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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the blame game, compromise, and windows

blame gameYesterday I overdosed on politics. I read blog after article after news piece after FB post. Ugh. I was left more than slightly nauseous, and wondering how American politics came to such an ugly place.

Of course I have my own interpretation of what’s going on, but what saddens me is that politics now seems to be far more about pseudo-religious principles than representation of the American people as a whole. I’m a firm believer in separation of church & state. As a long-time resident overseas — where religious law was the main law — and as a woman in a male-dominated world, I’m pretty sensitive to having other folks put their religious beliefs on me. And what seems pretty sad is that most Americans would NOT want someone else’s religious principles used as whips on them.

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More wars have been committed in the name of religion — even if greed was the real focus — than in the name of any other ‘principle.’ For something that’s supposed to bring peace on earth, religion is fraught with.. well, violence. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years Wars, Lebanese Civil War, Israel vs Palestine…the list is long.

peace on earth parade balloon

Tulsa Parade of Lights

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Plus, it’s hard to get people to talk rationally about their spiritual beliefs. Folks don’t want to ‘compromise’ on religion. An example: In Tulsa, we had a Christmas Parade for years. Then a couple of years ago, the word Christmas was dropped, in an effort to include other religions as well. A large number of Christians were upset, and split off to hold their own parade.

This year, efforts on behalf of including Christmas in the title were successful, and it was renamed the Tulsa Downtown Parade of Lights: a celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough. The original splinter group apparently wanted only the word Christmas included, and no inclusion of other religions or winter holidays. In other words, like many groups these days, ‘compromise’ really meant ‘my way or the highway.’ So they did just that, this splinter group: moved their parade down the highway.

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An aside: Tulsa has a very active Jewish population, as well as large Muslim & Hindu groups. Not to mention your Buddhists, like yours truly. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get together as Tulsa neighbours and celebrate our similarities, especially the children of Abraham? And please: don’t tell me that Christianity is marginalised. It’s the dominant religion of the country, folks. Try saying you’ve converted to Islam, as a friend of my son has. THAT will get you marginalised.

windowHere’s what I wish for us, as a friend with four children wonders how she will feed them, since WIC is closing during the government shutdown. Here’s what I hope for, as elderly widows on food stamps wonder how they will eat, and parents  at Tinker are furloughed without pay. I hope and wish that somehow we can return to seeing each other as fellow travelers, wanting only the best (including health care!) for each other. Not antagonists who must somehow win in what should never have been a fight, but cordial colleagues who may well disagree. My sister is a Christian. I’m not. But I can respect her devotion, and love her for it. Why must difference be a wall? Why can’t it be a window, looking somewhere unfamiliar, but beautiful?

As the old song says, Why can’t we be friends? (Even if you’re in the CIA… :))

 

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accents, stereotypes, and get over it

y'allAt my niece’s wedding this past weekend, we all lapsed into Okie-speak: y’all, huh?, yep, et al. We were all family, and no one was judging us.

Which isn’t the case lots of times. Saying just y’all in a meeting will — I guarantee you — garner more  raised eyebrows than a profanity. For some folks, apparently, y’all is like wearing a sign on your back that says “I’m stupid!” Or so I gather from my own experience, which friends assure me is NOT isolated.

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I shared this in the weekly writing workshop I lead, and each of us had our own anecdote (and more than one!) about being dismissed as ‘dumb Okies.’ Since there are several multiply degreed writers in any of my workshops, I find this telling.

A few years ago, I had a brilliant student from down around Durant, OK (Okies know to pronounce it DOO-rant). K spoke w/ the ubiquitous southwestern Okie accent — we all know it (and yep — WE can tease each other about it; WE aren’t outsiders). You know, like Boomhauer on King of the Hill?

K’s papers were exemplars of elegant logic — well-researched & well-written. When I told him how much I appreciated his keen mind, he hemmed & hawed, flustered. And then shared: Most folks thank Ah’m an idjit cuz of muh aksent.

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I was furious. Not at K, obviously, but at a culture — a world — that teaches a young man to internalise bad appraisals of his worth because of where  he learns to speak?? GET OVER IT!

Instead of fuming, I told K what I offer to all of us: I may speak with an accent, but I don’t think with one. NOT that it would matter to me if we did!

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Oklahoma breaking bad

tragedy maskI have no idea what to put as an image for this post. It’s a subject very difficult to ‘picture,’ as the search for images only reveals the profound decay of users — ‘before’ & ‘after’ pictures that somehow seem more tragic than enlightening.

Methamphetamine usage is big business in Oklahoma: Tulsa County has the most labs of any county in the country, according to a CNN article. Meth manufacture has replaced dog fighting and cock fighting as one of the state’s big moneymakers for the rural (and urban) poor. That’s why I can’t watch Breaking Bad: I’ve known too many cases similar in too many respects.

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The lovely student whose father began meth use — once considered only a minor deal — as trucker driving trans-continental. The children my sons knew in elementary school: some dead, some in prison, all shattered lives. The young mother left alone with 3 children — father a confirmed meth addict & dealer.

The problem is not laws, despite what many say. Cutting back legitimate access to the various elements used to construct meth (like Sudafed) only penalises the allergy-prone (my husband, for instance). Instead, we need the only thing that seems in short supply these days, politically speaking: compassion & rehab.image

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Under Richard Nixon (of all people!), drug rehab became the… treatment of choice (yup, I really did that) for drug offenders. And surprise! Drug use went DOWN! One of the very few times it has. Because face it: NO ONE wakes up as a child and says – I want to grow up to be a drug addict and dealer! It’s always circumstances (and there are many) that conspire.

One of the most critical circumstances is poverty. Oklahoma consistently places in the bottom 10 of states for median income — the bell curve hump. Last year we ranked41st nationally. Perhaps if we had work for the many urban & rural poor in our state, there would be fewer who turned to the quick fix of drug dealing…?

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Certainly drug use is a choice, initially. But methamphetamines are tricky devils: they will addict you verrry quickly. And they’re pretty cheap. So before you know it, if you’re not well-up on their horrific effects, you too can be a meth addict.

heartbreakAnd that’s why ‘Breaking Bad’ is nothing I will ever watch. Yes, I realise that it might help people ‘understand’ meth use. But it also glorifies much of drug/ outlaw ‘culture.’ At any rate? I can’t bear to think of the thousands of Oklahoma lives wasted (which I do whenever I even think of the show).  It cracks big fissures in my beginner’s heart.

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someone else’s road

Dalai Lama on happinessI need to remember this. It’s easy to forget, as we move from middle age into elder-ing. That’s my term for what seems to be happening these past couple of years: nieces, nephews, former students, younger colleagues & friends — sometimes even sons! — asking for advice. Seeking input on life choices.

I’m very lucky to have a wonderful extended family. This past weekend was the wedding of one of my nieces, the one who lived w/ us for awhile. So family was in from all over, and we spent a wonderful weekend talking and then talking more. All over good food, accompanied by great music. Even the rain couldn’t dampen the good times!

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But what I found was that it’s sometimes hard to articulate the difference (really to EVINCE the difference) between non-attachment and DEtachment. Of course I care what my colleagues, friends, & family do. But I’m trying (and it’s not always easy!) to remember that people have their own paths through their own lives. And their lives are not mine, in any way.

Sometimes all someone you love needs is an ear, and a hug. Not advice at all — just love. Beginner’s heart.

So I’m remembering that lovely line from a poem by the inimitable Tolkien: not all who wander are lost. And working at taking it deeply to heart ~

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