Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Composting my tea bag as radical change

I was putting a tea bag into the compost bin on the kitchen counter this afternoon when I was suddenly struck by how much things have changed in 30 years.

In 1985 I was still living with my family of origin in a large East Coast city in the Mid-Atlantic US.  We didn't recycle.  We didn't compost.  The City picked up our trash once a week.  If we raked our leaves into the gutters in front of our house by the fall deadline, the City would pick up our leaves, too -- there was a large truck with huge, flexible tubes like vacuum cleaners.  I have no idea, now, what happened to those leaves -- were they landfilled?  I suspect so.  Perhaps they were shredded and used for mulch for City parks. 

I don't remember what happened to Christmas trees when we were done with them.  Unlike most of our neighbors, who were Orthodox Jews, we did have one every year.  Did we cut them up and put them with the trash?  Was there a special tree collection by the City?  (Would they even come down our block for that -- ?)  Some years, I know, my parents used Christmas tree limbs for mulch.

I remember being frustrated because I knew that recycling existed, but only elsewhere.  I don't think I'd ever heard of composting, except as something hard-core organic gardeners did (we had grown vegetables for many years, but never composted). I didn't know anything about composting as a way to keep things out of landfills or save the planet.

A few years later when I went away to college, I discovered a world where ordinary people recycled.  I was so excited!  It was mostly paper and cardboard.  There were plain old cardboard boxes in the dorms and the brand-spanking new computer center, signs blu-tacked above them on the walls, for white paper, colored paper, and cardboard.  The following year, we had fancier cardboard boxes, pre-printed even; taller, with slotted openings. No longer makeshift; Very Official. 

When I went back to my family's house during breaks, I saw with fresh eyes, disturbed and disappointed.  There was now a recycling center within an easy drive of my family's house, and my family was receptive, so we started collecting our easy recyclables -- at the time, probably only paper and cardboard, and plastic milk jugs -- and making a drive to the recycling center drop-off something like once a month.

I'd had my first paper route when I was 9, and our city still had a newspaper with home delivery well into my teens, which my family still got.  We kept our recycling in our garage, and went to the recycling center when it got too full of recycling for the cars.  I don't remember where the plastic was kept -- right front corner? -- but the newspapers got stacked up against the left-hand wall.  The garage itself was made of two-by-fours, plywood, and shingles; we'd rebuilt it ourselves some time in my late school-age years, and repaired again when I was in high school.  When I was 19 and living with my family again, our garage was firebombed in an anti-Semitic hate crime (along with others in the neighborhood), and it caught and burned very quickly with all that newspaper and dry timber.  We had two beat-up old cars at the time, and thankfully, neither was in the garage that weekday afternoon. 

Not long after that, we got curbside collection of paper and cardboard, but still had to haul plastics like milk jugs and yogurt containers.

I still remember how novel, exciting, and ground-breaking it was to have someplace we could take our recycling to, and then to have collection for just cardboard and paper.

In the early 90s I moved back to my college city, and what the recycling was like depended on which township or part of the City you were in.  But it was still better than where I'd lived before, and I was more passionate than ever about recycling.

It wasn't until the late 90s that I thought seriously about composting.  My best friend and co-Priestess, who lived in an apartment with a balcony, had been doing kitchen composting for a while, and had a worm bin on her balcony; she used her compost on her house plants and balcony garden, and gave it away to friends.  After my ex and I split up, I started gardening, and started a garden compost bin.  It wasn't very successful -- really, I didn't know what I was doing -- but it was a start.

When Beloved Wife and I moved in together, we rented a house with a garden.  With my encouragement, she, an experienced gardener *and* composter, built a wooden three-section compost bin in a sunny back corner.  It was a thing of beauty. 

Sometime in the early aughts, a non-profit partnered with the City to do a kitchen composting training and research project: they offered training at local libraries, supplied people with kitchen compost containers for free (with *strict* guidelines about what could and couldn't be put it the compost -- no meat or dairy products!), and in return asked us to track how many containers we put in our garden compost piles instead of the trash, for a year.  I went to the training, signed up for the program, and started to feel like I had a small clue.  Beloved Wife and I started composting our kitchen waste as well as our garden waste.

In the late aughts, we were living in a large city in the Pacific Northwest when they introduced kitchen compost waste collection.  You just put everything in the same bin as garden waste, which they already collected.  And because the City had a high-temperature cooker, you really could put *everything* in.  If your house or building's bin was big enough, my wife joked, you could put a whole side of beef in there.

It was amazing and liberating.

Now, every housewares store I go into carries kitchen compost caddies. The city where we live collects compostable waste.  Garden waste collection and kitchen waste collection are separate; you put your kitchen compost in a compostable plastic bag, and in our neighborhood, take your bag down to the bin at the end of the street.  The opening's too small to fit a whole side of beef, but still, we put pretty much everything in there.  For garden waste collection, you put your compostable waste directly into your brown bin, and it gets collected curbside.  We also have a compost bin of our own in the back garden. 

We have curbside collection of metal and glass; we take paper, cardboard, many plastics, and other packaging down to the bins at the end of the street, too.  And we recently got glass bins at the corner, as well.   We can take other plastics, batteries, paint, textiles, and a whole host of other things to a City recycling centre. 

At local institutions, from cafes to universities to hospitals to airports, there are separate bins in public spaces for dry recycling, compost, and landfill rubbish/trash. (But not at train stations. *sadface*)

So there I was, this afternoon, putting a tea bag into the compost bin on the kitchen counter, and suddenly thought of how that simple thing *wasn't an option* for me 30 years ago in the place where I lived.  30 years ago, it went into the trash.  I'm glad it doesn't any more. 

This planet is sacred.  This planet is Goddess.  The Earth's air, fire, water, and dirt are my breath, energy, tears, bones and food and drink; they are me; they are my sustenance.  Whether it saves the planet or not, I can't bring myself to landfill that teabag...

...and I'm glad it's so very easy now for me to compost it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fellowship of Friends of African Descent -- 2015 Fellowship Gathering Clerk’s Letter and Epistle

Dear Friends,
The Fellowship of Friends of African Descent was born out of the Worldwide Gathering of Friends of African Descent organized by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Racial Concerns Committee in 1990. Since then, the Fellowship has held gatherings in various U.S. cities and in the year 2000, in the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, bringing Friends of African descent together to worship, nurture ourselves and our families, and to respond to issues of concern.

In this our 25th year of existence, we gathered in Philadelphia in August 2015 to re-establish the regularity of our gatherings and to address issues of concern, including the incidences of violence against African Americans in cities and towns throughout the United States.

In addition to me, our new leadership team includes Laura Boyce, Assistant Clerk; Claudia Wair, Recording Clerk; Robert Thomas, Treasurer; and Marille Thomas, Communications Committee Clerk.

We invite Friends of African descent who are just learning about the Fellowship to visit our Facebook page, read the attached Epistle and hopefully join us next August when we will meet again in Philadelphia.

In the spirit of peace,
Francine E. Cheeks, Clerk

2015 Epistle
Fellowship of Friends of African Descent
1515 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA  19102
October 12, 2015

Greetings to Friends everywhere:

The annual session of Fellowship Friends of African Descent convened August 21–23, 2015 at Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia, PA. Our theme, “Can I Get a Witness? Honoring our Past, Celebrating our Future.”This call for a witness is a prophetic imperative in Acts 1:8.

Affirming the presence of God in all people—Friends settled into an attitude of worshipful listening: listening to each other; listening to the still small voice; and listening to a host of spirit-filled speakers.

We were blessed to hear from Pulitzer Prize winner Harold Jackson, who is the Editorial Page Editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  He read from his article, “The Memories of a Black Child in Birmingham,” describing memories of his life as a 9-year-old in 1963 Birmingham. He recalled the violence: marchers beaten and “knocked from their feet by powerful water cannons operated by city firefighters, and then taken to jail.” One of the four little girls killed in the church bombing, Carol Denise McNair, was a friend of his. He recalled the foundation that his family and the Black community provided for him, and noted that such support is no longer present in many communities. “Fifty years later,” he concluded “the hatred has subsided, but it's not gone…. We all must remember the past, so as not to repeat it.” In silence, spoken word, and song we remembered, celebrated, and poured libations honoring we gave thanks for the presence of God, as shown in the lives of our recently departed Friends Noel Palmer, Daisy Palmer, Edward Broadfield, Nancy Peterson, and Jane Cuyler Borgerhoff.

We were heartened by the reports of Paula Rhodes, clerk of the Community, Equality and Justice Committee, Laura Boyce, Associate General Secretary for U.S. Programs, and Paul Ricketts, member of the Community, Equality and Justice Committee. AFSC staff members gave compelling accounts of the essential work the Committee is doing at home and abroad. The work of Peace by Piece engages young people in their communities; particularly important in this time of systemic violence across the nation towards people of African Descent.

Our clerk, Diane Rowley, asked “Where does the Fellowship go from here?” which led to our developing three priorities:
  • Planning a long hoped-for trip to Ghana        
  • Developing a comprehensive Communications and Outreach plan
  • Revisiting the Fellowship’s mission statement
The ensuing discussion produced several concrete goals: Endeavoring to travel to Ghana in August 2017; updating our website and creating an online forum for continuous communication among members; and deliberately incorporating our mission statement into all future activities.

Vanessa Julye reported on the Pre-FGC People of Color Gathering. Feedback from the gathering indicated the importance of the event to those who attend, leading FGC to add the gathering as a budget item. The Friends of Color Center provides materials and support for attenders and is a significant resource. Regional gatherings for people of color give far-flung Friends important face-to-face time. We are extremely grateful for and will continue to support the work of Vanessa and the Ministry on Racism Program. To this end, we have attached a minute to the FGC Central Committee expressing our wholehearted support for the Program.

Ruth Flower of FCNL gave a powerful presentation on Mass Incarceration, detailing the unequal application of justice, the effective for-profit prison lobby, and the numerous alternatives to the current system. We were then treated to hearing Sari Sari Lupe Guinier read from her book "To Face It."

Philip Lord, Clerk of AFSC, delivered the keynote address. He referred to the weekend’s theme as “appropriate and profound” before sharing his experience of having “The Talk,” with his sons; that painful necessity in our society. By telling them that “there’s a prison cell with your name on it,” he related the reality of institutional racism. He spoke of the courage it takes to stand up and be a witness; there are significant risks involved, and all great witnesses make great sacrifices. But no matter the risk, no matter the sacrifice, we are called to be witnesses. Even if we need to step back and take a break, we are called to return, to take on the heavy weight, to change the world with the revolutionary act of being ourselves.

On behalf of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent,
Francine Cheeks, Clerk

Original here: 

The Fellowship of Friends of African Descent on Facebook:

Friends General Conference Ministry on Racism:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Guest post: My loved one did not complete a suicide

Here are some of the posts I promised on this topic for suicide-loss survivors and supporters of those who have tried to die by suicide.  Many thanks to Laura Anderson and Hollis Easter for working with me on this.  Names and identifying features have been altered to protect the identities of those involved.  - sm

My loved one did not complete a suicide

Suicide touched my life when I was young.  I was in sixth grade when my cousin killed himself, and I didn’t really understand how to respond or what I should feel.  But my parents, in spite of their grief, were good about making sure that I was okay.  They checked in with me to ask about my feelings and see that I was grieving in an appropriate way.

Far more difficult for me to process, however, were the attempted but not completed suicides.  I suddenly became caretaker, or helpless, or confused about my role in someone’s life.  Doctors would talk to me about the best way to help my loved one through this tough time.  I would sit in waiting rooms, trying to have conversations but struggling for a good topic.  Some of the other patients had tentative grasps on reality (Tom’s roommate said something about touring with a rock band); some were in rehabilitation for drug addiction; some had attempted suicide; some had made bad decisions (such as attending a party, getting really drunk, and then a couple hours later taking a sleeping pill to help them fall asleep).

Nobody ever asked how I was doing.

My pain was left to me to deal with.  My husband Sean had an emotional meltdown a week after his brother, David, came home.  We had to be strong because Father-in-Law and our final housemate were incapable of dealing with their emotions.  We had to be capable of handling David’s needs, make sure that David’s mother was doing okay (being out of town when your child is hospitalized is awful), managing Father-in-Law’s and housemate’s emotional states, and taking care of our own emotional states.

After my ex-fiancé John came home, his roommate and I had to go through the house and remove any items with which John could injure himself.  We had to help him fill out paperwork and make certain that he made it to doctor’s appointments.  I had to call his boss and tell him that John wouldn’t be coming in to work, call his parents to tell them what had happened, while dealing with the grief of my near-marriage erupting like a volcano only a month prior.  And nobody asked me how I was.

I was too distanced from my sister, and we all had the attitude that she had just been trying to prove a point, to show how desperately in love she was for a boy – she would cut her own wrist for him.  My parents and I dealt with the pain by accusing and grumbling. 

Nobody asked me how I was dealing with it.

The only time someone ever asked how I was doing was when my cousin killed himself.  But that was the easiest, emotionally, for me to deal with.  I didn’t have to look him in the eye and know that he was suffering so badly that his only option was to kill himself, but that he had not completed the suicide and was now in an uncertain position with people around him.  There was no awkwardness, no trying to get him to open up, to talk to us, to talk to a therapist, to take medication.  I was allowed to talk about my pain, I was allowed to cry, I was allowed to grieve.

But the other three times, I had to be strong.  My loved one needed me more.  They needed me to take care of them, to help them out, to be willing to listen at any time of day or night.  Nobody really considered that I, too, might be struggling with this situation.

By the time David had his crisis, I had a decent idea of how to handle my emotions.  I knew that I needed an outlet, needed a way to relax and take the stress off.  I scheduled time to drive down to visit my parents and spend the day with them.  They were so removed from the situation that I was able to clear my head a little bit and actually enjoy myself.

Then I was able to start talking.  I talked to my husband about my emotions.  I made sure he was okay, because this was his first brush with suicide, whether completions or attempts.  We sat and cried together.  We hugged each other.

But we had no real resources, because nobody thought to ask how we were doing.  Everyone’s concern was for our loved one, who had attempted but not completed suicide.

I wish I had some great advice to give to all of you who are dealing with an attempted suicide that was not completed.  But I don’t.  Because when a loved one attempts suicide but does not die, everyone focuses on taking care of that loved one.  We have an attitude that they “sank really low” (I hate that terminology, by the way) and needed us to help them regain good mental health.  And while that’s true, we tend to forget that people are dealing with the fact that somebody they love tried to kill themselves. 

How do you deal with that?  The only thing I really know is this: comfort in and dump out.  When you have someone in crisis, you want to comfort that person but not neglect your own emotional state.  So you talk about it to people who are more distanced from the crisis and offer comfort to those who are closest to the crisis. http://www.girlfriendcircles.com/blog/index.php/2013/04/how-to-respond-to-a-friend-in-crisis/

This means realizing that you are upset.  That you’re dealing with an emotionally charged situation, and that you’re not okay.  And it’s fine to not be okay.  Just because your loved one is dealing with powerfully negative emotions doesn’t mean that your pain is meaningless.  Just because they are hurting doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to hurt too.  You need to be tactful and sensitive to their pain, but you must also acknowledge your own pain and work through it.  Join a support group.  Talk to a friend.  Find a therapist.  Go out to breakfast with your parents.  Cuddle your cat or dog.  Cry.  Sob.  Write blog posts.  Write personal essays.

Just make sure that you don’t neglect yourself just because someone you love is hurting.

-- Laura Anderson


If you are thinking about dying by suicide, please, talk to someone.

This article can give you some ideas about what to expect when you call a suicide hotline: http://www.holliseaster.com/p/call-suicide-hotline/
  • In the US, anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK.   You can also livechat from their website, http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
  • In the US, LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also text or chat: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now#tt
  • In the US and Canada, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people can also call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.  Please see their website to confirm staffing times: http://www.translifeline.org/
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87. 

You are sacred.  Your life matters. 

Guest post: Visiting Hours

Here are some of the posts I promised on this topic for suicide-loss survivors and supporters of those who have tried to die by suicide.  Many thanks to Laura Anderson and Hollis Easter for working with me on this.  - sm 


When you pass through the doors of a psychiatric ward or hospital, you enter a place with stark truths on display, in which illusions are to be stripped away and lives rebuilt. There's a profound and unsettling honesty in the struggles you see there. The deep stuff comes out: the anguish, the terror, the shifting sense of what is real and what is illusory, the loneliness, the grief, the anger, the pain. Amid it all, often, you see hope. But whatever you see, the truths carry a lot less varnish here than in the world outside.

The essence of compassion (literally, suffering with another) is to stand shoulder to shoulder with others in their pain. To look, together, at the hard things in their lives, doing our best not to flinch in the looking. To offer support and to be present in whatever comes.

Challenging under any circumstances. So much more so when offering compassion involves entering that space yourself, leaving your own grief and fears and pain outside in a dusty waiting-room locker, working to shape yourself into the support they asked you to be. It's tough, important, exhausting work. If _mitzvot_ are sacred kindnesses without hope of repayment, surely this must be one.

Laura's piece gazes with compassion at the act of visiting people in a hospital, looking with kindness and candor at the meaning and the costs of generosity and support. It admits that we cannot always fix what hurts those we care about, exhorts us to try anyway, and acknowledges that the emotional toll of caring can be huge.

Hollis Easter, MS
holliseaster@gmail.com / @adkpiper on Twitter
http://www.holliseaster.com/blog/ : articles about suicide intervention, teaching, instructional design, etc.


Visiting Hours

We were there as the only support structures that they had, the people they begged to see, begged to bring them new clothes, toothpaste, play a game for the short visiting hours.  We drove from an hour away, or two hours, or five minutes and smiled and gave them hugs and they would tell us how their day went, how group therapy was, how art therapy was, if they’d managed to sleep in spite of room checks and lights on in the hallways.

Or we were desperately trying to get through to them even though they didn’t want to see us, even if they stared at us with dull eyes and sat in their chairs, unmoving, unresponsive as we tried to engage them, tried to remind them that we loved them.  They wouldn’t answer our questions, or maybe they didn’t know the answers.

 They hallucinated.  Or they were suicidal.  Or they could fly into a rage and threaten to kill.  They were here because they had nowhere else to go, and we were here because we felt responsible for them.  We were their brothers and sisters, their husbands or wives, and we brought their children or mothers or fathers and passed on messages to friends who were worried.  Or we didn’t tell anybody because they didn’t want the public to know, so we bore our struggles in silence and tried to support them, tried to push aside how we felt so that we could take care of them.

They blamed us.  Or they thanked us.  They said they only tried it because of us, because we pushed them too much, because we had unreasonable expectations.  That if we had been nicer to them, if we had listened when they talked, if we hadn’t been so wrapped up in ourselves, it never would have happened.   They said it was because of us they were alive.  We had listened when they most needed it, we had been there to support them, make sure they got the help they needed, insist that they go somewhere where they can’t harm anybody – including themselves – it was only then that they realized what a problem they had.  How they hadn’t realized how far they had fallen, how dark their world was, how wrong it was that they wanted to end it.  Or they wished we hadn’t helped them, that we had ignored them and let them die because living sucked and they were done with it and we had to wonder how soon after they were released they would try again or maybe this time succeed.

We had seen it coming.  We knew they were depressed.  Or that their breakup had been bad.  We knew that they weren’t on medication for their schizophrenia, or they had stopped taking it because they were “fine.”  Maybe we hadn’t seen it, though.  Instead, we were too wrapped up in our own lives.  We thought they should have been able to deal with the breakup.  They should have been on their meds.

We blamed them.  If only they had been stronger.  Why couldn’t they deal with this?  We’ve all been through it and we weren’t suicidal.  Didn’t they know that bipolar disorder created extreme depression or mania?  Why would anybody in their position stop taking their meds?  Why would anybody with depression refuse to start taking meds?  I don’t like doctors and I don’t like pills isn’t good enough, we thought.  Why didn’t they come to us sooner?  We would have listened.

We blamed ourselves.  How couldn’t I have seen this?  I should have known.  We were glad we got there in time because how guilty would we feel?  How terrible would it be, knowing the should-haves, would-haves, if-onlys?  Why didn’t we make ourselves available to them?  Why didn’t we ask how they were doing?

We left at the end of visiting hour, offering hugs and kisses, promises of future visits, hopes that the next day would be better, hopes that they would continue to heal.  We asked that they continue taking their meds, that they talk to their doctors, talk to their psychiatrists, talk to each other.  Whatever they needed to heal.

We left in pairs, offering each other comfort: we had done the right thing by visiting.  We drove home, but we didn’t really talk to each other about what we were feeling.  We didn’t want it to be our pain, because it was about them and their need to heal.  So we stayed quiet.  We pretended that we were okay.  When they were released – if they were released – we didn’t tell them about the pain they had caused us.  How their actions had damaged us.

We told ourselves it wasn’t about us.  Maybe we even believed it.  But we neglected ourselves.  We neglected the real pain we suffered.

But we cannot neglect ourselves any longer.  We must accept that we hurt, too.  That it might have been about them, but we suffered too.

-- Laura Anderson


If you are thinking about dying by suicide, please, talk to someone.

This article can give you some ideas about what to expect when you call a suicide hotline: http://www.holliseaster.com/p/call-suicide-hotline/
  • In the US, anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK.   You can also livechat from their website, http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
  • In the US, LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also text or chat: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now#tt
  • In the US and Canada, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people can also call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.  Please see their website to confirm staffing times: http://www.translifeline.org/
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87. 

You are sacred.  Your life matters.