Beliefnet
The Bliss Blog

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I grew up immersed in the music of Rogers and Hammerstein. My parents had albums of their creations that included South Pacific, Oklahoma, and Carousel and what a joy it was to sing along with my mom. I watched The King and I and waltzed across the living room floor to the sound of Yul Brynner chanting “1-2-3-and” over and over. I joined Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp kids to the tune of “My Favorite Things” pretending to be afraid of thunder.

One clear memory was listening to a signature song from South Pacific called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and questioning my mom about the meaning. I was likely somewhere around 10 at the time.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I wondered why anyone would want to teach their children to hate and fear anyone who was different. She patiently explained that some people were so afraid themselves that they passed it on to their children. Blessedly, my sister and I were taught by example to love, without regard to differences.

A lesser-known creation of the dynamic musical duo was the television version of Cinderella. I watched it multiple times throughout my childhood and likely knew the lyrics to each of the songs. I grimaced at the mean stepmother and stepsisters and smiled with delight at the fairy godmother. I laughed with glee at the transformation undertaken by the main character and swooned as only a teenager can at the handsome prince.  I resonated with the idea that the things we believe are impossible are only as limited as our perception. As an Opti-mystic who sees the world through the eyes of possibility, I know that I can manna-fest my heart’s desires. Impossible?  Things are really happening every day.

Such was it today when I spent the afternoon in my home of Doylestown, PA at an event that celebrated both its 200th anniversary and what would have been the 123rd birthday of Oscar Hammerstein. Held on the grounds of The Oscar Hammerstein Center, I joined folks from the community, sprawled out on the lawn in the bright summer sunshine for the Oscar and Us singalong. Although he was born in New York he spent many of his later years in Doylestown (the heart of Bucks County).

I was enthralled with the stories rendered about the man who had a vision that included unity, peaceful co-existence and mutual acceptance. No wonder that the aforementioned song was so powerful.

A surprise for me was that one of the guests who spoke on peace was Arun Gandhi,  the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in the beautiful living room of the home in which Oscar lived as we chatted about the importance of each person doing their part to make the world a more loving place. His new book is called The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons From My Grandfather. He steadfastly believes as I do that anger can be a tool or a weapon.

Another treat was meeting Will Hammerstein, his wife Mandee and their adorable little boy named for his ancestor. We played catch with a big yellow ball. He’s got quite an arm. The next round of fun was peekaboo and hiding under the dining room table.

This performance of Do-Re-Mi was filmed by my friend Tom Brunt. These kids did the Von Trapps proud. It was a delight to see my friend Lori Rosolowsky who returned from her new home in Montana and was part of the band.

In the midst of all the turmoil in the world, this day, this experience in the midst of neighbors and friends in an oasis of peace was just the healing balm I needed. I know that none of us will ever walk alone.

 

An iconic figure, whose love for and devotion to children worldwide, is gloriously feated in a newly released film, called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? As I sat in the darkened County Theater in my little town of Doylestown, PA, the clock rolled back to the year I turned 5 (1963) and onto the small (Black and White) screen meandered the sweetly subversive Fred Rogers, into Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Sweet, because that seemed to be his demeanor (no overt skeletons rattling in the sweater closet, despite people saying he was a sniper in the military) and subversive because his simple messages had a profound and long-lasting impact on multiple generations.

Walking through the door of a minimally decorated house set, he zipped up a sweater, doffed his shoes and tied on sneakers. This was the transition from one aspect of his life to another as he modeled it for the audience. Regular reality to imagination time, a space where kids could feel accepted for who they were in a world where life could be confusing and far too fast-paced. Children’s tv at the time was filled with slapstick comedy and aggressive interactions between the characters. Fred Rogers had a vision that it could be far more. He was a hybrid- minister, musician, puppeteer, family man (husband and father of two boys)- his wife Joanne, sons James and John, as well as his sister Elaine,  shared stories about him throughout the documentary created by Morgan Neville. They were joined by cellist Yo Yo Ma, NPR host Susan Stamberg, and Director of The Fred Rogers Center, Junlei Li.

A lifelong Conservative Republican, Rogers seemed to have a Liberal bent, as well, as his message, was one of inclusivity, regardless of color, physical ability, sexual preference, and nationality. He argued successfully for the continuation of funding for PBS when then-President Nixon wanted to slash the funding for the network that hosted Rogers’ show until 2001. $20 million in funding was awarded instead.

From start to finish, this film unwraps the man who had several childhood illnesses that kept him bedbound at times. This was the breeding ground for his imagination to thrive. He grew up (as did his wife) not being expressive of anger. He used his own experiences to shape the show. The puppet characters were aspects of himself (including Daniel Tiger who made his debut serendipitously as Rogers needed to think quickly on his feet. ) that he was not able to verbalize himself.

The movie is an elaborate patchwork quilt of archived footage of historic events (the assassination of Robert Kennedy, assaults on Black people who were swimming in a pool where they were not welcome, and the explosion of the Challenger among them) and interviews with those who knew and loved Rogers well.  He used these occurrences and others to teach about topics that were skirted around such as death, divorce, and racism. His shows were not dumbed down for children. Instead, they were uplifting, elevating everyone who watched, regardless of age.

One of my favorite parts was the explanation of three digits that loomed large in his life, 143. He explained that it was code for I Love You. (the 1 stood for I since it was one letter, the 4 stood for Love since it was four letters and the 3 stood for You since it was three letters). He also revealed that due to his fitness routine- swimming daily, he maintained a weight of 143 pounds.

Neville shares, “I wanted to make a film to remind people about the value of radical kindness,” he said. “Fred’s message, when I distill it, he talked about grace. It’s this idea that kindness is not a naive notion like believing in unicorns and rainbows or something. It’s like oxygen: It is vital, and needs to be nurtured.”

He was slo-mo incarnate, as his speech was lulling and he valued silence, leaving space between words; the mark of a good listener. Several scenes showed him fully present with the children who gathered around him.

Prescient was an episode early on, in which one of the characters King Friday the 13th is insistent on surrounding his kingdom with a wall to protect his borders. Other characters launch balloons that carry messages of peace and the ruler transforms into a true leader by accepting them and changes his plans. Rogers died in 2003 and I wonder what he would have to say in response to the current state of affairs.

Fred Rogers quotes:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

“The greatest thing to know is that you are loved and are capable of loving.”

Go see this movie and be sure to bring tissues. I would love to have lived in his neighborhood. Instead, I will create one from the brick and mortar of the loving lessons he provided.

 

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A mama story. This shirt always reminds me of my mother. It isn’t because she was a tie-dyed crunchy granola tree hugging hippie like her daughter. When she was in the hospital back in 2010, I was visiting her in South Florida where she and my dad had lived since 1989, having retired and moved to their idea of paradise. He had passed in 2008 of Parkinson’s and she was dealing with kidney disease and CHF. This was early on in her treatment and during a period of multiple hospitalizations. I lived more than a thousand miles away,  in a town North of Philadelphia. My visits were periodic at first and then more regular as her condition deteriorated. Toward the end of her life, I winged my way Southward seven times to sit at her bedside both in the hospital and in her living room. On the day after Thanksgiving, she joined my father on the Other Side

Earlier that Spring, I was with her in a Hollywood, Florida hospital room, and she kicked me out’ and told me to go to the beach. I didn’t have a bathing suit or towel with me, so after driving a few miles, I stopped in a store and bought this shirt and a towel to lounge on. As I was there, I overheard a group of 20-something young women talking about their lives. One sighed and said, “I’m in such a happy place in my life right now. I’m almost scared. It’s so perfect.” She was clearly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In some bizarre way, I find myself doing the same thing. As I evaluate my life, I see more right than wrong with the picture and yet, there are times when I actually look for something to be discontent about. Not enough of this …too much of that. I need a baby bear fix…where I see things as ‘just right’.

As I go through my day, the semblance of contentment sometimes slips away and I find myself (or actually lose myself) snipping and sniping in my head about all the people whose behavior annoys me, all the shoulda woulda coulda’s from my past; things I wish I had done differently, all the future opportunities I wish to call in and have things as I wish them to be; knowing anyway that it is in Divine timing and not always my own.

This tank top, still one of my favorites long after my mom passed (November 26, 2010), reminds me of the multi-hued aspects of life. One color merges with another, creating a lovely tapestry. This rainbow sheep of the family is happy at the moment.

Lately, the world has been too much with me. As an empath, my compassion for those who are suffering goes deeper than it might otherwise. I can’t turn my head or my heart away and pretend that it doesn’t exist. With the daily assault against decency that takes the form of the words and actions issuing forth from the administration, there is seemingly little time to catch our breath before the next onslaught. For me, this is not about politics. It is about concern for our brothers and sisters regardless of the land on which they stand. As a spiritual being, I know that the God of my understanding is my safe place to turn when I feel overwhelmed. People often ask how God could let this happen. Not sure it is orchestrated completely by the Celestial Composer, but rather, we are called on to show up, stand up and speak out against injustice.

Hard for me to comprehend how anyone could support hatred in any form. When I speak/write truth to power, I don’t name call or put anyone down.  I offer factual input. I do my best to bridge the gap created by people of differing beliefs. I admit that I do cringe when I see vitriol spewed whether online or in the form of bumper stickers, as I did yesterday. Almost nothing that I hear from DC surprises me. The hardest part for me is not knowing who around me might agree with it. I have had little opportunity to have a face to face conversation with someone whose entrenched beliefs differ dramatically from mine. I would like to think that my love could extend to someone who hates (they likely don’t see it that way, but rather, simply protecting what they fear to lose, in terms of privilege), but sometimes it is hard. I want to change minds and open hearts. If my actions or words land on fertile ground, then I will have accomplished an important goal; to make America kinder.

I view myself as a world citizen and what happens in the country of my birth impacts the entire planet.

When children are torn from parents, I sob. When people are called an ‘infestation,’ I want to puke.  When the sustainability of life on Earth is endangered by negligent policies, I worry for the next generations. When people justify, deny, and support those things, this erstwhile pacifist wants to shake sense into them.

It would be so easy to give up hope for a better future, a better world, a better life on this Big Blue Marble spinning in space. I don’t have that luxury. I surround myself with others who feel as I do. We hold each other up and keep each other sane and vertical. There are times when I am just plain exhausted…call it resistance fatigue or compassion fatigue when I feel all gived out.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron teaches a practice called Tonglen which allows for taking in and releasing the suffering of others. I have become adept at the first over the years, but need to do so with the second. She encourages, “Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Use what seems like poison as medicine.”

In addition, I have taken time to nurture myself and recharge my batteries by spending time in nature, with friends, immersed in love soup, enjoying music, working out at the gym, getting massage, dancing, hugging, laughing. I did all of those things yesterday and today, I am feeling a greater sense of hope.

Today and every day, I intend to be a force for good in the world.