Building Altars, Lighting Candles, Giving Thanks and Sounding the Bell for Revolution

I’m here in Portland without family for Thanksgiving building altars and lighting candles for the suffering in the world. The fam I live with is at the ocean and the house is humming with the sounds of stillness & gentle belly breaths.

Yesterday I cried my way through the grocery store. It started just outside when a woman wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and my heart was so hardened and hurting that I couldn’t even smile back. A meek, “You too” left my lips, and the floodgates opened.

I went to dance later and weeped in child’s pose for 15 minutes before finally sitting witness to a room of a hundred dancing people. A hundred dancing white people.

“Maybe it’s a good thing that the whole world doesn’t fall apart in the face obvious and lethal racism?” I think to myself, half-angry and half-hopeful. I notice that the 4 black people who are normally at dance are each absent. I say a silent prayer for them.

I think back to the grocery store when three different white male employees checked in on my sorrow, and to each of them all I could offer was an, “I don’t really want to talk about it, but thank you.”

How do I tell these guys that after two days of writing and reporting and co-planning a course on How To Not Be An Accidental Racist, I’m finally crying over it all? That on this Thanksgiving, as I pick, one by one, four hard sweet potatoes to make my mom’s famous casserole, I’m not crying for our separation, but for the mothers who’ve lost their innocent sons, for the mothers who fear for their sons lives because of race, for the kids I know and love in DC who walk through this world at greater risk of punishment or worse, because they’re black.

How do I tell these dudes that I’m crying because so much of humanity is living in its shadow?

I wish I would’ve just said it: “I’m crying for Mike Brown’s mother. I’m crying for Ferguson and Washington DC and Chicago and while we’re at it, the sweatshops in China and the gang rapes in India and the girls in Nigeria who were abducted at school, the god blessed Earth, and the unconscious suffering and purposelessness of the privileged white American majority spending so much time, energy and money seeking a way to stay calm and comfortable, when there’s real purpose to be had–when there’s real fulfilling work to be done. Not by the way of charity, but by the way of transformative relationships.”

And I’m crying because we’re all steeped in a deep cultural conditioning and brainwashing that makes it so excruciatingly challenging to change.

We have not been raised to be warriors for peace. We have not been raised to expand our capacity to feel pain fully and then heal it with our breath and our might. We have not been raised to stand in the center of the fire and let it burn away our prejudices, power struggles, fighting nature, or fear. We have not been raised to be together in this way, for this cause.

This is when I also cry for the lost wisdom of the indigenous ways. For my friends in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, who for hundreds of years were legally punished and incriminated for speaking their native language or practicing the spiritual traditions that made love warriors out of children. Who rose up, even still, and are triumphing today in their own exquisite challenging ways.

We have been raised in a culture that condones competition, pillaging blindly from across the planet, getting ahead, being right above being curious, seeking more-than-enough so we don’t have to face the human reality that we’re fleeting and dying. (Which, by the way, is a deep and humble spiritual pursuit, not something a purchase, having power over an “othered” group of humans, or the accumulation of wealth can ever actually satisfy).

And I’m crying because I’m attached to things changing. I’m attached to a faster speed of evolution than the human family is moving. It’s a familiar disappointment–one I’ve often felt with my own family over and over again.

Why are we still fighting? Why haven’t we figured this out yet?

I’m crying because I’m still fighting with reality, too.

Or maybe I’m just grieving it. Or both.

Letting the tears have their way with me, wash me clean. So I can get up and rise into my role; as teacher, as ally, as someone who goes first burning all the lies and privileges that keep me separate and within an illusion of safety, at the expense of real danger for other people in my human family.

I am breathing into my belly, which has been knotted for days. I am feeling my intestines twist. I am here in this house alone, humble and hungry and thankful in uncommon but nevertheless true ways.

For the friendships that have cleaned my clock in the face of my privilege–even though they were tired of teaching people how they’re treating them as less-than, even though they could’ve just as well walked away.
For the multicultural world in which I was raised, and the ways I cannot unknow or unhear the intimate stories of prejudice I have been privileged enough to hear.
For the excellent eduction on oppression that I received in college–for the teachers and student leaders who dedicated their lives to shifting consciousness through deep, critical and experiential learning.
For my mother and father and brother on speaker phone in the car today, all reaming over the injustice.
For my white skin and my revolutionary heart and the task before me, which is to be the best ally I can possibly be by speaking to my own race about what I’ve learned about systemic oppression and racism in America, and what we can do as white people to be part of a great change. For educated and fearless friends who are consecrated to the same call.
For my brothers and sisters who are deeply and devotionally engaged in this struggle, each in their own way, utilizing their very best gifts.
For Jen and Melissa and Brian and Shawna and Vanessa and Julie and Antonio.
For Audre Lorde and Eve Ensler and bell hooks and Maya Angelou.
For meditation and rallies and poetry and therapy.
For misunderstandings, mistakes, fuck ups and hard lessons.
For life and love, for righteous rage and the rapturous desire for change.
For the humility to face the sky and say, “Take me. Use me. Make me a messenger of your love. Make me a servant of your truth, your radical compassion. Change me into a bell that calls the love warriors forth. Break me of my fear.”

Today, I am grateful for these things, and for you, who is staying engaged in small and large ways, who is being changed and hopefully growing more brave in the face of the mountain that we all must cross together.

May all beings know the kind of peace that blossoms in the human heart after risking comfort for the sake of true love.

Burning love,


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