Regular readers of this blog know that have mentored a great group of young men since they were in elementary school (going on 17 years now!). One of the young men and his partner of 7 years and they have three boys ages 10, 5 and 3. The oldest is the mother’s son from a previous relationship, but the young man I mentor acts as his father and treats him like a son. Both the young man I mentor and his partner lost their minimum wage jobs this year and became homeless, losing all of their possessions because they had no where to put them. They are both now working – the young man since summer and his partner since October and are trying hard to get back on their feet. They rarely ask of anything of me except moral support, but I told them I wanted to help with Christmas. They have good hearts and are defying many statistics – no drugs, no arrests, no abuse, raising children together – but they still face a lot of struggles. I’m working with them and friends to try to get them into a house where they will pay rent, but the owner is willing to work with them on a rent to own plan the next 20 years which is an amazing thing for them and we are also working on GEDs so that they can try to get better jobs – she would like to be a nurse and he loves to cook and would like to work his way up in a kitchen somewhere. They desperately want to provide a better life for their children. I told them I would take care of Christmas (they protest every year, as they are proud, but I insisted). We’ve covered a lot of it and also tried to get donations from friends here who have boys the same age and have extras to give to them. However, since so much was lost in being homeless (they are currently in a precarious, overcrowded situation with extended family) they have a lot of needs. I made an amazon wish list for them here http://amzn.com/w/1D8EO82EXCGS3. There is no pressure AT ALL, however, if you’d like to help out and buy a little thing for them, they and the boys would be very appreciative. I’ll try to deliver everything to them by December 15 or 17.
This is a time when everyone (including my lovely family) is writing and talking about what they will cook and make for the Thanksgiving meal. As vegetarians and folks who are aware that many Native Americans refer to Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning, it is not quite as exciting for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I really love everyone taking time to be thankful and give attention to our families. I also am very aware that most folks, like us, don’t really tend to associate our holiday traditions with the supposed first Thanksgiving meal. Aside from the ridiculousness taught to most elementary school kids, pilgrims and Native Americans are not really part of Thanksgiving for many of us.
So I get that my feelings about Thanksgiving could be read as crazy liberal stuff, crazy vegetarian stuff. I am certainly not going to raise this with my family or neighbors because I don’t want to be seen as the strange one ruining the fun talking about Native Americans and trying to stand up for turkeys or something. We eat a vegan fall meal in our home on Thanksgiving and welcome anyone who wants to join us.
But, in a way, this is sort of my concern. Because violence get normalized when those who point out the violence (historical or present day) are the “weird” ones.
So, on the one hand, I want to avoid disrupting a nice day by good people who are just trying to have a good meal together. On the other hand, I want not to normalize the history and the killing that is quite literally at the center of this holiday, with the turkey in the middle of the table.
So here is the story we tell in our family around Thanksgiving:
Our son was born at home, at the end of a dead end road in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our house was up against ten acres of woods and it was quiet and I can’t think of a better place for him to have been born. It was a chilly spring day that he was born. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for over 24 hours. Finally, when I got up for the first time my partner said, “Look out the window!!” I looked out into our back yard, which was right up against the forest and there were 14 wild turkeys, a deer, two bunnies, and a squirrel sitting out in our yard. It was misty out, early in the morning, the day after our son had been born.
We tell him that the animals in the forest knew that a new creature had been born in the woods and they came to welcome him. In a way, I’m sure that is not quite true. But, in another way, I have to wonder if it is. We had never seen any turkeys or deer until this moment – just the occasional bunny and our squirrels.
We tell our son that the turkeys were excited to see him especially because they are simple, peaceful animals and it is a message to us that we do best when we also live simple and peacefully.
We tell him the story of how, many years ago, people lived in the land we now call Plymouth, his birth place, and people came from Europe and wanted to live there too. We haven’t gotten to the details (i.e. the massacres) but in general we point out that it is hard when different people want to live in same place and we need to be thoughtful about how we live with others – the harm we cause and the ways we can lessen that. We tell him that his birth location and his welcome by the turkeys and other animals of the woods is a gift to him to remember the ways that we can live more peacefully, with a spirit of welcome. Eating animals in general seems strange to him since he has never eaten animals and rarely sees others do so. But, we hope that, over time, his birth story helps him remember his connection to animals and to history such that it calls him to make a different sort of world than the one we have.
I get that it might seem hippie or cooky to some. But, for us, it is a small way to say that there is enough killing in the world. There is enough pain and enough violence and we’re just going to do our best to lessen how much of that we take part in, recognizing that we can never fully extract ourselves from this broken world with broken systems of violence that we are a part of. But, at the very least, we’ll try not to celebrate it and try to opt out when we can.
My lovely partner has our dear little boy (nearly eight months old!) and I have a few precious minutes to work and rest, which, after caring for a flu-sick child the whole week, work and rest feel very similar because no one is nursing, crying, or sleeping on me while I try to sit very still so as not to wake him.
I do wish I would post here more, and I have drafts in the queue, but just can’t let myself publish things that are so unpolished.
I learned that when an issue with me/my ministry arises, I should listen more, explain less, apologize clearly and directly, and document my efforts to improve the situation. It does not help to explain my thinking in that moment.
I think I need to do this more in life. When there is a complaint, listen, don’t explain, apologize clearly and directly. My partner and I struggle with this a lot: one complaint causes the other to say, “Well you do that too!” and no one feels heard or addressed. I want to make a rule for myself (ha! and my partner, but it is harder to make rules for him…) that when there is a complaint, I will make sure that the person feels heard, try not to explain it away, and apologize. The apologizing part is hard sometimes, right, because what if you don’t feel like the complain is legit? We can at least apologize that the person feels hurt or upset. We can make sure the person feels heard even if we don’t affirm that it seems the same way to us. Isn’t that often the point of the apology – not to say, “Yes, you are right and I am wrong,” but to say, “I can understand why you feel that way and I am sorry you do and I’m sorry for my role in that.” This is a difficult balance – to affirm, to hear, to honor, but also to factor in our own perspective.
I have to remind myself over and over that I am never going to “get it” and it will be done. Life is an ongoing journey, struggle, joy, learning, growing, hurting, celebrating sort of thing. We aren’t going to figure it out. It is like the tide – in and out, in and out.
And so it goes.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard
I am trying not to be worried that my house will never be as clean as I want it. Crumbs are not poisonous. They are not specks of doubt flung around announcing my inability to manage my life.
I was telling my partner – I need to think in terms of sanitation..the house must not pose a health hazard – rather than trying to actually keep it clean. I can understand a bit more now where good old Betty Friedan was coming from.
My sweet angel wants to be held. Always. I am not of the cry it out school of parenting. Or the school that thinks you can spoil your baby. He needs what he needs. He need reassurance. He needs my arms and my breast and my heartbeat. Still adjusting to his life that is his own and not 100% woven together with mine. As I said in an earlier post: It is flattering, but exhausting.
Yet. I want to life a life that is about love and peace and gentleness and kindness. Maybe I am some sort of cliche, but these things actually have meaning for me – they are not words – but a life that I long for and believe in. And it cannot be lived if I am running around like a mad woman muttering about papers that are not written or sleep that is not had or crumbs that have not been dust-busted.
So, I try to lose myself in my mesmerization. Let myself feel it. The soft skin. The wonder of our boy. The way his eyebrows are just little fuzzes that I can rub against my cheek while he is sleeping on my shoulder. Just let him sleep on my shoulder rather than try to put him down in order to do something else.
The way his breath smells sweet. The magic of watching him learn how to giggle.
How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
So I will do what I need to do – the work, the school, the cleaning, the errands – as I can. But when I cannot, I will smell his sweet baby breath. Sit and wait for the wild turkeys to come and get the corn we have put out for them.
And try to let go.
Greetings blog readers. I have blog posts floating around in my head, but neither the time nor energy to articulate them. Blogging for me seems to have ups and downs. Such is life.
Plus, I get the distinct feeling that I write about the same themes and questions over and over again. Like they say, preachers all have one or two great sermons and they just give them in a bunch of different ways. Such is the case with many of my blog posts. I guess this post is no exception…
Courtney over at feministing.com posted this today:
1. What is the accurate, once-and-for-all differences between men’s and women’s brains?
2. How can a woman who’s super invested in mothering also protect her own creative/intellectual/professional life?
3. What truly works when it comes to rape and violence prevention?
4. When do I focus on being right and when do I focus on being effective?
5. When do I address sexism directly and when it is best to handle it indirectly?
6. How can society still be so invested in the categories hetero, homo, and bi when sexuality so obviously exists on a spectrum?
7. Why do so many feminists resist being critical about the institution of marriage?
8. How can we have no holds bar honest conversations about race and class disparities within feminist circles?
9. How important is it that women embrace the feminist label?
10. How ethical is it that feminist writers like Judith Butler and even bell hooks are hard for my women’s studies 101 students to understand?
I thought it was good. I feel like I have some similar questions that I come back to over and over.
1. How do I balance between living an enjoyable life that involves some unnecessary but enjoyable comforts (vacation, new clothes, eating cheese) with living a simple, ethical life that I often feel called to that better takes into account sustainability, justice, equality, and fairness?
2. I like Courtney’s question about, “When do I focus on being right and when do I focus on being effective?” When do I temper my rhetoric/position in order to work toward incremental change, and when do I speak completely honestly, speaking what I believe to be right, even if it is so radical that people will dismiss me? This also plays into her question about handling sexism (or other injustice) directly or indirectly. I guess it often comes down to discerning a strategy to move toward what we want to see in the world. What are the most effective strategies for change? I know this obviously varies.
3. Is it wrong to look at celebrity gossip websites that I find in many ways deplorable, but also intriguing and interesting? I don’t click on the ads, but I know my browsing of the site must impact the overall click count which makes the site be able to charge more for advertising….
4. How nice and kind should I be to people? When am I just enabling weird, needy people?
5. Why can I never water an aloe plant the right amount? They either drown or thirst to death.
6. How do I balance between success and hard work, and just enjoying life even if it slows down my professional progress? How can I tell I am being successful toward some end and when I am just achieving things because I want to be special/approved/unique?
7. How does one communicate the direness of a situation without making people feel hopeless?
8. How do we balance between being hopeful and positive and being realistic and practical? Or rather, when does hopefulness become naive and just to make us feel better, not anything actually helpful?
I have more, but those are some. I don’t expect you to actually answer these. These are life-long struggles for me. I found it hilarious that some people took Courtney’s questions and then went through them one by one and answered in the comments like “There you go.” As if they could be answered easily and clearly.
What are your enduring questions?
He was very loved little cuddle bunny who very much enjoyed watching the foster kittens play, being groomed by his best friend Gustav the cat, and eating Papa Johns pizza and as many treats as he could get his paws on. He left us gently this evening at Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston after looking at us and saying (with his eyes), “I’m ready to go, okay?” Wolfgang and I were with him as he felt gently to sleep.
I have written probably countless times about my struggles with the unfriendliness of Greater Boston. Sorry if you are sick of it. Skip if you like. But, today a very unfriendly sassy woman taught me a good lesson: even if people seem to be doing really dumb things, generally, it is probably even still a good idea not to be nasty to them.
I was driving to dinner in Cambridge. There are all these squiggly narrow back streets where they start off as two-way and turn into one way. I went a way I haven’t gone before and ended up going the wrong way down a street. I know. Not ideal. But it was a super-tiny street, and I was going about 12 miles an hour, so it wasn’t like there was going to be a head-on collision or something. Anyway, this woman looks at me with the meanest look and says some snappy comment about it being one way. Okay. Point taken. I start to turn around and she continues to stare at me with a “Could you be any more stupid?” look like I have just purposely tried to kill her cat or something. My windows were down and she was super-close and I said, “Sorry, these streets get confusing sometimes.” Which, as any Boston/Cambridge driver knows, is the case. Instead of an understanding nod, or maybe at least just ignoring me, she continues to give me the Look of Death and says, “Well, there are signs,” in a super-sassy, snarky, bitchy way. I’m already embarrassed about the mistake, okay? I wasn’t talking on my cell phone or doing something that distracted me. Clearly the signs are not that obvious. I said, “Well, thanks for being so nice and understanding about it.”
Little did this woman know I was having an already hard day. I am super-emotional. Things are a bit raw, even. And, even though I did feel a bad from such random unkindness and lack of understanding, it was a good little lesson to me to be really nice to people even when I don’t feel like it. Because you don’t know if their mom died that day, or if they are getting divorced, or if they just lost their job. (These things are not happening to me, but you get the point. Maybe they already feel really bad.) Maybe they just need someone to show a little extra understanding. For whatever reason, it seems always better to be nice to people. It doesn’t take that much but can be the difference between tears, or a more stressful day, or a brighter day, a little more hope about the goodness of humanity.
So, mean woman on Sacramento Street, I will be being extra nice to people just to make sure I don’t make anyone feel like you made me feel today.*
*Lest you think I am over-reacting to her nasty little comments, well, I know I am. But the point was, I was already feeling bad. And she just made it worse for no good reason at all. I know I know. I shouldn’t take it personally. But when you are already feeling a little bad, it is hard not to take it personally. Which is the whole point. We never know what people are going through. Why risk making an already-difficult world more difficult for others if you can help it?