art, community, music, Uncategorized

Finding Our Lullabies

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Some bees sleep in flowers, I learned this week, in globe mallows to be specific, their bodies cupped by blossom, and dusted in pollen as they dream. This is a lovely image to keep in mind before drifting off to sleep. We need something gentle in our lives to help us turn away from fears that seem to greet us at every turn. Violence, poverty, pain, disease, death–there are already too many hard things in this world. We long for something soft to encourage and remind us goodness and beauty are still present as a natural part of our ecosystem, and to affirm us that wealth and power aren’t requirements for their existence.

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dragonfly

The Los Angeles Times tells us in Mark W. Moffett’s Op-ed article, “Are we really so different from other species?” that it’s difficult for people to act to save non-human species when they see them as of lesser value. “A significant body of research suggests that how we perceive animals and how we perceive people is closely linked,” writes Moffett. “Brock University scientists Kimberly Costello and Gordon Hodson had research participants read essays enumerating the human-like traits of animals. Mere exposure to this perspective caused even those with entrenched prejudices to think kindly of immigrants — to regard them more as equals — despite the fact that the essays mentioned nothing about humans.” Amazingly, if we can see how animals are more like us, we feel greater empathy toward people we see as not like us. To know and value other forms of life such as animals and plants, can help us value life in general, and that is an aspiration worthy of our effort. When we don’t see others as valuable as ourselves, we don’t act.

Recently, I visited Port Angeles, Washington, a city on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Sitting on the wharf on a Wednesday evening, I was enjoying the Backwoods Hucksters’ fabulous blues and bluegrass concert there, and noticing those who got up to dance by themselves in the space between the audience and stage. Fully engaged in the music and their moves, they didn’t care a hoot about the impression they might be making on others. One of these dancers was a quite elderly woman in a white dress with pink and lavender flowers. She wore a long sleeved purple shirt over the dress, a small gold cross around her neck, large framed glasses, and thick brown cotton stockings that had a large run in them. She could barely move her feet, but raised them up a few inches off the ground in time with the music, turned around slowly, and every now and then lifted her head and both arms. Her face was mostly expressionless, though she was obviously enjoying herself as she didn’t sit down for quite some time.

After a while, a man likely in his early forties wearing a suit rode across the front of the audience on his bike. Parking it, he came over to the elderly woman, and without a pause or any verbal communication, took her in his arms and continued the dance. It was an endearing thing to witness–how they continued on as the music played, the younger man’s feet moving nimbly as he turned the woman, and swayed with her from side to side,with the music’s rhythm. I imagined he was her son, and he knew how well she loved music. He didn’t see her as somehow different and not worthy of attention or connection. I noticed no sense of labored obligation in his expression. Simply, they danced, expressing a refreshing togetherness in the moment. Music has a way of doing that–uniting people, opening us to each other, allowing us to look beyond how we might appear in someone’s eyes, and simply to be together in the moment with each other’s presence as a gift.

Ilya Kaminsky, in his book, Deaf Republic, a book with poems and a play in two acts, the setting of which is place in a fictitious country permeated with violence during a war, writes a beautiful lullaby. The music of his lines express a tenderness,

Lullaby
by Ilya Kaminsky

Little daughter
rainwater

snow and branches protect you
whitewashed walls

and neighbors’ hands all
child of my Aprils

little earth of
six pounds

How soft and gentle these lines feel, and all the more so because the words are offered amidst the book’s larger setting of violence and oppression. When faced with loss or horror, the expression of any small tenderness is heightened even more. We see the preciousness of life in every day expressions of care or nurturance, realizing these aren’t necessarily as commonplace as previously thought.

Rainwater is gentle, restorative, creating a kind of song as it falls to earth, and Kaminsky highlights this in his words holding assonance in the repetition of sounds in rainwater and daughter. Interestingly, Kaminsky identifies snow as something protecting the young one, though snow is cold and can be harsh. In his lines, however, snow is soft, and is connected to images of neighbors’ hands who reach back into a childhood world where spring lived, holding this small earthen being of six pounds–what one might be at birth. 

Both Kaminsky’s poem and the dancers in Port Angeles inspire me to reach beyond the borders of myself and my limited world of thought when considering what might be possible. What dance might I still be able to do, how might I let go more of ego and expectations if I allowed some of my boundaries to be more permeable in order to live more peacefully with myself and with greater generosity in my heart toward others as well as myself? What lullaby can I create in the midst of whatever fear or war I might find myself in the midst of struggle with–either metaphorically or real–that will work toward allowing us all to expand together into a spirit that enables us to sleep more peacefully at night though we know there is work to do the next day–like the bees curled inside cups of flowers? This is a lullaby to connect with.

What we nurture in our hearts and minds gains solidity. As Toni Morrison stated in her article in The Nation when speaking of the value of art, “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Similarly to Kaminsky writing his lullaby’s gentle words inside a context of disruption and war, Morrison goes on to say, “I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.” Lullabies are not always sweet. One many of us know from childhood talks about a child’s crib hung in a tree bow that rocks then breaks, the baby falling to the ground–not exactly a comforting picture. The thing is, though, the parent is there, singing to the child in the midst of the brokenness. I want to hear more of these kinds of lullabies from people. In our brokenness, we can hold on to each other through our offerings of creativity that function like these lullabies.

Our music, our creativity, is important to our survival. Similar to Pythagoras’s idea of the heavenly spheres creating music as a result of their vibrations, physicists today theorize that all of what we see with our eyes are possibly held together by the minuscule vibration of matter. Recognizing our interconnection to the music vibrating inside all life allows us to thrive.

Here is my offering to you, and a lullaby of sorts, my new chapbook, To Find a River, out this week with Dancing Girl Press, a small collection of poems exploring themes of loss, and nurturance across time and cultures in settings of deserts and gardens. I hope you will read them, and find in them a music to carry you through a hard or empty place you might sense in your life–that the poems in this short volume will be a voice singing in the night for you, connecting with you beyond brokenness, and carrying you into a recognition of a shared world.

AnnaDunes
Anna in the Red Dunes of Saudi Arabia, photo by Michael Citrino
community, spirtuality

What Makes Love Last?

-how fortunate are you and i,whose home  is timelessness:we who have wandered down  from fragrant mountains of eternal now  to frolic in such mysteries as birth  and death a day(or maybe even less)

E.E. Cummings, “stand with your lover on the ending earth-” 

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Redwoods, Nisene Marks State Park, CA

I will soon be celebrating the marriage of one of my family members that has lasted several decades, 40 years to be exact, and I’ve been giving some thought as to what it is that enables a love relationship to endure over such an extended period of time. When my parents were in their 60’s, I interviewed them about their lives, asking how it was they met and married. My parents married during the Great Depression and it was a simple affair–no party, no special wedding dress, no photos. It was a regular day except they got married, and that event changed their lives. Neither of them emphasized the romantic aspect of their relationship in relating their history to me, and yet I never doubted that they loved each other and were committed to the relationship even though there was a period of years that my father lived away from home managing jobs in other states and came home once or twice a month. What was it that enabled their love to endure through time? Communication seemed an important key to my parents’ connection to each other. I remember hearing the low hum of my parents’ voices through the walls in the mornings and after we children went to bed. There was also a a commitment to the relationship in the bigger, long-term sense–that they were there for each other and for their children, even when apart. During WWII Dad worked in Hawaii, and also worked out of town for a number of years when I was in junior high and high school–but my parents wrote each other letters frequently and regularly made trips to be with each other. Dad wrote stories and poems that he shared with us as well.

My parents were also committed to being there for people in the larger community–to helping neighbors, friends and other people that they came in contact with or learned about that needed help. Dad built and repaired things for many people, and brought people turkeys at holidays, for example, while Mom sewed quilts and clothes for others. My parents didn’t live simply to improve their own lives, they contributed to their community. Helping others was an important part of living. Together they embodied what Martin Seligman in his study of the science behind of what creates a meaningful life has found–that people who feel their lives offer them a deep sense of meaningful fulfillment are those that use their personality strengths for a purpose larger than themselves. Much of this kind of caring, this love, can be carried on without words. It is a way of being together. Love is given in the tone inside and underneath the words, and is the mood inside the actions spoken with the body. As one of my friends told me, “A lot of what love is is simply showing up–being there for each other.”

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Forest Path, Nisene Marks State Park, CA

Being there for each other. What does that look like? The Buddhist leader and monk from Vietnam Thich Nhat Hahn in an interview with Oprah, explained when asked if he meditates every day, that he is also meditating “while drinking, while talking, while writing, while watering our garden, it’s always possible to practice living in the here and the now.” (Read more on the Oprah website “Oprah Talks to Thich Nhat Hahn” here.) Thay (as Thich Nhat Hahn is also called) goes on to say that when sitting with someone, “Darling I am here for you,” is his mantra. He explains. “When you love someone, the best you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? ” This attitude of a listening heart is what I mean by showing up for the ones you love: in your full being you are intentionally, consciously present. You are listening not just to the other person’s words and actions, but to his or her heart, to the silences and things the person can’t quite articulate, even if you’re not sure what everything means that you are hearing or noticing. You are present for the other with your full self, and you work to know who you are so you can give yourself in a caring, open way.

Pamela Dussault in her The Huffington Post article, “5 Essential Steps to a Happy, Enduring Relationship” suggests that couples need to know their purpose for being together. The base for the relationship rather than focused on fear or the desire to control, has the focus of sharing life of companionship. Also, she describes that enduring relationships are those where partners have the ability to give and receive without having expectations. Lastly, she says partners in happy relationships connect with each other both emotionally and spiritually, appreciating the partner’s uniqueness.  A key, she suggests is that “your partner must be seen, loved, appreciated and cherished for who they are, as they are.”

Romantic love has been central to the idea of marriage in the Western world since the time of the Middle Ages and the troubadours when knights accomplished their deeds for the love of their lady. While enduring love can include romance as well as traditions, negotiating between both passion and what makes a love stable, creating a relationship of lasting love encompasses a larger territory than romantic love or tradition alone. To ask what makes love endure is to ask what is the source or foundation of the love. To ask what creates love’s foundation is to ask what is it that makes love meaningful. To ask that is to ask what makes life meaningful, and to ask what makes a life. Is life just going through the days sharing food and shelter? Is it doing a sport or if talking about a relationship, is it participating in a sport or (any other activity) together? Is it having children together or accomplishing tasks at work? Certainly, these are parts of what life is, and some of these things could be called necessary elements of life, but if that were the whole of what it was, life could still feel empty. If life were composed of going through certain actions, or saying the right words at the right time in the right way, that also wouldn’t be enough to make one feel he or she was really living life.

E.E. Cummings’ poem at the start of this post begins with the line, “stand with your lover on the ending earth.” The earth is a physical object, and all objects wear out or wear down over time. At some point the earth and everything on it will end. Cummings begins this love poem in the awareness that all is at the “mercy of time.” We will die. The earth will die. But love is somehow beyond time. The home of all love abides in a mysterious essence beyond time. It is part of what Cummings describes as “the fragrant mountains of eternal now.” We frolic in the mysteries of birth and death, but acts done in love, living done with love, time where we sit with someone with the attitude and heart that communicates both with words or without them, “Darling, I am here for you,” that lives on in a place both in and beyond time. That love allows us a taste of eternity. Annie Lighthart’s, poem, “The Second Music,”  elaborates on this idea where describing the everyday events of life she says,

Now I understand that there are two melodies playing, one below the other, one easier to hear, the other

lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard yet always present.

There is the world we live in–all the wondrous sights our eyes have seen, our ears heard, our bodies felt; the wide oceans with their ten thousand colors of blue, the forests of intense greens, the smiles of a child, birds in flight, clouds drifting by in the vast sky, the hollows and hills of everywhere, rain splashing on stone streets, the icy lace clinging to trees, the laughter of the ones we love, the last touch of a hand from one who is leaving us, all these experiences, and so many, many more wonders known while walking in this world, these are ours, and inside of them “If the truth of our lives is what it is playing,” Lighthart goes on to write, there is a “second music” that she stops to listen to that is underneath and through all these moments, sights, sounds and experiences. She ends the poem by saying “I set my ear to it as I would to a heart.” This is the love that is living–I could say hiding–inside of the physical world. We perceive it with the heart because what is known with the heart is what lives on. That is the love that endures–the part of life when we are fully present with another. Love that endures connects to this larger love. That is the love that weaves the world together.

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Bridge, Nisene Marks State Park, CA

Recently, we had a guest visiting our house who is approaching her 80th birthday in September. When I asked her what is something that age has taught her, she replied, “Your age isn’t who you are. You are more than body, emotions or thoughts, more than any of these or all of these together.” None of us loves perfectly. Loving someone, anyone, is more than what we do or say, more than time together, more than body or emotions shared. Love is a journey, just as marriage is a journey, a pilgrimage toward love. You have to get out there and walk the trail. Sometimes you take a road you think is the right one but you get off track. Sometimes you might walk a long way through dry, flat land. You walk in rain and sun. You walk up hill. Sometimes you get tired. Nevertheless, love begins each day living in attitude of walking together. You walk and you listen to each other. Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. Now put the foundations under them.” This is the work of enduring love: you practice being present in small moments (and most of life is lived in those small moments, the daily acts) so that we will be able to be present for the big moments when they come. Our giving ourselves to learn to walk together and to listen to each other is what carries marriage across the threshold into the sacred and allows us to taste what is eternal.

community

Loving The Earth We Stand On

It was the fourth of July, American Independence Day, and I was out hacking weeds on our property, in particular poison oak, a beautiful plant, but not so pleasant for the skin. This has been my effort for the past several days: chop out the poison oak and wild raspberries growing along the pathway on the side of our property. It’s sweaty work and my arms get tired but it feels great to be doing the work, an act that I know is caring for the land here. I don’t like to cut flowers growing in the garden, as I think they will last longer on the plant itself, and it is a joy to see them in the garden, but in taking care of a garden and nurturing the plants on our land, I’ve come to see the value of trimming plants. Just as people need to cut their hair and fingernails, plants grow better with a bit of trimming. It takes time to learn how to care for the land you live on and the plants that grow there. As I think of it now, gaining that understanding and making the effort to care for that bit of earth where you live could be viewed as a patriotic act. More than singing a song or saying a pledge, getting out to water and weed is literally caring for the country where you live–wherever it is you live.

In the United States, we sing the song “America the Beautiful,” and one of the things that keeps America, or any country’s land beautiful are people who grow to know the land they live on and to nurture that relationship to it. If you want your family to function well, or if you are in a close relationship with someone, you need to act in caring ways on a daily basis if you want the relationship to continue and to be satisfying. You do the things that keep the growth going and the communication close. You pay attention to each other’s needs. Different people in a family have needs unique from each other according to their personality and their history. You might have a babysitter for the children now and then, but connection between people deepens when there is a long term commitment and connection, such as a parent has for a child as he or she grows. A parent is there for the long haul. It is similar in developing a relationship with the land we live on. If we see the place we live as just a place we crash, or if it is merely a place for commercial investment, we will not care for it in the same way as if we see it as our home, the place we belong. When we see it as a relationship, as a place of belonging, we are willing to get out there and weed for hours and weeks over periods of years. We study the best way to trim back the vines, we give the vegetables compost. We learn what activities erode what you want to remain solid, and which not.

Wendell Berry describes what this kind of connection to the earth looks like in his essay, “Conservation and Local Economy.”

I. Land that is used will be ruined unless it is properly cared for.

II. Land cannot be properly cared for by people who do not know it intimately, who do not know how to care for it, who are not strongly motivated to care for it, and who cannot afford to care for it.

III. People cannot be adequately motivated to care for land by general principles or by incentives that are merely economic—that is, they won’t care for it merely because they think they should or merely because somebody pays them.

IV. People are motivated to care for land to the extent that their interest in it is direct, dependable, and permanent.

V. They will be motivated to care for the land if they can reasonably expect to live on it as long as they live. They will be more strongly motivated if they can reasonably expect that their children and grandchildren will live on it as long as they live. In other words, there must be a mutuality of belonging: they must feel that the land belongs to them, that they belong to it, and that this belonging is a settled and unthreatened act.

VI. But such belonging must be appropriately limited. This is the indispensable qualification of the idea of land ownership. It is well understood that ownership is an incentive to care. But there is a limit to how much land can be owned before an owner is unable to take proper care of it. The need for attention increases with the intensity of use. But the quality of attention decreases as acreage increases.

VII. A nation will destroy its land and therefore itself if it does not foster in every possible way the sort of thrifty, prosperous, permanent rural households and communities that have the desire, the skills, and the means to care properly for the land they are using.

Just as a relationship with another person would be unsatisfying and dehumanizing if people entered into it only for what they could get out of it, as if it were a commercial enterprise, so it is with our connection to the place we live. You stay with the land through drought, as we are currently experiencing in California and give what you can to help things along, conserving water while still thinking ahead to the future–not knowing what will come, how long you will need to wait before the skies bring rain. I want to think of loving the country of my birth as literally loving and caring for the earth I stand on, the earth I work to understand and nurture.

On one blog I follow, Mozzarella Momma, Patricia Thomas, journalist for the AP in Italy, quotes Pope Francis’s recent description of humans’ relationship with the earth, “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor….” The pope goes on to express concern for the “environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” reports Thomas. It’s critical that loving the country we belong connects to carrying for the earth itself and doing the things that will help it to flourish into the future. Without nurturing the earth, our country, as well as the earth will eventually not be able to sustain itself. If we keep taking from a relationship without giving back little of the relationship will be left at all. This begins by paying attention to where it is we live, and its physical needs, to the things that make it healthily beautiful, and that will help it continue to be this way into the future.

Soon, a family member of mine will be celebrating a wedding anniversary of several decades. After years of living together as a couple, you know each other, just like you know the house you grew up in, just as you know the land you walked daily down your driveway as a child to the bus stop or the end of your block. You know the tunnels and dark places, as well as the open field or yard, know when and why certain plants flower when they do. You know that place in all its seasons. In Wendell Berry’s poem,”They Sit Together on the Porch,” Berry describes a couple that have been in relationship with each other for a long time.

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now…

The poem goes on to describe how the couple awaits the coming darkness, not knowing who will be the first to go and who will be left sitting alone, but the love is there, and felt between the silence. They are at rest with each other and with the place they inhabit. They have taken care of each other for many years. They are at peace with each other and with the earth. This is a vision to work toward, people at one with each other and with the earth.

community, place

The Big Wide World

Values and belief systems guide our lives, but every day the news tells disturbing stories of innocent people harmed because their ideas don’t fit a definition of what a person should be. That is disturbing. Belief systems should enable us to live and work together better–to be more compassionate, understanding, and to better be able to forgive other’s mistakes and incompleteness. The complexity of today’s world often exposes us to people with different belief systems from our own. This can make it confusing to find a path through conflicting values and beliefs to follow that guides our actions–one that nurtures the best good for all and that helps people live together peacefully. When we reside in one location for years, we are less likely to see its wonders and  shortcomings. It’s interesting to be reminded of how there are many other ways of living and being besides the one we are used to, and that those ways of living and being are just as normal and familiar to them as our ways of being are to us. Outsiders can sometimes be the very ones who help us see ourselves more clearly, or to see ourselves anew.

I began writing this post while still in New Delhi after going to the market, a common task, but one that can significantly differ depending on where you live in the world. What is an every day scene for some in certain parts of the world is uncommon for others in a different geographic area. Images here are of the location in Delhi where I get groceries

Currently, I’m visiting Washington DC, a city of wonderful diversity, energy and life. Every time I come back to the US for a visit after living abroad, I feel I’m entering in a foreign land, an adjustment most people experience when reentering their country after living abroad. It’s interesting returning to the US each year, and each time to look at my country with new eyes. Washington DC has stone monuments everywhere, beautiful old brick homes, and abundant galleries and museums, as well homeless people sleeping in parks and on the streets. Traveling downtown on the city bus, I sit with people from a variety of ethnicities and listen to several languages being spoken as the journey progresses. Though Delhi also has stone monuments, galleries and museums, DC is a very different world.

The other night I went to see the the most recent version of The Hobbit, and I’m reminded of what Gandalf said to Bilbo at the end of the film, just before he returns to the shire after his long adventure. I don’t have the exact words, but something like “It’s a big world out there, Bilbo, and you are, after all, just a little being.” We all are, after all, just little humans in a big wide world of incredible, rich diversity in multiple dimensions. Does it matter that we experience what it’s like in other cities, other countries, other climates, that we experience places where people speak different languages? Yes. The exposure to different realities helps us put our own world in perspective. There are many ways of living and thinking that seem right to many people. When we find ourselves in a completely different world, we negotiate new rules in order to make sense of it. We learn to accept mysteries and paradoxes.

Because travel and computer technology are connecting the world in new ways, everywhere people are having to renegotiate rules regarding behavior and morality. Rules regarding privacy, for example have to be reformulated after people like Snowden and Heidi Boghosian have spoken out, revealing how little privacy is actually left to us, and how democracy and civil liberties are at stake. Huge, complex issues require time to work out as a global community. As citizens in the communities we live in, we can continue to consider how what we say and do affects the lives of those around us, doing what we can to create a sense of neighborliness, and how that affects and informs the world we want to live in on a broader scale.

photo 1-26A nation is made up of communities. The way we relate with those directly around us in our communities will always be important. Our way of interacting with others affects not only our own lives, but also who we become as a larger community and as a nation. If we feel we can’t do much to change what happens half way across the world or with complex issues, we can at least do what we can to learn to live with the diversity we find in our own neighborhood and to nurture a greater sense of well-being with those around us. If at the community level we were engaged in working out ways to listen to and respect the differences perhaps we could also improve the way we respond to differences in other parts of the world. A major obstacle to understanding each other in today’s world, is the way money driven interests intervene with the exchange of ideas in the political process so that the truth about situations can be revealed and a better way of living together emerge as a result. One way a clearer understanding might emerge might be if citizens of diverse backgrounds were more involved directly in understanding each other’s circumstances. What if one of our new year’s goals was make more of a conscious choice this year to learn about and spend time with someone different from ourselves, for example, someone in one of these groups–someone who has disabilities, an elderly person, someone of a different social class, of a different religious or political persuasion, a different ethnicity from our own, or whose first language is different from our own. Choosing to develop a connection with someone from any of these groups of people could help us personally and as citizens to better understand the needs of diverse groups.

On his website, The Center For Courage and Renewal, Parker J. Palmer quotes Terry Tempest Williams, “The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?” Democracy begins at home–where we live.  In his book, Habits of the Heart, Healing the Heart of Democracy, Palmer talks about ways of thinking and communicating that nurture democracy, and that can better help us live together. Palmer advocates people gathering together in communities to discuss issues and concerns. These are the habits facilitators guide the conversations around:

1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
5. A capacity to create community.

Living together peaceably is challenging, and more so today because media controls businesses and governments for their own purposes, making it difficult to inform ourselves in ways that enable us to make wise decisions that affect our future. Upton Sinclair said in The Jungle, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Because obscuring the truth isn’t uncommon in our era, it’s worth people coming together in person to discuss ideas, issues and goals in their communities.

Nazim Hikmet writes his poem, “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” about being on a train from Prague to Berlin in 1962, a period of change and reform in what was then Czechoslovakia. He describes as a series of remembered scenes and events, then ends the poem,

photo 2-34the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn’t know I loved sparks
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

 

As I have looked at various exhibits in museums here in Washington DC, it’s clear that life constantly changes. Truth and the sense of community, however, are worth preserving. Diverse ways of living and being help us to gain a more whole perspective on what is worth preserving. We need diversity in order to be whole. Let us this coming year do what we can to love the world we live in all its diversity before we leave behind what is most valuable.

community, place

The Delights of Diversity in Colorful Goa

“The life thatI touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”–Fredrich Buechner, The Hungering Dark

With only a few hours of sleep the night before, my traveling companions and I arrived in colorful Panaji in India’s southern state of Goa where we spent the Indian Dusserah holiday. Dusserah is the celebration of good conquering evil–the celebration of when Ram killed the 10 headed demon king, Ravana, who had abducted Ram’s wife Sita. Ravana wanted Sita for his own, but she resisted him. In the end, the goddess Durga gave Ram the secret knowledge of how to kill Ravana and Ram and Sita were reunited, demonstrating, Hindus believe, that we can be saved from the difficulties and chaos that threaten to overcome us–God still remembers us. In Delhi, Dusserah is a holiday where throughout the city people burn effigies of Ram.

In Goa, people celebrate with flowers instead. From busses to tractors to motorcycles, everywhere vehicles are strung with marigold garlands. Flowers hang from door frames along the streets. It’s a pleasing sight.

The Malabar Coast has been an important center of trade for 3,000 years, trading with the Mediterranean region. The Portuguese came to India in 1498, with Vasco de Gama’s arrival in Koshikode in Kerala, south of Goa. The area was important for its spices. Afonso de Albuquerque soon after developed Goa into an important trade center.

Religious tolerance has vacillated in Goa. The original openness changed to intolerance during the period of the counter revolution in Europe. If this taxi stand in the photos below is an indication, it seems that once again, people are living in open acceptance of each other’s different ways of thought. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Portuguese surrendered their control of Goa, and this forcefully when Indian troops marched into Goa. Goa was an autonomous area until 1987, however, when it became an Indian state. Portuguese influence can still be felt in the architecture and food. Churches, roadside crosses, and statues of the holy family are scattered through the neighborhoods, along with Hindu temples and mosques. The layers of culture add interesting texture to the city.

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Everywhere one looks in Panaji and Old Goa, it seems there is something to notice–so many things to behold all carrying their history. Four centuries after the Portuguese arrived, we still see their touch on India’s history in the region. Even older, is the celebration of Dusserah in India. In Panaji, just like the orange shrine at the taxi stand demonstrated and Buechner’s quote at the top of this post describe, for good and for ill, histories intersect. Down through the centuries, our lives touch each other, the tremblings are felt.