Belligerent Romance : song. heart. bravery.

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“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
― Eric Maisel

 

I re-post this every year.  An anniversary of sorts.  So, if you’ve been down this road, please bear with me.  If not, enjoy.

On this morning 8 years ago, I was awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood. I fought it for a time, but eventually gave in and hastened my exercise gear on. I got myself outside for a good walking meditation, and couldn’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title. The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme. There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie. The Bee Gees have a song. Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me. So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans. I was to be giving him a kidney in just two more days. This anticipated event had dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it was finally arriving, and both of us (Hans and I) were bouncing off the walls in our own way. Me, I’d been doing these walking meditations every day for a month solid in preparation. It was equal parts exercise (I really hoofed it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially began with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chanted, I did mantras, I worked out problems, I talked myself down from ledges, I rationalized behavior, I asked for forgiveness, I defended myself in imaginary arguments, and I thanked the Forces That Be for everything.

But on the walk 8 years ago today, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of the night before, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela . . . written for me.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the romantic relationships I’ve ever had have been with musicians and composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me. It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with. Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either. So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for. What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance? The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that had left me speechless and tearful. A moment that had made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding among the young. And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

So there I was, walking my regular route in the neighborhood, and trying to chant my daily mantra, which usually began with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “ . . . make me mindful . . . give me grace . . . deliver me from need . . . fill me with wonder . . . ” etc. Sometimes I chanted for winning the lottery, but I do get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always came with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But on that morning I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.

On that morning, I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life. I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies. I highly recommend it. Being someone’s muse. It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear. Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter that day anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song. Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other. I obliged. First time I’d ever been accosted in that way. And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery. Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage. What if I had refused her? Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by? I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts. And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger. Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody. It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability. Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart. And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title. He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.” He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him. And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too. We’re all just too cool. Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on. Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction? And who cares? Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave. He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded. He is brave to have withstood years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin, and finally a transplant. But perhaps the bravest act of all was his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which was the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

(Two days later, on July 22, 2008, I successfully donated my kidney to Hans San Juan, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and Hans has been healthy ever since.)

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

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An Elm & Houston Revelation

Elm & Houston Epiphany copy

 

Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine.  If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man.  If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.

Yes, I did the firewalk.  No, I was not injured.  Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with.  I had a personal stake in doing this.  And it delivered.

And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”

Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas.  It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations.  So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.

We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar.  The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”

It was a quiet night.  Clear sky.  Bright moon.  I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby!  And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening.  And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot.  And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero.  It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight.  We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber.  And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.

So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded.  The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it.  In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience.  All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day.  Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.

And then a most interesting thing happened.  One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…”  He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.”  Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history.  So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.

From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing.  I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive.  That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need.  And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired.  There is something that they fulfill.  I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing.  And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him.  A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant?  Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him?  Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares.  Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining.  And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question:  What need does this serve?

That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?

There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days.  Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve.  Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.

For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked.  Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed).  Case in point:  My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way.  How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet.  The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment.  He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine!  Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day.  I did.  But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten.  I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence.  Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.

I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it.  It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands.

And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves.  That one just blew my head right open.  Done.  Brains on the dashboard.  Blood and guts everywhere.  Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.

And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.

One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor.  I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation.  So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious.  But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape.  So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort?  I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here.  So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.

As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake.  But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy.  And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us.  I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you.  You are seen.”

This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them.  It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other.  And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people.  We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day.  We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk.  Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally.  New bonds got formed.  In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends.  The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.

I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way.  But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last.  A setting ripe with ghosts and guile.  And maybe even a little grace.

 

 

Dedicated to my dear friend Ross Wright,
who gave me the gift of this experience,
went through it with me,
and who roots for me always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

A Rose Knows

Portrait of cute gril with big afro

 A rose blooms and releases fragrance.
It doesn’t question its deservedness.
A rose just knows. 

I’ve been wanting to tell of this encounter ever since it happened a few months ago, but have waited without really knowing why. Until yesterday morning, when I realized I’d been waiting for the title of my story. Victoria Thomas of the Agape Center, who was the visiting speaker at the spiritual center where I chose to spend Mother’s Day morning, at one point during her talk said the above quote. As soon as I heard this, I knew my piece was ready.

This spiritual center that I have newly started calling home, and sometimes sing at, hosted a craft faire this past Christmas, and anyone who had a craft was offered the opportunity to have a booth. I’d hesitated a commitment, and lost the opportunity, as booth space was spare and quickly snatched up. I didn’t represent a single thing that day, even though I have CDs, books, I’ve been handcrafting dreamcatchers for the past year, I make dolls. I sort of felt frustrated with myself that I’d had the instinct to hesitate, but ultimately it was okay as I had great fun attending in order to support all the other artists, crafters, and friends. And to top that off, on the day of the faire, right outside the front door of the center, the neighborhood’s Christmas parade was going on, so it was just one of those magical, wonderful days to be alive and to be part of a community.

“Would you like to buy a copy of my book?” she asked.  She was eight years old.

The bazaar was teeming with booths and tables of handmade jewelry, and crafted dreamcatchers (damn it, I make dreamcatchers!), and exotic crystals, and one-on-one healing sessions of every kind, from Reiki treatments to spirit animal readings. I’ve always been a sucker for a craft faire, especially if the general bent is New Age-y. I am crystal and sage mama. Always have been, and this was like a miniature version of the Whole Life Expo.

I’d already pocketed a few choice purchases. Knickknacks that would add to the energy and color and boho spirit of the 700-square-foot home I call my Zen cottage. I’d just made the silent promise to myself, “No more. You’ve shopped plenty now.” But who says “no thank you” to a little girl?  And a book?  She didn’t have a booth, I saw no inventory; she’d just planted herself in a corner.  I needed to see where this would lead.

“You have a book?” I asked her.

“Yes, I’m a writer!” she offered proudly.

“Well, okay then. How can I possibly say no to that?  How much for one of your books?”

“That’ll be one dollar.”

As I handed her a dollar bill, she proceeded to pull from her knapsack a single piece of notebook paper, folded in half.  I could barely contain a giggle. The title on the “cover” was The Little Fairy, and was adorned with the drawing of a stick figure sprite, some clouds and a sun.  I smiled so wide at my purchase, making sure to show her my delight, and couldn’t decide if it was more precious or ballsy.

I opened the folded piece of paper to reveal the story inside:

There once was a little fairy and she loved to fly.
But her wing got stuck on a rose bush and broke.
“Oh no” she cried.
She was sad so she went home and tried to fix it but she couldn’t.
But then she knew someone who could fix her problem.
“Can you fix my wing?”
“Sure.”
The End.

Whaddaya know, a lesson in conflict resolution. Made as simple as it truly is, if we adults could only manage to find our way around the viscous clouds that apparently go with adulthood.

“What a wonderful story,” I said to her. “I hope lots of people buy your book today.”

“Thank you!” she blushed.

I couldn’t rid my brain of this little girl for the rest of the day. Was it her creativity that I found so irresistible?  Or her unbelievable tenacity to assimilate with the adult world around her of product and consumerism? For certain it was her purity of spirit, and the compulsion to put her unfiltered, uncomplicated, I-don’t-need-no-stinking-booth carpe diem spirit, and her entitled (I write, therefore I am a writer!) energy into the ether.

“What’s your name?” I asked her, before I walked away.

“Angie,” she answered.

“No kidding.  My name is Angie too.  Except that everyone calls me Angela now that I’m an adult.  But look here, we have the same name.”

All Angie could do was giggle.

“May I share something else with you?  Not only do we have the same name, but I’m a writer too.”

“Where’s your book?” she challenged, without even a moment’s pause.

“Well…I….I…..”    I didn’t have a ready answer.

She just smiled, and let my “well…” hang in the awkward air, waiting for a conclusion that never came. I smiled back, wished her the world, and kept on roaming, but with my tail somewhat between my legs.

IMG_4566

I had absolutely fallen in love with this little girl’s mighty chutzpah, and decided that her book would have an honored place hanging on my refrigerator door behind a magnet, reminding me always. Reminding me always.

I see grace in everything. I just don’t see the wisdom in not. Because it is a paradigm that functions to create an environment where I always feel taken care of.  And on that day, with that encounter, grace was in full action as I was taken care of by a young girl who taught me, in no uncertain terms, that I needn’t ever question my deservedness.  A rose certainly doesn’t.

Neither did Little Angie.

 

 

 

 

References:
Victoria Thomas of Agape Center
Center for Spiritual Living Granada Hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

UNEXPECTED ANGELS : A Perspective On Forgiveness

forgiveness

Ahhhh, Facebook.   It’s an odd and fascinating communications platform, when you consider that the very best of it has sometimes generated important grassroots movements, and that the very worst of it, because of the safety of our own home sitting at a computer, and that we aren’t obligated to put a human face to a name and profile avatar, has bred some of the most loathsome social behavior I’ve ever witnessed.  For me personally, the gold in Facebook has been the numerous long-lost friendships that, without social media, may never have been possible. On the other end, of course, is the odd stranger that we wonder why we’re Facebook friends with in the first place, and the crazy rantings that have required the socially devastating “unfriend”ing.  But every once in a great while, believe it or not, an actual life lesson can be found on Facebook.  Something unexpected and valuable lurking amid the sea of cute cat videos and vomit-mouth etiquette.

Here was mine, from a few weeks ago.  A friend posted a most disturbing video of a woman encouraging her child to savagely beat on another child at a playground.  It was shattering to watch.  And of the myriad feelings I had regarding the witness, the primary one was that we lose jobs when we’re terrible at them, and parenthood should fall within those same parameters, and I just prayed Social Services got a hold of that woman.

Many people weighed in on this post, expressing their outrage, as well.  One man was so outraged that he used epithets that clearly betrayed his ignorance of his audience. The N-word was bandied about pretty freely.  Gee, can you guess what race the woman in the video was?  I can genuinely say that what the woman’s racial or social demographic was didn’t even enter my mind for it being so overfilled with the horror of her act (which, by the way, Put-Upon White Man, happens in every race).

Before even weighing in on the contents of the video itself, my response to the post, which included the original poster’s own words “This is so shocking!” was, “Well, it looks like there’s equally shocking right here on this thread.”

I had to wonder, too, what kind of friends my friend had that this kind of blatantly racist response was even possible, until I reminded myself that I have said yes to friend requests countless times of people I don’t personally know, because as a working artist I’m always trying to expand an audience base, and, to be frank, I have “virtually” met some pretty amazing people on Facebook over the years.   And so, the reality is that with such a practice also comes the risk of inviting the periodic troll to infiltrate.

Another friend, Melanie, weighed in immediately after me.  Someone I actually do know personally. Someone I regard as a pretty sage woman.  She’s also African-American, like me, and had clearly also seen Put-Upon White Man’s rant too, because her comment right after mine was, “I know, Angela, right???? Lord have mercy!”

A few others made similar comments.  What fascinates me still, even as I reflect on this thing that happened a few weeks ago, is that most of the comments were reactions to PUWM’s rant, not the video. His own ire at the video (we all shared that!), which just HAD to go to a very nasty place, had completely overshadowed the horror on the video.  Because this nastiness was right in our backyards.  Who is this friend of my friend, who would rather spit in my face than shake my hand? is the shuddering subtext. That two-degrees of separation is too damned close!

I kept tuning in to see how this thread would grow, because frankly I was waiting for my friend (the original poster of the post) to get on here and condemn this man.  She never did, nor ever weighed in again beyond the original posting of the video.  But I’m very glad that I did keep tuning in, because of what unfolded next.

First off, after a fashion I noticed that PUWM’s original rant had been deleted.  And then somewhere down the line of this thread, maybe 10 or 12 comments in, he weighed in a second time.  His comment this time was an apology.  And not one of those defensive apologies we’ve all had to roll our eyes at from time to time.  He owned his racial outburst, iterated that he’d been so blinded by his rage over this video, which had broken his heart, but copping to it being absolutely no excuse, and ended with “Please forgive me, ladies….” addressing the myriad women who had commented on his rant, and lastly, “Lord forgive me.” And before I could even react to it, directly afterwards was my friend Melanie’s response to that:  “Thank you, Mark.  That is appreciated.  We need to pray for that woman and her children.”

Okay, so at this point I’ll stop calling him PUWM.  He has a name.  It’s Mark.  And yes, even Mark deserves to be called out by his Christian name, and not Put-Upon White Man, which, admittedly, has been my way of showing him zero respect, because it’s become such a cliché, and I felt like reducing him to the cliché, because, guess what? . . . I’m goddamned mad too.

I have to admit, I was stunned by Melanie’s ready acceptance of Mark’s apology.  She and I share a very similar spiritual path of compassion & empathy, and consciousness-based cultivation, and we are both huge believers in forgiveness.  I just hadn’t determined whether I was ready yet.  But Melanie didn’t need to decide if she was ready.  Melanie leapt.  Melanie forgave.  Melanie chose the higher road, without question, without needing to be ready.

It really did take me a minute to adjust this thinking, to wonder how she could do this so effortlessly, to have to face that my ball of fury had just had a pin pricked into it, and was deflating rapidly into a flat, self-righteous platitude.  My own initial gut feeling was that Mark was only offering this apology because he got nailed on his abhorrent behavior, and that anyone who is capable of that language, and the intent and belief behind the language, will be absolutely capable of it again.  Just give him another circumstance, a fresh audience, and sumpn’ else for him to be raging about.  But did I know this for certain?  That his apology wasn’t genuine?  That he hadn’t really thought about his irresponsible and hurtful words?

What if Mark had had his heart truly opened by this exchange, had offered his amends, and then been shunned and dismissed?  What, then, would that say about the sacred principle of forgiveness? Something pretty shameful, I’d say.  Melanie wasn’t about to try and second-guess Mark’s intentions; her ONLY option was to put noble principle into healing practice.  If Mark’s apology really wasn’t the real thing, if there was just a whole lotta bullshit goin’ on, that’s for Mark’s soul to wrestle with.

And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend.

I carefully decided to say something myself.  My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all.  But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”

In those simple words  –  Melanie’s: “We need to pray for that woman and her children,” and mine: “The video broke my heart too,”  –  we let Mark know that the feelings about this heinous video were shared by us all, Black and White, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Christian and Atheist.  Us, them.  Whatever and Whatever. That there is actually more that connects us than there is that separates us, if we’re willing to see it.  What an opportunity to offer healing, when my own instinct would’ve been to let the opportunity slip right through my fingers, and remain in the huff that someone else’s hate had engendered.  Mark walked away changed too; that was evident in his further comments.  He probably hadn’t ever thought, for a minute, that his apology would be welcomed and accepted.  And if it had just been me alone out there reacting to his rant, it wouldn’t’ve been.  So, thank you, Melanie, for reminding me.  Yep, folks, a true spiritual practice requires rigorous renewal every single day, and unexpected angels and bodhisattvas to show us how.

In illustrating how much more connected we are than separate, a wall was torn down.  It humanized everything. And that could ONLY have happened by a willingness for forgiveness.  Melanie had thrown down the healing gauntlet.  In a landscape of nothing but enraged hearts, how brave to be the one.

Forgiveness is a funny thing.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be startlingly clear.  When Dylann Roof committed one of the most heinous single crimes in our recent history, the people least likely to, the families of the shooting victims, forgave.  I personally was floored.  It restored my lately-waning faith in humanity.  But who on earth would ever think that instead of being absolutely lifted by this example, as I was, that there would be a backlash to it?   Of course, there’s always going to be a militant response to such compassionate practice, people who are natural warriors, who believe morally in an eye for an eye.  And I would even venture to say that most of us who aren’t militant would look at such compassion, and admire it even as we are admitting we’d never be able to do that.  But the overwhelming backlash seems to be coming from the mainstream community, and not just asserting that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t.  The angle being that it finds these forgivers to be suckers, for lack of a kinder word.  The charge is weakness, gullibility, and allowance of further racist behavior.

One article I found interesting and quite intelligent, in spite of the fact that I disagree with its fundamental creed, is by Stacey Patton for the Washington Post.  The prevailing thought in this article is that Black America is the only culture expected to forgive its racist perpetrators.  No one expects forgiveness toward al-Qaeda or ISIS.  No one expects the Jews to forgive the Nazis.  But Black America is pressured to forgive when the conflict is race.  And when forgiveness is given, all Black America is doing is allowing more and more offenses to be made.

“Black people are not allowed to express unbridled grief or rage, even under the most horrific circumstances.”

Allowed?  At least in this country, we all have the complete free will to choose how we feel, and how we will heal.  And the trap to fall in is to assume that because there is a choice made to forgive, that grief or rage are not present.  Even by framing the phrase “politics of forgiveness”  Ms. Patton politicizes a basic tenet of grace and love.  There is no politics to this.  You either practice it or you don’t.  It advances no agenda other than grace and love itself.

The most poignant thing Ms. Patton says is:

“. . . offering absolution to Roof is about relieving the burden of anger and pain of being victimized.  In this regard, forgiveness functions as a kind of protest, a refusal to be reduced to victims.  It sends the message to the killer that he may have hurt them, but they are the true victors because they have not been destroyed.”

This I passionately agree with.  But she then counters it with the pronouncement that there is a demand by White America for this forgiveness.  Demand?  You can bet that White America was as stunned as anyone when these families chose the higher ground.  Besides, how insulting to the intelligence of these compassionate soldiers Ms. Patton’s insinuation that White America is somehow their puppet-master, pulling strings.

I also challenge Ms. Patton’s claim that when Black America, especially of the Christian ilk, subscribes to the philosophy of forgiveness, it is being done out of some investment in the hereafter, a kind of E-ticket to Glory. Heaven or not, the only true salvation for this fractured present-day culture will be in cultivating that tenet for the life we are living right here, right now.

What seems not to be a part of the argument, at least in this article, is that to refuse to forgive is to keep oneself spiritually enslaved.

It’s important to know what forgiveness is.  It may be even more important to know what it isn’t.

Forgiveness isn’t permission.  Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.  Forgiveness isn’t remotely weak. Forgiveness IS rising above.  Refusing to fuel.  Bringing to the table a different kind of challenge.  And just possibly, changing that landscape.

There are many valid and insightful points that this article makes, and so I do urge you to read it.  But while we are cautioned by Ms. Patton not to give forgiveness quite so quickly, from my own micro-example of that very dynamic, I can personally attest that when my friend Melanie gave it quickly, the entire landscape shifted from people divided to people communicating passionately together about the original problem (that horrendous video of mother and child).  Healing was right in front of us.  A coming together and acknowledgement of what connects us more than what divides us that would NEVER have happened had rage been met with more rage, and heads banged.  Me, I was ready to put up some dukes and be a part of the fray.  But it wouldn’t have been the right choice.  And a golden opportunity would’ve been tragically missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

OLD

New_Beginnings

“If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart.”
– James A. Garfield

“May you live all the days of your life.”
– Jonathan Swift

My New Year’s Resolution this year:  TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE.   Wish me luck!    And should I happen to get lost in the Black Hole, somebody please feed my cat.

Symbols have always been important to me.  They are only imbued with whatever power we give them, but when they are imbued they resonate loudly, penetrate profoundly, and have the absolute ability to shift paradigms.  I’m also a perpetual seeker, so I always seem to be in search of life’s answers to the questions that matter; our place and role in the world, our alliances and community with other living creatures and the reasons for them, etc.  So, needless to say, tongue-in-cheek resolutions aside, the transition of the New Year has always had powerful meaning for me.  Forever, I have practiced certain rituals, usually inward-turning ones, that help me to reflect, restore, reform, renew, and remember.  Reflect on the choices I’ve made in the year that is leaving, and whether those choices have reaped what they intended.  Restore balance where things have begun to feel out of control, and sanity where insanity has been allowed to rule.  Reform habits that have now grown so old and dusty that they no longer serve.  Renew, in order to make room for better habits and better mindsets.  And Remember Everything, toward maintaining or gaining humility, understanding, clarity, lessons.  Because if it’s not about always evolving toward our greatest, god-realized selves and away from our basest selves, whenever possible, and perpetually, then what IS it all for?

New Year’s Day just also happens to be my birthday, so truly this yearly symbol and practice and ritual could not be more perfect for me.  Parties, celebrations, candles, champagne, friends and gatherings aside, my birthday has always been, for me, an opportunity to turn inward, to claim some part of the day for solitude, self-inquiry, meditation/prayer, and perhaps even a symbolic deed.

Example:  One year (which had been an unusually difficult one) I took the midnight hour moment (after counting down and then singing Auld Lang Syne with the band, of course, because I’ve sung a gig on every New Year’s Eve  since 1988) to unfold a list that I had made of every difficult and painful moment that had occurred that year, and I proceeded to ritually tear it up in order to say, to myself, to God, to the Source, to the Collective Consciousness, however it actually works, that I was done with those burdens and embracing a new consciousness and a new energy.

Well, here I am on another birthday, and other than writing this thought I’ve no plans except to watch the Rose Parade on TV with my breakfast and mimosa, maybe take a walk, go get a massage, or do some living room yoga.  Perhaps I’ll end the day at the movies (one of my favorite pastimes).  Who knows?  As I’ve anticipated today, I’ve loved the idea of making no plans, because it is SO NOT me.  I’m a planner, an organizer, a connector of dots.  There’s something lovely (but a little scary for an anal-retentive planner like myself) in the idea of “let’s see where the day takes me.”

My friend Robin Swenson recently posted on Facebook, in response to all the birthday wishes he’d recently received (Capricorns forever!): “getting older never gets old.”   I absolutely cheered to read that, and reflected back to my 50th birthday.  Not only had I spoken “50!” out loud, which I realized was a great sin, according to many of my female friends (and especially being in the business I’m in?!) but just three days prior to that Big Day I dared to throw the biggest celebration I could possibly think of, which included an orchestra, a rock star, and a big-ass cake with a big-ass “50” written across it in chocolate-covered strawberries.  I know women who slink through their “big one” on tip-toe, hoping no one will notice.  I also realize it will be impossible not to sound self-righteous when I say that I didn’t want to be that woman.  To each her own, of course, but I just really didn’t want to own shame about turning fifty.   And the truth is, it’s a tough quest, but at the very least I figured I would fake it ‘til I make it.

And so, a party.  A big-ass, brazen party, which I will remember with a giggle for the rest of my days.

That said, it still wasn’t the simple pill that magically eradicated all my struggles with aging.  But it was a damned good start, and a damned good party.  And yes, because New Year’s Day is my birthday, those inward-turning reflections often (though not always) ring with themes of aging.

The above quotes came from two really great cards I received this year.  When you hit a certain age, the cards start reflecting either good-natured jokes about old age (usually welcomed) or more sensitive reflections on the beauty of aging (never a bad idea, in this fragile, age-obsessed culture).  These two have given me particular pause.

We all know at some point in our lives (if we aren’t already there) that we’re going to have to make peace with aging.  We are destined for this reflection.  At least if you’re from this American culture.  Other cultures embrace their elders as the venerated among them.  And that veneration being inherent in the very blood, there is no real need for reflection upon it, for it is welcomed as a crown.  But in this culture, we have had the great misfortune, shaped and molded by our media, of nullifying our elderly and the very idea of growing old.  We’d rather die young and leave a good-looking corpse than to wrinkle, lose hearing and bladder control, grow gray or bald, have to depend on our children for our care, and watch the sexual part of our identity slowly fade away.  These are mortifying concepts to most Americans.  And mortifying not because it means being closer to death, but because it means becoming society’s invisible.  How do you claim thick, opaque, rich, visibility in a society that refuses to regard you?

And therefore, at least if you’re a thoughtful and conscious human being, the time will come when you must reflect on aging, and make peace with it.

I have often referred to my “old age” with a self-deprecating humor, a way to deflect my sense of grief over losing my youth, and to disarm its power.  I am often told to stop that.  And while I understand the impulse in my loved ones to encourage me to love myself, and I merely say “thank you” in response, what I really want to do is tell them to wake up and smell the coping mechanism, and to please allow me that.

On the other hand, I have lately been observing the heartbreaking tendency in some women, who are hovering around this age, to be mortally unforgiving of their bodies’ age-related transformations, in ways that are not remotely meant to be funny or to share a laugh about.  This is not even grief.  This is downright hatred of self.  It is venomous and venal, the stuff of cautionary tales and selling one’s soul for that shiny piece of youth. I often feel surrounded, and I try desperately to counter the onslaught of self-repulsion I hear with that humor I try to use, to be the voice of irreverence, if not reason.  But more often than I’m comfortable with I find myself falling in line with the rhetoric, and the next thing you know I’m spitting my own disgust at my growing thighs in the choir of I-loathe-myself commiseration.  Like I said, a tough quest.  I feel for women’s restlessness, and I retreat to the comfort and safety of my jokes, and I tell myself that my making jokes about aging is different, very different, and that their restlessness does not belong to me (even if I do borrow it from time to time), that my humor is a positive thing, a way of embracing aging, of not having to desperately cling to youth, of refusing to view old as a dirty word.

If we say OLD enough times, it’ll lose its power.

But I suspect it’s all the same animal, and I am as guilty as anybody.

I have had a recent epiphany regarding this matter. (I love calling these little thoughts and discoveries epiphanies, because it automatically eliminates any contradictory position.  There is sacredness to one’s epiphany.  You don’t dare touch it.)  It is this:

I can either yearn to be young again, a place to which I can never return, therefore the instinct to obsess over it is a complete, self-sabotaging waste of energy; or I can embrace the age I am by simply choosing to be better at it.

One way I can accomplish this is to realize, and own, that my graying hairs, my creeping lethargy, my mid-section spread, my aches and pains that seemingly come from nowhere, do not belong to me; they belong to my body.  And my body is not me; merely the house I live in (I have my Buddhist and Eastern-thought studies to thank for that implantation).

And by being able to put that in its proper place, perhaps I stand the chance of forgiving myself these “afflictions,” as I have viewed them. Of recognizing my own power to be empathetic to them, and to ultimately transform them from afflictions into trophies.  Of reconciling both the flower AND the thorns of my body.  Of claiming the truth that aging isn’t a sentence – it is a call-to-arms.  A call for me to wake up and be alert, to realize that the days ahead are more precious than the ones behind, to recognize that the awareness of time running out gives me (a naturally lazy person) a swift kick in the rear and tells me to move, to produce, to achieve, to make my mark and leave my legacy, and to make every moment in the remainder of this life one of quality and vibrancy.  I’m in the most thankless business there IS (the entertainment industry) when it comes to the subject of aging.  And I’ve watched my comrades, who have been lighting up stages and electrifying audiences for years, suddenly start scrambling to figure out how to stay relevant in an industry that reveres extreme youth.  I have absolutely no answers to offer here.  Only my own gut telling ME to stop scrambling.  Stop panicking.  Stop trying to please people who barely see me.  Stop trying to fit my square peg in the round hole that is this business.  To, instead, make whatever it is I have to make, to create, to produce, to contribute to this world, on my own terms.  And if I’ve learned anything from my Eastern pursuits, I’ll learn to simply do the deed, and let go of the outcome.  All I can do is my part.  With integrity.   With clarity.  With the kind of self-love that makes me take better care of myself, yet with the compassion to forgive my body’s DARING to get old.

And it means not being afraid of that word … OLD … but instead shouting it proudly to the rafters.  Like, say, a birthday party with a rock star?  Because while the word may invoke our Western-culture-indoctrinated images of fatter, slower, frailer, grayer, less sexy, invisible … it also, and more importantly, means Wisdom.  Experience.  SeasoningAMAZING Grace.

That was 50’s epiphany.  Today I woke up with aching joints and cursed God for making me fifty-four.

“Old age is no place for sissies.”
– Bette Davis

Happy New Year, my friends!

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.