I just received an email from a newsletter I’ve been reading for years, announcing a change in their domain name and asking to be “whitelisted.” Now, I don’t know where you come from, but that sounds like some straight up KKK/white supremacist ish to me. As does “blacklisting/blackballing/blackmail/blackguard” and all the other terms employed to situate whiteness as good and blackness as bad. And no, this isn’t a new thought. I’ve interrogated racism in language since at least the 1970s, which is exactly my point: how are people still using these words without a thought? Even with the limitations of English, there are alternatives. However, rooting out the inherent racism behind the words requires a fundamental reckoning with the culture and the societies on which they stand. And there’s the rub: people talk a good game, but true decolonization calls into question every structure and belief that we have, starting with the fabrication that folks really want equality and justice for all. Think about it and what that really means. It’s the reality of revolution, not merely transient reform.
Good day, and thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Seeing a UVA alum headline that Ronde Barber has been elected to the Football Hall of Fame took me back to my early days at UVA. I was walking up Main Street from my Fifeville digs, having moved out of grad student housing a few years earlier, with my teenaged son. While this was my regular route to Brooks Hall, I was heading up at a different time for me, and on this afternoon there was a small, growing line of women, most standing, a couple with folding chairs. Being curious, I asked what was going on and a giggling, middle aged woman explained that they were there to “watch the Barbers when they come by.” I, of course had no idea what she was talking about and couldn’t fathom a town with what I thought were “barber parades.” I was already bemused by some of the local rituals, including the hubbub surrounding horse races and football. During my first semester, I’d written an ethnographic style paper about the annual painting of blue and orange stripes along University Avenue, as I’d never witnessed an entire city given over to so much sports related pageantry. I was a Northern raised girl and had attended a small, formerly all-women’s college, where the sports were tennis and equestrian, and not primarily featured. Although my original grad school was comparable to UVA in many ways, as a fellow in philosophy, we were away from the bustle, and decidedly unconcerned with what went on in the larger campus areas.
In what I think was an attempt to shush me, the nearest seated woman quickly explained by saying “Just give it two minutes and you’ll see,” while the standing lady said “They’re brothers- Tiki and Ronde- and we come out to cheer them on and get a look. They run here on certain days.” (She actually named their running days, but I didn’t pay attention to the schedule she’d memorized.)
Ooo-kaay, I thought with a shrug. That’s nice, I guess, but I wondered what made these brothers special, and what were the names she called them. I started to move on, but just then the seated women rose, and on both sides of the street, eyes turned as a line of young men appeared, obviously part of a team. They didn’t run in military formation and while they were clearly training, most seemed casual and friendly, acknowledging the people on the street with a glance or nod. One playful young man laughingly waved and did a graceful pirouette, but it was clear that he was not the object of their attention, even though a few people smiled and politely waved him on.
But then the brothers appeared: two brown, beautifully sculpted bodies, one after the other, aware of their fans, but focused on their runs. Both had on t shirts, an apparently disappointing occurrence for a few followers. The men smiled and one waved, but they kept on jogging towards downtown, and in that flash, the excitement was over. The chair ladies rose, folding their chairs in a swift movement, a few chatting, most making their way back to their lives, leaving me more confused than ever.
All of the men were attractive athletes, but in a hundred years I would never have imagined women lining up only to watch two men jogging. I had a mix of reactions that included surprise, concern about the possible racial undertones, and downright amusement at the silliness of the entire “event.” I decided that I was either in the most liberated and fun loving town or the most desperate, but any way you sliced it, I knew I wasn’t in New York anymore.
Everybody and their mothers have written about Love and maybe all of it is true, certainly much of it is recognizable to me. We write/talk about Love as we know or understand it, and even when we don’t have a single clue. It is a subject both ephemeral and concrete and one of which we seem never to tire. (I have a theory about why that is, but it’s for another chapter.)
In the here and now, what I find most central to Love and relationships (they are not always mutual) is simply being known in very specific ways. When you’re with your besties or a long term lover, what gives it life are the shared contexts, the easy familiarity. That you know each other’s foibles but don’t hold them against each other unless it’s agreed upon by both. That they can tease you and it’s ok because you know that they hold no malice and always have your highest good in their hearts. It doesn’t sting and you can laugh along, maybe even augmenting the remembered offense/embarrassment. They mirror you in a way that allows you to see yourself with the love they have for you. There is trust that comes only through time and experience. Your friends are those whose food you can taste and gently say “Yeah- no, man, this is not it” and they either go back to rework the recipe or shrug and tell you “ok, but you don’t know what you’re missing!” They’re the people with whom honesty (not cruelty in disguise!) is helpful and not hurtful.
One of my criteria for considering someone a friend is that we can belly laugh with each other, because again, there’s a level of intimacy that allows for the ugly crying or the snorting laugh that I certainly don’t have with everyone I might like or enjoy. A long term lover/partner has that extra level of physical intimacy, not only for sex, but in knowing your body as well as your minor habits that are learned only in close daily proximity (and maybe shared bathrooms!) These are different relationships, but all are important and work together to create a dialectic and language of love.
It may be a painful process that gets you there, because the processes of risk, vulnerability, exposure, and shedding previous beliefs-even about yourself- are the fires in which love may be forged. Childhood criticisms and hurts are often in the skins that we grow, and allowing ourselves to be loved and eventually see, recognize, and accept what the beloved knows to be true and real about us is just plain hard. Many reject it, even become angry at the beloved for seeing the vulnerable hurt child they’ve worked so hard to protect, hide, or even destroy for years. And you know why? Because at the bottom of that pain is the belief that it’s true and that anyone who truly sees you cannot love you, and if they do, there is something very wrong with them. At best, the beloved is seen as weak and despised, and the sweetness of possibility is salted down and infused with bitter herbs into an unpalatable mess.
All your people know you in various ways, and that’s a great joy in life. But the few people with whom we choose intimacy and with whom we might consciously struggle to understand and accept more of each other are a special group and of necessity, few. It requires a balance of love and honesty that cuts through all illusions, and it requires complete awareness and surgical skill to know what instrument to use at any given time: scalpel, serrated or butter knife, blunt instrument. And it cannot be done with ego, a savior’s complex, parental complexes, or anything other than a selfless love for that person. We need people who will tell us when our noses need wiping and that our clothes can only highlight certain features and you have to choose whether or not “looking fat”negates your beauty: to remind us of our beauty and why we are loved and lovable.
Such relationships are not always pretty on the outside. People have the idea that true love/soul mates are straight out of Disney or the romcom ending: that once they have recognized and accepted the other, there’s never another argument or their annoying habits will now be cute or just go away. That’s not how this works, my loves, because between our screwed up social expectations and training, the complexities of life in general, and sharing space and growth with another already-made human- if you’re really about intimacy, spiritual development/growth, and long term love, I can assure you that it will be messy and maybe gut wrenching as well as deeply beautiful, because if you were already seriously “enlightened”you would no longer need or have any desire- and where’s the fun in that?
The beautiful friendship between Rev. Tutu and the Dali Lama was one of soul recognition and delight, but those great masters weren’t living together and sharing their daily lives. There was no need at that stage of development. That is not where most of us live. We’re in the struggle- with ourselves, our work, families, and intimate partners. We’re wiping children’s butts and picking up the dog poo, trying to stay on schedule, and watching the clock at work, and maybe all at the same time if you work from home. We are in the trenches of the mundane, often alternating between gratefulness and resentment towards those closest to us, wishing for more time while wondering why everything takes so long. We are humans with all the contradictions and complications that come with the territory, and we live in societies that seldom value or reward the qualities that lead to deeply loving relationships.
So that’s all I came here to say. Just some musings, maybe a couple of clues. Y’all have to work out the rest in and amongst yourselves. It’s in the living of it all.
I’d finished a bone density test at the local clinic, and was scheduled to have a mammogram next. The nice lab technician led me to an inner waiting room, where a much older woman sat in the requisite gown. She looked tired and rather unhappy, so I just nodded and as is my habit, took the seat furthest away, especially since she wasn’t wearing her mask, despite signs requiring everyone to do so. I’ve become used to this sort of behavior here and remain vigilant and as distant as possible at all times, carrying sanitizer in every pocketbook, lest I change bags and leave without one.
But contrary to the way she looked, the old lady spoke to me in a pleasant tone and asked if I was “five years clear, too.” Confused, I said, “I’m sorry, excuse me, what did you say?”
She spoke more clearly and asked “Are you also five years cancer free? Are you here for that?” Astonished, but hoping to keep a straight face as my heart lurched in compassion I answered, “No m’am, I’ve never had cancer.” She in turn seemed surprised but said, “Oh that’s good- you’re lucky.”And I agreed. Noting the pain and complete lack of happiness in her voice I quickly added, “But you’re five years out and free? That’s great!”
She agreed, perking up a smidgen, but said, “Yes, I’m here for my yearly. I was fine until I got here, and now I’m nervous.” I nodded sympathetically and agreed that waiting was nerve wracking. Hoping to distract her, I asked if she had any grandkids or children, and she had several of each, listing the boys and girls, then asking about mine. We chatted for a bit and I told her I’d moved here a few months ago, after my husband died last year. After expressing her condolences, she told me that her husband had died at 38, of pancreatic cancer. Given my shock and sadness, I knew that if we weren’t in a pandemic, I would have moved closer and maybe even held her hand. She went on to say that he’d died eight days after diagnosis, and we agreed that it was one of the worst forms of that dreaded disease, though I secretly thought that a quick death would be preferable to the nightmare of prolonged sickness and the diminishing quality of life I’ve seen with so many patients. And in my mind, a list of questions I couldn’t ask were whirling: environmental, workplace, family history, etc.
Curbing my training and bringing my focus back to her, I was amused to hear her saying that she’d “tried marriage a few times, but they didn’t take.” I said “He was the one, huh?” And she nodded, repeating his age, we both agreeing that it was too young.
We chatted for a few minutes longer when a woman came over, asking if she was ready to go, teasing us and saying “Y’all are having a party out here, but you can’t have any alcohol!” I wasn’t sure if this was a relative till I saw her ID badge, and I quipped “Well, it’s Christmas- y’all need to rethink that policy, ASAP!” and we all chuckled a bit.
The nurse turned back to my new acquaintance and said “I have your results, Mrs. ——“ and I could see her body and face tense up as she nodded “Yes?”
“It’s good news! You’re all clear, and next year you’ll just have a regular scan, no more of these! We couldn’t give you any bad news at Christmas, now could we.” My comrade’s confusion turned to joy as she said “This is the best Christmas present you could have given me” and I stood up, cheered and clapped like she was my own aunty, and said “That is wonderful news; I’m so happy for you!”
And I was, and am, because yes, that lady needed to be free of that awful burden, and in those few minutes, my heart had been touched by her story. I knew I was fortunate to have been with the man I loved for thirty seven years, and hopefully, in two weeks when I get my results, I won‘t be starting down the terrible road she’s no longer traveling, and that swallowed up my Mom and my sister, and other people dear to me. I cheered because that’s something no one should suffer for five minutes, let alone five years, grateful as most are to have the time, even with the suffering involved.
But mostly, I was happy because we all need those small “miracles,” those moments when we win, and when trouble takes a walk: when a nice person catches a break. We need that, and I honestly appreciated being part of her moment.
I am not a prayerful or religious person. My husband did all the praying and I did all the worrying- that’s how the labor was divided in our household, and it worked. I figured out the practical plans A-Z and he seemed to have had a hotline to the divine. With his death, any beliefs I once held were murdered- smited by hurt and anger at the unfairness of his sudden and unexpected death. It’s been his interventions and words and the loving actions of family and friends that pulled me back from complete bitterness and hatred in these past months. Only his love has made me take back my complete repudiation of any and every possible deity, including even my previously always beloved, trusted Ancestors.
So when I tell you now that I will be doing something akin to praying for that elderly woman whose name I don’t know, you can call it a “Festivus Miracle“ or whatever you like, but if there’s one thing this life has taught me, it’s that you should celebrate every single win, big or small. And when you get to witness a win for a stranger, embrace it as your own and magnify the joy, because sometimes it seems like there’s not enough joy to go around, and we have to share whatever bits are here, with loved ones or with strangers. We’re reminded that we are all related, and that their joy is also our joy: that we’re all the underdog sometimes and we know within us what that feels like. That it’s unhealthy and unhelpful to wrap ourselves in the fear of relating to, or being “infected” by another person’s troubles or sorrows, and that if you actually have good boundaries, they allow you to safely cross them now and again. To understand that it’s unnecessary to try to build an impenetrable wall that can only ever fail, ultimately and completely.
So Happy Holidays, good people. There’s an entire month of them, so take your pick. Go out and spread joy, or at least enjoy it for the sake of others and your own well being. Remember: Scrooge was a frightened schmuck trying to control the variables, and Tiny Tim- the most vulnerable of all- was heroic in his joy and love and compassion. L’chaim/Salute/Shanti-Om/Bendiciones ❤️
Today was an amazing day for me and the first time I felt “at home” in South Carolina, all because of the wonderful women that I met at Brookgreen Park, who are carrying on the arts and traditions of my paternal grandmother’s “Geechee” Gullah people.
I was at the park with my family, a surprise day for my granddaughter, as part of her birthday celebrations. As we entered the park and I saw the beautiful, vibrant yet calming old trees, I could feel my blood pressure begin to drop. Trees have a very special place in my heart and soul, and the clearcutting that has surrounded us as housing that is gentrifying the area and making it unaffordable for locals, has hurt my heart and made me disgusted by the government that allows it in the name of “revenue” and “employment” with little concern for the environment, the long term impact on local constituents, or the depletion of local cultures. That the beauty and culture that attracts people are being undermined and destroyed in the process of “development” and (shudder) “progress.”
So this gorgeous haven lifted my spirits as we entered and made our way towards the scarecrow making, pumpkin decorating, and crafts we’d brought Olivia there to enjoy.
As we were passing the gift shop, there were local artisans with their beautiful hand made wares. Virginia “Genya” Watson stopped me as I admired her work, and bowed in respect, stating that she felt my spirit and knew I’d been through many journeys in life. She and her young helper were warm in ways that brought me home to some of the sweetest moments of my childhood. And the beauty of the dolls was stunning!
(My photo doesn’t do justice to the fine detailing on each)
I also admired the basketry of a woman-still busy with a new creation- who looked up only to answer my questions. Noting a particularly stunning basket that I recognized from its West African counterpart, we discussed rice culture for a minute, and when I asked her name, I was astounded to realize I was in the company of Miss Ivie Barnwell, a well known and venerated basket weaver who I’d heard about for years.
I was unable to purchase the beautiful, flat, rice basket, but am thrilled to have this beautifully crafted little sister, still smelling of sweet grass and “home.”
Talking with these women was of course, a perfect connection for my professional work, but what brought me nearly to tears was the sense of recognition we all shared. My sense of self, of place, of belonging, had been shattered with my husband’s death. Finding myself in a state I’d never wished even to visit had left me alienated and sad, despite the incredible love and kindness of my family who’d kept me alive, the joy of being around my granddaughter, and the goodness of my neighbors. Only the trees and other “folks” of the natural world had given me any sense that I might eventually adapt, but the connection to the Ancestors that had carried me through every difficulty, obstacle, and loss my entire life, had been missing, and the hurt and anger I’ve felt since Raymond’s death seemed irreparable.
Yet something in these women and the smell of sweetgrass- which I normally associate with my mother’s Native American people- was instantly healing and soul replenishing.
There aren’t words for these experiences, though I will likely write in “anthro-speak” at some point in order to try. But for now, it’s enough that it happened. It is enough that those drops of healing balm repaired something in my scorched and broken soul. That for now, I am not abandoned nor broken or- at this moment- bereft.
Full day without WiFi l/access to work or a talk I was actually looking forward to. Out since about 4 AM except for about 20 minutes this morning. At least three blocks in the area were out. (Interestingly, only those with the newest, routerless tech) But ya know what? I still had every other amenity and driveable roads, unlike millions of US citizens in Puerto Rico, where people have never recovered from Hurricane Maria, that killed 3,000. (That’s more than perished at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and almost all preventable if the US exploited even a bit less and invested in infrastructure for the local citizens as it does for an economic system that rewards only a select few.) Americans are again being forced to live without electricity or safe water following the recent hurricane Fiona.
So why weren’t all patriots up in arms about the mistreatment and lack of support for other US citizens? Why must we send aid to Kansas, Mississippi or California for their natural (also measurably preventable) recurring disasters? And why are “disaster/vulture” capitalists and neoliberal governments openly allowing these, and other areas of the USA to be destroyed while locals are impoverished, removed and replaced with wealthier gentrifiers/neocolonialists?
This is happening across the US as prices for necessities soar, wages stagnate, and greedy corporations enjoy increasingly higher profits. Yet the death and related “news” about a colonizing monarch of a country the US fought to get away from was the only news that media and many others cared about or reported. That’s some serious cognitive dissonance and denial of your actual relationship to Power, folks. And some serious manipulations by corporate media, mimicking the fall of the Roman Empire. (Look it up/read a book without pictures. Here’s a simple intro:
“The best known is “panem et circenses” which translates to “bread and circus games”. The brutal and often very bloody fights in the arenas were basically free and so was the daily bread allotment. Since the Coliseum in Rome (known also as “Amphitheatrum Novum” or “Amphitheatrum Flavium”) had a limited number of seats the admission tickets were drawn by lot. A citizen of Rome could hope, at least once a year to win a ticket.
Another example is the Circus Maximus where chariot-races were held. These events were also free of charge to the citizens since all costs were carried by the state.” Quara
Meanwhile, our distractions aren’t even free! You pay for your own distractions and ignore the downward spiral, thinking that buying more products to arm yourselves and fortress your mortgaged houses against your neighbors is the answer. 🤦🏽♀️ 🤷🏽♀️🤦🏽♀️ Anyhow…thus endith the lesson. Don’t mind me…
Below are a coupla organizations that are helping. Do what it’s government hasn’t and help your neighbors out of a jam. Thanks.
For those of you not from the area, or too young to have been influenced by the older culture, you should know that old time NYC area people “bitch and moan” about nearly everything. (And if a current mayor can be blamed, so much the better!)
On my first trip to Denver in 1980, I was completely weirded out and annoyed by what the anthropologist Roy Wagner called “aggressive niceness.” People kept coming at me with tv-ready, toothy smiles, saying in high pitched voices, “Hi! Can I help you?” in what felt like an overly friendly, almost loud, “close talker” manner. I’m a friendly type, as North Jersey-NYC types go, and will make eye contact and nod, but this was too much for my fresh from NY sensibilities. It didn’t help that nobody wore black or grey, and it took me a few days to adjust and calibrate my responses away from annoyance or feeling threatened.
Now there were definitely stoics among us as kids: New Englanders for sure, and older African Americans would simply sigh or sometimes smile and say “No need of complaining,” a subtle way to still lodge complaints, imo.
But the older Jewish, Italian, Greeks, and a bit later, the Black, and AIM radicals of my youth took “complaining” to higher levels, some in the service against mass injustices, some for individual woes. But silent suffering? No way- there’d been enough of that for my friends’ families who’d survived the camps, Turkish invasions, and the general silencing of women, and for my own peoples, hundreds of years of colonialism, enslavement, genocide, ethnocide, segregation and institutionalized poverty and policing. Complaining was a freedom, even in the service of pettiness. It was a recently gained right and they were going to voice their complaints to anyone who was present. They made it into an art, and each group had their own spin and accompanying body language and voicing, sometimes even with costuming.
So I consider myself to be a proud carrier of that tradition, even though it’s been at odds with my family’s mostly stoic ways for decades. As a woman who is perpetually fighting against being silenced and labeled “Angry Black woman” as justification for being ignored, this is not just a way of releasing stress and noting genuine problems, it is a way of staying connected to my own feelings, of not self-alienating, as our society pushes us to do. It is a direct action that throws blame back at the feet of those who wrong us. By calling it “complaining” it’s too often reduced to only the realm of the petty and is frequently a term used to dismiss genuine suffering, by medical professionals and even ostensibly “enlightened” folk who relegate it to “negative thinking.”
However, it can also be a humorous outlet, said with a wink and in a dramatic fashion for the sheer joy of the thing. There’s a reason nearly everyone I grew up around knew at least a smattering of Italian, Jewish, and other ethnic complaint/curse words, from the sacred “Oy vey!”and “Marone!” to my non-cursing father’s muttered “Cripes” (so as not to “take the Lord’s name in vain.”) These are just a few examples, of course. The variety was dazzling and offered a multitude of ways to express and nuance one’s particular gripe.
For many older people, good fortune was downplayed, with “spitting three times against the evil eye,” making the sign of the cross, or simply a mild denial of serendipity or good fortune to ward off any form of punishment for hubris and to keep away envy or misfortune. Everyone knew that good fortune could be wiped away in the blink of an eye, and a classic exchange might go like this: Frequent customer “Oh, Mr. Johnson, you’re doing so well, your business is thriving! You must be thrilled.” Mr. Johnson: “Meh” (tooth sucking/eyes raised towards heaven /sad head shaking heaven, according to ethnic based preferences) “It’s just more headaches- the paperwork, you can’t find good help, the taxes…” A light hearted elder might simply say, “Things could be worse.”
I made a vow to myself when young, that I would always celebrate joy- mine or that of others- and I would try never to bottle up my feelings. I saw the damage that it did, on buses and trains, and in the streets, as people went about their lives, blankness covering whatever joys or sorrows had been pushed down or cupboarded for the sake of functionality and fitting in. Many adults looked grey to me as a kid- unanimated, beaten down, claiming no emotions except perhaps anger. I determined by eleven that I’d not be them, that I’d never stop feeling or deny what I felt. I had one motto that centered me: Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore.
So scroll on if you wish. I rarely complain about things that genuinely hurt my feelings, and it’s more likely that you’ll just be on my Madam DeFarge-like lists for another day. For now, I’ll simply shrug and think “ok” or maybe “schmuck” to myself with a touch of pity for your unknowing ignorance.
Or as my grandma would say, “ I ain’t studying you.”
“Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? The end of living and the beginning of survival.” – Chief Seattle, 1852
💔 In my older years I’ve come to a deep understanding that greed is the most destructive force in the world. Doesn’t matter what form it takes- envy, the desire for power, money, influence, fame, or to control others or their bodies- in the end, it’s still greed, and it kills: love, beauty, relationships, the natural world, and ultimately, humanity and human kind.
I’m obviously not the first or wisest person to say such things, but our decline on almost every level requires me and us to move away from merely noticing or despair and to vigorously act on behalf of the world and all living beings. In my tradition, that includes everything/everyone in the natural world, including rocks, trees, rivers, and bees. Even my nemesis, the mosquito.
Any culture, society, or tradition that promotes greed needs to be rethought, reorganized, or simply revoked. If we can’t understand that we are all connected and that our fates are intwined, we’re all going down with this earth ship I love so much.
When I was a kid at school, we had something called “Think and Do” books that promoted critical thinking in young children. I’m adding the element of compassion to the equation and asking that we all connect, consider, and act. Thrive, don’t just survive. There are and have been, better ways to understand and live in the world. Learn and grow. ❤️
Friends, you know that I usually make a fuss over my birthday, but this has been a personally challenging time and yesterday topped it off. We’re in a nightmare where a bunch of greedy, heartless two-leggeds want to force women to have children but won’t regulate the formula companies or spend the money to feed the children women are forced to bear. They know that the majority of these under nourished, possibly unloved kids will be poor and more likely to be incarcerated, often for the same crimes that their jailer’s own children and grandchildren commit but for which they will never be punished. And the rotten cherry on top of this putrid cake is that these immoral and cruel meat suits also adjudicated that death row prisoners could no longer use exculpatory evidence to free themselves when wrongly imprisoned. So it boils down to the willful and fully conscious control, virtual enslavement, and persecution of women, people of the global majority, and the poor.
My birthday wish is that you actively fight against this in every way that you can. Give money, take to the streets (masked, of course), write letters and put your various amazing talents to good use. Organize, Agitate, and Change the World because a better one is waiting to be born. And it must be born, “by any means necessary.” We cannot wait!
Today marks nine months since my husband died and ends the week when things shifted for me. The last bits of magical thinking died somewhere around Wednesday, a day that has often marked changes in my life, although generally more benign, like getting a new job. It is Oya’s day- the Orisha of Change and the Guardian of the Cemetery Gate. It is she who admits the dead and has the power to deny entry. She’s the warrior who rides before Chango in the form of the whirlwind, the harbinger of his oncoming storm.
I am not one of her children, but my appreciation of that deity goes beyond the general respect I have for ancestral beliefs. I guess you could say that I get her, and like my childhood love for Athena, she is the archetypical embodiment of qualities to which I have aspired. This week my emotions made such a radical shift that I could not help but think of her, despite the inactivity of my beliefs.
For nine months some part of me hadn’t really believed that my husband was dead. It was unacceptable and just impossible. I looked for signs and portents. I prayed that his soul might enter an otherwise healthy but prematurely dying body, like in the old movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, or the more recent “Soul.” His death was an intolerable mistake and I expected the correction every pain-filled day.
Years ago, I had an ugly dream that Ray had won the lottery and when I came home from work, he was waiting for me in a big limo, on his way out of town. He handed me his keys and said that he’d paid the rent for the year. It was November.
When I woke up, I was angry at him, with that residue from lucid dreams that sometimes floods the borders between our waking and dreaming worlds. He of course laughed, held me, and was a bit hurt that I held even the slightest doubt about his complete loyalty and devotion to me, and over the years it became a bit of a family joke, and I’d always end the laughing by saying, “Uh huh- I’m keeping my eye on you, brother!” It was particularly funny to everyone because most of our friends had never seen a man as devoted as my husband was to me. Yes, he could be incredibly stubborn, obtuse, and frustrating, as in any marriage. But he was “as constant as the Northern Star” to quote Joni Mitchell. Adultery was an intolerable sin to him and one of the few things for which he would cut off a friendship. It was not in his playbook. He understood the boundaries of mild flirtation and never went anywhere close to its edge. He didn’t hang out on his own or with “the boys.” Once married, he was completely faithful, so my residual anger over a few days after the dream befuddled and amused him.
I tell that story because this week I understood that he was not coming back. I know that because I know that my husband would never willingly leave me and if there was any consciousness beyond the grave, any way that he could return to me or fetch me, he would have done it. There is nothing that would stop him. He prided himself as a Marine to never leave a comrade behind, and his love for me more than doubled that emotion. He would sometimes say to me, “You go, we go” and he meant that most sincerely. So for whatever reason(s), this week something shifted in me and I knew that he was indeed gone. It is real.
I won’t bore you with the aftermath of such a shift, I’m still processing and so far there’s nothing beautiful or redemptive in it. But I will leave you with something by Carl Sagan’s widow that showed up on my Facebook feed on Thursday and felt affirming: