11 February 2017

Left Behind: She Made Me A Necklace. Blessed Mary.

She Made Me A Necklace To Wear

There are many benefits to living with an artist. I had a bit of a funk today at the thought of Maria leaving for India tomorrow, and after an hour or so, it passed. I decided it would be unnatural not to take a moment to feel some sadness at being apart from her for two weeks and so far away.

There is something cleansing and beautiful about sadness, I don't ever wish to deny it.

I love her way too much not to miss her. At the same time, I am excited about my chance to focus on my book and also to be with myself and get somewhat re-acquainted. Then, she sat down and made this lovely necklace right in front of  me, the beads dame from a local bead shop (Over The Moon) and the Virgin Mary medal came from a reader of Maria's blog who bought it years ago along with a Mother Teresa postcard.

She sent it in honor of the India trip Maria is taking. Maria is taking the Mother Teresa card with her and made a necklace out of the Virgin Mary medal – she bought it years ago at JFK Airport in New York – and an Indian elephant medallion. I gave her a wooden carving of the Hindu God Ganesh, the God of well-being. She gave it to me, and I gave it back to her to take on her trip.

She got a wire and places some colorful beads on it, added the medals and tied it. It will stay around my neck.

So we each have something of the other, we will never be truly apart, not even when she is 8,000 miles apart. Love is not about geography, it is a soul connection.

As I've written, I'm not conventionally religious but Christian symbols have meaning for me, Jesus cared passionately about helping the poor and listening to the people, his ideas are sometimes lost but they still have power, at least for me, and for many Christians.

In the Catholic Church, veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus encompasses various Marian devotions, which includes prayer, pious acts, visual arts, poetry and music. I wonder how many of the opportunistic politicians who so invoke the name of Jesus and his Mother know any of this.

This is a good medal for me to wear, I am also wearing a cross now to remind me to show love and mercy,  and walk humbly. A lot of Christian symbolism in my necklaces, it feels right for now. This is not about being devout for me, but being spiritual and grounded.

In the late afternoon, my funk lifted, and I got excited again for this wonderful opportunity for Maria. She so deserves it, and I can hardly bear to wait to hear her stories of her trip. She will be writing daily on her blog.

I will be working daily on my blog and my  book, a special time for both of us. She leaves first thing in the morning.

Posted in General

Prayer Rugs For The Refugees. Freedom Of Worship, for $2

Prayer Rug

The U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigration has given me a gift, the chance to support the freedom of worship I have always enjoyed in America, and which somehow seems threatened today. On their Amazon Refugee Gift Page, the committee has posted Muslim prayer rugs with mat for $2, and I was moved to donate a number of them today.

Most Muslims face Mecca to pray five times a day, a commitment to devotion and faith.  Prayer rugs are important, and I did not realize many of the new refugees coming to America have lost their prayer rugs, or had them lost or destroyed.

This is a rare opportunity for me to embrace my dream of America, and my idea of America. A number of refugees are arriving in this area this week, I can't really think of a better way to greet them, or a better message to send them about who we are.

For $2 I can help a refugee family practice their faith in their new country, especially at a time when many Muslims feel they are under siege. I am grateful for the chance to affirm my values for $2, so much so that I donated five of them.  This is less than a sandwich and soda costs, and infinitely more precious.

This is what i hope I am about, this is what I hope we are about once again. If you wish to donate a prayer rug and mat for $2, you can do so here, and your gift will be very much appreciated.

Posted in General

Listening With Integrity. The Gift Of Our Time


A few days ago, Maria was telling me about a troubled child of a friend, and the story upset me.  How parents treat the problems of their children is a personal and deeply painful issue for me, and I was critical of the parents involved. "You seem so angry, even self-righteous about it," she said, and that upset me further.

We argued about it, somewhat sharply for us, and then, as I lay in bed that night, I had this thought: What was wrong with that conversation? I wasn't listening to what Maria said.

I couldn't see what she saw, I couldn't hear what she heard. I only understood it when I stopped and listened. And then, I saw and heard. We were good again.

I woke her up, and I said "this is a hard issue for me, but I'm sorry, I was obviously angrier than I realized and then I had a right to be. It isn't my child, it isn't really my business." I wasn't angry anymore, it wasn't my life. She understood what I was saying, saw the hurt in me.

A few days later, a friend in town called me up. He is a passionate if not uncritical supporter of the new President, he was upset that I was writing about the Syrian refugees and he was unhappy that I was trying to raise money for the refugees in their new homes in America.

He thought I was wrong in sympathizing with them so much, and was missing the point. He assumed my work with the refugees was a political statement.

This is another of those issues  that is important to me,  and also for personal reasons, and I am not certain I could argue it calmly.

I heard my voice rising. I don't care to be told what to write, and I don't argue my beliefs, I don't want to join in that awful din of the left and the right. Then I stopped. He was my friend, and he was troubled, and I wasn't listening, and if I didn't listen, how could we be friends?

So I took a deep breath and listened.

My friend said I didn't understand that the world had changed, and we had to change, it wasn't just about nice people needing help, it was about feeling safe and in control of our lives and our country.

Bad things can happen, he said. I didn't respond, I just listened. He said some interesting things I had not thought about. I listened. Thanks for listening to me, he said, next time, I'd like to listen to you. Those words made an impression on me. We had affirmed our friendship.

We are still good friends, I value him. I see that he values me.

Listening is a powerful tool. The November election was a great gift to me in so many ways. I am more alive, more focused, paying more attention. And listening more than ever. Most people, I have learned, do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.

I am not in despair or rage, I am doing good by my own lights in my own way, as are so many others. These are exciting times for me, I feel very much alive and relevant. Even useful, sometimes.

Self-righteousness is an awful obstacle to listening. We we assume that we are superior to those we disagree with, we have crossed the line between morality to self-righteousness, and there is no listening on that path.

Listening is not about agreeing, or submitting or approving. It is about respect and dignity and understanding. One of the most authentic forms of respect is to actually listen to what another human being – or animal, for that matter – has to say and is trying to tell us.

Listening heals and soothes. It uplifts. It transcends anger and misunderstanding, it promotes knowledge and growth. I hear you, I know what you mean, are words I find myself saying more often than before. Those are not the same words as you are right, I agree with you.

By listening to Maria, I was saying many things without a single word. I was saying, I respect you, and am hearing you and will consider what you have told me. I will not interrupt you, or talk over you. I will hear you. And that is one of the purest forms of love that there is. It is transforming, it touches the people who are being heard in a way that argument almost never can.

When I listened to my friend say things I so utterly and completely disagree with, I am saying "even though we disagree, I respect you as a human being and connect with you as a fellow human being trying to make his own way in the world." I saw that he was afraid for himself, for his family. He wanted a safer world for his children.

A number of people have strongly disagreed with me about listening, they have told me angrily – mostly on Facebook – that I am enabling racism and hatred and injustice. They believe there is no compromise or communication on those issues. But l do not share that view, at least not when it comes to listening.

Listening promotes dignity and connection, it is a bridge that spans the widest misunderstandings and fragmentation. It can smother hatred and ignorance as well as enable it.

Listening is the universal dialogue of the spiritually advanced. The truly spiritual, the truly gifted, the truly brilliant, practice listening as a discipline, a path to learning. Listening is a powerful tool. Listeners do not talk over me, jump in on my sentences, stifle my thoughts before they get  chance to live or are finished, talk over me, kill my words in flight. Instead, they listen and wait.

If you look through the posts on Facebook, as I try to do once every day, you can clearly see this impulse to declaim, but very rarely to listen. Social media often teaches us to talk, but not to hear.

Listen with integrity, wrote author Roy T.  Bennett. "The greatest problem with communication is that we don't listen to understand. When we listen with curiosity, we don't listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what's behind the words."

Listening with integrity is not about submission. It is about wanting to understand what is beyond the words and arguments.

And thus, we learn and grow and change. I am grateful for the time we live in, it is challenging and difficult and painful. It is important. Listening has never been more critical.

I am listening more faithfully and thoughtfully than ever before, and this, I believe is reflected in my writing and photography and ideas. My values are stronger than ever, and I am living them more authentically and effectively than ever.

I listened to my friend talk about immigration, and then I went out and helped raised thousands of dollars to help the new refugees coming to America. I  understand myself and my beliefs better than ever before. I am listening to me, too.

Posted in General

Helping Refugee Families: See The Miracle Kitchen Counter You Created

Helping Refugees

My donation today on the Amazon Refugee Gift Page: English Study Guide, $4.95.

Every morning, me and many others purchase a simple and inexpensive item that will transform the life of a refugee family, help them live in their new home, and remind them how open and generous  country America is. The donations are making an enormous difference.

One of the refugee families wanted you to see the miracle you wrought with your donations, they arrived recently from the Middle East and the kitchen counter was bare. They come with little or no money, and a small stipend that is usually gone by the time they arrive.

The donations from the Army Of Good included a rice cooker knives/scissors set, a tea kettle, a blender and mortar pestle, pots, pans, dishes silverware and some other gifts already ready stored. The family that received them wanted to say thank you and also wished for you to see what you have done for them.

They did not have the money yet to buy these things for themselves. They lost everything and had languished in refugee camps for years, being investigated multiple times while being stranded in vast, overcrowded and underfunded  refugee camps.

In sending these inexpensive and simple things, you have transformed the lives of people in great need, ended a cycle of fear and loss that has devastated them and their families. Your donations have been so generous and helpful that this model is being studied all over the country. Thank, you, thank you.

You have kept the torch lit.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I've heard those lines from Emma Lazarus a thousand times, they are beautiful and fresh to me every time.
And we are living those values, here on the gift page. Your gifts are going to the huddled messages, yearning to be free, the homeless and the tempest-tost. That's precisely who these people are. Now, We are the lamp.
You are lighting the lamp for them, these are the very people who statue was built to greet. We are free to greet them in our own way.
There is great need now, more refugees are arriving every day for as long as they can, and your donations have already been sent out to families who came before them. Families are arriving even as this written. There is room in the warehouse again.

The Amazon gift page was set up by the United States Committee on Refugees and Immigration, you can browse the page and choose the item you want to donate, the items range in price from $4.95 to $60.00. The site is easy to use, you simply click on the USCRI address line on the way to checkout and the gifts wlll be sent there.

I do not believe my values and beliefs are things for others to argue about, so I don't do that, especially online.

Helping these children is not a controversial thing  for me, they are here legally and have been exhaustively vetted. We have lost our way if we can't help them.

I begin every day with a donation to the gift page. It feels wonderful, it lifts me up out of the cloud of anger and cruelty that seems to hover like a black cloud over our country. If you can see your way to helping this people, know that it truly matters, and every penny goes right to the refugees, nowhere else.

My donation today to the Amazon Refugee Gift Page: English Study Guide, $4.95.

Posted in General

India Journal: Race Against The Big Storm

Outrunning The Big Storm

A few days ago, we were congratulating ourselves on the good weather expected for Maria's drive to Boston Sunday, where she will leave for the first leg on her flight to India – Boston to Dubai, then Dubai to Kolkata. This morning, we woke up to winter storm warnings, a big snowstorm dropping as much as 16 inches on us from Sunday to Monday throughout New England, just when she will be heading to Boston.

So, some scrambling here, the storm will be worse here than in Boston, so she is going to try to get ahead of it. Her flights leaves Sunday night.

I confess I have no anxieties about her traveling to India  – she is a big girl and can take care of herself – but the idea of her driving off in a big snowstorm driving for hours in her little Prius gets to me. Something about vulnerability, more to do with me than her, she isn't worried about it.

I checked myself, I was checking the forecast every five minutes, and that's not good. Besides, it just gets worse. I feel like my grandmother Snowstorms terrified her and I had to call her every half hour to tell her I was all right.

The new plan – hers –  is for her to leave early Sunday morning before the storm gets too bad and check into a motel near the airport. Then she'll drive to lot where she can park her car and will be driven to the airport. The storm is not expected to hit Boston directly.

I wondered if she ought to go tonight, and get way ahead of all of it, but that didn't fly.

So an exciting kick-off to the trip, which hasn't even begun. We went to the Round House cafe for brunch and Scott and Lisa gave her a nice send off. People in the town are excited about the trip, she's been asked to speak about it when she gets home.First, we'll get there. A million things to do today – get to the bank, sort out financial stuff, to to the dump clear out the wood stoves, finish packing.

It will be like old times, being alone on the farm with another big snow dump, we got seven or so the other day. On Monday, Cassandra arrives to help out. Sunday I'm on my own. Nobody with two border collies is on their own.

Trips to India are not simple, I see. More later

Posted in General