Help: Because You Can

border-immigrants-crossing“Our country has the duty to respect this commitment.” So said French President Francois Hollande, on France’s decision to welcome 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years (including an investment of 50 million euro to support housing for refugees). What of our commitment, American Congress?

Surely Emma Lazarus is weeping.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It’s so hard to know what to share, what to do, how to help.

Scratch that. It’s not hard at all.

The “right thing” is right in front of us. And I get so flippin’ angry I can barely stand it, at the rhetoric and xenophobia that pass for politics.

In 1998, when we barely had dial-up email, I wrote a letter and sent it to everyone I knew, feeling desperate to do something about the genocide in Kosovo. “The Kosovo Fund,” as I called it, raised several hundred dollars, which I sent to the Red Cross for Bosnian aid. A drop in the bucket, but better than watching the news and wringing my hands at home, thousands of miles from the conflict.

This weekend, the girls and I cleared out our closets of blankets we no longer use, then spent $23 at the dollar store and put together bags to keep in the car for those in need on the street, with socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and the like. This idea came from Mani, whose youngest is doing a blanket drive through her church in Phoenix as the desert nights grow cold. And then, within our own borders, a closer-to-home refugee crisis with so many risking and losing their lives crossing the Mexican border due to desperate circumstances.


It’s easy to feel distraught and powerless in the face of global refugee crises, climate change, institutional racism, women earning $.76 to the dollar, corporate arrogance, and phenomenally hateful and ignorant people running for U.S. President. It’s easy to feel so crushed by one “issue” that all the others come rushing in. On the flip side, it’s easy to shut down.  The world is simply beyond repair, it seems.

But our work here is the same as it’s ever been: Not to go numb, at least not for good. Tikkun Olam in Hebrew means “Repair the World,” and this is our mandate. It’s not optional, and it’s not about feeling good. It’s about justice, and the great mystery of the shattered vessels. On the other hand, we’re commanded to give joyfully; our interdependence and mutual responsibility for each other and for the planet are neither to be taken lightly nor as a burden.

This makes sense to me on such a visceral level that I grasp for words to describe the ache and breaking I so often feel when I look at the faces of children — locally, nationally, globally — who will be trafficked into destitution and prostitution, slave wages (if any), dangerous conditions, and the despair of being displaced from home and family.


The Refugee Art Project

This, even as we are also working to take care of our own needs and desires, which are also legitimate and very, very real. Providing for my own children is nothing to sneeze at; in fact, it must be my number one priority to care for those I brought here, and doing so is a blessing.

Some days I feel like all I do is pray and/or give thanks, for every dollar I earn, for every kind exchange I experience with someone, for every bill I am able to pay, for every meal I cook or purchase. Their privileges are many, and they also live near extended family whose means and generosity enable them to experience things far beyond my financial abilities.

And I worry. I have relatively few big fears, but one of them offers me the drive to model for my kids that we are responsible for each other as human beings, no matter where we’re from, what we believe, or how we live.

I pray that they learn this and carry it into their own lives. How do I teach them, without them feeling lectured, berated, and shamed? I don’t see these as great teachers, and yet sometimes I feel like that’s exactly how things come across, on the occasions that I’m exasperated by material expectations.

We go out of our way to stop at a red light in a turning lane, though we need to go straight and will ask the guy next to us if we can sneak in front of him. “Do you have any cash?” I ask V. I roll down the window, my teenager handing me a dollar or two from her own wallet to hand to the woman we see often on this particular median, with her backpack and her cardboard sign. I make eye contact, hand her the cash, and wish her a good day as she thanks us.

It’s not enough. And it’s everything for today. It’s a gesture, a start, an end. It’s making tzedakah–charitable giving based on the root word for “justice”–a condition of receiving allowance and other monetary gifts. It’s not feeling guilty for every little step we make, towards our home being as lovely, warm, inviting, bright, and beauty-filled as we dream. It’s having fun making a budget and choosing gifts for our five daughters (and each other!).

It’s saying thanks before we eat — and letting whatever my kids say be enough, even on the nights one of them says she is thankful for “forks and spoons” or “technology.” The point is the practice of it. The insistence on it. The reliance on awareness to come to life where it meets action.

Has there ever been an easy time in the world to raise kids? I doubt it. As a dear friend said on the phone last night,startling me with the truth of it: “Who isn’t hurting deep inside?” To hurt and to live with gratitude, joy, and empathy — now that is what I want to practice. I may not change the world, but I will die trying.

Help. Whom you can. When you can. Where you can. How you can.

And most of all: Because you can.

The Roar Sessions: Deli Moussavi-Bock

Raise a Roar
by Deli Moussavi-Bock


I grew up with two views of that word. One came from watching Born Free and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, again and again. My brother and I, our eyes glued to the set. The other was the insolent roaring of people in proximity to me, roars worthy of tuning out.

I’d later recognize the latter as false roars. For much of my life I was surrounded by one or another person whose roar deafened. Rage roars, unexpected roars, anywhere, here, there, anywhere. Individuals roaring, trying to establish control, wanting me and others under their thumb. And it was just their pain they voiced. At one of my jobs, my female boss roared. Roared a roar when it made no sense. A searing roar. A missile full of rage, targeting anyone and everyone, on which to pin her self-hatred. Scores of male and female false roars, trying to decimate with the volume and the arrows of their words, unleashing fury for the pain they had lived and had not. A mushroom cloud of dead roars. This was my human context of roar: to harm and to hurt. And, an utter annoyance, to boot. Imposter roars masking pain, longing, sorrow, the-self-annihilating-you-will-feel-my-pain-as-much-as-I-do trauma drama roars when I’m just trying to eat my hamburger and live my life. Roars aimed to turn the inside pain out toward someone or something. A hit here. A hit there. Echoes reverberating every which way bullet sprays.

Enough, I said. I pulled in my real voice. It was far safer, tucked in the left drawer in my head. I had already picked up some bad habit false roars in what I justified as self-defense. So many years of having tucked in my true roar made it hard to discern my inner roar from the outside noise. The shit I had picked up along the way and thought was mine.


And then there was Born Free, Elsa the lion, and the wild creatures on Wild Kingdom. There was something about the musicality of both titles. Again, my brother and I, glued to the screen night after night. Watch a baby lion learn to roar. Now, that is a roar. A groan. Lions have such a wide range in their vocalizations, from ferocious roars heard for miles to a rumble to show they’re pleased.

I had to practice my real roar, in all its permutations, speaking from my heart, the way a lion cub tries on its roar. My roar came from the depth of me, swelled in me.

Growing up, I heard, if you roar in public, you will die. And I think about my first country and the fear they put into everyone and the saying that fear is a liar. Under the old regime, if you roared, you’d find yourself dead of a purported ski accident in the mountains. The new regime was more straightforward than that. Off with your head. So I played it safe for years. I learned the cost of roaring is high.

At the dinner table, we’d talk politics, the state of the world, of our two countries–and my parents swore I’d become a debater. I knew where my heart was in all of this. At school, my teachers knew I had something to say. But outside of home and school, my mouth would close and my immigrant head would nod. “Do you have any of your own opinions?” some would ask. I’d shrug. It was simply easier to swallow my words. I swallowed and sometimes choked on words because I learned that my real roar was trouble for some, inconvenient or too bold for others, too true or too strange. It simply had no place. So I hid it. I roared in my head, in countless conversations with myself. I lived my two lives, one on the outside and one within, urgently writing on stolen scraps of paper here and there, but for what, I didn’t know. Swallowing my words became habit. You always have a sore throat, people would say. Yet there were messages to my self in those words that had to be written no matter the cost.

I learned there were prices to pay for roaring within the family as well. I put off publishing my stories in my 20s because of the fear that I’d be disowned. Well, I was disowned anyway. That’s the funny thing with stuffing your roar. All the exhausting hard work of nodding, acquiescing, agreeing, bolstering, playing it safe to stay safe–and shit happens anyway.


I practiced listening for my roar. I listened for the shades of difference in roars; did they come from the heart or from the head? I grew up listening to Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin roar. I read Ghandi’s roars, I listened to Martin Luther King roar. To Henry David Thoreau. Willa Cather. Edith Wharton. And I thought: Wait… these are the people in whose company I would love to be. Self-possessed. Having flipped off fear. And yet in service to something… something higher than themselves.


Sarah Orne Jewett said, “Find your quiet center of life and write from that to the world.”

It took me years to steadily regain my roar, to hear her, let alone unchain her and let her out. I chucked the people in my life who insisted on their habit of false roars, rationalizing away the pain they inflicted. I made a ritual of finding my quiet center day after day, and I write to hear my roar more clearly. A firm, gentle, harmless, powerful roar. In the quiet space of my inner life, my roar reminds me: I was born free. I am free. My roar is the wild kingdom inside me. And as much as I feared that it would cost me, it was my true roar that brought me back with my family, closer than ever, after being disowned. It’s my true roar that has made every pivotal decision in my life, for good. It is my true roar that has kept me awake and alive in my own life.

I listen carefully to others’ roars, which reach my ears and heart. I sift and sift. My gut knows to discern true, heartfelt roars from the rest. They rise up from the center of the earth. When I walk into the woods, in the mountains, in meadows, by a river or a lake, I hear the roar of Earth in all of its modulations, her rumblings, the roar of the trees, however gentle, pine needles. I hear the roar of the birds that goes right through the depth of me. They were born to sing and for some, their lives depend on it. And the wind roars through it all. Rain, thunder, and quiet small brooks. And the almost imperceptible hum of Earth itself, breathing. The roar of my life narrates itself in these places and I am but a humble listener.


When I practice attuning my ears to my own true roar, a funny thing happens. I become attuned to the true roars of others, however quiet and imperceptible they seem at first. I receive them because I know where they’re coming from. A deep well. A true space. The truest space within each of us. That quiet center.

No, I’m not a seer. I am a human being with ears. Finally listening, paying attention. That is all. So now I regularly clear a space for myself, just for my roar, and invite it forth. And when it comes, often to my surprise, it’s not a solitary roar. When I clear that space to hear my own roar, it is life speaking with me. I am in fine company. I hear my sisters roar, in the Middle East, in the West, to the South, to the North. I hear men roar in the ways they want to, not how they’re expected to. The rumblings, the rising, the liberating roars. Roars transcending time and space. Hums, chants and incantations. The chorus of collective roars, oars in an open sea of energy, an opening, an opening into a life maybe we’ve never lived before. Moving us forward collectively. A frequency or a harmony we’ve forgotten, maybe. Quiet revolutions unfolding. Revolutions of the heart–the most permanent kind of turnover.


The gold, the gold, the alchemists’ gold is in the deep well below the fake roars, whether our own or that of others, that try to strangle our freedom.

I forgive myself for muffling my true roar for years.
I forgive myself.

May I never forget the jurisdiction I have over the wild kingdom of my heart, and that I, and each and every single one of us, are born free. And connected.


Deli1Deli Moussavi-Bock is a writer and long-time facilitator, wife and mother of two kiddos. She lives in the Northwest.

Keep an eye out for her soon-to-come blog, Deliwrites:

The Roar Sessions: Lindsey Mead

When Your Roar Sounds Different Than You Thought It Would
by Lindsey Mead

lindsey2I thought that a roar, by definition, sounded like a wild, feral lion.  I was raised by a mother and father who taught me I could be and do anything I wanted.  I headed down the road well traveled, into business and a Harvard MBA by the time I was 25.  Still, I wasn’t roaring.  I felt timid and quiet, if I’m being honest.  I got married and had two babies by the time I was 30.

I kept thinking I needed to start to roar.  But maybe, I told myself, I could focus on that after the next brass ring was in my hand.  It was my obligation, my destiny, right?  I was a feminist with a capital F, a child of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  My awareness of the investment the world – my parents, my teachers – had made in my education was so keen it sometimes threatened to suffocate me.  I would dent the universe.  I would roar.  I owed it to everyone who had believed in me.

It was my return to writing that allowed me to find my roar.  Though I had always written, and studied English in college, with a concentration on 20th century female poets, I took many years away from that world while I grew a family and a career in finance simultaneously.  It was only as I entered my 30s that I returned to the page, driven by some urge that was as unnamable as it was undeniable.  The only thing I know for sure, even now, is that the inchoate impulse that pushed me back to writing was inextricably linked to becoming a mother.

I wrote, and I started a blog, and the way I observed the world began to shift.  I began noticing things more.  And I slowly realized that my roar might be a whisper.  It sounds like silence in the morning while I meditate, like my breath in my ears as I run before dawn, like a child’s murmured “good night” as he climbs into bed, like the faint tap of the keyboard as I write down what I see.

As I grew more aware of my life through the process of writing about it, a well of gratitude opened up around me.  Sometimes my awareness of life’s beauty – and its pain – feels like an ocean yawning at my feet.  It can be disorienting to see and feel so much.   But what I also realized is that this chronicling of my experience is my way of roaring.  It isn’t loud and it doesn’t, maybe, shake the world in the way I expected to.  But it’s my way of looking up at the sky and howling my deep love for this world, for this planet, for my own life.  And that is a roar of its own kind.

It was only in retrospect that I realized when I first felt the pulse of my roar inside of me.  I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first baby.  At the end of a prenatal yoga class that I went to only once, the instructor asked us to lie back, close our eyes, and feel our baby’s energy inside of us.  I think I rolled my eyes behind my eyelids.  I was not, shall we say, feeling it.  But in the hushed room, surrounded by the domed bellies of other pregnant women, I heard an unmistakable voice in my head.  That voice said “grace.”  I did not know then that the baby growing inside of me was a girl, and I had never considered that her name might someday be Grace.   Grace turned 13 last month.

It took me a long time to realize that that voice was something deep inside of me, almost inaudible but absolutely insistent.  My roar is a murmur, and it speaks of grace and of gratitude.


Lindsey MeadLindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives outside of Boston.  She has been blogging regularly at A Design So Vast for 9 years, and her work has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and on-line sources.

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Life Favors the Deep End

Deep end by Trash Riot

To mark and celebrate the first anniversary of leading writing groups, my next two-week group will consist of the original ten prompts I wrote a year ago this month. There are a few spots left for “What If You Knew?” The dates are November 16-27, though the group itself will remain up the weekend after, since I realize some folks may be busy with family over Thanksgiving.

The best part? There’s no prerequisite, and there’s no way to do it wrong, because it’s just practice. With nice people.

Preparing for this next group has me feeling reflective today. That, and the weather, October’s blazing brilliance having delivered us to a starker kind of beauty, the kind you have to look harder to see.

I never imagined then that this work would evolve into my full-time livelihood, along with growing a beautiful community and hub for people who love to write, The Inky Path​ with a creative powerhouse business partner. (Next week, we’ll be announcing the theme for this year’s Winter Joy Retreat, fourteen days of Joy Letters and end-of-year fun, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. )

But as Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

And looking back to this time a year ago, here’s what I know: Necessity really can be the mother of all invention. I was longing to re-ignite my own writing practice and creativity, craving deeper connections with kindred spirits in community, and just on this side of desperate to earn some extra cash to supplement my salary and keep us afloat.


Life has a way of favoring the deep end, doesn’t it? With a mischievous grin or a kind smile or a wink or a bow or all of these combined, it saunters or glides into the room with all kinds of pronouncements.

See? You’ve got this.

You can swim, you can float, you’re surrounded by people who will hold you up when you’re too tired to tread or get scared of the cross-currents, and you can coax others into the waters, too, of showing up and putting words on the page and sharing without making everything pretty and polished first.

Join me.

Grab one of the remaining spots in the November 16-27 group.

If you have a teenage daughter who’s willing and able to spend two weeks on Facebook writing with her mom and some other intrepid mothers and daughters, come sign up for Backtalk: Mothers + Daughters Writing.

Schedule a coaching session and open new doors — creative, personal, and professional.

And leave a comment below to enter a giveaway. One winner will receive signed copies of my two books, Don’t Miss This and The Inside of Out, both of which chronicle some of the “before” years in poetry and prose. I’ll draw a name at random on Sunday, November 15.

Thank you. For reading, for writing, for being, for sharing this crazy swim with me.

The Roar Sessions: Rabbi Ilana Garber

by Rabbi Ilana C. Garber

“I don’t know what it is for sure,” the young doctor says, sheepishly. “But I’m pretty confident it’s some kind of an ‘oma.’”

I can barely breathe. Neither can he, which should give me an ounce of comfort but actually makes me even more nervous. I know this doctor, sort of. I know his wife – our youngest children are the same age so we often bump into each other at the pediatrician’s office in our small town. She and I must be about the same age too, hence the doctor’s terribly un-pokered face. He is freaking out!

And so am I: a cancer diagnosis at the age of 37 (and 50 weeks), two small children and an incredible husband at home, and a profession I love. Not to mention: I love life! I’m having too much fun! I don’t want this party to end.

I cry. We cry – my husband, mother, sisters, friends, rabbis, colleagues, college buddies I haven’t heard from in 15 years, ex-boyfriends I haven’t thought about since high school, friends of friends of friends who read about me on Facebook, or catch my blog, and just have to reach out.

We dub it “the summer of yuck.”

My mother promises this will all be over – with a positive outcome – by September.

My husband assures me he is right by my side, taking care of everything.

My sisters create a Facebook page (and a hashtag!): #GarberStrong. All-of-a-sudden there are t-shirts, tote bags, hats, a golf ball, mug, bowl, and framed needlepoint all bearing the #GarberStrong label. Friends and strangers take pictures from all over the world holding a #GarberStrong sign. A community rallies to support their rabbi in her fight against non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I am so busy. Busy managing all of the Facebook messages and emails. Busy hiring babysitters to watch my children in this very unplanned summer. Busy at doctor appointments – blood tests, CT and Pet scans, a bone marrow biopsy, and the procedure to place the port. I have six chemo sessions – each one lasting 96 hours (yes! 96 hours!) – in the hospital and away from my children, from Monday to Friday, then home for two weeks to rest and recover, only to do it again – six times total.

I am sick, weak, and exhausted. I am so very, very scared.

*          *          *

Sometimes a roar comes from a place of deep intention. It is planned. It is calculated. It has brewed for hours or days or even years. Sometimes a roar is just an inherent part of the person – who he or she is – and up until this point, I could have easily said that was me: the “roaring” type.

This time it is different.

I don’t actually realize I am roaring until long after I’ve won the battle and the enemy has retreated. Chemo is done, the doctor has declared I’m in “complete remission,” which I prefer to call #AfterCancer because “in remission” sounds too temporary.

It’s at this point that I realize I’ve been roaring all this time; I’ve just been too busy to realize it. I was too overwhelmed to consciously shape the roar in my heart or to form it on my lips.

But I roared when I walked around the hospital floor – at least 20 laps a day – my body confined to that small space but my spirit soaring – proving to myself that I was physically fit enough to beat cancer. I roared as I worked at my job as rabbi of a large congregation throughout treatment – keeping up with emails, holding meetings on speakerphone (and, when daring to let colleagues see my pajamas, on Skype) from my hospital bed. I roared as I blogged, sharing intimate details and my personal theological struggles, giving voice to the cancer journey that has been silenced for others for decades.

I roared and I roared and I roared. Now, I’ve stopped. Now, I breathe in quiet. Now, I breathe.

My new mantra: present and peaceful, healthy and whole. Holy.


s2KY0TvR_400x400Ilana Garber is a Conservative rabbi who has served Beth El Temple in West Hartford, CT since 2005. She lives with her husband and her two young boys (one of whom has Fragile X Syndrome). A feminist, an educator, and most recently, a survivor of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, she blogs about special needs, parenting, Judaism, and healing at


Want to read more Roar Sessions posts? You’ll find them all here.

A Good Clean Mirror

12072629_10207258677601785_5060817387028948246_nI misread a title this morning. Also, my oldest sister gave my dad a t-shirt that says “Pink Freud.” Somehow these seem not unrelated. Which is a fancy shmancy double negative way of saying related.

The actual title was “The Irony of Attachment” by Sharon Salzberg, the Monday columnist at On Being. I read “irony” as “agony,” before clicking the link and read the column. This in particular spoke to me this morning:

We either become lost in attachment — infatuated on a particular individual or scenario, fixated in a fantasy world, waiting for the sensation of “a full bucket” — or, alternatively, we practice cultivating awareness in the present, which can catalyze fear and anxiety about the future. Rather than tap into the inherent fullness of each moment, we become filled with despair, and fixate on the sensation of emptiness and how much more of the “bucket” remains to be filled.
Sharon Salzberg

Waiting for the sensation of a full bucket or fixating on the empty one, obsessing over a fantasy world or despairing over the actual one — does this not sound like agony to you? It’s like ebony and ivory, except agony and irony. It’s how I felt when I woke up yesterday morning: Daylight savings, November.

I stayed in bed for a few minutes with my eyes closed and my head feeling thick, feeling quite aware of the glass-half-empty-glass-half-full dilemma. Wanting very much to see the latter, to choose. To breathe into the fullness and wholeness and all of that very soothing and peaceful stuff. To rise and take a deep inhale of the rich coffee smell in the kitchen, to see my child’s face and greet her like the sun itself after a dark night.

I did these things, to the best of my Sunday-morning ability. I really did. I even made chocolate-chip pancakes for the second morning in a row, and washed all the dishes by hand (there is, in fact, no other way to wash the dishes in these parts). And then, I honestly don’t know what triggered it, but I was in tears again. What triggered it? Mani doesn’t remember either. Something having to do with being a mama. And a provider. And a human. All I know is that once the tears started, it felt like they would not stop.

You know how some rain is different from other rain? As in, sometimes rain comes vertical and sharp and narrow, and other times the drops themselves seem almost supple and soft, round, gentle? I don’t know if this is scientifically possible, but that is the physical experience of rain for me — by no means the same every time.

The same is true of tears. They are not all the same. Not at all. The Inuit may have many words for snow; there must be some equivalent for all the different kinds of crying. Of laughter. Of sex. In this case, though, I’m talking about the tears. And the ones yesterday were thick and round and came pouring out in perfect-feeling droplets over my lower eyelids and then down my cheeks, as they might in a painting. But I did not feel like a woman in a painting. I felt like a woman flying a plane with no radar. This is a terrible sensation, and not one that has to do with “choosing” how to feel.


We don’t always choose how or what we feel. Is this chemical or conditional? As the nurse practitioner I spoke with last week suggested, it may not really matter. Is it a matter of meditating more or taking better care of myself? Perhaps. And. To say that these are at the root of moments that feel so difficult I can’t fathom what’s come over me is too simplistic, especially when I can twist an otherwise simple assessment into some kind of moral failure to thrive.

A Facebook friend and Jungian analyst popped up last night. She was just checking on me. Mind you, this is not a person I’m in close, frequent touch with, so I was moved and impressed by her telepathic skills. She popped up and we ended up sending back and forth messages for a while. At one point, she shared such a beautiful image; as I write off the top of my head here tonight, I realize I’d like to pass it along in case it resonates for you, too:

It just helps to have that mirror reflecting a different perspective back to you. A good clean mirror. Instead of the fun house kind that life too often offers us. – Amazing Jungian Analyst Friend Who Showed Up at Just the Right Moment

Ah, a good clean mirror. How good it is, to have an image reflected back to us that’s true.

I see this in my writing groups all the time. So often, we don’t think our writing is “good.” And then others read it — one person, four, eleven — and the response is so genuine. There is no way that many people could be “just being nice.” And they’re not. They’re being honest. They’re being emotional. They’re being literary. They’re being generous, yes, and also saying: Thank you. Your words speak to me across time and space and the weird invisible world of wireless networks.

The same is true when I’m sitting at my desk working away, my hair pulled back in two unfastened braids, jeans and a sweater if I’ve even changed out of yoga pants and a t-shirt, and out of the blue Mani says, “You’re so pretty.” I look up, startled. Me? Really?

We don’t always see ourselves with a clean mirror. We don’t always see our lives as they are. We see them through the fun house distortions of memory and struggle or of fantasy and stress; we see them through a chemical haze of neuropathways and it’s not a shortcoming to be this kind of human. This kind–the feeling kind. The highly sensitive kind. The empathetic kind. The kind who wants to be good and reminds herself that she is (you are, I am) already just fine.

I went for a walk yesterday morning after dropping Pearl off at her cousin’s house, to rake leaves and play in his beautiful, spacious yard. I parked the car at a nearby park and just walked and walked, first on a paved road and then a dirt road and then a trail nearly covered completely by leaves. I cried as I walked. (Mom, don’t worry — I am really ok!). I talked to God. I asked for help. I asked questions that don’t have answers. I sobbed even. I felt scared. I felt tremendous sadness.


I also kept walking. I knew everything depended on this, on the movement, the breathing, the being outside, the letting it all through me and out of me and into the November air.

And then I turned around to head back in the direction of the car. Quieter now. Taking photos of unturned locks and red leaves and the strange comfort of the woods become emptier now as we move into the dark weeks before Solstice.

This morning, we arrived at Aviva’s bus stop a few minutes early. (One benefit to the clocks falling back an hour is that she was ready today — and I mean awake, dressed, lunch made and everything — at 6:30am! If only that would last!) The clouds were striking and the moon still high in the rising blue. I stepped out of the car to take a picture. I only took one.


Later, when I got home and looked again, there she was, unmistakable: An angel, plain as the brand-new day. Clean as the mirror others hold for me so steadily, just as I do for others. We do for each other, you know. It’s this wonderful thing called reciprocity. It’s a win-win, as opposed to a silly double negative. It’s neither ironic nor agonizing. It’s what keeps many of us tethered here, and I thank God for that every day in some way or another. I really do.

The Roar Sessions: Dakota Nyght

DakotaRoar from the Darkness 
by Dakota Nyght

Namasté; the inner light in me honors the inner light in you…

For years, I thought I had no roar. Quiet and sweet, determined perfectionist… my voice, my creativity, my fire was quiescent. I did not trust it. I ignored its whisperings, its warnings, its urgings… another voice spoke over it.


“What happens in the family stays in the family,” he says with finality. “We do not discuss our problems with outsiders. We have it very good, we have a good family, and others wouldn’t understand.”

I believe him.

Diaphanous light from the picture window floods the table between us. It obscures his features, disembodies his voice. My stepfather can do no wrong – he is the be all and end all and seemingly knows everything – so why would I argue on this point?

My mother works all day every day at an enormous desk in our living room, repairing and recreating Native American artifacts. Sometimes my sister and I sit next to her, sorting porcupine quills for the right length and thickness and making threads for beading out of long dried-out sheets of buffalo sinew. Her dedication keeps our family fed, clothed, a roof over our heads, bumping merrily along the poverty line.

My stepfather doesn’t go to a “real” job but has one, nevertheless. He putters; cleaning, cooking dinner, working on his latest and greatest business idea – even though the one before and the one before that never got off the ground. His self-imposed position, though, is overseeing our moral and mental development.

I am special; I am talented; but I am lazy. I do not pull my weight around the house. My sisters and I hear weekly lectures on our behavior and faults. Still, we believe we are lucky. Other families don’t support each other as we do. Other kids aren’t so lucky to have parents who push them toward excellence and don’t pull punches.

But – silence is the price of being exceptional. Self-reliance is the only way to succeed. Asking for help, asking for recognition – that is weakness.

Twenty years later his words will still echo in my head.

What happens in the family – stays in the family.


I sit in partial shade on raw, rough-built stairs in the kitchen. Late afternoon light slants through the picture window next to the dining table, creating stark divisions of white and dark, but very little light penetrates the galley kitchen.

A drawing – two little mice in Disney’s The Rescuers style – is in my hands. At this moment, a pencil drawing of a frog in Victorian-era clothing hangs in a local art gallery. I’ve experimented with different mediums over four years of art classes, but I still love simple colored pencil and am drawn to fantasy art. The mice are not animation quality, but they are still cute, and I plan to draw more. I proudly show them to my stepfather.

“You need to do serious art,” he tells me, and turns back to his cooking.

In the fall, when I pack for college, I leave behind my colored pencils, my watercolors, my acrylic paints. There is no space for them in the room of a “serious” college student.


“Your mother is mentally ill,” he says, rust-red sorrow tinging his voice.

The house is always dark, at least in memory. My mother moved out three days after Christmas into the evening darkness and cold of a Montana winter. My stepfather tells family friends that she is selling drugs out of a green backpack as she walks around town. He parks on the street behind her new apartment, and monitors her movements.

His lies are nothing new, but my realization that they are lies is.


It is early morning. Chilly spring light kisses the new leaves on maple trees lining the sidewalks. I am walking to a therapy appointment where I have begun spilling my story, hesitantly, slowly. I do not tell her everything. Some stories stay locked up, though I will regret withholding them later. The habit of silence is hard to unwind.

College has been difficult. I continually wish someone would just point me in the right direction and tell me what steps I need to assure happiness. I am only just realizing I can question my neat little boxes and assumptions.

I’ve chosen print journalism as my college major, but realize that while I love to tell others’ stories, I do not love digging in their hampers for dirty laundry. I do a year of Master’s work in a technical communications program after graduation. That year, and the technical writing job in the year following, are a gift to my inner ditherer. I learn – decisively – that I hate writing about software even more than I hate writing about dirty laundry.

Desperate for creative fulfillment, I start publically blogging about my gardening, crafting and homemaking attempts. The writing is terrible, in truth, but among posts about gardening and (later) parenting, I share words about depression and anxiety and uncertainty. It feels scary and vulnerable, there is no thrill in the pit of my stomach as I hit publish. But slowly, slowly, I realize this is a service – to myself, to others – to break the silence, to say I am not alone, that only together we rise out of our own mire.


Mid-morning light is the best. Not too harsh, not too soft. I balance a sketchpad and colored pencils on my knee while my three year old plays at my feet. Lightly, I sketch the outline of a mushroom and slowly, tentatively, layer colors on color, seeking half-remembered luminosity found in the slow buildup of pigment. Ideas and hopes I’ve not acknowledged in years flow out onto the paper.


The truth is, there is no earth-shattering revelation here. There is no split-breath where I suddenly realized my light, my voice, my authentic self was just one coaxing tone away from escaping.

I am still quiet unless you know me well, in which case I might talk your ear off. My roar is often hidden unless someone opens themselves up and is willing to be vulnerable too. But I wish I could go back and tell that girl-child sitting at the table, on the stairs, walking down the street: You are strong, you are worthy, you are passionate, and you are unstoppable.

I have found a voice in my writing, in my art, in encouraging other women, in reaching out to know someone else and feeding their fire until the whole forest, the whole world is aflame with passion and magic and love and authentic, roaring loud feelings.

I am the light and you are the light and we are the light together flooding forth and burning up, exploding, sweeping aside the lies and the falsehoods and pretenses and the fucking wool pulled over our eyes and hearts and inner lights. No more, no more… no more.

I will not be silent.



Author’s Note: As with all stories, there is so much left unsaid. My relationship with my stepfather is a complicated, snarling beast. Three things of note: My stepfather’s past is his own, largely untold, story – but I do know he endured things no child should have to. He is the only father I knew growing up and he never gave me cause to believe I was not his daughter by blood. He is a very talented artist himself, and despite his later words about serious art, patiently gave me my first drawing lessons at age 4. It is one of my dearest wishes that he find the light within himself.


Dakota2Dakota Nyght is a dreamer and light-seeker living in Northwest Montana. In addition to Artist, Writer, Mama, and Zen-seeker, she occasionally considers adding “honorary crazy-cat lady” to her resume titles, because a purring feline in the lap while writing or drawing isthe best. She will confess – if pressed – an unhealthy addiction to chocolate, coffee, and Pandora radio. She also is a toe-dabbler geekette, never met a craft she didn’t like, and not-so-secretly delights in terrifying her loved ones with “Hey, let’s do THIS!!!” DIY projects. She would absolutely love to connect with you through her blog, on instagram, or newsletter.

Jewels in the Crown

Reposting for the ninth consecutive year, since I originally wrote this in 2007.


Nancy Topf Gibson

Pearl Primus

October 29 marks two anniversaries for me and my family. Today would have been my Aunt Nancy’s 73rd birthday. My mother’s next-oldest sister, she died on September 2, 1998 when SwissAir flight #111 crashed in Peggy’s Cove, Halifax on its way to Geneva. She was one of 229 passengers. During and after my college years in NYC, I spent some good chunks of time with Nancy at the Tribeca loft where she lived and taught. For that, I’m grateful. She understood the body – and taught me something about how to listen to mine. Happy birthday, Nancy. We miss and love you.

October 29 also marks the anniversary of the death of Pearl Primus. To Pearl, I was “Daughter #3.” The first time we met has become somewhat legendary in our family; I was five or so, nonchalantly reading a book upside-down on our living room couch on Crescent Street in Buffalo, trying to act casual in the presence of this entrancing guest.

When I was in fifth grade at Pelham Elementary School, Pearl came as a guest to my class. Our teacher, Judy Brooks, was African-American and the majority of my classmates and other teachers at this small, rural school were white. Pearl walked in the room, dressed in layers of bright patterns, gold and silver and wooden bracelets jostling halfway to each elbow, necklaces and earrings heavy with meaning. She was regal. Her slightly hushed voice commanded total attention and respect. And she laughed readily when the kids looked around the room, puzzled by her introduction: “Someone in this room is my family, and it’s not Mrs. Brooks.” I beamed.

For many years after that, Pearl would periodically give me masks as gifts – from Barbados, Trinidad, from Liberia and Senegal. But she would never tell me their origins. Ever the teacher and anthropologist, she wanted me to do the research, to find out for myself the source of these treasures, which graced the walls of my room throughout high school. My mother loves to recall that Pearl predicted I would someday become “President of the PTA.” Whether she would feel I’ve lived up to that potential, I can’t say, though I am raising her namesake.

Pearl died in 1994. I was a senior at Barnard. My parents came to the City and were with her in her New Rochelle home when she passed. Just before the phone rang in my dorm room, my mother calling to say she was gone, a butterfly–Pearl’s spirit animal–fluttered in my open window from the air shaft with a narrow view of the Hudson. It landed on the sill and stayed there, beautiful, patterned wings opening and closing slowly, for what seemed like a long while. And then it flew away, towards the river.

This week holds another yahrzeit. In the earliest hours of November 1, 2002, my maternal grandmother, Celia Renner Topf Straus died at the age of 92. I think of the Grammy-ism we most love to love: You are jewels in the crown of my rejoicing. “Love, Grammy,” she would say at the end of a message on the answering machine. Love, love, love. And, God is Love. A Yiddish-speaking Christian Scientist. One of five sisters, mother of four daughters. Whose Hebrew name we finally learned just a few weeks before her death, then gave to newborn Aviva: Simma, treasure.

Each day is a life. Each life is a jewel in the crown. For years and years, I would see the abbreviation Z”L after the name of someone who had died and have no idea what it meant. Finally, I must have asked, or looked it up: Zichrono Livrocho. Of blessed memory.

May their memories be blessings. May we all dance–as Nancy and Pearl did–to the Aztec saying: “Every day is a dance with death.” This week, may you celebrate life and honor the dead. Share a favorite memory of someone you’ve lost, eat something they loved to eat, listen to music that moved them, read their favorite passage out loud or walk some sacred spot. Turn your face toward the sun for an extra beat. Breathe. You are alive.

The Roar Sessions: Devi Lockwood

Speaking from Silence: how I found (and continue to find) my roar
by Devi Lockwood

“You have your life
until you use it. You forfeit the only life you know
or go to your grave with the song curdled inside you.”

C.D. Wright, One With Others

Roaring, for me, is an act of surrender.

I believe that we each have a voice within us that knows deeply––knows unquestioningly––what it is that we want to, what we must do.

The trouble is often hearing ourselves.

We live in noisy places. We live speedy lives.

I am twenty-three years old and I don’t want to rush. I want to become an old lady with long curly hair and a veggie garden, yes––but I am in no hurry to get there.

These are the things I know about myself:


I am on a journey around the world by bicycle and by boat to collect 1,001 stories from people I meet about water and/or climate change. I stopped flying to slow down and to reduce my environmental footprint.

I want to tread lightly on this earth.

I listen.

The more I ride my bicycle and learn how to harness the wind, the more I take the time to get to know people on the road and at sea––the more disenchanted I grow with speed.



I release my fears daily. It takes practice.

I choose to turn towards love // to stay open.

I chose to trust myself and to listen.


I was a quiet kid, an only child for ten and a half years (and then a proud older sister). I went through more shit before age four than most people I know. I love spending time alone.

I grew up in the woods of southwestern Connecticut across the street from a lake girded by train tracks. On summer afternoons I would sneak out of the house, across the road, through heavy brush, and onto the rails. I balanced like a tightrope walker and listened for the soft, increasing hum that announced the train’s arrival at the Redding station just a few minutes away––the water of Lake Umpawag magnified every vibration.

When I could hear the train coming, I grabbed a fistful of stones and stepped off the rail ties and onto a rock that juts into the lake. Fishermen used to cast lines there. In the last two years one of the neighbors got angry and the police put up a ‘No Fishing’ sign, but there were fisherman on that rock for every Saturday of my youth. I never spoke with the fisherpeople but loved their solitude.

As the train rolled past me perched on the rock, it would toot its horn––loud and high. I loved the way that train eclipsed the sound of everything else––for a moment, all I could hear was movement. I threw my rocks into the water, skipping the ones that were flat enough. The most skips I ever counted was seventeen. ​


In winter, the snow muffled the noise, but that train horn still found me––in the yard, in my room, in the trees.

I am grateful for the quiet town that raised me. My classmates used to joke that the biggest thing that ever happened in Ridgefield was the tremor of a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in 2011 whose epicenter was in Virginia. I remember where I was: reading alone. I only knew it was an earthquake from reading Facebook a few hours later. The earthquake sounded and felt like one of my trains was coming through the kitchen.


I need to balance aloneness and being with others.

I have found my roar sleeping alone in tents as much as anything. The ground gives me energy. My back is one of the most sensitive parts of my body, and when I sleep directly on the earth, I can feel myself connecting with the landscape around me.

People ask me all the time if I am afraid of sleeping alone outside.

No. No I am not.

I was raised by mountaineers.

I avoid campgrounds because when I am sleeping outside, I don’t necessarily want to be with others.


I am not afraid of what I deeply love.


Growing up I had two close friends who I told absolutely everything, often in hushed voices on walks through the woods or over PB&J sandwiches at their dining room tables. When we were lucky enough to have the same lunch period at high school, we would eschew the confines of the cafeteria to eat outside in the grass, barefoot. The lunch tables indoors had a limited number of seats, but outside we could be ourselves, joined by a rotating cast of misfits. We made daisy chains unironically. The flowers would shrivel up by seventh period Global History, but I would wear them anyway. It felt nice to be connected to the outside, even if I was confined to a desk.

I needed to dance outside then and I need to dance still.

I dislike wearing shoes. I am horrible at staying still.


I remember where I was when I came out to one of those friends––sitting on a boulder on top of a hill behind her house. I told my friend about the first girl I loved, how terrifying it was to fall into a narrative that was completely outside of the cultural norm. She gave me a hug right there under the big summer leaves and said that it was okay, that we would always be friends no matter what.

Be grateful for good friends all your life.

Later we walked to the empty baseball field down the street and sat on the dugout roof, watching the clouds purple.


As I write this I am aboard the SV Pelican sailing south along the east coast of Australia towards Sydney where I will take a cargo ship back to New Zealand. I am the only woman on board. My bicycle is stowed under the captain’s bed.

My job, in addition to helping with odds and ends in the galley, is night watch: 11pm-3am. I am charged with monitoring the navigation line and noting changes in the wind. I scan the horizon for lighthouses and boats and UFOs. I wake the snoozing captain if anything happens.

The stars are patient listeners. Night watch has been a beautiful time to commune with myself and to filter words onto the page. The unwriteable things are as valuable as the writable ones.

I own my shadow. I ask the hard questions. I am gentle with myself as I await an answer. I crowd out the clutter and give myself permission to just be.

It is in this silence that I roar.


I choose to surround myself with people who are doing what they love and who love to see me thrive.

I walk away from people who do not wish me well. They are struggling with something that I know nothing about, and I cannot help them.

I have given up on trying to please everyone.


When I surrender to my roar, I am free.


profiledeviDevi K. Lockwood is a poet / touring cyclist / storyteller whose quest to collect 1,001 stories about water and climate change is ongoing. You can read more about her travels at and support the journey at

The transition was seamless, said no person ever

The transition was smoother than I expected.
Oh, how I wish I could write that and mean it.

The transition was exciting at first.
When she moved here.
When I quit my job.
When I came out.

Just pick a big thing and I will tell you all
about it. Here, I will pass around a hat
and you can just choose an event.

The transition was exhilarating, and then.
Wait, there was more.

The transition was empowering, a rush.
The transition was terrifying, an abyss.

The transition was seamless, said no person ever.
The transition was effortless, like night to day
and day to night and poem to spoken word.

The transition was a relief, that thing
we’d anticipated for so long finally
behind us, under our belts, over.

The transition was brutal, like having your chest
zipped open and your heart exposed to air.

The transition was abrupt, giving us no time
to adjust, to prepare, to plan, to consider.

The transition was unexpected, and suddenly
we went from playing pool and smoking cloves
to her being in too much pain even to bathe.

The transition was gradual and then steep.
The transition was much more wonderful
than I could have imagined, after the initial
shock of it.

The transition was sad because it meant
something was over, and happy
because it meant something was beginning.

The transition was a chasm.
If I wasn’t careful, my foot would slip,
the ledge would crumble, and we would all go down.

The transition was a mirror for all of my worst fears
and fantasies, good and bad, grandiose and small.

The transition was elusive, a mindfuck,
begging me to close my laptop forever.

The transition was more elating than anything
I will ever be able to describe using words.
It will live solely in memory for all of my days.

The transition was from child to woman to child.
From woman to wife to woman to wife.

The transition was my time to shine,
and the shadow side of that glinting coin
was every question I’d ever asked about myself.

The transition was easy, like I’d known
forever how to stop being shy and how to turn
on a dime and how to embody power and power
and power and beauty and hot shit.

The transition sucked. It was hard. It was lonely.
The transition was stressful and bumpy
and isolated and vulnerable and human.

The transition was so long ago.
The transition was two days ago.
The transition was two hours ago.
The transition was ten minutes ago.

The transitions keep coming, one after another.
I can either love them and close my eyes,
listening as if to waves from a safe spot
on the open beach, or not.