Archive for July, 2013
Tikkun olam gives me hope that any work done dismantling racism is worthwhile because it is a belief that the world can actually heal.
Yesterday, I had a lunch date set up with a newly met colleague from Chicago who was in town. She has been helpful in getting me started in my work against racism and she’s also an amazing woman, so I was excited to meet her in person. And then I learned that Tin had a performance, his end of camp skit, exactly at the time I was meeting her.
At first I told Tin I wouldn’t be able to make the skit and he was nonplussed and said that it was okay and then the more I thought about it – the more I had to go. See, we all parent sort of in reaction and in collusion with the way we were parented. So my mother did not go to my high school graduation because she was sick, and almost didn’t make my college graduation because she was so late. And both times I was devastated. So I rejiggered my day and was able to do both my lunch and his performance.
I had worn a bracelet to see him – on purpose – it was a bracelet I had bought for my mother when I went to Spain for the first time in 1989 – so 25 years ago. I loved the bracelet when I first saw it and thought it was so exquisite. I would often ask her about it and she always said she couldn’t remember the bracelet.
When my mother was dying in the hospital, I went to her apartment in search of her watch she had asked for and when I opened the drawer of her bedside table there was the bracelet. I froze when I saw it – right there – at my mom’s fingertips – and yet she said she couldn’t remember it. I was puzzled but delighted that the bracelet had been “found.” And I still loved it.
My mother died, and now I have the bracelet. When I wear it, I think of her and its Spanish spell on me.
Yesterday, as Tin was walking to the stage he looked over, spotted me and was thrilled, then he noticed the bracelet and thought I was wearing a watch and ran over to me and grabbed my wrist, “Is that a watch Mommy?”
When he finally got on stage, I moved to the front to take a video and he couldn’t see me and he freaked and started calling Mommy Mommy Mommy until someone pointed me out to him – right there in front on my knees with my camera.
I watched my little boy on stage not wearing black pants like his classmates because he needed to wear his Tintin pants – a newfound obsession – all the while getting his groove on – always in his own world. Always adorable.
Duh. How could I not be there?
When the performance was over, I dashed away to go meet my friend. When Tin and I got home, he collapsed in the chair and slept like he had been performing all day – when in fact the skit had lasted only five minutes.
And it was then that I noticed the bracelet was gone.
I kept wondering how it was that I was days from us leaving for Spain and here my Spanish bracelet, my mom’s bracelet, was lost.
Last night, I was texting with a friend whose son was killed in a tragic swimming accident last Saturday. He was going to do some work for me, and I was telling him the work would wait for him, when he is ready. Before I went to bed, I learned there had been a train accident in Spain with 80 people killed.
I lay in bed and thought about the bracelet, my mom, the nature of things in life and in general.
This morning, I took Tin to his last day of camp and told the coach I had lost my bracelet. He told the story to the 400 children there – he said that someone’s mom lost her mom’s bracelet, which meant the grandma’s bracelet was missing and if anyone found it, he was offering a cash reward.
We all – me and the children walked back to the auditorium – they were headed to clean up and watch movies on their last day, and I was looking for the bracelet. I walked right over to where I had been sitting and there it was.
I know these are things, but a couple of years ago, I lost my mother’s ring during a difficult period. It was her Cleopatra ring that she had given me and I had returned to her and she had given back to me. It was a ring I admired on her, but it didn’t look good on me. I think about that ring – losing it felt as if I had let a piece of her go because I wasn’t paying careful attention.
Letting things go has been part of my healing process. And in letting go, I’ve made room. I’m selective of how I fill my time – people/places/things. I know it is me who imbues things with meaning – the bracelet + my mom + love + beauty and on and on.
I feel comforted I come from a culture that as ancient as it is, has been able to change – when the temple was destroyed, a rabbinic period began and there was a move to not rely on God the Father to do it all for us, but to do the work ourselves, to aim tirelessly as a people for social justice – this is what Kamenetz talks about in his book about meeting with the Dalai Lama – what a legacy to pass on.
In the lost and found of my life, I’m glad I found myself able to take what was good about my religion into my secular Judaism, to heal my hurts, to loosen my attachments, and especially to turn my attention to racism so that my son will know I showed up.
I learned a few minutes ago that new friends of mine lost their son in a tragic swimming accident on Saturday. You end the week on Friday and wake on Saturday to learn the world has changed, shifted, morphed into a sadness from which there is no return.
The better part of my weekend was spent filtering out the gnawing feeling of tentativeness – in other words, my sanity. I’m faced with the harsh reality that my new budding career is about to take off while my old career is hanging by a thread and in the interstitial space is __________.
I’ve been filling that space with dread – that’s right – even given all of my new faith in the wonder of life, I’ve been holding fear at bay with a sledgehammer. A woman a long time ago, speaking to a group of women in media in New York, said the best and greatest opportunity lies in the artist letting go of the trapeze bar she is holding just before she grabs the next one – it’s that moment when there is no safety net below – just space – and the fear of free falling makes her anxious to grab the next bar, makes her squinch her eyes so she doesn’t see the abyss underneath, makes her question her faith. And that, dear readers, is where I’ve been.
So it is no wonder that this week into the weekend has been particularly challenging as a parent of a 4-year-old who hits the auto-reject button for 100% of what is presented to him. And why, as a mother, over 50, and under financed, I have just about spent the better part of the last few days asking for patience, courage, faith, and whatever else can rain down upon me to get me to that other bar I’m reaching for, which is swinging there in the distance.
This morning, I made another harsh decision, to withdraw yet more funds from my dwindling retirement account. And let us all praise my #highclassproblems because at least I had a retirement account to withdraw from – right? And why am I withdrawing this money – to pay for Tin’s school – the whole conundrum and irony of my life and its puny fears is brought right down to this one very bit of sad news that was missing from my angst days ago – my friends’ son died in a tragic accident.
So you see, my focus has been on not having enough, when in fact, I have so much. And as long as I can rejigger my mind to notice the bounty that is my life, I won’t want, I will celebrate. Because I am engineering the wheel of my vehicle as I type this post – the hub of which centers on pushing the conversation on race and parenting, the spokes of which include my blog, books, workshops, talks. Therein lies my future dream, herein lies my work, and why then should I fear?
“Look closely at the present you are constructing:
it should look like the future you are dreaming.”
[thanks Anne for again sharing enlightenment a lá my third eye that I may again tape to my forehead]
I was invited over to someone’s house the other day and when I arrived, I noticed first thing that sitting by the end table in the living room were two books – Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Then I was led downstairs into an enchanting garden complete with tadpoles and koi.
Both men had been through something – I knew this before I arrived because what had drawn me to one was the postings he made on Facebook. When I met his partner, and heard their story, I knew they had clawed their way to the other side.
Yesterday, the a/c man came to check the unit because the seller had yet to get a sign off on the newly installed air conditioner. On one side of my chalk board I have C.S. Lewis’ quote that hardship prepares ordinary people for extraordinary lives. The man asked if he could take a picture of it. He said people don’t start their lives until they’ve been through something rough. I had to agree.
Last night, friends had come over and one, a handsome Black man, said his mother drilled into his head to say the 23rd Psalm, especially if he was in trouble. She worried about her son, about the possibilities of him dying while being Black, and she wanted some invisible force to protect him.
It’s no surprise his mother picked the 23rd Psalm because more than a prayer to God, it’s about going through something – the valley of death – and you get a keen sense that the Lord, the shepherd, is one with you, not separate from you.
Tolle said in The Power of Now:
The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse. I use it sometimes, but I do so sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that word, use it with great conviction, as if they knew what they are talking about. Or they argue against it, as if they knew what it is that they are denying. This misuse gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as “My or our God is the only true God, and your God is false,” or Nietzsche’s famous statement “God is dead.”
The word God has become a closed concept. The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard, but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.
Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points. Does it point beyond itself to that transcendental reality, or does it lend itself too easily to becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?
The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God. Being, however, has the advantage that it is an open concept. It does not reduce the infinite invisible to a finite entity. It is impossible to form a mental image of it. Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being. It is your very essence, and it is immediately accessible to you as the feeling of your own presence, the realization I am that is prior to I am this or I am that. So it is only a small step from the word Being to the experience of Being.
A while back when I was in the throes of my change of life, I read Ram Dass at the recommendation of my friend, and I will never forget what he said about the journey – as you are moving away from your old way of thinking, you will leave behind people who are not open to your new way of life, but not to worry, you will attract people who are on the same path. And so I have.
I’ve thought often about this as so many have shown up in my life recently that are radiant and in tune with where I am now. And so going back to the psalm, and the reason why I’ve been so interested in it is that a friend called my attention to it a few weeks ago. I’ve been in the throes of changing a fifty year old habit – my nightly prayers.
For 50 years I have said, “Dear Lord, forgive me, if I have this day, done any wrong in work or play, always help me to do what’s right, watch over me all through the night, Amen.”
That’s no longer what I want to say. I want to say Wow, thanks for this fabulous life of mine, for my amazing son, for all the gifts I receive every day. And so I started writing my own prayer, instead of this one that my mother taught me.
But I keep coming back to the 23rd Psalm – it’s simplicity, it’s comforting feeling.
The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
God has prepared a table for me – as Rabbi Harold Kushner interprets it to mean: “There were people to whom I turned to nourish me when I was getting through this hard time, and they weren’t there for me. And I would have felt deserted and abandoned if not for God. God nourished me spiritually the way my human friends were not able to.”
I say I found the God within me, the force that turned me into a girl on fire (again) and helped me reformat my entire life. As I told the a/c man in my kitchen, everything in my life I feared would happen, did, so I don’t fear much anymore.
I simply am. My friend who went back to Los Angeles said he can’t even bring up God in California because no one there wants to listen, but he’s made a decision that his next partner will be spiritual – as I have. Like attracts like. He told me to write on the other side of my chalk board “I am ___” and fill in the blanks with anything I want to attract to me.
Being the mother of a son whose birth father does not live near, I think about Tin’s male role model needs quite a bit. I read and study up on what it is to be a boy.
My introduction to boy-ness came from four older brothers and a father along with countless uncles, cousins, and my two grandfathers. I’ve been steeped in boys since early on.
I’ve also had three husbands and many boyfriends, lovers, not to mention colleagues, friends, and nephews and great nephews. So when I adopted a son, I knew boys were going to be boys. But of course. And you could take all the feminist and studies about how we have to raise our children gender neutral but the simple fact remains teaching your children to respect gender differences is better than teaching them that there are none.
And I’ve been noticing a lot more differences as Tin enters his post-toddler years – from a moment in the toy store where Tin was so engrossed watching a father, on his knees, engage in a Battle Royale with his son using NERF swords, to watching Tin jump on and swing from my friend’s fiancé arms every time he sees him, to the cool, jazz moves he’s adopted from his musician godfather. I’ve been observing him and I know once again this is something I cannot replicate despite what people say about our containing both masculine and feminine qualities.
On Friday, a friend of mine arrived from California to spend the weekend and I was a little surprised at how Tin took to him like a duck to water when he is usually a bit more cautious with new people. This morning he told me “Michael is my best friend.” Michael and Tin have been feeding the baby doll to the sharks, engaging in mystery night games like finding the lost treasures of Atlantis, putting together a transformer truck thing that has a cannon on it, and hanging out in their own boy world of banal violence, grossness and unadulterated silliness. I’ve watched from the sidelines, curious, yet not eager to join them.
The truth is I have read the book on roughhousing, I have endured the love jabs from my son that actually hurt, and I’ve been climbed on, tackled, and jumped on by this 40 pound child and I’m telling you – it’s odd. I don’t have an inclination to want to hit someone or to be hit. I see Tin does – he likes to be tickled till he almost pees his pants, he likes for me to pop his booty with a rolled up dish towel, and he likes to jump from extremely high places and say, “Oh, that hurt!” as if that was the intention.
So when he came home from camp and was talking about the fire force galaxy nonsense of a fantasy gun he held up to my nose, I said, “Where did you learn that?” and wanted to scold the counselor who taught him this sort of aggressive behavior. But then I walked in and saw Ellie hanging from a rope as bait for the invisible sharks surrounding Tin and Michael, and thought of how I had tried unsuccessfully to get on my knees and hit Tin with a NERF sword, I realized how much boys will be BOYS and this secret of boyness is not mine to model for him, not mine to comprehend, not mine to possess – it is his gift to the world.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
© Max Ehrmann 1927
Tatjana left her car here while she is out of the country and so I’m using it because it saves on gas with taking Tin to camp. So I was washing both her car and my truck, when I realized that my truck had been broken into and my iPhone charger and headset among other things stolen. As I was closing up both cars my transvestite neighbor – a real sweetie – was walking by with a shopping bag and I said, “Oh, my truck got broken into.” And s/he looked at me and said, “Wish I had a car, it’s so hot out here today.” S/he had just come from the grocery on Broad.
Reminds me of when I stopped at Ray Boudreaux’s house on the bayou and was transfixed by the beauty of his classic modern home – it was so Eames, so Saarinen, so fab that it almost diminished how I felt about my brand new house and then my friend, Joe, the lawn guy came over to look at the lawn and said, “Rachel’s got another mansion.”
It’s always good to keep perspective.
So I’ve had a lot of visitors lately – not having a babysitter means mi casa es tu casa because I’m trapped like rodentia over here. I’ve had some stoop hanging, some dog hunts (Heidi jumped through the front door and took hot pursuit after a cat causing a HUGE dog search only to find her a few blocks away), fun hula hooping in the backyard, and certainly a few bottles of wine have been opened and consumed.
That is why it interests me greatly how I came to have this dream: I went to the LaLa and walked in and looked around – I was happy, and was sort of just poking around seeing what was going on – every surface had been changed to something different – copper, leather, wood – all this masculinity had poured into the LaLa and I was just smiling while I was checking it out. Then the owner asked me to leave. The next day I went back again, and was poking around and came into the room where the owner was at his big masculine desk and smiled and he said, “Really Rachel, you aren’t allowed to come in here anymore.” And I said, “Oh yeah, right, my bad, my bad.” And was smiling almost blissfully the whole time as he walked me out – but even though he was being assertive as he led me to the door, he was also massaging my back and tickling me.
I keep shaking my head – I was the visitor in the LaLa – was ushered out – smiling the whole time.
I woke up this morning happy as a lark – well a bloated lark – which was most likely due to the salty snacks. Yes, I broke in the stoop last night and sat outside with a friend, white wine, a sweet cigar and yes, there were salty snacks. And it made me think more about this front house design of mine – the one that called for a porch until another friend said but you now have a stoop – good point. So perhaps porch isn’t necessarily what I need – just a place to hang out out front – maybe tweak the stoop, maybe invent it? A stoop/porch.
The night was capped off by me and my friend scooter racing down Cleveland Avenue – yes this is what grown ups do. He had brought a box of toys for Tin and two almost like new scooters – so naturally, Tin had long been asleep, those scooters were begging for a test run.
I woke up thinking about my work because I dominated our conversation last night with it – after years of everyone and their mother telling me to write a book – I now have three book projects in planning and am psycho to get them written and published. I want to push against what is pushing against me – racism in our country – I don’t want my son to wake up one morning and find out a popular Food Network celebrity makes it a habit of being a racist – because what is he going to do with that information? What if he really liked that celebrity and now he has to feel bad about the whole thing. I want a better world for him (and for me).
So I saw this on Anne Flournoy’s FB post and decided to own it for today:
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once,
but of stretching out to mend the part of the world
that is within our reach.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés