Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Year End Letter 2009

John Calvi’s Year End Letter November 2009

Dear Friends,

2009 has been a full and wonderful year of travel work following my 2008 sabbatical. I worked with 24 groups in 12 states. From planning meetings for The Quaker Initiative to End Torture- QUIT in DC to the main plenary at North Pacific Yearly Meeting in Montana to the Dragonfly Transitions young adult treatment center in Oregon, I was well used in the right places. 13 of these were return invitations, a good sign that I am useful in on-going work and continue to be well received. The new invitations were a delight.

I’m often asked did sabbatical change things, was it good, how was it to re-enter? Yes, sabbatical was very good- right on time, life-saving. I am refreshed and glad to be back. I did/do more writing- see my blog via my website – Both prayer and work are deeper than before. I was also shocked to discover how old I’ve become – if you are too busy to notice that decades have passed, that’s TOO busy! 60 is 2.5 years away and I cannot for the life of me comprehend how this happened. And it was surprising to love being a hermit- my solitude and quiet needs have grown with the years and the work. Tons of people contact with re-entry was both welcome and challenging.

Work has changed a bit over the years. More groups have me in to help them heal conflict. While trauma survivors still attend all workshops and speeches, there is also a large draw from clergy, health care professionals, and various kinds of leadership. I think in part this is due to the state of the world being in so much pain and many many people overwhelmed by the their work. While there is hope, there is also exhaustion, despair, and some doubt about doing ones best for the long haul. My path has been very particular in learning and teaching such things. I also did QUIT Updates on every one of my stops this year. I’ve learned to work in places where reverence is valued.

The scenario of working by invitation and living mainly on gifts would appear risky. And after 27 years I confess to looking over my shoulder now and again wondering if I am still aloft. One leaps expecting a net and is wonderfully surprised to discover flight. My work – healing for trauma survivors, teaching and mentoring to healers and others with ministry, convening The Quaker Initiative to End Torture - QUIT, and writing – has been made possible by the generosity of many. And by your trust, for which I am eternally grateful. There is much good that needs doing and I have plans for some of that. Thanks to you more will be possible.

I ask you please to give generously. You know I am tried and true and the need is great. I go on, knowing that you and I are doing our best, that has always been what’s needed.

In the Light, John

John Calvi PO Box 301 Putney VT 05346 www.johncalvi.com calvij@sover.net
New engagement dates, new photos, and new writings at my website- also a new journal blog.
My thanks to Sehoon Ahn for website expertise.

John Calvi’s Completed Calendar 2009

March 12-13 Quaker Initiative to End Torture- Planning Mtgs Wash, DC
March 28 Mountain View Meeting of Quakers- Healing www.mountainviewfriends Denver, CO
March 29 Colorado Regional Spring Gathering of Quakers- Speaker Denver, CO
April 24-26 Woolman Hill Abandon All Weariness woolmanhill.org Deerfield, MA
May 30 Pendle Hill Lay Down the Burden & Rest pendlehill.org Wallingford, PA
June 14 Putney Friends Mtg Quaker Initiative to End Torture Noon Putney, VT
June 15 CONTACT International Peace Conf School for International Training Brattleboro, VT
June 27-July 4 Friends General Conference Abandon All Weariness fgcquaker.org Blacksburg, VA
July 15-19 North Pacific Yearly Mtg Plenary Speaker, wkshps npym.org Missoula, MT

August 3-5 New England Yearly Meeting workshops QUIT neym.org Smithfield, RI
August 9 N. Sandwich Friends Meeting QUIT Update N Sandwich, NH
September 18 Friends House QUIT Update www.friendshouse.org Santa Rosa, CA
September 19-20 Redwood Forest Mtg Healing Community, Meeting for Healing Santa Rosa, CA
September 25-27 Quaker Ctr Restoration/Preparation/Light w.quakercenter.org Ben Lomond, CA
Sep 30 -Oct 2 Multnomah & Bridge Ctiy Mtg Energy Work, QUIT, Mtg for Healing Portland, OR
October 1 West Hill Friends Church QUIT Update www.westhillsfriends.org Portland, OR
October 3-4 Willamette Quarterly Mtg Plenary Speaker, QUIT Update, Healing Mt Hood, OR
October 6-7 Dragonfly Transitions Students Healing www.dragonflyadventures.com Klamath Falls, OR
October 7 Klamath Falls Friends Church QUIT Update Klamath Falls, OR

Nov 6-8 2009 Powell House The Body as Temple Old Chatham, NY
Nov 14 Wellness Works Holistic Health Center Glendale, CA
Nov 14 Santa Monica Mtg On Healing off site Santa Monica, CA
Nov 15 Claremont Meeting QUIT Update Claremont, CA

2010 John Calvi’s Partial Incomplete 2010 Calendar (as of November 2009)
February 13 Quaker Initiative to End Torture QUIT Update Meeting School Rindge NH
April 17, 19 Lake Forest Friends Meeting Retreat Lake Forest IL
June 20-24 Pendle Hill Washed in Light by Tender Hands Wallingford PA
July 4-10 Friends General Conference Abandon All Weariness Bowling Green OH
July 16 VT People with AIDS Coalition Workshops Massage Stowe VT
July 18-24 New York Yearly Meeting QUIT Update Silver Lake NY
August 8-12 New England Yearly Meeting workshops QUIT Update Smithfield, RI
September 24-26 Quaker Initiative to End Torture Quaker Ctr Ben Lomond CA
November 2010 Healing from Life Wounds Powell House Old Chatham NY
November 19-21 Quaker Initiative to End Torture Conference Old Chatham NY

Definitions- tax law says a donation carries the expectation of work for which I am taxed.
A gift is given out of respect, affection, or charity, such as
my birthday- May 14, my wedding anniversary- August 26, or a Christmas gift.

P. O. Box 301 Putney VT 05346

Postage is prohibitive. I need to reduce paper mail to actual live Beethoven Letter readers. I am happy to keep you on my Beethoven mailing list Email or paper. Simply send word. Please help by sending your e-mail address to calvij@sover.net or a postcard to P. O. Box 301 Putney VT 05346

Monday, December 7, 2009

World AIDS Day - memories

All day I've felt a bit sad. I've been remembering the arc of AIDS in my
life, what I usually think of as the AIDS WARS. I remember hearing a little
something in August of 83, an article in Time magazine perhaps, about gay
men getting cancer in San Francisco and New York. I was teaching in a
summer camp and quite isolated.

But when I returned to massage school in.Boulder, Colorado, I began to learn
more and seek out more information. I
remember in October going to an informational meeting by the Colorado
department of health and learning what little information they had. Maybe
it was a virus. AIDS as a word had not yet happened. No one was sure yet
how it was spread but probably by body fluids. Not sure about kissing,
except gay men kiss their grandmothers and grannies did not seem to have
AIDS, the doctor said.

I called that doctor soon and offered to give
massage to anyone in Colorado with AIDS whether or not they could pay.
Fortunately, the numbers were still in the single digits and I did massage
on 4 people very soon. 3 became long term clients. 2 were dead in a few
years. Many more were diagnosed and died quickly as we had so little
understanding of the new diseases and none of the existing medicines worked.

Back in Vermont in 85 I taught AIDS 101 at Quaker meetings and in NY
prisons. I became part of the Vermont People with AIDS Coalition and did
tons of massage and teaching there. In 86 my best friend got swollen lymph
nodes and though he wouldn't die for several years, my heart began to break.

I met Marshall and moved to Los Angeles, began to teach with AIDS, Medicine,
and Miracles and did massage with Michael Callen over the years. And then
we moved to Washington DC where John Meyer got me hooked up with AIDS
services and I was hands-on in several hospitals, teaching buddy teams, and
just beginning work with tortured refugees for a change of pace- it was good
to work with people who were not dying.

About this time, my best friend
began to be seriously ill. And that long vigil of support and saying
good-bye began. More friends became ill. Any illness I felt was
terrifying. I was now deeply in love and married in all senses but the
legal one and feared greatly that one of us would become ill and we'd be
among the many sinking low and disappearing and then part of the great flood
of memorials.

I was doing grieving circles at night at Friends General
Conference because there was a need from more grieving than usual life
allowed and these circles were crowded with amazing stories and so many

When we moved back to Vermont, I was relieved of doing regular
hospital visits and the density of memorials. But became part of the rural
work of education and service. Bill, my best friend, began a decline
slowly. He would have a rally and stay strong for a bit. And then some
other infection would bring him low again and his true love did an amazing
job of care, beyond what I could do, I am sure.

And by the time Bill died I was nearly numb to the great pain of the world in this pandemic. It had
become my coming of age in my early 30's and now had squashed my heart and
hope almost two decades later. I still teach about AIDS when I'm invited.
And I still lay hands on people with AIDS as a massage therapist and energy
worker. And a couple of friends, still living, are among the very first
people diagnosed in NYC in the very early 80's.

Recently I worked with a young doctor from Rwanda whose life work has become pediatric AIDS in a
children's hospital. He told me he felt numb and had no emotions left. We
discussed avoiding burnout, the advanced form. And we did some hands-on
work that felt full of Light and well guided from on high. He told me that
in Rwanda he had not seen the worst. I was afraid to ask what that meant in
Rwandan terms.

And this summer I'll return to an AIDS conference I have
been teaching at for more than 20 years. I'll see old dear ones and laugh
and clap my hands as I walk to them calling out in a loud voice Oh For God's
Sake, Are You Still Alive?! And we'll hug and laugh to still be here, still
be doing the work, still be grateful for so many things. And I'll talk
quietly with the newly diagnosed- young girls and boys and some grandmothers
- and find some ways to help them relax and maybe to laugh and maybe dare to
hope that as bad as the news is, they can still do life and do it in a big
way with this new family as an anchor.

I am so honored and exhausted and
proud of what we've survived. I can't imagine a life without this education
that I never signed up for. And I'm so happy to have learned how to get up
each day and work in hell and that to go in smiling created the best chance
to carry Light as far into those dank corners as possible.

I still miss Bill, especially on this day, and listen to his speeches on tape and get
teary. But I remember his living more than his dying and his laughter more
than his tears. I was so dearly looking forward to getting old with him.
Now, I just remember how it felt to be with him and when I see some handsome
man walking down the beach, some part of me smiling inside says - hey Bill,
look at that! It's life itself that draws us on, that bright Light and hope
that we'll see how lovely life is.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Simple Complexities

It happened again recently and while it is not frequent, it is also not unusual. I’m at a yearly meeting and a woman comes up to me. She says that in the past few days she realizes that when ever she is standing near me that her neuropathy stops hurting. She laughs and says that since she can’t take me home that I will just have to give her extra to last as long as possible. We both laugh and I give her a long hug while humming a deep bass line perhaps like a very old refrigerator or maybe a dump truck pretending that I was delivering the extra requested. We laugh again. She says thank you and I say it’s my pleasure or it’s my honor.

In this simple exchange a few givens are acknowledged. She feels less pain when near me and we both know this is neither talent nor technique but a spiritual gift that comes through me. I have some responsibility, but ultimately I’m a mere tube some Light is coming through. I have the task of being a good tube. And this includes acknowledging that this gift is not from me. It is not mine, but rather a blessing with origins beyond me. And, like much of spiritual life, beyond words of simple description. It is my lot in life to learn and use and be faithful to this gift.

Some people will hear just that much and conclude relentless ego or he thinks he’s divine. Others will say it’s illusion, imagination, or simply bizarre- beyond their own deep spiritual experience. Part of what will be missed with such dismissals is that I understand the hard work involved in the discipline of such a gift and that I am not important in the transaction, by which I mean the great thing here is the Light itself of which we are all aspects. But I am as separate from that Light as anyone, even as I work to learn more.

Likewise a number of disciplines in the work are not understood. The first being solitude. The intimacy and intensity of having another’s pain pass through you is common among doctors, therapists, clergy and other crisis workers. Solitude to recover and refresh from the work is a common tool. For me it means I need to rest away from others, even during a conference. This can appear to some as a prima Dona taking oneself too seriously. But without an office or office hours how else does one stop work? Once I am up and out in whatever village I am working in, I’m on. I don’t stay in the village and say no to all work. Saying no is work too. Rather, I live and rest at the edge of the village and come into the center when it’s time to work. It’s the living at the edge and it’s imperative that is even less understood by others than the gift itself. The disciplines of opening, closing, washing, and resting I am still learning after all this time. Once grace withdraws, it is only me trying to do my best as just another person, as lost and found as any.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

25th Beethoven Letter April 2009

The 25th Beethoven Letter by John Calvi

Dear Friends,

I am back on the road after a year of sabbatical. In 2009, I’m teaching in some of my old favorite spots- Pendle Hill, Quaker Center, Powell House, and Friends General Conference. Plus new places- North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Colorado Regional Gathering of Friends, Wellness Works in CA.

I return to work from the luxury of rest. To do something for a long time and work hard to get good at it is a blessing. To rest from the work, wonder at it’s meaning- brings focus to doing more. I am so very grateful for this. Sabbatical brought the inspiration of overview and the gratitude of accomplishment for balance and continuance. Also clear from sabbatical is that spiritual life is cumulative. I may not move as fast at 56 as I did at 30, but I do more with less effort and fewer missteps, thank goodness.

In addition to my usual, I’ve been at work on 2 opposites. The first is the cleansing of the noise, fear, and rush of modern life from individuals by teaching simple massage and energy work. The second is to continue the work of ending American torture that is practiced in US prisons and military training involving doctors. To this end, I join with others of the Quaker Initiative to End Torture- QUIT. These two are similar opposites-to be clean of fear brings Light and to end torture is to stop the worst humans do. These, among other works, keep me very busy. A new journal blog on my website offers new and old writings to you-

Life with Marshall in Vermont is better than ever- 20 years married now. But can an itinerant Quaker healer/teacher continue in a worldwide depression to work by invitation and live mainly by gifts? So far, yes. I began working in the rape crisis in 82 and then with AIDS. Work with inmates and tortured refugees followed. A spiritual gift of releasing physical and emotional pain following trauma grew with my work. The life pattern of work by invitation and gifts also grew. I trust I’ve been brought this far to continue. Your support makes this possible. To live on gifts in a manner of service is an old idea, simple and basic. To do so now fights the gravity of financial and cultural fear. I need your gifts to continue.

In the Light,

John Calvi April 2009 P O Box 301 Putney, VT 05346 www.johncalvi.com

New engagement dates, new photos, and new writings at my website- also a new journal blog.
My thanks to Sehoon Ahn for website expertise.

John Calvi’s Partial Incomplete Calendar – 2009 (as of April 2009)

March 12-13 Quaker Initiative to End Torture- QUIT Planning Mtgs Penn House Wash, DC

March 28 Mountain View Meeting of Quakers- On The Light Within Denver, CO

March 29 Colorado Regional Spring Gathering of Quakers- On Spiritual Deepening Denver, CO

April 24-26 Woolman Hill- Abandon All Weariness woolmanhill.org Deerfield, MA

May 29-31 Pendle Hill- Lay Down the Burden and Rest pendlehill.org Wallingford, PA

June 14 Putney Friends Meeting Quaker Initiative to End Torture Update Noon Putney, VT

June 27-July 4 Friends General Conference- Abandon All Weariness fgcquaker.org Blacksburg, VA

July 15-19 North Pacific Yearly Mtg Keynote/Friend in Residence npym.org Missoula, MT

August 3-5 New England Yearly Meeting workshops neym.org Smithfield, RI

August 9 North Sandwich Friends Meeting Quaker Initiative to End Torture Update N Sandwich, NH

September 22-23 Dragonfly Transitions dragonflyadventures.com Klamath Falls, OR

September 25-27 Quaker Center weekend workshop quakercenter.org Ben Lomond, CA

Nov 6-8 2009 Powell House The Body as Temple for Spiritual Work Old Chatham, NY

Nov 14 Wellness Works workshops wellnessworksglendale.com Glendale, CA

Definitions- tax law says a donation carries the expectation of work for which I am taxed.
A gift is given out of respect, affection, or charity, such as
my birthday- May 14, my wedding anniversary- August 26, or a Christmas gift.

P. O. Box 301 Putney VT 05346

Postage is prohibitive. I need to reduce paper mail to actual live Beethoven Letter readers. I am happy to keep you on my Beethoven mailing list Email or paper. Simply send word. Please help by sending your e-mail address to calvij@sover.net or a postcard to P. O. Box 301 Putney VT 05346

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vermont Gay Marriage Hearing March 18 2009

The Vermont State House Montpelier Vermont Public Hearings on Gay Marriage Bill Wednesday March 18 2009- John Calvi

The drive north form Putney is sprinkled with spring rain. The sky is shades of blue grey as the interstate moves between the Connecticut River in the East and a ridgeline of low mountains in the west. The temperature drops from 50’s to 40’s and snow melts on fields and mountainsides. I find a parking spot directly in front of the state house as though I’ve come home from work and found welcome. As I approach there is a guard at the entrance and I wonder if the long slim object carried at his shoulder is a rifle. But it seems to thin. Is it a large taser? Coming close enough to say hello, I see it’s an umbrella. When hearings were held here in 2000 on civil unions, Vermont had never received so many threats of violence nor filled the state house to capacity. The then governor refused state police requests that he not attend outdoor events, as his safety could not be assured. Instead, he attended many events wearing a bullet-proof vest for months.

Now years later the debate has changed- shall Vermont move from civil unions to gay marriage. The noise around this is less. The crowds are less fierce. But the feelings are still strong. The percentages have now shifted to pro marriage in the polls. The old scare tactics have lost their punch. Often weddings are cited as good business and we need to compete with Massachusetts.

I’m here two hours early and the crowds are small. Our local representative kindly invites me to tea in the cafeteria before the hearing starts. But I make a beeline for the best seat in the house- a large red velvet armchair just to one side of the podium in the House of Representatives. From here one faces the witnesses chair at the end of a long table where the senators sit listening to each witness giving testimony. I face the main door and can see almost every seat on the main floor plus the entire balcony. To my left will be security and I can overhear them discuss their operations. Soon after I sat down, the all the best seats are filled. 1 hour before show time, most of the room is full.

Familiar faces drift through the crowd. A small crowd from Putney has come by bus- Tim, the wonderful painter and his husband Philip the whale researcher have come with Eva our local Quaker lesbian commie and their neighbors Bari & Diane. Netflix says the most rented DVDs for our zip code is the L word- need one more proof of Putney’s bountiful lesbian population? There is also MaryAnn, a wonderful lesbian therapist who had a daughter in my classroom 30 years ago and Bill, a gay Vermont senator who brought me in to sing at the gay coffeehouse not quite 30 years ago. Vermont is small and neighborly. We’ve fewer than 700,000 people in the whole state and only one small almost urban area. We are also small geographically- one could drive the longest diagonal from the northwest corner to the southeast in about 3 hours on our one interstate- watch out for moose. Until recently, the governor answered his own phone.

Witnesses sign up to speak on either the pro or con list and the senators call each forward alternating back and forth, each with 2 minutes to speak. I signed in at #40. This means 80 people would have to be called for me to have a turn. Looking over the crowd and listening to each witness, there is a sense that Vermont’s burgeoning evangelical churches have made a strong showing with pastors and older congregants. They put forth similar ideas to what was heard in opposing civil unions 9 years ago- this is unnatural and against God’s law, the change in the definition of marriage is the beginning of the homosexual agenda to destroy civilization, science and morals don’t support the idea, etc. There was less fire and brimstone which cost them dearly in the last vote- the claim that frogs would fall from the sky and we’d be punished with AIDS just like Africa for going against God’s law ruined their efforts to gain support. The undecided people in the middle said- I may not be comfortable with civil unions but I don’t this it’s going to rain frogs! The pastors come in mainly two flavors- threatening God’s wrath or smarmy and smiling with all the warm of a hungry used car salesman. Both carry on with the most insulting declarations and all deny that any of this is meant to be personally insulting. How, I wonder, can I be accused of plotting the end of the family in American life and not hear something negative being cast upon me? Such is the magic of “Christianity” in its most un-Jesus-like forms.

The pro side includes more young people. There are fewer clergy but they tend to emphasis a loving God rather than the grouchy landlord who will fry your butt with just one step off the path. Also the pro side speaks about their lives and personal experience. There is little in the way of theory or abstractions. There is mention that this law is on the way to gay couples and their children receiving the 1200 or so federal benefits such as social security in the future. The con side describes theology and legal theories that feel as though they mask a huge fear of some unknown monster. Throughout, the senators face the speaker, listen and make notes. There is no sign of favoritism or opinion among them this evening.

There is not as much insult as there was before. One unfortunate man probably in his 40’s came forward to say he was a rape survivor and equated his wounding and the current bill as legalizing male rape. This brought the only loud response, a moan from the crowd making a clear statement that this was unfair testimony. It was a sad moment of hurt being used to blame and hurt others and the crowd wouldn’t stand for it.

In general, there is no understanding among the cons that describing gay people in the most insulting manner is their assumed privilege while they are under no threat of votes on their marriage. And believe me, I’ve got a few marriages I’d like to vote on!

This went on for 3 hours. Mostly everything had been said. Gay zoology, Adam and Eve, kids needs, proud Vermont history of progressive thought, God’s authority. I was just beginning to think I should leave when my name was called to testify. I immediately had a panic attack with my heart in my throat. I can’t imagine why- I’ve spoken to larger crowds easily, I’m a popular invited speaker, I had thought about what I’d say on the drive up, what’s the big deal? I tried to calm myself using prayer and straightening my posture, which was weary after 5 hours of being chair bound. I sat in the batter- up chair listening to the speaker before me.

This poor guy was in horrible pain. He came from some evangelical church and confessed that he had been an alcoholic and womanizer and that he was wrong and his sin shouldn’t be legalized and this sin of gay marriage shouldn’t be legalized either. He finishes up with his arms in the air yelling Jesus Christ Exalted Forever.

Now the odd thing is- I couldn’t wash myself of my tension while waiting to speak. But upon hearing his pain, I immediately settle down into deep prayer in body and mind to reach his layers of sadness and panic and lighten his load. It was as though I’d gone to the cosmic car wash because I was able to stop shaking and feel completely grounded. Oh service, be thou my savior.

I took the chair and spoke briefly from memory what I had planned to say. I was able to keep eye contact with the senators and treat them as though they’d had a long night too. I did forget one line I meant to put in the middle of my statement- I think the opposition we’ve heard tonight does not reflect the teachings of Jesus, which are kind and generous.

Here’s what I said-
My name is John Calvi from Putney Vermont. My husband, Marshall Brewer, and I were married by our Quaker meeting in Putney 20 years ago. Quakers have been marrying gay couples for 40 years now. I have a ministry among Quakers. I am an itinerant preacher. When I look at the issue we are discussing tonight, I think mostly it is caused by a mean nasty old rumor that gay people are not good. You have a wonderful opportunity here. You have the opportunity to make an improvement, to make history. I hope and trust that you will do the right thing.

Nothing memorable, but I sounded so good after the fellow in so much pain and confusion. I wished I’d remembered the part about Jesus, but there it is. There was one more speaker after me, then generous applause from the crowd thanking the senators.

I had some sense that the opposition feels beaten, unheard, their theological warnings unheeded. And it seems the votes are there for passage. The Republican governor has been unclear about signing or vetoing. He tends to wait and have his expensive pr consultants do a poll. I am hopeful and after the sadness of California’s vote I’d really like a victory of common sense. I also trust that in 50 years or less, people will shake their heads and say- what was that noise all about? www.johncalvi.com www.vtfreetomarry.org


Friday, March 6, 2009

The Old Way

When did this become the old familiar way to be? I am taking the steps to lay my hands on someone and the work has already begun- my posture changes to very upright, my pace goes down to very slow so as not to scare a skittish horse, my hands land on the surface of that other person like heated air coming to warm a chill, and my breath becomes deep and slow. All this is without conscious thought, simply the way it’s done.

I can recall the first weeks at massage school and none of this happened- no awareness. Even second semester was not much improvement on my intention and tone. My kindness was evident but too many false moves, too little grounded-ness, and lots of un-sureness making trust difficult. I think it was the continuing work with rape survivors that taught me to go slowly, say little, and make firm contact in all ways.

There is something in showing that I will not be afraid of that ones pain no matter what I see- to hold steady and bare witness simply as a way of being with someone unfolding their worst. I remember in Swedish massage class that first I had to learn to work more quickly to make each massage stroke more sure and certain. Once I learned the form then I could consider pace and depth.

Thinking back to that time, I seem to be cleaning out all my own obstacles to my own best touch. I was learning how much came between myself and another when I was being unconscious, not being aware, not deliberately trying to join in being present.

There was also the work of listening. Now, without thinking about it, I am listening inwardly for what I might know from my own life experience, and listening outwardly to what is being told me and perhaps what is not being said, and thirdly I am listening for spiritual guidance that offers messages about what’s needed. I know I was completely numbnuts on this and had to be bludgeoned into noticing the obvious.

I recall a particular moment when I began work in the AIDS wars. I was doing massage on a man named Mikel. He was in decline and I was worried that I would not be good enough to help him die well. In a moment my being was filled with Light and I heard clearly that I do not work alone, that I was never alone, and I would be guided. This tender message washed me in comfort, the delight of knowing I was not working alone, and opened my heart to listen for more as time went on.

So many pieces now in place, so regular- all of them really hard fought and each learned over years and miles and many many people with long hours of hearing, seeing, feeling the worst. I feel like an old monk who goes deep soon, or an old baker that feels the rightness of dough without measuring, or maybe I feel like myself coming back around to myself after so many detours and distractions. It is a comfort to be really good at something after doing it for so many years. Maybe the changes that come will be small, maybe large, but the shift in tone, the peaceful quiet that comes at least is a rest from the worst for now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Early Morning Light

Early Morning Light – John Calvi

I haven’t put this story to paper before. I understand it differently now, maybe in ways I couldn’t have decades ago. It was early morning when the phone rang. A woman I’d taught with in prisons was calling. She’d just come back from the hospital with a young friend who’d been raped earlier that morning. Could I come do healing work at the survivor’s house now.

I shower, dress, and leave in haste of bodily motion. But in my mind I am quiet and prayerful. Be thou with me as I do this work. May I be a vessel of Light. It’s a long drive, giving me the time to go over what I’ve heard and then set the details aside to reach my deepest calm and feel the heat grow in my hands. No worries. No fear. Don’t interrupt the given flow of Light with mere human obstructions. Ride the high tide to deliver the best.

She’d been out late at a party. Walking back to her car in a dangerous part of town, this small young woman was literally picked up and carried in to an abandoned building by a much larger man. She struggled and was beaten. And when he was done, he just walked off leaving her in the dark and cold. From the police station, she called her friend. They met with the police at the hospital. And now they both were at the survivor’s home.

I come in slow and quiet. I need to see and feel her response to this assault before I begin any work. Is she tired and weary into calm or fretful? Is she still or pacing? Are words still too much to process or can simple conversation going slow happen without too much pressure. She is in pajamas in the living room. Showered and weary, she’s been given a sedative but hasn’t slept really. We don’t discuss particulars. She feels best close to her friend and not talking very much.

She lies on the carpet and we begin. I keep my hands soft and my touch firm. I only touch her head and limbs and do not approach the areas of trespass. I’ve done this work more times than I can count because sexually abused women make up the largest group on the planet. But always the work is years after the assault, not fresh like this.

There are not words to describe how it feels to open yourself to feel another’s pain come in to your body. There can be no flinching or wincing or partial acceptance. It’s beyond story or listening to the wailing or witnessing desperation. It’s a wave of knives forcing their way through. And any resistance catches like fishhooks. The task is to come in calm and strong. Stand and face the wave. Feel all of it’s meaning and dimension. And let it go through- the bull under the red cape, the car sliding sideways on ice, the grief of trespass, brutality, and disrespect without filter.

I touch her head and shoulders. I hold her feet. I hold her hands and draw down her arms. Each of these is a hello and can we connect essential energies. Mostly it feels like an empty garage, only a shell. But by and by comes that feeling of yes, I am here and soon a flood of that essence of her pushes to the surface. I draw this out as one would unfold a large tablecloth underwater to find the stains that need soap and scrubbing. More and more comes to the surface, show me all there is.

She is still lying quietly with little expression, no sound. And I am working up a sweat doing simple touches, all the heavy lifting is felt and not seen until- towards the end of the work I am sweeping my hands over her as though I am gathering up all the Light around her body. I am scooping up her most immediate and intense self to raise it upward, heaven-ward, for cleaning. And this is when tons of grief lift from her body, pass through mine, and are released. My face crumples with terrifying sadness, my arms stay aloft, and a rage and deep sadness washes through and is gone in moments. The friend sees this and identifies it accurately later. The survivor goes off to bed to sleep peacefully.

I have a long drive home in which to be in awe of those moments and the task of being faithful and doing more somewhere soon. I’ll see her a decade later at a funeral. She will thank me again and I become teary to hear her gratitude and remember that early morning Light.

And now it’s more than 20 years gone as I write this. Looking back I can see this miracle not of my making is what I wanted for the first battered woman I knew, my mother. To live with the unrelenting violence and no one making protection put a longing in me. How this longing became connected to warm hands to lift wounds out of the body is beyond my understanding. It’s a horrible gift- horrible and beautiful. Horrible because there are no gloves save focusing on the Light. And it cannot be done except in the war zone of that persons trespass. It’s beautiful because relief is witnessed over and over in the most splendid geometry of balance and rightness. It’s changed for me over the years, but the basics remain the same. Gathering enough reverence before is crucial. Rest and quiet afterwards are important too. I’ve made a small beautiful life so I can dip into gruesome. The older I get, the more beauty I need.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January Sabbatical Journal 2009

Some travel these last few weeks, out of the New England winter. As this sabbatical closes, I find more and more moments of pondering this past year and seeing so much more of myself. It’s clear that I am a nicer person when I am working- something about the disciplines of work, setting the self aside, and not so me involved. It’s also true that I haven’t been this rested since I left working on the loading dock and had a long break before becoming a Montessori teacher in 74.

One of the more shocking revelations this year was to understand that I am old. Now, you may say that 56 is not old. But what I sense is that I was too busy to notice how hard I pushed over the years to get it all done. Each year I’ve had to push a little harder. This year of not pushing made obvious that my body is worn from the pace and the intensity. And I make myself laugh as I ponder simultaneously how can I make my life less intense and would it be possible to get to every yearly meeting in North America to teach about torture in the next year or two.

Other opposites present themselves to me. I have a growing sense of mercy in myself and my work over the years. I had so little of it early in life and have learned about mercy very slowly. Having mercy for rapists in my prison work when I was in the midst of my own incest work was a turning point decades ago. And that arc has increased. I can feel when I have no mercy on those impatient days when each moment seems fraught with the too-much of life. And I can feel the relief when I take a breath and become a wiser self that wants to be differently in the world.

Another opposite is feeling stronger and more alive in my body after these months of physical work, but saddened not to have lost weight. I remember a year ago thinking that 12 months was infinite and all manner of things would be possible. (I could even be tall and blond if I put my mind to it.)

To feel the relief of accomplishing some goals and the disappointment of feeling my limits gives me a more rounded view of myself. So often I’ve found myself blazing some necessary trail and insisting that something could be done, probably as a way to fend off my own fears of its impossibility. Stubbornness has its place as all progress comes from unreasonable people. And of course stubbornness is a personal obstacle to my own necessary changes. I want routine and avoid all structure. I crave peace and quiet, but am bored by stillness. I am intrigued by how trouble can be deconstructed.

Another change I've noticed: in Putney Meeting in Vermont and Claremont Meeting in California, I have noticed that I went deeply and quickly into the depths of the silence in meeting for worship. The hour flew by and left me hungry for more. The time was too short. Am I becoming a Buddhist? I am delighted to feel the depth and ease of spiritual entry. But I also notice I am dissatisfied with much of the spoken ministry. There's too much thinking, not enough sense of the spirit coming through. Am I becoming a grouchy old Quaker who wants to yell, "If you can’t improve upon the silence, then hush up! If you’ve only been here 15 years, keep listening! Quakerism is cumulative!" I am becoming exactly the person I would flee from as a young person.

Sabbatical has also given me time to go slowly enough to see that I need to be more careful with who I am. Often people ascribe power to me that is either news to me or I assume we all share equally. It’s not a pedestal so much as it is some sense that I do take up a lot of space and hopefully I will put this force to good use. It’s good that people in trouble are hopeful that someone else might be helpful. It’s a delicate balance to maybe be helpful without being seen as a solution. At the same time, there is a cultural reluctance to own the power that is given in the Light. In that moment of grace when healing comes, I know it’s a gift from above that only comes through me. I also know that to surrender my life to making this gift is to live a powerful life, a life in which my own innumerable imperfections are lessened in the midst of that Light.

One of the difficulties in a lifetime of healing work is that connection to the Light -- that moment when messages come and hands get warm and changes large or small are made and literal, linear thinking is overridden with new understanding for which words are insufficient. This moment can be such a bounty of peace and calm, an escape from one's deficits so as to make one a grace junkie. Yes, let’s go back to that place and stay longer. It also means that this on-going experience sets one apart from others who may have this sense only a few times in their life.

Because it is cumulative, going back to this well in any regular way makes life different. In some ways, this can make a life of healing work lonely. There is lots of connection to grace, not through any difference in me, but by calling, obedience, and duty. This makes a life separated from people who have less of it, not unlike having lots of money, being very attractive, or possessing artistic skills.

This is the hardest thing to describe without being misunderstood as arrogant. I know I’m not important. I also know my path is not shared by many. Is it arrogant to name this? Some will say, "Yes, who do you think you are?" Others will hear what I mean. And I know it’s easy enough to misunderstand, so I try not to get into it.

Here I am at the end of a time of rest and restoration. I’ve gotten done much of what I set out to do, but haven’t done all I’d hoped for. Now, I come back into the fray with some sense that I have a lifetime of experience which I can continue to make use of with people in the pain and confusion of trauma. As someone older in the work, I can’t do as much as I did when I was younger. It’s also true that as an elder in the work, I can do more with less effort. My overview and rest habits are better. While I have less patience with foolishness, especially my own, I love good, hard work, as when things are cooking hot and movement towards resolution of a long-held mystery is finally possible. Can the grief come out of this shoulder? Can we understand that torture is being done as a system and bring democracy to bear on ending it? Can I teach a large group how to reach their deepest quiet by relaxing their bodies and prepare for larger spiritual work?

That seems enough to me. Enough as a life work, enough as a faithful response to gifts given and calling heard, and enough to go on as I am able without stopping, finishing, or over-doing.

Meanwhile, I’ve begun editing transcripts of speeches for a book. Yesterday, I cleaned out a closet to find my winter coat. I found a dozen leather travel bags, all beautiful in their age and wear. I suppose as I look in the mirror I look the same: well-used, ridden hard, tough around the wrinkles, and buttery soft to the touch.

I am coming out of sabbatical incrementally. I am reluctant to return to listserves, but I am back to reading 6 newspapers a day. I have stacks and lists of things to do at my desk and have given most of the morning to the luxury of writing this. How do I get work done, keep balance and humor, and know that it’s enough? I swear off all guilt, rushing needlessly, and my tendency to feel a nap coming on before all large work.

Perhaps the most profound experience this past year is that enough people financially supported this rest. Enough people valued my work to grant me the luxury of time to rest. Imagine in these economic times that someone who lives mainly on gifts and works by invitation would ask for some time to lie down. Enough kindness and care came forward so this could happen. This is gigantic in my life. So, too, I must say is the love and care of my husband, Marshall Brewer, who helped me with QUIT work plus all my travel work these many years. And even now as he does his own job while finishing up a second masters degree, he still makes sure that I am on track for rest, nutrition, and being my best. 2009 is our 20th year married and I’m sure this accounts for my good work as much as any heaven-sent gift.

More than this, I’m not sure how to tell you what is new here in this snowy little corner of the world while awaiting the changing of the guard in Washington, and getting ready for my own busy year, and hoping this new man in DC remembers why he’s been chosen and all the good that needs doing.