The Gathering – Retreat

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I went to a short retreat this weekend at a local Episcopal church where I am not a member. I have been to this before and always come away with a new awareness, renewed commitments and a deepened faith whether I have heard Glennon Doyle, Kelly Corrigan, Elizabeth Gilbert and today, Heather Lende. It is always a woman author or speaker who has made a difference in the world. The hors d’oeuvres the evening before are always tasty, the women are 90% blonde and as non-diverse as possible. The blondeness and lack of diversity irritates me some though at least this year, there were few high heeled pumps which was an improvement. I can’t fault these women for their genes and their long held southern tendencies. I always have to look past my own inadequacies and insecurities and simply remind myself that I am there for me and to learn and grow. So for the years I have gone alone that has been harder and for the ones like this one when I have attended with a friend, it is easier. Either way it is worth it.

I usually come away with some nuggets each time and if I believed in tattoos I suppose I’d have a good number of them by now because I’d want to remember these for a long time. Here are some from this weekend for example:

There are no atheists in delivery rooms (way better than “fox holes”)

Be kind, be brave, be thankful

Holy moments (not events, not lifetimes, just moments)

Living in the dash (as in your birth date-death date)

What would your days look like if God was in charge of them?

What do you want to become/What does God want you to become?

Don’t live with a manufactured life

Do not be crippled by fear

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives (Annie Dillard)

The messy middle of the “not yet”

If you want to know my pain, feel my wound

Battling for joy

Guerrillas for grace

I have two friends who are also colleagues who make a lot of fun of me for how busy I am. They say I am always going to some retreat, some political meeting or march, some group that plans to do something to make a difference, some conference, etc. I guess I appear a little crazy to them when I am always trying to squeeze in the next interesting thing. I’ve written before about how much I want to learn, to know, to experience in my short time on earth. I try hard to cram it all in and after all these years of mothering, it is mostly about me and learning about my own heart and life. I cannot live my life for my kids any longer and no one loves their kids more than I. But, I also don’t think they need me to live for them or to constantly stand in their way by either over-indulging them, making their lives too easy or protecting them from dealing with challenges. I would be stealing from their development if I always directed or always influenced every choice they make. I do not pretend any more. I try to live the truth. Life is hard, very, very hard and I try to be as well equipped as I can be for each hurling rock that comes along. I’ve already been hit with several boulders and I never duck all that well.

One of the speakers this morning shared about having lost her young twin son early on. It was a horrific and tragic story that of course resonated with me. I think one of the hardest things I have ever had to learn I have had drilled into my head dozens of times. I have mostly learned it at 12 step meetings. I worry about my kids as much as and maybe sometimes more than, most other moms. I worry and I worry and then I worry some more. Having lost a child I might be even more terrified of this than the virgin moms who are fortunate enough to have never have known this harsh reality. What I have learned though stings like a sonofabitch! I’ve learned that I cannot keep them alive! Charlie has said that at many meetings and I don’t want to hear that. I really, really don’t. I can love them to death literally. I can stay right nearby and never travel , holding onto my phone ready to pounce. I can think that I am in control forever.  I remember when my second oldest son was mostly bedridden for years at the feet of Chronic Lyme disease. It seemed he might die one day after another and I could-not-allow-that-thought though I felt it to my core.Every damned time I left the house I thought, “Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to him when I am away from him.” I realized though that that might happen when I was laying right next to him rubbing his sweating, feverish brow.The fact of the matter is, none of that will keep them alive. I am NOT in control. I am not sure who is or if it is simply a random universe, but it is not in my control to keep them from harm. I sometimes hope that a higher power keeps them safe, but even that is questionable and unreliable. I just know that it is NOT me.

So, the only life I have even remote control of is my own which is why I choose to enhance it and expand it and as one of the speakers shared today, to create a life overflowing in abundance. I am cradled in God’s hands and I do not want to miss the grace filled moments that come. Those I love so dearly are cradled in his hands as well despite their non-believing status. It matters not that they don’t believe in God. He believes in them.

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My Father’s American Heart 2017

 

Although I grew up in a home riddled with mental illness and chaos, my father remained a beacon in many ways. He loved me and I knew it, which was not the case with my mother. Both were smart and loved the English language with which they were articulate and creative. My father wanted to be an English teacher and yet, he ended up working in various civil service jobs in New York City that included postal worker, parking meter collector, and court officer. He read the newspaper every day albeit The Daily News and read mostly historical biographies. He knew pretty much everything about Lincoln for example as well as a myriad of political and historical events. He was clearly a Republican and mostly a conservative one at that. He supported Eisenhower referred to as “Ike” early on and supported Goldwater. Nixon was the one for him as I remember and though devastated by JFK’s death along with the rest of the country, he had not voted for Kennedy.

 

These were scary times in America with bomb shelters and kids practicing hiding under their desks if bombing was imminent. Of course this is a joke now realizing that those desks wouldn’t have protected us one bit. All focus was on “the Reds,” the “Commies,” and protecting ourselves from those threats including McCarthyism, and the banter over Khrushev. He was no fan of Angela Davis, the Black Panthers, or “left-leaning Pinkos” and as a family we thought William F. Buckley was the most brilliant man around. My dad was an active member of the American Legion or “the Post” as he referred to it and marched in every parade as the proud veteran he was. His Army days were clearly the highlight of his life and we were all proud of the service he gave which eventually ended with his burial in the Veterans Section of an historical cemetery here in Raleigh, NC.

 

I became interested in politics fairly early on. My father was my bedrock of perspective and my newsfeed at all times. I did not read the paper but instead had him translate it into sound bytes for me (before there was such a thing).  I’d ask him, “What does that mean? What is he really saying? Who will be affected by this? What country is reacting and why?” He always took the time to explain to me but of course this was from his right leaning perspective, which I did not question. Eventually, I joined YRA (Young Republicans for America) which I then morphed into YCA (Conservative version) yet I don’t remember actually going to many meetings. There was no Facebook of course, so I am not even sure where my information flow would have come from. I suppose it was regular mail, phone calls and the like. Isn’t it so funny that we can hardly remember how we got information pre-internet?

 

And in the late 1960’s there I was shouting support for the Vietnam War! Understand that I was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City where NO ONE shared my views. Most students were still closeted gays who embodied the most creativity in New York. Fists were painted on the back of graduation gowns and graduates marched to Pomp and Circumstance with fists in the air! So when I arrived to classes one day donning a “Support Our Troops” tee shirt, I was body slammed against a wall by some other students, likely trying to knock some sense into my warped head. And as I have admitted before with my head hung in total shame, yes, I rode the Nixon bus singing, “Nixon’s the one everybody, Nixon’s the one!” I dragged my poor friend to stand with me outside of Lincoln Center handing out Nixon flyers, which each patron took and promptly threw in the garbage. Oddly, at the same time I was a card carrying feminist attending meetings and reading “Ms magazine” So I will never understand how I thought those two ideologies could blend.

 

I continued on in this direction, sure of one fact only. If this is what my father believed then it must be right. So yes, I was a Reagan gal and even as recently as George Bush Sr. By the time Bush Jr. was in the race I was beginning to wake up but when John Edwards was running as VP—I suffered over coming to the other side. I couldn’t vote for the possibility that he might end up in the White House and of course that eventually became a moot point. By the time these elections were taking place, my father was in the trenches of Parkinson’s Disease mixed with Dementia and living his final years in a North Carolina nursing home. Politics no longer was up for conversation nor was much else. But when I did discuss anything political I could clearly see that my father’s perspective had softened and he was not the angry conservative any longer. I remember discussing Reagan with him and gathering that Dad was not a devout admirer. Of course, things got worse from there. The racism that had clouded my father’s perspective had begun to dissolve as well and I became aware that inside that well tuned but now deteriorating brain, change was taking place. I have no doubt that in the end, Obama would have been just the upstanding, honest, brilliant man my father would have applauded.

 

Know this. I am not proud to admit all that I have here. In later years, my sons became very politically aware and one in particular majored in Political Science. At first I laughed off their liberal leanings but then I started listening and paying attention. And as I have written before, I became a convert – full and unrelenting. I studied and read and observed and I knew that change would need to happen in my heart and mind. I changed my party affiliation. I cried with joy and pride when Obama and family came to the stage to accept his nomination and donned his bumper sticker along the way.

 

BUT, here we are in a time no one other than George Orwell could have ever imagined. We are inundated with news 24/7 and most of it is horrific. In the past years I have attended almost every Moral Monday march in Raleigh, NC and fought steadily against the homophobic and racist North Carolina governor’s policies that reeked of eras gone by. I joined every group I could. I was completely in awe of Bernie Sanders and I knew with all my heart, my father would have been too. He was just my dad’s kind of “real no nonsense guy” who cared, and couldn’t be bought much like Mayor Ed Koch who my father loved. And when I was broken over Bernie’s loss it took me awhile to commit to Hillary. There was of course, NO alternative and we knew there was no way that Americans would elect a stark raving madman to run the country. My friend and I went to Monday night Democratic women’s meetings and wrote letters, called voters, rallied everywhere to get voters out. We knew she would win, we just wanted her to win as big as possible. The debates were a joke. The madman seemed even crazier. He would lose of course. On Election Day my friend and I worked the polls as greeters reminding folks to vote the “whole ballot” so that they could include the extremely qualified black judges running on the slate, but at the end of the ballot. We needed some racial balance in a state that sure is, but not represented proportionally We worked 12 hours that day going from poll to poll. In a shaky moment when we went to buy water and chocolate for volunteers I said to my friend, “what if, just what if, this turns out to be a day we look back on forever as one when the world changed and fell to pieces?” She told me I was being ridiculous and to stop. When I got home and started watching the election returns I called my son, (the poli sci major) as I panicked. He told me he was hanging up because I was acting dramatic and ridiculous and that Hillary had it in the bag and there was nothing to worry about. There was, oh God there was.

 

So, with a knot in my stomach, bottomless anxiety, sleepless nights and complete disbelief, days passed and inauguration day arrived. Less than two weeks later, the depravity is more than any of us could have imagined. Although the things said and acted out during the campaign were so hideous and hurtful, it is worse now because this insane narcissist wields the power and is completely in love with throwing it around willy nilly. The world is watching in horror. Immigrants are prevented from entering the country (I am third generation immigrant.) Wealthy megalomaniacs are chosen for the top cabinet positions. Women’s rights are cast aside and punishable. Mexicans are to be walled in. Healthcare is being ripped apart. The poor who fell for his illusions of grandeur will become much poorer and much sicker. Respect for the earth is touted as “just a scam.” It is the most vile and sickening thing to watch day after day, wondering how and how soon it will end, because it must.

 

Inundated as we are, we must NOT stop watching, reading, and remaining vigilant to protect those of us less than or scared or attacked. Whether we are Christians or not, has no bearing as to whether we are of pure and caring hearts. All religions preach the same. The non-believers also preach the same. Those hearts keep us doing the right thing day in and day out and cannot cease now when we have a leader who actually claps for himself after a speech. Gas lighting and narcissism are a dangerous and sickening combination. Yes, I have marched and yes, I will march again. I have made the calls to congress and I have written the emails and letters. I am not feeling particularly empowered by these efforts but I cannot simply do nothing. Will we all die trying?

 

Here’s one of the main reasons why. In the end, my father is in my heart. And I know he was always the first person to jump in and help anyone of any sort who simply needed help. He would have never tolerated cruelty for one minute and he would have stood up and fought for any man, woman, or child who were unprotected from harm. So, in the middle of the Womens March when I was one of millions worldwide, I felt this funny feeling in my heart. It was my dad, letting me know that he was indeed proud of me and urging me on. I have no doubt in my mind that he’d have come over to this side and I am left to stand up for him now that he is no longer here. I’m here Dad as great a patriot as you. I have never felt more fierce love and protection of my country than I do now and I will fight the fight in whatever ways I can following in your model with just a newer perspective that I know you would embrace with all your heart.

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