Friday, August 25, 2017

Choosing to Live

I think I found my big girl panties.

I have been dreaming for years of moving to California. Not the right time, too expensive, the rest of the family wants to stay in Kalamazoo. We feed ourselves excuses, don’t we, when things seem a bit too hard, when they seem scary or difficult or a little extreme. I decided a few weeks ago that if this were to happen it would be up to me to make it happen. I told myself, yes, let’s do this. The universe was like, “Finally, bitch. ‘Bout damn time.” Once I made the decision and declared it out loud, one thing after another happened in my favor. Let’s just say my house is being photographed today and going on the market super soon. I have found an apartment in an area of California in which I have always wanted to live, put the deposit down, and begun to sell my stuff. My plan is to drive out with only my dog, my cat, and whatever I can fit in the car. Dreams deserve fresh starts, don’t you think?

So many people tell me I’m brave. I don’t feel brave. I feel terrified. I feel excited and terrified. Maybe I look brave. I don’t know. Does brave look like doing a thing you’ve always wanted to do? Does it look like standing up to yourself, saying, “Man up, woman. You’re bigger than this. Quit hiding behind excuses and get busy living your life.” Does brave put its work boots on and do the work nobody else wants to do? Okay, then. Maybe I am a little brave.

Others tell me I am spontaneous, impulsive. Please. I am the queen of overthinking. I only make a thing look impulsive because once I decide to act, I act. What people don’t see is the years spent traveling with the family, exploring vineyards and mountains and beaches from Napa down the coast. What they don’t see is all the quiet evenings with my dogs at my feet, glass of wine at my side, and real estate sites pulled up on the screen. California dreaming. They don’t see the internal struggle between the desire to follow a call of my heart and the reality of having to maintain school schedules for four kids, meet job needs of myself and a spouse, and try to figure out what to do with a life’s collection of furniture, dishes, and ceramic crafted polar bears created by little hands.

They don’t see divorce. They don’t see me sitting room by room, looking around when no one is home, asking myself, “What would I be sad to never see again?” Crying. Remembering. Getting lost in the stories. They don’t see me taking only what I must, only what I have to have, not wanting to leave holes in the house because my two youngest have chosen to live with Dad. They don’t see me not wanting my kids to walk into empty rooms. They don’t see me packing up alone and moving out. Alone. “It was your decision,” people would say. “You could have stayed.” They don’t see the tears I cried when they told me this. If you have nothing nice to say, I would think, please go find something else to do. Your advice is not only not helpful, it is cruel. You don't have the full story. You have only what you see.

These people who call me brave and impulsive, they don’t see that I do now in my home what I did during the divorce. I sit. Room by room. Thoughtful and quiet. I look around and ask, “What would I be sad to never see again?” The cradle I slept in when I was a baby, the rocker I bought when I learned I was pregnant with my first. These will be shipped. The boxes of photos, the old school kind, half the memories grabbed in haste from the other house when I left. I don’t even know which half I have. I’ve lost a part of my children’s growing up years. This is sad enough but now I decide, take them all or leave some behind? The flower my son painted in third grade. The plaque my friend got me to keep me grounded when I went back for my PhD: “If you’re not barefoot, you’re overdressed.” There are more like this, but I can’t take much. These people who call me brave, impulsive, they should sit with me and watch the tears.

This is how we do life. We put one foot in front of the one that came before it. We do that over and over again until we die. Sometimes we get afraid, and we hunker down where we are. I think this is also where we die. I have been hunkering down in my life. If it is brave and impulsive, then, to get up and choose to live, if it is brave and impulsive to decide again to move my feet, if it is brave and impulsive to act on a thought that has been years in the making in my head, then, yes. I am impulsive. I am brave. Mostly, though, I am alive and choosing to live.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Guns and Torches are Not Love

I once had a homeless man offer me a sandwich. This man had nothing. He was living on a bench in the park. I had, in fact, given him the sandwich. He didn’t know this as I had provided it in a roundabout way. He thought me one in need myself and offered the little that he had. I smiled and thanked him but said I’d pass. Then I said a silent prayer to God. I thanked Him for men like this. I thanked Him for men with mismatched clothes and unruly hair, men in need of a shower and a shave, men living under trees in the city park, men willing to feed me when they could not feed themselves. Men who had my back when they barely had their own.

I had another - different day, different park - ask if he might shake my hand. I offered a hug instead. He asked me why I do the things I do, why I bring bags filled with peanut butter, jelly, and bread. “Can I just ask, ma’am, why you do this?” “I know what it’s like,” I said, “to need to eat and not have food. And now, in my life, I am fortunate to have food and others need to eat.” He offered me a God bless. I knew he meant it. They weren’t just words thrown into the air as they very often are. Truth be told, though, I gave him that line about knowing what it’s like because it was what I felt I could share. What I really wanted to say was this: It breaks my heart. You shouldn’t be here. No one should. Human beings should never be left alone and without love, left to beg a blanket from my car because the air is cold and the ground is hard, because women and babies get the beds, and the men are left outside. I wanted to tell him that there but for the grace of God go I. It very likely could have been me. Homeless, in my world, was just an unpaid bill away.

I knew a man. He used vile words to describe people whose skin was not like his. The hate was strong. His words often made me cringe. “I would never approve of a daughter of mine,” he would say, “coming home with a (fill in the blank with a derogatory term to describe any group that did not match his).” But this man taught me love. Ironic, right? He was a giving man, would give that which he did not have. He made certain the men living in the alley behind his house had a kind word and a filling snack, a cup of joe on an ice cold day. He taught me, too, how to take a risk, how to know that life half-lived is just a half-lived life and, if we’re being honest, not much a life at all. He gave me life, this man did. I only exist because of him. I feel deep gratitude for that.

Hate the sin, love the sinner. This is what I have been told. Seems, though, everyone’s definition of sin is not the same. It’s in the Bible. This is what they say. They point harsh white fingers at the page, shake the book up close in my face. I am reading the same story as you. How can we not see the same? Hate the sin, love the sinner? No. Hate the hate. Love.

This is where I check myself. Men walk into clubs filled with gays. They shoot and kill human beings. Other men carry tiki torches on a university campus shouting, “We will not be replaced.” People die. Others are hurt. Sticks and stones. Guns and torches. How can I love those who fling such hate? Love everyone, right? That's what the Big Book says.

Here's the thing that irritates me about all of this. I see people posting and liking statuses saying "love each other." These are not people who love. These are people who love some and who, very conditionally, tolerate others. Tolerating is not the same as love. Tolerating is saying I disagree with who you are, I am afraid of you a little or a lot, I think my ideas on how to live life are more right than yours, but I am going to say I love you anyway because I am a nice person like that. No, you are not a nice person like that. Tolerating is not love. Tolerating is holding yourself above someone else. It is the definition of supremacist. How, for the love of God, did we get to this?

Friends, former colleagues and students, neighbors, and family:

Maybe you do not carry a tiki torch on a college campus, maybe you do not take guns into shopping malls and clubs with intent to kill, but you carry those guns and torches every day in your head. You carry them when your white son brings home a Hispanic girl and it takes you a minute to get used to the idea. You carry them when you pray for gays, that they might be delivered of their sins. You carry them when you pass a black man in a hoodie, and you pull your purse a little closer to your side. You carry them when you get off a service call and complain how you couldn’t understand a word the employee had to say, those frickin’ Indians anyway. You carry those guns and torches every time you look into another face and see anything other than your own.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bats in My Belfry

Dear Reader,

It was suggested that I journal, that I put pen to page with no intent, that I do not judge or think or structure or delete. I need to do this, the rounded, overly perfumed woman told me, to get rid of the fear in my gut, the cobwebs in my mind. I have bats in my belfry. The rest of me is a mess as well. Being eccentric and under construction is fine. Being fearful, afraid to live one’s life is not. She suggested this would help.

I know journals are to be private, but bats in my belfry remember? I thought I’d share my post for the day. Getting in line with not being afraid to be who I am, with not giving two shits about being judged, these are the words I put to page this morning after I had enjoyed a nice hot bath. There is no thinking or structure or deleting involved. There is only my heart and my head in pretty pink ink.

Is it July or is it August? The page may have turned.

I am not exactly certain what to do when my thoughts and words are free to roam. I am always creating little boxes into which things must fit.

I’m wanting, though, to talk about what I see, feel, hear from the – let’s call it distressed – park bench on my balcony at the inn in Nashville, Indiana where I have just spent two nights being refilled with light and breath.

It’s beautiful to see this place when the tourists are not yet here. Let me show you what it is like:

7:30 AM

I am not certain if it is dark or light. It is gray. It is that place no one ever wants to be but which is necessary and real. The traffic is light. This is a refreshing change from the constant assault of the daytime stream of motorcycles, sirens, construction trucks, commuters, SUV’s, and cars of every type.

A woman walks her dog. He is a funny fat bassett that looks very loved. She looks down to check on him as they cross the street. She wears a nondescript yellow short-sleeved shirt with navy shorts. I am certain if we asked we would learn that they are of the expanding waistband family.

Pardon me, but I have to write it. I just heard a man off in the distance yelling, “The fuck you doin’? Get outta the way.” He repeats himself, I’m thinking to make a point. It’s a little early in the morning for that sort of anger. I pity his day, the people around him, and his heart.

The shops are buttoned up still. This is a slow moving town. If I look sideways across the street, I can see the ice cream shop. In a few hours I would see in that same spot people of all ages with double scoops of all flavors. I would also see the little train that parks in front of the shop. “All aboard,” the conductor calls as he leads the tourists on a putz around his little town.

I hear whatever those bugs are that make that sound we all know. I am always embarrassed to say what they are because I really have no clue. I want to say crickets. But sometimes I think they are cicadas. They could be something altogether different. Regardless, it is this quiet. I can hear them now. I won’t be able to for much longer.

I see a couple. She wears fluorescent pink shorts, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. The are both in running shoes. Some people jog even on vacation.

The air smells different now. It is clean, soft, uncluttered. I breathe it in. It is just air. Soon it will be exhaust, construction dust, and the sweat of nameless strangers. For now, it is a soothing balm much like the tea I make myself when I am ill.

Crosswalks, a red fire hydrant, a stone path, purple flowers, a tiny American flag. I need to look around more. I need to notice. These things are always there. Where am I?

A woman in brown capri slacks, a pink cardigan, and gray tennis shoes stops in the middle of the street to snap photos. With a real camera. She holds the camera in one hand, her pocketbook (I am certain this is what she calls it) in the other. She is alone on the road. She has just spotted the purple flowers. Look at her. She is present. She has noticed.