Tag Archives: inspiration

On kindness and coastal healing

So now it’s done. I’ve had the surgeries on both hands, and I’m tired. I go back and forth with the focus and energy it takes to heal. I’ve ranted and raved like Job: “What’s the lesson here? You say there’s a reason for all things. Can I have a clue?”

When I moved back to the East and to the Philadelphia area specifically, I felt I was doing the right thing. After all, New York is the publishing capital of the world, and my mother was ill. In 2001, all the right reasons seemed to be in place. I spent two years in an ashram in upstate New York surrounded by love.  But when I moved to the Philadelphia area in 2003, love was replaced by another four letter word — the worst of all four letter words — hate. I hated it here.

All of the reasons and memories of why I had fled the East Coast and anything remotely connected to it (including the southeast) came flooding back. I only saw the busyness and inflexibility of the culture. I did not feel the warmth in human spirit that seemed to flourish in the rains of the Northwest and the sun of California. Oh. And did I mention the cold and snow? I do not like cold and snow and could not imagine ever finding friends here.

I pegged everyone (especially you former manager from Hades), as a scavenger for money, sex, and devious ways to perpetuate racism, sexism, class prejudice and all the other prejudices one could think of.  I called a monk (priest) and cried. This place was a new low.

It takes time to heal. The severity of my carpal tunnel and the energy to deal with insurance and other issues threatens to take my full attention.  One of the most frustrating experiences has been the delay in posting to my blog as often as I would like. And I had other expectations: I’d be slicing carrots a couple of days after surgery, driving to Trader Joe’s, boiling pots of water for tea or veggies, and back at rehearsal. (I’m coming guys.) But the body has its own ideas.

It also takes time to heal old wounds, and I have plenty of emotional baggage when it comes to the eastern seaboard. But all these considerations have been offset in recent days by the old four letter word — love.

Love brought me home from surgery and stayed for four days cooking meals, washing dishes and sharing hours of conversation. Love referred me to resources that I need.

Love came by to chop the carrots, make the tea, drive me to appointments, and keep my apartment clean. Love stood next to me as I vomited pain medication and recovered from anesthesia. Love went shopping for me, and called me (with different voices) about 10 times a day. Love pulled me out of the apartment to go watch a school football game and sit in the sun rather than stay inside and feel sorry for myself. Love warmed my heart and healed a place that was becoming as chilly as the Pennsylvania winters.

Love, in the form of so many folks, surprised me and talked me through my fear. I didn’t have to do it alone, and that was one of the biggest fears I had when I moved to this place.

Great souls; great hearts. Grace has a way of reminding me that the kindness of others can melt a frozen heart, even here, where I thought no hearts remained. Perhaps that’s the lesson after all.

On devotion

It’s always tricky to attempt to write about something as lofty as devotion. Words of faith and truth and high ideals have an energy that, if not approached in just the right way, can backfire miserably. But I like to think that since this blog is basically experiential, not scholarly, I can attempt to express my take on any word or words.

On devotion. I remember praying to have the experience of devotion. I felt as though I had no commitment to anything or anyone. And I can tell you, that was a very low moment. I recognized that folks were devoted to their work, families,  communities, politics, and addictions. Where, I wondered, does my devotion lie?

Recently, a friend’s father died. I was reading the obituary, and the words were so powerful that I almost cried. He was 99, and the sentence that moved me stated “he is survived by his devoted wife of 70 years…” Seventy years!?!  Most of us can’t figure out how to be devoted to a candy bar for three minutes, let alone to a person for more than five. I can count on one hand the number of couples I know who’ve been devoted to each other for more than 20 years. Do we even know what devotion means anymore?

I was blessed to grow up with noteworthy examples of devotion: devotion to God and church; devotion to work; devotion to relationships; devotion to a better life. It was a challenging time in black history, and for some families even personal relationships were extremely rocky. But I saw something in them that the obituary triggered in my memory:  in that world, people didn’t change partners like socks because they were devoted to something–bigger. Devotion is linked to thriving. (So says me, but argue if you want to…)

About two years ago, I went to a couple of house blessings where a Brahmin priest was offering prayers of protection and prosperity for the families who lived in the homes. These were families who I would describe as very devoted to God. When I say devoted to God, I mean that kind of focus where a person feels that everything they do and everyone they meet is a result of the love of that Source – – whatever you want to call it.

Now, there were a couple of things about these blessings that caught my attention. The first was the respectful and loving way that the families welcomed the visiting priest and his wife. The second, and I remember being fixated by it,  was what I interpreted as the devotion of the priest’s wife to her husband while she assisted him in the ceremonies. I couldn’t stop watching her.

What was that look on her face? Now, there is one thing I know for sure–and I want to be clear about this. Devotion is not mental slavery. Devotion is not blind allegiance. Devotion is not accepting abuse or humiliation. Devotion is not swimming in self-hatred to idolize another.  Clear?  Okay.

Pure devotion — however off-the-mark we observe it to be — is linked to the heart. So, I’m back to my question. Where does my devotion lie?

I am devoted to nature. I’m devoted to blue skies, bright sun, and ocean breezes. I’m devoted to people who work the land and provide the food that allows me to offer meals to friends and family.

I am devoted to democracy.

I want to think that I’m devoted to prayer and God and the world that this great Source created.  Not too long ago, I met a woman who talked about her devotion to her spiritual path. Her path is different from mine. But when I looked at her face, I really got her love for her God. And I guess that’s the key. Devotion is linked to love. So says me; argue if you want to…

And that, my friends, is my word for today. Devotion.

Words On Art, Pizza, and a Joyful Life

People like to use the term “fire in the belly” to define that insatiable passion in pursuit of a dream.  I like to think of the term in its relationship to the pursuit of pure joy.

Artists are messengers of pure joy.  They inspire folks to view the world in radically different ways.  They encourage us to be curious and to take risks.   They encourage us to be joyful.  As in…”make a joyful noise unto the Lord..”  Not threatening.  Not fearful.  Joyful.

Even when an artist’s work is something I’m not particularly fond of, I find that I am turned away from that experience only to be propelled toward a more joyful one. For this reason alone, if I had a million or a billion or a trillion dollars, I would give it to artists.

I recently heard a story about how Erma Bombeck said she would greet God if she met him face to face after death.  The story goes (and I am paraphrasing here) that she imagined God asking her what she had brought back for Him.  She said she would tell Him she had nothing to give; that she had used every gift He had given her, and there was nothing in her pockets to return.

I could only sit in amazed silence.  To live like that, one must live joyfully.

The other day, my sister-in-law, nieces, a couple of other girls, and my cousins were over for a pizza making party.  The children are all talented girls, five to eleven years old and sassy with creativity.  Their interests are diverse.  One loves music, one loves to ice skate, and one–I’m betting on it–will be a famous television chef.

The girls immersed themselves in the project immediately, and my small kitchen crackled with joy as each girl rolled out her dough in her own way and used toppings to suit her imagination.  Every pie was a work of art.  I was inspired by their boldness and generosity.   They even made “take outs” for their siblings who were not there to cook with us.

There were no rules, just a lazy afternoon,  ingredients, and joy in the process.  I had done the prep work the day before.  I had made yeasted dough from scratch and filled bowls and containers with toppings that I thought they would enjoy.  To be honest, I had a pretty joyful experience prepping.  I home roasted and sliced red bell peppers, sliced and sautéed mushrooms, chopped roma tomatoes, and sliced black olives.  I diced pepperoni slices into quarter chunks and made a fruit salad.  As I washed and chopped  strawberries,  pears, and oranges, then sliced bananas and added  blueberries and raspberries, I was in the zone.  I could have purchased any number of the ingredients I used–the mushrooms, the roasted red peppers, and sliced olives–but I was painting my picture of children joyously making pizza from scratch.  I couldn’t have stopped prepping if I wanted to.  I was quite happy.

In 1968, I was in San Francisco for the first time.  It was a dynamic time, filled with the presence of flower children and the so-called love generation.  I remember being amazed that I could walk the entire city from one end to another in a day.  There was no BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), no subways.  It was quite a different city then.

One day while walking–and brooding on how difficult life was, a pastime I thought necessary if I wanted to live as an artist–a beautiful man came up to me.  He was African and so beautiful that I will never forget his face.  In those days, I had no suspicion of strangers.

“Why do you look so sad?”  he asked.

I was taken aback, but before I could open my mouth to respond, he was almost singing.  “You should be happy!  Be Happy!”   He patted me on the shoulder and cheerfully walked off.

It seems that this has been a spiritual theme–a command from the Universe, if you will–wherever I go.  Live joyfully. Empty the pockets. That’s the ticket I’m supposed to buy.

Creativity is mysterious medicine, generating in us the desire to live with a fire in the belly for joy.  We’re inspired by interpretations of life–stories, choreography, theater, music, photographs, paintings, and poetry — that reveal the stages and emotional paths bringing us to the joy that we yearn to experience.

Artists inspire us to get up and do something.  Dance something. Write something.  Sing something.  Cook something new and fabulous—maybe a pizza.

Yes indeed.  It is a very good Friday.