One moment, please.

I have a frantic brain. It is taking in or reacting to or turning something over most times. I crave stillness and it is with a warrior's mindset that I have to go after it.

Poetry helps. In particular, Mary Oliver helps. She grounds me with her words. Her poems, at first glance, seem spare and even simple, but that is the mark of a master distiller. What remains is the most important stuff.

I think many times that this how I could do my life. It sounds easy, but what does that LOOK like? How do you DO a life? Is it an active or passive verb? Can it be both?

I am not yet sure but maybe this:

Lying on my son's bed after reading to him, the cat climbed on top of my stomach and began purring before he fully settled in. My son stroked the cat's ears and soon, the cat's eyes drifted shut. My son started talking about how we had found the perfect cat. He chattered about how Mugsy could not be named anything other than Mugsy, though Champion Cat seemed sort of cool. But Mugsy came to us as Mugsy and Mugsy he will remain. Mugsy has no affiliation to the mafia and Mugsy, my son asserted, was meant to be our cat, the very best cat of all cats. My son giggled as the purring continued. Finally, a long slow sigh and then my son closed his eyes. 

I was warm. My breath was steady. My stomach was sweaty from the ball of fur and a cool breeze kicked up boy-smells. They were not unwelcome. 

My heart felt ready to explode and I did believe, right then, that I was on to something.

You've Got to Stand for Something, Right?

I have been thinking a lot about the recent church killings. I have been thinking a lot about religion and its role in our world and how some of us use it to guide our every word and deed. I have been thinking about how our Supreme Court just made marriage legal for all people and I have been thinking about how I do not have a single black friend. I have been thinking about some painful family experiences and I have been thinking about the moments of grace I have been given and I have been thinking about how someone wrote, "I don't believe in gay marriage" as if that would do away with the fact that it is. I have been thinking about what I do and don't believe. I do believe in kindness and love and yet I also believe that I lug around anger and hate inside of me like an overstuffed backpack I constantly forget to take off. I have been thinking of how, despite the mass of imperfections we humans carry inside ourselves, we still find ways to make beauty and art and love and joy a part of our lives. I have been thinking that so much of what we do and say is a choice and with those choices comes a responsibility. I have been thinking about how the very best we can hope for is forgiveness when we fail because we humans so often fail.

I am a person who thinks about her story and how I have written it and how I have gotten it wrong in my own telling. I am thinking of how much one single action can change a story. Yesterday, this was true and today it is not.

I have been thinking that if we harnessed the power of our minds in conjunction with the capacity of our hearts to love we reallyreallyreally could move the mountains of people who cannot be moved from their place of THIS.IS.THE.TRUTH to their willingness to ask others, what is your truth?

I know I cannot move or change those who do not wish for it to happen. I know I cannot be rude and unkind and angry and mislead and judgemental and biased unless I allow for it to happen.

The truth is I have feelings and they change because I allow them to change. 

The truth is I can do as much as I dare. I can be half-empty or half-full and that choice is always mine. I can let religion dictate me or free me. I can let hate motivate me or paralyze me. I can let the world be or I can jump in and participate and act and talk and dream and question and question and question until it seems we are getting somewhere, at a snail's pace, toward an answer, towards a glimmer of imperfect hope.

The truth is never one thing or another. The truth is never just yours or just mine. The truth, I think, is constantly evolving and we have to evolve with it.

There is some annoying country song, which played all too often in the late 80's as I cruised the rural roads of northwest in Iowa. In it there was a line I could never quite shake. "You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything."  I used to wonder about what I stood for. I'd think about the rural economy because my dad was a farmer, and I'd think about Aids and gay people because when it was discussed, there was fear in people's voices, disdain in their look, an overwhelming "I do not accept this" attitude that ricocheted around their very being. How do people simply say I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS when something so clearly is? I'd think about the rural south because I'd read Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and wonder how a book written by a mute black girl who came of age in the late 40's and early 50's s could have such a profound effect on my world. I'd think about white my world was and how the racial slurs spoken in my family made me cringe.

There is so much out there that clearly is whether I stand for it or accept it or say I am for or against it. To say I don't believe in gay marriage. To say I do not condone gun violence. To say I am for this or not that when it is happening anyway and will continue to happen no matter the law or my personal beliefs....I do not understand how to work within this framework of “I stand for this and I don't stand for that” because the evidence suggests that it will happen anyway.

What I do understand is that I grew up in a white rural community inside a family with an alcoholic brother. What I do understand is that my parents did the best they could with what they had. What I do understand is that love can be messy and weird and complicated and also pure and honest and true. What I do understand is that I must dig deeper into not what I stand for, but what I believe will make the world more kind and loving and open and safe for as many of us as possible. I have to look for what we all agree on and it would seem that this a simple and universal truth:  there is pain and suffering in this world. There are people who live on the fringes and are barely hanging on for any number of reasons. And there are those of us who long to use our voices and our experiences so we can simply say, "We have to stop hurting each other. I don't care at all what you stand for or against. What I care about is that we stop hurting each other."

We don't have to debate gun control or equality or fairness. We don’t have to rehash every single sordid detail of our painful past. In order to move forward we have to simply start with, “It happened. I am sorry. I am human. You are human. We are woefully imperfect and we will hurt each other over and over again until we have the courage to sit face to face and say, Can we stop this? How can we stop this?”  

I am not Pollyanna. I am not a dreamer or a pie-in-the-sky thinker. I am real and hurt and confounded along with everyone else. But I also believe we can right so many wrongs if we could just sit next to each other and talk and hold each other’s hand and listen and create a shared space for all the pain in our hearts. It seems to be the only way to make room for the healing to begin.

And if we never start, we will never know if we are capable of making this world, our world, our lives, better.

I really want to know, don’t you?

A worthy pest.

"So," said Thing 2 after hearing the frustration creep into my voice yet again, "how can you love me and not my actions? I don't get that. If I were a serial killer and just plain evil, would you still love me?"

He was getting a little silly and unfocused as I had announced his need to get ready for bed, and I could not hide my annoyance.

Thing 2 likes to take me down the road of what-ifs.  At first it seems like maybe he's just delaying the inevitable (bed), but we have these types of conversations frequently at any time of day so I know my kid. He's trying to work out his worth. 

This year in middle school has found him observing that athletes are cool and kids who do well in every single class get awards. He finds himself lacking in these areas called out in our typical culture. The other night he was worried, at age 11, that he's not good at anything. I suggested that most people aren't good at much at age 11, but that is not what he sees. He sees kids with natural abilities in this or that and they get praise for it. 

So I went on to tell him that I knew his record within our family. I knew that he was funny, creative, and thoughtful. I had confidence in who he was and who he would become. I also told him the only person who could make him feel good or bad about himself was him. However, his pest-like behavior before bed was just plain annoying. I told him that I got cranky, sometimes yelled, often made mistakes, but I guessed he still felt like he loved me. He knew my record. I was there for him no matter what. Neither of us, so far, were serial killers.

He nodded his head, stepped off the pestulance train, and headed to bed.

But it made me wonder a lot about how we communicate in our culture to our youngest citizens that they have to perform at certain level to be worthy of love and attention and that mistakes undercut your worth.

Taken in this context, it's not so hard to understand my guy's confusion.

I guess I don't want Thing 2 to think he has to be anything more than he already is. I want him to know that being human means making mistakes and real love is not fragile. It is solid and deep and enduring and within it contains an endless well of forgiveness. I want him to know his value comes from simply being who he already is. I want to teach him at a much earlier age than I learned myself that he's good. Now. He and I get easily frustrated by the world- it screams at us to do more and be better. I really want to re-write the song that seems to be playing in his head and offer him a short-cut to peace. 

But real life has no short cuts, right?

Parents often want  to prevent their kids from making the same mistakes we made. We want to give them opportunities and lessons we did not have and yet I wonder if this simply derails our kids from taking the very journey they are meant to be on. Can we really make things easier? And should we?

I have no answers, but I know Thing 2 will have more questions and I will be there. That's for sure.