Praise Song for the Day BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDER A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other’s eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere, with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice. A woman and her son wait for the bus. A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider. We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of some one and then others, who said I need to see what’s on the other side. I know there’s something better down the road. We need to find a place where we are safe. We walk into that which we cannot yet see. Say it plain: that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of. Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables. Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself, others by first do no harm or take no more than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to pre-empt grievance. In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light. Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009. Source: Praise Song for the Day (Graywolf Press, 2009)
Kindness. Human. Love. Respect. Empathy. Caring. Validating. Joy. Depth. Yes.
Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.
Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself. Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why. There is no why. It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable. It just was. So the question isn’t why, but who. Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?
I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you. But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.
I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love. But, I’m not always the best at those things. And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am. I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment. Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have. It still means we have to try and do better, be better. We owe our people that. But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done. This is where apologizing comes in. Sincere apology. We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it. The apology is freeing for both people. So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it. Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?
Kindness. Have I been kind? To my people, to strangers, to myself. Am I moving through the world as a kind person? Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are? Am I kind to myself? I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always. So I need to be more kind. We can always be kinder. I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for. I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people. If I am, I’m kinder.
Joy. It’s easy to get discouraged in life. About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world. The enemy of joy is fear. So the key is to not be fearful. But, that’s a tough one. Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown. Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning. This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time. It just comes with large amounts of anxiety. And when it comes it eats my joy whole. Like a kipper snack. So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy. I’m innately a silly, joyful person. I’m a dork. I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid. So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives. In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all. I try to remind myself to be present. Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now. Be alive now. Be joyous now. This is a tough one, but I’m trying. The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.
Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out. But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception. We see what we want. Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time. It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.” At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys. But the point isn’t that part of the quote. The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes. So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies. I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying. Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow. Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility. It is hopeful.
Love. I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection. Life is about love. Who we love, who loves us. It’s about how we love. Do we say it? Do we show it? Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them? For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude. To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it. Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life. But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing. And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there. Who we have and what that means to us. Love is all around us. It’s all around me. So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me. Hold me up. It did when I was sick. It’s what got me through. Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me. Lifting me up. Holding me. I felt it. And luckily, I feel it still. If I sit with it for a few moments I cry. Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways. That’s where I want to live, where I try to live. Even when things are tough, the love is there. I have it, and I try to give it back. We’re responsible for giving it back. For loving, and loving well.
Eight years. If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all. It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love. And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock. Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life. But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy. And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?
Eight years. Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.
Wow. What a ride it’s been so far.
I had a great conversation the other night about gratitude and grace and the things that are important in life. It was lovely, and a good reminder.
It’s very tough to not be overwhelmed by the things in life that don’t go as planned, the things in the world that are heartbreaking. It’s easy to forget ourselves, forget the good and the light and the hope. But this time of year, it’s all about those things.
There’s meaning in the little things, it’s really where the good stuff lives. A smile, a sunset, a snuggle from one of the dogs, the laughter of a grandchild, light through the trees, a good meal, warm socks, a good hug, small kindnesses, small generosities, the bluest blue in the sky, music playing, walks in the crisp air, a good meal with friends, love, love in any form it comes to you.
I have no big message of thanks, this year, but will offer this. It isn’t about the big things, the mighty changes, and large leaps. Those things are rare. What it’s about, and should be, are the small things. Those little moments of grace and gratitude. They are the meat of life, the soul of it.
And in that vein, we’re going to take the dogs out for a walk on this crisp Illinois fall day. The sky is the most lovely blue.
“If we are to survive the most divisive presidency in generations, it’s up to us to climb down our family trees and better understand how we got here. It’s up to us to ask fellow countrymen “where are you from?” with a lot less fear and a lot more wonder.” – Bill Weir, States of Change
We need to understand what drives us, our opinions, our ways of being and thinking in the world. Why do we denigrate people with views different from our own? Where is the wonder? Where is the respect? Where is the humanity?
I was reading the transcript from CNN’s Bill Weir’s program called, States of Change, Homecoming. His show, one I haven’t watched all the way through to fully disclose, is an exploration of his roots. They are interesting to be sure, but that’s not what grabbed me. What grabbed me was the thought that we have opinions, some virulent, strong, unchanged despite our best efforts to be open. Why is that? Where do they come from? Shouldn’t we be interested in that?
It’s easy to pronounce our opinions, to put down other opinions, to think we know best and act as if we do by spouting and re-posting article after article or meme after meme putting other’s opinions, lives, views, down. Way down. That’s low if you think about it. Our opinions are made. Made from our experiences and our feelings about those experiences. We forget this. We forget to put that big old magnifying glass we so easily point at others back at ourselves. We are, none of us, without flaws. Our views, even though we might passionately hold them, are not rule of law, are not even always a greater truth. They are just our truth, our views. We forget that.
What I’m saying is, we should be looking at our own views, at ourselves, to really examine why we feel as we do, and then, shockingly, be open to others who might feel differently. They’ve had different experiences, different influences, leading to different views. It doesn’t make them, or ourselves, idiots. Just makes us humans with different opinions. I can believe something to be true that you do not believe it true, and vice versa, you can believe something I don’t believe, that’s OK. Different opinions lead to varying solutions. Varying solutions solve our problems.
I was also watching coverage of the Harvey rescue efforts. Two rescued sisters were interviewed. During that interview, they said they thought it was beautiful that in these divisive times, when people are standing firmly on either side of an invisible line, both racially and politically, that all is forgotten and the community comes together, no color lines, no political lines, to help. It is beautiful. What’s sad is that we need some disaster to remind us that we’re all human, that we should and do love each other. No qualifiers.
I don’t know what all this means. I feel I need to shout out into the void occasionally to say, remember… remember to love. Remember to be kind. Remember we’re, most of us, just doing the best we can to live our lives. Remember we’re different, we’ve had different experiences. Remember that’s OK. Forget fear. Remember to have wonder. Remember to be fair. Remember to be gracious. Remember to be gentle with the feelings of others. Remember. If we can, if we do, everything changes. Love prevails, even in small moments, or big ones, like what’s happening in Houston.
We need to remember.
We see what we want to see. That’s part of the problem.
I was perusing Facebook, which I must say prompts many posts on this blog, and I saw a theme. Negativity. Plain and simple.
There were posts about “those” people. Of one sort of another. You know them, the idiots, the ridiculous, the terrible, the stupid, the crazy, the deluded, the poor things… them. They seem to be everywhere, “these” people. They must be. Everyone is talking about them.
Then it hit me.
We are a beautiful lot, humanity. A tapestry like no other. Preferences, likes and dislikes, and ways of being in the world that differ from each other. We are sad or happy, diet coke or Pepsi, Chevy or Ford, Republican or Democrat, dressing on the side or on the salad, rural or city, cream or taking it black, gay or straight, married or single, serious or silly, tomAto or tomato, and on and on and on. We love our families the best way we know how, we want the best for our kids or grandkids, we want to earn a decent living, take vacations, laugh a lot, and we want the right to live peacefully, with joy. Each and every one of us.
But it’s not that simple. Because what I noticed today, as I was perusing, was that people see what they want to see. They notice what they want to notice. I bet they don’t even know they’re doing it. We seize on information, posts, articles, videos, that speak to us. Things that in some way support our world view. There’s probably a theme to how we post, what we post, etc., only we don’t even know it.
We need to pay attention. To ourselves. Instead of looking out at what that idiot said or didn’t say, which by the way, in and of itself, that language on its own, is wrong. I would hope no one would put me in a class of “those idiots”, just because I happen to align myself with a certain ideology. But they do. Friends have posted many things about liberals being idiots or crazy or wrong or disturbed or… it goes on. I’m shocked by it, every time. Just as I’m sure some of my more conservative friends feel shocked or hurt when a liberal friend of theirs posts something about those idiotic conservatives. Let’s be honest… none of us are idiotic. We just don’t agree with each other. That doesn’t make me an idiot, it just makes a person with a different opinion.
But I digress. This doesn’t just apply to politics. I noticed it applies to many things… the videos people choose to post, the things they choose to put out into the world under their own names…. it’s interesting. Are you a person who posts things that are generally positive, generally informative, upbeat, things that speak to beauty and light and love. I’ve seen those people, and honestly, I hope I’m one of them. Or are you someone who sees the dark and the crazy and the wrong in everything and then feels the need to put it out there? And if so, why? So others like you can agree how bad everything is, or so that you can enlighten those of us who may be Pollyannas who try to look for the good? I’m not being rhetorical. I really want to know.
There are people who feel the need to fight everything, against life and what they see as wrongdoing. I get trying to fight for what you think is right. I get speaking your mind and your truth. What I don’t get is a person coming across some debasing or derogatory or hurtful thing and re-posting it. What’s the purpose of spreading that kind of negativity? If you have strong opinions, if you feel things are wrong in the world and need fixing, find what you think are some solutions, speak to issues from the place of problem-solving, not finger-pointing. Re-posting terrible things, some not even based on truth, just for the sake of talking bad about someone or something, is wrong. You aren’t shining a light on them, you’re shining a terrible light on yourself.
We need to look at ourselves. Decide if we want to be people who create solutions, who seek a more beautiful world for all of us, or are we people who debase, make fun of, and act from fear. Who do we want to be? How do we want to live? What do we want to be putting out there into the world? What do we want to be teaching our kids about how to be in the world? Hurtful to others, or uplifting to others. It’s up to us.
Look in a mirror. Look at your personal news feeds. Look at everything you’ve posted in the last year and judge for yourself. What kind of person are you? Are you happy with that? If not. Change. Let’s lift people up. Let’s inspire with kindness and goodness and love. Let’s try to speak from joy. From positivity. From a place of understanding, humility, and love.
I know there are things wrong in the world. I know there are things that need to be changed. One of those things is people calling other people idiots or other derogatory names. One of those things is people being hurtful just, it seems, to be hurtful. Let’s start being, and communicating, like intelligent humans. After all, we are. Sometimes I think we just forget ourselves. Get swept up. Let’s be better. Let’s look with better eyes and hearts at a world that is a beautiful, wondrous place. Let’s talk about that.
Be kind in big ways and small even when it seems a tad difficult. Be present. Listen more, talk less. Close my eyes, turn my face to the sun or the wind or both at the same time and breathe deeply. Spend time on or near the water. Go on long walks with the pups. Drink life in. Be silly and dorky and unafraid to make a fool of myself. We are bombarded with information every day so choose wisely. Life is a matter of perception so remember I can see things in a negative or positive light. Act to change things in ways I feel I can. Meet the world with love and good intentions in my heart instead of fear and anger. Smile at people I know and don’t know. Bridge gaps. Notice a glint of sun. Appreciate the natural world. Think about what it might be like for others. Cuddle the pups often. Laugh and play with the grandkids. Write letters. Tell people I love them. Be honest even when it’s uncomfortable. Share. Recognize joy. Believe in hope. Dance. Cry. Be curious. Give lots of hugs. Accept compliments. Hold my honey’s hand every chance I can.
Kindness. Hope. Love. Joy.
People are good. Inherently good. For the most part.
I believe this. I always have.
We just got done watching the Star Wars films, by the numbers, not in the order in which they were made. Why do I bring this up? Because the whole Darth Vader story is that anyone, if they give in to anger, fear, and hatred, can become dark, can become a force for evil, for negative energy. Conversely, it also teaches us that there is hope, even for people who may be angry and fearful and full of hate. There is good in us all. Some of us may have forgotten it or refused to see it, but there is good.
OK, yes, this is corny. But, it’s true. Maybe not for the Emporer in Star Wars, who was so evil he could not be moved toward good, but even for Darth, there was hope. There was a part of him that was good. I know this is a weird time to bring up a character in a science fiction film, but I believe science fiction is often a good predictor of, and reflection of, where we are going and who we are, or could be. It’s why I love it.
Many people I know want to look on these as dark times. I guess, from a certain perspective, they are. I myself fight against that feeling some days. Yes, they may be challenging. Yes, there may be things happening in the world that don’t jive with a personal point of view, and that’s hard. It may seem dark. It may even seem like there are evil people out there trying to do evil things. Some of that is true. Some of them are indeed the Emporer. But, I truly believe mostly they are just people who don’t do things the way I or possibly you think they should. Does this make them evil? Inherently evil? No. It can make them scary, for sure. It can make them seem dark, absolutely, but they aren’t evil. Most of them anyway.
We need to be open. To remember to act with empathy. To try and see people for who they are, totally, realizing they’ve come from a place of having their own life experiences, instead of as just for what they’ve said or what they believe about a certain thing. We need to ask questions, to listen to the answers to those questions even if they differ from what our answers might be.
People are inherently good. If we start from that place, thinking that way, imagine what we could accomplish. Imagine a world where people gave each other the benefit of the doubt, instead of just doubting. If people acted from a place of understanding instead of fear. From love instead of hate. Darth might become Anakin all over again. What a happy twist to the story that could be.
Today’s random act of kindness was to call a faraway friend or relative to say hello. We decided to pick up the phone and give Lisa, K’s cousin, a jingle. We hardly ever get to see her, and shamefully never talk to her on the phone, so we thought she would be a good choice. The funny thing is when she answered the first thing she asked was if she was our act of kindness today. We told her yes! It was a great conversation and we were so glad we called her.
It reminded us, again, that we should reach out more often to those people in our lives we love. All it takes is a quick phone call or even an email to say, I’m thinking of you, and I love you.
I believe we all basically want the same things, even if we don’t agree about how we might get them. Trying to understand each other, giving each other simple respect as human beings, goes a long way. We all have different experiences which inform how we’ve decided to live our lives. There are many ways to happiness. My way works for me, yours works for you, we can agree to disagree. And if we can, if we can stop trying to tell each other what to do, how to live, if we can be forgiving and generous of spirit, we can be sympathetic, we can hope.
I’m not a religious person. Spiritual, yes, religious no. But even so, through my life I’ve been fascinated with organized religion. I’ve taken classes, studied, and I’ve been exposed to religions of differing kinds through my family and friends. I have seen people, in regards to their religion, be their best selves, and I’ve seen them be their not so best selves.
I never understood, growing up, why my Grandma on my father’s side played favorites with her children and her grandchildren. Her choices seemed arbitrary, nonsensical. There seemed to be no precipitating event or behavior that caused those choices. I was, without a doubt, a favorite. My brother was not. When I was small I didn’t know this, or realize it, but then I grew. I became aware of the behaviors of adults, of the kids around me. I started to notice how my grandmother treated my brother. It wasn’t good. I was all cakes and smiles and praise and good cheer, he was insulted and degraded and made fun of. When I noticed this, I started not wanting to go to grandma’s house anymore. I loved my brother and I knew, innately, that my grandma’s behavior was cruel and mean and not at all acceptable. I couldn’t get past how she could be so nice to me, buying me gifts, playing games, be so loving, and then be so awful to him. He’d done nothing wrong, yet she acted as if his mere existence repulsed her.
My grandma was also very religious. Religious as in talking in tongues, holy rollers, and tent revivals. This never bothered me in and of itself, though it did scare me a lot when I went to church with her and the preacher was screaming and people were falling down in the aisles. When I visited she would sometimes tell me stories from the bible, always choosing Revelations and emphasizing how if people weren’t good they would be branded and burn. Scary stuff for a 7-year-old, but none of that really ever deterred me from seeing her, not even when she took me to a tent revival and had me saved by another screaming man. I started not wanting to go see her on church days, but really I still loved seeing her. Until, that is, I realized how she treated my brother. Once that realization hit I instantly felt an incongruity. I wasn’t more than 9 or 10, but I remember thinking how she was a person who espoused religious beliefs of love and faith and hope, but acted against them. She was a hypocrite. What I felt about religion told me it should be about love and understanding and compassion, not cruelty and judgement and disdain.
The other side of my family, my mom’s, wasn’t religious at all. I found out later my mom’s mom had grown up in a religious household, but events happened that caused her to turn away from organized religion. I think they all went to church as a family, for a time, but eventually that faded out for most of them. When we visited my Mom’s parents religion was never discussed. Instead we were taught to play chess and backgammon. The arts were encouraged, books were encouraged, music was all around. So was laughter and love and a very tight sense of family.
I grew up in a home with an atheist (my step-dad) and an agnostic (my mom). We didn’t talk about religion much in our house, except when my step-dad mocked it, or my mom would explain that she thought, fundamentally, the tenants of organized religions were mostly good (do unto others, kindness, hope, love, compassion) but that organized religion, in the hands of some, seemed to be used to control, conquer, and judge people. My mom, who treats people the best of anyone I’ve ever met, with respect and compassion and kindness, was and continues to be a great role model for me about how to be a wonderful human.
Fast forward several years in my life. I’d taken many courses on religion, read many religious books (large sections of the Bible, the Tao, Buddhist teachings, tenets of Hinduism, parts of the Koran, etc., etc.) and had formed what is the basis of my own spiritual thought. No one religion encompasses what I think and feel, but they all actually have things in common, and have in their own way contributed to my philosophy.
I’ve had great experiences with people who are religious as well. Being gay, this is a tough thing as many religious people condemn me for being who I am. But, I have some wonderful people in my life, who are very religious, and have shown me, over and over, what love, truth, kindness, and understanding are. Which is why I want to talk about my friend, Pat. I met him a long time ago, 17 years or so. We worked together, were office partners, and ended up loving each other like brother and sister. He is a super religious guy. Very much a man of his beliefs, very solid, very sure. I respect him immensely for that. As you can tell, I’m not a Christian person, and I’m gay, so our deep and abiding friendship was somewhat of a surprise to both of us. And yet, it continues. I have deep love for him, and I know he shares the same feelings for me. He has been, at times, a youth pastor, a regular guest preacher, and very involved with whatever church he has belonged to over the years since I’ve known him. He’s moved a bit so has had to change churches more than once, always finding a church home and always getting very involved with it when he does. I also respect him for that. He’s a man of faith, and his faith is strong.
Pat and I once had a very long very heartfelt conversation about my being gay, what he thought of it, and what he thinks the bible thinks of it as well. At the time we had this conversation, which was several years ago now, he was not pro gay marriage. He is a religious guy and he felt (and probably still feels) that a traditional marriage ceremony is inherently a religious ceremony. I, who am now legally married to my partner of over 13 years, obviously disagrees with him on this point, but that’s OK, he doesn’t argue it with me. We agree to disagree, which is OK too. What he said to me that day, about my being gay, was beautiful. He said that nowhere in his bible (and he knows it exceptionally well) does he interpret that people should be judged by anyone but God. He said God teaches judge not lest ye be judged. Judging, in and of itself, is a sin as great as any other. He said it wasn’t his place to judge me. He said it’s his place to love me, be kind to me, be accepting, and let God do what he will. He believes that man is not God, and therefore shouldn’t think that he/she has the right to act as if they are acting for God. I love Pat. His beliefs are strong, and they don’t allow him to condemn me. He would never do that. He has often said he wants to bring me to his church and talk to the congregation about love, about our relationship, about how two very different people can form beautiful bonds with each other and how that’s what it should be all about.
This country, that I happen to love, was formed largely by people fleeing religious persecution. People who weren’t able to worship and believe as they wished without consequence from their government, fled to a place where they could worship and believe as they wished. We’ve somehow forgotten that. If a person is not a Christian, in my experience, many Christians now seem to believe they have the right to tell that non-christian person they are somehow less than, and that they should, in essence, be cast out. When did it become OK to judge? When did it become OK to feel that because you believe a certain way you have the right to tell everyone else how to believe, how to be, what to do? When did it become OK, with total arrogance, to feel that condemnation was a right anyone could have. I don’t tell anyone what they should believe. My feeling is that what works for you, as a person, as far as your belief system goes, is yours. Your relationship with God, however you see him/her, is your business, your right. I will not interfere with that, and I expect not to be interfered with.
I also expect that your religious beliefs, whatever they are, stay out of my government. There was a reason for separation of church and state. It was meant to protect us from any one group, who might gain power, from asserting its beliefs and wishes on to the rest of us, who could be in danger of experiencing consequences for not going along.
I know a lot of Christians now believe they are being persecuted. I don’t see that, but I’m not them. For all I know, it could be happening. But here’s the thing, persecution because of religion has been going on for centuries. Since the beginning of religion. Perpetuated both by and against people of varying religious beliefs. I don’t think any one group, whoever you are, has the right to tell another group what to believe, how to live based on those beliefs. Nobody should be discriminated against because of their beliefs, whatever they are. If you have a set of rules, morals, tenants you live by based on your religion, more power to you. I have mine, and they are no less real or valuable than yours. As long as your beliefs aren’t hurting anyone, believe what you will. We fear what we don’t understand. When we fear we sometimes strike out. When we fear we don’t always act as our better selves. When we fear we create division and anger and hopelessness. All things contrary to what I believe is the most important part of any religion and/or belief system… love.
I know there’s no answer, and I know some people will disagree with me, may even become incensed or angered by something I’ve said here. And I guess that’s OK. You are entitled to your opinion, to your feelings. As I am. But if you do get angry, remember this… I’m not angry with you. I just want us to talk to each other. To realize we are all just trying to get through it the best we can, with the most dignity, compassion, and love in our lives as possible. I think, ultimately, most of us want the same things. To be respected as human beings, to be allowed to believe as we wish without repercussions from our government or our fellow humans, and to live the happiest of lives possible. If we can just meet at that place, with that realization, maybe there’s hope for us after all.
Today is our anniversary. Number 13. I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen for several minutes now trying to form a coherent thought in an attempt to describe my love and my relationship. The only things that keep coming are rushes of words… tender, grateful, peace, safety, rock-solid, trust, truth, faith, honesty, center, love, and love, and love. It’s been going on like that in my head, in my heart.
I have often tried to explain to people what it felt like when we met. I’d had a sketchy path to her. I’d not picked well for myself up to then and somehow I’d always felt like I was scrambling, reaching out for something that wasn’t really there, and couldn’t be, no matter where I tried to look. I spent quite a lot of time soul searching before her. Had vowed not to be in a relationship again until I knew myself better, until I felt like I would and could pick someone better for me. I say often it took a long time for me to come to myself so that I could eventually come to her.
In truth, I don’t know how I got so lucky. It was a fluke, a chance encounter, a brush with fate. You could call it all of those. It was my first day on a dating site, and her last. She had been at it awhile, not finding what she was looking for, coming to the conclusion she needed to take a break. And, even when she saw my profile she contacted me not to date me (she thought I was too young), but to tell me she liked my profile, that it was great, and to wish me luck. I responded by saying something funny about how my “Real Age” score said I was older than my actual age so maybe I wasn’t too young after all. We laughed. We started emailing.
Our emails to each other in those early days were not filled with love or lust or anything other than ourselves. We told each other about our lives, about the music and poetry we loved, about the things that were important to us. I wrote to her about my step-dad’s illness and she wrote to me about her kids. And somehow, over the course of those two months of just writing to each other, we started to fall in love.
She is a person who has a great amount of confidence and she’s very secure with who she is. She’s sure. I have always admired that in her and did from the start. When she started asking to meet me in person, I put her off, and put her off. I kept avoiding it, afraid of I don’t know what, and of everything. She took it all with humor and never gave up on me, she was sure. When we finally talked on the phone, starting only a week before we actually met, it was as if we’d known each other much longer than just the two months we’d been emailing. We talked every day that week, for hours each day. We laughed a lot and even though I had butterflies about the whole thing, I never felt awkward or strange. The whole thing felt right somehow, easy.
The day we finally met I was nervous as hell. I called a friend on the way to the meeting and tried to talk myself out of going, even though I knew I’d go. I had to go. By then I was starting to fall in love, without having ever met her in person. Crazy, but true. I got to the pub first and waited at an outside table. Then there she was, walking around the corner and striding toward me in her jeans and black boots and cool shirt. She walked with the confidence I’d always read in her emails and then heard in her voice. She looked free. I could barely breathe.
We started to talk, ordered salads, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I told her, showed her my shaking hands. I felt I could because she instilled a sense of safety in me. That no matter what I told her, who I was, she would be OK with that, with me. I felt I could be myself, completely, and she would embrace that. We talked for hours that evening. Moving to an inside table when the sun went down and the weather got cool.
There was, for me, a feeling of everything in my life clicking into place that night. An almost audible sound. Everything that came before rushing toward that moment, and there we were. Right, finally whole and complete.
Since the beginning we have said we are each others split-apart. Two halves, at one time separated by space and time, finally reunited. We make sense, and together we are home.
So here we are, 13 years later, and I feel that even more strongly than I did at the beginning. Life has brought us some scary stuff, some sadness, and all kinds of wonder and beauty and joy. I can’t imagine my life without her in it. I can’t imagine facing what’s come and what will, good and bad, without her.
We met, and I knew. So did she. You do, when the right one comes along.
“But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise on your lips.”
— Kahlil Gibran
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:
where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep. ”
— Pablo Neruda
When something shocking happens in life our world shrinks down. Everything we know somehow narrows, magnifying the thing in the center that is our pain, our sorrow, our grief, our fear, our shame. Suddenly we do not see, cannot see, anything outside of what we feel. We begin a sort of sleep walk. Moving around, going about the necessities of life, unaware of anything outside of our immediate place in time. We see ourselves putting on shoes, getting something to eat, talking to friends, paying our bills. Yet, we are disconnected from all of it. Suddenly apart from the world, in a cocoon of emotion we can’t even begin to know how to escape. Everything feels like a dream, as if there is a veil between us and the rest of the world.
Slowly though, the world returns to us. We start to wake up. We notice the rain, or a bird, we are aware of the smile of a friend. We begin to find interest in things we’d forgotten we used to love, and still do. We look up, and out. We feel the warmth of the sun and feel the rhythm of the world. We learn that life moves on, moves forward, one small moment at a time. Until, finally, we are mostly ourselves again. A piece of us utterly changed by our experience, but still, ourselves.
The whole of this experience, though usually terribly painful, is beautiful. The feeling of it, the pulling away, the return, all bring a deeper meaning to our lives. It can, if we let it, help us to find a peace and a grace we didn’t know before. It can help us to see more deeply into things.
Life is a gift. Our friends and family are gifts. We are lucky, even with the pain and sorrow that inevitably come. After all, pain and sorrow only come because we were brave enough and our souls beautiful enough to love someone or something.
“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)I want no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
― E.E. Cummings
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien,
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
In this second installment of the life lessons learned/what’s important to me at 50 I give you joy. And many other things.
“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.”
― Elizabeth Berg,
Joy is such a hard thing to define. Elation, delight, pleasure. All those things, and something more, something intangible. I live for moments of joy, mine and those of the people I love. It’s where pure experience meets an overwhelming feeling of YES! It’s the ultimate ah ha moment. I’m always wishing the people I know, and actually even people I don’t know, could experience more joy. There’s never enough. Simple moments of overwhelming joy bring light and life. Joy is the nexus of a meaningful human experience, of meaningful relationships with our fellow humans. Joy radiates hope. It’s electric.
― W.B. Yeats
Magic is everywhere. In smiles and light and the taste of a fresh strawberry. It lives in music and the wings of a butterfly. It flies on the wind and crashes with the waves. Everything around us is a miracle, full of magic. Most especially our family and friends, but also in the breath of our pups, and the swaying of a daisy, and the glint of the sun in a rain drop. There are amazing things all around. We just have to see them.
“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.”
― Philip K. Dick
Perception is key. We have opinions and ideas and see things with eyes that were formed from our own experiences. When circumstances happen to us or around us we look at those circumstances with those same eyes. We tend not to look outside of our own box of opinions and ideas. This means we only look at things from one angle. Our own. But looking and seeing are two different things. Perhaps it’s just a matter of perception. If we can somehow change how we view a situation that situation changes entirely. I’ve done this myself and been surprised by it. There’s always another way to look at something. We move around a beautiful sculpture to get a view from all sides if we truly want to see it. We need to learn to do that in our own minds. It would open us up to others, it would create connections where they might not have existed before. We have to look with our best eyes.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
Truth can sometimes be so hard, but it’s as necessary as breathing. The more honest and open we try to be with ourselves, with others, about who we are, about what we think and feel, the freer we are. Lies constrict our lives. When we tell the truth, we can leave that moment behind without another thought. When we lie, we live with it, carry it with us, forever. Telling the truth is much less burdensome. Telling the truth opens us up, makes us vulnerable, it puts us out into the world fully, as we are. It says, here I am, take me, or don’t. Risky, but with so much reward. We honor ourselves when we tell our truth. We bring integrity into our lives. We also bring trust, from ourselves, and from those we love. Telling the truth, truly, sets us free.
“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”
Silence is golden. I used to hear that a lot from my Mom. One of those Mom sayings that stuck with me, and so true. Quieting oneself, learning to enjoy and live in silence once in a while is wonderful. It allows you to hear the world in a more profound way. A few moments of silence can breathe life into a day filled with too much noise. Listening to the quiet of the world around us helps us to find the quiet within ourselves. Finding the quiet within ourselves helps us to center our minds, our souls, and our hearts. Silence opens worlds to us we might otherwise miss.
― Shel Silverstein
Hope, remaining hopeful, is as necessary as breathing. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is or has been or the worry about what could be. We’re human, we struggle with this all the time. But it’s so important to remember that anything can happen, and that anything can be good as much as it might be instead be frightening. We focus too much on what’s not right, not enough on what is. Hope is a big part of what’s right. There’s always room for it, and it can be cultivated. Trying to think positively, starting with one small thing that is right in your life, is good, can begin to grow a larger garden of positive ifs inside of you. That’s where hope lives. Hope leads to joy and laughter and an energy to get up and live life to the it’s fullest.
― Neil Gaiman,
Sharing ourselves with others speaks to the essence of what life is about. Expressing our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our fears to another person, to other people, makes those hopes grander and those fears smaller. Opening up our true self to someone else makes our world larger, grander, and fuller than we could imagine. Letting someone know you, the real you, the whole you, is frightening and vulnerable, but also brave. It’s an act of reaching out and of letting go. It’s beautiful and fulfilling and it brings us closer, creates connections that last.
“It’s okay to be absurd, ridiculous, and downright irrational at times; silliness is sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich
Being silly, risking the ridiculous, is fun. It’s enlivening, life affirming, corny, dorky, wonderful, and beautiful. Not being afraid of being ridiculous and possibly absurd, while being out in the world, is a gift. I say this because I’m a total dork, and can be totally ridiculous. Singing in public places, dancing in the grocery store, putting on funny hats, doing a funny little walk because you’re trying to make yourself or someone else smile. Those moments of totally letting go bring so much joy, so much fun to life. And acting in a way that says we don’t care what other people think of us, only of what we feel like doing in the present, brings a strength and certainty in us down to our bones. Silly can generate confidence, and confidence generates silliness. It’s a beautiful relationship.
― Lao Tzu
Love is everything, having and giving it. Not just the love for your partner in life, but love for friends and family. I can’t stress enough how very important it is to let the people in your life know you love them. The most important thing in life is who we love and who loves us. It brings meaning to everything. Nothing else really matters. Love is everything. Breathing joy and hope and compassion into everything it touches.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey,
Listening, and not talking, is central to having great relationships with people. When you listen, actually listen without just trying to get your word in edgewise, you let people know what they have to say is important to you. That they are important to you. When you don’t really listen, when all you do is wait for the moment you can speak, you let them know that what you have to say is more important to you than actually hearing them. Listening engenders trust, true companionship, and warmth.
“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.”
― Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan
I’m 50 now. The big 5-0. It doesn’t freak me out, worry me, or make me feel like I’m old and getting older (though I am). It has however made me reflect a bit on the life I’ve lived. There are things I thought were important when I was younger, when I was more self-conscious and filled with angst. Very dramatic. I wrote a lot then. Prose, poetry (some OK, mostly not), letters I never sent, some I did. Now, at 50, I’m much more certain of myself, much more comfortable in my skin, not as self-conscious. I’ve grown. Most of us do.
Through the course of this time I’ve spent reflecting lately I’ve made a mental list of the things I think are important in life. Obviously the people in our lives are the most important, but this list of things/ideals are what I believe make a life more fulfilled, the things that can actually make a life extraordinary. I strive to put them into practice every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. But life is in the trying, and I try.
In honor of my turning the big 5-0 I’m going to throw the list out to the universe, as a gesture of good will and safe keeping.
I got a little carried away when I actually sat down to make the list (which is in no particular order by the way, just written as it came to me) so I’ve decided I will post it in parts.
Welcome to part 1….
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa
Compassion is paramount to living a fulling life, without it we are acting alone in the world, separate from our fellow humans. We cannot pretend to know another persons story, or how they came to feel and think as they do, but we can honor them as human beings and wish the best for them. We can be open to the fact that they have had different experiences than our own, not expecting them to then act and think as we do. Compassion fills our hearts with love instead of animosity, it elevates us.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama
Kindness is the most important tenet, to me. Above all things. It’s so important to me that I have the above quote about kindness on every email I send out – you might have gotten one. Kindness is always possible. We have to be kind to others, and to ourselves. I’ve learned a little kindness takes us everywhere we want to go. It soothes souls, can make a persons day, and costs us nothing. A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of someone all work toward the common good, and good in ourselves. It is beyond valuable, beyond priceless. Kindness is key.
“Tears are words that need to be written.” ― Paulo Coelho
Sadness happens to everyone in life, let yourself be sad when you are, but don’t live there, wallowing in it. It’s a tough balance, but necessary. You honor the feelings by letting yourself feel them. You don’t let it take control of your life by remembering that there is more to life than just the thing that’s created your feeling of sadness.
Inhabiting yourself – feel your body, know your mind, feel your presence. Things will happen to us in life. Things we cannot control. Things terrible and strange and lovely and warm and awful and on and on. We get through it. We get through it best when we know ourselves, when we feel our own presence and our own power. That knowing helps us to understand that life will happen, but we can bear it, we can step through it. We can move beyond whatever it is that’s happened and into something new, something that could be wonderful in its own way.
“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it. Noticing the wind moving the trees, the sun glinting through a fence, the way the dogs have that little walk they have, a phrase, a painting, a blade of grass, my honey breaking into song, in light and love and kindness. Beauty is everywhere. We choose to see it, or not. Life is so much better if you look for it.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
― Herman Melville
Connectedness Connection is everything. We are not islands unto ourselves. Our actions effect those around us, just as the actions of others affects us. It’s so important to remember that our ideas and ideals are ours and to dwell in the knowledge that other people, other creatures, have their own ideas, wants, needs. What we do, every day; the words we use when speaking to others, the actions we take in kindness, to our fellows and to our planet, all ripple out. One kindness generates another, one word of anger generates more anger, one positive thought spills out to create more positivity in the world, a negative thought spreads negativity. Everything we do has a consequence for others in small, and sometimes not so small, ways. Everything is connected.
“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.”
― Raymond Carver,
Anxiety. I have it. Everyone experiences it. It’s not always rational, but it’s a natural part of living, of caring about people, caring about the world, caring about yourself. There is no getting rid of it entirely. The question is, does the anxiety control you, or do you remember to breathe, look it in the face, and try to keep stepping forward. Sometimes I succeed in that. Sometimes I don’t. That’s OK too. We can all wish for a little less anxiety in life, but we have to be careful the wishing doesn’t just lead to more anxiety. Acceptance, stepping into and through it, instead of constantly denying and fighting against it, helps. We have to remember to breathe.
“No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness.”
― Aimee Bender,
Temperament and trying to keep oneself on an even keel is important. The energy we give out to the world matters. Not that we should live for others, we shouldn’t, but it’s important to be aware of our impact on others. That we do have an impact. It’s not easy when you’re in a bad mood, but it’s so important to try to be your better self, to try to remember not to inflict that mood on everyone around you. Conversely it’s important to remember that if someone you meet in your day is in a bad space, they may have had a terrible day, or be battling demons you don’t know or understand.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert,
Fear, or the lack of it, is one of those constants in life. We are afraid of what is happening, or what could happen, or what did happen. Fear eats at us and taunts us and reminds us that we have a lot in life we don’t want to lose. Fear is. I love the line in the quote above about letting it pass through. That rings true to me. We have to face the things we’re afraid of, as best we can, and then let that fear pass through us. We have to let ourselves look at what we fear, look it in the eye. Only then do we begin to take the reins back from it. We can never live entirely without fear. We love, we dream, we hope, and so, we fear. It is a part of living. A part of caring. But we can try to keep it from taking control of us, we can try to be its master, instead of letting it be the master of us.
“The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”
― Louis C.K.
Empathy is central to living a full life. Kindness, compassion, and love all come from a place of empathy. We don’t have to know or have lived someone else’s circumstances to ache for them or to hope for them. We tend to live in our own little worlds, sure of our ideas and opinions, secure in the thought that what we think, the way we think, is the right way. Sometimes we even believe what we think is the only way. We’re wrong. We have no idea what another person’s experience is, where they came from, what they’ve seen, what they’ve lived through. To have true empathy is to say that you might not understand someone, but you want to nourish their souls anyway. It is to admit that you don’t know everything, and that you shouldn’t judge what you don’t understand. To empathize is to step outside of your own set of rules and to say that you feel for another human, regardless of the presumptions you have about them.
I know, I know, there’s a lot of shit going on in the world. Yes, I said shit, I’m allowed to cuss once in a while. Sometimes no other word works. Seriously though, I’m not blind to all the stuff that’s not working. I know there are things that need fixing.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong. It’s so easy in fact that we don’t see what’s going right. What’s good. The conflict and hate and the things we dislike seem to take our attention. I’m not sure why that is. We get critical of, and complain about a myriad of things – family members and politicians and news programs and celebrities and an endless litany of stuff. The onslaught leaves us in a state of anxiety, anger, and helplessness. Is there another way?
Sometimes, I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Sometimes, all it takes is a moment, a little shift. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open them again. Look at the sky and the light and the faces of the people you love. Put on a great album and hear the notes, the arrangement, the groove of the vocals. Read a book and appreciate the beauty of the words. Listen to the laughter of your children or grandchildren or your spouse. Play with your pups or cats or rabbits or lizards and notice how much they love you. Seek out positivity in your news, see what good is being done out in the world, there’s so much of it. Notice kindnesses and smiles and the friendliness of your neighbors. Watch sunsets and look with wonder at the amazing things we can build when we dream. See the world with different eyes, a different heart, and it will be different. It can be. Even if we only manage to do it for a moment or a day. String those moments to hours and those days to weeks. If we notice the kindnesses in the world, maybe we’ll act with more kindness. Be the love you want to see in the world.
I’m in a good mood today and I want everyone to be in a good mood.
Many of our friends and family members are celebrating right now. My Mom just sent us a text message expressing her excitement about the decision from SCOTUS today on marriage equality. To me it’s always a beautiful thing when love wins.
For those wondering what gay marriage, which from now on will just be referred to as marriage, looks like, I wrote this post to fill you in. First though, some background. We’ve been married, in one form or another, since 2003, having had our actual marriage ceremony (the non-legal one) on the beach in Maui, then a few years later we got our legal domestic partnership in Oregon (I think it was 2007), and finally we were legally married in Illinois last year. We’ve never had to have the paperwork to tell us who we are or to define our relationship. We’ve always known. And in fact we’ve only actually had one ceremony, that day on the beach in Maui, just the two of us, all those years ago. The rest of it, for us, has just been about getting the paperwork, making it legal. And being legal matters because we wanted the same privileges when it comes to protections for each other, rights to be enjoyed, etc. We celebrated each time we took a step in that direction, each time we were afforded another set of rights, protections, and privileges. And we are celebrating again today, because now so many of our friends can, if they choose to, make that same legal commitment to each other. It’s a beautiful moment.
But what does “gay” marriage look like you ask? What exactly is “gay” marriage?
Every day we get up when the alarm goes off. We grumble a little, sometimes just laying there, petting the dogs, wishing it was a no alarm day. But it is, so we get up. We open the doggie door and put the water on for coffee. Coffee is essential. If there are dishes in the sink from the night before they get loaded into the dishwasher. The dogs get breakfast. My honey fires up her work computer in the office and gets to the task of ruling the world from her pajamas. I pay some bills and get an appointment made to get our Jeep serviced. Breakfast of some sort gets made. The morning goes on, turning into afternoon. Sometimes I run errands, we may get a visit from the grand kids, we take the dogs for a walk. In the spring and summer we find time to pull weeds in the garden, dead head some flowers, fill the bird feeders. We say hello to our mail lady and sometimes have a friendly chat with our neighbors as on both sides of the fence the barbecues get fired up to make dinner. We laugh together. We talk about our upcoming vacation and get excited about the places we’re going and the beauty we hope to see there. We talk about the news and the grandkids and our parents. My honey’s birthday is coming up and I’m excited about the present I got for her this year. She’s hard to buy for, but I think I did it right this time. I hope so. We make dinner, barbecuing some steaks, steaming some vegetables, and feed the dogs their dinner. They are, as always, excited about getting fed. We head down to the family room where we sit in our recliners, which are side by side, and watch whatever shows we happened to have recorded. I’m a huge fan of the tiny house shows at the moment so we usually watch one of them. My honey enjoys them too, but mostly I think she watches them because I love them. That’s how we are. We hold hands and pet the dogs who seem to always find their way onto our laps. We chat, we make each other laugh. Every day it seems we have to take turns emptying the dehumidifier which always seems to be full this time of year. My honey heads up to the kitchen and comes back down with some small sweet dessert. I throw in a load of laundry. We finish up our evening, wander back upstairs, do the dishes so they won’t be in the sink the next morning, make sure the dogs go out and then shut the doggie door. We turn off the lights, brush our teeth, and make our way back into bed. We flip on the tv for a little bit, the dogs snuggle in with us, we watch, we chat, we laugh, we say I love you, and then we shut off the tv and go to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll do it again. And the next day. And the day after that. It’s our life. Our beautiful, wonderful, regular life.
This is what marriage looks like.
M, my friend, I love you. I know your heart is breaking as you get ready to start your journey. This trip, in one sense, signifies an ending, but I know in my heart it will also end up being a celebration of a life well lived.
I believe the people we love never truly leave us. She lives in your heart, she lives inside of you. Her spirit is with you…
She’s there in the sound of footsteps and the rain falling on roofs and the feel of the wind on your cheek. In the rushing of the waves and the ceaseless movement of the tides. In small kisses and the purring of a furry friend and when you are wrapped up in a warm hug. In the emotions brought on by the pages of a good book and in the beats of great songs. In hope and joy and laughter and in the sunlight through the trees. Inside deep conversations and thoughts of love. During moments of celebration and sadness. In the quiet space on either side of a breath. In the flapping of birds wings overhead and in the lightly falling snow. In the moonlight, the moving of the planets, the rushing of the blood inside of you. She resides there. In all those moments. In so many moments. Strong, eternal, full of grace, and overflowing with love.
Love surrounds you my friend, as it surrounded and surrounds your Mom as she steps to the next place on this amazing cosmic adventure.
I didn’t really throw a tantrum, though it sort of felt like one in my head, mental foot stomping and all. Sometimes our better selves appear to the world, but not always so much inside our own minds.
I’ve always had this idea, as many of us have I imagine, that I was meant for great things. That I was meant to do something extraordinary, something beyond the usual, past the normal, over and above the every day. I can’t really remember a time I didn’t feel this way. And the feeling of it, the haunting thoughts that come with that feeling, are sometimes sort of depressing. After all, I haven’t really achieved anything big. Big in the I’ve written the great american novel and it became hugely successful kind of way. So to have this feeling with me that I haven’t yet done “the thing”, whatever that might look like, can be a downer. You know, not having fulfilled my greater potential and all.
I’ve lived, to this point, an ordinary life.
I say that, and then the next thought is… yeah, but… wait. Think of this life I have, this life I’ve lived and am living. Think of the wonder of it.
It occurred to me the other day, driving down the freeway toward Chicago with the radio blasting my current favorite playlist, that I’ve always had this feeling. This feeling of not achieving. I’ve had it, and never named it, never spoken it aloud, or even mentioned it quietly to myself. Never the less, it’s always been there, taunting me, haunting me, and pressuring me since forever. The next thought that day was that I’ll be turning 50 on my next birthday. The big 5-0. Surprisingly I realized I wasn’t dreading it. In fact, I’m sort of excited to be entering the next decade of my life. I think good things are ahead.
But, back to the deep thoughts I was having that day in the car. All of this was passing through my mind, my strange expectation for extraordinary, my approaching milestone of a birthday, what my life has been and is, and then it hit me, the most simple of ideas. The purest of truths. My life is amazing. My life is phenomenal.
When I looked on my life, the ins and outs of it, the ups and downs, I realized something wonderful. I already have an extraordinary life. My every day is impeccable. My place in the world is secure, my mark on the world happening every day. If I honestly look at myself I realize I’m a good person. I treat people well, I’m there for people when they need me, I look at things with a bend toward the positive instead of the negative, I love nature and my fellow humans despite all of their flaws and sometimes because of them, and I truly believe we can all rise up to be our better selves if given the opportunity and sometimes a little help. I’m a good sister, a good daughter, a good friend, and a pretty good partner. I tend to think the best of people, want the most for people, care deeply about what happens to my fellow creatures great and small, I recycle, I dance in the kitchen, and I feel a deep sense of wonder and awe about the world around me. I also realized in that moment that my life has been a wonder so far. The people I’ve known and know, the places I’ve been lucky enough to see, the experiences I’ve had in small ways and big. It was incredible. An enlightening realization. I have and am everything I need. My life is already extraordinary.
Sometimes small moments, little thoughts, turn into huge discoveries. One minute you’re just driving down the freeway listening to music on a sunny day and the next you are shifting how you feel about yourself and your world.
I’ve spent most of my life to this point thinking there was more, should be more, was supposed to be more. That I was somehow not all I could be or should be or might be. And that feeling, as I said before, haunted me. It informed decisions, lent itself to indecision, and pushed me in all sorts of directions at once, while keeping me stuck where I was more often than not. All of it inside, occasionally making me feel incomplete.
My realization, my revelation, is that I am all I was ever intended to be. The rest, it’s unimportant. I know now that by being who I am, just me, I have changed people’s lives. I had jobs where that was a literal thing, and yet somehow I always devalued it, until now. I also know that I have had a decent impact on the people in my life, hopefully a good one. Not just those I have known and still know, but on those I once knew, and don’t know anymore, and on those I will know. I feel this certainty now as much as I felt the lack of it before. I know this because I know how much the people in my life have had an effect on me. I know this because it is. And that is extraordinary.
My life has to this point been a series of wonder-filled moments. Incredible moments. I recognized some of them as they happened, more so when I looked back on them, but to now feel this sense of accomplishment for just being who I am, for just living the life I am, for just touching the lives of the people I have, it’s ground breaking to me.
This life, my life, is far from ordinary. My life, every moment of it, has been and is extra-ordinary. Light and love filled, even in it’s darkest moments. To know this, to feel it now, to see it for what it actually has been and is…. it’s joyous.