sanctuary #WritePhoto

Photo courtesy of Sue Vincent

I topple recklessly down the stairs, hands flailing, no thought of falling in my panic to flee. I sprint to the door, both arms in front of me, only to find it locked.

A fresh cascade of tears falls on my hands as I turn the lock and knob in a frenzy. I fling the door open with a backward glance. I bolt, sobbing and panting, into the night air.

I quickly confront the large stone wall. Like a penned animal, I scamper alongside it, looking for an opening.

Whimpering with frustration, my hand on the cool stones, I feel my way to a small portal. I lift the latch with shaking hands and push through the gate. The sound of a step on gravel snaps somewhere behind me, followed by an angry curse.

I hurtle into the darkness.

By morning, I am disheveled and exhausted, but still moving. I feel the air on my skin where my bodice is torn. I begin to think again. 

As the sun climbs higher, I finally notice the unknown path I somehow find myself traveling. Dreamlike, a sea of lavender heather surrounds me. I glance upward where a hawk soars high in the sky. In the distance, I spot a diminutive spire amidst the green trees of a valley. 

A sudden rush of gratitude flooding through me, I trudge forward. 

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Many thanks to Sue Vincent for this week’s #WritePhoto prompt.

proposed school plans — irresponsible and dangerous

The CDC and state government officials in concert with educators and administrators have developed protocols for back-to-school scenarios. Frankly, what they came up with is deeply troubling. Parents should be rising up.

Schools as they are currently being envisioned will neither be safe places nor healthy ones, all the while shepherding students down a troubling and dangerous path.

Make no mistake about it, this is a curriculum that teaches, normalizes, and prioritizes fear and compliance.

Schools of the near future will involve wearing masks all day, being subjected to screenings, socially distanced, confined to classrooms for meals, confined to classrooms in lieu of assemblies involving other groups, hand sanitizing ad infinitum, etc.

Kids will be psychologically and socially damaged for life even though they are at virtually no risk from the virus. No, apparently, they must suffer for the good of their elders. They might learn their ABCs, but they’ll also get thorough instruction in becoming an automaton.

Where is the outcry? I don’t hear parents rising up to call out the obvious: “This is not a healthy environment for our kids!

I can only assume the reason for that is because schools in large part have been successful in forming generations of people who abide the norm. It is everyone’s loss, even while the power class chuckles.

It may also be that parents feel relieved to hand education duties back to the professional educators, abdicating the responsibility and accommodating employment.

Just because everyone goes along with something, does not make it okay. You would think that is a lesson of which we would all have some grasp by now, but apparently not. Hence, I suspect that critical thinking skills will remain a low priority for future curricula. 

I also really have to wonder how science will be presented as a school subject. Right now, we hear government officials and media bandy the word “science” about quite a bit without actually presenting solid science. We hear theories, hypotheses, scare mongering, biased projections, manipulated data, and even outright lies presented as scientific faits accomplis.

Real science, thank you very much, observes, explores, tests for a proof. It looks at things from multiple angles. It entertains opposing points of view. Real, good science does not present flawed data, announce results, and take action before all of that has happened, either. Somehow I don’t think that subject is going to be taught.

I am truly sorry for what children are experiencing right now, and sorry for those who will be subjected to the new school agenda. I am sorry for the world that will result from it, if it manages to survive the abuse at all. There is still time to stop it.

We are a country of over 325 million people. There’s a lot of potential there for creative, intelligent thinking and problem solving. But out of all that, we allow the substandard, the mediocre, and even the malevolent to make the rules. Btw, that’s also why we have the two mainstream presidential candidates we’ve got.

We can change all that. We need to think about our children. Parents, wake up, please!

narrative of fear

Some days I wake up scared. I wake up not having a clue what’s going to happen next. Or worse, maybe I do. Everything feels a little out of control like I need to hold onto something. 

Seems like things come out of left field almost every day now and it’s hard to process. Everyone I meet feels the same way. We are just holding onto our various pieces of flotsam while these giant waves carry us along. We look at each other behind our masks from our six-foot stations imprinted on the floor with the question in our eyes where are we going? 

The sun comes up and I listen to the birds singing it’s as if everything is normal but I know it’s not. Maybe for the first time ever I find myself fearing for our fundamental freedom as human beings on this earth and I wonder how to fight for that. I fear the actions of our species far more than what nature may bring. But fear is how it all works isn’t it? And we are going mach 5. 

I have to make myself stop and listen awhile to what’s true and beautiful outside my window in the trees in the sky in the air in my soul and then I am not scared but my heart still rends for what is happening.

It doesn’t make me feel safe to be masked to be distanced to be tracked to be left to die alone in the hands of masked strangers to be tested to be medicated to be genetically altered to be fed gibberish data to suckle a debilitating narrative merely masquerading as science to be cut off from community culture the very rhythm of life no this, this is not the way.

I finally let go of that piece of flotsam only to discover I am the leviathan. The fear dissipates in a poof of anger that just as quickly transforms into power. I claim that.

fear culture: not a marker for good health

As we go back to ‘normal’, whatever that was (scratching head), it turns out there’s nothing normal at all. 

Everyone is skittish and leery of each other. All of our cultural activities, aside from protesting, are gone. It’s no fun to eat out with all the crazy protocols, even if you’re brave enough to go. There’s no singing together, no music events, even outdoors. No hugs, no pats on the back except at home. I can’t imagine who’s going to theaters and how that’s going to be done. Schools – I cannot fathom what we are thinking about doing to kids by placing them in what will be such unnatural environments. Doing anything where other people are around is a production. 

And the masks, everywhere the masks.

I can’t help but ask, what exactly is healthy about all this? I think more and more that what we’ve done is to actually create a very unhealthy environment. The constant drumming of fear along with the lack of community and culture are health detractors. For some people, it can be a killer. 

The people most at risk for COVID-19, we are told, are folks with underlying conditions. Just yesterday, I noticed articles mentioning that obesity is a big risk factor. Certain commonly prescribed drugs also seem to play a role. Heart disease, diabetes, the list goes on. Wouldn’t it make sense, rather than enforcing mask rules, strange protocols, and surveillance on everyone, to instead focus on getting and living healthy in the first place?

When I go to the grocery store, I can’t help but notice what’s promoted in the aisles and what people are putting in their carts. And it’s. not. healthy. How can we be surprised when it turns out there’s lots of people with underlying problems?

I don’t blame people. We have been rigorously trained via education and media to adopt unhealthy lifestyles. People are also victims of class problems that create unhealthy ways of living. Our health industry compounds the problems by pushing us toward drugs and procedures rather than working to create actual good health. No, the culpability rests at the door of government and the corporations making bank on all of our ‘normal’ woes. We do, however, have individual responsibility to ask questions, seek truth, and demand peace and justice at every level including our physical health.

If we’re going to rise above this crazy time, as we seek better lives for everyone, we can make the simple choice to live healthy and to help other people live healthy. 

The obvious first step is to go vegan, or at least to head in that direction. I know it’s a bitter pill for some people, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. Moving away from an animal-centric diet not only directly impacts one’s individual health in a positive way, it also supports the elimination of one of the biggest potential disease-spreading industries out there. Plus, it’s good for the animals and the earth, big time.

Pesticides. Herbicides. GMO. Antibiotics. Water contamination. That’s before you even get to excess fat. It’s kind of a no-brainer when you think about underlying conditions, isn’t it?

There may be a scary illness going around, but what we’ve done in response to it is terrifying and unnatural. Let’s back out of the fear culture. Let’s take responsibility for ourselves and get healthy. Going vegan is a great first step. 

go ahead and ask

At this point, we all have a lot of questions. We have all heard conflicting stories. Fear may keep someone in a strident mask-bound stance, but even they cannot help but have doubts.

And that’s as it should be. 

There has been enough conflicting, dubious information, that you’re not awake if you haven’t noticed. You should have doubts and questions.

Based on a narrative, we have turned our culture on its head. We are reduced to anonymous, hidden entities. We are uncomfortable in what used to be normal spaces for us. We are largely separated from community. The looming agenda for our children’s schools should frighten any thinking parent. Our livelihoods, our food supply are threatened. Trackers are hired, and apps developed for the purpose of knowing even better who we know and where we go. Discourse is censored. Medicine and our control over our own bodies are becoming even further not matters of choice but submission to state decisions.

We are citizens of the earth first. We have every right to question the narrative as well as what government seeks to decree. 

We need to look with open minds and compassion at each other as we find our way through this. We need to look at each other with respect instead of being driven apart by fear. 

The people who stridently support everything they are told are trying their best to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. 

The people who question and resist also have everyone’s best interests at heart — they are no less invested in protecting themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.

This is a time for people to come together – in the midst of our enforced alienation – to find the true answers and discover the truly healthy path we should follow. We must come out of the trenches of fear and move towards love to find the truth.

We must allow the questions. We must be willing to listen and to learn. We must be willing to confront the narrative and to take a loving stand. With no time to spare.

if we truly care about health

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If we are so full of fear about health that we can be easily compelled to wear masks of dubious efficacy and to submit to severe restrictions of our freedoms — how is it then, that we fail to take the truly meaningful steps toward health?

If we truly care about health, we would change how we eat.

We would walk away from animal agriculture. We would say no to animal foods laced with antibiotics and unhealthy fats. We would not tolerate a system of slaughterhouses staffed with suffering, at-risk workers surrounded by suffering, doomed animals. We would walk away from dairy and processed foods, and head straight for the fruits and vegetables.

But, hey, we have masks.

If we truly care about health, we would seek fresh air and sunlight.

We would be outside every day, soaking up the vitamin D and oxygen, and moving our bodies. We would connect with nature instead of staring at screens as we huddle in our homes.

If we truly care about health, we would demand a healthy environment.

We would recognize that pollutants both on our earth and in the air we breathe are factors in the conditions that predispose a person to succumb to illness. We would recognize the terrible contributions of animal agriculture and other industry to the degradation of our environment and its impacts on health. We would refuse to support the practices, corporations, and government leadership that kill the planet upon which we depend. We would demand new leadership, and find new ways. We would stop walking around our yards spraying weed killers, too. Got your mask?

If we truly care about health, we would question our medical system.

We would insist that health care be readily available to all, not just to some. We would take the profit motive out of health care. We would insist that health care for all issues not be delayed or neglected while providers are busy flattening the curve or idled or laid off. We would look at the implications of the many drugs and treatments our system prescribes in both the current crisis and beyond. We would seek multiple perspectives from a diverse group of medical professionals. We would recognize that a system that promotes extended lockdowns by fiat across society is turning a blind eye to a host of serious health problems. We would denounce blatant propaganda and censorship attempts to thwart access to full information. We would question the mad rush to a vaccine, with all the risks and unknowns that entails, being prioritized over actually working to improve health.

If we truly care about health, we would insist on supportive community and government.

We would be intelligently going about the business of life, which involves other people. We would admit that forsaking actual community for virtual ones – or often, none at all – does not support health, but, in fact, compromises it. Going without employment, social commitments and relationships impacts our very ability to live at all, cutting off both economic means and derivation of purpose and satisfaction. We would demand a responsible, independent media. We would reject any form of censorship. We would not pick sides and vilify the others, rather we would join together to solve our problems – with new leadership that actually works for the people. We would reject any form of surveillance knowing that no thinking adult human being watched and tracked thrives under such treatment. We would insist on education that supports critical thinking. We would recognize that health does not derive in extreme authoritarian overreach that subverts the very foundations of a free society.

If we truly care about our health, there are so many things we could and should actively be doing — not just for the current moment but for the future. This business of corporate control of health, food, media, and government systems; extensive authoritarian lockdowns; economic devastation and instability; censorship; surveillance; pervasive fear, distrust, division, anonymity — this is not it.

If we care so much about health, our own and our neighbors’ and our loved ones’, we need to let go of our cowering fear. We need to own our responsibility in this — and that means far more than wearing a mask.

secrets

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In my newfound zeal for fun reading, I lately launched into a true story, Annie’s Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg. I’m still just getting into the thing, but, basically, the book explores a family’s discovery that their mother had a sister about whom she never breathed a word. The author attempts to find out about this woman, what happened to her, and why – and why she was a family secret.

As I drifted off to sleep after dipping my toe into this story, I couldn’t help but think about the murky territory of secrets.

It seems to me that the vast majority of secrets are born in shame. And shame is born in judgment. Even perceived judgment is born in judgment.

As I look at my own family, friends, and acquaintances over the years, there have been an astonishing number of secrets – some big and some little – that folks have carried, almost always in shame and often to someone’s detriment.

If a thing is too shameful of which to be spoken, it simply then becomes a burden on our hearts. In shame, we carry the judgment of ourselves and the projected judgment of others who actually know nothing about the secret.

Once we’ve determined something’s a secret, it also becomes a barrier. We may be very honest people who try to do things right, but, now, on some level, we are dishonest. It is a conflict. It also serves to keep us separate and alienated to some extent, no matter how warm and loving we may be. Shame stands between us.

There are the secrets we carry on behalf of others, too. We allow someone to unburden themselves of their secret, and then we must bear it, too. Sometimes these shared secrets themselves become a judgment, in an awful twist.

Incredibly, some of our secrets are about good things, which we still yet feel shame to disclose.

We learn very early in life the lessons of judgment and shame in the arms of our families. Our institutional religions and systems of education cement these concepts with vigor. Media then continue to bang the drum for us.

Shame is a compelling motivator in life, that sadly does an awful lot of damage. It’s true that shame, once acknowledged, can move us to improve ourselves, change for the better. It’s the shame we bury and carry that cripples us.

As usual, though, it all comes back to fear and love. And both sides of the equation are the same.

Those who would wield the weapon of judgment are burdened to look at their own fear, and to seek a loving answer.

Those who carry shame are burdened also to recognize their fear, and to seek a loving response.

Funny how that works.

So much for lighthearted reading. We’ll see how the book turns out. 🙂

encounters

veru1_9_19I cut along between some apartment buildings, briefly noticing an angular, skinny guy on the far side of the building before the building comes between us. I keep walking.

Grey sky. Michigan winter. I pull my jacket zipper up snug against the cold.

I hear sounds, louder and louder as I come to the end of the building. As I come abreast of it, I hear it full and big and hurting. I turn my head to the right looking toward the terrible sobs I am hearing.

There she sits, as if she simply fell there, humped over, heaving her sobs on the snow-covered grass. Her hair, a flaming dark pink, waves with her painful breaths. She wails oblivious to me, to anything.

I begin to approach her, but just then, a car comes careening around the corner and up the street. It flies right up in front me, in front of the girl, and roars to a stop. The passenger side door opens and a young woman jumps out. She rushes toward the sobbing figure on the ground.

“We saw. Are you alright?” the woman anxiously asks as she strides purposefully ahead.

The sobs turn into chokes, as the pink-haired girl looks up, clearly fearful.

The woman immediately stops and puts her hands out.

“It’s okay. Are you alright?” she asks, a little softer this time.

Despite her brash hair, the girl on the ground looks like a fawn, tender and young and vulnerable. She cannot hold back her sobs. Clearly frightened of the newcomer, she scrambles to her feet with difficulty, almost falling.

“I’m okay,” the fawn asserts.

She has no pants on. Her legs are entirely bare where she has been sitting akimbo in the snow. They are bleeding. She has no jacket on, just a long, thin shirt.

“You don’t look okay,” the woman challenges, taking a tentative step forward.

But the fawn sees the approach, and she backs up, looking a little wild.

“I’m alright,” she is breathless with sobs.

“Your legs are bleeding.”

“I’m alright. It’s just he pushed me down the stairs. I’m alright.” The fawn steps backward, and looks fearfully at her approacher.

The woman stops in her tracks, and turns toward me, as if to defuse the situation. As she steps close to me, she says under her breath, “We’re calling the cops.” She jerks her head slightly back towards the car, where I see a man at the wheel with his phone to his ear.

The fawn turns and begins to flee in earnest. She runs, half-stumbling, back through the complex with her bleeding legs and surging sobs.

The man jumps out of the car and we all keep our eyes on the fleeing girl.

We step down the street, tracking where she goes. The man relays the information to the dispatcher on the phone, as we note her location. Eventually, the man and the woman jump back in their car and make a distanced pursuit.

The fawn makes her way through the buildings, the parking lot, heads across the street, stumbles down a side street. I can see her progress, and I can see the fear in her. She continues to look wildly back.

The police pull up and talk to the man and woman in the car, then they go the long way around to approach the fleeing woman from another direction. And they do.

The man and the woman pull up and tell me thank you, but I tell them the thanks are due them. Indeed, I am deeply impressed by their caring.

I continue on my walk, sad and shaken. I look back at the police car, and it doesn’t make me feel any better.

I wish, I wish…. what. I wish we could have put our arms around her. I wish we could have held her in her tears. I wish we could have heard her story. I wish we could have found a way to help her, and a way to help the sorry male that pushed her down the stairs.

And I’m not at all convinced that help is on the way.

Later that day, just as darkness descends, I am driving down a quiet street. I get to an intersection. On the far side of the intersection, two people are standing in the middle of the road. A large man and a small woman are angrily screaming at each other, close in to each other’s face. They punctuate themselves with hard, intense gestures. Hands open, hand close, hands point.

My headlights are trained on them, and they are heedless.

I wait. I wonder. I just don’t know.

The man take several steps back and turns without leaving. They stand angrily in my headlights.

I finally turn and drive away.

I wish, I wish. I just don’t know.

lions and tigers and bears, oh my

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The mission was to try out a new trail. I headed out to a large wooded area with trails, just on the edge of town.

It looked beautiful. The trail cut through a hilly area covered in trees. I trotted along, anxious to explore this new spot. The foliage grew dense overhead making everything look a little dark.

It wasn’t long before I came to a barricade notifying me that the trail there was closed. I looked beyond the sign, down towards where a creek ran through. 

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Fortunately, there was another branch of the trail that remained open. So, I veered left and headed along that one. For a little while, it paralleled the creek way down below me. Then, the trail took another turn and I was back into the silent, dark woods.

It was right about here that I could feel my hackles going up.

Every now and then, this happens to me. I am out on a trail alone, and fear just takes over.

Not so long ago, I was out on the Pacific Crest Trail day-hiking alone. When I started out, I was pretty scared, but I forced myself to push through the fear. After all, there are quite a few souls out there who do much more than day-hike sections of the PCT by themselves. It was worth it – I ended up truly enjoying the solitary hiking out there. I met several thru-hikers, too, out there doing their thing, and there was nothing scary about it.

I know I’m not the only one who feels fear out on a trail, though.

Heck, I remember a hike I took with a friend in Florida. Both of us were unfamiliar with Florida’s flora and fauna. We were also keenly aware of the existence of alligators and snakes.

We both bravely made our way along the trail, neither of us admitting our discomfort. We got pretty far into the place, all the while with a heightening sense of fear and remoteness. The idle chitchat disappeared, as we gravely traversed the terrain.

Then came the alligator warning sign topped off with one of those massive orb-weaver spiders hanging in a web that stretched across the path in front of us. We came to a halt, looking at each other. We both confessed the immense fear and discomfort we were feeling. We decided to head back, much relieved.

The return trip, however, only seemed to grow our terror. The buzzing beehives up in the trees spurred us to hurry along the trail. We dashed along the trail, panting toward the safety of the parking lot.

When we reached the trailhead, sweaty and out of breath, we became acutely aware of just how normal everything around us actually was. We looked at each other and simply burst out laughing.

I hiked Florida trails after that both with company and without, and never felt that level of fear again – although alligators do make me very careful.

Usually, the fear I feel on a trail is not, however, from the environment. It is people that cause wariness out there when I’m alone. This is despite the fact that people I meet on trails are generally pleasant, friendly lovers of the outdoors just like me.

The fear got the better of me on this week’s little outing, though. I couldn’t shake it. I pressed on, anxiously looking both ahead and behind me in the quiet woods. The trail, thankfully, turned out to be a relatively short one.

There was a car sitting there in the parking lot when I emerged, with an individual sitting in it. I practically bolted to my car, hopped in, and fled.

I know. It’s ridiculous. I felt safer out in the wild mountains of California than I did here on this trail in close proximity to a bustling town. And that, right there, I think is precisely why I felt the anxiety. I felt alone, maybe just not quite alone enough.