has been written in mud and butter and barbecue sauce. The walls and the floors used to be gorgeous. The socks off-white and a near match. The quince with fire blight but we get two pints of jelly in the end. Long walks strengthen the back. You with a fever blister and myself with a sty. Eyes have we and we are forever prey to each other’s teeth. The torrents go over us. Thunder has not harmed anyone we know. The river coursing through us is dirty and deep. The left hand protects the rhythm. Watch your head. No fires should be unattended. Especially when wind. Each receives a free swiss army knife. The first few tongues are clearly preparatory. The impression made by yours I carry to my grave. It is just so sad so creepy so beautiful. Bless it. We have so little time to learn, so much… The river courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce. Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.
Photo by the blogger. If you copy, please link back.
Many many years ago, I was at an Omega Institute workshop run by Jean Houston. I remember two things from that workshop. First, the closing exercise was her talking us through a guided meditation in which I literally experienced the Earth as a living, beating heart and, second, a song whose chorus was: “Don’t forget to breathe, that’s the most important part.”
This week, I’ve been remembering what it is to breathe.
Years ago, when I had surgery for breast cancer, I began, like many surgery survivors, to unconsciously clench the muscles around the site of the surgery. This is a little bit of a protective mechanism — you don’t want anyone bumping your sore spot. But it can become an unintentional habit. They give you stretching exercises to help you unclench those muscles (who else had their work computers set to remind them to get up and “crab walk” their hands as far up the wall as possible? I did that through a lot of high-level conference calls.) Even after the stitches have healed, some of us are still walking around — all unawares — with those muscles clenched. It can create inflammation and pain which, ironically, makes us clutch that site all the more.
Weeks and weeks after my surgery, my firm had a dinner at which the Capitol Steps performed. They were hysterical and (OK, I was one or two glasses of wine in, which may have made them even more hysterical) I laughed and laughed. In the cab on the way home, I realized that: (1) I wasn’t in pain for maybe the first time since my surgery and (2) those muscles, which I’d been unaware were tight, were completely loose for the first time since my surgery. Of course, there’s significant research that laughter is good pain medication. From that point on, I could easily relax those muscles and relieve the pain because I could remember how that felt.
I thought of that night earlier this week when I watched the above video of the man Joe Biden nominated as Secretary of State. I’d never heard of Anthony Blinken. But if you watch what’s happening in this video, he’s teaching empathy.* The thought of having a Secretary of State who teaches empathy for refugees, after four years of the Trump administration throwing children in metal cages, was so wonderful. I could literally feel my chest loosening and my lungs pulling in deeper draughts of air. (I live in the mountains. The air up here sparkles and glows when you pull it into your lungs and your lungs send it to every cell in your body.)
It reminded me of that feeling from long ago. I’ve been worried for over four years about the state of our country, over my grandson’s future, over the plight of our environment. I can’t count the sleepless nights, the worried conversations, the doom scrolling, the shock and horror at each new breach in the levee of our norms. But I don’t think that I fully realized just how tightly I’d been clenching my muscles until I took in a deep breath of someone in power teaching “think how that must feel.”
I’m not naive. America isn’t “saved.” We have a long way to go to even get back to where we thought we were and we’ve hopefully learned that where we thought we were wasn’t very good.
But one thing we must do is celebrate our wins. Like so many of you, I’ve worked my ass off for four years to defeat Donald Trump and his administration of evil, including, especially, Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, and Steven Miller. We did this. We should be proud. We should celebrate it. We should breathe it in.
I’ve been doing this whenever I go out for my daily walk here in the Virginia highlands. I watch the clouds and take a deep, deep breath of mountain air. I climb up the hill to home and do it again. I stop to watch the cows and the Canada geese at the next-door farm and I fill my lungs with oxygen.
Don’t forget to breathe. It’s the most important part.
*I’m thinking a lot these days about empathy, what its absence has been doing to us, how you teach it, whether some of us are simply immune to it, and so on. I hope to write more about this soon.
We’re moving steadily and certainly from Samhein to Yule. What Dylan Thomas called “the close and holy darkness” enfolds us a little bit earlier every evening, making the spot of light from your lamp, fireplace, or candleflame into a precious island — a warm, safe spot in the ocean of night.
I’ve always loved driving past houses at night and seeing the light in windows. Maybe it’s me being nosy, loving the glimpse of someone’s living room or kitchen that’s not visible during the day. Maybe it’s the comfort of knowing there are others around — families sitting down to eat, an old man reading by the fireside, a pair of lovers kissing before they close the curtains. And maybe it’s just the joy of an archipelago — lots of tiny islands.
I’ve noticed that this year my neighbors are decorating for Yule quite early. And normally, I complain. “It ruins the whole season when they start it so early! By the time it comes, I’m sick of it.” But this year, I don’t mind. I understand. We all need some light, and safety, and warmth this year.
I’m so old that I remember people complaining that Hillary Clinton acted as if she were “entitled” to the presidency. I’m so old that I remember when she lost, people bitched and moaned that she should just “go away,” or “go for a walk in the woods,” or “go play with her grandchildren.”
With lines unseen the land was broken. When surveyors came, we knew what the prophet had said was true, this land with unseen lines would be taken.
So, you who live there now, don’t forget to love it, thank it the place that was once our forest, our ponds, our mosses, the swamplands with birds and more lowly creatures.
As for us, we walked into the military strength of hunger and war for that land we still dream. As the ferry crossed the distance, or as the walkers left behind their loved ones, think how we took with us our cats and kittens, the puppies we loved. We were innocent of what we faced, along the trail. We took clothing, dishes, thinking there would be something to start a new life, believing justice lived in the world, and the horses, so many, one by one stolen, taken by the many thieves
So have compassion for that land at least.
Every step we took was one away from the songs, old dances, memories, some of us dark and not speaking English, some of us white, or married to the dark, or children of translators the half-white, all of us watched by America, all of us longing for trees for shade, homing, rooting, even more for food along the hunger way.
You would think those of us born later would fight for justice, for peace, for the new land, its trees being taken. You would think the struggle would be over between the two worlds in this place that is now our knowledge, our new belonging, our being, and we’d never again care for the notion of maps or American wars, or the god of their sky, thinking of those things we were forced to leave behind, living country, stolen home, the world measured inch by inch, mile by mile, hectares, all measurements, even the trail of our tears.
With all the new fierce light, heat, drought the missing water, you’d think in another red century, the old wisdom might exist if we considered enough that even before the new beliefs we were once whole, but now our bodies and minds remain the measured geography.
In the aftermath of the election, Democrats have been debating where we go from here. That’s normal and it’s what should happen after every election. Some of the debate has centered on Abigail Spanberger’s comments that slogans such as “defund the police” made it more difficult for her to win re-election in her just newly-purple district and on AOC’s response.
I think both sides are missing an important issue and, no surprise, part of the problem is a need for better framing.
Our goal actually isn’t to defund the police. Our goal is to reform the police and “defunding” them is one of the methods we need to use. Defunding can mean a number of different things. On one hand, it can mean simply cutting police budgets so there’s less money to spend on weapons of war, Big Brother surveillance, so much tear gas that they pollute the rivers, and so on. On the other had, it can mean taking money from police budgets and putting it into the budget for social workers who can respond to the sorts of situations that police aren’t trained to handle and often mishandle. Those measures can work along with eliminating qualified immunity, banning choke holds, setting up legal presumptions when police cameras somehow fail to record an interaction, legalizing the drugs that police use as an excuse to stop (black) people, and so on. All of these things help to reform the police.
So the framing needs to be that Democrats want to reform the police. We have a variety of ways to do that. This framing avoids sounding as if we just want to eliminate social safety and allow rapists and muggers to run wild — which of course, we don’t.
Let me start by saying that I’m not being judgmental. Everyone has different challenges and faces different circumstances.
That said, any idiot can look at the COVID numbers and see that we are going the wrong way and we are going there very quickly. I place most of the blame on the Trump administration and various Republican governors, candidates, etc. Simple steps such as wearing masks and listening to doctors and scientists should never have been politicized. A good example from the top can make a huge difference. And my hope is that the Biden/Harris administration will be able to implement their plan and bring down the number of infections, followed shortly by a safe, free, and effective vaccine.
But those things aren’t going to happen for months.
So it falls to each of us to do all that we can to stop the spread of this infection. By now, we all know the drill. Stay home as much as humanly possible. (Again, we all face different challenges. Some people have to go out to work in order to feed their kids. Some people have to attend classes. Not everyone has computers and internet at home. But no one NEEDS to eat at a restaurant or drink at a bar. No one NEEDS to have family gatherings just now. No one NEEDS to get a pedicure.) When you are around other people, wear a mask and maintain social distance.
And, by the way, that mask has to cover your mouth AND your nose. And, by the way, six feet is the MINIMUM distance you should stand from other people. Being outside doesn’t mean you can stand closer or ignore your mask. Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can ignore social distancing.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are going to have to be different this year. The virus doesn’t come with a holiday exception. If you can Zoom or telephone with family and friends, that may help some. But is one holiday now worth all the holidays you’ll miss if you infect grandma at dinner or if Aunt Joan gets COVID traveling to your house?
What things that you’ve been going out to buy could you get delivered? Have you checked recently? Between Amazon (evil, I know) and Instacart, I haven’t had to go to the store since early March and I live in a pretty rural area. What things that you’ve been doing should you cut back on? Exercise outside instead of in the gym. Zoom instead of seeing people in person. Put off appointments that you can safely put off.
Those of us who’ve been isolating and following all the other procedures for almost ten months now are pretty tired of it. I’m an introvert who likes to be alone and I’m sick to death of not seeing family and friends, not being able to go anywhere, missing out on G/Son’s graduation and Son’s birthday, helping my dear friends house hunt and move, etc., etc., etc. But, as Trump so eloquently said, it is what it is.
What it is is a global pandemic that America allowed to rage completely out of control. Let’s act like grownups here. Let’s act like Witches.