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THURSDAY, APRIL 25, 2002
"I missed you so
"I'm glad you're back. Things go so much better when you're here."
"Did you have fun?"
"Did you like our notes?"
"Yea! You're back!"
"We've missed you so much!"
"Welcome home, Ms. Patricia!!!"
When I got off the elevator and started up the hall toward the art room, two fourth grade boys came running out to greet me. One of them clamped his hand over the tinkling windchime on my walker and whispered, "Shhh!" The other said to a classmate who had just poked his head out the door, "Don't tell! We want to surprise everybody." Immediately we heard a boy's voice inside the classroom saying loudly, "She's here! Ms. Patricia's here!"
If I ever doubted I was loved, those feelings were laid to rest today. Do children ever know how to make you feel special! I gave and received a million hugs. The first graders spontaneously formed a line, boys and girls alike, to get their hugs. One fourth grade girl came back three times for l-o-n-g hugs. It was SO GOOD to be back home with my young friends. I've missed them terribly. And Susan too. It was so good to watch her in action again, teaching, encouraging, inspiring, disciplining, loving, teasing, reproving, helping. I was delighted to hear that she's been nominated for the Dearborn School System Teacher of the Year award. I hope she wins--she deserves it. I've never experienced any teacher who is more creative, original and dedicated than Susan.
Speaking of original,
I came back to find the fourth graders doing Chinese ink paintings
and writing haiku poetry. She had planned it so that when I gave
the kids the Chinese New Year's animal charms I'd bought them
in San Francisco, they would understand their meaning. Apparently
I'd written in my journal about buying these gifts, and when Susan
read it she started planning this Chinese-inspired project. By
the way, the kids loved their charms, at least most of
them did. A few who picked (with their eyes closed) pigs and rats
weren't necessarily delighted. Not surprisingly, the dragon
was the favorite. Susan even had strings so they could wear the
charms around their neck, and almost all of them did.
FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 2002
So what is freedom
really. Is it doing what I
want when I want, or is that
self-indulgence. Is it
feeling sun on the back
my head, the wind's fingers
parting my hair, the lake's sour-sweet
smell in my nostrils. Is it sitting
in the cacophonous clamor
prison cell reading poetry. Is it putting
one word beside another in a way that
surprises my somewhat stuffy
ear. Is it watching an
squirrel nibble succulent buds from a
branch bent double. Is it taking to the
streets to register my dissent.
Maybe freedom does
not depend on place or
time or person. Perhaps freedom
demands nothing but
This poem started life
in a bagel shop as I munched on a toasted everything bagel, sipped
an all-berry juice and spooned Victory Garden Vegetable soup into
my mouth. I was reading the book--Mary Oliver's most recent called
What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems--that I had just
bought at the bookstore across the street, the same book I had
ordered two days ago to be sent to Rabih Haddad in prison. As
I scooted home, the question "So what is freedom really?"
kept running through my head. When I arrived home and sat at the
computer, this poem emerged.
SATURDAY, APRIL 27, 2002
I spent much of this wet spring day finishing up the journal entries of my recent train ride across country. It was fun to relive those days of adventure and exquisite sights. You can follow my journey by either going to the Journal 26 archive and scrolling down to Thursday, April 18-Saturday, April 20, or by simply clicking on this train trip link. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I did.
Yesterday I played with one of the photos as I like to do. I think this image was originally called "red rocks & river"; I now call it "painted ridge."
Tonight Ed and I went
to his monthly tennis party. While there I talked with one of
the men. It was the first time since September 11 that I've had
a serious in-depth discussion with someone who sees things very
differently from me about the Bush Administration's "war
on terrorism", the racial profiling of Arab Muslim people,
our loss of civil liberties, the threat of nuclear weapons being
used, and even the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was difficult,
healthy, exhausting, enlightening, discouraging, respectful and
what I probably need to do much more often. I was happy to come
home and retreat to my upper room where I could restore myself.
As I sat in Ed's great grandmother's rocking chair, I saw my friend
the spider crawling across the ceiling. She reminded me of the
importance of weaving these not always comfortable but necessary
webs of communication.
SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 2002
I can see my regular readers smile when they hear me say how surprised I am to find myself totally at ease being a bump on a log these days. For instance, I'd planned to go hear an Afro-Colombian activist speak on "A War On Drugs or A War on People of Color?" this afternoon. When the time came, I just couldn't rouse myself enough to get in the car and drive across town; all I wanted to do was sit in my rocking chair, read Mary Oliver's poetry and listen to my new CD, the soundtrack from "Songcatchers". Maybe it wasn't the most politically conscious choice but it certainly was the most restorative.
Speaking of restorative, sometimes getting out and about fills that need too. A good example came on Friday night when my friend Pat and I went to a local jazz club. Well, it wasn't really a club, it was actually the second floor of a wonderfully funky art gallery in downtown Detroit. A trio we'd heard at the Harlequin Club last autumn was scheduled to play: Spencer Barefield on guitar, Marion Hayden on bass and a percussionist whom I can't name. An Israeli guitarist from New York City, Roni Ben-Hur, was in town to join them.
I'd called the gallery on Friday afternoon to inquire about parking. The kind woman who answered the phone said I could park in the staff parking area directly behind the gallery and she'd let us in the back door. The sets were to be at 8 PM and 9:30 PM. When we arrived about 7:45 PM, the musicians were still bringing their instruments and sound equipment in from their cars, so the gallery manager recommended we go next door to the Majestic Cafe and get a bite to eat.
What a delightful place! Very Detroit with its natural brick interior, colorful abstract paintings and wonderfully diverse group of diners. I ordered a bowl of lentil soup, a Middle Eastern fattouche salad and french fries. My eyes were so much bigger than my stomach that, even with Pat's help, I had good-sized doggie bags to take home. After about a half hour, the gallery manager came to our table to let us know that the musicians were warming up and should be starting their first set shortly.
We took the gallery elevator to the second floor and walked into wonderful music and a beautiful space hung with art on brick walls. The six musicians were framed by a wall of windows overlooking Woodward Avenue. Surprisingly, the musicians outnumbered the audience. We sat in folding chairs a few feet away from the band. And what a band! Not only Roni and Spencer on guitars, but Don Mayberry instead of Marion Hayden on bass, a piano player I can't name but have seen around for years, and the king of Detroit jazz, Marcus Belgrave on trumpet. Pat and I, jazz lovers from way back, felt like we'd died and gone to heaven.
The audience never did get beyond a handful of people so what had been billed as a performance became more like a jam. One fellow would start playing and the others would chime in according to their inclinations and creative flair. At one point they even had the audience vocalizing along with Roni on guitar. Occasionally they'd pull out some music and play fairly orchestrated stuff, but even then everything had an air of spontaneity and improvisation. It was pure magic.
The party didn't break up until 12:30 AM and you can be sure Pat and I were not going to leave until all the instruments were back in their cases. When I think how excited I'd be to sit three rows back from the stage at Yoshi's jazz club in Oakland, I'm awed that my first week back in Detroit I happened upon such an intimate experience of jazz.
Sometimes an unexpected gift comes out of nowhere. Certainly Friday night's experience was such a gift, and this evening I've just received another. An activist friend, John Zettner, sent me an email today with photo attachments from the April 20 demonstration in Washington, DC. I just downloaded and looked at them. The one that touched me deeply was of the Detroit Peace Community holding their signs on that hot Saturday in the city of my birth. There in the front row was a poster I'd created 10 years ago; on it were Gandhi's words, "Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty", with a drawing of a boy holding a sign that said "No War".
I'd been so disappointed that I couldn't attend either of the demonstrations in Washington, DC or San Francisco on that day. It seemed strange that I'd be on a train in the middle of Iowa instead of out there on the streets with my sisters and brothers where I felt I belonged. And now I know I was there...at least my sign was.
And then there are those who do more, so much more than simply demonstrate for peace. I'm referring to people like Julie Herrada, the sister of a friend, who has been in Israel and most recently in Jenin acting as eyes and ears for the world community. Her sister Elena has been forwarding Julie's emails to my CPR (Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit) listserv. All going well, Julie returned home to Ann Arbor today. Bless those courageous people who do as Dorothy Day insists we must:
"As you come to
know the seriousness of our situation--the war, the racism, the
poverty in the world--you come to realize it is not going to be
changed just by words or demonstrations. It's a question
of risking your life. It's a question of living your life
in drastically different ways." Dorothy Day, Seeds
MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2002
Perhaps the most confusing part of what's happening between the Israelis and Palestinians is not the conflict itself but people's response to it, especially here in the United States. Even non-political types seem to feel strongly, and their feelings are not always based on fact. For that reason it is often impossible to have a rational discussion; too much emotional baggage is attached.
So what do we do when we can't talk to one another? I think of how I always say that dialogue is the only weapon that should be used today in the Middle East, and then I have to ask how ready I am to use it myself, even with persons I call my friends. When feelings are so raw, dialogue can feel dangerous.
A lot of what seems to be getting activated is stuff from the past. For a number of my Jewish friends and acquaintances, the Holocaust is powerfully present these days. There almost seems to be an if-you're-not-for-us-you're-against-us attitude surfacing, even among the most liberal-thinking folks I know. And for a people who experienced some of the most horrific examples of ethnic cleansing ever known to humanity, I can understand their concern. But I always want to say that my being against what Ariel Sharon is doing is no more anti-Semitic than my being against what the Bush administration is doing makes me anti-American. As Marty Jezer put it in his article, "Playing the Anti-Semitism Card": "Anti-Semitism is not the issue. It's not Jews attacking Palestinians, it's Israelis. Many Jewish people, myself included, share [people's] disgust."
Well, time will tell how it will all play out. In the meantime perhaps the best we can do is try to respect our neighbor's right to hold an opinion that is different from our own. But if we can keep the lines of communication open, it will definitely help.
I saw the value of dialogue today in Susan's fifth grade art classes. Last night I decided to add Monday to my volunteer schedule at the school. After all, in six weeks the kids will be off for the summer and I'll have to wait three long months before seeing them again. Every visit is precious now. Fortunately Susan was amenable to my plan.
So I showed up a little after 10 AM this morning, fully aware that Monday's art schedule includes a slew of fifth grade classes with some of the most challenging kids in the school. As it turned out, a number of these youngsters "just happened" to be sitting at my table. Instead of letting myself get put off, I somehow managed to see the cries for attention behind their antics and responded to that. I don't mean that I got psychological with them, merely that I saw and heard and acted toward them as I could tell they wanted and needed. In every case the child settled down and got involved with their art projects.
Now, I don't take credit for this. Susan was wonderful with the kids; her art projects were imaginative and engaging, real win-win propositions for everyone. I was probably most pleased to see a boy whom she and I agree should be in special ed, have a very positive experience with his art, and of course, it meant he was no problem to anyone.
Maybe that's what we need to do on a world-size scale: see and hear one another, especially the cries behind the actions, and respond to the basic human needs and fears being expressed. Maybe we need to sit down together and find some win-win propositions. If we can do it with fifth grade boys and girls in a Dearborn, Michigan classroom, why can't we do it with our Israeli and Palestinian sisters and brothers in the Middle East?
Maybe it can be
TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 2002
As I'd hoped, yesterday's journal entry elicited responses from readers, responses that offered a sense of dialogue. From San Francisco, Suzanne sent an email written by Beth Roy, whom she describes as "my teacher, mentor, therapist and friend." It is titled "Middle East Suggestions." From Detroit, my friend Joan sent me a copy of an Italian article, "Orianna Fallaci on Anti-Semitism" that had been published in the April 18th edition of Panorama. It was translated by David A. Harris of the American Jewish Committee.
I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about these two perspectives, as well as offering your own.
I awoke this morning with a strong memory of a dream. In it, I had a Buddhist teacher with whom I was studying. As part of our meditation practice, I started walking in the way he'd just shown me. I was wearing a short blouse that pulled up as I walked so my belly was hanging out (no other way to describe it!). He stopped me and said, "You cannot stay as you are; you must lose 20 pounds." I realized what he said was true and immediately decided to take care of it. Part of my readiness was the realization that my not-so-ablebodied legs would have a lot easier time of it if they had less weight to carry around. I even started thinking about a good diet to follow. What came to me was granola with yoghurt and fruit for lunch, and simple dinners of a protein and salad.
I remembered all that from my dream. When I awoke I decided the dream had a lot of wisdom in it. I don't know about 20 pounds, but 10 would be a big help. I even liked the diet I'd dreamed up. So this afternoon Ed and I scoot/walked to the grocery store and I bought what I needed. For dinner I enjoyed lowfat cottage cheese on a bed of salad greens, three meatless grapeleaves, four lowfat crackers and Odwalla carrot juice. When I got a little peckish later in the evening, I ate a small bowl of granola and yoghurt. My legs are already whispering thank you.
Today was a gorgeous day for a scoot. The lake bedecked with flowering fruit trees at its shore, pansies and tulips smiling up from their bed beside a driveway, lime-green trees overhead and sun-drenched tulips guarding the shortcut I often use. The garden in front of the office Ed rents was in full springtime bloom. Pretty tough to keep from taking pictures today!
And it stayed beautiful
into the early
evening when I scooted down to swim at the nearby middle school.
The only problem was I'd forgotten which days I swim. It is not
Tuesday/Thursday like in San Francisco, but Monday/Wednesday.
Ah well, tomorrow, tomorrow. I can't wait!
WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, 2002
I've just returned from a wonderful swim, my first since returning home. I could tell I'd gotten stronger because instead of the 24 laps I was doing before going to San Francisco, tonight I did 32 with no problem at all. It had been two weeks since my body had been in the water; was it ever happy!
Today Ed and I began our search for a handicap-accessible minivan. You know, the kind that has a ramp that folds out from the sliding door so you can ride your wheelchair or scooter inside. We've been talking about it for some time and decided over the winter that now was the time to go for it. They are very expensive so it's not a choice one makes lightly, but when it gets so you don't go places for fear you can't park close enough to use your walker or will be unable to find some kind soul to help you get your scooter in or out of the car and assemble or disassemble it, then you know the time has come.
We drove almost 50 miles from home--no big deal in the Motor City--to a dealership that specializes in such vehicles. Both of us were immediately attracted to a white 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan Sport that was already totally equipped, loaded so to speak. I've always had small cars so was a bit uneasy with the prospet of driving one of these big minivans. I wasn't even sure the seat could get close enough to the gas pedal for my short legs to reach comfortably. By the way, even though I don't walk worth a darn, I can still drive an unadapted car. My little red Neon and I get along great. Well, so did the White Whale--my name for her--and I. What a smooth, comfortable, doggone cool vehicle! Ed liked driving it as well as I. But is it ever expensive. Whew! Here's a peek at the inside.
While on the lot, we met a nice older man who is selling a four year-old model of the same van for a lot less $$. He has a potential buyer who is looking into getting a loan. Anyway, we called him tonight and asked him to let us know if that deal falls through. We're looking at all our options. Actually, we're lucky. On Friday there's a mammoth handicap-accessiblity show at Detroit's convention center downtown, and we're intending to go. In the meantime, I'm researching and comparing prices over the internet.
When I got home and checked
my emails, there was a message from a group called Ann Arbor Just
Peace. In it was a press release that included a personal response
Haddad to the recent media reports regarding his case. It
was good to hear his strong, articulate voice. This is obviously
not a cowed man. Good for him! May his words reach as many people
as have the government's insinuations and unsubstantiated accusations.
As I remember Sulaima saying the first time I met her in that
Immigration Court waiting room on December 19, "May the truth
THURSDAY, MAY 2, 2002
I am running on empty tonight. It was a wonderful day but one of those where I had to answer "Yes!" when Ed asked me if I did too much. Oh yes. I certainly did. And it is now almost 11 PM and all I want to do is go to bed. But first I'm going to show you why I'm so tired.
Actually I have nothing to show you, in terms of pictures anyway, from the first 6 hours of this busy day, but my regular readers will understand when I say I was helping out at school. Those are gloriously energetic youngsters and even though I'm not teaching, just being around them is rather like running a mini-marathon. As I've said before, I don't know how Susan does it every day.
After school I picked up Pat at Day House and together we drove a couple of miles to the G8 Energy Summit protest rally in the center of downtown Detroit. The police had blocked off Hart Plaza on the Detroit River where the organizers had wanted to hold the rally, but we simply gathered at the street entrance instead. We didn't have a large number of folks but what encouraged the heck out of me was to see so many young activists who were there from colleges and universities in Southeastern Michigan, Central Michigan and even Windsor, Ontario. They were the primary organizers and, as always, had done a wonderful job. This is what gives me hope and is a lot of why I never like to miss being part of demonstrations these days. I always leave feeling more hopeful than when I came.
The rally was held in front of Greenpeace's solar-powered van, and most of the speakers focused on energy issues like fossil fuels, water and the effects of corporate globalization on our planet and its people. The largest banner made the strong statement: "Bush Energy Policy = Oil + War". Among the speakers was Marianne Mahaffey, the president of Detroit's Board of Supervisors, who offered her support and solidarity. That woman has been in it for the long haul. But a few of our numbers were fairly new to the activist world, at least I assume so judging by their ages. I'd guess we ranged in age from 5-80. Pretty good for a demo with perhaps 200 people. The rally had a good mix of information and calls for action, with occasional flashes of humor and the steady beat of drums.
Detroit's Finest stayed off to the sidelines until we decided to join the striking Detroit-Windsor Tunnel workers. These women and men have been locked out since they refused an $8000 per person reduction in pay and loss of benefits offered (offered?) by the new owners, an Australian company. The police wouldn't let us use the sidewalk--a sidewalk formerly open to the public--but diverted us to an inner walkway and insisted we keep moving. On the way I encountered an obstacle that I couldn't get by with Ona my scooter, so Pat and I turned around and headed back the way we'd come. Not for long. We were instructed in no uncertain terms that this was a One Way march. When I explained my predicament, an older African-American police officer said he'd take care of it, and he did. He moved the sandbags that were holding the road sign and smiled graciously as I passed. No problem.
After our brief march in solidarity with the strikers, we reconvened in front of Hart Plaza and had an impromtu speakout. Ben, whose sign I'd photographed, asked if he could use my photos for the new Michigan Indymedia website and of course I said yes. I then gave him my camera to take whatever pictures he wanted and was happy to see two good views of the speakout.
This was such a peaceful demostration that we ended by holding hands and chanting, followed by spontaneous dancing. Hardly a threat to anyone, certainly not to the G8 energy ministers who were meeting in secret somewhere in the city.
Here are a few of the signs being carried or worn:
Stop Poisoning Our Planet
People Over Profits
Use Alternative Energy Sources, Not Fossil Fuels
She's Not For Sale
Democracy Now In the Global Economy
G8: Be Fair To the Global South
I was deeply touched to see a number of students wearing patches in remembrance of our Middle Eastern and South Asian brothers who are among this country's Disappeared.
Some people say demonstrations
like these are worthless; after all, the powers-that-be never
see us, nor do they care. I say, do it anyway. The changes we're
after are not in them but in ourselves. When we come together
and stand up for what we believe, it gives us strength to keep
on keepin' on. That's all that matters. As an old activist
friend says, "You gotta learn to love the struggle."
FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2002
Among the differences between my two lives is the depth of history I have here in Detroit. Where I started spending my winters in San Francisco in January 1996, I've lived in the Detroit area since Ed and I married in October 1966. And it was actually a year before that, during my 9-month Smith College School for Social Work field placement at Detroit's Lafayette Clinic that I met Ed at a dinner party. So, in essence, we're looking at the difference between 6 and almost 37 years in a place.
I mention this because today I returned to a place that meant a great deal to me between 1985-91, the former St. Agnes and current Martyrs of Uganda church in Detroit's inner city. Back when I was a church-goer, I discovered a wonderful faith community among the people of St. Agnes. Although predominantly an African-American community, I was accepted like a member of the family. Some of the dearest people I've ever known were there, two of them being Charlie and Ethel Phillips.
Have you ever met anyone that everyone loves? That was how it was with Charlie and Ethel. And it wasn't because they were too sweet; it was that they were wise, playful, considerate, honest, respectful to everyone and totally authentic. My favorite memories of Charlie and Ethel are watching them search through the grass in front of the church, looking for four-leaf clovers. They loved four-leaf clovers! At that time, they were well into their 70s.
I hadn't seen Charlie and Ethel in years, but we still exchanged Christmas cards with handwritten messages. This week I got a call from Roz, an old St. Agnes friend, telling me that last Sunday, after two days in the hospital, Charlie fell asleep and didn't wake up. He was 91. Today his funeral was to be celebrated at Martyrs of Uganda church.
I was still tired when I woke up this morning after only six hours of sleep; yesterday's journal had kept me working until almost 2 AM. I tried to talk myself into not going to Charlie's funeral so I could get some more sleep, but it didn't work. I had to be there to send him off.
I'm still trying to process the feelings that washed over me in that church. It was a mix of comfort, strangeness, gratitude, regret, delight, discomfort, happiness and sadness. I'd lived a lot of life between those walls, most of which enriched me but some of which set me back. I don't need to go into details, but certain of my St. Agnes relationships were not well chosen. However, the vast majority were of the type that you look back and say, "Without her or him, I would never be who I am today." I guess I'd have to say that for all of them; each one offered learnings.
But today I only saw and reconnected with those who had been pure gift. And as I looked around and saw perhaps three other white faces among the crowds of people who showed up, I again realized with awe what a privilege it had been to be accepted as a sister/daughter/mother/friend in this community. Such an open-hearted, loving family.
Now, I must admit that part of my discomfort today was with the ritual itself. Since I left organized religion in 1993, I've not missed it a minute. I've missed the people but not the structure. But I could make my way through that because of the joy of being among friends, and the honor of saying goodbye to dear Charlie. Let me tell you, one hug by Ethel made up for any moments of discomfort with the notion of church.
After Charlie's funeral, I drove home to pick Ed up for the next activity of the day. We wanted to go downtown to the Living Without Limitations Expo and Job Fair at Cobo Hall. We figured it would be the perfect place to further explore our options regarding the purchase of a handicap-accessible minivan.
Once there we parked on the Cobo Hall roof. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of old and new Detroit buildings that surrounded us. Ed put Ona my scooter together and we soon found the hall we were looking for. As someone who has not really gotten involved with the disabled community, it felt unusual to see so many persons in wheelchairs and scooters. I was surprised by my feelings of strangeness. The only thing I can figure is that I've consciously "mainstreamed" myself so that my disability is not what identifies me. Not that it identifies the folks I saw, but when we're all in a room together, our disabilities seem to make a pretty strong statement.
Ed and I did learn more about our options. First of all, I saw a number of accessible minivans, but none I liked as much as the White Whale. By the way, she was there too! In fact, Mark, the fellow from the driving aids dealership we'd visited on Wednesday, was most helpful today. He even took us over to a competitor who sells a wheelchair hoist that can also be used with a scooter. I was able to try it out and discover that this option wouldn't work for me. That was very helpful information. So now we're considering buying a handicap-accessible minivan like the White Whale, but possibly a used model instead. The cost is still a big factor.
The other significant part of this day was receiving my second letter from Rabih Haddad. It was good to be able to read it to Ed as we drove downtown. We were both deeply touched by Rabih's words of gratitude for my letters and the book of poems by Mary Oliver that I sent him. He wrote:
"Between your letters (which are no less grandeur than Oliver's poetry) and Oliver's poems I was free from the shackles of my present reality, I felt my spirit soar. I was right there with you in your train cabin, savoring the beauty you describe, being drenched in sunshine, soaking in every ray, enjoying the explosion of spring in beautiful paintings of life and color masterpieces of the creator of the heavens and the earth. I could almost feel the early morning mist on my face, the droplets of dew dancing on my skin. I could almost fill my lungs with fresh air, doused with sweet fragrances of a multitude of wild flowers and blossoms. Thank you my dear sister. Thank you for giving me that chance. Thank you for your gift of freedom."
If ever I wonder whether what I write has value, I can hold tight to Rabih's words:
"Oh, my dear Patricia, please keep writing. Your words penetrate the folds of darkness I'm in without seeking anyone's permission. They joyfully and completely violate every aspect of my imprisonment to inject light, hope, and peace into an otherwise grim and sad and seemingly endless monotony."
If you too would like to make a difference in one person's life, you can write Rabih at:
Rabih Haddad 30189-039
71 W. Van Buren St.
Chicago, IL 60605
And now to bed. Yippee!
SATURDAY, MAY 4, 2002
Today was a day of words, words and more words. An exhausting day as it turned out, but a healthy, necessary day. Whew! I'm glad it's almost over.
Things started simply enough. The words I was working with were in my April 26th poem on freedom. This morning, after reading in Mary Oliver's recently published What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems, I returned to my poem and played with the line breaks. I remember our spending a great deal of time on that subject during a weeklong poetry workshop I took with Thomas Lux in 1996. Where the poet decides to start a new line can profoundly enhance the rhythm and interest experienced by the reader; it's an important tool to learn how to use. Mary Oliver is an excellent teacher; she always surprises me with her line breaks. So I played around with my poem until I felt satisfied, at least for now. You can read the revised copy by clicking here.
My next experience of words was not so serene or satisfying. Ed and I had to talk out some tough stuff. Not fun, believe me, but necessary. I've come to the realization that letting things slide simply means they go underground and create the stage for strange, convoluted ways of expressing what you need to express. The direct path is always the best. Direct and respectful, that is. As uncomfortable as it was, I felt we handled it well.
I scooted home along the lake to try to settle myself down, only to find a phone message on our machine from Pat asking to drop by about 6:30 PM with Emily. That just gave me time to eat my dunch (lunch/dinner) and tidy up a bit. It turned out that Pat wanted to take me up on my offer of mediating a difficult subject between mother and daughter. It went well but took a lot of energy.
So now I'm upstairs by
myself hoping to be done soon with words. I have Ed's DVD copy
of "American In Paris" and as soon as I finish this
journal entry, I'm going to enter that musical, non-relational
world. Sounds good!
SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2002
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Although I didn't attend any festivities, I was conscious of the celebrations happening on Detroit's Southwest side and in San Francisco's Mission district today. I bet my neighborhood was hopping.
My celebration was a celebration of spring! Today was the warmest day since I returned home to Michigan two weeks ago. Sunny, blue-skied, flower-fragrant, shortsleeve shirt weather...an open-window kind of a day. Actually it's almost 10 PM right now and the window beside me is still wide open.
It's on evenings like this that I'm grateful to be in Detroit rather than San Francisco. Even after warm sunny days, that city usually cools off as the fog rolls in. I love open windows! That's why we've never had air conditioning. Why would I want to close my windows during the most beautiful months of the year? I'd miss hearing the early morning trills, clicks, hiccoughs, whistles and siren calls of the birds. And what about my favorite of all, the one I call the Rilke bird (Ril-ke, Ril-ke, Ril-ke)? I'd hate to have his song muted by closed windows.
When I went for my scoot today it was the sights, smells, sounds and feel of the warm air caressing my bare arms that delighted me. Sailboats with their white wings spread wide dotted the lake. These yellow tulips tried to outshine the sun. The first lilacs were outrageous in their fragance. And even my finger wanted to get in the act..
Ed and I had lunch together down by his office and then walk/scooted to the library where I rented a couple of DVDs and he got a video. After I returned home--singing the whole way--I sat down to write Rabih a letter. I find the act of handwriting my words takes me to different places than using my computer. It's amazing how quickly I've fallen away from writing anything by hand. But since Rabih can only handwrite his letters, I choose to do the same when I respond.
I then made a sign for tomorrow's protest demonstration. As I wrote Rabih, these days one barely finishes one demonstration when it's time to get ready for the next. Now, Ed thinks I should have one generic sign that says "No___" and I'd simply fill in the blank according to what issue we're addressing. But I like making my signs. I find it worthwhile to think about how to say what I want/need to say in the fewest possible words.
For instance, tomorrow
George W. Bush is coming to a Southfield, Michigan elementary
school to talk about his educational policy. My
sign says, "What about the children of Afghanistan, Iraq
and Palestine??" Detroit activists are meeting at the Islamic
Center at Wayne State University at 7 AM and caravaning the 10
miles to the school. They're not saying what time Bush is scheduled
to appear so we might be there most of the day. It's supposed
to remain warm but possibly rain tomorrow so I may be very happy
to have my red teflon-coated silk rain poncho. Ona my scooter
is already in the car, ready to go. And I will soon be going to
bed since I'll be setting my alarm for 6 AM. Yipes! Hope George
W. gets there early so I can go home and nap afterwards. I'm sure
we won't get anywhere near him but at least we know we're
there, and why.
MONDAY, MAY 6, 2002
Such interesting bedfellows! The only other time I remember being part of a demonstration that was made up of so many different voices was on January 20, 2001 at the Bush Inauguration protest in San Francisco. Our numbers then were colossal with at least 15,000 people on the streets, where today's total may have hit 100. But numbers had nothing to do with passion. Whether you were there wanting election reform, more equal education, an end to war, freedom for Palestine, to protect children at home and abroad, to support education and not oppression, to end the link between oil and war, to urge the continuation of student loans, to end the occupation in the Middle East, for the media to start telling the truth, to stop using tax dollars to fund Israel's war, for health care instead of warfare, or for the U.S. to get out of the Middle East and stop the sanctions against Iraq, you cared deeply about your issue. Interesting that Bush can draw such a diverse crowd of folks who disagree with his way of doing things.
Now it wasn't simply the people who wanted change who showed up. Some folks had a job to do, like our friends from the Secret Service. And then there were neighbors and family members of the children who attend the school Bush was visiting. There only seemed to be one rabid pro-Bush supporter among them, but she did manage to lead a few cheers. Once during our almost 5-hour demonstration, the cheerleader crossed the street and confronted some of our women who were chanting in support of Palestine. "But they're not our people!", she shouted. A police officer gently escorted her back over to "her side" of the street. That was the only moment of conflict, and it hardly counts as such.
Our numbers, though small, included mothers and babies, young children, student activists, mature men and white-haired types like me. We were of different ethnic origins, nationalities, races, religions, social and educational backgrounds, political persuasions and physical abilities. Yet we were together in the struggle on this day in this place. We chanted together, stood (or sat) together, spoke out, shared signs, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for one another, talked to people we didn't know and generally lived together as we wish the world community could learn to do. I'm sure some of our number did not share the passion of our Muslim sisters and brothers as they loudly chanted for an end to Israel's war against the Palestinian people, but I heard no complaints. I think most of us realize that this is the first time in more than a generation that the plight of the Palestinian people finally has the attention and sympathy of the world community. Of course, they're passionate about it!
You know, the arrival of Bush's motorcade as they turned into the school driveway more than a block away made little impact, at least on me. He never saw or heard us, but I never expected that he would. Actually, I was surprised that they let us get as close to the school as they did, and that there was so little police presence. I guess I'm used to being part of demos where they expect us to give them trouble. There was no trouble today; we were a thoroughly peaceful bunch.
Although I'm pretty weary after having gotten up at 6 AM, left the house at 6:30 AM and been out there for so many hours--I returned home at 2 PM--I'm glad I went. Again, not because it will change one iota how the Bush administration continues to conduct its war on terrorism or its support of Israel's atrocities or its suppression of civil liberties here in this country. No, I am glad I was there to experience the way our world can be, even for five short hours. That is my hope for peace.
By the way, you may wonder
why the President of the United States would take time out of
his busy schedule to visit a small suburban elementary school
in Detroit. I wondered myself, that is until I heard one of his
sound bites on the radio afterwards. George W. Bush came to this
particular school because it probably has the highest percentage
of Iraqi-American students in the United States, and if he wants
to start dropping more bombs on Iraq in the name of his unending
war on terrorism, it pays to be seen, in this country at least,
as a friend to immigrants from Iraq. Do I sound cynical or merely
realistic? But for what other reason would he have come?
1, 2, 3, 4...no more killing, no more war
5, 6, 7, 8...I will not cooperate
TUESDAY, MAY 7, 2002
We wondered if maybe it was the barometric pressure. The kids at school today were kind of off the wall...nothing serious, just a bit harder than usual to control. Ah well, it is May and they only have a little over a month until thoughts of school will be history. Not only that, the fourth graders are leaving tomorrow morning for a three day camping trip. Well, not exactly camping; they'll be staying in dorms at a recreation site a couple hours from here. And not all the fourth graders at that--only 35 have signed up to go.
When I asked Susan about the effect of culture on our parents' willingness (or unwillingness) to have the kids go on overnights like this, she said it is definitely a factor. Some of our students have never spent the night away from home except with close relatives. Then there's the worry about girls and boys sleeping in the same building, even though their dorms are pretty far apart and very well chaperoned.
This subject led Susan to tell me about a fifth grade student she'd had in one of her classes soon after starting to teach here in Dearborn. Apparently this girl was a real problem. She'd do exactly the opposite of whatever Susan asked. If Susan said to paint something white, this youngster would paint it black. It never stopped all year long, just one thing after another. Soon before school let out, Susan heard something that helped her understand what was going on. The girl was from a Middle Eastern country that is noted for being among the most strict in its interpretation of the Islam religion. Her parents had told her that when she graduated from fifth grade, they were going to send her "back home" where her aunt would find her a husband. This 10 or 11 year-old girl was doing everything she could to be held back. The last thing she wanted was to graduate from fifth grade!
Today our off-the-wall fourth graders worked on writing their stories. Next Wednesday, May 15, the famous children's book author/illustrator Jon Agee is coming from New York to teach our fourth graders about his craft. He's asked that each kid have at least the beginnings of a story for him to work with. I don't know about the kids, but Susan and I are very excited about his visit. She's worked with him before and says he is not only a gifted artist and writer but a very funny man. I've arranged to come back from my visit to Mom half a day early so I can be at school on Wednesday. What an opportunity!
Speaking of my visit to Mom, I fretted the whole way to school about how I was going to take care of all my before-trip errands and still spend Thursday--which is my usual day--at school. Friday morning I'm scheduled to present a talk about disability to a small holistic health group. Early that afternoon, I'll go pick up Pat at Day House and we'll head east toward Washington, DC; we plan to spend the night in our old friend Cranberry, PA on the way. You can imagine my delight when I read the following notice posted to the school door: "Students in grades 1-5 will be released from school at 11:55 AM Thursday, May 9." Thank you, teachers' meetings!
I volunteered at school today so I could attend the opening of the Dearborn All City Student Art Exhibit in the Civic Center Art Gallery from 3-5 PM. Each art teacher in the district was allowed to choose only 8 pieces of art from all their classes. Susan had let me help her make the final decisions last week. What a tough job! Anyway, I wanted to support our kids and see the show.
It was a wonderful show and elegantly presented with background music by a high school chamber ensemble. One of our students came with her father. Marisa's self portrait was hung in an excellent location and she seemed delighted with the whole experience. She even got interviewed by cable TV! I took pictures of three other examples from our school, including these two at the bottom of the picture, and the blue and black sculptural piece in the top row of this picture. Everywhere I looked, my eye was delighted by bright colors and original ideas, unusual use of materials, and flat-out excellent art. In some cases, the art-goers were as stunning as what they were looking at. And not all the art was on the walls; three-dimensional pieces had their own display cases.
Dearborn students, art
teachers and parents should be very proud.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, 2002
As I know I've said before, one of Detroit's greatest assets is being a border city to Canada. For us to go to Windsor, Ontario is much like San Franciscans going to the East Bay. One can either take the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel under the Detroit River or the Ambassador Bridge over it. The cost is $2.50 American each way. Although that is more than the $3 fee on the Bay Bridge, once in Canada the American dollar is usually worth at least $1.40 Canadian.
I usually take the tunnel which is only about seven miles from my house, but as long as the tunnel workers are on strike, I will support them by taking the bridge instead. Even taking the bridge, I was in Canada in thirty minutes today. I had an appointment with Leesa, my all-time favorite haircutter, at 12:30 PM. Fortunately I had time to take Riverside Drive from the bridge to the hair salon on Windsor's east side. Blue sky or grey, it's a beautiful drive.
Even though we share a common language and many cultural patterns, I find Canada--Windsor, Ontario to be specific--different from the United States in significant ways. Among them is how they use their waterfront properties. Instead of emulating Detroit with its unending line of riverfront office and apartment buildings, convention centers, factories and warehouses, dotted by a few green spaces, Windsor has an eight-mile stretch of parks from the Ambassador Bridge going east through downtown. Not only is everything green but many of the parks have lovely English gardens and environmental sculptures.
I stopped briefly at one of these parks today. I just couldn't drive by such magnificent examples of indigenous art--what we call totem poles--without taking time to see them better. I pulled into the parking lot and took a picture of the park with its view of Detroit, another of a seagull who obviously hoped I couldn't read the sign he was perched on, and the third of the Ambassador Bridge. I took my final photo as I prepared to get back on Riverside Drive; it was of two beautifully lyrical sculptures.
Leesa gave me just the kind of haircut I wanted: short enough on top so it would stand up but not so short that my head looked like a peach with white fuzz on it. I don't know if you remember my disappointment with the last haircut I got in San Francisco, but the fact that it had been over eight weeks and I still didn't desperately need a cut gives some indication of how short it was. After my appointment with Leesa, I stopped at my favorite Chinese restaurant to get the spicy garlic eggplant I love. Windsor's ethnic restaurants are every bit as good as San Francisco; there just aren't as many of them. For the first time ever, I had a bad experience, not with the food but with the service. I waited a full 40 minutes for my order to appear. It was delicious but not worth the wait.
On the way home I stopped
at AAA to get maps for Friday's drive to visit Mom near Washington,
DC. By the time I made it safe and sound inside my own front door
at 4 PM, I was totally pooped. Six times in and out of the car,
lots of walking with windchime walker, my frustration at the restaurant,
and dealing with rain most of the day had taken its toll. I gave
up on my plan to go swimming tonight and let myself veg out instead.
THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2002
A day of paying bills, running errands, organizing and packing. Pat and I leave early tomorrow afternoon to drive to the Washington, DC area. Pat will stay with her friends who live in Virginia an hour outside of Washington, and I will be in Maryland visiting my Mom.
If you're a regular reader you know what a miracle it is that my mother is still around to visit. She's still not eating very much, but has gotten off oxygen and seems fairly perky, all things considered. For instance, when I asked what she'd like me to bring her for Mother's Day, she said, "You!" I could hear the smile in her voice.
We're not staying very long, only until Tuesday or Wednesday, but I suspect that will be enough. Mom tires of visitors pretty quickly so I'll probably be making a series of short visits each day. I'm going to stay at the same motel I've stayed at for the last couple of years. It's within scooting distance of Mom's nursing facility and even has a small indoor pool. If I have the time or inclination to go into DC, they have a free shuttle to and from the Metro station.
In relation to my journal, I can't promise how regular my entries will be. Friday and Saturday already look like non-journal keeping days. On Friday we'll stop at a motel in Pennsylvania and spend the night. Then Saturday we'll continue the trip--it's about 11-12 hours total--and arrive in Maryland probably mid-afternoon. I'll check in at the motel, scoot over to visit Mom and go out that night with my nephew John and his fiancee Kirsten. Hopefully I can find time on Sunday, Mother's Day, to fill you on how things are going.
So please be patient and don't think I've forgotten you. I haven't ;-)
Tomorrow morning I'm giving a presentation on Disability awareness to a small group of holistic health professionals. The blurb I wrote months ago reads:
DIS-ABLED OR ABLED DIFFERENTLY? Living creatively within a body that has its own agenda and working with issues of control, self esteem and past/future fixations. How Patricia Lay-Dorsey brought her life experience as an MSW, longtime groupfacilitator and professional artist to the unexpected diagnosis of chronic progressive MS at the age of 45 in 1988. Visit her at her website, www.windchimewalker.com for a preview.
The meeting is only two hours long, with the first half hour for announcements and such. Then there is usually a brief meditation or guided visualization to help participants ground and center themselves. So my actual talk will only be about an hour.
I intend to give each person a stone to hold as I guide them in a meditation on being as still as a stone. I'll let the details emerge spontaneously tomorrow.The stones I'll use are from the Great Lakes and have been smoothed by water, sand and winds. Kind of like I feel my rough edges have been worn smooth by the action of my body's demands and special needs since being diagnosed with MS almost 14 years ago.
The next part of my presentation
will be a short herstory of my life with a disabling physical
condition. Following that, I intend to offer my perspective on
the variety of ways people respond to having a disability, especially
the formerly ablebodied. There are those who live in the past--bemoaning
all that they used to do and can do no longer--those who live
in the present--the adapters--and those who live in the future--the
ones who spend their lives searching for a cure. We'll talk about
how being a person with a disability affects one's sense of self,
and what it means to live inside a body over which you have little
I then plan to give a short list of practical do's and don'ts when interacting with persons with disabilities. Of course, this will be my own list, but that's all I know.
Finally we'll come to what I hope will be the heart of our time together--questions and answers, and discussion. I believe we teach one another when we share what we have experienced, what we understand and what we don't. I trust I will learn more than anyone.
So I'll talk to you when
I can. Until then have a lovely spring weekend.
SUNDAY, MAY 12, 2002
I sit at a picnic table beside the lake on the grounds of Mother's nursing facility and tap out my words on the laptop. The wind lifts my dress like a sail, a bird serenades me from a nearby tree, gathering clouds offer the promise of rain, but the sun still shines mistily and my arms are comfortably bare. I hear the splash of a duck land in the lake and honking geese as they fly overhead. It is Mother's Day and I am here with my mother, my mother whom I never expected to see alive again. What a sweet day.
When I arrived in her room late yesterday afternoon, Mom was the most alert I've seen her in years. We visited for a couple of hours and she stayed with me (mentally) the whole time. I even sang her a few songs--My Funny Valentine, The Way You Look Tonight, On the Street Where You Live, and Getting To Know You. She loved it. As much as I sing for others, whenever I've offered to do so for Mom, she's declined. To be honest, I hadn't offered very often because I could still hear her say "Don't sing so loud!" when we'd go to church together years ago. Sad how old tapes can get in the way. But not anymore. Yesterday broke their hold.
Another pleasant surprise came when Ruthlin came in to feed Mom her dinner. She ate the most I've seen her eat since I don't know when. It was amazing!
Today she's less engaged, but since the afternoon is her naptime, I'm not surprised. Again she ate a huge lunch and that is the best Mother's Day gift I could ask for. Of course, there are still people and/or food on the walls of her room, but, as the nurse says, that's her entertainment. If I were in a room by myself day in and day out, with no TV or books, I expect I'd find some friends on the walls too.
Last night I went out for a late dinner with my nephew John and his fiancee Kirsten. We went to a delightful Indian restaurant in Bethesda, MD and spent much of the time talking about their upcoming wedding. They're planning to be married in a castle in Exeter, England this July. It's wonderful to see them together; they seem to bring out the best in one another. After we finished eating, dear John--a Mac Wizard par excellence--worked with my iBook so it won't have such a propensity to freeze.
Pat's and my two-day road trip was wonderful. The trees displayed their springtime variegated tones of lime-green, ochre and light russet. The hills looked like green velvet, fields were plowed and planted--or being planted--and there wasn't much traffic or construction. As we'd done last autumn, we stayed overnight at the Red Roof Inn in Cranberry Township just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We had a good time watching "Harry Potter" on the pay-TV, and turned in early.
Yesterday we drove the alternative route we'd used coming home last October. We took Interstate 79 from Cranberry, Pennsylvania across the tip of West Virginia and then picked up the National Highway 68 that runs along the northern edge of Maryland, before dropping south into the Washington, DC area via Interstate 70/270. We even crossed the Eastern Continental Divide which marks where the waters start flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. We passed farms, forested hills and striated rocky ledges where the highway had been cut into the sides of hills.
Instead of rushing, we took our time. For instance, when we came to Friendsville, MD around noon, we turned off the highway and drove into town. Our destination, the Cider Mill Grill, was still closed for the winter. We drove around town awhile until we found the perfect spot in which to take a breather. Pat went off for a short walk while I stood beside the car and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the swollen river rushing by. Later in the day, we had a pleasant picnic near another river outside of Cumberland, MD.
Pat is now in Virginia visiting her friends while I am here in Maryland visiting my Mom. Tonight my sister Carolyn and I are getting together at my favorite Thai restaurant for dinner.
And now it is time to close up my laptop and scoot back up to continue my visit with Mom. Maybe she'll be awake and will let me sing her some more songs. How grateful I am that she is still here with us on this Mother's Day 2002.
Yes, she was much more alert and actually wouldn't let me stop singing. She said my songs brought back memories. She mentioned camp, growing up in North Carolina and my Dad singing to us on the boat. What a gift to be able to give her such happy thoughts! Mother then ate another hearty dinner, this time with the help of her favorite caregiver, Muriel. The day was made complete by my sister and I having a perfectly marvelous time together at dinner. I even ran into two friends from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival at the restaurant!
Life is good.
MONDAY, MAY 13, 2002
Every time I do this, it has more power, for me anyway. "This" being demonstrating by myself in front of the White House. I did everything I could this morning to talk myself out of it. I didn't have time. I should be with Mom, or even allow myself to relax and watch a DVD movie on my computer. But nothing worked. I had to go down there.
I'd brought my signs with me into the motel on Saturday, just in case. Well, today was that "just in case". It took me an hour to make the trip by Metro, what with having to change trains at Metro Center. And then, of course, the first thing I saw when I hit Pennsylvania & 18th was Dad's old office building. Eighth floor corner office on the White House side of the Executive Office Building. My Dad who briefed Presidents Truman and Eisenhower every day. Is he turning in his grave or thanking me for what I do these days? Who knows. But it sure is what I have to do.
And I was glad I made the effort today. The only other signs of conscience I saw in that bustling, self-absorbed city were the Lafayette Park Peace Camp folks--Conchita and Don--and a man named Dave who, during his lunch break, walks over from a nearby office building a couple of times a week, wearing his sandwich board with messages about the effects of the sanctions against Iraq printed on the front, and about the US history of supporting military dictators on the back. No, that's not completely true. The other sign of conscience I saw were the ADAPT disabled activists stopping traffic--with police protection--at 17th & H.
I joined them for a short time. While there, I met Kurt from Colorado who told me what it had been like for him at age 20 to have to live in a nursing home. I also talked with the ADAPT contingent from Boulder, Colorado who travel all over the country to attend ADAPT's national demonstrations twice a year. The thrust of ADAPT's message this time was for the federal government to fund in-home attendant care rather than warehousing disabled folks in nursing homes. As they pointed out, the difference between prison and a nursing home is that in prison there's a chance of parole; in a nursing home, you're in for life.
I only sat across from the White House for an hour with my signs, but it was enough. Don from the Peace Camp sat with me and we talked about what's going on in the world, how the Bush adminstration is handling things, what's happening among activists, how it is for them to have been out here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since June 1981, how he feels like their encampment is used by the government and the tourist industry as a "living example" of the freedom of speech, how we both feel the US is moving toward becoming a police state. Just lots of good old activist talk. He obviously appreciated my being there; Conchita even took my picture. It must get lonely sitting there day in and day out, not to mention the strangeness of being across the street from a place that has such bad energy. At least Don divides the time--he does days and another guy does nights--but I suspect Conchita is there all the time. I remember buying a rock from her years ago that had a peace dove painted on it. She still paints them.
While I sat there holding my signs, tourists busily snapped pictures of one another in front of the White House. Of course, Don had done the same thing for me. A couple of folks nodded in agreement with my signs, a few took photographs, many folks at least read them, and some passed by as if I didn't exist. Kind of like being a street person. As always, there was the ubiquitous unmarked van parked nearby taking photos to add to people's files. As an activist friend said lately, "I'd be embarrassed if I didn't have a file by now!" Well, mine must be pretty extensive seeing as how it was started in the late 1950s when I had my first summer job at J. Edgar Hoover's FBI headquarters here in DC.
I still had a nice visit
with Mom later in the afternoon. I did lots of singing again,
which she seems to love. This time she told me the people on the
wall were singers too and would soon be appearing on TV. At one
point she said, "My, you and your group sound wonderful!"
She's just about the happiest person I know. Aren't we lucky!
WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 2002
I apologize, my friends, for neglecting to tell you I'd be on the road last night so wouldn't be putting up a journal entry. It didn't even occur to me until we were passing from Pennsylvania into Ohio today that I'd left you in the lurch, virtually speaking.
Yesterday morning, I scooted from the motel over to Mom's nursing facility, and on the way, said goodbye to the geese and goslings I'd seen in this same spot four days in a row. I again sang for Mom and the smile on her face let me know how she felt about it. We both agreed this had been one of our best visits ever. I think part of its success was due to a simple choice I made. Instead of sitting as before in the easy chair at the end of her bed, I perched on the stool right beside her. My being so close helped her stay engaged; I think it also made it easier for her to hear me. My mother, like all of us, wanted a more intimate sense of connection. So did I. And we both got what we wanted.
I took my turn driving yesterday--288 miles in alternating sun and pouring rain. On our way to Washington, DC last Saturday, Pat had expressed interest in stopping at the Sideling Hill Exhibition Center on our return trip; she was fascinated by the exposed layers of rock. Fortunately the weather had cleared by the time we got there yesterday, so we stopped briefly. Pat went off to explore and I stood beside the car enjoying the beautiful view of Maryland. Our overnight stay in Cranberry, PA was enhanced by our watching "A Beautiful Mind" on the pay-TV. Although I'd originally seen this movie on the big screen in San Francisco, I found it translated very well to video format. A deeply touching film.
Today's drive--Pat's turn as driver--was sunny and warm. I spent much of the day reading Carol Shield's new novel, Unless. It is a sensitive, well-written story of a woman who encounters sadness in mid-life. I recommend it highly.
We arrived in Detroit
around 4 PM. Pat came home with me so she could enjoy a few more
hours of vacation before returning to Day House. Her daughter
Emily will pick her up tonight at 9 PM. In the meantime, I'm off
to swim some laps. After two days in a car, nothing attracts me
more than the prospect of stretching my muscles in the pool.
THURSDAY, MAY 16, 2002
I'm running on empty. My body is doing everything it can to get my attention. Will I listen? I'd better or I'll put myself at risk of a fall.
Tomorrow I intended to join some women friends for a weekend away. Lisa had emailed two months ago to ask what date would work for me; I chose May 17-19. There were to be three of us coming from Belleville, one from Toronto and two from Windsor--all in Ontario. Our U.S. contingent was to be me from Detroit and Lisa from the Thumb area of Michigan. We were to meet at Lisa's house on Friday night and stay until Sunday afternoon. I'm using the past tense because it looks like my plans might be history. I don't feel well enough to go. Maybe I'll feel better by Saturday, but Friday is definitely out.
I find that one of the hardest tasks of this time of life--50s coming into the 60s--is learning how to say no when you need to, especially when it's likely to disappoint others. Saying yes is a piece of cake--for me anyway. But no? Not fun. However, there are times when no must be said, disappointments or not. Especially when one's body is making its wishes and needs perfectly clear.
Before I caught onto my weary body's message, I spent half a day with the kids at school. Susan even let me read Jon Agee's new picture book, Milo's Hat Trick, aloud to the first graders. What fun! It brought back memories of my days as the Story Lady at the bookstore where I worked in the mid-90s. But after that class I packed it in and took my achy body home. A deep sleep restored me somewhat, but not completely.
I trust I'm listening
to my own words and will act on the wisdom they contain.
FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2002
Today was just what I
needed. I slept in until almost 11 AM, finally unpacked my suitcase
of clothes from San Francisco (with Ed's help), finished reading
Carol Shield's excellent new novel Unless, caught up with
my emails, had a good dinner with Eddie at the dining room table
(we often eat in the kitchen), and watched a delightful French
film on video ("Le Closet") with Ed tonight. A quiet,
undemanding day at home. Perfection!
SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2002
It's before 9 AM and I'll
soon be off to join my women friends for an overnight. See you
SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2002
I am SO GLAD I joined my friends at Lisa's house in Michigan's thumb (a geographical location an hour and a half north of Detroit). What a glorious opportunity to be with like-minded, like-hearted women in a beautiful setting. Although the weather was not terribly cooperative, nothing stopped us from doing what we wanted to do, which was often simply sitting together around the dining room table. We talked about world events--fortunately we see things similarly, Canadians and Americans alike--played with Medicine Cards and other divination tools, shared parts of our stories, laughed and teased one another, discussed books, sang a little, ate a lot and generally did what women have been doing together for millennia. While at the table we were treated to an unending parade of birds outside the window--Downey Woodpeckers, Redbreasted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Flickers, Grosbeaks, Tufted Titmice, Goldfinches, Chickadees, Cardinals, robins, hummingbirds and even two Baltimore Orioles. Lisa knew each one by name.
She has created an exceptionally cozy environment in this rambling house set on 53 acres of meadowland, trees, swampland, ponds--like this frog pond--and two lakes. A perfect setting for such a gathering as ours. The perfection was not simply in the physical beauty that surrounded us but in the love that permeated everything we did. Whether it was walking the labyrinth created with simple string by Nancy (who drummed us through it), or listening to Mary and Joan play a duet on recorder and violin, or hearing Lisa on cello, our time was touched with a sense of wonder and accompanied by feelings of gratitude.
When I returned home to
another letter by Rabih Haddad, my gratitude dropped to a deeper
level. To hear Rabih's reflections on the subject of freedom (triggered
by the poem I shared with him in my
last letter)--Rabih, the Ann Arbor Muslim cleric who has been
in prison for over five months--helped me see my weekend with
new eyes. The simplest things like breathing fresh country air
and seeing the pines swaying overhead, being in the company of
friends, waking throughout the night to the sounds of uninterrupted
silence, relishing the distinctive tastes of Joan's homemade Cuban
Black Bean and carrot-lentil soups, seeing green ferns uncurling
in the spring sun, even using the toilet in privacy...all are
precious beyond telling. Just ask Rabih.
MONDAY, MAY 20, 2002
I did it! I did it! I renewed my driver's license with no problem, no questions asked. Whew! That's a relief.
I can't remember when I've let myself get into such a tissy-fit about something. Generally speaking I'm pretty good at doing what I can do ahead of time and then letting it go, but when it was a question of my driver's license I reacted pretty strongly. It wasn't that I thought they'd deny me a license; my fear was that when they saw me shuffle into the Secretary of State's office pushing my walker, they'd question whether I could still drive an unadapted car. I was afraid they'd restrict my license to only driving cars with hand controls.
I am actually a good driver; I always have been. Since the MS has progressed I've learned a few helpful adaptations like using my left foot to brake and my right foot to accelerate. I also discovered that the Dodge Neon was well suited to my needs with a seat belt I could buckle myself, a key I could turn, and a driver's seat I could move forward and back with ease. That's why we bought my little red Neon two years ago.
The night I received my driver's license renewal in the mail, I couldn't sleep. In Michigan, your driver's license comes due for renewal every four years on your birthday. The first renewal can be handled by mail, but after eight years you must renew it in person at a Secretary of State's office. At that time you are expected to pass a written driver's test and a simple eye exam.
Once I started fretting, I asked myself what was the worst that could happen. What I came up with was that: 1) they might ask for a doctor's note; 2) I might have to take a road driving test; 3) they might give me a provisional license that would have to be renewed in person every year (I don't even know if such a thing exists). Anyway, I realized none of these were insurmountable obstacles, so I relaxed a bit. But I still wanted it to be over.
You know, I had the nicest woman as my renewal agent. I passed the eye test with no trouble, and passed the written test too (missed 2 out of 20 questions, though). She never said a word about my disability. So there, Ms. Worrywart!
The fact is if I ever think I'm no longer safe driving with my feet, I'll go to hand controls in a second. But until then, I sure do enjoy driving my little red Neon...and as soon as we find one, I know I'll enjoy driving a new-to-us used accessible minivan.
This is the best early
birthday present I could ever have received!
TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2002
Five hours and 155 miles later I know a lot more about what will not work for me in a handicap accessible van. What a tiring day! But when one is exploring options and educating oneself, days like this are as helpful as the ones that bring success. At least I got out in the country and saw different ways of running a business. For instance, here was this accessible van rental company with national scope, a sophisticated brochure and web site being run out of a home on a dirt road more than an hour from any city you've ever heard of. With the internet, maybe this is the coming thing.
After a nap and dinner with Eddie, I came upstairs to write Rabih. Letters to him always lead me places I don't expect to go. That's his gift to me. Tonight I found myself discussing my ideas about what it means to be free. We've been having this back-and-forth discussion for three letters now. His perspective as one who is at present "unfree" by society's definition gives him a certain sense of authority on the subject. He wrote,
There are many who are "freely" roaming the earth prisoners to hate, greed, and/or ignorance while there are may be others who are bound in terms of place and time but yet nothing seems able to imprison their spirits (I'm not one of them). Those, I think, are the truly free because they made a conscious decision to be free no matter what. This is where I find myself faltering at times and it is precisely why I don't include myself among those iron willed, never waning individuals, who are the true torch carriers.
So what is freedom to
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2002
"The fate of the people of Afghanistan is, again, in the hands of the US, and there are ominous signs that we are beginning to lose interest."
When I read these words by the playwright Tony Kushner, I felt a shiver of recognition. They were part of his amazing article, "In a Strange State of Affairs", that appeared in the Arts section of the Tuesday, May 7, New York Times. Kushner is best known in this country for his play, "Angels in America", but I sense that "Homebody/Kabul", which opens tonight at the Young Vic Theatre in New York, will make him an international sensation.
Are we losing interest? Even we activists? As spring turns to summer, gardens need tending, vacations release us from normal routines, the sun gets hot and nights become muggy, will we have the energy and willingness to stay alert, involved and ready to do what it takes to continue our work as agents of change in these disturbing times? Or will the inertia of lazy summer days blunt our minds, senses and will?
For me, Rabih Haddad and his letters are a tangible prod to keep on keepin' on. When I smell the fragrance of lilacs on spring air, see lime-green fuzz on the tops of trees miraculously turn into open-fingered leaves, hear birds awaken in song at 5:15 AM every morning, I think of Rabih in a dank, dreary prison cell where the only sounds are of clanging metal, shouted curses, loud voices and raucous music from inmate's radios. The air he breaths is fetid and foul; the prayers he makes five times a day are solitary and not respected by others. How could I forget? How could I lose interest?
Actually, I stayed up late last night rereading my web page, "Reflections on Tragedy & War". It brought back so many memories of the path I've travelled since that sunny September day when four planes changed our way of looking at the world. I could feel the progression of emotions--almost a primer of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief--and the beginnings of a deeper sense of what it means to be a peace activist. That autumn sowing of painful seeds has created today's blooms, and tomorrow's decay/rebirth. The cycle of life continues if I allow it to do so. There will be times when the process goes dormant; I must allow that to happen. But I ask that, even in those hidden times, I never lose interest.
I wrote the above entry this morning after reading Tony Kushner's article and being deeply moved by it. As my day progressed so did my understanding of what it might mean not to lose interest in what happens to the people of Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever Bush's war on terrorism might surface next. What came to me was profoundly personal. But as they say, the personal is always political.
I cannot buy a minivan. At least not now, not until/unless I really need it. The minivans and SUVs I see everywhere have become as symbolic to me of these wars-for-oil as the American flags that still fly from many of their antennas. I just can't go there.
Yesterday was a real eye-opener. My feelings of acquisitiveness, imbalance and exhaustion were clear indicators that something was not quite right. Then last evening I received an email from a friend in which she spoke of having read my poem, "Millennium Musings" . Her words sent me back to reread it myself. The following stanza gave me pause:
How do I know
I am in harmony
with the Universe?
There is a sense of flow
I feel energized
What I do fits perfectly with
who I am.
The consequences of my actions
serve to benefit all
elements of the planet
and its life forms.
There is a deep core of peace
even if conflict is on
My own sense of Knowing
As I lay in bed last night, waking and sleeping, I reflected on those words. Everything about yesterday had been the antithesis of harmony...with the Universe and with myself. I started questioning my reasons for wanting to buy a handicap accessible minivan. My answer was to be more independent, specifically so I wouldn't have to continue asking friends and strangers for help getting my scooter in and out of the car. That was just about the only reason. As it is, my little red Neon--that I love to drive--can carry my scooter in the trunk and/or back seat with no problem. And it isn't like I need hand controls or any other adaptive device that a handicap accessible van might afford. I am perfectly comfortable driving my Neon...probably more comfortable than I will ever be trying to drive (or parallel park) a minivan. As I said before, I've only owned small cars, starting with the VW bug we bought from my parents when Eddie and I married in 1966.
And what about the increased fuel emissions of a minivan? And its being a gas-guzzler? How can I square my concern for the planet with the reality of my adding to the air pollution that is damaging her, and all the life that she so tenuously holds? I can't. Not unless/until I absolutely have to.
There was something else that made me uneasy. In claiming my "independence" was I saying I no longer needed the help of others? Aren't we members of one community, whether or not we know one another by name? Every time I've asked a stranger to help me get my scooter in or out of the car, I've always been offered the gift of getting to know a new person, and they, me. Isn't that worth something?
I feel SO relieved. I feel a sense of rightness and harmony that I lacked before. Besides, those things are so doggoned expensive, even used. I'd much rather use money for experiences than for things, experiences like San Francisco and women's music festivals, or even to have a nest egg for the future. I hope to live a good long life and I want the same for my Eddie.
See where reading your
own poem and an article in a newspaper can lead you?
THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2002
Ah, those kids. How can I begin to tell you how adorable they are? I mean, of course they're not always adorable; sometimes they're little monsters. But then they smile up at you and you're lost.
Today I figured out how to get some web-usable photos without needing parental permission--I simply took pictures from angles that hopefully protected the kids from being identified. I tried it with the first graders because they're a bit easier to manage. Once you get into the third, fourth or fifth grades, the students are literally all over the place. Besides they get pretty hyped up when they see a camera.
Today's first project was to glaze their pinch pots that Susan had already bisque-fired in the kiln. This little girl was concentrating so hard she never even saw my flash go off, whereas this boy was well aware of my camera; he'd asked that I take his picture. My condition was that he make it so I couldn't see his face. Quite different instructions from those he gets from his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, I'm sure. "Now M., give us a big smile for the camera!"
When they'd finished glazing their pots, each child was to make a small drawing of spring. Here again, I found a student who was so engrossed that he never knew I'd taken his picture. And then there was the boy who begged me to take his. See how carefully he kept his head down? This table of girls only realized I'd taken their picture after the fact. Then they wanted me to take lots more!
During lunch, I stood beside a second floor window and took pictures of children on the playground, not just children but the principal as well. That's him swinging one end of a jump rope for some of the kids. Do you remember ever seeing your grade school principal play with the students? Believe me, this school is fortunate to have a fabulous principal who is loved and respected by students and teachers alike.
I have one more photo
to share, not from today but from yesterday. It is of Sarah
and Elizabeth who work at our local Subway restaurant. My
Ed is a daily customer who always gets exactly the same vegetarian
sub sandwich, half of which he eats for lunch and the remaining
half as part of his dinner. Not only does he love the food but
really enjoys the family who owns this restaurant. And it seems
to be mutual.
FRIDAY, MAY 24, 2002
I can't remember an issue that has had as much divisive power as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict we're in the middle of right now. And the divisions I'm talking about are not between conservative and liberal but within the heart of the progressive movement itself. It is deeply painful.
This morning I read an email copy of Starhawk's "Heresies in Pursuit of Peace: Thoughts on Israel/Palestine". I found it to be one of the most reasoned, inclusive, balanced reflections I've yet seen, so I sent it off to most of the people on my email list of addresses. This afternoon I received a reply from one of my friends. In it he wrote that since I'd mentioned the word "genocide" in relation to Ariel Sharon in early April he has stopped reading my journal altogether. Now this fellow had been a faithful reader since I first started keeping my online journal over two years ago. He said he cannot tolerate reading views such as mine. Actually he says he can't read views on either "side" of this issue; so he doesn't. He asked that I refrain from sending him any more emails regarding Israel and Palestine. He also said he still loves me and asked to hear about my Mom, Eddie, my health and so forth.
If you see what you perceive to be an injustice and don't speak its name, what damage does that do to you personally, to your community and country, to the world and its peoples? Of course, it would be safer to keep your silence, but if we all do that what becomes of public accountability? Certainly the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is complex and has tangled roots that go back not just years or decades but generations. No one is on the side of "right"; both sides have done wrong. But the question becomes, "Who has the power? Who is in danger of being annihilated?"
I don't want to lose my
Jewish friends; I love and respect every one of them. I decry
anti-Semitism of any kind and will do all in my power to fight
it. At the same time I love and respect my Palestinian friends,
and I will uphold their right to sovereignty. I am not on the
Palestinian "side" or the Israeli "side";
I am on the side of non-violent resolution of differences. I am
on the side of justice and protection of all peoples, their right
to live without fear of violence against themselves and their
children, their right to their ancestral land, their right to
make a living, receive food and medical care, and have the freedom
to travel unimpeded. I am on the side of peace.
© 2002 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.