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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Remembering Nelson Mandela, and his shifting place in American history

mandela quote 2The world will miss Nelson  Mandela. A man who saw that forgiveness was as large a part of revolution as upheaveal. A man who brought good to a nation riven by wrong. A man who was not afraid to love his enemy, and to do good to those who hated him.

I doubt if many under the age of 40 –possibly even those much older — know that the American government for many years labeled Mandela and the African National Congress (the anti-apartheid party in South Africa) as terrorists. A designation begun under President Reagan, it wasn’t until George W. Bush’s presidency that the label was revoked, in 2008.

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Various religious leaders (Pat Robertson & Jerry Falwell, notably) argued that the ANC was a Communist-sponsored organisation, bent on taking South Africa into the Communist party. And names still familiar to American politics — Dick Cheney & Grover Norquist, for example — also took the easy way out on apartheid, falling in line with Reagan, whose own party split over the issue.

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That fascinates (and saddens) me. How easy it is for us to label the need for systemic changes as anti-government. When blacks in the American South rebelled againstmandela quote the horrific acts of violence done them, and the Jim Crow laws instigated in the wake of the Civil War, one of the many labels affixed to their rebellion was ‘lawless.’ When the laws connive and conspire to do human beings injustice, how else may justice be served?

You would think that Americans — citizens of a city founded in a revolution, by war against a standing government — would understand this. But power dislikes being questioned. Reagan, for instance, was against  sanctions on South Africa, a stance that led to Desmond Tutu calling that position ”immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”

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Today, as the world faces so many evils — both within and outside of America — it’s important to remember that this great leader we mourn, this man of compassion and integrity, was for many years labeled a terrorist in the US. A Nobel Peace Laureate, a man who figured out a way to work with an apartheid government to undo its policies…this man was on our terrorism watch list for more than 20 years. This man who argued that education was the best weapon against injustice, that poverty was NOT ‘natural.’ That love was stronger than hatred.

mandela quote 3How many similar mistakes do we make each day? As individuals, listening to bad advisors? As individuals, refusing to take the time to look up credible, unbiased research on news and policy? As members of groups and families and even governments…?

Nelson Mandela has been one of my personal heroes for many years, as he is for millions of people around the world. And when I look at people in the future, I will try harder — for his sake — to look beyond someone else’s labels. A good way, I hope, to remember him.

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just who are you calling average…?

averageA friend & former colleague recently posted a blog entry where he wrestled with his (mild) obsession w/ being ‘the best.’ He’s very good at anything he turns his hand to: technology, teaching, parenting, music, running. And those are just the few things I’ve seen him do!

But that’s not what he thinks. If he’s not the best, he confesses — and the focus of the blog post was his drop in running time following an injury — he’s not happy.

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So here’s my question: do you know ANYONE who’s really ‘average’…? Who is totally ordinary? Right smack dab in the middle of the bell curve on EVERYTHING? I don’t.

I don’t think any one really IS ‘average.’ Each of us is unique. I suppose we know that, intellectually. But when we fit whatever stat is trending, it can be hard to remember.

My friend Luke is nowhere near ‘average.’ He’s amazing, if he could just see himself from an objective ‘outside’ perspective. A parent who adores his kids, a co-worker who is generous with time & ideas, a writer of no small talent. And funny as hell, to boot. How average is THAT?

And what the heck is WRONG with being ‘average’ anyway? What does that word even MEAN? It seems to be another word for ‘ordinary.’ But even ordinary — I’m thinking ordinary magic, or ordinary mind — is beautiful. So, does ‘average’ now mean ‘not special’…? When did that happen? I reject that meaning!ordinary mind2

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Days when the ordinary leaps out & surprises me are my favourites: when I look up at the grey winter sky and the clouds are swirling furiously, or when a fox steps free from the woods by the house, or my grand-nephew says something absolutely hilarious… These aren’t epiphanies. They’re just ordinary days, when something quite common, really, is framed by my attention. Something not defined as ‘special’ becomes so, because I’m deep within that moment. Not judging — just enjoying.

Here’s my wish for each of us (myself included): that we might just a few times this year — heck, I’d be happy if it was simply annual! — see ourselves as our friends do. See our idiosyncratic, uniquely loveable gifts through the eyes of someone who isn’t judging us, but enjoying us. Instead of filtered through the always-critical lens of self-‘improvement.’ (Which might just as well be called ‘never satisfied.’)

Because I know if Luke could see himself as I do, HE would know he’s not simply ‘average.’ He’s the best kind of special. One irreplaceable human being, living his life to the best of his ability.

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cancelled flights, family nights, and (eventually!) Thanksgiving

baggage checkIt all starts w/check-in. That’s the beginning of any air travel, right? But wait! For us, it began with ice all over the car. A LOT of ice. And an AWOL ice scraper. We should have known it was a portent…

And there was fog. But that’s not unusual in Blacksburg. It’s in the mountains, and often there’s lovely, luminous fog in the morning. I never thought farther than ‘how pretty!’ Like my grandmother used to tell me: pretty is NOT enough.

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Next a drive through the fog to the airport, in nearby Roanoke. After we arrived at the airport, and I said farewell to my wonderful elder son, and the two weeks I’d just spent w/ my lovely daughter-in-law and amazing grandson, I was at check-in. Nothing different, just a long line. I’ve been standing in check-in lines since I was 8 years old.

Then a hike through TSA, and a short walk to one of the airport’s four gates. Did I mention it’s a small airport? That’s when the fun began. No flights had landed. Not all morning. This is not a good sign… Fog socks in the airport, situated as it is in the New River Valley. And the waiting commenced…airport terminal waiting

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Through most of Tuesday, I checked delay updates, listened for good news (spoiler: there wasn’t any), and made friends with my fellow travelers. There’s a warm camaraderie among folks stranded at an airport. Folks watch your bags (you really can’t go an entire day w/out making friends!). They share stories. After all, we’re all on our way home for Thanksgiving, right?

Airport and airline personnel were great. Snacks appeared, bottles of water, and professional courtesy carried the day. And a long day it was.

Still, I made friends w/ pilot guy, who kept us all informed about visibility ceilings, and landing approaches, while his wife Rosalie told me about their grandchildren (the age of my sons), and their Thanksgiving plans.  The nice Red Cross worker who decided to drive to Greensboro offered me a seat, as she knew I had a boatload of family coming to feast on Thanksgiving.

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But by Tuesday afternoon, when I should have been deplaning in Tulsa, I was walking through freezing rain to the shuttle back to Blacksburg. A shuttle I missed… :( And Tuesday evening, when I should have been rolling out pie crusts for Thanksgiving pie, I was tucked into bed, back at my son & DIL’s, by 8 p.m. OUT by 8:30. :) Hoping I’d get out the next morning, to make it back to Tulsa in time to cook turkey for 12.

To make a long story short? I did. And home has rarely looked better. Dorothy was right: there’s no place like home. Especially when you’re giving thanks. :)

~ to be continued ~

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bad choices & (broken) beginner’s heart

heartbreakThere is a slice of meringue pie in the fridge. Calling to me. It may well speak some formerly unknown language that sounds now a bit like mother tongue. I shouldn’t eat it, but it’s not such a big deal. So I will, later. After my unhappily sleepy grandson goes down for the night.

That’s not really a bad choice, at least if I don’t eat lemon meringue pie (or its equivalent) on a daily basis. Which I don’t. So I don’t feel any guilt, and the eating or not-eating of the pie really affects no one but me.

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Not so other choices available. So many of the relatively small things we choose each day are beginnings: the first few drinks over our individual limit, the first couple of addictive drugs, the first few meetings with someone we shouldn’t be seeing.

Each of us has made ‘bad choices.’ It’s part of growing — the ability to look at something we’ve done, and hang our heads. To be ashamed is, I think, part of moving from childhood to adulthood. Or perhaps not shame. Remorse. That’s a better word.

I have made many choices over the years that I regret. Times I spoke sharply, times I didn’t take time. Self-indulgences that resulted in someone else’s pain. Moments I wish I could erase, some that led to far more serious griefs. So when people I love make very bad choices, all I can do is grieve. imageAnger serves no purpose — each of us, I really believe, has our own journey. And since I have no clue what’s in charge of everything, all I can do is not make things worse by having a fit. Who knows what purpose coils at the heart of each tangled human life?

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I can also try, with all my cracked & battered beginner’s heart, to understand the pain we create through our own actions. To choose my own path more wisely. And to love with understanding.

I know I’m speaking in riddles. :) But not all stories are ours to tell (I can hear SO many voices in my life asking ~ you’re NOT going to put this in your blog, are you??). But I’m absolutely certain that not a person reading this has escaped being the victim of bad choices. That too is part of being human.

So believe me when I say this:  our actions — good choices as well as totally wrong-headed ones — affect the people around us, ultimately. In the meditation course I’m currently working through, we’re asked to consider imagethe impact of our daily meditation on the people around us. Those we love, those w/whom we come in contact. Because choosing to spend part of your day, each day, working on a calmer clearer mind is bound to affect those who meet us, love us, live with us.

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I can’t change the tragic choices someone I know has made. I can just put this out into the world: what you do is not just yours. Each action each one of us takes is a drop in a pond, until the myriad ripples form a quilted pattern that is our connected human condition. In physics, it’s called interference: one wave influences another, and they create a third, which then changes the two original waves.

In life? What you do lives wider than your own single life. And when it changes those around you, everything changes. Sometimes forever.

 

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