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 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 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:
I have to laugh. Anxiety can turn people into hyper-alert, fearful-without-recognizing-it-fools. It will have you covered in armor, always prepared to fight: for your life; for respect; for fair pay; for your grades; against racism/misogyny/poverty/isolation/stupidity/greed; “bourgieness.”
Humans are funny creatures. We make so many things a battle and wonder why we have no peace. Some things must be fought, every day, in every way. But learning when to take off the armor- to trust in yourself enough to risk relaxation or love is among the most important things a human can do.
You’ve made it this far, you know how to fight and negotiate. You know who your real friends are. And if you’ve made it this far without that awareness, I reckon that your guardian spirits are strong and hope that they’ll continue to protect your dumb ass a while longer. Your weapons and tools are at hand when you need them, but right now, in this moment, you are safe. Relax and let love- for self and others-flow.
I found myself getting emotional, even weeping this morning as I was preparing for my final day of classes. Almost lost it as I listened to a song from South Pacific. Couldn’t figure it out until I realized that eight months ago today, I found my husband’s body. So much is held in the body, despite our schedules, plans, methods, and formulas for control. The body knows, remembers, and feels, and it will not be denied. I keep saying that grief is like the Mafia: just when you think you’re out, it keeps pulling you back in. Perhaps our society should consider this and not expect people to return to full functionality the first year after loss. I seldom think of past Western societies as being kinder, gentler periods, but the older traditions of mourning made more sense than what we do now. When he was about 9, my son said to me that you never stop loving anyone that you ever really loved, and he was right. And grief is a part of that love. We should respect that.
So I just watched a very corny Bollywood-Nollywood combo movie, Namaste Wahala. It was actually a romcom my Raymond would have liked. Sweet, corny, the idea-reality-of true love, and of course, a happy ending. 💘
Best part from an Anthro point of view was the final post script minute when the issue of dowry vs brideprice was broached. An enjoyable moment in an otherwise predictable film.
Yet corny as it was, in thinking back to Mira Nair’s 1991 film Mississippi Masala being banned in India, I guess this film marks a moment. Of course the dollar power of two of the worlds largest film producing countries is the real base for this cultural bridge, but it is nevertheless, a major shift.
for him to come back to bed most mornings, coffees in hand, that special smile that came after his first few sips, ready now to tackle the day, talk schedules or errands.
So many adjustments to each other over the years, such different people,
Bound deeply by passion and a never broken sense of belonging to one another- as family, through lifetimes and difficulties, passion and pain.
We were Earth and Sky to each other- hurting and wanting, fiercely protective and connected in ways that made no sense to me at times.
My easy-to-leave-men-self perpetually stunned by my unflagging devotion, and he, always and proudly, “as constant as the Northern Star. “
I miss the giggle I could invoke in him,
his warmth, his sweetness, the stubborn side that few could see.
I miss his eyes of love, his happiness to be my audience, the touch that never ceased to arouse my fire. His joy in being my man.
There was never a time that I didn’t love him, no matter what my feelings were at any given moment. He was my joy, my sorrow, “frustration on two legs walking.”
My sous chef and line cook, I even taught him to bake brownies, although he remained intimidated by baking. He lived to watch me make pies and loved the eating of them more. He learned to love gardening and walks, classical music, Thai coffee, volunteering, and the people that I brought into his life. My friends became the sisters he always wanted, and he loved making coffee or piña coladas for them, loved hearing us talk and laugh.
He loved being in community with people. He was a good neighbor and a sneaky look out, knowing everybody’s business and licenses. He was the guy you wanted when danger broke out- he knew the exits and every way to avoid any trouble. He was first to know that something was going to break out, and he’d quietly say “Time to go” and lead our little troupe to safety. Only love for me got him to join me at protests and picket lines. His distrust of police was intensified over the past few years and his outrage led him to volunteer to translate and help in any way he could. It was the first time I’d seen him offer to do something as overtly political (outside of voting, which he never missed) without being asked.
His desire was to be of service and he learned the importance of asking- finding out what was needed, not just what he wanted to give. That was hard. I put tasks before him that forced him to go deep- confront his fears, hurts, insecurities and doubts. He’d worked hard to wall that up and only Love could lead his way.
I knew who he was and loved him- a scenario he’d never imagined, couldn’t believe, and sometimes feared couldn’t be true. He thought he had secrets, but I knew his soul and all the ways that he was damaged. I knew him in ways that gave him strength and sometimes wings. I didn’t have to like all that he was, but I loved him beyond any person, place or thing outside of my son and his family.
And they were father and son in ways that drew me back to him when things threatened to tear us apart. He cared for my son and they bonded in ways I couldn’t, but that love reminded me that his devotion went beyond our mutual passion and other ties. And I think my love for his mother endeared me to him in unexpected ways. We met each other in places that no one else had reached.
So I wait: his death is unreal, impossible to “get”, an unacceptable reality that brings out the Cosmic Karen in me, wanting to speak to God about this mismanaged mistake.
He can’t be gone. It’s unacceptable and I won’t have it, pure and simple.
That’s how I feel. That’s the rage inside me.
Fuck everything I ever thought or believed in. No Ray? No fucks left to give.
I live because I don’t know how to die. I know too much about the risks of self annihilation, and hurting myself makes no good sense to me. I want him back: my Ray. I want to smack him for dying and leaving me to find his body- so cold, so clearly dead, a PTSD scene that reverberates as I hear my own screams and wailing- sounds my body had never made before.
I see it all sometimes- Now, sitting in my car, weeping and hurt and angry.
Bereft. A word I use- the only one that fits the tearing pain I feel where he was severed from me. It never wanes. Months pass, life appears to go on, but I am dead in that part of me. Not dead as in quelled, but dead like a constant, ripping, searing pain that screams inside my body, night and day, 24/7. Like having my heart and viscera ripped from my body, every waking minute of my day. Prometheus having his liver eaten by the eagle every day seems preferable or certainly comparable.
I sit here now- cold as fuck: haven’t eaten and have no appetite. I eat once every day because I promised I would. Because the body is strong despite the pain of walking and being, it continues to live. How long, I wonder? Will we be reunited then? What if he’s gone- reincarnated or otherwise oblivious to my pain? “What ifs” and other scenarios run through my head despite my current lack of belief in anything. He seems alive to me- I hear him all day long, as I would if he was here. I talk to him, fuss at him, laugh with him, and try to do the things he’d want of me. To live. I don’t know why, but I do.
And that’s part of the pain: that he’s so much with me, but not here to kiss, glare or roll my eyes at. He’s not here for me to love and I am full to overflowing with love for him. It could be frustrating when he was alive, and it’s unbearable now. He grounded me, allayed my fears, made the doing of things doable. He praised me in some way every day for 37 years, and I made it safe for him to be.
I think most of us have done it, because the parallels are obvious, but it’s time we all stop comparing what’s going on in the USA with the Taliban.
These are home grown, mostly white male Christians, Not Muslims, not “the Other,” not the dark bogeymen invoked by the shadowy fears of your own cruel history. Call them the specific misogynist, power hungry, mean spirited, detestable villains that they are. Name them without mystifying them, without distractions or by using a different set of misogynists (who aren’t actually endangering us here) as shields or deflectors. Own them as an ever present part of American society and a perversion of absolutely everything that Jesus taught or required of His followers, much less of anything that even vaguely resembles democracy.
There’s no new ugliness in this country. The racism, narcissism, misogyny, cruelty, disrespect for the Earth and all creation: that’s yours, America. You brought it with you and you cling to it and revive it regularly. You raise your children with these beliefs and you find ways to profit from them, and then you use your profits to do exactly what you condemn in, and project onto others.
Own it, call it by its true true name, (Dorothee Sölle’s “Christofascists”works very well) and never again insult our intelligence and reality with your denials.
My father was a spit polished, sharp as a tack man. Always! He was Victorian era polite and honorable, but also willing to be silly and fun. He believed that Logic and Science could save us, but was also a truly great romantic. He taught me to play poker and waltz and Marquis of Queensbury Rules. He was a great man, imo. I never felt unloved by him, even in my seriously alienated teen period when it was just annoying rather than comforting. He was an original purveyor of Dad Jokes, the guy who taught himself to play Stride piano, and who would do Cossack dances to the Radetsky March. He was the outgoing opposite of my introverted mother, and she was often amused by his antics, especially with us. I would catch her smiling, just slightly, her nearly black eyes shining with love as he frolicked with us: playing board or made up games, teaching us about dinosaurs, or watching monster movies together on the sofa. They quarreled often and as a child, that was more understandable to me than that glint in her eyes. It took becoming an adult to begin to understand the fierce love that they shared for more than fifty years, until her death. His devotion to her throughout the horrors of cancer completely altered my understanding of love in action and what devotion means and even now, brings moisture to my abnormally dry eyes, both emotionally and physically.
My father was the epitome of devotion when it came to his family. Working the night shift at Standard Oil in Bayonne meant years of busing and walking for miles when the buses didn’t run. He learned to drive and bought a car when I was small, and he drove me everywhere I needed to go, whenever possible, picking me up in Brooklyn every week after I married, so I could shop in Jersey where there were no taxes on food and clothing, and spend time with the family. This was not his dream for me, but he never expressed his disappointment in any way and did everything he could to lend support and encouragement to me, patiently teaching my first husband about basic household repairs and indirectly advising patience and kindness as the basis of enduring love.
My parents had five kids as well as the care of his mother and an elderly cousin, but Pop always made room for kin who needed him, he and my mom working on budgets late into the night, finding ways to send funds to family who might be in crisis, taking in neighborhood kids whose families were temporarily unable to care for them. I found out after his death that the beloved elder who lived with us had come north after Emancipation but had been re-enslaved by an evil employer. My father and his brothers organized and literally broke her out of the locked room where she was kept when not working. The only relative who owned his house at the time, there was no question as to where she would go. She lived with us comfortably, for the rest of her life, a sweet and kindly foil to her younger contemporary, my cantankerous grandmother.
His lifelong dream was to have land and create a family compound- each with their own home, elders cared for by all, kids, animals, gardens all cared for, all healthy and thriving.
Daddy promoted personal discipline and was almost military in his adherence to physical and moral discipline. A boxer in his youth, he’d aspired to the Golden Gloves, but family responsibilities intervened. He continued to skip rope and exercise every day until his late eighties. He was a good Christian who rarely attended church, but lived New Testament values and The Golden Rule.
I could go on for pages about his life and work, but this is not the place for that. I just wanted to pay homage on what would have been his lucky 108th birthday- one that he fully expected to see, as dying was not in his meticulous plans. How many times did he tell me that he’d never die, and in some sense he was right: he lives in my mirror and my son’s family devotion. Corny jokes and music evoke his spirit on a regular basis, as does every neat and dapper old guy I see. Every time my little granddaughter writes a play, belts out a song, or expresses her love of math- my father is there and I know the truth of his saying that the good that we create is matter and never ends, it only changes form. ❤️
People really need to learn how to talk about death. On many different levels. It’s inevitable: sit with it.
It’s a painful, but 100% accurate teacher that will show you yourself and the truth of every relationship you have. What’s particularly cruel is that the test will come before the lessons.
Best come at least somewhat prepared because denial and lies will not help you.
I’ve never had a problem talking about death and am not bottled up now, but SO many people can’t even approach the subject or they block it’s reality with trite sayings learned by rote. My Goddaughter, Kibra, said it well: “It’s a profound experience and people feel that they should say something profound but they’re really not up to the task.”
Nearly half the people I know have no will or insurance. They most certainly have no ability to hold a conversation, much less comfort or advise someone in grief. Part of the problem is that in the US, few people live with multiple generations and people don’t often die at home. The outsourcing of the elder care and “the medicalization of death put those realities at a remove from life” (Rebecca Karl) and the entire progression of life and it’s inevitable realities are problematized in ways that are ultimately antisocial and dehumanizing.
This is another area where our healthcare systems fail miserably and because people are so afraid of the subject, they don’t recognize the importance of fighting for a national healthcare system that would support at-home care as long as is feasible, as well as the handling of death and its after effects in a respectful, cost effective manner that would reacquaint families with a basic understanding of the process, which in turn might help grow genuine compassion, empathy, and grace in us all.
Death doulas are one immediate source of knowledge, but not accessible to all. Our fear of death and our inability to have these conversations is where it must begin. We must mature as a society and find kinder ways to deal with our problems, because I can assure you, Death, as a reality and metaphysics, is not going away.
I have problems with the idea that Black folks “own” the neighborhoods in which they were ghettoized. There’s an a priori/middle class idea that presumes that people feel a sense of ownership in the same way that those who choose and buy into their neighborhoods do. Years ago I was struck by the consistency with which the children from “those” neighborhoods talked about “staying” rather than “living” in a place. There was not the sense of solidity or security that we expect to hear. When offered a chance to purchase houses/apartments in a similar, Harlem neighborhood some years back, my social worker daughter in law was surprised at how often the response was that the residents didn’t wish to invest in “their”neighborhoods even though they had no real chances of leaving or being able to afford to purchase housing without those subsidies. So while we might think that’s a foolish & shortsighted response, take a minute to reflect on what it’s saying about generations of disenfranchisement & alienation, of not being able to feel ownership and pride of place. “They” didn’t create this system and have no “real”stake in it, so why would you expect “them” to value what you value? How long would you be patient if your children were murdered on a regular basis, underscoring your lack of value in even “your own” neighborhoods? Aspects of the Civil Rights Movement (fire hoses, dogs, dead little girls at Church) and Kent State woke white folks up for a hot minute, but those were seen as exceptions, so back to sleep in the illusion of safety you went for decades. I AM sorry for the small local business owners who have to watch the police stand by as their buildings burn, but I’m angry at the police who would run to protect wealthy neighborhoods. I’m angry with the reality that if this fight was taken to the neighborhoods of the real owners, there would be a thousand deaths at the hands of the police. I’m angry that in my entire lifetime, and the lifetimes of every ancestor since 1492, there has never been peace or a time or place of safety and security for us. I’m angry that despite providing him with the education and basic trappings of middle-classness, I am still afraid for the life of my son, each and every day & that I’ve grown old listening to the same bullshyte from people who in no way really see me or my kin as free and equal human beings, as deserving of ALL of life’s opportunities as they expect for themselves and their loved ones. Treat us with dignity and respect and give us ALL of the opportunities for a few hundred years, and then we can talk. Until then, get over yourselves and LISTEN to what you’re being told. Accept it as truth because 500 years of the story you tell yourselves is destroying us all. And in case anyone isn’t getting this, I’m not saying that ghettoized people can’t or don’t share some of your values. My comments address YOUR expectations, lack of inquiry, or empathy.