Falling Into Grace

IMG_1045 (1)Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a day in which the very ordinary—a meal, can be turned into the extraordinary—a meal. It is a time to transform surviving into thriving. A time for gratitude.

But, today is much like a Thanksgiving more than a decade ago when I could not see my way clear to feel that. I could not muster up gratitude no matter how hard I tried.

So, I did a meditation where I invited gratitude in. She took me through a dark tunnel that formed after the lava from a volcanic eruption hardened into black rock. It was not comfortable making my way through through the tunnel. It was the blackest darkness I had ever experienced. But there was an end to it. It led me into a cave covered in paintings that told the stories of those who had lived eons earlier.

I placed my hand on a painting of a horse and heard a chorus of voices say, “This is what it means to be human.”

That’s how I found gratitude that year.

All over Facebook I see messages that encourage us to be thankful, assure us, or maybe demand from us, that there is always something to be thankful for. I’m not big on that. Sometimes, there is just too much in the way. And I think we have a right to feel the grief we feel and the despair that accompanies it. It is the black-dark tunnel we must walk through to find our connection to being human again.

This past year has been one of grief and despair. Some of it from an accumulation of losses that fell one after the other over two decades with no time in between to give grief its due. And then there was the election and the pall of meanness and cynicism that has descended on our country.

More than once, I had to pull myself out of my own La Brea tar pit.

So this Thanksgiving is a subdued one for me. Tom and I used to host dinners for as many as 12 people. I miss that. But, Tom and I have found a way to honor the holiday with just the 2 of us. We are grateful for each other.

I think the most difficult thing about grief is it feels like we have fallen out of grace. I don’t think we actually do, but it is certainly a loneliness of the soul that is part of being human. It’s what makes us unique and connects us to eons of being human.

I like this definition of grace: the unearned gift. It is the life spirit that allows us to thrive regardless of our surroundings.

I think my time for grieving is drawing to a close. It’s time for me to venture out into the world where grief becomes a distant memory rather than a constant companion. What I learned from my journey through this latest tunnel is my own tenderness. My natural inclination has been to be a warrior—to fight for the higher purpose. So I’m not sure what it means for me to be tender, disarmed and without armor.

But, I’m certain that the tenderness of being a warrior is as powerful as the warrior wading into battle. Both require banishing fear from my workshop.

Maybe the only thing in the way of grace is fear.

Joy and sorrow are flip sides of the same coin. We really can’t have one without the other. That’s what it means to be human. Why we must treat each other with kindness. Banish fear of each other so we can let grace through.

Make a Little Trouble Out There

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”

Nora Ephron

To the 1996 Wellesley graduating class

There are certain famous people who, when they die, I feel the loss personally, though I never had a personal relationship with them.

Nora Ephron is one of those people. I loved reading everything she wrote, loved seeing every movie she wrote and/or directed. Loved Love, Loss, What I Wore, the play she and her sister Delia co-authored (based on a book by Ilene Beckerman).

She made feminism fun, someone wrote. She did, because her form of feminism included romantic comedies, and saw the value of a good marriage.

Take a leap with me now, if you will.

We just came through an election (in case you didn’t notice). The choice was clear to me: the old paradigm (Traditional) versus the new paradigm (Traditional Shmraditional: Let’s Get Real About Reality).

Single women voted overwhelmingly for Obama, because, the ladies of Fox News proclaimed, they were selfish. They thought only of themselves and their birth control pills. In their worldview, married women voted for Romney because they had children and so were concerned about the future—the future of their children.

Their children, I would point out. Not children. Their children.

This of course assumes that none of those single women who voted for Obama had children.

Traditional shmraditional: Let’s Get Real about Reality.

I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving at a retreat. Many of the participants were gay men who were in their early to mid thirties. They were born, I realized, about the time (late 1980) I began volunteering with the Hospice program at San Francisco General Hospital. Earlier that year, a small article, published deep in the first section of the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that a number of gay men had been diagnosed with a type of cancer that had previously been seen primarily in elderly Italian and Jewish men. It was Karposi’s sarcoma.

Soon after that came the articles about a mysterious gay cancer, then gay-related immune deficiency syndrome (GRID), and speculation about reasons for this phenomenon. Poppers? Drugs?

Soon after that, San Francisco General Hospital was inundated with what became the AIDS epidemic, and young gay men began showing up as hospice patients. In 1983, an AIDS ward was established at SFGH, not to isolate AIDS patients, but rather to ensure that the emotional as well as physical needs of patients were met.

It broke the model of hospital wards: the rooms that were normally reserved for staff (one for nurses, the other for physicians) became a community room where patients and staff socialized. Staff was encouraged to engage with patients, to not distance themselves, to shed tears with them, hold them when they cried, laugh with them when it was time to laugh. Staff supported each other. They were encouraged to take care of themselves, to acknowledge the toll it took on them, and take a break when needed.

This was at a time when terminally ill patients, regardless of the illness, tended to be isolated—treated as failures by the medical model that put physicians at the top of the delivery system.

I wrote an article for the hospice newsletter about the ward. Over a three-hour period I sat in the community room, listening to patients talk about their experience on the ward—friends decorated their rooms, patients became active in their care.

The AIDS epidemic raised bigger health issues, the clinical coordinator who developed the ward believed. He believed that the AIDS ward could serve as a model for how health care can be delivered.

It’s funny how memory works. I had forgotten about my visit to the AIDS ward until the retreat. The experience of this generation of gay men was far different from what was happening to their age group thirty years ago.

I was single during that time. I had no children. I don’t know whether not having children freed me to get as involved as I did with hospice. I also worked with the Gray Panthers, advocating for nursing home reform, advocating for changing the way the medical community delivered geriatric health care, standing up against age discrimination. I also worked at a center for independence of the disabled, where I became involved in advocating for removing impediments that banished people with disabilities to the backrooms of our society.

I did all of this because I was concerned about the future—mine and those who came after me.

I have stepchildren now. Our Thanksgiving was one of the smallest it has been in a number of years. Two of my stepdaughters were there, my step grandsons, my husband, and the son of a friend who now lives in Texas. Normally, I relish a large crowd, but this year, the intimacy of it comforted me. The people seated at the table loved and cared about each other. They wanted to be there.

I care about their future. Their future includes good health care, security in age, a world in which women have control over their reproductive health.

Being concerned about one’s children is natural. But to think that all one has to be concerned about is one’s own children is to doom oneself to a La Brea tar pit.

Women, real women, care about the world, as well as their families. They know that they are interdependent.

The ladies of Fox News don’t understand that. They chose to be a lady, to accept the status quo, to possess love of family, and definition of family, as a value that they and they alone possess.

Gay marriage was barely a dream thirty years ago. Gay adoption hardly on the horizon.

With this election, I think we chose shmradition over tradition. A black family lives in the White House. Gay marriage will soon, I think, be a nonissue. There will just be marriage—a commitment between two people who love and are committed to each other. Some married couples will want to raise a family, others will choose to remain childless.

The people who have taught me the most over my life are the ones who made a little trouble out there—the ones who threw tradition aside, who risked disapproval so that the human heart could experience the breadth of humans being human.

Put on your hats and gloves, straighten the seam in your hose, and go make a little trouble out there. The world is ready for the heart of a woman to forge her path in life.

A Cornucopia of Enoughs

Enough:  adequate for want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire

~Webster

In addition to this being NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it’s been a month when people post a daily comment on Facebook what they are thankful for.

I have participated in neither. Not because I wasn’t thankful, or because I don’t have a novel to write. I was simply distracted. I forgot to notice when the calendar turned from October 31st to November 1st.

Fortunately for my guests, I have had enough undistracted brain cells that I recognized in enough time that Thanksgiving dinner is today.

Enough.

I was raised to believe that there wasn’t enough to go around. Not enough love. Not enough talent. Not enough opportunity. Not enough enough.

And yet, there it was in the dictionary. “Enough.” Gazillions of copies sold with enough in it. A word so old that it’s spelled weird.

I don’t think I am alone in being raised with this misunderstanding—that there was not enough enough. Actually, I know I am not alone. The last election was a lot about that. A deep fear among those who have more than enough, that someone else having enough would take away from their enough. And then they would not have enough.

Not to mention fear that there aren’t enough experiences of God to go around.

For me, the best thing about this last election is that enough diversity trumped more than enough money. The outcome asserted that there is enough room at the American table for both June Cleaver and Roseanne Conner. Adam and Steve and Steve and Janet. Jesus and Buddha. Spanish and English. All other languages and English. Atheists and polytheists. Chris Christie and Barack Obama. And so on.

So, today, to show my gratitude, I’m going to celebrate that there is enough enough to go around.

Enough love.

Enough food.

Enough God.

Enough talent.

Enough words.

Enough enough.

’Nuff said.

The kitchen is calling.