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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: a military tradition of service, and what we owe

DudleyKorea

Daddy in Korea

This is my father, who served in three wars: WWII, the Korean War — from when this was taken — and the Việt Nam Conflict. He served in multiple theatres (China, Korea, Việt Nam, the Battle of the Bulge, Germany, France, et al), sustaining several major injuries. When I was a little girl, I used to trace the deep scars on his calf, where a bullet entered and exited. He eventually retired as a light colonel (Lieutenant Colonel). Just this winter he was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

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My 2nd sister also served, Việt Nam era, Army. A lifer, as we say, retiring as  Staff Sergeant. My 3rd sister served in the Air Guard. My nephew was Army. My father-in-law Merchant Marine (which had the highest fatality rate in WWII). My husband was a Việt Nam DMZ Marine. Uncles and cousins served at Annapolis, at the Pentagon, overseas, and locally.

Dori in full rig

Dori in full rig

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In other words? The military is a BIG part of my family culture and tradition. But I’m a pacifist by calling. That may seem incongruous, unless you consider what happens to those who serve: they often die. And then there are the fates far worse than a clean death: death on a battlefield, POW status, PTSD, major disability… All too often, our vets sacrifice far more than their lives.

The thing about the armed forces is that you always knew they would take care of you. You had  GI bill, and GI benefits, and VA medical if you needed them. You had a VA loan for a house, and other benefits PROMISED you by the government, in return for which you often gave up your very sanity. Certainly in my family, we understand the devastating impact of PTSD.  Not to  mention fragmented families, dislocating moves, and the other challenges to military life.

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Daddy's memorabilia2PTSD wasn’t identified until Việt Nam’s vets began to manifest it in far more visible numbers than WWII’s taciturn veterans. Even though my beloved Aunt Bonnie would tell us how CD, her son, was never the same after his service on Iwo Jima, and in the Pacific theatre. And my father would tell me that all wars were the same: men died, and those who came home never forgot it. It’s been that way, Jonathan Shay reminds us, since Achilles & Odysseus.

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This is all by way of saying that today’s 30 Days of Love directive involves connecting to those who serve(d). Not only honouring them with words, but with our welcome into our wisdom traditions, with care for the injuries they have sustained on our behalf. And with respectful recognition that they have been warriors — something not all traditions are comfortable with. That’s okay, because if you support our veterans, then you are verrry careful where you send them. Because many will DIE. And their families will suffer whether or not they return. That makes me a die-hard pacifist.

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30 Days of Love: radical love…?

radical love 2Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt is to embrace radical love: the idea of trying to love the people with whom you disagree. This is, as I’ve noted elsewhere, hard for me. It’s hard for me (darn near impossible… sigh) to ‘love’ haters.

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So, I’m glad that love is considered radical. Because it sure feels that way. Radical, and HARD.

But worth trying. I can think of far too many folks I disagree with, unfortunately. So my work is definitely cut out for me. I’m already trying (again, HARD) to practice the ‘double-consciousness’ discussed in the 30 Days of Love blog. When I hear people saying horrible things about immigrants, I remember that ALL of my family emigrated. Fleeing persecution, famine, lack of opportunities. At least sometimes, I can remember their courage, instead of yelling at the dolt who’s lumped all people trying to better their lives into a ‘bad brown people’ category.30 days of love

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When I want to whack someone for the latest (bad) flavour of education reform, I try instead to recall the wonderful students I’ve taught over the years, and my efforts to help them see teaching as one of the most necessary forms of witness.

This doesn’t work all the time. But it’s my version of radical love, and at least I’m still trying! What about you? How do you manage (or do you?) to get along with people holding very different values?

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30 Days of Love: in praise of a mother-in-law

Mom at our wedding 2Today’s prompt from 30 Days of Love is to think of someone courageous, someone who deserves recognition for his or her  actions, even his or her life. Not simply because it’s her birthday, but because she has been like a 2nd mother to me, I’m nominating my mother-in-law.

When I met my husband-to-be, I was 18. Mom still looked a lot like this — not nearly as beautiful as the raven-hired, movie-star gorgeous girl who married Dad, but still lovely. A great laugher, full of infectious humour.

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She didn’t have much to laugh about, until mid-life. Dirt poor, the youngest child of an oilfield worker family, Mom lost a dearly beloved brother to a tragic accident when she was small. Mom’s mother also died, when she was a young teen. Her father promptly remarried. Mom became the Cinderella of her own story. It would be many years after I knew Mom well before I heard anything negative about her step-mother, and even then it would be muted by Mom’s innate kindness and dislike of mean-spiritedness. Suffice to say the woman’s own daughters were favoured, always.

Mom had to work very hard to get her teaching degree — as a live-in maid for another horrible woman, and then in a store. She worked more than full-time, and went to school full-time. Stories from those days were rare. Even rarer were condemnations of her father (who didn’t want her to be a teacher, and initially wouldn’t help w/ her expenses), or the people who worked her very hard.

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When Mom married Dad, they had my brother-in-law, and then  Dad joined the Merchant Marine. This, as Mom noted — one of the few stories w/ judgement voiced — was ‘totally unnecessary! He had a deferment, and a wife and child!‘ So Mom moved in with her mother-in-law.Mom & Dad right after marriage 2

I owe a great deal to Mom’s mother-in-law, who was not a nice person. At least not to Mom, and probably not to many folks. Mom told me — many many years after my husband’s grandmother, Nanyer, died — that she learned how not to be a mother-in-law from Nanyer. From stories told late in her life, I’m guessing Mom never did care for Nanyer. Even though Mom & Dad took both Dad’s mother and father in to live with them, until they died.

So here we have a woman who had a very hard life, in many ways. Too full of people who were unkind to her, as well as just the hard times of the Depression, and then WWII.  That alone would nominate many members of the Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw notes.

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30 Days of Love: flotsam, jetsam, tanka, and learning the story

John Singer Sargent, Flotsam & Jetsam

John Singer Sargent, Flotsam & Jetsam

Today’s prompt for 30 Days of Love is to write a haiku, a 140-character tweet, or a six-word story. In it, we’re to reflect on our own story.This, I’m thinking, I’m ready for. I’ve been practicing.

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Digression: I’ve been thinking about jetsam. As in, what we jettison overboard, to lighten the ship that carries us. What we deem unnecessary. And what I realised is that I’ve been doing this for awhile. Particularly in my writing.

About 2-3 years ago, I began trying my hand at traditional Japanese poetic forms. Primarily haiku and tanka, but I’ve also worked in renga. It started as a way to compress the long lines in my stanzas, forcing me to consider every syllable. And it was fun.

By now, I’ve become so comfortable with the shorter forms that I often prefer them, publishing tanka instead of not-quite-sonnets and longer poems. A lot of otherwise excellent poetry now seems … bloated. :)

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image

Kanji character for poetry

The challenge to a short form — whether it’s a reflection on your own life story, or an attempt to convey the magic of a fox appearing on the curb outside the window as you drive through familiar streets — is you must know what you think and feel. EXACTLY. There’s no real room for figuring it out, other than as you draft.

If you’re going to build the bridge between reader and writer, each sound/ syllable/ word/ image is critical. And despite the ostensible 31 syllables permissible, most American practitioners of tanka, for instance, try to do it in fewer. Which is creeping up on me, as well, as I become more familiar with the form.

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So I can write a short poem, a tweet — I often tweet tanka, for instance — even a six-word story. My challenge isn’t the writing; it’s the knowing. And that, I suspect, is the key to beginner’s heart: how very much I still don’t know.

Here’s my reflection on today’s story. I don’t have the temerity (nor the reflective strength) to try to write my ‘whole’ story. I don’t even know what that would look like..But I do know that every day — like every word and sound and image — counts.

imagecoffee’s dark fragrance
my elder son’s laughter
winter’s hungry wings
I know nothing endures
but maybe today maybe

 

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