Sunday, October 17, 2004

Prayer / Poetry

an apology to M. Ayodele Heath,
the first writing about 9/11, turning again to grief,
and the holiness of moments.


The cold wind snaps its fingers like the gay men in my college cafeteria who cheered, hissed or hooted at fashion brilliance or faux pas. The wind, he owns all current decisions. We want to succeed. We do not want to be punished by his quick whipping whimsy.

September has shed her manic depression in favor of October’s blustering frigidity. Autumn is no longer sporting the undertones of relief from slick sweating afternoons. The early trees no longer look like housewives slipping a garment off their shoulder one early-to-bed night. They look like pre-teens on the cusp of regretting their crack-whore-clothing phase.

I am humbled by the ease with which Nature shifts her moods. I am awed by her refusal to apologize for months and months on end. I am heartened by the way no one has thought to research methods to medicate her for the obvious mood swings she suffers. I am uplifted by the way we chuckle, surrender and celebrate these oppositional emotions she displays. I wish I was so free and easy with my feelings.

Right now, my friend Patricia is singing, “into beauty, I am falling,(1)” like a mantra backed by poignant violins, gamboling guitars and a decent drum beat. Somehow, that’s how I’m feeling. “There I go again, into your beauty. Don’t let me lose myself in there.(2)” It is October. I call again my belated grief. For what is grief but the act of falling into of someone’s beauty and the loss thereof?

The defining moment of this generation will be, “where were you on 9/11?”
On 9/11, I was absent from reality. I was consumed with an idea that poetry and spoken word are a universal healing force. I had fallen into a beautiful idea to which I refused surrender regardless of any other forces trying to rock my faith. Planes crashing into the World Trade Center? We have children to speak to! We have the message of individual voice to convey! We must show them through the example of our very actions that we will not be bowed down; we will not cower before your destruction; we will not stop and acknowledge your aggression. We will speak of hope, and family and love and peace. And we will bid the children to do the same. So, there Al Queda, in your face man! “We will “be the change” we want “to see in the world.”

High rhetoric and justification for what I look back on as the singular most shameful moment of my adult life. How like Bush I was in that moment. How arrogant and assumptive - that my way of being in the world suited anyone but myself. And with all of this busy madness - I had one of the most delightful voices of our generation in tow. He knuckled down - the consummate professional - and honored his agreement to speak, to educate, to perform in spite of probably feeling like he wanted to watch endless loops on CNN like the rest of the nation. Still, he flowed along my wave of denial, action, re-action and

serenity at any cost.

We did not stop to grieve or feel or think or digest. We poet-ed, and performed and acted and then we got him the first bus out of here. I am sorry M. Ayodele Heath, that you had the misfortune of being in my manic faith on that day. “There I go again, into your beauty. Don’t let me lose myself in there.”

It’s no wonder I haven’t heard from him since. It is October, my personal month of grief. It is the time I ignore or recall the moment in time when my faith was devoured to the bone for the very first time. The month when I think or do not think of Ricardo Luis Ramos - the first dearest ever peer who died; the man who drove me to an Indiana truck stop for mashed potatoes when I was pregnant; the man who wrapped my bottom in soft white towels, then took me out dancing when my water broke; the man who had coffee spat on him at the birth of our daughter because I was too stubborn and political to tell the nurse I was crowning. Because even then, I refused surrender to bullshit and he supported that. “Magic is the act of changing consciousness at will.”(3) We refused to believe in death. And still he died.

And I recall sweet Emily Ann Bailey. My daughter’s preverbal friend - a girl whose camaraderie infused my daughter’s life well before they had language to label anybody friend or foe; the girl who instant messaged back and forth from Ohio to Pittsburgh with my daughter about the fantastic way they refused surrender to stupid Cosmopolitan-Seventeen-TeenBeat idea about womanhood and beauty. Courageous where my daughter failed and timid where my daughter was bold. these girls fed each other their own unique brand of womanhood. When Emily was diagnosed with a brain tumor, they both decided -definitively and unequivocally - that she would live on and on past Imani. Emily died tragically and quietly.

It was the second time the gristle, internal viscera, tendons and organs of my faith were eaten while I was alive to watch in horror. Because my own flesh and blood had used her “magic” to sustain her friend.

“There I go again, into your beauty. Don’t let me lose myself in there.” I was lost there and there and there

again on 9/11 - never wanting to give in.

I still don’t think I want to give in. I still think I’d rather be eaten alive by optimism than emaciated slowly over a long time by despair. I forgive myself for dragging Ayodele all over town in the greatest ever act of resistance - faith. But, my dear friend Lawrence said in his recent sermon, he must give his “absolute and unmixed attention, which is what the French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil called prayer. My prayers don’t begin kneeling, with beads or a shawl, but around a quarter past six, or sometimes a quarter to seven now that the autumn is here and the morning is dark longer, and they need to be fed and wrestled into clothes and touch and dance and find quiet and sing all day long. My prayers are demanding, and I grow tired of putting on their socks and shoes through the morning and each time we get out of the car, but through them I experience the everyday world in remarkably new ways, experiences that likely would never happen without our rituals and rhythms.”(4)

This acting out - is prayer -
this bludgeoning of the world with active, personal, gentle, faith;
this being in the present moment and accepting or denying its import;
this surrender to the cannibalization of faith and feeling;
this resilient reconstruction of self in spite and hope
this rebuilding of holiness in every moment -

this is prayer. Every small movement and motion. Every loving touch. Every suckling at my breast by my son with his feet flailing defiant, wide loving, laughing, challenging eyes fusing into my own. Every crazy untimely call from my firstborn and the full attention I give to her - even at midnight. Every sock my husband picks up and puts away. Every touch and kiss or long hug before the baby slips between us. This is falling into beauty with full knowledge that such things are ephemeral. Swift, loud and riotous as Autumn’s shifting moods.

This is poetry and my daily prayer.

I commit myself to “absolute and unmixed attention” to the better world at my fingertips. “Into beauty, I am falling.”

(1) “into beauty”, between the waters, Track two from the album , “connection.”
(2) ibid
(3) Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
(4)Lawrence Gordon Wray, ”The Seeker & The Community: Sermon for Smithton Unitarian Universalist Church.”

1 comment:

M. Ayodele Heath said...

Christina, Christina, Christina,

Oh, where to begin? First, let me say that it's wonderful to hear from you; and, second, what an eloquent post!

Third, don't apologize for September 11. On the contrary, I should thank you for giving me one of the greatest gifts of my life: amidst the worst national tragedy of most of our lifetimes, amidst all the disaster, destruction, and confusion - to be employed/engaged in such a singular fashion, to be working with WORDS, to be doing the very thing that I live for, that I want to die doing.

Your spirit on that day fueled me, fuels me now even still. Continue to leave your trail of light.

I'm so glad to have found you... again.

Ayo