It never ceases to amaze me how easily it is to walk past and even through the stunning beauty of life without seeing anything.
Take this puddle, for instance.
It is just a puddle on road broken up with potholes and littered with small rocks a dump truck spilled months ago. You could splash through it or avoid it on your way to the park just a block away. Most people do. It could be nothing but a nuisance, a breeding ground for mosquitos, a mud pit, a failure of infrastructure, the ruin of your good shoes, something to avoid, or nothing of any significance.
Or you could look. And see.
You could catch a sunset not high up in the clouds, but down on earth, right at your tips of your toes. You could plonk a pebble in it and watch the colors ripple. You could risk your shoes and step in it just to get as close as possible to walking in the heavens.
I think of this not just when I see a puddle reflecting clouds, but when I pass by someone jogging with earphones or chattering away on a cellphone. Music is wonderful, yes.
But so is birdsong and the rustling of leaves.
Every choice we make, whether calculated or thoughtless, shapes our vision of the world.
Sometimes we miss happiness.
We miss it.
Please stop by the Miami Springs Farmers Market tomorrow to sample some delicious treats. I’ll be there for opening weekend and then just spotty appearances. We have an amazing new organic farm selling the green stuff. I have my usuals: mango jam, farm-style applesauce, pumpkin bread, artisan breads, and more.
Everybody knows it’s a bad idea to visit Everglades National Park in the summer. But it was my husband’s idea, so we were all dragged along. In January we had such a lovely time, Andres thought we should visit during all the seasons to see the changes.
That sounds reasonable unless you recall that summer is mosquito season in Florida, and rainy season, and oppressive heat season, and hurricane season. We encountered all of the above on our day trip, excepting a hurricane. Still, we saw beauty. We saw beauty.
How many shades of green?
Love was in the air.
And the water!
My favorite shots are always reflections of clouds. To see the sky on earth takes my breath away. That’s an advantage of a cloudy day.
There were so many butterflies! I saw about 50 fluttering around one grassy spot.
And, of course, gators! After ten years in Florida I am not as excited to see them. I have a case of been there, done that. But this guy was special. I saw him swimming around a bend and then he climbed to this low level swamp. Usually I just see them hanging out completely still. The water was clear, so it was an amazing sight to see all four limbs swish through the water. The sky was drizzling, so I chose not to risk my camera for a swim shot. You’ll have to come and see for yourself.
The other great thing about this trip was hearing the clinking grunts of alligators we never saw. I’d never heard them before, and boy is it eerie.
What a gift to live next to one of the most unique ecosystems on earth! I’m so glad we are protecting it.
See y’all again this fall.
Halloween is just around the corner. Already grotesque images of zombies pop up during commercial breaks in family comedies jarring me with disgust. I’m not into playing scared for fun. I see too much real terror in life to enjoy flirting with it for entertainment’s sake.
Right now, the real news of the world strikes equal notes of terror and horror in my heart.
Most especially, when it’s about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, acronymed ISIS.
Last night I watched the 60 Minutes episode that explained what ISIS is, how they came gross power so quickly, and how they can be stopped. I learned they are self-funding and generate about $6 million everyday. I saw their black flag waving in the desert, the murderous soldiers sporting all black and an image of their leader speaking as the Hitler of our century.
It shook me to my core.
I did not believe that I would ever live in such a time of evil and fear. My naïveté is a byproduct of a wholesome childhood, I suppose. It’s a hard thing to accept. It’s strange to think that while my life is so full of Divine light and love, across the world, half a spin of our globe, people are living in the darkness of a spiritual eclipse. No light at all. Only the deep painful chasm of separation from God.
How can this be? How can we go on?
I remember my first experience of an eclipse. In elementary school I was brought to a field and given an index card with a circle poked out to witness a solar eclipse. I didn’t understand. I was one of the little kids, maybe first grade, and the teachers in their excitement, scared me. Don’t look directly at the sun! It will burn your eyes! And then in another breath, The sun will disappear! It will be dark like night! I waited on the scratchy grass, trembling. I’d never been outside in a field at night. I’d never been out in the dark without my mother. The world without the sun, even for a few minutes, was unfathomable to my fragile spirit.
The memory of my fear is stronger than my memory of the eclipse. The sun was gone for only a moment and not completely. A minute later it the world was light and we were a mass of kids being directed to file back into school in an orderly fashion. It seemed like much ado about nothing. After all, the sun had just played simply game of peekaboo with the moon.
The spiritual eclipse that manifests itself as evil performs the same illusion. But just as the sun never stops shining, Divine Light never ceases to illume. Those who are washed in blackness may not see the light, they may be in complete and utter separation from it, but nevertheless, the light shines endlessly. Inextinguishable.
But what can we do?
I caught a bit of Ken Burn’s latest documentary, The Roosevelts, this week. There is footage of the end of World War II, when Times Square and the Champs-Élysées were overwhelmed with rejoicers cheering and kissing. Wars don’t have finales anymore. There is no definitive cessation of fighting or resumption of peace. I remarked to my husband, It seems like wars don’t ever end these days; they just simmer and flare.
I feel helpless, but I want to stand for good. I don’t want to passively accept evil into the world or ignore it because the geography of my birth proffers me that choice. This is what I do.
It is simple. It is small.
It is magnificent.
It is the only real contribution I can make.
I shift my thoughts and my energy to the spiritual plane, the place where the field of all possibilities, including peace, exists. I do this through daily meditation, and by calling on my heart to seek compassion whenever I notice it falling into the black hole of fear and hate. I take responsibility for the energy I contribute to the world and do my best to make it clean and bright.
This must sound strange to a nonspiritual person.
I believe, I know that we are all connected as Divine consciousness. Because of the symbiotic relationship of the universe, each of our individual energies contributes to the whole. This is why bringing oneself to a state of peace creates a reverberation which extends far greater than our grasp. Terrorists use the same understanding in the opposite way by enacting horror on a few, and letting that fear and hatred infect the collective spirit. Meditation and conscious compassion work to counter that tide.
The meditation I find most powerful for peace is Swami Radha’s Divine Light Incantation. These are the words:
I am created by Divine Light.
I am sustained by Divine Light.
I am protected by Divine Light.
I am surrounded by Divine Light.
I am ever-growing into Divine Light.
Although it is lovely to do it standing in a circle as a group, I usually do it by myself seated on a meditation cushion. I repeat her prayer silently in my mind and visualize beautiful white light showering down and coming inside on me. Once I have a strong sense of that light, I visualize sending to a friend. Then I visualize sending it to a stranger. All the while the prayer is repeated as a mantra.
The hardest part is the end, when I send the light to an enemy, such as the executioners garbed in black in those bone-chilling videos. It is difficult spiritual work to offer something so beautiful and transcendent to a personification of evil, but that is the work of peacemaking. It challenges my heart to true compassion. It requires faith in two beliefs:
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is more powerful than darkness.
I grew up in the Catholic church and I agree with their definition of hell, which is not a fiery brimstone place, but simply a separation from God. When I see people performing such atrocities, I know they are living in hell on earth. I send light not as a pardon, but as an invitation back into the folds of love, light, and God. If we cannot challenge ourselves to find peace and compassion within the confines of our own hearts, what hope is there for peace in our world?
And I have hope, for birds are singing, babies are breathing, jungles are humming, and look up— the sun is shining.
Happy birthday my darling boy!
You are now a whole hand old. This thrills you, but has caught me gasping for air. Being five seems like I can no longer hold onto any vestige that you are a baby. On the eve of your birthday you assured me that you will still be silly and cute when you are five. What a relief! But your baby body is gone, you are lean with abs and everything. Your face changed too. Right at the end of summer Daddy and I noticed angles cutting through the soft pillows of fat you had since you were born.
A little boy is now shining through.
The best thing that happened to you this year is KINDERGARTEN! You’ve only been there for two and a half weeks, but it has made you happier beyond belief. In the age of redshirting it took some guts on my part to nudge you in, 19 days after the traditional cutoff, but I’m glad I did. You are so ready, so eager to learn. You waited so long for this chance to zoom ahead, and baby, you are flying! I know school will be a place where you will always find success, much like it was for me. It’s a place for you to carve out your identity and build ramps to your future. You love Mrs. Peacock, all of your friends, especially Zak, and most of all you love homework.
You get out of school an hour before Max, so I take you to the library to do your homework everyday after school. You take such care with your work. All of your coloring assignments are detailed way beyond expectation. Much of your homework involves cutting and gluing, which you also enjoy quite a bit. It amazes me how careful you are with your scissors, always going for the precise snip, rather than an easy chop. Last Friday when I picked you up from school, you told me you had no homework.
Friday, fun day, I said.
You looked down. No, Friday, bad day, you said to your shoes.
Why is that?
Because I like homework.
You were disappointed even though instead of going to the library for homework, we were going to the coffee shop for a cookie. My, you are my son!
But that’s just the last two weeks, let me recap a bit more of your year. Of course, you spent most of it in PreK 4, which you enjoyed even though it didn’t challenge you enough. It was great to hear that you are a natural leader, but that you also are kind and include everyone’s ideas. You are beloved by your classmates. These are your first real friends. You even had a girlfriend for about 6 months, a very pretty girl named Penny who was famous for her headbands. Alas, she moved away this summer. Deep sigh.
I was surprised when your teacher told me you don’t sing much in circle time, because at home you constantly put on shows. Nana got you a microphone for Christmas, and boy do you use it! I especially enjoy your made up songs, which often rhyme. Max likes to join in and before you know it, we have a boy band in our living room. Half the time it is a naked boy band and the other half you are wearing some costume you’ve fashioned from the dress-up box or kitchen cabinets. Lord, do I have pictures! You did manage to make me proud as a Shepard in the Nativity Play, a Slap Happy Seal in the Preschool Circus, and Bert from Mary Poppins at the end of the year show.
Your athletic abilities are starting to shine this year. First it was basketball, which you practiced dribbling on the sly. Then, of course, your first bike, followed by soccer, running, baseball, and finally tennis. That is your current passion and you are really good. Daddy pitches the ball to you, and you whack it back. You rarely miss. You don’t know this yet, but we got you your very own tennis racket for your birthday. I hope you like it. It is very hard for you to be in Max’s shadow in terms of sports. He is naturally athletic and a year older, so he is the moving target you can’t catch. It’s already given you grit, but it also frustrates you and breaks your heart.
Speaking of broken hearts, you broke mine earlier this year, when you finally voiced your fear to Max:
You think you’re gooder than me, you said.
It was such a beautiful moment. Heart-wrenching, for sure, but also a moment that made me swell with pride and hope for you. You had been frustrated for months and expressing yourself through sulks and outbursts. Finally speaking the words in your heart liberated you. I assuaged your fears of inadequacy as best I could, but I also saw a subtle change in your demeaner after that. You were calmer and a bit more mature. Truth is powerful, my love. The fact is, Max is not better than you, and I think you know that deep down, because were speaking about what Max thought of you, not what you were.
What are you? Who are you?
Well, my dear, you are a storyteller. This year you have made up fantastic stories with character development, thickening plots, surprise endings, and lots of suspense. I’ve been bowled over by your astute vocabulary choices and the well-timed structure to your stories. You love words and often rhyme for fun. You can deliver a punchline like nobody’s business.
You love games, especially winning. You like to challenge yourself with 100-piece puzzles and often will spend an entire afternoon puzzling away. You and Max invented a game this summer based on World Cup Soccer. It’s called World Cup Fruit Soccer, and you use the small fruit manipulatives we got to practice counting in elaborate tournaments. Poor orange always has to be the ball. I often root for Pineapple when they play Grapes, and you usually rig the game for me.
You have also become a good artist and builder. You love to paint rainbows, and had a blast with our Jackson Pollack and oil pastel art days this summer. You make the most elaborate castles and mansions out of wooden blocks. You’ve also ventured into Legos. Usually you make semi trucks, but my favorite thing you ever built was The Car You Can Drive Whatever Way You Want, with multiple floors and steering wheels in all directions!
You have the most beautiful eyes, two chocolate orbs that are so bright they look like two suns with your lashes the sunbeams radiating out. Your eyes speak volumes and the two of us often communicate without sound. You ask questions, seek help, admit mistakes, and learn boundaries silently with our eyes locked on one another. Max and Daddy don’t have a clue about that.
For your birthday we have hired a magician, because you love magic: the element of surprise, the showmanship, the creation of wonder. The things you love about magic are the things I love about you. You have brought magic to our lives for five years and counting! I made a poster of you dressed like a magician for the party, and let you choose your stage name. You are: Jack the Fantastic!
I couldn’t agree more.
All my love, all my life,
Airplanes crashed into buildings in a city I have never been to and in another city close to where I was born.
I didn’t know how to tell you about this, or when, but you came home from preschool and informed me, Planes crashed into buildings in New York and people died. I called director of the school right away. Surely terrorism isn’t appropriate curriculum at such a tender age. Let’s stick to ABCs and 123s.
She agreed, but was helpless.
Time doesn’t move backwards. The first traces of this story had already, indelibly, run tracks in your mind.
You are growing and now you must learn a terrible lesson.
For you, September 11th is Patriot Day. A holiday from school uniforms, when you sport your Fourth of July tee shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. This year your shirt is emblazed with an American flag made out of baseball bats and balls. A fire truck will visit your school and you will present the heroes with red, white, and blue paintings you created.
For me, September 11th is September 11th.
It took a long time to come up with a name and a story for that day. When you first mentioned Patriot Day, I didn’t know what you were talking about. Until I saw the date. Still, I am your mother, which means I am also your first storyteller. I will participate in the lesson.
What does patriot mean? I ask you on the way to school.
You don’t know.
It means someone who loves their country.
Our country. Our world. What lessons lie ahead? The stories of yesterday, are they worst than the stories of today?
You catch snippets of the news before we can flip a channel or usher you out to play. I know that you will take these eavesdropped clippings and construct a story. We all do. That’s what it means to be human. The most essential part of our unique brain is that we make up stories. We can’t help it. We strive to comprehend.
Before you were born…
airplanes crashed into buildings.
But the important thing for you to know, the really, truly, most important thing for you to know is this:
The moment you were born, that very moment,
love crashed into this world.
I know; I was there. It thundered like the roar of a lion, the stampede of elephants, the shattering of glass, and the melting of metal. And on your breath, baby boy, I smelled it, I tasted it in your very first kiss:
You brought hope.
And that is where this story begins.