20 Alternative, Life-Affirming Activities to Do During Lent, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

20 Alternative, Life-Affirming Activities to Do During Lent

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

There is debate in both pagan and Christian circles as to the origins of Lent, and, as usual, both sides think they’re right.  We know Norse people put ashes on their forehead to protect them from Odin’s more violent moods.  And it’s hard not to notice that Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in Norse mythology, is an ash tree.  We do know Jesus never mentioned Ash Wednesday, nor anything even close.  It was a ritual adopted many centuries later.  We also know that, in most Christian denominations—both Protestant and Catholic, that it’s traditional to “give something up” for forty days. Some people fast from meat.  Other’s treat it sort of like a New Year’s Resolution and deny themselves chocolate, TV, fried foods, and the like.

I propose that Lent be a time of welcoming new things into our lives, of affirming people and things we love and new people and things we want to cultivate love for. The word, “Lent,” simply means springtime.  Why, during such a lavishly abundant time of growth should we refuse ourselves even the simplest of pleasures?  I truly believe that is not what Jesus wants.  I believe he wants us to enjoy “the kingdom of God,” and to share of what we have.  He fasted, yes, so the story goes, but he never said we should do it for forty days.  Early Christian Church leaders were all about encouraging the illiterate flock to deny itself pleasures, to self-flagellate, to perform outrageous acts of penance, and all manner of self-mortifications, while they sat back in their gold-gilded rooms feasting.  It almost became sort of a contest: who can sleep on a bed of nails the longest?  Who can pick the worst self-abusive behaviors for the glory of God?  The body was, after all, sinful.

Well, if we are made in the image and likeness of the Divine, then I say our bodies are sacred and meant to be treated as such.  In light of that, here are twenty suggestions for alternative, life-affirming things we can do for the next forty days.

 

-Commit to doing some kind of act of self-care.

-Accept and celebrate positive things about yourself and others in active, real ways.

-Do something creative every day and then throw a party after that time to culminate the resurrection of (or the evolution of) your creativity.

-Do something kind (and in secret) for someone every day—especially perhaps for those you may not “like,” or who are “different,” than you.

-Take time to expand your understanding of things like feminism, racism, gender studies, white-privilege, etc., and ways to get involved locally and/or globally to help the world.

-Send someone (the same person or different) an email every day with a silly joke or inspirational quote.

-Sing every day–your favorite song, a new song, a silly song, a made-up song—to yourself, in the shower, at work, while walking, to strangers, to friends, to family.

-Try a new food every day and/or share food with someone else.

-Make every effort to sit down with your whole family for dinner.

-Every time you catch yourself thinking something judgmental towards someone, including yourself, reframe that thought into something loving, positive, and compassionate.

-Donate your time and resources to someone or an organization that helps others.

-Read spiritual literature every morning and/or evening.  Or, at very least, read something other than online news—a story, a children’s book, poetry, a biography. You get the idea.

-Take time to learn about different faith traditions with the goal of looking for similarities and places your faiths converge.

-Eat breakfast and/or health(ier) foods.

-Take one little (or big) step towards your dream every day.

-Take a moment to breathe consciously outside.

-Take a moment to notice—really notice—a tree, flower, cloud, a loved one, your own amazingness.

-Throw away, or give away, one thing in your living space that you haven’t touched, noticed, used in ages.

-Inventory your life a little each day.  Ask yourself how you’re doing as a citizen of the world.  Be honest.  No shame.  Just objective self-reflection.  What are you doing well?  Where can you improve?  Are there any amends to make?  And so on.

-Go ahead and eat something you absolutely love.

 

The list is endless and as varied as you.  The point is, instead of Lent being a time of denying things we like and love, we make it a time of embracing what we love in mindful, attentive, fun, and thankful ways.

It might also be fun to have your worship community, your family, your co-workers, and so on—commit to doing one of these affirming activities together and then celebrate the revelations and resurrections of playfulness and appreciation that hopefully would result by doing such a shared ritual.

As the season unfolds, it’s OK to start up a new “Forty Days,” anytime.  It’s OK to celebrate the resurrection of anything that was lost and then found.

And, of course, it is the hope the cultivation of these positive things would extend far after Lent (or at least much longer than most New Year’s Resolutions); that they would become habits, so to speak, or perhaps, continually evolving spiritual practices.

You might be wondering what I have chosen to do this Lenten season.  As of the writing of this post, I have the flu, so I am not committing to anything that puts me in contact with anyone else until I am officially not contagious.  For now, I am committing to telling myself something nice about myself every day.  I also commit to send little messages of appreciation and inspiration to someone different every day.  Look in your inbox.

Have fun.

Happy Lent.

Jenn

 

opening flower

 

 


 

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Morning’s Arrival, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Morning’s Arrival

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

The tree leans in,

Taps the window.

The one inside

Rises slowly,

Moves, touches the pane.

 

Suddenly it’s gone—

Dissolving into vast, open spaces;

And the freshness of the air

Fills the body, lifts the spirits,

Calms the mind, frees the soul.

 

The one inside

Breathes for the first time

In years, allowing the fingers of the tree

To dance over them

With the utmost tenderness,

Spreading a joy so clean,

So almost unimaginably sweet–

Yet there it is—rivering through them.

 

And as the tree continues its feather-light

Touches, the one inside

Moves further, closer, and climbs

Into its branches, settles

Into its arms, and the tree—

Rooted deeply in the cool, delicious earth,

Cradles the one inside, who is now

The one outside, and lifts them up

Towards the moon and the stars,

Holding them aloft—a new born

Child—and sways, and hums

Freedom songs into the sky, and waves as gently

As morning’s sun-filled arrival.

 

 

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Reflections on Going to the Super Bowl Parade for the Philadelphia Eagles, Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Jennifer Angelina Petro

philly parade 2018

Reflections on Going to the Super Bowl Parade for the Philadelphia Eagles

Thursday, February 8, 2018

by

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

I picked up sons Ben and Daniel at 4:30 AM.  After stopping at Wawa (because everyone should stop at Wawa on the way to anything–especially on their way to a Super Bowl Parade) and headed downtown.  It took us an hour to both drive and eventually find a parking space.  It was another 15-minute walk to where we set up camp for the next eight hours, near where the parade was going to end—the Art Museum steps.

The sun had yet to rise, and people were filing in the slowly-lifting darkness from Broad Street down to the Art Museum, like a jubilant river.  It was 6 AM and people were already shouting Eagles chants, fight songs, and Brady-Sucks, and yes, people were already drinking.

As the crowd grew hour by hour, the people grew kinder and happier.  People were dancing, singing, oh, yes, and drinking—and they were also happy, high-fiving, laughing.  And as the sun rose and illuminated the Art Museum, the sea of people swelled with anticipation.

People played catch with footballs that seemed to be soaring around the crowd from out of nowhere. People introduced themselves to those standing around them.  People exchanged stories of how long they waited for this day and what it all means.  Strangers hugged and offered each other blankets, handwarmers, and beer.

And the green.  Nearly every person there—of all shapes, sizes, ages, race, gender-identity, and expression was bedecked in Eagles green.  Looking out across the ever-burgeoning crowd, it turned into a luminous green sea that ebbed and flowed and raised its waves to heaven.

Yes, there were the knuckleheads.  One idiot climbed a tree, urinated (very poorly aimed) into a water bottle, spraying the people below with urine, and then, threw the full bottle down among the people.  If the police hadn’t been there I think he would have been beaten to a pulp.  The people below were justifiably (pardon the pun) pissed.

One nearly-naked guy with green hair smashed two beer cans together in front of his face and roared as he sprayed the crowd with Budweiser.  The surrounding people weren’t happy, but not as unhappy as those who were where the shit-brain peed on them.

Then there was the guy so stoned he came tumbling through the crowd like a wobbly train, and, if I hadn’t had been there to grab him, he would have plowed into the two old ladies in front of us.

“Thank you,” he said with his voice slurred and his eyes rolling around in his head like marbles, and then he just kept stumbling through the crowd.

There was no violence though.  No meanness (yes, peeing off a tree was mean, but he was clearly drunk, and cracking up as he did his heinous act), no rage, no property being damage, no cars set on fire.  It was plain and simply a party.  It was a celebration of civic-pride—city pride—family pride—and, of course, pride for our team—the bunch of under-estimated players who overcame a ton of adversity to sweep unexpectedly and remarkably through the playoffs to bring home the long-awaited Super Bowl victory.  It is a team comprised of good and decent people.  It is a team together in true brotherly love.  It is a team unlike any other I have ever seen, and I was proud to be there to celebrate them and our city.  It was glorious, hilarious, bizarre, and fun—profoundly fun.  When a city comes together to dance, sing, and embrace one another—it is a truly beautiful thing—I dare-say, holy.

There is so much wrong with the world.  And, I believe there is far more right with the world.  Today was one of the right things, and I am grateful to have been there with two of my sons.  We will never forget it, and neither shall this team, this city—all the people living and dead who waited so long for this moment—who suffered through agonizing years of frustration.  This was a day of unbridled joy—a collective exhale of relief and a collective in-breath of getting ready to sing—arm-in-arm-again and again, as loudly as humanly possible— “Fly, Eagles, Fly…”

 

eagles last meme

 

 

 


 

 


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It’s Like This, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

It’s Like This

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

 

I stand here.  The monster

Stands there—in front of me

Mirroring my every move.

 

Separating us is a glass wall

Whisper thick and strong as hope.

 

Some days I barely think

Of the monster, yet I know it’s there–

I see it, out of the corner of my eye,

Doing everything I do.

 

There are days it pounds on the glass—

Howling, pacing, and somehow

Growing.  Every morning

I reinforce the wall, look at the monster,

And stare it down.

 

Lately, I notice spiderwebbing cracks blooming

Over the wall.  The monster presses

The glass, testing its solidity, smiling.

 

I assume it will hold.  I assume it is

Strong enough.  And then I blink and the monster’s hand

Passes through the wall as if it isn’t there.

I blink again and the monster is back

On the other side of the wall, blocked

From reaching me, or, at least, I assume.

 

Going about my life, dependent

On a wall whisper thick and strong as hope

Makes me feel, at times, like a sham, like

If it wasn’t for the wall the monster would be

All there is, like I am not as truly well

As I think I am.

 

The wall will not last forever,

The wall may need to be adjusted

In strength, and still I fear it will not last

Forever.

 

And all the while the monster

Grows, waiting, watching, studying what I do.

 

If the wall finally gives way,

The monster will take hold of me, toss me to where

It once stood, build a wall of its own,

Scream-thick and strong as hell,

And it will go into my life, smiling,

Leaving me behind and to do everything

It does, but in slow motion, all the while I am turning

Into a memory of light snuffed out

By the dark.

 

 

 


 

 

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The Darker the World Becomes, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

The Darker the World Becomes

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Winter, I am here.

I should be sleeping, like

The bears and bees, and somewhere

The bats.

 

Yet, I am awake.  And there is

Darkness, and there is cold, and there is

The silencing of snow, and yet,

I am here, awake, and as best I can,

A light, and as best I can—descending.

 

The earth has been compressed—

Seeds and all manner of growing things—

Are pressed deep into the cold ground.

 

I am still walking.  And through

Winter’s necessary darkness, I move,

And as I do, striding with my little light,

The darkness spreads, parts, like curtains,

And with every step, the darkness gives way

Illumined and warming towards spring.

 

This isn’t to say darkness is wrong,

This isn’t to say I am savior or enlightened,

It simply means I am awake, it simply means

I have a job to do, it simply means

My soul is in the right place, it simply means

The darker the world becomes

The brighter I will be.

 

 


 

 

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Suicide and the Illusion of Choice

Suicide and the Illusion of Choice

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

A year ago yesterday (January 17, 2017), I got released from the psyche ward for the second time in two months for suicidality, a bipolar crash, and clinical depression, among other things.  That same day, a year later, a dear friend’s brother was claimed by suicide.  What is the difference between us?  Did I make a choice to live?  Did he make a choice to die?  Does someone who takes their own life have freedom of choice?  I argue no.  They don’t.

Freedom of choice involves the ability to make conscious, awake choices.  It involves clarity of mind and heart.  It involves a healthy mental, emotional, spiritual state.  People who are claimed by suicide do not have these things.  No one, in their right (meaning healthy) mind does such a tragic act willingly.  It may look like they made a choice.  They may even believe they are making a choice.  But they didn’t.

Someone high, someone drunk, someone under siege, someone under attack, someone in extreme pain of any kind cannot make conscious, clear choices.  And for some people, the depression, inner pain, outer pain, PTSD, bipolarity, and other mental illnesses are simply too strong to leave someone clear of mind and awake enough to make such a choice.  Depression is a monster that speaks lies in your head.  Well, sometimes it speaks, sometimes it whispers insidiously, sometimes it screams and drowns out all rationality.  And sometimes all it screams over and over is: “I can’t take this anymore.  I need to die.  This needs to end.”  And the disease of depression convinces that person that they are making a free choice—THAT’S part of the symptomology of depression and mental illness—it makes you think you are well.  It makes you think everyone else just doesn’t understand.  It makes you think you are in your rightful power as an individual to control your actions.  And these are all lies, these are symptoms of a disease.

I knew someone once who, when a friend was claimed by suicide, said: “That selfish sonofabitch.”  The victim had left two children.  To the outsider, this person committed a selfish act.  He was essentially an asshole.

Part of the problem with believing suicide is a choice is the definition of the word and the language surrounding it.

Suicide, as defined in most dictionaries goes something like this: the intentional and voluntarily choice to take one’s own life.

The words surrounding this definition are ones like: committed, took their own life, chose to end it all.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “suicide claims the life of a suffering person.”  Perhaps words like the following might be more appropriate:

Tyrannicide—which may sound insulting, but a person who becomes ill enough to kill themselves is not killing THEMSELVES, they are attempting to kill the pain, the monster, the tyrant inside.  The person claimed by suicide is a victim, and in no way a willing victim. It is analogous to being possessed by a monster.  It’s the monster that pulls the trigger, it’s the monster that takes the fatal leap.  The person unwillingly and unwittingly hosting such a creature essentially—if untreated (and sometimes even if they are treated)—becomes powerless over the depression.

Some would say this analogy doesn’t work because possession implies a spiritual, demonic force.  I am not suggesting that—although, I believe that is possible (there are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual diseases), I am more using the image to help people see that the person claimed by suicide did not make the conscious choice to end their own lives.  If the possession analogy doesn’t work for you—try thinking of the person with fatal cancer as being possessed by a monster that eats its host from the inside out.

Fideicide—the killing of faith. Someone overwhelmed by a disease can easily lose faith.  Someone claimed by suicide is trying to end their hopelessness, not themselves.  The disease has swallowed their faith.

Facticide—the killing of facts.  The monster of depression distorts the fact the ill person is worthy of living, is worthy of help, has the ability to choose otherwise.

Claim—the word “claim,” comes from the roots of words meaning, the act of shouting out, to demand, and to take sometimes by force.  This seems far more accurate than the deliberate and voluntary choice to take one’s own life.

Cancer claims lives, heart attacks claim lives, strokes claim lives, diabetes claims lives, Alzheimer’s claims lives.  Depression is every bit as much an illness as any of these.  Bipolarity is, PTSD is, and so on.  So is addiction.

Addiction and depression tell lies—it’s part of their symptomology.  So does bipolarity.  As someone who suffers from several mental illnesses, I know as soon as my head says, “You’re doing better, stop taking your meds,” that that is the disease talking.

Depression (and to be clear, I do not mean sadness, or the blues—I mean clinical depression) and addiction have the ability to smother rationality and the ability to ask for realistic help.  Just as Alzheimer’s takes away the memory piece by piece, depression takes away freedom, hope, the ability to seek help piece by piece.  Just as cancer little by little eats the body away, so does depression and other mental illnesses eat away at the ability to think clearly and rationally.

Saying someone chose to take their own lives—in addition to being inaccurate, is harmful to everyone involved.  It puts us in the power of blame, of judgment, and of the ability to slide into the need to protect ourselves from pain and the reality that depression is real, that depression stalks people, that depression is fatal.  Some people would much rather believe suicide is a choice because it separates themselves from the possibility to being devoured by a monster.  Lastly, it is crushing to the family of the victim to say they choose such a thing.  It implies deep self-centeredness, it implies they loved themselves more than their families and friends. It implies they didn’t care about others.  People who die from cancer are not abandoning their loved ones or choosing their own lives over theirs. They are not being selfish by dying.

When someone we love is claimed by suicide, the world collapses for the survivors.  It is devastating.  And people close to them often say things like: “Well, at least they are not suffering anymore,” which is exactly what one says when a loved one dies of cancer.  Inside we know suicide is a disease.  And combined with depression can be fatal.

People whose disease compels them to attempt suicide are not crying for help.  Attempting suicide is an expression of mental illness—a bursting of a cyst, the manifestation of a sickness.  And, also tragic, is the fact that many people cannot afford mental healthcare before its too late.

Suicide is also not a sin just as dying of cancer is not a sin.

Compassion, understanding, and an ability to listen openly and face reality is what we must offer when someone we love dies of suicide. No blame, no judgment.

And what of someone like me who suffers from depression and suicidality and is still alive?  Before my symptoms became overwhelming, I was able to seek and accept help.  My mental cancer was advancing in strength and severity, but it hadn’t gotten to the point of no return.  I was still able to have just enough measure of mental clarity and freedom of choice, to get help.

And that is the only difference between my friend’s brother and myself.  I am not better than him, stronger, I am not less selfish, or anything of the sort.

I am lucky.  I simply don’t have as severe an illness as him.  And that is of no credit to me.  Some people survive cancer.  Many don’t.  I survived depression and suicidality.  He was taken—claimed—cut short.  He was murdered by a cruel disease.

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

Trans LifeLine: US: (877) 565-8860 CANADA: (877) 330-6366

 

 


 


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Making Little Musicals, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Making Little Musicals

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

It’s amazing, isn’t it?

How our everyday speaking

Voices can be elevated

Instantaneously, into singing.

Think of it—one word

You can speak, one word

You can sing—a sentence can

Rise and fall in and out

Of song like the invisible path

Of a butterfly wings.

I know, you might be

Thinking—And?

To which I say:  And everything!

Everything is right there

In that simple, effortless

Reshaping of sound, of carrying joy

On the breath from within you.

Perhaps everything said should be sung,

Perhaps every year that goes by

Should be full of song, or,

At very least long stretches

Of each season—Imagine that–

Even if some songs are dirges, even if some songs

Are sung on tip-toe just out of our range,

Even if some songs

Are in languages we do not understand,

Even if some songs are screamed like ones

In a punk band, even if some songs

Are in three-part harmony,

Even if some songs move us

To tears, even if some songs

Lift us into realms of glory–

I think we should try it—sing

Every word for one day

And see how much fun it could be

Making little musicals

While buying a cup of coffee,

Or saying, hello while holding

The door, or sending the kids

Off to school, or arguing over

Politics, or teaching in a classroom,

Or giving a sermon, or while greeting

A pet or spouse, or telling someone

You love them forever.

 

clouds light

 

 


 

 


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One Way to Prepare, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

One Way to Prepare

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Exhale: Release and create,

Inhale:  Gather and nourish,

Exhale: Loosen and share,

Inhale:  Draw and replenish,

Exhale: Surrender and sigh,

Inhale:  Unite and receive,

Exhale: Express and give,

Inhale:  Assemble and hold,

Exhale: Relinquish and set free,

Inhale:  Store and treasure,

Exhale: Cast and measure out,

Inhale:  Claim and protect,

Exhale: Bestow and rejoice,

Inhale:  Shore up and fortify,

Exhale: I am awake and ready.

 

 

 


 

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That Stubborn Superhero, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

That Stubborn Superhero

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Out in nature, which is

To say, in us—it happens

This way:

 

The longest night comes

Filling what little day there is left

With thinly veiled darkness,

That, veil after veil, begins

To cover the day, like

A shawl thrown in slow motion

Over a lamp.

 

After the night has had its run,

It slowly—you’d better believe it—

Shrinks back to a more manageable size,

It contracts as the day exhales,

And with each exhalation, spring,

Moment by seemingly imperceptible

Moment—swells with such joy

It can barely contain itself.

 

And the light begins to coax the darkness

Into slipping away into time and to allow

Itself to grow its slow, wild warmth.

 

We have all gone through darknesses

That seemed to last forever—

At least—I have—when I couldn’t

Believe any light would ever come

Ever, ever, again, and that the abyss

Of not being able to see or hardly move

Would enshroud me forever.

 

If this has ever happened to you,

Or maybe is happening to you

Right now—believe it—spring always

Comes—little by hardly noticeable little

Darkness becomes less and less

And seeds of exhaultation can’t wait

To burst into flowers and tangible light.

 

I am not saying all darkness is bad.

There is a holy darkness, touched

With water and earth, where fireflies

Bedazzle the night, where love-making

Eases us into the sweetest sleep.

 

I am talking about the darkness

That swallows the will and chews it

Practically into nothing.

 

Just as too much light burns,

Too much darkness freezes the soul.

 

So, take my word for it—as someone

Who has been there and is taken there

Against my will every year—the swallowing darkness

Turns and slips away like a receding flood of black ink

Eventually, leaving gardens of survival,

Fragrant with honeysuckle,

And damp with laughter.

 

You’d better believe it,

Or if, like me, sometimes

That is impossible to do–

Pretend to believe it—or even if

That is too hard to do—don’t then–

Because its true regardless:

Never once has the night held captive

The day forever.  Day, that stubborn superhero,

Will break free of night’s weakening grasp,

And soar, ringing through the fields,

Leaving visible hope spreading

Over all the land.

 

tree hope


 

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Zimzir and the Dragon, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Zimzir and the Dragon

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Before Word

Being friends with a dragon takes some getting used to.  For one thing their digestive systems are always rumbling like an old car.  When they burp, which is often, foul smelling smoke comes out of both ends, and little spurts of fire sometimes ignite nearby curtains or sofas.  Another thing is that they sometimes eat people which is hard to explain to the authorities when they come looking for said eaten person.

However there are many benefits of being friends with a dragon.  For example, they eat people—people who are bullying you or harassing you, which really cuts down on being bullied when word spreads that people who pick on you end up disappearing, leaving only a few bits of hair and sneakers behind.  Another benefit is that they burp, and foul-smelling smoke comes out of both ends—which is another good deterrent for bullies—as are the little spurts of flames aimed at particularly sensitive areas on bullies.

You might be wondering why I have so many bullies flocking around me.  You see, I am trans—transgender.  And I’m a kid.  I was born nine years ago and everyone thought I was a boy.  And even though I was born with the parts that would make some people assume I was a boy, I am a girl, and I know I’m a girl.  My parents know now as well—after years of me insisting on wearing dresses they finally got it.  Not that dresses defines being a girl, but my folks are old-fashioned.

I am one of the lucky ones.  My parents both accept me.  I also have friends who do as well.  It wasn’t always that way though, and when I first came out things, shall we say, got ugly.  And that’s where being friends with Harbor came in handy.  Yes, Harbor is my friend dragon, and he does by ‘he.’  My name is well, we’ll get to that, and this is the beginning of many beginnings and the end of many endings and the beginning of many endings and well, you get the idea.

 

Zimzir and the Dragon.

As I said, my parents were told I was a boy when I popped out on a cold winter morning in January.  My parents named me, “Joseph.”  It was an OK name, except it didn’t fit.  At first, I didn’t understand why it didn’t fit. It just didn’t.  Sort of like accidentally putting both legs into a pair of pants.

My parents were pretty OK though, and so I began to grow up, or, well, as I like to think of it—grow down.  You see, I always felt like I was an alien or something.  Like I came from up there in space somewhere.  I just felt different from the earthlings around me.  And so, it took me a few years to come down, so to speak into this body I didn’t want or ask for.

When I was a toddler (which is a really funny word if you think about it) I used to toddle to the laundry basket (my family did do laundry, but always left the clean laundry in a basket in my parent’s room, and I knew this, so I would, as I said, toddle to it, and then, with some effort, toddle over and into it, sort of like a misguided cat).  Once in the basket I would do an artistic little dance as I sat there on the clean laundry with quite possibly a stinky diaper, which consisted of me throwing clothes around the room while I sang (the artistic little dance, that is, not my diaper).  “Sang” isn’t quite the right description of the vocalizations that came out of my mouth. My singing was more like cows yodeling.

While in the laundry basket I used to fish out the “women’s” clothes and wrap them around my head.  Then I would giggle and slobber into them.

And here I want to say that, of course, clothes (and toys, for that matter) (and well, anything for that matter, especially kids) (unless they want to be) should not be gendered.  So, I put “women’s” clothes in those little quotation mark thingies just to let you know I think it’s absurd that people think there is such a thing as “women’s” clothing.  For the rest of this story, however, I am not going to use quotation marks, mainly because they are annoying.  Trust though, whenever I mention women’s clothes or boy’s clothes, I mean (with a big roll of my eyeballs) (eyeballs is also a funny word) that I mean “women’s” clothes and “boy’s” clothes.

As I grew down some more, I used to go into my parent’s room and not only fish out my mom’s clothes, but I try it on and parade around the house. This made my mother laugh and my dad yell.

“Take those off, Joseph.  Those are girl’s clothes.  You’re a boy,” he would say.

To which mom would say: “Oh, honey he’s just pretending.”

To which I would say to myself: “No, I’m not.  These clothes might be too big for me now, but they are the kind of clothes I want to wear forever.”  And then I would take them off and treat them as if they were threaded with gold, and fold them up neatly and put them back in the laundry basket.

One day, when I was around seven, I was at my cousin, Annabelle’s house, and I stole one of her dresses and wore it to school the next day.  I felt so proud and happy.  It felt like I was wearing cool, refreshing sunshine.

Sitting in the principal’s office after getting sent there by my teacher for causing a ruckus in class just because I was wearing a dress, was the first time I remember wishing I had never been born.  “This sucks,” I thought, “I just want to be myself and everyone either gets mad or thinks I’m a joke.”

And while waiting for my mom to come bring me a change of clothes, I heard Harbor for the first time.

I say, “heard,” because the first thing I heard was a fart.  I looked around the office.  No one else was there but me.  Upon sniffing however, I knew someone, or something—judging by the intensity of the fart-smell—was with me.

Then I heard a burp and saw a little burst of smoke and flame appear in the middle of the room near the ceiling.  I jumped and let out a little scream.

“It’s alright,” said a voice that sounded like gentle thunder.  It was a sound that soothed me and resonated through my lungs, “It’s just me, Harbor.”

“Hhh-Hhh,” was all I could manage to say. I sort of sounded like I was practicing dramatic exhales.

“Harbor,” the voice said again, causing a little storm to wave pleasantly through my heart.

“Harbor?” I said, “But, where are you?”

“Right here,” came the voice.  And then, there—right there—in Principal-Poopy-Pant’s office (not his real name) (unfortunately), the air in front of me began to shimmer and quiver and take form and color and weight, and as it did, a dragon appeared before me—large, aqua green with purplish markings and wings folded neatly against the ceiling.

“You’re a dragon,” I sputtered, and my mouth, if it could have, would have opened down enough to hit the floor.

“Yup,” he said, “so I am.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I am here for you.”

“For me?” I gulped.  “Like, here to eat me?”

“Oh no,” said the dragon.  “I am here to be your companion.  If you will allow me, that is.”

“Why do you want to be my companion?  Do I need one?”

“Because I want to be.  I know what it’s like to not be accepted for who you know you really are.”

“You do?”

“Yes.  And ‘yes’ to your other question.  We all need companions sometimes, and you have an especially challenging journey ahead, and I am offering my services.”

“Services?” I asked.

“I will be your protector; guardian angel, if you will.”

“I see,” I said, “I’m not sure what to say.  I mean, here I am, in trouble again, talking to a dragon.  I’m not sure how I feel about that or having a protector—let alone a dragon protector.  I’ve always had to protect myself.  I’m used to it, even when I do a crumby job at it.”

“I see,” said the dragon, “are you saying you would rather me go?”

I hesitated a moment, and then said, “Yes.  I have always felt alone and that’s sort of how I like it—or at least, sort of like how I’m used to it.”

“That’s fair,” Harbor said, “I’ll just be going then.” And the dragon began to dissolve into the air.

“Wait,” I said, standing up for the first time since this encounter began, “can I change my mind?  You know, if I decide later I want a companion, can you, I mean, will you, still be there?”

“I’m sorry,” the dragon said, pausing in mid-disappearing into thin air, “I may not be here for you.  There are many like you who need protecting.  However, someone will always be there for you, even it isn’t me.”

And as I stared hard into Harbor’s eyes and saw nothing but oceanic light, and kindness, and wisdom, and a sly sense of humor, I found myself saying: “Wait, please.  Stay.  Actually, being alone kind of sucks.  Well, not all the time. Sometimes I love being alone and need to be alone and wish I could be alone forever, but in general, I have no one who accepts me as me, and you seem to.  So, will you stay?”

With that Harbor fully materialized into the office again and lowered its great head down to eye level and said: “It would be an honor.  And now, what shall I call you?”

I looked at the ground and shuffled my feet. “Well, my given name is ‘Joseph,’ but that’s not the name I want or call myself.”

“Well,” Little One in the Beautiful Dress, what would you like to be called?”

I looked up at Harbor and couldn’t believe I was about to tell someone the name I had always treasured secretly in my heart.

“It’s OK,” Harbor said, “you can tell me later.  On your time.  Always on your time.”

His voice rumbled gently through me.

“Besides,” he said, “we have work to do here.  We need to get you out of this pickle the limited minds of the grown-ups around you have put you.”

“How?” I said.

“Watch,” Harbor said and winked, and then, shimmered into invisibility, but not before breathing a little puff of fire and placing it on my head where it disappeared into me like warm apple cider. And before I could say a thing, Principal Poopy Pants came out of his office.

“Your dad is here,” he said, “and he’s not happy.”

Just then, the office door opened and in stormed my father, jeans and a t-shirt in hand.

“What were you thinking, young man?” he said, lifting me from the chair by my arm.  “Why do you do this?  I don’t get it.  It’s infuriating. Why do you want to dress like a girl?”

“Because I am a girl,” I found myself shouting, my whole body feeling as if it was filled with some kind of strange, warm power.

“You are not a girl!” my dad and the principal shouted together.

“Yes, she is,” said Harbor appearing suddenly in the room, smoke and ribbons of flame streaming from his flaring nostrils, his voice thundering.

My dad and Principal Poopy Pants leapt into each other’s arms and turned around to look at Harbor.  They screamed like frightened sheep.

“Get this into your heads,” Harbor said, lowering his own to meet their terrified eyes, “If you still want to keep your heads.  She is a girl.  She feels better in dresses.  Accept her for the truth of who she knows herself to be, or else.”  And he puffed a burst of smoke around their heads.  They coughed and tried to wave the smoke aside.

“But,” my dad began.

“But nothing,” Harbor growled.

“But…that’s my son, my son Joseph.”

“That’s not my name!” I shouted, and I felt like my words were smoke and fire.

Harbor puffed out a little flame that came inches from my dad’s nose. “Don’t,” said Harbor, pausing before growling the rest of his sentence, “Ever. Call. Her. That. Again.”

“But,” my dad attempted.

And then Harbor roared a roar that shook the furniture in the room.  “No buts!” He bellowed.

“OK…OK,” my dad said.  And then he looked at me, “This is going to take some getting used to.”

“Then get used to it,” Harbor said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Get used to it.”

I had never sassed my dad before, but instead of getting mad, he bent down and looked at me, gently putting his hands on my shoulders.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I think somehow I’ve always known, but I was afraid of what others would think, what people at church would say, what your friends or grandparents would say.  But, if this is who you are, then I accept you, and will do everything I can to help you feel accepted.  I never want you to feel wrong about being who you are.  I’m so sorry.”

It was the first time I ever saw tears in my father’s eyes.  I teared up too, and so did Harbor, who sniffled out a little fart scenting the room with, well, dragon fart smell, which was a lot like burnt toast, not altogether unpleasant, like the smell of horse poop that smells like mowed grass and straw.

“Now,” my father said, still holding my shoulders and wiping a tear from my eye, “what would you like to be called?”

I bowed my head and then lifted it up proudly and looked first at Harbor and then at my father.  “My name,” I said, with all the power of a phoenix rising from the flames, “is Zimzir.”

My dad smiled and stood up and turned to Principal Poopy-Pants.  “Mr. Poopy Pants,” he said (and I burst out laughing), “This is my daughter Zimzir.  She likes this dress and she is going to stay in it and you and your school are going to everything in your power to help her feel accepted.  Educate the students, teachers, parents.  That’s your job. So, do it.”

“Yes,” added Harbor, breathing fire tinged smoke around the principal’s head, “Do it.”

Principal Poopy Pants shook his head like a bobble head in a car on a bumpy road.

And so, my father walked me back to my classroom, opened the door, looked at the teacher and then the other students seated at their desks.

“People,” he said like a warrior announcing the arrival of a princess, “this is may daughter, Zimzir. Whatever you may have thought of her before, this is who she is and if any of you have a problem with that you will have to deal with me.”

“And me,” said Harbor snaking his great, scaly head into the room.

The class and teacher screamed and Harbor winked at me and then disappeared.

The other kids shook their heads not knowing if what they just saw or heard was real.

My dad looked down at me and said: “You want to stay here…Zimzir, or would you like to go for some ice cream?”

“I want to stay,” I said, looking up at him and smiling, “let’s get ice cream after school.”

“You got it,” he said and turned to go pointing his finger at the teacher and class.  “Remember what I said,” he warned.

And as I walked proudly to my desk, I looked out the window and saw Harbor.  He looked like he was about to fart.  The classroom windows were open.  He got up real close to the window and winked at me.  I plugged my nose.  I knew what was coming.  I sat down, smiled at him and knew I was me.  Zimzir.  And I, Princess Zimzir had a protector forever.

 

Afterword:

We may not all have a dragon as a friend, or parents who accept us.  We can dream though, and we can do our best to be ourselves in however form that takes, and in however time that takes—even if it takes a lifetime.  We need to do what is best and safest for us.  And since not all of us have dragons, may we all be Harbors for one another—safe places we can go when we need understanding, support, love, laughter, and a place we can burp and fart with wild abandon.  May we all be dragons and protectors for one another.  May we lift each other up and take care of one another.  And if you’re reading this and you’re not trans, then accept your kid, accept your friend, accept your relative.  Or else. I know someone hungry just waiting for you to make the wrong move.  Live your faith.  Be a parent.  Be a friend. Be an ally.  Be a Harbor and breathe fire for the sake of people like me.

 


 

 

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