The Day After the Boston Marathon Bombing

Sudden violence (is there any other kind?) throws the world into sharp relief. Horror that doesn’t speak but roars in the head like the ocean. Magnolias blooming under the crescent moon.

It gives things the proper perspective, too.

Last night, laying on the bed, talking to my mother on the phone while Army Guy relaxed next to me, the younger cat purring between us, I felt utter contentment.

This morning I woke at 6:00 am to take down the emergency update on the hospital website that I maintain. Cortisol shot me awake, makes me drained and snappy today. The sun is shining, the air is crisp and lovely. The Copley Square area is closed from Mass Ave to Berkeley. Did they wash the pavement clean? Will they find who did this? Will the cycle of violence continue, into the end of the time? Is peace just a pipe dream, like dreaming for the end of hunger, the end of darkness?

All things in sharp relief, from one moment to the next.

Gratitude Day 19: Flow, the Morning Walk, Thanksgiving Shopping, the Luxury of Obscurity

I’ve heard tell that something happens when you just start typing (or writing, as I still prefer composing in longhand) and keep writing. Something begins to flow in your brain. I’ve experienced the most pleasing sensation of flow, so I know that it’s true. The experience of success in the face of adversity makes it easier to overcome all kinds of obstacles.

I’m also very fond of the artificial structure imposed by lists. It often creates the most delightful poems (I would link to one but Google and my memory both fail me at the moment). Of course, one must be willing to discard what doesn’t work upon rewrite — but in one’s own time.

The thing about gratitude lists is that if I make the list long enough, a kind of comfortable warm joy begins to open in my mind and in my body (around the vicinity of the heart but sometimes the stomach). And it becomes easier and easier to find things to be grateful.

So enough talking and let’s get to the list. The public, public list:

  1. I woke up this morning feeling mostly rested.
  2. My partner is a Nurse Practitioner, and when I complained of extra dizziness he gave me the standard neurological tests that confirmed there was nothing wrong with my balance.
  3. In spite of my inner critic’s whisperings I suited up this morning for a brisk November morning walk, through woods that I’ve walked a million times before but in which I always find new things to marvel at.
  4. The happy accident of the leaf-obscured paths, difficult to make out, led me to the top of the rocks that look out over the VFW Parkway.
  5. On the bare even sidewalk I began to run, inspired by the Foo Fighters.
  6. I have more than enough to eat, more than enough nice clothing to wear.
  7. Heat is included in our rent, so when the furnace is on the fritz and wants to keep warming the house past the thermostat temperature we just open the windows and smile.
  8. The morning walk made it that much easier to suit up and show up to work.
  9. I have a nice easy list of things to accomplish today.
  10. They had beets at the salad bar, which I love in combination with the other tasty offerings.
  11. I know that beans contain enough grain/carb  (not just protein) to keep me well sated and don’t have to resort to the stale roles or croutons on order.
  12. We have finished 90% of our Thanksgiving shopping and won’t have to stand in line with a dump truck of food this Wednesday.
  13. There appear to be more of you reading this blog than there used to be. I still have no idea how most of you got there.
  14. I’m especially extra grateful that I can write about whatever I want on here and am not tied to the slave-chain of encouraging American consumerism.
  15. If the Internet has gotten crowded with stupid people, it’s still possible to create smaller versions of it.
  16. Community building happens, online and off-line.
  17. If I look back on this entry in a year or two, I can always delete it.
  18. I am a private citizen, toiling away in obscurity.
  19. I am loved — and I love.

January Haiku: Woods Under Snow

deep snow on the trail
spreads the ground under dark bark
winter. silence. here.

Gratitude — and why do you hate Jesus?

I go in and out of the habit of posting gratitude lists on this blog. I usually include the word “gratitude practice” in the title of these posts, but I wonder if perhaps that sounds pretentious. People refer to a yoga practice, or a meditation practice. I think it’s important remind myself that order to retain certain skills I must practice them constantly. It’s one thing to know in theory how to align the parts of the body in order to achieve a particular asana (yoga pose). It’s another thing to experience the sensation of that alignment — and all the individual variations of mind and body over the course of days as I practice it again and again. Likewise with meditation practice. Likewise with physical exercise. I can’t keep being able to run a mile in 10 or 15 or 6 minutes unless I continue to do it every day.

And gratitude is the same thing. It’s a practice. It has benefits in the same way that aerobic exercise has benefits. If you practice gratitude yourself, perhaps you’d like to articulate those benefits in the comments below. For me, one of the major reasons I practice gratitude is so that I will refrain from behaviours that are harmful to myself or other people.

Someone — a woman I’d never met in person, but interacted with on the internet fairly regularly for a few months — once characterized my comments as “preachy.” I suppose the reason her words cut me so deeply were because I know that I often talk about spiritual matters and spiritual practice. But if you met me in person, you’d know that I do so because I’m a very earthy person. I sit with my legs open more than a ladylike lady-girl should. I wear a size 20. I like things like sex and food and digging in the dirt. And I have other tendencies that have gotten me into a lot of trouble in my life. So if I focus on spiritual practice in my posts on this blog, or on Facebook, or on GooglePlus, it’s because spiritual practice is something I need to remind myself about constantly.

Which brings me around to Jesus. In theory, Jesus and his teachings are quite wonderful. But whenever I hear or read someone describe themselves as a Christian, or as someone who trusts in Jesus, I can’t help but have a certain knee-jerk reaction to same. I don’t hate Jesus (despite what the title of this post might imply), but I have had many unpleasant interactions with many of his followers — including the Catholics who first taught me about things like God and souls and whatnot. Because of certain accidents of birth, I’ve also found myself at odds with the teachings of conservative, Evangelical Christians. When it comes to the culture wars threatening to tear this country in two, it’s pretty clear what side of the divide I belong on. In the 20-plus years since my Confirmation ceremony, I’ve come to terms with this negative-Jesus-association. But on some level, I think that words like “Jesus” and “the Lord” will always evoke a visceral response in me quite different than the one that might be intended by Good Christians(TM).

I went through a brief period of atheism in my early teens, but soon after I was introduced to the notion of a God of my own understanding. It was an incredibly freeing notion, and after much soul-searching I realized that almost none of the things the Catholic Church had to say about God had much to do with my own understanding of the Divine. The God of my understanding today is infinitely vast, infinitely complex and unknowable. In spite of God’s, vastness, I have a relationship with it. And I have directly experienced God’s infinite love for me, personally. I believe that God cares about me and my own well-being. And I don’t care if that belief is true or correct in some objective sense, because my spiritual beliefs and practice are fundamentally pragmatic.

I do and believe what I do because it makes me a better person in the world. It makes me more useful to my fellow human beings. And that is one of the reasons why I practice gratitude. Because a grateful heart is a generous heart. When I pay attention to the things I do have — gifts that were given to me regardless of whether or not I earned them — I’m more likely to find room in my heart to be of service to others. Sometimes being of service just means showing up to work on time and doing my job, or listening to someone who needs to talk. But it’s always easier to do these things when I feel replete. Feeling and being useful is something I’ve been focusing on lately, when I pray to the God/dess of my own understanding.

Weekly gratitude practice: strawberries, kleenex, cold air, cold baths, sweet smells, someone else does it

  1. First CSA delivery. Are the strawberries sweeter because I know where they’re from? Or are they just sweeter?
  2. Hugs and kleenex.
  3. Free air conditioning.
  4. Cold baths and LUSH products.
  5. The health care and home health aid industries — imperfect is still better than absent.

Weekly gratitude practice: if it’s not one thing it’s your mother

I started this post last week but never finished it. Which pretty much describes my mental state for the past seven days or so. Posting it now, almost in time for this week’s. Sigh. Time to stop trying to play catch-up with my past imperfections.
  1. Doing things differently. Mom is very sick right now, and she’s a two-hour drive away from me. In the past, I would have charged down there and tried to save the world, exhausting myself in the process, crashing, and actually not contributing much to her health or well-being. This time, I listened to some feedback from trusted friends and gave love and support through the miracle of telephony. I was also able to help with some practical matters, like finding a pharmacy that she can reach by bus. Her health has deteriorated to the point where it’s not necessarily a good idea for her to leave home without assistance, but — miracle of miracles! — there’s a little something called the Home Health Aid industry that was created to remedy exactly the situation she and I are both in. I would much rather be down there in person enjoying her company — or even being annoyed by it, because, really, if it’s not one thing it’s your mother — but I’m especially grateful for my ability to listen to suggestions and to break out of old patterns of behavior that have outlived their usefulness.
  2. Mom herself is a pretty wonderful gift. Like most folks, I have a complicated relationship with my Mom, but overall our relationship is a source of strength and support for both of us. When I was a fresh-faced little babydyke with a tiny hickey on my neck from Yoolia Lanina, the Russian vixen from the Bronx with the Sinead-O’Connor haircut, my Mom turned to me and said, “I love you and support you just as you are, and I will no matter who you bring home.” I spent the next 15 years or so bringing home folks with an assortment of gender expressions, skin tones, and native languages, and she never reneged on that promise. When I was suffering so badly from my chronic illness that I couldn’t safely care for myself in my one-bedroom apartment, she took a few weeks off of work to stay with me and be my Mom. And when I called her bright and early on Wednesday and discussed the situation with her, she was chipper and positive and grateful in spite of the debilitating physical symptoms she’s been suffering from. I love that woman to no end, and I want her to be well and healthy and a part of my life for as long as possible.
  3. Telephony. It allows me to do so much with my life.
  4. A steady job. Having lived without one, it makes me especially grateful to have one now.
  5. Decent health insurance coverage. Ditto above.

Weekly gratitude practice: office space, windows/kitty, space, Friday, not a teenager

  1. My fingertips have been cold from the chill for the past three days (my tiny cube is directly under a vent), but I’m still grateful that I have an employer that pays for my office space. When I was self-employed, I looked into renting a timeshared space in Harvard Square, and it was NOT CHEAP.
  2. Earlier this week, I was very happy to be able to work from home. Specifically, I was happy to have windows, and a kitty to look at while I worked. Kitties are very helpful for reminding you when it is quitting time, because it coincides with feed-the-kitty time.
  3. I’m making space in my life for new things. I’ve always been a crazy overachiever, loading my plate with more than I could possibly enjoy. Less things, more space between them, more enjoyment.
  4. It’s Friday. Hallelujah and thank you Jesus, it’s Friday.
  5. I am so very, very grateful that I am 20 years removed from the slings and arrows of adolescence. No desire whatsoever to go back. I’ll take a few grey hairs and a few wrinkles in exchange for that, any day of the week.