Sunday, November 11, 2018

#PoetryBreak: A Nation's Strength

My dad on a bike during WWII. He was stationed in England,

A Nation's Strength

                  by Walt Whitman

Not gold, but only man can make
     A people great and strong;
Men who, for truth and honor's sake,
     Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
     Who dare while others fly --
They build a nation's pillars deep
     And lift them to the sky.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Rose, Shabbat, and the Rabbi

Dust of Snow (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

The first time the rabbi came, Rob was in intensive care. It was a Friday evening and the rabbi slid open the door to the room and greeted Rob. He had brought with him two electric candles (oxygen was being pumped into Rob), grape juice, and challah to celebrate Shabbat with Rob. I excused myself and returned a bit later to thank the rabbi.  My husband would live just 6 weeks more and for the next three Friday’s he spent in the hospital always in a different room, the same rabbi, sometimes accompanied by his wife, sometimes with his sons, came to celebrate Shabbat with Rob. On what would be his last visit as Rob was in palliative care and would be coming home to die, the rabbi gave me his email and asked that I contact him to let him know about Rob. We will keep him and you in prayer, he told me.

The visits from the rabbi and celebrating Shabbat each Friday night brought Rob peace—peace that wrapped around him when he was home and no longer could hold on to days, or places, or names. During those last days of his life, Rob would now and then tell me about all the fanciful things he was seeing as he edged from this life to the next.

When I heard about the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I thought about the rabbi who spent Friday nights with Rob celebrating Shabbat and how he brought both faith and kindness during each visit.  Ceremonies, especially ones tied to faith, connect or reconnect us to something larger than ourselves. In many ways that is the definition of grace—that reconnection to other.

One of the murdered, Rose Mallinger, was a Holocaust survivor. Each of the eleven murdered have families whose grief will rise after the awful shock that something heinous happened lessens. I’d like to think that connections among us remain even when our bodies are no longer present. As I wrote this I had a powerful feeling that Rob was there in heaven to welcome Rose and the others.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Reading George Yancy's Backlash: How To Be a White Anti-Racist Racist

Image result for backlash yancy
Dr. Yancy
The book group I belong to read Dr. George Yancy's Backlash: What Happens When we Talk Honestly about Racism in America this past month--an important book about the challenges and needs for white people in America to understand that their whiteness overtly and covertly privileges them as it undermines African-Americans and other people of color. The book, Yancy says is intended as a gift.  I found it to be a tough, yet necessary, gift to receive. 

Yancy articulates clearly, to be white is to be racist.  To accept that definition of self is to accept the gift Yancy offers.  He states:

"Imagine the impact that the acceptance of this gift might have on you, white reader, and the world; imagine Anderson Cooper telling the world that, 'I, too, am racist. And while not part of the KKK, I, too, perpetuate white supremacy because I benefit from a white racist systemic structure to which I’m embedded and in terms of which Black people and people of color suffer.' That is the scary work to be done. That is what Dear White America asked of white readers" (p. 13). 
Yancy gift is to help us be (other)wise.

There are nine women in my book group and the majority of us have been meeting monthly to discuss books for the last 19 months. Last night, all of us were present, save one member. We represent multiple races and religions and we cross several decades in age. The majority of us are white, including me. All of us, save one, would describe ourselves as liberal or progressive.

Yancy asks, "How does one speak truth when what you have to say is in some sense not even hearable"(p.7)?  This question feels pivotal. Juergen Habermas in his communication theory said that hegemony prevails when there is no metalanguage.  How do we begin to understand without a metalanguage that allows us to see and critique our own privilege and the cost of that privilege?  I best learn in relationship to other.  For me, my Korean child, Devon has helped me to better understand the privilege I wield simply because I am perceived and known as white. It is one thing to understand matters of race and racism intellectually and it is quite another matter to grasp how my own racial privilege causes other people, such as my son, both pain and harm. 

Matters of race, since Devon, have been highly personal. At six-years-of age--the first year Devon went to public school he returned home in early September when the weather was still summer-warm and asked for his red winter coat.
"Why do you want that?" I asked.
"I'm going to wear it on the bus and zip it way up so that the big boys stop calling me, Chink."
In the space of a few days on an ordinary school bus in the North East of the United States, my son had learned that he needed to disappear, to literally hide his face in an attempt to quiet those mean white boys.

One of the myths in America is that we are less racist in the New York City area. I learned this was not true each and every year Devon spent at school. I shared the story of the red coat with the other white moms who walked their children to the bus stop as I did each morning. They had no experience to hear what I was saying. Their whiteness dismissed the story of the red coat immediately. Their whiteness said, 'boys will be boys. Teasing is normal.' They offered up stories that were not parallel, yet they thought them to be. Finally, one said in an attempt to unruffle the feathers I had ruffled for we were all white and connected, "but he's so light-skinned. It's like he's almost white."

That's a small glimpse of the America Yancy is writing about. Yancy might describe the reactions of my white neighbors as being sutured. Specifically he defines this as "the process whereby white people engage in forms of closure, forms of protection from various challenges to the ways in which whiteness is seen as the norm, its unremarkable everydayness, its value assumptions, and the many ways in which it’s guilty about producing distorted knowledge about itself...Moreover, to be sutured within the context of white identity is indicative of 'the narrative authority' of the white self that seals itself off from 'otherness'" (p. 105). 

When I confront my own normative behavior my first reaction is often to deny what I am seeing, hearing. I think, "It couldn't be that..." Being sutured--parsing together protective language so that I do not need to confront my own racist ideologies is what keeps whiteness as the norm. 

I work daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, to name and respond to the white privilege that informs my perspectives, beliefs, and actions. For example, I am learning patience. My son and I were in Europe a few years ago and he said to me quite angrily, "I'm so embarrassed by you. You're so impatient with people.You spoke to the waitress as if she wouldn't understand you, as if she was a child."

My whiteness has taught me to expect to go first, to be immediately understood, to expect to not be kept waiting. These beliefs are of course irrational and yet I have been frontlined in so many ways throughout my life that being first and privileged feels normal. Being better than others feels normal and those not speaking English I understood as being inferior (by the way the waitress more than likely spoke several languages as opposed to my one language). Now, when I grow impatient and my sense of self is aggrandized, I halt so that I might better recognize the underlying narrative I have been telling myself and I stop it. I recognize that my going first, my assumed superiority has always meant that someone else would need to wait, be assumed to be known and in doing all of this, be harmed by me. 

No more.

I felt such shame when Devon confronted me. At first I was just surprised. Then I concocted a number of sutured stories to rewrite the narrative so that he would be merely mistaken. None of this sat well.  Lessons I also learned as a child, alongside my whiteness, left me uncomfortable.  And so, then I got quiet and began the process of owning and then changing my behavior. 

I think this work of being a white anti-racist racist requires time to dwell in self awareness and hear the narratives I tell myself so that I might better unearth the inherent racism in those narratives. How do I do this? How do I un-suture the normative sense of a white self I have? Engagement with other helps me to hear these sutured narratives better.  Books like Yancy's allow me to have a secondary discourse to use as I interrogate my own assumptions and false-truths. 

Some un-suturing I have been doing includes: 

  1. My whiteness does not mean I am a soothsayer. I don't know the bigness of you.
  2. My whiteness distorts my understanding of you. The stories about you I have learned are always incomplete, are often wrong, and are told sometimes to falsely protect me from my own incompleteness. 
  3. My whiteness does not give me permission to impose my will on anyone. 
  4. My whiteness leaves me partially blind. What is it that I am not seeing?
  5. My whiteness leaves me without an adequate language to hear the lies I retell myself. What language from you might I borrow?
  6. My whiteness leaves me impatient.
  7. My whiteness affords me privileges I can no longer bear as I know each privilege afforded to me harms, maims, and cuts you.
  8. My whiteness does not allow me to be quiet in the face of overt and subtle racism from other white people. To be quiet is not being polite even though it feels that way. It is being complicit.
  9. My whiteness does not make me exceptional, regardless of what I have learned.
  10. My whiteness comes with assumptions that are often false, especially about other.
  11. My whiteness (in)forms the stories I tell myself as truths. These are stories. Not truths.
  12. My whiteness often keeps me from feeling.
  13. My whiteness often keeps me from wonder.
  14. My whiteness and the narratives that accompany being white need to be troubled, un-sutured, exposed.

To become (other)wise is a way of being in the world. I seek to live in the middle of things and not rely on prescribed beginnings and endings to tidy the messiness of this lived life. Some longings that have emerged as I un-suture my whiteness include:

  1. I long to be honest.
  2. I long to be whole.
  3. I long to know wonder.
  4. I long to love and be loved.
  5. I long to be graced by other, (in)formed by other.
  6. I long to break through the narratives of whiteness and merely be. 
  7. I long to be humble.
  8. I long to not know and unknow.
  9. I long to be vulnerable.
  10. I long to be (other)wise.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Chicken Breasts with Apple and Onion Sauce

Chicken with Apple and Onion Sauce

  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sweet apples I used Honey Crisp, peeled and cubed
  • 1 medium Vidalia onion sliced
  • 1 cup chicken bone broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 gloves garlic
  • 1 Rosemary Sprig leaves chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add chicken breast, brown on each size about 3-5 minutes per side.
  3. Remove chicken and keep warm.
  4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to your skillet.
  5. Add garlic and onion cooking for 2-3 minutes until onion begins to soften.
  6. Add in diced apples and lemon juice, cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
  7. Pour bone broth into skillet.
  8. Add chicken back into skillet.
  9. Bring to a boil.
  10. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until chicken in cooked through. 

    Adapted from a recipe found here:

Monday, September 3, 2018

This is How You Heal

Arriving (M.A. Reilly, Over the Atlantic Years Ago)

In the year after his death, broken from its moorings, my body no longer felt like mine.  Adrift, I felt legless. Yes, I lifted an arm to take down the tea cup. I pressed an arm against the doorway. I moved in the world with a mindlessness that kept the separate, broken parts of me together.  The limbs I once knew for 56 years propelled me into the world where I least wanted to go and where I was most desperate to escape to.

Sorrow weighs and now I see it is more anchor than burden.


Three years have passed and sorrow lifts like the first rays of morning sunlight across the sea. I am home in this body again, different than I was before. But aren't we all moving to stay whole?  Isn't that the impetus in life?

Here's a truth to hold close in those early days when you most want to distance yourself from the pain of loss. Sorrow does lift and you lift it with the grace of something you could not know before.

#PoetryBreak:The Sky Over My Mother’s House/El cielo encima de la casa de mi madre

M.A. Reilly, 2016

The  Sky  Over  My  Mother’s  House

by Jaime Manrique

translated by Edith Grossman 

It is a July night
scented with gardenias.
The moon and stars shine
hiding the essence of the night.
As darkness fell
—with its deepening onyx shadows
and the golden brilliance of the stars—
my mother put the garden, her house, the kitchen, in order.
Now, as she sleeps,
I walk in her garden
immersed in the solitude of the moment.
I have forgotten the names
of many trees and flowers
and there used to be more pines
where orange trees flower now.
Tonight I think of all the skies
I have pondered and once loved.
Tonight the shadows around
the house are kind.
The sky is a camera obscura
projecting blurred images.
In my mother’s house
the twinkling stars
pierce me with nostalgia,
and each thread in the net that surrounds this world
is a wound that will not heal.


El cielo encima de la casa de mi madre

Es una noche de julio
perfumada de gardenias.
La luna y las estrellas brillan
sin revelar la esencia de la noche.
A través del anochecer
—con sus gradaciones cada vez más intensas de ónix,
y el resplandor dorado de los astros, de las sombras—
mi madre ha ido ordenando su casa, el jardín, la cocina.
Ahora, mientras ella duerme,
yo camino en su jardín,
inmerso en la soledad de esta hora.
Se me escapan los nombres
de muchos árboles y flores,
y había más pinos antes
donde los naranjos florecen ahora.
Esta noche pienso en todos los cielos
que he contemplado y que alguna vez amé.
Esta noche las sombras
alrededor de la casa son benignas.
El cielo es una cámara oscura
que proyecta imágenes borrosas.
En la casa de mi madre
los destellos de los astros
me perforan con nostalgia,
y cada hilo de la red que circunvala este universo
es una herida que no sana

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

#PoetryBreak: Crossings by Linda Hogan

Caribbean (Reilly, 2018)

By Linda Hogan
There is a place at the center of earth
where one ocean dissolves inside the other
in a black and holy love;
It’s why the whales of one sea
know songs of the other,
why one thing becomes something else
and sand falls down the hourglass
into another time.
Once I saw a fetal whale
on a black of shining ice.
Not yet whale, it still wore the shadow
of a human face, and fingers that had grown before the taking
back and turning into fin.
It was a child from the curving world of water turned square,
cold, small.
Sometimes the longing in me
comes from when I remember
the terrain of crossed beginnings
when whales lived on land
and we stepped out of water
to enter our lives in air.
Sometimes it’s from the spilled cup of a child
who passed through all the elements
into the human fold,
but when I turned him over
I saw that he did not want to live
in air.  He’d barely lost
the trace of gill slits
and already he was a member of the clan of crossings.
Like tides of water,
he wanted to turn back.
I spoke across elements
as he was leaving
and told him, Go.
I was like the wild horses
that night when fog lifted.
They were swimming across the river.
Dark was that water,
darker still the horses,
and then they were gone.
From The Book of Medicines by Linda Hogan (Coffee House Press, 1993)