Beginner's Heart

Letting go
Reading Jessica Livingston’s ‘Sound of Silence‘ struck so many resonant chords it was like she was playing my song. A soundtrack to a current dilemma I’m waffling over. Which is…to FaceBook or not to FaceBook.

Livingston articulates the downsides eloquently: I’m sick of being a target for every neocon who buys alt-right agitprop. I’m tired of angering at groundless conspiracy theories, and trying to convince people that no, Obama is NOT going to engineer a revolution on Friday (my sister’s nurse today…And yes, the nurse absolutely believes it…a woman w/ a nursing degree…SCIENCE, for cryin’out loud!)

I know a lot of stuff about education, for example. But to hear the idiots who support our state governor tell, this woman who has managed to learn all the wrong lessons from profit-based reforms is an expert. And I’m just another know-nothing, despite having worked in the field — at the national level as well as city & state levels — for decades.

Here’s the deal: I use my FB as a kind of ersatz progressive news outlet. One entire side of my family is evangelical Christian, in the least progressive of definitions. They are anti-choice, homophobic (in my eyes, at least; they would say they’re ‘pro-Christian marriage’), filled with white privilege (which they would say was ‘anti-special treatment’), and extremely pro-Christian (to the extent of being highly suspicious of other religions). We don’t have ANYTHING in common, politically.

But they’re my family, folks. MY. FAMILY. So I keep trying to point them to unbiased news sources (‘they’re liberal rags’ — the Washington Post?? Reuters??). Look up government docs (‘it’s an Obama conspiracy!’). Link them to actual video of what was said, or what happened. So they can see with their own eyes. And it has as much impact as rain in Africa. Their beliefs are grounded partially in religious propoganda from the pulpit (think Franklin Graham, or Pat Robertson), and partially in the visible changing of the colour guard of American culture. Gays! Brown people! Muslims! And while my family will say they harbor no ill will towards ‘them,’ they will also find reason after reason why such groups should be watched/ listed/ disenfranchised. It’s just ‘smart,’ they will tell you, to ‘be careful.’

It’s enough to put you off reunions entirely. And certainly social media engagement!

IMG_2760Because it lacks any kind of research base. It’s informed either by faith — not a good base for research, sorry — or… I’m not sure what. Certainly NOT research, or science. In my defense, I have worked diligently to learn ‘the other side.’ There are excellent articles available on why so much of economically depressed, blue collar white America voted as it did this election. Against its own interests, progressives would say. But in line with history & the pulpits of evangelical Christianity. And against science and facts.

The wonderful Thich Nhất Hanh, in his 14 precepts of socially engaged Buddhism, reminds me that my job isn’t to convert folks. It’s to engage them in conversation, & “through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.” Hunh. Dear, kind, beloved & revered sir: just how do you suggest I do that when my POV is so highly suspect to them? When I can’t defend my gay friends & family (they’re damned…), or my dear Muslim friends (potential threats), or my brown daughter-in-law? Or my cousin’s black grandchildren?

I’m well aware that I need to let go of any anger.  Anger that folks are so anti science, anti-facts, anti- what their cherished beliefs don’t support. Anti the abstract idea of my friends (gay, Muslim, brown & black)… It’s hard to realise that a Buddhist country like Burma, for instance, can implement genocide. It doesn’t fit w/ what I think I know of Buddhism, or even Burma. But it’s true. I don’t have to like it, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. So I know what it is to have to revisit beliefs. But I don’t understand — at all — refusing to even listen to another person’s POV.

Years ago, I had students who flat refused to read Darwin. They said their religion would forbid it. These kids were Christians, and they couldn’t read Darwin. And no, I don’t believe they were making it up. They were genuinely threatened by the very idea of reading Darwin. As my colleagues & family seem to be when I ask them to articulate the ‘why’ of their various positions.

I know. I need to let that go. I need to try hard to engage w/ compassion. It’s so hard that I have to just get away from all media for days on end. And in the meantime? I colour. I play w/ my grandson. I plan a garden I won’t be able to plant until next summer. And I hope I’m up to the task of compassionate engagement. Eventually…



In a month of giving thanks for everyday blessings, people sometimes assume that I’m not grateful for the big things: my home, my family. My material well-being. But the point to an entire month of giving thanks for ‘ordinary magic,’ is to remind each of us (me especially!) that in our lives, there is much that is wonderful. Even amazing.

Take cats, for instance. We have two. I say ‘we,’ but my beloved would tell you they’re mostly my cats. This morning, as I tried to snatch one more hour of sleep in the grey haze of dawn, little grey Sophie tried to snuggle where she did not touch big Siamese Hector. She doesn’t care much for him, although she tolerates him. After all, she was an almost elderly cat when he arrived, in all his sauntering masculinity (which persists despite neutering!). Now, at 14 1/2, she is more accepting, but not exactly…happy. Still, if they’re not actually touching, she can (usually) handle him.

Except for last night, when he brushed against her as she sat on the arm of my chair. Sophie reached out w/ a hiss, bared her tiny needle teeth, and chomped on his left haunch. I laughed; Hector was less amused…

So: here’s to cats, who amuse us, comfort us, provide countless hours of entertaining youtube shorts, and otherwise enchant. An everyday magic at our house, but one that never fails to captivate.

via creative commons

via creative commons

Today I’m grateful, in this month of 30 days to remember all we have to be thankful for, that I’m an aunt. Being an aunt is a gift someone else has to give you — no one gets to ‘pick’ it. And it’s nothing at all like being a sister, or a mother, or even a grandparent. Nope, it’s all its own thing.

I have several nieces & nephews — 3 nephews, 4 nieces. All with great big hearts. Each as different as their fingerprints. One is a film archivist; another is studying to a sommelier. Another is a microbiologist, another is biding his time to go back to graduate school. Still another is battling brain cancer, while the others are working jobs, traveling, affording me endless joy at no cost to myself. Who wouldn’t be grateful for all this??

Still, being an aunt also has taught me things, not simply presented me with an adulthood of love & friendship. I’ve learned to listen to what the young know that I have forgotten: so many things matter. And they matter NOW. I’ve learned new music (which I ADORE), new jokes (thank you, Donald!), new movies, new books, entire new thought processes!

My nieces & nephews have given me love I never felt I had to ‘earn.’ They’ve visited with me about lives as different from my own as tea & chocolate. Both great, but so different!

And again: who wouldn’t be thankful for all that??

So if you don’t have a ‘blood’ niece or nephew, I strongly recommend you find someone else’s, and glom on to them! I promise you it’s worth the effort.

thanksgiving background

During November, I try each day to focus on something I’m grateful for ~ something for which I give thanks. It differs daily, obviously, but it also differs from year to year. When my children have been ill, or needy, my gratitude has focused on how fortunate I am that they have no ‘real’ issues. Neither son struggles w/ the challenges that face so many Americans: addictions, bankruptcy, chronic pain or illness. Each is a wonderful person, making me grateful (& proud!) on a daily basis.

But today, I’m grateful for something very different. I’m grateful that I can say ‘no’ in my life. I’m grateful I have so many choices afforded in my precious human life, as the Dalai Lama calls it. I have had the choice to go to university, the choice to pursue graduate degrees. I’ve had the choice to drive or take the bus to work. I’ve had choices of what I do for work. I’ve had the choice to marry or not, unlike so many women in so many cultures. And the choice to have children or not, another choice not offered to all women.

In Alger, that lucent city by the sea, I remember telling my friend Saliha from across the hall: I don’t have children yet because I’m on birth control. She patted my arm sympathetically. I will not tell anyone you are barren, she said soothingly. No, I insisted; birth control. She sniffed, disbelieving: no man would allow that.

So today? I’m grateful for the many many choices I have discussed w/ my beloved, but that have, ultimately, been my own. I’m thankful for living today, this moment, and having the choice to vote ~ a choice I make with great humility & gratitude.

Most of all? I’m grateful for this precious, human, life. And like the Dalai Lama suggests, I try (HARD, and it often IS hard!) daily to make the ultimate choice: to be happy with it. Today. As it is. You might think about it ~ it’s a great gift!