Saturday, February 26, 2011

To my pro choice friends

I know you are compassionate. I know that you believe that a woman has a right to control her body. I know your hearts are in the right place. I truly believe that about you.

But from the moment of conception, from the moment a sperm cell and an egg unite, there is a shift in the woman's body. The union of those two cells is a moment when a separate life is born. The woman's body recognizes this. That moment of union sets in motion a series of events that the woman cannot control. Her uterus begins to build a home for the new life. Her breasts grow tender. Her body creates hormones to sustain the life growing inside her. Physiologically, she is no longer a single organism. She now holds within her a separate and distinct life. And her body knows, even from the first day, from the moment of union. Her body knows. She is a mother.

And whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe that life is sacred or not, you have to recognize that a woman who is with child is a mother, even if that child is unwanted. Even if her life is chaos. Even if a kid is the last thing in the world she can imagine for herself. It has already happened, from the moment the sperm and egg became a separate living being, she is a mother.

And whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe that life is sacred, or not, you have to recognize that no matter how tiny that new life is, abortion extinguishes it. There is a death in that clinic. Two deaths, really. The death of the embryo or fetus and the death of the motherhood inside that woman.

Women don't forget. They may console themselves that it was the logical decision... the right choice in a sea of terrible options. They may deny the impact and put on the blinders. They may bury their pain in anger or self destruction or numb it with drugs or men. They may even manage to convince their minds and hearts that they are fine. But their bodies know that for those few weeks, they were a mother. They were creating life. They were nurturing life. And then they weren't.

Years go by. We have women who call our center after decades, ready to face the fact that they lost more than a baby that day. One client had her abortion 45 years ago and has come to us for healing.

Our culture has said that abortion is a compassionate option. I don't believe that for a moment. It is an expedient option. An inexpensive option. A fast option. But not compassionate. Never compassionate. Death is not a compassionate choice. We, as a society, can do better, can't we? How would truly compassionate people cope with a crisis like this?

A long time ago, a friend of mine found herself pregnant by a man who was no good for her. Her friends and family gathered around her, angry and afraid. We talked her into going to the clinic because we believed that it was best for her. We wanted what was best. I drove her, on a cold, gray afternoon. Waited in the reception area while she was irrevocably altered. Her fetus and her motherhood taken from her. I thought I was being a good friend. I think now that I had simply accepted the lie that this wouldn't cause her harm. That this was a good choice. A safe and legal option that would make the whole problem just go away.

But now I know better. From the moment those two cells unite, from the moment the switch is thrown, there is no going back.

We can do better.

We, as a people, as a society, can have a truly compassionate response to an unwanted pregnancy. We can salvage the mother, nurture her, care for her as one of our own. We can love her and support her. We can welcome the life inside her and make a place for the child in our hearts, our society, our culture. We can save the life of the baby and the motherhood of the woman.

We can do better.

We must do better.

" Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want." Mother Theresa

Friday, February 25, 2011

My dirty little secret

Not too many people know this about me, but it is true. When I play my drum during a performance, I am almost paralyzed with stage fright. My heart races. My breathing gets shallow. I begin to feel like the muscles in my arms are going to stop working at any moment. Fear sends the sweat trickling down my back and my stomach feels like it is going to turn inside out. It borders on a full blown panic attack.

For anyone that knows me, this is probably a bit of a shock. I am one of the least shy people I know. I can talk to anyone. I can stand up in front of 1000 people with no written notes and speak as though I am talking to a close friend. Public speaking is a normal part of my job and I do it fearlessly.

But put a drum in my hands and suddenly I am, well, terrified.

It has been so bad at times that I have wondered whether I should even try to play in public. Maybe I should just give it up and stick to the drum circles and classes and forget about performing altogether.

And yet, I dream of the day that I can play without fear and just engage with my fellow musicians and feel the joy that I know is inside me somewhere.

Last night, a tiny glimpse. I got the chance to play dundun for a dance class in Providence. My teacher and another drummer were playing djembes and I was on the bass drums. At first I was playing a part I didn't know and was very grateful that Laso was keeping a steady rhythm for me. But about a third of the way through the class, the dance teacher, Seydou, asked me to play the rhythm for Dansa and I was off and running.

Playing for a solid hour, even at a moderate pace, is hard work. I realized that my muscles were starting to cramp a little, so I had to consciously shift my body so I could relax more. I began to notice where I was tight. My feet, oddly enough, were cramping. My back was slouching. My hands were gripping my sticks too tight. When you are playing at a good clip for a long time, it is easy to recognize bad technique.

Once I started playing I began to feel less and less and nervous and just started to enjoy myself. I loved watching the dancers. I loved watching how Seydou moved when he was showing them the steps. One of the students was really wonderful, too. She economized her movements and wasted no energy. Just like African dancers do. Just as I was trying to do with my drums.

At the end of the class, as I stretched my arms and back muscles back out, I realized that I was one step closer to being able to play without fear. I felt joy. And can't wait to play again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I left

I was looking at an old friend's photos on facebook today. I realized that there was a whole life that I left behind. A whole group of friends who continued on without me. Lives. Deaths. Kids. Houses. Coffee and beer and parties and running into each other at grocery stores.

And for a moment, I wondered what it would be like if I hadn't moved away. I wondered if I would have been in those pictures.

And for a moment, I felt homesick for a life that never really existed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day one

We first saw our apartment at 3am after having traveled for nearly a day from RI to Mali. The cab brought us through the dark streets of the city, past countless dusty stalls that during the day sold everything from charcoal braziers to roasted lamb to replacement motorbike tires.

The big highway from the airport was new and very fancy, with lit up LED lights embedded in the pavement, giving that part of the city the look of a giant landing strip.

But once we got out of the downtown and headed up the hills towards our neighborhood, the bright lights faded and the streets got dark. Clouds of red dust hung in the air. A stray dog darted across the road. Now and then we would notice someone sleeping next to their little storefront.

Our apartment had stark fluorescent lighting and pink walls. The only furniture in the bedrooms was a 2 inch foam mattress and mosquito netting. It was spare and quiet. For a little while we sat in lawn chairs around a low table and decompressed before heading off to bed.

Later that morning Sidy woke us up so we could go to a rehearsal of his group. We trekked back through the city and across one of the bridges that spans the Niger River. There was a big traffic jam on the bridge and we didn't understand what the hold up was until later, when we discovered that a hippo was lazing about in the water below. Such a sight is rare enough in the city that traffic came to a dead stop, right there on the bridge, so people could watch.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Red Guitar

I brought it in my big duffel bag, wrapped in clothes, hoping that the thin nylon guitar bag would somehow protect it's neck from snapping.

By the time we got to Mali, the guitar was no worse for wear. It was already old and a little beat up when we started, missing a string and out of tune.

It was Sidy's guitar. He wanted me to bring it to Mali for him so he could leave it with friends. It joined the piles of other things that inevitably make the crossing. A used PS2 game console with a FIFA soccer game. An old video camera. Some handbags and shoes. Jewelry. All of it intended as gifts.

The guitar, though, was awkward and big and the guy at the ticket counter at Air Maroc told me that if I checked it in it's soft case, it would surely get damaged. So we packed it into the big duffel bag, wrapped in clothes, and hoped for the best.

Here's what I didn't anticipate. It never occured to me that we would grow to love this guitar. That we would wait for days for a new set of strings, fashion a pick out of an old bank card, invent songs commemorating our adventures. We had no idea how much we would wish for an amp... even attempting to make one out of some spare wires and an old TV. I didn't realize that Amery would quietly play it while we had conversations late into the night... or that he would teach Noah some things on it. If I had known all those things, I would have brought a new set a strings for it... and maybe even Noah's tiny amp.

Next time we know.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hospital in Koulikoro

The last week has been a blur, but every now and then a fragment of an experience drifts to the surface of my consciousness. I relish these little gifts. They are, to steal a phrase from Hildegard of Bingen, like feathers on the breath of God.

A friend of Sidy's was in the hospital and when we were in Koulikoro we stopped by to say hello. We pulled our green bus over to the side of the road and entered through a rusty gate. We walked into the main building and someone pointed us towards the back. The building was concrete that was painted a bright shade of yellow. Over the years, the color had faded and the dust from the Sahel, which coats everything during dry season, had muted the yellow even more.

We took a wrong turn at the back of the building and wound up in an abandoned part of the property. Then we retraced our steps to a sort of open courtyard. The hospital wing was built around it, with all the rooms facing into the garden. There was a low wall of pierced concrete forms that separated a covered walkway from the garden itself. We circumnavigated the square garden and found Sidy's friend sitting on a lawn chair in the walkway outside his room. The rest of his family were sitting on a low bench against the half wall. They were making him tea.

They invited us to sit. We were concerned that there were so many of us, but Sidy's friend seemed in good spirits and happy to see us. A young child in his mother's arms became alarmed by Noah's white skin and started to cry. His hysteria mounted, despite our smiles and reassurances, until finally his mother had to take him into the room and out of sight of us.

I remember the smell. Mali tea, the earth from the garden, and a slight antiseptic smell from the cleaning solution.

A nurse came to check on the patient. She wore a well worn pink apron and a pink nurses cap over her Malian clothing. She smiled because he seemed to be doing well.

Once I read an essay by Junichiro Tanizaki about hospitals in Japan. Instead of bright white porcelain and steel, they are dark wood and tatami mats. They are places of warmth and rest and recovery. Places which feel at home for the average patient.

The hospital in Koulikoro was like that, too. A little shabby and worn. The garden slightly overgrown and tangled. The corridors a little worse for wear. But welcoming to the family. A place where you can rest in the shade of the covered walk on a warm day and let your body heal.