Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bully Pulpit

I knew I shouldn't have gone back to reading or listening to the news. It's as if there is a gigantic bully fest going on, and no one knows how or wants to put an end to the party. With all the fests fully amped, it was hard to pick just one, but I'm going to focus on the heartbreaker - Phoebe Prince from South Hadley, MA. No words, really, to describe this family's dream turned nightmare. This is as soul-wrenching as it gets.
Maureen Dowd can take on the Pope, and the rest of you can take on the others.
Fifteen year old Phoebe Prince committed suicide because she has been bullied in person and ever since arriving from Ireland in September to her new school in South Halley, MA. She is so beautiful that I felt I'd dishonor her in some way by taking her photo and putting it on my blog.
I read that several of the mean girls, as they say, ever so demurely, have posted hate comments on dead Phoebe's Facebook page. "It was her own fault," said one of the mothers of a young woman charged in the bullying case.
Let's say the nine or more young men and women charged in this case are charged with a crime and even convicted. Maybe some of the guys do time. Then what? Will they be lesser bullies after this is over? Will they love more, hate less? Will whatever happens to them have any impact on some other emerging bully?
I doubt it.
The emerging bullies, bullies-in-training, have quite an adult mentorship out there, wouldn't you say? John McCain's not voting for anything Democratic; home-grown militia want to kill the police, and take some collateral damage along the way, politicians are getting threatening e-mails, Sarah Palin is Sarah Palin, and the Black Widows are striking....
Why would anyone turn in his or her bully weapons at this point in time?
I know there have always been bullies, and I've known a few of them. Like others, I watched bullies and didn't stand up. When the mean girls were being mean I was just happy they weren't being mean to me. And no-one reported bullies back then either. What would be the point of that other than to get bullied in new and different ways? 
In sixth grade, a group of popular kids decided they were not going to talk to me or allow me to hang around with them. Mercifully, I don't remember the reason I found myself cast aside. But I do remember, very clearly, the two who came up to me after school in the hallway and handed me a note. The note basically declared me persona non grata and was signed. I rand as fast as I could out of school, down the street, and found a storm sewer grate and threw the note in, hoping it sailed to another continent. Over time things worked out and I found my way back in to what was to me the most important group of people in the world.

In retrospect, I am in awe of the way the episode occurred. It was not bullying, it was not even public. Just a note saying, basically, 'we don't like you any more.'  I do remember walking the streets and spending hours at the library on Saturdays so my parents would think I was with my friends. But it seems like such a civilized event, compared to what we hear about today. Private. Quiet.
Do you think adolescents are any meaner than they were 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago? I doubt it. Are some more desperate? Perhaps.
We'll now endure endless theorizing about why and how and new bully-proof school programs will begin. . Confidentiality will be promised, and hardly believed. Parents will warn their kids, put an emphasis on being kind .... but life goes on. But some BIG radical change has to occur; each and every one of us had to take some responsibility, teach and learn compassion.  That sign in front of St. Vincent's Church last week saying
                   NO SNOWFLAKE IN AN AVALANCHE EVER FEELS RESPONSIBLE.
Are we collectively responsible? Just asking.


I was raised as a Catholic, knew some pretty great priests and have nothing but admiration and respect for the Sisters in the Church, but.....           guess it's my bully pulpit day and I turn it over to Maureen Dowd.

Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope?



WASHINGTON
It doesn’t seem right that the Catholic Church is spending Holy Week practicing the unholy art of spin.
Complete with crown-of-thorns imagery, the church has started an Easter public relations blitz defending a pope who went along with the perverse culture of protecting molesters and the church’s reputation rather than abused — and sometimes disabled and disadvantaged — children.
The church gave up its credibility for Lent. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are now becoming Cover-Up Thursday and Blame-Others Friday.
This week of special confessions and penance services is unfolding as the pope resists pressure from Catholics around the globe for his own confession and penance about the cascade of child sexual abuse cases that were ignored, even by a German diocese and Vatican office he ran.
If church fund-raising and contributions dry up, Benedict’s P.R. handlers may yet have to stage a photo-op where he steps out of the priest’s side of the confessional and enters the side where the rest of his fallible flock goes.
Or maybe 30-second spots defending the pope with Benedict’s voice intoning at the end: “I am infallible, and I approve this message.”
Canon 1404 states that “The First See is judged by no one.” But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as my dad used to say. Somebody has to tell the First See when it’s blind — and mute — to deaf children in America and Italy.
The Vatican is surprised to find itself in this sort of trouble. Officials there could have easily known what was going on all along; archbishops visiting Rome gossip like a sewing circle. The cynical Vatican just didn’t want to deal with it.
And now the church continues to hide behind its mystique. Putting down the catechism, it picked up the Washington P.R. handbook for political sins.
First: Declare any new revelation old and unimportant.
At Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York bemoaned that the “recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.”
A few priests? At this point, it feels like an international battalion.
A re-run of an old story? So sorry to remind you, Archbishop, that one priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, who showed no remorse and suffered no punishment from “Rottweiler” Ratzinger, abused as many as 200 deaf children in Wisconsin.
Archbishop Dolan compared the pope to Jesus, saying he was “now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar,” and “being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”
Second: Blame somebody else — even if it’s this pope’s popular predecessor, on the fast track to sainthood.
Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn defended Pope Benedict this week, saying that then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s attempt in 1995 to investigate the former archbishop of Vienna for allegedly molesting youths in a monastery was barred by advisers close to Pope John Paul II.
Third: Say black is white.
In his blog, Archbishop Dolan blasted church critics while stating: “The Church needs criticism; we want it; we welcome it; we do a good bit of it ourselves,” adding: “We do not expect any special treatment. ...so bring it on.” Right.
Fourth: Demonize gays, as Karl Rove did in 2004.
In an ad in The Times on Tuesday, Bill Donohue, the Catholic League president, offered this illumination: “The Times continues to editorialize about the ‘pedophilia crisis,’ when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.”
Donohue is still talking about the problem as an indiscretion rather than a crime. If it mostly involves men and boys, that’s partly because priests for many years had unquestioned access to boys.
Fifth: Blame the victims.
“Fr. Lawrence Murphy apparently began his predatory behavior in Wisconsin in the 1950s,” Donohue protested, “yet the victims’ families never contacted the police until the mid-1970s.”
Sixth: Throw gorilla dust.
Donohue asserts that “the common response of all organizations, secular as well as religious,” to abuse cases “was to access therapy and reinstate the patient.” Really? Where in heaven’s name does that information come from? It’s absurd.
And finally, seventh: Use the Cheney omnipotence defense, most famously employed in the Valerie Plame case. Vice President Cheney claimed that his lofty position meant that the very act of spilling a secret, even with dastardly intent, declassified it.
Vatican lawyers will argue in negligence cases brought by abuse victims that the pope has immunity as a head of state and that bishops who allowed an abuse culture, endlessly recirculating like dirty fountain water, were not Vatican employees.
Maybe they worked for Enron.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mud luscious convergences

In Just
spring when the world is mud-
luscious . . .
 the little lame baloonman 
whistles       far       and wee 
and eddyandbill come 
running from marbles and 
piracies and it's 
spring 
when the world is puddle-wonderful 
 
the queer 
old baloonman whistles 
far       and       wee 
and bettyandisbel come dancing 


from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 

it's 
spring 
and 
the 
goat-footed 

baloonMan       whistles 
far 
and 
wee

Guess I’m having an e.e. cummings sort of week. Maybe it’s more than cummings, as I just can’t stop thinking of lines of poetry when the sun shines. Whole poems or little lines of poetry are bound to show up in springtime on this blog.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
For me, there is also a sense of urgency at this time of the year – time to finish all those books that didn’t get read during the darkness of winter, time to make lists of what’s to be done, time to organize, clean, garden, plan a seminar, plan a retreat, write, walk, talk, plan vacations, take a vacation, and so much more.
Committees seem to get energized in the spring also. It’s a little too convenient to cancel a meeting because of an impending storm in the winter, now it’s time to push ahead, move into overdrive to meet some of those goals before people disperse for vacation. It’s as if we’ve all been zapped, a little jolt of energy from Luigi Galvani, and we’re off to the springtime races.

But there’s another thing I love about this time of year: March Madness. I am crazy about the basketball tournament, especially the Women’s. Now it helps that I’m a UConn alum (you know, those Huskies from CT that have now won 75 games in a row).

I’ve watched most of the games, watched hearts smashed, broken in four seconds, and individuals exonerated in a minute. At this point in the tournament, each game is a story in itself. Two more games before the Final Four, this weekend in San Antonio.
I’ve gone to the Final Four with the same women every year since 1998, with the exception of 2007, when I was teaching in Italy.

Guess I need to get back to this day. Tuesday. Off to a meeting with an organization whose goal is to get people with differences, or people with opposing views, to work together on a project. I like the concept of The Convergence Project. No one gives in or gives up, no one compromises.  It's not about picking away at someone's belief system, it's simply about pulling people together on a common project to let the similarities emerge.
It reminds me of a time just about a year ago, when I was trying to explain some differences between Jewish and Christian beliefs to Emma. I think it was part of a learning project she had in first grade. After a while, Roscoe just said to me, "Maybe it would be better if you explained all the similarities and the common vision between the two religions. That might help her understand even more."  Had to admit he had a point there (not something I'm particularly good at), so we talked about the common ground instead. We'll see what happens at the Convergence Project this afternoon.
Then back to UConn women's basketball.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

A friend called to see if I wanted to go for a bike ride today. Now, it is officially spring. I know people bicycle through snow and across the ice, but I'm not one of them. So the call to go on a bike ride on a clear, sun shiny day... a Ritchie Havens "Here Comes the Sun" kind of day declares Springtime in the Rockies for me. And, for me, the beauty of these seasonal rhythms makes me feel as if I'm in the springtime of my life.

Little darling, it feels like years
Since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's alright
Little darling, it seems like years
Since it's been clear
Here comes the sun
and it is definitely alright with me.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEC_97 for Ritchie Havens...

And, if it's alright with you, here's e.e. cummings, and a spring poem.


Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging
a window, into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Identity Theft


I read an interesting article in the New York Times magazine this morning entitled Losing It: How I was laid off and learned to love life again, by Dominque Browning. She It made me think of something I wrote when I first retired and was trying to figure out what, if any, my role in life would be. It's rather curious to think that just two years later I am still thinking about my 'role' rather than who I am. Perhaps there is no difference between my idea of 'my role' and the idea of 'I.'  Toys R Us, Babies are Us, maybe Roles R Us is next in line.
I plan to come back to this article in a couple of weeks and respond with my thoughts in the present. Anyway, here's a shortened version of what I wrote.


Identity Theft
 I never meant to become a ‘retired’ person, but signing the papers and leaving a full-time, tenured job signals ‘retirement’ in most human resources manuals.  In my mind, I was simply going on permanent, unpaid sabbatical.  Alas, at the end of the designated hour of official conversation and paper signing, the Human Resources official smudged my self-image with the cheery reminder to get a new photo id with ‘retiree’ printed on it.  Was she serious?  I love the ten-year old photo of my lesser-lined face and love my identity even more. No thank you. You call it retirement, I’ll hang on to the notion of extended sabbatical for a while. 
It occurred to me that the trade-off for this extended sabbatical would be permanent loss of a salary, group life insurance, and, more importantly, unquantifiable benefits like colleagues, support systems, and the great joy that comes from being around undergraduates. But surely I’ll still have a title, an identity, to share with the world.  Given the various taxonomies available, I’ll gladly hold on to an identity in the tenured faculty category.  Giving up an administrative identity is fairly easy, but a faculty identity?  The identity that people associate with intelligence, wit, teaching and the good life?   The identity that proudly indicates yes I did suffer through writing a dissertation, chapters, articles, and student evaluations?  Who was I if I wasn’t the sum total of my teaching and administrative achievements over the decades? 
I had been granted vice provost and professor emerita status before hitting the retirement button. Clearly, anyone with a title that contains a Latin word must be important.  How many people know their Latin well enough to know what emeritus/emerita means? Surfing the web to verify the distinguished nature of emerita status, I discovered that emerita also signifies the genus of the sand crab, hermit crab, mole crab and barnacle. A hermit crab? What shell would I wear after taking leave of the administrative and professorial shells? Can J. Alfred Prufrock be far behind?
 Being neither wealthy nor tired, I don’t think I fit the retirement category. Dictionary synonyms like ‘withdrawal’ or ‘stepping down’ don’t capture what I think I’m doing.  I’m not withdrawing from battle or addictions. Stepping down?  Stepping down sounds precariously similar to stumbling or falling down.  Suddenly I see myself stepping down from the shelf of high productivity smack into the refuse bin. With one move, my decades long, fully-employed Humpty Dumpty self can be shredded into thousands of pieces and spit out.  Some clever soul may suggest a new use for the reconfigured product. All I can see is a bold sticker on the back bumper of my car.  Hold on to your identity: Refuse to be Refuse.

In my quest for identity affirmation, I enter ‘retired’ into answer.com.  The first virtual response is ‘did you mean retired beanie babies?’ Well, no, I didn’t.  It had never occurred to me that stuffed animals retire. Diverted momentarily from my personal quest, I pursued the research.  Much to my surprise, the web search for retired beanie babies produced 50,500 references in twenty-six seconds. On what tropical beach or local storage vault will I find boxes crammed with old beanie babies patiently napping, waiting for social security checks?  There were even references to counterfeit beanie babies. I bet counterfeit beanie babies go to some dreadful limbo or purgatory, never finding their ways to retirement.  And where do the emerita beanie babies hang out during retirement?
I’m not so crazy about the allegedly softer, kinder words currently being substituted for retirement - reinventing, recreating, recalibrating, recycling, rewiring, rebooting – too many ‘re’s, too many images of ‘just one more time.’  Transitioning and transforming don’t excite me either. Prefixes can be tricky and I’m not sure I want to cross over. In truth, I’ve been transitioning, reinventing, recreating for as long as I’ve known the meaning of these words, maybe even longer.  And while I’ve been in process forever, I’ve never really trusted gerunds, or the walking nouns, and see no reason to start now.
So, for now,  until my mind can find a better word or part of speech, until my heart can accept the fact that the University is no longer home, until my soul feels comfortable in the absence of a title, I’m sticking with the ‘extended sabbatical’ story.  Following Emily Dickinson’s edict:
Tell the truth, but tell it slant





Friday, March 26, 2010

On the Road


Well, there you have it. That's why so many people are showing their dark sides: they are looking for jobs.
Problem with this kind of employment is that if you qualify, you pay instead of being paid (or at least that is the way the world used to work). Straight from Florida.
"Hey, hire me. Here's my resume. I have vast experience in the big sins, and have done some on-line training on the smaller ones. Check my references. I've sinned with the best of them."
What are those deadly sins again? Does one need variety or depth?

Lately I've been noticing how clever churches have become in their messages. I also assume that most small town and small city churches (we're not talking the Vatican here) don't have big marketing or branding budgets, so this creativity is coming from people committed to the mission.
Just recently I saw "Soul Provider" and "Now the Doctor will see you" signs in front of churches. Now when I drive up 6th Avenue or University, I look forward to seeing the new messages. Something about humor and optimism keeps us going.  I wonder if any of the signs actually draw people into the churches, or if others are similar to me, just looking for something upbeat while navigating from one place to another.
I've never seen anything similar in front of the synagogues, mosque or Buddhist temples I pass, but that doesn't mean such signage doesn't exist.

In keeping with the message from Florida, here's one I captured today. Stunning in its simplicity. Stunning in its power.  Responsibility. Community.  This is one to think on.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No News Today

Well, just shut my mouth after thinking there was irony in the fact that Michelle Obama doesn't let the news in her house. Feeling a bit spunky last night I watched Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. For relief, I would turn intermittently to Larry King to watch a Texan get a reprieve from impending execution. This is the state of good news.
Last night, watching mostly white men shout vicious rhetoric at other white men, seeing signs about baby killers, hate mongering and just downright nastiness, I felt as if I were back in the 60's watching the integration of Little Rock High School. It's been that long since I've seen people that vicious. Even the Vietnam War advocates and protesters never got this dirty, at least as far as I can recall.

What is it that has these guys going at it as if life as we know it is at stake? It's Health Care. A right, not an entitlement. I can understand someone not liking the bill, not wanting reform, not, not..not (actually, I can't really understand it, but I can understand honest, thoughtful disagreement. I disagree with myself often enough to understand competing interests). I love argumentation, differences of opinion, robust sparing with words.
I'm all Irish about word jousting. And I love a protest, a march and have walked and carried banners for many a cause. But this all seems so hate-based.

But, I feel so old, so antiquarian, so part of a British film when I wonder which black hole or alien stole civility.  These are hard times propelled by lots of hard heads.
So, I'm joining Michelle. No news today...not on the radio in the car, by e-mail, or google, not on television. I'd rather watch college men banging into each other on the basketball than watch the news anyday. Actually I always love to watch the men and women of the NCAA battling towards their championships. Even if they weren't on TV, there would be no news today for me. I'm feeling better already.
And tomorrow, no news, for sure. I get to see one of my all time favorite women, Robin Morgan, tomorrow. Just talking to her on the phone yesterday gave me great energy (until I succumbed to evening news), so I know tomorrow is going to be a call for a higher life, a way of living that demands the best from all of us.
Robin is probably the most significant feminist in my generation. She and Gloria Steinem co-founded Ms magazine, and Robin's books and words continue to transform generations. She brought significant change to the University of Denver through her consultation and she's still at it. Amazing, amazing woman.
And, as I'm so moved, here's a callout for Fay Coulouris. I worked with Fay at DU on so many projects and her heart, mind and soul made a huge difference to all we did. And she is still at it, working behind the scenes and on the scene mentoring young women, finding ways to make the workplace humane and caring.
Tomorrow is the DU Women's Conference.  All positive, all about community. As for the rest of the world, no news is good news.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Free Range and Natural



Following up on Mindful Eating, it might be worthwhile to watch Food, Inc. if you can. My friend Linda watched and immediately took herself to the free-range selections at Whole Foods. Doesn't do much good to eat slowly and lovingly if we're eating foods that are doing strange things to us. 




There are such ironies in this life: I'm careful to eat free-range or organic foods, read labels, and pontificate about the benefits of locally grown foods. Yet, I don't wonder much about who's producing those multi-flavored jelly beans I love this time of year.

Health is in the Air

Still riding high on the Health Care Reform victory signed with twenty pens,let's hope that real truth and reconciliation can begin. We've just joined a long list of nations that operate with health care as a human right. I have no idea how it will all unfold over the next several years, but I think I've read that there might be some relationship between health and optimism. So I'm sticking with optimism on this. What can anyone say about Joe Biden?

That doesn't mean that there aren't some ironies in the health care world. For instance, I received and responded to the following e-mail this afternoon:


"As a ONE member, you can be a leader in getting the word out: that U.S. investments in global health save lives.
Here is your chance to learn the facts and become a more effective advocate. Join Melinda Gates and Melanne Verveer, the first-ever U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, for a fresh look at the fight against global poverty in an interactive conference call next week.
RSVP with your telephone number and ONE will call you at 7:30 PM (EST) on Monday, March 29:
On this call, we'll be talking about how smart programs are transforming lives—particularly for women—in the world's poorest places. Women are the backbone of their communities, growing 80% of the food in Africa, putting children into schools, using microfinance to start small businesses, hanging anti-malarial bed nets, and getting their children vaccinated against deadly diseases. They may be disproportionately impacted by infectious diseases, such as AIDS and malaria, and too often lack important tools and resources, but they have the potential to lead the fight against poverty. It’s already happening every day."
Sent my number in and then looked at my calendar. Monday March 29th, Passover begins at sundown. What about the voices of all those Jewish women? I've been involved in these calendar mix-ups, so I know how hard it is to keep all the various dates and significant celebrations in mind, but this is a pretty large one. I e-mailed One.org back, as I am sure hundreds of other women have, but who knows what will happen. It's not so easy being global, is it?
Now, on a very insignificant ironic note, I read that Disney's casting call for the next Pirates of the Caribbean wants only women with natural breasts. Natural. It's a 'women with implants need not apply' moment. There will be a jiggling test if anyone tries to slip through with implants. I guess audiences prefer real breasts, breasts that move and bounce. Free ranging breasts, if you will.  Another 'who would have thought?' moment.
And I read that Michelle Obama doesn't allow the news to interfere with home life. You fill in the irony banter.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mindful Eating


Oh, this is just a prelude to the Mindful Eating article. I wish the Mindful Eating piece were my writing. Well, more than the writing, I wish I acted this way at mealtime, or for those times that pass as mealtime in my life.  But i took this article from a newletter my brother Garrett edits and  it is from one of the members in the Mindful Living group in which he and Jane participate. They are pretty mindful about the way they purchase and prepare food, and equally mindful about their rituals at mealtime.
Perhaps I should set a goal of mindful eating at least once a week. At dinnertime, Roscoe always makes sure we do a little gratitude blessing, so at least that is in my life. But left to my own devices, it's another story. 
There are miles to walk between a state of being mindless and mindful, leaving us all room to jump on the path and put one foot in front of the other on any given day.

While we were in FL over the weekend we went strawberry picking with Rob and Elena at Bedner's Farm Fresh Market. It's a 'must go to' experience. Taking the time to bend down, look at the strawberries, and select the ones to pick added a sweet, mindful dimension to the weekend. The berries might have been as sweet had we bought them at a store, but I doubt it.
From there we went into the organic produce stand and selected freshly picked cauliflower, zucchini, yucca, kohlrabi, onions and peppers.  As I was looking over the fresh spinach leaves, a woman came and filled two bags with the leaves. She turned to me and said, "The Bedners are the nicest people in Florida. They have a group of workers whom they treat very well. And they would do anything for you, day or night. They are the kind of people we think about when we think of the old days when neighbors and strangers alike helped anyone who needed a hand along the way. I've been buying vegetables from them for years and will never stop."    I hope she has a big family or lots of friends, because her cart was brimming with green and fresh.
bedners.com if you want to know more or order directly from them. Great experience!

The next day Elena carefully cut and steamed (adding her own Cuban touches) the vegetables for our Florida feast.  That was a pretty mindful eating experience.

So, I leave my part of this posting filled with good intentions and hopes that the article on Mindful Eating will inspire all of us who need a little reminder that it's ok to eat...just eat...without watching tv, reading, texting, dancing or driving at the same time.


MINDFUL EATING


By Anh-Huong Nguyen

When we come together for half-day or longer retreats, after serving our food and sitting down
at the table, we take a moment to relax into our breathing with the sounds of the bell:

"Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile," three times.
We can recover ourselves completely after breathing like that.

Then we read the Five Contemplations:

1. This food is the gift of the whole universe –

the Earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard, loving work.

2. May we eat in mindfulness so as to nourish our gratitude.

3. May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.

4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.

5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideal of serving living beings.

Before picking up our fork or chopstick, we look at and smile to each person as we breathe

in and out in order to be in touch with ourselves and everyone at the table. We see how precious

it is to have the opportunity to sit and eat with our family and friends while millions are hungry.

When we become so busy, we forget who and what is in front of us, and even who we are.

Mindful breathing helps us settle into the present moment, and our mind is no longer
occupied by worries, sadness, or projects. At home, we should turn off the television and put
away the newspaper before eating so we can encounter the food. And when the food
becomes real, we become real.

Enjoying this meal in the historical dimension,

I feed all generations of ancestors

and all future generations.

Together, we will find our way.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Slice of Military Life

Back in Denver but still feeling the magic of the ocean in Florida. Having watched those migrating sharks leaping close to shore on Saturday and the kiteboarders soaring in the air and swooping down on the waves yesterday I'm just in awe of it all.
The ocean is the final frontier...so much going on that we have yet to see, never mind understand.
Speaking of frontiers, appears as if we are on a new frontier when it comes to health care. I hope it's a new frontier that welcomes everyone.
But with my heart filled with joy from the ocean and with hopes for the new Health bill,  I had a strong dose of the fragility of life this morning.
Sitting in the airport in Nashville (strange route, I know) this morning, I watched a man with his three sons and daughter who were sitting across from me. I finally realized there was one other person - the father of the man, grandfather to the kids. The grandfather was quiet, sitting with his arm around one of the boys and the little girl, about nine years old, was tucked in as close as she could be to her dad. The three boys appeared to be between 11 and 15, handsomely gawky, looking both innocent and experienced at once. Each of the four had a skateboard under foot. It was a scene with few words, but lots of looks, lots of smiles, eyes closing, turning one way and then the other.  finally the dad said "time for me to go. My gate is down the way. Grandpa will sit with you until the plane for Denver comes. The little girl burst out crying, and the boys all stood.  One by one they gave long long, long hugs to their dad....he turned, gave a hug to his father, said "love you" and walked away. Lots of foot shuffling on the skateboards, finger tapping, eyes welling, and tears.
After a while I took the opportunity to talk to the grandfather who confirmed that he was the grandfather. That was his son -- been in the Special Forces since he was 18; now he's turning forty. All his years, all his assignments are active duty "that's what the special forces does. Active. They are the ones who fight for us. Since 1986 for him. He's been to Iraq a total of three times. After this operation on his shoulder, he'll be going back again.
He's based in Seattle, but the kids live in Denver. He's back for the operation, but got the week to bring my grandchildren to visit me. Now he's gone again. And I'll make sure the kids get home. My son is a professional soldier. And I am so proud of him."
I never cry, but but burst into tears. Not even sure why. Just those three generations together, for one. Four beautiful children, fearful for their father every day and night. The grandfather/father worrying about his son every day and night. I don't know. I have no idea whether there is a wife, but there is a mother...who has to worry for the father of her children and children.
All I know is that I felt as if I were watching a Greek tragedy.  Finally, one by one, they hugged grandpa, said I love you, picked up their skateboards and headed onto the plane.
Oh, this life is so complex......

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Ocean

Yesterday it was notes from Canada. Today, I'm in Delray Beach, FL walking the beach, listening to the waves roll in.
Delyray Beach on March Spring Break is not like Fort Lauderdale. The beach is full of people, but the age range is wide. Toddlers, clusters of young women, looking sort of high school age, with lax sticks, and guys playing volleyball. Couples of all sorts, ages, and stages stroll the sidewalks or sit on the beach..
The surfers are out in big numbers.  The other side of middle age is here ialso. So many people who know better are basking and baking in the sun.
The red flag is up signifying choppy waters, and the signs worn of possible jellyfish, man o' war, and migrating sharks. I'm not interested in meeting up with any of them.

Sitting on the beach, burying my feet in sand, I remember those summer days way back when the only worry was the cloud drifting towards the sun, ready to block its rays for five or ten minutes. Yes, those days when I thought losing ten mnutes of the sun's rays blasting my body was a curse. The days we'd shift our towels to make sure we were getting straight on, direct hits from sun to sun worshippers.
Well, stick around for a while and see how things change. A squameous cell here, a melonoma scare there, and it's a different story for some of us.
Now the conversation is "What number is your sunscreen?" instead of "Did you put enough iodine in that baby oil?"
Well, stick around a little bit longer and there's another question "Are you getting enough Vitamin D? Do you know sunscreen blocks out the vitamin D and now the world is filled with Vitamin D deficient people?"
So, now the mantra is 'get at least twenty minutes of sun without sunscreen every day.'
The more we know, the more adjustments we have to make to what we think we know, or what we thought was right.
Sun, screen, none or all of the above, the ocean still remains a magical place. I am always lulled into a sense of quiet peace, an acceptance of the temporal, and gratitude for what is when I let the sound of the waves in.  Listening to the crashing and withdrawing, the lapping and gurgling soothes my soul.

Oh, the little things trickle in...March Madness and who's going to make it to the Big Dance (and you have to love the person who named the Championship the Big Dance). What happened to the Big East and Notre Dame?
And the BIG things trickle in -- When is the Health Care vote? When will more people have jobs?
It all still matters, as do the larger philosophical questions, but the sound and smell of the ocean makes everything just a bit better.
If you can't sit by the ocean, hope you find some way to get a hit of nature today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thoughts from Canada

Received a long note from Dianne,a good friend who lives in Canada, and thought I'd share some of her thoughts with you. My friend Linda and I met Dianne and her good friend Nadine in Costa Rica at a yoga place several years ago. Since then we've traveled back to Costa Rica, to Mexico, taken a bike trip through the Tetons and parts of Idaho, spent time at Orcas Island...Dianne and Nadine visited us in England this past fall. You never know where a little chatter about a downward dog or sun salutations will lead.

Both Dianne and Nadine recently retired from compelling and successful careers, managing and leading major projects for the Canadian government, including significant immigration initiatives. Neither of them has turned sixty yet, so there are years left for robust, meaningful living. Like many of us, they are in a transitional stage of life, figuring out what to do next, where to go, what challenges to take on. Nadine has become involved with theatre, sewing costumes, designing props, and exploring her creative side.

I'm just going to take excerpts from Dianne's letter because I think it demonstrates a life full of meaning and experiment.
"I have taken another art course, completed a piece of art myself, with the help of an artist friend. I plan to hang it on the fence of my back deck. It is really quite stunning I think; I used an oil painting of birch trees in forest as my vision to replicate...using a mixed media approach of fabric and paper I created my interpretation of this piece... so this is a new outlet for me. I also completed a mural project for another friend's Centre for Autism...I managed to get a Fine Art Department of University to partner with us.
I am listening to a new side of my brain and using it. I find I am drawn to different people now in this stage of my life...people who stretch my thinking. I do not want to talk about judging people but am more curious and discussing ideas and new things."

She also comments "I understand your search for life purpose and meaning after our very compelling careers, it is this need for more complex thinking and commitment to something other than the day to day things in life which we seem to need to find."

There is more about hiking, yoga, book club, pilates, etc., but I thought you might enjoy reading a slice of life from someone who is intentionally listening to a new side of her brain and using it.
The need for something else reminds me of a tale I heard last night about a ninety year old man planting seeds for mango trees.  A young man asked the old man how long it would take for the seeds to become fruit-bearing trees.
The old man replied "Oh, at least fifteen years."
"But you won't be here then. Why are you planting them?"

"I am planting these mango trees because I have eaten mangoes all my life, mangoes grown by other people. Now it is my turn to plant seeds for someone else."



Dianne so beautifully demonstrates and explains that need we all have to plant some seeds, to stretch ourselves into new ways of being in the world.

(Nadine in red, Dianne in black)

Dianne is such an inspiration to me that I thought I'd share her with you. It's springtime, almost, and time to nourish the sides, spaces of our brains that we sometimes ignore.
Off to Delray Beach for four days to visit Rob and Elena, so I'll be using my fun and family side of my brain for a while.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Being Irish



Yesterday I watched a group of women getting their fingers and toenails painted green. Several Vietnamese women were doing the painting and putting artful shamrocks on each big toe. "Oh, we just love St. Patrick's Day" they laughed.
The legend of Saint Patrick is as varied as the number of storytellers. Doesn't much matter though, does it, as no one is asking for the mythologies to be re-written. He did or didn't drive out the snakes, he did or didn't convert the Irish... It's a time for magic, luck, shenanigans, a pot of gold just waiting around the rainbow for each of us.
Today, everywhere I've been, people are wearing green. I listened to two women speaking in Spanish, one with a green scarf around her collar, the other with a big green bow on her long ponytail. A man on the side of the street with a sign asking for money was wearing a green bandanna. African-American, Asian, Latino walk to school wearing a green sweatshirt or with some green detail on a backpack. I even saw a man in a wheelchair with an American flag and an Irish flag on the back.
What's with all of that?

How have the Irish managed to keep this Saint Patrick's Day parade tradition going for so long? The first St. Patrick's Day Parade took place in New York City, not Dublin, and took place in 1762.
Apparently, the music and marching were meant to help the Irish soldiers who were serving in the British military. A little bit of marching, music and banter to reconnect with the roots. And so it began. And it's still going....something about the Irish..
People sometimes ask me why there hasn't been an effort to get rid of the Fighting Irish slogan of Notre Dame. Too many Irish think it's a compliment, I say.

I'm all Irish, and all about being Irish. A woman in London asked me to describe the difference, from my point of view, between the Irish and the English. I had just revealed that my grandparents had come from Ireland to the US, and I was pretty much carrying around some mighty green DNA.

“Have you ever seen an Irish wolfhound?” I asked her. “That’s what we’re all like.
An old Irish proverb describes the wolfhound (and the Irish) perfectly: "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked."
Emotions just hover beneath that thin fragile skin. Joy, sadness, anger...but there's a thin sort of place where the emotions are so tightly wired that they prickle and seep through. Smart as hell, but all the emotions too tightly wired making us easy prey.
The slightest slight – or what appears to be a slight – and we are mortally wounded, ready for the verbal combat. That’s my family, beautiful, wild, and a tad skittery. The Brits have all those emotions neat and comfortable under the skin, stiff upper lip holding forth, unlike us.”
I didn't mention the 'Thin Place' to the woman who asked me, figuring the image of a wolfhound would do. But something about being Irish, or so it seems to me, brings one closer to what is called the 'Thin Place.'
What is a thin place? To discern the difference between an ordinary place and a thin place, one must use a spiritual perspective. In simple terms a ‘thin place’ is a place where the veil between this world and the Other world is thin, the Other world is more near. This meaning assumes the perceiver senses the existence of a world beyond what we know through our five senses. Since the times of ancient civilization the fascination with the "Other world" has occupied human minds.Whatever you perceive the Other world to be, a thin place is a place where connection to that world seems effortless, and ephemeral signs of its existence are almost palpable. It's a Celtic thing.

Actually, I find it quite difficult today to write about being Irish. It's because I feel so connected to those old souls, the deep, cantankerous roots, the beauty of language, a story that can never be told too often....the fierce determination, the pull of the angels, the push of the devil...it's all there. I just want to read Yeats' poetry all day.

I love the quote, attributed to Freud, but probably an urban legend:"(Said of the Irish) "This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever." 
Oh yeah, just have another cup  of tea and analyze. ... pretty soon it's all about original sin.
 
Years ago I heard Maya Angelou talk to students about there being No Free Lunch. She said, "I don't care what you think. Even if you receive free lunch at school there is no free lunch. You are alive on the backs on generations who plowed fields, were whipped by masters, starved by politicians,and fled pogroms. Never forget the backs that carried you to this place. Honor them."
I honor them.

And just a few more quotes for the day....

Our Irish blunders are never blunders of the heart.
Maria Edeworth.

I have my faults, but changing my tune is not one of them.
Samuel Beckett

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
Frank McCourt - Angela's Ashes

"All that praying you made us do," complained Maggie. "And making us go to Mass. And starving us on Good Friday...And making us feeling ashamed of our bodies and guilty about absolutely everything. No, Ma, you were the pits." Nuala glowed with pride, truly she had been the best of Catholic mothers.
Late Opening at The Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes

Happy Saint Patrick's Day


 Just a few quotes to begin the day.....Irish Blessings to You. More later


St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time -- a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic.
         Adrienne Cook



"When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious."
Edna O'Brien
 
  • We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
  • Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy. William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Word Means What I Say It Means.

Back to the Red Queen and a Word Means What I Say It Means......
 The Texas Board of Education has been busy coming up with new versions of history books for the coming year. The Board has added some lists, deleted some people, inserted conservative groups, and quarreled with some concepts.

Some of the changes sound merely foolish, like replacing the word “capitalism” with the words “free-enterprise system.” One board member explained that the term capitalism has negative connotations, as in “capitalist pig.”  Well, I suppose someone can also be a freely enterprising pig. Or enterprisingly piggy. It's all Animal Farm to me.

People are also worried about some of the other changes. I'd call questioning the doctrine of 'separation between church and state' fairly troublesome.  Equally troubling is the apparent decision to drop Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase, from a list of figures whose writings inspired political revolutions from the 1700s on.  Did someone discover that Jefferson really wasn't inspiring, that he wasn't capable of starting a revolution or two? Poor guy, he sits on the two dollar bill. That should be punishment enough for not being inspiring.
Here's a copy of Thomas Jefferson's famous letter in which he declares the wall has been built between church and state. Don't tear down this wall.

"To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
Gentlemen
The affectionate sentiments of esteem & approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more & more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from presenting even occasional performances of devotion presented indeed legally where an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
(signed) Thomas Jefferson
Jan.1.1802.  "




I'm looking at the books on the top shelf of my bookcase next to the computer. There sits The Holy Bible
Revised Standard Version.  Now there's an honest title for you. Yes, it's The Bible.  and Yes, it has been revised.  I'd like to see something like Revised Standard Version on all the textbooks we read. It would be so much more honest about the fact that 'this is the way people writing think it is..for now.'  Stay tuned for the next revision.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

To Wilt or Not to Wilt?

Every once in a while I decide I am going to find something positive to say about someone or something I don't like. So...this is it. I found something positive to say about Chief Justice John Roberts.

I'm not talking about any recent decisions (aaghh..) or his commentary on the State of the Union address, reducing the speech to a political pep rally by Obama. None of that.

It's his job interview test.
 I'm quoting from Sunday's Denver Post.
 Roberts developed a self-confidence experiment when he was still an appellate judge.
Looking for people with self-confidence, comfortable expressing ...and defending their views...without, you know, wilting." he said.
Roberts was interviewing for a clerk, and held the interviews all on one day.
He brought in a dozen Krispy Kreme glazed and sugar donuts and instructed the secretary to tell applicants to help themselves.
"I figured anybody who had enough self-confidence to pick up a doughnut that's glazed or with powdered sugar would be the sort of person I was interested in," Roberts said. "I even remember saying, 'Anybody who has a donut, I'll hire.'"
Noone took a donut. So he was back to the resumes and interview impressions.

NEVER, ever would I take a donut before a job interview...who knows how much powdered sugar would end up on my nose or which eye I'd rub with the glazed finer. Not me. Probably not many people.
Eat a donut and try not to wilt in from of Justice Roberts?  
I might have taken one on the way out. Actually, if the secretary had disappeared, I'd probably have taken two. The anxiety of it all.  To wilt or not to wilt.
But, still I give him a few points for finding a way to entertain himself at work.

I hope some day I'll again have something positive to say about Chief Justice Roberts. What are the chances?

Right next to the Justice Roberts story and photo was a story and photo "Study: School-lunch regulars are fatter."    Somebody please tell me thousands of dollars weren't spent on this study. I also read a story in the NYT yesterday suggesting a relationship between obesity and poor nutrition. Isn't that a shocker?

Let Them Eat Donuts..................

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Curious and Curiouser

It's a strange transition from the Medical Mission Sisters work healing people around the world to Alice in Wonderland in 3-D. But I think Anna Dengal, Sister Pauline and the brave group who took the forty-day voyage to India were on their own adventures in wonderland. They left the known world of home, safety, comfort and completed the dark passage into the unknown. They slayed mythical dragons, healed the people, and came back to tell the story. Sisters on the Journey of the Hero. 

Back to Alice.

SPRING FORWARD!  OUR ANNUAL RITUAL OF SKIPPING TIME COMES TONIGHT AS WE MOVE OUR CLOCKS ONE HOUR AHEAD!
Tomorrow morning (Sunday, March 14th)... we journey down the rabbit hole with a special SOMA movement journey with the musical score to Alice in Wonderland.  10:15am- 11:30am.  It's quite the trip... whether you've seen the movie or not!


How do I get myself into these things? If I don't go, will I be making a statement about Johnny Depp or the idea of Alice in Wonderland? I don't remember all the details of the book and haven't seen the new movie, so don't know the music. 
If I do show up, will people assume I was an interpretive dancer in my past, someone who once was good but lost all grace and rhythm on the journey into my sixties? 
If I go to Soma, what won't give my real age away? Will it happen when I try to stuff my body down some metaphorical rabbit hole or when I try to leap through wonderland? Impossible to go, I think.

To make matters even more curious, I received a call from my granddaughter Emma before making the decision, and she said "Oh, go to your e-mail and watch the video my mom just sent of Colin and me dancing."  I did. Five year old Colin's free dance style is a cross between a rapper and a flying gymnast. Emma, seven years old, dances as if she were in High School Musical 3 or auditioning for a major Broadway production. It's only the missing two front teeth and the sunglasses sliding down her nose that give her real age away. They are so at ease, so content in their bodies that I want to freeze the scenes forever. 
 
I think most of us most have had those moments, hours, days, months or years we were comfortable in our bodies, before our minds became the 'other,' staring, criticizing, judging the parts. One of the things I love most about Studio Soma is that the body judging part of my mind takes a break for most of the session. It shows up early, but seems to take a break because noone is paying attention. It's a beautiful reprieve from the normal world.
Deciding I'd probably never again be invited to take a movement journey through Alice in Wonderland, I hopped in my old Toyota and headed across town.
"Why Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast," said the Queen. The saying is hand-written on notepaper perched atop a magnificently decorated hat sitting on the sign-in desk.
For more than an hour we are thrust into our selves and a magical world....finding a key, bumping up against all those locked doors, confronting the mad, the angry, the wistful and the believers. 
Jessica, subtle guide and narrator, leads us collectively and individually in and out of the real and imaginary world,  she opens new paths through metaphors, struts and strolls through the journey of the wily hero. 
It is both an intensely personal and communal experience. We're all called to play the roles we've chosen or been cast in life, and we all play them differently. We discard roles, try different scenes, take new stances, search for meaning, slay our dragons and put pieces back together again.
We're out of the default world for a while.