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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

after Christmas (time, research, and priorities)

the author's

the author’s

In the aftermath of Christmas, I have time to appreciate. The hectic nature of a blended family Christmas —  two family dinners, juggling move-ins & move-outs, coordinating presents for the shared grandson,  not to mention travel & the ubiquitous winter viruses — means that Christmas is almost a blur.  Certainly there are moments my grandson climbing into a bag to reach for a present, but for the most part I have to work consciously (& conscientiously!) to take it all in. To process.

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Today, however, I had time to enjoy the pies I made yesterday. Time to watch my grandson build ‘green bobots’ to whack w/ his light sabre. Time to sleep in, even! And best of all, time w/ just him, as my DIL spent time w/ her family, and my sons went to a movie w/ my beloved.

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via businessinsider.com

So my grandson & I read a book. At least we started out reading a book. But very quickly Trin had questions about eggs, and whether only chickens came from eggs (his contention). Since one of his favourite lullabies is ‘Mockingbird,’ we got out the trusty iPad and looked up mockingbirds. We identified mommy mockingbirds, daddy mockingbirds (notable for their fierce sharp claws, to fend off ‘bad birds’ from the baby mockingbirds), fledglings, eggs, & a nest. Then on to crows.

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Crows fascinate Trin. They’re quite common in his neighbourhood, and I often call back to them as they fly over, talking among themselves. I adore them, and we spent almost an hour cruising the ‘net, looking up bird facts. Yesterday this would have been impossible.

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via google

But today? The sands of time ran a bit more slowly, thankfully. And I’m coming to realise more & more that time lies at the tangled heart-knot of most dilemmas.  There isn’t ‘time to listen,’ I hear. Or ‘time to discuss all this.’ Or ‘time to research the issues.’ Because we don’t make it. Or take it.

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Time isn’t something in nearly as short supply as we pretend, a fact that eluded me while I was working. And yes: I understand that it seems facile for me to say I’ve shifted priorities when in fact I actually have more time. But my priorities have shifted. Whereas before I felt I had to devote my out-of-work time to becoming a better worker, now my time is spent trying to become a better person. They aren’t necessarily interchangeable, although they often overlap.

These days, I am gentler with myself, recognizing that if I can’t forgive myself I’m not going to do very well forgiving folks I don’t like nearly as well. 😉

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I also volunteer several hours a week — working in the arts & humanities, areas I  am profoundly committed to. I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to, but I have spent a great deal more time w/ family, my number one priority. And of course there have been the usual out-of-left-field tragedies, emergencies, and ‘situations.’ Each of which has called for time, something I could not have given 3+ years ago.

So as the year winds down, I’m grateful for the time to look up bird eggs, and trace a path from mockingbirds to crows to robins to bluebirds. From Richard Scarry to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. From years spent teaching ‘authentic research’ to doing it. With a 2 1/2-year-old on my lap.

I’m grateful for the time to enjoy what I work at, and the time to make better choices for my present. Most of all? I’m grateful for the reminder, today, of what’s important. And it has far more to do w/ crows and mockingbirds than even making pies.

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a Golden Rule Yule

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via Facebook

I was raised by Christians. My next sister is a Christian, my husband a kind of existential Christian. Many of my dearest family (sister-in-law, cousins) are Christian pastors. I love that word: pastor.  From the Old French/ Latin, shepherd of souls. I prefer it to ‘minister,’ which has a top-down connotation to me.

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I’ve actually read the entire Bible, as well as several other primary religion texts (the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad-Gita, many Buddhist sutras & texts…). Here’s the deal: each one preaches compassion. Each calls on us to love our neighbours. To practice what Christians call the Golden Rule, as I was taught it as a young child: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

compassion

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That doesn’t seem to be the case these days in American politics. The Dems are infighting, and the Repubs are using hate and fear as weapons of voter-attraction. What’s compassionate about those strategies? How do they reflect the ostensible Biblical (Christian & Jewish) values each of the candidates espouses?

The current fear-mongering against Muslims, for instance. I know a LOT of Muslims. Not the ‘one of my friends’ perspective (which I rarely trust!), but the ‘I’ve lived in Muslim countries, I have many friends who are friends first, Muslims incidentally. I don’t befriend people based on their wisdom traditions, frankly. I end up friends with people I spend time with. And I’m guessing that most of the demagogues posturing against Muslims don’t know many.

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The Muslims I know are just people. They worry about their kids (especially now…). They stress over their jobs. They try to look good for a party, laugh too loud sometimes & regret it, eat too much when on a diet. In other words? Except for the manner of their spiritual worship, they’re just a whole heckuvva lot like my Buddhist, Unitarian, Methodist, Anglican, Episcopalian, Hindu, Jewish, Wiccan, pagan, Rastafarian, atheistic, & agnostic friends. (And I’m sure I’ve left someone out!)

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Any religion has horrible people among its far more numerous good ones. One of the best traditions I know is why own, Buddhism: a religion founded on compassion. And yet Burmese Buddhists are murdering Burmese Muslims (Muslims are taking it on the chin, in case you haven’t noticed). No religion is immune to fear, which drives hate.

Here is my thought for this holiday season: what if we each tried to follow our wisdom tradition’s version of the Golden Rule? What if each & every one of us worked HARD to be as kind, as compassionate, as thoughtful & friendly, to others as we would like them to be to us? What if we truly tried to love one another?

Think about it: it might be the best Christmas we’ve ever shared.

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Dear America: a call to wake up

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via flickr

This is a time of mourning, for me. Of grieving for another America, one that we seem to have lost touch with in recent months (perhaps years…?). The America my father, my husband, my sisters and so many of my extended family & friends have fought for.

The America of the Statue of Liberty, whose beacon of hope welcomed ALL comers: the symbol of an America who trumpeted ~

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“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Now, we seem riddled with the hatreds of a fearful people. We assume that it’s worth being unjust to all, just in case one person is unkind. Even dangerous. That was not the America I grew up believing in

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And yet, it IS the America of pre-WWII. Americans roundly disapproved of allowing Jewish refugees fleeing certain death (hindsight being 20/20) to immigrate to the US. And it was race prejudice that led to the Japanese internment during WWII: military sources from the time period acknowledge that the Japanese American population presented little to no threat. In the history of American immigration, we have routinely denied admission to ‘lesser’ groups like the Irish, the Poles, Catholics & others ~ ethnicities who today are happy to endorse hate-mongers like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, & others.

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This is not my America. And with a substantive background in WWII history & literature, I’m deeply troubled by the similarities between today’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler, Mussolini, & others. To see this horrific deluge of fear & hatred clothed in religious vestments is even more saddening. And terrifying, as well.

In the post-Civil War era, many ostensibly Christian demagogues have cited religion as a basis for racism. Highly credible legal sources have jumped on board, citing only their own opinions (roundly racist) as grounds for totally racist injustice. As recently as this week, Justice Scalia asserted that at least one ‘benefit’ of returning to pre-affirmative action educational policies is that blacks shouldn’t go to “lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.” Really??? Black Americans should go to “lesser schools,” Mr. Scalia? (I refuse to dignify such a racist comment w/ a respectable title Scalia obviously doesn’t deserve.)

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And yet it’s a month of several holy days, for multiple religions. There’s Hannukah, familiar to most Americans. And Rohatsu, or Bodhi Day, sacred to Buddhists as a celebration of the Buddha’s awakening. There’s pagan & Wiccan Solstice; orthodox Christian Advent; Mawlid el-Nabi, the birthday anniversary of the prophet Mohammed. And there is  Zarathosht Disoj, the death of the prophet Zarathustra. In November, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, there’s Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.

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In other words, no one spiritual tradition ‘owns’ a month. And all religions — despite what some extremists of many faiths may argue — honour peace and love. Islam is no more a religion of violence and hate than Christianity is. If you look at the Christian white male murderers, there are far more of them in the US than there are Muslim terrorists. But we aren’t even banning guns for people on the no-fly list: we would rather pretend it’s ‘someone else, someone brown.’

I am heartsick that I must worry for the sons of friends. Sons who are Muslim, sons who aren’t Muslim, but ‘look different’ (re: brown). I am terrified that this state where I have spent so many years — the reddest of red states — will once again succumb to a crazed killer, as it did in the Oklahoma City bombing (perpetrated by a ‘nice quiet’ white boy, a veteran, even). Every day, a ‘respectable’ American leader (I use the term loosely) calls for more extreme ‘proactive’ measures against other Americans, asking that we implement a ‘list’ of Muslims in the US, for instance. Asking that we forbid immigration of all Muslims, including those Americans currently abroad. Asking that we perpetrate profound injustices against our fellow Americans, as well as refuse safe haven to families, the safe haven that has been one of our worthiest American freedoms.

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Does no one else remember the Nuremberg Laws??

Here is my sincerest hope: that America will wake up, as the founders of our many wisdom traditions did. That we live the kindness, the wisdom, the respect & compassion at the heart of each of our spiritual centres.That we find within our American history not bloodthirsty fear and hatred (there’s been plenty of that), but instead turn to the hope of that loveliest of American symbols, the welcoming bright light of the Statue of Liberty.

And let us work hard so that this dark night of the American soul passes. Soon.

 

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another day, another tragedy…?

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I am numb from the news. Every day, it seems, we lose more Americans to domestic terrorism. And I will not call the murderous killers of innocent men, women, & children ‘mentally unbalanced.’ To me, killing anyone is a sign of unbalance. Even if it’s in self-defence, the act is not one of balance. It’s one of reaction: an act of violence, even if necessary, is not an everyday occurrence.

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It has become one, however. Or at least it’s beginning to feel that way.

And my heart is breaking at the levels of hate & inner horror that drive young men it’s almost always young men… to such vicious violence. Most recently — the mass shooting in San Bernadino — the shootings were quite obviously well-orchestrated: body armour requires time to put on. Where does the cold rage come from that sends a human being out to murder the disabled? Regardless of a presidential candidate’s bullying mime of a disabled journalist, there is no rôle model for this kind of hate.grief2

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Grief is hard, especially the grief that is generalised, for people we don’t know, for families who will be minus members this holiday. Murders for unfathomable reasons.

All I can do is breathe for the grieving, the injured. Try not to let my own anger white-hot overpower my pain for the victims. It’s nothing, I know. But it’s what I have. If you have better ideas, I’m listening. Because America is in trouble. And all I have is my own sorrow, anger, & inability to understand.

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