Ghost

 

When Molly died I felt a deep grief settle in my gut.

Not because we were close- though we were at times in our lives.

Not because she was supremely good- though I believe she held a sort-of brokenness that spoke to the utter impossibility of that.

But because she meant something to inextricably vital to what my childhood was. She was inserted into pieces of myself I have always taken for granted. She was a constant in my living memory, and now she haunts it.

I think perhaps all adults go through a sort-of period of mourning when they realize they won’t ever return to their childhood, at least if one had any childhood worth loving. This happens in college, or after. A moment where you realize you cannot ever return to things the way they used to be. That your parents’ home is no longer yours- to return to for breaks and summers.

I remember sitting outside of Brown House my senior year of college, watching the cool darkness slowly take over the quad and crying to my roommate of three years that I just so desperately wanted to go home, home to my parents house where my siblings would be playing in the living room and the ceiling fan would make that crackling noise and I was safe and happy and loved.

I had a really wonderful childhood. And I have an especially hard time letting things go. Its not surprising that I feel I am always going to mourn my childhood a little.

So when Molly died I felt broken in a way I didn’t know I could be. As if someone had tried to take memories that have floated me into my identity and pulled all the feathers from their raw bodies. Here I was left with bleeding scalp.

Sometime, about a week after that news I remember turning to Sarah and saying “I don’t think I will ever really get over this one.” And you know what, I don’t think I ever will.

There are so many nights like this one. Where I feel a tad sad and a little lonely and my thoughts drift to old friends and sweet evenings and there she is- ghosting in the background as the figure absent from Christmas dinner or the little boy in our production of Harry Potter. Just….there to remind me of all we have lost. There to remind me of how torn those days are from now.

Is the curse of anymore born between 1985 and 1993? To forever float in the memory of years that were generally peaceful and quiet and hopeful? Is the curse of a Houghton kid, having grown surrounded by safety and good conversation and wide open fields? Is the curse of anyone who has ever cared for someone else?

I don’t think I will ever really get over this one.

And I’m not sure I’m alone.

It makes me wonder where her ghost has nestled. What forms it has taken.

Aaron Wardwell wrote a song this year. In honor of Molly, but I wonder if he too feels haunted by the weight of her intricacy. I have taken to listening to it on nights like this.

Without fail the ending makes me weap. I can see those still, dark frozen fields. I can smell cinnamon in warm houses. I can feel the wind wipping my hair in the back of a station wagon with the windows open. I can almost… almost place myself in these moments. But when I turn my face to look at her, shes gone.

And so, so are those moments. Those years.

How can I, how can one, be so very happy and yet feel so much grief for a time they grew away from?

Here is Aaron’s song, give him a listen. He is…amazing.

 

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Country Songs

Its a common trait for many of the circles I run in to bash country music.

This might come in many forms. Everything from “The songs lack depth, its always the same repetitive subject matter” to “Its stupid.” are throw forward as reasons. And generally, regardless which argument the person started with, it will inevitably end with them pointing out that if you don’t like beer, girls, trucks or dirt roads, well whats the point in listening to it anyway.

And I mean…. I get it.

I get why country music gets a bad rep. Even today, driving through the beginnings of fall down my own home-town dirt roads, I found myself laughing at the names of each song on the radio- each one more stereotyped than the last.

But also…. I get it.

I grew up a country girl. I didn’t wear camo and I never owned a truck but my mouth still waters the opening of deer season and I have my fair share of jeans ruined after a good four-wheeler ride through the woods. I like long drives out to nowhere, swimming under bridges, chewing on sweet grass, star gazing in fields, bonfires, seeing who can hold the electric fence longest and listening to old folks tell stories. And I was always proud of the fact that we never needed malls or theaters or arcades to keep us going. All we ever needed was our imagination and eachother and, well, we would make our own fun. As lame as that sounded.

I have always found it difficult to articulate this duality- understanding fully the necessity of a country song and yet also knowing how ridiculous they sound. After all, after those long muddy rides on a four-wheeler I would return to a dinner where my father discussed Proust.

I am no stranger to this dichotomy. But this past year has tested my greatest limits within it. My country world has always hinted towards the conservative. As a queer woman who passes easily as straight I have always been privy to cruel talk about my orientation and am not unaware of the racism that runs deep- either passively or actively- in the culture I group surrounded by. As a white woman I have gently pushed boundaries but never bothered to cause too much of a stir.

Until the election last November.

Shame on me. Shame on me for letting it take that long to really stamp my feet about things I saw and knew and knew were wrong.

So thats where I find myself- stamping my feet and pushing back against my country rearing and feeling ashamed and embarrassed for liking the same things as men who wear white robes and women who shake their head when a black woman starts dating her next door neighbors white grandson.

Pushing back. Pushing away. Not fixing anything.

I’m doing it. All of liberal America is doing it.

Pushing away from things that we see as evil. Getting out a big box and labeling it “our ex: that shitty fucker who kept us from being independent and moving on and being a better person” and throwing in all the stuff we think belonged to them.

Racism. Homophobia. Sexism. Inbreeding. Ignorance. Intolerance. Smoking. Drinking too much. Trucks. Dirt Roads. Overalls. Calico (unless its in this season).

I’m no different. I have my own box slowly filling to the brim.

And yet.

And yet today, on my drive from my current home in Alfred to my church in Belfast I passed a house I have had a growing animosity towards for a while. It’s a little run-down home with peeling paint close to the highway that would take a person away from this no-where world in either direct if they ever got the money or had the time or transportation to do it. Before the election I only ever thought of this house in terms of the near-perpetual yardsale that it has laid out on the front yard. It’s not uncommon for homes to just have garbage in their yards around here but this I always note because they have a sign that actually says “Sale” that they put up occasionally. And now, next to that sign, flies the reason for my growing dislike- a Trump sign. As a person in my position, already on edge and growing more cynical by the day, it doesn’t take much to turn a person I was only slightly concerned might tell me I’m going to hell to become a person I actually feel hatred for.

Hatred is new to me. I still don’t like it and I still try to fight it.

But today.

Today I passed this house. Flag flying, yardsale up and running. And as I passed saw the owner of the house, who I have seen before, sitting on her front porch. And my heart just broke. Shes someone’s grandmother. I am sure looks older than she is. Her skin is thin and pale and her hair balding on her thin head. She wears old-fashioned apron dresses and her eyes are sunken and hallow. She pulls behind her a tank of oxygen which at the moment I passed her sat still next to her tired body.

This is not the face of a monster. This is not the face of someone I should hate. This is face of someone who lives amongst a perpetual yardsale because she has never made enough money to save a few pennies in the bank. This is the face of someone who, every day, shows the world everything she owns in hopes that someone will take some of it from her and replace it with something she needs.

Being poor, it seems, is often a process of showing the world every detail of your being. Show us what you have- where you have spent the funds we gave you- and we will determine if that is good enough for us to help you. Yet Trump and his fellow millions dip excrement in gold and we continue to give them our money.

So here this woman does this. Week after week, shows us what she has, asks if she is worthy of our dollars, of our time. And here she flies the flag of a man, of the 1%, of the politicians, that have told her it is not their fault she sits on her porch with an oxygen tank but rather her black sisters.

And it breaks my heart.

And my mind wanders back to the country music. The music that talks about long days and long nights. Long work weeks and long weekends. This perpetual, grinding, repetitive genre that keeps crying for a voice. These are people that are proud that they work hard, proud that they make their own fun, proud that they have children and land and calluses on their hands. But they’re mad, too. Mad that they never get to save enough to save their mamas and their grandmothers. That at the end of the day they will watch their eyes dull and hair fall out and lungs fill with soot. And before long their hard-lived days land them broken and sore and unable to move from their porch, laying their lives on their lawns like an alter before a golden god, hoping for a savior.

This isn’t an excuse. There’s a lot of shit in the world of country living. There is a lot of straight-up evil.

But this a reminder, a plea, a hope.

That its not all bad. And BECAUSE it’s not all bad we need to work to make sure that these people aren’t left behind. That instead of trashing country music we make sure we acknowledge the fact that Loretta Lynn is the only person with a song about birth control and thats a damn impressive check-mark for women in the 70’s. Instead of isolating folks lets prove to them that their oompa-loompa savior is a hoax and give them a real one. One that doesn’t mind that they like their boots covered in muck or their meat fresh. But certainly one that extends the hand of diversity and includes the nonsense that everyone outside it just…doesn’t get.

So, for starters.

I like country music.

I like the twang.

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Trees

This morning I landed back at the Buffalo airport after a week long vacation with my family. Together the six of us- mom, dad, Ben, hannah, allyson and I- made our way through San Fransico to Yosemite and finally ended our trip at Sequioa.

Before this trip I was quite apprehensive. It has been a long summer or travels, including one trip already to the west coast. This combined with the general anxieties that plague such an expedition and the trepidation of new territory didn’t exactly make me feel 100% sure the whole thing would go over well.

But it was marvelous.

San Fransico, though not my favorite city, was beautiful. And it opened the gates of its art and culture wide enough for my ego and doubt to make its way in. We walked the hallways of their art galleries and I marveled at the delicate and dedicated way that it was geared towards inclusion and appreciation. We drove through groves at once a mix of pine trees and palm trees- blending together a strangely familiar and yet other worldly forest. We fought our way through crowds to gawk at sea lions and finally ended the days journey at the birthplace of Ginsberg’s Howl. And, as I stood in the dim hallway of that bookstore staring at a picture of the poet himself with Bob Dylan I felt the first stirrings of excitement. Perhaps the west coast does not offer all the history I want it to- but what it does offer, it breaths to the very beat of it. Suddenly my body ached to be here in the moment that picture was taken- to smell the sweat of unclean hippies, to feel the fear of those who rushed Stonewall, to live alongside the Chinese who built this city. But before I could inhale this reality we were gone- off to the next leg of our trip.

Which landed us in Yosemite. A place which, at first, made me feel trapped. Upon waking the first morning and opening the tent I saw rising around me in all directions great monolithic mountains. We were not perched high but rather surrounded by the ancient guards and I felt the unfamiliar sensation of claustrophobia. I took that first morning slow- gathering coffee and a book on an empty stomach and checking the wifi at the lodge to see if I could talk to Sarah- needing both the comfort of connection and also the reassurance that my hesitation to hike all day was not actually a moral failure on my part. But as that day and indeed the following few days progressed, I began to feel myself swept away in all it’s beauty.

Actually, I can boil this sweeping down into three moments:

1. Swimming in the river. Hannah had been to Yosemite before and was excited to show us a particular swimming hole she remembered as a child. I was hesitant but followed. How stupid I am ever to not trust her instruction. Not only was the river lovely and deep as she described, but it was the cleanest water I have ever seen. Even in its current one can see straight to the bottom. It is cold and crisp- fresh run-off from the mountain tops, the final gatherings of the winters icey mountain tops. It rushes down and onward in beautiful swiftness, never loosing its sweetness or perfection. I soon found my favorite thing to do was swim hard against the current until I came to a fallen tree where I would push myself into the fastest moving part and let the water pull me downstream while I stared up at the impossibly blue sky punctuated with the turrets of rock-faced mountains. I did not plan to forgo showers the whole time we were in Yosemite. But once I felt that water I knew I didn’t care to take them. What could be cleaner than that river? Nothing I tell you.

2. There isn’t much to say about my second moment, except that it was unexpected. Our last full day in the park Hannah and Mom and I went on an open air tour. This simply means we rode in a sort of hay wagon with a park ranger and he told us some of the history and natural elements of the park. Our ranger was a quirky guy- he had a funny cadence in his speech and liked to quip punnily about things, including his own self reflective moments. And he was very good at his job- I think we all enjoyed the whole experience. But the best part was near the end. At that point we had driven to what they call the tunnel lookout point- an area and allows for a beautiful scenic moment through rows of mountains and The Valley cutting through them all. It was here that our ranger (Ranger K) got out his banjo and began to play. He was not vague about his intentions, which i liked. Rather he said directly that he wanted us to imagine all of the music that came before us, and maybe his playing would give us a starting point to what we imagined that could be. And then he played. Two songs, the second which I would continue to hum for the rest of the week, an old Pete Seeger song. The chorus goes “and may the world be, and may the world be, and may the world be, when I’m far away”. Looking out at the mountains I felt this in my soul, a pray, a cry, that long, long after I am gone let this world go on. Let these mountains stand and this place run with clear water and May it be. May it simply be- as it always has- without us. When he was finished Hannah said “it’s like church” and my heart leapt as if to say- “this is the only church.”

3. My third moment I fought against. Mom and Dad wanted to hike down to an old grove that had great Sequioas and I desperately did not want to walk. But for better or worse they rather tricked me into it and so I found myself sweaty and crazed on the adventure.

The first tree we saw took my breath away. So did every one after it. They are enormous. Their trunks are large and sturdy. They reach to the sky with great arms covered in round soft needles and pine cones comically small for their proportion. The glow red in the rays of sunlight and their bark is soft and furry to the touch. They are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen or could ever imagine seeing. As I stood staring at the first tree along the walk I overheard a tour guide giving details about these giants. She said they stand for 2,000-3,000 years and then they fall. And then they lay on the ground for another 2,000-4,000 years before they are decomposed. And I wanted to cry. A feeling I would shake for the remainder of our trip. This thing- this beast, this beauty- this was proof of my insignificance and my significance. This thing measures my life in the blink of an eye- seeing me and my grandparents and The ancient peoples of this place as one being- no one more important than another, watching our lives drift in an out. And yet I placed my hands on its trunk and I felt it breath. I felt this great trees life- instintaneous and momentary and living alongside me- me in this moment. That for a moment I was in communion with something that reached beyond me and endowed its memory there. Suddenly we two carry a combined understanding of the world into one singluar breath of time- time which in its abstractness dictates that only the present truly matters, as much as all of us hate that.

Mom and Dad and I walked through the grove, seeing those trees still standing and laying like beached whales alike. Near the end of the walk we found a tree that had begun to hollow out and I crawled inside it. I slowly made my way down and stopped about 20 feet in, and quieted. What a privilege, what an indescribable moment. To sit in the bones of such an ancient god. To breath in and touch the sides of a creature some 3,000 or more years old. To get a chance to wonder what this old being has seen.

That wonder never ceases. By this point Yosemite had won my love. Or at least, the trees and river had. And so I was sad to drive out of its arms and on to our next adventure.

But it did not disappoint. Sequoia brought with it some breathtaking stars and deep cool crystal caves. We had one full day there and we were determined to make it count. I even saw a bear (well the butt of a bear). So after many adventures and more than a few hikes I found myself with blisters on my feet and dirt covering my mosquito bitten legs at an old grove meadow that I desperately, once again, did not want to hike around.

But once again, I was proven wrong.

Sequoia is a quieter place in general than Yosemite. It offers long stretches where there are no other people and a silence that is refreshing. There in that meadow this was most true. Every few feet an enormous Giant Sequioa rose from the ground – it’s signature burn marks healed defiantly on its side and roots tangled into the ground formed great arches to stand in. In between to the trees grew great patches of ferns and undergrowth and gave the whole thing a feeling of the Jurassic. My father said that the earth used to be covered in such giant trees- that nearly everything was so big thousands of years ago. That’s not hard to believe when you see this creatures- the largest living things on earth. How I marveled at every one, how I fell in love with every one. How I desperately wanted to take one home with me. How I despaired that, even if I brought a sapling it wouldn’t matter, I would be long dead before it felt this strong.

Actuallly, i question even now why I didn’t bring back a seed and try to plant one here. Yes, it might not grow, but then again it might. After all, these trees all withstand fires and literally thousands of years to be where they are- who says they couldn’t make it in New York. But Ben pointed out that one has to have a lot of faith in humanity to plant one. That the way our world is going, well, what’s the point.

So did I choose to not bring a seed back on purpose? Or do I believe they should remain a mythical place one has to get to to see? Or do I selfishly want the tree i plant to belong to me- and i know it never would.

How silly, to think such a thing could ever belong to a human. A human who is truly only blip on the life span of these trees.

But oh, how safe one feels with these trees. And oh, what I would give to have one here to crawl into and breath deep in.  The steadiest of monsters- carefully cradling life and nature in their lives and sheltering in their deaths (if death you call something that still resists decay).

I did not expect to fall in love with anything on this trip. I expected some beauty, some impressive views and undertakings. I did not expect to feel as though I had buried a piece of my heart in a creature far more mystical and powerful than I. But as it turns out, I did.

And, as it turns out, I do intend to return to those trees again some day. To give them a hug, sit beneath them, and try to feel their wisdom seep into my bones as much as is possible for a fool like me.

in the meantime, I will place their pictures in my family album, an honorary place.

And, when I look back at this trip I will remember the feeling of their bark and the sounds of my family inhaling and exhaling and we drove off the mountain, listening to the sound track from The Great Beauty.

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&hl=en-us&biw=375&bih=559&ei=eEyBWdr0F8nKjwSxkpvAAQ&q=the+beatitudes+the+great+beauty&oq=the+beatitudes+the+great+beauty&gs_l=mobile-gws-serp.3..0i22i30k1.4742.7768.0.8103.17.17.0.1.1.0.291.1986.9j7j1.17.0….0…1.1.64.mobile-gws-serp..1.16.1615…0j0i67k1j33i22i29i30k1j33i160k1j33i21k1.65Odk8Vm_qA#mie=e,,the%20beatitudes%20the%20great%20beauty,H4sIAAAAAAAAAONgVuLRT9c3LDTNMreIL694xOjJLfDyxz1hKYdJa05eY7Ti4grOyC93zSvJLKkU0uFig7KUuASkUDRqMEjxcaGI8AAAlmrEeVwAAAA

 

 

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Camp

When I was a kid camp was one of my favorite things. Once a year (or twice in 8th grade) I would stuff a variety of overalls and colorful tshirts in a bag and head out- bound for the long dirt road that, just over the train tracks, led to a week of gritty bliss.

The camp I happened to attend was called Camp Cherith. It was Christian, not sure what demonination. It was an all girls camp till I was about 13 when they started to admit limited numbers of boy. And it was full of all the stereotypes, troupes and activities that all summer camps in the 90s had. We had boating, fishing, rifeley and archery. We had crafts, made boondoggle, did wood burning, rode horses, swam, canoed. We had morning devotions and evening bonfires where we danced and screamed and sand lengthy ridiculous songs that finally settled into soft coping lullabies with partically acurate sign language. We had meals family style with plenty of banging and spills and the best hot chocolate I still have ever had.

I loved that place. Camp was a place where I could be popular- where I could be me and people celebrated that, even the wierd bits. I would proudly walk from activity to activity with friendship braclets half-made dangling from my overall pockets. I would run to the snack shop to carefully select a candy bar with the ten dollars my parents had put on reserve for me.

To this day I remember the feeling of being roused from bed by the bugle, walking into the chill morning air and sitting on a sticky plastic disk in the dewy grass to quietly read my bible before breakfast. All these years later- that feeling remains embedded in my mind as one of the most consistently calm times I have ever spent.

Of course- most of my feelings of confidence at camp were most definitely supported by the staff. Being a (mostly) all girls camp the staff were unsurprisingly all women. We would arrive at camp, bags in hand and shuttled off to different cabins and tents. There we would find our new bunks decorated with glittery stickers with our names painstakingly printed on them. Our counselor, bestowed with a bird name, would greet us with a smile and neon shirt- generally her hair wrapped and a bandana on. And immediately we would feel wanted and loved.

I was at camp 9 years. I remember every counselor i had. But i had some favorites.

Indigo- we made her cry one night because we wouldn’t go to sleep.

Star- she was so cool and so pretty and spunky. The year I was there 5 of the girls in the group of 8 got their first period.

Ruthie- really butch, really sporty, really tough, not afraid of anything.

Cuckcoo- from the Czech Republic.

Scarlet- Gentle and sweet and loved games. I was definitely in love with her.

I wanted to be like these women. These women who were fun and funny and spunky and who were there to sing songs and hang out with US! They were so important to me- from the girl who taught me to ride my first horse to the ladies that served me extra eggs in the morning, they were my heroes. I never once thought of them as anything but something to love and aspire to.

I always wanted to go back.

But a whole summer is a lot to find time for… and with that excuse, I never have.

But I think of it a lot.

And this week, well I am thinking of it constantly. Because, as it so happens, I am working at a different camp- Royal Family Kids Camp. It’s a one week camp for children who are abused or neglected. My mother has run it for years and finally, FINALLY, I am able to come too. It’s not easy. We work long hours- up at 7 and done at 11. We hear terrible stories- little girls who talk about the time their father shot their mother in front of them or little boys who want their face paint to look like they have a black eye like they did the one time their uncle hit them. Or just kids who don’t say they have a home. Kids who are forgotten about.

While they are here we spoil them. That’s it, that’s the point of the camp. To, for one week, spoil these kids and prove that we care. And that God cares. That we don’t know why these things were allowed to happen to them but that doesn’t mean they are not valuable… so we throw an everybody birthday party, we give them presents, we let them eat as much as they want, we feed them candy, we hug them, we sing to them and read to them and boat with them and craft and have tea parties and play dress up and do sports and have a carnival and put on plays and eat and do whatever they want. A week where they get to decide what life should be. There’s a camp grandma and grandpa, there are aunts and uncles and counselors and then, the mes- craft people and food people and drama people and more. And we just pour what we can out, send what we can home and just keep saying that god loves every one of them and we do too.

Many of you know, those words arnt always easy for me to say. Being a queer Christian I have had plenty of people imply that God might love me but that doesn’t mean he loves every part of me. And sometimes the words catch in my mouth. My mind wants to say “God loves you I think but some people make me question that sometimes and it’s ok to doubt but I want you to find a faith that is loving, even if it’s not this exact image of God we are forcing down your throat”. After all, what if I spend all this time telling these kids this and then one turns out gay and suddenly they equate this camp… and the other Christians telling them they don’t belong… and suddenly all our words are meaningless.

But you know what? It’s camp. And camp isn’t about doctrine. It’s about joy. And it’s about love.

And so I find myself not bothered by these catching words. Not bothered by the fact that my mother feared to let me be a counselor in case someone found out I was gay and brought up a case against my spending time with children. Instead, camp overwhelming the worry of not being accepted or respected and just fills me with peace.

And I can look at each of these campers and say “yes!!! The God we have here at camp is FULL of these things! Full of damp cabins and love notes and the hum of crickets in the early morning and swimming and creating and sharing and joy!” And most of all- he is full of love. He is full of laughter. He is full of grace. And I am convinced, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

I have been pondering this unexpected peace i have with camp and the sort-of stereotypical Sunday school teaching we have been doing and I have really come to the conclusion that all of this is wrapped up in my youth, my childhood at camp cherith.

I didn’t know it at the time but my camp had a no discrimination policy and there were a few counselors and even the director that were gay. But it didn’t matter and we didn’t talk about it- we just did our activities and talked about God and loved every second. No fire, no brimstone, no contingencies.

Actually, that camp is where I accepted Christ into my heart for the first time. I was 12- old for a kid who grew up in the church. It was one of those dewy mornings spent reading the Bible. When we finished our counselor drew us into a circle and asked us our thoughts. After a conversation she said she wanted to pray for us and said if anyone wanted to make room for Jesus to live in our hearts we could. And I did.

I am not sure I believe this step is necessary- but I do believe it’s symbolism is beautiful. And I remember feeling so at peace and so joyful. And so… accepted.

How fitting, then, that here I find that same peace. That above the racket of confusion and the people that someone still don’t believe that I am “Christian enough”. That I don’t pray enough, believe enough, agree with them enough. That here- where the air is muggy and the bugs are plenty and the songs are loud. That here we are able to strip this all down and say, in a clear and simple voice- you are loved and worthy of love. You are loved by God. You are loved by us. You are loved by me.

Camp gave me that love.

Now I have this simple chance to give that love here, here at camp.

 

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On Privilege, Power, a Few Rants and the Women’s March

On January 21st, only a few days ago, I was able to stand in solidarity with literally millions of friends across the world in one of the most powerful protests in history. It has sent shock waves through our country and our world and it has left a trail of conversation, resentment, love and frustration in its wake.

And it is a WHOLE LOT to process.

So I thought I would try to maybe do a little bit of that here on my little blog- a place seemingly reserved for such things.

Where to start….

Lets start with something beautiful. This whole thing was beautiful. The night before the march I found myself crammed into one little 2-star hotel room with 6 other women eagerly awaiting whatever was in store. Among them was my mother- Nancy (a Title IX coordinator and counselor), my girlfriend- Sarah (a masters Divinity student at Duke), my sister-in-law Hannah (an elementary Art Teacher from North Carolina) and three close friends- Hilary (friend since childhood), Emily (fellow Alfred person originally from Washington state) and Rachel (also a Duke Div student from Texas). Determined to make it work we pushed together the two twin beds to make a “megabed”, blew up an air mattress and mat and piled on in.

I hardly slept for excitement and nerves.

The next day we drove to the end of the subway line and hopped out of the car, signs in hand to be greeted by literally HUNDREDS of women already crammed waiting to get on the train. For a moment the mixture of fear and excitement nestled in my gut was flooded with only feelings of fear. But at that moment two strange things happened. One- a group of about four people in camo wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and signs that said “Anti-Trans” with a red circle and “x” through it (note- this was confusing, it was clear they were counter protesters but this is a double negative. Anti-anti…means for? I think they might just not be too bright….) entered a platform above us and started yelling and just like that the crowd erupted with noise. But not angry, spiteful noise but rather joyful, overwhelming noise. This happened a couple of times only. The protesters would yell and then the group would swallow their jeers with triumphant love and within ten minutes they had left- signs down, heads shaking. And with that, I felt utterly at peace. Women would jostle and push and immediately would turn and apologize and ask if we were ok. Everyone held hands with their groups so as not to be separated. Cell phone lines were clogged and ceased working. And yet all were smiles, all were kind, all were gracious. Every once in a while someone would call for signs up and pictures would be taken and questions asked and everyone would get excited about what signs said and we would laugh and talk things that needed done. It was so wonderful. And that was only at the train station.

The whole day was like that. Every where you went there would be a sea of faces blending together with pockets of coordinated groups. We saw women wearing Canadian flags and when Hilary said “thank you for coming!” they simply replied with “Absolutely! We are all in this together.” There was a group of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who played the drums like absolute bad asses, Indigenous people groups and hundreds of folks wearing Black Lives Matter shirts as well as plenty from the LGBTQ+ community and any number of religious groups. All excited, all ready to do this thing together.

I will admit, I was nervous to do this. There was a large part of me that figured with the political climate as it is we would very likely be gunned down. I don’t say this lightly, my heart was in knots the weeks leading to it because I went into this with that being a hopefully small but very real possibility. But amazingly, as soon as I got there, I felt that melt away. This was not a place for fear- this was a place for love.

Now, let me say, this day also taught be something about my ever-increasing understanding of my own privilege. Yes- this was a fairly inclusive event- but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t carry with it the veil of white privilege. So very recently Sarah wanted to go to the Black Lives Matter protest in Charleston and I cried and asked her not to go for fear that real REAL violence might erupt. This had nothing to do with a difference of the kind of the of protest- they were the same. Meant to be peaceful and powerful, it was not given the same weight of respect. When middle aged white women march no one sees them as a violent threat. When young black men and women march they are seen as a threat. The Women’s March was not the problem. Black Lives Matter is not the problem. The way we have been taught to view these things different IS A PROBLEM. And even as relief washed over me so did shame of that night I begged Sarah not to go. What kind of Ally am I if I am willing to risk my life for my cause but not the cause of my fellow human beings. Our country, and a lot of folks in it, need to think about this. But I am no position to point fingers. I need to change this in myself. I have not been good enough. And I know I will not be good enough until I have risked all and given all to those who it.

Incidentally, this is because I am a Christian.

This is also why I marched.

This is also why I voted the way I did.

I believe there is no higher truth than to give of yourself and your things to people who need them. I am trying to every day grow better in this. To divide my time in ways it might be sacrificed and to give some of my wealth to causes I cannot physically help in. Its not enough. It might never be. But I know I have a heck of a lot I can still give and that means I have not even scratched the surface of what I believe.

But anyway, back to the march. Like I said, it was amazing. But it has received some criticisms which I take very seriously. Among them, are these:

  1. The inclusion of Women of Color. Mom and I talked a lot about this. Truthfully I was relieved to see the beautiful array of skin tones and styles and any number of differences. This was a place where people of all races, religions, creeds, orientations and genders was gathered and I was, oh, so glad of it. But I will 100% admit we have a long ways to go before it is truly reflective of our nation. I would say, from a brief glance, that percentages were off. A higher percentage of the white population was present than the black population and I would say least represented were our Latinex folks. And this makes sense to me. If I was a woman of color I would hesitate to go to a march. For fear of harm, for fear of exclusion, for fear of hatred. Of course. And that is the problem. Our nation has not offered the safety needed for people of color. And if we want them to feel included we need to work hard to make sure they know they will be protected and that they are respected and wanted. It sounds dramatic but until all those at the march are willing to take a bullet for any other person there…we gotta keep working on this stuff. And until everyone feel comfortable to attend….we gotta keep making safe spaces for each group and each person. How ironic that people of color, those who helped instill this country with the image of a peaceful protest, now face the most violence for just that.
  2. Sacred spaces for Indigenous Peoples. Apparently a large groups of Indigenous Peoples were trying to pray on the steps of the museum on the Mall and were shuffled aside by the crowds. I don’t think this was intended but it sucks. And I am not sure how it could have been stopped- the whole thing was intensely overwhelmed with people- but generally I just think we shit all over our indigenous peoples and this is no exception. Why do we continue to un-see this group? Like I said, this just hurts me to hear about. And to know that already Drumpf has signed an executive order to continue with the Dakota Access Pipeline is sickening. And again, I know my privilege. I can cling to my hope that things stay stagnant enough to survive the next four years. No such luck for those who were here first on our lands. Day three and what little we leave them is being scraped from their bleeding knuckles in the freezing cold heights of North Dakota. What happened at the march I do believe was an accident. But it happens every day in this country… at what point does higher incidences of rape, substance abuse, poverty, lower incomes and land grabbed out from under them move from daily accidents to we, as a whole, just don’t care. If we really cared wouldn’t we just see and recognize a prayer ceremony?
  3. Inclusion for all sisters not just cis-ters. Straight up- we suck at this. Our trans-sisters are most definitely left out of our conversations and our advertising. What I find most frustrating about this is how egregiously they are left out of the health care debate. This is a group of people who need access to medical services not only to make sure the hormones they might take or the surgeries they might undergo are carefully monitored but also because they face higher rates of suicide and sexual and physical harm. They need access to financial support, counseling and good medical services. Why are we, as a movement talking about this?? I will say that one thing about the trans-inclusion debate that I have found frustrating is the desire to do away with all the talk of female genitalia. I don’t think it is fair to ask the feminist movement as a whole to stop using all of the images and language of female organs to talk about women’s issues. This is the language of re appropriation and the seat of much of the shame a lot of women are meant to feel all the time. Things like blood, using the word “pussy” and even the images themselves are a source of power for many women. But just as motherhood is a powerful archetype for women but not all women are mothers so too does genitalia need to find a place. Rather than this being the focus of a movement it needs to be a part of a movement. OF COURSE there will always be women who wear giant stuffed cervix hats to protest the tax on tampons and pads. So too does it need to be understood that not all women have a cervix. Its a messy place to be in- to understand that you cannot strip the language of empowerment from one group for the sake of another while simultaneously ensuring everyone feels included and powerful- but I truly believe the answer is in that mess. Lets actively start talking about issues that trans-women face when we are marching for the rights of all women (and for that matter include all folks who need a voice? Even if they don’t maybe perfectly fit on the gender binary?). I truly believe people wouldn’t knit-pick things like imagery if we were doing a good job of being inclusive- so clearly we have issues here.
  4. The Pro-Life movement in the march. So while the far-left has been frustrated with the above the main criticism I have found from the right is the fact that the march excluded pro-life groups from marching in the parade. I found this fascinating. Mostly because, as a cause, I have not thought of such a group ever wanting to align itself with a march for women. So when I heard that the group was denied I was a little frustrated. I was like “NO WE MUST INCLUDE EVERYONE!” But then… then stuff hit the fan. Namely, at the march we ran into two pro life groups there. One was a giant truck who kept circling the perimeter of the parade driven by two men with a giant aborted fetus on the side and a sign that said “abortion is murder” and the another group who carried signs that said “abortion betrays women” and I was like “oh right, this is the problem with the pro-life movement.” And I know I will make some people mad here…. but here is the thing. I was actually marching, in my small group, with a couple women who consider themselves pro-life. They believe that abortion is wrong, that it should be an extreme last choice and that if at all possible a woman should resort to ANYTHING else. But they also feel uncomfortable with the pro-life movement because, quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to actually care about women or people at all. the pro-life movement seems to be about a line drawn in the sand,  a decree, a rule. It isn’t about caring for people and it certainly isn’t about love. It’s about an easy hard-and-fast solution. Because there is room (so much room) for the pro-life movement to live happily within the pro-choice movement. Show us we are wrong, damnit. Show us that there are actual options for people. Right now women feel trapped and feel they often only have two options- have a baby and suffer the wrath of society, their family, welfare, the grief of giving away a child to adoption, having a child when they feel desperate and overwhelmed or having an abortion. That leaves SO MUCH room for the pro-life movement. Offer safe houses for teen moms to go when their families kick them out! Offer programs where moms-to-be can meet prospective adoptive parents with no guilt attached. Offer after school programs that include counseling for at-risk kids. Have condoms everywhere so students know you’e not stupid enough to think that abstinence-only education is actually going to work (because lets face it if you really hate abortion more than anything you would be doing EVERYTHING in your power to stop it). One of the most powerful signs at the rally was one that read “Because of Planned Parenthood I never needed an abortion.” That’s because PP is doing the work the pro-life movement should be doing. They are offered placements in safe spaces, they are offering education, they are financially supporting, and are providing birth control. I am even fine with the pro-life movement continuing their abstinence talk in churches and even private school as long as they end every talk with- but for goodness sake if you are going to have sex wear a condom. Its the only way to end abortion. Holding signs that say “Abortion betrays women” or driving a truck with a bloody picture is only going to hurt women- demonize those who have felt that their only option was this thing. Maybe they are fine, maybe they feel more regret of that decision more than other- it doesn’t matter. By bringing these things as your symbols you have decided that your legalistic beliefs have more bearing than the realities of an entire half of our population. I have hugged more than one friend as they turned, tears in their eyes, to go to a clinic and end a pregnancy. I have also had friends who had kids at 14 and 16 and they live the lives of their parents now- transient and without much money. I have also had plenty of friends who have surprise kiddos- in and out of marriages who are fine, happy, well-off and just chugging along. And I have had a friend with a babe in arms tell me that this was the worst mistake she could have made, to have this child. Man alive, if there were more options for every one of these women I can only image the empowerment they would feel, the support, the contentment in knowing they are making truly the right choice for themselves. I so desperately want women to have more choices. So fill the gaps the pro-choice movement is leaving! But I am tired of the woes of the right sighing because they were not “allowed” to march. You were allowed to march! We just don’t want you to remind other women marching of what might have been the hardest choice they ever had to make. After all, this was a march for women- their rights and their opportunities. And I have never felt that the pro-life cares at all for women.  I want them involved. But I am not convinced they actually want to be involved. But bottom line is- anyone who is pro-women should have representation at a march like this one. And for that reason I am SO HAPPY that there were those marching who believe that abortion does need to be a last resort without wanting to compromise the right for a woman to choose not to have an abortion rather than be mandated not to have one. And I am SO HAPPY to see many of my friends on facebook who fall on the pro-life side of things struggling with this and wanting to be a part of this movement regardless. Because, even if you disagree with me on this issue, there are so many others that need your voice. It takes a big person to be a part of something that they find fault with… honestly those women, those people, are strong. And who knows- maybe this is just my bias showing. Maybe I am just wrong. I mean, I hate armpit hair and heaven knows there isn’t a damn thing wrong with it.

Sorry for getting a little rant-y….especially on that last one… The thing is… I sound like I have it figured out but obviously these are things I am now pondering, tasting and turning in my mouth slowly. These words, these actions, these self-challenges are all built out of insecurities in the ever-present truth that I am flawed and wanting and just doing my best… and that is never enough.

But I have to try to do things. I have to try to make this world better. What am I if my anger stops at this keyboard, in this moment. There are days where all I have to give is a dollar in my pocket, there are days when I can give all my energy and brain power and enthusiasm. There are also days when I have stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling- tear ducts dry and mind on fire, paralyzed with fear and it takes a friend or two to come and drag me out of bed and force-feed me pancakes. Incidentally that particular day occurred November 9th. Thanks Tyler and Sean.

And as a note- I feel so incredibly lucky that I got to share the march with my mother- someone who has worked her whole life with women- trying to pull them out of poverty, out of pain, out of abuse. I come from a long line of strong women- both my grandmothers, my aunts and my mother have always had voices that rang clear in their homes. I might not always agree with them but I have always respected them- they demand and deserve that. Without them I would be little of what I am today.

So at any rate the march was not perfect but it was powerful. I think the best thing we can do, as participants or bystanders to chew on the critiques that have been given us and ingest them into ourselves- ensuring that we become more inclusive and stronger than before. I am not sure are ever going to be perfect to be honest… but the trying is whats important (oh jeez save me that sentiment!).

In the meantime I know that what I experienced this weekend will sustain me for a long time. All the love that poured into those there, are the excitement at making this world better, all the resolve to be more than the person our country has elected.

After all, I have seen a lot of folks on facebook and in general sneeringly ask what the point of all this was or what we thought would happen. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I will say this. My desire to be a part of this movement boiled down to the simple idea that I want it to be known we stood against this. Too often in my history classes we asked why evil was allowed to persist, why no one stood in opposition. I wanted to be part of something that made it clear that we do oppose, we do stand against this evil. I want it to be known that I do not condone what has happened in this country. And I want to hold myself accountable for what needs to be done.

And Martin Luther said,  “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

 

 

 

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By Any Other Name

I am not sure why I waited a week and a half to write this. Maybe because I did not feel it was my place to claim a seat among those in the innermost circle of grief, maybe I just didn’t know quite what to say.

At any rate, regardless, I would be re-missed not to write something- because a beautiful, complicated person left this world last Sunday. And that person has left a hole that feels so deep and empty and so hard to describe.

A bit of background. Growing up in Houghton my parents were close to a small handful of adults in our town. These people were always interesting, always complex, always caring. Perhaps the most magical part of my childhood is resting my head against the cool metal of our banister railings late at night, after we were supposed to have been in bed, to listen to the whispered voices trickling up from the living room. What was it about those muffled sounds that mesmerized me? The conversations that I knew flew so far above me and yet I pressed myself towards even through the bars that held me suspended from them. I could always smell the cinnamon tea they drank mingling with smokey candles and I could always feel the creak of a rocking chair and the scrape on ceramic plate.

There are a few families that these memories are so desperately, intricately tied to that they are more akin to family to me that friendship. The Lastorias, the MacBeths, the Huths, and perhaps most profoundly- the Woolseys.

The Woolseys, Kathy and Dan, were essentially my parents closest friends. They mirrored my parents loves of art and literature and kayak adventures. They liked quiet dinners with good music and plenty of chatter. They enjoyed day outings to museums and parks and never had a shortage of things to discuss. We even shared some favorite vacation spots including our dear Lakeside, OH. Much like my family they had three children- Caity, Jesse and Jamie. Just off-set to our ages Caity was the eldest followed by Jesse, a year my elder, then Ben and Jamie in perfect sync and Allyson leading the end (generally the case). Many of my earliest memories are of this family so divinely throw together with our own. Jesse was one of my best friends from the time were children and we would have slumber parties with Scotty Macbeth in the upstairs of the Woolsey’s old wooden home. At the same time I always desperately wanted to emulate Caity in all ways. On occasion she and Hilary Young would talk X-files and Star Trek and I would casually sit near trying to understand the details of fandom. I remember a poster on her wall of the Lady of Chalotte and how above me it all seemed. And meanwhile Jamie took up practically permanent residence in my brother’s world, becoming the cousin down the street we never had. There was never a week that passed without him sliding into my mother’s kitchen on his knees, playing air guitar, cannon balling into our pool or helping us make a rather impressive Harry Potter film (this was pre movies you see).

I guess what I am trying to say is- these memories are my childhood. Of course they are not all that I loved from this time- the Wardwells, the Cronks to name a few- but the Woolseys were so connected to us that I literally cannot image my childhood without them by our side.

Every summer is filled with evenings in treehouses and catching fireflys off their back patio, every fall with walks in our woods and bonfires while our parents sat surrounded by citronella candles, every winter with Christmas parties full of baked apples Kathy made, every Spring full of creatures we unearthed out of the thawing ground.

And Jamie was a part of every piece of that.

Of course, since these days our lives have become more complicated. We have all grown and graduated and moved on to the next thing. Caity is married and just had her first child and is a hair away from her PHD at Yale, Jesse married his high school sweetheart Haleigh and they live in Charlotte NC, Ben is also married and pursuing his PHD, I am in a long-term long-distance relationship and biding my time close to home and my parents, Allyson is spending another summer out west and Jamie, well Molly, has had a rough time.

I am not sure why things happen the way they do. I am not sure why Dan was diagnosed with early on-set dementia. I know that this has been one of the heaviest grief-filled events of our small community’s life. I know every time I spend an evening with him now my heart aches to see how far removed this man is from the person I knew as one of the kindest, smartest and complex humans I have ever known. I know I only feel a fraction of what that means to the Woolsey family- to their extended loved ones and most significantly to Kathy, Caity, Jesse and Molly.

I am not sure why things happen the way they do. I am not sure why, out of all of we kids Jamie was afflicted with addiction. There were ups and downs. Jamie officially came out as transgender and we all began to learn her new pronouns and eventually grasped her new name. And Kathy and the family opened their arms to she and she did feel so much love. But with every step forward she fell back. She had a lovely girlfriend I never got to meet- Monica- who was brilliant so far as I can tell. But addiction, addiction tears things up.

We loved her and she did know it. Even through all the frustration we had about her addiction and the pain she felt being in this world- she did know love, and she gave it. And one day, even amidst the love and complexity she still succumbed to her addiction. How is that even possible?

My brother and I have talked a lot these past few weeks about this loss. About how confusing it is to hash through a person’s life, let alone a person who has changed their pronouns. Ben has mentioned the frustration he feels because he wants so desperately to talk about Jamie, the friends who never left his side till they graduated high school. How he at the same time knows he needs to pay his respects to Molly. And how wrapped in that is this beautiful, strange, barely obtainable knowing that this is all one being- one beautiful, complicated, broken, fluid person who made an impact in our tiny little world.

This person climbed trees with us, shared sleeping bags at drive-in movies, marveled at nature and discovered computer games. This person imaged worlds, despaired character demise and loved fiercely around us. It was not easy and I believe in so many it was so much harder for her than the rest of us. But she was there. This person was there.

I am finding it hard to think about this Christmas. Trite, I know, again, this is not my grief to really bear. But you see, especially these last years that is the only time I really got to see Molly. She would text me occasionally and comment often on my facebook or instagram photos. Most recently, about a week before her death, she noted how much she missed the song game my family played around the living room on family get-together nights. My response was simple- me too. Me. Too. But these days she has been fighting her battles on the West Coast and so Christmas Eve is really the only time we really got to talk. She, covered in awkward ink drawings that littered her body like a cliche roadmap and I trying too hard to seem casual in whatever outfit I would regret come next year, would get in that one good conversation. But even though our families are more scattered and I have not seen Jesse in years these evenings still mean the world to me. And she has always been there- every Christmas Eve.

There are few things in life that have made me truly angry- what has been inflicted on this beautiful, important family is something that has. With Dan, now with Molly. I will never understand why this things happen. I will never understand why these things happen.

But I do know I mourn them both. And I know particularly tonight, these past few weeks and many, many to come, I will mourn Molly.

This is a person who meant something, a person woven into the memories and pieces of people in ways they are only now still understanding. How I wish, even for a moment I could go back to those days of all of we children falling asleep in tepid late-summer nights on shared beds listening to the hum of crickets. How I wish, even for a moment I could re-live Jamie sitting next to me, our faces pressed against the metal bars, listening to our parents whispers, my feeling completely at peace with this person who was, without a doubt, family.

We will miss you my friend. I hope you have found your mermaid world.

 

 

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On Being Sick

Yesterday in church my pastor shared some news: she isn’t going to die as soon as we thought.

She explained her Parkinson’s has turned out to be a very rare form of the disease, one that is still painful but manageable. She won’t loose her mobility or mental capacity like so many victims. Following this she referenced two of her friends who were diagnosed almost in the same week as she was, both who have respectively lost her life and his mind. As she spoke, I felt a flood memories rush over, bathing me in feverish waves and sending chills up and down my spine. I sat being cold and clammy only catching moments of what she said. I cried, every so slightly. And even now I am not sure why. Relief, yes. But also grief. Grief to be reminded of seven years gone by and lost. How is it possible that it has been seven years since that awful week in early January?

I have been pretty sick this month. A battery of symptoms sent me to the hospital for a series of tests. I won’t bore you with details, my life is not immediately threatened, I have some crazy strength vitamins I have to take. But potentially because of this my immune system has been less than desirable and I have found myself bed ridden on and off for the last three weeks. And, in the meantime, my neck found its way out of alignment so in addition to the stomach bugs and sniffles I was in pretty constant pain. It’s been rough.

But today I woke up and I had no pain whatsoever. I slowly moved my head to the side and then the other and felt nothing, the absence of pain almost felt intangible it was so amazing. I felt hungry and even better, when I bit into the warm bread prepared I could taste it. The sun was shining and I opened my windows to let in some air and instead of the chilled nip of March a sweet warmth drifted in and hit my pale cheeks.

This feeling, it felt like floating. Like I had been so aware of what held me fast in my human form was released. The confines and edges of my body were completely beyond my reach, I felt no boundary. And I wanted to cry again.

That seems cheesy, I know. Its not a big deal, I have just had the flu, some colds, a tweek in the neck. But there was somehow this overwelming understanding that I was within the realm of relief. My sick is not the end sick. I have time, I have time to be healthy. It seems scary because I don’t know what to do with it but I have it! And I have so much to fit into that time before I get sick again, whenever that will be…

For Lent this year I gave up some personal struggle things but decided something more interpersonal that I needed to work on was being positive. I am often praised at work for being a “peacekeeper” or someone people feel comfortable around because I am happy a lot. The irony is I think over the last couple of years I have become very bitter about some things. Some ways in which I feel abandoned, harmed, neglected or ill-treated. And quite frankly I forget that turning the other cheek is something that should come more naturally than it has more recently. It used to be easier, honestly I think time and age more than anything start to wear you down. You grow weary of the same conversations with different people pushing you further from the things you thought you believed.

The irony, then, of this series of illnesses hitting me during Lent is not lost on me. And I think the relief of waking to the absence of pain re-sets a bar somehow. I have somehow grown a tolerance for comfort, forgetting how lucky I am. I suppose it the same kind of tolerance all of we reasonably wealthy, white, educated, Christians have built up. Taking “In God we Trust” off our currency seems the end the world when in reality a girl my age had her brother and his wife executed not 5 miles from my own brother and sister-in-law simply because they were Muslim. A grand “checking of my privilege” and in this case, my wellness privilege.

I continue to live in a lot of fear for a lot of reasons. Some complex fears- the fear that someone might hurt my girlfriend simply because we love eachother, the fear that my sister will be safe while camping in Montana- some the ever-present fears of someone who loves anyone- that my parents will stay healthy, everyone I love continue to wake each morning. But I think this is wrapped into the need to be positive again.

After all, I woke this morning. I woke without pain, without much more than red eyes and a sniffle. I work to a world where I am loved and love so deeply, where there is a sky so blue and an earth so brown, where the embrace of a creator settles heavy on my heart.

I am well, I am well.

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