Monday, December 31, 2012


There are acts of men and the universe beyond anyone’s personal control and often too devastating to wrap my mind around.  Take an infinitesimal sampling from 2012: Trayvon Martin, the Chicago Gangland death toll, Aurora, Colorado, the young activist named  Malala --AKA a Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for speaking out for girls who just want an education.  Mexican drug wars.  Sandy Hook. The list is long.  The risks of living, the losses -- incalculable.  But truth is, the list is long every year. Fire, drought, hurricane waters rise and recede. The ice cap melts.  I sweat as I write this. The ways fear triggers fearful response are many and frightening.

These are weighty communal concerns. I ache for those I know personally who have suffered catastrophic loss in recent months. We didn’t see the world end in 2012, but man, has it ever been a rough ride!

I take a break from the news. The stories catch in my throat.  There’s a terrible place where guns and our global and individual instability intersect, where a warming planet continues to tilt our experience of the seasons and the blur between the random and pre-meditated confound to the point of hopelessness.  I know and love people on both sides of the NRA debate; on both sides of what our society defines as mentally well.   Ill AND well people do good and bad things—make lousy judgment calls and devastating impulse domino moves.  We sometimes find redemption and sometimes don’t.  Doors close. Doors open.  We work with what’s in our available control.  We wave little white flags every day.

Personally(and not proudly), I watch You Tube videos to make myself laugh and equally, to invite tears.  I distract myself with opinion blogs, Awkward Family Photographs, and occasionally, my own attempts at cleverness.   I watch as we hold hands, weep, pick up shovels, say prayers. We make small offerings of compassion to others and notice when the same is extended our way or, in the better world, paid forward.

I need stories to help make sense of what’s senseless, to find meaning somewhere on the front lines and in the daily ordinary. I need to be reminded that survival is simply a matter of going on. Hand holding, shovels and prayers help.  I want to see who is paying attention to life lived between pavement cracks and terrifying  earthquakes? We continue, year in year out, each with our own version of the human struggle to understand life in our media/tech-drenched stuffed-but -malnourished culture. There is plenty to anesthetize us.  We continue to seek a nourishment of connection.  We continue to let our connections guide us.

I sat at a table this holiday season with people aged 2 to 82: gracefully aging parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, their children and mine in a cacophony of yawning need,  fever, healing scars, half-finished sentences, multiple variations of squabble and acceptance for ourselves and one another, competing lead jokes, and soda-spurting- out -of -noses.  Pictures of the ones who went before us were on the walls around us. In the glow of candlelight, I saw our faces lit and wavery with a kind of recognition and new gratitude for who we are now, for who and how we’ve been, and for the unknown emergence in each of us on the threshold of the turning year.

The shadow on my Mother’s pancreas could be nothing.  It could be something. We’ve all been very lucky so far.  She looks at me with soft eyes and cannot believe the baby she held so tentatively when she was 21 is now 52.  I cannot believe my baby is 22.  Time is passing.  Loving imperfectly but pretty completely can be enough if you can take that in.  It’s taken me awhile, but I see it now.

I chose to embrace this gift and I was not alone as I looked around the table. Open to being broken by the certainty that this will pass, I wanted to sob.  And so I did, in the middle of a very funny charades game that made hysterical tears possible. This was an odd gift, an antidote to so much trouble in the world.  The TV was off.  My vulnerability was up. Others in the room laugh-cried with me.  Snow fell outside.  The world was still dark all around us.  We sat together with no guarantees that we’d be together this time next year. There was peace and breathing presence and we all sensed the fragile beauty of the moment.  Alive. Together.  I did not imagine this. It was real.

Tonight I leave the big conversations to the philosophers. I simply stand on the threshold of another year with the door open.   I  hope, naively, that love and fear will work out their struggles with one another, and that fear will take a rest for awhile. For a little while, anyway.  At a distance from me.  Please.  At a distance from all of us.  

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse 12/31/12
art by Mike Boyer 

Monday, December 24, 2012



This is me in 1995 when I first went to work at the Indiana Daily Student and newly back from my three month adventure in Scotland. I was 50 years old. It has been quite a journey, with a lot of positive forward movement and a lot of bumps and losses along the way.

I got that job at the IDS when I needed employment desperately. I found a home there with my co-workers who became dear friends, and the hundreds of students I worked with during that time. We survived the sudden death of our boss and kept cranking those papers out. I think he would have been proud. During those 17 years there was a second marriage, a second divorce, 911, breast cancer, my son achieved his dream of becoming a fireman, joined a writing community that brought amazing people into my life, the gift of going into the Monroe County Jail and holding a writing circle for the female inmates, the coming together of five friends who meet monthly to figure out how to be our best selves, a poetry discussion group established and thriving, a yearly retreat to Brown County where four of my dearest friends and I gather to tell our stories, the reacquaitance with some family members who have become very dear to me,  a reconnection with friends from school days, the loss of my brother, dad, mother and sister-in-law in a span of less than a year, and preparation for retirement.

It took a village for me to get here.  And what a village it was!  I’ve had the support of my son, who is always steady and calm, my childhood friend Sharon who has seen me through all of my journeys, a reconnection of another childhood friend, Terri, who welcomed me into to her home through my father’s long illness and passing, my long-time friends Barbara and Merry who have always been there for me with unconditional love, Vivian and Barbara who opened their homes to me for five months so that I could save money and retire debt free, my cousin Diana and her husband Jay who asked me to move in with them, making retirement affordable for me, my cousins Deb, Rich, Shane, Shell, Carson, Brian and Kevin who gave me a family again, Beth  Lodge-Rigal and Women Writing for (a) Change who kept me writing and gave me the wonderful gift of the presumption of goodwill and all the gifts that writing community has brought to my life, my friend Jackie who helped me found Poetry Detectives and has a wicked sense of humor, every amazing woman I’ve met through WWf(a)C , I treasure each and every one of you.  I hope I haven’t left any one out.  You are all precious to me and have helped me get to this wonderful time of my life. Retirement. I started working when I was 13 years old. I’m over it. I’m ready for the next adventure. These last 11 months have been all about me, something I’m not used to. Now it’s time to turn things outward again. It’s time for me to repay and pay it forward. And not stop with 26 acts of kindness. Time for lucky me to give back to the universe.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Be the Light

Be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.

–Attributed to Philo

I came upon this attributed quote in Kayak Morning, Roger Rosenblatt’s second memoir of grief upon the sudden death of his beloved only daughter. (His first memoir, Making Toast, explores his grief and the mixed joys of stepping in with his wife to help raise their three motherless grandchildren.)

Philo reminds us how fragile we all are, all the time.

We are entering the darkest days of our calendar, as well as the season of several festivals of light and hope. The interplay of light and darkness at this time of year is always compelling, serving as a potent metaphor for the mix of joy and sadness, gifts and burdens, that life inevitably brings.

I have never felt the shared burdens of so many people in my life as acutely as I do this year. Dear friends facing disease, their own or that of close family members, pacing themselves with great courage and equal difficulty through treatments that bring their own terrible afflictions and uncertain outcomes. Acquaintances fighting visa issues that have shadowed their lives for years, and now finally bring them to face the starkest possibilities. The waters seem to be rising for friends who daily tread against the deep currents of depression and loneliness. Almost everyone my age is making some arduous trip to spend the holidays with failing parents, hoping to do what they can to ease day-to-day living while hedging against the ravages to come. And, as if these trials weren’t enough, our nation reels and mourns at yet another mass shooting in a school, this time of the very youngest schoolchildren and their teachers, who displayed unimaginable courage and resilience in the face of unimaginable horror.

Reading this quotation, and observing the folks around me,  I am struck anew by how difficult, even impossible, the daily carrying of these burdens, much less into a season of celebration, can be.  While this interplay of light and dark has usually, for me, encouraged the perspective of light penetrating gloom (think The Little Match Girl and her impossibly upbeat appreciation for the light shining from warm family homes and from her few brief matches), for those living in deep shadow, the light may not penetrate at all, or may seem to shine an ironic, elusive spotlight on darkness.

And so back to the wise and simple words of Philo: Be kind.

Bring light.

When you think you cannot bear any more of your own darkness, try to lighten the burden of someone around you.

My current practice is to attempt to be present to the beloved friends and family members who need it, whether they know it or not, whether they are able to ask for it or not. To break out of my daily routine and invite a friend who needs a break to a matinee, and afterward, to stand in the parking lot as long as possible, laughing and crying by turns. To celebrate my friends in small ways; call someone I have fallen out of touch with; make eye contact with passersby in a way I usually don’t while walking; tell someone who doesn’t know I am aware of their existence that I appreciate the way they do their job all year.

Be kind. Bring light. Presume good will.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse