Last year for an elm

Losing a large, old tree can be something like losing a human friend.  We might notice a bit of weakening here and there, but till a sickness is far advanced we often don’t realize how little time is left, how little we can do.  It is good during the Thanksgiving season to think of the ones among us, or gone before, and thank them for the many things they’ve given us, whether or not we ever said so before.

 

siberian elms denuded

Your trunks stand high yet narrow,

twiggy forms against the dark blue sky

with its paintbrush swipes of cloud

This spring you worked so extra hard

pushing forth those jagged edged leaves

of yours, from darkened wood,

hanging with the slightest pulse of sap.

Fellow siberians were completely done

with greening out before you really started,

weakened as you were by beetles and disease

Some had given up on you, yet some

strength remained beneath your bark

And once your leaves were out no one

would think how sickly you’d appeared

just two weeks before.

All summer you offered yourself,

your bark, your leaves, strong limbs,

your shade, anchoring roots and sap

From your apparent life

others drew your strength

into their own lives.

Hefty ravens, burly doves, tiny warblers,

flitting hummingbirds alike

found homes, a refuge, because

you stood there one more year

 

Today your hard born leaves

came shimmering down for hours

Pale in fall’s dark gold

Each leaf riddled through with holes

that merciless banded beetles made.

In this land of little shade it is a sadness

to lose such a one as you, even though

your species is reviled, invasive,

in August heat you are revered.

Your last brave stand is mourned,

my friend, you will be missed

in our dusty, desert world.

siberian leaves fallen

 

Polio Blogs 2: Getting fitted for a new kind of life

Most of those infected never get seriously ill. They may feel unusually tired, stiff, and achy, but they recover quickly and assume they had a bout with the flu. When they return to school or work, the virus returns with them.

But in about 2 percent of all cases, the virus penetrates the central nervous system and attacks the neurons of the spinal cord and lower brain. Muscle weakness and varying degrees of paralysis result. If the nerves that control breathing are affected, the victim could die, or at best may require a breathing aid. As of the 1920s, that meant the infamous iron lung, the coffinlike cylinder that encased polio victims in metal, sometimes for life. [Excerpt from a PBS story about polio, found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/rxforsurvival/series/diseases/polio.html]

 

iron lung
A young patient in an iron lung.  Not understanding what these were for, at first I wanted to get inside one. [Photo from web stock]

Part 2.  (Part 1 is at https://risingoverthesmoke.com/2015/11/20/339/)

The time I was allotted back in my own home, with my mother and little brother — who had both come down with polio, too, but recovered well — and dad may have stretched endlessly to my five-year-old mind, but in reality it was only couple of weeks.  Well before Christmas the combined efforts of my mother (the public health nurse) and various doctors landed me in Boston’s well-known Children’s Hospital.  There I would remain for a good eight months, and there I would have to face up to the much altered body my wild young spirit inhabited.

I went in there with no idea at all of the whys and what-fors.  Keeping me in the dark has never been a wise strategy, and at that time it was about to  be a sizable stumbling block in my recovery.  Not for the last time, either.

After all, I had read from my mother’s nursing textbooks at the age of three, and had some general awareness of what could go wrong with a human body.  That doctors did things about that.

It was not pretty.  For me, born a fighter, the excruciating awareness, in this uncomfortable hospital, of legs that would no longer leap out of bed to rush me through discoveries of each fresh day came close to overwhelming me. I hadn’t been told that the point of being there was to learn how to function in the new reality.  My enlightenment unfolded at its own pace.  First off, my urge to apply every new thing I learned turned my mind on the people who believed that they were there to help me.

From their behavior, I formed the opinion that they were there to drive me crazy, occasionally hurting me.

It was too bad that so few of them tried the one thing that would have put me on their side — explaining why they were doing such bizarre things.  Most just cooed, sang mumbo jumbo songs, or muttered, “This won’t hurt a bit!”  And it did!

Before the struggles began, though, there came the suggestion that I, as well as other young children, were still alive, if not exactly kicking in our cold metal beds.  No matter what indignities some unseen virus had wrought on us.  An older boy named Sonny shot a paper airplane into my bed, and it contained a note.  Happily I’d learned to read long before, and so had no trouble making out the words:  “I love you”.

Carefully refolding it, I landed it back in Sonny’s bed with no more message than a scowl.  Who knew what things such as “loving you” meant in a place like this?

They chopped off my long hair with hardly a word, no doubt for their ease of washing and detangling.  Me, I missed my cowgirl braids.  After some words with my parents, I was grudgingly allowed to wear my own flannel nighties from home instead of the thin, well-worn hospital gowns.

Since this was a major epidemic the hospital staff had to drag old equipment out of who-knows-where to accommodate the overflow of patients.   I found myself in what I considered a baby crib, because it had high railings which nurses would pull up and down to suit themselves.  All the better to reach in and grab me.  Thick paint on it had flaked and peeled in its former service, a fact which I found disgusting.  It smelled of rust. How I wanted my own twin bed under the eaves at home, a lovely wood headboard and fresh smelling sheets!

That was one small pausing point in my adventure into self-discovery.

Next came Medical People Pushing Things.  Machines, mainly.  Some were no more than blood pressure equipment, while the one that irritated me  most (besides the blood drawing cart) was a shiny metal box with all sorts of dials and knobs.  A long, broad and crinkled tube came out of one side, with an enormous face mask on the end of it.  That unappealing article inevitably got shoved over my face and locked behind my protesting ears faster than I could shout, “Not again!”

I would be commanded to breathe into it as hard as I could while the dials measured the performance of my lungs.  Quickly learning the point at which the medicos would detach me, I saved us all a lot of time.  Even though I didn’t appreciate it a bit, what they were doing was making sure of the degree to which polio had affected my lungs.  There are several different types of polio, depending on which part of the central nervous system is attacked by the virus.  The result of these huff and puff tests was that my spinal column’s motor nerves had suffered, while my brainstem was left in peace.

Had that not been the case I would have had lifelong, severe breathing issues, died young, maybe very young.   My life might have been passed in one of the enormous cylindrical things I had seen at Haynes.  Iron lungs, in which solely the head of the patient is visible to the world.  While being shoved around Haynes on gurneys I at first thought these might be submarines of some kind.  I yearned to explore one.

At Children’s Hospital I decided to show them just how good my lungs were by shouting at every opportunity.

Those medical people had seen everything though, and were undoubtedly somewhat in shock themselves at the sheer scale of patients pouring into their care.  My shouts rarely got more than a quirked eyebrow and half hidden smile.

They weren’t taking ME, I, Emmy Lee, seriously.  Only my body.

Realizing finally that whatever had happened to my busy legs was seen as A Very Big Deal by all these total strangers in a very strange place, not having any idea of what would happen next, deprived of my loved ones most of the time by hospital rules, was not reassuring.

My feisty nature took a dark turn.

I went on a hunger strike that lasted for days.  When trays of food were brought I left them untouched.  When attendants began trying to feed me I shoved the trays to the floor and glared.  I did sip water when no one was looking, but that was it for a good long while.

I fed myself on the worried looks and whispered conversations of nurses and a doctor.  My parents were called in, but not so much to comfort me as to consult with the staff.  Some idiot came in with a “wonderful” burger in a bun, and pretended to eat it while grinning and saying how yummy it was.  So I grabbed it from her, took a bite, chewed it slightly and spat it at her.

To this day I do not eat burgers if I can help it.

They left me alone for a while in my pyrrhic victory.  It became hard to get the attention of a nurse when I needed something.  They all had more pressing things to do than fuss over a non-cooperating individual like me.

I was aware when young patients died.

During that time I invented an imaginary horse friend.  He was a wild, white mustang and his home was in empty places of the West, with flat mesas and towering mountains his background.  Straight out of my dad’s National Geographics.  Somehow I got ahold of paper and pencil and created a rough map of his range, complete with topo lines for elevations.  I noticed, abstractly, that though I had been learning to write with my right hand before I got sick, now I was drawing with my left.  It better held a pencil.

Dreaming of this mustang galloping far and wide, strong, free and fierce, gathering his herd and trumpeting his challenges, the time I passed in the not-eating state was pleasant enough.

I had named my gorgeous friend Misty, as Marguerite Henry had in her 1947 novel about a pony on Chincoteague.  Thereafter legions of lonely little girls…

Sometime during these detached days my Angel walked through the big doors in the front of Children’s Hospital for the first time in her grey student’s uniform, to start her new rotation.

Emmy, Children's Hospital, Boston, 1953-54 sm
Me around Christmas at Children’s Hospital, with a doll somebody sent me… I wanted a horse…

When the time was right there appeared at my bedside a fresh face, a young student nurse who was not a bit hardened or defeated by conditions around her.  “What do you want to eat, Emmy?” she asked me, without the slightest annoying anxiety.  At last, a fellow explorer, someone who understood that you needn’t waste time being irritated or demanding, you could just ask a kid a straight question!

Liking her immediately, I gazed into her eyes and responded, “A big bowl of vanilla ice cream with mustard all over it!”

Off she went, soon to return with my order.  Never before had I eaten anything half so delicious.  I begged for seconds, and the student brought me another big bowlful of creamy vanilla with golden mustard all over it.

There formed behind my new friend a ragged line of the nurses and other staff on duty that evening, nudging each other, watching as each spoonful vanished.

That good, intelligent and intuitive young woman, whose name I never knew, brought about the positive turn in my rehabilitation.  Whatever became of her later on, I have long remembered her with love.  She knew how to avoid stupid questions.

The next stage of my “imprisonment” at Children’s Hospital began what in time evolved into a life long project — adjusting to equipment that would allow me normal life with half a functioning body.

At the age of six by then, I felt ready for anything. Which was pretty good, considering what I would rapidly learn about polio’s impact on certain fellow patients.

 

 

Polio Blogs 1: The polio bug

Here begins a new series for me, partly due to the Ministry of Encouragement in the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm, partly to my long ago promise to various medical professionals to write my experiences for them, and partly because of visions such as this one right below.

November 19, 2015 from Darlene Gait Witt’s Facebook fan page, She is a remarkable painter and a Coast Salish contemporary artist from Esquimalt Nations in British Columbia, a fellow Baha’i.  Among other First Nations public works she recently designed a series of coins for the Canadian government:

I think [it’s] good to remind yourself as an artist that there is no such thing as failure. You progress by moving forward, doing your best and never giving up. I was born an artist and chose paint as my medium. Yes, I have moved in different directions at times, but still consider myself a painter when I go to sleep each night. I have learned it’s not how skilled you are as a painter, it’s how good your ideas are that matter. How timely, how inventive, how creative and in tune with the world you are. Not everyone will appreciate your work. Some people will not even acknowledge you as a person or artist for reasons that are not yours to know about. But, as long as you are digging deep within your spiritual self for concepts, creativity and invention, you are Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, [Nikola] Tesla. Yes, on that level, because it is our responsibility as artists and creators to inspire change within our life time. Anything less is you not doing your best and that kind of self pity will not move forward with any grace.

Artists, be good to yourself. You are an extremely valuable addition to this world and the next.

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, though I have mostly done other things in life.  Doesn’t stop it from being in my blood to explore with the writing process the meanings of experiences, events, matters of the spirit.  I’m invariably looking for the light as words and paragraphs come to me.  Some would say my life has been tough, that they wouldn’t want to be me — but so what?  There’s a little light shining the brighter for every hard thing that has happened to me.

At the age of five I was living the happy life of a daughter in a middle class family near the coast of Massachusetts.  I had a beloved grandmother to explore with me the woods, streams and fields around our rural home, a younger brother to look out for, an intellectual mother in the nursing professions, and a father who worked in Boston all the time, for a chain of department stores.

The polio bug nailed me in August, 1953.  Specifically while swimming in Hyannis, awaiting the arrival of my aunt and uncle to take us out to sea aboard their cabin cruiser.

Emmie & Donnie Aug53 reduced
Me with my little brother, Donald in August, 1953.  We were both coming down with paralytic polio at the time.  After it appeared on a former blog of mine, this photo also ended up on a Romanian website.  It was called Leg Irons.

I, who loved to run with my long hair flying behind me, to climb trees, dabble my toes in Pudding Brook, follow great draft horses going about their work,  chase dragon flies across meadows and pick enormous bouquets of goldenrod for Grammie — who was allergic to them, but never said a word — I found myself stuffed into Haynes Memorial Hospital in Boston with children, teenagers and even adults packed like sardines all around.  This was the next to last polio epidemic in the US, and a vaccine for polio — the AIDS of its time — was in development.  Which made no difference to the beautiful little blonde girl in the bed two feet from mine as she moaned and died unattended, alone in the night.  To the teenage boy at the foot of my bed who ranted and raved for the loss of the use of his legs.  To Caroline Katz, a tiny Jewish girl from upscale Brookline, whose parents had abandoned her in the hospital once they found out that she would be imperfect in the  future.

With pain raging through every fiber of my body I was wrapped in woolen blankets soaked in boiling water — the “latest treatment” for polio at the moment.  Since this was humid, hot August and I was allergic to wool my screams were all the louder and nobody knew what to make of me.  At last they laid off the blankets, and doctors began thumping at my knees with their little rubber hammers, shaking their heads at the lack of response.

The fact is that I don’t remember them ever telling me directly that I would be paralyzed from the shoulders down for the rest of my life.  The first I learned of my fate was when I awakened from a nap on my bed to find my father sitting by my feet, wearing the protective robes all visitors had to put on, and he was sobbing.  “What’s the matter, Daddy?” I asked.  “My teeth hurt,” he replied.

In through the curtains surrounding my bed swept one of the rubber-hammered young doctors.  All I remember of him was his dark, wavy hair and sad expression.  “Her arms have come back,” he addressed my father.  “But her legs …. probably never.”

The next time the doctor banged my knees with that hammer I grabbled it from him.  “Sit down,” I ordered him.  “It’s my turn  to bang on YOUR knees for a while!”

Eventually, some two or three months after I was admitted at the height of the polio epidemic, Haynes Memorial abruptly ejected me and many others because of chicken pox breaking out among a few patients.

Of course as soon as I got home — home!!! — again I came down with chicken pox and was pretty sick all over again.  I had to crawl around the floors of our big old farmhouse where I had used to run and dance.  But I didn’t care a bit, I was free!  I would soon be able to go and visit my beloved draft horses at my great-uncle’s place, and the Standardbreds on the farm at the short end of our street.

Only not quite so fast.  I had yet to be equipped with leg braces and crutches and all the physical therapy that goes with that sort of change in a young life.  I did not know and did not care a bit — I was out of the smelly, humid, horrid city hospital for now and life was going to be good.

A bit of peace

 

Kiting_spidlering.jpg
Too tiny to spot easily or photograph, a spiderling launching its kite ended up as an iPad drawing for me.

Two evenings ago I tumbled out of a wheelchair and sprained an ankle good and proper.  Ever since about 80% of my day goes into reclining in my power wheelchair contemplating ceiling patterns or binge watching Netflix and Amazon Prime.  High winds, cold rain, and low temperatures kept me away from the great outdoors, as represented by the small back yard with its various large trees.

Today, however, features our traditional mid-New Mexico blue, blue skies and warm afternoons. Out we went, the dogs and me, to refresh our spirits.  Elf the Corgi has been having back trouble and loves lying in the warm sun, while Opus the Dachs-Terr loves sniffing around, chasing bird shadows … and lying in the warm sun.

Being in nature pulls me back to my center, my sense of place on this little planet that once felt so endless.  Today I went out there feeling a bit sorry for myself, a bit woozy and dazed and a bit being very, very ready for a change.

With feet higher than my head the change began with a brief texting session with my daughter far away, before it moved abruptly into familiar sounds tumbling down.  Cranes going over!  Their bugle-y notes brought back images of thousands of tall, grand looking birds in large alfalfa fields all around the area.  For fifteen years I lived across a small street from such a field, freely observing the excitement of mass landings and takeoffs all winter.  The soft grey of their feathers stands out against the taupe colored ground as delicately as a Japanese painting.  Half their year is spent here, the other half far north for the nesting period.  Missing them during the summer is enough to make me anticipate winter.

Next came two V platoons of ducks, the rushing air whooshes of their wings unheard so far below.  Perhaps they were on their hungry way to a small marshy area in town.  I couldn’t make out field marks without binoculars, so to me this was Duck on an urgent errand.  Like companionably stuffing themselves.

The next flight of the afternoon was of a creature not always beloved even when they fascinate such individuals as me, one whose grace and aeronautical skills go generally unacknowledged.  Despite many recent nights in the 20s, several spiderlings crossed my yard, high above the trees.  Detectable by the sun shining on their fine silk threads, they were kiting along to random destinations where they might find just what they need to survive the winter, tucked into tree bark or leaf litter.  Or be met with cans of Raid.

Last came a jet higher than the birds, and uncharacteristically without any sort of contrail.  Which made me, mystery book lover that I am, imagine something furtive in its presence way up there.  For a moment it even pretended to resemble a bird. However ….  sigh …. it was probably full of uncomfortable passengers en route to Dallas/Fort Worth or points east.  Which, come to think of it, is a good thing.  Passenger flights of late have not always gotten to where they were going, in one piece.

My take on all this, as my puffy ankle shrank down a bit above the rest of me, was pretty basic, but nonetheless profound, to me.  To batten down and get through the bad times, then burst into eager life the moment conditions are right.  Lift up, flap, launch your kite into a friendly warm breeze and never forget that there will always be good times ahead.

 

Subdued still… Paris, Lebanon, Nigeria … and others

 

This morning I see a goose moving steadily across a leaden sky, alone, strong in its purpose.  The muse to my mind today.

+++++++++

I am goose

flying slow over the good earth

of forests, fields, lakes,

flying fast and high above ruins,

mangled, bloodstained earth.

I move north, I move south

cruising along clear ancestral trails in air.

Now I am Greylag, a thousand years more

and I am Canada, Snowy, Bean, African, Nene.

My ways never change with the cosmic dust that forms me,

though outward feathers, powerful feet,

beak, eyes, the blood that pumps me in my flight

renews in form every now and again.

I am always of the goose spirit

I am always of the Earth

 

I am woman, one of a kind

moving as I choose across the Earth but once.

Spirit made form, linked into her pulsing tempest of a life.

Sometimes it is pleasant, assured like goose

that the outlines of life, the existential forms,

the patterns that my growing years provided me

will guide me to where I need to be.  But also

to hold me in my joy, my achieving,

my love, my sorrow, my rest.

 

Sometimes it turns vile, uprooting

my innermost being, that which is my soul and

tossing me through rhythmic tempests

like ocean waves seeking rocks

to beat themselves upon.

Infinity flows for me like watery waves,

in determination I do not die upon the rocks,

though my surviving means struggle

that almost tears my heart from me before

I stretch and hurt and grow.

 

My being resolves itself, like water smoothing after storm.

Patterns within this changing life go rising into

a place of unfamiliarity where I grasp at shadows

and seek again, again, again.

At last I sense a life line, and hold to my creative soul

to grow with each strange new pull and push —

all that nourishes a soul.

That which teaches me how to use one.

 

Once renewed, I sense there are two natures in a human:

The material, the warmth, the jobs, the homes,

the meals, the schools and jobs and bus stops,

the apples and the cookies

that point a family along its measured way.

What in their lack, for too many Earth dwellers,

makes choices in their suffering the sharper edged.

For who in their own hunger, whose children starve and shiver,

can think of things like schools and concerts,

great books or blogs?  No more of the love

for fellow human except what is their own…

The fight for life is over a bit of moldy bread.

Humane-ness has missed those born along this way.

Choices are so few.  To live, to die, to eat, to give that

small heap of crumbs, a few more hours, to another.

A man  whipped in this condition

may feed his heart with hate.

 

Goose has no choice but to follow

her ancestral patterns

But I, woman of a certain standing,

have my choice and what I do next

makes a determined survivor

or a terrorist out of me

 

Spirit nature, balanced with material at birth.

All of us born as pure, clean beings

the twin natures each ready to be engraved

with life’s experiences.

At first absorbed by need and fulfillment

like high flying goose, no choice

but to seek what we need to survive.

Loving arms to hold and warm and feed and clean us,

Bringing us into sunshine, snow, ocean, mountain.

To family, to mingle with others of our own small size, to play,

then on to learning games, the strategies of life.

Older, when we make the choices of where, what, who, how.

The result of this is life.  Our choices, our resulting selves.

Life lived with others, each having its effects upon all else.

Hardly one of us senses our secret powers to influence.

 

While some few veer far off the other end,

microbes who would be kings.

 

The color of my skin makes no more difference in me

than the patterns of shades in feathers does for goose

in her moments of cleaving across wherever skies.

But if she lands in mire, that goose will never fly again.

 

Spirit and material in balance in a life,

opens to love and grace, to share both gifts like a spring

emptying itself and constantly being refilled.

“Be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity.”

 

I am goose, my gratitude is

in being who I am, going where I must.

If I delight a heart along my way

I do not know it, though my kind

may be the richer for it.

 

I am woman, my gratitude is

in sharing who I am, a wee speck

in an immense force

working quietly, mysteriously, unstoppably

drawing life into bright and balanced web,

each unique iota providing what

nourishes and supports the other bits,

the rest of everything that ever is, was, will be.

From goose to woman and

all between, above, below, around

and every other side to which we are exposed.

 

I salute you, Goose…

The day that terror dies

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for France
Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate glows with blue, white and red for France.

French tricolors tug at my heart as they sprout on famous buildings around the world today, in support of France after terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13.  No, no, not again so soon after Charlie Hebdo!  Why do Islamic militants have it in for this small country so famous for its arts, food, culture? …  Its revolution.

I do not rub up against the horrors of disintegration willingly because that’s like tumbling into a black hole, to be stretched and stretched and s…t…e….  Till you snap.  You can’t get out.

This time I have to do this.

Disintegration …  meaning that the world appears to be getting to a dark, dark and divided place from which there will have to be radical changes on the way back into the light.  One of which would be a more even handed system of justice that includes everyone, be they mogul or subsistence farmer. Love is more powerful than hate, I believe, though days like this drop the persistence of hate into one’s consciousness.

Hate, after all, is only the absence of love, just as darkness is only the absence of light.  Of themselves the qualities of hate and dark have no power, they must be reactions to absence.

Me, I sit and muse.  Others must write, immediately.  It took me this twenty four hours.

I read prayers, posting a couple on my Facebook page.  For a time I read blogs just written by a number of deeply creative people in author Jon Katz’s Creative Group for Bedlam Farm on Facebook.  Then I turned to images of the world’s most famous buildings all decked out — by lights — in French tricolors.  Like Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, in the country where I once came close to terrorists.

How deeply such acts touch people, and how many feel reverberations of horror one way or another without even knowing where that came from at the time.  Then you realize how very fine the line is between yourself and your relatively comfortable life strong with its love, and those who have nothing but cold hatred to feed into their hungry hearts.  This has happened to me, and this is why I have lingered over Friday the 13th in Paris.

It was in early September, 1972, the day a college friend and I were returning to the US after visiting another friend in the Austrian Alps.  We came into Munich in the early hours of September 5 aboard a train car where most of the passengers were young Palestinian men.  Focused on making our  early plane out of the city where the Summer Olympics were going full tilt, speaking little German, we barely noticed that a lot was happening.  Sirens, traffic blocks, here and there groups of people huddled together.  Scared looks.

Black September was in town.  Not like the friendly Palestinians I would later meet in Haifa, Israel.  Black September, terrorists. …  Some of them, we later heard on the news, had also just come up to Munich from Austria by train.

As we were arriving at the airport, picking up bits of information that conveyed so little, those Palestinian terrorists were busy.  Israeli athletes were already being beaten, shot, and rounded up in a mass kidnapping by burlier, more hardened Palestinians than the ones we had just traveled with.  Till we arrived home in Boston though, my friend and I had very few details on the weird vibes around us.

Uncharacteristically for Lufthansa at that time, we were searched on our way through the airport.  Uniformed, edgy individuals doing the searching eyed me, hopping along with my wooden crutches, long leg braces and colorful, post hippy outfit,  deciding to skip some of the things other passengers were detained for.  In my case that was a safe call, yet later when I fell into the arms of my worried parents and heard what had been going on in Munich at the time, I wondered why the Germans had been willing to assume that a young handicapped woman wouldn’t have had something nasty stuck inside a leg brace or whatever.

Ten years later I would be working with some Israeli professors at Boston University and getting a more intimate view of what had gone on in their nation at that terrible time.   I would visit Israel myself, with my Jewish husband,  in time to hear so many Israeli fighter jets making runs north from where we were, over Lebanon — which Israel was preparing to invade.  Each sounded like a thousand pieces of fabric being ripped at once.  In April we were standing before the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem within one day of the time when an Israeli soldier with extremist views stormed into that holy shrine and shot a couple of Arabs dead, wounding many others.

I am a person who believes that all religious faiths are valid, that we should honor one another’s beliefs, not disparage or act in violence because of human differences.  Watching the Hasidic Jewish men on a hot day at the Wailing wall as they bowed and prayed in their layers of gabardine suits and coats, hats atop their heads with long sidelocks, hearing the keening sounds they made, I absorbed a powerful difference between me and them in the way we worshiped.   So I did in observing Moslems in their shrine bowed over with their heads to the floor, row after row.  In hearing the calls to prayer by the muezzin, strange then to my western ears.

How could someone come to want to shoot them for being unlike oneself, one’s family?

From the professors and a couple of people I met in Jerusalem and elsewhere I learned, not always pleasantly, about the dance that, in a tiny country, turns young idealism and love for one’s family into obsessiveness for the fate of one’s own kind. From there the hideous transformation, for a few, into hardened commandos, even terrorists when they go outside the military law.  Once started in those moves of darkness the outcome will most probably launch a mirrored response in those soon to be attacked.  A spiral of horrors begins.

To me this seems a collective delusion not so different from what happened in Nazi Germany.  Like the denial by a few people that the Holocaust ever happened.

With terror the way out can never, ever be more of the same.  Someone has to move away, to hold onto the existential love for fellow humans. When I heard French President François Hollande declaring that France will “wage merciless war” against the Islamic state and other jihadists, my heart grew heavier for a while, for the lives of the terrorists were lost so long before they came to commit this violence.

Then I reminded myself, love fills more of the world than hate, faster, and for longer.  Focusing on interactions in our own lives that grow love, this is what we can do as individuals in the face of such seemingly hopeless hatred elsewhere …. I love to think of these favorite lines,  from Baha’i writings:

Where is the meteor of Thy fire, O Light of the worlds? …. Thou seest the hearts are filled with hate, and to overlook is Thine, O Thou Concealer of the sins of the worlds.

When the swords flash, go forward!  When the shafts fly, press onward!  O Thou Sacrifice of the worlds.

To always, always, go forward with your love.  To have that faith that this is strong enough to push away the darkness.  To sense that treating an ill-wisher with kindness is ultimately more forceful than it seems at first.

I am speaking of me, of us, regular people.  Not of governments which do things to ensure the safety of their people.  Governments will do what they must about ISIS, ISIL, whatever this latest terrorists are called.  Once a line is crossed even I, who would cherish the spark of love inside each young human being till it grows into a warm fire, even I understand that there is action to be taken, collectively, to put an end to it.

We are generally unaware when some tiny thing we do, like smiling at a stranger in the market, intervening in a fight between two small children on a playground, catching a runaway dog for an old person who can’t move fast enough, will change a darkening pattern of thought for somebody and hence change the world.  We don’t, but we should keep on doing those same small things anyway.

Something else that I came across today that speaks to my spirit is a song by a Native from Canada, “Ghost Dance”.  So much cultural genocide against American indigenous people for some four centuries, and so much effort at redemption is represented in the original Ghost Dance — and this version takes it to a high level with its lyrics.

“They don’t stand a chance against our love,” sings Robbie Robertson.  If anyone knows what it is to be terrorized it is the indigenous peoples of the Americas.  Yet they survive, they stand strong, they offer so much to the greater world despite persistent injustice and pain.  They are going to live a long, long time.  Alongside the rest of us who don’t succumb to the dark and make it into the light.

Phil Lane, Jr., of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations is recognized internationally as an indigenous leader in human and community development.  What he said earlier today is strong in my mind this evening:

“What could have caused Human Beings to commit such senseless acts of terror to other defenseless Human Beings? It is a deep question to pray and ponder about. As I see it, only hurt people hurt people, only colonized people colonize people and only terrorized people terrorize people!”

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Check out the uTube video of Ghost Dance:

Robbie Robertson:  Ghost Dance

The day the leaves were falling

Every fall there comes a day when a fruitless mulberry tree lets go of most of its perfectly green leaves, all at once.  This year it was today, after a few nights that dipped into the 20s.

Opus watches leaves fall
Opus and his shadow had a fine time watching and sniffing the big things drifting down.
fuzzybutt in leaves
Elf was more interested in earthy scents beneath the messy things.
crispy leaves 2
While the human found interest in dry, crispy leaves in the desert willow tree.