Friday, November 28, 2008

love, laughter and gratitude

Gratitude comes as easily as laughter at a family gathering. No matter what the occassion, we laugh and eat and eat and laugh, ultimately not knowing whether our bellies ache from too many helpings or the side-splitting humor. We weave our way through many threads of conversation, most of it serious -- politics, the economy, international events. The inevitability of the turning leaves only the question of when. When will my brother or nephew turn a phrase that will have us doubled-over? When will my mother say something so utterly unexpected and shocking that we can't contain ourselves? How long will it be before my sister-in-law surrenders to snorting? No meal is complete without the snorting.

I am truly thankful for my family, for knowing that at every meal, they'll serve up a full course of laughter. All of it drizzled with love.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

seven lessons from africa

With eight vaccination shots in my ass and a Lonely Planet book of East Africa in my hand, I boarded a flight for Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha.

Day 2 of the journey brought me face to face with a lone male buffalo in the brush of a national forest. Lesson 1: If you meet a buffalo in the woods while your pants are dropped around your ankles, lie down and play dead. It's much less likely that you'll be impaled.

On day 4, I hiked 20 hours to meet a woman who poured me a brew of valarian root and quinine for my back injury. Along the way, I passed a grass hut flooded by screams of a girl who was undergoing a ceremonial initiation. Lesson 2: what some people call ceremonial initiation, others call genital mutilation.

Day 7, in the Serengeti, I watched a lion destroy my tent. Fortunately, I was not inside. Lesson 3: do not leave food in your tent, even if it's just a lemon.

Day 10 took me to the base of a mountain that the local villagers never climbed because they thought the smoke coming from the top was evidence that gods lived there. We climbed it, poli poli (translation: slowly, slowly), slipping on skree near the top. At its highest point, the surface flattened and crumbled when we walked across it, almost like the crusty top of a brownie when broken in half. Lesson 4: smoke might not be evidence of gods, but it could indicate an active volcano.

Our vehicle was stuck on day 12 trying to cross a flooded road, so we set up camp. At night, Hippos swarmed our tents. Lesson 5: make sure neighboring tents touch so that the formation looks like one large structure. Wild animals are less likely to attack a big structure than a small one.

The highlight of day 13 was ducking poisoned arrows. Lesson 6: don't travel past villagers who've had their cattle stolen by a rival village. If caught by a surprise attack, hit the decks because negotiation is not an option. (See lesson one)

On day 30, I stepped on a sea urchin off the island of Zanzibar, making walking impossible and pain unbearable. Lesson 7: sea urchin spikes are poisonous. Do not, I repeat, do not try to cut them out of your foot. Instead, cut a baby papaya and rub the juice over the wound. You'll be walking in no time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the weight of hope

Have you heard that the weight of a soul is 21 grams? That's equivalent to the weight of five nickles in the palm of your hand.

What do other energies weigh? What is the weight of love?
What is the weight of potential? What is the weight of hope, or more importantly, what is the burden of hopelessness? Not just for the individual, but for the society?

We stand at the precipice of suffering and opportunity. It has been decades since the safety net has been this threadbare as we dive into a recession. One of every 100 black men are warehoused in prison -- locked in the basement -- as our President elect smashes a glass ceiling.

So let this not be the diet of our nation -- the loss of hope, opportunity and our collective souls.

Voting for Obama was a step. A big step. Now we need to stay fully engaged in our democracy and speak loudly for those still without voices. Racism is not over with the election of a black man. And fear and hatred trumps love with the rescinding of gay marriage in California and other anti-gay legislation in Arizona, Florida and Arkansas.

Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

where do i begin?

...Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Do the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will...gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet, Letter No. 4

Where do I begin
when the sea and she comes crashing in
How can I still swim
when all the sands of time
are building castles in my mind

ecstacy & anguish

It'll take more than Halloween candy to fix what I'm feeling now.

After canvasing and phone banking from 8am-8pm for Obama on Tuesday, I watched the election returns in a room full of African Americans. Overwhelmed with ecstacy, I listened to Obama's acceptance speech feeling proud to be an American, thrilled that the world was watching.

I awoke on Wednesday morning and raced to my computer, anxious to learn the results of Proposition 8. Anti-gay ballot measures in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas passed on Tuesday. Ecstacy plummets to anguish in an instant. Now I am trying to hold both feelings at once.

I'm surrounded by people celebrating the hope that Obama's presidency brings while my joy is clouded with despair.

So I've been speaking up. I'm not trying to bring anyone down; I just want my frickin' civil rights too. Halloween is over and I've stripped off my mask. Not even the left-over candy can sweeten how I feel. Mark Twain said that only in the dictionary does success come before work. We've still got lots of work ahead.