Two years ago, in January of 2016, I dictated the following into my cell phone. I was in the process of moving from North Carolina, where I had lost my job and was having to vacate my house, walking away from the mortgage, to South Carolina where my brother was letting me move into a vacant 60-year-old house trailer of his:
I’m driving through Travelers Rest, closely watching my gas gauge because I am just about out of gas…the orange empty-tank light is on. I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans. There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas. I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.
All of my life, when I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth, I have been skeptical; I have thought that they somehow had a choice and chose to live this way, either because they were lazy, wasteful, and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality…used to someone bailing them out…so used to social programs that they knew no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.
God was I wrong. I find no satisfaction in this. Yes, I have been wasteful and at times, stupid. But, lately I have exhausted myself in trying to survive, wrestled with ways of working things around to make it through the month, the day, the next hour. And I almost made it. But now I need just a little bit of help. And that is so hard. I believe it takes more strength to hold my head up and survive this…and to ask for help…than it did to work my 9-to-5 government job for 22 years.
I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing. To live on the same level with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.
God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, and not offering to help. And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…it makes me…well, it makes me mad enough to cry.
Well, I did it. I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas. He deferred to the manager. First, she takes her calculator out to figure how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going (Weaverville, NC, is 61 miles from Travelers Rest), and how many miles I get to a gallon (Honda Fit, 34 mpg.). She looks up and tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.” I wait. She waits back. So I leave, with no gas.
I drove 61 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.
I’m now at my daughter’s apartment in Weaverville where it’s warm. But, outside, it is 19 degrees and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters. I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one. And, please, God, if they sleep, let them know in their dreams that someone is sorry–very sorry–that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.
That was two years ago. My life still hovers quite close to the ground but, thanks to my brother, my home is warm and snug…even snuggier than before becasue my daughter now lives with me in this 60-year-old house trailer. Try as I might, it remains a constant battle to stay afloat financially. But we are fine; we are doing okay…okay enough to pay a small token forward. I have put a small amount of money…enough to buy two gallons of gas…in a red envelope with instructions for the gas station attendant to hold onto this envelope until someone comes in, needing just a little bit of gas to get home.
God bless them.
Trauma raises consciousness; darkness reveals the presence of God; Loss removes the stuff that has kept God hidden all along.
Children who have been abused, neglected, or tormented learn to watch the signs to know when to move and when to duck. That skill serves them for the rest of their lives. That sight enables them to find their way by noticing hints and clues.
Ii is only when we are in the dark, that we search for light. If we run in terror, searching for a way out of the darkness, we hit walls and break toes. It is when we are still and our eyes adjust that we can see the shapes of our own making and know that all else is what is eternal.
In that darkness, when the shapes of our own making are most clearly defined, removing them one by one or all at once, reveals more of the eternal. It isn’t the job or the relationship or the dream that takes up the space, it is our terrified clinging…our attachment to those things. It is our hoarding of attachments that take up all the space.
If we don’t toss this stuff, life will. We can release our attachments now or do it when our bodies wear out; either way, it is going to happen…and the benefits of eternal life start once we do. If you are blessed (and we all are) these attachments can be tossed for us, ready or not. Our choice is whether to immediately fill that space in with another attachment or whether to pause and breathe and allow our eyes to adjust further to see God standing there. We have been God all along.
I am, you are, he she it is manifestation of God…covered over with stuff. All of us. (Yes, them too.) We are not separate from God. We’re just God covered over with tarnish, scars, scales, agendas, paperwork, … attachments.
If only just for a moment, peel that stuff away and let the God part of you breathe.
(I write this prompted by the injury of Deshaun Watson. Deshaun has very little ‘stuff of his own making’…very few attachments. He was not raised with abuse or neglect but with love; his faith has been nurtured through hard times, however. He will demonstrate this faith as he heals and reveals the presence of God he holds up for all to see. Watch him and learn. See how faith reveals God.)
Yesterday’s devotional mentioned the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It reminded me of a time during my darkest days of bipolar despair when I had to force myself to even consider making an effort; I managed to get myself out of the house and walk. It was more like plodding but I recited the Jesus Prayer under my breath like a mantra. I remember inhaling “Lord Jesus Christ” exhaling “Son of God” inhaling “have mercy on me” exhaling “a sinner.”
This was during the time when family came to visit; the rabbits ran loose in the house unfed and fending for themselves; there was no clear floor space; I could barely get myself to work….or was I still working? I don’t remember those years clearly but I do remember quite clearly my sister’s exclamation, “You’re out of control!” I also remember my un-vocalized reply, “no shit; you think?” I had no one helping me. I was on the wrong medication, my therapist was bored with me and of no help, and I was in such deep despair, I had no clue what to do, and no desire to do anything. Getting my shoes on to walk was huge. Reciting the prayer was like small drops of cool water to a parched throat.
This walking prayer was one of several efforts of mine through those years to reconnect with God and to find divine help. Thinking about this, I became aware of an interesting bit of trivia: 40 years had passed between my giving in to an adulterous affair in November of 1976, (I was tired of being good) to a year ago when I consented to my spiritual growth “no matter the cost.” 40 years had passed…almost to the day. Those 40 years were hard, and I believe all of it (hard times and efforts to reconnect) have played into my being where I am now…but during those years, I felt completely abandoned if not rejected by God.
Truly, I spent 40 years in darkness, but I kept trying. There were times I wanted to give up and take the short cut home, but I never gave myself over to retaliating or being a mean or spiteful person. I continued to always try to do the right thing whether or not it was being rewarded or my despair relieved.
It took 40 years, but I finally figured out the benefits of completely giving up everything…everything from possessions, resentments, anger, agendas, aspirations, reputations, pride, vanity, even feeling good about my writing and my efforts to help others.
Then I found out that there is a word for that: Kenosis. It is a Greek word describing the process of giving up the stuff of one’s life…everything that a person identifies with or clings to. Jesus talked about this process all the time. In fact, his consenting to die on the cross was the ultimate giving up. I eventually saw that to follow Jesus means to do the same…to let go of all of it to remove all distractions and shades from having clear awareness of God. And it works.
When I was a teenager, I prayed fervently for the Wisdom so highly prized in Scripture and for a mastery of words with which to help and heal others. I have wanted the satisfaction of being a healer. Well, I am a healer now…and more; I am all of it. I am God…at least that is what remains when I get rid of all of my attachments…including my attachment to being a healer. I may not be able to fully and completely enter the Kingdom of Heaven because of my transgressions 40 years ago, but like Moses, God has repeatedly “used me as a channel of divine grace, guidance and power.”
(I have borrowed the image and wisdom from beloved friend, Fr Austin Rios: The Promised Land
I am inviting those of you who follow Today’s Teachable Moment, to follow Notes From the Margins, as well. Some of what I write fits better here…some fits better there. I want to share all of it with you.
After the Mother Emmanuel shooting, I posted a sign-up sheet in my church explaining how I am a recovering racist; I was born in deeply segregated Charleston, SC, and was raised to see “colored people” as less than ‘us.’ I have worked hard to reverse that perspective. The sign-up sheet was to give others an opportunity to promise, “I Don’t Do Hate.”
I am now 62 years old and my job is to demonstrate every day, every opportunity, to every person different from me that there is more for them in this life than hate from people like me.
My fervent prayer is that we can soon stop all need to talk about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It’s just ‘we.’
I responded to a Sojourner article not long ago that any suggestion to reverse trends or make the pendulum swing back the other way is misguided; the pendulum must stop. We are all on the same side…the side of humanity seeking fulfillment of its purpose. Jesus told us how to do that: Love God. Love your neighbor… because your neighbor IS yourself.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who met recently with the president, apparently found a President Trump who has thought better of his initial comments concerning Charlottesville. Senator Scott made some sober and important suggestions to the president (like get to know some black people) and I feel we should give prayerful support because prophets are the only ones effective in making change because they are speaking from within. Tim Scott is a respected member of the Senate and he also knows what it feels like to be summarily discredited for irrelevant reasons… i.e., skin shade.
Those of us who believe in and follow Christ can be the ambassadors we are called to be by behaving as He did: When the crowd wished to stone the woman found in adultery, Jesus did Not have her throw stones back at them; He diffused the anger completely by pointing out how we are ALL guilty. All of us have hated; None of us is guiltless.
Those of us with faith and the strength of spiritual conviction can find love in our hearts for those who claim allegiance with a hate group; we can love those who hate. If we do not love those who are fearful and are resorting to hurting others, what example do we set? What are we asking them to do if we cannot do it ourselves? Racists, neo-Nazis, Antifas, etc., are acting out of fear. We are to hold them in love until their fear subsides. That is what is meant by loving our enemies. That is how we follow Jesus.
I live in a community (neighborhood, county, state,…) where closed-mindedness is the norm. I would say racism is the norm but the attitudes and fiercely-held beliefs are not limited to preferences in the shade of skin or ethnic group or even ancestry…although those are very strongly separated classifications.
People around here are deeply resistant to changing how they think but then so are people all over the world. If it is not what they grew up with, if it is not what they are familiar with, if he is not like me in (you name it: dialect, clothing style, vehicle type, licence plate, food preference,…) then it is wrong and therefore to be condemned, resisted, and (if possible) destroyed.
Two years ago, Lawrence Krauss, “Humanist of 2015,” was quoted as saying “Organized religion, wielding power over the community, is antithetical to the process of what modern democracy should define as liberty. The sooner we are without it, the better.” I won’t venture (right now) into all that is scary with that sentiment, but he demonstrates my point beautifully; Lawrence Krauss rejects everything about organized religion because it is not what he knows, is not what he is familiar with, and people who participate in organized religion don’t sound like the people he associates with…or him.
My own beloved college-educated, successful business-man brother threw out hundreds of dollars worth of organic food from my sister’s house because he “didn’t recognize any of it; I don’t eat that stuff.”
The short-cut suggestion to remedy this issue is ‘education.’ Doctors in hospitals all over the world struggle with patients’ refusals to follow prescribed improvements in diet and lifestyle and have thought the solution was education. Pamphlets and discharge instructions with pictures and pleas have done little. Helps and therapies seem to have no sizable impact. My next door neighbor was hospitalized for 10 weeks last year for complications from surgery. During this time he was given patches and drugs to help him withdraw from his addiction to smoking. He lived smoke free among others who were smoke free for several weeks and he even admitted he felt great off the cigarrettes. On the drive home he stopped and bought a carton and lit up before he got to the front door.
These people are not willing to face their fears of the unknown. “You sound wierd!” “I don’t eat that stuff!” “I don’t think my nerves could take it.”
Some fears are huge. “What if there is not enough to go around? Somebody has to go without. Why does it have to be me?” “If we let them have their way, they are going to take over!” “One day they are going to rise up and kill every white person they see!”
It’s fear. That’s all it is…fear. Fear of deprivation; fear of the unknown; fear of unbearable whatever. But it’s just fear.
So what’s the solution? How do you help people who have unreasonable fear? You must help them one person at a time. In the way a parent helps a child who is fearful of the monster under the bed, you show them over and over that there is nothing there to be afraid of. You show the person different from you that there is nothing for them to fear from you. You demonstrate that there is more for them from people like you than hate. You demonstrate that different is okay…and safe…and sometimes good.
I have two neighbors…brothers…who were both raised in this closed-minded community. One went into the Navy and worked beside people of a different color and national origin. His brother did not leave home and has never worked beside people different from himself. One is not fearful of people who are different; the other one is …but it looks like hate, not fear.
There are specific things we can do that help get through to people who have closed minds, fierce preferences, and fear. First, be gentle with them; they will not listen if you are forceful or you are yelling. Second, get to a point where you see things at their level …so that you can understand why they are fearful. Third, allow them to vent. Hold them in a safe environment so that they will be open to revealing what causes them to be fearful, (Sometimes, that’s all they need.) Their venting might be scary for you but you are the stronger one here. They need to know…to see proof…that the resolution is stronger than their fear. In other words, you need to love them.
If you have ever been a parent and you were faced with a child who cried out, “I HATE YOU!” then you know the dynamic I am describing: you allowed the child to cry out the unthinkable…and then you assured the child that everything between you was still okay; you still love the child ‘the whole thing…all of it…without end.’ (Yes, I’ve been there.)
One more suggestion: use words that are not usually used in these discussions. Avoid the cliches and button words; you know what they are.
This is how loving is done. This is how healing begins. This is the work of Jesus.
By the way, I commend Senator Tim Scott in the way he met with President Trump; Scott introduced Trump to himself….in all of the aspects with which Trump is unfamiliar and that is what is necessary for a change of thinking…
Irma has reached South Carolina and we lost power an hour ago. (I’m composing on my cell phone…by candle light.) My first thought when the power went out was that it would be back on soon because we live so close to the source… the dam. But then I remembered the prediction of wide-spread power outages. Such a prediction is a good one because, electrical grid-wise, we are all connected. That’s how and why brown-outs and black-outs occur…one city knocking down another.
Some people feel that images of disasters and heart-breaking stories from around the globe are too much to handle (“I can’t do anything about it.”) However, in reaction to the news reports concerning the people in Texas and Florida, and even in Bangladesh, some internet friends and I have been writing about how we feel compelled to expand our compassion and concern out beyond our usual circle of friends and family. One dear friend in Ireland said that it has changed the way she prays for people. I’m inclined to agree with her because I believe in prayer. I also believe that this is a new era…a time for increased global awareness, accompanied by an increased capacity for global compassion.
In the same way that technology has enabled power companies to interconnect and support and back up each other, we are getting better at doing the same spiritually. On a very small scale, when I struggle emotionally, my close friends step up and fill in with comfort and encouragement until my ‘transformers’ are running again. Healthy extended families and support groups like AA have been working like this for generations but now our awareness of suffering and need is global. How can our compassion cover it all?
Inventors of technology will attest to the truth that necessity is the mother of invention. Our increased awareness of the needs and struggles of others has necessitated a greater need for deeper and larger compassion and, spiritually, I believe we are being granted that greater capacity… almost as if we are able now to turn the light switch on in a previously secret room. Whether mankind has always had the capacity to hold the whole world in its heart…but just didn’t use it much…or whether we have evolved to be able to hold the globe in compassion, I believe we are discovering that it can be done.
Writers like Krista Tippett, Jim Marion, and Cynthia Bourgeault address how we as a civilization are evolving in consciousness. Capabilities like nondual thinking, holding opposing views in a safe mediative space, and praying for the awakened consciousness of others are taking ‘helping others’ to a new level.
One of my friends cautioned me not long ago that I cannot heal the whole world…and she is correct… but I think we are getting closer to loving the whole world in compassion, all the time.
Art Polanski was difficult to ignore. I was all about diversity and even I had difficulty with his acting out and belligerence. But he was a poet, a sensitive soul, and a fucking brilliant programmer. And this is a tribute to him.
Art smelled bad and looked bizarre. He wore zebra-striped pajama pants, printed tee-shirts over his barrel chest, and sandals. His hair was long and flowing, reminiscent of Sunday school pictures of Jesus, except Art’s hair was usually damp and probably greasy.
Art couldn’t sit still, especially in conversation, and would make grunting noises and seemingly uncontrollable editorial blurts.
I was told that after his first meeting with management, the deputy director erupted out of his office red faced,”Who the hell hired that guy?!?” Art had been hired, over the phone, by the chief scientist; Art was a graduate of MIT and knew the material.
His biggest crime was that he was gay. He wasn’t flamboyant; that would have been more acceptable. Art was just authentically Art. I never saw him more blissful and content than when he returned to work after the rainbow festival. But when that euphoria wore off he was back to acting out.
Art was lonely. The only family I heard him speak of was his sister; he said she suffered the same illness but hers was worse. Later, when he was arrested, the marshals found him living in squalor with cat feces on the floor.
But Art was also very intelligent. His disorder, or the medication for it, made him hot. When they screwed his window shut, he wedged a seed under the head of the screw and watered the seed. The judge at Art’s hearing, nearly a year later, said he would have done the same thing had he been smart enough to think up the seed trick.
Ultimately, Art was arrested for “endangering the lives of others;” he had a nose bleed and wiped blood onto the window in front of the exercise bike in the fitness room and he was gay. That made his bloody snot a ‘lethal weapon.’
Art was first put on administrative leave. I was given his project to finish. He called me late one day and he was quiet and subdued and said he didn’t blame the director; Art admitted that he had brought it on himself. Later that week, FBI agents entered his home and took him to prison…in shackles.
They held Art in federal prison for six months before giving him a hearing. He was charged with a misdemeanor and ‘time served.’ It was months later that he was found dead in his home.
While Art was in prison, he sent me a poem. I wish I still had it. It was about him standing at the window of his cell every day, looking out at the green field outside. One day, after a rain, yellow flowers appeared. Soon, a man on a mower appeared and Art watched as the flowers were mowed down.
I took these photos of the draft climate report. My favorite photo is the one above. I first made the graph on the left in November 1997 when I finished the coding that was started by Art. My name then was Catherine S. Godfrey.
Art Polansky, this is for you.
Addendum: As a sworn civil servant, I took an oath, and because of that oath I feel bound by it to not “copy, cite, or distribute”. But I am also a photographer and writer. The draft says nothing about those activities. This is me, sticking it to the man.
All my former ‘I am’s’ no longer hold.
I am an INFP
I am a single mom
I am bipolar
I am a Federal Employee, a scientist, a programmer
I am an artist, a writer, a photographer
I am young, old, fat, thin, blonde, outspoken, intense, impulsive
I have done all those things. I have worn all those clothes. But underneath, I simple ‘be’ and am capable of slipping into something more comfortable.