They Will Thank Us in the Future: Help the Kids Who are Hurting

There’s too much silence when it comes to talk of mental health issues and kids. That is, too much silence for the right things, for the soul and the need for heart-comfort, while there is so much vocal fear of societal alienation. Total anonymity, as an attempt to protect the sufferer when they are minors, only isolates them more. By keeping news of mental suffering secret from the people who would really help them, the suffering young person does not find relief.

Obviously, there are the right and wrong people to tell, but the trustworthy pool of people for every young person needs to be widened. Once, I was at a staff meeting at the private elementary school I worked at. The topic of the meeting was student health protocols. We talked about asthma, Epi-pens, seizures, diabetes, concussions, broken arms. We named names in confidence and protection of this sensitive information, but discussed these cases openly as it related to our ability to help these kids. I asked if there are children with mental health diagnoses we should know about. I was met with a glare from my middle manager, a ring of silence.

“That kind of thing is usually only shared with the school counselor,” said the director.

“And only if the parent chooses to share it.”

So, a parent’s social fear increases a child’s social fear, and the terror of stigma is passed on from parent to child. And that kind of thing, with all the stigma already implied in the manager’s voice, persists.

This is all incredibly stupid and isolates people, making the condition itself even worse. People with diabetes or cancer don’t get the same treatment. Depression, anxiety, PTSD; all these thrive on silence, isolation and shame. At the very least, all the adult professionals responsible for a child’s wellbeing, including teachers and childcare workers, should be entrusted with this information and taught what to do with it, how to appropriately protect it, and how to understand and take care of the child who has it, no differently than a child with severe asthma or a broken bone. It helps enormously to know what a kid is going through: whether their inappropriate behavior is merely a cranky growth phase for a kid, or if there’s something more serious underneath, such as depression, trauma or the death of a loved one.

Some of the same stigma follows diseases such as AIDS. Treat all blood as if it’s contaminated, says the protocol. I worry that this is ultimately bad for humanity, to suspect that all blood is awful and dirty and carrying contagious death. It would be better to have compassion on those who certifiably have a blood-borne pathogen, treating them with respect and the care they need, but openly, so that we do not live with the terror of our own human blood.

I’ve worked in after-school childcare programs that deal with these things. I was siting with a second grade girl and a first grade boy one day, coloring pictures together. I commented on how pretty those flowery paper decorations are on the wall, the ones we pulled out of the leftover bin in the supplies closet. The little boy said, somberly,

“Those are from A’s dad’s memorial.”

“What?!” was my response. “Did he die?”

Both kids looked at me like I was an idiot who hadn’t heard.

“We all stood in a circle to sing and remember him,” said the little girl.

Apparently everyone knew except me. A was a fifth grade boy at the time who who was a regular in the after-school program. He had been misbehaving only a little, but I noticed many other adults coming by to tenderly ask him how he is doing. The program director hugged his mother. I wondered what happened, but figured that if it was my business, someone would tell me. But it turns out it sure was my business. I had missed a mere email relaying the news –really, a damn email announcing the death of a parent we all knew. I found out from two small children what I should’ve heard verbally from my adult colleagues. Good thing I didn’t say, “Hey, A, is your dad picking you up today?” –totally not knowing why that would devastate him. It was part of my job to interact with the parents at pick-up time and get the kids signed in and out. This was something I needed to know.

… … …

A younger relative of mine, when she was sixteen, went through a terrible episode of self harm and depression. I remember that I had called and emailed her to just ask how things are going, wanting to hear her voice. I had no knowledge of what she was going through. She had been hospitalized, the whole psychiatric works, and I didn’t know. Her mom had to clear the house of all objects my young relative could hurt herself with. It turned out her parents were also getting a divorce at the time, further breaking my family apart, and I didn’t know about it.

This, a family, isn’t some legalistic place of employment, but a paper-free biological web of relationships, of deeply personal memories, bound by ancestors and land. The human family should be there for its own more than any other human social unit in the world.

I pulled the truth out of my reluctant uncle, spilling the beans, and my grandmother, thwarting this life-threatening silencing.

“But I was trying to protect her privacy,” he said. 

Yeah, I thought, and you’re  also protecting the growth of her silence, shame and isolation while your at it.

And maybe my young relative did, at age sixteen, want all this to be kept a secret, but that didn’t make it the wise thing to do. Luckily, this story concludes well for her sake: she’s come far from those days and, last I knew, is doing extraordinarily better as a young graduate of high school confidently heading to college. I’m enormously proud of her, and relived that she was supported. And I still miss my family, the few who are left, more than I can say.

We are supposed to protect and empower minors. To hell with their massing embarrassment when real help is on the line. A good adult will know how to meet that feeling of shame with deep honor and respect for the young person, so that they know they do not have to feel ashamed in the first place. They’re not able to help themselves yet. They will thank us in the future.

 

 

 

Recomposed from an original journal entry written September 1st, 2016

I, Humanity, Memory of All Nations

 

 

I, humanity,
memory of all nations,
remember the savannah
within me.
Do not forget us,
but accompany us,
Ancestors,
friends of the heart,
on our trails into the future.
Remember us who come after you,
Remember us who go on before you,
Remember us who live in the heart-world around you.

 

… … …

 

I am one among millions who has known the loss of family. Maybe it is so that every living creature, when it becomes aware of its inevitable separateness from the beings most near it, feels this loss of unity, this severing of oneness. The genesis story of Eden is full of this metaphor. We were blind to our own abyssal awareness: then, we saw, and we became like gods, who who knew death, and the foresight of death, and the meaning of the anguish of self-awareness that accompanies the hominid brain.

I am a face in the sea of time: who will remember this one face? Genetics, maybe, or written words or painted images, better yet. Text is incarnated. You, God, would know most of all; You, who are always present and listening, it is your remembering us that I want for sure. You, who fill the whole earth with your breathing, must know and feel all that we feel in our creaturely lives. Being as that you are in us, and we are in you, then not one of us would be lost to the depths of time. And If you are truly omnipresent, then you would know how sacred the World is. I want to become an ancestor when it is my time. I never want to leave it.

 

 

 

 

Poetry by Gentle J. Pine

Age Will Make Us Love Each Other More

 

How quickly the days go by now, the weeks and the months and the years. All of a sudden I am closer to thirty than twenty. People twice my age laugh. Someday I will be countless years gone from this time. When I was a child, time crawled.

I have never had anxiety about aging until now. The only thing that matters, in the end, is looking back on a life that one has lived with purpose and dedication. I now see the signs of aging in my face, and I, too, am traveling the path of the ancestors. T is twelve years older than me, and the thought that he will likely die before I do is difficult already, but I will not be long after him.

I had a dream that T and I had grown old together and loved each other all our days. When he died, I looked for his spirit on a bright mountain. There was a tree of shimmering coppery-gold leaves, the color of his hair, and his spirit was in this tree. I went to him there and embraced him, my arms around the trunk of the happy tree, and I could feel his love eternally, and the whole soul of him in the tree enclosed me in his affection.

Buddha said, “I have gained nothing from meditation. But what I have lost: the fear of sickness, old age and death.”

I may never have children, but I don’t need to have any to feel very close to the lineage of humanity. This great love is the continuity of generations. I wonder if the fear of aging is the fear of losing touch with God, because we fear that we have not lived in the way we were meant to. I wonder if a happy aging and death is the peace of drawing nearer to God.

Animals live for a decade or so, a few species for many decades, but often we humans outlive our companion species. In some sense we humans are afflicted by the length of our lives. We must live with the conscious knowledge of our own coming death. I wonder if animals may also live with this knowledge, but they do so with more grace than we do. They do not worry about it. They simply live, and demonstrate real grace and wisdom in it. They do not mind how many years or months or days they have left. We humans carry the past and the future, struggling to stay in the present, because we remember the beloved dead of the past and the vital youths of the future in whom we hope to be born anew. This entire ancestral context of memory and love, of encircling relationships, relatives and rebirths: we keep in touch with the living and the dead.

The wisdom of the Western World, which does not need to be Eastern to be great, is fully at home with embracing and acknowledging humanity’s insatiable hunger for love and for life, even beyond death. However good Buddha’s wisdom was in its own way, it fails to be at peace (the very peace it proclaims?) with the fact that the heart of love is stronger than death. Desire is holy.

Margaret the First” the playwright of 17th century England, married a man some twenty years her senior, and they were known to have loved each other dearly. In Danielle Dutton’s book about her life, it is recounted how they are not able to have children; one day, when she is middle-aged in her forties and he in his seventies, they kneel together beside the river, and in loving gentleness she still sees in him the handsome younger man she married, and he sees in her the young maiden likewise.

People live longer now. I spent the happier days of my childhood with my grandparents, aged 60 by the time I was born. I saw how they loved each other all the more securely in old age.

This is the way I will be with T. Age will make us love each other more.

 

 

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Our Species at Dusk

Last night I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as a happy five-year-old in this house of my grandparents, with both my Grandma and Grandpa alive, healthy and vital, the decay of the future far away or nonexistent; that present that is now the past, eternal again in a child’s unending summer day. And I found myself crying quietly in Grandpa’s study where I sleep when I come to Fresno, California to visit, because he is ten years still gone and Grandma is here in body but is barely and unrecognizably tenuously “alive” in her spirit.

I’m twenty-eight now and, for the great majority of my adult life under the rational light of the sun, I am accepting of and at peace with the situation that has come to be: our time is one of seeing more beloved elderly people slowly and pitifully die than ever before in society, proportionate to the numbers of the young who must witness it. Our grandparents and parents, once all medical cures are exhausted, languish in a half-life awaiting death, this rite of passage of which I have increasing faith in as a great liberation and the ultimate cure itself. People are living longer, but not necessarily better lives past a certain point. It became known to me in the past few years that Grandpa had considered seeking physician-assisted self-euthanasia, had his incurable physical pain become unbearable and death had not taken him in his sleep. The thought of it would have been too hard for me to handle when, at his death, I was eighteen and he was eighty, but now I have more and more serious respect for the natural and ancient dignity in such a choice. I had the freedom to euthanize my beloved cat of thirteen years when her veterinary ailments became unbearable for her, but we are in such stupid denial about the dignity of human beings in valid situations being able to choose the same for themselves. Instead, we force our beloved humans to have their butts wiped by somebody else, a humiliation that should never be forcibly born by a person because those around them are too chicken-shit to accept the reality of death in The World.

Sometimes, it’s the very resiliency of human beings that scares me so much: we can go through any hell and keep living. Other animals are not averse to the peace of death as a natural response to a suddenly severely maladaptive environment. But we humans are terrifying in our ruthless, pertinacious will to keep breathing through any plague, and now I wonder what this insect-like insistence has made of us. We have become titans of battle against everything, against our own brains and against Nature itself, and we have become unloving of Reality, at odds with The World, constantly unaccepting of the limits of the universe. Do I share in this same inclination to be at odds with The World in my childlike longing for a theoretical universe that could have (should have, would have, but only might have) been?

I was a child of the 1990s. I’ve long had a quietly uncanny feeling that something happened in the ’90s, and it was the end of the world. It was the end– or maybe the world spun off into different directions, dimensions, and this who I am in one of them is not who I am in another. And yet I do not feel divided within myself: through all my depression and the shit I went through as a kid with an insanely emotionally abusive mom with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have had the great luck of always feeling continuously whole within myself. Imaginatively, this uncanny sense of differing possible realities is more that I was pulled into one possible universe where things were not as whole all was meant to be, and something was off, only because, in contrast, I also glimpsed that deep Beauty of the Original World peeking through into this one. As a child, I saw this through the lens of my family. And who I am here have always been a little exorcist, who descended only deeply enough in time and in worlds within worlds to confront something, finish something, set something right. And any day now I will find my way back home to where I am supposed to be, waking up, relieved, from a dream.

Back in this world, I have lately been enjoying the lighter quality of trying not to feel so much all the time, for once in my life: my nature is to be so deeply feeling that it is frequently maladaptive to my environment, and I am weak and as yet unskilled in spinning this sensitivity into strands of gold. And now it suddenly and forbiddingly occurs to me that this ability to turn away from the tender heart is the necessary –and terrifyingly natural– shadow underlying my hominid ability to uncanny adaptation. How comfortable we are pressed to become among prolonged sickness and wrongful decay in our dogged search between a rock and a hard place for survival: the loss of tender feeling for that shimmering Original World, peeking through the slats of our weighted days, becomes an unbearable heartache for those with too much to carry. So much of an aging human life is full with the totalistic and unbending trial of coming to accept the absolute finality of death and loss, when still our persistent hearts in their deepest chambers yearn for life eternal. Among all of this, we must find a way to be happy– on pain of death. No wonder that those who find a path of absolute acceptable of reality while somehow keeping a tender heart are rightly called the saints of our species. And so I wonder if the Christians really have it right about something: humanity’s omnipresent longing for a semblance of eternal life, evident in all cultures, makes me wonder if there’s really something to it, in the way that hunger is an indicator that food exists somewhere.

But I am here now, born into this land of the vast old Earth, where my species is restless and beautiful and full of ancient and unknowable strangeness. Drifting into sleep last night I heard the night birds of this warm valley cooing their evening song from their perches and nests, calling steadily to their mates in their peaceful language, comforting their young in their downy breasts. I know their names, some of them, and the names and intimate formations of the trees that they love, that I love with a tender heart, that are bequeathed to me in an unending ancestry of natural lives in exchange. It was the Descent of Man, a going-down which Darwin spoke of, into the World to be among it completely, in totality. And in this moment of my brief human heart in the glorious life of the dark Earth I want nothing more than to be among the sounds of the night-songs forever, here in The World, so deeply is their avian comfort entwined with the blanketing world of the dusk, the old bones of the mother-sound of my animal life.

 

“How Far Did You Get?” by Christopher Bursk

How Far Did You Get?

by Christopher Bursk

 

Often the first question other boys would hit a boy with,

as if the kid hadn’t gone out on a date but tried to swim the English channel,

and they knew he couldn’t cross such a distance without their help,

and this was their way of helping him.

“Go on, tell us exactly how far,” not knowing yet

how to understand what a boy did with a girl,

except by measurements: how long, how often,

the precise calculations of sex.

What was a kid to say to his buddies?

“It was like grabbing hold of a boat

and being pulled aboard after treading water for days.

I lay there like someone who’d been rescued,

looking up at the stars as if they’d been part

of the search party, too,

the breeze on my neck, the whole dark sky.”

Imagine a boy telling that to his friends.

It is more than they wish to know.

 

Source: The Mysterious Life of the Heart: Writing From The Sun.”

The Names of Friends: Species I Have Known (in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California)

Early in July of 2017 I visited my homeland region of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s something gentle to my heart, a mystery why this place keeps calling out to me with such love over such distance, across time and space. The Sierra Nevada mountains of California, I have long held, are what a heaven shall be like when the great celestial places come to settle their love on our small and intimate Earth, it is told, in the life of the world to come. How I love this cathedral range, mountains of gentler snow and light and love.

I journeyed into these mountains of mine for two days, alone with my little car and a quietness in me, on July 6th and 7th. I stayed at extraordinary Mono Hot Springs, where I wish the likes of me could somehow live with my sweet husband, our two cats, and a sure chosen family-community for the rest of our lives. Of course, this magical little town of a dozen-or-so is seasonal, arising out of the glitter-snows of winter for half the year in hotter days of late spring through early autumn. There are real true springs, there: warm, lovely scented (a good smell of the washing and comforting earth!) sulfur springs welling up from the high meadow paradise grounds. It is said the Original Peoples ventured there, the Mono and Miwok and other ancestral, indigenous travelers from over the range. I speak prayers of thanks and friendship to them while I walk, barefoot and lightly clothed in rectangular fabric, the paths of the little mountain meadow hillsides where these springs of warm renewal rise.

Walking this land, this place I love likely more than any other I have tread or even seen depicted by the captured frames of light, my heart jumps in happy greeting at the sight of familiar specie-friends. What a happy revelation to find that the days of searching and studying the knowledge of these plant and animal species truly does create clearer eyes in humans who go walking int heir homelands. At various times in this visit to the Sierras I was, at turns, lovesick in my heart for feeling, at once, such a great love for this place yet missing my husband and our two little cats back in my current home of the Puget Sound. I wanted, with longing, that all my loves would be gathered together –as we hope for in heaven. No wonder that the images I have dreamt of my original family resurrected to life is of our meeting in these Sierra Nevada mountains.

And here, friends, I speak your names once more, a litany of love and homecoming, of belonging to the profound and sacred heart-comfort of this place. I recorded your good names in a notepad to remember you, that I should not forget I have seen you again. I shall see you again.

Western Juniper – Juniper occidentalis

Douglas Fir – Pseutotsuga menziesii

Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Jeffrey Pine – Pinus jeffreyi

Western White Pine – Pinus monticola

White Alder – Alnus incana

California Bay Laurel – Umbellularia californica

(Up and down the way through Oregon:) – Interior Live Oak – Quercus wislienii

Mountain Dogwood – Cornus nuttallii

Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium

Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum

White Stem Raspberry – Rubus leucodermis

Thimbleberry – Rubus parvifolus

A Gooseberry Unknown

Manzanita (Greenleaf, likely)

also Pinemat, Whiteleaf

Bracken Fern (whom I thought was Lady Fern, mistooken)

                    Pteridium aquilinum variation. pubescens. Rounded lobes.

Lady Ferm pattern: little tufts along her spine,

                                        Athyrium falpestre var. americanum

Lupine – type? Who, among so many names.

Miner’s Lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata

Paintbrush – Applegate’s, Indian? – Castilleja applegatei species.

Jepson’s Pea –a brilliant pink of hearts! – Lathyrus jepsonii

Prickly Pear

California Poppy

Gay Penstemon, happy, joyfulPenstemon laetus! –Laudete!

 

Animals, Animalia, Kingdom

the Ones through Whom God looks out through all eyes.

Golden Buprestid, a Beetle of Brilliance

Sierran Blue-winged Grasshopper

Marmot

“Northern & Boreal Bluet”, Common Blue Damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum

and female var. E. boreale

Western Fence Lizard! Blue-Belly!

Sandpiper (almond orchard, down in the San Joaquin Valley)

Turkey Vultures (different from Condors, the greats)

Coyote, always!

Mourning Dove, whose song I love, who greets the hot day

and makes her mourning into singing.

Northern Mockingbird, the scout-flapper-flier.

  – Do not all these deserve the same love?

American Robin – Turdus migratorius – steady on laws to remind us, to cheer us

Saw somebody with a yellow belly, not sure of his name yet, fine feathers of turmeric.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Stellar’s Jay – his eyebrows stripes of vertical white are different here

                                                             than in the Puget Sound. Two light-blue

                                                             eyes stripes vertical!

Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

Brewer’s Blackbird

European Starling

California Ground Squirrel (distinct white back)

Brown Creeper

Raven – Corvus corax

                                             harbinger unto the end

 

 

 

 

“When, I ask, will women and men find each other again?”

The following letter I recently wrote to a mentor and friend of mine. He leads an animal tracking course which I am currently a student in. For a number of years I have been very close with the community of friends connected through the nature school in western Washington state that offers this course. For the school year of 2012-13, I was a student in an immersive program for adults offered by this school, lasting nine months, which was largely a beautiful, meaningful, yet complexly emotionally-charged experience for me, as it is for many students. This experience gives context to this and other writings of mine.

This friend and mentor to which I write has been someone I have loved greatly, in the sense of a brotherly platonic love of friends. He has been a great mentor, inspiration and comfort at difficult points in my life, and I care for him greatly. However, I found the need to write this letter to him not only in response to his asking me a certain question, but because I am getting a strong sense of the need to speak up more about alarmingly far-leftist political and cultural trends I am witnessing in this community of which we are a part.  

His question to me was this: why, when a fellow female student of mine spoke of her gratitude for women being in our tracking course (a field of study which has been traditionally predominately male), I added my own outspoken gratitude that several men were there with us, too. She is grateful for having women around, I am grateful for having men around. Our teacher, to whom I write, wanted to know if I truly felt such gratitude for the company of male peers, or if my expression of gratitude was merely reflexive, to “balance” the previous gratitude expressed for women.

This letter, along with others posted here on my website, serve as a catalogue of the profound political paradigm shift which I am currently undergoing. It is an experience of both relief and anxiety. Relief, because I see now what I was blind to before. Anxiety, because I know, with heartache, I am risking all my friendships in these left-wing communities. But I will not remain silent.

Names have been removed to protect the privacy of all.

Begin letter.

 

Thank you for checking in, Friend. Always great to hear from you!

To get straight to the point – yes, I do feel really authentically happy to be around men in [our tracking course]. Men are inspiring, resilient, warm, inventive, self-sacrificing, affectionate, adaptive, brilliantly more funny than women on average (gasp! she said it!) and absolutely just as completely human as me. Women are also all of these good and beautiful things (I should know, I am one), but right now I feel a particular resonance with maleness that has given me a lot of fresh thinking and perspective. The example of men has actively helped me overcome old ways of thinking that no longer suit me. I am learning from men’s undervalued wisdom, as I have previously for so long and so thoroughly and so one-sidedly learned from women’s wisdom. I am learning to focus on the beauty and primary importance of the physical external world that is not constantly swayed by my inner watery emotions or navel-gazing depression. I am inspired by men’s example to see my own place in the world, as many men do, not as one of a victim who is oppressed by society, but an agent of free will and creative self-determination who makes her own choices with an upright mind. Yes, it is lately men who have overwhelmingly modeled these things to me; for several years now, in fact. So may it be my female privilege to speak of it freely and without censoring.
 
This moment you refer to, where both [my peer] and I expressed our gratitude, is actually a great case study for further conversation about “social justice”. The Dunes would be an excellent place to talk in person about it. I do always like talking with you, Friend.
 
I love men and maleness, and men’s friendship, and lately my spirit thrives on their presence. My second reason for coming to [our tracking course], after enjoying animal tracking, is to further reflect on and find within myself this sacred masculine that I value. The traditional presence of men in animal tracking is a happy thing to me. It is to be celebrated, as women’s traditional gifts in hand-crafts are to be celebrated.
 
So, too, should be celebrated women’s involvement in tracking. I hope you trust me when I say that I also celebrate female involvement in traditional male skills; obviously, or I myself wouldn’t be here. But now, I have some questions for you:
 
Do you feel free to be outspokenly proud of your natural maleness, as I am unquestionably free to be outspokenly proud of my natural femaleness? I have an endless supply of women-only social gatherings I may choose to be a part of. How many men-only gatherings are available to you? Who is advocating for the love of men? Who has the freedom to cry in public? Who among me and you, Friend, generally feels the freedom to cry in the company of the other? Who dies in wars? Who fills the prisons? Who cares for the hearts of men? Who commits the most suicide? If men are damaged, if men are wayward, if men are so lately despised and resented, if they are such oppressors, if something is so wrong with them, why do we not immediately arise to save them in love? Are they not our lost relatives? Are not men to be loved, too, as I love them, my brothers and lovers and mentors and fathers? Do men not crave this love of tribe and fellowship and women’s affection? Do men not sacrifice all for the hope of belonging, as women also do? Can a society be whole without women and men together in affection? Can men be complete if they resent women? Can women be complete if they resent men? Are women capable of malice? Are all women the same? Are all men the same? Where is the line between women and men –at a feminist rally, in anger? Is there an “us”? Is there a “them”? Where is the line that runs through every heart? When will anger finally end? When will men beat their swords into plough-shares? When will women learn from their example? When will we humans no longer accuse each other? Where do women and men finally lay down their pain, the whole world’s pain, and prefer to lean upon each other in tender fondness of kinship and partnership? Shall it be restrained to sexual matrimony? Shall love be restrained? Shall it not be so many kinds of love, disguised in the many forms of the scout? Shall it not be extended to the happiness of the greater society? Shall I not see in my sworn enemy my worthy opponent? Whose language is this? Who gives us life? Can a woman alone give life? Can a man? If I love men, is it assumed I hate women? If I want to thank men, are women resentful? Why would love engender resent? Is it assumed I am not happy with my own sex? If I were not (though I am), and if I wanted to be a man, would that make me a traitor –would it even make me a man– or would it make me more happy than I already am? Can I celebrate my love of men absolutely and freely and without accusation of misogyny against my own life? Can I celebrate men so that I might better lift up these men that I love? Can I call them out of darkness? Can I give them the forgiveness they cannot? Can I remind men that we need them here, alive, and whole, and afraid no longer? Will men finally come back from war? The old, ancient war that separated one from another, sister from brother, endlessly dividing, endlessly losing. Are women now going to war? How easily a war is waged.
 
When, I ask, will women and men find each other again?
 
Is it not originally, bravely, daringly feminist of me to so boldly pronounce this love, any love, my love for both women and men? And what of this insistence that men finally allow themselves to be loved by us women? I do not hold back, I encircle you men. Ah, let me initiate, brothers: I make the first move. I offer reconciliation. I advocate for my own heart’s pleasure, this troubadour’s happiness, full of song, fulfilled only by the otherness of who I am not, when the other is fulfilled in the same. I call you men home from a long war. I believe in the best of you.
 
Obviously, with a smile, you can see that these questions are rhetorical and meant to invoke contemplation. Now, compare this perspective to that of such bitterness seeping into our time, such a sorrowful resentment and mistrust of each other, divided into squabbling factions of identity politics –with you, my beloved brother, friend and teacher, placed squarely in the zone of the resented. So many would make you their enemy, though they don’t even know you. But I know you well enough to know, I think, that you would have no one be your enemy. I, too, have chosen to live by this. There are some now who would make me their enemies, but I have no enemies. It really lightens the heart, loosens the throat. But now I know what I am getting into.
 
The last time I went to a bookstore in Seattle, I looked at the women’s studies section. It had many books, diverse of topic and variety. Some were serious, some intellectual, some angry, some wistful, some lighthearted fun, most complaining about something-or-other, and surely some were truly soulful and well-rounded. There was an entire bookshelf filled, from the floor to the ceiling, with books by, for, and about women.
 
Then I looked at the men’s section, searching for the other part of my being.
 
Do you know what was there?
 
There were nine books. Nine. And every one of them could’ve been titled, Men are Problematic and Something is Wrong With Them.
 
Well, my goodness. This wasn’t exactly the world of feminism I was bargaining for as a Queer’N’Questioning teenager with a shaved head and punk in my earphones. The other half of my beloved humanity, the other half of my own complete self –shamed.
 
Of course, you are not intending to invoke any of this when you ask me my intentions in giving gratitude to the presence of men at [our tracking course]. I understand that. And it’s a fair question, given a certain frame of reference –wouldn’t I just be trying to undermine women? No– “balance” things out a bit? Couldn’t possibly be real love and gratitude for men, now could it? I wink and smile in slyness– I mean, women are so oppressed, right? Like, we can’t even vote or escape getting our genitals mutilated and there’s totally no laws or enforcement protecting us from rape or spousal abuse and we can’t even work outside the home. Oh, wait. That’s not the Western society we live in. Oops. I almost got the reality of our time and place –the heretofore unprecedented equality and humanism of the West– mixed up with the cultures who didn’t have those terrible colonial white men writing the Constitution or the Emancipation Proclamation or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that absolutely set the foundational framework for the possibility of feminism and the civil rights movements.
 
I challenge the status quo, Friend. My existence demands it. You know me, I’ve never been one to blend in. I try! Truly, I’ve gotten better it the way of the scout. And, in all seriousness, blending is a normal human need, of course. I challenge things carefully. And I do so because I love you, Brother, and I love other men and maleness and the freedom of my own unchained femaleness to love freely and bravely and in many ways. And I have spent plenty of time already being mad at men, and being upset at the world, and demanding justice and reparations and counseling, and screaming on street corners for gay marriage rights, and volunteering at Planned Parenthood, and rebuking stupid rape jokes, and buying lunches for homeless people, and talking back to big powerful men and absentmindedly walking straight through a talking circle (haha, remember that one? What a dork I was! Hopefully, just a lovable dork) and otherwise being a card-carrying system-fighter (these are enough credentials to prove I’m a real Liberal, right?). And I can tell you that these ways are exhausting. And while the motivations to do some of these things are certainly understandable and I continue to have empathy for it in others, it is really no way to carry on in the long term. Anger isn’t sustainable. It’s tends to backfire on the user. You could say I’ve grown up a bit.
 
So, we stand at a crossroads in our time. 
 
Whatever engenders affections between groups of people, I am in support of. Whatever engenders enmity between groups of people, I stand in opposition to.
 
Think, very seriously, my friend whom I would never wish to lose or alienate: which attitudes or movements or ideologies engender affection, and which engender enmity. In this moment will mentor you, and invite you to critically contemplate this. And this is what I have to say to the extreme leftist movements of militant, speech-policing “social justice” cultural Marxism, and to the equally reactionary far-right supremacist fascists alike:
 
We know there is no one right side, and there is only one great human heart, and the ancient instinct to anger and bloodshed cuts through every heart, and how quickly do we forget and turn against one another, how quickly do we make an enemy of our brother and sister, and how terrible was our own civil war, and the way to all terrible wars are strewn with the perceptions of victimhood, and the accusations of wrongdoing, and we know we must make peace before sundown, and we know we must catch the peace tree when it falls, and we know there is no “us” and no “them”.
 
With affection and confidence,
Gentle J. Pine

A New Sanctity for Marriage

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People don’t get married now for the same reasons they did so historically. Marriage used to be about family alliances, sharing resources, surviving in an uncertain world that was, paradoxically, more familiar to its inhabitants than ours is to us (pre-20th century history changed slowly). Now, the world is relatively much safer: enemy clans, the plague and the scourges of winter starvation are unlikely to raze your village to the ground –and we don’t even have villages now, for that matter (we talk a lot about “community” because most of us don’t really have it.) Love mattered back in the day, but this was only one factor among many others determining a marriage, and depending on the culture and time it may not have been considered at all. Now, we marry only for love, yet a lot of couples can’t trust each other to get married because we now have more unprecedented relationship problems than we know what to do with. Marrying for any other reason than love would be socially unacceptable, but love seems harder to come by, though we are more free. Marriage used to be obligatory, but somehow love could be found. Even the unmarried –celibate religious dedicants, widows and spinsters– found the love of God and each other. A good marriage founded the economics of the home. Now the economics of marriage are afloat on the sea of chaos. Everybody is expected to support themselves, including mothers who hold down full time “jobs” while their serious labor at home as mother or housekeeper is invisible and devalued to anyone outside of the family. Oh, but we’re supposed to want to “have it all”, right?

Let’s sympathize in both directions. Modern people justifiably value privacy and choice, but we can take a tip from the ancestors’ very realistic need to have marriage be a communal, public bond for survival’s sake. It was the time when vital resources and basic security were procured through such alliances. Good-hearted parents often attempted to arrange the most compatible match between a young woman and man, taking into consideration personality, attraction and consent. History is not entirely heartless. Yet, even in blind marriages many couples grew to love each other deeply, devotedly, and with tremendous cohesion. I maintain that the word “institution” to describe marriage is and always has been far too heartless a word: nobody goes to bed with an institution every night, even if the marriage was strictly, nonconsensually arranged. There’s still a human relationship there, and it could mean anything to the people inside it. Even in the most old-fashioned, patriarchal, public, communally arranged marriages, human beings are still human beings with feelings. Personal affection and attraction develop between a couple so that the marriage becomes intimate and private to them, even if that emotional bond wasn’t there initially at the marriage ceremony. Death and divorce are and always have been mourned not for the loss of an institution, but for the loss of someone you were intimately bonded with. We moderns can take a lesson in love and commitment, here. And conservative pundits can take a lesson when they talk about marriage being a glorified legal institution of times past, because they’re still missing the huge point that marriage will ultimately always be personal. Every culture has it’s love poetry.

Today, we are at the beginning of something with marriage. Our private choice of who we marry and when, without our family’s input, need be no less sacred, sincere or meaningful than the public commitment of yesteryear. We are not lacking dignity just because we don’t enter into marriage to get more cattle and a dowry. That being said, we’re in the middle of a whirlwind of struggling to redefine marriage at a deeper level than just an unstable emotional whim without ultimate purpose, a natural side-effect of new freedoms in marriage that comes with the territory of inventing whole-cloth a completely new culture of courtship. We are shaken by divorce, which is sometimes necessary but always anguish. We are struggling to re-sanctify marriage not as an exclusively patriarchal or heteronormative “institution”, but something no less serious or deeply sacred in it’s dawning expansiveness, its inclusivity to new ways of being.

The problem with our secular culture is not that many of us don’t believe in a particular deity or participate in public worship. The problem is that we have laughed off the entire deeper concept of sacredness in society altogether, which is dangerously throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is what triggers many conservatives who are against gay marriage. Though we rightly advocate for the freedom to marry our beloveds of whatever gender, societally we’ve forgotten the religious imagination which sanctifies this most intimate of human relationships, the sexual bond between people. Now, our task as a changing society is to bless, with whatever framework of ultimate meaning, devotion and beauty we can imagine, the sincere bonds forming between people. This will restore interconnectedness, community, purpose, belonging and a new cultural tradition. We grieve the absence of these parts of a functioning culture, leading some to question all personal freedom in unhelpful ways.

It is the mark of a healthy mind to be able to respect other peoples’ choices, within reason, while maintaining a different standard for one’s own life. Though we have differing values within an overarching culture, we all need a framework by which to live. We are in the midst of redefining multiple frameworks by which we may live, and the change can feel dizzying. Rapid change causes discord between people of different views, because there is a fear of losing touch with the anchoring foundations of our history that feel so essential to life. Liberals, while they work for a more humane world, can come to respect this need to be anchored to a cultural past. Though marriage is now a private matter, it is still impossible to engage in anything as consequential as marriage without affecting other people. The life the couple chooses to share together may be what matters most, but the success or failure of a marriage still greatly affects the the other people who are close to the married couple. American society is in search of equilibrium.

 

Photo by BhaktiCreative. Public Domain. Pixabay.com

“Ancestor Exhumed” / “Saint Anthony”

Two dreams.

A gathering beside the sea, the vastness of the ocean immense, even we land-dwellers aware of the creatures who lived deep down in it, from time to time coming up to the world of sky and land to breathe the upper air. This sand reaching down to the water iss clean in my eyes. It was beige-speckled but also clear with tales of the imminent.

Our gathering is near to the ocean but a short walk back inland. The area is grassy and hilly. There are few trees, but the grass is an extreme hue. Many friends are gathered in mourning. The dead body of a beloved friend is near us, laid in her coffin. Her face, lips especially, are purple and grotesquely bloated. She is already far along the stages of decay. Why is she laid in an open coffin? We have her coffin exhumed because her recent burial was not correct. She had been laid into the earth without love. We knew she had wanted her arms folded across her chest, her body in fetal position, as the ancestors were known to be buried. Her spirit is restless. Did she die in the ocean? But I am stricken by this night, by how the sight and nearness of her decaying corpse does not frighten me. I feel only tremendous compassion and a comforting love. In this way a great peace of relief comes over me, for in seeing her laid here I am not afraid of death. There is no terrible unknown to scare me; the dead love us and watch over us. It is by God and their love for us that we are cradled in the earth. My exhumed dead friend is an ancestor to be honored. For this was her body brought up from the ground again, to remind us.

………

I meet Saint Anthony, “Saint Antonio”, I heard him called by some –a handsome, medieval dragon-slayer (who says the saints are boring?). He had come traveling through the centuries to aid our dark electrical city where purple-lit skyscrapers shrink into shadow when the demon dragon appears, a titanous reptile with terrible eyes, come to crush and devour all. Magnificent but terrifying when I know it has seen me, though I am so small and shrouded in darkness. The monster, leagues away, already knows I am one of Saint Anthony’s exorcists. I flee to my saint and companions. He leads us to quickly camouflage in the greenery, which itself has come alive to aid our hiding in the earth. Creation, our ally. Saint Anthony, who in this dream of an apocalyptic time is shown to have a handsome face, is all the more poignant because of what homely, even unattractive physical characteristics he had in his earthly life, though his spirit glowed for the Creator. Now the trickster’s veil of his prior dullness was rolled away to reveal a physical beauty that signified the brightness of his soul. It was his time now to be resurrected and return to us, to help us fight the great demon, whom he has battled before.

 

Photo credits here