I am waiting. For the tomatoes to bloom and the peppers to flower. For the sweet fruit of community peace. I don’t say world peace; that feels too big in the moment. World peace? It’s all I can do to garner peace on my windowsill; to keep the herbs growing. To keep them alive.
ln the beginning, there were seven teensy basil seeds. Meticulously, I put all of them in a pot of soil. I had doubts that the basil seeds would take root. Like I have doubts that I’ll wake one morning to find that the world has righted itself and the emboldened fascists in all countries have vanished. The basil grew and erased my doubts. My doubts about the world remain.
Within 14 days, the tiniest of leaves, so tiny I could barely see them, had sprouted. Thus (yes, I used the word “thus.”) began a cycle of magic. I received planted gifts from neighbors and friends: two cilantro plants, a mature basil plant, potted rosemary, two cherry tomato plants, and the pepper. Will I ever see fruit from the pepper or tomatoes? I want to think that where there are buds, there is hope. My other plants, the spider plant, dracaena, jade, and lucky bamboo seem to welcome the herbs with joy. They grow as if on steroids.
I watch these plants, talk to them like I talk to the trees. I have read that talking to plants lets them know we love them. One thing’s for sure. When I’m focused on my herbs, I’m not focused on chronically angry liars. This leads me to my rant of the week.
One has the power to choose tenderness over anger. Respect over disrespect. To choose the truth over a lie. Sadly, in countries throughout the world including the United States, folks have chosen the lie. In the U.S., it’s The Big Lie. It’s a very, very rough time for humanity.
Chronic anger terrorizes. Chronic anger hijacks the truth. Hearing the shouts of chronically angry people has taken my gaze from the pepper plant. For a moment. The chronically angry have done unbearable damage to our democratic structure. We know who they are. Some are friends. Some are family. They are people who get pissed off about everything, particularly anything that seems to make another person’s life easier, better; particularly things that show compassion and respect for their fellow human beings. Like masks.
They lie about the earth’s catastrophic climate change. People are dying from the heat. They lie about the fires in California and Greece. They lie about and spread conspiracy theories about life-saving vaccines and about COVID infections. They lie about the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol. They die in hospitals insisting they have pneumonia and not COVID. They lie.
In my wanderings throughout the United States, I’ve learned some things. Contrary to the angry screaming of fundamentalists about a punishing God, all of this dis-ease, physical and mental suffering, is a sign of ingratitude and disrespect for the life around us: Animals. Vegetation. The air we breathe. Disrespect for human beings who inhabit every corner of this earth peacefully going about their day-to-day business and loving each other.
God is not angry with his/her creation. I don’t believe, not for one holy second, that we live under the auspices of an angry God. Amid our terrors, trials, and obstacles, people of all identities ─ spiritual, gender, racial, even political ─ are falling in love. Babies are being born. The kind-hearted and empathetic are feeding the hungry. Many Christians are following the teachings of Christ. Families are being sustained. Art is being made. Chefs are creating cuisine. Peppers are growing on a windowsill.
We do find our way, don’t we?
For the past few minutes, I’ve watched as a red spider builds her web outside on my window screen. I squirted water on her web and she scooted away. I didn’t want to kill her, I didn’t spray water out of anger. I just let her know that she needed to find another place to build her web.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You cannot live here.”
She returned, just as the love of God always returns when we become aware of ourselves falling into the black hole of anger. She came back to start over. The stillness of the morning and the focus with which she does her work tells me there is no angry God.
I want to be able to clearly define the anxiety, muck, and division I feel whenever I use the word “hate.” The word itself is exhausting. I wonder, sometimes, if the paralysis I experienced with the onset of Guillain Barre Syndrome so many years ago was a connection to my anger and the rigidity in the body. Anger: fists clenched, torso stiffened, jaw tightened, and breath held. Anger. Do I know I am breathing? What does the word hate even mean? Merriam -Webster defines it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” (Italics are mine.) Who injured the chronically angry one? What does she fear? As a child of the Baptist church, I know about choosing Holy words to instill fear. And yet, the waters of my Baptism at age ten changed my experience of the Bible. I would open the pages and find words of love. There is no angry God.
Xenophobia. Conspiracies and misinformation about COVID. Lies against the vaccines. The backlash against the facts of science. The unbelievably unhinged revisions to the truths about slavery and the formation of American capitalism. The denial of the genocide of Native citizens. We are facing a huge humanitarian crisis. Still, one has the power to choose tenderness over anger, truth over falsehood, justice over injustice.
My maternal grandparents were farmers. They grew fields of vegetables, tended grapevines, picked peaches from their trees, and prayed at four and five o’clock in the morning. My mother once told me what my grandfather said about pesticides: “If you put that in the dirt, the plants soak it up and then you eat it.” Science. And the tenderness of God.
I wave my hands to the Great Invisible. And the Great Invisible answers. “Your pepper plant needs watering.”
There is no angry God.
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“Invictus” A New Year’s Reflection
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…
Excerpt from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)
On a warm day, during the Christmas holiday, I, the cook who usually whines about winter, was feeling content. But a little more than a month before, on November 9th, I didn’t feel so content.
I had stopped cooking, felt as if I could barely breathe, and teetered on the abyss of lost faith. Damn it. Who were those people that did not vote? The United States Election Project estimated that approximately 56.9 percent of eligible voters actually cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. A fellow writer declared it a national disgrace. I agree. So I asked anyone who would listen, “who are these people?” The answers I got taught me about some of the people in my world. There’ll be some changes made.
As November became December, my anger, frustration, and fear receded. Anger and fear are (for me) such immobilizing forces. I needed to reconnect with that part of me that is unconquered by fear.
So, on that warm morning, I did what I needed to do. I thanked God for a new day, stared into an empty skillet, and got started with a holiday meal. I needed to turn my attention to the things that mattered in my life: good health, good food, productive thought, writing, and spiritual nourishment. I needed to not be afraid.
I decided to roast a whole chicken in an attempt to make up for a horrifying Thanksgiving turkey disaster. While I’m certain kitchen life is not what Henley had in mind, I needed to keep going. I might have easily given up and cooked pasta because, truth be told, I could’ve killed a prize fighter with the drum sticks from that Thanksgiving bird. But I would not be conquered. With some trepidation, I pushed forward with “Invictus” going around and around in my brain the whole time.
Long ago, a boss of mine said with amazement, “God, you’re tenacious.” Hmm. If he only knew. I read that “Invictus” inspired Nelson Mandela every day of his 27 year imprisonment. I understand why. The words light a fire of conviction in my heart. Keep going.
Not so long ago, I was rifling through some old journals and came upon an essay I wrote about one of the most unconquerable souls I know: my mother. I know that if she had known this poem she would have repeated these lines to herself:
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…
One evening, as she sank into the warmth of her favorite chair, she nibbled on a piece of sweet potato pie. I watched and listened as she smacked her lips with deliberate and stubborn enjoyment. I shivered inside at how much I feared her. Who else could eat pie with such authority?
We’d just had a discussion—or was it an argument?—in which she, once again, silenced me with her eyes. Never mind the documented facts of what we were discussing. Only one fact mattered: she was the mother; I was the child (even though I was well into my 50s).
“So stubborn,” I thought to myself. She smacked her lips in satisfaction.
“Mom. Have you always been this way? So stubborn?”
This was my pitiful attempt at regaining some kind of self-dignity.
She smacked with impenetrable–I dare say unconquerable–glee. Her life hadn’t seen much glee. But once she found it, she would not let her glee be suppressed. Our roles are complete. Mother. Daughter. This is the way things are and always will be, even after we are both long gone from the planet. This is who I learned from. I’ve inherited this great stubbornness, this unconquerability. This certain kind of fearlessness. This trait has served me well.
It’s nearing the end of January; we have a new president. This past weekend over a million women and their supporters marched in protest of the new administration and its proposed policies. My friend Sherri said, “Democracy in action! Warriors strengthen yourselves; prepare yourself for battle. This is Medieval.”
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I’ll not be conquered by fear.
Oh, about that chicken… I could’ve shaved nails with the breast of that bird. But I’ll keep working at it.
Posted in Writing from the heart
Tagged Commentary, creative nonfiction, empathy, essay, Fearlessness, inspiration, responsibility of voting, voter apathy