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With the Grace of a Rhino in a China Shop

With the Grace of a Rhino in a China Shop

“You may not know this, but I know this. I’ve been telling people about you all week, since you found out about Voices of the Future. I tell them about you anyway, but I can’t believe more people will know about you now. You’re out there,” Lydia told me.

I had called her because it was mid-afternoon and I had just returned from a walk with my two pups to the farmer’s market. Satchel filled with prickly pear butter, roasted green chilies, and local wild honey. An extra honeycomb was tossed to the bottom, we would use it to melt it down into beeswax, mix it with whichever oils were lying around the house, and make our own chapstick later.

“I was scared when I read the biography they posted about me. It made me sound so wonderful.”
“You are wonderful,” she re-assured me.

“When we are on the brink of realizing our true potential, when we know the possibilities of embracing that which we often deny in ourselves…it is a feeling almost like exploding out of yourself. I have this strange feeling that who I am is about to change drastically.”

“Do you know this week I went to a funeral? It was for a man named Herby, he was 73-years-old. I have met him a few times and you know how I am good at finding humanity in everyone? I try to find that spark in everyone, no matter how difficult they seem. I tried with him, every time I saw him, but nothing seemed to work. He would make dishes, drop them off at the house for family gatherings, stay a minute, then leave. If I asked him how he made something so delicious, he would throw his hands up and say, ‘It’s nothing!’

The saddest thing about the funeral was that in 73 years he had left no one who showed up to mourn him. Everyone was there to support his wife. I spoke to her aunt and she, too, felt sad over this. 73 years. We are connecting to each other every day, every day impacting each other, how is it possible to walk the earth for 73 years and never leave behind a single person to attend the funeral for you?”

I didn’t know. Sometimes I feel like Lydia speaks to me in proverbs, even though she is not meaning to. “Did he ever tell you stories about himself?” I asked.


“Do you think that’s why? We connect through telling our stories, listening to the stories of others. What do you think happened to him?”

“Maybe he had a childhood trauma and never woke from it or reconciled with it. Maybe he was stuck his whole life in a moment that was horrible that he could not move through. Maybe he lived in that moment always, without knowing it at all.”

I shifted on the front porch. She seemed too far away. It has been over three years since we hiked through Arapahoe and found trees fallen by shotgun wounds. The castings, or shells, of the bullets were strewn carelessly throughout wild grass. Across from them was a tree with a pink ribbon tied around her trunk to support breast cancer awareness. So many of my memories of her are surrounded by nature and the whirring of landscape passing us on our visit to or return from a certain mountain or waterfall she felt compelled to share with me.

“My time not working has made me realize many things. It hit me yesterday while Selah commented on my unplanned rows of romaine lettuce and rapini sprouts. She remembered only two years ago, our phone conversation about how I had bought an orchid and was going to sing to it daily in the house, to keep it alive. It died. Then, she said, the following summer I had my first garden which was only a fraction of what I have now. I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I needed to dig, plant, seed. I needed to witness the long and short growth spurts of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I needed to see them come back the following year, after I thought they had been gone for good. I didn’t know why I needed any of it, except now I understand that I was planting a new life for myself.”

“That reminds me years I spent in Oregon. I must have been no older than you now, mid-twenties. I found a group of women who opened their kitchen and space to whoever wanted to join. They wanted to teach young women about canning, harvesting, growing. They took us into the cold cellar. You should have seen the joy on their faces by glimpsing their jars. And one said, ‘This is our cellar and you may love it, or you may not. If you don’t, you won’t come back and that’s ok. But if you do, you will fall in love too, with stored jars.”

“And you kept going back?”

“For four years. They were my mentors. But it is a funny thing with mentors. The mentor has to be of the utmost clarity, with herself. She has to know who she is and be herself unapologetically. When you are working with young women, especially as their mentor, you have to understand that depending on their situations they can be coming from an extreme sense of vulnerability. This can mean that they are open to any idea without an afterthought of consequence. If the mentor is not in a clear state-of-mind, transference can be easy. It is easy to mask one’s own pain by taking on the task of navigating the pain of another. But that was all for counseling, when I was working on my master’s. They talked about transference a lot. A simple act of human kindness can sometimes be seen as something completely different in the eyes of someone very vulnerable.”

“I’m going to the drop-in center next week to work with queer youth. I want to show them a movie about religion and homosexuality. I’ve gone to so many lectures, meetings, coalitions; talked to different people within the past few months about these viewpoints. Some of the conversations have felt momentarily dismantling because I am almost incredulous by the perception of inequality some have, how deeply rooted it is. I just want to be a voice for them, to let them know someone else has experienced this type of discrimination and has become educated about it to become tolerant and work toward real solutions. I think of how angry I once became over the religious oppression. Rooted, not even in the scriptures quoted, but by a schematic in life that had molded them into this person who felt venomous toward me. To be looked in the eyes by people who hold hatred in themselves just for you. And to know it is for a reason that you cannot undo. I think of how many people I know who will live closeted lives because of how they were raised, or because of the possibility of violence they face daily because of who they are.”

“I think you will leave a legacy when you go.”

“Is that why you spoke of Herb?”

“Well, he was on my mind. The weight of sadness that many of us felt there, it was on my mind. But, there will be many people who come for you when you die.”

“There is a poet named Andrea Gibson. In her poem Blue Blanket, which is about a woman being raped and she writes these lines:

“now every touch feels like a sin
that could crucify medusa kali oshun mary
bury me in a blue blanket
so their god doesn't know i'm a girl
cut off my curls
i want peace when i'm dead”

I really want to live in a world where no woman, no girl ever has to wish that.”

“How amazing, we are alive at this time, when this is possible. To have women in Yemen a part of the same group as women here and everywhere. Women from all over the world waking up to their own power. That is truly thrilling, don’t you think?”

During the course of our conversation, she reminded me that I am an example to women everywhere – not because of Voices of the Future…but even before that. The work I have done, the conversations I have, the Pippi-confidence I carry with me – is a gift and example. Every strong woman who is leading in some way the world she is in so that in the future there is greater equality, less violence, sustainability – they are all examples for the entire world. Any woman anywhere speaking for herself – is an example – and blessed are the young girls who witness this simple act.

As Lydia and I spoke of mentors, she said that the women in Oregon were beautiful. They embraced the silliness and foolishness of some of the young girls who came there to learn. It was not like a church gathering, there was no agenda, and they were not going to impart their living truths. They just opened their doors to share the pure love they had found in the simple magic of passionately living what they loved. These mentors had had rough moments in life, but recognized that everyone did. They were brave enough to embrace the honesty of who they were.

I have been thinking of mentors all week and she said something that struck me deeply today. She said that a mentor has to be healthy, clear in herself to actually help the mentee so whatever knowledge is to be imparted is done so in the purest form. And, if it is a woman mentoring a young woman then the job of the mentor is one that is of companionship and witness. It is the mentee’s journey, not the mentor’s, but how sacred to bear witness to one’s discovery of self. And even graver, if one is mentoring a person who has not been heard, does not even know he/she has something to say – then the task of the mentor must remain as companion/witness. We do so by sharing who we are, opening our ears, and listening to each other.

“I have read the piece you wrote about me maybe six times,” she said, “and it amazes me that we have developed the relationship that we have and how it began so simply. It began with, ‘Would you like to come for a walk?’ and then, ‘Why don’t you come upstairs and enjoy the orchids?’”

Soon, Lydia was placing quartz pendulums in my palms and seven oils, one for each energy center of the body. She was exposing me to different forms of healing and unlocking something inside of me that turned out to be a floodgate. She taught me to question, to listen, and that I can make such a large difference simply by giving a person the time to walk and tell their story. This way, they do not become stuck in the plights of their pasts. They, instead, will open their mouths and unleash. They will heal with each word, and connect on levels they have never experienced. I know this to be true because I was silent for the first sixteen years of my life; it seems, without even knowing how it was affecting me.
I stood in my garden this evening and could not believe what has been created in two seasons, what I know already simply by observing and tending daily to the responsibility of the growth of something beautiful. And, once I realized that, I believed what she had said about being wonderful – but not in an egotistical way – it felt more like a feeling of relief. All I had to do was look around – the mismatched rows, the flowers planted in next to vegetables.

My friend the other night had asked, “Can you even do that? Plant lilies by basil?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “They look beautiful beside each other though. The basil hasn’t complained about the shade from the lilies and the lilies don’t complain about the bees around the basil.”

Sometimes we are doing things in our lives, taking these steps to what we hope to unlock, without even knowing it. I do not think there is an end all/be all in my life. The only finality I am aware of is death. Everything else is up for transition and impermanence.

We live on through what we leave. I am a writer and so I understand this sense of immortality through the words in books I have read that have been written so very long ago, but still so alive. I want my legacy to be the resurrection of the red tent. I know enough to know I am not alone. If I have to begin by teaching herb gardening workshops in my front yard, I will. If I have to save the lives of gay teenagers, one at a time, it will be through program development that reminds them that they are not alone and the rejection they face based on religion is misinformation. If it begins with a cup of coffee with my neighbor every morning, listening to her trials and witnessing the excitement she carries away from each class she is taking – that is enough. We forget the process too often. I have been on this path for a long while. I have dreamed of communities of women taking back the earth and sharing it with each other. I have dreamt of men who are gentler without feeling emasculated. I have dreamt of farms left to daughters, then their daughter’s daughters. I have dreamt of waltzing through an open kitchen listening to Eva Cassidy while making hatch chili coconut soup for a table as long as the eye can see. How many ways can these things manifest? How many visions lie on top of each other until they merge? How many times will I fall asleep with a pen in my hands and wake with ink on my face?

I am not talking about creating only an organization, but a way of thinking and living that I think is critical to the development of communication between women, between LGBTQ and heterosexual communities, between people and land and animals.

And if, every single day, I am doing something to help a person speak who does not even believe a single story exists within them – then the concept will live on.

There are women in the world staying up for hours at night writing by lamp-light. There are women all over the world using the stars for light. There are women who have to hide their writing utensils and bury their notebooks. There are women running for their lives and speaking the truth as each foot hits the ground. And World Pulse is here, and we are collecting and gathering and amplifying. As I read through the bio’s today of the women selected for Voices of the Future, I felt so blessed to be a part of this.

But I also wanted to take a moment to share the honest truth about the potential scariness of stepping into who you feel you are meant to be right now. I have been living/breathing/sweating details for the next step, but balancing all of that enough with rooting in the garden, melting into savasana, and singing as each meal is made.

And really....every time I come on here and read about my sisters everywhere...I am less afraid knowing so many of us want the same empowerment, equality, and to live in a world where we never have to wish to be buried in blue blankets.


JaniceW's picture


I am inspired by your wish to help a person find the story within them.

Stories are the containers for meaning. The world is made up of stories; it's not made up of facts. Facts are merely the backbone of the story (e.g. Herby died at the age of 73) and do not tell you about his journey and what happened to him because of that, and the power of being a human being.

Stories are the only way we can make sense out of life as they tell us about who we are, what is possible for us, what we might call upon. They also remind us we're not alone with whatever faces us. Although Herby's life has passed, his story did not end as now you both have his story woven into your own lives and in that sense, his story continues on.

Thank you for sharing this story with us and in so doing, revealing the greatness of being a human being and the vulnerability of being a human being.

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