I’ve been re-reading Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, and it is as mysterious to me now as it was 40 years ago. Morrison always makes you work. She prefers metaphor to clarity — why did Son hide in the closet for three days? She is a little disdainful of me — why is she so obviously withholding clues about why Michael won’t visit his parents? Morrison wants you to consider some hard questions, but she isn’t going to answer them for you or to make it easy for you to answer them yourself. For your effort, however, she offers wisdom — not necessarily hers, which is abundant, but your own. I mention all of this because I think I got a little bit of wisdom from Tar Baby.Continue reading
People ask me whether I feel safe when I travel. Maybe I could be kidnapped in Nairobi or mugged in Mexico City. But I have always felt safe, partly because life is full of risks, whether we’re sky diving or sitting on the couch eating processed foods. And, well, my enthusiasm sometimes clouds my thinking. I am mostly careful but looking back on my 5 years as a nomad, I’ve done a few dumb things. They weren’t risky like living in a war zone, but maybe I wouldn’t do them again. Anyway, they were worth it! You know why? Because they gave me more evidence that people are good.Continue reading
“What’s your favorite country?”
This period of protest and national dialogue should make me feel hopeful but, so far, it makes me more despairing. It reminds me of the racism my son, Gabe, has endured over the years in our “liberal” Bay Area community. It reminds me of the anger I feel for the times I have tried to talk about racial issues and gotten the message that I should move on. It reminds me of the shame I feel for the times I could have done something and didn’t.
I cried yesterday but not for the reason I would have predicted. To put my crying in context, I have been traveling nonstop for four years partly for the kindness and connection I discover in other places. I can find these things here at home. It’s just easier to find them in places that are new and different, where I have to pay more attention. And, honestly, it’s easier where the dominant feeling is a little softer than my American culture these days. (Something like that….I was supposed to be in Saudi Arabia today).
This afternoon, I called a friend from my days as an 18-year old hippie living in the Oregon countryside. Back then, her name was Sue. Now she is Rabbi Me’Irah. Every time I have what seems to be a casual conversation with Me’irah, I come away with more meaning in my life. “Today is a special day,” she announced (I already knew this because every day is special for Me’irah). It is the time between Passover and Shavuout, she said. Passover is a celebration of liberation — the Jews’ exodus from enslavement. And today is a day of constraints to acknowledge the Jews’ harrowing journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, where they would receive the Torah. Me’irah says we survive this time of constraint and our isolation by celebrating the bounty and blessings in our lives. And that celebration, I thought, gives us hope.
By now, I think we have learned that there are two kinds of people when it comes to staying at home. The first category of people say, “I am doing great, enjoying this time to relax and slow down. I am calling my friends on zoom and doing online yoga!”
The second category of people say “Oh yeah, well, I was kind of down yesterday but I am better today. Lots of people have it much worse than me. We’ll get through this, no problem.” If you are in the first category, please know that the people in the second category are actually thinking “I am going out of my mind.”
Our world is redefining the idea of adventure I think, and small things are getting more interesting by the minute. I had an adventure with a small thing this morning. It began with a search for a coaster for my coffee mug. I was starting to feel that my use of paper towels as coasters was wasteful and not very attractive. And, you know, I was trying to maintain a semblance of civility on Day 3 without a shower. So I routed around in a bag of small odds and ends I had picked up in my travels and I found something that I could use as a coaster. It was a little plastic folder. Here it is: