Category Archives: Political reflection

January 2020 to January 2021. Yes, We Will Find Joy.

It’s a snowy day in February 2021. I am complaining. January 2020 was the beginning of a year that I could never have imagined.

At the end of that month, I was sharing a home-baked, red velvet birthday cake with friends. I had just turned 72, and the celebration deserved one of my friend Bob’s elegant cakes.

“Oh my God!”

Vinny checked his cell phone and put his beverage down. The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and their friends, had fallen out of the sky. Bryant had been a beloved local personality, and it felt like the air was sucked out of the room. As we pivoted from celebration to sorrow, I could hardly believe that, once again, we were looking at the sudden death of a vibrant man known for his devoted support of young people, while some of the meanest, vilest politicians in our country seemed impervious to death.

Bryant’s death began a traumatizing year, one that would test the heartiest among us. A month later, as the stories about a new virus began to dominate the media, people hunched their shoulders and started wearing masks. My friends and I were asking, “How can we elect a new president?” because we were sure he’d caused the problem in the States. To answer this question, I participated in activities to get people out to vote.

I released my home health aide after she told me I was “overthinking” the virus, and fretted for a bit about all the tasks I would have to take on. Now alone, with no one visiting my home, I did what it made sense to do when humanity seems out of control: I turned to nature, to the trees in the forest across the road.

While the television droned in the background and I chopped celery and onions into cubes, maybe for a salad, or mashed potatoes, or perhaps, a lentil shepherd’s pie, I wondered out loud to the trees: Is it self-indulgent to write food stories?

Colorful bowls overflowing with fruit were testimony to the beauty of living in a global world: oranges from South Africa. Apples from New Zealand. Avocados from Mexico. Blueberries from Peru. And tomatoes…ahhh. Beautiful Canada.

I prayed that my anger would not affect the food. You see, I believe this to be the truth: whatever my mood, that energy goes directly from my mind and heart to my arms to my hands and into the food. I did not want to eat these negative vibrations.

Oh, the trees. My relationship with trees is mysterious. I watch them as if they are my children. From the first buds of spring to the death of their leaves when they are bombarded by sleet and buffeted by the wind, they are my constant companions. I “feel” them speak to me. Before you shake your head in pity, listen.

Several years ago, I lived next to a city park, which gave my second-floor apartment the feeling of being in a treehouse. Many years before that, I lived in an apartment along the Willamette River in Oregon. Trees surrounded the apartment. There have always been the trees.

One morning, during meditation in my “treehouse” apartment, I heard a message inside my heart.

“Don’t worry. We are your protection.”

I believed then, and I do now, that the spirit of the trees spoke to me.  

The year rolled on, and on May 25, I watched as a reptile in human skin – sworn to protect the public – put his knee on a man’s neck and stared into the camera for eight minutes and 46 seconds. He did not remove his knee until George Floyd was dead.

The raindrops on the trees outside my window clung to the branches like tears. I cried too. In July I posted about police abuses. I did not write about food. Would we ever again find joy?

2020 dragged on. Christmas was, thankfully, quiet. No guests. No poultry or stuffing. No hand-crafted pie. New Year’s eve, without the college students across the way, was still. There was no disturbance of fireworks. More than 300,000 people had died from the virus. I thanked God that 2020 was over and that we had a new president.

January 1, 2021, I received a phone call. My 90-year-old uncle died that morning from COVID-19. I did not cook the New Year black eye peas called Hoppin’ John, I didn’t make collard greens laced with onions, garlic, and turkey wings. I did not bake cornbread.  Instead, I contemplated his being the last in a generation of maternal elders, and what it meant to lose them.

On January 6, terrorists staged an insurrection against the United States. They breached the United States Capitol Building. They terrorized police officers, defecated and urinated in offices, stole items. They searched for legislators and the Vice-President with assassination intentions. These criminals wanted to disrupt the certification of legitimate election results and the peaceful transfer of presidential power. They failed.

I recognized a Truth. As we struggle to make it through these times – and we will struggle – we have to eat; we must find joy.  Although for many of us, our food stories will not be found around the table, we will have joyful stories to share. Through the miracle of technology, folks are learning new recipes, discovering new winter soups, baking new breads. A friend is making homemade yogurt, canning and pickling, and sharing these experiments through video technology. We’ll continue to bake Cornish hens and roast chickens. And we’ll brunch Zoom with buddies over the weekend.

I looked out at my snow-covered trees with the answer. Food is what we need to live. Joy makes us resilient. Stories are what give us joy. It is not self-indulgent to write about food.

Grief. Anger. Exhaustion. Faith.

I’m taking time out from my usual words.

Grief is our heartbreak when a five-year-old tearfully asks (after being called the n-word), “Why do they hate us?”

Grief is acknowledging a 14-year-old girl in 1962 trying to buy stockings and make up for the first time knowing all the while that “flesh-colored” did not include her smooth, chocolate brown skin.

Grief is a 19-year-old woman in her first job. Hired and fired on the same day because a white woman told a lie. She burned with humiliation and anger as the owner smirked, “It’s her [Caucasian] word against yours [Black woman].”

Grief is fuel for the anxiety that people of color live with every day in their minds and bodies, day after day absorbing the toxicity of microaggressions at their jobs, in school, or when buying a goddamned pair of sneakers, for God’s sake.

Grief is seeing, fearing, experiencing racially instigated murder.

Grief is standing as a witness to the destruction of Native American lands and sacred burial grounds for the sake of a pipeline. Grief is the recognition of the historical genocide of Native American tribes.

Grief is being a witness to Mexican children separated from their asylum-seeking parents at our southern borders and put in cages. Grief is not being able to help.

We grieve without forgiving.

We grieve for all the children who are born without hate or prejudice and grow to become bitter and hate-filled adults. We grieve when those adults commit crimes against humanity.

The one who grieves seeks healing.

We grieve and are tired of Grief.

Our anger is fed by grief. We are enraged.

We are outraged, our throats are raw from screaming.

Some of us choose to burn the world around us.

Anger moves us to action.

We are outraged at the silence that meets our grieving.

We are outraged at racist strategies developed to persecute Black, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Jews, Native Americans, and Brown people from India and the Middle East. We are outraged at voter suppression, the caging of children, refusal to support DACA, and the banning of Muslim immigrants.

Until now, our grief has been met with bone-chilling silence.

I never imagined a day when hundreds of thousands around the world would stand up and say, “Enough! Black lives matter!”

We are exhausted.

Exhausted with anger. Exhausted with grieving. Exhausted with body-mind trauma.

Exhausted with having to give our children “the talk.”

Exhausted with a focus on surviving rather than thriving.

Exhausted with facing silence.

Exhausted with the lists of the names of the dead.

And yet.

We have faith.

Faith in our resilience.

Faith in our action. Faith in our unity of vision.

Faith in our commitment to a world of respect between all people.

Faith in a bright and healthy future.

Faith that light will indeed overcome the darkness.

As I write this, the Dakota Pipeline has been ordered to shut down. The Supreme Court has determined that much of Eastern Oklahoma is Indian Land including much of Tulsa.

Faith.

Where We Are Gathered

My writing has been lagging, my blog posts few. I just could not get back to the page. I’ve been weepy. Enraged. Demanding answers about our political controversies and wondering, “How did we get here?” 

One afternoon, I was listening to Joan Baez sing “Brothers in Arms,” an antiwar song. I became distraught again as I remembered my days as a young political activist. How did we get here? The following is one of the recent experiences that has motivated me to write again─ with respect and an open heart.

The woman comes into the church social hall, dressed like she always does.  She wears a dark brown coat pulled tightly around her. Is it wool? I’m not sure. She’s been wearing it since the early fall, and it matches the dark brown, unkempt wig she wears. The wig’s ends are stiff and push out from under the brown hat pulled over her head for warmth. She walks timidly as if she’s ashamed to be with us ─ all of us, volunteers and pantry guests alike. Some of us are both.

For more than a year I’ve volunteered at this church food pantry where some sort of alchemy takes place in the social hall. I’ve put my frustration about increased partisan politics aside as I help arrange the tables with vegetables, fruit, baked goods, meat and eggs, and I find myself smiling. Thanks to the generosity of local grocery vendors in our area, this particular food pantry is transformed into a glorious market.  There are bouquets of flowers. Loaves of bread. Bread and Roses. When we are done arranging and sorting, the social hall looks amazing.

I watch the brown coat woman grab a cup of coffee. She almost never talks and sits with her eyes directed toward her coffee and snacks. She surprises me by asking, “Is there more sugar and cream?” Of course, there is. The minister makes sure there’s plenty of everything: coffee and tea, sometimes orange juice. A kitchen volunteer assembles platters of cake, cookies, and small fruit as a breakfast snack for the guests.

As I measure coffee and tea into food storage bags, I repeat a prayer for comfort to myself. Coffee, tea and the snacks help some of the guests start their day on a high note and, perhaps, will pull them out of the sadness of their situations.

It’s hard for me to stay angry about American politics in the presence of sacred work. I watch the minister who directs a steady gaze to the eyes of every person she speaks with. She comforts. I am moved by her dedication. To my knowledge, she has never closed the pantry for any reason. Twenty-four inches of snow? There will be food and the pantry will be open. She may be challenged but not daunted.  Her mission is to comfort and serve.

There is magic in this community of humanity. Service is a healing balm and a saving grace. For three hours each week, the heartless politicians in Washington who have sought to undermine and destroy the tenets of the United States Constitution become background noise, the least of my worries.

Still, I wonder, “How did we get here?”

As the summer wanes and October brings chillier weather, gold leaves, and rain, I take refuge in the cascade of apples brought to the church. There are enough apples for 100 people to each fill a small bag if he or she wanted. And I feel something. The motivation to write again.

I feel something else, too. Love.

Wherever two or more of us are gathered in the sacred name, serving each other and receiving, I know we’ll be okay. The woman in the brown coat smiles into her cup. We will be okay.