Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day in the US in 1907 when she celebrated her mother in a memorial service at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. She lobbied to make it a national holiday, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It originally was meant to be dedicated to peace, as Anna Jarvis was a peace activist, but it wasn’t long before it became commercialized with cards and gifts and flowers, especially the carnation. Jarvis was angered by this change in emphasis and even organized boycotts against Mother’s Day.

You might notice that Mother’s Day is spelled as a singular possessive rather than the plural, Mothers’ Day. That is because Jarvis meant it to be a celebration of individual mothers by their families rather than the collective mothers of the world. I thought this was an interesting fact that I’d never heard before.

There are Mother’s Days around the world in different months and dates with varying traditions and histories and many that celebrate on the same day as the US. Celebrate your mother on May 9 this year in maybe a quiet way Anna Jarvis would appreciate. But please do remember her in some way by calling or sending a card (or both).

I’m lucky to still have my mother alive and doing reasonably well. I will be seeing her soon for her birthday in June. She reared five children under sometimes difficult conditions, but we’re all thriving in our individual lives.

I wrote an alpha poem using the word “mother.”

Moving quietly through the house checking on everyone already asleep,
Overseeing the ending of the day, she
Trusts that all is well in her world.
Her love creates a shield against forces she can’t control, an
Ever present shelter from the world outside the walls of home,
Reviving her family’s spirits so they can thrive another day.

Write a brief story about something your mother has done that you remember still. It could be something funny, sad, or heartfelt.

Write your own alpha poem using the word “mother.” I’d love to see it in the comments below.

Describe your mother in detail, including physical and behavioral traits that make her Mom.

My magnolias are blooming in full! They started a couple of weeks ago during a very cold snap, and I told them I hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed. They carried on, however, and in what seemed to be only hours, they burst open to spring. The air is full of their fragrance, and fallen blossoms carpet the new grass coming up. I guess it was time after all. Every year I marvel at how quickly flowers and trees and lawns spring to life. It’s a real spirit-raiser.

It came at the right time for me this year, because a friend’s son died unexpectedly, and I, as well I’m sure she, needed this season of renewal and rebirth to help her get through it. It made me think about the juxtaposition of sadness and joy, beauty and ugliness, life and death. The cycle of life includes death; we just hope we have plenty of time to do what we want to do with the life part, but sometimes we don’t. That’s why I stood outside in the sun for a brief time on the first day of spring while waiting to go in to the funeral. Then, when I got home, I wrote this poem:

Spring

It slipped in quietly this year,

and beautifully,

but I spent the afternoon

attending a funeral

for a young man,

the son of a friend,

who died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I rest in the stream of sunlight

pouring from the sky,

a man is being lowered

into perpetual darkness.

He was a son, a father,

and a friend to many,

a heartbreaking loss

on such a glorious day

of renewal and rebirth,

but continuing the natural cycle of life,

through grief and joy,

an odd pairing

but existing together nevertheless.

Standing in the warm clean air

a breeze brushing my face,

I see beyond the edges of time and place,

see myself fading into

whatever is out there,

then opening my arms to Spring.

© 2021 Dorothy A Joslyn

 

Write about a time when joy and grief came together for you.

Write a spring poem that expresses your feelings about its arrival.

Think about your life up to now, and write about your intentions for moving forward, knowing of course that there will be an ending.

A friend of mine and I meet weekly at my house for breakfast, conversation and writing. We have been writing alpha poems for the past few weeks using the word “light.” An alpha poem, or acrostic, uses each letter of a word as the first letter in a line of poetry:

Lingering in a spot of sun coming through my window,
I ignore work that needs to be done. Instead I
Give myself a moment of peaceful contemplation,
Holding on to time stopped,
Throwing to the wind my good intentions.

It’s a fun exercise and makes us think of words and put them together in coherent ways. Some of our poems have been silly, lighthearted, or even profound.

There are many definitions of light: something in the universe that allows us to see (the sun lights the day), an expression of mood or emotion (lighthearted), illuminate (turn on a light), ignite (light a fire), not heavy (light load), and others that I’m sure you can think of.

In this time of coronavirus, thoughts often feel heavy and weigh us down. We’re uncertain of what’s going to happen or when: will we contract it? when can we get the vaccine? will the vaccine work? Maybe we can take some time out and think lighter thoughts, thoughts that may make us feel lighter for a while. What might they be for you? Maybe a memory of something you’ve done with a good friend. Maybe your favorite food (then fix it and eat it!). Maybe just a beautiful day when the sun is out and the temperature is warm for this time of year. We need the break! Or you can pick one of the prompts below and write lightly!

Use “light” or think of another positive word and write an alpha poem.

Write about light in some form or another, how it speaks to you, how it resonates.

Think of another word that might make you stop and wonder what all the meanings might be. Then look up the definition, and write a brief piece on the word.

And as an afterthought: in this month of Valentine’s Day, I wrote an alpha poem using the word “love.” Maybe you can create one, too.

Living day to day, frequently
Oblivious to emotions that arise in me, but
Venturing forward today into a morass of feelings
Ever present but not often acknowledged.

Regardless of the chaos we seem to be living in currently, the bigger picture includes opportunities to be grateful. Sometimes it’s difficult to find gratitude in our hearts; we have to dig deep to find things, even small things, that enhance our lives. But they are there. For example, the past few days at my house have been cold, rainy and gloomy, but today the sun is out, and it’s a beautiful day. It raised my spirits. There was even something good about the preceding days; we needed rain badly, and the earth drank it in.

I continue to maintain my gratitude journal; I list at least five things a day that I’m grateful for, and I always find them as I rethink my days. Doing that task helps me sleep better.

Can we find gratitude in the undeniable facts of our world: a nail biter of an election, Covid-19, wildfires in the west, hurricanes in the south and east, deep racial unrest that must be addressed? Those are all serious issues that we can’t just gloss over; we have to meet them head on and work through them. So, I’m not talking about a Pollyannaish view of things, just an invitation to take brief breaks from the negative reality to look at what it positive, which is also reality. Doing that may help sooth our fears and anger at all the carnage around us.

The first thing we must do at the beginning of this month is vote. It’s a concrete way to have our say and is critical in these times. If you haven’t already voted, please do so.

Another thing we must do is work toward our goal of corralling the coronavirus by wearing masks, washing our hands, physical distancing and staying away from crowds. These are easy things to do, and they have been shown to help.

We may not be able to do anything directly about the fires and hurricanes, but we can support in whatever ways we can those who are helping relieve the devastation of both of these natural disasters.

We can educate ourselves about racial injustice, and follow through with whatever actions we can take to stop the oppression of races other than white. Why I have to write that confounds me. It is long, long overdue.

Then, November 26 is Thanksgiving Day. Let’s take a little time to rest in what is good in our lives. The chaos will still be there on the 27th, and we can continue to deal with it then.

Another thing that can help get us where we want to go is write about our experiences, feelings, actions and all the things that matter to us. Here are a few prompts to get you started.

Think about something you can do to contribute to solutions to the problems that face us as individuals and as a part of the community of all people and write about your conclusions. . . or questions if that’s all you have right now.

Make a list of gratitudes you have. Include everything you can think of, no matter how small or how inconsequential they may seem. They all matter and can make you happy to write them down.

What is the most important issue to you right now? Write down everything you can think of about it and why it means so much to you.

Make Your Voice Heard

I can hear you.
Your voice is clear and strong.
Don’t be afraid of how you feel.
Listen to your heart;
it will tell you the truth.
What you know deep within
will be revealed.
Do what makes you walk away
satisfied with your decisions.
Oh, don’t give up;
there is still time to make a difference.
Align yourself with good and honor.
Hold your head high,
and watch for where you belong.
Step in, step up, go around if you must,
but move forward;
make your mark without hesitation.
Victory will come.
Open yourself to what feels right.
Take your place among the participants.
Everything you do counts.

© 2020 Dorothy A Joslyn

Write about what helps you make important decisions.

Write about what you are going to do on November 3, 2020. Remember, your journal is a private document that doesn’t have to be shared.

How do you feel about our current political climate, and what can you do to make it more hospitable?

We’ve passed the six-month mark of the first Covid-19 virus diagnosis in the US, January 21, 2020, and it still rages with more and more cases every day, as well as increasing deaths due to its spread. We’ve also passed the two-month mark of the death of George Floyd, May 25, 2020. Both of these occurrences have changed the landscape of our lives in this country, and I feel we must pay attention to them, learn and act. They are turning points, and we can go either way on both of them: either show our humanity and care about and for each other, all of us, or ignore the consequences of selfish actions and continue with our own individual lives as if no one else matters.

We must wear masks. We must practice physical distancing. We must wash our hands frequently and sanitize surfaces. These are not difficult guidelines, and they can save lives, maybe even our own. Yet there are those who protest, especially mask wearing. They say it violates their personal freedom. But what about the freedom of others to be safe? We do not live in a vacuum. There are millions of others sharing the same spaces, and they have rights, too. But more than that, what about compassion and good will? How have we somehow fallen off the path of decency and caring? How do we get back on it?

Then there is the rampant racism infecting our country. It has been present for generations, and I’ll bet most of us don’t even know why it began, let alone why it continues. People who are held down for so long are bound to rebel, and it’s what we’re seeing now in the streets of many cities around the country. And who can blame them? People of color want equality and fairness, and they should have them. They shouldn’t have to fight for rights they already have. They should be treated as the equal citizens they are.

It seems too much to have two battles to fight at once, but it’s what we’ve been given, and there is no avoiding them. Are we going to be participating citizens and good people or angry, mean, selfish people? I hope that most of us will be the former.

Who Will We Become?

Who will we become
as we try to find our way
through this maze?
Will we move with assurance
along the winding paths
or bump into dead end after dead end
and grow frustrated and afraid
that we won’t find our way out?
Will we become stronger
and more self-reliant
or shrink within ourselves
and hide from reality?
Will we be kind and generous
or selfish and angry?
The unknown can be frightening
or an exploration of what is within.
Who will we become
in these times of uncertainty?
Which will we choose to follow,
the rabbit down his hole
or the sun moving across the sky?

© 2020 Dorothy A Joslyn

Write about what you can do to slow the spread of Covid-19. What are you doing now? How do you feel when you are out in the world?

How can you educate yourself about racism in our country? How do you define it? What will you do to help eradicate it?

Write about how you are feeling in these uncertain and volatile times. Pour your emotions, fears and hopes on the page. How can you maintain your equilibrium and continue living your life under these trying circumstances?

I feel as if I’m an independent person: a white female, retired, and my time is my own. But how many people are restricted from doing or being who they are, especially people of color. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about how African Americans have been treated and restrained in so many ways throughout the life of our country, even up until this present day, and it has been eye-opening to me. There are so many things I didn’t know, didn’t learn in history class, don’t know now. Independence is for the privileged.

We celebrate our independence from England in July, but that certainly didn’t include all the people who were living in that time. Slavery was an abomination, a cruelty that is unimaginable to me, and even after it ended, the horrors continued for those who were supposedly freed after the Civil War. The Civil Rights Act only freed people of color by law, not in spirit. Many people of privilege didn’t, and still don’t, buy into it.

It sounds empty even to me when I say I don’t understand the resistance. How can the hate and the fear be so strong? I’d really like the answer to that question, but I don’t even know who to ask. I’m reading the book, White Rage, by Carol Anderson, and I have to say I’m outraged by this country’s history of, and present, cruelty to African Americans. It makes me think we are not a civilized society at all.

The following poem is just the beginning of my exploration and the extreme emotion that washes over me as I pursue a study that will last for the rest of my life. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Trying to Make Sense

I am white.
I don’t know what it is like to be black,
but I have been reading and listening,
and my head is close to bursting.

I want to be able to understand,
but I don’t think I ever will.
How can a human being
reign terror on another human being

and continue on
as if nothing is amiss.
Things keep happening:
accusations, shootings, death,

and little is done about it.
We close our eyes,
and follow our own paths
without looking to either side,

or behind us or what is ahead.
We’re blind, deaf and dumb
to the atrocities
in our own country

while punishing with sanctions and invasions
the human rights violations in others.
What in hell is wrong with us?
What are we afraid of?

We belong to each other,
we are each other.
Our hearts beat the same way,
each breath keeps us all alive.

We cannot sever our connections
no matter what we do, so
“. . . never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for [all of us].”*

© 2020 Dorothy A Joslyn

*John Donne, “No Man is an Island”

Write about where you are in your understanding of this country’s treatment of people of color. Really explore your thinking and your heart, and write honestly. (Remember, you don’t have to share your writing with anyone.)

Explore your understanding of privilege and whether or not you feel privileged.

I believe we, regardless of color, are connected by the human bond. How do you feel about that? What does it mean to you?

A friend of mine found this test in her research, and I wanted to include it here. I will admit, I didn’t do well. I have a lot of work to do. Take the test if you wish and then write about the results: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html (highlight link, then right click and click on “go to [link]” or copy and paste in your browser)

Covid-19 still rages, as well as anger, grief and violence. The country is gradually “opening up” in stages, but still not fast enough for some, and others are afraid it’s too soon. Some are wearing masks, others think it’s not necessary, and some arguments have ensued. Many are not willing to allow others to choose their own paths, and still others are not interested in the common good but only what is comfortable for themselves.

On top of that, another African-American man, George Floyd, is dead by police action. Every time this happens I wonder how it could have happened again. Can’t we learn from the past at all? Is the fear that great? That’s what it is, it seems to me, fear, but why? What about blackness scares some people? Black men, in particular, seem to be targeted as “bad” and “dangerous.” They are not safe anywhere, and that must be very frightening to them.

So, what’s your point, you may be asking. What can we do about either of these circumstances? Covid-19 is rampant with no end in sight, no cure, and no remedy. We, who do not see black men as “bad” and would never do what happened to Mr. Floyd, are at a loss for knowing the solution for their continuing deaths. I guess awareness is all we have, and actions that recognize that awareness: become informed, act in safe ways in the matter of Covid-19, don’t prejudge anyone for how they appear or what they may be doing or not doing, and be kind and generous to all until they prove not worthy of those acts. Humanness is not perfection, but acting in good faith can be what we strive for.

I’m feeling a lot of grief for both those who have contracted, or may still contract, Covid-19 and George Floyd’s death. Yet, I keep getting up each day and living my life in the best way I know how and hoping things will get better. Hope, it’s another thing we can have.

This virus has brought out the worst, but also the best, in people: first responders, nurses and doctors, people helping to distribute food to those in need, others donating money and other resources to causes to help others. And whenever a black man is killed, people rally around the family. I read where almost 5 million dollars has been raised for the family of George Floyd. Of course money cannot replace the man, but it may relieve some of the burden of his death on his family.

For relief for your own trauma from all that is going on, watch the YouTube videos of Some Good News. It is a wonderfully refreshing look at the good going on right now. It will make you laugh, cry, and just feel better.

 

Think about something good you have read or heard about someone doing recently, and write about it.

Writing about negative feelings can help get you to a better place. I had that experience recently and came out feeling more positive about what is going on in my life. Write about your feelings about the virus or George Floyd’s death or something else weighing on your mind, and see if it takes you to a better place. Even if it doesn’t, just writing it down will help unburden your mind.

Do something positive for someone else, even something small, then write about the results and how you feel after doing it.

As we begin the third month of the coronavirus pandemic, people are getting restless. They want to leave their houses, go back to work, take off the masks. Some are protesting the government regulations put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19. They want to put reviving the economy ahead of saving lives. Some are protesting losing what they think are their personal rights. But these are desperate times, a crisis; sometimes we have to give up some things temporarily for the good of all people. We don’t live in a vacuum; we share this planet with millions of other people, and many of them are dying. Some people are willing to trade lives for open-ended freedom. I’m not one of them.

I have found it easier than I expected to stay home most of the time. I seem to find plenty to occupy my time, and I get my contact with others through Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, texts, and email. Of course it’s not the same as in-person, face to face contact, but it’s an acceptable substitute for me. I’m kind of a solitary person by nature anyway, so this, I hope brief, respite will be savored and treasured. I’ve written this poem expressing how I feel about being home alone:

Solitude
It is quiet here in my room,
introspection settling in.
The silence soothes my soul;
stillness wraps me in its soft embrace.
I am almost drowsy from inaction,
sifting through my mind
sorting through thoughts and emotions
but not latching onto them,
just letting them pass
with interest but not attachment.
I feel present in this moment alone
with no hope – or dread – for the future.
The unknown stretches beyond
what I see now,
and I have no anticipation,
just watching what is
and being comfortable
sitting in this cloud of not knowing,
closing my eyes and dreaming
nothing at all.

© 2020 Dorothy A Joslyn

 

Write about how you are faring in this time of isolation and solitude. How are you feeling? What are your thoughts as you go through these days?

What do you think about what you’re hearing in the news about protests—on both sides of the issue of staying at home? Do you think it’s time for it to be over, or are you still concerned about the spread of the virus and are willing continue staying at home?

How do our beliefs about our connections to all people of the world color our perceptions of what is the “right thing to do”? What is that “right thing(s)”?

What can I say that no one else has said? All the newscasts are filled with Covid-19 reports, and they sound more dire as the days progress. I’m staying in my home except for grocery shopping, as are most of the people I know. We communicate by phone, email and text, as well as Zoom.

Zoom seems to have become the premier method of group gatherings. Some friends and I spent time together on it recently, and had a nice time catching up, talking and laughing. There’s something about seeing people’s faces even at a distance that makes the contact more intimate and meaningful, at least for me.

Yet with all the turmoil and overwhelm, life continues. But I’m wondering what will come after this crisis is over. Will we have been changed? Will we have awakened to the bare truths that have become clear during this time? Will we proceed in a different direction to repair and save the only home we have? I would like to think so, but I wonder. Sadly, I think we may sink back into what, over the years, has become “normal.” We may be relieved that the worst is over and adopt our old patterns to feel safe again. It will take a huge effort to not do that, to choose health for ourselves and our planet going forward.

I wrote two poems that began the same way, but ended differently. I posted the one with a positive ending on Facebook and read it on Open Mic of the Air, because I thought it is what people would want to hear at that moment, and it was relevant, too. But I will include the first version here, because it, as well, needs to be heard.

Virus

The magnolias in my front yard are blooming,
There is a blue jay sitting on my fence, peeping,
and spring rain is greening up my lawn.

Daffodils are showing their faces
en masse
in the medians of our city streets.

Regardless of our human condition,
the natural world is continuing
its normal flow.

From winter into spring
it marches without pause,
not looking back

to see if we’re coming along with it.
In fact, it’s thriving
because of our absence,

the lack of smoke in the air,
vehicle exhaust fogging the roads,
manufacturing waste pouring into rivers.

We are beginning to see
the other virus affecting our planet
has been our relentless abuse.

© 2020 Dorothy A Joslyn

What do you think may come next?

Write your own poem about the Covid-19 virus with an ending that reflects your feelings right now.

What is your next step? How do you expect to change, or not, when the crisis is over?