A few years ago my friend Pat made a visit to the University of New Mexico Medical Center. She wanted to donate herself to any clinical trials for treating and studying dementia, which she suspected was on her horizon. She was inspired to do this because her father, a doctor in Clovis, NM, had volunteered to be part of a clinical trial for leukemia which had not saved him unfortunately, but had been an important step in the development of what has become an almost miracle cure for certain childhood leukemia. Pat was very proud of – and inspired by – her father and wanted to carry on the tradition. The first step was to confirm a diagnosis and after a very comprehensive battery of tests, including MRIs and scans of all kinds, it was confirmed. She had early signs of age-related dementia. There were no trials but they would stay in touch. Pat took the diagnosis with surprising calm and with hopes that she might some day contribute to medical understanding.
Pat and I have been friends for decades, and for the past few years we have been in a writing group with two other companions. We are close-knit and have had many laughs and tears over the years as we share our creative juices.
This year has been challenging. We have each had our own struggles as we navigate the constraints and anxieties ever-present in our lives. And for our little foursome, there is no more getting together for snacks and chuckles and hugs at Pat’s house. COVID has driven us to zoom for our gatherings. Recently we received an email from Pat. It was part of a thread about finding a date to zoom.
In 1998, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Albuquerque by Spanish conquistadors, the city commissioned a monument to be placed in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The process was highly contentious. Although over the centuries Spanish and Native blood has mixed, consensually and otherwise, a challenge like how to memorialize colonization can send people into corners where the other – even the other part of you – becomes the enemy.
The solution in the end was to have two separate, adjacent monuments. La Jornada is a procession of thirty-three bronze figures in a kind of diorama depicting the arrival of the Spanish. Don Juan de Oñate, the controversial founder of Albuquerque, in helmet and armor, led the procession — until he was removed in June 2020 following a night of violence over his fate. (Oñate was the target of protests on behalf of Native Americans for his role as a cruel conqueror who cut off the left foot of dozens of young Acoma Pueblo men in retribution for the killing of a soldier.) The rest of La Jornada remains in place, a priest, a scout, men, women and children settlers, herders, an ox cart, and livestock.
Nora Naranjo Morse, poet and artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, was given an area fifty yards or so to the west for her own creation, Numbe Whageh, or Pueblo Center Place. She chose to leave the land natural and to carve a simple spiral foot path leading to a low point in the landscape, below ground level of the museum and La Jornada. At the bottom she added a small water feature, barely more than a trickle running over a smooth flat rock. Water-loving plants grew up creating a small oasis, treasured on a hot Albuquerque day. Morse’s poetic plaque introducing the natural installations speaks of the clouds and mountains, the thunder and lightning, the winds from four directions, the plants, animals, and life-giving water.
I am in a play. I have a role, a small one. It had seemed like a good idea, but now opening night is tomorrow and I realize that I haven’t learned my lines. I have no idea what my cues are, when – or why — to enter and exit. The part was so small I hadn’t worried about it, but with less than 24 hours it’s time to get busy. I open the script and begin leafing through looking for my part. The script seems to grow, the pages multiply and soon it is as if I am wading through “War and Peace.” I can’t find my part, maybe because I don’t remember the name of my character. I’ll go to the beginning where the characters are listed and surely I’ll be able to tell which one I am….maybe a maid? a messenger? a beggar? By now the pages are in the hundreds and I can’t find my way to the beginning. I am panicking. I wake up.
It’s an old favorite of mine, a nightmare that is always there when I need one, a standby called upon in times of stress. It’s a wonder I don’t have it every night, for these days I have no idea what my role is, what part I should be playing. This particular play we are all in is being written day by day, new pages, plot twists, characters.
I do have parts I am playing every day in an effort to stay healthy and sane. In March when the self-isolation order went into effect in New Mexico, I made a daily chart to keep myself focused, to keep from sliding into slothdom.
These are the boxes across the top of my chart. The dates go down the left hand margin:
Other, like professional work
I found that the key was filling in the “doing good” box and the “outdoor exercise” box. No matter what else I did or didn’t do, no matter what the nightly news told me, I could end the day with a feeling of satisfaction and relative peace. Roberto and I made dozens of masks for Navajo country, cooked for the homeless shelter, shopped for shut-in friends, and sent checks to organizations and causes in need. We wrote letters to the editor about issues of justice and equity and supported candidates in a variety of ways. I walk almost daily through the arroyos, up the hills, across fields in our neighborhood, marveling at the mountain silhouettes on the horizon, the fantastic clouds, the silence, a glimpse of a cottontail, the scat of a coyote. Yesterday I saw a family of four deer, parents and two teenagers, so poised and graceful, moving through the piñon and juniper brush.
As the months go by the harmony of the chart is ever more challenged. Now, on October 30, I am still filling in boxes, knowing that it is better than not filling in boxes. But the recent events, the escalation of distress, violence and hatred call for more. My nightmare is a message to myself from my depths: “Lucy, you are in this drama, so find your role, small as it is, learn those lines and get busy. The play has an indefinite run and it starts now!”
The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg hit me hard. I thought she might go on forever, getting tinier and tinier until she just evaporated. We would never have to say good bye and she would always be with us in some molecular way. Another such loss came to mind — Fred Rogers who supported and comforted so many through childhood, and in my case, beyond. “I like you just the way you are,” one of his standard good-byes on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, runs through my mind often when I am feeling flawed, inadequate or just blue.
Both have had a lot of coverage in recent months with movies, both documentary and fictionalized, of their lives. Perhaps that’s why they are so vivid for me, and why I link them in my mind. Their message to all of us, whether from the bench or from the neighborhood, was to treat each other and ourselves with compassion and humanity, to fight injustice, and to strive to make the world — family, community, country, planet, however much you want to tackle — a better place. They modeled in their lives conviction, perseverance, humility, strength, curiosity and humor. I cannot think of a better recipe for being human.
I don’t know if RBG was ever on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show but I can imagine they would be great friends. I am not a religious person, but I sometimes fantasize about heaven. Perhaps the two of them are smiling and chatting, she in her workout sweats, he in his cardigan sweater, reminiscing about the tough times they witnessed and sending us – all of us — compassion and encouragement for the crisis we face.
I leave you with their own words:
From Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
“Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just sap energy and waste time.”
From Fred Rogers:
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
And finally, this is a remarkable piece of theater. Fred Rogers argues for public television funding in front of congress, and wins!
The social justice movement is rolling forward at what sometimes seems like lightning speed. I am thrilled that concepts that used to be so hard for Whites to swallow – like systemic racism and white privilege – are now rolling off the tongues of politicians, newscasters, academicians and ordinary people. There is an explosion of great books, articles and podcasts on the subject of how to be a good “White ally”…but, as I type the phrase I think I remember reading that “allies” is out. We’re not supposed to say that anymore. I can’t remember what is in, but I know that the words “diversity and inclusion,” which I was so proud to have taken on as a mantra many years ago, are also no longer acceptable either. And just when I had learned to say “D&I” and felt as if I truly belonged in the club.
For years I have happily co-trained in “Building Intercultural Communities” with my friend and colleague, Roberto Chene, who is Hispanic, oops, I mean Hispano, I mean Latino, I mean Latin-x …. you see the problem. I have a Latina friend who wants to be called Latina, not Latin-x, because the female ending is an important part of her identity. I have another friend, also native New Mexican, who prefers to be called Chicana for its political implications. I am grateful to both of them for making clear what they prefer. In this world of labels it is really helps to know which ones to use. But I have to admit it’s getting really complicated out there in the land of undoing racism.
Hair grows. Without a hair cut I have returned to braids. I wore my hair in braids through the fourth grade more or less, including on a trip to Europe when I was 9. I have a picture of me in a wine grotto in France, glass in hand, eyes a little glazed, and yes, braids. My father’s aunt had left him $10,000 – a lot of money in the 1950s – and my parents decided to blow it all on a six month trip to Europe, four of which were spent in Paris. It was one of their best decisions and I am grateful for it. I have memories of the musty smell of the Lascaux Caves, a train ride through a very long, pitch black tunnel in Switzerland on my birthday, a hangover after a wine tasting in a French grotto, and the Vatican where a pigeon pooped on my atheist father’s bald head.
But the most vivid memories are of our time in Paris. We lived in a pension (boarding house). I had my own tiny room. The bathroom was at the end of the hall. I was feeling very grown up and luckily I had a role model, Claire. Claire’s mother had died, and she and her father had moved from Canada to Paris. She was deep and mysterious, harboring something that was only to be guessed at. She was very obedient, and her oui-madame was flawless. All the grown ups felt sorry for her; all the kids were fascinated by her. To me, she was the ultimate in glamour. I was 9 and she was 11.
My profession is committed to resolving conflict. Whatever the context
— domestic, business, neighborhood, or as in my case environment and public
policy – we are on a conflict like a dog on a bone. We worry it, we listen, we
identify needs, we generate options, we nudge those disputants toward that elusive
common ground that we are exists somewhere. We are believers, committed to making
peace…come hell or high water. And now it has come. Hell and high water. And I find myself questioning some of the deepest
beliefs underlying the practice of mediation.
I was on a zoom call with over 60 other mediators from around the
country last week. Some were in academia, some in government, some with
organizations and some solo practitioners like me. But we were all
card-carrying peacemakers. We came together to hear the Black Lives Matter
voices in our ranks and explore how we could support the movement for justice
and equality. Of the 60+ on the call I counted 6 People of Color. They had a
lot to say.
I was going to write a post that was amusing with a little bit of a lesson at the end. I would start with the observation that for me these days dressing for success only applies to the waist up, as all my work is done via zoom. Just the other day, I facilitated a zoom meeting of 30 people. I wore a black knit top, floral silk scarf, silver earrings, hair in a French roll….and sweatpants. A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for a new project online – crisp white blouse, light blue sweater, turquoise earrings, hair pulled back with two combs….and… you don’t need to know. It reminds me of those flip books I had as a child, where the pages are divided in threes – top, middle and bottom – with an animal on each page. When you move the pages you may end up with a monkey head on a giraffe body and platypus feet. Or maybe each page was a different worker, and you could flip to an astronaut head, a ballerina body and lumberjack boots.
I would then recall my early professional days and my struggle to look like a mediator, having no idea what that meant, but feeling sure that I needed to look different. Into the depths of this insecurity walked Merle Lefkoff, a seasoned and highly successful mediator who had just moved to Santa Fe from the Carter Center where she had been doing important international work. We had a coffee date. She was tall and blond and wore a snappy businesslike outfit — trim, charcoal gray skirt, matching jacket, white silk blouse, smart scarf, simple gold bracelet and heels. She carried a stylish brief case. I would remember how I studied her carefully, how she opened her tool box of fancy techniques and how I gobbled them up. (more…)
The first week of sequester was so much fun. All my work obligations were gone. I had an air-tight excuse for rejecting every invitation, every request, every “should do that.” I had to stay home, and I wasn’t even sick, like other times when I have been a shut-in. I was full of energy to turn toward this new world, the world inside my house! I made a pledge to get dressed every morning, because otherwise it might never happen, and to meditate. Beyond that, there were no rules.
On the first day Roberto and I cleaned the refrigerator, thorough, drawers and shelves out, containers of green and blue fuzz sent to the compost pile. I was so proud that I made a chart where I could track each day – a column for exercise, for house and yard projects, for doing good, for spirit/mind enrichment. (In retrospect I should have made a column for Netflix, for that, it turns out, is the one constant.) The little squares for Day One were all full! This was going to be so productive. Day Two we cleaned out cupboards and began sewing masks. I sent a check to the local Food Depot and bought a gift certificate to support our shuttered beloved local bookstore. I took a long walk and meditated. Life was so good that I realized that this forced retirement (much of my mediation work dried up almost immediately) was not something to fear but to embrace!
There was one significant problem. The deep, institutional inequality in this country came into sharper focus each day. We were living in luxury. Plenty of food, gas, shelter, friends and access to nature right outside the door. We can walk in the arroyo all day and not see a soul. We can even take our neighbor’s dog with us if we want to pretend we have a dog. We have enough money to write checks to assuage the guilt. That is real luxury. I imagined being trapped with 3 children under 4 years old, or with a couple of frustrated teenagers, or with an abusive spouse, or without enough money and food, or all of the above. I thought of the inevitability of outbreaks in prisons, in refugee camps, in the jam-packed streets of Calcutta. Now the news is full of the stories of people, out of work, dealing with stresses in every aspect of their lives. We see inside the hospitals, the heartbreaking interviews with medical workers, the staggering reports from morgues and funeral homes, the pictures of a nurse, a fireman, a bus driver who have died…and the families they leave behind. (more…)
In early March we took a New Mexico road trip. We had to give up a trip to Frankfurt and Rome to visit my sons for obvious reasons, but wanted to take advantage of the big hole carved out in our schedules. It was a wonderful trip, especially in retrospect, because as soon as we got home all hell broke loose.
But back to that innocent time of four weeks ago: Our first stop was Puerto de Luna, a tiny place on the Pecos River in the east part of the state. This was the home for Roberto’s relatives before they fled to Albuquerque during another crisis, the Dust Bowl. We wandered the camposanto (cemetery) and found gravestones of those who were surely great great somethings. The names were so evocative, the stones so varied, some slick and polished, some hand hewn, maybe in a hurry, maybe with no alternative. It was eerie and powerful to stand there knowing that below us was the DNA of Roberto’s people, whoever they were. And what would they think of us, standing there decades, a century, later?
Next destination was Inn of the Mountain Gods, a resort on the Mescalero Indian Reservation in south central New Mexico. Out our window was snow-capped Sierra Blanca and a small lake ringed with huge Ponderosa Pines. We stayed an extra night just to soak in the luxury.