This photograph in a medieval hospital in Brugge struck me. A young girl holding a skull as if it is precious. Important. Treasured. How strange.

 A few weeks ago my grandson, Connor, who is five, begged to see the exhumed skeleton of a young girl “Jane” in a museum at the Jamestown Plantation in Virginia. He was equal parts entranced and terrified when he came face to face with her skull. His response is one I believe most of us have, at some level. Intrigued. Compelled to look and wonder. And then, if you are five – nightmares!

So why is this young girl hugging a skull in such an intimate way? Particularly in a museum set in a hospital built in the early middle ages?  What could this almost tender encounter convey?

In medieval times, it seems,  the skull was seen as much a symbol for repentance as for death. Death, they had learned during the time of the plague, could snatch away whole villages in short order, with little warning. Best to contemplate death by making sure one’s soul was in good shape. If one wanted to leave this world “right with God” one had better attend to one’s soul. And the way that happened, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, was to repent. To make things right as one went along in life.’

In a hospital such as St. John’s  the subject of this photograph would be appropriate. Few entered and lived, their understanding of medicine being so primitive. Mostly they cared for the soul, as the caretakers were nuns and they had  very rudimentary training and understanding. They knew more of the soul than they did of the body.

Today we have that idea turned on end. We care for the body and too often leave the soul to languish. Look at how she embraces the skull. How many of us embrace repentance with such tender care? In her time death could come and snatch her with no warning. She assumes such a thing and prepares by being her best self while alive, accutely aware of the fragility of life.

Our souls need care. They need feeding. They need both passion and compassion. Love and delight. For me, I embrace the skull not because I fear death or believe in a hell I’ll spend eternity in if I haven’t repented. I embrace it as a recognition of living fully, of being a part of a beloved community that both nurtures me and allows me to be a nurturing part. It’s understanding that the best part of preparing for death is living life to the fullest. Death, as illustrated in this painting, is a constant companion, requiring tender care and attention.

My answer to five-year-old Connor’s nightmare was that I believe Jane would be so sad to know he was afraid of her skull. That she was a helper in her community, somebody who cared for others, and that she would want him to think well of her. To appreciate her. (I didn’t, thankfully, explain that her community, ravaged by starvation, cannibalized her after he death. Just a tad too much information for my creative, inquisitive, and much too impressionable lad).

So, today, as I sit here in the Centrum in Brugge, Belgium, I feed my soul. I speak to strangers. I listen to the bells ringing in the square. I hear a dozen different languages and gaze out at buildings built in the middle ages. I wonder at all the souls that have passed through here over the centuries and rejoice that I can add even a faint echo of my own to the mix. I feed death by living fully.

Mighty, mighty snowflakes: Reflections on Women’s March on Washington

This morning I read John  Pavlovitz’s “Snowflake Manifesto”    This, I thought, this is the perfect response to the “why” of the Women’s March on Washington and all the other marches across the world. Because we women, unique, diverse and sometimes overpowered, are a mighty force to be reckoned with when we come together. When we stand up and act up and speak up – together. Our strength is our individuality, our diversity, compounded. The old adage that we are not a melting pot, but a stew, comes to mind. 

We each marched for our own reasons – women’s rights, affordable health care, prison reform, racism,  environmental protections,  reproductive rights, climate change concerns –  the reasons were diverse and as varied as the women and men  and children who marched. And many chose not to march for equally good reasons. The conversation about why many women of color chose to “sit this one out” is an important one. One that I am listening in on as I work to come to term not only with my white privelege but with how I need to adjust my own filters, my own understanding of history (particularly feminist history)  in order to even begin to comprehend the anger and frustration behind the many wome who chose to not participate.  This is a particularly good blog post about the history part:

Unexpected!        Inauguration Day in DC

Inauguration Day didn’t turn out at all as I expected. I had a ticket for the Museum of African American History and Culture that morning. I hitched a ride with my daughter-in-law, Amanda, to a Metro station and knew I would be on foot until late that night as we were attending the UnNaugural Concert in Maryland that evening. No possibility of going home in between. As it turned out, I walked more than 34,000 steps that day. Love my trusty FitBit!

After an interesting ride, filled with Trump supporters, I discovered that all the close-in Metro stops were closed and the streets were blocked in every direction so, after doing my best, and hitting dead end after dead end, I gave up on finding my way to the museum. I decided instead to spend the day meeting people and observing non-inaugural events as they unfolded. For a progressive Oregonian it was a little like being in a foreign country – all that Trump swag. Almost all older people but also some very dressed-up middle agers. Few were smiling. Everybody seemed tense and kind of angry. Why were they angry – they won, didn’t they? 

Where, I wondered, were all the young people? They didn’t seem to be with the Trump crows.  I eventually found a bunch – protesting loudly and joining arms as they tried to keep people from accessing sidewalks on the way to the inauguration. “Go the other way!”  and they shouted at anyone who attempted to get through. Several sat in the middle of a blocked off street. “My body. My choice!” So angry, so passionate, so determined. I stood and chanted with them for awhile. They weren’t friendly but they accepted me, pink pussy hat and all.

About that hat! It took an act of courage on my part to pull that hat out and wear it in that environment. I didn’t see another one in my first couple of hours but I perservered. Hungry, I wandered into Harry’s, a hotel restaurant offering brunch. It wasn’t good but it was filling. I invited a young woman sitting at a table nearby to sit with me when she, recognizing my hat, confessed quietly that she was there for the march and that she, too, had a pink hat. Pulling it out of her pack, she put it on her head and a friendship was born. She was a fellow northwesterner, from Bellingham, Washington and she, too, was on her own. She was distressed because she’d heard some male Trump supporters at the bar area harassing the Latina waitresses. I watched as one very loud and dramatic woman watched the TV and shouted “Yes! I’ve been waiting eight years for this!” as Trump took the oath of office. She jumped up, grabbed the waitress and hugged her tightly. That poor waitress looked crushed and crestfallen. The hugger was oblivious to it all. She just didn’t have a clue what a Trump presidency could mean to a Latina waitress, most likely making minimum wage, in the only area of the country where the citizens have no representation in Congress and no local autonomy. Feeling helpless to really do much, we spoke reassuringly and left big tips

My new friend, Chris, and I decided to spend the day together. She hadn’t been to the Capitol before and was interested in seeing the memorials. She works with veterans and was eager to see the Vietnam memorial wall for a friend. We walked and talked. A lot. We met other “pink hat” women along the way. It became a symbol we all recognized. Yes, we understood, there are women who are like us in some essential way. Women who care enough to come to Washington to register their protest, to make connections, to march. The hats recieved mostly positive comments. A small group of young men wearing Trump t-shirts yelled some ugliness and a couple of middle-aged women spat invectives, but other than that we were greeted positively and, as the day progressed, more and more women were walking among the memorials in “pink pussy hats.” Oddly, there were few Trump supporters there. Where were all those people who wrap themselves in the flag and claim they want to “make America great?” Certainly NOT at the memorials honoring those fallen heroes who actually gave their lives in that pursuit.

I know it sounds a little silly and kind of naive, but Chris and I made it a point to try to say positive things and offer help whenever we could. We gave directions, helped a woman in a book store, held doors, smiled a lot and felt we were kind of goodwill ambassadors for the Women’s March. I guess that, at a time when you are feeling as if you you have no real control, being nice is a good way to try to make a difference. Paying kindness forward. An interesting contrast to my earlier participation in the protesting. I have both those sides in me and am passionate about both: protesting injustice and offering kindness. 

Our wanderings took us to the Vietnam, Korean, World War II, Martin Luther King, Jr. and FDR memorials. What a contrast, on a day a new, troubling and unpopular President spoke of division and restriction, to read the words of Dr. King and President Roosevelt. King’s memorial is titled “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”  Appropriate to the day. The quote that spoke to me the most that day was: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” The temporariness of specific evil and the importance of standing up against evil  is a common theme among these memorials. One I would hear more about that evening at the UnNaugural Concert and the next day at the Women’s March. Both stories for another post.

Chris and I ended our day together as we parted company at the Metro. We friended each other on Facebook and I am looking forward to hearing more about her life in Bellingham. She was a warm, soothing and fun presence on a particularly difficult day.

Those Crazy Pink Hats: A lesson in intersectionality

“Yes! I want one of those!” Even though I would look ridiculous. Even though I could scarcely remember how to knit. In a deep-down visceral part of myself I deeply wanted to raise a proverbial middle finger to Donald Trump’s careless objectification of, and assault on, women.

In case you’ve been living in a social media vacuum here’s the scoop. A few weeks before the Women’s March on Washington, and all the various protest marches in cities around the country, a pattern for a “Pink Pussy Hat” began making the social media rounds. Women all over the country quickly jumped on board at this attempt to provide a visual reminder to the world that our future President has bragged about getting away with “grabbing women by the pussy” simply because he was a celebrity. Women took great joy in knitting these pink hats with pussy ears. So much so that yarn shops in some areas reported a shortage of pink yarn.

In my case, I resurrected those rusty knitting skills and enthusiastically managed to knit one for myself. I was also given three to distribute to others on the march by a friend who wanted to be supportive but couldn’t attend any of the protests. We were thinking of how this could be a very visible sign of our disgust not only for the sexist and sexually violent actions of Trump but also for the “war on women” being waged by the Republican Party as they continue to pass legislation that makes women’s lives more challenging. 

But not all of the women knitted in anger or as a protest. Many of the knitters did so as a way to work through grief and fear. For others it was  a way to connect, to create community. Knitting groups formed with this project in mind. Even Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, was recently spotted knitting her very own pink pussy hat. 

So I was in great company! I’d knit one. Take it to Washington. Put it on and march.  Easy-peasy, right? Well, maybe not quite so much.

As these things sometimes go, there was some very legitimate pushback. And a lot for me to learn. Facebook posts and articles came fast and furious as women began to question the wisdom of the “pussycat movement.” This isn’t serious, some wrote. This will leave a visual image of women wearing silly pink hats instead of one of marchers with very imortant messages. Those who don’t agree with us will use the hats to demean us and as an excuse to not take us seriously.  These hats reinforce stereotypes of women as weak and pleasing. The hats are attempting to present women as monolithic and our issues as ones simply related to having vaginas, which many women identifying as female don’t have.  One woman of color argued that her vagina isn’t even pink and having just one color (pink) is racist. They reduce, some argued, a very complex, intersectional movement, to one visual motif. These are an old, white woman thing. Please,” they asked,  “don’t wear the hats.” 

And, as usual, I listened, and considered. Read and considered some more.  Shouldn’t it be OK to have fun with this? To stand up in whatever way I want? But what, I countered to myself, if it’s officially “frowned upon?”  And would I be betraying women who will be uncomfortable if I wear it? Should I take my hat and wear it or not? Should I take it and just see what the prevailing attitude on the march would be? I mean, they do look pretty ridiculous and, as predicted, women who oppose the march began posting pictures with captions like “These women expect us to take their message seriously?”  And I do agree with many of the points brought to light by those opposed to the hats. I began to lose my confidence in a decision I’d been so sure of. Was wearing this hat a means of self-expression and protest or support of a plan to inappropriately “unify” the marchers in really uncomfortable ways? These hats were becoming a big, confusing stressor. They had taken on a life of their own. What to do?

 I posted a link to one of the “Please, don’t” articles on my Facebook page and suggested that I might not be wearing my hat at the parade. I received feedback from my daughter and daughter-in-law, two young women whose opinions I value.

Daughter-in-law Amanda, who will be marching alongside me, wrote this: “The point of the march is, in my opinion, that we will not conform to what Trump wants us to be. By that token, I will not conform to any “prevailing opinion.” You want to wear a pussyhat? Wear it for YOU. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

Daughter Lauren, who lives in Taiwan, wrote this, primarily about the concern that those who disagree would make fun of us or that there would be pressure at the march to conform in some way: “Every cause that caused a ruckus has been in some way diminished by dominant culture and powerful people pointing to some part of it or another and saying, “See? See what kind of people they really are? Just look at their…(Mohawks, tattoos, piercings, violent event, gender, disgraceful protest at the president’s own house, “stupid” hats).” The power comes in not letting your cause be rebranded. You are you. Don’t let fear that dominant culture won’t take you seriously make you play by their rules. Unprocessed hairstyles were a big marker of the civil rights movement. Do you think black protesters decided to change those hairstyles just in case the newspapers or white majority used them to discredit the march? Taiwan is still fighting for rights and protections for queer people. Doesn’t stop protestors (and Pride is a protest still) from covering themselves in rainbows. The sheer size makes it something that cannot be discounted.”

I’m a “big tent” person. I believe strongly that each of us should do this however we feel compelled. I listened to the concerns. I appreciate the concerns. I honor the concerns. I have learned so much about the limitations of my own filters through the writing of these women. But this march has to be a “big tent” event. The concerns from the beginning have been that the tent wasn’t large enough, wasn’t specifically inclusive enough. I couldn’t possibly honor every concern expressed by others in terms of my own expression and participation. 

I want to be part of that sea of pink. I see it as a nose-thumbing expression of female power, silliness and all. It has meant a lot to friends in my community to knit hats to send along with me to pass out to other women. That is their connectiion to the event, through me.  So, here’s to those with hats and those without. May we march together, unified by our desire to come together. To stand up. To speak out. To make a difference. However that works for each of us.

Women’s March on Washington: Two encounters

Buckle Up, Buttercups! It’s Inauguration Week. My posts this week will be about my journey to Washington to participate in several events, including the Women’s March on Washington. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Encounter #1

It was cold, sitting on the bench waiting for the MARC train that would take me from Baltimore to Union Station in Washington, D.C. The train wouldn’t arrive for another twenty minutes so I passed the time people- watching and reading. I noticed that several people walked by and then disappeared around the corner. Duh! I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the train was below me and that I was above the tracks I needed to get to – three hours of sleep had left me just a little stupified. Obviously, I had to find a way to get my large suitcase, and me, to the right tracks. Approaching the elevator to the tracks below I asked a woman similarly encumbered by luggage if she knew where to go. It turned out that not only did she know where to go but that she was also in town for the Women’s March. Two hours and two train rides later we had commiserated about the election, shared our fears for the future, discussed our families and travels  and exchanged contact information.

She came to march in the parade but that wasn’t her original plan. She purchased her tickets, back in the summer, for what she assumed would be Hillary Clinton’s inauguration. In the fog of disbelief, in the wake of the election, she heard about the Women’s March and decided to participate. She felt compelled, as an African American woman from the south, to take a stand. She had been horrified, she shared, by Donald Trump’s words and actions, his casual conversation about assaulting women, his offensive attitude toward women in general, and his history of racism. So she came to march. All by herself. Unsure of how it would work but determined to join in. I shared that I was unsure as well how everything would play out but that we would welcome her as a fellow marcher in our small group.

I will appreciate having another woman of my generation in our group as it is pretty much all younger people in their thirties.  And how much do I love that they are all going? So incredibly much. But sometimes it’s just nice to have someone my own age around. So we are greater by one. One more woman. One more voice.

That was an easy encounter.  In fact, it was a delightful encounter. She was, as we sometimes describe it, a part of my affinity group: female,  over-sixty,  a fellow traveler, well-educated, progressive and a person of faith. We had many things in common and the couple of hours we spent together sped by.

Encounter #2

Having a conversation with someone who basically agrees with you is one thing: easy, exciting, rewarding. I have lots of those face-to-face and online.  I am, in fact, surrounded by those kinds of people. I also have friends, primarily ones I grew up with who live in small-town and rural Ohio, who are Trump supporters. We have common backgrounds and a long history of “knowing each other.” Although I no longer live near them, and most of our communication happens through Facebook, I have known many of them since grade school and count them as friends. We don’t talk politics (or religion). At all. Ever. It’s just too difficult online and I hardly ever see them offline.

But what happens when you meet a complete stranger with whom you have no shared background and almost nothing obvious in common? And who wants to tell you exactly how stupid and naive you are? THAT was Encounter #2

This next conversation took place later the same day. I’d been walking in Alexandria, Virginia for several hours. I was wet and tired and cold so I popped into a neighborhood coffee house. With a bracing cup of hot tea in hand I found a seat at the community table. I sipped my tea and relaxed, reading my e-mail and catching up online. A man came in and rifled through the trash can looking for a newspaper. He was wet and rumpled and obviously a little agitated. Having found something to his liking, he plopped down across the table from me and read his paper.

After a bit he couldn’t seem to contain himself and said to me “I just don’t get it. Trump is going to be inaugurated on Friday but all this damn paper has is stuff about Obama. I just don’t understand.” I suggested that perhaps people were angry with Mr. Trump. In a frustrated tone he responded, talking about how college educated people are so stupid they can’t even recognize what a wall is, all the while gesturing to a wall at the end of the room. “This,” he shouted, ” is a wall!”

“Trump is saving this country,” he said. “In a year this country will be 100% better off.” He shared emphatically about how much he hates and didn’t trust Hillary Clinton and said that if she’d been elected she would have put Putin in the White House.  “Obama,” he said “lied to you for eight years and  destroyed this country and you’re just too stupid to see that.” He ended by stating “I love my country and you people who didn’t vote for Trump hate our country or they never would have voted for Clinton.” I told him I love my country too, and if in a year we are 100% better off I would count that as a blessing. Continuing to grumble he walked out into the rainy evening.

This wasn’t  a conversation. He wasn’t interested in answers or anything at all that I had to say. I asked a couple of questions and he used them to amp up his frustration so I mostly just sat back and listened. He made some assumptions about me, from just looking at me, that were right on the mark. Well-educated and liberal. My very presence seemed to irritate him. How could we have all that education and be so stupid? Allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the current administration?  His disgust and anger were palpable.

This man had three obvious aspects that  would have placed him in my affinity group: his age, his race and his anger. We are both Caucasian. Both over sixty. Both are angry about Donald Trump’s upcoming Presidency – I that it’s even happening, he that people don’t seem to be willing to give Trump a chance. If there are other commonalities I will never know. His anger was a shield to any true conversation and, although I tried, I didn’t  seem to have the skills to engage him in any way that could move beyond that.

I wonder, sometimes, how my own vocal and often biting critique of Donald Trump and of the Republican Party’s plans for the future of our country diminishes my ability to have real encounters with those who don’t agree with me. We are so polarized and I just don’t seem to have it in me at all to compromise on issues that are important to me: civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQI rights, police reform, affordable and accessible health care, foreign engagement and climate change. But listening and having a conversation are vastly different than compromising my beliefs and it is my fervent hope this week to engage in some of those conversations. To listen and try to get a better feel for what Trump supporters are actually looking for. Counting on. Hoping for.

On Saturday, I march. For all those issues. For my daughters and my son and my grandson and for all the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters in the world, because they all have value. I march in hope that we will find better, more egalitarian solutions. I  march so we can state with one voice: “We will not go quietly into that good night, but will persevere.”

So, Buckle up Buttercups! On Friday I will be on the mall listening in (OK, eavesdropping) and hopefully participating in some of those conversations. I will also be touring the Museum of African American History and Culture with a group from Oregon. Friday evening we will be attending the UnNaugural Concert. I’ll keep you posted on all of that in coming days.



The Women’s March on Washington – heading out!

Buckle up Buttercups! Here we go.  I’m off to D.C. To make some noise. I have no idea what it will be like to be in the company of 200,000 or so mostly-women determined to stand up for our future. When I read their stories, the issues that compel them to march, I am in awe. So many concerns.  So much passion about having their voices heard. I am honored to be among them. A neophyte, I’ve never done anything quite like this before. I wonder at how I will be changed by the process. How will I be different? What will I learn? I am determined, at the least, to have this first effort not be the last.

When I read that this march was going to take place, long before it had a name or defined goals, I was in. Totally, completely committed. I’d felt so helpless and hopeless after the election. The future ahead looked like an overwhelmingly bleak series of one right after another being rolled back. A party already at war with women had ramped up its rhetoric and determination to look, not forward, but back. Back to an idealized version of the 1950’s, before women and people of color gained many of the rights they’d been denied. Old, white, conservative, wealthy, “Christian” men would once again reign and the future didn’t look pretty. I knew there wouldn’t be a lot I could do to stop that train wreck but this, this marching, would at the least be an effort. A place to raise my voice and to be counted among those who will say “Enough!”

So, here I am. Ticket in hand. Sitting in a bar at the Portland airport, eating crab cakes and drinking something incredibly delicious, waiting to board the red-eye to Baltimore. Ready to step out and step up and make a difference. Ready to be made different in ways I can only now imagine. I’ll keep you posted.