Sunday, October 29, 2023


My husband is a pillar of St. Mary’s, a little activist Episcopal church in Harlem that yesterday kicked off its 200th anniversary celebration with a chamber music and choral concert at the world’s largest unfinished cathedral, St. John the Divine, in our very neighborhood. The musical selections featured our augmented choir performing original songs and traditional spirituals; the sound in that cavernous cathedral was beautiful and haunting. Next up were piano, harp, and violin pieces by two different women composers from the community; each had previously held the world premiere of her original composition at St. Mary’s. At the intermission, one of these composers was approached by a filmmaker wanting to hire her to score her newest film. That’s St.Mary’s for you, the little church that could. After the intermission we were treated to four exquisite pieces by the Harlem Chamber Ensemble, which again got its start at St.Mary’s. Our friends Lisa and Ozier joined us for the program, and they were blown away, both by the music and by St. Mary’s history of art and inclusive and intersectional social justice activism, as shared by those who performed. The program was billed as “200 Years of Praise and Protest: A Benefit Concert” and it was well attended and vastly enjoyed.

The thing that struck me so powerfully is that St. Mary’s has always been St. Mary’s. Right from the start it was about deeds, the practical work of securing a community, of giving people their dignity especially in times of need, of welcoming everyone regardless of faith, race, identity, or creed. St. Mary’s, which looks like a country church on a Harlem side street, was easy to underestimate, yet more than a century ago it became the first church in the city to stop charging worshipers pew fees, and fifty years ago it sponsored two of the three women from the New York diocese who were among the first women to be ordained as Episcopal priests. There’s a film about this that will be shown in the spring as part of the year long anniversary celebration, along with many other events. How many nights have I sat at our dining table working or doing a puzzle while my husband sat at the other end of the table on a Zoom call as chair of the 200th anniversary events committee. He's so low key, fostering team spirit almost effortlessly, because his ego isn't wrapped up in this at all. And this afternoon, my man and his little soul cluster at the church put on an amazing event, nothing ragtag about it at all. Afterward, he was deeply content. "That was a wonderful way to spend my birthday," he said, and it was.

Also at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine yesterday, there was a new art installation called Divine Pathways, created by fabric artist Anne Patterson. It consists of red, blue, and gold ribbons on which are written the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of hundreds of people from the surrounding neighborhood, each one offering a prayer reaching up to the Cathedral's vaulted ceiling. Prayers for peace. For community. Messages to mend the fabric of our world with ribbons upon ribbons of love.
The same filmmaker who wanted to hire one of the composers from yesterday's concert, approached me under those hanging prayer threads to ask me about my work. She said someone had told her I was a New York Times bestselling author (haha! that's actually true!) and she wanted to know if any of my books had ever been made into a film. None, I told her, and she then wanted to know was there was one story in particular that I thought was worthy of being told in film. And so I told her about Dr. Ellamae Simmons, the hidden figure who I've previously written about here, who made all kinds of history in her lifetime. When Ellamae was 97 years old, she hired me to write her memoir. It was a highlight experience of my life, and I wished the world could know her, too. The filmmaker was intrigued. She wanted my contact info, my website. She handed me her phone and asked me to type it in, but as I was doing that her husband tried to FaceTime her from Israel, where he is a journalist reporting on the tragedies unfolding in that part of our world. "I'll call him back," she said. "No, you should take it," I said, handing her back the phone. "You don't know what's going on." 

After she got off the call with him she came to find me again, and asked me to finish entering my contact info. She told me about her two nieces, who are in the Israeli army, who she says will soon be entering the tunnels in Gaza, and how worried she is for them. She said she feared that Israel's actions in Gaza will inflame antisemitism around the world. She told me one of her nieces had liberated a city, and her mother was so proud of her she sent their relatives in America a picture. "My niece was smiling," the woman said, "but I could see something different in her eyes, like a light had gone out, like she's seen things." 
I chose to just listen, aware that her family members were on the front lines, and how terrified I would be if that were my kin. I didn't try to tell her what I thought the government of Israel, and the government of the U.S. should be doing instead of carpet bombing Gaza. But after we took our leave of each other, I knew that filmmaker would never call me back, because she'd go to my website and see that I had written the memoir of a powerful and luminous Palestinian American warrior woman, and that would put me on the other side of the fence in her mind. Never mind that so many of us, maybe even most of us, actually want the same thing. Never mind that we're out here wearing out our shoe leather and posting on social media and calling our congresspeople and praying with our whole hearts for an end to genocide, for radical reconciliation, for sacred peace.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Love is a collective noun


We had another book team check in this morning, so there's a screenshot of me on Zoom, because it's tradition now that I record these meetings thus. Why do I want to record them? Because this has so far been one of the most creatively challenging and spiritually nourishing work experiences of my life, a true labor of love for all involved, despite the labor involved. So much more work to do on this project, all the steps to be accomplished, including the tedious ones, like formatting endnotes and checking facts and getting permissions for things, but when love infuses an endeavor, nothing feels quite as arduous as it otherwise might. Thank you God, or thank you Love—they’re one and the same to me. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Still somewhere

I made these garlic Parmesan cruffins—supposedly a cross between a croissant and a muffin. They were sinful and yummy. 

Today would have been my dad's one hundredth birthday. I am overwhelmed by that realization, which came to me just now as I did the math. I cannot speak to it at all, except to say he's been gone 27 years, and I miss him with my whole heart.

I spent another afternoon wedding dress shopping with my girl. What a joyful time that was. My beautiful daughter looked radiant in everything, but one garment in particular stole the show. 

Here is a poem a friend shared. I appreciate the people who post with fire in their bellies and searing truth in their words. They educate me. In this wrenching, fragile moment, we can’t look away.

Before I Was a Gazan

I was a boy
and my homework was missing,
paper with numbers on it,
stacked and lined,
I was looking for my piece of paper,
proud of this plus that, then multiplied,
not remembering if I had left it
on the table after showing to my uncle
or the shelf after combing my hair
but it was still somewhere
and I was going to find it and turn it in,
make my teacher happy,
make her say my name to the whole class,
before everything got subtracted
in a minute
even my uncle
even my teacher
even the best math student and his baby sister
who couldn't talk yet.
And now I would do anything
for a problem I could solve.

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952 


Friday, October 20, 2023

Gold all around

Walking Eagle (aka my talented nephew Brett) dropped new music today, a single of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," and I'm absolutely loving his voice and guitar riffs. You can hear him on YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, or wherever you stream music. I was listening to him on repeat all morning. I'm just so proud of this humble artistic soul I get to call family. He may not have got a chair turn on The Voice, but a lot of people noticed him and now all sorts of opportunities are coming his way.

Meanwhile, outside my window, the leaves turned gold overnight, making a bright glowing backdrop for the flowers that my thoughtful future son-in-law brought for me last week. As usual when I have flowers in the house, I keep photographing them in the changing light. Aren't they beautiful? I'm keeping what's good and lovely in sight right now, being very intentional about that, because alongside the beauty, the world is hard and people are sad.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

She’s ready!

This little one will never be scared of heights! Daddy (6’5”) is besotted but puppy Porter isn’t quite so sure. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Book fair

It almost feels obscene that life goes on on the other side of the world from where wars are raging. But it does, and this past weekend, three other women and I organized a book fair for our neighbors who are authors, which was very well attended. It was kind of a lark how it started, one of our neighbors announced the publication of his photo book on the LGBTQ community, which he he had been working on since the 1970s, and I said, we should do a book fair, and somebody else said, great idea, let's meet to organize it. It ended up being four of us who pulled it together, and before you knew it we had 23 authors signed up to display and discuss their books, fiction, memoir, photography, history, science fiction, children's books YA stories, graphic novels, religious iconography, cookbooks, honestly every kind of book and subject area you might imagine. And I thought, well we can talk to each other if no one comes, but the community streamed through all afternoon, and everyone loved getting that taste of culture and seeing the accomplished work of people we say hello to in elevators and laundry rooms and courtyards week in week out. That's the four women organizers, congratulating ourselves at the end of the event. Everyone's already asking about next year.  Here's my friend's book that started it all. He's a wonderful photographer, and this is a life's work.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The children belong to us all

All night I was ransacked by dreams of walls aflame inside a burning home, the roar of bombs exploding inside my head, the ancient collective memory of grabbing tiny hands and scrambling over rubble, breath caught and garroted by terror, incomprehension, despair. The children's lips parched, eyes sunken, dark smudges circling their vacant stare, not enough water in their bodies for tears. More than a thousand Palestinian children in Gaza have been killed in seven days, compared to less than five hundred Ukrainian children in a year. The merciless calculus of war. And the haunted gaze of family members on the other side of the chain link fence, the Israeli father in America who saw his wife and young daughters kidnapped by Hamas on camera, now waiting with hollow eyes for news of his beloveds, held somewhere in the territory where the bombs fall. The horror that started this latest round of war is unimaginable, brutal, godless. The horror it has spawned is equally so. I refrain from posting about all this on social media, aware that the roots of this conflict pierce deeper than I can express, much less grasp, in two hundred characters or two thousand. In waking life, I try to keep faith with my Jewish friends, and my Palestinian friends, as images of broken humanity on both sides rip through my dreams, and I come back to consciousness with heart hammering, as if it is happening to me, because in some sense it is happening to all of us, though this time some of us watch from a distance, our bodies whole, our homes intact, our heads sheltered from the smoky sky. Even so, the children are all our children. We own this centuries old horror. It feels almost useless to pray, to make phone calls to recorded lines, to hold my friend's hand as she cries, but I don't know what else to do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

For the record

Here I am trying to dip my toe back into the water. There is so much I have wanted to share, to set down for posterity, but it all flowed by, unrecorded. Maybe I can reconstruct some of it this morning, the air outside clear blue and cool, the sounds of kids singing and laughing at the nursery school downstairs reaching me through the open window.

1. My darling son and his lovely wife celebrated their first anniversary on September 17. Last night, one of his friends from England who is visiting camp this week posted that picture up top. It a view from the lake of the open sided chapel where my boy and his bride said their vows. I stared into that image for a long time, nostalgic for that absolutely charmed day a year ago, when so much love and joy infused everything. 

2. My son also had a birthday on October 4. I posted these pictures on Insta, to celebrate his childhood, and his journey now as a man.

3. My goddaughter Christine also had a birthday on October 1, this time on the other side of the veil. She was stolen from us this past summer, after she and her love were hit by a drunk driver while heading home to Yellowknife, NWT, Canada. Her love survived, and is piecing himself back together. But on the day before Christine's memorial service, fires were bearing down on Yellowknife, and the city had to be evacuated. On her birthday, her sister Nicole posted that photo of them, Christine is on the right. Our beautiful girl, a soul made of pure light. We ache with missing her. She wasn't one for social media, she lived a very private life, but I think she would understand: I just wanted to post her picture.

4. My nephew, Brett Walking Eagle, note down his name, was selected to audition for The Voice this season. He didn't get a chair turn from the judges (honestly, I thought it was the wrong song choice), but I was so chest-popping proud of him anyway. He was nervous and thought he sounded terrible, but my ear isn't that finely tuned, and I thought he was amazing. I also absolutely loved his interview beforehand, loved the way he represented his  Native American and Jamaican heritage. That boy of ours has presence. People were upset that he didn't get a chair turn, enough for someone to write a whole story in the news about it! Happy to say Brett is already back in the studio, working on new music.

5. My daughter went wedding dress shopping with me and two of her cousins on the day that New York was being flooded by an actual monsoon. It was quite the feat getting to the bridal boutique downtown, as subways became flooded, streets were closed, everything washing away. And yet all appointments at the boutique that day were kept, and the woman who helped us was wonderful. Our little band even went out for brunch afterward, a Friday in the city in the middle of the storm, and yet the restaurant was jam packed. It ended up being a magical day, and my girl may have found the dress she wants to get married in. She's musing on it, and will decide this week. Her cousin Leisa in Dallas, who is like her big sister and will be at her side when she says her vows next year, will be her only attendant ("It's too complicated to pick and choose among cousins and friends," my daughter decided). Leisa was supposed to be here in person, but she got covid and couldn't travel to us after all. But she was on FaceTime, and when she saw our girl in her dress and veil, she started sobbing. "You look like a Disney princess," she cried, with four month old Harper in her arms, looking very confused. Speaking of Harper, here she is with her godparents, giving them some practice. My daughter and her love visited Dallas last month to meet their new niece.

6. Also, I accomplished this. Now it's over to the editor and publisher. May it be worthy.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Happy birthday to my wonderful son

We love you forever and ever, amen. Our darling boy.