Sunday, April 11, 2010

From: Me, To: You, Re: Thanks

“Parents are people, people with children.”
—Harry Belafonte & Marlo Thomas

They always taught me to speak up.
They always said — probably they didn’t even say, it was so obvious that it needed not even to be said — that my voice was worth hearing in the wider world. That I — smart, funny, interesting, well-read — had the tools to create and think, that I had the right and responsibility to exist in public, to speak my mind, to push back in public discourse against those ideas which I thought were wrong-headed, ill-considered or damaging.

It is essential to recover the fundamental ways in which these two people (the same people who bought me the Marlo Thomas record “Free to be You and Me”) taught me to be who I am, in which they REQUIRED it, in which they reveled in my original, thoughtful, active self.

It is essential because I could spend four incalculable eons listing the ways they wanted me to behave which I resisted, ignored, rejected. Maybe the list starts with wearing skirts to church, maybe with some other troublesome thing. Conflicting notions of female desirability without sexuality, perplexing ideas of humans as grasping, flawed and sinful, ideas about pushing yourself even when it doesn’t feel good in the name of commitment.

But these pieces don’t need to be centered today.

The basic truths about my right to be in the world (vocally, publicly and honestly) are direct hand-offs from my parents. I cultivated them, like bonsai, making adjustments for the ways I think it’s important to walk through the world.

For instance, it’s important not only to speak out against things that you believe are unfair, unkind, or unreasonable, but to speak for the things that are dear to your heart — to speak for love and understanding, to speak for people and families who need help, to speak for a higher way of existing in this world, which is so often lived moment-to-moment in a flurry of digitized, consumerized activity.

As a wise woman at UU church said today, there comes a time when you must negotiate a new relationship with the people who raised you: Part of this relationship is that they treat you like a grown-up. The other part is that you get to treat them as people.

I love this idea. Just people, who are allowed to be flawed, who come through when they can, who do care, who may not have given you everything you needed to get by, who may have left you floundering when you could have used a voice of wisdom because they had complicated stuff of their own to deal with.

When I acknowledge the beauty in the basic lessons they taught me, we cannot be enemies. We are at work on the same project. Yes, it’s complicated. Still, the colors are bright — even shadow is usually layered with color if you look. I think my growing understanding of the beautiful things of which I am capable, of which humans are capable if we can find a way past entrenched cultural barriers and our own resistance, is coupled with increased peace with failure, mine and other people’s.

Thank you and namaste. Thank you for being willing to teach me. Thank you for failing and succeeding. I continue your tradition, I work, I love, I fail and I succeed.

“Not to acknowledge any favor is a sign of ignorance.
The knowledge of the Truth and cognizance of God is but to give each man his due.”
—M. Shabistari, “Garden of Mystery”

Love and oatmeal

“Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.” — Marge Piercy
I think a lot about how to love people. What does love look like? How can I best love people, acknowledging their dignity and difference from me? How can I extend that kind, empowering love to my own self?
When I think of treating people with respect and love, no strings attached, I think of my friend R.
R. is abnormally gifted at loving people even when they don’t give her what she wants, when they are demanding or boring, when they don’t make sense or are lazy. She offers friends a love that makes me think of oatmeal (the kind with cinnamon and honey). It’s nourishing and substantive. It’s not particularly fancy — it is homey, warm and full of good humor. She doesn’t have any complicated requirements about how you have to act in order to deserve it, either. There’s no oatmeal-exchange agreement you have to sign, no proof that you’ll return this love in kind. Her friendship is welcoming. I learn, slowly, how to take part in this warm and bracing exchange. 
In the winter in New England, we're forced to move a little bit more slowly. There's ice, and weather that resists your efforts to be out and about. The time we spend inside with warm food is sacred. Warm oatmeal turns into an event, a ritual, a joy. When it's bitterly cold outside, when the wind is blowing every well-defined thought out of my head, I'm thankful for R, who offers me a space of peace, acceptance and warmth.