It is almost summer. We call the long day in June that officially commences the sunny season the “summer solstice;” it just means our planet is tilted closest to the star it orbits– the sun. Isn’t it neat to think that we are beings on a planet that is constantly in orbit?! It’s like we’re born on a spinning roller coaster… the kind at a theme park that would definitely make mummy sick! We live and we die on this spinning coaster, the ride of life.
Have you ever seen a matryoshka doll? I encountered my first and only matryoshka doll at your Great Aunt Gerry’s house when I was young. She was hand-painted by someone who used a paintbrush to cover her red cloak in dainty flowers of different colors. I liked to sit and take apart each layer of the doll and then to put her back together. It was one of my favorite things to do at our Walsh-family parties. I guess she reminded me of me; I imagined her as a gypsy. I hope you get to play with a matryoshka doll someday and make your own meaning of the encounter. A matryoshka doll symbolizes life to me because she contains many layers. The largest form of her replicates the smallest form of her. It’s a strange concept. If you think about humans, a cell doesn’t seem to look like an amalgam of cells. An atom doesn’t look like a mass of atoms. An atom doesn’t look like a human. Not when you’re looking at humans from a human perspective. But when you expand your view and you look at humans as part of a massive planet, from afar, then those atoms and the massive planet do look alike– and each of us is a formation within that larger formation.
A fellow by the name of Carl Sagan is famous for saying that we are made of the cosmos. He famously said, “We are made of star stuff.” The guy knew what he was talking about– he was an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, and astrobiologist, among other things, so he spent a lot of time studying the stars. When I think about stars, I think about hope. Looking at the stars always makes me feel hopeful and takes me to a place of peace. I cannot explain why. It’s scientific. It’s magical. Understanding the stars is science and science, to me, is magic. Unlike your Momma Si who is science-minded and understands its smaller components at a complicated and literal level, I am a big-picture student of science. I can only understand science through romantic metaphors, but that’s a valid way to learn about it. I write poems with scientific concepts in them sometimes, usually as metaphors for other things, and that is my way of learning about it. Ah, learning. Some learn through reading; your mummy primarily learns through writing. I learn by comparing unfamiliar things to things that are familiar and important to me, through writing. I have always learned best through writing. To me, it’s quite “miraculous” to witness how writing deepens my understanding of a subject, especially myself. Maybe the two of you will learn “about the stars” like your Momma Si or like me, or maybe you will learn in your own, unique way. I love to talk about learning, and I hope someday that you will, too, so we can carry on conversations about it. I know you have so much to teach me about everything, especially the stars. And it’s not just all metaphor. You are literally made of “star stuff.” WHOA!
For now, believe me, and Carl Sagan, when I tell you that you are my stars. You are me, and what I am made of, and you are mind-blowingly beautiful to behold, at any distance. Girls, when we look up on a starry night, we’re looking up into a multi-dimensional mirror. The one you look up into at your house in Illinois is the same one I look up into at my house in New York. One great big, seemingly-endless starry mirror connects us all and shows us all that we are all the same: all equal, all fire, all part of something far, far bigger than ourselves that reflects who we are at our most basic, most compact level. Everything in life is very complicated and very simple, at the same time.
So when you’re outside at night this summer, if you’re ever outside at night this summer, I hope you look up at the stars and think about mummy looking up at those same stars, thinking of you with a twinkle in each eye.
Darah, I remember the first time we had Aparna and Atharva over, before you were born Elanah; what I remember most is how you sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to Atharva in the garage, and how he loved it. That was how you made friends with him– you sang a song about stars to him. I was becoming friends with one of my dearest friends, and you were becoming friends with one of yours, and your little star-song made us all feel happy, and like family. Making family is the same thing as making friends sometimes. Aparna and her family were, are, and always will be our family.
Did I ever tell you the story about how I met your Mausi (that’s the Hindi word for aunt), Aparna? We were at some kind of event at Western. It was a panel discussion, and one of the things being discussed was how to make life easier for people who move to Macomb with their spouses but who do not have jobs at the university. Mausi spoke in front of everyone, and shared with us bravely that she was having a hard time getting used to being in Macomb. She explained that she came from a large family, and that it was hard being so far away from them and only being able to see them once every couple of years, in India. I instantly loved her. She spoke right from her heart, and said something vulnerable, something honest. And she said something I understood because I, too, was suffering from loneliness. She said she was hoping to meet friends and wasn’t sure how. I respected her so much and saw all there was to see about her beautiful, one-of-a-kind personality in that moment. I was so moved and liked her so much that I went over to her after to introduce myself and to say that I felt the same way. That is how we became friends. Then we went to playgroups together and got together for play dates, and bonded. That is how we became family. I knew I could trust her. She knew she could trust me. And we trusted one another with our precious children.
Your Mausi is special and, now more than ever, it is important for you to be around her when you can. She and Kishor are your family. They are Momma Si’s family. And mine. I know you’re hesitant to try new foods, but you really should try Mausi’s cooking. Mausi is one of the best cooks around! And she makes healthy, beautiful, delicious food, and always makes you feel welcome and loved while you are eating it. Mummy never thought she liked Indian cuisines until Mausi made her a meal. Yep, she changed my mind. Friendship opened it. Food changed it. That’s what trustworthy people (who are also good cooks in every sense) have the power to do. I have many other Mausi stories to tell you, but the important point here is that Mausi is here for you anytime you need her. She and Mummy had a talk before Mummy left, and, as I told you once when you were anxious and asking me what would happen if something happened to Momma Si– how would I get to you and who would help you. Mausi will help you. If anything happens and Momma Si needs help or you need help and Momma Si isn’t able to give it, Mausi will be here. You can count on Mausi. She has reassured Mummy that she will be there anytime I need her– which is anytime you need her. That makes you both feel better, and it makes me feel better, and I bet it makes Momma Si feel good, too. See? That is how we know Mausi is family; she is someone who will help us when we need her. And we are so grateful. She is a bright, shining star in our lives.
Before I left for Buffalo, we watched “Grease” in my room, and, Elanah, you became hooked on it, especially on the song “Summer Nights.” I am spending my summer nights in a very happy way– out on the grass, outside, in a place called Shakespeare Hill. It’s a place in Buffalo, in a park. You have never been there yet, but you will be someday soon. There is a beautiful rose garden nearby, with roses in all different colors, and right now there is a big stage with passages and stairs and posts. This is where we are now rehearsing and will be putting on a production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I have been doing this almost every night, as you know, and it is saving my life. I know that sounds a little extreme, but you know I *always* talk in extremes. It has to do with a big word, called “rhetoric.” Rhet-O-Ric. Yep. I want you to start saying that word now. I had never heard it until my third year in college, and it scared me, like it baffles, terrifies, and befuddles my students. Don’t be scared. It’s a word that people who study language and argumentation use– and it comes from an ancient dude named Aristotle. On a very simple level, it refers to how communicators use language to achieve things– also known as persuasion. Darah and Elanah, you are both excellent young rhetoricians. Since you were babies, I have been fascinated by your innate and developing rhetorical skills. You both developed the ability to communicate in different ways and according to your own unique time-tables, and I have learned so much from both of you. And from Shakespeare.
I want to share with you what I am learning by serving as an assistant stage manager with Shakespeare in the Park this summer. But for the time being (literally: a lonnng while past midnight), I’ll just say: SO MUCH. I get to spend my summer nights with Shakespeare, under the stars that twinkle and remind me of you two. Adding to that, I am working with a group of absolutely delightful people. They are kind and talented and welcoming. I like each and every one of them, and they are all my new friends and colleagues, so I hope you will meet many of them someday. Then they can see the reason I smile so much, even when sad times come to pass.
The other night, very late at night, when I was getting out of Missy’s car, I didn’t expect the car door to be as heavy and to close in the way that it did. My thumb (you know, the one I lovingly bite at you!) got slammed in the door. I wasn’t expecting it because I was not closing it quickly. I was moving rather slowly, in fact, but we were on a tiny slant, and the door shut before my thumb was out of the way. So, yep, OWCH, the car door BIT my thumb. Hard. Like a metal vampire beast. In retrospect, and maybe even as it was happening, it was kind of funny. The pain wasn’t, but if you could have seen me keeled over, running around the yard like a headless chicken, it might have made you laugh.
That’s what it did to Gramma Sue. She didn’t know what had happened, that I had hurt my thumb, and so all she saw was me dancing around in the dark, hunched over. It looked like I was prancing to her. (Yes, my typical 2AM moon dance around the yard!) Dancing is what the pain made my body do. It made me think of the poor rabid racoon that had been sprayed with pepper spray before being shot by the officer– he was doing some odd things with his body at that time, and it looked pretty funny and cute until he was killed.
Fortunately only my thumb nail was killed that night. As soon as it happened, I dropped my phone in the grass and began the prancing– around in pain, crying. Gramma Sue could not hear me crying in the car so she was smiling at me; she didn’t know what was going on! I was in too much pain to do anything but jump around but I recognized that she was smiling. Then she opened the door and heard me crying. We went into the house, while I wailed and glanced horrified at the darkening around my cuticle where the door had taken its bite, and Dimpy and Gramma Sue tried to get me to put it in cold water. Eventually, I sent them to their respective sleeping quarters and went into the bathroom by myself to cry on the floor, feeling sick to my stomach. I wrapped up my thumb and talked to myself and went to sleep. Now I can laugh at the irony of a thumb injury (my thumb has literally turned greenish, girls… remember the story about Green Thumb?!). The moral of that story is do not let a car bite your thumb for you. Watch your hands around car doors and please BE CAREFUL. You do NOT want a car door to chomp on you. There are other ways to add color into your lives.
My wounded thumb is a reminder of our wounded world. It sounds silly but it’s sad, actually. Really sad.
Sad times. They come and go. And come again. But I believe we need to work to make the world a place with more happy times and less sad times for ALL people, whenever it is in our power to do so. It feels like we’re a long way away from achieving that, which is frustrating.
This week, close to the time the car door bit my thumb, something very sad, and very terrible, happened. I haven’t asked Momma Si if she has talked about it with you, but I am choosing to mention it here, in the most gentle way possible because in our family, we share everything, even the hard things. This past Sunday, in Orlando, Florida (Harper tells me this is where Minnie Mouse lives), a large group of people from all different backgrounds were gathering together at a club to enjoy life and dance and have fun in what they thought was and what had been a safe space.
Some people have to look for what we call “safe spaces” because they are not always safe. It’s not right, but it’s the world we live in right now. When I talk about safe spaces, I am specifically referring to an issue that has to do with gender and sexuality, but it goes beyond that and extends toward anyone who needs refuge from hatred and violence.
People who don’t fit into the norms of society have, for a long, long, long time been persecuted and made to suffer. It’s very sad to think about. Sometimes a certain kind of thinking becomes popular, and when this kind of thinking is a hateful kind of thinking, or when that thinking involves one group thinking their way of life or their skin color or their anything is superior to another, bad things happen. You remember reading about racism and its long history in the United States; we talked about how our country was built on exploitation and enslavement. Big words that I can explain to you, if you ask. For now, just hear them and try to say them aloud. We have also talked about how racism is alive in our country and how it’s part of the way our government and our entire society is built. That’s why I believe we need to take it all apart and start again. We cannot achieve equality until we do. If you’re working for a company, for example, that was created because it treated its workers inhumanely, you cannot stop the continuous inhumane treatment unless you stop the company, change its corrupt foundation, and begin anew.
Your mummy is passionate about equality, and I know you will be passionate about it, too. It’s very hard for me to try to explain any of this to you, because right now you’re too little to understand fully, but I know that you will hear what I say and you will understand what you are ready to understand, and that’s important. For such a long time, people who do not conform to society’s idea of who they should be (their identity) and who they should love (their sexuality) have had to hide who they are and who they love. That is because of violence. Violence is the worst, most primitive and base part of humanity: it is what animals use to control other animals or to ensure their survival. High functioning, progressive societies of humans that wish to promote life stand in opposition to violence. Societies which use forms of violence are a threat to life itself. We love life and we love peace and we love feeling safe. Healthy-minded people do. There is a sickness that society is accepting of: and that is violence. Because of this, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and various other lovely people have had to live in fear of violence. For far too long. It’s getting better, but sometimes it’s hard to see it. Violence is so dangerous. And weapons are so dangerous. I believe it is possible for a society to function without any weapons if the people of that society are non-violent. It’s very complicated, but we live in a violent world and not a safe one. It’s a fact I wish to God were not true because I want more than anything for you to live in a safe world.
The problems of hatred and violence cannot be fixed overnight, but each of us can do her best to make our corner of the world safe and to promote respect and peace.
If you look on Momma Si’s door at work, you’ll see a sticker with a rainbow that has the phrase “Safe Space” on it. The rainbow represents refuge and welcome. When someone puts a rainbow up in order to make a space safe, she is saying that she wants others to know that regardless of their differences, they are safe and welcome in that space. The “safe space” tradition formed in response to forms of violence that have been going on for a very, very long time against certain, vulnerable marginalized groups. Mummy went through a Safe Space Training certification program. It was when I was an undergraduate in college, but I remember it well, and I learned at the time the importance of symbols and signs. They provide us with ways of making ourselves safe in a world that is sometimes very dangerous and hate-filled. Both of your moms love the rainbow, because it symbolizes the solidarity of safety and the desire to make the world a safer place.
This Sunday, a person who was filled with violent hatred toward himself -and as a result toward lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and others for whom he harbored hatred- took the lives of 49 people and injured many more than that. In fact, thousands and thousand of people around the world hurt because of his violent act. This man was under the influence of a violent ideology that is part of his personal religious beliefs. Not all religions promote violence, but many, over the centuries, have promoted it. The actions of the man who murdered so many people this weekend represent a mentality of violence and supremacy and self-hatred: many people, of every race and ethnicity, adopt this mentality. In fact, the man you call Donald Trumpet and Donald Duck: he possesses this mentality. Not all people who are affected by the sickness of violence will kill people, but the only way to stop people from killing others is to stop the sickness of violence, of shame, of fear. I don’t know if it’s possible but I pray that it is.
I know this is a lot to take in. Too much for right now, perhaps. But someday you will read this and know that your mum went through this with you… with you in mind and heart. And someday you will understand. Fully. Even more than I ever will. Just know that no matter what I do in my life, I will dedicate my life toward making the world a better, safer place for you and for non-violent, loving people who want to feel safe and be treated with dignity, equality, and respect. I want the stars to shine. I want there to be stars. For my two precious girls and for all people. Life is a precious gift. The stars remind us of that. If we do not take care of ourselves, we lose the stars.
While you were safe with your Momma Si at a place called Fun City, I was preparing to go to a vigil for those who were affected by the tragedy in Orlando.
While you were debating about whether or not to brave the “Skywalk,” Gramma Sue and I were getting ready to light candles with a big, beautiful family of people we haven’t met. This was very special. Remember how I told you about what happened when I was a teenager and Gramma Sue found out I identified as a lesbian? Yes, I know, at least in part, you do because you have asked me to tell you again and because it upset you. All you need to know for now is that Gramma Sue used to be sick with the mentality of violence that her religion and various other cultural forces formed in her. When I came out as a lesbian at sixteen, Gramma Sue was consumed with fear and hatred. And it was horrible for me and for her and for our entire family– we all suffered, collectively. She believed her hatred was justified because she believed she was saving me from Hell because that is where she was taught that people who were homosexuals would go. It took a very long time, but Gramma Sue eventually saw the light of love.
Do you know that your Gramma Sue is my hero? She is one of my heros because she worked hard with me, over the years, to overcome her upbringing and learned beliefs and behaviors. One of the songs we sang at the vigil was “We shall overcome.” It’s an important song with an important history, and it could not have been more appropriate. It was not easy for Gramma Sue and I to overcome but we loved each other so much that we never gave up on each other, and, over time, that –Love– (and my insistence on being who I was no matter what) was the cure for the fear-induced cultural hatred that she harbored. Your Gramma Sue is a great role model for you. She is a survivor of the School of Hate (for her this was in the form of fundamentalist Christianity), and she is now free from the burden of hatred. It’s heavy to feel fear and hate. It did not feel good to Gramma Sue; she was suffering the entire time that she was inflicting suffering on me. I knew that. I also knew that we all suffer from thinking and behavioral patterns dictated by our culture of intolerance and violence. I struggle with feelings of anger and frustration often. That is where inner battle is required. We must battle with our own hatred and work hard not to let it affect others negatively. Often when we feel powerless, desperate, or trapped in our own lives, we resort to desperate kinds of behaviors. When we feel empowered, we make different choices. All sorts of things are possible in life. Many people feel alone, even though they are in the midst of millions of stars. Gramma Sue was not alone in her suffering. We all need to feel connected. And we all have to learn. The man who killed all those people was fighting a battle inside that he lost, and many people suffer now because of it. He internalized hatred toward himself and others; he internalized destructive beliefs that led to destructive behaviors. We have so much more to learn about the situation, but I know for sure that it is not about one individual: it is about us all. We are all responsible.
We all have to fight our way out of thinking patterns that harm us and others. Gramma Sue committed her life to doing so, and I have seen that change in aciton, and that is why she is heroic. Follow her lead, girls. Face your weaknesses and your inner battles head-on.
I felt very emotional being with Gramma Sue at the vigil, and touched, because she was brave. She has been on the other side and used to be against me for being who I am, but standing there, she was acknowledging her past and accepting responsibility– and so was I; I was accepting that I was both part of the problem and the solution, like every single person in Niagara Square. I was proud of her, proud to be with her. She gives me hope that the world can change. She changed. The world can, too. We hugged for a long time after the vigil. It was a hug of forgiveness, peace, and understanding, as well as sorrow for our sisters and brothers in Orlando and their loved ones.
The vigil ended and the sky grew dark. We had blown out our candles but we still had the stars: they burned brightly. The stars kept our vigil and will always keep it. Until the violence stops. I want you to know that you are always with me, wherever I go, burning brightly, reminding me who I am. And wherever I go, I vow to try my best to behave in a way that I know would make you proud. You were there with me, at the vigil, just as you were there with me at the pride march. Someday I know you will both walk beside me and hold your own flags, but for now, you’ll have to travel with me in a different way. By reading my words.
Things will hurt us and life will sometimes be scary, but writing and reading, like an endless starry vigil, will light the dark nights and hold us together. The words we read and write are bound in love and made of stars, which is the same thing.
Summer nights. Summer suns. Summer stars.
My tiny suns, my lucky stars, my skywalkers: I love you. Time zones are nothing. Heart zones are everything. You are here, in mine, now and always.
Love will build whatever bridge we need to cross.
Yours without limit,
P.S. I am proud of you for being you– whomever that may be, at any given time. And, if you forget, look up and the starmirror will remind you. Never hide who you are. You are my hexlings, my luminous globes of plasma, and I want you to stand sky high, hold your heads above the clouds, and always be proud of who you are. Stars.
March with Mummy & Your Proud Family