Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a happy (normal?) childhood…

imageTo paraphrase one of my favourite authors (Tom Robbins), “It’s never too late to have a normal childhood.” And I just realised — really! — that I did.

When I was little, reading stories of normal American children, they lived in small American towns. They went to the beach for the summer — a month at a time! — and they took family vacations. I desperately wanted to be a ‘normal’ American child. Living overseas, wearing clothes a tailor made, I combed the pages of catalogs and magazines to see what ‘regular’ kids wore.

I wanted a lunch box, not a military bus that took us home for lunch. I coveted  a book bag with a ruled tablet and thick pencils, not blue cahier notebooks with fine-point fountain pens. And I would have traded one of my sisters (well, at least for the summer) for a ‘real’ family vacation.

Just this week, driving on the highway to Virginia w/ my husband, I realised: place is the key to the differences. Because I had most of those things! It’s just that our summers at the beach — and the long LandRover trips to them — were in southern Thailand, down to a small island now famous from the tsunami: Phuket. We spent long, often boring months of our summer — and sometimes Christmas breaks, as well — downcountry. Days at the beach, when my father came with us, he hacked off pieces of watermelon with the machete he carried on his trips through the jungles of Thailand.

Our ‘family vacations’ were a train trip over Thanksgiving week down the coast of Thailand, to Singapore. We ate fried rice and  Spam instead of turkey.

But as a child, I saw no similarities to anyone else’s childhood. Ours, it was obvious, was a totally weird (and thus inferior) family. We were sooo not ‘normal.’ Sigh… Our Sunday drives were on the Biên Hòa highway. One year there were no Christmas trees, so my mother hung a fishnet upside down, and strung it with lights & ornaments. When I was 16, the tailor copied a Rudi Gerneich dress for me to wear to prom with my boyfriend.

Many years later, watching the green Smoky Mountain foothills imageglide by, I can still see the darker, richer greens of Thaiiland from a window. As we stop to stretch our legs, I remember four laughing girls piling out of a battered LandRover, and my mother herding us in to a NOT European toilet. Or better yet, forming a make-shift outhouse: four corners of a large blanket held in a square around a fifth girl, in the (private) middle. And as the woman at the state line rest stop chats with me, I can hear the lyric cadence of Thai in my history.

There are elephants in my childhood, and a friend of my father’s who rescued a small lion cub and drove with it in his convertible. Once he let me ride beside it.

What’s ‘normal,’ anyway? And why do we pursue it so diligently, that chimera of routine and cultural expectations…? Who ever said “Oh wow! I l met the most normal person!”  Since when is that a recommendation? :) My best friends are extraordinary: talented, witty, kind and gentle and beyond average in all ways. (And isn’t ‘normal’ another word for ‘average’…?)

So no, I didn’t have a Sally, Dick, & Jane childhood. Unless you leave out the places it happened. And then? It was the happiest of normal childhoods.

 

London and Palestine and Toad Suck Park…

image I drove to London today. And to Palestine. And right past the turnoff for Toad Suck Park. If these clues leave you going “hunh?” then you haven’t been to Arkansas lately. :)

We’re doing a family road trip, moving my son & daughter-in-law & grandson to Virginia. That’s quite a ways from the family house — where we’ve all been for the past 2+ weeks, along w/ Rufus the giant cat & Silas the terminally cute rescue dog — in Tulsa.

If you drive the breadth of Arkansas, right along the middle (like a bright ribbon around a present), you drive through London & Palestine. And you really do drive past Toad Suck Park. Look it up!

So, besides the pleasure of my husband’s witty conversation, and seeing the landscape change from the overpasses of Tulsa to the wooded highway verges of Arkansas, I also had the fun of map surprises.

Which brings me to seeing the world new & fresh, a critical element of being here, now, in the Buddhist frame of beginner’s heart. Because there’s something quite lovely about thinking about these two magical places — both of which I’ve been lucky enough to visit — move around the globe. I’m enchanted just thinking about Big Ben and the Tower of London coming unstuck from their places and drifting over the Atlantic to Arkansas. And perhaps if Palestine got the annual rainfall of Arkansas, tempers would cool…?

Not to mention… Toad Suck? What a great name! Supposedly from the way steamboat crews ‘sucked up bottles’ at the local watering hole until they ‘swelled like toads,’ I prefer to think about toads. Real toads. Sucking…whatever a toad would suck if a toad could suck whatever.

So today’s leg of our family road trip is dedicated to places and the names that don’t always identify them. To the poetry of those names, and the dreamy images they conjure. To the seductive crawl of the red Arkansas highway (and yes, it’s really red in places — not grey at all!) beneath our wheels, and to a country where you can have London, Palestine, and Toad Suck Park all within driving distance.

 

to bravely go…

NASA budget 2I hate war. Hate. And there isn’t really much I use that word for, at least not seriously (I hate ticks, for instance, and mosquitos, but not like WAR…). And I actively dislike that my tax dollars go to support it.

I also love science. And I actively dislike that my tax dollars do NOT go to support it. At least not in any significant way. Hence the table on the left.

It’s a fact: the entire history of NASA’s budget is less than TWO YEARS’ military budget. Yep. You read that correctly. As Neil deGrasse Tyson notes, the 2008 bailout of banks alone was more than the 50-year history of budgets for NASA. What is up with  THAT??

So here’s what I want to know: with Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Big Bang Theory, and the beloved Dr. Who, each  garnering huge viewer market share, and sci-fi books one of the best-selling genres, why don’t we vote for more science $$?

Here’s my new mantra: Make spaceships, not war. Or at the very least — Make discoveries. Because discoveries are generative. They will feed us, enchant us, and enrich our lives. War? As the brilliant Edwin Starr told us years ago, absolutely nothing. Not to mention the whole ‘collateral damage’ thing.

Why not shift our $$ priorities, and look into our future…?

time for laughs –

frenchy in baby carrierNormally, this could be our dogs. I plead guilty — our dogs are very… indulged. :) But with the grandson here, and his attendant entourage (Mom, Dad, Silas-the-dog and Rufus-the-cat), one of our dogs (the dysfunctional one) is at my sister’s. The other one is trying to figure out what the heck happened to his happy home.

So this picture — we have French bulldogs — resonates. And it reminds me: sometimes you just need to laugh. Really. And nothing does it like our best friends. :) It also helps everything (including beginner’s heart!) not to take things toooo seriously. I’m sure that’s somewhere in one of the Buddha’s talks!

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