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 ~
Writing when I don’t feel like it. Being nice to rude people. Petting the dog because he deserves it, even when I’m wearing black trousers. Cleaning up the kitchen when I’m exhausted before bed because my husband did it in the a.m. Trying to be reasonable when people on FB are being idiots. This is practice.
It’s not just Buddhist practice. It’s practice for manners. For love, for metta — lovingkindness. Mostly it’s practice like violin or piano or baseball practice: because I’m not good at these things. Especially the whole ‘being nice to rude people’… And FB idiots…. Sigh. Especially in an election year!
I’m not really a very good Buddhist. I don’t meditate much at all — although I try to be quiet and ‘be’ during the day. And writing daily is a kind of meditation for me, as I’ve noted elsewhere. I don’t read the sutras very often. Probably I know more about Christianity than Buddhism, and I’m not a Christian.
I don’t eat vegetarian, other than abstaining from pigs. They’re too smart (they cry — more on that another post), so I don’t eat them. Or monkeys, or octopuses (and yes: that is the proper plural; look it up) although I know we’re not supposed to kill any being. At least I don’t drink (verboten in Buddhism), but that has more to do w/ family alcoholism and my desire to model having fun w/out drugs than Buddhism.
I don’t sit. I don’t go to temple. In fact, if it weren’t for the bodhisattva vow I made, I’d probably be considered just another bleeding heart Unitarian ????. But in fact, I identify as a Buddhist.
I remember going to Buddhist temple w/ our amah in Saigon — the ropy walls of a temple carved from the heart of a giant banyan tree. It shaped and framed my ideas of religion forever: it shows up in my writing over & over, even in my dreams, sometimes. A curtain of fragrant smoke from sandalwood incense hung before the entrance into the tree temple. Inside, a Buddhist monk — robed as all monks in Việt Nam are, in saffron — chanted the already-musical Việtnamese language. Something deep beneath Oklahoma, beyond Western, leapt up in recognition. This, I remember thinking, those very long years ago, is where God lives. This was the language God spoke, and the way God smelled. This was my home.
I never found the idea of God in any Christian church, I have to say. I’ve felt comfortable — as I did when I first sat in the sky-blue sanctuary of All Souls, my Unitarian home church, and the largest Unitarian church in the world. That’s probably the best Western religious home I’ve found. It’s the home of Emerson, Unitarianism. The academic, the scholar and writer and poet, we all feel at home there. And had I never been to Việt Nam or Thailand, I probably still would have ended up a Unitarian. It’s such an inclusive, open faith. There’s room for all the ‘mes’ — the neo-Pagan, who read Starhawk’s Spiral Dance; the Kabbalist who studied names and numbers and secret texts; the reader of both Testaments, and the Apocrypha, as well. The feminist scholar, the peace poet. The lover of Auden, the decoder of Pound.
Denise Levertov, in a poem I read once (‘A Clearing‘), said that “paradise/ is a kind of poem; it has/ a poem’s characteristics:/ inspiration; starting with the given;/ unexpected harmonies; revelations.” Sometimes I tell people that my religion is poetry. But when I think about it, as I told a friend, poetry is certainly my ‘practice.’ In the Buddhist sense of the word: your practice is your covenant w/ Buddhist doctrine. The Eight-Fold Path, the Four Noble Truths — all of which deal with suffering and desire, the roots of human despair. Your practice is what it is that helps you keep the Truths in mind, as you follow the Path. Sort of…
I know I should sit. I have, in the past. And I will again, I know. Right now, I’m practicing. Practicing how to be in the world. How to breathe when it hurts, not yell when I’m angry. How to walk into the fires that make me, always, a Year of the Dragon warrior, not a Bodhisattva, other than in desire.
A dear friend once told me to honour the dragon, to claim the fire that burns hot and bright, and find a way to use it. Maybe that’s what I need to practice. How to burn clear and true. Not how to sit, per se. But how to turn that flame of righteous anger to good purpose. I guess I need more practice.