Category Archives: Essays

For my mother, upon your death, a spark of dust


We are sitting here together in the peacefulness of your bedroom. A place you redesigned to include a beautiful bathroom, with a wide tub against a window, a warming towel rack – your dream respite. You did such a stunning job. I’ve always loved sitting in your bedroom, reading or talking to you. I am glad we are here now, together as you start your path to a different phase of life – that of death.

Mom, I hope that in your passing, I will be less afraid of death, as it, many times, colors my actions and anxieties. But this death, yours in this room, I want it to be a whispered song. I want you to listen  to the wind chimes outside of your window, the wind blowing through the trees in our backyard, and breathe in the solemnity of home you have created here.

For me, seeing you in our home brings me great comfort, knowing that you are safe and in the care of people who love you. Even though you have suffered through this terrible disease, we have helped determine how you will die. You will die in your own home, in your own bedroom, with your family and loved ones nearby. You will die without pain because of the medicines we give you. You will die having been able to say I love you to the ones you hold so dear, and hear them say it to you. We have been given a gift of that time – to say goodbye, to fill out hearts with each other.

I will miss you so desperately. I know my heart will break thinking about you not here. Even now, it grieves knowing the future.

I was talking to Dad a few days ago; he has been saying that cancer is the malady of all disease. I said that cancer reminded me of the Nothing. Do you remember that, from The NeverEnding Story? That is one of my favorite books. The Nothing eats away at everything around it. You put in a hand, and you lose it. A toe and it’s gone. The Nothing in the story is death. Everyone runs from it. Many are driven insane if they come too close. But the Nothing will be come for all of us, no matter what we do; disappearing our friends, our loved ones, our world. You have put in your uterus, your brain, your lungs, and your bones. The Nothing has touched each part to take it away from you, so that you may disappear entirely.

I have always loved stories, Mom. You helped me develop that. You let me read by the light of the bathroom when I was little. You gave me free reign of any book in the house or library. One of my most cherished memories of you is waking up and walking into your bedroom in the morning. I would find you propped up on several pillows, reading a book and drinking coffee. You particularly loved mysteries, and later, rather smutty vampire novels. You loved fantasy and science fiction, to be lost in another world.

About a month ago, you told me a story about how you had only gotten glasses when you were 8 years old. Until then, you were barely able to see. When you put on your glasses, you said you looked at grass with amazement. You were really able to see its lush green-ness for the first time, and marveled at how the blades were separated like little soldiers.

It flabbergasted me – to think that for the beginning part of your life, you had lived in a blinded state. This surprised me more because I knew how much you read as a child. I imagined you straining your eyes against weak lamplight to read your favorite books. It must have been such a comfort – to see another world so clearly when you could not see your own.

I don’t gravitate to the same genres you do. You know I love personal narrative and memoir – I love to read the stories of real people, and I love to write about my life and the people I experience. When I first started to write, and call myself a writer, I talked to you about it. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure you’d understand. But you did, of course, because you are a lover of words like me. I told you I wanted to write a book, and you were so excited. I was surprised, but more by my own lack of foresight than anything. Of course you would love it if I wrote a book. My first real piece was published in a literary magazine – about you – and you kept it in your bedside table drawer. I knew you were moved and proud of my work.

I love these kinds of stories, Mom, because they help people come alive. I love that they help us with legacy, giving us the backbone of family gatherings; they help us remember each other and the bonds we share. They hold a way for us to look at our past reflectively. They help us carry on.

The NeverEnding Story is just that, Mom — it is a symbol of cyclical life. The Nothing is death, yes, but it is also a carrier of stories. Stories do not disappear into the Nothing – they are contained within it, and are recreated as something new yet familiar. Once the Nothing has swallowed all of Fantastica, Bastian is left with a single spark of dust. That is what you will become, Mom: a single spark of dust that is filled with possibilities. You’ll be fueled by our storytellings, our continued lives on this earth, our marriages to other loved ones, our births of new children, our dedication to the lives of those in pain or need. You will live on through those actions and words, helping shape our lives until we, too, are called into the Nothing, to be reborn into something more.

I love and miss you, with all my heart, with all my sparks of dust.


The “divisiveness” of people of color in white privilege thought

I don’t write about race. It isn’t what I’m compelled to share thoughts about, on the internet anyway. I’ve criticized myself for this, as I feel it shows I’m not taking risks, putting myself out there, adding to the public discourse when we need more people engaged in it. I’m afraid of this conversation, as a white woman. There are many aspects of my white privilege that I feel guilty for and have not taken steps to reconcile; and by reconcile, I mean taking action as to move past the guilt, and not make it the primary motivator of my thoughts concerning racial inequalities and my role within them.

I don’t believe we are in a post-racial society. I don’t believe that the best way to go about addressing race is to be “color-blind”. I don’t believe that white people experience the same struggles as people of color. I believe many, if not all, systems within the US have been formed with and are currently operating from an oppressive agenda that specifically targets people of color. I do think these systems thrive on poverty, both economic and educational – and yes, that does include white people, but I don’t believe this is ever an excuse to shift the conversation into one of class without race.

I write these statements as a reaction to some conversation on Twitter between Black Girl Dangerous and a white woman who identified as a human rights activist. The white woman called BGD’s recent talk at PSU “divisive” because she 1- doesn’t take Q and A from white people in the audience and 2- talks about race (I’m assuming in a way that calls white people to task, but I wasn’t there).  She asked BGD to “humanize all” to promote a collaborative conversation. BGD and her brigade then proceeded to rip this white woman a new one because she had accused BGD of “shutting people out”.

The anger and the attack resonated with me in that it made me uncomfortable. If I had been that white woman at BGD’s talk, there’s a very good chance I would have recoiled the same way. I would have felt “punished” or “shut out” or “attacked”. As a survivor of sexual abuse, or just being a woman, a little voice in my head may have said, “But I’ve experience struggle in similar ways.” I may have wanted to join in the conversation just as much as this white woman did.

As a white person, it’s the defensiveness that indicates I (we) have not interrogated our role of white privilege as thoroughly as we must. When we react and say “Person of Color- you are being divisive!”, we’re really saying, “Stop making us feel so bad about who we are!” I believe this is a false reaction, one that is fueled by our learned need to stay powerful, and stems from our comfort in always being heard. While I have experienced struggle, degradation, oppressive circumstances as a woman, it has not been outside of my white privilege. When I have chosen to speak, I have been listened to. My experiences and my white femaleness have not affected the relevant degree of success or ease with which I can live my life.

Additionally, the need on the part of this white woman for “collaborative conversation” is problematic. What BGD and others like her call for is that white people take responsibility for their own interrogation of white privilege because they can, and because people of color aren’t there for our own edification or examination. It is turning the conversation around, placing the onus on us to figure out our own agenda before thinking we’re ready to enter into authentic dialogue and action about race, inequality and oppression. Much of the time, “collaborative conversation” means the conversation is about us, white people and our feelings about race, white privilege and the like. It again takes away from the dialogue people of color are having and need to continue having in order to build solidarity and strength; in order to fight for space and recognition within a world of white privilege.

I am not brave for writing this, as perhaps people will say and have said to other white people; championing themselves for talking about white privilege, how afraid we are to examine it, and how amazing it is when we finally open our mouths to challenge it. It is not brave; it is our responsibility. This is the conversation we need to be involved in: as listeners, as learners, as supporters. Additionally, my opinions are not new or original about the conversation. This is a baby step in thought and action, that I have to continue to nurture, and call upon others within my circle of white friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

*I don’t tag BGD because I’m not interested in linking for any type of reader-profit. If you want to read more about Mia Mackenzie and the writings of other people of color, please visit