On losing gentle men - in honor of James Murrell

I received the news of James Murrell's passing this morning. I am so grateful to the community of folks that have so diligently included us in the news of the past two months... of the moments of hope and struggle and seeking as Yvette and James have navigated this time.

Our existence is already a fight. We don’t have to work to be a threat to the system. We just need to more fully be about what we’re about... How can we do the dance that we’re here to do and engage in ways that awaken healthy dreaming? When people are giving back to themselves in this way, they are able to bring themselves. You can only be discerning about taking action if you have yourself.
— Yvette + James Murrell, FaceTime chat in May 2016

James and Yvette have had a profound impact on me. As a new yoga instructor it was so assuring to have them in my classes, to feel the energy of love and commitment they bring to their movement, and to know they had so many years of experience searching for and building places of practice that were fully invested in transforming ourselves and our world for the better, just like I longed to.

James shared with me after class one day that instructors in the past had persistently cued him to lift the arches of his feet, and his pain in wanting to tell them that flat feet are an African trait - that we must be aware of the differences in body type that are hereditary and ensure our practice spaces affirm and include everyone. That example always stuck with me and he inspires me to become more and more aware and celebrating of physical differences, and strive toward radical inclusivity in my teaching.

James Murrell, upper left

As I longed to build a multiracial practice community, their showing up meant everything. My most memorable day was on the anniversary of the studio in May 2015, when the Murrells came to class along with local Black Lives Matter leaders, and we sat in a circle after class talking racial justice, healing, and action.

I was so excited to be physically in a space that had meant so much to me in the journey of my own wellbeing and growth, but hadn't yet been a place where I was able to bridge the generative conversations of my organizing life. I was so grateful that this photo was taken to document this meaningful moment. It was such an act of generosity for James and Yvette to show up so consistently and patiently and passionately build multiracial justice and healing community together, and such a gift to my hopeful and eager heart.

I left a voicemail this week on the home phone of an older couple I haven't seen in years, Chuck and Sue Ruehle, to excitedly plan for a workshop I am hosting back in Racine, WI in a couple weeks. Through 4 years of organizing in Racine, Chuck and Sue were two community leaders that inspired me very deeply. They were faith leaders, social justice warriors, international travelers, and excitedly welcomed youth into their home to tell vibrant and exciting stories, ask questions, and build together. They had that irresistible sparkle that comes from those who are deeply nourishing their spirit as they take good action in the world. The young people loved them and so did I, and I was eager to collaborate again and reunite with them.

When I listened to the return message from Sue, she explained that I might need to reach out to somebody else... her voice broke: "Chuck died this year." 

My stomach dropped with the memory of the many times I have seen my grandmother walk over to her ringing landline, only to answer with "Hello.... please update your records, he's passed away." Even now 10 years after my grandpa's death, the calls occasionally come, and the previously shaky, now matter-of-fact and slightly-annoyed announcement still has to continuously be made.

In the next week, my family will mark 10 years since the loss of my Grandpa Charlie. One month after a joyous 50th anniversary celebration at the lake cottage, ill-prescribed medication changes with side effects of depression and "suicidal thoughts" caused him to suddenly take his own life. My grandma found him in the basement that morning, and the gentle giant that was one of the centers of gravity for our whole family was suddenly gone.

My grandpa was my primary example of what kind and gentle men could be like. Early in the morning I'd find him slowly stretching on the living room floor, or sitting in a lawn chair in the yard in silence, watching the waves roll in on the lake. In high school when my parents were in the throes of divorce battles and I couldn't get money for a church or school activity, he silently slipped cash into my pocket and wouldn't have a word of conversation about it. He was a deacon at the Presbyterian Church my mom grew up in, and had taken me along in his green station wagon that the grandkids had nicknamed the "Pickle Mobile" to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly folks. We'd make little snowmen out of marshmallows and toothpicks to gift to them, and cheer them up together. In a Christian evangelical family, he smuggled me the draft of his own personal Credo he had been working on with a "shh.. don't show this to your mom" -- a statement of beliefs affirming the love of God and powerful example of Jesus, and inclusive of the beauty and love of all world religions and our shared universal God. Even after 70+ years in the church, he couldn't bring himself to imagine that such a loving God would allow a place like hell to exist.

Grandpa Charlie passed away just 6 months before my partner Josiah came into my life. A fellow gentle and playful giant, I imagine they would have adored one another.

This one's for you James Murrell, Chuck Ruehle, Charles Edgar Periman. For the gentle, kind, and joyfully expressive masculinity you have shown us is possible. We huddle round in comfort and support of the brave and vibrant women who miss you every day: Yvette, Sue, Grandma Nancy. We'll hold them close and celebrate their resiliency. We've got them now.

We can feel you in the quiet strength of the trees as their colors change, as they root down in preparation for winter; even though we won't see the leafy evidence of their aliveness for a season, we know their energy is profoundly enduring and present.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.