Requested: Christmas Miracle

19 Dec

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Not the irrational fears that stem from any one of many neuroses, but the debilitating fears that seem to creep into your very bones and take control of every thought and every action you once believed you had the choice to make.

When I was a little girl, I didn’t know about that latter category of fear. The types of things I thought were frightening – an accidental viewing of Legends of the Fall or a recurring nightmare featuring a locked room, snakes, my mom, and a handful of keys – these types of things were forgotten after the sanctuary of a hug or the gratitude that comes immediately after you wake-up, clammy and covered in sweat, but safe. No, that latter category of fear didn’t enter into my life until much later. I succeeded in Peter Pan-ing my way through life until the day those planes hit the towers. That is when I first understood that someone I’d never heard of or seen, someone that didn’t know anything about me, hated me on principle and actively wished for bad things to happen to me and mine. This reality became even more clear in March 2003 when my beloved country went to war and it dawned on me that people I knew intimately, that I loved, could die. And your blood runs cold and there is no sanctuary and you are not safe. We don’t understand what it means to be a grown up until we learn this type of fear – the type of fear that encompasses hatred and violence and indifference. It is a void that it seems no light can fill. And what a cruel welcome to the world that is.

So then you are at a loss. How do you combat the sort of despair that accompanies the trappings of adulthood? (This is a genuine question that I could never verbalize.) There is no easy answer to this question. Life is hard and it is most definitely scary. The way I feel at this moment, there actually may not be any answer to that question, the thought of which literally just sent me into a panic. When I started writing this, I had hoped I would follow my standard format (which is very much like an episode of Full House), but I’m not quite sure I can get to the place where my hope for the future and faith in humanity serve as stalwart answers to every question. I’m not sure I can get to the place where those core beliefs seem anything but futile. I suppose what I’ll do instead is talk about why that is.

I believe children are magical creatures (see here, or here). This is not a new topic for me. Recently, I watched a sermon given by Robin Meyers called ‘The Inconvenient Wisdom of Children’. In typical Robin fashion, he was addressing the youth in the congregation while really addressing us all. Towards the end of his homily, as he was speaking about communion and sacraments, he said this (please note: I did not get permission to use this, it is not a perfect transcription, and emphasis is my own):

Something that is in the world of our experience but carries us into the world of the sacred, the holy, the everlasting. We all have to eat of course, to live, but we also have to love and be loved in order for life to be worth living. And sometimes, for some reason, I think you guys get this better than your parents do. Let’s talk about your parents for a moment. Right in front of them. They’re busy. They have a lot to worry about. They have careers. They have to make money. They have to try to save enough for you to go to college. But just remember, when it comes to what really matters, Jesus took a child and said, ‘This is what it is all about.’ See, no advanced degrees, no status, no desire to exercise authority. But in the pecking order of the world the last of these, as you must become the least of these he said to his disciples, the servants of all. Okay, well, after church, you may need to explain all of this to your parents.  Tell them why you have always been front and center in the kingdom. Be patient. They may not get it at first. It’s been a long time since they were kids. They may have forgotten how to imagine and how to be amazed. But you will be able to show them the way because they love you and so did Jesus.

Regardless of any spiritual or religious beliefs you may or may not have, it must be acknowledged that the core sentiments in these remarks are true. It pains me that today, children are learning to understand the meaning of that omnipresent fear before their childhoods are over. They don’t get those carefree days I cherish the memory of so dearly because it is edged out by an adult’s understanding of the world too soon. It seems we have become a society that has, in the course of winning, lost sight of our purpose. We have done this without even realizing it. We have gone so far down the rabbit hole that instead of shielding our children from the fears and harsh truths of the world, we attempt to teach them to cope with it.  In turn they are forced to sacrifice those memories of carelessness and joie de vivre that sustain us in our darkest days before they have even been acquired.

And so, how will they explain the things to us? The things that offer hope for the future and a light in the darkness?

From this low point, things do not get much better. You see, it doesn’t take much more than a scroll through a Facebook or Twitter feed to realize that as a society we are failing to teach our children and young people how to cope with the outpourings of fear (i.e. tragedy and violence and hatred). We have created a world that steals their innocence, a crisis magnified by the fact that we provide them with no understanding of how to combat that loss. In the wake of any national event, remotely contentious or not, I am easily horrified by the things we shamelessly say to one another. We do not come to the table willing to talk with one another. We do not come to the table at all. Instead, we post what we think to be innocuous quips and memes that justify our opinions and perspectives. They bolster our sense of indignant righteousness. We score cheap points that make us feel better but do not actually address the issue at hand. Our selfish emotions overrule history and fact. We forget that we are brothers and sisters. Without thought, we drive the wedge even deeper. That is how we are teaching our children to cope.

This summer, I had the privilege of hearing John Lewis, a personal hero of mine, speak at the National Book Festival. He was talking about a book he had written about his life, and when he spoke about the time he and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee spent studying together, I was brought to tears. Before they took action, they came together and studied. For a year, they met for the sole purpose of learning. They armed themselves with knowledge and truths, and when the fear that leads to chaos and violence and hatred would have gripped any normal human being like a vice, they held fast. They knew their course of action in those moments, for they had taught themselves to cope. During his talk, he said:

And we would be sitting-in, or standing-in at a theater. Or going on a freedom ride. And we would be beaten. We would be jailed. But we didn’t strike back, because many of us grew to accept non-violence as a way of living, as a way of life. It is better to love than to hate. We wanted to build a beloved community. We wanted to be reconciled.

They had the will to come together, to learn to accept non-violence as the path forward. As their coping mechanism against the harsh realities of adulthood. They wanted to be reconciled more than they wanted to be right. John Lewis is old, as are his compatriots. It is unfortunate that we hear less from them than media pundits and personalities more invested in special interests than the national interest.

That is where I am today. Despite it all, I am grateful for the good people in my life who remind me of why I want to come to the table. During this season of advent, I ask that you do the same. Perhaps in the New Year we can study together.

The Sword of Gryffindor

25 Sep

When I graduated from high school, my best friend’s mom gave me a book by Marilyn vos Savant called Growing Up: A Classic American Childhood as a graduation present. It was filled with ‘what kids should know before they leave home.’ I didn’t read it. Ha! I flipped through it and thought it was cute – each chapter is formed like a checklist – but assumed she had given it to me in part because I have caught a lot of hell over the years from the Daves clan as a result of some ridiculous thing I did or said that served as an example of my ineptitude. My childish nature. I sometimes took myself too seriously and they were so great at reminding me of it. To my mind, it was good-humored and made a good coffee table book. To my mind, I knew what I needed to know. I was 18 and on my own.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Not this again.” I’ve used this blog a number of times to talk about how much I’ve come to realize how little I know. But, I have glad tidings! While it’s true that it is a great big world and I know far less than I should, I’ve recently put my mind around something! (This would provide me some solace, I imagine, if this new grasp on one of life’s truths didn’t lead to a slew of new questions.)

This morning, in an e-mail exchange with my sister, I made a comment on how sad it was that I’m still such a child. She responded with a reassurance (it was sweet that she knew I wasn’t joking), but as I moved on to other things, I really had to think about how old I was. As in, I had to stop what I was doing and ask myself, “Am I 25? Or 26?” Breathe easy: I figured it out without having to break out the abacus, but I had a hard time remembering that self that used to not understand when people couldn’t automatically tell you how old they were. I mean, is it really that difficult?!? Do we stop anxiously awaiting our next birthday at 21? I don’t know. This isn’t one of those important questions or realizations I mentioned and haven’t given it much further thought.

This is what I thought about, instead: my happy independence is very subsidized.

I can spend a lot of time talking about the ‘things I’ve done.’ I probably have. Thinking about it makes me feel a little bit pompous, actually. I like believing in the idea that I am this intrepid adventurer, ready to boldly move forward into someplace or something I don’t understand to get some answers. Create some memories, some experiences. Then move on, learn something else new, cut a path that helps the people I meet and the people who come after me. And getting there by choice – making my own decisions and not asking for help or needing anything from anyone – this is important. I like this idea that I have gumption. This is a nice idea. And while perhaps sometimes it is true, I’ve never done it independently.

I grew up with one sister, but we have a big family. A ‘put the expander in the table and pull out the leaves and use the spare table, too,’ size family. And they were always supportive and encouraging. Overflowing with love. I was disciplined when I caused mischief, but I was never scared to be myself. I was never afraid of the repercussions that a question or an action might lead to. If my mom told me to find something in the pantry and I couldn’t (even when it was right in front of me), she’d sigh with exasperation but I could still see love on her face. If my dad got mad because I accidentally mowed over a tree (a small one – don’t judge), he’d speak sharply but patiently. He’d teach me how I could spot one in the future so as not to do it again. It was the same with all my family. I was encouraged to study hard and go to school but was never told not to pursue a ridiculous liberal arts degree. If my aunts and uncles had questions about any of my schemes that seemed troubling, they would ask questions, but I never once was told I was stupid or that I should think about doing something else, instead. My family taught me how to treat my friends like family. They grew up on a street filled with other families just like them. I know their childhood friends because they’re still around.

Growing up unafraid of judgment enabled me to be myself around people I didn’t know. How, on my better days, to extend that same courtesy to other people. To genuinely listen for the answer after you ask, “How are you?” To want to love other people because I can, not because I have to or I should. They built a sturdy foundation in which I was comfortable being vulnerable, which has come in handy in strange places and situations over the years. (Note: I am aware that I am not immune to awkwardness. That is not the point.) Because I was encouraged to try my own path, to do things I was scared to do, and most importantly because, “Help will always be given to those at Hogwarts who ask for it,” I’m able to be this grown-up person that I am today. This person who still receives care packages from her family and whose friends shipped her ‘fallen-off the truck’ insulin because she complained about how astronomical the price of a vial was (with insurance, mind you!) I may be by myself, but I’m certainly not alone. And that makes all the difference.

Image

Kids bein’ kids: an example.

I had a charmed childhood – I mean it: somewhere, there is a picture of my sister and I petting a fawn (baby deer to all you city folk) with white specks on its back. That childhood has given me support and help when I needed it and when I didn’t. I didn’t have to ask for it or be afraid of the answers. That childhood taught me that things work out. They make sense in the end. This is the point when I get to those bigger questions I mentioned before. Because what about those kids that don’t have that childhood? That don’t get to be my kind of 26-year-old ‘grown-up’? What will happen to the crying kid at the pool whose uncle smacked him across the face, called him a bitch, told him to ‘be a man’ and slap him back? Or the little girl on the bus whose mom was so displeased that she had dirt on her dress and snot coming out of her nose that she pushed her away? Whose face said she never made her mom happy? Or the boy who got a pop for saying ‘yeah’ instead ‘yes ma’am’ and then got another few pops when his response was a scared silence? What about these kids? The ones who get in trouble for being kids? How do they learn to ask questions or show affection? Or be open to all the experiences that questions and affection lead to? How will they learn to be brave? To quiet all the naysayers?

If you made it this far, thanks for hanging with me. I’m a bit melancholy and out of sorts, I suppose, brooding over the fates of these little, tender faces I can still make out that know entirely too much sadness and fear. It has caused me to write this using an excessive number of commas and too few active verbs. I take comfort in the fact that you’ll continue to be around as I work it out.

Maybe Marilyn vos Savant has some ideas?

William Wallace’s Tattoo

6 Aug

Have you ever heard someone ask, “What did they teach you at that liberal _______ of yours?”

I have. It wasn’t always verbally communicated, but I still heard the question. Numerous times. Most of the time my answer was a placating laugh or an eye-roll followed by a quip and a swift exit from whatever situation I found myself in. This weekend, during a visit to my local pool, I found myself in a conversation with a stranger and I heard one of the many variants of this question asked for the first time in a long time (DC is fairly liberal city.) This time, I tried to answer it in a way that wasn’t righteous or mean, but I don’t know that I expressed myself very well. I don’t know what was different about this situation – maybe it was because it started out innocently, a general inquiry about something that means so much to me. I don’t know that the questioner really wanted to hear my answer. I often find myself wishing I could have done or said something differently, as I’m sure most people do, and this event was no different. I’d like to do that now – to get that differently bit out of my head and out there somewhere. Maybe next time someone asks, I’ll get it right:

I loved learning at Oklahoma City University - I definitely acquired a penchant for knowledge there, a desire to ask questions and really learn about things from a lot of different perspectives. I learned things cannot generally be defined as right or wrong, but that, as is often the case when it comes down to common decency and human dignity, there can be exceptions to this rule. Perhaps this belief became a deeply-seated part of my psyche during a history class that focused on the experiences of women in the United States. As the semester progressed, I not only became a stalwart feminist, but also a believer in social justice, and I met a couple of other young women who felt as strongly as I did about honoring the work so many women had done to get us where we are today, who didn’t want to forget and who wanted to move ‘forward into light’  - who believed that, when equality was the question, there was (and is) no room for debate. If you think about that question… ‘Are you for equality or against it?’… One of those answers seems pretty dumb. So, this class was important to me, and I ‘met’ so many role models: Alice Paul, whose work was so crucial in the passage of woman’s suffrage. She dedicated her life to the pursuit of equality, before and after women got the vote. And then there were the somewhat accidental feminists - Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan who would have been hailed as a great spiritual leader had she not been a woman. Anne Moody, who shed light on how the civil rights movement could have been so much more had the women participating in it been treated differently.

These women fought (and still fight) for social justice, not just for themselves, but for others, too. They picketed the White House in times of war, they were subjected to ridiculous and humiliating trials, and they risked their lives because of a basic belief in equality. That I am no better than you, and that you are no better than me. That we should all, when striving for something, start on a level playing field. I never wanted to forget that. I still don’t.

Depending on who you are, the following news may be: a) surprising, b) disappointing, or c) no big deal. But having this information is key to understanding, in my opinion, why I decided to engage with this stranger at the pool, when typically – even in the most neutral settings – I walk away. Here it is: I have a tattoo. On the inside of my right ankle, there is a discreet ‘19’ permanently inked on my body. What’s the significance? The nineteenth amendment (women’s suffrage.) Why? I wanted to honor the memory and the sacrifices of so many, through so much time. I wanted a permanent reminder of what women went through so that I could have a say in my life. I wanted a permanent reminder that often the majority is wrong. I wanted a permanent reminder that the struggles for equality and social justice are not over. And that I have an obligation to do for others what was done (and is still being done) for me.

So, as I entered the pool, a stranger noted and commented on my tattoo. Typically when people I know ask about my tattoo, I ask them if they want the long answer (what I just typed) or the short answer (it’s my favorite amendment)? When people I don’t know ask, I usually just say something like ‘progress’ or I make something up so that I don’t get embarrassed when they think I’m completely off my rocker (I am intense, this I know.) Because this person was tattooed, I gave an abridged version of the long answer then turned the conversation around and asked about his tattoos. He gave a brief synopsis and then started going on a tangent about how numbers mean something, e.g. 666 is the number of the devil (I told him this was believed to be a mistranslation - he didn’t seem too concerned.) My desire to go away at this point – or to at least change the subject – was increasing, so when he mentioned he had written two books, I asked what they were about. Big mistake. He told me that one was a book of poems and something else, and the other was more or less about how, based on the Bible, gay marriage was wrong.

At this point, I wondered what it was about public pools that led to these strange encounters I seem to have every time I visit them. In an attempt to change the subject, I told him I disagreed with him and that everyone was entitled to an opinion. But then he pushed me on it, and I thought of that stinking tattoo. And about all of the discrimination happening in my country, disguised as a debate over what marriage is or should mean. So I told him that we’ve evolved past believing a lot of things in the bible (based on a biblical literature class – see this clip from the either-you-love-it-or-you-hate-it West Wing for a brief tutorial), that while all are welcome to religious beliefs, the freedom from having laws based upon one religion or another is an important element of this country and its founding documents. When he went on to talk about the purpose of marriage being to procreate, I told him in many traditions and histories it was about power – consolidating it or creating it. Then he brought up children. And I noted the fact that there were plenty of babies in need of a good home (and plenty of babies being born out of wedlock.) Then the lifeguard blew the whistle that indicated it was time for us all to get out of the pool so they could dump some more bleach in the water. And I said, ‘It was nice meeting you.’ Clearly, it wasn’t, but he said the same and that was that. Conversation over.

I’m not ashamed about what I said. But I wish I hadn’t been so timid. That I had been able to have a conversation, not an argument, without worrying about offending this man when what he was saying seemed so offensive to me.

I wish I had told him that when we talk about what should be legal and what shouldn’t be, please do not substantiate your point by using the bible to state that discrimination is okay. While I respect the book and believe in God, America is bigger than that. It is big enough to say that while you are free to hold yourself accountable to a church and to the lessons of the Bible, your neighbor is free to hold himself or herself to a different book, a different theology, or none at all. If you want to come at me with a statement that gay marriage is wrong or dangerous, please bring scientific data or criminal statistics that prove that it, indeed, is harmful to this country or to the American family. While the Bible is an excellent book, it has no place in being the sole source of the creation of laws affecting an entire country that espouses many faiths and traditions. There are plenty of examples of folks doing harm to America (both legally and illegally) in the name of Christianity or something they believe to be dictated by the word of God. Equal rights for the LGBT community will not necessitate a change in your right to raise your family or live your life with Christian values: you will not be forced to marry someone of the same sex. It will, however, give someone who is gay that same right (not to be forced to marry someone of the opposite sex to enjoy all of the rights and benefits marriage offers.)

The topic of gay marriage, to me, is bigger than gay people having the right to marry whomever they choose. It is about equality. I know a lot of gay people, many of whom support gay marriage, and some who don’t. But in serious moments, the moments when we speak about things like equality, they will speak with passion, because they know what it’s like not to have it. To live with fear and anxiety that exists only because they are different. They are Anne Hutchinson in Puritan America, Anne Moody in segregated Mississippi. They don’t want special treatment, they just want equal footing. They want the same things I want. They want the choice. When I hear about people lining up in droves to purchase food from a company after its CEO received negative feedback for pronouncing his opposition to gay marriage, I don’t see people lining up in support of his right to free speech or his pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. I see people lining up to put a group of people in their place. Lining up to say not today. Laughing in the face of a cry for equality. In the face of brave souls demanding the same freedoms that they themselves enjoy without discrimination. And they get away with it because all I do is crack a joke and walk away.

I dislike hearing the argument that so and so is on the wrong side of history. Regardless of whether or not I believe this, the people it’s directed towards don’t give a damn – life doesn’t always play out with a Remember the Titans handshake. It doesn’t always play out that way because the course of history was never changed by people who cracked jokes and walked away, but by those who saw injustice and weren’t afraid to say it was wrong. Or they were afraid, but they took a breath and said, no anyway. They were there to keep those in power accountable. They were present. They weren’t militant, but they weren’t timid. They changed things by being engaged and by showing up.

I don’t really know what this post is about – for that, I apologize. My belief in equality? My support for gay rights? My love for America and the Bible? My stance on body art? Maybe it is about all of these things. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I suppose I was just thinking about my tattoo and what it means and I wanted to say something.

(Please enjoy this Shangri-Las hit that played while I wrote this.)

What Does the Lord Require of You? (Or, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother)

25 Jul

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I used to go to this church called Mayflower in Oklahoma City, and I loved it. One of the things I’ve missed since moving away has been the benediction that took place at the end of every service. Everyone stands up, the pastor says something like, “Go in peace, pray for peace. Love one another, every single other.” And then everyone in the church turns inwards, towards the aisle, and sings this beautiful, often tear-inducing rendition of Micah 6:8 (What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.) When this happens, everyone singing is taking part in a twofold agreement that involves making an active promise and a pledge of accountability. There is nothing hokey or cult-like about it – I don’t get the urge to roll my eyes like I sometimes do during a yoga class (this in no terms is meant as a slight to Buddhists…send me a note if you’d like further explanations) – it is, simply put, quite calming and quite beautiful.

For those of you who can’t temper the need to eye-roll, consider this gem from The Hollies, inspired by the Boys Town slogan. (Which I think has religious undertones. I don’t know how to virtually shrug my shoulders. I tried.)

I often think about our obligation to one another. To provide you with a more explicit example, what do I do when I see a homeless person asleep, splayed across the shady portion of the sidewalk? What should my reaction be to all the debilitating angry words and actions I hear and read and see every day? To the indifference we seem to feel for one another? I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but I will here, because this is something I firmly believe: we do have an obligation to one another, one that goes beyond rationalizing someone else’s poverty or problems by enumerating the ‘faults’ that led to their circumstances. Those who disagree with me here have either never lived in or have never truly seen poverty, have never experienced what it is like to catch one bad break after another. There should be no shame in needing one another, and using the stereotypical stories of those who abuse the ‘system’ is not a legitimate excuse for turning our backs on those who haven’t.

A friend of mine is working in a free clinic type of setting. I’m using her words here without her permission. (Not that she is withholding it, but I just haven’t asked. Therefore, she shall remain nameless, and if she sees this, perhaps I’ll remove this paragraph in the future.) “I am uncomfortable when patients and their families thank me or look to me with gratitude. I try and communicate that I did not do anything when what I want to say is ‘Don’t be grateful that your circumstances have forced you to give up your privacy, your dignity and depend on [strangers] for something that should be yours by right.’” When I read that, I was glad to know a person who felt the need to do something because, well, isn’t that what anyone would do!? What kind of society do I live in that it’s okay to walk past the homeless man splayed across the sidewalk? What kind of person am I that I know it isn’t right but I do it anyway?

Albert Camus is one of my favorite authors. I read The Myth of Sisyphus and The Plague and am heartened by their contents…it is something akin to how I feel after watching a particularly good episode of an Aaron Sorkin television show. Perhaps the reason I return to the works of Camus so frequently is that they never seem to lose their relevance. One of my favorite lines from The Plague is this, ‘There’s one thing I must tell you; there’s no question of heroism in all this.  It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency.”

Common decency. The magic words. You see, to me, that is our obligation to one another: common decency. And I suppose that what one views as common decency is a direct result of one’s own experiences, and to that end, is not an absolute. I am the product of experiences that lend themselves to supreme examples of common decency. I am a child of an Oklahoma tragedy. A child of extraordinary kindnesses in foreign lands. A child of parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles whose ideas of decency were willingly self-sacrificing. So sometimes when I think about our obligation to one another and common decency, I worry, because perhaps I’ve been lucky to know so many decent people, guiding me by their responses to every type of plague. But then I see a stranger buy a man a drink to keep him from quenching his thirst with a discarded soda that had been pulled out of a trashcan on the street. I see GoFundMe news out of Colorado of people donating $5 and $20 and $100 dollars towards the medical bills of the victims of what can only be described as a massacre. And I hear those people at Mayflower singing to me. And I understand that you see and hear all of that, too.

Not On Rex Manning Day!

17 Jul

I just got off the phone with a friend from home. We caught up on a few things, and before she excused me to eat the weird dinner I’d prepared myself (with the remnants of last payday’s groceries) we naturally talked about music.

In college, this friend and I were roommates. I had a penchant for playing really horridly ‘depressing’ song on repeat, over and over and over again. Requests had to be made for it to end. And then I’d come bopping out of my room, or the car, or wherever we were. Skooboppin’ around. Jolly as Santy Claus on Christmas morning. I think it may have been exasperating. Anyway, my friend and I were talking, and she has come around to it – the joy that can be found in tortuously sad music.

I love sad songs. I love sad songs regardless of my emotional state. Don’t know why, I just do. I find them very cathartic, very beautiful. An ideal evening for me would be sitting alone in my room, reenacting this scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Music is one of those things that we all understand at a very basic level. We’ve all experienced heartbreak or loss in some form, and it can be hard for people to express the depth of that emotion, especially since it isn’t really socially acceptable beyond a certain point to just be sad about something. But when you hear a sad song, and you hear that vibrato, or that catch in the throat (or for me, that steel guitar), it’s illuminating. This person gets it. Or they got it. And you feel as if you’re not alone, and you never will be. And to me, that’s comforting, I suppose.

In celebration of the sad song, I thought I’d share some of my favorites. Get it all out, folks. The Beatles came correct: take a sad song, and make it better. (That might not have been their intent, but, as John Mayer recently stated in a Rolling Stone interview, that is the beauty of a lyric.)

1. Angel Flyin’ Too Close To The Ground

I always like spending time listening to music at my Aunt Mary and Uncle Lee’s house. I heard some great gems I’d never known existed – George Harrison, Dirty Laundry in Uncle Lee’s ‘fort’ – but when I heard this sad, sad music and said, “Who is this?” and Lee dropped, in a voice only he could, an ‘It’s Willeh’ I was a goner. This song really saved Willie Nelson for me. I had always thought Willie was some old, doped-up goof who irritated me by hanging with TK and who may or may not be Lindsey Allen’s real father. But this song. It’s a killer. ‘Tryin’ to keep your spirits up, and your fever down’?! ‘Leave me if you need to, I will still remember’?! OH, WILLIE.

2. Break It To Me Gently

Brenda Lee is right up there with Patsy Cline, in my book, when it comes to an I-know-it’s-coming-and-it-will-suck gut-wrencher. In fact, see number three, too. Those voices. I don’t know that either of these women were the original recorders of these songs. And I don’t care. Those voices.

3. If You’ve Got Leavin’ On Your Mind

4. Your Long Journey

This song makes me think of my grandparents. Enough said.

5. To Know Him Is To Love Him

Ahhhhh. The super sad unrequited love song that borders on crazy, but is saved because Phil Spector is an evil genius. (Truly.) Sting, you ain’t got nothin’ on this.

6. Careless

Let’s be honest. Amos Lee could fill an entire top ten of the best sad songs. I want to hug him so hard, and all the time. But there is a point towards the end of this song when he sounds so exasperated and confused and it’s just so…much. I don’t know how he performs this live repetitively, but he does. I’ve seen it. And it’s captivating.

7. Moon River

I love this Honey Trees cover of an excellent song. Again, such a connection – facing your fears, etc., and facing them together. After all, we’re after the same rainbow’s end. (I want to finish with my Huckleberry friend, but I can’t. It’s too much.)

8. Naked, If I Want To

Cat Power’s voice is enveloping. It just wraps you up and makes it okay. Sea of Love is another excellent example of this.

9. Live Forever

I listened to this song after losing a friend. Not the best choice for this list, because I wasn’t exactly bopping around afterwards, but it has stuck with me, reminding me to love people wherever I am and whoever they are – embracing the universe!

10. New York City’s Killing Me

For those days you just miss a place, this song I recommend.

Not an exhaustive list, but a decent one. I hope my country tendencies don’t strangle you. Do you have a favorite sad song you think I’d enjoy? Let me know! Want me to create a sad song playlist for you? Okay! Emote, people!

In Which I Take Harry Potter Too Far

21 May

If I were to list here all the jobs I held during my teen years, one might get the impression that I grew up in an eighties movie. Scorekeeper/janitor/concession stand aficionado for little league basketball games, hostess at a seafood restaurant that catered to bikers once every week, staff member at a roller-skating rink (where I worked more than one lock-in and served my fair share of birthday cake), camp counselor, baby-sitter, etc.

When I started typing that list just now, I didn’t realize how much of my work involved kids (let’s face it: bikers are simply large children.) It sort of makes sense, though, when I think about why I felt like writing this today and when I see how working with young people has become so important to me as an adult. Kids are outstanding humans. The best ones keep that twinkle in their eye even when they’ve tricked us with wrinkles and old age (I’m talking about you here, Frank - Note: For those who do not know Frank, see photo below.) They love openly and earnestly. They laugh whenever possible. They’re honest about what they want and what they’re feeling. They’re shocked by meanness and evil. When given enough rope, they’ll run with it – they’ll do bad things and develop into unrecognizable beings. But they can sense sorrow and they know right from wrong. They’re vulnerable. Kids can be outstanding. They carry all of these talents into their adulthood when those who’ve gone before them allow it.

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I’ve had a bit of a sad weekend. It’s been one of those weekends that makes one question the world around them, wondering about the point of it all. Getting angry because life isn’t fair and because good people go every day and things don’t stop. The world keeps spinning on its axis and those in mourning simply can’t understand why everything, I mean everything, doesn’t stop even for a moment to recognize what we’ve all lost.

So, in a weekend that has been filled with wallowing, I reflected on all the things that I have done. I thought about what I’m proud of having accomplished, what I’m ashamed has taken place, and about things that still need to be checked off the list either way. As I ran through my life thus far, I remembered a job I worked in high school at the YMCA. I worked in the nursery, changing diapers and attempting to distract children when their parents dropped them off to go work on their fitness. In the summer, they had a longer program for school age children in the gym. Often some of the older kids (they could walk for a spell without falling down) from the nursery would be brought over to play. This weekend, I remembered one of those days.

It’s a pretty short memory – of this adorable little girl who, proudly and seriously, said that when she got bigger, she was going to ‘go to Hogwarts, and be in Gryffindor, like Harry.’ I don’t remember what spurred the conversation – were we talking about Harry Potter? Were we talking to one of the older kids about which of the Edmond middle or high schools he or she would start attending in the fall? I’m not sure. For the longest time, I think I held on to that memory because I didn’t understand how this little girl, while really young, believed the world of Harry Potter was an option for her.

Today, I’m wondering how I didn’t.

There is magic all around us. One doesn’t have to be a genius to see how Harry Potter parallels ‘the real world.’ (Thanks, JK.) Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters are present everywhere: in sickness, in war, in poverty, in politics, in the ordinary and mundane encounters that take place every day. Sowing bitterness and fear and leaving tragedy in its path. And again, I wonder: What’s the point?

You probably know where this is going. Because if Voldy and the Gang are real, so is Harry and the Order. Dumbledore’s Army, too. We fight back with science and diplomacy and random acts of kindness and a belief in goodness that should never fail. With the hope that the love we have for one another will keep spinning right along with the world, long after we’re gone. That at least that piece of us will live forever.

Harry dealt with a lot of loss, much of which the reader learns about through Harry’s eyes. The reader never got to know Harry’s parents like we did Ron and Hermione. Sirius was there just a short time. But Harry remembers those that have been lost, and so do we. He learns lessons about life through them; he makes choices with help from them long after they’re no longer physically present.

My sweet, sweet grandma died while I was in college, a few days after I returned home from a semester abroad. She was a woman to model one’s life after. She kept all those good bits children have and expanded on them in her adulthood. When she died, she was at home with hospice care, making cracks about lip balm and citrus fruits while stomach cancer was killing her. As I sat next to her bed, she asked me if I was tired and told me to lie down on her pillow. She told me that there I’d get some rest. When she took her final breath, she was surrounded by her husband of almost sixty years, her children and grandchildren. Holding hands, trying to provide comfort while overwhelmed with grief. Sometimes when I think of her, that desire for everyone and everything to stop lingers. Don’t you know what we’re missing?

That is how magic works, I guess. We lose those that life seems unimaginable without. But then, with gratitude, we keep them with us. So much of who we are is made up of those who were. We do the things they could do, we add some they couldn’t to our list, and we remember the lessons* they taught us – that they continue to teach us from beyond – and they live forever. That is the point.

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* A smattering of grandmotherly lessons:

Diet soda is for fat people.

It’s okay to drink from the bottle.

Figure yourself out first – a man will show up when the time is right.

Purple dresses are great for dancing.

Be faithful, it’ll help you rest.

Make time for family.

Appreciate hummingbirds and other wonders.

ramblings on birth control…and faith

17 Apr

I was talking to a friend not too long ago. She is a delightful Vermonter, and we were talking about a stressful work situation. She made a comment about how emphatically she tries to avoid getting into conversations about ridiculous things – she doesn’t want to validate said ridiculous things by discussing them. I like this idea, but I’m not going to abide by it tonight.

And for my next trick! I will commence talking in circles.

I believe the national discussion on exempting birth control/contraception from health care plans based on religious ideology is a touch ridiculous. In 28 states, access via health insurance to birth control and contraception is mandated by law (although eight of these states allow exemptions for Catholic universities and hospitals, which, as I stated, I believe is ridiculous.) My problem isn’t with Catholic ideology (well, my problem here isn’t with Catholic ideology – but I’ll get to that later.) My problem is access. Catholic institutions employ people and provide services to women who aren’t Catholic. They receive government funding from a government that isn’t (supposed to be) tied to any specific religious tradition. I respect the Catholic faith – if a Catholic woman makes the choice to family plan the natural way, in concordance with Church dogma, she has a right to do so. If she doesn’t, that is between her and her God. And, I suppose in this example, her church. However, the Church can’t have it both ways. Stop receiving government funds. Stop hiring folks and providing services to those who aren’t Catholic. Or, trust the Catholic women in your employ to live their faith. Extend tolerance to those who aren’t Catholic to live theirs. Respect for other religious traditions has always done more good than bad in every faith. It shouldn’t take too long for you to think of more than a few instances when ‘my way or the highway’ rhetoric has led to the opposite.

(A sidebar on health care, which I’ve touched on before: would this discussion on birth control and contraception be taking place if a public option had been considered more seriously? [Perhaps as a person with a chronic disease who would benefit from said option my opinion on this is skewed, but…] I think not.)

I loved growing up in the Catholic faith. I loved the ritual and tradition. I loved knowing that all over the world, in church on Sunday, millions of people were praying the same prayers I was praying and I loved knowing that no matter where I found myself, I could find a true sanctuary in any Catholic church I walked into – a link to home. My faith has always been important to me. But as I’ve grown older, it has expanded beyond the limits of the Catholic Church.

I’m turning 26 in less than a week. I remember when I thought 26 was old, an idea that seems ridiculous to me now. I guess the point of including this statement is to say that I used to have this concrete belief that when I was in my mid-twenties I’d have it all together – I’d know things, because things were very cut and dry. Black and white. Hard and fast. (Take your pick – you get the point.) I’d have wisdoms. And now, I’m almost 26 and I look back on that idea and I realize how childish the idea that one can ever know things truly is. Wisdom, at this point in my life, comes mostly from people who bear a striking resemblance to Gandalf or Professor Dumbledore

I really love stories – they seem to be how I connect with and relate to people. The writers of the New Testament were excellent storytellers. I shape memories around stories, regardless of whether or not they were ever mine. When I hear a story it files itself away in the recesses of my mind (occasionally, my heart) and when I’m feeling thoughtful or joyful or pensive or scared or heartbroken, the memories I have of these stories (be they the stories themselves or the memories surrounding the hearing of the story) amplify these emotions, then if necessary, work as a salve of sorts. I think this is why I hoard music, why I have a hard time getting rid of books. The stories. I still remember the profound way I felt when I read Franny and Zooey  (more specifically this, just because I loved it so):  

But I’ll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that goddam secret yet? And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.

I remember crying when I read the end of Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, because I’d never read sorrow so eloquently conveyed as I had in this irreverent and beautiful retelling of Christ’s early years. And I remember the way a viewing of Fred Craddock’s sermon at Mayflower inspired me to order a copy of The Cherry Log Sermons immediately after leaving church. It made faith seem so accessible and open, and I was grateful for that.

My point, my point…what’s my point? It always takes me so long to get to the point. I think my point tonight is this: for me, faith is too personal to be constructed from too many absolutes. The stories I hear and read and live, the people I meet, are too complex and unique for absolutes[i]. The faith I’ve constructed in God, based on the building blocks of the stories I read in the New Testament, is too filled with love and acceptance and forgiveness for me to express my faith through the dogma of the Catholic Church. That doesn’t mean it isn’t right for other people. That I’m wrong or right. It just means that is the way that it is. It means that for me, divorced people are worthy of communion with God. That the LGBT community is worthy of communion with God. That all people should feel peace rather than shame when they enter their version of a church. Their sanctuary. Their safest place. Their link to home.

This has been difficult for me to write – I come from a strong Catholic tradition, from a wonderful family who may read these words and disagree wholeheartedly with my portrayal of Catholicism. Perhaps my firm belief that their love for me is unshakeable, no matter what I do or write on the Internet, invalidates the content of this posting.

I’m young. I’ll continue to let my spiritual truths be mine and yours be yours until I become a wizened sage. I hope.


[i] Consequently, a quote from Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, on some absolutes:

Joshua’s ministry was three years of preaching, sometimes three times a day, and although there were some high and low points, I could never remember the sermons word for word, but here’s the gist of almost every sermon I ever heard Joshua give.

You should be nice to people, even creeps.
And if you:
a) believed that Joshua was the Son of God (and)
b) he had come to save you from sin (and)
c) acknowledged the Holy Spirit within you (became as a little child, he would say) (and)
d) didn’t blaspheme the Holy Ghost (see c)
then you would:
e) live forever
f) someplace nice
g) probably heaven
However, if you:
h) sinned (and/or)
i) were a hypocrite (and/or)
j) valued things over people (and)
k) didn’t do a, b, c, and d,
then you were:
l) fucked.

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