Thursday, November 30, 2017

For Dina, who did not speak: a poem for parashat Vayishlach

He says he loves me,
and his gaze
quickens my blood.

Hush, he said.
His hands moved, rough and calloused
against my perfume-dusted body

and my flesh rises to his touch,
and he loves me,
he says.

Wait, I want to say;
but he says hush
as he enters me,
takes my breath away;

and I have no words left.

Shame, they cried.
my brothers recoil in their sanctity,
their purity despoiled.

My father waits to bind me
to that man who whispered love -
seven blessings and I'm clean.

As if I'm broken, as if...
They all say they love me.
They hunger to avenge

the day my flesh rose to meet his touch,
when he said he loved me,
when I wanted to say wait.

When he took my breath
and my words
away.

Wait, I want to say;
he says he loves me.

My father says he loves me
I think he
loves honor more.

My brothers say they love me
I fear they
love vengeance more.

They fill the world with their words
and their desires
their lusts
and hate

until there is nothing left
for me to say.

They have taken my breath -
my words -
my love -
away.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

For Esau - for parashat Vayishlach



Thief!

Liar and thief!
Despite all you stole,
I loved you still.
I would have given anything
if you’d asked.
Instead your shadow
smothered my birthright,
my heat.

Thief!
You stole the light of heaven,
the love of our mother,
even our father's faulty eyes.

You took it all and left me—
what does one call a shadow
of a shadow?

Of betrayal you made a nation
numberless as the sand and stars.

Because you knew God,
you were blessed and cursed
and beloved.
You knew God,
but I learned forgiveness.

And so I bless you and curse you

and love you more still.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Kaleidoscope of Angels: for parashat Vayeitzei

Put the stone under your head
and rest; don't be disturbed
by the kaleidoscope of angels
on their merry ride of
up and down,
between heaven and earth
and there and back again.

They may be lost,
those angels, or at least
Stuck, intractable in their
proscribed tracks,
their lesson a cautionary tale
in thinking heaven is up.

Let your stone,
cold and hard,
remind you that
there is no place God is not,
even in that rock,
and all those hard places
that the angels fear to tread.
God cares not for the ladders,
But stands over you,
And waits for you to notice.

Heaven is now,
not where.
This is the entrance.
This is the glory.




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 - The Blessing of Vulnerability and the Miracle of Thanks

A decade or two ago, newly sober, still mostly feral, I was in awe of what we called the "fellowship." Drinking had always been such a salve, a slippery balm that maintained an invisible but solid wall between me and the humans. Every drink, every drug, every thing that I used to make me not feel merely bound me tighter, twisted into a tangled mess of fear and loathing – and it all kept me safe. Invulnerable. And here were all these people, all these sober drunks with some time: sometimes only an hour or two, sometimes days or weeks or years (Years? What the hell?), all these people, with names I sometimes remembered but mostly didn't, with phone numbers readily given but that I never called. They all of them, mostly, showed up. For each other. For themselves.

For me.

Even when I snarled, or whined, or pushed back as far as I could go. I felt like Harry Beaton, the character in Brigadoon who couldn't bear his grief, who wanted only for others to hurt as much as he did, who ran, as if all the hounds of hell were running through his head, skittering up and down his spine, trying desperately to leave , all the while doomed to stay in the same place. "I'm leaving Brigadoon," he cried, "The miracle is over!" That was me, too: I wanted out, I wanted the miracle - of sobriety, of AA, of something I couldn't even name - I wanted it over for everyone. And still, all those drunks, they showed up. For me.

"Be honest," they said. Be open and willing and vulnerable, a little bit every day. I scoffed at their naiveté. "Keep coming back," they smiled, sipping coffee as the smoke from their cigarettes rose in delicate spirals, collecting in a haze just below the ceiling of the meeting room. I went back, again and again. One day, on a whim, or perhaps a dare to myself, I offered a truth or two, exposed the delicate skin of my secrets, just a fraction, and waited for the white hot pokers to come, seeking blood, sensing weakness. They never did, and I lived to tell the tale. I tried it again. And again. I shed my secrets like a shroud, felt their weight shift and dissolve, not all at once, but in time, over time, as I learned to trust.

"It's ok not to know," they said. "It's ok to ask for help." I laughed, I was too smart to fall for that line! I knew it all and needed nothing from anyone. I was the Fixer of Broken Things. I knew, above all else, that I would never be loved, and so decided that to be needed was almost the same. Almost enough. So I found all the broken pieces, all the broken people - and I fixed them all. And in all my fixing, I could find a whispery echo of the humanity I was so sure was just outside my grasp. I knew, without doubt, that only one person remained outside the circle of healing: me.

But those people, those glorious drunks, they showed up and they offered and they loved - freely, without any expectation of return. There were no scoreboards or scales that weighed my worth. With infinite caution and care, I crept away from the curse of people - the burden of their need and want and broken desire and slowly, almost imperceptibly, found grace in fellowship, the blessing of people who fill my life, and my heart.

So here now, a few decades later, looking back at a lifetime of wholeness and brokenness and breathless awe, I find grace - and God - in the kindness of strangers and the people I have gathered along the way, here in the quiet of 3:00 am.

Who am I kidding? "Looking back at a lifetime..." Ha! It's all well and good to talk of lessons learned - difficult, daring, skin-crawling lessons that you learn and then fold up neatly, put it away in a drawer in a locked room that lives down a long and cobwebbed hallway that is dusty with disuse. I like lessons like that, feel a smug humility that I can say, "Ah yes - that was hard, learning how to do that. Not that I'll do it again or anything; I got that badge, thanks."

This past year has been a never-ending parade of learning that lesson, again and again, the one where I ask for help. I tried. I tried so hard to shoulder all the broken pieces, all on my own. God, I tried! And I couldn't do it. Time and again, I struggled, like Atlas. I carried every load I was handed, felt buried by the weight of it all, until I stood - motionless, breathless, defeated - until the pain of not asking for help was finally greater than the fear of reaching out. And so, skin crawling, face pink with heat and body glistening with flop sweat, I asked for help.

And without fail - without fail - every time, there it was. Offered not as an "if - then" statement, but freely, unstintingly. There were rides and loans and stronger shoulders than mine that could bear the weight of my fear. People showed up, offered their love, sometimes in the form of coffee and a willing ear, once or twice as a meal, delivered with a happy smile and no strings. There was the offer of advice a time or two, but more often, a steady presence and a gentle hand to hold. I needed everything that was given.

I used to say, in the early days of my sobriety, that the only thing worse than not having friends was having them; the only thing worse than depending upon the kindness of strangers was depending upon the kindness of people you know. Now, a quarter of a century later, I still hesitate. I still stumble, making my solitary way to some desperately high ledge. But with every piece of brokenness that I cling to, I hesitate a little less, don't walk quite so close to the teetering edge. I am learning to shrug a little sooner, so that whatever it is that I think I must carry doesn't crush me under its weight. While I still can’t seem to say “Please…” I can finally, sometimes, actually say “Thank you,” with a modicum of grace and graciousness.

A quarter of a century later, after a lifetime of steadfast fear and absolute certainty that my burdens are mine, that I am the fixer who can never be fixed, I have discovered a new conversation topic with God. These days, there's a lot less "Why me, God?" and a helluva lot more gratitude for all the gifts I have been given. Why me? Sometimes, it's the choices I've made or the actions I've not taken that place me smack dab in the middle of something hard and fierce. Sometimes, there's no reason at all, a thing of fearsome and capricious chance that happens because it does. Even then - a conversation of thanks.

So, as we enter into this season of blessings and thanks, I offer this, my prayer of thanks, with humble gratitude for the presence of strangers and friends who teach me, every day, what grace looks like.

God of infinite compassion, who fills the world with quiet wonder and endless breath, thank You for the gift of not knowing, the grace of bending and the joy of asking, and in that joy, gratitude for the strength of vulnerability, and the ability to give thanks



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Next to Last Day

This is the next to last day,
not the last.
The next to last
still has potential,
a kiss of possibility
that can linger.
It is the embers of a fire
dulled and ashy,
that can still bite and burn.
It's firefly sparks popping
that make you jump and say "oh!"
They sweeten the chocolate darkness,
making you laugh in relief.

This is the next to last day -
and the broken can be healed still,
the lonely can be welcomed still;
forgiveness can be given still.

I shall live here,
in this un-final moment
of this next to last day,
that is potential still
that is possibility still.
I will linger here,
live here,
love here,
still.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Before

Before it begins
Before the shuffling quiets
And the first breath is drawn
In anticipation of the first blessing,
the first moment of praise
Before the first note
In a cascade of notes that tumbles
and falls and rises higher
Fuller, richer, deeper
Before the words and the
silence that cradled them
Before the beginning of
the everything that is,
There was
There is
There will ever be You.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Return Me

My soul wanders,
weightless,
on a carpet of light
while I sleep,
tangled in sweat-damp sheets.
Watch me, God,
from your sheltering peace.
Return me, God,
so that I may rise,
Oh that I may rise!
and bow to you -
bend to you,
Ready.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Rise, like larks

I want to fly with the larks,
who rise in exaltation.

They know Your secret name
and sing it, each one -

An ascension,
into the vastness
of sky and wind.

a psalm
a song
a glory

Rising.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Enough!

I wrote this essay in the summer, right after whatever gun massacre tragedy of the day had happened. Sadly, their pace is increasing so quickly, I don't quite remember exactly which tragedy it was. Today, while I was sitting in holy, sacred space, surrounded by beloved friends (old and new) after a weekend of depth and richness and God and community, there was yet another senseless massacre, this one in a church. 

According to one facebook post I saw, 76 people have been murdered in mass shootings in just over a month. Of course, the total number of gun deaths in this time is much higher. 

So you'll forgive me, please, if my statistics are a little bit dated. How sad to think that just a few months would throw reality off so much! Still, one thing I can guarantee: the numbers have all gotten worse. Much worse. 

So again: when will enough ever be enough? How many more murders and massacres have to happen before we will act, before we offer more than "thoughts and prayers?"

What follows is the original essay, oon its entirety. 

This was a post I wrote yesterday, on Facebook:

Dear God! We are a nation under siege. When is enough enough? How many more people must die or be maimed by gun violence?!
The answer is NOT to put more guns on the streets! Don't quote the 2nd amendment to me - it calls for a well regulated militia. These terrorists - the white men who believe they are acting for God or race or political bent - who carry semi-automatic rifles that can strafe a plaza - or a baseball field or a church or a business or (pick a place, any place) - and mow down human beings to show their might and power and hatred - these terrorists can pick up their guns and bullets without a care! It is more difficult to get a driver's license than a gun license.
Dear God - when will enough be enough?

Someone I don't know commented on it - "The criminals will get their guns one way or another," implying this was a good reason why gun control won't work and shouldn't be pursued.

Here's the thing - of *course* criminals will always get their guns! I'M NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE FUCKING CRIMINALS!

- I'm worried about the mentally ill person who can readily buy a gun.
- I'm worried about the white supremacist skinhead who can legally buy a gun.
- I'm worried about the nice parents down the block who buy a gun to protect their family whose child ends up dead because said child found the gun - or MY child getting killed by their gun because he was over playing at their house and someone found the gun
- I'm worried about the guy whose pissed off at his wife or his girlfriend or boss or co-worker or the world who decides to do something about it

Of course the criminals will get their guns. We have law enforcement to deal with that, and it's by no means perfect or even relatively effective. But gun control laws were never meant to deal with that issue!

Good God people! We created this battlefield all by ourselves. This blood is on our hands. Somehow, we deified the NRA and the 2nd amendment, and we build altars to their godhood daily. And you know - it's all of us. We are all culpable in this passion play.

We wring our hands and offer thoughts and prayers as if that were enough. We shake our heads in sorrow, in anger, in bewilderment - and then we go on with our lives, until the next time, and the next time, and the time after that. Because there will always be a next time. And we will be just as culpable and just as sad and bewildered and angry.

Here are some cold hard facts, gleaned from the Center for Disease Control
  • On an average day93 Americans will be killed with guns
  • Those 93 deaths daily? Seven of them will be kids or teens.
  • Nearly 12,000 people will die. victims of gun homicide, annually
  • For every one person killed by a gun, two more will be injured
  • Every month, 50 women will be shot by their intimate partner
  • When a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, the risk of the woman being killed increases fivefold
  • The American gun homicide rate is 25 times higher, on average, than other high income      countries. The US makes up 42% of the population of that group, but accounts for 82% of the gun deaths.
What will it take?

We thought Columbine would do it, didnt we. I could have sworn we did.So I went searching, to find out how many mass shootings there had been since that deadly, horrifying kick-you-in-the-gut-and-take-your-breath-away massacre at Columbine High School in April, 1999. Funny thing - my research took me back to 1984 (a prescient year, to be sure; I'm sure I could have gone further - I chose to stop there). That was the year a man walked into a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California and opened fire, killing 21 and wounding 19.

Between San Ysidro (1984) and Columbine (1999), there were nine other mass shootings - a total of 11 shootings in all at that time. The total number of dead iwas 112. One hundred twelve lives snuffed out, and one hundred fifty-nine wounded - physically. God only knows the countless others whose wounds are not visible to the eye. Angry men. Hurt and damaged boys. Empty people who wanted to punish, who wanted to hurt, who wanted to kill. Who wanted to die. They grabbed a gun - a rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, a semiautomatic rifle - and sprayed bullets and pain and death all around them.

Columbine hit us like a wave of frigid water. It shocked us all. It sickened us all. We wept with all of the families whose worlds were destroyed that day in April. And we swore it would never happen again. Didn't we? Of course we did! We had to have. I mean, this wasn't some gangland war on the mean streets of some city. This wasn't some pissed off guy with a chip on his shoulder who shot up his girlfriend's office in an effort to show her just how much he loved her and what lengths he'd go to make her stay.

This wasn't supposed to happen - not here! This was middle class suburbia, mostly white America. This was a couple of kids! White kids, who, seemingly out of nowhere, walked into their school and opened fire on classmates and teachers alike. It wasn't until later that we found out they had an arsenal of guns at their fingertips, all legally owned by their parents. It wasn't until later that we learned they were Outsiders, bullied and marginalized and unstable.

So we learned, We learned from the harshest teacher, this most brutal lesson. We learned, and so we declared it wouldn't happen again.

Until it did. Three months later, in Atlanta. Two months after that, in Fort Hood. And two more months. And then the next month. Again and again. Over and over. The killings never stopped. People who'd been fired, or passed over, or left - they took it out on the people they worked with or loved or hated or feared. Who the fuck knows?

From Columbine to Virginia Tech - the next of the "big" ones, the shootings that really shook us up. that seem to have a more permanent status in our heads (except, of course, if your world was rocked by one of the "minor" shootings, the ones that faded more quickly from public view) - from April, 1999 - April 2007: 13 mass shootings. Ninety-seven dead, seventy-four walking wounded.

We learned. We learned how to use social media to notify students and faculty that there was a potential madman on the loose. It would have been nice to learn how to keep guns out of the hands of the madmen. Almost a year later (with only one other mass shooting and eight dead along the way), Northern Illinois University was hit by its own disgruntled student. Again, we activated the notification system, keeping those kids not in the lecture hall on lockdown and safe. We lost only five souls that day. It could have been so much worse.

But we learned. And it won't happen again. We won't let it happen again.

Binghamton, NY: April 2009, 13 dead, 4 wounded
Fort Hood, TX: November 2009, 13 dead, 32 wounded
Huntsville, AL: February 2010, 3 dead, 3 wounded
Manchester, CT: August 2010, 8 dead, 2 wounded
Tucson, AZ: August 2011, 6 dead, 11 wounded
Seal Beach, CA: October 2011, 8 dead, 1 wounded
Oakland, CA: April 2012, 7 dead, 3 wounded

Aurora, CO: July 2012 - another one of the "big names" in mass killings. This was the madman who shot up the midnight showing of a Batman movie, killing 12 and wounding 58.

Oak Creak, WI: 6 killed, 3 wounded in a Sikh temple where people were at worship
Minneapolis, MN: September 2012, 6 killed, 2 wounded
Brookfield, WI: October 2012, 3 killed, 4 wounded

Newton, CT: December 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School. This brought a nation to its knees. Stories of courage beyond what anyone could have imagined. The faces of those sweet, sweet kids, getting ready for the holidays. The teachers and administrators who did all that they could, and then did more. The parents whose children died. In all, 27 people - adults and kids - died. Were murdered.

And we declared we had had enough. We declared that this madness would end. We shouted "never again!" to anyone who would listen, and to many who wouldn't. We were done learning these lessons. We got it. Surely Congress would listen now! Surely Congress would no longer bow to the pressure of the NRA and other pro-gun lobbyists, not with all we had been through. Right?

Between Sandy Hook and the Charleston Church shooting almost exactly three years later, there were five gun mass murders, a mere 36 deaths. I mean, really - they should barely count, right?

Except they do count. As do the 13 other mass shootings that happened between then and yesterday, June 14, 2017. On that day, we saw two mass shootings, a continent apart. One in Virginia in, in the shadow of the capitol -where thank God no one was killed! - and San Francisco, where three were killed and two wounded.

In all, from what I thought would be five or six notorious cases of brutality and murder (because who can keep all of that death front and center? Life refuses to stop, or even slow down long enough to process these atrocities in their moments, and after a while, they seem to melt and fuse into one another, because how different are they, when it comes right down to it?) turned into 56 separate incidents of some guy (ok; there were two women who made it on the list; still...), some guy, some kid, some bruised and battered and broken person took out a gun and opened fire to assuage some inner demon.

From 1984 - 2017, 404 people have been killed in a mass shooting. I can't even start on those who've been killed individually. In Chicago alone, there were 762 homicides in 2016; 90% were a result of gun violence. Overall, there were 4,368 shootings here last year. We're almost at 1,000 this year, and we haven't even hit summer yet, which is when the temperature and the assault rates rise almost exponentially.

Let me remind you where all of this started: I don't give a flying fuck about criminals and their gins. In almost every single case of these mass shootings, the guns these mass murderers used were purchased legally, owned legally. Could very well have been concealed legally. In the blink of an eye, these sick individuals to their guns and ended the lives of so many.

The blink of an eye.

Do you really think that arming everybody would have stopped these murders? Even in those cases where the Authorities (whomever They may be) had an inkling that something might not be quite right in the head with these murderers, everyone was caught off guard. And no, I don't want to debate how many may have been saved in the seconds that someone on the battlefield may have had a gun, may have had the presence of mind to whip it out in the next blink of an eye, may have known how to use said gun, may have hit their target (the gunman) and not some other innocent who happened to be standing in the way (or close enough to it).

Arming everyone to the teeth is a recipe for disaster. 

We here in America seem to be the jumpy, hair-trigger gun-toting murder capital o the world. Remember that statistic, way up there? The American gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high income nations. Last year, the rate of death by gun violence in the US (per 100,000) was 10.2; in the UK, it was .2, 1.1 in Germany, 2.3 in Canada, 2.8 in France (according to a CBS news story).

It's the guns. It's the ease of access to the guns. It's the people who can get the guns, in all their angry, crazy, messed up lives. It's the inconsistencies from state to state. It's the loopholes and work-arounds that make what little control we have immaterial. It's the fucking NRA and their chokehold on Congress. It's the lobbyists and spineless politicians who put money before constituents. It's greed. It's short-sightedness and expediency. It's poverty and lack of education and gangs and ignorance and stupidity and arrogance.

It's death. Ugly, painful, nasty, brutish murder by bullet, and it knows no race, no socio-economic bracket, no gender, no religion, no political party. WE have created this battlefield. WE have condoned this culture. OUR hands are bloody. We cannot point a finger if we do not include ourselves, because we wring our hands and weep and keep these nameless, faceless victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and then we go on and live our lives, shifting a bit uncomfortably when we listen to the news, and we shake our heads when we hear about the latest atrocity, and we raise our voices, demanding change.

And nothing really seems to have changed.

And so we have 404 people gunned down, their blood soaking into the ground that rises up in horror. Have we had enough yet?

Every man's death diminishes me. I fear I have almost disappeared under the weight of all this death.




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hagar's Song - a poem for parashat Vayeira

I hear the desert when you cry -
wide and open,
empty as Heaven.

I cannot hide from it,
neither the desert
nor your tears.

The angel bade me "Stay!"
with words of tarnished gold
and stolen silver.

What is greatness
laid against your pain?
What of glory
in a thousand years,
while you thirst and I despair?

I hear heaven when you cry -
absent and empty,
an echo of angels
and the glory of God.