Saturday, September 22, 2012

the colors

the words pour into my journal
in colors -
pink, green, purple, orange, turquoise, red

it is how life feels -
pink, green, purple, orange, turquoise, red


are you excited to go?
they ask

i know i must go.

excitement is not the word.

is the word.

i must go
to Iraq,
to death?
to sorrow?
to hope?

but now i am focused on now -
the colors -
in my garden
in my life
(in my heart)

leaving feels
far off
but is only

i know i’ll soon leave
i know i’ll soon return

the colors
be the same
when i return?

or will
black and blue
take over again?

Monday, September 17, 2012


I was walking with a friend yesterday when we encountered a man lying in the middle of the sidewalk in Central Park.  We’d actually stopped our walk and were sitting on a bench when my friend pointed him out.  He hadn’t been there when we sat down and neither of us had seen how he had ended up on the ground - whether he lay down or fell. 

Had I been alone, I’m sure I would have avoided him.  In acknowledging that fact, I realized how much I need other people to hold me up to the high standard of compassion that I profess to believe in. 

We approached the man. He was short, lying on his side, had a cloth bag under his legs and a full backpack hooked on his back.  His clothes looked clean and he had no noticeable odor.  His eyes were open.

My friend bent down and tried to talk to him.  “Do you need any help? Do you want us to call someone? Are you OK?”

He was completely unresponsive.  He didn’t talk back; his eyes didn’t move; nothing.

After her multiple unsuccessful attempts to talk to him, I started to wonder if he spoke English. His complexion was dark and he looked as if he might be Latino. 

“Do you speak English?”

A shake of the head.  I was relieved that we had gotten a response.

I leaned down, so that I could look into his eyes. “¿Habla español?”
A faint “sí.” His eyes didn’t meet mine, but they did move.

Once I started talking to him, my friend called 911 to get him some help.  As she was talking to them, I asked him more questions in Spanish and translated his responses to her.  While this was going on, he remained on the ground, just as we had found him.

He wanted to kill himself; he was Cuban; his name was Juan; he wanted to kill himself; he had taken drugs; he wanted us to call an ambulance; he had taken crack; he wanted to die; he was homeless; he had no job; he didn’t stay at the shelters; he didn’t have friends or family; he wanted to die.  Every time he said he wanted to kill himself, he made his hand into a gun and made a shooting motion.

While we were talking I put my hand on his shoulder.  He put his hand on my leg, which was fine with me, except when his hand tried to travel up my leg.  I gently pushed it away...more than once.  I was with my friend and felt that, with two of us there, as well as passers-by who stopped and asked if we needed any help, his travelling hand was more of a nuisance than a danger. My hand remained on his shoulder.

The police arrived before the ambulance.  One officer took Juan’s backpack partially off him and helped him sit up.  “I’ve seen you before.”  They were pretty sure he’d been drinking, though he didn’t smell of alcohol. Juan said people had tried to shoot at him.


“I don’t know. I need the FBI.”

The second police officer helped to take his backpack all the way off.  The first officer started going through the pack to find an ID and see what else Juan might have.  The officer pulled from the backpack a mouthwash-sized bottle with a little clear liquid still in it.  The officer dumped the liquid out.  
EMS arrived.  They lifted Juan onto the stretcher.  They put belts around his legs. 

“I am Cuban. I am with Fidel Castro. I need the FBI.” Juan’s torso fell towards the ground or maybe he threw it that way, I’m not sure. One of the EMS responders caught him.  Juan’s upper body got buckled in.
“I need the FBI.”

The EMS responders started to wheel him away. The officers thanked us and we thanked them.
I wondered if my dad, who works as St. John Day Center for Men, would recognize Juan. I haven’t asked him yet.

My friend and I continued our walk and a woman who had passed earlier stopped us.

“Did they take care of him?”

“Yes. EMS took him.”

“Thanks for doing that. If you can believe it, I used to be homeless, 3 years ago. I work at Quizno’s now and he comes in sometimes to ask for food.  There are places to go to get help.” She listed a number of the local shelters and treatment centers. “The thing is, you have to want help.” I was happy that she had wanted and received help.  She was at the park with a young girl, a girl who no doubt benefitted from the help this woman had received.

Throughout the whole incident, I felt calm and detached.  Now as I write about it, I am able to let in a little of the emotion I didn’t allow yesterday. I wonder how in his life Juan got from Cuba to lying on a sidewalk in Central Park in Louisville, Kentucky. I wonder if he’ll ever seek the help he needs and be able to make the changes that will keep him off the streets.  I wonder how long his demons have plagued him. I wonder how many Juans are out there.

I wonder how many times police officers and EMS workers have to take care of people who need help, but aren’t ready or willing or psychologically fit enough to get the real help they need.  I wonder where the strength of emergency responders comes from to deal constantly with people in crisis.

In all my answerless wondering, I can only offer a prayer: a prayer that those who need help seek it and find it; that those who offer help have the ongoing patience and compassion required to relate to people in difficult circumstances; that those of us who don’t face either reality on a daily basis nevertheless be aware of them, be open to them, and try to understand them; that if we care for “the least among us” the way we are called to do, there will be fewer men and women, or no men and women, like Juan, lying in the streets needing help. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Clothes (Don't!) Make the Woman

A few years ago, nominations for teacher awards were going around.  We (faculty) were invited to nominate our colleagues.  Then all the nominations were presented to us for voting.

I remember reading the names of the nominees and the explanations given for why each deserved the award.  One nomination was for one of the outstanding female teachers.  In the description of her excellence, the nominator wrote something about how she always dressed professionally and looked nice.  That was only nomination in which someone's clothing was listed as a qualification for excellence.

I brought it up at my all-male lunch table.  I wondered aloud why her clothing was specifically mentioned, since all of us were expected to dress professionally and, as far as I could tell by looking around, we all did.

"Well, she does always look nice," one colleague said.

"True, but does that make her teaching any better or worse?" I asked.  "Would her students learn less if she wore jeans and a t-shirt every day?"

No answer.

Another teacher chimed in. "Well, Mr. So-and-so always looks particularly sharp. He's an excellent teacher." Mr So-and-so had also been nominated. His clothing was not mentioned in the nomination.

"So... Does his clothing makes him a great teacher? Why wasn't it mentioned in the nomination?"

During the 2008 presidential election season, the media gave particular attention to what Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin wore.  Numerous articles were written on the theme.  I don't remember any coverage of Obama or McCain's clothing.  I haven't seen any coverage of Obama or Romney's clothing this election season, either.

Do clothing choices impact one's efficacy as a leader?

A girl was raped.  She was wearing a low-cut top and a miniskirt when it happened.  What she was wearing that night was brought up in the trial against her rapist.

Did she "deserve" to be raped because of her revealing clothing?

Does a female's clothing make her more capable of leadership or more deserving of abuse?

It seems that women, in particular, are judged by what we wear. Certainly how we dress is a reflection of who we are or how we are.  I wear my Indian kurta tops as a tribute to my time in India.  Someone in a deep depression may not stray far from sweats when making wardrobe choices. However, my kurta or someone's sweats are only a partial reflection of our being.  I am much more complex than one or two of my outfits (or my entire wardrobe) may convey.  Those items tell bits and pieces of my story, but even if you see every piece of fabric that goes on my body, you will not know the complete tapestry that makes my life.  The strands that have woven themselves into my being are not all woven into my clothing.

My clothes cannot tell you that I have a brother and a sister, four nephews, and a niece.  They cannot tell you that I love to write.  They cannot tell you that I love cats (though you might guess that by the cat hair that clings to them).  They cannot tell you that I am a singer.  They cannot tell you that I am passionate about learning and teaching.  They cannot tell you that I am both optimist and pessimist, serious and silly, courageous and fearful.   It is the love that has woven itself into my life, the joys and pains, the hopes and aspirations that make up the fabric of my being. The fabric on my body cannot tell you the most important parts of my story. Only I can.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I am Woman

Cover me up, because God knows what might happen if you
see me
the skin of my shoulder
my wrist
my ankle

I am responsible for your actions

Don’t trust me.
I am Powerful.

avoid me  
make me Submit
and all will be fine.
You will be Strong
as God intended.

man made in God’s image
woman made from man
less divinely inspired
so I am to believe

I Know
God created me
like God created you
manifestation of Creation

why are you afraid of me?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Love and Loneliness

Love the one you're with.  This was one of my theme songs as I traveled and the song that is playing on my iPod as I begin this post.

Perhaps it is the reminder I need.  In Louisville, I am surrounded by people who love me. I know this.  I appreciate this on an intellectual level, but I don't always truly feel it.  I don't always know it in my heart the way I know other things.  I don't always take advantage of being near so many people who have been so good to me, but I am trying.   

Sometimes I am frustrated that my friends don't have time for me.  Sometimes I am frustrated that I don't make time for them.  Anticipating a refusal, I decide not to even make the invitation.  Anticipating feeling alone even when I am with people who love me, I reject invitations. This was one of my great sorrows, one that became a bad habit, for several years before I left on my travels.  I have made great strides since I left and returned to Louisville.  I am more willing both to make and accept invitations.  I don't take refusals quite so personally. I do not (usually) hide behind "work" as I did for so long before my travels.  

In Italy, I had the great fortune to meet up with some friends - former colleagues, friends, and students.  Seeing them was a highlight of my time in Italy, and even of my travels.  I distinctly remember a conversation with one of my friends.  Somehow we got on the topic of relationships, the unlikely pairing she and her husband make (a true case of "opposites attract"), my own lack of a husband or serious relationship and the loneliness that I sometimes felt.  I confessed to her that I had fought the idea of traveling on my own like I was currently doing.  In 1996-97, I spent 9 months in Guatemala.  After that, I declared that, though I loved my time in Guatemala, if I were to leave the country long-term again, I would want to do it with someone, to have someone to share the experience. Clearly, God had different ideas about this and I'm glad I trusted God's wisdom.  God placed new friends and acquaintances along my path.  I am in touch with some of them and believe that a few will remain in my life for years to come.  Even with that being the case, shared experience with people I'd known for years added to my joy when I was in Rome and Assisi.  I was definitely not lonely.   

"You can feel lonely in a marriage, too." Having never been married, this was a revelation to me.  It was also a comfort.  A reminder that loneliness has nothing to do with one's marital or relationship status.  Months ago, a friend who is one of the most outgoing people I know posted on Facebook that she was in the middle of a crowd and felt completely alone.  Loneliness is an element of the human condition.  

Recently I have made some invitations to get together with some friends.  I have received no response.  One  suffered a death in the family and is hurting pretty bad, I'm told.  It may take contacting her many times before I reach her, really reach her.  I'll keep trying.  The other, I suspect, goes through the same ebbs and flows of reaching out and being afraid to reach out that I do.  I'll keep trying with her, too.

I am in Louisville. I am fortunate to be in a place where I am nestled in a blanket of love. Last night I shared an evening of stories and laughter with friends.  Tonight I'll be with another friend, doing the same.  I miss friends from my travels.  I cherish the sporadic conversations I have with them.  

I know I am not alone, even when I don't feel the love that I clearly see around me, the love that approaches me in waves, sometimes from thousands of miles away. From the center where my own ripple begins, the center that sometimes feels like loneliness, I will reach out to others sitting (un)comfortably in theirs.  I pray that as our ripples intersect, as we allow our centers to be filled by the waves drawing near us, we will remember that we are not alone. I pray we will recognize that each of us is filled from the Source that makes ripples possible, so much so that we have the ability to flow out constantly.  Amazingly, the more we pour out, the greater our ability will become to ripple endlessly out.