Monday, November 02, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Question 1"

Earlier this year, Maine legislators took the admirable step of granting equal marriage rights to all Mainers, including same-sex couples. The governor signed the legislation into law and ever since the spring, it has been legal for any two adults to marry in this state, should they choose to. The governor, who once spoke out in favor of civil unions instead of true marriage, says he signed the law because he came to realize that separate is inherently unequal. He is now an advocate for equal marriage rights (bless him).


Unfortunately, shortly after the new law was passed, some Mainers gathered signatures to create a ballot initiative similar to California's tragic Proposition 8, which took marriage rights away. Tomorrow, Mainers will go to the polls to decide the issue.

I moved back to Maine this year in part because of this law. I might like to get married someday soon, but as a bisexual citizen and native Mainer who happens to have a male partner, I feel that any law which denies civil rights to lesbians or gays denies them to me, as well. For this reason, I take the No on 1 campaign personally (as with Californa, a No vote means yes, gays can marry) and it's been deeply upsetting to see Yes on 1 signs sprout up all around me. I have at least one friend and, I suspect, at least two close family members who will be voting to deny me my right to marry tomorrow. This hurts. It hurts so much that I decided not to engage with them about it. Will they have a revelation, as the governor did, before tomorrow and either vote No or abstain? I hope so. Could I have persuaded them by engaging in debate? Definitely not. So, I've left them and their consciences to it.

While for me, the denial of marriage rights is personal, for my straight friends, there is no reason they should be compelled to vote No--no reason, apart from a passionate commitment to equality, freedom, and American values. I have been profoundly moved by the fire with which my straight, married and unmarried friends have fought on behalf of my minority. (For the record, I would have rather been a lesbian, but I had no choice in the matter. You love who you love and there it is.)

We, the not-heterosexual people, cannot attain equality without the consent of the majority. We cannot be equal unless enough people who aren't like us believe this to be so. Fortunately, amazingly, almost all of my straight friends get downright furious when they even think about Yes voters. And I love them so much for this fury. This fury is love, it is fairness, it is the good fight. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I am buoyed by this love and righteousness.

I am also moved by the continuous stream of unexpected No voters. One straight, married friend's dad, an elderly man with conservative views, for instance. He is legally blind, so my friend was tasked with doing his voting for him. She was very tempted to vote No for him--he'd never know!--but of course, she would never actually do such a thing. She had to make her peace with the act of ticking that Yes box for her father.

When the day came (he voted early) she read him the question. Then she read it to him again. After one more time, he gave it some thought and then he said, "I think I'll vote No. Let's give them a chance."

As much ugliness has risen up around Question 1--a great many No on 1 signs in our town have been found flattened with tire treads embedded in them, for instance--there is also this beauty. For every neighbor who stakes a Yes on 1 sign in her yard, there is someone like my friend's dad who says, "Let's give them a chance."

In the picture (above), my first girlfriend (a native Mainer) and her fiancee (whose Mom lives in Maine) stand in Bucksport with me and my sweetheart, Peter. We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While some joke that marriage is not happiness, we would all like a chance to try. If you agree we have that right, please vote NO tomorrow on Question 1 and urge your friends and loved ones to join you at the polls.

This content is copyrighted. If you are reading it on Facebook, it was imported from my blog at Graychase.com. View the original here: http://tinyurl.com/yg8ruhy

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: Something’s Gotta Give

Peter and I came to Maine because it was time. We were miserable where we were. We examined every other possibility and we decided, for a variety of perfectly sensible—and a few more intuitive—reasons that Maine was the place to be for now.

Our plan hinged on a few things, however. The most essential was the weather. Second to that: a job for Peter.

We have been here now for three weeks living in a small camper on my father’s lawn. Part one of the plan was to live rent-free in this manner, the upside of living in a tiny, awkward space was that we could enjoy a Maine summer while also getting Peter out of debt and saving toward a home of our own. We would barbecue on the deck and swim every afternoon. It would be great.

Those of you who live in mid-coast Maine are already laughing a rueful laugh. For those of you who don’t know: it’s raining. It doesn’t matter when you read this—today, tomorrow, next Thursday, September—it will still be raining. It’s rained almost every day since it stopped snowing and the forecast for the next ten days? Rain. In fact, the forecast for the foreseeable future? Rain. Having almost entirely given up any real hope of summer, I am now beginning to tiptoe toward the genuinely dreadful thought of what this precipitation will mean when the temperature drops. Do you have any idea how much snow ten inches of rain translates into? Or what life is like here if it snows day after day after day for months? Especially if you didn’t get a chance to regroup in the warmth of summer? It’s a thought so horrifying that I can’t even think about it. I start to…but when I get close, I turn and run away. That door must stay closed for now or I’ll never make it.

As though you hadn’t heard, the recession is also making it hard to find work, even here, where we thought old family and friend connections and the boom of a summer economy would mean at least temporary or part-time work for Peter.

We were wrong.

And, maybe worst of all: the camper smells. I have tried everything. Baking soda. Vacuuming. Spraying various potions both natural and chemical, which claim to remove odors of all sorts from fabric. Almost every inch of the interior of the damn thing is covered in this terrible, scratchy brownish/tan fabric from 1986. We don’t keep smelly trash, dirty dishes, recycling, or dirty laundry inside. I run a HEPA filter 24x7. Essential oils are diffused, windows are opened, and litter box deposits (and twice daily wet food leftovers) are whisked away so quickly our stunned Norman cat can only stand looking dazed as his whiskers blow back in my wake.

We’ve washed all our bedding and doused it in fabric softener. We keep shoes locked away. But nothing, I fear, nothing can save me from this smell. (Where is it coming from??)

What is truly problematic about this is that because I work from home (which makes this move possible—hurray!) I have to sit in that smell all day when it’s too wet or too cold to work outside (boo!).

I could go work inside at my dad’s—or impose on friends or family—but there are a couple of problems with this. One is that it’s inconvenient. The other is that, apart from foul odors, faithful friends and readers of my blog know that noise unsettles me. You might say it has the potential to destroy me. And even when my dad’s house is completely empty (which is rare given that a teenager, a teacher, and a retiree with a vicious, barky dog also live there), the house itself makes unbearable noises. Like today, I sought refuge in the empty house only to be driven back out again by a loud and creepy repetitive noise coming from the freezer. It sounded like the creaks a big ship makes. (Peter said that’s called “delisting,” so at least I learned a new word today.)

While this place is a huge improvement over the horror that was Hampton Terrace, locals know that the traffic on the Upper Falls Road is constant and fast-paced. The deceptively rural and unassuming road, green and lovely, bordered by blueberry fields, the tail end of a lake, forests, and a few quiet homes, is a pass-through for all manner of vehicle, from passenger cars to large delivery trucks to rumbling farm equipment, racing to or from Route 1 and Route 46. I was warned about the noise, but after the booming bass, shrieking hordes of unwelcome children, and the chainsaws—oh, gawd, the chainsaws!—at our previous address, I really thought…how bad could it be?

It turns out, it can be pretty bad. I know this because even Peter is bothered and he slept for four years on an aircraft carrier in a tiny metal “bed” beneath fighter jets taking off and landing. (Don’t even get me started on how bad the sleeping accommodations are…that’s probably a whole other blog, but suffice to say…we are both tired and sore.)

Today, despite the gray skies and high humidity, it wasn’t actually raining when I got up, so when I just couldn’t take the stink of the camper any more, I carted all my work junk out to the picnic table, dried it off, and went to work. But the rush of wheels on pavement recurred just often enough and just loud enough that I couldn’t get my work done. I was trying to watch an informative video about a product I’m reviewing, but whenever a car passed, it drowned out my audio, even on the loudest setting.

I finally packed up and went into the house. But then the delisting freezer—and the arrival back home of grandpa and dog—drove me back outside.

Which is how I’ve come to be here, on the back porch, listening to the soothing hum of the hot tub and the gentle swish of the breeze through the trees—and trying to ignore the dog that’s been barking for the last hour and, of course, the traffic.

I haven’t mentioned that for most of these three weeks, I’ve also been starving. Finding dairy-free, gluten-free, semi-vegetarian food in this burg is a project. Take out is an impossibility. I drove all the way to Bangor just to get some microwaveable Amy’s meals—at Target. And the cat throws up at least twice a week, sometimes twice a day. And for a while he had a diarrhea so pungent it brought tears to my eyes and woke me several nights from a rare and precious deep sleep.

Like the icing on our cake, for several days, the septic system was also blocked up—turns out it was a tree branch, not Peter (phew!)—so we had to commute three miles each way to my brother’s whenever we needed to poo or bathe. (Good thing we have our own house key!)

On the up-side, our expenses are minimal. I can hug my niece and my nephew whenever I want. There’s a weird little yoga class on what used to be the stage at my elementary school twice a week. And Peter’s not being at work means that today, when I was absolutely on the brink, he washed the stinky cat dishes, took out the trash, found our missing plate and bowl, hugged me, got the mail, and drove to the grocery store for two different kinds of air freshener—keep hope alive!—and the ingredients for my favorite meal, which he is now cooking.

I will finish this review, dammit, despite the traffic noise and my hunger and fatigue (you’ll be able to read it later at www.wi-fiplanet.com<==plug). I will eat a delicious lunch, which will improve things greatly. Later, we will look at houses with our realtor (who is the first boy I ever spent a Valentine’s Day with) and then we will return home, to spray the air with our new cans of Fabreeze and settle in for the next installment of Torchwood on our tiny, satellite-equipped TV (god bless my father for making that happen). We may even take a dip in the hot tub.

That is, of course, if I don’t just refuse to leave whatever house we look at last…

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to Tom, Excerpt

beloved,

...perhaps I am a few years behind you in a parallel cycle? having cast
off the burdens of an address and stowed essentials in a storage unit,
I am living now in an RV, with cat and boy. in Maine. on the same land
I first lived on with my parents in the early 70s. i stood at the end
of this driveway and waited for the bus to kindergarten. I walked in
these blueberry fields and thought I was Sal. I lost my favorite kite
in this sky to this wind. and at the age of five I ran away from home
and sought my fortune down this steep and dangerous road (resentfully
returned by my mother's best friend's teenage son, Johnny, who found
me in the woods--and killed himself a few years ago).

i write you a long e-mail because I cannot help it. It feels good. I
know you haven't time to respond, barely time to read, but I expect
you won't mind if I pour some thoughts into your glass anyway.

with loving love and some curiosity about what happens next. and many
good wishes for burning man, and the hope that you will not stay away
so long this time, i am yours,

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's Time to Go Back to the Future

In Sean Penn's acceptance speech at the Oscars this year, he said, "I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Hear, hear.

Mr. Penn got a rousing round of applause and whistles from his audience.

I found this part of his speech to be particularly moving and memorable because it asks us to step outside the time and place in which we are immersed; it asks us to move away for a moment and to see with the help of the light shining back at us from the future; and because it asks us to remember the world our grandchildren will live in. I say "remember" not "imagine" (while Penn says "anticipate") because... we have been there already. We are all someone's grandchildren. We are all now arriving in what was once someone else's far-off future. That distant, futuristic time when black men could be President and the Red Sox could win the World Series. It's crazy, right? Except that it happened. Just like men on the moon and women on the Supreme Court. It really did happen.

Penn's speech reminded me of something I wrote in my journal about a month before the Academy Awards, just a few days after President Obama was inaugurated. I share it with you now, on the first night after the California Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the legality of Prop. 8, because I, too, hope that those who object to equal rights for everyone will, as Penn says, sit and reflect and anticipate the future--and then make the brave choice to open their minds in the way that suffragists did; to trust that even if your religious faith or your personal preference mean that you do not approve of gay marriage, that you will stand on the side of democracy, equality, the Constitution, and human kindness, just as abolitionists (and every civil rights advocate ever) did.

Here's what I wrote:

"If you think you are one of the people who--if transported back in time--would stand up for the things you know to be right; if you think you would fight for women's suffrage or to free the slaves or to stop the war in Vietnam; if you think you would protect child workers or poor immigrants or sharecroppers; if you think you would stop the Holocaust, or register black voters, or desegregate schools, or refuse to give up your seat on the bus--then I'm telling you: your time is now.

If you were to travel back in time and be given the chance to end discrimination, fight for freedom, or foster peace, what makes you think you would not tell yourself the same things you tell yourself now: that you are too busy; that it is too soon; that you cannot afford it; that someone else will do it?

What makes you think that you would not go back in time and worry more about whether you looked cool, fit in, or earned enough money? What makes you think you would not obsess about your weight/your love life/your job/or some celebrity's divorce/relationship/plastic surgery/wardrobe/weight gain or loss?

What makes you think you would not just watch TV and buy a house and work to pay your mortgage?

To us, looking back, it is obvious that slavery should end, the states should be united, people of color, poor people, and women should all be allowed to vote, hold office, become doctors or teachers. To us, looking back, it is obvious that blacks and whites could--and should--drink from the same fountains, attend the same schools, and sit wherever they like on busses. (Ditto recycling, wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and female athletes.)

But to the people of those times, it took vision, determination, and courage. It took imprisonment and hunger strikes and a war time resolution to finally get women the vote. It took even more than that to get it for black women. It even took more than what President Obama likes to call "hope."

To the people 40 years from now, we are 1969. You have traveled back in time from then and you can spark the change that your future self believes in. If you stood up for Barack Obama; if you elected the first black American President, then don't sit down yet. Stand up until a woman President is elected. Stand up until there is more than one black Senator. Stand up to protect a woman's right to make her own healthy, well-informed, reproductive choices. Stand up until the health care system is fixed. Stand up until corporations are treated like businesses (not people) and held acocuntable as such under the law. Stand up until tax dollars are spent responsibly. Stand up until there is an equal rights amendment. And, for the love of God--or if you prefer, for the love of democracy--stand up for same-sex marriage and family rights.

Whatever your religious or personal objections might be to same-sex marriages and families, those same things were said about blacks in the 40s and 50s and 60s, about women in the 1860s and 70s and 80s (and on...), and about Asians, Jews, immigrants, Catholics, Native Americans...

You can't go back to 1969 and tell everyone what their new President is about to do; you can't join the protesters who were trying to stop the war; you can't convince Robert McNamara that later on he'll regret it; you can't be there to help at Stonewall; you can't save Mary Jo Kopechne or Sharon Tate or the civilians at My Lai; you can't watch the first men land on the moon or attend Woodstock; and you can't stop AIDS.

But you do have a chance to travel back in time from 2049 to 2009, to the difficult and magical days just after the first African-American President was elected in this country; a time when the world found itself facing a nearly unprecedented financial crisis brought on and perpetuated by corporate greed, bureaucratic apathy, a bloated and distracted government, and a confused and overmatched electorate. The system is broken. This is an opportunity for change. You have a chance to go back to the future. So what will you do?"

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

People Who Need "People"

Last night, after we finally completed the interminable drive from Northampton to Bucksport, I had to go to bed because I was just plain exhausted and I had to work the next day, but my boyfriend decided to stay up a bit. He settled in at the kitchen bar with a cup of tea (compliments of me) and read the first thing he saw, a "People" magazine (compliments of our host).

He read it cover to cover and then came up to bed and said, "There's nothing in that thing. It's only about celebrities eating ice cream and the celebrities they're dating."

It's funny because it's true.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

In Defense of Marriage--For All


On Tuesday, three states passed propositions that would limit the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The next day, at my Facebook page, I posted a status that said, "Naomi is exhausted and sad."

My friend Elizabeth asked, "why sad?"

And I responded thusly: "I'm sad because there are still so many people determined to deny others the right to marry. three states yesterday...and because bigotry makes my heart ache. And because someone blew up a predominantly black church near here this morning. And because, truth be told, I really, really, really wanted to be celebrating the first woman President today, and while I threw my full support behind Obama--and am humbled and proud and full of respect for the progress we've made as a nation in electing him--I ache with a longing so profound I can barely articulate it for the day when this same sense of victory and equality will be shared by women."

I also changed my profile picture to the one you see above and joined a couple of Facebook groups that are rallying to repeal Prop 8 in California. The California proposition was especially upsetting because I used to call California home, and because two of my best friends were married there this summer, only to now experience the devastating news that their marriage vows may be rendered invalid.

And here's the beauty of Facebook. I was able to feel less alone in my grief and upset. I received coomfort from friends and was also able to offer it to others. And I also received this note from a high school friend that I enjoy connecting with on Facebook, but who I haven't seen in more than a decade.

She identifies as "moderate/conservative--purple," Christian, and is married with a young child. She wrote today to ask me this:

"
enlighten me please....why is it okay for homosexuals to reject christianity and our God, which is where marriage gets its origin, but it's called bigotry or discrimination for christians to ask that they establish civil unions for their relationships instead of marriages (which is a christian institution)? if we are to respect all people equally, does that not go both ways? i'm not saying that their relationships should have any less legal standing, they should have rights too, as everyone should, but if they so reject the premise of marriage, which is between a man and a woman according to God and christian principles, why do they so crave to have their union referred to as a marriage, not a legal union.

i'm not trying to sound mean or better then anyone, i'm legitmately asking a question from someone whom i respect and believe is more enlightened then i am on the subject. thanks naomi."

I am sharing my response to my friend here, and welcome your comments--and also encourage the sharing of my response with others. Forward along, if you see fit.

Here is what I told her (my response was so long I had to break it into parts in order to send it through Facebook):

"I am so glad you asked...

I think the answer to your question lies in our understanding of what marriage is.

You are defining marriage as being “between a man and a woman according to God and Christian principles,” but, while that may be true in your church and for you personally, it’s not actually true universally and should not be a lawful definition of marriage under civil law. Would you say to a Jewish couple that their marriage is invalid because it was not made according to Christian principles? Certainly not. (I hope not, anyway!)

I understand your attachment to the definition of marriage as being according to God and Christian principles—it’s very important to you--but marriage pre-dates Christianity and it also exists in myriad valid forms outside Christendom. Thousands of people get married every day, all over the world—and in our own country—in faiths other than Christianity and their marriages are still “marriages” despite not having a single wit to do with Christian principles. If a Buddhist couple in Japan or a Muslim couple in Afghanistan or a Jewish couple in Israel or a pagan couple in Ireland or a Hindu couple in India or a couple of secular yahoos in England (or California, for that matter) get married, they definitely do not define their union as being according to “God and Christian principles,” but those marriages would all be recognized as marriages in the United States.

Just as being married—and calling it that--is incredibly important to you, it’s equally important to non-Christian and same-sex couples who may hold different definitions dear to them, based on their personal or religious beliefs. How would you feel if you couldn’t call your husband your husband any more because some other religious group said so? (You’d feel frustrated, dismayed, angry, and awful, I expect—and rightly so.)

Giving same-sex marriages a different word is exactly the same as giving black Americans separate train cars, schools, and water fountains. To give it another name is to make it less-than, separate—and as Barack Obama (and the Supreme Court) will tell you in a heartbeat—separate is inherently unequal.

A different path

There are, essentially, two kinds of marriage, religious and civil. At issue here is only the legal contract of a civil marriage, as recognized by individual states, not the religious ceremony. (The Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex marriages from being acknowledged across state borders, so for the purposes of our discussion today, the issue is at the state level.)

The two kinds of marriage, religious and civil, often overlap one another—most Americans do both--but they are two separate and distinct events. One happens in a church, synagogue, or other sacred venue; the other happens at city hall (or wherever you file your marriage license). They are related, but they are not the same thing. For instance, it’s the civil marriage that you have to break when you divorce, not the religious one. (That’s why you need a lawyer.)

What same-sex couples are seeking is equal treatment under the law. They want to legally marry, not according to God and Christian principles, but according to a lawful civil definition of marriage.

There, but for grace

You, as a Christian, understand marriage to be one thing. You have a strong and clear belief about what marriage means in your faith, but each faith sets its own parameters for what marriage is and what it means.

Your idea is vastly different from my Mormon friends who were sealed in a private ceremony in a temple for all eternity. And it is also different from my Jewish friends, my Jehovah’s Witness friends, my Buddhist friends, my non-religious friends, my Wiccan or pagan friends, and even from some of my other Christian friends—the Unitarian Universalists, for instance. In some faiths, marriages are arranged. In some, there need not be witnesses. In others, a dowry is still required. Because there are so many different forms of marriage based on faith, it is not fair—or legal, in my opinion—for any one religious group to control what marriage (or any other religious practice) means to other religious or non-religious groups. Just as a church has a right to baptize its members by dipping them in a river instead of anointing them with oil or holy water (or whatever other form they find sacred) at whatever age they feel is appropriate, if a religion wants to allow same-sex marriages, then that is its right; if it doesn’t, then that is its right, as well. But when it comes to rights granted by the states, those should absolutely not be dependent upon one religious group’s interpretation of the right.

When I had a Jewish girlfriend, for instance, I could not have married her in her temple—not because I was a woman, but because I’m not Jewish. No one is trying to pass a law saying that Rabbis have to marry non-Jews in temple—nor, for that matter, that they have to marry same-sex couples. That’s entirely up to them. Decisions about religious marriage belong in the faiths; decisions about legal contracts of marriage belong with the states (or, I would argue, at the federal level, but again, that point is moot for now).

To have and to hold

What is particularly egregious about the Prop 8 situation in California is that opponents of same-sex marriage, motivated by religious doctrine, voted to amend the state’s constitution in order to explicitly deny the right to marry for same-sex couples. The U.S. Constitution and the state constitutions are documents designed to grant rights, not take them away. It sets a dangerous and disturbing precedent to use the Constitution to single out a group of people and deny them a civil right based solely on one religion’s interpretation of marriage.

The First Amendment was designed to prohibit the establishment of a national religion, or the preference of one religion over another, or the preference of religion over non-religion. To use a religious definition for state marriage contracts is to impose one religious view on the populous, flying in the face of what is arguably the most important tenet of our entire society (along with freedoms of speech, press, and assembly).

If you don’t believe your church should marry same-sex couples, then I would argue that’s a battle to fight in your congregation or with the leaders of your faith, not something that should happen at the constitutional level.

We are all granted by our beautiful, necessary, incredible Constitution the right to practice our faiths freely. In fact, it’s so important that it’s the very first line of the very First Amendment. This is true not just for marriage-related rituals, but for all sorts of other things as well. My Mormon friends don’t baptize their children until the age of eight, for instance, and are forbidden from drinking hot beverages or alcohol. I assume that you baptized your child sometime shortly after she was born and perhaps, if you are Catholic, she will have a confirmation—or if you’re not, she won’t.

I think to get a good view of the issue, if one is in the majority religion (as you are), one has to try to take a big step back from one’s religious beliefs, take a deep breath, and then imagine what life would be like if one were in the minority. What if, for instance, Mormonism were the dominant religion in our country? It is, after all, the fastest growing religion in the world and it spent a reported $22 million backing Prop 8 in California. What if, after marriage, leaders of this religion moved on to amend the Constitution of your state to ban alcohol (we tried this once, remember, and it was the origin of organized crime) or to ban coffee (egad!) or to remove the right to baptize a child within its first year of life, etc.? What if this were about requiring or banning circumcision?

I assume this would bother you. And it should bother you. At its center, the United States is a place where we should be able to live free from religious oppression. It is the very thing the pilgrims came seeking when they fled; it is part of what we will celebrate on Thanksgiving. (And, it’s what the ancestors of my beloved Mormon friends were seeking when they fled violence and persecution to go west and eventually create a safe haven for themselves in Salt Lake. Unfortunate that now this church is apparently leading a movement to oppress others…)

Religious freedom is an essential part of what makes our country great. Separation of church and state means that if you want marry in your church, whatever wacky church that might be, then “mazel tov!” The state won’t stop you. So, why should the church be able to say to the state, “No way, no how, you can’t ‘marry’ unless you do it our way”?

I believe that every adult has a right to make a loving commitment to another consenting adult to join their lives and finances together as spouses and to make a family, if they so choose--and to call this marriage. Remember, it used to be illegal for a black person and a white person to be wed, but now we acknowledge that those people have a right to marry—regardless of their faith. I believe same-sex couples are entitled to this same basic human right.

For me, it’s not about homosexuality. I would be just as sad today if someone from another faith were preventing you from legally wedding your husband; I would fight for your right to marry, too.

What is at issue here is that people—of any gender—who wish to marry should have the right to do so, even if it offends or upsets members of certain religious groups. Same-sex couples seeking a legal marriage are not “rejecting Christianity and your God” as you say. They are trying to embrace a life of romantic and social commitment. As difficult as it may be to let go of your religious perspective, this is a civil rights issue, not a religious issue. The voters are not trying to amend your church’s canon; they are trying to amend a state’s constitution. And this is wrong.

I welcome your feedback and hope I’ve answered your question. :-)>>

I haven't heard back from my friend yet, but what I love about this is that she respected me enough to ask--and I care for and respect her enough to answer. I hope that my respect came through in my response.

As President-elect Obama says, "I will listen, especially when we disagree."

On whichever side of this issue you stand, I hope that you will really and truly open your ears and your heart and listen to the voice of the other side--and speak with respect in return. It is my great hope that you will come to stand on the side of tolerance and human rights and equality. But, whether or not you do, the Obama Presidency is not just about an African-American family in the White House; it's not just about ending war in Iraq or helping the middle class or resolving our economic crisis. It's about this great, intangible thing that he articulated on election night. It's about becoming a new America--a United States of America--where we can achieve change; where we can be honest, even when it's difficult; and where we can listen, especially when we disagree.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Calvin Graychase: One Year Later

One year ago today, I lost my sweet Calvin, my Little Bug, my guy. It still hurts too much to spend time dwelling on it today, but I do want to share a couple of things.

First, I want to say publicly that without my friend Dan, I wouldn't have made it through all the assorted and sundry traumas of last spring and summer, most especially Calvin's death.

Second, while I ache every day for Calvin and I still miss him so profoundly, it hurts less now than it did a year ago. Time heals, if you let it.

I have learned that grief is best when not contained. As horrible as it is, holding it back is like forcing poison to stay in your gut when really, the best thing to do is to get through the awful vomiting part so you can begin to recover. Grief isn't meant to stay still or to stay inside. When the floods of grief came, I let them take me. I sobbed until I drooled and coughed and collapsed on the floor. My body was literally wracked with grief, contorted and thrashing. I cramped, I caved, I cried.

But, by doing this, the torrent of grief passed through. I did not fight it.

Each time it comes--now in smaller waves, rather than full out floods--I let it wash through. I feel it, open to its flow, and then it passes. I don't fight it, dam it, try to surf on top of it, or pretend it isn't there. I open my arms and close my eyes and let it splash me in the face and take me wherever it will go. It is awful and it is necessary. It makes things better in the end.

The big flood came just after he died, and it did its work. Just as flood plains are the most fertile soil for growing, so became my heart after the worst of grief had passed.

Since Calvin left, I have found love, both in my work life and in my romantic life--and also in my internal life. I can see now that I was loved in a constant, unbreakable fashion since the moment I became me--in other words, always. I saw one day in yoga that there is a thin, immutable thread connecting me from the moment I was created to this moment today, and that it will continue on, as long as I am being. This is true for all of us. And it does not come from our parents or our friends or other humans--or even cats. It is a fact of our existence that we are infinitely loved, that we are all entitled to this love and given it freely, constantly, no matter what. It is permanent, irrevocable, and unconditional. It is Love, the love that is Ever, the love that is Life, the Love that connects all living things.

I have this comfort now, always. It was something that my mother tried to tell me once, but I wasn't ready yet to understand. But, since losing Calvin, I have found this: I used to suffer greatly because I believed I wasn't loved and couldn't ever be lovable. There was so much evidence to support this fact--it was overwhelming. But now I know that no matter what the other humans do, no matter who can see me and who can't, no matter who comes and who goes, no matter who hurts me or abandons me or leaves me alone, I am still loved and worth loving.

And, just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, my love begets love. Since learning that I am infinitely loved and lovable, I have found work that sustains me. Work that I look forward to doing every day. Work that enables me to reap the rewards that come with prosperity--peace of mind, enjoyment, safety, the ability to give to the causes and people I care for, power and agency, and more.

I have found a partner, a loving companion (who, by the way does not like being called a "partner,") who does so many of the things I always wished someone would do. He gives me a place to return to, a chest to rest my weary head upon. We laugh. We do crosswords. We love.

We have spent nearly 24 hours a day together for six months and only grown happier and more interested and content. We struggle and we learn and we grow and we keep getting better. I bring to this relationship a more honest me, a more compassionate me, because when we know we are loved we can be more generous, both with ourselves and with others. And he loves me for my authenticity. He comes with me as I flow and grow and I love him for this.

It is, for me, a dream come true. I have good company, affection, and laughter. When I have a migraine, he sees it on my face before I think to tell him, and he brings me an ice pack and a glass of water and some Tylenol. He says, "What do you need?" and he means it. When I am hungry and sick, he cooks. I like taking care of him, too. We are partners, whether he likes the word or not. :-)

As for the more literal garden in my life, Calvin's memorial garden is flourishing. The tulips I planted for him in the fall came up this spring--the first ones to bloom in the whole Valley, I think, and they were gorgeous and long-lasting and tall. And today, just as the anniversary of his passing arrives, the first roses are blooming on the bush I planted for him, a gift from my friend Becky.

There are dozens of violets with heart-shaped leaves and very special lilies, which I splurged on in his memory. They all survived the winter and they will bloom later this summer and fill the air with the sweetest scent I know. His lilac tree is in its infancy, but growing up nice and strong. The lupine--my favorite wild flower--are thriving. I planted them from seed just after Calvin died and they have sprung up tiny, but everywhere. The one I planted from a starter has grown tremendously and flowered out in ten giant stems. The peonies, the mums, the lillies of the valley, the daisies, the day lilies--all of it, everything made it. Everything is living and growing. I am fighting back the invasive weeds and relishing every single green and lovely day with these flowers planted in his name.

I even stuck some lettuce in his garden this spring. If it does well, I'll have a little Calvin Memorial Salad later on this summer. It seems the soil here is just as fertile as the metaphorical plains I found inside myself after the floods had come on through.

Eventually, we will have to leave here--this place does not make us happy and I cannot manage a life here for much longer. I'm struggling with the idea of leaving Calvin's garden behind. But, for now, at least, I am committed to making it as beautiful and perpetual as possible, just like my love for little Cal.

On the day that I had to take him in and let him go, I prayed for the strength to fulfill the promise I made to him, to end the seizures and the suffering that day and let him pass out of his sick body and go on. It felt an impossible task as he lay curled up and resting, purring. I needed to be more brave and more strong than I ever thought possible.

When I prayed, I got an instant response. It was the word, "Beauty." It hovered in the air above me all the while that I was gathering up my courage. It enabled me to change my clothes and gather up my beautiful Calvin in my arms. I focused on that word, that feeling during the ride to the vet...and it was what I saw and felt while I held him as they stopped his heart. It was Beauty that enabled me to carry his body home, which felt so different without him in it, and lay him to rest.

His garden is about preserving and honoring and continuing to see and feel Beauty. Last year I was too injured to maintain it, but this year, despite my continually aching knee, I can bend and walk and stand enough to be there a little bit every day. And that's kind of what life is about, I suppose. We are all hobbled and limited by various injuries to our bodies and our souls, we have all suffered losses so great they threatened to shut us down, but if we can find a way to tend to our gardens, to find a few moments to really care for and nourish or at least take a moment to recognize Beauty in our days, then perhaps we are doing okay.

Because I have to leave Calvin and his garden behind eventually, I love it as much as I can while I have it. I love it consistently, ferociously, fully; I love it even when I can't lay hands on it; I love it even though it's work; I love it even though it is flawed. I spend as much time as I can looking at it, so that when it is gone, I will always remember how it looked and felt and smelled, how it grew and changed and became more and more beautiful each day. In other words, I love it just like I loved Calvin.

I am making a memorial donation in Calvin's name to the Helping Paws fund at Northampton Veterinary Clinic. If you would like to join me--or offer something in the name of a companion animal that you have loved--you can send them a check made out to the clinic. Write Helping Paws fund in the memo field, and Calvin's (or another animal's) name.

With love and roses,

Naomi

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Staying In: Thanksgiving (or Alohomora?)

I hate Thanksgiving. Don’t make me explain why.

Other people are with people today. I am alone. It shouldn’t bother me, not any more than any other Thursday, especially since I’ve had so much practice, but it does.

My big plan was to watch every episode of Californication in my Showtime On Demand, but the On Demand isn’t working. I called my cable company to get it fixed, but it didn't work.

I said, “I’m sorry you have to work on Thanksgiving,” to the tech support woman.

In the silence that followed, I could hear the keys of her keyboard clicking through the phone.

I could have gone somewhere. I got invited to my neighbor Kelly’s family’s Thanksgiving in Connecticut. But…you know how it is. I can’t…go out. I can’t go in a car to a strange place and be with people I don’t know. Not on Thanksgiving. It’s too much. I might unravel. I might start to cry, to sob. I just can’t go.

It makes me sad that I can’t go.

My biggest fear right now is that something will happen to Peter before he gets here. I’m afraid that after all this work and time, when I finally have a good life within reach, someone who loves me and wants to stay with me; just when I could have things like Thanksgiving—or any other Thursday—with someone who knows my name (and loves me), I’m convinced on some level that he will be killed before he can get here. In a car crash. I’ll get a phone call and…it’ll be terrible. And I’ll barely, just barely live through it. More pain. More alone. More agony. How much more life can I live like this, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute? How much more can be asked of me? (This is a dangerous question to ask.)

I told this fear to Peter last night. He is sure that he is not going to die in a car crash before he gets here.

It snowed in Colorado yesterday. Peter thought he had his JEEP in four-wheel-drive, but he didn’t. He hit a slippery patch and slid into oncoming traffic. He didn’t die, though. He righted himself and got out of the way before disaster struck.

I need to right myself and get out of the way before disaster strikes.

I am struggling with a terrible depression. It came, and it will not release me. In my journal on Tuesday I wrote:

I’m so sad.
It’s…pervasive.
Like I am permeable
and this thing, it’s like
humidity
it comes and occupies
my space, my body, my head

In my grief on Monday, I lay down in my bed, and I cracked open. I cried. When it comes like that, I strain against it. It’s like cramping, seizing, only it’s my spiritual heart, my emotional heart, not my muscles. Although, they ache, too.

And then, from inside the darkness, a flash of light, and I remembered that I can ask for help. I sat up. And said, fiercely, aloud, “Help me.” It was an order, not a request. Not begging. It was a command. “Help me.”

I thought of Dumbledore saying that there will always be help at Hogwarts for those who ask. I thought of Pru and the work we’ve done. And I thought about God. And I said, “Help me. Help me, God, and the universe. Help me love and light. Help me every part of myself that knows how to help me: help me. Now.”

And before I knew it, I was rising. And the pain had passed for a bit. And I finished my work day.

I am worried that my worrying will destroy my thing with Peter. It’s magical thinking, I know, but I’m worried that my conviction that he will die rather than reach me will bring it about, influence him, change the course of events. I am reminded of my healer friend Craig. He says I get in my own way.

I need to get out of my own way.

I told Peter about my concerns last night, and about my depression. It was a confession of sorts. He had some idea already of course, but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t being tricked into coming here, tricked into thinking I’m always alright, when I’m not.

“It gets pretty bad sometimes,” I said.

“Well,” he said. “What you have to remember is that now, there are two of us.”

Don’t you just love him? For someone whose greatest agony is that she is always alone, could there be any better balm than hearing these words, now, there are two of us.

He likes that I’m interesting. He says that my sadness and depression are part of what makes me special. He doesn’t want me to be depressed; he admits that it’s a nuisance. But it’s not a deal breaker. Not even close. He says my intense ability to give, to feel, to open, to share—these things mean I also feel sadness profoundly. He understands and appreciates this. He said it’s like being in a village where everyone eats the same amount of food, and you can eat ten times that amount, but no one else understands. Then you meet someone with the same appetite.

He also says he will never stop trying to cheer me up. And that I’m a trooper who is strong. I love that he sees this.

As for my worry about his premature death meaning the end of our relationship before it has really even begun, he has faith that he will live a long and healthy life. When he decided to quit smoking, it was, he said, because if it means the difference between getting to be with me until he’s 82 instead of 80, it’s worth it.

I told Peter I feel like I’ve been asked to run a thousand thousand marathons in this lifetime, and even though I’m so close to the final finish line, my legs and lungs are giving out. Sometimes after a journey that long, you just can’t take one more step, even if you’re within sight of the finish line. You can’t believe you got so close, but no matter how much willpower you have, if your legs have turned to jelly you simply cannot make them move.

Peter says he is coming. He says he is trying to get here before anything happens. He says, very kindly, that if I doubt that, then he hasn’t been clear. So, he will continue to tell me, and to act accordingly, until I have more faith in that than I do in my own predilection for doom.

I was very upset last weekend about the prospect of losing Norman, who I found out on Saturday is beginning the final stages of his life. I talked to Peter about it, and he said it was interesting that he and Norman entered my life at the same time (1989). Peter went on his own journey and Norman stayed with me. Now, as Norman is about to pass on, Peter returns. This cheered me up. In my journal, I wrote:

I love that Peter saw through the mess and the dismay to the heart of the problem. Yes, I love Calvin and Norman so much, and the idea of losing them is so profoundly grief-inducing.

But what really, really hurts is the feeling that I will then be totally alone. I’ll have no reason to live.

I’m not able to say this or even know this in a way I can communicate in my conversation with Peter. But I’m feeling it intensely.

And he knows it.

He knows.

He is steady. And there is a softness to his speech. It’s like when you fall asleep on the couch, and you get cold, but you’re too tired to get up, and then someone puts a blanket over you, and you warm up and relax and fall back to sleep. Peter gave me a blanket last night. An uncomplicated gesture that made all the difference. For him, the answer to the problem was as obvious as the answer to the problem of a cold person on a couch. He could see what I needed. And he gave it.

Peter didn’t die in a car crash yesterday. I should be rejoicing in that good news, instead of worrying about what bad thing will happen next. It just seems inevitable that my dreams will collapse…again.

“But, I thought you were ‘entering a time of transition, a new phase, a new chapter, a new era,’” said Peter, quoting me back to me, reminding me what I used to feel was true, before I sank beneath the surface and forgot that I can float, that I can swim, that I even own a boat. I remembered this, fondly, vaguely, from afar.

“Oh, yeah…” I said.

When I told Jon Reed that I thought I should be happy because Peter didn’t die in a car crash and Norman survived the pit bull attack (what a fucking day!), Jon Reed laughed and said, “Well, if we’re going to count the absence of terrible things as ‘good,’ then that’s true. You should be happy. But we’re--”

“—we’re not those kind of people!”

We both said it together. And we laughed. We laughed hard.

I talked to my friend Tom yesterday. He called from the road. He was on the way to a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Nevada. He’s formed a nonprofit group that is giving away millions of dollars in electricity via solar power to schools and hospitals in Nevada. He lives in California. He just had a baby. And he has a job. But he does this, because he can. Because it’s right and powerful and feels good. I love this about him.

I told Tom about Peter.

“I can tell this guy is right for you,” he said, “because I know you would rather suffer than settle.”

And he’s right. I hate suffering. But I hate settling more.

A friend of mine from my hometown, who is also friends with my sister-in-law, Cindy, said in an e-mail this week, “I really hope things work out for you. I know Cindy gets a bit worried about you. Says you put your whole heart into things and afraid you will get hurt. I say go for it!!!”

And I wrote back, “Thank you. I'm with you on that. Cindy doesn't need to worry. Peter is so good to me, and very committed. It's beautiful. She's right that I put my whole heart into things, and yes, I get hurt a lot, but I think it's the only way to get anything truly wonderful. So, hard as it's been, everything I've gone through was worth it to get me to Peter. And, even if we don't work out, we won't have been wrong to have given it everything we had when we tried.”

Peter and I agree on this wholeheartedly. That even if it doesn’t work out, we won’t have been wrong to have tried. We do not believe that at the end of our lives we will only wish we had been more cautious in life or given less to the things we believed in.

I feel I have run a thousand, thousand marathons, when I only signed up to run one. Maybe two. Three at the most. I am jelly-legged and wheezing, cramped and straining, leaking salt from my pores and seeing double. I feel the ground rising up and slamming into my cheekbone. And then I’m confused to be lying on the ground, pondering a vertical horizon.

I am alone on Thanksgiving. But I am not homeless or broke or hungry or even technically single. And I still have Norman. And comfortable shoes. But the absence of terrible things does not equal “good,” (even though I still suspect that it should).

I asked God for help this week. I asked light and love and the universe for help. I asked myself for help. And what came was Peter, on the other end of the phone, not having died in a car wreck. And Norman, fighting off a pitbull like he was a teenager, instead of an aged old man entering his final days.

I asked God to help me and this morning, I woke up after a night filled with dreams I can no longer remember, and one phrase kept repeating--you know the tune--over and over. It’s been there all day:

Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door to your heart
Let my love open the door, ooh
Let my love open the door,
Let my love open the door, ooh
Let my love open the door
to your heart.

I hate Thanksgiving. And, I am alone today. But I do have someplace I could go, if I were able, and wanted to.

Instead, I woke up to a mild day and the sunlight in my room felt gentle. I said good morning to Norman and I washed my face. Let my love open the door, oooh, let my love open the door.

I got dressed in warm comfy clothes. I put my hair in a ponytail. I gave Norman his medication and his treat. Let my love open the door, oooh, let my love open the door.

I made some coffee. I tried to make my On Demand work. I called the cable company for help, but they told me to wait an hour. Let my love open the door. Let my love open the door. Oooh.

I went next door, to take care of my neighbors’ dog. I fed her. Gave her hugs and loving words. I let her out to pee. And then I sat down on the couch. Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door.

I turned on the cable, and their On Demand was working. The dog curled up under the blankets at my feet. The kitten who has never let me hold her came and climbed onto my chest. Let my love open the door, ooh. Let my love open the door.

I turned on the show I had so badly wanted and I watched it, three whole episodes, and I drank my coffee, with the dog snuggled up against my legs and the kitty on my chest. Let my love open the door. Let my love open the door.

After a while, the kitten began to suckle my hand, fiercely. She suckled and suckled, and kneaded my hand with her paws. Her razor sharp kitten claws cut puncture wounds and gashes into the back of my hand, but I didn’t pull away. Let my love open the door, oooh.

There was something so tender, so raw about her need. She survived an abusive beginning and was rescued by my neighbors. She’s several months old now, but snuggled up there with me, she returned to her infancy and suckled and suckled away. Fruitless and desperate and instinctual, her suckling was primal. And I did not turn her away. It was something I could give. I maneuvered my hand to avoid to brunt of her claws, and I held her and let her suckle my hand through two whole episodes. Let my love open the door.

I told Tom that the biggest problem in my life is my desire to have one person I can count on. I want one reliable source of strength and sustenance, of love and stability and affection. But this is not how it goes for me. I have not been able to count on anyone to always be there, to come if I call, to help. But what is also true, the hard, hard lesson for me to grasp, is that life always provides me with what I need, I just never know where from. My life has been visited by a cavalcade of angels, who arrive, unbidden—or so I think—and offer me just what I need, like a hand to suckle on Thanksgiving.

Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door.

On this day, I needed company and affection. I needed to be needed. I needed to not be alone. I woke up with a song in my head and sunlight in my room. Let my love open the door. I woke up thinking I would watch some cable at my house, but instead, I was forced to go next door. Let my love open the door. Where I sat on my neighbors’ couch, with a dog who loves me and a kitten who still needs a mom. Let my love open the door, ooh. Let my love open the door. I gave those animals a place to be taken care of, and they in turn, allowed me to channel the love I couldn’t seem to access for myself. It felt good.

When I came back home, I reached for the door, and as my hand closed around the doorknob, the volume turned up on the song that had been playing over and over in my head since I woke: Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door, Let my love open the door, to your heart!

And I remembered again what my healer friend Craig said, all those months ago, about how I need to get out of my own way.

I feel stuck, blocked, trapped beneath the surface and I can’t figure the way out. (Is it possible that I’m lying on top of myself?)

I came inside and Googled the “Let My Love Open the Door” lyrics:

When tragedy befalls you
(Let my love open the door, ooh)
Don't let it drag you down
Love can cure your problems
(Let my love open the door, ooh)
You're so lucky I'm around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door

Let my love open the door to your heart


Wow. Okay...but…how? Ever since I read the lyrics I’ve been trying to figure out…how do I let your love open the door? Maybe I should be meditating? Or singing? Maybe I should learn the words to the song and sing it in public? Is this meant to be grace through karaoke?

While doing dishes tonight, it occurred to me that maybe I just need to offer the right invitation. So, I stopped washing and said, out loud, “Um…I let your love open the door. To my heart.” It sounded really odd.

And I don’t think it worked because now it's Friday and I woke up with the song still playing in my head. Let my love open the door, oooh.

I’m trying…I really am. Let my love open the door, let my love open the door.

It follows me everywhere, this song. I tried listening to it through Rhapsody. And I sang the whole thing through, twice. But, it's still with me. I'm not sure what should I try next. Perhaps... "Alohomora?"

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Truth About Love: "I'm Too Old For This"

Last night I got the news that a member of my class at Smith had passed away. She was my age, I think—35—and she had a husband and two small children. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, she was pregnant. She started chemo while she was still pregnant and had her daughter a little early so she could start her second round.

My classmate worked at her job as director of development at a nonprofit right up until the day before her daughter was born, very small, but in perfect health. She fought her cancer with chemo. Then radiation. And a mastectomy. In January, she wrote to our class secretary to report that she still had six weeks of daily radiation and then, if that went well, reconstructive surgery. "It hasn't been so bad," she said. "Radiation should be a piece of cake compared to chemo."

"The kids are great," she wrote. "So much fun and getting bigger every day. I just took [my daughter] to the doctors for her second flu shot and she is now 90% for height! She's catching up to her brother and it looks like we'll have two tall kids. So relieved that she's perfectly healthy."

It did not sound as if she had any idea that in just over six months, two months after her daughter's first birthday, she'd be gone. As I understand it, she received the news that her cancer had metastasized to her liver and bones just over one week before she passed away. Until that news came, I think she and her family believed she was getting better.

I didn't know this woman as an undergrad, but as President of the class, I was among the first to be informed, thanks to a friend of my classmate who reached out to our class Secretary. It fell to me to make decisions, and after consulting our class Secretary, I felt it was best to immediately inform the class via e-mail, so that anyone who might want to attend the wake and/or funeral today or tomorrow could do so.

I spent my morning phoning funeral homes and churches and cemeteries to confirm the dates and times I'd been given. When I called the Alumnae House to find out if they had any recommendations or restrictions about protocol, I was told they would have to call me back; no one had ever done such a thing. In the end, the person in charge agreed that this was a special exception and gave me a green light to notify my class via e-mail.

While I didn't know this woman personally, her death has nudged open the door to a cellar full of sadness in my heart. It piles up in there, like the garbage when sanitation workers are on strike. When the door is wedged open, the thick swampy air clogs my lungs and stings my eyes. It makes me irritable. I feel upset, swimming in leachate and dizzy; my chest and my head throb with grief. I wanted to scream today, but I had no place to do so. I wanted to punch and kick and break things, but I had no place to do so. Today was the first time since I left there last fall that I missed the heavy bag that used to hang in the dingy basement of my old apartment.

I know that death happens to everyone; I have always known this. I know that one in four American women will get breast cancer. I know that I am lucky it wasn't me. But my good fortune at having cancer-free breasts is an erstwhile friend; it may have cheered me on some bygone days, but today, I just keep thinking about her children, and her husband, and her friends--and my friends. I keep thinking about her and what it must have been like to realize she would have to say goodbye and leave her children motherless. I think of this and I ache. I feel a sharp pain in my heart, like a nail driven into the flesh between my ribs. My jaw and my brow are sore from holding back tears. I can't let them come or they will drown me. I still wish I could scream.

Everyone dies. I know that I am never too young or too old to be next. I have already lost two friends from college and one from high school (ALS, brain cancer, suicide). At 35, I often feel old. I feel how quickly my reproductive years are slipping down the drain. I know how rapidly my earning years are dying on the vine. I see how quickly my skin is aging in certain spots where I've gotten too much sun. Even my little breasts are beginning to sag. And yet, despite how old I usually feel, when I thought of my classmate getting sick and dying, I felt an awareness of my youth that came on so quickly it made me lose my breath, like the moment you realize how close you came to going over the edge of something or getting hit by a car—snatch! Suck in your breath. That was close. I'm still here. We're so young. So terrifyingly young.

And yet, I've been dating someone who is more than ten years my junior. I was a lesbian in my twenties, so I missed out on this phase—men in their twenties—almost entirely. He's hot. I don't mind saying it. He has an ass more scrumptious than a cupcake. And muscles that make me melt. And yet…he conducts most of our relationship (if you could call it that) via text message or, occasionally, via e-mail. And this makes me feel old. And cranky. Like an old lady fussing about how fast the cars move nowadays. (But seriously--text messages?? YGBKM!)

I probably should have known from the beginning that we weren't a good match. We met in a bar, which is, I'm guessing, not how most love stories with happy endings begin. At the end of the night, he apologized for asking for my number. "I'm sorry to even ask you this…" he said. I found it an odd but endearing approach, so I gave him my card.

It took him a week to get in touch. And instead of calling, he e-mailed and said that he had just realized he'd forgotten to e-mail me. "I just remembered I forgot you," is not exactly romance on caliber with Lloyd Dobler. But I e-mailed back. And gave him my number. And over the course of the next few months, he filled up my cell phone's inbox with flirtatious text messages sent just before closing at whatever bar he was at—a behavior I never rewarded.

Eventually, we made it out for an actual date. He took me for drinks and then karaoke. Unfortunately, I drank too much and couldn't drive home. He drove me home in my car and once we got there, I started vomiting almost immediately. My roommate drove him home. It took three days to recover. It was like I had the flu or food poisoning.

On our second date, I tore my ACL. He invited me to play volleyball with him and some friends. I tried to get out of it. I was just feeling really sad about Calvin. But he convinced me to go. On the last point of the last game, I slipped in the acrylic house paint his friends had used to create lines for the court in their backyard. It'll be at least a year before I'm walking normally, a year of painful, tedious physical therapy and, it seems, reconstructive surgery.

On our third date, a moth flew into my ear and a skunk moved into my basement. On our fourth date, I thought we were going out alone, and then at the last minute, he invited everyone he knew via an Evite to join him as he celebrated his new job. I thought we were having a date; he thought he was having a party.

I've been practicing being more direct and honest in my communication, so I let him know that I had thought we'd be going out alone—on a date--and that I was disappointed by the Evite because I thought he and I had plans. We worked it out—via e-mail—and I joined him and his friends late in the night and had an okay time. It was the last day of the Year of Healing. He stayed over.

The next night he took me to a movie and we spent almost all of that weekend together. It was fun for me to have affection, someone to go to brunch with, a date. I told my friend Megan afterwards that it was such a nice change to date someone who was emotionally and physically available. It's been more than a decade since that happened for me. (In retrospect, this is, of course, an hysterically funny observation because of how wrong I was--LOL!—but, when I said it, I thought it was true; it's how he seemed.)

After our weekend together, though, he disappeared. He didn't call or e-mail. I got proactive and invited him to do something, but he didn't answer my e-mail.

After almost a week, I sent him an e-mail and asked if he had gotten my e-mail inviting him to get together. He said he had. I pointed out that an honorable person would not sleep with a girl and then ignore her for a week. He responded, via e-mail, to say "Acknowledged." But he didn't apologize. Eventually, he sent me a text message, saying he was "sorry, if it seemed like he was blowing me off." I wanted to tell him to go to hell, but I'm practicing reigning in my disappointment and not walloping people over the head with it, especially people who are trying to be nice to me. So, I texted him back and said, "Thanks." And I told him where I was. But, I never heard from him. (He claimed later he never got my text, but honestly, even if he didn't, shouldn't he have followed up?)

After nearly two weeks without seeing him, talking to him, or planning another date, I decided the only thing I really wanted was to know why. I asked him to meet me and he agreed. We sat on a bench overlooking a pond and I asked him to tell me why he disappeared. I told him he could be honest with me. The answer didn't really matter, I just really wanted to know what had happened so I could stop wondering.

He denied that he had disappeared. His defense: "But I texted you!"

I think for anyone my age—perhaps anyone at all—if the phrase "but I texted you" works its way into an important conversation about the future (or past) of your relationship, you can generally assume it's a bad sign. Of course, you might also assume that vomiting, severed ligaments, ambulance rides, insects in your ear, and/or vermin in your basement are bad signs, too. I, on the other hand, soldiered on.

"A text message, in response to my e-mail asking why you'd ignored my first e-mail does not really count as not disappearing," I said, feeling like I was (totally) stating the obvious. "You just seem to have lost interest. And that's fine. That's your choice. But I'd just really like to know why, because you seemed really interested. And you stuck around through all of that crap, all the injuries and debacles, and you gave me the impression you were a good guy, but then, once you'd slept with me, you disappeared. I mean, is this just some sort of clever shtick? You act like a nice guy—totally convincing--you don't make a move until the fifth date, then spend the whole weekend with the girl, before disappearing into the ether?"

"No," he said. "It was not a shtick. I'm an honest person."

"Yeah," I said. "But your saying that isn't helpful. A liar could sit here and say the same thing. It's what you do that really matters. And what you did was disappear."

Eventually, he admitted that he had, in fact, disappeared. He said he had done so because he was easily distracted, his life was busy and (this I had to pull out of him)…he was afraid of my expectations.

"And how do you know what my expectations are, exactly?"

"I don't know…I just assumed that you wanted…"

My left eyebrow shot up toward my brow and I looked at him like he was an abominable idiot. He had never asked what I wanted. I watched as it dawned on him that he could have simply asked me, instead of running away. It was clear that this thought had not occurred to him. He just assumed that I wanted him, really wanted him for some serious relationship. (Is there a text message symbol for "asshole?")

"For the record," I said, "I just wanted to have some fun."

Eventually, he began to realize that I wasn't just complaining about his behavior, I was telling him he'd blown it—completely. He let me know that he wasn't quite ready to lose me yet. And, since I am practicing being reasonable, I made room for the possibility that he could change.

"I'm getting the sense that if I called you, you wouldn't go out with me again," he said.

"Well, that's right," I said. "I don't want to spend my time with people who are indifferent to me. I don't want to sleep with someone who is so easily distracted and forgetful. I want to be around people who say to themselves, 'yaaayyy!' when they're with me. I want to have fun and being neglected isn't fun."

"Well," he said. "I think I'll leave the ball in your court. I'll say that I want to see you again, and if you want to see me, you can call."

"You can do that," I said. "But if you want to see me, you'll have to do better. I don't want you to leave the ball in my court. I want you to do some work. I want you to show me that you value my company. If you want to see me, you'll have to give me something more than a ball in my court."

In the end, we warmed up to one another. We laughed. We moved from the bench to a tree swing further up the hill and gazed out at the moonlight dancing on the water. We swung gently back and forth and as I shifted in my seat to swat at a mosquito, my arm pressed against his and I remembered how delicious his muscles feel, how surprisingly soft his skin is, and how warm I feel when he kisses me.

"I have a good time with you," he said. "Even this conversation has been fun."

I was proud of myself for sticking up for myself, for being direct and honest in my communication, for knowing what I needed and saying so, and for letting him off the hook, rather than masticating him with my self-righteous, indignant, rage. He had remembered why he liked me.

"What would you say if I said I wanted to come home with you tonight," he asked.

"I would say, 'let's go to your house instead,'" I said.

And, so, we did. And he drank wine and I sipped vodka and we laughed, and kissed, and spent a delectable hour breaking my celibacy streak even further and sweating in the heat. It was what I wanted, and at 2am, I kissed him goodbye and went home to my bed.

The next day, he was good to me. "Fuck the two day rule," he said in an e-mail. And he asked me if I was free the next day. I wasn't. I was going away for part of the weekend. He checked in again, while I was gone, via text, to see when I'd be back. I came back a day late and expected that he'd be eager to see me. When I returned, he invited me to a movie via text message, but I was too tired to go—it was something I'd already seen, anyway. I told him I'd meet him for drinks after and he said he'd get back to me after the movie if he was interested. I wanted to sleep with him again. I wanted him to want to sleep with me that night…but I never heard back.

A few days later, we made plans to watch a movie at my place. He slept over. It was okay. I didn't hear from him the next day, the day, it turns out, that my classmate died.

And that brings us to today, with the blazing heat and intolerable humidity and my heart grown so heavy it felt like the only thing keeping it from slipping out of its cage and into my belly was the nail someone drove in through my ribs. I left my best friend three long voice mails. I left a message for my friend and former lover, the one who can always make me laugh, the one who came when Calvin died and when I hurt my knee and couldn't drive to the interview in Connecticut; the one who can make me feel better, the one whose hugs feel more like home than anything I've felt in a very, very long time (a mixed blessing), but he didn't have time to call me back. He sent me some well-intentioned, but not helpful e-mails instead. There was no one else to call and nowhere else to go. I was on my own with this.

I spent the morning taking care of the details around my classmate's death—could we send flowers, can we send an e-mail, what should it say, when should it go, how will it get there, are the dates and times and places for the wake and funeral, reception and interment correct--and then sent an e-mail out to the class. I went to physical therapy. I worked hard. I ran unpleasant errands. I arrived home hungry, angry, and wishing I had someplace to scream. Or someone to hold me.

Instead, I did what I could for myself. I lugged in the groceries, put them away, checked my e-mails, and then took off all my sweaty clothes and settled in with a DVD, a cold drink, an ice pack on my knee, and the A/C in my bedroom on high. Just then, my 24-year old text messaged me, asking me to go see a movie. I said yes, but the late show.

He said okay.

A few minutes later, he called (he actually called!) and said that he wanted to invite some other friends, get a bunch of people to go. He had learned from past experience that it was better to check with me first. I appreciated that he learned, but was disappointed that this was what he wanted.

I told him about my day. About my classmate dying…about my roommate not paying his rent…about my knee being sore and just my general feeling of exhaustion and upset. I started to cry a little—my voice caught--and I told him I felt too tired and vulnerable to deal with getting a group of strangers (to me) coordinated to find seats at what would definitely be a sold out Friday night premiere of "The Bourne Ultimatum." I haven't met his friends and I just wasn't in a space where I felt I could interact socially with strangers. I hesitated…then lied and said I would understand if he wanted to go with a group instead of with me. He said he'd check in with his friends and get back to me.

I got in the shower feeling hot and dirty and sad and sore and heavy and tired. I took a deep breath and then let the cool water wash over me. As I washed my hair, a thought came to me as clean and simple as the milky white suds running down my shoulders. It was more than a thought, it was a knowing: what I want is a person who, upon hearing that I knew someone who died and was heartbroken and tired and vulnerable, would not say, "I'll call my friends and get back to you." What I want is a person who hears that and says, "Do you want me to come over?" I wanted someone to bring me food and maybe a movie or just any kind of good-natured care. I don't need much, but I need that. Or, I want it anyway.

Today, I wanted a chest to rest my head on and the knowledge that the owner of that chest really cared. "I can't sleep with someone who would be that disinterested in what I need," I thought.

As I stepped out of the shower, I sighed. It was a happy relief to know my own bottom line, to understand what I need and want. Knowing is the first step toward getting it. But, it also meant that this young man would not turn out to be the fun summer fling I had hoped he would be. (Bummer.) Being neglected really isn't any fun; I'd have to give up my hope that he could be the source of affection and companionship and laughter I'd been wishing for.

It took him two hours to get back to me. He didn't call me, as he said he would. He canceled our date via text message. "Hey," he wrote. "I'm too tired to do the movie. I'm going to finish Harry Potter and then crash."

My immediate thought: "Asshole." My next thought: "I'm too old for this."

I'm too old to have people break dates via text message. I'm too old to date someone who doesn't even really think of dates as dates, which is why he doesn't need to cancel them with an apology—or a phone call—and why he invites other people to come on them. It was just an idea he had, I think, to see the movie, and when it passed he felt no obligation to factor in my feelings about it at all.

I was angry so I wanted to do something clever, like write back and say, "Don't bother to call me any more," except he never really calls me anyway. Or, better yet, I thought I might use some text message lingo like "U R N ASS" to communicate that I had reached the end of my rope. But I couldn't think what to say in 80 characters or less. I even checked out an online dictionary of text messaging abbreviations. I read through every single one, but aside from BBN (Bye Bye Now) and YGBKM (You've Gotta Be Kidding Me), nothing, apart from the overly cheerful L8RG8R, really even came close to capturing the spirit of what I wanted to say.

Maybe it's because I was born in an era when phones still had cords, but nothing I could think to say via SMS was going to be quite good enough for this. Regardless of my age, my inclination is to communicate. And no matter how fast you type, text messaging just isn't meant for that. It's been five hours and I haven't texted him back. At this point, I guess I probably won't even bother. It turns out that I may not be too young to die of breast cancer—but I am definitely too old for this.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Truth About Love: "At the Lake"

djm,

we said and felt and did and saw so much on Friday. at this point, re-visiting it feels like too much, so I will say very little, but wanted to share with you a positive thing.

i went to puffer's pond yesterday, a beautiful spot in amherst. i brought a picnic and books and spent the afternoon reading on my blanket or floating on my little inflatable raft. i'm struggling. everything is difficult, but i breathed, i lived, i did my day.

i only went in the water once. when i stepped in, this old woman--like maybe she was 70?--came right over to me. it was some effort for her to walk, but she made that effort so as to get to me. it was as though...as though i was the right place for her. like the way i was looking for coffee on our drive home and spotted a dunkin' donuts and said, "oh, there's one!"

i had that feeling. like she was looking for something she needed and when she spotted me she said, "oh, there's one!" Like an information desk, or a map in a subway station, or a gas station when you're lost--or a kind soul when you need some helping.

i was a little taken aback when she talked to me because i was feeling so raw in the world already. i'd gone through a lot the night and day before, obviously. so i missed the first thing she said. and my first instinct was to avoid her. but then i thought maybe she needed my help and that maybe i ought to not be selfish. like maybe i might need to offer to help her get out of the water or something. i felt i should rise to the occasion.

so i looked up and into her eyes, and i was filled with warm loving. it's this warm thing that channels through me sometimes. deep compassion. the kind that knows no bounds and comes up from the earth and connects me to the heavens so that i am like a channel for goodness, traveling through from sky to earth, earth to sky. it is a great feeling of connectedness. it happens also sometimes when I pray and when i think about my niece and my nephew. i smiled. and engaged with her.

"something bit me," she said. "i think it was a moose fly." she showed me her wrist where a shocking amount of swelling was taking place, it was like a squishy blue golf ball had formed under her tissue-thin flesh just at the point where one would take her pulse.

"you need a poultish," I said--sometimes I still struggle with "s"s. (did i ever tell you about all the speech therapy I did as a kid?). she knew I meant "poultice," and i helped her to dig up some of the cool, wet mud on the shore. she placed it over her wrist, and held it there while she stood ankle deep in the water, leaning against the railways ties that formed a small wall at the edge of the water, and told me more about the bite.

i told her that ice and ibuprofen should help. and possibly a benadryl since it looked like she was having an allergic reaction. but i said if she'd been stung by a hornet, rather than bitten by a fly, then the poultice would really help to draw out the poison. i told her if it was a hornet, it would also itch very much in the coming days. i showed her where i had spotted a hornet's nest nearby when i was getting in the water. there were hornets crawling all over someone's towel and sandals.

"those are my things! " she said. "that's where i got bitten."

"I think you were stung," I said. "keep the poultice on it, put some ice on it, and take a benadryl and an advil if you like. it'll take a few days to feel better."

it's hard to explain the love and kindness i felt for her. and she was wonderful. i enjoyed talking with her and being there with her.

i offered her some advil, but she declined and said she'd go home instead.

i wished her luck and started to move away into the water, and she looked up at me and said, "are you a nurse?"

"No..." I said. I thought perhaps I ought to offer something more than that, some explanation for my knowledge or my reason for helping. But, I didn't really feel like explaining. So, I just left it at that. And I smiled.

i kind of wish i'd asked her why she picked me to talk to about her sting...there were so many people there, of all ages, mothers with children, men and women, all sorts of people. but she came straight over to me. and it was the right choice for both of us.

these things happen to me a lot. i generally don't tell anyone, unless there's a great anecdote associated, like the day I helped stop traffic for the ducks (did i tell you about that?) or the day i had diarrhea AND was late for my flight AND had locked the keys in the rental car AND the car rental woman had set her pants on fire AND I'd gotten in an accident with the rental car and totally stripped one of the side mirrors off the car AND I had Calvin and Norman with me and then the woman in the bathroom at SFO asked me to "help her find her hole." (which, I stopped and did, of course. the hole turned out to be a post-surgical drain in her back. eww.)

aside from those kinds of stories, there's something private and sort of spiritual about these moments. i feel connected to the right easy flow of the universe when i am called to love in this way. it's sort of like why people must give money anonymously. they give for the giving, not for the credit. i think it's why babies fall asleep in my arms. when i am near children, i often channel this calm, loving flow, that feels so good and soothing to them (and to me).

i share this with you now because i want to make a greater effort to focus on and verbalize the positive experiences in my days. and also because while it was happening, i was aware of you, and felt a connection to you in the moment. i think you wish for me a life that is full of that feeling--of love and loving, of smiling and goodness and inner calm. so i wanted you to know that, despite everything else, for a few minutes at the lake, i had that. and i appreciated it and loved it and returned to it now when i remembered and shared it with you.

i'm still struggling. there is lots more to say. but for now, let's leave it at this.

and, of course, another "thank you."

with love and appreciation and a fervent hope that your saturday work went quickly,

naomi

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