on this morning

Up all night and still ‘overslept’: what a great way to start this day!! And it’s autumn,too,  with everything dying bar none (even me) and the leaves turning to bright hues as they shiver and fall to the damp ground, and not one thing could possibly make me feel more alive and glad to be here. Glad for it all. Every last jot. And feeling keenly how fortunate I am to be alive and unassailed—in all the ways that most wreck a being’s time here—on this morning. No, nothing’s ‘fixed’ in my problems or struggles; nothing’s dropped off my To-Do lists or worries; nothing’s flipped a switch so I am no longer aware of suffering, be it my own or another’s. But I exist in all-out wonder today that I made it to 55 and am still standing enough to go for a walk with my oldest little dog in these gorgeous dying, and soon to be decaying leaves.

The one thing I wish for today is that I could somehow give these deep feelings of wonder and joy to every soul on this planet in real-time. Spirits entwined for as long as we all could stand it and then some? What a world we could all make if we could just feel each other’s joys and sufferings for the single split second it would take to know ourselves as One, bar none ever, all simply being while here.

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on navigating New England

New England roads, bless their spice-pickin’, shoe-cobblin’, trade-wind keelin’ hearts, take a traveler straight down to the knees a few times before they let up and simply remap your brain for navigating their terrain. Either that or you just stay down for the count.

These roads, someone once told me, bespeak aged connections to cow paths and backwoods trade routes. They circle utterly enchanting commons and roundies, but it’s important not to show up thinking you’ll follow a road map anywhere here. Narrow, winding, and gutsy, these roads are, and the marking of cross streets is wankered verboten. Street signs, even at intersections, carry one name: one: the more common two (everywhere else but rural Iowa) must be a colonial sacrilege of some sort that my years of study did not adequately prepare me to understand. You’d think you should be able to navigate your way around New England if you have a Ph.D. with one field straddling the long 18th century and kicking out both ends of it (late colonial Americas and U.S. in the world), no? No. You can drive on a main drag here for four miles and never know the name of it, because it simply isn’t marked on any of the cross streets.

Street names, too. They change them every few hundred feet. Even when the road doesn’t split or turn or do anything but lay itself out as straight ahead till morning as it can go? They give it a different name. Often. Google Maps handles that by constantly repeating the command, “Continue on x.” “Continue on y.” Continue on.

It’s a ruddy sight on earth. The road signage alone seems to intone, sermon-like from a tall pulpit, in the stentorian tones of Sinners before an Angry God: If you don’t know where you are, you probably shouldn’t be here. That used to buffalo me, so I over prepped my pre-mapping. Collected every last step of every planned jaunt, down to the distance between one turn and the next. This is a terrible idea and a worse practice. The more prepped you are, the more lost you can get, and the quicker you’ll do it, too. There is a better way. It involves thinking like a cow.

I adore New England. Everything about it. Even the fact that it is packed with more people than you can shake a stick at. But when I get behind the wheel of a car to go someplace entirely new—and especially when I’ve been away for too long—if I forget the insights of the cow path and start thinking like a person? I will get lost. But when I remember to look up and around and smell the air and follow my instincts in the general direction of where I’m headed? I get where I’m going. Usually by a preferred route to boot (though I only learn that much later, which makes it akin to getting happy news twice).

You have to aim somewhere and then amble, peaceably, chewing a cud and not overwrought at the world, genially following the tail of the car ahead and taking direction off the side streets: I’ve been on this road now for 4.2 miles and there, I just passed a Lowell Ct sign. So yes, this must be Lowell Road now. Oh, that’s Andover Ct. Must’ve transformed itself from Lowell to Andover somewhere near that blue colonial with the metal-gray roof. Wonder if there’s a watering hole anywhere close? Ambling thus makes me thirsty. Oh yes. Of course. Dunkin Donuts. There’s one roughly every block in all directions. Sometimes two. Can’t use them to navigate by, because they nearly all look alike, but you can fuel up for the trip everywhere. Plus you can talk to Yankees while you do it.

These people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. Most of them don’t know what|from on directions (they can be two blocks from where I’m heading and have no idea what I’m talking about, though my accent and historical leanings could be skewing that sample; and if I were looking for a baseball or football venue, I’m fairly sure I could get detailed instructions). Those who know are happy to help: I’ve had people cross busy streets and come out from behind lunch counters with people waiting in the line to help me when they see that I’m asking someone who doesn’t know.

New England is about community. It would have to be, given how many people are here and how long that’s been so. It’s also about land and sea. And therein may lie the crux, a better explanation than colonial cow paths and jeremiads to boot: this culture is deeply rooted in navigating blue water with nary a spit of land within beckoning or seeing distance, no matter the mood of the skies and winds, and, as if that isn’t enough, they are skilled in bringing vessels safely to harbor undeterred by the perils of any shoals because they relied on pilots and instincts and sea charts and advice shared from one mariner to another for generations. Cross-directional road signs? Who needs those?

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on standing with peace in a loss

I am struck today by this: When we stand grieving the loss of someone or some thing we have loved or held dear, it serves us in many ways. If we can find the beauty in the loss, though, and feel the peace within the transformations that this loss has engendered, then grief serves a deeper purpose. One of healing and renewal and a deep knowing that from every death arises another rebirth.

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on each of us in this mighty river

I love how we each come at things in our very own ways. This used to worry me some, which was part of why I was such a great proponent of education–so that people could ‘learn’ and then be less problematic. But as a teacher that didn’t fly so well, for co-learning seemed far more effective, and now I’m beginning to see that every single person here—every single one, bar none ever–is participating in making us who we are.

What we respond with, what we offer up ourselves in every situation? Is our contribution to the mix. What we give expands. What we focus on grows. If we want compassion and love and peace in this world, we have to let it come from us even when we’re disagreeing with someone else who’s different than we are. By genuinely valuing them, we gain insights on how our own notions may be skewed, may not serve, may need shifting. By reckoning with how thoroughly we are entwined with all that is, we cannot easily retreat to the soul-killing fortresses of judgment, condescension, and anger, knowing full well that if we demean or belittle another being—even those whom we might consider our greatest foes? We demean ourselves. By resisting the urge to force them to knuckle under to the approved program, we become more trusting of serendipity, of how things can turn on a dime when people are showing up to work for their visions of what is good and beneficent. We hear their concerns and fears without slapping them away. We genuinely listen. We consider that, in precisely their shoes? We might do or say the same. We know without any shadow of a doubt, however, that these, too, are of us, and therefore deserve our respect.

To do this is to surrender fully to the mighty Oneness that we are, not accepting social ills as the norm, no, but not demeaning those who have come to a different understanding. Not withdrawing from the fray, no, but when we speak up, we do so while holding only love for those with whom we might presently disagree. To do this is to merge with the almighty river of life, taking our place in the whole as we stream flowing into and through all beings here to the seas of our time-drenched days.

So I thank goodness for all the hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who have different views and approaches than I do. With the tiller divvied up amongst us all? Surely we can transform our nows so that they serve to lessen suffering, to value each being (of any ilk), and to hold us all in grace and healing through the daily goings on of here.

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on waking and being alive

I overslept this morning, sort of on purpose, and on waking had a single pressing thought (which is unusual, because I normally have at least five): I am so lucky—fortunate, blessed, even—to be alive. Just that, which feels like almost everything today. I’ve been having to winnow through more of the things that happened to me as a young and middling woman and mother (battered, left for dead, so tormented that for years I couldn’t speak to anyone, friends or strangers, without shaking like a leaf in a straight-line wind, then leaving and being stalked by men with weapons and ready cash and the will to force me back to the marriage). I have to clean this up for my memoirs and do, sharing only snippets of the not-worst parts to provide readers brief glimpses that can be passed through without visiting my whole story of terror and grief upon their unwary heads and hearts. The goal, after all, is to wrest from the hell something of value that can help other people—women and children especially—not have to go through it or, if they already are, to know it’s survivable and that they have a real chance to get through and to help more people understand this so that they, too, can help increase those odds.

I also write so that people who work the frontlines of this war (and, make no mistake about it, these are wars, but there’s usually a single adult soul and possibly children in the trench on the worst days)—people like Kathleen Higgins of Rainbow House in Chicago or the professionals on the Teton County Task Force on Domestic Violence and so many other organizations who do their deadlevel best to get into the trenches—I write for them, too, in hopes of getting other people who know nothing of this to stick with the story to the end, so that they can be more effective neighbors to anyone caught in the maw of family violence.

So many woman are still being battered daily, shot, stabbed, left not just for dead, but actually dead. This is so exceedingly normal among us, that at times I scarcely can breathe. I am humbled to see that I am not dead, though left for it multiple times; not dead, though for almost 20 years I missed being so by a hair’s breadth of timing or sheer flukes (which happened often enough that I no longer consider them coincidences) or being able to have the assistance of courageous people (strangers, mostly, like the cops who organized themselves during off-duty hours to protect us in some of the first, worst months). I write to ask of you one thing:

Please, please, if you can bear to do so, pay attention to those around you. Without question, if you know more than two or three people, you know someone who is being abused now, you know someone who is doing the abusing, you know their children. It is easy to miss when people are motivated to keep the shame secret. (And there are good reasons for this, because sometimes folks just simply cannot take the reality, so they tell themselves it cannot be true, cannot be that bad, and they disconnect, which makes people in the throes of this more likely to die.) They are people like me, with jobs or without, with fine homes or without, with food or without, adults and children alike. The abuse takes many forms, all of it equally harmful (for verbal and psychological battering may even do more damage than physical attacks; for at least with the latter you have evidence that it happened).

Please, if nothing else, find a way to hold love in your heart for them all–even the abuser, who, as in my case, came from a home where he was battered by his father, and thus is doing what he knows: if you will demonstrate a strong resistance to violence, but not demean him in the process, that can help, for isolated men are more dangerous to the ones who have loved them. Hold him in the community instead, accountable, yes, but a whole person and therefore deserving of our compassion. If you do not get stopped by seeing what he has done and you persist in knowing for sure there is more to him than that and you stay focused until it can be seen? Then there is a chance he can learn how to see it himself enough to change the fear and rage that underlies his actions. Be careful, yes, get help from the police, yes, for abusers can be violent in a heartbeat, and so you may have to deal with them only from a distance yourself. That’s fine, even good. Just do it all with love, let it be strong and even fierce–as true love ever is–but hold that person in the light even as you work to hold him accountable. As a society, we need these men to remember who they really are; we need them to help us stop this terrible plague of harming those closest to us; we need them, if we ever hope to heal, for if any one of us remains in pain? All of us pay some price for that.

And please help the women and children, too, in any way you can. Give to shelters like Rainbow House, if nothing else, but it’s also helpful to live aware that there are women in the spaces you cross every day who are being battered by the ones they have loved. They come in all shapes, all sizes, all ethnicities, all careers, from all socioeconomic brackets bar none. If you are human, they are among you. When they try to leave, they’re in the most dangerous time of it (which is saying something, believe you me), and it is not at all uncommon for them to be made homeless, jobless, and running for their lives and their children’s with no resources to hand whatsoever. Please consider this as you go on your way every day and, if you can give nothing else at all, please feel love for them and not disdain. People like me never get completely out of such hells: they mark our lives going forward in ways unconceivable to any who have not been there. Debts, burdens, illnesses, exhaustion inconceivable. What that does to a regular day? Equally inconceivable, until you have walked the path through it to the next one, equally so marked.

I am so lucky—fortunate, blessed beyond measure—to be alive this morning, my yes. But every breath, every effort is weighed heavily down by all I have to carry still from those years. This is no complaint and I hate to have to say it so bluntly. I do so *not* so you will feel sorry for me or even cheer me on per se (though I have been greatly buoyed by such things during all these years past, and so deeply grateful that there are no words for it). I am cheered of my own accord this morning, so am not writing for succor. I am writing because I have survived to this point, I am *still here*, and I know for a fact that there are women still here this morning who will be gone by this evening. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. Most often through no fault whatsoever of their own, for all the survivors I have ever known have loved without measure through the very worst of times, giving of themselves to serve a relationship so that it can still have a chance to be healing and good. (And all who go through this, in my book, are survivors: bar none. If they die? They still survived right to the very last breath, usually stronger of any given day than any of the rest of us who are not actively being beaten.)

This is a problem spanning all boundaries of every kind, it happens in every society on this planet (with specific cultural buttresses, yes, but deep similarities in how women’s and children’s and even men’s lives are shaped). So I have to write this today: my waking thought demands it. Family violence, intimate violence, domestic violence, violence against one’s nearest and dearest: call it what you will, but never forget that it is close to you every day, and you can make the difference between life and death for people. You really can. I’m writing for that. I’m also writing to say I am so eternally grateful to still be alive to ask you this thing, pressing through the terrible shame still in the hopes that all of this? Won’t have been in vain. Then one of these days I won’t die having just been lucky, but of some use, some service. And if it turns out that I go too soon due to this particular unending train of relations in my life? Then I will not have gone having left this unsaid. Let us love one another, please. Let us find it in ourselves to truly love one another. Thank you for your time.

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on tbt – on strapping in for hazard pay

I’ve been lax in my Throwback Thursdays this year, thinking #tbt, even enjoying #tbt photos from friends, but not regularly participating myself each week, so here’s one for the road: strapping into the helo that was shuttling me and Sam, my search dog, to our assignment on a search in rugged terrain. Bright yellow nomex shirt (theory? so we could be seen from the air), tough boots and a pack full of overnight gear that had to last us however long it took. (And did. In spades.)

being shuttled to assignment on a search, 1980s

being shuttled to assignment on a search, 1980s

Although we trained for free, when we got called out to work a search or rescue or fire, we got paid. And if we set foot in a helicopter? That was counted as hazard pay, due to the general tendencies of helos to, well, exit the sky in unplanned ways, even if we had a cracker-jack pilot (which we usually did). I can’t remember how much it was, something like 37 cents per hour or so? Not enough to die for, no, but then again: you don’t sign up for this kind of work if your own death is your biggest worry. Good work, good co-workers, many a good result and no misses in all that time: glad I did it then, happy not to do it now, and truly delighted it’s part of my story for TBTs!

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