I thought I’d tell you about how my life has changed since the election outcome. First, the good news for me, is that I’m white, albeit female so a certain part of my anatomy is apparently up for grabs, but at least I don’t have to worry about Neanderthal types yelling racial slurs or hitting me. So that’s good. But what’s bad is that I am stunned we humans are so tribal, so ignorant, and so full of base hatred for The Other. So I have to try to reconcile that.
But a very good thing has also happened, and it is that I feel united with the majority and I feel a sobering awareness to use my white privilege to stand up for the vulnerable. My sister-in-law told me, “My headscarf is ready if they start registering Muslims.” She is Jewish. But how wonderful to contemplate one hundred million people registering as Muslims in the United States.
There is a power in behaving with decency that is less obvious than the shock-value of barbaric outrageousness, but decency is the far stronger power, since it is based on values that enrich the soul, rather than corrode it.
“Against eternal injustice, man must assert justice, and to protest against the universe of grief, he must create happiness.” –Albert Camus
This morning I watched two squirrels go back and forth, back and forth, leaping from branch to branch with mouthfuls of leaves, dressing up their nest. Yesterday I walked with a friend along the winter beach; the sun sparkled against the dark water, the sandpipers clustered, the marsh hawk silently soaring and the colors of rust, yellow, purple blending into a song of November.
There is still beauty. We humans are love and hate, kindness and cruelty. But the natural world—the natural world just is. And there is a great peace in that.
…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled–
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing–
that the light is everything–that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
Excerpted from The Ponds, by Mary Oliver
I thought it might be time for something beautiful.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the trees
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Our cyclocross season began last weekend with Rochester. A Category 1 race on Saturday and a Category 2 on Sunday. From my non-racer perspective, a C1 race means that the officials are Very Attentive about UCI rules. Must be wearing pit pass. Must have right size tires. Must not feed. The first two rules are yadda-yadda. The last is more of a problem. The “No Feeding” rule states that the racers can carry water with them, but cannot be handed water. However, many ‘cross bikes don’t have water bottle cages on them and skinsuits don’t have pockets. Cyclocross is a cold weather sport (theoretically) and the race lasts an hour, so the whole hydration thing isn’t supposed to be an issue. But it is becoming one, due to climate change.
On Saturday, when the Elite Women raced, the heat index was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. After their hour of racing, the women crossed the line for the final time and fell over. Literally. One racer was taken to the hospital for heat stroke. The race organization, seeing the sprawl of bodies, brought over bottles of water and ice. Now it was the Elite Men’s turn to race (they race after the women) and Rochester, a race organization that Gets Things Done, set up a hose to spray the men as they raced by and had people waiting at the finish line, handing out bottles of cold water to the men as they finished. Great! You say.
Not so great, I say. The race organization should have known that the very high heat combined with no water combined with strenuous activity would lead to problems. Why did they wait to see the triage that was the women’s race before instituting adjustments? Why, in a nutshell, were the women the guinea pigs?
The Rochester race organization is superlative and they put on a great race. They would deny this implication of neglect. And I would believe them. Because this casual judgment that women are less valuable than men is insidious. It is certainly not limited to cyclocross racing.
But you have to start somewhere and call it out when you see it. So let’s start here. Women work just as hard as men during the race. Elite athletes are elite athletes. Enough with the casual neglect that speaks of a blind spot.
Let’s start giving women athletes the same respect, attention, and care that men athletes get.
The Democratic National Convention and the Olympics had a couple of things in common. They both exemplified the strength inherent in diversity and tolerance, and they both had some seriously powerful women’s bodies on display.
I’ve always been fascinated by the different shapes and sizes of athletes’ bodies during the Olympics and not because I’m objectifying them, but the opposite: their diversity proves to me that there is not one physical ideal of beauty—especially, most especially–in women. Gymnast Simone Biles is tiny and compact with the shoulders and hips of a linebacker. Swimmer Katie Ledecky is tall and long with big, big shoulders. And weightlifter Sarah Elizabeth Robles is a mountain. And thay are each so, so beautiful.
At the Democratic convention, Chelsea Clinton strode out on stage, post recent baby-birthing in a siren red, tight sheath, belly rolls, breasts and boutay on full powerful display. She owned her body and what it could do. The beauty of power and strength is the new standard of feminine beauty.
Sure there are holdouts—those women who still think that looking like Barbie is beauty. But I think if they gave it some thought—scratched the surface—they would see that Barbie is a man’s idealization of a women—blank expression on the face, large breasts, small hips, little shoulders—all the better to live in subservience.
And speaking of subservience, does anyone remember what those Republican convention women looked like? Hmmm, yes. Barbie.
Every week I play whist with the Ladies. It started in February of the winter before last. The one where even hardy New Englanders nearly lost it. So much snow, such bitter cold. But an afternoon of whist, we discovered, soothes even the most weary of souls and so every week we met to play, forgetting, for a little time, that there was five feet of snow piled up and that the temperature would go down (again) to minus twenty that night.
Now it’s spring and the leaves are that fresh green that is not yet tired of being green, the birds are calling out their territory, and we play our weekly whist with the doors and windows open.
The Ladies are not young; they have middle-aged children and grown grandchildren and often the conversation as we eat our treat before the game begins is about doctor’s visits or who died. This is not as grim as it sounds, because the Ladies have a solid and sensible cognition of living: things happen, you deal with it, and look for the good.
Recently, I was talking on the phone to one of the Ladies and complaining about something that threw off my carefully prepared schedule. On I went about the list I had made—a list I was proud of—for each day’s activities that now had to be all changed because of this one thing. She listened, making the occasional sympathetic noise. Then she told me about her day. “I went to the funeral today of a friend of mine.”
“So things are not as bad as they could be.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She laughed too. It was the perfect antidote to my vexation.
Vexing things are a part of life; death is a part of life. And really, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’ve got when you’ve got it, which in my case, most certainly includes whist with the Ladies.
My dog, Buddy, is a Maltese. It’s an ancient breed—two thousand years old. And since the Maltese wasn’t bred for anything but to be a cute companion, that’s two thousand years of lapdog-ness. In a dog-like devotion to please, he fails utterly. He doesn’t care one whit whether you approve of him or not. He is also not keen on taking walks or obeying. He’s kind of like a cat, actually. He is very cute, though.
One day, I went for a hike in the woods and I took Buddy. Once we were away from the road and in the woods, I took his leash off and he seemed puzzled.
“Okay, go run along the trail like a dog,” I told him.
He looked at me as if to say, “What part of ‘lap dog’ are you not understanding?”
I began hiking along the trail. Buddy followed, reluctantly. Then he started to get the gist of it. Oh! Sniff at stuff! Eat deer poop! And that’s when Buddy, ancient breed of luxury, began to let his wolf DNA filter through.
“Yes!” I told him, “you are descended from wolves!”
Now that he’s figured it out, Buddy loves to hike. He gallivants along the trail ahead of me. He sticks his little white head into crevices to scare chipmunks. He laps water from streams when he is thirsty. He hops from rock to rock with insouciance. And once, forded icy cold water up to his chest. He comes alive in the trying of new things.
Often I think we get too comfortable staying within the parameters of what we think are our boundaries—those things we think are our reality. But it’s all a big catch 22.
“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” David Bohm, physicist.
I saw the first wood duck of the spring this morning, as I was sipping my tea upstairs. My eyes are not what they used to be, so I needed the binoculars to confirm. Yes. A male wood duck in breeding plumage. Which, if you haven’t seen one, here is a picture.
Beautiful, isn’t he?
Wood ducks are small and self-possessed. They swim in a quiet, deliberate, earnest way, keeping to the brushy part of the pond, because they are very shy. Even my figure at the glass windows forty yards away can spook them. It is always a thrill to see one.
Another special moment occurred last week when I spied an unfamiliar duck pair. Out came the binoculars. I stared to see how large they were, if they were diving or just dabbling and their coloring (this one seemed to have a black and white beak.) When I had enough information, I put the binoculars down and got out my Sibley’s Guide to Birds. I flipped through the pages, and it turned out that, without a doubt, I was seeing a pair of ring-necked ducks. Something I had never seen before.
Here’s what I think. I think that a life of limits becomes an unlimited life when you slow down enough to see the richness around you.
“I have rejected things with nothing so strong to replace them, and I am floundering.” So I wrote to my Zen teacher twenty-nine years ago. And in the way of the cycles of life, twenty-nine years later, I find myself at this point again. (As an aside, this appears to be where we are at as a country, also.) We humans build up our internal infrastructures, relying on their existence for our sense of meaning, forgetting that infrastructures, too, get outdated and need to be refurbished. Life demands growth, and growth is change.
The realization that what worked for us in the past no longer does, is part of a natural cycle of growth. But just because it’s supposed to happen, doesn’t mean it feels great. As a matter of fact, it often feels so un-great that people have developed stock coping mechanisms. Some buy the little red sports car. Some throw off their partners for someone younger, some abuse alcohol and drugs—all to avoid feeling the pain of growth.
What did my Zen teacher write back to me? “If you are floundering, then just flounder” adhering to the Zen teachings of just experiencing your life without attachment.
No stones are left unturned in our lives (try as we might to keep them face down) because we are growing, thinking beings. A time of questioning beliefs, priorities, and values comes to everyone.
I forget sometimes, because it is so damn scary, that the best course of action is to sit right in the middle of it, experiencing (and not reacting to) those uncomfortable feelings. The floundering, like the curve in the road, brings us to the next place in our lives.