Who would you want to go to war with?

You say you want
to go to war.
Destroy the enemy.
War, against
Who?

What if you were the daughter of a father or mother
stolen by the prison industrial complex, operated by
for-profit companies, which
had already built a cell for them when they were
reading below grade level in first grade, already
being pipelined into a system that benefits
corporations like Honda, Sony, or Whole Foods.
Who would you want to go to war with?
Bill Clinton a prime advocate for the “Three Strikes Law,”
which helped to drive up the prison population?
Teachers or government employees, whose retirements funds
are some of the biggest investors in private prison companies,
like CCA and GEO Group? Or Hillery Clinton who accepts money
from these groups?

If you were a 16-year-old Bermese refugee,
you might want to go to war with a Karen soldier
responsible for wiping out your village
slaughtering your family and taking the land
to establish a palm oil plantation.
Maybe you’d want to go to war with the U.S.A.,
seventh largest importer of palm oil, or
India, number one.

If you were a 13-year-old Pakistani boy,
who saw his grandmother blown into bloodied pieces
by an American drone, running through the dark
toxic air to try to search for her body parts
to no avail, who would you want to go to war with?
The United States, responsible for more than 450 strikes?
The manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction like
Blackwater or General Atomics based here in San Diego,
the master-mind behind the predator drones used
to strike Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria?

If you were the mother of a 12-year-old
African-American boy from Cleveland
murdered callously in the park, told that your son
was shot because he fit the stereotype of
“the criminal black man with a gun,”
who would you want to go to war with?
The police? The Americans that look for a reason to
justify the murder of a child?

If you were an eight year old girl from Dehli, India,
working 15 hours a day in garment sweatshops,
some among the worst to taint human conscience,
making beautifully beaded shirts with your tiny
blistered fingers, to be shipped to Europe and the Unites States,
Who would you want to go to war with? Target, Wal-Mart, the GAP,
perhaps every consumer who has never demanded
to know how goods are produced?

If you were the mother of a girl living around the mines
in Bolivia, or Guatemala, or The Congo, or Niger,
and your daughter was raped or trafficked into a sex ring
by one of the rebel groups competing for power and control
over these mines, which supply the minerals
for the electronics we consume,
Who would you want to go to war with?

If you were the son of an absent father
whom you had not seen for ten years,
because he had to migrate to another
country to find work to pay the loan he
defaulted on after his land was taken over by
GMO seeds, and he was forced to
take out the loan to maintain the “indestructible” seed,
who would you want to go to war with?
The IMF? The World Bank? Monsanto?
Governments that benefit from Free Trade Agreements.

Who is the enemy?
Who do we blame?

We’ve all become the enemy in this blaming game.

We are all part of the terror and the terrorized.

It’s time to confront the greatest enemy:
The fear and ignorance within.

world

Painting shared by Curanderismo, the Healing Art of Mexico​ and created by Rick Ortega.

 

Uncertainty Through the Eyes of a Six Year Old

I was about six years old.  My dad, who I didn’t live with, and had never lived with, had taken me on an out-of-town trip.  He was starting up the United Domestic Worker’s Union, and often left town to do organizing.  I loved going with him because it took me out of the routine of being at home.  I imagined traveling to far away lands, and the landscapes I got to see during the car ride devoured my imagination.

On this particular trip, we got back to San Diego later than he had anticipated.  He asked me if I wanted to stay over his house, but his house was just as unfamiliar as a stranger.  I was just getting to know him, his wife, and his kids.My grandmother had met the man I would come to see as my Dad when he  started to organize folks, when the idea of a union was just taking shape.  They immediately connected, and he began to come over our house.  My grandmother became a second mother to him, and somehow my brothers and I got lucky and he became our Dad.

I asked him to please take me home, and asserted that my mom and grandmother would be there waiting for me.  It was weird how I was okay to go on long trips with him, but needed the intimacy and familiarity of my home at night.  When we pulled up the driveway to my home, I noticed the porch light was on, but everything else was dark – not a good sign.  Though he cautioned me that no one was home, I got out of the car and went to knock on the door.  I kept knocking and knocking, until he prompted me to get back in the car.  But a feeling of desperation took over me – I wanted my family to be home.  I wanted to be on the other side of that door.  I couldn’t understand why they weren’t home, it was so late.  Where could they have gone?  Why didn’t they leave a note?  Or maybe a key?

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I sat on the porch, told my Dad I would wait for my grandmother to come home.  There was an emptiness in my stomach, the kind you feel when the elevator comes to an abrupt stop after ascending too quickly.  I felt like I was involuntarily ascending up a tunnel with nothing to grab on to, to anchor me.  That porch was as close as I could be to home, so I would have slept there if I could have.

I had no option, but to stay at my Dad’s house, though it could have just as well been a stranger’s home.  It felt farther away than all the places I had traveled to with him.  All night, I felt a yearning for home that I had never felt before – I imagined that’s what it felt like when someone was lost and didn’t know their way back.  In retrospect, I should have known that I would be back home with my family the next day.  But in my little girl mind, I had no idea when I would see them again; growing up, life was very unpredictable, and there was nothing that could have assured me I would.

I have experienced the same feeling I had that night, many times.  It comes when I have lost my way; when the unfamiliarity of  life is out of my control (as if anyone of us actually has control of our lives), or when I’m feeling unwillingly vulnerable. I go back to being that six-year-old girl, sitting on the porch, wanting to be on the other side of that door.

When Fear Rises to the Surface

35This seed has a very hard shell that encases it with a very pointed end. When it drops from the tree, the pointed end stabs into the earth. The soil then helps to break down the hard shell, and invites the seed to open, until the uterus of the seed is exposed, and a beautiful tree is born. It’s such a wonderful miracle, this process! It also reminds me that in order for there to be transformation and growth, there must also be change and destruction.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone.  The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes.  To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” -Cynthia Occelli

 

A couple of weeks ago, I resigned from the district I was working in as a teacher.  I had taken a leave-of-absence, for the second time, last year, but teaching was always there as plan B, as a fallback, as a “just in case.”  Two weeks ago, however, I went in to the HR office and resigned, completely resigned.  After the beautiful experience I had in Costa Rica, I knew I could not go back to the classroom, wholeheartedly.  If there is something I absolutely learned in Costa Rica, it was that I want to work with youth without having to test them or grade them, or hold them accountable to standardized expectations that have nothing to do with their passion or soul.  So on Wednesday of last week, I mustered up the courage to go in and resign.  Earlier that morning, as my husband was headed to work as a school counselor once again, after having been laid off for three years, I experienced the most anxiety-filled emotion when imagining for a moment that it might be me heading out to the classroom.  That moment built enough momentum and courage in me to walk right into the HR office and fill out a resignation form that took all but two minutes.  And just like that, fourteen years of teaching, came to an abrupt end.  No handshake, no certificate of acknowledgement, no “Thank You.”  Just a time stamped copy of my resignation.

I had been transitioning out of teaching for quite sometime now, but it never seemed to be the right time to walk away from it permanently.  My experience in Costa Rica compelled me to choose between something I had come accustomed to and something I wanted to have.  I could no longer hide from my heart and my soul’s yearnings. But the courage I summoned on the day I resigned soon settled like heavy, bitter soot weighing heavy in my lungs.

TheAlchemist

From “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

It seemed that as soon as I decided to resign, the world began to fall apart around me.   I received a $20,000 bill for my daughter’s college tuition, that I was not counting on receiving.  A program that had asked me to submit an application for one of their job postings, e-mailed me and told me I wasn’t even considered for the interview process.   I had planned to substitute for the district I had resigned from, and had spoken to their HR about this, and while they confirmed my availability to do so, they forgot to tell me that I needed to reapply as a new employee and do a background check all over again.  I am still waiting for my background check to clear so that I may start substituting.  I have to figure out how to juggle paying for my daughter’s college tuition and my own school loans, which I probably should have paid off by now, had we not decided to buy a house, which we ended up foreclosing on.

Alchemist2And so there was a moment, when I fell apart, the way a glacier crumbles because it has lost its strength; or the way a mountain caves in on itself because its core has been shaken, bringing it to its knees.  I went to the district I had just resigned from to beg for my job back, with no success.  I pleaded my daughter’s school to allow her to register for classes this semester, with no success.  Between pulling money from my retirement account, taking out a small loan, and scraping the little bit of savings we have, I was able to come up with an amount a few thousand dollars short from the tuition.  Still hoping the university will work out something with us, and maybe she will be able to attend next semester.  Everyday I sit at home, thinking about the $160.00  I am not making each day I don’t substitute; checking my e-mail obsessively to hear back from the district.  I’m afraid I will spend the month of September without working.  I am afraid I won’t be able to pay my daughter’s tuition.  I am afraid we won’t survive financially because I walked away from a “well-paying” job.  I am afraid I let my daughter down when she needed me the most.  I am afraid I made the stupidest decision of my life.  I am afraid I inflicted unnecessary suffering in my life. I am afraid I won’t be able to find a fulfilling job.  I am afraid that I dream too much.  I am afraid the universe won’t conspire for me.

Then I read this on someone’s blog: “When things fall apart, the only thing left is what was really real. When life is shaken, the only thing left is the unshakeable. When things fall apart, only the perfect remains.” 

I’m not sure, had it not been for that one moment of courage, that I would have ever resigned.  What I do know is that in that moment, I felt liberated, connected to the flow of life, as if I was the river herself.  I keep going back to that feeling to somehow get myself through the fear that makes the air I move through feel like molasses.  I was in a rut, I had been in a rut for quite some time, and I could feel my soul withering. I was choosing to stay in a job long after my soul had stopped yearning for it.  The soul, like everything else that inhabits life, is meant to evolve and expand.  However, like all change, this requires courage, and the suffering that sometimes comes from leaving the comfort of the known and finding oneself at the edge.  Yet, “there comes a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.” (Anaïs Nin)

ArtUncertainty

From “The Art of Uncertainty” by Dennis Merritt Jones

The fear comes and goes like tidal waves, engulfing all my other emotions until I feel like I’m breathing under water. The only thing left for me to do is embrace this fear.  Ask: where is it originating from, besides the obvious?  What can I learn from it?  How can I move with it and through it? What is it asking me to heal?  What else do I need to let go of?  The last time I felt this kind of fear was during my childhood, when life felt uncertain, unfair, and volatile.  Though the circumstances in my life are quite different now, there are some childhood fears that seem to be arising from this experience, and I am paying close attention to the lessons I need to learn, the parts of me that need to heal, and the wisdom that I am accessing along the way.

Change is inevitable, but paying attention within and understanding when and how to let go is important in order to honor the process of change with grace and ease. We need only to observe the rhythm of life and nature to witness this process.It takes time for the caterpillar to morph into a beautiful butterfly. If the butterfly emerges too early, before she is equipped to break out of her cocoon, her wings will be deformed. If she is not allowed to struggle through her transformation and come out on her own merit, she will never dance in the wind.

I am learning what and how to let go, and with learning comes mistakes. But there is also a sense of empowerment, as I am becoming intimately acquainted with the wisdom of knowing my own rhythms of change.The process has its own timing, and change comes into our lives when it needs to happen, but we must also be cautious of not forcing the change. Only when we are in tune with the flow of life, can we fully understand our cycles of change.

Illusion

 

He tells me I’m cute,

makes cat calls

when my hips rumble by,

but I don’t believe him.

 

I want to be told I’m beautiful

because he notices the way my

curls drape over my shoulders,

because my smile makes him smile,

because in my eyes he sees the

woman that’s awakening inside.

 

I don’t believe him when

he holds me, I feel like a

load in his arms, as if

he is doing me a favor.

 

I don’t believe him when

he kisses me.

The yearning for the gentleness

of a playful kiss lingers

longer than the shadow of his lips.

 

I want to be kissed,

hard, with intention,

the way a hummingbird

approaches honeysuckle.

 

I don’t believe his hands as they

travel through the cambers of

my body so obtrusively, I won’t

dare to slow them down,

invite them to explore and play.

 

When he touches me, I want him

to take his time, the way the fog

caresses the mountains and sacred

valleys of Peru. Imprint every curve

and ridge of my topography

in his mind.

 

I don’t believe in his silence.

When my heart speaks its truth,

my words are met by the timber

of his preoccupation.

 

I want his presence

the way the tree shelters the birds

in its arms,

the way the sun

validates the moon,

the way

the conch holds the sound of

the ocean.

 

I don’t believe him when he

says he loves me.

He doesn’t look long enough

into my eyes for me to catch

the movement of his lips.

 

It’s a phrase spoken from habit,

fills up space and time.

Not enough to forget that a

second ago, I wondered why

we stay together.

Green Cat Liquors Series: Part III

I heard a knock on the door.  Mamá had left to go to the liquor store, so I opened the door assuming she had come back.  She had warned me about opening the door up to strangers, and had always insisted that I ask who was at the door before opening it.  But I really thought Mamá was at the door, too young to discern that Mamá had her house keys.

door

“Hey, your mom sent us for her wallet.  A little boy at the store hurt his arm and your mom is over there helping him out . . . she needs money to buy more gauze for his arm.”  Three teenage girls stood there – like older sisters keeping guard, protecting.  Their faces were soft like caramel chocolate and their hair was adorned with hair bobbles like the bubble gum in the one-cent machine at the liquor store.  The machine for which I so eagerly searched for lost pennies on the ground.

“Okay, wait.”  I closed the door.  Mamá kept a clutch-like brown wallet in a 3-tier wire-hanging basket in the kitchen.  I grabbed a chair to reach for it, and just like that the wallet walked away with $205 from the AFDC check she had just cashed.

When Mamá came back, I asked her if the boy’s arm was okay.

She asked me, “What boy?”

I felt a flash of heat consume me from inside. My cheeks throbbing hot and a pounding reproach in my head.  Instantaneously we both looked toward the empty wire-hanging basket.  The blaring questions, the look of disappointment, the slamming of the door, it’s all a blur now.

The next time I tasted bubble gum, it didn’t taste as sweet.  Strangers who looked nice were still strangers.  The windows became suspicious.  That month Mamá rationed our food more strictly.

Finding Purpose Again

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The first time I felt a real sense of purpose was when I gave birth to my daughter Carmen.  Up until that point, life had just pretty much happened to me.  At a younger age I had experienced some unsuccessful attempts of contributing to my family.  Like the time I asked the owner of the liquor store, who exchanged my mother’s food stamps for money so she could pay the rent, if I could organize the shelves in exchange for eggs and a gallon of milk.  Or the time I got up super early in the morning to make eggs, but burned them because I didn’t add oil to the pan.  I can still smell the burnt shame of having wasted the little food we had.

During a great part of my adolescence, I spent my weekends traveling with my grandmother on city buses a couple of hours each way to my mom’s house to wash clothes, clean the house, and cook for my brothers.  She was a single mother doing the best she could to pay the bills, and didn’t have time for anything else.  I lived with my grandmother and felt some sense of responsibility for helping her and my mother.

Having Carmen gave me purpose for the type of mother I wanted to be and the kind of woman I wanted to evolve into.  It was after giving birth to her that I realized going to college was my only choice of giving her a better life than the one I had had.  When I went to college, I was faced with having to decide what I would major in and what career path I wanted to take in my life.  Teaching was one of the few careers I had been exposed to through my own experience in school.  I read my first novel in college and fell in love with literature, and with the idea of supporting and inspiring students through their journeys the way a few teachers had supported me. Becoming an English teacher became the most logical next step.

As I embarked on my educational journey, I also began to heal and discover the powerful, confident, and passionate woman that existed inside of me.  I began to make a difference, not just in my daughter, but in the lives of the children I served.  In turn that made me more passionate and committed to my work.  For the first time in my life I had a vision, a sense of purpose, and most of all a deep-rooted belief that I was “somebody” and could make a difference in the world.

My journey as a teacher, thirteen years to be exact, has transformed my life.  All the love that I poured into the students, I have gotten back twofold.  A few years ago I started to contemplate the idea of doing something other than teaching.  I took a leave-of-absence from teaching to work at a youth development program for Rady Children’s Hospital, which I later resigned from, and took an extended leave-of-absence to witness my grandmother wrestle with cancer, and watch her body wither away as it conceded to the demands of the cancer.

At age 36, when I thought I had nailed my purpose, and for the first time felt stability and certainty in my life, I had to learn to live without my grandmother.  That same year, I also had to learn to let go of my daughter who was embarking on her own journey as she began her first year of college.  The only things that were still certain in my life were the people I loved and teaching.   There was a small part of me that knew then the season of teaching would also come to an end, but it was the last part of my identity I could still hold on to, so I went back.  At the same time, there was a growing yearning that existed inside of me that was parched for coming alive, not as a mother, or a teacher, or a wife, but as a woman.  A woman who for the first time in her life had to find a vision and purpose for herself.  The spiritual, physical, and emotional signs are always there guiding us – it is when we refuse to listen or aren’t still and quiet long enough to listen that we get into trouble.

I went back to teaching.  I tried new approaches, as I always had, to invigorate myself and my students.  Those two years were liberating because for the first time I was teaching from a place of spirit, and I was teaching what the kids wanted to learn not what the standards dictated.  It was the first time in my teaching experience that I saw such an incredible transformation in my student.  Underneath the excitement however, there was still a part of me that knew I needed to let go of more.

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The process of letting go began a few years ago when the universe forced me to let go of things I had absolutely no control over.  I didn’t quite listen as I was supposed to, because as I was letting go, I was also bringing in new things into my life that weren’t serving what my spirit wanted to welcome into my life.  I find those yearnings to be screaming louder than the bluster of fear and uncertainty.  Now the things I have to let go of are in my control, and the decisions are often much more difficult.

This past school year I knew I could not come back to teaching.  I decided to enjoy my summer hoping some miracle and transformation would happen that would guide me to the answer I was looking for, at least the one I thought I was looking for. Needless to say here I am one week into the new school year, and even being around the students doesn’t invigorate me anymore.  I love the students – they are amazing and beautiful spirits with so much vigor and purity of heart.  So it’s weird that for the first time even they can’t get me to want to stay.  I’ve been meditating and praying, asking spirit to give me clarity.  Though I don’t have clarity of what I am supposed to do next, I am clear that leaving is the right choice.

A student once asked, “There are just so many things to let go, but they keep lingering, coming back.  Does it always seem this difficult?”

My response and reflection:  Yes, it can be this difficult at first because the fear sometimes lets those things back in or convinces us they aren’t so bad after all.  This is how ended up in the classroom this year.  I have to stay committed and diligent at listening to my heart and paying attention to what makes me feel free and liberated vs. what makes me feel burdened and trapped.  The soul loves the truth.  And only when I honor what’s authentic and real to my soul, can I truly be liberated.

This past Friday, I called my school district.  I asked if it was possible to find a 60% placement.  I figured this would give me the opportunity to work on developing a new sense of purpose, but if they can’t find a middle ground, I am going to resign.  It’s not fair for the students, or for me, to stay.  I am scared shitless the way someone who is cautious to commit to love might be afraid to say “I love you,” afraid to leave the old version of themselves behind.  I am also courageous because I deserve to feel alive and to rediscover the power and passion that comes from being rooted in my purpose, even if that means starting all over again.

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“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Eleanor Roosevelt