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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

memory, elephants, friendship

shirley and jenny elephantsYou may already have seen the PBS video on Shirley & Jenny, two elephants who never forgot each other. It’s not recent — at least 10 years old. But it was new to me.

Elephants have totemic significance in my family. They were beloved of my mother, and we all indulged her. As a result, there were elephants on every surface you can imagine as I grew up. In now-forbidden ivory, in jade, in porcelain and stone and wood and painted ceramic, embroidered on cloths & pillows… And once, in the parking lot outside the apartment house where we lived, my father a very young calf trucked in to surprise my mother on her birthday.

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but Jenny & Shirley are not my mother’s elephants, engraved/painted/carved/ & cast. Jenny & Shirley were captured in Sumatra — an island in western Indonesia. They met when Jenny was a calf, according to the Elephant Sanctuary, where both elephants eventually were placed. Shirley mothered Jenny, and neither apparently ever forgot their connection.  Their reunion many years later is the stuff of happy endings.

I’ve moved most of my life, although not recently. Over the holidays, moving boxesI happened to mention to my elder son that I used to throw up when I had to pack. I’m pretty sure he thought that was my (usual!) poetic license. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I STILL hate packing. Not traveling; I’m a tourist at heart. But I want firm roots, deeply planted. I envy the childhood friends of my three sisters, each of whom was able to maintain contact w/elementary school friends. My elementary years were spent in a place long ago & far away. Even the name has been changed, to protect the guilty.

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So there are almost no friends left from my childhood, or even my young adulthood (also spent on the move). To be fair, though, I’ve always had my wonderful three sisters, my go-to friends when we moved (10+ times before I was 12, another 6 or so in my teens). I don’t even remember how many times I’ve moved; my father was military, then civil service. And truth be told, we were luckier than most such families: we had back-to-back tours of duty at least once. I had friends who moved annually.

So perhaps the reunion of these two old friends simply hit a resonant note on my emotional keyboard, brought on by memories of my mother and my envy of elephant love. I don’t think it’s only that, though: I know that elephants are ‘people.’ Most animals are: they love, dislike (I’ve never known an animal to hate, only fear), have preferences & quirks & generally think & feel. Like we do. Like I do.

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shirley and jenny elephants2That’s why I think I love Shirley & Jenny. They were ecstatic to see each other, and never left each other’s side, once reunited. I do envy that, from the other side of my unrooted childhood. But I also know what they went through to get to that safe place.

Watch the video, and take a moment to be grateful: your precious human life means you can call any living friend or relative, from whenever, on the phone. FaceBook them. Find them on Twitter. And reunite. And who knows? It may be just as poignant as Shirley finding Jenny.

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a message from a fellow First Amendment follower

bill of rightsA friend sent me a blog post from a blogger I don’t follow. And what Mr. Lake had to say (he’s the blogger) had to say resonated deeply.

I’m the kind of person who donated money for free speech during the trials of Nazis in Skokie, Illinois. Knowing what I do now about hate speech, I probably wouldn’t. :) But at the time, it seemed to me (I was a working journalist) that if I couldn’t fight for those I condemn to speak freely, my beliefs weren’t worth much.

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I feel the same way about freedom of religion.  As Lake notes, “No religion is safe when any religion can dictate public policy, law and education.” I’d put ANY in bold caps, myself.

There is a feeling among some Christians — and I know family members and close friends who feel this way — that Christianity is under attack. I find that assertion so untrue as to be almost laughable. Except that I don’t laugh (well, not very often…) at other people’s beliefs. But you’d have to be non-Christian to see the irony here.

We are discussing the rights of Christian businesses to bail on insurance, if it covers birth control. Even if they’re not Catholic (the only religion, to my knowledge, w/ a strong historical platform against birth control). We allow Christian families to refuse shots for the children. We take off from work for holidays that religions allare Christian: we don’t get off for Jewish Hanukkah or Muslim Eid al-Adha or Hindu Diwali.

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But Muslim women have had to fight to wear their religiously  mandated head-covering, the hijab. Just last year, a woman in Oklahoma lost her lawsuit to wear her hijab to work. And try telling someone you can’t work during Ramadan (which is accommodated in most Muslim countries).

In other words? This is a predominantly — & preeminently — Christian country, despite popular evangelical claims otherwise. I’m not fighting the right of Christians to practice their faith. I am championing the rights of other (non)believers to follow their own paths. Which may be quite different.

first amendmentSo here’s to Jay Lake, who said it both more succinctly and more overtly than I can. “[Y]ou have absolutely no right to impose your beliefs on others through the public instrumentalities of government, law and public education. Any more than any one else has the right to impose their beliefs on you.” And THAT is the 1st Amendment, folks.

 

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goldfinches, titmice, and wrens: what’s your pleasure?

wren on suet feederThe goldfinches have (finally!) arrived. They’re going through about a feeder of thistle seed every couple of days. My sister, looking out the breakfast room window onto the 1-2-3-4-5-6+ feeding and water stations, wondered aloud what this costs us monthly.

It’s not negligible. :) But it’s soooo worth it.

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Afternoons like this, when there’s still a chill out, the soft warm light fills the room, slanting across the table as I try to draw a goldfinch. I might as well be counting breaths, I’m so focused. And mornings, the cool blue sky is just the wakeup I need w/ a cup of multicultural mocha. :)

We don’t go to many movies, we don’t have cable TV, we don’t have satellite or dish. Neither of us smokes anymore, and we don’t drink or do drugs. Birds are our splurge — we’ve been known to make detours through Africa just to see the flamingos. But we get almost as excited, these days, when the pelicans take over the sandbars on the Arkansas River.And crows in the pecan tree, or a hawk on the deck rail?  Wow. pelicans november 2

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I’m not going to stretch for metaphors — I’m sure you can figure several out on your own. Suffice to say you get to a point where you don’t apologise for your pleasures not fitting what’s expected. Even if it’s ‘only’ runner-up in fastest growing American hobby. :)

There are good reasons, though, that sitting in the light (or the dawn fog, or the chilly afternoon wind, or even rain!) is a small price to pay to watch even sparrows. And why this fixed-incomer is willing to shell out $$ on thistle, black sunflower seed, suet, & other avian treats. Remember the dinosaur? Welll, when you watch a hawk watch a sparrow, you might be right in the (safer!) middle of Jurassic Park. :)

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Quakers, foxes, Buddhism, and beginner’s heart

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Even before I did a graduate paper on the Quaker preacher Elizabeth Ashbridge, I’ve been fascinated by Quakerism. The idea that the Divine is knowable to each individual, w/out the mediation of text or preacher or church, is a deeply attractive belief. One I hold firmly: you don’t need a preacher or a holy (wo)man to show you the Divine within.

I also love the silent worship — so like meditation, but meditation done in a group. Something else that draws me in. I still mourn the demise of a small meditation group I was in once. There’s something very different about being in a group, each of you turned inward and yet seating in amicable silence.

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And I’m also very fond of the Ylvis song, “What does the fox say?” Partly because foxes are one of the most magical animals I know (slipping through the high grass by the creek, standing as still as stone, only his eyes moving). And face it: the music is fun.

So this parody, by Quaker Ben Guaraldi, was bound to be a favourite for me. Whimsical, profound (read the quotes — they’ll move you deeply), and beautiful. How beginner’s heart is that? And if you’d like more on Quakerism (and the real Fox), I’d point you to Friends Journal. A lovely, well-written journal that is as full of necessary surprises as Guaraldi’s video.

A note: there are more similarities between Buddhism & Quakerism than might, at first glance, appear. But go look for yourself. And as the song says, let yourself be open to peace. And integrity. We need more of both.

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