Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a box full of belief ~

I believe in Santa. He laughs — he’s jolly and dresses in red and he brings presents and candy and joy. He brings presents to the deserving. Often, even when there seems no way for presents to arrive, Santa still comes through. Story after story in American lore tells of the deserving, for whom Santa found a way to give them their heart’s desire.

My nephew’s heart’s desire is Christmas for his three young children: his two-year-old son, and his four-year-old and six-year-old daughters. He has custody of them now — a long sad Oklahoma story. And the four of them live w/ his mother, my sister.

My nephew is a veteran, who at times made some not-so-great choices. But for the past many months, he’s been working hard to put his life — and the lives of three wonderful, smart, amazing children — back together. All of us in the extended family are trying to help, but the hard work falls mainly on him, and then my sister.

He’s gone back to school, enrolled in parenting classes, and is in counseling for his PTSD. Someone at either the parenting classes or his counseling at the VA suggested he sign up for Christmas assistance, since he’s using his VA benefits to finance a very meagre income. My nephew demurred, saying that his family was helping, and the 3 kids would have a decent Christmas.

The people at the centre said something we should all remember: it isn’t always about us. :) Sometimes, it’s about helping people see that what they do — the sacrifices he’s making, the hard work he’s putting in to his new life — is appreciated. And that others want  to help affirm that hard work.

Last night, as I pulled up to my sister’s brightly lit apartment (she does Christmas in a BIG way!), she asked me to come in. She wanted to show me their presents. Puzzled, I agreed.

Inside the small apartment living room were 70 (count them: 70) presents. A chest-high pile for daughter #1. A chest-high pile for daughter #2. A chest-high pile for my grand-nephew. And clothes for my nephew, as well as ‘house presents’: pots & pans, cleaning utensils for the place he’s trying to move into.

“Oh honey! This makes me tear up!” I said with a choke.

“I’m not ashamed,” he said — “I flat cried, myself.”

A company took my nephew and his three children to sponsor. And they bought gift after gift for him, his new household, the kids. Each one beautifully hand-wrapped, complete w/ bows and tags — left blank, so his children would not need to know he didn’t buy these himself. He could say Santa brought them, and the kids wouldn’t know.

But I know. And his mother knows. And he knows. And the people who bought a single-parent family with three small children SEVENTY GIFTS — each carefully wrapped and ribboned and tagged — know. And all of us are the better for that knowledge.

Merry Christmas.

another take on Happy Holidays ~

Esther ~ Chagall

Today I heard the only argument that could convince me there’s another side to the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas controversy. As you may know, I’ve come down on the side of Happy Holidays in earlier blogs, more than once.

But today one of the very few people who could convince me of anything spoke honestly, passionately and affectingly of Christmas parades, and the need for America to be an orchestra.

I was at the Tulsa Jewish Federation, making plans for a spring conference event we’re partnering on. Eva, who is not only a survivor of the Holocaust — the Sho’ah, she would say — but also one of the most wonderful people I know, countered my statement of my preference for the greeting ‘Happy Holidays’ when I don’t know the religious beliefs of the people I’m wishing well.

“Yes,” she said impatiently. “But this whole thing about the Christmas parade? It’s a parade. In December. It’s Christmas!” If, she continued, we want to have a parade about the wonderful American orchestra, as she calls it — w/ each different voice playing to increase the beauty of the entire group — then have it on the obvious day. July 4th. But in December, she said, raising her eyebrows…? It’s about Christmas.

“It only dilutes things, this political correctness,” she said. Sometimes we need it, she conceded. “But sometimes it just gets in the way, and messes things up.”

I hugged this amazing woman, who has dedicated her time, energy — her life — to faith and hope and an unfailing optimism in the capacity of the human heart. And left her as she went to yet another planning meeting. I walked next door to see the visiting Warhol & Chagall exhibit at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art.

There’s something about walking through the centuries-old silver religious vessels, the worn wood of a now-closed synagogue’s furnishings, the dark and vibrant and transformative art of Chagall that framed Eva’s comment. I’ve been thinking about it all day. And while I still think December is about more than Christmas, I don’t think I’ll ever say Happy Holidays w/out thinking of  Eva. And Chagall. And the silvery blue painting of Esther, another amazing Jewish woman who dedicated her life to her faith and her people. Or Ruth, whose story of great love has always been one of my favourites.

December is a month when many of celebrate our religious and spiritual roots. And whatever your chosen path is, I wish you the best of celebrations. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Hanukkah! Play your lyric piece in the wonderful American orchestra we share. And Merry Metaphors, for the poets among us. :)

 

‘happiness runs in a circular motion…’ ~

There are good things happening, and as the days continue to lengthen, moving inexorably to year-end, here are a couple that made me smile yesterday and today.

First? As I walked through the cutting wind to my classroom the other day, a young man was popping quarters into a meter on the street. “Good move,” I told him. “They boot cars here — I saw one just yesterday.”  He smiled and moved to the next meter, dropping a quarter into that one, as well.  Meter by meter, he topped off each one. By the 4th, I was grinning.

“That is so nice!” I told him.

“Yesterday I barely got the quarter in ahead of the person writing the ticket.” He grinned back. “But I did!” And he continued down the street, spreading holiday cheer quarter by quarter. He certainly made my day.

Then today I read that anonymous donors are paying off the KMart layaway balances of needy families. That’s great enough news — especially when you read that the donors are targeting families whose layaways are primarily children’s Christmas toys. But when you then find out that at least one of the recipients of the generous goodwill used part of the money she didn’t have to spend to pay yet another family’s layaway… You see why the idea of circles and ripples comes to mind :). (Moment of music, just because it’s happy, and has to do w/ the spread of happiness ~)

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Certainly I can tie this kind of selfless, anonymous generousity act to spiritual practice. But honestly? It’s the time of year when we let schedules, ‘ought to’ and ‘should have’ dominate our hours. When the list lengthens faster than we can check off what’s been accomplished.

So pour yourself some hot chocolate — maybe even splurge on marshmallows! Two! And relax. Take a breather — appropriate for Buddhists, especially. And smile at the goodwill of people around the country. Remember that there is more to life than hustle & bustle. Peace. And goodwill. They’re the best remedy I know. For darn near anything ~

 

‘All-American Muslim’ & religious (in)tolerance ~

So once again a so-called Christian family values group (the Florida Family Association) is attempting to use money to trump Constitutional rights. And tolerance…

FFA successfully urged home improvement big-box Lowe’s to pull its advertising from the TV show All-American Muslim. Calling the show ‘propoganda,’ FFA basically called all American Muslims a ‘clear & present danger’ to America.

I don’t get it. I grew up in a Christian household, and nowhere in the Bible (which we were expected to read in toto, just FYI) does Jesus say we’re supposed to propogate fear against our neighbours. In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan (in Luke, for those of you who haven’t read your Bible) pretty clearly states that neighbours help each other — even those framed by a legacy of hatred. Samaritans and Jews were not friendly in the time of Jesus. So for a Samaritan to be more honourable than even a priest is a big deal.

I fully accept every American’s right to vote w/ his or her pocketbook. But the co-opting of a religion based in love, a religion that gave us the Beatitudes (blessed are the peacemakers), seems so unfortunate. Especially at this time of celebration, when the Christian world is in Advent, anticipating the birthday of Jesus.

Just how can Americans — who happen to be Muslim — be considered ‘a clear & present danger’ simply by virtue of their faith? What is so scary about these other children of Abraham?

I know I’m only a beginner at this whole ‘love your neighbour’ thing, but this kind of behaviour strikes me as… well, not very loving. And very sad, as well ~

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