Tuesday, February 28, 2012

a new, too-honest poem

"an apology to some chicago youth from a white girl who should know better"
(February 25, 2012)

tonight, i looked up and saw
an actual crescent and star sky.
i started thinking of you, all of you.
i started imagining that black men can fucking fly
up, over the skyscrapers and this city's hideous teeth.
i saw you in that sky, filled with Allah's sign.

there is so much they don't teach us
in do-gooder school.
so much that only you have taught me.
wards of the state.
that's the true word.

you are inmates of this city.
someone shuffles you along
into abuse after abuse
until you count
fucked-up foster homes
like birthdays.
and your tiny checks are given out
by unkindness personified.
and no one asks you
about the last book you read
or your cousin who got shot.

we owe you so many apologies.
we owe you so much more.

i am sorry that,
behind everyone's eyes,
you can see that
there is no hope
for you here.

i am sorry i thought i could hide
being a nerdy white girl
from the wrong side of the west coast
who has never seen shit like this before.

i am sorry for all of my terrible dance moves

there are few,
if any,
ways to let you know
that these apologies come from a sorer place
than guilt.
guilt i know.
it is the minuscule price i pay,
along with a few words i don't use
and a few places i don't belong,
to try to understand this broken world.

the rent you have been asked to pay
has been far higher
since the day you were born,
since this broken world's axis
tips so wildly towards
things that look like me.

you are disappearing so fast these days.
we have failed
to snatch you from the jaws
of these lock-down, white-washed

we twist your words and actions
in the worst possible way.

i hear her on the phone say you "deserve it."
say "crazy."
say "locked up."
and then hand you your food stamps
and ask you to say "thank you."
we fear you
and demand your respect.
exactly like the prisons
they think you are aimed for.

i want to tell them what they don't see,
the words they haven't heard,
the things you know about us
and our terrible lies
but are too polite
or afraid
to say.
but i cling tight
to the bullshit boundaries of this job,
too afraid to say how much you are teaching me,
without meaning to,
without being asked.

two months from now,
we will fade from each other.
i will be just another white girl
who left.
and people will gather around me
and tell me how much good i've done.
i will be tempted to believe them.

but then, when i think of you,
i will remember the truest thing i learned:
given space and leverage enough,
black men can fucking fly.
we just need to get our
white hands
off of them.

i will never tell you this.
but somebody should.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

my superbowl sunday

[disclaimer 1: because i am me, this post includes zero mentions of football or sports references. you have been warned.
disclaimer 2: this is hastily and, thus, poorly written. i wanted to get it out badly enough and i am tired so don't judge my writing abilities too harshly, please.]

today has been such a odd, God-filled Sunday that I felt the need to document it for myself, more than anyone, to remind myself, on deserted days, that there have been times when I have felt the Divine weave in and through a day so completely that, to borrow a Merwin line, "everything was stitched with its color."

last night, L and I watched Last Temptation of Christ, which I hate. but it did make me reflect on my time in Palestine - my time being close the historical and geographic nature of Jesus. it's a place where it feels easy to love God, somehow. I left that night craving that feeling.

i carried that feeling into Mass with me. I had been struggling with my personal need to control certain situations in my life and make people do what I thought they should do and act the way I wanted. i prayed hard to be open and asked forgiveness for my inevitably shut-tight heart.

today's first reading was from Job. I have a good but complicated relationship with the Book of Job. It's been my favorite book of the Bible for a while but it is also one of the last things I read aloud to my mom. Because she couldn't use her hands, Claire and I would select things to read out loud to her. I was complaining to her (of all people!) about how mad I was at God for something happening in my life and how I was thinking of the Book of Job, especially the last chapter, when God comes down and basically gives Job the verbal smack-down. She didn't remember that part so we started reading it out loud. We never finished it.

i also was thinking about mom and healing as today's Gospel was all about healing. It's also the Feast of St. Blase, a Catholic tradition of healing and blessing involving placing candles around someones throat. The themes of healing and suffering reminded me that I had promised my therapist I would throw my mom a belated birthday party in my life this weekend. On her actual birthday, I was engulfed in some serious-at-the-time drama. I felt guilty and angry that such a special day slipped by when my mind was on other things. But time is eternal where she is and there's no rules about when I think of her. I always forget that, since thinking of her at all is so hard.

so, i sat and thought of her and prayed hard and, as a consequence, managed to miss the blessing of the throats all together. i felt guilty (like a good Catholic) but knew that sitting, visualizing the people i've lost who have showered me with love, and continue to do so, was the thing i needed most.


we host brunches after masses sometimes and began them today. one member of our parish - an older woman with developmental disabilities - always comes to check in and make sure we are having brunches. she always remembers and always asks if she can bring food home. she's slowly but surely becoming a part of our young adult brunches in a way that feels more and more authentic and keeps us from complete under-40 isolation.


on the first sunday of the month, i actually go to 2 masses. the archdiocesan jail ministry, the kolbe house, holds a monthly mass for those affected by incarceration. while it does not impact me directly, i went this summer and felt a profound connection with the mass. i've tried to go back often and am feeling more known there.

on the way to this mass, i decided to check in with my grandparents. i haven't talked to them in too long and i realized that, while reflecting on suffering and healing, both of them also appeared in my thoughts. i wanted to call and hear their voices. my grandfather has struggled with cancer off and on, and i wanted him to know i was thinking of him. few people outside my immediate family connect me as quickly to the heart of God as my grandfather does. When I was in high school, my grandparents were some of the only adults (aside from my parents) to believe that, despite all appearances, I would make something of myself, that I wouldn't fail permanently. Hearing his voice again brought me home to the love i have been soaked in my whole life, which i so often take for granted.


L and I headed to the jail ministry mass together. the whole mass lasted less than an hour, was full of fussy, chaotic children, kindness, Spanish, and a sure knowledge that everyone else in that church was carrying a load that i cannot begin to fathom. it was terrible and beautiful and led to some deep and necessary conversations about solidarity, privilege, and Christian responsibility on the train ride home.


i came home prepared to just cook, do homework and maybe go somewhere later to watch the game. instead, someone knocked on our back door. it was, as Fr. Greg Boyle said in one of his sermons, "Jesus. In his least recognizable form." Miguel was looking for a priest, he said. He was worried about something and needed to talk and pray about it with someone. I was home alone and so inviting him in carried some risks. But there was an Al-Anon meeting next door and I honestly wasn't scared of him at all. I offered to pray for him and listen to him but wasn't sure what I could do if he needed a priest.

what tumbled out of Miguel's mouth felt like truth and was heart-achingly sad. he'd lost his mom, his job, and his home this year. he'd been living with an uncle who, he realized recently, was into some illegal stuff. his uncle was worried Miguel would rat him out and threatened him tonight. Miguel punched him, took his and kid, and fled. His wife and daughter were miles away and he had walked all this way, stopping at churches and SROs, trying to find a place to stay that they could afford. He was desperate to work. He didn't want a handout and even offered to fix our car if we could help.

i called the white rose who, true to their catholic worker calling, re-arranged themselves to fit 3 strangers into an already-crowded house. but, on talking more to Miguel, i realized that he wanted a space for just the 3 of them to be safe and together. i knew i had the resources to help them get into a hotel room, so that's what i did. and we prayed together. his prayer was so hard to hear. he apologized to God for doubting and for being angry which, given the situation and today's reading, seemed like an appropriate response, really. He prayed for me, for our community, and for safety. i prayed for him, his wife and daughter, for peace, and for his uncle to change his ways. thankfully, we also had an insane amount of brunch leftovers, so i was able to get them something to eat to.

this wasn't how my night was supposed to end up. and i don't know that i did the right thing, really. it could have been naive or dangerous. but i realized, as i washed the last of dishes after Miguel left, that i want to keep betting on healing for the suffering. and that my suffering is healed in relationship and in honest sharing of struggles. i don't think i healed Miguel, really. he's got a long road ahead of him. but being present to him and helping has, hopefully, freed some of his mind and heart to receive healing from God. i pray that he is safe somewhere with his wife and kid and able to pray for guidance and strength for the journey ahead. doing that on the street might have been tougher and i am grateful to have an overabundance of material resources and to occasionally have the wisdom to use them for others, not myself.

i called the white rose later and thanked R for being so present, flexible, and hospitable. both she and L affirmed my choice to serve Miguel as I could, despite how the situation might appear to others and despite the fact that I may never know whether his story was true. I felt held up in the convicting love of Christ. This love has echoed through the generations and contains the seed of all the love of people I've lost and of all those people I have not met and trust will come later. I only hope that Miguel's mother and his Father are translating to him the same great Love. As a child of God, he absolutely deserves it.


i don't know what will happen to Miguel. I pray he will be well. I pray that, like Job, he will see that God is present even in things which seem, on the surface, heartbreaking and cruel. And I pray that I can be more like Simon's mother-in-law - present to the healing I have received and willing, once healed, to serve. Today, I was able to reflect on how much I have been given by a solid family, many resources, a beautiful community, and a baffling-but-concrete calling. Each of these things alone would be good enough but together they amount to ridiculous amount of blessings. The small bruises in life that were healed today put me in a place to serve and be healed.