When’s the last time you gave yourself a present? Not something you ‘need,’ or even something you lust for (like a new pair of shoes, or a fountain pen, or…). Just a small treat. Not even edible, necesarily.
This holiday, we bought my nephew a tea he likes, courtesy of his sister’s suggestion. I bought an ounce for myself, just to try it. I figure if Donald likes it, I might too.
Today I fired up the kettle and made a mug. Poured in some milk, added a lump of Demerara, and voilà! White ayurvedic chai!
This isn’t something I normally would ever have bought for myself. I’m beginning to be one of ‘those people': you know, the ones who only buy from folks they usually buy from? So I probably wouldn’t even have gone in to this pricey tea store. I just don’t go to the mall that often.
But because of Donald, and his present, I received a small present too! And that’s my point: so much of what we do really does come back to us. Not necessarily in big ways: nothing earth-shaking is going to come of our buying tea for Donald. Just this moment, full of tea and thoughts of family, as snow sloooowly melts off the grass outside the window.
This moment…it’s enough.
I’m drinking what America should BE right now (bear with me: it’s metaphor time). Coffee from Africa, rich & fragrant. Chocolate from South America. Cinnamon from Saigon, cayenne pepper from who knows where, and milk from an organic farm coop of many American states. In a bee mug (from my BFF!). With a silver spoon from my mother’s pattern.
Well, maybe the silver spoon is a bit much.
But the coffee/chocolate/pepper/ cream & cinnamon blend is great. And if cuisine may serve as a metaphor (and of course it can!), each flavour is distinct. None trumps the other, and each contribute to a far more pleasing whole than any single element. Kind of like the ideal America.
Now I realise: not everyone likes coffee. Or cinnamon. Or even chocolate (crazy, but true). So this isn’t a metaphor that will work for everyone. (And truth be told? My husband insists my metaphors almost never work for him…) But it works for me.
Because I am heartily sick of people who believe that someone else being accepted into the social contract somehow diminishes their own rights. If my niece has the legal right to marry her girlfriend, that in no way impinges on your religion, or your own rights. Au contraire.
YOU insisting my niece may NOT marry her beloved, because it goes against YOUR religion, impinges on MY rights. To practice my own religion, which is based in love NOT simply “for sinners, not sin.” I don’t believe — nor do my spiritual teachers — that same sex marriage is sinful. Or that gays are sinners. So putting a law into effect that prohibits my niece (and many dear friends) from marrying squelches my religious rights. Truth.
And bashing on Muslims also goes against my religious beliefs, just FYI, which are deeply grounded in acceptance of ALL people’s faiths. Even faiths that practice hateful behaviours. Even having no faith at ALL. As long as those hateful behaviours or lack of beliefs don’t damage anyone else.
Anti-gay Christians have the rights to their own fears & beliefs. They do NOT have the right to put those in to law, when it contradicts the religious rights of the rest of us. And the civil rights of gay or black or brown or ‘other’ Americans.
I don’t hear this argument very often, but it’s a critically important one for me. I grew up in a military family. Many of my family fought for this country. Some suffered great trauma: grievous wounds, PTSD, other injuries visible and not. We just inducted my father into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame two months ago. And I’m here to tell you: my father was not homophobic. He had his flaws, but that wasn’t one of them. It’s their own business, I can hear Daddy saying, with a shrug.
I also wonder why, when you Google ‘multiculturalism images’ there aren’t any images that include acceptance of gender. Not even in the Wordles… What’s up with that? I’m not saying pander to stereotypes, but surely, in a creative America, there could be some way to include not only religions & races, but gender & sexual identity?
So as I sip my incredibly yummy multicultural mocha, I’m just putting this out there: what if the lip service we pay to America being a land of opportunity and freedom for all were TRUE? What if we just let folks do their own thing, as long as it didn’t hurt anyone else? What if we all tried to just get along? It might end up being as wonderful as chocolate and coffee and cinnamon and cream… Oh wow!
I’m reading an old issue of American Poet. They tend to pile up, kind of like my New Yorker issues. Things that come frequently, or have intellectual density, often get lost under doing dishes, exercise, feeding birds. The necessary acts of daily life.
But the poem I just finished — Gary Snyder’s ‘Axe Handles‘ — reminds me that William Carlos Williams was right: It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.
If I go too long without poetry, it’s not as critical as water. It’s somewhere up there with…vitamins. Sunlight. Sitting outside. Not truly life-or-death, but pretty damn important. Because what I learn is ALWAYS useful — not simply ‘pretty,’ or even ‘literary.’ But useful like food, sunlight, vitamins.
Take ‘Axe Handles.’
Lately I’ve been feeling stiff. Arthritic, for sure, but stiff in other ways, as well. Like my intellectual, emotional, & physical ‘muscles’ are almost rusted tight. I can’t think like I could. And for someone with Alzheimer’s rampant in her family, that’s a bit…unnerving, to say the least.
The recumbent bike is twice as hard as it ought to be. I’m cranky. And I often feel…well, unnecessary. In the way that American culture is so very good at making the aging feel.
Snyder reminds me I am more than a discarded axe handle. I am capable of being a pattern, a model. Of still being useful. Of teaching. Of being what the next axe handle comes from.
How could I forget that? I’ve been a teacher for years! And even when I was a journalist before that, what is the role of news but to inform? To make it possible for us to learn from others?
I’m just the next dot in a line of dots — my mother & father, my grandmothers, my great-aunts, my mentors & the poets I love and the artists in various media who’ve touched me & shaped my life… The teachers I had, the writers who have laid themselves down as bridges over very troubled waters. Who knows what the ultimate pattern is?
Of course I’m at least partially in love with this poem because it includes my beloved Pound, and his Chinese translations. Plus it’s Snyder, whom I adore & revere. Once, at a reading the poet W.S. Merwin gave, he mentioned sitting with Pound at St. Elizabeth’s. I did much of my doctoral work on Pound, and suddenly there I was: connected to this flawed icon, whose work is still so influential to poets, by the man in front of me. One more (very minor!) dot in the line. Pound, Merwin, then each of us in that room who came to learn about our craft.
You need to read the poem yourself (I HATE the kind of teacher who is certain that s/he has the only ‘key’ to a piece of writing). But if you, like me, are feeling blue after the holidays, and a bit superfluous to those around you? It’s just the news you need.
I loved it when the word poseur was popular — it seemed to capture the whole ‘I can talk the talk’ attitude of so many folks. Who never seemed to have any real credibility, when it came to actions. Couldn’t — in other words — walk the true walk.
That’s true in many areas, of course. Especially when we discuss ethics, religion, faith, any moral arena.
I ran across a quote by Adlai Stevenson II, the wonderful defender of liberal values during the 50s & 60s: It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them. And ain’t it just?
As a Buddhist, I know I’m supposed to learn my own mind. Meditate. Practice. Be mindful. Know the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I do try, honest! But meditation is sooo boring (sorry — it doesn’t make me happy to do it, only to have done it), and I forget and swear when I’m irritated, and sometimes I do NOT have either right mindfulness OR right concentration. Or any OTHER kind of concentration!
There. I’m now officially drummed out of the good Buddhists club.
But here’s the deal: it’s hard because I’m trying not to just talk about it. I’m trying to be civil to the family member who prayed for Obama’s death. Pleasant to another who believes children should be hit with switches and other tools. And hardest all, forgiving of my own idiocies, on a daily basis.
Because if we can’t be kind to ourselves, whom we know so very well, how on earth will we ever find the way to be kind to the rest of this flawed human race?
If you’re trying to form resolutions for this year, still, here’s mine: be kinder. More forgiving. Laugh more and lecture less. Try to lighten up, on myself as well as others. Treat yourself like you were a good friend. It will keep you from the self-hate talk we’re all sometimes guilty of.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a very good beginning. You may even find you can be more pleasant to the uncle you can’t stand!