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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Buddha dogs and learning about love

pascal at Dori's 2013We have two dogs — both goofy-looking French bulldogs. The elder, Pascal, is sick. Turns out that despite being ‘guaranteed,’ AND xrayed, he has dysplasia. As well as a pinched nerve in his lower spine. He’s in a lot of pain.

Most folks prefer his brother, Hugo the lovebug. Hugo will take up with strangers as if they were long-lost twins. He once tried to run off w/ the plumber (really). He will fold in to your lap as if a (barely) animated canine blanket — laying completely open.

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Pascal is nothing like this. He barks incessantly at even the birds in the yard. He is subject to fits of anger if your feet scare him. He refuses to jump onto the chair — he has to be picked up. But as it turns out, that’s his dysplasia. As are his non-biting attacks when he’s inadvertently pained.

And now we’re facing the question dreaded by every pet owner: how much quality of life is enough?  And how many $$ — on a fixed income — are too many?

I’ve learned so much from this lumpy galoot of a dog. That love really is unconditional, often. He’s not the smartest, or the prettiest, nor is he the best dog I know. I’ve had dogs since I was born, and he bests few of them. But he’s himself, and no one else is. That’s love, I guess.

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It’s also attachment, which I’m leery of, as a Buddhist.dukkha Not the love part, but the ‘I don’t want to lose my dog’ part. Classic dukkha. Actually, all three kinds, rolled into one hurting French bulldog. I don’t want to have to decide whether he should live or die. Whether the pain he feels will be ameliorated enough. When he will need the hip replacement(s) we know already we will not be able to afford.

And I don’t want things to change. I want it to be last week, when he was still fine, and the nerve wasn’t pinched. Because I’m conditioned to be happy in his presence. Not to suffer, as he is now.

Who knew my baby dog was such a Buddha?

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mouthy middle-aged white chicks…

loudmouthI freely admit I’m a loudmouth. AND political, to boot. Not to mention an engaged Buddhist, and a wannabe Unitarian. Which is to say, a total bleeding heart liberal with a big vocabulary. (As distinguished from a knee-jerk liberal — NOT what we like in my family.)

This is not a good thing in some venues. Trust me. Nor does it … make me friends. :) In fact, I never ask to be friends on FB, and warn everyone who tries to friend me. I am VERY political.

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But how can we sit by and condone things that hurt people? Things that exclude people?  I don’t know why this matters so much to me, and so little to many people I run into (over?), but it does. On both counts. For me, the political is ALWAYS personal. The ’60s were about the politics, for some of us — not the sex, drugs, rock & roll. :)

Apropos of politics, and helping people when we can, I sometimes read grants for organisations. I used to write them, but now I read them. Kind of fingers & thumb of the same hand. And when I read, I look for certain things: the mission of the granting organisation, obviously. But also: who benefits from this? How much does it cost per person served? Does it leave out folks?exclusion

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For instance, if it’s a reading grant, and the book you’re reading stereotypes a minority, well, what’s up with that? Do I think we should fund your project? And note: in Oklahoma there are many ‘minorities’ who get left out: women, African Americans, the physically handicapped, Native Americans, non-Christian religions, homosexuals, single mothers, atheists… The list of who’s ‘out’ is pretty much everyone except white men of property. And I’m only kinda kidding…

I didn’t grow up a white man of property. I grew up a minority — a white woman in an Asian country. ‘Marginalised’ by both race & gender. Later, I would be a white non-Muslim woman in a Muslim country. Outside the right lines because of my gender, again, but also my ‘lack’ of faith. Maybe this is why I’m pretty dead-set on inclusion of my friends. Because few of my friends are white men of property.

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inclusion 2Please note: my wonderful, thoughtful, reflectively liberal husband is a ‘white man of property.’ And as soon as my sons pay off their college loans, I hope they too become men of property. They’re already white (well, mostly). But my best friends are all over the American census: black, Indian, gay, Muslim, atheist, Hindu, Jewish, lesbian, single mothers, physically handicapped. Shoot, a LOT of these ‘categories’ are family members!

So here’s my point: why is this such a big thing in America? Such a big deal that we don’t even notice — many Americans, that is — until we slap against it. We don’t even see that the book we’re reading stereotypes Native Americans. Nor do we see that our idea of the ideal American West paradigm leaves out the horrific suffering of Native Americans, the slavery of Chinese rail workers, the slavery of African Americans…

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Why are so many Americans aghast that the new Miss America, for instance, is ‘Indian American’? She’s an American citizen, for cryin’ out loud! And isn’t the fact that there’s a big outcry PROOF that this country is, at BEST, ‘integrated’…? Because true inclusion means we’re all in this together. Which we don’t really seem to be. Instead, we think that America should look like my lovely niece: blue-eyed, pretty, and educated. The fact that she’s gay? Well, at least that doesn’t SHOW, right?

It makes me crazy. Because right now, it  a whole of folks are still on the outside. Including my niece.

 

 

 

 

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hungry children and politicians

hungry childI have never understood letting children go hungry. Children are our most precious, irreplaceable resource. NOTHING trumps feeding children, and certainly not politics.

The American government — in the guise of the Republican house — just voted to let children go hungry. You can frame it as you like, but in 2014 about 22 million children will go hungry without SNAP. And why? Why is it more important to let children go hungry than…?

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I don’t get it. We can afford war, obviously. We can afford junkets for Congress, and pretty lavish Congressional salaries. We seem to be able to afford everything but what most impacts children: food & education.

As a mother, as a teacher, as someone who aspires to a moral life, this troubles me profoundly. There isn’t a religion I know of that doesn’t place a high premium on feeding the hungry, caring for our children. Across spiritual borders, hungry children are seen as particularly vulnerable. Our charge is, always, to make sure we care for them. hunger graphic

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But apparently, if we give it acronyms (SNAP), or long words (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), we can pretend it’s something other than what it is: essential FOOD for children, the elderly, the poor. Many of these children — 10 million — “live in ‘deep poverty,’ with family incomes below half of the poverty line.” In case no one remembers, $23,550 is the poverty line in the US for a family of four. My nephew, raising three children by himself, makes minumum wage. In Oklahoma, that’s about $9,000 BELOW the annual poverty line: $7.25/ hour x 40 hours weekly (which he can’t always get), x 50 weeks (just in case he really ever got his two weeks of vacation) = $14,500.00. GROSS, folks — not take-home.

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Without food stamps, my nephew’s family would go hungry  many nights.  His mother helps. My niece helps. We all do a little. But where is the infrastructure for the working poor? He’s a veteran, struggling to provide a very  minimal life for three young children. And the Republican Congress thinks he doesn’t deserve this?

child povertyI am so angry with people who can’t POSSIBLY know a thing about real poverty that I could, as my great-aunt Bonnie would say, spit. There is nothing shameful about poverty. There is something morally reprehensible about asking children to go hungry for your politics.

Seriously? Where is the morality in this? And please tell me: what kind of ‘family values’ are these…?

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sorry doesn’t fix things …

image A former student reminded me of an exercise I used to do in class. It involved wadding up paper — a guaranteed student pleaser.

Each student would wad up a piece of paper. No other directions than that. Some would crumple it loosely; others would wad it into a tight ball.

Next, I asked them to smooth it out. Make it as much like its original smooth surface as possible. They would have spent far more time than I gave them, rather than write. :)

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I asked them why they thought I had them do this. None had a clue. So I explained:

When you hurt someone, you crumple them like paper. Saying image‘I”m sorry’ is better than not, but it doesn’t fix things. You can’t return the victim of your carelessness (or worse) to before. Any more than you can completely smoothe out the wrinkles on the crumpled paper.

Sorry doesn’t bring back the dead. It doesn’t undo cruelty or abuse. Nor restore lost lands, nor change history. My former student said she still remembers the crumpled paper activity. It’s been at least two years since she was in my class. And I would rather she remembered this short class activity than anything I taught on research.

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Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely believe in saying ‘I’m sorry.‘ Even as I know it fixes nothing. But it can help begin a process of healing. Let’s not pretend, however, that graft, murder, rape, and other heinous acts can be ‘fixed’ with even a sincere apology. Instead? Let’s work hard to help the victims. And recognise their losses.

 

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