What Love Will Do

A pro-affordable housing rally, City Hall, Somerville (a Sanctuary City) MA; May, 2017

We may be cooked. Even The Boston Globe, whose editorial policy regarding climate change reportage is sometimes mystifying—and often infuriating—featured a front-page article this morning admitting that things look grim.

It’s taken me a couple of years to let this horror sink in. And maybe that’s okay. Because, denial/magical thinking/distractions to help me to forget/bargaining; all the crazy stuff we humans do when faced with Bad News have, over time, brought me right to where I am supposed to be: accepting my humanity. Humbly.

And to ask myself: What am I asked to do? (Besides, of course, doing everything I can possibly do to sharply bring down global emissions.) And although a dear friend says mine is “Pollyanna thinking” (and she may very well be right!), here’s what I’m dedicating/rededicating my life to from now on: lovin’ the hell out of everyone. If my species is doomed, let me affirm what is best about being human; our ability to love.

May my life continue William Penn’s experiment: “Let us then try what Love will do.”

OG’s Seat

White Butterfly on Ficus Tree

Just before my turn to speak at a parole hearing last week, a story came to me; a story I hoped might convey what I wanted to say. So, after telling the parole board after my meeting’s Wednesday night sharing circle, I concluded by saying something like this:

“One of the founders of our circle, OG*, often comes late. He does construction so it’s hard for him to get to the sharing circle, which begins at 7:00, until it has already started. So, because he’s so important to our community, we always put out an extra chair. Now, you might say “That’s OG’s seat.” You might say “That’s Elijah’s chair.” Or you might say that every week, our circle is saving the space for redemption, for transformation.”

Honestly? From where I sat, only one bit of all that verbiage resonated: That OG did construction! I could see the parole board take that (seemingly minor) detail in. Nod their heads. “Ah, yes,” those nods seemed to say. “Returning citizens do construction. That’s how the world works.” And, those nods also seemed to say, “This white-haired Quaker is connected to people like OG. Who is real. So this circle she’s describing seems to be real. And an actual possibility for X, if we decide to grant him parole. Oh.”

So, no, those precious words, redemption, transformation? They didn’t carry the water. A seemingly insignificant detail did. Oh.

Whatever works, right?

*Not his real initials. But OG kinda works.

What Does Freedom Taste Like?

[Sweet-yet-tart red, salt-in-the-wound white, and so, so blue, July 3, 2017]

In a couple of hours, people will gather on Boston Common to take turns reading aloud “The Meaning of July Fourth for The Negro,” the deeply moving speech Frederick Douglass gave on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. At this heart-breaking and fraught time in our nation’s history, such a fireworks-free, no-rockets’-red-glare, somber ceremony speaks to my condition (although, alas, I will only be there in spirit). For, like Douglass, “. . .  [A]bove your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!”  I hear that wail, too.

Earlier this week I was gifted to hear something different: a “returning citizen,” imprisoned for twenty-five years and released a couple of weeks ago, described his joy to eat in-season, perfect, all-he-could-eat cherries. Wanting to vicariously taste his sweet-yet-tart exhilaration and to be reminded of how precious freedom is with every bite, I’ve bought some, too. They’re delicious!

I’m trying to hear, I am trying to taste all of it.

 

 

 

Lawn Ornament

[Pineapple Fence, New Orleans, January, 2017]

“It’s come to this,” I thought, putting up a “In this house we believe . . . ” sign in my front yard Saturday. “I’m living at a time and a place where I must declare that ‘Kindness is Everything’!” But then I remembered how Bathtub Madonnas once adorned the tiny front yards of this neighborhood. And thought, well, didn’t my former neighbors* feel moved to declare the same thing?

And then a way-more disturbing recollection came to mind: how slave-dealing New England ship captains would display a fresh pineapple on their front fence to signal that they were open for business—or that recent sales in the West Indies had gone well; Party Time! C’mon over! (Which is why we’ve come to believe that Pineapple = “Welcome!” Not quite.)

So, maybe affirming that Black Lives Matter or that Love is Love, as precious or as smug or self-righteous as that might seem, is a good idea!

* Italian or Portuguese, now deceased or condo-zed, i.e. forced to move because their building had been converted to condos—or, possibly, because they no longer could afford their rent.

Light Breaks Through

[Through a meetinghouse window, May, 2017]

Having spent the day before with a dear and loving friend, settling into meeting for worship on Sunday I found myself reviewing the kinds of love as if Philia or Storge were ice cream flavors: yum!

My personal New York Super Fudge Chunk? Agape. So, as I reviewed, true to (her intense and transcendent and grace-lit) style, Universal/Unconditional Love declared herself In The House so powerfully I was almost brought to my feet to shout Hallelujah!

But didn’t for the same reason I hesitate to write about this, today. For what came to me was a Bible passage getting a lot of play lately. Some might say THE Bible passage; John 3:18: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . ”

As a pre-Easter Christian and a woman of faith who experiences God as a verb and not a male pronoun, I’ve carelessly (and callously?) dismissed this sentence. Until Sunday. When it hit me that I’ve carelessly skipped over that . . . so loved the world that. . . bit, too.

But that’s the thing about Agape. It won’t be ignored. She won’t be ignored. Her powerful Love, a warm blanket to keep you warm or to beat out fires* will not be denied. So she’s asking me to find Love in the second-half of John 3:18. She’s asking me to explore if there’s Something in the post-Easter Jesus I need to experience. She’s grateful I didn’t get to my feet on Sunday; she wants me to try to write this, today,  as carefully and tenderly as I can. Because we both know how much John 3:18 means to others. (Philia is also In The House.)

So I’m listening. Tasting. Testing.

*as a speaker noted on Sunday

 

“As Good And As Bad As I”

[Kirkland Street Lilacs, Cambridge, MA, April 30, 2017]

Sunday, just as I passed the bushes pictured above—”Somerbridge” boosts thousands of lilac bushes in bloom this week— a car pulled to the curb, its passenger-side window rolled down, and a young, pleasant-looking woman plaintively called, “Can you help me? I’m trying to find the Sheraton Commander and my GPS has me going in circles!”   So I gave her the directions to the hotel. A five-minute drive. At most.

“I don’t think I can do this.” She sounded close to tears.

Reader? Honestly? I was annoyed. Insulted. “I just told you where to go,” I inwardly seethed. “What more do you want?”

But then it hit me: Maybe she’s had no experience remembering First This. Then This. Then This. And, finally this. And you’re there. If you’ve relied on GPS your whole life, taking in, absorbing a series of verbal instructions just might be daunting!

So I played the only card I had: (Empowered) Woman to woman. “You got this!” I cheered. “You can do this! You’re practically there, already. It’s not going to be hard.” I reviewed my instructions. She repeated them back to me this time. I corrected her. I raised my fist in the air. And off she drove.

The prevailing, intoxicating scent of my hometown this week—watching sidewalk passersby inhale my lilacs makes me so happy—and this brief yet touching exchange with a stranger brought to mind a poem, excerpted here, written by a Somerville librarian and journalist many years ago. It’s not a great poem. But apt:

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.