Beauty, gardening, Uncategorized

In the Garden of Time

20190301_152744 (1)Rain has fallen relentlessly the past few months in Santa Cruz County, but today a break occurred allowing the sun to come out, and I emerged into my backyard’s delicious light. Looking up at the billowing clouds, I rested in the afternoon’s quietness, reveled in the creek’s soft rumpling as it moved through the redwoods down the road. Ill with a cold, I had no plans but to take in the day. “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man,” writes Abraham Joshua Heschel. “God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” Time is a temple, an experience to savor and relish. Today I felt enfolded in this truth.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, my husband and I connected with friends–walking, sitting, absorbing life. We arrived without any set plans. We simply wanted to be present with our friends and the world they inhabit. While there, we ventured out into the landscape, absorbing its fabulous diversity. Hawaii is a world different from where I live, and the difference is a delight.

Traditional Hawaiian society had defined roles for men and women. In traditional Hawaiian society, men cooked and farmed while women made art. Women and men ate in different locations, and inheritance was through matriarchal lines. Additionally, Hawaiians held an awareness of the mahu, those who identified themselves with both genders–someone in the middle.

In Hawaiian traditional culture, the idea of family goes back several generations. The physical family was part of the spiritual, timeless family. As depicted in the photo of the stone shrine above, Hawaiians honored family ancestors.

Traditional ways of thinking have eroded since the arrival of Westerners to the island, however. Because Hawaiians have highly adapted to Western culture and its way of thinking, restoring traditional ways is highly problematic. Nevertheless, learning something of Hawaiian’s traditional ways of organizing society helps me to view my own culture newly, to consider anew my relationship with family and friends, and to enter into an awareness of our spiritual connection.

Though I know little about my ancestors or their history, like members of traditional Hawaiian culture, I’m attracted to the idea of timeless connection beyond our physical bodies to the lives of those who came before us. 

To understand a culture not your own takes attentive, receptive study over time. Though people may not be able to restore what was lost in the multitude of cultures that make up the world we now live in, we can listen attentively to voices other than our own and find ways we might move toward greater restitution with those around us. We don’t have to agree with everyone to value them, to give them love. We may not have answers or solutions for the hurt people and cultures have endured. Nevertheless, we can build bridges of beauty that can unite us in larger fields of compassion so we can enter into a place of being together.

One way I’ve begun this effort is by planting in my garden favorite flowers for family members and friends–iris, poppies, sunflowers, dahlias and more. Though there are differences of values and perspectives with family members, looking out at the flowers growing and blossoming in the garden, I can notice life unfolding in its various forms, connecting the flower to the person who chose it–a living reminder of the many and varied lives linked to mine.

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up,” says Maya Angelou, “… our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.” Flowers touch the tender place in all of us where we are “shy as magnolias,” as Angelou describes. In the garden we can be alive together, planted in earth, recognizing our short lives and vulnerability as we take in the sun and rain. Without measuring one flower against the other, we can be together. Sometimes simply inhabiting time with one another, opening ourselves to its color can be enough.

Uncategorized

Welcoming the Strangers

In America we read in the news of shootings, and Trump asks for the deportation of the nearly 11 million that are living in the US without permission. Last September, 17,000 Columbians fled Venezuela after 1,500 Columbians were deported from Venezuela. Syrians escaping their country as a result of the war have created the greatest migration since WWII. All this, and yet at Christmas we wish each other peace. At the start of the new year, even to strangers we often wish others happiness. Nevertheless, division lines between who is deemed as an insider and who is an outsider seem to be growing. Though it may seem that tensions are about race or religion, often times, if one digs deeper, however, the root of the tension is economic. Recent research in Germany, the  Washington Post reports, that those who are economically disadvantaged are those who are more likely to be persuaded that race and religion are causes of fear. “According to polls, whites with a high school degree or less disproportionately favor Trump. These are the same people who have seen their economic opportunities decline the most in recent years. This group also disproportionately favors tough restrictions on immigration.”

In Morocco the country I recently visited, however, a different story is promoted by the people on the street. Tourism is important to Morocco’s economy. They depend on welcoming diversity, and across Morocco you hear Moroccans tell you a story of living in harmony with others. In Tangier a synagogue, mosque, and church are within visual sight of each other. In Fez, a man tells us “We sit in the cafe talking together, Jew and Muslim. The prayer call comes. We go off and pray, then come back and pick up the conversation. We are friends.” It’s true that the majority of Moroccans are Muslim, and that only 1% are other–Christian, Jewish or Baha’i. Even so, people in Morocco have an attitude of open hospitality.

While walking around the area of Fez where the majority of Jews once lived before the sate of Israel was created and most moved to Israel, I saw an old man sitting on the street having difficulty getting up. A person near him saw his difficulty and came over to help him. To sit on the street is not an uncommon thing in Morocco. Many people do it in Morocco in order to take in the sun as well as to sell things. Some sit on the street because they are poor. To notice someone’s difficulty to stand demonstrates an awareness of others, and a sense of community. This wasn’t a singular act. Later that day, I also noticed an older man walking up a side street with a cane. His outer cape was slipping from his shoulder and the man walking up behind the older man noticed this, and stopped to lift the robe to the old man’s shoulders, then continued on his way as if helping the other were commonplace, the most natural thing in the world. Again, here I saw an awareness of others demonstrated in simple acts. On several occasions and by different people I was told that people who live near each other help one another. They share their lives with each other and are like family. They aren’t people who happen to live near each other. They communicate.

Even in the Fez medina–the winding open air market, one of the most known souqs in the world, and full of pedestrian traffic, a beggar woman looked at me kindly with a wide, open smile when I greeted her saying “Assalamu ‘alaykum.” Again, at the Moulay Idriss tomb, three women sitting on mats leaning against the wall greeted me with smiles much wider and longer than simple politeness when I said “Sabah al-khair.” At breakfast in the guesthouse where we stayed in Fez, the woman serving us breakfast went about her work with joy in her movements and her voice. It was clear her work wasn’t merely her job; it was her way to give happiness to others. The French woman at the table across from us said something, and the woman serving us food leaned over to hug her and say something to her in a cheerful voice, then went on with her work. In Bhalil, a Berber village outside of Fez, a woman invited us in to see her cave house when she saw my husband and I walking by. She was hanging her laundry out and happened to see us, and wanted us to visit. In Ait Bin Haddou a shop owner invited us to share his lunch, later insisting we return to share tea.

Not all encounters in Morocco were like this. On the streets there is the hustle bustle of business, and children wrestling with each other and running around in active play as they walk to and from school–people are involved in their own lives and worlds, as they would be anywhere. It’s also true that crime in Morocco has risen over recent years, according to the Numbeo web site as well as the Knoema website. Crime statistics are not like what you notice in the US, however, where according to BBC there were 353 mass killings in 2015,62 shootings at schools,12,223 people killed in gun incidents, and 24,722 people were injured in gun incidents.  Flight attendant Rose Hamid stands up in silent protest when, according to CNN Trump “suggested that Syrian refugees fleeing war in Syria were affiliated with ISIS.” She is booed and shouted at to get out, according to the article. In contrast, when visiting Morocco, non muslims are welcomed and shown hospitality, a quality often ignored by the media, but  found throughout this dominantly Muslim country. Why is it that Moroccans recognize the stranger and honor him or her and in America, we are afraid of the stranger? When in  Ait Bin Haddou, one man told me “To visit a country is not only to see, it is to learn something about the culture.”  Maybe the person greeting you as you walk by wants to sell you something from his shop, but he also wants to sit with you and get to know some of your story. It seems we could learn from the Moroccan’s approach to things.

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As Barry Lopez writes, ““Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” Maybe we need to become hospitable to our own selves and the the things we don’t understand, our questions and struggles–to the stranger inside us. Maybe conversations with the other–with those we are afraid of–would better help us understand not only their own story but our own. Lopez writes, “Conversations are efforts toward good relations. They are an elementary form of reciprocity. They are the exercise of our love for each other. They are the enemies of our loneliness, our doubt, our anxiety, our tendencies to abdicate. To continue to be in good conversation over our enormous and terrifying problems is to be calling out to each other in the night. If we attend with imagination and devotion to our conversations, we will find what we need; and someone among us will act—it does not matter whom—and we will survive.” If we can’t travel to foreign countries and immerse ourselves in another way of seeing and being, we can read novels by writers from or about other cultures. We can view documentaries. It is still possible to expand our understanding through others’ stories.

W. S. Merwin in his poem, “To the New Year,” writes,

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

The US Bill of Rights supports the right to diverse voices. We can recognize the strength in that diversity and honor it. Living together as citizens of a country is a kind of marriage. The German poet, Rilke, speaking of marriage said, “…once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” As we come closer to hear each other’s stories, we will see and hear another world. Look and look again. You will see more. When we listen closely, we will understand better.

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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.