Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Slytherin, Parseltongue and integrity ~

A couple in Idaho know more than anyone other than a crazed herpetologist should have to know about garter snakes. For three months, they apparently lived dead centre, on top, of a hibernaculum, where snakes hibernate in thousands during winter.

These were only garter snakes, sure. But THOUSANDS??? You can read the horror story here. Even garter snakes in the thousands are pretty creepy. Garter snakes coming out of crevices, garter snakes in the wall, garter snakes flavouring the water?

The point? Someone knowingly sold Ben & Amber Sessions this house. And yes, they signed a waiver. But who can even conceive of snakes in these numbers? In your house? Not to mention that, according to the sessions, they were told the whole story was a fabrication (I believe that, by the way — I can’t imagine being asked to sign a snake waiver…)

What kind of person could sell someone else a house filled with snakes? So many that the Sessions preferred bankruptcy to the ‘Satan’s lair’ Amber Sessions said their house had become.

I know we need money to live. But we live with ourselves. And seriously? I don’t know how I could sleep at night thinking I’d put someone in that situation. Even if they did sign a waiver.


a rose is not a rose is not a rose… or, now what kind of beads are those?

Sometimes a rose is not a rose. Or at least a nun is not a nun… At least not when she’s a Buddhist nun. And the beads she’s selling are prayer beads. In that case, she’s an unlicensed vendor. At least on Canal Street.

If you go to the news story that follows the sad story of  Baojing Li, who was arrested for selling Buddhist prayer beads, you will see a Buddhist nun in traditional robes. Ms. Li doesn’t look like a Catholic nun, to be sure, but she also doesn’t look like a criminal.

The real problem with this whole mess is not that even in sophisticated New York City we don’t recognize the dress of other religions. It’s not that we value laws and their application more than people and their feelings. Or understanding…Buddhist nun Baojing Lin

It’s that the police didn’t get Baojing Li a translator. It’s that the police

didn’t listen to the bystander who tried to explain what was happening. Didn’t bother to understand…It’s the dispassionate cruelty (yep — that’s the word I used) of these representatives of law & order.

Please remember, as you read the story, the history of Tibetan Buddhists with the forces of law in Tibet. Who are Chinese, and not particularly fond of Tibetan Buddhists. (The Dalai Lama is persona non grata in China.) I can’t imagine the terror Ms. Lin must have felt, uncomprehending, grabbed by uniformed police, handcuffed and taken in a police car to the station. Where she was kept ‘for hours’ w/out a translator, still not knowing what was going on.

Mother Teresa

Now, translate this situation: a middle-aged Christian nun, in a country where she doesn’t speak the language. Selling rosaries on a corner, trying to raise money for her church. Imagine her feelings when she is handcuffed and taken off in a police car. Held for hours w/out being told why.

No one should treat anyone like this. A passerby tried to intervene, the article says. And Ms. Lin had a shaved head and Buddhist robes. A religious garb that isn’t exactly unknown in the global city of New York.

Why were the police so unkind? While this kind of ignorant adherence to the letter of the law is not new (although we sometimes worry it is), I wonder if it’s not exacerbated by the hectic lives we lead. Did the police officers (who aren’t evil trolls, despite their actions :)) just Buddhist malanot want to bother w/ the bureaucracy (perhaps considerable) of getting an ‘official’ translator? Why didn’t they listen to the bystander who tried to explain the situation? What ‘threat’ could a middle-aged woman w/ prayer beads really pose?

This is another of those situations my beginner’s heart doesn’t get. Today a woman let me out of the parking garage w/out paying the charge, because I told her the hotel neglected to tell me I need a ‘permission slip.’ She was just nice. And generous. She made my day. So I know there are people like that around.

I’m very sorry they weren’t there to help Baojing Lin.

‘the rucksack of my æsthetic’ (whatever that is…)

This was my father’s rucksack in WWII. It was found in a barn a couple of years ago, in France. I have no idea how it got there, other than Daddy fought in France. Nor what was in it when it was discovered. If anything ~

When we were notified it had come to light, my sister (the one who was a lifer in the Army, like Daddy) okayed having it put in a nearby museum, if the museum wanted it. Which is wonderful — I’m a keen museum lover :).

But I wonder what it contained. Had Daddy scribbled some note on a scrap of paper, as he often did? Was there a dog-eared book of Kipling’s poetry (his favourite, because Kipling knew about battle)? Or some other treasure of no value to anyone but his four daughters…?

Rucksacks are such useful things. In a recent reading, the wonderful poet Carolyn Forché said that the small, daily — even hourly — choices we make are what really shape and form us. The rucksack of your æsthetic, she called these choices. As if my ideas of beauty, of art, of what is lovely and necessary, are not formed in any large moment or epiphany, but instead in the thousand things I decide to do — or not do — daily. Forché was responding to a question about what and who to read, and how to learn to write, but her statement rang a loud bell for me. Yes, I thought — everything counts.

In other words, missing the last plane to Saudi Arabia before the Gulf War is no more important than my ongoing decisions to stay home w/ my two sons while we lived those 8 years in Saudi Arabia. The day after day time with them, w/ my husband, learning to cook and make tea and working on writing: these were every bit as formative.

And as much as post-graduate work, Forché argues, my choices in what I read daily comprise who we become. My æsthetic is not only the Pound I read in classes, but the Goudge I read overseas, the Persig I taught in class, the British cookbook I pore over at breakfast.

I love this. It dovetails nicely w/ my Buddhist sensibility :). That lovely word ‘practice’ is part of what drew me in to Buddhism in the beginning. The idea that you don’t have to be perfect — you can learn beginner’s heart through practice. Through writing a blog. Through the hourly choices of a hundred hundred days. Through wondering what your father carried in his own rucksack. And what that might have said about his æsthetic…


Warning: poetry follows ~

Sometimes when bad news comes, all that helps is writing poetry. Even the stronger, most eloquent poetry of others isn’t enough. That upwelling has to be voiced, and poetry is all that helps. This was one of those weeks: a dear friend w/ Lou Gehrig’s disease. Another whose partner has only a very little time left… The only way to cope is to write it out…

Sisters Fate ~

There are three of them.

Blind women who hold within arthritic hands

our futures. Skeins of vivid silk — your life,

my life, the lovers of friends –

spill through gnarled fingers

Catching    tearing    snarling.

Clotho the spinner of birth

who looks perhaps like weavers do

her thumb wide and flat from twisting thread.

Lachesis, the middle sister, measures.

She holds the short length that will be

your life, my loss, the grief

that will entangle me

for Atropos, the eldest sister.

Her eyes are grey stones

She reaches into deep pockets

for silver blades.

Sharper than loss, darker than memory,

they snip.

snick snick snick

Deaf and blind, these three puppeteers

spin and measure         sever

the threads that tie your life to mine

and you float free of need

desire      language

all that tethered you to this day, your life

my hands. I reach for you, your shadow.

The sun sets and you fade into the night.

The sisters are still.


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