Transcending Fear Itself: A Journey from the Personal to the Political

 “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR

 

When I was a young seminarian, I suffered from anorexia nervosa.  I learned to starve myself for sake of unnatural thinness.  And this was long before eating disorders became a contagion on campuses around the world.  I suppose you could say I was on the cutting edge of a deadly neurosis, a pioneer in taking things to extremes.

My absolutist-oriented anorexic mind was of the opinion that if you ate one cookie, it was like the Domino Theory of Vietnam:  “If Vietnam falls, so goes all of Southeast Asia!”  (We all know how well that worked out.)  Letting my guard down for even one cookie meant my whole world could fall into utter chaos, overrun by barbaric hoards.

Of course anorexia is not so much about food and thinness; it’s really about fear and control.  What did I fear?  I feared being fat, yes, but that was just the surface.  What I really feared was not being liked, not being loved, not being good enough—that deep, dark, basic human predicament that Brene Brown calls “shame.”  Only if I exercised rigid control over my food could I trick myself into feeling worthy—even special.  Starving myself gave me a false sense of superiority, a kind of self-righteousness characteristic of rigid people.

I felt imprisoned in a tiny cell.  Of course I wanted to be free—I could see happy people through the bars of my window—but I was too afraid to open the door and walk out into the wideness and sunshine.  What if I lost control?  Worse, what if I discovered that I was really just mediocre, nothing special?  Fear was starving me, body and soul.  And it affected everyone around me like an invisible poison infecting the air. 

When fear takes on a life of its own, it becomes contagious.  And when there is a contagion of fear, there is the danger of a full-blown famine of the collective soul.  You could say that anorexia is analogous to what’s happening in our own country and in the world today.  I see a form of social anorexia:  rigid ideologies, soul-shriveling theology, and thin-thinking Us vs. Them worldviews—all issuing from that dark place called “fear itself.” . . . 

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An Antidote to the Ugliness of Trumpism

“Beauty is a life saving plank in the midst of the ocean.” —St. Augustine, De Musica  

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” —RumiPicture

We live in ugly times.  That is, if you listen to the political rhetoric of the  2016 US presidential election.  Most particularly, I refer to that ugly cluster of racism, Islamophobia, misogamy, and xenophobia, i.e., the Trump campaign.  Like a medieval ball-and-chain flail with deadly spikes, this psychic weapon is whipped about carelessly by Donald Trump and his followers, threatening to rend the colorful and delicate tapestry that makes up our American culture—the creation of our ever-evolving sense of social justice stitched together through 240 years of blood, sweat, and tears.

Who can save us from this peril of ugliness?  What can repair the torn places in the fabric of our society and restore a sense of justice?  I want to propose that beauty itself can save us.  Beauty can heal our society.  Beauty is an antidote to the contagion of Trumpism.


 

But isn’t beauty—the whole realm of the aesthetic—just a tangential quality of life, one best left to poets and philosophers, hardly relevant to the real world?  And how can it save us from Donald Trump?  Isn’t that asking just a little too much?   Click here to read the entire post🙂

 

Cropping Out All Green at Sixty

I dreaded turning sixty.  I dreaded it so much that I tried out different responses to ward it off—like lipstick colors for the desperate:  red renunciation, violet veto, and ruby dark denial.  Nothing worked.  Sixty just kept on coming.  For months before my birthday, I imagined a fire-breathing dragon lurking around the corner, waiting to singe off my eyebrows at the entry way to the inexorable downhill slide into that last third of life—a descent accompanied by smirky demons bearing images of medicine bottles, hearing aids, cataracts, sagging skin, and embarrassing forgetfulness.

But then I had an epiphany.  A few days after I passed the dreaded threshold of 60 (eyebrows still intact), I walked along a summery tree-lined walking path in New Mexico—the cool shade blunting the full rays of the intense Southwestern sunshine.  Could these lovely old trees, I wondered, offer some comfort or advice for a newly baptized 6-0 human being?  After all, they were aged too, and they didn’t seem to mind. . . . .To read on click here  :-)

olive-trees-with-yellow-sky-and-sun-1889

Black Bean Brownies and Grace

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“I can resist everything but temptation.”
–Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

Like most people, I strive to be reasonably fit.  I walk religiously, eat my vegetables, and sometimes even do yoga. But I have a serious weakness, a secret yearning for what can only be called the dark side.

By dark, I am speaking literally, for I find that I can resist everything but chocolate.  In more youthful, disciplined days, I would nibble only on small pieces of severely dark chocolate so bitter that I felt rather saintly; but as I mellow with age, I find myself drawn back to the sweeter confections that I loved as child, before saintly self-denial set in.  I’m talking chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, gooey-filled chocolates, and that devil of darkness: fudge.  Oh, sweet chocolate, forbidden one, how I yearn for you!  I could write sonnets to your name, and I dream of stolen moments . . .

And then, one day, out of the blue, from some mysterious outpost on the internet, along comes a recipe for a relatively “healthy” chocolate brownie that tastes (surprisingly) delicious and can be eaten in broad daylight.

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Elegy for Ecuador

Devastating earthquake on Ecuador’s Coast, April 16, 2016.

 

food for El Matal 2

The Ecuadorian Navy sends helicopters filled with food, water and supplies to the fishing village of El-Matal  where I used to live.  Death toll is currently at 650 with 12, 500  injured and 130 still missing.

 

Elegy for Ecuador

 

After the quaking and breaking—

and that eternal silence, begging for

sounds of life, everything continues to sway.

Everything still trembles: hills, trees, children, animals,

even the sky.

 

Life teeters perilously inside the invisible parts, where

the devastation is just getting started.

A skinny dog spreads her black body over the rubble

that was her home, clinging stubbornly

to the spot:  a life raft on a treacherous sea.

She waits for humans who will never return.

A ceibo tree weeps in the distance.

 

The equatorial sun dips into the sea too soon,

too fast,

abandoning the beleaguered mass of humanity,

while the swash

claims intimate pieces of

once well-ordered lives—

now flotsam and jetsam, swept away.

The tide groans on into the night.

 

At first light, snowy egrets spread their angelic white wings

over rivers of sorrow, like angels from some other world.

In the still-quivering shrimp ponds below the hills,

the cows catch a reflection of something large,

a heap of darkness, a sound, a whirl.

 

A helicopter flies overhead, and then another,

filled with hope.

And between the ruptured

blue hills veiled in grief,

caravans of healing and solidarity overcome buckled roads

and falling rocks,

pushing toward the coast and its sorrowful tale.

 

Ecuador’s collective pain rouses the old ways of indigenous

resilience, a tacit sense of connection in which all are

brothers, sisters, cousins: family.

Even the earth and the trees:  family. 

Family, faith, and that ancient embrace of sumak kawsay

life at its fullest—

all rises to meet the devastation and death with

resilience and love.

 

This is Ecuador, the land of beauty and family

and irrepressible hope.

 

Ecuador lies in ruins, but

Ecuador can never, never be broken.

 

Patricia Adams Farmer lived on the coast of Ecuador (Bahia, El Matal-Jama, and Manta)  from 2011-2015.

The Two Most Dangerous Words

Fresco Sappho from Pompeii

 

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  We all know the folly of this childhood chant.  We know that words can hurt, divide, inflame, shame, and even bring about wars.  Dangerous words spill from the mouths of those who want attention, from those who feel threatened, and, these days, from politicians who seek to divide and conquer.

But According to Brené Brown, celebrated researcher on shame and vulnerability, the two most perilous words on the planet are not often spoken aloud.  They are our little secret.  But they cause a great deal of mischief in our lives and in the world. . . . Click here to read more🙂

Grief Takes a Road Trip

the-winding-road

My mother died.  Those three words are hard to write, let alone process.  For me, the finality of never hearing my mother’s voice again or having the chance to talk over old issues or discover something new about her childhood—are all swallowed up in a black hole of mystery that is beyond me now.  Game’s up.  No more chances.  It feels kind of brutal and unfair.

But she was elderly and ready to go and died peacefully in the night, the way we all wish to go.  So I did not anticipate any earth-shaking emotions.  How wrong I was!  A parent’s passing under any condition is never anything but earth-shaking. . . . Click here to read more🙂

Source: Grief Takes a Road Trip