November

Two months in and most days we still ride together as a family to drop the kindergartner off at The Angle’s one-room school house. She loves it, doesn’t want to leave afterward and calls every one of her classmates her friend. As we were getting into the truck on that first day back in early September, she was a bubbling mass of excitement and told us as she hefted her new backpack up onto the seat that it was “the importanest day” of her life.

Her papa’s eyes met mine and we both smiled.

We have only one more month of this pregnancy and solo time with her, though it often doesn’t quite yet feel real that we’ll be adding another person to the family. I hold my belly and wonder if losing a baby in the past does that to everyone. I’m in love and excited, yet I’m also well aware that anything could go wrong. Our little one isn’t out of the woods yet. I’ve also had the fleeting feeling that I should get my own affairs in order; women die in childbirth all the time and the grim statistics seem to find their way to me despite my not wanting to even think about it.

Has loss made me a pessimist? Or a realist?

Or will it make this new love for this new being even that much sweeter?

I hop out of the truck a mile from our house and get in my cold morning walk while he continues on to town. It’s not far and I go slowly, focusing on the muscles of my hips, abdominals and hamstrings. My joints and ligaments are stretched and feel loose now, ready for the birth.  I’ve been saying all along that the baby’s coming early and will see the light of day well before his December 12th due date.

Secretly, I’ve hoped he’ll be born under the Scorpio sign of November like me. But, I had also hoped once upon a time that my Iris would be left-handed like me. When she showed clear signs of right-hand dominance very early, I tempered any disappointment by remembering the myriad ways she’ll have it easier being right-handed in a right-handed world.

Still, November feels special to me. It’s a serious month, one of endings and transition, cold days and colder nights, morning skim ice on creeks and shorelines. The dark hours grow longer and the smell of woodsmoke flavors my morning walks. The fall colors are usually at their end and the temperatures plummet as the determined rifle hunters take to the trees. November ends with a focus on gratitude in our Thanksgiving holiday before making way for the mirth and merriment of the Christmas season.

Somewhere in all of that, my body will bring a baby into the world. I pray for his safety and a peaceful, easy arrival. I pray for the world he’ll be born into, with its great divides and fear-wrought masses. The bad guys are indeed winning right now, even though they’re the voting minority, but I pray that much will change before he has eyes and ears for the business of our social climate.

I pray for you reading this, that November will be a month of warmth and inner growth. That you’ll hold close the promise of spring through another northern winter. That you’ll find comfort in gratitude for all that you already have.

For me, the prenatal depression of the late summer months has lifted and the joy of all this change is finally making its way through the hardened cracks to my wary heart. I feel … Happiness, and then I second-guess myself that it could possibly even be that.

I pray for everyone’s happiness. I pray for the lifting of fear in all regards.

These are anguishingly hard times for many, and yet I know we’ll see them through. I know everything works out perfectly, even when we don’t get to define what “perfect” is.

I know this November, this cold and serious November will be exactly what it is supposed to be. And I pray for the wisdom to see it as such, come what may.

Column 108 belly photo
Photo by Sophie Butler

(Published November 6 in the Warroad Pioneer)

Focus on Love

After the miscarriage of Celia Rose last fall, I confided in a friend who had experienced the same kind of loss. She told me that through her grief, the words that rang the loudest came from her husband, who told her simply, “Focus on love.”

I wrote those words down and put them by my front door. They are now the last thing I read when I walk out of my house and the first thing when I walk in. Still, I forget sometimes. I get lost in my own fear and anxiety about any old topic, and it can turn into negativity, then grumpiness, then despondency, then anger, then rage.

It is easy to feel afraid and all the rest of it these days, especially with regards to the critically ill and increasingly evil social and political climate in our country. It’s much harder to focus on love, which is why I know that must be my chore, my commitment, my practice.

We must focus on love. Too many of us have forgotten. But, when one person remembers, even a little bit, it’s contagious. It reminds someone else.

Earlier this fall, I drove our aging pickup truck to town and the starter went out in a store parking lot. An elderly man noticed me kneeling by the front tire, reaching a screw driver up into the works of the truck, trying to jump the starter solenoid. I could get it to spark, but nothing else. He offered to help and brought a friend who drove his car around to jump the battery at the same time. They worked on my truck for a good while to no avail and then kindly advised I run over to the auto garage across the street and ask for help. A busy mechanic took pity on me, left his full garage and ringing phones and came with me across the street. He also tried for a time and then gave me the free diagnosis: the starter was shot.

Long story short, I called in the home-team Calvary, and the starter got changed right there in the parking lot. I had sat there in my truck and cried for a time, feeling helpless and angry (and all the emotional pregnancy hormones). But people had offered their help, their love. And I immediately felt less alone.

A different time, as the same truck downshifted to slow for the upcoming border crossing, the transmission went out. I pulled the truck to the side of the road in “no-man’s land” – that small stretch of road between the US and Canadian border crossings – and killed, started and re-started the engine, the only thing I knew to do when the transmission wouldn’t engage. I was near tears of frustration again when there was a tap on my window. An officer from the Canadian agency had heard the transmission drop, left his duties and walked the distance out to us. He knew there was nothing to be done with the vehicle and so he asked my young daughter and I to please feel free to wait inside while the tow truck came. For the next forty-five minutes, he turned his office desk and computer into a Netflix viewing cubicle where my daughter introduced him to her favorite cartoon while she colored and ate his snacks. They chattered and laughed and became fast friends as I watched for our rescue vehicle.

Again, unwarranted, a stranger had offered help, love in a time of minor crisis and it made all the difference in our little world.

I left my nice, new smartphone at a restaurant in Warroad once and headed north for The Angle. I had disabled the locking mechanism, and the employee who found it used that fact not to her advantage but to mine. She texted the last person I had texted, asked them to get in touch with me through other means and a day later I had my expensive phone back in hand. Her kindness, her love, saved me an embarrassing amount of money and hassle, and I’m so grateful.

Some time ago, I ran over a softball-sized rock on the pavement in Sprague. I thought nothing of it until I reached the US border crossing. The customs agent noticed my low tire, aired it up for me and then escorted me to the tire-repair shop fifteen+ miles away just so I wouldn’t become stranded on the side of the road. The tire made it all that way but barely. Before I could thank him or even offer a smile for his kindness, he pulled back out into traffic and left.

He had simply helped a stranger; he had loved, and he needed nothing in return.

These are only a few examples of recent times in my life when people have offered love in the form of kindness and help. They had focused on love, likely without even realizing it, and it altered the course of my day, perhaps my life.

Yes, it is easier to feel afraid and angry, but it’s more natural to feel love. When we’re not thinking about ourselves and our stories, love is what naturally comes out of us as human beings. Through loss, through grief, through fear of so many unknowns, love is still there waiting to be used, to be spread, to be offered like the most beautiful gift that it is.

In every crisis, personal or national or global, I can think of no better advice than “focus on love.” It’s our superpower, and it’s time to put it to good use.

(Published in the October 30th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)

Kindness is Wisdom

 

The warm nights and warmer days seem to have everything on a fast track this summer. June is most often cold and rainy, but not this year. Fans are going night and day. Water temperatures are where they usually are in late July. The algae bloom has started in force. One wonders if fall is going to start in mid-August at this rate.

I would much rather tune in to nature’s news station than that of we humans lately. The lack of compassion and kindness evident in our political and business arenas is heart sickening. Continue reading “Kindness is Wisdom”

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”

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)

On Corporal Punishment

(Column 50 – published in the Feb 14th Warroad Pioneer)

Life is heavy at times. Like the weight of the rain on top of our snow base, thickening a crust that can hold the fox and a four-year old but not the sharp-hooved deer and a Muck-booted mama.

I have emerged from my self-imposed social hibernation with short trips here and there. Sledding, skating, fishing. A weekend Kenora visit along the winding ice road.

We even scheduled a date, as many couples do, leaving the little human with the grandparents for an evening. It was pleasant to sit quietly over dinner, talking only with the man I choose to love about topics that make us smile. There was no struggle to find non-phone distractions keeping a new four year-old occupied and in her seat.

At The Angle and near-abouts, we allow her the freedom to roam and visit with strangers. Social interaction is a commodity in this lonely road’s-end home, but she is unafraid and inquisitive, and people are beautiful and interesting. Her forming sense of identity is still innocent enough to readily share what she knows of herself with them. It is a gift she can give truly, sincerely.

I hope she will always give.

So many of us go so far away from that as we age. What we call life seems mostly about “getting” and “keeping.”  Me. Mine. My family’s. My country’s. The more successful we are in “getting,” the more revered we think we are. The more “getting” we achieve, through whatever means, the more justified we feel in labeling those who have more barriers to “getting” as lazy and freeloaders. Some who are born “having” are granted the elevation the rest of us earn through hard work. They, in their unearned “wisdom,” are boosted by the people whose heads they stand on, and they climb more quickly because they started further up where the rungs are closer together.  It is comforting to put our salvation in their hands, yet it is hard to see from way down here that their hands are, in fact, NOT held open to those below them. No, their hands are white-knuckled around each rung as onward, upward they climb to see what else they can “get.”

It is understandable how we came to be this way – this selfish putting-first of everything pertaining to me and mine, this closed-eye faith in those who did a better job of “getting” and “keeping” than we. In a word: fear. I wrote in my last column that fear, in and of itself, is very simple. Just as darkness is the absence of light, fear is the absence of love.

Simple in definition, perhaps, but complex in its manifestations. As a parent, I hold many fears about my child’s future. So much seems beyond my control. In reality, what matters most is completely within my power to transform.

Most fear is taught. Studies have shown that 90% of all parents inflict physical pain as a way to teach right behavior from wrong. Fear certainly serves a useful purpose in keeping us safe from lions and tigers and bears for example, but in the case of corporal punishment, our moral decisions are then built on the fear of physical pain. As we grow, it is natural for us to go into self-protection mode when anything uncomfortable confronts us.

Me. Mine. Protect.

From the minutest example of a parent spanking a child to the grandest scale of a dictator’s deadly regime, fear of physical pain is a biological weapon used to enforce obedience.

Unquestioning subservience over time becomes blind glorification of the ties that bind.

As a result, there are billions of child-adults who logically choose Me/Mine over what is morally right. We run away from perceived fear instead of walking towards it shining our lights to examine its nothingness.  We hold close what we believe won’t hurt us. We make enemies out of the slightest possibility of pain.

Me. Mine. Get. Keep. Push. Punish. Protect. Disconnect. Demonize.

Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad would never have struck a child, no matter what the crime. Why do we think it’s okay that we parent in a manner different from how God loves us? God doesn’t isolate us in time-outs either.

My Bible study group argued once that God in fact does punish us BECAUSE he loves us, and that is supposedly what parents spanking their children is all about. I disagree with every ounce of my being. We may perceive the consequences of our wrong actions as punishment, but the two are very different things. Consequences are natural, organic. They are our mistakes correcting themselves, our free will teaching us to be still and listen to the voice of God.

Punishment is the hell humans put each other through when we’ve stopped listening to God.

Yes, I have spanked and slapped hands in my ill-formed, ever-evolving parenting approach, but it was certainly not out of love. No punishment is born of love. Punishment is the result of plain and simple fear that the child will become the manifestation of the behavior we have judged as wrong. Spanking a child for failing to pick up toys is about our fear of them becoming irresponsible and slovenly, but more importantly, it’s about our fear of losing totalitarian control in our home, in our lives. “She didn’t listen to me, so I punished her” actually means “I am afraid of not being fully in control of what I consider ‘mine’ and of perceived disrespect towards that which I consider “me.”

So, yes, it is understandable, but it’s not OK. Spanking gets results in the short term, but I’m not raising my child short term. “I was spanked, and I turned out okay,” I might say, defensively. But did I really? Look at all the fears I hold, desperately, tightly, as if they were my Beloved.

In the game of Love – and make no mistake, that is the only game there is – none of it makes any sense. We have grown to physical adulthood and yet our spiritual maturity has been left in the smiling eyes of the four year-olds we once were.

Give, said Jesus.

Give mercy, said Mohammad.

First, practice generosity, said the Buddha.

That is the way to freedom.

Freedom is what I want, and it’s what I want for my child. Spankings and punishment become stillness and connection. Me and Mine becomes Us and Ours. Man-made borders become ribbons connecting the beauty of humanity.

We walk awkwardly through the snow. Her chatter balances my silence. I give.

Life is the crashing through the crust time and time again and yet crawling on. Because that is how I grow. That is how I gather strength and endurance for the tests ahead. For the toppling of the ladder. For forgiveness of the head-steppers. For unclenching their fear-filled fists so that we may join hands. As children would.

Family Portrait (Part 3)

(Column 45 – Published December 13, 2016 in the Warroad Pioneer)

I sat down to finish the Family Portrait series I started and have found it achingly difficult. Looking in the True mirror is, perhaps, the most difficult thing any of us will ever do. It’s why so few do it. Mine is broken into a million chards and the reflections I see are all different and all something I have painstakingly created. Like a character on a stage, I built Me out of a million little beliefs of who Kellie should be…my should chards. I started writing about one:

I was a “feminist” before I even knew that there was such a thing, and before I understood that the idea of a feminist was so misconstrued and reviled by so many.

Not a fan of labels but not sure how to get around them, it’s taken me many years to come to terms with calling myself a feminist. When I am called one by other people, they are almost always hurling it as an insult. And I always took it as such then.

But now, things are different. On the way to giving something up, first I must believe I own it. And so, right now I own being a feminist.

To use the words of someone I once respected, no, I definitely don’t know my “place” (as he defines it) as a woman and I definitely take women’s rights too far.

And I always will.

I don’t care what anyone’s religion says. Women are meant to lead. And lead we do. Though it’s not the common definition of leadership we’ve grown to abide by in this barbaric civilization. Deny it if you like; most men and some women simply fear the outright recognition of this truth and will dance themselves around it to feel better, safer, less afraid.

Women lead because we survive in the face of a masculine-dominated world that has hidden, owned, beaten, raped, and murdered us for thousands of years.

We lead because given the choice, we will almost always choose non-violence.

We lead because we know that violence gets us nowhere, despite the smirk-worthy country songs that glorify murdering an abuser.

We lead because nurturing is a law of nature and it comes more naturally to us.

We lead because if you look truly at gun violence, domestic abuse, terrorism, drug wars, sanctioned wars, and all other killing and violence in our world, the kind of person 99.9% of these incidents have in common is … men.

Now, this is where a woman-hater would accuse me of being a man-hater. But I’m not. I simply hate violence. To the point that when that person I once respected called me a “lay down and die” kind of human being, I had to agree with him.

I have unlearned how to resist. I have unlearned how to fight. (Much to my detriment and all the other peace-lovers stuck on the broken escalator.)  Maybe I’m not such a good feminist after all.

I grew up going to a church my family helped create and build…the one just west of the Ridge. We called it the Church of the New Covenant at the time, and I remember riding bikes and roller skating on the big cement pad as the volunteers readied it for framing.

I was arriving at an age when I could process some of what was said during the sermons. Sunday School was never for me. Suspending belief for the fantasy-like stories and the rote memorization of Bible verses seemed a chore that taught little more than close-minded obedience. We were taught to be afraid of what might happen if we didn’t choose these beliefs. We were taught that everyone who didn’t choose that same path were Sodom-and-Gamorrah-evil. We were not taught love and compassion and mercy in any large quantity; we were taught to believe or DIE.

But faith for fear’s sake has never sat well with me.

And when I listened well enough to understand how religion differentiates male female, masculine feminine, that was enough for me.

I was nine and I was decidedly a feminist.

That’s how deeply these chards of Self are embedded.

The ache at the core of my being comes from much more than an ego smarting to be right or being a feminist in a man’s world. No, this isn’t an ego suffering. This is a lonely soul longing to remember it all, the connection of everything, the Consciousness that is the only Truth.

I can’t yet paint myself into any portrait, even the cute little family portrait that my ego sees and that I spent two columns writing about. Sure, I could give a little elevator spiel about how my family sees me, how The Angle sees me, and maybe that’s what you want, but what good would that do anyone, the world, me?

The labor pains are starting and it’s a pain as real as any physical pain. I have to drop the million chards of glass I’ve been holding up all these years. And they’re going to cut me to ribbons on their way down. That’s their job. It’s the only way. The big ones I’m holding, the ones I thought were the clearest reflection, such as “I am a feminist,” are going to be the toughest to drop. I fear I’ll bleed out before I can let the rest fall.

But fall they must. Part of waking up is breaking the mirror. And part of waking up is also letting the mirror fall away. I can be afraid all I want, but in baby-birthing, fear only makes the labor pains worse. The same is true in this kind of birth as well. I’m no longer afraid to be a feminist. Now I have to get over my fear of NOT being a feminist, of not defining myself as such, as anything. In a nutshell, it’s facing the fear of No Self.

That is how I will be born to my family.

That is how I will see clearly enough to celebrate my own birth.

(If I lost you in all this, don’t worry. It’ll only get worse before it gets better. I’ll go quite a bit crazier before I go sane. Oh, and there are open seats on this train, by the way.)