Mea Culpa

 

We walked today, picking fall flowers, dried seed pods and colorful leaves. Chattering like a busy chipmunk, she found pretty rocks in the gravel, drew line after line for us to race from, and marveled at the troops of soldier mushrooms. It was more a meander than a walk, but definitions matter not to a four-year-old. Her thoughts bubble over into words like a flowing well in the flat lands; there is no filter, no pause and the music of it all soaking the earth is innocent and pure.

And it never stops. Ever.

Even in her dreams she is talkative and loud. A social sleep talker, telling her stories and voicing her fears.

But it is a respite to tune into her world, letting it drown out my restless mind that takes eternal practice to quiet for even the rare millisecond. She is my practice. Continue reading “Mea Culpa”

A Prayer for Usefulness

Dear God,

Here I am. What would you have me do today? Where would you have me go? What would you have me say, and to whom?

I am here. Use me as a tool for Your love.

I give up my need to fix myself. I give up my desire to look and feel perfect before being worthy of Your use. I give up my act, God. Help me give it up again each day as I cling and crave it. Help me forgive the things I have hated about myself for so long. Help me see that it was all a conspiracy to keep me small and separate from You. Continue reading “A Prayer for Usefulness”

Lucky

Most mornings I wake up feeling pretty darn fortunate. Not all mornings, of course, but more often than not.

I’ve always had shelter, food and clothing. I’ve always been surrounded by people whom I love and who love me. I’ve faced very little adversity, loss or personal tragedy.

I’m a white woman in a democratic country. I’m college-educated. I’ve lived in metropolitan and rural areas, both by choice. I’ve traveled across oceans, tasted cuisines around the world, met people from all walks of life. I’ve danced in the desert beneath a complete lunar eclipse and rode white water that nearly killed me, just for the thrill of it. I’ve had time and resources to Create, in myriad different forms and at all different stages of my life. Continue reading “Lucky”

Saying Goodbye to Grandpa Dale

 

On the day that he died, a swift storm front passed over the west end of The Angle. The winds came first, readying the earth like an invisible pumice stone that picks up all that’s loose in order to clean beneath. Then, with the music of the leaves, the wind announced the rain. I stopped my work and raised my eyes to the wild treetops and beyond to the rushing clouds. The sudden drops hit my upturned face, and I stood there for many moments, letting it run down my cheeks like tears that didn’t know to come.

All I could think was that it was him. Continue reading “Saying Goodbye to Grandpa Dale”

Left-handed Lives Matter

My guy and I got into an argument at the breakfast table early one morning. I had asked the four-year-old at the table to please use her fork. She scrunched up her nose at me, picked the fork up with her un-practiced left hand and accidentally flipped scrambled eggs everywhere. “Sweetie, try using your other hand,” I suggested.

Since birth, she’s shown predominantly right-handed tendencies. I’m left-handed, and while it would have tickled my lefty-bone for her to have been also, I’m quite happy that she won’t have to deal with being left-handed in a right-handed world.

“Life is just easier if you’re right-handed,” I said nonchalantly while cleaning up scrambled eggs. I honestly believed the entire human species, or at least the people at the breakfast table, would concur disinterestedly.

Surprise. No.

My normally agreeable, right-handed partner became immediately defensive, and we had a heated volley with a little blonde referee interjecting as she could:

“Mama, don’t be mean to my papa.

“Papa, don’t yell at my mama.

“We’re not supposed to be loud at the dinner table.”

I had to stop and smile at that one; she still messes up the names of meals.

It wasn’t an ugly fight, more of a passionate debate. I was stunned to the point of silence that a right-hander would try to tell me what it was like to be a left-hander. (“Right-splaining?”) He doesn’t believe there’s any real difference or hardships, and as proof, he knows other left-handers who have never complained. In essence, he was calling me a whiner, a pessimist, and overly-dramatic. He assumed it must simply be my negativity and propensity to play the victim while blaming others that made me believe life was so much harder for lefties.

Of course, I hadn’t said that life was “so much harder”, but when I suggested righties might have it easier, that is what he heard.

Right-handed privilege may seem paltry, but it is in fact real. Lefties deal with uncomfortable school desks, unavailable or more expensive sporting equipment, our dominant hands being “unclean” in certain cultures, not to mention the countless everyday items built specifically for right-handers that often cause accidents and even death for lefties attempting to adapt. Lefties don’t live as long for this exact reason. Approximately one in ten people is left-handed; we are not a mass market. But our lives still matter, don’t they?

After the exchange ended, I felt slyly excited about what I had just witnessed. This was a cut and dry case of a societal privilege so ingrained that it had become invisible to someone who benefited from said privilege. And when it was called out, the privileged one basically exploded in defensiveness, blaming the minority who doesn’t benefit from said privilege for any discrimination they might face. My character, my beliefs and whole way of being were called into question simply because I dared to suggest he might have it a little bit easier.

See where I’m going with this?

We’re hearing a lot more about “privilege” these days…male privilege, white privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, cisgender privilege, and so on. None of these ideas are new, of course; it’s just that people of all walks of life are finally finding their voices and a more equitable platform on which to be heard.

But in large part, the comfortable majorities don’t like to talk about these kinds of topics. I get it. Hearing that others think we come from privilege makes us feel uncomfortable. We love our cozy bubbles and if we’re forced to look at those who aren’t so cozy, then darn it, we don’t feel as good about our cozy bubble anymore. We’re quick to pipe up about our tough lives while discounting the hardships of others. We all want the disadvantages we face to be recognized.

In truth, everyone falls somewhere along the broad spectrum of privilege, and frankly, it’s time to listen with compassion to those who don’t benefit where we do. On all fronts.

Acknowledging that I benefit from white privilege makes me feel, well, white. I haven’t had to “feel” my skin color before, and that’s exactly what privilege is. Simply being aware helps me see that there are a million examples throughout daily life where someone with a different skin tone would very much feel “not white”, not to mention be faced with pure discrimination. Especially now in the “get out of my country” Trump-era.

Speaking of male privilege, I am not male. Every single day I feel, in some minor or major way, the disadvantages of being female. This is not self-pity; I absolutely love being a woman. An unbroken woman has the fire and fight of a roaring lioness, beautiful in her power and cunning. Yet, undomesticated women are often vilified in their freedom, in their audacity to lead. They are torn down with a level of hate and vitriol male leaders simply don’t experience. (By the by, did you know that some research shows it is actually the alpha female who is the true leader of wolf packs observed in the wild?)

Women are turned into objects, possessions, and domestic role-fillers. We are diminished, discounted, and passed-over in ways that men will never have to worry about. We are abused, assaulted and killed by those closest to us in numbers men will never match.

The patriarchy is very real and often overwhelming in both its overt and invisible oppressiveness.

If you’re dismissive of this idea right away, slow down and ask yourself why you might be resistant. If it’s true for some, does that make it generally true or generally false? Remember the Women’s March earlier this year? My Facebook feed was full of derogatory comments from both men and women who were mistaking benevolent sexism for gender equality. Putting a positive yet patronizing spin on how women are treated as compared to men still points to privilege.

The idea of Christian privilege is sure to set some of us off like errant bottle rockets in a dry field. Mind you, I’m not saying you don’t have it rough, but faith-based persecution does not disprove Christian privilege. Your religion gets away with making laws out of your beliefs while other religions do not have that luxury. You get your religious holidays off, while Jews, Muslims and basically all other religions don’t. Your places of worship (except black churches) don’t get bombed, set on fire, surrounded by people openly carrying guns, and many other forms of targeted hate. Your religion isn’t seen as radical or inferior by school teachers who often openly normalize and subtly preach their own. You aren’t viewed by the general public as needing to be saved.

Before you fire off another Letter to the Editor cancelling your subscription because some woman dared to have an opinion, please know that I’m not saying it is wrong or bad to have privilege. All I’m saying is that life would be easier if you’re a right-handed straight white male who calls himself a Christian. Wouldn’t we live in a better world if we recognized our privilege and helped make it easier for those who don’t benefit where we do?

Perhaps you could let yourself sit in your discomfort for a little bit. Pray, maybe. At least just feel it. Hopefully own it. The unprivileged have to. Every day of their lives.

Or, you can bash about angrily, displaying your fragility for all to see, railing against the inevitable tides of positive change all these types of conversations point to. We all have a choice.

As for my family and me, we’re uncomfortable a lot. And that’s perfect; we want to grow in love and compassion. Even though it’s still a right-handed house, in doing research for this column, I learned that female cats are largely left-handed and since we have two, lefties are now the majority. Take that.

(Published in the April 2nd issue of the Warroad Pioneer. 120th Year, Issue 34)

Peace vs. Prosperity

From time to time, I forget that life is about service.

I get caught up in how I want it to look, in my attachments to how this world and this life are “supposed” to behave for my benefit and pleasure. It’s especially visible when a grudge that I didn’t even realize I was holding lifts suddenly…like knowing that on a gray and rainy day the sun is still shining behind the clouds.

I’ve been holding a mini grudge against The Angle, and a bigger one against our country. Of course, the places are inanimate; they are man-made locations on a map that wouldn’t exist but for the take-and-delineate desires of humankind.

Still, I built a beef in my mind against some perceived wrong-doing I had to endure, next the people started representing the place as a whole, and then I set about suffering as if it were my lifelong ambition.

It started with dollars and cents, as it often does in our money-hungry capitalistic culture. Previously, I had always believed I was the type who put people before money. I even passionately declared as much to a group of us at a recent meeting of our non-profit snowmobile club. I was voicing dissent over a string of decisions that I thought had put dollars and cents before people, before community.

The voice that rang loud and clear in my mind after the confrontation ended was a direct quote, “Why should we pay the money if we don’t have to?”

I interpreted it as “why, if no one is going to legally force us, should we do the right thing?”

And as a result of my intense focus on that negativity, a few weeks later my family’s personal business took a financial hit from the same direction for the same reason. In the messy cluster that was my relationship over the last two years, which I’ve written about very openly in the past, here, here, and here, certain business obligations went by the wayside. As in, we failed to bill for services rendered for 2.5 years. It was a source of plenty of shame and embarrassment.

We make the often-arduous trek to town five days a week, and as a service we run errands for people and businesses across The Angle and islands. We also do a lot unbilled personal favors because it’s the right thing to do. Once life got organized (and sober), it was time to deal with what we had put off. My beautiful man, in his quiet, unselfish way, would have kept on serving, asking nothing in return. But me, well, I guess I’m more money-hungry. We had done the work, and though we were late, we finally sent a bill.

The statute of limitations for billing is six years in the state of Minnesota, but as a professional courtesy, and mostly to alleviate my shame, we gave people the option to “pay what you think is fair” for anything over one year old. Every single business but one paid in full and with kind regards. The largest check, however, the one that, as it turns out, would have bought my family two acres of land, didn’t arrive.

And the words began to ring louder in my mind’s ears: “why should we pay the money if we don’t have to”.

I gave them an “out,” and then I held it against them when they took it. I judged them, and then I became them. I had put money before people. Even this writing about it feels like a selfish venting of the perceived slight. My ego needs checking. My money-hunger is getting the better of me. And it all feels so sleazy.

It feels similar to the grudge I was holding against our country for constantly electing politicians who seem to put money before people and who spread the fear-based message that “others” are looking to disrupt our comfort. It feels like the resentment I held against my neighbors who seemed more apt to defend a billion-dollar oil corporation over a down-trodden minority protecting their only water source. Or, it is like the contempt I fostered towards those who focused, for example, on the overflowing garbage cans that the Women’s March left behind instead of the message of love, equality and empowerment it was trying to spread. I’ve been unhealthily internalizing all types of these “bad guys vs. good guys” battles, always assuming I was on the right side.

But in going to battle, in creating the battle in the first place, I can see that I alone am responsible for setting up my world in an “us against them” manner. I’m judging others and then doing the exact same thing. I’m blaming others for my discomfort and turning life into victimhood. I’m putting perceived slights above relationships, money before people, and grudges in front of my desire to serve community and country.

I don’t want to be that person.

I want to be someone who serves selflessly. I want to make the world more beautiful for having been here. I want to get back to my dreams about building a public park here at The Angle. I want to tell the survival stories of the elders and adventurers here. I want to help The Angle’s one-room school house build another room so we can better prepare our children to go out and give back. I want to be a giver not a taker.

Mother Teresa once said, “A life not lived for others is not a life.”

I want those words to ring in my head, not the ones about money. I don’t want some corporatized definition of prosperity. I want a real life, not a never-ending battle. In all regards, I just want peace.

(Published in the April 4th Warroad Pioneer)

Fishing for Humanity

 

This past weekend I went trout fishing. I caught a bass.

One olive green, bug-eyed small mouth who tacitly reminded me that I’ve been taking this ridiculous and beautiful game far too seriously. She said exactly that as I looked into the placid depths of her dark eyes. I drug her up from 60 feet on a barbless hook as fast as I could reel, and she forgave me instantly. The experience left her shocked, and she lolled about in the ice hole for a time before coming back to her fish senses. Silently, so as not to appear too off my rocker to those fishing with me, I said Thank You and wished her well on her journey home.

I’ve been lolling about in the ice hole too, stunned that all is not as I believed it was. That the game isn’t being played by the limited rules I had once understood. That the false-bottom my Vexilar displayed is a million times more complex than I once thought, though still false.

Life isn’t what it seems.

My bass saw it and accepted it without understanding. But bass don’t have an ego masquerading as a spiritual quest.

Sure, I can continue to write about our quaint gravel roads and the close proximity of wildlife. I can rhapsodize about the birds at the feeder or make melodies of the scampering squirrels and pine martens. I can translate as the wind pushes winter off the trees yet again, or romanticize the solitude and the seekers who find themselves here to unwind.

But what’s happening within me dictates what I see without.

And I see a tiny community in existential crisis, because I am. I see a country totally divided, because I am. I see the vocal majority picking on the quiet minority, because that’s what’s happening with me. The big ugly ego within is demonizing the still quiet voice, because one spells love, truth and the awareness of the other. And we all know it’s not the loud-mouth who’s gonna win in the end.

My fundamental notions of what life is all about have been breaking down for some time, but witnessing what’s going on in the world makes the internal escalation now feel frantic, chaotic.

Is anyone else feeling this? As if something’s gotta give and soon or it’s all just going to collapse?

This morning I awoke from a dream about a waiting room of sorts at a makeshift birth center. I sat in the middle with the organizers, and around the edges of the huge rectangular room were women of every color, creed, shape, size and social status, their pregnant bellies full and prominent. Some were alone. Some had partners. Some reclined on matts on the ground. Others curled in sleep. Some danced the slow sensual dance of creation. Some stood rigid and tight. Some women laughed and sang. Others wept silently.

My four-year old had found her way to my bed again, and as I lay awake unmoving, thinking about my dream, she said loudly in her sleep, “Yep! We are tree frogs.”

I long to be able to see the hearts of the people behind all the social constructs, beyond the religious labels, despite the political leanings. I want to see two people of different belief systems stare each other in the eyes until they can both recognize the humanity in the other. I want to see a big-bellied Muslim women next to a big-bellied Christian woman and all the fear and hatred be put aside in honor of the life they bring into the world.

It feels like that’s what everyone everywhere is fighting for. “Acknowledge my humanity. See my suffering. See me. Love me.”

We are the same, and yet we spend every ounce of our egoic energy working to define and differentiate our Selves and then even more to defend the righteousness of our differences. But, we are an idea, nothing more. The way we’ve got it all constructed, these crazy lives surrounded by meaningless crap in this crazy constructed world. It’s all just ideas, reinforced rather messily with more made-up ideas that seem as real as every dream does while we’re in it, unawake and unaware that we are dreaming. Every single one of us is screaming through our night terrors that “My ideas matter. My stuff matters. I matter.”

But we – as we see ourselves and as we want others to see us – are just ideas. And we WILL wake up, because that is the law of dreams. We can’t choose to stay in the dream because it doesn’t exist.

What we really are is those babies about to be born in that big room of creation. We are undefined and perfect. We are loved without knowing it or knowing we need it. We are the same as the baby born next to us whose skin tone is totally different. We are the same whether our grandmother prayed in a mosque or a temple or a wide-open meadow. We are the same whether it was a woman or a man who held our mother’s hand as we came into the world. We ARE the same.

Beware of those who tell you you are different. Beware of those who tell you you are better. Beware of those who tell you to defend you. They are afraid. They are lost in their night terrors and they want you to join them in hopes that they will feel less alone and less afraid.

Don’t.

Unless you are awake and can gently guide them back to here and now and help them awaken to see it was all a dream, don’t go down to meet them.

Rise up and dream of love, if you must dream at all. If they insist on falling back asleep, coax them into dreams of tree frogs and trout, I mean bass. Or better, rise up holding their hand and show them the dreams of humanity standing together. Seeing each other. Loving each other. Show them that every good thing is possible, even finding meaning in the eyes of an olive green small mouth bass that was supposed to be a lake trout.

(Published in the Feb 28 Warroad Pioneer)