Sermon for Self-Purification

Since election night, I’ve been waiting for my leadership–any leadership: in my workplace, in my church, in my political party–to say something.  They haven’t.  Not the something I’ve been waiting for.  I’ve heard many calls for unity, for “moving toward one another,” even for action.  Many leaders have implored us to enact love and respect, to begin the process of reconciliation we’ll need to recover from the divisiveness of the election.

The problem with that message, for me, and for many others, I think, is simple psychology: trauma.  This election is different from other ones, and many of my friends feel trauma more than disappointment or anger.  We can see this difference playing out in the number of people seeking therapists, calling in sick, and in our schools where our children imitate us in a sick micro-performance as detailed in yesterday’s Sunday Times.  My husband and I work in schools, and without risking my job or my husband’s job, I can say parts of the Sunday article ring true–our ugliness has passed on to our children who do not necessarily have the tools to regroup. People are traumatized, especially the losers. Some children of the winners are behaving really badly, mostly because–I suspect–they’re skeptical now of their own beauty and worth. To ask these traumatized people to spend time with the other side is to ask them to jeopardize their health and well-being, at least in the immediate aftermath.  There are ways to “spend time” with the other side that are safer for them right now.  They can dedicate their prayers to someone they don’t understand, practice contemplative prayer, journal, etc.  But many of us cannot stay in the room with the other side yet. And many of us feel the burden of “unity” falls on us.  After all, one political party’s campaign slogan was “Stronger Together” and the other’s was “Make America [Enter Any Derogatory Adjective Here] Again.”

Too many of our schools and churches are asking us to enact radical love by skipping the vital step of self-care and self-preparation and without providing us spaces for that care. The best sermon or speech–one I haven’t heard yet–would be one on the process of grief and on the great instances in the Bible and other mythology of heroes (I’m using Joseph Campbell’s understanding of “hero” here) of people retreating into silence and isolation first before they enter the atonement phase: Moses on Mt. Sinai, Odysseus on Calypso’s island, Luke Skywalker on Skellig Michael.  Christianity’s Luke tells us in Ch. 5 that Jesus often “withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Or in The Gospel of Matthew, after John the Baptist is beheaded, he withdraws “privately to a desolate place.”  Again and again he does that–before and after performing miracles, in times of grief, in preparation for his ultimate act of love.

I can’t help but think of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s four requirements for nonviolent resistance: collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. Last year, I participated in a  study group where we reread  “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and then met in the back offices of the Menil Collection–how beautiful, in the belly of the art house!– to discuss it.  We focused for part of the discussion on a section I had overlooked before, although I’ve read the letter and taught it many times.   Dr. King speaks directly in the letter to the need for self-purification: an internal process of introspection, experiential learning, community building; in short, the mental and emotional work of metabolizing trauma in order to prepare to practice radical love. He did not allow anyone to join the boycotts or sit-ins or talk to government leaders until they’d gone through the self-purification process, alone and in communion with other African-Americans.  “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and rest,” Jesus says to his disciples in Mark. By yourselves.

Those of us who saw clearly what the President-elect and his supporters are–people willing to bargain for their interests with racism, xenophobia, and sexism even if they don’t believe themselves to be racist and sexist–need time for self-purification, and many of the protests are exactly that, a crying out in community so that we can go back into our families and communities lovingly.  Or, as my philosopher friend, Eric, put it: “Protest is the aesthetic performance of solidarity, a cathartic sharing.  Protest is one way in which we activate empathy and transform tragedy into beauty.”  It’s a necessary first step toward love.  We’ve experienced a beheading of sorts, and rites of passage first separate the participant from the rest of society and remove them from ordinary time.

Our various leaders are right that if we spend time with one another in the daily human rituals of our lives we would learn and heal. And, ultimately, we must love our enemies. But this week, because of Thanksgiving break, I’m just so, so relieved to not have to be near certain people. I need time to retreat into a holy solitude.  For one thing, I’m reading a string of mystery novels with female protagonists who nab the bad guy.  On a more serious note, yesterday, Trip and I were confirmed and received, respectively, into the Episcopalian church, and I’m spending the week with people I love and trust and avoiding anyone who voted for the President-elect.  I’m purifying myself so I can–hopefully–reach toward the love I believe in so much and to which I’m called. It’s hard, thankless work.  Harder for some of us than others, and that difference in the degree of sacrifice and vulnerability needs to be acknowledged.

I cannot transform my house, my classroom, my neighborhood, or my nation into a beloved community–and I must–until I have a quiet place to rest.

I hope this week we all take time to rest and restore, without apology and with whomever we choose.




Sermon for Grace

Someone grabbed my pussy once. Grabbed it and forced their fingers inside it. I was 14 years old. Broad daylight; adults present. I was in a neighborhood swimming pool, a pool all the other new girls of the 70-member high school dance team and I had just danced around in our padded bikinis while the football team watched and cheered. Not only did adults witness this initiation, they planned it. Coaches and directors and parents. It was Texas, 1993. Donald Trump would have been 47 years old then.

I’ve written about this sexual assault in more lyric, nuanced, and complex ways and published my writing in a respected literary magazine. I’ve read the essay aloud to a live audience. I’ve won an award for it. But more people will read this blog post than said literary magazine, which might hint at one small problem with our electorate and is one reason I’m winching it up like a dead body from the dark pond of history now.

Trump has excused his words as “locker room talk.” I don’t know if the football player who grabbed my pussy talked about it in the locker room beforehand or not. I don’t even know who he is, although later a high school Assistant Principal and a football coach would try to convince me it was a black player I’d never met. Like I said, Texas. I don’t know if it was him—there were so many hands all over my body in that pool, so many bodies. I never named him because my perpetrator was nameless. A whole team. A whole school. A whole culture. It took me almost 10 years to name what happened to me, to say the words, “sexual assault.”   I thought it was normal, because it was. If a team of players assaulted me, a team of players has assaulted us too. The Republican Party might as well wear numbered uniforms and face masks.

In the last two days many, many women writers have published pieces in response to Trump and his Republican party, most recently and powerfully the Guardian’s Lindy West in a New York Times editorial where she states, “Every woman knows a version of Donald Trump.” Other women have left social media altogether, acts of self-protection against the bullets of a relentless trigger. Before I started writing this I thought, who needs more of this? Except I think we do—not more of the politicized commentary and sensationalism (is anyone surprised by that video?), but more of women’s voices saying in whatever language they speak: men grab women’s pussies everyday. This is not a hypothetical, not a joke. When men make those “jokes,” they have the force and veracity of history behind them.

Tonight my husband—a former Texas high school football player—drove our son to my in-laws’ house, and I used the precious alone time to walk along the bayou that curls through the city. As I walked and the drowsy sun leaked pink and purple across the skyline, I wept. I also realized, twenty some years after that day in the pool, what bothers me most about Trump’s language. It’s not “pussy” like you’d think. It’s the word “grab.” To seize roughly. To steal. To arouse attention. Isn’t that what Trump has been doing all along? Stealing things, our attention perhaps most of all.

Real power doesn’t grab. It invites and inspires and encourages, the way the women at Smith College loved me into saying the words “sexual assault,” the way the biggest loves of my life—beautiful, gentle men—loved my Texas back into a place of lonesome blue hills, wide skies, and guttural vowels like big, bear hugs around my ears. Real power moves gracefully; indeed, grace often arrives so softly and so subtlety….The two senior boys I teach critical theory, football players, whose personal essays that I graded today revealed  hearts as vast as republics.  The man I watched this morning at the restaurant as he fed his 1-year old daughter bites of pancake while shaking his head at the Texans.  The threads of women’s voices weaving  a burial shroud across our news feeds and papers.  A sunset and a season shift.  Grace amasses with so much smallness and humility that we’ve been living in it for years before we know its name.







Sermon for Something Beautiful: A Weather Report


If there’s anything you can count on Newfoundlanders for it’s a love of children and a concern for the weather.

Some sweet is he, a Newfie says as we pass each other on the down curve of Rolling Cove Road. He points at Graham busy tugging at my arm and clenching a gray and brown speckled pebble in his other hand. A handsome lad, eh?

If I’m walking alone, it’s Good morning, lovey. Nice day. Rain’s coming, though.

Is it now? I ask, attempting to mimic the local lilt and dialect.   The sky is a lavender blue, cloudless, and the bay glistens and shines like a polished indigo stone.

This afternoon it’ll come.

It’s hard to imagine, but he’s right. Two hours later the rain begins to drop in coin-size chunks, and, counter intuitively, it falls from the sunlight and the clouds appear later, grimy on the horizon.

Every evening we drive to the cape, a journey that could get boring if the weather and view ever stayed the same, but they don’t. On an island peninsula in the North Atlantic, you might experience three seasons in one day. Distant landmasses might appear and disappear on the water. That’s what happened to us yesterday.

My husband and I drove with Graham up to Landfall National Park, near the cape, where a statue of John Cabot—discoverer of the New World!—watches over the ocean he crossed in 1497, and where we discovered days ago a pond hidden in the rocky hills in which the seagulls congregate. Graham loves the seagulls. Bird! Bird! he says and flaps his elbows, more scarecrow than gull. He shrieks when they startle and take flight, enthralled by his power to propel their wings. We bring days old bread to lure them close. It’s 5 o’clock, sunny and the clouds stretch like white linen above us. But as we move upward toward the park, a fog blankets the water and us, the temperature dropping 20 degrees at least, and I have to struggle Graham’s sweatshirt over his bare arms. The rain begins so suddenly I can barely pull my hood over my head in time. No birds. We run for cover under the Dairy King’s awning where a waitress pops her head out of the walk-up window, Thunderstorm warning, she says. I hate that. We never have those.

How Newfies get such news remains a mystery to me. Thunderstorm? I think. My forearms still sting with the sunburn I earned just hours ago.

We drive home. As we drive we watch a small fishing boat race for shore, the wall of fog like an apocalypse chasing it. In minutes, it’s completely shrouded in clouds, and I imagine the disorientation its passengers feel from inside the blinding condensation. No shore in sight.

The storm’s over in less than 45 minutes, and the sun reappears. So does the boat, motoring its way toward the harbor as though it hadn’t just sailed through purgatory.

We try again. Back up to the park, to John Cabot’s steadfast posture on the rocks. My parents come along. We bring more bread since Graham has eaten most of our original stash.

A seagull perches on top of Cabot’s head.

“That must be some kind of omen,” my dad says. “Whatever it means, it’s certainly disrespectful.”

Just as we come over the hill to greet the pond, another fog envelops us. I can’t see Graham who I know is holding my mother’s hand maybe 15 feet in front of me. I also know there are cliffs past the pond, giant cliffs with steep drops and though I know my mother won’t take him that way, my chest thuds.

There’s nothing to do but wait it out. So we do.

As the fog lifts, we see a host of seagulls floating on the pond, white ornaments bobbing.   Past them, a sky like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life, so spectacular we all stop in our tracks, even Graham, and stare.

The water is flat, ribbons of purple-silver slowly bending like an inhaling and exhaling of breath. Pink rays of sun fan out from the sky into the water painting circles of light yellow onto its surface. The clouds are like snowy mountains sitting on the horizon, and their undersides burn the color of blood oranges or the red flare of rekindled cinders.

Oh. Wow, my father says.

God, I manage to reply, and I turn toward my husband to watch his face alight and my son test his balance by stepping from the spongy grass onto a spiky rock, my mother’s hand still holding his even as she stares seaward. The word that comes to mind is revelation: I feel like I’ve been shown something too big for me to understand in the moment of showing.

Our drive down toward home is unhurried, because cars stop and pull over so visitors can hang their cameras out the windows, each crook in the cape road offering up a new view. A black fox ventures out of the crag for cookies people toss out. Our Ford Focus can’t pick up radio stations so we’ve been listening to a Simon and Garfunkle CD on repeat for a week. Graham loves “Cecilia,” because we all belt out the lyrics and clap. Right now, it’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” and we all sing under our breath, “I get all the news I need from the weather report.”

Newfoundland is a parenthesis in the paragraph of my summer.  In my normal life, back at home in Houston, where the weather is as predictable and muggy and gross as morning breath, I was and will be in a strange period of waiting. Waiting for various forms of news that might change my life in serious ways. I was also, like everyone, waking up daily to an unexpected storm: shootings by police officers and of police officers, foreign rampages, pseudo-coups, running mates and economic woe, a collective rage constantly fogging television screens and social networks. I walked around then and will walk around when we return inside an anxiety haze, every day taut as an anchor hitch.

Here in Bonavista, after we finally descend back home, my dad will walk up to the pub as he does every night to shoot the shit with locals and from where he will bring back predictions about the capelin’s arrival on shore and the humpback whales breeching and, yes, tomorrow’s weather, and my mom, my husband and I will sit around a circular table and play Yahtzee—through the monitor in the center of the table, we will be able to hear my soundless son sleeping through the white noise of a fake ocean on top of the crashing water of the real ocean outside his window. We will call each other wicked names after unlucky rolls of the dice and laugh and stop occasionally to glimpse the changing sky outside, the sun that sets slowly here, a night owl sun sleeping whenever it feels like it. Another fog forms far away on the water, a tall barricade of smoke and so foreboding. But it’s not here yet. And when it arrives, we’ll know to hold still in our raincoats. We’ll know to wait it out.

Something beautiful is coming.




Sermon for my Grandfather: A Gun Story

In my family’s version, an unprovoked black boy (black is important, they always mention that part) murdered my grandfather in cold blood on the streets of New Orleans.

In the newspapers’ versions, my grandfather is a “tourist,” a “kind, business man,” definitely white.

In State v. Marshall,  Joseph Marshall, the 16 year old boy who shot and killed my grandfather, appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court to have his death penalty overturned.  The brief states that my grandfather was held up after he and two friends wandered into the Iberville housing project.  When Marshall demanded, at gunpoint, his wallet, my grandfather “refused to comply.”

Give me your wallet, says Marshall.

No, says my grandfather.

According to the Supreme Court appeal, Marshall pulls the trigger then but his weapon misfires.

Get out of here, says my grandfather, and throws a punch.  A swing and a miss. Maybe we wants to protect his friends.  Maybe he wants to get back to the saxophone and the étouffée.

Whack, says the second bullet as it rips through his chest. Snuff, goes the brief flicker of his life.

In the Pennsylvania Observer-Reporter, witnesses report that what my grandfather actually said was Come on kid, you’re apparently a good kid, and that’s a toy gun.  Leave it alone.  No punch.  No noncompliance.

On more sober days, I believe, not the newspapers, not my family, but the legal document. Which is to say, I believe the murderer.  First of all, recent history tells us that the chances of a white man believing the gun in a black boy’s hands is a toy gun are negligible even now. And if my family’s lore holds water, my grandfather never backed down from a confrontation in his life, not even at the dinner table. Not even with his own children.  A tall, burly barrel of a man, whip-smart, he inspired equal parts fear and adoration.

My grandfather’s killing and the “justice” that followed is a story about race, about class, about violence and injustice.  A wholly American story.  His murder helped catalyze a crackdown on crime among New Orleans’ poor, black population in the 1980s that ravished the city and coincided with Reagan’s War on Drugs.  It’s a crime story prime for the picking for a writer looking to pitch a hungry agent or editor.  I’ve never touched it, at least not until now, because I suspect an honest exploration into the details might unravel the “truth” less than it might unravel my relationship with my family.  The truth, of course, lies somewhere between all these versions of events.  My grandfather was not a tourist, for example, not exactly.  He was in New Orleans for a conference and to accept a business award.  And even if he “failed to comply” with a mugger’s demand for his money,  he didn’t deserve to die.  The teenage boy that killed him may have been an awful person, a lowlife, a sociopath.  But the truth is messy, too messy for the black-and-white logic of a gun.

I’m coming clean now for a different reason.  Tomorrow is National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and I’m making you aware.  When I speak about guns, my grandfather’s murder at the hands of a gun lends me some authority many other people don’t have when they mouth off about the Second Amendment.  I’m making you aware because in the last few weeks my city–a swampy stone’s throw from New Orleans–has been beset with stories of brave vigilantes who stood their ground against gun-wielding criminals.

I abhor guns.  There are people who would say that if my grandfather had had a gun on that fateful, muggy night, he’d still be alive.  They are the same people who laud a League City man who last month shot and killed a mugger who approached him and his young son at a McDonald’s.  He’s lucky.  Statistics say he’s more likely to have gotten his son killed. And just this week Fox News called an untrained, self-appointed warden of his neighbors a “Good Samaritan” for pulling his gun on an active shooter in West Houston.  The police shot the Samaritan, because they thought he was an active shooter too.  They were right, actually.  He was actively shooting.  He too had a young son at home, a young son who almost lost his father to an inflated ego, at worst, and a dopey, illogical hero complex, at best.

Tomorrow, like other concerned citizens, I won’t strap a gun to my hip or ankle or shove one into my purse or behind my driver’s seat or under my bed.  I’ll wear orange to honor Max A. Minnig, my grandfather.  His bigness and his belligerence.  His nine children, twenty-something grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, his great-great grandchildren, many of whom disagree with my position on guns.  I’ll wear orange especially for his daughter, my mother, a woman deserving of more love and time than she ever received from her parents and now won’t ever receive.  I’ll try to triage that hole with my love.

I wish my grandfather didn’t die that night in the underbelly of the French Quarter.  But listen to me when I tell you: I don’t wish he had a gun.

I wish no one had a gun.

I wish people didn’t live in housing projects.

I wish people weren’t so feeble of spirit or imagination.

I wish we understood more fully what one of my favorite writers, Andre Dubus, wrote when he finally gave up his guns to sit on “the frighteningly invisible palm of God.”

I wish we’d do something with the economic and eleemosynary resources we Americans have that so recommend us to solve the gun violence epidemic.

I wish that death could never be a punishment.  Life either.

I wish he’d handed that lost boy his wallet.



Sermon from Within the Glass: On Infertility and Revelation

I walk down Sugar Land city center’s main street, Mama, Trip, and Graham–my 1 1/2 year old son–just behind me.  Trip’s guiding the stroller which has become more of a storage device to hump bags and water bottles than the baby throne it’s meant to be.  Other people joined teams, designed t-shirts, walked with their fertility doctors.  We’re new at this, and the older woman manning the white registration tent apologizes in a deep drawl that she can only offer us one t-shirt: Walk of Hope, it reads in blue and yellow block letters, because no one with infertility should walk alone.

A year ago, two years ago, I would never have done this.  My participation in a public walk would have concretized a truth about which I felt deep shame and despondence, and the same fear that had me decline the offer of a support group, would have had me reject “belonging” to a group of people I did NOT want to identify with at all.

Now, on the first Sunday of National Infertility Awareness Week, I see women in shirts with slogans like “One Goal, Two Lines” (as in the two lines on a pregnancy test that mean yes! yes!) or “HOPE” wherein the O is replaced with a pink heart.  There are also couples with no strollers, no smiles, a few women who swipe mascara from beneath their eyes–they’re still in the thick of it, childless, and I have trouble meeting their eyes and feel no small amount of horror when Graham grabs one of their calves, mistaking it from his tiny height for mine.  All around us booths announce their sponsorships from brand name pharmaceuticals to acupuncturists to hospitals.  Everything smacks of revival meeting: the testimonials, the loopy exerts of scripture passages across backs, the balloon release of bright orange “prayers” into a gunmetal grey and yellowing sky.  As if we’re all a little touched.

The religious subtext unnerves me.  It’s so confusing to me, how quickly everyone adopts the language of church when the science of infertility and its availability to women is still endangered by a political culture whose God would have us settle for prayer as our only medicine. Not that I don’t believe in prayer–I do, very much.  But I could write a million pages about the bioethics of infertility treatment, an entire tome of righteously indignant sermons about how we’ve turned the medical problem of infertility into a moral problem.

I don’t want to do that today.  Today, as we start walking across cobblestone that causes my son–a new walker–to lose his stepping now and again, I’m thinking about glass.

IVF is the acronym for in vitro fertilization.  In vitro, in Latin, means “within the glass.”  The glass is the problem for some people.  That fertilization might occur outside a woman’s body, at the hands of doctors and scientists, strikes some people as sacrilegious, as humans playing God.

They’ve missed the point.  There are only two places in the Vulgate–the Latin version of the Holy Bible–that use the word vitro.  Once in Proverbs in a line that warns against excessive drinking.  Then again in Revelations when the angel reveals to John the Holy City, the glorious new Jerusalem where all shall reside in the coming kingdom.  Its walls, John says, “were made of jasper,” the “great street of the city was of pure gold, pure as transparent glass.”

et platea civitatis aurum mundum tamquam vitrum perlucidum

The great street of the city was as transparent as glass, God in all her glory, visible, knowable, finally and fully clear in vitro.

Of course, we don’t live in the new Jerusalem, and what John recounts is called a “revelation” for a reason.  Revelations by definition are small moments of disclosure, whispers, slits in the blinds that paint thin streaks of light across a dark floor and only hint at the full morning. Revelations often arrive in the form of dreams or visions, in moments where our human consciousness bleeds its edges.  In Luke’s Gospel, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has a revelation when Gabriel assures her in a dream of the possibility of Jesus’ birth through her body by reminding her that God cured the infertility of Elizabeth, her cousin and mother of John the Baptist.

I first saw my son within the glass.  Minutes before the transfer procedure, minutes I spent as if in a dream, Dr. Schenk projected Graham’s image onto the wall of the operating room.  In his glass house, his five cells shivered and spoke.  A light so slim and golden.

Most mothers–most people–will never see such a thing.  They will never witness the miracle of reproduction through transparent glass.  Science has revelatory power.  Galileo knew it.  Darwin too.  It does not close the door to faith; it punctures the dense wood of doubt.

I’m not saying infertile women are somehow more holy than other women, or that our medical condition trumps much more severe diagnoses, or that illness itself is holy, except in the sense that the poet Mark Doty writes: illness is torturous but “nonetheless it reveals more of what things are.”

And here we are.  A group of women of every skin color, size, and religious background connected only by our diagnosis of infertility and the people who love us most, our husbands and wives, our mothers, our doctors, not quite enough of our children.  We’re walking down a street as mundane as any across America, its pragmatic hems stitched with chain stores and waffle joints, but I hear the faint bell-like music of so many clinking heels on glass as we move through this new city of our shared vision.





Sermon at the End of a Decade (for the Goddess)

Tomorrow, I enter the last year of my thirties, a 365 day threshold between the first half of my life and the second.   I really want to write an essay about becoming an “elder” in a culture that worships youth. How I want to enter that vocation as purposefully as I did adulthood and marriage and motherhood. But I’ve gotten derailed a little, because someone asked me last night, “Do you have any advice you’d go back and give your 29 year old self if you had the chance to repeat your thirties?”

My first thought: I would tell her to freeze her eggs.

My second thought: I would tell her to listen to John.

When I was 29 years old, I had a writing professor named John, and because of his particular way of being in the world—a way that precludes personal boundaries and makes him wear his vulnerability like a sensitive skin—he knew almost as much if not more about his students’ social and love lives as he did about their writing. On his comments for the last story I submitted to his workshop, he gave the usual sort of feedback, but he included a final note that I’ve kept.

Casey! This is your best story yet. Can I offer a piece of hypocritical advice? Yes! I can! Stop fooling with these boys. You’re a goddess—they know it, they know you’re out of their mortal league, which is why they act like they do. They’re perfectly nice boys.  But sometimes a goddess needs to retreat into her deep cave, spend her days brushing out her long hair and weaving her magical stories.

Then he gave me a copy of Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, said, “Maybe try nonfiction-ish fiction,” and moved back to the East Coast. I didn’t really take his writing or personal advice to heart for at least another few years and another few male writers and bad short stories.

I’ve written often on this blog about Homer’s Odyssey, because I teach it every year and every year more of its secrets loosen and leaf down on me, sacred crumbs. This year I paid more attention to Calypso and Circe, nymph goddesses whose islands become spaces of retreat for our male hero.

A few weeks ago, while thinking about said goddesses, I read a particularly appalling student evaluation of my senior AP Critical Approaches to literature course. It was an outlier—most of my students love critical theory—and I have one every year: some students cannot differentiate me teaching them theories from me espousing theories, and when the theories crack open their world views and press at their hearts they get mad at me. This one was bad. Really nasty, really mean, really personal. Then, an editor that had solicited work from me decided not to publish the essay I drafted, calling it “gorgeous, but not fitting our mission.” (She was a kind editor, offering suggestions of other publications that might want it.) That essay, ironically, had to do with the divine feminine and attempted to resurrect Sophia—the wisdom goddess-partner to Logos, whose story has been buried in the Bible. Finally, the same week, after bingeing on my Facebook feed, I went into a colleague’s classroom and purged, “I’m afraid I’ll never be a writer with a published book. I’ll just be the woman who slept with all the writers of published books.” Those boys John encouraged me to “stop fooling with” have made names for themselves, many of them, found their way into glory after weathering any island wrecks and sheltering there awhile.

Seeking solace, I flipped through a poetry anthology and landed on Louise Gluck. I actually opened to a page with a poem where Gluck personifies Circe, telling the story in Homer’s epic from the goddess’ perspective:

I never turned anyone into a pig.

Some people are pigs; I make them 

Look like pigs.

I love the way Gluck flips the script here. Whereas Odysseus characterizes Calypso and Circe as dangerous temptresses meant to trap him, Gluck implies that the men trap themselves. Circe does not do anything to men; she reveals them for what they actually are.

I’ve had those opening lines taped into my journal, and I think of them often when reading criticism of Hillary Clinton, and I thought of them again in the critical aftermath of Beyonce’s release of her new song and video, “Formation.” The way men crash into goddesses and the way those goddesses unmask and disclose. I also thought often about the loudest critiques, the truth revealed that people get most mad at goddesses when they’re practical. Beyonce wants to make money as well as a statement? Clinton has used political strategy in the past? She has–gasp–changed her mind over the course of twenty years? The horror.  We want our sirens to be all body and voice and no head.

As I reach 39, I think too about the goddess’ lot: Calypso and Circe never leave their islands. Their story is not a high sea adventure, but an internal journeying, a cave diving, a womb-ing. They know the isolating nature of real power. They recognize their strength, and they know it lies—not in trapping—but in releasing. Everything and everyone powerful that arrives on their magical shores they offer love and help and escape, a divine nurturing that is not the selfless, self-negating nurturing of the weak, but the self-aware, self-loving nurturing of the mighty that says, “If you stop being scared of me, you’ll learn something here and be on your way.”

I don’t want to tell my 29-year old self to become a goddess. I want to tell her to see she already is one. Back then, I was loving, writing, striving, working, putting my whole self into the world, regardless of “those boys.” But I looked toward the sea and its passing ships, at other people’s stories, at some land I thought I should reach that wasn’t mine.   I couldn’t see the mythical paradise that was my Self.   Of course, the Odysseuses in our personal myths aren’t always literal boys so much as all our insecurities and doubts arriving at the tired beaches of our psyches in boy costumes.

My 39 year old self is not afraid of her own power or authority, the tenderness and violence of liberation. I want to say to that terrified student, and to the various “boys” in my world, literal and metaphorical, what Louise Gluck’s Circe says to Odysseus and what I imagine Hillary or Queen Bey might say to the “boys” in their worlds:

I foresaw your departure,

Your men with my help braving

The crying and pounding sea. You think


A few tears upset me? My friend,

Every sorceress is

A pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can’t

Face limitation. If I wanted to hold you


I could hold you prisoner.


Happy birthday to me. Time to return to the lush cave, grow out my hair, and get to my craft.   Did I just call myself a goddess? Yes, yes I did. If that bothers you, consider yourself revealed.












Sermon for the Enchanted

Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos


I’m on my way home to Texas from the Galapagos Islands, where I spent eight days with a group of teenage students and two other teachers. At home, my husband and parents took care of my 14-month old son, Graham, who was my only hesitation about accepting the offer to chaperone a fully funded school trip. The islands so inspired and confounded me that I’m working on a long-form essay about them, one involving research and time, but here I am on a five hour overnight flight in row 30 of a plane with the tiniest seats ever made. My foot’s asleep and Ford Young’s head hits my shoulder every few minutes and I can’t drink wine in front of the young’uns, so why not blog too?

We traveled to Quito first, a mountainous and handsome city, and one that made sense to me given my extensive travels to Latin America when I was a younger woman. A new city for me, but somehow, a familiar one. From Quito, we flew to Guayaquil on the coast and then to the islands. When we arrived, we descended a stairwell from the plane’s back doors and stepped onto a landing strip carved into the arid zone of the island: small cacti were the only plant, lava rocks were strewn about the dusty ground. But an ocean wind whipped up from the water in the near distance and dispelled the heat. Turquoise water, so crystalline blue-green against the desert landscape that I was momentarily knocked off-kilter.   It was uncanny, the juxtaposition of arid stillness and wet undulation, the rust color and the blue, bone and flesh. My brain couldn’t get a grasp on things. But in my heart, faint echoes of my former self sung into my chest cavity, and filled it with ache, something like nostalgia or de ja vu but more erotic than that, more primal. Deep parts of my inner body vibrated that I hadn’t felt in years.  The paradox of the place unhinged me. I felt…bewitched.

The Galapagos Islands are one long string of paradoxes. Paradox is a literary device employed by many a postcolonial writer, since by definition it juxtaposes two seemingly opposing ideas or feelings that, when placed in close proximity to each other, reveal a deep truth about life. Paradox makes hybrid what were once separate beasts. Beauty and pain. Love and hate. Individualism and community. Rich and poor. Colonizer and colonized. And like all of the Americas, Ecuador has its colonial story, its postcolonial growing pains that make easy binaries impossible.

One day we traveled two hours on a boat to Sante Fe Island, an island full of sea lions and iguanas with a bay so beautiful it seems lifted straight out of some mystical fairy tale. During our voyage, the students piled on top of each other and sank into sun-soaked cushions at the front of the boat much like the furry sea mammals we hoped to observe snuggled together on hot rocks or sand. A freshman student, clad only in a black string bikini, cocked her hip and said, “Ms. Fleming, this must be what Odysseus felt like on Calypso’s island.”

“Yeah, yeah,” another student of mine said. “Penelope was doing just fine on her own—why leave a place like this?”

Then another student, a junior boy—all naked chest and knobby legs in his long swim trunks—one who had a different teacher his freshman year and so didn’t learn the Odyssey from me, chimed in, “Yeah, who needs Penelope? Leave her with her loom.”

(The creatures, when you least expect it, talk intelligently about literature on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I die. Of course, their attention shifted quickly to other more important topics like Kanye and breakfast tacos.)

They were referring, of course, to Greek literature, the seven years Odysseus spends on the lush and dreamlike island of Ogygia with the lustruous nymph, Calypso. Seven years. When back in his native Ithaca he has a beautiful wife and a young son. My freshman boys LOVE to talk about Calypso trapping our hero in her “deep arching caverns,” a euphemism they never grow tired of, ever. Homer characterizes Calypso as a sorceress, an enchantress who seduces Odysseus, forestalling his homecoming. But many scholars read Calypso as the archetypal lover whose womb protects the wounded man so that he may be restored and travel home.   The paradox: in order to arrive home, he must rest for a while in the arms of a numinous and dazzling goddess.   He must succumb to the postponement. He must let himself be enchanted.

One Spanish name for the Galapagos (Literal translation: saddles, because the giant tortoises’ pocked shells so resembled them) is Las Encantadas, the Enchanted Islands. It’s odd, actually, this name, since before Charles Darwin made the isles famous by researching finches and using that research to help cohere his theory of evolution, most people who encountered the islands—whalers and pirates—found it uninhabitable, hostile, a real hellhole. Herman Melville was so unimpressed he wrote, “In no world but a fallen one could such a place exist.” These visitors used the word “enchanted” as a warning. Rumor had it that one “enchantment” turned wicked sea captains into tortoises, so that they lived long Sisyphean afterlives of toil in the scorching netherworld of the Galapagos as punishment for their mortal cruelty.

My impression? It’s not an easy place. I’ve never stepped onto any island that was easy, actually. And I love islands, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Baby sea lions die when El Nino reduces the number of fish their mothers can offer them. Frigates and boobies and finches reproduce and survive, as do iguanas and spiders and mangroves and Spanish cedars and hogfish and crabs and whimbrels and mockingbirds and pelicans. Humans too.  People work to reduce the number of invasive species and plants.  Goats, blueberries, now dogs.  But even conservation is tricky, maybe not to ecologically-minded foreigners for whom the island is an abstraction, but certainly for locals for whom the island is—or was—their home. Their situation, complicated by corruption and economic reality, is as precarious as any lesser creature’s. The Galapagos teaches us: that an organism remains unaware of his predators does not make them any less dangerous. In the place that birthed evolutionary theory, evangelical churches prey on people’s misfortune and hope, charm them into devotion, so that even some tour guides reject the science they recite in tortured English to happy travelers. Islanders everywhere, circled in by the sea, (think Ireland, Cuba, Crete, the Phillipines, Palau, Haiti, Newfoundland…) perhaps understand better than any of us that the human condition, if a wonder, is also a trap.   Paradoxes abound.

For example: I missed my son and my husband like hell, and still, on my last morning I lingered in my stilted tent at the Safari Camp and stared into the scalesia trees, and beyond them, where the humid zone merged into the arid zone which merged into the coastal zone, and beyond that, out past the sand and shore, to Daphne Major and Daphne Minor, sister islands on the horizon, and beyond them too, into the blue water, the blue sky, into a past that taught me how to be a woman alone. I listened to the sound of all that life around me. Cows, insects, winged things, the high-pitched squeals of adolescent girls. And all that death. Let’s say I longed for home, and I also ached to stay, for caverns to hide in, cool and dank like the lava tunnel through which we stumbled earlier in the week until we all stood in a pool of grassy light that shined through a giant hole in the earth.  Let’s say I’ve been enchanted. La encantada. Everything glistens: the sunken ledges and rock shelves in my snorkel’s mask, the pink-orange petals of sunburn blooming on my exposed skin, the archipelago of freckles across the bridge of a beautiful nose, the smooth back of a well-loved female tortoise, the glint of wet fur on a sea lion who waddles into the tide, the twitching knee of a 14 year old boy seated next to his crush on the bus, the sound of Graham’s blind humming through my iPhone, the male frigate’s red and swollen throat, all our carnal desire to live, goddamnit, live. Driven by our souls or our DNA—or I don’t know what—we burn and burn and burn and burn, all over the world we burn, but maybe most strongly here at the middle latitude, face to face as we are to the tender fire of our closest star.


Sermon for Holy Innocents

Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Jeremiah 31:15
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
-Jeremiah 31:15
For the few days of Christmas break when our son attends day care, and we don’t have to report to school, my husband and I have been meeting at noon for the midday prayer service at our church.  I always liked the noon, weekday mass–it’s quiet (no large crowd), it’s quick (no singing), and it’s intimate (no avoiding eye contact with the priest).  It’s also a way to center the day around a few moments of mindfulness, to attend to the world and self without the distraction of work or social life.  More often than not, I find that the gospel reading and quick sermon during these services speaks directly and pointedly to my current experience.   The half hour I spend standing, kneeling, sitting serves as a lodestone that keeps a magnetic hold on my sense of purpose even as daily anxieties threaten to pull me out of orbit.

Today was such a day.

Like many of my fellow citizens, though not enough of them, I’ve wrestled the last 36 hours with grief and shame about our country’s response to Tamir Rice’s death at the hands of police officer, Timonthy Loehmann.  Yesterday, an Ohio grand jury decided not to indict Loehmann on criminal charges.  The Rice family has expressed dismay, but not surprise, and have called for a federal investigation.   My wrestling with the news ricocheted from deep sadness to self-righteous anger to helplessness to fear.  Lots of Facebook posts.  Lots of whispers and head shaking and shoulder shrugging at home.

I met my husband on a downtown street before church service.  He looked so handsome, so pensive as he headed toward my car in his wool coat and brown scarf, his hands thrust deeply into this pockets and a Book of Common Prayer tucked under his right arm, that I almost forgot to feel sad.  We walked together into the chapel, passing two homeless people sheltering from the cold in the cathedral’s archways.

Today, the priest reminded us, the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  This liturgical day asks us to revisit the story of Herod and his ordered slaughter of Bethlehem’s baby boys under the age of two as he attempted to preempt the coming of a greater power than his own: God made man in the form of an infant Jesus.  The magi unwittingly clued him in to the birth of Jesus, and feeling threatened, he made his gruesome decree.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus became refugees, fleeing the city for Egypt to protect their child.  In the Catholic tradition, the prophecy that warns them to flee–a prophecy Joseph receives in a dream–is one of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the hard knowledge that people wanted her child killed and that other innocent children would die at his expense.

The priest started the service with these words: We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

My husband shifted in our pew, touched my thigh and said, “This is appropriate today.”

I never much liked this day on the liturgical calendar, mostly because many people–at least in the Catholic church–use it as an excuse to justify histrionic displays of outrage at abortion, Bethlehem’s baby boys standing in for all the unborn children of the world.  They always missed the point to me: that the story of Herod and Jesus is a story about large-scale abuse of state power and its threat to postpartum children’s lives.   Given recent news, I paid renewed attention to the readings, the first of which comes from Jeremiah and goes like this:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping. 

Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, 
because they are no more. 

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;

for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy; 

there is hope for your future,

says the Lord
your children shall come back to their own country.

It knocked the breath out of me. First, I thought–as I have been unable to stop thinking–about Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, and how she has every right to “refuse to be comforted” because her child “is no more.”  How, at this point, every black mother has the right to refuse superficial comfort in a nation that erases her child everyday from its narrative of prosperity, opportunity, and safety. Second, I focused on that last line: your children shall come back to their own country.  Would that it be so, I thought.  Would that this country belong to all its children, and that the children whose lives we have stolen to protect our perceived power get to live, in some next life, in the country ours claims to be, a mature country that has atoned for its past, that does not have its hand on the trigger, a country that does not, as Fredrick Douglass predicted, “solemnly bind herself to be false to the future.”  Would that we aim our efforts at making such a country.

Such an effort, of course, would require us to hold our Herods responsible for their hubris and their fear, that we love our lowly citizens more than the greedy kings that reign inside our own psyches and in our streets and halls.  It would require us to see each baby, in every Bethlehem, as holy and innocent children, as ambassadors to this new, better country, as our collective redeemers.

Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy Tamir Rice, and by your great might…establish your rule of justice, love, and peace.



Sermon for Drowned Babies (A Life Raft)

But I guess I feel adrift today, because I think it’s easy to say the problem is way over there in that faraway sea. And it’s easy to feel good about ourselves if we send money or volunteer for people that we can understand as victims because we don’t have to live near them or face our own history with them. What happens, I wonder, when the refugees become our next door neighbors? What then? Because all over the world babies are drowning. In the neighborhood next to ours, in our schools, in the Rio Grande, in prisons. It’s easy to imagine all these dead babies as symptoms of different problems when, in fact, as James Baldwin wrote, “the moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

Wave of sorrow
Do not drown me now:
I see the island still ahead somehow.
I see the island
And its sands are fair:
Wave of sorrow
Take me there.
-Langston Hughes


The country has no law; it’s either rich or poor
I’m out the back door; I got nuthin to fight for
I’m sailin’ on a boat like a goat–I clear my throat
-Wyclef Jean, “Refugees on the Mic”


My 10 month old son suffers this week from his second daycare cold of what, I suspect, will be many daycare illnesses as his little body builds immunity he’ll need to survive in the great, big world.  At night, I enter his room to rescue him from the mucus that fills his throat.  He’s keeled over in his crib, soft head bent downward as his ribcage racks and heaves.  Once I pull him into my arms, he sometimes coughs so hard that he stops breathing for a moment; his face reddens and blues and his mouth moves into a silent circle.  “Breathe, baby,” I say, patting his back.  And he does breathe, coughing up snot balls that spackle my pajamas and collar bone.  Those brief, quiet seconds before he manages to take in air are the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced.  The child struggling for breath is a horror.

My baby boy lives, but other babies drown and die.  We know this because the photo of Aylan Kurdi has made its way into our Twitter feeds, a 3 year old dead baby washed ashore, his tiny water-logged Velcro sneakers like an extra, especially cruel turn of the knife in our hearts. He’s one of thousands of dead babies in our various seas, and we know this in the abstract, but the tangible image shipwrecks us.

When I first saw it in my Facebook newsfeed, I almost threw up in my classroom, so violent was my physical reaction to a dead boy. I had to get up from my desk and navigate through the sea of teenagers in the hallway to recalibrate my senses.  Pull it together.  Even as I smiled my way through a lesson on Dionysian impulses, my hands shook.

And now, the whole media-verse is beside itself, and the battle-cry among conservatives and liberals alike has started to sound, louder and louder.  Do something about those poor refugees, it screams.

I know a little about refugees.  My father, when I was a young child, worked for the YMCA Refugee services, resettling Cambodian, Ethiopian, and Vietnamese refugees that arrived, finally, in Houston after treacherous journeys across land and sea.  Occasionally we had a family living in our home for a few days while he–and others–worked to find shelter and employment for a father or mother.  One piece of family lore sticks out in my memory.  Once, when I was a very, very young girl a family of refugees accompanied my family to a Fourth of July celebration.  When the fireworks started, the entire family–father, mother, children–jumped into the lake that bordered the fireworks area.  What we understood as loud and glorious symbols of freedom in the dark summer sky–ramparts we watched so gallantly streaming–they understood as bombs.  “We should have known better,” my mother says when she retells it.  “Your father felt horrible.  Insensitive.”

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m trying to make sense of a few things.  Aylan Kurdi and the outpouring of love and attention from people otherwise content to leave others to their own problems and their own dinghies.  My own past.  And the other thing going on in my life this week: Resistance from people I love about the Black Lives Matter movement.  My snotty kiddo.  I can sense a low current or tide that connects these thoughts floating on the surface, a deep undertow.

Aylan’s father survived his two sons and wife, all of whom died after their boat capsized.  In a shaky interview, he said, “I am choking.  I cannot breathe.  They died in my arms.”

I cannot breathe, the same words uttered by Eric Garner as he died in the arms of police officers on the streets of New York City.  I’m also thinking of Samaria Rice–mother of 12-year old Tamir Rice, shot dead by police officers in Ohio while playing in a park with his older sister.  “They didn’t give him a chance,” Samaria has said.  After Tamir died, Samaria had to move her family into a homeless shelter, because she could not bear to live anymore so near to the park where her son died, alone, while his sister watched from the backseat of a cop car.

The word refugee comes from the past participle of the French, “refugier.”  It means “one gone in search of shelter” or “one in search of refuge and a home.”  I’m thinking Samaria Rice has been a refugee too.  I’m wondering how we so easily feel horror for people on the other side of the earth–as we should–but cannot acknowledge the others that live inside our own cities.  I’m thinking Tamir, Eric, Trayvon, Michael are drowned boys, also humanity washed ashore, but even mothers, even women who should know better, deny them their boy status.  Where were these horrified people when Samaria Rice’s dead boy washed ashore?  Maybe young black men are not allowed to be dead boys because they’re not allowed to be boys.

Aylan Kurdi wore Velcro sneakers.  Trayvon Martin wore white sneakers–soaked from the night’s downpour–and carried a packet of Skittles.  Tamir Rice wore black sneakers with white soles, and a stained t-shirt he’d worn for many days in a row, and for which other kids made fun of him.

I cannot breathe.

They died in my arms.

I cannot breathe.

They didn’t give him a chance.

He was a kid.  A fun-loving kid.

I cannot breathe.

Well-meaning people are invoking Jesus as they call for a response to the Syrian refugee crisis.  Jesus was a refugee, they say.  Love thy neighbor, they say.  They’re right.

But I guess I feel adrift today, because I think it’s easy to say the problem is way over there in that faraway sea.  And it’s easy to feel good about ourselves if we send money or volunteer for people that we can understand as victims because we don’t have to live near them or face our own history with them.  What happens, I wonder, when the refugees become our next door neighbors?  What then?  Because all over the world babies are drowning.  In the neighborhood next to ours, in our schools, in the Rio Grande, in prisons.  It’s easy to imagine all these dead babies as symptoms of different problems when, in fact, as James Baldwin wrote, “the moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

The Syrian political crisis is not the same as our American political crisis, and certainly the sheer numbers–over 4 million Syrian refugees and 3 million Iraqis–indicate a humanitarian crisis of the highest order.  We bear no little amount of responsibility in that crisis too.  But our ability to ostracize and dehumanize the “other” is a universal across time and history and nation and creed.  As we denounce the cruelty in other people’s oceans, I hope we have the wisdom to send rescue ships into our own.

Drowning has long been been used as a metaphor in Black American literature, which makes sense given the sea-crossing slaves endured (or didn’t) in the holds of dank ships tossed about by the Atlantic.  At a more literal level, in “A Racial History of Drowning,” author Lynn Sherr tells us that before the Civil War more blacks could swim than white people.  “Segregation destroyed the aquatic culture of the black community,” she reminds us.  As black people were excluded from pools and lifeguarded beaches, and forced to live in neighborhoods without community pools, the chances of black children drowning grew and grew.  According to the CDC, African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than white children.  And there are so many ways to drown.

“I don’t want anything else from this world,” Aylan’s father told CNN.  “Everything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and stay with them until I die.”

I cannot breathe.

They died in my arms.

I cannot breathe.

They didn’t give him a chance.

He was a kid.  A fun-loving kid.

I cannot breathe.

My son, my son, my son

The tempestuous waters rise first in our hearts.  The words “love they neighbor” become empty vessels, rickety dories run headlong into a stark wind.  Let us build big, strong boats of hope in every dangerous sea so all our babies can breathe.


Sermon for Bodies

Confession: for over 25 years I’ve hated my body.  Or, what I mean is, I’ve wanted my body to be different.  Or, what I mean is, even while proclaiming feminism from the hilltops, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t fret over food or let the word “fat” manspread all over the subway car of my skull or the last time I caught my own reflection in a mirror or thick-paned window and resisted the urge to perform a quick look-test.  I can’t remember the last time I passed that test.

I’m not anorexic or even abnormally obsessed.  I’m an American woman, and, therefore, a woman at war in and for her body.

I’m always thinking about bodies–coveting them, judging them, assessing them, admiring them, worrying about them–but lately I’ve been thinking about them more.  For one thing, writers I love are decrying the the decimation of the black body.  Just today, Claudia Rankine wrote in the New York Times Magazine about the magnificent Serena Williams:

“Imagine that you have to contend with critiques of your body that perpetuate racist notions that black women are hypermasculine and unattractive. Imagine being asked to comment at a news conference before a tournament because the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, has described you and your sister as ‘‘brothers’’ who are ‘‘scary’’ to look at. Imagine.”

And as Ta Nehesi Coates argues, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body,” a tradition so naturalized we rarely see the destruction except at its most pronounced.  Trayvon.  Sandra.  Serena.  I know these writers speak the truth, but as I’m not black, I must try to imagine, what does it mean to live inside a vulnerable body, a body that by simple virtue of its being might be a dangerous container?

We can’t, of course, imagine our way into a type of oppression we don’t experience.  We can, however, imagine our way close to it, and we must.  I don’t know, except in an intellectual way, what it is to live in a black woman’s body in this nation and I don’t see the police cruisers that roll through the neighborhood streets that map a black man’s psyche.  What I do understand–and what can bring me into at least an outer circle of understanding–is the experience of living in a compromised body, a body that won’t do or be what the world expects it to be, and a body that cannot fence out every gaze or break through every assumption.  What I do understand is that the world might deny certain people the shelter of their own skeleton and skin.

In a dangerous world, to love one’s body in the face of its threatened destruction is a radical act.  When I was struggling with infertility, I began to believe that my body was broken, that it lacked value since it could not make me what–the world tells us in various ways–a woman is meant to be.  Much in the way a black body might impede one’s ability to live inside a dignified, safe body in a society that assigns more value to whiteness, a body that cannot produce children might impede my body from basic dignity in a society that defines motherhood as a condition of real womanhood.  Infertility is nowhere near as widespread or brutal as racism, and blackness is not a medical condition–I don’t mean to imply that–but the various ways our bodies get coded have real implications for our lives.  Likewise, the female body in general, because it has for so long been assigned value only by what it offers to men, might leave me feeling…well…homeless.

But what really sent me down the body rabbit hole this week was the verdict in the Owen Labrie rape case. The St. Paul’s boarding school student was accused of raping a minor female student.  She gave the longest testimony.  In addition to her testimony, several of Labrie’s friends–boys–testified that he bragged about sex with her, and they read text messages aloud to the court in which Labrie used the language of conquest and violence to detail his encounter with the accuser.  Over her voice and theirs, the jury cited lack of evidence and acquitted him of the most serious charges.  After I read the verdict in the paper, I went to my Saturday morning yoga class, a class I try never to miss.  My teacher said to us, “The body changes the mind, the mind changes behavior, and behavior changes outcomes. We have to start in the body.”

I’ve been thinking about that nameless girl.  About how badly I want her to love her body, and about the lifelong battle such loving will likely cost her.  Once, my husband said to me, “Instead of thinking of your body as infertile, and, therefore, disabled, why don’t you think about what it did–how it was strong enough to handle all those shots, all those drugs, all those surgeries?”  Why don’t I think about how it peeled itself off the floor and put its fists up like even our endangered bodies do, claiming and carrying the heavy mantle, how it achieved the unlikely and unthinkable?

I want to say to that brave girl who used her voice in court, a voice which must rise up through the body’s valleys and deep gorges, “Look what your body did.  It survived.  It spoke too. What an amazing body it must be.  Imagine.”

Wendell Berry wrote, “There is no unsacred place.  Only sacred places, and desecrated places.”

I’m 38 years old and I’m tired of the desecration.  Of other bodies.  Of my own.  I’m tired of participating–wittingly or unwittingly–in that desecration when I was invited at birth inside the sacred.

All day long I pass windows and mirrors, and my own body stares back at me.  And the body of live oak trees, and old bungalows, and dogs, and redbirds, and strangers.  What I see there has to be enough.