Who Is My Neighbor?

Maybe another foot of snow due tomorrow, maybe another opportunity to use our “neighborhood snowblower.” After a very snowy winter a couple of years ago, a bunch of us chipped in to buy one. The next year? It collected dust in our carriage house. But it’s been worth every collective penny this winter; that’s for sure. (Is it wishful thinking to believe that since that gas-powered sidewalk-clearer is shared by several households, our neighborhood reduces its carbon footprint? Anyone? Anyone?)

Who is my neighbor?  Buying a snowblower together, sharing ripe tomatoes and zucchini together from the raised-bed vegetable garden in their (more sunny than ours) back yard. These are my neighbors. But what about that woman whose anguished, Haitian-Creole lament woke me up yesterday morning as she walked past my house? Isn’t she my neighbor, too?

What am I called to do?

 

 

(Almost)-Spring Cleaning

A Rainy Day at Castle in the Clouds, Moutonborough, N.H.

Sunday, chilled, rainy, very windy, I’d almost wished there’d been a fireplace fire in the meetinghouse fireplace. Surely a hearty blaze would brighten my spirits?  But, no, I realized. If there were to be any cheering up going on that gloomy morning, it would have to come from within!

And I remembered something someone in my yoga class had said on Thursday. (Actually, this was at our pre-yoga class, when we discuss a poem someone has brought in, or the Sutras, or a piece of writing our gifted teacher wishes to share.) One woman talked about sadness, hard times, grief and loss; how we’re sometimes too eager to be happy. “There’s good reasons to feel sad,” she said.

So I let myself sink into despair. Not to “wallow in it,” as my father always cautioned when anyone in our family dared to be sad. (You were allowed to be sad in my family for about five minutes. Then you had to get over it.)  But to be honest! To honor the countless reasons we all have to feel sad.

And, mysteriously, after way more than five minutes of sitting in silence and letting myself “feel the feels,” as my daughter, Hope (!) says, Something happened. As if something inside me had been decluttered, de-cobwebbed, dusted or lemon-oiled or rearranged. As if I’d cleared a space within me to hold this sadness. And it was okay. More than okay. It was exactly what I was supposed to do.

What Joy when we do what we’re supposed to do!

Uncontainable

 

Naked Peach. September, 2017

Every morning I begin my day with a cup of coffee, my glasses, my journal, and a pen. Whenever possible, I sit on my deck— even when, as it has been this past week, so cold I need to bundle up under a quilt. (I’ll come inside when the temperature gets below 50 degrees.) Every morning, in the peace of my tiny backyard, accompanied by birdsong and tag-playing squirrels, I make meaning of the day before.

I italicize make meaning to give those words the power they deserve because, yes, over the years, through this daily practice of reflection and prayer I have often found my way. (Or, at least, shined a flashlight in the direction of where I am being asked to go.) But what I am moved to write about this morning is this: given the unfathomable breadth of disaster and pain and horror of this past week, perhaps I should have written “make meaning.” Because how the hell do you “make meaning” of multiple, never-like-this-in-our-lifetime hurricanes and multiple, wide-spreading wildfires and millions of people displaced from their homes, both here and throughout the world, and the obscene cruelty of DACA being repealed and. . .

You don’t. We don’t. I don’t. This is what has come to me. (That realization feels like grace.) It is hubris to expect any human being to take in all of it. We were not made to hold all of it. We can’t. It’s uncontainable.

I surrender to the Uncontainable. Which doesn’t mean, I quickly add, to accept or to dismiss or to minimize or to deny—or to cease asking “What am I asked to do in this broken world?” It merely means I cease believing I can make meaning of today’s headlines. It means I bow my head. it means I recognize that I when I recall Brother West’s “I don’t know what will happen but I do know that If this is The End we will go down swinging,” (something like that)  I silently add together. 

 

 

What Love Will Do

A pro-affordable housing rally, City Hall, Somerville (a Sanctuary City) MA; May, 2017

We may be cooked. Even The Boston Globe, whose editorial policy regarding climate change reportage is sometimes mystifying—and often infuriating—featured a front-page article this morning admitting that things look grim.

It’s taken me a couple of years to let this horror sink in. And maybe that’s okay. Because, denial/magical thinking/distractions to help me to forget/bargaining; all the crazy stuff we humans do when faced with Bad News have, over time, brought me right to where I am supposed to be: accepting my humanity. Humbly.

And to ask myself: What am I asked to do? (Besides, of course, doing everything I can possibly do to sharply bring down global emissions.) And although a dear friend says mine is “Pollyanna thinking” (and she may very well be right!), here’s what I’m dedicating/rededicating my life to from now on: lovin’ the hell out of everyone. If my species is doomed, let me affirm what is best about being human; our ability to love.

May my life continue William Penn’s experiment: “Let us then try what Love will do.”

Hold ON!

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[Flag Football Game, Yauch Park, Brooklyn, NY, November, 2016]

We’re deep into it, aren’t we? Joanna Macy’s “Great Turning”? I, mother of Hope, choose to believe we are. (Can I get an Amen, Pantsuit Nation?) Yet clearly, painfully, horrifically, we’re smack-dab in the middle of The Power That Be’s resistance to this revolutionary change! Some days that blowback breaks your heart, right? Like Standing Rock? Sweet Jesus!

As a woman of faith, deeply connected to and sustained by people and organizations dedicated to social justice, to peace, to saving the planet, “deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome.” Some day.  I do. The centre can hold.* I know this is in my bones.

Yet. But: There are moments, headlines re women wearing hijabs or transgender women of color attacked, a picture of a swastika or the N-word scrawled on a wall, and I sink into either numbing sadness—or Mama Bear rage!

Saturday, in that numbed-sad state, I saw the highly—and rightfully—acclaimed “Manchester By The Sea,”  a film about white, straight men. Not my favorite demographic, post-election. (With notable exceptions.)

Two things: Some glancing momentsome barely-seen image, some bit of dialogue, how some actor held his shoulders or pronounced a certain word; something very brief yet, apparently, triggering flashed on the screen to instantly produce a deep, neglected, abandoned sadness to well up. I was in tears, inexplicable tears; I had no words, no label, no flavor, no scent, no memory to attach to those tears. What I had, though, was boundless gratitude for whoever had written/produced/acted/lit that moment. Some white male, no doubt. Because I suddenly knew that my neglected and abandoned sadness had been experienced by someone else. Thank you, Ken Lonergan. Thank you, Matt Damon. Thank you, ancient Greeks!

And how cathartic to sob on behalf of those straight, white males! It felt good. It felt right. It felt like their anguish just might allow me to look at my present, Mama Bear rage and to imagine—maybe—letting a little compassion in. Maybe.

*William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Wish For Water”

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Yesterday at the park I got into a conversation with a young mother who didn’t know what day of the week it was. “I’m on maternity leave,” she explained. “All days are the same right now.”

I’m having a confusing summer, too. For despite one glorious vacation and two more planned, I feel as though I’ve been working non-stop for months!  And ‘though it’s summertime the livin’ ain’t easy; even at peak moments my joy’s been, well, muted.

Why? At first I attributed these stirred-up feelings—or lack thereof—to three challenging, out-of-my-comfort-zone projects coming up for me this fall—and my perfectly logical anxiety! Deeper reflection, however, reveals a deeper truth: this has been the first summer I’ve truly experienced global warming. Up close and personal.

Record temperatures, a drought, weird weather patterns affecting crops like New England’s peaches; reducing fossil fuel emissions has never been more urgent for me.

But, wait! Have I allowed myself to truly listen to, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “the sounds of the Earth crying”? No. Have I really addressed my despair? Named it? Let it have the time and attention it requires? No. Have I allowed myself to consider the millions already experiencing the havoc and upheaval and disruption due to climate change? No.

But I must.

As I write this the smell of basil, soon to be transformed into pesto, wafts from the kitchen; it’s a summer smell. Somerville’s goldfinches feast on the city’s sunflower crop this week; those finches’ bright, sweet call is a summer sound. Like it does every August, our planet’s about to cycle through the Perseid meteor shower.

Summer still happens, however parched or broiled. May I/ may we find strength and joy in its eternal rhythms.

California Hills In August
I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion.
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

by Dana Gioia

 

First Responder

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[Subway Eldering on the Red Line; June, 2016]

This past weekend on retreat in New Hampshire I swam, I picked blueberries, I read—and kept my SmartPhone off. Guess what happened? Unplugged from the wider world was just fine. Delicious. But not being accessible should something happen to My Loved One—I am her health care proxy—was not.

No crisis. She’s fine; I was not needed. My anxiety was around both my failure to have arranged a back-up while out of town (Ooops) but, also, my realization of how central my sense of responsibility for my Loved One has become. (Oh!)

Ironically, this realization came on a weekend spent acknowledging my overweening* sense of responsibility. (I know !?)  A sweltering weekend back home, every time I cooled myself off in the velvet-feeling lake or felt refreshed by a gentle breeze a part of me scolded: I have no right to enjoy this! I should be organizing around climate action. As if I were solely responsible for fighting global warming! Overweening, much? Absolutely.

But as I have noted before, being with Loved One and accompanying her in any small way I can during her final journey is sacred work. Holy. So I want to Be There in the fullest sense of those simple words.

 

[I willI be away next week; please check out my next post on August 2nd]

  • Overweening: ” Arrogant. Overbearing. Immoderate.”

Thank you, Joanna Macy:

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Comic Book Store Window, Park Slope/Brooklyn, NY; June, 2016]

“When you make peace with uncertainty, you find a kind of liberation. You are freed from bracing yourself against every piece of bad news, and from constantly having to work up a sense of hopefulness in order to act—which can be exhausting. There’s a certain equanimity and moral economy that comes when you are not constantly computing your chance of success. The enterprise is vast, there is no way to judge the effects of this or that individual effort—or the extent to which it makes any difference at all. Once we acknowledge this, we can enjoy the challenge and the adventure. Then we can see that it is a privilege to be alive now is this Great Turning, when all the wisdom and courage ever harvested can be put to use.”

(from World As Lover World As Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, p.143, 2007)

Is There A Theme, Here?

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[Broken Mirror on Sidewalk Self-Portrait, 2016]

A getting-to-know-you lunch with a yoga classmate, Muhammad Ali’s death, my 50th college reunion, a late-afternoon lobbying session (with other, WAY more informed people) to discuss an upcoming energy bill with my state rep; is there a theme, here? (besides the fact that I’ve simply noted some highlights of this past week?)

Why, yes, there is!

Let’s put it this way: at my Wheelock College reunion Saturday, someone asked a group of about thirty Class of ’66 members who’d read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. Most of us had.

Being mortal/growing old: for me, Ali’s death has proved a telling benchmark, a very real, very concrete measurement marking how vastly different the young me of the mid-sixties, who’d regarded Cassius Clay/ Muhammad Ali with fear and scorn and, yes, confusion, and the seventy-one-year-old me who marvels at, celebrates his witness* against racism and oppression and war!

So, yeah, I’m no longer pre-intimation of mortality. I’m mortal.

We all are. Which is why I went to lunch with that yoga classmate, a delightful woman who usually places her mat next to mine. The classmate who used to put her mat there (and who often said she and I should get together but when it came time to actually set up a date . . . ) died. Tragically. And why I, ever-mindful of the urgency of addressing climate change, showed up at a 4:30 meeting to discuss an energy bill. Because who else can show up during working hours? Activists and pensioners!

*In Quakerese: to stand up, to show up, to speak out about, to get arrested for some injustice you’ve been moved (“led”) to protest.

“Stay There!”

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Overheard at the Union Square farmers’ market: A young man loudly whined; the young woman beside him muttered “Stay there.” As if to say, “Stay in your petulance! Listen to yourself! Take whatever time you need to remember that you’re a white, American male—the most privileged creature on this planet—and hear how you sound like a spoiled three-year old!”

That woman’s verbal eye-roll* reminds me of an oft-quoted Quaker story:

There is a widely told, entirely apocryphal, story that at one time George Fox and William Penn met. At this meeting William Penn expressed concern over wearing a sword (a standard part of dress for people of Penn’s station), and how this was not in keeping with Quaker beliefs. George Fox responded, “Wear it as long as thou canst.” Later, according to the story, Penn again met Fox, but this time without the sword. Penn then said, “I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could.” Though this story is entirely unfounded, it serves as an instructive parable about Penn’s Quaker beliefs. (From Brief History of William Penn)

Of course, Penn’s individual sword-wearing-until-he’d internalized-Quaker-beliefs is one thing; the hatred, the racism, the violence we’re witnessing as countless white Americans act out in this time of incredible and radical and inevitable transition—and possibility—is truly terrifying! Right now, staying there is scary.

(And sad. I get that. I understand the sadness beneath the violence.)

And, given climate change, none of us have much time to ponder, to contemplate, to leisurely make peace with that sword. (Talk about incredible and radical and inevitable!) So let’s get to it. Now. Let’s do whatever’s needed, with love and with compassion and grace—whine, acknowledge our shame, our guilt, mourn, grieve, make reparations, accept; whatever—so we can embrace that Big Change that’s gonna come.

Together.

 

*Thanks, Anna

 

PS: One day later, I’m not comfortable with what I’ve said, here. There’s too much more that needs to be said. So, Dear Readers, please consider the words above as a Work in Progress.

To be continued (and prayed over) . . .

 

 

“The Revolution Will Not Be in English”

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Pretty sure the Big Changes a-comin’ will not come easy. Yet am moved to suggest that not only will the revolution not be in English, it might not be in words. It might be/could be as quiet and as powerful as love. William Penn suggested in 1693: “Let us then try what Love will do.” Now, there’s a revolutionary idea!

An example: After I’d read on Facebook that dandelions are a much-needed early-Spring flower vital to bees —so please don’t pick or uproot—I began noticing those sunny flowers—formerly considered pesky weeds— everywhere! Left in peace. Allowed to grow. And flourish. Even on Harvard University’s manicured campus. “Inconceivable!”

I know, I know; right about now you’re saying: “Patricia’s nuts. The inmates run the asylum and hatred is rampant. Love? Faggetaboutit.” (You might be right.)

So let’s unpack that at-first-glance-ridiculously-fey example: For starters, let’s talk about Facebook and game-changing social media. And how new, good ideas like The Dandelion Story get instant play with a simple picture and a slogan. Powerful stuff! And no blood was shed.

The Dandelion Story goes deeper, taproot deeper. Because how many of us as kids spent our suburban Saturdays pulling up those pesky weeds? (Some kids got a nickel for every plant dug up. My parents didn’t roll that way. No, my “reward” was to discover the joy of completing hard, sweaty work! And, when done, how delicious a glass of cold water tasted.) And how many of us, by the second hour or so on our youthful knees, wrestling with those dandelions’ stubborn, deep-in-the-ground taproots, wondered: “Why the heck am I doing this? Because this plant’s fighting me. It wants to live. It has gained my respect! Why, besides the fact that my parents told me to, am I doing this?” (Or something mystical or in-the-moment or At One With The Universe like that.) So how many of us, now knowing what we know about endangered bees and dandelions’ newfound respect and recalling our rebellious yet In Tune With Nature youthful selves can think: “I was right!” More important: How many of us now begin to wonder about other “weeds” we need to look at more appreciatively? Other long-held ideas we haven’t rethought. Other ways Mother Nature is asking us for our respect?

Answer: Enough people to make a revolution!

 

 

 

 

 

 

April is The Cruelest Month . . .

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. . . and this year, ridiculously busy! Yet despite my too-long To Do list, I’ve been led to organize a “thank you note” party at Somerville Community Growing Center in honor of Arbor Day—and my beloved community’s trees!

A little background: Somerville is the most densely populated community in New England, with lots of people and buildings and cars and parking lots; trees and open spaces? Not so much. So whatever trees we do have that have managed to survive development and pollution and gas leaks and neglect certainly deserve our entire community’s hearty thanks! Especially since, given our heating-up planet, this summer promises to be, as New Englanders say, “A Skawchah.” (translation: Scorcher, i.e. hot as hell.) And with both an interstate and several major thoroughfares transecting our 4.209 square miles, we need every leaf from every tree to help mitigate all that heavy traffic!

So, Friday evening, weather permitting, we’ll write “thank you” in many languages on hanging-style names badges, decorate them, too, and then hang our grateful creations on trees all over the city!

A problem: that huge To Do list! Which means, dear friends, that I haven’t actually done much to get the word out that this little event’s even happening. Especially to those people, many of them poor, who live along the I-93 corridor and whose health and well-being is so compromised by where they live and what they breathe. A definite FAIL!

But as we also love to say here in New England: “Wait ’till next year!” (Actually: yee-ahh)