Mom

At my mother’s memorial service my brother spoke from the heart about our mom: “She was a complicated person.” That she was. She had strengths. And she had flaws. She had triumphs and her share of mistakes and regrets. My relationship with my mom was shaky sometimes. We had some ups and some downs.  As she was, as I was, I loved her. I know she gave me the foundation to be a good mother and good person.

When I was little she bought me a cotton candy machine. She made me fairy wings out of aluminum foil. To go with the green fairy shoes she sewed for me. Complete with bells. On the pointy, curled up toes. She read to me from thick chapter books every night. I sipped a cup of hot chocolate as her words ignited my imagination. My eyes would begin to droop. And, then, I would drift into sleep with dreams.

We were mother and daughter. Sometimes she yelled at me and sometimes I yelled at her. There were times when I felt like she didn’t understand me. There were times when I just couldn’t see her point of view or understand her. There were times when she comforted me when I was sick or when I stumbled through various teenage dramas. She forgot things that were important to me and reminded me of things I didn’t remember. She gave my husband and I a kitten when we were married. She made slip covers and curtains. She sat on the floor and sanded wooden pegs covering the nails. It was a jumble of good times and, well, not so good times.

Sometimes she was the perfect mom and I was the perfect child. Sometimes we both let each other down.

She was, my mom.

mom and jo2

My mom, right, and her mom.

I didn’t get to have my mom by my side as I raised my children. I couldn’t ask her questions or seek advice from her. I couldn’t call her when my kids were sick to ask her to come help. I couldn’t call her at all.

Today is Mother’s Day.

A couple of years ago I got a FB message from someone asking me if I was Marjorie’s daughter. His name was Dave. He was a little older than me and went on to tell me how he remembered playing Barbies with me! And then he told how my mother had helped him and his mom when he was little. My mom paid for summer camp for him and gave his mom a job taking care of me. He remembered learning how to swim from my siblings. And feeling as if he was part of the family. He said he has never forgotten her kindness.

I still remember his mom vividly. Josephine. I loved her. I’ve never forgotten her kindness and patience. I still drive by her house and imagine her walking out of the door.

Our moms and other people’s moms. Mothers. “Moms” who aren’t actual moms, but nurturing women. Women who are role models and mentors. Adoptive moms, and foster moms. Moms who have miscarried or had stillbirths. Moms who have had abortions. Gay moms, queer moms. Single moms. Widowed moms. Teen moms. Incarcerated moms. Moms who are aunts and god parents. Moms who are perfect and moms who are imperfect.

Moms.

mom and me mother's day

My mom and me

Many of us don’t know the history behind Mother’s Day, we only know the Hallmark version. The idea of Mother’s Day in the US began in 1872 when Julia Ward Howe suggested it be a day to honor and work for peace. Read her famous “proclamation” here:

 Original Mother’s Day Proclamation

Mothers uniting in love to make a positive change in the world.

Here in the US, and around the world, mothers struggle. They struggle to provide for their children. They watch their children die of starvation, disease, war. They dream of having shoes for their child, or clean water, or a meal, or for them to have a chance to go to school. Mothers everywhere dream of seeing their children healthy and thriving, having a job, being safe. Knowing it is only a dream, they hope and pray that their child will have what they cannot give them.

Last year on Mother’s Day I challenged people to donate to causes that support mothers. I put it out there again this year. You can make a donation to Planned Parenthood, to your local woman’s shelter, to programs that educate about domestic violence. Or you can check out the links below and donate or just educate yourself. Lots of topics.

This year I donated to Brooklyn Bail Fund.

If you choose to donate, and care to share, I would love to know who you are helping.

10 Non-profit organizations that help mothers

Young Mothers Program

5 organizations that empower women

Behind every great woman is another one Heifer International, Empowering women

Non Profit organization that help girls

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome  Helping expectant mothers

Help send a child to school

Educate yourself on domestic violence

Rape of a girl or woman is never ok Women do not ask for it, deserve it. It is not ok for women to be shamed or shunned becasue they were raped. It is not ok to punish a woman for being raped.

women are equal to men yet the world often disagrees

**Don’t forget to check out This Week

and, Little works in progress

Who Is Listening?

Many years ago, at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, my husband and I were slowly wandering from booth to booth soaking in the colors and bounty from local farms. My dearest friend, Connie, was with us as we paused in front of the booth of a local artist, Jim Hardesty. Before us were dozens of Chinese brush paintings….sinuous strokes of ink and pigment transformed into birds and flowers. And, Kwan Yin.

kwanyin2mh

I felt like she was calling my name. Calling me to invite her into my life.

Kwan Yin, Quan Yin, Kuanyin, Guanyin, Padma-pâni. Her name means

One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World.

Many of us have felt compassion towards someone else. We feel the pain and suffering of others, especially of those we love deeply. We long, almost ache, to find a way to ease their suffering.

Life is a series of waves coming ashore. There are waves of love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. And right behind those waves are the waves of violence, division, indifference and cruelty. Lapping the shore. Pushing and pulling on our heart and our fears. Some days we may feel as if we are drowning in our own suffering or in the pain of someone we love. Barely, we keep our head above the waters churning and foaming. Some days we soften, relax, let go and float softly, cradled in a lullaby of the calm waters.

When we turn away from, run from, harden ourselves against that which is painful, we are turning away from that which is a part of life. We can become protective. We may begin to live in fear.

We can, instead, choose to look at that pain and fear and open our heart to compassion. Like a beautiful garden, tended with love from the heart, compassion grows from generosity, wisdom, loving kindness, empathy, equanimity and courage. The fruits and flowers from this garden have the power to heal suffering.

Compassion is a way, a path, of maneuvering through a world and life that brings each one of us beauty and love and well as pain and suffering.

Compassion is not reserved only for those we love and respect. It is also for those who may threaten or frighten us. This is a world full of billions of people we will never know, yet our compassion in thought, and deed must include these people too. There are human beings in the world facing intolerable suffering. Of such magnitude that I will venture to say no one reading this can even imagine the degree of suffering.

Somewhere in all this we have to think about and come to terms with the fact that our ability to heal through compassion walks side by side with our capacity to cause the suffering. And we choose…..we choose and then learn to heal or we increase the divides between us.

Enter Kwan Yin. She is sometimes holding a willow branch, flexible, able to bend and not break, even in the strongest of winds or fiercest of deluge. Other times she has a thousand arms and one, all seeing eye. She is in constant awareness and her response is all embracing. Sometimes she is a warrior brandishing weapons to root out suffering. Mine holds quince blossoms from time immemorial. Kwan Yin hears the cries of our suffering. The suffering of the people of the world. And she reaches out with compassion to heal that suffering.

I know I feel overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude and breadth of the suffering of people around the world. I don’t, and I don’t believe I can, have the answers. But, I can choose to hear the cries, to listen to the stories, to care. To not run or hid from the suffering of others. In so doing I begin to see “the rest of the story.” The loneliness and fear in and of others, the blame and anger, the mistrust, the intolerance and ignorance. Awareness teaches us how to be helpful through compassion, kindness, strength. It gives rise to understanding and and a desire to bring about the end of suffering.

We don’t have the power to change the hearts of others. We do, however, have the power and responsibility for our own state of mind, the values we carry within our heart. We make the choice to stand hand in hand with those who work endlessly to alleviate the pain of war, disease, hunger, oppression. Or, we walk hand in hand with those who spread fear, mistrust, violence, persecution, revenge.

In order to hear the cries of the world and to find the courage and strength to uplift through compassion we first have to allow our own hearts to be open. We have to look within. We have to close our eyes and listen. To the noise of the world, the cries of those in pain and who are suffering. When we have heard, we open our eyes to see, then we choose what we will do. We take action.

Who is listening?

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

~Warsan Shire

Who is listening?

Check out this week’s readings:  This Week

Wisdom Dreams

I once dreamt I was telling stories and felt someone patting my foot in encouragement.
I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an older woman
who was steadying my ankles and smiling up at me.
I said to her, “no no come stand on my shoulders,
For you are old and I am Young.”

“No no” she insisted, “this is the way it is supposed to be.”
I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman even older,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes,
who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders…

~Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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sunrise this morning

I admit it. I am a firm believer that some dreams are messages that I need to pay attention to. For me, they can be a processing tool, a problem solving tool, or sometimes, even a window into the future. There are times when my dreams are like an encyclopedia that has blown open to a page of facts, truths, possibilities that I need to know.

Most religions discuss the interpretation of dreams. Theologians, psychologists, therapists, musicians, poets, people who pay attention to dreams, see them as a connection, a nexus between the body, mind and spirit. There is a universal understanding that dreams connect us to something greater than ourselves. They provoke a sense of wonder and awe that by their nature are the essence of mystical experiences.

That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man,
even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it….
We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things,
and are asleep in regard to that which is real within our self.

~Paracelsus

So, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I am an admirer of Clarissa Pinkola Estés. When I read the above quote the proverbial light bulb of understanding lit up. As a Jungian psychologist and story teller Pinkola Estés’ dream integrated the ideas of messages found in dreams and the importance of each person being a story teller.

In our world today I believe that both of these things are important. I think we have become disoriented and separated from spirituality and our connectedness. We no longer know our own stories of where we came from, who we are, what matters to us, what our connections are, how we are related and connected to each other. We have become impatient or disinterested in hearing the stories others cry out for us to hear. There is a restlessness, an uneasiness in me that worries that we have lost the connection to and understanding of a compelling gift: dreams.

Pinkola Estés not only reminds us to allow and pay attention to the dreams that arise during sleep, but to remember we are standing on, supported by, encouraged and emboldened by those who have come before us. The falterings, the successes, the hopes and dreams of others are the foundation on which we stand.

Those pillars of known and unknown persons in the past gently tap us with encouragement and with a reminder that we must give voice to our own story as well as give witness to the stories of others.

We are the dreamers. We are the story tellers. We are the pillars for those still to come.

“Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.”~ Black Elk

“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.’
~The Talmud

Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”
~Marsha Norman

“Dreams say what they mean, but they don’t say it in daytime language.”
~Gail Godwin

 

 

 

New Year Resolution

My hope for the new year is that it be filled with healing. That we have the courage and commitment to every each and every one of us on this earth to look around and see we have to do things differently. For each other. We must do something. I know there is much that is good and beautiful in the world. I see both every day. I feel, see, hear the goodness, the kindness, the beauty. Hopefully I also help to contribute the existence of both. And yet….

I watched some old movies over vacation. From the 40’s and 50’s. I feel, in many ways, we are in the same place with some things. I’m talking about the things that haven’t improved, changed. I’m talking about the same social prejudices and oppression. The same racial profiling. The same stereotyping. We still try to fix things through violence and killing, bullying and punishing. We still live in fear. We still discriminate because of many things. It appears we haven’t gotten very far.

i-am-only-one-but-still

I find the different responses to this blog interesting. There is the group who says, “Wow, so serious. Lighten up. It’s all good. Just let it go.” Another suggests I not be political. There is a smaller group that keeps saying “I am so sorry you are hurting so much.” The largest group says, “Thank you for inspiring me and making me think. Thank you for challenging me.” And, there it is….I hear people don’t want to talk politics, or to be serious. I hear lighten up, EVERYTHING is good…just let go, don’t worry. I hear that “hurting” is sad. I hear I may inspire others.

I will be political because that is what governs us as a whole. So many of us are left behind. Invisible. Ignored. I am serious and I will not lighten up or let go of feeling empathy and compassion for those suffering, in pain and being oppressed and held down. I do hurt and I think that is a good thing, not something  I or others should feel sad about. I care. I hope I do inspire people…even a little bit. Someone said something very powerful to me a little ways back, they said “You make me think about things differently.” That’s all I want to do. You don’t have to agree with me. Just think. Learn something new that doesn’t play into your confirmation biases. I work hard every day to try to check in on these for myself…it is very difficult, but so important.

Now here we are at the dawn of a new year. We’ll celebrate in infinite amounts of ways from drunken stupors to running for life as homes are being bombed. Some will watch a loved one die tonight, while somewhere else a new life will burst forth and cry the air into his or her lungs. Many of us will pause and be grateful. Thankful. Many of us will cry out.

Some of us will light bon fires and throw pieces of the past year into the flames to symbolically release them from our lives for ever. Some will sing and dance and honor Nature. Some of us will make a list including the promise to loose weight, eat better, give up something, make time for ourselves, travel, do something new.

Me? I am going to use this poem to guide me through the new year.

Kiss the Earth

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe
when we feel safe in ourselves.

~by Thich Nhat Hanh

My resolution is to use this poem to ground me daily. With every step, to kiss the Earth.

For my action, I will use Thay’s poem as my centering prayer, my chant, as I go through my day. To be mindful of each step. As it kisses the Earth.  To walk with awareness and find and touch peace. To walk with awareness and touch happiness. To bring the Earth my love and happiness combined with concern and care. To work towards all of feeling safe in and with ourselves so the Earth will be safe too.

I am also choosing one word to be my lamp lighting the way through the year. I will carry it with me throughout the day, as a reminder of my intentions.

My word is “open”. My intention is to be open. Open to Empathy. To Compassion. To Truth. To Hope. To the stories of all. To not shut myself off to the suffering and sorrow in the world. To be open. To not turn away. To bear witness.

I’d really like to hear from you. Tell me your hopes for the new year.

As always, a link to what I’ve been reading:  This Week

 

 

Unsettled

I am so unsettled by the rain. The sun has not yet risen. It is still very dark outside. Yesterday this tiny part of the world was blanketed in a soft cover of snow. It was quiet. It felt soft even thought it was cold. Softness brought by coldness.

I am unsettled by more than the rain. It feels to me, in the rhythmic beat of my heart and in the flowing water in my body that the world is unsettled. In a painful way. The moon was full the other night. I thought then of the silent power of the moon. The power it has as a rock circling our planet, to tug and pull the waters of the seas and oceans. I felt it too. Like a heating up of my insides. A restlessness that did not feel good. A restlessness that almost made it hurt to be where I was. Neither was it a restlessness that I felt would lead me to someplace I needed to be. How could it?

I thought over and over again of this poem by Warsan Shire. Her words were like the ebb and flow of the tides moved by the dappled moon….everywhere. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”
~Warsan Shire

Too many people tell me, “Turn it off.” Or, “Don’t listen.”

Sometimes, I am told, “It will be okay.”

Look around. Listen.

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” 
~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So, when do we begin to listen to the stories? When DO we use the understanding we gain through listening to empower, humanize and repair broken dignity?

maya-angelou

Are you more alike or unlike the children in Aleppo Syria who have forgotten how to cry? Are you more alike or unlike the Islanders of the sinking islands of Micronesia…..soon to vanish under rising waters of Global Warming? Are you more alike or unlike the fear-stricken parent wondering if their child will be kidnapped and forced into a child army, or if their daughter will be kidnapped, raped and/or murdered? Do you know that your child will be like or unlike you in your life of poverty or violence? Do you have the courage to say to these people “In my life I too have felt what you feel. I know…”

If we take our deepest pain, our most piercing pain….and magnify it a hundred fold, then we can do that.

We have to strengthen our personal sense of humanity, compassion and love and bring in up to the surface of our lives and listen, with open hearts, to the stories Maya speaks of in order to understand. And then as one, we must rise up and use our voices, our spirit, our actions to cry “stop”. We must demand the infliction of hurt, pain and suffering on people around the world to STOP.

There are no Others. We ARE more alike than not and with that comes a profound responsibility to listen to the pain and take responsibility to end it for the millions of people around the world.

We must begin to support fellow human beings who are in a deep abyss of pain and suffering.

I work to be mindful and not complacent of the circumstances of my life. I have a childish fear of open closet doors in my bedroom. And I dutifully lock the house doors at night to protect what offers me comfort. I do not take for granted the relief and joy I feel when my children walk through the front door. I am not ignorant that million in the world have things to really be afraid of and not imaginary monsters in closets. I am not blind to the fact that millions of people have no home because it has been destroyed by the bombs of war. They have no door of protection. I am not without emotion in thinking of the millions of parents who will never see their children again.

Neither you or I are better than any other person. Anywhere. Any more deserving of feeling safe, of having food, water. Of giving birth to children who will live. Of going to bed at night and sleeping. Of closing and locking a door.

We are all bound together. And we have forgotten that. Or are ignorning that.

I am unsettled in my heart. I listen to the stories. I hear them, but how can I understand them on any level of reality? All I can do is to witness the pain. Believe the words. Condemn the hate and stand up and speak out. I do not want to be a symbol of apathy. Of shrugging and wondering what I can do.

Tell me, please, do you ever feel this unsettledness? How do you witness the hurt and suffering in the world? Do you believe we must support all of the Others because we are more alike than unalike? What does your religion, you spirituality, demand of you in the care and responsibility of Others? What did your mother and father teach you? What matters to you? What is of importance to you? What do you tell your children? How do you live your life?

We are coming upon the Winter Solstice. The time of year when we witness the beginning of the return of Light to Darkness.

As Ms. Shire asks, “Where does it hurt?”

I ask, “Do you hear the answer of the world? “

“Everywhere.”

A sampling of what I have been reading: This Week

Without Hesitation

Years ago we went panning for gold in Alaska! We knew the chances of finding any was slim, but the prospect filled us up and we spent a lazy afternoon in along the edge of a creek wrapped in happiness and sharing laughter. The chant “gold, gold, Gold, GOLD!” over of each pan that swirled just at the edge of the creek held the same magical possibility every time. Hope never faded.

We knew, of course, even with hope springing eternal, that we would not find any gold. And because of that we never contemplated what it would be like if we did find one of those enormous chunks that make headline news.

And we most certainly never entertained the idea of what we would do if someone came walking along and  asked us for that chunk.

There is a “folk” story…variations found in countries and in languages around the world called

“The Wise Woman’s Stone”

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.
She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.

“Teach me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

walnut heart

Sure, this is a teaching story. So let’s think about it as such and learn. Instead of making a run for it, the man found he could not live with tricking and taking and returned to the woman. What he really wanted to know, and to have, was how “to give without hesitating.” To no longer cling and protect, to covet and take. Even with the potential of being secure for the rest of his life, he chose to return the stone and to try to attain something intangible.

There are people in the world today who do this every day and we rarely hear about them. Instead we are bombarded with words and actions that profess the opposite of this story.

What do we have within us that would allow us to just give…..? To give without thought of hesitation? Would we give only to someone we know or love? Would we give only with the understanding of an equal exchange or reward? Would we give only to people of like mind and beliefs? Would we hold tight and walk away?

How strong are our fears? How strong is the fear of uncertainty? The internal drive to protect and to keep?

It is difficult to do in this time in history in this country, but imagine yourself walking and finding a precious diamond or ruby, large enough to provide for you and your family for the rest of your life. No more wandering. No more want or hunger. Security and comfort are yours now. Forever. A fellow traveler comes and you generously share what little food you have. Then they see the precious stone and boldly ask for it.

Without hesitation you hold out your hand and give it to them.

IS that you? Could/would you do it? Why or why not?

Now, imagine you are the person receiving the stone. Inside you are giddy. You cannot believe your good fortune! But, by sunrise you are again in front of the woman. This time your hand is outstretched and you are handing her back the treasure of a lifetime. You no longer want that security. That wealth.

You seek instead to attain something intangible. You want what it is that allowed the woman to give away the precious jewel without hesitation.

What is it? Do you want it? DO you have it? Can you, we, attain it?

 

 

Witnessing

“But there is another kind of listening, a listening that we neglect at our own peril, that is not about getting some particular place, but simply about witnessing another human being. This kind of listening is long and open-ended. It’s patient. It’s curious. It’s not calculating. This kind of listening operates on only one level — the words coming out, the way they hit the ear, the shaping of a story, a sadness, a yearning, a wish.”

Courtney E. Martin, columnist for On Being

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The other day I had an intense and loving conversation with a friend. Her daughter has an eating disorder, her friend is very ill, someone else is going through difficult times, her neighbor has some mental health concerns that worry her, she herself has some auto immune issues, her body hurts……

I felt like if I spoke I would interrupt this flow of life she was trying to process. I really didn’t feel like I could offer very many words of advice, or comfort that would ease her hurt, so I listened. Just met her eyes and listened. She talked, and released, teared up, and regained composure. She talked more about how all these things happening to other people come creeping into her life and thoughts and prayers as worry and fear. She cried about the fear of the things happening to her. And I listened. She cried and struggled, but in a way it was like a beautiful song. A song of everything that makes us human.

When it was time to leave she hugged me tight “THANK YOU!!” she said, “for being here for me. For just listening.”

Then I came home and read an article on On Being With Krista Tippett, http://www.onbeing.org/about and thought, “Oh yes. This is it.”

Another kind of listening. Witnessing another human being. That’s what had transpired. What I had experienced with my friend were her words coming out shaping a story, sadness, yearnings, wishes. My witnessing her story by listening.

I wish we could do this more often. Not just with the people we love and care for, but also with the people we don’t know well, maybe shy away from, or fear. People who are not like us. People who have experiences we will never have. I wish we could witness their life story, their intrinsic value. Witness them as another human being.

I agree with the author that this other kind of listening can also happen when we are in positions where we can’t help but overhear the conversations of others…if we listen, we may hear their story. We may find ourselves witnessing their humanness, their tenderness or fragility. Their story. The person in the next booth at the diner. The person talking on the phone next to us in line. The two friends sharing coffee. The human interest stories on the news. The answer we get or maybe don’t get, when we ask, “How are you?”

At the end of the piece Courtney writes, “It’s an overlooked kind of love….and it doesn’t happen often enough.”

Can we offer this overlooked kind of love to others? Allowing “the shaping of a story, a sadness, a yearning, a wish” of another?

More than the general conversation we regularly have. More than the “Oh I know how you feel. That’s happened to ME!!” More than the “Hang in there, it will be ok.” More than offering suggestions and advice. More than answering our cell phone in the middle of someone’s sentence, waving our finger saying “Hold on just one minute.” More than what we usually do. Allowing it to be someone else’s story, experience, grief, joy. Allowing them to shape it, define it. Allowing it to be theirs. Witnessing the value and importance of this story for this person.

Do we? Do you?