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Posted By Opening the Heart

This April I helped to chaperone my son Andre's Boy Scout Troop on a four day visit to Washiongton DC.
I had visited Washington several times before but had not been to any of the war memorials. The World War II Memorial.has a huge rectangular pool of water with fountains at its very center.  Beyond one end of the pool there is an area which pays homage to the Pacific theater of the war.  Beyond the other end is a like area which pays homage to the Atlantic theater.
Several years ago I had the privilege of attending my Uncle Keith’s military funeral where he was honored for his service in WWII in North Africa where he fought against Rommel.  He came to mind. I also thought about his younger brother, my Uncle Don who is still living, who went off to serve in WWII as well.  Both of my grandfathers served in the military, and my mother and father met and married while in the U.S. Airforce.   
As I sat at the memorial I began to be filled with a reverent feeling. It soon blossomed into a feeling of awe as I recognized the gift of their service to me – their granddaughter, niece and child.  It was  a gift born of great love that humbles in its power. I draw inspiration from many sources but at this time a verse came to me from my childhood.  It is from the Bible and says, “Greater love hath no one than to lay down their life for their friend.”
There is no doubt about it.  I have been very deeply loved.
Even so, I reflected, most parents and family members would lay down their lives if necessary to save the life of their child. But what about the others?  The others who did not know me?
My mind flashes back to a send-off at our district’s National Guard armory late last fall. Our local National Guard unit had been called into active duty overseas.  My son Andre’s Boy Scout troop and our family stood honoring the soldiers at their deployment ceremony in order to give them a warm and loving good-bye. Some of those soldiers would not return. Some of the others would return but they would be wounded or scarred in different ways.
 It is only now – in this very moment in my life as I sit in the WWII Memorial – that I am even just barely able to perceive the size of the gift that has been given to me.
Politics are swept aside as I rest in this awareness.  Some other mother, some other family has given to me, a stranger, their deepest treasure – their son or daughter’s life. Some person I have never met is willing to die for my family and I so that we can continue to live in the way in which we believe.
What is one to do in the face of such an unfathomable gift?  My mind is not able to grasp the vastness of this depth of sacrifice and so it becomes quiet.
Out of the silence comes understanding. This kind of love must give rise to more love. When one has been loved deeply and well the only way to honor that gift is to love others in that same way.
To all of the soldiers past and present who have served their country: an inadequate but heartfelt thank you.  May we all choose to live and love others in a way which begins to honor the unthinkable sacrifices you have made.

Posted By Opening the Heart

 I only ever received one personal letter from an author (except for my lifelong friend Robert Alter). The reason I have only received one letter is because I have only ever written a letter to one author. His name is David James Duncan. I call him the man with three first names and he is my very favorite author. I have read everything he’s written –at least once. I wanted to share with you a story within his first novel The River Why. In this story within a story, he tells of a young Tillamook. The Tillamook were a Native American people in a northwestern part of Oregon, on the Pacific Ocean who lived there until the early 19th century. Now Tillamook is a city known primarily for its dairy farms, cheese, gourmet ice cream and yoghurt.

“For three, four, maybe five days the Tillamook waited. If the waiting grew very long, his people came to find him. All of them came, filling the woods with chatter. When he was found, they gathered a little distance downstream. Then they just stood there, peering, craning their necks, calling to him, laughing or crying- whichever might work best-begging him to come home…
But he raved at them. He threw rocks at them, reviled them, drove them all away, just as they’d hoped he would. They knew that they were not the one he waited for. They knew that his long wait was the sign of a powerful spirit’s approach. They knew, when he hurled stones at them, that he had not grown sick or feebleminded. They left him in peace.
 He waited alone. Bones and stomach, hunger and cold, weakness, pain and people, they all left him in peace. The young Tillamook grew still.
Because he stayed still, the animals began to come. For days they had watched him. For days he had taken no notice. From the fasting and bathing his scent had grown faint, and from the long wait it had become familiar. At night they came close to his fire and watched. They sensed that nothing that stayed still for so long would harm them; nothing that sat so quietly could be a man. Maybe this Tillamook had become a kind of tree. Maybe he had become a spirit.
The small animals came forward first-wren, chipmunk, mouse, jay; then raccoon came and squirrel and raven; later deer came, and elk and wise coyote; even old honeypaws, old black bear came. Some would circle his waiting-place, just watching. Others would pass through that place, pretending to ignore him, treating him like an old stump. Later, some flew just over his head, tousling his hair with the air of their wings, but still he did not move. Still later, some walked right up to him, touched his skin with paws or wet noses, sniffing, looking into his eyes. He smiled then, and spoke to them softly. He said, “Even you, my friends, even you are not the one I wait for.”
But in the end, the one for whom he waited came. Crept up in silence, with all its power sheathed- yet the motionless boy knew, and his heart danced. His spirit-helper had come!
The spirit made no sound, yet the boy could hear it- and its voice was kind for he had waited well. It told the boy his man-name, and it told him his true name. It told him what his life’s work would be and it promised him help, and told him how that help could be summoned.
The animals watched while, in silence, the boy sat with his spirit-helper. The animals did not see the two sitting as friends sit, nor as brothers sit, nor as fathers sit with sons. The animals saw one being sitting- not the spirit, not the boy. It was simply a man they saw sitting, then rising, then returning to his people to take up the tools of his vocation. Later that man would hunt them, to feed and clothe his people. And the animals could sense, in that hunter, the boy who had waited so long by the water: that hunter would sing them to him, he would kill them quickly, and would speak softly to their spirits. And there would be no violence in their deaths.” 

With Love and Respect


Posted By Opening the Heart

Today the buds opened on the maple tree outside my window and reminded me of a precious truth.

But before I go into that I first want to say how much I much I enjoyed watching the children play last summer on the dragon tire swing that dangles from this tree. The humid air, swollen with moisture, made everything feel lush and alive.  
Like every other year during the middle of August the dry air came down from Canada and it was a great time to go camping. Those golden days stretched into fall but brought change and the foreshadowing of loss.   

The trees glowed with color in October but the snap of frost deepened into the cold winds of early winter. Except for the evergreens everything died back to the root. When I looked out at my maple I could see only the bones of branches outlined against the pale blue of northern skies. 

Eventually everything froze. During the time when it’s so cold that the ice turns almost green, nothing in nature moved. 

 And then the wheel turned again. The earth in New Hampshire began to breathe.  The waters underneath the ice began to flow. The sun began to come back and then the buds began to grow. 

 How lucky to have this constant reminder of the cycle of life. Everything that is full becomes empty. Everything that is empty becomes full. The yin and the yang. The rhythm of the dance. 

 The rhythm of our dance. The changes we all go through. The personal deaths and rebirths we go through after major loss or change. The death and rebirth cycles present in close relationships – particularly after major loss or change. The deaths and rebirths in families, communities and more. 

 No, there’s nothing we can do to avoid this constant change, the accompanying loss and sometimes accompanying pain. But the best thing about Spring to me is simply this: it always comes. It always comes again and again and again. There’s not one thing that we can do to stop it. And after the pain of loss of the old comes new life. Always. This reality-based certainty is an incredible source of comfort and peace to me. 

 To live in harmony with this natural cycle is one of the crowning tasks of emotional and spiritual maturity in one’s lifetime. To paraphrase the Buddhist Heart Sutra, to be in harmony with it is “the heart of perfect wisdom”. 

 My maple tree lives in that perfect harmony.  Someday I hope to be like this maple.  I want to open my green buds to the zestiness of new life and bask in the fullness of the summer sun. I want to glow with my true colors when it is fall and then let go of what is passing without trying to hold on. Lastly, when the killing winds of winter blow I want to draw nourishment from roots which reach far beneath the frozen ground. And I want to do it with as much grace and equanimity as this maple. Until then I will watch, be reminded and continue to learn.