No Weddings, But a Funeral and A Rollercoaster

img_0081I hate rollercoasters. Let’s just get that down officially, shall we? It has been a rollercoaster week for me.

It began Monday, when one of the bigger triggers of my very-Cold-War-get-under-your-desk-kiss-your-ass-goodbye childhood was hammered by a news story where a restaurant owner ordered a “nigger” out of his place.  And yes, I AM going to by gods use THAT word just so you all can be reminded just how UGLY it is.    Yes, I grew up partially in the segregated South and that word was heard constantly.  Even in schools and (gasp!) churches.  I walked away from the news item reeling, holding back tears only half successfully.  I literally curled up in my bed in a pile of pillows and shut off the lights.

Tuesday was “date day” for the Minotaur and me.   We will see our 40th anniversary of marriage this month — and it has been “interesting” in the Chinese curse sort of way since we both suffer PTSD.  Mine is of standing clear to my childhood — he has it from a similarly abusive childhood AND the Viet Nam War.  So, pretty much one or the other of us is triggered at almost any given moment of difficulty.  The Minotaur, finally, after more than a year in VA counseling and marital counseling, IS in a better place.  Apparently, this cued MY little inwardly bleeding self to think it would be alright to cut loose and fall apart?

Because Tuesday, still tender from re-confronting memories of three months *of 5th grade hell in Louisiana — where the teacher opened each day crying “All you children who hate niggers raise your hands!” — I fell apart.  We were in the car, and the Minotaur was on auto-pilot “find a freeway” mode.  I hate our freeways; people drive Mad-Max-ish on them here.  So, I wigged out and we had a huge fight and no date time happened.  I beat myself up the rest of the night, barely sleeping and writhing in self-loathing for my personal failures.

*Only 3 months because I dropped out of school then.

Wednesday I put it on hold, choke-chaining myself into duty of re-stocking the cupboards before the other household residents got restless.  But, ah, Thursday — oh woe.  Thursday we went to the funeral of the 23 year old daughter of a guy from the Minotaur’s veterans’ group.

First off?  I am pretty sure the “Christian” god IS dead.  The funeral put me in a Baptist Church for over two hours and the very things I thought as the service droned on and on SHOULD have brought lightening down IF there was a god there, ok?  Yes, I know, harsh and melodramatic.

But rollercoasters bring out the melodrama in me, deal with it.

First, the “viewing”.  Oh my gods and goblins — she was SO young.  At 23, I got married.  She had just given birth to a pair of tiny twins.  Motherless twins, now.  It was shocking looking at that pretty young dead face.  There were Bible readings, the usual “green pastures” bits.  I told myself if it comforted the family, it was ok.  But of course, it was NOT ok.

Then the family members spoke with tear-stained faces of how much she meant to them, how she brightened every room and helped everyone she met.  Now THAT was brutal and grief-soaked.  Then there was a song about “holding the hand of God and keeping the mind on things eternal” and I began to risk a lightening strike.  Because for me, a humanist pagan?  This is NOT helpful or comforting at all — this is “shove that grief and anger in a bottle and be good little Good Book slaves!”  What about NOT thinking of the eternal and about questioning why the hell a 23 year old is DEAD? What failed that this young mother is DEAD?!

Then the youngish minister spoke.  He was incredibly proficient in trite platitudes about how time heals, god doesn’t give more than you can handle (apparently “god” thinks this family is a bunch of badasses?), etc.  He KEPT saying he was “almost done” and yet kept talking.  He explained that in times of grief and pain, it felt “as if God doesn’t make sense.”  Then he got downright revolutionary and daring and said, flat out: “God doesn’t always make sense to us.”  Of course, he went on to explain that was what “faith” was for — to help us through those things we cannot understand.  That’s when “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder began playing in my head at about 110 decibels.

The tear-soaked tissue in my hand was balled into a rock-hard ball by now.  I was SO hurt for the family in front of me suppressing sobs.  THIS is all their “faith” had to offer them?  Platitudes?  Hollow phrases about just getting through it?  Hel’s bells, I TOLD them that a couple days after we got the news: “When you are going through hell, KEEP going.”  The minister told them their tears should “endure through the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  What IS that — a Christian order to “shake it off” that a beautiful, smart, loving woman doesn’t deserve more mourning than that because god says so?!  What about WHY she is dead, what societal failure – aided by religious opiates of “stop bawling and move on back to work, etc” – made it so unremarkable that she IS dead?

So yes, here is Friday.  I feel like a beehive has been tucked into my ribcage.  If “God” is the answer, I think we are asking the wrong fucking question.  But I’m just a “godless heathen” — so surely my opinion is to be discounted if not ignored entirely.


The “Skies Are Crying” Fall of the Old Year

samhain-walkAs I wrote, to almost nobody last week, I began my new year at the New Moon. Sure, the family had a good meal — one of the rare red meat meals for me and the Minotaur — and lit a fire in the outside drizzle. We passed around a horn and “toasted, boasted, and vowed” in sumbel style.  There were serious conversations and light hearted joking as well.  We farewell’d what we wanted gone and greeted what we wanted to carry forward.  It was merry and bright around the fire.

But I didn’t feel merry or bright. I drank a bit too heavily of the passed horn filled with mead we brewed two years ago….meaning more than one single slim glassful in my booze-lightweight age. Earlier in the afternoon before the utter failing of daylight, you see, I had gone to the Labyrinth for year’s end rites there. No names, merely a tolling of the brass bell – once for every year of the current ongoing, never-ending wars and then a silent walk to the center. And then a walk back out, slowly — the intent being that as many old pagan traditions say — tis the day they dead can come back to join the living for a night and I would lead them back on that pathway wherein I walked them inwards.

Usually, this is a neutral walk — even on the years when I occasionally gruelingly read the entire list of names of Us and Coalition dead in both the Afghan and Iraqi wars.  But this year, every step back outward felt like I was walking from a place of peace into a sort of hell.  I felt laden with grief and despair, my mood blackened as the astrologically “black” moon invisible in its orbit.  That dreadful sense of “something dire coming” possessed me and the helplessness of it made my chest hurt.  “Death inbound” is how I characterize this feeling and I hate it so much.  And in less than a week — yes, five Americans dead in our ongoing foreign adventures.

Attachment-1Do I believe in prescience?  Lets say my experience makes comfortable disbelief impossible.  It is somewhat typical at the end of the year — whether in October or December — to question, to formally doubt, to make new choices and discard what baggage one can leave in the dust.  I’d like to leave this grief, this fear, this dread behind me.  But it follows me like a shadow, a vampiric shadow that feeds on the anxieties and miseries of this election.  It is not just fear of a President who reminds me of Beast Rabban (Harkonnen); it is the utter cruelty of his followers in being perfectly ok with his denigration and diminishment of women, immigrants, people of color, gays, lesbians, disabled people, poor people.  One would think that those people have never met real people in their lives!

I cast about for newness, for purpose, for connections as I feel more hermitic than ever.  The German ladies I left over the casual white privileged callousness of one of them want me back — well, five of them want me back.  Can I go back?  It dawns on me that the majority wants me back because I told off the domineering one; but is that the role I want in a circle I had considered friends?  I tell myself it wouldn’t be my only role, but I still fear just becoming a “novelty” of some sort to women I wanted to be friends with on common basis of work, family, and so forth.  I was too under the weather this year to go on the 2 1/2 hour drive a Day of the Dead party; and stricken to realize how few friends I have and all of them very far away.

And yet I find myself considering cutting more connections even in online life.  I am so angrily sick of the Apple i-Phone nonsense of touch-pad failure and no word on Apple acknowledging or fixing it in ever more impossibly expensive phones, for instance.  Thus, as my phone begins to give me grief, I consider shutting off the account entirely and “bundling” in a old school house phone with the equally hated Comcast/Xfinity.  This means I’d be largely disconnected from all online associations – my aging Mac Mini stutters when I use it, and if/when it fails I may not even replace it.  A whole group of semi-connected associations will fall away like autumnal leaves then, too.  I have found that nobody wants to write old style letters…nobody at all.  For years, I’ve sent fifty or more holiday cards on various holidays and got back fewer than a dozen.  Connection apparently is not allowed to take longer than five seconds or cost even forty five cents?

It troubles me that we have the promises of technology about never being disconnected, but it feels as if as humans, we are more disconnected from each other, more isolated than ever before.  Recent reading has told me I am not the only one to notice this with a sense of despair — Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe attributes this biology/psychology skewing trend with facilitating lasting PTSD, depression, and suicide.  We seem to be forgetting how to be people for each other!  So my end of year does feel very dark as the cold rain falls daily now and colored leaves fall to leave monotone firs looming like wraiths in the gray sky.  I remind myself that gray days mean I must try harder to find something light.

But I feel like embracing the darkness, exploring every shadow and misery is what I really will be doing this month before I put up the lights and decorations for Yule.  I’m not looking for a sunshine enema.  I’m looking for the cause of the darkness, I think.  Just typing that makes me want to slap myself for grandiosity.  But there it is, I just can’t get around the feeling and sensation that, to coin off of Tolkien, one must go through the dark mines of Moria to find light on the other side.

It may take some time.


Birthday Month – How Do We Age?

FullSizeRenderMy mother is 81 this year. I saw her last when she was 50. I look at myself in the mirror now, at 63 and it is her features I see in many essential ways. But when I wake in the morning and sit up to take my coffee cup from my husband, my mind’s eye does not see that image. I no longer see myself at age 23, when I was wed, either. I see and “feel” myself – oh, maybe 40? But lately, the last three years or so, I can feel something slipping into feeling oh so much older.

I notice it particularly on Fridays. Fridays are now when I most commonly walk the Labyrinth with names of men or women often younger than my youngest child. Sometimes, now, I walk it with no names in hand at all — I am trying to set a new habit, you see? Every day around 20 veterans suicide, I have no way to find their names to add to my bitter books. But I know they are gone and they deserve a walking.

I walk, singing, now amidst the fallen leaves and rusty pine needles. And I feel so very old. It is not, as one might think, the hurts to the body that alone age us. At 40 I had nerves dead of spinal injury and still felt young and hale, if in pain! In 2003, the year I built the Walk of the Fallen, I was 50 and I grew strong and muscular hefting big stones and digging soft soil lined trench.  I wore out several pair of heavy gloves.  I felt crazy hearing the air hum with voices of people who could not possibly have been there.

And then every week, several times a week, I took a cup and a list and walked – thinking for the nation that was busy “going shopping” or whatever else they were told to do to NOT think about the sons and daughters of the not rich 1% who make up the nations volunteer military.  Sons and daughters dying, bleeding, suffering, coming home in boxes, or in still-breathing pieces of what they used to be – before the war.  Sometimes, in the first three years, I came back into my own house, shivering even in summer, to collapse in exhaustion of a sort I’d never known.  But I kept going and got used to it – as used to it as one can.

But the war(s) are going on 15 years old with no end in sight.  The names are reduced in number because Afghanistan and Iraq are not done, although neither Presidential candidate mentions it — well, except for Trump blaming the twin wars George Bush began on Hillary Clinton.  So for the last couple years, onFridays in particular, I notice I feel very tired and aged from the second I open my eyes.  Yesterday I lingered till almost dark for the Friday walk, and then realized it was pouring a cold heavy rain.  So the walk waited till today.   And again, it seemed I’d need a set of jumper cables applied to get me moving.

I built the Walk in a fury, in heartbreak and in grief.  I wanted someone to care and practically nobody did.  Finally, within a few bitter months, I simply wanted to feel like the men and women whose names I cupped in my hands felt welcomed home, remembered — not so ignored as it seemed the general populace left them to be.  I was ashamed, not only of a President starting wars with no strategy to finish and get the military out, but of my nation for not caring that the blood of the military 1% was being spent so carelessly, thoughtlessly, heartlessly.  Fifteen years of war, with no real peace in sight.

What ages me?  The carelessness, the thoughtlessness, the heartlessness of my nation, that I carry in my shamed hands once a week.  The faces I saw in my sleep or in waking visions while treading sandstone age me — I’d happily have let slip my own cords to life to save one of them.  But that wasn’t my option.  I had no option.  Neither did they, “volunteer” military aside.  Education too costly, jobs too sparse — old men who send young men to wars they profit from, while none of their own dear ones go in harms way —  war and shame age me.

And looking at my world?  I am glad to be old instead of young.

Gratitude August 6th

photo copy 2I am grateful I found the courage to re-open my Walk of the Fallen Memorial Labyrinth to the public.  It was not without awkwardness.  I asked my husband to write the invitation that would be put out at the Tacoma Veterans’ Center.  He wrote a long, rambling three page paeon to the building of the Walk, and I edited all of it away.  Because the Labyrinth is not about me/us; it is about those who died to be so memorialized.  It is about what peace it can offer to any who come to walk there.

It is entirely possible nobody at all will come.  And that is alright, too.

A Lull, A Lag, A Darkness, A Lingering

FullSizeRenderI’m not blogging much. I find my exercise program lagging. My current goal of yoga three times a week with days of aerobic something in between for a total of six days of work outs a week is difficult to keep. Aerobics, either on my new and still despised Nordic Track Elliptical or my old Health Rider is SO boring only something exciting on my iPad can make me stay there sufficiently to get a work out.  But cabin fever after a long winter makes me want to walk out of doors; that was the plan for yesterday.  But then as I finished a counseling appointment and coffee with one-time co-workers?  The sky opened with rain and hail.  My will failed me.

My garden awaits tilling; the Minotaur has not yet got the tiller running.  We broke the bank with our runaway to Oregon earlier and are so broke presently that I can’t do anything until payday.  The last bit in the bankbook will go this afternoon to buying a load of good soil so we can transplant an ill-thought out tree to a better location.  Everything is alright, nothing is really wrong.  We lack for nothing needful.  But nothing feels really right, either.

FullSizeRender 2I linger in bed longer every morning, sipping coffee and wishing I was still asleep.  I wake in the wee morning hours from dreams of ferrets – over a year from burying my last ferret (Helen), the grief still reduces me to weeping disconsolately in the darkness.  I dream of finding a boxful of ferret kits, for pity’s sake!  There is simply no wisdom in this; ferrets are costly pets and on retirement income, I simply cannot have them anymore.  For twenty years, though, I did and rescued them wherever they were found.  They were the pets of my heart, my “woozles” to the “heffalump” of several dogs we had in that long interim.  The woozles were my anti-depressants.  They kept me alive when my teenaged youngest son ran away.  They got me out of bed when he did tours in Afghanistan as an adult.  They sustained me and gave me reason to live when my marriage took the nuclear detonation of my husband’s long-deferred PTSD crisis in 2011.

I tell myself that soon yard and garden work will make me move and shake myself out of the curious inertia that grips me.  I remind myself there is more sunlight each day, but a darkness follows me – my personal storm cloud.  Depression has been life-long thing, low level for the most part.  I have always fought it with work, exercise and good habits of eating carefully.  But as periodically happens, it is insufficient to move me just now.

I linger, listlessly reading news and wondering what on earth is the matter with people.  The hatred it must take to be a politician telling towns they will be defunded if they legislate paid sick time, for instance.  The open bigotry of making it legal to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.  I emphasize “people” because — yes, these are PEOPLE being treated worse than animals.  The misogyny of several states where unborn (and even damaged and unviable) fetal tissue is held more valuable than the living pregnant woman trying to keep her life (and possibly her entire family’s lives) from being derailed by an undesired and unsustainable pregnancy.  The racism so blatant in the reaction to “Black Lives Matter” protesters and to Muslims make me fearful for my nation.  I have coffee once a week with five German women; they are horrified to see America reminding them of the Germany that led to World War II.  Donald Trump horrifies them.  It all is shockingly awful.

I make sure a set of lights is on a timer to light up daily — bright red heart shapes.  Seeing them insists I must not shut down and quit; that I must keep my bitter, battered heart in play or I cannot win through to some better other side.  But I often feel like those hearts are just a tease and that my own heart’s Will is failing.

In my youth, all my best friends were very aged women for whom I shopped, cleaned, and cooked as they needed.  I often wondered at their seeming calm that seemed to mingle with a subdued sorrow as they watched the then news.  Now, I completely understand the sense that there are so many good things happening that it makes the horrible things happening feel like a bad dream you cannot awaken from at all.

Saturday we go to caucus for Bernie Sanders.  My heart not only will go on, but will go on fighting.  I simply haven’t the energy to talk, write, argue about how, where, and why any more.  But my semi-silence is certainly not consent!

Prostrated…in Winter’s Nest

imageI know I said I would start this blog in the new year. Then my resolve stuttered with world weariness and an innate cynicism about my current culture. I was trying to revive myself and believe there were still things I could say that might make a difference to me and my readers.

But last Monday afternoon, as I moved topics around in my brain and read aloud to myself behind my own eyelids about what I might say here, we got a  message from the other side of the country. Ever since, I have either paced in agitation or fallen into an armchair wringing my hands, feeling paralyzed with helplessness. Across the country, a man almost as dear to me as my own sons is lying in that horridly  suspended state between life and death. He is my oldest son’s best friend and was his best man at his wedding. He is 38 years old and has a wife and two young children. He and his wife are both veterans of the Afghan war.

Last Sunday, an aneurysm ruptured in his brain. In the next few hours he had at least 10 strokes and every part of his brain has thereby been damaged. He is unconscious and receiving ventilator support to assist his breathing.   I find myself unable to think creatively or even to attack normal household projects. Food seems tasteless. Enthusiasm is an abstract concept.   So until the situation is resolved one way or the other, I fear there will be no energy for anything being said here.