This week, I will “graduate” from the Bayside Neuro-Rehabilitation Center where I have been working to address the symptoms brought about by post-concussion syndrome. In June of last year my daughters and I were rear-ended; our car was totaled. My daughters were not physically injured, but I sustained a concussion. I’ve written about it quite a bit, and have been sharing periodic updates about my recovery. Continue reading
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts… . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
We would run around in the concrete cool basement of the church while our Dad was getting ready for the service. We’d get into the boxes of sugar cubes in the kitchen cabinets, or into the storage area where college kids’ old clutter was left as a sort of lost and found. There was a grand organ, some kind of historical antique important piece that I’d play after church getting to lean my feet down to play pedals and to pull and push all the knobs to see what kinds of sounds would come out. The bread was real baked loaves of bread and the wine was in enormous earthy chalices. Once in a while we were told to be quieter, but mostly we did whatever we wanted to do. The churches were not unapproachable spaces where we felt we should be sedate, showing only formal reverence. The churches (the Wellesley chapel and Grace Lutheran Church in Hartford, CT) were where my Dad worked. They were places we spent time waiting before and after church. We had bell choir and choir-choir rehearsals, standing around while photocopies were made, and grabbing cookies and running up to the office to hide out during many, many coffee hours.
The best time to walk around in the garden is early morning, before the bugs (or the heat) get too nasty. Of course, if there are ready-to-pick green beans, I’ll grab one to crunch on as I look around. Maybe there’s a super-ripe cherry tomato, easy to pop in my mouth. Snacking from the garden when I’m in it is what I do and what I’ve always done.
When my three-year-old wanted to pick something (after my nine-year-old had picked our first cucumber) and I didn’t see anything immediately ready, I turned to the squash plants and pointed out one of the little yellow ones whose flower hadn’t even fully browned into the soggy flop it would as the squash grew to a more reasonably pickable size. I encouraged her to pick one of them, helping her some when she wanted to pull without any twist in her motion. We then saw a large zucchini (those things are sneaky and fast!) that she got and could barely carry.
Later, when she wanted to pick more, I showed her what kale looked like and she helped herself throughout the morning to torn off pieces of the kale leaves. She also munched on handfuls of parsley. There’s not a lot ready for picking, yet, but in a vegetable garden there’s almost always something edible.
No church or vegetable garden is too precious for me. None are somehow more important than any other living space in my world. They are a part of the meat of life; they aren’t fine unusable crystal to be placed up and out of reach behind a locked cabinet door.
My gardens’ products are a part of their process. While I have learned to be respectful of the gardens of other people, I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone feels as flowing about their gardens. What is a garden, if not to offer its food? I am in relationship with it. I care for it and it cares for me. Even in the long-distance gardening I do, where other caregivers (my parents) do the organic pest control and watering required when I’m not there, the garden is a part of me and my family. It is ours and we belong to it. The harvest will be so plentiful, there’s no reason to hold each tiny yellow squash as off-limits to an eager and interested three year old just because it might be… what, better to cook with or prepare for a meal if it were a little bigger? Isn’t that presumptuous? How can we know the best time to pick that squash? This moment. This now is when it should be picked.
My church spaces are homes to me. Even when I’m in a new church, I feel immediately connected and comfortable. This is a place where I won’t be forced into polite restraint. I enjoy celebrating the absence of fear I feel in churches. My comfort makes each church feel as awesome as a sunrise viewed from a mountain top. There is no beginning or end to the church, in my experience. It is another one of my holy places, like the vegetable garden. Who says only eyes cast down and low hushed tones and slow movements belong in these spaces? Just as in the garden, there are times for special reverence and celebration. There are times when peaceful meditation flows through the space and the eternal becomes living.
My gardens and churches are just as relevant in my life as the feeling of climbing into bed after a long, exhausting day. Feeling the physical release of exhaustion, pulling up the covers just-so. My gardens and churches are as holy as preparing a meal with the vegetables we picked earlier in the day, or picked last summer then cooked and froze to use later. My gardens and churches are classrooms and long bubble baths and playgrounds. They are complicated and simple, holy and earthly; they are life.
Sixteen years ago today I was at a St. Paul Saints game with a man I met in an AOL chat room. He was a nice guy, though I don’t remember his name and I’m pretty sure I never saw him again. What is memorable about that day wasn’t the game, or the guy, or being stoned out of my mind. What’s memorable is that on this day sixteen years ago I was drunk, and on every day since then, I haven’t been.
Before I began recovering from alcoholism, my life was ruled by fear. All of my earliest memories of drinking center around making me feel better inside. (Side note: Who remembers their first ice cream cone? Who remembers their first fresh picked strawberry? Not me. I clearly remember my first drinks.) There was the time I lifted the massive snifter filled with creme de menthe that had covered my ice cream sundae and as the sweet syrup warmed my throat and tummy I suddenly didn’t care that there was some sort of dramatic screaming festival happening over a credit card that was being denied. Or, the time I was lounging on the floor of the fort these guys made in the woods behind their house and I held up the bottle of tequila by the neck and announced, “The faster you drink it, the less you feel it!”
That was the key for me. Feeling less. I needed to find a way to feel less. Because I am an alcoholic, I believed alcohol provided a solution.
What it was like (before I began recovering from alcoholism) was a disconnected, terrified, determined-to-seem-“cool,” and disjointed life. I clung to solution after solution. After I moved here, things would be better. If my boyfriend would only want to get married and have a Martha Stewart (pre-prison) life with me, things would be better. If I did x, y, or z then things would be better. Live off the land? Tried it (lasted 3 days). Move across the country? (Did it, a couple times.) I was looking for the rules for living it felt like everyone else had that I never got.
In a pet-fur coated sweaty heat wave in St. Paul, Minnesota, I found myself instant messaging with a stranger from an AOL chatroom called “Friends of Bill W.” This person suggested it would be helpful if I talked to alcoholics who had found a way to live without alcohol that, he said (the person said he was a “he”), was “happy, joyous, and free.” At that point in my life, I believed “happy” meant “full of shit lying loser.” But, I was also pretty desperate. I didn’t drink for 24 hours (thus, July 3 is my “sobriety date”) and I called someone who had learned how to recover from alcoholism.
The first conversations I had with recovering alcoholics centered around the idea that the desire to stop drinking was all I needed to have. Because I was pretty obsessed with not calling myself alcoholic if I wasn’t one (I was really worried other alcoholics would get mad at me if I did that…??!?!) having this first conversation center around such a simple idea was a beautiful thing.
It turns out I’m actually allergic to alcohol (that’s what alcoholism is, in great part). When I drink my body goes almost immediately into a fireworks finale of MORE MORE MORE GIVE ME MORE. I always wanted oblivion. There were certainly times when I sipped a glass of wine, or nursed a beer for hours (I never did like beer, though I drank plenty). Mostly, though, that burning warmth going into my mouth and down my throat and in through my belly and through my blood stream and oh wow, yes, whoa I want more of this now. Instead of acting as a depressant as it would in a “normie” (non-alcoholic), it acted as an upper and a number and it was just what I needed. (I thought.) Instead of a rash or anaphylactic shock my body responded to alcohol (a poison for any of us if not taken in moderation) with an overwhelming desire for more.
Combine this allergy in my body with the spiritual sickness that causes my mind to always find a way to believe that I’ll be able to drink normally (somehow, some way, some day) and you’ve got my alcoholism. My mind, despite the fact that I consider myself recovered (not “recovering”), will always turn to the idea that I might drink safely again. The difference these days is I know that and I’m able to use the tools I learned to say, “Huh, must be I’m an alcoholic” and the thoughts just flit on out of my mind as quickly as they flit on in.
When I first began living in recovery, I was surrounded by amazing people. I took life one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, and sometimes a few minutes at a time. I practiced and practiced and practiced living. I kept myself wrapped well up in communities that would support my new alcohol (and drug) free life. It became so much a part of my daily living that when I encountered someone who got a little weird when I said I was an alcoholic, I was surprised. I forgot, back then, how loaded (ha) the issues are for so many people.
As for what it’s like now… I wouldn’t change a single thing even if I could without causing negative consequences. There isn’t anything in my life about which I feel regret in the way that makes me wish it hadn’t happened. It all brought me here and made me who I am and I like that.
What it’s like now is that I live. I live. I live my life and when I catch fear trying to get in here and take over, I have ways of working through it all. I passionately embrace my every moment’s imperfections. My mistakes make me who I am as much as my “successes.”
With the help of other alcoholics who learned how to live before I did, I picked up some great tools to help me function in day to day living. Early on in my recovery, the desire to drink (that mental obsession or spiritual sickness I mentioned) was “lifted.” It just went away. I also found a concept of “god” that became a part of my life in the same way that eating or writing or breathing is. I’m able to rely on this wordless strength-giver to get through things that feel un-get-throughable.
I will always be an alcoholic. No matter how “spiritually fit” I am, my mind will always try to convince me I could drink safely again. But, because I have recovered from alcoholism, I have tapped into a strength that is greater than my mind that allows me to live beyond this wrong obsession. With outrageous and enthusiastic imperfection, I am present in my life. I feel joy and pain and sadness and delight—and all sorts of shades and intensities of feelings—and for all of it, I am grateful.
Let’s say you believe life begins at conception. Personally, and by that I mean for me, I believe it does. We’ll start with that assumption. In fact, let’s just agree with the Republican Platform where they “affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed…and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” Additionally, all Republicans who receive support from the national party believe this. Let’s be Republicans for a moment here. Not right-wing-extremists. Just Republicans, moderates, left-leaning, even. But we are Republicans who are receiving support from the national party. So. Life begins at conception. Got it? Okay.
Here’s what I encourage you to consider.
The house is burning down. In the room most consumed by flames there is a three year old child, screaming, crying, pleading for your rescue. Next to the child is a petri dish containing live human cells about five days after fertilization, at the blastocyst stage. They are about to be transferred into the waiting mother that evening. You are only able to save one of these babies.
Which baby would you save?
How would you feel if you could only save the younger baby?
How would you feel if you could only save the older baby?
How are those feelings different?
Now, a second story for your consideration.
Again, a fire is consuming the building. In the room, engulfed in flames is a crying infant. A newborn, just hours old. Next to that baby is a woman, comatose or in a “vegetative” state. All medical personnel have agreed she will never wake up. She is, however, carrying a baby inside her. She has almost reached full term. Most reasonable people would describe her as having a baby inside of her. If it were born now, it would survive.
There is no time, though, to take time for considering your options. You will either save the crying newborn, or the effectively dead woman and her live baby.
Which baby would you save?
How would you feel if you could only save the younger baby?
How would you feel if you could only save the older baby?
How are those feelings different?
Probably, when faced with this sort of decision you feel even more serious discomfort. Perhaps you are the sort of person who simply can’t deal in hypothetical questions or think they are pointless. That’s fine. Don’t do it. If you are like me, the conflict is so great a choice seems impossible.
You see, as most of us recognize, abortion is complicated. And, you may see in that first example, there is a point where most reasonable people will put the life of the born child before the unborn child. The second example is more complicated, but, if you are anything like me, you might lean toward the born child. It’s even horrible and shameful just typing that.
If you vote for a Republican, though, no matter how moderate or centrist, if they have support from the national party, you are voting for someone who has said in writing they believe those cells in the petri dish have as much a right to life as that crying toddler. Either they believe this, or they lied to get the support of their party.
The Republican party is run by extremists who don’t speak for most Americans. We progressives have done a horrible job exposing their immoral behavior.
If you know someone who believes Republicans stand for family values, please ask them to talk with their representatives. Have they signed the Republican platform? Do they believe in what they signed? Or, were they lying so they could get the support of the party?
Cells in a petri dish = a toddler. Or, lying just to get elected.
Those are the choices for Republicans.