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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

40

Lately a scene from "When Harry Met Sally..." has been playing in my head over and over.  Sally has just found out her ex is getting married.  She calls Harry, who comes over to console her.  Sally, through her tears, wonders when she'll meet someone who will love her for who she is, noting all of her self-perceived flaws that would deter someone from loving her. 

She feels the clock ticking: "And I'm gonna be 40."

"When?"

"Someday."

"In eight years."

For me, the big 4 0 happens this Saturday.  I feel it looming large. 

I've thought a lot about the day itself, but haven't found a satisfactory answer to the question: How will I celebrate 40?

Friday I am going out with my parents.  We're attending the ballet, a treat I haven't enjoyed in years.  I am looking forward to the time with them and the pleasure of the ballet. 

But then there's a whole Saturday of birthday.  It's when I think about that that I start to feel dread.  Most people would be excited about a Saturday birthday.  I am not. I'd rather have a birthday on a day I know I'll be around people for a good chunk of the day.  Saturdays offer no such guarantee. 

I've made plans to see a play in the evening.  It's the rest of the day I'm not sure about yet.

I won't wake up to a well-wishing husband or children, as many women my age would.  I'll wake up in my house alone... OK, my cats may be snuggled up next to me and they may meow when I try to move them or purr if I pet them, but, though I love them, they're not quite the same as people. 

Perhaps I am being overly dramatic.  I know it's a tendency of mine.  And I know, I really do know, that even though I live in my house alone, I am not alone in life. 

I have an incredible family that loves me.  I have wonderful friends who love me.  I have a network of support beyond what I could have ever hoped for.  I know that there are lots of people who are glad that I am alive and whose friendship, love, and care I value more than I am able to express. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are among those people.  Thank you for taking the time to be here with me.  Please know that my grief is in no way reflective of the abundance of joy, grace, and love you have showered on me. And still...

My heart feels the ache of loneliness, even in the midst of great blessings. Admitting it here, fighting a sting in my eyes, makes me feel ungrateful. How could I possibly feel lonely when I have so much love in my life?

I suppose my hope in admitting all this, in putting my raw self before you today, is that I'll let these feelings go before Saturday.  Self-pity is no way to ring in a new decade of life, particularly when there's no good reason for it. 

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who is in the midst of student-teaching.  As she talked about her challenges and her failures in the classroom, I reminded her that all of what she is going through is normal and that it's OK to make mistakes.  I suggested that she be gentler with herself and try to let go of the burdens of imperfection that she is carrying.

Once I lamented to a married friend that being single sometimes feels pretty lonely. She replied, "You can be lonely in a marriage, too." Oh.  Maybe what I'm feeling as 40 approaches is normal.  Maybe I need to be gentler with myself, allow myself to feel what I feel and then let those feelings go. To be honest, writing this is helping me to do so.

Maybe turning 40 will not be such a traumatic event after all.  I have ideas about things I'd like to do and people I'd like to see so that I don't spend the day alone.  Perhaps I simply need to make some invitations. And maybe then, if I allow the day to unfold as it wishes, Saturday will offer just the right way of beginning a new decade.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Struggles in Loving

It's one of those days, maybe it's been one of those months, that a lot is going through my mind ... Putting it all in written form, or at least written form for public consumption, does not seem so easy.  Today I'll try to get a few thoughts down.

I came back from CPT training more committed to peace-making than I was before I left.  Shortly after I came home, I received a message on my Facebook wall that essentially implied that I had deserved for my house to be burglarized (an event that occurred while I was away).

In the spirit of loving my neighbor, or more specifically, a couple of family members, I mustered up what I could from the sessions on nonviolent communication as I replied.  A number of my friends later commented on the inappropriateness of the original post.  Somewhere in the comments that followed, my family members declared that they loved me and were glad I was safe.  When a friend suggested that they apologize for their post, their response was "For what, I didn't rob her." If this had been a private conversation, I wouldn't write about it here, but since the whole conversation was public, I don't feel I'm violating anyone's privacy by blogging about it.  

I have thought a lot about the conversation and, in particular, about the declaration of love after the mean-spiritedness.  My interpretation of the attitude of the family members is "I can insult you as long as I tell you I love you later on. That makes the insults OK."  

It doesn't. 

Honestly, it brings to mind an abusive husband who assaults his wife verbally, physically, and/or sexually, then blames it on her and/or tells her he's doing it because he loves her.  No, sir.  Violence, whether verbal or physical, is not acceptable; it is not the fault of the recipient; it is not a sign of love.  There is a difference between saying something that hurts and being hurtful.

There is a difference between disagreeing with and insulting someone.  I do not have to hold the same beliefs as my friends, family, students, colleagues, or other acquaintances.  But I do expect to be treated with dignity and respect.  I do expect to be acknowledged as a person, as an image of God who created me, as more than the one or multiple beliefs about which we disagree.  I do my best to offer the same.  I don't always succeed, but I try.

Thankfully, I have many friends and family members with whom I can talk about all sorts of issues while maintaining the common assumption of each other's goodness and good intentions.  We listen to each other with open minds and hearts.  I am so grateful for those people.  I am dismayed that this is not the case with everyone I know.

I am dismayed that so much public discourse is made up of shouting matches, blame-throwing, and name-calling. This kind of "conversation" happens across all lines of politics, religion, and other belief systems. It is not productive.  It is destructive.  It harms relationships; it decreases the possibility of true understanding and compromise; it impedes progress.

A few days ago as I was listening to NPR, I heard an interview of a legislator (I tried to find his name and/or the interview but can't) who was in Congress several decades ago, then left, and is now back again.  When asked about the differences between Congress his first time around and now, he commented that now members of Congress spend less time in Washington and less time in session than during his previous term; they have fewer opportunities to socialize together.  As a result of both factors, they spend less time building relationships with each other, the kind of relationships that make working together and, ultimately, compromise, more likely and easier to accomplish.

As I write this, prepared to judge others, I am humbled to recognize that it is not just "they," but I who need to work on relationship-building (something I did not have in mind when I started writing today).  I need to step up.  I need to love better. My judgement of "them" will do no good, if I am not willing to carefully self-examine and change myself, the only person I actually can change.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” 

― Thomas Merton




Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Conversion

These last few days have reminded me how far I still have to travel along my path of conversion.  Several conversations have frustrated me, troubled me, humbled me.  As I seek to convert others, change others, show others the errors of their ways, I am humbly reminded that the only person I can and need to convert, change, reveal errors to is me.

At the same time, my teacher nature and my current good-with-who-I-am state of being make me want to help others feel the same contentment I feel.  I want others to recognize the goodness in themselves and in the world.  I want others to feel joy and peace.  So, in my flawed ways, I try to reach out.

I tried to reach out to someone who seems to be full of hatred and bitterness by wishing him peace.  A conversation followed in which it became clear that he didn't seem too interested in cultivating the peace I wished for him.  And so I struggle to let go, to work on my own conversion and not try to force someone else's.

As this Lenten season begins, I'm thinking about transformation. I've considered the practices I'd like to work on in the upcoming days that might push me a little farther on my road of conversion. I've decided on two practices.

The first is to be more faithful to my writing.  By that I mean, during Lent (and hopefully after!) I will write daily.  I am not limiting myself to how or where I'll write.  Perhaps in my journal, perhaps here on my blog, perhaps in a letter to a friend.  I know that when I write, my body feels calmer, my spirit feels lighter, and my world makes more sense.  I wonder: Why haven't I been writing daily all along?  I don't have to wonder too long to know the answer: lack of discipline.  And so I commit myself to my practice of writing, with the hope that making this commitment will lead me to other committed practices.

The second is a practice I read about: Forgiveness Friday.

We had a family practice of weekly prayer during Lent that we called Friday Forgiveness. After the evening meal, my husband would read a story of forgiveness from the Bible. I would offer a brief reflection and then we would engage in Friday Forgiveness. Each person would ask every family member for their forgiveness, and the other person would respond by forgiving them. Each person forgave and asked for forgiveness. No particular faults were mentioned, only a general petition for forgiveness. The experience was never routine. It was a time to experience healing and peace returning to our home.

I realize, in light of the last few days, that I need to practice forgiveness and doing so weekly seems like a good start.  I need to forgive myself, a task that is not easy for a perfectionist.  I need to forgive others for their imperfections, sometimes as challenging as self-forgivenes.  And I need to ask God and everyone else to forgive me for all those times I have  created discord instead of harmony.  I haven't decided what this practice will look like.  No doubt it will be different from the family's practice described above.  But I imagine and hope that I will experience a similar sense of healing and peace.

And so I enter into this Lenten season with the hope that God's grace will help me along my path of conversion.  Have you made any commitments to conversion this Lenten season? 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Courage, Migrant Brothers

This morning I had the great privilege to stand in vigil and then pray together with men whom my country is deporting.

Every Friday for about 5 years, a dedicated group of peacemakers, has gathered at 7:15 AM in front of Broadview Detention Center near Chicago. Broadview is a detention center run by the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It holds detainees from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kentucky.  At any given time, about 1,000 people are there whom ICE processes after a raid or individual pick-up. ICE then deports many of those people.

I could use this post to talk about how our country desperately needs immigration reform.  Thankfully, that topic is back in the political agenda.  While I fervently believe that comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue, I want to focus instead on the experience of the morning.

Our CPT trainee group and trainers arrived at Broadview a few minutes before 7:00.  Since the temperature was below zero, we stayed in the car until the vigil was about to start.  When we did get out of the car, hand warmers stuffed in gloves, hats, hoods, and scarves layered on for warmth, we huddled with about 40 others in front of the center.

Drawing from both Jewish and Christian traditions, we prayed for our migrant brothers and sisters and read the names of those we knew; we prayed for their families; we prayed for more just immigration laws.  Finally we celebrated small successes - the release on one man slated for deportation (he was present), a law that's just been passed in Illinois allowing undocumented migrants to get a driver's license, the (re)introduction of comprehensive immigration reform.  We ended the vigil singing "We Shall Overcome."

When we finished, some of us went to a diner for a hearty breakfast.  We had not finished our work at Broadview.  The Friday vigil includes getting on buses with deportees and praying with them.  Today it was scheduled to happen around 9:00.

Broadview allows three people to go on the buses.  A few days ago, our trainee group discussed the action and I was one of the three fortunate people who'd go on the buses. The three of us made a plan for speaking: an introduction, an invitation to name people to hold in prayer, the Lord's prayer together, and a final blessing.  Two of us spoke Spanish, the third did not.  We weren't sure if there would be anyone needing us to speak in English, but wanted each of us to have a chance to speak, and planned accordingly.  We tried to prepare ourselves for any scenario, including the possibility of angry deportees.  Our trainers had also warned us that the bus would be dark, the deportees would be shackled, and that we'd have to speak loudly through a small hole in the plexiglass/metal grate panel that would separate us from the deportees and prevent us from seeing most of them.

As it turned out, the bus had broken down, so instead we prayed standing at the door of vans, 5 total.  They held men from Mexico (3 vans), Honduras (1 van), Guatemala and El Salvador (1 van).  We were close to them.  We saw the faces at least of the men near us and when there wasn't a separation grate between the front and back of the van, we saw all their faces. We could have touched those near the door. When I looked at their faces, they were familiar.  They were the faces I saw when I lived in Guatemala and traveled in Central America.  They were the faces of so many friends.  They were the face of my brother-in-law.

When we first entered the building where we'd pray, "our" guard (who directed us where and when to go) walked us through the garage where the vans would park, up a ramp, and into a small kitchen to wait for the other guards to herd the men into the vans.  From the kitchen, we heard the men pass us going down the ramp, the sound of metal clanking as they shuffled their shackled ankles towards the van. I regretted eating a large breakfast, as my stomach threw it around each time we waited in the kitchen and a new group went by.

When our guard ushered us from the kitchen  to approach the first van, another guard urged us to be fast, so we modified our pre-arranged plan.  Only the two of us who speak Spanish addressed the men.  We introduced our third accompanier, but he did not speak. The other Spanish-speaker introduced who we were and why we were there: to pray with them before they set off on their journey.  I then invited them to name anyone, maybe themselves, maybe friends or family, who needed our prayers.  The responses we'd received were nothing but generous, welcoming, and thankful.  The men told us their names and also offered up their wives, children, mothers, some in the U.S., some in their home countries, and other detainees to pray for.  One man told us we needed to change the broken immigration system.  We assured him we were both praying and working for it.  Then together in Spanish, we prayed the Our Father.  As I made the sign of the cross before praying, I saw that shackles prevented the men from doing the same.  We offered a final blessing, the van doors closed, and back to the kitchen we went.

Walking away from the vans, my eyes stung as they held back tears.  My throat tightened. My heart ached and still aches imagining the journey each man has already been through and the one he has ahead of him.  From the kitchen, we heard the garage door open.  We heard the rest of our trainee/trainer group outside, singing, "Courage, migrant brother,/ you do not walk alone/ we will walk with you/ and sing your spirits home." They sang continuously until all vans were outside.  They had translated the words, so they could sing in Spanish.  We joined them after the fifth van left the building.  When we exited, all the vans were stopped in the street.  Our group sang together until the vans finally drove off and out of sight, on their way to O'Hare.

De-briefing the vigil and prayers afterwards, someone recalled a memory of being in jail and how seeing non-uniformed, non-weaponed people had made such an impact, was such a welcome and comforting sight.  The same person noted that the faces of the men in the van registered the same kind of relief and gratitude.

"It makes a difference.  Praying with them is not a small thing. It is a big thing."

It is a big thing for me, too.  It was a gift, a privilege, an honor to speak and pray with the men - Henry, Alfonso, Jose, and so many more - even briefly.  May God keep them safe.  May God bless their families.  May God open our hearts to all people, regardless of their origin.