These words from my friend, Fran, were just what I needed to start my day. May you also be blessed and join us in spreading light to this aching world.
Source: Be Light
These words from my friend, Fran, were just what I needed to start my day. May you also be blessed and join us in spreading light to this aching world.
Source: Be Light
Prompt: 5 minutes “Stand Alone”
Stand alone. On your own two feet. See what you can do without any others to stop you, to help you, to harm you, to interfere, to suggest other ways. What does your heart say? What is your heart saying to you?
Stand alone. You already do stand alone. But alone with a living God burning brightly inside your very heart chakra, comforting you, guiding you, suggesting ideas that will catapult you to the Highest Version of Yourself that you can imagine. We just don’t often take the time to listen to that part of ourselves. Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is a part of each of us, so intertwined with every fiber of our being that we can never not be holy. If we listen.
Stand alone. I used to stand alone and mope inside about being alone. Why doesn’t anyone really understand me? I need them to understand me! I cried tears and sobbed guttural wails as I wrestled with the challenges of growing up, maturing, moving from an insecure teenager to an insecure adult, an insecure wife, mother, neighbor, church member, volunteer, over-achiever. Until it all came crashing down on me in the form of what would morph from one day of a swollen throat, fever, body aches worse than the flu, fatigue that slammed me flat to the surface of my water bed and wouldn’t let me go, into the woman I am now. Twenty-five years I’ve lived inside my body alone, alone in houses full of people who cannot understand this bizarre chronic illness. But now I stand alone – secure in Who I Am.
Right before Christmas I spontaneously answered an appeal from an organization I’ve been a part of since 1991. They’ve changed their name in an effort to reposition the invisible malady we share. The idea was to spread the work about ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) by asking ten people to donate twelve dollars each to raise money for much needed research. I made an embarrassing selfie Vimeo video, showing myself in the state I’ve hidden from the world, my town, my friends for twenty-five years. I hate asking people for money, so I tried to downplay the donation aspect while encouraging my friends to “share” the message to help raise awareness of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. I took in a deep breath, said a prayer, and clicked the “post” button on Facebook well after midnight, before I lost my nerve.
I have over a thousand “friends” on Facebook, some I’ve never met in person. Many of themfrequently “like” the inspirational quotes I post, photos of my precious granddaughter, humorous jokes, pretty pictures of the beach. The resulting response of silence to my linked video in my Facebook world was palpable, deafening really. What on earth had I done? Had I just “lost” a bunch of “friends?”
Slowly, a few responses trickled in, applauding my courage. One night I received a private message from a long lost friend, thanking me for my candor, explaining how my video had affected her family. Her son had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome a couple of years prior, but things had been getting very tense in her household, as her husband just didn’t understand and he had been getting more and more frustrated with their son. She had showed my video to her son, who said my description was “spot on.” She had showed it to her husband and “something clicked” and he finally “got it.” The role of caretaker to those of us with ME/CFS is a lonely and weary one, too. I sighed, finding comfort that I had helped someone. The personal embarrassment was worth it, if I had only helped that one family.
I called my best friend in Tennessee and asked her opinion.
“It was pretty depressing,” she admitted with her familiar chuckle.
“I know, right? But that’s how I really am about 75% of the time.”
“Really? I would’ve guessed about 25%.”
“No, I just don’t answer the phone or talk about it every time I’m so down, even with you. You know me better than anyone and you really thought I felt this way only 25% of the time? Should I delete it?”
“No, but maybe you could do a follow-up video explaining more? And just shoot from the hip, no script, just telling it like you just told me.”
I took her advice and recorded a more upbeat video. I put on make-up and filmed it outside on my deck, sunshine and chirping birds in the background. I got a few more “likes.” I raised a little money. But another friend, one who had lived with similar health challenges for decades as well, told me she liked the first video better — that she felt like I had negated all the wonderful honesty I’d expressed in the first one when I posted the second one.
So I did a third one, this time using YouTube. It was right before Christmas. I held my iPhone out and recorded another selfie with Christmas music in the background. This one was a mix of the two. I got a few more “likes,” more heartfelt donations, and several private messages thanking me for validating similar feelings, for expressing the day to day realities of living with CFS and Fibromyalgia in a way that reached family members who had not been very understanding until seeing my video.
After Christmas, my husband found a “scooter” on sale at a medical supply place and, after 25 years of hiding my pain, painting on a smile for the world, living a mostly housebound life, I took my first spin. I was a nine-year old with a new bicycle! You could not wipe the smile from my face! I felt only joy and exuberance as I felt the wind in my hair as I zipped down the street!
“I hope this doesn’t make you feel … disabled, handicapped.”
“Well, of course it does! But I’m so over it! I’m 55 and I am so over it!”
The first few times I drove my “Go Go,” I stayed on the same two streets I’d walked for years whenever I could get out of the house. But two weeks ago I branched out and took a “walk” (“a scoot”?) beyond the side street on which I’ve lived for fifteen years, but have only seen, I realized, from a car window. As I motored past Wake Forest Elementary, a nostalgic tear slipped out behind my Ray Bans. I recalled the many times I had joined first Caroline, then Hallie, for lunch in that noisy cafeteria. Light and noise and smells had assaulted my sensitive body and I’d smiled my way through the thirty minute experience before I drove home and crashed in the bed, resting up before time to pick them up in the carpool line at 3:20. The sounds of those little elementary school children, their energy, their boisterous joy, the innocent, promising twinkle in their eyes — I am so glad I got to experience them! I am so grateful that I braved the times I sucked it up and went to my daughers’ schools even when I didn’t feel up to it. I almost always paid a dear price later, but no one can take those memories away from me.
Continuing, we turned the corner and then another corner, the Seminary campus on our right. Roosevelt, my little terrier mix, trotted right along with me, both of us learning how to navigate the moving vehicle and the leash, adjusting our speed from “hare” back down to “tortoise” when he galloped and fell behind; stopping abruptly when he found a bush he was determined to sniff, to lift his leg and make his mark while I untangled and readjusted the leash situation. Ideally, I needed him on my left, freeing my right hand to press the lever forward when we were ready to go; to release when we needed to stop suddenly.
“I don’t think this is an all-terrain vehicle, Roosevelt,” I said when we hit a rough parts of the sidewalk, ran over anything larger than a sweet gum ball, navigated turns. Cars sped past us as we made our way down Durham Road, the major 35 mph thoroughfare through our small town. I kept my head down for a few houses, but at some point I got the courage to look up, to smile and nod my head to people whose faces turned to look at me through car windows, rolled up in the chilly winter air.
Near the end of our mile-long scoot, I got my new scooter stuck on uneven pavement and had to exert great effort to help it get over the hump. Then we met with a rather large branch that had fallen on the sidewalk. Ignorantly, I tried to go over it instead of getting off and moving the debris. The plastic basket popped off and I stopped us abruptly. We’d almost rolled over it. We’d almost tipped over. I got off, figured out how to reattach the basket, and moved the branch. We finally made it back to our street without seeing anyone I knew.
I took out my iPhone and recorded a little of our scoot-walk, capturing Roosevelt’s cute little run beside me. When I posted that on Facebook, I got over 70 “likes” and quite a few comments.
One friend asked to see a picture of the actual scooter. I retrieved the only one I had, the one taken by my husband the first day he had surprised me with the after Christmas gift. I was wearing no make up, no bra, my wild hair unruly around my ear warmer headband. It was not a flattering picture at all. But something inside me said, “What the hell? I’m 55. I already posted that depressing video. Who gives a rip?” So I commented back on that post and attached the awful photo, once again getting over myself and letting real life — my real life — show.
Anne Lamott’s words always speak to me, and so I will share her words from today:
This will not be well written or contain any answers or be very charming. I won’t be able to proof read it It is about times like today when the abyss is visible and we cannot buy cute area rugs at IKEA to truck out the abyss. Our brother Robin fell into it yesterday. We are all staring at the abyss today.
I called my Jesuit friend the day after the shootings in Newtown, stunned, flat, fixated, scared to death: “Is there any meaning in the deaths of twenty 5 and 6 year old children?”
Tom said, “Not yet.”
And there is no meaning in Robin’s death, except as it sheds light on our common humanity, as his life did. But I’ve learned that there can be meaning without things making sense.
Here is what is true: a third of the people you adore and admire in the world and in your families have severe mental illness and/or addiction. I sure do. I have both. And you still love me. You help hold me up. I try to help hold you up. Half of the people I love most have both; and so do most of the artists who have changed and redeemed me, given me life. Most of us are still here, healing slowly and imperfectly. Some days are way too long.
And I hate that, I want to say. I would much prefer that God have a magic wand, and not just a raggedy love army of helpers. Mr. Roger’s mother told him when he was a boy, and a tragedy was unfolding that seemed to defy meaning, “Look to the helpers.” That is the secret of life, for Robin’s family, for you and me.
I knew that those children at Sandy Hook were caught in God’s loving maternal arms at the second each crossed over, and the teachers were, too. I believe the shooter was too, another child of God with severe mental illness, because God loves, period. But this is controversial.
I know Robin was caught too, in both the arms of God, and of his mother, Laurie.
I knew them both when I was coming up, in Tiburon. He lived three blocks away on Paradise drive. His family had money; ours didn’t. But we were in the same boat–scared, shy, with terrible self esteem and grandiosity. If you have a genetic predisposition towards mental problems and addiction, as Robin and I did, life here feels like you were just left off here one day, with no instruction manual, and no idea of what you were supposed to do; how to fit in; how to find a day’s relief from the anxiety, how to keep your beloved alive; how to stay one step ahead of abyss.
We all thought after Newtown that gun control legislation would be passed, but no–not one new law. We think in the aftermath of Robin’s death that there will be consciousness raising about mental health, but I doubt it. The shock and awe will pass, like it did after Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. Unless…unless we take action. But what? I don’t have a clue. Well, here’s Glenn Close’s astonishing organization to raise awareness and diminish the stigma of mental illness, where you can give OR receive help: http://www.bringchange2mind.org. Go there, OK?
In Newtown, as in all barbarity and suffering, in Robin’s death, on Mount Sinjar, in the Ebola towns, the streets of India’s ghettos, and our own, we see Christ crucified. I don’t mean that in a nice, Christian-y way. I mean that in the most ultimate human and existential way. The temptation is to say, as cute little believers sometimes do, Oh it will all make sense someday. The thing is, it may not. We still sit with scared, dying people; we get the thirsty drinks of water.
This was at theologian Fred Buechner blog today: “It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling.”
Live stories worth telling! Stop hitting the snooze button. Try not to squander your life on meaningless, multi-tasking bullshit. I would shake you and me but Robin is shaking us now.
Get help. I did. Be a resurrection story, in the wild non-denominational sense. I am.
If you need to stop drinking or drugging, I can tell you this: you will be surrounded by arms of love like you have never, not once, imagined. This help will be available twenty/seven. Can you imagine that in this dark scary screwed up world, that I can promise you this? That we will never be closed, if you need us?
Gravity yanks us down, even a man as stunning in every way as Robin. We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can’t be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity. You know how I always say that laughter is carbonated holiness? Well, Robin was the
ultimate proof of that, and bubbles are spirit made visible.
Depression is a lonely business. It sits behind one’s steady eyes, shaking your faith in yourself, your place in this world, your desire to stay in it. Sometimes it all just seems too much. And when you’ve felt like this more times than you can count, and you’re on the downhill slope of life anyway, and you’re so tired, just so tired of keeping on keeping on, you just might reach for something, anything really. Whatever calls your name while you look for a speck of light in the dark inky world of despair you can’t see as temporary anymore. This time I reach for expensive, brand name Prozac. It keeps me here. This time.
I just finished watching the two-hour Memorial Service for the esteemed Dr. Maya Angelou held at Wake Forest University, thanks to our Time Warner Cable local TV station, Channel 14. I was recording it, planning to go up to the local Wake Forest (the town, not the university) Farmer’s Market, but I could not tear myself away from the screen. I was simply too moved to move.
Cicely Tyson, Bill Clinton, Oprah, Michelle Obama, and others delivered eloquent tributes; singers praised the Lord and moved us to tears; her generous family spoke of sharing their beloved mother, aunt, cousin, grandmother, great-grandmother with the world. Wow. I have nothing to add. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, for touching so very many lives. Thanks to her family for sharing this fine lady with the rest of us. Thank you, God, for loaning us the gift of Dr. Maya Angelou for 86 years, and for welcoming her home. May she rest in peace.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was my introduction to the concept of rape. I was mortified. Especially that it could happen to a girl younger than me. And to one who hadn’t even started her period. I was young enough when I read that book not to have started my own, but I knew that milestone was imminent. I was a bit afraid of being a girl then, vulnerable to what I perceived as a violation only possible for females to experience.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was my introduction to the idea that mothers didn’t always take good care of their children. I was mystified. There were wicked stepmothers in fairy tales. There were orphans who never knew their mothers. There were mothers who died in childbirth or when their children were young. But I was naive at that age, presuming all living mothers loved their kids and, therefore, took good care of them. I was mighty glad then that God made grandmothers and that Maya and Bailey had such a wise, kind, respectable one of those to look after them. I worried about them when they were with their mother. I hated that boyfriend that raped Maya, whose death rendered her mute for a while. But I was glad when he was dead. And I was glad she had Bailey. I was glad I had a brother, too. Who knew when we might need each other?
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was my introduction to memoir, the genre I’ve always prefered to write. I’d read biographies. I’d read fiction. But I’d never read a true story that captivated me more, that wove the truth with suspense, that read like fiction. I devoured it. And when I’d finished, I clutched it to my chest and cried, not really even understanding the depth of the emotion I was feeling. I was simply moved to tears. The next day I turned back to page one and started rereading this important book. Any other book would have seemed … petty, inferior, would not have held my attention. I needed to reread this one. The writing was compelling. It affected the way I looked at the world, society, the times in which I was living, and my own white, female life. Maybe Maya Angelou’s classic is why I’ve always preferred writing memoir, having experienced at such an impressionable age, the power her personal narrative had on me, let alone a whole generation.
When I was a college student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I think I might have heard her speak. I know I heard Cicely Tyson, and I think perhaps Maya Angelou spoke there also, both having appeared recently in the TV mini-series, “Roots.” The program had taken the nation by storm, my own white but liberal household included. It was 1977 and I sat in our den on our shag carpet, leaning up against the olive-green corduroy sofa petting my dog, Buttons, while my mother and brother and I sat glued to each episode. Mom had been active in the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina in the ’60’s and early ’70’s and I would graduate from the famous Little Rock Central High School the following year. I was drawn to the study of the social disparities of the day like a moth to the light. At Chapel Hill, I had access to many fascinating and thought-provoking lecturers, speakers, and professors. Maya Angelou’s childhood in Stamps, Arkansas intrigued me, and her books, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and We Are All Gathered Here, had made indelible impressions on me. If she came to speak in Chapel Hill between 1978 and 1982, I know I was in the audience.
Of course I’ve heard her since in countless interviews on national television, at President Clinton’s inauguration, even on Sesame Street when my kids were young. And, today, on the day of her death, I have been drawn to Facebook posts and internet memorials, unable to work on my own memoir-in-progress that takes place here in North Carolina, the state which has been blessed to claim the amazing Dr. Angelou since 1982. Thanks to Maya, we know why the caged bird sings. Now, even as we mourn, we bless her as we throw open the doors of this earthly cage and release her into the glorious realm of heaven. Rest in peace, Maya Angelou, rest in peace.
Prompt: 15 minutes: “A gentle heart….”
A Gentle Heart
A gentle heart is what I have sometimes, what I show to the world. I hide the dark part of my heart, my soul processing shameful feelings secretly, purging them of any power over me. The self-doubt, the insecurities, the grief, depression, desperation, feelings of futility, despair.
I breathe. Deeply. Remember to do as I’ve been taught — let those darker images pass, like clouds on a windy day. Breathe in love, breathe out fear. Fill myself up with so much love, so much light; breathe out any resistance, any darkness, any remnant of any fear. Cultivate a loving heart, a compassionate heart, a gentle heart.
In my mind I picture a little me, about three or four years old, and I take that little girl in her handsewn powder blue light cotton nightgown onto my lap, wrap my strong, warm arms around her. “Shhh…,” I say. “It is all alright. I’ve got you now. You can relax, just be.” And I clutch that little Ginny to my breast so I can hear my own heartbeat. It slows, beats steadily, then more quietly, strong but reassured as I relax and relearn to just be.
So hard, sometimes, to remember I am still this perfect child of God, even with all my imperfections. I am not Jesus Christ! I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy! As a matter of fact, that is the Easter message, as I prepare my heart during this Lenten season, opening myself again and again to the abundant grace of God.
A gentle heart. Thank God God has a gentle heart for all Her children. I crawl up into the lap of God and listen to the steady beating of His gentle heart. I breathe along with the breath of God until our hearts beat as One. I close my eyes and inhale deeply the Oneness, and I fill myself up. Then I slide off my Father/Mother’s lap and prepare to go about my day with a quieter, gentler heart.
July 9, 2013
Prompt: 15 minutes: “supposed to”
She was supposed to get a lot accomplished today, piles of vacation mail littering the kitchen counter, dirty clothes on the laundry room floor, wilting calla lily plants screaming for water from their old pots, long leaves drooping. She turns the pots occasionally, angling them away from sunny windows so they’ll reach out, stretch outward in another way, filling out, not so lopsided from years of inattention save the weekly dousing when she had too much on her mind to cherish every little moment, every little thing.
Life is supposed to last long, keep on going, the canvas unfurling indefinitely, inviting one to pick up brushes full of color and paint your heart’s desire.
But it doesn’t always go that way now, does it? No, sometimes we get so busy we’re like Little Black Sambo running around the tree so fast, fleeing from the tiger, whipping himself into butter he did, I did, we do.
When you are young, it seems like forever between Christmases, you wanting to fit into your mother’s dyed to match green high-heeled pumps, their chunky heels clomp clomp clomping along the hardwood floor, headed for the kitchen where your mother is fixing you and your stuffed friends a tea party.
As a mother, you make a mental note of your daughter’s living in the moment joy while pretending she is all grown up. You snap a picture of her in the netting skirt atop her size 4T jeans, the old burgundy velvet hat that was your grandma’s, the white kid gloves all the ladies wore back then, back when you’re sure time must have passed more slowly. You take the tiny plastic Strawberry Shortcake plates your daughter brings so trustingly to your care for her own “pea darty.” You place equal numbers on each of Cheerios, pretzel sticks, grapes and cheese, knowing she will eat it all, helping out Big Bird, Sally, Ga Ga and Snowy. Life is supposed to be this good and it really is! It really is!!!
Until some days it’s not, it’s just not.
You analyze and debate inside your head what’s missing, what might be if things were even better. If you could be more of yourself in this marriage, if life is supposed to be this conflicted, this painful, this small. You smile at your children during the day, singing soulful lyrics with Amy Grant, Carole King, Carly Simon, as you drive your kids on errands. They learn the words and sing refrains in their little voices, legs kicking, oblivious.
You come to dread 5 pm some days, then weekends, living for Monday mornings, quiet midnight hours when you can fold hot, clean smelling towels fresh from the dryer on the carpet in the hall all by yourself, sometimes weeping. How did it get like this? Surely this is not the way it’s supposed to be, is it? Is it?
That first marriage was supposed to be the only one. They were supposed to live happily ever after. They were supposed to grow old together.
But time can heal old wounds. How nice that finally, they can laugh and break bread together again in their grown daughters’ homes, new partners by their sides, all “one big happy family.” Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be — multiple sets of parents and step parents all together toasting graduations and marriages of their grown up children, reminiscing together about the good memories of the days gone by.
July 8, 2013
Prompt: 15 min “Shatter”
Shatter. Shatter the glass ceiling, we women were offered, encouraged to do when we were mere girls living in a man’s world. The 1960’s, ’70’s, a time when, every now and then, a brave soul would rise up to shatter the glass ceiling previously owned, dominated by men, our patriarchal society. We watched the first female astronaut, CEO, swimmer crossing some large body of water.
Blacks, now called African-Americans, knew about shattering glass ceilings, too. We punched those white male dominated worlds together. Raised to fight for civil rights, to support the underdog, my mama identified glass ceilings, pointed out inequality, applauded the shattering. The shattering. Not with violence, glass shards flying everywhere. No, with firmness, sticking to your guns in the face of resistance, obeying the laws, but standing up to the systems she deemed unfair.
Shatter. And then my world shattered. Slammed me down into the bed, the deep, dark cavern of ill-health I never expected, didn’t see coming, thought I was immune to, actually never even considered.
Now, twenty-three years later, my immune system weakened and so much of my life spent in medical appointments, not shattering any big, bad glass ceilings, my perspective changed, I can only strive to shatter what I perceive as small victories — performing normal daily chores with both shame and a sense of accomplishment: the dishwasher unloaded, the bills paid, the bank statement off by the same amount as last month and the month before, dare I add back in the $537 the bank says I have that my checkbook disagrees with? Combing back through the statements, the checkbook is just too much, just too much. It’ll be all right. I don’t think the world will shatter if I don’t find my error.