Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Sur/real: NPR Invisibilia w/Story District!

Woo hoo!

This past spring I was honored and overjoyed to be part of NPR Invisibilia’s first live event with Story District.

My Sur/real story of the summer of 2005 –navigating the space between the mystical and the manic — was one of six selected.

I felt a bit like an impostor – included with other heavy hitting storytellers I am in awe of. Working with Amy Saidman, Story District’s Artistic Director is an exercise in the craft of first class storytelling.

Each eight minute story is the end product of several coaching sessions, rewrites and rehearsals. It’s a rare and rewarding collaborative creative process.

And finally my knee-knocking performance April 17th at the Lincoln Theatre in front of a packed audience. Yikes!

Exciting for me but also I really hope my story might resonate with yours. All those listening who also have the gift of a bipolar brain. And those whose spiritual life lights up their world. This one is for you!

So take a listen to 47 minutes of great stories.

NPR Invisibilia Live with Story District Podcast

Or watch the the Sur/real performance on YouTube!

And please share! (I’m a shameless self promoter!)


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Joani’s Big Adventure or The Blessing of the Bikes

Six years old, I learned to ride a bike on a little red Schwinn. No training wheels. My dad said training wheels were for sissies. “It’s all about balance, Joani Baloney. You can do this.” He steadied me on the seat of the bike and instructed me how to steer and how to pedal. Like the whole thing was an intellectual exercise.  And then he let me go at the top of the hill of a little cul-de-sac. It was a little hill, but to a six-year-old, a very big hill.  I careened down. I crashed. Head on into a telephone pole. I cried.

Now this is not a method I recommend.  (A method my father also used to teach me how to drive a car  – with similar results.)

But I did learn how to ride that bike – and it was my first little taste of freedom. My first little experience with independence.

I rode my bike to school, to the pool, to the store, to piano lessons and softball practice.

Reach back and remember. When was your first bike ride? Who taught you? Where did you go? And along the way, who have you taught in return?

A virtually universal rite of passage for little American kids.

But as a mom, I have flat out failed in this regard. Three of my four children will tell you that they are scarred from the experience – or the lack of experience – of learning to ride a bike.

We lived at 212 East Windsor, a 1920’s bungalow right here in Del Ray, directly across the street from the fire station. This was quite exciting when my kids were little. When they would hear the sirens, they scrambled to the front porch to watch the fire fighters slide down the pole – and gaze in amazement as they raced off in the bright red fire trucks.

As a mom, this spectacle also terrified me. A bit of a safety fanatic, I imagined my bike and trike riding children getting run over by fire engines. The sirens screaming so loud, I feared I couldn’t hear my children’s screams. Extreme. Ridiculous. I know.

In an abundance of caution, I made the street in front of our house totally off limits. And by extension, all streets in our neighborhood – relegating my children to sidewalk transport only.

On foot, of course, but also on wheels: roller blades and skates, wagons and scooters, big wheels.

But never a bike.

And my grownup children have never let me forget how I handicapped their childhood.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So today is at least in part about making amends.

As the liturgist at Emmanuel, as a lark for a friend I was googling “new car safe driving prayers” when I came across the Blessing of the Bicycles. Several urban churches and even cathedrals have held annual Bike Blessings.

I forwarded the link to Chuck, the rector and my colleague, an avid cyclist. “Would you like to do this at Emmanuel?’

 “OF COURSE! LOVE THIS!” he fired back in all CAPS.

We concurred, June 24th, the first official Sunday in summer would be a great day to do it. And we decided to do it up right. Not just a five-minute perfunctory blessing after church. No, we would lean in for the entire service: scripture, hymns, prayers, remembrances.

We are breaking more than a few Book of Common Prayer rubrics. It’s easier, of course, to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. And for the liturgy police out there the early service at 8:00 AM on the 24thwill be entirely kosher.

But what better way to celebrate the summer solstice than to celebrate the spirit of all things bicycle.

As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground…This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.

 They went in any of the four directions they faced, but straight not veering off. The rims were immense, circled with eyes. When the living creatures went, the wheels went; when the living creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off. Wherever the spirit went, they went, the wheels sticking right with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

 Now the prophet Ezekiel, in the 6thcentury BC, was not writing about bikes. They describe apocalyptic visions he had of the Israelites escaping captivity in Babylon. But their wild and vivid imagery suits our purposes for today – a vision of that wild ride, a vision of a spirited journey rising above the road.

Now I myself have not been on a bike in over thirty years. I am an avid pedestrian but not a cyclist.

So, for authenticity’s sake and to genuinely throw myself into the spirit of the occasion, I too had to get a bike. And actually ride it, of course.

I walked into Conte’s Bike Shop on King Street with the following criteria for my purchase:

  • I am not even sure if I still know how to ride a bike.
  • I will not be riding in traffic of any kind.
  • I am only going to ride on flat surfaces and seldom used bike paths.
  • I will not be doing any racing.

I picked out a red one with big fat white tires – an updated version of the Schwinn I had as a kid. And nearly identical to Peewee Herman’s in Peewee’s Big Adventure!

IMG_4752

 I have worked up to an hour’s ride, pedaling on the back streets of my neighborhood. And I have begun to experience a bit of all of those positive byproducts that bicycling brings.

It’s good for your mental and not just your physical health. It can lift your spirits when you are down and moderate your mood when you are manic. It’s very beneficial for the brain for ADHD and bipolar people like me.

Your lungs get stronger. You can breathe better. You can even enjoy a second breakfast if you bike to work.

Cycling can help you sleep better and it can even make you smarter! Boosting blood flow to your gray cells.

Without google maps telling you where to go, you develop a better sense of direction. Better to map your own way.

And cycling can widen your social circles and expand your world: Beyond friends and family, in clubs you can meet fellow cyclists of all kinds and in races for good causes, you can find kindred spirits along the way.

Biking is kinder to Mother Nature and a boon for the environment. No fossil fuels. No greenhouse gases.

And economical too. A car costs about 55 cents a kilometer to operate. A bike, only about a tenth of that. A little more than a nickel a kilometer. With a bike you might not need a second car.

And affordable bike sharing – in economically challenged locations – can help to provide low cost transportation – to work, to the store, to school – for the less affluent who need it the most.

And cycling is good for the soul. Connecting the rider not just to creation but to the Creator. It can get us out of our comfort zones and off the couch and put us in touch with communities we have never dreamed of.

And isn’t that what church is supposed to be all about?

Every ride can be a hymn of praise: for life, for health, for the sheer joy of pedaling down the road.

And while you ride, you can say a prayer for everyone you pass along the way: other riders, pedestrians, motorists and truck drivers too. Pray for safety and the security of all with whom we share the road.

So, let’s end this little blog post with a Celtic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you;

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

The rains fall soft upon your path;

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

And come join us June 24th, 10:00 AM at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia.  Click here for all the details on The Blessing of the Bikes!

JoaniSign

 


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The Sticky Sixth Commandment & “Sticks That Make Thunder”

Lent Three, Sunday service starts off in self-reflection. We sift through the commandments, all ten — one by one. Scripture may trip us up at number six:

Thou shall not commit murder.

Now, I am pretty sure that none of us, either in the pulpit or in the pews, have committed such a crime. But that does not mean, that our consciences are completely clean on this one.

We confess in community. Sins not just against God, but against neighbor, as well. And in the aftermath of the 8th school tragedy this year, as Christians, we need to do everything we can,  so, no parent ever has get that terrible phone call; so that every child knows that every adult is doing everything they can to keep them safe and sound.

While tribal politics may drive us to take sides, this, at its heart, is a faith conversation. Personal and difficult.

I am going to share my personal story, not that you may agree with me and not for me to tell you what to think. But I hope that by sharing mine, I can offer a little encouragement for you to share yours.  Maybe we can begin to respectfully connect – and talk about what we think we shouldn’t talk about in church.

So,

I am no Second Amendment Sister. I am a Million Mom Marcher from way back when. No toy guns were allowed at my house. Only water pistols and Super- Soakers. My kids were crack shots — gunning down dandelions and blowing away begonias in the backyard. No BB guns, not even cap guns crossed our threshold. At least until….

The dawn of Nintendo 64. One showed up under the tree on a Christmas morn with Zach’s name on it. I think Santa put it there. If Santa put it there, it was a really big deal. Mom and dad wrapped up books and board games. Santa gave you stuff that knocked your socks off.

So welcome Mario and Wario (his evil twin.) Welcome Kirby and Donkey Kong. Welcome Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  Lots of fun and games. Lots of jumping over walls, catching stars, and grabbing gold coins. Lots of keys and magic codes to climb from level to level. Zach played for hours on end while his little brother watched in wonder — hoping against hope to take control of that controller. Just two and half years old,  Jacob picked it up and has yet to put it down at the age of thirty.

Jacob mastered Mario. He crushed Kirby. He tackled Tetris. He whooped Wario. And “bang, bang, bang,” — arcade style — he bagged hundreds of ducks. The first “stick that made thunder” had made it into our house.

As Jacob matured so did the ratings on his video games. I never really censored the games he played but I would lean over the screen to see just how much blood and guts were on display. “Is that a peace and love game?” I would invariably ask him. “It’s just mummies, mom. It’s just zombies.” So, I bought him “Civilization”, peaceful and educational. “How’s that going, Jacob?”Great, mom! Gandhi just conquered Genghis Khan!”

Jacob has grown up to be quite the indie gamer. He founded Gaming in Public. On a Kickstarter project , he raised $20,000 for a a game called “Super Dwarf Madness.” Inspired by Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”“these dwarves are taking back their kingdom with GUNS.”

Well, it was not exactly about peace and love. But it was not all that far removed from Elmer Fudd and his blunderbuss or Yosemite Sam and his six-shooter. “Sticks that make thunder” cartoon style.

crayons sandy hook mural

Mural in remembrance of Sandy Hook

Yosemite Sam was “the roughest, toughest, fastest gun-slinger west of the Pecos!” but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. And every Saturday morning, Bugs Bunny got away with nary a scratch. It was a kinder and gentler time. Remember Sheriff Andy Taylor? No gun. Remember Deputy Barney Fife? One gun and no bullets except the one in his pocket.

These were the only guns my dad would allow in our house: celluloid guns; cartoon guns; sitcom guns; maybe a water pistol or two; maybe even a cap gun. But never, ever the real thing.

My dad was pro-gun-control long before it was politically correct. You see, my Rockefeller Republican father was Chief of Surgery at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in DC. A general surgeon, he took out gall bladders, repaired hernias, removed tumors. He loved his work. But extracting bullets from young men, my dad told us, he hated having to do.  He said that he had lost way too many young men on his operating table. Tragic and traumatic, so young and full of life, never to go home again. Never.

NEVER have a gun in the home, my father taught us. NEVER. Guns in the home were anathema to him.  In the heat of passion, it was best to err on the side of safety.

This is a lesson learned that I have taken to heart.

In my 63 years, I had never ever even seen a real gun – much less handled one, until a few years ago, I visited the home of a sharpshooting friend. Law abiding in every way, she only shoots tin cans and paper tigers. Proud of her sport, she took out her collection and introduced me to her “sticks that make thunder”. She taught me the difference between a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, and a revolver. Patiently she explained cartridges, caliber, clips, millimeters and magazines. And she drove home the importance of safeties – the tiny little lever that keeps a gun from firing.

This tiny little lever between this life and the life to come — is called a safety.

Now there is a stereotype that people like me are not safe. Mall shooters and campus snipers are indeed disturbed and deranged. Of that, there is no doubt. But bipolar-me is no more likely to gun you down than anyone else. Regardless, the media often diagnoses the dangerous, as a soul likely off their meds. But it’s simply not true or at least very rarely true. Self-harm, rather than harming others, is much more likely with folks like me.

I have never had a plan to do away with myself. But I do know what it’s like to not want to wake up anymore. Depression can eat you alive just as surely as cancer can.

“Do you feel safe?”, the nurse at Dominion asked me. “No”, I replied. So, she took away my shoelaces and my belt and my cell phone. Dangerous weapons, I guess. First light every morning and last thing every night, we had to answer the same question: “Do you feel safe? Rate yourself on a scale from zero to ten.” Zero and you can go home. Ten – or anything close to ten – and you get to stay a little longer. To stay your hand from doing yourself in. To stay your hand from doing what cannot be undone.

Especially, if at home, you had a gun. God forbid, if I did. Thank God, I did not.

God has nothing specific to say about guns, of course. And biblically confusing, Yahweh vacillates about wether we should be beating those plowshares into swords or those swords into plowshares. But Jesus – he’s pretty clear on the subject. Clearer than Ghandi. Clearer than Martin Luther King.

“I say to all who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. The one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek…Love your foes and treat them well….  Be just and lenient as your Father. Be not a judge…Be not an executioner. Pardon and you will be pardoned”  Luke 6 (trans. Garry Wills)

 This is not faithless passivity. This same Jesus, a very angry Jesus, turns over the Temple’s tables.  Not just a place of prayer, ‘the temple was the center of worship and music, the center of politics and society, a place of national celebration and mourning. It was the focal point of a nation and its way of life.” (N.T. Wright)

Angry for all the right reasons, Jesus threatens to tear the place down. Forty-six years it took to build, but Jesus says he will raise it again in just three days.

Not resurrected stones, but literally flesh and bone. Not a resurrected building but a resurrected life.

Since the start of this young year, we have prayed a prayer, that I cobbled together and crafted — from an article by the Jesuit James Martin.

Though my hope is that we never need pray it again, I repeat these words in the hope that God strengthen our resolve.  So that we may discern what stones not to leave unturned; to discern which tables need to be turned upside down – to preserve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.

Lord God, we ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded, to console family and friends in the face of such tragic loss; to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray for those who have taken innocent lives. We grieve, Lord God, as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary, Lord God, of the blindness to this important issue; weary of those who say nothing can be done. Weary, as when an exhausted Jesus fell asleep in the boat after wrestling with the demons of his day. We are angry, God, angry at the corrupt powers of this world that prioritize profits over people: angry, as was Jesus, when he turned over the tables in the temple. Grant us the courage and strength to work for change to preserve and protect the life of all your children. Lord, turn our sadness into compassion, our weariness into advocacy, our paralysis into acts of love.

 Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

JoaniSign


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Inked!!

Henna does not hurt.

Partying like it was 1999 – which it was – I spent a little sliver of my sabbatical at Venice Beach. I stayed with my new age, hipster, therapist friend Carey. We went rollerblading. We got our hair braided into a thousand little braids. We got our picture taken with a few outrageous costumed personalities. And we got “tattooed”.

I got a little tiny henna shamrock on my left shoulder.

It did not hurt.

Back home, I would slip my shoulder out of my sleeve and show it off. I showed it off to my kids. I showed it off to my coworkers. I showed it off at church.

“O my God!” people squealed, “Is it real?”

I’d smile slyly and then reveal the truth – the half truth.

“Yes, it’s real, at least for a little while until the shower washes it away.”

My shoulder did itch though. It itched for the real thing.

So on that same Sabbath break, on pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle, on the next to last day of my stay – I walked into a Dublin tattoo parlor. Cheered on by fellow pilgrims – both on my left and on my right – I bravely went forward to get the real deal.

“Could I please get a little green shamrock on my shoulder?”

“Sorry, mam, no appointments today. How about tomorrow?”

My shoulders slumped.

“Tomorrow? I’m leaving on a jet plane tomorrow. Don’t know when I will ever get back to Dublin again. Maybe I’ll get one when I get back home.”

Maybe.

Landed safely stateside, I told my friends this story. I told my coworkers this story. I told my kids this story – the story of the almost shamrock tattoo.

And I told it so many times over so many years, that my kids grew  sick and tired of hearing it. So sick and tired, they decided to put a stop to it once and for all.

Christmas, 2011, they gave me the real deal as a gift. And January of 2012 we all went together to JinksProof Tattoo. Zach and Colleen watched as the artist stitched a little four leaf clover on my left shoulder.

It hurt.

First they outlined it. Then they colored it in. Needle worked into my skin, my little shamrock is shorthand for who I am:

A Celtic soul.

Bipolar Boudica.

Druidic priestess.

Earth mother of four.

Rebel with a cause.

Squeamish of needles –

or something like that.

But this outward and visible sign is tattooed where I can discretely hide it away. I can cover it up with a sweater, a shawl, or a blouse – and choose to show it only to those I choose —  a game of peek-a-boo of sorts.

And this is our family rule when it comes to tattoos.

Just one, tasteful and discrete.

Rebecca, my earth mother eldest,raised under a different roof,  broke this rule, I believe.

Colleen, my social justice child has a little peace dove on her foot.

Zach, my film maker son, has Elvis’s TCB Lightning bolt branded on his arm.

Jacob, my youngest, has considered getting a falcon (maybe the Millennium Falcon?) on which part of his person I am not sure.

Just one and we are done. Well, not quite.

In my electronic inbox July 15, 2015, at 10:51 pm to be exact, my colleague Chuck MCoart sent me a link to a piece in the Huffington Post. No message, just “Possible blog post idea” in the subject line.

So I clicked on the link and up comes a  story about a tattoo. A very special tattoo. A semicolon. There is a picture of a young woman with one tattooed to her wrist. Her name is Amy Bluel and she founded The Semicolon Project.

inked-photos.jpg

A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.”

Amy got the first tattooed semicolon  when she lost her father to suicide in 2013. She was jut 18.  Amy in her young life has experienced far more than her share of pain. She is a survivor of the foster care system, sexual abuse and has lived with depression, darkness, and her own attempts at self harm.

But she says it was her father’s suicide “that brought more pain to my life than anything I have ever experienced.”

It could have been her end too.

Period.

But instead Amy chose the semicolon. She chose to go on and she founded the Semicolon Project “a faith based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

A great idea for a blog post! But in all honesty I couldn’t blog about it unless I honestly got one myself.

Because in all honesty, about a dozen year ago my own bipolar brain was clouded by such darkness. I know what it’s like to want to put a big black period at the end of my sentence. To go to sleep, say goodnight, hoping not to wake up anymore.

Joani Peaoock. The End. Period. Goodbye.

But alleluia, I did not. I paused before making a complete and final stop. I punctuated my life with a semicolon – so many semicolons – and I have gone on. By the grace of God and the blessings of meds and therapy, and the company of a hundred friends, and the love of my children, and valuable work, involvement with the community – I am still here. Marvelously, gratefully, jubilantly still here.

So I got one that very July 15, 2015 afternoon. I walked into Great Southern Tattoo and got a little black semicolon on my wrist, a little outward and visible sign of hope and healing. I got one so that I will always remember and never forget — the joy of waking up each and every day – no matter how lousy that day might be.

I got it to remember that every single day is a Holy Day.

And yes, it did hurt; to hurt is human; to hurt is essential to being fully alive.

JoaniSign

NOTE: Emmanuel is screening Ed Hardy:Tattoo the World, Sunday, January 28th at 6:00 PM. This 75 minute film explores the history of tattoos while telling the story of the filmmaker’s life — one of the most consequential contemporary tattoo artists. Come for popcorn, librations and a great discussion. 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, VA 22301.


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Bipolar Boudica, Bishop Brigid & Sister Fidelma

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, d. 60 CE

Since way back in the AOL days, my email address has been “celticjlp”. I am more than a bit of a Celtophile.  I have made three pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle. On all things Celtic, I have facilitated forums, I have led retreats and I have tutored a disciple or two. I am steeped, as steeped as I can be, in the history and spirituality of my chosen people. And in all five of the churches I have served I have concocted and celebrated Celtic worship, orthodox and otherwise. I am Celtic to the core and have the tattoo to prove it — a little green shamrock on my left shoulder. (A Christmas gift from my children!)

Let me recount just a few of the things that connect me so deeply to my Celtic ancestors. They worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars. They wove the sacred into their most ordinary of chores. They hallowed each and every very hour of each and every day with prayer. Their sanctuaries are the forests and the meadows and the cliffs. Holy spirits indwell their streams and inhabit their oak groves. Holy winds blow on their most remote islands and holy waves crash on their island’s shores. Every little blade of Celtic green grass practically shimmers with the divine. Well almost.

Not to over romanticize my chosen people, the Celts were a nomadic people who probably practiced human sacrifice. Not too often — but one human sacrifice is one too many. The Celts were a warrior people who liked to collect the skulls of those they conquered as trophies. They were a tribal people where both women and men exercised royal power. Yes, women in power. What’s not to like?

And this brings me to Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Queen.

Boudica, for those who do not know, was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain in the 1st century of the Common Era. During the time of the Roman occupation, Boudica’s husband was able to keep his crown. Upon his death, however, the Romans rolled over the Iceni. They captured its people and confiscated their property. Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. No one would have blamed Boudica, if she gave into defeat and despair. But hell no, Boudica rescued her daughters, climbed into her chariot, and led the Iceni army in the charge against Rome. She put down the 9th Legion, destroyed the Roman capital and went on to conquer London, another stronghold of the occupiers. There was bloodshed beyond measure and Boudica was eventually beaten back. It is said she took her own life to avoid capture. No one knows where Boudica is buried. But all of Celtic Britain knows her story, every little boy and every little girl.

And so this brings me to  Brigid.

Bishop Brigid of Kildare, c 451 - 525

In the second half of the 5th century, there was Brigid, Bishop Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is both the name of a Celtic goddess and the name of a saint. For the ancient Celts, Brigid is the three-faced goddess of poetry, metal work, and fire. And for Celtic Christians, Saint Brigid is the founder of the monastery at Kildare, the Church of the Oak. Kildare was a “double monastery” home to both religious men and women. And these Celtic Christian brothers and sisters were permitted to marry and raise children in service to the Lord. And Brigid, the abbess of Kildare, Celtic history tells us was consecrated as a Bishop. Carved into the stone altar rail at the Rock of Cashel, Bishop Brigid, crozier in hand, leads a procession of the twelve apostles. The Roman Catholic  Church turned her crozier into a butter churn and demoted Brigid from Bishop to milkmaid. Hopefully and forever, the hierarchy thought they had  put in her rightful and inferior place.

Until there was Fildelma.

The fictitious but o so fabulous, Sister Fidelma

The real Brigid did not remain buried forever. She has been resurrected and reincarnated in the fictitious and fabulous Sister Fidelma. Fidelma is the creation of Celtic scholar turned mystery writer, pen-named Peter Tremayne. Set in 7th century Ireland, the Sister Fidelma stories are a delicious combination of history and mystery. Fidelma is of royal blood, a princess of the Eoghanacht, educated to the level of dalaigh, an adovocate of the Brehon courts, just below judge. She is also a member of the monastery at Kildare, and married to Brother Eadulf. Yes, married to Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk, who is Dr. Watson to her Sherlock Holmes. And by the time Fidelma and Eadulf  are solving their 20th murder or so they even have a baby. Crack open one or two of these books and you will be hooked.  Tremayne gives them hokey Agatha Christie titles like “Absolution by Murder”, “Shroud for the Archbishop”, “Our Lady of Darkness” and “Whispers of the Dead”. Who says women can’t have it all?

Boudica. Brigid. Fidelma. When feeling the need to slay a dragon or two – or just feeling a touch grandly grandiose — who better for my bipolar brain to channel than the spirits of these holy three, this Celtic and o so feminist trinity. Boudica — queen, warrior, widow, mother and savior of her people. Brigid — goddess, abbess, priestess, bishop and saint. Fidelma — princess, sister, lawyer, detective and murder mystery solver. Their icons and statues grace my halls and walls. Their books and biographies fill my bookcases. I have embraced their stories and made them my own.

It may seem silly, but to tell you the God’s honest truth, I believe these three women are kin to me. And O my, my this little trinity has given me the energy  to get my warrior on — from time to time.. And so I believe myself to be their sister – their soul sister. Joani, the soul sister of Boudica, Brigid and Fidelma. Crazy, huh?

Yes, Crazy, bipolar Celtic crazy. The best kind of crazy there is. The best kind of crazy of all.

So friends, whose spirits are you channeling today?

(And by the way, a happy Saint Patrick’s Day!)

JoaniSign

 


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Scarlet Letter, No More

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

For 45 years, I have locked my secret away in a vault.

Lead lined, buried deep, for me and me alone, always to keep and never to tell.

Under lock and key, it seemed safer that way.

Forty-five years ago, just sixteen years old, I went looking for love, wherever I could find it.

And it wasn’t at home.

Outside looking in, I was Doctor Peacock’s daughter, well to do, parochial school girl, goody two shoes, and middle child.

Inside looking out, I parented myself from a very early age. While my alcoholic bipolar mom was behind closed doors and my workaholic dad was forever making rounds, I learned to take care of Joani.

So I found love in the boy next door. Both refugees from our dysfunctional households, close friends, we clung to one another for love and support.

And then I was “late”. O my God, O my God, what have I done?

1972. Alone and disowned by my parents, I had become a disgrace. A shame on my family, impossible to erase.

Should we have a shotgun wedding? My parents said no. His parents said yes. But both sets agreed that teenage parents, we were destined to be.

But I was a minor, just a child myself. And though I had conceived this child, I could not possibly conceive of  being a mom at 17. No, not yet. No, not now. No visible means of support. No diploma. No degree. Not even a bank account to call my own.

I was terrified. Out and out terrified.

A junior in high school, at Immaculata Prep, I hid my belly beneath a sweater buttoned up well into the spring. And on May 19th of ’72, the priest having refused us, we were married at the courthouse by the Justice of the Peace. I bought a calico hippy peasant dress for the occasion but my mother insisted I wear white.

I might, as well, have worn a Scarlet Letter.

scarlet-letter-two

And though, I knew I could not keep her, I also knew I had to bring her into this world.

The social worker at the adoption agency, whose name I wish I could remember, mothered me three trimesters through. But it was 1972. There was no Planned Parenthood. No birthing classes. No Lamaze. Just a stick figure pamphlet from the Medicaid clinic.

I remember going to the public library to find a picture book, so I could see and understand what was happening inside of me. Blushing at the circulation desk, I was terrified to actually check it out.

September 28th of ’72, in a cab all by myself, I made it to my final appointment at Georgetown Hospital. Already in labor, the nurse rushed me to the delivery room. No time for drugs. I did nothing but push.

And out she came. Purple and slippery and squawking and full of life. Shaking and in shock, I could not bring myself to hold her. I knew that if I did, I risked not giving her up.

I had no plans to even name her, for she was never going to be mine. But the birth certificate sat on my tray table. I had to fill in the blanks. Elizabeth Catherine. Or was it Elizabeth Beatrice? I can’t quite remember.

But I did visit the nursery, though I did not go inside.

“Please, hold her up to the window for me, so that I can see her before I go.”

“Goodbye, little Elizabeth. I wish you a good life. I wish you the best it can be.”

And I have never regretted this decision. I am proud of that child that brought this child into the world in 1972.

So I signed the papers, a sealed adoption. She would never know us and we would never know her. It seemed best for all concerned. And what did I know? I was only seventeen.

So I locked the secret up tight and threw away the key. Grieving was a luxury, I could not afford. Traumatized teenagers, kicked to the curb, we had to survive.

So I skipped my senior year and a year or so later, I made it to CUA. We got jobs in a preschool and the tiniest efficiency you have ever seen.

And now, to make a long story short, we took ten years to grow up. Built a marriage. Built a home. Built a life. And ten years later, in 1982, we had Zach and then Colleen and then Jacob.

All three babies made possible by Elizabeth, the baby I never held in my arms.

And even to my three children, she was a secret. Locked up tight. Never to tell. Why? What good would it do? What would I say? What purpose would it serve? Forty-five years is a very long time. It seemed the vault would hold forever.

And then she found me.

Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com (my brother’s account), just before Christmas, she found me.

An emotional tsunami broke loose in my head. Pummeled by waves, I was certain, I’d drown. Buoyed by therapy, I did not.

Rebecca Dragon is her name. Mother of three. Lives on a farm in Vermont.Spiritual seeker. Russian Orthodox, by choice. Theater major. She found and read my blog. My daughter’s too.

Excited beyond words, she had found her tribe.

Terrified beyond words, I froze, not knowing what I would do.

But, of course, I did.

The next morning, I called her. The hardest phone call I have ever made in my life. We talked for half an hour. Crying. Incredulous. Laughing.  And now, we have talked many more times. Texting, emailing, Face Booking, too.

She is happy, healthy, and whole. A down to earth, sort of off-the-grid parent, she home schools her three children. Crafty, she spins and knits. Comfortable in the kitchen, she makes real food from scratch. She is snarky and hysterical, theological and spiritual. And a blogger, herself, twice over. An urban expat, living on a rural route, she grew up in D.C.

Though those domestic genes are certainly not mine, she reminds me so much of me. Different, of course, taller, green eyes, and a different nose. She is definitely one of us. Primarily a Peacock, I would vainly say.

DNA is much more powerful than I ever could have imagined.

And now my children know and have happily connected with her, too. And my siblings know. And my coworkers know.  And my friends.

And now you know too.

Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, I fly to Vermont, to meet Rebecca and her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir. And her husband too.

I am going as “just Joani.” I am not “mom” or “grandma”. Rebecca’s fabulous parents, alone, deserve these titles. I did not raise her as my own. I like to call her “my long lost offspring” and as for me, maybe “biomom”, at least for now.

But we are definitely biologically joined at the hip. And I really, really like her. And I look forward to knowing her and her family, more and more.

So the “Peacock and the Dragon” will meet and we’ll take it from there.

No more “Mea maxima culpa.”

Scarlet Letter, no more.

(And meet Rebecca! Yes, also a blogger @ The Wee Dragon!)
JoaniSign