Inspiration of the day – Tuesday, April 30

Yesterday, is being called a monumental day in sports history. And they’re saying it’s monumental not just for one sport – but all sports. But I see it differently.

Yesterday, 10 year NBA center, Jason Collins came out of the closet. At nearly 7 feet tall, you might think that’s a relief. After all, being an extra large man hiding for so many years in a space clearly too small for him couldn’t have been very comfortable. But you might not really understand the unbearable discomfort that prompted him to go into the closet in the first place.

A number of people have been comparing Jason Collins’ announcement – the first active professional athlete to come out as gay – to Jackie Robinson’s breaking into professional baseball. At least in terms of the courage it takes to face the kind of taunting and harassment that comes with crossing a line that make others so uncomfortable.

One could argue that it’s not the same thing. After all, breaking out of something is different than breaking in. Jackie Robinson hadn’t gotten into the professional ranks. He didn’t have anything to give up except the poverty, struggle and anonymity of playing in the negro leagues. And if the worst thing happened, and Jackie Robinson didn’t make it to the major leagues, everyone would have still known he was black.

One could argue that Jackie Robinson’s move to the big leagues didn’t risk his relationship to his family. Or his friends. And it didn’t risk his potential to sign with other interested teams.

But you can’t argue with the truth that with this announcement, Jason Collins joins Jackie Robinson in risking his life for the chance to live a dream. For Robinson, it was the dream of being a professional baseball player. For Collins, it is dream of being the same person in public as he is in private.

There is an excruciating pain that comes with cramming yourself into a space that you know is too small for you. Contorting your identity and keeping it a secret… Trying to look disaffected when your friends or even family slander you without knowing it – sometimes even egging you on to join in… It’s a secrecy that breeds shame and self-loathing. The kind so suffocating you realize that life without basketball – even life without a few of your friends – is better than life without your integrity. You risk something dying either way.

Breaking the color barrier happened in the same way that all barriers of oppression are broken. Slowly. With great risk. Person by person. Story by story.

When a story breaks and we learn that people we’ve known face the pain of oppression every day – for no other reason than the color of their skin or the love in their heart – we stop feeding into that oppression.

Having an active professional athlete come out is powerful. True, it may change his life. But having fellow players, owners, agents, fans support him changes the whole game.

So, I don’t really believe that yesterday was a monumental day in sports history. Yesterday was simply a monumental day in history.

Inspiration of the Day – Saturday, April 27

It began long ago.
It continues on
every moment since the beginning.

The sensation of hunger
paired to an introduction to food
and beginning to learn trust the relationship between the two.
But before the trust
comes taste
another sensation
simultaneously
introducing knowledge of distinctions, preference.
And touch
another sensation
of warmth, comfort,
proximity, presence.
Then, integrate the sensations of observation.
Seeing and hearing what is around us.
Put that all together and we describe our experience.
Understanding and accepting our experience
gives us our identity.

But experience is also temporal.
It changes.
And so our identity is subject to change.
Recognizing values are just arranging
and rearranging our experiences
with some intention
to give shape to what is worthy
replicate what is satisfying,
rewarding.
Meaning comes from the belief
we can make sense of things
create order and beauty
from our values.

Relationship with self
emerges from getting it together enough
to forge an acceptance
of our own experience.

Relationship with others
emerges from two people
coming together with a mutual acceptance
of each other’s values
and the meaning they pursue.

Relationships are always evolving
through an exchange of feedback.
The rate of evolution is dependent upon clarity
and our ability for acceptance and integration.

Relationship with the world
emerges when we accept and exchange
where we are in our evolution
with where the world is in its evolution.

Prayer is bringing all this evolution together
into one conversation.

Call Me by My True Names
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Inspiration of the Day – Friday, April 26

(This is the first post I’ve made in a week. When the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon last week, I noticed my level of interest in the unfolding events going from intrigue, concern, despair, depression, discovery and finally hope. Processing my understandings of the event – and listening to the conversations happening all around me – has been a long, consuming task, much like the writing of this poem which has become something of a tome. I have worked on this every day because it seemed to me that such a complex event is never simple or easily described… and it’s is only possible to appreciate it when we bother to consider all the complex feelings that went into making it. Although I am somewhat glad to have finished this, I also know that I am not done processing, and it will be with me for a long time).

My Brother’s Keeper
It is a tangled web
that ties together our pain
with the promise that
someday
all the unique, separate
dangling identifiers of our life
will ally together
for one great collective cause.
Someday, strands once barely seen
will be hardly denied to anyone
paying homage
to the small and weak forces
at work in this new global culture.
Someday, networks of hope will emerge
from the discards
of malice and shame.
And the passion of our own suffering
will become the essential catalyst
for all the empathy
needed the world over.
Someday we will prompt an understanding
of the tragic sacrifice
each time,
any time,
any place
inherent worth is put on trial.
For whenever and wherever it happens,
the verdict is predictable:
it always has the familiar shape
of emptiness
the kind carried best
in the center of our soul.

The city of Boston
last week, was placed in lockdown
searching for the culprit(s)
who stole a nation’s sense of safety.
Two bombs exploded
at the finish line
of the Boston Marathon.
They were crude devices
spewing scrap metal
like hate
at an unsuspecting crowd.
Martin Richard – an eight year old boy was killed.
As was Lu Lingzi – a foreign exchange student
and Krystle Campbell – a young restaurant worker.
The media reports
that many others remain in critical condition.
We were not built
and poorly trained
to carry such a bulky load
of tragedy like this.
So, not surprising,
after it was reported that the suspects were
foreign born and ferociously armed,
explosive debates
over legislation on guns
and immigration
erupted anew.

Two brothers
– born in a country so far away
that nine out of ten Americans
can’t find it on a map…
…bearing names too hard to pronounce
without having sat beside them
at a friendly supper
more than once –
were identified as suspects.
The media swarmed like a mob
gathering people’s attention
like throwing chum for sharks
and the world has been holding its breath
waiting for justice
to arrive.

It is a tangled web
when feelings of horror and grief,
fear, anger and despair
crisscross our thinking
and overwhelm our tenuous grasp
on goodness.
It is reminiscent of a similar time
eighty three years earlier
one August day
in 1930
when Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith
were hung from a tree
in the center
of the Marion, Indiana town square.
It is said
That on that day, as well,
a mob of thousands gathered.
It was years before
the media looked anything like
what it is today.
The antecedents of innuendo and gossip
were enough then
to bring everyone together.
And, together, they broke into the jail
where the three boys were being held.
People came with sledgehammers and crowbars
brought from their homes
to, first, break down the walls
of civil and legal justice,
and only later ask
on which side of those walls
they started
and on which side they ended up.
They pulled the three
from their cells
demanding that justice be done.
Families came
and brought children to watch
because it felt clear
that a sense of safety
and justice
and order
had turned up missing in the world
the kind, they believed,
their lives deserved.

I have known people who scorn the church
having patched so many holes in their pants
– and their conscience –
both split open
by years kneeling
in pews too hard
for their soft hearts to abide.
They say they were taught
to measure out their expectations
with an unaccountably crooked ruler.
They say we’ve all been conditioned by stories
of having been born and raised
in the garden of an angry and vengeful God.

That may be, I say.
But we have written every article of association
for the complex we moved to
when our lease in the garden was finally revoked.
We are in charge
of the maintenance agreement now.
We hire the exterminators
who are paid to walk the grounds
trapping and ridding
all the serpents and spiders
that live in our imagination.

After the first two boys were hung
they went after James Cameron
– the third boy arrested
the day before
when Claude Deeter
a white factory worker
was murdered
and his female companion
announced she’d been raped.

After the awe-filled groans
of the crowd subsided
when even the pendulum arc
of the two boys bodies
had become still,
an ominous silence descended for a brief moment.
But standing on holy ground
is hard on the feet
and a commotion soon returned
as people thought to pose
as local photographer, Lawrence Beitler,
took the pictures that needed taking
so people in the future
would know what justice looked like.

During all the self commendation
hardly anyone noticed
that the third boy had slipped off the radar.
And it might have occurred to some
to let the sleeping dogs
of vengeance lie,
especially after such a hearty meal.
But nobility is fragile
like the faint breathing
of innocence
under the weight of a heavy rule.
It reminds us
that undisciplined power
cannot endure discomfort for very long.

When the question was finally resurrected
in the minds of the crowd
about the third boy taken from the jail,
a contagious uneasiness began to rise
like the way an addict begins to feel
the very thing they’ve run out of
crawling on their skin.

A whispered murmur began to swell
in the heat of the day
until it became strong enough
to call for its craving.
‘Cameron!’ came one low voice.
The call grew into an echo and then to a chant.
‘We want Cameron! We want Cameron! We want Cameron!’
The crowd bellowed in unison
as though summoning a favorite football star
to a curtain call.

The face of the town’s sheriff
was nervous and covered in sweat.
He turned in exasperation
before the mob leader.
‘Go on. Get the hell out of here.
You already hung two of ‘em
… that ought to satisfy ya.’
But the mounting roar
had gained too much momentum
to be stemmed by
simple logic or reason.

Cameron came into view
pushed back in place by a taunting crowd
toward the tree already holding his two friends.
He carried the look of a lost man
possessed by a fear
not only his own.
He scoured the faces of the people he passed
searching for any sign of doubt.
But the overwhelming need
to be part of something
greater than themselves
had grown so high for the crowd
it obscured the path doubling back
to their humanness.
“They got a rope,” Cameron remembered
“… and they put it around my neck.
Then they began to push me under the tree…”

His words are still sewn into history
because Cameron did not die that day.
Some say his survival is owed to a single man
– on a side street
away from where the rest of the crowd gathered –
who got up on the hood of his car
and called out for the people to stop.
“Mercy!” was what the voice cried.
“He’s innocent. He didn’t do it.”
Some say it was one man
from a block away
who turned a lemming crowd away from the cliff
and saved a life
from being strangled by blind vengeance.
We seem to like theories that
one man
one action
one perfect moment
can do anything
and turn everything around.
I like to think
it was more than that.

It is in a tangled web
that sorrow seeks relief
and both are woven fine.

There are two ways to be a spider:
you can work
to balance the pest population,
reduce the numbers
of cockroaches, mosquitoes and aphids
that carry disease toward our children,
and make the garden untenable for creation.
Or, you can harbor fangs
and carry venom,
build sticky webs
trap prey,
eat baby birds
devour your own species
maybe even your mate.
Either way, you are simply a spider –
true to everything you were born to be
carrying within you
the evolutionary code
that allows you to spin a web
capable of catching
and holding everything together.
Either way, it is up to everything
Within the web to learn
that every strand connecting us
– even those only now being spun –
stretches across eternity.
Every strand transmits the quiver of tension
announcing the struggle
of something caught years ago.

Abel Meeropol wrote about the pain he felt
upon first seeing a postcard
made from the photograph taken that day
Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith
were hung from the tree.
A Jew in the Bronx
a thousand miles away
had enough distance to see
that his whole world
was tied into the same
racial,
social,
cultural,
religious web.
And like the strands from which
the two boys hung
he knew that he too
would be regarded as prey
to the spider whose hunger
does not make distinctions
about what to feed on.
The disturbing contrast
of two boys
hanging by a community’s indifference
prompted him to write the poem, ‘Strange Fruit’.
He wrote it under the pseudonym Lewis Allen
because the reality of anti-Semitism
made it clear that such trees
stand at the center of almost every garden.

Abel’s namesake,
born outside the garden,
was led by his brother
into the field and ‘killed.’
‘Sacrificed’ is the word
some preachers use to describe the slaying.
But ‘sacrifice’ has the dignity of purpose
which makes it inaccurate.
Even the deft tongues and shuffling feet of generations
cannot lift the curse
brought when the feeling of threat
turns violent
and the deafening silence
toward critical questions
goes unanswered.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
one might have asked
the person standing beside them
in the square at the center of town
in Marion that day.
But only the voice of God
shouting from the hood of His car
had the power
to call back the spider.

When police caught up to the suspects
who planted the bombs in Boston,
the news described a standoff.
Both sides heavily armed.
The shootout lasted for hours.
It ended when one brother
was fatally shot
and run over by the other brother
driving away from the scene.
Police caught up with the surviving outlaw
the next day
hiding in a small boat
hoping, perhaps, to sail somewhere
a little less crazy.
Hoping, perhaps, to live in a world
a little less predisposed
to the turmoil and tragedy
that lived in his head
– the one given to him
by the world he was born in.
“I’m glad they caught him,”
said someone who worked in the trauma ward
that treated the 260 people injured in the explosions.
“I’m glad he’s alive.”
There are a lot of people who yearn to understand
how anything could get this out of hand
before they decide
whether to take matters into their own hands
and pursue the death penalty.

It was for protection
and because only those resigned
to the fragility of life
can speak of death,
that Meeropol chose to publish his poem
in anonymity
in the New York Teacher
and, later,
the Marxist journal, New Masses.
He took his pen name from the first names
of his two sons
Lewis and Allen
both arriving stillborn
both understanding what it’s like
when you aren’t given a chance.

It’s impossible to know
whether Meeropol knew
the tragedy of Billie Holiday’s life
when he showed her the poem
at that club in New York city
where he went to hear her sing.
It’s possible he was aware
of how she was overpowered
and raped by a man
when she was twelve
and how she turned to prostitution
at fourteen.
It’s possible he recognized
that there was no one who came
with sledgehammers and crowbars
to break her out
of the prison sentence she served every day.
It’s possible he knew
how many drinks
and drugs
and other distractions
she needed to salve
the shape of emptiness
in the center of her soul.
Or perhaps he only recognized
the voice of an angel
carrying the word of God –
the kind willing to stand on the hood of car
and call a callous world
to its senses.

Whatever the reason
Strange Fruit became Holiday’s
signature song
reaching number sixteen
on the charts.
When it was released
Time Magazine denounced the song
as a ‘prime piece of musical propaganda’
for the NAACP.

Though he managed to write a few songs for
Sinatra and Peggy Lee
Meeropol stopped getting work
as a writer during the 1950s
due to his ties with the Communist Party
during the red scare
of McCarthyism.

Perhaps that gave him the time – and maybe the reason –
to adopt two boys –
the orphaned sons
of Ethyl and nephews of Julius Rosenburg
convicted of trading national secrets
internationally
during the building of weapons
of mass destruction.
The case swept the country
into hysteria
and the Rosenburgs were declared ‘guilty’
and executed.
Nobel Prize winning playwright Jean-Paul Sarte
described the case as
“A legal lynching which smears with blood
a whole nation.”
The two boys were lost in the madness.

Writer, Joanna Moorhead explains:
“From the time of their parents’ arrests,
and even after the execution,
the young Rosenburg boys
were passed from one home to another
- first one grandmother looked after them,
then another,
then friends.
For a brief spell, they were even sent to a shelter.
It seems hard for us to understand,
but the paranoia of the McCarthy era
was such that many people
- even family members –
were terrified of being connected
with the Rosenberg children,
and many people who might have cared for them
were too afraid to do so.”
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
has always been a question
of timid and tender conviction.

Billie Holiday introduced “Strange Fruit”
to Greenwich Village’s Cafe Society
in 1939.
It always came at the very end of her set.
Each time she sang it
she recreated a collision
between defiance and despair.
The voice of an angel
singing the work of the devil.
The waiters in the Sheridan Square basement club
would suspend service so the room was quiet.
Holiday was illuminated
by a small pin light on her face,
which went dark at the song’s end.
There were no curtain calls.
No encores.

Abel Meeropol is dead.
As is his namesake
As are Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith.
Billie Holiday is dead.
As are Ethyl and Julius Rosenburg.
Martin Richard,
Lu Lingzi and Krystle Campell
are dead.
Guilty of standing next to the bombs
at the finish line of the Boston Marathon
last week.
Tamerlan Tsamaev
who built the bombs
is dead,
which some will argue is a good thing.
And from the mounting whispers of his brother’s name
some might conclude that Dzhokhar
is as good as dead.
Just like the media that covered the story
and the justice we hoped to find
Just like the empathy that’s been lost in the madness
carrying our ability to understand ourselves
as all part of an interdependent web
connecting each to all.
It is when we notice
that angels sing in basements
and spiders run the world
that it begins to feel like
we are all descendants of Cain.

But we would do well to remember
that many remain in critical condition.
They number a dozen or so
in Boston.
They number in the billions
around the globe.
And everything depends
on whether they come back to life.

We would do well to remember
that just because some stories have ended tragically
doesn’t mean the stories we are writing always will.
That’s the message James Cameron lived for.
It’s the message Billie Holiday sang for.
It’s the message Abel Meeropol wrote about
and taught in his high school classes in the Bronx
which included students like Paddy Cheyevsky,
Neil Simon and James Baldwin.

People change.
Hearts change.
Minds change all the time.
Our culture changes
sometimes too slowly for us to point out
all the important differences.
It can be heart breaking
unless we take the time to notice,
for example,
that in 1999 Time Magazine named ‘Strange Fruit’
‘the song of the century.’

We can be sad that so many angels
have been relegated to basements
or reduced to stages
no bigger than the hood of a car
on a side street
of the town square.
Or we can listen more carefully
until we notice there are more of them every day

The morning after the Boston Marathon tragedy last week,
my alarm went off.
These days our alarms
are rather sophisticated.
I have mine programmed to play
a Dave Matthews song.
As I listened,
it occurred to me
that if God were at the Boston Marathon
She would have been on a side street
standing on the hood of Her car.
And as the people ran by
consumed by fear
this would have been the song she sang to them.

Mercy
by Dave Matthews

Don’t give up
I know you can see
All the world and the mess that were making
Can’t give up
And hope God will intercede
Come on back
Imagine that we could get it together

Stand up for what we need to be
Cause crime won’t save or feed a hungry child
Can’t lay down and hope miracles will change things
So lift up your eyes
Lift up your heart

Singing, Mercy! What will become of us?
Have we come too far to turn it around?
Can we carry on just a little bit longer?
And all try to give of what we need?

Me and you and you and you
Just want to be free
But you see
all the world is just as we’ve made it
And until we got a new world
Got to say that love is not a whisper or a weakness
No, love is strong
So we got to get together
Get together
Til there is no reason
To fight

Singing, Mercy! Will we overcome this
Oh, one by we can turn it around
Maybe carry on just a little bit longer
And I’ll try to give you what you need
(Dave Matthews, 2012)

Inspiration of the Day – Friday, April 19

One day he just picked up and left.
Got a notion to pack
a change of clothes,
his knife,
a book by JD Salinger,
the tie his mother found for him to wear to church
a medal his father won in the war
an unexpected windfall of ten dollars
(which he knew
in his heart of hearts
wasn’t really his)
a small bottle of courage
and what remained of the dreams
his grandfather gave him
the few that had not already been stepped on
and crushed.

The ten dollars went quickly.
Almost as quick as the courage.
The dreams did not disappear.
But they became stale.
Stiff and rigid.
Not pliable enough for the forced fluidity
of the life he’d unwittingly chosen.

The things he held on to
he packed and repacked every day.
It took a year on the road
for him to discover
that sewn into the lining of his clothes
of that tie
of the medal
of his dreams
was the sound of his name
spoken by each one of the people
who tripped over his absence
at every family gathering.

He believed he’d made a clean break
originally thinking courage called him forth
finally knowing shame kept him away
dragging behind him
an entire constellation of stars
spiraling in disarray
never again remembering
the smooth arc
of the unique orbit
that had once been theirs.

The reason his story is told
is the double irony it carries
that he went on to become successful
a writer
respected and famous and well travelled
while his family remained
unknown, unremarkable
and under the impression they had failed him.
But every poem and book he ever published
was the story of someone left behind
who’s smooth orbit was knocked off course
when part of the constellation
just up and disappeared.

The Idea of Ancestry
By Etheridge Knight

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know
their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style,
they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say). He’s discussed each year
when the family has a reunion. He causes uneasiness in
the clan. He is an empty space. My father’s mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody’s birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him. There is no
place in her Bible for “whereabouts unknown.”

Inspiration of the Day – Thursday, April 18

Inside myself
is a place where I live all alone
and that’s where you renew your springs
that never dry up. – Pearl Buck

The Voyage of Our Legacy

The old wooden ship creaked from bow to stern
as it slid to a stop at the dock
and the whimpering sound made
as the wind raced through the torn sails
was like the eerie exhale
of a dead fish
laid on its side
madly prompting its gills
to filter water that was not there.
Its one eye pierced the crowd
staring up at all gathered
riveted in curiosity
because they’d never before imagined
what it would be like
to be that homeless.

The ship carried wanderers and exiles
who’d been sailing nearly three months
on the promise of a receptive port.
But they were turned away
so many times
as though their cargo
was a stern filled with angry gods.
During the storms
even the sails were seen
ripping and rending themselves
– a pronouncement –
on behalf of the ship itself
that all the faith that was on board
when they left port
had been used up
or lost at sea.

I happened to be at the port that evening
carrying my ledger containing
an accounting of all the ‘shoulds’
and ‘ought to’s
and an explanation
of what I’d done with
all I’d been given.
I knew it was just paper
describing promises made
and purposes unrealized
but I held it tightly to my chest
like it was my passport to life,
knowing I had to deliver it somewhere
and answer to someone.
Still, I couldn’t ignore the exiles
being escorted from the ship
to a place on the dock
where blankets and food
were awaiting them.

My ledger was no protection
from the sadness that descended
onto the dock that day.
But still, I was certain
that despite the importance
of the parcel I carried
the appointments before me
would wait for the lesson
led before me to be recorded.

I looked down and noticed
the woman who had been seated
beside me, with the blanket
draped over her shoulders
was my mother
who had died
almost three months ago.
My heart flooded with a warmth
no frigid wind could carry away.
And I knelt, delighted
at the possibility
of such an impossible reunion
admitting to myself
how my heart had been rubbed raw
by the distance
which had moved in between us.

I smiled as I looked into her face
my heart feeling relief
explaining how nice it was to see her again.
She looked at me briefly
pulling herself from a far away place
before turning her gaze back
over my shoulder
to the sea
saying nothing.
“Remember me?” I asked
with the gentle smile still on my face.
She turned to me again
with a look that revealed no hint
of familiar contour
only the mysterious disconnection
that water makes against an endless horizon.
“No,” she said
as though answering a question on a census
and she turned back to searching
the sea we both knew
she would return to.

In my dream
I took my place
alongside the dispossessed
and wept for a long time
enough tears to raise the tides.
Blankets were draped over me
and a half dozen people took turns
consoling me.
all people in my life now.
“Remember me?” they each asked.
“Yes,” I nodded.

I stood
when it was time
to begin the journey back from the dock.
Each person in the group
looking over at me
with gentle smiles
as if to say,
the whole trip had been for me.
But before I stepped off
that last wooden plank
onto the street
I looked back to see my mom
boarding the ship.
I couldn’t make out everything
but this much I could see:
there was something different;
something that conveyed
the warmth and purpose
that had not been so obvious
only a few minutes earlier.
At her side was the ledger,
It’s first page, I suddenly remembered,
had her name.
It’s last page had my signature.
She carried it
like a passport.
The kind that could repair sails.
The kind that could open ports.

Inspiration of the Day – Wednesday, April 17

He is happy now. Engaged.
Excited about his life.
And he is no longer hesitant
about attending events
or guarded around people.
He is curious – even contagiously so –
about the next moment.
He laughs more than he ever has
and is interested in what happens
for others, occasionally even
inquiring whether he might, somehow
be part of it.

But it wasn’t always like that.

For a long time, he hid from his life.
He turned away anxiously
donning a far-away masquerade mask
avoiding the company
of the people who
annoyingly, continued to show
interest in his happiness
and well-being.

The mark of success
was met when he limited
the number of people
who knew of his poor health
and when he contained the confusion
of his own torn attention
constantly oscillating
between longing and loathing

He preferred flying under the radar
choosing from among those safer options
of whatever allowed the least risk
of exposure.
He couldn’t explain
and wasn’t interested
in exploring
why transparency felt so unbearable
and why empathy – things like
having someone know your heart
or read your face
always felt like overexposure.

For years the only longing he
remembered feeling was
for distraction. The background of TV,
nursing a drink or two in his quiet apartment…
a pile of video games…
…the moment his phone displayed a new text…
… even sleep – the ultimate escape…
was powerful enough to pull his attention
into one tight swirling vortex
… at least until
the moment he realized,
when the distraction was over
another parcel of his finite life
had just disappeared
down the drain.

She changed all that
almost in the instant he saw her
and realized
that there was no one else
who’d bothered to look
or who had enough personal experience
to understand
how her isolation was killing her.

It took years
- even after they fostered
a sense of safety together –
to exhume the privately buried
and delicate subjects
of loneliness and shame
and the way they burrow in
and take root
from every angle of our life.
It took years to acknowledge
and confess
the desperation that led to
the pulling of any number of things
from the shelf
just to fill those holes with something.

And you didn’t even need to say it
the truth so obvious
that the only thing that could
fill such a hole
was a look of understanding
and acceptance
that let her know
she was holy.
To let you know
what it’s like
to be essential.

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence
By Patricia Fargnoli

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned-away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted dull haired
past Jim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and he ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him,
some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

Inspiration of the Day – Saturday, April 13

My Ideal God Mirrors My Ideal Life

I live with the sensibilities of the idealist
which only means
that given the choice between living in
a world driven by random calamity and chaos
or within any subsequent categorical upgrade
I would always choose
the eleventh level of improvement
out of ten choices.

This means the vendors in my life
are almost always perpetually frustrated
out of stock on
whatever I’m looking for.
And a great number of parts in my life are
currently on special order.

This means that I’m always on the phone
with God
wondering why so many options are
discontinued or unavailable.
Most of my conversations with God have been
me waiting on hold
while He checks with the people in inventory
or the production, or research departments.

I’ve noticed something interesting
when I think about the history of these calls
and that is that, even though the number I dial
has changed often over the years
and the voice of God – as near as I can tell
through the static and the disconnections – is the same,
the spirit of the conversation has changed
immensely.

As I have grown older I would swear
that the person I end up negotiating with
is younger. I mean,
when I was a young boy,
the God on the other end of the phone
was stern and crotchety and seemed to
relish in letting me know He was out of
whatever item I happened to be looking for.

Now that I’m middle aged
the God who picks up the phone
has mellowed – less apt toward tirades
and ultimatums and much easier to relate to.
I enjoy talking to Him now
– much more than I used to –
and we can kvetch together
in a tone much closer to empathy
than bargaining and negotiation.

When I am very old, I am hoping
my account is transferred to a young God
one who understands a world without limits
and the imperfect place we find ourselves
withing this perfect system.
A God who imagines with me elaborate scenarios
of sublime characters and ideal circumstance.
So, in the last few days before my account is closed
I will be connected to a God who understands
that the three items at the top of my list
are a good cry, being held and rest.
And those, He has in stock.
And those He would personally deliver.
That would be my ideal.

A Prayer
By Max Ehrmann

Let me do my work each day;
and if the darkened hours
of despair overcome me, may I
not forget the strength
that comforted me in the
desolation of other times.

May I still remember the bright
hours that found me walking
over the silent hills of my
childhood, or dreaming on the
margin of a quiet river,
when a light glowed within me,
and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the
tempests of the changing years.

Spare me from bitterness
and from the sharp passions of
unguarded moments. May
I not forget that poverty and
riches are of the spirit.
Though the world knows me not,
may my thoughts and actions
be such as shall keep me friendly
with myself.

Lift up my eyes
from the earth, and let me not
forget the uses of the stars.
Forbid that I should judge others
lest I condemn myself.
Let me not follow the clamor of
the world, but walk calmly
in my path.

Give me a few friends
who will love me for what
I am; and keep ever burning
before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope.

And though age and infirmity
overtake me, and I come not within
sight of the castle of my dreams,
teach me still to be thankful
for life, and for time’s olden
memories that are good and
sweet; and may the evening’s
twilight find me gentle still.

Inspiration of the Day – Friday, April 12

A Few More Revolutions

Even though there is scatter-shot evidence of spring,
in whatever direction you look, when the heart
and mind are closed
the snow refuses to melt.
There will be no green stalk rising.
No bloom to break your gaze
when your attention is fixed on the wintry road before you.
We are still walking in the same worn path
tracks in the recent fresh dusting
which only just arrived
480 years ago today.

That many revolutions ago
on this day,
we raced by this very station in the heavens
and Galileo stood before
the Papal inquisition.
They reminded him of his position;
the true north declaration that had never occurred to him
that the earth does not revolve around the sun,
but instead revolves around the church
and obeys the laws of privilege.

Today
480 years later
we walk on the same wintry road.
Though the sun refuses to recant
its theory of spring
we walk through a narrow tunnel
of little vision
cliffs of ice on both sides.

Today
we love the man
of fiery ideas
that had the power to burn through ignorance
and mourn the knowledge
that in his time
he only succeeded in bringing enough heat
before the throne of ice
to melt through of a few rigid layers
which ended up drowning him.

But it’s his spirit in us
that still fuels the fire
of a sun that won’t be denied
He calls us to bring heat
to those on paths where the signs read
‘give to the rich and it will trickle down’
‘guns don’t kill people’
‘being gay is a gateway love to marrying goats’
‘there’s no such thing as global warming.’

There IS such thing as global warming.
It is, even now, ushering forth a spring.
All it takes is a few more revolutions
around the sun.

Inspiration of the Day – Thursday, April 11

Joy’s Long Journey

When we tell the story
of our joy, it’s important to remember
to tell the whole story. Sure, include the part
where the white gauze
ripples resplendently in the breeze
and catches the sun’s strident rays.
Share the scene where you mastered
that look of confident resolve;
where you first learned to fix your eyes
squarely on the future
and not blink,
or turn away or
look behind you.

These are essential to pass on.
But don’t leave out the countless quiet nights
where sleep was paralyzed by indecision.
Don’t forget the disturbing stillness
of circumstance
that needed constant coaxing to upend
its rootedness, and roll over toward
the breaking dawn. Use the bravery
you discovered as the sun peaked above the hills
to talk about the hard choices you were forced into
making, the ones you resisted,
with a resistance that insisted
you wait in the desert
for your stubbornness to die.

Remember the sacrifices that came
as part of the bargain for freedom
the ones that divided fast friendships.
Remember the dreams that didn’t make it
all the way to the promised end.

Don’t forget to say how,
in a fearful moment,
shame convinced you
to cut off the last eight inches
of that resplendent white gauze.
The part that draped behind you.
That wiped away tears.
That dragged along the ground
during the most important
turning points of your trip.
That was the part that
swept up essential details
– the smell of fear
the color of stuckness
the despondent feeling of ‘forever’ –
when you wondered if you would ever know
another fertile, creative moment again.
These were the details that became
the womb of truth, that place
where your joy
was first placed
as a seed of hope.

Sweat and blood are not incidental
to the story of joy’s birth.
They are essential to every autobiography.
If the arc of our lives are ever to be
hung upon our decisions
and filed under ‘evolution’
– not just ‘circumstance’ or ‘chance’ –
then it will be because we discovered
that no part of joy’s long journey
deserves to be laid that quietly
on the cutting room floor.

Elegy in Joy (excerpt)
By Muriel Rukeyser

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children:
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.

Inspiration of the Day – Wednesday, April 10

Alien-Nation

I woke up that morning thinking, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’
I went to bed that night thinking, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’
And although it was a particular morning and night,
associations that strong
have become like mantras to my memory
known by pet names
even in my bones.

It was a haunting feeling of falling behind
not keeping up with the pack of kids who rolled off
the rag tag assembly line
of our neighborhood.
It had us all worried
– though none of us ever said a word –
that there wouldn’t be enough to go around.

We lived during a great drought
of attention, accolades, rewards,
empty trophy cases of the soul
adding a little urgency to the drive to finish in front
tip the scales of importance in our favor
so as to be noticed by those we were always chasing
those too busy running their own race
to see the significance of our pursuit
or even notice the grimacing way
we raced
to catch our breath.

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That morning was 1970 – 5th grade – the day Ho
was pushed onto the starting blocks
alongside us. A refugee from Vietnam.
His straight legged pants
– a full three inches too short for him
amidst a sea of blue jean bell bottoms –
announced his standing in the race
even more than the pungent odor
of fear
oozing out every pore of his body.

‘Don’t show fear,’ I thought. Everyone knows
that. Everyone knows
that inadequacy and shame are
supposed to be suppressed
or expressed as
intimidation and aggression.
Always be terrorizing, never terrified.
Any susceptibility to fear will only make it worse.
It was easy to see that Ho
had a long row to hoe
and no tools for the task.

It probably helped that he didn’t speak English
so he couldn’t understand how unsettled everyone else felt
around him, especially when we heard that he was
four grades ahead of us in math.
… And when, during the presidential physical fitness tests
required for all fifth graders,
he beat the fastest guy in our class
in the 100 yard dash
by fifteen yards.

But we assimilated Ho into our ranks. By the 8th grade
when I last saw Ho, he was coming along
in his ability to be aggressive and
intimidating
and he had learned enough about English
to master prejudicial slang
and best of all, to hide all signs of fear
behind the feelings of the alien-nation
to which he now belonged.

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I think Ho is the reason I am going to the nation’s capitol today.
In the immigration rally, there are still a few voices
among the tired,
the poor,
the huddled masses yearning to be free,
who are still not understood.
They have learned to speak in a confusing accent
– a hybrid of shame
and aggression –
but no one has yet figured out
that this race we’re in
is against time.

Getting ready for the rally today I
woke up with the feeling that I didn’t get enough sleep.
It seems almost inevitable
I will come home tonight
feeling like I didn’t get enough done.
Isn’t it possible that we might somehow learn
that in a culture of scarcity
we will always breed shame?
And shame, unrevealed, will always lead to
violence?

The last I saw Ho, he was being courted
By the local gangs. And by the state colleges.
I never found out which one he chose.