G – Gratitude (PBP Week 13)

2011 was a really bad year for me.

I left the job from hell in March, literally for the sake of my sanity.  Our plans for an alternative income fell through, and I spent most of the year dirt poor.  Francis’ old army injury kept getting worse and worse until he could no longer work.  Our house was foreclosed upon.  My depression started spiraling out of control and, because I had so many good reasons to be sad, I didn’t realize what was happening until it had almost destroyed my relationship.

Worst of all, a very dear friend of mine passed over that August.

Yeah, 2011 sucked.

In spite of all that – or rather, directly because of all that – I learned a very important lesson that year.  I learned was gratitude is.

It’s not that I’d never been thankful for kindnesses bestowed on me.  I like to think I’ve always given credit where it was due and was not shy in sharing my appreciation.

But it wasn’t until I had been so thoroughly humbled and was completely vulnerable that I really understood.

When we had no money and I needed to see a doctor, we found a free clinic that operated out of a bus and visited our neighborhood once a week.  I made an appointment, and expected to spend the entire day there, waiting to get help.  In actuality, though there were dozens of people there, the whole operation was incredibly professional.  I was at most, fifteen minutes before seeing a doctor.  The doctor asked me questions and genuinely seemed interested in my answers.  After discussing options, I was given a free prescription and told I could come back if I needed a refill.  I felt that I had been treated with more respect and dignity than in many doctor’s offices that I had paid to visit.

These people provided this kind of service for those desperately in need every single day.

I was grateful.

The night Rena died, a volunteer pastor sat with us for hours while we waited for news from the doctor.  She sat with us and just talked.  Some of it was about Rena – how were we related, what was she like.  Most of it was just chatting to keep our minds off of our worries.  Not once, though we had told her our religion, did she attempt to proselytize or minimize our beliefs.  She talked to us as people of faith, giving our Gods the respect They are due.

When the doctor finally appeared and gave us the terrible news, she sat with us while we cried and, when it was time, gave us a packet of practical information detailing what we’d have to do next.  Then she left us alone with our grief, letting us know we could contact her any time we needed to talk.

I was so touched by this.  I thought it would be wonderful to be able to provide that kind of comfort to people in need, but I knew I would never have that kind of strength.

And I was so grateful that she did have that strength.  That she was there.

When my depression got out of control, I found I was able to visit a county outpatient facility and receive free counseling. When we were so badly off that we couldn’t afford groceries or medicine, several institutions provided help – the Vetran’s administration, the local food bank, county medical assistance, state food stamps.

The depth of gratitude I felt in all these instances, and in several others that year, was unlike anything I had known before.  Possibly because the depth of my need was unlike anything I’d known before. It wasn’t simple thankfulness – which is a wonderful thing in itself. Thankfulness, as I see it is a virtue of the mind.

This gratitude was pure emotion, almost primal. To risk sounding even sappier – it made my heart glow.

When my family was in danger, I found the strength to get us the help we needed.

And I’m grateful for that, too. Grateful to my Gods, because I know I wouldn’t have succeeded on my own. And grateful to Francis, who kept pushing me to find help for my illness.

That year has changed the way I live my life.

Now, when someone helps me though they’ve no good reason to, when something goes well, or I feel warm sunshine on my face, or see a smile in my sweetie’s eyes – I can call up that feeling of pure gratitude. I try to remember to be truly grateful to my Gods for the blessings of this life, and to the people around me who give so much of themselves. It isn’t always easy, I get so absorbed in my troubles that I can’t always see the big picture. But when I do, it makes me feel better.

Gratitude can bring a path to joy into the darkest times.

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Ares is a God I’ve been fascinated by for a long time, but have had no idea what to do about it, not being the warrior type. Lykeia at Beloved in Light recently wrote a wonderful post that sheds some light on Him, as well as asks important questions about why modern pagans tend to embrace some war Gods, and revile others.

Beloved in Light

First I want to say that I am by no means an expert in the cult and myth of Ares. Certainly there are folks, such as Pete Helms at Aspis of Ares, who are a bit more qualified due to their heavy dedication and studies, to talk about Ares more affluently. However, when I, as a feminist, see feminist literature that takes pot shots at my gods, well I have a problem with it. And so it is in that spirit that I wanted to discuss how feminists can appreciate Ares, and how he is not some evil maniacal patriarchal overlord god bent on destroying all life (my summarization of what a feminist article on Ares more or less said about Ares). The article I am giving commentary about can be found here.

The primary assertion of said article seems to have been that Mars is preferable to Ares…

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F – Facing the World As It Is (PBP Week 12)

The entire pagan community mourns this week for the death of a woman that most of us were unaware of until she was gone.  Yana was a Syrian pagan who was brutally murdered by rebels after her own brother revealed to them that she was not Muslim.  People all over the world, myself included, have been moved to tears by her terrible fate and some consider her a modern pagan martyr.

(Now comes the part where I piss people off.)

Something’s been bugging me.

I am horrified and grief stricken when I imagine what this poor woman went through.  But my heart also breaks for the thousands of other people dying horribly in the clusterfuck that is today’s Syria, and in many other places around the world.  People are being murdered in Syria because they are Christian, or Jewish, or not the right kind of Muslim.  Women are killed because they aren’t dressed properly, or dare to be in public without a proper male escort. Or for any other reason they don’t conform with someone’s particular interpretation of Islam.

Why does the fact that Yana shared a label with me (and not even a religion, paganism being what it is) make her more important that them?  Why is this what it takes to wake us up to the fact that people are dying over there?

We tend to empathize with others in direct proportion to how much they remind us of ourselves.  But is that really empathy?  Or some kind of reflected self-preservation instinct?

I don’t know.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  It’s a human thing.

I mourn for Yana.  I pray that her Gods look after her soul.

I am not saying that her death was unimportant.  I’m saying no one’s is.

If this horrible crime has awakened you to what is going on in the world, please use this knowledge well.  Do something with it.  Support Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross/Red Crescent or Amnesty International. Do whatever you can think of to make life a little better for those who aren’t as safe and privileged as you are.

 

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F – Feminine Mysteries and Fertility Worship (PBP Week 11)

photo: wikimedia commons

[Warning:  this post may be a little TMI for some people.  I’ve been trying to be a bit more open about all aspects of my life on this blog, and it occurs to me that this might come as a shock to some…]

I’ve never felt really connected to the feminine mysteries.

Intellectually, I object to people being categorized by their biology when it is only one aspect of our selves. Mainly though, I just never got what was so great about the things we were supposed to be celebrating. OK, yeah, the ability to bring forth life is a Big Deal.  Obviously.  And I’m sure many women find deep meaning in connecting to the cycles of the moon and the fertility of the earth.

It’s all in those pesky details.

Menstruation for me, at least after the first time which was very much a rite of passage, was usually a painful and often disgusting experience.  The fertility is symbolized was completely unwanted. I don’t do well with children.  I am, I think, a great aunt when the kids are tiny, and then again about the time they reach their teen years, but I’ve always known I am not mommy material.

In my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with large uterine cysts,  and I opted for a partial hysterectomy instead of the more dangerous, fertility preserving, cyst removal.  After that, I had the hormones, but no blood.  (And no cramps.  And no regular migraines.)  I completely lost track of my cycle.

So when I recently found myself lying in bed night after night feeling like I was still living in Phoenix and the air conditioning was on the fritz, it took me awhile to figure out that this is most likely due to night sweats and/or hot flashes.

Fertility, or lack there of, had suddenly imposed itself on my life again.

When I was working on my Dedicant Program for ADF, I had to write an essay on Fertility, one of their nine virtues.

I came to the conclusion at the time that, with over 7 billion people on the planet, the idea of literal human fertility as some kind of moral virtue is ridiculous.  In times and cultures where a large family meant survival it was a different story.  Today, in the West, the virtue lies in controlling one’s fertility – not in having a large family, but in nurturing the family that one has.  This can be expanded to taking care of the world around us.  Nurturing each other and the planet.

Of course, there is also creative fertility – a fertile imagination and the hands willing and capable to see those ideas through to fruition.  Even here, it is not simply the birth of ideas, but the willingness to see them to fruition that is a worthy thing.

In my mind it is this aspect of nurturing, of seeing things through rather than simply propagating, that makes any form of fertility a virtue, rather than mere biological fact or imagination run wild.

Nature and/or fertility based paths that focus in this direction tend to be much more inclusive.  Those that are purely biologically based tend to alienate a large number of people who, like myself, just don’t fit into their simple binary categories.  The union of opposites is a beautiful idea, but in practice it always seems to be imposing a black and white framework on  a grey – no, technicolor – world.

What a Difference a Week Makes! Also, Doggies!!!

In a recent post, artfully titled “Bleh” I wrote that life is basically a big poo sandwich at the moment, and I was surprised to find that I still had faith that something good was just around the corner.

An update:

I start my new job at 9 AM tomorrow.

A veteran’s resource group may be able to help us with about $800 towards our back rent.  (Or they may not – it’s up in the air due to some question about income requirements.  We should know tomorrow.)

Our land lord is willing to take payments on the past due rent.  With the $800, this is totally doable (though it will be tight, especially on 1 April since I won’t have had a chance to save up a whole month’s worth of paychecks yet.)  Without the $800 it enters the realm of fantasy.  But, said landlord apparently “likes us” and is willing to let us move into a more affordable property if we show them we can pay for it.  (Worst case scenario.  I SO do not want to hall all that crap down from the attic that I just finally moved up there.  But in the case of back-breaking labor vs living in a cardboard box with an eviction on our records?  Back-breaking labor wins hands down.)

I took these photos on 6 March 2010 at the cer...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In other news, I’ve spent the last ten days excitedly following the Iditarod.  I hadn’t thought about it much since our honeymoon (where we visited Anchorage and saw the ceremonial start) – so much has happened in the intervening year.

But when I realized it was the first Saturday in March again, I found myself getting all obsessive.  They even have a Fantasy Iditarod League.  (Like Fantasy Football, only with dogs.)  My team is currently ranked about 235 out of 400+.  But I’m very proud of the fact that one of “my” mushers it in the running for Red Lantern.

Apparently I am capable of getting caught up in a sport – it just needs to involve puppies.

Aliy Zirkle's dog team is primed and ready to go

Aliy Zirkle’s dog team is primed and ready to go (Photo credit: Alaskan Dude)

Also,  I have to confess to spending the bulk of the morning joking that the new Pope named himself after my husband.  Or worse.  (“I didn’t even know you were Catholic dear.  Do I have to kiss your ring now?”)  Personally, I was still pulling for “George Ringo II” (since the most recent Pope didn’t do justice to the name.)  But Francis I is all kinds of awesome.  At least at our house.

 

(3/22/13 – Edited to add:  I feel the need to clarify, the NAME “Francis I” is all kinds of awesome.  The Pope?  I was hopeful since he is a Jesuit.  And I really admire his stance on the poor.  However, his recent comments regarding homosexuality are disgusting.  In other words – I’m not optimistic.)