I do not end seasons of my life well. I either miss them, like I did for both my graduations. Or I pass so quickly onto the next that I fail to close and integrate the last well. I don’t take the time to sit and breathe, to remember, to gather stones and build an altar, to write obituaries or sing songs of celebration. And so I hold in my hands a life of disconnected memories, of events that exist in isolation to each other, of learnings and pain and growth that has never been well-integrated and assimilated into my very sense of self. My life lacks closure. My life story doesn’t follow a logical timeline – in the telling of it I draw together strands and feelings and impressions that never quite coalesce. There are years of missing data. Gaps in my memory and consciousness. I found myself with losses that I’ve never mourned, pain that I’ve never integrated, questions that were never resolved that I don’t have the ability to accommodate well. My history is adrift.
These past two years I have been learning how to pause and MARVEL and how to stop and MOURN. I have learnt the value of a drinking a glass of red with friends and remembering what our lives held in the vintage year. I have learnt the value of gift-giving to mark an end and how words of affirmation and appreciation can release someone to the next journey. I have learnt the value of showing photographs and telling stories to mark births and deaths and weddings and graduations and celebrations. I have learnt the value of return and how powerful the little act of remembering can be in releasing us to live fully present. I have learnt the value of attaching physicality – a picture, a gift, a retelling, a token, words written, a stone picked up from the road – to remembrance. I always thought of memories as anchors – “don’t dwell on the past”, I remind myself. But indeed there is great value in returning to the past periodically; not to be consumed by it, but so that it doesn’t drown us. I am learning how to end seasons well and how to return to them rhythmically.
Husband-man and I were privileged to have time while back home to sit and pause and remember and reflect and debrief our time at The Simple Way. As we cast our eyes back over our time, we hold in tension how incredibly rich and beneficial it was with how hard and challenging it was. It was one of the steepest learning curves of our lives and there is much we have grown from and in, learnt, and new things that have been sparked in us (or old things that have been fanned into flame). We carved out space and sat in beautiful places and drank coffee and jotted thoughts and names and stories down. We asked what did we learn, what could we have done better, what do we miss, what’s sparked in us, who are the people that shaped us.
The next few blogs will be on some of our reflections. As we have launched into this new season, these are the things that we hold to, some of the many things that have been (re)sparked in us:
We long to continue to do life through regular community connection with like-hearted people – Christ-followers and disciple-makers.
We long to be in a place where we can continue to engage well with our surrounding neighbourhood.
We long to have a space where we can practice hospitality.
We long for opportunities for Brett to operate in his primary gifting – speaking, writing, and online ministry.
We long for stability and healthy balance in our life-rhythms.
We long to say “Yes, lets!” more to opportunities and experiences.
We long to have married couples and culturally diverse individuals speaking into our lives and journeying close to us.
We long to learn how to be more open-handed with our time, our energy and our resources – and to encourage others to be likewise.
One. Is the number on the dollar bill you use to snort lines.
Two. Is the number of bags of crystal meth you stuff down your socks.
One in Three. Is the number I can’t wrap my mind around as I subconsciously count off, converting faces to percentages; those in front of me to those behind bars.
Four. Is the number of Taco trucks, music playing and friends mingling beneath dim streetlights.
Eight. Is the number of men hiding in dark shadows keeping watch over flocks by night.
Nine. Is the number of stops requested.
Eleven. Is the number on the clock.
Twenty-six. Is the number of restless girls on lonely corners, between 2nd and 61st.
Fifty. Is the number of shots fired when a drive-by and an ambush collided yesterday. I hear my friend tell me.
Sixty-five. Is the number of years lived. She mumbles chaotically, her body closed in on itself.
Full. Is where I start.
Scattered. Is where I end.
Voices and non-voices and music and resignation. Is what I hear.
Sorrow. And discomfort. And heaviness. Is what I feel, as I gaze out the window at the light and the un-light passing by in the cool outside.
One. Is the number of the bus I ride.
Sometimes it’s easy to confuse things for other things. This has happened to me a lot these past two years.
For example, I’ve confused:
Saying hi to my neighbor with Loving my neighbor
Frugality with Simplicity
Thriftiness with Ethicality
Necessity with Caring for the earth
Talking about doing justice with Doing justice
Sharing a house with Sharing life
Lending someone my power with Empowerment
Making a meal with Hospitality
Cleaning the floor with Loving my husband
Talking about intentional community with Nurturing deep and invested relationships
Not hitting people with Non-violence
Frustration with Anger
Thinking about the things I’m praying for with Praying
Curbing my desires and wants with Being content with what I have
Buying less expensive stuff with Buying less stuff
Relying on public transportation with Slowing down
Eating more vegetables with Creating a healthier relationship to food
Working a 30 hour week with Creating healthy work/life balances
Liking a status with Connecting with a friend
Sharing a post with Transforming my mind
Quoting statistics with Knowing what I’m talking about
Pulling the middle finger with Not putting too much weight in people’s opinions of me
Saying its okay with Forgiving
Pulling the sheets straight with Making the bed
What things have you confused recently?
the lyrics slam into my bedroom, smashing into every crevice, every corner, crawling with its insidious fingers over my bed until the entire room seethes with the sadistic words. the words wretch, a hate-filled debasement of
woman. this is no ordinary masochistic rap. it is an intensely graphic description of rape and abuse. and a glorification of both. the words don’t seep. they rip through every part of my being.
my mouth fills with bile and i cannot take any more. i have had my fill and am sick to my stomach. my hands shake and all that fills my mind is “this has to stop”. i walk downstairs, my vision blurred and stand staring at my husband who looks up and asks if i’m okay. the words don’t even come out. it’s ripped through me and now it’s tearing at my skin, making me want to scream, to roar with primal fear STOP!
I draw a breath because I know this must be handled right. And so I reach into the deepest part of myself, walk across the street and knock on his door. He comes slowly, nonchalantly, and I look past him at his 2 year old daughter standing in the lounge. “I’m having some trouble with your music,” I say. I’m shaking and I cannot breathe. “I find the words really offensive and it’s so loud it keeps slamming against my house and filling my whole bedroom.” He offers to turn the volume down.
but his calm response masks the rage that i’ve incurred in him. it’s not only his music that seethes now. its fed him, wrapped him, rapt him, enclosed around him and he seethes. against me. because who am i,
woman, to dare? i’ve shamed him. and he later tells my husband, she should never have said that to me. next time you tell me. but not her.
and i am positioned. framed within his twisted hyper-masculine culture as
woman. he spits it out just like his music vomits it. i am positioned as the one his music rapes, his songs hate, his brother hits, his friend screams at and degrades and abuses night after night. i am positioned as nothing. i am nothing.
and i am filled with that primal fear of
woman. that lack of power in the face of overwhelming hatred, of physical retreat in the face of a strong hand. there are days i walk these streets isolated by the eyes following me. that do all the things to me my mind dreads. and i pretend not to see. to walk on by. voices call out to me – challenging, mocking, taunting. i pretend not to hear. because i cannot entertain the fears these things raise in me. daily.
today i am positioned as
woman. as woman alongside the wife who was beaten, the girlfriend who was date raped, the teenage mother, the worndown, despised, degraded. today my experience of living in this neighborhood shifted. today my interaction with violence – or the ever-threat of it – changed. non-violence, pacifism, and peacemaking become less theoretical and more personal – my interaction with these thoughts and ideas and philosophies can no longer be abstract because my relation to them has become embodied. i do not interact with them from a distance, in an event, in a moment or in a experience; they have become tied to my being, my walking, my presence. how do i do non-violence, how do i practice pacifism, how do i be a peace-maker when violence – the threat, the call, the power of it – is tied inextricably to my being WOMAN.
today my experience shifted. all because i couldn’t hold down the bile as the words drove deep into my bedroom.
Perhaps the most profound question asked in the Bible, is the one Cain poses to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As I’ve been thinking this week about the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, this is the question I’ve kept returning to. Do we have a responsibility to watch out for and care for those around us? The answer for me is undoubtedly a resounding “Yes!” In the light of the many stories of violence against women this past week, I want to call us all to become – day-by-day – our sister’s keepers.
See that girl in the club, looking really uncomfortable as three guys come around her and hit on her? Move closer. Eavesdrop. And if need be, be ready to stand in and defend her.
The girl in the bathroom wiping mascara from her eyes? Ask her if she’s okay or if there’s someone you can call.
The little kid walking alone from school? Park your car discreetly up the road and watch over them til they reach a more populated area.
The girl bent over the toilet vomitting cos someone spiked her drink? Take her hand, sit with her, get her hydrated, walk her home, call a friend, hold her hair back while she’s sick in the bushes. Do whatever it takes. Keep her safe.
That single girl at the braai? She should never have to ask you to walk her to her car, and should never feel like she is being a burden. Take stock at the beginning of the night of who arrived alone and keep watch for when they leave and walk them to their door.
That group of 14 year old girls walking along Tokai main road at 10pm? Stop and offer them a lift. And if they decline tell them you’re going to follow them from a safe distance until they make it home safely.
The woman with the black eye and the cut lip? Ask her name and see if she needs medical attention. Open the door to conversation. Give her your phone number. Just in case.
These are all stories of times I’ve tried to “be my sister’s keeper” – in only one of these situations did I actually know the girl’s name beforehand. Sometimes people thought I was wierd, occassionally they may have been creeped out, often they were grateful. But maybe once or twice I even helped to save a life.
If I am not for them, I am against them. And woe that God’s reply comes to me, as it did to Cain: “What have you done?” [The echo in my head, "What have you not done?] “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”
i don’t have words to spill this life over into your lap
to shape with ee cadence the timbre of the street
to strut the interruptions and disruptions of a kingdom-journey for your reading pleasure
i don’t have words which paint a million pictures
or even one
i don’t have pictures which sing a million words
or even one.
i can’t string letters and intonations able to evoke the fears and despair i live into, die into, when i walk these streets of pain
i don’t have rhythms of language able to invoke the freedom and hopes i break into, breathe into, when i dance in these fields of gold
i can’t wrap words around me (or you) to cover the nakedness of the shadow
which shames between the motion and the act
i can’t sing lullabies which settle the heart locked-up or sooth the soul that holds the key
i can’t share names of the faces of the several-stories i’ve just shared that caught you unaware
i’ll see-saw you through this, your fingers like sieves, these words like sand
gunshots and giggles.
a bottle in a hand and a head-hung-low
and a hand on a bike and a sure-secure guide
both called mother.
blood-shot eyes and bright-eyed hopes.
destruction and chaos and a time to build and a time to heal
violence and a time to kill
sitting on a front step, laughter and shared meals, and a time to be born
darkandlightanddeathandlifeand a hundred irreconcilables waiting to coexist
so i’ll speak in riddles and spin tales in rhymes and
i’ll stumble with allusions
and know that He who sees, sees
and one day this dim reflection
will be understood
even as i am fully known.
I LOVE living in this neighborhood. But there are some almost-daily occurances that get me. My top ten dislikes in no particular order are:
1. Mice that live in our stove (and an almost-constant sprinkling of mice poo on our counters, on our shelves, on our stove and behind the sink)
2. Car alarms that are sound-activated in a community that lives loudly on the streets – music blaring almost non-stop, sirens several times a day, kids out till 11pm and intermittent fights, parties and across-block conversations make this a BAD idea.
3. Cockroaches that live behind the LED time-display in our microwave.
4. M.F.er music
5. Dust that NEVER goes away
7. Long lines and one cashier at Walgreens
8. Hands-down-pants as a general cool-don’t-care-bout-nothin’-or-noone look. Pretty much like the crack-baggy-pants on steroids
9. Wolf-whistles and proposals almost every time I walk to or from work
10. Tiny square-inch packets that lie around – discarded remnants of a life-sucking high.
Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.
This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area. No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…
Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to
boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.
See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these” if I think they are.
Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.