Victory at Home

I was standing on Fulton street waiting for the Number 15 to take me to the corner near my home. The wind was brisk with an occasional chill, but the lifting of the hood of my sweatshirt over my head blocked most of it. This particular stop homes three buses headed out and about town. It feels quite familiar as all three round the corner coming out of the transfer station down by Van Andel Arena. I switch feet. I look across to Veteran’s Park where I danced with wild abandon at a Thursday night drum circle held after the Jazz concert at Ah-Nab-Awen park. The Main Library is behind that. I spent hours of research in those rooms. Everything I was looking at seemed familiar, but with a dream-like quality.

I came to the conclusion that I was but a drop in the puddle in their eyes, but in mine, I was so much bigger.

When I moved away from West Michigan in 1989, I had no idea who I was; broken, discouraged, full of lamentations. I had no direction or purpose. I molded myself into the ideals that I believed I was supposed to be. I became a fair wife, a devout church goer, a preacher of God’s love, a model citizen in every way. I provided Christmas for impoverished children, took them on camping trips, advocated for their protection always seeking approval from outside sources. I was miserable.

After the loss of Jordan, I began rethinking my life and the choices that had brought me to a point where I could no longer stay. My marriage was a disaster, my friends were there but they were all much younger than I so their freedoms were different. I still had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be or do. At 25 years old, I decided to find out who that woman looking back at me in the mirror was. I left everything behind. I cut ties with family, friends, acquaintances, and moved back to a small studio apartment in Kentwood. I married again but it crumbled basically from day one. I moved around the country for about a year, using Greyhound as my means of travel.

By the time I ended up in Arizona I was a disaster. I married for a third time. I found a group of friends that, for the first time, not only saw me for who I am, but encouraged me to be everything I was meant to be. I felt like a toddler whose parents delight in the antics of the little one, but at the same time, I was an adult. I radiated humor and enthusiasm. I decided I was strong enough to move, so I did. I moved across the country again to Tennessee where I lived with my father for a brief time. He was a miserable human being that rejected me just as fast as he embraced me. It was constant mixed messages from him which led to uncertainty and instability.

I found God living in a little church tucked away behind a natural shade of trees. I was told to go there and I’m glad I obeyed. It was like coming home. It was the first group of collective people that not only appreciated my wildness, but saught me out for companionship, help, and entertainment. I imagine it’s what being a rockstar feels like. What’s even cooler is that I adored every one of them right back. I couldn’t help it. I’d waited my whole life to know what it was to be me. I learned it at their knee. It was the most difficult day when I had to say goodbye to them and return to my hometown of Grand Rapids.

Only, it wasn’t my Grand Rapids.

It wasn’t the place where the broken little girl made up ridiculous fantasies of being the President of the United States or curing cancer with a brightly colored cardboard box and a stick found on the playground. This wasn’t the city where I dealt with childhood tragedies with self destructive behaviors. Nothing was the same, including the absence of the monsters that didn’t live under my bed but were under the same roofs as me. The dark secrets were held up to the light until their power whimpered into submission.

This city doesnt know me, power in my words, body thick with laughter, hair demonstrably wild, my secrets laid open to the beauty of rainbows once forbidden from my fingertips. This city is unaware that within its limits, there is a woman with courage as deep as a wristcutters truth, but as furious as a hurricane battering abusers with education. Grand Rapids has yet to understand that I, that had all along existed but had been nearly crushed by history, rose up to find my feet.

I’m standing in the middle of Division and Fulton in my mind, screaming with laughter at the pure wickedness of possibilities to be reached. This may not be my Grand Rapids, but it is my home.

Two Strips of String Cheese

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There have been many times in my life where I’ve been food insecure for whatever reason. [Couch surfing, ditching an abusive husband, barely making ends meet with 12 hour days] By default, I find myself counting and re-counting the dollars I have to spend at the grocery store. I’m hyper aware when dollars go missing from my pocket.

At the grocery store this evening, as I browsed the produce section, I noticed a young man whom looked a LOT like my friend Rocky. Hair, gait, style of clothing, even the way he was talking aloud to himself reminded me of Seabuurd. He also looked quite distraught.

“Are you okay? You seem upset.” I asked.

“Yeah, I just…I just lost $10 somewhere on the floor. I’m retracing my steps.” he replied.

“Well I sure hope you find it.” I continued on my way giving a short glance around the area hoping I’d be the hero that found the missing currency.

A few aisles later, I see the young man again.

“Any luck?”

“No. Someone probably found it already. I really needed that.” He fruitlessly searched the barren floor.

“I’ll keep a look out.”

“Thanks.”

I checked my pocket where I only had $7 left until Friday evening. I decided if I saw him again, I’d give him the dollars. I headed to the pharmacy area to see if they had an OTC sling to put my arm in because my shoulder is really jacked up right now. As I searched the pharmacy shelves, I heard a loud ruckus coming from the checkout part of the store.

Three women were taunting the young man with the $10 they found in the aisle. At first he started to explain himself, but they kept on going. Bragging about their good fortune loud enough to be heard, literally, half-way across the store. The other patrons joined in to defend the young man, but the young women just wouldn’t let it go. Finally, the young man, nearly in tears tells the women that he hopes they get pulled over and have to use his money to pay the fine.

Not finding what I need, I head over to the checkout lane. I select the one with a high school friend of mine as the cashier. As I approach her, I ask what all the noise was about. She tells me the story. While she’s talking I look over my shoulder where the Rocky looking young man is packing his groceries into bags. He’s obviously shook up. I reached into my pocket and gave him my dollars.

“It’s not the full $10 bucks, but it’s closer than you were.” I smile at him. At first he refused, but my high school chum tells him to take it.

“She won’t quit. You’re better off taking it.” She tells him.

“Oh, well do you like string cheese?” He asked me with sincerity. “Here have a piece.”

He gave me a piece which I peeled at the register and we ate together in the middle of the checkout line. “Have the rest of it.”

“Nah, I’m good. I can’t eat too much of that.”

“Please take a couple pieces at least.” He offers them earnestly to me. I accept and put them into my grocery bag. At that moment a tall well-dressed man enters the store, walks up to the young man with his hand extended.

“I approached them in the parking lot and asked for the money back. At first they were all about keeping it, but I told them I’d call the police because they were assholes. They gave it up.” He chuckled richly.

“Aw, man! Thanks, dude!” The young man reached into his pocket, retrieved the dollars I’d given him, attempted to return them to me.

“No. I already gave it to you, they’re yours. You now can pay it forward better.” He looked astonished. He kept telling me what a beautiful human I am. Even as I walked away from the counter he was continuing his praise.

You may or may not believe me about this, but I do stuff like this all the time. I don’t do it for the compliments or praise. I’m not even telling you this story for positive feedback.

I’m telling you that when you do something equally as kind, it spreads like a California wildfire. When you put yourself out there by an act of kindness bigger than the moment, you’re doing what you are born to do. You’re born to shine. You’re born to be the beacon of hope, love, and joy in this ridiculously cruel world. You get to be the hope someone sees by your actions. Like lighting your candle off your neighbor’s at the Christmas eve candlelight service, it spreads love.

Preaching all day long does nothing but give you a sore throat. ACTIVELY living loving is a practice in mindfulness; a revolutionary awareness of the world around you. It is a true mark of courage to be the light in the darkness. It is a badge of honor to set aside some wants you have (like giving up my breakfast tomorrow morning) to give someone else that light. I’ll keep doing what I do, regardless if you follow my lead or not, but we should practice this kind of radical kindness every day.

The Blind Eye

https://unclesnarky.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/one-eyed.jpg?w=627

Blind in one eye, can’t see out of the other

 

Hallowed be the wishes

of the war-torn children

as they battle to be brave,

their families unsafe.

All the world turns blind eye

while missiles reign the sunny skies

The land of the free, home of the brave

refuses these helpless as terrorist slaves

There’s more exploitation

There’s no place to go

Aid is only for the media show

Mourn for the child face down on the beach

while tucking your own kids into warm beds to sleep.

 

CREDIT of Photo: https://unclesnarky.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/one-eyed.jpg?w=627

Imaginary Wings

There are angels among us with imaginary wings

Their holiness is tied on with duct tape and strings

The words they may sing are littered with verses

That may sound quite a bit like unholy curses

Their divinity true if not a bit tarnished

Their brassy demeanor with scriptures varnished

You may not believe that they’re here to protect

Their offerings of prayer are effortless to reject

If your heart is opened to the blessings they give

You’ll never be without as long as you live.

Your friend for life, Bill

Bill Busing was a well respected man in Oak Ridge, TN. Heck, anywhere he went he was thought highly of because of his chemistry knowledge, his humanitarian efforts, and his advocacy for people with mental health issues. He was a positive ask-anyone-about-him type of fellow. Because of this, I don’t want to tell you about that. I’d like to tell you about my friendship with him.

Each Sunday at ORUUC (Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church), I would seek out and find those that needed hugs. It was my thing. Some people, like my dad, for instance, bring candy to church for the wee ones. I brought hugs in abundance. I hugged the old, the young, the feeble, the in-betweens, but I always sought out Bill. Not because I preferred him above others, but because he was born decades but days from my birthday. I felt a special bond with him that I can’t really explain.

When he didn’t show up for church, I’d miss him something awful. When he gave me his phone number so I wouldn’t worry about him, I felt like I’d been given the golden ticket. It wasn’t long before we decided to go for coffee. He seemed both pleased and genuinely surprised to discover that I really did seek his company.

We arranged and met at Starbucks on the Oak Ridge Turnpike. I got there first and I scored the corner seats with a table in between them. When he arrived he insisted on paying because he bought special fund raising cards from the church and he wanted to make sure they got used. I thought that very philanthropic, he thought it very practical.

Coffee in hand, we sat down in the corner and chatted for nearly two hours. We covered topics such as family, life events, careers (mine far shorter and less stellar than his), marriage and faith. He was not one for easy laughter, even with me. But when he did, it was rich and full-bodied and worth the effort to coax it from him. He was quite serious but not really; more like a human paradox (like we all are).

After that initial meeting, we met frequently at different venues around town. Sometimes we’d go to Panera Bread where he’d bring his close friend Cherie with him. It was always a delight to see the two of them interact because she was far more vibrant than he, but he seemed to find her antics amusing. Our conversations never stayed on one topic for very long. We’d cover a gamut of issues from politics to religion. He never shied away from anything. He was a brave conversationalist in that aspect.

Once, after I’d moved away, I had returned for a visit. After I walked him to his car, I hugged him extra tight, his hunched shoulders seemed to melt as he held me warmly.

“Bill, I’m so glad I got a chance to see you again. I want to make you a promise.”

“Oh, you don’t have to promise me anything. It’s okay.” He rebuffed me gently.

“No, really. I want to promise you that as long as I’m able, I’ll write to you every time I get a letter. I won’t forget you.” I said with earnest and sincerity.

“Oh, I thought you were getting serious on me.” He chuckled. “Then I will promise you the same thing. As long as I’m able, I will write you letters.”

From that day on, a card would arrive about once a week, most commonly bi-weekly. I replied as soon as I got one as did he. His favorite way to write letters was on the inside of various greeting cards. He talked about his daughter, Lesley, and his growing concern for her but also his joy that he could have dinner with her during the week. He told me about his adventures with Miss Cherie and the people he helped along the way.

During a particularly rough patch of grief, I wrote to Bill and lamented my despair. “I’m lost. I just feel like giving up some days. I miss my people. I miss my tribe. I miss my home.” Those aren’t the exact words, but they are close. His reply was gentle.

“Knowing grief is just a part of life. It comes and it goes. There is only one way to deal with it, just keep living. Being sad all the time isn’t going to make it better. You have to live. You have a new place to be with your husband and family. Don’t give up when there is life to live.” (again paraphrased).

At that time, I remember just crying harder because he, and people like him, are the very reason I was grieving in the first place. I held on to that March letter, in essence breaking my promise, pondering the words he’d written. By early April I’d decided he was right and I was not going to give up easily. I wrote him a letter telling him as much. I wrote the letter up and sent it out on Monday the 11th of April. He got the letter on the 12th. He passed on the 14th. No letter returned.

As I sit here on the first of January 2017, I think about how many times I’ve cried about giving up in this past year as I’ve battled a scary bout of depression. Even with people I love cheering me on, how he signed his letters is one of the key elements that keep me going. He really did teach me something better than chemistry.

Your friend for life, Bill.

 

Blue Gene

The thundering rain roiled violently in the warm November night

striking the man with sheets of his plight

He, on his knees on the side of the road,

had arms raised like and above his face

a thousand cries towards mercy

In supplication he wailed at the haunt of cars

A woman rushed to his side.

She didn’t touch him, but she united her voice with his prayers

He staggered to his feet as wings offered him passage

His breath of prayer accounted for, he was warmly embraced

He sobbed his shame into his cupped hands

while apologizing for his humanity

The chariot released him to the cross of spirits

easing his ailing heart.

He is loved.

End War

​Will you take me to the river?

Will you take me there today?

Will you wash away the blood?

Will you join with me and pray?
Pray for peace among the suff’ring

Pray for tragedy to end

Pray for their sweet comforting

Pray for love till world’s end.
Will you join me at the river?

Will you meet me there today?

Will you help me cleanse the blood?

Will you meet with me to pray?