My kids were born at 4:48 AM, 3:38 AM and 5:38 AM. Eastern Standard Time. I came into this world at 7:53 AM, Central Time Zone. Two-thirds of my kids were born in Vermont; one, New York. The portal for me was North Dakota.
One leg was shorter than the other when I left the private little sea-womb provided by Annie Sherlock O'Brien. I spent the first year of my life encasted, both legs. Sam, my firstborn, had a little bit of jaundice when he got here. He was yellow then; he's not anymore. He jumps off of high cliffs, twirls his body three times before he splashes down. Coco refused entry when it was offered. They pulled her out with the human equivalent of turkey tongs. She's an excellent cook; she's twice been on TV, cooking. Nate slid into this world aided by the olive oil my midwife used to ease open his doorway. He's still gliding, practically effortlessly through the world: kind, gentle, un-ruffleable.
Life is funny.
I recently found a stash of letters people sent me, dating back to the early 70s. Letters from Lena, my Swedish pen pal, letters from friends, cards from my parents, letters from my sister. There's a letter in there written by my friend, Dawn, telling me that they couldn't find the body of her brother, Timmy. He had slipped beneath the waters of the sound where they lived in Washington. There is a card from a man named Hans, who befriended me when I lived in San Diego in the late-80s and was very lonely and confused by a lifestyle that bore no resemblance at all to the one that I knew. There are letters, a lot of them, from men that I have loved.
I was surprised, quite frankly, by all the love.
The letters made me sad about the way we communicate today. Nothing will be stashed in old picnic baskets; everything gets deleted.
My report cards from all my years in school were in that basket, too. Some of the comments are hilarious. March 15, 1976, Fifth grade, music: "Melissa needs to try a little harder, she isn't doing the same quality work she did in September." Seems I had fallen from grace. In Third grade that same teacher wrote "very talented and a hard worker."
There are recurring themes in those silly reports:
"Aware of the needs of others."
"Imaginative and creative."
"Helpful to those less able."
"Gets her work done and then helps others."
School. What a weird concept.
I'm still the kid I was in 1976. And 1974 and 1983. The more things change ...
"You are re-writing liturgy," is what my friend, the Yale Divinity School professor told me recently.
I'm not even really sure what liturgy is. I don't know a lot of fancy words. I know what re-writing is, though. I've been doing it my whole life.
This is kind of a disorienting perch, this part of life, when people around us are getting sick and dying. A lot more often than they did twenty or thirty years ago. The cloak of invincibility has dissolved; Truth is here in the room with us; the clock is ticking
Here are some of the ages of the people I know when they died: 30, 50, 50, 82, 60, 97, 76, 30, 60, 64, 89, 51, 58, 89, 19, 61, 15, 48, 107 (present tense: I believe they are still with us).
You see it, right? Death doesn't care whether or not you get to become an octogenarian.
Drunk driving, heart attack, flash flood, lung cancer, suicide, colon cancer, addiction, hiking accident, boating accident, skiing accident, liver cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer. Old age, sometimes.
I want to re-write everything before I go. Right now I want to re-write how small town newspapers are done and I want to re-write how books get into the world. In my family we have re-written the laws of family dynamics: I adore my former husbands, we get along fine.
I'm into the re-writing. I'm also sick and tired of all the bitching and moaning about the way the world is. Some things here need re-doing, no doubt, but I won't be re-writing political infrastructure or economic policy. You probably won't, either. Not going to be toppling the jerks at the top or dismantling the structures that have seeped into our soil and bones for the past 242 years.
There's another way, though.
Dig down to the bottom, through the morass, the dirt, the loneliness, oppression, the disenfranchisement and reach out a hand to help someone up.
That's it. It's that simple. Shut the fuck up, quit complaining. No one needs anyone, ever again, to point out how bad things are.
Activism has act in it, remember?
Yesterday I met up with two other pastors in Rutland, young ones, funny ones. And we walked and walked and walked, all over Rutland, with backpacks full of supplies for the 'rough sleeping' population. I sure am glad that doctor fixed my legs way back then. "Gets her work done and then helps others." Christ, it's not that hard, people. As Pastor John said, "You put your shoes on and you walk out the door."
People live under bridges, they live in the woods, sometimes in tents, sometimes not. They're you and me, you know. They really are. And they might need some new socks, some tampons, some love. Rutland is so much more beautiful than I ever knew. We meet every Thursday morning at 8:30 at the old Methodist Church parsonage on Williams Street. Come on along. Amen.