• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... the Flaming Chalice


The flaming chalice of Unitarian Universalists

I don’t often feel lonely. Usually I have too many things to do, stuff to write, collages to cut up, colors to splash, pools to swim. Even boards to break, back in my Taekwondo days. And if there was no one to talk to, I’d make someone up: first there was my miniature invisible friend in Leiria who camped out by the side of my bed in the pink half of my bedroom (the other half was our Calvert Correspondence School classroom, where each American grade got sent to us in a box from somewhere called Baltimore, Maryland—my mother even set up an American flag next to the blackboard so my brother and I could say the Pledge of Allegiance every day). Later when I started writing diaries in fifth grade, I’d call my diary “you” (e.g. "Today was bad, I know you understand, I tried so hard to be Jewel but noisy Joia kept coming out"). My diary was "you" except for a brief period in ninth grade when I tried to make my diary Jesus and wrote Dear Jesus instead of Dear Diary. That lasted for a few months before I tried writing more in the abstract, which at the time meant a lot of bad teenage poetry. In eleventh grade I came up with David. We would meet someday in an airport, a stunning scene of tears and recognition, months or even years after he had lived in an attic somewhere and discovered a box full of my diaries and journals. He would fall in love with their author. We would finally meet and then never ever part again. The weird thing about David was that my high school English teacher Mrs. Jensen once called me in after school, making me uncomfortable because she marked up my assignments with so much bloody red ink that I really hated trying to write for her. But this particular afternoon she needed to confess to me for some reason that every day on her train commute to and from Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, Minnesota, she would construct stories about me and a romanticized kindred spirit soulmate called…yup, David. The intense weirdness of this coincidence made me completely give up on the David soulmate thing. In any case the next year I fell in love with a girl. We used to sit in her divorced father’s house in ritzy North Oaks, on a pale brown carpet in a room with no furniture, drinking Tab and smoking Newports. She had money but only wore a single cotton Indian smock top with her blue jean bell bottoms mostly every single day that whole year. I was entranced and bought a red and beige Indian tablecloth, sewed a smock top for myself, and wore it mostly every day, too, for the rest of senior year. Okay I did wash it every week, along with my bell bottoms.


So after the Kavanaugh Supreme Court swearing in last week I was still doing fairly well, until I heard Rachel Maddow talk about how the New York Times knew about communication between a Trump organization and the Russian Alpha Bank back on Halloween of 2016. That was October 31 and before the election. So they just sat on this information. Not that I care more about collusion than believing assault victims. It’s just that all the Lies…the Lies that I am used to having jammed down my throat (swallow it, baby) seem right now to be so many and so big and coming so fast at me and still all those voices are there telling me to shut up and be sweet and take it, don’t cause trouble, be nice now, no one is trying to hurt you. Be Jewel.


Then the idea that the people I try to keep in my life since I am of course bigger than them, I am a philosophy professor, I can do it, fuck the MS, I can handle people who constantly put me down, people who call me overly sensitive for pointing out logical inconsistencies in their untruths to me…did I say I'm a logic professor? which obviously they know, don't they, I mean how can they continually say this shit to me…well then I just kinda give up on the idea that I can continue to put up with them all ... so maybe my conversations will be mostly posthumous, then, right Fyodor, Simone, Italo, Jorge? You all didn’t mind my pestering so much, did you?


In 2000 I was singing in the Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist choir, since they did both the Mozart and Fauré Requiems that year, along with Amahl and the Night Visitors for Christmas, which my daughter loved. We also went there because my daughter wanted a youth group like her Baptist cousins', but more fun, and not like the nearby Presbyterians who freaked her out when she recited sixth grade paleontology at an inopportune moment in Sunday School. They actually blocked the exit and refused to let her come and find me next door in the sanctuary. So we tried the UU church in town, aptly named after Mount Diablo in Walnut Creek, California. One Sunday we sang the Spirit of Life hymn and I cried. It was my bird-tree-woman:

Spirit of Life, come unto me.

Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion,

Blow in the wind, rise in the sea; move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.

Roots hold me close; wings set me free:

Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.


The other time I cried that year was after singing Caro Mio Ben at the home of my retired San Francisco Opera voice teacher’s house (I met her in the UU choir). It was kind of like Reichian therapy, deep diaphragm breathing leading to a sudden outpouring of emotion, though this time in Italian. Senza di ti, languish il core.... I had done some tension-releasing bioenergetic analysis years before in grad school after reading the Alexander Lowen paperbacks about being schizoid, his term for people somewhere in between the really bad mental diseases and regular life survival.


So last night I couldn’t sleep and Rachel Maddow was back from vacation and interviewing the guy who wrote the 2016 collusion crap and I realized the news was not going to put me back to sleep, even with Rachel Maddow's voice which I love, and I knew I had to switch gears quick or end up in a panic state, something that doesn't happen to me much any more, especially over here. I found a YouTube guided meditation that promised to lead me into a lucid dream and introduce me to my Higher Self along the way. Perfect. At any rate the music was soothing and I actually started to drift off ... and then realized that even though I was finally lying there fairly still and my hands felt normal sized on each side of me and my breathing was pretty even and not scaring me with apnea blocks, I realized that my dear UU minister friend was walking up to me holding a chalice. He was wearing a cognac color robe with a rainbow splashed stole, wind blowing loose dreads, the flame in the chalice lighting his way towards me. There was somehow also water in the chalice. Then Eta appeared, walking out of a candle flame in a black hooded robe the way she did for me right after my daughter was born. Neither one said anything, but I felt safe and was for the first time able to stand and look down the cliff at the body of my twenty-year-old daughter. Except this time it was NOT the body of my daughter fallen off some Inca-hill in 2009, the year she went to Brasil but didn't die. I never told her this hallucination from twenty years before, the picture I saw while she was still tiny and sleeping in a little Moses basket on the floor next to my bed. I never told her but when she turned twenty and decided to go to South America for junior year study abroad instead of some French-speaking African country, or even France, I screamed silently the whole three months she was there. Her not having phone or email those days flying from Atlanta to São Paulo to Rio to Maceió was the worst part of it. Why she wanted Portuguese all of a sudden instead of following her four years of Berkeley high school French, I don't know. In any case she totally ignored the language institute with the Dutch and German students and hung out instead with her Brasilian beach buddies and drank cerveja com mel for health and danced all night to the Alagoan hits and when she woke up she made spaghetti for all the street kids (Mom they have no shoes) and wanted to adopt them and bring them back home to Chicago. These were the choices my kid made at the time. So no, I could not, I would not, say anything.


But late last night or early this morning I looked over the Andes cliff with my two robed spirit guides standing side by side and I saw that the body fallen down into the valley was like my daughter but not really her, nor was it my mother's body...but rather my own.


Then it hit me that 2009 was the year I first learned I had multiple sclerosis. I was scared to do anything, go anywhere, fly anywhere, pretty much be anything. I took a short leave from teaching between Thanksgiving and Christmas and decided not to go to Brasil to meet my daughter at the end of her trip. I was busy memorizing bathrooms and relearning how to breathe.


What I saw last night was how I died in 2009, twenty years after the birth of my miracle-baby daughter. Ten years later I'm just beginning to get it right. I was smart to come home to Portugal. The stress that propelled me back here could kill me, though. I won't make it with the angry divided nation forcing Lies down my throat at my age and with this particular brand of chronic autoimmune disease. I can barely do my daily yoga and get on my exercise bike to recharge my circulation when I'm choking on the judgmental arrogance that took me away from my home here to begin with and fought me daily with laughter and hatred throughout my life in the US, from the family men and boys on the bus who jeered at me daily for the audacity of having brains and tits to the colleagues and bosses who punished me for the audacity of having too many degrees and an audible voice. I need to rest now. I need to crawl back into Eta's cave and let her make a fire for me and cover me warmly with her wild wisdom and protective peace.


And I need to take this flaming chalice from my dear friend because he knows I still have work to do here, work that involves sustenance and light, for my own sake as well as the others who flare through my orbits from time to time.

15 OCTOBER 2018

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