I Survived

Some random first-world thoughts on the eve of yet another cross-country move, this time to Cancún.

I haven’t written much of anything since November 8, 2017. I have been in shock, stupefied, wordless (although I have spoken and thought many passionate words about the fate of the planet, of my country, of my children and their children, of so many people I love and things I value), in the wake of America’s supposedly voluntary choice of a madman to lead us. My exterior life hasn’t changed perceptibly since that fateful date, but my inner life is in chaos, with waking nightmares of glowering angry men and their zombie concubines sneering at my panicked semblance, smirking at my cowering impotence.

I woke up this morning wishing I could escape–check into a yoga camp and do mind-clearing meditation all day and night or turn myself in to an old folks’ home where I could learn crafts and chair yoga from sweet young things who cannot comprehend the life I have lived and the art exploding in my head–art which my undisciplined hands cannot shape into a coherent form, dance which my untrained body cannot express in coordinated movement. They cannot know that there are sweet young things like them still living inside their docile pupils.

Some of this panic is purely existential, and in the big picture, trivial. For a year, I have been trying to move myself and my household across the country, ever since my son’s work took him away from the cozy little nest we had feathered in homey Torreon, Mexico, for the past five years. I thought the news that he had found a place for all of us (me, himself, three friends, one cat and three dogs) in the far-away exotic city of Cancun would fill me with optimism. Instead, it made me feel uprooted, homeless, adrift, a feeling that will vanish in the rush of mandatory activity in the days ahead.

Early in March, on a long-anticipated and much-enjoyed trip to Guadalajara, I met up with a friend who willingly, even eagerly, listened to and understood my rambling thoughts and shared, in solidarity, some of her own. During that same trip, I reached a deeper level of understanding with the father of my children, from whom I have been divorced for a quarter of a century. This trip should have filled me with joy and optimism, and it did, but it is also the reason for my panic. I had to reckon with my own strength–the strength I have feared for the past thirty years, the strength which, in the end, means I have to stand alone much of the time. Strength is the end product of pressure between despair and the will to survive. You either give in to insane helplessness, willing your body to perish along with your mind and soul, or you survive. I survived.

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Mama Lesh

Note: The original post appeared on my autobiographical blog, “My Own Ordinary Life.” I am reposting it here because addiction and suicide are so often in the news. The problems are both more prevalent and more widely reported these days, but addiction didn’t start with hippies and rock stars in the 1960s.

My grandmother, born in 1892, was addicted to sleeping pills and surgery. My childhood memories are punctuated with overdose scares. Uncle Jack, the eldest and most practical of her three sons, would call my father,  “Dan, I’m taking Mama to the hospital again.” (She always called just in time to get her stomach pumped.) Daddy, visibly upset, would drive to Nocona, I would be perplexed, and Mama would be mad.

Her simple bedroom with its plain gray walls was probably intended for a live-in maid. It was adjacent to the kitchen of the spacious house. The bed where she spent most of her days and nights had no decorative bedspread or pillow covers. A small dresser with a faded mirror in the corner farthest from the door held a framed photograph of my grandfather, who had died in an oil rig accident before I was born. Her dentures usually smiled ghoulishly from a glass of water on the nightstand, and an array of medicine bottles stood at attention, ready to provide relief for real and imagined pain. A few simple chairs around the bed completed the meager furnishings. The air was thick with Vicks, musty clothing, and Nina Ricci L’Air du temps. The one visible luxury was a window-unit air conditioner—the first refrigerated home air conditioning I had ever experienced. I savored the coolness of that room while the rest of the house and all outdoors sweltered.

She languished in that gray bedroom most of the time, but once in awhile we would find her freshly bathed and perfumed, teeth in place, neatly dressed and wearing an apron, busy making an abundant meal, which she would serve on the dark mahogany dining table. Unlike her spartan sick room, the dining room, living room, and other bedrooms had expensive furniture, thick carpets, brocade curtains, and fireplaces with Swiss clocks and porcelain figurines on the mantels.

Mama Lesh could cook. She made delicious fruit cobblers, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn-on-the cob dripping with real butter, beef roast baked with potatoes and carrots, salads made from hand-picked lettuce and tomatoes. If we got there at breakfast time on one of her few good days, she would treat us to thick bacon, plates of scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits with butter she had churned herself and jam she had canned and stored in the cool, slightly scary basement under the tall back kitchen steps.

I had no special affection for my grandmother, but we visited dutifully, and she sometimes drove her light green 1950 Ford from Nocona to Wichita Falls to spend a day or two with us. I would greet her with a reluctant peck on the cheek, dodging a moist kiss on the lips offered in return. She would bring a small maroon alligator suitcase, a matching necessaire, and an enormous leather purse. “Mary Ann,” she would say, “bring me my pocketbook.” I knew she meant the gigantic purse, though in my mind a pocketbook should have been a folding wallet that would fit in a pocket. I would hand her the purse, and she would reach in, pulling out a fistful of bright orange capsules, pushing them into her mouth, not bothering to chase them with water. Although seconals are sleeping pills, the dose that she retrieved from her “pocketbook” did not make her sleep. It made her feel normal, she hoped, for the rest of the day. At night, an even larger dose would, with luck, help her get to sleep. Her dealer was a pharmacist who lived in a nice brick house surrounded by shade trees on a small hill just outside of Nocona. I would sometimes go with her on errands and wait in the car while she went into that house, emerging a few minutes later, “pocketbook” refilled with her precious drugs, illegal when provided in the quantities she required.

Once in awhile, she would ask me to fix her short and professionally cut hair. I liked doing that. Her hair, unlike my own flyaway tresses, was thick and wavy. Once it had been rolled, touched up with a curling iron that had been heated over an open flame, and arranged neatly, it would stay put with no need for teasing or hair spray. My mother used to say that Mama Lesh had style. “She looks elegant and stylish in her clothes,” my mom said. “Not everyone has that quality. It has very little to do with good looks, and expensive clothes alone are not enough.” She would then point out certain pretty, well-dressed women like Elizabeth Taylor who, nevertheless, lacked style. Jackie Kennedy, Mama said, had beauty and style. A lot of style.

Ocie Mae was the least attractive sibling in the McGuire family. Great Aunt Maude, the older sister, was pleasant, practical, and hardworking with a wry sense of humor. Although I knew her only as a gray-haired widow whose much-older late husband had been a Baptist pastor, Mama Lesh told us that Aunt Maude was once a spirited girl with flaming red hair. Sister Mary had died young, leaving two small children. Her photographs, including one in which she appears to be sleeping surrounded by flowers in a satin-lined casket, are evidence that the lovely brunette was the beauty of the family. Brothers Tom and John were big-boned tall young men with broad handsome faces, flat noses, and thick lips, good features in young men, but less appealing in a young woman. Ocie Mae had inherited those features rather than the more delicate looks of her sisters.

By the time of my earliest memories she was a widow in her mid-fifties, a gray-haired woman who wore ugly expensive orthopedic shoes. She changed little between that time and her death in 1974. She seldom smiled, and I can’t remember hearing her laugh. Her face was set in a sad little smile, head slightly tilted. Looking through boxes of memorabilia a few years ago, I came across a photograph of her as a woman in youthful middle age riding a mechanical horse, her head thrown back, laughing. I thought Mama Lesh had never enjoyed life. It was comforting but disconcerting to see that there had been some fun in her life once upon a time.

We said she was a hypochondriac, but it is more likely that she suffered from Munchhausen syndrome. The hypochondriac believes she is really sick. The person with Munchhausen knows she is faking but can’t help herself because of an overwhelming need for attention. Those of us who have not regularly experienced deep needs from unsatisfied childhood longings find it easier to judge than to comprehend, and I wonder now if my grandmother suffered from something much deeper than the physical ailments she feigned. Willie McGuire Ferguson, Great Uncle John McGuire’s daughter, told family stories of a serious childhood illness when Ocie was quite small. Another sister, Lizzie, had taken sick and died within just a few days while the McGuire family was traveling from Virginia to Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. Rachel, their mother, terrified of losing another child to illness, watched and cared for little Ocie day and night for several months. Willie believed that was the seed of Ocie’s lifelong quest for attention, resorting to illness or self-harm to get it.

She never appeared to be seriously ill except when unconscious from an overdose, but she never professed feeling well. She traveled to Mayo Clinic for diagnosis and treatment. I don’t know what for. She had surgery whenever she could convince a surgeon to undertake it. With plenty of money that my grandfather left her, it seems willing surgeons abounded. One kidney, gall bladder, appendix—any dispensable organ was removed. She didn’t exercise or eat healthy food. She thought a lot about illness, but she didn’t think much about health. With all of that plus the heavy doses of narcotics, and who knows what other prescribed medicines she probably didn’t need, Mama Lesh lived to age 81.

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In search of a story: heat and ashes

When the developers of Danza del Sol in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico, didn’t sell enough apartments to recuperate their investment, the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara bought it to use for conferences and guest housing. I was an employee of the university, and we were offered generous discounts  on short-term rentals of  the suites.hotelchapalaajijic

When my husband’s cousin Ricardo and his brand-new bride Veronica came for a visit from Mexico City, Danza del Sol seemed like the perfect place for weekend sightseeing. It is a resort hotel decorated Mexican hacienda style just outside Ajijic, a thirty-minute drive from our house in Guadalajara. We, two couples and three kids, ages 10, 12, and 14, loaded into the cars and took off.

We were pleased when we saw our suite—living/dining room with stone fireplace, kitchen, two bedrooms. It was a cold night, so we were pleasantly surprised to feel that the apartment was warm and cozy. Although the fireplace was swept clean, I thought a recent tenant must have enjoyed a wood-burning fire, but when I placed my hand on the hearth, it was cold.

We were hungry, so we left our suitcases and headed to the village of Ajijic, thinking that later we would have the concierge make a fire in the beautiful fireplace, and we could sit up playing games, snacking, and exchanging family anecdotes. We were mildly curious about the warmth of our suite when all other parts of the complex were much colder, but we had other things to talk about, so we gave it no further thought.

When we returned, our suite was not just warm. It was uncomfortably warm. It was hot, in fact, and there was something in the air, so much that it was hard to breathe. We wondered if housekeeping had plumped up the sofa pillows, stirring up a dust cloud, but it was a feeble explanation for the choking, stinging sensation that reached into our lungs and made our eyes burn sting. The heat became unbearable.

Veronica and I got back into the car with the children Andres and Ricardo to went to talk to the concierge. Within a short time, we had an upgrade—a three-bedroom apartment with two of the bedrooms on a mezzanine. It was lovely. There was no extra charge. Andres and Ricardo told us that the concierge turned a little pale and had a strange look when they told him what we were experiencing. They thought it was odd that he asked no questions, nor did he make any move to check it out for himself.

We resettled ourselves happily into our upgraded apartment and spent a restful night. The kids were happy that they didn’t have to sleep on the couches, which was to have been the arrangement in our original rental. They had their own bedroom.

Still curious about the other room, in the light of day, relaxed and rested, the men went to check it out. My husband Andres, a medical doctor, believed there had to be a scientific explanation for the heat and ashes. The concierge said little, and he again had a strange look on his face, but he opened the suite and allowed them to check adjoining rooms and spaces as well to see if there might be a water-heating system or even one of Jalisco’s famous underground thermal water deposits that would be a start at explaining the heat, if not the dust, or ashes, or whatever it was in the air after we came back from dinner.

That was it. We relaxed in the lovely outdoor lobby space. The kids swam in the pool. Then it was time to return to Guadalajara. It was disconcerting, but we might have filed it away under “weird unexplained things.” However, a few months later Andres was chatting with some of his colleagues, and Danza del Sol as a getaway hotel came up.

“It’s okay,” said his colleague, “but avoid Suite —.” (I don’t remember the number, but at that time Andres knew that it was the number of the first suite we had been assigned a few months before.)

“Why?” asked Andres, trying to hide the fact that he had turned a little pale when the suite number was mentioned.

“We were in that suite,” said the colleague, “sitting in the living room. Suddenly, the heavy glass top of the coffee table literally flew off the base, barely missing my daughter. We asked to be moved, of course.”

I went back to Danza del Sol after the heat-and-ash incident to work a number of university conferences. There were no further incidents for me, nor did any of our guests speak of strange goings-on. They seem to be related to particular spaces within the complex.

There are quite a lot of stories about Danza del Sol that I haven’t taken the time to verify or investigate further. Some are about freak accidents that occurred during the construction, possibly coincidental or possibly provoked by even older spirits. Our experience took place in February, 1982, but the paranormal website, which I might have dismissed as just a freaky sensational internet thing had it not been for our own brush there with the dark side, as well as a few standard hotel reviews mention strange goings-on as recently as 2012 and at several points in between.

I still have no comforting narrative to explain that heat and the ashes (or whatever otherworldly thing it might have been)—not common dust particles—in that suite.

 

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La Llorona

Stories of mothers who kill their children, whether news reports, fiction, or myths and legends, awaken our primordial fear of all mothers’ power over their children. The unquestioning and unavoidable trust of an infant for the mother can be terrifying to a grown-up child who realizes that his own mother should not have been trusted with a helpless infant. The terror is not altogether unfounded.

According to the American Anthropological Association, more than 200 women kill their own children every year in the United States alone. La Llorona embodies the mythos of that fear.

Stories of La Llorona have passed from generation to generation, starting long before anyone wrote them down. There are slightly different versions throughout Latin America and in regions of the United States that were once part of New Spain. The details may vary, but the heart of the story remains the same: a loving mother has killed her children. The following is one of the Mexican versions.

On a windy night in Mexico City, along the streets where canals once carried water from Lake Texcoco into ancient Tenochtitlan, a soul-chilling sound is sometimes heard. It is the shrill voice of a woman shrieking and wailing, Ay! Mis hijos! ¿ Donde están mis hijos? (My children! Where are my children? Some people say they have seen a woman in white floating along those streets in a futile eternal search for her lost children. She is La Llorona, the Wailing Woman. Some believe she is the collective soul of indigenous Mexico, lamenting the loss of her descendants to European assimilation. Others tell a horrifying story of a woman whose spirit cannot rest because, in a moment of rage, she did the unthinkable.

In colonial times, the story goes, a beautiful Aztec woman and a handsome aristocrat, a conquistador, loved each other. The Spaniard was not bold enough to make her his wife, but they had three children together. She waited eagerly for his visits, but one day he stopped coming. The young mother learned  her beloved conquistador had returned from Spain with an aristocratic Spanish wife. He loved his Aztec concubine, but he had agreed to an arranged marriage so he could secure his fortunes and his status in the New Spain’s colonial society.

The Aztec woman, devastated by her lover’s marriage, took their three children to one of the canals and drowned them. Realizing too late what she had done, she jumped in and drowned herself. Her spirit walks the streets where the canals used to flow, searching for her children, screaming and wailing for them through the dark windy nights.

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Malinche, Mother of La Raza

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October 12, el Día de la Raza, marks the emerging of a new branch of humankind, the mestizo, a mix of American indigenous and European. The eventual conquest and fall of the Mesoamerican civilizations is celebrated by some, lamented by others, but both victors and vanquished acknowledge that it is an event of great consequence. The symbolic patriarch of this new race is the Spaniard Don Hernán Cortés Monroy Pizarro Altamirano. The mother is a Nahua slave, first known as Malinalli, later baptized Marina by the Spanish when they received her among a group of twenty female slaves. She had first been given to Alonso Hernández Portocarrero, but when he was called to return to Spain, Hernán Cortés took her as his slave, Nahuátl-Mayan interpreter, and lover. Their son, Martín Cortés, considered one of the first mestizos, was born in 1522. In addition to interpreter and lover, Malinalli eventually became war councilor, diplomat, and spy for Cortés .

Malinalli is known in history as Malintzín, Malinche, or Doña Marina. She was still a child when her life took an unfortunate turn as her father, a cacique of some influence, died, and her mother remarried and soon gave birth to a son. In order to establish that son as ruler, her mother sold Malinalli as a slave, and she eventually came to be owned by a Mayan ruler in the Tabasco region, where she learned the Mayan language. Her native language was Nahuátl. The concession of the twenty slave girls was made when the Spaniards defeated the Tabascans at the Battle of Centla.

Malinalli eventually learned Spanish, but she began her work as Cortés´s interpreter even before she had mastered his language, with the help of a shipwrecked Spaniard, Jeronimo de Aguilar, who had been held in captivity by Mayans and was rescued by Cortés in Cozumel. Malinalli translated from Nahuátl to Mayan, and de Aguilar translated from Mayan to Spanish.

There is considerable evidence that Malinalli was much more than a simple translator and concubine for Cortés. The soldier and historian Bernal Diaz del Castillo called her a great woman. Indigenous drawings of the time seldom show Hernán Cortés without Doña Marina by his side, and she is even portrayed alone, directing events without him.

While much appreciated by the Spaniards, she has been maligned as a traitor to her own people, and even today, a person who reveres foreign cultures, goods, and people, is called in derision a “Malinchista.”

Whether a hero, a traitor, or simply a victim of circumstances, this Mother of the Mestizo Race was surely a very intelligent woman whose strength and independent spirit were far ahead of her time and circumstances.

Human acts, whether driven by benevolence, evil or uncontrollable forces, may  have far-reaching consequences, and those consequences have the potential for good and evil. October 12 may be a day of celebration for some and lamentation for others, but for everyone it marks a formidable change in the history of humanity.

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Thirty Years of Bernie Sanders

This is why I am passionate about Bernie Sanders. This will no doubt be the most significant election in my lifetime, and maybe yours. This may be our last chance to get it right.

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Insidious Invisibility

When #BlackLivesMatter is countered with hateful slogans or the faux-egalitarian #AllLivesMatter, I recall sadly how for many years of my life, Black Lives really didn’t matter. Wichita Falls, Texas, didn’t hate black people. Many of us even kind of liked black people. We loved Sammy Davis, Jr., Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, and Louis Armstrong. We expressed our racial bias in a manner even more insidious than hate or aggression. We simply didn’t see black people. The evidence of this can be found in vintage issues of my hometown newspaper, which lack evidence of any black population at all.


 societeypageI love newspapers. One of the most joyful sounds of my late childhood was the thump of The Wichita Falls Times, artfully folded into a kind of double boomerang that eased its flight from the hand of the boy on the bicycle to our front porch. (That sound was second for anticipated joy only to the postman’s footsteps on that porch, followed by the shuffling of papers, and the dull tinny ding of the letter box closing.) I would retrieve the folded newspaper, unfold it, and plop myself down on the living room floor to peruse the headlines, read Dear Abby, Dr. Crane, letters to the editor, a few comic strips and cartoons, and, on Thursdays, the high school news roundup, “Teen Times.”

My family was too busy for the morning newspaper, The Wichita Falls Record News, but on Sundays, the two newspapers were combined into an extravaganza for all subscribers to either or both papers: The Sunday Times-Record News. It was rolled, not folded, because it was so thick, and it hit the porch with a thud rather than a thump. On rainy Sundays, it came encased in plastic.

After church on Sunday mornings, my family members would divide the paper into sections and then exchange them as we finished. I always wanted first shot at the full-color comics or the society pages. I was enthralled by the photographs of beautiful brides in full wedding dress and the artfully retouched portraits of brides-to-be with their engagement announcements. I would watch for news and photographs of the Junior Forum Debutante Ball in May and the more elite Cotillion Debutante White Tie Ball in December.

Before 1964, black people were required by law to live in designated sections of town. In Wichita Falls, that area was east of the railroad tracks, Flood Street and beyond. Mexicans lived there too, by custom rather than law, clustered on the side closer to the tracks. A few of them lived in the “white” part of town, like Dr. Martinez from Mexico City and his pale and elegant wife and daughters, whom the town people called “Spanish” to distinguish them from darker and less prestigious “Mexicans.”

There were two high schools in Wichita Falls then, but if you ask any white citizen over 65 how many there were, he or she will invariably answer, “One.” Wichita Falls High School was not the white high school. It was the high school. Booker T. Washington High School had excellent facilities, although even now I can’t say where they are located–somewhere, I assume, way beyond Flood Street. I have never seen them. Booker T had a championship football team, an outstanding marching band, and a choir that was recognized statewide and occasionally came to sing in the elegant churches of the white people.

This is where my love of The Wichita Falls Times connects with the myth of one high school in Wichita Falls. You see, the newspaper was, for me, a mirror of my world. I knew that there was Flood Street and beyond. I knew that kids who lived there went to Booker T. Washington High School. I even ventured a few times to their home football games to watch the jazzy marching band. There were black people in town working in the few jobs open to them. I went on mission expeditions to teach Vacation Bible School in the Projects. Some white people even trekked across muddy Flood Street to benefit from the excellent work and lower prices of the “colored” dentist at his elegant home with a built-on clinic.

I didn’t hate black people. I thought racism was evil and spoke against it on occasion. I didn’t hate or dislike black people, but I didn’t see black people. The mirror of my world, The Wichita Falls Times, didn’t report Booker T.’s sports news. Their many band and choir awards got no recognition or photographs in “Teen Times.” There were no photographs of black students doing anything at all. Black brides and debutantes were never featured on the society pages. Black churches were not included in Saturday’s “guide to worship services.” Even black crimes were usually reported only in the police notes at the back of the news. Black people were not allowed to patronize the same local restaurants where I ate or the stores where I shopped. When I traveled by bus, they had their sections in the station and on the bus, and they used the toilets and drinking fountains marked “colored.”

No, Wichita Falls, Texas, had no problem with black people. We simply ignored them to the point of near non-existence. There were no black faces reflected in our mirror on the world.

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An Open Letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton

young_hillary_clintonApril 6, 2016

Dear Hillary,

Please excuse the informality of the greeting, but I am older than you, and everyone else seems to feel free to address you by your first name these days. I have admired you for a long time. I admire you for switching from Republican to Democrat early on because of your concern for children and the poor. I love those early photographs of you and Bill, fresh-faced, overflowing with intelligence and idealism. You thought you could take on the whole world. Many of us thought we could too, but, by golly, you two really did it! I admire you for the thoughts expressed in It Takes a Village, and for having the discipline to get it written.

I admire you for holding on to the powerful partnership that is your marriage, even after the “forsaking all others” part of your vows had become a very public joke. I am divorced and on friendly terms and can still talk about big ideas with either of my ex-husbands, but not being a person in the public eye, I had the freedom to get privately divorced. After watching “House of Cards,” I saw how a bedroom suite with large private bedrooms on either side could make preserving a partnership/marriage more palatable.

I thought you really meant it when you took on the medical establishment during Bill’s administration, and I admired you for doing more than decorating interiors, displaying clothes, and charming heads of State. (Don’t get me wrong. I loved Jackie Kennedy’s style, but that was her time. Your time was yours.)

Even though I am not a fan of dynasty politics, I admired you for your valiant campaign to become the first female POTUS. I might have voted for John McCain because of the dynasty thing, but when the Republicans recruited the intellectually challenged girl to be his running mate, I became Democrat or Bust.

You didn’t win, but you bounced back and became a credible, if not exactly admirable, Secretary of State. However, if it wasn’t obvious to me during Bill’s administration, it became perfectly clear during Obama’s that the whole lot of you had sold out to big corporations and their lobbyists, and a whole lot of us had been abandoned by the Democratic Party. I have remained a Democrat only because it retained the veneer of intelligence and progressive humane values that the Republicans lacked, but at heart both Parties have been thoroughly corrupted by lust for money and power.

I must confess that I have followed Bernie Sanders for a long time because of his independent spirit and actions, and I had hoped that he would toss his hat in the ring for the presidency with Elizabeth Warren as his running mate. Or vice-versa. I also thought that he would not have a much greater chance than Ralph Nader did.

Fast forward to today. I have supported Bernie’s candidacy from the beginning, but I was happy to see you in the running once again. I admired your resilience. I was happy that the Democratic campaign was such a sane contrast to the Republican Clown Car Show. I was determined to work for Bernie, but I would not have been unhappy to vote for you. It started well enough, but then you began to show that fair fight is not a concept that corporatists can even understand.

I have moved from “Hillary is okay,” to “Bernie or Bust,” mostly because of your campaign. Here are a few things, in retrospect, that might have kept me with at least one foot in your camp:

  • Insist on fair and equal media coverage for all candidates.
  • Welcome prime-time debates.
  • Avoid even the appearance of voting impropriety in the primaries.
  • Take a stand against gerrymandering and for voters’ rights–all voters’ rights
  • Refuse at all costs to propagate lies about your opponents, double-check what you believe to be true, and avoid putting an obvious and desperate spin on those facts.
  • Take stands on things and stick with them. If you change your mind for a good reason, be open and honest about it. Don’t flip-flop to impress one demographic or another. We have YouTube. We know what you said and when and where you said it.

But you didn’t, and I fear that the fresh-faced Wellesley girl, the born winner, who received the seven-minute standing ovation for her commencement speech, has been brought down by the “win at all costs” doctrine that overtook the belief in “do the right thing.”

I’m sorry, Hillary Rodham Clinton. I’m really, really sorry, to see you stumble on feet of clay as they crumble beneath you. It is never too late to do the right thing, but I fear it is too late to do the right thing and win back those of us who have admired you and wished good things for you. I would be hard put to say, at this moment, what the right thing for you to do would even be.

Mary Ann Lesh

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Testimonies, Miracles, and Green Pastures

07_31_1_webSometimes guest speakers came to my church–missionaries who lived and worked in other countries. They showed slides of themselves in exotic settings among dark-skinned people and told many wonderful stories of living by faith. They spoke of miracles: instant healing in response to a prayer; an exact amount of money that arrived soon after a prayer for that amount; an urge to go to a specific place where they found someone waiting to hear what they had to say. I wanted to be like them, but the people I prayed for died anyway, I had to work for the money that I needed, and what I thought were divine appointments sometimes ended awkwardly.

Reportable miracles are the material of “testimonies,” a staple of old-fashioned Southern Baptist culture, but they seem incoherent in the narrative of a life that doesn’t report steady progress heavenward: twice-divorced, vain, intermittently unchurched, often confused. I have fewer answers to the really big questions than I did when I was nineteen.

I’ve experienced a few reportable miracles: doors opened to a university that seemed out of my reach; a life partner with faith greater than mine; material goods to supply specific material needs; an unexpected intervention from a person of power to solve a problem, but these reportable miracles recede against the backdrop of larger miracles: an invisible hand and a still, small voice of a shepherd much larger than I who has guided me, not skipping joyfully from sunny hilltop to sunny hilltop, but trudging through valleys of shadows of death and evil; the incredible journey of the earth around the sun every twenty-four hours; the exquisitely-formed human beings who grew inside me and who have survived to middle age and produced their own exquisitely-formed beings; sunlight and shade; water and food; trees and flowers; work and provision; family, friends, pets, and love.

I am not blessed because I have special spoiled-child status with the Almighty, but because I have been willed into existence and consciousness by a power that I cannot possibly understand. I am blessed when I stop insisting on comprehension and start to accept and experience the wonder and the terror of the Universe and its Creator.

My wishes to be a missionary or a pastor’s wife or the leader of some great ministry have not been granted. My life is not a running report of dramatic miracles and unmitigated progress toward heaven.

I sleep. I get up. I drink coffee. I eat. Most days, I read a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament, and, more often than not, far from being instantly inspired and filled with wisdom, I find myself wondering what THAT was about. I worry about car accidents and climate change and epidemics and the economy and politics. I wonder if my life makes any difference. I wonder if I should do more and, if so, what I should do. But sometimes I think of a lamb, trembling as she walks through the shadows, trusting in a shepherd whose ways she cannot know, comforted by rod and staff and food and green pastures. ~Mary Ann Lesh

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