AOC and Lucile—With One L

Aunt Lucille

Aunt Lucille the year before she died

My Aunt Lucille embodied the rage of women of her generation, the Greatest Generation. She wanted more. She wanted to be more. But she felt obligated to wear the straitjacket handed out to women after the War

It was an act of patriotism to don that jacket—to acknowledge the sacrifice and pain men had suffered during the Depression and then on the front lines of the war—to show one’s commitment to returning to normal.

It was a desperate attempt to invent normal—a normal that had no room for the traumatic memories of economic humiliation followed by the spiritual devastation of being in combat.

And so many women, like my Aunt Lucille, donned the straitjacket and seethed at the constraint of being a homemaker in a home that was defined by neatly folded linens in the linen closet, dinners served on time, a sparkling clean house, and well-behaved daughters.

Aunt Lucille did not wear the straitjacket well. She carried an armory of rage and resentment within it and lobbed emotional grenades when the constraint became too painful.

The one I remember the most was Thanksgiving at her house in 1960. There were eight of us. My cousin Patty (her daughter and only child) and I were gleeful because it was my brothers’ turn to do the dishes. But then my aunt sent my brothers out to play and my cousin and I into the kitchen.

The counters were stacked with gravy-smeared dinner dishes, salad plates, water and wine glasses and coffee cups, desert plates, plates for dinner rolls at each place setting, serving utensils, silverware that ranged from salad forks to butter knives to desert spoons and forks.

A roasting pan with partially gelled turkey grease along with pans that had been used to boil the potatoes, green beans, and brussel sprouts covered the stove. Beaters from the electric hand mixer, whipped potatoes stuck to them, lay in the pan that had been used to boil the potatoes.

And then there were the leftovers that covered the kitchen table that had to be transferred to storage containers, thus liberating serving dishes that would be added to the graveyard of the dinner we had just consumed.

My aunt did not have an automatic dishwasher.

Patty and I were pissed. We protested. It wasn’t fair. It was my brothers’ turn to do the dishes. “You may as well get used to this,” Aunt Lucille said. “This is what your life is going to be about,” then left to have cocktails with my parents and her husband in the living room.

Patty and I sat cross-armed at the kitchen table seething with impotent rage. Then finally got up and disappeared all remnants of the Thanksgiving dinner the eight of us had just consumed.

We were eleven. It was our rite of passage into womanhood. One in which boys and men had privilege without accountability and girls and women swallowed their rage and covered it with a commitment to duty.

That’s what happens when commitment to “normal” covers trauma and spiritual pain. For a woman to challenge that, to claim the right to her own self, was to threaten what held together the rickety foundation on which “normal” was built.

Any woman who did was a fucking bitch.

Along came Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC.

With impenetrable fierceness and articulation, AOC named the privileges men such as Rep. Ted Yoho have claimed as their birthright: misogyny, racism, protection from anything that might reveal a world that does not conform to the one that plants them without merit or accountability as its center.

She threw “fucking bitch” into the dustbin filled with tiny-hearted men where it belongs. With a flourish of his sword, Zorro left his mark of Z behind to show he had been there. With the power of her words, she left the mark of AOC on Reps. Ted Yoho and Kevin McCarthy as they sputtered and bumbled their attempts to regain control of the universe that had just been decimated.

I have struggled for years to believe and feel in my DNA what Alexandra Ocasio Cortez said with an eloquence and fierceness that parted the air in the chamber of the House and revealed the polite rudeness of the words of Reps. Ted Yoho and Kevin McCarthy. Her colleagues stepped into the parted air and cleared it forever from the toxic cloud of privilege that grants the right to demean and demonize the other.

There was neither rage nor impotence in their words.

Dreams come to me at significant times. My Aunt Lucille died in 1974 from breast cancer. About a year later she appeared to me in a dream in which she asked me to feel how cancer had eroded her pelvic bones. “Don’t let this happen to you,” she said.

The women’s movement was flourishing with rage at the time so I thought she meant don’t let men do this to you. Years later I realized she meant don’t let impotent rage do this to you.

Two days after AOC’s speech, I dreamed that I was backstage at a play. The lead was pregnant and giving birth in between acts (dreams have a logic of their own). She gave birth to a girl. She and her husband looked at me and said they would name her after me, Lucile—with one l.

Lucille is my middle name. I don’t know why my parents did that, given that my aunt didn’t include my mother’s name when naming her daughter. Perhaps it was my mother’s subservience to her dominating older sister.

I’ve always wondered about my middle name. It came from a woman who lived life so darkly. And yet it means light. Lucille means light. In the dream I thought about telling the new parents that I spelled my name with two ls, but then tried on “Lucile.”

I woke understanding that something in me had been reborn in the dream. Somehow letting go of that extra l let light through my aunt’s darkness and disappeared the straitjacket she had tried to bequeath me.

I am quite worried and scared by what is happening in my country right now. The very worst of white male privilege, power without accountability or merit, is embodied in the man in the White House. It’s clear how damaging and destructive it is.

AOC and her colleagues are our hope for leading us out of this dark wasteland. Lucile, my new voice, rises with them.

Enough!

Instagram Post 5A young activist of color in my community, when I objected to the phrase Defund the Police, explaining that it sent a fuzzy message because of the meaning of defund, said that the definition of the word didn’t matter. I told him I was a writer so I choose my words carefully . They should express what I intend to express.

Write to your own people, he replied.

By which he meant to white people.

I don’t think of white people as “my people.” I didn’t know how to explain that to him or that I didn’t think I could explain anything to white people. It actually put me off and I turned into a grumpy 70-year old woman who thought if only this youngun’ knew my story.

Then on Friday, another black man was killed by police who were called because he was sleeping in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru.

The words “enough is enough” flooded through me.

So here’s my story:

I went to San Francisco State, starting in the Fall of 1967. It was a working-class university in that it was a commuter college. The average age of students was 25, with many being young Black men who had served in Vietnam. It was well-respected academically, but you didn’t go to San Francisco State if you had ambitions for the presidency. Elites didn’t go there.

I come from a working-class background, or as I like to refer to  it, American peasants. And I do not mean that derisively.

I was the first woman on my mother’s side of the family (she hailed from Oklahoma) to go to college. My father was the seventh out of seven sons born (in 1916) into an Irish American family of 10 on a farm outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They lost the farm and moved into town when my father was about 13, where the town’s people shamed my dad and his family for my grandfather’s having lost the farm. It is likely that some very shitty men got him drunk and tricked him into signing it over to them.

These were in the NINA days—No Irish Need Apply. You know, those drunks.

I had a somewhat unique experience as a daughter of a working-class family in that we lived in Saudi Arabia from 1955 to 1960, so my world extended beyond a neighborhood. Instead of getting on a plane and coming back to the States for what Aramco referred to  “the long vacation” (three months), my parents bought passage on a Dutch freighter. We spent 75 days traveling through the Far East, stopping in ports to load and offload cargo. Places like Mumbai (then known as Bombay), where instead of hiring a car to take us through the city, my parents hired a horse-drawn carriage. We experienced the sounds, sights, and smells of a city teeming with people.

“You see those people living on the streets?” my parents said. “That could never happen in America.”

They believed that. It was certainly the mythos of the time (1958). But they were not what one would think of as elites, coming from generations of wealth. They were part of the peasant class of America that had entered the middle class.

This is a long introduction to my story. I give it to you so you understand that though I entered San Francisco State after living in a virtually all white suburban town in the Bay Area, I had absorbed by osmosis my early experience of traveling to non-European countries. I was eight then—young enough that I could see without judging.

And, yet, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience.

The Vietnam war was raging. Men of color were disproportionally sent to fight there while in America, little Black girls were killed in a church bombing, Medgar Evers had been gunned down outside his family home, riots raged in cities across the country, and the livelihoods of Blacks who attempted to register were threatened. Others were murdered. The murder of Black people went unpunished or even acknowledged by the criminal justice system.

However, when young white people were killed because they tried to register Blacks, the country started to pay attention.

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. came out against the Vietnam War, making the connection between it and the domestic terrorism of racism at home. He was vilified for it.

I signed up for a philosophy class the second semester of my freshman year (1968). The teacher was a follower of Herbert Marcuse. In March, he invited 4 members of the local Black Panther party to come speak at our class.

I remember clearly that I was wearing a floral-print dress with puffy short sleeves and orange Mary Jane shoes that perfectly matched the orange flowers in my dress. I was 18.

The Black Panther guests (two young men and two young women—likely my age) dressed in all black, loped into the classroom, and sat in the four chairs arranged for them, with the young black men sitting protectively on either side of the women. I use the word loped purposely. Loped the way an alpha wolf does—slowly, with purpose and a confidence that they were here and weren’t afraid.

The women made no eye contact with anyone in the room. They were clearly under the protection of their colleagues. I don’t remember details of the conversation other than this:

I tried to explain that I was on their side. But one of the young men claimed the room for his people. Who are your people, I asked wanting desperately to connect.

He locked eyes with me and held it while he gestured to the three other people who sat with him. “These are my people,” he asserted, making it clear that I was the other with whom he did not and would not and could not make room in his heart and soul.

He did not look away. I did. I believe I looked down. I felt foolish in my floral print dress and matching Mary Jane shoes.

I was shattered. I went back to my dorm room and wept. It wasn’t a painful experience. It wasn’t hurtful in that they intended to hurt me with an insult.

But I felt it. This is what it felt like to be the other.

And while those four members of the Black Panthers had dominion in that classroom, outside of it, they lived in a society, a culture in which they were the other, in constant danger of violence inflicted on them by the social institutions that protected me.

Protected me because I was white.

A week or so after that classroom experience, on April 4, 1968, a year to the day after Martin Luther King came out against the Vietnam War, he was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee.

Locally, on social media group pages predominantly populated by white people who think they are entitled to the land they live on, their right to have the world conform to their limited view of reality, I am a pariah. And I wonder how safe I am in a community that comprises armed people who believe in taking the law into their own hands and who claim the right to use their weapons designed for war to protect their “privilege” of being white.

I’m a mutt. Irish. English. German. And who knows what else, but likely all European. Both sides of my family have lived in this country for generations, going back to pre-Revolutionary War. I have relatives (General Sheridan) who committed atrocities against Native tribes. My great grandfather, born two years after the end of the Civil War, was named after the slave-owning vice-president of the Confederacy. He took part in the 1893 Cherokee Strip Land Run. Someone took the parcel he claimed away from him, so he became a Marshall in Lawton, Oklahoma, when Oklahoma was still a territory. And while he went after the likes of the Cole Younger gang, he also guarded Geronimo at Fort Sill.

I can’t claim pride in that background. It was filled with ignorance and supported by the manifest destiny claim that the lands on this continent were up for grabs to the invading Europeans. That the people who lived here originally were savages unworthy of God’s grace.  That those brought here in enslavement were unworthy of God’s grace in their eyes.

I don’t know how to relate to them. I don’t understand them. I can’t go back and make right the wrongs committed by my own family.

What I can do is stop saying that this country—the country that takes children from their parents, imprisons people because of the color of their skin, justifies killing people because the color of their skin makes them more threatening—isn’t the one I grew up in.

It IS the country I grew up in.

The country I grew up in needs to grow up. It needs to recognize that the history of this country didn’t start in 1492. That our country is built on a holocaust as horrific as the one that happened in WWII in Germany. That the history of African Americans didn’t start with their being imported into this country to be used as commodities for commerce.

It is a time for a reckoning. It is time to stop saying, but if only “they” didn’t loot and destroy property I might listen to their pain.

We might want to ask our indigenous citizens what it feels like to have had their culture and land looted, massacred without retribution to seize their “property.”

We might want to ask the descendants of the Tulsa Massacre what it feels like to have property destroyed, their lives taken without retribution.

I cannot change the color of my skin. But I can claim what I hear and know in my heart and soul.

I can shout Enough!

Enough with claiming America Exceptionalism.

Enough with a criminal justice system that has its roots in enslavement and cultural and ethnic genocide.

Enough with using God as an excuse to bully, harass, and kill.

Enough of safety being a privilege, rather than a right.

To the country I grew up in, I say loud and clear:

Enough is Enough.

Time to unravel the tapestry that is the history of this country so the voices of those trapped there can be heard. So we can start a new story.

A story that doesn’t put being white at the center of it.

A story that has as its moral center an acceptance of difference without turning that difference into a threatening other.

When This Is Over

UntitledThe week before we left our home in Livermore to move to the North West, a raven began hopping around in our front yard. That was seven years ago next month.

It was a sign, I thought. Raven is the wolf bird. Raven follows wolf. Wolf is my spirit animal. She really is. I even had a dog that was part wolf.

Now, ravens have taken up residence in the back part of our property here in Sequim, nesting in the majestic evergreen trees that occupy the back 40, as I like to call it.

I think they are ravens. Though they might be crows. When I Google to find out how to tell the difference, I get results like one has tail feathers that create a diamond shape. I have yet to have any stand still enough for me to discern the shape of their tail.

The main difference the results reveal is that ravens are bigger than crows. Which of course begs the question, how big is a crow?

May 9th will be the 11th anniversary of the Writing Shed. I have not been constant in writing blog posts. I go long periods without writing one, then dip into my well of words and out comes a blog post.

So why now? Why today?

I actually started this blog about a year ago to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Writingshed. It’s been hovering ever since.

When this is over, people say. But no one really knows what “this” is or when it will be over or how we will know it will be over. This pandemic, this microscopic organism that has us perplexed. You can’t reason with it. You can’t negotiate with it. It has no language, or at least not one we can speak or hear or translate.

It is just going about the business of being itself with no regard to who it is doing its business to as I wait . . .

A couple of days ago, I picked up a book I’ve had in my Writing Shed for a number of years, “The Celtic Book of Living and Dying,” and began reading, feasting on the beautiful illustrations of Celtic art, drinking in the information. The art affects me much like the art I see up here on the North Olympic Peninsula. Art that has a sense of being, rather than completion.

So, maybe that’s the answer to why today—this sense of waiting is a sense of being, not knowing, not having enough information to know, not knowing when the knowledge will come, or even knowing what I am waiting for.

When this is over . . .

Life’s journey, the book says the Celts believed, is one of moving from innocence to knowledge, from vengeance to forgiveness.

It is humbling to know the power of a microscopic organism. It certainly shakes one out of innocence. For years I wanted to reclaim the innocence I lost when I was molested by my grandfather and uncle. I longed to be the girl who climbed on her uncle’s lap thinking he asked me to do that because he loved me. This was a family who ate long, slow lunches together after church on Sunday. Who was relieved when the polio vaccine saved us from the terror they felt when Spring arrived and the images of rows and rows of children in iron lungs began appearing on television—in their living rooms.

They wanted to protect me. Perhaps they knew the virus that was a part of my family, perhaps they didn’t.

It came over me like a revelation, I don’t know when or how, that innocence is never something that can be restored. And that the opposite of innocence is not cynicsm, but rather experience. And with experience comes knowledge.

There are people in the world who just go about the business of being themselves without regard to who they are doing business with, or its effect on them. Much like a virus.

That’s good information, good knowledge, to have. It’s actually good wisdom for the heart. It helps you protect it when those around you don’t or can’t see the danger.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this today, except that I feel like we are experiencing a cultural loss of innocence. We are not the center of the universe, we are learning. We are not omnipotent. There are microrganisms, as well as other humans, out there who are just going about their business of being themselves without regard to, or concern for, their effect on others.

Up here where I live in Sequim, there is a force that has arisen—people who are sewing and sewing and sewing masks. These masks are the ultimate acknowledgement that we have an effect on each other—I wear a mask to protect you from me—as we journey through this pandemic.

I can’t sew my way out of a paper bag. I confessed that on a Facebook group, and within a day, a woman I have come to know through Facebook had delivered two homemade masks to my front door. Another wrote me to let me know she could make some for me.

As I wrote this, it swept over me like a revelation that these gracious gifts of kindness were the medicine I didn’t even know I needed.

As much work as I have done to understand, cope with, rise above that early betrayal, there still lingered in my soul a memory that seemed to say, you don’t matter.

Linda Klinefelter and Robi Andison, your offers of homemade masks made me feel like I mattered. It was the medicine my soul didn’t even know it needed. I can’t begin to tell you how much my heart has been opened up by feeling that I matter.

The simplicity of knowledge.

I’m sure there is more knowledge to be revealed as I wait through this pandemic. One never knows when something like this is over, until long past it has been over.

Because I started this with ravens, I read about their role in lore across cultures. One of their roles is to dive into the darkness to find light and bring it out.

I think many of us are feeling a bit lost and wandering (and wondering) in the darkness that comes with this waiting without knowing what we are waiting for.

I don’t think being compelled to use this time to learn a new language, clean out that garage, learn a new skill or whatever is called for.

Instead I think we can be the raven willing to dive into the darkness to find the light. We will need this on the other side of this bout with a microscopic organism when we need to rebuild a society that has become sick with greed —that considers empathy a weakness.

Shakespeare allegedly wrote King Lear during his time of quarantine during the plague. He could not have done that if he hadn’t been willing to dive into the darkness of the story. The light is revealed in the final verse:

The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we that are young. Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

One Puny Voice

writing by hand

Ed Brush’s fountain pen

Ed Brush was my high school sophomore English teacher.

Mr. Shakespeare we called him because he made Shakespeare relevant to our hormone-confused lives. Heroes had fatal flaws that brought them down. Villains were blinded by hatred, revenge, rage. We could identify with both hero and villain.

He taught us all equally. That is, from jocks to those college-bound to those determined to flunk out, he assumed Shakespeare’s words would awaken something in us. And he succeeded.

“William Shakespeare told human beings why we are the way we are emotionally and spiritually,” Ed would later write.

Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was isolated to avoid getting the plague. Or so goes the story currently being spun. I don’t know and don’t care if it is biographically true, for its emotional truth stirred me in light of our current reality.

And emotional truth is what Shakespeare revealed.

How, I ask myself, would Shakespeare write of a character such as Donald Trump, who, like the monarchs of his time (Trump has even begun referring to himself with the royal plural) had the power of death over life.

But I come up short.

For he is his taking every crisis as an opportunity to inflict or threaten to inflict cruelty and suffering on others. It is in that that he sees his power. And he relishes in that power.

How does a human become that? And how did that become our national character?

When a blind Gloucester finds Lear, his King, raging and manic on the stormy heath, he asks to kiss his hand. Lear replies,

“Let me wipe it first. It smells of mortality.”

Would that Trump could have that stormy-heath moment. It is hard to imagine. And so it is hard to form a story around him—how the humanity in him can be revealed.

So I go back to how does a human become that and how did his story become our national story?

Everything Midas touches turns to gold goes the myth. But what is often left out of the myth is how it ends. As his daughter rushes towards him he cries out to her to stop. But her love for him prevails and so she embraces him and his touch turns her into a gold statue. She dies.

That is what happens when we think gold gives us power. That gold is the power—that it makes us immune from mortality. We kill love.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this but I woke this morning with fear permeating my workshop. What if, I wondered, there is no one left to hear our stories? Should I still tell the stories I see, hear, feel?

Then I remembered Faulkner’s  words. Bert Fraser, my high school freshman English teacher, and later my Senior English Honors teacher, introduced me to his Nobel Prize speech. The year was 1967, seventeen years after they were delivered, when fear of nuclear annihilation hung heavy in the air.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

I don’t know that I believe or need to believe that mankind will prevail. When we cry “Save the earth,” we really mean save mankind. But the earth will survive regardless of what happens to us.

Yet I still feel the need to save humanity, or at least my own, from cynicism. It is our mortality, ourselves that exist within a parenthesis of a much longer story, that will save us from our cynicism. For it is our mortality that connects us to the living world. And what we do can make a difference one way or the other even if it is only in the expanse of our own puny lifetimes.

How do we rid ourselves of this self-installed King? This Midas who would even turn his daughter into a statue of gold to shield him from his mortality?

I don’t know.

Stories venerating wealth and power have brought us to this moment. In the background stories of courage, compassion, and sacrifice seem to be surfacing as we wait for an outcome. One hopes that it is those stories that will prevail.

So I feel compelled to be to be one puny voice still talking, banish fear from my workshop, and carry on.


Note: Faulkner is sometimes referred to as the American Shakespeare.

What’s the Use?

words of wisdomI chastise myself for not writing. I hear the clock ticking, or rather the calendar. Ever more so since I turned 70 in October. Not because I feel old. It’s just that 70 makes it real. This is not a dress rehearsal.

I have the novel in short stories to finish (Because I Could Not Stop). And then there’s the Beans-and-Meatballs-and-the-Pink-Stuff memoir. Half way through one. Three chapters into the other.

I haven’t written a blog post since last July. Started one. Called it “How Big is a Crow?”. Stopped four paragraphs into it.

I think about it. Writing. Finishing. Continuing.

But what’s the use? I conclude.

The what’s-the-use demon has been strong in me for the past months. I can write my way through despair. But that demon overrides all that is holy and sacred in me.

And so I have been wandering in the Waste Land.

I think it started last July when the town I now live in, Sequim, Washington, became a microcosm of what’s happening in the country. Othering has run rampant.

“Time for cowboys and Indians,” reads a post on the Facebook group page of Save Our Sequim—a group that demonizes the local tribe, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe—the descendants of those who lived here for centuries before having their traditions, their ability to feed themselves, their economy, their rich spiritual life stripped from them. For less than pennies on the dollar, land was taken from the Tribe.

“Indian Land for Sale” read the advertisements meant to attract white settlers to the area.

Slowly, over time, the Tribe bought their land back. They became very successful through their businesses, including a casino, sharing their success with the community of Sequim. When Virginia Mason withdrew its support from the local clinic, the Tribe took it over, running it at a loss at first. It now serves 17,000 people in the area, about 16,000 of whom are not members of the Tribe.

In response to the opioid epidemic, which hit the North Olympic Peninsula particularly hard, it made plans to open a regional clinic for treating opioid addiction—a facility that will bring a John Hopkins’ level of health care to this rural location.

Rural locations are notoriously underserved when it comes to health care.

A local politician, one who creates wedge issues for their political agenda, seized on the Tribe’s plans as an opportunity to stoke fear and hatred in the predominantly white retired demographic that lives in the greater Sequim area.

Sequim is Mayberry they claimed. Idyllic—a gated community where nice people live. Nice people. You know not those others. The ones who are poor, addicted to drugs, are homeless.

Or aren’t white.

The “nice” people moved here to escape the urban landscape of the “other” for the idyllic landscape of rural.

But rural has never been idyllic. Drug addiction, homelessness, and poverty have long been here in Sequim. Rural communities have been at the mercy of the natural world, not the idyllic. Nature exists for its own purpose—to perpetuate life. It does not recognize privilege as a get-out-of-life-free card.

As I watched the country descend into the tar pit of fear and hatred, led by a sociopath who brags about assaulting women and teenage girls, normalizes racism, and robs the national treasury to enrich his own coffers, I have said that this is not the country I grew up in.

What I have learned is that this is the country I grew up in. As late as the 1970s, Native American women of child-bearing age were sterilized without their consent. Native children were taken from their families, abused emotionally, sexually, and physically. “Kill the Indian in the child” was the war cry of white culture.

The Civil Rights Movement exposed the landscape of fear and hatred—and I believed that that meant we had created a new one.

But, it’s never that simple. Trauma is passed down through generations. And until we as a nation face the gap between our ideal that all men are created equal, and the trauma inflicted by the centuries of otherizing those who were not considered the men referred to in that document, we are a culture, a society wandering in the Waste Land.

“The Waste Land, let us say then, is any world in which (to state the problem pedagogically) force and not love, indoctrination, not education, authority, not experience, prevail in the ordering of lives, and where the myths and rites enforced and received are consequently unrelated to the actual inward realizations, needs, and potentialities of those upon whom they are impressed.”

Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology (Vol. IV of The Masks of God), p.388

There are no saints. Just human beings. We have the capacity for grace, as well as the capacity for vengeance.

I recognize grace when I see it, when I feel it. I believe in its power. I believe it is amazing. But it’s a rocky road for me. The road to grace. I have to find my way around the boulders and twists and turns of desire for vengeance and claim to victimhood first.

What I see, what I feel from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is their grace. They did not have to serve non-Tribal people in their clinic, but they do. Their planned opioid treatment clinic is not restricted to Tribal members. It will be available to all residents of the North Olympic Peninsula—residents of Jefferson and Clallam Counties.

Grace. The unearned gift. We need to extend it—to others and to ourselves for life is not for the faint of heart.

The present, I once read, is where the past flows into the future. I think I understand that finally—that what we do today, in the present, can shape the future, regardless of what the past might have been.

I think I found my way out of my Waste Land by writing this post, rambling as it is. Instead of hearing what’s the use as discouraging words or a demon, I heard them as a question from an inner mentor. What is the use of writing?

“ . . . (humans have) a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.” William Faulkner

I will do my part to craft our future with grace as my guide and words the tools of my craft.


Note: I wrote about the S’Klallam Tribe’s influence on me in 2015.