You Be The One

The Pleasure of Serving
by Gabriela Mistral

All of nature is a yearning for service:
The cloud serves, and the wind, and the furrow.

Where there is a tree to plant, you be the one.
Where there is a mistake to undo, let it be you.

You be the one to remove the rock from the field,
The hate from human hearts,
And the difficulties from the problem.

There is joy in being wise and just,
But above all there is the beautiful,
The immense happiness of serving.

How sad the world would be if all was already done.
If there was no rosebush to plant,
No enterprise to undertake.

Do not limit yourself to easy tasks.
It’s so beautiful to do what others dodge.

But don’t fall prey to the error that only
Great tasks done can be counted as accomplishments.
There are small acts of service that are good ones:
Decoratively setting a table,
Putting some books in order,
Combing a little girl’s hair.
That one over there is the one that criticizes,
This other one is the one that destroys.
You be the one that serves.

Serving is not a labor just for inferior beings.
God, who gives fruit and light, serves.
His name could be rendered thus: He Who Serves.

And he has his eyes on our hands,
And he asks us at the close of day:
“Did you render service today? To whom?
To a tree, to your friend, to your mother?”

– Gabriela Mistral: was a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and feminist

light housemh(Lighthouse, UP, Michigan, by me)

Powerful question: “Who did you render service to today?” Was there someone you held the door open for? Helped with a heavy package? Made eye contact with? Who did you serve today?

Were there others you crossed the street to avoid? Was there someone you chose not to look at? Did you find yourself thinking “That person should have made a different choice.”?

As we hold in our thoughts and minds to be of service to others, could we also realize:

“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way,
and in that I learn from him.” 
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is there anyone we cannot learn from? Is there anyone unworthy of our “service” to them? The homeless, the mentally ill, the refugee or “migrant?” The “scary Black man who might have a gun” or the “Unnatural transgendered person”? Perhaps the “American hating Muslim”. or the “White trash mother on meth”? Maybe it’s the “She asked for it” rape victim?

What stereotypes are you pretty sure you could learn nothing from? If you thought about “being of service to them”, what would that look like?

I know that when I am of service to someone I tend to care about who they are. And in caring about who they are, I learn. Not only do I learn about them, I learn about me. I change. I grow.

That one over there is the one that criticizes,
This other one is the one that destroys.
You be the one that serves.

I want to be the one who learns from ALL others. I want to be the one who serves. How about you?

Of Telescopes and Microscopes

I remember the first time I looked through a microscope. It opened a new window not only to curiosity, but to understanding. By studying the smaller picture I understood the bigger picture much better….more accurately. A simple leaf whose primary attribute, in my mind, included being green became a work of living art….a biological imperative. A life sustaining miracle.

Likewise, the telescope. My first experience with binoculars was when I was a child. I remember the weight of those large black binoculars of the 60’s. There was the little dial in the middle you turned with your finger to adjust the focus….to bring distant things into focused view. Later there were back yard telescopes and the rings of Saturn and the craters of the moon. Eventually there was the Fuertes telescope at Cornell University’s Observatory. Celestial wonders could be see by looking through an eye piece and brought into focus in a way the human eye could never see unaided and the human mind could never imagine. Now we can look at the images from the Hubble Telescope and experience the magnificence of the cosmos in a way never possible before. We can see the birth place of stars…and understand they are “born”. We can almost touch the edge of the universe and become infinitesimally small against that backdrop. We know we are made of star dust.

Marcel Proust:
“The real voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes
but in having new eyes.”

Using a microscope and/or a telescope gives us “new eyes”. We can see things we could not see before. By seeing these things in perspective and in focus, perhaps we can better understand the whole picture.

Isn’t all of life like that? We are like a little piece of something placed on a slide under a microscope. We can see the magnified parts of our lives. There’s the physical body we take care of through food, exercise, clothing, medicine, etc. There are the organs that keep things moving. Our mind. Blood. Hair. Eyes. All that stuff. We tend to be very concerned with how things, events, circumstances, stories, emotions affect our body. Not only in a physical sense of being safe or nourished, but in the capacity to be happy, fulfilled, challenged, valuable.

When we put our eye to the telescope new worlds comes in to view. We use a new lens to see a different perspective. We see how we are only a very small part of a much bigger picture. The exploration of space has allowed us to view our literal Earth in a new context. There are no boundary lines. There is a sense of shared resources, of a shared life. A sense of belonging to the same family. Our home is a shared home. It not just our home alone, but one we share with billions of others. We have a responsibility of shared stewardship for the next billion people. Our planet is alive and can die.

The Hubble telescope has allowed us to see further into space than ever before. Opening our eyes to the unimaginable vastness of the the known universe. Seemingly unexplainable things seen, even if not understood. There. Real. And when we look back at Earth, we see it is one very, very small dot among billions, trillions…..

When we look through the microscope we can’t see that. We see the small picture. The facts that relate specifically to us as individuals and our smaller family units. Using that lens, having that perspective doesn’t mean that the reality we would see through the the lens of a telescope, the bigger picture that shows the connected-ness of mind boggling amounts of stuff, isn’t equally important.

We don’t think or forget, to change lenses. We don’t think or forget, to turn and rotate to see a different perspective. We don’t think or forget, to learn about things we never thought to learn about or understand. We don’t think of or forget, that our perspective can change. Our understanding can change. The reality and truth we hold on to can change because we can learn and discover new things that are true and factual. New understanding that means we have to adjust to bring things into the best possible, most clear focus.

We forget that because we see something one way and label it as true and unchanging, it does not mean it is ultimately true.  We see this in medicine, in science, in technology, in evolution, in energy, in space, in history, in beliefs, in going from Newton to Einstein to quantum physics, from Mendel’s study of peas to molecular biology, from fear of taking baths to the understanding of hygiene.

Our curiosity and ability to dream and  imagine has brought us great things that were deemed impossible or unrealistic 50 years ago. Who would have thought people would ever fly in something called and airplane? The Hindu epic the Ramayana (written in the 4-5th century BCE) included detailed information about flying in machines. Jules Verne wrote a fantasy stories of submarines and flying to the moon. Aldous Huxley wrote of anti-depressants. In 1911 Hugo Gernsback imagined a “video chat.”

In reading the book Octavia’s Brood, we enter into the writers imagined future.  Activist writers present stories of the future changes in society based on issues of social justice. The narratives hurl us into the “next phase of humanity.”

Co-author Walidah Imarisha says: “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction. When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.”

And isn’t that what dreaming and imagining is about? Isn’t that what looking through a microscope or telescope tells us? Dream, look harder. Discover. Learn.  Rotate and turn. Change lenses and perspective. Maybe the reality we have now in our world is not the final truth. Maybe we are capable of compassion, tolerance, community, shared resources, social justice, equality, peace.

We can ask “What do we want” and not “What is realistic.” If we choose to ask “What do we want?” we can choose to seek answers to the question. If we use the microscope to look at ourselves, what do we see? If we use the telescope to look up and out and broaden our range of seeing, what is there?

If we see in the small parts of our being the capacity for love, compassion, hope, tolerance, shared humanity, determination, how do we get others to see this is what they too possess?

If we look out beyond ourselves and “our world”, and see that there are other “real” things out there, unlike ours, perhaps difficult to understand, but nonetheless there and dancing with us, perhaps we can join hands and dance together in harmony.

dancing people(photo by me, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh)

Weaving A Tapestry

“We don’t accomplish anything in this life alone…
and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry
of one’s life and all the weavings of individual
threads from one to another
that creates something.”
Sandra Day O’Connor

Ideas for blog posts usually begin when I hear a phrase, story, idea or see something on the street or a picture in a book. This week my idea comes from a phrase heard on a NPR show:

…..”a tapestry of voices spoke out…”

That short thread of words just sounded so beautiful. So full of possibility, unity, hope, beauty.


(Comet Halley, Bayeux Tapestry, Wikimedia Commons)

Somewhere in the Bayeux Tapestry  is an ancestor of mine. On a piece of paper, somewhere in this house, I have the name of that person. Though I do not know his name at this moment, and cannot, right now, place him in the tapestry, I am because of him. Without knowing where he is in the tapestry I can view this video, or gaze at photographs of the tapestry, or maybe someday see it in person, and see what came before him as well as after him. People and events before him allowed him to be who he was. His participation in these events and survival allowed for me to be here. We are a tapestry, the intertwined threads of people, experiences, connections all creating a woven wonder that tells a story not only of our world’s history, our country’s history, our town’s history, our family’s history, but our individual history.

“Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry
in which every thread is guided by an unspeakable tender hand,
placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

The other day I was cleaning out my study. I found envelopes and boxes holding forgotten treasures. Reminders of people and experiences, stories and places from a long time ago. I have written elsewhere on this blog about defining moments in my life, but these were fresh, newly found, joyful with a hint of melancholy. Pictures from Northeast Elementary School, High School, and college. A journal from India, a card from Japan, a trinket from Greece and a bracelet from Denmark. There was a love letter from my husband and a poem from a long ago boyfriend. Tied with a ribbon were the letters I sent my mother when I lived in Greece.

Who I am now is a person woven out of the threads of love and pain, people and places, experiences and dreams. I am woven with the love of Rosalie who I haven’t seen in 35 years. She would visit me once a week in Japan when I was very sick and massage my tired body. She would check my eyes and skin color and help me sip fenugreek tea. I contain a ribbon of Rick who laughed and cried and took pictures of everything. He gave me a copy of Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men and wrote inside “To my remarkable friend”. There is a strand of Elise who I have known since I was three. We have millions of shared memories and stories. There is a strong sparkling thread from AnaLisa who I love so dearly. Everywhere in my tapestry are ribbons from my husband, siblings, parents, my children, the children I teach, family, friends, mentors….people who gave me a piece of this thread and that yarn, to add to the development of me. And there are also threads from people who contributed dark colored threads that run and stain threads near them. People who brought hurt and sorrow. There are bright white strands for the shimmering Taj Mahal and the snows of the Himalayas. Yarns of blue and green for oceans and rivers, lake and ponds. Interspersed are patches of floral tones for the daisies in my wedding, the lilies in my garden, the funeral flowers of my parents, the bougainvillea of my in-laws, the Impatiens and lavender of my grandmother, the jasmine from Betsy, the lilacs from Holley. Musical threads might be glittery or soft. There are the breathtaking braids of Adagio and Allegro by Boccherini and the harp playing the lilting notes of Pachabel’s Cannon, each weaving and caressing the warp of my tapestry. These warp threads are strong to hold the tension of the weaving together the spun fibers of the memories of being a child, of falling in love, getting married, of giving birth and becoming a mother, of loosing parents, of laughter and tears. Millions of threads in all sizes and colors, soft and coarse, many supple, some inflexible. Some break and are tied with a knot. A bump that never goes away.

We are woven from the sounds of voices that talk of love and hate, that sing of joy and sorrow, that chant of defiance and resoluteness. Woven from the sounds of a baby’s gurgle and a parent’s cry of fear. We are woven from the voice that orders a bomb to fall and the command of a doctor who calls for the tools to rebuild broken bodies. We are woven with the words of priests, ministers, clerics, Lamas, Rinpoches, Gurus, Rishis, Ayatollahs, Imans, Mullahs and Rabbis, to live a life according to divine doctrine.

We are woven from millions of threads. Threads of all kinds, all colors, all fibers. We are a tapestry of star dust, songs, stories, love, hate, experiences, interactions, dependency, self reliance….

We are a woven tapestry of a medley of things, people, thoughts, experiences….

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry,
and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry
are equal in value no matter what their color.”
Maya Angelou

We cannot always remove a thread when we decide we don’t like. It may compromise the whole tapestry. We may have knots where broken threads have been fixed, leaving an unwanted bump. We may have to use a certain color to brighten another, or a finer fiber to soften a coarser strand.

Mistakes and all. Designed or impromptu. Thick or thin. Recycled or new. Dark or light. Bright or dull. Tangled or smooth.  Sometimes we get to pick and choose the thread. Other times it is what is given to us and we use it whether we like it or not to keep going.

Each thread of the warp and weft is what holds together the tapestry of who we are. We are each a vibrant, diverse tapestry that is still unfinished. And our threads, yarns and ribbons we share with others become a part of the tapestry of who they are.

“We are all woven together in the great web of humanity,
and whatever we can do to benefit and uplift others
will reflect in blessings upon ourselves.”
Ellen G. White





No Rust On My Soul


“Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul.
An’ to love sho ‘nough, you got to have a spot in yo’ heart fo’ ever’body –
great an’ small, white an’ black,
an’ them what’s good an’ them what’s evil –
‘cause love ain’t got no crowded-out places where de good ones stay

an’ de bad ones can’t come in.
When it gets that way, then it ain’t love.”
– Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter, 1930

flower mask

I have been greatly affected by the awareness of the disproportionate violence, murder, oppression and incarceration of the Black population of our country. I am embarrassed and feel a sense of shame that I have been in a bubble and lacked awareness and understanding of this.

I was raised in a family that stood with the demands of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. My father’s best friend was a man named after the African National Congress governmental party opposing Apartheid. My son was baptized by a man who lived with Martin Luther King Jr’s. family and held his father when he grieved the murder of his son. My mother worked with those living in one of the most researched areas of poverty in NYS. She was often called to homes to defuse acts of domestic violence against women and children. When she knocked on the doors she was usually greeted by a man holding a shotgun. I designed Christmas cards to be sent to Daniel Berrigan and sent them to the Danbury Prison where he was held for non-violent protest against war. How could I be anything but enlightened on the struggles of the Black community, violence against women, those who are homeless, living in poverty, the protesters of war, violence and oppression?

“The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.”
Maya Angelou

Well, let me tell you. I am not enlightened. In fact I feel almost ignorant. I don’t even remember which murder of which Black person ignited this awareness…there have been too many recently. But something happened and inside I felt a deep, deep sadness. A pain. And I stopped and listened and read, and listened some more.

I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter to his son, Between the World and Me and I cried. I cried for Ta-Nehisi has a human being, a friend, a son, a husband, a father. I cried for his son and his wife. And I felt so ashamed for my own ignorance. I cried because if I were to write a letter to Caitlin or Evan it would be so, so different. And I am embarrassed.

 I have received the message loud and clear from some friends that they find these discussions on racism, Black Lives Matter unnecessary, tiresome, irrelevant, unimportant, over-blown, exaggerated. They are wrapped up in their lives…lives that are full and rich, where bills get paid, vacations are had, food is on the table, where fear revolves around ISIS and Mexican immigrants, rather than a traffic stop. They have no time to just look around and see what is happening to the “Others”. I am going to speak my mind. Listen or don’t. Reflect, pause, look around, or don’t. I want to be a person who learns, and grows, who cares, who stands up for every single person who experiences any thing that prevents them from experiencing the same life with the same rights, privileges, security, possibilities as I have. I do not expect my child to be gunned down on a playground. I do not expect my son to be killed for a traffic violation. I do not expect my daughter, for any reason, to be dragged out of her home, violently restrained, shot or anything else, by police. I do not expect it. BUT, we have a whole group of people who DO expect this, and raise their children to live in fear even as members in their own communities, where they go to school, to college, work, and contribute to these communities.

“I think we have to own up to the fears
that we have of each other,
and then in some practical way, some daily way,
figure out how to see people differently
than they way we were brought up to.”
Alice Walker

There is so much talk of American freedom and the call to protect and defend those freedoms. Yet, in our own country many of our citizens do not have the same freedoms a majority the rest of us call on to be protected.

“The function of freedom is to free someone else.”
Toni Morrison

We have to look in the mirror, our own and our society/culture’s, and understand what is there. We have to take off the protective veils, remove the band aids. What is there without make-up, before shaving, with uncombed hair, splotchy skin…what is really there? And we have to face that as truth.

hand to face

“Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
James Baldwin

We can pray. We can recite the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Prayer may bring sense of comfort, but it may be seen as an excuse for not taking responsibility and action. We can believe God answers prayer as he sees fit, or we can take personal action. We can believe the Constitution  somehow is magically true for everyone, that the Bill of Rights does apply to everyone. Or we can drop the mask and see the reality.

We….I….you…..are being called on and challenged to change. To take down the walls we have put up around ourselves by rationalizing why as a society we continue to disparage groups of people who are not white.

“The point is that right now they are not treated as though they matter equally. Some people’s lives are treated as precious, others as disposable garbage. If you really do believe all lives matter, then your focus should be on black lives, which are demonstrably the most neglected lives in our country and, for that matter, the world. Treating a focus on black lives as a “special interest” or parochial concern requires willful ignorance about what kind of world we actually live in.” All Lives Matter, Arthur Chu, Salon

I will not stop listening to the stories of the “Other”, whether they are Black, gay, trans-gendered, the incarcerated, the homeless, the mentally ill. I will not stop seeing, reading, listening, learning. I will not pretend to know everything, to be right or correct. I will not be blind or biased. I will pop the bubble I live in and step out and admit to not really understanding what has happened and is happening in this country. I will not hide behind not caring, ignorance, ignoring, blaming, shaming, making excuses.

I will not succumb to fear of any kind. I will not be told what to believe without doing my homework. I will not deny the existence of racism in this country. I will  never defend racism. I will fight inequality, double standards.

“Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear.
Show us belief’s wide skirt
and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” –
Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture in Literature

I will love, be compassionate. I will use my voice and writing to stop racism, bigotry, bias, discrimination, intolerance. I will listen and learn in order to understand. I will not tip my head down, but will lift it up and open my eyes and meet the gaze of others without fear or worry.  I will work to understand in order to create change. I’ll look in the mirror to see who looks back and I’ll let the mask drop in order to see clearly who I am.

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without
and know we cannot live within.
I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense
but as a state of being, or a state of grace–
not the infantile American sense of being made happy,
but in the tough and universal sense
of quest and daring and growth.”  
James Baldwin

Dr. Peggy McIntosh, former co-director of Wellesley Centers for Women, directs the Gender, Race, and Inclusive Education Project, which provides workshops on privilege systems. She is a feminist and anti-racist activist and co-director of the National S.E.E.D. Project on Inclusive Curriculum. One of her defining studies has been on white privilege. Most of us react strongly to those words and begin to deny their possibility before we understand what they mean. She had an interesting epiphany while reading two essays written by women, and here is the result, Please watch.

While there may have been some progress made, white privilege has not gone away. The current catch phrase seems to be “white fragility”. I didn’t know it, but I carried the “knapsack” too. I am unpacking it with the intention of putting it away.

And finally, for those of you who are still with me…this blew me away:

It’s no fun to take a hard look at who think we are, and discover who we actually are. There is no disgrace or shame in doing this and understanding that we may in fact have biases. The gift we are offered is the possibility of change. It costs us nothing, yet offers much: the chance to evolve.

Again, Langston Hughes:  “Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul.”

Let’s remove the rust.

(If you have never read the works of the people I have quoted throughout this post, I suggest it would be a good place to begin if my feelings and thoughts triggered anything in you.)

**both photos by me. Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh. Frabel masks.


Chiseled and Shuffled

Earlier this week I was listening to stories recorded by folks on the Storycorp website. I listened to 5 or 6. Each one completely different. Each one a beam of light shining on a defining moment, a question, a hope, a dream in a stranger’s life. Without knowing the individuals personally I still found myself holding my breath in anticipation, shedding a tear of sorrow or hope, and having overwhelming feelings of really wishing I could just hold that person.

There are a handful of moments in my life that I know truly sculpted who I am today. Moments where the emotions were so raw and powerful they chiseled and shuffled my heart. There are days when remembering those moments can still provoke the same powerful emotions.

When I pause to really think about the moments, events, experiences that really changed, created, allowed me to move towards the person I am today, I understand that while there are many, there are fewer truly transformative moments. Transformative moments are the ones that act like a metamorphosis, an evolution….a change.

One of those was when my father died.

Looking back, I see that the whole month, from illness to diagnosis to death, was a journey of personal growth and a shift in consciousness for me.

If you read my post called Every Single Day :( you will have a glimpse into another one of the defining moments in my life.

My father was an Episcopal Minister. He loved the prefix “inter”. The dictionary defines “inter” as :  “between,”“among,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together”. He studied “Inter-religious”. The parts of religion that were the same. He experienced “inter-national”, the relating between nations and peoples. He taught an “inter-disciplinary” course…combining ideas and thoughts together as they related to religious and global possibilities.

When I was little, and even when I was older, he kept reinforcing the same idea with me. He referred to it as (and this is familiar to everyone)

Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes

We are all in this world, in life together. We may feel separate, different, unique, alone, but we are not. The reason we are not is because of all that “inter” stuff. There is a enormous amount of information on line about all the similar, unifying aspects of religions. The world has become more connected as people travel more easily, as resources need to be shared and as knowledge and information flows more openly. Thoughts, ideas, beliefs are expanded and strengthened through the inclusion of and respect for other thoughts, ideas and beliefs. As the “inter” aspect evolves and grows, the possibility of sensing, feeling the same as someone else, rather than different from someone else increases.

When we have an experience that moves us in any significant way we find ourselves understanding what someone else is going through when they have the same experience. We can sympathize, empathize and express support and compassion. Our experiences are “inter-woven”.

We have a shared experience. This, to me, is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Life is about the shared experience we all have with one another, and the seeking out of those shared experiences. The understanding of, and the empathizing with someone else.

What happens when we deem someone else’s experience as inconsequential, trivial, not relevant, wrong, misinterpreted or mistaken? I believe we have a responsibility to listen and hear the stories of other peoples experiences without judgement.  To hear them, digest them, even if they are difficult to imagine or understand. I believe being  human it is about seeking out and sharing experiences that validate, support our own experiences and beliefs, as well as seeking out the sharing of experiences that are not similar and perhaps challenge our thinking. It is about growing and evolving, about experiencing sympathy, empathy and a measure of understanding of something, an experience of someone else’s, that we cannot fully wrap our heads and hearts around. We do we have a responsibility to be able to reach out and say “I cannot fully understand what you are going through, but I value you as a fellow human being and am here for you.  I have a responsibility to listen to you. To hold you in your joy and happiness, in your sorrow and grief, in your fear and loathing. Without judgment and/or discrimination.”

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is about understanding we are not as separate from one another as we sometimes feel. We are not separate from the “Other”, those not “like” us, those who have different traditions, values and circumstances. We are all born and we will all die. We all experience the same emotions, feel joy and sorrow. We all love and are loved. When I look at you I can see parts of me.

And that is what happened when my dad died. As I stood next to him, painfully and tenderly aware of the absence of breathing, the lack of life, I had a transformative experience. I became inter related with millions of other people. No longer was I the “other” trying to comfort someone wrapped in a hurt and sorrow I could imagine but not fully understand. I now had a shared experience that bound me to them in ways that did not require spoken words to express the understanding. Our tears and grief were now interwoven, knitted together through shared threads of love, sorrow, loss, memories.

This experience and awareness is what drives me to be present to and mindful of the ways in which I am like “Others” rather than different from them. It is important for me to strive towards compassion, tolerance and understanding because when I pause, I know I have shared experiences with every other person. And those experiences allow me to put myself, sometimes, in a small way, into the shoes of another human being and remember the joy, love, loss, grief, pain, hopes, dreams that we all have.

When I am in your shoes I understand you are not the Other. I am you. And you are me. And that is very,very powerful.


dad and me mt washington

(My dad and I on top of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire)