It is hard for me to name fresh, new times when I felt like I belonged because I have written about most of them already, the ones that stand out. That pile of young women on Vicki’s living room floor, laughing. Girl Scout camp, Camp River Glen, singing in the dining hall or beside the fire at night—all of me engaged, connected, joyous. For me more often is the sense of being in a group but not of it, a rigidity in my body, an inability to rest with these people who seem so at ease together. I don’t know what the common thread is, aside from myself, me as the thread. Often I just haven’t experienced what they describe—I feel different, set apart, as if they all truly come from common roots, and I am the strange flower carried far from the others, flown here by birds.
I seem to always be becoming someone new. For decades now my life has turned toward becoming whole, becoming more and more of who I want to be, becoming well, becoming comfortable in my skin. I have small rushes of time when I can feel it burgeoning in me, swept up in some big gateway. Sometimes I feel aware of being in the heart of one big transition. Other times I can sense a series of transitions, moving toward the me I want, the life I long for. Stepping in more fully, feet planted in the earth, joy flying, humble and grateful. Not arriving, or only for a moment, but always becoming.
[Editor’s note: This was a short, timed writing from our daylong Zoom retreat on June 22nd. It is lightly edited here.]
I can’t count the number of white people I’ve heard say the murder of George Floyd woke them up to how bad things are for black people, for indigenous people, for all people of color. I’ve cringed, stayed silent. But I’ve wondered. How could you not know? At the same time, if I am fair, I think this monstrous act (that follows centuries of monstrous acts) struck at an especially vulnerable time. Maybe because we are all so off kilter from the pandemic this has reached deeper, feels more vivid. Maybe even those of us who scream white privilege, who have the luxury of turning away, of tuning out, haven’t been able to turn away from this. For me, it joins other griefs, wakes up overwhelm and powerlessness. And living in there, too, is a flicker I think might be hope. If you don’t know where to begin, you might start here. 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
Happy house finch chatter
louder than usual
wakes me in my work
I peek around the doorway
to see a dozen of them
sitting on the open louvers
enjoying the cooler air
alive and dear and
charming beyond belief.
I still seem to be all over the place. I keep hoping I’ll regain my balance. Finding more time to sleep will help, I know. One morning I get up early for my walk, return home with time to sweep the courtyard, fill the feeders in the guayaba tree for my house finch. It’s the first time I haven’t been rushing to finish before my 8:30am work meeting, and when I carry out the big bag of seed, I feel joy come the way it used to. The next day I am anxious and short on the phone with a colleague, brittle and brusque the next day leading my “Sheltering in Place” writing session on Zoom. I resist how rigid I feel. “Some shelter you’re offering,” I mutter, mean to myself. I tell my story later on another weekly Zoom, my voice cracking. “I don’t want to be like this,” I say. Not very Buddhist, is it? All this resistance to what is. Today I yell at my mother. I make her cry. Later she’s angry at me when I call to apologize. “Well, you’re good at yelling,” she says. “Oh,” I say, hard voice in my brittle body. “Where do you think I learned it?” Silence. But I am still the monster who made her cry, though this time I let my own tears come, find my way out of this dark, stuck place. And later, too, I remember standing beside the creek bed yesterday in the shade beside a desert orchid tree. I remember how the hummingbird came to perch on a nearby branch of the tree, and I watched him preen. And then a raven glided overhead, low and close, and two mockingbirds spiraled past. One of them landed on the palm across the street and started to sing. I looked up just then and saw the waning crescent moon in the pale blue above the tallest branches, and it felt all of a piece, and me a part of it.
I see the mama coyote again. She’s standing just off the creek path as I walk across the street. I stop at the edge of the road to breathe her in. She still looks unwell, but less so, I think. She’s steadier, somehow. Then a pup appears at the top of the bank, scampers over to her, weaves around her legs in delight at their reunion. It eases something inside me to see them together. The pup is happy, and for long moments this is all that matters. Other people come, and the coyotes disappear back into the creek bed. Two days later, I see the pup down below. He stops behind a scraggly bush, aware of my scrutiny, unsure. I step back, use a softer focus in my gaze. He keeps going, trotting along a small trail, ears too big for his head, all youth, energy, intent. For a moment I worry. (My forte.) He is all by himself. But I remember I trust his mama. And there’s nothing unsure about him. Once he decides I am not a threat, he doesn’t hesitate again. He runs along, so upright, a kind of joy in his little body. I realize he knows his way around, and I relax. I watch until his small form disappears into the brush. All day long, I see him in my mind, so grateful for the gift of him. All day long, he makes his steady way along the creek bed again and again, brown fur against the light sand, an enchanting video clip I play over and over inside me, one that never loses its charm.