Condolences to the U.S.

This year’s 4th of July celebrations stretched over an entire week on the rural island where I live. Many tourists from the mainland took advantage of a midweek day off from work and turned it into a vacation that reached across weekends on either side of the national holiday.

We crowded both sides of the street running through our village for the annual parade, this year dedicated to our local solid waste and recycling center.

tioli
Instructions at Lopez Island Solid Waste Center

fm

 

People attended concerts, cookouts, and the Farmers Market; paddled and cycled, joined the Lions’ Club Fun Run/Walk, perused used books at the Friends of the Library sale, and lazed on the beaches.

 

kayak

 

Except for the annual community fireworks display at 10:30 PM, there was a noticeable (and blessed) absence of whistling and exploding firecrackers at private events. Evidently people responded to the dozens of reminders posted along island roadways that all personal fireworks are banned in our county.

I’ve long felt ambivalent about 4th of July festivities. Too often, much of the celebrating focuses on the use of violence and war to protect our “freedom;” nowhere is that more evident than rockets bursting in the air, often over fragile wildlife habitats and bodies of water.

declaration-of-independence.jpgBut this year, my emotions included grief. Ever since the vitriol of the 2016 Presidential race and the resulting election of Donald Trump, I’ve worked to manage the anger, fear, and sadness that shadow me. As I re-read the U.S. Declaration of Independence this week, I was struck by the explanation of the reason for this declaration:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.”

That statement is followed by a long list of “facts” to prove that claim. Many of the examples resonate with actions of our current President, this one in particular:

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

So, yes, anger, fear, and sadness shadowed this year’s 4th of July for me.

02198-david_oates_portrait
David Oates, author & teacher

A couple of days later, I received word from writing friend and teacher David Oates that one of his essays had been published in Terrain.org’s “Letter to America Series.” Through this collection, the online magazine presents “urgent, powerful, and beautiful post-election responses from writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers across the United States.” The series began on November 17 when Alison Hawthorne Deming published her Letter to America in response to the election. Her instructions about how to respond were clear: “Think of the great spirit of inventiveness the Earth calls forth after each major disturbance it suffers. Be artful, inventive, and just, my friends, but do not be silent.”

People have followed Deming’s instruction in the form of poems, photographs, traditional letters, and more. David’s response took the form of a condolence letter. As good sympathy notes do, David’s words consoled me—and reinforced Deming’s urging to not be silent. I recommend you read David’s entire essay; this especially spoke to me:

“Each of us wants his or her own way. But we are unhappy–lonely, abandoned, miserable–unless we are profoundly woven in with others. The tearfulness and sorrow of our present moment come from a feeling that in this dimension we have received a profound wound. And we’re all bleeding. David James Duncan calls it our civic grief.

Here we aim for possibility, a more perfect union. Here in our striving and imagining we know vulnerability, this heartbreak, this civic grief.

Let us miss it so fiercely that we become real again, re-inhabit our skins, our plazas and public places, our words that once rose above us like a phalanx of bright spearpoints. Let us grieve as long as necessary and remember as hard as we can.

And then act.”

Four years ago when David was guest faculty in my writing program, he became an example for me of how to overcome fear of speaking out through my writing. “Be grounded in your process as a writer so that your writing isn’t dependent on what others think.”

There’s much comfort and sustenance in the Terrain.org series, and it’s all just a click away. It’s another place I turn to remember the earth’s and our nation’s great spirit of inventiveness. It gives me strength to act.

*Afterthought #64: Protectors of the Salish Sea

protectors
Photo from Protectors of the Salish Sea Facebook Page

In February this year, I wrote about standing up for the Salish Sea with the Friends of the San Juans at the Washington State capitol. There’s still much standing up—and protecting—to do, and I’m grateful to the opponents of the Kinder Morgan pipeline who recently marched for four days in the Walk 4 the Salish Sea in British Columbia.

I couldn’t join these protesters in person, but my heart was with them. Now I’m catching up on news of this latest effort to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

http://walk4salishsea.ca/category/news/

http://www.straight.com/news/916046/images-walk-4-salish-sea

This is just one more issue needing our attention. If it calls to you, please add your voice.

 

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Yes, I Ran

work-that-reconnects-pngAfter a sleepless night following the 2016 presidential election, I awoke the next morning with many questions: How? Why? What will happen? A few days later, I carried one with me to a workshop about active hope. That question was directed at me: What am I to do?

In January, I continued to grapple with the question in the online course We Were Made for This Moment, taught by Quaker teacher, writer, and activist Eileen Flanagan. In the company of 100 other participants, and with Eileen’s knowledge and skills with social change, clarity, and empowerment, I felt strengthened and heartened to discern and offer the skills and gifts we have to offer.

For me, that discernment took some time.

rally-on-stepsAs I tried to remain open to direction about how to respond to the election of Donald Trump, I tested out a few actions. In the first three months of 2017, I sent more letters, postcards, and emails to state and federal representatives than I had in the previous, oh, twenty years. For the first time in decades, I lobbied state legislators and rallied at the state capitol for the Salish Sea, the water that surrounds my home and is threatened by increased oil transport between the U.S. and Canada.

SheShouldRun_Logo_CMYKI watched and listened to the ways the election energized people all over the country to speak out and become more politically involved. Some responded to the election results by urging people (particularly women) to run for office. Two such efforts that offer support and direction are She Should Run and Emily’s List. 1985-ellen_updateAccording to a Feb. 9, 2017 article in New York Magazine, those efforts have worked—13,000 women are planning to run for office.

I never dreamed I’d be one of them.

clinicentry-500And then, in March, I learned that the rural health clinic in my community was in danger of closing. The hospital that the clinic had partnered with for nearly thirty years had decided to end the relationship, an action that would significantly decrease financial resources needed to keep it in operation. The nonprofit (Catherine Washburn Medical Association) that owns and maintains the clinic building and equipment went to work to find a solution and learned that if the voters approved creation of a Public Hospital District, the district could levy a property tax to help fund the clinic.

In Washington State, Public Hospital Districts are community-created, governmental entities authorized by state law to deliver health services. An elected Board of Commissioners governs such districts. Believing that the creation of a Public Hospital District was a sound and wise approach to preserve the outstanding health care available in my community, I wanted to do my part to assure that care continues. So, having recently retired from a forty-year nursing career, I threw my nurse’s cap into the ring to serve as one of five commissioners.

yesThe first hurdle was to gain community approval of creation of the Public Hospital District. Clearly, I’m not the only one who values the clinic’s services. We needed 749 votes for the election to be valid, and then a simple majority of those votes for the measure to pass. The election result this week was stunning.Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.27.46 PMAs an unopposed candidate, I was voted in. Four other commissioners were elected, too, and all of them bring the kind of expertise the district needs to assure that the tax money is spent appropriately. Once we’re sworn in, we’ll be hard at work to assure a smooth transition from the current partnership to a new structure.

I know that my candidacy for elected office won’t impact the dangerous and harmful repercussions of the Trump administration. But, it will affect my family, friends, and neighbors, and those are mighty good reasons to run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Call to Right

A plastic bag dangled from the door of our mailbox, a thin cardboard box raincoated against the drizzly, winter day. Suspecting the box contained a book I’d ordered, but not remembering which title I was awaiting, I walked briskly home, my yellow lab changing his trot to a sprint to keep up with me.

bookWhen I freed the box from the bag and tore it open, a thin, green volume slid out—Kim Stafford’s latest collection, The Flavor of Unity: Post-Election Poems. kimThe son of poet William Stafford, Kim greets the dawn each day as his father did, “writing the date, a few sentences about the previous day, then an ‘aphorism’ (a thought, a pattern observed, an idea…), and then a poem, half a poem, or notes for a poem.” While some of this writing eventually ends up as published poems, Kim finds that, “mostly, this custom allows me simply to settle my spiritual accounts for the day, and then to proceed with some modest added clarity to thread the needle of modern life by taking action.”

Like many of us, Kim especially sought clarity in the days following the 2016 election. So he leaned on his daily practice to consider a path toward healing the schisms that only deepened after the divisive election season. These considerations led to thirty poems about the work we all have to do if we’re “to be one people again.” The book’s title poem speaks to the source of our unity.

The Flavor of Unity
     El sabor que nos hace únicos.
                                ~ Inca Kola slogan

The flavor that makes us one cannot be bought
or sold, does not belong to a country, cannot
enrich the rich or be denied to the poor.

The flavor that makes us one emanates from the earth.
A butterfly can find it, a child in a house of grass, exiles
coming home at last to taste wind off the sea, rain
falling into the trees, mist rising from home ground.

The flavor that makes us one we must feed
to one another with songs, kind words, and
human glances across the silent square.

You can listen to Kim read this poem on a post by the PBS News Hour.

 

It’s rare for Kim to use rhyme, but in “Righter” he puts it to good use to issue a challenge—with humor.

               Righter

When things go catawampus,
when silences abound,
when nations reel from troubles
and tyranny is crowned—
by writing, be the righter,
and see what can be found
for remedy and comfort
by writing stories down
of all our old connections,
then pass your blessings round —
for people long divided,
restore our common ground.

Kim’s “Citizen of a Troubled Nation” especially spoke to my feeling called to write.

   Citizen of a Troubled Nation

Vast your calling: Serve everyone.
Small your power: One voice.
Clear your path: Honest words
Certain your days: Struggle.
Vast your purpose: Make history.
Focused your goal: A mere footnote—
                                       That sings.

Kim writes at the beginning of his book that poems from it can be reprinted at will, as long as they include this acknowledgment:

Reprinted by permission of the author from The Flavor of Unity, by Kim Stafford (Portland, Oregon: Little Infinities, 2017)  www.kim-stafford.com.

Ever since I met Kim Stafford when he was guest faculty in my writing program, I’ve adopted his morning practice (usually a good bit after dawn) to begin the day with some small bit of clarity. Here’s something close to a poem that I wrote, the morning before the presidential inauguration:

The Pen is My Tool

to build bridges,
to tear down walls
of fear and hatred,
to open doors
and hearts.

My pen is a tool
I need to sharpen
and oil and set
firmly on pages
and put into others’ hands.

I hope that Kim’s poems I’ve included here speak to you. If so, it’s likely that the other twenty-seven in the book will as well, so I encourage you to purchase a copy for yourself, and perhaps a few extras to share with others. You’ll find ordering information by searching for “The Flavor of Unity: Second Edition” at www.lulu.com. When it arrives in your mailbox, open the package, make a cup of tea, and let the flavor of unity in these words fortify you to act.