Soundtrack for Black History: 12 months a year

You're writing about the NFL pre-game?!

It’s weird to find myself writing about anything even remotely related to sports. When casual conversation turns to the Orioles or the Ravens, I usually remind my friends that I divorced sports when my first marriage ended. But as Black History Month draws to a close, I’ve been following reactions to the inclusion of Lift Every Voice and Sing – the “Black National Anthem” in the Super Bowl LVII Pregame show.

In 1899 poet and activist James Weldon Johnson composed the lyrics (and his brother John the music) to be performed the following year at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was debuted by a chorus of 500 Black children, and spread by word of mouth. He called it “National Hymn.” We’re talking about a time period when the gains of post-Civil War Reconstruction were gutted by the spread of Jim Crow. The NAACP began calling the piece a “Negro National Anthem” in 1917. Just a year before that,  President Woodrow Wilson – who also introduced segregation into the Federal government – signed an executive order making the Star-Spangled Banner “our” national anthem.

The NFL began playing the song before its games in the 2020 season after the months of protests following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

Take in the lyrics...

…while noting that the Superbowl versions feature only the first verse. (Much as we are offered only the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner. See Go Deeper for more):

Lift every voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.


Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who hast by Thy might,

Led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,

Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;

Shadowed beneath Thy hand,

May we forever stand,

True to our God,

True to our native land.

Copy this into your browser: YouTube Lift Every Voice and Sing

Click on the links you are drawn to.

To my Black and Brown readers, if your favorite isn’t here, please take a moment and send me the link!

To my white readers: take a musical browse break. Find a version that touches you. Bookmark that link. Adopt it as your personal go-to Soundtrack any time you find yourself 1) brought up short by media, and/or your own your own racialized response to breaking news, or to an interaction with a colleague or a friend 2) wanting to recognize, honor, celebrate a liberating moment of Black and Brown Renaissance, personhood, culture, creative genius, perseverance.

Music has the power to open us up to transformative learning.

No matter whether we take this as a hymn or an anthem: we know the proper response is to stand. To stand up. To stand with. To stand up for.  This hymn invites us – all of us –  to stand and honor the dignity, the history, and the hopeful future of Black and Brown people in our nation.

My favorites:

Alicia Keys’ pre-recorded video for the Super Bowl LV. Remember  this is recorded a few months after George Floyd’s murder and in the first year year of the Pandemic. Look carefully for the masks and t-shirts that Say Their Names.

The Chicago Children’s Choir,  where all three verses are sung. Recorded for their 2022 Black History Month Concert, one of the most breathtaking of Covid-times Zoom videos – how some 288 kids united in voice in their physical isolation.

Go Deeper

Consider the implications of this excerpt from Verse 3 of the Star-Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics during a young America’s 1814 war with the British. It was adopted as our National Anthem in 1931,  when the country was suffering the  effects of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. And the Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Make history…reshape, re-form, your own racialized history…

You don’t have to lay down this path alone.

Gather a group of 6-12 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.

Pick my brain for 30 minutes about –

a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories

A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.

For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.

Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.

Black History Month for White People: a Photo-Essay

Black History Month for White People: a Photo-Essay

Just a year ago I was preparing for a half-day online offering, digging back into a trove of photos from my first trip to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in 2016. One photo captured this interpretative text:                                                    “Cowrie shells, manillas, beads and guns changed hands in exchange for African men, women, and children.”

I looked up this one word…Manillas

and it opened up  a visual…and then visceral understanding of a slice of Black – and White – history that I share with you here. Accessed 11/15/21

Manillas: in the 1400s, variants of these metal bracelets or armlets were 

the most common form of “barter coinage” – aka money –  in Africa, 

and especially along the West African coast. 

They were highly portable,  

and usually worn by a woman to display her husband’s wealth. 

Their value was partly based on the sound made when they were struck. 

Manillas were the coinage of the African peoples – their tangible wealth, and their power,

 including their power of self-determination. Accessed 11/15/21

Photo Credit: Scott Semans

Manillas began to transform

In the 1470s Portuguese explorers became aware of the use of these “red gold”/copper bracelets – 

that had been mined and traded across the Sahara by Italian and Arab merchants long before the Portuguese arrival.

They contracted with manufacturers in Antwerp to produce these bracelet-like forms in a wide range of designs, sizes, and weights.

The British, French and Dutch followed suit. 

Bristol, as a copper manufacturing center, and then Birmingham as a brass center, developed in response.

Manillas became slave trade money.  

By 1505, a slave could be bought for 8-10 manillas,

and an elephant’s tooth for one copper manilla in Calabar, the chief city of the ancient Nigerian coastal kingdom of that name. 

(National Museum of African American History and Culture – personal photo, 2016)

“The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration of people in world history.”

“The transatlantic slave trade grew as Europeans developed a new system of forced labor in the Americas. Cowrie shells, manillas, beads and guns changed hands in exchange for African men, women, and children.”

(Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC)

(National Museum of African American History and Culture – personal photo, 2016FrAn enslaved child’s manacles

From the shape of freedom and self-determination to the shape of enslavement

Manacles sized for a child

“Enslavement of Africans was a long process that began at the moment of capture 

and extended through a series of ordeals leading to the plantation fields or some other forced service.”

(Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC)

“In the 1400s Africans did not see themselves as African. The continent included many city-and-nation-states and, like Europe, it was made up of diverse societies. The people of one region might have little in common with their neighbors. The majority of enslaved Africans came from the western coast. These regions were known for their centers of learning, military prowess, vast empires, and diverse faiths. They traded with societies as far away as Asia and Europe.” [Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC]

Take a few moments to locate on the map the identities of the various “states” that are coded by color…the locations of natural resources – salt, gold, copper, ivory in black, and the various ethnic areas in red, and the land-trade routes in pink that run north and south.

I  remain stunned awake as I sit with this map and recall how I was taught about Africa: a dark undifferentiated continent. I was taught nothing of its history, knowledge, or cultures. Just undifferentiated Blackness, like the lens that I still must peer through when I see an unknown Black face in order to be able to see the individual human, not just a Black body, standing before me.

These symbols originated with the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana, a main departure point for slave ships – and  “convey knowledge, wisdom, and culture…Often seen on textiles, the symbols together tell a story. Throughout the African diaspora, objects made by enslaved people demonstrate the continuity of African knowledge and culture.”

[Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC]

Black – and White – history
as we continue to make it in the 21st Century

CBS News reports on the handcuffing of a 5-year-old Montgomery County, Maryland child

Roughly 39 minutes into this January, 2020 video, an officer briefly handcuffs the child, and can be heard to say:   

“You know what these are? These are hand-cuffs. These are for a person that don’t wanna listen and don’t know how to act.”

The handcuffing happened after the child’s mom arrived and he had calmed down. 

This Black History Month, let us White folks
commit to “return and get it.”
“Get” our single, shared, American history. Understand the blatant and subtle continuities
with the original sin that is slavery.
Make a way where there has been no way –
in ourselves, our neighborhoods, our places of worship,
our businesses, our institutions –
to racial reconciliation, restitution, peace,
and harmony after strife.

Dig deeper: two Black people making recent history

You have heard of Colin Kaepernick, and the price he paid for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. You may not have heard (as I had not) of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was suspended, then banished from the NBA in 1996.

And a couple of days ago, Google’s Doodle intoduced me to Mama Cax,  an American-Haitian model who walked the runway “showcasing her prosthetic leg,” challenging a whole bagful of “beauty atandards” as she did.

Make history…reshape, re-form, your own racialized history…walk a different future: lay down a fresh path walking

You don’t have to lay down this path alone.

Gather a group of 6-12 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.

Pick my brain for 30 minutes about

    • a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories

    • A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.

For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.

Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.

MLK Day: Lay down a path walking towards Beloved Community

The civil rights movements had vital and substantial successes, but a change of heart did not follow changes in the law: the work of laying down a path as we walk towards Rev. King’s Beloved Community falls to us. Now and every day.

In 1968, as the mother of a young child, I watched the civil rights movement unfold in streets across the country via black and white news clips on one of the three national news networks. I’d gone to a top school system in the country (so I had been told) and graduated from a women’s college with a degree in French and a couple of courses in the history of Western civilization. Nothing in my education gave me a context to understand what was going on.

I was historically illiterate.

But I wasn’t morally ignorant. I knew bravery when I saw it. I knew abuse of power when I saw it. 

There was nothing murky here, the way there was about the Vietnam war, which also dominated the news and which ultimately led me to turn off the TV while we ate dinner.

I knew of Gandhi. I had never heard the phrase, “the Beloved Community.”

In his 1959 Sermon on Gandhi, Dr. King elaborated on the after-effects of choosing nonviolence over violence: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor….

Sharing the wealth of the earth would come about through “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all…the love of God operating in the human heart” that does not discriminate “between worthy and unworthy people”  and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is…love seeking to preserve and create community. 

As we practice our way towards Beloved Community, the wealth we have to share at any given moment might be our time, attention, energy:

  • Putting aside our “discomfort”/aka fear again…and again
  • Permitting a change of heart to guide my behavior, which in turn fortifies my change of heart
  • Seeking out and learning history we weren’t taught
  • Being willing to see our racialized self as it is reflected back to us by contemporary writers and artists and actors of color

These are practices that help us lay down a path towards a Beloved Community as we walk.

You don’t have to lay down this path alone.

Gather a group of 6-15 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.

Pick my brain for 30 minutes about

  • a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories
  • A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.

For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.

Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.


Step forward in friendship…back in respect

Over the last couple of weeks - in your newsfeed headline, in your social media or local neighborhood, across your family dinner table - did you encounter someone threateningly Different?

Then what? Did curiosity soften your heart just a little? Did you find it in you to move towards that person in a gesture of friendship? Or perhaps to step back in a gesture of respect?

Did you allow yourself to be changed by the encounter, by your listening? Was the Other changed by being met?

When to move towards an Other in a gesture of friendship - and when to step back

For most of my life, I had one direction: move ahead, step in, step up!

My default setting as a problem-solver has been honed and well-rewarded through years in family, school, and workplace settings. I can see problems around corners when others don’t even see the corners. I can anticipate and plan. I can scrap plans and reconstitute them out of spit and cardboard if that’s what I have to work with. 

For decades body-workers have told me that my energy-field extends 6-8 feet out in front of me (presumably scouting out the territory to be sure I was safe.) I guess this is how I have been able to see corners and around them.

I am not sure I ever paid much attention to whether that move was welcome or not!

And I often asked myself how I had ended up in a leadership position once again. I never thought much about whether I had intended the result or not, it was “just the way I was.”

Once I was in a leadership position, my style (I thought) was to listen a lot, build relationships, collaborate, nourish teams and ownership. And then once, towards the end of a half-dozen years as a non-profit director, one of my staff members let me know that when I thought I was brainstorming, or floating a theoretical I-wonder-how-this-would-fly, she (and others) took these as directives. I had totally missed a potent aspect of my power and how I exercised it.

I also had a commitment to transform our all-white-except-for the-front-desk organization into one that “looked” a lot more like the urban community we “served.” (See below for “White savior” phenomenon.)  I likely took this on as if it were up to me alone: it was a rough and tumble “we” who was up for it,  “we” who succeeded in diversifying the staff one hire at a time.

Then began what was more like a dance – supporting employees both White and Black to lean into one another’s strengths, to grow, to get along with one-another’s limitations, to grow together. A few years into it, we almost didn’t make it through a nasty altercation between a White woman and a Black woman. There were threats to quit, a lot of heavy breathing for a while, a lot of hours, over months, around a conference table, walls papered with newsprint, unpacking our group stereotypes and their power dynamics, and using W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk as required reading, connecting what we were doing around the table to our mission.

Mutual trust and affection grew. Integrity with our mission grew. Effectiveness of our strategies grew. 

We remained a pretty typical organization on paper – a hierarchy of “managers” and “reports.” Yet relationship-based power flowed somewhat more freely, and somewhat bi-directionally through it.

Having stepped up too many times, for too long, I made a change in life-direction when I left that job. Shifting first to a wholistic health-care environment, and then returning to school for a Masters in Herbal Medicine. Clinical practice too was a dance, I learned: when to let the client lead, when to suggest, when to direct, when to keep my peace.


And when I stepped back into race and gender justice work, I had still more to learn in a deeply embodied way.

I was well-schooled to step back, to defer: as a woman in a man’s world, as a Jew in a Christian world. I was beginning to experience  being stepped back as an aging person in a quarterly-returns world.

It was only a few years ago on a movement-practice retreat that I had a life-changing, visceral epiphany about the power and possibility of stepping back. This came as a moment of grace, as all sense of urgency fell away into an open receptive state.

I found myself in a posture of waiting. Waiting for someone/something else to move first. Allowing someone else to step forward. Yielding to the shaping power of life. 

This new level of embodied receptivity has become a touchstone. The nature of power itself shifts. No longer limited resource. No longer a servant of the ego-only, the personality-only. The Power of life itself, that precedes, enlivens, powers our lives and our limited perspectives. Sooo much room for creativity to emerge, unmanaged by me!

Now it comes down to practice: I practice stepping back out of respect.

To step back as a White person in a multi-colored-world.

To step back as a cis-gendered woman in a gender-fluid world.

To be an apprentice in life in a way I never have.

To listen.

To receive.

To have my heart pierced over and over again, broken open again and again.

To be changed by my listening.

In this practice, the only power I give up is control that was never mine!

I gain the world as a creative partner.

I am learning to question when and how I move forward in friendship towards people of color, people all along the gender continuum, and other “Others” in my life.

I know I don’t want to use these precious possibilities for relationship for some unconscious purpose – to prop up claims to being a good person. 

Truly, isn’t it astounding how complicated we can make it to come into relationship with ourselves as imperfect human beings in relationship with other imperfect human beings?

What we memorialize, what we erase

What we memorialize, and how, profoundly shapes our world.

You wouldn’t know there was a vet in my family history

My cousin Harv was serving in the U.S. Army when I was born in 1944. His obituary, at age 94, leaps from his birth in 1928 to his PhD in molecular biochemistry at the University of Chicago in 1952, the beginning of a distinguished lifelong career as a lab researcher. No war stories were told in my family. 

Years later, I recall how moved I was to hear one of my herbal medicine classmates talk about her family’s multi-generational military service. There was an honest, humble, touching pride that rang of actual patriotism, a word I had learned to shrink away from, and continue to shrink away from today, sadly feeling very little good can come from it.

During my elementary school years, we observed Decoration Day with lapel-sized American flag glued, I believe, onto toothpicks. For most of my adult life, the Memorial Day into which it morphed meant a day off from work marked by splashy full-sized sales adds.

Memorial Day, 2021 has a host of provocative resonances and stories. Surrogate cemetery visits follow a year of truncated funerals.

The Washington Post reported on Emily Domenech  who found herself virtually alone in Arlington Cemetery when she made her annual pilgrimage to her grandfather’s grave in the early raging days of Covid-19, Memorial Day 2020.

I’ve visited Arlington on what I’d also describe as a pilgrimage, to the memorial of President John F. Kennedy. I recall the overall effect of six-hundred and twenty-five lightly rolling acres, many of them in ordered rows numbering some 400,000 uniform tombstones, as a rolling ocean wave frozen in time.

Domenech’s planned half-hour visit grew to six hours as strangers responded to her Tweet gone viral: “Does anyone have buddies buried in Arlington who they would like visited today?” she asked. “Since only family members are allowed in, I would be honored to pay respects on your behalf …”

This year, her personal efforts have been amplified by the Travis Manion Foundation, a support organization for veterans and their families. #TheHonor Project arranged to place small American flags at 4,000 gravesites and invited family members to register online to have a volunteer visit a loved one’s grave.

As in civilian life, so in the military.

A portion of The  Arlington National Cemetery website is devoted to its Black history from the Civil War through Vietnam. Segregation. Denied promotion. Race-based pay scales. This is what marked the service of Black people in the U.S. armed services.

You wouldn’t know there was a Black Wall Street in Tulsa from the Standard American Education

As I write this, President Biden is traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma to participate in a public ceremony that marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre on June 1.

If you are hearing about this event for the first time, it is because the rioters were white, and because the history most of us were taught was White-washed. “Facts” surrounding the spark that set off the fear and rage of white citizens are not well-established: there was a reported elevator encounter between a young Black man, Dick Rowland, and a young White woman, Sarah Page. Stories spread by word of mouth, the social media of its day, and, amplified by the local daily, the Tulsa Tribune, which ran as its front-page story “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In Elevator.”

The Tribune ran an editorial in the same edition: “To Lynch Tonight.” Like other documents related to the events, that editorial is “now-lost,” having been torn out of the paper by the time the Works Progress Administration went to microfilm old issues in the 1930s. Professor of Afro American and African studies at the University of Michigan Scott Ellsworth details, among other erasures, that the Chief of Police sent his officers to every photograph studio in the city to “confiscate all the pictures taken of the carnage.” A cache of photos was later discovered, and used by a 1997 Commission on which Ellsworth served. The Commission concluded by recommending reparations for survivors and their descendants.  Dutton has recently published his investigative research in The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice.

Meanwhile, in my awareness, the absence of known burial grounds stands as a dark monolith against the pristine hills of Arlington.

Of course, the last days, perhaps months and years of the lives of servicemen and servicewomen buried in Arlington were hardly pristine. Glory accrued after death, after the gore of life.

Still, each one’s burial site is marked and treated with honor. 

The unidentified dead too are honored at Arlington by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which also observes its 100th anniversary this year. An honor guard has stood watch at the Tomb 24/7 since 1937. Their movements are choreographed in time and space by the number 21, enacting “the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed: the 21-gun salute.” 

In Tulsa, historians now estimate 100-300 dead, in contrast to 38 deaths “officially” confirmed. A mass grave was discovered in the city’s Oaklawn Cemetery last October, where archaeologists found a dozen coffins. “Full excavation and exhumation” of the site is to begin June 1, the same day as President Biden’s arrival. 

The 35 square blocks of homes, businesses, churches, schools, hospitals torched in the Tulsa Massacre is equivalent to 56 acres, approximately one of every 11 acres of Arlington Cemetery’s spread. 

Buck Colbert Franklin, a Black attorney, left these words among his ten-page hand-written eyewitness account:

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.” As he left his law office, he noted, “The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”

Acres of white tombstones.

Acres of torched lives.

100 years mark the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

100 years mark the Unknown Burial Sites of Tulsa.

I’m doing my best to hold these together in my consciousness at the same time.

Because we must, as we sit with the question, “Where do we go from here?” 

Oddly, I find Israeli rock singer Avi Bellieli’s lyrics capture the totality of my thoughts and feelings  

Where is everyone going all of a sudden…

Everything recedes and disappears

Only the words are afloat…

Where do we go from here?

Banner photo: Friends and Lovers – painting by Chris  Graebner, Hillsborough Gallery of Arts Hillsborough, NC.

Due to emerge: cicadas and me

I may be wrestling with a whole new round of decisions about how to emerge from Pandemic isolation. But for the 17-year cicadas, emerging is a no-brainer: any day now the soil in my yard will be warm enough to signal: it’s time. And my young apple tree is protected.

You have to love the mystery of them, and how they live up to their genus name, Magicada. I tried and failed via Googling to locate any other living phenomenon that has a 17-year cycle. Perhaps God wanted to avoid adding numerical significance to their appearance that would inspire us humans to assign it any apocalyptic interpretation during a time when it’s really attractive to go there.

This is the 5th cycle in my lifetime, and given how the days, weeks, and even seasons have vastly lost their meaning over fourteen months of pandemic isolation, the cicada life-cycle offers an interesting contrast to other ways of structuring life review: say, by decade, or stage of life, or by event milestone.

In 1953 I was out of Magicada’s range, a nine-year-old growing up in Ohio.

My roller-skating and bike-riding went uninterrupted by small flying objects. I liked Ike, who was president. My first experience of national tragedy, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was a decade away.

In 1970 I was the mom of a 3-year old living in the heavily-infested neighborhood of Mt. Washington in Baltimore.

The many large old trees were one of the attractions of the neighborhood, and from their canopies the male cicadas’ mating calls were so loud that it was impossible to have a conversation in the yard. Traversing the walk from curb to front door meant the bumbling two inch-long critters landing any and everywhere, and the crunch of bodies underfoot. They were easily brushed off, but occasionally succeeded in hitchhiking into the house. By the end of the cycle, it meant using a shovel to clear the outdoor stairwell and even parts of the garden of their empty exoskeletons.

I was four years out of college, house-wifing in a White mid-20th-century way. The summer of the Watergate hearings, spent with my ear to a transistor radio, was four years off. And the feminist wave that was to knock me over in just a few years was not yet gathering on my horizon.

By 1987 I was divorced and remarried, doing anti-hunger work for a non-profit, and living in a different neighborhood.

Plenty of big old trees. And yet to my surprise, the cicada song was significantly less deafening and more musical, and the likelihood of being bumped into by a zig-zagging flying critter was fairly low. I recall spending much of the cycle in speculative contemplation at the number of cicadas unable to emerge because they had been paved over: we live just off a major east-west thoroughfare that was expanded to six lanes during the mid-seventies. Ronald Reagan, in his second term, was just six months away from prohibiting abortion-assistance to federally funded family-planning centers. So much for the feminist wave, as the pendulum of control over women’s bodies began to reassert itself.

By 2004 I was nine years into recovery from burnout, into healing studies, and half-way through an MS in herbal medicine.

The cicadas didn’t interfere with our field days: there was just a lot of swatting the air and one-another’s clothing, and an occasional squeal from a squeamish classmate. I had spent the previous year on an an assignment for People, Plants, and Seasons. My fundamental question: what is the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature? Between the patterns, cycles, behaviors of humans and other living creatures and the whole messy collective that we are? Over the course of that year I filled three sketchbooks with field drawings, botanical and medicinal information, and personal reflections. I took photos, pressed plant material, tucked away quotes that touched me. I lived life, became a grandmother for the second time, and tended my mother through what turned out to be the final three months of her life. It was an unsettling and awe-filed year: the potency of birth and death, the generational shifts, full of feeling and poignancy. The relationship between human and Mother Nature revealed through the seasons. 9/11 had shattered the soul of the America since the cicadas had last sung.

2021: I anticipate Magicada’s arrival, particularly their song…

…and yet with mixed feelings, as I am hoping they won’t be so plentiful that they further delay gathering outdoors with a friend during Pandemic Spring number two.  My sole preparation has been netting the young apple tree we planted last year.  Cicadas lay their eggs under the bark of a tree, and the slits they create to do so are likely to damage younger trees.

I am not laying any odds that I will be around at age 94 to see the next emergence in 2038. I hope you, dear Reader, will be around to observe that we have made progress in racial conciliation through countless changes of heart and law, and as of now unimaginable levels of restorative justice skills. That we are very very close to everyone being housed and fed. That AI has not become one more technology to spawn a plague of preventable unintended consequences. That we will have long stopped new beachside development. That we are happier, and safer,  with less-is-more.

And so I wait and I watch, and I wonder: what’s my equivalent to just-right soil temperature?

Under what conditions will I emerge from Covid-19 isolation?

Will I remember how to behave around people?

Will I find that some old ways of behaving are better forgotten in the context of pandemic and racial reckoning?

What is the “new normal” I want to help shape? Ahh! See above paragraph.

Passover in the wake of plague: 2021

Passover in the wake of Covid-19

It is time for the Great Annual Story-telling of the Exodus, and time to revisit the grand sweep of my  personal and tribal freedom. As I gather some meagre energy to prepare for a 2nd online year of Passover Seder, I bow deeply in gratitude that the plague of Covid-19 has passed over my household. No sheep’s blood on the lintel to notify the Angel of Death to pass over this home. But a whole American racialized history that has delivered me to a life of one unearned protection after another. Working from home. Well-fed. Broadband enough to nourish friendships and learning communities and spaces for practice and deep connection. Teaching that I am passionate, immersed in, find students are hungry for.

The Biblical story enjoins those of us who crossed safely on dry land through the Reed Sea not to rejoice too much. God mourns the dead Egyptians.  I find myself disturbingly satisfied, if not rejoicing, at the death of virus naysayers – oh well: karma. While a lot of good plain folk succumbed as they “did the right thing.” Or the “necessary thing” – whether as healthcare professionals, support and housekeeping staff, or as “essential” workers.

Gratitude for the unsung

A word about hospital housekeeping staffs. If you or someone close to you has spent some time as a patient or family member, you know this: the housekeeping staff often are the most real and human spiritual and emotional support for the hospitalized and their families. They are often the ones who notice a patient is in need of real contact, a real inquiry into how you’re doing, a reassuring word, a question about the family photo on your nightstand.

Like a patient in a hospital gown whose humanity and individuality disappears into her charted illness, the housekeeping staff shares, due to different and yet related appearances, a certain invisibility with the patient.

God extends Her unearned Kindness

I would like nothing more than to be plucked out of the Covid-19 version of Pharoah’s Egypt. This paradoxical year of on-screen intimacy and off-screen isolation

We are told: we were taken out of Egypt.

That this was an act of pure Kindness on God’s part, executed by His Mighty Hand and Outstretched Arm.

That there was nothing we had to do to earn it.

That there was no inquiry to determine that we were deserving.

That the sea parted before us and closed over the Egyptian chariots, mired in mud.

That on the eighth day, Miriam led the women in dance.

We are told: after we were taken out of Egypt, we wandered in the wilderness for another 40 years, long enough for the enslaved generation to die out.

That is how long it took to get the Egypt out of us, to gain the freedom freely bestowed.

Making the story personal: yes, this really is happening to me and mine

At any given moment I can find myself the recipient of gratuitous and enormous Kindness, and slogging wearily through a wilderness, where my personal history refuses to give up the ghost.

I belong to a tribe of freed people who nevertheless have to claim liberation by dint of persistent effort, in the face of temporary defeat, in the arms of temporary refuge.

Every year we gather to tell the story.

We are advised: live the story, don’t just tell it.

We are advised: the more we elaborate in the telling of the story, the better.

Our elaborations over our family seder table have included over the years truth-tales of the Holocaust, of Russian Refuseniks, of the lost and the survivors of the Middle Passage, of the slaughtered of Darfur, of the countless losses of Mother Earth.

Bringing redemption one action at a time

At one point in the story-telling we open the door of our house and invite in Elijah the Prophet to sip at the wine we have set aside for him.

We are told: in this season it is Elijah the Prophet who may turn the hearts of parents and children towards one another, thereby holding off total destruction of the earth.

In a recent teaching from the Talmud, I learned from Rabbi Steve Sager that Elijah at one point seemed to conspire with Rabbi Meir to bring the Final Redemption before its time by setting up a father and sons whose prayers were known to be particularly potent. An unidentified “they” (speculatively, angels) “summoned Elijah and lashed him with 60 pulses of light,” after which he appeared, “in the likeness of a fiery bear” to break up the prayer gathering before the dead could be raised.

I would like nothing more than to be plucked out of the Covid-19 version of Pharaoh’s Egypt, our civic acrimony, the proliferation of lies and conspiracies, and our other current ills. 

I would like also to be plucked from my shortnesses of temper, empathy, and generosity. I too would like to hurry the Redemption along.

I just have to be willing to do that one act, one phrase, one moment of presence at a time. 

May we in this of all years take it upon ourselves 

to turn our hearts towards one another, 

both trusting in the gratuitous Kindness 

and dedicated each to our own persistent effort 

on behalf of one another’s freedom.

Vaccination Envy: Won’t Anyone Card Me?

I'm over 75! Please card me. Please!

Vaccination envy. Really.

Having made many adjustments, (and maladjustments!) to Pandemic conditions eleven months ago, the prospect of more change, more decisions, when and how to gain the little bit of “freedom” and “normalcy” that vaccination seems to promise – all this brings its own mix of emotion, reaction, response – Including vaccination envy. 

I am probably not a good judge which of the following are Adjustments and which are Maladjustments

  • Bargaining with myself: how often do I have to cook dinner to not feel like a total jerk – after more than 30 years of Gideon working evenings? If it were up to me we would both just graze as we are moved to. 
  • Changing relationship with clothing: some days I “dress up” for the hell of it (aka to cheer myself up) in an outfit I used to reserve for “special occasions.” Other days I throw on a sweater over pajamas to appear Zoom-presentable. And yet other days – and this would truly horrify my Mom, I’ll wear the same thing two days in a row if it passes the smell test.
  • Establishing a few new sustaining habits: in the morning, courtesy of Trader Joe’s, 2 oz. of cold-brew concentrate with a splash of macadamia-almond nut milk. I drink my 2 cups of green tea later in the day. In the evening: a jigsaw puzzle app where I can choose the number of pieces and whether I want them all right-side up to start with or if i can handle the additional brain challenge of needing to rotate them to find where they fit in. After waking hours without much in the way of dopamine hits, the little “click” the app emits when I move a piece into its right place is just a bit too satisfying.
  • Delighting in having found an outing that is fun and safe: Staples is my go-to: I can browse the various forms and colors of post-its, try out a new style of pen for note-taking or highlighting or coloring. Another dopamine hit.
  • Abandoning my neighborhood post-office the day I went to send a piece of certified mail: they had no certified mail forms and no idea when they would get them. Even worse, the selection of stamps was down to Scooby Doo and Hot Wheels. I’m sorry to be disloyal – the staff is great and obviously under huge stress. Now I go to different post office, where they conserve the certified mail forms by keeping them behind the counter. 

I have made all these avowedly privileged, first-world adjustments in an effort to maximize available pleasures and minimize unnecessary use of energy and  unnecessary provocation of agitation.

What does this have to do with vaccine envy?

I decided to expend minimum energy to capture an appointment. 

I decided that the following would be really bad for my mental health: hanging on the phone for hours, or constantly redialing, or scanning websites during the wee hours in hopes of landing an appointment.

I have been eligible in the over-75 group in Maryland since Jan 18, and I did snag an appointment on that date for February 17.

I was not surprised to get an email last week cancelling my appointment, and clarifying that the slot I had signed up for and had been confirmed for was actually reserved for people getting their 2nd shots.

Gideon got his 2nd shot today. I was relieved that the vaccine was there for him and that the process itself as orderly and uneventful as the first one.

Meanwhile, I am surprised at the mental health impact of not vigorously pursuing an appointment! Disheartened and depressed as I continue to hear daily in the news: get your shot! Along with the continued daily news of no clear path to do so. Emotions are not about “making sense” of course. And it’s not as if my daily activities would change dramatically if I had my two shots.

If you have chosen a different path, I hope your efforts pay off and the search itself brings you comfort. 

I   just    can’t    go     there.

Linear time has lost its meaning, which has opened up other opportunities, as I wrote in my last post. 

So, waiting another month or two, shrug. I hope I can continue to shrug longer if I need to. 

Meanwhile I will continue to practice inviting in all the parts of myself who have something to say on this topic:

  • the one who is ok with the adjustments and maladjustments I have made
  • the one who hopes for some kind of new normalcy post-vaccination
  • the one who suffers from absences – loved ones, hugs, a night out at the movies, a museum meander
  • the one who waits – sometimes with patience, sometimes with disgruntled entitlement – for clear direction on how to get an appointment
  • the one who prays that every shot given goes to someone who has been risking her health as an essential worker or first responder
  • the one who remembers to trust, from time to time, a Wholeness and All-is-Okayness beyond my need or capacity to manage.


Are you a professional, seeker, and/or activist committed to race and gender equity?

Interested in participating in a Listening Group to help design formats to give you the support you need to be both  effective and whole?  Be in touch.

On Black Bodies in A Groundhog Year

After ten months of privileged, demanding, yet hardly ruinous self-isolation, time is losing its grip on my White Body.

One day is so much like another that I have ordered the clock pictured above and made a prominent space for it directly across from my seat at the diningroom table. 

So engaging with Black History Month in this Groundhog Year has prompted me to reflect on a the hundreds of years that Black and Brown people have survived ownership and control of their bodies: bone-crunching, spirit-defying Groundhog Century after Century.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the son of parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the Civil War and himself died of tuberculosis at age 33. In his poem Forever he wrote:

I had not known before

    Forever was so long a word.

The slow stroke of the clock of time

    I had not heard.

Maryland Poet Laureate (1979-1985) Lucille Clifton shared some Kentucky history with Dunbar: she wrote that one of her women forbears had been the first Black woman to be “legally hanged” for manslaughter in the state. She invites us to join her in won’t you celebrate with me:

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Whether or not you live in a place where we can sniff spring around the corner, this month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the survival of Lucille Clifton, and every other Black and Brown body. Each a whole human being, gifted and limited.

For those of us who are White, it’s on us to end the ever-repeating Groundhog history of controlling Black and Brown bodies, and shape a different world.

Our individual acts of repair may be small we think,             

creating barely a ripple. 

Together, we can make this historical time                                            a lasting, sea-change moment. 

No one else is coming along to do this work.

It’s on us.

Help bring back the world

Impeachment Redux: the House has impeached the sitting President a second time -

– a necessary and insufficient action to rectify events, the extent of which will not be even known to us for some time. So it is up to us to answer this question posed by Kansas-born poet William Stafford, a conscientious objector during World War II. Because whatever we have been doing and not doing up to now as humans has not been enough.

Read this not as how do we restore some imagined glory days, but as – how do we bring back life, vibrant life, love, and valor among and between human beings?  What virtues will we cultivate? How will we build character? What will we use as a compass?

Putting aside even these sometimes helpful constructs, how are we listening to the moment? As I write, our elected representatives in the House have been cramming their words, hopes, fears, wisdom and foolishness into 30-second increments in which they may hold forth, or yield to a colleague.

How are we holding this rhetoric, as this selected/elected group attempts to connect or cloud cause and effect, to draw a boundary between unquestionable incitement and damnable but not impeachable behavior? Will the Lost Cause of the American Civil War gain new life or immanent death now that its flag has been waved in the US Capitol?

Meanwhile I feel like I am sweeping up broken glass.

I am punctured over and over again, bleeding bright red in spite of voting blue. I find little slivers everywhere, as I search for emerging kindnesses, bits of order, the right words, the right actions.  I am calmed by the rock pictured above, that fits comfortably if roughly in the palm of my hand.

In this rock, I have the gift of holding deep time in my hand

Last night I received this granite emissary of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque from my good friend and geologist-writer Deb Green. Today I asked her to share its significance with our online practice group. She said the rock, as it sits on its flat side – as it does in the banner photo – is in both the shape and color of these mountains. You can see the salmon pink of orthoclase feldspar, the green of epidote, and shining specks of mica among the quartz and other minerals, colors true to “Sandia” (Spanish for “watermelon.”)

Deb had been sitting for meditation on a boulder. Tapping its edge as she rose, this chunk fell off in her hand, “because it was weathering in place.” She went on to describe how this really hard rock that had built a whole mountain range had, through countless freeze and thaw cycles, fractured and broken off so easily. 

The rock is some 1.3 – 1.4 billion years old. The “deep time” embodied in these rocks, she said, renders her insignificant in the scheme of things, and simultaneously frees her “to go for” what she is here for on this earth, at this moment.

A few minutes later another group member questioned, how do we get through to people who seem as solid as boulders impervious to change, who hold so tightly to a view of the world that is anathema to us?

Here’s what has come to me, some hours later.

We may not ever “get through” to them.

Maybe, just maybe, we can enter into relationship with some of them.

First, we restrain them.

This is what I devoutly pray will result from impeachment and whatever other additional legal means we have at hand to effectively restrain acts of domestic insanity and terrorism, including the fomenting of hatred in word or deed and the use of casual threat. This can work only as civilian and military policing, prosecutors, judges and jurors each come to their own deep moments of reckoning with Whiteness. This will take long, but not long enough to register as deep time.

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

When I hear a false equivalency used to justify or normalize the sitting President’s words and behaviors, I know to listen for the grains of truth that are there, especially the ones that ping “true” for me in my own thoughts and actions.

And then, we melt. Um, our enemies? Ourselves? A bit of each?

The word “MELT” came into my mind, all CAPS,  an oversized billboard. And, frankly, this act remains aspirational,  a level of holy human action and courage still beyond me. I just don’t have the heart, “le coeur” for it.

So I come back to William Stafford’s answer to his own question, and this has to do me for now:

What can a person do to help

bring back the world?

We have to watch it and then look at each other.

Together we hold it close and carefully

save it, like a bubble that can disappear

if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breath on the world.

Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings

roll along, watch how they open and close, how they

invite you to the long party that your life is.