Friday, July 29, 2011

The Birthday Dinner, the Bassist and the Loud Quiet

Walking through a sprinkle to celebrate one of the sweetest of my heart, met at the door by the bear hug and laugh of the son, the bassist who'd prepared her birthday dinner. The plate of simple-best, long, grilled okra pods, perfect steak slices, field peas stolen in the middle of the night from his sister's garden and flavored with the Saxapahaw pickled green beans, toasted poundcake, and sauced up peaches cooked in the very best moonshine. It was more than less a brilliant Southern summer supper, and it bound us to those all over the world, celebrating ritual through food cooked simply, and shared from the heart. The conversation wound in and around the oddest of subjects, from flea infestations, credit derivatives, music, marijuana brownies, weddings, family trials and triumphs, a woman as they put it who was bad to the core, and finally, to politics. Inside me a tiny smile began to grow, it is that way when we see the Divine Jester testing our peace for the hold it has on us. For two weeks I had been caught and churned up in a turmoil that was political, the small town microcosm and the big country macrocosm, I had gone to bed angry, woken up sad and made the trip back to angry again.  I had been lathered up in my own sweat  that was wrapped up in  thoughts of coercion, misuse of power, ignorance, self-righteousness (I am sure mine included,) ideologies. Any sense of balance had eluded me until just that morning when finally it all began to settle in. My good friend and I hammering it out, moving from a place of moral indignation and outrage to attempted understanding and forgiveness, from our own fear to a more balanced fearlessness and finally finding the place  where Grace resides and sweeps the challenges into a place of center and home and free. Last night when the conversation turned to politics, the peace held, the jackass stayed quiet and the secret inside smile, erupted.  
The conversation bounced off the bottles of red wine, the last okra pod, and the remaining moonshine sauce. He said to me,  "What do you think?" "How do you feel" "You know we can't possibly take care of any but our own" "Look at the trillions we spend on the military, look at the wars, and what has happened here."
I answered him quietly. 
We talked about the many costs of war and then he dove off into a place where communities need each to be separate, as do countries.
I explained why isololationism is no longer an option, because technology has brought us all within a breath of goodness, suffering, economic success or failure of each other, because the software algorithms have taken us to the place where we all blend into one.
His voice grew louder as he talked again about the wars and the military and our arrogance as a nation. I agreed with most of what he said except to say don't call it dollars for the military, call it dollars for the defense non-budget. The boots on the ground don't see the money and the defense budget can't account for it. No, don't call it dollars for the military when vets are homeless.
He kept talking and as he talked, he became angrier his words flying in different directions and zinging off each other, slamming out a discord stew of mixed metaphors about the us and them, the theirs and ours, and then the "I don't care about that little kid in Afghanistan."
 "I do. I care about that kid, I care about them all, everywhere, all of them,  here or there. Period. Simple. Period. And if you think there's  not enough, there is, as long as we use our brains to work it out along with our hearts. Caring for the whole doesn't diminish us, it grows us, we just have to be smart about it."
 "I HATE LIBERALS, I HATE LIBERALS, I HATE LIBERALS!"  and then a few more lines before he came back to that chorus a few more times. The I HATE LIBERALS followed by a round of accusations about me wanting to fix everything and everyone but not caring about our old and our children. Of me being an idealist, a liberal yet also and somehow pro-every miitary operation and every-war.
"Wow. That's a first. I'm pretty sure I've demonstrated against them all."
 "I'm not. I'm saying the same thing, every time in the same way, you just can't hear me."
 I smiled. (I was still  trying to get my head around a pro-war idealist who doesn't care but cares too much.)
"Actually, you are, you are the idealist, you just don't realize it. I've come to understand than when my sweetheart comes home after listening to left-wing talk radio all day and starts yelling about everything he hates, that it is for two reasons. 1) You can't listen to other people yelling, and not start to yell yourself and 2) He is an idealist. He sees how the world can be better, he knows that the world should be better and above all he wants the world to be better and he is frustrated about how or if he can fix any part of it. And that my friend, is you, too. You are both idealists, You just can't know it for the shouting."
He pulled back and looked at me. He stopped yelling.
"What would you do?"  
"Give everyone a wide, wide berth, find a tiny little piece of common ground and have a quiet conversation."
"A wide berth?"
"And a quiet conversation because in the yelling none of us can hear and in the yelling none of us can think and in the yelling none of us can get anything done."
"A wide berth?"
"Yes and a quiet conversation."
"I am 32 and I don't know what to do, I don't know how to help fix things, it is hard for my generation."
"It is hard for mine too, it is hard for all of us but mostly I think it is hardest for my Mama who every day grows her heart and her mind more open, she listens, she reads and she compares what is happening to the experiences of her almost 90 years of living. She picks up the world map she keeps beside her chair and looks for the places that are on the news, she wants to know where everyone, is. She thinks, she wonders, and most every day she says to me, it has never been this bad, where people cannot even talk." She despairs.
The room grew quiet, he walked away and came back. He wrapped me in a bear hug and said, "What can I do besides the wide berth part and trying to get to the conversation part. What can I do to make a difference?"
"Do what you do best, write your songs and play your music, people will hear, people will heal and people will fight the good fight, from your spark the other sparks will ripple out."
"Does that mean Reagan's trickle-down theories really work?"
"No. But if we call them trickle up..." 
Midnight and we laughed.

The bassist walked over to his stand-up bass in the corner and began to pluck and play, his rich, deep voice singing the words to, "Somebody to Love." One of my favorite songs. As I walked to the car I thought of the loud conversation turned quiet, wide berths, a celebration and I felt the music thumping my heart in the night quiet of  a very good night.


  1. my emmy, only you . . .
    So today I am planting many dozens of flowers in the front yard of my next door neighbor because she took care of her father till he died last year at 105 and now is nursing her mother who is slowly failing at 98. "why?", she asked. "Every day when you walk home from the bus after giving your last ounce of compassion to your mother and your back is bent and your face is tired, you smile when you look at my garden. I'd like to think you'd smile more if you had a garden of your own." Her smile grew bigger as she threw her arms around me. "Here's the deal. You tend your mother and I will tend your garden and that will be our silent way of tending each other." And then amazingly because karma can be so immediate The City of Seattle showed up and is fixing the street in front of our house which the neighbors have been begging them to do for 11 years. All this reinforces my belief that the smallest kindness starts a wave and that wave keeps gaining momentum and though we never know where or to whom its cleansing, refreshing drops will land it will keep going and the world will benefit. So for me, I have found that when I feel most frustrated, powerless, and despairing if I look around and do something creative, productive, or kind in my immediate space, I can feel that at the very least I have contributed a microcosm of grace to my fellow man. It works for me! P.S. For the record: anything of this nature that I have learned you can be pretty sure I learned from Lucie. Ms. Branham, you are a transformative presence is our world and I love you. me

  2. Yet another beautiful masterpiece. You create a festival of color with your words and your passion. I am one with this painter's pallet and I love Lucie.

  3. This is so raw and vulnerable and healing. You brought it all to the table along with the healing. Its a powerful story. definately want more!!! ......."the jackass was silenced and the inside secret smile erupted". I love this sentence the most, will pack it up in my suitcase of intentions. There are family in my world of big love and big misunderstandings. Thank you more than you know for this healing blog post.

  4. OMG...I know a truly amazing writer. I was able to visualize the entire conversation in the seclusion of my living room. What a talent, what a gift!

  5. Love it love it love it love it love it!!!!!!!! You captured it, you painted, you put a tune to it, you scattered it like the leaves in the fall, you had me drinking it in like good wine, you stimulated my thoughts like a good lover, you left me longing to hear more of your words.

  6. What a beautiful way to be a peacemaker. If only we could all offer that wide berth and a quiet conversation.