Thursday, 29 March 2018

Maundy Thursday 2018 (Father, forgive them)

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Right now, there’s a lot in the world that seems unforgivable, isn’t there? And isn’t it nice to have that get out clause from Our Lord?

For they know not what they do. But what if they DO know? The Trump voter, the Brexit voter, all who voted their spitting rage, hatred of other, leaning into ‘rivers of blood’ style xenophobia and racism, then disingenuously stood back, claiming ‘economic anxiety’ or ‘sovereignty’ while vulnerable groups and entire nations suffered the consequences.

How delicious was it, then, when they began to suffer? When steelworkers didn’t get those promised jobs? When they suddenly realised they were going to lose their healthcare? When they realised that whoops, much of the funding that held up their deprived communities came from the EU? How tempting to say, ‘No job from Trump? What, now you want a handout from the social safety net you wanted to slash? Here’s a bowl, there’s the street.’ Or ‘Oh, the radioactive isotopes your child needs are in short supply because we’re out of Euratom? Well, they don’t deserve to suffer, but because you decided that they and every other cancer patient should, so you could vote your hate, you deserve every ounce of unmitigated suffering coming your way.’ Or a personal favourite, ‘I wouldn’t cross the street to pour a glass of water on him if his guts were on fire, but if I had accelerant, I might just run.’

After all, Jesus gave us that out, right? No forgiveness because they knew exactly what they did. Never mind that denying them aid and forcing them to beg or using a child’s suffering as a vehicle for revenge makes us uncomfortably like them.

They know what they do. Just like my father did, just like my uncle did. No quarter given. They knew.

Don Henley’s 1989 song, The Heart of the Matter, nudges at that certainty:

These times are so uncertain
There's a yearning undefined
People filled with rage


Times so very like our own. But wait. A yearning undefined? People don’t know what they want? And what do we know about ourselves filled with rage, in the grip of that inferno of anger, aware of nothing but the object of our hate and our need to tear it down, completely blinded to everything else from the people around us to the consequences of our vengeance? Do we know what we do then?

And if not, what about them? How do we arrange those three words? They do know or…do they know? Now not only are the times uncertain, so are we.

Henley goes on:

We all need a little tenderness
Or how can love survive in such a graceless age?


Tenderness, which might lead to compassion and forgiveness? Don, who do you think I am? Our Lady? Jesus? Thanks for the lofty thoughts, but where are we supposed to start?

Let us begin by teasing out what forgiveness actually is: it is not forgetfulness. It does not allow someone to hurt us over and over again. It does not deny that a wrong was committed – for if nothing was wrong, there would be nothing to forgive. Forgiveness does not ignore the degree of the offence or the hurt caused. Forgiveness does not forgo consequences: reparation, loss of relationship, withdrawal of privileges. Forgiveness is not reconciliation, though it may open the door to it.

Forgiveness is rooted in the Latin perdonare, later in the Germanic for and giefan, which mean ‘to give completely, without reservation’. So forgiveness is completely giving release from retribution. Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and ensuing bitterness about what happened to us. Forgiveness is about, over time, being able to be less angry, then neutral, then perhaps being able to wish the other well, even if the relationship never resumes. Above all, forgiveness is a process, not a fixed point.

Unforgiveness freezes us, locking us in stasis, making it impossible to move or grow. So perhaps if we cannot begin by asking to be able to forgive, we might be able to begin with these words from the Veni, Sancte Spiritus: melt the frozen, warm the chill.

The thaw often begins with allowing feelings beneath the frozen anger of unforgiveness to surface, the moving water of tears of pain, grief, betrayal, loss, but also the water of life: I'm learning to live without you now - but I miss you sometimes. For example, my father is an emotional sadist with a tendency to physically lash out, veering between a complete lack of affect and towering rage. When I told him his brother had sexually abused me for 4 years, he had exactly 6 words: It doesn’t matter; it's not important. Plenty of pain, grief, and betrayal there. Plenty of reason for a hard, frozen exterior to survive him. So it took me decades to come to the surprising realisation that tearing myself away from him was not painless and didn’t bring unmitigated relief and happiness. I found myself grieving, empty, bleeding, and yes, missing - not him, per se, but a father, one who knew and loved me from the moment my arrival on this planet was expected – a realisation that propelled me towards letting go – and healing.


So the first step in the process of forgiveness is acknowledging that we miss what is ruptured, our hurt and its depth, listening to it, making space for it, letting the running water cleanse it, and bandaging – or protecting – it while it heals. The next step is beautifully summed up in the line:

The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again.


We must have the courage to be curious, to be uncertain. To look again at what happened, to wonder what I missed, if what I thought I saw was the whole story. I missed the horror and trauma of Partition till I came to the UK and saw the documentaries. For decades, I didn’t know my father had lost 2 sisters and had been so close to one he never again said her name after she died. That knowledge made me realise how little I understood the man I’d grown up with, which allowed for a sea change in perception when I talked to a friend after seeing a picture of my father at 20:

Me: You know, he might have been saved. Here, he just looks wary, sad – angry, yes, but not irrevocably so. (Friend: Mmmmmm.) That just doesn’t jibe with the man I grew up with. You know what else doesn’t? (Mmmmm?) There was this time my cousin brought her baby girl with her, and my father just grabbed the baby, held her tight, closed his eyes and wouldn’t let go. I was like, hey, I WAS HERE, REMEMBER? WHAT ABOUT ME?

Friend: I’ve wondered about that since you first told me. Do you want to hear what I think? (Of course.) What if it wasn’t that you were unlovable or that he was incapable of loving you? What if he saw this baby girl and didn’t dare love her? And what if you grew up more and more like his sister, then everything came into play – the fear, the grief, the rage, and he had to push you away? Or he had to try to make you not like her?

What if indeed. And suddenly, all the things I thought I knew, I was learning again. That staying open, that willingness to give up the story we tell over and over, that admission that maybe it’s more complicated may feel frightening, even blasphemous, if we subscribe to a theology where we believe G-d has spoken His final word or if we’ve come to religion for the exoskeleton of certainty. But we must remember what G-d’s final word said as He ascended: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. He is here, working with us, through us, to redeem His creation.

And He redeems us by adding that meltwater, the water of our tears, to our clay and reshaping us, even perhaps making it possible to look at an incredibly painful situation and reflect:

I thought of all the bad luck
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you


Because perpetrator or wounded in any situation, we are all lost. Not one of us, no matter how much we plan, how good we are at looking into the future and gauging consequences, how many pro and con lists we make before a decision, know what we do, because we cannot see it all. Not you, not me, not the Trump or Brexit voter, not the colleague or family member who makes you consider jail time, not my father, not Judas. Maybe a little tenderness, such as that we would give a child, is in order.

To put it another way, as Rachel Remen relates what a rabbi once said on Yom Kippur after his 1 year old daughter grabbed his nose, his tie, and his glasses during his sermon: “Think about it. Is there anything she could do that you could not forgive her for? And when does that stop? When does it get hard to forgive? At three? At seven? At fourteen? At thirty-five? How old does someone have to be before you forget that everyone is a child of G-d?”

And speaking of children of G-d, it’s time to get back to his Son. What a week he has had: adored on his arrival in Jerusalem, betrayed by one of his own, denied by the man he planned to be the rock on which to build His church, agonised by doubt, mocked and spat upon by those he preached to and healed, feeling abandoned by everyone, even His Father. What must have been going through his head as he was stripped, beaten, carrying and then nailed to the cross? I can’t help but wonder, before this first word passed his lips, if it was something very similar to Don Henley’s reflection on the subject:

I've been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I thirst (Maundy Thursday 2017)

He has sweat blood, he has been betrayed, tried, and scourged. He has carried his cross, fallen, been nailed hand & foot, and been raised up to die in one of the most excruciating ways possible.

He has forgiven his murderers, promised a thief paradise, given the care of His mother to a beloved disciple. And he has, in these last moments, felt the loss of that presence which has been closer than His nearest human breath throughout his ministry.  

Utterly alone. Forsaken. And now, ‘I thirst.’

There is a primal need to thirst, a yearning, a desperation. We are, after all, creatures that are 2/3 water. What those of us who have done a Ramadan fast – especially in the summer – remember is not the hunger, but the desperate need for water. That is why what I call ‘intermediate forms’ of fasting allow liquid as they deny – or curb - our food.

Think about the words we use when we have nothing left: our tank is empty; we are spiritually dry; someone is ‘dried up’. It is no coincidence, I think, that early Fathers sold everything and fled to the driest place on Earth, the place that would keep them right on the edge of death, to face their demons and strip right back to the essence of their relationship with G-d.

Thirst is bone deep; thirst is need; thirst is a desire for life – even from the cross. And Our Lord’s thirst isn’t a passive thing: it is not ‘I am soooo thirsty,’ or the Spanish ‘Tengo sed’ – ‘I have thirst.’ He thirsts – it is active; it is a desire on the hunt.

But for what? He physically thirsts, clearly – Jesus was fully human, and it had been…rather a tough day so far, with the words of the Psalmist to fulfil before it was accomplished.  Thus, the vinegar on a sponge. But, as always with Our Lord, there is so much more.

Just as we use thirst figuratively: we thirst for knowledge, thirst for righteousness, thirst for justice, so does He. But again, for what? Augustine offers us a possible answer in a phrase I saw every year during Lent when I regularly attended the Oratory: sitit sitiri – G-d thirsts to be thirsted for. Perhaps. But there is something unsatisfactory in this – this mutual longing feels incomplete; it lacks connection; it smacks of unfulfilled relationship – and no little emotional manipulation. Thirst for G-d or else YOU are dehydrating Him!

But if we flip back to earlier in the gospel of John, we get a glimmering. Picture the scene: a hot day in Samaria, a well, and a woman approaching it to draw water for her family. A young man sitting there commands her, “Give me to drink.” Left unsaid, “I thirst.” We all know her response, “Seriously? You, a Jew asking me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” (Not quite KJV, but still.) His response is an unexpected one: If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.

The therapist in me loves this line, because when someone tells you what they would give you, more often than not, they are telling you what they want from you. Jesus will give us living water, and there is a not-so-faint echo of the later And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament. 

Our Lord doesn't just thirst for us to thirst for him. He thirsts for us.

The us He knit together in our mother’s womb, the us He dreamt we would be when He created us. The us that not one of us could create, but that these fragile bodies of ours contain. As Dag Hammarskjold said, “I am the vessel. The draught is G-d’s. And it is G-d who thirsts.”

Ah, we may think, great! The draught is G-d’s, I am the vessel, there’s this whole pour your life out as a libation thing. All I have to do is be like the guy in the parable of the talents who puts the talent in the ground and gives it back to the Master unchanged – conveniently forgetting just how well that worked for him.

But there’s a catch. We have this treasure of G-d’s draught in earthen vessels. And earthen vessels have a habit of leaching and changing that which they contain. Every choice we make through the free will granted us changes the draught of G-d’s contained within us for better or for worse, makes it bitter or sweet.

Oh, we think, I’ll ignore the niggle of my conscience just that one time. I can’t forgive him, so I won’t try. I’ll miss out that little kindness. I’ll tell that little lie. I’ll keep quiet about that wrong I know is happening, someone else will take care of it. But those ‘slips’ become habit, and many littles soon become a tsunami of sin. Or, as @absurdistwords once noted in a Twitter thread, you can only play Devil's advocate for so long before you realize that the Devil actually has you on retainer.

And so often, it is more subtle than that, isn’t it, especially when you’re working for the Church? Of course twisting that person’s arm was the right thing to do, it was for G-d. Of course I know what THEIR spiritual path should be, all the while ignoring how far I’ve come off course. I was right to ostracise them, they’re a heretic. The obsession with bums in pews whilst neglecting the souls of those sitting in them. I was right to offer fraternal correction in public, his humiliation is G-d’s will. The creeping spiritual arrogance, the pride that we, at least, are doing G-d’s work. We would do well to remember Hammarskjold’s admonition: It was when Lucifer first congratulated himself upon his angelic behaviour that he became the tool of evil.

Or, to put it in Holy Week terms: Where in our journey do we avoid reaching Golgotha, refusing to get up the first, second, or third time we fall? Where do we demand the resurrection without the crucifixion, or, playing the martyr, refuse to allow G-d to take us down off our cross, so He can move us from crucifixion to resurrection?

So now what? Are we to despair? Is it impossible for us to sweeten this draught? Will we forever embitter it? Again – can you tell I’m currently reading Markings? – Hammarskjold points the way through the prayer Our Lord taught us:

Hallowed be thy name 
*NOT MINE*
Thy kingdom come
*NOT MINE*
Thy will be done 
*NOT MINE*
Give us peace with thee
Peace with men 
Peace with ourselves
And free us from all fear.

Free us from fear? Ah, now that might be a way forward, since all sin is, somewhere, based in fear. But how, in these darkest of times? 1st John tells us: perfect love casteth out fear. But how do we poor humans find perfect love? By falling into the arms of the one who spread them on the cross for us.

Relying on our own meagre human resources, we will soon make the draught undrinkable. But through surrender to Divine will, we become the finest vintage imaginable, the one He intended us to be. And then, He can lift up our vessel and quench His thirst: not by drinking as we drink, but by putting it to the lips of our thirsty neighbour – the sick, the poor, the refugee - those lives He means us to touch & heal, pouring out our lives as a libation until it is accomplished. 



Sunday, 8 January 2017

Reflections on a high school commencement address & today's politics, or, where a Republican senator hands me a guiding principle for life

I woke up this morning thinking about someone I haven't thought about in decades - John Danforth, retired Republican senator from Missouri. As the morning went on, I thought of him more, not less.

Weird, huh? Maybe not so much, since he was the father of D.D. Danforth, who was in my year at school - so yeah, my dirty little secret, for those of you who might not have guessed, is that I went to a posh private school, alongside the daughters of senators and kings (Hussein of Jordan).

I'll never forget seeing him come to school, taking the steps 2 and 3 at a time from car park to the main door of the school. My 'Hello, Senator!' always met with a smile and gracious 'hello' back, no matter how much of a hurry he was in. I liked him; even in our brief encounters, you could feel the integrity and the calm around him, the exact opposite of my father; I often wondered what he'd be like as a dad.

Those occasional brief encounters occurred for years - then, he spoke at our graduation...and it changed my life. I had that commencement speech on my wall for years, with sections underlined and starred, until it fell apart; I'd love to have it again now. I'm pretty sure he began with congratulating us, telling us how we were all being applauded, and rightly so, graduating was quite an achievement. But then.

Then.

He told us that we would be applauded throughout our lives, but our real job was not to seek that applause. *Our real job was to go out and GIVE it - to everyone around us: our friends, lovers, children, colleagues.* His last line was for us to go out there and 'Start clapping. Never stop.' I can't speak for anyone else at our graduation, but I could feel the electricity of truth run through me and, in that moment, I swore I would do that; that I would hold up those around me however I could. That principle was diametrically opposed to my parents' 'People are commodities to be used for your benefit,' but John Danforth's speech spoke to MY integrity; it pointed due North and let me find my way.

This morning, it struck me: *one of the guiding principles of my life was handed to me by a Republican senator*.

And I finally understood - I'm not just incandescent with rage, I am grieving. I am grieving the loss of men like John Danforth from our political scene. The loss of the Republican party that could be home to men like him. The loss of our common vision for a better nation and world, even if we disagree on the how. The loss of our ability to trust and talk to each other, to reach the compromises we need to go forward.

I am a diehard Dem - but had John Danforth run in 2000, I can't say whom I'd have voted for. And had he run and won, my heart would have been happy - because I would have known I could entrust my country to the hands of this man who understood the meaning of service - not just as a senator, but as a priest.

That is what we all need to move back towards, whatever our calling in life - a sense of service, an orientation towards the greater good. Haven't our decades of obsession with ourselves shown us that selfishness leaves us empty and brings disaster upon our heads? That connection and service bring us joy? That we need the balance of turning inward for contemplation and self-examination, then turning back outward to offer the fruits of that contemplation as service to others, to pour out our lives as a libation, and in doing so, move the world towards wholeness?

And where is that sense of service more needed than in those who serve our communities and nations? Even if they differ in the how, the why - the greater good of humanity - must be the same. So let us commit ourselves to unseating those obsessed with exalting themselves and oppressing others and seating those committed to the greater good - whatever their party affiliation.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Goodbye, 2016

Dear 2016,

Damn, you were brutal. We should have known what was coming when you took David Bowie 10 days into the year, with Alan Rickman to follow 4 days later. You certainly started as you meant to carry on, because 3 months later, we lost Prince.

And just when we caught our collective breath, you'd strike again. Two months after that, Brexit, a month later, a deeply insecure, unknowledgeable, shrill, mean-spirited PM took over from a rather thick, self-absorbed one.

Then, the US campaign: filthy, mean-spirited, hate-mongering, feeding the rabid hatred of those - on the left and right - who blindly wanted to tear down the (granted, broken) system with no thought of building another.

Surely, we thought, surely, restraint and moderation would win. Surely, experience, the steady hand, the imperfect yet qualified candidate would win.

But oh no, 2016, this was your 'hold my beer' moment par excellence, wasn't it? No moderation here. YOU, who took our legends and gave us Brexit, were certainly not going down the middle road. Extremism won.

Hate trumped love.

And in 2017, we are going to have to clean up the devastation you left behind.

But I have one thing to say to you: thank you.

Yes, you read that right, thank you. You hurt like f*** right from the beginning in the places where it would hurt the most: you took those who stood for and exemplified diversity, who spoke loudly that diversity was our strength, that we may be many parts, but we were one human body, and you left us those like Theresa May and Donald Trump who screech like harpies in favour of hate, division, a smaller mind and a smaller world. You were one fucking cunt of a teacher.

But though I'm going to tell you to get the hell out and not let the door hit you on the way out, I am grateful for you. You were our true mirror. Theresa May, Donald Trump, the Tories, GOP, Putin and his ilk - they didn't arise in a vacuum: they are who we have become.

They are who we become when we allow our points of view to dictate facts, rather than facts to inform and challenge our points of view. They are who we become when we are afraid of those not like us, when we are afraid of change, when we are afraid to move past what we know. This is who we become when we are only for ourselves, forget how to serve, and harden our hearts against those in desperate need. When we choose style (Dale Carnegie has a shitload to answer for) over substance, appearance over character. When we do a little learning, rather than drinking deeply of the Pierian spring. When we resent and deny expertise. When we no longer take the time to listen to stories: each other's, our cultures', the archetypal.

Had we been on track, had we allowed minor corrections, had we been looking at what was true rather than looking away, you would have been an altogether different year.

But we weren't. So you had to be our prophet and our massive correction to give us a chance to return to the dynamic balance, the homeostasis, that defines the universe.

So again, thank you. Thank you for opening our eyes. For showing us that we have strength and fierceness we never thought we did. For shaking us out of our torpor and complacency into full wakefulness to know and fight for what we hold dear, for those things so much greater than us: love, compassion, true freedom, unity. We will always be stronger together.

You reminded us that growth needs resistance - and often demands that we ARE that resistance. We will heed your clarion call, and we will fight. Because in the end, love WILL trump hate.

You have given us clearer sight, more open - if more scarred - hearts, renewed our profound commitment to love, truth, justice, mercy. You have brought us a chance to Deepen (see Madeleine L'Engle) at last.

We stay awake and stand ready at the Gate of the Year. It may be dark, but day WILL break. Let it open.

We release you in love, with thanks - and move fearlessly into 2017, whatever it may bring.

Fare thee well: we may have cursed you from here to the Eagle Nebula, but we couldn't have done without you - much as we hate to admit it.

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Why 'nice' and 'civilised conversation' don't work in a Trumpian world

Ok, it's now time for me to go public about the 'empathy and being nice to Trump and his supporters, because we're civilised, good people and that's how everything works. You sit down and talk things out calmly, mediate, blah blah blah. Don't be meeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnn!' narrative that's going around normalising him - and them.

Fucking BULLSHIT.

If you don't want to listen, if you want to dismiss me as angry, dismiss this as a 'oh that's her' rant, if the ferocity makes you uncomfortable because you need your nice little ordered world, then walk away from this entry. Because it's not MY job to make you comfortable on MY wall. You can look away. I'm not going to be other than I am for you.

My father is a manipulative, emotionally abusive, sadistic waste of carbon molecules, with much in common with Donald Trump and many of his supporters. I spent my *entire childhood* and part of my adulthood navigating that. I got called a 'whore' at the drop of a hat, and worse than that free with my breakfast cereal.

Here's what I learned. *You can't talk to people like my father, Donald Trump, or those supporters*. Any time you try civilised conversation, mediation, negotiation, they think you're weak. They see it as a way to fleece you, manipulate you, take you for everything you've got, mock you, gaslight you. Normal relationship brokering is off the table because they do not share your worldview or your moral centre. People are commodities to them, to be used and then thrown away. So cut the 'let's talk nice to them' narrative and talk to them in a way they understand.

You know what my father understood? He understood me kicking back when he pulled my hair. He understood my yelling at him at the top of the stairs when he had gone too far. He understood my moving out with 2 bin bags, my throwing him out of my flat when he showed up, and my not giving a f*** about what he was going to tell his mother about her 'good granddaughter'. He understood my giving the car back when he threatened to report it as stolen when I went to visit my cousin and her husband. He understood me not speaking to him for the last 12 years. So, as you can see, the ONLY thing he has EVER understood, the ONLY thing that got through, was figuratively putting him up against the wall and getting in his face.

Because what my father values, what *Trump* values, is overt strength - and the balls to shove his face in it. (Interestingly, an ex white supremacist on Twitter said if people had talked nice to him, he'd still be a white supremacist. It was people getting in his face that forced him to change.)

There's no room for nice here. No room for softpedalling. No room for safe spaces - nowhere is safe now. What there is room for is love: ferocious, protective, powerful love that will go to the wall, go any distance to protect the beloved - the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of others' teeming shores. We take the homeless, tempest-tost and give them sanctuary. THAT is who we ARE, what we fight for. The people, every last one of them. Yes, even those we need to put up against that figurative wall because in their pain and blind rage, they are trying to destroy what is most precious in our humanity. Just as I can recognise my father's awfulness arises from unresolved pain and grief and feel for it - even as I don't give him an inch - so can we understand and feel for those we must fight. But understanding and feeling for them does not mean we do not hold them accountable, that we do not hold them against that wall and get in their face with every means at our disposal: the legal system, protest, a press that fearlessly speaks the *truth* about what's happening, our vote.

We are walking in the dark, and we must light candles to find our way and give us light till the dawn returns. But don't wave a torch around and tell me it's the sun. Let the *truth* be your light, however frightening you find it.

Friday, 8 July 2016

To America, after last night in Dallas

Dallas.

Sorrowful, yes. Shocked, no. Where justice is denied, vengeance will follow. Everyone should have seen this coming - the officers guilty of every incident of police brutality; police departments that don’t train officers properly, then mindlessly protect them for wrongdoing; the Internal Affairs sections, lawyers, and grand juries that let murdering police officers off the hook; policymakers. Everyone. This was the natural consequence of a series of actions and lack of a fair, just response to them. This is the consequence of denial.

But perhaps we didn’t expect THIS. Perhaps we expected the police officers known to be guilty in notorious cases of brutality to be executed. More likely, we expected a mass shooting or a bomb at a police station, or police killed by angry demonstrators. Typical American style, thoughtless violence. Terrible one day, forgotten the next.

This was something completely different.

This was horrifyingly elegant - in its timing, in its execution, in its symbolism - using police and military tactics against men in uniform. There was intelligence behind this: resourcesful, strategic, patient, coldly angry. Not the hotheaded anger one expects of Americans that lead to many incidents of one-off violence.

Cold rage. One that recruits men who can lie in wait for hours, picking off their targets. One that may have placed a number of bombs around Dallas - and even if they haven’t, a member (one trapped by police, no less) had the presence of mind to say they did, so police are wasting resources trying to find those bombs after the chaos. One with members who escape in a black Mercedes. One that can wait for the right time and place to execute its plans.

Welcome to a homegrown terrorist cell.

Because you see, where there is a large reservoir of swirling, unresolved emotion, eventually an organising mind, a seed crystal, will emerge and draw that reservoir to it, creating a structure. A structure with a function. And that function will, for good or for ill, channel that emotion to a particular purpose. Whether it’s Martin Luther King or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that mind will come and draw like ones to it. That mind is here, and the energy it draws is the endless, deep rage of those who have been done wrong and who have not been heard.

You are coming to the last exit off this highway, America, the last chance to come off, turn around, and deal with this before it is dealt with for you. Because you ignored all the earlier exits, this is going to be incredibly painful, long, and difficult, but it must be done. To paraphrase a favourite song: you missed the stop sign, took a turn for the worse. Then you went rushing down that freeway, messed around and got lost, you didn’t care…

…and now too many of you are dying to get off.

Stop dying. Start living. You are a country with a beautiful dream that has turned into a horrible nightmare. Wake up, America. Wake up and face your demons. Because only then can you become the Republic for which your flag stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

It's All Coming Back To Me Now





My current earworm, following a series of unexpected ones over the last several weeks (as you can see from my last blog post. The rest are even more embarrassing, so let's not go there).

But this, I think, is the big one - and not just because of the lush orchestration, huge fuck off vocals, and an opulent video that allow me to indulge a sensuous side I rarely let out. Yes, it's cheesy. Yes, it's Celine. Yes, it's easily mockable. 

So what? It's a song where Jim Steinman took a risk, committed to writing the biggest, most emotionally laden, romantic song he could, inspired by Wuthering Heights. No matter what you think of the result, there's something incredibly brave about pouring your entire self into a creation and then putting out there. Whatever its form, it's a precious gift.

And that gift gives so much more than the creator ever expected, often offering the chance for profound healing, because when they unreservedly pour themselves into their creation, they allow us to do the same from the other side - and it is only when we do so that real transformation can occur.

So it is with this. Jim Steinman wrote it as a song about the darker side of love: obsession as it moves back and forth between 'We're done!' and 'No, wait...' But as is often the case when we step into another's creation, how it resonates with us may be completely different from the stated intent, because all creations from the heart have layer upon layer of meaning. 

When I first told a friend that I couldn't stop listening to this (and listed the others from the last weeks) she said, Your romantic longings seem to be surging to the forefront.

There was an instantaneous, not defensive, NO to that, because even when I first fell in love with this song, it was about so much more to me. Now, if she meant Romantic - with a capital R - that nails it, because it is absolutely about my core quality of experiencing, processing, and creating through intense emotion. 

That is my true indulgence here - letting myself feel. This is one of the few songs that can get me to go on a crying jag I've needed to be on for months, even years. It wrenches to the forefront my lifelong terror that anyone I'd ever be truly, madly, deeply in love with will die and the desolation of having to live with unending grief.

But above all, it's about my family and letting myself feel everything I've held at bay about that most fundamental rupture in relationship. As most of you know, I walked out of the house with a few bin bags, leaving my parents a note on the fridge door. It was a long time coming: by 4, I stayed upstairs watching the Electric Company when my father got home, rather than running down to meet him. In fact, I clearly remember feeling distressed when he got  home, because a sense of oppression would settle over the house, as if the portcullis had come down, trapping us all inside. Leaving was the culmination of a lifetime of inner knowing that staying in that emotional desert would destroy me. Either way, I would always be going it alone.

And better to go it alone and free, whatever that may bring.

I made that choice, knowing many of the consequences: my family's rage and ensuing vindictiveness; the ripples through the wider family; the relief; the fear; the need to carry on fighting. What I didn't expect, didn't dare allow myself to fully know, was


There were nights when the wind was so cold
That my body froze in bed 
If I just listened to it 
Right outside the window 

There were days when the sun was so cruel 
That all the tears turned to dust 
And I just knew my eyes were 
Drying up forever



If I let myself feel - know, in the deepest sense - that tearing yourself away from even a deeply dysfunctional, soul-stealing place would leave you with wounds that bled so much more than you thought possible, I might have gone back. And I couldn't do that. Not for so much as a moment. Instead, defiance and resolve had to see me through:

I finished crying in the instant that (I) left
And I can't remember where or when or how 
And I banished every memory you and I had ever made


THAT. THAT was what was necessary to get out and stay out. If it meant chewing off my arm so I could get out of the bear trap, so be it. Anger and unforgiveness get a bad rap, but they can often be the only things that keep you moving away from a situation you should never return to. Without them, it's too easy to remember the brief moments where you could breathe, when you thought, Yes, this can become something good: moments watching The Muppets, a magical night in the Himalayas with uncles, aunts, cousins, the youngest uncle keeping everyone in stitches


There were moments of gold and there were flashes of light

Moments that, if you could stretch them into eternity, might have brought light from the darkness. But, as all moments do, they pass, and the reality is what you've always known it was...

There were those empty threats and hollow lies

And whenever you tried to hurt me 
I just hurt you even worse 
And so much deeper

...an unrelenting, grim, joyless landscape that just needed to be survived. Though the threats weren't empty, and you were the child, so your power to inflict deeper pain on those responsible for the cauldron you lived in is debatable.

Turn around. Walk away when you can. Don't look homeward, angel.


But you were history with the slamming of the door 
And I made myself so strong again somehow 
And I never wasted any of my time on you since then



But here's the rub: whilst anger and defiance can get you so far, they can't take you all the way. Because even as you think you've banished every memory you have ever made, they are the ghosts that haunt you, the demons that drive you. If you believe that you've never wasted any of your time on them since then, the truth is, you have

In not feeling what you really feel - so you don't go back. In living on defiance - so you never go back. In staying numb so you survive. In not leaning on anyone else because you knew from the beginning you could never lean on them. In not truly letting anyone in so you are never again torn apart like you were by them. In always having one foot out the door so you are never trapped. In living in the grey zone, numb, so you can keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving away from them, even when you no longer need to be a spore blowing on the wind, but can become a seed planted in rich soil, expecting the sun, rain, all you need to grow.

In these ways and so many others, you've carried them rather than banished them; wasted so much of your time on them. But is there a way to put them down after all this time?

If you forgive me all this 
If I forgive you all that

Can I? What does forgiveness mean? Where does it begin? All at once? In stages? Will I have to do it again? Does it mean what they did was okay? And what do I do without that weight? Without the anger that has driven me forward?

What do I do with the emptiness? And now what?

When you see me like this -


And when I see you like that:

(*my parents are on our right)

We see just what we want to see... 


...all coming back to me
I can barely recall but it's all coming back to me now

That's how we begin to heal, even from the deepest, earliest trauma: not by separating, but as the song does, by bringing all of it together: by letting ourselves fully feel the nights of cold wind and the days of cruel sun, even as we slam necessary doors, allowing anger, defiance, and even numbness to carry us to the places where we can stop surviving and start living, even if, at first, only by nearly dying. The way into the light is most often through the dark night of the soul - and through the songs that carry us there. 

It may all be coming back to you now, but that doesn't mean you have to go back to it. Welcome it, even when it feels like the tears will never end; hold it; be with it. Let it all find its place in you.

Remember, you made yourself so strong again somehow.

And then, as Gibran might note, your eve may be, in truth, your dawn.

The dawn that will, finally, bring you home.