Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Just silliness

I saw this on the web and giggled. Doncha love progress?

2000 B.C. - Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. - That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. - That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. - That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. - That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. - That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mata in Gardenland

Yesterday I went out to get the last bit of plants for my garden. (YeahRightSure said the garden addict.) It is a porch garden and my screened in porch is a flight up. My bedroom opens onto it with French doors. Here is a snap of last year's garden so you get the idea. This year's is more involved. I also plant outside the door along the walkway, so it is a major undertaking for one person. Plus, I (with my bad back) have to lug all this stuff upstairs - dirt, plants, hanging baskets, etc. But it is worth it; and I have developed some ways to make it much easier.

Until yesterday. What follows is a light hearted mini-rant about the checkout lady at the garden center and me. Actually is about me fighting myself to not be a jerk of the first order.

OK here is the scene. It is about 90 degrees. I have a shopping cart with about a dozen plants on it. I am standing in a long line outside in the sun waiting to get to the outdoor checkout stand.

This stand is supposed to make it convenient for everyone. It is like a little booth. The woman inside is cool as a cucumber because she has two big fans blasting and a large iced tea.

People outside are not cool. They are standing in line complaining. The wait is long. The sun is hot. In front of me and behind me people are surley. My back is doing the equivalent of howling in silent pain. No matter, think I -- this will be over soon and I can get the plants upstairs...oh gee, that flight of stairs is gonna hurt...OK, no matter, the plants are lovely and it will make me happy.

I finally get to the clerk. She is about my age, but looks a lot tougher. I get this instant mental image of her cracking chewing gum and waiting on big, burley drunks in a roadside bar. They are afraid of her. OK, I think, let that image go -- she is probably a delightful granny.

"Didja have to put them in the cart THAT way?" she scowls at me. "I have to reach to see the prices."

I look at my cart and cannot see how I might have made it easier for her -- unless I had only bought a plant or two. The people behind me are now starting to argue between themselves about whether or not they should have shopped today. I hear phrases like "your mother" or "why do you ALWAYS.."

This is not good. By now the sun is beating down in earnest and I feel a small rivulet of sweat in front of my ear.

How attractive.

I look at the clerk. "How can I help?" (I think this is the Christian response. I will be a good person. That will be my approach. I will rise above the stress and do the right thing.)

"You want to help? Get all these people to go home."

She isn't joking.

"Short of that?" I ask. I smile at her.

She gives me a bad look. "VISA or Mastercharge?" she asks. I hand her the card. I hesitantly ask her "Could you put those plants in plastic bags for me?"

"You want them in bags? Take a tray over there instead."

"Actually, the tray doesn't work for me. I have to get them up a flight of stairs and it is easier for me to carry them in bags."

"Take the tray."

I take a deep breath, reminding myself that this woman is my sister in Christ. I run my mind by about 25 unkind things I want to say as the sweat starts to drip down my back. The people behind me are now almost hissing at eachother and the phrases have changed to things like "I never should have..." "When we get home..." "If you think you ever..."

I ask politely "Is there a problem with getting bags?"

"It is just that a tray is a better choice."

The woman behind me now hisses to her husband "If the &^%$^;ing idiot in front of us would just take the &*^$ing tray..."

"Just ring it up -- I'll pass on the tray if you don't have bags. It's OK. " By this point I figure I will just stop off at the supermarket on the way home and get a few things and ask for some extra bags. Problem solved.

The clerk looks at me "Oh, I HAVE bags."

I say nothing but I imagine that my face looks as though she had just hit it with a wet mackeral. I assemble my composure and ask, "May I have them then? I'll bag my plants myself if that is the problem."

"No. You cannot have them. I only have a few bags."

I try to figure this out. It is not computing. By now the people behind me are speaking in an Eastern European language. At least I do not recall ever hearing phrases like that in English. I can feel my shirt clinging with sweat unattractively to my upper back.

"I can't have any of them?"

"If I give YOU any of these bags, then I won't have enough for the next person who wants bags, now, will I." She looks at me as though I would get the Olympic Gold Medal for Stupidity.

I realize that I have a few choices. I could go postal. Bad idea. I could just say something sarcastic. Nah, I'd feel bad later. I can no longer manage to say anything sympathetic. My good-will-angel-wings appear to have been shot off.

I just say, with a tone of utter defeat -- "No problem. I'll just" I have lost the ability to be pleasant, but am determined to not be mean. I want to be mean. I want to compare her to anything but a summer's day. The best I can manage is a retreat.

I start to leave. She says "Don't forget the bags," and heaps the small bunch of them into my cart.

And then, as I walk to my car I hear the obligatory phrase -- "Thank you for shopping with us. Have a nice day."

I am dumbfounded. I understand nothing about the above communication. Perhaps I was momentarily abducted to Pluto?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend ---- Post #4

The Long Wait for the Long Journey Homeward

Imagine having someone you love die in a war on a foreign shore -- but they are only presumed dead...imagine the waiting, the never knowing. This is reality for many families of veterans. I recently read about the amazing government organization that seeks out the remains of military and attempts to repatriate them and notify families. They are actively doing this for wars even as far back as WWI.

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, was activated on Oct. 1, 2003. JPAC's mission is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of our nation's previous conflicts. Their highest priority is the return of any living Americans that remain prisoners of war.

The effort is extensive. If you know ANYONE who lost a loved one who was in the military and who still does not know their precise fate, or have the closure of a burial, please have them look at this part of the site that discusses DNA matching. There are THOUSANDS of service men and women waiting to be identified.

Here is an excerpt from the site about the efforts that are undertaken.

JPAC has 18 recovery teams - ten teams dedicated to those missing from the war in Southeast Asia, five teams dedicated to the Korean War missing and three teams to recovering missing Americans from World War II, the Cold War and the Gulf War.
A typical recovery team size is 10 to 14 personnel, and is commanded by the team leader. His command group includes a team sergeant (typically an Army sergeant first class trained in the field of mortuary affairs) and a forensic anthropologist (the only civilian team member) who oversees the scientific aspects of the recovery.
Additional team members include a linguist, medic, life support technician, forensic photographer, explosive ordnance disposal technician, and several mortuary affairs specialists. As the mission dictates, the teams will be augmented with mountaineering specialists, communication technicians and mechanics.
Standard recovery missions range from 35 to 60 days depending on the location, terrain and recovery methods...Teams walk through jungles, traverse difficult terrain in 4 x 4 vehicles, rappel cliff-sides, hike mountains and glaciers, ride on horseback, in boats, or trains to reach sites. The most common method of reaching remote sites is via helicopter. Teams travel with up to 10,000 pounds in survival and excavation equipment, making transport difficult.

I know the odds are slight that any of you know people still waiting for word...but if you do, perhaps this can help. I know a family who heard in the mid 60's that their father had been shot down over Vietnam and had been seen parachuting behind enemy lines. For years and years the family did not know his fate, as he had been reported as seen in a POW camp. He was MIA until his remains were repatriated in the late 1990's. It was only then that the family had closure. Please join your prayers with mine for these families who wait.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend --- Post #3

Grave Duty

Memorial Day weekends of years past began with a trip to a neighborhood greenhouse to buy a car-trunkload of geranium plants. Then we would do the graveyard duties. First my father's parents. Then in a nearby city, an older couple that had helped raise my mother. Then my aunt and uncle. Then my mother's cousin. Then another aunt and uncle. On and on to the graves of friends and family on about 5 towns. Then my mother's family and my parents' first child.

Each gravesite meant planting and prayers. That is part of what Memorial Day feels like to me -- planting and prayers. All day long I have had the urge to go out and buy geranium plants. All the above-mentioned graves are hundreds of miles away, but the urge for geranium is strong. I have a porch garden, and I have decided to head out right after typing this and to buy a trunkload of geranium plants. It is an almost primal urge. Remember the dead - and garden.

I got a call this afternoon from my friend Barb. Her sister has a daughter with a child. The child had a loving and caring father. Until today. Little 7 year-old Isaiah's father was killed this morning by a drunk driver. He was 25.

Please pray for them all.

I'll be praying as I plant a geranium for them all.

And no matter who you are reading this -- no matter where you are -- no matter for whom you grieve -- today I will plant a geranium for the deepest cares in your heart as well.

Lord, as I bury my hands in the darkness of your earth, let this geranium give birth to hope and consolation. Amen and amen.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend -- Post #2

Memorial Days Past and Future

When I was a little girl, all I knew about Memorial Day was that we had a school assembly where usually someone had memorized and would recite the Gettysburg address, and that my town had a parade. I knew in my head that we were "honoring those who fought to keep us free", but I had no idea really what that meant. I knew that little flags appeared on veterans' graves. I knew that the old vets in town would wear their VFW hats all that day, even after the parade. And I knew there were picnics.

It wasn't until much later in life that I had a clue what war really meant and knew real veterans. I learned that the biggest difference between a veteran and me is that I could spend days and weeks and even months without any serious thoughts of war. They cannot. It will always be a part of their reality to one extent or another.

To send our brave young men and women to war is to put them into a torture machine. There have to be better solutions. I know there are such things as just wars. I just do not want there to have to be. I want the world at peace. I want it with everything in me.

I want wars to stop.

I don't want us to have to have any more parades that end with speeches in cemeteries. I don't want veterans to be awash in memories no one we love should have to endure today. I don't want families to have to remember how they got "the saddest news" today.

I pray that we can build a better future -- that people all over the world will someday just get sick to death of all the death -- that certain groups will stop seeing war as a profit opportunity. I want the desire for a just peace to be so strong in people that they cannot resist its lure anymore. I know that is unrealistic, and stupid-- foolhardy and utopian. I don't care. I want it anyway. I fill my prayers with that wanting and hurl them at the sky.

I want everything that every vet ever fought for to become real -- and every vet has fought for a just peace. I love my country and our veterans so much that I don't want to send them into harm's way anymore. I am tired of the death tally every day. I am tired also of feeling unsafe in the face of terrorism. I am tired of people making war on us, too.

Dear Lord, on this Memorial Day let us pray for those who have lost their lives, or their innocence, or their hopes on battlefields. Let us honor them also by allowing their sacrifices to have moved us one more step toward the ways of peace.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend - Post #1

These lyrics are from Paul Simon's CD - "Surprise"

Wartime Prayers

Prayers offered in times of peace are silent conversations,
Appeals for love or love's release
In private invocations
But all that is changed now,
Gone like a memory from the day before the fires.
People hungry for the voice of God
Hear lunatics and liars
Wartime prayers, wartime prayers
In every language spoken,
For every family scattered and broken.

Because you cannot walk with the holy,
If you're just a halfway decent man.
I don't pretend that I'm a mastermind
With a genius marketing plan.
I'm trying to tap into some wisdom,
Even a little drop will do.
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage
Before I'm through.

Times are hard, it's a hard time
But everybody knows all about hard times.
The thing is, what are you gonna do?
Well, you cry and try to muscle through
Try to rearrange your stuff
But when the wounds are deep enough,
It's all that we can bear,
We wrap ourselves in prayer.

Because you cannot walk with the holy,
If you're just a halfway decent man.
I don't pretend that I'm a mastermind
With a genius marketing plan.
I'm trying to tap into some wisdom,
Even a little drop will do.
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage
Before I'm through.

A mother murmurs in twilight sleep
And draws her babies closer.
With hush-a-byes for sleepy eyes,
And kisses on the shoulder.
To drive away despair
She says a wartime prayer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rolling the Rock

Burial Memorials. Gravestones. Tombstones. Cemetary Markers. Headstones. Whatever you call them, they can be powerful symbols.

My mom was orphaned at 6 weeks. Her parents and two of her brothers were all dead within days of eachother -- it was the 1918 flu epidemic that took them. My grandmother had brought her brother over from Poland. On her death bed he promised her that he would care for my mother, the infant Frances. The moment she died, he dropped my Mom off with distant cousins, never to return or to in any way contribute to her well-being. He went off to a large city, ended up owning 13 drug stores and living in a mansion with his children who wanted for nothing. My mother was working at age 10.

He did do one thing, however. He erected a grave stone for his sister, her husband and their children. It had all their names and dates and the galling inscription: "This stone is provided through the generosity of (his name)".

Every time my Mom went to the grave she would wince at that phrase. She even tried growing plants there that would obscure it, but that never worked. Her son was buried there as well, my brother. But she never had the heart to have his name put on "that awful stone". We were not a well-off family at all. Replacing that monument in my growing-up years was out of the question. Later, it just became the family albatross.

When Mom passed, Dad and I knew that we had to get her a better stone. The cemetary said that although we had a big plot, the policy was one monument/plot. It took no time at all to decide that we would replace the old stone. We tried to give it away -- we asked churches if they had needy people who might need a stone (it being cheaper to just shave off one set of letters than to buy a whole stone) -- we asked art schools if they needed a piece of marble -- no one wanted it. So we had it turned into rubble. Nothing larger than a pea. That would have caused my mother to sing in rejoicing. My father insisted on being there and watching when they did it.

11 years ago we had a lovely and very artistic stone designed with Mom's family on one side and our family on the other. We had my brother's name added next to hers.

Last week I went to the stonecutters and had Dad's name added, as he had arranged in advance with the stonecutter.

There is comfort to be had in these rituals, in this memorializing -- in creating new symbols from past injustice. I know my family is not "there" in the cemetary. But I know that the stone marker chosen with such dedication by Dad and me is a fitting memorial to the best part of what my family was. And, in truth, I like the sassiness of the fact that it exists at all. And I am sure Mom does, too.

Certain Silences Are Golden

Listening deeply is something we have to learn to do. We can't do it just like that. When the other person is talking he or she is trying to express his or her difficulties and sufferings, and needs us to listen to that. But if we are not capable of listening, then the person who is speaking will not feel any relief in his or her suffering, and will finally give up talking. - Thich Nhat Hanh

I know the friends who really listen when I speak. And I know the ones that do not -- people who interrupt of stop me to tell me what their life's version of my current story is...wit6hout hearing mine fully. The first people fill me with comfort, and help me see what is really going on. The second group just makes me feel disregarded, sometimes angry, sometimes alientated or ignored. Eventually, as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, I stop talking.

Things that are true on an individual level become true for groups. Groups like liberals and conservatives. Democrats and Republicans. Jews and Christians. Buddhists and Moslems. Blacks and Asians and Whites and and and and .......

It becomes true for nations. Some nations have stopped hearing the difficulties and sufferings of other nations. Those abandoned nations feel disregarded, angry, alienated, ignored.

We do to our world what we do to eachother.

Conversely, if we start by listening to eachother, how could that not end up effecting the world positively? Everything starts small.

Today I plan to really listen to someone I don't want to really listen to. I will tell you later how it went. If you try this, you can tell me later, too. C'mon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A New Holiday

I want to propose a 10 minute holiday. This holiday would occur once a week at 11am in every time zone. It would last 10 minutes, and would be called the "How the Heck Are You?" moment.

Everyone, no matter where they are or what they are doing (things like surgery are the exception)..anyway..everyone stops what they are doing, looks deeply into the eyes of the person nearest them and says ...."So, how the heck are you doing?" Then they answer eachother. Each has 5 minutes. Then they go about their way.

Imagine how the world might change if every week everything stopped for 10 minutes because we wanted to listen to eachother. We wouldn't be obligated to do anything but look and listen for 10 minutes on that day to whomever randomly was near us.

I have been thinking about this divinely foolish idea for a while now...and wishing it could happen...

So.......How the Heck Are You Today?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Shared History and the Vanquishing of Grief

Yesterday my friend Sandy came 150 miles to visit me. We met for the first time in my small little New England home town where she still lives. It was 1955. That's right -- 51 years ago. We were 5, and we met in first grade.

There is very little life history that we do not know about each other. As only children, we bonded like sisters. Our childhoods were spent equally divided between each other's homes. We were brownies and girl scouts together.

We both stood at the sidelines at junior high dances. Both our mothers were Geminis. Sandy and I went through it all together - her successful marriage, and my failed marriage. Her two wonderful kids, my globetrotting adventures. My cancer surgery. The loss of all four of our parents. My Mom taught Sandy how to sew in a sleeve and a zipper. Her Mom taught me about Margaret Sanger and how to aerate a lawn. We celebrated every birthday together, decorated pumpkins and played pinochle at her grandfather's farm, and went to Mountain Park amusement park every year as part of my Dad's annual shop union family outing. She has known me at a variety of weights as a brunette, redhead and blond. I knew her before she was a diabetic with a ceramic hip.

We know that we are forever "on call" for each other , ready to drop anything without question, anytime the other truly needs us. We will forever "have each other's backs".

So yesterday Sandy arrived to take pictures of our town's spectacular iris garden, wherein can be found over 2,000 varieties of iris. People come from all around to see it and to photograph the astonishing blossoms. You may click here to see a QuickTime movie of it that I found on the net.

We went from there to a beautifully landscaped local cemetery (which is also quite serene) for more pictures.

There we were in a graveyard ooohing and ahhhing about blossoming trees, extravagantly blooming shrubbery, elaborately carved headstones, stone mausoleums with interior stained glass windows.

I suppose, with all the loss in my recent months, that a trip to the cemetery should have made me sad, or pensive in a melancholy way. But it didn't. My buddy Sandy was with me, and we have seen enough death in our lives. Besides, we have always gotten through it together. It is not as though it did not touch us. Occasionally we would pause when a marker was poignant in some direct way - the loss of twin babies, or a marker with a touching sentiment carved into it. But it wasn't sad, just respectful

So here I sit marveling in how the presence of a relationship characterized by deeply shared memory removed all trace of grief from me. How does that happen? Is it the sense that since I am *known* in such a long term way that I do not have to display what I feel -- that *the other* can just know, and we can move on? It is that sort of shorthand found among deep old friends, or long term committed couples.

It is the same kind of loving and accepting shorthand that I can find with God.

I think He wants that of me -- not just to be my Lord, but to be my friend, like Sandy. To walk with me through iris beds as I celebrate what He has created, or to stroll with me among tombstones, His arm invisibly around my shoulders as we stand silently together facing eternity, before a monument carved into the shape of a hopeful angel.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Anthony and his Angels

I love Oprah Winfrey. I love her because she seeks to inspire. And today she did. The show details are here.

Young Anthony's father slaughtered his wife, Anthony's mother, with a butcher knife and then attempted to kill 8 year old Anthony in the same horrific way. He almost succeeded, except that Anthony played dead after multiple stab wounds. When his father left the room -- Anthony, who was bleeding and dying, called 911. He feigned death again when his father walked back in the room.

Today Anthony lives and his father is in prison.

Oprah asked him -- "How did you know to play dead?" He replied "The angels told me." She said "you mean angels talked to you? You could hear them?" "Oh yes, " he said.

Then she said "And how were you able to call 911? You had been badly wounded, and you were away from where the phone was."

He looked at her straight in the eyes and said matter-of-factly, "The angels. They lifted me up."

You can read more about this at the above link, but I felt like my inner spiritual bells all started chiming at once when Anthony said in such an ordinary tone -- "The angels. They lifted me up."

I started to cry. Not because I felt sad, and not just from my feelings of being moved by Anthony. I cried because I realized that is why I am alive today. "The angels. They lifted me up."

And who are my angels? Everyone in my life who ever loved me or helped me or was kind to me. Everyone who showed me compassion or wisdom or who kicked me out of a rut.

I think so often we are called to be angels to each other. There are special moments that God annoints us with just what some other person needs, exactly what will heal or help. The holy moment passes. But in that second of luminosity we get to decide if we will "take wings" for someone else. In that second we are as real as the angels that lifted Anthony.

Bless all of you who have been angels. When I look back over my life, and listen carefully, I can hear the sound of wingbeats.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Life Isn't Hard Enough?

In the early 1970's I heard an address by Anna Marie AAgard, the Danish theologian. She was speaking at a local seminary. The New Age had started to lift its starry and glitter-filled little head, and the self-help-movement was potentiating itself into a blurry and narcissistic frenzy. I recall it as though it was yesterday. I will put what I recall that she said in quotes, but the statements are from the tape-recorder of my memory, not from notes...(end of disclaimer).

She talked about the message of the times - that somewhere inside us, if we just looked with enough deep faith and dedication, worked hard enough on our spirituality, developed ourselves with enough integrity -- that somewhere there was a "still, small space where all is well and at peace inside us -- where we are all whole and at perfect peace."

She paused as we all thought how right that was -- and she said, "That is, of course, heresy, and tragic heresy at that."

She went on to say that there IS NO SUCH PLACE. And, that as Lutherans we knew that because we understood brokenness, but that we had joy nonetheless because we also understood Grace. She said that to seek that place-that-was-not was to engage in enormous effort only to always end in disappointment and with feelings of failure.

But these were seminarians she was talking to -- so she went on to tell them that furthermore, to give in to the notion that "that perfect place" existed, was to institutionalize spiritual failure and "to waste precious time in false ministry to false pain."

False Ministry to False Pain - those words went zinging around the rooom like heat-seeking missles.

I think how many times I as a member of the faithful have sought that place - in my daily life or as what I fantasize is the result of well-prayed prayer, or well-lived faith. Then I get to feel bad if I am not there. I look at how churches have found fault with the unbroken, when what has been called for is lavish amounts of Grace.

I would never suggest that we should not try to be the best we can be. But it seems to me that we deny our radical need for the grace of God if we imagine that we are unbroken, or can bcome unbroken through the force of our own efforts.

And while we seek perfection -- the perfect community, the perfect worship service, or the perfect building, or the perfect feeling inside -- while we seek that, people starve for grace. And we starve with them.

Here is one of my favorite songs by Leonard Cohen that addresses it better than I ever could.


The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Liberal ? Conservative? Unite for Our Vets!

It doesn't matter whether one is liberal or conservative. The following will and should upset you. The current administration has formed a commission investigating how to save funds by REDUCING the benefits for Disabled American Veterans. Read up on this - put some phrases into google like :
vets disabled reduction benefits commission

You will find what I found - a number of vets groups who are outraged at the current administration for this act of betrayal. Yet our TVs and radios are silent. Non military bloggers are silent. Do your own investigation -- don't just take my word for it. Benefits for the disabled vet and family death benefits for the families are in danger of further reductions. Is it not enough that the Bush administration has shut down so many VA hospitals?

Check out these sites :
1. The actual commission - look at their meeting notes - not much there because they have decided that they will have closed door meetings.

2. A very articulate essay about the issue from a veterans's perspective.

3. An online petition that asks that the cloak of secrecy be removed.

Please sign the petition. You know that what is going on is not right. Please speak up about what is happening. We are Americans -- we know better than to sit still for this. Our nation stands for better than this. Even if you are a pacifist (and I darn near am) , you and I both know that our servicemen deserve better than this.

Warty Bliggins The Toad

(Please see the immediately prior posting, if you have not already read it. )

This post is also by Don Marquis --pronounced MAR-kwiss). One reader suggested that she would like to see more. I happily oblige below.

i met a toad
the other day by the name
of warty bliggens
he was sitting under
a toadstool
feeling contented
he explained that when the cosmos
was created
that toadstool was especially
planned for his personal
shelter from sun and rain
thought out and prepared
for him
do not tell me
said warty bliggens
that there is not a purpose
in the universe
the thought is blasphemyb a little more
conversation revealed
that warty bliggens
considers himself to be
the center of the same
the earth exists
to grow toadstools for him
to sit under
the sun to give him light
by day and the moon
and wheeling constellations
to make beautiful
the night for the sake of
warty bliggens

to what act of yours
do you impute
this interest on the part
of the creator
of the universe
i asked him
why is it that you
are so greatly favored

ask rather
said warty bliggens
what the universe
has done to deserve me
if i were a
human being i would
not laugh
too complacently
at poor warty bliggens
for similar
have only too often
lodged in the crinkles
of the human cerebrum


archy (of "archy and mehitabel" fame)

Don Marquis was a columnist for the New York Sun. In 1919 he began publishing a column that had supposedly been written by a poet who had been reincarnated into a cockroach named "archy". The story goes that after Don left his office, archy would feel the old urge to write, and would type out letters to Don on Don's old typewriter by hurling his insect body down on key after key. (Because of that everything is in lower case and unpunctuated.) Soon archy began describing his friends - mehitabel the cat (who claimed to have been Cleopatra in a prior life), freddy the rat, and a group of spiders, moths, and other critters. Several books are still in print of these wonderful columns, and as you will see from the example below, archy definitely had a social conscience. Remember, this was written in 1935.

what the ants are saying
By Don Marquis, in "archy does his part," 1935

dear boss i was talking with an ant
the other day
and he handed me a lot of
gossip which ants the world around
are chewing over among themselves

i pass it on to you
in the hope that you may relay it to other
human beings and hurt their feelings with it
no insect likes human beings
and if you think you can see why
the only reason i tolerate you is because
you seem less human to me than most of them
here is what the ants are saying

it wont be long now it wont be long
man is making deserts of the earth
it wont be long now
before man will have used it up
so that nothing but ants
and centipedes and scorpions
can find a living on it
man has oppressed us for a million years
but he goes on steadily
cutting the ground from under
his own feet making deserts deserts deserts

we ants remember
and have it all recorded
in our tribal lore
when gobi was a paradise
swarming with men and rich
in human prosperity
it is a desert now and the home
of scorpions ants and centipedes

what man calls civilization
always results in deserts
man is never on the square
he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth
each generation wastes a little more
of the future with greed and lust for riches

north africa was once a garden spot
and then came carthage and rome
and despoiled the storehouse
and now you have sahara
sahara ants and centipedes

toltecs and aztecs had a mighty
civilization on this continent
but they robbed the soil and wasted nature
and now you have deserts scorpions ants and centipedes
and the deserts of the near east
followed egypt and babylon and assyria
and persia and rome and the turk
the ant is the inheritor of tamerlane
and the scorpion succeeds the caesars

america was once a paradise
of timberland and stream
but it is dying because of the greed
and money lust of a thousand little kings
who slashed the timber all to hell
and would not be controlled
and changed the climate
and stole the rainfall from posterity
and it wont be long now
it wont be long
till everything is desert
from the alleghenies to the rockies
the deserts are coming
the deserts are spreading
the springs and streams are drying up
one day the mississippi itself
will be a bed of sand
ants and scorpions and centipedes
shall inherit the earth

men talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait and the scorpions wait
for while men talk they are making deserts all the time
getting the world ready for the conquering ant
drought and erosion and desert
because men cannot learn

rainfall passing off in flood and freshet
and carrying good soil with it
because there are no longer forests
to withhold the water in the
billion meticulations of the roots

it wont be long now It won't be long
till earth is barren as the moon
and sapless as a mumbled bone

dear boss i relay this information
without any fear that humanity
will take warning and reform


Monday, May 15, 2006

Laughing at "Territory Marking"

I spoke to a friend in rural Arizona last night, which did my heart good. This is a friend I have known since I was 12, with whom ready laughter is commonplace. He is, however, a very reserved fellow on the surface. For those of you who need a laugh, here is a moment in the phone call that had me howling.

He: (in discussing a friend's new ranch property) There have been sightings of wolves, cougars, foxes and of course rattlesnakes. The chickens seem to be safe, however.

Me: Does she have them in an enclosure with a roof?

He: No.

Me: Well what is keeping the big critters from just snatching them up?

He: Territory marking.

Me: You mean fences?

He: No, I mean "markings" -- like with dogs who "mark" their territory.

Me: But her dog weighs all of 3 pounds! There is no way he could....

He: He didn't.

(long silence)

Me: Are you suggesting that YOU did?

He: Well, a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do. Walking around the desert alone at night is something I enjoy. May as well make it useful.

OK so now I have this visual of a childhood friend that is not what I had ever imagined. Man walking the desert asserting himself.

I decided to counter.

Me: Well, that is a great idea. Next time I visit her I'll mark a few trees for her.

He: can't....not a tree.
(smug silence)

Me: Sure I can. I have a "thing".


He: (sounding very puzzled and unsure) .....a "thing"?

Me: Yep. I have something I ordered on the web from Europe.

He: I don't think I should know this.

Me: It is called
"The Whiz".

He: I am getting sure I should not know this.

Me: No, no..relax..just imagine a flexible funnel made of plastic. This helps a woman while traveling, camping or in the car away from facilities - it is modest and convenient and basically is just a clever little thingie that let's us pee wherever we want to.

He: I am stunned.

Me: Now we are even.

Seriously, it is a darned clever little do-hickey. Any woman reading this will probably remember at least 5 occasions where she would have gladly used this sort of thing. More info than you ever need to know can be found at

Sunday, May 14, 2006

May You Have a Good Mothers' Day

Whether your ideal Mom is living or dead or only in fantasy, I hope that you all find ways today to celebrate the presence of nurturing souls in your life.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

More Mother Memories

It is almost Mother's Day -- so here are some more "Mother Memories"..

1. When my Mom and Dad were first married they were very broke. One week they had only a few cents to last them the two days until payday. Mom bought a philodendron. "It would," she said, "make being poor more bearable."

2. She used to make fantastic Halloween costumes for me -- Japanese kimonos with big obis, gypsy dresses with ruffles and shawls, flapper outfits complete with yards and yards of fringe. Every home we went to I was told that I was not allowed to just take candy. I must leave some too. "Nothing in life is ever just about taking from people," she would say.

3. When I was little she would create impromptu picnics. Even poor folks' food tastes better as a picnic.

4. She never really understood how birds "had babies" because the male's bits were not visible. She believed (or wanted to believe - we were never sure) what our mischievous neighbor told her -- that they "did it" beak to beak.

5. She fired her podiatrist when she was 70 because he made some homophobic remark. "We do not talk that way in this house," she said to him. He continued, defending himself. "I am warning you," said this frail old gal on oxygen, "We owe a lot to the gay people we have known and loved, and I will not stand still for hearing them insulted." He made yet a third remark. She delicately removed her foot from his hands and said to my father, "Peter, please show this bigot out of our home. He is no longer welcomed." And he was never invited back.

6. People would give her things. Just give them to her. You didn't have to know her, but there was something about her that within a few minutes of meeting her you would find yourself planning what to give her. It would just make you so happy to give her something. Friends of mine gave her family heirlooms. She would walk into a hardware store and the owner would be giving her special new cast iron letters and numbers for the front of her house. She walked into a French bakery in NYC and the owner gave her a dozen free pastries to try just because she wanted Mom to try them. She would go to a nursery and we'd see her riding a truck with the owner in the fields as he or she would dig up special plants for her to try - free. The list could go on and on. Mom never asked for these things, and was always just stunned when they were given. After a while my father would say .."It's something in her eyes. One look and that is it." It became a shorthand of sorts. Mom would be gifted with something and Dad would just say, shaking his head, "They looked in her eyes again."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ma Demonstrates

As mentioned in an earlier post, my Mom who passed away 11 years ago has been on my mind a lot lately - as she is every year during the barrage of Mothers' Day ads and commercials. So here is a "Ma story".

Mom was about 72. She by this time wore a nasal oxygen canula 24/7, which she hooked up to a porta-pack of oxygen when she wanted to leave the house. Once a vigorous, non-stop go-everywhere kind of gal, she was now dependent on my Dad or me to drive her wherever she wanted to go. Her jaunts had gotten less frequent as she became physically weaker over time. But her mind and spirit never slowed down.

It was on a Spring day not unlike today that she called me:

Mom: Hi, honey - guess what happened in our little New England town today?

Me: You finally bought the last potted plant they had for your garden?

Mom: Nope. You know those Right to Life people? Well they held a vigil in town where they held hands with each other all across the town. They stretched from one edge of town to the other. All holding hands. The newspapers and TV stations were there, too.

OK - now I'll give you some background. My Mom and Dad raised me in the Roman Catholic Church, and were vigorous "defenders of the faith". My Dad attended mass every Sunday without fail, long after my Mom had grown too frail. Mom and I had NEVER discussed abortion. Ever. Although she was a rabid Democrat, I also knew that she had a very traditional take on sexuality issues that often bordered on the conservative as I was growing up.

I braced myself. We were about to have our first abortion discussion. My stomach sank. I said all I could think of saying:

Me: Oh really?

Mom: Yep, and I made your Dad pack up the oxygen and take me out to Court Square so I could see them and talk with them - that is where they were organizing.

Me: Really? (sick feeling in stomach -- mind racing)

Mom: And we drove by. I rolled down the window of the car and I made your Dad drive by real slow so I made sure they would hear me. I kind of had to shout, but it was important.

Me (silence)

Mom: Want to know what I said?

Me: OK

Mom: I said (pause for effect here) I said - "Are YOU going to adopt those babies? Shame on you! Who is going to take care of all those babies? If you love those babies so much, adopt them!"

Me: You said that???

Mom: That's not all. I made Dad stop and I asked one old pinch faced woman if she had protested the Vietnam War - and she said "NO!" So you know what I said?

Me: I cannot imagine.

Mom: I said "Oh, so it's OK to kill teen aged American boys AFTER they are born, just not BEFORE? If you care about AMERICA'S CHILDREN, STOP POVERTY, EDUCATE KIDS AND STOP WAR. My daughter protested the war - she is more PRO-LIFE than you'll ever be!"

Me: Have I told you lately that I love you?

Mom: Feel free to tell me anytime. I surprised you, huh? (giggles)

Me: You certainly did.

Mom: Not as much as I surpirsed that old lady in Court Square, (huge laugh)

Then she paused for a moment. We were both silent. I could hear the mischief in her voice as she said to me:

"So I guess this old lady has a few surprises for her kid up her sleeve yet, eh?"

We both laughed big heart jelly laughs. She was one helluva gal.

Speaking True Things

I love this poem by William Stafford and include it here for your reading delight. The idea of speaking our truths to each other has been very much on my mind lately. So this poem kept arriving at my mind's doorway.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
childhood storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region to all who talk:
though we could fool eachother, we should
consider -- lest the parade of our mutual life get
lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or breaking a line may discourage them back to
sleep; the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe - - -
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

--William Stafford

I am a Desert Woman Wannabe

A year ago I was in Arizona, taking this picture at the almost-edge of a 5,000 foot drop into Tuweep Canyon. I was experiencing the canyons and the high desert for the first time. And I loved it. The desert grabbed me and has not let go.

I live in the northeast. I live in a land of winters and allergies and traffic and pavement and people and cities and pollution and night skies without all the stars.

This land, this urban life, no longer fits me. It is like a shoe that has a worn out patch that is causing an irritation.

I am on-hold here, spinning my wheels ever more slowly.

Yet I have obstacles to moving -- chief among them is fear. Oh sure, I can hold up some health issues and some life-task issues that are real, but under-girding them is the fear of making the move into the unknown -- just because I feel it is the right thing to do.

I am such an independent person, so used to stepping out in general, that my current fear both embarasses and mystifies me. So I will expose it to the sun and to your scrutiny and will see what happens.

Look, here are the Chirchauhua Mountains. Are they not splendid?

And so I ask you in the nebulous space of the internet who may be happening by these words to say a prayer or wish a wish for me and for all others who have the cinderblocks of fear attached to our ankles.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Music, Music, Music!

I found a fun site the other day --one that has been around for years, but I just found it. First, it has its limits - but it is still fun. The site, allows you to create a radio station that only plays what you like -- actually a few stations. It doesn't play classical or many esoteric world musicians, but it is a noble effort.

I input an artist's name - like Tom Waits or Ricki Lee Jones (2 of my faves) and the site starts playing music by them and by people that they judge to be in their general style or category. I have the chance to rule an artist or a song in or out, and as I do the site refines its knowledge of what I like and what to play for me.

I have managed to "discover" a few artists that I had never heard before (Vienna Teng, Nick Cave, Runrig)which is always a pleasure. So for those of you who are always open to new CDs to while away the long drives between today and tomorrow, I offer this site. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Doing what I don't want to do but ought to do

I'm having a rough time. It's almost Mother's Day and I miss my Mom. My Dad's passing has left me embroiled in a difficult and emotional legal action. Finances could be better. I've been feeling quite alone. I had hoped to be moved to Arizona by now. My list-of-reasons-to-feel-bad is growing like a weed on steroids.

So I suppose I could go on here at length about the trials of the spirit. I could wax on eloquently about the way that difficulty hones the edge of the soul or gab on relentlessly about the Pauline statement that we are "Made perfect through suffering". Or I could just moan in self-pitying tones. Or all of the above.

Instead I am going to do something I do not want to do, because whenever I really don't want to do it is when I should do it the most.

I am going to make a Gratitude List of at least 10 items. I need to take a crowbar to my peripheral vision in order to see my life accurately.

OK here it goes. You get to sit through this with me, or you can just float your eyes down to the bottom. Take your pick.

1. I am thankful to be alive. I am a cancer survivor, so this is not a trivial gratitude.

2. I am thankful that I had a good and loving Mother in my life for over 40 years. She was a hot ticket, and a lollapalooza in the love-your-kid department.

3. I am thankful for wonderful friends who really do love me, whom I love right back, and with whom I have long and rich histories.

4. I am thankful that I have enough resources for my little life.

5. I am thanlful for the ability to love others.

6. I am thankful for my faith.

7. I am thankful for the joys of Spring - flowers all around, my garden's beginnings, warmer days, more sun, happier birds.

8. I am thankful to be living in a constitutional democracy.

9. I am thankful for art.

10. I am thankful for the way a fresh tomato tastes with just a little salt.

11. I am thankful for having known the love of a few good pooches in my life.

OK I made it to 11. Can I stop now? Wow, when I am blue it is soooooooo hard to get this list going. But that is exactly what I need to do to not have my vision clouded by misfortune. Yes, my misfortunes are very real, but they are not the sum total of my life. The only way they get to occupy that lofty position is if I push away all the good things in my life. Or deny them.

Sadness can get us all upsie-down and inside-out because it is so seductive. Sadness is a jealous emotion, wanting to crowd out anything that might eclipse it. I know that about sadness, but only remember it when I am in the throes of gratitude.

So how am I today? The emotional forecast is mixed. Some showers / some sun.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Call For Contributors

Ah, the joys of the Mundane!

The Carnival of the Mundane is seeking new submissions -- Click Here!

It is a jolly group of folks. Please send them something deliciously mundane :-)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mother's Day Blues

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home
A long way from home

Yes, as the spiritual says, I am feeling like a motherless child these days. Mom passed on in 1995, and Dad in 2005. But with the onslaught of Mother's Day media, I am always blue with missing her. She was a great gal. So I am sure that a few of the days between today and Mother's Day will contain posts here about her.

But oh how weary I get seeing and hearing ads about what to buy Mom for Mother's Day, or where to take her or what to send her or say to her. I get so tired of the emails about Mother's Day deals.

I actually sent an email back to an advertising company the other day asking that they no longer send me Mother's Day promotions as my Mom has passed away. Someone wrote back and said they couldn't do that, they could only remove me from their whole list. Fine. Remove me.

I don't expect the world to stop because my parent died. And, I'll do something in Mom's honor on Mother's Day -- although I have not decided what.

I just am made much more aware of others who, like myself, have a certain sadness on certain holidays. So to those reading this whose mothers are no longer here, I share a prayer and an embrace.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sweet Tzedakah

"We live in a moral universe after all. What's right matters. What's wrong matters. You may keep things hidden, but they don't disappear into the ether. They impregnate the atmosphere." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu


"Tzedakah" is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call "charity" in English. However, tzedakah as a word is very different from the Christian word for charity. The word in Hebrew is derived from the root meaning justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is an act of justice, the performance of a holy duty.

Some sages have said that the obligation of tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper.

In the Bible, I Corinthians 13 holds the most elaborate and familiar Christian texts on "love". However the word "love" in other translations is translated as "charity".

The word that translators struggle with is "agape" -- calling it either "love" or "charity". The English word "charity" has these origins: Middle English charite, from Old French charité, from Late Latin caritat-, from Latin, dearness, from carus dear All this points to a subtle distinction between the two world religions - for Christians, charity is an act of love. Love (and consequently charity) is not necessarily an act of justice.

Both traditions are high-minded, honorable. Both seek to honor God. And each has something to learn from the other's worldview.

As a Christian I really admire how, in Judaism, charity is not an "option" -- it is an action required to maintain a just balance in the world, a way of repairing injustice.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Thank You

The earth is full of your goodness,
your greatness and understanding,
your wisdom and harmony.
How wonderful are the lights that you created.
You formed them with strength and power
and they shine very wonderfully on the world,
magnificent in their splendour.
They arise in radiance and go down in joy.
Reverently they fulfill your divine will.
They are tributes to your name
as they exalt your sovereign rule in song.

Jewish mystical hymn 516 b.c.e. - 70 c.e.
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