Thursday, April 19, 2018

April 19, 1943 / Resistance / April 19, 2018

This was in my email inbox this morning, from American Jewish World Service:

Dear Amanda,

Today is especially poignant for me, as the granddaughter of Edna Brill. April 19th marks the day my grandmother joined with thousands of other Jews in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 to resist the Nazis’ plan to transport the remaining Jews in the ghetto to Treblinka for their extermination. This was the largest act of Jewish resistance during World War II. My grandmother’s love for me and her life story have shaped me to be the proud Jewish woman and human rights advocate I am today. I could not be more thankful.

As a young girl, my grandmother risked her life by sneaking in and out of the ghetto each and every day. Able to pass as a non-Jew, she sang on the streets of Warsaw for food in order to keep her family and others in the ghetto alive, where they faced crowded conditions, filth, disease and starvation. At age nine, she bravely became a “runner” for the ghetto resistance movement — carrying messages between the Warsaw ghetto fighters and the Polish army. Even though she witnessed the deportation of her parents and four siblings to the death camps, my grandmother’s remarkable spirit enabled her to survive and, after the war, build a new life and family.

My commitment to build a better world today is the legacy of my grandmother’s indefatigable quest for human dignity. When I think about how my grandmother and the brave Warsaw ghetto fighters remained hopeful despite having every reason to despair, I’m reminded of the many advocates around the world I have come to know through American Jewish World Service (AJWS). I have met activists who are engaged in their own struggles against hatred and, yes, genocide, often in the face of great danger. I’m reminded of the women I met in Burma while traveling with AJWS in 2016; women who, much like my grandmother, are risking their lives to protect their homes and livelihoods in the face of ethnic persecution. The world of these Burmese women, and the ongoing plight of the Rohingya people in Burma, looks very different today from that of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. But I know that they share a desire to shape their own futures, to liberate themselves from ethnic oppression and build a better world.

As a child, 75 years ago today, my grandmother fought for dignity and justice. Today, I honor her legacy as a proud member of the AJWS community, to ensure that all people can live in safety and freedom with respect to their human dignity, culture and religion — no matter who they are or where they live.

For me, ‘Never Again’ means no oppression and no genocide against anyone, anywhere, ever again. Thank you, grandma. You taught me well.

Mia Brill

Once again, I am reminded of the quote by John Steinbeck that also came via email not long ago:  “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"... I'm not from here but neither are you ..." (translated from Spanish on NPR)

This post was inspired by reading this article about the past and present in our local community in the far northwest of the continental United States and having listened to Jorge Drexler and the musicians accompanying him, with hope for the future.

Visit here for English translation of lyrics for "Movimiento."

I continue to be fascinated by DNA testing and genealogy.  According to what science has determined about maternal haplogroups, my mother's mother's line of ancestors lived in Syria thousands of years ago.  What could have prompted them to leave Syria thousands of years ago? Since the 1800s, every generation in my family has left the place of their birth and moved west, eventually arriving at the Pacific Ocean, where I was born.  As a young woman in 1974, I left California and moved north 1000 miles.  I never dreamed that I would not be able to return to live in the beloved landscape of my birth.

My only nephew was born in Seattle.  His grandfather was from the Philippines.  The mother of my nephew's young son has roots in Mexico and the Philippines and Sweden on her mother's side, and her father is Jewish.  My nephew seems to be rooted in Seattle but will someday inherit a home near Pune in India that belongs to my sister who has spiritual roots in India.  I can only wonder what the future will bring to our maternal family line that can be traced to Syria thousands of years ago.  Will we come full circle?

Sunday, April 8, 2018


Thich Nhat Hanh: “I am often on the verge of tears or laughter. But beneath all these emotions, what else is there? How can I touch it? If there isn’t anything, why would I be so certain that there is?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Music is

Thanks to Sabine for her comment and the links to Brian Keenan and his book.

My introduction to Turlough O'Carolan was through a musical friend with Sephardic ancestry who learned to play some of his tunes on her baroque viola.  It was about that time that I found this website. 

“Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is THE BEST.”

 -- Frank Zappa (1940-1993)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Young and old / 50 years later / Maya Angelou's 90th Birthday

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. "

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Maya Angelou would have been 90 years old today.

Monday, April 2, 2018

"Everybody's Coming To My House"

Not sure how I discovered this in the last few days.  Grateful for serendipity.

(Update:  I found it at the Doonesbury website video archive.)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hearing the voice of a Christian on Easter Morning 2018 / The Second Day of Passover 5778

With immense gratitude for having witnessed the power of the human spirit in Maya Angelou this Easter morning and for the local non-Christian friend who shared this powerful Christian voice with me, another non-Christian.

"I'm grateful to be a practicing Christian.  I'm always amazed when people say, 'I'm a Christian.'  I think, 'Already?' It's an ongoing process. You know, you keep trying.  And blowing it and trying and blowing it." -- Maya Angelou

A local friend of mine who will be 90 years old soon said that all she knows for sure is that "something" happened on Easter morning all those centuries ago.  She doesn't claim to know what happened.  I've never heard her talk about virgin birth or resurrection.  She doesn't insist that anyone else believe that something happened.  She belongs to one of several local First Congregational Churches (United Church of Christ) which have lesbians as pastors.  My friend has been a Christian all her life, a life of turmoil and grace.

My friend stands with a diverse group of Christians throughout the centuries, including Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez as well as numerous dear friends of mine who identify as Christian and who have walked through their lives or continue to walk through their lives in what they hope is the true spirit of Jesus.

This morning I'm reminded of what John Lennon said in 1966, when I was 16 years old.  His words stayed with me:

"Christianity will go, he had said.  It will vanish and shrink.  I needn't argue about that; I know I'm right and I will be proved right.  We're more popular than Jesus now.  I don't know which will go first -- rock & roll or Christianity.  Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.  It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

At that time, I was attending the Episcopal Church every Sunday with my family.  My family went to church together until the fall of 1967 when I stopped going to church during my freshman year of college because so many of my friends by that time were Jewish and/or atheist, and I could no longer listen to sermons that denied the validity of the beliefs of Jewish people as well as anyone who was not a Christian.  Not long after I stopped going to church, my mother stopped going to church. This was not long after one of the priests at our church was found to have been molesting one of the choir boys who was the same age I was. Within a year of the time I left the church, my younger sisters also stopped going to church.  My father continued to go to church alone for a while, but then he stopped going to church as well, never to join a church again until he became a member of the Crystal Cathedral.  He never visited the Crystal Cathedral but faithfully watched its services on television from 1994 until his death in 2003, donating 10% of his income to that church and continuing to wonder if Jesus truly was the "son of God."

It has been my good fortune to learn over and over again that all followers of Jesus are not thick and ordinary. Maya Angelou was not thick and ordinary.  My father was not thick and ordinary.  My Christian friends are not thick and ordinary.  Something still keeps me from identifying as a Christian, but it does not keep me from listening with all my heart to those Christians who do not twist Jesus' message and who inspire me to experience the loving power that Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about again and again in his sermons:

"Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.  The transformed nonconformist, moreover, never uses the passive sort of patience as an exercise to do nothing.  And this very transformation saves him from speaking irresponsible words that estrange without reconciling ... He recognizes that social change will not come overnight, yet he works as though it is an imminent possibility." (p. 18, Strength To Love, a book of sermons published in 1963 and published again with an introduction by Coretta Scott King, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968)

From the book, The Glorious Impossible, by Madeleine L'Engle:

"... After his resurrection he was never recognized by sight, but by his voice, or in the breaking of bread, the eating of fish ..."

May this day, Easter 2018 as well as the second day of Passover 5778, be an opportunity to listen for voices, Christian or otherwise, who speak out against the ever-present forces of injustice.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The joy of reading books and of sharing books

A friend of mine showed me this photo of her granddaughter, and I loved it so much that I asked for a copy.  My friend gave me permission to post it on my blog.

The exquisite feeling I had as a child when I experienced the joy of reading books is still with me.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"Come gather round children wherever you roam ..." / Emma Gonzalez

From Wikipedia :

On October 24, 2008, Hudson's 57-year-old mother Darnell Donnerson and 29-year-old brother Jason were found shot to death inside the Chicago home Donnerson shared with Hudson's older sister, Julia. An AMBER alert was issued for her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, when Julia reported him missing. Three days later the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed a body found on Chicago's West Side was the nephew; an autopsy indicated he had died from "multiple gunshot wounds." Police charged William Balfour, Julia's estranged 27-year-old husband, with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion, and denied bail. In May 2012, a court convicted him on all seven counts against him, including possession of a stolen vehicle. In July 2012, he received sentence to three life sentences without the possibility of parole; served consecutively, followed by an additional 120 years for his other convictions. He is incarcerated in Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois.
Hudson's family announced the creation of The Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims, in honor of the three victims. Hudson and her sister created the Julian D. King Gift Foundation in honor of her nephew. It provides Christmas presents and school supplies to needy families in the Chicago area.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Impossibility of Nature / "... the Dog of Art turns to the world the quietness of his eyes." / Briefly Losing My Blog / Learning to ask for help appropriately

With gratitude to a friend who is an artist and who introduced me to the work of Shona Wilson this week.

With gratitude to Denise Levertov for:

The Dog of Art

That dog with daisies for eyes
who flashes forth
flame of his very self at every bark
is the Dog of Art.
Worked in wool, his blind eyes
look inward to caverns and jewels
which they see perfectly,
and his voice
measures forth the treasure
in music sharp and loud,
sharp and bright,
bright flaming barks,
and growling smoky soft, the Dog
of Art turns to the world
the quietness of his eyes.

(Late in the day yesterday, my blog disappeared.   My immediate reaction involved a sense of doom (!) followed by disbelief (trying this and that to get it back), followed by becoming philosophical ("Oh well, I'll just start another one.  So it goes.").  It was too late in the day for me to attempt anything strenuous.  I just let it be.
This morning when I woke up at 4 a.m., rested and renewed, I felt curious about my missing blog and as a result, I contacted Blogger for help through its chat format.  A man named James immediately figured out what had gone wrong and walked me through the process of unlocking my blog.  The problem had to do with having obtained a domain under an email address that was "unverified."  Although I bought the domain a week or so ago, there was no problem until yesterday.  By following the instructions given by James and changing the email address on my domain to one that is verified, I was able to unlock my blog.  You can imagine my relief and gratitude to James.
It has taken much of my life to learn to ask for help appropriately when things go wrong and to trust those I ask for help.  As I child I learned not to ask for help because I learned not to trust those whom I had once believed could help me.  I am eternally grateful for what I have learned from my experiences and the experiences of others in the practice of asking for help when help is needed.) 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"... this life is a sacred opportunity ..."

I experienced some synchronicity in connection with Sabine's recent post when I read these words from Sogyal Rinpoche's book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

"Saints and mystics throughout history have adorned their realizations with different names and given them different faces and interpretations, but what they are all fundamentally experiencing is the essential nature of the mind.  Christians and Jews call it "God"; Hindus call it "the Self," "Shiva," "Essence," "Brahman," and "Vishnu"; Sufi mystics name it "the Hidden Essence"; and Buddhists call it "buddha nature."  At the heart of all religions is the certainly that there is a fundamental truth, and that this life is a sacred opportunity to evolve and realize it."  (am's italics)

I'd like to add that an Oglala Lakota activist, Russell Means, spoke of his culture's experience of "The Great Mystery."

"To each his ("their" would be my translation) own, it's all unknown."

The quote is from Bob Dylan in "If Dogs Run Free."


"Somebody Was Watching":

This post is dedicated to my father.  As we all do, he had realizations about life and death; however, his path led him to look to God as he understood God for concrete answers.  He died alone on St. Patrick's Day in 2003 of congestive heart failure.  We had a difficult relationship. When I mentioned those difficulties yesterday to a small group of friends, one friend who had a difficult relationship with her father who died recently laughed gently and said to me, "In a future life, you might end up being your father's father."  In the years before he died, my father believed that he was the first person that God had spoken to since Jesus.  He kept a handwritten record of the questions he asked God and how God answered.  These were questions that had haunted him all of his life.  While my father was playing his regular games of Solitaire, God as he understood God would answer my father's questions in one of three ways:



"No comment."

He asked his God several times if Jesus was his son.  His God's final answer was, "No."

My father and I shared a love of plants and gardening.  I am grateful for that experience.  Yesterday I went out to the nearby botanical garden where I found a home for the Coast Redwood Seedling that I nurtured this past year in honor of my father.  Due to unexpected circumstances involving a steep hill that the friend who came with me could not walk down, I will have to return on another day to visit the Coast Redwood seedling.

My experience after death of both of my parents was that was all that was left of them after they died was the love they couldn't express while alive.  I have had a hard time accepting that love.  Writing this down is part of my acceptance of that love that I experienced only after they died.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Live and Recorded

Perhaps the young people can turn the tide with their votes in the next presidential election.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Visions of Jacob Lawrence and Barbara Earl Thomas / Gratitude

"The Studio, 1977"

Back in 1980 when I was 30 years old and had returned to college to finish my degree in English Literature and Studio Art, I was introduced to the life and work of Jacob Lawrence.  It has been my good fortune to see much of his work in exhibits here in Bellingham and in Seattle.  He remains a inspiration to me to this day.

"The Library, 1967"

"Bread, Fish, Fruit"


"Hiroshima Series -- Boy with Kite"

In 2016, I became aware of the work of a student of Jacob Lawrence, Barbara Earl Thomas, and traveled to Bainbridge Island (not far from Seattle) to see an exhibit of her work.  She had studied with Jacob Lawrence, finishing graduate school at University of Washington in 1977, just a few years before I was introduced to his work.

"She makes catastrophe and beauty keep company—the way they actually, unthinkably, do. (from this article).

If you would like to see more of her art work and learn more about her life, I recommend this book:

As I wait for the inspiration for my next mandala, I feel immense gratitude to these two artists.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Someone I loved

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

—Mary Oliver

With gratitude to Beth.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The owls and other birds went a-courting

With gratitude to a local friend who was visiting with her son and his family in Santa Cruz, California, in recent weeks.  During a family visit to Natural Bridges Park, they saw this courting pair of Great Horned Owls at Natural Bridges Park, and her son, Andrew McKee, took these extraordinary photos.

Listen to the birds here in Bellingham just after sunrise this morning:

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.
(Chinese proverb)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2000 Bellingham Students Leave Class

Here's the article from the Bellingham Herald.  Hope you can watch the video.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg

Their words (during a CNN interview) directed to politicians who accept money from the NRA:

"... you are either funding the killers or you are standing with the children ..."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Experiencing Relief From Shame In The Nick Of Time

When I was a little girl, my mother said to me, out of the blue, "Have you ever noticed that your nose is not centered over your teeth?" I had not noticed.  I looked in the mirror at myself.  Sure enough. My nose deviated to the left.  Hmmmm.  I felt like a freak.  She would refer to my "droopy eye." What to make of that?

When I was at Girl Scout camp, another Girl Scout joked about my "ski nose."  I was devastated.  I felt ashamed of my nose and myself. Why did I let another young girl determine my self image?

When I was in my late teens, a young man that I thought was extraordinarily handsome and who had told me that he thought his nose was too large said, "Looks like someone tweaked your beak." Not a particularly sensitive thing to say.  He seemed to like me anyway.  But why the comment?

When I was in my late 30s, a so-called boyfriend said to me, "You look very different, depending upon whether I look at you in profile on the left or on the right."  That didn't sound flattering, and I'm sure that, observing my reaction to his words, he tried to make things better by quickly saying, "But both sides are pretty." Still the damage was done.  I felt like a freak.  What was going on there?

When I was in my 40s, a co-worker asked me if I had had a stroke. Hmmmmm.  There it was again.  I had been feeling good about myself and suddenly my positive image of myself was undermined by her insensitivity.  So what if I had had a stroke?  Why would that cause me to feel shame?

Around the same time, my father asked me, out of the blue, "Why can't you be normal, like your sisters?"

So what if my face is asymmetrical?  So what?  Why would someone who supposedly loved me or someone that I thought was a friend look at me so clinically and without compassion for my feelings and point that out in such a cold way?  Why would I react with such tremendous shame?

And worse, why would I grow to hate myself for having an asymmetrical face? What is that all about?  Everyone has an asymmetrical face to some degree.

Before I began my recovery from self-hate and other related problems in 1987, I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror, as well as in all photos that were taken of me.  I felt immense shame about the appearance of my face.  So much so that I was occasionally unable to leave my house.  All the shame that had once been connected to my entire body and manifested as eating disorders was focused on my face.

In my 40s, I took a series of self-portraits in a mirror with my Minolta camera.  It puzzled me that I when I took photos of myself in a mirror, I liked myself.  I liked the way I looked.  I wasn't on guard.  I could relax with myself in a way I could not relax with other people.

In recent years, as I approach my 70s, I don't hate my appearance at all when I look in a mirror.  I like what I see, despite the fact that I am aging, and I have heard women my age say that they find it hard to look in the mirror and see all the signs of aging. For me, the experience has been that of liking what I see more than I ever did up until now!  I don't hate my appearance anymore!

I'm not sure what happened to change my self image so radically from negative to positive.  It seems to have happened gradually.  Perhaps it came from meeting a great number of people since 1987 who weren't ashamed of themselves and didn't hate themselves because of the way they looked.  Maybe I accepted myself as a member of the human race and stopped thinking of myself as different from anyone else and deserving of contempt.

After experiencing dismay at the recent photo of me taken by a former co-worker in an unguarded moment, I found it interesting to learn that most people prefer their mirror image to the image they see in photos, which is the way they are seen by other people.  However, according to this article, most people see the way they look in photos as less attractive rather than ugly.

"Ultimately, when we dislike a picture of ourselves, it's not that we think that we look necessarily ugly (italics by the writer of the article). It's just that we find our other self -- our inverse self -- more attractive."

I am seeking the self-love and self-compassion that will allow me to stop regressing to that default perception of myself as being ugly and unloveable when I see myself in a photo. Why did I develop such a perception of myself as ugly? Why did neither of my sisters who look very much like me develop that? Why has that perception diminished in recent years, except for short relapses into self-loathing?

It is astounding progress that I can now look in a mirror without experiencing shame and emotional distress.

As a scientific experiment, I took a photo of myself in the mirror a few days ago and then flipped it. When I look at at the two photos above, I do like the first one (the mirror image) much better!  I think, "Yes, that's me.  What a good photo." Oddly enough, I didn't notice that my bangs were longer on one side until I looked at the flipped photo of my mirror image!  I felt a startle reaction when I saw the flipped photo!  I thought, "Yikes!  Is that what I look like? And my bangs are higher on one side than the other! How awful!"

Very peculiar that identical images, though flipped, look dramatically different to me.  I am assuming that I look the same in both photos to everyone else!

The fact that I could write these thoughts down for others to read is almost unbelievable to me, considering the shame I have carried about my appearance.

The miracle is that my shame is, for the most part, fading into memory. For some reason, my parents were ashamed of something that they projected on me, and I carried their shame.  It was never mine to carry. Now I question that shame reaction, that self-hate that went so deep and became so disabling.  I wonder if Michael Jackson would have related to what I have written today.

I am not asking to be told that I look just fine.  I am asking to be heard on the topic of shame about one's physical appearance, where that shame comes from, and that healing from such intergenerational shame is possible.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Talking about love in action / Introducing a timely book of poetry


She rides a bicycle in her dreams
on the country lanes of County Meath
pedaling her way to dances:  gossip
with the girls, flirtations with the boys
smelling of soap, hair slicked back,
shyly standing across the dance floor,
jostling one another as young men
will do.

She rides a bicycle in her dreams
the season is always springtime
the hills are never steep
she speeds along, until a cock's crow
creates a schism splitting the
dream world into memory,
she awakens with a curious
longing, at home, but far from home.

She listens to the hum of the Interstate,
contemplates her morning cup of tea.
Once more the rooster sounds his
rousing call, turning the world into
countryside, but nothing like the
country lanes of County Meath.


Afraid they'll be scolded,
they want to go home.
Fearful they'll be late for dinner,
they edge towards the door.
The passage of time has been reversed,
twines back on itself to yesteryear
with decades lost along the way.

The family home, wherever it was,
has a powerful pull and draw.
If we could only take them there,
delivering them from their longing,
in an instant we would.
To give them that pleasure,
to give them that solace.
To give them bounding steps
to replace their shuffling gait,
to once again race down that
familiar street, turn at their own house,
spring up the front steps, bang
the screen door behind them,
call out loudly, I'm home, I'm here."

Steering them back to their rooms,
sometimes feeling more like wardens
than nurses, "Home Sweet Home"
stitches through our hearts.

Christine M. Kendall's blog is here.

"The Care Center" is from her first book of poetry, self-published in 1998.  I treasure my copies of both books and visit her poems again and again.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The power of love in action

Jacob Lawrence.

From whiskey river:

"We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as humans is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks we take a long time to accomplish, that's all.

Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. "Tragedy," D. H. Lawrence said, "ought to be a great kick at misery." This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick." (Albert Camus)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sharing Unguarded And Guarded Moments And Dreams On Valentine's Day

A few nights before Valentine's Day, one of my former medical transcription co-workers organized what has become a yearly get-together at a local Asian restaurant. Twelve of us showed up.  None of us work as medical transcriptionists anymore.  I was the holdout until last October, when I gave up working as a medical transcription editing subcontractor for less than minimum wage and no benefits in a field that once gave us all a good income with excellent benefits.  The oldest of us is 70.  The youngest seemed to be in her late 20s or early 30s.  She brought her 5-month-old daughter who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the social occasion.  We certainly enjoyed her unguarded presence. The youngest former transcriptionist started working at the hospital sometime after I left in December 2003.

Until I received a group email with attached photos, I didn't realize that another somewhat younger former co-worker had taken out her cell phone and had taken pictures of all of us that she could see from her place at the far end of our long patched-together table, including a selfie with the woman sitting next to her.  That was the only photo that was at all flattering to the subjects. She caught us all in unguarded moments, none expressing how much we enjoyed being together.  It puzzles me that she would send photos that, for the most part, show us looking unhappy or tense.  Although I was enjoying myself and feeling good about myself, in that unguarded moment I look distant, remote, unengaged, possibly like a sad drunk, although I was drinking water.  I see myself with very critical and judgmental eyes, I know.  Near the end of the dinner, she called my name.  When I looked up, she had her cell phone aimed at me.  I quickly put on my best guarded photo face.

In the photo from my childhood with my middle sister and my older step-cousin, I have a rare unguarded smile.  As an adult, I have never been able to smile so freely in photos.  I wish I could.  I freeze when cameras are pointed at me.  I remember being told as a small child by my mother that my shy little smile was not good enough.  I would contort my face to have the "good enough" smile she desired.  As I grew older, my smile in photos became guarded, frozen, tight, expressing that I felt hopelessly ugly, awkward, inadequate.

This year as Valentine's Day (after what would have been my father's 104th birthday on February 11) approached, I felt at odds with myself, uneasy, unsettled, edgy, feeling that I needed more sleep than usual and drifting into the old low self-esteem, even self-hate, that I lived with from early childhood until I was 37 years old and began to recover from bulimia, anorexia, and alcoholism.  Although I haven't seen my mental health counselor for two months, something prompted me last week to make an appointment.  My mental health diagnosis is related to past trauma.  I have come a long way.  My current counselor is the best one I've ever had.  Her first opening was on Valentine's Day at 10:30 a.m.

These last two weeks have been particularly difficult.  Nothing difficult happened that hasn't happened many times before, but my emotional reactions seemed way out of proportion to the circumstances.  Those emotions that I guard so carefully were exposed, and I could not escape the reality that I felt hurt, jealous, sad, ashamed, and angry --very angry.

When I was a little girl, my father told me that I looked ugly when I was angry.  My mother was angry on a regular basis, but I didn't observe him telling her that she looked ugly.  Perhaps taking the cue from my mother, I was angry much of the time, although I tried to hide my anger.  I concluded that I was truly ugly when I was angry.  As much as I tried, I could not hide my anger.  I could not hide what my father called ugly.  I told myself at 6 years old, "Boys don't like me because I am ugly.  No one will ever marry me." When we were 7 years old, a Roman Catholic friend of mine had a nun doll.  I wasn't sure what a nun doll was, but the doll seemed to bring happiness to my friend.  My friend didn't look angry.  I wished I were as pretty as she was.  She looked kind.  I asked for a nun doll for my birthday.  My mother bought me a blonde bride doll instead.  The bride doll looked miserable.  The doll was only a child, a child bride.  My father used to joke that my mother was his child bride.  She would get angry and say, "That's not funny."  My father seemed to enjoy making my mother angry.  I started thinking that my mother was ugly, too.  She looked like me.

Of course, no one was ugly.  It was all a lie that I believed because there was no one to tell me otherwise, and then a few years later my youngest sister told me that an older boy had told her that she was the only pretty girl in our family.  That cemented the lie for me.  A boy said I was not pretty.  My father said I was ugly.  I was convinced.  When I was 10 years old, I went on my first diet, sensing that my parents were not pleased with my body that was developing earlier than most girls. Now I felt that I was both ugly and what I thought was fat.  I was always on one diet or another until I was 37 years old.

At 10 years old, I was prescribed glasses for nearsightedness.  Already feeling ugly and fat, I refused to wear my glasses.  As a result, I could not see people's faces unless they were in close proximity.  Other children thought I was what we used to call "stuck up."  I assumed that boys thought that I was ugly, even without glasses.  They kept their distance from me.  I did not put them at ease.  I was painfully shy and awkward and never had a boyfriend until I was 17 years old and met a charming 17-year-old high school dropout who smoked cigarettes and marijuana, took LSD and other hallucinogens, uppers and downers, and used intravenous drugs, all because he didn't want to become an alcoholic.

He told me I looked pretty when I was angry.  He said, "How could somebody NOT love you?" He won my heart.  I idolized him.  I won his heart.  We broke each other's hearts.  I thought the problem was that I was fat and ugly.  Nothing he said could convince me otherwise.  I could not believe that I was worthy of love.  He couldn't believe he was worthy of love.  He proceeded on a path of self-destruction that ended with his death at age 58.

The only time he sent me a Valentine was when we were about 40 years old.  He wrote on the inside of the card, "I love you.  Always will."

I remember listening to this song on one of the first Valentine's Days after I met him:

Last Valentine's Day I dreamed a dream about him that brought me joy.  My dreams seem to be a series of unguarded moments, both mysterious and enlightening, even those that are nightmares.  They can bring me joy, and or they can bring me absence of joy along with insight.

May our dreams bring joy and if not joy, then insight.

I'm not sure why painful memories from the past came up this Valentine's Day, but I do know that I can't let go of what I don't acknowledge.  When I tell the stories from my past, I feel myself being healed in the present.  When I find myself reverting to childhood self-hate, I seek help.  I am not alone anymore.

"There are some of us who in after years say to Fate, 'Now deal us your hardest blow, give us what you will; but let us never again suffer as we suffered when we were children.' The barb in the arrow of childhood's suffering is this: its intense loneliness, its intense ignorance."  (Olive Schreiner, from The Story of an African Farm)

The sky just cleared, and there is snow in the hills where I saw the light a few days ago.

May we all be loved and love ourselves in our guarded and unguarded moments.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Pileated Woodpeckers are 14 to 16 inches long.  It is fairly unusual to see one on my porch.  On the rarest of occasions, there were three on my porch at one time.  That was years ago.  I do see them at times when I am walking in the woods.  There is something about seeing a Pileated Woodpecker that feels auspicious to me.  This might be the first time I have been able to photograph one.  They are skittish.

"Occupied by living"