Griefy Fingernails

I haven’t been much for finding the bright side in the last few weeks.  I have tried to hope it up for others’ sake, but I haven’t been able to find my usual joy stream.  The election was bad enough, but to top it off people keep dying on me–and yes, that’s the selfish way I phrase it, dying on me.  The latest was my master teacher.  This woman started my lessons in what it looked like to thrive thirteen years ago, and helped me figure out my first year teaching when exhaustion was as thick and indigestible as old oatmeal.  For many reasons, the news is still a shock if I sit and think of it for more than a few minutes.

That’s why I couldn’t help but oogle my silver-lining thinking when it snuck back in during dance last night.  I realized there is a benefit to grief that I was formerly unaware of.  This may not be news to any of you, but I am still absorbing this new information with gratitude.

Most of last night it was extraordinarily hard to move.  Even when I danced in time with the quickened tempo, there was something of an object-fighting-being-washed-downstream quality to it.  I started the night thinking maybe it was my breath.  I am always clumsier and less connected when I am holding my breath.  Nope, that wasn’t it.  Maybe I was thinking things, not truly yet in my body?  Nope, not that either.  Maybe I was in sensory overload with the fullness of the room?  No, I was still able to look around and see everything without any panic flares.  It was then that it hit me: my body just felt so damn heavy.

I knew grief would be part of last night’s dance, but the sheer physical presence of the heaviness intrigued me.  Gravity wasn’t just a law, but an overexcited lover, pulling me down in handfuls, vying for the attention of my porous bones.  I decided to investigate.  Was everything heavy?  I gave in to the ridiculously slow pace I was craving and let my attention wander.  Feet?  Yes.  But also the bumps on the bottom of my ankles for which I am sure there is an actual name.  They felt like jello molds made of wet cement.  As I kept scanning and moving and crying, I could feel the fluid in my knees.  My hips were like huge wooden oars; graceful when in the water, awkward and splinter prone when you try to store them in a closet.  My shoulders were mountainous, my eyebrows woolen, and I could feel my fingernails trying to drip from me like a Dali painting.  It seemed every part was participating in this implosion, seeking each other in the middle to express what my brain could not.

The further I went into this immense weightedness, the more something dawned on me.  I am here.  I exist, for better or worse, without a shadow of a doubt.  Nothing this tactile, this contoured, this heavy, could be a projection or reflection.  I know logically that I don’t cease to exist because others do, but in these hours I felt it.  There is a whole other existence apart from my history.  I am here, and although I can’t quite articulate it, there is something surprising in that knowledge.  It’s not just the childlike part of grief and, “I don’t wanna live if they can’t,” or even the desire to now “really make it count.”  I am here, and it’s really quiet in that moment, even with bodies swirling around you and strings swelling.  Even if I question my own belonging on the daily, I am here, made of the same stuff as everyone else, confronting that fear of matter I can’t manipulate.

To speak more plainly, this weight shook me.

In the midst of that shaking, I fell out of some usual grooves and let people look new.  When I let them be here as much as I was here, the weight grew but the heaviness did not.  I sheltered in the strength of men, broad shouldered and rooted, so different from what women offer each other.  I leaned against the resiliency of women, flexible and receptive, like birches in our forest of heartedness.  I danced with pairs and groups and watched us weave bright blankets to wrap around each to his or her need.  I had no judgements, just arrival at this ending and crumpled Kleenexes collecting by the windowsill.

A few times last night I would see Sharon’s face out of the corner of my eye.  She was smiling to beat the band as her once upon a time serious newbie went toe-to-toe with a gravity that made her lighter.

 

To my nephews…

To my nephews,

I have been thinking about you a lot during this week where Donald Trump became President Elect.  You will both come into adolescence during his first and hopefully only term as President, and I feel I have some explaining to do.  Amidst the toxic masculinity already in the world, you will see men emboldened by Trump’s raw, tantrumy hate, and I feel I have some explaining to do.  All your grandparents likely voted for him, and I feel I have some explaining to do.  I’m not there everyday to plant sedition and non-grasping love in you, and I feel I have some explaining to do.

I realize you may not read this letter for many years–right now your lives are full of forced Jesus, yelling adults, multiple moms and dads who love you but are hurting, and a chess game you were not given the rules to.  However, if you need them, if you want them, I want you to have access to my words one day; they carry just a small portion of my great love for you.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a man, young or old.  I have never been one.  In fact, men have hurt me very deeply in the past, which is something I should acknowledge at the beginning of this letter.  But, as I begin to rewrite the narrative of who men can be, in part by uncovering myself in the last five years, there are a few things I want you to know.

  1. Not all men are spectators, riding the winds of opportunity looking for loopholes and weakness to take advantage of.  Don’t reward people with your love, your trust, your intelligence, because they’ve done or not done something for you.  Risk getting hurt.  Be active, even if it’s just by listening to someone you have nothing to gain from.  The distant, manipulative man you might have seen and wish to become, is not a man, but the version of God you are witnessing in this moment.  However, please believe that even god, should you chose to believe in him/her/it/they/us, is bigger than humans have made him/her/it/they/us.
  2. Not all men compartmentalize the world and then assign value judgements to those compartments.  Men are capable of integrating many truths, holding contradictions and knowing there is truth at both ends, and ASKING QUESTIONS without an answer already in mind.  Men can stay without running when worlds collide and the order they believed in becomes messy.  My dear, sweet, hearts, there are so many places to explore in this world, and only a handful of them are geographical.  Don’t stay fixed if and when you are beckoned.
  3. Not all men use their strength for aggression.  Though I can’t imagine someone fearing for their safety in the face of you, times change quickly.  You are going to see a lot of sickness surface in a Trump America, some so subtle it will be easy to ignore it in largely liberal California.  Some of it will come from popular boys or girls that you want to be around.  Some of it will come from insecure members of your church.  But please, please, don’t ever be someone that people feel they have to hide from.  The further you go down that road, the more your own loneliness is assured.  Cry when you are hurt, both inside and out, and point your anger at the forces that come to steal from the powerless, not at the powerless themselves.

Being gifted with life is not a joke, please take cultivating it seriously, no matter what you see in your role models.  Right now you are children, and part of the mostly powerless, but that will change quickly, and you can always choose how you respond to what is in front of you.  I hope to one day collaborate with you as you dream and struggle to celebrate life and love.  I was tempted to donate to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood this year in your name for Christmas and send the donation slips home, but that would only add to your tension.  Thus, we will choose from the Heifer International catalogue as has become our tradition.  We will send farm animals to families around the world in need, and save conversations of home politics for another day.

I could say a lot more, but I will end with this: I am sorry we could not give you a more balanced President, but I love you forever and thus will continue to work on bettering my small corner of the world.

Love,

Aunt Chelsea

ps. I guess there is one more thing.  Being white in itself is not a crime or something to feel guilty or defensive over.  In fact, race is a cultural construction, but that is a conversation for another time.  This being said, it does give you ENORMOUS amounts of privilege, especially as a white male.  What will you do with it?

 

 

Cynicism, Star Stealing, Cat Hugging

Last night, after breaking my promise to stay off social media, I heard the news.  We don’t just clandestinely authorize hate anymore.  We now cheer it with bullhorns and parades and give it all the attention it desires.

I knew I needed to move–junk food, naps, and Netflix had not calmed my anxiety all day, and there wasn’t really any liquor in the house.  I made my way around midnight to the labyrinth in the back courtyard of the elementary school near my house.  As I paused to ask a question before entering, the only thing I could come up with was, “What now?”  I cried as I walked.  It feels important to be honest about why I cried:

-I didn’t think it could happen.  I think many of us, especially in the Bay, were in that boat last night.  I’ve just seen us be so much better.

-I wasn’t surprised as I wanted to be.  Cynicism had it’s slimy tentacles around parts of my hope and thus lessened the force of the blow.  Some might say that’s a good thing, that it is survival/coping skills in place.  But I don’t want to lose my heart.  A few weeks ago during dance our instructor played John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  The thought rose unbidden: “There’s some refusal of this message in the way you dance to it.”  I still don’t know what to do with that.

-I fear I will lose the tiny inroads made with my family since being out of the classroom has given me more energy for connecting.  It is was one thing for my parents to tell me how much they liked him when it seemed an impossibility, but now that it’s a reality?  I will not be able to handle it if they even slightly celebrate in my presence.  I’m not kidding…I will lose my shit.  I walked through the labyrinth telling my mother how ANGRY I was that she was normalizing female fear and disempowerment with her vote.

-I thought of every friend of mine who is teacher–called you up past and present, one by one.  I thought about what today would be like for you.  The unspoken grief carried into the classroom by so many children, the lack of safety, the disillusionment.  That feeling that I’d been part of a great lie for so many years, returned with full force.  There’s nothing I can do but tell you that I love you and I’m proud of the bravery you will bring today.

-As an educated white woman in the Bay Area, I can get away with feeling blasé about the changeover in a few weeks time.  It’s highly unlikely my life will change to any great degree, and yet the lives of so many I love will now be in very real danger.  Why am I spared?  To do good work?  Be an ally?  An advocate?  I can’t say I’m doing much of that outside the classroom, and I don’t miss the total and complete exhaustion it brought me.  Where does that leave me?  What next?

I cried and walked and walked and cried under the waxing moon, the sound of the train and the sprinklers from the park the only punctuation besides my ragged breathing.  When I got to the middle I knelt down and put my hands to the ground.  The weight of my heart did not lift, but I stilled.  I looked around.  The stars were still there.  The trees still breathed with me.  I still had all the resources from pre-madman to meet me post-madman.

Time to tell new stories, some of which are probably old, to rewrite the current narrative.  Time to help hold those hearts that will be in fear after this, especially now that I have the energetic means to do so.  Time to acknowledge that I am part of the world and we have all fallen on our faces together under the weight of our collective unprocessed pain.  Time to re-learn how to stand together.

As I left the courtyard, I saw the children’s election bulletin board.  There were red cut out stars with the pictures of each candidate on them.  There was a poster written in teacher handwriting with the candidates names and how many kids had voted.  The bottom proclaimed, “The students of YCIS predict a Clinton/Kaine landslide!!”

The hope of children.  That is one thing I do miss about the classroom, as I find I age more quickly without it.  Without thinking much, I reached up and pulled Trump’s star off the bulletin board, along with his gluesticked name, crumpled them, and threw them in the trash.  As I explained to my cat later while hugging her patient frame, I wanted them to wonder today, to think that the force of their hope could still create change.

 

 

Crushed Aleppo Peppers…

…is what the flat plastic bag reads.  It is part of my Blue Apron meal.  Tonight’s dinner.  As I stand there in my kitchen, making food from a place I’ve never been to, toes painted, arms tanned from wandering deliriously happy through sun and trees today, I thought of the little boy on the news not too long ago.  Face caked in dirt and blood, sitting in the back of an ambulance after surviving a blast, so utterly shattered that the way he wiped the blood from himself seemed almost absentminded.  Media eyes zoomed in as close as they could get.

Did he once crush peppers with his Jidd–a word for Grandma I had to look up, along with “What language is spoken in Syria?”  Did his eyes ever burn with pepper fumes and the giggles of his siblings and cousins whose eyes were also streaming?  Or was it only ever the fumes of war for him?  Did he ever stick his hands in the dirt of the garden, like the little ones I care for now so love to do, and pat near the ripe, red secret, growing in darkness?

If I take his crushed homeland into my body, like Communion, shouldn’t I owe him…something?  This boy I will never meet who will have bad dreams for the rest of his life.  Should I at least be required to use all the peppers?  Not throw half away in the bag because, “I don’t like it too spicy.”

If I eat the suffering of another, does it make me compassionate or immune–a suffering vaccine?