Words That Might Matter

I have none.

For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find any words that might matter both inside and out there. A few weeks back, the words of others helped me find my way through to some of mine. But right now I need to admit, as I did in reply to a friend’s ever thoughtful and beautiful blog post, that I am feeling emptied of words that might matter.

Quite paradoxical, that with the bigness, muchness, fullness of everything in the world right now, for this past quarter year living in this Covid-19 pandemic, now doubled-down with as insidious and deadly a pandemic, racism, I am empty.

I read, I watch, I listen to people whose voices I need to hear and need to learn from. And in response, I have lost mine.

Perhaps it’s a matter of laying fallow, much as I have felt myself to be these past weeks, when I suddenly realized that for the first time in my five decades’ long working life, I am now without and see no “what next.” Again, the paradox that with the full blush and burst of spring, and now summer’s arrival, at least by the calendar’s indication, I feel myself more to be in the late fall, early winter. One of life’s many liminal spaces and places.

Or perhaps it’s like this. An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s blessing for a father, sent in reply to a long lost friend, and to my own father for today, Father’s Day.

“There are many things
We could have said,
But words never wanted
To name them;
And perhaps a world
That is quietly sensed
Across the air
In another’s heart
Becomes the inner companion
To one’s own unknown.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us, 2008

Dance

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

– Rumi –
translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995

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Sweet synchronicity – no sooner had I written this post when I heard a musical interpretation of these verses. Composer Anna Clyne created an orchestral arrangement featuring the cello, titled DANCE. Listen to the fourth movement, “in your blood,” with cellist Inbal Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

My Necessary Counterpoint

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

– Rumi –
translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, 1995

Well and Weary

It’s been a good two months living in this history making Covid-19 time. Socially distanced. Compassionately retreated. Many of us are baking bread, Marie Kondo-ing our homes, cleaning our yards, walking, taking photos or organizing those we took, ordering take-out, reading, streaming movies, watching YouTube travel videos, zooming meetings, face-timing our family and friends.

We adapt. It’s one of our long and strong suits.

On the surface, life in and around our home is pretty much the same as it ever was. Quiet, with few interruptions except for a parcel delivery, and Annie “guard dogging” with her barks whenever anyone walks by, or rings the doorbell. Funny thing, she doesn’t differentiate if it’s the same person walking by. A neighbor has taken to walking circuits around the green space in our cul de sac. Every five minutes or so, there he goes past our house, and there she goes. We could set a timer with her barking.

And yet, truth be told, in the past week I’ve been feeling weary. Well yes, and weary. This cycle of growing daylight interrupts my sleep patterns. Finally, I’ve learned to keep my sleep mask under my pillow if not on my head. Several recent episodes of early morning insomnia in the past week, like right now, when I’ve been awake since two. Four hours sleep, and if I’m lucky, perhaps a couple more as the sun rises and the robins lullaby me into dreamtime.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing
and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

But this is different. Last week, I listened to the news that Alberta’s honey production has been seriously impacted by the loss of 50,000 hives and how would they be replaced given pandemic-imposed travel restrictions. This became another proverbial straw this time broke on the back of knowing each day more and more of the pandemic’s pervasive personal and global impacts and implications. Using as metaphor from one of those travel YouTube videos I’d been watching, I feel like I’m on a train travelling through a mountain tunnel. It’s dark as pitch, and while I trust there will be a light at the end, I have no idea how wide the mountain we burrowing through, how long before I see light, nor will I recognize anything once through and on the other side?

I am weary.
Heavy with the weight of so much
unknown so much
unravelling,
with each day’s turning into this new season of
hope and rebirth.
I am stretched with a tender tension,
the holding of what is over,
the hoping for what may come.

Ever late to the party, last week I started walking Annie and listening to podcasts. I heard Krista Tippett from her OnBeing podcasts speak to the very real fatigue of virtually connecting.  Calling it “zoomzaustion,” our heads and hearts feel good seeing and hearing each other on our devices, but our bodies miss the very real enlivening energy flow we give and get only when in the physical presence of others. These months of not being physically present with friends, unable to visit family are exacting a toll, even though I’m home in good loving company.

“The only time we ever know what’s really going on
is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or
to put ourselves to sleep.
Right now — in the very instant of groundlessness — is
the seed of taking care of those who need our care and
of discovering our goodness.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

During the weekend we dined on take out. It’s our commitment to “live local with love” and support local chefs by once a week ordering in dinner. A mix up with the order meant I sat and waited in the empty but for chef and staff restaurant as our food was prepared. First time visit, I was struck by the attractive décor, the open kitchen, the hip music. Staff were pleasant, apologetic, offered me a glass of BC sparkling wine to pass the time. Food delivered, bill paid, goodbyes and well wishes exchanged, once home and chowing down, my husband and I both remarked on the heart and soul put into creating that space, making this food, serving their customers, realizing a vision; on the questionable future to sustain themselves under their current pivot business plan, as opening under the province’s re-entry plan, with 50% capacity and the required 2 metre distance between tables would ensure bankruptcy.

Today, I’d hoped to have a “safe distance” walk with my friend in celebration of her birthday. “Thick rain” meant we cancelled, for now. So I’ll make chile cheese cornbread muffins to go with the “beerbutt” chicken my husband will grill for supper. I’ll call a friend grieving the passing of her mother. Tomorrow, I’ll purchase a CSA from a local greenhouse. Then I’ll see my chiropractor for a long overdue tune-up. All of us masked and gloved.

This weariness ebbs and flows.
I stay open to the vulnerable tenderness of this life.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working,
we might realize that we are on the verge of something.
We might realize that this is a very vulnerable

and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.
We can shut down and feel resentful or
we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996

Holy Outrage

“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour,
now you must go back and tell people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader…

Hopi Elders’ Prophecy, June 8, 2000

This is not the post I had been thinking of writing for today. I thought I’d be writing about the multitude of invitations everywhere I look to make the best of these times by either learning something new (a language, sourdough, a craft, sourdough, a home haircut, sourdough, a cocktail), or streaming culture and entertainment (architecture, travel sites, theatre, film), or becoming the person I’d always wanted to be, so on and so forth. I’ll save that one for another day as I don’t think they, nor my reactions are going away any time too soon.

Nor is this the kind of post I typically write, instead choosing to use this space to reflect and write about the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, and mostly well-lived life. Maybe uplifting, enlightening and inspiring others in the process. But yesterday (I’m writing this on the Friday before Monday’s post), something broke through.

For the past week, since receiving a lovely “touch in” email, I’ve been reading the posts from a woman whose way of being in the world I highly regard. Jennifer is a radiant truth-teller. She dives deep in her life, in her work. She rides the edges, weaving together a way of sense making from various disciplines and much research. Being on that edge, as a bright, intuitive, feeling type, her perceptions and perspectives can perturb and create push-back in others. I see in her, a younger, albeit refreshingly less tamed version of myself. Perhaps that’s how I’m able to “see” her, to notice and name for her. And we both know and appreciate how essential this is to our becoming.

She’s been challenging herself, and by way of posting, me and others, to stay awake to the unintended – and perhaps, even, insidious – consequences to government responses to this pandemic. I was already sensitized to the “war” metaphor being used in the messaging at home and globally. But when I first read her words and sat with her questions, I felt agitated and shaken in my gut. My head tried to make sense of what she wrote, which only made me feel more anxious. I took a deep breath, paused, and consciously stepped away until I could process more of what she had invited. Yesterday I stepped back in and saw with new eyes.

In the morning paper, in rapid succession, this drew my attention, though most every page had something that sparked with a new light:

“Liberal minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News that he’s already been in discussion with cabinet members, including Justice Minister David Lametti, to bring in some form of legislation to tackle online misinformation regarding COVID-19.”

And I’m thinking, holy cow, we’ve never walked this path before. What we and our international and federal health so-called experts are learning about this virus shifts on a dime. We raking them over the coals for not knowing everything and then for changing their tunes, and for perhaps, even, being in cahoots with China. So, who in hell is going to determine what is and is not accurate in social media? And is this not, despite what MPs are quoted as saying, censoring and a violation of our right to free speech?

Then on the same page this headline, “Harsh tactics wrong path?” wherein:

“experts in criminology and law are pushing back against conventional wisdom that giving police the power to levy heavy fines will make people safer…arguing that health directives are unclear…”

While I get the need for monitoring, en-force-ment (translate: with force) and discretion being given to bylaw and police officers deeply concerns me. In my country and others, we’ve witnessed, and may even know first hand, the grave misuse and abuse of power by such officials.

And on the previous page of the same paper, commenting on the hypocrisy of our Prime Minister’s Easter time-out with his family after saying physical distancing is for everyone, Lorne Gunter makes reference to a local woman who reported to Alberta Health she saw more people leaving a church than allowed under these new public health regulations. He opines:

“I hope we are not becoming a nation of snitches.”

My immediate reaction was the sudden flash memory of hearing stories about Eastern Germany, where family, friends and neighbors “snitched” on each other to the Stasi, resulting in extremes of cruelty and torture, broken trust, and a terrorized-traumatized people and country, the reverberations of which are still felt.

Call it synchronicity, but right after reading, I received an email from a friend inviting me to sign a petition to rescind Alberta’s Bill 10, legislation designed to give unbridled and unchecked rights to the government, for an indeterminate length of time, to enact and revise legislation deemed necessary to fighting this war on this pandemic. Weeks earlier, the federal government was stopped trying to enact similar legislation. Signed and sent, I then edited and customized, referencing my read of the news, the email template to send to friends for their consideration and action.

__________

A few hours later I left our safe cocoon to run some errands, the first time in over a week. Yes, we are self isolating, or as I prefer to say, in “compassionate retreat.” Yes, we are wearing face masks when venturing out into peopled spaces. And while this may seem contrary, we feel it is prudent, and probably should have heeded our own research and knowing to have done so earlier.

Dropping off “love parcels” to my friend and her young children, I was suddenly worried that being masked, I’d frighten the children. We managed, carefully keeping our distance, wishing we could hug. They knew me. It was OK, maybe.

In the grocery store, I felt the “sur-reality” of seeing more people than not wearing masks (except the staff, which I’ve learned in many stores have been advised not to wear. WTF why not!?!), of floors marked with direction arrows, and safe distance boxes. To soothe my growing anxiety, I had to convince myself that while out of the ordinary here, wearing face masks is “de riguer” in Tokyo. I know I was too close to people in the aisles, and touched too many vegetables, albeit in gloved hands. By the time I left, disposing those gloves in the small mouthed waste bin, washing my hands at the cleverly designed portable station, I was overcome with tears for this all. And once home, told my husband, he could resume the “hunting and gathering” for us. I’ll stick to the cooking.

At the post office, there to drop off another “love parcel” to a friend before she enters the holy month of Ramadan, the gloved clerk, behind the plexiglass safety barrier, asked if I’d be paying by credit or debit. In the moment that struck me as odd, off. When he opened the cash drawer, I worked up the courage to ask “Are you not accepting cash payment?” and was told, no, that their boss had told them not to accept cash, unless that was all the customer had. “This is dangerous,” I replied, though agreed that yes, in this immediate context, probably safer not to handle cash, but in the long term, what could be the consequences of a cashless society?

Still masked, on to the bank to deposit my GST refund. Again, my first time experiencing their safety protocol. Happy for the sun and warmth to stand outside, a woman my age complimented me on my jacket, broke the ice for a quick exchange on the oddity of these times. I shared my experiences of the morning, how shaken I felt. Not wearing a mask, she braved to share her take, could this be the move for a one world government, she offered, a theory I’d studied over the years. Then she described watching a recent documentary where Swedes and corporate employees are now micro-chipped to ease security access into workplaces and gyms, to buy train tickets, to go cashless. “The internalized smart watch,” I’m thinking. “Marked by the beast,” she suggested, eyebrows raised.

Finally, driving home, I listen to our national radio station playing a favourite classical composition, Handel’s Water Music, and in a flash, it dawns on me, “We’re being placated while all hell is breaking lose around us. Let’s soothe the masses, like when then President Bush suggested the American people go shopping to cope with immediate aftermath of 9-11.” Like hearing the sudden “chirpiness” in our local news anchors on Monday, an about face from their typical style during this period. Why? Why now? And who initiated this shift in public presence?

By the time I walk through the door, whoosh, outrage had broken through weeks of disbelief, grief, and fear. Describing my experiences to my husband as we put away the groceries, I remembered that eery but fascinating sixties TV show, The Prisoner, where throughout the sinister story line in each episode, lovely music played throughout the village.

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Like my friend, there is so much about all of this that I don’t know. I do know none of us, including the people we elected to our governments and appointed to oversight agencies (WHO), have never walked quite this path before. But there have been similar journeys, when those in charge made pronouncements and plans to ready us better for next time, but once the urgency passed, are forgotten or deemed unimportant. Not unlike most of us, relapsing to ease, complacency even. I see our remarkable ability to adapt and “pivot” in our understanding and responses to “flatten the curve.” I’m of two minds when it comes to “re-opening the economy.” I don’t want us to move too quickly “getting back to normal” because the risks might be too great, the new insights lost, the promises broken. On the other hand, there is so much suffering now, including and beyond the pandemic’s fatalities and their grieving family and friends. 

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was.
Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than
we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction,
confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.
We should not long to return, my friends.
We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.
One that fits all of humanity and nature.

Sonya Renee Taylor, Over Grow the System, 2020

Holy outrage can inspire holy acts of inner and outer change…

…By noticing what is odd or off or no longer fits.

…By asking and calling out what is suddenly incongruous.

…By staying alert to the barely emerging patterns, and as, if not more, importantly, to the spaces in between. Focusing so much energy exclusively on the pandemic, has me wonder what am I being distracted from seeing? What else of real significance do we need to be attending?

…By burning through the mind numbing fog of “settling for and with” to illumine the fullness of what needs to be seen and known.

…By daring feel the discomfort and distress of being dis-illusioned into speaking a new truth, couraged into writing a new story, stitching together a new garment.

Since my holy outrage broke thorough, I haven’t felt nearly as namelessly agitated, anxious, scared or angry. I have felt the energy, the clarity, the focus, and the unequivocal knowing that a more beautiful “what next” is not only possible, but is in the making right now, with every breath I take, every choice I make.

Now to keep my fires stoked.

Perspectives with Panache, 2010

That is the gift of my holy outrage. What is the gift of yours?

#mylifeasprayer
#holygriefholygratitudeholylove