Many Doorsteps

That Doorstep

That doorstep trips you up every time.

Look down, the key is under the bucket.

Look up, watch your head.

Watch, don’t let the cat out.

Look behind, or the screen door will hit you.

Put your bag down; it tips over.

Look down, the key is not under the bucket.

Look up, bang your head,

Hold the screen with your elbow,

Kick the door with your heel. No one answers.

The cat sits between your legs.


The Stoop

The concrete is hot. It must be summer.

The streetlight sputters on. It must be evening.

The Mallory’s slide open their window. There must be a breeze.

Cousin Jimmy has his guitar. There must be no work.

Mom and Mary Ryan sit down to stretch their legs. Dinner must be cooked.

I sit on the bottom step, feet planted on the sidewalk.

A cat between my legs.


The Wheelchair Doorstep

Someone must see it is raining.

Someone must be working the door.

It can’t be long now, can it?

Surely someone will come soon.

I back up, rev up my arms and rush the doorstep.

The tiny front wheels catch the lip and tip me forward.

Surely someone will come soon.

See me in the rain outside

A cat upon my lap.


That Last Doorstep

He’s lain there unmoving,

Waiting for God knows what.

The nurses lied on his chart –

He has not eaten in days.

His eyes have not opened,

His throat has not moaned.

He’s lain there unmoving,

Waiting for .…


He is waiting for the precise moment.

Relax, he’s been waiting a lifetime for this moment.

The exact right moment.

Some sound in his silence,

Listening for that precise breath

To choose to be his last.

Before stepping over.


I nestle under his chin.

Feel my purr echo in this chest.

Loss, by Popular Demand

I stepped from plank to plank

So slow and cautiously;

The stars about my head I felt,

About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next

Would be my final inch,–

This gave me that precarious gait

Some call experience.

—Emily Dickinson

I used this poem in a previous column when I wrote about healing from injuries due to an accident. Reading Dickinson forced me to redefine what healing means, what a wound is. Laurel Turk’s play BREASTLESS made me take a closer look at what a wound is.

In Celtic tradition a “thin place” is a place where the veil separating earth from heaven lifts.  “A thin place requires us to step from one world to another and that often means traveling to a place where we have less control and where the unpredictable becomes the means of discovery.” (Maddox)

Turk takes us on her journey to such a thin place, through pain and discovery and the places we are afraid to go to, where we would never go willingly.

Wounds are thin places. They cause great pain and grief, not just for the wound-carrier, but for those around her. Healing starts when the wound begins to lift the veil between ourselves and the world, ourselves and our hidden selves, and “a terrible beauty is born.” (Yeats)

Laurel Turk wrote the play BREASTLESS about her experiences with cancer, with a double mastectomy. As the shows continue, the audiences get larger. The play moves so many people, not just because her words and movement are about cancer. The play is about about fear, trauma, wounding, and all the care and revelations those things awaken. Turk forces us to see that the unimaginably painful is not simply bearable, but tender, humorous, open. Turk, and the audience, begins to imagine a world shifted into one more alive, more livable.

“…recognizing that loss is a part of life…” says one character when describing a dream of a future world. We prefer to ignore loss, pretending we’re “just fine with it,” getting over it. When a play like this looks closely at loss and grief with an unblinking eye, and a rare sense of humor, it is a gift.

This is why after over a hundred years we still spend time deciphering Dickinson’s cryptic verses. And why, by popular demand, BREASTLESS will go on tour.

Movable Brains

My First UCC Encounter

In 1976 the national UCC sponsored a trip to Northern Ireland to support the Peace People’s March for Peace in Belfast. At the time I had only the vaguest notion of what UCC might stand for: Unitarian Christian Church? Universal Christians of California? United Christians for Christ? I’d been spending time with the Catholic Left and with Quakers acting against the U.S. war in Viet Nam. To me, “Protestants” were an amorphous blob of bible readers who couldn’t agree on anything. I knew William Sloan Coffin fit in somewhere. We did work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, but I discovered that there was a Baptist FoR, an Episcopalian FoR, an Adventist FoR and about 10 more FoRs. What were the differences? This foggy notion changed somewhat when the CL group I belonged to joined forces with Clergy and Laity Concerned, composed mostly of Protestant activists.

There are about 38,000 Protestant denominations, so I forgive myself my confusion. Christian Platt is a blogger for the progressive evangelical magazine, Sojourner. (“Progressive Evangelical” still stumps me.) He names the five things he believes hold Christianity back. (Back from what, I’m not sure.) Number 2 is “Denominations.” He claims  “their distinction from others like them are so minute that even the members within a given denomination can’t tell you what makes them unique.” One commenter disagreed. He says denominations are…” the church diversified…the beautiful mosaic of God’s kingdom,”

Okay, now I get it. A bridge made with moving interlocking parts is more stable than a rock-solid immobile one.

Now, 37 years later, I get spiritual support, renewal, intellectual challenge, and community primarily from (gasp) a UCC church. Luckily, my brain is made of interlocking parts. The parts shifting and rubbing against each other bring me to a better awareness of the world. OMG! I’ve got a Protestant brain!

Peace People Ireland March 1976:


Sojourners article: