Poem – Lost mothers, daughters

 

We all

are daughters

searching for our mothers.

We all

are mothers

searching for our daughters.

We all

are lost,

and have lost.

 

Sometimes our arms

have to wrap around the shoulders

of someone else, someone

we are not related to

to comfort ourselves

and to comfort them.

 

Sometimes we have to be

for each other

what we don’t have

for ourselves.

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Poem – In the winter, we can see

In the winter,
we can see the bones of things.
We can see the true shapes
of the trees.
We can see where the birds
have made their homes.
We can finally see
the river that nourishes both,
that sustains.

In the winter,
we know what is what,
without any pretense,
without any show.
No more padding,
no more guile.
In the winter,
you know where you stand
and what you have
to work with.

It is like this in our lives
when the storms tear down
our defenses,
our walls,
our artifice.
Only when we have nothing
do we see what we really have
to work with.
Only when the tornado has come through,
the divorce is final,
the tragically died has been buried,
do we see what we really have,
what is our foundation.

Who knew?
We might have been building
all our hopes
on something frail,
something false.
We might have been
pinning our dreams
on something as insubstantial
as the morning mist.

It is a gift, this stripping away.

Poem – empty/silent

Because of this line between us
we are empty.
Empty hearts make for bad bedfellows.

Because of this line between us
we are brave.
Brave enough to be silent.

Our braveness
and our emptiness
fill us up
and empty us out.

Sometimes we don’t know
if we are
coming
or going.

Sometimes both.
Because we sure aren’t here.

Perhaps somewhere in our silence
we can stop
long enough
to be still
and see each other
for real,
for the first time.

Seeing and being seen is such a raw thing.
Unopened, closed off we are safe
from exposing our soft spots.

We face off like duelists,
turned sideways,
never straight on
for to turn sideways
is to expose less of yourself
and to protect your heart.

The heart is what matters most
after all.

So we draw these lines
between us
and are empty
and silent
always afraid
we’ll get hurt.

The escape artist.

It was a very hard time when my Mom was sick. There were a lot of very difficult things that needed to be done, and only me to do them. I was in my early twenties and my family and friends had bailed on me.

I wasn’t prepared for any of this. My Mom wasn’t supposed to die at 53. I didn’t know how to deal with chest tubes or administering medicine every four hours for months at at a time. Just because I’m a daughter doesn’t mean I’m a competent caregiver.

So I separated myself. I believe it is called dissociation. I was there, sort of. I did all the stuff that had to be done, but I didn’t think about it. My mind wasn’t there. It was too hard to deal with but I couldn’t run away from it like my brother and father did. So I ran away in my mind. It was kind of being like an escape artist, like Houdini. I smoked a little pot to take the edge off. Years later when I had the time I went a little crazy because I’d not had the ability or time to grieve. There is nothing like learning how to deal with grief like being in a mental hospital.

There isn’t any training for this. It is hard enough to watch your mother die. It is hard to be a caregiver for someone who is dying. It is impossible when the dying person is your Mom.

It is very intimate caring for someone who is dying. It is very intimate to be with them in the middle of the night when they start freaking out about all the things they haven’t done, or about the afterlife. It is very intimate dealing with bodily fluids and pain.

In a way it was my gift to her. She gave birth to me. I helped her die. There is a strange balance here.

She didn’t die well. She had spent most of her life avoiding thinking about the future or anything really important. She didn’t plan ahead. She had no retirement fund. She didn’t take care of her health. She never got any education past high school. As for her soul, she ended up getting her religious education from me.

It is very weird being your mother’s teacher. I had read quite a bit about religious matters in the previous years, and had returned to church at 20. It was the same church where she was married, but hadn’t gone to since. The minister I found for her was from the Episcopal student ministry I was part of. He didn’t know much about how to prepare someone for death, so I got to do it. Something was better than nothing. At one point I gave her a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s “The Gospel According to Jesus.” The priest thought it was watered down. He didn’t approve of that translation. He wanted her to read the Bible. I pointed out that she didn’t have time to read the original. Sometimes you aren’t able to eat big meals, and all you can handle is baby food. This was the Gospel in a distilled version, just the words of Jesus. Easy to digest. Baby food. It got the point across in a way she could handle.

But there was nobody there to train me. There was nobody around to tell me how to deal with the heaviness of my Mom dying and the heaviness of dealing with the strangeness of dealing with the very real and very gross nature of dealing with someone who is terminally ill. I prayed a lot. God helped.

One “friend” wrote to me to tell me how sad she was that my mother was dying. Her advice to me was to “let Jesus into my heart”. I can’t stand Christians sometimes, and I am Christian. I was really angry when I read that letter. She didn’t know that I’d gotten confirmed years earlier. She didn’t know that I went to church every week on my own. She didn’t know that I’d helped create the Episcopal student ministry. She didn’t know because she didn’t ask. She’d been a friend in high school but we’d grown apart. She assumed that the answer to my problem was Jesus, not knowing that I was already a Christian. She would have taught me more about Jesus if she had shown up and helped. “Letting Jesus into my heart” didn’t get the laundry done or the groceries bought. “Letting Jesus into my heart” didn’t help when my Mom needed more pain medicine or a Valium at four in the morning.

Houdini died from being punched in the stomach. He had a trick that he did where you could punch him in the stomach as hard as you wanted and he wouldn’t be hurt. The deal was that he had to prepare for it first. He had to know it was coming. The person who punched him the last time didn’t know about that and just hit him.

We are like this. We need time to prepare for heavy things. We can handle quite a bit if we have some warning and training. But when we get blindsided, we can get really hurt.

This experience didn’t kill me, but it did teach me a lot. It taught me about my own strength. It taught me that there were a lot of people I couldn’t depend on. It made me grow up fast, a little faster than I was ready for.

Kindergarten 8-7-13

Today was my first day in kindergarten for this school year. This makes my third year to tutor with this same teacher. Every year there is a new group of smiling faces and new things to learn.

Sure, the students are learning, but so am I. Sometimes you have to see life from the perspective of a kindergartner to really understand things. There is nothing more honest or unvarnished than a five year old.

This class is composed of children from all around the world, living right here in this little suburb of Nashville. That is part of what I like about my adopted home. People from all walks of life and all cultures and all faiths make this home. It is a welcoming place that in its own little way is a bit like what I think Heaven is like.

This class is just like the other two I have helped with. There is a mixture of language ability, with some native English speakers and some children who will only hear English in this classroom. There are kids from Uzbekistan, the Congo, and Mexico, as well as ones who were born and raised right here.

That is part of why I am here. I have a degree in English. I have tutored students with learning difficulties in college. I speak English clearly with no accent. I think being able to read and write is one of the most important things you can do.

The Mayor of Nashville has made it possible for Metro employees to volunteer in the schools during work time for an hour every week. There’s a little bit of schedule wrangling and a background check and you are in.

Plus, I wanted to make a difference. I don’t have children. I feel this is a way to help out my community.

Today was hard. Today was only the third full day. Kindergarten is a big deal if you’ve never been to day care or pre-k. This is also the earliest I’ve been there. Normally it takes a while to get all the paperwork done to get started.

Today they were working with foam blocks, learning about color and shapes and counting. One little girl’s creation got knocked over. I suspect that it was an accident. But for her it was the end of the world.

She wailed. She said she wanted her Mommy. She said she didn’t want to come back. She’s four, and four is a hard age. Four is a bit young to be in school.

I wasn’t sure what to do. You can’t talk reason into a four year old. You can’t talk it into anybody when they are in the middle of grief.

Because this is grief. This is being upset that things aren’t going the way you want or need. This is reality not meshing up with want. She might be an only child, and has never had anything taken from her, and has never suffered loss before.

She’s not been taught her how to self-soothe yet. Nobody has taught her how to deal with her feelings. Four or forty, grief is grief. And sometimes the only way to learn how to deal with it is to live through it.

She wailed and cried. She left her table and went to her spot on the rainbow rug. Each child has a square on the rainbow rug that she or he sits on when the teacher is instructing at the front of the class. I thought this was a good choice. It was away, but not running away. She could have chosen to leave the room, to escape by running down the hallway.

Being in school for the first time is a lot like being in a mental hospital.

All the rules are different. The people are acting weird. Nothing makes sense. You can’t do what you want to do.

And you can’t leave. Well, you can, but it is difficult.

I went to her. I sat next to her on the rug and patted her shoulder. I spoke calmly to her, that it was an accident, that she could make another one. She calmed down a little bit. I don’t think it was my words or my presence, so much as she had cried enough for right then.

She got up and went back to her table. She pushed the blocks around, away from her, quickly, forcefully. Her pitch was going up. She’d calmed down while away from the table, but being back reminded her of the reason for being upset.

Several of the other students came over to help her. One was a sweet girl I’d worked with last year who was repeating the class. She is from India and has a cleft palate. She just needs some extra work with language, but her kindness needed no words.

This is what we do, we humans. We come nearby, to help. But we can’t fix the problem, and we can’t take away the pain. We can try to clean up the mess. We can try to distract each other. But mostly we just bear witness to pain. Mostly we sit with each other in our suffering.

And that is enough.

They say that time heals all wounds. We can’t save each other from pain. We can’t insulate our children and our friends from the hurts of life. But we can be there. We can listen. Sometimes we can heal just by our presence.

It takes time to learn how to deal with hard emotions. I was having quite a few myself. What do I do? How do I help?

I prayed. I listened. I didn’t say “it’s going to be all right” because that is a total cop-out.

Just like with learning English, the students have to do the work. I just have to be there.

Together we are learning.

On Leaving Church

I am on the threshold of leaving church. Not just my church, but church in general. I’m not finding what I need in it. I’m finding that it keeps people back. It doesn’t empower them. The entire structure of church as we know it these days does not teach people how to be ministers. It teaches them how to be sheep.

I don’t have butterflies in my stomach about this. They are larger than butterflies, and not as pretty. These are owls. They are large and mysterious, and they hit me when I’m alone. When I’m busy with other things they fly away. When I’m off the desk at work, or at night, they hit. They represent fear. Fear of not doing the right thing. Fear of not doing what is expected of me. Fear of straying from the path. Fear of getting lost, of getting hurt.

So – the best way to confront fear is to face it head on. Funny that it was part of the discernment process to be a deacon that taught me this. What I’ve learned from yoga and Buddhism has helped too. And there is a lot of nonviolent conflict resolution going on in this mix.

I’m standing on this cliff. I feel that everything in my life has led me to this place. I feel that the more I look at all I have learned, all the classes I’ve taken, all the books I’ve read in the past three years, have led me here and given me the strength.

What are my tools? The Diversity in Dialogue classes at the Scarritt-Bennett Center. Books such as “Codependent No More,” “Boundaries,” and “Difficult Conversations.” The homework from the deacon discernment process for the Episcopal Church. Journaling. Prayer. My entire life history – remembering the times I’ve walked out in faith away from something I knew to be wrong. I say I’m walking out in faith because I don’t know where I’m going, but I know it is time for a change.

I’m getting strength from a verse my spiritual director gave me. It is from Isaiah 30:21. It is “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”” I’m also getting strength from her teaching to “ask Jesus into it.” Any time I feel fear or angry or hurt or lost – ask Jesus into it. That way I’m not alone with my hard feelings. No priest has every taught me something so simple yet essential. I feel like they have consistently hidden something important from me.

It is time to look behind that curtain. I’m starting to see the entire structure of church as a magic trick. The magicians, the ministers, have all the tricks. They have all the power. They don’t want the punters to know how the trick works, so they can keep up the illusion that they are in charge. This is exactly like when Dorothy and her pals looked behind the curtain and saw the Wizard. He wasn’t big and powerful. He was tiny and weak. He used his machines to make him seem much bigger and louder.

What exactly am I afraid of? Being disconnected from God? God isn’t in a church. God isn’t in a building. God is in everything and in everyone. Time to dig deeper into this. What else is there?

I’m afraid of what happens if I’m not taking communion. But what is communion? A symbol. The wafer and the wine aren’t anything special. The priest doesn’t do anything except remind us that this is a reenactment of the Last Supper. The Catholics think that all other priests are doing it wrong anyway. They think only they have the ability to “confect” the elements. “Confect” is Catholic for “do magic” essentially. They think they are actually converting the wafer and the wine into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. That is not only creepy, it is another sign of control. Come to us – we serve the only pure Jesus. Everybody else has the watered down Jesus. We have the full-strength version.

I think, maybe I just need to go to another church. Another Episcopal church, or try another Christian denomination. Or maybe even Unitarian or Baha’i. Or Buddhist.

I get more owls from thinking like that. Big flopping wings. But then I face them on – why does that frighten me to leave church? Do I think it means I’m leaving God? Am I afraid of going out on my own and getting lost?

It is like church has slapped training wheels on my bicycle. And they haven’t even begun to tell me how to ride without them. They are afraid of my independence. They are afraid that I’ll go rogue. Look out for all those lost sheep, Jesus says. Gotta go save every one.

But I’m tired of being a sheep. I don’t want to be a shepherd either. I don’t want anybody to follow me. I want them to be strong enough to hear God’s call on their own. I want them to be strong enough to find other lost people and empower them.

I remember a time in a club I was in where I was talking about teaching other people how to do something. I made glass beads and the other person made arrows. I was one of the few people in this part of the country who knew how to make glass beads by melting rods of glass onto a clay-coated mandrel. I was taught by a fourth-generation glassblower and lampworker. My friend was very good at making arrows, and had won awards for it. He was self taught. Our disagreement came when I said I taught my students everything I’d learned. I taught them all that my teacher had taught me, and everything I’d figured out on my own behind the torch, and everything I’d read in books. Meanwhile, he taught them the basics, but nothing extra. He admitted that he didn’t want his students excelling him. I strongly disagree with this way of thinking. I want my students to excel. I want them to surprise me. I want them to be able to teach me something.

I feel like the church is more like my friend than anybody wants to admit. Maybe I haven’t found the right church. Maybe that church doesn’t exist yet.

My Mom didn’t want to teach me to drive because she was afraid that I’d get lost. She knew that I was directionally impaired. She was afraid that I’d call her, wailing, lost, and because I didn’t know where I was, I’d not be able to tell her so she wouldn’t be able to rescue me. Perhaps there was kindness in her thoughts. Perhaps she really was concerned for me. Perhaps she wasn’t trying to control me. But she didn’t think of the solution. Teach me how to read a map. Give me a compass.

Every good teacher should teach their students how to be self sufficient. Students need to learn how to think, rather than what to think.

In church, I asked for training and oversight. I got put into positions of responsibility and when it was felt I’d overstepped, that position was taken away. This has happened multiple times. I’m starting to feel betrayed. When a person asks for training, it means they think they can’t do what they are called to do. To put them into a leadership position without training will only set them up for failure. To then take away that position when they cause concern does not teach them anything.

There are training programs that exist within the Episcopal church, but we don’t have them at my parish. They are EFM (Education for Ministry) and the Stephen Ministry. Both teach people how to be lay ministers.

I saw a picture of one of my favorite Christian authors (Sara Miles) distributing the ashes on Ash Wednesday, out on the streets in San Francisco. I was shocked. A lay person handling the ashes? And then I thought, why not? I went to a different church last Sunday and saw a deacon was distributing the wafers. I thought the same – that is never done. And then I thought, why not?

I got chastised by the priest for writing “My problem with church.” The conversation began with “So, did you mean to be the school shooter? Did you mean to plant the bomb on the racetrack?” This is not constructive criticism. This is very harsh. This does not open up a dialogue. I was told that I’d hurt a lot of people with what I’d written. I’m wondering why they didn’t contact me, as we are instructed to do by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. 15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Go, and point it out to them alone. Don’t tattle on them to the teacher. I told her to look at that post as well, because I thought she needed to know where my thought processes were going these days. So it isn’t like I was doing anything in secret. But to complain to the priest instead of the person you have issue with is immature.

I started to think about who are my friends in church. There aren’t many, because there aren’t that many people in church who are anywhere near my age level. But then I thought further. All the people I’ve befriended have either already left already or are in the process of leaving. Several of them I’ve talked into staying. I’ve talked three different people into staying, trying to smooth over a disagreement that they had with either the priest or with church in general.

I feel like the point of that post has been proven, along with the one called “On Ministers, and Spoon-fed Faith.” Instead of learning “humility” as I was told I needed to learn by the priest, I’m gathering up steam.

In silence, the tree

In silence, the tree.
Sitting under a tree, so often, alone.
Alone, but with God.
My abandonment by my parents made me
seek my true Parent, my Source,
my beginning and my end.
Where I came from, and where I will go.

In death, the tree
still. A place of silence for mourners.
Grown from an acorn in the hand,
nourished by the ashes of bones.
Live giving energy from the litter of leaves,
life from death.

The tree of silence,
the tree I walked so fast to I thought
my lungs would burst.
To sit under, alone
when my parents were again
arguing. Unreasonable. Unlistening.

Under that tree I knew God was listening.

It isn’t our tree. It isn’t a shrine.
It isn’t the bodhi tree of the Buddha,
sat under by bored and scowling monks,
waiting, waiting, waiting.
It isn’t the tree in the garden,
the tree of temptation.
Who would put poisoned candy
within reach of children anyway?
(Is that the truth of Sleeping Beauty?)

It is the tree of Zacchaeus,
desiring to see the Lord,
stunned that he was noticed
and singled out.

It is the tree in a flood,
a place of refuge, a sure point.
It is the tree of the cross.

I sit at the base, alone
yet surrounded by then and now and
future, of past and far away
witnesses to the
Glory that is God.

It is the tree in the backyard
At the group home –
I didn’t know where I was.
I didn’t know who those people were.
I didn’t know how to get home.
But I knew that tree was safe.

The light was bright on my
pale skin, but I knew the leaves
would protect me.
Natural sunscreen, that green shade.

How frightened I was by that rope,
frayed, high up
like a snake, a lariat, a noose.
The electric fear even now
lets me know
I am safe.

My fear of death, of
harm to myself at my own hand
is so great I feel a charge,
a shock, a jolt.
That knife laid out on the counter is a sign.
My fear of it lets me know that I’m safe.

God is stronger than my weakness,
And God needs my weakness to
get in.

Epthatha.

(I was at a retreat on 4-6-13 and we were told to sit in silence and think about something that was big that happened to us for 20 minutes. We were to try to remember the sensations of being there. I thought I was going to think about when my parents died, but the image of me sitting under a tree came to me. I decided to go with it, and I thought about all the times I had sat under a tree. There are a lot. And I thought about what that meant. I spent a lot of time alone as a child. I’m coming to understand that. I’m beginning to process that. I think the abandonment by my parents caused me to seek God.)