Half-mast in sunlight

Friday afternoon in my little village by the sea. Second Street is closed for a summer market: flowers, vegetables, crafts, bread, the stalls are lined up and people stroll through. Dogs on leash are everywhere. Two friends have a new puppy they are carrying in arms. Sunshine and a refreshing breeze off the water.

My father and I are sitting at a patio table in front of the Commons coffee shop chatting about his upcoming 96th birthday. He wants a pizza party on our patio with his four children, three in-laws, a friend or two. He wants this—all this: a village around him, a street full of familiar faces, people waving to us, some stopping to say hi, to bring their own story into the ones we are telling each other. He wants this—his daughter, his daughter-in-law at the next table talking with friends from our decades of work and travel. We all want this—peace amongst acquaintances, friends, strangers, the earth’s abundance spilling over our shoulders. Ice cream cones and coffee. Our corgi, Gracie, wanders back and forth under the two tables seeing who might be eating something, who might have a dog biscuit to share or a cookie crumb. Safety. Peace. A couple of young musicians playing acoustic guitar and familiar songs about love.

It is a moment of complete refuge and beauty.

On the other side of us a group of several women and a man are finishing ice cream cones. One gives her waffle-tip to Gracie to finish. The man asks, “May I pet your dog?” Gracie snugs her back up to his legs and he begins massaging her: both of them blissed, his fingers in her luxuriant fur. A few minutes later when they are ready to stroll, he speaks to me again, “Thanks for letting me pet her.”

We really look at one another. I reach for his hand, strong brown fingers, in this moment his eyes bright with ease in a dark face. I am a seventy-year-old Caucasian woman: he is a middle-aged African-American man. We are in the village together. There is sunshine. Refuge. Beauty. I say back to him, “She loved it. You take care, now. Have a good day.” We smile. He’s gone.

My father and I look at each other. Tears rise in our eyes. What is happening in our country? In the world? In the unspoken chamber of my heart, I want to shelter this friendly stranger, be ready to push him under the table, wrap him in my white skin. “Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t drive too fast or too slow or with a tail-light out. Don’t get shot.” In various ways, my father has worked for social justice all his life. My first memories are of living in downtown Indianapolis where he was a social worker in what was then called a “neighborhood house.” It was the early 1950s, Negroes were streaming North from the rural South looking for work and needing to learn the ways of the city. My brother and I, at four and two, unaware of race or skin tone or poverty, were just kids on the block, racing around in summer heat, days like this. Eating ice cream cones, our mother would strip us down to our white carter spanky pants so that she could just hose us off afterwards, not have to do a load of clothes. Little half naked kids, vanilla and chocolate, all sticky chested.

The seed of my gesture, white hand and brown hand, resides in those days. So do the seeds of our current violence. We talk about then, and now. I am facing the end of my work life. He is facing the end of his life-time. We have done and are doing all we can.

IMG_6408We walk slowly through the middle of the market toward the post office. The flag is at half-mast. Orlando?—where 49 died and 53 were injured dancing at the Pulse? Istanbul?—40 dead and 230 injured? Baghdad market?—where nearly 300 die from a truck bomb? This week’s police murders of black men: Baton Rouge? Suburban St. Paul? The sniper murder of five police in Dallas? The flag is at half-mast. My heart is broken for the world.

Social trauma at this scale is incredibly hard to hold. We are surrounded by problems for which there are no resolutions. How do we help one another not go mad? Not get utterly lost in despair? Find moments of sweetness such as this summer afternoon?

These moments exist in every life: when we trust the friendliness of public spaces, when we pet one another’s dogs, smile at one another’s children, hold one another’s gazes, smiles, and hands. This is what I call a stackable moment: a choice to remember something, to stack it into our memories. We can stack trauma: we can stack healing. We can stack violence: we can stack love.

I choose to stack this moment, to savor it, roll it around and around in my mind until I can call it back to sustain me. There was sunshine. There was my father alive in his stories. My beloved was next to me. There were friends. Dogs. Fruits and flowers. There was a kind man who trusted to put his brown hand in my white hand. We were in the weave together and the world was whole and holy.

The flag is at half-mast. My heart is broken—and open. This is how I stack the day.


29 replies
  1. Kate Bracy
    Kate Bracy says:

    Oh, Christina, thank you for this. I was in Langley yesterday, too, and I think I saw your dad sitting in front of The Commons. I thought to myself how much my own dad would have loved to be sitting there, enjoying coffee on such a lovely day.

    This is a beautiful moment, well-captured. It is emblematic of how things could be, and we need so many more like this. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. markus
    markus says:

    Thanks Christina for putting it in words, and for inspiring more empathy and sympathy in this world, for allowing emotions to be in the center ind order to shape our action by our visions and hopes. Thanks for the hope that you bring to this world.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you Markus for the works of reconciliation I know you are doing in the world. Everywhere are good people.

  3. Annamari Erdei
    Annamari Erdei says:

    Wow, thank you for this beautiful piece of writing, Christina. Blessings from a Brussels hospital, sitting next to my 3 day old son.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Annamari–I am so happy to hear of his arrival… a new mystery, and someone who will contribute to the world as he grows. I think of you nearly every day, as I enjoy the beautiful silver Tree of Life in our house, and I send blessings to the work and presence you bring to the world.

  4. Sandra Sell-Lee
    Sandra Sell-Lee says:

    You’ve provided one answer to our mess…thank you. I will stack your story into my being as I move throughout my day.

  5. Marcia
    Marcia says:

    Beautiful, Christina!! Thank you for finding words to express that which is so heart rending and difficult to speak about.

  6. Patricia Houston
    Patricia Houston says:

    Christina, I think this is one of the most beautiful pieces you have written! I too grieve for the world. On the “stackable” side I share this one. To-day as I returned from picking up something to wear to the wedding of one of our Syrian refugee family recently arrived, I stopped at a garage sale. The family has 3 children 4,5 & 8 years. They would like a bike and I am on the hunt. A bike sits in the driveway, the young owners offer it to the Syrian children, free. They then give them a huge tub of leggo with 1000’s of pieces. I drive to their home to deliver the treasures which delight them. A neighbour offers to help unload and I explain they don’t speak English, only Arabic. She too has a bike, a helmet and pump, would they like it? The dad arrives expressing gratitude for the kindness of strangers. There is goodness in the world, and love and generosity. The reciprosity of life goes on. These are the moments I hang on to. I love you so much!

  7. Mary McLeod
    Mary McLeod says:

    Thank you for your words Christina. You have similar thoughts as mine these days of constant streaming violence. Your words give me pause to savor the sweet moments I encounter in my little Langley village, while being in solidarity with all those who endure prejudice, injustice, violence and all the madness in our world. Bless you, Mary

  8. Katharine
    Katharine says:

    Echoes from our July 4th conversation…I am as moved now as then, and this is so good, so necessary as for days my heart has been frozen with with the enormity of it all.
    After not sleeping much, finally enough energy to shift from hunkering down and in, to walking through my city’s annual art festival and farmers market. To consciously seek and see a beauty echoing yours – ice cream, fruit and flowers, dogs, music, people meditating, people touching.
    Yes, these are hurting, holy times and your writing is a balm. Thank you with love.

  9. Wally Cason
    Wally Cason says:

    Chrissie, thank you for the opening of your heart to the world. You express the feelings of so many when you describe the beauty of real love. I am very thankful you are in my life through your writing.

  10. Holger
    Holger says:

    My dearest Christina,
    I dare to say: your heart is not broken. It may feel like. That’s ok. And at the same time your heart is strong and alive. You and Ann, you are so strong. Loving each other. Loving others. And the world. The flag may be at half-mast from time to time. And at the same time you both are taking a stance. A stance for live & love, for family & friends, for all ways of life one can think of. Thank you for alle these teachings. I send greetings and love from the shoreline of the croatian sea. And please pass my greetings to Leo as well. Thank you for sharing this blog.
    Hugs, Holger & family

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Holger, you are often in our conversations, honoring the work you and Roswitha and others do in the world. I appreciate your comments, and yes, will say hello to my father. hugs to all your lovely family!

  11. Susan Schoch
    Susan Schoch says:

    Thanks once again, Christina, for verbalizing how to handle something painful. In my own little village in the foothills of the Rockies, we greet each other at the post office with special tenderness lately, and say out loud how glad we are to be here. We are each doing what we can, and hoping to help each other through the challenges. I’m glad for your lovely moment to remember, and appreciate the reminder to notice those moments here.

  12. Joanna
    Joanna says:

    Christina, I have shared this post on social media far and wide. It’s been shared over and over, touching more people than we know. I hold it deep in my heart. Much love to you.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, dear friend, for all the ways you carry words and images of transformation into the world, and for the ways you share your heartfullness.

  13. Christina Baldwin
    Christina Baldwin says:

    All you dear peeps who are reading and sharing this: thank you. I haven’t got the strength of communication right now to respond to each of you in typing, but my heart is happy that my words are meaningful. And I send you beauty and refuge.

    love, Christina

  14. Dave
    Dave says:

    Thank you for your beautiful writing and for reminding us that we always have a choice. A choice either to continue into the downward spiral of fear and prejudice or to make the harder choice of noticing and stacking the possibilities for joy in every moment.

  15. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    Ah, the magical heartfelt words of one loving Christina Baldwin causes me to dry my eyes yet again. Like a balm, your love for others and for this world, soothes many souls. Your thoughts and feelings bear witness to ours. In our day-to-day living, it is through the simple, loving moments where we connect with others that bring about the larger change. How we are and who we are in our “small” lives does matter, does affect the larger picture. You, by example, have made that clear, over and over and over again. Sending my gratitude and love, and counting the days.

  16. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Christina – Oh how I wish that white hands and black hands could come together right now in Milwaukee, WI and hold each other as we search for peaceful ways to heal what divides us. Hearts are breaking everywhere and I believe that circle and its agreements and practices can help us come together as human beings – using our minds and hearts to forgive and heal and move forward together. Thank you for the hopefulness that comes through your words – those written here and elsewhere. Much love to you – Jude


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