Sunday, September 30, 2012

...experience, strength and hope

Interior of fallen redwood
Muir Woods 2010

The fallen tree lay beside the trail, dimly lit beneath the forest canopy. 
I don't remember why I took the photograph...possibly a composition that caught my eye. 
But I didn't see the color, not until I downloaded the digital image.  

Earlier today I read a post by Jeff Goins entitled "Why You Should Tell the Ugly Parts of Your Story". Honestly. Without self-indulgence and flattering edits. Aware that, as Jeff wrote, "there is a difference between transparency and exhibitionism." I listen for invitations to share appropriately: some people are safe while others aren't; my story won't resonate with everyone; the feelings, needs, and privacy of others who intersect my life must be taken into consideration. The idea is not to overwhelm with details or dazzle with drama but to share my experience, the source of my strength, and my hope: the blessings of brokenness.

But words aren't required. When I listen, you feel heard. When I'm kind, you feel accepted...just as you are. I can best say "thank you" for the grace and mercy I've been freely given - through no merit of my own - when I extend the same to you. The miracle of redemption echoes in the silence of a caring heart. 

The photo of the fallen tree trunk was an instance of transliteration...the transcription from one alphabet to another. Frost's poem, "In Hardwood Groves", came to mind: Before the leaves can mount again to fill the trees with another shade, they must go down past things coming up. They must go down into the dark decayed. They MUST be pierced by flowers and put beneath the feet of dancing flowers. However it is in some other world, I know that this is the way in ours.

I know that this is the way in our world. The detritus of one life can feed another. Or crush it. Gayle Forman wrote, "Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you." And  sometimes I make a choice that makes/frees/grows us both. 

In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark,
art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice.
We're each of us our own chiaroscuro,
Our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid,
something real.
We've got to forgive ourself that.
I must remember to forgive myself.
Because there is a lot of gray to work with.
No one can live in the light all the time.

Libba Bray

If you liked this, you might want to read this: The Journeys We Would Never Choose.

Friday, September 28, 2012

...a Mendocino afternoon

A light fog lingered briefly when we turned onto the cliff walk that winds along the Mendocino coastline...

...but took its leave quickly. Just ahead a bench for the weary and for those who wish to linger for a moment...or longer.

Then this carving, a place to tuck a fond memory, a wish, or a deep grief perhaps...

I got lost for a little while...

and Bill meandered a bit...

past a meadow on the right...

...and to the left, the sea.  No fog, just blue skies, afternoon's golden light and peace.

I leave you with these words of Jean Shinoda Bolen from Handbook for the Soul edited by Richard Carlson:

"Whenever I experience something beautiful, I am with Soul. That moment of inward breath, that pause and awareness of 'how beautiful this is' is a prayer of appreciation, a moment of gratitude in which I behold beauty and am one with it. I have come to appreciate that having an aesthetic eye takes me effortlessly into soul."

Monday, September 24, 2012

...where the guns were

The abandoned buildings were a surprise. An old portal on the park trail led to an army-green ghost encampment nestled below the landscape. Known as Battery Spencer, this military fortification begun in 1893 once housed three M1888 12" guns and an assortment of ammunition. Some guns and ammo were moved during WWI to aid in that effort. Then came WWII and the rest were scrapped in support of another war. [1]

On the shaded side, a row of doorless openings revealed old-fashioned fireplaces made of concrete with a bit of unexpected ornamentation. I continued through the compound at a faster clip than I would have liked, so much to explore. The low-lying sojourn had offered welcome protection from the strong gusts of wind that had buffeted me on the trail. Down the strange boulevard and up the steps at the end to this...

Built before the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, the old battery at the mouth of the harbor is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Marin headlands. In 1993, I had encountered Battery Townsley, a WWII addition approximately three miles farther along the coast. Armed only with snacks and a paperback, I walked through a tunnel, into the the rifle emplacement, and beyond to an incredible view of Pacific. That battery is part of Fort Cronkhite, which is "one of the few preserved examples of WWII 'mobilization posts' remaining in the country. The fort's barracks, mess halls, supply buildings, and other structures are preserved to tell the story of soldiers who waited here for an enemy that never came." [2]

While the perfect setting for my picnic, a scenic Sunday afternoon stroll wasn't what the builders had in mind for Battery Townsley "which mounted two 16-inch caliber guns, each capable of shooting a 2,100 pound, armor-piercing projectile 25 miles out to sea. [The battery] was a high security operation...a design that had never actually fired before.  By the summer of 1940, Battery Townsley was ready for testing with live ammunition."[2]

And test they did. Here's the rest of the story: "The army estimated that the projectile's farthest range would be 30 miles out to sea, about 5 miles beyond the Farallon Islands. Waiting for a non-foggy day in July took some patience, but finally, the fog cleared and the test shot was fired. As the whole mountain shook with the power of this incredible machine, the projectile went even farther than anticipated." [2]

The headlands are riddled with old military fortifications. The history of defending the San Francisco Bay actually goes back well before the Civil War. The oldest location still remaining in the city - La Batteria San Jose, which boasted five iron cannons - was armed in 1797. A second wave of fortifications was begun in 1853, and San Francisco's famous Fort Point, which featured mounts for 126 cannons, was armed in 1861. Indeed, a pamphlet entitled "Seacoast Fortifications of the Golden Gate" lists seven distinct eras of coastal defenses, starting with the Spanish-Mexican era and going all the way through the Cold War. Without a doubt, though, the biggest remaining collection of batteries and other positions are from the Endicott period - which began around 1895 - and the WWI and WWII periods. There unbroken line from the Civil War era facilities to the Nike Missile sites of the Cold War era. During the Cold War, radar and anti-aircraft missile sites replaced the old gun emplacements. Now open to the public, the SF-88 Nike Missile silo is a national historic site, the only preserved silo of some 280 built between 1953 and 1979. [2]

If you come the bay, this dramatic landscape is a "must see". Please exercise caution in the powerful gusts on trails that totter dangerously close to the edge in places. But while you sit on a bench (thank you, National Parks Service) and contemplate some of the most incredible scenery in the world, say thanks that an enemy never came.

All over the world, countries are ramped up for war. Bill's words from a conversation about the Middle East: "To create an equality, the weaker nation turns to weapons. The ensuing spiral is madness. Some nation, some group, needs to think though this situation from a detached viewpoint."

Who would that be? What nation? Is there a de-politicized statesman's voice to be heard? I pray that today's military sites will someday be visited as unused relics. That children will play and adults relax over picnic lunches. A sentimental hope, perhaps, in an era of sophisticated, long-range weaponry, wildly escalating fears, and chauvinistic stands. Can we, though, afford cynicism? Because the dilemma we all face is not a shot heard around the globe but a conflagration that could destroy this good earth. From that wise Anonymous: "The only problem with burning your bridges behind you is that the world is round."

I quoted a young woman in a recent post who said that the opposite of love is laziness. While true, I believe the more inclusive statement is this: the opposite of love is fear. To move beyond a climate poisoned by this toxic emotion, however, hard work is required of us all.

To my fellow hiker: thank you, Kelle Foxx...come back to see us!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

...pieces of memory

Sunrise by Edouard Brouchac

Bless Ed's heart...all his talent, all his fancy cameras, and I picked an iPhone shot.
Well, it picked me. Mea culpa, Ed. Mea extremis culpa.

What matters in life is not what happens to you
but what you remember and how you remember it.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This quote from the Wiki: "Memory is the processes by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved." The subject has long fascinated poets and scientists, songwriters, novelists, and theologians. From one's memories, personal myth is born. As we age, distinct memories blur and leave. At sixty-one, I identify with Steven Wright's words: "Right now I'm having amnesia and deja vu at the same time. I think I've forgotten this before."  I recently encountered a book, The Art of Memory, which discusses principles and techniques used to assist in memory impressions and improve recall.

The Latin phrase, ars memortiva, traces memory/recall techniques that date back to the first millenium BC. Complex graphics, contemplation, the study of architecture, books, sculpture and painting were utilized by practioners to develop memory skills and organization. Meet Mnenomics: "any learning technique that aids information retention...[and] aim to translate information into a form that the human brain can retain better and...might aid the transfer of informtion to long-term memory."

I've added some new words to my vocabulary and am humbled by the sophisticated methods developed in the Iron Age. But I already knew something of association and memory. A scent, a song, or a picture can trigger a feeling or a full-blown return to an earlier time. Or, as happened this morning, something deeper...a glimpse of personal formation and definition.

I met Edouard Brouchac when we both worked at The Birmingham News. Now retired, he is a talented photographer with a great wit. On particularly vexing afternoons at work, he'd pull out his "Folder of Shame" filled with unfortunate typos and photos with unintended hilarious overtones. Once my hysterical laughter ceased, I always managed to find my missing equanimity.

Today, his photo led me to a different place. In a glance, I was ten, in my grandmother's bedroom. White curtains wafted in the southern breeze as I stared through the screen at the piney woods beyond. A soft cotton pillow trimmed with my grandmother's tatting cushioned my back against the wooden slats of the rocker. The Clue in the Diary, my Nancy Drew mystery, rested on a small chest next to a bottle of rosewater and glycerin, Granny's daily beauty routine. In one hand I held a glass of ice-cold milk; in the other, warm homemade peanut butter cookies.

This was no casual recall but a moment of merger...the past and present so tightly enmeshed, I am unable to perceive where one stopped and the other started. Because here is where I was shaped, where my truth rests. Here is where love lived and took root in me. Where I began to choose the seminal memories. The intervening years have challenged me to view them honestly and claim the lessons.

Wiki words: "It is astounding the way memory is formed and how it can be manipulated just by emotion. If pain, joy, excitement, or any other strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during the even make a stronger connection with each other. The strength and longevity of memories is directly related to the amount of emotion felt during the event of their creation."

My words: "Thank you, Henrietta Day Kirkley, my sweet grandmother, for the magic. You are on every breeze, in kitchen aromas and old songs. You are wrapped around my neurons, in every cell. I love you. I love because of you."

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy
Note to Self
Faith, Weeds and Dancing Shoes
There's a Hole in the Clouds Somewhere

Carruthers, Mary (19900. The Book of Memory (first ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-38282-3. (limited preview on Google Books)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

...thoughts on forgiveness

"Lunch with Kris" by Carolynn Thomas Jones (see artist info in right column)

She told me he had admitted he was wrong and had asked to be forgiven. And seemed quite satisfied to leave things there. I understood. It's easier that way.

Yet his confession absolved him only. In no way did his words - honest words - address her part in the equation. Her recollections revealed a sad life, where the satisfaction of vindication and victimhood were preferable to truth.

Step back in time. Another conversation. I had made apologies for not responding to the young woman.  Indeed I had felt lax after she had sent a stack of poems and I'd failed to reply. A talented, energetic poet, she replied, "You know, the opposite of love is laziness." I was torn and tired, stung by her words. Our son had been hospitalized for six weeks. Our daughter, two years younger, had her own needs. The pass the guilt, please moment quickly dissipated and my next thoughts were angry ones. The opposite of love sometimes feels a lot like unkindness and judgment. But, ever the southern creature, I smiled.

The young woman was right in her statement, if not in her assumption. Laziness can be dressed up and taken out on the town. It can win us sympathy and keep us from taking personal responsibility for ourselves. Another critical thread runs through these two incidents also: forgiveness.

I'm currently re-reading Simon Wiesenthal's book The Sunflower...a deliberate, meditative one-chapter--an-evening commitment. If you aren't familiar with the book, the preface gives a brief description: Simon Wiesenthal tells a personal story of an incident that occurred in a concentration camp and asks, what would you have done in his place? Theologians, political and moral leaders, and writers responded to his question - a question that is at once religious, political, moral, and personal - each from their own perspective. As would be expected, a wide variety of opinions was expressed. Each and every respondent had to imagine him or herself in the place of a concentration camp prisoner, to face the enormity of the crime before them, and reflect on the implications of their decision. In this one isolated case, was forgiveness an option, and what would it mean for the victim as well as the perpetrator of these crimes?

In The Sunflower, Wiesenthal tells of passing a military cemetery as he was marched back and forth from the concentration camp while on work detail. He wrote, On each grave there was planted a sunflower, as straight as a soldier on parade. I stared spellbound. The flower heads seemed to absorb the sun's rays like mirrors and draw them down into the darkness of the ground as my gaze wandered from the sunflower to the grave. It seemed to penetrate the earth and suddenly I saw before me a periscope. It was gaily colored and butterflies fluttered from flower to flower. Were they carrying messages from grave to grave? Were they whispering something to each flower to pass on to the soldier below? Why, yes, this was just what they were doing; the dead were receiving light and messages. Suddenly I envied the dead soldiers. Each had a sunflower to connect him with the living world, and butterflies to visit his grave. For me there would be no sunflower. I would be buried in a mass grave, where corpses would be piled on top of me. No sunflower would ever bring light into my darkness, and no butterflies would dance above my dreadful tomb.

Wiesenthal addresses a horror born in a holocaust of unimaginable proportions. Daily, though, each of us struggles with both sides of forgiveness. We have all hurt others. We have all been hurt. And then there's that tricky situation where we are compelled by conscience to forgive one who sees no need to be forgiven.

I've reached the conclusion that I am not capable of generating true forgiveness of any degree, much less epic proportion. I can only open myself to be a vessel of forgiveness. Life has stripped me of youthful notions of a cosmic butler waiting breathlessly for my needs/wants lists.  I return to lines from Charles Van Gorkom's poem, "The Saint":  There is a king in you and a kingdom, a Golgotha of broken dreams, a Calvary of great love, an empty tomb. I responded to his poem with a single line: "made in the image of." Charles commented, "More than made in the image - now restored and manifested every day more and more..."

Robert MacAfee Brown stated as part of his response to Wiesenthal's question in The Sunflower:
What we can do on the far side of such an impasse is to respond to another question and truly make it our own. In Elie Wiesel's "The Gates of the Forest", a rabbi, confronted with evil and God's transparent involvement in it, asks out of deep anguish, "What is there left for us to do?" This is what we must exhume from the debris of our inadequate "answers." What "answers" there are will finally come not from the region of our minds, but from the precincts of our hearts. It will be in doing rather than in speculating that we will learn whatever it is permitted us to learn. "What is there left for us to do?"

from doing justly
and walking humbly with God  
to standing with the victims 
and the oppressed.

And if we do so, perhaps, just perhaps, a world will begin to emerge in which we do not have to ask unanswerable questions any longer. 

Forgiveness...a lumbering process, filled with pain, in the presence of unbearable silence. Not responsible for the response. Definitely not for the lazy. But our only hope. Dr. John Claypoole wrote, "We forgive because we can't forget." When asked how he was able to forgive his jailers when he was finally released after twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson Mandela said, "When I walked out of the gate I knew that if I continued to hate these people, I was still in prison."

We hold the key.

ABOUT THE ARTIST, Carolynn Thomas Jones:

Carolynn has studied art at the University of Alabama, Samford University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and George Peabody College where she received a degree in art and art education. She expanded her education to include space for nursing and clinical research careers. In all her spare time, this mother/doctoral candidate/artist is also a labyrinth facilitator.

Her paintings have been selected by several juried exhibits and is found at Artists Incorporated Gallery in Birmingham, Alabama, at The Gulf Island Gallery in Orange Beach, Alabama and in numerous private collections. She is a member of the Birmingham Art Association, Mountain Brook Art Association, and Alabama Plein Air Association. AND a proud member of The Village Painters in Birmingham, Alabama (

Visit her website and learn more about this talented artist: gotta read Nonofficial Asset from William Sewell

There's an old New Yorker cartoon that I love. Man sits on the edge of a doctor's examining table in his skivvies. The doctor stands in front of a lightbox.  On the x-ray of the patient's abdomen, letters float like alphabet soup. The caption: "Bob, that novel in you has to come out." Writers understand. A good story born from who knows where, perhaps taken from the pages of your life, becomes a constant companion. The tale persists. In the busyness of business, the story begs to be told. Finally, in airplanes and waiting rooms, on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, the writing begins.

And you both live happily ever after.

[Insert: rolling on the floor laughing hysterically.]

Until you've written for months/years, edited, and ended up with a haiku, you can't conceive of the work that goes into writing, say, a short story. In fact, a short story, particularly a short short story, is incredibly difficult. The extraneous word flashes like a fifty year old woman in the tropics. Poetry? A rare gift. A novel is an altogether different beast. When that novel is a thriller, more challenges surface.

"I know a first-time author," my friend Eileen posted on FB. And I'm proud as punch that I introduced the two. The author's name is William Sewell and his new novel, Nonofficial Asset, has just debuted on Amazon (Kindle and paperback), Barnes and Noble (Nook), Smashwords (all e-formats) and will soon be available via Apple (iBook). Now I would like you to meet him, too.

I know him as Bill. Same name as my husband, yes. Actually they were both called Billy when young but we won't go there. I'll try very hard to refer to him here as William for the sake of clarity. 

Abiding friends, meet William.
William, meet Abiding friends.

William (gulp), Bill and I have known each other since the sixties. We grew up in Dublin, Georgia, a small town in mid-state, beneficiaries of an incredible school system. Our principal, Mr. Tom Stewart, is thankfully still with us. In an era when critical thinking skills were valued over standardized test scores, the two Bills and I were taught by an amazing array of teachers. Mrs. Afdahl, Dr. Barr and Mrs. Powell drilled grammar into us, took us around the world and through many cultures via literature, and taught us to write. Mr. Wooddy not only taught math but infused drama into us as sponsor/director of the thespian society.

See! Here's the cast of 1967's Thespian Troupe 669's production of
You Can't Take It With You. 
William and I are on the back row. 
Dressed in a black suit and dark-patterned tie, he played the G-man (hmmm).
 I'm the tiara-wearing, white-gloved impoverished (hmmm) Russian duchess next to him.
When we weren't rehearsing, we were painting the purple-plumed faux wallpaper sets.
And studying English, Math, etc.

His teachers would all be so proud. Mr. Sewell has written a wonderful first novel, Nonofficial Asset, a modern day political thriller drawn from current headlines. The book's protagonist, Peyton Stone, is a security contractor as well as a nonofficial asset, an operative selected for covert work on the basis of particular skills, with no legal ties to a government. And no protection. His business partner murdered in a Shanghai hotel and a Chinese arms dealer on his trail, Peyton has no choice but to reach out to his friend and former CIA handler, Harry Morrison, to find out who killed his partner and why. He soon finds himself once again under contract to the Agency, on the hunt for a stolen nuclear weapon. And an Iranian Admiral who is bent on thwarting the one best chance for stability and peace in the Middle East. As the clock ticks down to the signing of an historic peace accord, Peyton and Harry race to untangle the threads that lead from China through Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and into the Oval Office.

Eileen liked the book so much that she left a review on Amazon. In it she said this: "Often when I read a great thriller, I feel as if I'm in the hands of an experienced author who has done thorough research. Not with this book. I feel as if this is the author's life." On target, girlfriend. William, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, has followed the age-old dictum: write what you know. After he left Government service, he was a contractor with the Departments of State and Defense and spent over a decade working with the U.S. Intelligence community. He has consulted on security matters with the governments of Kuwait, Australia, India, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, China, Canada as well as with the European Council of Mayors.

The book is well-written with flying pages (you won't be able to quit turning them). William has produced a fun read with depth and interesting characters. In today's publishing world, though, he has his work cut out if he's to get the word out. I hope y'all will order/download. You'll love it! By the way, I read e-books and still don't own an e-reader. I've downloaded the Kindle, Nook and iTune apps onto my iPhone and my Mac. I read on my iPhone and research via the cloud reader on my computer.

Click here for the Amazon Kindle version.
Or here for the Amazon paperback version.
Click here for Barnes & Noble Nook version.
And here for Smashwords (which carries all the e-publishing formats, including iBook. Downloading instructions are provided on the site).
Watch for it on Apple soon.

I'm really proud of my of the good guys: respectful of all cultures, a smart, hardworking gentleman with a great sense of humor. Here's to you and Nonofficial Asset, William/Bill/Billy/Peyton! I'm impatiently awaiting the next storyline.

Abiding friends, pass the word, please!!! Thank you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 civility has been compromised

The black smear above my left eye is yesterday's
mascara. My personal hygiene has also been
compromised. And my nose appears to have lost its 

I have a cold. A vicious, nasty, slap me down to the floor cold. And nothing - well, perhaps the IRS   - gets less respect than a head cold. Even the name is a misnomer. The misery goes far beyond the head. Chills, fever, coughing. And that's the fun stuff. My nose is raw. My eyeballs hurt. My hair hurts. I'm beginning to doubt that this is a cold. I have, I fear, East Nile Mad Cowbird Flumonia.

Remember that truism: "If you ask for patience, you'll get lots of chances to practice it." Well, evidently the same holds true for civility. I'm trying. I'm really, truly trying to practice what I've been preaching.

My friend, Deb, said, "Chicken soup, tea with honey and lemon." And added, if we were closer, she'd make a batch and bring it over. She would. Good woman. Alas, I live on San Francisco Bay and she is in Birmingham, Alabama. Walt wrote "sleep juices chicken soup." Added "good luck", bless his heart. At the moment, the only way I'm getting chicken soup is if a hen walks in, throws herself in a pot (after laying a couple of fresh eggs) and serves herself up.

Out of honey, I did make a cup of Irish Breakfast tea with lemon. Went something like this. I lay in bed, my head underneath the duvet clad in yoga pants, wool socks, a tee, a sweat shirt and a coat. Wishing that I still had hot flashes. "Tea. She said tea." I rolled over. "Tea." Pulled the duvet down. Pulled it back up. Thought through the process: tea would require filling a cup (thank you, Shannon, for the "Peace" cup...I need this). Then I'd have to walk across the kitchen (three steps) and microwave the water. This would involve standing for two minutes. Then I'd have to wait for the tea to steep. That would be another minute. Tear open two Truvias (oh, the agony of the sound of paper ripping). Cut a lemon. Could I be trusted with a knife?

I finally dragged into the kitchen and made the tea. Drank it. Decided to write a post to get my mind off things. After all, I can lie flat and type on the wireless keyboard with my eyes closed. So here I am, sharing the joys of cold-dom with y'all. Now, though, I'm headed back to bed. Just one more thing: Is it "Starve a fever; feed a cold" or "Feed a fever; starve a cold?" And what happens when you have both? Intervention, please.

I'm back in bed, under the duvet. I've peaked and am sinking once again. My eyeballs have maxed out. This may be serious. I don't even want to watch "Say Yes to the Dress", the episode with battling sisters. And I suspect the fevers make me delusional: I feel wittier than I am. Therefore, in order to regain my sense of civility, I'm practicing patience.

Patience is the ability to idle your motor
when you feel like stripping your gears.
Barbara Johnson

Monday, September 10, 2012

...9/11, a day of remembrance

St. Paul's, behind the World Trade Center site
Photo by Frank Sauer
September 9, 2012

Leaves now cover the ground that ashes once cloaked. Eleven years have passed since the day we all fell down. Many still grieve the loss of loved ones, the death of dreams. Wherever you are, close your eyes and hear Charles Van Gorkom's words. Let them take root and live them into understanding.

You are a saint.
By this I mean you are.
Fully realized.
There is a king in you and a kingdom,
A Golgotha of broken dreams,
A Calvary of great love,
An empty tomb.

For several years I've marked the anniversary of 9/11 with a reading of Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat's poem, "Rest in Peace" inspired by the poems of Thich Nhat Hanh:

I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side,
I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding upon myself and collapsing to the ground.
May I rest in peace.

I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane not knowing where we are going or that I am riding on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death,
I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing that in just a moment my future will be obliterated.
May I rest in peace.

I am a pigeon in the plaza between the two towers eating crumbs from someone's breakfast when fire rains down on me from the skies,
I am a bed of flowers admired daily by thousands of tourists but now lie buried under five stories of rubble.
May I rest in peace.

I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me,
I am a rescue worker risking my life to safe lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive.
May I rest in peace.

I am a survivor who has fled down the stairs and out of the building to safety who knows that nothing will ever be the same in my soul again,
I am a doctor in a hospital treating patients burned from head to toe who knows that these horrible images will remain in my mind forever.
May I know peace.

I am a piece of paper that was on someone's desk this morning and now I'm debris scattered by the wind across lower Manhattan,
I am a stone in the graveyard at Trinity Church covered with the soot from the buildings that once stood proudly above me, death meeting death.
May I rest in peace.

I am a dog sniffing in the rubble for signs of life, doing my best to be of service,
I am a blood donor waiting in line to make a simple but very needed contribution for the victims.
May I know peace.

I am a resident in an apartment in downtown New York who has been forced to evacuate my home,
I am a resident in an apartment uptown who has walked 100 blocks home in a stream of other refugees.
May I know peace.

I am a family member who has just learned that someone I love has died,
I am a pastor who must comfort someone who has suffered a heart-breaking loss.
May I know peace.

I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth,
I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy.
May I know peace.

I am a frightened city dweller who wonders whether I'll ever feel safe in a skyscraper again,
I am a pilot who wonders whether there will ever be a way to make the skies truly safe.
May I know peace.

I am the owner of a small store with five employees that has been put out of business by this tragedy,
I am an executive in multinational corporation who is concerned about the cost of doing business in a terrorized world.
May I know peace.

I am a visitor to New York City who purchases postcards of the World Trade Center Twin Towers that are no more,
I am a television reporter trying to put into words the terrible things I have seen.
May I know peace.

I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home,
I am a boy in a faraway country rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone has hurt the hated Americans.
May I know peace.

I am a general talking into the microphones about how we must stop the terrorist cowards who have perpetrated this heinous crime,
I am an intelligence officer trying to discern how such a thing could have happened on American soil,
and I am a city official trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering of my people.
May I know peace.

I am a terrorist whose hatred for America knows no limit and I am willing to die to prove it,
I am a terrorist sympathizer with all the enemies of American capitalism and imperialism,
I am a master strategist for a terrorist group who planned this abomination.
My heart is not yet capable of openness, tolerance, and loving.
May I know peace.

I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set, fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible events,
I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, prayng for the consolaton of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of God/Lord/Allah/Spirit/High Power.
May I know peace.

I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of one another.
May we all know peace.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brusset are the Co-Directors of Spirituality and Practice  
Residents of Manhattan, they wrote this prayer/poem 
on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

At some point, we all fall down. 
May those who are standing lift those who are not.

The New York City skyline today
Photo by Frank Sauer
Jersey City, NJ
September 9, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

...on agreeing to disagree

A photo taken after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 showed a statue by J. Seward Johnson, "Double Check", covered in ash and papers blown from the destroyed buildings. In the days that followed the tragedy, passers-by placed flowers between the arms in memory of  loved ones who died.  Mementos of the firemen and police were propped on and about the statue. Eventually "Double Check" was freshened up a bit by Johnson who kept the dings from the blast and returned to Liberty Plaza Park where it sits today, facing the site where the Towers once stood.

Johnson later cast a duplicate - with modifications - which now resides on the River Walk in Jersey City. Here's the story as told on a plaque at the base of what is now known as Makeshift Memorial: "Rescue workers in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedy got their only smile of the day when a 'victim' lifted from the rubble turned out to be a bronze sculpture by artist Steward Johnson. 'Double Check' (the statue) was set up amid the wreckage, becoming a makeshift memorial, as flowers and heartbreaking remembrances soon covered the piece. Deeply moved, Johnson reverently collected all the messages of love and cast them in bronze, and welded them to the piece exactly as he had found them one month after the tragedy."

Photo taken by Frank Sauer, 9/9/2012, River Walk, Jersey City, NJ
The story doesn't stop here. In time, Liberty Plaza Park became Zuccotti Park, the base for Occupy Wall Street. The statue of a businessman sitting with an open briefcase was mocked as a symbol of capitalism. A mask was tied over the eyes and trash stuffed in the open briefcase. But this bane of art critics and protesters alike has been spiffied up once again. This is a tale of two statues and even more questions.

Sara Hacala writes in her book, Saving Civility: "There is perhaps no situation in which the words 'with all due respect' are more pertinent, and indispensable, than in matters of disagreement. Conflict is an inherent part of life, in virtually every arena - among individuals, families, business, governments, and countries. As a result, the ability to disagree respectfully is essential for getting along and negotiating with other people, as well as building consensus and compromise. The act of disagreeing is not the problem per se; it's the manner in which it is conducted that exacerbates tensions. Because the very nature of conflict is to be at odds with an opposing party, discussion and debate are often ripe for and rife with incivility, impeding resolution of the issue at hand.

She continues: "Just imagine how different life would be if each of us learned to disagree in a respectful manner - less acrimony, fewer bruised feelings, and lower levels of stress, greater insight, understanding, harmony, and efficiency; greater productivity; increased chances to build consensus, alliances, and compromise; a platform to support potential solutions; diminished belligerence and warmongering; and more opportunities for peaceful exchange."

And asks this: "To begin, before you are enmeshed in any conflict, it helps to honestly examine your mind-set and motivations: Are you genuinely prepared to discuss points of view and alternatives with a willingness to compromise, or are you on a crusade to win at all costs? Do you want to thoughtfully air and resolve an issue, or do you want to crush the other party? The answer to those questions may determine whether or not you intend or will be able to disagree respectfully...Remember that disagreement is a normal part of life; our agility and skill in disagreeing respectfully can make all the difference in how we connect with one another - or not - as individuals, communities, and countries. We have the strength and power to rise above, rather than blame, the limitations of human nature."

First one statue, then another. Each a memorial for some, a symbol of contempt for others. Disliked by art critics. Perhaps the true gift lies in the questions these markers raise...and in the hope that we will look for better answers in all our relationships.

Friday, September 7, 2012

...the roots of civility

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, 
or exactly where it is all going. 
What you need to do is recognize the possibilities and challenges 
offered by the present moment, 
and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.   
Thomas Merton

Several years ago a friend struggled with a difficult situation. He spoke to his mentor, described his dilemma, and waited for a “how to” moment. Instead the old man looked at the younger one and asked, “Just what part of the Serenity Prayer don’t you understand?” Silence. The mentor continued. “Everything fits somewhere in those three parts. Are you struggling with 'the serenity to accept things you can't change'? Or perhaps 'the courage to change the things you can’? Maybe 'the wisdom to know the difference’? Figure this out and you’ll find the answer." 

"Figure this out," he said. Easier said than done. Where to begin? Discernment is difficult, especially when my mind is scattered. I’ve found that a good place to start is in the here and now. Sara Hacala addresses living in the present moment in this excerpt from her book Saving Civility:

Before we can connect with others, we have to be able to connect with ourselves, and we can only accomplish that by living fully in the present, not the past or the future. When we live in the past, we are often hanging on to anger, resentment, or sadness that colors our current outlook. The Buddhist parable below sheds some wisdom: 
Two monks were traveling together down a muddy road. Along the way they encountered a lovely young woman dressed in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the road without soiling her garments. The first monk obliging lifted her up, carried her across the mud, and then continued on his journey. Unable to speak for hours, but no longer able to restrain himself, the second monk finally asked the first, "Why did you pick up that young woman when you know that we are forbidden to touch females?" The first monk replied, "I left the girl back there hours ago, but you are still carrying her."
Whatever our past memories, we have choices. The better choice is to nurture those that bring joy and peace. Rather than deny the painful past, I recommend a single sentence I read many years ago: "When a dark memory knocks at the door, acknowledge it but don't invite it in to spend the afternoon."

The future, AKA "The Great Unknown", is a mine-field as well. Hacala writes, "When we spend our time living in the future, we may be anxious and fearful about what may never happen at all. Or we're so busy with over-scheduled agendas that we allow the clock to rule our lives, causing us to miss out on what is happening here and now. Either way, we shortchange ourselves, and those in our circle, because we are too busy to stop, smell the roses, and connect with one another."

A re-telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan describes the two travelers who rode past the injured man without stopping and then tells of the third who stopped to help this man from the wrong political party/wrong race/wrong culture/wrong-in-so-very-many-ways. At the end of his modern version, the writer asks his readers a question: "Just what jackass are you riding today that keeps you from connecting with your brothers and sisters?"

Dismount. Encounter the present. Breathe. Meditate. Take in the world around. Be quiet. Ms. Hacala says, "If you want to be close to and connect with others, be WITH THEM, here and now, not lost in your thoughts, judgments, or agenda. While we have memories of the past, the present moment is what is real, because the future hasn't happened yet."

Civility...let it begin with me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

...growing the circle


We measure not by duration
the value of our moments
but by grace.

People and places steal away
as quietly as the swan and mallard
who pause, then swim on.

Ripples fade imperceptibly:
in their wake
a merging of souls.

Sara Hacala’s book, Saving Civility, begins with this sublime quote by Einstein: "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest...a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."  She  then evokes the ridiculous in her introduction, “The Rise of Rude, Crude, and Attitude”. What caught my attention was the sub-heading: “How We’re All Part of the Problem”, then this passage: “What I find alarming is how polite and respectful behavior is vanishing from our world today. We behave and treat one another badly in our day-to-day lives, conduct that causes our relationships and our society at large to fragment and deteriorate, and we are all suffering as a result. Treating people well, and having the crucial ability to develop and maintain meaningful relationships, provides the essential grease that makes our own lives and the rest of the world go round. When that art is lost or missing, we spin out of control into chaos...Enough is enough. It is time to become uncommonly polite for the common good of all.”

And for more reasons than a sunny disposition. Ms. Hacala led me to another book, Connected, by Harvard professor and health-care policy specialist Nicholas A. Christakis and University of California, San Diego, political science professor James Fowler. I am now reading these two books in tandem. In Napa terms, a good pairing. Christakis and Fowler are responsible for the Three Degrees of Influence Rule: “We influence and are influenced by people up to three degrees removed from us, most of whom we do not even know.” 

How they came together and what ensued is told in a thoughtful and provocative work that underscores the  significance of relationship between individuals and their networks: social, business, and cultural. They conclude that these interactions not only develop the greater good of the group and its members but also “create epidemics of obesity, smoking and substance abuse; disseminate fads and markets; alter voting patterns”, among others.  The whole, they agree, is greater than the sum of the parts.

We humans are seldom aware of our realm of influence or the impact of seemingly insignificant moments. A kind word can lift a tired heart just as a rude gesture can crush a fragile soul. Since tired hearts and fragile souls are often housed in sturdy bodies, we rarely know the truth of one who stands before us or passes in the next lane. Saving civility is critical because we are connected.  We don’t have the luxury of six degrees of separation. To paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, the deeds we do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today. We are all part of the problem. With civility, with awareness of connection, we can chose to be part of the solution.