Too Much For a Morning

Woke up this morning to the news that both John Prine and Charlotte Figi (the little girl who inspired the creation of Charlotte’s Web , the CBD oil that became world known for its effectiveness in treating a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome) died yesterday from the COVID-19 virus.

Then I read a bit about the voting yesterday in my home state of Wisconsin. Like many, I wonder how many will die from voting this year. I followed that with a look at my email. There I read a message from the university president about the likelihood of budget cuts in the upcoming year. It’s now 8:09 a.m.

You know there are some days that we just need to take off a bit. So, with John Prine in the background I am taking a little time to just write. I’ve got a meeting in a couple hours that I’ll join in, but I’m taking my crocheting with me and my dog too and just taking the time to listen to other folks from around the state to hear how they are handling this situation. It’s good to come together even when we can’t do it in person.

I don’t know what else to do in this moment. I like to solve problems and it’s hard when I can’t. I suspect many of us have that problem with this situation we are in. All I can do is tell myself what I tell my students– be gentle on self.

There’s nothing really new or inspirational in this post, but I feel it needed to be written if only for my own comfort. Still, I hope that maybe, just maybe it could offer a little comfort to someone out there to know that you’re not the only one who is sometime having those days where the bad news just seems to pile up and all you can do is step back to take pause and let it pound its way through. I hope that you’ll take good care of yourself today and know that we will make it. Things will get better again.

Speaking to the Water

I came across an interesting character in science today, or some would say pseudoscience. I was listening to a meditation video my friend Ivan was doing and he mentioned studies that were done back in 1990’s by a Dr. Masaru Emoto. Emoto believed that water could be structurally changed by the way that it was treated. He had people actually speak kindly or cruelly to the water and then would freeze it with the idea that the ice crystals of the water that was treated cruelly would look different, more “ugly.”

There were multiple problems with Emoto’s studies and few scientists considered them to be scientifically viable, but the idea does make me wonder. Afterall, most ideas are foolish until they are accepted.

There are many cultures who have spoken to the water over thousands of years. They’ve prayed to her. They’ve thanked her for the gifts she’s given. They’ve watched her, paid attention to her messages, planned their lives based on the things she’s told them and she treated generations of people well.

These days not many listen to her. Not many speak to the water with kindness. Most of us, in reality, use her and abuse her. What happen then? Well, it seems the storms are growing while she is dying and we’re losing our food, our drink, and our way. I wonder what would happen if we spoke to the water with kindness?

Using Time Wisely

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the US as the most obese country in the world in 2019. The World Health Organization tells us that we are one of the most depressed countries in the world.

The US is among the highest CO2 producers in the world. We continually are dumping poisons everywhere. We are continually putting poisoning our own food and the water we drink. Why?

We have a fascinating opportunity right now. At other times people might pay thousands of dollars to go on retreats to step away from their regular day to day lives and step into something new. We’ve all been given the opportunity for free. Sure, maybe it doesn’t come with an exotic vacation spot or maybe we’re still doing a lot of our work from before and some new jobs too, but we’ve got something here. How can we use it?

I keep thinking of something a friend use to say. He’d be presenting to groups, talking about all sorts of important environmental issues of the day and he’d tell people. “Don’t worry about protecting the earth. The earth, she’ll be fine. It’s us that we need to that we need to be concerned about. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to drink the water. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to breathe the air. We’re the ones who will no longer have food to eat.”

He was right. I suspect that this virus is simply another warning. The warnings are getting bigger and more intense each one after the other. We need to figure this out. What can we do?

You are there in your personal retreat. How can you take this time to care for yourself body, mind, spirit, soul? How does your relationship to this place where we live, this earth change? How do we show her respect? How do we stop poisoning her and poisoning ourselves in the process? When we walk together again who will you be? Who will we all be?

The Place I Am Today

I used to be a community organizer. I like to believe some days that I still am, but other days I wonder especially as I sit here writing in my bed, alone, with my dog laying on my feet, and not knowing how to impact the place where I live.

I began as a student back in the 1990’s with the fire of a teenager and the wisdom of someone who’d seen almost nothing beyond her own home. I got a lot shocks and a great deal of love. I fell often. My teachers helped me find my footing and brush myself off over and over again. We got a lot done and I found a place where I belonged. I’m still in touch with people from those days. Some, I would say, count among my closest friends.

After my years as a student, I took on being an organizer professionally. I learned the ideas of Myles Horton. I came to understand that it isn’t my job to solve the problems that a community faces, but to ask the questions, to hold up the mirror so that the community members might see the answers that they hold and find the solutions for the themselves. It was in asking the questions that I made connections and built friendships.

I’ve moved from here to there over the years, but so many connections remain along with the lessons we’ve learned together along the way and all the struggles that we’ve won and lost. It sometimes seems that I might reach out almost anywhere and find some connection, someone that I’ve known or someone who’s connected to someone I’ve known.

Yet, here where I am right now it seems the connections are tenuous at best. I can see the challenges. But I am in a strange place. It is one of those places where two communities share the same space and are in some sense tied together, yet in deny each other and I don’t know how to change that. Maybe it is what life is in a small town with a university. There is the university and there is the town. There are some who are really part of both and there are some who just live or work in one and are part of the other. Then there are a few like myself who work here and reside here, but don’t really belong to either. I am not sure what to do with that. This is an interesting time and place to look at it. I wonder if it would be different in a larger town or a larger university? My suspicion is that it would, but I can only hope to someday see.

I wonder how many of us there are in these situations. These places where we work and reside and yet are not a part. How does this change? Can it change with time? What does it take to be in the community and not the organizer or what does it take to be an organizer in a community that has two or maybe more personalities?

Beautiful Smiles

Uncle Wally just celebrated his 90th birthday last week. I finally watched watched the video today. It was a sweet little Facebook tribute that must have been created by by one of my cousins or maybe one of their kids.

I remember all the times we used to go celebrate at their house. Aunt Marilyn always had the best food and so much of it! My favorite is still the frosted wreath shaped cookies she made at Christmas time. Summers at their house were fabulous too. Who else had a lake right in their back yard? Uncle Wally swam every day to stay in shape and just get some sun. I loved getting out in that water with my cousins and just playing the day away.

Uncle Wally can’t swim anymore. Health issues forced him into a care facility a few years ago. Aunt Marilyn keeps going strong and I’m sure is still cooking up a storm. Up until this virus changed everything, she went to be with Uncle Wally every day and to care for him. Now, she can’t go in the building.

That didn’t stop the party though. They celebrated by the window with big posters wishing my uncle a happy 90th. I nearly cried as I watched the video as saw Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Wally talking through the glass. I couldn’t read what they were saying, but could only imagine them expressing their love. I’m guessing this may be the first time in nearly 70 years in which Uncle Wally didn’t celebrate his birthday with some sort of home baked treat, not to mention being in the arms of loved ones. Still, watching the video I couldn’t help but see how he was smiling.

That’s the way it is I suppose. I think of Uncle Wally and my dad and their sisters Aunts Lucille and Florence. Aunt Florence left the world far too young, but the others are all in their 90’s now. They’ve seen their struggles. They’ve known death since they were kids. They learned early on the hard work that it took to earn a dollar. They’ve seen struggles and wars and all the rest. But, if there’s something that I’ve learned from there experience it is that ultimately, you just have to smile and laugh and find your joy in the little moments of life.

I have to say, Uncle Wally and really all my aunts and uncles and my dad have the most beautiful smiles.

How are the Neighbors Surviving?

Morris is a small town, only a bit over 5,000 people when students are on campus. Still we are a diverse community with a large portion of our students coming from outside of the United States or from the nations within our nation particularly the Lakota/ Dakota and Anishanaabe peoples and a large Latino community, many of whom work for the Riverview Dairy.

Many of our international students are Asian. Many of them have found themselves navigating the unexpected experience of living in Minnesota while not attending classes on campus. Some are living on campus yet. Others live in town or have found other places to stay. I haven’t heard any reports directly about how they are being treated in our small community during this time of crisis that has become known for its tinge of racism.

I did see something interesting today though that made me wonder. I was shopping at the local Town and Country for some pet supplies. It was a fascinating day to shop. The store had just moved to complete curbside service. I stood outside, phoned in my order, and waited for a staff person inside to do my shopping for me.

As I waited two Latino gentlemen came to do their shopping. I wondered how this might work as I suspected that they may be new immigrants working for the dairy. A staff person came to the door to assist them. It was clear that he wasn’t fully bilingual. Still, his Spanish was better than mine and they managed with just small errors in conversation that were quickly handled.

It made me think though of my own privilege. It’s easy in this place to find everything I need in the language that I understand. I look around though and see next to nothing for my Spanish speaking neighbors. I know that there is a small team working to rectify this and to address at least the most essential needs, but I find it hard to imagine the every day.

Some years ago I had the good fortune to travel to Guatemala to study Spanish in an immersion school for several weeks. I was exhausted by the end of each day from the mental energy of just the simplest acts of living in a language that wasn’t my own. I was safe. There was no threat of illness or changes in access to any sort of resources. Yet, I was exhausted. I wonder how my neighbors survive?

Reminders of Respect

Today’s words are in memory of a childhood friend and in honor of those who are surviving right now in situations less ideal than my own.

We’d just started our sophomore year of high school. It must have been maybe the second week of classes. I don’t remember the exact date. What I do remember is walking into school that day to find my classmates in the hallways crying. Eventually the pieces came together. There had been a party. Kids were drinking. He was beaten. He didn’t survive.

We went to a small school. Some of us had known him since kindergarten or maybe even before. Now he was gone and a space in our lives was empty.

I was talking with some of my students yesterday. They’re in college now, just a few years older than I was when I first learned how alcohol can kill. They reminded me that people today do just like we did then. They use alcohol and drugs to fight boredom and frustration.

I’d been talking with one of the staff of Someplace Safe this week too. We know that alcohol and drugs plus people stuck together with limited outlets means an increase in violence.

If you’re reading this and find that this staying home thing is increasing your drinking, I am going to ask you to take a look at how that drinking is impacting you and your relationships with the others you’re sharing space with. Are you being respectful to yourself and those others? You and your relationships are worth more than the bottle.

If you’re one of the people who’s in an unsafe space. First, I send you love and strength. You’re not alone. Please, if you are able, call, email, or text, your local domestic violence support group, a friend or family member, police, or someone else you can trust. These are hard times. We all need our support systems. Groups like Someplace Safe are finding creative ways to keep working and get people into safe places out of harm’s way. You deserve to be safe and treated with caring and respect.

Take good care friends.