Friday, November 28, 2008

For-Giving Thanks

For some reason this Thanksgiving I have spent the time thinking about forgiveness. Not asking others to forgive me, but forgiving others. Every fall I work for atonement around the high holidays - Yom Kippur. I think of what I have done to hurt others and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes asking for it from the person I've hurt (my children, my husband) or from the universe and Grace for those people no longer in my personal cipher. But I realize that I do not have a time when I ask myself to forgive those who have trespassed against me. Isn't that as important as asking forgiveness from others? I think it is.

Holding onto past hurts and anger hurts me and those I come in to contact with. It makes me angry and bitter and frustrated. It makes me unhappy. But I don't think I recognize that my past pains are the reason I am so miserable so often. In the years when life drama was my constant companion, I would blame everything on other people and how they "made me" feel or act a certain way. Bullshit! Not to dip into psycho-babble but I really am responsible for my feelings, my resentments, my shame and my guilt. I can chose, really easily at first, but then with some work, to let things go. To "give it up, turn it loose" to quote an En Vogue song. That first moment of release is exhilarating and I feel liberated. Then the work sets in. I have to remember, be conscious of the fact, that I have let something go. That I have indeed chosen to forgive someone their trespasses. That means not replaying the events over and over in my head to my own detriment, or trying to come up with an alternate ending! Not bringing up those past events in an argument if I am still fortunate enough to have that person in my life. And not allowing it to stop me in my tracks and become my go-to excuse for bad behavior.

What brought these feelings on? Well, I had this overwhelming desire to listen to "Dear Mr. President" by P!nk featuring the Indigo Girls (oh, how I love me some Indigo Girls). And in a bit of an epiphany I recognized George W. Bush as a person. As someone worthy of life and therefore worthy of forgiveness. I am not sure what his personal motivations have been for all that he has done. I am not sure why he made the decisions he has made. And I am not sure if he fully realizes the impact that his choices have made on so many people. But lately he looks like he does. He looks heavy, weighed down by some kind of invisible albatross. In an interview with Barbara Walters the other evening, President-Elect Obama spoke about the isolation of being President. I think I always knew that intellectually but it is quite something else to see him already embracing the weight of his job. The weight. None of us could possibly imagine that responsibility. I am overwhelmed, to quote my friend M with "working like a dog to keep my kids filthy and semi-neglected."

I want to forgive President Bush. To see his humanity for a moment. And to let go of my obsession with his bad policy. Something new is on the horizon and I want to embrace the future and let go of the past. And I think part of being able to forgive other people is forgiving myself for the bad decisions that I have made. I can be most unkind to myself. Forgiving that spirit will take a little more work than forgiving the President, but I can do that too. Now go listen to the Indigo Girls.

in peace

photo: ToppC

Thursday, November 20, 2008


This week marked the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre. I do not call it a mass suicide because it was obvious that there were many people, including ALL the children, who did not go gently into their good night but were pushed. Jim Jones, the self-proclaimed Father of the Peoples Temple, did not even kill himself. He was shot in the head.
A brief history from Wikipedia:

Jonestown was the informal name for the "Peoples Temple Agricultural Project", an intentional community in northwestern Guyana formed by the Peoples Temple, a cult from California led by Jim Jones. It became internationally notorious in November of 1978, when 918 people died in the settlement as well as in a nearby airstrip and in Georgetown, Guyana's capital. The name of the settlement became synonymous for the incidents at those locations.

On November 18, 1978, 909 Temple members died in Jonestown, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning in an event termed "revolutionary suicide" by Jones and some members on an audio tape of the event and in prior discussions. To the extent the actions in Jonestown were viewed as a mass suicide, it is the largest such event in modern history. The incident at Jonestown was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the events of September 11, 2001.

The poisonings in Jonestown followed the murder of five others by Temple members at a nearby Port Kaituma airstrip. The victims included Congressman Leo Ryan, the first and only Congressman murdered in the line of duty in the history of the United States.

Why write about this story? Because above the head of Jim Jones' throne in Guyana was the sign: "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." Ironic? Sardonically so. When I was a senior in college my major thesis (I was a religious studies and theatre major) was on Apocalyptic cults and the government. I wrote about Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians and MOVE (a black nationalist group from Philadelphia). I spent several months immersing myself in the hell that was Jim Jones. Listening to the tapes he made of his voice. Listening to his creepy, crazy laugh and wondering how so many people could willingly walk down this road with Satan as their Pied Piper. And then I realized how easily it could happen to anyone - even me.

Jones and most malevolent charismatic leaders, prey on the vulnerable, the disenfranchised, the broken. How many of us have fit into this category at some point in our lives? The majority of Jones' followers were black. There was a disproportionate number of women with children. And the rest of the temple was made up of the elderly. Of course. He preyed on the weak. And he was only able to do so because our society, then and now, does not lift up all people. We continue to marginalize single women, poor people, children and older people. We do not respect them or invite them in to be cared for and supported. In fact we make it harder to survive much less to live. It becomes no wonder that people like Jones and Koresh exist. That they are able to exert emotional, sexual and psychological sway over their members.

Cults which go horrible wrong can only exist in cultures where basic respect is earned through either income or biology. Self-worth is the birthright of every person. And as a mother of a young daughter, I find that I can do everything possible to lift up my daughter. To make her feel whole, valuable, brilliant as well as beautiful and capable. But that eventually she will have to leave the house and others may have more influence over her daily feelings. How do we change the world? And I don't mean that in a hopeless way. I really mean it. How do we change ourselves so fully that we can withstand negativity, assault and unkindness? Tell me, because I really want to know. I think we can do it sometimes but all the time seems like an almost impossible fete.

I think I am back to my post about the liminal. To fully appreciate the divine we need to experience the darkness from time to time. George Saunders was one of my favorite professors in college. He taught Anthropology of Religion. He advised my senior thesis. He told me once that if I started a cult he would join. I was honored. First, that he thought I was charismatic! And second because I believe he thought I would try to lift people up. That I would create a sacred space where people could be free and open and learn about themselves. It would not be utopia. It would be earth - the very best we could offer, most of the time. That never happened. Truth be told I have trouble creating peace in my own house. I still dream of that place. I will work to cultivate it in myself; and in my children and hopefully ripples will be born.

Rest in peace to all those who have died searching for Grace.

in peace

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sick and Tired

As the old saying goes: "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." Me too. But today I am legitimately sick. I often couch my illnesses in new-agey terms like "I am manifesting symptoms" so as not to let fate get a hold of me. Playing cagey with the universe doesn't really work if in your head and heart you are saying: "I feel like s*&t!" Today I do. And I cannot spend one more minute in bed with the covers over my head, no matter how much I love the smell of the fabric softener. So I went grocery shopping and ran another errand and now I am convinced that a truck ran over me. So back to bed I go.

What is it in us that won't allow us to be tired? To take a break? To get off the runaway train that can become (and most often just is) our lives. Is there really anything that important that I cannot lay down? I think it is time to step back when I feel that as a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, I am irreplaceable for a few hours. My kids have the right idea. When they don't feel well they climb into my bed (they apparently like the smell of the fabric softener too), cuddle down deep and ask for the remote control. Their little voices getting just loud enough to order me to make them soup, rub their backs and help them to the bathroom. Got it. I am going back to bed. The world will continue to turn on it's axis until I get up again.

in peace

photo by ratterrell

Thursday, November 13, 2008


What a nice word for crap! I have so much crap in my house it is unbelievable. Truth be told I have never been incredibly tidy. I grew up in a VERY messy home and I internalized that kind of chaos. My home is a total reflection of me: MESSY. Wow, now there's a confession for ya'. But I am tired of hiding behind the fact that our house is under perpetual construction. Literally. Our living room/dining room/ and downstairs bathroom (that's a laundry room if you work for the South Orange tax department!) have no walls except the external ones, very little electricity and single light bulbs. The beams in the ceiling are exposed, and not in a kitchy, oh-aren't-we-hip kind of way. More in a we-took-out-all-the-plaster-and-lathe-and-haven't-replaced-it-yet kind of way.

So what has sparked this naked confession. Well, my mother calls me the other night and asks if I am watching Oprah. I wasn't. She told me to tape it when it came on later and to watch it. The show - Oprah's Messy House Tour. What was she saying?! I know exactly what she was saying: Keisha your house is a disaster! She's right. I have done almost everything I can to fix this situation - Julie Morgenstern, Clear Your Clutter w/Karen Kingston, Feng Shui, FLYLADY!!!! Nothing worked. And the reason it didn't was because I didn't stick with it. I would clean in a mad rush (I am VERY good at event cleaning) and then think: "Wow, I did alot of work. I am entitled to rest for several months!" Forgetting that the grime piles up and the dishes get eaten off of again, and those damn clothes keep getting worn!

I am DONE with this life. And part of being done is exposure. Not hiding my light or my mess under a bushel but putting it out there, for the whole 5 people who read this blog, to see! In an effort to come clean (ha ha ha) I am going to join Oprah's Messy House Tour and I am going to post my efforts here on this blog. My friend's blog Creative and Blessed has a feature called "Peak from my Pad." So in homage to her stylish inspiration I am going to entitle my posts about my house: "Clutter in the Crib" complete with before and after pictures! Peter Walsh, over at Oprah's, guarantees that our homes will be shiny in six months. I can do six months. I've gone longer for less. And maybe once I get all the crap out of here hubby can actually start fixing up the place. When that happens I will have you all over for tea. Let the journey begin.

In peace

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Gimme head with hair Long beautiful hair Shining, gleaming, Streaming, flaxen, waxen Give me down to there hair Shoulder length or longer Here baby, there mama Everywhere daddy daddy Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair Flow it, show it Long as God can grow it My hair

The bane of my existence. So, if you are not from the African diaspora in terms of your hair, then you may find my words to be hyperbole. But every since I was a young girl I have hated the work it took to make my hair lay down, behave or appear to be "good." For those of you outside this special club I am going to let you in on a little secret - a great many black women obsess about their hair. And I find that I obsess in NOT obsessing about it.

I have worn my hair almost every conceivable way. And then I went to see HH the Dalai Lama in 2001. I have to honestly say I don't recall what his two days of talks were about. All I know is that the last night I went home to my family and had a dream. I was wearing shoulder length locs at the time and in my dream I shaved my head. Not bald, just shaved. In my dream it was a very freeing experience. And I saw myself perfectly. When I woke up that morning I was obsessed with shaving my head. I woke my husband up at 7am and told him he had to shave my head. He just looked at me like: "what new obsession is this woman!" But I was serious and I would not let it go. "What if it doesn't look good? What if you have bumps on your head that you don't know about?" I was not worried. I told him that I had seen it all in a dream. Even at this early stage in our marriage, my husband had learned that my dreams are pretty commanding in my waking life. So he went and got his mustache trimmer (you read that right) and shaved my head. I stood there in the mirror like a shorn lion and loved my reflection. LOVED IT! Ever since then I have worn my hair short. Very short. Except for when the chemotherapy kicked in last January (of all months to be bald) and I took the razor to my head.
Even after that imposed haircut I felt beautiful and free.

Well, now I am contemplating letting my hair grow again. People who know me well, i.e. my sister, have told me that it won't last. That I will once again get sick of my hair and maintenance and that I will shave it off again. I don't know about that. I had another dream. Another vision. This time I was the Lion with the mane. The image from that dream has stayed with me for awhile. So for now I am letting my curls grow and anticipating a lesson in patience and a new kind of freedom.

in peace

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The work has just begun

"I searched for a leader but the leader was me"

President-Elect Obama. I like the sound of that. What I have noticed in his recent speeches and in his acceptance of the Presidency is the way he has gotten real about our future. About two weeks ago he began reminding us that change takes work, change takes effort and if we are willing to do the work we will succeed. Maybe not in the first 100 days, or the first term but we will "get there." His acceptance speech peppered with Abraham Lincoln, The Bible and Sam Cooke, talk about well-rounded. But I wonder how many of us actually heard what he said?

It will take work. Do Americans like to work? In some ways we are the hardest working people on the planet. And in other ways we are the poster-children for entitlement. Will we falter and lose faith when things don't happen as quickly as we think they should? I don't think Obama has set himself up as a Messiah or a Prophet or even Superman (the Al Smith dinner speech WAS funny). But we have elevated him to that level. And we Americans also take an uncomfortable pleasure in watching those we elevate fall. A collective schadenfreude. So to that end I have decided to do something I don't normally do. I am going to offer myself to the Obama administration and to our country.

The work I can do is not knocking on doors or making calls or even getting involved in legislation initiatives. That is not my style. I can offer my spirit and my intention. That is my strength. I can and will offer my deeds and my prayers. I can sacrifice for the good of my country. I can fast and focus and make myself a better person because where one of us succeeds we lift up our neighbors. I can do all these things, with work, with effort. To use religious parlance I will perform mitvahs and work to become a bodhisattva. This is how I will contribute to the greatness that is America. And this is how I will appeal to the better angels of our nature by first appealing to my own. My love to you all.

In peace

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I can hardly breathe. We walked to our polling place today. Me and the three children. They know that something called "history" is being made today. Exactly what that is and how it will take shape is beyond them right now. It is beyond me, too. We walked into the booth together. I pushed the individual buttons and put my finger on the "cast your vote" button and each child, ages 7, 4 and 2 put their little hands over mine and pushed down. We cast our vote for change, for hope, for education, for equality, for clean water, for an end to poverty, for their college education, for my retirement, for an end to war, for peace.
"In this unlikely story called America, there has never been anything false about hope."

What did you vote for today?

In peace

photo by Maciej Dakowicz