In And Maybe Of The Spirit

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 ❤️

Reflections

Thinking about what “We are all related” means at a level I’ve not been.
It’s disturbing. As it must be.

Certainly anyone of conscience has considered what that, or The Golden Rule, or Beatitudes mean, what they’re trying to lead us towards. Like Wittgenstein’s fly in the bottle, we’re all trying to find our way out of a trap we willingly entered. Enticed perhaps by something sweet to us: fame, escape, wealth, esteem, love… or simply to survive.

It’s nearly impossible in the realities of the world we live in, to see those things as illusions. They are the driving forces that allow us to tolerate an inhumane society and our human limitations. They motivate us and give us hope, whether it’s of earthly or spiritual rewards. And we crave that. We pray, muddle, and force our way through, but we don’t generally experience it as that because for the most part, we’re given no alternatives, birth to death. Even those of us aware of other possibilities still find ourselves trapped in a world almost completely colonized. And no, I don’t mean only events since 1492. That mindset began long before and has always led to alienation, wars, and despair.

Don’t misunderstand me: there are belief systems and psychologies that name these things and can help one modify behaviors and to a limited extend, even outcomes. But we’re like addicts whereby even truths are worked into our inner beliefs and ultimately, denial.

So is there a way out of the bottle before death? I honestly don’t know. My own inner drives impel me towards a form of hope, and I’ll continue to meditate and repeat my mantra, and perform the rituals of my mother’s people in between worry, confusion, fear, and rage. I‘ll continue because I live, and without meaning, as Frankl understood, we are rudderless yet compulsive souls, lost to our fears. And we must consciously choose what our lives are to mean or lose the heart and soul of our humanity.

The older I get, the deeper is my respect, appreciation, admiration, and genuine awe for my Ancestors. Not only did they survive every conceivable and imagined horror, they thought about what their struggles meant and how best to bear suffering yet remain intact. They left hints, stories, and sometimes clear instructions, but most impressively, they showed through their own lives. They all retained humor, kindness, and goodness, harsh as their versions might sometimes have seemed to me as a child.

Outside of and beyond their circumstances, they were fully human, perhaps the highest compliment I have. They kept kinship beyond blood. I so aspire.

Photo by Anjana Mebane-Cruz

2018 Observation

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.”

Fighting anxiety.

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.

#Pranayamasaveslives

#Awarenessisnotparanoia

BLISS

Love begets Love. When I found out that I was pregnant, I saw a constellation of stars. It was as though I had a window into cosmic bliss, experiencing joy like I never knew existed. Whatever my shortcomings as a parent, my son was wanted, loved, and the source of the greatest joy and grace I’d experienced. If I have in any way become a better person, it is because of him.

He was always his own person: a kind, protective, funny, and serious little soul. He is that rare person who can be completely in the moment and who always knew when he was in a good time and always expressed gratitude. Precocious, often wise, occasionally harsh, always supportive, he remains the person who can make me laugh to tears and of whom I am most proud. He has become a man I am happy to know and glad to consider a friend as well as a good son and great family man.

When he walked down the aisle to marry his most beloved, uniting our families, and lovingly accompanied by my own dear father, I thought I would burst with happiness. As I turned to see the generations of both families and felt my Mother’s blessing, I knew that indeed, the Circle was unbroken.

It has been a wonder to watch them grow as individuals and become even closer as a couple over the years. They had suffered quietly for years, using every means possible to sustain a pregnancy, always having their dreams dashed. They carried that sadness with grace until finally being advised to give up.

I didn’t, and I made ceremony at home, entreating my ancestors and hers. Earlier, they had joined me on a fieldwork trip, where the most respected elders chastised me for having only one child, but then took my boy aside and blessed him. Magical thinking? Yes, but I held the hope that the charms or just the way that people eventually relax after letting go of disappointment sometimes results in a “miracle.” Meanwhile, we looked into adoption and other options, knowing that any child that came to us would be OUR child, wanted and loved.

A few months later, I asked my son -a tv producer- to film an event I was chairing at the college where I taught, and he agreed. It was rare at that point for us to be able to get together outside of regular family visits, so I was especially happy to have a few hours with my son and to show him off to my colleagues. After setting up the cameras and staging areas, he suggested we take a break before the activities started and people poured in. Sitting in the dark and quiet auditorium, he put his arm around me and pulled something out of his duffle, saying he wanted me to see something and handing me what looked like a photograph. It was a sonogram of his daughter, my granddaughter, somehow already resembling her Dad at this early stage.

If I thought the heavens opened when he was conceived, I can tell you that the entire universe sang at that moment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have wept from pure, uncontainable joy, and that moment is the most memorable. My serious, often somber child, was lit up like a million Christmas trees, Times Square at night, and the Aurora Borealis in spring. For the next several months (and ever since) I was to see the deep dimples he has when smiling, every single day.

I’m here to tell you that Life presents us with many opportunities and occasions for happiness. When I conceived and again when it was confirmed, I experienced unexpected joy. My life has not been an easy one and joy was not my companion, so its visits were always special, appreciated, and noted. I didn’t know that anything could make me happier than my own child had, but I’m here to tell you that the joy of seeing my child’s happiness made my heart open up a whole new chamber. I went back into the gala in a haze of joy, my face swollen from the happy tears we’d shared and my brain on autopilot for the rest of that wonderful night.

And then she was born, and again, my joy was for their joy: my son and the beautiful soul he’d brought into our lives through love and marriage, the woman who made him aspire to greatness, and laugh, who brought out his silly side, and for whom he felt pride and gratitude. This beautiful couple were finally graced with the child they so wanted and who had- artiste that she is- built up this tremendous anticipation before gracing us with her presence on the stage of Life. Our little star was born and my heart was overwhelmed with love for this person who made my children so happy.

But then somehow, my heart expanded even further as this little blissball grew, and I loved her for herself, this shining, bright eyed wonder whose face danced with aspects of everyone I’d loved in my family, along with features from her gorgeous mother. And as she has grown, new heart chambers have emerged to accommodate my Bliss, as well as heart rooms for all of the new friends and family who’ve come into our lives because of this once tiny seed of love.

So that’s it. I just wanted to say that Love is real. It’s precious and fine and often illusive and illusionary because we humans are basically assholes with legs who tend to miss our own good times or screw them up by trying to capture, control, or otherwise change what is. It’s painful in its absence and wrenching in loss. But sometimes (perhaps as a reward for good deeds but likely for no particular reason at all) we are *blessed* with Love, true and abiding. I think that we are never exactly “deserving” as it’s popularly put, but we are graced with it and made better by it and we should cherish it. Always.

And so for me, each and every year that I live, this date is the Second Day of Bliss and Gratitude and I give thanks for my gifts of Love, from the bottom of my now endlessly expanding heart.

Sainthood Not Required

This was inspired about two weeks ago by a friend who seemed to want to control my memories. I think it’s pretty common, but it rubs me the wrong way. I understand not allowing outright lies or even disrespect, but no matter how close we are to folks, we know them differently than do others.

I’m sure my dubious reputation as a relatively friendly, fairly feisty, determined-to-be curmudgeonly crank is in no danger, but I want you to promise me that after I’m dead, you will not forget those contrasts in my personality. I promise that I will haunt you if you try to cover me with false ideas of perfectionism.

Don’t diminish me by glossing over my less than wonderful traits: I worked hard to learn how to speak up for myself, to curse, and to embrace anger. I like my sometimes twisted humor and have no desire to be portrayed in a one dimensional, sanctified way. I don’t want to be silenced in life and I don’t want the silence of the tomb to be the end of the complex human that I will have been. I can accept that I might be entirely forgotten- I’ve done nothing that rates immortality- just don’t make me over, for however long my name conjures up a picture in anyone’s mind. Enjoy the contradictory stories and opinions: consensus is not required, I changed over my lifetime and treated various people differently. I am as I can/should be.

My mistakes are mine

My struggle remains real

It took many years for me to recognize the inherent violence in perfectionism and ideologies of “sweetness” and being “good” that are thrust most particularly upon women, but just as damagingly, on the various subaltern peoples in societies that hold fast to the notion that we are inferior and must therefore strive harder to be better. It is a dehumanizing concept that supports racism and the institutionalized oppression of the many people who are literally beaten into simplistic characterizations, whether it be the “thug” or the “model minority.” Every stereotype is a diminishment of the complexities of human lives and a deterrent to human be-ing.

So have the laughs remembering the stupid things I did (please never forget jumping from a horse at a fairly high speed or crossing streams by swinging from vines in Dominica- I did that!) or the petty, snarky (yet hopefully witty) comments. Remember the failure to sometimes be there in some way when I might have been needed; the (many) times I ditched social events in favor of solitude. Maybe I’ve helped a few people, certainly I’ve hurt some. I hope I’ve been kind more often than not: I admire gentle souls and see the immaturity in my own restless, sometimes thoughtless spirit. I abhor liars, phonies, and respectability politics, but respect good bullshit, a well told story, and politeness. I’ve been blessed to have a couple of friends who’ve loved me enough to “pull my coattails” when I’ve gotten too narrowly focused or have been just plain wrong, and I can only hope that they’ll outlive me and keep anyone inclined to whitewash my memory from spoiling the party or trading in real memories for Disneyfied bull. Don’t try to control the way others who knew me saw me: they have their stories, their own relationships. But thanks for wanting to come to my defense, I appreciate the love.

I want my life to reflect my growth, my human be-coming, and memories of me should do no less. If you were lucky enough to have had the Anjana Experience, accept no substitute!

#Popeye ain’t got nothing on me.

PS I do expect to be around for another twenty years, so please don’t get freaked out and call me or start eulogizing me now. Respect the rant for what it is!