Sunday, September 30, 2007

Flowers in hard places

Some things just don't know how not to bloom. I'd forgotten about these pictures from Drummond, where flowers bloom in rock, until I wandered over to Bloomingwriter's blog tonight.

As Jodi says, bloom where you are planted. Sweet dreams. Rock on.

A Walk in the Woods

It was a gorgeous morning today. Ben and I lolled around reading the papers, watching Thomas the Train and eating the world’s best vegan pancakes until nearly noon. We had to get outside.

Last week I bought a trail-a-bike for Ben, and he loves it, though he is not yet a willing pedaling partner. We went for a short ride, then swung into the Leslie Science Center and parked the bike. The trails in the park loop back to a place called Black Pond, which is just a wet spot now, since it’s been rather dry. But it’s nice and hilly, and the sun filtering through the trees was perfect. And, it’s literally in our backyard, just a stone’s throw from our apartment door. My Dad, who is recovering from some surgery, drove the short distance to the park and met us there.

The sight of my 82 year old father and my 3 year old son hand in hand in the woods was strangely mystical. I never thought I would see this: partly because I put off parenting for so long and partly because I never thought my dad and I would be living so close to each other.

But there they were. The woods, the sun, the autumn air: a fine walk in the park. As I watched Ben run far ahead of me on the trail today, sunlight speckling him, I thought there really is nothing in the world that fills me with a sense of calm like I feel watching him. I know there will be times of heartbreak ahead, as we encounter a society that does not for the most part welcome black men. I will need to keep this image in my head, and preserve it for him, to show that there are places on earth where all are welcome.

Maybe someday, 79 years from now, he’ll take the hand of his grandson and walk into the sun dappled woods, his own daughter trailing behind and feeling both wistful and fortunate.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Birds and boys

Ben, Ben’s friend Alexander and I attended a program on birds of prey at the Waterloo wildlife area today. It was a splendid day for an adventure, and while Ben kept saying he didn’t "want to see the hawks,” he ended up being thrilled. (What he really wanted to see were frogs and lions, and Alexander hoped there would be a crocodile.)

We saw a screech owl (who was molting), a great horned owl, a turkey vulture and a hawk. The audience was small and the speaker put each bird on her gloved hand and walked around the room with it: because we’d arrived late we had a bird’s eye view of each bird, sitting on the floor at the back of the room: she even turned toward us with each bird as she made her way across the back of the room.

The boys were thrilled. Afterward, we ran and walked the trails a while with Kai, his older brother Al, and their mom Carla—another Peachtree School family. I was grateful to Carla for telling me about the presentation. Alexander came along because he’s spending more time with us—his baby brother Oliver is still in NICU, his mom is worn out from pumping and trying to hold a wired, tiny baby, and his Dad is exhausted juggling the demands of job, home, and family involved with medical technology. Neil said tonight when he picked Alex up that Oliver may get to come home this week.

All of the birds we saw today were in rehab for one reason or another: the hawk for example was blind in one eye and had congenitally missing talons on one foot, so couldn’t survive in the wild. The saddest was the vulture.

Turkey Vulture at Waterloo

Stolen chick, someone’s coolest pet for a while:
perfectly healthy but too close to humans.
The times he has broken free
he’ll ride the thermals for a while
but he looks for people walking
instead of carrion.
Coming down from his death watch,
he finds some hiker,
or maybe a farmer plowing,
and he follows them, hoping
for a gift of death to sustain him.

The humans get spooked
thinking he might know something.
So they call the DNR
and he comes back
to Waterloo.

The wildlife guide tells his story.
He stands on her forearm: huge,
odd with his naked head, alert,
this bird who can eat anthrax and thrive.
He tries to fly with silver edged strokes
so powerful the speaker’s
notes are swept into orbit.
Up, off the podium
and around, then down
to the floor the cards fly,
as he realizes the tether
holds him to her hand after all.

When he fixes each of us
with his dark polished eye,
it’s easy to think he knows
which of us may be already dead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Two Wolves

My dear friend Joe lives in LA. He’s married to a Jewish woman, has been for more than three decades. He’s Catholic, but feels Jewish and goes to temple. They raised their two beautiful kids in Jewish tradition. He feels Jewish in the same way that I feel non-white. His experience has led him to understand another way of being in the world.

At Rosh Hashanah services this year, one rabbi preached about the Native American story about the two wolves. I’d forgotten about this story until he told it. I can see the well-heeled LA congregation listening to this story, and that comfortable New Year’s temple setting fades to black and there’s a fire circle glowing deep in the woods. It’s a good story to hear before the days of fasting and atonement, a good story which reaches across cultural boundaries, across faiths and races.

One evening, an old Cherokee chief told his grandson about the two wolves. One wolf is vicious and kills everything it sees, picks fights and runs off the weaker or different looking wolves who try to enter the pack for safety and comfort. The other wolf is the wolf that welcomes the stranger, shares the kill to sustain the pack, takes on the pups orphaned by cold or hunger. One night, the two wolves fight. It is a bloody fight, each wolf striving to be the winner. The cold full moon lights the clearing where the wolves fight.

The grandson asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee chief simply replied, “The one you feed.” Because you see the wolves represent what is present in each of us: one part of us is all about territorialism, idolatry and pride, selfishness and greed, the other part of us is compassion, empathy and nurturing, welcoming the stranger. The wolf we feed is the one that wins. Which wolf do you feed ?

Years ago, during my radical Christian days, I attended the Knudsen Conference. There are many people in mainline faiths working for social change, there are people feeding the wolves of social justice and healing in the Church. I like to think that during those years of teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir, I fed the wolf of peace, justice, compassion, empathy and courage. Ultimately I left the church though, because I couldn’t find shalom before communion with people who thought that gay people were an abomination, and the God only meant to bless a certain rather pale and conservative America, and the rest of the word, unbaptised babies included, was going down in flames. I couldn’t welcome them with their different beliefs in my heart, so I felt I couldn’t sit there in the pew and wait for the meal with them either.

Anyway, the Knudsen Conference was a conference celebrating and advocating the full communion of gay and lesbian people in the church. It was founded after Rev. Knudsen, a beloved Lutheran minister who served for decades, committed suicide because he could no longer live in a church that condemned him, a closeted homosexual man. The conference came to Ann Arbor, and my sister and brother-in-law (who wasn’t really my BIL at the time but who was living and loving in what some might call sin with my sister) lived in Ann Arbor. It was an opportunity to experience church like I always thought it should be, so I came on down for the conference and camped on their couch.

A brilliant theologian at the conference spoke of weaving, and how each of us, all people, were a part of the tapestry of god’s creation. She said she really likes this analogy as it applied to gays and lesbians, christians, jews, muslims and atheists, people of all colors, the differently-abled, the poor, the rich. Then one day it occurred to her that Strom Thurmond was a part of the tapestry. It had a profound effect on her thinking: she had to make room on her piece of cloth for someone she loathed, whose beliefs she could not support. In order for her tapestry metaphor to apply she had to admit that he, too, was a part of the rich fabric of life. The next day, a brilliant sermon was preached by a Scandinavian theologian on the topic of light, as in “I am the light of the world.” He extended and made real the idea that light is composed of all colors, and that the full spectrum of light isn’t even visible or distinguishable to the human eye but is necessary for life to continue. My sister and future BIL came with me to the service, and my sister spotted her Latin professor.

Next Wednesday there’s a rally for the Jena 6 in Detroit. I’m taking Ben. Chan Tae from my office is taking her little baby Olivia, and Steven from our office is taking his sons Jordan and Brandon. And our co-worker Ingrid is coming too, because her Buddhist soul requires her to give voice to unity and compassion. We are going because the wolf we feed means something.

On September 20, if you can’t be in Jena with the freedom wolves going down there, you can wear black and white, signifying unity. Feed the wolf of peace and justice. Please, if not for yourself, then for Ben and Olivia and Jordan and Brandon and Ingrid, and for our hurting world.

I honestly don’t yet know how to make room for loving my enemies. I think the wolf probably knows, and I’m hoping that by feeding the right one, she can lead me to the right path.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This day

I was working in Sanilac County, the director of the juvy court there, meeting with staffers about budget cuts. In walks our assistant prosecutor, the one we always worked with, who said, "It's terrible!"

I said, "Damn straight it is. We have to lay someone off."

Then all of a sudden our little problem seemed small, so much smaller. The next day, still shocked by the news, there was a community prayer service. I went of course, but when that gathered group rose to sing God Bless America, I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Oh god, I prayed, don't forget the rest of the world.

In the days that followed, I felt like the only one who was thinking that bombing Afghanistan wasn't the right idea. That somehow reaching out to the county that spawned this horror might be a better idea than squashing them with our thumb.

I take no pleasure in the ragged "No Iraq War" sign I had in my window long before there was an Iraq war. I was right, and I know that all you had to do if you cared to find the right answer was read a little to know this war was the biggest blunder this country has ever made. I am sorry for every soul who died on September 11. Even the misdirected sad angry men who drove the planes. But I am sorrier for all the hundreds of thousands of people, children too, we don't even count now because they are collateral damage. Hell, we don't even count half our own casualties, cause if you're just driving a truck with supplies, it isn't a military casualty.

And how many future terrorists, and fathers of future terrorists, sit in Gitmo, tortured because some inept lawyer hungry for Bush's approval said it was OK?

Do you know that by some estimates there are 4 million internal refugees, all Shiite, inside Iraq, driven from their homes by the civil war there, living in cinder block houses without running water and without electricity? Did you know that the allies of the US forces in Iraq are former, and one might argue current, war criminals? But the surge is working, baby. Because we are asking 17 year old American kids to be our policemen, diplomats and civil engineers over there. Because my friends, you and I were so worried about our own "security" that we allowed the neo-cons to hijack our constitution and our country.

Paying any less for gas? Still got your job?

How come Jenna Bush ain't getting a hitch?

How ironic that Hunt Oil closed the deal yesterday for oil in Northern Iraq.

When will they ever learn? Awake yet? The roar of the buildings coming down signaled more than just the results of some born-agains crashing into our way of life.

It's the most serious wake up call we've ever had to take our country back. Woodie Guthrie wrote a response to the jingoistic "God Bless America." He reminded us that our country was founded on the principle that we, the people, possessed the power.

This land is my land. This land is your land. Take it back, and god bless the whole world, no exceptions.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Summer's End

Ben waves from the rocks on Drummond Island. Summer officially ends today, but we'll have some more summer weather. I've been writing up a storm, but not blogging--thanks for checking here anyway.

The last two trips up north to the wilds of Drummond have yielded great stuff and I am working on some prose pieces. Right now they are short stories, character studies and those small scenes that swim up into my consciousness and flow out of the fingertips or pen.

I've always been intrigued by strong women, especially those who were strong and different in earlier settings: the eighteenth century woman in colonial America who succeed independently at business; the women who defied convention and wrote; women who did what they pleased and had a sense of self beyond the conventional role ascribed to them. I've done original document research twice in my life and I can assure you that there were many, many more of these women than we are led to believe. Not that is wasn't always like salmon swimming upstream, and not all of them were treated well, but many won the respect and support of their communities. Of course, some of them, in an earlier time, were burned at the stake, but that's not my story.

So these characters who have come to visit me are in a woman's life in the early nineteenth century. She goes to live on Drummond after marrying rather late. She's drawn to wilderness, perhaps because of the wilderness she feels in her own head. So far, it's working as a rough draft, and the ideas are really popping.

I may post some of it here. In the meantime, I thank all of you for the encouragement you offer just by showing up on my sitemeter. Wishing you a glorious summer's end and long colorful fall before winter arrives, no matter where you live.

Peace, shalom, salaam--