Monday, September 24, 2007

Yeah Padre Pio! (On the Uncertainty of the Future)

I am oppressed by the uncertainty of my future, but I cherish the lively hope of seeing my dreams fulfilled, because the Lord cannot place thoughts and desires in a person's soul and not really intend to fulfill them, to gratify these longings which Our Lord alone has caused.

St. Padre Pio


Faith Peeps and Fam:

My friend Jody sent this quote this morning from St. Padre Pio. I Love it. It makes me think about all that makes us anxious. All that makes ME anxious. All that stirs - what I think of as - the onions mixed with oranges in my belly. That nasty sweet and sour mixture that creates quaking, deep wonder, trepidation.

So I have an uncertain future, eh?

Anyone else?

What gives?

God is here.

Love is here.

The ocean of want and life raft of our mutual faith is here.

Let Padre Pio's words rock on!

Happy Monday!
Peace and Blessings on your journey!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Liberty, Frederick Douglass, Breathing...

I appreciate deeply this poem by Robert Hayden on the inspiring Fredrick Douglass.

As I echo back lines of the poem and pose a couple questions, I recognize this as my prayer this morning.

"Needful to man as air"

This liberty. Beautiful and terrible.
What responsibilities come with oxygen, with breathing?
With choosing to stay alive?

Poem: "Frederick Douglass" by Robert E. Hayden from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden. © Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1966. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Peace and Happy contemplative action to you,

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pressure Check

On this morning's walk down Edgcumbe, I came across a small crew of firemen testing their engine's water hoses. "We have to do a routine check to see how they hold up to the water pressure. We don't want to get into a situation and have a line burst on us, you know?"

The crew was from St. Paul's Engine Company 19. As I made my way by, the first fireman asked that I walk on the other side of the boulevard, "just to be safe....I'd hate to see a line snap and go reeling. It can be ugly. Don't want you to get hurt, miss."

They were sweet. This ensemble of three men, two pink skinned, one brown, all in their blue uniforms. They had set up orange cones to block the road off, and were laying out the hose as I walked by.

"Charlie," (as I heard him called later) appeared to be the eldest,
(perhaps the captain?) As I walked opposite them down the curving
road, I heard him yell to his counterparts, "That's right! We are a
team! We are a team!"

Made me smile. I caught the third one's eyes as I came round a pine
tree, and he smiled back at me.

As I've been mulling over routes, reflecting on traveling and journey
and taking note on my walks and driving, I found myself asking these
questions about this morning's encounter:

What does it mean to do routine pressure checks?
If a particular hose can withstand 400 pounds of pressure, what is the equivalent for a human being?
How do we check our own pressure?
(Is this called a "physical"?)
What is the equivalent of us laying ourselves out flat and running force through our bodies?
Do we swell and expand just like fire hoses? What do our hearts look like under pressure?
How does a mind or spirit expand or contract with pressure?
If we are in tune and can withstand such levels of pressure, what is our power in the face of fire?
Are our bodies capable of being conduits for water flow, a kind of saving energy?
As humans, do we have a routine way of doing this?

What happens if we aren't doing routine checks?

Is there any way we can make sure that we can withstand the fire, and be a positive force, rather than add to mess and damage?
What is it to be certain?


Just some thoughts from my walk today, and those blessed firemen from Station 19.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Former Student, Michelle Berry, Reflecting on "Why Writing Matters"

It's a gift when a former student shows up. It's an even more amazing gift when they show up in your life and share what's up. And it's even more precious and privileged when a former student reflects on the time you spent together, and surfaces some semblance of what was happening in their brains, hearts, beings while they were in your classroom. "Privileged and RARE,"I say!

The following is an email from former North High Writing as Performance Student, Michelle Berry, that arrived recently and sort of blew my mind. Ms. Berry is currently at St. Thomas doing her thing, and being amazing. Her mind and journey are gifts to me, to us all, as she courageously moves and makes visible her process and passion as writer/ traveler/ witness. Here, she shares a journal reflection on "Why She Writes," or rather, "Why Writing Matters."


Love to her! To all!


Hey Miss B. I hope this email finds you in exceptional condition. I am here at the University of St. Thomas further pursuing my education in print journalism as well as international studies. My classes here are wonderful. I am taking Theology, Philosophy, Intro to Justice and Peace and English. My English class is so great. Today we had an essay due: a journal reflection on "Why I Write". Instead I titled mine "Why it matters to me." I have attached it to this email because I think that you will find it very interesting. Miss B. I could never stress to you the importance of your class or the influence you and my classmates had on me and my writing. I am ever so grateful. Please write back (as I know you will Email Queen). I would love to know what's going on in Borgy's world now a days.

Forever your beloved student,
Michelle N. Berry

I sit there. I am still and quiet. I am observant. I am intrigued. And above all else, I am convinced that “that place” is where I want to be. He has inspired me. I need to find my voice. She has lit a fire within me. I truly do have something to say… or more so, a story to write.

The seed of passion was implanted in me in a typical, North High School classroom: A few windows (we were a fortunate class to have those), plain white walls and a feeling of lifelessness. But for some reason, only in this class, there was life. We had created it and it was established in our thoughts. It was in my “Writing as a Performance” class that I really took on the title of “Writer”. It was only in this class, that I was empowered by the students around me. Their feelings, their words, their stories… They were thought- provoking. It was there, in that dull, public classroom that I was able to express my most private thoughts. My mind became adaptive to escaping her own thoughts, and exploring the thoughts of the minds around her. It may be a foolish thing to say, but she is a pro at jumping back and forth between other people’s minds.

I may never be able to express to you all the wonders of that class. What matters is the fact that that class got me here to who I am today. I am a passionate writer and a critical thinker. Furthermore, it is the roots of where I am going: to “that place”. I have told you a few times before that writing for me is like the game of basketball for LeBron James. That is just what he does and this is just what I do. But why?

Why do I write? I think it’s more risky to ask why it matters to me. Every mind-enhancing citizen has written something before: a poem, a short story, a long paper. It’s rather impossible to find someone who hasn’t written something. Odds grow slimmer when the question posed is why it matters. Some say it won’t, others will disagree. For me, writing is a journey- an adventure. It matters because I want to end up at “that place”. I want to be taught so that I can teach.

Are you curiously wondering about “that place” yet? “That place” refers to both a physical place as well as an internal state of mind. It is through my writings that I will physically be able to visit Ghana, Liberia, Israel, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone… The list could go on forever. There, my thoughts would be captivated by language, history, tradition, food, arts and entertainment, emotions and above all else the stories (some of which may still be untold) of the people. It is the lives of the people that matter.

Then again, it is through my writings I will internally be able to play. Play with my thoughts, play with my imagination, play with the fire my mind grabs at and play with the minds of others. I am already at “this place”. However, I never stay here. I just continue to make frequent trips there. If I am always learning and always being challenged, there is no telling what my mind will end up holding true, or real, or fake. Being able to go to “that place” matters because it is the source of my purpose here on earth. It is the reason for my existence.

One of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou once said,
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”
I myself could not have said it any better. I write because it matters. It matters because there are people all over this world who have an amazing story to be told. A story filled with inspiration, deception, truths, love, pain and suffering, humility, tears and triumph. I believe a person becomes his better self when in the process of being told someone else’s story. Today, someone is waiting to become that better person. They will keep waiting until that story is told to them. And I am that person.

Book-ended By Birds: Notes from the Road

Friends, This is a serious work-in-progress, but I send out as blog entry, as prayer, as witness to the mess of life, love and being on a journey:
1. Notes on birds and bird poop.

Last night, I parked my car behind the "King and I" underneath a gigantic tree filled with birds. I was early to meet a friend, so when I got out, I decided to just stand underneath this elm or oak -- or whatever it was -- and just listen. It was beautiful. This choir of winged creatures, singing me into the evening, into my date with Ms. Sharifa, into a space of contentment, thinking: "No matter what is going on in my heart, my head, on this woeful planet of ours, it can't be that bad that this bird music might provide a kind of levity, calm, in this moment. Yes. Thank you, God, for this music."

I was there maybe five minutes, before I ventured in to belly-up and meet my girl, Rifa.
When I left, after a lot of much needed conversation and heartfelt reflection with this dear former student, now dear adult friend, I saw that my car had a splattering of bird poop on it. It was dark, it seemed to hardly matter, and I was focused and heading home.

Okay. But wait! In the full light of day, my friends, as I departed for work this morning: PLEASE! I got to see fully the array of SHIT that those beautiful birds dropped all over my car! It was amazing! That I hadn't really noticed it the night before made me laugh. But waking to this: seeing the splattering in the sunshine, I had to wonder:

I wrote this text message then: "Parked under a tree full of birds last night. Amazing music. Today: car covered in shit! These things I love so much, are also quite messy. It all sings, speaks to me." I sent it off to some pals.

And: It's true, true, true. I love the feathered creatures. I just don't have this same kind of affection for what they drop out of their bodies.

My friend Emily, Assistant Principal at first ring Suburban Middle School, text back: "Oh yes! Feeling same way at school today!"

And that inspired me to write, "Messy, messy, messy! Don't take shit personally! Birds must poop and sing."

Isn't it the case with all of us? Like middle schoolers, we are all making our way, wreaking havoc like the birds. It's sort of our job as humans. To sing, fly, flutter about, and "handle our business." No one ever said this was easy or without mess! And why should I, should anyone get caught up in the stuff that comes flailing out of the beloved bodies and beings of others? There's no need!

I like the typical, practical response to bird droppings on a car windshield:
See the stuff,
know it's there,
wash it off, and
keep driving.

This is the first lesson to myself for day.

2. Note on Road Construction.

Trying to get my body home after work was really interesting. If seeing the "poop" and steering clear of it was lesson numero uno of my day, lesson numero dos reinforced this navigational teaching with the Universe challenging my methods of getting home. My typical road and pathway was closed.

I recognize I work very well on autopilot as a driver. (Don't we all when it comes to our well-worn routine-routes home? We can tune out to conscious decision making about turns and the time, focus on the news, or sing along with the radio or cd, or just let our brains go fuzzy to dinner or God, or whatever call us in this auto-drive time.)

But not today. Today, I had to PAY ATTENTION! Because my traditional road to 1188 Juno was closed! And not just closed, but seriously, seriously, BLOCKED OFF WITH LIKE LITTLE Way through or around, or any suggested alternative route!!!

Let me back up a tid bit. The parkway to my house is under construction. It has been for weeks. No biggie. I have other ways of getting home. But this is the catcher: I haven't really taken them, because when push came to shove, my route hadn't REALLY be shut down. NO. The crews put up "Road Closed" signs, but they weren't really reinforced. I tested this the first night, inching past the orange and white markers and found it super easy to continue on down Edgcumbe. Sure, the road was ripped up, but it wasn't dangerous, and it sure as heck didn't seem CLOSED to me. I just had to roll over dirt and rocks. Not a problem for my little all wheel drive CR-V!

Yeah, so, if I pause here: I get it! I've not been heeding the signs. They said closed, yet I was able to pass. For weeks now: I've been getting through, not having to shift up my routine.
ACK! Not today!

I approached the "road closed" barricade with the same confidence, casualness, arrogance (?) even: "It says that, but I know otherwise."

Ha! But dang it all! I bypassed the newly placed Mountain of dirt, noting that things were a bit different, and thinking, "oh! it's great to see them bringing in more material, progress." As I drove down the road, I literally ran into a wall of dirt. Turns out it was closed. IS CLOSED. At least this section.

I thought, "Okay, I'll just skinny around through an alley, and continue on toward Juno. I only have a short ways to go." aha! Yeah, but when I turned off and headed down a side-street and alley, again: A WALL OF DIRT!! Right at the end of this back-way, there it was, plus an orange and yellow tape pulled across the passage way.

I turned around, and attempted again - this time down another alley, a block over. But it too presented me with another blockade. I was 45-point turning myself, my car around in these under construction alleys, and it wasn't super fun. In fact, it was the opposite of fun. I was frustrated. And really: sort of lost! Who ever tried to get themselves home strickly through back alleys, behind neighbors homes, from 6 blocks away? Goodness! It's nuts what you run into back there!

Suffice it to say, I navigated in a round, round, twisty-back-road-route-way through the construction, seemingly by myself, and found Lexington Parkway, finally! Six blocks the other side of where I wanted to be, from what was my DIRECT PATH, dang it! But a street that I knew would get me home!

Ahhhhhh! The metaphor knocks me on my butt!

3. Note On Wild Geese.

I had to go for a walk when I finally got home. Work off my steam or frustration, and crack open the message: "You want to travel straight, Melissa? You want to find your home, your center, contentment, safety, without facing the poop? Without making any kind of changes in how you navigate? No! This life business is not so simple!"

I did my tonglen breathing thing, practicing the Buddhist meditation as I walked: inhaling frustrations, exhaling love and compassion. I started with myself, then moved to loved ones also facing frustrations and dilemmas, then inched outward to the strangers I passed by, and finally- to those who are my nemesis - I sent LOVE! It felt good, and by the time I got a mile into my walk, about half way, I got my second great bird experience of the day.

Above my head, two geese flew, side by side, and just to make sure that they got my attention: they seemed to be honking at me. "Yo! Melissa! Up here! Check us out! We won't poop on you! Just look up!"

The presence of these beautiful moving birds was like a sweet balm, or a lovely book end to my day of noting things. The poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver immediately came to mind. The lines that I've been meditating on, (even sending out in text recently):
"You do not have to be good...You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."
flooded my heart. It was like the most beautiful offering of the world, of God, of Nature back to me, saying: "Don't stress. Just see. Witness. Receive, Love. Be flexible, Be open, Don't judge, Be on the journey, be in the journey. Be like the birds."

I"ll close with Ms. Oliver's entire poem, and this thought:

Love the birds, the mess of life, and soft animals of your own bodies!



Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

published by Atlantic Monthly Press

© Mary Oliver

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blessed are....

Who are the poor?
What are the hungry?
Where are the weeping?
Who is hated?
Why is any of this?
Who am I?
How great is Love?

Lk 6:20-26

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said:

"Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.

Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets
in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way."

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Poem about the end of Summer, the end of a Season

I am not achy today, but this poem reminds me of how well I know and embrace ache. Soulful woe that extends to limbs and translates in weepy gestures. A body that leans into walls, sighs in the driver's seat.

We must continue moving forward. Through this Summer, this season, into the Fall....


Happy Friday!


"Three Songs at the End of Summer" by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven't.
Sounds of the instructor's megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. "Relax! Relax!"

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.


The cicada's dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?


A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket...
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Discerning Calls: To Teach or Not?

Divine People in this World!

I wrote and asked oodles of you for your prayers and support last week regarding this most recent invitation to return to the classroom as a teaching artist. Basically, I was wrestling with: Should I? Should I not?

Plagued, I was. Blessed I was! As the question, or invitation to return --ON MY OWN TERMS -- seemed an absolute gift from God. It was! It is! As it gave me this great opportunity to revisit why I left the classroom in the first place and entertain the question, "Could I return, given the right conditions?"


Short answer: Nope. I cannot. But thank you very much!

Seriously! Thank you Tiffany Ingham Moore for inviting me to work with your team at Southwest High School. And thank you faith community and family around the globe for your good thoughts, prayers and loving queries.

Here's how I arrived at my decision.
Let me rephrase that:
Here's how God lead me to an answer:

Tuesday evening, following Monday's request for discernment support, I attended mass at the Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis. Oh! It was a delightfully small ensemble of us gathered that evening in the living room of the Girard House to pray together and break open scripture, share bread, stories, and faith. As we waited for Bishop Pates to arrive to lead us in our service, I had the great pleasure of visiting with Linda, a dear friend and neighbor to the nuns, who I have grown close to over the past two years in my journey as a Visitation Companion.

On this evening, I made a simple inquiry into Linda's life and world, and what came pouring forth was something that would move me to a place of stillness, deep woe, ache, overwhelming wonder and love, anger and need for prayer....

Linda began by sharing bits from her day and her work as a foster mother. She told of the schedule she keeps the babes on, the routine of care, meals, naps, play, etc. All things she navigates in the course of her 6am - 8pm child-care hours.

It didn't seem a "chalant" thing (ie, it wasn't uttered in a nonchalant manner) that a challenge of her day existed in tending to the touching activities of one of the three year olds. It seems that this new child in her care (actually, her grandchild) had been inappropriately reaching and connecting with a one-year old babe in the house. By "inappropriate," Linda explained that it was of a sexually charged nature that this three year old went toward the 12 month old. Linda said she had to be super attentive. It made sense, though to her, she shared, because the toddler, her grandchild, had come just recently from another foster situation where she in fact had been inappropriately touched by a five year old. Linda said she couldn't afford to turn her head. She had to pay close attention.

After a short beat, my friend offered up the explanation that the 5 year old had been molested. This child was touched wrongly by a 12 year old.

And the dominoes in my heart tumbled:
Where does it stop?
Where did it begin?
Who is to blame?
What does a mother do?
What is foster care?
Who are we as witnesses?
Who am I as teacher?
What will come of this 3 year old? The 5 year old? The 12-year old? That baby of only 12 months? Will this be something they know of? Or will it recede in their bones? Will the residual scar or memory keep them from success? Will they know love? Will they know forgiveness? What is appropriate touch? What is appropriate? Where is God in this? What am I to do, other than pray?

The cycles of abuse and first hand knowledge of such terror were being shared here by my friend, before mass, in the space of simply waiting for service to start. Yes, all the while waiting for our priest and Bishop to arrive, this story came forward....

Linda didn't stop there. When we located ourselves in the living room, next to one another on the sofa, she shared of her recent trip to Omaha to tend to her other grandchildren and daughter's family. Her 14 year old grandson had been shot, and Linda went to spend a week next to him in the hospital. Last summer, her other grandson was murdered. After Linda left the bedside of her grandchild on Friday, her son-in-law was then murdered, shot in the drive through of Taco Bell.

Did I mention that this was the before-mass conversation?

Friends, I have to take a break here, and admit: I don't how to write about this stuff. I'm not sure it's even okay to. I'm not clear on what I'm supposed to note and what I'm supposed to leave alone. Trusting my heart here is really tough, too, because what I'm listening to is a person's life! This isn't just a "here's my day at the office" story. Or "Here's what I had for lunch." Or "Here's my tale of who came over to watch a movie last night and how much we laughed and cried." Good God! Would it be that! But no! This is a friend sharing something that is tragic! It's a kind of first-person witness to terror! This is an account of violence and death and overwhelming sorrow. And who am I to share this with anyone?

All I know is: it stops me squarely in my tracks.
I don't know any other way through this, but to write it down. And pray. And I guess that's what this blog is: my attempt at praying through the witness and navigation of life's circumstances, post-teaching in Minneapolis Public Schools.


That was Tuesday night of my week in discernment.

Then there was Wednesday. Hold everything. Because that was only part one of God working through the week and circumstances to speak to me.

Wednesday included an encounter with two former students of mine, that I'll just simply refer to as “Hungry” and “Poor.”

These beautiful young people showed up in the wake of a chance opening in my day, and asked that I might help them out. You can sort what they needed. Hungry wanted food. Poor wanted money. And Melissa, given her free time and suddenly free afternoon thought, "Why not? God, is this what I am supposed to be tending to?"

It seemed fairly so. I just tried to pay attention, love and trust in that moment and that I’d be lead.

Please note: I don't mean to take a flippant turn here in the telling of this tale of discernment, but that's kind of where I go: to flipping out! Because what ensued on Wednesday was pure insanity! Well, not PURE insanity, but surely a bit on the "this-makes-no-sense" scale of things!

Poor asked that I drive him to get a check for $15,000. I don't question this young man ever on such details, for the simple fact that I'm not quite sure that I'll ever get a straight answer. I choose to simply acknowledge the request for help, without pushing for details. In this case, he needed a ride to collect a check. I have a car. I thought, "Okay. This is reasonable and easy enough, and I'm free to do this with him. God be with us."

What I didn't expect was Hungry wanting to tag along. And that was because I didn't know Hungry was hungry. I thought perhaps she was just bored.

But we set out, and this is the course of things:

1. We needed to first stop and collect Poor's Driver's License. (Presumably to collect check and cash it. It was at a location in North Minneapolis, and not in this young man's person for whatever reason.)
2. Then we needed to go to St. Louis Park, the originally agreed upon destination.
3. Poor forgot the address. He asked to use my phone, since his day time minutes were out. I agreed for an agreed upon time limit. He called to check on address, as Hungry, in the back seat was chiming in her recollection of where this sizeable check was located. There was a dispute over the location, but I was trusting we’d get there. (How can one not know where a $15,000 check is?)
4. We drive. And drive.
5. The address we go to is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. This feels very strange and wrong. I have questions that start to scream in my head.
6. Poor goes to the door of house to inquire about the check. He encounters a man and a dog.
7. When he returns to the car, he is spouting death threats to the owner of the house.
8. Hungry in the back seat starts rallying, "I told you it wasn't that address!" I find the calmest voice in my body and ask, "What is this check for? Who is it from? An employer? What was the job? Or is this from a government organization? What?" Poor shares now that this is something he is doing as a favor for another person, a girl, who just moved to Texas. I cannot really hear any more. I put the car in drive. I ask God to give me patience.

9. Next, we try the address Hungry recalls. It is also wrong.
10. I turn the car around and point us to the closest commercial area I see. We pull into a strip mall, and as I'm getting ready to announce this adventure of aid is to be over, when Poor announces, "THIS IS IT! That's the name of the person I'm supposed to get the check from! It's there on the marquis." We are at a law office.
11. When Poor goes in to collect check, I start asking Hungry how life is, what's going on with her, etc. I feel God must be in this moment, and perhaps this dear is along for the ride so that we might simply have this time to visit and learn from one another. As we wait for Poor, Hungry confesses her identity to me, and her recent string of bad luck with living, family, work, and grocery shopping. She hasn't eaten today, and won’t have money until a week from Friday.
12. Poor returns, without a check, and shares that the lawyer – who is holding the check - is in arbitration and won't be out for 45 minutes.
13. I announce that we are going home!

Deep breathe. The trip is not over. What happens next is surreal. As I turn up MPR, and we listen to the news of the Utah Senator who propositioned another man in the bathroom of the Minneapolis/ St. Paul airport. In the space of our ten minute trip home, Poor and Hungry end up in a screaming match that feels like a 45 minute debate on ethics and leadership, on who should lose their job, how one should conduct themselves in any work position, and who is at fault. I enter feebly into this with questions about having compassion and not judging others, that go un-addressed.

All I want in those last moments in the car, is that compassion happen for me. I realize that I have to take care of myself, that these two are battling demons as large as the names I’ve given them, or come to see them as in the days since, and I cannot solve any of their problems. All I can do is witness. Pray. Love. Take care of myself.

And so: in the space of about another four hours that day, I realize that I cannot go back into a classroom. It is through a weepy, wondering, wanting, woeful conversation with my friend Colette, that I’m coached back to clarity:

“Melissa, ” Coey says, “You are clear. No amount of money offered to you is going to be enough. You don’t want to live like this, working through these stories, or thinking you have to solve them. Ask yourself, ‘What is your free time for?’”

And good God, there was the voice of God in my friend, Ms. Colette Deharpporte! She was helping me acknowledge my own kind of hard-wiring. My own frail infrastructure that is simultaneously weak and strong, and has a tendency to get tripped up, fried, broken down when I encounter such circumstances in our world. Yeah, I get to this place that manifests as unhealthy anger and rage as I think somehow I need to FIX humanity! I know that even though I cannot fix anyone or anything, that I cannot place myself in situations as educator where my task and challenge is to instruct and offer, shape or inspire a being toward a better place.

Ack! Tough. Too tough! And that’s NOT what I’ve been called to do.

I’m here as a witness. As a writer. As a person of prayer and love and compassion. I’m an aspiring “Warrior of non-aggression”, as the Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron refers to this; someone called to enter the fire and not have to put it out, but simply pay attention, take note and hold compassion and love in the flames of great injustice, woe, poverty, war, hunger, sorrow. I’m here to witness. Not teach or have to overcome anything. Someone else much greater than me already has done that. No need for bad sequels.


Good things: Here. Now!

I can hear Julie Strahan and Ann Shallbetter singing this psalm. I'm at the Church of St. Philip's in North Minneapolis on a Sunday morning, and my old choir director and dear faith friend are leading us all in this sung prayer. And it reminds me that God is here. And that the author knew fear and refuge, darkness and light, sorrow and joy, ALL RIGHT HERE. And that makes my heart a tad less heavy and able to lean into promise, into melody, into Love.

Peace, Blessings, Courage to all!

Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14

R. (13) I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?

R. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.

R. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.

R. I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.