If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Happy Birthday, and RIP.
April 17, 2013
(by Kelly M. Flanagan)
Recently, your mother and I were searching for an answer on Google. Halfway through entering the question, Google returned a list of the most popular searches in the world. Perched at the top of the list was “How to keep him interested.”
It startled me. I scanned several of the countless articles about how to be sexy and sexual, when to bring him a beer versus a sandwich, and the ways to make him feel smart and superior.
And I got angry.
Little One, it is not, has never been, and never will be your job to “keep him interested.”
Little One, your only task is to know deeply in your soul—in that unshakeable place that isn’t rattled by rejection and loss and ego—that you are worthy of interest. (If you can remember that everyone else is worthy of interest also, the battle of your life will be mostly won. But that is a letter for another day.)
If you can trust your worth in this way, you will be attractive in the most important sense of the word: you will attract a boy who is both capable of interest and who wants to spend his one life investing all of his interest in you.
Little One, I want to tell you about the boy who doesn’t need to be keptinterested, because he knows you are interesting:
I don’t care if he puts his elbows on the dinner table—as long as he puts his eyes on the way your nose scrunches when you smile. And then can’t stop looking.
I don’t care if he can’t play a bit of golf with me—as long as he can play with the children you give him and revel in all the glorious and frustrating ways they are just like you.
I don’t care if he doesn’t follow his wallet—as long as he follows his heart and it always leads him back to you.
I don’t care if he is strong—as long as he gives you the space to exercise the strength that is in your heart.
I couldn’t care less how he votes—as long as he wakes up every morning and daily elects you to a place of honor in your home and a place of reverence in his heart.
I don’t care about the color of his skin—as long as he paints the canvas of your lives with brushstrokes of patience, and sacrifice, and vulnerability, and tenderness.
I don’t care if he was raised in this religion or that religion or no religion—as long as he was raised to value the sacred and to know every moment of life, and every moment of life with you, is deeply sacred.
In the end, Little One, if you stumble across a man like that and he and I have nothing else in common, we will have the most important thing in common:
Because in the end, Little One, the only thing you should have to do to “keep him interested” is to be you.
Your eternally interested guy,
This post is, of course, dedicated to my daughter, my Cutie-Pie. But I also want to dedicate it beyond her.
I wrote it for my wife, who has courageously held on to her sense of worth and has always held me accountable to being that kind of “boy.”
I wrote it for every grown woman I have met inside and outside of my therapy office—the women who have never known this voice of a Daddy.
And I wrote it for the generation of boys-becoming-men who need to be reminded of what is really important—my little girl finding a loving, lifelong companion is dependent upon at least one of you figuring this out. I’m praying for you.
“I pray you
take this weeping heart
and all the broken thing
that lies within Your hand
Distil the agony
from all its hurt
a single drop of sweetness
changing the substance
of this death in earth
to make all new —
a rising sap
to bring the transformation
of the spring”
— Margaret Torrie
We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”
I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way.
Let our scars fall in love.” —Galway Kinnell (via middlenameconfused)
“Lord it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done. Let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and
of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.
My dear friend. Here is something you told me once: “The world is still a beautiful place, even if it is too strong for us at times.” —[via…]
Some things, only God will every know, or understand.
by Norman Allen, guest contributor
For my father’s memorial service, my sister suggested that I stand before the congregation and say, “We’d like to share with you exactly what it was like to live with our father. So let’s have a moment of silence.”
It’s not that Dad didn’t speak, it’s that he didn’t speak about the personal. He could rant against George McGovern and lift Richard Nixon up as a god, but remain entirely silent about my sister’s adolescent breakdown. A few years later, he declared my hero Jimmy Carter the “greatest embarrassment the White House has ever seen,” but didn’t say a word about my recent emergence from the closet.
Dad built his life on the foundations of a suburban existence: retirement plans, company loyalty, and a close-knit family that gathered to wave him down the street each morning and waited each night for his return. True to his class and time, he made himself a Manhattan before dinner and smoked incessantly. No one was going to change that.
But behind this rigid façade lay a man tragically eager to please. As kids we could always talk him into a double-scoop cone, if we could just get him away from Mom. As an adult, I learned that this tendency went much deeper.
Dad went to medical school because his parents told him to. Failing that, he accepted their second choice and became a mechanical engineer. In a rare moment of intimacy, on a father-son camping trip to the High Sierra, he confessed that his dream was to be a park ranger. I wonder what his life would have been if he’d had the courage to follow that ambition. Perhaps he would have found his voice leading nature hikes and campfire programs.
Dad never broke the habit of trying to please his parents, but he made sure that we didn’t suffer the same fate. He applauded my high school theatricals and provided financial support for a creative college major. On my weekly calls home, he always made sure that I was writing, though he never inquired about the specifics.
True to his nature, he remained silent and stoic through my mother’s seven-year battle with cancer, and continued so when he was diagnosed himself two years after her death. During Dad’s final months, I bathed him, mopped up his bodily fluids, and listened for changes in his breathing. The only concern he voiced was for the future of his dog, an oversized Sheltie who watches as I write.
It was Dad’s Lutheran pastor who put his silence into context. Older congregants, he said, had expressed a need for guidance as they considered death’s approach. My father provided the model they were seeking. Church members who visited in his final weeks all returned with the same tale: Dad was quiet, uncomplaining, unafraid.
In the end, we didn’t ask for a moment of silence at Dad’s memorial service. Instead I shared a story about Saint Francis sending his brothers out to spread the Gospel and telling them, “If necessary, use words.” When one of Dad’s elderly neighbors caught my eye and smiled her appreciation, I knew we’d made the right choice.
Dad was a quiet man, but he renounced his parents’ prejudices, encouraged his children’s ambitions, overcame his own homophobia to welcome new family members, and remained a steady presence through his wife’s long illness. If St. Francis is right, and our actions speak louder than our words, you might say the man never shut up.
Norman Allen is a playwright living in Washington, DC. His plays include In The Garden (Charles MacArthur Award), Nijinsky’s Last Dance (Helen Hayes Award), and The House Halfway, to be produced at this summer’s Source Theatre Festival in Washington, DC.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Denise Frame Harlan on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 in The Other Journal
I prayed better when the children were small, when we spread out the crayons in the center of the dining table and crafted leaf rubbings. When we modeled shapes from colored beeswax, and I’d find miniature wax cats and roses tucked in between the books on the shelves. When the children pushed little trains on those wooden tracks, figure eights, towns built of blocks, trees crafted of paper. Whole worlds passed on the dining table, on the floor, while I prayed.
I prayed better when I gardened, digging my tiny urban plot that grew almost nothing but lettuce—nine kinds of lettuce, which I loved. I prayed while I sifted the compost from our kitchen scraps, while finding that last year’s peach pit had become a baby tree. I prayed when I found strawberries in my herb patch. I prayed when the neighbors drove me crazy.
I prayed better when I walked, praying better than ever when that first mile passed and all the fury dissolved into rhythm and beach sand and lapping waves.
I also prayed better during the year when I suffered migraines, because, well, what else can you do? When the buzzing set into the bridge of my nose, I brought out my yarn-making tools. Spinning yarn with a hand spindle involves pacing, rhythm. The left hand holds a fluff of wool at eye level while the right hand turns a small disk attached to a stick, like a wheel and axle. The weight of the spindle pulls down while the twist travels up into the fluff. The headaches made me irritable, snappish, filled with dread, but the yarn-making buffered the horror and kept me tethered as I prayed to outlive the pain, praying for others whose headaches get far worse. I could spin while weeping, while shaking. Sometimes it seemed like the spindle did the praying for me, turning, working when I couldn’t. Baskets were filled with beautiful yarns, and then the yarn was knitted and wrapped into projects of all kinds, bits of prayers woven in. The migraines resolved. I haven’t suffered such pain for years.
I wonder now if I prayed better during the years I was a grad student, my head filling with stories and plotlines and all the reading I could gather. I prayed while driving children to and from lessons and school, and I prayed as I pulled my pen across page after page.
I try, now, not to let my prayers be full of worry about teenagers. The crayon box fills with dust. The yard is for whiffle ball, not lettuce. Now I make my own deadlines, and I teach, and I sometimes take on students’ whole lives, whole classrooms of lives. I still pray when I drive. I still pray when I walk. I spin yarn sometimes, only for the pleasure of my fingers, and I pray thanks for simple beauties, textures, colors passing through my hands.
My Buddhist friend tells me all we ever have is this very breath. When this breath is passed, all we have is this very breath, again. I may never be a disciplined woman of prayer, but I don’t need to pray any better than this: I can breathe, here, a breath of thanks. I don’t need to pray any better. I just need to pray.
by Cathy Warner on Monday, January 7, 2013 in The Other Journal
Precious Heavenly Father
It was my grandfather who first prayed for me, who prayed for our whole family. His prayer was lush and full as his silvery voice and white hair. “Our precious heavenly Father,”he began after we joined hands around the dinner table and shut our eyes. His closing words never varied, “Thank you for the food prepared here, and bless it to our bodies. Amen.” I squinted at my grandmother’s china through my eyelashes, blurring the pink rosebuds and gray leaves.
I knew leaves should be green, but I didn’t know about prayer or God. I wondered what it was like to have a heavenly father, especially a precious one you liked better than a regular father, like mine, who drove a squad car, kept his gun in his sock drawer, and took my sister and me miniature golfing on weekends after the divorce.
My grandfather liked to thank this precious heavenly father, who I figured out was God, for the most ordinary things: that my mom and my sister and my father—before he left us—and I were there for dinner and that we had arrived safely, even though we lived less than an hour away and my father was a good driver and our car had never broken down. My grandfather asked God to bless our travel home, and it seemed to me God would be too busy taking care of the movie stars who lived in nearby Hollywood, or the president, who lived far away, to be interested in traffic on the 405.
Bless and Protect
I was ten the first time I prayed for myself. My mother spent the night at her boyfriend’s apartment. My father was in the next county, patrolling the streets. My little sister was asleep. I was wide awake, frightened by nighttime noises—the refrigerator cycling on and off, car doors slamming in the alley, my dogs padding through the house. My pulse thumped threateningly against my pillow, sounding like footsteps. I needed help. Phoning either of my parents was inconceivable, so I folded my hands over my bony ribs, stared at the ceiling, and called to God, as if summoning a cosmic cop.
“Dear God, bless and protect everyone in the whole wide world,” I said, remembering my grandfather’s prayer, but omitting thank you and moving instantly to my concerns. “Don’t let anyone hurt them or try to hurt them, break in or try to break in, steal anything or try to steal anything. Keep them safe and warm and protected. Amen.”
I didn’t attend church. I didn’t call myself a believer. But I recited my prayer every night through my teens and early twenties with only one variation. After studying the Constitution in eighth grade, I added “and happy” before amen. Even during college when I called myself an atheist, I said my prayer before sleep, a bedtime routine as automatic as brushing teeth.
At twenty-four, I began a journal. “Dear God, today I was baptized. Thank you for finding me.” Necessary words, but so inadequate to capture the experience that led me to church, to the font: I was in the shower one morning, soapy water swirling around my ankles. I felt the last of the shampoo suds drip past my eyes and with it, the water changed. It flowed softer, filling me from inside out with love, pure love. This love wasn’t the zingy, romantic pulsing I’d felt for my husband. It was elemental, the absolute and unconditional love I would later feel for my daughters. This love was expansive, excessive, a gift I hadn’t known I’d asked for.
For reasons I will never know, I had no doubt this love came from God. Later, when I came to know Bible stories, it seemed entirely plausible that if Jesus could turn barrels of water into wine at a wedding reception to please his earthly mother, then his unearthly father could change water to love in my bathroom pipes. Water trickled into my mouth tasting of salt and chlorine. I opened the curtain and reached for a towel feeling like a different person. Raw, alive, claimed.
From then on, I wrote prayers to God scrawling “Help” as often as I penned “Thank you.”
Soon after I joined the church, another new member and I began teaching a Sunday school class. The teacher’s manual provided detailed instructions on how to pray. The book suggested I encourage my students to approach God with the stuff of their daily lives without feeling unworthy and ridiculous. Every other Sunday, I sat with the children in a circle on the carpet, asked them what they were thankful for and what they were worried about, and then we held hands and took turns voicing those very thanks and troubles in short declarative sentences. I liked the simplicity of the prayers of six- and seven-year-olds. They asked for what they wanted and didn’t worry about theology.
One Sunday I found a sheet of poster board tacked on the classroom wall, the Lord’s Prayer written in fat purple marker by the other teacher, who had grown up attending church. “Our Father, who aren’t in heaven,” she wrote. The words didn’t sound right, but I hadn’t read the Bible and had only heard this prayer at weddings. Who was I to say she had it wrong?
In the prayer group, after an hour of sharing, we scooted our chairs into a tight circle, closed our eyes, and began to pray. We held hands so long mine grew numb. I listened to the words. My pastor was eloquent and spoke about love and intimacy and his “dark night of the soul.” The retiree addressed us, not God, but wanted God to fix her husband. The toothless widow with her sunken cheeks gummed her requests, sounding old and defeated. As we made our way around the circle, and it grew closer to my turn, my heart pounded and I felt nervous perspiration prickle under my arms. I didn’t know how to pray aloud among adults. I didn’t know if the rules were different. I kept it short, practical. Please help my daughter’s teething. Please help me be patient with my daughter’s tantrums.
After the meetings, when I was cooking or folding laundry, I worried, carrying the prayer requests as if they were mine to grant or solve. How was the toothless widow ever going to get her dentures to fit? Was the retiree going to leave her husband? What about the house they were building? When I thought about my pastor’s situation, I was filled with dread—was he being punished for being faithful? Would God abandon me, too, one day?
Fifteen years ago, Becky and I became prayer partners. We began tentatively and I, at least, felt awkward sitting on her couch, holding hands and praying. I was used to praying in a church building or at home, where I prayed silently in bed and no one could have known by looking that I wasn’t simply sleeping.
It seemed very public and unnerving to pray together in our homes with all their signs of daily life. Cats jumped in our laps. The phone rang. When my family adopted a dog, we walked the neighborhood. Sterling tugged at his leash, barking wildly at squirrels while Becky and I talked about our children, husbands, parents and siblings, and our church, all the things we cared for most deeply.
Together we wrestled with what it meant to pray. Did we ask God for exactly what we thought we wanted? To heal my father from cancer? To lead her sister-in-law to sobriety? Yes, but we also recognized that our will and our desires weren’t really the point of prayer. Over time I began to release, if only for a few hours, the burdens I had carried for others. I asked less for God to help my sister find a home and more for her to find God.
Like my grandfather, Becky and I offered thanks, coming to prayer with joys and gratitude, choosing the most beautiful words and metaphors we could muster, squeezing each other’s hands tighter and wiping our eyes when words weren’t enough.
As prayer partners and spiritual friends we have been a gift and a laboratory, an exploration of prayer as relationship.
Joys and Concerns
In my religious tradition, we invite prayers of the people. Three Sundays a month for seven years I stood in front of the congregation, closed my eyes, bowed my head, lifted my arms in supplication, and listened to rambling stories, teary requests, mumbled worry, celebration of milestones, and simple thanks. I summarized and repeated the individual joys and concerns so all could hear, and then without self-consciousness or script I lifted the prayers out of our midst into a realm of spirit to which I felt intimately connected. People said to me, “You do such a good job with the prayer time.” But I never saw it that way. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about doing a good job; it was about invoking the holy and giving our communal will over to it.
I planted my feet and claimed a posture and attitude of prayer. I held holy space. I observed silence and focused on breath (the Hebrew equivalent of spirit). Others joined me. We did not share our lives out of prurient curiosity or even for the sake of community building. We prayed because it was the least and the most we could do for one another. We prayed because we were God’s people, communicating with God in one of the few ways we knew how.
I’ll Pray for You
Sometimes I forget that most people didn’t have the privilege of traveling deep into prayer with a soul friend. I was startled when in my pastoral role I asked, “Would you like to pray about that?” and the answer was a frightened “Now?” or an uncomfortable “That’s OK. It’s not urgent.” I preferred to pray as soon as I was asked to “please pray for me,” to invoke God’s presence and give the concern over to holy love and compassion. But then I remembered the days when I felt awkward and too vulnerable to ask for prayer, let alone join my pastor in it.
So I often left an encounter saying, “I’ll pray for you.” Later, whether before the altar, or in my kitchen, I imagined holding the person in need—and we’re all in need—up to the light of an amorphous and loving God, coming consciously into the presence of the great power for good that is everywhere and ever-present.
When I was ten and composed my first prayer, I wasn’t trained or qualified. I didn’t know the right words. Once I joined a church, I tried to replace my primitive prayer with a better one. I thought if I invoked the precise and proper words, suffering would pass me by. I was wrong. Twenty-five years into my Christian journey I’ve shed expectations that prayer (and my own prayer specifically) should impact outcomes. God does not respond to my requests as if working in a worldwide order fulfillment center. Instead, prayer realigns my priorities and enlarges my view, so that sometimes I can step beyond my limited perspective of pain and sorrow to glimpse the universal love that exists in and around and through and behind and above and despite human suffering.
What was once awkward became something I craved. In prayer, I feel myself both sink and float. I breathe deeply and my body becomes heavy, settled, and relaxed as if I might fall asleep. Another part of me floats and absorbs the sun if I am outdoors, the ticking of Becky’s cuckoo clock if we are on her couch, the hum of the projection system if I am in church, the static of a cell phone connection when I pray long-distance, and I bob in a rhythm, connecting to a present energy.
When I am deeply in prayer basking in God, wrapped in love, words have no importance, no meaning expansive enough. In fact, their very inadequacy is a barrier. It is only when I go beyond words that I can come closer to God.
Holding my prayer partner’s hand or cradling the phone to my ear, in silence we are absorbed into spirit, into a dream state that our clock-driven day always interrupts. Reluctantly we leave our prayer by returning to the world of words. “Our Father,” we say, emphasizing each syllable of this refrain as if we are unfamiliar with language, searching for something lost. Praying for words.
for a lighthouse buried somewhere
my own bones.
I found that looks are often more
deceiving than they appear to be
and promises are only as good
as the strings used to tie them up.
I found that friends often come
coated in a layer of self-interest
and self-worth comes free and
fear does not hold the hand of
those who step onto a path
with their head in the palms of
I never sought out a path with human eyes
and yet found myself feeling
the earth for a path trodden
I never thought I’d be looking for a lighthouse
and yet found myself drawn tearfully and breathlessly
buried somewhere between
ink and peace
and my own
heartbeat.” —(via larmoyante)
Stand naked in front of a mirror for a long time, under unflattering light if possible. Trace the rises and falls of the little ripples on your skin — the scars, the dimples, the cellulite — and think about how much you try to hide these things in your day-to-day. Wonder why you hate them so much, and if this hate stems from somewhere within yourself, or as a result of being told all your life that it’s wrong to have physical flaws. Wonder what you would think of your body if you never looked at a magazine, if you never thought about celebrities and models, if you never had to wonder where someone would rate you on a scale of 10. Look at yourself until the initial recoil softens, and you can consider your features in a more forgiving frame of mind.
Listen to the music which makes you want to both sob and dance with uninhibited joy, and allow yourself to repeat any song you want as many times as your heart desires. Think of the person you are when you have your favorite song in your headphones and are walking down a street you feel you own completely, swaying your hips and smiling for no good reason — remember how many things you love about yourself during those moments, how much you are willing to forgive in yourself, how confident you are for no good reason. Try to think of confidence as a gift you give yourself when you need it, instead of something you have to siphon from every unreliable source in your life. Dance because the music makes you remember how much you love yourself, not because it allows you to forget the fact that you don’t.
Write a list of all the things you like about yourself, even if you think it’s a self-indulgent and narcissistic activity. Start as early as you like in your life — put down that time you won a trophy playing little league soccer when you were eight and then got an extra-large shake at the DQ on the way home, and don’t feel silly for remembering it. Try to understand how many sources in your life happiness can come from, how many things you could be proud of if you chose to. Ask yourself why you so tightly limit the things you take pride in, why you set your own hurdles for happiness and fulfillment so much higher than you do with anyone else in your life. Let your list go on for pages and pages if you want it to.
Touch and care for yourself with the attention and the patience that you would someone you loved more than life itself. Rub lotion in small circles on your elbows and hands when it is cold and your skin is dry and cracked. Make soup for yourself when your nose is running and curl up, with your favorite movie, in a pile of expertly-stacked pillows. Light a few candles and let their glow flicker against your body. Admire how gentle they are, how delicately their warmth touches you — wonder why you don’t let yourself do the same. Soak your feet in warm water at the end of a long day, until they have forgiven you for walking on them for so long without so much as a “thank you.” Listen to your body when it aches to be touched, and don’t be afraid to give it every orgasm that you may have been too ashamed to ask for in someone else’s bed.
Be patient with yourself, and don’t worry if a switch doesn’t flip in you which abruptly takes you from “crippling self-doubt” to “uncompromising self-love.” Allow yourself all the trepidation and clumsy, uneven infatuation that you would with a promising stranger. Try only to be kinder, to be softer, and to remember all of the things within you which are worth loving. Listen to the voice in the back of your head which tells you, as much out of sadness as anger, “You are ugly. You are stupid. You are boring.” Give it the fleeting moment of attention it so craves, and then remind it, “Even if that were true, I’d still be worth loving.”” —Chelsea Fagan, How To Fall In Love With Yourself (via larmoyante)
“Spirit of comfort and longing,
enfold my fear,
unclothe me of my pride,
uncomplicate my heart,
and give me surrender:
that I may tell my wounds,
lay down my work,
and greet the dark.”
— Janet Morley