I did something this year, my 61st year,
that I’d been mouthing off about for a decade or more now—I got my first
tattoo. It’s a lotus flower (the mantra ohm mane padme hum translates loosely
as “the jewel [true nature of reality] is in the lotus [mind]), sitting on top
of the word satchitananda in Sanskrit, which means truth (sat),
consciousness/awareness (chit), bliss (ananda).
Ray’s not a tat fan, but for
me, the ink was a way to take possession and ownership of my own body
and personhood, apart from my roles: wife, mother, daughter, teacher, etc.
Also, the design itself is a necessary and permanent
reminder for me always to return to what’s
true. Meditation—the actual subject of this convoluted post—is one way to
Not everyone knows this about me, but I’m pretty
tightly wound, not a person who’s good at relaxing. I’m a lot like my two three-year-old granddaughters, who NEVER
STOP MOVING. Some part of them (and of me) is perpetually shifting, tapping
out a beat, or twitching. That's a LOT of kinetic energy, a LOT of energy down the proverbial drain. So for me, meditation isn’t really about
enlightenment—it’s about survival.
Most people know by now that meditation, especially
mindfulness meditation, which is the kind I practice, isn’t contemplating one’s
navel (and by “practice,” I mean like piano lessons: you do it when your mom
makes you, but you’re 13 and you’d rather cut out with your crew to the pool). Meditation
is simply slowing down long enough to be AWARE of the present moment, then
staying in that awareness as long as you can. I’ve heard it said that living in
the past causes regret, living in the future causes anxiety and fear, and only
living in the present can bring peace. For me, this rings a big, fat truthiness
We can all help prevent
suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people
in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best
practices for professionals.
Ray and I
recently came back from a trip to bid farewell to an extended family member, a
charming, compassionate, loving 31-year-old young man who committed suicide. I
can’t begin to really understand what leads a person to this sort of utter and
complete hopelessness, especially at such a tender age (or even much younger,
as has happened with others to whom we’ve had to say goodbye). But I came away
with the same thoughts that have been niggling at me for…well…years, really:
Elephant Circle – The brain is not fully developed until about age 25 (probably
later for young people who have also struggled with substance abuse before this
age). Until that age, when the nerve fibers in the brain are fully myelinated
(a fatty coating), young people have a hard time seeing the potential
consequences of their actions. For this reason, I believe we need to keep young
people in the center of the circle. Like elephants, we adults need to surround
them with love and protection (even from themselves), until we’re SURE they can
fend off the hyenas (despair, drugs, alcohol, gangs, whatever shape the hyenas
take) on their own. This ability to be independent will come at different times
for different kids—there’s no definitive magic moment, so we need to be
vigilant with EVERY kid.
2. The Abyss
Mirage – Imagine you look down the road ahead of you, but you can’t see where
it leads. For most of us, it’s foggy ahead; we know the road goes on, we know
there’s more stuff ahead, we just can’t see the details. But some people, it
seems to me, look down the road and, for maybe only a split-second, see an
abyss. Nothing. The void. And in that split-second, they do the only thing they
can to escape that moment of complete despair. Maybe it’s not about ending life
(because impulsive thought doesn’t see that); it’s about ending pain. Now.
Someone said once that dogs have only two senses of time: now and not now.
Maybe people who kill themselves see only now, and now is pain. They can’t see not now. They can’t see that the Abyss
is a mirage, and there’s ice cream and sex and chocolate and music on the other
– As people from all over the country exchanged memories at the funeral, broken
and aching over this young man’s death, I wondered how his life might have gone
if we had all gathered 5, or 10, or 15 years ago to surround and enfold him
with the same love, desperation to protect and defend, fierce loyalty, and open
hearts we were all baring in the funeral home. Had this young man known how
many lives he touched? how much he was loved? what joy he brought us? So I’m
thinking we should have pre-funerals, a sort of It’s a Wonderful Life for any human who’s getting too close to the
Abyss. Maybe there’s a panic button you can push at the first sign of trouble.
Maybe you can even help bake your own reception bars.
a poem I wrote after our son’s best friend fell into the Abyss at age 19. Let’s
form our circles, people...
TO THE SUICIDES
wake up tomorrow and the sun will be up.
Stores will open. Some idiot
will forget to signal
his turn. There will be dishes
to do. You’ll get a job
offer in Big Sky, Montana.
will all get easier. Then it will get harder
again. Then it will get easier
you love will leave her next boyfriend too.
is canning peaches right now.
She will need you here to eat
pain you feel now comes from a cauldron
of teenage chemicals swirling
through you like bad
like toxic river water, like grain alcohol, like Drano.
It will eventually push
through your system, and you will
be able to laugh and think
that time I stomped in your house and screamed
in your face and jabbed at you
with my finger? I really
wanted to hug you and lock you
up and never let you go.
Going to the
zoo is almost as much fun at 35 as it is at 13.
It will one
day be a mystery to you that you ever felt this bad.
don’t know if there’s an afterlife. But
what if you have to watch the
of sorrows you leave behind?
belt will burn and cut into your neck. The pain
will be unbearable before you
You’ll pee your pants.
You’ll change your mind.
You won’t be able to stop it.
I love the
way your hair flips to the side, and the way
you look sideways when you
grin, and the way
my youngest son’s heart opens
up around you.
you love will end up with four kids from three fathers.
She’ll work at Walmart and
live over her parents’ garage.
She’ll try and fail to kick
meth. Her kids will be taken away.
you love will end up married to a banker
and will live on a lake and
have a housekeeper.
you love will be in therapy for the rest of her life.
you love will use your memory like a crucible
in which she’ll stew future
boyfriends and cook up
excuses for sleeping with her
future husband’s boss.
sister died, your mother stayed alive for you.
We are only
here for a blink anyway. Can’t you wait that long?
My son will
have a redheaded child. She’ll skateboard.
She’ll be beautiful and jolly
and full of mischief.
He’ll take her to the
skatepark in Lennox.
He’ll cry because you’re not
here to hold her.
child. You’re everyone’s child. We will all be broken.
in love again and again and again. You might have twins.
They’ll be skinny and blonde
and hold your hand.
You’ll rock them to sleep with
Jack Johnson lullabies.
When they’re 15, they’ll say we hate you.
You’ll try to keep a straight
mother’s smile will be manufactured and hard for the rest of her life.
You are so
full of love and light and promise that it burns
Let me rant
a little bit about the “S” word. Conservatives think it’s nonsense, and we
liberals like to think we’ve risen (or are actively rising) above it. I mean SEXISM,
is so overt it’s beating us all over the head with a 2x4. Girls’ toys vs. boys’
toys. Dresses vs. pants. High heels. Makeup. Hair products. And on and on…
election. We’re so afraid of women, or we have so little regard and respect for
them, that we’ll take a nutbag, egomanaicle,
child-raping lunatic over a woman. We hem & haw and blame it on the
Russians, Hillary’s failed campaign, the FBI, the disenfranchised & ignored
working class, blahblahblahblah, but someone finally had the balls to call it
what it is: SEXISM (https://medium.com/@kmassa/hillary-clinton-lost-because-of-sexism-say-it-3c7a89e548cd#.p8sus5jcz). Because people squirm at the thought of a “lady”
running the show. Gawd, she’ll make us
all pack Kleenex and button our coats. And then she'll have a period!
equal pay, for example. COME ON! This is 2017! Seriously?!?
Anyone, I mean absolutely ANYONE, who
thinks that women earning 21.4% LESS than men doing the same job with the same
qualifications & experience is justified, is a SEXIST PIG (Ouch. Hope that
But the most
insidious kind of sexism is deep inside, like a slow-growing, non-fatal cancer.
We look just fine on the outside, but inside, the cancer is self-replicating,
eating away at us, and keeping us weak, but just so’s it’s barely noticeable.
It’s so deep in our blood that maybe only a good leeching will finally leach (bwahaha)
You’ve felt this undercurrent of sexism: Men are assertive, aggressive, determined,
forthright. Women are pushy, bitchy, negative, bossy. Athletes (understood to
be male) vs. female athletes. Musicians (understood to be male) vs. female
Or take, for
example, domestic partnerships. I’m of a generation spawned in the 50’s and
60’s. We were all about that fight-against-The Man, anti-establishment, free
love, braless, progressive thought mumbo-jumbo. Until we settled. Suddenly,
here we are, living a life so close to the goll-dern Cleavers it’ll make your
hippie head spin. We women may not be scrubbing in shirt-waist dresses and
pearls, but we’re still doing most of the scrubbing.
Even in the most enlightened
households, those replicating cancer cells drive men OUTSIDE (shoveling,
garbage, car maintenance, tree-trimming, mowing, etc.), and keep women INSIDE
(cleaning, cooking, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, baking, and most importantly,
child-rearing). Men are workers and adventurers; women (even if they work
full-fricking-time outside the home) are domestics. Even in “egalitarian”
households where partners “share” duties, you can usually find OUTSIDE/INSIDE
residuals. We chalk up the differences or imbalance to differing interests,
talents, time, or whatever, but at its root—in the blood—it’s that same old SEXISM
that we just keep passing along, from one generation to the next.
goes like this: women who teach are school marms. They wear dresses or casual
clothes, because they aren’t really doing any serious work beyond readin’ and
writin’. They’re just keeping busy until that man comes along to marry them and
take them INSIDE, where they belong. They’re nurturing babysitters, minding
society’s brood. Men who teach, however, are professors. They’re intellectuals.
They stimulate and challenge and mold the next generation of professors (if the
future marms learn a little something along the way, well isn’t that just
darling). Professors wear ties and suit jackets and pressed pants, but if they
wear jeans and dirty 90’s band t-shirts, that’s okay too because they’re
quirky, rogueish, temperamental, or flawed. And they’re just so darned brainy they
can’t help it. And boys will be boys.
ed, we like to think we’re well beyond School Marm. But she’s alive and well,
not just in disparities in pay and representation, but also in student
evaluations (https://tcf.org/content/commentary/student-evaluations-skewed-women-minority-professors/). Students take male teachers more
seriously. School Marm, like Caveman dragging Cavewoman around by her hair, is
so deep in our blood that it skews our perceptions and values. We don’t VALUE
female teachers as much as male teachers. (In some states we just don’t value
teaching. Period.) I’ve seen parents completely delighted to find that their
kids have a male elementary teacher.
We EXPECT elementary teachers to be women, and a male teacher will be “better
for the kids” (I’ve actually heard this), tougher, more serious, etc.
another one. I have a dear friend who’s a retired pastor. Churches, of course,
are bastions of sexism. I won’t even discuss the Catholic church’s spreading “cancer”
of institutionalized patriarchy, and I LOVE the Catholic church…the ritual, the
mystery, the sanctuary of it all.
other churches, where women CAN be clergy, sexism still has a good hold. Male
pastors are leaders of the church, God’s right hand, mediators between God and Man
(not so much between God and women, because any male pastor will tell you,
women should be busy singing in the choir, supervising the Nursery, or setting
up coffee in Fellowship Hall). Male pastors HAVE authority. They SPEAK to God
and know God’s intentions. God wants you
to hold firm!Cling to the rock!
Female pastors, on the other hand, are motherly, counselors, nurturers,
patters-on-back-ers. They APPEAL to authority (God’s, The Book’s, the bishop’s,
the synod’s, etc.). There, there, there.
God loves you, and so do I.
don’t have a solution for any of this other than my leech idea, which isn’t
likely to be popular. And I’m really weary. At 60, I’m tired of raising the
same red flag over and over (nagging…another “woman” thing). I’m tired of all
the excusing and cover-up and pretending. I’m tired of a man who does dishes
once in a while thinking he’s enlightened and has “liberated” some poor woman. In
some ways, I’d prefer the caveman days, where there’s no pretense of equality.
Just drag home a stegosaurus, baby, and I’ll cook ‘er up for you. But you might
want to remember, women who cook MAKE