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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

spring, and the promise of a fresh start

the author's fat squirrel

the author’s fat squirrel

Today when I filled bird feeders, I looked out over the yard. Everywhere there’s the flush of rose & pink, and the backdrop of pale green that only comes in spring.

Once I had the sunflower tray filled, the fat squirrel that’s half-tame was in it, stuffing fat cheeks. And the finches are on one of the other feeders, their breast feathers already red. A bluejay is on the small seed tray, and a robin was hoovering the deck floor, looking for dropped tidbits.

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In the corner of the yard, our crabapple is blooming her head off: bright flowers fading to creamy pink as they open. In other words, spring is definitely here.

the author's

the author’s

With it come the religious markers: Passover & Easter the best-known in the US, but most religions observe spring. Next month is Theravada New Year for Buddhists; yesterday was Ram Navami (the birthday of Ram, a holy day for Hindus); the Baha’i celebrated their New Year last week.

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We celebrate the return of the sun, the greening of the brown landscape. Snow melts, rain falls, and that greeny fragrance floats on softened winds. It’s a new beginning — new leaves, new life.

For that reason, I’m thinking of fresh starts. Not the ‘official’ New Year, which holds little allure for me. But this freshening of life all around: the mating calls of mourning doves, the bravado of jays. Today is a good day to make new promises to ourselves, as the earth keeps hers.

What would you like to do this coming spring & summer? What is it you resolve? It’s a time of growth. Cash in on it — make a promise to yourself. And keep it.

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the Beatitudes, Buddhism, and living a good life

via flickr.com

A discussion on my FB page began w/ my heartfelt anger at recent attempts (many successful) to discriminate against gay & trangender men & women. An old friend & former colleague pointed out that most Christians (at least here in America) are far more familiar w/ the 10 Commandments than the Beatitudes.

It was a lightbulb moment for me.

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The 10 Commandments are prohibitions against certain behaviours, not a way of life, necessarily. You can be a pretty mean-spirited, hateful person and still follow the rules, so to speak.

That’s simply not true of the Beatitudes. Especially if you’re reading from Luke (Luke 6: 24-26), where Jesus goes into very specific condemnation of the rich, the falsely popular, and others. Like several other places in the New Testament, Jesus explicitly warns that wealth is not conducive to goodness.

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And yet I never hear about these teachings from large churches, or TV evangelists (many of whom are quite rich). This hypocrisy (Jesus is pretty clear about helping the poor, and doing good to them that hate you, and turning the other cheek; none of these are prevalent attitudes in many denominations & their churches).

The wise & beloved Thomas Merton — an ordained Trappist monk as well as interfaith advocate — wrote that all religions have worth. I doubt he was thinking of those churches that use faith as a deadly weapon, advocating for hate & violence.

Here’s the deal: faith in a larger something — God, Jesus, Krishna, Allah, the Goddess — should, as my hero the Dalai Lama urges, bring us joy. Make us happy. Not the kind of happy that material goods provide, but that deeply soul-satisfying happiness that wells up when we know we’ve been ‘good people.’ Helping the waiter at tea yesterday w/ his application letter for an artist’s grant, for instance. Not a big deal (& please don’t think I’m setting myself as any paragon!), but I felt so happy afterwards to know that I’d been useful.

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via flickr.com

via flickr.com

The best thing about Buddhism — & the best thing about Christianity, as well — is their mutual elements of compassion. The world becomes a much nicer place if we all treat each other with love & respect. To feel for those who are less fortunate is easy in principle, but to do something about it? That’s very hard; it’s not easy to try to find good in people I can’t stand! But I believe it’s my duty. And the Beatitudes — those lovely, more gentle commandments — are a good place to start.

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pets vs kids, and what we spend our money on…

the author’s

My dogs are pretty indulged. Even (dare I confess?) spoiled. They have soft little beds in their kennels, fleecy things I wash regularly, and replace when the dogs chew holes in them. There is an American-made brand of good dog food, and shots, and pill for allergies & arthritis.

But my dogs are NOT my children. And my husband & I have faced the spectre of vet bills for ageing dogs, as well as what our responsibilities to these two members of our family are.

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Today I read a post about a family in Norway that recreated their dining room for their bulldog in his boarding kennel. And yes, you read that correctly: they moved a sofa, tables, a dog bed, and other things into Igor the bulldog’s boarding space. Just so he’d be comfortable while they went on vacation.

the author’s

I see this in acquaintances, and (of course) online. People are taking up collections to give artificial joints to dogs, organ transplants, etc. And I have mostly unmixed feelings about it. Yes, it’s your money. And yes, my dogs ARE beloved members of my family. But the woman who took her daughter’s school funds to buy an extra year or so for her dog? I’m not cool w/ that. Nor do I think that we should be spending $58+ BILLION on our animal friends. We have kids starving to death, folks.

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Please don’t misunderstand: I have two beloved dogs, two beloved cats, and I spend a crazy amount on bird feed. So I get it. But I also donate to many children’s organisations, and work HARD as an advocate for the homeless and the poor, here & overseas. And I won’t prolong my dog’s life unnecessarily. Nor my cat’s.

When our dogs and cats have become unable to live full lives, we’ve ‘put them down,’ as the euphemism goes. And I wish with all my heart this was an option for people who are unable to go on. It’s not, at least not in most states. So if I inherit my mother’s Alzheimer’s, I will have to go to Oregon to die with dignity.

via theatlantic.com

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Dignity. What a loaded — and vague — word. Not one we usually apply to our pets. But when my cat can’t make the letterbox  by himself, and my 14-year-old dog has pneumonia that would leave him unable to breathe w/out intervention? We decided for them: dignity (and a normal animal life) outweighed our desire to keep them with us.

In addition? I don’t feel that my dogs are more important than my grandson. Nor my beloved cats. And on a fixed income, choices can come down to just that. But for those of my friends & families who have animal children, I get that this is just my decision. I wouldn’t impose it on anyone, even if I had that power.

And yet I still think starving children are the saddest thing in this country of so much plenty. This doesn’t lessen the sadness of homeless animals, and animal abuse. I just wish some of the many $$ going to do things like create a living room for a pet in a boarding kennel were going to help a child find a meal…

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the family you have, the family you choose

the author's

the author’s

I am very lucky: I have a relatively large network of family. Three sisters, a brother-in-law who’s great, lots of nieces & nephews, even two aunts still living.

I also have a large family-of-the-heart: BFFs, ersatz brothers, cousins, and just folks who feel like family. Each as different from the others as gardenias from roses, but all necessary to me.

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This past few days, my ‘brother’ has been in town, w/ his wonderfully funny & creative wife (my ‘sister-in-law’), and their astoundingly smart, witty, and beautiful three daughters. We were able to get together each day of their short trip, and I was happier than…teddy bears? What IS the happiest of beings, anyway? (I’m banking on domestic cats, myself…)

More seriously, the family we choose — those friends we love as dearly as if we shared bloodlines — are perhaps more important than those we ‘have.’ To paraphrase Robert Frost, family is who has to take you in. I know: it doesn’t always work that way. But there is a kind of explicit responsibility that blood dictates, for most of us. We don’t badmouth family — even if they’re as mean as crimped snakes.

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the author’s

Whereas the family we choose? Each time we meet, it’s a gift — given from love & shared memories and passions. How cool is that? My brother-of-the-heart, and his dear dear wife, are the perfect examples. I’ve known him all my adult life — he introduced me to my beloved, in fact. And she is the wife I would have chosen for him, had I been all-wise and all-powerful. Their three girls almost convinced me to adopt, even though I knew in my heart that I was really too old & tired for a baby, however wonderful. These girls, let me tell you, are darn near perfect.

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All five of them remind me how much happiness — and being w/ people whom you love — influences your state of being. After a day w/ the group, I’m a better person: trying to learn to be more friendly, more caring, more of a listener, and less of a story-teller (I soooo love stories!). And I can do that — although not well! — best w/ my families. The good news is that no matter how giddy or caffeinated I am, they do take me in. I ove them all dearly. And the best news of all? They love me back.

 

Previous Posts

spring, and the promise of a fresh start
Today when I filled bird feeders, I looked out over the yard. Everywhere there's the flush of rose & pink, and the backdrop of pale green that only comes in spring. Once I had the sunflower tr

posted 12:33:52pm Mar. 29, 2015 | read full post »

the Beatitudes, Buddhism, and living a good life
A discussion on my FB page began w/ my heartfelt anger at recent attempts (many successful) to discriminate against gay & trangender men & women. An old friend & former colleague pointed out that mo

posted 2:02:19pm Mar. 27, 2015 | read full post »

pets vs kids, and what we spend our money on...
My dogs are pretty indulged. Even (dare I confess?) spoiled. They have soft little beds in their kennels, fleecy things I wash regularly, and replace when the dogs chew holes in them. There is an American-made br

posted 3:56:31pm Mar. 26, 2015 | read full post »

the family you have, the family you choose
I am very lucky: I have a relatively large network of family. Three sisters, a brother-in-law who's great, lots of nieces & nephews, even two aunts still living. I also have a large family-of-the-heart: BF

posted 5:27:10pm Mar. 24, 2015 | read full post »

quilts, teapots, and living day by day
As I often do when I'm worried or beset by whatever, I cleaned out a closet the other day. And rediscovered things I'd forgotten: a quilt my mother made me when I married; a quilt my sister quilted f

posted 8:17:55pm Mar. 22, 2015 | read full post »

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