December 25, 2010
"Mmmhhmm, we know it," people murmured.
Jacqui continued, "But the story does not end with the birth of a baby boy in a stable. The story continues. . . because this baby made a difference. This baby was a healer. But Jesus did not try and make a difference on his own, he appointed disciples and gave them jobs. He wielded influence, and he gave orders. He looked at his disciples, pointed at them, and ordered, 'YOU, heal the sick, and YOU feed the hungry, and YOU help the poor.' What he demanded of his followers is that they TOO be healers. He annointed them as such." She ended the sermon with a similar demand, "now YOU go out into this world and be HEALERS as well."
It was quite the demand, but as we shuffled out of the church into the cold, there was a shift in spirit. People felt EMPOWERED.
POWER. The word makes me shutter. It makes me think of greed, politicians, manipulation, and deception. More often than not, I view it as a corrupting force that elicits terrible actions in good people. The word holds connotations that surely are more negative than good, most likely because we have seen what happens when people take a drink from it. But it doesn't have to be as such, and it is time we re-evaluate what it means to be powerful.
Caroline Myss explains in her book "Invisible Acts of Power: Personal Choices that Create Miracles" that every action we do and every word we think is an act of power. She writes, "every action is an exchange of power between two people, no matter if that action is altruistic or acquisitive."
If power exists in the most simple exchanges--any interaction between two people--then regardless of whether I believe I hold power, I exercise it. Of course, I don't always use my power for good. When I snap at my siblings or am impatient in line or say a comment to a close one that I know will cause pain, I am influencing the world around me. I can just as easily bring negativity to a situation with one snide comment or instantly hurt someone's feelings with a twist of the mouth.
But it's Christmas, so I don't want to take about how power can cause suffering. I'd rather talk about how our power can alleviate suffering. How a smile at a person on the street can validate a human's existence, how a kind word of encouragement can help one's self-esteem, how a piece of food can ease one's hunger. But, we don't need to remember "to do lists of kind acts," we just need to remember that the nice things we do are powerful, and, once we remember that, we can remember that we have the power to be healers.
I'm not saying this to encourage grandiose feelings of self, I'm saying this so that we can start to believe our selves are full of grandeur. You and me, friend and reader, are healers. We have this power. And, fortunately or unfortunately, it exists whether we believe it or not or whether we align our actions to this belief. Instinctively and innately, we are gifted with a set of tools that can bring people relief--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And, intuitively, we know when we should do an act of healing, we just need to start listening to this intuition.
So, if this is true (as I believe it is), that we all have the power to heal, then how do we use these powers? This is what I'm still trying to figure out, debating between enlisting myself into a Buddhist monastery, starting my own non-profit, or moving to a random village in a developing nation and beginning my life anew (aka trying to accomplish "BIG" things) OR inching along down my path and challenging myself to be a healer in the smallest, most mundane, interactions during the day. The latter is certainly more boring, but at the end of the day, all we have is the small interactions--my most lofty goals are compiled of only small acts and interactions. And in these small actions, the subtlety of beauty and healing exists. So, in my journey towards something "bigger" (or maybe nothing big at all), my true test of power is in my daily encounters.
Perhaps quoting Mother Theresa's statement that "we cannot do great things -- only small things with great love," would be a cliche. But, I'm willing to be cliche, to shine light on a statement that holds great meaning. Aiming to do great things is a commendable goal, but aiming to be great when doing the small things is the true test. And, as healers, we must not see even the small things as small, because within the small rests the expansive opportunity to touch another in kindness.
I, for one, cannot flippantly throw aside Mother Theresa's wisdom as a cliche because my struggle against my own power is alive each and every day. There are times when I see myself as healer in the smallest of moments and there are times when I see myself as a helpless and frustrated bystander. This fluctuation has subsisted in me for as long as I can remember. There are days when I wake up and I am ready to fight the current and there are days when I'd much prefer to merely float down the river. But the days I choose to float is only is when I wake up under the false pretense that I am powerless.
So, today, on the birth of a baby boy who became one of the world's most famous Healers, I am going to awaken my own healing powers as well, wielding my power to alleviate suffering even in the smallest of acts, starting with . . . unloading the fricking dishwasher.
December 15, 2010
Watching this oblivious older man smile to himself made me smile. And as my eyes scanned downwards, I couldn't help but notice that this was the cutest man I had ever seen. He had white hair that was pushed back immaculately behind his ears and clear framed glasses. He wore a white pressed collared shirt buttoned up to his neck with a plaid bow tie. In a loose fitting coat, he had draped a silk scarf around his shoulders. His pants were slightly too short, which allowed me to get a glimpse of the deep purple socks he was wearing. And his shoes...the typical black, rubber-soled, old man shoes. His hands lay folded in his lap.
Watching him smile to himself in this adorable outfit while sitting too close to the man next to him melted my heart. And, in a not-so subtle attempt to capture this moment, I whipped out my i-phone to take a picture. The other man, fully aware of what I was doing, and very confused as to why I was taking a picture, got up and moved to a different section of the subway car. Whoops. I pretended like I was then writing a text message, to "throw the old man off,"even though there is no service in the tunnels. I didn't even need to pretend, the older man was completely unaware. I took four more pictures, including one of his socks.
We both got off and 2nd and 2nd. As he walked in front of me, I was torn between making small talk, paying him a compliment, or saying nothing. My internal struggle lasted the length of the subway tunnel, until we both approached the stairs to exit. "Say it, Ker" I ordered myself. "This is so awkward," I muttered, knowing what I was about to do.
"Excuse me, sir," I blurted. The old man turned to look at me. "I just wanted to say . . . that, well, I saw you on the subway . . . and you are the cutest dressed man I have ever seen."
After my blurtation, I realized that perhaps there were more eloquent and mature compliments of which I could have shared, but regardless . . . this is what came out.
The old man inhaled deeply and then he exhaled with an energetic, "Oh my gosh! Well THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" He started beaming and a borderline giggle slipped through his lips.
"Well, I can't WAIT to get home to tell everyone what you said tonight. Thank you for sharing that with me young lady."
"You're welcome," I said, and then fled the scene of the compliment. Because after all, compliments to random strangers are awkward, but full conversations with people in the subway are even more awkward.
"Have a wonderful holiday," I yelled over my shoulder as I waved goodbye.
"You bet!" he called after me, waving frenetically.
Alone up on the street, I smiled. Smiled at the sight of the smiling man--the "cutest dressed man I've ever see-- and smiled at how ridiculously long it took me to say something. But then the bittersweetness set in . . . why was I so scared to give a compliment to a stranger? How often am I walking on the street and walk past people of any age and think, "that person is beautiful," or "that child is precious," or "that woman has a wonderful smile," or see a person visibly upset and think "I wish that person peace." And how often do I ever utter those thoughts to the people themselves? Never. Really never.
What is it about society that makes us so fearful to engage with someone we don't know? What makes it even harder to look someone in the eye and to pay them a personal compliment? Why are the most loving sayings the hardest to utter, even to those that we know and love? I'm not really sure, but I'm going to try to speak my positive thoughts to people more often. Because it matters to people, and even when it doesn't, it somehow matters to me to share that with them. And though it is likely that a few people will think I'm crazy as I blurt ineloquent compliment, it's a risk that I'm willing to take to fight this trend of "say nothing."
You should do it too . . . I dare you.
December 6, 2010
what i will eat for dinner
or wear to work today
and beyond this trivial,
I am undecided about the career I shall pursue
or the faith I shall practice
I am decided about You.
I am decided that I will love You
for a very long time.
and each day, regardless of my indecisiveness
I will take comfort in the permanence of my decision
to keep this Love alive.
December 1, 2010
In an effort to dwell on my misery upon my return, I listened to Ray Lamantagne's sing his lyrics: "Just gotta get out of New York City, need a place where I can feel free, Gotta get out of NYC, NYC is killing me."
I wasn't even back yet, and NYC was already killing me, Sing it Ray.
I listened to the song approximately 26 times on repeat until I felt satisfactorily miserable. (There's something slightly sick about listening to music that you know will make you sad, but on long travel days, I love to tap into that subtle sadness that I would ordinarily shake off. It's fun to conduct an individual psychological study on how music can affect my mood or bring back particular memories.) Once I was content with how much I dreaded my return, I switched back to my chanting beats to reharness some positive energy.
Ultimately, I think my dread for the bustle of the City was the result of a delusional paradigm. I view vacations, and even weekends, as an Escape. And as such, these days away provide me an opportunity to escape from the routines of life, to avoid the distractions on the internet, and to spend time exploring my own creativity--a time where I can be fully be present, free from distractions, and connect with family and friends who are physically present without worrying about those friends and family who may await my interaction through technological means. By disconnecting from constant communication, I am able to reconnect with those around me, and, most importantly, reconnect with myself. While this, in theory, sounds healthy (that is removing yourself from places to reconnect), the delusion permeates this idea in two different ways: (1) that I must physically remove myself from my normal geographic location to reconnect, and (2) what I view as an escape should actually be my everyday reality.
I need to shift how I view "escape." Perhaps, instead of escaping elsewhere I merely need to return inward--to return to my innermost quiet still place. A return to simplicity and presence and authentic interaction. After all, that's why we like vacations. And I can create this return right here in the comforts of my apartment in the heart of New York City. This a slightly unfortunate realization because it means that I am responsible for creating my own relaxation and vacation-esque calm. It also means I shouldn't wait for vacations or weekends to recenter.
I guess for now, I'll be content on knowing that I have free roundtrip ticket to a place of calm within myself that I can access twenty-four hours a day. And the more I can escape to this place, the more it can become an everyday reality. Now, if I only could access some Costa Rican sun during these personal vacations inward.
November 17, 2010
October 28, 2010
that this morning, I awoke,
with flowers sprouting from my hand?
The sweetness of their fragrance made me woozy
The weight of bouquets
upset my balance,
and the moisture from the nectar
dripped down my arm
Confused and high on honey-suckle
I stumbled out the door,
smearing pollen against the wall,
waves of yellow streaks against concrete
Out the front door I ran, panicked,
as red and purple petals
feathered to the street,
trails of color filling out my footprints
i paused at the sight
of a child, wide-eyed and curious,
who stared at me, then
pulled out two stems of tulips
and then another child,
in stripes and smiles,
grabbed my hand and uprooted
which he held like a yellow balloon
thrusting my hands forward
and bowing to my knees, I waited
as person by person plucked
petunias from my palms
And when all my flowers
had been given away,
I stood up.
Looking at my hands in wonder
of only flesh and veins
I slowly ventured home, alone.
Laughing at my day-dream.
Walking silently down the street,
a gust of wind chilled my core
for warmth, I rubbed my hands together,
as soil slipped through my fingertips
sprinkling seeds into
the cracks of the sidewalk.
October 11, 2010
Although I am taking one class this year, I'm not enrolled in school. Yet I still feel that itch to start fresh and set new goals. So instead of waiting till New Years Eve, I'm making my new years resolution now. And one of my resolutions is to take a lot of my usual yearly-to-dos off my list.
Unlike some people who have bounds of energy and/or time, I realized (a long time ago) that I cannot "do it all." And I'm finally learning that this is ok. I can't cook all the time (or often), train for a marathon (or even a half), have a full time job, make weekly visits with my closest friends in and outside of the city, make new friends, spend quality time with Alex, have a disciplined writing schedule, spend quiet time with God, go to all of the hip places in New York City, take up painting, attend weekly meditations, volunteer, complete my homework, and research techniques for healing trauma victims.
My first reaction at not being able to "do it all" was slightly depressing. I felt guilty taking life goals off my list considering that there are people in my life who appear that they can do everything and still function. And if you are one of those people, well, good for you. (Show-offs.) But this isn't me. It's not when I'm doing everything that I live up to to my true potential. My true potential only blossoms when I'm taking care of myself, and taking care of myself often entails a lot of letting go.
So my new years resolution includes crossing things off the list so that I can focus on the things that pertain to my simplest and deepest desires. This year, I'm freeing myself from my pressures to be a good cook (or just "a cook"), to be in great cardiovascular shape, to find the trendy NYC spots, to take an artistic class, to go vegan (or just vegetarian), and so on. I won't bore you with what I'm giving up...but there's a lot. As my mom often reminded her children, "stop should-ing on yourself." In sum, I'm letting go of what I think I "should be" doing.
And let me tell you, there is freedom in giving stuff up.
October 2, 2010
the morning came too soon
and I awoke to the coolness of the tip of my nose
Tossing a knitted blanket aside
I slither out of bed, slowly exposing
inch by inch of me, my eyes still closed till
my toes shivered at the touch of the varnished wood floor
Rummaging through dresser drawers,
I find an old cashmere sweater,
and slip it over the bareness of my goosebumped skin
drafts of air tickle my hairs through its holes
smelling faint hints of burnt logs
I tiptoe through the stilled chilled room
the sight of light through windows awes me
its softness kisses dirty buildings gold
draping back the now yellow-lit sheers
I open the balcony door
accosted by the crispness of its coming
it dissipates the humidity of summer
still stuck to my lungs.
I breathe deeply my first breath
of the arrived season.
September 27, 2010
September 14, 2010
September 9, 2010
August 31, 2010
People don't really talk about this feeling, probably because the mere thought of talking about it makes them even more annoyed. In fact, because I am in a state of annoyance, I don't want to talk about it either. BUT, because I don't have a television and it's 10:30 PM on a Tuesday night and I don't feel like reading, I decided I am going to at least try and articulate my annoyance.
To begin, there's no real reason why I'm annoyed right now. It's completely unjustified, which makes it even more annoying because then I can't really blame the mood on anyone (which is always the easier route when you want to avoid taking control of your own moods). I actually didn't even know I was annoyed until I caught myself in the middle of a negative stream of thought, and then realized that I had been clenching my jaw for the past hour (a sure sign of an irritable state).
How to describe this mood? It's is like the yellow light in a traffic signal. Annoyance is not per se a bad mood (red light), but it's certainly not a go-ahead for positive and happy thoughts (green light). It's more like a "proceed with caution because anything you do right now may really piss me off."
There are approximately ten main things that really annoy me (I offer the caveat that I'm completely aware of my own hyprocripsy in naming some of the following):
1) rudeness (including condescending tones, "better than you" mentalities, or pathetic attempts to validate the constructs of hierarchy)
2) inappropriately loud voices (please stop screaming, thanks.)
3) homophobic, racist, or generally bigoted remarks (you'd be surprised at how many people don't mind hearing unprovoked mean-spirited comments about a person's immutable characteristics)
4) the act of checking one's cell-phone in the middle of a conversation (a sure sign that the person, despite pretending to listen, would rather be doing something else. also may be categorized as rude (see )
5) chewing popcorn in the movie theater (my family hates watching movies with me because I give them the death stare when they sit next to me and shove heaps of popcorn in their faces. One time my sister was chewing popcorn (very loudly I might add) in a movie and, because I found it completely distracting to hear her buttery fingers attempting to grab handfuls of popcorn during a quiet and sad part, I made her get up and sit in another part of the theater. I'm sure you will judge me because of this)
6) judgment (i'd prefer one not to judge the essence of another based on a differing belief (i.e. chewing in movies is annoying) or practices)
7) noise in the morning (excessive talking, mindless tv, loud radio, my mom clearing her throat = sure recipe for annoyance)
8) the sound of my dad eating cereal ( cant explain it, but trust me, it's annoying)
9) endless banter (it gets old after 5 minutes, if you'd like a real conversation, you can find me later)
10) people who have little spatial awareness (like when you try to pass them on the street and they unknowingly weave across the width of the sidewalk so you cant get around of them)
11) (i know i only said i had 10, but i thought of another) - when Alex takes out his contacts in random parts of the apartment and flings them, leaving little dry contact remnants that feel like shards of glass when you step on them) (they don't disintegrate...trust me)
anyways. . .
I think the main conclusion to draw from my annoyance is the fact that when I feel it, for whatever reason, I feel it. It's not worth fighting or trying to convince myself that it doesn't exist; I just can accept that when, for a moment of time, I feel annoyed, that's ok. And hopefully the mere observance of this feeling will be a step in furtherance of separating myself from it. Then, like these moods always do, the annoyance will simply pass.
August 26, 2010
As a child, my mom was surprisingly calm and even-tempered considering the personalities of her three children (her calmness probably foreshadowed her eventual decision to run off to India to become a yoga teacher). But the one thing that would knock her off her rocker (in a not-so-positive way) was. . . the BASEMENT. Just saying the word brings me chills, flashbacks of a shrieking mother threatening to throw out everything that was shoved down there. It was like when she went down into the depths of the house, Hades took her over and made her into a person that my siblings and I could only refer to as "evil mom." She would walk down the steps after an inspirational Oprah show and simply go ballastic.
The basement also made her a liar. In fact, it was the only time my mother ever lied. "I promise you," she would begin in a scarily whispered voice, "that if you help me and spend one day...ONE DAY...going through the stuff in the basement, you will NEVER have to do it again." We heard that freaking lie a good twenty-five times. Other times, she would make no promises and just bark orders, beckoning us to emerge from the comforts of our room by repeatedly yelling our name from the basement until we could stand it no longer and finally succumbed to her screams. "Kerrrrrryyyyyy" she would yell from two floors down, "I need you for just a couple minutes (lie) in the BASEMEEEEENT!" As we got older, she would return from her yoga room after meditating and sneak into the basement. Instead of yelling, she would just sigh and state "Shuffling shit...I'm so sick of shuffling shit." (a sure sign of a step closer to enlightenment)
But now, her crazed moments seem to make more sense after I too have slowly started to accumulate STUFF. And it makes me CRAZY. I have become my mother. I despise shuffling shit. (I already feel badly for my children, who will one day have to deal with a clothespin with a bucket for a toy...no Barbie Dreamhouses for them...)
When I lived in Santa Monica, I became friends with a man who essentially was a walking monk, Raymond. He spent his days walking up and down the streets, with nothing but a plastic bag which he held in alternated hands. I used to find him on various corners and we'd sit and talk. Unbeknownest to him, the years of walking awakened him into a modern day prophet. On one particular day, he said, "I think...we lose God a lot. We lose sight of him. It's like, picture a piece of paper. Then picture a small black dot on that paper. When there's nothing else on the paper but the dot, you can always see the dot. But when you start to add things to the paper, when you start to fill that paper with stuff, it's hard to find the dot. And then one day, maybe you can't see the dot anymore. Life is that piece of paper, and God is the dot."
Raymond's analogy deeply resonated with me. He, a man who had nothing, had freedom. He had the ability to see God all day because he was completely liberated from the distraction of stuff. He always had his eye on the dot.
Raymond's words echo those of Jesus who directed his followers to leave everything behind to follow Him; and echoed the teachings of Buddha who stressed that attachment to stuff, amongst other things, resulted in suffering. It the freedom from wordly "goods" that helps the Mother Theresas of the world and the Jesuit priests and the Buddhist monks remain focused. Stuff doesn't only clutter our homes, it clutters our souls and weighs them down, and distracts our eyes from remaining focused on a Greater Truth.
And while I'm not yet to ready to completely rid myself of some baskets full of trivialities, I'm forcing myself to give away some of my excess, if only to get better a glimpse of that dot.
August 17, 2010
August 10, 2010
Recently, there has been something deep and quiet that has arisen in the trenches of my heart. It has sat there so quietly that for a very long time I didn't even know it was there. And every once in a while, I'll think to myself, "can this be? is this true?" But only recently did I finally admit to myself that indeed this secret is how I truly feel. And it was so shocking and surprising and seemingly out of character that it took me a while to register.
My D Squared S is:
I don't believe in myself.
That is a stark and scary statement to hear myself say aloud and I still want to pretend that it's probably not true. However I cannot let it remain cloaked and entrenched in other thoughts, remaining unrecognizable in my consciousness. I have recognized it as what it is. And while I may be confident that I am competent in my daily tasks or profession, and I may be optimistic in my future goals, my deepest darkest fear is that I will not lead the life of purpose of which I think I am capable. I do not trust myself to do what I think I should do.
A few weeks ago, at a Faherty Family Barbeque, I stood in the kitchen washing off scallops while my eventual family members, Jack and Michael, prepped the meat. The men had just suffered the loss of their dad and father-in-law, respectively. Despite the upbeat tone of the night, a heaviness weighed in the air that allowed for a deepness of discussion. As we seasoned and chopped, Michael suddenly asked, "What is your biggest fear?" While my normal response usually would have been squirrels and turbulence, after a second (and the reality of the funeral the day before), I responded "the death of someone I loved." And then I paused, realizing that my statement was not entirely true. Fearing the death of another, while rational, is entirely outside my control. And the things that I truly fear the most are not what I cannot control, but that which I can, but do not. So, I changed my answer and it was the first time I outwardly admitted my secret to others:
I am not talking about the failure to attain physical wealth or prestige or fame. I am not talking about the failure of relationships. I am talking about failing my true self, failing my spirit--that is, the failure to pursue the journey that my soul has dictated I must pursue. Of course, I am still figuring out what I am "supposed to do," but the signs have pointed to a particular road and it's just up to me to follow the signs and listen to directions. But so often, though I see the signs up ahead, I subconsciously (or consciously) choose to take a side-trip, distracted by social fun or self-absorption or security or internet distractions. So my biggest fear is that I'll stray from that "yellow brick road" and wake up one day in complete comfort, removed from the realities of the poor and the hungry and the struggling, and think, "what about all those who are suffering that I have left behind?" "What about the people whose paths I refused to cross because it was inconvenient?" "What about the dreams that I had in my youth that I let deaden because of proclaimed impracticalities?" And if I have to ask those questions one day and I cannot honestly say that I pursued my heart's desires, the tears will fall...because I have failed.
And this is my fear. Instead of convincing myself otherwise, I'm trying to embrace this fear and convert it to a motivator as opposed to an inhibitor. I try to carry the fear along with me so when I start to go astray it can poke its head up, but before it can whisper "I told you so," I'm going to U-turn back to my path. I'm going to let the shadow of a girl who doesn't believe in herself follow me around as I go, knowing that a shadow has no power to dictate the direction of a woman walking in the sun. And then perhaps one day, in my older age, I will share secrets with my daughter at bedtime, and tell that my deepest darkest secret was that "I once believed that I couldn't do it, but I did."
July 31, 2010
Soon we were sharing the expression left and right, without discern and without regard of our audience. Most people didn't get the saying (which obviously made perfect sense), but we kept saying it regardless, and it became deeply entrenched into my daily language. My family was NOT amused. "Um...I hate it when you say that because we're NOT the same" my sister responded one day. "But we kinda are." I smirked." No, we're not." "Maybe a LITTLE bit?" "No." My brother didn't get the expression either, rolling his eyes every time I shrieked it in his ear. Even my mom gave me the "look" when I said it (although she was forever won over when I wrote her a poem for Mother's Day called "Why We're the SAME.") My dad was the only one who didn't seem to mind, in large part because he always agreed, that, indeed, we were the same (sucker).
Soon enough, the saying flowed so freely from my lips that I began to lose control of its usage. On the third day of my clerkship, I wore a red shirt, as did my co-clerk. "Look at you matching," my Judge joked. "It's because we're the SAAME!" I shrieked, throwing my upward palms on my hips. Silence. Really awkward silence. "I mean...not really..it's this saying that...well, nevermind, anyways, back to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure..."
Despite my excessive and inappropriate timing of the phrase, perhaps the irony behind it all is . . . we really are all the same. Deep down, fundamentally the same. And this sameness arises from our one true basic desire: to be loved. At the end of the day, that's really all any one of us wants. The only thing that differs is how that desire manifests.
The Enneagram, an ancient personality test, believes that there are only 9 personality types in this world (ranging from 1-9), and the differences of personality depend on how each number manifests this desire to be loved. 1's seek love through perfection; 2's seek love by providing for others; 3's seek love through achievement; 4's seek love through expression; 5's seek love through their intellectual capabilities; 6's seek love through loyalty; 7's seek love by being fun; 8's seek love by being in control; and 9's seek love by maintaining the peace. (My number is a 9, which brings up all sorts of interesting issues which I'll psychoanalyze in another blog entry, but if you're interested in finding out your "number" you can go to www.enneagraminstitute.com.)
So even though I may be one number and you may be another, and our personalities may drive each other crazy, there is freedom in realizing that our differences actually stem from our same deepest desire for approval and love. We're both just acting in the most best way we know how to achieve it. And this realization can break through the barriers of personality and behavior, allowing us to connect--vulnerable heart to vulnerable heart.
And so, if fundamentally our hearts beat to this same beat for love, maybe I won't be retiring the phrase, if, indeed, we really are the SAME.
July 21, 2010
June 13, 2010
As I left my apartment building in a fog, I grabbed my phone to call my mom, hoping to distract myself from my own feelings. She answered, but told me she would call me back. Ugh, I thought to myself, knowing I was now forced to be more present on my walk than I wanted. A block later, as I was about to cross the street, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. On the other side of the street, there was a man, face up, his upper body on the side walk and his legs extended into the street. Oh my God, I thought, as I quickly walked to see what was going on. Even before I could get a glimpse of him, an older Latino man threw his phone at me. "Talk to them, tell them this problem." "Ummm.." I stammered into the phone, looking down at the man for the first time and instantly having a pit form in my stomach.
--Oh God, ok, there's a man, I think he fell, his face is bloody, he is bleeding from the mouth.
--How old is he? the 911 responder asked
-45 to 50, I think.
--Is he conscious?
--Not really, I don't know, I mean he's not speaking, but he's moving his arms.
--Is he homeless? What else can you tell me about him?
--No, I don't think so. No, he's not. He, I don't know what happened, I just walked up, but I think he fell, and i think he hit his head. He's kind of shaking a little. I don't...know.
--Ok, we're sending someone.
When the 911 responder hung up, the Latino man thanked me, took his phone, and started to walk away. "Wait!" I cried after him desparetely. "No worry," he said, "ambulance will come." Then he walked away. I looked down at the man on the street. His glasses were by his side, broken. He was shaking, slightly, and for the first time he looked up at me and whispered, "please." Oh God, I thought to myself, I am not equipped to deal with this.
"It's ok, you'll be ok," I responded in a panic, "the ambulance is coming." I stood over him, torn between looking him in the eye and looking frantically around the street for the hopefully soon to be coming ambulance. Part of me wanted to touch him, but the other part shied away from such an act of intimacy with a stranger, even one that was struggling. People continued to walk by, some looking down at him inquisitively, others kept walking, looking straight ahead. A man stopped over him, "did you call the ambulance?" he asked me. "Yeah, yeah...they're coming.." I assured him.
The man then started to squirm and tried to lift his head off the ground, but quickly let it drop back onto the concrete, his head making a sick thud as it landed. It was only then that I knelt down beside him, and put my scarf under his head. The man stared straight into me, his blue eyes pleading. "Please...please..please.." he whispered again.
And then he grabbed my hand.
I took a deep breath and held his hand. It was warm. He squeezed mine. I squeezed back. A crowd was now starting to form. "This man..he is dying," someone stated knowingly. "Where is the ambulance?" another asked. I picked up the phone and called 911 again. "I'm on 7 and A, we're still waiting for the ambulance. He's not doing well. I don't know what's going on, but he needs help." "They're on their way," they stated.
15 minutes later, the ambulance arrived. I let go of the man's hand and stood over him with the rest of the crowd and watched as the ambulance put him on the stretcher. When the medics asked him his name, he could not respond. When the man was in the back, a medic picked up his broken glasses and, before we could ask any questions, jumped in the ambulance and drove off. The crowd dispersed. I stayed on the corner for a moment, trying to register everything that just happened. "I guess I'll head to work?" I asked myself, and burst into tears. Only, unlike the hour before, my tears were no longer for myself or my personal burdens. These tears were for the man on the street, whose name I did not know, whose prognosis I did not know, and whose life expectancy I did not know. These unknowns will forever remain. I would like to think, one day, I'll see him in the neighborhood walking around, and can smile at him when he passes. But perhaps, my only connection with him will forever be confined to the corner of 7th and Avenue A.
Sometimes, amidst the self-absorption of our own lives, our lives are slammed into the life of another. And in that moment, we must make a decision to use the collision to connect with that person or keep on walking. And if we choose to engage, the connection may be as subtle as a smile or a nod or as intimate as the warmth of a touch. And whether that act is enough or not will most likely remain forever indeterminable. But regardless of whether the warmth of my hand was enough for the man on the corner of 7th and Avenue A, I know that the warmth of his hand was enough for me. At least enough for me to remember the strength of the human connection and the power of the human touch. So, to the man on the street, thank you for awakening my heart. May you be healthy and well, wherever you are.
June 9, 2010
It is not unheard of that my closest friends will ask me a question, I'll answer, and right after they'll say, "ok, but how to you REALLY feel?" This usually results in a melting of inhibitions and an answer embodied with a deeper and more emotional response. But it takes slightly more of an effort to bring these responses to the surface. Why am I quick to share my joys, but slower to share my sorrows?
If there is an epidemic in this country, it is not the suffering itself, but the sickness of "desperate attempts to avoid suffering." We have become a society that despises pain. If it is physical, we numb it with medicine. If it is mental, we distract it with noise, internet, or tv. If it is emotional, we view it as weakness and therefore repress it in addiction, avoidance, or silence.
When people are going through a hard time and don't cry, we view them as "strong." When people are struggling and look on the bright side, we say "they have so much faith." But is rare that we look in the face of a crying person and say, "this act of crying is a true sign of courage- to feel sadness in the face of another."
Sharon Salzberg, a renowned Buddhist, noticed that as a society, we rarely are capable of expressing our feelings of pain with others. We often don't respond to "how are you?" with an answer of "I'm sad; I'm hurt; I'm suffering; I'm lonely; I am discouraged." Though these sentiments may later express themselves through further prying, often these feeling remain unnamed.
Salzberg noticed that our society has really only come to accept one word as a socially suitable means of expressing any type of suffering: "stressed." If we feel inadequate at work, if a close friend has ill-health, if our family is going through some struggles, if we do not have time to do that which we love--we tell the world, without hesitation, that "we're stressed." And those who listen can share that they too feel stressed. For whatever reason this word is easier to share. Perhaps, we view "being stressed" as more circumstantial, stemming from external sources, and it is therefore easier to admit since it avoids any commentary on an internal state. Perhaps, it's easier to share because it broadly means "I have a lot on my plate," but it is not specific in that no one has to know the true root of our suffering. But regardless for the reasons of its acceptability, it has become the universal word for pain.
Anger too is much more of an acceptable emotion. And not only are we not scared to share it, but we often find it empowering. Even though anger is merely a different manifestation of pain, we embrace. Our expression of anger hides personal suffering by blaming the pain on the act of another, and, therefore, we are not viewed as weak. When we witness acts or words of anger, rarely do we look at the person with a sense of compassion and think, "here, is a person of true suffering." Rather we think, "I wonder (what someone else did) to make this person angry; I wonder what occurrence (outside the person's control) made this person angry?" Similar to stress, the expression of anger frees the person experiencing it from having to delve into his/her true feelings of hurt and pain with others and with themselves.
How can we be better embrace our feelings of sadness? How can we learn to experience it, instead of fighting it? How can we learn to invite it in when it arises as opposed to trying to distract ourselves from it? Perhaps the mere acknowledgment of the pain is where it must start. Perhaps, when it seeps in, we must say, "hello there sadness, here you are." Perhaps we must sit with it and observe how it feels; not trying to fight it, but trying to engage in it-hand in hand. And perhaps when people ask how we are and we feel it, we can have the strength to look people in the eye and share, "right now, I am sad. But that is ok." And perhaps in doing so, this will be a true act of strength. And then, sadness will no longer be a weakness.
June 3, 2010
May 24, 2010
suddenly what was normal became rearranged
and instead of fighting the routine of life
it was for life that that he began to fight
he told them the news and they all began to weep
the reality of the fleetingness in their hearts began to seep
how long will it be? how many months? how many weeks?
but no one knows the response to these questions that they seek
it was God who held the answers, of life's secrets He does keep
how quickly his body changed, when the uninvited guest came to town
invading the body, turning strength upside down
when did the illness come, when did it arrive?
they asked how can we kill it to keep him alive?
but when the talk of cancer began to subside
of intense emotion no one could deny
and each person's heart began to open wide
one tried to take control, another just asked why
one offered a healing touch, others bent their heads to cry
one gazed softly at the ground, one tear fell from the eye
one asked if this was it, did this mean he'd have to die
though pain had existed in relationships past
there is beauty in talks of death, of a reality it casts
light on what matters and how love thrives
forgiving the trespasses and letting bitterness die
so of the messiness of life, the children began to sweep
pushing shallowness aside, the conversations turned deep
they began to share their gratitude, they began to share their thanks
they laughed at the rollercoaster of money in the banks
they reminisced about the good ole times, and of those they had many
of millionaires they'd be if for each smile they got a penny
they barbequed, they watched sports, they gently sipped their beers
or chugged them, either way, good times were always near
he watched them proudly as they grew, playing football in the dirt
sitting in the stands with a baseball hat and a Hawaiian shirt
always rooting from the sidelines for a victorious win
rooting loudly for Jack, Chris, or the twins
and with these memories the flaws that used to cause disdain
became an inside joke, only laughter did remain
because its not worth holding tight to the things in the past
its much better to let the wrongs seep out from clenched grasps
and in the process of letting go, they slowly start to see
the heaviness of that weight, it is now that they are free
so for now, in the present, we will sit and share stories
and wait till tomorrow to express any worries
because this moment is all we have and this is always true
but its only when we see death that we know what we should do
we should drop the trivial to-do's and the meaningless chores
gather with our family and try to love much more
monitor our words so only kindness reigns
express our deepest thanks, gratitude engrained
laugh at each other, occasionally give a roast
then flatter in another breath, raise your glass to toast
celebrate togetherness, celebrate tonight
cry tears of pain and joy, find peace then take the fight
find solace that whatever happens, of joyous company awaits
either family here or family at the pearly gates
the beauty in this battle is that no one has to lose
though the outcome he plays a part, the outcome he cannot choose
the resolution will be determined, through the spirit God moves
so though we do not know the cards that He is dealing
and of endless thoughts and fears is the mind reeling
the beauty is that this pain allows a time of healing
filling up holes with the hearts glue-like sealing
allowing love t0 be the subsisting feeling
gazing to the heavens-the now reachable ceiling
remaining in a time of prayer, continually kneeling
thanking God for the time we all spent together
sighing in thanks that love lasts forever
and there's no such thing as absence when memories remain
never subsiding, they saturate us like falling rain
so we celebrate it all, breathing it all in
gathering round, clutching tight to our kin
knowing that this time is truly a gift
to mend all separateness, no more is there rift
laughing through the tears, crying through the laughs
these moments shall be endless, forever they will last
let us cram it all in, so our cups overflow
drown in love now, for the reasons we know
get high on the present, drunk on this life
continue to battle, fight the fight
and bask in the glory of God's shining light.
May 5, 2010
I hate you.
I hate how you slowly seep into our lives as a game, convincing us that killing can be fun and that there can be winners when we play you.
I hate how you infiltrate our lives in tv shows, movies, and video games such that we become so familiar with you, we think you're normal. I hate how when I watched actual footage of US soldiers killing two innocent journalists in Iraq, my mind could barely distinguish fact from fiction. I hate that the first time I watched the clip, I felt nothing but numb.
I hate how our country of freedom is founded on you. I hate how we generated land by the genocide of Native Americans. I hate how we proclaimed that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, but lines later referred to Native Americans as "inhabitants of our Frontiers, merciless Indian Savages." I hate how you justified our enslavement of Africans. I hate how you have convinced us to deny immigrants, claiming that the DNA of America is white, when three hundred years ago America was only indigenous Indian and Mexican.
I hate how you use the sexual organs of men to rape women, penetrating them so deeply that the only thing more torn than their vaginas is their sense of dignity. I hate how you tell women to commit acts of violence on themselves, encouraging us to starve our bodies for beauty, subjugating ourselves to sexual objects, and shaming us to insert silicon and botox into our flesh.
I hate how you pretend to be funny; tell us to laugh at drunken debaucles that lead to fights and screaming, and evade responsibility for the aggression by blaming alcohol. I hate you how hide beneath the guise of racist and homophobic jokes, allowing laughter to subdue indignation.
I hate how you blind us with beauty, such that we think minerals mined by war criminals and clothing made through slave labor are beautiful.
I hate how you cloak yourself in principles like "freedom" and "democracy," and shove the death of innocent masses into the graves of a few terrorists. I hate how you pretend that the violence is contained to a bullet, denying that the death of any human undoubtedly fosters and perpetuates more hatred and violence.
I hate how you create a hierarchy of righteousness, labeling torture against our enemies as necessary, and the torture of others elsewhere as human rights violations; calling the poor who steal as criminals, and the rich who eradicate homes and pension funds as businessmen; calling those who defend their families in the inner cities as gang members and those who defend their country as soldiers.
I hate how you have convinced people that despite everything that our religions preach against, you are moral and for a greater good.
I hate how you manipulate us into believing that through violence we can achieve peace, despite basic logic showing that hate cannot breed love and falsities cannot breed truth.
I hate you so much I will refuse to use you to fight you. I hate you so much that I refuse to hate you. Instead I will deny your power by believing that the assumed powerlessness in nonviolence is power itself. I will strip away your aggression until you are cold and vulnerable, and re-dress you with the warmth of the human spirit. I will slowly starve you out of my life by refusing to feed your lies and then force feed you with love. I will tear down your walls of barbed wire and build bridges across the canyons of separation. Although I will not be active in violence, nor I will be passive in peace.
May 3, 2010
I've been to three of his concerts, two of which included some of the holiest moments of my life. Intermittent in the holiness, however, are reminders about the unholiness of people--aka there are always assholes at the Krishna concerts.
At my first concert in San Francisco, I was sitting alone in a church pew, squeezed between strangers. (My friends claimed to have other "commitments" that night..you know who you are, ahem Carolyn, Crem, and Per). Despite not knowing anyone, I felt connected to everyone. In fact, I spent the first song completely entranced by the people around me; all of us sitting quietly at first, many with their eyes closed, singing in unison, opening up our hearts, and chanting words in sanskrit that we didn't quite understand, but that we knew were holy hymns.
In front of me sat a large bald man sporting a leather jacket, aggressive jewelry, a couple tattoos, and a goutee. He was really feeling the music. I found the juxtaposition of his physical stature but his quiet chanting beautiful. As he chanted, he slowly lifted up one of his fingers, obviously expressing the "power of one,"and rhythmically pumping his finger to the beat of the "hare krishnas." He had a soft whimsical smile...UNTIL...
the couple next to me started whispering sweet nothings into each other's ears, undoubtedly feeling the love of this "power of one." Suddenly, Mr. "Whimsically Smiling Hells Angel" turned around and barked at the couple, "SHUT THE HELL UP!"
It was awkward. Really awkward. The couple paused in shock. I paused in shock. And then the man turned around, smiled, and started his "one" chant again. Umm..... COMO??!! I felt weird. And distracted. And annoyed. What the HECK?! How DARE HE?!
And then, there was my most recent concert a few weeks ago. I dragged my partner in crime, Alex, to Webster Hall in the East Village. When we arrived, there was a line around the block of people clutching yoga mats and meditation pillows. Everyone was smiling. When we finally got inside, we anxiously searched for a spot to sit down, finding a small place in the back. People were frantically trying to save seats. "You can't save seats!" a 40 year old woman-turned-kindergartner yelled. "Stop pushing me!" another meditator-turned-screamer yelled. Smothered between angry yellers who would soon-to-be-enlightened chanters, six foot one Alex awkwardly sat cross-legged, his knees scrunched to his chest. "Move OVER!" someone yelled out. "SHUT UP, we can't move ANYWHERE" another person yelled. "YOU Shut up!" another person yelled back. Alex looked over at me with a panicked look that expressed claustrophobia and bewilderment. "Hare krishna?" I responded. "I.....think I'm gonna stand," he whispered fearfully. "Good idea," I feverishly agreed as we jumped out of the mob scene, gasping for breath.
Rudeness amidst godliness is not unusual. My mom witnessed it when she was in an ashram in India, noting how yogis would hoard fresh fruit for themselves even if it meant depriving those further back in line. My siblings and I experienced it every Sunday after church when we would inexplicably fight during the 7 minute ride home. I see it every time I walk out of church and watch 300 congregants walk over a homeless person as they rave about the Word of God and the power of loving our neighbors.
It's as if the universe wants to ensure that the second we start to feel like we're righteous and holy, we are reminded of our flawed humanity....so as to say, "oh yeah? you think you're disciplined in your faith? deal with this asshole!" or "you feel full of God's love? try sharing it with this guy."
These recognized moments of un-enlightenment always seem like buzz kills. But perhaps it is these moments, not the obvious moments of peaceful holiness, that are the true gifts for our faith. They are moments that allow us to practice godliness as opposed to just observing God. They are moments that allow us to practice our faith, as opposed to just reciting our faith. They are moments that remind us that our religiousness is not just a belief, but rather a discipline that must be practiced to be perfected. They are moments that force us to stop patting ourselves on our backs for being "good" and lead us to kick our asses into being better. Perhaps then the holiest experiences are when we stop the chanting and simply send love to the assholes.
April 26, 2010
My mind is swirling of thoughts
The shoulds, the shouldn’ts the have-to's, the oughts
Unbridled emotions swirl around
Arrogances, annoyances, burdens abound
The clammer inside continues to rise
I can’t hear the external, I’m completely inside
Engulfed by past images or futures I want
The words I wish I hadn’t uttered continue to haunt
Fireworks of stimulated synapses exploding everywhere
Words burst into each other and evaporate into air
And suddenly from the depths of my noisy despair
A hear a Voice that Sternly Blares:
All is quiet.
I hear my own breath.
April 25, 2010
The quiet holding of a breath
that exhales with a long sigh
a gasp of air before she wept
she begins to blink her eye
but she holds the blink too long
and as her chin begins to quiver
you can tell that something's wrong
and just before she knows it,
you see the sliver of tear, the rest
desperately begging not to be released
so as not to let the sadness manifest
but still they seep through-quiet
tears blossoming from a downward crescent eye
rolling through the crevasses of her mouth
despite attempted blinks to keep them inside
and despite the subtle motions of her face
and the tiptoes of her tears
the delicacy of sadness breaks
and the gasps and sobs begin to near
trying to maintain her composure
she squeezes shut her heart
clenches her fist and clamps shut the eyes
of a witnessed break-down she will not be a part
and slowly she contains herself
and of a mustered smile she tries to make
her eyes get wide and bright
but you knows this attempt at composure is fake
so for now she will pretend to be ok
and wait till the comforts of her room
to break open her sadness
and freely wallow in her gloom
see sadness craves the stillness
it likes to be alone
hidden in the shadows
where melancholy's sown.
April 12, 2010
Unfortunately, my tendency towards straight geometrical patterns is what I most dislike about my self. Because not only do I physically find myself confined by small places, but I find myself living many days in a box. I think the same thoughts, I walk the same route to work, I eat the same food. I have the same weekly meetings and get-togethers. I'm living my days just like they're displayed on my calendar--in little tiny boxes, but with a different number for a different day.
And besides the squareness of my days, I am forced to spend most of my days staring into the damned glowing box of a computer screen. The Onion recently just had an article that headlined "90% of Waking Hours Staring at Rectangles." This is probably not completely statistically accurate, but it's not too much of an exaggeration either. This is frightening.
Stupid Squares and Rectangles! They rule our lives! We even force the vastness of the mind's creativity into them. Like now, in this moment, I'm trying to capture my intangible thoughts on life and fit them into the "posting box" of this website that falls within my rectangular computer screen. And when I paint, I find myself painting on a square canvas. And when I take a picture, it prints out onto rectangle paper and I try to preserve the memory in a rectangle frame. And when I write, whether it be poetry or a legal opinion, I print it out on the rectangular paper. Even the world's best novels are contained to little boxes full of print.
Is no one else bothered by this?! Is there some type of conspiracy out there to confine our lives to boxes? Is it not ironic to anyone else that the limitless nature of creativity is often expressed on the limited nature of a square? How can these limits not, at least on some subconscious level, affect us?
Regardless of whether the conspiracy exists, my constant daily struggle is to accept the confines of physically small places, but to seek vast spaces. Though we are already inherently contained by the limits of our bodies, the joy in the metaphysical is that our hearts and minds transcend their physical organs. Our thoughts, expressions, and creativity are free and spacious. They only become contained when we decide to place artificial limits on them. I want to fight to free my mind from these limits (even if it feels less safe). I'm pretty sure my deep cravings for the ocean reflect this desire. I take comfort in the ocean not only because it is beautiful, but because it is vast. Because when I look at it, I do not see limits. I do not see boxes or squares or confinement. I see endless motion and expansiveness. It is a vast space of unboxable life. And this is how I want to live--oceanically.
I don't want to be put in a coffin when I die (do you hear this, family?) I went to cremated and spread into Lake Erie. It will be my last (and surely my most successful attempt) to be free from the confines of a physical box.
April 2, 2010
And then there was the flute player in Pacific Palisades Park sitting on a bench in the rose garden practicing "Chariots of Fire."
And then there was the elder Asian woman dancing and singing to herself in a language not understood by me by the East River on a spring morning.
And then there was the musician playing Van Morrison "Crazy Day" in the subway tunnel during rush hour in the lower east side.
And then there is the recorder player Mickey who greets people emerging from the subway on their evening commute everyday.
The beauty of music is that it often finds us, sneaking into our awareness in the most unsuspecting moments. Providing us an opportunity to stop our thoughts and listen. Allowing us to witness strangers gifting their talents to other strangers. Letting us enjoy something that we did not have to create.
Music allows people to stand alone in a random part of the city and share a part of themselves with the passing world without seeming crazy or annoying. The public sharing of any other passion is looked upon with disdain. People who talk to themselves on the street are considered schizophrenic. People who share their faith are preachers. People who hold up signs are in-your-face protesters. People who make art on the street are graffiti-ers. People who hand out leaflets on their cause are annoying fundraisers.
But people who make music....are musicians. People will stop and listen to musicians. People will tap their feet to a stranger's beat. People will be moved to drop money in a hat when they pass by out of a pure appreciation of a sound. People will look up and smile in the acknowledgment that you too are listening. People will feel their memory or emotions awaken to a recognized song. Because of this, musicians have a rare freedom to uninvitedly reveal their talents and soul to the world and still be embraced.
I want to be a musician. I think a lot of us do. And though we may not have the lyrical or musical capabilities of producing pleasing auditory compositions, we have something within us that we yearn to share to the world. We want to share it although it will make us vulnerable. We want to voice our inner most passions, but fear such an act would deem us crazy. Or worst, no one would listen. We want to create something that people may, if only for a moment, pause and appreciate. We want the opportunity to show the world that we can create something beautiful.
Perhaps the myth is that only singers and songwriters and instrumentalists are musicians. Perhaps we walk through life resigned to listen to others' music, without realizing that we too can create it. Perhaps music is not merely notes or sounds, but the courage to vulnerably share an inner voice to strangers passing by. Perhaps the creation of music means quieting the yelling of the mind's opinions and allowing the voice of the heart to emerge. Perhaps the melody we create will find a listener. And then perhaps the true beauty of music lies not in what is created, but what is shared.
March 3, 2010
A few months ago, while waiting for the 4,5 subway in Brooklyn, I was staring particularly unscrupulously at a tall older man with perfectly coiled dreds down to his waist. When he looked over I quickly diverted my eyes. What an intriguingly beautiful man, I thought to myself, subconsciously imprinting his picture into my memory. We both got on the subway, and a few stops later, I got off.
Three months later, in a subway stop in an entirely different part of town, I was changing from the A line to the L line. As I worked my way through the masses of people in underground tunnels, I kept my eyes focused on those walking in the opposite direction. Suddenly, I stopped. The guy from the subway, the intriguing stranger from the 4,5 Line, walked right past me. I gasped. "I KNOW YOU!" I wanted to yell after him, reminding him of our moment of diverted eye contact. He kept walking eyes straight ahead with no glimpse of recognition and then he was gone.
The recognition of a stranger's face really affected me. How often do we walk by the same people over and over again, unaware that we are sharing unrecognized familiar moments with each other? How many people do we walk past daily not knowing that we know them?
This incident reminded me of another experience I had the year before. I was at a James Finley meditation in Santa Monica and after 20 minutes of sitting, the group of around 40 or so, got up, pushed back our chairs, and prepared for walking meditation. Right before we started, I slipped off my shoes, wanting to be barefoot. As we began to walk in a circle, head down, amidst darkness, I did not know who was behind me or ahead of me. But the slow rhythm of my walk was guided by the pace of the person in front of me.
Two laps into the meditation, I suddenly realized that I could feel the the warmth left behind from the stranger's step: the physical manifestation of a life in action. And as I felt the warmth from the ground, my heart warmed. I could not help but feel connected to this stranger. I was sharing with him an intimate moment that he did not know we were sharing--but I was physically and symbolically sharing in his walk of life. In 27 years of walking behind people and in front of people, I have never considered that our footprints leave behind a momentary heat of life and, whether or not we recognize it, we daily feel the warmth of a stranger passing. We are constantly unconsciously connected to the footprints of a stranger.
February 8, 2010
A Poem of Peace.
In the subtlest of moments, life changes before my eyes
Often in these moments I take me by surprise
As I unclothe the preconceptions and take off the disguise
I am left stranded, naked, seeing the stark truth behind my lies.
I tell myself lies sometimes, in order to feel free
Pretending that as a human, I lack accountability
And so I am left in a world in which I make believe
Though my eyes are open...I still claim not to see
So this poem is a poem in pursuit of honesty
Of the truths that remain, that stem from my heart
I still have much to learn, but this shall suffice as a start.
Though I believe in peace, a life of peace had I swore
In reality, most of our lives are driven by war
War between races, Based on the color of faces
war of territorial gains, the claiming of spaces
war between politics and polarized wings
the destruction of common goals, of which divisiveness brings
War between ourselves-torn with societal mainstreams
Trying to figure out where to fit our own dreams
Torn between our natural image from which we were given
And a barbie doll image to which we're subconsciously driven
Blaming others that the harm we see is another's fault
Not seeing our role in things, our own actions an assault
Denying that the jewelry we wear and keep in our vaults
Have not come from pain, of these thoughts we halt
We tell ourselves pretty things come from a mine field
But deny that it is enslaved children who painstakingly yield
Minerals and diamonds in order to survive
And we hang them from our necks, so our own wealth thrives
And I pretend to make believe that my clothes come from a store
And not from a factory where physical labor leaves muscles and hearts sore
And I pretend that when Jesus said "if you have two coats, give one away"
He really meant you can save charity for a different, more convenient day
And I see us paying for exploitation
Justifying destruction for new creation
Perhaps this all my imagination
a make-believe of truth or a miseducation
But we're all a part of the proliferation
of a culture which seeks the domination
of indigenous species and all others we come across
democracy is a gift, but there is a line we have crossed
One voice, one vote; this is what I believe
not corporations electing Presidents because their motive is greed.
We're founded on freedom and principals of democracy
But when we engage in human rights violations, we engage in hypocripsy
Letting the world be run by a profit-ridden corporatacracy
Comparatively speaking, in this country we are safe.
But we always feel so threatened, perpetual fear we instigate
But there are places where people suffer much worse fates
In Congo where girls are subject to gang rape
Fistulas ripped, vaginas torn
Children abandoned, a population forlorn
Earthquakes in Haiti, people buried alive
North and South Korea, families suffering divide
Starvation in Zimbabwe, religious clashes in Nigeria
And health care for all here is causing hysteria?
I understand the need to preserve a certain status quo
But of the current state of things, is this the way we should go?
If being a nationalist
Means preserving self- interest
And becoming isolationist
Then to my spirituality and God will I seek guidance to step
Obeying the laws, but questioning the people we elect
And though I may be defined as poitically liberal
And my values declared impractical and much too cerebral
An idealist who lives too much in imagination-
To others I seem to engage in conservative conversation
Pursuing a moderate way and supporting religious vocations
However I am labeled, I seek to fight evil
That perpetuates extreme disparity and leaves others as unequal
Although I don't suffer from discrimination because my color is white
I know racism exists and minorities still fight
To overcome stereotypes and be seen in the same light
Frustrated by conceptions that white often means right
To say racism is over ignores a greater plight
And though I am straight, of the mainstream sexual orientation
I have seen loved ones cry tears based on gay discrimination.
And they say words don't matter, if you don't mean what you say
But I have seen sadness as a consequence of a joking "fag" or "so gay"
Sometimes intentions seem pure, we justify principals with beliefs
But if beliefs cause pain and suffering, perhaps we're missing a piece
Because while love can cause sadness and love can cause pain
Love doesn't treat the essence of one's being with disdain
And other lies that we believe, I begin to see...
I've come to realize that money is certainly not free
It may come at the sacrifice of who we may want to be
Hiding our dreams for financial security
Saving money for things that we don't even need
And our relationship with the environment, of this I have learned much
At times it seems that everything that we touch
the grass, water, forests, begin to destruct
We indeed have broken mother earth's trust
Like vampires, of her resources, we perpetually suck
it is rare that we stop at enough...
we always want more
turning mother nature into our whore
We treat animals and trees as objects for our use
Taking as much as we can, turning our eyes at abuse
Forgetting that like a time bomb about to blow a fuse
if we don't change our ways, it is us who will lose
But regardless of differences or what we each believe
from deep within our sorrows we all seek to be happy
If I can fill myself with love, pushing aside hate
Hoping that with openness, judgment will dissipate
And with judgments aside, in my heart there is more space,
I can better relate to others, of new beginnings I can create
Let us appreciate the difference, to acknowledge other sects
But still embrace diversity, ensuring no neglect
Believing what we may, but not owning notions of correct
We can build a community of differences based on universal respect
If we can demonize the injustice, and not the person
then we can start to live by love's assertions
of a religion based on kindness, there will be no desertion
So, to sum it up, in my quest to self-actualize
I yearn for a union of all of the divides
of self and God
of self and other
let other be brother
let me become we
thy become my
I try find to find peace in the "i don't knows"
Hoping that as I listen, my heart will grow
And observing the cycle of reaping what i sow
life will unfold in equilibrium, balance will flow
A new earth filled with simplicity
This is a dream I pursue actively.
Through lies, I hope I continue to see
And if God asks, "a fighter for peace who will it be?"
I will bow my head and fall to me knees
Here I am, I am waiting... God, please send me.
February 4, 2010
And then, I kept walking. Because that's what you do, right? Carry on with your life? Move on to the next obligation? I walked down the subway steps on 59th and waited for the 6 train. Something whispered inside of me, "that's all?" I stared straight ahead waiting for the screeching of an approaching subway train. "She was freezing, Ker," the voice whispered. "Go back." I didn't listen. The subway came and I got on. The train conductor called out, "train traffic up ahead. We're going to be delayed for a moment."
"Go Back." it whispered. I stared ahead, glazing over blank faces and trying to avoid looking at the train door which remained open. Two minutes we waited. The train started moving again.
I'm not listening, I thought to myself. I should go back...I'm not listening to...wherever the voice was coming from, be it my heart, or my conscience, or my guilt, or the universe. Regardless where it came from, I wasn't listening.
Oh well. Too late, my rationality chimed in as the subway jerked to the next stop.
We got to 51st street. The doors opened. It's not too late, I thought...8 blocks away...I could walk back to her in 8 minutes. She's probably gone though. Someone else is surely helping her. Gotta make it to work on time. "Watch the closing doors," the conductor yelled out. The doors didn't close. The conductor yelled out again, "doors closing!" The doors remained open. "Go." it whispered. The doors started to close, I grabbed my bags and dashed through the open door. Back to 59th Street I headed. I counted the blocks as I frantically walked. Definitely going to be late to work. I passed the stores I had just past, watched people sipping their coffees and rushing to work. My bags bumped against passerbys. I grabbed a hot tea to give, just in case. Finally, I reached the corner again. She was still there. Someone had taken off their jacket and wrapped it on her. Two people had already left hot coffee by her side.
I kneeled next to her. The hat I dropped by her side had fallen off. "Your hat fell off," I said. This time I put on her head. "Can I take you somewhere to get warm. Are you freezing?" She didn't recognize me from before, probably because I hadn't looked her in the eye and probably because she likewise avoided eye contact. "I'm not too cold," she replied, still shaking and looking down. "People are layering me up with clothes. My legs are in pain. I'm just gonna stay here." I paused. "Ok. that's ok...ok." I mumbled, wondering what else to do. I stared at her, finally asking, "But..are YOU ok?" She finally gazed up at me. "You know," she said, "all morning I sit here and people drop things at my feet, but not any one ever ask me if I'm ok."
She paused. And gazed back towards the concrete. Someone dropped some change in her cup.
"But I'm ok." she finally said. "I spend the nights in the shelter, sometimes at a friends' house. I'm ok. Thank you for asking ma'am."
"Ok." I replied, knowing that while she was surviving, she was barely ok. "Ok. I'm glad you're ok." I said, nodding one too many times.
We exchanged a few more words and then I crossed the street to get back on the 59th Street Subway. I started crying as I walked away. Crying because she was suffering and I had walked by her and it took me 9 blocks to turn around. Crying because I was someone who had thrown something at her feet. Crying at the justifications we tell ourselves to pretend we're not responsible. Crying at the hundreds of people who walked by her each day, pretending not to see. Crying at the kindness of those who gave her their clothes. Crying at the thought that no asked her if she was ok. Crying for the millions of other people who only want people to care enough to ask the three simple words of "are you ok?" Crying at the mere thought of the magnitude of suffering in this world. Crying at how it was only after I looked in her in the eye that my heart awakened to her need.
When I exited the subway in Brooklyn and approached the court house, I looked at the clock and tears brimmed my eyes once again. After all of my concern with timing, I was only twelve minutes late. I breathed a sigh of relief, "I'm ok on time," I thought. And then I paused, feeling the heaviness of the unspoken story encompassed in a shivering woman's words of "I'm ok." My heart hurt. But on to the next obligation.
January 28, 2010
But as slowly as my dreams subsided, one day they creeped back in. I was in Northern Nigeria having experiences so foreign I was almost certain I was not actually experiencing them. I shadowed a seventy-year old woman hiking through the bush, investigating religious conflict, traveling where she felt called, interviewing those in conflict, hugging those in need. This woman, Caroline Cox, epitomized a life driven by a heightened sense of purpose, of living the life she believed she should live. And because of this, her heart was free.
And so, half-way through law school, my world of possibility expanded. It was if, after being repressed for so long, the kinetic energy of these pent up dreams burst into the infinite leaving me chasing parts of them in Uganda, and Rwanda, and the streets of LA, and New York City, and Armenia, and Thailand. But the dreams had been stifled for so long, I couldn't quite ascertain the road to reach them. I couldn't even quite verbalize what my dreams were...and this made me sad. The girl who used to rest in imagination, now rested in imitation, mirroring the lives of those around me, wondering if I should want what they wanted.
Realizing that I had the power to dream again, scared me too. Because if I wanted to achieve my dreams, I needed to make choices. This is scary. This means I have control.
Although I am not entirely in control of my circumstances, I cannot be held hostage by them. I know that at the end of the day, if I don't attain my dreams, it is not because of societal pressures, or familial expectations, or closed opportunities...it is because I was too scared to pursue (and even sacrifice) what I believed I was called to do.
A couple weeks ago my book club (yes I belong to a book club and, no, I do not watch Oprah... yet) read the Alchemist. I had read it years ago, but it's one of those books you should keep by your bedside and pick up every so often to remind you of a life that "could be." As we sat around discussing the book, we went in a circle and each vocalized our inner aspirations. The question of "who do you WANT to be? what do you WANT to do?" invoked much more conversation than "who are you now; what do you do?" A lot of us hadn't asked ourselves about our dreams in a while; some of our dreams were simple; some were complex and far-fetched. But, regardless of what they were, the mere thought of them awakened a childish hope that anything could be possible.
My dreams as a child consisted of fantasies and castles and sugarplum fairies and prince of charmings. Now, depending on my mood, they are subject to change. The vagabond in me dreams of a life of travel and wander. The hippy in me dreams of living in a commune with my friends. The hero in me dreams of exploiting the rich and using their money to provide necessities to those in poverty across the globe. The materialist in me dreams of vacations on isolated islands. But most days, my dreams align with what I now believe to be my personal calling: to develop a self-therapeutic, voluntary, and step intensive program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, for post-traumatic stress that communities, who have no access to individualized therapy, can implement and take ownership in. I'm not sure quite the path this will lead me on, but I'm hoping as I go, the road will become more clear.
Whatever my dream may be on a given day, the simple act of dreaming blasts open the heavy bars of pragmaticism, of financial security, of parental desires, and of societal expectations. It allows me take off running to visions of foreign places, of love, of my heart's desires. It allows me to "see the world in terms of what I would like to see happen, not what actually does." (Coehlo). Though the pursuit of my personal calling will undoubtedly be filled with struggle and sacrifice, the reality of the path towards the dream makes the journey beautiful. And even though I feel that the road is long, I know that right beyond the "now" is a realm of possibility that awaits to be seized by a dreamer.
January 12, 2010
Hannah and I had plans to travel to Thailand for three months at the end of August; she was going to be interning at a hospital in Lopburi and I was going to be working in a home for sexually abused girls. It was surely going to be transformational...it was too bad that I believed I was never going to get there.
I don't really remember how "the" epiphany happened. I think I was lying in bed one night staring at the ceiling when I decided, "I'm going to die soon." And just like that, I became obsessed with death.
Soon after my realization, on one of our daily walks, I confided in Hannah. She looked at me incredulously, "Ker, you are NOT going to die." "But, I really think I am," I responded blankly. "Come ON," she started and listed off all the reasons why I was not going to die. I blocked out everything she said because she was convinced she was going to get bit by a rabid dog or contract malaria, dengue fever, and/or the bird flu in Thailand, so I couldn't trust her rationalities.
I talked to my mom about it. "Hmmmm...." she said. "Maybe you are going to..." "You think?!" I exclaimed, slightly relieved that even though I may be about to die at least I wasn't crazy in my belief." "Maybe...but I think you should see a therapist. We'll make an appointment with Dr. Goffman when you get back home in August." "Dr. Goffman ?" I asked, not recognizing the name. "Yeah...you know him, he's the marital therapist who got divorced from your old math tutor...the one with the long pink nails and all the cats who always said 'Shaloooom' when you and Cate arrived for your sessions?" He certainly would not be helpful.
So prior to my trip to the therapist and my trip to Thailand I was forced to sit with my death obsession for the next few months. It consumed a lot of my thoughts. My previous distinctions of life from death soon became blurred. Every time I talked on the phone, I thought that this could be my last conversation. It got annoying because even when I didn't want to talk someone, I convinced myself the conversation was worthwhile, because, afterall , I was going to die soon and this may be my last phone connection with the person before I passed away. My obsession with death was never fear-ridden or particularly sad; it was simply a firm belief that crept into my thoughts and made me appreciate, if not cling to, those fleeting moments that would have undoubtedly remained unobserved had death not been on my mind.
My nostalgia for a life that would soon fade permeated every activity. When I took walks on the beach I would stare longingly at women playing with their children in the sand. It must be nice, I sighed to myself, to live long enough to have children. When I ate my ice cream sandwiches, I'd savor each taste...I'm really going to miss these suckers I thought to myself as I licked my fingers. At night, I'd draft my obituary. I pictured my funeral. I got annoyed by the prospect of being buried, not cremated. I planned where my ashes would be spread (on the lake by my cottage in Canada) and the songs that would play as they spread through the air (enya maybe? no maybe snatum kaur.) I cried at how hard it would be for my parents to lose a child. I took joy in finally figuring out what death would be like.
When I returned home to Buffalo, I met with Dr. Goffman. He looked at me and smiled smarmingly: "well, Kerry...you leave for Thailand in a week and you're still alive, so that's good news!" "Yeah...I'm pretty sure at this point I'll die in a plane crash." I responded matter-of-factly. "You know," he started to drone, "that the statistics of dying in a plane crash..." blah blah blah. I stopped listening. I had already diagnosed the cause of my death obsession: the thought of myself living in Thailand, at this point, was so unimaginable that my brain couldn't register it, and therefore, I had convinced myself that because I couldn't imagine myself there...I would surely die before getting there. Knowing why I thought of death so much, however, didn't make the thoughts go away.
When Hannah and I met at the airport in LA a week later, I was slurping down a venti frappuccino in one hand (with whip cream of course) and eating a Wolfgang Puck pizza in the other. "This could be my last meal!" I exclaimed. 24 hours of travel later (and no sleep...thanks to my ridiculous consumption of caffeine), we landed safely in Thailand. I WAS STILL ALIVE!
Soon after my arrival, my thoughts of death dissolved into the tastes of my new life in Thailand. At the last leg of the trip, as I lay on my mat alone in an abandoned two story building in a Buddhist monastery (that's a whole another saga -see blog entry on "joy" in January 2009), I realized I kinda missed death. It's ever present presence had helped me see the delicacy of life and because of this I saw beauty more vividly. And it certainly helped me be a better person each day guilting me into treating each interaction, even if trivial, as precious.
And so, I got to thinking. Even though I don't particularly like pets (don't judge me), maybe our relationship with death is a lot like our relationship with a dog. It grabs our attention, forces us to walk with it hand-in-hand, and often causes us to stop in our tracks as we wait for it to catch up. Sometimes it barks at us and instills fear, other times it lies at our feet, patiently waiting until we acknowledge it. Sometimes its dirty and we don't want to touch it, but other times the thought of it seems gentle and sweet. Sometimes we get mad at it and push it away, begrudgingly knowing that no matter how much we ignore, it will undoubtedly be waiting at our door for us when we come home. Sometimes it forces us to change our schedule, but even when it is a burden, the appreciation of its existence brings us a greater joy. Perhaps then, it is not dogs who are man's best friend. It is death.