Prayers for lost things

I rescued two lost things last week. One was my responsibility, and one was not. One I’d lost myself (though it would’ve been easy to blame the five year old), and one someone else had lost. One was a coat, a green child’s coat, possibly a hand-me down, but it would have been expensive to replace. One was a dog. One was lost on a beautiful, warmish, sunny afternoon, and the other was lost the following day which was sunny but bitterly cold and windy.

The coat was the most upsetting, because it was my fault (though it would have been easy to blame the five year old). When I drove Louise to kindergarten that morning it had been cold and rainy, so she and her toddler brother, Manny, wore raincoats over their winter coats. Afterwards Manny and I went to the library and it wasn’t raining anymore so I took off his raincoat and left it in the car. Later, while Manny was napping and I was reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the sun broke forth from the clouds and the temperatures soared into the fifties, and I gratefully made plans to take the kids to the playground after school. That last hour and a half, after I pick up Louise from school, can be hard. She is tired from following the rules and doing what she was told all day at school, and resents any more instructions from me. She wants to talk and play, and needs me to be very interactive and follow the rules of the games she makes up, and she gets frustrated if I don’t pay complete attention. Manny is getting tired despite his nap, and though he has spent most of the day ignoring me and pretending to cook elaborate meals with his toy pots and pans, his sister’s presence makes him suddenly need my constant attention and to be constantly in my arms. It can be fun, if I can rally my energy. But it’s infinitely better if we can spend that time outside. Both kids like people-watching, the fresh air and sunshine put their nanny in a much better mood, and there are other kids to play with so I am not needed as intensely as when the three of us are home alone.

It was warm, so I let Louise take off her outer raincoat, but it was not warm enough for her to take off her other coat, so the several times she asked to I said no. The kids had a great time, and I absorbed the fresh air and sunshine as I chased after them, and waited till the last possible minute to say that it was time to head home. As we walked back to the car I looked back and saw that Louise had taken off her coat. She saw me notice her, grinned, and said, “Is it okay?”

“All right,” I said. “Put it in the stroller,” thus teaching her the truth of the expression that it’s easier to get forgiven than permission. When we got to the car I strapped them into their seats, folded up the stroller, and put it into the trunk. A few minutes later we pulled into their garage and I said to Louise sternly,

“You need to either wear your coat or carry it, Louise. I have to get all the other coats, the diaper bag, and Manny.”

“Okay,” she said. “Where is it?”

“It’s back there with you.”

“No it isn’t.”

With a sinking heart I realized I’d never taken it out of the stroller. I opened the trunk and unfolded the stroller but it wasn’t there.

“It must be back at the playground,” I said. She started crying.

“It’s okay!” I said. “Let’s go inside and drop you and Manny off with your mom, and I’ll drive back in my own car and get the coat. It must’ve fallen out when I put the stroller in the trunk, so it should be right there waiting for me.”

“But what if someone took it?” she wailed.

“No one would take it,” I said, hoping this was true. “People are generally good and want to help each other.”

I dropped them off and hopped into my car, driving back towards the playground and praying the following strange prayer:

“Lord, please let the coat still be there. I don’t want to be responsible for losing it. Also, take care of the refugees. And if you can only answer one prayer, then take care of the refugees.”

God only knows what God thinks of prayers like that. Covering our bases, hedging our bets. Hoping for God’s favor and help to save face for ourselves and a few dollars for our employer, while knowing that others are shivering on the cold ground, hungry, homeless, wondering where God is and where the generally good people wanting to help each other are. Did God laugh at my second, guilty prayer? Did God listen carefully and file the prayers in order of importance? Did God guide the hand of the person who walked by Louise’s coat in the street and hung it carefully up on the fence for me to find, gratefully, moments later? Is God guiding the hearts of those who have it in their power to help the refugees?

The next day the temperature dropped sharply and the wind blew fiercely. The kids’ dad needed the car, so he drove Louise to school but I had to take Manny in the stroller to pick her up. The walk to school and back was cold and hard, with the wind seeming to always blow against us. I struggled on the way there, but the way back with Louise was harder — uphill and I had the additional job of keeping Louise’s spirits up while we fought against the wind. She was struggling, and trying not to cry.

“Remember what Dory says in Finding Nemo?” I asked. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. And then, just when they are too tired to go any further, a miracle happens and they find the warm gulf stream current which carries them safely to Nemo.” I’m pretty sure I had some of those details wrong, but Louise thought about it for a minute and then started repeating: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” We chanted it together, pausing each time the wind caught the cloth of the stroller like a sail (always in the other direction) and made walking momentarily impossible.

Suddenly a very small dog came towards us from a driveway, barking loudly. Louise screamed and I told her to move to the other side of me while I spoke gently to the dog.

“What’s wrong puppy? It’s okay, we’re friendly. What are you doing out here in the cold?”

The dog was shivering, and I realized that its barks weren’t coming from anger but from fear. I felt the calmness that comes over me when anxiety is replaced with knowing exactly what action to take. I don’t know how I knew. Was someone somewhere saying a prayer for lost things? Was someone praying for creatures who were cold and scared? Either way I knew for sure that the dog was stuck outside and needed help getting home. There were several houses there, but I turned toward the nearest one as the dog ran away back down the driveway. There was a set of steps going up to the front door, so I carefully parked the stroller at the bottom.

“No!” cried Louise. “I don’t want to go there! I want to go home!”

“When you see a creature that’s cold and scared, you have to help it. That’s the rule,” I answered, and, convinced either by compassion or canon, she followed me up the concrete stairs.

I rang the doorbell and we stood there shivering. I saw the blinds opened slightly and I waved and tried not to look like a salesman or an evangelist. A woman opened the door and asked us suspiciously,

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“There’s a small dog out here,” I said. “He seems scared.”

“Oh my God! Chico?” she asked, looking inside and realizing he wasn’t there with her. “How did he get out? Where did you see him?”

“He just ran back down there,” I said, pointing to the driveway.

She came out onto the porch, standing in the wind in bare feet, and called,

“Chico! Chico!”

The dog ran up to her instantly, and they hurried back into the warm house together, the woman saying a quick and still surprised, “Thank you!”

Louise, Manny, and I continued up the hill, against the wind. A few weeks ago we had made the same trip after a snowstorm, and as we’d walked I’d told Louise the story of Good King Wenceslas, and how he and his servant had gone out in the bitter cold to bring food and firewood to a poor man they saw from the castle window.

“It was so cold and windy,” I’d told her, “And the servant grew so tired he couldn’t go on. But King Wenceslas told him to walk in his footprints, and when the servant stepped right where the King had stepped, he found the footprints were warm! So then he was warm enough and encouraged enough to go on.” I’d sung the last verse of the song to her, trying unsuccessfully, as always, not to cry:

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.”

“We saved that dog!” I said, feeling as warm as if I were stepping in the Saint’s footprints. “And we’re almost home.”

“We’re almost home!” said Louise. “Just keep swimming.”

“Just keep swimming,” I said.

***

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To my white friends: Four things we must do today

Last year, in reaction to Sandra Bland’s death after an illegal arrest, I wrote a post to my white friends about four things we could do. The things I named were to listen to the stories of people of color, acknowledge their feelings, lament and mourn along with them, and acknowledge our own complicity as having benefitted from a system that gives us privilege and advantages, and not having fought hard enough to break down that system.

I named those four things as a place to start, and while I still think they are, the news of today calls for something more. 

1) Listen. Yes, we need now more than ever to listen to the stories and testimonies of people of color, acknowledge their pain, and lament along with them.

2) But also intentionally and carefully create space. More than listening, acknowledging, and lamenting, today we need to create space for people of color to grieve without inserting ourselves into the conversation. Too often our attempts to empathize turn into co-opting  the discussion and centering our own pain. A lot has been written about how much more attention and weight is given to a white woman crying than to women of color. Yes, we are hurting, and we must find ways to take care of ourselves, and places to talk and process. But the place for that is not in the comment section of a black woman’s Facebook post, or the public space of Twitter where our voices and pain overshadow those of minorities. Talk to other white folks, in private, and come back when you are ready to stand on the sidelines, in a support role, and center the voices of the marginalized. If you’re not ready to do that today, just listen quietly. 

3) Acknowledge our complicity. While I still think this is vital, I have learned a bit since I wrote that about how such statements come across to people of color. I do think there is a place for them, but I also think we have to do a lot of this work in white spaces, rather than calling on people of color to bear with us during the process. And I also now realize that there is a huge element of guilt and the desire for affirmation even in this process. We act out of a desire to assuage our guilt and be seen as one of the “good” white people, rather than out of a desire to actually make a change. Most of us have mixed motivation. But we have to keep checking ourselves and each other, asking what our motivation is and what the effects of our words are — their fruit, as Christians would say. People of color are tired of hearing words come out of our mouths and never seeing any real change.

4) So, don’t talk about it, do it. Join your local Showing Up For Racial Justice chapter, support Black Lives Matter and other groups fighting for racial justice. (I’ll attach some links here this evening.) Organize and attend protests, sign petitions, make phone calls, hold your elected officials accountable, and start thinking about what it would look like in your own life to give up some of your privilege in order to raise up others. Think about what you would do if it was your own sons and daughters stepping out every day into a world that wasn’t safe for them — and then do that, and keep doing it. And don’t do it for “cookies”, to prove that you are one of the good guys, or to assuage your guilt. The goal should not be to be a pure and shiny white person. The goal should be safety and equality for all people. Until that is accomplished, we have failed, no matter how good we look wearing a #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt in our profile picture. 

That’s what I’ve got for now, friends. 

With all my love,

Jessica 

Follow Friday, or What I’m into these days

Follow FridayI’ve been wanting to do another Follow Friday post for awhile now, but I could never remember it on an actual Friday until today. And then, of course, I had to spend a considerable amount of time on Canva making a clever and pretty banner for the post (with elephants! do you like it?), so now Friday is almost over, but I think I can still squeeze it in.

Podcasts

Beautiful Writers Podcast

I discovered Linda Sivertsen and her Beautiful Writers podcast when Glennon Doyle Melton did an interview with Linda and Martha Beck. I was blown away by the peace, wisdom, and strength of those three women in their hour-long conversation. If you are a writer, a feminist, or just a lover of truth and beauty, I highly recommend that interview. And I can’t wait to check out more of Linda’s podcast.

This American Life Pandora station

I just got my first iPhone, after several years of the cheapest, non-smart phones I thought I’d done my time, and the new SE was only $299 through Virgin Mobile. It’s really fun having a new little toy, and one of my most exciting discoveries was that Pandora now has a This American Life station. If you’ve never listened to This America Life, it is basically the grown-up equivalent of asking your dad to tell you a story. You never know just what you are going to get — stories range from a 60yr old lifeguard suing the state of New York because he doesn’t want to wear a speedo, to stories of young people dating in a Greek refugee camp — but almost all of the stories are fascinating, and they’re narrated with a sense of humor and depth by Ira Glass.

Blogs

Ed Cyzewski

I’ve known vaguely about Ed for awhile –we have a lot of mutual friends and we follow each other on Twitter — but a couple of his recent posts have really stuck out to me. He is a Christian author who, like me, has an M.Div. but didn’t end up in ministry. Besides writing books, blogging, and doing freelance writing, he also hosts a website The Contemplative Writer which “provides daily prayer practices and soul care for writers.” I particularly enjoyed one of his recent posts on working through fear and anxiety, There is Life on the Other Side of Our Fears.

Facebook

Bunmi Laditan

Bunmi is the creator of The Honest Toddler, hilarious tweets and posts (and now a couple of books) from the perspective of a child. But when she writes as herself, on her Facebook page, she is even more hilarious, brutal, and profound. I love honesty, and it doesn’t get more honest than Bunmi’s vulnerable sharing about her anxiety and depression and how hard it is to be a mom of three young children. She shares the bare truth, but she does it with the skill and timing of a writer/comedienne, and the grace of one who has learned the hard way that the only way to make it through is to relentlessly love and forgive ourselves. And her responses to comments are filled with that fierce grace, as well.

Twitter

Dave Epstein

If you live in Maine or Boston, and are a bit of a weather nerd / obsessive compulsive like me, I highly recommend following meteorologist Dave Epstein on Twitter. He writes the weather blog for Boston dot com, and his twitter posts are full of additional information — like how this summer’s drought is affecting August’s temperatures — and often up-to-the-minute information about storm systems passing through. Dave also shares one of my biggest pet peeves about living in Boston: Why do all the good thunderstorms seem to fade into nothing before they hit us??

Me, too, that's where I live! Where are our thunderstorms??

Me, too, that’s where I live! Where are our thunderstorms??

Katie Mack

Katherine J Mack is an astrophysicist and freelance science writer from Melbourne, who already had a solid following when J.K. Rowling catapulted her to well-deserved fame by tweeting the best response to a mansplainer ever:

globalwarming

Obviously she is my new hero.

Instagram

Chase Photos

Until last week, I referred to Instagram as “that elitist social media site that won’t let you join unless you buy an expensive smart phone” and pretended I didn’t care that I wasn’t invited. But now I am in the club, and this first photographer is one of the main reasons I’m psyched to be there. Chase is the 13 year old son of a friend of mine, and his photographs are just gorgeous. I love seeing the things he captures, and seeing the world through his perspective. And last week he blew me away with this short essay:

I’m Chase. I’m a 13 year-old Asian/American boy who lives in a nice neighborhood. I have two parents who wholeheartedly love me and support me. I am lucky enough to attend a great school at which I mostly achieve good grades. I’m on the road to success. More likely than not, I will live a long, healthy, happy life, retire comfortably, and die in a hospital bed surrounded by my loving family and friends. I will be free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, within reason, of course. Pop quiz: which identity of mine allows me to have and keep these privileges? Is it because I’m a guy? Because I’m straight? Because I’m not black? It is hard to accept but the answers to these questions are YES YES YES. One of my good friends at my privileged, clean, SAFE school gets better grades than me and is one of the most humble, kind people I have ever met. It is saddening, but in this harsh world none of that counts. Certain police officers will pull him over, maybe if he’s speeding or even just “looking suspicious,” as so many of my dead fellow humans have, and in their eyes, in their heads, they will not see a kind, gentle young man with siblings he deeply cares for and a family that needs him. They will see his skin and he will be infinitely more likely to die than I would be if I was the one getting pulled over. My many queer/gay/trans friends who are so good to everyone they meet will be bullied and beaten and shunned and abused. Such is the way of things. Women, literally half of our population, are shamed every single day for how they look or eat or dress. Women are not objects. Gay people are not disgraces. Black people are not poison. Everyone is their own beautiful self. Yes, even the white supremacists and the homophobes and the anti-feminists / all-around jerks. You guys got some work to do, but still. If you feel a spark, go chase it. I’ve been told I’ll do great things when I grow up. How about now?

As Chase’s mom often says, the kids are all right.

Kelly Youngblood

My last follow is a photographer I just discovered today through Ed Cyzewski. She takes beautiful photos and pairs them with short reflections. Apparently there is a thing called visio divina, which is like lectio divina but instead of meditating on a short scripture verse you meditate on an image. I’m intrigued!

***

Thanks for reading, everyone! And if you’re interested in following me, I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

What have you been into lately?

 

 

 

Claim your space

awomansjobWhen I first bought a bike as a grown up, I also bought a pamphlet about biking in the city, and there was a section entitled CLAIM YOUR SPACE. Bikers, the pamphlet said, have as much right to the streets as anyone. If it’s safe for you to ride on the edge of the road and let cars pass you, fine, but if the safest place is in the middle of the lane, even if you’re slowing down the cars behind you, you’re allowed to be there. And I hopped on my bike with those words ringing in my ears: CLAIM YOUR SPACE. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE, a right to your portion of the road, whether or not it is convenient for anybody else.

And if you still need incentive to claim your space, on the road and in this life, here is a poem by Naomi Replanski.

Housing Shortage

I tried to live small.
I took a narrow bed.
I held my elbows to my sides.
I tried to step carefully
And to think softly
And to breathe shallowly
In my portion of air
And to disturb no one.

Yet see how I spread out and I cannot help it.
I take to myself more and more, and I take nothing
That I do not need, but my needs grow like weeds,
All over and invading; I clutter this place
With all the apparatus of living.
You stumble over it daily.

And then my lungs take their fill.
And then you gasp for air.
Excuse me for living,
But, since I am living,
Given inches, I take yards,
Taking yards, dream of miles,
And a landscape, unbounded
And vast in abandon.

You too dreaming the same.

I wrote the paragraph above, about claiming your space, as a comment on a video Glennon Doyle Melton shared. And, guess what? Among the many people chiming in and saying they wanted to claim their space, too, was a man whose comment was something like, “Hey genius, the roads are for cars! Get off of them!!!”

As if we needed to be reminded that when we do take up the space we need to ride, to breathe, to live, there will be those who push us back, and try to shove us to the side. They try to scare us, because it’s a vulnerable position being on a bike, exposed, among steel-enclosed cars. But we have the right to be here. Our life itself is our passport. We are here and, incidentally, we are important. That space we take up is important space, in which we do work that no one else could do. If we shrink to the edge, that work will be lost, and the world will be the worse for its loss.

Your space is yours. Take it. Claim it. Inches, miles yards — as much as you need. I’ll be on the road with you, cheering you on.

Love,
Jessica

 

You do not have to quit Facebook

You do not have to quit Facebook.
You do not have to turn off your computer and cell phone two hours before bed.
You do not have to fast from social media for a month,
read a Russian novel, meditate for an hour every day,
or wake up before dawn to go for a run.

All you have to do is close your eyes for a minute.
All you have to do is take a deep breath for a change, feel the oxygen flow to your
arms and feet and head.
All you have to do is step onto your porch and notice the sunset,
sleep in an extra ten minutes and
maybe put some real cream in your coffee for once.

Rilke wrote to his “neighbor God”
That the wall between them was very thin:
A cry from either of them would easily break it.

Why have you been doing nothing, out of fear that you cannot do everything?
Listen, all that stuff is lovely, good for you even,
But all that is required is a word.
One real word, spoken through the wall.
Or if you can’t think of anything to say,

Just take a moment to listen.
One moment. And maybe one the next day, too.
And even if you spend the rest of the evening binge-watching Netflix
I promise that moment will be enough to break down the wall.

~Jessica Faith Kantrowitz

***

Go to my Facebook page to read the original Mary Oliver poem and the Rainer Maria Rilke poem.

On selfies and self-love

I took my first selfie back in 2006 and it was a revelation. It felt like art, like self-examination and self-discovery. When I joined MySpace and then Facebook and could post and share those photos it became almost a political act. To post a selfie was to say, “Look how beautiful I am!” and society doesn’t quite approve of that. If you are beautiful, you are not supposed to brag about it, and if you are not conventionally beautiful you are supposed to accept your place and not go against convention. Either way, you are not supposed to believe in your own beauty. For one thing, where would all the makers of beauty products be if women got out of bed already loving ourselves? And there’s a snarkiness there, too, we women judging each other. A pretty photo taken by a friend is okay, but put the camera in our own hands and we start to whisper, “narcissist.”

I love the camera in my own hands. I love to paint portraits of myself, to see my different angles, to turn the camera on when I am sad, or celebratory, or angry, to see what that does to the muscles in my face. I have learned about myself through taking my own picture. And I have learned to love myself, too. We are strangely disconnected from our own outward appearance, especially those of us who tend to be lost in thought. Sometimes when someone speaks to me I startle, surprised that they can actually see me, when I myself feel far away, as if I am watching the scene around me through a screen. It’s good to see myself on the screen sometimes. It’s grounding. I feel more present, I feel like a spirit with a face and body, more like the people whose faces and bodies I see every day.

I take my picture in bed sometimes. I took it when I was lying in bed, sick with migraines and depression. I took it when I gained 50lbs and lost it. I took it when I cut my hair and as it grew back. I took it when I was brave and went for a walk in the autumn leaves, back when leaving the house was an act of courage. I took it when I was even more courageous and waited for the T to take me to a job interview. I took pictures with the kids I nannied, and with friends. Last weekend I took a series of selfies as I sat at Starbucks and the library, writing, investing in my dream, dressed in my favorite, most hopeful colors.

Look how beautiful I am. Look how beautiful I was, fat and thin, sad and joyful, messy-haired and made-up all nice. And you are beautiful, too.

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