Tag Archives: writing from the heart

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.

 

 

What. If.

More views from my window.

More views from my window.

If ever the great unknown should provide a sliding board into its waiting mouth, the words “what if” might be the metal from which the board is built.

What if I had married that guy David that my parents tried to arrange for me?  My life would have been so different. Air Force bases all over the world. Babies, maybe five or six. Church every Sunday just like when I grew up.

There would have been no opportunities to have the exciting adventures and to meet the glorious people that are in my life. I would have been — like my mother — an unhappy and unfulfilled woman following someone else’s definition of duty.

What if I had avoided those two carpal tunnel surgeries — two weeks in succession? Could I have avoided what I presume was the infection that led to Guillain Barre Syndrome and then CIDP?

What if I had followed a childhood dream to totally serve God by becoming a nun or a monk? (Stop laughing.) What would my life have been? Have I missed something in not following that pull? Truthfully, no. I don’t think so. For I have embraced a monk’s life in street clothing— with partying on the side.

These  thoughts played in my mind like angry bees. The problem was that I was trying to meditate.

I’ve been blessed with a fairly upbeat nature; positive and very on the edge of Pollyanna. I’ve been held in the palm of Spirit, generous with protection. It’s rare that I swim in the murky puddles of what feels like regret. And so, I was surprised by the forest of thoughts and the blossoms of “what ifs” in my mind. I had to get out of the woods. I got up and took a sharp detour. I wanted to focus on something mellow. Something more sunny-Sunday afternoon like.

What if I just enjoyed the day?

So I went to a place that brings me endless delight and feels so ever like home. The kitchen.

When I was in the skilled nursing facilities, the occupational therapists there kept wanting me to practice my cooking skills by making boxed brownies. Excuse me? One of them actually told me I might never again cook the way I like to cook. She expressly said that my creativity in the kitchen would be limited to maybe 20% of what I had done before. I was enraged.

With exercises that consisted of picking up marbles , flipping over playing cards, bouncing little balls back and forth, and squeezing putty, there was no way I would ever strengthen my hands enough to peel an orange. The bar was set so low that anyone, with any dreams at all or hopes for recovery, could be discouraged. And this was why I released the full force of my anger. She left the room to find the facility administrator.

“Don’t you ever minimize my abilities!”

“I don’t care what the insurance companies say. I’m in charge of my healing. You’re in charge of function. And baking box brownies is not function.”

“Don’t ever tell me what I will not be able to do!”

And so, revved up by the memory of my rant against people who want to enshrine human limitation and, stung, in my meditation, by the angry bees of regret, I went to my kitchen.

Have I shared with you my memories of the kitchen? About the love I experienced in the warmth and smell of my grandparents’ and my mother’s kitchens. I probable have. I come from a lineage of culinary talent that is among the best of cooking royalty. We don’t need awards. We just eat. Relatives of all shapes and sizes were and are masters at their stoves and ovens.

All four of my grandparents, and their families, thrived within the abundant generosity of the South Eastern soil. From the wildlife in the rural woods to the fruit trees, vines, and produce they grew to raising livestock, they were  the creators of the life we watch nostalgically on television shows today. I loved watching both grandmothers knead dough; their rich, dark hands against the white flour that soon become biscuits lighter than the air that I breathe.

We were raised organic. My mother has told me that when pesticides were becoming popular my grandfather refused to use them. He said that whatever was put in the ground would be taken in by the plant, and we would eat the plants and ingest the pesticides. So. We squeamishly picked fat worms and bugs from our collards and cut them from our apples instead. The meals were delicious.

So that Sunday, to still the buzzing bees of thoughts, I went to my refrigerator and pulled out mushrooms, ginger, almond milk, butter, and onions. And I made the best cream of mushroom soup ever. These are testy–and tasty–times. Being able to  cook is a healing gift.

“What if you’re never able to cook like you did before?” she had challenged. Then she ran from my rage.

Good. I had stuffed the blasted genie back into the bottle. As other patients and therapists looked on, I puffed out my chest. And she — the harbinger of low expectations — vanished from my presence.

Blasting away the threat of limitation. Chasing away the angry bees of regret, doubt, and speculation. What if I lived my life this way every day?

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Words: In not letting racism overshadow the glory of spring  

Spring 2014Call me corny. It’s a beautiful morning, cool and brilliant with sun. I’ve been enjoying the mornings and wondering how it is that I still insist on believing in love.

But, there are a couple of rigid voices outside and inside my head ranting and raving about the state of race relationships in America.

Given the history of our country’s beginnings, can there be any surprise that we are both dysfunctional and symbiotic? Race is the warp and weft of the fabric.

I live with racism every day. So do you. Overt or subtle, we either give or receive pain from racist perceptions about each other moment by moment. White about black. Black about white. Black about black. White about white. Red about black. Black about red. On and on and on. Sometimes I think that racism and classicism, having existed for hundreds and thousands of years, will be, like the poor referred to in the Bible, with us always.

I still believe in love. That’s all I really think about. That’s all I care about. Human kindness. Thankfully, I also believe that most people contribute, in one way or another, to solutions towards a loving, peaceful, just, and equal society.  I believe that we make these contributions because we believe in actualizing the best of ourselves towards and with each other. I believe that our contributions are the rent we pay in exchange for the privilege of enjoying our time on this Earth.

We humans are complex and unpredictable.  As we go back and forth with legislation, it is horrifying to see freedoms given and freedoms taken away. It is infuriating to see people manipulate the system to keep others in poverty, without the right to vote, and in ignorance of the power to control their own lives.

I still believe in love. I still believe in human kindness.

I don’t do well in political debate. But I know someone will ask about race again. And I will answer. Because this is part of the discourse, and we are both dysfunctional and symbiotic.

Now about this exquisite Spring.

I have been waiting through this long, bitter winter for the soft green, succulent rebirth of the earth. I can go outside now. And I am not about to let politics or criticism steal my opportunity to wrap my soul in the joy of seeing woodpeckers, hawks, finches, geese, and robins fly; deer chase each other; fox lurk; and, yes, people explore the nature trail—that includes the guy that thought nobody could see him relieving himself among the trees.

Spring is not just the harbinger of rebirth; spring is the majesty of magic. Year after year, spring and the holy days — today is Palm Sunday— anchor me in miracles. There was my childhood Easter miracle of shiny new black patent leather shoes, white ankle socks, a new dress, gloves, and, of course, a hat. My sister and I paraded. My brothers, in their bow ties and neat little jackets were resplendent. Spring defied the reality of “lack” by bringing us together in new clothes with a larger community that believed in the power of rebirth— a miracle, considering what we lived under during those times, and proof that life is magic.

So, these days I’m awakened at six with birdsong and light. I have accepted the reality that injustice is a part of living. I acknowledge the fact that contribution to transformation, celebration of the glory of spring, and expression of gratitude for the gift of spiritual rebirth is the rent I pay for enjoying Earth.

Happy Holy Days, whatever your faith. And stay posted for a new photo in the coming months!

Two in one month? No. Tow.

Praise the elements and the angels. Fresh air, sunshine, and a chance to get some outdoor exercise with my physical therapist…

Whoa! What’s this?

“I’m not going to jail!!!”

The short, stocky woman stood toe to toe with the young police officer. He looked confused. He had to do his job; he also had to be respectful. Had he threatened to arrest her?

“Ma’am, this is a handicapped zone.”

The truth be told, the woman screaming didn’t own the car. I don’t know how she got into this thing. But, by now, a crowd of senior and elderly citizens had gathered, and they were not happy.

I, on the other hand — and foot — was happy. I had been cooped up in my apartment for more than 40 days. This was the third day of sunlight and warm temperatures in a winter that almost had me believing in Armageddon. If I could have danced without falling — well, let me just say “I’m workin’ on it.”

“Please don’t tow my car!”

The woman in the (very comfortable looking I might add) pink robe was terrified.

“This is a handicapped zone.”

A young woman visiting her mother patiently repeated this fact to anyone who would listen. The tow truck line was attached to the car. It’s a cosmic fact. Once the line is attached, it’s a done deal. There were five — yes, I counted them — five police cars with the officers facing this angry group. It was a little dramatic.

“Please…”

I live in this lovely place because I, too, now qualify as a senior. You have no idea how much angst went into this revelation. But I suppose that with a serious illness comes the willingness to let go of façades. One after another the veils drop, and  secrets are left open for examination by anyone who chooses to peek. It doesn’t matter if people say my skin looks so smooth, my face so young, and my attitude youthful. Illness can bring, if one is willing, a new and glorious embrace of the present. I can now ride the commuter train for $1.

It’s a new place, barely eight years old. My apartment faces the woods of a college campus across the road. My first week here I saw a fox. And during this horrifically snowy season, I had the pleasure of watching cross-country skiers on the trail that will be hidden once the trees bloom in the spring.

Sometimes, in the quiet of night, I hear the cries of some small animal or bird that is meeting it’s fate as dinner. It’s eerie; that pitiful cry and then silence. But then the morning comes.

This dramatization around an illegally parked car seemed to play into the predator/prey story. Except that everyone felt they were prey. No one in the situation wanted to be there. The faces of those young officers, all white, revealed their discomfort. They wanted to be anywhere else on the planet: chasing drunk drivers, arresting bank robbers, responding to fire emergencies — anywhere but here with five cop cars for a handful of senior citizens. The young white tow truck driver looked fearful as he talked with his supervisor on his cell phone.

The seniors, with the exception of one, were all black. The situation was, I suppose for some, um, awkward.

I am more warped. Oh, the thrill of it! Not only was I outside; I was being entertained. And I suppose, on some level, I knew the situation would be resolved amicably. Why? Because it’s an amicable community, within and outside of the complex. And no one —  believe me, no one — wanted to be on the evening news.

I’ve been listening to people complain about cabin fever this winter. Yes, the temperatures have been in the single digits, the snow has been up to 10 inches deep — more in some places — and spring seems too far away. But after a year of living mostly indoors, I am finding it hard to have one ounce of pity. The extent of my travels has been the tedious act of using a wheelchair or walker to move from one room to another. For those with physical limitations, we’d give anything to walk into the frigid air or put our feet into the snow.

“Ma’am,” an exasperated, but patient, officer repeated. “This is a handicapped zone.”

My physical therapist and I had work to do and went about our business: my learning to use the walker as I stepped off a curb and walked on the pathway between the building and the parking lot.

Whoa. What’s this?

A miracle of the modern world occurred. The tow truck driver unhitched his line.

The young girl, as a gesture of kindness to the car owner, moved the car to its designated parking space. It seemed that everyone was going to have a happy ending. The woman in the pink robe came to each of us individually to thank us for praying for her (I admit that I was not owed this thanks). The police were so ready to go look for real trouble. The tow truck driver, having not been attacked by a bunch of old folks, climbed into his truck to leave.

I, fully exhilarated, returned to my apartment.

May your days be free of tow trucks. And—if you have an inclination to do it because you’ll only be there for a few minutes — DON’T. Don’t park in a handicapped zone. It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. It will cost you up to $200. And it costs taxpayers money to send the police when you take a space that rightfully belongs to someone else.

Okay. I’m done. Peace out.

A year ago today

Three women gathered outside the door. One, almost 6 feet tall and broad, stood with two smaller women. One was petite with curly hair, and the other was thin with a drawn and angular face. I had seen them before. They were discussing a patient’s lunch and the fact that she hadn’t eaten. But it was not about the patient’s health.

“She didn’t eat it?” asked one.

“It’s still on the table,” said another. I was listening. I recognized the voice of the tall one.

“She ordered from outside,” said another.

They were “stage whispering.” My roommate had intestinal problems, and I had asked to have my lunch moved to another area. They had taken the tray too far away for me to retrieve it. Then, they became like “the disappeared.”

“She ordered from outside.”

Strange that I’m reflecting on those days this morning. I think it’s because I’m feeling luxuriously at ease within the sanctity of my bedroom. Maybe it’s because I’m indulging in nourishing, health giving food—green drinks, fresh fruit, foods I can enjoy now that I’m home. Perhaps it’s because I’m watching the snow melt and enjoying the morning sun at the top of the trees.

Recently, I did some minor research on skilled nursing facilities, also known as SNFs (sniffs). I was horrified to find a hideous historical link to workhouses for paupers. But, for me, it explained a strange fog of meanness that seemed to drift throughout some of these places. I’d heard stories of patients becoming ill after nursing assistants put bad medications into their food.  My attitude was like, “sleep with one eye open.”

Mean-spiritedness is a trickle-down reaction. It trickles down from families, communities, politics and religion. Remember that trickle-down theory of economics? I thought you might.

These women hated their jobs. Most were immigrants receiving the lowest wages for the funkiest work:  emptying bed pans, making beds, giving showers, and wiping up vomit or worse. I understood, but after waiting 3o minutes, I ordered pizza from a community restaurant and had it delivered to my stinky room.

Something occurs to me. The mean-spiritedness I experienced with the nursing assistants is the same and equal to the mean-spiritedness of religious extremists — of all faiths. Only the environments have changed.

Religious extremists fight – even crazily to the death — for control of our personal lives. Is it because these extremists’ lives are so rabidly out-of-control? Is it because they feel powerless in the face of their own human nature — just as the nursing assistants feel powerless in the face of their jobs?

Is it because they fear something within themselves that they advance racist fears, the persecution of homosexuals, and a hatred of women? Is it because their own human urgings are out of control?

I’m just asking.A year ago

When people can’t control their own lives, they try to control the lives of others.  When people aren’t happy, they try to make others even less happy.

We’ve heard that “if they knew better, they’d do better.” Hmm.

I’m watching the snow melt and enjoying the morning sun at the top of the trees. I’m so happy to be home.