This past Saturday morning, I was spinning. My community organizing work had boiled over, I had several writing deadlines and a bunch of stuff to do for the kids and I couldn’t make up my mind which of the many pressing issues I should put my very limited time and energy to. So mostly I was whining.
“Go take a walk without the dog. Now!” said Tex. She knows, does my darling husband, that a walk always helps me sort things out, and without the dog, I can carry on as I will without cramping his style (I tend to want to walk more quickly, and I don’t need to stop, sniff, and mark).
Of course, a walk can also generate more ideas, which this one did. Is there a 12-step group for this? Too Many Ideas Anonymous? “Hi, my name is The Total Femme, and I think too damn much.” “Hi, The Total Femme.” And then we have donuts and coffee in Styrofoam cups and the whole time I’m trying to figure out a way they can make this meeting more green and if there are Too Many Ideas Anonymous meetings just for queers and if not how can I get one started, and then I notice that there’s an empty bookshelf in the room and I start scheming about getting books the local library routinely throws away to put in the bookshelf for people to take for free, well you get the idea.
On my walk I did manage to wrench my day into order somewhat, take some notes for this post, for a future post, and for something I want to write for church. Feeling pretty good, pretty reigned in, I decided to go a different way than usual. In the distance, I could see someone else walking on my path, and in good New England fashion (I’m from the Midwest, but I’ve lived here a long time), I considered going back to my usual route so I wouldn’t have to pass the guy (I could see now that it was an old guy), but I made myself continue, because, my goodness, it won’t hurt me to say “Hello” once in a while. And as I walked along, still thinking of ideas, I smelled shit. Human shit. I looked down, and saw a trail of little plops. Dismayed, I made the connection: it must be the old man’s shit. I slowed down, keeping an eye on him to see if he needed help, if he was sick, and only went on my way when I saw that he was turning in to his driveway.
In my early 30s, when I worked for the Evil Empire*, one of my office mates, probably in her 50s who was dealing with a chronic illness, told me about how she had shit herself on the T. I was completely horrified, putting myself in her position and concluding that I would probably rather die than have that happen to me. 20 years later, I put myself in the old man’s position and just felt compassion. Have I turned into an OWL**? I don’t know about that, but who among us has not been humiliated by shit, our own or someone else’s? Diarrhea, childbirth, colonoscopies, enemas; parenting, pet owning, traveling, owning a house. All these and more! When I passed that old man, shit all over the cuffs of his pants, I thought, “Ah, it comes to that.”
I think of a story Jewish Buddhist teacher Sylvie Boorstein tells about how members of a meditation group she leads take a few moments after every session to say things they’re thinking about, worried about. They’ll say things like, ‘I’m worried about my son’s medical results,” or “Please keep my friend in your thoughts because she’s lost her job.” One day, somebody said, “Everything happens to everybody!”*** So true.
How do I decide which project to work on, which idea to pursue, when to rest, when to push myself, which goals are reasonable, which are pie in the sky? How do I combat the niggling sense that I should actually be doing something else, something more important than what I finally settle on? I still really suck at all of that. In an essay I just read by Barbara Smith, a black lesbian feminist revolutionary who has been an agent of positive change since the 1960s, she says, of a spiritual revelation she had upon moving from New York City to the much more conservative Albany, “[Y]ou have to brighten the corner where you are, which meant to me that I had to do the most effective and needed political work I could in the situation where I was. The conditions for making social and political change are never perfect; if they were, you would not need the change to begin with. Serious activists know that they are a part of the struggle for their entire lives, which means that success must be measured with a very long yardstick. Committed organizing guarantees not just a lifetime of very hard work, but the most incredible triumphs” (italics mine).****
Are you spinning, too, my beleaguered, plugged in, maxed out, information-overloaded sisters and brothers? Maybe we can take a few deep, cleansing breaths together (the boys love it when I suggest that to them when they’re upset!). Maybe we can remember that we’re in it for life, wherever we are working for change, parenting, church, school, small town, big town, in our families, in our world, and look on it as a blessing, not a curse. It also helps to remember that at the heart of it all, our best bet is just to love each other. All through the arc of our lives, until we shuffle off this mortal coil. I can deliberate for months before I make my choice of what action to take, what to write, what to work on, or I can shut my eyes, spin around, go with whatever my finger lands on. Either way, if I continue to work with love, I will be putting more love back into the world.
I want to rest in the knowledge of that incredible triumph, when it comes to that.
**Older Wiser Lesbian (Duck and I just watched The Owls http://theowlsmovie.com/index.html)
***I’m pretty sure this is from Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life by Sylvia Boorstein
**** “Doing It From Scratch: The Challenge of Black Lesbian Organizing” by Barbara Smith, in This is What Lesbian Looks Like: Dyke Activists Take on the 21st Century ed. by Kris Kleindienst