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 ❤️

Anjana Eve (or Love in a Time of Grief)

Every year since I was 30, I’ve celebrated three days for my birthday. When I married Raymond, being only 4 days apart, we combined parties, but the Feast Days of Anjana remained separate, something of my own, created for very personal reasons.
This year there’s no joy in my heart and I’ve been struggling to connect to things that once brought me pleasure. And then I remembered why I started the three day ritual, and why I always try to note the birthdays of others, even people I’ve never met:
We matter. It is a privilege to be born in a body and life that allows us the opportunity to evolve and become fully human. To have senses, thoughts, and emotions, and to experience Life in all of its beauty, pain, stupidity, and joy. To be complex and simple, humble and arrogant.

Ray taught me to see life from the end and not to get too caught up in the daily things that change our moods. One of his favorite movies was “La Familia” with Jimmy Smits, because in the end, after a life of struggle, it was all good. He believed that in the core of his being. That even when the struggle was long, things would work out and that it was good to be alive.

Ray and I were opposites in many ways. I’ve been in existential crisis since I was two; Ray seldom struggled in that way and rarely had a depressing thought. He regretted that he’d not been materially more successful, but only in order to have been able to do more for his children and me. His only other regret was that he’d ever caused pain to others. But he never indulged in regret: he acknowledged it and stayed present to his reality and did what he could to help anybody he could. Some remained in his shadow self, but he left those parts alone, walking with just a trace of sadness that was hard to see from the outside.

I think we brought some balance to each other’s lives and I’ll do my best to keep his perspective in my heart and combine it with my own so that when I pull the camera back I can see that Life is good and we are worthy of celebration. I’ll no doubt continue to agonize over the ways of the folk and ruminate over ethical issues that may be of little import beyond my own concern, but I will insert enough of his philosophy to keep perspective and return to balance, because he was right: Life is indeed good.
Happy Anjana Eve to me and from me to you❣️

We Remember and Give Thanks

I’m all about family, friends, and food, and am always glad to have time off from the daily grind. I have much to be grateful for and I appreciate the many gifts in my life, past and present.

But I never forget that this holiday was born of the blood of Native Americans and that the real story was whitewashed and Disneyfied to cover up the crimes of colonialist genocide and ethnocide. It’s a day for paying respects to those whose names have been lost to us, a day to give thanks to the ancestors who persevered to bring us through, in spite of the almost unfathomable hardships of the Middle Passage and all that came after. And we remember to show gratitude to those whose lands, bounty, and generous humanity provided us with the riches we all enjoy. We bless those who clean and cook and share themselves and their love through their efforts. We eat with love, knowing that the circle is unbroken.

It is a day of mourning, remembrance, gratitude, joy, companionship, and love. I give thanks.

Earworms and the Search for Meaning

Ok, everyday of my life, I wake up with a song/music playing in my head. It can be anything, but whatever it is, it tends to stick until I sing it, or play it, or override it with another tune. They sometimes keep coming back into my thoughts, persisting until I stop and listen or drive my husband crazy, as he’s forced to listen to my speculations over the possible meaning or (maybe worse for him) my singing the same tune multiple times. 
Sometimes it’s about the lyrics, and sometimes the tune is appropriate to my dreams or agenda, or related to whatever we watched on tv that night.  They’re often silly: occasionally jingles from childhood tv ads or tv theme songs. More often than not I’m amused by these mental musings. I don’t know if this is an experience common to many, but it’s the way of my little world.

The songs from my teens bring back the dances of that time and more than once I’ve had to stop what I was doing for a minute and take those rhythmic steps back in time, bringing laughter to my family and reclaiming a tiny bit of a girl that once was.

Today’s song is unrelated to anything current in my personal life, a blast from a favorite 1974 BBC miniseries. Now it may be stuck in your heads, too (sharing is caring)

From February 2, 2013: More now than ever

I just want to say that although I know we are in a world of hurt and that it may even be too late for some of the solutions that we see being put forth now, I think that the real humans- conscious, compassionate, ruthlessly honest and willing to act on their insights and adapt- will survive and perhaps even “win.”
So I will fight on behalf of the earth and all sentient beings, and I will have times of doubt/fear/exhaustion and days when I can’t see or imagine how we could possibly survive the growing horror. But if you really believe that it’s only going to end horribly, keep that shite to yourself, I don’t want it in my life. Life is a precarious thing and for many, each day brings dilemmas, moral and material. We don’t always know what to do or how to be, but we put our practices in front of us and follow the good red road/saddhana/good reality/whatever you want to call it, for one day more, and we learn to let that be enough.

You do the right thing not because you always believe that it will “save” us, but because there is no other way to live.

Why Occupy Matters to Me

I spent Christmas Eve, 2011, with my brother, his wife, three of _Picon.rlf_6.117-88his four children and other kith. As is true of all of our family gatherings, there was an abundance of laughter, teasing, drinking, eating, dancing, and storytelling. My brother is a pretty taciturn character until he’s had a bit of holiday cheer, at which point he becomes as garrulous as the rest of us, often remembering incidents that have been long forgotten.

Among the many trips we took down memory lane yesterday was his memory of my first publicized protest many years ago. He was reminded of the incident when he saw a photo of me at Zucotti/Liberation Park in support of OWS. The earlier posting had been in our local paper when a band of other teens and I staged a protest in our favorite park against a long-established curfew time. I was 17 and deeply in love with the spirit of the ’60’s and the Civil Rights Movement and my friends and I took every opportunity to express solidarity with the great protests of the time and to bring to light the real and imagined areas of oppression in our lives. With the self righteousness that only teens can muster, we decided to protest the local park curfew, gathering our little band of malcontents in front of the Lincoln statue, thus emphasizing our naively imagined connection to “The Great Liberator.” We were successful enough to garner police attention and some local news coverage, and the next day, my darker image stood out among the small group of white teen protesters whose photograph now graced the front page of the most widely read paper in our city.

I don’t remember how I found out about the photo, but I do remember the lightning fast understanding that my mother would “kill” me when she saw it. My brilliant solution was to reach every doorstep on our block and smudge or remove the incriminating picture before my mom could see it. This kind of childish logic should be proof enough that the human brain doesn’t finish working out the kinks until we’re in our twenties, because of course I couldn’t get to every paper in a city with more than 1/2 million people, many of whom had called my mother by the time I reluctantly returned home to hide.  I had foolishly wasted time smudging photos rather than patching up my integrity and preparing to defend my belief in my cause.  I had also unwittingly given my siblings ammunition for decades of teasing, perhaps the worst outcome of all.

I hadn’t thought about that incident for years when my brother brought it up yesterday, but once he did, I realized-not for the first time-that my basic character had been set from an early age. I truly believed in the rights of human beings, the protection of all living creatures, and the sacredness of the earth. I believed in true love, the innate goodness of people, and the ability of each generation to make the word a better place for all.

Over the years life has been hard, and childhood beliefs have taken a beating, to say the least. I’ve spent my life continuing to support my values through social actions, charitable donations, and as a professor who (I hope) provides an opportunity for students to gain some insight and appreciation for the realities and cultures of other people, as well as the chance to consider the construction of their own realities and cultures, often for the first time. It’s good work and I enjoy my students, who are smart and kind and generally willing to grapple with the very foreign ideas that I present to them. But at the core, I’ve been damaged-by the greed of the 80’s, ignorance and apathy of the 90’s, self-interests of the aughts, the failure of relationships, and my own historical research which is full of enough horrific examples of inhumanity to force even the most optimistic or naive person to recognize an unhappy pattern among humans, and to doubt the innate goodness of our species.

There have been events and actions that kept me from giving up and sometimes buoyed my spirits, but I was too experienced and educated to believe that we were going to save ourselves, much less the world. While others “blissed-out” on Obama, I felt a now familiar disappointment as he began building a cabinet with people whose policies helped bring us to our already unhappy state. Protests in Seattle and around the world gave me the satisfaction of knowing that there were some people to carry the torch and to continue to chip away at the mortar of the fortress of the world-wide oppression, discrimination and injustice, but that nugget of sadness remained in my heart.

I was sad and I saw the roots of cynicism reaching out to my soul. My personal dreams hadn’t come true and it seemed pretty clear that the world was- as my elders so often predicted, “going to Hell in a hand-basket.” And then came Occupy.

What appeared to most to be an unorganized group of “kids” were, to me, the _Picon.rlf_12.117-88representatives of a real dialectic, a very diverse group of people from every possible walk of life. I am not seeking, nor do I support concepts of perfection. Occupy is far from perfect and still far from obtaining its many goals. But what it is and represents is more than a glimmer of hope. It is diverse groups of people coming together in common cause. It is the first time since the mid 70’s that people seem to understand that most of us (the 99%) have more in common with one another than with our common oppressors and that together, we have the power to bring about change and perhaps even create a more just society. What a concept!

Occupy Wall Street got people talking and thinking again, and it has forced politicians to pay attention and change their agendas. That’s not small. And now it has spread around the world, a rallying point for the disparate issues that people must deal with in their own ways and through their own ideas about solidarity. Since I started this draft, many things have occurred, some aimed at belittling Occupy as well as the usual ego issues that every group has to face. But despite the many issues, the force continues, here- through movements like Occupy Sandy and Occupy Student Debt-and abroad, where people have actively mobilized against governments and cultural forces such as gender discrimination.

I have no more to say. The struggle is real and the work continues, but I remain thankful for all those out there who heed the call and continue to contribute in any way they can, to the betterment of this world that we all do occupy.

She’s Back!

Welcome to the reboot of my blog. Shamamaspeaks is a non-professional page for my musings and topics of interest, from the Arts, to Social Justice, recipes and wisdom and stories from the Generations, to the simple joy of becoming a grandmother. In the spirit of the Delany Sisters, it’s a place to have my say. RR Dr. Sri. Anjana Blue Ridge overlook