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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

talking, listening, and pretending to engage

via flickr

via flickr

Yesterday I spent far more time than I’m comfortable confessing on the FB wall of a colleague (& friend). It was a discussion (as many are these days) about Baltimore. My friend had posted a piece by a young woman (African American) who blamed the rioters for their behaviours, and said (basically) that whites who tried to explain the ‘whys’ behind the riots were racist, expecting less from blacks than they would from whites.

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I disagree.

So we began a discussion first of terms: the differences between ‘racism’ & ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination’ and ‘bigotry.’ There are academically-agreed-upon definitions for these terms, but the ivory tower isn’t always where folks receive their definitions. As became evident in the discussion.

Another of my friend’s friends chimed in, disagreeing with two of us who noted that we hold w/ the definition of racism as a systematic oppression according to race, laws & the enforcement of laws that profile, and otherwise single out people of colour for more negative treatment. Hence the Ferguson ticketing of blacks in the neighbourhood to raise money, but also to keep people ‘in line': the system conspires against the blacks in the city.

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I tried hard to be respectful of an opinion that is not one I share: my friend’s friend said, basically, that the  community should pull itself up and out of economic instability and get it together. That’s not an exaggeration; he blamed the people of Baltimore (& white liberals) for the riots.

Protestors rally at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during a march for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van .(AP Photo/Gail Burton) (Gail Burton - AP)

Protestors rally at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during a march for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van .(AP Photo/Gail Burton) (Gail Burton – AP)

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I don’t hold w/ riots, as I noted. Nor do I believe, however, that blaming the people of a city riven by race, police violence (100 successful prosecutions for police abuses in the past four years), and failing economics is helpful. When a police department routinely lumps a pregnant woman, a church deacon, a 15-year-old bicyclist, and an 89-year-old grandmother in w/ ‘villains’ — beating them, giving them ‘rough rides,’ arresting them for no reason — there’s something terribly wrong w/ the department.

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But as the article in the April 22nd Atlantic Monthly notes, no one paid any attention until the riots. There were 10,000 peaceful Baltimore demonstrators who made no headlines in my town, at least. And not much space on the Web, either. Riots? A handful of people who’ve been brutalised with impunity act out and the news is full of it.

I had to leave the ‘conversation’ on my friend’s FB wall, after his other friend called me names and impugned my credibility when I disagreed with him over Ferguson. There was no conversation; I was mistaken. It was the usual attempt to ‘convert’ me to another way of thinking.

And that’s the problem these days. I am always willing to find evidence to back up my claims — and I was willing to listen to his claims. But since at least a few of his assertions weren’t based in fact (pretty easily demonstrated by a quick check of sources), he became very defensive.

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via flickr

via flickr

I get it: I don’t like it when I believe something someone says and it turns out false, either. But I’m not going to lash out at the messenger. Listening is, as the saying goes, an act of love. An act of compassion & respect. Which apparently he didn’t get. But you know what? It’s not my fault he didn’t check out his sources. It’s not my fault that the world is more complicated than either of us would like it to be. And when I say I understand the anger in Baltimore, I also am careful to say I do NOT condone (and certainly don’t approve of) riots. But I also think that a man’s life is worth more than property. And that a police department in such egregious defiance of fair treatment for all should be held accountable. Not just the rioters who are reacting to decades of being ignored.

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Which is why I withdrew from the FB thread — he wasn’t listening, because I wasn’t changing my tune. He believed the rioters have no cause to riot, and that Michael Brown deserved to die. Just a thug, he said. As if to be called some dismissive name means a mother’s son, a father, deserves no justice, no fair interrogation of his death.

I almost certainly will never agree w/ my friend’s friend. Because what engaged Buddhists do is fight for those who often don’t have access to audiences, even when the fight is problematic. We fight even when the voiceless take to the streets in frustrated violence. Like they are in Baltimore, after decades of going unheard. Like the Irish did in New York, fighting racist prejudice. Like the Freedom Riders did in the South under MLK. Like all people have had to do make progress against apathy & hatred.

So listen: I’m not going to sit here and let anyone pretend we’re engaged in a true conversation when you aren’t even listening. The stakes are far too high.

 

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planting my own Farmer’s Market

the author's

the author’s

Like I do most Saturdays, I spent the early morning hours yesterday at the Farmer’s Market. The gay profusion in my driver’s seat is two bouquets (one wildflowers — Indian paintbrush! — the other a more conventional spring mix of peonies (a favourite) and iris and more. Nestled beneath, in another bag (it was a four-bag day!) are radishes, fresh strawberries, poundcake for them, basil & cosmos & clematis to plant, and a baguette. Not to mention the asparagus (for roasting!) and the fresh greens.

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It was a good day.

My sister who doesn’t live in town (the other 3 of us do) is coming in this weekend, and she’s staying w/ us. So she needed a bouquet for the guest bedroom, obviously. And good stuff to eat. What’s better than fresh mozzarella, basil, baguette, and olive oil? All that would improve that is fresh tomatoes, and it’s still a bit early for those.

By the time I got home, I was ready for a bread&butter&radish sandwich. And once refortified? I could go upstairs to find…. my missing cat!!

the author's

the author’s

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In other words, yesterday was a perfect day. Hector the cat came home, after two days of acute anxiety on my part. We made flyers (complete w/ reward info) and put them up in the neighbourhood. But Hector apparently decided he’d had enough tomcatting (he’s neutered, but apparently doesn’t remember that…), and came home. Where he has slept peacefully all day so far.

Me? I took the plants from yesterday (zinnias & caladiums & marigolds & all the other old-fashioned reliables), put them in pots, and then dug in the garden to plant the herbs & the new clematis. Then I filled watering cans (albeit plastic) and watered them all in.

A day in the garden — as well as a morning at Farmer’s Market — reminds me what really matters. The earth, and the everyday beauty of greens and flowers, and the rich smell of fertile dirt. A cat who is a blessing in the middle years of his life. My family, who make trips to see each other.

It’s a good life. Don’t let the clouds in the sky confuse you. Get outside, and I promise: you’ll remember.

 

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bees, and the persistence of hope

the author's

the author’s

The bee house is up! As a beekeep wannabe from waaaay back (decades — really), I can’t begin to say how happy I am.

My beloved bought me a native bee house (not honey bees, more on this later) for the holidays. Health woes kept us from finishing it the way I wanted (he did, too), so it’s only now that it’s done. But boy, is it GREAT.

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He bought the wooden bee ‘chalet’ from a wonderful source for native bees, Crown Bees, out of Washington state. Washington is a state that knows its bees, both native & honey. With a huge percentage of the nation’s apples & berries, pollination is a major concern. And of course, the Pacific Northwest is also home to a lot of fellow tree-huggers. :)

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As any who know me will tell you, I’m crazy about bees. My first name means ‘bee’ in Hebrew, which has always meant something to me. I remember as a child reading Jean-Henri Fabre on bees, and being smitten. I would follow bees around the garden, a continuity that was rare in my pursuits, given how we moved. Bees, however, are everywhere. Well, except for Antarctica, and we weren’t ever stationeed there…;)

via wikimedia

via wikipedia

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My uncle Russell kept bees, too. A quiet man, he would disappear into the garden and mess w/ his several hives. And sometimes there would be honey. It seemed the most wonderfully mysterious of natural miracles.

So at Christmas bee cocooons came — the way that native bees (this first set is mason bees, small jeweled powerhouses of energy: green & blue & black) make it over the winter. And a bee ‘chalet,’ and a lot of literature as well as a couple of pieces of help. We spent the early winter months talking about where ‘our bees’ would go. All too soon, it was spring. And time to put out bees.

Which meant a post to hold the bee house, and three (yep, THREE) different shipments of copper to find the right gauge for the roof. And a copper finial for the post, and then braces to set the now-heavy bee house on. And voilà! A gorgeous addition to environmentalism, on the local scale.

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passion vs anger, and poetry to bank the wrong fires

via google

via google

While I’m passionate about many things (politics, tea, food, books, poetry…), I usually only get really angry about a few things. The main one is mean people.

I know: ‘mean girls.’ But seriously? If you’re mean to my friends or family, or even really mean to someone in my presence, I will NOT be a happy camper. And I will almost certainly let you know about it. Since I consider the family of my friends & family (& dear colleagues) my friends, I get angry at more people than I might otherwise.

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You can be mean to me — I’ll manage. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But if you’re mean to my people, I’ll be furious.

Right now, I’m beyond furious. I’m enraged, and heart-broken, to boot. I can’t STAND mean people!! You don’t get to make snarky comments to people who are much nicer than you are, more generous than you are, and probably smarter you are, and then pretend you didn’t. This is not nice, and I won’t be okay with it.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have the luxury of telling people what I think of them. Well, it’s unfortunate for me only, probably. My nephew once told my son he’d rather be beaten by the principal than lectured by me, his aunt. (To be honest? I thought that was a high compliment!) In other words, I wield a mean tongue when riled.

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via google

via google

This isn’t good beginner’s heart, I realise. I should be more compassionate to people who are such miserable sots that they take it out on others. But I’m not that kind of compassionate — I’m more a warrior than a nurturer, I’m afraid. Hence the whole engaged Buddhism thing. If you’re afraid of people who look different from you, and you want to legislate your own fears? Tough luck. Grow up. Push your boundaries. Learn something about cultural differences.

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But don’t beat up on unarmed men. Don’t kill unarmed men. Don’t be mean to people I love. Take a deep breath, and remember that every wisdom tradition teaches love. NOT ONE teaches hate. There’s a reason for that: love heals. Hate? It kills. Sometimes w/ a bullet. Sometimes w/ a broken spine. Sometimes w/ the slow poison of spite and malice. It’s all the same once you’re dead…

So as we enter the last days of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem on anger. It seems appropriate as I grieve for Baltimore, and its beleaguered peoples.

Talk

~ by Kwame Dawes

            For August Wilson

No one quarrels here, no one has learned
the yell of discontent—instead, here in Sumter
we learn to grow silent, build a stone
of resolve, learn to nod, learn to close
in the flame of shame and anger
in our hearts, learn to petrify it so,
and the more we quiet our ire,
the heavier the stone; this alchemy
of concrete in the vein, the sludge
of affront, until even that will calcify
and the heart, at last, will stop,
unassailable, unmovable, adamant.

Find me a man who will stand
on a blasted hill and shout,
find me a woman who will break   
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit, teach us the tongues
of the angry so that our blood,
my pulse—our hearts flow
with the warm healing of anger.

You, August, have carried in your belly
every song of affront your characters
have spoken, and maybe you waited
too long to howl against the night,
but each evening on some wooden
stage, these men and women,
learn to sing songs lost for centuries,
learn the healing of talk, the calming
of quarrel, the music of contention,
and in this cacophonic chorus,
we find the ritual of living
Previous Posts

talking, listening, and pretending to engage
Yesterday I spent far more time than I'm comfortable confessing on the FB wall of a colleague (& friend). It was a discussion (as many are these days) ...

posted 5:05:32pm May. 04, 2015 | read full post »

planting my own Farmer's Market
Like I do most Saturdays, I spent the early morning hours yesterday at the Farmer's Market. The gay profusion in my driver's seat is two bouquets (one ...

posted 12:26:51pm May. 03, 2015 | read full post »

bees, and the persistence of hope
The bee house is up! As a beekeep wannabe from waaaay back (decades -- really), I can't begin to say how happy I am. My beloved bought me a native bee ...

posted 6:19:43pm Apr. 30, 2015 | read full post »

passion vs anger, and poetry to bank the wrong fires
While I'm passionate about many things (politics, tea, food, books, poetry...), I usually only get really angry about a few things. The main one is mean ...

posted 9:18:10pm Apr. 29, 2015 | read full post »

the dark threads, reprised
I have a copy of this tapestry, one of my favourites. The idea that women made this -- centuries ago -- that they sat together for probably a decade ...

posted 2:11:09pm Apr. 28, 2015 | read full post »

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