Processing Grief

My consciousness streams and I cannot dam it any longer.

It’s too much sometimes. The shock. The surreal effect on my interpretation of my immediate surroundings. The heaviness of a broken heart. The despair of more and more and more and more death. When will it end?

How long, O God? How long must we endure this pain?

In the last week alone:
Istanbul – more than 40 killed
Bangladesh -25 killed
Baghdad – more than 150 killed
3 cities in Saudi Arabia – at least 4 killed

Add to that the 49 lives lost in Orlando. Add to that Paris. Add to that Charleston. Add to that Newtown. And suddenly I can’t bear it another second. The numbers tick past like a gas meter, and I can’t afford this tank.

What can be done? What can be said? How do I process this without losing myself in the hurricane of rage and grief and incomprehension?

Yesterday was July 4th. Such a strange holiday to celebrate. Never before has it felt so complicated. Never before have I questioned my choice to wear red, white, and blue. To me it’s always meant scouting real estate next to the hot pavement on an early morning, the air sticky with humidity and anticipation, as we await the parade. It means grilling hot dogs and eating watermelon and spending time outside with family in the Texas heat. It means driving to a hilltop with a downtown view, and tuning the radio to find the station playing the patriotic music to accompany the fireworks. It means the acrid smell of gunpowder following the show. It means celebrating all the great things about this country where I’ve lived and worked and loved and grown into who I am.

But in recent years I’ve learned it also means death. It also means slavery. It means white privilege and American exceptionalism and imperialism and colonialism and the decimation of an entire race of people and the continued oppression of countless others. For many, red, white and blue and the star spangled banner are symbols of tragedy and conflict. Never before have I been so aware of that fact.

And yet yesterday I still dressed  my 5 month old in her spangled onesie, complete with sparkly ruby red slippers and a patriotic headband. She was adorable. I also wore my red, white, and blue, because I believe in celebrating the good things about the culture I come from, while at the same time that culture has hurt so many! The tension in my heart is so palpable, like I could take it out and hold a piece in each hand.

Who am I in the world? What am I saying? Who am I saying it to? What will my daughter see and learn and interpret from my actions? Can I raise her to see both sides? Can I instill in her the ability to hold hope and despair together when I struggle to do so?

The grief manifests as a summer cold. I sit and type with a sore throat, an aching back, a feeling of dizziness and head congestion. And yet I have a home to go to to rest. I can afford medications to ease my suffering. I have health insurance if I need to go to the doctor. My soul carries all those who do not have those privileges as their brothers and fathers and sisters and mothers are shot and exploded to death.

How do I grieve and come out on the other side when I know there’s more to come? How can I heal and give hope to others when I know more waves are gathering, preparing to pound upon the shore?

Oh Lord, I need you, how I need you! Every moment I need you. Lift me up. Use me to make known your purposes on earth. Send me to be your mouth, your hands, your feet. It is not my life, but yours. That’s all I have to hold on to today.

So I’ll get myself some hot soup. And tonight I’ll hold my baby close and make a cup of tea. And I’ll give thanks for my husband and my cuddly pets. And I’ll probably cry some more, though it feels like I have no tears left. And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will look a little brighter.

 

Advertisements

Pulse

Hot tears flowing freely through well worn trails of mascara.
I could no more command an end to this pouring
than I could bring back the dead.

Is this the worst?

Numbness sought flees to the wings
so I’m standing here naked in the spotlight again
but no one’s watching.

Is this the worst?

White hot ice surges through me
tearing at the flesh, ripping the heart.
rat a tat tat again and again and again and again and a

Is this the worst?

gain and again and again and a

Every burning shot buried in bone, lodged for life,
each accompanying me to death

Is this the worst?

Faces smiling from the computer screen
lovers and dancers and sons and daughters
dead dead dead dead dead times 10.

Weeping. Mourning. Grieving. Praying.
Acts doing nothing so much as highlighting my powerlessness
My complicitness
My failure.

I’M SORRY. To the mothers and the fathers and the lovers
and the friends, I’m sorry. To the empty rooms and lonely pets,
to the words left unsaid and the bucket lists unfilled, I’m sorry.

To the history books I’m sorry.

Is this the worst?

Don’t try to cover my nakedness with your holy oil
I’ve no place for hollow hope
Look at the pain, mine and yours
Do not avert your eyes.

LISTEN! Too long you’ve heard the pulse of your own righteousness
beating in your ears.
Today you hear a different beat
the thrum of blood pooling on the dance floor,
the depreciating hum of life ebbing into darkness.

Is this the worst?

Hear the cries of the mothers!
Hear the cries of the lovers!
Hear the cries of the prophets!
Hear the cries of the dead!

What have we done? Their blood cries out to us from the ground.

And I am ashamed.

You don’t have to smile

You do not have to please me,
or anyone for that matter,
Save yourself.

You do not have to strive
for a thousand hands clapping
or mouths shouting accolades,
as you stand bowed, heart bound,
the smile plastered on your face
while petals rain down upon you.

You do not have to stay in flight
soaring through the daylight air,
wings spread wide beyond comfort
just so we can point up at you
and feel the swell of pride in knowing you.

If you’d rather crawl
through the midnight mud and muck,
I will be there with you.
Wherever you are, I will stand by you.

You don’t have to smile.

You do not have to dance
as the storm clouds roll over you
if you’d rather join your thunderous roars
to the chorus of the lightning song.
You do not have to search desperately
for the possibility of beauty
in the midst of your suffering.
If all you see is darkness,
I will hold your hand.

You do not have to be good, polite, pure,
or humble
to ensure my fragile pride.
You do not have to be what I see
through my milk clouded eyes
when you see your reflection
clear as the mountain stream.

You do not have to bow down to the fear
of man’s gaze upon you, finding displeasure.
You do not have to please him.
Or me.

You don’t have to smile.

Thankfulness Alphabet*

*I got the idea for this blog (slash maybe stole it) from my blogging hero, the Pioneer Woman.

A: Asparagus. It’s just good and healthy. Or maybe avocado. Artichokes. Almonds. Apricots. Apples. A foods are just delicious.

IMG_20150917_201632086

B: Baby Slowey! She currently weighs about 2.5 pounds and is the size of a butternut squash. And she is feisty! She loves to twist and kick, but as soon as Stephan puts his hands on my belly to feel her wiggle she gets still. Such a tease!

C: Charlie Weasley. My first-born cat son. He’s been feeling a little neglected and over stimulated with the new kitten, but he’s handled it like a true stoic. He’s been spending more time outdoors to get away from Jinx, but he’ll always be my baby Charlie.

IMG_20150607_120050287

D: Dad. The man who taught me what it means to love unconditionally. My crazy daddy. He taught me what a good husband and father looks like. He taught me how to apologize well. He taught me to never be ashamed of who I am as a person. He taught me how to care deeply about others.

E: Eating. I love food with an almost obscene energy and passion. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, because I couldn’t actually care less about what the food actually is. Just so long as it feeds me and satisfies. Right now I’m eating string cheese. How delicious! How marvelous! How calcium fortified! What better time to be thankful for the joy of eating than Thanksgiving?

F: Family. I am so incredibly lucky to have come from the family I come from. Parents that love me unconditionally and encourage me in all that I do. Grandparents, though gone now, that showed up to support me in all my childhood activities. Siblings who are so different from me in so many ways, but who can always make me laugh and challenge me to think deeply about the world I live in. And then I’m doubly blessed to have married into a family of equal quality! I can’t count the family dinners, game nights, and holidays spent together just enjoying the company. That’s what makes a life.

G: Game of Thrones. The HBO series hooked me, and now I’m obsessed with the books. Just started A Dance with Dragons. George R.R. Martin’s writing truly is superb. I am sucked into Westeros or Essos every time I crack the spine. I am so thankful for a good story!

H: Health. I am thankful for my health, though I sometimes put it at risk with inactivity and junk food. I hope to value it more as I enter into the third trimester of pregnancy and prepare for life as a new mom.

I: Intelligent debate. I love when two people with different opinions can speak their minds without shaming or dumbing down the other person. I can follow debates when the opposing sides are truly listening to understand rather than to just respond. Most of the time it’s just a screaming match. Nobody got time for that.

IMG_20151001_151031939

J: Jinx, the monster kitty. His name suits him perfectly. To watch him stalk around the house, preying on anything from paper receipts to plastic bags, pencils to the dogs’ wagging tails, he makes me laugh daily. He is a fierce ball of fuzz, but when he’s ready to cuddle, you are in for an all night session of purring and him trying to sit on your face.

K: Kathryn Elizabeth Lucas. My baby sister. What would I do with her bleeding heart hippie attitude and her refusal to settle for injustice? She’s going to change the world (once she decides to).

L: Louie and Lola, my two cuddly, stinky, muddy, shedding, adorable, annoying, obnoxious, in-your-face, tail-wagging, slobbering, happy, rambunctious pooches! Life just isn’t as wonderfully funny or dirty without them around.

IMG_20150619_125924601

M: Mom. My first best friend. She taught me to be kind, and how to balance my check book. She taught me self-reliance and independence. She always changed the endings of every fairy tale she told me, so I was brought up believing to be a princess meant to take care of business and go to college. I owe my fierce feminism to her.

N: No. The power of the word “No” cannot be understated. (See “Yes”)

O: Organ music. Is that weird? Since being in Nashville, I’ve worshiped at not just one, but two congregations privileged to have not only organs, but dedicated and talented organists! I just love singing praises to God on a Sunday morning with that organ blasting through the air. And I think baby likes it too!

P: Prayer. I’m thankful that I seem to be overcoming my fear of public prayer, and that my own private prayers have deepened and strengthened as a result. It brings me a sense of peace and steadiness that I can’t get from anything else.

Q: Quality time. Be it with friends, family, or myself, I am so thankful for time to spend loving people.

R: Rest. I have always been somewhat of a sloth. But I’m learning to value rest as a sabbath practice, and not just as a way to stay in bed watching netflix all day. I can practice finding rest in the midst of busy-ness and in the stillness of nature, in the simple tasks of the everyday and the mind-blowing miracles and tragedies of life. Rest is a state of being, the ability to find comfort and peace in something greater than myself.

IMG_20150728_184533723

S: Stephan Shane Slowey, Jr. My husband, my sense of humor, my rock, the father of our child. He is my everything. I’ve discovered so many things about myself and the world with him by my side. Words can’t express the love I have for him!

T: Tennessee and Texas (Yeehaw!) These two states have shaped me into who I am today. I wouldn’t trade growing up in Texas or putting roots down in Tennessee for the whole world. I used to think I wanted to live in a new part of the world each year, but now I am so thankful to be a Tennessee girl by way of Texas.

U: Umbrellas. Just a darn good invention.

V: Violins. I love the sound of a well-played violin. I hope my children will continue to play past the 6th grade, when I stopped. I remember it bringing me a lot of joy to make my own music.

W: Water. More specifically, access to clean, drinkable water at all places I am likely to be. Home, restaurants, gas stations, water fountains… I never have to worry about not being able to find water to keep me alive. Now if only the same could be true all over the globe.

X: Let’s just be honest. No good words start with X. At least none that I know the meaning of. Scrabble word finder was not helpful. So instead, I’m thankful for eXpectation. The season of advent is all about expectation and the hope of something wonderful just around corner. It’s what makes hope possible.

Y: Yes. The power of the word “Yes” cannot be understated. (See “No”)

Z: Zachary Thomas Lucas. My brother the adventurer. We may not talk all that often, and he may get fed up with my day dreaming and idealism at times (he likes the cold hard facts). But he is a big Dr. Who/Star Wars/Michael Chrichton dork, don’t let him fool you. And he’s an excellent cook, and will be cooking Thanksgiving, and if that’s not something to be thankful for, I’m not sure what is.

Paris, Solidarity, and the Shame Game: A Defense of Mourning and a Commentary on Selective Grief

We, as a nation, have undoubtedly risen to stand in solidarity with Paris. Thousands of profile pictures have been overlain with the French flag. People are posting their personal photos of the Eiffel Tower. News articles and videos are being shared hundreds of times. The terrorist attacks continue to be on every major news outlet, every radio station, every heart and mind.

This has necessarily led to somewhat of a movement on the part of those that are questioning why it is we Americans are so quick to show our care and compassion for France when there are comparable, even at times more horrific, tragedies happening in other countries the world over. These free-thinkers ask of us, “Where are those countries’ flag overlays? Where are the safety check-in features for them? Where are the prayers, the memes, the heartfelt outrage for people of color who have lost entire families due to this same type of violence and terror?”

Good questions.

Not so good follow up.

My frustration is not with the many thoughtful advocates in this world who rightfully seek to open the eyes and hearts of a privileged culture that is undeniably biased towards the tragedies of countries and people “like us.”

My frustration is with the tactics they’ve been using over the past three days.

I can’t count the number of people on my own feed who have recently posted about the massacre in Kenya. 147 killed. No one will deny it was terrible, just as terrible as the events in Paris.

It happened back in April.

No, the passage of time shouldn’t dim our compassion. And no, it didn’t receive the same amount of media attention that Paris has, and that’s wrong. We need to admit that that’s wrong.

But do we really need to repost an eight month old tragedy to prove we are somehow more enlightened, more globally conscious, more capable of proclaiming tragedy on our Facebook feed than the hundreds of people changing their profile pictures to the French flag overlay? No. No, we don’t. I remember that day in April vividly. I remember reading about it, hearing about it, talking about it. I remember praying about it. It’s not like it passed unnoticed, although that’s what some have claimed with misdirected indignation. The fact is, Kenya has had new and different tragedies happen since then, and they don’t need your arrogance coming 8 months after the fact just so you can stroke your ego and feel superior to the masses: “Look, I’m posting about this non-white event, call me aware and unbiased!”

I remember Kenya. I prayed fervently for Kenya, just as I prayed fervently for Nepal not long after, and Syria, and the many other countries where violence and tragedy seem to dwell and linger. As did my church. And my community. These events were talked about and shared. But Facebook didn’t have the profile picture overlays for them. (Actually, I don’t think they introduced the overlays until after SCOTUS passed marriage equality into law, but that may be beside the point.) Regardless, I’m willing to admit the biased emotional response that Paris elicited over and against Beirut and Baghdad implies a larger systemic problem. It’s a problem that we need to face as a country together.

But using shame to make a point is not the way forward. It’s not the way to open hearts or minds. It is a darn quick way to close them.

Yes, please let’s talk about Western privilege! We need to talk about why we are more concerned with predominantly white European countries than countries inhabited by people of color. We need to question why the deaths of Christians elicit more heartache and willingness to stand “in solidarity” than the deaths of non-Christians. We need to talk about internalized racism, and band-wagon mentality, and colonialism. We need to hold France accountable to their own racist and colonialist history and present just as we should hold our own government accountable to their problematic and dehumanizing policies and actions. All of this needs to be talked about on the global stage.

But the anger and condemnation expressed towards those who truly do find themselves effected by the events in Paris on Friday is unnecessary and unhelpful to that cause.

I have seen posts such as, “Don’t pray for Paris,” and “Don’t change your profile picture because France is the fourth worst colonizer in the world.” I’ve read sarcastic statuses about how those who stand in solidarity with Paris remain mute on the pain of the rest of the world, and fail to show solidarity to anyone else. “Look at all these idiot sympathizers,” some of these writings seem to say. “How misguided can you get?” Like a flag overlay somehow makes you incapable of feeling any other pain.

This is blatantly untrue.

The friends and family I know and love with red, white, and blue profile pictures are incredibly thoughtful, generous human beings who are determined to educate themselves on world matters. I understand there is a lot that could be said with the symbol of the French flag, just as there is a lot that can be said of our own. Symbols are hugely loaded with whatever is projected onto them. France has done some pretty terrible things, as have we, and our flags carry that history. Does that mean we simply get rid of them? What about the countless countries that are being terrorized, not just by jihadists and extremists, but by our own governments? Those flags have similar histories of violence on their own people. Do we toss them out as well? (I’m falling into a dangerous argument here, I can feel it. Because I am definitely anti-confederate flag. I need to think on this more deeply. Please comment if you can help me out of this web.)

I’ve digressed. The problem is not the individual, but the culture and the availability and visibility of media.

The message from the attacking side has somehow become less about culture change, and more about individual shaming. If you change your profile picture to represent France, it must be because you have no care or compassion or sympathy for the rest of the world, or you are pro-colonization and pro-oppression. If you openly talk about mourning for Paris, there’s must be no room in your heart for the rest of the world, and therefore you are a racist and an elitist. I don’t believe this is the intended message (maybe it is), but it’s certainly felt internally when I read these scathing critiques of the sharing choices of the social media masses. It’s the Shame Game.

Wanna know how to open the conversation well, without the implied shame and guilt? Here’s how:

“We can be in solidarity, but we should also be critical of our blind spots and motivations for such solidarity. Just because this particular type of violence now seems “real” or “close to home” doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to people and communities all over. The places from which thousands of refugees are fleeing have been seeing bombings and shoot-outs for weeks, months, and years. Where is our compassion for them? The legacies of racism and colonialism aren’t absent from our “solidarity” no matter how hard we try. Let’s not fall asleep on that fact.” – (A really smart and kind friend of mine)

The appropriate reaction is, yes, let’s mourn Paris. And then let’s also state that we need to evaluate our reactions to those who suffer, and what the criteria is for our solidarity. And then we need to actually work towards making that better, and not just shout each other down.

Don’t make Paris a bullhorn for your own agenda. Don’t condemn those who hurt. Do open up the conversation to include larger structures of violence and oppression. Do allow yourself to feel the pain of the world. Don’t make it into a competition to see who can post about the most grief in the shortest amount of time. That’s not solidarity either.

The reality is that I do need to work harder to be in solidarity with all those who suffer, not just on social media, but real, feet-on-the-ground solidarity. Not just with a flag overlay, but with companionship and accompaniment. Not just for France but for my own neighbors in Nashville who are being squeezed out by gentrification and homelessness, for refugees who are fleeing their homes, for the sick, and imprisoned, and for all those my faith teaches me I’m supposed to know and love. And I thank all those who have made that point clear to me with love and mercy. Thank you.

231066_504773653425_170_n

One final unrelated point, and this is more to start a discussion than a defense. For me personally, Paris is more than just some distant white European country. It has a piece of my heart. I’ve always loved Paris, since I was tiny. I had the privilege to visit in 2008, when I spent the summer in France (and yes, I see and feel the innate privilege that statement carries).

But we sometimes forget the importance of place and geography in our identity narratives. I was changed by that country in ways I can’t explain. I grew up there in the sense it was the first time I truly felt like a capable adult.

My guess is that many Americans have similar feelings and experiences of that beloved city, especially those privileged enough to have traveled and lived there. On the other hand, it is an unfortunate but influencing truth that many of us have not had (or perhaps not taken is better phrasing) the opportunity to travel to non-western countries like Syria, Iraq, Kenya, and others where violence and death seem to play a daily role. So the position of place in our collective consciousness is perhaps more powerfully felt when the tragedy occurs on soil we’ve placed our feet upon, not because it is “close to home,” but because it is in a sense a literal part of our home.

And doesn’t that make sense? Is it not okay for me to feel a deep sense of loss over Paris that I might not be capable of feeling in the same way over a place I’ve never been? Don’t misread me, please. I’m not saying the deaths or the depths of the tragedy is any different, but that the memory and felt reality of the place is forever altered for me. Like when a tornado happens in Texas, I’m necessarily more engaged in thew news of it than I would be if a tornado were to happen in Kansas. The destruction might be the same, but Texas is my home, and I owe my personhood to it. Not that I can’t be touched by loss in Kansas, but it’s not the same. Does anyone get this or understand it at all? Can you help me nuance it?

Many thanks to Michael Kozoile, who wrote this article and said,

“Grief is not a competition to be the most even-handed, the most objective, the least corrupted. Grieving is personal, subjective, uncontrollable. If you feel the need to pray or cry for the people of Paris – because you’ve walked their streets, befriended their people, lived their lifestyle – then you should do so, freely and without the judgment of others.”

He has a lot more to say about challenging yourself to go deeper, but he says it better than I could, so please read it.

This morning

I wake to the lackluster fog of an early November morning,
the dreariness creeping over the dead leaves scattered in the yard,
a blanket of quiet sound.
I hear it swirl up to my window, a silent whisper of longing,
before I look out into the opaque dawn and yawn.

The fog is kept at bay by brick and wood and pane,
yet still it clouds my head and body with heaviness
as it holds me in the cradle of fluff and down
among pillows and blankets and the warm body next to mine.

Keep the day at bay I say.
Let me stay wrapped in this dream forever.

Morning Glory

The humble bumble bee stumbles
into the cavernous morning’s glory,
His furry scurry legs caked in thick white dust,
while squeezing, barely breathing,
into the quiet sweetness of fertility.

My heart pauses between beats
as he pauses in the brief
to take in this amazing blazing gazing.

The humble bumble bee rests.

And the world begins again
as he backs his fat back out
one furry scurry leg at a time
and he buzzes away
into the next morning’s glory.

And I think life is in the passionate pause of creation.

Upon the Altar

Today I bring myself.
I bring forth form and substance
-weightiness-
I bring forth solidity
sometimes aching
sometimes free
but nonetheless a filler of the void.

I am this rock.

This rock is me.

I am sturdy
and cracked and broken
sparkling white crystals on the inside
exposed and vulnerable and beautiful.

Formed from dust one day to return.

I place myself in this rock
upon the altar of expectation
of being made new
of transformation and blessing.

And I sing out with exaltation
praise to the creator creating
Thank you for the gift of being
of filling the empty places
with my beauty and my pain.

Life Lost

My dear Cecil,

You should not have died like that.
You should have been roaming free
until old age
and gravity
bound you to the earth
never to roam again.

I did not know you.
I did not know your name,
or your status,
but I was still angered
by your killing.

And then I thought:

Why is it so much easier
to feel anger and disgust
at the murder of a lion
by a narcissistic dentist –

than by the countless murders
of PEOPLE OF COLOR
by state sanctioned violence?

That lion was served on a gilded platter,
but I don’t think the dentist ate him (I hope?).

(Insert name here) was not literally eaten
when (insert possessive pronoun here) body crumpled
under the weight of racism.

But both stories are consumed.
One ravenously,
(all at the table agree this lion meat is unjust,
as they grind it to paste in their clenching jowels)
and one as a post dinner mint
(eh. I guess I’ll take one for the drive home).

Food for thought.

Bathroom Revelation

Here’s my piece on HerStory! Please follow this new blog, it’s going to be amazing!

I don’t remember how old I was. Eight or nine possibly. Some details didn’t stick in this guilty memory. But I remember the restaurant. It was a cheap pizza chain. I remember the smell of heat-lamp pizza and wilted pink salad with ranch. I remember the pleasure of seeing greasy wadded up paper napkins on empty beige plates next to half-drunk red plastic cups. Empty plates meant full tummies. And of course I remember distinctly the stained industrial carpet under the tables and chairs where I crouched and hid in mortification.

Blue collar establishments like this were our regular dinner destinations when I was a kid. They had cheap food and arcade games, and the dirty looks from paying customers aimed at parents of loud and messy children were limited because everyone here had loud and messy children. It was a community of worn out parents at the end of…

View original post 878 more words