“I have to blog,” I tell my sister on the phone, by way of farewell.
“No idea. Maybe a conversation with Aussie about why she’s going to fight Canada (it’s the smoke), or maybe an exploration of whether she’s on the autism spectrum. But I don’t feel like doing any of those.”
“What do you feel like doing?”
“When things are going on but you can’t see them clearly, you mumble.”
I have no ulterior purpose for writing the posts in my blog except that they give me the excuse to go deep inside and see what’s there. I’ve done way too much harm in my life because I didn’t make the effort.
But often when I do, no understanding emerges, just a mess of contradictory feelings, words, and images that show up but don’t loiter. The writer’s job isn’t necessarily to make sense of them; it’s not even to craft a story out of them (though I often try). In fact, I don’t really know what the writer’s job is. What I do know is what’s needed, and that’s to sort out the different impressions, write some down, and let those that wish, grow.
It’s a little like gardening, which I don’t do much of. Some calla lilies bloom right now, some don’t. Some poppies were damaged by the storms we’ve had this past week, others recover. It all depends on the circumstances and conditions, including genetics, sunlight, and rabbits nibbling away at stems (before Aussie can nibble away at them).
What’s needed is burrowing, the writer’s version of going deep into the trenches. Scratch, putter, dig, move things around but try not to uproot, see if anything wants to flower.
Some days things flower quickly. The fingers type nimbly, almost thoughtlessly, and I feel satisfied. A little like preparing a dharma talk that doesn’t require much time, that’s focused and clear, no mumbling around. And sometimes, many times in fact, I mumble. I fidget. I look out the window 100 times an hour. Fidgeting, mumbling Buddha.
My friend Violet Catches, of Cheyenne River Reservation and a woman I greatly admire, lost her daughter to liver and kidney disease. She posted about it a couple of days ago and today we connected by phone. She told me she was sitting in her daughter’s apartment in Pierre, South Dakota. They had till the end of today to empty the apartment and she was looking around her, contemplating what needed to be packed and how to move everything out and into storage by nighttime. After that they’ll go for the memorial to Pine Ridge, 3 hours away. She’ll need to make three such trips in several days to accommodate the entire family.
What do you need, I ask her. Money’s always needed. What else? What else is needed by a woman seated in the apartment of her newly dead daughter, contemplating the things that belonged to her, the colors she liked, some dishes? We both end up mumbling.
Before that I was taking a few ticks off my body. I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Literally, because I’d walked with Aussie in the morning and we’re still at the height of the tick season, no way to avoid them walking in the woods, so even as I got to work my hand would reach up to my neck to find something that had crawled down there from my hair and scalp. I don’t freak out from ticks despite my bout with anaplasmosis last summer.
Figuratively, because of bad news by email. The Supreme Court’s decision invalidating Biden’s student debt relief (they obviously didn’t read my post from yesterday about the ridiculous cost of higher education). Yes, I know that those kinds of ticks can also produce serious illness, but they’re nothing like the stillness I hear on the phone talking to Violet, punctuated by a sob or two.
This is our life, the length of our days, day and night we meditate upon it.
And finally, re-reading an article my brother sent me yesterday. He wrote: “It’s 75 years today since the day of the battle of Be’erot Yitzhak.”
What is Be-erot Yitzhak? It’s a kibbutz in Israel where I was born. My parents, right off the Holocaust boat, became members of a kibbutz in Israel’s south, the Negev, less than a mile from Gaza. 75 years ago, they faced an Egyptian army that had 10 times as many soldiers as they were, with planes, tanks, and artillery that they didn’t have. The colonel in charge of the Egyptian attackers on the kibbutz was Gamal Abdul-Nasser, who would become prime minister of Egypt.
The small group was pounded, bombed, bombarded and shelled for an entire day, and survived. One-third of the kibbutz members were killed, men and women. The kibbutz itself was destroyed. What’s left is the water tower pockmarked by bullets, made useless except as a memorial. But the Egyptian soldiers withdrew, and that battle safeguarded the Negev for Israel.
“Given what you were facing, why didn’t you leave?” my niece asked my father when she went down there with him.
“Where could we go?” he replied. “We had nowhere else to go.”
What courage they showed, I think to myself. Now there are Palestinians who also show courage in the face of vastly superior numbers. I’m conscious of both at the same time, as if 75 years never passed. How can I express this?