Monday, December 28, 2009

Kwanzaa -- The Principle Ujima

Today is the third day of Kwanzaa. The principle is Ujima, the Swahili word for collective work and responsibility. When I reflect over the year to when I observed this principle, my mind goes to the last weeks of my mom's life. So many of us -- family, friends, hospice workers, pulled together to enjoy and honor her. One weekend stands out, one particular project -- taking down the king size bed my mom slept in, with her beloved king size electric blanket, and setting up the hospital bed that was to take its place. Bending over to care for mom had begun to take its toll on the back of the bubbly home care worker, Suzette. I had been put off by her at first--her super sunshiny manner--and she had suddenly replaced the Kenyan sister, Annie, I had grown to like. Who knew that I would fight to keep Suzette as long as I could, when the hospice nurse informed us that Suzette's agency did not allow her to give medicine? Suzette had so endeared herself in our hearts because of her loving way with mom. "I feel like a Queeeeeeeeen," mom had said one day after a foot massage.

The day of the bed dismantling the crew that assembled went to Cracker Barrel for Sunday breakfast, where we tossed around what to do with the king bed once it was down. Should it be put up in the other room, where two twins beds were, should one twin bed go into mom's room along with the hospital bed? Where would the components of the king size bed go, or the twin beds if disassembled? We're talking a 2 bedroom apartment here with a furniture filled den. These logistics may seem trite but with a variety of opinions and a need for a decision, it was an impressive task. But over food, the negotiations ended with an agreement that the king size bed would replace the twin beds in the other bedroom and mom's room would only hold the hospital bed--offering more room for visitors.

Back home, the labor began. My son-in law and son, took off their shirts and got to work. Mom was entertaining friends up front in the living room. My daughter, Annie,(there for the weekend), Bernadine, a family friend, and I turned our attention to the folded up hospital bed. Annie informed us it was an old model. Great. We didn't get far because we turned out to be in the way of the parts coming in. I was amazed how quickly that giant bed went down, followed by the twin beds. Slats, mattresses hugged the hallway but slowly Bernadine began stowing them, against the den wall, in the back of a closet,and behind the couch. That hospital bed proved the most difficult, for a good while we just couldn't figure out how to get the crank to work. But then Annie came up with the right placement of metal and niche.

It really did take a village that day. We worried that mom would not like her new accommodations but she responded well, and made it clear that the king size electric blanket meant more to her than the bed. So we folded it to fit her new bed.
UJIMA -- it felt good that day!

photo courtesy of The Insider

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pagans are People Who See God in Nature

I take great pleasure in wishing cashiers, doormen, post office clerks "Happy Holidays" at this time of year. It feels so inclusive and respectful. Not everyone celebrates Christmas and insisting on Merry Christmas as a standard greeting in casual personal exchanges renders other celebrations and people who participate in them invisible. One only has to flip the script and imagine everyone being greeted by "Happy Kwanzaa" or "Happy Hanukkah" to get the flavor. Of course if you know what someone celebrates that's different, and on Christmas day, I return a "Merry Christmas" in kind. In the case of Kwanzaa, a cultural holiday, many people celebrate it along with Christmas.

I've heard some people complain that this is too much trouble or that it's about being politically correct. It's too much of a burden to ask them to change. They are used to being recognized and feel quite at ease in their expectation that those considered outside the norm of Christmas (in this case)should just suck it up. I think it's the same kind of energy that led a school principal I knew to outlaw bi-lingual Latino children from speaking Spanish in the hallways.

The term politically correct is the language of backlash. It ridicules and devalues those (women and other marginalized groups) who were bringing into the public consciousness the ways in which common language and practices oppress. The fact that the media recognizes several traditions at this time of the year is about humanity and I'm glad we got this far. I hope that one day the begrudging will see the beauty in not using the power of a certain gender, race, class, religion or sexual orientation to discredit or deny recognition of the others.

That's why I felt such joy when my one and only bumper sticker came in the mail a couple months ago. It says, God Bless Everyone, No Exceptions.

So let me go further now, to Paganism, a tradition that has been doused with such defamation that I feel a pressure against me as I write in affirmation of it. Pagan has been used synonymously with heathen, the word that conjures up images of simple-minded natives in jungles or prairies, shame-bearing images. Webster dictionary defines heathen as "an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible, an uncivilized and irreligious person."

But yesterday perched on my couch, my eyes fixed to the sky, I watched its sunset dance, bursting yellow gold and poppy red orange, soothing azure cornflower navy blues curling, stretching, parading their kaleidoscopic marvel. I felt the wordless splendor of God and witnessed Divine order bringing nightfall. That is what Pagans do, they see God in Nature. What is shameful about that?

Let's keep looking, deeply, into people and places cast small and aside, and extend our listening to the barely audible voices. Let's turn our gaze within, to the smallness inside of us. Let's see if there isn't more room at the table of wisdom and goodness.

Photo by thandiwe

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Meltdowns & Tiger Woods

I have no interest in golf and unlike Venus and Serena, Tiger has not pulled me into his sport. He hasn't pulled me much at all, though I can't fail to notice he's a handsome guy. I can admire that he's a talented athlete and be touched by the love story between he and his dad, his dad and mom. But I can't get any kind of fire going for him given his reluctance to identify with the African-American and Asian part of his identity, at least based on what I've read. He claims no ethnic identification since he is made up of so many. So I'm neither disappointed in, happy about, or ashamed of his fall from grace.

Meltdowns are not fun to experience,though by the time you get there you couldn't give a speck about how you look or sound. I've had my share. You fall into some pit that feels all too deep, way too familiar, or triggers some old wound still moist. You just don't have the time, energy, or skills to deal with it, and your nervous system goes haywire in revolt or helplessness. And don't let anyone try to get in the way of that energy. Not without armor. It has to spend itself out. Then grown folks and little children resume their lives as functional people.

But a life meltdown is a whole 'nother deal. That's what Tiger Woods is up against now. Day by day, his life as he has known it is burning away, every part of it. And when the ashes stop collecting, he will be left with an unrecognizable life. I've heard brothers at my gym say, Elin should have known what it means to marry a professional athlete. I heard a female commentator on Entertainment Tonight say Elin should leave him straight away, Christine Brenner on Good Morning America say that as a role model who promotes himself with a certain image, his affairs are public business. I myself have been curious to see if any of these alleged mistresses were women of color. Not. When the life of a celebrity melts down it draws all kinds of attention, judgment, and even glee. Come uppance.

The heartbreak, the shattering of trust that goes with these situations is hard enough but to have to bear this pain and shame publicly is an ordeal that imagination cannot capture. TV, who knew how much it would change things. I think back to Edward Kennedy's Chappaquidick, Bill Clinton, and Gov. Sanford. I'm not much convinced that being a professional athlete is the core issue here or sex addiction, for that matter.

Life meltdowns pull the covers, open the trap doors, bare the trees of truth from false words, and insist on greater authenticity, demand some new way of being. If only transformation didn't have to cost so much at times. If only we could learn a little sooner sometimes, heed the messages that come before the meltdowns are needed to get our attention. But who knows what anyone else's spiritual journey is about. I think our hands our full with grasping our own.

It is my hope that the meaning that comes from this meltdown in this family will eventually light an exquisite candle that will benefit them and those around them.

Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Friday, December 4, 2009

Grace and Forgiveness

I'm about half-way through Defying Gravity by Caroline Myss, my current spiritual read to begin my day. It's the second book of hers I've read, with a long gap in between. The title just pulled me in. On Tuesday I got to the section on Grace. She speaks of seven graces we each have the capacity to manifest, and begins with reverence.

Grace is a word that radiates a rich palette of beauty and meaning. I know the song, Amazing Grace, so well, yet I have rarely used the word. But it surfaced as a perfect description of my experience with my mom and those around her during her last few weeks of life. My cup overflowed with a profound sense of awe, wholeness, and gratitude, and my mind went back there on Tuesday. A couple hours later, I hit the lobby of my building and was nearly out the door, when my doorman, Michael, a generous, gregarious soul, says "Do you have 40 seconds?" What can I say but "yes." "I want to tell you a story," he says.

After spending Thanksgiving day with his parents, he goes to the attic to help clear out some things, and finds the guitar case of his beloved instrument from long ago. A sore point is triggered -- his parents gave it away to another family member when he left home, not with Mike's permission. It was sort of like leaving home and coming back to find your room converted to a gym or some such. But he didn't say anything about the old wound that day, just offered to take the case. At this point, Mike comes towards me from behind the desk, his subcompact digital camera in hand, and says, "Let me show you what I found that night being thrown away down the block from my parents when I was leaving." I reach for my glasses so I can see. There in the small frame is a picture of two guitars leaning against each other. One, he says is a near replica of the one his mom had given away. He pauses momentarily, while my amazement kicks in, then goes on. He is sure that if he had chosen to bring up that old wound, or as he says "slam an 80 year old woman" with it, he never would have found those guitars.

"I think you are so right," I say. I thanked him for sharing the story, and held in silence my thought, that is Grace. I marveled at the story coming to me on the heels of my reading, and know it is no accident. I'm open to understanding its message of forgiveness, fulfilling its wisdom,at the ripe time. For I know matters of the heart cannot be forced by the brain, a bat or dogma. There is a rhythm of the spirit, of Spirit.

Photo by thandiwe