Beginner's Heart


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!

friendshipRecently I pruned my FB. I unfollowed several political sites, exhausted by the hatred on both sides. We (liberals) used to be better than this, as my younger son reminds me. We’re often called ‘wishy-washy,’ but I don’t buy that. It used to be that we tried — most of us tried hard — to listen to all sides. And there are always more than two.

As a young woman, my father took me with him to various political rallies & fund raisers. He was a life-long old-fashioned Democrat, although he voted for Nixon over McGovern. My father, veteran of several wars, was no pacifist. Nor was he a ‘warmonger,’ however: he was all too well aware of the sacrifices our military veterans have offered up. Their lives, in many cases. Their health — physical, mental, spiritual. Sometimes their marriages & families, in the wake of trauma too brutal to bear w/out damage.

Today? One candidate has mocked the disabled, also ‘teasing’ about how veterans w/ traumatic brain injury, or PTSD, are ‘weak.’ Let me make myself verrry clear: you don’t tease about things like this. It’s (at the very least) RUDE in all caps. And worse? It cheapens loss. Loss so great (a son or daughter?? a limb or TWO?) I flinch to even imagine it.

The same candidate (not mine; surprised?) also has said horrible, predatory, unforgivable things about women. Even implying things about his own daughter. And across America — even in my own family — respond it’s only words. 

Let me make another thing clear: words are my JOB. They also are my passion, my joy, and my salvation. Words are what we have, folks. They’re what we use to get out of our own lonely worlds & see the other worlds around us. But they’re also weapons — vicious, deadly weapons. They create racism, rape culture, foment hatred & feed the fires of fear. Words are never ‘just’ about speaking ~ they’re about convincing, persuading, arguing, & sometimes killing.


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So: w/ all the vitriol ~ just words ~ spewed over this election’s looooong process, how will we ever be friends again? I have cousins who’ve deleted posts that don’t jibe w/ their political beliefs. Cousins who honestly believe my candidate is the anti-Christ (a direct quote). Family who believe that the very fate of their religious future hangs on this election. Me? I don’t follow spiritual traditions that make it okay to beat children w/ straps, or say it’s okay to brutalise my black & brown friends in the name of ‘the law.’ I don’t think it’s okay to deny women the rights of their own bodies. I also don’t believe that a faith built on mind poisons is acceptable.

But I recognise that each of us believes in our own gods & spiritual traditions. Yours may be just words to me, but to you? They’re law.

Here’s the problem: there are millions of Americans who believe that hate is acceptable. And it’s hard not to succumb to hating the haters. I work daily against this — hate is the biggest of mind poisons, brought on by all three of the main ones: ignorance, greed, and anger. To give in is to lose what’s most precious about America, as well (not only Buddhism) — freedom of belief, & the ability to talk to each other about our differences.

It’s not happening these days, however. I’m wondering if it ever will again. And how to find the words to make it possible. Any ideas?

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