Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Category Archive: Spirituality

  1. A Pinch of Salt

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    When Mr. Z. and I were in Paris last month, our hosts, the Scotts, took us to one of their favorite restaurants, Chez Denise. Even though my own lunch was delicious and satisfying, I openly coveted the os á moelle that the French couple next to us ordered.  My companions, veterans of French food and committed to their low-fat diet, declined to order it with me, Mr. Z wasn’t game, and I wasn’t quite ready to commit to eating a plate of roasted beef marrow bones by myself.

    When the woman caught me watching her prepare her next bite–scooping marrow out of the bone and spreading it onto grilled bread with a butter knife, then sprinkling it with salt from a bowl with her fingers–she gestured that she would be happy to share.  Our friends  accepted in French on my behalf, and we watched as she made me a bone marrow toast. I gratefully took the toast from her hand and ate it all. She would have continued to feed me from her plate if I had not been too full already.

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    I remember that lunch as my favorite meal of the trip not because of the bone marrow’s rich, buttery deliciousness (and its benefits), but because of the unexpected intimacy of taking food from a stranger’s plate and hand. 

    Where were the rubber gloves, the hand sanitizer, the caution and fear, the reminders of the woman’s otherness and separation and the potential danger of her body? Erased as I accepted her offer and ate her food.

    When I think about the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo office and Kosher market last week, and I see the pictures of people holding the “Je Suis Charlie” and “Je Suis Juif” signs and posting under those hashtags on social media, I remember the woman in the restaurant, and her willingness to share and my willingness to take and eat her food, and I think of the ways “Je Suis” the Parisian woman. I feel warm solidarity with the people of the world, standing up and speaking out against violence and fear.

    But at the same time that I say to myself, yes, Je Suis Parisians,  Je Suis Charlie and Je Suis Juif, I have to acknowledge that (more subtly and without obvious violence–I add disclaimers to be able to bear to write this–see below) I also must say Je Suis the silent, and  Je Suis the terrorists, and Je Suis the fearful censors of public speech and private thought, and on and on and on.

    I wish I could say or write “Not Afraid” with honest confidence, but I am frequently afraid–of offending, of overstepping, of being factually or morally or (most ridiculously) socially “wrong.” I censor my words and even thoughts every day. I could say that “no one dies” as a result of my desire to censor, but how do I know? What if my failure to speak out about, say, domestic violence, does in fact indirectly lead to someone’s death?

    Maybe saying  “Je Suis” about each other also requires saying “Je Suis” about the other. Sharing responsibility as well as food, blame as well as credit. Speaking out, using the space created by satirists like the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo (whose work often makes me cringe) to tell the truth of our own lives.

     

     

     

  2. Life is Long

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    I repeat the mantra “lifeisshort lifeisshort lifeisshort.” Sometimes I add “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.” I check an online calculator again—254 days until my 50th birthday.

    Lifeisshort, I chant as I rush from my office to the Women of Tomorrow event before heading back to the office again. I talk with a group of high school girls about dating violence.  I want to make a difference in their lives. Lifeisshort lifeisshort.

    I tell my story of being in an abusive relationship, and the girls share theirs. One girl feels pressure to continue her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, and one of the other women in the room says, “Girls, you can take your time to find the right relationship, the right career, the right life. It may not seem like it now, but life is long.”

    “Life is long”? Hmmm. Maybe for 16-year-olds. I am nearly 50.

    Two days later, I sit at my dining room table, coffee within easy reach, Sunday’s New York Times spread out in front of me. Frank Bruni’s op-ed about maturity and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, is a celebration of experience: “With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long.  Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.”

    Now we know that the inevitable break never came for Manning on Sunday night, but I remember  Bruni’s column. “A game, like a life, is long.”

    I google “Frank Bruni age” and smile. Of course. He’s 49 and he’ll turn 50 fourteen days after I do. 268 to go, Frank. Do you really think lifeislong?

    The next day I read, as I do most days, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog, which linked to a story about Janet Yellen, who, at 67, has just become the Chairwoman? Chairman? Chair? of the Federal Reserve.  “Life is long,” says the article, which continues, “It’s a liberating notion, really, to think that you don’t have to accomplish everything in your life – or ‘have it all’ – simultaneously; that leaning back during one life stage doesn’t preclude leaning in later.”

    I haven’t had it all, at least not in any conventional sense or in any conventional order, but I notice that phrase again. Lifeislong. And Janet Yellen, at the top of her game, the beginning of the peak of her professional life, at 67, inspires.

    Okay, if Anyone is coordinating this onslaught of “lifeislong,” I’m listening. I’m thinking.

    But maybe this is mere coincidence; maybe everyone is saying “lifeislong” now and I’m just noticing. Is this the new YouOnlyLiveOnce?

    I google again. The search leads me not to urbandictionary.com but to this quote from a Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife: “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”

    And then I click on stanza V of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:

    Between the conception

    And the creation

    Between the emotion

    And the response

    Falls the Shadow

                                    Life is very long

    Between the desire

    And the spasm

    Between the potency

    And the existence

    Between the essence

    And the descent

    Falls the Shadow

    So. A woman advises girls. A man praises  Manning’s long game. Janet Yellen has it all, in her own time. Chris Rock calls “bullshit.” I shake my head at  the beauty of Eliot’s words. I pay attention.

    Lifeislong invites exploration, slowing down, mixing in at least a  little rest and reflection with the urgent drumbeat of “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.”

    Over the next 254 days, I’ll write a series of 50 posts. 50 posts before 50. They’ll be less “lifeisshort” bucket list and more “lifeislong” what’s next?

    I hope to have some guest posts, too, maybe even 50 of them, from women who have already looked 50 in the eye, as well as women who still look forward to it 500, 1000, 2000  or more days from now.

    Is life short or long? I don’t know yet. I hope to have a better idea by my birthday.

    What do you think?

     

     

  3. Feminist

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    Things get weird pretty quickly when your search term on a stock photo site is “feminist.” Women with ropes, women with boxing gloves, women with their stiletto’d feet on the throats of men. Try it and see. Here’s a strange one. What does it mean?

    feminist

    To me the word has meant something simple and basic: pro woman. Women can or cannot be feminists. Men have the same options.

    I am a feminist; I happily take the label.

    When the pop singer Katy Perry said last year that she wasn’t a feminist, she elicited reactions ranging from “Katy Perry is an idiot” to “maybe if feminists didn’t think Katy Perry was an idiot she would be more likely to identify as one.”

    I rely on the recommendations of Mr. Z (who calls himself a feminist, by the way) to read a tiny fraction of the articles in the issues of The New Yorker that pile up on the coffee table. A couple of days ago, he suggested that I read an article by Susan Faludi about Shulamith Firestone.  I recommend that you read it, too.

    Firestone’s name is familiar to me, but by the time I was reading feminist theory in the 1990s, she and other “second-wave” feminists (Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, for example), no matter how influential, were already sort of “vintage.” I didn’t know her ideas and I didn’t know her story.

    Firestone’s ideas are still radical and fresh and needed forty years after she first wrote them.

    Firestone’s story is tragic and compelling and all too familiar.

    If more women and men knew about the feminists on whose shoulders we climb, would more people be honored and humbled to share their label, identify as members of their tribe?

    I think so.

  4. Tending Flames

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    When we hold space, when we listen for truth and look for beauty, when we practice devotion, when we stabilize others, when we are fully present, when we fan our own creative fires and those that surround us–then we are no less tenders of sacred flames than if we were the priestesses of an ancient temple.

     

  5. Word.

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    In The Call, Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes,

    “So ask yourself this: If I could say one word to the world, if I knew the world was listening attentively and would to the best of its ability follow the directive this word sent out, what would that word be?”

    So I asked myself.  I did not miss a beat.

    “tell.”

    I wrote it in the margin.  No doubt about it.  No alternatives came to mind, and they still don’t.

    I was disappointed. I wanted a revelation.  At least a word with a second syllable, a word with some zhuzh.

    I’m supposed to tell the world to tell?  And of course the corollaries are unmistakable. I’m supposed to tell.  I’m supposed to learn to tell so that I can teach to tell.

    I read this a few months ago, and I’m just coming back to it.

    It’s turning out to be a more interesting word than I bargained for, and I’m working on ways to integrate it into 2012.

    I’ll tell you all about it over the next few weeks.

     

  6. On Bokeh

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    I am an enthusiastic novice photographer, obsessed at the moment with close-up, macro, shallow depth of field, bokeh.

     

    I wonder what it would be like to see through this kind of lens all the time, intent on whatever or whoever is in front of me, to give it or him or her my complete attention, to allow what is around or behind to fade into a pleasing blur.

    Would this mean being present?

    Have you ever been with one of those rare people who speaks to you as if no one else is in the room? As if she doesn’t own a watch, has nowhere more important to be?  As if he cannot imagine anything more fascinating than you and your words?

    Can we learn to practice relationship bokeh?

     

  7. twists and turns

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    Yesterday I wrote that no matter how often I wax on about life’s cycles and seasons, they still take me by surprise.

    I am, apparently, a similarly slow learner when it comes to other topics.  Just last night I was talking, well, texting, with a friend about the long process of grieving various aspects of  an abusive relationship she is ending.

    This morning, I went to my last “official” event of this Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Women in Distress 5K SafeWalk-Run.  As of the publishing of this post, we’ve raised a total of $115,510 toward ending domestic violence.

    As I drove through the 6 a.m. dark, it occurred to me that Markham Park, the location of today’s walk, a place I’d never been before today, is also the destination of the annual Toys in the Sun Run motorcycle ride, and the last place that Lee was alive on December 9, 2007 before the ride home and the crash that killed him.

    I took that in. I considered the symmetry of my ending a month of speaking out by going to the place where he spent the last few hours of his life.  That seemed pretty big.  Something to pay attention to.  A spiral of emotions and circumstances.

    Then I remembered that today is his birthday.

    I have lost track of his birthday in the last few years, focusing instead on today as the birthday of Mr. Z’s daughter-in-law, letting go of date and time reminders as I can.  I have consciously and accidentally “moved on.”

    Throughout October, I have thought about this walk, known its date and location, fundraised toward this deadline, harassed my team to get their donations in.  How is it possible that my mind did not put the pieces together until this morning?

    I am taken by  surprise by the spirals, the synchronicity, the slam of recognition, the unexpected grief of memories.

    Like I said, I am a slow learner.

     

     

  8. one more flower-poem post

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    How to Feed An Orchid

    Clarify the relationship.

    It is you being fed and the orchid
    who spoons blossoms in your mouth.

    Find an east-facing room
    quiet as a theatre of monks
    watching a woman cross the stage.

    Do not involve your own thirst when watering.
    Incidental light is preferable to any replica of sun.
    Stone, wood, marl or coconut husk
    provide anchorage and let it be.

    Like your thoughts without television,
    the columns will harness the underestimated air
    into calyx and corolla.

    Urn-shaped or lyrate, barbate or ephemeral,
    to nourish the orchid,
    maintain a spirit of delicacy
    with your dearest.

    For the careful rosette and trinity of petals,
    it bears the common name of “nun.”
    But look at its center–
    sheathed, gaping, labiate–

    no less a woman.

    –Jennifer K. Sweeney, from  How to Live on Bread and Music

  9. beauty in the breakdown

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    For the past eight days, I’ve had this lyric in my head:

    so let go, jump in

    oh well, whatcha waiting for

    it’s alright

    ’cause there’s beauty in the breakdown.

    –from “Let Go” by Frou Frou

    For the past eight days, Mr. Z’s mother, Virginia, has been dying.  She’s 93 years old.  Last Saturday, the 4th of September, both of her sons, four of her grandchildren, and her newborn great-grandson (along with those of us who love them all) were to have celebrated her recent birthday with lunch and cake at the nursing home where she lives.  She had expressed fatigue for weeks, even asking Mr. Z to cancel the
    birthday party because she believed she would be too tired for it.  Early on the morning of the day of the party, she had a stroke.

    We gathered, first in her room, then in the dining room, then in her room again.  We stood around her bedside as she slept, rotating into and out of the chair closest to her, keeping the family tradition of reading aloud the birthday-card wishes everyone had written to her from their hearts.  They told stories and jokes.  There’s beauty in the breakdown.

    Saturday’s stroke was not her first, and she and Mr. Z had discussed her wishes over the years.  Medical powers of attorney and Do Not Resuscitate orders were in place.  Never again would she be taken to the hospital.  She wanted to die without intervention, heroic or otherwise. So on Sunday, now a week ago, Mr. Z signed the papers which admitted her to hospice care.

    During the past week, Mr. Z and his brother and Debbie, Virginia’s aide of nine years, have stayed by her side around the clock, only leaving together for one three-hour period when they considered that she might prefer to die without company.  Those of us who love her have had a chance to tell her things we’d forgotten and begin to let her go and say goodbye and grieve.  Plans for the family to travel to Alabama to carry out her burial wishes have been made. Caregiving staff have shared stories of her nursing home life that they might not have had a chance to tell.  There’s beauty in the breakdown.

    Today is Virginia’s ninth day since the stroke.  She rests quietly. When her breathing becomes labored, nurses administer morphine by bitter-tasting sublingual drops.  We stroke her hair and her hands.  Those who have known her best say that she is strong, that she is a fighter.  She, or God, or maybe some dialogue between them, will decide when she will take her last breath.

    The past few weeks have offered a series of reminders about the certainty of uncertainty, the potential of everything to change in a second, a phone call, a heartbeat, a breath.  I’ve been trying to look for and at Certainty instead, and the beauty in the breakdown.

  10. in the good company of women

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    Denali In 2002, I went to Alaska to hike.  I was with nine other women from all over the country; Mary, our guide from Fairbanks; and Marian Marbury, CEO of Adventures in Good Company.

    I’m in the brown cap next to the “I.”

    I discovered the pleasure of traveling alone.

    I became reacquainted with my nearly lifelong need to write.

    With the rest of the group spread out in front of and behind me on a trail near the Talkeetna River, a little bit afraid that
    I had taken a wrong turn, ultimately sure that I was in exactly the
    right place, I sensed the presence of God as never before.

    I watched bears, Dall sheep, beaver, and caribou. I was in awe of the grace of moose.

    I slipped on rocks but did not fall.

    I ate a peanut butter and cheese sandwich.

    I bent down to photograph wild rose, lupine, and bluebells, dwarf fireweed, Eskimo potato, and moss campion, tundra plants whose elaborate coping mechanisms for living in difficult conditions produce  unique beauty.

    I read the poetry of Mary Oliver and Robert Service for the first time.

    I walked along a train trestle and stomped through mud, playing more than I did as a child.

    I told the truth about my life, and the shame I feared did not materialize.

    I laughed out loud and cried openly.

    I  returned home to spend another five years on the failed project of my marriage. Part of me wants to type “Big. Mistake.”  But it wasn’t.  It was the path I needed to travel to get here.

    “Here” I recognize the importance of spending time with other women, of tending to friendships with women as much as I tend to my relationship with a man.  My new relationship is with a man who is slightly incredulous when I wonder if he minds if I travel.

    This year I flew alone to New York City and to Columbia SC to visit women friends.  And in November I’m going on another trip with Adventures in Good Company, this time to Utah to hike in Bryce and Zion National Parks, with women I’ve yet to meet.

    Why?

    Because when women are with other women,we don’t apologize for things we can’t control.

    We tell the truth.

    We feel peace and space.

    We are comfortable in our bodies and our strength.

    We are open to ecstatic experience.

    We’re less worried that someone else is bored, or
    uncomfortable, or hungry, or tired, and more able to make sure that we’re
    content, warm, fed, and rested.

    We are willing to break taboos that have limited us.

    We speak a language that can range from a shorthand code that cuts to the bone of deep truth, to a longhand dissertation that extracts every possible juicy nuance from a look, a book, or a verbal exchange, no matter how small.

    I found this scrap, a quote from Oscar Wilde, tucked into my 2002 journal, from a woman who passed through my life for a week but who has returned eight years later to give us a gift:

    Angela-note-Alaska Trip