Why I March

I am not a political person. I never have been, though I was partner in crime (mostly postal) to my grandfather, who trained me to knock on doors and hand out fliers and to vote Democrat no matter what. He drove me from house to house and waited in the car while I gamely canvassed the neighborhoods, knocking on doors, my shy self hoping beyond hope that no one would answer and I wouldn’t have to speak to a neighbor, or worse, a stranger. A few times, when the driver’s seat was obscured by an obliging holly tree or overgrown shrub, I would stuff the flier in the mailbox, despite Granddaddy’s stern admonitions, and beat a hasty retreat, claiming the family wasn’t home and praying that no one saw me commit a felony.

Years passed, and so did my grandfather. I voted in almost every election, even midterms, in his honor. But sometimes I didn’t vote a straight Democratic ticket because I actually knew something about the issues. Sometimes, I determined, an Independent, or Granddaddy forbid, a Republican, would serve better. But I avoided politics whenever I could – at family gatherings, church. Occasionally, I would indulge in some online stuff, but I was always left without hope. Why, I reasoned, should I commit so much energy and outrage to something I have absolutely no control over. If I can’t control it at all, I avoid it.

Last week, I couldn’t stop crying. I have a chronic liver condition, and it had been triggered. I’m drinking close to a gallon of water a day now, so toxins get flushed by my kidneys when my liver has better things to do, and physically I have stayed healthy. But the psych symptoms are terrible. Anxiety, depression, and mood swings are often the result. So I blamed my liver for my tears and just drank a bit of extra water to compensate for the water lost through my leaking eyes.

When I suddenly burst into uncontrollable tears last Saturday morning, I finally had to admit that there was an actual reason for my tears. Its name is the GOP. I had watched for a couple of days as Congress began its process to dismantle the Affordable Care Act like a toddler with a hammer. And it was a partisan move. They did it gleefully because they could, to erase the legacy of the most decent President in recent memory. It was the glee that got me. Why are they so hell-bent on removing health care from millions of Americans? And what is going to happen to me? Rare, preexisting conditions for both myself and the Padawan. Can I afford to continue a job where I make a difference, or do I have to take something that pays better so we don’t go bankrupt?

I screamed and sobbed, and I told my husband “I have to DO something. I need to know that I am not alone, that there are other people out there who are not just as outraged, but are also willing to DO something about it.” I made an off-hand remark that I needed to “go to the women’s march or something.” And so it began.

why women march on Washington

Credit: Jessica Sabogal

I took steps. I announced my intention on social media for accountability because depression can turn me inside out and leave me immobilized. I checked on transportation. I cried all day at work, and I planned. If I could find a friendly driveway in Virginia, I could sleep in my car. An offer of a driveway appeared. And then a dear, dear friend said, “I want to go, too. Let’s go together.” And suddenly I WASN’T alone. And within 2 hours, a ride appeared. And a hotel. And then the hotel evaporated as the offer of a house was made. And people I have never met have stepped up to make me hats to wear. And suddenly, this trip that I had recklessly committed myself to became a reality, and an affordable one. $10 for the Metro ticket. And I’m going.

  • I march because I protest a President-elect who appoints people with a lot of money but best case, no relevant experience. Worst case, a conflict of interest.
  • I march because I object to a President who feels he is above any law and refuses to release any tax returns.
  • I march because I object to a President who admitted to assaulting women. And then when those women step forward and say “Yes, he did that,” he threatens to sue anyone who comes forward. Because he knows HE has the money to fight it and they don’t.
  • I march because I cannot live with a President who is so ungodly. I am a devout Christian, and I object to a man who calls himself Christian but breaks the 10 Commandments publicly. He believes it is just fine for him to lie. And then he lies about lying, even though there is clear evidence. He is either so lazy or stupid that he doesn’t delete his old tweets, or he doesn’t think it matters.
  • I march because I object to a President who takes so many financial risks that he has filed for bankruptcy four times. I am a fiscal conservative. A President is a steward of our country’s resources. He is already a bad one.
  • I march because I cannot abide a President who insists on spending public money to have Trump Tower as a second home for part of each week. Secret service, outfitting for security, etc? That’s on our dime, folks.
  • I march because I cannot tolerate a President who doesn’t understand the meaning of public service. This is a lark. He’s taking off for the weekend. Presidenting is a 9-5 job, I guess.
  • I march because I am angry that the American people elected a man who is cruel, who insults national heroes, who is racist, who is so full of hate. I do not respect him, and so I march.
  • I march because I have no respect for a President who despises those of other religions. America is a great country because of its diversity, not despite it.
  • I march because I am scared of a President who wants to control the media. Freedom of speech gets ground under his heel.
  • I march because our President-elect is endorsed by 20 white supremacy groups. Scared? I am.
  • I march because I need to have hope that if even I, who hates crowds so much that I get Christmas shopping done early so I don’t have to go to a mall in December, am stepping out of my comfort zone to THE Mall with hundreds of thousands of others, that maybe there are others who will be jolted out, as well. That maybe we CAN work together and bring about real and lasting change.

I will see you in DC. I’ll be the one in the hat.

The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry.  I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.

The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.

And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its  simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?

The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?

That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside.  How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.

Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.

As long as you can't see me, I'm asleep!

As long as you can’t see me, I’m asleep!

I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.

The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?

My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.

How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.

For Alice On Her Birthday

Today I’m going to tell you a story. Because Alice asked me to, and it’s her birthday. Happy birthday, Alice! You don’t know her? Oh, you should! She’s funny and so, so smart. I love her posts. Sometimes her posts make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry. Sometimes it’s both. Read her. You just might love her.

I’ve gone back and forth about which story to tell. Fiction? Not fiction? Embellished not-fiction? I want to come up with a good one. For the last week, my internal dialog has gone something like this:

There was the time that… no, that’s no good.

How about… nope. Funny only to me.

I’ve got it! Yes! Um, are you kidding me? You can’t admit to that in a public setting.

So here you go.

Sharon slid the box across the counter. It didn’t look like much. About eighteen inches square, it had been white at one time, but trotting the globe had acquired a layer of grime. One corner was dinged, and the shipping label had begun to peel, but the packing tape held fast. That bit was all that mattered to Sharon.

“Here,” she said with a furtive glance at the ceiling. “Better hurry. Dad’ll be down in a minute.”

Thad’s eyes glowed. He pulled the box to himself and began to dig at the packing tape with his thumbnail.

“Don’t open it here!” Sharon hissed, terror in her eyes. She flung an arm toward the door. “GO!” she cried. “And don’t tell Dad!”

Thad dropped a pile of cash on the counter without bothering to count it and gathered his precious box gently, mindful of its delicate cargo. Balancing the box on his arm, he was gone with the jingling of the shop door.

Sharon watched him go, not daring to breathe until she heard him climb the stone steps to street level and saw his feet pass by the basement window. She turned to the new girl.

“I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered hoarsely. “Dad will kill me if he finds out.”

The new girl said nothing. She simply wondered. Then she turned back to sorting the shipment of live fish that had just been delivered to the little basement shop.

“Okay,” Sharon said, collecting herself. “Let’s see what we have here.” She lifted a gallon-sized bag teeming with tiny, colorful fish. “Guppies,” she announced. “We’ll put those in one of the 20-longs in the back.”

The new girl did as she was told. She collected the bag of fish from Sharon. It was surprisingly heavy, but she did not drop it. She upended it gently, pouring fish and water carefully into a waiting bucket. She shook out the corners of the bag to dislodge any remaining fish and then discarded it and dropped an air hose into the bucket.

Shipment days were the best days, every available surface in the tiny shop stacked with cardboard boxes and Styrofoam coolers. She liked sorting it all out, seeing order come from the chaos, but mostly, she liked the new fish. Shipments from Florida were the best. Not only did they require a trip to the airport to collect, but they contained the greatest surprises.

In the mid-1980s, few fish species beyond basic livebearers and a few cichlids were regularly bred in captivity. It was easier, and usually cheaper, to import animals freshly caught from the wilds of Africa and the Amazon. Sometimes, swimming right alongside the common side-sucking plecostamus they had ordered, she would find something weird.

When one of these tiny mysteries appeared, she snagged it, put it in a catch box and ran for the books. Sometimes even after studying Axelrod and Practical Fishkeeping, she came up short. It was her first introduction to the enormity of the world and its diversity. She could barely comprehend she was holding a creature that Herbert Axelrod, that demigod of fish keeping, had never even seen. On those occasions, she put down her money and carted her new treasure home. Sometimes it died. More often, she kept i a few months until she grew bored with it and returned it for something newer and more exciting.

So  many weird and interesting things came into the shop unexpectedly that it never occurred to her to ask Sharon to special-order things for her. It did, however, occur to Thad.

“You can order it! It’s right here on their inventory list,” he’d said, thumping his index finger on the paper for emphasis. Sharon looked at him doubtfully.

“I don’t know,” she answered, frowning. “Dad wouldn’t like it. He said no. He told me, and he told you, and he’d fire us both if he knew.”

“He doesn’t have to know.” The new girl hated his wheedling tone, hated how many girls caved to it, hated that  Sharon, who was an adult and supposed to know better, was no exception.

“Alright,” she said. “But you have to pay for it, dead or alive, and Dad can’t know. Dad hates snakes.”

Harry, her father was the owner and namesake of the little aquarium shop. He had started it with just a few aquariums in his basement twenty years previously. The business had grown over the years until he was forced to either quit his full time job or hand over the reins to Sharon, his youngest daughter. He still lived upstairs, but she managed the place on her own. He would likely never see the invoice.

Sharon placed the order against her better judgement. When the shipment arrived, she called Thad immediately, and the transaction went down with neither hitch nor Harry’s knowledge. She thought she was out of the woods, but then the snake, a Haitian Vine Boa, escaped into Thad’s apartment and was gone for good, likely cooked in the heating vents, and he was back on her doorstep begging her to order another. And then another. Today’s shipment was his third.

The new girl worked the following day by herself. Sundays were usually slow and sleepy, and this day was no exception.

She stood at the sink scraping the hard water line from an aquarium with salt and a razor blade. She looked up when she heard the jingle of the door and was surprised to see Thad. He never came around on his days off. It was one of the many things she disapproved of when it came to Thad. She had a list.

She was even more surprised to see him holding a pillowcase, or more correctly, holding something inside a pillowcase. She frowned.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“My new snake,” he said proudly.

“Why is it here?” she asked haughtily, pretending disapproval to mask her terror. She had never seen a living snake up close, and she was pretty sure she didn’t want to now.

He laughed, seeing right through her and making her hate him more. “Is Harry home?”

“No,” she said, stuffing down her fear and turning back to attack the hard water line with new zeal.

“Good,” Thad said gleefully. She looked up to find him reaching into the bag.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, her voice an odd point somewhere between a his and a squeal.

“Hang on,” he said, furrowing his brows in concentration. “Relax. It’s a ball python. When they get scared, they roll up in a ball.”

She didn’t answer, her blade squeaking on the aquarium glass like fingernails on a chalkboard.

She didn’t look up until she heard him say “Oh, no.” The snake, a wild-caught, thin specimen about three feet long,  had clearly not read the manuals on typical ball python behavior. It showed no inclination whatsoever to roll into a ball but a rather strong desire to bite Thad somewhere in the vicinity of his face. He managed to pin the snake’s head, pressing the animal’s mouth closed with the balls of this thumbs while the snake twined its back end all the way up his arm.

The new girl took a step back, away from crazed snake and handler. She looked over her shoulder to plan the best escape route should Thad drop the snake at the same time the snake dropped him. A thump from above stopped them both in their tracks. Harry was home.

Thad said a word the new girl had only read on bathroom walls. “Help me!” he squeaked, gesturing as if he thought she might actually step forward and assist him in his snake-handling endeavors. His hand was turning purple.

“No way,” she said, shaking her head fiercely. He frowned at her. She frowned back. Another thump and the shuffling footsteps of a knee replacement from above. Harry was coming down to the shop.

Thad said another word unfamiliar to the new girl. She was pretty sure it was German, and totally certain it was bad. He did a little dance on the spot to loosen the coils constricting his arm. By some great miracle, he was able to shake the snake into the pillowcase and tie it off. Thump-thump. Harry descended slowly down the basement steps.

Thad thrust the bag at the new girl. “We have to hide it!”

“Washer?” she suggested?

“What if he’s doing laundry? Closet?”

“He might be getting fish food for upstairs!”

Thump-thump.

Out of time and optionsThad dropped the bag into the empty display aquarium at the front of the store beside the counter just as Harry rounded the corner and appeared behind the counter, scratching his grizzled head and looking at least as grumpy as the snake.

“Thad?” he said with a frown. Men, it seemed, were immune to Thad’s charm. “What are you doing here?”

“I, uh, I just came by,” Thad squeaked, standing in front of the aquarium to block Harry’s view from the contents.

Harry walked around the counter. Thad took a step back, pressing himself against the aquarium as Harry walked toward him. Thad shot a look at the new girl over Harry’s shoulder, a look of sheer hopelessness. It was all over. Harry was going to find the snake and learn that both Sharon and Thad had disobeyed his orders. Thad would lose his job on the spot.

With the look of a hunted man, Thad darted around the corner and out of Harry’s reach. He could fire Thad, but he’d have to catch him to hit him. And hit he might. Harry hated snakes.

Harry stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel to face the new girl, his back to the aquarium and his expression inscrutable. She thought she might soil herself. Did he think her complicit.

“I thought I made myself clear,” he said sternly. Her knees felt weak. Would he fire her, too? She gulped.

“Yes?” she whispered.

“You’re listening to television.”

“What?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

“The radio,” he barked. “The radio! You’re listening to Judge Wapner. I told you and told you, the radio is for classical. It makes customers spend more money!”

The radio! She felt positively wobbly with relief. He hadn’t seen the snake bag in the aquarium. But she could. She watched in horrified fascination as, behind Harry, the snake bag came to life and slowly rose up the side of the aquarium. Thad had not tied the pillowcase down very far, giving the snake plenty of room to stretch out.

The new girl did not hear a word Harry said, so focused was she on the snake making its slow and careful way up the front of the empty aquarium, impeded only by its pillowcase. Harry, oblivious, continued to chastise her radio choices while the snake bag danced behind him.

The new girl didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It seemed impossible that he did not see the bag contorting and stretching itself… stretching itself to the top of the tank! Oh, dear God! It was going to climb out, pillowcase and all! The snake pushed up on the lid of the aquarium and it rose a fraction of an inch. She stood transfixed, terrified. The snake pressed the lid a little further. Its head, covered by the knot in the pillowcase, was an inch from Harry’s arm. One tiny poke, and Harry would undoubtedly suffer heart attack, aneurysm, or stroke, maybe all three at once. The new girl silently lamented skipping CPR class when she was a Campfire Girl.

The snake, hampered in its exploration, fell on its side with a hollow thud as loud as a gong. Harry didn’t hear it over the radio. He made a few more points, and she nodded her head in blind agreement, eyes fixed on the snake so determined to announce its presence. Finally, he walked over to the radio, changed the station, and heaved himself back upstairs.

As soon as Harry was out of sight, Thad snatched the snake out of the aquarium and beat a hasty retreat himself, leaving the new girl to fall into helpless, hysterical giggles on the counter. Harry never found out about his close encounter of the reptilian kind, but the new girl learned that she never, in fact, hated Thad. Or snakes, and in fact went on to work with reptiles herself 20 years later.

to alice

Happy birthday, Alice! Your present will be there later this week. And no, it’s not a snake in a bag.