Tag Archives: Reflections

2016. Relax.

Kuan Yin

A poster of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, hangs in my living room. She looks relaxed, at ease, overlooking the worldly chaos that we endure daily. “Relax,” she seems to radiate. Okay. I think I will.

The new year is always a pretty high time for me. This year, it all began with a Christmas tree. For the first time in, oh, say 30 years, I bought a small tree a few days before Christmas. It came with lights and, I have to say, was pretty cute. I decorated the artificial leaves with paper ornaments downloaded from the Internet and added a few more lights to brighten the room. It brought me great joy. Each morning, I plodded around in my red flannel nightgown feeling, well, relaxed.

Nice. No urgency, no panic. Could it be that making that last payment on my living room furniture could bring such calm? No. It was deeper than that. I had begun to take charge of my life in this strange world of recovery from CIDP in a more confident way.

Relax.

Like the calming voice of a hypnotist, everything seemed to be repeating that word, and the word itself seemed to be swathed in a soft blue light. “Okay,” I thought.

One morning, I plugged in the tree and (using my new Roku television app!) found a virtual fireplace with Christmas music. Standing back and looking at the fireplace and the tree, I was once again struck by how relaxed I felt. I’ve had such rare moments of this kind of peace that I had to take it all in one moment at a time. I felt warm, cozy, and ready for 2016. How would I begin this year?

I emptied a pack of raw cranberries into a saucepan, added some sugar, and stood stirring and watching as the red berries began to bubble. There were three things that came to mind that would make this a year of relaxation: cooking, writing, and— crocheting. Crocheting? More about that later.

Cooking puts me in my happy place. It’s one of the few areas in my life where I am totally at ease, content. This explains why, when I lost my ability to feel with my hands or lift things, I panicked. The kitchen is my sacred space. And this is something I got from my parents and extended family, both men and women. In the kitchen, secrets were shared, hearts were healed, and great food was made. Perhaps this is why, when I think of the peaceful times in my family, it has to do with food.

The cranberries had boiled into a thick, sugary sauce. Yes, cooking would definitely contribute to a peaceful year. Then, I thought about writing. Ahh. Writing. It is no exaggeration to say that writing has saved my life. But my resolution is not about discipline; I can always use more discipline. It’s about staying in touch with that fire that kept me going in my journals when I thought everything was lost. It’s about using it to connect my personal history, my ancestry, and food.

Yum. I knew that I was gonna have a glorious holiday breakfast. The virtual fireplace was roaring, the choir was singing “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and the tree sparkled against the dawn.

I sliced a hunk of cranberry speckled cornbread and put it in the toaster oven to heat. Now, about this crochet madness. Really, Sala? Really?

When I was child living with six other people in a two bedroom apartment, my mother (very much a southern woman) ensured that my sister and I learn needlework, crochet, and a little sewing. While my sister seemed to take to sewing like a duck in water, I rebelled (my middle name).  In my young adult years, however, I came back to crocheting. It seemed that even several straight rows, unrecognizable as anything usable, appeared to erase the passage of time. An added benefit was that sitting at a party with yarn and a crochet needle drew the guys to my corner like bees to honey. They considered me “deep.”

The cornbread was hot and I slathered it with my newly made cranberry sauce and butter. Nope. Watching my weight was not even in the list for the new year. Next were fried apples, heavily seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and dates for sweetener. Of course I cooked them in butter; I’m not stupid!

Standing over the stove and plating the food filled me with an inner sweetness matched only by the odors filling my apartment. Like a ghost, the smells slipped under the door and out into the building hallway. I’m sure that everyone on my floor knew I had cinnamon for breakfast.

This morning, post-New Year’s celebrations and all, I have the urge to crochet a wall hanging and frame it. I’ll let y’all know how that goes. Joy is the greatest gift we have, and for some outlandish reason, I feel that  relaxed joy is the most important part of my resolution for 2016. Not weight loss; not changing my style; not a spreadsheet with tips about exercise. All this is important, but the most important is joy.

Relaxation and joy. That’s what I want for the new year. And that’s what I wish for you.

On: Rethinking “Provincial”

If we’re lucky, we receive a kind of grace—a mercy or blessing you might say—that helps us let go of old, limited views, so that we can see how our biased loyalties harm ourselves as well as others. Today, I feel lucky.

I’ve ranted for years about insular communities spawning folk whose blind loyalties to narrow ideologies cause harm, exploit people, and breed hatred. I once wrote in these pages, “The provincial promises safety, but there is no reality in it.”

I’m not even sure what I meant by that, outside of understanding that I’ve vehemently disliked insular communities. Now, I’m changing my view. The fact that many parochial, narrow-minded communities are pariahs of the human race does not cancel out the fact that other small communities provide safety from exploitation and bigotry. The kind of thinking that led to the massacre of nine people in a South Carolina church this month is an example of the first; the openhearted warmth traditionally found in Southern black churches is an example of the second.

This morning, as I sip tea and watch hawks circle the air in search of something that died in the night, I’m reflecting on my limited understanding of provincialism. My perceived open-mindedness of urban sophistication is gone.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, a condition that developed into chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, most commonly known as CIDP. I was unable to walk, hold anything in my hands, or go to the bathroom unassisted. My community became a closed world of doctors and medical practitioners, hospitals and rehab facilities, and friends as I learned that only one to eight in a million are diagnosed with CIDP. The insular nature of a serious illness can offer new perspectives.

Provincial in space

A parochial mind can exist anywhere—in a family, among school friends, even in the heart of New York City—and, while I’m embarrassed to admit it, my own ideas about insular communities provided a false sense of security that, over time, became bricks in my wall of arrogance.

It’s been almost two years since my last serious relapse. I’m stable and a little wiser. I’ve had time for reflection.  Not too long ago, I met a woman who is a talented needlework artist. She’d been working at the same job for 52 years, something I was never able to imagine for myself. In contrast to my life of weaving in and out of communities on this or that coast, she’d remained planted in the community where she grew up. She married well, and looking at her needlework it was clear that she was inspired by a broader outlook on the world. Yet, she was still connected to her community. She knew the people and their families, their histories, and I would not call her provincial.

Who are the provincial? Is it the uneducated hill woman in the mountains of West Virginia who saved me from bleeding all over the countryside? Is it the “sophisticated” urban professional who, as a supervisor, makes work life impossible for a subordinate? Are they the bluegrass and blues musicians hidden away in a back woods holler, welcoming everyone attending their gatherings with openhearted acceptance, or are they the religious zealots who insist at all costs that every person live as they live?

I can no longer paint the provincial with a single brush stroke. It’s become a heart-to-heart negotiation.

I think I’m finding an answer.

A Valentine’s Day Contemplation

Love. That’s what February is about. Black history month. Valentine’s Day. I’m willing to bet that 60 years from now Valentine’s Day will still exist. Should I place bets on black history month? Maybe. Should I bet that any particular cultural monthly celebration will still exist? Probably not.

However, there is something that I feel compelled to write about because the consequences of unconsciously using words that devastate pull me further and further away from love. I am guilty of what I’m about to address: hate speech.  It’s so subtle, a stealth bomb. Words that dehumanize become habits, even within the race. We use them unconsciously. Of course this discussion has been going on since before rap music. They become so familiar that we don’t hear ourselves using them. But once we hear ourselves, the warm blanket of ignorance slips away and we’re exposed to the cold musings of our own minds.

First, I want to say that this is not about you, the invisible you reader who may happen to find these pages. It’s about me. Brrrr. How terrifyingly cold, these glacial waters of public self revelation.

I was talking with a friend about a Republican political figure. My friend, with great vehemence, stated her opinion:  the man is an “oreo.” To my horror and subsequent shame, I felt my mouth open and the words, “Yeah, you have that right…!” came flying out. There was a tug inside, something I chose to ignore; “You know this is wrong” was the tug. But I continued my chat about how this man was no longer a part of the race because he thought differently.

I’ve heard it said that you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. Divisiveness is never part of the solution. With all of our brilliant optimism, historic commitment to unity, rainbow colors, boundless activism, diverse dialects, shining intelligence and creativity, and so forth and so on, we had nothing better to do than criticize this man and summarily write him out of the race.

Ain’t we humans somethin’?

The universe has a way of balancing things. After some time had passed, I was speaking with another friend about another issue. This person’s anger about a public political figure that I had concluded was on “our side” was so explosive that in the person’s description of the politician I heard a description of myself.

Here is what happened inside my body: My mouth became dry, and then an odd taste covered my tongue. My heart beat faster and I felt cold inside. My eyes seemed to lose their focus as sorrow caused me to stop speaking. I was silent. And I was silent for the next week — shell-shocked as it were. In his description of the politician was a description of myself. I had been written out of the race.

Oreo: a disparaging term, used to define someone as not being a part of the black race, i.e., dark on the outside, but white on the inside. Like the cookie.

Some black children learn this term early from the people around them; they don’t realize it’s power to dehumanize. And some of us grown-ups use the term out of habit, without thinking. This is the scary part for me — the familiarity; the not thinking.

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“Oreo!” There was a push from behind and someone disappeared.

As I made my way back to my locker, head down to hide my mortification, I felt an arm around my shoulder. The vice principal of the middle school — a gloriously dark woman, almost 6 feet tall, and who wore her hair in a short Afro — long before it was fashionable — smiled at me and looked me in the eyes.

“Keep studying. Do your best. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

To this day, Mrs. Jessup (not her real name) is one of my icons. When I think of positive school experiences, she is at the top. As a dark skinned woman, she’d faced her own struggles growing up during segregation and within the black community. She had probably been written out of the race many times. Some of my classmates, at their peril, would call her names and run around the corner thinking (stupidly, I must add) that she didn’t recognize voices. They would yell, “Godzilla” or “King Kong.” Of course, she was well-equipped to handle racism head on — within and outside of the race.

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Over the years, I’ve come to understand that hate speech reveals more about the speaker then the person targeted. Hate speech begins within. Whatever one sees in another is a reflection of what one sees in herself. This is what I was thinking about several days after I found myself disparaging that public figure. I don’t like his politics one bit, but he is still an African American. He is human.

Many, many years ago, a dear friend said to me, “We’re the only people to write someone out of the race because we don’t like how they think, dress, speak, or who they marry.” Although we are not the only people to do so, I got the message. Then I forgot the message. But in remembering the message I’m reconnected with a global truth.

Once we define any person as other than human, we give ourselves permission to injure or destroy him with impunity. Nazism. White supremacy. Gang wars. In Rwanda, the Tutsi and moderate Hutus were called “cockroaches.”

In big and small ways, once we define any person as other than human, we give ourselves permission to injure or destroy him with impunity.

I’m not naive or unrealistic. Hate speech will be around for a long, long while. And perhaps, as subsequent Valentine’s Day generations are born and die, we human beings will get the message of love quite profoundly. In the meantime, however, I can do my part. I can be vigilant about the words circling my insides and vet them before they reach the air.

No more oreos or agreeing to labeling someone as such. Oreos only belong on the grocery shelf.

Cat Valentine

Holiday mercies: memories and miracles

Holiday mercies-Gratitude

 

“Mommy!”

“Mommy!”

My mother turned over in her bed.

“What is it?”

It was Christmas; I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, and the sounds I heard assured me that I was going to witness the miracle — Santa over the roof. I heard them. Sleigh bells. Santa was arriving at our humble two-bedroom city apartment for seven.

How would he get in? There was no chimney. The door? The window? Hopefully no one would call the police.

“Did you hear it, Mommy?”

Glory be. She was tired, and I was treading dangerous waters. It was early, early morning, dark and still. I didn’t have a fever, so sickness could not be my excuse. My mother’s patience for what she considered stupidity — well, no matter.  For better or worse, I’ve inherited this trait.

Anyway, today I am remembering the good stuff. I’m feeling gratitude for the good stuff. Gratitude is a mercy. Gratitude is a belief in miracles. I remember a discussion with a girlfriend, oh, about 20 years ago; she was a young Catholic who angrily did not believe in the miracle of the Annunciation.

“That’s strange,” I said to her. “I’m not even Catholic and I believe the story.”

She could not know that she was speaking to a woman who, as a child, woke her mother in the middle of the night to share the magic of sleigh bells overhead in the night sky. I’ve lost track of the girlfriend, but not my belief in miracles. I am witness to magic. I am witness to miracles. Every day.

It used to be that weeks before Christmas, the air was filled with sacred hymns and choral music. That’s not the tradition so much anymore. Now, in November, the secular music begins. Good stuff, but not so much of miracles.

Back to my story.

In spite of being awakened by her daughter, my mother arose a couple of hours later to make sure that Santa had placed things correctly under the tree, breakfast was started, and the electricity was still on—just in case the payment was late. Today, my mother is recovering from an illness. She is 92. Perhaps that’s why, this Christmas, I am especially moved to remember our little miracles.

Daddy brought the tree home and we decorated the tree before Christmas Eve. We sucked on peppermint canes and ripped open bags of Christmas candy. How did we get all of these things? Where was the money? I am moved to remember the graces that make the Christmas holidays Christmas.  Memories, like the comfort of a sauna, warm my body and spirit. There! In that portion of the brain are aromas of ham, turkey, and baking bread. And there are boxes of fruit, nuts, and candy, gifts from the grandparents. There are the aunts, uncles, cousins. Magic. Where did all the people come from? How did our little apartment hold them?

Gosh. I’m sentimental this morning. Friends are coming. I need to get up and have at it.

Let’s see. New Year’s resolution? Hmm. After an absolutely challenging 2 1/2 years, I resolve to keep discovering the magic in life, health, and spirituality. I am stronger. I cook. I sing. I laugh. I have the faith and ability to express gratitude. I keep learning how to forgive. What does it mean to give and receive mercy?

I could easily get hung up on the scarier memories and depressing media news. The heavier the language, the darker the view. But I’m continually making different choices. I am continually choosing magic and miracles. It’s work.

Today, I choose to remember the word “Merry” in our Christmas greetings and “Happy” in our wishes for the new year. There is magic in this world.

Happy New Year.

 

Sanguine

An apple. A cup of grapes. A banana. Pineapple chunks. Flax seed and kale. There’s nothing remarkable about blending fruit and vegetables. What’s remarkable is the power of these drinks in my healing. I am gaining strength and experiencing so much more vitality each day. Raw, blended food seems to be reducing my body’s inflammation. The experience keeps me quite optimistic. I remain sanguine with CIDP.

Sanguine. As an adjective: “Optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.”

Sanguine.

In the middle of one of the most challenging segments of my life, I wake up optimistic. In the middle of one of the most challenging times in American history, a new “Reconstruction,” we must remain sanguine.

Americans are being intellectually and physically terrorized by Americans. From Florida to Ferguson, Missouri to Congress, extremist thought has infiltrated the political process in a frightening way.

We cannot allow ourselves to be frightened.

The inevitability of a shift in demographics in this country has led some citizens and lawmakers to lose their minds. Now, the only way elected Tea Party/Republican officials advance their agenda is by spreading the poison of ethnic hatred. Fascism is a very nasty word.

When we are complacent–and you know who you are–about voting, we get what we got. The deaths in American history, all to ensure the right to vote, are the colors we wear (did I mention sanguine is also a color: blood red?). It’s beyond stupid. It’s dangerously dumb to not vote. I remain sanguine and angry with folks who do not vote.

Yet. Despite it all (and African and Native Americans in this country have seen it all), people of good heart continue to fall in love, plan families, raise children, vote, complete educations, play sports, work hard, create music and art and–like Michelangelo with his blocks of marble–see the potential in the ordinary. We live socially just, compassionate, and joyful lives. We are sanguine about the future. Yes, today’s America still holds more than a splash of optimism.

Once again, summer has surrendered to a shiny autumn moon. Meteorologists forecast a hard winter. But we always expect the best outcomes.

Home 001

There is an ancient potency, a fertile, tender marriage between Spirit and optimism. Spring will come again. It’s guaranteed. We will survive autumn rains, the inevitable snow, and a neo-fascist Tea Party/Republican majority in Congress.

We are sanguine.

Oh, oh. It’s 6 am.  Time to think about blended smoothies and juicing. I’m optimistic that more and more folks will examine the long held beliefs that keep them from becoming truly authentic, love based, socially responsible people. Because, in the final analysis, we are responsible to each other, and Love–that’s right–is supremely present. Enya sings, “When Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

Sanguine.

I come by it honestly.  The book under my elbows is The Little Red Caboose.  

“I think I can, I think I can…”

Yours truly,

All rights reserved Sala G. Wyman

All rights reserved Sala G. Wyman

P.S.  Sorry to be late with the post this month…I will be better.  I remain sanguine.

 

 

In Search of Balance

Yin-Yang

 

 

Yin: feminine, shadowy, receptive, compassionate.

 

At this moment, slicing pears for a vinaigrette dressing, I think that cooking is yin. I feel like I am receiving the grace of Annapurna, the goddess of kitchens and food. Kitchen wisdom has traditionally been thought of as feminine.

Not being a scholar, I don’t thoroughly understand the concepts of yin and yang. Years ago, a therapist told me I was too yang, that I needed to be or have more yin, more feminine energy. I did not tell her to go to Hades. That would have been too yang. But when a boyfriend told me that the only time I was soft was in the bedroom, I did not bite my tongue. Is it yin to express my personal thoughts, or is it aggressively yang?

What did that therapist mean? Was I too aggressive in my desire to be liked? Was it my anger (and at that time I was quite the angry woman)? Too pushy in my efforts to participate in an unbalanced culture while looking for work? I did not see myself as having such an overabundance of male energy. I thought I was pretty soft. Truth is, it seemed like I was unhappy a lot of the time. Ah. Shadowy.

I’ve thought about her words over the past couple of years. A serious illness puts a certain spin on things. Thanks to my overabundance of aggressive energy, I have been able to stay afloat emotionally and physically. (Lord knows, the health teams in the nursing facilities I experienced were not capable of helping folks to really heal.) Thanks to my compassion, a yin quality, I was able to help make things better for other patients.

I think this therapist meant to say, “you are out of balance.” She saw my aggression in my efforts to not have people take advantage of me. I went overboard and gave up my ability to receive the good that was being offered. The world appeared to be all or nothing, a flip-flop between angry defensiveness and tearful resignation.

Ah. Desperately seeking balance. I’m following the foggy path, pushing aside emotional weeds, and looking for the bright clearing. Yin and yang are the male and female of all things:  light and dark, positive and negative, sunny and cloudy. We exist in a world of opposites; sometimes opposites attract, sometimes they repel. But we cannot exist without both.

If we are to survive and thrive, we must be balanced. It seems to me that balance is an inside out proposition. There can’t be balance on the outside if it doesn’t exist within.

I once left a retreat pissed off at the expressions of unconscious racism. Things were out of balance. There were only a few African-Americans present, and I have always been impatient with the fact that white people assumed we all lived the same kind of lives in the mid-20th century. We did not, oh, we did not; our lives were very different. Things were not equal. Communities were separate. And so, I lost my patience, not only with the expressions of yet more unconscious assumptions, but with trying to be an educator.

So. I drove to a spot near the bay and screamed at the sea, the rocks, and the trees that had bent almost to the ground from surrender to the wind. Surrender. The trees were able to surrender, and they bore their evidence of — beautiful, too — survival. There was balance in that surrender. But to what would I surrender?

I could not scream at people and achieve what I wanted to achieve, so I screamed and cursed at the sea. I got out of my car. I got back in my car. I got out of my car. There were a million stars in the black sky. The mist wetting my face was cold. The night was both scary and lovely.

I was fed up with trying to please everyone around me. I was tired of trying to replace people’s ignorance with information. I was angry and wanted to receive — something. What? Everyone around me seemed aggressive, and hard — filled with what I identified as male energy.

“I just want softness around me.”

That was my voice. It wasn’t the first time I heard my voice and those words. “…softness around me.”  Softness, compassion, the ability to receive and accept love. A little more yin. Perhaps that’s what the therapist was saying.

The night provided a quiet opening, a soft space wherein I recognized both my power and my surrender. As the ocean was both yang and yin, so was I. Balance. Before that night, I loved the ocean. Now, I swore to worship her.

Ours is a society of pushing and aggression, an amazing hermetically sealed bubble in which we are prone to swing to extremes: prohibition or uncontrolled excess; compassionate sharing or the complete hoarding of resources so that only the wealthy thrive. We have not been raised to live in balance. It is a concept as foreign as yin or yang.

I, for one, am of the opinion that in the stillness of making pear vinaigrette dressing lies surrender to the softness of balance.

 

On Service: Today’s Reflection

Why would a poor person go to work for nothing to help other poor people?”

I was the hapless prey cornered by an angry tiger. I had no answer, and Mom wouldn’t budge.

Poverty and racism had made her bitter. She’d watched her dreams of a Northern safety net turn to smoke. I’d decided to move west and serve as a volunteer with a government organization dedicated to helping those in poverty. It would be my first trip on a plane; I would meet people from places I’d hardly heard of in America.  It was one of the things I had to do to find my way.

“Are you getting paid?”

“A stipend.”

They say silence is the better part of valor. No one could give a demeaning snort like my mother. But I continued on my path to service anyway because…service is in my DNA. My father served: in the armed forces, in the community, in church. He was committed, in spite of his faults, to making the world a better place. On the subject of committing time and action to help others, however, my mother and he did not agree.

I have never understood how someone could watch another suffer and not feel the need to serve. Today, watching the news of children crossing the border from Central America, that memory came up for me. Perhaps it’s because I recognized within me that same desire to make things better for others. Perhaps it’s because after all these years I still wanted to see that we, as a country, would come forward with compassion, integrity, and dignity.

I was glued to the television, disappointed with the images of people carrying signs and spitting at buses. They held their fists in the air, and their mouths were little anuses with the feces of hate pouring forth.  Had we gone back in time to the 60s? Seriously? These were the folks that had the media’s attention? Later, I learned that there were only about 50 of them.  How could so few burn up so much oxygen?

I once heard a television news editor express his disappointment that, in today’s news room, he could find as many sales as news people. Broadcast news is bought news. My take away was that sponsors, not people, choose what we will hear and see. So, here I was watching a bunch of ignoramuses supported by commercial interests.

The truth.

People of all faiths and people of no faith are coming forward to serve. Hundreds are are opening their hearts and their arms to help. From all over the country, in Dallas, Texas and San Diego, people are offering shelter, food, clothing, money, time and prayers for these children and their parents.

I suppose, the haters will never go away; they have existed throughout history. They appear in some form in every millennium, taking up precious oxygen that’s needed to do the work. Blessedly, it seems that the Lovers are in charge, if less visible.

Back to my mother. Back to me.

I got on the plane and arrived on the West Coast. I was filled with courage, enthusiasm, and curiosity. We received training, cleaned streets, fed preschoolers, assisted with adult literacy classes, and met the most dynamic group of Catholic activists ever. I sent her letters and made phone calls, but Mom could never understand. Not then; not now.

One thing I came to understand, however, is that her resistance did not come from hate. Even if she didn’t know it; even if I didn’t know it, the gap between her and haters was wide. I learned in later years that she sent money that she didn’t have to organizations making life better for others. Although she would never tell me then and cannot tell me now, I think that her resistance was one of coming from the legacy of southern violence. Violence, as I know well, leaves the worst of scars in our cellular memory.

Will the children and families coming to our borders see us as allies or friends 10,  20, 30, or 40 years from now? If we choose to serve, the answer is clear.

Committment

Photo by Melinda Zipin Copyright 2014

Photo by Melinda Zipin Copyright 2014

 

“You are a piece of work,” my physical therapist said lovingly.

I would be a liar to deny it.

 

 

Sometimes, this phrase, this being “a piece of work” might be a put down; other times, it is a grand anointing of a strong, deep, and independent spirit.

There are many things to which I am committed. Being a piece of work is one of them. I’m committed to personal growth and to learning how to see with more than the eyes and hear with more than the ears. I’m committed to the mystery of the heart. Yet, there are areas where I have run away from commitment.

He’s a runner and he’ll run away… Woman ain’t been born who can make and stay… Woman get away while you can

Several decades ago, the late singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro wrote these words and sang them. At the time, I embraced the song as an anthem for women who fall in love with men who can’t — or won’t — make a commitment. After a while, it felt like I could apply those words to me.

Ms. Nyro’s song was at the forefront of my mind this morning as I sat with my tea to have a chat with God. Chats with the Divine work for me.

I’ve tended to see romantic commitment rather like the Loma Prieta earthquake that I experienced in the San Francisco Bay area in 1989. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. It’s more like those subtle movements of the earth that rattled the dishes on my shelf as I sat quietly in the morning. The sounds were enough to get my attention, but not enough to force me to commit to action. In the case of the earthquakes, that would be to move the hell to another state. In relationship to people, it might be to engage in a lasting relationship.

“I just got a call from my girlfriend. I’ve known her since kindergarten.”

I stared at my friend. How on God’s earth could someone know a person since kindergarten? I felt sad. I could not think of one person I was in touch with that I knew since kindergarten. Or middle school. Or high school. Not a single person.

But I remember the kindness of teachers, vice principals, and principles; I remember the compassion of school counselors. I remember Mrs. Bowie in first grade and her kind, generous concern for children like me whose home life had some very rocky places. I remember Mrs. Gaines, the Vice Principal in my middle school. She was a dark skinned woman with short cropped natural hair at a time when such a style was unpopular. Some of the students (nope, don’t remember a single one of their names…) called her King Kong behind her back. But she was kind to me and smiled and encouraged me often. I remember these kindnesses.

And I realize, where my commitment lies. I am committed to the transforming power of kindness.

In 1985, I met a meditation teacher from India, and I found a spiritual path where my heart leaped to commitment. In one moment, everything changed for me. I became committed to meditation, singing songs to God, and offering service to myself, my community, and God. I became more anchored in my commitment to loving kindness.

29 years later, I am still on the path and experiencing commitment to the Heart. However, in order to recognize my commitment to kindness, I have had to make mistakes that were unkind. I have had to rebound, redirect myself to my commitment to do no harm. This includes loving kindness to myself with the words I use (you know, that self talk thing…) and the actions I take.

I am in physical recovery forever. Whether  I walk, run, cook, or perform, I will always be conscious of what I eat, the amount of energy I exert, and of things or people that suck my energy.  I am a piece of work. Healing takes commitment. It takes a commitment to faith and a commitment to action.

Yes, I am a piece of work in progress. I am the rock from which Michelangelo is carving David.

 

 

On: Extraordinary

“Extraordinary.” It sparkles with power. It’s also a twofer. It supports tenderness as well as harshness.

It is extraordinary that, after this journey of being away from home for four months, I wake with feelings of gratitude rather than self-pity. It is extraordinary how the path of patience seems to anchor me to a sense of humor. It is extraordinary what I am learning about myself.  I underestimated my own psychological power and  physical endurance.

Within a skilled nursing facility, those who advocate for themselves get stronger. Those who cannot — because of fear or frailty — walk an extraordinarily stony path. Being surrounded by other patients (and some very crappy nursing assistants) also presents the opportunity to develop an–extraordinarily– macabre sense of humor.

One afternoon, the nursing staff ran frantically through the halls thunderously slamming the doors to all rooms. Then silence. Fifteen minutes later they, just as frantically, opened the doors. I asked why.

“The undertaker’s here and we don’t want people to see.” Oh, okay.

Imagine my extraordinary surprise when less than ten minutes later, a pale, sad-faced man in a pitiful black suit slowly passed my room pushing a gurney with — yes, you guessed it. He was the undertaker.

“Stick a fork in me,” I said. “I’m done.”

But I’ve kind of wandered away from my point…  The word is extra plus ordinary. And I’ve spent decades dancing around the ordinary.

“Do not settle for mediocre.” It was a worthy and valuable teaching. But, somewhere in my child’s brain the words got scrambled.  Instead, my ears heard my parents say “We will not love you if you are ordinary.” So I wanted to be extraordinary; to be the best.

Ironically, I didn’t know what my best was or how to achieve it until this past year when I was diagnosed with CIDP — chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. (Learn more here: http://www.gbs-cidp.org) I think about how I’ve straddled the abyss of desire for public recognition and the fear of dismal failure. Yet, every once in a while I’d get a glimpse of truth that pushed me into the extraordinary.

I was having lunch with some friends. We were talking about dreams for wealth and fame versus living an effective and “wealthy” life as an ordinary person. A woman, a former model and gifted singer, sang to us.

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Willing to do as He commands
God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much as you place it in the Master’s hand
                       The late Danniebelle Hall

For a moment the spell was broken. I had crossed the abyss. I was free and my quandary about the ordinary was cast aside. Everyone, no matter what his or her calling, is extraordinary in ordinary ways. As the great spiritual teachers proclaim, inside every person is greatness. When it’s time to see it, we feel it.

The truth is, every day is a new test and a new blessing. After all, it is now seven months of not being free to travel as I would like; seven months of living inside one building or another without driving or going as I please.

Two weeks ago, neighbors, across the street from my friend at whose home I’m staying, invited us to dinner in their backyard. Everything was extraordinary. The night sky, the candlelight, the backyard, the smells, the sounds. The gourmet food that the hostess prepared herself.

Like thousands of pink rose petals falling around me, I felt something extraordinary. Peace.

On… The sweetness of a name

This blog is quivery and yellow–  like pineapple Jell-O.  It shimmies and shakes as I struggle through what has become an extraordinary array of challenges.

From carpal tunnel to feet that require the use of a cane or walker, I have been traveling the road to patience and health. It hasn’t been easy, but I have the support of friends and a basically happy outlook. I am also inclined to whine a bit.

With that said, I recognize the need to keep jabbering away. Silence is not acceptable for a blog. This week in particular was an ecstatic one for me as my choice for the American presidency won the race. I am thrilled that President Obama won his second term. And now, we can get to work, the real work, of equal opportunity for all.

Now for this week’s word: names.

I, for one, am intimately connected with the experience of names, having spent years accepting or rejecting several of my own. I was my father’s firstborn, and as such, my birth name reflected his joy and prayers. My birth name meant “gracious gift of God,” and both the name and its meaning lifted me up in good and trying times. I never abandoned the name — not really. Its meaning allowed me to, at least inside my head, recognize myself as a beloved daughter of God, a belief that has revealed itself to me in good times and been hidden away in times of stress or fear.

Given that, in so many cultures, the child’s name describes a dominant personality trait, and with cousins that had nicknames like Cunning or Bossy, I figured I lucked out.

Still, over the years, I have tried on new names like a judge at a dessert tasting contest. How I started the journey is unclear, but there was this point in my development where I felt that my name was restrictive, a sentence to an impenetrable goody-two-shoes life. By the time I moved into a small apartment (and I mean small!) in San Francisco in 1969, I had decided to try out the name of Susan.

Right.

“Susan” was the name of business and surety and normalcy. But anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a Susan, and that shirt would not fit. So, I abandoned Susan when I returned to the East Coast, started working in theater, and eventually met a troop of African-American actors where we all took African names. The name Sala came out of that experience. My father said “you will always be what I named you.” This was significant because there were times when I felt he did not like me. But his statement said that, to him, I would always be a gracious gift of God.

What was I looking for? What identity did I feel was missing? In India, I asked a meditation master to give me a new name. She told me to keep my own name. This began the inner work of trying to know who I am beyond the labels I use to describe myself: a woman, African-American, creative. I was the pound cake waiting to be drenched in the liquid lemony frosting of my own nature. After several years, I received a name from the meditation master. And, in the end, I discovered that all the names I lived with had essentially the same meaning. And the river of God ran through every single one of them.

Sala meant gentle or peace. Gloria Jean, my birth name, meant gracious gift of God, and the blessing I received from my teacher was the name of Gopi, which meant that I was to be a lover of God in all his forms. I had been bathed in the lemony frosting of my nature for my whole life, but couldn’t taste its sweetness.

Finally, I am enjoying the taste of my own nature. There’s more to come.  Yum.