Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Hunting of My Son/The Haunting of my Soul

I was at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding to take place the next afternoon. I left my phone in my purse, so I missed the news of the massacre that took place in Dallas. I woke up the next morning to the news that five police officers were killed by a man who opened fire at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally, specifically targeting white officers. It was surreal, staring at my Facebook feed, which continued to retell a tale of the violence and savagery that has become all too common, all too tied up into a knot of racism, privilege, poverty, guns, and anger. Facebook lit up, and I just couldn’t stop reading.
One post caught my eye. Someone had reposted a letter written by a black man, a dermatologist with two sons.
What I read made me weep: Yes, because this man, some stranger, spoke sparely and matter-of-factly about his ancestors. They were brought here in chains, he said. They were lynched and abused and fought for this—their—country which denied their rights. He switched then, from past tense to present—they are targeted, are harassed, and are told that they bring all this on themselves because they don’t act like the rest of society. And then he said that he is tired of defending his humanity.
And if that didn’t break my heart enough, he continued in that same spare and quiet voice: He is tired of having to look into the eyes of his children—little boys who play Pokémon and soccer and live exuberantly, joyfully—feeling that he has to quash all that joy because they are black, and black men are feared in this country.
He ended with this: ”My boys will be hunted. Will yours?”
Of course I wept. How could anyone not?
But there’s this other thing, this thing I’ve been keeping locked away, because, maybe, to speak it would give it power, make it real. But suddenly, I was stripped bare, and I knew The Truth: My son is black.
I’m not stupid. I know he’s black. Of course he’s black! But every time someone would mention it, I would nod and smile and add, “Of course, he’s white, too.” I lied to myself, as if this were a magic shield that would protect him from the realities of being a black man in America.
Some man, grief-stricken and tired-to-the-bone, asked if my child will be hunted, and for the first time, all those lies that I had allowed myself to believe, that I so diligently protected and nurtured, shriveled into dust. I realized that my black son can never be protected by my whiteness, that the mere thought that he could be is evidence of my own privilege.
Will my son be hunted?
I remember the trill of frustration I felt when my former husband carried what I thought was a chip on his shoulder. Yes, yes, yesI know it’s been bad, and there are still some racist people who don’t get it, I wanted to say, but it’s different now, don’t you see? He told me I was naïve. I was afraid he’d pass the chip onto our son.
My world worked on the laws of cause and effect; it was your actions that determined consequences, and while that pristine law had, at times, been clouded by economics, religion, or color, those clouds were lifting, just about gone. The fact that the entire block—inhabited by white families—stood on their lawns and porches and stoops, watching silently as he and his mom and step-father and sister moved in, the first black family in the neighborhood, should have no bearing on the world he moved into now, 30 or 40 years later. I was sure of it.
How could I not see that my ex-husband’s world was governed less by cause and effect, and more by color? His skin, in this white world, was the cause, and the effects were harsh and hateful. He was lucky—the consequences of his blackness were merely a few traffic violations for driving while black, or being overlooked “accidentally” at restaurants and in a handful of job interviews. No prison, a fate for one in three black men—just a sentence of invisibility and marginalization.
And how could I not see that these same problems were now settling so heavily onto our son’s shoulders? My son—my black and Jewish son. What he never told me, until we lived far away from his old grade school, was that he was regularly bullied all through elementary school. Because his golden skin was a little too brown, and his Judaism was a little too Christ-killy for all the lily-white kids who filled those pristine halls.
How could I not see—refuse to see—that my well-meaning heart and my so unconsciously invisible-to-me white privilege could not ever shield my beautiful, loving, kind, smart black son from the consequence of the color of his skin?

Will my son be hunted? He already has been.

Let us work to build a world where he - where anyone - will never be hunted ever again. We must work to build this world - our humanity demands it.

Originally posted by in July, 2016

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

An Eternity of Summer

I could swear that it was still light not too long after dinner. And a week or two before that, the sun still blazed right around that same time. The sky was not fringed in purple and rose-gold; rather, the coming night only slowly leached the sky of color, turning the pale blue into pearl grey and white. Now it's a study in blue and black, with just the barest hint of scarlet at the very edge of the west.

It's amazing to me how much I measure the turning of the year by the stream of light. The year, of course, begins to die at the height of summer. Leave it to me to find a nugget of doom even amid the hazy, lazy, hot and humid ease of summer.

As a kid, summer was endless. It stretched before us like a river, wide and deep, glinting in sunlight, pockets of green shade and never-silent, a burbling chatter that fills up all the empty space. We wheeled and floated through time, all sticky with sweat and watermelon juice and neighborhood grit. It was glorious and forever. Friendships grew thick and fast as weeds, a promise of permanence to outlast the heat of summer, to withstand the coming of crisp air and shortened days.

Summer was long days of heat that built slowly and inexorably, until it felt as if your lungs would spontaneously combust. Summer was fireworks and fireflies, a cacophony of light and sound. It was crickets and grasshoppers and tar that stuck to your shoes, gooey strands of black that formed a tenuous bridge between the road and the soles of your shoes. It was the gathering heaviness of ozone just before a thunderstorm, when the air is alive with static and wind and the heavens open with a whoosh and a rush of rain, when the temperature drops in an instant, from stifling to a delicious cool.

And we were invincible then, in those eternal days of summer: invincible, untouchable. Immortal. We were lords of summer, lords of earth and air, of backyards and hidden creeks and fields of weeds and cracked concrete. Time was measured in light and sound in those days: Out of the house when the sky was still pale and liquid blue, and the dew bent the grass and caught the sun in rainbow crystals, returning only when we heard the clarion call of some mom or sibling calling us in for dinner. 

And as soon as we had inhaled that meal--- of meat and potatoes, certainly, and salad was iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers and home-made Thousand Island dressing--- red-fringed pink stuff made from ketchup and Miracle Whip--- never mayo, thank you very much--- after dinner was Kick the Can or Hounds and Hares or Elimination Frisbee, some game that brought the entire cadre of neighborhood kids together in a burst of competition and speed, and we would run and hide and throw and sweat and yell until it was too dark to see, until the crickets and mosquitoes and frogs and kids created a symphony of noise, and someone-- some mom, some dad, someone left behind the glory of summer, would call us in that one final time. And we came: reluctant, dragging, tired and spent, begging for just a few more minutes, a little bit longer, a little more time, pleasepleaseplease, just five minutes more, pleeeeease! We never did get a reprieve. We never got that extra five minutes. But we never stopped asking either. Every night was the first night, the first time, and possibilities were endless and hope tangible.

Even so, even in that summery land of forever, days end, night comes. Like a thief, darkness steals the light in unnoticeable snatches, and a curtain of silvery moonlight fills the sky where once the sun king reigned. We drive home in darkness. In the morning, dew laden fields become mist-shrouded, God’s breath lightly blanketing the dry gold reeds that turn slowly to deep russet and then dull brown. And suddenly, where once we leapt from sleep-tangled sheets to escape into the summer sun, we hunker down under blankets to steal five more minutes of sleep, of warmth, before school, before work, before growing up. 

When did summer become finite? When did night linger in my window just long enough for me to wake in darkness? When did driving with headlights ablaze take precedence over running madly and with stealth, under cover of darkness, to free my captive teammates from their prison in some neighborhood garage? What day, what time, what moment? I remember that hope of five minutes more, that mental stretch to claim eternity, that I-almost-have-it, I-can-almost-touch-it thing. I remember it lasting forever, but I cannot pinpoint when it was gone, and I wait impatiently for December 22, for when the light begins to linger a little longer, arrive a little sooner every day. 

In the meantime, I pull the blankets over my head while my windows frame a purple sky, claiming my five minutes more before turning on a light.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Elegy: for George Floyd

Mama, oh mama,
The sun is too bright.
This knee on my neck
carries the weight of
centuries and stone.
Oh mama, I can't breathe!

The street smells like heat
and the sweat of ages
upon ages of silence,
my face pressed like a wildflower
into its creases and grime.
My blood runs, and mama,
I can't breathe!

Mama, oh mama,
what can I do?
I'm dying amidst brotherhood blue,
while the spring breeze
brings a hint of glory
that I know is meant
for skin more fair
and pockets more full.

Mama, oh mama!
I can't breathe.
The weight of the centuries
is crushing.
A single knee
and I am done.

Friday, March 13, 2020

That We All May Rise - a prayer for these days

God of hidden things -
unseen art,
unheard notes,
unfelt touch.
God of fear and hope
and weary, worried hearts,
hear my questions and cries.

The world is heavy now,
and the light arcs
through a glass so darkly.
My soul wanders,
weighted and alone.
Lift me!
Help me rise
and see,
help me rise
And hear,
help me rise
And feel,
so that hope conquers fear,
so that my weary, worried heart opens and pours forth love
like water,
like wine.

Comfort me,
that I may comfort those
who suffer and sigh.
See me,
that my eyes are open
to the world around me.
Lift me,
that we all may rise.

Monday, March 2, 2020

For Mordecai, who was not absent

God is absent.
This is an impossibility,
but the air feels empty,
so that our cries slip through,
uncaught, unheard,
leaving only a whispered echo
of death. God is absent,
leaving only me
to remember to bow and bend
only to an invisible God,
to an impossibly absent God
Who waits to hear our prayers.

And I offer my devotion
as if I were sure the God of echoes and air
took notice of our blessings,
took notice of our pain.
And I will bend and bow
and offer this child,
a star of blinding beauty,
who will bend and bow
and offer herself to the king.
God is absent,
leaving only her.

And after the bending and the bowing,
into the whispering echoes
of absence and air,
we rise, our cries at last
captured, caught,
to rise above the silent edges,
while the world hangs motionless.

There is eternity in that ascending moment,
and God.

Monday, February 24, 2020

I Can't Even (not even a little)

I've been writing this post in my head for a while now. Writing and rewriting and fixing and changing. All in my head. Well, of course in my head, given the one-armedness that I have going these days. Writing on a screen, or worse, on paper, is near impossible. Yay me.

Of course, writing this anywhere - paper, screen, head - fills me with a hell of a lot of fear. Ok, truth be told, fills me with terror. Not big or brave with asking, but I am way more than fraying around the edges. Here's the deal: you know that phrase "I can't even?" That's me. I can't. I just can't. Not anymore, and probably not really ever again.

I have loved seeing your thoughts and prayers and hearts and love flood across my FB wall. I have appreciated your cheers for my positivity and strength. I have.

I have to say though, I am fucking exhausted by all this resiliency you seen to think I have. As I said, I can't even.

I spend my days sitting in a chair. I remember when I used to be able to walk. Hell, I remember being able to stand. I'm in a wheelchair now. A scooter because of the abounding kindness of a dear friend. Makes it so I can get around some, thank God. The carpet, and there too narrow doorways make it more than a little challenging, even in the scooter. Even so, there is danger in going from chair to chair. Trust me.

I get up, I pass out. I get up, I collapse into a dazed, mostly not conscious puddle, usually in the hardest, narrowest, most dangerous part of my condo. I have the blood, bruises and breaks to prove it.

I currently have a broken foot (4th and 5th metatarsals to be exact). It's been broken coming on 2 years now. I'm big on breaking bones, not so much on healing. Yay for 3 years of high doses of prednisone. I have a broken finger since last September. My newest is a broken elbow. This one required an ambulance ride to the hospital and surgery. I now have a plate and a couple of screws.

Yay paramedics. They know my address by heart now I think. I fall and pass out a little too often for passing acquaintancy. I was hospitalized 11 times last year.  I think I was in the hospital more than not in 2019 if you also include the ER visits. I've already got 2 ER visits and a 2 week stay for 2020. Yay me.

So here's the deal. Self pity aside, and my apologies, please; I've reached my breaking point this past week, truly. I spend my days sitting in a chair, and I've now added crying somewhat randomly to my repertoire. I can't even, not anymore.

Here's the deal: I love your thoughts and prayers and all. The scariest thing though - scarier than my continuing deterioration, scarier than the fact that my docs have all kindly and lovingly washed their hands of my illnesses and treatment as they have tried every medication or there and nothing has worked and while I may not be dying I will not improve, scarier than all the hospitals and the two heart attacks I've had in 6 months -

Scarier than all of that, and so much more that I can't even dare to name it, is this: getting this vulnerable, this honest this raw is asking for help, is admitting I need.

I need. And I'm sorry, but I need something so much more that hearts and prayers. Know what I need? A meal. I can't get around my own kitchen let alone cook anymore. I can't open a fucking can of soup on me own. The last chore I could do, washing my dishes? I can't anymore.

Can you help me organize my closet? I can't manage to be able to stand long enough to hang my clothes, or unfamiliar them even. And I need help with my desk and the bookshelves. I am not a paperless society and the pile of mail grows exponentially.

Can you sweep my kitchen floor or vacuum my living room? Brush my hair? How about help me figure it how to wash it? Can you fold my laundry? How about run an errand, pick something up at the grocery store? Nothing extravagant, but sometimes I run it of cream or have a jones for some chocolate cookies.

Can you come and keep me company? Doesn't have to be an all day affair - hang out for a bit, we can drink a cup of coffee, watch some TV, talk, sit in companionable silence. Whatever. It's just I spend my days sitting in my chair, and mostly alone. I'm onely. I mostly don't know how to ask for help. Or, I don't ask for help, don't allow myself to get that vulnerable. Sometimes I'd rather die than do that. That's not as funny as I'd like to believe it to be anymore.

So here I sit, sad and lonely and in what feels like desperate need. I used to write about being spiritually broken. Turns out I wasn't, I don't think. And just when I'm finally willing to say I'm not broken on the spiritual plane, I just may be broken beyond repair in a physical sense.

Yay me.

Sorry for the length. Sorry for the sadness and self pity. Sorry for the need. I'm not looking for you to fix me or cure me, honestly. I'm trying to stop pretending that I'm ok, or will be soon. I'm trying to show up honestly. Whatever strength I may have had is long gone. What's left is haunted emptiness. I just can't even. I just can't.

Thanks for reading this far (or as far as you have). Hope I didn't offend, tho maybe I've disturbed you enough to think a little bit about just what bikur cholim (visiting the sick) really is so that you show up just a little bit differently the next time a friend gets sick and is in need. (Sorry: at least my lecture was short). I promise to try not to shudder if you answer, if you give advice. It will not be easy (another promise).

Life is not easy these days I have bottomed out on trying to hold it all together, or even hold any of it at all. I give. Thanks for listening...

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Approach - a poem for parashat Vayigash

This is God's doing:
I knew it all along:
Divine intervention on a biblical scale -
someone should contact DeMille,
te absolvo to the rest of you;

You clearly had no part
in the glory-bound trainwreck
that was the beginning
of this merry-go-round life,
all murderous contempt aside.
You have no power here,
nor your little dog
or your sparkly red shoes.

Clearly it was God all along

So you may approach, knees bent,
tail between your legs,
and make as your offering gift
the  blood - spattered remnants of cloth of gold
and red and orange and purple and black -
You get the picture -
I get the glory.

Blessed is God,
and deserving of blessing.