WHEN THEY WERE YOUNGER
we had different ways of saying good-bye in the morning; I had different things I would say when I was dropping them off at school. Sometimes it was, Make a lot of juicy mistakes today! I'm a huge fan of making mistakes. I mean, you've got to, you'll never get better at anything if you don't.
Somehow, oddly, Don't kick any penguins! was my launch phrase for a while. For us it meant, be nice to everyone. Although, who would be mean to a penguin in the first place? It should probably have been, Don't squish any ants! But they got the point: be nice to everyone, no exceptions.
Now when Coco and I approach her school in the morning (Sadly, I don't have the honor of driving Nate to his classes in Bozeman or of dropping Sam off at his dining hall in Tahoe) we talk about modes of egress. We talk about windows and doors. We talk about the folly of hiding under a desk from a person with a semi-automatic rife. We speak the language of Get the hell out of there as fast as you can. And I will tell you that it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that there is a kernel of truth in our belief that she may need to use the advice I give her one day. That my 13-year-old daughter, ripening into teenagerhood before my very eyes, in that funny space between kid and not-kid, could one day go to the very institution designed for her health, well-being, safety, growth, exploration; the place where she is supposed to feel safe enough to fail, smart enough to succeed and content enough to thrive, is now a place where she might be murdered.
I hope that all of the hearts that are breaking in our land because of this truth band together and rise up against the criminal mentality that has allowed this to become our new reality. In other words, I hope that we Americans do what we do best: get in some faces, make a lot of noise, be relentless and obnoxious and angry. I hope the heartbreak and anger are sustained long enough so that things change and we can get back to Don't kick any penguins very soon.
SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED
that I am now the news editor of the Charlotte News, back with the paper I wrote and photographed and edited for ten years ago. The cycles of life? Who knows. I will tell you this: when the opportunity came up I was delighted and then I was unsure, so I shared my thoughts with the board about the position of editor. And then we did this great thing, we had an on-going conversation about what works for everyone, keeping the best interest of the paper and those working on it in mind. We loosened our grip on how it had been done and imagined how it could be done and came to a place that we think will work for everyone. How great is that? To acknowledge the need for change and then to act upon it? For a 60-year-old institution, that's no easy ballgame.
What does this mean for me? I get to write! And I get to get other writers to write! I get to encourage kids and grown-up to write and to take pictures.
I get to play a role in the strengthening of the bonds of community in a little place called Charlotte, Vermont by care-taking the non-profit newspaper that has been read by its denizens since 1958. Lucky, lucky, lucky, I am the luckiest gal I know.
And yes, I am still a pastor and a hospice chaplain. I feel the sands of time speeding up, I feel I have no choice. There is so much work to be done.
SHE WAS KNITTING
while she told me about her sheep and her felting and growing up in the very same town in Alaska where my sister lives now. At first it was a little jarring, how she could look at me and talk and knit at the same time and then it became soothing, mesmerizing. She talked about her mother and her dad and their life in Alaska. She talked about her cancer and the way life is as she cares for her mother in the last stage of her life.
And I found myself sitting there thinking, as I so often do, I cannot believe that 15 minutes ago these people were strangers and now I am sitting in a rocking chair in their living room hearing the stories of their lives.
Her husband made me tea. The caretaker brought her mother out to join us. I sat with her while she ate lunch. She can't converse, so we just held hands and looked into each other's eyes.
I could tell you, again, that I am the luckiest girl I know, but then you might think that I'm arrogant. But I want you to know something, beloved reader: it is in our stories where we will find our humanity. And you and I both know that our humanity is seeping from us, bit by bit. The more we give ourselves over to the madness of this world and the nothingness of social media, the less we are human. The story I bring directly to you, from my heart, my experience, through my lips, my hands, my eyes, that is the story you want to know. And you want the same from everyone else, too.
Authentic human experience. Whether it comes from the stories in a hometown newspaper, an afternoon spent talking about dying with someone who is caring for someone who is dying, or in a house of worship on a Sunday morning, I will spend all of my days seeking this, an explorer in an increasingly strange and foreign land. I hope that they say this about me when I am dead: she was a good storyteller; she cared about people.
I hope for this very same thing for you, too. Amen.