Saturday, May 24, 2008

a cat in the present

Rain came in the night, dusting off the roses and the fir trees, refreshing the air, soaking the blankets of those who sleep outside, puddling along the rutted roads.

May rain refreshes my spirits, though I worry about those sleeping out, and though my own sleep has been restless and broken.

Pressures, inner and outer, seem to come all at once. Is it this way for everyone, I wonder, and then think--well, of course it is, and look, you don't have an earthquake to contend with, and the buildings are staying up, and there hasn't been a tornado recently up here.

So things are stable.

But one of the cats in my life is very ill. My daughter's red/orange cat, who for a time stayed as part of the bookstore crew, perched on the computer monitor, greeting customers, breaking for the door and the road whenever a customer came in. Meatwad (daughter is a fan of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force, what can I say) was low in energy last week, and my girl and her partner took the cat to the local vet. And over the weekend--after she called, fear in her voice, "he's breathing funny"--to an emergency hospital up north.

And now, here back at the bookstore, where I can watch over him pretty much constantly.

The diagnosis was pyrothorax. Pus building up in his chest, against the heart, against the lungs. The first x ray shows it, but the vet didn't notice. By the next day his lungs couldn't inflate.

So they tell us his chances are slim, and they tell us the treatments are very expensive. And yes, they are that--expensive. If the cat were old I'd have taken my dear daughter aside and said "well, maybe it is time". But this cat is young and a fighter and I raised a stubborn daughter, granting her my will, my sense of "you do not give up on what or whom you love. Not ever".

So we aren't giving up. "He could die any moment" says the vet today, after draining more from his chest. But he says, surprised, "his temperature is normal, and look, he's very active". And yes, he is.

So we insert the needles and hold the fluid, to keep him hydrated. And we offer food--all the treats, all the possible cat luxuries. And hour by hour, as he sits near me, I tell him stories.
He blinks his golden eyes.

I don't know if he's staying with us, though now and then I say "you know, after we pull you out of this you really have to live to be twenty or so".

I know that life doesn't make promises, not for the future. And my son Gabe has recently been musing on past, present, and future, coming up at last with his urgent message, which was--as he tugged at his father's sleeve to make certain he paid attention---"past, no. future, no. Only now. Only now."

Now, the red orange cat is curled in Sara's beautiful chair, by the brass library lamp MJ gave me, purring. The rain has stopped, but the air is soft. Now. Only now.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

And who is responsible?

Just tucking this in, in these busy days, until I have more time to write with more grace and detail. It's a letter sent to the local newspaper today. Of course here in my region I signed my usual name--which is not, dear friends, the one you know me by. A group of women from all the ends of my county have now met one another, and we are talking. And we are talking to lawyers and officials as well. But in the middle of our talks and our statement-recording and in the moments between D.'s constant pragmatic works of mercy (water, trips to the court, papers gotten and restored) I was thinking on the question of responsibility. No one here says they are. I had a revelation, and in this letter I tried to share it.

Dear Editor

When my friend took me to see his former home, he’d been out of jail a couple days.

I had heard from his girlfriend her story of the harsh awakening, the men with guns, and the threats of arrest for her as well, as he was cuffed and marched down the hill.

Not much remained now at the homesite.

My friend is the son of a veteran. Locally employeed, hardworking. Anyone would be proud of him.

Wasn’t much I could say there, looking out over the hillside, hearing the ravens call.

The day of the homesite raid I watched two young women who were walking on the side of the road at different times, one with her pups, one with a backpack. I watched the five or six police cars careen to a screeching halt, endangering the cars behind them. I watched the crowd of officers surround the small woman, take her photo, question her.

Later she’d tell me they said if they saw her again she’d be arrested.

I stood as the second woman, walking to her place of employment, was questioned by two officers, told if she was found sleeping outside, if she was found anywhere, she’d be arrested.

She asked questions. The officers had “no time for this”.

I asked questions—why, who, why now.

“You’ll have to step away, step back”.

I asked another question. The perhaps well meaning peace officer said, “This is none of your business”.

And I said, “Yes, it is.”

It is my business. Phoning many agencies, talking with the police in person and by phone, I have been told who they thought responsible.

Responsible for threats to the young kids with their dogs, traveling from SF to Portland for a folk fest.

Responsible for rousting people sleeping where they can, when they have no money and they can walk no longer.

Responsible for the little fawn and white puppy blasted with a spray of mace or pepperspray. “He came out of the bushes too fast”.

Responsible for promoting an atmosphere of “you aren’t welcome here”.

Who is responsible? Oh I’ve been told by “official sources” that it’s Public Health, Mental Health, CDF, the Chamber of Commerce, the State of California, the Board of Supervisiors, or, simply, “people” who are “fed up”. Agencies I have contacted, tracking down the sheriff reports, uniformly express shock and say things like “not us”.

So, obviously, none of the above are responsible.

Who is? I know. It’s me. I confess. And—you know, it’s you too. Because the final line was “it’s the community”.

And that’s me, and you, and your neighbor, and the nice young woman with the little puppy, and the kid down the road.

This stuff—what we are responsible for, what I am responsible for—it’s going to keep happening. The arrests, the hounding, the loss of property and the loss of civil liberties and the loss of our compassion, just as long as people with guns can claim “The Community wants this”.

Hatred, fear, misunderstanding.

I don’t want this, but as I said, I’m responsible. How about you?

In this life we are all transients. Life itself goes by in a flash of a moment. We are like dust whirled in the wind.

And we are all longing for home, our true home, our true community. That’s in love and justice, for everyone, even the least amongst us.

Sincerely, jarvenpa

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where we are at home

You just never know what the day will bring. Today the old veteran who uses my address to get his too small benefits and keep touch with official folks came in, wildeyed and frantic. "Have you heard? Do you know what they are doing?"

No, I said, tell me. And we stepped outside, near the beautiful roses so valiantly continuing to bloom along the parking lot.

"They grabbed my son. They are going to all the camps, all of them."

"They" were the cops, some other folks. Nine vehicles in all. Animal control. Forest service. Up into the camps, where they were telling people to get out, to get out or else.

I sat down to try to gather my thoughts. The son--a fine kid who works down the street, who has a nice girl friend--well, I'd see her later this day--he'd been arrested for trespassing. Leastways that's what they told the father.

And the day went on. Sean darted in, near tears. He's about the same age as the veteran's child, close to the age of my eldest son. Sean is a reader and a survivor. He works two jobs, volunteers long hours at local nonprofits, keeps to himself. Doesn't like being hemmed in.

"They rousted us at dawn" said Sean. "They took our photos, they said we'd better leave town, they said..." They said a lot of things. Officer Fulton said, according to Sean, "nah, you guys don't work--tell me something else. The shit is sure getting deep here". Sean was indignant "How dare he say we don't work? Just because we sleep out?"
Of those 4 young men 3 have steady work. They were rousted from under an overpass.

So I started taking notes, and I started making phone calls, but as I was calling I saw the white cop cars cruising down the street, and went out to see where they were going. They pulled over, and out came two officers to talk with Robin, who has lived here all her life, who works for many of the local shops. Yeah, Robin lives on the edge and sometimes rages at the sky, but when she is doing well she is doing really well. Robin, on a good day, will bring half of her sandwich over for me to eat, because "you don't take enough care of yourself, sometimes".
Robin remembers Gabe's birthday. Robin looks after the stray dogs.
Robin was being faced down by two burly officers who were telling her "if we see you tomorrow we'll arrest you".
And I stepped in. "Please, why are you doing this?"
"People are tired of the homeless" said the officer. "They want something done".
What people, I asked? Who?
And he said "back off, this is not your business"
And I said "But of course it is"
"Why would that be?"
"Because I am a member of this community, and Robin is a friend of mine". And I stepped next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"I don't need to argue with you" said the officer, whose mother I knew well. I was tempted to tell him his mother, dead many years, would not approve all this, but I held my tongue. We let the guys drive away in their shiny white car, with their promises of arrests and their self conscious anger.

I talked with Robin a while and went back to making phone calls. My partner called the local radio station and set Sean up with an interview. We called some meetings later this week. I talked with officials and more officials; I am fairly well known in my community and my views are also well known, for good or for ill.

The head of mental health services and I exchanged concerned messages; the head of my clinic and I exchanged concerned messages. I went out to talk with the veteran's daughter in law, who was trying to find out how long her partner would be held.

So--you might ask what of our shelter? It closed after six weeks. They were good weeks, in the heart of the hard weather, but...well, fragile reeds, tired volunteers. We did find permanent homes for several of the people, 6 found jobs, one found a way home to his mom. It was good. It wasn't enough. And now...the sweeps have come.

My clinic head reported, in confidence, that there were county wide attempts to stem the flow of transients through the region. Well, good luck with that, said I, it isn't going to happen. The bottom is falling out of the economy, and we have, always, an obligation to hospitality and to treat people with decent respect and compassion. With him I'm preaching to the choir--he wanted to be a priest once, as once I wanted to be a nun (ah, I was so stunned to be told that not being Catholic I couldn't. I cherished those black and white dresses)--and we can sling faith based arguments with the best of them. My partner, in the midst of all the phoning, ranting and witnessing, laughed "my god, it's like having Catherine of Siena facing down the political leaders of Florence".

I could use the power of saints, I could. Meanwhile--well, I'm going to stand up for the ones who need me. And I'm going to tell them, over and over, "Hey, I like you. You are good, you are important, you deserve to be treated well".

We're all home, you know. We're all family. As long as I have a bit of strength I'm going to keep insisting, pleading, standing.

And...I swear to you, hearts will be changed. We will have a community based on compassion. Love is where we really live, after all.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 10, 2008

an afternoon with William

It was in Edinburgh, I think, and in the autumn many years ago that my boyfriend of the time and I stumbled into a library after having a long conversation with a glowing-eyed young man who was part of the Children of God group. They were living communally, trying to trust to God and be pure. That morning, said the young man, whose brilliant blue eyes I found kind of seductive, God had provided bananas. Pounds and pounds of them, dropped off at the place the group was staying.

My boyfriend was fascinated--not because bananas in Scotland had innate interest to him, but because his area of research and expertise was peculiar cults believing that the end was nigh. He had more esoteric and acceptable terms for it, but I went with him to many an interview, many a gathering of spiritualists, many a revival, as part of the background to his research. Never mind that the group he was basing his thesis upon, and later his first book, had been active around the time of the French Revolution. He was always hoping to see sparks in the present. Or perhaps, to give him credit, he was simply interested in how minds sought the divine. I suppose we were in Edinburgh so that he could find some source material--I no longer remember. What I remember of that trip was the purple heather, the little bread and breakfast where the proprietor brought out pineapple cottage cheese for my breakfast, and strong, strong tea. And the brickwork, the Children of God, and the warm afternoon in the white library.

I hadn't thought of it much for years, but today I found in my art section at my shop a little pamphlet of watercolors by William Blake. Black and white illustrations. Earnest text.

And that brought it all back, that afternoon seated at a library table, the helpful young librarian (ah, he was pretty attractive too--what can I say, I've always had a weakness for the lovely people of the world) bringing out huge dusty folders. My friend was poring over letters and original documents in another room. I was sitting, staring at the dust motes in the air, talking with the librarian. "You are fond of poetry?" he asked, in reference to some mumbled statement of mine about my areas of love and exploration.

And he said...wait, wait just a moment.

And he brought out the watercolors, whose colors blasted open the daylight. Not under glass, not in locked cabinets, but there, put before my eyes, within reach of my hands, originals as painted by Blake in the previous century. Glowing, naked, amazing.

More than that, he left me alone with the paintings. He had something else to do.

As I say, I don't think about it much. But those moments with Blake count as some of the richest, and most privileged minutes spent in my life. I sat, and breathed, and extraordinary this was. So much innocence, so much trust.

And rainbows of light stirring from paintings of angels and heaven and hell.