Mistakes, Big and Small

I have never been so aware of my whiteness as I have been these past few days…ever since the moment I got my henna tattoo.  I was at a party–a lovely graduation party for a dear friend’s daughter–and they had hired a henna artist.  This was not the first time that I had seen this particular artist at an event; she has quite a reputation and is sought after by many people.  While she is clearly of middle eastern descent, her clientele consists primarily of white folks who like the beauty of the henna tattoo.  There is, to be sure, nothing wrong with admiring the beauty of the henna tattoo, nor is there anything inherently wrong with paying someone to put this artwork onto your body.   But for me, as the darkness of the ink sunk into my pores, the whiteness of my history grew brighter and brighter.

Macro and microaggressions have always belonged to others.  I pride myself on being fully aware of my words, my actions, and my privilege as a white woman in this western world.  Until now.  In a moment of slightly inebriated celebration, I allowed myself to not just covet that which belonged to another culture, but to actively take it and claim it for my own.  I had crossed a line that I didn’t realize had always been so close to where I stood.

I was instantly uncomfortable with my own hand, which is, for better or for worse, permanently attached to me.  While this transgression fades slowly away over the next few days, I am left trying to find ways to cover it.  I knew immediately that this was a mistake when I remembered that I would be tutoring my Indian student who had, occasionally, donned her own henna ink.  Would my sleeves come down far enough to cover the offending artwork?  How would I respond if she asked me about it?  Would she care?  Was it a compliment or an affront?  What was I saying to the other students in my class?  Would they take this as tacit approval to commit their own acts of cultural appropriation?  Or would they consider this an act of cultural appreciation?

I find it interesting that I am forced to confront this dilemma throughout my day, while the rich, beautiful ink slowly fades away, allowing my natural pigment to return and, with it, my comfort level.  My comfort with my whiteness.  Such a strange place to be.  There is a part of me that is in awe of the beauty that snakes around my fingers, which have become unusually elegant in this new dressing.  But this is a beauty that I cannot claim.  It is not mine nor should it become one more “conquered land” that I inhabit.

There are things that do not belong to us.  Every culture has an unspoken language, a way of moving through this world, that is unique to those who are on the inside, leaving the rest of us on the outside.  While we may be fortunate enough to be invited in, we must respect the sacred space as such, admiring and appreciating, but not appropriating.  There are things that do not belong to us.

 

You In Me

(for mom on mother’s day)

 

I see you in me

the lines that crease my face come from a different sort of living,

but they are the same lines that have gently etched your story

 

I see you in my eyes, early in the morning,

when I stare, just a bit longer, to try to find out

who am I becoming?

and to see, maybe, what others can see

 

I see you in the photographs of me as a little girl

captured in a world I no longer remember

and I see you in the brief glimpses of my hips or shoulder

reflected in a window as I go about my day

 

I hear you in my voice, both in the moments of frustration & in the tenderness

pieces of you, occasionally, escaping my lips

finding their way into my own children

My hands have begun to make music, but they are not your hands

My knees have begun to ache, whispering warnings to take care and stay strong

And even my words get lost sometimes, making me wonder where lost words go

 

And now I watch my daughter…

She won’t see you in her mirror or hear you in her words

but when she finds my face in hers

and hears my song as she hums

you will be there.

Disappointment

“Trust your instincts.”

I don’t remember how old I was when my father said these words to me, but it was somewhere between the end of college and the beginning of real adulthood (for me, this was a 10 year gap).  I was distraught, the memory of my tight chest holding back my adolescent tears is still incredibly strong.  We were in the family room, TV providing background comfort.  I sat on the couch, legs curled up beneath me, while he stood, gently pacing the small space.  Our familiar positions suddenly were broken when he sat down on the other end of the couch, not too close, but clearly yielding his authority and position and handing over the decision making completely to me.

“Trust your instincts,” he said.  “This is your life.  It really doesn’t matter what I think.”

I heard the words but I had no idea what to do with them.  What did that mean?  Did he not care?  Was this another parenting ploy I needed to deconstruct?  I think that I mumbled some response, hoping to actually be the person that he thought I was in that moment, and the conversation was over.  He may have stayed on the couch, sinking into the distraction of the television, or he might have walked out to get a drink or check on some detail of adult life that I still hadn’t encountered, but, either way, I was left alone.

Decades later, I hear the words often.  “Trust your instincts” has become the defining force that pulls my parts together.  It’s not the gravity that we all depend upon, keeping houses, cars & feet firmly grounded on the earth, but the field that surrounds just me, as if I am the center of my own, little universe.  A solitary planet with its own pull, co-creating the concentric circles of orbiting paths for other planets that share my tiny corner of space.  It is my mantra, but it is only half of what was said.

 

 

 

My Red Wheelbarrow

There is a rattle

deep in the belly of our not-so-old car

plastered with its political declarations and subtle confrontations.

It’s not a constant rattle, signaling its discontent only upon the first turn of the key, undetectable to mechanics and other passengers.

It’s been there for so long, I wonder if it’s possible that it was there all along.

But wouldn’t we have noticed it?

Wouldn’t we have heard it when the car was shiny & new & full of promises?

And now that it is a part of the whole,

there are many days when the rattle is missed altogether.

But, there are days, when the rattle roars, forcing me to recoil for just a moment.

On those mornings

when my silence is assaulted by the reminder

that all is so clearly not right with the one thing I am depending upon

 

I wait for the crescendo…

and then the fall back to a quiet pretense that all is okay

 

Echo

Music is layered

with time

& sound

& heart

It is the movement

It is the stillness

It is the echo of worlds unknown

or, more accurately,

It is the echo of worlds hidden.

To write is to create

& define

worlds…

best left in the echo.

Muted Conversations

Sometimes I sit with the words, just waiting for the right moment

which never comes

I know the answer, even before the entire question is released

and

although my heart begins to race & I feel the capillaries opening

deep inside

I don’t make a move.

Words flow around me, arguments ensue, plans are made

I watch and witness.

What does it mean to fully participate in this life?

When does listening become passive acceptance?

I want to be fully present

but I am afraid to lose myself

completely.

Standing on Shifting Sand

10.  Then 12.  15.  Now 17…although if I stop and click?  Yep.  Over 20.  Posts just keep piling up.  Writing keeps being thrown out into the universe, gobbled up by other writers and some readers who are searching for answers? enlightenment? laughter? connection?

I am shocked by the way that daily writing, for an unknown audience, has shifted my world.  It did not knock me over, although there were days that I obsessed over finding just the right word, but it did make me focus on each step I took, wondering if I was going to land on solid ground or if I was going to tumble forward, grasping in the darkness.  I both loved and feared settling into my computer, unsure of what was going to find its way to the screen and, also, what was going to open up deep within me.

I have always written.  Always.  But I have never shared the way that I have shared these past 31 days.   I am buoyed by the writing that has surrounded me for the past month and so I am reticent to continue just for me.  It brings me back to my very first post…wondering if what I have to write is worth being read.  For now, I’ll hit “publish” and share the link and settle into my day.  Tomorrow will need to take care of itself.