Open Letter to a Friend

9 07 2016

Today is the last full day at the beach, at least, for this year’s pilgrimage. It’s been a beautiful, peaceful, torn, sorrowful week. When we arrived, we saw that the large ocean front property next door has been sold and undergone another transformation from the tiny, low-lying house with a yard full of gaillardias it used to be in the late 1980s. This year, it sports two double-sided Trump signs on the beach fence and a sizeable American flag, raised so high it seems to be flying at the south corner of our balcony. The flag has been useful for indicating which way the wind blows.It stays out in all weathers, so it’s frayed on the end. It’s not enough to fly the flag all the time. If you’re going to have a flag, you have to take care of it, too.


The signs have been an object lesson in loving our neighbor. We’ve kept our focus on the horizon, the Atlantic expanse, the boats, kites, and parasails, immersion in wave pools, walks with birds, sunrise, sunset and much joy in between. We also had a glorious loss of connectivity that spared us a lot of grief and fury this week until a sudden catch up yesterday.

On Thursday, our dear friend John visited. We talked and talked, enjoyed lunch together and talked more. As it came time for John to depart, we wished we had more time together. Near departure time, John said something important to me, something that silenced me that evening, but woke a clear decision in me when I walked the beach, reflecting, on Friday morning. John, an ardent Bernie supporter, bemoaned our choice between D.T. and “a stodgy, repressed woman.”

Seriously, John!? You spoke so thoughtfully that afternoon about seeking to understand your white privilege. Did you not hear yourself speaking from your male privilege? Understand that you are swimming in assumptions so deep, you think water is air. We all are when it comes to what we can afford to take for granted, when it comes to ways we dismiss, marginalize, condescend to, exploit, and shoot down others without even admitting to ourselves what we are doing. Really, once you’ve said “stodgy, repressed” do you even have to add “woman”? Isn’t it already understood? Would you ever use these words to describe a man?

Let me claim that identity for myself. I grew up educated working class in 1950s and early 60s England, where rules ruled and following rules was a way of survival. At one year younger than Hillary Clinton, it’s still a big deal for me to have a well-behaved dog off the leash in a “dogs must be leashed” zone or to use my time-share towel on the beach if I forget to bring my own beach towel on holiday. I don’t cross boundary lines easily. I struggled with what I learned about Sandra Bland, because I would almost certainly not have had the chutzpah to stand up to the police officer no matter how unreasonable his search and seizure. I was raised to believe that such behavior was lunatic, though now I see it as deeply brave to challenge power at such an immediate level.

I claim the “stodgy, repressed woman” identity because I have kept my stodgy, repressed self sane, centered and grounded for most of my sixty-seven plus years. I survived (and truly hope my children have survived) some pretty crazy, scattered and untethered middle years to find a way to anchor myself in the present again and again. I know that no one knows what goes on behind another soul’s front door, whether they live in a white house, a black house, or any other color of the rainbow. I know that I have greatly benefitted from those who have steadied me (my grandmother and my sister among many others.) I have sought to be and become a steadying presence for others; an encourager to stay in the here and now, knowing where you are coming from, with a plan and a list for where you’re going, but always ready to change plans and adjust the list if the kids get too tired or you realize you’ve forgotten something or someone! I know that no one knows the lightness, the dance and the joy of the apparently stodgy and repressed and no one damn well needs to know it, because it is not the business of our lives to prove ourselves to others, but to love and be there for them the best we can.

So, when we get back to Orlando, I will be putting some time and effort into the Hillary Clinton campaign.  She will disappoint me; she already has, but not as much as I disappoint myself sometimes. She will be less than honest. I’m less than honest with myself sometimes. She will start out really tired. Lots of days start like that. She will also keep her appointments, seize her opportunities, know when and how to put on a brave face no matter how god-awful the situation has become, and work tirelessly to do what she believes needs to be done, just as she has for decades.

Forty-four men have had the opportunity to learn from the experience of their mistakes. It is long past time for a woman to be given an equal opportunity. And to younger women who are thinking that they will live to see a woman president, but it doesn’t need to be Hillary Clinton, here’s a reminder to be really careful of missed opportunities. It can be a very long time before the next one comes along. Thank you, John.




28 04 2016

Today, I was thinking about things I am hoarding and the thing I am hoarding is money. If you come to my house, you won’t think of me as a hoarder. You’re unlikely to find a reality TV camera crew worming their way between precarious pillars of second-hand books or throwing open a door to have a thousand pairs of smelly sneakers spew out. Mostly, our home is light, roomy and orderly, though I do hoard a little dust and stuff the dog brings in; it’s got to live somewhere.

Still, if you could dig deeper into my mental closets, you would find that I hoard dollars like there were too many tomorrows. It’s not that I have so much money, I have more than some and less than others. I also realize that it’s a risk (and breaking a taboo) to even open up about the family funds. The thing is, like all good hoarders, I don’t have a healthy relationship with this thing I hoard; it’s way too “dams and reservoirs” and nowhere near enough “streams of living water.”

Thanks to childhood experiences, to messages inherited from my parents’ and grandparents’ Depression, war time and “austerity Britain” days, to realistic observation of our society, and to powerful marketing from the retirement industry, I have become a bit of a Scrooge. A big part of me is utterly convinced that nobody knows you when you’re down and out and I can, indeed, hang on to a dollar till the eagle grins! But a relationship based on fear and a belief in scarcity is a doomed relationship. So, if you come to my home, you might notice the general lack of clutter, but you would also probably notice the years of deferred maintenance. That’s no way to treat my most valuable investment, no matter how I justify it as living simply. My hoarding is, of course, not even logical.

Sometimes, the dam cracks or even bursts. A trickle leaks out or a flood of cash gushes forth for new outfits, a project or a “good cause.” There follows a period of frenetic repair work until a magic protective number is secured again in those quiet columns; a static sufficiency restored.

I’ve changed a few relationships in this last year, getting much happier with cooking and movement, for example, and living outside a little more each day. Perhaps, it’s time to ask a few new questions about my cache of cash. There are so many queries that could apply. What am I still saving for? Whom do I fear losing if the columns reach zero? What happens to stagnant pools? There are many more. Mostly, though, I need to sit with one. How does Love guide me to unbuild the dam?

On the wall in our corner room is a painting my daughter created when she was a child. To her teacher, she dictated, “Water and Love flow through the world.” And that’s not all.


Experiment with Love

18 04 2016

Today, I read that George Fox focused on “an experimental relationship with God,” not as “an end in itself,” but so our lives could “exemplify God’s nature: which is love.” (Introduction, pages 8 – 9, The Quaker Reader) So here are just a few hypotheses to test.

If I see Love coming on the other side of the street, I will:

  1. greet Love warmly and cross over to be closer and embrace,
  2. keep moving forward and hope Love doesn’t notice me,
  3. turn and hurry about some important business because I don’t have time for Love, or
  4. all of the above on different occasions because of my “unstable nature.”

If Love knocks on my door to tell me an inconvenient truth such as that I left my headlights on, I will:

  1. not answer the door to a stranger,
  2. open the door a crack with a begrudging “Okay” and much annoyance at this intrusive messenger,
  3. open the door wide, step out to thank my neighbor for this helpful information and go right away to remedy the situation, or
  4. depends on my mood and what I’m watching on screen.

The experiments continue in the lab of life.


9 02 2016

Today, although a bit late for “class,” I attended a webinar provided by the Center for Earth Jurisprudence and hosted by Sr. Pat Siemen, O.P., J.D., the Director of the Center. It was #2 in a series called “Protecting Our Common Home.” Sr. Pat Siemen’s spoke on the concept of the rights of nature and the history of the movement, including codification of Rights of Nature in the Ecuadorian Constitution in 2008. Then, Shannon Biggs, from Movement Rights, brought us a stronger understanding of how to assert the rights of communities and nature. Up early in Hawaii to participate in an event that took place at noon Florida-time, in less than thirty minutes and in gentle tones, Shannon laid a strong foundation for any movement toward community rights based on respect for all community members. Much of her presentation used the hot topic of fracking to illustrate how grass roots action can become substantially more effective through a set of mindshifts from blaming and attacking the “bad guys” to linking arms for desired outcomes.

Fracking is more than an example for a deep process change in how decisions are made and governance is accomplished. The language used to define this activity also gives us a metaphor for how “we” crack up, break apart, divide and are conquered. Compare the Oxford Dictionaries “American-English” definition of “fracking” with the Merriam-Webster definition. Thus, “The process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil and gas.” (Oxford Dictionaries) versus, “The injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas.)” (Merriam-Webster) In the first definition, something brutal is taking place. In the second, poor, trapped oil and gas are being liberated!

Lesson #1: Pay attention because language matters.

“The people united will never be defeated.” This is a powerful chant as we march our way down the street of history. The truth is “we, the people” are easily defeated by the application of high pressure to “force open existing fissures.” We are easily defeated because the fissures already exist, laid down over many years, subterranean and subconscious, buried, grown over, but ready to fracture when pressure is applied unless deep healing and wholeness come about through everyone’s efforts and daily decisions.

Lesson #2: Focus on healing, not to be “nice,” but to be strong when the big decisions come.

Then, there is the question of what the oil and gas need and want to do, what all the people living above and around the oil and gas need and want to do, what the critters large and microscopic around the oil and gas need and want to do, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Do the oil and gas want to be extracted, freed up or left in peace to continue a millenial process, maybe to become something even richer than oil and gas, something our present selves cannot even imagine?

Lesson #3: The question here is not, “Is fracking (or abortion, or gun-based policing, or whatever divisive issue) good or bad?” The question here is, “In a true democracy, who has the right to choose?”

Time to go outside. Take the children outside, too.


Meditation for a Child

4 02 2016

Today, it came to me to find a few minutes this evening to meditate for a child and to invite others to meditate for the children in their lives. For me, both my husband and our guest will be out this evening, so I hope the moments will present themselves.

Can you find a few minutes this evening to meditate for your child?

Who is your child?

They may be the child of your body. They may be the child of your street space, your work space or your earth space. They may bring you frequent joy, some trouble or great grief. They may come to mind again and again or they may be the child you realize you have overlooked. You may tuck them in at night or they may haunt your dreams and wake you at 2:00 a.m. They may be unborn, newborn, four-and-a-half, seventeen or sixty-three. They are your child.

Hold your child in a Loving Light. Let go of worrying about them, of finding fault with them, of allowing or restricting them, of nurturing and challenging them.

Just breathe with them.

Breathe and breathe and breathe.

Tomorrow is a new day.


Living Provisionally

11 01 2016

Today, I began by breaking our measuring cup. I broke it because I don’t remember things so well any more. I can still tell you the telephone number for the child care center I directed in the 1990s, but I forget that I am in the middle of drying the measuring cup when I turn to stir oatmeal bubbling on the stove. Thus, when I pick up the bundled dish towel moments later, it’s an empty cloth, – until the weight of well-used glass reveals itself in a slow motion, irreversible tumble to crash on the kitchen floor. Now, you see it, now, you don’t; a trick of an indifferent conjuror.

I sweep up the pieces of an old friend to be sure no shards remain to wound our dog’s paws. This measuring cup was sturdy and vintage enough to be permanently scoured and scarred inside. It was a “one cup” measure. It saw me through many USDA food guides, pyramids and plates, as well as the past few months of Medi-vegi-changey lifestyle revamp predicated on a post-retirement health reality check. Now, it rests in a newspaper so old it has an article about Volkswagen family values.

We are rich. We had two measuring cups. Life continues with our newer, less scathed “two cup” measure carrying the full load. We have plenty to measure, too. Even on incomes that have dipped floorward with retirement, we are supplied beyond measure thanks to our time and circumstances and thanks to the endeavors of many beyond our own efforts. Other people, near and far, live much more hand to mouth, scratch for grains in sand, for food in food deserts, measure water in sips and drops, not cups, not kilogallons.

Inexorably, tomorrow, the magician will whisk away more stuff, more friends. Today, is my opportunity to discern how to give freely as needed for someone now living provisionally, getting by on scraps and specks alone.


Time with Topaz

4 01 2016

Today, on page 9 of “Listening Spirituality”, I read the following: “to give over one’s own agenda and be open to the promptings of that mysterious being whose ways are not our ways and whose time is utterly different.”

Sacrilege alert: Patricia Loring is, of course, writing of God, but my thoughts went immediately to our cat, Topaz. She is, indeed, a mysterious being whose ways are not my ways and whose time is utterly different from mine. So, she is a good practice partner for giving oneself over to another’s agenda.

Topaz lives on and about our porches. She has her own list of things to be done and is often active when I sleep. Equally, she’s frequently apparently indifferent when I’m going about my daily business, content to let me get on with it. Still, when I go out to weed the front borders of our garden, she nearly always comes to greet me, to smell the pungent marigolds and receive her rightful ear-rub, marking me as her own.

I don’t go out just to sit with her often enough. Very occasionally, it’s too chilly, more likely, it’s too hot or too buggy. Mostly, it’s my inner condition of busyness that stops me from intentionally spending time with her.

When I do go out to be with her, she may be nowhere in sight. If I sit quietly for a while, I’ll hear a maowl, she’ll appear and leap her weight effortlessly onto my lap. It is always a deep pleasure to sit with her warmth, her fur, her purr; for both of us. When we part, I always know what’s next.