Lament: New Years 2021

In the culture of my origin (family culture, and larger white protestant middle class culture), there isn’t much place for lament. I remember looking at National Geographic pictures of people in lament, and even reading about professional mourners. I was puzzled. I lived right next to the church building where my dad was a minister, but my parents felt I was too young to attend the funerals there. I would hold my own sad vigil trying to conjure what it must be like for the pregnant young wife to bury her new husband who died a soldier in Vietnam, or the family of a state government dignitary of some means who passed despite his influence and power…

I first attended a funeral, believe it or not, when I was 18 or 19 and in college in Chattanooga. Some of the kids I taught in an after school and summer reading program through my inner city church had lost their grandmother. People cried, and cried out, and sang their full-hearted sorrow. This seemed more realistic to me. This was lament. I was both moved and humbled to be included in that private space in that small Black Baptist Church.
Ecclesiastes 7: 4 says “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” That feels apt this New Years 2021. We are still in the middle of so much collective suffering. Maybe white Americans need to learn to lament. If we are viscerally expressing our anguish, maybe it won’t lead to rage.

In the fall, I virtually “attended” an excellent “Healing Racial Trauma” panel discussion by the Cyrene Movement in Boston. From that discussion, came the assignment God gave me that precipitated the poem “Wade in the Water: A Prayer of Lament.” Since lament is visceral, I reflected on painful aspects of racism I have experienced by association as a white woman married to a black man and raising biracial children in the South.

Honestly, it was excruciating to dredge up experiences that I usually tried to minimize as we experienced them, I realize now, so as not to upset my white family members. When we married in 1981, I didn’t want them to think my life would be a daily emergency because I married a black man, and it wasn’t, except when others made it so. We processed it together, and with other black and biracial families, but not with my family.

Just as the epigraph says, it was a difficult but humanizing exercise, in the face of the racial trauma memo finally hitting the fan this past year and the racial protests visibly in mainstream news.

Perhaps one role of the poet in this world is to be a professional mourner, to give form to grieve that others can’t, or need help accessing.

Wade in the Water: A Prayer of Lament
Racism dehumanizes; lament re-humanizes.” Liza Cagua-Koo
Get me out of my Western European
head-space, roiling with cold intellectual argument.
Summon me, O Righteous Savior, back
into my body, my only vessel,
to feel the holy toll the death of each brown mama’s child
exacts from me, whether they slid from my womb, or another’s.
Wade in the water
This razor is so sharp, it draws blood before I can feel pain.
Each tiny cut creates the hemorrhage:
My rookie confusion at a North Georgia State Park when two men
said they’d get shot guns if my future husband and I didn’t leave.
“and take the same roads you came by.”
My mother’s frantic letter sent six weeks before our wedding admitting
to white privilege, with the question: “What about the children?”
The adrenaline anger of my young husband, yanked into a squad car
while walking in our mixed neighborhood, where black still meant “suspect”.
Children, wade in the water.
My heart thumping fear during a contraction
as two white men in a work truck get out and glare
when my husband stops at a gas station on our way to the Birth Center.
It took years for him to tell us how a white teacher whispers
into my brown son’s dreds, before he crosses the stage at graduation:
“Do me a favor. Stay out of jail.”
Seven referrals by one teacher that got my youngest son
put out of the magnet school he had attended since kindergarten.
His Asian and white friends said they were doing the same things

without consequence. The fruitless conferences. In the end, he became
the angry black boy who gets in trouble.
A white principal offers a janitor job to my son’s black friend
and the offense taken when he is turned down,
ignorant of the offense given.
Let me enter the terror of the 3 a.m. call, the slow-mo knock that crescendos
an apocalypse of pain. Let my tears water my own humanity.
An older white man in a posh Southern California shopping district
sees my laughing hoodie-wearing sons, and my beautiful daughter
and pushes my son, who stops, waiting to answer the first blow.
My mama’s heart buries this memory my mind can’t hold.
God’s gonna trouble the water.
Let tender green resilience grow where micro-aggressions and violence
swallowed whole. Let our humanity recognize the image of God
in each other, obliterating centuries of us and them,
restoring objects of fear
to subjects of our own nuanced histories.

Rachel Landrum Crumble
first published in Bluing the Blade December 2020

Hammock Time

I began writing this the day after Election Day. The literal season isn’t right for hammocks in many parts of the country, but the emotional season is ripe for Hammock Time.

            My adult sons had returned from Brooklyn at the start of the pandemic. They were FaceTiming us as they walked the empty streets of Brooklyn in late morning. Both were already idled from their jobs. They had the feeling that NYC was on the verge of a hard lockdown. They were with us in Chattanooga by midnight. In May, for Mother’s Day, they bought me a variegated aqua-teal hammock, the parachute material kind. My husband and sons installed in in our private side-yard between a big old oak tree and our 6 foot wooden fence.

            I think of myself as a relatively tranquil person, but my children and my husband have lived with me. So this gift of love came from 30 years and nearly 22 years of life experience with Mom.

             We were comforted in being together until mid June, when Chattanooga became a hot spot, and NYC was calming down.

            Calming down, yes—back to the hammock. It became an extension of the living room, but not right away. At first, I felt like I couldn’t afford the time, even though it had been lovingly bought and installed for me.

            Since mid-March, 6 days before my sons came, the high school were I teach, like schools all over the world, closed and went online—just like that. Eight to ten hours a day I was on my laptop navigating ways to add interactive learning to Goggle Classroom and encourage and support students with learning challenges via Google Classroom messages, phone calls, texts and Zoom, as well as preparing all kinds of required reports and documenting myriads of parent contacts.

            I cooked dinner most nights, because we all needed the comfort of sharing a meal around the table.

            My students, their parents, my family and I were all trying to adapt to this new normal of sheltering in place, and caring for ourselves and each other.

            My sons used the hammock more than I did. I made an effort to get outside and sit cross-legged in the middle, or lie down for a few minutes. But inside my head, an alarm would be going off. These were the lies I believed: I don’t have time for this, I have too much to do, but the deeper message I have told myself for years with dire consequences was that I don‘t deserve to rest since the whole world was in turmoil.

            I likened it to sitting in the car with the motor running in the driveway, unable to get out and come inside at the end of a long workday. Except I worked from home, and my nervous system was the motor that was always humming. Uh-oh. Back to the knee-jerk hyper-vigilance learned in childhood trauma. (I grew up with a beautiful. loving mother whose schizophrenia traumatized us all. That story is for another time.)

            In my twenties, my mind was always in overdrive. At night I would lie in bed and replay every interaction I had that day and critique it. Why didn’t I say this instead of that? Why didn’t X respond to me the way I wanted? What’s wrong with me? Should I call tomorrow to apologize? And on and on….

            As a young mother, if I had a few minutes in the car by myself to run to the store, I always had to give myself an assignment: plan for the next few hours, pray for friends who were going through things, decode a confusing Interaction I had, solve a problem. For hyper-vigilant survivors of trauma, there is no rest for the weary. Finally, God broke through to me to just STOP.

            Fast forward to 2020. In January, I had committed to being in a year long online “Get Clear, Get Focused” group and working on a year long curriculum with Tom Griffith, beginning with discovering my design and purpose, gifts and passions, reviewing my life experiences, for patterns, then on to being thoughtful about my roles and networks of relationships, and just when I felt stuck like an archeologist at a dig of an ancient city armed with only a teaspoon and a brush, the next thing in the curriculum is Rule of Life.

            So, hey, just what do I need to be practicing on regular and semi-regular basis to be productive in my life as I pursue purpose? I began to allow myself Sabbath rest for 24 hours each week, not because I earned it, but because craved it. Then I began to break off bite-sized Sabbath rest during the week by lying in the hammock, suspended between heaven and earth, and just let it hold me. And this is exactly how I picture it: I am in the hand of God, and if I am in God’s hand, I can relax every muscle in my body. I can let go that habit of hyper-vigilance, or overstimulation to the point of exhaustion, and stare at the sky through the trees, and just let my mind float with the clouds.

            Returning to school in the fall, I was thankful to be allowed to be co-facilitator of an online learning platform from campus, [instead of teaching in the classroom] although for a time I had 180 English students (later redistributed so I ended up with 112) grades 9th-12th, plus other responsibilities.  I would come home from work with severe eyestrain as a result of 7-8 hours of online work. That’s when I began throwing myself into that hammock—God’s hand—and staring up as high as I could imagine beyond and through the trees, just to regain my distance vision, and turn off the humming motor of my tired brain.

            Hammock time has become an organic part of my daily practice. Sometimes I stretch out and stare at clouds, or watch the squirrels impossible treks from one tree to the next, like a magic path in the air they intuit, then paint behind them with their tails.

            Sometimes I lie there and pray and cry until I am unburdened.

            Sometimes I record the woods sounds on my phone.

            Sometimes I dictate lines of poetry that come to me as I stop the world and get off.

            Now it has gotten so that Mickey, my 12-year-old black lab mix, sits on the back step and refuses to come in until I have come out with him to the hammock. He digs in the soft dirt under the trees, or sits as close as he can so I can lie there and put my arm around his neck and bury my fingers in his fur. He makes happy dog noises: “Woo-wooo!”

            Since Daylight Savings time, I sometimes have to bundle up and go out in the dark and gaze up at the stars.

            Especially now, after a vicious election cycle, as daylight is gone after work, as the world faces the second wave of this COVID-19 pandemic, we could all do with a little “hammock time.” I imagine when the elements won’t allow, “God’s hand” will be the loveseat in my living room, but it could also be a cot in prison, a seat on a city bus. The place doesn’t have to matter as much as taking the time—breaking off moments of Sabbath rest during a busy week, to be still and know that no matter what, God, and creation is still there.

I’m doin’ this!

Informal Bio:

This is my design, my purpose. If you are into Enneagrams, I am a solid 4 (The Original Person) with a wing style of a 5, (The Wise Person) In relaxed situations, I am a 1 (Good Person). In stressful situations, I am a 2 (Loving Person).

I am a poet. That’s just how I see the world. I am a teacher because I love learning, and I am a mom, another lense through which I see the world. I am here to articulate what it means to be God’s child living in a messed up world, and to spread truth, justice and mercy far and wide in how I live, teach, and write. It gives me joy to see and hear those who feel unseen and unheard.

I am a white Yankee transplant who has lived in the South my whole adult life. I am married to a Black Yankee transplant, a retired State Probation and Parole Manager, and an amazing jazz drummer going on 40 years now. We have three adult children whom we raised in the South. They tell me that as a white woman who has raised children of color in the South to embrace the fullness of their identities, I have a perspective worth sharing. I am the youngest of six kids of a Presbyterian minister (turned carpenter/builder, turned massage therapist) and a beautiful, artistic schizophrenic mom who took her life when I was 30. All these things inform my writing, and I am ready to share it with a wider audience.