Feed the Good Wolf

I feel the need to weigh in on the political situation in US of A. I do not believe that I have anything new to say, but when I think that I will therefore not say anything, that feels wrong.  So this, today, is my statement.  Followed by a story that gives me a way forward.

I am not happy with our new president.  I was not happy with him as a candidate, and I am not happy with him now.  I don’t like what he says or has done regarding issues of immigration.  I don’t like his arrogant, self-absorbed demeanor.  I read things that disturb me regarding how he is placing white supremacists in powerful positions around him.  I am told that hate crimes and hateful actions are on the rise.

I know good people who like him, who brush off what I find intolerable with a shrug of the shoulders and say this is the liberal media, not the truth.  All I can say is, I hope you are right.

I still don’t like him.  I feel betrayed by a country that I thought I understood a little, but clearly I don’t.

In the face of discrimination, hate and fear, I feel compelled to wage love.  Wage kindness.  Wield it like a sword.  No one, no matter how hateful, can take away your ability to be compassionate.  Do it expansively.

Here is a small Native American story for us to keep close to our hearts, to give us a way forward, personally.  It doesn’t speak directly to politics, but to individuals–to me.

A grandfather tells a young child that inside each person, there is a good wolf and a bad wolf.  The bad wolf is hate, anger, and arrogance.  The good wolf is love, compassion, and kindness.  The good wolf and the bad wolf are locked in a fight.

The child thinks about the wolves and, as children do, asks, “Which one wins?”

The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

Feed the good wolf.

 

 

Sudden Handcuffs

A short story about a day at work in Washington.

 

Camila shows up without an appointment. The receptionist calls my desk in the social work office and informs me that she is waiting. Something personal is going on, I intuit. If she came for help with welfare forms or letters, she would not have waited in the lobby through my lunch. She is asking for someone she trusts.

I call her from the lobby into an empty office where we can talk in private. Baby Diego wiggles happily on her lap when I smile at him.

“Necesito que me ayude con mi hermano,” she says.

“Ok?” I ask. “En qué sentido?”

“Necesito que me ayude a escribir una carta.”

Now she drops her eyes and straightens baby Diego’s little hat. At her full adult height she is four feet tall like her mother and grandmother, and wears clothes she buys in the children’s section at Walmart. All of them, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and a growing band of cousins have come from a remote mountain village in Mexico. They live together as they did before they stole across the border, in a decrepit three bedroom trailer heated by a wood stove in the living room. I have been there. I sat with her every month on the sagging bed in the living room, in that intimate chaos, discussing baby Diego’s growth from the time he was nothing but a little lump.

“Está en la cárcel,” she tells me.

“Qué pasó?” I ask.

He’s a good man, she tells me, and the family is very sad. She wants to write a letter telling the judge that he should be allowed to come home. He is not a bad person. He is a hard worker and he doesn’t drink. Will I help her?

“Sí,” I tell her. But why is he in jail?

“Lo metieron en la cárcel porque su esposa es muy joven. Ella tiene trece años. Y lo metieron en la cárcel.”

“Lo metieron en la cárcel porque la esposa tiene trece años?”

“Sí.”

Ah, I say. Yes. In this country it is illegal for a man to have a thirteen year old wife.

“Ya sé,” she tells me, “Pero para nosotros, es normal.”

“Yo lo sé,” I say, and prop my head on my hand, looking at her.

I hate this.

“Como está la esposa?” I ask, trying to understand. If he is in la cárcel, something happened. Something.

“Ella está muy triste,” Camila says. “Ella quiere que lo dejen ir.”

“Ella lo ama?”

“Oh, sí. Mucho,” she earnestly nods.

“Él la trata bien?”

“Sí, la trata bien. Es un hombre muy bueno. No toma licor, nunca.”

“Cuántos años tiene él?”

“El tiene 21.”

Well, yes. Indeed.

“Tienen niños?” I ask. I realize I don’t need this much information to write the letter she wants, but I can’t help it. Throughout her pregnancy with baby Diego, we developed a sort of lopsided friendship, and I care about things for which I can offer no remedy.

“No, she says, “Pero está embarazada.”

Quietly, a sigh deflates me.

I can see it perfectly: the thirteen year old girl who speaks no English and very little Spanish goes to the doctor with her mother, or mother-in-law, where it is confirmed that she is pregnant. They do not show their delight or any other emotion in front of the large white strangers. Their round faces are stoic, expressionless, and the nurse sends them directly to speak with a social worker. They do not know what a social worker is, but they know to cooperate with large white strangers.

They answer the interpreter’s questions in broken Spanish.

How old are you?

Are you in school?

Where is the father of your baby?

How old is he?

Where does he live?

The large white strangers note his name, his age, that his address is the same. They do not ask her if she is married, if her baby’s father is her husband, betrothed to her when he was fifteen and she was a child of seven. They read flickers of fear on the face of the older woman and they misunderstand.

“El es muy bueno, y queremos que lo dejen ir,” Camila says. The sadness in her is bottomless.

 

I write the letter to the judge, stating that Eduardo is a good man, that his family misses him very much and that they need him. That the pregnant child is his wife and that she needs him. That he is a hard worker who doesn’t drink liquor or consume drugs. That the judge may please consider that he is not a criminal and let him go.
I realize, of course, that by my country’s law, he is.

Camila hugs me gratefully and leaves carrying the letter in one hand, clutching delighted baby Diego to her small hip with the other.

I go back into the little room where we can talk in private and sit there by myself, immobilized by a sorrow that seems to expand in all directions. I say a prayer for rain in the high plains of Mexico, that corn may germinate and grow, that the goats may have milk enough for everyone’s babies, that people may find hope in their homelands far away from large strangers with our clipboards, prying questionnaires and sudden handcuffs.

Awake en el País de los Sueños

Me hacen falta los temblores
how the walls shudder when
the ground beneath takes
a deep breath and mumbles in
restless sleep.

I miss the soprano of mosquitoes
around the net, cantando
en la noche de enfermedades que me
darían in exchange for
my sweet blood.

Extraño hasta los escorpiones,
their wicked tails cocked against surprise
in my shoes, the folds of towels,
esperando entre las sabanas
at my feet.

In the silent safety of America,
my loud breath keeps me
awake at night en el país de los sueños
donde lo que amenaza es la
soledad.

Swashbuckling Through the Daisies

I’ve decided that I’m done with “The Open Book Test.”  For anyone who was enjoying it:  (graceful bow).  If you don’t know what I’m talking about–don’t worry about it.  I was going to continue it for the whole of 2015, but I changed my mind.  That’s the great thing about having a blog.  It’s yours.  You can change your mind if you want to.

In place of that project exploring the past, I’m going to try come up with occasional posts about what’s going on in my mind in the present, and hope that they are reasonably interesting.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular kind of annoying person and how I fear I might be turning into one.  The ones I’ve met are usually ex-missionaries of some sort–people who once did something awesome and unusual, but then proceeded to live totally normal boring lives but continue to define themselves by the one interesting unusual thing they did 20 years ago.  I hate that.  It drives me crazy.  The other day I realized that I think I might be turning into one.  I felt like kicking a hole in the wall.

So.

So?

Well it seems like there are only two possible ways to avoid this or change it.

1.  Do something interesting and unusual now (take it out of the past and put it in the present)

2.  Redefine yourself (as in: use the mirror and not old photo albums)

I wish I could think of another option, but I can’t.

I’d like to do the first one.  I am dying to do the first one.  Honestly.  And I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell is stopping me.  It’s not like I have kids in school or anything.  I am married, though, to a wonderful man who is about as different from me as a person can be.  He’s unusual and exciting by nature.  If you know him, you know what I mean.  He’s also older than I am–not a lot, but enough–he’s had a significant number of health problems in the last several years, and he’s an Aries.  All of these things add up to: he’s not in the mood to do exciting, unusual things that don’t involve full health insurance and regular paychecks.  All things considered, I don’t blame him.  And then there’s this:  he IS doing something exciting and unusual.  He’s an Italian living in America.  This, for him, is as awesome as it would be for me if he took me to live in Italy.  So, there you go.  You get it.  We were all amped to join the Peace Corp a few months ago, and for about three precious hours I felt like I came to life again.  Then I discovered that he can never join the Peace Corp because he’s not an American citizen.  So I let that go, too.

The second one is not as fun.  It’s sad–or it makes me sad.  How do you do that?  I mean, how do I do that?  I don’t want to be a middle-aged community health worker living in a redneck town in a cold desert when the world is full of places with oceans and languages and sunshine and open windows.  In my mind, I am ready to take my surfboard and paddle out, but instead I take my scissors and walk around the house snipping off the heads of the roses that have bloomed.  Again and again.  Instead of packing suitcases I switch purses a lot.

It’s not easy.  That’s all I’m saying.  It would be a lot easier to do something hard, than to keep doing easy things over and over.  I’m standing here with my machete, ready to swashbuckle through the jungle, and then I realize I’m in a field of daisies.  It’s disappointing.  Tennessee Williams said something about that.

I can’t tell you how I’ve resolved this, because I haven’t.  I’m just posing the question.  That’s the difference between me posting from the past or posting from the present.  I can’t tell you how it turned out.

 

Gardening with a machete:  Outside my house in Costa Rica, 2010

Gardening with a machete: Outside my house in Costa Rica, 2010

The Open Book Test: April (6 years ago), 2009

When: April (6 years ago), 2009
Where: Tamarindo, Costa Rica
What: A terrible month in a terrible year.   In three months, we will make the sad decision to leave Costa Rica and move to the States.  This is the only thing I can find that is fit to share.
Age:  38

I went looking for waves today and all I found was water. So I came home. Anticlimactic, yes, but I have a wine headache and I couldn’t think of anything better to do. P took me out for sushi last night. We had a wonderful time spending money we don’t have and drinking too much wine. We even went to Mike and Wendy’s bar which is how I got too much wine. Bleagh.

I am going to have one very busy weekend. I also think that if I do not soon paint this kitchen, I am going to go entirely insane. I cannot take it ANY MORE.

I invented a way to make a shirt out of a pillow case and it is so cute! Now I need Ruthann’s sewing machine.

What a horrid headache I have.

Open Book Test: From a February 2 years ago

When: February 2013–2 years ago
Where: Northwest corner of USA
What: My husband is having trouble healing the way the doctor intended, after the third of what we never imagined would be nine reconstructive surgeries over 17 months
Age:  42

Well well well.  No thank you Mercury for your f*ing retrograde self.  We merrily drove to Seattle to see Dr. JR today and got slapped down.  Poor P. Poor me.  F* ing Dr. JR.  Some stitches on P’s right nostril didn’t hold—again, apparently—and he wasn’t all that nice about it.  Not like being nice is really required, but we’d gotten a little used to it.  He scolded us heartily and told P to come back next Friday, and we’ve added another surgery to this.

P is sorry he even started.  So am I, honestly.  And today, I think Dr. JR was too.  It’s long and hard and discouraging for him, too.  It was a very very bad day.  P is depressed and honestly so am I.  I feel like it will never end.  Now P has to be super calm and careful for a week, because if one more inside stitch goes, the rib cartilage will die and then… we start over.

Please God, don’t let that happen to us.  We’ve been stupid and wrong.  We’ve lied and made bad decisions about money and other things.  But please have mercy on us and don’t punish us anymore, just now.  Have mercy on us and let us heal.  I wish I could help his boredom/loneliness/desperation.  But I am out of ideas.

I am the one with nothing and no one, just a broken husband, beautiful as the sun but sliced and cut so many times he is unrecognizable.

Tell me what is the right thing to do.  Tell me clearly.  Write it on the wall.  I am so tired.