A Perfect Reflection

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

 Its a strange tale, isn't it? As if a man who loves no one can fall in love with himself. Its downright impossible.

But impossible things happen every day. And why not? You are here, after all, alive in a world on fire. Are you weary, traveler? What burdens I see you carry. Come, rest here beside me, at the edge of the pool. Take off your shoes and dip your toes in the water. Feel how it cools and quenches the burn of your tired feet? Can you feel it inviting you in, deeper and deeper into soft, surrounding peace? This is the gift of Limnoula, for those who are willing. Limnoula, the name for She who has seen it all. She was there that day, you know. She saw that man fall in love with himself. Listen, can you hear? If we are quiet she will tell us the story.

Long ago, in my homeland, there was a man renowed for his beauty. His hair was black as the seas of the North. His eyes were soft and green as the moss that grows over the rocks in the woods. His skin was dark and warm like the crust of a well-baked dutch oven bread. Its no wonder he was loved by so many. He could hunt, run, swim, and fight as well as the other men in the village, no better, no worse. But Narcissus was as selfish and pompous as he was beautiful. He forgot the simple truth that gifts are meant to be shared.
Oh, there were those that would have him. Plenty of women and plenty of men, young and old alike longed to share themselves with him, and he was happy to oblige them the pleasures of his mouth and body. But his heart he would give to no one. Some say he was afraid. Some say he was proud. I might be tempted to agree, but what I saw the day he died was neither pride nor fear. It haunts me still.
At first, when Nemesis arrived at my shores and told me what she planned to do, I argued. After all, Narcissus was young, and hubris is natural for those born gifted. 
"Surely, he will grow out of it in time?" I said to Nemesis, unsure of why her punishment was so severe. She sat down on the bank, propped her elbows on her knees, and held her face in her hands. "I don't think so, Limnoula. Not this time." I knew Nemesis to be fair to a fault, so her surety alarmed me. "What happened?" I asked.

"Narcissus had a certain lover, Ameinius, who cared for him above all else in his life. It was nothing short of obsession, as humans in love are bound to fall in from time to time. But Narcissus became increasingly annoyed with Ameinius. Ameinius did all he could to keep Narcissus' love, but Narcissus, he didn't care. No, more than just uncaring. He was unfeeling. Ameinius came to him one day and professed his love, saying that it would be better for him to die than to never feel Narcissus' love returned. So Narcissus presented Ameinius with a gold-gilted sword and told him to prove his love by killing himself. Ameinius did so, and with the sword through his stomach he turned to Narcissus and shared his love one last time. 
"Can you love me now?" He asked Narcissus. Narcissus bent low, cradled Ameinius's head in his hands and whispered softly into his ear. "I could never love you, not even now. Do not be sad, friend, for I do not hate you even. I feel nothing but gratitude for your sacrifice in my name." With a smile he laid Ameinius on the ground and walked away. With his dying breath, Ameinius asked the Gods to punish Narcissus. So I am tasked, and I have decided his punishment."

The horror of Narcissus' story stirred up the silt beneath me. The cruelty was heavy and dark to hold. "What do you plan to do?" I asked Nemesis. She said, "The curse has already been placed. He has planned a hunting trip in these woods tomorrow. When he arrives to your waters, he will look in and see his reflection and become transfixed by it. He will be unable to turn away, pulled again and again back to his own image. If he reaches down to drink, he will find his thirst impossible to nourish. He will die slowly, Limnoula. And now that you know my plan, I need your help."
I was afraid. How could I face such a man? But Nemesis is my friend, and her judgments, though harsh, were always true. "What do you need me to do?" I asked.
"There is only one way for the curse to be lifted. If Narcisuss comes to an awareness of what he has done, his grief will be overwhelming. He will surely mourn the death of Ameinius. If a single tear drops to your surface, the curse will broken, and he will be free. I need you to do two things. One, account for the tears that fall, and two, be still and be clear, stiller and clearer than you have ever been. If he awakens to himself, he must give and receive a full and undistorted accounting. He must see clearly. Only then can he be forgiven."
 I agreed. The next morning, Narcissus arrived. It happened just like Nemesis said it would. He cupped his hands and bent low to drink, and as he did so, the enchantment was sealed. From the moment he locked eyes with his reflection, he did not look away.

Narcissus, with hair as dark as the waters of the North, with eyes as green as forest moss, with skin as warm and dark as bread crust, was beautiful. But it hurt to look at him. I looked for hubris, for fear, for pride, for pain, for anything. What I saw as the day went by was not the eyes of a young man astray, not pain wanting to be passed on. When I looked into those soft green eyes from below, I saw nothing within or behind them. And that is when I understood. This was a man who wanted nothing of love. All he desired was worship.
Dead eyes are unforgivable, not because there is no forgiveness available but because they believe they do not need it. Nemesis came to sit by Narcissus in his final hours on the shore. As death loomed closer, it became increasingly clear that there would be no tears, not one spared for himself or the death of his lover. No matter how still my surface, how clear his reflection, Narcissus would not see. And so he died that day, in the evening as a breeze passed by and shook the leaves of the trees. In his place grew a small nodding flower which always has its head turned down and shows itself only in the spring. Why Nemesis choose a daffodil to remind the world of the story of Narcissus, I'm not sure. Maybe she didn't want the world to forget that not love is worth living for, not dying.

Fire & Midwives

Thursday, June 4, 2020

 The world is on fire. Good.


Because sometimes things need to burn in order for new things to grow. Some plant seeds are unable to sprout until they have been subjected to intense heat. It is true for new systems too.
So if you feel shifts beneath your feet, if you feel like your world is on fire, you're not wrong. It absolutely is. What you're feeling is real.
And I've been watching people on my social media feeds trying to put the fire out with metaphorical garden hoses. At first I was angry. But now I feel comfort, because garden hoses are no match for forest fires. This movement feels big because it is big. The US is in labor right now: we are collectively trying to birth something new.  Sure sure, labor sucks and it involves sweat, tears, and pain, but at the end of it is something glorious, promising, and beautiful.
I deeply want to midwife this process. I can offer my encouragement, my strength, my energy, my everything, but I know that I do not know how to give birth to what needs to be born. And I really feel that in discussions of race, the role of midwife is one of the most impactful for white women.
Black people have been pushing, pushing, pushing for change.  And instead of showing up with an epidural to numb the pain, midwives understand that the pain makes sense for what is happening, and so they do all they can to ease it. Back rubs, hot baths, kind words. Midwives offer solutions and support, understanding that ultimately, it is the person giving birth that should have the ultimate say in how the birth happens.  Midwives care and advocate for and protect the birthing person, watching out for their health and safety as they journey through the process.  But midwives never birth the baby: the victory belongs to the mother alone. The distinction is subtle yet necessary.
Women, we know what it is to be harmed in the birthing process. We know what it is to be cut in our tenderest places, to be unheard, to be invalidated and invisible. We know what it is to have our power overridden, to be vulnerable and exposed and taken advantage of all the same anyway. And this means we know better. We know better than to do the same to someone else.


A sign at the George Floyd protest said " All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his momma." Mamas, we have to show up for this birth and we have to learn how to be effective midwives. I do not pretend to know perfectly what that looks like but I do know we have to try to figure it out. I do know birth is a serious matter, and therefore requires us to act with swiftly and deftly, with caution, care, and bravery. The time to both prepare AND act is now. We have no choice but to show up and learn on the job, because the collective is in transition. Birth is nigh. Our Black friends need us: not to save them, but to make and hold space long enough for them to step in safely and stay there.
The world is on fire and its re-birth is imminent. Breathe and ease the pain wherever and however you are able.

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