Lost at the maul

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I’ll date myself with this reference, but remember that time you couldn’t find your car in the mall parking lot a few days before Christmas? Yes, kids, there was a time in a suburb far, far away where humans drove to a large shopping complex to purchase things. Anyway, you older species know the feeling I’m talking about – wandering around helplessly certain that your car is in the next row. Only it’s not.

It’s maddening and frustrating and can even make you feel a bit panicky. You just want to find your damn car and go home. Well, that’s how I’ve felt since early Monday morning when I learned of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I want to stop rambling around lost.

My dear wife and I turned on the Today show at 7 AM as we most often do on weekdays to see the ominous crawl on the screen – BREAKING NEWS. That term has become so overused – especially in the age of Trump where almost every cockamamie tweet is considered BREAKING NEWS. But this BREAKING NEWS was so big that they had to give it a name like a movie title – DEADLY LAS VEGAS SHOOTING – and a dramatic background score – as if the horrific news of someone mowing down innocent folks with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons at an outdoor concert would not get our attention.

Today show

Matt and Savannah had their game faces on – it was all grim news with no amusing repartee with Al about the weather or Hoda with a feel-good story. This was grisly – the largest modern-day mass shooting in the United States – surpassing last year’s largest modern-day mass shooting in the United States in Orlando.

I watched the first twenty minutes or so of the broadcast and then looked at my phone to check Facebook and Twitter. Before the sun had come up on the dead in Las Vegas, people were already posting rants about stricter gun laws. People always post those types of things after a mass shooting but Monday’s posts seemed different to me – they were angrier and many contained the phrase – “save your thoughts and prayers.” And this was all before I had even brushed my teeth.

Throughout the day I continued to see this sentiment expressed on social media – bag your thoughts and prayers and work for stricter gun control laws. The wrath felt personal to me because I felt like that’s all I had to offer – my own thoughts and prayers – which I pretty much kept to myself all day.

Midmorning, my church sent out an email letting members know that the sanctuary would be open all day if we needed a place to sit and pray and that there would be a Liturgy for the Violence in Las Vegas offered later in the evening. It comforted me to know that there was a place to go to mourn communally. I strongly felt the need to be with others – to be with the living – but then I kept seeing the barrage of posts on social media decrying over and over that “prayer doesn’t change things.”

It made me sad, and honestly, a little mad.

Well, no, prayer can’t change 59 dead and almost 500 wounded. Prayer isn’t a do-over – or a naïve pass on the horrors of this world. Prayer alone doesn’t have the power to change things. God knows, if it did, we’d need a lot more churches. I only know that prayer changes me. For starters – it makes me shut the fuck up – which is no small thing. It makes me be quiet and consider the absurd possibility that I might not know everything. Prayer makes me be still and listen – to myself and the world around me. Sometimes prayer makes me feel better – other times it leaves me empty and confused. I just know that it rarely leaves me unexamined.

I get it – this backlash against the rote sentiments of “thoughts and prayers” – especially when they are offered by the same elected officials who bank roll their campaigns with blood money from the NRA. But for me, there has to be a place for prayers in all of this babel. What is the alternative? The purgatory of never finding my car?

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Photo credit: Jayme Lemons

My friend Kevin is an Episcopal priest and I found a lot of comfort in his Facebook post on Monday. I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing it – I’ll ask for forgiveness if he does.

The moment we decry prayers and remembrances for the dead because those acts won’t change things is the moment the dead, wounded, and their families and friends stop being people and become political objects. Can we at least wait until tomorrow before we strip them of their humanity? Besides, sometimes, mourning and praying have to change us before we are ready to change the world.

Amen, Kevin. Amen.

I’ll no doubt soon return to ranting on Facebook – I find it to be therapeutic – like a cyber wailing wall. And I’ll work on changing the world, too, but today I’m tired and weary and feeling a little hopeless. And I think it’s okay to stay there for a bit.

I also think poetry can be a form of prayer and I often turn to it when I am grieving. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets and I ran across the poem below that says just about everything I wish I could say in a prayer. I offer it to you simply as nothing more than a map.

Lead

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

 

loon

 

 

 

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Shit just got real

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Maybe there’s a God above

But all I’ve learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who out drew ya

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

~ Lyrics from Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen died yesterday and this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year continues.

Funny. I thought losing my job would be the worst thing that happened this year.

Not even close. Losing my country is a hell of lot worse.

I thought Wednesday morning would be my low point but just like all those worthless tracking polls, I seriously miscalculated. Yesterday was worse. Reality is setting in. President-elect Trump.

I have tried to avoid all television (thank you Baby Jesus for Netflix) – even MSNBC, that bastion of liberal news. Nope. I can’t even take Rachel Maddow. It’s too much like looking in the mirror – I can see the pain on her face. I know I should avoid social media, too, but it is comforting to mourn with others. I know there has been a lot of hate chatter on Facebook but I weeded my FB garden of most of that so my feed is mostly filled with folks who feel an awful lot like me these days. In other words, awful.

Get over it. Move on. I hear you but I’m not there yet. Not even close. This wasn’t like my favorite team losing the big game or not getting the house I put an offer on. This was a rejection of almost everything I’ve spent most of my adult life working for – equality – for women, the LGBT community, people living with HIV/AIDS, people with disabilities – you get it, people.

Yesterday there were several disturbing stories circulating on mainstream and social media about post-election bullying and intimidation that seemed to be empowered by Trump’s election. Students in a middle school in Detroit chanted “Build the wall” to Latino students who were seen crying. Some of these incidents cut close to home. In Durham, a wall was spray painted “Black Lives Don’t Matter and Neither Does Your Votes.” The Ku Klux Kan announced a Trump victory parade in Pelham, near the Virginia border. And very near my home in Winston-Salem, a lesbian couple with children came home to find a sign on their door that said, “Lesbian Bitches You Are Sick Get Out Of Our Neighborhood – Trump Train.”

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A sign of the times.

So this wasn’t from some “libtard” website – this really happened to people I really know.

And just an hour ago my sister told me that one of her oldest friends, a woman who grew up right next door to us in our little hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia, was riding her bike this morning on a path in Boston when a man wearing a Make America Great Sign and holding a bullhorn pulled right in front of her and screamed in the bullhorn: Have you read Hillary’s emails? She almost fell off her bike. This happened today in Boston. Boston! Not Podunk, USA.

So forgive me if I’m not ready to move on just yet. On Tuesday, our nation empowered this dangerous extremist behavior by electing a man who ran on a platform of misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and racism. No one should be surprised or shocked.  What we saw during the campaign is exactly what we are getting in this new America.

Is this the change some of you were looking for? Not so great if you ask me. And sadly, anyone who is “different than” may pay dearly for any of your buyer’s remorse. (See moral bankruptcy.)

I’m not naïve enough to think that if Hillary had been elected everything would be sunshine and roses in America today. No, it would probably be even more dangerous had she won since Trump had already planted the seeds for a contested election. It’s irrelevant anyway because this toxic genie was let out of the bottle when  Republican voters made him their nominee for the most powerful office in the land.

There have been some really well written pieces about post-election grieving but I came across one of the best on The Huffington Post website yesterday – I am Sitting Shiva for America written by Vanessa Zoltan, a chaplain at Harvard University.  Shiva is the Jewish practice of grief. It is a seven-day mourning period where family members gather in one home to receive visitors. Zoltan is sitting shiva for a lot of beliefs that died in the wee early hours of Wednesday.

You can read her blog here but here’s a bit of it:

shiva

We’re going to need more than seven days, folks.

I will take action. And man oh man, will I. But for a week I am going to wear my, “Nasty Woman” shirt because while sitting shiva you are not supposed to change your clothes. And for this week I am going to refuse— patently refuse hope. Hope (for me. I am only speaking for myself) this early will be a denial of all that has been lost. Hope this early will be because it’s easier than being mad and reckoning with all that is lost (hope for environmental policy reform, peace for millions of my fellow-countrymen who now fear being deported, what I believed the American experiment stood for, friendships that I can no longer take seriously because of their vote, and on and on).

I wish I could sit with her.

I did sort of sit shiva yesterday with a dear friend from Israel. She’s been an American citizen for about 10 years and voted for Obama twice and was a Hillary supporter. She’s my age but she’s always had a very maternal aura with me – loving and nurturing.  She’s a mother and a grandmother and she’s my Jewish sister/mother. She knew I was hurting and she took both of my hands in hers and looked me straight in the eyes and said, in her marvelous accent, “Everything will be okay.” And when we said goodbye, she said she was going to kiss me like her mother used to kiss her – a series of very rapid pecks on the check. She smothered me with those kisses and told me she loved me.

And it was the safest I have felt since early Wednesday morning.

On my drive back home from seeing her – about 40 minutes in the car – my phone “pinged’’ several times – notifications of messages coming in. (Chill, I did not text and drive.) I often listen to MSNBC in the car on my XM radio but since that’s radioactive now, I turned to old faithful – NPR. Don’t you know they were doing a story on the election. I’m glad I didn’t shut it off immediately because it was an interesting piece about a couple in Massachusetts. The wife is an attorney who voted for Hillary and the husband is a fireman who voted for Trump. They, like most of America, are trying to find some peace in all of this carnage. They didn’t have any pearls of wisdom to share and honestly, at one point, it sounded like the wife wanted to sock the husband. Anyway, it made me feel less lonely for a few minutes.

When I got home I looked at my phone. I had a FB inbox message from one of my dearest friends in the world – a gay man who I have loved for 20 years. We have the most wonderful “odd couple” relationship and we’ve always said that if we weren’t both gay, we would have made a great couple. We both are yellow dog Democrats who love sports and sarcasm. Yep, we’re a match made in Provincetown. Anyway, he has been beyond inconsolable this week and thought getting together for dinner would be good medicine for us all. Only he said it in his uniquely charming way that seems to almost always make me laugh and tear up at the same time. He wrote, “I love you so much and this shit show is reminding me to take stock of the things in my life that are important and you are high on that list.”

jeff-and-addy

My gay husband, Jeff.

Now you see why I adore him. And he’s right – it’s time to be with people who nurture and restore us.

 

The next FB inbox message was from a friend who is a young mother of two pretty fantastic daughters. She always takes her girls to vote with her and they were all super excited about the historical prospect of voting for the first woman president this year. When she told her girls on Wednesday morning that Hillary lost, they both cried. Her youngest daughter then immediately asked her about marriage equality. I told you these girls are fantastic.

“Will the marriages for everyone stop, Mommy?” Gulp. Then this little supershero said, “If they do, I will make beautiful art and I will give people marriages.” Sign me up.

My friend shared all of this with me to reassure me that as she said “love seeds are planted everywhere and our family plans on increasing the active ways we love others.” Gee, I wonder why those girls are so fantastic. (Their dad is pretty great, too.) She closed her message with some words that actually penetrated the veil of despair that I have been wearing since early Wednesday morning. She wrote, “You are loved. We will stand by you.”

Maybe all the hallelujahs aren’t broken. I’m clinging to them today.

 

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These two make me feel less scared for my country’s future. And they may officiate my next wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margin call

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Getting my steps in today.

“If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes.” The Paris Review, November 9, 2016 

It has been almost 12 hours since America elected it’s 45th president and I can still barely move. It is almost 3 in the afternoon and I haven’t yet brushed my teeth. I haven’t been outside but beyond my window, I hear dogs barking, the banging of trash cans, moving cars – just the normal sounds of life.

But today is anything but normal. I am 60 years old and I have a gut full of despair and fear unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I hate my state and I no longer recognize the country I live in. Breaking News: Love doesn’t Trump hate in the Electoral College.

Spare me your cheerful memes and posts about moving on and the sun coming out tomorrow. It is tomorrow in an America I no longer feel safe in. I am a liberal gay woman and if I were a stock account, there would be a margin call on me today.

I went to bed around 1:30 or so last night before the race was called. I took an Advil PM that didn’t seem to dent my emotional vertigo. I got up when my wife’s alarm went off and went out to sit on the couch in my living room. I did not turn the TV on. I was almost catatonic.

My best friend called me shortly after my wife left for work. I wasn’t going to answer. I didn’t think I could make words but her picture came up on my iPhone and I could not ignore her sweet face. I think I said hello but it didn’t really matter. We both just cried softly. That was pretty much our entire conversation.

carla-phone

Gotta pick up.

She did manage to make me smile for the first time in many hours when she said, “On the third ring, I thought you weren’t going to answer.” She knows me well.

Then I watched Hillary’s concession speech. When she came out on the stage and her staff and friends in the room stood and applauded loudly, I did, too. Right there in my living room in my pajamas. And I cried. Hard. I cried for Hillary because she’s too strong to cry for herself – at least in public. And I cried for myself and all the dreams I had wrapped up in this moment. I cried for Pearl, my 90-year-old friend who was certain that she had lived long enough to see the first woman become president of the United States. And I cried for all my friends who are mothers with young children who have to try to explain how this happened to their sons and most especially, their daughters.

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Lennie (left) and her wife Pearl have seen – and made – a lot of history in their 50 plus years together.

I surely don’t have a clue. I can’t even make any sense of it myself.

My friend Susan is a columnist for my local paper and the mother of two daughters. She wrote a brilliant piece in today’s paper, What do you tell your daughter today.

Susan’s 15-year-old daughter felt worried that some of her rights would be taken away by the new president whose track record with women is well, disgusting.. She said she would tell her daughter that “women still have to work twice as hard as men to achieve the same status” and that she may be called “shrill,” or “bitchy” for wielding power in the same way men do. And she said, and this is the best part, “I will tell her to do it anyway, boldly and unapologetically.” My friend Susan is one beautifully Nasty Woman.

Facebook has been like a wailing wall today and it’s good to mourn in public with others. Words like “gutted” and “unmoored” and “devastated”  appeared in a lot of posts. There have been those on the other side, too, but it has been so empowering to use the “unfriend” feature today. It’s rather silly anyway to think that I could actually be “friends” with someone who voted for such a rude misogynist – a rude misogynist who BRAGS about being a rude misogynist.

I suppose we will never bridge the great divides in our country if we don’t actually ever sit down and talk to folks on the other side but I’m simply not in the mood for diplomacy today. I deleted a handful of friends from high school –most of whom never left the small town we grew up in. Maybe they never met a Muslim or a black person or a person with a disability –or a gay person except for me. Maybe they simply don’t care. I just know I have to tend to me right now before I set out to fight another day and reading their negative commentary is not helpful.

I have heard from lots of friends through FB, text and email. And my dear sister who is 3,000 miles away has tried through sheer force of will to take some of my pain away. She is hurting, too, but her empathy for me has been palpable. Her love for me is bigly.

Perspective is everything and a dear friend who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer gave me a good dose of it. She texted me a Bible verse someone had sent her today. I’m Episcopalian and not so up on the Bible but this passage from 1 Peter 5:8-9 was right on time:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

I certainly felt that collective suffering today and I was grateful to grieve with my family of believers – people who know what Hillary told us today  – “to never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

hillary-tv

I will always be with her.

But I still want to rant and weep and scream to the heavens. I want it to be okay and I know that it won’t be for a very long time. And I know I have to just be uncomfortable with that.

My wife just texted me that she was picking up comfort food for dinner – for us, that means Mongolian tofu. Yes, we’re elite liberals. And we’ll have some wine on a school night and we will watch a relaxing Netflix series about a serial killer being chased by Gillian Anderson.

Suddenly, I feel better already.

As my friend Chris said so succinctly this afternoon, “I know I will move forward, just not the fuck today.”

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I won’t stop believing that young Alice and her mom Ann will see that glass ceiling break.

Rewriting some wrongs

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“I lost my reputation. I was publicly identified as someone I didn’t recognize. And I lost my sense of self.”

Those are the words of Monica Lewinsky spoken last October at a Forbes conference. She was speaking out for the first time on cyber bullying.

I know something about this and these could be my words, too. Je suis Monica.

Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky

I wouldn’t blame you if that made you giggle. Lord knows I had many laughs at Monica Lewinsky’s expense and I feel rather ashamed about that now. She was a 22-year-old woman who made a mistake almost all of us have made at least once – getting involved with the wrong person. The difference is that most of us are not shamed and humiliated about our mistakes on a global stage.

I paid a heavy price for some wrong choices, too.

Several years ago, I went through a private breakup that became very public for reasons that I’m certain that I will never completely understand. It’s a long story, as they usually are, and the particulars aren’t really important now but the plot is very simple. Someone made up some awful things about me, got a few other folks to believe them and set off a wildfire that scorched every inch of my life – my family, my friends, my work, and my soul.

It was the worst time of my life and that includes a seven month period when I watched both of my parents take their last breath. In short, it almost killed me.

I learned how quickly perception can become reality, particularly on Facebook. And I learned that trying to stop it – the sheer force of a cyber beat down – is like trying to mop up a tsunami with a dish towel.

I would tremble when I logged on to Facebook – fearful for what I might see. I was the butt of running jokes online, jokes made by people I had considered friends – people I had hosted for dinner in my home. I was called everything from crazy to cunt.  Yes, that word. I can remember seeing it attached to my name and feeling the color drain out of my face while my heart pounded like a bass drum.

Lewinsky says that we are living in a world where “humiliation has become a commodity.” I guess that makes the Internet the Dow Jones.

You’re probably wondering why I just didn’t abandon Facebook, the source of so much of my torment. There are two very disparate reasons. One, I felt like I needed to protect myself – to know what was going on as best I could so that there would be no surprises. You see, I learned early on during my ordeal that what you don’t know can indeed hurt you. The other reason will strike you as ironic – I desperately needed the connection to people and community not caught up in the storm.

Photo courtesy of David C. Smith

“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.”     ~ Carl Sandburg                   Photo: David C. Smith

There were surprising connections, too, from folks that I had never considered close friends. David was foremost among those. He lives in another city but always seemed to know when I was starving for an ounce of compassion. He would send a brief in-box message that was perhaps most beautiful simply because in that moment of utter aloneness , I knew that someone was thinking about me.

I began to write some very personal essays during this time. I was lost but was finding my voice again through my writing. I had a column in my local newspaper and strangers began emailing me to tell me how they connected with my stories. They felt heard through my writing and that was such a balm for my own healing.

Hemingway famously wrote that “the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” This has been true for me. I did get stronger and over time, the din of the bullying eventually ceased. It wasn’t dramatic, more like the end of a candle when the melting wax eventually extinguishes the flame. It put itself out.

The memory of it can still startle me at times. As Lewinsky said in a New York Times feature a few weeks ago, “It lives as an echo in your life. But over time the echo becomes softer and softer.”

She’s right.

I’m in a very good place these days. I have a wonderful wife who loves and celebrates me every day, an abundance of good and genuine friends, and work that inspires me. Maybe that’s why I can finally write about what happened to me.

I believe in resurrection and I believe in myself.

Lewinsky ended her recent TED talk by saying, “You can insist on a different ending to your story.”

I’m grateful I could write mine.

addy monica

Legal Equals

This is happening now!

After all the many years of waiting for marriage equality, I never imagined I would learn that I was legally married in my home state of North Carolina from a Facebook post.

But that’s how it happened last Friday, October 10th. My wife (we were married in the District of Columbia in May) and I have a Friday ritual of going to a late matinee. It’s a perfect way to wind down the work week and kick off the weekend.

skeleton twinsSo there we were sitting in a/perture cinema with a handful of folks waiting for “The Skeleton Twins” to begin when we checked our phones one last time. We had, of course, been following the events of the day via live streams, texts, and yes, Facebook.

The word was that Judge Osteen’s ruling would not come down until sometime on Monday, leaving lots of hopeful same-sex couples standing at the proverbial altar – or more precisely, the Register of Deeds office.

And then the frantic announcement came down – a judge in Asheville had bitch slapped Amendment One to death and same-sex marriage was now legal in the Old North State.

I had always dreamed that the moment of being equal would feel like the scenes from the end of World War II when people ran into the streets and strangers embraced to celebrate.

Instead, my wife and I exchanged no words – we simply looked at each other’s tears streaming down our faces and gently kissed. It was as intimate and reverent and perfect as one moment can be.

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My Facebook post celebrating marriage equality.

We thought for a minute about abandoning the movie and finding some friends to celebrate with but we stayed and held hands in the dark for 90 minutes.

No wonder those poor misguided folks were so afraid of same-sex marriage.

Afterwards, we went out for dinner and caught up on the Facebook frenzy. I remarked that I hadn’t seen such a gay FB feed since Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime performance.

It was like the best roller coaster ride ever seeing all the posts, photos and videos of couples getting married – simply thrilling.

My friends Michelle and Karen - with the Rev. Julie Peeples officiating - were one of the first couples to wed once the ruling came down.

My friends Michelle and Karen – with the Rev. Julie Peeples officiating – were one of the first couples to wed once the ruling came down.

Earlier in the day, I was interviewed by a local reporter about the anticipated demise of Amendment One and she asked me if I had any regrets about not waiting to get married in North Carolina. I told her, “Absolutely not.”

We were ready and damn tired of waiting.

I’m just so profoundly grateful that history has finally caught up with our hearts.

lennie and pearl

After 48 years together, these iconic sweethearts (Pearl and Lennie) are finally legally married in North Carolina.