Saturday, August 20, 2016

First World Reflections

 I was carrying a big sloppy bowl of compost out to the heap in the back yard this morning when I noticed that now that we eat a mostly vegetarian menu, the compost looks a lot like the food. It was one of those sobering moments when I paused to consider that what I throw out as waste here would in some places be considered a meal.
I have heard of people in other parts of the world who eat only every other day so they can pay for their schooling, or simply because they can only afford to eat every other day.
Which got me thinking about all the foods we eat or drink that are in some stage of decay. How do you suppose people got started looking at things that were rotting, tasting them, and saying, okay, I’m going to call that food? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that rotting things became classified as food because people were hungry.
It is not rotting anymore, but fermented, or aged, or cured. Thus we have sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha, alcohol, and all the decaying milk products. Yum.
It came to my attention recently that there is a push to enlighten people on the beneficial effects of fermented foods. Yeah, okay, fine. I am old now, and cranky. All right, crankier. I have seen many food fads come and go. “You must eat this.” “You must not eat that.”
I have heard of the evils of trans-fats, nitrites, nitrates, sugar, soft drinks, diet soft drinks, dairy, meat, processed meat, processed anything, yeast, gluten, too many/not enough calories or carbs or fats, not enough water, and so on. If a human being has eaten or drunk it, some other human being has figured out why no one should eat or drink it.
These food rules and prohibitions seem like a first world problem to me. We have so much food we can turn up our first world noses at things we are told we should not ingest. Pretty nice for us, huh?
Presently I am stony broke, but I am stony broke on Vashon Island. I have a home. I have a car. The car has gas in the tank.
I have food in the cupboard. I throw rotting food into the compost. I go to the food bank up on the hill once a week and pick up a couple of bags of groceries. The people at the food bank are really nice.
I have clean safe water to drink, and I don’t have to walk anywhere with a bucket or barrel to get the water and carry it home. It comes right into my house in pipes, and I can have water any time, some of it hot, by turning on a faucet. Wow.
Granted, sometimes the water service is interrupted, and sometimes we get told not to drink the water without boiling it, and sometimes the hot water heater needs to be replaced. What a pain.
It’s first world pain, people. If a pipe breaks here and you lose your water, there are people working frantically day and night to fix the problem and get the water back on. Or maybe you are the one who has to do the frantic work on your little water system, so not so far from the third world, eh?
I have a dog and a cat. I keep animals for affection and companionship rather than for food.
While I do worry about money, it’s more gentle being poor in this time and place than it would be in a lot of other times and places. Plus, lots of things have happened in my lifetime which were worse than running out of money, which gives me some perspective.
When I was young I was often broke, and had to learn how to survive without a lot of money. I’m re-learning some of those old skills, and continuing some behaviors that have worked for me all the way along, like sitting on the kitchen porch, watching the birds, and listening to the breeze in the tall trees. The cat’s in my lap, kneading and drooling. The dog is out there lying in one of the year’s last warm patches of sunshine. She is feeling all the bliss of a short-haired dog in a cool climate.
We’re all feeling pretty good at home.
There is life after broke here in the first world. It’s good to remember that.

Self-serving commercial: because I am broke, I am looking for work as an editor again. I do line editing, proof reading, a little ghost writing and book fixing (turns out I write good sex – who knew?), and I listen to writers and respect and support their feelings. If you or someone you know needs any of that, send me an email at: and we can discuss services and prices. Thanks.

The Lie That Drives Our Country Mad

We have become aware of how easy it is for a black person, especially a male black person, to be killed for no reason at all.
Along with that awareness comes the realization that the killing has been going on ever since there were white people on this continent, and black people whom white people thought they could kill with impunity.
I first became aware of the slaughter of black people in the 1960s. Along with the assassinations of figures like Jack Kennedy, his brother Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., there were other murders. Like today, many of the people who were killed were black. Black leaders, civil rights workers, or black people who were minding their own business were murdered in those years.
Who were they?
We’ll start with Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was visiting family in Mississippi in August, 1955. He was said to have flirted with a white woman. Three nights later he was taken from his relatives’ home by the woman’s husband and her brother, beaten, mutilated, shot, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River.
His murderers were captured and brought to trial. They were acquitted by a white jury. They then sold the story of how they killed Emmett Till to Look Magazine.
When Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, received his body in Chicago and saw Emmett’s remains, she decided to have an open casket funeral. Because of her decision, tens of thousands of people attended his funeral and saw him in his casket. Pictures of his battered remains were published in newspapers and magazines, provoking outrage and sympathy among people who saw him. The lynching of Emmett Till gave impetus to the civil rights movement that would gain traction and momentum through the 50s and 60s. His murder was a lit match thrown into dry tinder.
But Emmett Till was only one.
There was James Earl Chaney, who, along with two white civil rights workers, was shot and buried in an earth work dam.
Medgar Evers, shot by a sniper in the driveway of his home.
Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, four young black girls who died in the basement of their church when it was bombed one Sunday morning.
Jimmie Lee Jackson, beaten and shot by state troopers while trying to protect his grandfather and his mother. His death led to the Selma-Montgomery march.
Martin Luther King, Jr., shot by a sniper while standing on a balcony outside his motel room.*
Now defenseless black people are killed, some of them children, and we are told that the police thought they were dangerous. Thanks to cell phone videos and dashboard cams we can see with our own eyes the nonsense of the lies we are told.
Racism has been with us since before our country was a country. It is the huge fault in our bedrock. It remained somewhat covert, at least to white people, for a few decades, from the 1970s until 2008. With Obama’s election racists became too enraged to remain silent and hidden anymore, apparently.
Racists are open and loud with their racism these days. The rhetoric is violent. They are encouraged by their numbers, by each other. It is open season on black people, especially black men and boys, but women are being killed, too. It always has been open season on black people in this country, and black people have always known that. White people were able to ignore it.
Racism is an insidious lie. I was raised on it, and even though I thought I didn’t buy into it, even though I always thought it was wrong, it took me a long time to learn that some jokes weren’t funny, and that some of the language and ideas I took for granted were wrong and hurtful and part of a culture that condoned and carried on killing black people as if they were not really human beings.
I’m still learning. I still carry my racist upbringing with me, as we all do.
Racism is a lie, a psychotic lie, a mind and heart breaking lie that is a part of who we are in this country. It poisons the air we breathe. It pollutes the blood in our veins. It drives us mad.
Will there ever come an end to racism in America? Not in my lifetime. I can only hope and pray and work for racism to be no more. That’s all I can think to do, that, and always to call racism by its right name: a damned lie.

*This is an extremely small sample of people who were murdered in those days. If you want to see a more complete list, google “civil rights martyrs.”

Enough Grace

Rick contemplating the recycler, his at home dialysis machine.

After writing so exhaustively about the grief process after my husband died, it hardly seems fair not to write about how it’s going after two and a half years, because things have changed.
There were people who told me at the beginning that I would feel better in time, and while that was cold comfort then, it turns out to be true. Tincture of time, people, can improve many things, including grief.
In the weeks before the second anniversary of Rick’s passing, there came a new lightness in my spirit, and that has continued. Oh, there are low times still, perhaps not so much related to my grief as to my daily life and my inner chemistry, which has never favored me with a lot of cheeriness.*
Life is better. I woke up this morning feeling happy, and that is rare and wonderful, but at this point it can happen, and I am grateful.
It’s come to this: I’m beginning to feel like a person in my own right, and not so much the wounded remnant of a broken couple.
Oh, I still miss Rick, every day. I always will. I’m a better person than I was before I met him, because he truly loved me, and he showed me how to be a better person by his example.
When I think of him now, I find that I do not think of him during his final year or two, when he was so ill. I think of him whole and smiling. I think of him looking to me like poetry in motion as he split firewood. I think of him playing the guitar, the magic he had in his hands and his mind to create such beauty. I think of him cartooning, bent over his drawing table, sometimes taking his glasses off to work up close. He was terribly nearsighted, almost legally blind, and he loved being able to draw a few inches away from his face where he could see each detail clearly. The VA wanted to give him cataract surgery during his last year and he wouldn’t go for it because he didn’t want to lose his close vision.
I think of him coming home from work in the evening and telling me about his day. Right after he died I kept expecting the front door to open and for him to walk in. You know what I’m talking about.
I think of him getting up in the middle of the night to take care of water emergencies, like power outages and leaks. I think I hated that almost as much as he did, but he woke up and got up and went to work, no matter the hour. He was a slave to duty.
I remember how horrified he was when he heard or read about a gas line getting broken and catching fire somewhere. He worried that that might happen here. I once saw a house for sale down on Quartermaster Harbor and thought, ooh, that would be a cozy, beautiful place to live out our years. He wouldn’t even go look at it because the main gas line ran by it in the street. Forget it.
He was the most stubborn person I’ve ever known in my life. That could be aggravating, but let’s face it, it worked in my favor because he never gave up on me, and I can be pretty aggravating myself.
We never gave up on each other. Don’t let anyone tell you that happy marriages are always happy. Living with another human being is hard, whatever the relationship is. But somehow we always ended up giving each other enough grace.
I miss him, and I’m going on without him, and I am able to be happy again, at least in part because he gave me so much love and grace while he was here.
So that’s the sermon for today, folks: give your partners, your family, your friends, the world, enough grace. Everyone needs enough grace. And cut yourself some slack because life is sometimes so hard, or so crazy, or so senseless that you are left empty and grieving. Give yourself grace, and time, sweet tincture of time, to heal and go on. That’s all I’m saying.

*Paul Gilmartin hosts a podcast called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. You can look it up. He said when he was a guest on Luke Burbank’s NPR show Live Wire, “People who think they understand clinical depression because they’ve experienced situational depression are like people who think they understand Italy because they’ve had dinner at the Olive Garden.”