Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Happy New Year! (and a clean slate to you ~)

I love clean slates. I love a morning which is unencumbered by the mistakes of yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. The idea that it all begins now, today, this very moment… It’s intoxicating.

Just the frame of it — today is clean ~ no baggage ~ the first day of this new year ~ makes watching the bluejay drinking from the bird bath, his head thrown back and the water visibly sliding down his creamy blue throat, a kind of miracle. The goldfinches who didn’t migrate, the hawk sitting in the pecan tree just beside the deck — each is a line in the poem of a new beginning.

Perhaps that’s the allure of an after-life, reincarnation, rebirth. The idea that somehow we can make it all right: iron out the crinkles of our lives, patch the torn places of the fragile paper on which we write our daily words and actions. One of the things I love about  Buddhism is the idea that we don’t ignore  our pain — we walk into it knowingly and live within it until it passes. And it works. In truth, everything passes.

I still write resolutions. Promises to the future, despite my love of the present. Today I’ll make a list in the new journal I have ready, setting aside the stuffed Moleskine of the past 5+ months. I’ll begin to collect new ephemera ~ new poems printed out from various sources, photos of family and friends, tickets to special events. I’ll paste in the weather for another trip, a cartoon, even a sprig of weed w/ perfect seed heads.

My resolutions are ephemera, often. Over the years I’ve learned to make fewer, trying harder to keep them. But like my three-inch-thick journal, they’re more reflective of the actual than the imagined :). My intentions are (always :)) good: I will draw more, do more drafts of work in my journal, make it more reflective of my ‘better’ self. But what I (always) seem to end up with is the daily  me ~ a quotidian calendar. Quick-writes in class with students, to-do lists, a quirky on-line horoscope printed for its totally inappropriate fortune. Continue Reading This Post »

Happy Kwanzaa!

It’s the 5th day of Kwanzaa, the day of purpose, if I’m not mistaken. I love the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Translated from Swahili — a language chosen for its wide-spread usage across eastern Africa — the principles coexist quite comfortably with Buddhism. Right speech, right action and

I find this true of most spiritual systems — they share far more than they differ. Christians and Muslims and Jews are all children of Abraham. Buddhism grows from the fertile foundation of Hinduism, and shares w/ the Abrahamic religions a commitment to compassion for the needy, the lost.

This year, as I ready for a new chapter (new work ~ what will it be? what will it bring?), I’m thinking of what we share, beginners all. A quest for truths, a love of goodness. A commitment to justice and peace? A hope for the future, certainly. And ss the year winds down, I wish for each of us  success in our quests, fulfillment in our efforts to live up to the principles of Kwanzaa, the Commandments of Moses, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

Not to mention a lovely New Year’s Eve, a Happy Kwanzaa, and a New Year brimming with love & laughter. :)

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. :)

 

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