Our flags always fly at half-mast now.
Wide and unhealed wounds on high for the world to see
flap dripping loss and pus
into the public square.
white men, whips still in hand
and a few hard-yoked women, their heads down
facing only the one row they are plowing now—
ignore what they hear in the streets and feel in their hearts
and could see in their neighbors or in the trees or their ancestors or themselves if they ever dared to really look—
plod quietly unhearing and unheard, until they explode
spreading fear and blame and death in all directions,
some imagining, demanding, the parade candy of their youth while
tossing and receiving only shrapnel now. Like this…
Some days I’m certain that if I hear one more “loving Christian” call their fellow human beings “illegals”
or “slackers” or “welfare queens” or all the other unexamined racist bullshit they hold,
I will drop all well-researched, fact-based, and long-rehearsed arguments
and just vomit directly on them.
That was love, just then, those words of mine.
Some will feel them as shrapnel. I learned that from my own family.
My love, in words, can be your shrapnel. That’s the problem with words.
It’s why I’m an herbalist and salve maker most days now, and a poet so rarely.
Accidentally wounding others is just not my thing.
Leaning reverently on the land to heal, is. My family saw to that.
Still, I hope you can feel me here, between the words.
Feel the difference between words born of love and words born of unhealed pain to wound
whoever happens to be nearby. I hope you can feel God or at least warm spinning stardust within the living.
And, can I now, too? I think so. Most days.
In 2021, heads-down white folk must content themselves with the eerie peace
of sitting inside, trying to fortify themselves
by watching their children and grandchildren
juggle their old but still live grenades online and their AR-15s in their front yards.
Or worse, egging-on those too exhausted or poor to have time for anything else but fearing who they’re told to fear:
commending bravery while holding none.
Demanding respect like screaming children
who have no option but to believe the fools teaching them
they hold no innate love and value within.
Breathe out. Breathe in. Shut your eyes. Count to 10.
Breathe out. Breathe in. Sing a song that you love. Then sing a song that grandma, or grandpa, or a trusted friend, loved.
Find the real smile behind their eyes. Then your eyes. Then, open your eyes…
We are done with that now. Done with hiding. Done with not seeing. Done with leading from fear at a distance most days. Done with only patriarchy and white supremacy and weapons of war and hiding as options. Done with frightened imaginations held hostage by the stale beliefs of old men guarding dank abandoned castles. Done with hiding from my truth. And your truth. And our truths. And you are welcome here.
Hear me. And if not me, then hear the laughter of children. And if not children, then feel the wind that nestles among tree branches before bowing to touch your precious face.
And—now here’s where it gets really interesting—
It’s not at all how I thought it would be…
At 50, the once monthly rituals of women—the pain within that drops you to your knees, the blood and grief, the extra gentleness and self kindness, the soothing tea, a bit of dark chocolate, leaning on wise women across cultures, escaping momentarily into the woods or into a book or into our dreams as we wash the dishes to rest and recover—have become daily rituals.
Powerful rituals. Lasting kindness and pain-holding rituals.
Every day now I feel the earth within my feet and gather plants up into my hands and join them in becoming healing. Soft, rough, fragrant, horrible and stinging, generous, scaly and stabbing, voracious and weedy, sweet, old and wise, new buds, petals, seeds, ooze, compost, fungus, soil, rain, sunshine, worms—
all plants and weather welcome here
all experience and life welcome
all beings welcome
all grief, which brings healing, is now welcome here
All beings are welcome? All people? Is that really true now? That seems a bit crazy. Who is that courageous? Wow.
And me? I am welcome, too? Here on earth. Even with you?
When did that happen? Wow.
So, that’s what 50 years is, folks. Every day we can let it be.
And it’s fucking glorious!
Even with the hot flashes.
Every day now, I hear my teachers’ and their ancestors’ songs. And every day I sing them…
“I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me. I hear the voice of my grandmother’s song. She says wake up, wake up, daughter–stand in your power, woman, stand in your power—listen, listen. Listen, listen…”
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”
“How much is that doggy in the window? The one with the waggly tail?…”
“All the single ladies, all the single ladies…”
Every day now, I practice somebody else’s ancestors’ practice too:
The mindful cup of tea stirred with gratitude and a bamboo whisk.
The smile on the face throughout the yoga practice lifting my spirits—even through the tough transitions—which isn’t quite daily yet but I’m almost there.
The listening to stories, realities, and pain of others, and to my own pain, on days I can. And not listening, on days I can’t. Without fixing and without guilt. Guilt—50-year-old ears can tell—is a thing the living world doesn’t ask of us. Or maybe that’s 550-year-old ears. Hard to say.
The intentional surrounding of myself with beings of all ages who don’t take themselves too seriously, because my people and I need all the help we can get with this one.
When I do these things, I don’t feel like an orphan anymore—no matter what my story is that day. And I don’t feel like I have no wise elders to guide me—no matter what social media or my own family says that day. And I don’t feel hopeless, even on the worst days—no matter what the news brings that day. Our people’s heartfelt songs and rituals and laughter live on within us and others, no matter what. And those not heart felt eventually do fall away, no matter what, although some go kicking and screaming and demanding parades and insurrections for spreading lies and pain in their wake.
At 50, we stand in our power together–a power far more vast than human power. We don’t run from grief here. We fall to the ground some days with it. We weep and scream and feel the grief of our nations, our neighbors, our ancestors, and our bodies. Together we hold what we are crushed by alone. Every time a young person dies at the hands of another human now, I weep. So I weep all the time now. I always have, actually. It’s one of my callings. One I used to apologize for because I didn’t understand it. Even as I laugh and play and revel in the warming spring sun, I feel their family’s tears within me. Hear his family’s voices. Hear her mother’s prayers and demands. And I am glad for it. Glad to have eyes to see. Glad to have a body that feels. Glad to have a community that cares with me and moves us forward on the days I can’t move at all.
At 50, we also sing, laugh, and rest, far more than we used to. We reject the exhaustion wagon our ancestors and younger selves hitched their horses (or, ah, mobile phones) to. We have no choice. We don’t have the same energy we once did for propping up our own ancestral bullshit on too-heavy thrones. Those who still try–fry and burn out by 50–you can see it in their eyes.
We can be proud and mortified together—we are both now. We can be wide open and welcoming and set strong boundaries and bounce your ass out of this sacred space, too—yes, both. We ourselves can bounce—and not bitch—when it’s WE who are shown the door out of private, sacred spaces, too. We can prioritize what matters most as we look around, listen, feel what is being felt. And not just stop and shut down when people get the words wrong. Because people—my people anyway—always get some of the words wrong. If we shut down when people get the words wrong, then we are always shut down. You see that too in people these days. Feel it in yourself sometimes. It breaks the heart.
Words are everything, yes. And
when you can feel what they are feeling within you, from goosebumps, to joy, pain, tears,
then words also mean nothing, too. Words can mean nothing.
Yep, all of the above and then some.
At 50, there are some things we’ll clearly never be as individuals.
For example, I’m still just 5’2” and still not particularly well coordinated, and I will never be a basketball star or a track star in this lifetime, as cool as that must be.
I don’t think I’ll be a grief counselor, either. Although I have grieved every day for several decades now. Thank you Alzheimer’s disease. Thank you eyes that see and a living world not hidden from me anymore. Theoretically I could be a grief counselor. But I can’t be that right now either. My years of grief are a drop in the bucket compared to some. Some neighbors have been grieving together for 400 years. Some for 500 years. There are trees who’ve lived and grieved together for 5,000 years on earth. I prefer forests as grief counselors.
I’m an herbalist today because I can’t be a grief counselor. My people and I don’t hold enough empty space and stillness within yet. We haven’t made enough soft and quiet mossy spots for others to lay down to rest in yet. We haven’t felt enough gentle breezes and friend-toppling storms in our branches. Haven’t burned to the ground, along with everything we love, a hundred times over. Or felt enough pure joy of living. Yet. But I have lost people I was certain I couldn’t live without. And I’ve stopped breathing for a full minute when encountering a beloved and unexpectedly clear-cut forest. And wept with mourning trees the next day. And felt a forest’s grief in my lungs for months after. I have wept with bird families at times of unexpected tragedy too. Countless human families, now, too. And I now regularly lay in warm sun beams for the pure joy of it…
A global pandemic is still burning across the human world this year. Just yesterday I wept for India where more than 200,000 people have died from Covid 19. Wept tears for my friends from India here whose extended families are at a distance and in peril. We know that feeling too. Other pandemics are older and still burning across the US too. Racism built into our doctrines and institutions and physical reflexes. Black men and women killed, murdered by the police and other self-terrified white folks. Some of whom prefer the long-dead people (who taught that racism + sexism + cruelty were jolly good life plans) above living people begging just to breathe. And some of whom are horrified–and didn’t have a clue–until the moment their own reflexes and training failed them and they found themselves standing where their promise to “protect and serve” instead left a precious human dead, and whole communities burning, at their hands. And, native women are still disappearing at terrifying rates. And violence against people of Asian descent has spiked this year. And some men still think they own everything they see–still laugh at those who would rise to protect silly things like water or trees or children or women. And so, so many once-kind men who love to hunt now turn entertainment-media-blind eyes away from our daily mass shootings for fear someone might take a beloved shot gun away. Nobody wants your fucking shotgun!!! Meanwhile, women bury their children here daily. Every day. My women. Our people. Every God Damn day.
And, I really noticed spring this year. This has been the most remarkable spring I’ve ever felt and seen!
Not a momentary shock of beauty, here and there—the
peak cherry blossoms or the teacup fluff rabbits
on lawns in our small town that even the too-busy city folk slow down to see…
I noticed spring every hour of every day of every month this year
The baby chickweed smiles, and tiny cleavers and purple dead nettle
emerging by the shed door, shyly at first.
The usnea lichen on the old plum tree slowly receding
beneath this flower, and that bud, and then leaf upon leaf
as our old tree becomes our young tree again.
A bass and a soprano joined the spring frog choir here this year. I wondered if they joined as a couple, in the way a few very lucky people get to join our community choir–together already.
Our three-legged dog moving to spend warm sunny days outside: rolling on her back in pure delight.
The young women starting new businesses and celebrating mother’s day here—inviting me to join them—interested in the work of my hands, first and foremost, and not asking about my politics. Hmm. And the middle-aged women planting more trees and plants than ever and soothing lost and sick dogs and friends. Older women sketching, dancing, sharing wisdom, and delighting in new and growing grandchildren. And speaking their minds. Dear God I love hearing gray-haired women speak words never before spoken: held by their community well enough, finally, that they appear fearless from a distance and glowing, beyond gorgeous, right up close. And getting vaccinated first. Elders remembered and honored, even as too many were lost.
Neighbor Jean getting teary-eyed as she tried to remember 45 years back, all the way back to 50. “It goes by so fast!” she says to me. Me, a mere child in her remarkable, beautiful, still-kind and teary eyes.
The daily shifts of pink and white and green across an unfolding spectrum of deepening green and gold and maroon as we drive home each day. Wow is it gorgeous here!
Next up for us, I think… Daily dancing.