The Little Girl Who Loved to Climb Trees

Dear Readers,

Thanks for helping my writing dreams come true–I’ve just been accepted to study for an MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University! Your encouragement of these blogposts is part of what gave me the confidence to go back to school. Following is one of the pieces I wrote for my admission application. May it help breathe life into your own dreams, whatever they may be.

The Little Girl Who Loved to Climb Trees

There was once a little girl who loved to climb trees in her spare time. The problem was, she rarely had any. Or at least she didn’t think so. She was always spinning or weaving or cooking, or sweeping, or doing all those tedious houseworky things that girls often do in fairy tales.

The little girl became very sad. She watched other children play tag and jump rope and wished that she could break free of the evil spell that kept her permanently attached to her to her domestic duties, so that she could play outdoors and climb trees all day long. Day after day she would think to herself “I’ll go climb trees as soon as I’m done with my chores. And day after day, her chores never seemed to be done, and the sun would set again before she could let herself get outside. The little girl sighed and groaned, and eventually she just got frustrated and pissed off, sweeping piles of dust in futile circles on the kitchen floor.

One day, much to her surprise, a mouse scrambled across the floor in front of her while she swept. It darted quickly behind the refrigerator. As you might expect, our heroine tended to be a tidy housekeeper, so of course she moved the refrigerator away from the wall, (carefully, so as not to tear the linoleum ), and what do you think she found? Of all things, she spied a flier tucked away behind the refrigerator coils.

Curiosity (and habits of extreme cleanliness, truth be told) got the best of her, and she vacuumed the refrigerator coils before removing the flier. Without even thinking, she released her hand from her vacuum to unfold the piece of paper. “WANTED”, it said “Young Maidens who Love to Climb Trees.”

The young woman (for the little girl had swept and tidied for so many years she had become a young woman) scratched her head in indecision. “I’m damned if I do, and double damned if I don’t” she thought. “Well, damned beats double damned any day, how about let’s do?”

So she read the flier in detail, and signed up for the tree-eating contest. Wait, wrong flier. She signed up for the tree-scrubbing contest. Wait, not that one either, though she would have been a cinch to win. It was the Queendom’s (for she lived in a matriarchy) Tree-Climbing Championship. Oh boy!

There was no fairy godmother, glass slipper or carriage in this fairy tale, so the young woman dressed in comfortable, yet stylish attire, donned a pair of hiking boots, and took the Light Rail to The Edge of Town where the tree-climbing championship was to be held.

She arrived at The Edge of Town in a timely fashion, and none the worse for wear, ready to get her tree climbing game on. As she approached the registration table, she was alarmed to see that an ogre of giant proportions was handling the registrations. She knew about ogres. Or so she thought (having never met one before), and her fear was so great she nearly turned back on the spot. For a moment she hesitated, but her courage was greater than her fear, so she stepped up to the table and spoke her name.

Much to her surprise and relief, the Ogre smiled and greeted her warmly, and welcomed her to the tournament. That was before he handed her a clipboard with two pounds of forms to complete, including, but not limited to the registration paperwork, the liability waivers, and the autobiography template.

Our heroine, well, I will not say she was undaunted. In fact, she was nearly overcome with despair. But she had not come this far in life without accumulating a variety of tools, among which were persistence, grit, and a fabulous pen collection, so she sat down to begin her work, pausing every so often to practice her centering, her yoga breathing, or, failing that, blowing into a paper bag.

Years passed, our heroine still sat there, diligently filling out her paperwork. By now she was no longer a young woman either, but no matter. She had left her broom behind, and was valiantly pursuing her lifelong goal of tending to her own dreams.

Eventually the day came when when reached the bottom of her paper pile. She stood up slowly, wiped her bleary eyes, and tested to see if her joints still worked. Miraculously (and this is the only miracle in this fairy tale) they still did. She walked triumphantly, though with a slight gimp, over to the registration desk bearing her sheath of paperwork. The ogre was no longer there, having left his post several decades before. “Now what” she wondered. “Has all this effort been in vain?

Our heroine began to feel more than a bit dispirited and panicky.  She had no idea what to do. Despair and thoughts of hopelessness began to overtake her. Why was there no one left at the tree climbing tournament? Had she left her sweeping for naught? Had her dreams of tree-climbing super-stardom fallen by the wayside as well? What would become of her? Would she ever be good at anything? And who was she meant to be? For a time she was overwrought, frail and numb, depressed even. Some days she sobbed so hard she could hardly breathe. And when she had finally cried all the tears she owned, she fell into an exhausted sleep.

This woman, a grandmother by now, dreamed a peculiar dream. She dreamed of her hands. First she dreamed of her little girl hands. They were soft and chubby, and held a broom. Next she dreamed of her young woman hands. They were still soft and delicate, and they held a tree branch apiece. Finally she dreamed of her hands as they were now. They bore the marks of time, the gnarly bumps and age spots that were witnesses to the years gone by. At first they looked empty, and our grandmother was quite distressed, but then she suddenly realized that hands that look empty mean hands that are open to possibility, that there is space in them to hold whatever comes next. She relaxed and was content, cupping her hands in gratitude, aware of holding both emptiness and fullness at the same time.

Our heroine awoke from her interesting dream. Again she stretched, rubbed her eyes, and checked her joints. She felt calmer than she had when she fell asleep.  She gathered her sheaf of papers, (which, by now, contained a handwritten autobiography), looked down at her hands, and realized they were full again. One hand held her sheaf of papers, the other, a sturdy pen. Suddenly, she knew just what she must do. And I don’t remember what happened next, or exactly how she made it happen, or what seemingly miraculous serendipities occurred, but ultimately she got her wish, went back to school, and wrote to her heart’s content.

The little girl who was now a grandma still swept from time to time, but only when she wanted to. And she climbed trees again from time to time, though not as high as those she once had. And she never missed a single sunset just because she was too busy sweeping.

 

Advertisements

One Nation, Indivisible

It seems fitting to republish this on the first anniversary of the inauguration of our new president. With DACA up in the air and #shitholenations in the news, this piece feels as true now, and more urgent, perhaps, than when I first wrote it. 

It was election night. The results were pouring in. My phone buzzed with a text from my son: “America doesn’t want me.” This text required a phone response.

I called my boy, half a country away. He answered. His voice was trembling, I could tell he was in tears. “Mom, I’m terrified. I’m afraid to go out.”

For the record, this adult son turns 29 today. He is a world traveler, and street-savvy. He has an art degree, is studying law, and is passionate about pursuing justice for all, that thing we pay homage to in our pledge of allegiance. He is smart, but more importantly, he is kind. He’s of Mexican descent. And he was terrified.

“Mom,” he said, “during the course of the presidential campaign, I’ve been approached in an LA laundromat and a St. Paul coffee shop, questioned as to whether I was a terrorist. I’ve had my life threatened by an off-duty policeman in a bar in Minneapolis, who said he could take me out back and shoot me, and no one would ever find out who did it. This was just during the campaign–how much worse will it be if he gets elected?”

It is the fear of every parent that we cannot protect our children from the world. We do what we can, we prepare them as adequately as we know how, and we spend the rest of our lives learning to let go. For those of us who are white parents of children of color, the world we would protect them from is not one that we personally experience. We are only too aware that the elements they may need protection from are part of the white privileged systems from which we ourselves benefit. It is painful to acknowledge that we can be unwitting players in the oppression visited upon our children.

I felt so helpless as I talked to my boy. I tried to offer support that only seemed to twist the knife deeper, and hung up feeling inadequate and dissatisfied. In a later conversation, I asked him “what can I do to help you?” “Let people know, Mom”, he answered. “It’s important to tell these stories.”

So I share this story today, knowing full well that it is far from unique, and struggling with this ugly irony–that in the same breath in which I am enraged and indignant at how strangers dare to treat my son, this precious child who made mother’s day cards, and brought me breakfast in bed when I was sick, this young man who loves to play with babies and spent his last summer seeking justice for those on death row–in this same breath I am painfully aware that my own unconscious racism leads me to look upon other mothers’ sons with similar suspicion. I catch myself checking to see if my car is locked, when driving through predominantly black neighborhoods. I see a young man and woman of color, walking together down the street, laughing. He holds a television set poised over his right shoulder. The first thought that flashes through my brain, before my Minnesota Nice chip can intercept it is: “I wonder if that TV’s stolen”.  I walk down the street and encounter a dark-skinned stranger, and from some deep recesses of my brain, a racial epithet floats to the surface, something cruel and ugly that I would never speak out loud, and am ashamed to discover I even contain.  Of this I am not proud. And I am not just chagrined–I am horrified. Horrified to recognize the seeds of racism sown within my own heart.

It’s always easier to project our evil onto others than to engage in painful self-examination. I can weep and wail and protest about everything going on out there, but if all that does is allow me to turn the spotlight away from my own failings, then I am no better than the “enemy”, whomever or whatever he or she might be.

I believe that the surest way to peace, to justice, and to “One Nation, Indivisible”, is for me to take a good, long look at my own heart, painstakingly uproot what has been planted, till the soil, and plant a new crop. I pray the harvest will come soon, and be bountiful.

And I wonder–what sort of a nation might we become if we each tend first and foremost to the fruits of our own heart? Shall we journey together and find out?

 

 

 

Bearing Witness

The more we can bear witness to another’s sacred story, the more we can heal each other and the world.” –Nicole Duenow, Healing House

It was a dark and gloomy night (not outside, but in the very depths of my soul). In the back seat of a car, abducted by strangers with my three-year old daughter, my mind raced to process what was happening and what would become of us. I engaged my captor in conversation to try and discern his motives, our destination, our chances. I knew our lives were on the line. As much as I had faith in God, I knew that many others, far more worthy than we, had perished without divine intervention. Oscar Romero came to mind. If God had not stepped in to save such a saint, I knew we had no guarantee.

Blindfolded, I could not look deeply into my captor’s eyes, read his face, his fears, his intentions, so I searched deeply in my heart, reached depths deeper than I knew existed, and found that place where we are all equals, divine creatures, that place called namaste. From that place I could see my captor through God’s eyes, listen deeply to his own story of woundedness and unexpectedly find these words: “I know why God allowed this to happen to us—it’s because He wanted you to know how much he loves you.” The spell was broken. I had stumbled upon the key that ultimately set us free from our would-be prison. At that moment, my captor’s motivation faltered, and together we began to plan how he could release us.

That experience forever changed me, in ways both powerful and devastating. When it mattered, I was able to connect deeply with love. In the ensuing years, I have also had to contend with panic, terror, fury and depression, all different facets of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. My journey to recapture the pieces of my spirit that were injured in that assault has taken over twenty years, and is not yet complete. My daughter, now a son, struggles with demons of his own, as do his brothers, who have been indirectly impacted by that event through my struggles with mental illness.

And yet we are so blessed. Life continues, and is full and good. My grandson, now four, son of that sweet little child who survived the unthinkable alongside me, is at that stage where he’s trying out new superheroes on a daily basis. He is endowed with infinite superpowers, and is forever engaged in galactic battles, sword fights and other impressive adventures.

“Grandma, what’s your superpower?” he asks me one day as we play together. It takes me a while to find my answer—I don’t usually think of myself as a superhero gifted with magical powers. After a moment it comes to me: “Love”, I tell him, a little bit surprised at my answer.  “My superpower is love.” In a rather disgusted, somewhat condescending voice he replies: “Grandma, you can’t kill with love.”

And suddenly I am transported back to that unforgettable night and remember. Remember and understand. That key that opened the door to set us free? Its name was love. It was love that saved our lives. It has always been my prayer that love may, in some unknown way, have saved our captor’s life too. And it is my greatest joy that after nearly thirty years, love has helped my wounded spirit find its way back home.

Wing Dust

Facebook reminded me–I’ve been blogging for five years. Thank you to all who have encouraged me throughout. This is where I share my heart with the world. Please help spread the word by sharing posts that resonate. Blessings.

reluctant methodist mystic

The sun is streaming in my window, warming my face on a chilly November morning.  It is Tuesday, and I leave for Europe on Thursday.  Two of our college children are taking their semester abroad, and against all practical advice, I’m tapping heavily into my retirement account to finance this adventure.  I know it’s an incredible splurge, and I’m aware of how tremendously blessed I am to have this opportunity, yet on some level it feels like a deep need rather than a luxury.   I’m trying not to panic, since panic never helps much anyway, and ends up being a colossal waste of both adrenalin and brain space.  Instead, I’m just trying to plug away at things, focusing on one task at a time, and trust that everything will come together in the end.

I want to tell myself that this is “just a trip to Europe”, (as if…

View original post 179 more words

How Not to Commit Suicide

Sometimes, late at night, I

understand how someone could make that choice.

i, myself, have been so

close, have walked that fine line between here and the hereafter, suicide note folded neatly

in my purse, while my inner

demons duked it out with my inner angels. “This life is intolerable” my demons argued. There is no way back, no way forward, no way out.” My inner angels

empathized with their brothers’ pain. “No one should ever have to feel this bad. Ever. But there’s something you don’t know. When you are in this dark place, you can see no way out. That does not mean it’s not there. It just means your vision is clouded. You need to update your eyeglass prescription, get rid of that mirror that distorts everything you see, minimizes your beauty and maximizes your flaws. Wash your windows. You’ll be able to see out, and know the world is bigger than this dungeon that holds your heart hostage.”

I listened to the parties continue their discourse. It lasted for weeks, as I hung on by a mere thread.

I was thirty-five, with three small children. They needed me, and yet that was not enough.

The demons were in desperate pain and threatened to take me down with them.

My will to live fought back as I angrily railed at life for throwing me into a perceived dead end, with no room to even turn around.

“You are not right,” my angels told me gently. “Your brain is not telling you the truth. There is a way out. You just can’t see it yet. But the choice is yours. There will be no divine intervention. Might we respectfully suggest you call a friend, ask for help, get a second opinion?”

I went to therapy one last time. I sat on the floor, couldn’t even look the therapist in the eye. She sent me to the hospital. Three weeks later, I discovered that the Dead End sign had been posted directly in front of a forest path. It was overgrown, and not well maintained, but it was a path, nevertheless. It was slow-going and challenging at first, but persistence, loyal companions, and many, many teachers brought me finally to a place where the going is easier, the sun often shines through, and where some days, I am even able to touch joy.

Two decades later, now happy and healthy, with grown-up children, I think about that suicide note. It was heartfelt and poetic, attempting to capture in three paragraphs all the lessons I wanted my children to learn, lessons that I wouldn’t be around to teach them. I eventually threw the letter out. The irony does not escape me that the only words I remember are: “Never give up.”

I give thanks every day that I decided to follow my own advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maternal GPS

I was struggling recently. You’re shocked, I know. Specifically, I was struggling with childhood issues stemming from uneven parenting. I prefer “uneven” to “dysfunctional”, because it allows for the good things that did seep through, speaks to the paradox of sometimes good, sometimes really bad that occurred during my formative years.

I have gotten to the point where I can hold two truths simultaneously, one in either hand: 1) My parents probably did the best they knew how, AND 2) I did not get what I needed.

I have been angry. I have been grieving. I have been astonished and awestruck, both to understand the extent of the damages to my psyche, and to acknowledge the inner strength I must possess to have become (at least on my good days) a (mostly) functional adult.

I am at the point where I need to choose how to move forward, both in grieving for my parent who has died, and in reassessing my relationship with the one who is still living, renegotiating something that will meet both my needs for connection and for self-protection.

In the midst of this painful process, I stumbled across a letter I wrote to one of my sons a couple of years ago, as he awaited acceptance/rejection letters from law school. As I reread it, I realized it could be easily applicable to any one of my children, and then, HOLY COW, it might even secretly be a letter to me, that older, wiser, inner parent part of me, speaking to the younger, tender, deeply wounded little person who still longs to hear that she is ok and worthy of love. I share it here in the hopes that it might resonate with those of my readers, my pseudo-siblings who got cheated out of a “normal” childhood (whatever that might look like) and are struggling to be adults without having the solid underpinnings of unconditional love that are our birthright. It’s kind of long, my apologies. I guess it’s just an example of what happens when I hand my pen to my heart and get out of the way.

“Dear Son,

Sorry the waiting is so hard. I know this will sound extremely dorky, but it can’t hurt, right? You can envision yourself opening letters of acceptance. In my mind’s eye I can see you walking to the mailbox, opening a letter, and it has big, red, felt-tipped handwriting that says “Yes!” (You may choose your own font.)

At the very least, it beats stressing about the possible noes. They may come, but that way you won’t be miserable until they do. I in no way mean to invalidate how hard this is for you. Truth be told, I am slightly anxious too, but more in a good way–wherever you land, it will be better than where you are now, and I am excited for you, for your next steps, for your new future, for the wonderful person you are and the amazing person you are continuing to evolve into. I know that the people you will champion in your new line of work will be deeply blessed by all that you bring to the table. Right now, it’s just a question of which table.

When I say I’m proud of you, I’m not proud in a “hey, look at me, I did a great job, and check out the result” kind of way. It’s more like: “Look at that man, and he’s so awesome that the love I feel won’t stay put quietly in my heart, and it’s too big to fit inside, and holy cow–that man’s my son!! and I’ve been blessed to witness his journey and sometimes be a guide, and even though he’s had to overcome so many obstacles, he still is kind, and thoughtful, and generous, and compassionate, and intelligent, and beautiful, and talented, and perservering, and loving. And that’s a miracle. And I am grateful for the blessing of you, to have had the privilege of sharing your life.

Today I am rearranging my office, gearing up for a new phase, and noticing, much to my chagrin, how much it bothers my sensibilities when my books are not lined up by height. Sigh. I guess I couldn’t hope to be my parents’ daughter and come away unscathed. But, truth be told, also blessed–my eclectic vocabulary, organizing skills and above-average intellect are gifts, though, as my father once admitted to me, smart is fine, but isn’t as important in the long run as kind.

And you are both, and so many other things as well. I am crying now just thinking about what a treasure you have been and continue to be in my life, and even if you end up practicing law in Zanzibar with no internet or phone service, my heart will always find you, ’cause that’s just how it works when you have kids, and you love them, and you try hard, and you get some stuff really right, and you get some stuff really wrong, and a lot of stuff in-between, but you just hope that it was enough, and you’re proud because even though it was harder than anything you ever imagined you could do, you somehow managed to pull it together and never give up, give way better than you got, and you hope that if your kids can do the same, give better than they got, and their kids too, maybe in six more generations no one will need therapy anymore ’cause they’ll just know how to love each other and be caring, and loving, and kind, and fun, and responsible and consistent, and flexible and tenacious, and they’ll know from the get-go that they are already good enough, and they won’t have to spend so much time and energy trying to prove that to themselves and others.

So back to my original point of that unintentional run-on paragraph, which is that wherever you land, I will find you, my maternal GPS system will tell me which direction to stand so that my love will flow out and make its way to your heart, and course through your veins, and the sound of my voice will whisper softly in your ear–you are loved, you are blessed, you are enough.”

And I’m a little embarrassed, ’cause this is not the email I planned to write, and I thought about not sending it ’cause it might seem too corny or overly-emotional, but then I figured you get to decide what to take in, what fits, what feels right, and scrap the rest of it.

So, um, back to my to-do list, which is mostly the business about dealing with bad checks left over from December.

Ma Dukes”

 

 

 

How to Fell a Tree

 

Have your eye on a tree.

Consider carefully, is it really dead?

 

Gather your tools.

Gather yourself.

Study your tree.

Take some time.

Observe—the trunk, the width, the breadth,

the twists and turns.

Consider the wind.

Be still.

Give thanks—for oxygen, for shelter, for shade, for beauty.

 

Set your course.

Consider the angle.

Aim true.

Make your first cut.

Be gentle; do not rush.

Recalculate.

Tenderly cut some more.

Reassess.

 

The tree is still dead.

Your angle is true.

Take a risk.

Commit to your angle.

Breathe.

 

Thoughtfully, calculate your second angle.

This one’s higher than the first.

With sadness and gratitude, dig in.

You are now committed.

There is no turning back.

But remember, the tree was already dead.

It’s still dead.

Doing something different will not save it.

With sadness and gratitude,

finish your second angle.

 

Remove the wedge you have created.

You have made space.

Removed the old, readying the new.

Take a break.

Observe your handiwork.

Keep breathing.

Regard the wind.

Study your flight path.

Calculate your third angle.

Resume your labor.

Take your time.

 

Pound in a new wedge.

Ease the tree past its tipping point.

Make another stroke.

Stand aside and wait for gravity to do its work.

Your part is done.

 

Watch your tree fall.

Feel the rush of wind.

Inhale the quick, sharp movement.

Honor its strength.

Marvel at the power.

Let your heart well up with gratitude for all this tree has offered.

 

Mourn the collateral damage.

Gather strength from the knowledge that you have done your best.

Remember that the tree was already dead.

You did not kill it.

You merely hastened nature’s course.

Give thanks–

for oyxgen, for shelter, for shade, for beauty.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: