and waived that traffic ticket
and opened those doors
while I thought I was doing
it all on my own, with the
talents and treasures God gave me

My whiteness isn’t a burden
or a curse
or a shame I wear like
last year’s purse

My whiteness is a ticket
I didn’t purchase
the entry fee and the raffle ticket
and the complimentary drink

My whiteness requires no apologies
nor shame
but
my willful ignorance
does

I can no more pop the bubble
of its protection than I can
change the pigment I’ve been given

but

I can throw paint upon it,
or words or shapes or
fabric drapes
making visible
the invisible shield
of my whiteness

#UULent: Ally

Today I put on the music and cleaned the kitchen: stove, microwave, oven and floor, even. Women sang to me today. They sang of broken hearts and broken homes, of hopes and dreams, and of purpose.

I thought of all the women who have sung to me in my life, who have encouraged me, who have told me one way or another: you got this. Today, my allies sang to me while I scrubbed off the stew that bubbled over the pan three days ago and swept up the errant catfood bits that always dot my kitchen floor.

While the women crooned, I thought of all the ways the world works to make it hard for female people to just be people. All the shoulds. All the shame. All the ways we indoctrinate ourselves to believe we should be good and this is what “good” does. I wonder how many male people go through life wondering if they are being “good” what judgments are being made about their desire to have one more drink, or wear shorts, or become a lawyer or a farmer or a singer in a rock and roll band.

My kitchen was very messy. I had lots of time to muse.

Then I went out and took this foot selfie and posted that I was going barefoot because it is 70 degrees in March, even if my feet weren’t “sandal-ready.” Judgy McJudgerson raised her stupid head again.

And then I got in the car and my dear friend sang to me through the CD player, and I was reminded of the sisterhood of those of us who just want to be bad or good, who just want to choose for ourselves how our life is going to go and where it will take us. One of these days.

 

#UULent: Engagement

My engagement this week has been strictly political and passive. I have been watching cable news coverage of all of the news this week, so much so that yesterday I pulled the plug for a while and re-upholstered a chair.

The chair reminded me of what I’ve not allowed myself to remember in a long time: I am most engaged when there is a tangible project before me, wanting to be done.

The political climate is so overwhelming right now. I don’t bring myself to enter political conversations with people who voted for the Republican president. I hold back and smile about other things because I can’t allow this president to destroy everything–including friendships. So, there, I just said it. I’m not confronting people. I’m not engaging.

I’m being with people who know very well how I feel about everything that is going on right now and who don’t agree with me and I’m letting that elephant take a big damn dump between us and I’m pretending it doesn’t stink.

Give me a task and I’ll attack it with my head and hands and, after fumbling over all the wrong ways to do it, I will make it new.

But tell me to change the world, a heart, a mind and I will fumble over all the ways I will do it wrong and never start.

So here is my chair. My noble little $5.00 chair covered in old upholstery swatches and probably a little of my blood, sweat and skin. This is my engagement right now while I stew in the sadness that swamps our democracy right now.

#UULent: Solitude

Today, my solitude came in the sound of blueberries gently popping in the heat of the oven, and then in the smell of meat, vegetables and sauce simmering, bubbling over the edge of the pan and leaving a sputtering mess.

My resolve to write on all the topics of the #UULent project has waned. Not surprising, as my ability to write has been stilted a bit. When I say I haven’t written because two of my daughters were home, it sounds as if I am blaming, but it was a choice I made because I knew if I dove into writing, I might not come back up in a timely way. Instead, they introduced me to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt–and it was delicious. As were the cookies I baked.

The reason I feared I wouldn’t float back up to the surface was because my writing had been going so well for the weeks before and I owed that good writing not to willpower but to solitude. Long stretches of solitude that allowed my mind to wander the paths it needed to in order to get to the heart of my work. The solitude was as delicious as the cookies and Kimmy Schmidt, but differently delicious–delicious in the sense of it being rich and abundant and exactly what I needed.

But for the last week, what I needed was to be a part of something not in my head nor in my imagination, but in the tangible connection that sometimes manifests in sitting near each other on a couch.

So here I am, dipping my toes back into the solitude that my writing self yearns for, though today it looked like making blueberry muffins and stew. Today, my solitude came in the sound of blueberries gently popping in the heat of the oven, and then in the smell of meat, vegetables and sauce simmering, bubbling over the edge of the pan and leaving a sputtering mess. And it resurfaced in the small snores of three languid felines, nestled on my legs or around them at different times of the day.

No writing came to me today, except this longish revery. And still my day was filled, not only with Congressional hearings, but with purposeful movement that may not change the world outside my home, but certainly changed a part of me in the doing.

Today, in solitude, I was fed, body and soul.