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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

guns in schools, and the American West

woodcut by Mark Sisson, Ph.D.  Oklahoma State University

woodcut by Mark Sisson, Ph.D.
Oklahoma State University

This disturbing woodcut is brought to you by the talented Dr. Mark Sisson, art professor at Oklahoma State University. He offered it to help make a desperately misunderstood point. Our state — like many others — is debating allowing guns in schools. The rationale is that if teachers have guns, there will be no more Sandy Hooks. No more Columbines. No more Bend, OR. No more Miami, FL. No more Detroit, MI. No more Marysville, WA. No more dead children. (Each of those was a fatality shooting, some — like Sandy Hook — with multiple deaths.) There have been more than 110 school shootings, just since 2000..

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I understand our fears. We expect our children to be safe in school. But if you haven’t been in a school lately, perhaps you have an unreliable (and/or totally out-of-date) memory of what school is like. There is NO place to ‘hide’ a gun from a determined student. Even if I thought that would work, do you want a loaded gun around your children?? With teachers who aren’t necessarily…cool, calm, and trained? What if that teacher who shot herself in the foot had been upset? Terrified? Aiming at a hostage taker?

via CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/news/armed-teachers-aim-to-protect-students-in-missouri/

via CBS News
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/armed-teachers-aim-to-protect-students-in-missouri/

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I work with teachers, and adore them. I see them work unheard-of hours, buy supplies from their pockets, feed & even clothe their students. I also know that they are — like each of us — only human beings. And given the mayhem that occurs even within highly trained Armed Forces troops? I have no confidence that arming teachers will be anything other than a nightmare.

Several of the newer gun laws require only a concealed carry permit, which in turn requires only a class in ‘gun safety.’ Nothing on how to confront a crazed shooter, or how to remain calm in the midst of utterly terrifying chaos. Some classes are, of course, much better than others. But I’m certain none are anywhere near the training police or military receive, and we’ve seen in detail how that training has failed at critical times. Witness the sheriff’s deputy, in Oklahoma, who couldn’t tell a taser from a pistol, under stress far less devastating than faced by teachers at Sandy Hook. And yet? He donated a LOT of money, to buy his entry to his own Wild West show. And the only other cost? The paltry sum of a young man’s life.

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Don’t get me wrong: I understand the needs of rural districts for ancillary law enforcement support. But perhaps instead of reverting to the Wild West mentality that has such an iconic impact on so many Americans (despite the fact it  was only a part of our history for a few decades), we should better fund rural sheriffs. Oh wait: that would cost $$, not make $$. Besides: if access to guns & training is enough, how do we explain the mass shootings on military bases? Among gang members? Guns seem to be no deterrent to madness, that highly non-rational state of mind.

via flickr

via flickr

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Yes, I’m cynical. Because I do NOT understand why we keep yammering about our Constitutional rights when our children are dying. There were 94 school shootings in the two years after Sandy Hook, with 32 fatalities, not including shooters. Why aren’t we all outraged??? Why aren’t we shouting LOUDLY?

I am. Mark Sisson is. You should be, too. Because nowhere in the Constitution does it say your right to a gun trumps a child’s right to his or her life. Period. And no teacher, armed w/ a gun s/he may or may not be able to get to & use properly, is going to bring back the children. It’s not part of our teacher education program. And I hope it never catches on.

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blogs, journals, and processing

the author's

the author’s

As part of a lawsuit I’m involved with, I was asked to see if I had taken any notes concerning the event under question. Because I keep a journal, which travels with me almost everywhere. In the 30+ years I’ve kept it regularly (and the many more erratic years before that), I’ve only lost 2. So yes — there were 2 relevant pages. Out of…well, more than 200.

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Since my thoughts at the time were important, I turned to my blog posts from the same time. And found what I’ve suspected for a long time: writing is a way for me to think, to process. When tragedy strikes — or even good fortune, like a wonderful new house — I turn to writing. More & more often, that takes the shape of a blog post.

Reflection is the goal, in part, of meditation. Which is why there are various ‘ways’ (or ) in Zen Buddhism: chadō — the way of tea; kadō — the way of flowers (known to Westerneres as ikebana); zendō — meditation hall (the way of meditation). Each of these practices is a road — a way — into the connection of Buddhism. If tea becomes for me a meditation (and it often is), then I am able to slip the attachments of my hectic, often frustrating, sometimes even angry life and be in the moment.

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This happens most often w/ tea, gardening, and almost always when I write. Writing, my brain tunes in to the process, and I live strictly in the word-by-word movement.way of tea It’s magic, in a way: I can begin a piece angry, confused, actively hostile. But over the course of the writing, I walk myself through the labyrinth, and calmness comes. As if a breeze blew through me. It centres & grounds me the way that other dō (the way of flowers, the way of tea, the way of ‘kicking & punching’ — taekwandō) work for other travellers.

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So even though my revisiting of a traumatic time was unpleasant, the chance to thumb through an old journal was a moment suspended. The way afternoon shafts of light illuminate smudged window panes, turning them to rainbows. And I’m caught, again, by how much my beginner’s heart depends on completely unquantifiable, unexpected moments. Moments I try to capture, w/ all the success of a butterfly pinned to a wall…

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afterwards, the laundry

via google

via google

So here I am: excited, frightened, happy, sad. In other words? Life as usual, but on steroids.

WE HAVE A NEW HOUSE! And it’s by my beloved grandson (and his parents)! On a half-acre lot, with beautiful trees, and a resident bluebird couple (I saw them!). It’s smaller than this house — which I wanted — but bigger than my ideal — which my beloved wanted.

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And now that it’s done? I look at our gardens here, our birds, and begin to say goodbye. My sisters go on FB and mourn for the family parties we have here to celebrate milestones, or holidays. They worry we will never see each other — that the changes will be, for them, mostly hard.

I know I’m an optimist. Family call me Pollyanna, and my elder son teases me about how ‘gooey’ I am (meaning mushy, I assume!). It’s true: I make a conscious effort to focus on what’s good in the world (because otherwise I want to whack folks!). So I refuse to believe that this is a bad change. Still, change is hard, almost by definition.

The Buddhist thinker & writer Jack Kornfeld has a book that talks about how ‘enlightenment’ is a series of steps, not a destination. More a journey. He reminds us that after what I call a ‘baby’ enlightenment that breath connects all the planet — the dead, the living, the earth, the sky there is still the laundry to be done. We still need to wash our clothes, weed our gardens, do the dishes & grocery shop & fill the car w/ gas. Everyday life, with all its attendant chores, doesn’t stop because of a shift in our perception. Or a move on our personal map.

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the author's

the author’s

It’s difficult for many to reconcile the loss of a happy ‘now’ with an uncertain future. It’s a rare week I don’t see both my sisters who live in town. My sister who lives in Texas makes the four-hour drive north frequently, so we are used to a close-knit sisterhood. That will change, by necessity (it’s 16 hours to Bburg). So no more impromptu teas. We will have to schedule more, and plan (we’re not good at that!)

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I will miss the growing up of my grandnieces & grandnephew, at least in the day2day fashion we currently enjoy. Which will be hard for me — I adore them all. I will gain, instead, the day2day activities of my grandson. When he ‘feeds’ his dinosaur rain boots (they have teeth around the bottom!), I will be there to ooh & ahh.

Beginner’s heart teaches me that nothing lasts, good/bad/indifferent. The world is in a state of constant flux. When hardship overtakes us, we’re glad for this. But when my everyday life is very good — as it is — leaping into the unknown universe is frightening. Even when I anticipate many many good outcomes from this next chapter in our lives.

You’ll be here with me as I move forward. That’s one thing I’m counting on. And there will still be tea, and other nieces to come & drink it w/ me: two in DC, one in Boston. There will be new friends, and new experiences. Which is like the ‘enlightenment’ Kornfeld discusses. Missing my sisters, my grands (nieces & nevvie), my other nieces & nevvie, my garden & all the familiar landscape of my American childhood? That’s laundry. And there’s a LOT of it.

Keep me in your thoughts! I need all the light I can get, even for a welcome adventure!

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#myAmtrakWritingRetreat reprised

imageI am now an official, seasoned Amtrak traveller: I have taken a coffin-shower bath. This is it: big enough to stand up   in, and w/ surprisingly good pressure. Considering I on this next leg from Chicago to Fort Worth for 24 hours, I’m just glad for the access!

In places where I’ve lived, running water — much less hot running water — is a luxury. At least, not a consistent given. I know about line heaters (they don’t make the kind I grew up with, now): the lighting of the match as you turn the gas on, and the tiny flicker of flame that was supposed to somehow heat the water passing over it in a copper tube. Note: this didn’t work very well.

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I know about turning the water on when there’s a water outage, so that when it does finally come on, you can get up & shower. No matter the time. And maybe bathe. In Algiers, where I spent my first year of married life, running water might be off for 10, even 24, hours. And in Thailand, down-country in the small rural areas where my father worked when I was in highschool, we collected rain water in big cisterns, where sometimes small gold fish swam to keep the mosquitos down. Dipping cups into it, we would wet our hair, shampoo, then rinse. Then bathe, all with rain water from a jug where fish swam lazily in the tropical heat.

In other words? I don’t take water for granted. :)

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via google

via google

There are so many things like this in our everyday lives — things we don’t see because they’re familiar. Like running water, or the space to stretch your arms out in the shower. And part of what makes a trip an ‘adventure’ is that it isn’t like everyday life. You sleep rocking to the rhythm of wheels over rail, lit by the thin light of Mars & Venus and a hundred other stars clearly visible in the Ohio darkness. As I did, last night, two seats folded into a good-enough bed. Not the luxury king of an international 5-star, but certainly good enough.

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Look around today. What in your life is everyday magic? What would my friend Tuli, who joined me from Botswana in a summer workshop, find incredible? Coloured pencils for students, picture books, air conditioning, men helping with laundry… Her list was long! Mine is, too — perhaps because I grew up minus many things Americans take for granted. It includes the magic of a shower — with hot water! — on a train. And on this train ride, with time to write & think, my childhood awe comes back. And everyday life is once again an adventure.

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