Sunday, August 9, 2015

FORWARD, NOT BACK


Donald Trump, an angry, immature and egotistical celebrity, has been able to influence and attract many potential voters who must confuse bravado, arrogance, and the privilege of power/wealth with presidential leadership abilities.  Pundits note that people like him for his honesty. They say he is “genuine," says what he means and means what he says. He doesn't care what anyone thinks, apparently another characteristic able to stir the masses. He is charismatic in an anti-hero kind of way, with an ability to articulate for his followers their deep-seated resentment toward the present administration and all others who are scapegoats for their discontent. 

He has captured the imagination with his independence, self-reliance and the attainment of the American Dream, but not in the sense once described by Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose thoughtful definition of self-reliance had more to do with inner strength and character, than appearance.  Appearance is what celebrity is all about. There are more than a few reasons to believe that a Trump presidency would perhaps be a point of no return for America. 

Currently there are many who believe his approach would be a successful one, (if they have thought that far ahead). Would he even be willing or able to work with his own cabinet, let alone the Pentagon, congress, states and other nations with any amount of tact, diplomacy, effectiveness or respect over the long haul? Donald doesn't come off as interested, or even able to build consensus, cooperate or compromise. It seems he'd rather build walls (and not just ones to keep immigrants out). So far, he has not significantly addressed specific issues, or laid out substantial policies and strategies, so people are not enamored, or seem to care about the content of his platform (if, in fact, he has one).

Donald has dramatically lowered the bar for national civility and decorum (whatever was left of it). His "bluster-effect" has further revealed America's under-belly, with his vindictive and snarky comments--now the norm on social media. He insults individuals, as well as whole group--Mexicans, McCain, Rosie O’Donnell and, recently, Fox News's Megyn Kelly, with his spontaneous, crude an vulgar remarks. Yet, his followers see him as fit to represent America--to be our face to the world?  Are we to believe he is a “patriot,” (a neo-con catch word), and will be “phenomenal to women” (whatever that means), as he has recently exclaimed?

Observing the "bread and circus" of his candidacy calls to mind the aphorism: "You he can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," especially those who rely on critical thinking to make judgements. The opposite of critical thinking has raised Donald to popularity, at least for the time being. Look up the logical fallacies, if you haven’t reviewed them lately. They reign supreme in all political campaigns. In addition, he is contradictory, which is different from being simply wishy-washy.   

His opinions may sound like facts and may feel good to those who have the same opinions in private, but have been discouraged from revealing them in public (because someone might call them on it, or be offended).  Now, however, offending people is entertainment, and serves as a cathartic for many.  Donald's delighted followers can say, along with Donald, “If you don't like it, too bad!" Demeaning and randomly diminishing anyone and everyone is what he does.  

It has been said, and not only by conservatives, that political correctness is now taken to the extreme, as it seems to pander to "overly-sensitive" minorities, and prevents us from "telling it like it is," not to mention throws a wet blanket on our sense of humor. The reason political correctness came about in first place was that “telling it like it is” is rooted in stereo typical perceptions which do not take other people’s experience into consideration.  Is this another reason Donald has endeared himself to many?  The thing is, not only does he avoid political correctness, he blurts out whatever comes to mind at the moment, which is not the same as "telling it like it is."  No, it is simply his describing the world according to Donald--not the world most of us live in.   

I would like to suggest, somewhat humorously, that we might at least want to go back to a time when a presidential candidate--say, Thomas Jefferson, would not have called Martha Washington (or any other person) a “fat pig,” or a president--say, Abraham Lincoln, would not have (for the fun of it) diminished the legacy of a captured Union soldier. It's a given that there are many problems to be solved, issues to be worked on, legitimate challenges to the present administration's achievements and failures, and alternatives to be explored.  Mostly what we've heard from Donald are shallow responses and off-handed remarks which play to his audience, like a side-show carnival act.

Some who admire, cheer on, and approve of Donald’s lack of political correctness do not seem to be responding out of some ideal--back to the days when everyone wasn't so "sensitive," which was also a time that all manner of racial, sexist and other slurs were the norm. Would those who abhor political correctness be okay with their being targeted as ignorant, Bible-thumping, redneck, malcontents, and/or angry white renegades or "stupid"? With the tables turned, it is doubtful they, and may would be quick to suggest that they were being "persecuted" or attribute it to political-motivation. Fortunately, no one from the so-called "other side" has sunk to that level. 

Political correctness at its core is just common sense. And while it may have come about based on seemingly petty complaints, litigation and political strategy to win over whatever group could get a person or party elected, essentially political correctness, nevertheless, aims at consideration for others; sensitivity toward and respect for their situation and experience; a certain decorum among civilized human beings, use of polite references, awareness and thoughtfulness in general of our words and deeds. These attributes are the tools for, and the means to, peaceful interactions across the board, the creation of good will, and can even reflect kindness and compassionor, in another catch word “values" (and even virtues). 

Donald’s  tone, language, demeanor and intent can not be taken for other than mean-spiritedness by those who are his targets. Ironically, his attacks are approved of and applauded by some who may see themselves as victims, some of whom undoubtedly get a great deal of their "news" from ranting radio talk show hosts or publications whose vitriol conjures up conspiracies, espouses extreme positions while chants another catch phrase: “Let's take our country back.”  Does that mean back to how wonderful it was when George W. Bush left office?  or back to the pre-civil rights era in the early 60’s, when the confederate flag was first hung at the state house in North Carolina as a protest against those liberal, bleeding heart “crazies” who supported laws to insure human and equal rights for all Americans.

Some conservatives speak of a lack of values, usually in response to the granting of human/civil rights, as if only they understand and employ values rightfully. Is respect one of them?  The truth is some individuals and factions (but not limited to party or religious affiliations) are selective about how they behave toward and speak about others not like themselves. Unfortunately, this behavior and languages is also based on stereotyping, judgement and may include angry response, unfair accusations, sarcasm, insults, threats and sometimes worse.  These are apparently some of the values embraced by Donald Trump and his followers.

We can think of state, national and global contexts as analogous to the smallest common context of relationship: the family (or any close association with individuals who must work, live and survive together). The approach that has been shown to be most effective/successful here encompasses inclusion of members, effective communication, and a respect and appreciation for each member. Isn't this what is needed to get along in everyday life with our spouses or children; for getting a job done at home or in the workplace; in any disagreement/conflict; for organizing events, and in many other situations?  

These situations require listening, instead of one member of a group insisting upon and imposing a "my way or the highway" approach.  They require an awareness of our affect on others in the family or group.  They require cooperation, instead of one person bullying the group.  They require our concern and care for all members--a display of kindness and respect. They require recognition and acknowledgement of members' strengths, abilities and contributions. They require acknowledgment for a members talents and abilities and help to strengthen their areas of weakness.  

Of course, at times there also have to be firm decisions and actions for the good of the group, which may hurt, offend someone or cause resentment.  However these actions, hard choices and decisions have to be dispassionately, for the right reasons, and certainly do not have to involve red-faced scowls, angry shouting, name-calling, hurled insults, blame and defensiveness, which result only in complication and escalation--whether within a family, or a nation. Critiques and complaints without suggestions for alternatives to problems are not helpful. If these things would be indicated in real life situations, why is it often otherwise in politics? 

While politics has always polarized people and used mud-slinging, rhetoric and negative strategies to win or win over, there is something a bit different with Donald Trump.  There has been a certain stature to the presidency, a demeanor that reflects thoughtfulness, not impulsivity; maturity, not adolescent behavior; global awareness, not isolationism; cooperation and compromise, not unilateral actions; consideration of the many, rather than only the few privileged--or in his case, the one!  Some think Donald is the one to "take our country back." 

What country are we taking back?  If we could go back to civility toward and respect for each another; if we could go back to aspiring to look, behave, speak and carry ourselves in a more dignified manner; if we could go back to being role models through our humility, humanity and courage; if we could go back to thoughtful debate and exchange of ideas and ideals; if we could go back to not seeing each other as enemies; if we could go back to loving our neighbors as ourselves (as if these were ever truly the case), then, by all means, LET'S GO BACK! 

I would rather hear Donald, and every other presidential candidate say,  "Let’s take our country forward.” Let’s look to the future, not the past and go forward with civility, aspiration, dignity, humility, courage and, that outdated “four letter word”—LOVE.  Let’s go forward with those needed attributes we should ideally use within our own families, places of worship, and the work place. 

Let’s go forward towards realizing the potential envisioned by our founding fathers (and believe) that we are created equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

ROCKPORT MORNING



Doves call
Summer breeze
Rustling leaves

Distant bell over sleepy town
Lobster boat chugs the harbor round

Beyond grassy meadows
Immense sea glistens early light
Birds take flight

Monday, April 13, 2015

For Suzanne


passed away suddenly - March 2015
There you were

With basket filled  - a loaf of bread, a candle and wine
A feast for friends
The real treasures though?
The sustenance of your smile, your light, your joy
I still see you on the beach that night
The moon rising over the incoming tide
Trying to light tin lanterns against the wind
When it was you who were the gift, the light and warmth
in the dark and cold.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Worry Doll

         Finn took the one-inch square, rainbow-striped bag from his shelf, pulled open the drawstring and turned it over. Six painted, wooden matchstick figures fell into his small hand. I watched him delicately pick up one at a time to look at.  “What are those?” I asked, reaching for the little scroll that fell out with them. 
“They’re worry dolls, Nonna!” Finn said in a tone suggesting that I should have known exactly what they were. I read out loud from the paper scroll. According to legend, Guatemalan children tell their worries to the dolls, place them under their pillows at night, and all worries are gone by morning.  
Give me a few dozen, I thought, but said only, “I didn’t know that. Shall we put some under our pillows tonight?  
“Of course we should!”
When it was time for bed, Finn picked out three of the tiny figures for himself and gave me the other three. Grandmother and grandchild each whispered our worries to the dolls and placed them under our pillows. Then I opened the evening story book and read until Finn’s eyes began to close.  
I should have been tired enough to sleep too. But, as was my habit before sleep (if sleep comes at all) all the things there were to worry about crowded my mind: my husband’s progressing disease; my dear friend’s terminal illness; my regrets about all the things I might have done, or done differently, or not done at all! I started to think about the random violence, pain and suffering that was happening right then all over the world--in war zones, in cities and towns-- while I lay in a warm, safe and comfortable bed. As if that weren’t enough to keep me awake I began to focus on the  effects of aging and inevitability of my own death. Why do I do this?  What were the three worries I had whispered to the dolls? I didn’t remember, but I wondered if more people than I might imagine were also worrying at that moment, or did I alone have such a negative state of mind by nature? 
The senses of body and sharpness of mind fading and dulling, and with more life behind me than in front, I tried to come to terms with the losses: of friends, family, youth, beauty and energy. Where was the motivation for looking ahead and welcoming each challenge with strength and enthusiasm as I once had. With all that, and the progression of my husband’s Parkinson’s quickly diminishing his health and former self, there was the sad sense of slowing down. I now took more time to do things that had once been done without a thought, and with facility and speed. Also, my forgetting a word here, a name there, left me hoping those were not the first symptoms of the dreaded “A” word disease.
I recalled how my father used to go out with his shirt inside out (I did that the other day), and how he once got into his car to drive to the donut shop and found himself in the back seat. About that same time I noticed how slowly my mother was walking, with an obvious sense of caution and uncertainty, and her admirable attempts to “keep up.” Now they both are gone, and oh! the many regrets and things left unsaid and undone. 
     Although I myself continue to do all the things I have always done, it is with increasing effort, not only to accomplish them, but also to appear as though nothing is different. I, for instance, try now, as my mother once did when walking, to keep up with younger people. Is it better if my family notices and asks if I need help with things, or if no one notices?
In a recurring dream I am standing at the top of a long stairway I must descend.  It is open on both sides, no rails and each individual stair impossibly steep, like an Alice in Wonderland scene--no way down or back. 
When I get to the point where my thoughts twist themselves into self-perpetuating loops, I prompt myself to initiate another evening ritual: counting my blessings. It is a noble effort to displace the worries with all the things to be grateful for, which are very many.  After 45 years of marriage, (or shear madness, as we sometimes call it), my husband and I remain together, support, respect and love one other. We laugh a lot (about eating and drinking ourselves to death in retirement), and live comfortably within our modest means. Both of our sons have found creative work (without our having had to pay for college educations--their choice). They love their work, and make a living at it.  I still have my dear friend whose enthusiasm for life, even as she prepares for death, is a shining inspiration. I am grateful that I have interests, plans and projects which keep me from from boredom and despair. And there are our joy-filled grandchildren, Finn and Sula, beautiful, bright, happy, healthy--the most cherished blessings.
I look forward to and love being with my family. When I visit, I am welcomed, feel useful and valued for the love and warmth, both given and received.  Worries are pushed, at those times, to the periphery. Finn’s joy and interest in everything lifts life above the ordinary into another realm, and he is pleased to have me near him. “I love you, Nonna,” he says, sometimes with his eyes closed, ready to drift off into that angelic state of sleep so visible on a child’s face. 
At bedtime the night after we placed our worry dolls under our pillows, Fiinn called to me, “Oh, Nonna, look!  The worry dolls--we forgot.  He reached under the pillows to gather them. Then, with wide eyes, “Hey, but I still have my worries; they didn’t go away.  He told me of his fears of having bad dreams that the house burning down.  I felt that twinge of compassion one feels for children when they begin to realize that there is no magic. Then, remarkably, he observed, “Well, the scroll did say it was a legend, didn’t it Nonna?”
“Yes, yes it did,” I agreed, with the sense that I was more the child and he the adult, “and a worry does not mean the thing we worry about is going to happen." The thing was, I didn’t entirely believe that myself. I have known people whose worst fears had been realized, and they bore a sorrow I can only (and do) imagine.
Finn and I, nevertheless, decided that we would again tell the dolls our worries and try again. “Nonna, I am afraid to go to sleep and have bad dreams. "Dreams, dreams go away.” Finn said earnestly with his eyes tightly closed.
“Well, we know what we to do for that?”
“Go to the other side of day, right Nonna?” 
After stories and songs, if Finn still felt uneasy, we would sit up on the bed and I start the incantation. Finn and I get into the cross-legged position, our hands on knees.  “Close your eyes and let your body melt, like a stick of butter in a pan. Now, let’s go to the other side of day. Take three deep breaths--slowly, in and out, in and out, in and out. Then I chant a Latin prayer learned in childhood, * “Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,” to lend an air of mystery and magic. The words are accompanied by hand gestures that Finn imitates, pushing day away in the seven directions, ending with our hands crossed over our hearts. 
“I feel better, Nonna.”
    I looked at him, and felt tears welling, “Nonna has to leave tomorrow, and I’m very sad. I won’t see you for a while, and I’ll miss you so terribly.” 
“You’re leaving tomorrow, Nonna?” 
“Yes, sweetie.” 
With his innocent, wide and wise blue eyes, he looked straight into mine, “Well, Nonna, it’s not tomorrow now
I felt my heart would stop.
Then we lay down holding hands and listened to the quiet. After a few minutes, Finn was asleep. It’s not tomorrow now, indeed. Why did I place my worry and sadness on him, as though he were my own little worry doll? Yet, instead of his taking on my worry, he nullified it with the wisdom, clarity and truth of innocence.
  No, it’s not tomorrow now, and it's not yesterday.  There is only "the present where time touches eternity," and that is heaven on earth. I fell asleep whispering the rest of the Latin prayer: ** dona nobis pacem.


*  Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world
** Grant us peace.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

JAPA











“If there had been only one Buddhist in the woodpile” 
That cynical idealist, realist poet of the people once pondered.
Substitute Waco, Texas with any and all complicated, absurdity of violence
Before then, until now, and beyond tomorrow. 

If Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, protector of all, had been in the woodpile in Iraq
Would the children have been saved or the Christians, Yazidi, Sunni,
or four young men whose own mothers could not save them? 
Barbarians took her name in vain and perverted her purpose.

Could any power prevent the mass murders, carnage, brutality? 
It didn’t, it hasn’t, it couldn’t.
Only consciousness can.
Not Bodhisattva- or saint-like consciousness
But the tiniest bit of wonder before the infinite universe
A modest intimation of human spirit
One clear glimpse of beauty, of goodness, of life and love,
Even for an instant
Can open the capacity for compassion for the other--
Her fear and suffering, his sorrow and joy

That glimmer of consciousness might have asked: 
"With my life, here and now, what will I do? 
What do I wish to bring into being, to experience? 
Supreme power over everything and everyone?
Shedding the blood of innocents with the arrogance of zeal?"

Their answer was, “yes.” The men of war have ever said thus: 
“I will assert and secure my power over the weak and helpless
Through terror, torture, rape and murder
Wearing black masks to cover our mocking faces of defiance
Speaking only threats with hearts of stone."

Such is the history of the world--a "nightmare from which we are trying to awaken,"
And what will the warriors rule over--these modern hoards at the gates of civilization--
Chaos and devastation?
Keeping watch, lest the same thing befall them
Born of the pain and malice they engendered in others?

And the nations’ military deus ex machina descends upon them
While the Buddhist and we wait and meditate

Clapping one hand

Monday, September 1, 2014

Untitled













Parts of me are missing
I don’t know what they are or where to look for them
I only sense sometimes--the gaps, the spaces that keep me from wholeness
standing under the stars last night, the tide coming in, the wind blowing, restless
preferring the familiarity of my small room
where I am not reminded of parts I cannot name in the dark mystery of the infinite. Why?
I fold the laundry, wash out the green glass, sweep the leaves from my doorway, put everything in its place
except the fragments of myself--out there somewhere, or in here
so near, but deeper than I can see or go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Boo













Mary "Boo" Budash - Crossed the Threshold in May 2014

You, poised at the bank of the Seine, alone
like a country girl innocent in blue 
Madone de la rivière you seemed
full of grace

We did not know you then
but sensed in the friend and poet you became
the beauty and goodness emanating from you--in that image.

Your inward gaze, the water's serenity
flowing from and to
that moment you left us
all that transpired and transformed along the way
visible to us now