Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shoulding, Rather Than Acting on Love

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. Given that this is the season of Love Actually, and "All I Want for Christmas is You" (versions 1 and 2 - both of which touch my heart), I suppose that's to be expected. But I haven't primarily been thinking about romantic love.

This is also the season of Advent, the period for joyful hope and anticipation of the most selfless love the world has ever known. So, I've been thinking about agape love, in its many translations, and how that love is made manifest today. Here. Now. What should it look like? How should it feel? How should one act, when inspired by agape? How should I?

I first remember learning about agape when I converted to Catholicism seventeen years ago. But as I was a somewhat ...decadent... convert focused on other things, I never really examined what it meant. And in the intervening years, as I eventually grew away from and then closer to my Catholic faith, I've become interested in understanding agape more.

But I think I've been going about it all wrong.

I'm a recovering academic dilettante, so I tend to seek understanding in reading and pondering, which is fine ... as a starting point. But at some point, I need to act on what I have learned. I need to do. After all, practice makes perfect or at least a habit, right? But acting on agape love is just as daunting (scary, even) as acting on eros or even affection. What if I do it wrong? Or worse, what if the feeling isn't mutual? How do I share agape in a manner consistent with Christ's commandment that we love one another? Won't that hurt? Or at least expose me to discomfort or exploitation?

A few months ago, I did something that some suggest is proof that I am being hard on myself, proof that I "get" agape. I donated stem cells through Be the Match.

I was matched to a patient last winter and was supposed to donate in the spring. The extraction was delayed several months, taking place early in the start of my second year of law school. It was not the best timing, for a lot of reasons, and the process was more inconvenient and uncomfortable than I was expecting. But through it all, I would tell anyone who asked - more as a mantra to myself, than as some form of piety to whoever was listening - that it was less inconvenient than leukemia. But when I would say it, or think it, I wasn't thinking about the patient who would receive my stem cells. I was thinking about a friend, more than twenty years ago, who I visited in the hospital just days after she aborted her and her husband's second child (their first was still just a toddler) so that she could undergo aggressive chemotherapy in her fight against leukemia. It was a fight she lost, and from the day I first learned about stem cell transplantation, I wondered: if this technology had been available then, would my friend and her child be here now?

The patient, my patient, became a vessel for my long buried grief and retroactive heroics. Donating my stem cells was not really about Her. It was about hopefully sparing another family and another group of friends the loss that my friend's family, my family and our community suffered. It was about me saving "a" life, because I couldn't save her life years ago. It was, I think, a profoundly selfish "gift."

And it didn't work.

Today, as I was suiting up in the gym for a little morning workout, I received The Call. Unlike the previous call, a few weeks after the transplant, this was not good news. The patient, my patient, has died.

And I am genuinely sad for this woman I never met, never spoke to, never even wrote, because I had assumed that there would be time enough for that...someday. Time and again I was offered the opportunity by Be The Match to send her a card (through them in deference to our respective privacy). Time and again, I'd put it off. Certainly, law school and single parenting and working and trying to take care of myself (body, mind and soul) kept me busy. But it was one card I could have sent. Should have sent. Because in that one card, my "gift" would have truly been directed towards Her. She would have ceased to be a cipher for my attenuated grief. She would have become someone I took time to care about and acknowledge in Her own right.

Though I would often pray for Her and her family, I never reached out. I never told Her. I never shared with Her a desire for her healing and recovery. I made a deposit of stem cells, was reimbursed for my expenses, and proceeded to live my life as normal. And in my normal life, I live and love primarily in my head (with a strong exception made for my daughter, who may well someday move to a different country to avoid my helicopter tendencies).

As I sat in the sauna, I read some of Leo Buscaglia's Born for Love, and was broadsided by the passage entitled, "Love is not a private affair," at the bottom of which there was a quote by Norman Vincent Peale: "If you think you have given enough, think again. There is always more to give and someone to give it to."

It confronted me and shamed me. And it sent me on a course of thought and pondering that compelled me to both write this post and begin drafting a letter to Her family. This post is NOT about me. I am an only child, a Libra and a former drama geek, so I am very comfortable with being the center of attention. But the focus of this post, is agape and the reminder that like all love, it doesn't just happen and it can't just exist in our heads. To make it manifest requires that we do agape, for the right reasons, which is to say...for no reason at all. We do agape Just a card, sent to a stranger, with the hope that She is well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I had such noble aspirations for this blog when I set it up: chronicle the journey of a late-thirty-something single mother's journey through law school and personal/professional reinvention.

But then, there was a snafu with the ex and some legal wrangling last summer, before I could move with our daughter (for whom I have always been and continue to be the primary caregiver).

And being somewhat crunchy (and occasionally naive), I tried to commute to my daughter's school and mine exclusively by bus and bike for our first three months in Michigan. Not surprisingly, spending upwards of three hours a day commuting ate into my study time and I did not do nearly as well in my first semester of law school as I had hoped.

Eventually, I found my stride (and a decent 2000 Toyota Sienna minivan), revamped my approach to studying and realized: 1) the first year of law school really is as demanding as "they" say; 2) my daughter is a resilient child, but she still had a challenging time with the transition (at least initially) and needed me to be more fully present with her when we were together; and 3) there would be no time for blogging (even most of my Facebook and Twitter action were shares of other people's finds and insights).

So, as transitions go, my change from being The Boss of a university program to being a student (one of over 300 in my class), has been an exercise in humility and time management reform. But through it all, my experience of being a mother to a toddler-turned-preschooler has been my anchor and my inspiration, and - with her increasing verbosity - my accountability check. There's nothing quite like being chastised by a three year old who is using your own words and tone accurately, to reign you in (it's mostly when I drive, because Michigan drivers are ... "special").

Now it is summer, and I have survived the first year of law school (or at least I mostly have; we shall see if I totally have when the grades appear). I don't expect the rest of the journey to be easy (though I have enjoyed the downtime between the end of classes and the start of my urban agriculture practicum). But I do expect to be better situated to make time for journaling/blogging about this journey, and my myriad methods of starting over, building anew and making a stable home for my family.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The White House Urban Economic Forum in Detroit!

There is a logic to the madness of my desire to settle down and finally plant some asparagus in Detroit. I have more family in the area than I can count on all my or Little Missy's fingers and toes. I like the proximity to an international airport (as opposed to the two-hour drive I have now). Access to prime health care facilities for my daughter and I are important as I age, and she decides between skateboarding and martial arts. The urban agriculture community is mainstreamed and is increasingly embraced as a viable, necessary and equal partner in Detroit's reinvention. And it is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity.

It also still has its problems, as any city of over 600,000 people would, with the added challenge of having a poorly maintained infrastructure built to serve the needs of 2 million people. The crime rate varies dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood (downtown Detroit is safer than the national average, whereas parts of far East Detroit...are not). The public schools that are not charters continue to struggle and even some of the charter schools aren't doing much better. Unemployment and adult illiteracy are high. Public transportation is woefully inadequate. In some ways, it's like a postmodern Swamp of Sadness.

These issues are real. And I'm sure for the residents who have stuck things out, these issues are exhausting to deal with. But the city is more than these issues. The city is 600,000 people, more than 75% of which are employed, an even higher percentage are literate, and an even higher percentage are law-abiding people with hopes, goals, pluck and determination to make their city work.

And their efforts are working. Furthermore, they welcome new arrivals who respect their efforts and seek to join in the reinvention of the city. I've not met anyone yet who views me and my enthusiasm as the hallmarks of a carpetbagger. Maybe because they recognize the same thing in me that I see in them: I've been through some debilitating rough patches. In some ways, as I spy the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm still having to extract myself from the last few feet of muck and quicksand to pull through.

I don't embrace Detroit, or urban agriculture or law from a position of rose-tinted naivete. It comes from a place of hard won hope, in the sense of Ernest Callenbach's last thoughts before he died:

"Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. Hopeful test candidates score better. Hopeful builders construct better buildings. Hopeful parents produce secure and resilient children. In groups, an atmosphere of hope is essential to shared successful effort: “Yes, we can!” is not an empty slogan, but a mantra for people who intend to do something together -- whether it is rescuing victims of hurricanes, rebuilding flood-damaged buildings on higher ground, helping wounded people through first aid, or inventing new social structures (perhaps one in which only people are “persons,” not corporations). We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources. We cope, and faith in our coping capacity is perhaps our biggest resource of all."

The Urban Economic Forum in Detroit is one of the many hopeful signs, not just for Detroit, but for the United States as a whole. I am beyond eager to join the work there, and pursue my own dreams as a future urban farming, entrepreneurial lawyer. And no, I don't think that's biting off too much. There have always been people who were lawyer-ands. I look forward to joining their numbers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Preparing to become an even more frugal foodie

I cannot believe that we will be moving in less than three months!

The time has flown by, aided in part by some "issues" I am having with my ex.  But I have faith that all will be resolved favorably soon, and my Little Miss and I will be able to embark on this exciting adventure soon!

One of the things I have recognized, as I purge belongings (a process that has become so cathartic, I am seriously at risk of just walking away from all belongings...except for Little Missy's favorite toys of course...I'm not crazy): I need to start more accurately living within the budget we will have once we move.  Which means: I need to do a better job planning for healthy eating and living on our soon-to-be restricted budget.

Today, a Facebook friend told me about the Health on a Budget online conference, kicking off this weekend.  It's sponsored by the folks at Raw Foods on a Budget.  Because, fundamentally, my commitment to urban agriculture and legal reform was inspired by my health saga five years ago, this is something I can certainly get on board with and support.

I may even sign up for the year-long access to the conference archives, as soon as I sell more of my belongings, that is.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

To begin anew...

In these waning days of my first professional foray, I have had ample opportunity to explain my decision to move on, chase a dream, and hopefully, finally, pursue my passion.

I began this foray more than ten years ago, convinced that I wanted to be a university professor of English, when really, all I knew was that I did NOT want to teach middle and high school any more and I loved literature.  These last ten years were not, however, a waste.  They were my process of discovery and discernment, through which I made lifelong friends, had many fabulous and life-altering adventures, learned the power of failure and the regenerative force of love. 

But above all this, I finally found the courage to live my one life with passion and conviction.  

As I put to rest my eight year struggle with a dissertation that just... would... not... come... together, I came across two passages, one from Mizuta Masahide, a 17th century Samurai and the other, from Michel Foucault's The Use of Pleasure:
Barn's burnt down
I can see the moon.

As to those for whom to work hard, to begin and begin again, to attempt and be mistaken, to go back and rework everything from top to bottom, and still find reason to hesitate from one step to the next – as to those, in short, for whom to work in the midst of uncertainty and apprehension is tantamount to failure, all I can say is that clearly we are not from the same planet.
Letting go of my doctoral pursuit was traumatic.  But it was also an opportunity to recalibrate, reimagine, clarify and truly see not who I thought I was going to be, but who I am happy I've become.

I have had two lifelines in the last two years: my daughter and my garden.  While I have always been vested in social justice, becoming a mother has made me even more determined to insure that I am actively helping to create the world in which I want my daughter to grow and thrive.  I became even more obsessive about gardening and, as much as my schedule as a working single mother allowed, embraced the urban homesteading lifestyle.  That commitment introduced me to an incredible community of urban homesteaders, notwithstanding some self-important strivers who had convinced themselves that they were the founders of urban homesteading, and therefore had the right to trademark the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading".  Dorks.

In the last year, I have recognized an increasingly enthusiastic transformation in my professional and personal interests.  While I still love literature (reading it, rather than writing about it [or worse, grading writing about it]), and I still aspire to publish (memoir and fiction), I have become mildly obsessive about urban agriculture, urban sustainability and the role of the law in both.

So, with my current position vulnerable to the federal budget pissing match, my daughter being young enough to forgive me, and all of my non-school debt due to be paid off by next spring, I decided to do something radical.

I am going back to school.

I have already received a full tuition scholarship to one of my top law school choices, which is awesome, because I am absolutely debt-adverse given the state of the legal job market, my age and my goals: I aspire to be a legal advocate for urban agricultural activities in post-industrial cities like Detroit.  I don't anticipate getting rich, but look forward to making a living doing meaningful and variable work that I suspect I will enjoy.

And so, I begin anew.

It is scary.  It is exciting.  It is me.