Today I’m trying to juggle the despair I feel for the island of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (which evacuated to Puerto Rico – did you know that?), with the happiness I felt all day yesterday as I sat w/ a dear friend & my family over a lovely brunch.
I have known since I was a very young child (8? 9?) that I’m privileged. Standing on one side of an iron gate to our villa, only blocks from the ambassador’s residence, I watched a young ViệtNamese woman – certainly not twice my age – tell me in the unmistakeable language of hands & eyes that her infant held close to her flat breasts was hungry. And she had no food. That was my first encounter w/ my own privilege.
These days, as friends & family from around the country drive or fly to visit us in our beautiful new home, w/wages they earn at secure jobs, I remember almost daily how rare this is for most of the world. Two of my three sisters have come to visit – one has come twice! The third is coming in two weeks. I live blocks from my healthy, well-fed grandsons & their parents. Tomorrow I will get in the car w/ my beloved daughter-in-law and go to a nearby pumpkin patch to gather pumpkins w/the four-year-old in our family. We have plenty of gas for such luxuries.
In Puerto Rico, there is no electricity. As a friend of a friend noted, this isn’t because the power is ‘out’: it’s because the lines are shredded. There won’t be power again until the infrastructure is rebuilt. Such an innocuous word, infrastructure: EVERY POWER LINE. EVERY water facility. Dams, and roads, and…
I can’t get my heart around what my head knows. In my everyday life, I’m looking forward to my sister’s visit. Basking in the time I spent w/ a dear friend who was here for the weekend. Figuring out what I’ll fix for dinner tonight. Anticipating an elective medical procedure fully covered by (admittedly crappy, but still extant) insurance.
But in this time of far too prevalent American refusal to care about our fellow Americans, I’m heartbroken for mothers, grandmothers, sisters. Women (& men) who have only the spectre of cholera to anticipate. The end of paychecks, because FEMA has commandeered all island fuel for hospitals. Meaning: noooo offices can open if they could otherwise. Hence, no $$. (You did realise that the currency of an American territory is dollars…??)
In this time of ‘fake news’ – so often perpetrated on us by our own government – I can’t forget that these other Americans, whose only ‘crime’ is being where a massive hurricane hit, are without food. Without water. Days away from a cholera epidemic. Living among the decaying remains of a thousand thousand drowned animals. A million million pieces of trash. Fecal matter floating in the water.
I hope that totally disgusted you. Because I know of no way, other than the words I’ve practiced using for decades, to wake America up. To outrage the status quo, so that we INSIST our government do something more. And please: don’t insult my intelligence w/ the ‘big ocean’ crap. EUROPE is significantly farther away, but they’re already rebuilding. Us? Who cares about brown folks who REALLY probably aren’t even Americans. Well,l French president Macron does. In the ravaged Caribbean, he was there less than a week after the hurricane hit. Our inglorious leader (I can barely manage to think his name…)? More than two weeks LATER: 3+ weeks AFTER THE HURRICANE STRUCK.
The population of Puerto Rico is about the same as my home state, Oklahoma. And let me assure you: the majority of that state where I’ve lived for decades, where I was born, could care less about sending their $$ to a place almost half of them don’t even realise is American. After all, that’s true at the national level. And I don’t think Oklahoma is any better.
I can also assure you that Oklahoma (& its legislators, please note) would NOT be ‘okay’ with the treatment Puerto Rico is receiving if the state was devasted by a category 5 tornado, a phenomenon much like Hurricane Irma. If the entire state of Oklahoma lacked any hope of electricity for the next several months, and cholera was in the water, and the children of the state were doing w/out asthma inhalers, food, medical treatment, et al…? The state would be in arms. Quite literally, I assure you. Like the guys in Florida who shot at the incoming hurricane…
I’m trying to moderate my visceral anger with my Buddhist tonglen. But truthfully? It’s almost impossible to breathe in my anger and breathe out peace. When (& if…) I succeed, it’s when I’m able to think of my anger as only a fraction — an infinitesimal nano-fraction of the 3.5 MILLION Americans — of the anger & fear felt by a thousand thousand parents, grandparents, siblings: … I breathe for them, hoping I can somehow take on their rage & grief.
What about you? How do you reconcile our privilege with the heart-shattering plight of Puerto Rico? I’d love to hear something I can actually do, besides just throw my privileged $$ at this horrific tragedy…
This is what Pascal, my older dog looked like when he came to us 10 years ago. A tiny elf-eared puppy, easily frightened — a big cat, a leaf falling, the smell of the resident possum in the back yard… Any of those could do it. So could the vacuum — even a few days ago.
Today we killed him. Yes, I know: we say ‘euthanised,’ or ‘put him down,’ or ‘put him to sleep.’ But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like we killed him. Even though he was in a lot of pain, and wasn’t himself at all. He’s had dysplasia since birth — he was supposed to be OFA certified to NOT have dysplasia, but… — and it’s just worsened. He also had epilepsy, in a couple of versions. And our previous vet told us he has the dog equivalent of autism, as well.
Through all of his trials, he was still so beautiful. So loving. And such a mess.
A couple of weeks ago, he began having seizures. Two a day, grand mal. And he probably had a stroke, as his leg began to drag, and he showed very poor coordination. We took him to the university veterinary hospital, an amazing facility, staffed w/ utter saints. Seriously — I think the requirements to work there are more stringent than canonisation… I’ve never met more people w/ overtly compassionate affects in one place. Ever.
Turns out that the resident canine neurologist (yes, there’s one on staff) diagnosed a brain tumour in addition to everything else. So now we have a dog that needs pain medication for his hips, anti-seizure meds (2), and allergy meds. And he’s still doing verrrry poorly.
Then it really fell apart: yesterday, he tried to bite me when i petted him. He tried to bite his brother twice when poor Hugo just brushed against him. And when my beloved — Pascal’s version of the Supreme Deity, if there ever was one — reached down to pet him, Pascal tried to take his hand off. So we took him off meds to see if that helped. It did not.
We sat at the vet’s for almost two hours. Pascal’s veins were so thrombosed that the techs couldn’t get an IV in him. And think about it: if he didn’t want to be petted, even, how did a needle feel?? But in an oddly reassuring way, it was an affirmation that we were making the right decision, despite our grief.
Buddhists talk about ‘letting go.’ It means to know that everything is transient: life, certainly. But also love, pain, joy, grief. Everything passes — clouds across Big Sky Mind. I know that in a year, I will still miss my sweet mess of a dog. I also know it won’t hurt the same way. As I know that death always follows life.
But our pets are part of our family. At least, in my family they are. And as the owner of a 17-year-old cat, another aging dog, and a second cat still in his prime? I want them to live forever. With health & vigour. I want no more grief. The Buddha would shake his finger, probably smile, and remind me that I am attached.
I confess to it. As I confess to wielding the power of life, then death, over a small dog. We let go — holding a small sleepy body in a tearful hug before the vet gave him a shot to the heart (he never could get the IV in). We let go, wishing him dreams of possums in the backyard, and long walks by the river, and lots of treats. We let go of his pain-filled life. But somehow, he’s still so very here, and I don’t know how to really let him go. I don’t know how to explain to his brother (at least, that’s what we called them, although they weren’t littermates) where his buddy is. I don’t know how to explain to my grandson where Pascal is, either. And I don’t know how to let go of any of this grief.
Sometimes, I am acutely aware how inadequate a Buddhist I am…
One of my sisters left her long-time FB account at least a month, maybe longer. She’s been on FB for years. A 2nd has muted several ‘friends’ & even family (as have I). While a third is cast-iron, and seems able to keep her sanity. Me? I recently unfriended — then refriended — my cousin. And yes: it was political: I unfriended him after he insulted one of my friends one too many times, ‘citing’ spurious ‘evidence’ from sources like Agent Orange (my current fave name for our ersatz president), Breitbart, and the worst of the alt-right idiots. Please note: my friend wasn’t blameless, but she didn’t start the ruckus. She simply took it to the next level.
And I can’t handle it.
It didn’t make me feel good to unfriend him; he’s family. But it did make me less angry than when he was constantly popping up in my feed saying crap that’s flat (verifiably) untrue.
Still, I felt like I’d failed as a Buddhist. I know we’re supposed to ‘listen’ to each other. But what if what someone is spouting is pure poison? Do I have to listen to Agent Orange (my beloved’s name for president #45) spew vitriol about the Women’s March I was so proud to walk in, with my niece & grand-niece? Do I have to accept it? What about his clueless ‘tariff’ on Mexican imports?? Or the Republican Congressman who said folks could pay for the prohibitively expensive Repub alternative to Affordable Care if they just didn’t buy iPhones?? I don’t have a simple Buddhist answer for this one…
I wish I had a nearby Buddhist teacher. The pagans & Wiccans have a word for me: solitary practitioner. I read Buddhist books, websites. Talk about Buddhism to anyone who will listen (some would probably rather not!). And bumble along, trying to live by this truth, and that precept. Mostly I couple tonglen with a sincere effort to be kind & practice compassion. It’s probably not enough, but it’s what I’m able to do at this point. And breathe, of course…
If someone reading this has useful insights, I’d love to hear them. Because I can’t believe it’s okay to ‘accept’ the hate masquerading these days as ‘give him a chance.’ I will NEVER give hate, intolerance, and evil pretending it’s ‘for our own good’ a chance. I don’t think THAT is good Buddhism, either. If you espouse hate, you don’t get my cooperation. Period. If racism is your way to ‘unite’ people — against someone different from you — I will call you on it. The very Buddhism that counsels me to be compassionate also grounds my social justice work.
I did, however, refriend my cousin. After all, he’s family. Besides — I’m off FB for Lent. I can deal with it in April, right? In the meantime, I’m serious: how are you dealing with these virulently polarised times? Any tips?
I read in a book on journaling that it’s impossible to write about a single, solitary ‘thing’ or ‘place’ or even ‘person’ w/out a host of other things, places and people clamouring to be included. It’s true. It’s all part of the blue fish conspiracy, I suspect. I start off on bees, and end up back in ViệtNam. I think I’m going to be writing about Thanksgiving and family foodways and end up on bees and animal rights. In other words, I’m not a linear writer. Or thinker. Or driver. I may not be a linear anything!
So it worries me sometimes that readers will be hard-pressed to follow me, to read this blog. Heck, most of my own friends and family don’t read me! (And if you are reading this right now, bless you!) I used to blog for a national website. Still do, actually, although I intend to put most of my writing efforts into this space, and a manuscript project. Because there’s something slightly wild about being on my own, about not having to worry about my politics, my lapses into profanity. My non-linearity. (Non-linear moment: did you know that use of profanity is tied to higher intelligence? Hooray!)
The New Year’s startup brings all this to mind, as I consider my time this next year. Reflect on goals, priorities, all that I see upcoming: a move halfway across the country, to a brand-new house. Leaving this home where we’ve spent the past 20+ years raising a family, making lives and careers. If Buddhism is about anything, it’s in large part about intentionality ~ how we train our intentions, our motivations, to be compassionate to all. Even our own flawed & fragile selves.
Blogging for a website is different than doing it on your lonesome. I’m no expert on why we blog, but surely it’s closely akin to the journaling impulse: the writer Alexandra Johnson names a book after it, Leaving a Trace. Although I’m not sure that’s all of it — or even much of it — for me. Mostly I want to see what I think. Like E.M. Forster,”How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” It seems the reverse side of the coin of Forster’s life, the other half being “Only connect.”
They really do seem fingers & thumb of the same hand to me. You connect w/ the world when you journal. And what’s blogging but HTML journaling? So anyway ~ I don’t blog to be read. That’s exceptionally nice when it happens: it helps me feel ‘connected.’ But I don’t write/ journal/ blog to be read, per se. I’m a Forster protogé ~ I write to see what I think, how I feel, to make sense of it all. To record my observations for myself, to use later, or not.
The friend who originally recruited me to blog for the website told me to keep it ‘short & punchy.’ Sigh… I have a feeling no one will EVER describe my writing as ‘short & punchy.’ He also told me to leave the reader feeling good. He obviously wasn’t there when my husband BEGGED me not to read my 2nd chapbook at a poetry reading, saying that people should just slit their wrists and avoid the wait.
Ironically, I think in person I’m reasonably amusing. My friend Carol and I used to laugh so hard on the bus that folks looked at us funny (if we were drinking milk, I guarantee it would have come out our noses). But that’s talking, not writing. There is physical presence involved, the interaction of 2 or more folks. Real humour requires another party — not just me listening to me, or even you listening to you. It’s one of us listening to (or reading) the other. Like how you can’t tickle yourself…
My first, tentative thoughts on blogging were (& remain) that I don’t have enough to offer folks seeking spiritual comfort or insight. What I do offer is my own journey, begun as a teenager, and continuing still. So since I’ve always learned best by figuring out how to teach something (hence the various classes I’ve taught over the years for adult education), I’m back on this non-linear blog. Hard on folks who might think I’m some kind of ‘expert’, but I’m disavowing that position early on :).
Please join me on the ride. Who knows what we’ll learn, together?
It’s been a hard year, this election year… And it gets harder. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is an election that has set family members against one another. In some cases — I’m thinking of a colleague at a conference last weekend — husband against wife. That, on top of so many almost daily occurrences of police murdering innocent people of colour, on top of Hurricane Matthew, on top of…
It’s all just too much. So I got sick.
Now, please note: I didn’t get sick on purpose. ???? But I do believe that illness has its own reasons, and often you’re sick because of something in your life. In my case? I’m just bloody exhausted & overwhelmed. So I got sick enough (baby flu, for what it’s worth — I’m not dying here, but I’ve been pretty punk) to require long naps & not much more activity than opening a can of soup & reading an e-book (no pages to turn!).
And I stayed off of most social media, preferring to look at the floor plan of a house we’re buying only FOUR BLOCKS (!) from my beloved grandson, or dreaming of a new garden and bird habitat. Or beginning to say goodbye to this life I love, right here in the messed up heartland. The red, red heartland…
The universe, thinking I needed something to leaven my days, sent me this song. And I remembered: remembered how we came together to feed a continent riven by drought, starving to death. Remembered how music became a rallying cry for generousity that saved thousands & thousands of lives. Remembered how it felt when I first heard that mantra ~ we are the world, we are the people…
Because we STILL ARE. All of us — and we need to get back to saving our own lives, together. We need to somehow move beyond the miasma of hate that’s masquerading as a political campaign for so many, and reach out. TAKE CHANCES. Get to know that ‘other.’ You know: ‘the’ African American; ‘the’ Muslim.’ The autistic kid in your kid’s class, or the guy on the spectrum at work.
We need to look around and see PEOPLE, not terrorists or thieves or whatever political BS is trying to separate us.
I’m verrry lucky to have lived over much of the world. So that when other people are able to talk of Muslims hatefully, lumping that vastly diverse group of nationalities & ethnicities together as if Baptist were Catholics, I see Salina from Algiers, who lived across the apartment hall from me. Who taught me how to make mint tea, & was my friend. Or Yousuf, my husband’s friend, who had us over for dinner, and served us lamb on platters of silvered brass, shouting with laughter at bad jokes. Or Soha, whom took her doctorate in TESOL Education at OSU, in her 2nd language. And who is a better person than almost anyone I know: funny, kind, compassionate, a grateful mother, and a dear dear friend.
“Mexicans” to me are my beloved daughter-in-law’s family, who actually are Hispanic Americans, multiple generations of land-grant & Pueblo land owners in New Mexico. They are her mother, who has two Masters. Her grandmother, one of the most devout Catholics I can imagine.
Or a nurse who stayed with my husband when he was in the hospital, who was putting herself through nursing school. Or dear sweet Fannie, a professor at the university where my son & DIL teach, who came from Mexico to study math education, and stayed to teach and marry.
These ‘others’ are US, America. They are my friends, my family. They are the people I visit with on FB & Twitter, the people I ask for recommendations on LinkedIn. “They” are not ‘them.’ Each of the people in the world has a name. Had a mother, a father. A place of birth. A story that began with a birth. How have we forgotten that???
So today? Please — listen to the swell of the music. And remember: WE ~ each of us, every one of us ~ are the world. And we need to get busy. We need to be saving our own lives, folks. And let me tell you: hate will not do it.
What we need is a lot more love. More compassion. And a lot more music. Otherwise? We’re going to be very sick. For a very long time ~