Saturday, June 20, 2015

In honor of Mother Emanuel

This morning a group of 40 or 50 people of faith joined together to pray on a street corner in a little city with a jackhammer working half a block away (with the quip "the world is under construction").  We sang "How Lovely are Your Tents, O Jacob," "We Shall Overcome," "Oh Lord Prepare Me," "The Soul You Placed in Me is Pure."

Black and white clergy prayed.  A rabbi talked about righteous anger.  A baptist preacher talked about forgiveness.  I felt the hard skull of the fetus in my womb crushing bone against bone, impatient.  And I suddenly regretted my very existence.  I regretted the act of bringing children into the world.  I regretted my whiteness and my safety.  I regretted my faith and its fears.  We who lock our synagogues during the day and hire police officers to monitor the crowd on holidays declared that no one should feel afraid in God's sanctuaries.  I feel enormously afraid - for my safety, for your safety, for my complicity which I don't know how to repair.

The rabbis teach that we should all be able to say, "The world was created for my sake."  So that if anyone is killed unjustly, we should know that it destroys the entire world.  The world was destroyed nine times over by a white man with a gun, who sat in a Bible study for an hour and failed to see the face of God in the faces of the congregation he sat among. The world is destroyed almost every week by a police officer who sees God's people as his enemies to be brutalized. 

Somehow the perpetual victims of this destruction can talk about forgiveness.  I don't have the power or the right to forgive.  I stood with my hands crushed on either side by white clergy, looking into the face of a black woman pastor, as she talked about healing, forgiveness, strength, love.  The words sounded like white noise in my ears.  Tears streamed from my chin onto my chest.  She came over and hugged me, as though I was the one who needed comforting.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Locker Room

My nudity is my activism.  I declare this a war-free zone.  I expect nothing but praising glances for this body that lifts heavy things.  For this body that moves each day only by some perpetually renewed miracle.  For this body, with its dimpled soft flesh and stretch marks, indestructible evidence that I made life.  For this body that keeps showing up and taking its rightful space.

This body is a prayer, a song of praise, for my Creator, who brings forth and sustains life in shouts and cries, in panting breath and racing heart, for the violent perfection of the universe we inhabit.

I own this body.  It is a gift I possess alone.  And I share it with you now, you onlookers who hide your breasts and body hair and instruct your girl-children to look down and change in bathroom stalls, as an act of optimism, as a peace offering.   

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dead Bird

There was a dead bird in the sewer grate.  Right on the edge, at the verge of the lawn, in the shadow of green grass, easy to overlook.  It was black or maybe navy, with skinny bird legs like birds tend to have.

Small child discovered it. I suppose all the small children discovered it over the course of many days.  As we walked by each day, she'd become increasingly alarmed.  "Why is that bird dead, Mama?" "It's dead now, but then it's going to fly away, right?"  And each time we'd say, "Everything dies.  It's not going to fly away.  Being dead means you can't fly anymore.  Maybe someone will come and move it."  We didn't move it.

Days passed.  I was relieved the other birds and bugs hadn't come to tear this small dead bird apart, to make its essence part of their own.  It remained, perfectly preserved, unlike the dead birds we too often see sitting in the middle of the sidewalk.  She'd exclaim, "That bird is going to get up and fly away!" or "Oh, poor dead bird.  Don't touch!  Don't touch the bird!"  Other small children said to her, "Being dead means you're in heaven."

I'd say, "Being dead means the stuff that was happening in your body to make you alive is not happening anymore.  Lots of stuff is happening in your body still, but you don't know about it.  You can't walk or talk or fly anymore.  But other people can still think about you.  That's what being dead is."  All of your processes of animation are now generalized, simply part of the wider universe.  There is no longer any meaningful difference between you and not-you.  You are At One.

This is what happened to Bubbe - do you remember how we buried her on a freezing, snowy day in December?  And everyone was sad, but not really that sad, because she was very old and very sick and also we all had such complicated relationships and had been grieving for so long already?  Do you remember how you kissed her on her last day of living and she didn't respond, hadn't responded for weeks, and your cousins fretted about your hurting her, that you were leaning on her as you kissed her perfectly soft cheek. 

And this will happen, someday soon, to GG, and will happen to all of your grandparents and then your parents and aunts and uncles and then you and everyone you love, if we're all lucky.  I don't know how to say this to an almost 3-year-old who reminds me weekly that she'll be going to school in September.

Suddenly, the bird was gone.  Someone really did come and move it. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

100 blessings, meditation on UCSB shooting

Small Child says "thank you" 100 times a day.  100 blessings.  Such simple, reflexive, automatic, persistent, normal gratitude.  Gratitude for receiving simply what she so absolutely deserves.  Gratitude for receiving so much less than what she absolutely deserves.  Did she learn it from me?  I hope so.

Two women, five men.  Two girls, five boys.  Future engineers and politicians of America.  Future mothers and fathers.  None of us is innocent of your death.  Every leering gaze, every laughed-off comment, every swipe of lipstick that makes me "pretty" is a stab of the knife.  I say a hundred blessings on your mothers and fathers.

I woke in fear that my late-sleeping child would not wake up today.  But she did, and before "good morning" she walked over to tell me about the new toy she was fixated on.  Our conversation needs no preface.  You are always alive and present for me.  Your heart is my heart.  Your soul is my soul.  I say 100 thank-yous for your being, for your aliveness.