Tag Archives: activism

Patty Griffin

August 4th, 2011

Why are you silent? Because I’ve watched the way you watch the way I watch the way you watch me. We’re just watching. And, I dare not speak the words that ache to pass from gut to throat to tongue to teeth. They are vulnerable. They are questions. You see, they’re not safe. They don’t wrap nicely, brown paper, scotch tape, a little string to fold over, under and tie tightly. And, we worry what will happen if we speak, if we choose, if we make a move too soon, like we were playing an eternal chess match. Like one misstep will create a chasm deeper than hell itself. We build boxes to make ourselves taller, so our voices seem more confident, built on forms of cardboard and air, enforced by judgement, when all we’re doing is whispering the same doubts underneath. So keep watching. My lips cannot continue holding in the provoking thoughts of the reality of love. And, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. And, maybe we both do. But, the passing of air back and forth is about life itself, not victory.

A few years ago I took a trip to a Patty Griffin concert on my own. I stood in the crowd as she sang a note that rippled the chords in my heart. I scribbled this around then, and I made the specific date up. I don’t know if that’s when I wrote this or exactly what it was about but it feels like a fit as much now as I guess it did then. What gets in the way of a proper love poem, I ask myself?

A month ago I spent an entire day in between sand and water. I watched wave after wave come over, was tossed by the ocean, and came up sputtering. Air, sweet air. The in-between is exhausting. When you don’t know if you live in water or on land. When you live in both. It seems easier to pick a side, and plant a pole. It seems safer. But, our bodies are made of both water and material, and we wonder why we struggle in a world that hopes to hold us to some particular reality. As if we could really only be one.

All that metaphorical, vague language is just an opportunity to remind myself movement will lead somewhere as long as I still have have air in my lungs. I’d prefer the sea and salty kind. Breathing is a part of the process.

This building trust takes time. It takes minutes and hours and years. It takes floorboards in shambles and windows, bricks, and mortar. And, sometimes when we start, we can only think of whatever the next step is. And, some days we don’t want to. And, some days we knock down walls. And, sometimes we leave. Whether it’s for something bigger, or something easier, or something really far away. And, the sad thing is that sometimes these lots sit empty, a shell of life. Some buildings take years for us to return to and sometimes we never return. But, sometimes we do. And, sometimes we stay. Our backs ache and muscles are sore. We have dirt on our faces and blisters on our hands and we’re still here. We are stronger. And, maybe we look back and realize, yes, we built this house, but this house also built us.

Advertisements

When It Falls

That afternoon I sat in your office seemed like so many other hot afternoons there. In the light filtered through blinds, I gazed around at all the worn books and weathered photos. They stared back at me, offering memories and deep nostalgia of times that held no less confusion in other ways, but definite familiarity.

“What’s up?” you asked. The place smelled exactly like it always had, cigars and day old coffee. You leaned back in your chair, casually as if you had no agenda.

I started to tell you about the kids I worked with, just a mile down the road. I told you about how tired I was. This was nothing new to you. You’d probably seen it a hundred times or more. All the things you had tried to teach us about the world and fighting for it, well I was holding onto those, and still I was drowning. I had left you the year before, thinking I knew it all, wanting to get my hands and feet dirty in injustice. You used to talk about this “splagma” of the soul. Jesus had it, you said, this movement in the bowels towards compassion.

I didn’t realize I was an activist till I had already become one.  But, that day, I sat, both full of this “splagma” and my own pain and I looked at you not knowing what to say. All those dreams you had told me to chase and the fight to win, well they seemed so far off now. Everything I was doing felt like just a drop in the bucket of tragedy. 

The summer before, I had begun working on a four foot painting of a quote that had hung in Mother Theresa’s Shushu Bhavan Children’s Home in Calcutta, India. Every day after leaving children’s voices, I traced the letters over and over, as if to imprint them into my own skin for both our sakes. Love them anyway. Build anyway. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. 

I took a lot of baths that July, sought out places of water as if it were my mission in life. When I submerged each time, it was as if the stillness drowned out the chaos of the world. When I was younger, my sister and I used to practice speaking underwater. She would yell and I would try to interpret whatever it was she had so eloquently bellowed. I found some sort of laughter in the ridiculousness of it all then. That summer, those underwater screams became prayerful wails; the water, a sanctuary. And, I hoped that God would understand those cries in ways I had never been able to do for my sister, in ways I could never do for the world. Maybe in ways I had never been able to do for myself.

I stepped into this work, and it felt like falling down a deep hole. I can only compare it to love, and then heartache. People call that “falling in love.” Is it really falling? Or, is it simply discovering those deepest places of connection that feel so natural they don’t feel chosen at all? You feel as as if you have been chosen. Then you realize your choice in the matter. You get to say, despite the pain and heartache, I will still choose you. Out of all the rest, you are the one I choose. I want to have the kind of commitment that it takes to stay and hold hands here, in all of our imperfections, yours and mine.

Five years later, I sit with tea in my hand, this symbol of grief as I slowly sip and remember. These same questions turning over and over. You have just sent me an email about continuing the work, imperfectly and wherever it might be. We fight every day with small acts of great love. One drop will eventually tip the bucket. And, the water will rain down. And, when it does, I want to be beneath it.