Monday, February 06, 2017

being change

There's a story going "viral" on social media about the commendable actions of a white police officer who pulled over a black teenager to caution him about texting while driving. The boy was frightened to be pulled over, and the officer only wanted to encourage him to drive safely. Said officer shared his story on Facebook, with this concluding paragraph:
I truly don't even care who's fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn't matter to me who's to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.
Did that paragraph make you blanch, as it did me?  Here's why I take issue with it, in the order by which the paragraph unfolds.
  1. I'm truly sorry the officer doesn't care enough about the real issue people of color experience that has come to be known as "driving while black," to take the time to understand its genesis. I'm glad the officer was moved by compassion to want to act on behalf of the teen's safety. That is commendable, and it's a place to start. It's going to take more--a lot more--before that teen and others like him will ever feel safe behind the wheel, or on the streets. This was an act of compassion related to behavior. Still in need is empathy related to the experience of people of color, and understanding why white people with good hearts need to understand our complicity in systemic oppression, racism, and injustice. The film 13th is an excellent first step down that road.
  2. Blame the media? Um, no. The media is bringing to light what has been kept hidden for generation after generation. It's uncomfortable, and it should be. It's shameful, which I hope is a catalyzing force for each of us to take a close look at how we understand privilege, come to terms with it, and begin the work to shift our attitudes and actions so that we become part of the solution. And yes, I'm guilty, too.
  3. Blame protestors? Perhaps he meant by this that the protestors have drawn attention to the injustices of profiling and violence against people of color, and this new awareness has caused members of law enforcement to be mindful of its truth. Blaming protestors for shining a light on systemic wrongs doesn't hurt the victims. It does, however, make perpetrators of injustice uncomfortable, and usually defensive. I surely hope he didn't mean that protestors are responsible for promoting a false narrative. Nothing could be more false than that.
  4. Blame Colin Kaepernick? Seriously? Again, CK's action of protest is to draw attention to the blindness of our society to its consistent perpetuation of injustices against people of color, and underscores the unwillingness of those who benefit from this rigged system to take responsibility for it and be accountable to correcting it. See the note above about protestors.
  5. It doesn't matter who's to blame? I believe it does, not because I'm fond of blaming (I'm not), but because it is important to understand how we got here. That's the easy part, and I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek. Once we become informed we then have to sit with how that information makes us feel, and, God willing (and I believe God does, given that justice is a pretty big deal for the almighty), be changed by what we learn. Then it gets harder, because belief not translated to behavioral change or action is nothing more than an idea taking up space in our being. Even a good idea, independent of some demonstrable reflection, doesn't have much value. 
  6. He wants somebody to fix it. How I read that? Somebody else do it, it's not my problem. Sigh.
I invite you to join me among the ranks of white allies trying to do better. Every day I see evidence of how much work there is to do in this arena, and it's daunting. There are so many struggles that beckon our time and energy, and we can't engage all of them. This is the one that owns my heart.

Let me say at the outset that I don't have the guide book for how to engage this work, I can simply share what I'm doing: reading, listening, watching, stumbling, and trying to learn. It's a transformation that is going to take the rest of my life, and I'm committed to it. Walk with me.

I referred to the film 13th. In two hours you will get your head filled and your heart challenged with mind-exploding and heart-expanding information. Let it work on you.

Read. There are lots of books available to help the transition from privileged white person to ally. And just a note as I look back on that sentence: if white, we will always be privileged. This journey is about living a life committed to reversing racism and intersectionality. This list on the RevGalBlogPal website is a great start.

Listen. We each have to find our own way to do that, but there are two distinct voices to whom I pay attention on facebook, and I commend following them. They are both ordained leaders. One is Traci Blackmon, a minister of the United Church of Christ in St. Louis, and woman of color, whose insights, compassion, honesty, and wisdom have helped me understand the many complicated layers of racism. The other is Mike Kinman, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Mike is a friend and colleague who does an extraordinary job of articulating how privilege manifests itself. By listening to him I am learning how to recognize privilege at work. This post is an example of that, and I hope it is helpful to others who want to walk this walk.

What's that saying, be the change we want to see in the world? I'm working on it.

Friday, November 04, 2016

another farewell

Yesterday I lifted Juliet into the car to drive to Waltham, Massachusettes--a suburb of Boston--where we had an appointment to discuss surgical options to address her cancerous tumors. The previous 36 hours had been rough for her: barely able to walk, no appetite, and collapsing hind legs had catalyzed a visit to our own vet the previous morning. A thorough exam didn't indicate anything of specific concern, though it did highlight some anemia. When Juliet clearly had not improved by yesterday morning the veterinary practice at Waltham--specialists, with emergency, 24-hour support--encouraged me to come anyway.

When we left the camper to go to the car, a collection of five turkeys greeted us. In the nearly three months that we have lived in the campground, the only wildlife I had seen were squirrels, chipmunks, and a lone turtle. The turkeys were a surprise, robust and clustered around the back of the car, turning their heads one direction, then another, as though trying to determine their path. On a whim I fished my phone out of my purse while they set out across the road, and took a couple of pictures.

The drive began in dawning light, and I was aware as we got underway of the continuing glow of sunlit color in the remaining leaves that still bore witness to the season on their tree-top perches. It was more color than I would have thought possible for early November, showcasing a darker, richer palette than the bright and showy leaves of early autumn. It struck me that what I was seeing were the elders of fall, the mature stands that remained after the young and energetic leaves had fled the scene, and I welcomed their companionship on this drive weighted by concern and a deepening dread.

The trip to Waltham, a little more than an hour without traffic, proved to be the last that Juliet and I would take together. Recognizing that her condition did not lend itself to a hopeful prognosis, I considered that she was manifesting a response to arthritic pain in her hips and back. I was not expecting the review of her vital signs to reveal an accelerated heartbeat, low blood pressure, or a fever. The moment I had been fearing was before me, and the decision to release her from difficulty and decline was necessary.

On my return home I was grateful for the reception on the radio of one of Boston's public radio stations that still plays classical music. The melodic strains were a balm for the raw grief that began in the vet's office, and continued to flow as I drove. I noticed again the color still clinging to the trees, and saw those mostly-tall sentinels as standing at attention, an honor guard to the life I had just bid farewell, and a show of respect for my loss. I remembered the turkeys, and marveled at their timely appearance, as though to escort Juliet from her earthly abode as she started her final journey as part of this life.

I write this not to chronicle these closing hours of her much-cherished life, but to acknowledge with deep gratitude the presence and comfort that the natural world offered to me on this saddest of mornings. Twenty-four hours later the sun has breached the horizon to bathe my surroundings with glorious light still caught in a few leaves. The sky is blue and the air is crisp. My pain cries out to these signs both of continuity and the shifting reality of all living things: that life begins, blooms, declines, and ceases. I am not expected to celebrate today, or tomorrow, though I can tip my hat to the beauty that surrounds me.

I am forcing myself to get out and walk the roads that I shared with Juliet. It hurts like hell that she is not with me. But these are our roads and our trees and our time together to celebrate the unique last months we shared together. It is what I have, and I will cherish it as a way to honor how much I cherished her.  Death reminds us of the fullness of life we experience, of the joy captured in our hearts, and the love that sings through our days. I feel it all to the marrow of my bones.

Friday, August 26, 2016

farewell, good and faithful friend

In my last post I made mention of some losses over the last year. These fall under a variety of categories, but there's one that cuts so deeply to the bone that I haven't been able to talk about it. It's time, though, in order to tend to my grief and help me navigate toward healing. 

What I have lost is a treasured and cherished place, Melrose. If you've known me any length of time you will know about Melrose primarily as a regular vacation and respite destination. But it was so much more than that.  Its history includes its use as a peach "plantation" by my great-grandfather (distaff side, for what it's worth) in the early years of the 20th century. The story goes that he purchased the property in the cooler hills across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia, to find relief from the oppressive, southern, summer heat in neighboring South Carolina. Peaches ensued, but eventually, as William Maltbie Rowland aged and his declining health limited his ability to manage the plantation, it settled into a state of neglect. 
 peaches ready to ship out
The Rowland women offer hospitality: that's my great-grandmother at the left, 
and my grandmother in the plaid skirt.
Oddly, there are no remnants of the orchards, and in time the native lob-lolly pine of the south took root and became a substantial tree farm that my grandmother managed. She spent roughly six weeks there each spring and fall, traveling from her home in Manhattan to do so. She made these trips in part to oversee what had become the business of the farm, but she likewise found renewed vitality for her spirit in a place that was home to her, and nurtured local and family relationships as an extension of the hospitality for which she was known. 
As a family we spent each spring vacation traveling to Melrose, so it holds distinct memories of a childhood full of climbing rocks, walking through the woods to a favorite swimming and picnic spot, gathering on the lawn to watch the sunset each night, and so much more. During college I managed two trips there on my own to visit my grandmother, and gradually, in adulthood, I claimed my own pattern of regular visits to connect with her, and to establish a bond with that place that has anchored me to the core of my being.

To be at Melrose was to pause time. Its amenities, in the physical sense, were practical and sufficient. The cottage wasn't insulated, so relief from the cold came from fireplaces in the living and dining rooms, and a handful of scattered space heaters. We added ceiling fans to two of the three bedrooms, the living room, and the front porch 10 years ago, and continued to draw on floor and window fans in an attempt to snag a share in whatever cool air might be found on a hot, South Carolina day or evening. Until the later 70's, perhaps even the early 80's, there was no phone service there, and until about the same time the water for use at the cottage was pumped from the ground (it was, at least, an electrical pump!). There was no television, and radio reception was spotty. Although this description sounds primitive, it never felt that way. Care was taken to keep the cottage maintained and hospitable. It was here that I learned how to use a paint brush--a vacation project that tapped into a team of volunteer laborers--to prune trees, bushes and shrubs, recognize bird calls, and make pancakes.  It was here that we spent hours around the dinner table feasting on each others company, playing games, or sitting before a roaring fire on a damp day working jigsaw puzzles.

When various projects didn't beckon, time was spent on the front porch reading, conversing, working crossword puzzles (my particular favorite past time) or simply staring across the front lawn toward the Georgia hills to the west.  There was a hammock in which to stretch out and sway, or a glider for matching the rhythm of the breeze that danced up the lawn. There were walks down old roads to former tenant farmer homes, or what was left of them, or to streams that found their source in springs farther up a hill. There was time, and breath, and the unbearable luxury of letting the gentle magic of nature seep into your pores and keep company with whatever joy or heartbreak arrived with you when you pulled into the drive. At Melrose there really weren't any distractions to lead you away from yourself, or escape pesky concerns. Instead, the time and space to sit with your life brought the opportunity to find clarity of perspective, acceptance away from judgment, and an assurance that whatever woes afflicted one's life, the serenity of this place acted as a balm against the assaults of the world. Its beauty was two-fold: that which was natural, and the way it loved you so fiercely when you came to be in its presence.

Once I moved to Tennessee in 1999 the proximity of Melrose made it possible to make visits there twice a year, as my mother began to do in her retirement, following the pattern of her mother before her. By then my grandmother had died, leaving Melrose's acreage physically divided between Mom and her two nephews. As a way to protect this legacy from the jaws of crushing taxes down the road we established a family partnership, so that in time my brothers and I essentially owned the property as general partners, and Mom managed it. 

I was the only one of my siblings to maintain an attachment to Melrose. After we interred my grandmother's ashes there in a special garden bed, my younger brother and his wife visited once. My older brother and his family came a few times when my nephew was young, but Jesse, soon to be 26, was 14 the last time they were there. As a family we held a collective commitment to practice good stewardship of the gift that was Melrose, both environmentally and financially, with a primary goal being to draw on this asset, as needed, to support my mother's quality of life. It was this latter factor that drove an earlier-than-anticipated decision last year to sell the property.

Through tears I made every possible appeal to find a way to leverage the value of what we owned without having to lose it. Perhaps startled by so much emotion, one brother asked me if I could describe my feelings about parting with what to me was more than a cherished legacy. "Sure," I told him, "it's like a death." And so it has been.

In March an offer to purchase the property came that we decided as a family to accept. In April Ken and I spent the equivalent of a week packing, sorting, and dispersing the contents of the cottage, trying in between phases of emptying cupboards to enjoy this final opportunity to sit on the porch and drink in the view that transcends time and space. It was during one of those last stretches of fixing the view into my memory that I stopped to consider the durability of the physical place that had housed family gatherings and provided a retreat for friends here and there as a getaway.  There is no denying the emotional and psychological benefit of having a place of continuity in life. Melrose had been that for me and for my family. Yet as I looked at the posts reaching between porch railing and roof beams, I saw them suddenly as a standard-bearer of faithfulness. They were always there, greeting us on arrival and bidding us farewell when it was time to load the car and depart. Sentries, if you will, of stability and endurance, and part and parcel of the experience of welcome and acceptance that characterized the heart and soul of what this place had been for me. It is a place that never failed me, but simply let me be, and for that my heart will forever be grateful. 

A few days ago I recalled that experience of acknowledging the witness born by the cottage through the years, and an epiphany followed. That place that I loved, and that loved me in return, is still there. It continues to love me from afar, to rejoice in the time when our lives intersected and our spirits danced together. It remembers my tears and my anguish and rejoices in a heart overflowing with gladness for its very existence. Our connection can never be erased, nor can the power of its beauty ever be extinguished. 

I continue to mourn the loss of this beloved, and will for some time. As I move into a future that doesn't include its real presence, I will treasure the sunbeams it left in my heart. I will find comfort in the knowledge that its springs continue to nourish the earth and fill the river, that its branches offer a landing for the hawks and the wrens, and that the deer and the turkey find refuge in the glens and the broad spaces that make up the tracts of what was our land. I will imagine the rain on the roof and the the light gleaming through the wisteria leaves on the arbor that shaded the porch. Perhaps most importantly, I will draw on the strength within that was nurtured by the peace and beauty of this extraordinary place, and thus honor the legacy that was my privilege to enjoy and love.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

it's a hard knock life

There's a reason I don't post here as frequently as I used to. Sure, Facebook offers a quick and dirty means of sharing salient and silly slices of life, and the ease of that forum has contributed to less frequent appearances here. But the fact is that, over the last five or so years, life has simply been hard. Not just challenging, but gut-punching hard. What has felt like a never-ending assault on my efforts to stand upright and propel myself into a forward-leaning direction has drained me. Though my self-confidence hasn't evaporated it has certainly sought refuge in a place tucked safely away from further injury. The experiences that have led to its removal from the line of fire have also contributed to a soul-piercing isolation. As an introvert I can handle a lot of solitude, but the lack of a sustaining community to which I could turn for relief or solace has simply not existed. Where once I had a robust circle of friends with whom I felt connected there are now a mere handful of souls with whom I feel it is safe to entrust my heart. 

As well, some things simply can't be shared here. Public pages have their limits, and a blog is an inappropriate place to rage against some of the people whose words and deeds are sources of deep pain. Through difficult times hope has been my most faithful companion, but the persistence of difficulty has taken a toll on that relationship, too. God? Let's just say, "it's complicated."

I have not wanted to bring any of this here, to weigh down with woe and heartbreak a place that is intended to be a source of creativity for me and connection with others. But I can no longer afford to be absent from this place of self-expression and sharing.  I need to be able to grieve the losses that have collected, and wonder aloud about the mysteries that get stuck in the crevices of my days. It is critical, as I experience a dearth of community, that I make myself available to find new connections and rekindle old passions. To take the risk of discovering how ignorant I might be as I pick up the shovel to dig into and out of my complicity in the perpetuation of racism. To honor my own peculiar nature even as I come to terms with the deficits in my character that inhibit a fuller life. 

My struggles aren't unique to me. One of the things I have learned through sharing my life and my foibles here over the years is that others sometimes recognize the tune that becomes recognizable between the lines. In the way that music has the power to unite, that place of recognition serves to connect. And connection, after all, is why I started this blog in the first place. 

I need to be here. I need to write, to let what is within flow without. And I need you. There. I've said it. To the extent that you want to be here, you are quite welcome to join the effort to muddle through. My hope (still here) is that renewal will take place, that transformation will occur, and that redemption will lead me into a thriving life. If that sounds like a tribe with which you want to link your arms, your mind, and your heart, I'm blessed to have your company.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

cracking white open

I had a Come to Jesus Meeting the other day. It was one of those stop-dead-in-my-tracks kind of epiphanies that felt more like a gut-punch than an, "oh, now I get it," revelation. Sobering, humbling, disturbing, convicting. 

It began the day after five police officers were shot in Dallas, which in turn followed the shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am essentially without television these days, so social media (Facebook) is my exposure to what is happening in the world, and in turn my exposure to the reactions to those events as they appear in my news feed.  Rest assured it's not just memes. I follow or read the shared links by others to news sources that I trust to report accurately, and other posts that help me read more widely and probe more deeply.

The political views of my friends and acquaintances on fb cover the spectrum from waayyy to the left, to waayyy to the right. I read the outcry from BLM communities and supporters, and see the Blue Lives Matter posts, too. Related to the latter, I was also seeing posts the day after the Dallas shootings depicting an outpouring of support to law enforcement: pizzas and cookies, hugs and selfies with local police officers, stories of compassion and more about our men and women in blue. I got it. Celebrate the good they do and acknowledge the sacrifices they make. Show the love. We've got your six. What was missing from my feed was any sort of demonstrated support to people of color. 

I was roused from my reflection about this by the sound of a crowd chanting nearby in the neighborhood. I wondered if it was a protest march, since we're not far from the state capitol. It soon became apparent, however, that the gathering was stationery, and I decided to go take a look. 

I went out the front door, noting a couple of police cars parked across from the house and a handful of uniformed officers standing on the sidewalk. I then ventured down the street to the corner where I could see, across the street and up about half a block, a group of people marching in a circle, carrying signs, and being rallied by someone with a bull horn. The words on the signs seemed to indicate an issue related to health care. I wondered about the presence of the police, but imagined that it was related to safety after the events of the week. I turned to head back to the house, and just as I was about to pivot up the steps leading to the house, I felt compelled to go speak to the policemen across the way. Black lives matter to me, and so do blue ones. 

I approached them with a smile and said hello, acknowledged that it had been a tough week, and let them know I was thinking of them. They appreciated the thought. We chatted briefly about the gathering drawing our attention, and I learned that the group was in violation of a noise ordinance. Bullhorn. A little bit of small talk followed, then I waved a farewell and returned to the house. 

While I had been talking to the policemen a woman who lives up the street passed by on the sidewalk. She was Black. I felt awkward. I wondered how she perceived what she saw, and the absence of support to the Black community in my Facebook feed gnawed at me. It's easy to show up to the local precinct with a plate of cookies, but where do you show up for the Black community? I could bake cookies for the kids who play in the park every day, and who get excited when Juliet comes through on her walk. Seriously, though. Cookies? To say I'm sorry for and lament the racism that plagues your life and runs like a toxic stream through our society? Cookies?

For the next few days I stewed about this, feeling utterly helpless to make a difference in stemming and reversing the tide of racism. As more and more of my Facebook page pushed back against the increasing presence of the BLM movement in communities across the country, denying white privilege and asserting All Lives Matter in retort, the truth of my own racism sank like a stone into the depth of my being. It isn't enough to understand how racism permeates our institutions and perpetuates prejudice and injustice. It isn't enough to see the statistics about minority crime and incarceration and know that the context for interpreting them is absent from public discourse. It isn't enough to live in neighborhood where whites are a minority.  My open mind and inclusive heart aren't enough, and the reality that I am part of the problem cuts through me like a knife. I thought I knew about white privilege. Instead I am the face of it.

I feel powerless in the face of this overwhelming sin from which I benefit, and as difficult as it is, it is nothing compared to the powerlessness that people of color feel and face every day. Because of my privilege, I stand a chance to rise above the feeling of powerlessness with relative ease. It's one of the ways that the system can work for me to help dismantle the system that works against others. That is how it starts. Use the tools available to me. Work with what I've got. Step in and do my part. And grasp the reality that my brothers and sisters of color know a whole lot more than I do about the meaning and power of love, forgiveness, and grace. 

I've come to Jesus. I've got such a long way to go.

This post on another blog also addresses this topic in a way that might be helpful if you are struggling with this same issue.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

those were the days

I had dinner the other night with an old high school friend. Connected intermittently through the faith community of our childhood, our paths intersected again in high school, where we developed a deeper bond of friendship our sophomore year. In spite of being thick as thieves in high school we lost touch after I went to college out of state, and where I continued to live for a couple of years more before moving back home.  Meeting up again now, 40 +/- years later, we returned easily to conversation and that magical place of knowing that is an undefinable quality of friendship.

Through Marilyn I met the guy who would become my first boyfriend, and I landed my first job, as a sales clerk at Mayron's Bakery. Mayron's was a bit of a fixture in the local Jewish community, and Mayron himself staked a larger claim to fame by creating the birthday cake for President Kennedy's 44th birthday celebration, an occasion that required closing the bakery for two weeks while the equivalent of five layers of pound cakes were baked and assembled before being shipped off to Washington in an armored car. To be accurate, it wasn't Mayron who did all the work--it was his baker, but Mayron gets the credit. You know how that goes...

In many ways it was the best. job. ever. Mayron's offered a typical range of baked goods: breads, bagels and rolls, danish and coffee cakes, cakes, cookies, and other sweets. There were, additionally, more typically Jewish foods, like challah (the best bread in the world), hamantaschen, rugelach, and a rolled pastry loaf whose name I can't recall.  Our store was one of three or four owned by Mayron, tucked into a strip mall anchored at one end by a grocery store, and the other by Sears. It was open seven days a week, because people like their bread to be fresh.

Marilyn and her sister Martha worked at Mayron's, which is how I found my way there. The shop was managed by a woman named Stella, who at 60+ years of age wore a wig of gray hair more befitting her age than the jet black hair that continued to grow from her head. At least that is what she always told us. Stella loved her soap operas. Her day began at 6 so that she was there when the delivery truck arrived with its load of fresh baked yumminess, then she was gone at 1:00 so she could get home to watch her stories. Her husband had died some years previously, and though she had a regular guy in her life who treated her like a queen, she wouldn't marry him because The Church had taught her that you only marry once in life. That was her story, and she was sticking to it. At the time it seemed a rather sweet, if narrow interpretation of What The Church Says, but upon more recent reflection I think she knew exactly what she was doing by remaining single.

Stella's daughter, Marianne, also worked at Mayron's, and I remember her lovely blond hair swept back away from her face and pinned up in the back to stay out of the way of bakery chores. Two other employees rounded out the crew: Maura, a Nice Catholic Girl (her own description), and Joan, a free spirit Jewish girl who was so short that she was always trying out the latest platform heels as a way to ease into the stratosphere of taller people. I can still hear her laugh, and picture her dancing behind the counter to the radio when there weren't any customers in the store. She called Mayron "Ruby," because he had dyed his hair red, and she was fond of being irreverent about our ultimate boss, who was about as short as she was.  On pay day "Ruby" would come to the store, take cash out of the register, and divide it into manila envelopes with each of our names written on the outside with the amount owed to us contained within. The envelopes then went into a safe, and Stella would deliver each one to its intended recipient. I'll bet Mayron's bookkeeper loved this method of disbursing payroll. Not!

I had great relationships with my co-workers, and adored them tremendously. Though working part time, we found time to share our lives, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams between waiting on customers, consolidating trays of food as the inventory sold and the volume reduced, and keeping the store clean and presentable. We wore blue smocks, a uniform that identified us as employees, and kept our clothes clean from the likes of frosting from cakes and brownies, and the powdered sugar that was kept on hand for the donuts. Jelly and some cake donuts came to the store plain, and if a customer wanted them powdered, we popped them into a bag, added some powdered sugar, folded the top of the bag over a few times and shook with all our might. Voila! I'll be you never thought about how powdered donuts got that way. Now you know! I also learned that the secret to writing on a cake is to do so while it is frozen. We kept several cakes in a freezer at the shop, offering choices of cake (yellow, chocolate, or marble), and colors of flowers and piping on the top. When a customer purchased one we took it out of the freezer, wrote the greeting in the corresponding color, boxed it up and sent it on its way. Cakes thaw in a relatively short period of time, though usually orders were called in ahead of time so that we could ensure a thawed cake, or the main bakery would send one with the particulars already inscribed.

Mayron's was a wonderful introduction to the responsibilities of being a paid employee. At the end of a shift we took turns sweeping the floor, cleaning the glass of the food cabinets and the door into the shop, and washing the food trays that had collected bits of jam, frosting, or crumbs in the course of their utilitiy. We took turns calling special orders into the main store, and notifying customers that their order was ready for pickup. We prepared boxes of food specially ordered so that when a customer came in their order was ready and their needs were met. We assembled boxes so that cakes, coffee cakes, and larger orders could be added to them and secured to be sent home. It wasn't a demanding job, but it required attention, and we had each other for support and laughter, and occasionally, tears.

It was the best of times. And in spite of snacking on brownies and such whenever I wanted, I managed to lose weight. Ah, the metabolism of a teenager. It was a great way to launch into the "real world." It was the best.

Monday, June 13, 2016

blinded by the light

I haven't been in the habit of reading much in recent years. It seems that vacation idling, when the routines of daily life at home are replaced by new a environment and fewer demands, provides the best opportunity for me to fall into the pages of a story or idea. That, or plane travel--captive soul, and all. But I don't fly much.

Now that I'm in a new environment for an extended period, and my days lack routine beyond dog-walking and a few other necessary tasks, reading ought to jump to the fore of how I pass my time. Perhaps soon. I'm still in the process of settling in to a new life, and I don't quite feel the ease of indulging in leisure. 

As it happens, I brought just one book with me on Phase One of The Move, Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark. It was recommended to me by a friend, who in turn loaned it to me. At the time I was hungry to find the resonance in its pages that my friend assured me was there, so I managed to find some time to start it, and then take it along on an expected trip via air travel. My friend was right. Time now to read the last chapters.

Learning to Walk... is a rich offering that I savor as I turn its pages. Through personal stories and reflection Taylor affirms the value of darkness as a companion in life, especially as a spiritual teacher and bestower of unique gifts. Having grown up in a tradition where Light is the primary metaphor for the presence of the divine (the inner Light, holding one in the Light...), and having loved Light as a grounding experience in my own faith journey, I found myself jolted out of the complacency that the "quest" for union with the divine, and spiritual or personal wholeness is found by focusing on the Light. 

My preference for Light shows up in hymns (I want to walk as a child of the light), in poetry ("I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, give me a light that I may find my way in the darkness..."), in photography, and on and on. All of a sudden, through Taylor's writing I am experiencing Light and Darkness not as opposites that serve as object lessons of good versus less good (evil, if you want to go there), but as necessary partners that together expose the beauty of the created order and the extraordinary diversity of that order (sometimes chaos!). Together Light and Darkness have the capacity to elicit from all its creatures the fullness of who we are and who we can be. Learning to Walk... serves to remind me that the blinders that we think protect us from the shadows instead reveal that shadows have as much to teach us as the Light by which they are cast. 

This is an extraordinarily thought-provoking work, and I cannot commend it highly enough.
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