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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

leftovers and ‘after’ days

image Yesterday we had a lovely evening — friends came over to celebrate African American History month with a sharing of various African American artists & authors. I cleaned and cooked before it all began. I made this beautiful lemon icebox pie. I even made cornbread in the big skillet that was Mom’s. All of which made today was one of the  perfect ‘after’ day.

One of the (many) joys of having a party is it’s a two-fer: after a party, there are leftovers! All that food, already cooked! And the house is already clean! All you have to do is sit back & enjoy the fruits of past labour. How cool is that? First there’s the party (which was great, just FYI), then there’s the great day after.

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Plus, since my beloved is recuperating from knee surgery, a quiet day spent reading, teasing the dogs, and visiting w/ sons, on the phone, was just the right kind of day for us.

More of my life is spent, it seems, in this lovely ‘after’ state. I work on one project, and rewards I never anticipated pop up somewhere else. I do one thing, and it brings unexpected pleasure later, as well as in its completion.

You don’t have to do anything much for a perfect ‘after’ day. And unlike those ghastly ‘before & after’ pics, this is one time that ‘after’ is not so much better as just as good. Different, sure. But still lovely. So go ahead — call up folks and have a get-together. You’ll have both the pleasure of the event, and all those leftovers for after. Perfect!

 

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30 Days of Love: ‘calling in’ and room for compassion

compassion“Calling in” is a new term for me. During the 30 Days of Love project, I’ve learned several new things — vocabulary is only 1 piece of it.

I had to go to the original article, after reading today’s prompt. Calling people out on racism, heterosexism, or just plain hatefulness is a calling for me (and yep, I said that on purpose). Still, from what I gather, reading Ngọc Loan Trần’s amazing piece on calling in, adding ‘calling in’ to our tool belt of strategies for intercultural dialogue is NOT a ‘get out of being called out free’ card for anyone.

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If you’re a dumbass who seriously believes that others are in any way ‘less’ than you in your privileged state, I will call you out. I’ll begin by assuming you didn’t mean what you said, and ask you to clarify. But if you’re convinced that, say, women should obey their husbands, and stay home and make babies? I’m not supporting that with my polite silence.

What Ngọc Loan Trần offers us is, as he puts it, a ‘less disposable way of holding each other accountable.’ I have been guilty of utter cluelessness, when it comes to not ‘getting it.’ I’ve said things with NO malice intended — not even stereotyping — but still clueless as to how they sound. For instance: if you were outside of the US during the entire 80s, you probably don’t know that there ‘spear chucker’ was no longer a term for the extras in Cecil B. DeMille films (think: Moses and all those crowd scenes). You would be terminally embarrassed — and deeply, profoundly sorry — if someone took your clueless, dumbass remark as a racist slur. But to them it would be. No matter what you intended.film extras

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You almost certainly would call me on it, telling me in no uncertain terms that I was a racist. And then you’d probably get up and leave the conference room. At least, that’s what happened. The problem with that is that I had no idea what I’d done. I had to ask a friend (black), who cracked up, thinking of me using the term in a work meeting.

‘Calling in’ wouldn’t have worked in that specific instance, anyway, despite my clueless lack of intention. Neither party who left knew me well, so they had no reason to assume I wasn’t a racist yahoo. As far as they could tell, they were the victims of microagressions. So discarding me as another white idiot was certainly understandable. But say instead, that I’m clueless with a dear friend. Say that I don’t understand when she’s been insulted by a white woman. That I don’t ‘get it’. In that case, instead of ‘calling me out’ for my lack of understanding, my dear friend Sylvia took the time to explain what had transpired, what it meant, and how she saw (and felt) it. I’ve written about that elsewhere.

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inclusion 2Because Sylvia and I already were good friends, it was worth it to her to take the time to share her feelings, her thoughts on what had happened. She wanted me to ‘get’ what had happened. In other words? She called me IN — asked me to be one with her for a moment in her life, in her thoughts and feelings. Again, I quote Ngọc Loan Trần, who notes that “when we shut each other out we make clubs of people who are right and clubs of people who are wrong as if we are not more complex than that, as if we are all-knowing, as if we are perfect.”

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I absolutely love this idea. I can’t thank 30 Days of Love or Ngọc Loan Trần enough for offering me something to go with my other compassion practices: tonglen, wrathful compassion, meditation, breathing. Certainly there is a time for calling out, as there is for wrathful compassion. But I am hoping that I can do more to dissolve barriers — to create unity — by learning how to call others in. Isn’t that what inclusion is all about?

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Happy Birthday, Darwin!

As my husband had surgery today, and I’ve been helping him prepare (yesterday), and then spent today at the hospital, today’s post is an extended  riff on one from last year, also on Darwin’s birthday.

170px-Charles_Darwin_by_G._RichmondI love science. And of course Darwin — like Da Vinci, like Einstein, like Copernicus — dominates it. Today is his birthday, and I promise this post has to do w/ beginner’s heart (at least eventually!). One semester — and one only — I tried to teach Darwin in a lit class. We do a lot of nonfiction in literature (Benjamin Franklin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Scott Momaday, just to name a few), looking at figures w/ long-term literary impact. Several of my students (and this was an honours class) flat refused to read Darwin. Nope, they told me. He’s … well, Darwin. And against their religion(s).

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Just to read him? I asked, incredulous. You can’t even READ him, to see what he said in his own words? And to a student, they shook their heads. I promise I’m not exaggerating, nor am I over-stating their adamant refusals. No negotiating — Darwin may as well be the anti-Christ.

Because this had never happened to me before, and because I don’t believe in putting students on the spot, I allowed them to read something else. But I’ve never forgotten that class. Nor the quiet, back-door responses of other students to this small cadre of their very vocal and conservatively religious colleagues. One told me she felt totally disdained by the students in the class, because she was an atheist. Another told me that he felt his religion — Judaism — was both maligned and dismissed by the conservative Christian students.

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I offer no facile comments or final conclusions about this class. I don’t understand it now much better than I didn’t then, if that makes sense. It’s always been incomprehensible to me that any literature is ‘forbidden.’ I did ask my students why they had been forbidden to read Darwin. They hadn’t been expressly ‘forbidden,’ they assured me. But to a person, they said that Darwin was evil, and they were ‘discouraged from’ reading his work. After all, he denied the divine plan.

But here’s what I wonder: how can mere human beings even discern the divine plan — always given that there is one…? If something there is that created the spark that became today — the dark flavour of a hot mocha with an extra shot, the break in winter cold, the exceptional kindness of a nurse at the outpatient clinic where I spent the day with my husband — how can I, addled mortal that I am, comprehend that? And why should faith feel threatened by knowledge? Note: I didn’t ask the students to accept Darwin; just read him.

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My students were not interested in discussing their decision. I did ask if they followed the Old Testament, and the Laws of Leviticus. This is what hurt my Jewish student — the Darwin-deniers were appalled at the idea. But it’s the Old Testament —  Genesis et al — that drives the Young Earth creation myth. And to be a Young Earther means you also deny the following scientific fields, as I’ve touched on elsewhere: physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, cosmology, paleontology, molecular biology, genomics, linguistics, anthropology, archaelogy, climatology, and dendochronology. In 2011, 30% of Americans said they took the Bible literally — no interpretation. In other words? They  believe in the Young Earth philosophy. No wonder we don’t have many scientists!

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So, Darwin, what do you have to say about this? Baptised Anglican, raised in the Unitarian church, you studied to be Christian clergy. You refused the label ‘atheist,’ preferring to be known as an agnostic. You even included a quote from Charles Kingsley in Origin, in which Kingsley argued that it was “just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self development… as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which He Himself had made.”

Now, here we are, almost 200 years later. And like my students, many Americans refuse to even read Darwin. And I’m no closer to understanding why. Still, I suspect  Darwin wouldn’t care a jot. Evidence, he would say, trumps faith. But it needn’t cancel it out. Darwin might be not a test of faith, but of scientific imagination.

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30 Days of Love: creative love and red-shouldered hawks

hawk in treeI love my neighbourhood. Today I saw a hawk twice, with its mate one of those times. Saturday I saw a vixen fox. Her mate loped across our front yard, in broad daylight, around Christmas on a bitter cold snowy day.

I took this photo today, in the front yard, from the car as we turned out of the drive. It’s one of our red-shouldered hawks (I think!). They often cruise our yard, and live in the neighbourhood. A mated pair and their juvenile.

The foxes live just down the street a block, and around the corner, in a wooded strip beside the creek. I see them infrequently, but not rarely. And I never take any of this for granted.

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Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt asks that we inspire creativity, and action across generations. Birds (and birding) do that. I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love to look at birds, look for birds. Once they spot one themselves, and learn to identify a few, they’re hooked. It’s a hobby that only gives: requiring no expensive equipment to set up — just a feeder, if you’re home-bound — and getting you outside (or at least near a window!) for hours. Which means you don’t need to be able-bodied to enjoy it: a child home sick, or a child who isn’t able to go outside can still make use of a window with a feeder and an ID book from the library. robin's nest

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For most of us, our first bird is a robin. Certainly it was for me, as my father sang me the song Little Robin Redbreast, sat up in a tree from the time he returned from Korea. So a dogwood tree in the front yard, bearing the most perfect triad of eggs, is a rare gift — almost as beloved as a fox on a dark winter night.

From robins I progressed to the birds I found in our homes overseas — collared doves and bulbuls and gulls, mostly. And then slowly learning the birds at Mom & Dad’s — red-headed woodpeckers, and crows, and scissor-tailed flycatchers, and quail and wild turkey and so many more. Carefully opening the bird house to see the unfledged bluebird nestlings. Watching the wild turkeys see refuge in the yard during hunting season, knowing no one would hurt them there.

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hawk with kill by fenceNow, I am learning suburban Oklahoma birds. And we have so many to be grateful for. Each has, at various times, inspired me to write — the three crows that fly together, the hummers Sophie the cat used to pluck carefully from mid-air, delivering them unhurt to my feet, waiting for me to praise her. I’ve written about Carolina wrens and titmice and chickadees, sparrows and starlings and grackles. Soon I will try to weave a skein of words to catch a hawk in.

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Today, as I watched the hawk drop his freshly killed squirrel at the feet of his mate, I thought how intertwined love and creativity are. This poem from Robinson Jeffers is a perfect example: you need to love deeply to be this clear, this brutally honest and incisive. This devastating. But love and art are. And each feeds the other.

Hurt Hawks ~ by Robinson Jeffers

I
The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.
II
I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,
Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

 

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