To Draw a Circle

It’s a stunningly Carolina blue afternoon, the day between Christmas and my birthday, and I’ve been lucky enough to grab an hour’s hoop practice in the parking lot beneath the huge blue water tower.  The mild, sweet climate (so unlike New York at the moment!) and a couple days’ rest with family made my movement feel intensely fresh and alive.

This past weekend with my brilliant colleagues in the New York Flow Show–some of the most dynamic engines of the flow arts community–reattuned my awareness to the uniqueness of the community we share.  As implausible as it may seem, there is something about spinning things that brings you together into a particular spherespace where time unfolds at a pleasantly navigable pace and the world of things makes a new kind of sense.  It’s a special community space that not only reflects inclusivity–the capacity to contain all–in its very iconography (the circle, the sphere) but also embodies this principle in ways that amaze me as they emerge, and inspire me to keep reaching within myself to practice the arts most important to our survival as human beings: patience and tolerance.

This month, a soul-warpingly horrific event changed all of us. The morning after the shooting, my first very conscious thought–before I even remembered where I was or what had happened–was a vision of the principal flying through the air, her hands raised and utterly empty, trying to take down the gunman.

The same newly-sharp crack that then divided the nation also runs through the spin community.  We certainly don’t all see the same path towards preserving our security and humanity as we move into the next era.  The days and weeks following the shooting, some of us discovered for the first time–thanks to social media–how different our visions really are.  And yet, we were able (if not all the time, then the dramatically vast majority of it) to share our different views, to speak openly and I would even say nakedly to one another about our divergent beliefs.   Whoever needs the hoop, finds the hoop.  And that could be anyone.

Every holiday, I sit down–as many of you do–for delicious meals and warm laughs with family and old friends who might have voted or even heartily campaigned opposite me in every election of our lives.   The circle of the year swings around, fittingly, with the containment of opposites–not only possible, but sometimes all the sweeter.  Because if we lose the capacity to break bread with those we can’t agree with, then the world–by which we always mean the world of humanity–is lost too.

I was raised Presbyterian until I was 7.  At that point my dad joined the Unitarian Church.  The Unitarians can be awfully short on dogma–which was particularly true in this fledgling congregation in 1977 in North Carolina–so for quite some time I had no idea what this church represented or believed.  I just drew pictures, sang songs, and played with the other kids.  But one Sunday school lesson sticks with me:  we were learning about all the major religious symbols the world over.  There was the cross, of course, and the Om, the Star of David, and the Star and Crescent.  Containing them all was the Unitarian symbol:  the Circle of Oneness.  I remember thinking at the time, “Yeah!  THAT’S what I believe!  The Circle of Oneness.”  It was the only one that made them all count.

I’m lucky that my life led me back to the circle.  Because I truly do honor and feel expressions of faith all around me, everywhere I go.  I do believe that each of us deserves some respite from wrestling with the tyranny of our own thoughts, and that that place of rest must be of one’s own choosing.

And there are always those who are trying to draw the circle ever wider.  Enlarging the common space.  May I remember how much has been sacrificed, by how many, in the quest to preserve political and spiritual civility.   May I practice what I can, on any scale, no matter how small.


by Grace Rockafellow

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Forgiveness in Three Parts

I grew up thinking of myself as a forgiving person.  The truth of that reflects much more about my dumb luck, that the universe chose for me two parents who never once failed me in any meaningful way, than it does about my forgiving capacities.  What it really meant was that when the moment came when I could not forgive–which is the moment to bow down and call on the true power of forgiveness–I found myself insufficient to the task.

I met my failing with the newly discovered tool of my movement practice.  Physically listening to my hoop for hours each day had changed my relationship to my embodied experience of time.  That time slowed to the speed of the hoop, and allowed me to observe my emotions as they arose, and simply move with them in their unfolding.

For a long time, all I could notice was my inability to forgive–also known as anger.  That took up all the time and space I had inside.  Honestly, there wasn’t much to move with.  So I watched that feeling, and sat with the understanding that I, the forgiving, kind, and just Ann Humphreys, was facing my limits.  It was not only that I could not open my heart.  It was that I could not even try.

Then, somehow, a process rose out of that practice of observation.  In retrospect it seemed to have had three parts.  I do not suggest that forgiveness is a simple or easy undertaking.  However, I do feel that somehow through my movement practice I have been gifted by an insight as to how to prepare for the possibility of forgiveness, should it someday arrive.  And taking those preparatory steps might be, in and of itself, enough.  Because I believe forgiveness to be a form of grace–a beneficence meted out to us, one by one, by a suddenly and unexpectedly kind hand of chance.

Part 1:  Humility

At the same time I hit my forgiveness wall, I was also trying to “catch myself out” in my movement practice.  It started out as noticing that the moments I would lose contact with the hoop were the selfsame moments in which I would find myself on some kind of mental ego-loop, be it blame, self-justification, or one of their equally attractive cousins.  I started to notice how the focus of my subconscious mind seemed to be bizarrely and intensely on telling myself I had never made a mistake.  When I delved into this more deeply I discovered the sharp sorrow that I was unconsciously protecting myself from–the empathetic awareness of the pains and disappointments I had caused.

And the more I became aware of this, the more I became aware of my own oblivion, which seemed to regularly allow me to…actually…make…mistakes.  This was not about self-recrimination.  It was the simple act of recognizing that, at times, I had acted inconsiderately because I had, in fact, not been considering anything, or anyone, outside myself.   I was unaware.  I had not meant to.  I did not do it on purpose.  I had made a mistake.

As it became more and more evident to me that I was blind to myself and acted out of impulses that I might never come to understand fully, it began to break into my awareness, like little dashes of light, that the person I could not forgive might, too, have made a mistake.  Acted in error.  Acted in a way that did not reflect intent.

The Latin root word of humility means “soil, earth.”  It means we are all on the same level.  No one better, no one worse.  No human body is buried any higher than another.

This was the first step.

Part 2:   Wishing No Harm

I didn’t realize that there had been a first step until I completed it.  It just happened.  But with that sliver of objective distance, I began to see that there was something there I could work with.  Motion had occurred.  The interior space was no longer clogged absolutely full of my judgment.  Because I had had to make room for my own possible mistakes.

But what I felt was not forgiveness.  It was not opening.  There was no generosity in it.  I simply had counted myself among ye who shall be judged.  There was no bridge towards the person I could not forgive–I did not see any reason for there to be, even though a huge part of our lives overlapped.

However, because of this overlap, I was often confronted with my desire to see this person fail–and, because of our shared community, I was also confronted with the ugliness of my wish.  I can’t possibly know, but it is hard not to sometimes wonder if all of our wishes for revenge really reflect what we wish on ourselves–the punishment we, in some deep, inaccessible and  unacknowledged place, feel we are deserving of–and that this is what makes those feelings so particularly intolerable.

Regardless, at some point that sensation of ugliness began to feel unwelcome.  And it somehow occurred to me that I had a secret option:  I did not have to rush to re-embrace this person, but I could still, from afar, aim to intend no harm.  Instead of indulging my exhausted appetite for visions of their downfall and my triumph (all very carefully tucked below all rational radars), I could instead, patiently search for the quieter spaces in my heart that wished for nothing to happen–places that were content to be left alone, that could allow to live and let live.  To wish no harm.  It’s harder than it sounds.

That part took up a good couple of years.  In my movement practice I would allow my attention to return to the spots in my heart that were heavy with that ugliness.   And I would focus, find, and feel places that genuinely wished for nothing to happen.  No opening, no friendship, but also no damning or schadenfreude.  Those places were there.  But I had to look for them.

And the longer I looked for them, the more often I found them.  Places that wanted nothing.  Places that had no agenda, no dog in the fight.  And just keeping company with them.  I think when it comes to forgiveness we might feel tempted to give up before we start because we expect too much of ourselves.  We think if we aren’t capable of turning the other cheek, why try for anything short of that?  But I’ve come to believe that sometimes forgiveness might only occur if it is allowed to do so very, very slowly.

To wish no harm.  To wish no harm.

Harder than it sounds, but not as hard as you might think.

Part 3:  Grace

In the course of human events, it becomes necessary to acknowledge that certain gifts only befall us when we make no specific effort.   The poet Sylvia Plath described “a gift, a love-gift/ Utterly unasked for.”   Once in a very long while, something essential may drop from the sky and into our lap.  Though a sworn secular–I might even call myself a scienceist–I identify such moments by the name grace…also my mother’s name.

Years into Step Two I wasn’t wishing for grace.  I wasn’t looking for a ready way to move beyond where I was–I had no reason to.  Everything was moving along as it had been…no harm no foul, to borrow a phrase from college basketball.  In other words, no motivation to move the forgiveness process forward was going to come from inside me.

But if the gift of grace is to arrive, it will– even in a clumsy or a terrible package.  What actually happened was something terrible.  I received news that the father of the person I could not forgive had inexplicably vanished.  Having lost my own father over twenty years before, the very first phrase to pop into my mind was “something you would not wish on your worst enemy.”  For the first time in all my life, I really felt the meaning of those words.  Where there had been first anger, and then nothing, there appeared in my heart a gash–the smallest and most rudimentary kind of opening.  And within five minutes, I had written to her–our first communication in five years.   Two months later, this photo was taken.

(And her dad came home, too).

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Two Whole Feet

I’m 48 hours housebound, looking out into the bruise-colored sky that has followed the hurricane.  Sirens cycle through the air every half hour.  Earlier, the holy rounds of Aum came gently through my walls, reminding me that I am not the only one caught in the wheel—there’s always some human voice, somewhere, devoted to that task.

And it’s true that barely going out of doors for a few days can cause one to live and re-live the same day again and again, until it is indistinguishable from one long day.  And it’s true that not just with every year but with every hour, time spills ever more surely outward, in all directions, like an upended bucket.  When did this start, exactly?  Once it proceeded, steadily and orderly, like blood in the veins—now it leaks all over and loses form, as if it did not even mind bleeding all over itself.

And it doesn’t.

I’m sure it’s also true that I notice this in a different way because I don’t have children.  Children would sop up all that spilled time in one afternoon.  For this reason, I both don’t miss them, and do.

Something is happening to my body.  And I know what it is.  I know because my body and I have long conversations, of an evening.  I’ve learned to listen closely, and I hear.  From my body I’ve learned that I’m standing precisely in the middle of life.  And in recognizing this I also see that my body has begun, in its slow way, to die.

Is it a terrible thing, to say that my body sings to me a song of death?  And that I find that song very beautiful?  My toes sing to me from farther away than they once did.  The distance between us is shocking, awe-inspiring.  I’m still at the controls, but they are experiencing a world I know less and less about.  A feeling closes around them like wool, deafening them to sensation, to themselves in space.  In my movement practice I patiently sink down into them, offering my undivided attention—surely they’ll rush back to me, like grateful children to a busy parent.  But they don’t.

With time flying past me on all sides, I lower my hips, bending my knees.  It’s as though my entire carriage is shrink-wrapped from within, holding a different form than the one I’m asking for.  Over the last several weeks, every time I get to my right ankle, it reliably pops.

Strangely, at first, this reassured me somehow.  See?  I have a real body!  It was as though my ankle had never done anything before, and look, now it had!  I applauded its originality—there was a specific sensation of crunchiness, spread like a wing over the curve on the top of my foot.  This was somehow the result, I could feel, of a slipped connection through the fourth toe and the heel.  Sinking down low enough into the foot could realign these separated parts into a whole again.  I did this over and over, hearing the crunch every time, becoming less and less sanguine as I did.

Because this certainly meant breakdown—a flat tire that can’t, actually, be replaced—how do you dance on a foot that can’t feel itself?  Is fighting itself?  Fighting its own engineering?  How do you dance with that?

Order moves inexorably towards disorder.  I remember the smack of plain sense this fact made to me when it hit my brain some thirty years ago, despite not really comprehending it.  It didn’t seem plausible, for example, that I would encounter this most inescapably in my own body.  And now that I am, my face relaxes as though for the first time.  Because I can feel now what half the world already knows:  that the body dies.  Whatever we believe or feel we know about the soul–or whatever is called the soul—the body dies.

And as it dies it sings of everything it has been through. I hear that song and dance to it, no matter how small it is.  And tonight, as I moved with the song, my ankle suddenly landed back into the way it used to feel.  And I danced again on two whole feet.

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These Are the First Days of Fall

This morning, I awoke early to cool breeze and clouds.  Took my mutt for a quick walk, threading through the quiet side streets solidly staked down by old wrought iron and filigreed brown stone.  One tree pressed up a full six inches past the sidewalk, its rootwork bulging through the four corners some planners allotted it long ago, when its tiny frame still held only the potential to become a tree.

Telltale whips of cold wind announced the arrival of rain, the skies suddenly evacuating more water than it seemed possible they could contain.  Vincent and I ducked into my car in the back lot, so beyond-belief lucky to have this unimaginable luxury.   We tootled down to an almost-out-of-walking-distance coffee shop, retrieving a strong coffee for my hardworking house guest, and a decaf for me–my body having finally said no to caffeine this year.  It was a long, and satisfying, love.

This year, I have seen the body of my beloved companion—which I remember so well as the shiny, fat, black-brown sausage of puppyhood—whittled down closer to his skeleton, shocking me with the edges he has always contained.  Tiny licks of white dot his beautiful dark coat.  He sighs, heavy with contentment.  But I notice how seldom he wants to chase the ball, or the stick, or play with other dogs of any age.  He is more circumspect, analyzing his situation for some time before choosing to act.  None of the young dog’s heedless, joyful catapult into the world.  Still, he enjoys his walk.

My own body, too, shocks me, though I’ve always known–haven’t I?–what living in the world does to the human form.   The sturdy joints I have relied on for everything begin to complain, lightly–they must be tired of having to serve so many needs, so much work and use.  My body becomes miserly, hoarding its reserves of water to serve heart and lungs rather than every inch of skin–then carelessly dumping out all that precious hydration in sweat the moment I emerge into the sun, which seems to pierce the sky like a blade…

Last summer when I visited proud and beautiful Finland, my hosts and I stood in their lovely yard, surveying the fairy-tale-like purity of the land around us.   Ilkka, a brawny Finn who cooked for us every night, looked at me evenly and spoke for the first time what I had felt deep in my brain for a while:  “I feel the sun getting hotter.”

The gods will hurl their thunderbolts, but slowly– as one unbroken beam, shining down with life-giving and life-altering force, just a little more every day.

I don’t know how to live in the world as it’s burning.  And I am burning too.  It’s all just happening too slowly, somehow, to actually do anything about.





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In the Ladies’ Room

I’ve been here all morning, at this co-op grocery where I sometimes feel like I’ve spent half my life.  After a week of record-setting high temperatures–six consecutive days over 100 Fahrenheit here in central NC–a huge rain came down, scooting the scattered outdoor diners into a neat line under this metal eave.  An 6-foot, slanted border of protection.  The mist from the exploding droplets hit the edges of my screen, and my face.

Walking into the ladies’ room, I was behind a wide, heavy woman with long graying hair, holding tight to the hand of a tiny boy.  She held his arm up high, close to her body–a grip meant to constantly convey the fact of being and knowing more.  Some mothers do not reach down to their children, but require their children to reach up to them.  And this can be an act of love.   Because the world, after a certain point, stops reaching down to a child.

He whined in a high, slow cadence, wanting something.  “Come on,” she said.  “We’re going to get you cleaned up.”  I then saw the imprint of dampness, a solid upside-down U shape, right along the crotch of his small fawn-colored pants.  He was probably three and a half, four.   For a moment, in an absurd panic for him, I hoped he might have sat in a puddle.  But his hanging head spoke the crucial piece of truth.

She waved me into the open stall, an offer I accepted with a stab of guilt.  I really had to pee and they might take a while…the boy’s small whine plucked at the edges of my heart.  They entered the next stall.  “Your socks are all wet, too,” she chided.  I wondered what clothes he would change into.  She didn’t have a huge supermom bag hanging from her shoulder.   She didn’t have a stroller with a bunch of cloth pockets.  She wore jean shorts, no makeup, and spoke with an eastern rural accent.  It was easy to imagine her behind the register at Hardee’s.

“I’m upset with you right now,” she said.  “Because you know better.”

What tools would I use if I were raising a boy, here today, on a Hardee’s salary?  Would I do less for him, so that he might learn fast to do for himself?  Would I carry a change of clothes, stroller, anything we’d need in case of an emergency, if we had to ride the bus?   Would I tell him that I was angry, and why?

And would this protection shield him, at all, from the world raining down?

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Far away, someone’s young wife
has died, taking half his life with her.

Her shoes are waiting.  They
would like to go, too—

they sink into a kind of
disgruntled contentment.

The hairbrush still smells
of her hair.  What will be

the first day he does
not hold it up

to his face, for minute
after minute—at some

point, he must lay it down,
lay it down in order to do

something else.  The brush
waits to be of use, not

understanding why he
fails to pull it through

his own hair.  Which, of
course, he cannot do.


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The Existence of God

Lately, as the world zips beneath me, and time zones waft lazily back and forth like an Earth-scale metronome, I don’t have much to say.  People continue to agitate for ideas.  Earlier, I chatted with my seatmate, an American Sikh who is on his way back from visiting family in Punjab.  The purpose?  To “calm everybody down” from his cousin’s engagement to a Hindu, a man she loves and is clearly happy with.  He showed me pictures—her smile luminous, hanging onto the arm of her tall, awkwardly handsome, bespectacled betrothed.

Surrounding us is a large Buddhist contingent from Taiwan, traveling with at least two monks, a man and a woman, both shaved bald.  There are two Filipino passengers—an overwhelmingly Catholic populace—immediately adjacent to us.  On the first leg of the trip I read an intensely moving account of an American Muslim’s hajj: the Islamic journey to the holiest city of Mecca.  He quotes a resident of the city:

“The Prophet said, in Mecca, even if you see the killer of your father,  you cannot raise your hand.”

What is the substance of our common humanity?  Traveling, I notice not only the vastly simplifying fact of our needs—water, something to eat, a bathroom, a resting place—but also the stark ghost of my own god-concepts of long ago.  When the plane founders in the sky, whatever thoughts I once had about a personified spirit who held the keys to a special box which held the scroll of my life’s past, present, and future narrative, pop faintly across the ticker of conscious thought.  But where I was once speaking to someone—a human thought-consciousness that was not discernibly different from anything or anyone I had ever known—there is now just the impossible space of awareness.  There has been no way of stopping it from growing.  And I’m glad.

Why then do my eyes sting with tears every time I read, over and over, these words:  In Mecca, even if you meet the killer of your father,  you cannot raise your hand.

I am flying back from Bali, that tiny wet island of magical nurturance, where statues of Hindu gods are draped in wide skirts of checkerboarded black, white, and gray fabric.  This is meant to remind worshippers of the equivalence of good and evil, dark and light, life and death.  It’s not that one cannot exist without the other—it is that both are.  All is.  All that we perceive in this world is.  In Bali there is not the usual need to elevate one aspect over the other, which so predictably fuels the world’s heavy chorus:  We = good, They = bad. 

And still, there are a hundred thousand million strange little superstitions everywhere, in everyone’s mind, the belief that one alone hears the Voice, and is heard.  I inherited this along with my human form.  There’s no way to stop listening, as my Voice changes timbre, from a forbidding (and–let’s be real–male) God-voice into something so much less knowable, but also so much less blatantly opposed to everything I see, hear, understand, and experience.  And I—desperately hurtling through time and space with my fellow-travelers—am at peace.

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The Unbearable Loss of Great Humanity

This morning, I took my usual 90-second cold shower, grabbed my hoops and swooped the dogs into the car, excited to make it to Hoop Church in downtown Austin.  I had some tunes to share, freshly loaded onto my iPod, the day was overcast but warm and felt like Sunday.  I punched the radio to 88.7 KAZI, my favorite local community radio station–they broadcast ‘Democracy Now’ every weekday and play a dependable mix of new, non-mainstream hip-hop and R&B.

I quickly realized that the noon program was devoted to Martin Luther King, Jr., this being his birthday, tomorrow a national holiday set aside to remember his legacy.  I had been thinking to attend either an interfaith prayer service tonight at Occupy Austin, or a march in his honor tomorrow morning, or possibly both.  The voice  I was hearing on the radio right now was a man who had been a young activist with and associate of King’s–tuning in right in the middle, I didn’t catch his name.  But I was immediately jolted by his personal recollection of the great leader as an intimate friend.

He talked about the fact that King was thrust into his leadership role–something I had heard about before, but hadn’t paused to consider.  He shared that King was primarily interested in being a minister and “helping people”–the simplicity of that expression–and suddenly I was imagining King as a young man, just out of seminary, with a new wife and perhaps already a new baby, looking for a congregation in his native Southland, looking for a community to be a part of.  Now that I’m in my early 40s, I know what this phase of life is about for many people.  Where will we live?  Who will our neighbors be?

But King understood the imperative of accepting the destiny–the duty, a word whose sacredness has been contaminated by its abuse in the context of unjust wars and in the enforcement of unjust laws–that was his, and so changed the history of every single one of our lives.  His old friend went on to remember how remarkably King’s personality survived his transition from ordinary citizen to living legend.  “He was just an easygoing, clowning, warm, lovable guy.”

I was driving down Cesar Chavez, about halfway to Hot Mama’s coffeeshop.  A man is remembered for true greatness, and at the same moment, for the very same qualities that would make one’s heart bond to a neighbor, a co-worker, a brother-in-law…the qualities that would cause one’s heart to choose a dear friend from a sea of acquaintances.  The same man.  How well did we know him?  Martin.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  A name we might have heard too many times to hear.

The announcer began to recite the familiar facts:  “On April 3rd, King was in Memphis to support the local black sanitation workers who were organizing for better working conditions and wages.  That night, the night before he was assassinated, he gave a speech.”  And the last minute or so of this speech, which I had heard, like many of you, before, began to play.

I won’t attempt to describe the prodigious voice that forever altered the course of human events.  The sum of all my gifts, capacities, skills, training, and experience would still be unequal to that task.  What I can say about this occasion of hearing–just as I was driving past Austin City Hall, the site of Occupy Austin, where I have spent plenty of evenings over the last couple of months–was that I heard anew.

Even my limited participation in Occupy has revealed what my own privilege had previously blinded me to:  the dreadful cost of such activism.  I say dreadful because consideration of the cost inspires real dread.  We remember the veteran’s cracked skull.  We understand that guns and bullets haven’t been used yet.  We understand that such violence has been and will be considered, and is a lawful option.  No one is going to stop the cop who is told to utilize armed force against protesters.  There is no one to stop him.

When I heard Dr. King’s voice today, I heard–for the first time–his full comprehension of the cost.   It was this man–this single human being, just an easygoing, clowning, warm, lovable guy, with a life, beloved friends and a family, who was looking out into the faces of the people gathered there that night and deciding again and again every second that passed that yes, speaking truth is more important than whether I live or die.  Imagine being there, for one second:  Speaking truth is more important than whether I live or die.  Then, imagine a human being who can not only get to that place, but embody it, second after second, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.   And I understood–for the first time–what an unthinkably rare incarnation of humanity we lost.  Hours later, I’m still being hit by wave after wave of sobbing.

Martyrdom can and does interpose a veil of incomprehensible goodness and nobility over those who sacrificed their lives for us.  Our own psyches seem to guard us from understanding what it means that someone has laid down his life–the ultimate act of nonviolence–for us.  Not stood up in battle for us, not fought the enemy on our behalf, but laid down–as a gift, as an offering–his life.  As a non-Christian (something I trust–utterly–that Dr. King would understand) I can’t help but think of the intensity of feeling that attends Christ’s sacrifice, and wonder what might be easier about imagining that not an ordinary human being, but a singular and divine entity, has done such a thing for you, and for me.

He knew, of course, that people were right then and there making plans to take his life, and he knew that they were unlikely to fail.  He was speaking truth when he looked out into the hundreds of human faces gathered there and said, “I’m not fearing any man.”  Imagine speaking those words out loud in front of a crowd you know might contain a real person with a real gun that is aiming, at that moment, at your head.  What would it be like to feel that courage, that belief?  It’s ungraspable, literally unimaginable.   And yet, he died with this very courage in his heart.

The ringing after the last tones of King’s voice was replaced by excerpts from an actual press conference from April 4th, 1968.  A man says into a microphone, “Tonight at 6:01pm Martin Luther King was shot in the head.”  You can hear many people gasp.  The speaker states a few more details:  a man in a dark suit was observed leaving in a white car.  Then he says, abruptly, “Twenty minutes ago Martin Luther King died.”  You hear many more gasps, from many different places in the room, and then the setting in of a kind of dim roar of shocked human voices.  It is unlike any sound I have ever heard before.

The next sound to be broadcast was the voice of Bobby Kennedy, speaking the same day to a crowd in Indiana, awkwardly but genuinely offering that a member of his family, too, had been killed “by a white man.”  This was the first time he had ever publicly spoken of his brother’s death. (Later, I listened to the full 6-minute speech–when Kennedy says, “Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee,” the crowd screams out in shock.)

And next sound was the voice of the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, speaking at Dr. King’s funeral:  “Though this grave is too narrow to hold his soul, we commit his body to the ground.  Though there is no stone, no crypt, no grave that can hold his greatness, we commit his body to the ground.”

It’s not enough to merely and politely remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Our hearts must be shattered with the understanding of what was done for us.  For if our hearts can be shattered, there might be enough space in us to hold the courage that we must have in order to save what must be saved about humanity. At least I finally understand that.


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The Mystery of an Entirely New Sunday

It’s a new year, and a rare cloudy morning here in Austin.  Today, instead of checking my phone and email first thing, I brewed a tiny pot of espresso and swept the sweet bungalow where Vincent and I are lucky enough to spend most of this month.  I want to honor the new, and the spirit of my dear friend who has opened her home to us again–she keeps her space sparkling, and even though she won’t be home for over a week, it feels important to gently but firmly push back against the tide of entropy that seems to follow me everywhere I go.

Austin’s ever-present grackles susurrate in the yard–a sound cloud of endearing meeps and whirrs.  I think tenderly of R2D2.  Eva, the exceptional corgi mix we are here to love and care for, wanders in from her post out front, settling beneath my writing table.  The day feels like an immense seesaw balanced in that hushed space between twin pulls of gravity.  Nothing, or anything, might happen.

I slept long and heavily.  Since I got here I have wanted to read, to sleep, and to be alone.  The last four weeks home in North Carolina, I was seldom alone.  Traveling full-time, I am regularly immersed in one extreme or the other.  I consider this a blessing.  Most things, for me, have been blessings.

Last night, tucked warmly under a furry white blanket and starting to drift away from my book, my mind began making passes at explaining a sense of dimensionality that has been steadily setting up camp in my conscious awareness.  The death of my close friend Kimowan, this past summer, somehow instantly divided space and time in a new way.  There now seems to be this dimension, in which we see and touch and experience corporeal reality, life–what is known–and that:  its opposite, incomprehensible space, where Kimowan is now and where my father has been for the last 23 years (only I didn’t feel it).  This is not a new idea, but I feel it as such.  What seems newly real to me is the immediacy of that:  I grasp the exact sense in which it is just on the other side of what we can see, touch, feel, experience, “know,” here and now.  Somehow I understand that Kimowan is right there– just on the other side of what can be apprehended.  That place is no less real because it cannot be measured, experienced, or fathomed with the instrument of the human body.

Because of this impossibility–the interposition of human form–anything that is asserted about that will never reach universal consensus (witness:  the history of religion). What does stand to reason is this:  At one time, “I” (meaning, whatever it was that became me in human form) was there–in the opposite of what is here now–and I will return there once again.  For me, this is quite enough to know.

Like many, I was raised with some inherited notions of the beyond.  My dad’s conversion to Unitarianism–a deeply ethical path–in my early childhood, and his death, which shattered me and all my barely-formed ideas about life at age 19, made it impossible to proceed without a great looming awareness of how profoundly unsatisfactory all explanations of life’s meaning were.   For a long while I felt nothing but a searing disdain for anyone who asserted anything–anything at all–about the soul, the spirit, the hereafter, God or gods.  There was nothing to know.  Because any assertion or explanation that excluded my father was, obviously, wrong.  And just about all of them did.

What I feel now is something different.  I have nothing to call it.  It came out of my movement with the hoop, a physical mantra that happens to coincide rather uncannily with the ongoing cycle of matter and energy that characterizes the known universe.  In this meditation there is no need to repudiate anything recognized by science–all discovery only deepens the wonder at our having managed to exist at all within the stupefying complexity of this.  The spin collects around the center that organizes time and space, and it is possible to feel oneself within that ongoingness, wholly in the present, for a moment or two at a time.

Even as a former enemy of such assertions, I will risk grandiose overstatement and say that all religion and all spirituality can be simply defined as trying to say something about that while being inexorably held in this.  I might be of a vast minority, or lunatic fringe, or an odd army of one, but to me that just seems like plenty to say about it.  Why do I no longer feel the need to know about that?  I go on in my not-knowing, within the mystery of an entirely new Sunday.

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On Why I’m Likely to Get a Crush on Any Police Officer Who Joins Our Movement

An Austin Cop and Me in Front of CIty Hall

Like many of you, I was initially electrified by the simple and division-shattering message of Occupy Wall Street:  “Get money out of politics.”  Certainly at least 99% of us concur with that statement to some real and identifiable degree, don’t we?  Don’t you?

What you are hearing right now is the sound of one of the oldest saws known in human history:  The true oppressors creating a false narrative and a false dichotomy (“Cops vs. Hippies”) out of egregious, and rather conspicuously well-documented, acts of police brutality.  Ever wonder why the footage of Lieutenant Pike, the officer who became notorious overnight for pepper-spraying peaceful protestors at UC Davis, has never been censored from any site?  Why haven’t cops been grabbing cameras out of protesters’ hands while they document beatings of women?  Why has every single one of us seen the image of the pepper-spray-soaked face of an 80-year-old protestor?

Maybe they want us to see.

If we buy into this narrative—“Those cops are evil sadistic assholes! They can’t wait to smack you in the head with their batons…they’re dying to pepper-spray your ass!  God, I hate cops!!!!”—if we buy into this narrative, let’s take a moment and notice—see?  We’ve already swerved our attention fully away from the criminal acts perpetrated on our entire country—on our entire world—by the 1%.  Or, as Paul Krugman astutely noted in his column two days ago, the .1%.   Remember the bogeyman?  The bogeyman on wiki:  “An amorphous imaginary being used by adults to frighten children into behaving.”


Because I not only believe—I know—every member of the police force in this nation to be a true member of the 99.9%, I have not lost hope that every single last police officer and firefighter, every veteran and every member of every branch of the military, will join us as allies in the battle we have started against the entrenched powers that have gravely undermined the ideal of democracy itself.   As Naomi Wolf pointed out last month, we have picked a big fight—a damn big fight.  And I want and need the help and support of our police, our firefighters, and our military—retired and standing.  I won’t give up trying to win them over to our side.  Because you know what?  In this particular battle, just about everybody in the entire world—whether they know it yet or not—is on our side.

That’s why I posed with a cop, as we both laughed—along with my fellow protestors and several of his uniformed colleagues—at my silly, flirtatious, and deadly earnest sign, in front of City Hall, in Austin, Texas on November 17th, 2011.  He didn’t join our movement, but when you share a gut-busting laugh with someone the world calls your enemy—I tell you, it can lead to a little crush.

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