Listening To The Radio and Popping Bubbles

“Love as a concrete foundation for an authentically
functional civilization
requires the around-the-clock labors of forgiveness.
Without it, Love fails, Friendship fails, Intelligence fails, Humanity: fails.” 
Aberjhani, from  a Life Made Out of Poetry

I used to listen to the radio a lot. At home. Every time I was in the car. Distraction. Sing along. News. Weather.

And then, for about 2 years I kept the radio off. I just needed the quiet. I needed to be able to process, to think. To not think. I just needed the quiet. I didn’t need other people’s words in my head. I didn’t need their emotional mood swings in my head. I had my own.

Eventually I just listened to NPR and our local rock station’s folksy weekend segments.

NPR often leaves me in tears. Tears of laughter. Tears of anger. Tears of happiness. Tears of disbelief. No matter the cause of the tears I always come away from the reports and stories feeling like I am a wiser, more complete person for learning. For listening. For hearing. For understanding. Or, sometimes, for just trying to understand. This bubble I live in of security and comfort, privilege and possibility, pops. And that’s okay by me.

I began to write this post on Thursday after listening to a NPR segment about Doctors Without Borders, MSF, in South Sudan.  I was distracted and only got parts of it, and I didn’t hear the end of it, so I listened to it twice later that night. The sentence that had caught my attention in the car was, “This baby didn’t do anything. She was born and she didn’t get anything to eat.”

What?

I got lost in those words and when I had a chance to listen to the whole segment I heard the story about a baby named Nenyoni (my spelling), in South Sudan. She was starving and so sick she was about to die. As I listened at home, I felt the full impact of this story. The doctor and nurse had to “shove” some long needle into the Nenyoni’s BONE. A bone marrow IV. It began to “help” Nenyoni. The doctor quietly commented that it would be hard to leave this baby in order to tend to the others. “She will die. There was no response to pain. There was no reaction when the needle went into her bone.” And so the doctor and the reporter sat with Nenyoni and waited.

They were gratefully surprised when Nenyoni woke up half an hour later. But they were shocked to discover she was not a 15 pound baby, but a fifteen pound 3 year old child asking for water. She was 3 years old. Not a baby.

After few days, Nenyoni does die. You can feel the heartbreak of the doctors in the silence of the recording. You can hear the reporter’s voice crack and you know she is crying. And the doctors say they have doubts about whether they did all they could. In South Sudan where “political conflict has caused massive displacement, raging violence and dire food shortages. Over 5 million people are in need of aid, and nearly 3 million people are at risk of starvation.” (Mercy Corps)

What?

These doctors say no one can get used to the level of mortality here. They say they have nightmares. When their “tour” is done they feel as if they are abandoning these patients and it weighs heavily on them.

I am sorry if no one wants to think about this stuff, but really, just, what the hell are we doing?

“Love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator.
The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning
to human existence,
the more likely we are to continue to define history
as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.”
~ Aberjhani, from  a Life Made Out of Poetry

Is this true? The human legacy is to be a long record of man’s inhumanity to man?

So, silly ole me wants to know: why can’t we seem to build this authentically functional foundation? Because with it maybe Nenyoni wouldn’t have had to die. I understand full well that there is no explainable reason that Nenyoni was someone else’s child and not mine. Or yours. In my heart, that baby is mine. Is ours. And I feel as if I have failed her. For me it does not matter that Nenyoni was born half a world away in South Sudan. Her birth and her death are what matter. Because in my Utopian, hippy-ish, communal, non-violent, peacenick, fantasy world, Nenyoni should not have been born into starvation and disease anywhere in this world.

“Human rights are not worthy of the name
if they do not protect the people
we don’t like
as well as those we do.”
Trevor Phillips,  Commission for Equality and Human Rights

We don’t have it right in this country. How on earth can the “wealthiest nation in the world” collectively look at itself in the mirror and not gasp.

In 2015, this country spent $14 million a day to combat ISIS, and $187 million a day on the Iraq War, and 400 BILLION dollars on a fighter jet. In the United States, let’s just stick with our country for a minute, 1 in 6 people go without enough food to stay healthy. 15.5 million children live in poverty. Food Banks serve 5.4 million.

We spend a lot of money on some things and not enough on others. If we have money to hunt down and kill people, and destroy just about everything we want on the other side of the world why don’t we have more money to seek out, feed, shelter, clothe, heal, save, educate and build in this country? Where is the functional foundation? Maybe if we started prioritizing enough over greed, sustainability over corporations, life over death, understanding over fear, love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, we would be taking a step forward and maybe the world would follow.

Five Day and Five Nights This is incredibly difficult to read and the photographs make you hold your breath. Yet, I encourage you. Read it. Pop your own bubble.

be-the-change-you-wish-to-see-in-the-world-600x600

Gandhi

 

 

 

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Stories Told

Storytelling is an ancient art. Long before there were books, there were bards who sang songs and told stories. A living, mobile entertainment and news source. These bards would travel great distances, sharing stories of what was happening in other places. On special dates people would travel many miles to come together for festivals and gatherings where the bard was often a key participant. This was a means of keeping people informed. Much of it was about entertaining, but it also provided warning when necessary. Some stories were based on myths and legends and helped people understand the mystical, mysteries and the “unknown”. It was about sharing and educating. It was about bringing people together. Sometimes music and dance were included in the storytelling. Sometimes puppets. It was an important resource for individuals and the community.

As books were printed and reading became more widespread the traveling bard faded away. News could be posted in the center of town, read as one had time. Some of the storytelling moved away from the center square in town, the dining halls and courtyards of castles and became bedtime stories for children. Books became illustrated and children had visual props to bring home the imagery of the story. The Brothers Grimm were famous storytellers who created vivid, imaginative stories to help children learn of hidden dangers in the world at that time in history. Current interpretations of many of these famous stories have been modified to keep them current as perceived dangers changed over the years, or make them more appealing—less frightening, resulting in the original intent often being lost or even changed completely. In reading an original today you might not even recognize the story.

Mother Goose favorites hinted of political commentary of the time. Mother Goose

There are two teaching stories that remain very much untouched. Their story lines transcend time, cultures and religions. Names, settings, words change to help people identify with the stories, but the lessons do not change.

Estátua_de_frade_em_Almeirim

Statue of a monk and a pot of soup in Portugal

One is Stone Soup. You remember: a single person or a small group of wandering people come to an unwelcoming village. There are no people walking in the streets, no bustling businesses providing services and goods. Doors are closed tight. Lights in windows turned off. Knocks on doors go unanswered. Not only are the the doors and windows closed to the strangers, but also to each other. The villagers kept everything “closed” to protect what was theirs. Usually it is a child who inquisitively, fearlessly ventures forth to find out what is going on. “We are hungry and would like to make some Stone Soup” comes the traveler’s response, “We would love to share with you, but we need a pot.” Curious at how soup could be made from a stone, the delighted child scampers to get a pot and in so doing the word spreads among the fearful adults. Slowly they emerge from behind their locked doors. Through gentle encouragement and support, the travelers are able to coax small quantities of tightly guarded food from the villagers…a potato here, a few carrots, some onions, a dash of salt… all thrown into a pot of boiling water simmering with a roadside stone. Before long, the savory scent of soup trickles through the village. More doors open. More people emerge. Tables and chairs appear, perhaps even a table cloth and flowers. It isn’t long before the entire village of fearful, isolated people gather together to share a communal meal. The travelers depart and the people in the village are forever changed. Working together as a functional community. A new understanding develops: that every individual has something to contribute that results in the health of themselves and of the whole village.

Long Spoons is another famous story. Much like Stone Soup it is found across the world in diverse cultures and is inherent in most religious teaching stories. Often it is a student, man, woman or spiritual/religious person wishing to understand the difference between heaven and hell. The props and language change to reflect the culture and religion in which it is to be received. (In that alone there is a lesson….the lesson is the same for all people all over the world.) In many versions it begins with a request to God.

Usually the story begins with the person being shown two doors. They open the first door and see a group of thin, sickly people. Each person has a long spoon tied to their arms. They are all sitting together around a pot of soup/rice/noodles. With such long spoons tied to their arms they are unable to get the spoon full of food to their mouth to feed themselves. It is a heartbreaking vision.

spoons in hand

The person closes that door and opens the second door. Here are the same people sitting around the same pot of food! Long spoons are still tied to their arms. These people, however, are healthy and robust! Thriving and joyful! With their spoons they reach into the pot of life sustaining food and then reach across the pot and feed a person on the other side. Everyone is fed. No one goes hungry. There is no “mine” or “yours”. The Other is needed.

The lesson is clear, is it not?

Do not doubt the power of kind and compassionate actions.

“Through practice, we can learn to make our own hearts
a place of peace and integrity.
With a quiet mind and an open heart
we can sense the reality of interdependence.”
Jack Kornfield

 

 

To Love Others

“Our job is to love others without stopping
to inquire whether or not they are worthy.
That is not our business,
and in fact, it is nobody’s business.
What we are asked to do is love,
and this love itself will render both ourselves 
and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”
Thomas Merton

Spring-ish is slowly turning towards summer. The changing seasons remind us that  there are rhythms and cycles that move without thought to us humans. As we awaken to earlier sunlight and listen to the gentle rains of spring that call for the flowers and bees to also awaken, let us open our eyes to this fresh, renewed world and look around. Animals everywhere strut, fluff, and preen.  Already little ducklings waddle through puddles and baby birds squeak for more food.  Buds lazily unfurl as leaves and flowers, responding to light and warmth.

Our mood changes. We feel healthier. Happier. There is a new energy that calls us outside. We laugh and hug and make plans to be together in the warmth and light.

The news of the world does not always follow the cycles of Nature. Events are stuck in muddy ruts. Light is blocked. No one looks at the Other. People cry instead of laugh. People fight instead of embrace. People operate on fear based reactions rather than informed respect and acceptance. So it is up to us individually to remember we have a calling to love one another, every single person, without stopping. There is no pausing to regard if they are worthy.

What we are asked to do is love.

There is a lot of talk and thoughts about those who have, and those who have not, those who are  deserving, and those who are not, those who are “good” and those who are “bad”, those who are “right” and those who are “wrong”. Talk of those who believe in the right and the only God, vs some other God. In amongst all that, it feels sometimes that we have lost the capacity to love, to accept, to help heal, to forgive and to be tolerant and have decided to walk  instead with fear, mistrust, hate, isolation, apathy.

What we are asked to do is love.

rosemh2

“We do not exist for ourselves.” Thomas Merton

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
Thomas Merton

I certainly struggle with this at times. But, I struggle more with the thought of violence, of turning a blind eye, of pretending to know which is the one, right path.

crab apple1mh

This is the time of year when life awakens. The grass grows green again. The animals awaken from their slumber. Flocks of beautiful birds and majestic animals return to summer lands. Peepers sing at night. Mates dance for one another and settle into parenthood.  For us humans it is time to tend the earth, to plant, to set the path for harvest.  A time of gratitude for the return of long days of sun light, and the comforting warmth upon our skin and souls .

Spring brings life born of faith and of love. It calls for hearts to be open and receiving. Open and giving.

In this moment we can open up our hearts and love. It’s not our business to judge. Everyone struggles and falls. What we are asked to do is love. At this moment.

“….this love itself will render both ourselves 
and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”

*This is a re-worked version of a post on my old blog Potentiality

Mothers: We All Have One

mom

My mom (left, age 16 being “introduced to society” at her “Coming Out” party!) nurtured my imaginative side. She made me fairy wings out of aluminum foil and green felt pixie shoes with bells. At bedtime she let me sip hot chocolate as she read amazing tales of adventure and magic from long chapter books. When she painted she gave me a canvas and paints too.

My grandmother Alice, left, on her wedding day, died a few weeks after my parents married. We never knew her. I was lucky enough a few years ago to make renewed contact with her son-in-law who had me laughing hysterically over the phone about Alice and his wife’s escapades! Don reiterated over and over how deeply Alice loved her children and her family. “She was a wonderful, tender mother to your father and uncle.”

My grandmother Josephine, on the right, was kind of a “socialite”. Always fashionable, nothing out of place, she didn’t even learn to cook until much later in life. My mom used to tell me her mother’s signature dish was a grilled cheese sandwich. She did however have a secret recipe for an amazing plum pudding, which she never divulged. I spent weeks with her during the summer. Lazing by the quiet shores of the Olentangy River in Ohio. She used to tell stories about growing up in Ohio…dressmakers, horse-drawn carriages, the first airplanes, steamboat explosions, tragic deaths, and her parents. Over the years her stories guided me as I worked on the family’s genealogy.

Moms. Everyone has one. Strong moms, or struggling moms. Loving moms or absent moms. We are here because someone gave birth to us. I count a woman who is not even biologically related to me as my second mom. She loved and nurtured me just as if I were her “real” child.

I navigated motherhood without my mom. Sometimes it was hard. There were many nights..okay, days too, when I wished I could call her and ask for her help and advice. But I couldn’t. I just kept making hot chocolate for my kids and reading them chapter books.

My mom got suspended from Bryn Mawr in April right before graduation in May. She had to wait a year to graduate. Because she eloped with my father.

My mom was a social worker. She began as a case worker with clients from the poorest areas of our county. At some house calls she was met with a shot-gun. She went back to school to get her Master’s, and during her second year she was in a full length leg cast for six months. She worked her way up in the Department of Social Services and was acting Commissioner for a few years. She volunteered all of her life with organizations that supported families and children, senior citizens, the disabled and the disenfranchised.

Her job, her passion, was service to others. Last year this was brought home thanks to Facebook. I clicked open a message in a file I didn’t even know about. There, at the end of this wireless communication was a man who remembered my family and did a Facebook search to find us. He still, all these years later, remembered all of us with great fondness. I had no recollection of him, but I did remember his mother very fondly.

My mother… 50 years or so ago, reached out and uplifted this man’s mother. She gave her a job. She paid for this man to go to summer camp when he was a kid. She welcomed them into our family and home as friends. My siblings taught him to swim. And he remembered playing with me and my Barbie dolls.

There are hundreds of moms and their children in our own communities who need to be uplifted. Around the world the number swells to millions. Some of these children don’t have a mom any more. Some moms have had to “give up”, or worse, bury their children. I think in particular of the mothers in Syria who are facing unimaginable heartache and suffering.

If you’re reading this, let us honor all mothers. Your mom, your grandmothers, moms everywhere.  You can help a mom or a child, or both, this Mother’s Day. You can make a real difference and give a mother, a child or both, a chance to be safe, to be healthy, to get an education, to survive. You can uplift someone. To help them thrive.

So, pick an organization that uplifts women, mothers, children and donate. Or click here: Gifts For Mom

And, let’s not forget that today, historically speaking,  Mother’s Day is not as it was originally intended. It is important to remember why we have Mother’s Day…the original one, even if we celebrate it differently.  Original Mother’s Day Proclamation

Proclamation for Mother’s Day 1870

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: Disarm, Disarm!”

Julia Ward Howe

Here’s to moms, all kinds of moms. And to those who know the kind of love a mother feels and offers that love unconditionally to others.

 

The Cause Is The Heart’s Beat

I read with a of soft sorrow that Daniel Berrigan passed away at 94. Many years ago Dan was a frequent visitor to our home. My father made many trips to Danbury Federal Correctional Institution to visit Dan while he served time for his protests to war. The April weekend at Cornell in 1970 was one never to be forgotten as Dan attended the “festival” called “America is Hard to Find” in plain sight. Then in the in the presence of FBI agents everywhere, he slipped away and eluded them for months.

There are not many people who live life based on their convictions without wavering. Dan was one of those people. He paid a price few of us would risk. He believed in hope. He believed war was wrong, and that it served no purpose.

dan_berrigan

This was not the blog written for today, but it is the blog that needed to be posted today. If you do not know who Dan Berrigan was, find out. Then search inside yourself and ask, “what matters?”

Some

(to the Plowshares 8, with love)
by Daniel Berrigan

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”

We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total—but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial…There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war—at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.” Daniel Berrigan

He is always a couple of steps ahead. But the main thing is the mood he creates. Being with Berrigan places things in proper proportion. People around him move away from their ego trips and factionalism. He is one of the long sequence of forces that keeps one steered on a committed course.” Noam Chomsky

“Thank you, Dan. May we all take heart from your astonishing peacemaking life, and carry on the work to abolish war, poverty and nuclear weapons.” John Dear, Huffington Post

The Life and Death of Daniel Berrigan

Man of Peace