A Prayer on September 11th

I sat down to write this morning before work, and this is what happened.

9/11/17

The date stops me. I planned on writing about something else.

Someone made up a story about who the enemy was and why bad things happen to us, and we directed all our fear into rage and vindictiveness.

“Tears are bullets when they harden,” a line from a Stanley Kunitz poem, turns out to be true (poets always knew).

We have committed the terrible crime of dehumanization. In our own hearts and minds, we have replaced the faces of our neighbors with the cartoonish  masks of enemies. We project our worst fears on them because it’s easier to hate an imaginary enemy than to face ourselves. And we imagine enemies everywhere. And where we imagine them they become real, if only to us, the terrified and deluded.

Wake up.

Let’s pray for our own souls.

Lord save me from my own delusion. Teach me to sit my ego down and look it in the eye. Let me see my neighbor’s true face. I will be brave, and I will act with love. Let us heal this wound.

Amen.

When I was a child, they told us in Catholic school that the word “amen” meant, “I don’t understand, but I believe.”

I don’t understand how we will heal this wound, but I believe that we can and we must. There are 16-year-old children now who were born after 9/11. They have only known a world in which we are at war and are steeped in a culture that believes enemies are everywhere. How do we teach them not to live in fear? I don’t know, but I still believe in trying.

Amen.

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The only useful thing I have to say about racism.

 

don't shoot

Jesus in the garden
prayed. Begged
for his life.
Because we cannot take back our cruelty, we make him king.
Hold him up.
Hold up the shreds of his garments.
We feel so stupid now.

We didn’t know he was God
until we saw him bleed.
And now we make each other bleed.
We say, you are not god.
That is not god lying dead in the street.
That was not god begging for his life.
How do you know?

How do you know he won’t
come back with black skin
wearing a hoodie or just,
you know, walking through
your neighborhood on a
beautiful day?
How do you know three days from now you won’t
remember his face?

140818-michael-brown-graduation-jms-2128_e9443531d58b213656488e4ce6d17a4f 2

 

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The End of Wanting

by margaretglin

Photo by margaretglin

Everyone has their Jordan Catalano. Mine was Kurt. I was in the 6th grade, he was in the 8th, but he had been held back a year, I think. We met at a youth group lock-in at church. He went to public school. I went to Catholic school. It was bad news.

That was the summer I wore wind shorts. Everyone wore wind shorts, except the girls who wore jean shorts, and I didn’t like those girls for reasons only sixth graders understand. One of them could put on perfect lip liner without using a mirror. I heard she hung out with Kurt, and I asked her about him. She said, “Ugh, you can have him.”

There were two lock-ins that summer. My best friend went with me to the first one and kept me out of trouble. I admired him from afar and wished he would talk to me. At the second one, my best friend wasn’t there. I made friends with this awkward girl who the jeans short girls didn’t seem to like. There was a dance, and I made out with Kurt while slow dancing right in front of the youth group leader. That night, while everyone was lying on the floor sleeping or surreptitiously fooling around under their sleeping bags, he tried to finger me. We were barely even covered, and I didn’t quite understand what he was doing, so I drew back.

In a bitter moment months later, I told my dad Kurt spent the whole night trying to get his hands in my pants — in reality, he’d spent maybe 20 minutes actually trying, microscopically inching along my leg to see how close his hands could get to my panties. It was bad enough I’d kissed him in front of everyone, and I knew my reputation was about to take a big hit, but if we got caught messing around on the floor at a church lock-in, I might as well die.

On the other hand, I really liked him. You have no idea how cute he was. What I knew about him was just a handful of dubious facts. His parents were divorced. He lived with his grandfather or an uncle. He was troubled. He had a bad reputation. He was probably just misunderstood. Of course. But after I pulled away from him, he didn’t talk to me for the rest of the night, didn’t ask for my phone number, and didn’t acknowledge me again until the day my dad nearly kicked his ass in the church parking lot.

We had a total of five conversations, including the one after choir practice the year we were in Christmas choir. We were standing outside the church waiting for rides home when he repeated some gossip he’d heard about me from someone I never met. I told him his friend was a liar and that he’d hurt me with the way he acted before. I don’t think he got it. We didn’t talk again for a long time. That year at Christmas Mass, he had a solo in “We Three Kings,” and his voice cracked badly. My older brother made fun of him on the car ride home, but I still liked him so I felt bad about it.

One day, after I’d stopped waiting for him to like me, maybe 8th or 9th grade, he called and asked me to be his girlfriend. I told him I needed to think about it, and he said, “Just don’t call your friends and ask them what you should do. Girls always do that, and I don’t wanna date someone like that.” Of course, I called my best friend, and together we determined that he was too much of a gamble and I could do better, even if he was really cute and I still sorta liked him.

In high school, I heard he had sex with a girl from my class in a movie theater. There were gory details I still won’t repeat. Once, they showed up at the house where my friends and I would hang out after school. I knew he was coming, and I made a point to be there for reasons only high school girls understand. When they arrived, he was uninteresting. He acted tough but was too out of place to be convincing. We nodded like old divorcees. She had on too much mascara. Her bangs were too heavy. She avoided eye contact and smiled weakly. That was the last day I wanted him.

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love humans

Where_is_the_love by Tatoli ba Kultura -- CC-BY-SA

I want to tell you to love yourself, but I also want to tell you to love other people. And I don’t mean like putting others first in all things because that becomes painful very quickly.
But practice seeing the good in other people. And beyond that, see that they are vulnerable. See that their anger comes from fear, and love them. See that their bad behavior comes from ignorance, and teach them.

Don’t make yourself their victim. Be prepared to walk away. And yes, you’re allowed to walk away from people you love. It doesn’t mean you love them any less. It just means you can’t save them. But if you can stand to give some compassion without killing yourself, do it. Look another human being in the eyes and accept them for who they are. Don’t try to be better than them; everyone else is already doing that. Realize that they are as good and worthy as you are and that the most important gifts you’ve been given — food, shelter, education — were largely granted to you based on no merit of your own. Realize that if you deserve that kind of goodness in your life (and you do), then they deserve goodness, too. Now treat them that way.

However, if you can’t believe that you deserve goodness in your life, you’re going to find it very difficult to extend that generosity to others. When you catch yourself judging others, ask what it says about you that you are so irritated by someone else’s imperfections. Are you bothered being around people who don’t meet your specific standards for beauty, intelligence, morality, or social status? If they aren’t hurting you, there’s a good chance your feelings about them stem from your own anxiety and insecurity. But if you start to say, “Ok, it’s fine for that person to be the way they are, even if it’s not what I would want for myself. They still deserve to be happy,” that starts to change the way you view yourself. Eventually, you’ll realize that because you’re a human just like the other guy, you probably deserve to be happy, too.

In other words: Loving other people teaches you to love yourself, and loving yourself makes it easier to love other people.

I have this crazy fantasy in which everyone in the world learns to do yoga or meditate or practice seva. Everyone in the world decides, “I’m not perfect, but I really want to live in a more peaceful world, so I’m going to try really hard to love other people and to accept them and myself as we are.” And things get a lot better. It starts out small. Grocery stores are less stressful. Traffic jams still happen, but people honk less. Gradually, gridlock eases thanks to increased carpooling. There are environmental and financial benefits all around. People stop buying products whose advertising tells them they’re not good enough, and as a result, we spend more money on things that actually make us happy. There is a major economic shift toward positive industries — scientific research, environmental repair, health and wellness — and organizations such as nonprofits to alleviate homelessness experience a surge in funding as people realize it really sucks to let some people live in poverty while others have all the fun.

And in this fantasy, we’re still not perfect. We still fuck up. But when we do, we say we’re sorry, and we do our best to make it better, because that’s what you do when you love somebody.

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memory, dream and prayer

A slow drive through memory.
The kind of sweet that
shatters in your mouth.
A love like chewing glass,
Every word a chance to choke.
Waking up shaking sand out of my mouth
from grinding your glass all night.

Always misdressed for the occasion,
watching everyone else’s feet,
trying to remember how to walk.
Go where they go, drink what they drink,
smoke what they smoke,
lie what they lie.
Still couldn’t sing the song right.

Pacing the open road to nowhere
and back again.
From your home to mine
more than a stretch of the imagination.
Voice turned inside out with rage
and salted lungs.

Occasionally a face gives me a jolt
of fear and revulsion.
An instantaneous prayer:
no.

One of my favorite ways to write is to put on some strange music and see what it stirs up, so last night, I found this song and produced this poem. I’ve been writing all my life and still don’t know what’s good. I can hear in my mind the critiques my various teachers would give it, and I’m trying to learn to write despite their voices in my head.

 

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