It Rises

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the National Museum of African-American History and Culture that included the exhibit “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals At Talladega College. It was held at the National Museum of American History because the NMAAHC building isn’t finished yet. It’s slated for completion in 2016.

Smithsonian via Google Plus
Smithsonian via Google Plus

One of the many benefits to me of moving to the Washington DC area has been the excitement of watching the museum’s development. As I passed on my way to the event that Saturday, Maya Angelou’s powerful poem Still I Rise came into my head. The image of that beautiful building rising out of the ground at the corner of the National Mall  seems like the embodiment of the words to me.

When I was a little girl, the biggest public symbol of African-American life that I saw regularly was a giant fiberglass washer woman dressed like Aunt Jemima which stood on top of the roof of the local laundromat. She was mechanical. and moved up and down in a never-ending task of washing fiberglass clothes in a big tub. I asked my mother more than once why “they” put that big, ole lady up there like that. Even at that young age I knew it wasn’t a flattering image of black womanhood. My mother’s answer came with a sigh and was always the same, “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know.”

Exterior from Mall nma_a100621_f

So for me, watching the NMAAHC building go up has been cathartic. It has exorcised some of the many shame demons who taunted me in childhood. I’m thrilled to witness the progression of an emblem of the contribution of African-American culture to the country, as it expands upward toward the sky. As Ms. Angelou so pointedly yet eloquently put it:

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Hale Woodruff's murals exhibit
The Hale Woodruff’s murals exhibit

Old Myths and New Narratives

This morning my doctor’s secretary told me she doesn’t take my new insurance because it’s an”ObamaCare” plan. Really?
I had gone in for my regular BP check so I could get my prescription refilled. (My doctor requires that I do so every three months before she’ll call in the script.) The insurance I bought through the government exchange took effect on 1/1. I arrived at my doctor’s office a few minutes early so I could give them my new insurance information. It was then that the secretary looked at my card, turned to a co-worker & said, “Is it the QHP we don’t take?” The co-worker nodded & the young woman said she was sorry. I told her I’d checked the insurance carrier website and had seen my doctor listed as a provider. She said, “They must have some misinformation. We just had a big meeting about these plans. She doesn’t take any of the “ObamaCare plans….or Medicaid.” Incredulous, I walked out of the office of the doctor I’ve had since moving to Virginia over two years ago.

I don’t have insurance through an employer. I’m employed but like many folks these day, I have a job that doesn’t come with benefits. I was 50 years old when my husband died and just before he passed I asked him if he thought I’d need to go to work. (I’d been caring for him pretty much full-time for the previous two years.) He said I might need to in order to get insurance. He had no way of knowing then that the economy would crash soon after, that thousands would be laid off and that it would become nearly impossible for someone over 50 to get a job. I, like other people my age, finally got two part-time jobs, neither of which offer benefits but that together just barely cover the cost of my individual health insurance. I’m grateful to be working and consider myself lucky because my daughter, a lawyer with crushing student loan debt, has a full-time “consultant” position which doesn’t offer benefits either. And all of her co-workers are in the same boat. At least I’m not young, trying to raise a family while facing years of loan payments.

Walking back from my doctor’s office I was thinking about our national narrative, the myth, in its most basic form, that this is a country that is good to you and for you if you work hard. I work hard, my daughter works hard and so do all our friends. My husband worked hard and thought he had prepared enough to provide for me. But let’s be honest, the truth is the narrative has really always only applied to some people. For one thing, this economy favors business owners, small and large. The right of small business owners not to pay for employees insurance is championed more than the right of employees to have insurance. Additionally, there’s been a paradigm shift in this country that we have to acknowledge. There used to be a middle class that worked for the large businesses. The most recent recession pared off many of the workers in the middle class for a variety of economic reasons I won’t go into here but all of which involve corporate bottom lines. So big business is healthier, and the economy is improving but who paid for it?

Mario Cuomo’s funeral was today. I remember as an idealistic young woman being absolutely mesmerized by his 1984 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address. He spoke so eloquently about the U.S. as a country that is like a family that take’s care of its members. He said:

“…we can make it with the whole family intact, and we have more than once….wagon train after wagon train…the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way…”
Sure, he was a smart politician who understood that the American Dream, land of the free, ‘anyone can succeed on their own merit’ was a myth but he believed in a real middle class. In that speech he also said:
“…if we do not forget that this entire nation has profited by these progressive principles; that they helped lift up generations to the middle class and higher; that they gave us a chance to work, to go to college, to raise a family, to own a house, to be secure in our old age and, before that, to reach heights that our own parents would not have dared dream of.”
We have always been sold, by politicians and advertisers, a vision of an America that doesn’t exist. But today we are a nation of haves, have-nots and a lot of people struggling with student loan debt, poor employment choices insecure employment situations, ridiculously expensive health insurance premiums and leaders who tell us anything but show us no compassion. I wonder if that’s what my ex-doctor’s group talked about in the big meeting.

Winter Meditation: A Challenge for a Grumpy Old Lady

So, I decided to challenge myself in the time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. I don’t usually go in for personal challenges because they feel so pop culture-ish to me, like I’m channeling Oprah or something.  But I got a loud wakeup call at Thanksgiving. I was told my attitude had become a bit negative. Actually, my offspring very pointedly said to me, “Mom, you’re so negative!

At that point I wanted to line them up for a group slap. But instead, I took a walk among the falling leaves in my favorite nature preserve and thought about it. Damn it, they were right! I had become a glass half empty person! I’m not sure when it happened, I would suspect gradually over the period of the last couple of years. I know I’ve had periods of darkness before, usually brought on by depression, sometimes situational but my kids meant that I’d developed a general negative disposition that wasn’t part of my character before.  I thought about why it happened and I couldn’t help but notice that it seems to happen to a lot of women my age, especially women like me who don’t have partners. The kids are gone, there are no career goals left to reach and let’s face it, this culture emphasizes youth so every time I look in the mirror I’m reminded that I’m no longer the cultural ideal or the desired demographic. I think all that weighted me down and I think it weighs on my friends too. I realized that when talking with them it was about our health issues, who had died and who the most annoying people in our lives were at any given moment. And when I was out talking to strangers; clerks in stores, people in lines, etc. my remarks, although sometimes very witty, many times referred to things I wasn’t happy about.  That’s why I decided to challenge myself by taking the six weeks until the end of 2014 to make an effort to stay as positive as possible.

Now, I don’t believe in the adage “fake it til you make it” so the challenge for me is genuinely being positive. Don’t get me wrong, gratitude has never been my problem. I’m grateful all day long, but I’m also the kind of person who will say “I’m so grateful I’m not dead because I should be.” Yeah, I’m grateful, but not positive. So I reframed my gratitude. I believed and decided to find things in my life every day that could lead me to say “You know what, life is good. I looked for things I could hang on to and pass on to others as benefits of our time in this life.

I have to tell you that in the weeks since I made the conscious choice circumstances have changed along with my outlook and I’m surprised. (I guess skepticism was part of my negativity.) Some very nice things have happened to me since Thanksgiving. I have to believe that opening myself to positive energy has made a good difference. For one thing, it’s made a difference in the way I treat other people and therefore the way they treat me in return. I was in a package delivery store just before Christmas. I told the obviously stressed clerk to take his time and I joked with him that I wouldn’t watch how my box was being handled. He smiled and I noticed his body visibly relax. Then he wished me  happy holidays. I experienced the effect of being positive in that moment and at other times as well, so much so that I’ve decided to continue the challenge into 2015. I guess I’d forgotten again that we always have access to the absolute, big L Love from which all positivity comes. This challenge reminded me and I’m grateful!

Happy New Year!!!

What Do You Do When a Person You Know Isn’t the Person You Knew?

The question concerns a woman I’ve known since college. (So it’s been longer than either of us would admit.) We were roommates in a dorm that was problematic for us as it was single gender and not very diverse. We became very close in the two years we lived there together. We shared similar backgrounds and a number of interests, especially literature. We felt safe enough with one another to reveal our ambitions concerning men and careers. We would lay in our twin beds at night describing our fantasies, born from youth and hope, about what our husbands would look like, where we’d live and which jobs on which magazines we’d get. And we both always assumed we’d remain friends. Back then, she was incredibly smart, strong, popular and a very talented writer. I admired her and I always felt enriched by being in her company.

Then bad stuff started happening to her. Really bad stuff. Tragic stuff. She suffered unimaginable losses that caused her to develop mental health issues. Among other problems, she became a hoarder. And her losses continued. Over the period of a few years, she lost a job, a house and her parents. She couldn’t tolerant the pain. I witnessed as her attitude changed so much she seemed to become a completely different person. A hard, not nice person. I understood why and how the transformation happened but she was no longer the person I had known and loved.

© Hallmark Cards
© Hallmark Cards

I wasn’t sure how to handle what was happening to her. In all honesty, I have put more than a little distance between us. I have discussed before on this blog that feeling compassion toward others is sometimes hard for me. I’ve learned from studying Buddhism and mystical Christianity that in order to be genuinely compassionate, one must put aside the sense of self, beyond empathy and beyond sympathy. That’s the hard part for me because I am seriously self-centered.

Unfortunately, this friend’s behavior was hurtful during a very difficult period in my life. I knew it was part of the change in her personality but truthfully, it broke my heart and I didn’t know if I could forgive her. I understood her but I needed space to re-evaluate the relationship because it was proving to be too difficult for me to get past the hurt she’d caused.  My rational mind conveniently told me I didn’t need to feel bad if I decided to let the friendship go because I didn’t know her anymore. I asked myself how I could really be a friend to a stranger.  Apparently, there were others who felt the same way because a couple of people who at one time orbited around her chose to leave her sphere.

Now she is seriously ill with cancer. This is not territory for my rational mind; this is the land of my heart. This is the time for me to reflect on the love I gave to this woman who was my friend but even more so on the love I received. I feel that although I don’t know this person anymore I’m required out of compassion to stay and give the appearance of a friend. But in my heart I know that isn’t real compassion. She is the same person with whom, for years, I thought I shared the unbreakable love bond of an authentic friendship. In her world and in her mind we are still connected, if in a way that only makes sense to her. I’m not sure I feel connected to her at all anymore so maybe I’ve changed more than she has. And I have to acknowledge that she still loves me in her own way. Yet the truth is I’ve let resentment of her fear and bitter neediness taint and diminish my love.

.Can I be a friend to this person I no longer know? She’s changed and maybe I’ve changed too. Maybe we need to have a different, changed kind of friendship. Maybe if I re-acquaint myself with her I’ll discover something new about love and compassion that will help us both. I’ll keep you posted.   

And Now There Are Two

SO… with the help of the 3 people who weighed (two via personal emails) on the questions I asked in my last post, I’ve figured out what I want to do, blogging wise. I want to reflect on spiritual and social questions and I want to tell stories. As the result of my conclusion, “Stop Along the Way” will continue as the place for my reflections, considerations and meditations. In addition, I’ve started a new blog, the name of which was inspired by my last post here. My second blog is called Busy. Writing. Life and it’s where I’ll tell my stories in the form of humor, fiction and poetry. I posted my first piece today. In honor of Halloween it’s a scary story called Mouth Brought Me Here. I hope you’ll click over and check it out.

Busy. Writing. Life.

I can’t believe it’s autumn again already. I was very busy over the summer and it passed by very quickly. I traveled quite a bit, I rooted around the area of the DMV for yet more insight into its history and I spent a lot of time outside. I’m in love with Rock Creek Park, Great Falls Park and Glen Carlyn Nature Preserve, having had the pleasure of hiking all three during the warm months.

Great Falls
Great Falls
Glen Carlyn
Glen Carlyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

I joined a second faith community to strengthen my practice and for service work. I’m also always trying to find work that PAYS. Oh, and I grew tomatoes!

Bumper Crop!
Bumper Crop!
I admit I had a lot going on last summer...
I admit I had a lot going on last summer…

 

But not as much as my neighbor did
But not as much as my neighbor did

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was especially busy writing. I spent more time writing during the summer than I ever have. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this blog as a result. Most of my writing energy was spent on other forms rather than blogging. So now, I find myself knee-deep in work on my first novel as well as poetry and short stories. I have a couple of pieces out for submission to literary magazines and contests. Nothing has been published yet but I’m happy with the work, which feels great. I also increased my involvement with three writers groups (both physical and online). All of this has left me with little time for the amount and type of writing I was used to doing for Stop Along the Way.

So what do you think I should do? Here are my choices as I see them right now;

  • Close Stop Along the Way after a wonderful four year ride.
  • Change it to a creative writing space and post my workshopped pieces here.
  • Narrow the scope of this blog to pieces that focus on spirituality, create a new blog for humor pieces and keep everything else for the groups.
  • Leave it as is, post when I can and hope for the best.

I’d love some advice from my fellow bloggers about the situation. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I don’t know which direction to go in. I try to write everyday but there’s also “life”. So, how do I blog, write the other stuff and still have time for things like family, health and paying the bills? Please weigh in!  

Summer Meditation: Notes From the Road

 

jeep-218956_640It’s sunrise and I’m on Route 95 headed toward Richmond. The early sunshine works its way through thick bands of pine and maple trees along the highway. Puffy clouds sit static behind the green backdrop. I’m glad to be on my way further down south from Virginia. This visit to my cousin in Raleigh means I get to explore what I’m told is the “real south” which is what I’ve been trying to do since I moved two years ago. Funny, when I lived in Boston I thought northern Virginia was the real south but apparently Richmond is a dividing line, it’s history as the Confederate capital still having significance.

I’ve been to Atlanta and Myrtle Beach but as I enter the city of Richmond it feels different. I can’t help wondering what this landscape looked like 150 years ago. Did the sun penetrate the foliage then as it does now when soldiers stood between the trees trying to detect the blue or the gray of the perceived enemy? Did any of my people run this route on their way from confederate North Carolina to the contraband camps in Alexandria where I live now? I see long swaths of grass between mighty trees. Were they part of battlefields? As I pass by I’m thinking about all those who might have been left lying out there. What a time that must have been! Were the issues of the Civil War clear-cut back then to the citizenry of both sides or did they seem as confused as the ones we wrestle with now; war, conflict, ideology?

I exit onto Route 85 and into North Carolina. The cops are less visible than on the Virginia roads. Are they waiting til they have a good breakfast of grits and eggs before starting their patrols? Old time asphalt reverberates and rattles my soul along with my wheels. I see a sign for Ace Hardware and Gun Store. Hills, valleys and pickup trucks. No helmets needed by the Harley riders here. Cigs three dollars a pack and a speed limit of whatever you can bear. Ghosts of tobacco plantations, dusty hills, slave-owning forefathers but license plates that only mention Kitty Hawk. Places like Creedmoor and Falls Lake; Ruin Creek, Nutbush Creek, and Bullsville inhabit this two lane stretch. I roll down the window a bit to smell the air. It’s hot and humid just the way I like and aromatic with bellflowers and jewelweed in full bloom. I know this place’s unsettling and violent history but like many folks, I still find the scenery beautiful and somehow peaceful.

I turn off the highway just outside Raleigh onto the Triangle Expressway. It’s a big, newly paved road dotted with the shiny office buildings of tech companies. I start looking for my cousin’s subdivision. There are so many of them here that have replaced old farms although, come to think of it, it’s the same in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I find the “Springwell” community and pull in. (All the subdivision around here are named.) I’m looking forward to the lilt in my cousin’s speech and his traditional southern hospitality. I hear there are only three Starbucks in these parts but that’s ok because I’m ready to try something else.