Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Recognizing Darkness

I have come to realize that there are times in our lives when we do not realize that we are walking in the dark. My daughter is going through such a time in her life. I can see the darkness; I can see the pitfalls – but she is as blind as she can be. In fact, she thinks that the sun is shining.

I cannot understand why she has made recent decisions, so I decided to look at my own life to see if I could find any similar patterns. I have, sadly, realized that there was also a time when I was walking in the dark and was totally unaware.

When I was young, life at home was not pleasant. No details, but it was an abusive environment. I left; decided that I didn’t want to go home at the end of my shift one night and…didn’t. I went to a friend’s apartment feeling certain they would allow me to stay. They turned me down. I was shocked. I called someone I worked with and they told me they knew where I could stay. They put me up at a hotel for the night and the next morning they took me to the apartment of a woman who needed someone to baby sit her kids while she was at work. The baby-sitting paid my room and board and I got a part-time job at night for “spending money.” I was in the company of people I barely knew, with no contact with family or long-time friends, and the guy who introduced me to this woman wanted more than friendship. But I didn’t see a problem in the world. Not one. I was happy without knowing why; I enjoyed baby-sitting the kids and I met a lot of new people.

All “good” things come to an end…the guy who wanted more than friendship, was married. The kids were in an abusive situation with their mother. Before I came along, they were terribly neglected, as well. When one of the men she brought home with her attempted to make it with the nine-year old daughter, too, I turned them all in, forfeiting my place to stay. I was scrambling for someplace to call home once again.

Why couldn’t I see this coming? How could I be so stupid as to trust people that I didn’t know? What was I thinking? Yes, I was in my own “bad situation” at home, but I had options other than to put myself out into the world – in the dark – trusting my safety to a whim. Why did this particular option seem the most reasonable? And why couldn’t I see that I was walking in the dark?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Running Blind

Yesterday my oldest daughter informed me that she had moved out-of-state because the past two states in which she had lived were “just not for me.” She has moved, with four individuals whom she barely knows, almost 400 miles away from home. She has no transportation, no job, no money and no phone. She called me on the house owner’s land line to tell me what she had done and to give me a phone number where she could be reached. Along with her, she has moved her two black labs. I reflect on her words and her actions and I must admit that I am puzzled.

I cannot say that I was the perfect daughter. I had my wild streak and I definitely had – and still do – a sense of rebellion that runs deep within me. But when I “ran,” I had a reason for running or a goal I was running towards. My daughter will run “away” because she decides she doesn’t like her locale or because one person has wronged her; she states she will “eventually make her way” to a town where she aspires to attend a well-known cooking school. But she is starting off this journey at the mercy of strangers and without any provisions. This, I cannot understand. This disturbs a mother’s heart…

When she first moved away from home, I gave her a heart-shaped stone – tiger’s eye – and told her that whenever she was lonely she could take it out and know that she carried a piece of my heart with her. Oh, but I wish I had a similar talisman, for it is I that misses her most.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beauty vs. "Ugliness" in The South

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I was born and raised in the Southern U.S. To be more specific, I was born and raised in Southeastern U.S., in the land of plantations and iced tea, steeped in a history of slavery and irrational political decisions and stirred vigorously with the sword of religion and the wand of a variety of magical pathways. It is the Deep South – a land of intense beauty and even more intense ugliness. On a daily basis I find myself struggling to find a rational balance between the two. Often I would like to ignore them both and pretend I live where everything makes sense, but I cannot do this. As I struggle to create a balance within my life and the area in which I live, I often find myself in conflict. How can I admire the beauty of the thick-limbed magnolia with its brilliant, heady flowers that cannot stand the touch of one finger, knowing that trees of its kind were used to hang those who committed no transgression other than to be born with the “wrong” color of skin? The words of Billy Holliday echo in my head – that “strange fruit” swinging from the trees. I ache at the injustice that has been committed here – that is still committed here.

Yet there is great beauty here. From the coast to the mountains, the swamps to the plains, there is wondrous beauty all around us. There is more than natural beauty that exists here, for despite the prejudice that often raises it’s ugly, hate-ridden head, there is also the product of those who fight against the hate and often win.

After attending a lecture on black Southern authors at one of the university’s here, I was struggling with the concept of how they were forced to write in order for anyone (any white one) to take their work seriously. As I was tumbling these thoughts around in my head, weighing the pros and cons of writing for an audience rather than writing for self, I pulled up to a stop light and glanced in my rear view mirror. There I saw an old model, red mini-van with a vanity plate of a confederate flag. I changed lanes after pulling way from the light and the driver of the mini-van pulled up beside me. She was a young black woman, dressed in an African print turban and dress. She had a beautiful smile on her face and she waved brightly at me from her window. I waved back and found myself questioning if I had seen the vanity plate on the front of her vehicle correctly. She turned down one block and I turned down the next. Oddly enough, she wound up behind me in traffic a couple of blocks further into town. I had not seen wrong – the vanity plate was definitely that of a confederate flag.

Here was this beautiful, young black woman, dressed in bright African prints, with a wonderful smile, driving a minivan sporting a confederate flag. I could not make any sense of it. Yet she was obviously at peace. Whether she had to borrow the car because she own broke down or she owned the car herself, she had no qualms about driving around with a symbol that is deeply offensive to many on her front bumper. She was living her life, doing what needed to be done, and she refused to allow the ugliness of a particular symbol color her world.

I know nothing about this young woman. However, I do know that if she could reconcile her existence and the claiming of her heritage with a symbol that inspires hatred, anger and social unease, then there is no reason why I cannot find a way to achieve a balance between the beauty and the ugliness of the South. Until then, I will make a point of using my own smile – in remembrance of hers – to make my day, and possibly the day of others, a little easier. Until there is peace…

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Goddess: Kali

Kali, Kali Ma, Black Kali, the Black Mother, regardless of what she is called, Kali brings with her the presence of foreboding. Sometimes depicted with a belt from which hangs many skulls; sometimes shown with little skeleton children peeping from beneath the folds of her skirts, Kali has a strong connection with death and wild vengeance, which earns her a place with the Dark Goddesses.

In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vampiress Mina Harker and Quartermain stumble across Captain Nemo as he is paying tribute to the Goddess Kali. Harker states to Quartermain, “Can we trust someone who worships the Goddess of Death?” A strange comment from someone who lives off the life-blood of others, sometimes bringing death in the process.

Stranger still is the paradox of Kali. She is a bringer of death, fierce in battle, who grows drunk on the blood of the slain, enjoying the kill and rejoicing in its aftermath. Yet she is the eternal mother, ever-caring for her children, filled with love for them. They are the only influence that quells her blood thirst. This devotion to her children inspires fierce love from them, as well.

Blood is natural image when speaking of Kali. Both her blood-thirstiness in battle and the use of blood in ancient ceremonies honoring her lead to the conclusion that Kali is a goddess full of wrath and a joy for blood-letting. However, blood is both symbolic of death and of life. It is the life force of all beings. It is present in both death and birth. Without blood, life is not possible.

And thus it is that Kali does not straddle the line between life and death, but walks it with grace, artistry and near-perfect balance. To me, she is a prime example of the balance between light and dark that is so necessary in life. She dances along the tightwire between life and death, her children holding tightly to her skirt-tail, with a smile on her face, blood on her hands, and both love and vengeance carried deep within her heart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Darkness: Friend or Foe?

Darkness is not necessarily the absence of light. We consider the night to be dark; however, most often it is not. The moon and stars provide light during the night and a full moon can provide sufficient light for wonderful night-time walks. Truthfully, few of us experience total darkness on a regular basis. Our world is full of light sources, and subsequently, light.

On my way to work this morning, fog from the nearby river filled the sky, blocking the sun. I knew that the sun would eventually burn off the fog and illuminate the day to its full brightness. However, for the moment, I was enjoying that subtle light - almost a gray light - that filled my vision. This light was cool, moist, and comforting. It was quiet and soft. There was no harshness. My eyes were comfortable and as I drove into town with my windows down, the air was refreshing. I knew that later in the day the heat from the glorious sun would make the air almost stifling, so enjoying this moment was critical to my day.

I must admit that in earlier days I was a sun-worshipper. The perfect Saturday was spent sprawled on a rock next to the river, soaking up the sun's warmth and its rays. I would fall asleep, only to awake with limbs feeling heavy with the heat of the sun and my body and mind totally relaxed. The most logical action at that point was to jump into the cooler waters of the river and shock my mind and body to its full alertness.

Today, while I still love the sun, I prefer it is diminished doses and I often seek the shadows. I want to be kissed by the sun, but I want to be caressed by the early morning and late evening rays that are not at their fullest potential. I will throw myself fully into the night, where the light is less intense and does not generate so much heat. I love to traipse along under the stars, with the moon guiding my footsteps, and have found life to be quite exciting, in both the city and the forest, with the moon as my guide.

The "dark" is as much my friend as the "light." I often wonder why so many fear it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dark Days for Real Estate

Sometimes “darkness” forces us into situations we would not attempt without its prompt. For the past nine months, I have been struggling to hold on to my house. I have fought against foreclosure, jumped through hoops to please the mortgage company as they presented work-out options, complied with a forbearance agreement, and now they have offered me a potential “settlement” that will put me back in good standing with them regarding my mortgage loan.

I had to put up a $3,000 “contribution” just for them to consider other options besides foreclosure. I had to borrow this from family, as the facts are that if I had $3,000 I would not have been behind on my mortgage payments. Then I had to call three times a week to convince someone to even look at the possibility of a loan modification. I went to court, where a sale date for my house was set. It was literally three days before that sale date when the adjuster notified me and the court that they were suspending the sale of the house to work on a loan modification. Then they issued a forbearance agreement which stated in paragraph one that the payments indicated in the agreement were the same or less my regular payments. The payments were, in actuality, $190 more than my regular payments. I scraped and scrimped and managed to pay the first three payments. The final payment asked for the total of arrearages, plus late fees, plus lawyer’s fees, plus court fees, plus filing fees – totally almost $11,000. I was told to default on that payment and that would trigger the adjuster to look at my file and consider adding this amount back to the principal and renegotiating the loan.

I called the adjuster to give him an income statement. We talked and he assured me that a loan modification should be approved and that my new mortgage payment would be “about” $25 more than my previous payment.

I received the loan modification today! Part of me wants to laugh; part of me wants to cry; part of me wants to curse. They want an additional $1,000 “contribution” payment immediately. Then they want new payments beginning August 1 that are $110 more than my old mortgage payments. Instead of adding length to my mortgage agreement, they have increased the payment amounts and have it ending on the same date, July 2030.

The truly sad part is that the mortgage company really does not want my house. The real estate market where I live is in terrible shape. Houses simply are not selling here. Additionally, my house was built in 1963 and needs extensive repairs and upgrades. They would have to put a significant amount of money into the house just to sell it!

Yet, with this deal, I cannot keep it, either. So, I am being pushed to move. I have begun looking at rentals that are closer to my work (save money on gas!), allow pets, and that have rental payments in my budget. I am starting to believe that this is what I am supposed to do – move. Perhaps for some time now I have been supposed to move and this is the only way to rock me off my foundation and force me to do so. As I consider my options, I will continue to look for the lesson to be learned or the peace to be gleaned from this particular style of “darkness.”