Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Caged Birds and Clouds of Witnesses

I do not know why the caged bird sings.  Not in any way to the extent that Maya Angelou did, to have been caged in by extreme brokenness and abuse and trauma and political will beyond my control – and then to live as witness to a relentless hope birthed by scars formed out of too many unyielding flames.  I am a white, privileged woman born to highly educated parents who has been afforded every opportunity and more to be anything and everything I want to be.  Yes, it is true that I face discrimination in my family configuration.  And my experiences are a fleck of dust in the context of slavery, the Jim Crow laws of the South that still inform perception and reality in my home state and the ludicrous over-representation of people of color in prison, below-cost-of-living jobs, limited access to education and substandard housing.

Maya Angelou was – and is – one of the Sages who began to penetrate my naïve consciousness while I grew up on college campuses in the South.  Her words were beautiful, devastating, encouraging, challenging and empowering.  The formidable and gracious space her presence created, even on a stage several rows from me, simply made me want to be more.  I wanted to be more attentive, in tune with the pulse of humanity's breadth and spurred to action and hope by the messy intersection and co-existence of brokenness and hope.

I do not know if I have achieved any of them, those budding aspirations she began all those years ago when her words and presence began their work in me.  But I am working toward it, still.  The news of her death reached me – quite literally through an NPR broadcast – as I drove through her hometown of Winston-Salem today following a day of discussion and debate about what we need to end homelessness in North Carolina.

My faith, and its ancient texts, talks about the clouds of witnesses that surround us.  Witnesses to encourage.  To empower.  To tell the truth even when that truth is crushing.  To push us to change everything.  And hold out the promise and power of relentless hope.

Deep sadness at the loss of Maya Angelou’s witness on this side of God’s great embrace. Overwhelming gratitude for the undying legacy and truth she leaves us.  "Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear, I rise, " she says.  And so she did. And is.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Never Waste an Uphill

I try to run every now and then.  Or, really, to jog.  I don’t have much interest in a flat-out run.  Even when I played competitive sports, I was the last to the line in every sprint.  When I first started attempting to put jogging into my life on a regular basis as an adult, a friend told me to never waste a downhill – to always run a downhill to get a breather.  Here in the southern Appalachians, there are a whole lot of hills.  There is one really great flat run in town by the French Broad River, and I always feel like such a better runner when I get the chance to follow that path.  But the more accessible run – the one that is just outside my front door through the streets of West Asheville – that one has hills.  Today was a day I got a couple of hours to myself, and so I went out my front door in my running shoes and began to do my meandering jog.  It felt great. As I reached my turn around point, I realized why – I had pretty much been running downhill for 25 minutes.

Like thousands of other people, today is a complicated day for me.  Full of angst and grief at not being the mom I had always wanted to be for my Abigail, feeling her absence more keenly as parades of moms and daughters walk past me at church, and stand in line for brunch at the neighborhood eateries and the long stretch of hours until Tuesday afternoon and I see her again.  She taught me, and still does, that I can be a mom despite – and maybe because of – my multiple levels of baggage and failure.  And at the same time, as I sat with tears streaming in church today, there are acres of gratitude for my Marley, an unplanned for and completely unexpected gift of a child who I get to love and parent and learn from in a hundred ways each day.  She, too, reminds me that it is not my failures that define me, but instead the expansive grace and love that forms me in my very real and messy and chaotic humanness.

I think there are probably not many downhills for very many folks that do their best to show up, in all of their humanness, for life.   Certainly there are not for me.  It’s when I am going uphill, I realized today, that I pay a whole lot more attention to what is around me – ‘cause I need every bit of it to make it to the top.  A spot of shade, a more gentle span of road, an encouraging smile from the guy mowing his grass.   A second chance, even, at love and marriage and parenthood in the climb out of the ashes of other dreams.  

And the 25 minutes uphill to get back home today?  Well, I walked the last 15.  And was grateful for every step.