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The Itty Bitty Living Space

I don’t want to rush in and comment about Robin Williams. I want to take my time as I roll his death around inside me–inside my head, inside my heart, and all around in my soul.

It is too much. He walked me through my life. Just like the first time I saw Steve Martin, the first time I saw Robin Williams on Happy Days, I knew I could not get enough of this man. As if there ever was enough of him.

Apparent suicide.

We don’t know yet for sure, but as soon as I heard that he was dead, I made the leap. I remembered reading that he had recently battled his addictions again.

How hard this life is. How hard it is to navigate.

How lucky we mere mortals had stars like him to light and lighten our way.

RIP, dear Genie, who has finally escaped this itty bitty living space.

8/12/2014: Updated to include the artwork created by Disney that so captured what I was trying to articulate here.

Manifesto

(Because Audrey asked for more verse)

I shall eat when hungry
sleep when sleepy
move when weary
seek beauty when weighted down
   by the hugeness of the world

Where do I stand
in the midst of not just darkness
but depravity that hollows us out and leaves
   not even a stench, or a whiff of what once was,
   but soul-less-ness?

How do I bring myself to the front
and hold myself accountable?

How do I wage not war
   but resilience in the face
   of hope-less-ness?

Like those tulips that rose
through this winter that 
   ended finally not in spring
   but in May flurries
   and frost warnings

And still they rose.

High and hope-filled
stamens billowing with curiosity.

And will you
  dear friend
   who lives within my heart
will you
    rise and meet the day

with beauty
with soul
with purpose

These days are small and short
and we are young
and must bear witness
Backs as straight as they can be
while the sun beckons our petals

to open

with strength, grace,
   hope
     beyond, with, and without
         reason

Hope

Because

Hope 
    will
          rise

Grace … or something like it

My go-to music on my drive to-from work is usually Mumford & Sons–mostly because I can easily tell Siri to “play Mumford” and get at least an hours worth of soul-soothing or fast-driving tune-age. But the lyrics also require me to confront the concept of grace more often than I ever have in my life.

I’m not a theologian, nor a minister, nor a student of the Bible nor of other religious texts. More unfortunately for the context of this piece, I do not consider myself a Christian. I do, however, consider myself to be a religious person, one who can get behind the concept that a group of people can bind together to accomplish things that are good for the common purpose as well as for the individual. I also recognize that people can and have used religion to bind together to destroy great things or to do great wrongs.

Here’s my dilemma about the concept of grace (and I gratefully extend an invitation to those who wish to correct my understanding to do so): my dilemma is that if grace is the gift we did not earn and do not deserve, wouldn’t that, in essence, make us all more tender-hearted toward those in need of that unearned gift?

I have been granted grace in my life–people hold doors (metaphoric and otherwise) open for me all the time that they might not hold for others and often times I know it is not because I am particularly good or deserving, but because I am white, middle-aged and have a clean driving record. I’ve had grace extended to me not only in the mercurial, day-to-day understanding of second chances, but also in the large spectrum of understanding that I truly have not earned the grace of living in a country that is not currently and consistently under siege. And then there’s the grace of being loved, wholly and fully, despite my flaws.

What I don’t understand and would like someone to explain to me is: can you be a Christian and opt out of the concept of grace?

You praise God and say, “there but for the grace of God go I,” but then you close borders and opportunities and second chances for others. Is it possible, then, to be Christian? I’ll ask in another way: is it possible to follow Jesus, claim him as your Savior, and then be hard-hearted to those who not only don’t have bootstraps but wouldn’t know how to wear a boot if it was handed to them?

I know I’m mixing policy with doctrine, but since that is the norm now, I would like to know how a religious group that says they follow the teaching of Jesus can just say “no” and “no” and “no” again when everything I know of his teachings was to say “yes” to those most in need.

When I say I consider myself religious but not Christian, I am not rejecting the teachings of Jesus, nor of the power of believing in his teachings. What I object to is the doctrine of Church leaders who bend the legend in order to meet their small needs. It is so frightfully difficult to care for the needs and rights of others–of other people whose lives will not impact ours, directly–but as I understand it, that was what Jesus called on others to do. We do it with love in our hearts and anger in our soul so that the Kingdom of God can be realized here on earth. We do it for high, exalted reasons as well as for the low and selfish reasons, but we extend grace because some day we will need it to be extended to us, to our children, to the children of our friends.

So, I ask the question again: can you be a Christian and opt out of the concept of grace?

Because I know it is possible to opt out of Christianity and still believe in grace by other names. You can believe in second chances, and the hope that, given opportunity and access to it, great things are possible. Great changes in individuals and in communities. I know it is possible, but there has to be the ability to imagine it to be so.

I believe in the power of grace and in the power of love, but I also believe that these, alone, will not transform a world so greatly in need of a moral imagination that binds people together willingly and with purpose: to nourish, to clothe, to shelter. It takes hard work and a willingness to be wrong and be corrected by someone who understands the concept of grace, someone who not “but for” but because of the grace of God, can help lead us all on, toward the Kingdom in which we already live.

What I learned this week

Here’s what I learned this week
as I was walking my feet to nubs
back and forth and forth and back:

Stark white walls can be a canvas
inviting to the artist
as they consider
layering color over dreams
if only in their mind’s eye
and not actually on the walls …

Or white walls can be barriers
distancing
distracting
implicit “don’t”
explicit “don’t”

Clean and tidy is welcoming
but perfect is a myth

We are all in this together
except for those who aren’t
who distance themselves
by work
by study
by importance
or by
class

We are all in this together
and still
we walk, wheel, scoot, or crawl alone

What I learned this week as I
moved
in and out of
public and private spaces

is the importance
of a baseline understanding
neat and clean takes work

from everyone

I also learned, as I tried
to throw away cut flowers
who insisted on losing their
petals all over

Shedding them willy nilly
like the clumps of fur that show up on IMG_1529
the floor each morning from
nocturnal cat play

when I am trying to clean them up!

I learned that sometimes
in the process of cleaning up
you make BIG MESSES

Know what else I learned?

(that I wish I knew when my kids were littler
and when I was little to medium-sized?)

Here it is:

Messes are okay

They indicate that people and beloved pets
and even beautiful cut flowers that die
slowly for our pleasure
have been here and
experienced something with us

And that something is     life.

And guess what else I learned this week
as people needed and pulled me
with them to places
I hadn’t been in some time?

I learned that I’d rather live in the smudgy-walled
messiness
of my tidy life

than to have the perfect blank canvas
that holds but does not
reveal
the work of living
with others.

Worry not

IMG_1536Worry not
My identity has been found

lurking in another purse
being held in place
by a clamp and a key

Worry not
now that it is found
and sitting in the light glowing
on my desk
we know other lost things

will appear

pride, hope, purpose, art

They all must be there, too
in the recesses of some other
long-forgotten purse

And all I  need to do is
dust off the fine mist
of candy coatings
and tissue lint

And all the other smudgings
of the life
I have had

Or maybe that is my
art, my life, my pride

My identity …

That which is left alone
and coats itself

with candy dust and tissue lint
to hide the glimmer
and shine

Worry not

We are found
though we believe
we were okay

Being lost
and dusty

too.

Miscelleaneous 108

Batten down

It is fitting
that a week away
of turbulent and uplifting thought,
of hugs and hunger
of love reaching out

Should be met by a return to those
most loved
and a storm of epic proportions

I wanted to believe
when I rose this morning
that all that wind
and rain
would have washed the world clean

And while it did,
it also left behind
big and little bits.
Flotsam, jetsam,
  detritus …
  sticks, leaves and limbs
     blown akimbo

The world blown untidy
by forces that seem
  determined

DETERMINED

to remind me how little
if anything
I control

I wondered this week
why I work so hard to keep
myself so tightly packaged

And last night I stood
looking out
at the wind powering down and bending
large, awesome trees

And the trees stood up again
and the wind moved on

And, and, and, and

There is no end to and
there is also no start
(at least that’s what the grammarians say)

But I wondered why I
work so hard
at staying contained

When what is wild holds so much

Which is not to say
that too much of anything is,
well, too much

Forgive me as I argue
with myself out loud
but I realize that my right side is yelling out
for the left side to loosen its grip
and let some energy fly
out to the stars
by way of the trees
that may
or may not
fall
under that power

The world is always different
after a storm.

Lives are changed.
People weep.

Batten down, my friends.

Batten down.

The Soul Will Sing

The soul will sing

Seeking goodness
generosity
kindness

People who die with regrets
kissing their lips
don’t realize
their soul has sung

Regrets of things withheld
it is that moment
of knowing what matters
that the soul has longed for
all along

The soul will win
and survive
and bring you to your truth

That all the meanness, anger and greed
were wasted energy
fed by drowning the soul
who whispers still and alone

Until …

The mean grip is loosened
even slightly

And you hear the song
you didn’t even know you
were aching to hear

Oh, this is not fact
this is poetic license
and bad theology

And I don’t know this

Except

I do

Unravelling

I was so relieved when I finished knitting a project the other night.  Finally!100+ yards of linen/cotton yarn coaxed into a garment, of sorts.  Yay!

And then I tried it on. And, well, lets just say not-so-yay. 

It had been the work of more than a few hours and while I consulted patterns (as I usually do) and it was a fairly simple garment (as I usually make), it just didn’t turn out right.  And you know what?  I kind of expected that.  Somewhere just past the 1/3 mark, I started to have grave doubts.  About 2/3 of the way in, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it, but I felt married to finishing it and seeing if my doubts would go unrealized.

And you know what? I was right to have doubts. The end result wasn’t hideous, it was just wrong.

And you know what? I had no problem whatsoever unravelling the whole finished project this morning as part of my migraine-relief therapy.

Okay, it wasn’t intended as therapy, but unravelling that project did provide relief. It’s the kind of relief you feel when you acknowledge that the work you are doing is not good, not fitting and not … the end of the world. I realized as I sat there with a freshly wound ball of yarn that I would rather have that ball of potential than a shawl that neither suited my tastes, my ideals of my own capabilities, nor, dare I say it, even my frame.

So here I am, perusing more patterns to bring to life a new project with the same materials and a heady resolve to bring beauty to function–and a promise to myself that if I fail to do so again, I will do the same again, and again, and again.

Each project holds a learning and this one gave me many.

I sometimes find I learn more when things unravel than I do when they knit themselves into a bit of loveliness. I learn about the process, about my abilities, about myself.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t mind a bit of loveliness draped about my shoulders just about now.  Maybe in another couple hundred yards …

Legacy

ImageMy middle daughter and I spent Thursday visiting the works of Marc Chagall, Georges Seurat, El Greco, Georgia O’Keefe and a bunch of other artists. I’m not schooled in art enough to speak eloquently of the works we saw, but I will tell you that when we entered the rooms that housed van Gogh and Monet at The Art Institute of Chicago, my eyes became wet. “What is this liquid eking from my eyes?” I asked my daughter, who smiled at me and patted my arm.

I am a crier. It’s what I do. When we watch a movie together, my family tends to look for the tell-tale shaking of my foot that indicates I’m trying with desperation to not sob uncontrollably.

It’s what I do. Emotion comes out of my eyes as often as it does my mouth–wordless emotion that begs no explanation, just an opportunity to express itself. But when it ekes out that way, visibly, it sometimes requires others to be soothed in its aftermath.  I’m okay, I tell them, I’m quite alright.

So when I stood looking closely at the works made by these men–stood with my nose measurably close–and peered at gouged and dotted paint and then stood back and looked at what those gouges and dots made and the tears leaked out my wordless cry, I was grateful it was just that daughter and me and no words were required.

But, as I stood in that room, and as I wandered throughout centuries of art made by human hands, the greatness of Maya Angelou, who died only the day before, was tangible in my heart. And the word that came to me, the word that buoyed me, was the word “legacy.”

I’m not going to quote Dr. Angelou to you because you can look her up and buy her books and listen to her voice on tape. But I want you to know what she made me know. Not her words. Not her world view. Not her ability to succinctly and poetically say the thing.

What she made me know is that every bit of it matters. Every bit of your life story, every bit of your understanding, every bit of your being … matters.  She was an interpreter of god, God and godliness. She was in touch with what matters and she not only shared that gift, she inspired me to do the same.

What matters, matters.

There is silliness, sin and shame in the world. Enough to be shared equally and in measure. But what do you do with it. How do you use it, how do you overcome it, and how do you express its commonality and its beauty.

Yes, that’s a yellow bed in a blue room hanging on the wall in one of the premier art institutes in the world. And it is phenomenal.

What is expressed in that bed is what is expressed in the quilt made by maternal forebears that is currently on my bed, with a yellow cat curled up on it. It is the legacy of paying attention to the small as well as the great. Just as the glass eyes mastered by Egyptians centuries ago were made in honor of the dead, endure to tell a slice of the story, that quilt will live on to tell a slice of my story.

We are all story tellers here. We are all able to share the small and the significant and to marvel in it all.

This is the legacy of great art. It reminds us to be human, to be kind, to be awed. It is why the poets voice cries out–look! See! Share!

How great are we to have lived in these times, to have seen what we have seen and to have shared what we have shared. Be grateful for the teachers around you and honor their living, tears eking from your heart, to honor their willingness to share their slice of the great story of humanity.

It matters.  And so do you.

#yesallwomen

As usual, I’m late to the #YesAllWomen party (?). Or am I. I was thinking about it as I cleaned house yesterday, thought about all that I told my daughters as they left for college: “don’t accept open drinks from anyone,” “don’t leave any friends behind,” “don’t leave your drink behind,” and especially, “don’t ever think that it is your fault.”

What “don’ts” are the mothers of boys telling their children as they send them off to college or out into the world? I know it is not all men; I know it from experience, but I do know that every single woman I know has been harassed at some point in her life.

I thought about the old lie that women will sometimes report a rape when they wake up the next day with remorse. I know no such women. I do, on the other hand, know many women who contemplated going to the police to try to get help with unwanted attention from someone they had said “yes” to but no longer wanted in their life.  And I say “contemplated” because I know many fewer who actually did, because they weren’t sure if seeking help would be more traumatic than putting up with the harassment.

And there it is. What is more trouble? What is more dangerous? Is it worth it?  These are the questions on the lips of most women I know who spend any amount of time out in the world. 

We don’t call it “bullying” when it is men’s attention on women. But it is the constant undercurrent of our days. Whether we say it out loud or not; whether we know it “out loud” or not. 

I remember when my daughters were too little to know about such things–or so I thought–and I taught them to scream “No” as loud as they could as I pushed them on the swings in our backyard. Was I indoctrinating them too early?  I don’t know. But I was teaching them to use their voices because I knew not “if” but “when” they needed it, they needed it to be a part of their DNA. It needed to be an instinctive reaction.

I want something different for my daughters who hear the street shit every day. I want #YesAllWomen to mean something entirely different. I want my daughters to see a shift and I applaud the young and old women who are shining light–big, strong light–on the depth of this and how your right to say what you want where ever you want limits our own brilliance. We share these stories not so you will feel sorry or shame, but that you will stop and see us not as body parts but as whole human beings with a right to walk public streets and ride public transportation and sit in private space without you seeing our inattention to you as a personal affront that threatens our safety.

#YesAllWomen.