Resonating with the Land

 

The last few days have been full of awareness for me. As I type, I am conscious of the Sangre de Cristo mountains around me, the fragrant smells of the earth after a brief southwestern rain, and the hint of buzzing in my head as my body attempts to acclimate to the Taos altitude which is almost at 7,000 feet.

I have always loved and have been drawn to the Southwest. It is a landscape that I resonate with. It is a landscape that, when I am in other parts of the country, I meditate upon. It calms me down, grounds me.

A few months ago, I returned to the Southwest for the first time in eight years. Almost immediately I felt my chakra system align, particularly my root chakra. It was easier to think clearly and to feel my mind/heart/body connection. I didn’t have to work at grounding myself, like the way I have to living in the Midwest or when I visit other parts of the country or world. It was as if there was a weight anchoring me deeply into the earth. This weight was like a mother’s warm hand on my back rather than a heavy, uncomfortable pressure pushing me down.

I feel the same soft, steady warmness inside of my body stepping off the plane into New Mexico. It is a combination of the desert mountains and dryness of air, but it’s also much more. It is the Land (capital ‘L’) who is the personification of an intense motherly energy – sharp and stern – as well as deeply nurturing. The desert Land is not comforting to everyone. She recognizes those who will always be visitors from those who carry her essence in their hearts. She can be harsh and, at first glance, desolate and uninviting. But for those who take the time to meet and get to know her, She is penetrating beauty gifting our eyes with immense heights and incredible depths. She is the profound canyon and the most treacherously magnificent peak. She is vastness and darkness. She is blinding light and heat. She gifts those who deeply appreciate Her by presenting us with glorious skies, brilliant stars, and Her body – which is the sienna, cinnamon-colored land on which we stand, build upon, and explore.

For me, the desert reflects my ideal inner landscape. In my core, when I am most at peace, there is an expansiveness that is not unlike the desert’s vastness. It goes beyond my consciousness and into the land of dreams. It is a liminal space between my perception and the unconscious. It is both uncomfortable in its limitlessness and completely freeing.

I am constantly trying to find the perfect equilibrium in this liminal space. Like a dial on an AM/FM radio, I have to carefully place all my attention on tuning it just enough to hear what is coming through. ‘Tuning in’ is another way to describe the conscious act of finding the frequency to which I want to resonate. The Southwest and the desert, in general, is a physical outward manifestation of a frequency that completely jives with my spiritual make up and composition. It is a representation of the inner spirit-scape I seek.

This awareness of the Land I am currently immersing myself in is a reminder to me that WHO I AM at the soul level needs vastness, quietness, and space to achieve inner equilibrium. This harmony is more easily accessible when an external representation of what I want to strive for and manifest within is right before my eyes. The test will be if I can achieve this grounded, peaceful feeling that I am experiencing so strongly now when I go back home. The test is knowing, in my heart, that this spirit-scape already exists within. I don’t need to travel thousands of miles to find it.

With love,

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Doing vs. Being of Service

whenwewillallseeourrole

 

What does it mean to serve, to be of service to others? What does it mean to choose the role of the servant? How does the concept of ‘service’ translate to who we are and how we decide to ‘be’ in this world?

I remember in my junior year in high school I was considering running for an Associated Student Body (ASB) position. I knew I didn’t want to be President and I wasn’t interested in Treasurer either. Vice President and Secretary appealed to me and both were positions I thought I would do well in. My high school, an all-girls Catholic school, also had another position available. This position was ASB Service. Of all the positions, I wanted this one the least, not because I thought I couldn’t handle the responsibilities and not because I wasn’t well qualified (I had consciously been involved in service in different ways throughout my high school career). It was because I didn’t want to be known and seen as “the Service person.” What made matters worse for me was that almost every teacher and dozens of my peers told me I should run for Service, that I would be “so good at it.” Deep down, I knew they were right. I knew that I could help organize and lead retreats, plan specific service-related events on campus and within the community, and, overall, provide strong leadership and mentoring for other students, particularly freshmen and sophomores.

Even though I knew I would be excellent in this position based on feedback I had received over freshmen, sophomore, and junior years from teachers and peers about my service work, I resisted submitting my name for nomination. I actually filled out the nomination sheet for Secretary and was going to announce my decision when I heard that one of my good friends had already submitted her name for Secretary. In fact, many of my friends submitted their names for all the positions except for ASB Service. I found out that they were saving the spot for me (!). Their action was both infuriating and thoughtful. Knowing that my friends and fellow peers deliberately did not submit their names for Service because they thought I was a shoe-in, made me feel a responsibility to not let them down. I submitted my name for nomination and was voted in easily.

In retrospect, at age 17, I believe I was coming to terms with the humility of service. What made me so uncomfortable choosing to run for ASB Service was a deep sense that I wasn’t doing enough. True service to me, even as an adolescent and young adult, meant that I needed to do much more. My experiences felt too easy. For example, going to a pre-school and working with young children one-on-one or in small groups as part of my service hours didn’t feel like service. Even though I enjoyed being and playing with small children, this experience was just another assignment I needed to complete. Whether I was in the classroom or not, I felt like my presence didn’t make a huge difference on the children’s overall growth and learning. I was just another high school student or volunteer dropping in, getting her ‘service’ criteria satisfied, and driving away with all the necessary signatures to demonstrate my ‘involvement.’

Service as a mindset and philosophy meant something to me. Maybe it was being exposed to catechism that included in-depth case studies of specific saints and martyrs. If I wasn’t feeling fully connected to the acts of ‘goodness’ or ‘kindness’ I was enacting or if I wasn’t feeling some degree of sacrifice, then, in my young adult mind, I wasn’t doing my part. Not doing my part was exasperated by being known as “the Service person” on campus. Though my peers and teachers valued my service-related work, especially my shared written personal narratives about spirituality I wrote as part of my service leadership during retreats, I felt like an imposter. I realized that doing service was a far cry from being of service.

Being of service, I understood to a limited degree, at age 17, was a way of life, a choice to live every moment acknowledging Self but making decisions to be of service to others. Doing service, in contrast, could be measured quantifiably through external acts that others deemed ‘good’ or ‘kind.’ Even at 17, I cringed at the notion that people held a stick up to me and measured me as the ‘good kind of service.’ They didn’t know what I was feeling inside. They didn’t have a clue if I was ‘being’ rather than just doing obligatory service. All they could see – as they checked the boxes or signed the papers – were all the external, seemingly meaningful ‘acts’ in which I was involved. The more hours the better. The more ‘impact’ – as measured by how many people I served lunch to – fantastic!

Fast-forward decades later, and I find myself thinking of ‘service’ as an Assistant Professor who is creating courses that are community-engaged. I am actually structuring one course as a critical service-learning course. Critical, in this case, means centering social justice at the core of pedagogy and its enactment or praxis (Mitchell, 2007; 2008; 2014). Service-learning refers to the structure through which a higher education course intentionally centers ‘service’ as “mutually identified and organized service activities that benefit the community and [assist students in] gain[ing] further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of personal values and civic responsibility” (Bringle & Clayton, 2012, p. 105).

What strikes me in this reflection, is how similar I feel to how I did as a 17-year-old, when I ask myself and my critically-minded colleagues if we are actually BEING OF service to the communities we collaborate and work with through our community-engaged work or if we (my colleagues, our students, and I) are only DOING service. In higher education courses, where does merely doing service end and being of service begin? And in semester-long courses that are based on extrinsic motivators (grades, recognition), is it even possible to go beyond only doing service?

For me, the answer lies in the internal shifts that occur within each individual. As a whole,  most likely, the majority of my students – when engaging with community members – may only be doing service, regardless of what they write in their journal reflections or say in their final project presentations. Doing service means getting the good grade and being able to say that they ‘know about real issues.’ Being of service, for the few who truly get it, means that their experience and interaction with community members deeply shifts their understandings of who they are in relation to others with whom they are speaking, communicating, and interacting. Being of service means that the external ‘doing’ of service has translated to a knowing. This knowing is the realization that service is not an action divorced from the heart. Service, in its purest form, is being in, coming from, and sharing the heart for the purpose of caring for, listening to, and being there for another without conditions.

Service is akin to Rachel Naomi Remen’s (2000) discussion on ‘charity’ or “ways of giving to others” (p. 86). She tells the story of an Orthodox rabbi who provided her with clarity around these ‘ways’ through different levels of understanding unconditional giving:

  • At the eighth and most basic level of giving to others, a man begrudgingly buys a coat for a shivering man who has asked him for help, gives it to him in the presence of witnesses, and waits to be thanked.
  • At the seventh level, a man does this same thing without waiting to be asked for help.
  • At the sixth level, a man does this same thing openheartedly without waiting to be asked for help.
  • At the fifth level, a man openheartedly gives a coat that he has bought to another but does so in private.
  • At the fourth level, a man openheartedly and privately gives his own coat to another, rather than a coat that he has bought.
  • At the third level, a man openheartedly gives his own coat to another who does not know who has given him this gift. But the man himself knows the person who is indebted to him.
  • At the second level, he openheartedly gives his own coat to another and has no idea who has received it. But the man who receives it knows to whom he is indebted.
  • And finally, on the first and purest level of giving to others, a man openheartedly gives his own coat away without knowing who will receive it, and he who receives it does not know who has given it to him. Then giving becomes a natural expression of the goodness in us, and we give as simply as flowers breathe out their perfume (pp. 86 – 87).

In the final iteration of ‘ways of giving to another’ we become servants of humanity. We recognize the divinity each of us carries within, in spite of outward appearance or perceived difference.

As educators, I am interested in how we can use these understandings of service to inform our being-ness as we interact with our students, community members, and other stakeholders. To what degree are we willing to be of service and in what areas do we find ourselves only doing service either ‘begrudgingly’ or for the sake of being acknowledged or recognized? Where do we begin, in our own work, to help our students shift from merely doing service to becoming servants to society, to humanity?

These are questions I hope we all ponder seriously as we (re)imagine and (re)conceptualize a world in which we are committed to serving humanity – our children, our communities, and our planet.

With much love,

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References

Bringle, R. G., & Clayton, P. H. (2012). Civic education through service-learning: What, how, and why? In L. McIlrath, A. Lyons, & R. Munck (Eds.), Higher education and civic engagement: Comparative perspectives (pp. 101 – 124). New York: Palgrave.

Mitchell, T. D. (2007). Critical Service-Learning as social justice education: A case study of the citizen scholars program. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40(2), 101 – 112.

Mitchell, T. D. (2008). Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the literature to differentiate two models. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 50 – 65.

Mitchell, T. D. (2014). How service-learning enacts social justice sensemaking. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 2(2), Article 6, 1 – 26.

Remen, R. N. (2000). My Grandfather’s Blessings. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Right Speech

To be mutually one in heart is better than to be one in speech…

for often our words do not reflect what is in our hearts.

Our spiritual work is to balance our heart with our speech

so that both are beneficial to ourselves and others.*

 -Rumi

Lately, in my work as an educator, I have been thinking deeply about this concept of right speech. What does it mean to demonstrate right speech? What does it mean to be a person who consciously practices right speech? And, what implications does right speech have in my teaching and research as well as in everyday life?

I believe bell hooks (1994) would approach right speech with her explanation of Self-actualization. Self-actualization is the magical and spiritual moment when who we are, what we say, and what we do are in complete alignment. Here I capitalize the “S” in Self to denote my own belief that she is referring to our higher Self – our soul embodiment as compared to our individual ‘selves’ that are formed when we develop our persona during this lifetime. I also believe educator and scholar, Paulo Freire, would describe right speech as the commitment to “the way [we] act and think when [we] develop all of [our] capacities” (Freire & Betto, 1985, pp. 14 – 15) while working “to shorten more and more the distance between what [we] say and what [we] do” (Freire, 1997, p. 83). In essence, to me right speech is being consciously aware of the power and resonance of our words. It is a deliberate choosing of the most appropriate word to convey our heart’s messaging.

It is spoken at the right time

As educators, right speech is spoken at the right time as we weigh out if others are ready to hear our message. Speaking from our heart means taking a risk, particularly within a society that is hardwired to condemn vulnerability and emotion. Emotionality from a woman in academia can be problematic as we are, many times, perceived as being either hysterical or incompetent (Onwuachi-Willig, 2012). But when viewed through a lens of right speech, we are demonstrating courage and strength. We are removing filters and layers to speak truth. However, knowing not only the right time but also the right audience is key. Showing my true Self to others is a GIFT that should not be a precious pearl thrown to swine, meaning only that some people may be unwilling to open their hearts to your message. Discerning the right time and the right people is essential in maintaining my sense of integrity and dignity. Those who aren’t ready or willing to accept my heart’s messaging are not individuals with whom I want to share my heart with in a particular moment. Therefore, as an educator I need to be aware of when and with whom I can give my whole Self as I am teaching, learning, and engaging with others.

It is spoken in truth

Right speech has to reflect my own truth as a woman, educator, mother, wife, biracial Mexicana, and cancer thriver. In one space I cannot espouse to be one thing when in another I claim a different perspective or identity. Being in alignment means being true to who I am and speaking my words while standing firmly in my own truth.

It is spoken affectionately

Sometimes it is very challenging as an educator to speak to students with affection when what they say or write is in complete contrast to what I believe in. For example, when students take a firm anti-immigration stance, I – who am pro-immigration – find myself needing to breathe deeply and reflect, not only on what I am going to say, but the tone in which I am going to state my words. Reaching in deeply to find affection or compassion is, in many instances, a struggle. However, I am finding when I can demonstrate love and openness with another – even if I am actively disagreeing with their point of view – that the outcome is generally more constructive. In fact, because I am willing to actively listen to their perspective without trying to judge them, they are, oftentimes, left perplexed as they begin considering my perspective. The dissonance created in showing my students I can still care for them while disagreeing with them jars their own thinking and causes many of them to reconceptualize their own understandings.

It is spoken beneficially

Right speech means that I am thinking not only about the processes of communication and interaction with another, but also the overall outcome. As an educator, I need to think about the end game. In other words, what is the purpose of aligning my heart with my words? What is the purpose of sharing with my students or colleagues my true Self in a particular moment? If the answer to these questions is to provide a constructive and mutually beneficial outcome then, no matter how difficult the interaction, I am more willing to engage. Knowing that I have the highest good in mind is a critical indicator for whether or not I move forward with right speech. Though I want to always engage others with right speech, sometimes, if my heart is not fully convinced of the overall benefit to everyone, I retreat by pulling back and only giving as much as I feel is necessary.

It is spoken in a mind of loving-kindness

 To me, right speech “in a mind of loving-kindness” invokes Christ consciousness, which is a comprehensive knowing that who I am as a loving being is fully in alignment with my words and actions. This level of right speech is something to which I am constantly striving. Being in loving-kindness does not mean allowing others to take advantage of our willingness to be good. Rather, it means standing up for ourselves, setting strong boundaries, and stepping into a tough love that demonstrates our fierceness for humanity and our courageous fight against injustice, hatred, and dehumanization in all forms. Right speech in a mind of loving-kindness also goes beyond this fight and provides us with a window out of which to see how each one of us is interconnected. In loving-kindness, we rely on our hearts to discern the humanity within each person while choosing words that resonate to the highest level of love possible in that moment.

*A very special thank you goes out to Lynn Santamaría, my mom, who provided the Rumi quote and the “Right Speech” figure.

With love,

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References

Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the heart. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P., & Betto, F. (1985). Essa escola chamada vida. São Paulo: Atica.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York,    NY:     Routledge.

Onwuachi-Willig, A. (2012). Silence of the lambs. In G. Gutiérrez y Muhs, Y. Flores            Niemann,  C. G. González, and A. P. Harris (Eds.). Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of      Race and Class for Women in Academia (pp. 142 – 151). Boulder, CO: University    Press    of Colorado.

 

Inner Balance with Love at the Center

Time is speeding up. Have you been feeling it? Sensing it?

I feel like we are in a deep learning period where lessons are coming in at bullet speed.

It’s hard to describe in words what I am understanding. I see and feel through images what Spirit presents to me.

I can describe it this way:

When I write for EduSpirit I write from my heart drawing on intuition, the flow of consciousness. It is a different sort of writing, completely detached from linear progression and unencumbered by morphosyntactic structures or analytical examinations. It is akin to what I believe surfers must feel as their primal senses hone in on “the fetch” – the area over which the wind is blowing – to determine how fast they need to paddle toward an oncoming swell. It’s the inner knowing of balance, the way we catch ourselves from falling when we slip on black ice. Or the way Joan Miró knew when to add a bold red line to give the other objects in the painting significance and weight.

So back to my questions … have you been feeling it? Sensing it?

But, what is IT?

IT is amorphous, elusive. Like a mosaic, the closer you get to the picture the more fractured and nonsensical the image. Only by taking a step back and detaching ourselves from the expectation of what we believe the image is or should be, do we begin to derive clarity of how all the smaller pieces fit together into the larger whole. Then, and only then, can we perceive the visual narrative.

IT plays with time and space. How are we already in April 2018? I remember New Year’s Eve clearly. I was creating vision boards with my family. And yet, the events that have occurred both personally and collectively since January 1st have been profound, unprecedented, and life-changing.

The lessons during this time feel exponentially more intense and challenging. Maybe because they are coming in fast, furious, unrelenting and without pause. It feels that just as soon as I make a breakthrough by recognizing and understanding the gifts in one lesson, another is right around the corner. I’ve barely caught my breath and Spirit is handing me another challenge.

Yet, one of my spiritual teachers constantly reminds me to reconceptualize “lesson” and “challenge.” What if, instead, I understand the situation as Spirit inviting me (again and again) to view the person or circumstance with love? What if I am being invited to LOVE and be LOVE in every moment? And when I do not feel love and, instead, feel angry, challenged, upset, saddened, or even ecstatic, I can learn to recognize that these emotions – not originating in love – are indicators of a part of me that is asking to be healed.

The lessons are coming in hard and fast. Again, we are being invited to consciously recognize the parts of ourselves that are being triggered by others and that reflect back to us what is begging to be healed. When we understand that we are divinely created – we are love and love is perfection – we begin to focus on the beauty within ourselves and in each person. What we, in our third-dimensional mindset and physicality, perceive as flaws, suddenly become areas where deep lessons reside. We no longer view these ‘flaws’ as deficits, but rather, as doorways to the authentic Self. It’s “through the cracks that the light gets in,” and if we intentionally focus on our inner sacredness with a humanizing and compassionate orientation, then we begin to be less judgmental and much more forgiving. This forgiveness, however, must first originate from within. Though cliché, there is a deep truth in forgiving ourselves – including what we perceive as fractured parts or flaws – before we can deeply and authentically forgive others. We must first cut our own cords that keep us attached to self-hate and admonishment before we tackle the challenge of releasing and severing unfulfilling or unloving attachments to others.

During this weekend when many are celebrating Easter, I am taking time to pause. I am consciously taking time to light candles, focus on my breath, and slow each moment down – at least for a little while. It feels so important to me to recognize the sacredness within myself, the part of me that forgives easily, laughs heartily, and smiles without effort. I go about the week rushing around trying to cram the work of three people into one working day, and I forget my own power. I forget that I, just as all of you, are forces of love. Sometimes we need to be reminded that every choice we make – however small or seemingly insignificant – is an intentional act that has the potential to bring joy and love to others and to ourselves.

May each of you have blessed and sacred moments this weekend,

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Featured image is by Joan Miró, Triptych Bleu I, II, III (1961).

Cracking the Shell

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It wasn’t until the last few days that I felt deeply in my bones that something had shifted for me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was at first. It was like driving from Tucson to California in the middle of the night and reaching Quartzite at the break of dawn to catch a luminous edge, a glowing orange, peering slightly above the horizon. The feeling at the sight of the first emergence of light over the dusty mountains on a lonely highway was sheer awe. Driving for hours with the road visible only by headlights and the dim sheen of a crescent moon and desert stars, the immensity of deep relief gazing upon the new morning stunned. A rush of energy pulsed through my nerve-endings.  Inky skies no longer blended with black landscapes. A sudden awareness of detail, of sharp contrast, brought clarity to the road. The sun’s fiery threads weaving through the mountains illuminated the path to my final destination.

This week I saw the break of dawn in my own life. I was unaware until the light flooded in that I had been submerged in the dark depths of my own shell, a protective layer of subconscious that kept me suspended in stasis. I wasn’t fully living. Before the Diagnosis, before the Cancer, there was fear. I had married, divorced, and married again. The fear was palpable. Did marriage guarantee monogamy, fealty, unconditional love? My experience said no. My expectations of love set me up for failure, for I had bought into the myth that another person could complete my life, set me free, liberate my soul, and fulfill my longings. I believed in soulmates and twin flames. I believed in complete synergy with another human being who would complement and unify all my parts.

I sought so furiously, desperately, for this union outside of myself. I believed that happiness and true love meant finding that perfectly amazing human being to whom I was fated to be and live with throughout this physical existence and beyond. Everything hinged on me finding this person. So, I searched and searched.

What has taken most of this life to learn is that the person I have been looking for so feverishly is my own Self. This search is the luminous edge. It is the cracked shell. But now it has broken open, the cracks are wide.  No prayer of re-assemblage.

The Hopi have said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” In the most profound manner, I have begun to embody this belief. Like an egg, my shell has been cracked again and again until, finally, the Truth of who I am in relation to this life has spilled out. It has been messy, unpleasant. There is no containment. I am who I am. We are who we are. And the internal knowingness that only we can fulfill our intrepidly wild and gorgeous dreams is one of the most powerful truths I have ever encountered. It’s like driving in the dark without headlights and reaching the cliff’s edge. My inner guidance knowing to slam on the breaks as I wait for the Sun’s first rays.

With much love,

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Disclaimer: For those who may be tempted to read into this reflection, please know that all is well at home – with/in and with/out. There is a sense of peace and deep love where before there was sometimes doubt, within and without.

Arms

By Cristina Santamaría Graff

Dedicated to those whose lives were taken in a moment of anguish, confusion, and rage at Parkland High School on February 14, 2018.

In honor of surviving students who have armed themselves with fierce love to speak out against gun legislation that has set the stage for immense violence against humanity.

With love,

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Arms

My arms,

outstretched,

she runs into my embrace.

Trembling, her fists pound my back,

more like raindrops than hail, they are

expressions rather than deliverers of pain.

 

My arms,

They bring comfort to her unsettled heart,

POUND, Pound, pound…

“Shhhhhhh, quiet now. The gunfire is over.”

Her arms,

they shield her face,

hands cover her ears.

“I can hear the screaming,” she mouths.

 

My arms,

they carry notebooks and pens,

extra paper for José, a calculator for Bella.

Dry erase marker etchings line my forearms and fingertips,

once again forgetting to cap the tops.

 

My arms,

They dole out high-fives,

handshakes at the classroom door, Kleenex, wipes, stickers, fist bumps, and hugs.

My arms,

always moving,

to show, to demonstrate, to examine, to analyze, to assess, to teach.

 

Your arms,

full of fire and misplaced rage.

You project your despair on the innocent,

You know no other way.

Your arms aim and shoot,

the more the better – this is your plan.

 

Their arms,

in the air, on the floor, under the desks,

begging, pleading.

They are just arms, another target to shoot at.

 

Your arms,

AR-15s – powerful, mighty, righteous.

They become God.

You are the messenger, the deliverer of pain.

 

Your arms,

now hang nonchalantly at your side.

They buy you a drink at Subway.

 

Our arms.

Our truth.

What arms do we bear?

What arms us?

What do we choose to be armed with?

Are we bearers of fear?

Do we arm ourselves with love?

Can we bear our own truths, our own fears?

Can we bear the reality we are creating?

 

Our arms,

our minds, our hearts, our consciousness.

We have the right to bear TRUTH,

to confront the lies,

to stand up for each other,

to live and choose LOVE.

 

Our arms,

They can write new beginnings.

 

Remembering Dolores O’Riordan

In the early 1990s, when the Cranberries were at the height of their career, I remember enjoying their music but keeping them at a distance. It seemed like every alternative music station was playing “Zombie,” “Dreams,” or “Linger.” Though I appreciated the complexity of the lyrics and was riveted by Dolores’ voice – which sounded like it was resonating in an echo chamber – I was oversaturated by their fame. They were ubiquitous and, like any celebrity band, reproductions and copycats of their sound and image were inescapable. I didn’t want my early and mid-twenty experiences defined by memories of their music. For example, I didn’t want to associate my experiences walking through the streets of Mexico City with “Ode to My Family” churning over in my head. I wanted the playlist of my formative adult years to reflect the pain and desires of falling in tormentous love and looking for an exhilarating external freedom (which only much later on, would I realize could only exist within). I wanted something audible that was raw and full of power. Sound Garden, P. J. Harvey, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana provided backbone to all the mixed tapes and CDs I created to accompany me on road trips and international adventures or during indulgent brooding sessions. There was no room for the Cranberries during this period in my life though, in some ways, they were always there following me through magazine covers and background music in restaurants and bars.

Then in 2012, I watched The Cranberries on Tiny Desk Concerts. It was sometime in March or April just a few weeks after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember I was alone. It was late at night in the living room. My husband had gone to bed and the girls, including my 10-month-old baby, had finally fallen asleep. The house was quiet, but warm. It was early spring in Washington state and, though there was a deep chill in the air outside, inside, my husband had prepared a beautiful, crackling fire in our wood-burning fireplace. It smelled of sweet hickory.

I couldn’t sleep. I was preparing myself emotionally and psychologically for the upcoming mastectomy. I sat on the couch with one of my cats on my lap and began scrolling through Apple TV. I had started watching Tiny Desk a couple of weeks earlier and had caught a set by Foster the People. I wasn’t terribly acquainted with their music, except for “Pumped Up Kicks,” and immediately appreciated their acoustic, stripped down performance. It hooked me. I wanted more.

I scrolled through the Tiny Desk menu and saw, “The Cranberries” listed. My heart gave a little jump. I thought, “Wow! They’re still together? I’ve got to see this.” I pushed the play button on the Apple remote, and there she was – Dolores O’Riordon. I was immediately struck by her short black hair against her pale white skin and minimal makeup. She, too, was stripped down. She felt raw to me, but far from vulnerable. There was an inner ease and strength in her voice and movement. She started the set with Linger and, at one point, when she sang, “I swore. I swore I would be true and honey so did you. So why were you holding her hand?,” I felt her question measured, direct, and full of context. On the word “why,” she arched her body forward and squinted her eyes as if posturing to an old lover who had deceived. That gesture said, “How dare you mess with me! I will not stand for this! I am worth so much more!”

My heart filled watching her, feeling her emotions ebb and flow. At certain moments she was standing her ground and speaking from her heart and, at other times, aloof and distant. At one moment, it seemed like her mind had drifted and had landed on a deep, dark memory. Her stare was thousands of miles away. Then, suddenly, she came back as if jolted into the present, smiled at her “lads,” and poured air and life into each forthcoming word.

Tears flowed down my face as I watched her performance. I found myself standing in the center of my living room arms outstretched, in the same manner as Dolores’, singing with her. I poured and channeled all my anger and fear into each song and was completely surprised by the fact I knew almost every word. How in the world had I learned these songs? A part of me must have always been paying attention. A part of me must have known during the 1990s how important these songs would be to me one day, how cathartic it would be to sing with Dolores in my living room as I sang out the fear of death.

Something about who Dolores was now, in 2012, became really important to the healing that occurred that night. I saw my own pain, sorrow, and happiness reflected in her eyes. There was a deep understanding that I knew we shared. It was the indescribable bittersweet experience of feeling loss and hope simultaneously. She embodied both and, that night, I was completely receptive to the underlying message her soul was expressing.

Dolores, in Spanish, means “pains” or “sorrows.” It is not lost on me that in the Tiny Desk performance she is wearing a beautiful, heart necklace which, I believe, is a representation of a Milagros pendant. A Milagros, which translates directly to “miracles,” is a religious folk charm that is traditionally used for healing purposes and as votive offerings of hope. I find it profound, in the retelling of her Tiny Desk performance, that what I experienced as the most transformative aspect of that 4-song concert was the juxtaposition of the pain and hope I felt from her through that set. Now, after her untimely death at age 46 – the same age I am now – I am struck by how she weaved, pain and hope, so viscerally, effortlessly.

This is my Ode to you, Dolores. Thank you for always being there for me, in the foreground and at a distance.

Much love,

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