Sunday, September 25, 2016

our "way of life"

I’m sitting comfortably, legs up on the couch, full mug of coffee within easy reach, knowing my girls are safely sleeping away this Sunday morning in their rooms. But the Boston Globe has a way of messing with that comfort.

I can skip most of the references to Trump, smile reading about Elizabeth Warren’s untiring fight, but I started reading the article about the latest shootings in the US and I lost all sense of contentment. It was this line, by the mayor of Burlington, WA, Steve Sexton, that got me. “The city of Burlington has probably changed forever,” he said “But I don’t think our way of life needs to change.”

Doesn’t it? If we don’t change our way of life, won’t this keep happening? Isn’t it time to think about change? That’s been my struggle these past few months. What, exactly can I do to help set things right? Something’s got to change, and each one of us has something to offer in this transformation, something that we must offer in order for it to happen. Don’t we?

The issues are so big and overwhelming that it’s paralyzing. What the hell can I do to influence police training so officers are equipped to handle difficult situations without firing a gun? Do I have a part in the Dakota pipeline protests? How do my choices about drinking water help or harm people in Flint Michigan?

There’s a movement afoot to focus on small acts as a way to overcome the paralysis but I’m worried that the time for small gestures is past. How can taking a moment to notice the place I’m in and posting a picture help? How can bringing cookies to my neighbors make any sort of a difference?

And yet, that would be a change in my way of life. I am not only insulated from the pain around me, I’m insulated from the life. At school I’ve been teaching the kids about the interactions between organisms in an ecosystem; how each organism has an influence and a dependence on others in the system. Our “way of life” seems to keep us separate from our own ecosystem but really just keeps us ignorant of our place in it. My drinking water choices do impact Flint, and Portland, and Boston, and Cynthia next door. Noticing those choices, thinking about the interactions I participate in with each of those choices is a small and necessary step. How do I continue along the path?

One small step is to stop saying we are not going to let the terrorists change us. They are changing us. They have created a space for a fear-mongering opportunist to scare us into voting for hate. They have caused us to turn away from families trying to pull their children out of war and into a safe childhood.

We are changed by every act of violence spread across the pages of the Boston Globe. Isn’t it time we choose how we are changed?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

coffee in a mug

I wait all week to have coffee in a mug, not a travel cup, sitting on my porch with a book and time.

walking where I (don't) belong

My Wednesday walk takes me past all the old New England families that turned this town from woods and fields to fields and farms. Fletcher, Kimball, Prescott, Ward, they all lie here, in Fairview Cemetery, their monuments erected to keep their names alive.
I like this cemetery. It has great little hills, a manageable challenge that makes me feel as if I am truly working out. And the repetition of names is comforting and quirky. So many families named their daughters Lila in this town. Beside our old labradoodle, I don’t know anyone with that name now, but it was the Ashley or Jessica of its time around here. But then there’s this guy called Ivan that makes you think, “Wait, what? Where did he come from?”
But I also don’t like this cemetery. When I first started writing today, I was going to say that I feel comfortable here, like I belong and lately I don’t feel like I belong in this town at all. But, I don’t belong even here. When I visit my parents in the Lowell Cemetery, there is always someone around walking a dog, taking a jog. I used to bring my own daughters here to collect colorful leaves and hunt for acorns still wearing their hats in fall. We visited in spring to see if they had released the lion from his acid snow protective box yet and to add our own dandelions to his bouquet. Even before my parents were buried there, when it was just my estranged brother’s grave that I would walk the girls past with stories of his mistakes, and long before that when I would wander through just because it was beautiful, I knew I belonged in this cemetery. And so did everyone else. But here, in Fairview, in the town where I live now, which is not a city, which is not Lowell, even here I feel out of place. I hate to see a car pull in and brace myself to be told that it is inappropriate to walk for exercise through a cemetery. I don’t know why I feel like I’ll get this response except that in all the times I have walked through here I have never seen anyone else do the same, not so much as cut through with a dog on a leash. The closest I came was running into a few students one day who had been assigned to locate certain information for a history class. (To confirm the suburban stereotype, I ran into just as many parents as students.)

This is a lovely spot, green and well-treed, that calls out to be walked through. And so on Wednesdays, when I drop my daughter off for her horseback riding lesson across the street (yes I know, more suburban stereotype) I spend a half hour reading off the names as I walk past granite monuments to a rural past and sweat up the hills and limp back down. I imagine that one of those Lila’s had the same feeling of displacement here and longed to work in a mill in Lowell and join the girls at their Thursday night lectures dreaming of the excitement of a factory strike. I hope she made it and got to tell her grandchildren that she heard Emerson speak and attended a labor meeting with immigrant women from Lawrence. And I’ll tell my grandchildren that once I didn’t live in Lowell, that the dead of the other place welcomed me but the living had their doubts. More to the truth that I was the only one with doubts, I know, but it’s my story and I’ll likely be telling it as I walk my grandchildren through the Lowell cemetery, making a bouquet of orange leaves to place in the paws of the old stone lion before he’s put into protective custody for the winter. And I won’t care who drives by.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Not my brother - the people you meet

My brother just walked into the cafe. No, not really. My brother has been dead for over 20 years. It's just the kind of guy that reminds me of my brother. I see him all the time.

He looks unnaturally skinny but with a small paunch hanging over his belt. Unhealthy looking. It's a fairly warm day but he wears a long-sleeved button up shirt. Maybe it's unfair, but I assume he is wearing the shirt to cover the track marks on his arm rather than because he felt chilled when he got dressed. Maybe it's both. His black canvas bag looks designed to hold a laptop, which my brother never had. But I imagine, were he alive, my brother would have, like this guy, adopted headphones and smartphone as a way to block out the world.

People behind the counter know the guy, at least enough to greet him by name. He's quiet though, a word no one ever used to describe my brother. My brother's voice carried, whether it was appropriate to be loud or not. This guy seems like he's better able to regulate his voice. He can't stop his leg from bouncing, though, and his hand shakes as he raises the sandwich to his mouth. It's a Friday afternoon and he's not at work. Of course, neither am I, neither are most of the people here. But since this guy is my brother I imagine he doesn't have a regular job to go to.

The book I saw sticking out of his back jeans pocket turns out to be a thin black and white composition book, folded in half so it will fit. Yeah, my brother would do something like that, get a free left-over book from some organization and use it to death. I don't think my brother ever wrote. Maybe he did and his words were lost to the trash when he wasn't around to advocate for their preservation. I know he was a reader. This guy is reading the newspaper, left behind by another customer. Free. I bet he has a beaten up paperback in that black bag.

I'd probably enjoy a 15 minute conversation with this guy, get his take on Game of Thrones or Mr. Robot, then never see him again.

I like his face.

He reminds me of my brother.