Friday, January 1, 2016

How the Light Gets In

The Light
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen

There were three times in my life when God burst open that crack to find me. In the most profound and fleeting moment I experienced God as pure, all enveloping light, and instantly recognized the imperfection of my knowledge. Like the bell of a lighthouse, one thought rang out with the light "the eternal I Am, Is, Always Will Be, and that is enough".


I realize there are all sorts of scientific reasons to explain my experience - and that many others have experienced those moments more frequently than I through meditation, prayer, brain chemistry instability, or even drugs. Some folks claim that at the point of death we experience it due to the brain shutting down. Whatever the scientific explanations, they do not sway my faith in my experience of God because for whatever reason, I was given a keel to give me balance through the roughest moments life offers up.

The last few years have served up much too many of those soul breaking moments: the death of close friends, of beloved pets, of a favorite uncle, and of my parents; I've had my own back problems and near death; and worried over the health challenges of those I hold dearly. Life though has also laid out before me incredibly wondrous moments. In this year alone I've shared in: four weddings, family visits, travel to marvelous places, accomplishments in the spheres of education and human rights, bountiful and beautiful gardens, wonderful friendships, a lovely daughter come home, the successes of stepsons and lovely daughter-almost-in-law, and a joyful, cute as a pinch, new granddaughter.


However, yesterday, New Year's Eve, was one of those roughest points. We put down amazing Maisey. She outlasted the vet's prediction by about three months, even able to spend a wonderful Christmas as the family dog at our family celebration in my brother's gracious home. My Uncle Lou, who passed away just recently and who was the smartest dog person I ever knew, used to say that a person is blessed in life with one great dog. I used to think he was wrong as I've now owned 5 great dogs. But he was right when I consider Maisey. She was my one great dog, the dog from whom I've learned so much. She was almost human in her intelligence and keenly aware of the emotional state of others. Maisey was the dog most tender with young and old, and most generous of spirit (with the slight exception of her unwillingness to share her toys with my other two dogs, Louie and Addie). This New Year's weekend, we are all a little lost without her.




You might wonder what this all has to do with God, cracks, light, and such. Here's the thing, though I have an unmovable faith in God, I do not have that same belief in any type of after life for us earthbound creatures. In fact I fall more inline with John Lennon on this one,
"Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people living for today."
So why believe in God then you may wonder. Well I found the permanence and magnificence of God has been enough in Itself. Simply we are never alone, always belonging, never as smart as we think we are, and there is more beyond our limited vision of reality. This has been enough for me, well that is until my parents, family, friends, and beloved dog died. It's at these moments that I wish for one and only one great gift. I wish for the existence of heaven. In a fantasy of heaven, Maisey sits now under my father's gentle touch and walks the Elysian fields with my Uncle Lou, and in my fantasy of heaven my Mom watches out over everyone while laughing with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and quite a few of my cousins.

When I posted on Facebook about Maisey, many wrote to me about the faithfulness and ridiculous joy that a dog brings into one's life. Dogs carry that faith no matter how much their owners deserve it. Another wrote "the faithful love of a dog is the nearest we can come on earth to experiencing God's abiding love". It's the abiding part, the faith part, the where we find our strength bit that holds me. We find it in love. For now I'll keep trying to peer through the cracks and bring all those I've loved and who have loved me back to life in my own small ways.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

No hell below us

"Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky."

Those singular and cumulative events remembered from our youth that forever let us know the world is not the one we imagined we were entering into: one ruled by rationality or love or trust in the greater good or commonly held  beliefs.

In some senses, my generation was fortunate. We did not grow up during WWI or WWII - a titanic clash of narcissim wherein the most helpless were unknowingly incinerated in concentration camps. Or perhaps we weren't so lucky. An unlabeled war that went ignored until rising numbers of maimed and dead - more and more youth to include a cousin in an unopened casket and a young girl in napalm flames - populated our TV screens and newspapers - infiltrating our beings. And then violence came home loudly taking out those we chose to lead - our nation, our souls, our hearts - JFK, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and then John Lennon - martyrs for some sort of common good. There seems to be a message here, as song by Billy Joel, "only the good die young".

I am afraid to consider the lessons we are leaving our youth.

The night Lennon died - why does a troubadour of peace die? I still don't have a real answer. Is it media, the clash of generations, culture shifting, one lone crazy person, or in today's lexicon is it terrorism?

The night Lennon died, I was a starving artist living in Vermont where the snowplow turned around in my driveway and made its slow rumble back to civilization. It was a brisk-fill-your-lungs with cold, snow covered evening with sparkling stars. A neighbor, a fellow artist, ran in (a day when doors went unlocked) and then the heavens simply shattered. And not much after that the same neighbor and his partner began arguing - loudly - rattling the forest - and after he moved out another and then they were all gone - and instead it was my partner who became unraveled.

Life has its lessons and decision points: those early turning points tell us heaven is not here yet. Through them we are continually asked to re-examine and act for what we find true - even as truth shifts below and above us, above us only sky.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

God is in the House

Originally intended as a blog post from EL Salvador.

video

ONE
2013 has been a wild ride of a year. It began with my daughter being displaced because an arsonist burnt down her apartment. It ended with the death of both of my parents within less than 2 months of each other. And in between were trips to China, Germany, and El Salvador. The year contained some of the lowest points of my life and some of the most rewarding. Frankly I am not sure if I am in a tailspin or gliding. What it has brought is deep reflection on the constructs of immortality and “being here now”. And I have had glorious instances of the Sublime.

In the name of the deity many atrocities have been committed across continents and over the ages. Religion as the banner for what is right has brought forth many injustices: religious persecution and war as two examples. Partly this has been because religion has been the right hand of power structures since the dawn of time. This has had positive impacts as well: the partnership of government and religion has allowed for organizing societal structures to come into existence and the rule of law to be established.  Societies without the rule of law are ruled instead by gang violence and indiscriminate enforcement with no recourse. Power without compassion.

I feel fortunate to have been borne into a government structure that tries to separate church from state. The forefathers of the United States were wise in unlinking religion from the laws of society. Not only has this allowed for American society to become diverse, it can also allow each of us to find our path to the Sublime. But in order to find that path, I believe we must have our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the potential and then to follow the path that opens up despite the hardships.


TWO
When I have, it feels as if my heart can no longer fit within my body, it feels as if it does not matter if there is more than the here and now, it feels instead that there is a Greatness and that is all that matters.

THREE
It is now 2015, two years after the original writing. Today marks the second anniversary of my father’s death. To say that I am still grieving misses the point. Sometimes it is as if there is no longer a point but I am in search of it anyway. To lose such great loves as my parents throws up into the air everything I held as true. At one time, I believed firmly in God and a life after, and then I simply believed in God and found a life after irrelevant and probably untrue. Now I wish desperately for a life hereafter – not for myself, that still seems pointless – but for my parents, my grandparents, my friends and family, and all my pets that have passed. They are not irrelevant and I miss them all. I still need them all. On my rational days I recognize that I have become many of them encompassing their traits, preferences, dispositions, and even language. I have their stories and pass them on. And yet…so much of me wants to see them again, to ask them questions, to know they are happy…wants so much just for them to be. And sometimes, missing them and missing the life that was, I feel as if I am slugging through the mud of my childhood backyard, losing boots and shoes that won’t be discovered again until the first hard frost of fall or winter.

Finding that soft bottom, I realize that they also missed those who came before. They continued and left their mark on all of those they loved who came after. They found and shared their joy in living—children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends, and strangers. They touched them all with beauty despite their personal losses.

FOUR
The crisp days come and then the snow and I am on the ice, spinning and whirling and dreaming my dreams in the frosted air with only the dark silhouettes of trees and stars so bright they sparkle and call out "here I am, here I am".




Friday, October 2, 2015

Thoughts on a dying dog


This week began with a visit to the vet because I thought my amazing Maisey had perhaps eaten one of her toys. Our house is littered with toys—dog toys—and they are all hers. There's a bin and she carefully chooses which one she wants to play with, sorting through until she finds just the right one. When she is excited such as when I return from a day at work, she comes running, toy in mouth, stump of a tail wagging vigorously. Pure delight in living.


But by Tuesday it was revealed that it was not a toy but a highly aggressive cancer that has eaten away her pelvic area. The vet says it is a miracle that she is walking at all. My girl is a strong girl. Amazing Maisey. She has learned how to compensate, how to move through the pain of bad hips, and how to take on life fully. As she fully embraces life, she fully gives back to others. I like to say that of all my dogs, Maisey is the one who best understands people. Like the good hunting dog she is, she gives total attention to the humans around her. If it is a small baby, she will sit by the stroller and calmly guard. When my father was ill and suffering from dementia, as he sat in his chair she was often at his side within the reach of his gentle, wavering hand.




Maisey's dad was grand champion field Spaniel in Canada and the U.S. One weekend in the spring, my daughter Tegan and I drove up towards Toronto and she picked Maisey out of a bundle of puppies. Ever since Tegan has been her girl. There was many a time when as a single mom of a teenager, we'd find ourselves in the midst of some emotional event or other. The cure was always a good talk on the couch, Tegan on one end, myself on the other and Maisey would cuddle up into Tegan's lap and my other dog Louie in mine. It is impossible to disagree amidst all that nonjudgmental love.



That was kind of what I was hoping would happen to the U.S. when the Pope came to visit. His addresses to Congress and the U.N. were masterful and balanced. He clearly saw how we desperately need to put aside our extremism and find instead our common humanity. This little planet has problems too large for us to be name calling and for parties to act out of raw emotion rather than respectful reason. Our eternal fighting only shortens humanities' limited time on earth.


Maisey's time is limited now. We know that, most likely by the holidays, she'll be gone, hopefully sitting patiently by my father's side. Of course we're doing all I can within reason to keep her happy and hold back the end. Each day I am counting as one of joy, appreciating and embracing what is so very good now. That was not the case this week for those young people who were murdered at a small college in Oregon.  I can only imagine their families—with memories like mine of toys and talks—and I can only imagine the college community much like Champlain's: a place where we try to prepare our students for reasonable thinking; to prepare them to create a better world; and they teach us with their unlimited enthusiasm, wisdom, and hope. A small, closely knit and caring community.

The New York Times reports that "Oregon is one of seven states with provisions, either from state legislation or court rulings, that allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures." Why as a culture are we so addicted to violence as a solution? Why do we so strongly try to limit the choice of half our species to make decisions impacting their families and yet whole heartedly support the ability of unstable young men to shoot up our youth? Why are we so divisive on these issues that we fail to see and address the larger issues of global warming, poverty, and basic human rights? Why are we so hell-bent—and I mean hell-bent—on insisting that we individually know best, so hell-bent on trying to control the choices of others without thought to how or if they impact the collective whole?

The truth is that like my dear Maisey, our time is limited. Unlike my sweet Maisey we fail to be empathic, to honestly care to—dare I say it?—to love those around us. This week I am in mourning for those unknowing college students, faculty, and their families, for my innocent, unsuspecting dog, and for the state of we the people. Of those three, only one group has the choice to change the future and perhaps sadder yet is that we don't.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A day, a week: from profound tragedy to love.

I wish I could say that at the experienced age of 58, I have the answers, but I can't. I have only more complex questions. And maybe that is well and fine because if I did possess them there would be no point to continue. Where I find myself is with deep experiences to draw upon and confidence befitting of meeting great obstacles, yet these same obstacles only prove that there is much more to learn, to explore, to question, and to experience.

And isn't that the wonder?

Today a grand old cat died, my husband's dear friend for over 20 years and mine of 10. I find myself walling out our grief: there are so many I've lost in such a short time that the daily struggle to move into joy is akin to PT exercises one doesn't want to do.

My desires have changed. It is no longer about objects or youthful appearances or unrequited loves. Now it is about those who no longer are here. It is about a hunger for the comfort of those who came before. Now I am the one who can give the comfort, who can provide my wobbling wisdom. From that springs an even more difficult desire: to do good, to protect, to help grow, and to move forward.

This week the EMC team was part of the Laura K Winterbottom March. Laura, a young colleague of mine was brutally abducted by a stranger, raped, and murdered in the relatively peaceful small city of Burlington, Vermont. Our project BREAKAWAY will now be part of the youth education program in Chittenden County due to a partnership with H.O.P.E.Works and the support of the LKW Foundation. This is all incredibly great news—we get to bring back home a program created in Chittenden County by our team, Population Media Center, the UNFPA, over 130 Champlain College students, and numerous local and international partners and which, most importantly, has seen success in other areas of the world.

My EMC team - I am incredibly proud of their efforts.
But what I am most struck by is not our success and what we will work towards ending (which is indeed greatly improbable and therefore all the more astounding because we have had success!) but more deeply profound is the power of one small family. Despite the horrendous tragedy that struck Ned, JoAnn and Leigh, they have turned this unimaginably deep tragedy into love. An astounding act but one of immense purity. Pure and simple. Violence became love.

This week, this day, the needle has moved forward. Choices expand and the question I eternally ask is how to best make this world a more balanced, a more respectful, a more peaceful place? One team, one family paved the way.

WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Show September 3-15

Image: Steve Mease
I'm showing some of my digital reflections from my attendance at IVOH and MenEngage at this upcoming show!

Champlain College Faculty Show 2015
Reception: Thursday Sept 3, 5-7pm
Champlain College Gallery - Center for Communications and Creative Media, 2nd Floor
Exhibition: Sept 3-15 open M-F 10am-5pm


Please join us this Thursday in our beautiful new Champlain College Gallery for the opening reception of our first annual survey of new, original, and innovative works from fourteen of our CCM and Core faculty members. The exhibition features work by John Banks, Tim Brookes, Geebo Church, Ann DeMarle, Jordan Douglas, Glynnis Fawkes, Ken Howell, Al Larsen, Katie Loesel, David Lustgarten, Joseph Manley, Marc Nadel, Toni-Lee Sangastiano, and Steve Wehmeyer

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Keeper

Today I sorted through about 100+ years of photos and clippings that my mom and her mom kept precious. Overwhelming and at the same time, I could feel all of my family, going so many generations back, forever alive and in my heart because I have become a keeper of their stories.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Great Wall, Salsa, and Life: an unending pirouette


Quiet in the hotel next door. Every green thing in China is designed—even the forests.
I'm in a hotel I don't like. I've gotten old. You check in at a bar—the first hint it's not for me. The carpet in the hall smells like it was recently cleaned to get rid of who knows what, the room is small but "well designed" yet the internet and water is costly. That's OK (kind of) but there is no fitness room or common area or restaurant - except of course the aforementioned bar.
The Great Wall - where once the emperor closed off an Empire, now the Empire is ready to embrace the World.
Yet is was chosen for me in part because it is close to a partner I greatly respect—a young woman who has shared much with me about China. This to include the impacts of a single child policy on parenting: how children are so profoundly valued that they are coddled by two generations as that one child  carries the weight of being the only heir for 6 people in a society where the "social security" is the son. What are the impacts of an entire society of adults who have been coddled their entire lives and have no knowledge of giving of themselves but only of being given too? On the other hand, the population is so dense, what are the impacts of a doubled population (or worse) and their demands on our global resources? I have no answers only questions.

Shanghai night
Ahhh China, I have fallen deeply in love with the place and the people even though my description above may seem to be contrary. The land is vast and the people are straight forward. Each time I visit I find that my perceptions were based on such a small viewpoint. It is a land of people who were once hopeless and now find their dreams coming true. A people where the seemingly impossible has become possible; a society where my generation faced starvation and fear, dying in the millions, yet their children have opportunities abundant; a giant that has awakened to the prosperity we in the U.S. are accustomed and jaded by; a population eager and able to take advantage because of their vast size, population, propensity to learn, and hunger.

Frank Lui - the visionary and extraordinary gentleman behind the summit—and Shanghai's growth.
This week I've been to the mountains of Zhangjiakou to present at the "Enterprise Growth Leader Summit". This same area is poised to be the host of the 2020 Winter Olympics. The presenters at the summit were impressive, bucking their cultural upbringing to compete on a massive scale. Their stories resonate with the lessons I've learned and only partially succeeded at.

Dinner for the foreign presenters - a formal affair, a great honor and the means to valued relationships.
The dream.
But China builds up and tears down mercilessly. The resort area of Zhangjiakou is all new and the ski runs are unlike any I've ever seen with an entire resort mountain for each skill level. The mountains themselves are vast with small villages no larger than a football field tucked within and falling into ruin. In these the grandparents live because all the youth have gone to the cities. Fallen down towns for falling apart people. Is this a possible metaphor for a future Vermont?

Mountains not to be forgotten.
A grandfather's garden
The soon to be past.
Back to my hotel in Shanghai, a hot spot for youth, I walk to dinner and the restaurant is full of young salsa dancers. They provocatively embrace and separate to dust their soles and find new partners. It is all about the dance.

It's all about the dance.
Night moves.
And within the glittering lights and high end costs, less than 500 steps away, a man, painful to look at,  deeply scarred beyond recognition without fingers or thumbs, has spent his day precisely writing on the sidewalk in difficult to know calligraphy. I kneel down and touch his shoulder. I ask if I can photograph his work. I look into his eyes and say "it is beautiful" though I can not read his words and he cannot understand mine. I offer $20 American into the stubs of his hands. It is all I can offer to show my gratitude for his painstaking artistic pursuit.
Night artistry in the sidewalk.
Without hands or fingers with a face beyond recognition, he works.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Magic

There's magic in that too. The older I get, the more I realize, we never really parted, instead we've become a part of each other.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Greece

Perhaps it's due to growing up in a suburb named Greece with each high school named for Greek goddesses and gods - or perhaps due to my courses in antiquity - or to reading the Iliad and the Odyssey - either way I have always dreamed of traveling to Greece. And this year, the tenth anniversary of marrying the man who stole my heart and with whom every day I am grateful to have in my life, this year, we are set to travel to Greece!