Saturday, April 30, 2016

It is not a simple thing

Being the parent of a child, even though that child is an adult, has a lot of baggage. The fact that the child was abused psychologically and verbally by a father takes its toll. Further compound that issue with a physically abusive partner, well, hope feels as though it is always at the moment of flying out the window.

The abuse is always about the abuser. The chances are high that the abuser was abused himself. This is true in this case, for both of them.

But the costs of abuse are high. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or being a victim of violence. That violence can be a one time thing. Or it can be something that happened over a period of time, short or long. Violence that happens over a long period of time can manifest itself in Acute Stress Disorder.

Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate. These are not the problem. These are simply a reaction to the problem.

Even with professional help identifying the triggers that cause the panic attacks or nightmares or insomnia or any of the other symptoms of PTSD, the road to recovery is long. Add to that nightmare addiction. The road becomes even more difficult.

What does it say about society…or a parent…who is able to recognize a drug problem before recognizing the source of an anxiety disorder?

What does it say about a mother who is unable to have seen the damage done by an alcoholic father while she could see the damage being done to herself?

What does it say about a mother who could see that something was wrong but couldn’t imagine that her young adult child was being beaten to the point of having broken bones?
What does it say about a mother who was willing to blame the victim when she couldn’t get her life together for her own little boy?

It took me twenty five-plus years to understand the full extent of what damage the term “Goddammit, A!” did to a young teenage girl. It took me that long to understand the full effect of the physical damage done by my child’s partner. She laughed one time when she told me she thought it was a part of her name. It wasn’t funny. It has taken me a little bit longer than that to realize that drugs were not the main problem.

But I have lived with the fear of the drugs and the unpredictable behavior for so long that the first thing I do at a sign that points to the past is to react in fear.  

When a child who has been diagnosed with acute PTSD and has used drugs to self medicate, even though that adult child has been through rehab, counseling, and is involved in a 12 step program and appears to be mending…when something happens, I panic.

It was a simple thing of not having heard from her in a few days. I had not even thought about it until I had a dream about her. Then, the next morning, texting to say “hey, all things ok?” and no response. In the afternoon, calling, the phone went immediately to voicemail. Fear gripped my heart. Worry that here we go again. Prayers to God asking why why why and then please please please.

It goes against my nature to confront my fear with reality. Reality can be even more frightening than my imagination. A simple thing would have been to go to her apartment to see if she was there.

But no. My mind obviously relies on unhealthy speculation of realizing the worst of my fears come true.

Thank God I have a pragmatic spouse who is nothing if not always willing to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it out of the way. We had to go out anyway and before I knew it, we were turning down the street where she lives. My beloved simply asked, “Do you want me to walk up there or do you want to?” Meaning, one of us was going to find out if she was ok or not.

Uncharacteristically, I said I would do it. Meaning, I would face my fear and knock on the door all by my big girl self.

From behind the door, I heard the exclamation, Mom! The door burst open and there she stood, looking well and alive and unencumbered by all things that clouded my mind. She grabbed me up in a big hug and said, “I am so sorry! I know you were worried!” Her phone had been stolen out of her pocket as she stood on the bus.

I was limp with relief. But that too familiar fear had gripped me so tightly that it took its toll and left me with my own form of hangover for a couple of days.

I don’t suppose that I will ever get over the fear. All I can do is muddle through it and watch and wait and offer love. And pray, of course. Because without God, I know I would not have made it through this. Without God, I am sure she would not have made it either.

There are lots of questions in this story that have answers but the main thing is that abuse is cyclical. I think of the disciples asking Jesus when did they not feed him and he answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45) It’s all about paying attention to things outside of our own interior selves regardless of the claw-like grip these may have on us.

My own concern for survival in the past caused me to miss big clues that damage might be done. My own worries about self blinded me to what was happening to a beautiful little girl. My own need to live a life of isolation allowed me to set aside speculation…until the ignorance veil was parted and I was able to see a glimpse into reality. But even then, my concern was misdirected – directed at the effect and not the cause.

Abuse is caused by stressors that the abuser cannot control. Abuse is a learned behavior that sometimes is directed at others; sometimes it is directed at self. Either way, it is dangerous.
I guess the point in mentioning that scripture is that too often we are unwilling to reach out and ask, hey…what’s going on and can I help. We might not get a response at that moment but if we continue to be seen as one who is willing to listen, maybe it can open a door to freedom from whatever is tormenting someone.

We have the choice as to whether or not we are willing to ‘do unto others’. But it seems to me if we want to stop being abusers, stop being abused, stop the abuse then we have to be open to seeing the causes rather than the effects. And that is not very easy. The effects are so blatantly in our faces – addictions, crime, homelessness, violence.

That doesn’t mean we stop offering band aids when there is blood, but the cause of the bleeding has to be found. We do have to begin to see that there is a bigger problem beneath or behind the problems that we can see.


It isn’t just a simple matter of bad people doing bad things. Sometimes very good people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. It is a matter of the ways we find to cope with life. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Rock, A Cross, A Transformation

This Lenten season is the first in a long while where I have actually had the time to spend thinking about Lent, what it means, and what it means to me. It has been a time of reflection and healing.

One thing that helped was to participate in a Guided Month of Prayer. A group of us met on the first day, were assigned our prayer guides, given handouts to help us begin our prayer journey, promised to try to pray for at least 20 minutes per day and then we would meet once each week with the prayer guide.  

Time – what a funny thing it is. Twenty minutes seems like hours; one week flies by as though it has a turbo booster attached. The past four weeks have flown by. Did I pray for 20 minutes each day? Yes…one minute here, another minute there, five minutes in another…yes, I can say I prayed a minimum twenty minutes each day. But did I sit still? Hardly.

Nonetheless, it was a fruitful time simply for the reason that I thought about it. Rather than subconsciously or even randomly, I thought about prayer a lot. Much of the time spent thinking about it was actually trying to think of ways to sit, be still, pray, but it started a pattern, regardless of my success or not. So, this is what this moment now is, actually. It is a time of reflection.

Another tool, for these are tools, is a simple rock. The day after Ash Wednesday, I walked into the Parish Hall where we hold the Pantry and I saw a black river stone sitting on the window ledge. I put it in my pocket thinking that I would put it up somewhere. Here I am, nearing the end of the third week of Lent and the stone is still in my pocket. At some point, I realized that each time I touched it, I thought of God. When I thought of God, I thought, oh, I need to pray. Rather than asking for anything, I just said, Thank you, God, for all my blessings. That little river stone has become a blessing to me.

A healing moment came last week when I met with the bishop of this diocese. He didn’t realize my need for reconciliation, but I did. He was gracious enough to sit with me and listen. I told him of the pain and the angst that the ordination process had caused within me. I told him of the resentment of my screwed up committee, of the priest who ran it, even of his own part as bishop. He told me that he knew it must have been painful but no, he didn’t realize all the other parts. But the idea of my sharing with him, my seeking reconciliation, made it all the sweeter. I walked in there with the idea that maybe he and I would talk about the process and how it might be that I could be ordained. Yet, as I sat there talking with him, I realized that it didn’t really matter. Regardless of how I feel I am called, I am doing what God is calling me to do. I don’t need a collar to be in ministry. I left, knowing that I was going to be just fine.

At my home parish, St. Paul’s Carondelet, we have had a book study and soup supper each Wednesday during Lent. The book is The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser. It, of course, talks about suffering: the suffering of Jesus as he prayed for God to take the cup from him; the suffering as he was beaten, shamed, even brutalized; the suffering as he died on the cross. Yet in the midst of all the suffering, Rolheiser reminds the reader that the Gospel writers do not really delve into the gory details of the suffering. We just know a few things. They did not belabor the finer points. The point, as I understand, is that God is a God of redemption, not rescue. The gory details would be a distraction.

That can be a harsh realization as we struggle with our trials and tribulations. Job loss, insecurity, addiction, disease, death – rescue is much closer to our heart’s desire than redemption, at least in the moment.

My grandmother (and other’s, I am sure) would often say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And that is basically the same point that this book is making. The suffering can harden our hearts and turn us inward. Or it can soften our hearts and make us see that we are but one of many in this world of hurt. We can isolate ourselves in what we think is a self-protecting cocoon or we can live our lives in the midst of community, realizing that we are not alone and that there is great strength and love in that understanding. Basically, the suffering, the vulnerability hold a great power within it. Crumpled in a corner, or under the covers, we do nothing for anyone. Standing in the midst of community with the understanding that God is with us always, just as God was with Jesus always, so our hearts are softened and love radiates from our being. In that love, we conquer fear and hate. What more power could we possibly ask?

One other part of this book that really charged me was the idea of the veil being torn in half as Jesus died. I, like the author, had always entertained the visual that the veil tearing was a bad thing, a sign of the heart-rending sorrow of Jesus’ death. But he offered another thought. In the temple, the veil hid the Holy of Holies, that which only the priests could see. No mere human could see or be behind the veil. When Jesus died, the veil was torn in two. The torn veil revealed the Holy of Holies, the heart of God, Jesus on the cross.

I have worn a cross around my neck for as long as I can remember. I have had my reasons for wearing the cross, like most folks. But it will never be the same. Now, when I put my cross around my neck, I know the heart of God, I see the heart of God, I feel the heart of God beating next to mine.

I told a friend yesterday that there have been so many points of transformation in my life. Sometimes, I wonder how anyone from my past could possibly recognize me. Each transformation has altered my very being. These do not have to be mountain top experiences; these moments can come in a few seconds or seen from a hindsight point of view. Regardless of how small or large, life as we know it changes. I am transformed forever.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.




Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Unfed

·    I vow to embrace each moment with Not-Knowing, the Practice of Presence and Service as a way of being.
·    I vow to transform suffering and anger into wisdom and compassionate action.
·    I vow to speak from the heart; to listen wholeheartedly; and to seek the wisdom of council.
·    I vow to cultivate respect and dignity in all relationships.
·    I vow to use discernment from a perspective of unity and to nurture a culture of cooperation.
·    I vow to seek what is needed responsibly, to share generously, to work well with what I have, and to take only what is freely given.
·    I vow to promote solidarity and a just economic order.
·    I vow to care for the sacred elements--earth, water, air, and fire; to deeply respect the Net of Creation and its infinite forms of life and energy that co-create our precious earth and universe.

These are the words from a friend that she shared via email from her Zen friend’s priest ordination. These vows should be a daily checklist for me.

In my work, I hear a lot of mommas telling their very active daughters, “Girl, you do too much.” That is what I hear in these vows. “Girl, you do too much; you are too rushed, too busy; too fast; too concerned with little tasks and not understanding the priorities of importance. You need to be still and listen.”

When I get rushed, I forget that it is in the stillness that I remember to listen, to cultivate respect and dignity. That is what happened to me yesterday. I forgot to be still. I am not proud of myself for the way I handled a situation.

It wasn’t a big deal to most of the people around me, but it probably was too one man…and to me. He was acting like a child and I treated him as a child.

I was wrong.

When we think of treating one another as children, we talk down to that person. That is never good.

In the work that I do as manager of a food ministry, there is a fine line between hospitality and condescension, between charity and true caring. If I am too nice, I can be perceived as false. If I am too casual, I can be perceived as uncaring. I don’t want to be fawned over because what I am doing is something that helps people.

What I do, I do because I have been told to do it…by scripture and by God. Feeding people is not the cure for hunger due to poverty but it is what Jesus told us to do – Feed my people.

So, when people tell me thank you, I often say, no, thank you. By their willingness to ask/receive help, they offer me an opportunity to do what I feel I have been told to do. There is a certain reciprocity in that.

Therefore, when I fail to act in that way, regardless of how the man acted, I fail to do what I am supposed to do. He walked away unfed…in body and in spirit. 

To live a life according to these vows would take constant attention, full intention, and willingness. I can fully intend to do something good and be very willing but have my attention distracted by life its own self. However, it is in the intention that I can trust that it is what God would have me do.

Therefore, I vow to try to do these things, intentionally, understanding the vastness of my arrogant endeavor, knowing that in all things I do, I can do nothing without God.

And most of all, I will remember that I fail to feed people when they walk out the door unhappy with me…unfed. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Marked by Love

I’m thinking about Mother’s Day…or Mothers’ Day. So many articles out there this week prior to that day set aside by Hallmark to honor mothers. Living or dead, Facebook is full of poems and prose about how wonderful one mother or another is or was.

Mine is dead. But when she was alive, Mother’s Day belonged to her. It was never mine. She was my mother regardless of whether or not I had children.

In many ways, in fact, Mother’s Day continues to be about my mother regardless of the fact that she is no longer living.

I had a fairly great relationship with my mom…it grew into a mutual admiration relationship as adults built up from love from our lifetime together. I know that there are people who have not, do not have such a relationship with their mother. I am sympathetic to that problem. It is not this day with which I am concerned; rather, it is the relationship. I sorrow for that mother’s loss; for that child’s loss.

At one time, I wanted the day to be about me but since it rarely was about me other than for a few short minutes, after a while, the short minutes of hoopla became kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong…I love being thanked for all the things I have done and will continue to do…for all the unconditional love. It is nice.

And it means something.

However, I just cannot allow it to mean THAT much. Seriously. How can one day make up for a whole year…a lifetime? It cannot.

Am I less of a mother or more of a mother simply because or in spite of one day? Does it mean my children, born or adopted, by birth or by law, love me more because they give me a card or less because they forgot or didn’t have the dollars to do so or the desire or time to make one? Well, I hope not.

There are many women who have made an intentional choice to have no children. There are many women who have intentionally strived to have children to no avail. There are many women who have had children but were unable to raise them for whatever reason. That does not mean that there are no children who consider them important parts of their lives and love them accordingly.

And there are many women (and men) who have taken on the role of mother for a short time…or for a longer one…regardless of having chosen to do so.  

All mothers are not women; all women are not mothers.

Try as much as I would like, I cannot ignore this day. It is still about my mom. She loved me. She told me so on so many occasions. She showed me so in every look, even when it was the “hairy eyeball” look that meant I best change my evil ways. I especially remember the last time she showed me her love. There were no words because she was far passed being able to communicate through speech. But she communicated nonetheless. As she stared at me intently, her eyes told me how much she loved me.

I carry her love with me every day of my life. It is a banner; it is a shield.


I pray that I continue to let her love shine through me, marking me, reminding me of our time together. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

40 days and 40 nights

I owe a large amount of money to a financial institution in Texas who holds all my student loans. These have been in various stages over the past 9 years… deferment, forbearance, and now IBR (income based repayment). I have repaid a meager amount considering.
Recently, I was able to once again put the loans into the IBR mode. All I had to do was to fill out the request form and send that plus my most recent tax return and the low payment would be in place.
The other night, in the middle of the night, I woke up in a state of panic. I remembered seeing an email letting me know that I had a message awaiting me in my EdFinancial inbox. To my dismay, I suddenly had the thought that I didn’t send in the forms! They wouldn’t offer me the repayment option again! The payment was due on March 1! It was a full blown panic attack. The rest of the night was shot as far as sleep was concerned.
The next morning early, I began looking for the paperwork so that I could hurriedly get it in. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, I looked upstairs and found the folder…but the forms I needed were missing.
Suddenly, I remembered…I had mailed in the forms the day after these were requested. The panic slowly receded from my body. Everything was ok.
The point of the retelling of the crazy scene is this:
There is so much drama in my life. Between trying to act as a source of encouragement to several people in my house who have different sources of anxiety plus trying to make certain that all things that need to be done by these people actually get done, there never seems to be enough time for me to do the things I need to do…for ME.
Obviously, that problem is causing me some of my own anxiety…and as I have already noted, I am a fairly anxious person all by myself.
So, in these 40 days and 40 nights, I am exploring that anxiety…which often shows its ugly head as anger. In that I process best when writing, I am not only exploring but trying to find new ways to alleviate the anxiety so that it turns into something positive rather than negative. Right now, I feel very negative.

I don’t know how long this will work, but for the moment, I am focusing on the inward aspects of self with a hope that it will clear a path to better see beyond. For now…we will see where it leads. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Go Farther Faster

I grew up on racing. Formula, stock, or funny cars, I craved speed. I loved to watch the races but more than that I loved to go fast in a car. I adore the recent car commercial of the little girl in the back seat as her daddy is driving. She has her own steering wheel that she is working hard as her daddy drives fast in circles and back and forth. I can tell that she feels like she is in heaven. It is a fearless world.

Interstate 30 used to be a toll road between Dallas and Fort Worth. Bridge St. ran alongside of the interstate from Brentwood to Oakland. If you didn’t want to go all the way to Dallas, that road was the one you had to take. There was a hill that I loved…Daddy would always accelerate going up the hill so that when we crested the hill our stomachs would slam into our throats. I would always squeal in extreme delight at the rush of adrenaline pumping through my body. I wanted to do it again and again.

I remember when Daddy bought a 1966 Grand Prix 2 door hardtop. My heart leaped in joy at the sight of its long low lines. I was only 11 but I could tell that it would roar down the highway eating up the pavement.   
     


Mom considered it incredibly inappropriate for a family of four. She didn’t like to drive it but I could tell she loved it as much as we did when we crested that hill.

As for me…I wanted to drive it. I wanted to feel the power surging through my hands and feet. I wanted to feel my heart leap as the fear sped away.

Daddy let me drive that big old hunk of metal down our driveway one day. It was a lane that was maybe a quarter of a mile. I am sure I scared the bejeezus out of him. It was the only time I got to do that. I know Mom would have yelled if she had known about it. All it made me want to do is to drive further faster.

My grandmother had let me drive her Plymouth Valiant with push-button transmisison from a very early age. She would get out to open the gate and I would drive through it and stop. I don’t remember how young I was the first time I did that but I would have pitched a fit if I thought my parents had let my daughter drive through anything at that age! But as for me, it felt so natural. Forget the fact that I basically had to stand up to touch the accelerator or the brake.

I hated going to the go-kart places until I was old enough to drive my own. Then…I loved it. More importantly, I was good at it. I wanted to be a race car driver. I didn’t care if it was at the Indy or Daytona…I just wanted to drive fast.

Fat chance of that. Danica Patrick has had her own problems breaking into the white man’s world of racing…I had no chance in my teen years.

When I learned to drive…formally…I sat through dull and boring classes learning all the do’s and don’ts of the road. The only part I liked was the driving. My driver education instructor was also my geography teacher. We could easily get him off of the lesson of the day by asking about his summers at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He would show us videos of his races.

I got my first car for my 17th birthday. It was a 1970 Mustang fastback that my daddy had bought from a banker friend of his.  I almost got a 1971 Cutlass 442 but the guy who owned it came up with the back payments just in the nick of time. Oh my God, that yellow Cutlass was so hot! But I quickly adjusted to the Mustang. Even though there were very strict rules as to actually driving it, I would just go sit in it and dream of racing in my head.



The maddest I have ever been at my sister was one time when she snuck out my Mustang. For whatever reason, I was with Mom and Dad while she stayed at home. When we drove back into the driveway, it was immediately noticed by me that MY precious vehicle was GONE. Going into the house, it was quickly noted that my sister was nowhere to be found. Just about the time, as Daddy walked back outside, up drives my sister in MY car. She bounced over the curb and came to a rocking rest in the driveway. I was so angry that I don’t remember much but my dad saying to her, “you can’t even drive! You hit the curb!” And she belligerently and indignantly bellowed back, “I was driving just fine until I saw you standing there staring at me!” I think she was 13 at the time. Always sassy, my little sister. While it may be worth a smile or a giggle now, I was not amused at the time.

Over behind Bell Helicopter was a stretch of road that was perfect for drag racing. It is what is known as Trinity Blvd now but then, it was mostly an access road for the hundreds of people working at Bell to get to the parking lot. The road also led to Mosier Valley. Mosier Valley was the area of town where most of the black folk lived. Mosier Valley was the oldest black community in Tarrant County. It was founded by freed slaves in 1870 and named after a plantation that was home to slaves who had been brought from Tennessee to the Trinity River bottomland. (Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/bob-ray-sanders/article3843937.html#storylink=cpy)

On Friday and Saturday nights, all the teens of the area would gather alongside the shoulders of Trinity Blvd. Cars would line up so that headlights could light the path of the screaming vehicles that raced down the road. The bit of road used was straight and perfect for drag racing…until the end. The race was over when the cars had to stop before going around a curve to the left or into the two lane road leading to Mosier Valley. There were numerous crashes when one driver or the other was so hell-bent on winning that they slowed too late.

I never raced out there on the weekends. In the first place, I, as a girl, would never have been allowed in the lineup. Secondly, my car was fast but it was not souped up enough for winning. But I would go out there on a week night. I would set my car at the start line, allow a mental countdown and bam! Foot to the floor I would be flying down that road. Too soon the curve would loom ahead of me and I would slow down. Many years later, as my little Bronco was rolling over and sliding on its side, as I saw the asphalt and grass flashing past me, I had a split second memory of the way the road looked as I raced down it.

Fear has been such a major part of my life. I have rarely been without it. But when I sit behind the wheel of a car, fear fades as the car accelerates. I can get into a zone and zoom in and out of cars, accelerating into curves, and focusing solely on the road ahead. It is a world of its own. Caution flies out the window when the “pedal meets the metal”.

I used to drive between Fort Worth and Ruidoso New Mexico on a fairly regular basis. On one journey, we were in a Good Times Van, one of those custom vans with all the comforts of home while on the road. It had a huge engine in it and gas was cheap. Traveling down U.S. Highway 380 was perfect. Long stretches of straight uninhabited highway. I could see for miles. At one point, the highway was on a upward grade and it traveled through a cut out…an area that was blown out so that the road could go through it. Just as I crested that cut out, I saw a Highway Patrol car on the other side. Too late. Sure enough, I saw him pull a u-turn in the highway and come speeding up behind me. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and watched him angrily walked up to my window. He fiercely glared at me and asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?????” I innocently answered, “No, sir, I don’t.” He basically yelled at me, “Well, I don’t either but it was too damn fast!!!! Slow this vehicle down!!!” I said “Yes, sir.” He turned on his heel, marched back to his vehicle, slammed it in gear and spun out as he pulled another u-turn to go back from whence he came. I slowly put it in gear and took off, feeling fairly proud of myself. I am just as sure that before long, I was once again going far faster than he thought I should be going.

I suppose I could claim that a level of maturity brought me to the point that I slowed down…but no. That was not it. Rather, it was the speeding tickets. While I have not had one in a good many years and I did not get one that day, I have had a multitude of them in the past. That, plus the fact that racing a minivan doesn’t do much for me…it’s just not the same.

I find it rather ironic that driving fast is the one thing that makes the fear go away but at the same time, fear of being stopped for speeding is the reason for slowing down. If that understanding is maturity, I don’t really like it.

I still dream of racing every time I drive on I-44. With all its curves, it would be perfect for a little sports car low to the ground and capable of hugging the road.

I think I will always feel the call of the open road, the wind in my face, me racing past life, free of obstacles, the unknown ahead, the present left behind. Maybe I will go again…one day…but maybe not.


Maybe I have found other ways to be courageous and let fear fly out the window of my soul. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Web of Our Existence

or…the truth will set us free.

I didn’t go to Ash Wednesday services…I had the opportunity…two, in fact. I just didn’t go. It was a choice. It felt like a rebellious act, as though I was intentionally, pettily, childishly, pulling away from an overbearing parent. And that is the way a religious institution can sometimes feel.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Episcopal Church. I could have changed directions numerous times but did not simply because I love the ritual, the bells, the smells, the Tradition and the tradition. There is a freedom that is firmly anchored.

But it is time to detoxify a spirit long held captive by dis-ease. It is time to stop holding on so tightly to some of the sorrows in my past. Can a life be measured by deaths?

To me, my life as a child was as idyllic as an introverted, shy child’s could be. Surrounded by love, great amounts of family, just north of the heart of Texas, in the midst of one huge ranch that we lived on and the two separate farms of my grandparents, nature was our playground; our dogs and cats our playmates. Trees were our jungle gyms; dry creek beds our slides. We rode horses, jumped from the hayloft, swam in “tanks”, read books under big oak trees, felt the green grass and mud between our toes, turned brown under the summer sun and basically lived a life that was unknown to millions of people. We were always fed, always clean (for the most part), always loved. I lived with the words of my daddy in my heart, “You can be whatever you want to be.” It took me a very long time to realize that there were many obstacles within that truth.

It has taken me even longer to acknowledge the sorrows in my life.  My view of my childhood as a time free of anxiety or despair is not a reality. There was anxiety. There was despair. We have to look inward before we can see beyond.

My beloved grandfather, my “Poppy” died when I was ten. He was my mom’s step-dad but to me, the epitome of steadfast love. I could do no wrong and I worked very hard to do no wrong. To disappoint him would have been a true sorrow. His death was a tragedy for sure, one that paled the assassination of the President of the United States in comparison.  

Medger Evers and Malcolm X were not even on my radar.

We moved when I was in 6th grade from our idyllic setting to a rental house in the town of Comanche, Texas while we awaited the construction of the ranch manager’s house on Prather Ranch outside of town. We always called it the “rat house” because it was a pier and beam where rats had infested the under regions of the place. It was a horror. When we took baths, we could hear the rats running under the tub. We could hear them skittering at night. I shiver to think of it now. Thank God we only lived in the house for a couple of months.  It was the cause of a great many nightmares for me.

Not too long after moving to Comanche, while still living in the “rat house”, my mom was in a horrible car wreck. I was eleven. She lived but it took a very long time for her to heal. The old man who hit her died at the scene. I have breaks in my memory from that time. The next few years were indeed a time of high anxiety with multiple surgeries to reconstruct her face, arm and leg.

Not long after that, my daddy’s right hand man, Jesse, and Jesse’s mom died in a car accident. Jesse was driving her home from a doctor’s appointment. She was pregnant with her 14th child. Their family had lived on the Ulmer Ranch with us and followed my daddy when he became foreman of the Prather Ranch in Comanche. The tragedy was close to home. My sister and I were friends with three of Jesse’s younger siblings. They had to move from the ranch after the accident.  

Near the end of the “Civil Rights Era”, in 1967, my Granddaddy Sam died of suspicious circumstances. The suspicion was that his current wife withheld his heart medicine which resulted in a fatal heart attack. Of course, that could have been a distraught daughter thinking that…Colleen was not a nice person. It would have been easy to think she did something like that. My mom filed a lawsuit against Collie because she disposed of a lot of Granddaddy Sam’s estate prior without discussing it with Mom. He died without a will. The suit was dismissed. My mom got his guitar.

I have the guitar now. It means a great deal to me. When I was young and in the midst of a terror, I would hide. One of the places I would hide was behind a great big wingback chair in our living room. It was in a corner and a perfect fit for my scrawny body. My granddaddy came looking for me, knowing that I was in one of my fits. He found me in my corner and crawled back there with me. He lifted me up and sat me in his lap and then laid his guitar across my lap and started playing. Before I knew it, whatever fear that had seized me was gone and our laughter and singing galloped through the house.

By the time that Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, we had moved to the big city of Hurst, one of the Mid-Cities of Dallas-Fort Worth. Talk about anxiety…move that shy and anxious 12 year old girl out of the country and into the city...talk about terror. When we lived on Ulmer’s Ranch in Erath County, my fifth grade classroom was also inhabited by the third and fourth grades. All total, there were maybe twenty students in the room. Maybe. When I moved into the Comanche school district, the 6th grade had three times that many. Moving to a suburban junior high school was a leap outside my imagination. I was beyond terrified.

But I survived the onslaught of nasty boys and mean girls. I even made a couple of lifelong friends. There are even a few that I wish were still friends. The other 700 plus Class of 1971 that attended L. D. Bell High School … meh… If I attended high school reunions, it would be only to taunt the ultra-conservative factors that are so vocal today. To say our opinions are diametrically opposed is an understatement.

However, by 1970, I was entering into a state of awareness of those things around me. I had not yet come into the understanding of the correlation between poverty and war/race and war but I knew that many things were wrong. I knew that the basic alienation of human rights was wrong. I knew that the Baptist preacher was focused on the wrong message and that horse racing in Texas was not the real problem.

It was at this age that I began to recognize a deep dark anger. I do not know the origins of the anger. I would like to think it born from a profound sense of justice, a righteousness beyond my understanding. But I do not know that. At this age, that is how it manifests itself most often. But it has been something that I have had to learn how to hold in check. God has worked closely with me on it, I must say. I have overpowered God on numerous occasions. I continue to be a work in progress.

Looking back on my life and comparing it to the stories of others, pssht…it is nothing. It is calm, middle of the road. But there has always been the dis-ease, the certain uncertainty that made all life questionable. The gap that separated me from the lives of some of my childhood friends was wide, Grand-Canyon-esque in some cases. I knew no parental rages, no poverty, no strange bedrooms that were actually utility rooms or closets. I knew that my both my grandmothers had suffered mightily at the hands of one man or another. It seemed to touch me only superficially, but the rumbles were felt deep below the surface.

I have looked outward. I have stared inward.  Understanding lives somewhere in the midst of our life’s happenings. These seem random and unconnected but what hurts one, hurts us all. We are made up of the sorrows surrounding us. The unrest and worry of my mom as she wrestled with an altered life due to physical and emotional scars – both from the car wreck and her own childhood; the memories of both my grandmothers as they held in check their fears of abuse and violence so that they could go on to love and be loved by others; the alien goings-on in the lives of friends; all these things and many others are enmeshed within my own life, known and unknown. It is the web of our existence.

I am in a rebellious state and have been for quite some time. I feel as though I have complied with rules all my life. Over the past ten years, I have learned that playing by the rules makes one complicit with a good deal of the harm being done.

Some may believe that I have not played by the rules for a long while now but I tell you this – I have tried. I do not want to try any more.

I am not speaking of those little tax rules that are constantly broken or loopholes greedy ones jump through or those who toe the line to the point that they push the line into the space they want it. I am not speaking about breaking laws and getting away with it.

I am talking about truth. Truth as I see it. Truth as it is revealed to me. Truth as I believe it is revealed to me. Injustice. Disharmony. Dis-ease. Silence.

We are all a part of another, many others. We are connected. What hurts one, hurts all. There are always obstacles within the truth. But it is that connectedness that helps us get around the barriers and over the hurdles. It is the connectedness that holds us together…and sets us free.

I am ready for a new place where the webs I weave are for the good. I am ready to be free.