Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday night

I told you.  I speak in poetry these days.

I speak in poetry because it might actually be the voice of my self… the voice that comes out when I have to put feelings to paper… have to.  The drifting colors in my mind’s eye sometimes become so loud that they must manifest themselves into words.  I, in turn, must let them out to run all over the page.

If we ever occupied the same space, you could never tell that they were all my sisters.  My skin stands in the middle of the spectrum, as full a continuum as ever there was.  There is something stronger than skin that connects me to each of these women.

There is something in their fiber… something unyielding… something that refuses to allow doubt into my mind… something that fights at the mists, tears at the veils, pulls back the layers, and shouts, loudly and to all of me that can hear:

“There you are.
Look away if you want, but between the light and the shadow, you exist.
When you forget, we will remind you.
You exist, and we can see you.
We can see you.
You glow, and you are not lost.”

And when I doubt myself, you materialize as though you were waiting, watching on the out-skirts for that moment when I would find myself both trapped and under siege

One of you heard me in a dream… months since the last time we ran into each other in person, and she actually saw me, project at hand, afraid that I couldn’t.  Told me don’t be afraid.  Told me God (she calls Him “Daddy”) has given me the ability to complete anything that is presented to me.  Told me don’t argue.  Told me don’t be afraid to move and shake and change and keep on… even when you can’t see what’s over the next hill.  “All is well when we dwell in love.”

Could hear me, even through her dreams.

Another has never tolerated my wavering belief in myself… has never allowed that I deserve anything but everything… has never for a moment considered that I might not be made of gold.  I have, at times, feared disappointing her (turns out I’m only made of human)… forgetting that she sees the God in me… stays fixed on the God in me… can’t stand to hear the things I say that seem to cover up the God in me... seeks Him out.  My wavering she indulges, but He never disappoints.  And she spoke and shared and listened and reminded me, with strong conviction (she is made, among other things, of strong conviction), that my destiny doesn’t involve disregard, isn’t tied up yet, and remains open for interpretation.  My own interpretation.

I had the strongest sense today that my heart was in the Hands of Someone Whose Hands Heal. 

I was torn recently.  A seam gave out somewhere not visible on the surface.  I’m working on sewing it up, but the needle pricks are sometimes more than I can stand, and sometimes I have to pause, to rest, to remember why I’m sewing and not just tossing the dress of a life I’m living out… worn out… must have been if that seam blew…

So I stop, I stretch, I lay flat and remember that, if all else fails, the ground, with no help from me whatsoever, will hold me up.

Also call for help. 
They can hear you over the noise. 
They can always hear you.
Will always want to know your favorite color and what you learned in class today.
Will always read the words once you’ve lined them up again.

Also Life is, among other things, a gift.


Begin again.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

To S., High School Graduate (Who is Just Getting Started), With Love from His Ms. B

S. and I met each other about 4 years ago while I was still working in a group foster home.  I still refer to him and his younger brother lovingly as "my boys," although they are rapidly approaching manhood and never really were "mine."  

I am honored that they keep me in the loop of their lives and was happy to be given the chance to speak this bit to my dear S. in person at the celebration of his high school graduation this past Thursday.


These people, they don't know me, so I'm going to start with a line I stole:
"Excuse my French / Emotion in my passion / But I wear my heart on my sleeve like it's the new fashion"

I also want to set our stage with another phrase:
I am enormously proud of you.
(That one's all mine.)

I also stole this line:
"Know you are where you are not by chance, but by the design of your Creator, for your own development and for the development of those around you."

It reminds me of an article I read once.

There is a tribe in East Africa called the Masaai.  Wikipedia tells me that the Maasai are an ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best known of African ethnic groups, due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa.  They speak a language the name of which I cannot pronounce that is a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family that is related to Dinka and Nuer.  The Masaai are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English.

They have cultural traditions that look nothing like ours.  Or at least that's what it looks like when you just look with the eyes that allow you to see only the surface

The Masaai distinguish the men from the boys.  Becoming a Masaai man involves these special rituals with special clothes and special colors and music and behaviors.  The men in this culture tend animals, hunt other animals, and fight to protect their home, their women, their children.  They do that fighting with spears, with knives, and with their hands.

Now, back to my article. 
It was about a young college student named James Nampushi.  Mr. Nampushi said:
"I must work hard.  I must work hard.  This is a miracle to me.  To be here, is God.  I must work hard because I know where I came from and where I am now.  So I have to do something..."

S., there is something you have in common with this man beyond the fact that your skin color is much closer to his than it is to mine.

S., you must work hard.  You must.  That you are here, this is God.  You must work hard because you know where you came from and where you are now. 

The last part is the clincher: So you have to do something.

You and Mr. Nampushi.  You both have to do something. 

Mr. Nampushi grew up in the tribal Masaai community that taught him certain things about what it means to be a man.  He learned these things, and then he decided that the salvation of his people in a world that is growing by leaps and bounds involved, at least in some small part, continuing his education in a land far, far away from his comfort zone to learn things that the people in the culture he came from couldn't teach him.

Things that he had to learn for himself.

From himself.

From the rest of the world.

From people who were different from him.

Sometimes drastically different.

Ms. B, what's your point?  I can hear you asking with your eyes, kiddo.

Here comes the preachy part.  Get ready.

Know this:
As a Black man who grew up in an urban environment and finished growing up in foster care in South Carolina, the statistics that you face at this critical juncture of your life are damning.  Do not, do not, DO NOT LET THIS LIMIT YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF YOURSELF.  Push the messages of thug life, victimization, materialism, the voices of entitlement and violence, as well as the voices that tell you that because your skin is brown your brain was not made to process just as much information as anyone else walking around away.  Throw them away.  Ball them up, tear them into shreds, and incinerate them.  Open the windows of your life, and blow the ashes out into the breeze.

Know this:
God has done a lot to bring you to this point.  You and I can both think of times in your life when He could just as well have abandoned you in one way or another.  He didn't.  Think about that.  Think about what it means that the All-Knowing, All-Wise Provider and Creator of All decided to hang onto you.  Decided to provide the hearts of all of the people in this room to love you and believe in you and try to show you what you are made of.  Do you think that this was an accident? Think about it.

Know this:
You have been blessed with a voice.  You have choices about how to use this voice.  By now surely you have learned that people listen to you.  Consider what you hear, consider the biggest picture you can, and choose your words and actions wisely.

Know this:
Your academic achievement to this point has not been indicative of your capacity.  We both know that, and now so does everyone else in the room.  I get it; you were busy with other things.  Your childhood included more violence and loss than mine, and your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that makes plans and provides motivation, has been otherwise occupied over the past few years. 

I've got news for you.  You've landed.  From now on, not nearly as many things are going to be handed to you as you're used to.  You're going to have to prove that you deserve them.  You're going to have to put your shoulder to the grindstone and push.  Go show us what you can do.

Actually, forget us.

Show yourself what you can do.

I am proud of you.  I don't have enough words to be able to tell you what it does to my heart to see you graduated... to know what I know of your story, to see you tall and strong, to see your clear eyes looking off onto the next thing... proud isn't the right word.  I am blessed.  Blessed and richly favored.

Don't mistake this for a stopping point, though.  True, you get to pause, be congratulated, and look back at how much road you've covered... but, baby, it's so far from done.  It's really only the beginning. 


Go get it.

Go get into it and on it and all over it.

There's work yet to be done.

We're your tribe... we're your people... and we need you. 

And by we, I mean the world.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

More On Girls Who Read

First, read this.
Then, read this.

By the time the girl who reads grows up, she knows that the only men worth having are Darcys.

Mr. Darcy and the girl who reads meet at least twice every year as she slowly relishes Pride and Prejudice as though she is eating a really, really good chocolate cake.  You know the kind--rich and soft with buttercream frosting and raspberry sauce?  You have to eat it slowly.  Relish, one might say.

Women who read are all Elizabeth, and we can relax because Darcy will love her every time.  Love her every single time.  Without fail.  Darcy is good like that.  Consistent.

Every time Elizabeth is too smart, especially for a woman, Darcy loves her.  Every time she's not the prettiest girl at the party, Darcy loves her.  Every time she speaks her mind to the point of argumentative, Darcy loves her.  Every time her family is a complete disaster, Darcy loves her.

This is the dream... the impossible, unbelievable dream.

I want to be clear, this--tall, handsome Darcy finds you, fights for you, marries you, and, with long declarations of passionate love, carries you off to his mansion to live happily ever after--is not expected to happen in the real of life of a girl who reads.

Real life is different. The girl who reads will readily admit that she is far too aware of this fact.

As she grows up, the girl who reads is done settling.  She's done dating around, done giving it time, done waiting it out and seeing if he will eventually show up in one form or another.  She's been hopeful.  She's been patient.  She has worked on herself.  She has been open to possibility.  Sometimes she's stubbornly, hard-headedly, stupidly refused to see the reality of the object of her affection and lived to be deeply embarrassed.

And she doesn't want to talk about it.

She's stopped looking.
She's stopped waiting.
She's planting her herbs in the pots she's gathered herself, determined to fill her life to over-flowing with cooking, knitting, music, clothes, the paint on her walls, her family of friends... determined to make this life, this one right here, the one she's actually living, the very best it can be.

Without Darcy.


She's going to do it because life is too short to waste it pining over men who won't appreciate the subtleties of her morning routine... who won't notice when she has her nails and toes done... who won't allow her the emotional space to cry at the end of that bad movie that reminds her of her dad... who won't have enough thoughts and feelings about the world to keep up with her. They won't be strong enough for her darkness, and they won't be able to light the corners of her heart with laughter.

She won't waste any more of her time.

She's going to assemble her own life.  It won't include you.  You took too long.  She couldn't find you, no matter how many internet dating sites and blind dates she, humiliated, suffered through.

When you meet her, realize that she's learned to be loud because she's afraid.

Afraid that you will see her frazzled edges (the ones she tries to keep covered with pedicures and fresh flowers in her house) and run the other way.  Afraid that she'll never be pretty enough for you to stay.  Afraid that she'll never be able to think of enough interesting things to say.  Afraid that you don't like kissing her as much as she likes kissing you, and afraid because she likes kissing you as much as she likes kissing you.

Afraid that if she tells you too much about the actual state of her heart, you will think that she is trying to pressure you into fixing it... into staying... why aren't you running away again?  Or worse, that you will figure out what she keeps in the locked box in the very back of her very back-est hiding place:

That she very desperately needs to be loved... all the way loved... and is waiting for that.

Holding out.

Holding way, way out.

She's not looking at you because she doesn't want to see you not looking at her.  She will almost run away from you because she doesn't think that you will chase her.  She doesn't think that you would ever want to catch her.

When you ask her how she is, she will be fine every time.  Fantastic even.  Great.  Doing really, really well.  She will look you right in the eyes.  When she's not fine, she'll look down before you catch her almost-tears.

And she is doing really, really well.  She has a career.  She is educated.  She has interesting friends, a dynamic life, purpose, passion, intelligence.  She has books.  She has lots of books.  Her life is useful, and when it is not useful, it is interesting.

You didn't read the book, so I'll tell you what's important about Darcy.

He's steady.  Darcy means what he says.  You know that from the kind of man he is.  When he tells Elizabeth that he loves her, she can trust it to her very core.  It's not going to change.  He will die loving her.

He has principles.  He's not doing this casually.  Darcy doesn't do anything casually.  Girls who read aren't into casual.  If it's going to be casual, we'd rather be reading.  The book lasts all the way until it's done, and if you're not ready to be done, you can read it again.

Also, Darcy wants Elizabeth.

He doesn't just like her.  He wants her.  He doesn't just think that she is interesting.  He wants her.  He wants to hear her thoughts.  He wants to tell her all about his insides.  He wants to take her, to hold her, to ravish her--you can hear it in the way he speaks to her.

Yes, we want you to have a job.  We want you to have an education of some kind.  We want you to have interests and passions and other things, but what's seductive about Darcy isn't his money.  It isn't his height.  It isn't his place in the world.  That's not why he's the object of so very many day-dreams.

It's him.  It's the kind of man he is.

Do you want a girl who reads?

Ask her out.  Take her to dinner, take her to coffee, cook with her, take her for a walk... it doesn't matter.  Ask.  Pick her up.  Drive.  Pay.  Insist.

Listen to her.  Make eye contact, and hold it.  Speak.  Say something important... something intelligent or vulnerable or funny or honest.  Give her time to say something back.  She may be a better listener at the start.  Use patience.  Ask her what she's read.  Ask her what she learned.  Don't talk about the weather.  She sucks at small talk.

If she'll let you, read what she writes.  She may say no, but it's mostly because she's afraid you'll be bored.  Ask again.  Her writing is the clearest way she's learned to articulate the parts of herself she protects, and you need to know about those parts.  You need to love those parts.

Realize that her life is orchestrated to not need you... to avoid needing you.  She doesn't need you.  She wants you.  Want her.  Sometimes, need her.  Tell her so.

Bring her flowers.  It will be best if you picked them out of a yard somewhere.

Let her be loud.  Look for what she is hiding.

Put your hand on the small of her back at parties.  Hold her hand.  Kiss her in public.  Claim her.  Wrap your arms around her while she's doing the dishes.  Distract her.  Spend the whole morning in bed.

Tell her that she is beautiful.  She may never have heard it in her whole life.  She may vehemently disagree with you.  Hold her head in your hands, look into her eyes, and tell her that she is beautiful.  When she cries, tell her again.  Mean it.

Don't say it if you don't mean it.

Don't fear her tears.  She fears them; be strong enough for both of you.

Fight with her.  Make her yell at you.  Let her cry.  Give her time to speak what needs spoken.  Hold her when it's over.  Don't leave.  Instead, stay.

Hold her.  Know how much it takes for her to admit to you that she is struggling.  She may want to talk about it, but she may not.  She may just want you to hold her.  Do it.  You may never know how much that helps.

Tell her that you love her.  Tell her the moment you know it.  Tell her again.  Tell her on the phone.  Tell her by text message.  Tell her in front of her friends.  In front of your friends.  In front of strangers.  Tell her again and again and again.  It will take her a long time to believe you, but those moments will sustain her while she learns to accept that you're telling the truth.

Wait.  Be patient.  There are parts of her that are growing that never grew before.  She's been hurt and disappointed every single time she's tried this, and trusting you takes courage every single day.

She's creating a space for you right up front--a warm, arms wide open, soft space for you to land.  She'd like you to stay awhile.  Stay forever.  You'll be stronger together.

It's worth it.

You will push and pull each other into better humans... she will dream big enough to keep up with yours, big enough to pull you into hers, to create whole new cities of dreams you never allowed yourself before.

Look for a girl who reads.

Don't just date her.
Love her.
Don't stop.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the
Indian in a white poncho lies dead
by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

-- Naomi Shihab Nye

Thank you for sharing what you found, Sara... 
(You can find her words at

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dear 30

Dear 30

Be kind.

Remember how when I was little
All of my dreams of you involved mommyhood
I had babies, birthed babies
Babies with arms and legs and hearts to love
Babies I held and nursed and chased around
Catching them before their chubby little legs gave out

Remember how when I was little I thought that my dreams would surely come true

Everyone has a dream
Everyone draws this dream out
Colors it painstakingly in marker
Labeling each part lovingly
carving out the shape of the future
with assurance that my carving was supposed to happen
would happen
happen (shrug) to everyone
That's why they make dreams

The truth that I was working in the medium of mist
Utterly lost

Or ignored?

30, be kind.

Sometime between now and the morning and always

I will forget.

I will forget that I awoke to clean sheets
Bursts of hydrangeas in the back yard
A real fountain spilling real water

That I arose, cooked whatever I wanted
Made my own coffee
With not one, but two heaping spoons of real, raw sugar
Just enough cream

That I walked outside to remind my toes how much we love the feeling of the ground
Kissed the flowers with my eyes

That I raised my arms and stretched each bit of this body
I will forget that my hair shone in that sun
That my soft curves may have actually hugged a thousand people
And will hug a thousand more
And a thousand after that

I will forget the inestimable blessing of raising this voice
(Where did it come from?)
in praise of the All-Merciful
He Who, from everlasting, knew the pattern imprinted on the fabric of my soul
Who fashioned me from nothingness
Who makes my heart to beat
Who fills my lungs up with love
And makes me to overflow

I will forget that I live in safety
Sleep peacefully with my windows open
Dream sometimes of the gardenia blossoms outside my window
And of swirling colors

I will forget that a tall, unutterably kind man daily wraps his arms around me
Whispers his love into my ear
Listens to my secrets
Keeps them close to his heart
And proves worthy, again and again and yet again, of my trust

I will forget that there are small children I get to auntie
That I remember the way their small selves fit into the crook of my elbow while they napped
That aunties get to shower with gifts
And tickle
And teach
And listen
And search out lost smiles
And keep stories safe
That I get the chance to serve families
To support friends in the hardest of jobs
To build community

I will forget that this time in my life involves indulgences
Material indulgences
More than I need
More than so so so so many have
All that
And spiritual meals including dessert
every day

I will forget.

Be kind.

Remind me that you have brought me


On purpose.

Remind me that there is still time to hold my own babies in my arms
That there is time to replace those dreams with other dreams
That I have choices

Remind me that I am loved from more directions than I ever dreamed
That I have more souls to thank than I will ever have time

That the voice you placed in my head and my heart will be useful
Has been useful
Is useful

That the next 30 won't be measured by a child's mist carvings
And are made of something that stretches "... in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed."
Something stronger than mists
That bends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How if Flew from Her

From her mouth. It gathered its small, soft body and leapt
froward, up and out. And then it was gone. She knew
because of the dark hollow in her chest, like the place a woodpecker makes,
keeps making, until it’s emptied the wood of food
and moved on. She didn’t try to stop it, because she didn’t know
what it was; what came from her mouth
looked like a white moth, the kind that eats wool, so she clapped her hands,
chased it to the window, pulled the shade down
and pretended that was that. It’s surprising it stayed
as long as it did, because most of all, she made it wait. She made it wait
while she beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, drove her point home,
split hairs, threw fat on the fire, killed birds with a stone.
Naturally, it grew tired of waiting,
tried to tell her, made a few practice runs, beat its wings;
she could feel it, don’t tell me she couldn’t, she could hear
the wings beat. She still feels it, like when you lose an arm or leg
and it aches but there’s nothing there
to ache. That’s how hollow she feels. She talks a lot, laughs
with her mouth open wide. Not everyone knows why,
but I do: she’s making a place for it to come back to.

Amy Dryansky

Thanks, Mighty Girl

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Thoughts from this year's Baha'i Fast, March 2-20...



This morning I was looking for a quote to along with the pictures I've been taking every morning... the pictures I've been taking to set some kind of stage, to have some kind of baseline from which to address this time... to speak to a small corner of the world and to myself what is happening on my insides.  This leaped off the page:

"It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character."
-- Shoghi Effendi 

Every year I struggle... every year.  

Every year I never make it through the whole thing, end up breaking somewhere in the middle into shards the shape of myself that are then blown to the winds while I stand, grasping, gasping, looking for some kind of net... harrowed... dropping whatever was in my hands (or what was left of my hands) to try and pluck the shards from the air, assemble them into a neat pile, and systematically put myself back together... back together... back together...

Inevitably with pieces missing.

... and I realize then that this is just what was supposed to happen.  It's always what's supposed to happen.  This shattering, this scattering, the blowing of the wind all to remind me of what matters... what is salient... what is heavy and substantial and real and true and at the core and will keep me grounded... what will resist the blowing, the eventual shattering...

... and there is something that I love about articulating, even inarticulately, what this feels like.  What it feels like in the settling of the water after this yearly wave crashes over my life... 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

somewhere I'll find You

My "nephew" is a little more than 8 months old now, but...


For some reason, the last 48 hours make me think of a poem with the same title as a movie that a boy and a girl in Minnesota sneak off to see.  They hold hands in the theatre.  The poem ends with a line, "... and that's the way it's been ever since," ending with the only period in the whole poem.  "... ever since."

For a couple of weeks, and maybe longer than that, I'd been waiting for my phone to ring and my Soul Sister to tell me that it's time to run to the hospital and cheer as she delivers her son.  I knew that the experience was likely going to blow my mind wide open, but I am not sure that I was prepared for what the experience of living so intensely in the Palm of the Hand of the Most High.  Writing about it is a bit daunting, to say the least, but it feels like some of the phrases need to come out to cement them into my memory...

At 12:55pm on July 1, 2011, my phone rang.  Sister and I usually talk more than once every day, so although this was the phone call I had been waiting for, it took a moment for my ears to connect with my brain and send the message to my feet that this was not one of those regular calls but the one where I run to grab my bag, get in the car, make 6 phone calls while navigating around the parade downtown (Seriously?  Today?  A parade?), and arrive, panting, in the hospital room where I would spend approximately the next 19 hours.

Things started slowly.  Once her Husband arrived, Sister explained that she had gone to her midwife for a check-up... that the baby looked like he was big, about 9.5 pounds... that she was worried that Sister, whose first birth had because of complications been a c-section, would find much difficulty in delivering a baby that large vaginally... that she thought that the right thing to do was to strip Sister's membranes in hopes of hurrying the process up somewhat... that she had slipped and accidentally broken the water... that things were now set in motion.  Sister was worried about her body's reaction to the antibiotics which would be pushed if things kept going for too long.  She was worried about the effects the pitocin would have on her labor process.  She was worried that she might be forced into another c-section, surgery which made the experience of having her first child so hellish.

The pitocin was started very, very slowly.  Labor started very, very slowly.  She was having some mild contractions, and we were talking, joking, laughing, and playing cards until around 11:30pm when Sister began to shiver, and it became clear that she had transitioned into the next phase.  Her body began to amp things up.

This next phase was very different.  Thankfully, Sister's Mother and Father arrived just in time.  Sister was in the middle of what had become very difficult contractions.  Mother hesitated for a moment, wanting to be respectful of Sister's process... her space... but soon Father went to the hotel to sleep and recover from the long, rushed drive, and Mother went to Sister's side.  

Labor felt somehow like a group process.  Sister moved as she felt the need... sometimes laying on her side, sometimes sitting at the end of the bed in lotus... sometimes standing, her arms around Husband's or my neck, squeezing like her life depended upon it... swaying, always swaying with the rhythm of the movement clearly happening inside of her.  We breathed together... moved together... spoke together... prayed together... sung together...

... and I had the strongest feeling that there was an invisible force in the room... that when I looked around, someone else was there and should be counted... someone else was present and palpable, although I couldn't tell you who... or Who... ?

Sister labored... and labored... and labored.  And we thought that it would happen at 3am.  Then we thought it would happen at 6am.  She kept going.  Something was wrong.  She had dilated all but 1cm on one side, that one side that wasn't letting her son's head pass into the birthing canal... that one side that was making it look increasingly like there was going to be another surgery... that one side that was going to make the next 6 weeks so very, very difficult for the mother of 2...

And the midwife was forced to call the doctor.  The doctor, who said to give her an hour.  Stop pushing.  Rest.  Except the pitocin made that impossible.  Contractions never paused.  The epidural that was supposed to help did nothing at all to touch the process... the pressure... the intensity.  This was past intensity.  This was pain.  

Sister kept laboring... and laboring... and laboring.

The nurse and the doula came in and explained that they were going to put her into a position that was going to make this more uncomfortable, but it was the last trick in their bag... the last thing to try before surgery... before spinal block... before general anesthesia... and Sister labored... and labored... and labored.

And 45 excruciating minutes later, the midwife said that she was going to do a quick check before calling the doctor to recommend surgery.

And surprise, awe, and relief was audible in the room as she announced that Sister was ready... more than ready.  To push.

Strength came from somewhere... I'll never know how Sister got the strength to do what came next.  Mother holding 1 leg, me holding the other, Husband manning the oxygen, all of us crying.  Except Sister.  Except Sister who, of singular purpose, was pushing with her heart and soul like her life depended upon it (it did)... like the life of her child was in the balance (it was)... breathing... was it 6 rounds?  Was it 7?  

Closer... closer this time... closer... closer... closer... closer... and there was hair!  And there it was again!  

And Husband, put your gloves on, and come and catch this person... Catch This Person.






And there was a knot in the cord.  A knot.  A knot which would have tightened as Baby grew, cutting off air. Cutting off life.  Saved by a slip of the hand and an accidental bag breaking.

Saved by Sister, whose only thought was for her baby... who was apologizing to him for putting him through so much when her body wouldn't get out of the way... 



Precious and Perfect.

... and I am left with a few thoughts.

That process is a holy process.  I was in the presence of Something Bigger Than Myself... Bigger Than All Of Us... when I saw that little person come into the room.

And do you know what else is miraculous about that?  We all came into the world in some way that is a lot like that. 

"somewhere I'll find You..."

You're not only in the Big Things.
You make miracles... earth-shattering, life-altering, head-spinning miracles every single day, and, cliche as it sounds, each and every one of us is a living, breathing miracle.

And my breath is taken away by how living and breathing and miraculous that can be all at the same time.

I'm trying to let that thought sink in and color the way I talk and think and walk and feel and move... to let that color seep into my pores and make me move...

"somewhere I'll find You..."

... and whatever else happens to that little life... that life, little as the entire outdoors, tiny as he makes me feel... let me be of use to that life.  That one right there.  It's a special one.  I can feel it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Fast or Here We Are Again

Every year from March 2nd through March 20th, Baha'is around the world ages 15-70 fast from sunrise to sunset.  There are some exceptions (pregnant and nursing mothers, women who are menstruating, those who are not in good health, travelers, people doing hard physical work, etc.), but most Baha'is are not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset during these 19 days.

Sounds crazy, right? 

Feels pretty crazy most days.  I will admit freely that this is one of my least favorite times to be a Baha'i all year long.  All.  Year.  Long.  Keep in mind that this coming from a 29-year-old virgin. 

I love food.  I love the way that it looks, the way that it tastes, the way that it smells, I love making it, and I loveloveLOVE eating it.  LOVE.  This before I mention my love affair with coffee and how I cheat on coffee frequently with tea (Did you know that there is such a thing as a dirty soy chai latte at Starbucks?  Where they make a soy chai latte and put espresso in it?  Talk about light upon light...)  Yeah, I'm just not one of those "I could eat or maybe oops I forgot let's go running" types.  I could mostly eat.

Getting warmed up to fast this year hast taken some doing.

At this time last year, I was finally seeing a doctor to treat something that's needed treating for a long time, and she was adamant that I not fast while she tried some things to see what worked.  Although Baha'u'llah is clear about fasting during illness ("In time of ill-health it is not permissible to observe these obligations [obligatory prayer and fasting]; such hath been the bidding of the Lord, exalted be His glory, at all times." Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 134), I struggled with accepting this, mostly because I hate the Fast.


I said it.

I hate the Fast.  I spend a significant portion of it dreaming up ways in which unforeseen circumstances could prevent me from being able to fast... a cold... the flu... being hit by a car... a sudden 19-day-long coma... and you can imagine that being told that you are ill in a way that isn't obvious to the naked eye that requires that you not do this thing you're so used to using as a tool to punish yourself and judge yourself and make yourself to suffer, this thing that you loathe and that the fragments of your self fight against each other over every year in this annual 19-day long EPIC battle, this thing... that all of these people talk about as refreshing and soul-stirring and beautiful and... did I mention the NOT EATING.  We're NOT EATING.  Not having to NOT EAT... might make you feel... a little... edgy... a little edgy while you figure out why we do this... you know, why we do this without the NOT EATING...?

A couple of days into the Fast, I had a dream.  Baha'u'llah appeared on the scene... on the most mundane of scenes dressed in simple clothes and not speaking.  Upon seeing Him, it because suddenly clear to me that I was loved... that the over-arching thing that He was communicating... that He was embodying was LOVE. 

So much that I couldn't breathe. 

He accepted me fully, flaws seen and dismissed.  He saw straight into my heart--straight into the core of my being--and I could see by the smile on His face that I was asking the wrong question.  My Lord loves me.  He loves each and every one of us so much that LOVE just isn't a big enough word.  We can't lose it; it can't be contained or quantified.  We can fall flat on our faces and lie there for years.  We can eat or not eat.  It doesn't matter.  His love encompasses all.  Babies fall all the time, and it would never occur to us to do anything but cheer them on or to criticize that time they took too wide a stance and fell before moving forward.  In the moment when my eyes met His, words would have gotten in the way of my being completely transparent before Him... would have gotten in the way of my feeling how much I was loved in that way that babies are loved... how we want nothing more than for them to feel safe and to smile and to engage...

I focused on that last year during the fast.  I focused on loving Baha'u'llah from my center through every layer of my self.  I focused on finding joy and sharing it as much as I could.  It was not perfect, but this was the gift I presented my Lord last year... wrapped in wrapping paper I made my self, colored with a crayon, paper smudged-by-accident and folded, but not quite perfectly...

I got angry with Baha'u'llah in the car yesterday.

"Every year?  EVERY year???  Really?!?!!  Can't we just NOT do this?!  My nose was running yesterday, and my head kinda hurts.  And I haven't been drinking enough water.  I bet in the future we won't even do this.  Maybe I won't. 

I could feel Him laugh... one of those deep, rumbling laughs that comes from somewhere inside and reverberates... that laugh that might be the reason the word "reverberate" exists... and I started to laugh. 

I started to laugh, and I couldn't stop.

He wrote, "Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion."

I couldn't stop laughing.

He asks so so SO little of me.  He asks only that I say my prayers (because all souls need the nourishment that comes from acknowledging the Great Spirit), obey His laws (that protect me from one billion other things), and not eat or drink anything once a year from sunrise to sunset for 19 days (you know, if my body's up for it and not otherwise occupied). 

He asks only that I do things that are actually good for me.

I am a Baha'i.  I believe that Baha'u'llah is Who He says He is.  I believe it in my core.  I love Baha'u'llah with all of my soul and all of my self and all of my being.  For Baha'u'llah, I will spend the next 19 days wrapping my self up.  I will do what I can to allow fasting to heal my own "disease of self and passion." 

It's the least I can do.  I will do this for Him, and I will do this for me.

This year, He has allowed me food and shelter and safety and freedom from the fear that not having those things reliably causes too many...
He has allowed me life in a country in which I unquestionably have access to education and the freedom to pursue it, 1/2 Iranian Baha'i woman that I am...
He has allowed me to live, work, and play with people I love dearly who see me and encourage me and have my back...
He has put a man in my life who chooses his words and actions carefully, who loves me in a way that I am only now beginning to understand...
He has allowed me a working body, one that can do things like not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for 19 days...

Baha'u'llah has held my hand through all this... all this and more...
He continues to hold my hand...

I have nothing to give my Lord.  There is nothing I can offer.  Fasting is a tiny, insignificant token... In the face of all of these blessings, all I have is this tiny, insignificant token... offered with trembling hands...

(I will try to remember this for 19 days.)
(I will try to remember this for longer than 19 days.)
(I will try to remember this.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Things I Learned from My Father

(Some Taught On Purpose, Some Accidentally, and There’s No Knowing Which is Which)

(I meant to finish this by Father's Day this summer, but it sat half-done for a long time.  Sorry, Dad.  I love you.)

Coffee is awesome.  It tastes good, and you can have it first thing in the morning.  That makes coffee awesome.  This is an excellent reason to get out of bed in the morning.

When someone asks you how your children are doing when they're not around, you won't know how much it touches your children's hearts when they hear of this later and are told, “When he was talking about each of you, it was as if he had only one child.”  This is important, although you may not know how much.  Your children will know that you see them—really see them—and this simple knowledge of how your eyes danced when you talked about each of them will make them a little teary and remind them of who they are and where they came from. 

Work.  Work hard.  Don't work for titles and accolades.  Work because God has given you the gift of life, and you repay that gift by being a contributing member of the human race.  This requirement of productivity is not restricted to the activities you get paid for.  Human beings were not created to sit around.

When you walk into a room, speak to everyone.  It does not matter if these people are white, black, brown, purple, or metallic.  Speak to everyone.  Don't just speak respectfully.  Speak with love.  All of those people were created by the same God.  He’s your God, too.

Speak to children.  They’re important.  Engage them.  Smile big.  Don’t rush them.  Sometimes people warm up slow.  It’s ok.  Speak to them.  Listen to them.  Look at them when they ask you to.  Meet them where they are.  When they ask you to look at them, do everything you can to look.  It’s how they learn that they are of consequence in the world.  They’re asking for you to validate their worth.  You must, must, must do this.

Eradicating racism happens through meeting eyes, shaking hands, working together, claiming each other, speaking, listening, and eating supper in each other’s homes.  We can’t kill it with arguments and rants, and we can’t kill it simply by telling it to die.  We have to learn how to see through skin to souls.  Truthfully, this isn’t as hard as everyone says that it is.

Your family is not only the people you were born to.

Girls may like dresses, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t know how to pull a bow, process a deer, kick a ball, tie up tomatoes, and find shelter in the woods to stay warm in case they get lost.  If you don’t treat them like they might break, there’s a good chance that they’ll get damn close to bullet-proof. 

Expect your daughters to open their own doors.  Teach them to change their own tires and defend themselves and others.  When people ask you if you’re disappointed that you had 5 daughters, look at them like it’s the stupidest question in the world.  Don’t do it because someone’s watching.  Do it because you really believe that it IS the stupidest question in the world.

Don’t do anything because someone’s watching.  Be yourself.  Don’t hide.

Money is not everything, but it is important.  On both ends of the wealth spectrum exists the danger of forgetting that money isn’t everything.  Also remember that money isn’t nothing.  There is no virtue in being poor.  It’s not what God meant when He told us to “renounce the world.”  Beware of people who tell you otherwise.

Respect your resources.  An old Coca-Cola sign may be the roof of a rabbit hutch.  Never go out and buy a shed when you can build one with a tarp, some spare lumber, and a good post-hole digger.  Don’t spend more money than you have to.

Be teachable.  You do not know everything.  Do not walk into situations thinking that you do.  Offer suggestion only when you are asked.  Do so respectfully, and avoid emotional attachment to what you suggest.  You are in this world to learn—not teach—as much as you possibly can.  When you go into a new situation, be teachable.

There are better decisions and worse decisions, but whatever path you choose will have consequences and will teach you something.  It makes absolutely no sense to sit around praying and waiting for a sign.  Pray, make a decision, and do something.  Certainly there are bad choices, but God doesn’t speak to most of us in neon, blinking signs when we are stopped politely.  He may speak to you, but it’s not going to happen while you’re paralyzed with fear of screwing up.  Move.  God’s there—like the air.  Just keep breathing.

At the same time, if you’re not sure, it’s either not the right person or not the right time.  Wait until you’re sure.

The fact that everyone accepts a certain thing does not make it true.  Nor does this make it right.  Human beings have accepted numerous incorrect assumptions throughout history.  Investigate everything for yourself, and accept that the investigation may have to happen through non-conventional means if you are to reach the full truth. When you find truth that contradicts what you thought previously, be flexible.  Also remember that the fact that everyone around you says that something is true does not make it true.  It makes it what everyone around you says.

Spirituality does not have to look any certain way.  The expression of reverence is as diverse as the human family.  Do not judge yourself for not expressing your spirituality in conventional ways.  Some of us just hear God more clearly while we're walking around in the woods.

God lives everywhere from the sound of the leaves in the trees to the river to people around you to the corners of your own soul.  God lives everywhere.