Monthly Archives: October 2019

In Memory of Elijah Cummings

Elijah E. Cummings, one of the great activists and statesmen of our time, recognized the signs of demagoguery and autocracy as a very real and existential threat to our democracy and, in particular, to the freedoms of the marginalized everywhere – particularly people of color. He recognized because he was old enough to remember – remember what it looked and felt like not to be free. This blog is a revised and updated version of “For Mini” originally posted in June of 2013. Then, I could have not imagined it being even more relevant today.

You could sit on my great-grandparent’s porch, deep in the southern woods, and count to ninety before the first faint sound of a car could be heard coming our way. The sound was something like the hum the wind makes as it is first gathering steam. As Don Williams once sung, I can still hear soft Southern winds in the live oak trees. This was where Joe grew up, my great uncle, the one they said was never right, to whom I would dedicated my first book, An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita. It’s also where Mini would come to cook and clean for us.

We were not the old money antebellum south. We were the other south, poor, yet fiercely proud. And, like such families, with many children to feed and crops to plow, extra hands were needed in the house and in the fields. And, those hands were black. Of course, by the time I was growing up and spending long, hot, pick-flowers-in-the-field days there, an image of the those extra black hands could only be held alive in the vapors of memory. But, Mini was no vapor. She was right there making the biscuits and, then, making my bed.

And so, she labored for our family for most of her long life. No doubt she would have said she loved us dearly, as we certainly felt so, and we always said we loved her like family. And, I believe, both were, unequivocally, true. Me, living in a different part of the country for the school year, did not have the long history with Mini. I was also part of a new generation hearing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the television. So, though I was always happy to see her come through the back door (yes, only the back), mostly, I just tried to turn away and not think about it too much. But, sometimes I couldn’t and that sour feeling would come back curdling in my stomach again.

I suppose I could have made it through without any unnecessary upheaval for those few short weeks each summer. After all, this was where my roots were, my home. This was my family, the only place I felt I belonged, and always a welcome respite from the long difficult school year where I struggled so. My family was good, salt of the earth, and I loved them. And, of course, still do.

could have had it not been for that outhouse at the outer edge of our back yard. Mini wasn’t allowed to use the indoor bathroom. The outhouse was for her. One day, when I was maybe ten or twelve, I watched her make her way out to that outhouse and I could feel that curdling again. But, this time the inevitable tide, like nausea, having festered for what felt like many summers in my young life, was not to be curtailed. I waited for her to return to the kitchen and, finding us alone, blurted out, Mini, why don’t you use the indoor bathroom?

And, exactly in that moment, would have given my whole life to take it back. Her stunned, piercing glance felt volcanic, like hot embers, long dormant, suddenly now in real danger of erupting without regard to fallout. And I, in the wake, stopped breathing, paralyzed. Oh, but my young, naive, heart was screaming, But, Mini, it’s not right! 

Gratefully, her lifetime of well-adapted this is how you behave ‘round whites instinct kicked in and she quickly recovered but not before giving me a good tongue lashing. Youse knows better’in dat Miss Stetnee. Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! And, turning from me, she threw the dry cloth over her shoulder and flashed me one last clear look of warning, We be done w’ this Miss Stetnee. We be done w’ this. And, so we were.

Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! My family would have echoed the exact same sentiment. Still, since, I have winced every time I remember. Just what was she to do with that? In truth, none of us, least of all me, were equipped to do anything with, simply, yet regrettably, what was. It was more than what we did. It seemed to be who we were.

We never talked about it again. I returned to school and, in later summers, would come to see Mini less and less as her age and health issues took hold. Still, over the years, I’ve often prayed that she knew what was in my young heart that day in the kitchen. I have imagined being able to sit with her and say…

Please forgive me. I just couldn’t watch you walk out to that outhouse anymore. I just couldn’t. Still, I’m sorry I was so unkind to you. I just so wanted you to know, dear Mini, that I ‘saw’ you…and so ‘felt’ for you. This was what was in my heart to say. I just didn’t know how.

Oh, dear Mini, thank you for your hands, sturdy and skilled, given in the long, faithful service to my family. Thank you for still making our biscuits and our beds but, mostly, for loving us, even when we did not know how to best love you.

Yes, I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees and, today, when I close my eyes, I can see in the vapors dear Mini standing there in the kitchen…but this time…

Smiling softly back at me…unburdened and free.

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An Unexpected Gift of Grace

I have broken my wrist. Left one, thank God. It happened when I fell hard on the wooden floor in my lyrical dance class last night. Late night in the ER. Tomorrow an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon to get the full scoop. Gift of Grace you ask? Indeed.

Many of you have heard me quote Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” And, we also know that sometimes it’s so easy to say, “Really?! Even this?! Excuse me?!” But, yes, even this, it’s true.

The back story will reveal why. When I first walked over to Allegro Dance Academy, just across the parking lot, I was showing up to take the summer Lyrical Dance class for adults. I was excited beyond belief. My husband had been gentle teasing me (with his sweet smile) about spending a week trying to decide what to wear! It was like I was in high school or something. “Will I fit in? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be the only one over 40?” One day I came out with my new dance pants and shirt on and, with arms raised like a cheerleader, asked, “How do I look?” to which he replied with that sweet smile, “40ish.” I mean, really, how cool is that!

But: Class cancelled. Low enrollment. I would have to wait for fall. But what did happen that day was that I had a long, wonderful, conversation with the owner of Allegro Dance, Jen, whom, it felt very clear to me, was someone who, though she had a very different background full of dance, totally resonated with what I was about. Heaven. I just knew I was in the right place.

Finally, the day of the first class arrived. Ready an hour early – there’s my husband’s sweet smile again – and then, out the door I went with my full body pulsing some combination of, “What the heck am I doing?” and, “Oh my God, I can’t wait!” Well, yes, it did look like I was the only one over 40 but most of the other women were middle aged and of varying shapes and sizes. But what I discovered in that first class was that lyrical dance was a combination of ballet, modern and jazz. The ballet I knew but not the modern and jazz. I also discovered that, because all the women in the class had been doing lyrical dance for a while, things went very fast – at least for me. So, after the first class, I asked my teacher, Christine (wonderful teacher!), briefly about private lessons and, the next day, decided to send an email to both her and Jen explaining what it was I was looking for and why. In part, the email read:

“I am looking to learn modern and jazz techniques, to integrate with my knowledge of ballet to, eventually, create my own a kind of liturgical dance language that can be used for both personal as well as spiritual exploration. Eventually, I would like to create a sacred dance ensemble.”

Okay, I confess it made me chuckle a bit thinking how this might be received. After all, this a dance academy, not a church or related spiritual organization. As it turned out, my teacher, Christine, was not available during the day. And, I could imagine most of the other teachers, from their bios, scattering for cover exclaiming, “What?? Not me!” And it did appear that no match was going to surface until one of the teachers did email me to set something up. “Probably, the one with the least seniority,” I mused. I had secretly hoped Jen would offer as I had read from her bio that she had, years ago, co-founded and was the choreographer for the Holy Cross Dance Ensemble. But I just knew she had her hands full with running the place.

And so, last night came and somewhere between the chaines and a jazz move down I went before I even knew what had happened. Seeing my deformed wrist, even in shock, I knew it had taken the fall (no pun intended). So, lying in emergency with my arm suspended, fingers in suction cups, wrist numbed (thank God), and watching the doctor massaging it back into its normal form, I began to let the full gravity of what had just happened seep in. And, it made my heart stop – not for what had happened – but for what hadn’t. A 69-year-old, with a hip replacement falls hard on the floor…if I had come down on my hip replacement side, I would have been put completely out of commission for many months – no teaching, nothing. And I could have injured my other hip, my back, my head. No doubt, it could have been devastating. So, to walk away (literally) with only a broken wrist, on my left side, began to feel, to me, like nothing short of a gift of Grace.

But there was more Grace to come. The next morning I had a long talk with Jen. I told her I wanted to continue my contract with Allegro but that, on my return, wanted to concentrate on private lessons, reiterating some of what I had put in my email, before returning to a class. And, without skipping a beat, she offered a day and time she would be willing to work with me. Suddenly, my heart just leaped! As many of you have often heard me say…We are all given to one another in the most perfect way and time. How joyous it is to imagine all the ways in which we will gift one another.

The whys and wherefores of Grace are way beyond my understanding. I just know that, today, instead of feeling discouraged that all that joy I had felt from just imagining returning to dance was evaporating in the wind like some old woman’s dusty dream, I am feeling like a dancer, who’s future is full of imagining and possibility.

In the meantime, I am saying my prayers with my prayer rope waking and sleeping and sending all my love into my wrist with unbound gratitude. I am saying to it, “Just imagine all the beautiful movements we will do together in honor of our human journey and in praise of our God. And you, my beautiful wrist, will have so much to share as we, together, peel away the deeper lessons of this journey over time. I love you. And as we heal, let’s remember that sweet joy that sent us skipping across the parking lot, for we, not in spite of, but because of, this fall, will soon move into the ever deepening caverns of the heart to reveal the treasures there yet unknown…for we, you and I together…my most beautiful wrist…

are dancers.”



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