I wasn’t ready for Easter
But it came anyway
The stone had been in place
The tomb was small
But felt safe
In its own weird way
It is like that I suppose
We can get used to almost anything
Slavery in Egypt
Wandering in the desert
Waiting for instacart
To deliver the yogurt
And over-ripe bananas
Not the green ones
I would have selected
But Easter came
And a vaccine
Better than any chocolate egg
The stone was worn away
And the tomb open again
So I crawled out
Ready to be reborn
In fear and trembling
I wasn’t ready
But Easter came anyway
As it always does
I may climb out of my cave soon
Go to a store
Visit some friends
Hug my kids
Play with their cats
9 more days and they say I’ll be good
Safe from death
At least from this virus
A year is a long time
I am not sure when I’ll be ready
To go to a show, a movie
Get a haircut
Or eat inside a restaurant.
I’m not even sure about in-person church,
But I’m thinking about that one.
Like some cancer survivors
Our lives have been whittled down
To what is most important
The outdoors, healthy home-cooked food
I won’t forget those good things
While I add back in
What I have missed so much
Each moment is precious
I plan to spent my time wisely
Is a bigger part of my life
Sometimes I need to hunker down
Crawl deep beneath the sand
To feel the weight of the warm earth
And silence like a balm
I close my eyes
Almost like sleep
And breathe with open lungs
Oh for a ship where I could really lash
My fears onto a mast
The wind might flap my sails about
But I’d ride out the storms
In hopeful confidence
But for now I’ll settle for some sand
And an island in the sea.
They say that soon
We should be back to normal
Whatever that is
Whatever that was
I have always been rather proud
Of not being normal
But this last year has been so odd
I think am ready to try normal
For a time at least.
One shot in, another in a week or so
I’ll be 98.9% safe, as pure as ivory soap
I wonder if I’ll float.
I wonder about mutations
I wonder about a lot of things
But I know that every time
I hike a trail I’ve hiked before
It’s not the same
You can’t go back
Because nothings stays the same
The river flows and eats away the bank
The ocean moves the sand around
Boots and bikes make ruts
Trees fall across the trail.
I find this all
A little scary
What will the next new normal be?
Will GPS even work?
I’ll try to pack a lunch at least.
I last wrote about my weight management journey on October 4, 2020. At that time my total weight loss was 183.5 pounds, and I was only interested in maintaining that weight and not in losing any more. Almost four months later, my total weight loss is 185.1, which is not very different although it is down very slightly. I have very consistently remained under 140 pounds during that time. Not too bad, as my starting weight was 322.
Back in November, I thought I had everything about this journey under control and so I stopped attending the support group I had been in since beginning the weight management program in April of 2018. I continued to record all my calories and my exercise and weighed myself daily. I am still doing that.
I did hit a rough patch for a couple of weeks at the beginning of February. My beloved spouse had open heart surgery (see poem about it) and I was worried and stressed during the surgery, her hospitalization, and the initial recovery which was rocky. The COVID restrictions didn’t help as we could only communicate via phone and video calls during the 11 days she was in the hospital. Her recovery is steady now, although it will still be a longish haul before we can hit the trails together again, but my stress level and worry level is back down to normal again.
What is interesting is that during those first two weeks I was very conscious that I was “stress-eating”, something I had not done in over two years. I wasn’t excessive, just an extra cookie or two, some salami and a few chips at a time, but it felt weird. I had gotten used to eating treats when I wanted them, but this was more like a craving and not just a desire. It didn’t make me happy, because I knew it was a dangerous pattern to start up again even if it wasn’t causing me to gain any weight. Some stress might burn a few calories, I think, which may be an explanation of why I didn’t gain. Or maybe my body just wants to be the weight I am now. Plus I kept exercising, even though I was over my calorie “budget” most days.)
It was a danger sign, though, the stress eating, but I did reel myself back in, and I also checked in on Facebook with my support group which helped. It really is a marathon.
We need to keep on learning, no matter how old we are.
They say your heart needs mending
But I know that can’t be true
I have never known anyone
Who can love as well as you.
So let the surgeons do their work
Guide their hands with skill and grace
And know my heart will be beating
Right along in time with yours
I recently developed a hernia, a soft spot in my abdomen where my guts sometimes poke out and I have to push them back in. People develop hernias for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes it is just random genetics and luck (or lack of luck.) I spent part of my life doing some heavy physical lifting. Farm work when I was young, harvesting beans and berries mainly and the crates and bushels were heavy. Then I worked for SSA before the agency went paperless and often carried large stacks of heavy casefiles. I also lifted my kids when they were young, even carried the twins at the same time, one in a backpack and one in a front pack as I hauled them downstairs to the car before they could walk. So yeah, all that lifting put some stress. I also had a C-section because the second twin was breech and surgery can weaken the abdominal wall. Last but not least, is the large amount of weight I carried in my body for years, that didn’t help either.
My doctor said if it starts to bother me I can get surgery. It won’t heal on its own and may or may not get worse, but as long as I can get my innards back in with gentle pressure lying down, it isn’t dangerous. If they won’t go back in or the area gets red, hot, and or painful, I am to head to the E/R. It is called a “strangulated hernia” if that happens.
I do feel like strangling someone. It doesn’t hurt, but just feels weird. Right when I was finally getting used to my body being smaller it develops a very weird bulge! So unfair!
But my doctor also says it is still OK to go hiking, maybe not for days in the wilderness or in very exotic locations, but hiking within reasonable reach of an E/R is safe enough. So yay, and what have I noticed? Downhills have always been harder for me, especially if the footing is tricky. Now the hernia seems to stay quiet on the uphills but starts to poke out once I start downhill. Double bummer, but that is life, isn’t it? Things that are hard sometimes even get harder over time. We bounce downhill, shaking up our insides, no wonder they start to fall out. We all have soft spots, wounds that need tending. Maybe I should try flatter trails, but what’s the fun in that? The hill we climb (thanks Amanda Gorman!) is the purpose, the view is the vision and it is why we are on the trail to begin with.
We all have hernias, even if they are mostly metaphorical. We keep climbing anyway. But maybe I’ll just stay at the top of the mountain one of these days.
We who believe in Freedom cannot rest. I believe that, but sometimes I just get tired. This last year has been hard in so many ways. The last four years have been hard as we watched the arc of the universe bend away from justice, especially in this country. For the last year we have been dealing with a deadly virus made worse by the incompetence of our national leadership. We have been sick ourselves, we have lost loved ones, many have lost their jobs and we have all suffered from the physical separation from our friends, our family and our church community.
Do I even have to mention the last two weeks where we witnessed a right wing insurrection and an attempted coup. Hopefully the two pandemics of the corona virus and increased racism will soon be over. There are only 3 more days to a saner less vicious leader for this country. They will be 3 days filled with the fear and perhaps the reality of more violence and attacks on our democracy. I know and you know that even after Tuesday, we still cannot rest. Freedom has not yet come. It will continue to be the struggle it has always been. I am really tired and I want to rest. I want the nightmare over for once and for all.
Today we are celebrating the life and leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. He was a visionary man, strong in his belief in freedom, in a dream of a better world, in his faith in God and in the belief that the moral arc of the universe really does bend toward justice. But King got tired too. He despaired. He likely wanted to quit. He was in despair in Montgomery, Alabama before the children stood up and led the people to a victory against segregation in that city. The adults were all afraid of Bull Conner and his dogs and clubs. But the children wanted to demonstrate, and King struggled with whether to let them do so. It was their freedom they were fighting for, however, so he said yes, despite his fears for them. Over a thousand children went to jail before it was done and the images of their peaceful demonstrations being disrupted by dogs and firehoses helped turn the tide of public opinion and eventually end legal segregation. The images from January 6th of this year I hope have had a similar impact. The veil that has often covered this country’s endemic white supremacy has been lifted once again.
But back to despair. Our prelude this morning, Precious Lord, was King’s favorite song. Given the challenges he faced, knowing he was likely to be assassinated before his dream was realized, it is no wonder he found comfort in that old hymn. It is both a cry for help and a statement of faith that there is a hand, a love that will not let us go. There is hope to be found even in times of the deepest despair. “I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.”
I can sing those words myself with real feeling because I have felt that way. I suspect many of you have felt that way as well. We have all been through the storm, through the night, and we yearn to be led into the light, to peace, to calm, to the feeling that we have come home.
How do we leave the nightmare we have been living and dare to dream again? King did it. Can we? Part of the answer to is hold onto hope.
Langston Hughes, an African American poet who was part of the Harlem Renaissance and also a gay man, had this to say about dreams:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
We cannot let our dreams die, no matter how long or how hard we have to work to make them real.
A song we did not sing today is hymn #149 in the grey hymnal.(remember hymnals?) Often called the Negro National Anthem, it is being sung this morning in most African American Churches and many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations as well. It is a song of hope, but it also names the real despair, the awful hard times. The second verse in particular, “stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died, yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet come to the place for which our fathers sighed. We have come over a way that with tears have been watered, we have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” That verse references both slavery and the civil war and the aftermath, yet ends with a vision of a bright star of hope.
Faith can help us when we are in despair, so tired it feels like we can’t go on. King said, “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Faith can be a tricky concept for some Unitarian Universalists. I think we need some type of faith, however, to allow us to find and use what power we have even in the midst of heartbreak and despair.
The Rev. Dr. King was not a Unitarian Universalist, although he and his wife did attend one of our churches for a time.
It was not an accident, however, that there were more Unitarian Universalist ministers involved with him in the civil rights struggle than from any other predominantly white denomination.
Some of them gave their lives, most notably the Rev. James Rheeb, who died after being beaten by a gang of white segregationists.
Our faith tradition is one that lives in this world. If we had a Holy Trinity in this faith of ours, it would be Justice, Love, and Compassion.
Dr. King always tried to live his life guided by love. He was a visionary, an activist for justice, but most of all; he was a man of faith that believed in love.
He stood tall and he walked proud.
He faced dogs and fire hoses, and finally an assassin’s bullet, but he never lost sight of love. He reached out to both his enemies and to those that hung back on the sidelines.
Near the end of his life he also worked to end the Viet Nam war and he worked to end poverty. His life was not about a single issue.
Our faith gives us so much, a welcoming place, a place where we can feel accepted, where we can be free to be who we are, where we can follow both our heads and our hearts, where we can find a place to be whole. But our faith also is a demanding one, one that asks us repeatedly to keep learning and growing, and doing. It isn’t easy to walk our talk. It isn’t easy to live according to our values.
Unitarian Universalists worked to abolish slavery in this country. We worked for child labor laws, and for women’s rights. Many of us marched with Dr. King.
We have been in the front lines in the struggle for full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We are involved in immigrant rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
But action can be risky. James Reeb and Martin Luther King were both murdered. Many others have also lost their lives in similar ways. But what is most important is not how they died, but how they lived.
We don’t have to be a James Rheeb, or a Martin Luther King to follow in their footsteps, to keep their dreams alive. Not just their dreams, but also our own dreams, and the dreams of our children and all who will come after them.
I want tell you some of what MLK said in a speech he gave, at our Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 1966. It wasn’t one of his most famous speeches and it isn’t quoted often, but it was addressed directly to Unitarian Universalists and can, I think, speak to us today.
Dr King told us that the church needs to stay awake and be responsive to what is going on in the world.
“Certainly the church has a great responsibility” he said, “because when the church is true to its nature, it stands as a moral guardian of the community and of society.
“It has always been the role of the church to broaden horizons, to challenge the status quo, and to question and break mores if necessary.”
“It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs”
MLK changed hearts and minds. He changed the world. But he didn’t do it alone. Thousands marched with him, thousands went to jail, and many were killed, as he was, by violence.
Martin Luther King did the eulogy for James Rheeb, and in that eulogy he spoke of hope, saying he was not discouraged by the future, despite the heartache, despite the tragedy that was all around him.
He faced despair, a whole mountain of it. A system of segregation that many believed would never really change. But in his dream he climbed that mountain of despair and saw a vision of the other side. He carved a stone of hope from that mountain, one that kept his dream alive.
Many of us are in despair today. We are in despair over the state of the world, the wars, the impending environmental disasters, the racism; the massive scale of human suffering that exists all around the world.
Some of us may also be in despair over something that is going on in our own individual lives, a relationship gone bad, a health crises, a job loss, a need for housing, or for even a little bit of financial security.
We need to keep dreaming. We need to keep doing, to keep on working, making the effort, and keep taking the risks. The largest problem can be tackled, step-by-step and piece-by-piece. Work for justice. Do your part to help heal the planet. Ask for help when you need it. Dare to keep on dreaming. If we keep dreaming together we can make those dreams, those visions of a better world, of a better life; we can make those dreams come true.
I will end with these words by MLK
“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
We are part of that creative force that will find a way to keep bending that arc toward justice. May it be so.
Hold fast to your dreams. Shine the light of truth bright enough to scare the nightmares away. Keep the faith, the one that will set us free. Amen and blessed be.
Rip Van Winkle slept through the revolution
But I thought I was awake and aware
How easy to think it can’t happen here
How confident we are that love always wins in the end
That the rainbow arc of justice bends toward kindness
That the light of truth will illuminate all minds
That all souls yearn for wholeness and for peace
But sometimes evil takes control
And lies become truth and war is called peace
Parts of our nation immersed in Orwell’s 1984
Who will save us as the police stand down?
Whose side are they on?
What will the military do?
Does democracy still have enough friends
With enough power, enough will, to save it?
Prayer is not enough
But it is all I can think to do
It wasn’t so long ago really
I mean, we were already 24
Quite old enough to think
We knew what we were doing.
46 years later life still
Surprises me at times.
I may have been wiser then
But it was mainly dumb luck
To find a life companion like you
We’ve done more than OK
Work, kids, houses, politics and cats
Our priorities matched
While we argued with passion
About the little things that didn’t really matter
Keeping our wits sharp
So we could take on the world
There will no doubt
Be more trials and challenges to face together
But also trails to hike
Because beauty and love abound.