Anger and Blessings

The tree of life is growing where the spirit never dies, and the bright light of salvation shines in dark and empty skies.

Bob Dyan

I stood beneath her roots, a place I have never been in all my years of loving powerful trees. As I looked toward the belly of her trunk, a drop of water landed on my forehead. Then another. This holy tree was blessing me. These drops would soon roll out to sea to be lifted to the clouds and rained down again. Continuing to bless the Earth. But first, they were blessing me.

We have struggled to camp as our backs age and our willingness for freezing midnight bathroom runs wanes. My husband found an organization like Air BNB but for camper trailers. What a concept. Rent someone else’s RV and go camping but with heat and showers. He researched dump stations; black water out first then gray water, I read about campsite culture; don’t knock on the neighbor’s door, keep your dog quiet.

After we attached what feels like a stranger’s entire small house to our pickup truck we headed for the Olympic Peninsula. I needed to see this live Tree of Life before it falls into the Pacific Ocean. As we drove my phone dinged with emails about work, things that made little sense to me in the moment and brought anger creeping up my spine, giving me a headache that pulsed in my temples. This is a sure sign for me that I’m not resting, not sleeping enough, and on the verge of burnout.

I replied to the emails, trying to embody the me that is kind with the knowledge that the creeping anger is a function of my state of being and not the content of any email.

Our cell service came in and out as we pulled into the parking lot closest to the beach where the Tree of Life straddles a gap in a cliff. We sat and watched the huge waves crash in and and silently slide out, we stood beneath the tree breathing in the smell of the wet dirt. We watched rain move in, and then we headed for our campsite and into the absolute dead zone of cell connectivity.

The river next to our camper whispered a gentle lullaby. The blessing of the mother tree held me as I finally really, really slept. When I woke the anger had lifted to the skies, washed out to sea, transformed into a blessing.

a prayer

Sacred Mother Earth, may we see the blessing in the rain as it falls, with the clouds as they form and the winds that lift it all away. May we remember that all earthly beings need rest. May we be held by holy old trees who know so much more than we ever will. So it is.

You wait, too.

I think it’s funny that the dog got kennel cough and then I got sick. Did she give me kennel cough? Why am I still ill and she’s running around like a maniac? Is it karma? Does the dog have better health care than I do? She got a vet appointment, I got a cough drop.

This is how it is. This sideways life. In fact I can’t even do mental illness in a regular way. I get depressed the way some people get the flu. I start out not being able to remember anything–words, what I walked across the room to do, what the end of the sentence I just started was supposed to be.

Next, I get body aches like the latest virulent influenza or maybe the way you felt after a 90s step class. Why is it the worst in my arms? Are my arms somehow the flailing noodles of hope and my riddled brain hollers “hold ‘em down, they’re goin’ rogue!”

Then I start to speak like those stupidly narrated TikTok videos, all mechanic and robotic. “Why-do-you-want-to-go-to-the-store, we-have-sandwiches-for dinner.”

Once I notice the memory, the arm pain, and the monotone, it’s like a big switch is thrown “ok, fellas, bring it all on, time for the wretched intense mood wash and the hopeless spiral, oh and, hey there, don’t forget to pour on the insomnia extra heavy now, wouldn’t want any sleep to get in the way of the slide.”

There we go. There it is. It’s all over. A depressive episode is in full swing. Yes, I know that sunlight and exercise and really healthy food would help, but that’s the thing. I’m depressed. I’m strapped to the bed or buried under four blankets on the sectional. I’m down. Doomscrolling, Doritos, and dark rooms are the daily special and in fact, the only thing on the menu.

After decades of practice, I do have some tools in the old toolbox that, when I can remember, help pry me out of the bed and off the couch. I keep Ellen Fourney books close and even if I can’t actually remember all the things that her awesome creature and the brilliant acronym SMEDMERTS stands for, I flail around and can usually kind of remember some of the words– sleep, meds, eat, something, something, move faster than a lazy dog walks….and if I can hang on to one of those it can be a toe hold to scrape out of the hole or stop the spiral a little. I clean out one part of one drawer. I put on make-up and smear or spray or spread on something that smells good someplace on my body. I wear the softest, comfiest clothes I can pull out of my closet.

And I wait. Waiting is the hardest part. When I broke my wrist, I got a cast, and meds and ice and a sling. Sometimes I think that this hurts more. But there’s not a cast or a pain reliever for this wretched place. I take my meds, and I do whatever I can manage from the list of things to do. But the truth is, like my broken wrist, really, I just have to wait.

Now, you wait, too. Hear me? You wait, too.

Atonement: Coming Home to Ourselves

This is the text of the sermon I offered to the good folks of the Westside UU Congregation in West Seattle, Washington on December 27th, 2020. I served WSUU as their Director of Religious Exploration from 2005 through 2012 and had a very loving leaving. The people of this congregation are so dear to my heart, and I loved co-creating the service with Jennifer Disotell and Lisa Maynard. What a joy. If you would like to see the entire service it can be viewed here on YouTube.

It has been a year. We have learned ….how to sew masks, how to 3D print masks, how to match our mask with our outfits, that a mask can keep your face warm and if we’re lucky how to keep our glasses from fogging up while we are wearing a mask.

We have learned….. to celebrate and remember differently. We’ve learned…. a lot.

If we remember back to the day we learned that Tom Hanks was Covid positive and that the NBA was suspending play I don’t think we would have believed that we would still be here in this place at the end of 2020. And yet, here we are. Zoom holiday, socially distanced gift exchange. Here we still are. 

In my family we were alerted a little earlier than the NBA/Hanks day. My middle son who grew up in this church was ….and well, is, on the front lines. He was working for the Seattle Flu Study and heard the rumblings from a virologist about how bad this virus could be well before it hit the US. 

In January of last year he bought a home with his beloved but they were renovating it so he was still living at home when the first proof of community spread showed up in their lab. The case was called Washington 2 meaning the second case of Covid 19 in Washington State. That day he literally came crawling up the stairs of our house at 11 at night and told us “we found one, we have a positive” You could just see the weight of it on his shoulders, in his face. You might have read about this in the New York times, they decided to break protocol and acted to inform the person with Covid of his status which prevented him from going into public, from spreading the virus further. 

The situation has unspooled from that moment for my son, yes, but for all of us. As Covid spread we locked down. Schools closed, jobs were gone. Much worse, many of us have lost loved ones, colleagues, friends. Our lives have been impacted in ways that I think other generations experienced during wars and famine. In fact we have just had a Christmas that for many of us was like no other.  

For me, Covid meant that my ordination ceremony scheduled for March was postponed and then moved to June and held online. During the ceremony, my mom was texting with me. She told me I looked beautiful. The next morning I got a call from my brother that they had admitted her to the hospital with a diagnosis of pneumonia. 

By the time I called the hospital to speak with her she was unresponsive. The nurse held the phone for her and I sang “Let it Be a Dance” to her, my kids called and told her that they loved her, shared memories, sang. As I waited to board a flight to Minnesota I got word that she was gone. She was never tested for Covid so we’ll never know if it’s what took her.  But because of Covid I turned around and left, I didn’t fly to be with family, there were no casseroles delivered or sitting around the kitchen table sharing stories. I just went home. 

Yes, that’s a lot. I know it is, and I honor that. But I think my story is not that much different than many of our stories. We’ve all missed graduations, holidays, important family milestones. We’ve been more isolated than most of us want to be. Our health due to Covid and our public justice and politics and beyond have been scary. Awfully scary. 

And, at the same time, while all of that incredibly difficult stuff is churning, some of our busy rush, maybe, has been scraped off. Some of the things that fill our hours during regular times are just not available during covid. I also don’t have as much cognitive capability, I call it covid brain, and I have to wonder if that has freed some spirit or emotional space to work. So, maybe like me, you’ve had a little more time and headspace for contemplation. I know for some folks, that’s brought mental and spiritual health challenges. Me, too. 

But this time I found myself a little less flattened. I was a little more resilient. I have come face-to-face with some of the same old crap that I’ve been dealing with for decades and I am telling you, I am finding myself just ready to let this stuff go. Guilt, shame, fear, Defenses,, resentments, other people’s opinions. I am just ready to let go of these. This way of battling with myself has caused me harm in my life. I have sold myself small too many times. Believed I was less than I was born to be. 

In my life before menopause I can honestly say I never really felt rage, but opening my eyes to the ways that I have mistreated myself brings on huge rage. Burning rage. My spiritual director tells me to ritualize that stuff, although she doesn’t use the word stuff. She also tells me to physically meet my rage: Throw big rocks into a river. Dig out the roots of an old tree. Move furniture. Write letters and burn them. Scream where no one will worry, and walk quickly up long, steep hills. Then she says build an altar, hang a ribbon on my prayer tree, light a candle and sing. 

As the rage lifts, I have had to forgive myself. I have to. I learned what I learned, and sometimes being small kept me safe. I learned what I learned and sometimes being quiet meant I was not a target. I learned what I learned. It served me then. And now it is time to let go of the things that no longer serve me.

This is a surprising, unexpected gift of Covid times. I have learned a lot about my own inner life. To atone for these harmful things that I have enacted upon myself and believed about myself I will wash them downstream, compost them, give them back to the earth. They can be transformed into healthy, fertile soil this way. It’s not the rage of throwing rocks into a river or screaming in the shower. This comes after the rage. For me it’s gentle. Calming. Preparing for the healing that follows the act of letting go so that everything hurt will be healed again. 

Some of us have fears around learning about our inner life and some of us for pretty darn good reasons. If this stuff scares you please know that you are not alone. So many of us are here together just trying to light a path for each other’s joy and peace. We can share the light, remember that in the dusk of the coming night there is still evidence of light. Sometimes it’s a glimmer but it’s there. It’s here. 

For me, as I have stopped fighting with myself, some of my battles with the world have gently lessened. I find the need to explain myself to people who are choosing not to understand me is fading. Reconciling my attitude toward these folks is so much easier when I just don’t care what they think of me. It’s also allowed me to see some of the institutional harm I do in my daily life and caused me to donate to Real Rent Duwamish, and support the act of interrupting injustice when it happens even in small ways, 

So yes, forgiving myself is making it easier for me to come clean in other spaces. I can understand more about how some folks and even institutions act because of deeply ingrained systems that devalue us all. There are so many ways and places to get caught, or stuck. When my kids were babies I would attribute all kinds of difficult things to teething. Not sleeping? Oh teething, crabby? Teething. Not eating? Teething. It was not always teething, but this allowed me to gently feel that something was happening and to offer grace and love to my beloved babies when I could have felt frustration and anger. 

Same thing applies here. Heteropatriarchal normativity accounts for a lot. Add capitalism and you can cover almost the whole shebang. Not everyone is able to realize the ways that they are hurt and so go on to hurt others. Moving on, or if we are able, offering forgiveness and love frees our own psyches. It frees our souls. It allows us to come to a place of depth within ourselves that feels like home. 

The most important piece of justice, of forgiveness, of enacting love in the world starts here, in our own hearts with our own being. The step of sharing that justice, forgiveness, and love with the world is a whole lot easier if we start inside. 

Imagine with me a world free of covid where people give each other grace, hold each other accountable yes but without attachment. Where we are all whole and well and forgiven. Where we begin again and again in love. 

With the words of Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer I offer this prayer:

Spirit of life and love, you who are known by many names, dear God, 

I pray that everything hurt across our mother earth will be healed again

May we pass into the coming year gently. 

May it light for us a path of joy and peace.

May we have little to fear and never need to walk alone

I pray that we all come to a place of knowing and love that feels like home.

Spirit let us remember; in the dusk of coming night, there is evidence of light.

Let us gently consider all the ways we heal, and how a heart can break.

Let us ponder the unknown, What is hidden and what is whole

And, may we finally learn to travel at the speed of our own souls

Wintering: the turn toward resting and rooting

This is the text of a sermon I shared on December 6th at the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation. You can watch it here and if you click through be sure to listen to the offering song performed by Randee Wilhelm and Troy Fisher that starts at the 40 minute mark, it is profoundly beautiful.

It started with a student who shared with me her plan of writing a cannon of stories about the cycle of the year. She spoke of resting in winter that prepares for the blooming of the spring and summer. I was taken with the idea of the story cycle. As so often happens, the theme repeated itself the next day in a book recommendation. The author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote : 

WINTERING is a thoughtful, elegant memoir and treatise about how to survive the hardest seasons of our life — times of sickness, loss, grieving, depression, hopelessness. Seasons where, as Katherine May writes, your leaves fall off, and your bare bones show.(she continues). Learning how to “winter” is necessary in order to lead a rich and soulful life.

I order the book on the spot. 

My middle son, the one who is now our local covid researcher at the UW was a colicky baby. A really colicky baby. He cried from about 4pm until 10 pm unless I was actively doing something with him. He was born in the middle of October, so by the time the darkest part of winter arrived, I was pretty stretched. I remember the moment when I realized that the sun was actually setting at 4:20. I remember the cold dread that shot up my spine. How on earth were we going to get through this? How?

Well, we did of course. He grew and I figured out what he was sensitive to and eventually, he learned to move on his own and that made him happy. Today he runs his pup Lucy twice a day–he’s still moving. But during those long dark nights of colic, I began to learn to embrace the difficult parts of my life. I reached out to my grandmother who had been dead for a decade but still guided my mothering. I had a three year old, but until I mothered that colicky babe, I hadn’t really become the mother I would be. It formed me, molded me. 

Here I am a white middle-class American woman talking about what is difficult, right? Get over myself! 

But no. Not a thing. I am profoundly lucky, I know that I am…..and still, I’ve lived through some stuff. Being human means we will suffer. 

In her book Wintering, Katherine May writes: 

“If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too. Perhaps through all those years at school, or perhaps through other terrors, we are taught to ignore sadness, to stuff it down into our satchels and pretend it isn’t there. As adults, we often have to learn to hear the clarity of its call. That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.

I am a person who lives with depression. I have learned to catch it before it slams me to the ground now, at least it’s not usually as hard as it used to be. But I have in my life experienced long stretches of feeling hopeless, numb, alone, and worthless. It’s not something I want to experience again, but I will, and it’s something I pray you don’t have to experience. But in many ways, I am grateful for this part of me. Not for the trauma of feeling hopeless but for the fact that I’ve gotten through it. I have learned to love what this teaches me. It makes me empathetic. It makes me humble. It has taught me that while happiness can be a goal—we can try to set ourselves up to be fulfilled, whole, and content, happiness isn’t always achievable. Accepting my own depression has also taught me to listen to myself, to trust myself. 

At the beginning of November, the hospital where I was working as a Chaplain Resident had an outbreak of Covid, a covid cluster. It was on one of the floors that I was assigned to. Just before that one of the staff chaplains in my office contracted covid. It was clear to me, maybe in part due to having a son on the front lines of researching, that there was spread happening between staff and patients. I began having a really hard time visiting patients, you know, doing my job. As much as I loved the work and as much as I could see the difference visits made, especially for people isolated by covid, I feared that I might make someone sick. I offered to carry the pager all day because at least that meant I visited people who wanted or needed a chaplain rather than just walking into patient rooms. 

One morning I couldn’t make myself get out of my car and go into the hospital. I finally forced myself to go in, but my body was screaming at me. I felt like the building was on fire and here I was, just going about regular business. I know that not everyone feels this way. There are super fine, amazing folks who can face this. But for me, the thought that I could unknowingly transmit the virus to someone made it impossible to stay. The next day I went in and resigned. I had to make the decision that I may never work as a chaplain again. You don’t just walk away from a residency in a critical care hospital. But that’s not what happened. I was treated with grace and care and love. I can go back after covid if I want to. What I have learned in my own wintering guided me in this situation: I was able to listen to my body, to my instinct, I trusted myself. It was, for me, exactly the right thing to do. 

I reached out to ChI, the seminary I worked for this spring and summer to see if they had any projects or work that needed doing while I looked for what to do next. They didn’t tell me right away, but 12 hours before I sent that email they learned that their community minister was leaving. When I left in August I said “I hope that someday I’ll be back as your community minister.” So here I am, they named me the Interim Community minister, but it’s not the same situation that it would be in a UU congregation. I can and will be considered for the permanent position and if things go well and they choose me, I hope to stay for years and years and years.  

In Wintering Katherine May writes:  “In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we’re forever trying to defer the onset of winter. We don’t ever dare feel its full bite, and we don’t dare to show the way that it ravages us. An occasional sharp wintering would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our lives are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose of them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.”

2020 held for me not only the pandemic, my mother’s death, my youngest son moving across the country, my middle son moving out of my house, my oldest son being laid off, a delayed ordination into the ministry due to covid but 2020 also held about half a dozen job changes. 

If I had not learned to deeply accept the wintering, the active acceptance of sadness, I believe I would not have weathered this as well as I seem to have done. The wintering is when my roots grow. The wintering is when I learn to be in the stillness. To be fallow, to rest, to be sad, to feel hollow, to be bereft. 

And this, friends, is where we are right now. We are all in the wintering. I tell you, I had to eat gluten-free, vegan stuffing for an entire week after thanksgiving. I don’t know how to cook a feast for two people. I just don’t. There will be no early morning cribbage in our pajamas on Boxing day. There will be no midnight telescope sighting of the moon on Christmas eve. No tree trimming while we watch “It’s a Wonderful LIfe.” All the traditions are canceled this year. We are here in our fortress, holed up against the virus, all of us, apart. Having a covid researcher in the family means I get told to stay the heck home and detailed reports about the test positivity rates in our neighborhoods skyrocketing. 

But there are beautiful things our very bodies can learn from this. We can rest. We can be still. We can continue to take loving care of ourselves and as best we can of each other. We can try meditating, or praying or walking meditation, or feeding the birds. Whatever helps us feel connected to the rest of the people and animals and living things who are wintering, too. I feed the hummingbirds, even when it means trudging through the frost in my robe and rainboots to replace frozen feeders. I light candles and pick a new crystal before every meeting with students or spiritual direction clients. Everything I do now seems to include a ritual of some kind. 

This is how I honor the lack of the light, how I honor the deep grief of missing my family. This is how I am growing my roots deep. This is the way I am becoming my deeply authentic self. Trusting. Waiting. Resting. Feeling all of my feelings.

Winters come and summers go. Year follows year. But as long as people live there will be a silent little language our bodies, our souls can understand. Listen to the silent little language. The voice still and small. Find your way through this winter. May it be so. Amen. 

Sleepless Night? Or Dancing with the Divine?

I have always believed that I am terrible at keeping a spiritual practice. Isn’t keeping a spiritual practice sitting on a meditation cushion for the same amount of time every day over and over again? Aren’t you supposed to become enlightened and ethereal. I mean, I always thought maybe your skin starts to glow and you speak with a breathy knowing or something. 

I had a sleepless night last week. Between then and now  I have learned from a beloved teacher about sleepless nights as “Dancing with the Divine”. The things avoided during waking hours come and tap you on the shoulder for their spin. Distractions are gone, regular coping bypassed. Time to dance with what you’ve been running from. 

What I didn’t understand is that Spirit, God, The Divine does not only come to me as a calm, peaceful presence. Nope. Spirit also arrives screaming in my ears making my heart pound hollering “PAY ATTENTION!” 

On this night, because I had no other choice really, I decided to face it. To let all the feelings flow, to experience every flash, every boom, every gut wrenching thing that came over me. Somehow I knew it had to be done. 

I invited it: “Come on in, bring what you’ve got. Here I am.” 

Let’s Dance. 

As the hours passed and I let the feelings flow over me, I also invited Spirit to join me, deep inside my soul. I practiced what I understand to be Centering Prayer, with a storm raging, yes, but still, I was inviting the Great Mystery to accompany me as I weathered the night.  

I did not realize that I was already dancing with the Divine. 

As the storm started to abate to a simple waltz I began to flow through a body prayer a beloved teacher teaches during Spiritual Psychology class. There is a phrase and an action that accompanies each of seven stages of development and healing.
I moved through this body prayer, if only in my mind, over and over “I am grounded. I flow with the cycles of life…” until I fell asleep. 

The next day I was berating myself. If I had a real spiritual practice I would never have had to go through this hellacious night. I would have calmly glided through all of these emotions and quietly set them down as they arose. Why did I not yet have this perfect practice?

And then. And then. And then I realized. I had practiced centering prayer. I had done my body prayer. I may not be the perfect practitioner of seated meditation or Lectio Divina. But I was able to connect with that which is greater than myself. Accompanied by connection with Spirit I had faced the storm. I had faced myself. 

In fact, I had danced with the Divine. 

I am an eclectic spiritual being, or so my spiritual director reminded me a few days later when I told her this story. 

Oh of course. I AM an eclectic. I write prayers on little slips of paper and attach them to a tiny easel and then light a candle to remember. I slip little crystals in my pocket, not that I think they have absolute magic power, but because they help keep my sacred intentions close. I light candles and speak my gratitudes into the day. I touch my heart when I am moved to connect my spirit, mind and body in the moment. I invite the presence of the holy when I am listening for understanding and touch my belly because it’s where I feel most connected to that which is beyond my understanding. I wear the beaded bracelet the founder of my seminary made from beads people brought her from all over the world which she prays over before she creates them and I feel connected.

Not a failure. Not missing the moment of the sacred. No. I am this. I am enough. And I have danced with the Divine. 

A Good Fierce OK


They said you were wrong.  They don’t remember doing the thing that hurt you. They wrote the thing, signed the letter, spoke the harmful words. 

You are smashed, ripped open, raw. 

I promise, precious one, you are going to be OK. It’s going to be good, again. No winning, no losing. But a good fierce OK. 

Join me: 

Listen to the rain or windchimes or a slow, gentle drum. 

Taste the sweet honey or the tart berry or the steaming tea with the bracing bergamot.  

Hold your pup or your grandchild. Soak in a hot tub with the good bubble bath, the one you’ve been saving. 

Breathe way down to your toes. Notice that the water in the river right in this moment is out to sea tomorrow. This thing that has your heart will flow on down to the sea, too. I promise. 

Gaze at the flower, or the woven rug or the stars. The sky is so big and we are so small. 

You. You are going to be OK. A good, fierce OK. 

I promise. I promise. I promise. 


So We May Begin

Originally published on Chalice Spark, 10/13/16

One page, One day. Move on.
Today is cooler and my chair is a little wet from the dew. The prayer flags flow gently back and forth.

I sit alone, here, but my ancestors are before me. My sister women around me. My animal friends padding around, sniffing and growling at the leaves that skitter off the patio and the thought that there might be a cat across the way.

I can hear a squirrel a few trees over who is unhappy, chirping and clucking, likely because the dogs are perched on this little patio with me. Even here in the middle of the metropolitan desert, nature dominates. There is dirt and many bugs and stray leaves. We smell the earth and feel the fingers of the sun and the silky breath of the breeze on our cheeks. I lift my chin to catch it.

We are here. We are here. We are here.

You are here. You are here.

You are here

and so we may begin.prayer flags.JPG

The To-Do List

All Are Worthy (2).pngThis morning in my effort to avoid being productive, I circled through my touchstones of life guides on social media. Ann Lamott, Elizabeth Gilbert, I can’t do the Love Warrior anymore but I have found a fresh voice in Elissa Altman. This morning she wrote something just to me and closed with “you are worthy of saving.”

Who me? What? No. Everyone else, yes. Every animal even. But not me. I learned that lesson really well. Not me.

But no. Stop. I am finally getting it. Here, next door to 52, I am starting to learn that “you are worthy of saving” means you. And me. And everyone.

Everyone. And here’s where it gets dicey.

Any leader who thinks that some are more worthy than others is the embodiment of pure evil. EVIL. Even if you are a person without empathy, as science shows us some people are, you might want to notice that any group of folks a leader deems unworthy of existence today can flip in the beat of a heart to your group. To you.

Even if you don’t care about anyone but you and yours, a leader who points at a group and says “them, those people” will, one day, point at YOU.

I know I can’t stop my president’s hate from inspiring mass killing. I know I can’t fix it. But today I can work to let my neighbors who are targeted by this evil know that I see them, I support them, and I am not afraid to say so.

Screw the “to do” list. I’m off to make signs and buy flowers and then I’ll stop by the local places of worship most likely to be impacted today.

Peace be upon you. And you. And me. And all of us.


Update: a colleague suggested that leaving anything at a mosque, including flowers, might cause stress today. Agreed. Good advice. But then I heard about a mosque a little north of me who was calling for neighbors to come and stand outside during Friday prayers. So I went. I took goofy pictures to show my concerned family members that there was a crowd and we were all safe and fine, or as safe and fine as our Muslim neighbors. After the service was over a community member brought out lunch for us and some children from the community passed out candy. I share these in the spirit of inviting my friends and neighbors to come out to show our strength. Next time may it be in celebration of good news and not in solidarity with those who are grieving. 20190315_131739.jpg


“Yep, thanks, we’re together.”

Yep.png“Um, will this be together?”

This happens to us all the time. Every week. Sometimes more than once a day. Even living just outside of both LA and Seattle hasn’t prevented the head tilt, quick evaluation by baristas, bartenders, servers and doctors. At the coffee shop, grocery store, bar, doctor’s office; people are always asking if my husband and I are together.

I mean, really, it’s my groceries and his? Wouldn’t there be a little bar down between the limes and the bread? Would I be chatting with him so comfortably?  Sometimes we play them a little.

“What him? No way. Creeper, get away from my avocados.”

“Her? I’m not paying for her. She’s been following me around for like 30 years!”

It’s our own multicultural teaching moment. I don’t like to humiliate people, but make them flush with embarrassment a little by holding their bias up for all to see? Oh yeah.

Once, we were out to dinner with all the families from our swim team. We had driven all day from Seattle to Idaho for the big regional swim meet. The kids had their own table and the parents were at one big, ranch style table. The server was matching up couples to prepare our bills; I knew we were in trouble. Tommy’s mom was Asian. Even though she was seated all the way down from us and across the table, her bill was paired with my husband’s. There was no way in our server’s mind that the Asian man and woman were not together. No way.

We have been very lucky as a family. Our health has been good, we have always had enough to eat and a safe place to live. We come from humble beginnings with little assist on the financial launch in life, but my husband is the hardest working man I know, so we’ve done OK.

We have not, yet anyway, had our house vandalized or been told to leave a neighborhood. We moved to the West Coast because in Minnesota we were always the diversity crew on the block, and people would literally turn around to stare at us in the grocery store. Now that our kids are gone, we mostly keep to ourselves. We know the other dogs in the neighborhood and their people, and we wave to the couple who lives next to us. People around us know we’re together.

It’s a funny thing. I don’t believe that a barista is making an intentionally racist statement by totalling my husband’s coffee without looking past him to the white woman standing there. I don’t. But it is a little of our systemic racism poking at us all the time. Sometimes as he orders I’ll touch his shoulder or hand as code for “we’re together” to save time and avoid the hassle. It’s always present for us.

What I wish was that we didn’t have these deep scripts that play out about who goes together and where race fits in our lives. But we do. Me, too. I work hard to root them out, but it is in the air I breathe and the water I drink. It’s deep.

Luckily, I do have this fine partner in life who claims me over and over again, even when the bartender tries to make me pay for my own drink.