Spoons, and the songs that tell painful true stories

I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday.  We were talking about how each of us is doing, how we’re holding together through a rough patch, and we rounded to the topic of spoons per the Spoon Theory.  It’s an analogy coined by Christine Miserandino, if you don’t know it, and it helps illustrate the effort that it takes to get through the day with limited energy or health or pain tolerance or illness.  Healthy, fully-able-bodied people don’t have to count their spoons because they don’t have to think about the energy expenditures of “everyday” activities. But for those with a chronic illness, or mental illness, or an autoimmune disorder, or a disability, even tasks that might be described as “normal” simply aren’t.

I’ve been close to running out of spoons a lot lately as this downswing chews up my energy and ability to cope.  Half the world feels like it’s uphill, or at the top of a flight of stairs, and while I *can* make the climb, it takes something out of me to do it, something I don’t get back easily or quickly.

This literally was my situation this weekend at a choir concert where we had to go up and down several flights of metal stairs and my knee chose not to work without pain and a brace.

But the concert required me to give up spoons in more important ways, too.

It was a collaboration between the TCWC and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.  The concert was called “Rise Up!” and was a call to action for social justice. It was fun to be invited, of course, and to share the stage with the ever-outstanding TCGMC.  It gave us a chance to sing a few songs we’ll be performing in May, to really work towards something early in the season.

But, most importantly, the concert MATTERED.

This wasn’t a concert for singing “Kumbaya” and telling child-friendly versions of the world we hope to live in someday.  This wasn’t a night of celebrating our shared humanity and looking into that potential with optimism and hope.

This was, in many ways, a brutal reckoning of the world as it exists today.  And I choose the word “brutal” very deliberately.

We did sing songs about rising up together, about the brave people in whose footsteps we walk, about speaking out for those in need.

But we also sang songs about rape and about murder.

The TCWC will be performing “Quiet” by MILCK in May — it’s a powerful piece that was written to be performed at the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017 and relates to the silence around sexual harassment and sexual assault, domestic violence, and even depression.  You can find it here.

After two months of practice, I could mostly sing the song with strength and defiance and not feel the biting of my own ways of identifying with it.  I was prepared for that much.

I wasn’t truly prepared for “Til It Happens To You” and the heart-breaking story that accompanied it as told by by a strong, brave man willing to share his rape experience with a room of a thousand strangers.

And on the heels of that, I was even less ready for “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”

I wish I could tell you that you don’t really have to listen to them, that you can accept that these songs exist without needing to engrave them on your heart.  I wish I could tell you that our world is a better place than this, that the pain of people who are suffering, who are being hurt, who are being killed — I wish it was the exception.

If I’ve ever hated anything in my life, I hate that this is the norm.

I hate that this is what our world is, hate that I can’t say it’s a new thing, hate that I can’t pretend I didn’t know it was this bad.  I did know. I’ve seen it everywhere, from the day my eyes opened. Even if I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was there.

I hate that in this world where we are capable of so much beauty, so much art, so much love and kindness and wonder and wisdom, that we are just as culpable of such harm and hate and evil.

And I hate that it cost me spoons to be a part of that concert, to stand and sing those songs, to hear them sung, to know their painful, inhumane truth — when all I had to endure was singing.  If it cost me spoons to be a part of a call to action, what does it cost those for whom the action is most necessary just to live?

It isn’t my fault that I’m a white cis-woman.  That I don’t have to live under the same kinds of fears of people of color, or people who are trans.  It isn’t my fault that I am able-bodied and I don’t have to live in a world that constantly mistreats disabilities.  It’s also not my fault that I am a woman who married a woman — and sometimes we both have to live in a world which can be frightfully cruel and punishing just for that fact.

We are all exactly what we are, and we all have our own challenges.  I remind people (and myself) sometimes that pain is relative. For example, I’ve never broken an arm, so if I did, I imagine that would be the worst pain in my life.  But someone who has been shot, or stabbed, might think that a broken arm is nothing in comparison. And they’re right. Every person only knows as much pain — or as much joy — as they’ve ever experienced.  And you can’t compare my pain to yours, only show empathy and respect for both.

But I know, as a woman married to a woman I actually do know, that the pain of being a part of a concert which was important, which was necessary, which was needed, is absolutely nothing to suffering under the reasons WHY it was important and necessary and needed.  To be reminded of the horrors is nothing to living them.

Even so, I still had trouble with my spoons.  The number you get at any given moment doesn’t neatly correspond to the number you need, and it isn’t constant from day to day or even minute to minute.  Some days, I don’t have to count them. But right now, in this downswing, I do. And right now, in this downswing, I handed them over to be a part of something painful, something necessary.

And it can never be enough.  It’s like the thing about “thoughts and prayers.”  If giving up all my spoons would make the world better, I would do it in a heartbeat.  But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just pray and hope that somehow the world will spontaneously improve.  The only actions that work are *actions.* Protesting, voting, having difficult conversations, donating, raising awareness, calling out cruelty where it happens — we have to put boots on the ground, hands in the air, votes in the boxes, dollars in the hands of those with the right power, and words in the minds of people who need to hear them.

This concert was not an *empty* call to action, after all.  And I have work to do. We ALL have work to do.

But right now?  I still don’t have the spoons.  My bipolar brain can only do so much, and today it can’t even do that.

So, for now, I’m going to keep hunting for spoons.  I’m going to dig them up, find them in shadows and tucked-away corners.  I’m going to hoard them like a dragon with its treasures. I’m going to find as many as I can, to get me through until I don’t need to count anymore.

And then I’ll trade the spoons for another round of actions.

Because it is a privilege that I can choose to do so — and all I can do is make it count.

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Dead and Counting

(I will never pretend that I have any true gift for poetry, because I haven’t. But what I have is pain and rage and choking helplesness and grief. And this is its outlet.

Please forgive its every flaw and the person who was alive to make them. The only thing that matters is those who are lost, and those who are hurt, and those who are now both.)

 

Dead and Counting

You were dead in a roar of thunder
Before your body fell
And the body beside you
And the next and the next.
You died laughing, or screaming,
Or crying out to Jesus or Allah or Shiva
“Why” or “Please” or “No”
But no one saved you.
You died in a hail of hatred.

You did not die alone.
And one tragedy becomes two
Becomes twenty
Becomes too many
And the street is red
And the lights flash blue
And no one wants to score the dead.

There will come reasons, shouting,
“It’s your fault, you people!”
“It’s you who are to blame!”
But the blame we parade on sets and soundbites
Doesn’t kill the tears or the pain
Doesn’t cure the nightmares of those
Whose hands knew blood that night.

And we forget to blame hatred.
We forget.
Again we forget.

We light candles and sing
Signs and flowers and wreaths
We change banners and pictures
We hashtag our pain and prayers
We say we will remember
But we hate and teach hate and grow hate
And the candles are not soft memories now.
They are become the start of the next wildfire.

Forgive our tears
That we mean today
And will forget tomorrow.
Forgive our candles, our songs,
Our momentary grief
That will last in your bones.
We died tonight
Or yesterday
In any hail of hatred
And only still live by forgetting

You died,
You,
Whose name we do not know.
But you died in a war
Not between lines on a map
But within the human soul —
You died and we died with you.
We are your blood, cold on the street.

But you do not know this.
You do not have to know.
You already know.

You were dead in a roar of thunder
Before your body fell
And the body beside you
And the next and the next.
You died laughing, or screaming, or sobbing
Or crying out to Jesus or Allah or Shiva
“Why” or “Please” or “No”
But no one saved you.
We all die in a hail of hatred.

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