In the Winter of Peril

“Conflict is seductive- navigate it consciously.”  Lee Harris

So fellow travelers, one week ago here in the United States, new leadership took charge of our country, and in the week since I have become gradually aware of waking up with a growing sense of relief and a marked absence of background anxiety, even as we begin to navigate what President Biden calls our “Winter of Peril”

Not that this shift in leadership means a herd of magical unicorns will bring rainbows of namaste that “heals our country.” Given the backlash I’ve seen so far, a herd of enlightened T-Rexs might be more useful. (Yes I know that is a triceratops in the photo- but come on- have you ever tried to get a T-Rex to stop roaring long enough to take it’s photo? )

Hyperbole aside,  that backlash has done it’s best to reinstate the anxiety created by the trauma of being, as I referenced in my previous post,  “held hostage” for four years. I have struggled to find the balance point between judgement and compassion. While recognizing the intricacies of what forensic psychologists refer to as “shared psychosis” it is still difficult to dig up compassion for people still posting vitriolic comments in response to posts my friends have shared. My own social media feed is fairly calm mainly because I have zero tolerance for BS. Civil discourse on differing opinions are welcome, everything else gets deleted and persistent purveyors of misinformation are unfollowed.
Understanding why  “people who harbor delusional narratives tend to bulldoze over reality in their attempt to deny that their own narrative is false,” ( Scientific American ) has not given rise to the level of compassion I have come to expect of myself.  The best choice I can make right now is to disengage from the irrational diatribe, at least until I have more clarity on how to engage without escalating anger.  So, I will, as a personal mentor recently recommended,  simply “stay in my lane” for a while and draw inspiration from the words of Rev. Silvester Beaman’s inaugural benediction*, “In discovering our humanity, we will seek the good in and for our neighbors, we will love the unlovable, remove the stigma of the so called untouchables, (and) we will care  for our most vulnerable…. Neither shall we learn hatred anymore…”

Walk gently on the path my friends and may Peace settle in our hearts

 Note: *Rev. Beaman’s prayer is well worth hearing in its entirety. Listen to it here https://youtu.be/tjc1dHaC-jA

Mythbusters

So fellow travelers, thirteen days ago, at precisely the same time as the clock above my desk shows right now, I was working on a new blog post when my phone started “pinging” with notifications. Determined to focus on writing, I resisted the temptation to pick it up, but then I heard my husband, who was on his lunch break say something. Although I could not discern exactly what he said, the urgency in his voice was unmistakable, so I went downstairs to see what was going on.

Much like this image I shot on a hike last week, at first, I could not make sense of what I saw on the large flat screen TV which dominates the far end of our living room.

When I realized what was happening on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, a switch somewhere deep in my brain flipped on.

It was not until later in the day that a comment from my husband helped me realize what the events on Capitol Hill had triggered in my brain.

I  was  living in the Philippines when President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law on September 23, 1972. It left an indelible impression on my teenage psyche. Since then I have, as my friend Tom Atkins so aptly said in a recent post, tried to “extract sanity from madness.”  In the end, I had to accept that the intensity of my emotional response exhausted my capacity to remain engaged. At which point I am once again reminded that “disengaging” is, in fact, a privilege – one which friends who are BLPOC or survivors of abusive relationships do not have. Yet I cannot provide support or reassurance when my own well of faith is empty. 

So I have spent these days leading up to tomorrow’s Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in deep contemplation, because I know everything we react to externally is a reflection of something within ourselves. I have searched deep into myself to uncover what conflicts are raging, what fuels the fire of my intense anger and why judgment of others has overridden my innately compassionate nature.(Photo of a contemplative sanctuary on the lake trail)

For four years I have felt as if we were being held hostage by a madman, and yes I felt that coming well before the events that exploded on January 6th. I felt increasingly betrayed by those in power who enabled this to escalate and I felt helpless. The more events reinforced that feeling of helplessness and betrayal, the angrier I became. This is the same mindset (albeit for different reasons) of those who violently opposed the Congressional vote on January 6th with one crucial difference-the choice to resort to violence and act with full intent to bring harm to others. 
Our choices always have consequences. The attack cost six people their lives, many more were injured. Accountability is a cornerstone of equitable justice and it has been shamefully scarce in our country’s history when dealing with racism. January 6, 2020 will be forever earmarked as a day of our reckoning for that lack. For that, at least, I am genuinely grateful.
This country has been exposed as anything but “great again.” The effects of allowing racism to run largely unchecked finally hit a broad enough target to expose America’s “greatness” as a myth created by white washing the pervasive and growing inequalities inherent in “the American Way.”
And yet, there is hope it has also generated enough forward momentum to enact lasting change. That’s not going to happen overnight, nor even within four years, but for the first time since January 20, 2016, we will be free again to embrace the potential of a more equitable and justice future for all, not just some, Americans.

Walk gently on the path my friends and let Love Light the way

America is…

So fellow travelers, this will not be a “zen moment” haiku post….

and for my readers who live outside the maelstrom of the United States, bear with me as I speak directly to my fellow Americans. At best you will gain some insight into what the experience of the past 24 hours has been like for the majority of us.

So fellow travelers here on the ground in the  United States, if you, like me, woke this morning with a pervasive feeling of unease because you do not feel safe in your own country welcome to the daily reality of just over 40% of the US population. Let that sink in and then, before fear paralyzes you, understand that this can be a  “truth will set you free” moment. 


My social media media is full of people declaring “This is not America .”  The point of what happened at the Capitol Building yesterday (in fact exactly 24 hours ago, as I write this) is the clear, in our face truth of This IS America and by that I do not mean this is what America “has become.”
What we witnessed is indeed what America is because the majority of us have ignored racism because we can. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s good because it means you are open to changing that. Even this kid from the Bronx, who felt the sting of being called “slant eyes” and the confusion of being told “Oh, those kids didn’t mean that” when she knew damn well they did, who grew up with a burning desire to make a difference, who made every effort to raise her daughters to live in awareness, whose life and career choices focused on being a champion for the disenfranchised, under represented members of her community, still failed to fully take in what it means to live within a racist power based system.
My one saving grace lies in not being surprised (shaken, yes, but not surprised) by yesterday’s violence; at least I immediately recognized it not as an aberration but as the culmination of years of instigation by the leader our government’s power base willingly sold their souls to. Their one saving grace might be the stark reality which hit as they sheltered under chairs or behind lock office doors. It appears to have had an effect, as they pushed back against fear and refused to be intimidated. Our elected representatives returned to the secured chambers and completed the formal count of electoral college votes and at 3am this morning, certified the results of the Presidential election. Democracy survives, flawed and wounded, though with hope not fatally. 

As a former educator, my colleagues and I know the challenge of “resuming the business at hand” after sheltering in place during an “intruder incident.”  I posted a call on my social media for friends and followers to contact their representatives and express their appreciation. After doing so myself, I took my dog for a long walk yet still felt unsettled. I asked for a sign of hope. What I found was this tiny plant- still bearing brilliant autumn colors, refusing to succumb to the ravages of winter’s killing season.
I knew I needed to do more.

So here I am at the keyboard attempting to put words to this awakening which carries more weight than one haiku would hold.

So Now What?
If what we are finally seeing is not the country we want it to be, where do we go from here? I do not have many answers beyond the simple truths which serves as my personal moral and spiritual compass:
Everything I react to outside myself is a reflection of something within me. So, I ask: what does what I am seeing happening in my country say about me?  By starting with my place in this crisis I refrain from the trap of laying blame as a conveniently “righteous” way of avoiding responsibility for the one sure element I can change- myself. That also does not mean I stop holding others accountable for their actions. The lack of accountability is the main reason “things have come to this.” The BLPOC community has been telling us this is for decades. We need to do more than nod our heads in agreement. This crisis does not end on January 20th; the work of equitable change will go on for years. Expect to hear a lot more about that here and yes, there will zen moment haikus included for balance.

Walk gently on the path my friends and let hope Light the way

So Long 2020 and “thanks for all the fish*…”

So fellow travelers, today there will be a pervasive narrative of “Goodbye and good riddance to 2020.”

 

Before we take that on as our story know this:
Yes, I too will move forward from 2020 with tremendous relief because, make no mistake my friends, the past year was just the beginning. This first year of the new decade set in motion seismic shifts in human consciousness which are creating much needed changes across every system in society, all across the globe.
As with all significant change, there will be pushback from the status quo and attempts to distract us from the potential of greater good. Do not be drawn in. Change is inevitable, focus determines its trajectory. Our energy is too valuable to waste on senseless conflict and our focus must not be co-opted. Be mindful of what holds your attention.

With all its chaos, suffering and loss, 2020’s true gift has been revelation. We cannot heal what we do not acknowledge. Now, ignorance is no longer a viable excuse.  We either accept the intolerable or we help each other up off the ground and walk through this portal into a new year with mindful intent to not only embrace change but to consciously participate in creating it.

Walk gently on the path and let Love light the way. See you all in 2021.

Editorial Note: * The quote in the title references Book 4 of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe. Its a strange and humorous series which makes complete sense after experiencing 2020.

A Line in the Sand

So fellow travelers, RaVan2.o’s maiden voyage was a glorious success and musings on our explorations at Acadia National Park will follow soon.


That’s a promise made as much to myself as to you all, a binding intention to hold a focus of forward momentum, because right now I want nothing more than to hunker down in a blanket fort for the next four weeks.

The outrage is beyond exhausting
the frustration feels unresolvable
the apprehension becomes immobilizing
so you let the gravity of grief pull you down
and you sit in silence 
all tears long since spent
you sit with the emotions
because there is no where to go
where the anguish is not
and in the stillness of staying with
comes acknowledgement of what is
of what perhaps has always been
and finally given permission to exist
resistance relinquishes
you breathe
as if pushed up for air
just before drowning
a breath of commitment like your first
unclenching your fists
you rise, draw a deep long line in the sand
turn your face to the sun and walk away
never once looking back.

I’ll be back with the wonders of the Acadian Expedition just as soon as I get that blanket fort set-up.

Walk gently on the path my friends and let Love Light the way


Actions Speak Louder

 So fellow travelers, in light of recent events, I held off publishing the last post I wrote, choosing instead to immerse myself in coming to a better understanding of what the voices speaking out need me to do.
The process left me with what fellow writer, mentor and friend Tom Atkins refers to as an emotional hangover from the anger which rose within me. I am tired, but surely not as tired as the families of too many black men, women and youths lost to senseless racist fueled violence. After a day of rest and much needed time on a newly reopened walking trail, I realized to move forward I need to start where this new path begins:

June 1, 2020
This morning,  I woke up to a new life experience.  

My first thought  was:
“What day of the week is it?”
I am sure many of you whose routines have been upended by the pandemic can relate to the experience. When you don’t get up and go anywhere for days on end it is a challenge to keep track of the days, because everyday is the same.
And if you, like some of my friends, are one of the many working on the front lines, you too lose track of time, in a far more desperate way while battling to save lives or keep essential services running. “Thank you,” seems barely enough acknowledgement for that.
So, I clicked through my “what did I do yesterday” prompts all the way back to “Ah, we had our Sunday call with  Mom and Dad, so today is Monday.” My next thought was “ Hey even though it is Monday, I do not have to “go” to work today- because I am R E T I R E D!”
“How does it feel to be retired?” people have been asking me.
Well, to use a common point of reference, it feels like the first day of vacation, filled with joyful anticipation with one key exception-
—there is no pre-set end date 
———— there is no pressure to “fit in” all the things I want or need to do now
It feels like the freedom I yearned and worked for through so many decades is finally mine.

——————————————————————————————————-

At this point, my original post included a haiku about that glorious sense of freedom and the instant I signed in online to access my blog page, the entire post felt completely and utterly void of significance. The recognition that a revolution, fueled by the senseless murder of George Floyd was gaining global momentum superseded any relevance my personal sense of freedom might hold.
I hit “pause” on this post, along with any adventure plans, and got down to figuring out how I can make a difference and turn intention into true change. Because as I affirmed in my Memorial Day post, my own freedom means nothing if it is not equally available to all my friends.

After a week immersed in the dialogue of outrage and calls for reform, I at least know this:
I do not profess to have the answers or even to have the right words to offer yet. I understand this is a time for me to listen to my friends and the black community; it is not a time to speak over those voices which need to be heard right now. I also believe silence implies complicity, whether intentional or not. So, if silence is not an option, clearly it is time my actions spoke louder than my words.  
My Words:

Unless we speak love
Hatred will destroy us then
Freedom means nothing

My Action:

Walk mindfully on the path my friends, may Love find you ready.

On Freedom, Honor and Birds

So fellow travelers, until 1970 the traditional date of Memorial Day was May 30th and until this year, our tradition steeped village continued to celebrate Memorial Day on May 30th,

Yep, regardless of what day of the week it fell on or what weather Mother Nature might throw at us, on said day, the village of Baldwinsville, NY staged a parade along the flag decked “four corners” route, across the steel bridge by one of the still operating Erie Canal locks and out past the town cemetery along the Seneca River. And every year, the stream of first responders, dignitaries, veterans and local celebrities (some from as far away as the Big City of Syracuse NY) were cheered on by the loyal residents of our district who lined the streets with their lawn chairs, kids, dogs and an occasional leashed kitty.

I will confess until I became a Marching Band Mom, I was one of the residents who stayed home to avoid the gridlock of closed streets. But there was no way I would miss the chance to catch this view of the kids who would one day also march in the Macy’s Day Parade

Favorite Youngest Daughter on the bells Memorial Day Parade 2014

So, as I mentioned, the “this is how we have always done it” tradition of a May 30th Memorial Day parade continued until this year when the Pandemic of 2020 cancelled, well pretty much everything we “have always done.” Still, parade or not, our little village is lined with flags and hanging baskets of red, white and blue flowers to honor the servicemen and women who gave their lives in the name of freedom.

Freedom right now is a much debated topic: the dialogue about how to reopen areas which closed down to slow the spread of Covid19 has become quite heated. Fueled by trolls and bots whose sole purpose is to derail any progress towards productive discourse, the terrible tendency to revert to divisive language is disheartening and disturbing to me. Navigating “virtual school” already pushed my blood pressure higher than normal; it has been necessary to “unfollow” or, in a few extreme cases, “unfriend” folks on social media.

Understand I am choosing to eliminate rude ignorance and disrespectful bullying which shows up in my media feed, not avoid challenging issues. I am willing to have a civil dialogue about difficult issues like public safety vs government overreach, anti-vaxers, conspiracy theories or global warming and the effects of climate change.

Once again current events have brought the menacing immorality of racism to the forefront in ways which, frankly, I am damn tired of seeing our society tolerate. The veterans whose lives we honor every year on Memorial Day did not give their lives for the freedoms of some Americans- they gave their lives to uphold and defend the rights of ALL Americans- every single one of them. So I sat down this morning to try and write about this, sensing I might struggle to find the right balance of reason and indignation to write words which could make a difference.

Turns out I did not need to struggle, because my friend Jennifer Bowman wrote a powerful blog post which cut right to the focal point of why Christian Cooper’s experience while simply birding in Central Park even happened. I hope everyone of my followers reads it and takes to heart the insights Jen so brilliantly brings to this issue.

https://jenniferkbowman.wordpress.com/2020/05/29/birding-race-and-the-freedom-to-enjoy-nature/

Walk bravely on the walk my friends, the journey is about to talk us where none of us have ever gone before.

Guest Post from Tom Atkins Poem: Murder is Slow — Quarry House

Murder is Slow A black man dies on a city street, the policeman’s knee on his neck, breath, life taken from him. There are riots. Of course there are. A people ignored too long will erupt sooner or later. A people not heard too long with erupt sooner or later. This is a truth we […]

Poem: Murder is Slow — Quarry House

Enough

So fellow travelers, this post references issues of current concern in the United States. It is my perspective, based on my personal experiences. The topic is difficult yet it has become impossible for me to move forward in my daily creative routine until I address it. Even after extensive editing, it is long. It may be difficult to read; I know this is by far the hardest post I have had to write.

On the morning of March 13, 1996, I put my not quite seven year old daughter on the school bus, waved goodbye from the porch and went about my morning routine of finishing chores and then walking our dog. At lunchtime, I turned on the TV to catch the midday news and weather. Instead of our local news team, I found network reporters covering a horrific incident which had occured a few hours before. It was my first encounter with a school shooting. My plans for the afternoon fled my mind, as I sat counting the hours until our daughter returned home, bounding off the bus full of the chatter and news about all the goings on in first grade that day.

“Mommy are you ok?” she asked when I hugged her a little tighter and longer than usual. Maybe she caught the tears in my eyes. “I am fine, I just missed you a lot today. How about a snack while you tell me what you did in school today.”

It did not matter on iota that the Dunblane School Massacre happened over 3,000 miles away, far across the ocean, in another country. I did not sleep much that night and it took every ounce of willpower to put my child on the bus and send her to school the next morning. I could not keep a morsel of food down all day, in fact I ate very little for several days until the weekend thankfully arrived. It had never occured to me that my child or any child would be shot in cold blood by by a total stranger while attending school. I felt completely and totally helpless, there was nothing I could do short of keeping my child home to protect her. I seriously considered it, even researched the process of applying to home school her. But she liked school and home schooling would deprive her of the socialization of being with her school friends.

At the time, my husband was working in another town, commuting home a few weekends a month. He had taken on the job as a short term contract, but the project had stretched far beyond the intial six weeks he said it would run with no defined end date. The long periods of separation were putting a strain on our marriage; I still have the note my young daughter wrote in crayon on a scrap of paper “Plese dont get a devors.”

I knew pulling my daughter out of school would take away much needed normalcy her school day provided her with and as the days passed and I watched the quick response of the British people as their Snowdrop Campaign successfully pushed for changes in Britain’s gun laws, my own fears began to ease.

Fast forward to 1999. Our marriage has weathered the storm (the note from my daughter had a lot to do with that) we now have a second daughter and I am considering making a move from active PTA volunteer to a full time staff position at our local elementary school. Then, late on the morning of April 20th, two boys open fire on their fellow students at Columbine High School. At the time it was the one of the worst mass killings and the worst school shooting in our history. Yet it was not until after the tragedy at Sandy Hook that lockdown drills became a routine practice in our own school district. By then I had been working as a special education teaching assistant for just over twelve years. Having started at our local elementary school right up the road from our home, the heartbreaking stories of the terror and loss of life at Sandy Hook was beyond my comprehension.

But not as incomprehensible as the complete lack of action by our legislators to take any steps to address the issues of escalating gun violence, particularly the issues surrounding civilian access to assault weapons, the arsenal which had become the firearms of choice for shooters intent on mass killing. Year after year we would go through our mandatory lockdown drills, feeling like sitting ducks, fully aware if an intruder managed to enter our building, there would be casualities. And nothing, no amount of carnage seemed enough to jolt our elected “representatives” into action, not even the terrible events in Las Vegas which left over 500 people injured and a devastating loss of 58 lives.

Nothing that is until the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, stood up, called “BS,” took to the media and the streets and said “Enough!” If our elected so called “representatives” think these kids are going away, they have seriously underestimated the tsunami about to hit them square in the ass. Because its not just the Columbine generation standing up and calling their inaction out. It’s the survivors of decades of mass shootings, the friends and families who have lost loved ones to any form of gun violence, it’s the educators like myself who have now become the front line of prevention who are standing up with them to say

E N O U G H

We speak, finally, because these courageous young people have helped us find our voice.

And anyone who knows me well, knows I’m not about to shut up anytime soon.

Walk gently on the path my friends, and remember kindness matters, it may even save a life. ( more on that in the next post)

Me too

So fellow travelers, this is a post I never thought I would find it’s voice, let alone speak openly in the stark light of day.

The “me, too” movement trending on social media seeks to shed light on the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and assault. People who have experienced it put “Me too,” as their status. Some share stories, others simply post the words. It’s growing exponentially, gaining momentum making it clear sexual intimidation, harassment and assault are so widespread it’s profoundly distressing.

And like the thousands of women and a cadre of men who have found the courage to speak up, I took a deep breath and posted “Me too,” as well.  One sleepless night of wrestling with a memory buried deep in the past convinced me I no longer wanted it festering in my psyche.  As soon as I hit “share” a geyser of emotions tossed me against the wall of reality. When I figuratively came to, I sensed a stream of words trying to be heard.  I wrote them down, sharing them here essentially as they came~

20171016_125809.jpg

 

Like sleepless hours of too many nights the memory comes again jolting to consciousness awakened by the storm of anguished cries  an unwelcome stab from scars ripped open trust betrayed blame mislaid shamed into acceptance of unspeakable submission now revealed and writhing pitifully in daylight spoken so let the fire of truth cauterize the wounds bleeding no more fists unclenched freeing hands to hold each other hearts beat loud a unified call to wholeness.

I’ve felt disconnected from myself all day, as if suffering from an emotional concussion. Gradually after taking down the stream of consciousness “poem, I found my way back to center. Writing helps me make sense of things I find otherwise incomprehensible. Given my experience did not involve violence, I am staggered by the resiliency of assault survivors. I have no answers for the plague of reprehensible behavior the “Me too” campaign has revealed.  There is only a desperate prediction this awareness must render the behavior completely beyond any level of social acceptance.

And, if nothing else, if you are one who also can say “Me too,” know this

We too stand with you.

Walk gently on the path my friends and know you do not make this journey alone.