Tag Archives: Writing

Where We Are Gathered

My writing has been lagging, my blog posts few. I just could not get back to the page. I’ve been weepy. Enraged. Demanding answers about our political controversies and wondering, “How did we get here?” 

One afternoon, I was listening to Joan Baez sing “Brothers in Arms,” an antiwar song. I became distraught again as I remembered my days as a young political activist. How did we get here? The following is one of the recent experiences that has motivated me to write again─ with respect and an open heart.

The woman comes into the church social hall, dressed like she always does.  She wears a dark brown coat pulled tightly around her. Is it wool? I’m not sure. She’s been wearing it since the early fall, and it matches the dark brown, unkempt wig she wears. The wig’s ends are stiff and push out from under the brown hat pulled over her head for warmth. She walks timidly as if she’s ashamed to be with us ─ all of us, volunteers and pantry guests alike. Some of us are both.

For more than a year I’ve volunteered at this church food pantry where some sort of alchemy takes place in the social hall. I’ve put my frustration about increased partisan politics aside as I help arrange the tables with vegetables, fruit, baked goods, meat and eggs, and I find myself smiling. Thanks to the generosity of local grocery vendors in our area, this particular food pantry is transformed into a glorious market.  There are bouquets of flowers. Loaves of bread. Bread and Roses. When we are done arranging and sorting, the social hall looks amazing.

I watch the brown coat woman grab a cup of coffee. She almost never talks and sits with her eyes directed toward her coffee and snacks. She surprises me by asking, “Is there more sugar and cream?” Of course, there is. The minister makes sure there’s plenty of everything: coffee and tea, sometimes orange juice. A kitchen volunteer assembles platters of cake, cookies, and small fruit as a breakfast snack for the guests.

As I measure coffee and tea into food storage bags, I repeat a prayer for comfort to myself. Coffee, tea and the snacks help some of the guests start their day on a high note and, perhaps, will pull them out of the sadness of their situations.

It’s hard for me to stay angry about American politics in the presence of sacred work. I watch the minister who directs a steady gaze to the eyes of every person she speaks with. She comforts. I am moved by her dedication. To my knowledge, she has never closed the pantry for any reason. Twenty-four inches of snow? There will be food and the pantry will be open. She may be challenged but not daunted.  Her mission is to comfort and serve.

There is magic in this community of humanity. Service is a healing balm and a saving grace. For three hours each week, the heartless politicians in Washington who have sought to undermine and destroy the tenets of the United States Constitution become background noise, the least of my worries.

Still, I wonder, “How did we get here?”

As the summer wanes and October brings chillier weather, gold leaves, and rain, I take refuge in the cascade of apples brought to the church. There are enough apples for 100 people to each fill a small bag if he or she wanted. And I feel something. The motivation to write again.

I feel something else, too. Love.

Wherever two or more of us are gathered in the sacred name, serving each other and receiving, I know we’ll be okay. The woman in the brown coat smiles into her cup. We will be okay.

On… Sound and Silence

 Super bitch. It was intended as a term of endearment from a friend who observed that being ill has not stifled my feistiness. I guess others were shocked, but I recognized the love intended in the label.

Words and sounds have power according to the listener, I suppose. The wrong sound, innocent as it may appear, can easily catapult me into a “pity pot.” Take a squawking crow for instance.


I was physically uncomfortable and only wanted to sleep. There are dozens of telephone lines on this block, but clearly, the one outside my window was special.

“Caw! Caw!”

Such a loud sound from such a small creature. The super bitch (that would be me) whispered, “Go the [bleep] away!”

As the daily racket of trucks, cars, trains, and my neighbor with the bells on her door revved up, the sounds became more vibrant, larger, and rakishly colorful. Super bitch was frustrated; she just wanted some rest.

The neurologist had diagnosed my condition as Guillain-Barré syndrome. It’s a condition I had never heard of that, for me anyway, brings with it a great deal of anxiety and the need for a gargantuan exertion of will to follow my daily routine.  But I’ve had a series of IVIG treatments and am encouraged by my increased energy and ravenous appetite. Carpal tunnel surgery suddenly seems like a common cold.

“Do you know what caused it?” asked my brother.

“I think my immune system was compromised by the surgery.”

But no one really knows for sure. I pray for miracles like: I wake up one morning and my hands and feet function fully, and the tightness around my rib cage is gone. Oh yeah, that part is supposedly connected to the hiatal hernia.

I both fear the silence and at the same time look for the peace within syllables, the silence within the music, the balance in conversations, and the laughter in silly words like “super bitch.” My intention today is to write: my work and my creative words. And yet, I awoke understanding that I had to follow the natural order of things. The crow was doing what crows do: they caw.

I once had a  beautiful experience of silence. One early morning, the city of Oakland, California was brilliant with activity:  cars that were stalled in traffic blared their horns, folks chattered and shouted in the streets on their ways to wherever, and buses with bad brakes made their usual stops. I had just completed my morning meditation and was staring out the window.

In spite of the activity, it seemed as if everything had lowered its volume and moved in slow motion. I felt content, and at ease with the movement of things. Birds and squirrels danced their morning minuet on the telephone lines, and it made no difference to me.

I have been caught off guard. So, the question I’m asking myself is “How do I reclaim the hidden silence in the sounds?” The sounds will not stop; nor should they. How will I experience the healing color, power, and vision in the words?

It comes as no surprise. The answer lies in a single word: gratitude.


“Before you say there is no love, stand at the mirror and face yourself.”

Where did I find those words?  A tea bag?  Fortune cookie?  A friend?  Maybe it was in a story I wrote?  Something I read?  I don’t know that it matters.  In my heart, I’ve connected the phrase with this week’s word:  Sagacious.  The word reminds me of the amber color and stickiness of honey;  the syllables coat the tongue while crackling with intention.  “Sagacious” just sounds like something I want to be!

The word speaks to the power of discernment.  Good judgment.  Hmm.  Wisdom.  Um, right. Common sense and being able to see “what is.”   Whew.  Carefully observing before acting.

According to Merriam-Webster and other sources, a sagacious person is associated with many lofty attributes:  far-sightedness; acute insight; wise decision-making, good judgment.  A sagacious person is adept in managing the winds of change because he or she is an expert in reading the social, familial, or political signs of the road.

I still have on my travelin’ shoes.

I was looking for someone to throw down the gauntlet in my name, and the leaves did not or could not point out my poor judgment.

I am passionate about tea.  A visiting friend once brought me a box of tea.  The round container with delicate pastel drawings was filled with one of my favorite mixtures, hibiscus and rosehips.  The tea bled red as blood into hot water.  The heat from the cup was like the love I felt for the man I was seeing. The taste was as healing as the feeling of protection I had in his presence.

I once looked for discernment in tea leaves.  The magic of tea is seductive.  Tea warms the body on a cold day, sweetens the mouth, brightens the eye, and feeds the soul.  Oh.  Like being in love?

I was entranced by the Canadian reader’s graceful, tiny wrists as she twirled the
cup of jasmine flavored liquid this way and that.  Finally, the swirling leaves settled in the bottom of the vessel.  She set the cup before me.

“You have a loving heart.” (Okay.)

“You will travel a lot.”  (I love meeting new people.)

“You will have three children.”  (Music, books, and loving people!)

“You have a great love in your life.” (I thought so.)

“Learn to see everything clearly.”

The leaves did not tell me the man was deceptive.  The leaves warned of, but did not point out, my poor judge of character.

The man could not throw down the gauntlet on my behalf, and I was forced to draw on something inside: wisdom and trust in the future—part of the recipe for becoming a sagacious person.

One does not become sagacious by reading about it.  Some of the learning comes from parents; some from great educators or great spiritual masters.  But truly, doesn’t becoming sagacious come from walking and listening, observing, and seeing what is?   Darn.  Some people seem to get it right every time.

I’ve still got on my travelin’ shoes.


So, who is a warrior?

My last post generated some one on one discussion.  In ancient times, it was easy to recognize a warrior.  Skill and courage were the identifiers.  Armor and weapons were the reward.  A real warrior was honored for having the heart to do battle.  I was reminded of this while talking to a friend about bullies, of all things.  The root term of courage is cuer, a 14th century Latin term for heart.  This means that in order to be a true warrior in one’s life, a person must approach each circumstance with heart.  Recently, I’ve been studying a beautiful text on this very thing with a group of friends, and wouldn’t you know?  It was about the courage to live from the heart.   Fighting alone doesn’t take heart.  Any angry animal can fight.  But heart, yeah, that makes a warrior. Then, why does this seem easier said than done?

In continuing this conversation, my friend and I ventured into what it means to be a compassionate warrior and how that applies to how we treat ourselves.  So, then, (of course) we found ourselves discussing bullies.  They come in all types.  There are intellectual, school yard, and employer bullies. There are lawyers, robo-call marketers, and anonymous phone call bullies.   There are certainly political and religious bullies.  The planet is full of  them.

We were trying to determine what makes a person a bully, and we decided that intention is what makes a person a bully.  The intent to dis-empower another person by fostering feelings of fear, weakness, shame, and unworthiness or to undermine another’s self-confidence and foster feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness makes a person a bully.

We continued to talk (it was long conversation), and I saw that we were barking up the wrong tree.  The real question is not about bullies. The real question is: who is a warrior?  And then my friend said something to give me pause:  She said  “A bully cannot bully without our permission.”  By extension, this means that a warrior does not give her permission to be bullied.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

So, who is a warrior?

When I hung up the phone, I thought about this.  I thought, “I am the compassionate warrior I’ve been  waiting for.”  Years ago, I received a “gift” in the form of a blessing written on a slip of paper. It was from someone I respected highly, and the word on the slip of paper was “warrior.”  Later on, I  received a gift from someone else that was a necklace made of Amazonite.  This is a stone that is said to bolster self-confidence and self-worth.   I was beginning to sense a strong message.  While my teenage confrontation (see last post) was a beginning in being a compassionate warrior for myself, learning to live as a warrior is a life-long commitment.

In today’s world, the fighting turf has changed.  Bullies are  sophisticated, waving scriptural texts, law books, flags, and even job lay-offs as threats.  All are designed to do one thing:  foster feelings of fear, hopelessness, and unworthiness.   We can take heart and treat ourselves compassionately; become compassionate warriors on our own behalf, shift with the turf, and fight with new rules.  Rule number one:  a bully cannot bully without our permission.

Take heart.  Size ‘em up; take ‘em on.

I invite you to join the conversation.  Stay well.

More on Compassion

Compassion.  I think of blue-violet for spiritual strength and pink for the heart.  Online dictionaries use more than 40 words to define compassion.  My father used 12:  never judge another man until you’ve walked  a mile in his shoes.

This phrase has hovered over me like an invisible angel, urging me toward the critical balance between understanding someone else’s pain and teetering into co-dependence or fear.  The trick—so tricky indeed—is in understanding compassion’s first mandate: thou shall not judge.  The second mandate is to understand that the long arms of empathy can reach around me when I need them.

I was a twelve-year-old girl, and spent time watching adults and trying to live from behind their eyes.  On my bus rides to school, I would pick a  person and imagine that I could see through her eyes, hear through her ears, and feel the sun on her skin.  It was my small way of learning to “walk in another’s shoes.”

But by 1963, when I was fifteen, my belief in compassion was shattered as America struggled to find the compassion in its own national heart.  There were assassinations—Medgar Evers and President Kennedy—the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and murder of four girls; televised scenes of fire hoses and German Shepherds as Southern bigots attacked civil rights protestors; and George Wallace’s cry of “segregation forever,” as he blocked the door to the University of Alabama.  This was the year of the great March on Washington with Dr. King.  But the politics of the times, not unlike those of today, belittled compassion.  Empathy, it seemed, had gone with the wind.

Then there was Evelyne (not her real name).

As a high school sophomore, Evelyne was more than six feet tall, almost a full 12 inches above me.  She played hockey and had muscular arms like my father who, by the way, was a brick mason. Her almond colored face had pock marks and lumps that looked as if she’d been beaten many times by fist or stick; but her eyes were large and deep brown, and, on a good day, she would smile and her face looked soft and welcoming.  Evelyne was also a bully, and the day she confronted me was not one of her good days.

To say that the prospect of fighting her scared me to my very core is no exaggeration.  It was all rather ridiculous; a clear case of the fox and the hen; David and Goliath; Bambi and Godzilla.  I remember those brown eyes widening with disbelief as she towered over me, lowering her face into mine, as my mouth issued the challenge, “Come on!”  Everyone around us laughed, but I never broke eye contact; not once.

I think I learned in that challenge that compassion was not just for others, but for my own self.  It would be easy to run, or allow myself to  be beaten.  But really, in addition to learning to live behind others’ eyes, I had to learn to live behind my own.  I had to accept my own strength, acknowledge my own right to self-protection and safety.  This was the compassionate thing to do.  It is a life-long lesson.

In a move that surprised us both, Evelyne laughed (well, it was more like this wheezing-growl thing as she showed her teeth), turned to her friends and said something to the effect of “It would be mean to beat up a crazy person.”  Then she and her buddies walked away.

Over the years, I have been advised that empathy is our natural instinct.  Perhaps Evelyne just thought I was the most ridiculous thing she had ever seen.  But perhaps she, the sad victim of who knows  how much abuse herself, had a moment of compassion.  I will never know.

What I do know is that we are at another critical moment nationally.  If  we can just keep at it, just keep at it; tone down our judgments, pull back the rhetoric, stop the polarized threatening and the bullying; walk a mile in each other’s shoes.  Walk a mile in each other’s  shoes.  Walk a mile in each other’s shoes.  We may just find compassion  again.

Compromise. Compassion.

Compromise.  I think of the color blue when I think of compromise.

Blue.  It represents peace and serenity like the peace I find in still, blue waters.  With all the haggling going on in Congress, I have spent a lot of time thinking about compromise and its place in my life.  I wondered:   Is there a relationship between compromise and compassion?   What is the difference  between real compromise and just giving in?

Well. It seems to me that real compromise, in its essence, requires listening to and accepting another’s point of view.  Listening punctures the balloon of pride and arrogance.  Acceptance generates empathy and compassion.  Empathy fractures the rigid spine of self-righteousness.  This makes the experience of compromise a win-win for everyone involved.  No one — and no group — gets everything they want all of the time without slip-sliding into despotism.

For me, the lessons in compromise are up front and personal.

I compromise whenever I agree to stay with my aging mother so that my brother and his family can take a few days together.  It is a compromise because of the hair-on-fire relationship I’ve had with my mother for at least 50 of my 63 years.  Being with her for long periods of time has never been easy, and now that she is living with dementia I find the time I spend with her even more challenging.  I compromise and spend the time because everyone needs a break.

My sister calls it “time travel”  when Mom forgets that I am her daughter and thinks I am her dead sister.  After saying three times that “I’m Sala, Mom”  and seeing the look of confusion — or is it fear? — in her face, I drop it.  I compromise.   I don’t say who I am anymore and she becomes peaceful.  In an eerie kind of way, it’s the way it’s always been.  She wants me to be someone other than who I am.  When she gathers leftovers and goes to the porch to call the dogs that were a part of her childhood on the farm…my heart breaks.  I have always wanted her to be happy.  Caring for an aging parent with dementia requires compromise.

Many years ago, I asked my mother, “Don’t you think God put us here to
be happy?”  She replied firmly, “No.”  Seeing her unhappiness now, I know how true this is for her, and it triggers my compassion.

I compromise when Mom forgets that she ate dinner an hour ago and  complains that she hasn’t eaten all day.  I  have made the assumption that she is trying to bury her life’s sorrow with food, when I try to remind her that she’s already had three meals.  She becomes agitated and angry as if I am intentionally trying to hold food from her.  My cousin, who knows about these things,  says she is eating like the diabetic that she is and I should stop trying to convince her that she’s already eaten.  Which, for God’s sake, is more important:  her being at ease or my being right?  Caring for an aging parent with dementia requires compromise.

Standing silent in the face of abuse is not compromise.  Accepting shaming, blaming, demeaning or contemptuous  behavior from a spouse, family member or employer is not compromise.  Holding one’s thoughts inside out of fear of retribution is not compromise.  It’s fear.  Compromise in its essence also requires one to speak one’s mind; to share one’s truth of things.  Standing silent is not compromise.

Compromise is the right thing to do because, damn it, we live in community with others — whether we want it or not; whether we like it or not.  Compromise is what makes a  democracy different from communism or a theocracy;  from a monarchy or a dictatorship.  Compromise is what keeps any particular group or person from becoming a despot in the United States.  Compromise is what makes democracy work.  No one will ever have it all his or her way in a democracy.  So what’s all the fighting about?

Compromise brings serenity, and in a deeper way compassion generates compromise.  And deep, deep down inside, aren’t both what we’re all about?