Sunday Evening with Buddha

It happens this way …

While doing some research on the Buddha for a poem, I came across a series of his quotations tonight. I thought I’d share some of my favorites.DSC00735

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

You only lose what you cling to.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.

People with opinions just go around bothering one another.

It is better to travel well than to arrive.

Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.

It is ridiculous to think that somebody else can make you happy or unhappy.

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

******

Here’s to lifting up our eyes to the sky and laughing!

 

What I Just Learned from High School Students

PlaysIt happens this way …

During the past week, Kathy and I had the pleasure of going to Reynolds High School in Troutdale and to David Douglas High School in Portland to see their latest musicals. Reynolds staged the Broadway version of the Little Mermaid while David Douglas did the same with Holiday Inn.

To say that the music, staging, costumes, singing, dancing, and energy were outstanding would be an understatement. Ever since I taught at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, NJ, a lifetime ago, I knew that high school productions could be on a par with those done by professionals. (Sister Pauline was a brilliant director who called the best out of her casts.)

So it has thrilled me over the last five decades to see talented young people committed to the passion and discipline it takes to perform at such a high level.

Maybe because I have been listening to Brené Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability on You-Tube, I was smacked in the face with a lesson I need to learn from some of the young men and women on stage.

Here’s the backstory: Growing up in the ‘50s, I felt body-shamed for being overweight. Luckily, I went to Catholic schools where uniforms saved me from having to find clothes that could cover some of my heft.

However, one day the principal of my high school called me up on stage in front of an assembly of girls in my freshman class. As I walked across the stage, I heard her say to the group, Now here’s how a chubby girl wears her uniform correctly.

 Get the picture? Shame upon shame.

Now, fast forward to last week: on both high school stages, there were young women as well as young men who would probably be considered overweight. Whether they played lead roles or were in choruses, it was obvious to me that, whatever their size or shape, they didn’t allow body-shame to stop them from singing and dancing their talented hearts out. And talented they were!

There was one young woman in the chorus at David Douglas who so reminded me of me at her age that I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. As she danced with different male partners and appeared in a variety of form-fitting costumes, there was a grace and ease about her that made me tear up.

Of course, I don’t know what her life is like off stage, but throughout her performance on that stage, she exuded a self-confidence that would put shame to shame.

I’ve known people who have felt ashamed because they were too thin, too tall, too short, too whatever.  Maybe we should start a #TooWhatever movement for all of us who don’t feel right about who we are and where we are right now – not merely in terms of body image, but in terms of what we can offer each other and our world.  I’ll be thinking about this in the weeks to come. Shame has lived in my personal space for too long! And, if anyone is interested in heading up this movement, let me know!

PS: I’m just learning about Brené Brown and her extraordinary research on shame and vulnerability via programs on You-Tube. When you have time, take a look. She will change your life!

 

Breaking with Charity

It happens this way …

UnknownBy some strange You-Tube happenstance, I came across the conversation Tara Westhover, the author of Educated, had with Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 26, 2019.

I had written a blog (“Stunned into Understanding”) about Tara’s moving, yet disturbing book last October so I was eager to see her and hear her voice.

In case you haven’t read Educated yet – and seriously think about doing so – here’s the blurb The Aspen Institute used to introduce the conversation:

Raised by uncompromising survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover survived extreme adversity, from never being allowed to go to school, to suffering serious physical injuries (and a dad that prohibited doctors or hospitals), to being at the mercy of a volatile and often abusive older brother. How did she not only make it through this childhood, but ultimately achieve success at the highest levels? How does she look back on her childhood and her family? What has she learned from her incredible and improbable journey?

Tara is a lovely, self-effacing, authentic, and oh-so-intelligent young woman. She earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge without ever getting a GED. When she entered Brigham Young University at age seventeen, she had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement. From reading a book on her father’s shelf, she thought that slavery was bad because it was so hard on slave owners. Hence, her need to become “educated”!

Among the many things that struck me about Tara was her empathetic understanding of some of the current divisions our country is experiencing. Since she now lives in New York City but returns from time to time to her home in Idaho, she is amazed how the urban/rural divide is based on distorted misunderstandings each group has about the other.

She used a phrase I had never heard before: the breaking with charity. (I jumped for a pen to write it down so I could research it more.) As Tara mentioned, the phrase goes back to the Salem witch trials.

According to one Google entry,

It refers to the moment when two members of the same group break apart and become different tribes. In Salem, the break occurred when some among a group of young women accused others of being witches. When you break charity, bonds of trust and truth are shattered and everything good thing you have done is affected.

What is broken may be mended but it will never regain its original strength. In truth, it cannot be unbroken. Think about political commentary and the words we throw at each other today.

How many ways have we “broken with charity” these past few years over politics, religion, family, schools, whatever? Rather than throwing words at each other, we’ve forgotten to sharpen our listening skills so we can at least understand the reality others live in and the beliefs they hold on to. It may not be our reality – and we certainly don’t have to embrace those beliefs – but we may become more charitable empathizers in the process.

This is what I’m going to be thinking about this week.

PS: If you listen to the Westhover/Goldberg conversation, don’t miss Tara’s singing at the end. It’s glorious!

To All Dog Lovers Out There

It happens this way …

A friend just emailed me to say she put down her dog this morning. It was a compassionate thing to do since her sweet pet was suffering so much. My friend’s heart is cracking open with grief again – she’s experienced this before –- but she will assure anyone who listens that the love she has shared with her dear dog is worth the pain.

Everyday I receive FB posts from my dog-loving friends across the country. They include messages about the benefits – physical and spiritual – of owning a dog – or, better yet, being owned by one. They make me laugh about the silly things dogs do and joy in the tenderness dogs show in nurturing abandoned kittens or guarding a sleeping child. I can understand the love.DSC07973

We don’t have a pet – unless you want to count the feral cats, steller’s jays, juncos, robins, and other various creatures who play in our backyard. The traveling we do makes owning a good excuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a dog in a kennel or even having someone other than us watch over it when we flew away.

Perhaps another reason is equally true: the experiences my brothers and I had  with pets growing up in NJ. I dug out this poem that appeared in Fall 2016 in an anthology called Our Last Walk: Using Poetry for Grieving and Remembering Our Pets.

I think the last six lines nail the truest truth about my lack of pet-ownership. A million cheers to all of you share love with, and learn love from, your pets. Someday …

 Love’s Labor’s Lost

or Why I don’t own pets

Three chameleons

disappeared

into our bamboo shades.

The horny lizard’s

soft-curled back

amazed

then,

like goldfish

in their hazy bowl,

flipped

its down-side up.

Unamused,

dad booted out

the lab who

slurped

his cabbage soup.

The speckled mutt

arrived

one day,

ran

away the next.

Need more

reasoning?

A droop-face cop

charged

our summer yard

and shot

two frothing pups.

My heart

can’t bear

another crack.

I fall in love

too hard,

too fast.

 

SMITTEN: How do we identify ourselves?

It happens this way …

There’s a new anthology coming out in a few weeks called SMITTEN: This Is What Love Looks Like from Indie Blu(e) Publishing. It features 120 women, ages 16-87, and their poems about loving women. Five poems of mine will appear in it.

During the past few weeks, I’ve met a number of editors and contributors via social media, answered interviewers’ questions, and read the interviews of women from around the world. What a powerful community this anthology is creating!

One question consistently stopped in my tracks: “How does your identity affect your work?” In the context of this lesbian collection (There: I’ve used the L-word! It’s only taken me seven decades to do that!), the question implies how does identifying as the L-word (ok, I’m not perfect yet) affect my writing?

Huh? Being a very late bloomer – I didn’t start to write poetry until I was 27 and didn’t come to grips with my sexuality until my early 40s – I never thought about that.

Being a woman beyond a certain age, I had identified myself as a teacher, business trainer, and writer; a carbon-based humanoid who happens to be a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I have written a number of poems about my personal relationships which have appeared in a variety of journals, but I’ve not been in an overtly lesbian anthology before.

I realized this was somewhat of a coming out into a world larger than my corner of Oregon. I knew former students of mine would read my interview on Facebook, Sister of Mercy friends would do likewise. I haven’t hidden my relationship with my partner of almost 27 years, but neither have I broadcasted it in such a far-flung way.

All this is to say, the question of identity is complex. How do we define ourselves? In terms of our work roles and/or our familial relationship? In terms of our race, ethnicity, education, sexuality, social standing, friendships, religious or political affiliations? All factor in and maybe identity is a mosaic: each a piece of the whole that is us. I’m still pondering who I am. Any thoughts about how you define yourself?

PS: Here’s one of the poems that will appear in SMITTEN.

I love you more than Mariska HargitayPoem

And so the day begins with you

explicating last night’s dream

about the way she stroked your cheek 

with her arresting smile and lured

you toward a dark-eyed kiss before

you fought her off explaining

it would be criminal beyond

the ordered bounds of law 

because the fact is I’m downstairs  

in muddy garden clothes and sleepy hair

waiting for your lips so I can ditch

my coffee cup and stubborn poem

to wage my outdoor chores

and you’re telling me you’re telling her 

you never swore a vow or wear

a wedding ring but when stray nights

tempt you toward a luscious offering 

you walk away you’re telling me 

you are faithful even in your dreams.

 

 

In Memory of 9/11

9:11

It happens this way …

Here, a Holding On 

for New York City

October 1, 2001

 

Twenty days of barricades

and twos and threes pause

on Chambers Street –

business suits, backpacks, hoodies,

uniforms in every shape.

No one pontificates

over vacant desks and pews,

tear-wet beds, fire stations gone,

bone fragments searching for home.

 

Here, they’re awed.

Tower shadows fled.

The first time in thirty years

Village streets and living rooms,

store fronts with their sidewalk signs,

responders struggling with ash

bathe in sun. They bathe in the sun.

 

Here, light takes hold

and I, a stranger from 3,000 miles west,

grab a subway strap,

head to an uptown hotel

to write this down.

 

August 7, 2017

Here, breaking news:

DNA defines one more loss.

(Male. Unnamed. Per family request.)

Who’s left?

Eleven hundred twelve gathered

in dusty dark, sharing thoughts

they thought as shadows dissolved.

Comparing notes on deals signed,

dinners served, dreams deferred

for the practicalities of work,

little words unsaid.

 

Here, holding on –

each to each –

until they’re freed from this room

where they’ve agreed

on the coarsest truth:

closure is a myth.

 

The Theology of Not-Yet

It happens this way …

index.aspxI just finished reading Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner, the author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Each chapter was a revelation about God’s nature, Nature’s nature, and human nature that stopped me in my tracks. Admittedly, I will have to go back and read the book again in order to internalize the wisdom and Biblical insights of this compassionate rabbi who writes to the heart as well as to the mind.

But for now, I wanted to share the book’s closing words. They  brought me to tears. Given the political and theological insanity that has been ripping apart our nation, I needed to hear these words:

               This world is not the world God intended it to be. Some human beings have made it  worse and continue to do so, while others have made and are making it better. I am sustained by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., quoting Theodore Parker, an abolitionist who died in 1860: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” And it bends toward honesty and toward forgiveness and toward generosity.

Kushner aptly calls this perspective the “theology of not-yet.”

One of the lessons I learned when we visited Philadelphia in July was that the vision of the Founding Fathers – so revolutionary, so world-shaking for its time – was still evolving in the not-yet history of America.

The huge sign on the side of the American Jewish History Museum was a poignant reminder of that fact. Writing to the Jewish community in Newport, RI, in 1790, George Washington said, “Happily the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

DSC08485

Today, all I can summon up is “not-yet, not-yet” while cultivating the hope that we will all bend toward honesty, forgiveness, and generosity so it “will be” in a future we are creating together.