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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From Afar

Today my mind and heart have placed themselves in India.  Indians have experienced, and many are still experiencing, the largest power outage in history, with 620 million people without power today.  Six hundred twenty million people.  That's about twice the U.S. population.  As I was listening to a report about it, I was both heartened and disheartened by one fact: power outages are not unusual in India.

I was heartened because it means that Indians are more prepared than, say, you and I are, to deal with outages.  Because power outages are common, Indians have some plans in place to deal with them, at least on a small scale. For example, many businesses have generators for such occasions.  Where I lived in Chatra, as well as in many of the other SCN convents I visited, the sisters have inverters, machines that essentially collect electrical power when it is on, so that the energy can be used later when the power is out.

However, small-scale preparedness doesn't help the train system, which has been paralyzed.  It doesn't help the hospitals without sufficient power.  It doesn't help those whose access to water relies on electrical power.  It doesn't help anyone who has to navigate city traffic, where driving speed is about that of walking through knee-deep mud even when the lights are functioning.  I can picture the cars inching forward, avoiding people, cows, the occasional monkey.  I can smell the exhaust in the humid air and feel it moving through my nose and settling into my lungs.  I can hear the car horns, oh, the car horns, whose cacophony makes me want to scream.  I can imagine all of these amplified by the loss of traffic lights that, when working, might introduce some semblance of order to the scene. Might.

The thought of going back to India has been roaming through my mind.  I've found the thought lingering in those places I found peace, grazing on the sustenance of the love I received.  It's been looking around at the places where maybe I also provided a scrap of peace for someone, a serving of love to another, and wondering if perhaps I could again be nourished and provide nourishment if I return.

But for all those nostalgic sentiments, which grip me stronger than the frustrations, I am glad I'm not in India today.  I can imagine the frustration I would feel if I were without power.  I can imagine it, because it was a daily reality while I was there.  What is sad is that I remember forgetting that other people face far more serious consequences of the outage than I ever did.  I was indignant when I was inconvenienced by a power outage, thinking first of what I might not accomplish; only later, if at all, did I think about how it might affect others.

I hadn't really ever considered that until today. Today, as I sit comfortably in an air-conditioned house, I feel empathy for the Indians without power. I feel frustrated on their behalf.  I wonder why the government hasn't invested more in their power grid.  I equally wonder why India doesn't make use of solar energy to alleviate stress on the power grid (that thought is not unique to India).  These are themes about which I have little knowledge.  Perhaps I need to learn more.

In the meantime I will pray for my Indian friends. I will let my mind and heart remain with them.  I will allow the distance between us to bring me closer to empathy, to pull me out of the self-absorption I might enter into if I were standing among them. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Paying the Price


She was not silent.  They are certainly paying the price.   

At a party about a year ago, Savannah Dietrich, a minor, got drunk and passed out.  While passed out, she was sexually assaulted.  The assailants, also minors, took pictures of the incidents and shared their photos via the Internet.  They were charged with and pled guilty to first-degree sexual abuse (a felony) and voyeurism (a misdemeanor). They will be sentenced next month.  Those involved in the case were issued a court order not to talk about the case. However, Savannah Dietrich used Twitter to “out” the young men who sexually assaulted her.  As a result, the boys’ lawyers submitted a motion that Dietrich be held in contempt of court.  After news of the possible contempt charge spread around the world, the motion was withdrawn.
  
I have read a lot about this case in news reports, blog posts, and blog comments.  Many people have a lot to say about the events, and rightfully so.  Many have spoken out to affirm Dietrich’s right to speak her truth.  Too often, victims, survivors, of sexual assault are too afraid to speak about what happened to them.  As a result, their healing is hindered and whoever abused them goes unpunished and may go on to abuse again.  It is more remarkable when a survivor summons the courage to speak than when she (as most survivors are female) stays silent. Dietrich refused to be silent.   

Some have denounced Dietrich for her actions at the time of the attack.  Yes, she was a minor and she got drunk.  Yes, she was so drunk that she passed out.  That is irresponsible behavior, though, sadly, it is also common behavior for teenagers.  However, to say that her drunkenness made it acceptable for the boys to take advantage of her is despicable.  No one, no one, deserves to be sexually assaulted/raped/abused in any way for any reason at any time.  To blame her for their actions is a serious misplacement of responsibility. 

Many people have spewed hateful epithets at the boys who took advantage of her. I understand the impulse.  What the boys did was abhorrent.  The fact that they took picture of their actions makes the whole situation even more disgusting. I was sickened for many reasons I’ll not go into by the boys’ actions and some of the follow-up after them. 

However … And here is where my thoughts are likely to swerve from the majority of what I’ve read about the case.  However, after reading more and more comments full of anger and hate towards the boys, I wonder, “Is this anger productive?” 

I believe support of Dietrich is justified.  I’d also say that anger against the boys is justified.  But much of what I’ve read goes past the point of righteous anger into the zone of full-out, can’t-see-past-it, let-me-release-the-entirety-of-my-wrath hatred.   
  
That kind of loathing is not productive.  I’ve been in the place of loathing before.  For weeks, actually in waves over a period of months, being in that place left my eyes wide-open many nights and my back and neck aching with tension because my mind simply wouldn’t loosen its grip on my anger.  It was not a healthy place for me. 

Loathing is not a healthy place for anyone. Loathing can lead to a “revenge-seeking” mentality.  Revenge-seeking is not a healthy response to injustice.  Please understand: seeking justice is important.  Justice is critical for our world to move towards some semblance of peace. However, seeking revenge is not the same as seeking justice. Seeking revenge perpetuates harm, hatred, brokenness.  Seeking justice is an attempt move beyond, to love, to heal.

Healing is not only necessary for the victim of abuse, but for the perpetrators of it, something that I haven’t seen acknowledged in all the talk about Dietrich’s case. We may not think they “deserve” it.  Maybe they don’t.  However, for our world to be whole, all people, all people - and all living things, for that matter - must be whole.  “All people” includes both those who have been hurt and those who hurt.  Revenge-seeking does nothing to bring anyone to wholeness. Justice-seeking does. Forgiveness does.

Maybe it is not yet the time to forgive Savannah Dietrich’s assailants.  I don’t know.  Certainly before forgiveness is possible, the hatred-spewing must stop.  Maybe before forgiveness is possible, people should channel their righteous anger.  Perhaps the fury can be focused on supporting survivors of abuse; on listening to and hearing them speak their truth; on having important discussions about the climate we live in that allows such pervasive abuse in the first place; on including in those discussions serious introspection about our own role in perpetuating violence; on looking for ways to change the climate so fewer of us become perpetrators or victims of abuse. 

None of these steps would be easy.  All of them are vital if we wish to live in a society where  people are not taken advantage of because they are vulnerable. All are crucial if we wish to live in a society where those who choose to do wrong are not punished forever, but dealt with so that both justice is served and redemption is possible. We must not be silent.  We must move our world - towards peace, towards love, towards salvation.  Otherwise, we will all forever be paying the price.    
   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Will Be

"Pretty much every option is on the table for me right now." This is what I told a friend today as we were discussing my future.  She brought up a job that will soon be posted at her place of employment. Before the job even existed - it's a new position- we had discussed the possibility of me applying for it. "Except something that keeps me here."

So maybe not all options are on the table. I'm planning on selling my house. I have the wanderlust. Does it sound like I've caught a disease? My current position doesn't feel like a disease.  It feels like freedom.  What's so interesting about this freedom I feel is that, if I looked my situation through someone else's eyes, I would see obstacles, lack of money being the primary one. But, as I wrote a little over a month ago, money is not proving to be an obstacle. I received my tax refund. I've done some house-sitting and launched an etsy site (yes, this is a shameless plug for it).  When classes start, I'll be substitute teaching.  It's likely that I'll do some fund-raising for my next volunteer experiences.  I have faith that if I am meant to go first short-term to Iraq and then longer-term to Palestine, I will earn the money.  My life has flowed like that, so I can't help but trust that I can trust.

A friend of mine was talking about her sister for whom everything seems to works out with little effort on her part.  My friend has not had the same fortune. I'll admit that before our conversation, I have thought about the way our individual lives have evolved. I've wondered why mine seems to flow smoothly and hers seems full of rapids.  I don't know the answer.


I do know that when I look at obstacles as barriers, that's what they become. They stop me. When I look at obstacles as hurdles, they act like hurdles. I jump over them.    


I confessed to the friend I was with today that I'd like to return to India.  In my ideal scenario, over the next few years, I'd spend part of each year in Palestine as a human rights observer, part of each year in India volunteering and writing, and part of each year in the U.S. spending time with loved ones, writing, and perhaps speaking about my experiences. When I made my confession, her response surprised me.  She offered possibilities that I didn't know existed that could make the India portion of my dream happen. 
Her response gave me another reason to trust in what will be.  


What Will Be. It is a vague notion, but I nonetheless trust it. I remember last year at about this time when plans were evolving for my travels.  The plans that developed were not what I had originally imagined.  They were better.  They were better because I trusted what was telling me to commit myself to the Sisters of Charity and I trusted whatever led me to look up an organization mentioned in a stranger's Couchsurfing profile.  The organization was Project Hope, where I ended up volunteering for two months. The plans were better because, during my travels, I trusted when I was drawn to spend another day in Assisi, a day that proved to be quite lovely, and when I was drawn to Montenegro, a country that had been completely off my radar, to conclude my travels.

When I didn't try to mold events into preconceived notions of how things would be, they formed themselves the way they chose, rather than trying to squeeze themselves into my ready-made boxes for them. Custom-making their containers after they were fully formed worked better.  I trusted What Will Be.

What Will Be puts things on the table for me.  It takes things off, too, but always replaces them with even better things.  I'm going to keep the table clear, so What Will Be can continue to surprise me with new items on the table.  

 
            

From Ripples to Tsunamis


I am angry. I am angry that actions of one person, and the inaction of many, have rippled out to the lives of so many people who have nothing to do with the action or inaction.  I’m talking about Penn State.  Unfortunately, I could make the same statement about any number of news items. The way the Catholic Church has handled cases of sexual abuse would be another prime example of actions followed by inaction rippling into a tsunami’s worth of damage. But I’ll stick to Penn State for now.

A couple days ago the NCAA announced its sanctions against Penn State:  $60 million in fines, vacating all the football team’s wins since 1998, not allowing the football team to play in bowl games for four years, to name a few. NPR had a segment on people’s reactions to the sanctions.  Some people felt the sanctions were justified and appropriate. Others thought they were overly harsh, because so many people who were not involved in the scandal (though scandal seems too kind a word) will be affected. 

Here’s the thing we have to remember: our actions usually affect more than the people immediately involved in them, whether we mean for them to or not. There's a ripple effect.  To think that a person can act in isolation in today's world is simply naive.  We could talk about any action, but let's talk about Sandusky.  Let’s say he only sexually abused one boy.  At first glance, there were only two people affected: abuser and abused.  Sandusky was affected because, having not been immediately found out, he learned the lesson that he could do it again.  The abused learned - maybe to be silent, maybe to mistrust – I’m not sure what, but what happened to him certainly affected all his relationships after the abuse.  People don’t walk away from sexual abuse unscathed.   Effects of one case of abuse already rippled out…

Unfortunately, Sandusky didn’t stop after abusing one boy.  He continued to abuse; some people found out.  Those people did nothing. Inaction acted as permission. The ripples turned into waves…

For a more benign example of the effects of inaction, the classroom comes to mind.  Students talk in class; the teacher allows it.  Kids learn that talking in class is acceptable.  Once they learn that, they continue to push the limits to see what else they can get away with.  The stakes for them seem low enough to take some chances. Classroom behavior spirals downward.   

I am also reminded of an example from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. I don’t have the book, so I apologize that the details are a little fuzzy.  Anyway, the example was about subway trains in, I think, New York City.  Crime in the subways was getting to be a big problem.  The strategy: clean all the graffiti off the subway cars. Then every time new graffiti went up, it was cleaned off immediately. 

At first it seems like a ridiculous plan.  Then I think back to the classroom examples and I see its wisdom.  If the little stuff, like talking in class, isn’t allowed, the big stuff definitely isn’t going to fly. The classroom where talking isn’t allowed is probably a pretty orderly one. With the subway example, if something as small as graffiti wasn’t tolerated, if it was immediately addressed, then pickpockets and muggings didn’t stand a chance of going unpunished.  As it turns out, when graffiti was addressed, other subway crime rates went down significantly.  Subway riders could relax a little more during their commutes because those in charge upped the ante on crime.  For potential criminals, it didn’t make sense to commit a crime in the subway anymore.  The odds of negative consequences became too high. 

Every time Sandusky got away with abusing someone, it must have seemed that the stakes got lower or at least that they didn’t go up for him. If he could get away with it once, why not try a second, third, fourth, tenth time?  However, every time he got away with it, the stakes actually went up, not down.  Ripples.  Every time someone found out about the abuse and did nothing, the stakes went up. Ripples growing into bigger and bigger waves. 

The ripples-turned-waves eventually reached tsunami strength and crashed into the Penn State community, wreaking havoc on it.  I think it’s safe to say that those waves reached far beyond Penn State. The fact that I learned about it while I was in Palestine shows that the waves travelled pretty far.  Even now, those waves have the force to knock the wind out of people, to push them down.

I believe that the NCAA sanctions were appropriate and on par with the level of destruction done by one person’s actions and many people’s inaction.  I hate that business owners around the Penn State stadium may suffer because of lost revenue.  I hate that Penn State football players from 1998 to now have officially lost their wins.  I hate that I even have occasion to write about this. 

But that’s what happens when actions, bad actions, are overlooked and ignored.  The problem grows.  It festers, gets infected, and spreads. It’s becomes a tsunami wave that destroys before it levels back out into a calm sea.

My hope is that the Sandusky/Penn State case gives us, myself included, pause, when we first see a problem.  I hope that we will think more carefully about our actions - or inactions - before we carry them out.  I’m not going to go into my own history, but I could give some example of small problems in my life turning into big ones, of problems swelling and crashing down onto others, because I ignored them. I hope that recognizing those times will help me to be more proactive, to choose action over inaction, to do something when I notice the smallest ripples.  I don’t want anyone knocked over by the waves those ripples could become.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Engagement


I want to be engaged.  I realized that on my way home from Writing Group the other night.  For the sake of clarity, let me say that I am not talking about being engaged to be married.  I mean, I wouldn’t mind that, but it’s not what I’m referring to.  I want to be engaged with the world. I want to be challenged.

A few nights ago I met with my writing group for the first time. The purpose of the group is to share our writing and, in doing so, work to improve it.  A week ago, each of us submitted one of our works to each other for critique.  The purpose of our meeting was to talk through the critiques.  One by one, we took a piece of writing and highlighted the author’s strengths and weaknesses in that particular piece of writing.  For me, hearing what each person liked about mine was so affirming.  Hearing what didn’t jive with them, much to my surprise, was also affirming.  Those comments felt affirming because everyone in the group had taken the time, both before our meeting and during it, to give feedback, positive and negative, that could only strengthen the power of my words.  The process was invigorating.  It was exciting.  I drank a glass of wine, but I know that the buzz I still felt in my body hours later was from the energy flowing between us at our table.

Earlier that day, I’d had a theological discussion with a friend.  We didn’t see eye to eye on the topic we were discussing, but, similar to my Writing Group buzz, my mind was still percolating hours later from our conversation.  In fact, the topic is still rolling, floating, bumping around in my brain, hoping to get anchored again for further exploration. Or maybe, like the Higgs boson, it wants to be studied while it’s in full motion.  Thoughts do that sometimes.

Within the last week, I’ve had quite a few conversations with friends that have challenged and stretched me in the same way the above two experiences did.  Each conversation has challenged me to think more clearly and articulate more precisely what is going on in my brain. These are challenges I need.  Anyone who reads my blog knows that there are times when I leave thoughts half-finished.  When I talked about blog writing being “rough cuts” a few posts ago, that’s what I was talking about.

The process of blog writing engages me, but what’s missing for me is having someone right there with me to agree or disagree, to ask questions, to engage me in the moment I am trying to process the thoughts.  I think that’s why I like the editing process.  Someone else is reading and dialoguing with me about what I’ve said.  I’m being pushed.  I want to be pushed. 

Because I like a good push, every few years, I’m drawn to new challenges: from teaching elementary Spanish to high school Spanish (with all boys!) to high school theology to leaving my job to writing to human rights monitoring (still to come).  Each change is a push, an opportunity to engage with new people and new experiences in new ways.  With each change, Life reveals a little more of its breadth and depth to me.  I look forward to seeing what enchants and engages me next.  Want to be engaged with me?   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Walking Towards God


I was baptized as an infant into the Catholic Church.  I have also participated in the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation, and confirmation.  While those sacraments are vital in my faith formation, I can point to other places and times in my life that have felt equally sacramental: singing “Unnamed child of Bojaya, Choco, Colombia” over and over again during a School of the Americas vigil and hearing “Presente” sung as response by the thousands of people there; placing prayers for its destruction and transformation into the cracks of security wall in Bethlehem, much like I had placed prayers in the Western Wall in Jerusalem; singing in St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem; being welcomed into homes of strangers in El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, welcomed as a member of the family.  My path called “becoming a Christian” is about a lot more than the sacraments; it’s about recognizing the sacramental in the ordinary, allowing what I often see as ordinary to reveal itself as extraordinary.

Please understand that in no way, shape, or form am I trying to say that I’ve got this figured out or that I’ve developed an impeccable practice of recognizing God in the ordinary.  I haven’t.  I got a long way to go.  I was talking to a friend a few days ago about my plans: to go on a delegation to Iraq, to sell my house, to go back to Palestine as a human rights observer.  His comment was this: “You’re becoming a Christian.” He’s right.  I’m working on trying to be like Christ, my particular path to be closer to God. I’m on the right track (for now) to get there.  I’m not even remotely close to being there yet.

Yesterday I was reminded that my path is not the only one, that there are many paths to God.  I think I’m supposed to believe that Christianity, or more particularly Catholicism, is the only way to get to God.  It feels both na├»ve and arrogant to say that. 

When I think and talk about the idea of “one true religion,” I make a comparison to “staying healthy.”  Certainly, there are some general practices that we must do to stay healthy: eat fresh fruits and veggies, exercise, get sufficient sleep.  But when speaking of eating well, should we only eat sweet potatoes and nothing else?  Or when we talk of exercise, should we only play baseball to the exclusion of other sports?  No. To say so is ridiculous.  When considering “staying healthy” within such severe limitations, we recognize the folly of those limitations. 

We could same the same about the work we pursue. There is no one work that must be done by everyone.
In trying to contribute to the functioning of the world, people must walk their own paths.  My path will soon lead me to Iraq for a brief period.  A friend’s path led her to dedicate herself to campus ministry. Another friend’s path took her to a non-profit agency where she works in human resources.  Another friend is doing emergency relief work in the Philippines.   Each of these works is an attempt to live authentically, to use gifts and talents for the benefit of others. The same could be said for those who grow our food, pick up our trash, patrol our streets, and put roofs on our house.  We need all of these people for our world to operate smoothly (or closer to smoothly). Our world would fall apart if we were all bestowed with the same knowledge and the same gifts.   

This is also true of our spiritual paths, our paths to God, Yahweh, Allah, Being, the Father, our Mother, All That Is, whatever name we choose to use.  If we all understood God in the same way and responded to God in the same way, our understanding would be shallow and lacking in color.  Instead, we have a diversity of spiritual traditions and diversity within spiritual traditions from which to deepen and shade our understanding of God.  We need the mystics and the activists and everyone in between to help us reach a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the vastness of our Creator.  We need a multiplicity of expressions of faith, so that each of us can seek Being in a way that feels right to us. 

While we each have our own path, learning from the paths of others, recognizing and validating their value, and integrating what we might into our own understanding can only enrich the journey.  Ignoring the worth of others’ paths, denying their significance, and rejecting what we might learn from them only limits the dimensions of our insight into God and makes our vision paler.

My thoughts turned to this topic because the Muslim holy days of Ramadan have just begun.  I know there is a lot of hatred for and criticism of the Muslim faith and the way we see it being practiced today.  Most of us only see it in its fundamentalist strains, its most radical and most violent manifestations.  There are reasons to be critical.  I could say the same of the most radical fundamentalist Christians.  However, most of us, at least here in the U.S., don’t have daily interactions with Muslims and only know them through what appears on the news.  We don’t get to see ordinary Muslim life.  I had the opportunity to be among Muslims when I was in Palestine, Jordan, and Turkey.  The day-to-day life I saw looked a lot like my own: getting up, going to work, eating 3 meals, kids playing, visiting with friends, just normal life. 

Yes, there are practices in the Muslim faith I cannot accept (the way many women are treated in the name of Islam at the top of the list), but there are others that I find beautiful.  I think the practice of stopping 5 times a day to pray is beautiful.  We could all benefit from making more time to acknowledge that Presence greater than ourselves.  I am also intrigued by the practice of fasting during Ramadan.  Yes, I’ve heard the stories about people obeying the laws in name but not in spirit, but come on, many of us Catholics haven’t exactly pushed our spiritual limits in our Lenten practices, have we?

I know how I was treated by my Muslim friends and students.  I felt the love they had for me.  I knew my presence was welcomed, rejoiced, and honored in a way that was humbling and embarrassing to acknowledge.  This was the norm, but it felt like something special.  I learned a lot about “welcoming the stranger,” one of the things my Christian faith mandates, from hanging out with my Muslim friends.  I learned about generosity and kindness.  Ordinary and extraordinary.  No, Muslims are not perfect, but there are many Muslims, as there are many Christians, trying to faithfully walk a path towards God who they call Allah, stumbling in grand ways sometimes, but getting up and trying again. 

I am a follower of Jesus.  My Muslim friends are followers of Mohammad.  I also have friends who are Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic.  My prayer for us, all of us followers of a belief system (we all have one, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not), is that we see the light within each others’ traditions.  My prayer is that we may add their light to our own, acknowledging that our recognition of ignorance and our openness to others’ wisdom may only enhance the journey on our own particular path.  Accepting what we can learn from other spiritual traditions will help us see new hues in our spiritual spectrums, allowing us to see, ever more clearly, the extraordinary that exists within the ordinary, God within all.     


Thursday, July 19, 2012

It Takes a Village to Polish a Gem


When I try to do things all on my own, I don’t always get it right.  I know this about myself.  I need people to nudge, pull, or even shove me when I’m being lazy or am stuck in a mud puddle that I’ve somehow created for myself.  I need people to help me keep moving forward.  Sometimes I get all judgmental with myself about this fact until I remember that this is a quality I share with most, maybe all, of the rest of humanity.  I can’t do it – “it” being any number of things, but most immediately, “it” is writing - alone.

I’ve been revising some of my essays to submit for competitions and/or possible publication.  I’ve chosen the pieces that seemed to flow most directly from my heart.  Everything I’ve sent out so far comes from this blog, though I’ll soon be sending out new works, too. 

What I post here are works in progress.  I write blog posts, knowing that what I’m writing is not the very best I have.  This isn’t an admission I like to make, but it’s true. I haven’t done the work it takes to put a sparkling jewel out here every time.  If I did, if I spent time to really polish everything I post, there wouldn’t be much on my blog.  Polishing is a long process.  I’m not saying I don’t invest time into each post.  I do.  But I know I don’t take enough time to get all my thoughts out clearly and concisely.  Instead I try to write something that’s at least decent and hope that decent will suffice and that I’ll be forgiven for not offering Grade A writing all the time.  I focus more on getting the ideas out than I do on polishing them up.  They’re rough cuts, enough to get a glimpse of the gems inside, but not enough to see them in all their glory.  

As I am now choosing pieces to send out, I know that anything I select will require some serious polishing to get to the real jewel of what I’ve written.  Getting to the gem is not always easy and it is definitely not a solo job.  I need people to show me where to cut. I need them to point out the rough spots and scratches that I don’t see. 

It is scary to hand my writing over to someone else, even someone I trust, for a critique.   On the one hand, I want to become a better writer.  On the other, I am afraid that if someone acknowledges my writing weaknesses, it means s/he will also think less of me.  My brain knows this is not true.  The rest of me is not so sure.  Thankfully, everyone I’ve asked to assess my writing has been generous with compliments and kind in their evaluations.  This does not mean they’ve told me I should leave the writing as-is.  That would not be useful. It means they’ve been honest in telling me “This is good” and “This needs revision,” with clear reasons why either is true. 

The piece I’m currently editing came back to me all marked up the first time.  It also contained the comment that it’s some of my best writing.  My first reaction was despair: “Crap! If this is some of my best writing and it’s coming back with this many comments, I must not be a very good writer.”  Maybe I’m not, but I’m working on it.

Thankfully, soon after my woeful reaction, I heard an author interviewed on the radio.  He was discussing his latest work and all the people who had been a part of the process leading up to its publication.  I remembered, “Oh, yeah, writing is a process. Ongoing. Not made for one person.”  Just like raising a child, it takes a village to create an excellent piece of writing. 

Every piece I write for my blog has its own process, usually a solo process.  Together my essays are part of the larger process called “becoming a writer.”  Because I’ve been writing (though not as I am now) all my life, I forget that I’m really new at this.  I am definitely still “becoming” a writer.  

Becoming. One might think that as much as I love the process, the steps, the journey, and often value them more than I do the destination, Becoming would lead me to confidence, satisfaction, and renewed energy.  It does – sometimes.  If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. But becoming is intimidating when even my good writing needs a lot of cutting and polishing to reach the gem. It is frustrating when the actual clarity is less than I believe it to be.  It is tiring when I have to sand and polish, sand and polish, sand and polish.  Sometimes I get mental blisters from the pressure of it.  But that’s OK.  It’s what I need.  I need to build up the calluses that will help me work better and more easily as I keep becoming. Becoming a writer requires the work of a village.  Thankfully, I’ve got a pretty fabulous village accompanying me along the path of Becoming as I head towards Being.        

 Last night I had a conversation with a friend who reminded me that the way to become a better writer is to write.  To write and to write and to write. It is a simple enough notion, but I needed to hear it.  I’ll probably need to hear it again. He has been encouraging me all along. One resident in my village. 

Other villagers are my friends- and acquaintances-turned-editors who are reading and critiquing my work, something they don’t have to do, may not have much time to do, and yet graciously do, anyway.  As I give them my writing, I take a deep breath, knowing that I may need to take many more deep breaths when they give a piece back to me, marked up, imperfections exposed. I’m grateful that they’re taking the time to give me honest feedback.  They help me to work through the pain of blisters towards the comfort of calluses.  Their honest responses allow me both to acknowledge and accept my writing and myself where we are and to look ahead to where we can be.  I’m grateful that they are invested enough in me and my Becoming that they’ll nudge, push, or pull me closer to Being. 

If you are reading this, you, too, are part of the village.  Some of you have written to me about my writing.  Thank you. More villagers, more pushes towards Being.  If you have never commented on something I’ve written, your presence is equally noted (I can see you’re part of the village in my blog statistics) and equally important.  Presence is a gift not to be underestimated.  Thank you.  

Certainly there are other people I could name. My friends. My church community.  My former colleagues.  My family.  The village - the support that nudges, pushes, pulls, cheers from the sidelines - grows. How fortunate I am.  

Like I’ve written about becoming a writer, I could write about becoming a Christian (a topic also discussed with my friend who told me to keep writing) or becoming more fit or becoming a better aunt, sister, daughter, friend.  You may have your own becoming __________ process to consider.  Whatever fills our blank, we can use many of the same words about the process: confidence, satisfaction, renewed energy, intimidation, frustration, exhaustion.  Most important to remember, however, is this: it’s all village work.  It’s gem-polishing together, pointing out flaws not for the sake of pointing them out, but for the sake of making those gems sparkle and shine with a brilliance we wouldn’t even know was possible without our village urging us on through Becoming towards Being.     

Monday, July 16, 2012

What They Deserve


“Behind every war there is a big lie…The big lie behind all murder, from the random street killing to the efficient ovens of Auschwitz, to the even more efficient hydrogen bomb, is that the victims deserve to die.”  –Jim Wallis

“Does she think she is good because she kills bad men? Is she? Does it matter why she kills them? She knows she no longer kills them because they are killing her fellow citizens. That’s just a part of it. She kills them because she hates them. Does the fact that she has good reason to hate them absolve her? A month ago she would have answered yes to this question. Now she wonders who decides what is a good reason and what isn’t.”  -The Celliist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway

I finished The Cellist of Sarajevo todayA sniper in the novel grapples with her own role as a killer, her sense of self, and how her job of killing people one by one compromises the self she used to be.  When she begins working as a sniper, she takes a different name than her given name, her hope being that when she finishes being a sniper, she can reclaim her identity as the person she used to be before she had ever killed anyone.  As the novel goes on, she realizes the impossibility of being who she used to be, even if she discards her sniper name. 

I had a student one of my first years at Trinity who dreamed of becoming a sniper in some branch of the military, I don’t remember which one.  The idea made me cringe.  I don’t know if he achieved that goal.  A few days ago, I was behind a truck with this bumper sticker: “God bless our troops, especially the snipers.” Again, I cringed.  

I would call myself a pacifist, so the idea of anyone I know joining the military, and especially of being a sniper, makes me uneasy.  Let me be clear that I admire the idea of wanting to serve one’s country, though I believe there are many ways to serve.  As I have said in other posts, I respect a person who is willing to give his or her life so that others may live better.  I know people who have done so.  I know people now who are serving in various capacities.  But, as I’ve also said in previous posts, thinking about what a person may have to give up to serve in the military saddens me deeply.  I look at my students, I look at the soldiers I saw serving in Israel and I see so many young faces, so many lives that may be wasted, and I wonder why.   I wonder what convinces them to walk a path that may result in them killing another person, many other people, or damaging themselves irrevocably.  Though I know some of the reasons they choose to join, I can’t imagine making that choice.

I am preparing an application to join the Christian Peacemakers Team, a group that works primarily in Colombia, Iraq, and Israel/Palestine.  The organization is strongly committed to nonviolence.  CPT Corps members act as witnesses, accompaniers, and human rights monitors where they work.  In the application, I was asked to reflect on the idea of nonviolence and my experience with it. I am not sure I answered the questions well. I had a hard time verbalizing what I wanted to say.  I am sure of my desire to live nonviolently. 

In saying that, I don’t only mean that I will refrain from physical violence.  Nonviolence is much more than not being physically violent.  It is about treating others like people, no matter who they are.  It is about having the courage to speak truth to power. It is about creative problem-solving and compromise, finding a win-win when no such resolution is apparent. I’m sure it’s about much more than that.  It must be about preserving humanity, not just in the sense of protecting lives, but in enabling people to live free of fear and free of persecution.  It must be about being fair in judgments over wrong-doing, not seeking revenge, but rather restoration and rehabilitation.  It must be about preserving people’s dignity, even when they “don’t deserve” it.  If we think about our own worst actions (for isn’t it in punishments that the idea of what we “deserve” most often comes out?), do any of us “deserve” to be treated as persons of dignity?  Probably not.  And yet, as the title of my blog indicates, we are called to love our neighbors. Period. No asterisks with fine print about exceptions to the rule. We are called to believe everyone has inherent dignity and to treat all people with respect.

Loving our neighbors means treating others not as though they deserve the worst according to their worst actions, but that they deserve the best because they are, first and foremost, sons and daughters of God.  It is not our job to pass judgment, though we do it all the time.  I know I certainly do, a fact that doesn’t fill me with pride.  It is not our job, at least not the job of most of us, to decide whether another person deserves to die. In saying that, I will acknowledge that there are jobs that involve making life and death decisions.  But is making that decision always acceptable?  I would say no.  It is our job to love, to preserve life, and to create in whatever ways we are gifted to do so.  I hope that these are truths I will remember.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Army of Musicians

One of my favorite features of my iPod is the Notes feature.  I used it to write blog posts when I didn't have a computer as I was traveling. Now I find myself making notes on it during conversations, while I am listening to the radio, or while watching TV or a movie.  I also write down random thoughts I'm afraid I'll forget if I don't write them in the moment.

From time to time, I sort through the notes, deleting and updating as needed.  Just now I was looking through them and found an idea I wrote on May 14: "an army of musicians, whose task is to play music, to spread beauty, to protect our souls by nurturing them, to bring our defenses down, to calm us so we can rationally resolve conflict rather than kill to do so..."

I was in Budva, Montenegro at the time.  When I was in Podgorica a few days before I'd seen a billboard advertising paint with an image of a tank, painted pink and blue with flowers. I love this image.  It reminded me of being in Turin, Italy, where I saw a group of military musicians preparing to give a concert.  No guns slung over shoulders or caressed in arms, as I'd seen in Israel, the last place I'd noticed any military presence.  Just a group of men, standing around relaxed or getting out their tubas and trumpets.  I think that is where my May 14 thought originated.  

I am currently reading a novel called The Cellist of Sarajevo. Fiction based on a true story, it is about a cellist who, after a mortar attack in his neighborhood in Sarajevo, decides to go to the spot of the attack and play his cello for 22 days, one day for each person killed in the attack.  Like the army of musicians in my imagination, the cellist plays music to spread beauty and to protect souls, first his own, but equally anyone who hears his music.  It reminds his listeners of their humanity.  Music has that power, the power to reach the deepest and best part of us that sometimes gets buried under the rubble of daily living, especially daily living in a war zone, whether literal or figurative.  Creative endeavors, in general, have that power.  That is why art can be dangerous to those clinging to a dictatorial power.  Art is liberating, both for the artists and for those who immerse themselves in it.  

Tanks turned into pink and blue flower machines.  An army trained to kill turned into an army trained to revive spirits through music.  Creative powers. Transformational.  Liberating.   Ideas I can get behind, though I doubt I will ever see them.   They bring to mind the passage from Isaiah 2:4 (NIV): "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore."  It is another transformational notion, destructive tools turned into creative ones.  As I was looking for the Bible passage to quote, I came across an article from earlier this year about Kentucky soldiers training for a special agribusiness mission in Afghanistan.  While I am skeptical about the article in a way I can't quite put my finger on, I do like the basic idea of soldiers doing something that is more than "defense."  Perhaps it humanizes soldiers in Afghanistan in a way I need them to be humanized.  Maybe in the "Love Thy ________ neighbor" blank, "soldier" is a word that I need to write in.

Tanks turned into pink and blue flower machines.  An army trained to kill turned into an army trained to revive spirits.  Though I doubt I will ever see them, I will keep the ideas in my mind, for if I don't, if someone doesn't, they can never happen.  We, myself included, are only limited by the narrowness of our minds.  Let us imagine pink and blue tanks, armies of musicians, destructive forces (maybe even ourselves at times) turned into creative powers.  And then let us turn what is in our imagination into reality.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rose Petals

"We were showered with what felt like heavy rose petals, but was, in fact, human flesh."

A few nights ago, I watched a documentary ("Bhutto") about Benazir Bhutto, 2-time female prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated in December 2007.  She had returned to Pakistan from a multiple-year self-imposed exile for an election campaign rally.  Bhutto's story is interesting on many levels.   She was the oldest in her family and her father groomed her for leadership.  In a Muslim country, leadership would normally be passed from father to son, even if there was an older daughter.  Bhutto became the first female prime minister in a Muslim country, no small feat, given the general state of women in most Muslim-dominant countries.  That subject could be a post in itself, and maybe it will be someday.  Now I'd like to return to the quote. 

A previous attempt on Bhutto's life occurred a few months before she was killed.  A suicide bomber set off two bombs near the vehicle she was riding in.  Bhutto was unharmed but 136 people were killed and about 3 times that were injured.  The quote is a witness's description of the moments after the bombs went off.

Heavy rose petals that were actually human flesh.  A poetic description.  Beautiful in a sickening sort of way.  I wonder when those words were put to the events.  Did they come in the moments as the flesh was dropping, as her (I didn't get the speaker's name) mind tried to make what was going on slightly less horrific, slightly more manageable?  Were the words a defense mechanism- "these are rose petals falling, only rose petals"? Or did the comparison come later, as she grappled with how she could possibly explain what it felt like to be in a shower of flesh?  I don't know.

I can imagine rose petals falling.  Their delicate softness.  A deep red, saturated crimson.  The image of falling rose petals accompanies the image of a sweet flower girl, dropping the petals before the bride walks to her beloved.  The bride is certain that their union will be a lasting one.  It is quiet, or perhaps there is beautiful music, as onlookers stand attentively waiting to witness and participate in a joyful occasion.

Falling flesh.  Perhaps delicate and soft. A deep red, saturated crimson. A person filled with such hatred and certainty that dying in order to kill someone else seems reasonable.  Severing chances for any unity.  Screams, sirens?  People running in all directions, no longer onlookers, but potential targets in what was supposed to be a joyful occasion turned instantly into tragedy.  

These are things I cannot understand, even when I see pictures, even when I hear stories.  I have heard many stories.  I recently applied to go on a delegation to northern Iraq, one step (which I'll explain in a future post when plans are more definite) along a path that I hope and believe will take me back to Palestine. When I go to each place, I'm sure I will hear more stories. I wish that there were no such stories to tell.  I know there are too many.


I also know that each story is a story of survival, for there is a person alive to tell it.  Each story is a story of resilience and of hope, even when hope seems futile.  Each story is one that calls me, that calls anyone who knows it, to envision the delicate softness of people we don't know.  To express a saturated crimson passion for a more just world.  To be quiet and still in a world full of dissonant noise, so that ultimately we might not be onlookers, but participants in creating a joyful and peaceful world.  


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

One step forward, two steps back

This morning I was talking to a friend, who brought up the notion of detachment.  About a year ago I wrote a blog post about this very same topic.  Though I posted it, no one ever saw it because I wrote it before I told anyone I was writing.  At the time, I was feeling self-congratulatory.  I thought I was really getting a handle on detachment. At least for a moment, I knew and believed (both don't always happen at once), that I could only control my own behavior and no one else's.  I knew and believed that in my interactions with other people, the results were not only up to me.  


A year ago in one particular area of my life, I did, in fact, achieve detachment.  I took action that I felt was right, despite knowing that my action would likely not change the problems going on around me.  I was correct to think nothing would change.  It didn't, as far as I could tell.  Except that I had been changed.  I felt at peace.  I was satisfied with the knowledge that I had acted in accordance with the values I profess to believe.  I was confident that I had acted correctly and to my surprise and delight, I wasn't overly focused on the results of my action, results over which I had no control.  Detachment! Success!  


I think I may have regressed since then.  One step forward, two steps back.  


I have had a love/hate relationship with detachment for a while now.  I love the idea of it.  I hate trying to practice it.  That's not true; I don't hate it.  But I definitely struggle to practice it well.  I achieved success once, but letting go has never been my strong suit, whether it be letting go of things, of relationships gone bad, of my sometimes blind idealism, of my necessity to be right. 


When my friend brought up detachment this morning, I was reminded of my own need to give it a whirl again.  Right now.  I'm sure my current attempt will be followed by many more.  Practice makes perfect, right? 


I recently made a decision that I felt good about.  I felt that I was acting with integrity.  I convinced myself that I would be content with whatever resulted from my actions.  I waited, not so patiently, wondering if having to wait was a good thing or a bad thing.  My impatience for results should have been my first clue that I wasn't as detached to the outcome as I told myself I was.  


Finally, the effects of my actions became clear.  They were not what I had hoped for.  I was disappointed.  I went over what I had done. I still felt that I had acted fairly.  However, it was implied that my actions had, in fact, been dishonest.  Perhaps it was this, rather than the result itself, that plagued me.  Nevertheless, I again responded in a way that I felt was honest and straightforward.  Having done that, I hope that the matter is settled now, that there will be no additional aftereffects, and that I will be content to have learned some lessons, without dwelling on "should" or "but" (I'm not at that point yet).  If there is still more to come, I hope that I will have more grace in receiving and in letting go.  


With what has already happened, I continue to work on accepting and moving on.  I am trying to breathe deep.  With each breath I take consciously, I try to breathe out just a little more of what I need to let go.  My internal playlist is helping me, as it is playing a lovely a capella song in Spanish that just happens to be about letting go.  


Maybe eventually in my quest for detachment, I'll progress to two steps forward, one step back. Maybe sometimes I'll even take more steps forward without any steps back.  I think I have some work ahead of me.     

Monday, July 9, 2012

Small things and sort-of things


My mind wandered back to the Higgs boson (a topic that’s been with me far more than I’d expect since I am in no way, shape, or formal a science person).  When she did that (my mind seems to work independently of the rest of me sometimes, so I may as well anthropomorphize her), she started noticing all kinds of other small things and sort-of things.  Maybe she did this because one of yesterday’s readings (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) was about the power of weakness, a theme that fascinates me.  The idea fascinates me because it is so contrary to so many ideas that my culture promotes: “survival of the fittest,” “show no weakness,” “might makes right,” “show no mercy,” just to name a few.  My culture is not the only one that idolizes strength in the sense of brute force.  Many, too many, cultures do this.   I¸ however, believe in the power of small things and sort-of things, things that may be for good or for bad, things that ask us to pay attention, but may or may not be forceful in doing so.  You be the judge. 

I know I will leave words unwritten.  I know I will not string all words together with logic.  I do both with intention. We’ll see how this goes.   

The small things and sort-of things my mind encountered in her wanderings were the Higgs boson, babies, flowers, and germs. 
 
A seed.

A song.

A word.

A bullet.

A moment in time.

Each is small.  Each is powerful, sometimes powerful enough to change the course of a life, the course of many lives. Sometimes powerful enough to end a life, many lives. 

The Higgs boson. A particle small beyond my comprehension, maybe why I’m here today.  You, too.  The grass outside.  The mosquitoes buzzing around in the humid air.  The computer or phone you’re using to read this.  The chair you’re sitting on.  All of us.  Created from a spectacular interaction between subatomic particles. 

A baby. Small and weak, utterly helpless.  Her helplessness brings out the best in us.  His needs slow us down, forcing us to take time to nurture him.  The warmth of her body as she sleeps on our shoulder tells us that nothing else in the world is as important as this sweet girl.  His first smile elicits our own laughter and continues to provide joy long after his smile goes away.  

Flowers. Splashes of color, concentrated across fields or singular in appearance. Signs of spring, new life, new hope.  Love, celebration, commemoration, peace.  

Germs. Can stop us for a day, a week, a month.  Can end a life.  We don’t appreciate them, I certainly don’t.  Maybe there are lessons to be learned from these things that invade our bodies:  Take better care, eat better, sleep more, exercise. Slow down.  Or maybe: Appreciate the moments of health, joy, life that you have.  They are fleeting.  It shouldn’t take a bad spell to remind us of all these fundamentals, but sometimes it does. 

A seed.  Useless in a package. Life-producing in soil.  Soil and seed in concert with each other until a new existence emerges.  A flower.  A bush.  A tree.  Creation unceasing. 

A song played.  Sounds and words coming together to create a melody, a memory, relief, understanding, release.  Heard differently each time from every ear.  Brief in its temporal existence.  Eternal as it lives in the soul. 

A word.  The mere representation of an idea or thing.  Not mere.  Begets animosity or generosity.  Hurts or heals.  Divides or unites. 

A bullet.  To bring food to the table, to protect (so they say), to kill, for sport, sometimes all at once. Nourishment.  Confusion.  Sorrow.  Danger.  Death.

A moment in time.  Eyes meeting.  Crash.  “I do.”  Opening a door.  Seeing what we’re not meant to see.  “I won’t.”  Closing a door.  Nothing is ever the same.  “Guilty.”  Everything makes sense now.  New answers.  “I will.”  Fresh possibilities. 

Small things and sort-of things.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Internal Playlist and Queensryche

It is safe to say that before about 6 weeks ago, I hadn't thought about or heard the song "Silent Lucidity" by Queensryche in perhaps 2 decades.  I woke up one of my first mornings back in the States with the song playing in my head.

Waking up with a song in my head is pretty normal.  In fact, having a song in my head at any time of the day, waking or sleeping, is pretty normal.  Sometimes the internal playlist is annoying, like when the They Might Be Giants song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" was the single song on the list during my 4 days in Istanbul.  Sometimes the playlist offers me reminders, like Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With" did for me while I was in India.  Sometimes the playlist soothes me with the Taize songs "Veni Sancte Spiritus" or "Ubi Caritas."  Thankfully, the internal playlist is large and varied, so much so that what it dredges up sometimes surprises me. 

Waking up to "Silent Lucidity" was definitely unexpected.  Even when the song was popular, I didn't love it enough to learn the lyrics.  When I woke up to it, the lyrics weren't there.  My mind played the music and the title words "silent lucidity." 

After hearing the song from within, I was curious as to why it might have popped up, so I looked up the lyrics. After doing so, I thought about buying the song on iTunes, but I didn't.  However, I think the song wants to stick with me for a while, because again this morning, I woke up with "Silent Lucidity" playing in my head.  It seems to want to join my mind's "top 25 most played" playlist.

I'm not going to talk about the meaning of the song or even all the lyrics (though you can find them here, if you really want them), but there are some words that make a lot of sense to me:

"If you open your mind for me / You won't rely on open eyes to see/
The walls you built within / Come tumbling down / And a new world will begin

I imagine those words coming from God (even as I write, I'm surprised that I'm giving credit to Queensryche for giving me a little message from God) and in that context, they make a lot of sense to me.  If we open our minds to God, we open ourselves to a greater depth than what we perceive using only our eyes.  If we open our minds to God, we begin tearing down the walls that separate us from God, from others, perhaps even from hidden parts of our own being.  Once those walls are gone, a whole new world is open to us.  I guess it's the World of Possibilities I've been talking about.  Maybe that's why the song keeps popping up on my playlist, to remind me to keep taking in the world around with something other than my eyes.

This afternoon as I was listening to NPR (I don't remember which program), there was a blurb about disabled travelers that introduced me to the notion of "sight-feeling."  Without the sense of sight, sight-seeing is not possible.  But that doesn't mean that the blind don't or shouldn't travel.  They simply explore places in a way that some of us don't: they sight-feel.  I think we'd be wise to do the same.  I think about my own travels and, while far too many times I have only taken in my surroundings with my eyes, some of my most powerful experiences have been when I have allowed other senses to take over: smelling (though not always by choice) the spices, the trash, the jasmine, the animals in India; listening to singers in St. Anne's Church in Jerusalem; listening to the waves rolling in along the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias, the Red Sea in Eliat, the Adriatic Sea in Petrovac and feeling the chill of the water in each place; letting my hand run over the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the security wall in Bethlehem; tasting custard apples, zaatar, and so many other foods in each place I went.  None of these experience required my eyes.  All of these experiences opened me up to some new part of Life.  Some of the experiences were inevitable.  Some I had to seek out, deliberately choosing to use senses other than sight. I am so glad I did. 

Going back to Queensryche, the song also contains these words, which I will again attribute to God:

I / Will be watching over you /
I am gonna help you see it through /
I / Will protect you in the night /
I am smiling next to you /
In silent lucidity

God's with us, watching over us, protecting us, smiling next to us, not only in our moments of silent lucidity- those times when we step away from the busy-ness of our days for quiet meditation, reflection, stillness, Life-exploring- but in every moment.  It's up to us to notice, to sight-feel that Presence, because I'm pretty sure if we only use our eyes to look, we're going to miss it.

In closing, I have to say that this is the first time I've paid such close attention to my internal playlist, and definitely the first time I've examined a single song from it so closely.  This makes me curious about your experience, so I'll end with 2 questions:  Do you have an internal playlist?  If you do, how do the songs on it interact with your day or your life, if at all? (This feels like the teacher in me needing to surface.)

I am sincerely interested in your answers, so I hope you'll respond.  Thanks!  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The World, or Universe, of Possibilities

"Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness." -George Santayana

I met a friend for tea the other day.  We've been good friends for about 7 years and as I was telling her the developments in my life, she said a most complimentary thing to me.  I don't remember exactly how she said it, but she told me that as long as we've been friends, she's noticed that I live in the World of Possibilities.  She went on to say that it is cool to watch how being in that world is playing out for me.  This was a high compliment from someone I greatly respect.  

I needed to hear that particular statement at that particular moment because just before we met, I had received some information that was weighing me down.  I was worried.  I was feeling that maybe my Wworld of Ppossibilities was a World of Fantasy and that I shouldn't trust it.  It's a few days later now and I am back to feeling comfortable that the world I choose to inhabit, the one where things will work out if I am patient and give them time, exists.

This week many scientists in the world of particle physics celebrated the announcement of the existence of what they believe to be the Higgs boson, nicknamed the "God particle," theorized to have induced the creation of the Universe.  From what I've read, the atmosphere where scientists were gathered for the announcement was like being at a football game.  My brother is a scientist and I've never heard him describe his work atmosphere as that of a football game.  Come to think of it, I can't think of anyone (except for maybe football coaches) who can say their work has that kind of energy going through it.  Granted, this announcement was a special thing, but still, I've heard some exciting work announcements and none have evoked a football game-like enthusiasm.  But why shouldn't scientists celebrate?  It must be pretty freakin' exciting to see a world that for many years you had only imagined does, in fact, exist. 

Like the life I am trying to live, science is all about the World of Possibilities. Think of the amazing things that have been discovered and created because intelligent, creative people chose not to accept what might have appeared to be limits. (Note: Some pretty awful things have been done in the name of science for the same reasons, but I choose now to focus on the positive.) 

Now that the Higgs boson is declared to exist, more questions are being asked: What else is out there to find? How does this discovery fit into the theories posed before the Higgs boson had been seen?  Does the latest discovery fit into the Standard Model proposed before it was discovered?  I can imagine heads spinning with giddiness as minds open up to new ideas.  

According to a New York Times article, a professor (Maria Spiropulu) said this about the Higgs boson: “I personally do not want it to be standard model anything — I don’t want it to be simple or symmetric or as predicted. I want us all to have been dealt a complex hand that will send me (and all of us) in a (good) loop for a long time."

This is a woman who clearly enjoys a good adventure.  I love her statement.  I love that she wants the World of Possibilities to keep expanding, much like it is said our Universe is doing, quite possibly because of the Higgs boson.  I love that she wants the world to be full of the unexpected rather than the predicted.  How many of us have ever said, "It wasn't what I expected, but it turned out so much better than I thought it would" about something that's happened in our lives?  Unfortunately, somehow we forget that thought and are dismayed anew when the next unexpected particle enters the scene.  Despite our fears, the Universe keeps expanding...

A friend commented on my last post that the admission "I'm still learning" is liberating.  It opens doors and windows to those hidden places that are so exciting to find, the very ones Spiropulu alludes to.

After tea with my friend, I considered what I would do with the unsettling information I had received before we met up.  Sometimes when I get bad news, I go into defensive self-preservation mode.  This sometimes sends me into a funk and I usually drag at least one other person there with me, whether they have anything to do with the situation or not. 

After thinking carefully for a day or so, complete with a neckache because I was afraid my world of endless options was shrinking and I'd need to live in Panic World, I chose my response, or rather, I found it.  Thankfully, I have enough experience now in trusting Limitless World to return to it quickly after a temporary stay in Panic World.  When I returned to Limitless World, where I hope to achieve permanent residence or maybe even citizenship someday, I stumbled upon a response that felt right to me (one that didn't exist in Panic World) and, much to my delight, did not restrict whatever the Universe might throw back at me in return.

The Universe has yet to directly volley anything back, but from unexpected areas, some new doors, good news, have appeared.  I feel much more at peace than I did a few days ago. Even for all my writing about it, I still need reminders to trust the unexpected (maybe that's precisely why I write about it).  I am trying to practice patience.  And the Universe (not just the World) of Possibilities keeps expanding...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Not knowing what we don't know

Yesterday I learned how to give an insulin shot to a cat.

This is not a skill I ever imagined I'd need to know.  Honestly, it's not a skill I ever thought about in any way, shape, or form until two days ago when I got a call about kitty-watching.   One of my feline charges is diabetic.  Thus the lesson yesterday. 

Last night my dad shared his thoughts with me about my "Perfection" post.  He talked about it from his perspective as a several-decades-older-than-me artist.  He said that for him, it wasn't about reaching perfection, it was about doing his best, since his own abilities would not allow him to reach perfection.  I thought I had said something similar in my post, in fact that that was the heart of the post, and replied that I didn't think anyone could reach artistic perfection.

"Michelangelo did, but he didn't know it."  This was an unexpected response, one that gave me pause. Is it possible to reach perfection and not know you've done it?  I have a book of quotes that a friend from high school made for me and gave me senior year.  I've used several of those quote recently, several of the 365 quotes that she found and wrote down for me before the age of computers and "X-number of Inspirational Quotes" websites existed.  One of those quotes is from Michelangelo.  It is simply this: "I am still learning."

I don't know when Michelangelo said this or in what context, but it is interesting to consider that Michelangelo, who, according to my dad (and I'm sure he's not the only one who believes it), reached perfection, felt that he was still walking the path to something better. Who is it that is/was lacking in knowledge?  My dad?  Michelangelo?  Both of them?  Are there things Michelangelo knew he didn't know that my dad doesn't see and doesn't even know that he doesn't see?  I am wholly unqualified to answer these questions.

I don't have to ask if I still have things to learn.  I know I do.  As I begin down a new road that I'll simply call "writing," a road whose turns have surprised me a few times already, I am particularly cognizant that not only is there a lot that I don't know, there is a lot that I don't even know that I don't know.  Many of my conversations with more established writers have started like this: "What do I need to know? What should I be thinking about?"  These are huge and unfocused questions. Thankfully, those I've talked to have been patient with me, guiding me to shift my lens just so in order to see a little more clearly.  They have also asked me to turn the lens in completely different directions, allowing me to discover concepts and skills that I didn't even know I'd need to consider, because I didn't know they existed.  From such conversations, I have been able to both focus more clearly in some places and broaden my scope in others.  

It is humbling to admit that I basically know nothing, that I can't see one step ahead of where I'm walking.  It is also exciting, as it opens me up to whole new worlds as yet unimagined and unexplored.  Who knows what those worlds may hold?

As strange as it may seem, even giving a cat an insulin shot for the first time, a new world in itself, is helping me to take steps forward on my writing path.  Learning to give the shot is a reminder of all that I don't know and all that I don't know that I don't know.  It is a reminder to look around me, not only for the comfort and safety of the familiar, but for the unfamiliar, for the new, for the questions that beg to be asked, but can't until I know they exist.  It is a reminder not only to look at the unfamiliar, but to step into it, so that the unknowns may become known and new unknowns emerge.  It is a reminder to be open to the vastness of the Mystery that surrounds me.