Thoughts on the goddesses
I was going to write a newsletter titled “Thoughts on ‘are we ok’?” but it would have just been one word -
And I know you’re paying good money for these thoughts, so I couldn’t do that to you.
And I considered still writing it and just elaborating on what “no” really means - but I questioned what would be the utility, what would be the offering, of me just recounting the many, many profound and complicated reasons we as a people and we as individual persons are simply not ok right now, and the devastating results of our not ok-ness.
Now, into the third year of the pandemic, not knowing if we should still call this the pandemic, never having had a collective experience of grief for the millions lost and the billions of lives forever changed, we are faced with new reasons to grieve, daily. A world drowning, a world on fire, a war in Ukraine, wars in so many other lands affecting so many other people we never read about. Our reproductive rights being violently taken from us. And then Buffalo. And then, Uvalde. And every fresh tragedy on every day thereafter. Not talking about these horrors denies us our human experience but listing them one after the other feels depraved. We list them and then what? What space is being given, between our addiction to blue light stimulus and the Squid Game of capitalism we’re forced to play in order to stay alive, to hold this pain? To wail? To sleep? To just cry.
We aren’t ok, I was going to write. But It is. It’s ok to not be ok. Not because everything is unfolding as it should, but because there is no should to begin with. We strive for things to be pleasant and easy and resist discomfort and pain. That’s human nature, regardless of what’s happening around us. We are doing what humans do. We are suffering.
And then I thought about teen suicide rates and the instances of very young children needing mental health interventions and the divorce rate going up and all the car accidents happening and I just thought - shut the fuck up with the dharma right now.
The Buddha wasn’t alive in 2022. The Buddha wasn’t a working mom. The Buddha didn’t have a mortgage. The Buddha didn’t worry about his child being killed at a stoplight by a cop, or being killed in his 1st grade class room by a mass shooter with a weapon of war handed to him by the Republican party. So for once, Jessica, just shut up.
If you’re reading this, you’re alive right now. And I am too. And I’ve decided that as long as I am living I have two choices that are always available to me - to end my life, or to be fully present in it.
Resisting it every step of the way isn’t an option I can consider.
And since I have yet to wake up and want, truly, to end my life, I’m here for it. For all the not ok-ness I see and feel deep within my heart and bones. I was called to be alive now, and my children were called to be alive now. And whether you believe it or not, you were too. We’re in this boat together and the seas are choppy as fuck, and sometimes swells come and nearly drown us. But no storm - just like no feeling - lasts forever.
But how do we manage when we see that 100 foot wave coming, or when we’re already underwater?
I think this is why religion was invented. To give us someone else who isn’t in the boat to look to, to beg for, to believe in. Someone, some force, incapable of being drowned by human misery.
I was raised Methodist in a wonderfully inclusive church in Birmingham, Alabama that showed Christ’s love by giving computers to impoverished children and helping unhoused people apply for government issued ID by using our church’s address as theirs, so that they could access benefits and begin the employment process. When my father died, the love of this community was “God’s” love and it carried me and my mother through the darkness of those years.
But Jesus wasn’t it for me. The idea that someone had to die for my sins didn’t compute because even long before I found my truth in the dharma I didn’t believe in sin. I think there are things we do when we are hurting and things we do when we are whole. And I couldn’t pray to a god who would punish me for my wounds.
When I was in my mid-20s I attended a conference called Authentic Leadership in Action put on by many of the leaders of Naropa, friends and followers of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and I meditated for the first time. At the book sale in the conference center I bought Trungpa’s book and the definitive text of Shambhala Buddhism, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, and this way has been my guide ever since.
I take the three refuges daily and try to live by the five precepts, and when I fail at each of them nearly constantly I commit to bringing compassion to myself. I’m not sure if that makes me Buddhist or Buddhish, but it’s what I’m working with now.
My ability to remain in that boat when the seas are churning is entirely related to my meditation practice and the teachings I take refuge in, but still, when I see the wave coming and I say “help!” it’s not the Buddha or any of his wise teachers I am begging for. You aren’t really ever taught to pray “to” the Buddha.
So in nearly drowning during the past few years I’ve done what every desperate person has done, even if they think they are praying to the same god as everyone else in the pews - I’ve made up the image of god that works for me, the one who picks up the phone when I call.
I pray to the goddesses.
Each of my goddesses assumes a role stereotypically associated with women - a nurse, a teacher, a secretary, a benevolent mother. When I pray they are always in the middle of something else, of course. A piece of chalk or a clipboard in hand, a handsfree microphone attached to the face, a baby balanced on a hip.
But they hear my calls, and even if they have to put a finger up and tell me to let them finish what they are doing, they turn towards me. They nod. They say, go on.
“Please please just keep my babies safe.”
That’s the main one.
But whatever it is - I feel too tired to handle this day, what if we lose the Senate, how could I have done/said/thought that, things are falling apart, my flight got cancelled and I have to get home - they know what to do.
Their long extravagantly decorated nails tap tap tap on fat buttoned keyboards. They call the doctor, they shuffle through file folders, they check flight schedules, they call in a favor. They get busy.
They say to me “We got you, mama. We got this.” Not you. We.
It’s not just logistics, mind you. They aren’t just removing obstacles in my path. They don’t actually get through to the customer service rep at Delta. But they stay on the line until I do. Until I get on the flight home. And then they dust their hands and say “my job here is done,” when their job was just to show me I wasn’t in this alone.
There’s never been a problem I’ve brought them that ruffles them. My stepfather was very, very sick in April of 2020 with what we thought was Covid but wasn’t. And there were days when we weren’t sure if he would live. And I couldn’t go to him or be there for my mother because we were still wearing hazmat suits to the grocery store and sanitizing our mail. A flight seemed like a death sentence.
On the worst day, when he was intubated and we weren’t sure if the real him was even in there or not, sobbing, I said please. You have to hold him. Right now. You have to find him at Emory Hospital in Atlanta and go into his hospital room and wrap your arms around him and guide him to the other side. Not in a metaphorical sense, ladies. I need you to step foot in that room with him right fucking now.
And they did. They didn’t just keep him alive, they guided him to the other side, just as I had pleaded. The side of gratitude and vitality - as he calls them, his “bonus days.” It was medicine and a team of excellent doctors and his own strong resilient body, and then it was the goddesses. You can’t tell me otherwise.
They can decide when something truly is an urgent crisis, and when I need to be told to chill. And they know when they need to call the big one, their boss. The high priestess. The mother goddess.
She’s zaftig and rosy cheeked and wears brightly colored lipstick that’s always seeping into the lines around her mouth. Her white hair is occasionally dyed Rapinoe purple or Lorna Kelly pink, sometimes adorned with childish Goody barrettes and sometimes with ornate mother of pearl clips, which I’m sure are heirlooms. She sits in a wide, worn chair that’s covered in an orange corduroy - the same fabric of the raggedy couch from my childhood home that I laid on, sobbing, the day my parents dragged it to the curb.
Sometimes she’s stoned and she misses the call.
Sometimes she laughs in my face and just says “no.”
Most of the the time she listens and smiles and by the time she says something it’s already my voice speaking out loud.
She’s not in charge, she never pretended or promised to be. She has no idea how she got this designation but she’s not going to shirk it.
She figures if someone calls her a god then she’s a god, and besides the pot, she tries to take the job seriously. But she sees the humor in it all - not just in her role, but in mine too, the fumbling failing begging pleading strong brave weak ass human who needs her, or who at least thinks she does.
The big questions get fast tracked to her.
Who is coming to help us?
How will we ever grieve?
Why is no one telling us to be gentle with ourselves and with each other?
Why is no one saying no matter how you are coping with this ceaseless current of tragedy befalling us day after day, you deserve compassion? Who is going to say - this pandemic was not just Netfix and chill for two years. You don’t have to shake this off or hot girl summer it, or emerge like you’ve been at Canyon Ranch for 27 months. This was beating back death, the actual literal promise of death, this was watching body bags and death tolls and truly wondering - will we survive? This was lives ending, life ending. This was watching the death of life. Whatever ill advised email you wrote, whatever horrible thing you screamed at your kids, whatever fight you got in with your partner, whatever work you didn’t manage to get done, whatever worse thing you’re harboring in the dank basement of your heart - its ok. Not forgiven, no one sits above us and does that hard work for us. But it happened.
We aren’t ok. How can we be? But It is.
Who is saying that to us? I plead. Our nation, the world, doesn’t even know where to turn its lonely eyes. Just downward, at our screens. Just gazing at the tidal wave, helplessly.
These are the questions only she can hold. My goddess mother priestess queen. Keeper of the mystery of the moon, of the universe, of the fact that at every single second throughout all of time something has been dying, and something is being born.
She lets me rant and rave. She lets me sob and wail. She holds it all, with the gentle smile of a mother watching her toddler stumble through their ABCs.
She says, honey. Your guess is as good as mine.
But what I know that you don’t, is that this pain isn’t yours alone. None of it. Not the universal pain of the pandemic, or of child size coffins hand painted with dinosaurs and Spidermen. Not the intimate pain of your life, of what you've done and had done to you, of what you regret and what you’ve given up and what you’ll never get.
The only pain is shared pain, she says, and yet all of you are down there, suffering apart from each other. You think you are the only one to come to me with these queries? You aren’t, my dear. You aren’t. You are very special but you aren’t the only one holding this.
It’s not your pain. It’s The Pain.
So go share it. Write it, sing it, whisper it. Text it, put it on Instagram for all I care. Tell the world where it hurts. Don’t make it perfect. Don’t make it ok. Because you aren’t, and no one is.
Touch your forehead to the earth, clutch your rosaries, lay flowers on the altar. Do whatever works. Remember everyone is doing some version of that. The only way out is through, but you can and you must go together. You’re not in this tunnel alone.
We’re watching you, we’re holding you, we’re rooting for you. Ok or not, we’re here.
And with that she fades away, to take a luscious afternoon nap like she likes to do, and all that’s left to say, as the boat is borne ceaselessly into the storm, is Amen.