Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

seeing what might be there

birds on wire

photo by Paolo Pinto

I saw this on FB the other day, and was mesmerised. Not simply this photo — I’ve taken several similar ones myself. But by what happened next.

Jarbas Agnelli saw music, notes on a staff. I do too, and have written poems wondering what that music might sound like. But Agnelli didn’t just wonder — or write a poem about wondering. He wrote the song.


What would happen if every day I moved beyond wondering to doing? If the curiousity I see in my grandson’s eyes were mine? How might my life shift, and what would my soundtrack sound like? Blackbirds on a wire, against a cloudy sky…?

Here is Agnelli’s Birds On The Wires. A thank-you to R. B. Smart, who told the story behind the music.

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time runs away from us

grief and fearAn old and dear friend lost her husband yesterday. Walking together to his work, she must have watched as he fell to the ground with a heart attack, his second in two years. He was dead by the time they arrived at the hospital.

He was younger than my husband, only a few years older than I am. And somehow, those two things — my friend’s loss of her beloved, and his relative youth — make this very personal.

All death is personal, of course. To someone. Donne was absolutely right: Any man’s death diminishes me. Except that it doesn’t feel the same. The death of most distant strangers is just that — distant. Completely off our radar. By 2:30 today, there had been about 94,000 deaths across the world. And I felt none of them like this one yesterday.


Life is always a gamble. We have no idea what’s just around the corner. Another friend told her FB friends yesterday that her routine colonscopy (she’s not even 50) turned up pre-cancerous polyps. Had she put off the colonoscopy a few more years, the polyps would have killed her. I could tell a similar story.hourglass1

I like to think I live my life fully — trying hard to pay attention to both the moments and the spaces in between each one. But my family is prone to all kinds of bad health (Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s, heart disease, kidney disease: we should really not reproduce!), and I know my time may well be shorter than I’d like.

But then, isn’t it always?

So I’m telling each of you: take a moment to go outside and look up. Breathe deeply, then go hug the nearest loved one. Send a card (did that today), email a note. Phone a friend. But don’t take this day — or any other — for granted. Time runs aways from us.


the crime of poverty

photo from the SPLC

photo from the SPLC

It shouldn’t still be happening, but it is: modern day debtor’s prisons. At least in Alabama, where writer Jacob Denney’s story for the Southern Poverty Law Center takes place. A young man, first victimised by a shooting, then hit with a slow-down at work, is ultimately sentenced to jail because he can’t pay his traffic tickets and fines.


Say what? You’re going to sentence a man with a newborn daughter to 54 days in jail? (One day in jail per $50/ debt.) Because, basically, he’s unlucky and poor?

I thought this kind of legal punishment of poverty went out with the Puritans, but apparently it remains alive and well. At least in Alabama. And I’m certain there are many people who agree with it. All I can see is a boy whose mother tried to give the judge a note from the young man’s employer, stating that work had been slow, but would pick up, and the prisoner would be able to pay something soon.

poverty hands

Image from


The judge refused to even look at the paper. That’s how little the anti-poor system cares about its victims.

I lived for a month on food stamps, when I was in my early 20s. I had an accident, couldn’t work, and at that age had no savings. My folks helped with my rent, but I had a couple of payments to make, and food was the first thing to go. I understand there being NO MONEY. My mother used to tell me about being so poor she only had two dresses — one to wash, one to wear. Day after day.

We used to say, in America, that being poor was nothing to be ashamed of. And that anyone could rise above rocky circumstances. Unless the law labels them a felon, and puts them in jail. For traffic tickets and fines. So that on every work application thereafter, they¬† have to check ‘served jail time.’

This can’t be how any faith councils us to treat the poor. Can it? Can it?



the mortality of cats

Kali eating cheese on deskAt her best, my 14-year-old cat Kali is doing great. She can still jump (most of the time) onto my desk to eat the snack I fixed (NOT for her). She usually maneuvers the leap from the coffee table to the arm of my chair, and she can stay a couple of steps ahead of the dogs.

But it’s the beginning of the end, and I have no idea how to negotiate that map.

We’re the people who always wait too long to let go of their animals. A cat who was bleeding internally (who knew??); a dog who finally died on the way to be put to sleep, in my husband’s arms. Another dog who was probably in pain, but a total stoic. And another cat who fought against the car ride to her end.


Each time, we swear we will go earlier into that good night, making the decision for these beloved members of our family. But how do you know when it’s time? Kali with toy

Because the times she’s not doing well, Kali seems ready. When does the balance tip to darkness and letting go, from taking care of?

These are the kinds of questions I’m no good at. Kali can’t tell me, although when she yowls (she’s part Siamese, as you can see) for no reason, I wonder if she hurts. I know she has arthritis from the bite she sustained before we rescued her (at 5-ish weeks) from a country bar ditch. On a damp day, when my own joints ache in sympathy, I watch her favouring that leg.

And I wonder: how do you know, oh Buddha of letting go, when it’s time?

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