The Birds Are Singing

There was no color in the sunrise this morning. It has been raining for about 20 hours straight. I woke up to the birds singing. They always do. Every morning. Rain or shine. Heat or cold. They sing.

foggyBLOG(rainy, foggy morning, by me)

I did not have to rush to get up. Nothing was required of me this morning so I stayed curled up in bed, next to a cat. I listened. To the birds. To my thoughts. To my heart.

I don’t have much to say today, except I feel worn down at the amount of sorrow and sadness I have felt these last few weeks. I get so upset by the violence, the hate and the fear.

Even when there is a ray of goodness and love, there seems to be someone, or a group of people who harbor so much anger, fear and hate, that they even tear love apart.

Fear of change is in there too. Things change all the time. It happens. Why do we fear it?

I don’t have any answers. I am not perfect. I admit to being afraid of change sometimes. But, I am consciously working on that because change is going to happen so I had better learn to cope. I feel anger. But when I look at that, it is only occasionally anger from something I am reacting to personally. Mostly it is anger at hearing or seeing something happen to others that seems cruel, unkind. I fear the unknown sometimes. But there is no way to know what will actually happen in the next minute, so I try not to fall into that trap too.

Then there is fear and hate. I fear open closet doors. Always have. And heights. Hate? I hate hate.

My father was a minister. I understand Christianity as interpreted by the Episcopal Church. As an adult I have let that go. This is a previous post about that:

So, I do not fear God, or death. I respect that for others it is different. I adhere to Be Soft.

Religion did and does good things. But at it’s root it can beget violence because it creates an Us/Them scenario. A Right/Wrong script. It creates separation. It allows humans to be violent to protect what is seen as right, correct in the eyes of God. What human knows that?

So, we have Charleston and Kuwait. Good people. In houses of God. Murdered.

In response to Charleston calls rang out to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. Cries of “It’s our heritage. It’s our history.” rang out in response. This is what that heritage and history is, a “new government” that  was to be founded “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” The foundation of white supremacy.

I stayed in bed, curled up with my cat and listened to birds singing and thought.

In the United States our Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage is a constitutional right under the 14th amendment. Guess what? People are so upset they say they’ll move to Canada. Which is funny because…..?! What do people think is going to happen when two men or two women get married? The world will not end. God will not strike us dead. There will be more love in the world. Dignity. Equality. Equality means equality. In all states, not some.

I had a young woman ask me if Isis was going to kill us all? That’s not the question, because we are doing it ourselves. ….“ since 9/11, jihadists have killed 26 Americans on U.S. soil, while those with right-wing leanings have killed 39. The single-most deadly event by an Islamic extremist was the 13 people killed at Fort Hood. On the right-wing side of the ledger, the worst was the six people slain at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.” (…actually almost any news source) And now we can add the 9 beautiful souls of Charleston.

On top of hate violence and murder, add our country’s poverty, hunger, homelessness, mental health crisis, illiteracy, gun violence, militarization of police and incarceration issues and we have a lot of people suffering.

And I stayed in bed curled up with my cat and listened to birds singing and thought.

There is a huge amount of goodness in the world. I am expecting two new little nieces/nephews this year. People like Bree Newsome exist. Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston continues to open her doors to anyone. Love wins. People are finding their voices and speaking up through community action, civil disobedience. Conversations and dialog are beginning. Hopefully we are ready to address racism in this country. We are beginning to understand the fragility of this planet and take care of her. There are places in the world where the Milky Way is so close you might feel like you could almost touch it—while possibly understanding the miracle that is this pale blue dot.

Please. We are all human beings. We are all imperfect. We all deserve love, dignity, a chance to live in health, free from suffering and pain. Free from fear of violence. Can we not find a way to work together?

I finally left the cat in bed and got up. The birds are still singing.

Quietly They Came

“So if we just love the way my mom would,
then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.”
Chris Singleton.

Thursday morning I woke up and heard the news about South Carolina and the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston.

I cried tears that came from deep, deep inside and had no place to go except out…..”Not again” screamed through my head.

I went to work and watched little children, just 3,4 and 5 years old, playing and care free. I listened to laughter and conversations. I saw empathy, compassion and inclusiveness.

noni peace candle

(children in our class share the peace candle with each other, saying, “I give you peace.”)

All day long I carried the shock, anger and sorrow around. Even as I told stories of fairies and princesses, whales and sailing adventures, the lost lives of those 9 people weighed heavily on me. The failing of our society to nurture and raise Dylann Roof as a loving, compassionate, non-violent person weighed heavily on my heart.

Someone posted on Facebook that the local Quaker Meeting was opening its door for a prayer vigil that afternoon. Bruce and I went.

Quietly they came. Softly they came. One, then another. Old, young, black, white. Children with their parents. Husbands and wives. Friends and strangers. College students and retirees. Quakers and non Quakers. Sitting in silence, bound by a deep sorrow, heavy hearts and love.

And hope.

Through the window, the life of the neighborhood went on. Someone was celebrating a birthday. Laughter and songs drowned out the silence in the room. Family dropped by: you could almost feel the hugs and kisses. Neighbors stopped by: “You’re growing up so fast!” Life was as it should be….full, celebratory, honored, revered, witnessed, protected, cherished, valued….allowed.

Slowly and softly they spoke. Tears flowed. Pauses and deep breaths offered strength.

In our quiet room a young woman stood up and wondered how does a child grow up to experience the life we heard through the window rather than experiencing the life of Dylann Roof that led him to murder 9 people at a church in the middle of a Bible study class…in which he was participating? “How does that happen?” she wondered, looking at all of us.

An older man rose and stood by his wife. He was so soft spoken you could hardly hear him. He spoke of hitchhiking through the south years ago. Folks who gave him a ride boasted about lynchings they had attended, yelled racial epithets out the windows aimed at Blacks walking along the road and sidewalks.

Another woman spoke of going to college in Chapel Hill (I’m guessing in the 50’s) and apologized for not understanding the depth of the racial divide in this country. “Why can’t we just learn about and honor and celebrate each other?” she wondered.

A woman who had had her eyes closed for most of the time stood up with a deep breath and reminded us all that racism is not a southern phenomenon.

The college student spoke again…”I’m really wondering…..if I, this me that I am now, had been raised in a racist household and culture…..would I…would I be racist?”

And finally, a man stood slowly. I had been watching him…his head down. He had started to get up before, but had stopped. Now he stood. “You do not understand history” he said.  (And, if you do the research, you will understand that most of us in fact do NOT understand this part of our country’s history.) He spoke of the history of Charleston, the slave trade, the founding and structure of our nation. He struggled to speak. Change will only come he suggested, at the determination of white people. “What will you do?” he asked.

On September 18, 1963 Dr. King delivered a powerful eulogy for the four Black children killed in the bombing of  Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In his Eulogy for the Martyred Children, Dr. King told us, “They  (the 4 murdered children) say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly to make the American dream a reality.”

As a human being I ache for the lives lost. I stand in awe of the daughter of one of the victims who says,  “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me and I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And may God have mercy on your soul.” Another, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live and love. So hate won’t win.” Still another, “But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.” And, “May God bless you.”

Chris Singleton lost his mother and says to all of us ,“So if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.”

They do not speak of violence or vengeance. They speak of forgiveness and hope.

As a human being I ache for the society and culture that raised Dylann to harbor the hatred and violence he does. Some will argue with me that it is not society as a whole that failed Dylann, but his family (and this may not have been a catalyst), his circumstances…his whatever. I disagree.

How do we understand how the same country can produce these two young adults, Dylann and Chris? How do we, as Dr. King asked us to do, look at the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murderers?

According to the SPLC there are 784 active hate groups in the United states. 44 are in NY state, Florida has 50 and California has a hefty 57 hate groups. A group is classified as a hate group if they have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. ( South Carolina, where Dylann is from  has 19 groups classified as hate groups. South Carolina has no hate crime laws. Where does the fear of and anger towards a group of people that causes people to go to the extreme of murdering them come from? Dylann believed Black people (Black men) were raping “our” (his/white) women and taking over the country. He believed it because he heard it, read it, experienced it around him. “It”, this kind of thinking, is out there. Listen and you will hear it too. If not about Blacks specifically, then about welfare recipients, Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered, Muslims, Jews, the homeless, the mentally ill, Hispanics, “illegal aliens”…..the anger, hate and fear is all around us. Perhaps you do not harbor these feelings and thoughts, but do you chuckle uncomfortably at an insensitive, biased joke or comment, or do you speak up? THIS is the system, the philosophy of our society. This is the “when” that we speak up. When we witness…see, hear, feel hatred and fear…this is when we speak up and begin change.

I really want you to answer me. As a human being I want to know if this is it…..murdering each other over hate and fear. Are we ready yet, are YOU ready yet, to look at the system, the way of life, and the philosophy that creates people like Dylann..full of violence, anger, fear, hatred?

I am ready. I want to know. To understand. To be a motivator for change. To make the world better for those little 3,4 and 5 years olds I look at every day.

Pass the Salt and Pepper

Everybody eats food. It is how we stay alive. It is what nourishes and sustains our bodies and allows us to grow healthy and strong.

Sometimes we season our food with herbs, spices and lots of other yummy things like lemon juice. These additions make the flavors “pop”. Sometimes it makes the food palatable, when it might otherwise not be so good….

herbs blog3 (oregano)

We season and flavor our thoughts too. Thoughts that make us who we are. Thoughts that guide our motives, actions, interactions, behaviors, dreams.

“Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”
Soren Kierkegaard

Different herbs and spices work differently with different foods. Thyme is wonderful with sautéed mushrooms, but the taste effect is very different when thyme is added to a Harvest soup. We love to look at, smell, bathe in, sleep with lavender, but it is divine in chocolate, tea, honey and as a marinade for salmon.

“Curry” is not one fixed combination of spices. The recipe varies from region to region. The same for Garam Masala and Piri Piri. There are different flavors and even textures found in salts and peppers.

We each have our favorite seasoning in cooking and at the table. Some of us use salt sparingly only in the cooking process. Others of us salt everything without even checking the taste first. Some of us like lots of spicy pepper while others may even be physically allergic to it. We have our favorite combinations of foods and spices/herbs: black beans and cumin, spaghetti sauce and basil, goulash and paprika, jerk seasoning for chicken or fish, za’atar  on fish, meat or vegetables, rosemary with potatoes or meat, sage in stuffing, green beans with dill, you get the idea.

Sometimes something just sounds or smells so yucky and gross we could never even try it. We won’t even give it a chance.  If we don’t at least try, we will never know. If we try it and don’t like it we can stop ( for me that’s asafetida), or perhaps learn to appreciate what the particular flavor brings to the food.  Think of fennel bulb and a strong hard licorice candy. Many people who don’t like the candy enjoy the mellow flavor of roasted fennel bulb or the bright flavor it brings raw in a salad.

Obviously using herbs and spices is a choice. Many foods require little or no extra enhancements.

I’ve been thinking recently about how I think about things, how those thoughts influence who I am, who I present to be to others, how I gauge and tolerate things I know little about…..or even a lot about.   How my thoughts dictate what I do, and how I do it. And it came to me it’s like using herbs and spices. The way we flavor our thoughts is what makes us unique…what gives us our “flavor”.

If you sprinkle your thoughts with compassion your being becomes compassionate. It’s like sprinkling your French fries with salt—they become salty, making them delicious. If you sprinkle your thoughts with fear they may become debilitating like too many ghost peppers in a hot sauce. Your personality may become too hot and abrasive. If your thoughts center on the criticizing and judgment of others, it’s a bit like stinging nettle. While there are benefits, it is difficult to harvest…you have to know how in order to reap those benefits, or you end up getting hurt. If you sting others too often with hurtful thoughts, words and actions, you will be left alone.  Add some tolerance to your thinking and it may bring that perfect mellowness like cardamom to hot chai. A cardomon personality says “come, relax, let me offer you comfort.” A shake of acceptance may bring a burst of delight like mint in peas. Acceptance is always refreshing. Thoughts of caring for, being of service to others is like cinnamon: warm and inviting, a little mysterious and yet familiar and comforting. Cloves, like thoughts of caution, work if used sparingly, otherwise the food is rendered inedible. Clove scented thoughts may create a  personality that can be warm and inviting or off-putting and avoided. Our thoughts are the spices and flavorings of who we are. As we put care into how we add, change, enhance or dilute flavors in food, our thoughts do the same for the person we are. The person others see us as. And as in cooking, everyone has their own likes and dislikes. And that regulates what we eat, how healthy we are, how much energy we have, how long we live. Our thoughts are the same. They can dictate and influence how healthy we are, how well we sleep, the people who enjoy us, the way we are viewed by others, the contributions we make to others and our community. Of course our individual concern with any of these is our own private matter and choice. Some of us are happy to say pass the salt and pepper and be satisfied.  Some of us like bit of mint or cardamom in our tea of life. Perhaps there are favorite combinations that balance all the parts….tolerance with caution, cardamon and clove, lavender and honey, compassion with service.

But, what if we don’t try something just because we think we don’t like it? Or, because someone we know doesn’t like it? Maybe it’s no big deal. Maybe it is…..maybe it would enrich our experience. Maybe.

What’s in your spice cabinet? How do your thoughts bring out and brighten the essence of who you are?

“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavour.”
William Cowper

“The person who sends out positive thoughts
activates the world around him positively
and draws back to himself positive results.”
Norman Vincent Peale