Because I am retired I re-create myself most days, albeit often lazily. I’m working on that. If someone asks what I “do”, I’m usually taken aback, as if I hadn’t thought of this question before, which is absurd; I think about it a lot . Sometimes I worry my lack of a good response makes me look dumb or boring. I’m afraid I’ll be judged. I get pissed at myself. Then I get pissed at the person who asked. Then I want to be like Greta Garbo and say I vahnt to be alone. I do not. Say it. or want it.
This re-creation task can be daunting. IS daunting. I have this notion of being “true” to myself. To my unfolding, aging, never-done-this-before self. I’ve tried not to trap myself in pre-determined notions of goals, achievement, identity. In the meantime, for want of labels and a defined daily routine, life can get paralyzingly under-focused. This is why I started making calendars for myself. If I write things down, it turns out there’s a lot I want to do with my days. I add color and design to the dates and boxes, because I want beauty in my life and why not put it everywhere I can? If I take care of the things that are mine to care for, I have something to offer others. And #ItMatters to me if I have something to offer. Because it matters about what and where and how we intersect.
As a Democrat, I bow to Bernie’s vision and leadership. I bow too to Hillary’s determination to keep the liberal agenda going, even if it’s not my liberal agenda. I bow to Hillary and Bernie supporters, even if they have stretched me in directions and to degrees I didn’t think I could stretch and stay amiable, conversational. Without yelling. Then Trump and his supporters stretch me further. Hostile interactions are hard for me. I hold contradictions like a juggler always on the brink of losing her balance. Even if things are smashing all over the floor, I keep trying. I bow to an agenda of making life better for the 99%. I don’t need the 1% to go to jail. I just need them to be required to share (if they won’t do it on their own).
I bow to #BlackLivesMatter as the latest and incredibly courageous incarnation of oppressed people saying Enough. At first I thought No, All Lives Matter. But I was wrong. Of course, all lives DO matter. The point however is there is a deafening silence (and generally speaking always has been) in the face of ample ( I mean WAY AMPLE) evidence of institutional racism and its violent impact on the Black community.
It’s not just Black lives that matter. Immigrant lives matter. Poor peoples lives matter. Native peoples lives matter. Sick people-with-no-health-insurance lives matter. People with mental health problems lives matter. Old peoples lives matter. Kids lives matter. Cops lives matter. It’s a long list. Not a new list. An old one. And long. #AllLIvesMatter seems to include everything, but actually the crucial details get lost in the reality-lacking #All. #BlackLivesMatter has brought urgent specifics into focus by starting the process of naming names. So we don’t gloss over the details and pretend they don’t need our attention. They need our attention. Our witness. Our action. #All is insufficient.
And now we also have to call out for #Earth’sLifeMatters because She is in big trouble! Which means we all are.
Basically all this calling out gets us back to one thing. Our interconnectedness. Which often looks like disconnectedness. On the macro and micro levels.
I’ve learned a few things about myself and the world since retiring 14 years ago. I’ve learned all kinds of emotional and physical set backs and falling down. I’ve learned getting up. I’m still learning to ask for help. (Also still learning acknowledging that sometimes I need it.) I’ve learned life keeps being a mystery and despite mystery, daily life has to be attended to and not blamed on someone (self or other). I’ve learned the healing qualities of connection and the disequilibrium-headed-to-disaster caused by disconnection.
I may not know how to label or identify who I am and what I do when asked, but I do know there’s more than enough suffering to go around. Also more than enough joy and beauty. I want to be one of the ones who doesn’t ignore the suffering, and is still able to allow in joy, occasionally create beauty. I also believe the little bit each of us can do with our life Can make a difference. (I want to couple this poem by Jack Gilbert “A Brief for the Defense” with this spoken word by Prentice Powell.”)
In an interview with Krista Tippett, Maria Popova said:
“We never see the world exactly as it is because we are how the world is. I think it was William James who said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to, and only those things which I notice shaped my mind”.” This is why it totally matters where we agree to place our attention.
Recently our On Being conversation group listened to and discussed Krista Tippett’s interview with Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”.
Alexander called us “a nation of stone-throwers”. She said if we truly want change it’s not enough to drop our own stone. It resonated. On reflection I thought dropping one’s own stone is not enough, but it’s a hell of a good start. We are not just a nation of stone-throwers; we are a species of stone-throwers. It’s not easy for us to put them down. It may not be enough, but it’s a brilliant first step. First, we need to Put. Down. Our. Stones. Then, join together in a powerful non-stone-throwing stance. I acknowledge I need help with this. I’d love others to join me.
A Brief For The Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
— Jack Gilbert