Starfish

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”
~Anne Lamott

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
“It made a difference for that one.”
― Loren Eiseley

It’s a big wide world with lots going on. Billions of people all over this pale blue dot wake up to a life of ease or suffering, joy or sorrow. There’s a million things “right” in the world. And a million things “wrong”.

Despair and hope dwell and linger in everyone’s life. Some days we try to close the door against despair. Other days we open the door to hope.

In this story the wise man walking along the beach knows what a huge act of hope and faith he is undertaking tossing star fish, one at a time, back into the ocean in the hopes of offering each one a chance at life. Something inside of him was incredibly strong, calling on him, to act for the benefit of one starfish each time.

 “It made a difference for that one.”

Isn’t that all any of us can do at any one time? Lift each other up one by one. To reach out again and again and to just try our best.

I cannot, even in my dreams, believe I can make much difference in this world. But I do know when I go to work and hug a child, it matters. I know when my husband and I hold each other in joy or sorrow, it matters. I know that my children knowing they have a home to “come home” to matters. I know that when I look someone in the eye and call them on a racist or misogynist comment or joke, that it matters. My taking action, one action at a time, matters.

And I know, like the man on the beach, that each star fish is worth the effort and hope just like I know each person is worth, and deserving of, the same kind of effort and hope.

One by one, even against the odds. It is about what we are called to do. This showing up, this reaching out to lift others up, this hope that is born in the light of love, and hope, and patience that glows in each one of us.

Again, from Loren Eisley:

Looking so, across the centuries and the millennia, toward the animal men of the past, one can see a faint light, like a patch of sunlight moving over the dark shadows on a forest floor. It shifts and widens, it winks out, it comes again, but it persists. It is the human spirit, the human soul, however transient, however faulty men may claim it to be. In its coming man had no part. It merely came, that curious light, and man, the animal, sought to be something that no animal had been before. Cruel he might be, vengeful he might be, but there had entered into his nature a curious wistful gentleness and courage. It seemed to have little to do with survival, for such men died over and over. They did not value life compared to what they saw in themselves — that strange inner light which has come from no man knows where, and which was not made by us. It has followed us all the way from the age of ice, from the dark borders of the ancient forest into which our footprints vanish… Man may grow until he towers to the skies, but without this light he is nothing, and his place is nothing. Even as we try to deny the light, we know that it has made us, and what we are without it remains meaningless.

Let that Light that is in you guide you. Show up. Bend down and toss the starfish back into the ocean in an act of love and kindness. Simply because for that one star fish it made a difference.

merton

Like those star fish the wise man believed worthy, so is each human being.

*Readings This Week

*NEW!! Little Works in Progress

 

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Listening to Grandmother

This blog is called Songs The Sunrise Sings because I often wake up before or as the sun rises. I find a great comfort and sense of peace in watching the dawn of a new day: of hearing the sleeping world wake up. I spend several minutes in stillness, just listening. Even in winter, with doors and windows closed, the sounds of songs and greetings for the new morning can be heard.

I take the time to center myself for the new day. Some days I feel tired, or perhaps unwell, and it is difficult to find this centering. I am too attached to my body and my worries or fears. Other days it is as if a song flows from my heart and with great ease I send out love and wishes for all beings to be safe, healthy, free from fear and worry, happy and at ease.

“Every morning I get up and I pray for all sentient beings…..
humans, animals, even birds….
they all need happiness.”
~Grandmother Tsering Dolma Gyaltong,
International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers

I have such strong, passionate thoughts and feelings about this. Yesterday a news reporter coined what may be a new word, “othering”. As in when we begin to refer to people we do not agree with, dislike, mistrust, fear and or doubt. We think about them as, or refer to them as, the “others”.

“Othering”

Grandmother Tsering says “NO” to “othering”. She teaches us, perhaps reminds us, that ALL need our love, our prayers, our effort to help ensure their happiness. Not wishing them punishment, incarceration, revenge, harm, to be invisible, to be irrelevant or insignificant, not calling for them to be oppressed or repressed. But, for each one to have and experience happiness. She calls for us, as we wake up in the morning, to send our prayers and wishes for happiness to all. And that is a tall order when we live in a world that is so full of fear and greed, misinformation, arrogance. A world where bombs become a solution, violence a means to an end, incarceration as solution rather than education and rehabilitation, where one religion strives to reign over others. In a world that judges by clothing, gender, sex, race, age, mistakes, status and beliefs. A world where we take and take and take.

…we, they, all deserve, and need, happiness….

prayergreenI have my own routine at night and in the morning. I follow a set of words and change who I am directing the thoughts towards. First to myself, then to someone I love deeply, then to someone who plays a significant role in my life as mentor or such. Next I think of someone who is an “acquaintance”, then to someone who is a challenging presence in my life. At the end, the prayer/ thoughts go out to ALL people and living things. ALL. Known, unknown, feared or revered. It’s just what I do. It grounds me. It reminds me of what I hold dear and value.

I know something like this isn’t for everyone. This isn’t something I have always done. I had to be ready to embrace this, to work at it, to allow it to become part of who I am. It wasn’t always possible for me to do this. But…it has changed me. So I offer it forward in hopes that more thoughts and prayers for the happiness and well being of all sentient beings can be put out there in a world where there is so much suffering and pain.

Readings This Week

“Every morning I get up and I pray for all sentient beings…humans, animals, even birds– they all need hap

Every morning I get up and I pray for all sentient beings…humans, animals, even birds– they all need happiness.

Sometimes Really Means All The Time

Sometimes I struggle. With lots of things. My mind is a generator of turbulent, mercurial thoughts, stories, fantasies, beliefs….. On an emotional level I sometimes struggle with keeping all these things compartmentalized, organized, restrained, understood, processed, freed. Writing this post was like this today.  (It actually takes several days to write one of these.) This is incarnation eleven.

It started when I thought about the quote I have known about for a long time: “”We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.” So, I looked into it. No one ever said it. Long story short, it ends up being a misinterpretation of an ancient Buddhist text. I’m going to leave it there. No, not really. …I am going to clarify that the original writing stated it is not what we think that shapes us, but rather what we do in life that shapes us.

And then I found this poem by Diane Ackerman,

“I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.
I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.”

As I read this I thought it was beautiful. And then that whirlwind generator in my head fired up some passively floating thoughts and a vortex began to spin. I think all these things too. I really do. So many of the wonderful promises in the poem are what I tell myself everyday, although not quite so beautifully expressed.

balance

Frabel Glass, Phipps Conservatory, photo by me

And this is is where the (pretend quote) about “we become what we think” flew out of the vortex and into my blog world. Here is what my mind thought:

“Wait. Is that true? All I have to do is THINK something and it makes me so?”

Something responded, “No. Of course not. It is not that simple.”

It isn’t simply a matter of believing I do not hate. I have to actually live a life that interacts with, responds to others without hate. It isn’t simply a matter of believing I am a guardian of Nature. I have to BE a guardian. I have to tangibly protect, daily, the environment. I have to embody, physically, being a healer of misery, a messenger of wonder, an architect of peace. I have to come to terms with what it means to not just believe I honor and respect all life, but to live a life that demonstrates, without a doubt, that I do respect and honor all life.

“When deeds speak, words are nothing.”
~Africian Proverb

Make the most of today. Translate your good intentions into actual deeds.
~Grenville Kleiser

Can I do that? Can I succeed? Can I be a person who does, lives, those things and not just believes in them? Am I someone who lives what I think I believe? Am I able to be the person I think I am? Hope I am? Dream myself to be?

What you do may seem insignificant, but it’s important that you do it.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes, all the time, I need to do more and not just think.

Do not be wise in words – be wise in deeds.
~Jewish Proverb

So Much More

It was a powerful experience listening to people from all walks of life, all faiths, talk about the man they knew as Muhammad Ali. A boxer who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, and yet he was so much more than that. He was in fact a brilliant reminder of what people can be when their hearts are full of love, respect and compassion.

He spoke the truth. He refused to kill people and go to war. He knew war was wrong on a multitude of levels.

He played patty cake with children and shook the hands of Presidents.

He was a physically powerful, articulate, vocal, Black Muslim man who an entire nation paused to pay its respect to. Flowers rained down as his body traveled miles through a red state, in a nation that seems to be currently wrapped in a scratchy blanket of intolerance, racism, fear and hate.

He believed in a God of compassion and kindness. Of Peace and Community. And he was very, very, very clear about what his God, Allah, expected.

If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.”

A few days after his death I was listening to Krista Tippet from OnBeing interview Rebecca Solnit. She talked about love like the love Ali spoke of. Ali found his love for all under the banner of his God. Let’s be clear though, God is not the only channel love travels along. Others find, give and share love for the sake of love. Just love. Just love for all. Rebecca pays attention to events we call “disasters” and takes note of the transformation that takes place when ordinary divides and patterns are shattered and people come together and understand we are our brothers keeper. Joy, purposefulness and connectedness arise.

It’s easy to love some groups of people. Usually we love our family. Our parents. Our children. Our partner. We have groups of friends we love, and people in our neighborhood or church.

We know instances where love binds, heals, nurtures, gives life. Rebecca points out there are so many things and people to love besides those in our groups.

So many things and people in the world need love.

“There is so much work love has to do in this world.” Rebecca Solnit

There is so much fear, hate. There is so much persecution, oppression and racism. There is so much violence, injustice, poverty and profound suffering.

How do we step away from those things and walk towards love? Do we want to? Are we able to?

How do we lend a hand to love and get to work in this world? What will it take for our hearts to be as full and giving as the one of a boxer who grew up facing racism every day, won an Olympic medal for his country and then, in his own country was still refused seating in a restaurant because he was Black, who refused to go to war and kill people and went to prison for that, who called all people God’s children.

For all of Ali’s hype, all he wanted was to be remembered in this way:

“I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then, he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well, then he spreads it over his span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

There is Trump. There is Syria. Today there is Orlando. It was Paris and Brussels. It is the refugees drowning by the hundreds. It will be someone else and someplace else where fear, hate, pain and suffering reign rampant.

And there will be more Ali’s, more Berrigan brothers, more Jimmy Carters, more cities like Salt Lake City working to end homelessness, more European countries with 100% literacy. There will be more countries like Switzerland almost totally eliminating poverty, or the UK with the lowest gun related violent deaths. There will be more Icelands where childhood mortality has almost been eliminated. There will be more countries like Canada who open their doors to refugees…..let’s stop calling them migrants shall we? They are not looking for work, they are trying to stay alive..to not be killed by bombs and guns.

If you’re reading this you’re most likely fairly privileged, and you get to have a choice. You have a voice you can use. You have opportunity and resources you can use. Stand side by side with all your brothers and sisters who have only their often unheard voice and help them be heard. Use your voice to stand up to injustice, hate, fear, poverty, violence. Do not become apathetic or unconcerned because you are not affected. Your sister is affected. Your brother is affected. You are a part of this family that is in pain and suffering.

We champion the reason for, and the protection of, the freedoms we enjoy in this country. There is only one problem. Millions of people in this country do not genuinely share in those freedoms.

 “There is so much work love has to do in this world.”

Like the familiar adage “Many hands make light work”, let’s join our hands together in and with Love and get to work.

 

Evelyn

I remember her name. I remember she was kind and that I loved her. I remember where she lived.

I do not remember what she looked like, or that she had a son. I do not remember her actually doing anything for me. I do not know what made me love her.

Her name was Evelyn. Fifty years later, whenever I drive by “her” house I say to myself, “That’s Evelyn’s house” as if it was holy.

A few years ago I discovered a folder on FB where all the messages from people you are not “friends” with go. In it I found a message from Evelyn’s son.

“Are you the Kathryn, whose mother was Marjorie?”

Michael shared his memories with me. My mother was the kindest person he knew. My siblings were wonderful and he thanked me for playing with him when we were little. I don’t remember Evelyn’s son at all.

My mother had given Evelyn a job that changed the lives of both Evelyn and her son. My mother paid for his summer camp for several years. My siblings taught him to swim in the lake. And we played together.

Fifty years later he looked me up on FB and found me. To say “Thank you.”

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” Mahatma Gandhi

I don’t know if my mother ever truly knew how her decision to help Evelyn and her son changed their lives. I don’t know if Evelyn ever knew I thought she was the kindest person I ever knew. For my mother and for Evelyn I don’t think they thought about seeing the fruit of their kindness, they just acted and did the right thing. They cared, showed compassion and reached out. They each offered and received. As a result two six year old children grew up to remember only the kindness and love.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall

jane goodall

Every single day we interact with people in ways that may have a profound impact on their lives. Few of us may even be aware of this. I doubt Evelyn could have guessed that 50 years later I would have strong memories of her. I don’t remember her son but my playing with him is a strong, happy memory of his.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Jane Goodall

We all matter and we all can make a difference. Once we acknowledge that we do matter, all we have to do is put a little thought into what kind of difference we want to make. Evelyn ( I think!) “chose” being kind and loving….whether is was a conscious action, a sense of gratitude or inherent in her being, I don’t know. My mother made a decision for “right action” by reaching out to Evelyn and her son and lifting them up. Evelyn’s son held on for a long time the desire to express gratitude and say “thank-you”. This led him to go out on a limb and see if I could be found on FB (computers and FB could not have ever even been imagined by us ‘back then’!) and then reach out to contact me. Small things that are important things to people.

It’s no different in terms of what we stand for humanistically, politically, religiously, spiritually, globally, environmentally…..we matter. Our voices matter, our actions matter, our choices matter. These things matter for us, and for others. It is not important whether we will ever see, witness, know of our impact. It is about doing the right thing at the right time without ever considering not doing what is needed.

I can believe I have every right to some things, to feel entitled to some things, but in my heart and mind any decision I make to do or not do something does not rest alone on my needs or how it will impact me. I am required by my conscience to consider other people, the environment, other perspectives.

It goes the other way too, maybe I feel the environment doesn’t matter, or that is doesn’t matter if the other person has health care, or food, or water. I still feel I have a responsibility to care. I believe there are no “others”. I want my grand children and great grand children to have a healthy planet with breathable air and clean water. I want them to see an elephant in the wild or be able to eat a fish from the ocean. I want them to value the life and richness of other cultures and religions. I want them to care for the sake of others they do not know and for others who will come after them.

There are many, many wonderful and beautiful things happening all around the world and in our own cities and neighborhoods. And there are many, many unconscionable, horrendous things happening in the world, our own cities and neighborhoods. The first choice we have to make is to see or not see. Be aware and informed or unaware and uninformed. Then we make the choice to do or not do. To care or not care. To hope or not hope. To work for change or remain the same. It’s up to each one of us to decide like my mom did, to make a difference for one woman and her child, and like Evelyn did, to be kind and loving or, to turn the other way.

Either way, you will have an impact on someone. Having an impact is not the choice. As Dr. Goodall reminds us, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

What kind of difference do you want to make?