In Others' Words…

Hinges

The small woman

Builds cages for everyone

She

Knows.

While the sage,

Who has to duck her head

When the moon is low,

Keeps dropping keys all night long

For the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners

Hafiz

I spent the last four days in the mountains of North Carolina.  Speaking, yes.  I was at Wild Goose to tell my story.  That’s not the most important thing I did there, though. Actually, it doesn’t crack the top ten.

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I was in those mountains to float in a river and hang out with God.  I was there to sit in on talks of race and gender, justice and forgiveness- and listen.  I was there to spend important time with my Favorite, and quietly walk through sun-dappled woods with him. I was there to stop what I was doing every time someone wanted to tell me their story, and I was there to bear witness.  I was there to hug a friend I’d only ever known on-line and on the phone, and I was there to push her littles on swings and delight in their nonsense.  I was there to dance sober under the stars.

And, as it turns out, I was in those mountains to grieve.

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There’s no internet connection at Goose- just human connection.  Real, honest-to-God human connection.  That meant that my focus was on the people in front of me and not the great big world out there.  I was largely unaware of what was going on.  I didn’t hear the details of what transpired in Dallas until I was at the airport coming home.  I heard snippets, of course.  I could have gone to town and logged on.  I could have gone down the rabbit hole of anger and despair.  I could have stepped away from quiet and important conversations to dive into social media and expressed my frustration in CAPS.  I’ve done it before, and I’ll likely do it again, sadly.

I didn’t.

They’re both important.  Sometimes it’s a time to shout, but we need to listen, too. Sometimes it’s a time to make bold statements, but we need to ask serious, hard questions and we need to listen to the answers even when they are painful or uncomfortable.  Especially when they are painful or uncomfortable.

And we need to lament.  We need to express our grief.  I think too often we want to skip that part and go straight to anger.  Anger is safer, somehow.  We need to mourn.  We are hurting.  We are ALL hurting so, so much.  Because racism and violence damage both the perpetrator and the victim. We are all wounded. The evils of racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and xenophobia are malignant.  They are a cancer in our world, and we are all sick and suffering.  The difference is that those of us with privilege get to choose what role we’ll play in the equation. We have a choice to oppress, or not.  To exclude, or not.  To discriminate, or not.  To harm, or not.

When you’re gay, you’re gay.  When you’re transgendered, you’re transgendered.  When you’re a woman, you’re a woman.  When you’re a refugee, you’re a refugee.

When you’re black, you’re black.

And I am not defending what happened in Dallas.  It’s indefensible.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I owe a lot of my healing to law enforcement and my personal experience with them.  I’ve no interest in painting with a broad brush.  I believe most police officers are good and decent and care deeply about serving the communities in which they work.  Those women and men who risk their lives to protect and defend the public are harmed and endangered by the ones who do not.  And the “blue wall” of universal support for all officers all of the time- even when their actions are unlawful and racist- compromises the safety of police officers and the public alike.

Violence begets violence begets violence begets violence.

My session was Friday morning.  Rachael Anne Clinton, the phenomenal woman with whom I was fortunate enough to be paired, alluded to the fact that something bad had happened the previous evening.  I knew I needed to focus on my job in that moment, and that I needed to be present for the people in front of me, both to tell my story and to hear theirs.

I made the deliberate choice not to know about it just yet because I knew it would shatter my concentration and  because I have that luxury.

That night, after a long day of listening and dancing, praying and singing, hugging and reflecting, Favorite and I went back to our tent to sleep.  We were in bed, and the most amazing music began to swell around us.  I couldn’t make out the words, but I had a lump in my throat and my eyes began to tear up in the dark.

Favorite whispered to me, “I feel like we’re missing out on something.”  We got up, threw on sneakers, and stumbled to the Cafe tent.

It was a scheduled event called “OPENINGS. A RITUAL of RESISTANCE and HOPE”

The band is called The Many, the song, with lyrics by Lenora Rand, is called Lovely Needy People.

Oh you prisoners in your cells 
All you in private hells 
Kyrie eleison 

All you hungry and ignored 
Who thirst for something more 
Kyrie eleison 

You know how when you hear perfect harmony you can feel it vibrate in your very bones? That’s what it felt like- and even though the harmonies WERE stunning, I don’t think that’s why.  You could see it on each person’s face.  The ache.  The pain.  The grief.

The song we were hearing was a lament.

You who feel lost but are afraid of being found 
You who are in chains but are afraid to live unbound 
Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison. 

I remember when the incident with the young girl at the pool party occurred last summer, and Jen Hatmaker was posting about it.  She said, “I wish we knew how to lament better.” I wrote about it at the time, that YES.  We need to learn to come together in grief.  We need ritual.  We need each other.

For all us lovely needy people 
Living in this world that’s spinning 
Round and round and round 
Round and round and round 

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy 
Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison 

It was part sermon, part performance art.  The theme, Openings, was expressed through doors.  There was a turquoise restroom door to symbolize HB2, the law of the land in North Carolina.  There were two other doors as well. The pastor speaking talked about how we ALL slam doors on those we consider other.

From time to time someone would slam one of the doors against the main tent pole. You could see people jump each time it happened.  That’s good.  A slammed door should shock us all.

A young man read part of Warsan Shire’s stunning poem Home. 

As the powerful words spilled out I looked from face to face.  Some were tear streaked, some were angry, some eyes open, some shut.  We all grieved differently, but we were together in it the way I truly believe we are intended to be.  We were connected in sorrow.  When I looked into those strangers’ faces I saw my pain reflected back at me, and I felt less alone.

People took turns pinning photos of people whose lives were taken simply because of who they are.  Simply for being who God intended them to be.

open2

open4

open6

open7

We are all in this.  We are all harmed by this violence.  I don’t understand why that’s so hard for us all to understand.

If you are not free, then NEITHER AM I.  My freedom hinges on yours.

Oh you children ripped and torn 
Battered, bruised and worn 
Kyrie eleison 

All who look hate in the face 
Locked in hate’s embrace 
Kyrie eleison 

A woman spoke of the need for those of us with keys to unlock the doors, and then to go one step further.  To take off the hinges, because we are not supposed to have doors in the first place.  Mother Teresa was right.  We have no peace because we have forgotten one fundamental truth- we belong to each other.

You who’ve given up and can’t see anywhere but down 
You who’ve lost all hope and think it’s nowhere to be found 
Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison 

Then they took that turquoise restroom door, and they turned it into a table and served the Eucharist from it.

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There is mercy enough, there is grace enough 
There is love enough for all of us

There is enough.  There is no such thing as other.  Those two lies- that false sense of scarcity and that refusal to believe that we are all the same, every single one of us a beloved child of God- are at the root of all of this pain.

If you are in possession of the key of privilege, unlock the door and the drop it for the next Beautiful, Rowdy Prisoner- because if he or she is not free, then NEITHER ARE YOU.  Then take the door off the hinges, and feed someone from it.

Kyrie eleison.

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Like a prayer

“The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity. It must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thought and gestures, without always asking, ‘Why?’ and ‘Wherefore?’”

Romano Guardini

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I have been thinking a lot about prayer, lately.

For a long time, I didn’t pray.  I broke up with God when I was nine, and like all bitter exes I would rant at Him from time to time- but we weren’t really on speaking terms.  I still believed in God, but I didn’t see the point in praying just to have those prayers ignored.

That has changed over the past five years.  During my divorce, when I was so broken down and depressed- quite literally on the floor with grief- there was nowhere to look but up.  So I began praying.  Desperate prayers.  Pleading prayers, begging God to fix what was broken, or better yet to make it so it had never happened.  Sometimes it was nothing more than, “Why  Why?  Why?”  or “Help.”

Even though those prayers were not answered in the way I wanted, for the first time in my adult life I didn’t feel like my words went out into the void and just disappeared. I didn’t feel ignored or forsaken. I felt as though someone was listening- so I kept talking. My prayer changed from a list of what I thought I wanted and needed to a conversation.

I am, for the first time in my adult life, making daily prayer a priority.

I begin every morning with prayer.  I have a little ritual.  I thank God for the many blessings in my life.  I say the serenity prayer.  I close with a line I got from my brilliant friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog post The Bully Too Close to Home – “Only love today.”  My prayer every day is to try and come to every person, every situation, and lead with love.  My hope is that every evening when I pray it will also serve as a summation.  “Only love today.”

I’ve been struggling with a resentment lately, and I was advised to pray for the person in question.  The first night I could not do it.  I am seldom at a loss for words, but I was completely stumped.  I felt mutinous.  I searched for words of love and compassion and none came.  I ended up inserting the name into the serenity prayer in lieu of “me.”

I know.  Not great.  It was the best I could do, though.  It was gotten a little easier, I suppose.  Not much.  But I feel a little less angry every time I do it.

Now, I know doing this will have no effect on the choices this person makes.  The situation will still be hard.

Here is what I am learning about prayer, though,  I will be less hard.  My heart will be less hard.

For me, growing in faith now means I no longer believe my prayers change outcomes. What prayer does change is my heart, it changes my focus, my energy- even my intentions.  Prayer changes ME.

Some prayers feel like love songs to me.  Sometimes when I am praying I feel that soaring joy and peace that I’ve come to know when I am in communion with God.  Sometimes prayers are a desperate cry in the night, like the ones during the demise of my marriage. When I was still drinking I prayed constantly- by my prayers were more like negotiations.  “God, if you will please help me get a handle on my drinking, I will x, y & z…”

Those prayers were answered, though it didn’t feel that way at the time.  We tend to say our prayers weren’t answered when we get anything other than a resounding ‘yes.’  The answer was a loving, “NO.”

My prayers on this resentment are neither.  They are not coming from a place of joy or desperation.  I’m just tired.  I’m just so, so tired of carrying around this particular heavy thing and giving it so much power.  I want to lay it down and I don’t quite know how to do it on my own. (By the way, that admitting I can’t figure something out by myself is new. We’re all very excited about it.)

Anyway, these prayers are halting.  Grudging even.  But a tiny bit less so, every day.  Each prayer, an unclenching.  An exhale.

When I was young and attending church and CCD, prayers were rote.  There was no emphasis on having a real relationship with God.  I said the words I’d memorized, and I said them quickly.  I didn’t think about what they meant.

It’s a practice, prayer.  Like yoga, like sobriety.  It’s not a one and done.  It’s sometimes more listening than talking.  It’s quiet and unhurried.  It’s not a wish or a list of demandsIt’s learning I frequently pray for the wrong things.  I am more often grateful, in hindsight, for the no answers than the yesses.

I do say the Serenity Prayer, but mindfully.  I do say the Our Father at the close of meetings.  Mostly, though, I take Anne Lamott’s view of prayer- that there are only three kinds, in the end:  Help, thanks, and wow.  Guidance, gratitude, and wonder.  I find that if I stick to those three things, and accept WHATEVER the answer is, when I lay my head down at night I am in a better position to say, “Only love today.”

Day 365

“Slowly, with many lost days, I come back to life.”

Suzanne Collins – Mockingjay

I woke up this morning with a clear head and an unashamed heart.  My first act, before I even opened my eyes, was to say,

“thankYouthankYouthankYouthankYouthankYouthankYouthankYou.”

I say that a lot lately.

A year ago today, I walked into a church with absolutely no hope of getting sober.  None.  I honestly wasn’t going there to get sober. I was going there because every single person in my life was upset with me.  They all wanted me to try.  I knew I’d been trying all day, every day, all of the days to get a handle on my drinking.  Trying to control it was my full-time job.  I was failing spectacularly, but it was certainly not for lack of effort.  I figured at least if I went to a meeting it would finally LOOK like I was trying from the outside.

I had been trying for so long.  I had no more try left in me.  I was so unbelievably tired.

“… sometimes you count the days, sometimes you weigh them.”

Elizabeth Gilbert – eat pray love

A year ago today, I texted a friend.  I said, “I’m going to my first meeting.”  She replied, “What kind of meeting?”  I said, “AA.  I’m terrified.”  She said, “Don’t u dare be afraid.  That’s the one place I’m not afraid.  Those are our people.”

I told her I was scared I wouldn’t be able to do it.  She said, “Just promise yourself to go and sit.  That’s all u have to do.”

A year ago today, I decided I could probably sit in a room for an hour.  Maybe.

A year ago today, I walked in just minutes before the meeting started, staring down at my phone, willing no one to talk to me.  My head and heart were both pounding, my hands were shaking.

A year ago today, a woman swooped down on me and introduced herself. She invited me to sit next to her.  She was chairing the meeting, as it turns out.  So much for fading into the woodwork.

A year ago today, I hated her guts.

A year ago today, I sat around some tables while people introduced themselves.

A year ago today, I said out loud for the first time, My name is Laura and I’m an alcoholic.  Then I burst into tears.

I don’t remember a lot about that meeting.  Like my first time at hot yoga, my sole intention was to stay in the room and not throw up.  I remember everyone seemed really happy.  When you are in despair hope and joy are unbearable.  It seemed fake.  I was not buying what they were selling.

A year ago today, that same woman insisted I give her my number.  The next morning she set me an emoji-laden text and asked me when I was going to my next meeting.  Because I am a people pleaser- something else I am working on- I didn’t want to disappoint her. I Googled and found another meeting so the swooper would be happy.

If I had the opportunity to tweak the Beatitudes, I would add,

“Blessed are the swoopers”

A year go tomorrow, I went to my first women’s meeting and found my tribe.  I don’t remember who it was and I don’t remember what she said, but someone shared with such raw vulnerability and I remember having the thought- “OH.  We’re telling the TRUTH here.”  It was like breathing pure oxygen after holding my breath for my entire life.

My tribe, who I now cannot imagine my life without, is full of brave, brilliant, outrageous, wildly funny, strong, tender, generous women.  I see mercy, grace, and forgiveness in action every single day.  It’s faith with its work boots on.  It is what church is supposed to be.

You know what we say when someone ‘goes out’ and falls off the wagon?  Every time?  Even if it’s over and over again?  The same two words.  “Welcome back.”

Welcome back.”

If the price of admission to this club of gloriously kind rascals is not drinking, it’s a price I’ll enthusiastically pay all day, every day, all the days, for the rest of my life.

I tell you what, I cannot believe I made it a year.  That’s both remarkable and unremarkable simultaneously.  It’s remarkable in the sense that I did not for one second believe I could do it.  It is unremarkable in that these 365 days do not do one single thing to guarantee me tomorrow.

I thought sobriety was something you achieve, but it isn’t.  That sort of sucks, but I have learned to accept it as a thing I cannot change.  That’s kind of a thing, as it turns out.

It’s a practice, like yoga.  You never have it in the bag.  You never win.  You never cross the finish line.

You get up every day and do the work.  You tell the truth.  You ask for help, and you help when asked.  It is as simple and hard as drinking was easy and complicated.  I remember thinking in the beginning, “I cannot believe I have to do this every day.”  Now I cannot believe I GET to do it every day.  I go to a meeting 6 days a week.  I look forward to them.  I laugh more than I cry.

I swoop.

I’ve had a number of people say that sobriety seems to have come easily to me, maybe because once I stopped I stayed stopped.  So far.

Hear me when I say this- I’ve earned every day of my sobriety.  I fought for every minute of it and I guard it like a junkyard dog.  It’s far and away the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.  I’ve learned to put my sobriety first before every other person, place, or thing in my life- because I know in my bones if I’m not sober I’ll lose everything else anyway.

I wake up most mornings awash in gratitude for the opportunity to live differently and to mend what I broke.  I catch glimpses of myself in mirrors or see myself in photos and I think I finally look like me.  I look happy, I think.

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Who, I ask you, is luckier than me?

If you are struggling with addiction and need help, you can find local AA and NA easily.  

As my wise, lovely friend advised,

“Just go and sit.”

That really is all you have to do on Day One.  Just go and sit.  And listen.

Love you so.

Breathing rooms

orlando

 

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Rogers and Hammerstein – South Pacific

When Hitler first started passing laws they were largely aimed at excluding Jewish citizens from going certain places, attending certain events.  He made their circles of safety smaller and smaller until they no longer existed.  How much easier is it to control a population when they feel they have no safe haven, when they are all clustered in one specific place?  A lot, I imagine.  And it certainly makes it easier to annihilate them, doesn’t it?

Hatred is so freaking efficient.

I grew up in the eighties.  I like to think that isn’t ALL that long ago, but in some ways it seems another era altogether.  You could never have had shows with openly gay characters who were just, y’know, PEOPLE- not cartoons or ugly stereotypes (thank you, Shonda Rhimes.)  People were terrified of AIDS and that gave them a perfect excuse to villify a group of people who were already marginalized in our society and around the world.  It was a time when many of our rock stars were androgynous or flamboyant but we never considered the idea that they might be gay- in fact, we threw the word “gay” around as an epithet with alarming regularity- me included.

That was until I auditioned for my local community theater.  Before that, I didn’t know any gay people.  I mean, I DID- because, of course I did– but I didn’t know it.  When I got a part in the chorus of a production of South Pacific I was thrilled, but a little intimidated. These people were TALENTED, and I was… enthusiastic.  I could dance, that was about it.

Anyway, it was my first exposure to people who were open about their sexuality and felt free to be whoever they were. I was surrounded by these phenomenally talented, brilliant, funny as hell people – which was a gift of such magnitude.  The thing about prejudice is that it’s much harder to pull off close up.  I hadn’t thought I held any of those attitudes and biases until they were challenged.  It was just so much a part of our culture- that mindless cruelty.  “That’s so GAY!”  I either heard that or SAID that probably almost every day of my high school years- right up until I joined that cast.

There were people that I’d known in high school who I’d not known were gay until I got to know them in that context.  I remember being taken aback at how open one young man was- he’d not behaved that way in school when I knew him.  Of course, if he’d behaved that way in my high school, he probably would have been beaten on a daily basis.

Think about that.

Think about consciously reigning in the person you know you were born to be every day just to keep yourself reasonably safe.  Think about putting on that mask and moving through the world being careful- not because you’re doing a thing wrong, but because you are surrounded by people who believe what you ARE is wrong.  Can you imagine how exhausting that would be?  That constant vigilance?  That holding your breath all day, every day, all of the days?

I think back then community theater was a refuge for people who grew up in a time when keeping your sexuality deeply buried was the norm.  It gave them breathing room to explore who they were, a safe place to figure out their stuff- the way the rest of can do in, y’know, public.   I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy now- it’s not.  But back then the notion of gay marriage or the fact that my kids’ high schools had Gay-Straight Alliance as an afterschool activity was not even a dream, it was a fantasy.

It was a place where young men and women, many of whom had no safe haven- not even their families of origin- could exhale.

I’m guessing gay nightclubs are the same thing.  In fact, I know they are.  My friend Jaime wrote beautifully about what having gay nightclubs to go to meant to her.

“These places and so many more showed me that I had people. Beautiful, creative, brave, HOT people. I’m not a club goer much anymore but those are still my places. What happened in Orlando is a violation of a precious, life saving resource for queer people.”

I think that’s so important to understand.  Exhale places are not a luxury.  Gay nightclubs aren’t just a place to go to have fun, to dance.  They’re a respite.  We all need places where we feel seen and heard and SAFE.  Where we can be ourselves, and love who we love OUT LOUD.

There’s a lot being made of the fact that this is an act of foreign terrorism.  I suspect that doesn’t make much of a difference to the people who loved the men and women who were slaughtered there, just as the fact that nice young white man was a domestic terrorist made a difference to the families and friends of the people massacred in a church in South Carolina last year.  The lost are still lost- the body count still is what it is. There is no WHY that makes sense, so why should the WHO?  Hate with a different tag-line is still hate.

Terror attacks are most effective when they take something or somewhere we previously took for granted as safe and make them ground zero.  A domestic flight, a church, an elementary school.  A nightclub.

When those places become battlefields it makes it hard for us to breathe.

On opening night of South Pacific, the musical director talked to us before show time. He spoke of how much the show meant to him, with its message of acceptance and tolerance.  It was a Love Wins speech, even though we didn’t know to call it that back then.  I am embarrassed to admit that until he made that speech, I’d not thought of the way LGBTQ people are treated as a civil rights issue.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Him having that safe place to be who God made him to be made the world better.  Made ME better.  We all suffer when our brothers and sisters have to hold their breath.  We are all worse off when one of us cannot exhale.

Go out into the world today and be who you are, and make sure there is safe space for everyone else to breathe, too.

In Requiem

Edward Sotomayor Jr. was 34

Stanley Almodovar III was 23

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo was 20

Juan Ramon Guerrero was 22

Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera was 36

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz was 22

Luis S. Vielma was 22

Kimberly Morris was 37

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice was 30

Darryl Roman Burt II was 29

Deonka Deidra Drayton was 32

Alejandro Barrios Martinez was 21

Anthony Luis Laureano Disla was 25

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez was 35

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez was 50

Amanda Alvear was 25

Martin Benitez Torres was 33

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon was 37

Mercedez Marisol Flores was 26

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado was 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez was 25

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez was 31

Oscar A Aracena-Montero was 26

Enrique L. Rios, Jr. was 25

Javier Jorge-Reyes was 40

Miguel Angel Honorato was 30

Joey Rayon Paniagua was 32

Jason Benjamin Josaphat was 19

Cory James Connell was 21

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez was 37

Luis Daniel Conde was 39

Shane Evan Tomlinson was 33

Juan Chavez Martinez was 25

Jerald Arthur Wright was 31

Leroy Valentin Fernandez was 25

Tevin Eugene Crosby was 25

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega was 24

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez was 27

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala was 33

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool was 49

Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan was 24

Christopher Andrew Leinonen was 32

Angel Luis Candelario-Padro was 28

Frank Hernandez was 27

Paul Terrell Henry was 41

Antonio Davon Brown was 29

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz was 24

Akyra Monet Murray was 18

Say their names out loud today, like a prayer.

Sentences

“You keep using that word.

I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Princess Bride

justice

There was an article in The New York Times recently about Virginia Woolf.  Her half-brothers sexually abused her, and part of the article dealt with the use of the word survivor to describe people who’ve been victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault.  It said of the term survivor,

“what once felt radical has blossomed into a rhetoric of almost mandatory heroism.”

I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I’m a writer, so I’m fascinated by the words we use and the way we say things.  I choose my words and my phrasing very carefully. That means I also have strong (ahem) opinions on the words and phrasing of other people.

Mary and I went back and forth about what to name our organization.  We finally settled on Say It, Survivor (which was Mary’s brilliant suggestion) because it embodied empowerment, reclaiming our stories, and the acronym -SIS- made me inordinately happy.

And also because we DID.  We did survive.

I didn’t use the word survivor to describe myself until a little over a year ago, long after it became the popular turn of phrase.  The reason?  The jury was still out.  I wasn’t entirely sure I would survive my abuse, even though it was over three decades ago.

sur·vi·vor
sərˈvīvər/
noun
a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.

We use the word survivor because not everybody does.  Not everybody survives.

In the past couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about rape culture, survivors, consent and privilege.  In the wake of the Brock Turner verdict there is outrage, and understandably so.  Then, of course, in response to that outrage, in reply to those demands for change, there has been pushback.

I had a guy on Twitter last night respond to a tweet I sent regarding Ann Voskamp’s beautiful post about raising boys.  I pointed out that we are not APART from rape culture, we are a PART OF IT.  All of us, to varying degrees.  The gentleman came back with, “define rape culture please. Sounds like a leftist feminist phrase.”

Bless.

After I stopped laughing, and after I typed and deleted several seriously snarky tweets, I simply responded with the definition- that it is the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes sexual violence.

Because that’s what it means.  Words and expressions have meanings, and there are a few that have been trotted out a fair bit the past couple of days that have me fired up.  The thing that so unsettles me is that they are being used, for the most part, by really well-intentioned people.

I have an issue with the term consensual sex.  Why, you ask?  Because by stipulating sex is consensual you imply there is another kind.  There isn’t.  Sex and rape are not the same thing.  Not even close.

It’s like saying applying for a loan to buy a house is a ‘consensual’ mortgage to distinguish it from guys storming into the local bank and waving uzis under the teller’s nose demanding she empty the safe into a bag.  Except for consent they’re exactly the same thing, right?  They both involve large quantities of cash leaving the bank into someone else’s possession, right?  Same/same.  Except, NO.  They AREN’T.

Why don’t bank robbers just walk in the front door, faces exposed, unarmed and apply for a loan?  Why does anyone ever get shot in a robbery anymore- tellers are trained to hand over the money.  They could just SAY they had a gun or a bomb, in all likelihood the bank employees would comply.  Why the stealing and the hiding and the terrorizing?

Because the TAKING is the POINT.  The TERROR is the POINT.

Sex is a union between two people, both of whom consent and benefit.

We are missing the point with the way we’re talking about consent.  Consent is not even an option in rape, because the lack of consent?  In most cases, it’s the POINT.  The lack of consent is the point of rape.

It’s not as though, “Gee, but for the fact that she didn’t (COULDN’T) give consent they’d have been having some lovely sex.  Behind a dumpster.  In public.”  That ignores the fact that the primary motivation for rapists is violence, control and domination.  Consent is not only not a factor, it’s a deal breaker.

And another thing.

I read an article yesterday that was mostly quite good.  It covered the verdict and the reaction to it.  In what was undoubtedly an attempt to draw attention to the ghastly inadequacy of the half year sentence, it basically said ‘he got six months and she got a life sentence.’

Now, I’m a writer.  I understand the WHY.  It’s a nifty little turn of phrase, playing off the verdict, intended to underscore both the severity of the impact on her and the joke of a sentence he received.

I also read two articles that said in no uncertain terms that her life was “ruined.”  I think I may have actually gasped when I read that.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop.  Do not say those things.

When you are in the aftermath of sexual assault, when you are newly traumatized, it feels relentless and never-ending. You can’t conceive of a time when you will move through a day not startling at loud noises or waking up in a panic.  It’s inconceivable you might fall in love again one day.  That you might not view your body as a crime scene.  That you won’t relive your trauma, in real time, over and over on a loop.

Declaring that this young woman, this incredible, resilient young woman, has been handed a life sentence is akin to saying:

“The way you feel right now? It’s forever. This pain? Forever. This shame? Forever. This fear? Forever. This anger? Forever. You are damaged goods. Forever. Sleepless nights? Forever. These triggers? Forever. Flashbacks? Forever.”

When you are still in the direct aftermath you cannot conceive of ever healing or moving past what has been done to you, and well-intentioned but HARMFUL statements like I’ve been reading all day feed into that notion.

Saying her life is ruined gives her rapist the final say over her life.  He does not get that, and NEITHER DO WE.  When we tell her this is a life sentence- WE are attaching shame to her experience and that means WE ARE RAPE CULTURE.

To that brave young woman, I would like to say this:

This is not your life.  This is your life right now.  And it is so hard.  I know.  It’ll be hard for a while- but you are a survivor.  We already know this about you.

You can heal after rape. You can reclaim your story. You can have a good life and be loved. You CAN. It does NOT have to be a life sentence.  Your rapist does not get to decide that for you, and neither do we.

Rent

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Journeys to plan

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

six hundred minutes

How do you measure the life

Of a woman or a man?

Seasons of Love – Rent

We’re lucky.  Judge Persky isn’t burdening us with a lot of math on behalf of poor Brock Turner.  Figuring out the seconds, minutes, months of a 14 year sentence- the maximum penalty for the crimes of which he was convicted (that’s a whole other post) would have been an onerous task.  Even the six years the prosecutor recommended would have been heavy lifting for the math-challenged among us.

Six months, though.  That’s do-able.

180 days.

4380 hours.

262,800 minutes.

15,780,000 seconds.

Brock Turner is a rapist.  No one disputes that.  He was caught in the act, chased and detained by two passersby.  There’s no, “It wasn’t him,” or, “He didn’t do it.”  He’s not dumb, Brock Turner.  And he is, by all accounts, a talented swimmer.  Very used to thinking in terms of seconds and how to shave off time.  Obviously.

The crime of assault with intent to commit rape is considered a serious, violent offense under California law, despite the rapist’s daddy’s assertion that his son had never been violent up to AND INCLUDING his rape of an unconscious woman.

His defense lawyer did what defense lawyers always do in cases like this.  He questioned the morality of the victim, made excuses for his client, saying he was too drunk himself to realize she was passed out.  Not too drunk to run when someone spotted him, though.  I’ve watched enough Law & Order episodes to know that doesn’t fly.  If you’re cogent enough to try to escape detection and/or being detained, you’re cogent enough to know right from wrong.  And not for nothing, that’s like saying a drunk driver can’t be held accountable for a hit and run accident because he was too drunk to know what he was doing.

He also said, “that was just my attorney and his way of approaching the case. I didn’t want to degrade her in any way. I regret that.”

Stop.  Seriously.

His defense attorney works for him, not the other way around.  Brock the rapist was in charge of his defense.  If his defense attorney enacted a strategy, I bet you everything in my pocket against everything in your pocket it was discussed extensively and agreed upon.

It’s like that commercial, “That’s not how this works.  That’s not how ANY of this works.”

Except you know what?  It is.

On some level it did work.

“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”

Yes.  That is what happens when you commit a violent crime against someone who cannot defend herself.  Pro tip: I find that when you do not do that, the impact on your life is considerably less severe.

And Judge Persky- you THINK he will not be a danger to anyone else? You had better be right about that.

Turner’s father lamented that his son “will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy-going personality and welcoming smile.”

Perhaps it’s for the best.  No one likes a cheerful rapist.

“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” his father wrote. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

His dad knows this didn’t HAPPEN to Brock, right?

Stanford released a statement saying, “This was a horrible incident, and we understand the anger and deep emotion it has generated.”  Incident is not the word I would use.  In fact, their use of the word incident leads me to believe they utterly FAIL to understand the anger and deep emotion this CRIME and the utterly insulting sentence imposed on its perpetrator has incited.

Brock the rapist said he was “sorry for what he put the victim and her family through during the trial.”  Just during the trial? What about what he put her through behind the dumpster?  What about the humiliation of the rape examination?  What about her injuries?  Her trauma?  What about her parents’ pain in hearing that their daughter had been violated?

Is he sorry for any of that, or just sorry that two grad students happened upon him assaulting her unconscious body and put and end to his good time?  Is he sorry he didn’t finish before they gave chase and caught him?  Is he sorry he wasn’t able to slink away in the night and leave her there, as he undoubtedly would have, defenseless against God knows what else?

I suspect Brock the rapist is really, really sorry he got caught.  I’m inclined to believe Brock the rapist truly despairs that his stellar swim times, mentioned in the earliest reports of the attack, were not enough to get him out of having to stand trial.  Poor, poor Brock the rapist.

The survivor of this attack wrote a searing victim impact statement which she read aloud, in court, to her rapist.  She read this BEFORE Judge Persky sentenced Brock Turner, the convicted rapist.  Judge Persky heard this statement, and THEN decided six months was appropriate.

I do not know what to do with that.

It began,

You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

Okay.

I don’t know her name, and I hope it remains that way until and unless SHE decides she wants to speak publicly about her story.  But I want to talk to her right now.  I hope this finds its way to her.

Dear One.

You are now the unwilling, reluctant member of a huge community.  A community of survivors.

You never wanted to be one of us, but here you are.

I remember seeing a PSA in the 90’s.  It was on the MBTA in Boston.  I believe it was raising awareness about sexual assault.  I know the intention was good, but it said, essentially, “He got ten years, she got a life sentence.”  I need you to know that does not need to be your story.  I wish Brock had gotten ten years- his sentence is obscene and an affront to all decent people.  But please know this- this does not have to be a life sentence for you.

You have already begun the difficult work of healing- you are already on your way.  I am telling you that, because you might not feel that way.

You are standing firmly in your story.  You are saying, “THIS HAPPENED.”  You are unflinchingly confronting your attacker.  You are demanding to be heard and seeking justice, which sadly seems to be elusive in this case.

YOU are the author of your life story.  This small measure of a man, this rapist, Brock Turner, wrote one chapter.  He does not get to dictate the narrative and he does not get to write the ending.  We simply will not allow it, okay?

He is taking up some space in your mind right now.  He’s not even a renter, he’s a squatter.  He is there, uninvited, and it probably seems like he will never leave.  It’s hard, squatters are notoriously difficult to evict, but evict him you will. 

At the end of the day, he has to move through the world being who he is, a rapist, and you get to move through the world being who you are.

A WARRIOR.

You are not alone.  Not even close.

Hang on.  Both hands.

Her statement concluded with these words:

“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”

Amen, sister.

Duck, duck…

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours,

and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun

and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese,

high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

goose1

Up until a couple of years ago, my life was about hiding.  Sharing only the pieces of my truth that I deemed ‘appropriate’ or ‘nice.’  I was entirely risk averse- the only thing I feared more than failure was success.  If an opportunity that excited me came along I could easily list the 10,000 reasons it was not a good idea, why it wouldn’t work, why it would be fabulous for someone ELSE.

Bob. Weave. DUCK.

These past few years have been a season of huge change.  The biggest change, perhaps, has been taking on things I was sure I could not do.  Getting divorced.  Falling in love again. Moving 3000 miles.  Deciding to write professionally.  Deciding to stop drinking. Launching my organization, Say It, Survivor, with my cousin Mary.

Perhaps most importantly, telling my story.  Maybe not my WHOLE story, but a lot more of it.  The dented, tarnished, broken bits and all.

My friend Kate is a rascal.  She is a smart, talented, kind, ferocious, resilient woman who I adore- but she is a total troublemaker.

A while back, she sent me the link to the Wild Goose Festival’s 2016 application page. She said the theme was “Story” and that I should apply.  Given the year I’d had, it was hard to argue with the fact that the theme was on point for me.  I impulsively filled out the application because I KNEW I would never be chosen and I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice pitching myself as a speaker to bigger venues.

I’d never heard of  Wild Goose until Glennon spoke there a few years back.  At that time, I went to the website and learned it is a four-day spirit, justice, music, and arts festival. Um, OKAY.  Those are like, ALL OF MY THINGS.  I was crestfallen that I could not attend that year, but it became a bucket-list item.  I swore I would go someday.

As it turns out, sweet friends, this July that day will come.

I got an email saying I’d been chosen as a speaker.  They’d obviously not gotten the memo that this was a fantasy-realm exercise.

I was asked if I minded being paired up with someone else to present.  Then they handed me the incomparable Rachael Clinton of the Allender Center on a silver platter.  Um…no.  No, I do not mind.  Every time Rachael and I get off the phone I resist the urge to pinch myself.  This woman is wise and brilliant and funny.  And the other people speaking and presenting?  My Favorite has issued a moratorium on me singing, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just DOESN’T BELONG….” every time I scroll through the contributors list.

I still do it in my head.  I do what I want.

You all know what I believe about the power of story.  Story is how we make sense of the world.  Communities are built on stories, for better or for worse.  We live out of our stories.  We wear them.  Story is how we connect to one another.  When someone is vulnerable enough to lay their story down in front of you and you bear witness to it, it is a sacred exchange.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”

That line from Mary Oliver’s poem- my favorite poem of all time- sums up the entire ‘He wrote it down experience for me.  I wrote my story down.  I sent it out into the world, and one by one people began saying, “Me too.”  “Here’s what happened.” “Listen to my story.”

With each comment and email I read, the vice-like grip my own story had on me loosened.  With each story I read, I realized how very not alone I was.  I recognized the lies in my story that I had adopted as inarguable truths and I crossed them out.  I reframed my story, and I wrote a new ending.  I reclaimed my story and told it on my terms.  For the very first time, I owned my story, not the other way around.

That’s how it works.

The write-up of our session at Wild Goose is as follows:

Survivor Stories: Untangling the Narratives of Pain and Harm 
Not one of us gets to escape suffering, so what do we do with the stories of heartache, betrayal, trauma and abuse that shape us? We are story-making creatures. When we have experiences that we struggle to understand, we fill in the murky parts. We make sense of our stories of heartache and trauma the way ancient civilizations made sense of the weather and natural disasters- with story. We may lack the whole picture, but it becomes true for us. The story we believe informs our identity, the way we move through the world, the people we bring into our lives, the power we give them, and the way we understand God and God’s story. Courageously and compassionately stepping into stories of pain and harm helps us re-narrate our stories, bringing deeper truth, healing, hope and connection with ourselves, each other and God.

If you are interested in attending, it is held in Hot Springs North Carolina from July 7th-10th.  I do not yet know what day I will be presenting, but I will post it when I do.  Just because I LOVE THIS COMMUNITY and because the organizers said we could, I am happy to report that I can offer you a 25% discount on tickets, simply go to this link and use the promotional code, BEMYGUEST

I don’t know, guys.  This all seems a little crazy- but I’m done ducking.

It’s time to tell my story.

 

Clouds

 

Tears and fears and feeling proud,

to say “I love you” right out loud,
dreams and schemes and circus crowds,

I’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange,

they shake their heads,

they say I’ve changed.
Something’s lost, but something’s gained

in living every day.

Joni Mitchell

clouds

I was at a friend’s speaking engagement recently.  She is in recovery and talks openly about it.  Her sister was moderating the event, and in the Q&A someone asked her about her experience of her sister’s rock bottom.

She spoke so eloquently about what it is like to love someone who is addicted.  She said that in the end, all you can really do is pray and set healthy boundaries. That way, if the miracle of recovery ever does happen- and let’s be clear, it is a MIRACLE and one that absolutely does not happen for everyone, no matter how worthy and wonderful and loved they are- you can pick up the relationship where it left off and have it not be in ruins.

There was so much about the night that was meaningful- but that is the thing I think about on a daily basis.

You see, I have been on both sides of that equation.  I have, at various times in my life, been the one standing outside someone’s addiction watching it wreak havoc on their life- and I have been trapped on the inside of that pain, too.  Both sides are excruciating and lonely and scary.

It’s such a hard disease to understand- I get that.  I believe the way the general public thinks about and approaches addiction is wrong.  Wrong and harmful, actually.  Even when people accept it as a disease, you can almost HEAR the air quotes when they say it. And it’s a disease that generally doesn’t get addressed until it’s affecting people outside the sick person themselves.  When it becomes an embarrassment or an inconvenience. Otherwise, we treat it as a joke or we treat it as a moral failing- and it is neither.

Most people I’ve known in active addiction were trying.  HARD.  They were just failing, is all. Something can be not NEARLY good enough and still be someone’s absolute best. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.  Effort and success are two very different things. Most people who are struggling with addiction are working hard all day, every day in an attempt manage it. That just speaks to another general misconception about addiction.  It is not about trying harder.  In fact, it isn’t that they need to try at all- they need to STOP trying. They need to surrender, and surrender is terrifying.

I saw a clip of Iyanla Vanzant on Super Soul Sunday recently and she said,

“It’s not loving to ask somebody to do something

they are unable or unwilling to do.”

I completely get why that statement might rub some people the wrong way.  I’d probably tweak it just a smidge if I were to try and say the same thing.  I’d say, “It’s not loving to EXPECT somebody to do something they are unable or unwilling to do.”  I COULD NOT stop drinking right up until the moment I did.  No amount of disappointment, anger, ‘tough love’ or reasoning could make an ounce of difference.  I was so, so sick, and shame is never medicinal.

Most people deep into addiction are just trying to stave off the pain- there’s no enjoyment anymore, no matter what it looks like from the outside.  Once you have truly reached that point of hopelessness you no longer believe there is any chance you will ever not be sick.  When you are in that kind of bone-weary despair what is the point of allowing yourself to feel that pain?  What’s the point of sitting still for it?  Because you firmly believe on the other side of that pain is more pain.  There is no end in sight, so you set your sights on an end you can control.  It’s not unlike a terminally ill person deciding to end it- the end seems immutable, a foregone conclusion.  Why not cut the suffering short?  People in the throes of addiction don’t necessarily make the decision to end their lives so much as they believe their lives are already over, so just numb.  Bring on the anesthesia.

For anyone who is addicted to anything, more is more.

The insidious thing about addiction is it’s like a possession.  It inhabits your body and crowds out your soul.  This person who looks just like your mother, sister, son, friend, husband- she or he is saying terrible things, lying to your face, being irresponsible… There’s no room for hopes and dreams, there’s no room for healthy love, compassion, unselfishness.  You would think with that gaping emptiness inside there would be, but you’d be surprised how much space despair takes up.  Those who are addicted exist in a fog of pain, their vision and priorities clouded by something they’ll never ever be able to hold onto or contain.

Regardless of what they are doing- lying, stealing, manipulating, lashing out- it’s not personal.  It’s really not.  I know it feels that way, though.

I don’t write this to say that people who love addicts are not entitled to be frustrated, angry, sad- of course they are.  As far as disappointment goes?  Disappointment can only enter the room if judgment is already there.  If we are going to accept that addiction is an illness, then being disappointed in someone else for not getting well on your timetable is no different than judging someone whose cancer isn’t going into remission according to your schedule.

It’s not loving.

That does not mean you need to sit by and watch someone you love self-destruct or allow them to be an agent of harm in your life.  It is a perfectly healthy, though difficult thing to detach with love and say, “I love you too much to watch you kill yourself.  When you are ready, I will help.”

And then live your life, and you pray.

 

 

Messenger

“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”

Czeslaw Milosz

Recently, Mary and I were at a women’s retreat telling our story and doing a workshop. We had more than one woman take us aside and say she was “fine” and that she’d moved on.  And besides, she wouldn’t want to break up the family by saying the truth about what had happened to her.  And not just at that event, either.  It’s the same thing over and over again. They’re FINE. MAYBE they think about it from time to time, but it’s not having any impact on their lives.  It was a long time ago.  Let sleeping dogs lie- it’s not worth making everyone upset.

My goodness, do we make ourselves the guilty parties in our own abuse.

If it’s true, that you’re fine- that is GREAT. What Mary and I see time and time again, though, is that once we start to talk about the ways in which our abuse affected and infected our lives people start to revisit the notion that their trauma no longer has a grip on them.

How are you sleeping? What’s your relationship with food like? How is your sex life? What is your relationship with alcohol? Drugs?  Do you feel the need to control everything? Are you a perfectionist? Are you in constant hustle mode- trying to be all things to all people?  Are you hyper-vigilant with your kids?  Are you raising them to be fearful?

When people say that to us- about not wanting to break up their families by speaking the truth, we say the same thing every time- “Oh honey, your family is already broken.”

If sexual abuse is happening within your family, if the cycle of abuse and trauma is playing out on a loop from hell in your family- well, your family is fundamentally broken to begin with.  It’s like saying I don’t want to inflict chemo on myself because it’s toxic and my body is a temple… Honey, you have CANCER.  Pick your poison.

We hear it from women whose trauma still very much informs their lives in a myriad of ways.  They have their own nuclear families, they have children of their own, but they are still pledging fealty to a family of origin that was either abusive, complicit or so values that pretty, sparkly outside version of themselves that they are content to sacrifice one of their children at the altar of appearance, reputation, standing.

If the people in your life, your FAMILY, get angry with you for telling the truth about your abuse that is painful and awful and GREAT INFORMATION.  People really will let you know what their priorities are, one way or another.

I did a little research.  The first mention of “killing the messenger” in literature seems to be in  Plutarch‘s Lives:

“The first messenger, that gave notice of Lucullus‘ coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that, he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man dared to bring further information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him”.

You know what the other title of that work is?  “Parallel Lives.”

Is that what you’re doing, sweet friend? Are you living two lives?  The one in the here and now, where you make no waves, pretend the smiling faces in the family portrait on the wall aren’t a lie?  Do you show up at your family home at Thanksgiving, pie in hand, and pretend you aren’t walking into a crime scene?  Do you spend the holiday frantically keeping your kids in sight, passing the potatoes, drinking too much wine in an attempt to ignore the living, breathing dragon coiled in the corner of the room that you’ve all collectively agreed to pretend is pretend?

Is the other life you are leading mired in the past?  You know, the past that is always present, always lurking.  The flashbacks triggered by seemingly innocuous things- a snug turtleneck, a brand of soap, the smell of liquor on someone’s breath.

Aren’t you TIRED?

In Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 2 and in Antony and Cleopatra,  Cleopatra threatens to tear out the messenger’s eyes as when told Antony has married another, eliciting the response:

“Gracious madam, I that do bring the news

made not the match.”

No rational, healthy, non-complicit person blames a victim for telling the truth about what happened rather than the perpetrator for committing the crime to begin with.  Period.  And if you are still unsure, ask yourself this question:  “If my child were abused, if there was someone in my family or my community who had preyed on my child and is likely preying on other children, would I want to know?  Would I want to help and comfort my child?  Would I want to protect other children?  Would I want to not be in a position of welcoming my child’s abuser into my home? Making them a sandwich?”

None of this is your fault.  Not what happened, not the aftermath.  It’s not your job to suffer in silence so no one has to look at the ugly, inconvenient truth.  It’s not your job to smile and wave through your pain.  And blaming you for speaking your truth is like prosecuting the person calling 911 to report a murder rather than the person who fired the gun.

I have said it before and I will keep on saying it, forever and ever amen- it is not your job to ensure that no one in your life is ever uncomfortable.  It’s just not. And if the cost of other people’s comfort is your safety or well being?  That price is too high and it is not yours to pay.

You didn’t drench the house in gasoline, you didn’t light the match, and you didn’t toss it.

You’re just calling the fire department.

 

 

Landslide

 

“Grief reunites you with what you’ve lost.

It’s a merging;

you go with the loved thing

or person that’s going away.

You follow it a far as you can go.

But finally,the grief goes away

and you phase back into the world.

Without him.

And you can accept that.

What the hell choice is there?”

Philip K Dick

Another week, another basement.  Another loss.

This basement was at The Ranch.  This is the basement of my childhood.  The basement of homegrown plays and fashion shows.  The old-timey barber chair, the recording equipment, the door to the backyard.  Cool in the summer- we would sleep down there and sneak out early in the morning to steal down to the pond and swim before the sun rose.  The basement where we would escape the adults and the haze of cigarette smoke and BORING conversation.

I had two homes, growing up.  One, my actual house, and the other, “The Ranch.”

The Ranch housed the family who were our best friends, and the best friends who were our family.

In the divorce, my mom got custody of their family- I think it was one of the better parts of her settlement.  I’m only kind of kidding.  My mom was best friends with the adults, we girls were all like sisters.

When I first met the dad, I thought he was Jesus.  I mean, I really did.  I was about six years old, living in Plymouth, MA.  He had long hair and a long beard- and in my parochial, New England world, I’d never encountered that in a man.

He was not Jesus.

He was SO different from my dad.  I was never scared of him, but I was a little awestruck.

He was a tall, lanky, Greek hippie, who happened to be the dad of a little girl I met over the remains of a dead earthworm.  He had a booming deep voice and perhaps the best laugh I’ve ever heard.  His wife was a gorgeous, freckled hippie with a glorious head of chestnut hair that went down nearly to her waist.  They looked so different from anyone I’d ever met in my little, sheltered world.  They were one of the few adult couples I knew growing up where I was very much aware they were in love.  It was palpable.  Their daughters were right around our age, and my sisters and I quickly became best friends with them.

When my parents got divorced and my mom went to work full time during the days, we spent a lot of time at their house in the summers.  Some of my favorite childhood memories to this day are of cavorting through the woods behind their house, climbing trees and building forts and exploring the nearby cranberry bogs.  We put on endless plays (complete with commercials- I remember, in particular, how Chris laughed at “Pope-A-Pola, one sip and it’ll make you fall to your knees and pray!”) and fashion shows, which our parents attended.

We spent hours unrestrained in the back of their van, (because, of course they had a van) singing our hearts out- Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree and other camp songs, and then The Rose and You Light Up My Life as we got older.  I’m sure it wasn’t annoying at ALL.  I tell you what, if it was they never let on.

He was so good at loving people.  He was surrounded by female energy all the time and he reveled in it.  He loved his girls.  He loved his amazing wife.  He adored his daughters.  He loved all of us.  Well.  He loved us well.

I was really fortunate to have a couple of exceptional men fill the gaping void left by my dad.  Chris was the one who was most inextricably in our lives- he knew us well enough to truly understand what pains we were, and to love us anyway.  He loved us.  We were not idealized in his mind because we lived close up. He loved us.  The verb.

I never doubted, not one single moment in the forty years I knew him, that he loved me.

I am well aware of what a gift that is.

He listened to me when I talked to him.  I remember that.  I remember his deep voice and his ability to cry.  He introduced me to classic rock and science fiction.  I watched my first James Bond movie in that house.  I remember sitting on an old sofa in their garage listening to him play with his band.  I remember watching him with his mom, and how they brought spanakopita and baklava into my life.  I remember.

Chris was a musician.  He sang and played, and I remember there almost ALWAYS being music on in their house.  My mom introduced me to Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Elton John and Diana Ross- but Chris introduced me to Little Feat, Deep Purple…  My music library is incredibly eclectic- but every single classic rock album you find in it has its roots in my childhood with Chris.

Another week, another basement.  Another really, deeply, profoundly good man.

He was such a good man- and we needed to know those existed when we were little. I was just telling my sister about recalling how I didn’t plan on dancing with my dad at my wedding. I did, because he asked me. It was awkward and painful- and I do not remember the song. I did, however, pick a song to dance to with Chris, even though he didn’t know it. I asked him to dance, and while we were dancing he threw his head back and laughed- because that’s what he did- and said in his rich bass voice, “This is a gooood song.”

It really was.

“Every morning, I wake up and forget just for a second that it happened. But once my eyes open, it buries me like a landslide of sharp, sad rocks. Once my eyes open, I’m heavy, like there’s too much gravity on my heart.”

Sarah Ockler

“An only child, alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son,
His hands were meant for different work

and his heart was known to none.
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay.

A quiet man of music, denied a simpler fate,
He tried to be a soldier once but his music wouldn’t wait.
He earned his love through discipline, a thund’ring, velvet hand.
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument

and his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.

My brothers’ lives were different, for they heard another call.
One went to Chicago and the other to Saint Paul
And I’m in Colorado, when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chosen, come to know so well.

I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, Papa, I don’t think I said “I love you” near enough.

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument

and his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.
I am the living legacy to the leader of the band.”

Dan Fogelberg

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