Son & Mom

PJ has joined me for my morning commute. It is his first day of cross country practice at the high school where he will be a first-year student in the fall.

So he joins his dad and me on our normal walk with the dogs up to the green line train, where we say goodbye to the dogs–and his dad–and get on together.

We are both a bit nervous: new school, new friend possibilities, new commute–downtown Chicago, in the Loop, no less. We look at the mapped route on his phone, discuss how he will get himself home after practice after I’ve headed to work in the north Loop. When we just sit, our shoulders bumping gently against each other as the train starts and stops, starts and stops.

Just before our stop, a man walks down the aisle, shaking coins in a cup, his money-ask a sing-song, sounding like an advertisement jingle. He’s got style, this man, turning grab-bag items from shelter bin into a personality statement. His dark sweatpants are tucked into cowboy-style boots, transforming them into something a bit more fashionable, his layered shirt, vest, jacket are arranged and colorful. A jaunty hat perches at an angle atop his grey hair. His walk, heel-toe, heel-toe, adds to his rhythm. I nod at him, and he nods back before sitting down across from us.

I have just tipped my head toward PJ to say something when the man speaks, not to me but to PJ.

“That your counselor?” he asks.

We both look at him, confused.

“That your social worker? You a foster kid?”

I am too startled to respond at first. But PJ is not. “She’s my mom.”

“Foster mom?” I sense an undercurrent of anger, but I’m not sure.

“No, my mom.”

I find my voice. “He’s my son.” He’s looking hard at me; obviously waiting for an explanation to connect this Black teenager and white woman.

I nod again. “My son.”

Now the emotion is clear. Sadness droops across his face like a clown mask, and his chin drops. “I was a foster kid. I got no one.”

He shakes his head. “No one. I’m all alone, always been all alone.”

It is our stop. I nod at him as we stand and leave the car. Once on the street, I say to PJ, “A lot of pain there, a lot going on.”

He nods at me but doesn’t say anything. As a Black kid with a white mom, he’s got his own “lot going on.” My thoughts are here, with what he is carrying, with what the man we just left on the train carries, has carried his entire life.

But PJ’s “lot going on” is surpassed in this moment by what is directly ahead of him. “I remember that restaurant,” he says, pointing to a sign ahead and referring to the one and only time we have visited his school before in this crazy COVID year.

And, again, we are who we are,

looking for a school entrance,

nervous and hopeful about all the new ahead of him,

son and mom.


I practice stillness

to know I am not God.

Mornings, as I wait at the end of the train platform,

I face the sun, shut my eyes, and

see the glowing orb through the scrim of my closed lids.

Light inscribes wisdom there for my inner sight:

gleaming lines, thin as spider silk, stretch out

from the center, more, more, more,

till a flaming web is all I see.

Countless points of light,

connected in, through, to

The Glory.

I lift my eyelids, but the web, for a moment, stays in my sight,

overlaying my view of the platform, my neighborhood, the city skyline beyond.

The train rumbles up next to me.

I step in to a car filled with people,

and each one glows.

“From one ancestor[I]he (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[j] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’”

from Acts chapter 17, from a speech Paul made in front of the gathered Athenians

Valentine’s night

It is Valentine’s night, and I am on overnight shift as the on-call chaplain.

I print out kids’ jokes to give to staff as I make my rounds, sheer silliness to lighten the night.

What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back? A stick!

What kind of shorts do clouds wear? Thunderpants!

One technician tells me he will share the joke with his patients as he wakes them to check vital signs.

As I walk off one floor, the nurses at the station are already sharing theirs with one another, giggling at the corniness.

A smile is on my lips when a trauma code beeps on my pager.

Suicide. Family not present. No chaplain support needed

–not yet at least.

As I read, my hand clutches the jokes in my pocket, each one printed on a strip of paper,

flimsy and thin, perhaps irreverent, in this moment.

And yet…

I grip them tighter and head to another unit.

I will share laughter for at least a few more minutes,

not to make light of tragedy, nor to ignore it,

but to remember that just as we partake together in joy

so we can also do joint journey through sorrow,

and it is more bearable borne together.

“I Want to Live”–Dreams Deferred

At noon yesterday I was part of a small protest held in remembrance of George Floyd and to protest police brutality. It was local, in the neighborhood next to mine, in the  heart of the Westside of Chicago, at the corner of Pulaski and Jackson, where nearly every household (if not every single one) has either a personal or a family experience of police harassment or brutality.*

At our small gathering the young people in our midst–all of them from the Westside–led the protest, shouting “No justice/no peace,” “I can’t breathe” and “Mama, help me.” Passersby in cars (and one CTA bus driver) honked in solidarity and people walking by raised fists to show support. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man and woman walk by with their two children. Each child wore two pieces of poster paper sandwich-board style, with words written on the poster paper. I was only able to read one sign before they were gone, hidden by the crowd.

“I want to live.”

Those parents had dressed their children in the most fundamental and basic of the dreams that parents have for their children. I know they’re also dreaming of their children thriving, of their actually being seen for who they are, of the unique giftedness each has being equally valued and fostered… But there are also days when the only dream that can be held onto is that of sheer survival. They don’t want to see their children die. They don’t want to outlive them. They don’t want to get word of their violent death or see it splashed across the news. They don’t want them to get degrees, get jobs, move into neighborhoods less riddled by violence, only to see them harassed and possibly killed by an altercation with a white person or police.

On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his dreams for his own children and all African American children.

Nearly sixty years after that speech–sixty years–and parents in my neighborhood are still dreaming simply that their children will survive. The other dreams–those bigger ones that are supposed to be “normal” for parents to dream for their children in this country–those dreams have been deferred, again and again.

I have been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams a lot in the last month. Probably the parents of those two children I saw today have been thinking about them as well.

But poet Langston Hughes also talked about dreams, and in the last few days it’s his words that have been echoing in my mind, over and over.

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?


To read all of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, click on this link: 

The poem by Langston Hughes is “Harlem” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates, Inc. It was copied from

*One Sunday a couple years back when I was visiting a local church, the pastor asked the congregation how many either had a personal or family experience of police harassment/brutality. Only two people did not raise their hands; those people were my husband and I, the only two white people present. The pastor raised his hand as well.

if breath be prayer, a Tanka poem

If breath be prayer—

inhale, exhale, in-out-in…

embracing Life Source,

dispossessing false control

—each in-and-out deepens trust

*Tanka is a Japanese poetic form with five lines with a set number of syllables for each line (5/7/5/7/7). Each line should carry its own bit of meaning, with each line contributing to a larger whole. I made a slightly different version below because I can’t decide which I like better 🙂

If breath be prayer—

inhalation an acceptance

of Life Source; exhales

dispossessing false control

—each in-and-out deepens trust



Dandelion moment

Single dandelion seed

catches on my sweater,

tethering its breeze-bobbing fluff

at the end of a hair-thin stalk.

I admire its delicate elegance,

then reach for my phone to capture the image.

But it will not be detained.

In my moment of inattention, it departs.

Featherweight parasol floating away.


*This is a collaborative piece. My friend and housemate, Susanna Frusti, took these pictures the other day. When she showed them to me, I said, “I just wrote a little poem about a dandelion seed!” So we decided to pair them as a post.


This face, these faces

I generally encounter my face only in bits

-post-brushing teeth inspection

-close-up of lids and lashes for makeup application

Then off I go.

But in this time of social distancing/virtual meetings, I have been faced with…

My Face.

Right there, on the screen, staring back at me.

It surprised me, the sight of her.

I watched as a hand snuck up to touch the soft skin below her chin,

And when I felt its fleshy sag, screen and reality connected.

She–that grey-haired woman with slightly pouchy cheeks–not jowls yet, certainly not jowls!–is Me. I am She.

She-I smiles/smile at a remark made by another meeting participant, and I examine her/my crows’ feet–made by more than one crow, apparently.

I am struck by her/my resemblance to my Italian father.

The creases around my mouth, the roundness of my olive cheeks,

Deeper, pouchier on my small, 91-year-old father, who is…


A social media update, posted by a former writing colleague, comes to my mind. Her husband, in his fifties, is battling Covid-19. “I watch his face,” she wrote, “check his temp, gauge the color of his lips, try desperately NOT to count his breaths.”

Many virtual meetings into a pandemic that disproportionately affects our elderly, my eyes dwell only briefly and with sympathy on my own growing-old face…

before wandering off to watch the others on the screen, some more lined than my own, some less,

each one dear.

Beyond them, connected by unseen webs, are countless other dear faces, one linked to another, another, stretching round our hurting world.

So many faces, each one Dear to at least one Someone.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Seeking Joie (a Bananagram poem)

Explanation: We’re a household of 8 right now, none of us essential workers, so we’re homebound except for trips to the grocery. We’ve played a number of games of Bananagrams in the last few days. It’s a game in which you take letter tiles and make words that must intersect with each other (like a crossword). My niece and I, both writing geeks, set each other the task of writing a poem with our words. I took the words from two of our games (they’re underlined below) and wrote the following:

In waxen, waiting times (as in the here-and-now of COVID distancing) we want to jug Joie–Joy!–like fine oil, each little bit and pip of it precious, as worthy of hoarding as toilet paper.

Yet, in this waxen, waiting time–in which we have time–we must learn that true joy is not simply fetched but requires seeking, a tracking down, a following of one clue after another.

Joie’s clues? Shh, I’ll tell you…

‘Tis time, says Joie, to bayonet our grievances and set them adrift in deep, diked waters, to press into prayer for all beings, from bison and badger to next-door neighbor and even that Facebook enemy.

‘Tis time ‘to let go of all liens–be they financial or psychological–and set free our grudges, from those we consider “quaint quirks” to our -isms (sex-ism, patriarch-ism, rac-ism, class-ism, gender-ism…),

‘Tis time to send home the judge and jury and practice acceptance, nay, to practice LOVE!–LOVE unending, like the digits of Pi stretching ’round the world and back till our own hearts are pierced,

‘Tis time to invite God in, flaming like shining fire, permeating like fragrant cigar, to melt our icy bits, fumigate our every stinky corner,

‘Tis time to buy, as the Scripture instructs, the living water, with zero money, zero price,

So that our wilted beings rise–cleansed, freed, loved, lightened–filled to overflowing with JOY!

I read. They teach.

The weather is nice—a rarity in Chicago this spring—so it’s a quiet morning at the women’s shelter at Breakthrough. Most women are gone for the day, out and about, but one regular, C, an older woman whose soft, gentle voice is rarely heard, is here. Kristine, a staff worker stationed at the desk in the common room, introduces me to J and tells me J, too, is coming. J is wiry and full of nervous energy. She’s an addict, she tells me in a spill of words, has been for years, but she found Breakthrough and has a bed there and wants to finally attack her addiction. She’s started going to AA meetings. “This,” she says, waving her hand at the three of us gathered to pray and read Scripture, “will help me. Prayer always helps me.”

I always begin our time together by asking if anyone has any passage or story in particular they would like to hear from Scripture. J says she wants to read about beginnings, since she herself is embarking on a new start. I read Genesis 1 and then I ask if they would like to hear the beginning of Jesus’ story here on earth. Both do, and I turn to Luke 2 and read. J has to leave for a meeting, so I ask C what she would like me to read next. She puts her finger on my Bible and points at the next chapter. “You want me to keep going?” I ask, and she nods.

So I read Luke 3. C whispers, “Keep going.” Luke 4. She smiles and gives a little nod of encouragement. Luke 5. Another smile-nod. Luke 6.

Luke 2-6! These are long chapters, covering (among other things) Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation; his calling the disciples; his healing people with demons and leprosy and paralysis and withered hands. The grand teachings of chapter 6 include “blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep…; love your enemies; be merciful; don’t judge; produce good fruit”… And all these teachings are followed by the parable that begins: “‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?’” Jesus talks about the house built on rock and the house built on sand. He ends by saying, “‘The one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”

I finish reading chapter 6 and check the time. It’s past 11. We’ve been reading for over an hour. “Sorry, C, we have to stop here,” I say. “Do you have anything particular you want to pray about today?”

She reaches over again and touches my Bible, pointing to that parable. “Let’s pray about that,” she says softly. “I don’t want to be that house that falls.”

“Me neither,” I tell her. “Me neither.” And we pray that we will be followers of Jesus who do what he tells us to do.

Every Monday, I read…

and they teach.