Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

living in the web ~

My younger son called me today, asking if I would be in the Northwest early May. The Dalai Lama is speaking in Portland, he told me. On environmentalism and interfaith.I was thoroughly crushed to have to tell him no, I’d be here in the Midwest instead… But I was also touched that he knew I’d want to hear this important talk.

Before I am anything else, I am an environmentalist. Without the world around us — healthy & whole — we have pretty much zip. Each of us is, ultimately, an animal dependent on food, water, air to breathe. Shelter from the storm.

Currently, there’s a FB conversation going around that looks at the CEO and original owner of Whole Foods. The man is not the nicest person, let me say. And I disagree with his politics. But I know about them, and unlike other places where I disagree with the politics of owners and/or chains, I still shop at Whole Foods. Why?

Let me tell you a story (don’t you love stories?) ~ It’s about the first Earth Day, back in 1970. I was still in school, but I remember. It was about protecting the Earth, and I was a true believer from pretty early on. Only a couple of years later, I belonged to a food co-op, working my hours for cheaper prices for the organic produce & grains & other things I bought. I was a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t have a large footprint. (Don’t get me started about the cabbage soup even the  dog wouldn’t eat…)

I read recently that we change far more radically between 20 & each subsequent decade than we think. On some things — the ones I knew little about, like children! — I’m sure that’s true. But on things like the environment? I’ve revised some: I’m not a vegetarian anymore,  and I belong to a CSA instead of a food co-op.  But I haven’t abandoned my basic beliefs. I still believe the Earth is sacred, a trust we hold for our children, their children, the children who come after us all. I still believe that if don’t hold it as a top priority, we are failing our beliefs.

Like the Internet connects through HTML nodes, the living web connects us. Buddhist leaders of meditation will ask you: who is this ‘you’? Where do ‘you’ begin & ‘I’ leave off? Science says atoms can go hopping about. And certainly I can smell my dog when he’s close (even after a bath…just sayin’). So his scent — tiny  molecules of him? — is in the air I breathe. Which is, for me, why the breath is sacred: it holds the memory of all of us. Of everything. Since the time that there was something instead of nothing…

Pretty heavy, I realise. So back to Whole Foods. If we don’t care about what we eat, how we raise it, the impact of our individual life choices on the greater world around us, what do we care about? Especially the Buddhists among us…? Because in my world view, to be a Buddhist is to be a kind of spiritual environmentalist. It’s to look at how each of our choices ripples through the world, how it bleeds like ink in water into all the other lives.

Take quinoa. It turns out that vegans have to bear some responsibility for their choices, just like carnivores do. A recent article notes that Andean farmers can no longer afford the indigenous grain, an indispensable part of their (previously healthy) diet. Instead? They’re eating junk food, which is substantially cheaper. And working for corporations that exploit them, sometimes grievously. And despite what PETA says, it seems worse to me to see children living sub-poverty lives than it does to see humanely raised animals eaten. Hence the whole ‘not a vegetarian anymore.’

But I have no problems if you are a vegetarian. I only ask that we think about our choices. Take them seriously. Map the expanded landscapes of our lives. Because everything — every choice from what we eat to what we drive to how we carry our water — has impact. And nudges into the ‘you-ness’ of others…

 

 

friendship, funerals, & the bus people ~

Today is my friend Carol’s memorial service. It will be held in the chapel where I was married, on the campus where Carol, her husband , and most of my family — including my husband & I — went to college. Somehow, that comforts me a bit.

Because our lives didn’t really overlap much, mine &  Carol’s. We met on the bus, commuting back & forth to our work lives, more than an hour’s bus trip from home. My friends & family know her, still, as ‘Bus Carol,’ to distinguish her from Boss Carol & Aunt Carol.

For years, Carol & I sat next to each other on the bus, trading the stories women weave their friendships from: bright & dark threads alike, a few glittering ones of great beauty every now & then. The story of her older sister’s death, the story of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. The happy adoption of her niece & nephew,  the marriage of my elder son. Carol’s older brother lives in Portland, where my two sons live; she knew where the wedding venue was, down in the Pearl.

From these bits & pieces of our lives we spun the web that connected us, our families. Once my husband & I ran into Carol & her husband at a restaurant we both frequented. But it was the only time we saw them there. Our lives were like that: connected, really, by the bus trip. Twice a day. Six times a week, for years. Sitting next to each other. Weaving…

The bus people are their own family. We grew close to each other, the regulars, sitting at the front, teasing Jerry the driver. But Carol was more than one of the bus people to me.It was Carol who talked me in to bringing my new puppy on the bus. It was Carol who held him. It was Carol who brought me goofy erasers for my pencils, and a basket of books when I had an operation.

When her voice turned raspy, we thought it was asthma. That was the first diagnosis she received. I told her of my husband, of my son, both managing their asthma. She was fluent in medical, from her research as a professional dietician, and knew asthma wasn’t a death sentence. It wasn’t long, however, before another, far more frightening diagnosis came: ALS. Lou Gehrig’s disease. We had one more semester, together on the bus.

The Buddhist in me knows that life is impermanence. I’ve done the contemplation on death — more than once. And I have lost people I love: both my parents, the elders of my life. But to lose a peer, a beloved friend, is very hard. Carol was younger than I am, and that seems so unjust. She was smart, talented, so very funny & dear. Her family has been riven by tragedy so many other times, that her death seems even more undeserved. Not that death is rational. But this one? It strikes at something deep within me.

Whatever there is after death, it doesn’t let me see my dear friend, or hear her, or trade jokes and stories with her. It isn’t a veil I can lift to carry out the many plans we thought we had time for: a trip to Guthrie to see a beekeeper, lunch together in Portland, tea. The only tea we shared was just after she heard her diagnosis. It was not a happy afternoon. I held her hands and listened.

I would listen gladly now. I wouldn’t interrupt. I would hug you and hold your hands and be grateful for just one more bus trip. Together.

grieving for Carol ~

Once again I am wishing I believed in an afterlife where I would reconnect with people who leave me too soon. Leave irredeemably. Permanently. That hard word forever. But I don’t.

Once again I wish I had had more time. More jokes. More stories shared. More of her. But I didn’t.

And once again, I am breathing. Breathing in for her husband, who was there with her to the end. Breathing out for her sister, who is the only one of 3 sisters left, now. Breathing in for her many friends, each of whom has lost someone rare & precious. Breathing one breath at a time, wishing words could save me.

Death is the ultimate rejection, I remember hearing once. I never see it like that. Too many moves as a child leave me looking, still, to see if I might bump into a familiar face. If someone is really just gone for a bit. Just around the corner, up ahead.Some fragment of my childhood clings to me still, and the sense of maybe? still hangs around.

But she isn’t coming back, the adult in me knows. And she had a very short, hard final year. I should be happy she isn’t suffering. Only a bit more than a year ago — not two — she was fine. Just a rasp in her voice. But as of last night? The voice that was stilled far too early by ALS is gone completely now. And I’m sitting here. Breathing. Remembering, once again, that grief has no logic…

time — that queen of bees — flies ~

If time were a bee, she would be the queen these days. At least for me. These days, she is slower than the frenzy of summer bees, storing up for winter. She is less hectic than early spring bees, tending the new hivelings.

And she’s altogether okay with just hanging out, eating honey. Time is done w/ the royal jelly thing now that she’s queen — that was then. Now? It’s all relative, this time thing.

There’s something incredibly freeing about retirement. Paradoxically, you don’t have to be a grown-up, now that you’re an elder. All those years when I worried I shouldn’t wear jeans? I wear them daily. The times I wore high heels (but not for decades…)? The briefcases and portfolios? Not any more! All that’s behind me.

I don’t have to get up early. Or go to bed so I can. I don’t have to blow-dry my hair, or match my socks! It’s great!

Now, like the queen, I can eat honey. I don’t anticipate any workers materialising, but that’s okay. What would I use them for? It’s enough to practice drawing birds at the breakfast table, having time for the epiphany of seeing the triangle shape in a mourning dove’s head-on gaze. I’m perfectly satisfied singing goofy songs to my dogs…So I’m not bringing in $$. So what? I’m certainly bringing in happy. :)

The other day, for instance, I was able to take off for a late lunch w/ my sister, sharing our plates w/ her runny-nosed three-year-old grandson. And having great fun while doing it. Another day, three of us had a conference call for a sister’s big birthday. And tomorrow? Who knows! That’s half the fun ~ I have no idea what might come.

There’s enough time I can squander it: sit on the deck in the late afternoon sun, make dinner instead of taking the Christmas tree down on time. I can read — both pieces of ‘literary merit’ and sheer schlock. (I happen to like schlock, just FYI.)

But it isn’t really ‘wasting’ time. What I find is that because I have this priceless commodity, I have the time to take time. Take time to listen to my grand-nephew tell his grandmother, in his inimitable 3-year-old dialect, that ‘you ahn‘t pwetty; you both aw gawjus.’

I can take time to do some things for free, like writing an article for a local social justice group. Or send out holiday cards this year.

Is any of this earth-shattering? Of course not. But it reminds me that each moment is priceless. And sometimes, it takes to understand that ~

 

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