We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness.
Mary Oliver Red Bird (2008)
I collect poems that appear in my inbox or on social media. This is one posted by wise elder Parker Palmer in mid March of this year. Is it prescience? Or simply another rendering of Mary Oliver’s astute skills in observation already so evident in her poetry situated in the natural world. I imagine is was cited often in the months following the 2016 American presidential election. It continues to have remarkable resonance there as states swing to vote in politicians and legislation undermining and undoing so much of what we have considered the hard won, inviolable rights of the historically vulnerable, marginalized and disenfranchised.
Today, I think it apropos for my province, mere days after the election that gave to the woman who took over her party’s leadership on a no confidence vote, the mandate to proceed with her view of things. A woman who, just days before, was found guilty of violating the province’s conflict of interest act. A woman who, in the first months of assuming leadership, was publicly apologizing for every verbal gaffe she’d made speaking, apparently without thinking. Or was she revealing a heart that was “small, and hard, and full of meanness.” A heart that regrettably becomes so shaped by empire. A heart that beats in my own chest unless I chose to cultivate otherwise.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
– Joy Harjo –
One of several, this poem by past Poet Laureate of the United States, was a gift to its subscribers from the Poetry Foundation in celebration of American Thanksgiving. Today is the day after, the formal kick-off to the holiday season, and Black Friday, another American invention, where for the lastmany weeks social media has run rampant with ads boasting big savings on just about everything imaginable. Curious that what comes to my mind as I type is remembering within days of 9-11, then President Bush telling Americans to go shopping to deal with their unspeakable shock and yet to be processed, still processing, grief.
A couple of days ago I made an “artist’s date” with a friend before going out to lunch together. We visited the Alberta Council for the Ukrainian Arts, recently relocated on the edges of our downtown core – desperate for post-pandemic revitalization – due to the demolition of its previous home in a sweet, enlivening neighborhood strip mall. Home, too, for a cozy family friendly café; a corner store “famous” city-wide for its fried chicken; a chic furniture and home décor shop; the place to go for small appliance repairs and replacement parts; a Buddhist bookstore…the lifeblood of a community soon to be bled and bulldozed for urban “development.” Yes, I feel grief about this.
I wanted to go to the centre to see Ruslan Kurt‘s “DOORS“, an art installation of doors taken from Ukrainian homes bombed, torched, and shot at by invading Russian soldiers.
February 24, 2022. Nine months to the day of this American Thanksgiving. Then the day the world, as the people of Ukraine and beyond knew it, ended perhaps at their kitchen tables. Most certainly at their front doors.
Eating lunch at a café table with my friend, she of Ukrainian descent on her mother’s side, I remarked on the juxtaposition of these battered doors within the art centre’s maker space – women chatting as they embroidered, and stitched quilts, sewed at machines set for creating, surrounded by walls hung with colourful Ukrainian art. How symbolic of life: on one hand, its cycles of creation and destruction, on the other, how in the space of these nine unimaginable months, so much has filled in and taken over and away my attention from this invasion and its deepening catastrophic impacts now come winter. Taken over and away by a continuous barrage of catastrophe, terror, trauma, and grief.
Too, remembering the ethical conundrum of Thanksgiving in North America with itshistory of colonization, enslavement and displacement. A history of catastrophe, terror, trauma, and grief that persists.
So this post – post Thanksgiving and pre the advent of the holyday season with its cross cultural celebrations of light returning – is an invitation to pause…to remember…to return my attention…to imagine the tables where “we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.”
Sometimes things don’t go, after all, from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail. Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war, elect an honest man; decide they care enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor. Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to. The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.
Parker Palmer, wise elder, posted this a couple of days ago – his pithy response to the USA midterm elections. I’m sharing it today because I like how it echoes my first post back after my writing hiatus wherein I uplifted Hafiz’s notion that our efforts add to the universe – a message I personally need to remember and feel needs to uplifted and amplified continuously for us all.
OUR EFFORTS ADD TO THE UNIVERSE. Mine. Yours. Ours. Simple. Elegant. Complex. Messy. The Universe does not judge. It simply needs our effort. So let’s get at it! One simple step…and let’s see where it takes us.
“Travel is travail. The ancient Greeks taught that obstacles were the tests of gods, and the medieval Japanese believed that the sorrows of travel were challenges to overcome and transform into poetry and song.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Quest. Pilgrimage. Hero’s journey. Each entails encountering and overcoming challenges and ordeals. Religious historian Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) describes four aspects to pilgrimage: singleness of purpose; freedom from distraction; ordeal or penance; and offerings.
And so it was that on this 20 km, second stage to Apulia, blisters made their appearance. Given my feet would walk me to Santiago, I took their care seriously, each day rubbing them with foot glide, taping hot spots, and yes, even talking to them with words of encouragement and gratitude for their strength and resiliency. The last time I’d travelled internationally, I was recovering from an excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, working with my chiropractor, putting indoor pickleball on hiatus, and packing a couple of pairs of shoes and Yamuna foot balls, I succeeded in walking pain free for three weeks. So yes, I took my feet and their care seriously.
This time I’d bought and broken in shoes a half size larger to account for swelling, and brought umpteen pairs of socks, finally arriving at the right combination of cushion, wicking, and comfort with Darn Tough merino light-weight hikers, socks that arrived just days before departure. My hefty but compact “foot care” kit included several sizes of COMPEED plasters, Rock Tape, moleskin, needles and thread, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic wipes, polysporin, bandaids, and while I was prepared, short of entirely taping each foot, I had no idea until that day of walking across varied surfaces, in growing heat, for six hours, what would be the rub and where the result. Rub identified – the outside heel edge of my insoles – and resolved with moleskin, several days later I was pain free and simply needed the COMPEED to do its work.
Apart from myriad details, and the hours and energy involved in planning and preparing for this first post pandemic international trip – researching equipment and resources, designing my packing systems for easy access, “rehearsing” during my Saturday Camino walks – I made sure to reserve time the week before departure for two vivifying activities: embellishing the pages of my travel journal with washi tape borders (tape I’d found resembling Portuguese tiles) and “touchstone” inspirational quotes; and preparing tokens of gratitude to gift people along the Way, to enact and realize my intention of walking in appreciation and gratitude.
“When you leave home, you are a stranger, and a stranger is always feared. That is why the wise traveler carries gifts. To make a peace offering at every stop of a pilgrimage is to recognize the sacred nature of the journey with a deep personal purpose.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
I had discovered a collection of bronzed metal maple leaves – what could be more Canadian! – and golden elm leaves in my craft kit, a couple of cool swag pins from my radio station, and some other small tokens that I wrapped in colorful tissue and a sealed with floral stickers, making for little lightweight packets.
After returning to Lisbon’s famous glove store, Luvaria Ulisses (1925), to gift Paula, the delightful saleswoman who the day before had spent a good hour fitting and teaching us about the shop’s exquisite handmade collection – and making two sales! – I learned to always have some packets tucked in my purse to gift to the right person at the right time.
From my journal, May 11, 2022, STAGE 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia: “Another beautiful walk, so diverse as we passed thru morning residential neighborhoods with kids going to school, people stopping for morning coffee; then along the beach and back on the boardwalks. Delighted to meet some local women sitting in the sand, plucking and cleaning their harvest of sage-like greens (though not for eating, indicated with head shakes), and the kind fellow who interrupted painting the beach W/C for me to use (that morning coffee!). Learning I was walking the Camino, he regaled me with his own Camino stories and phone photos. I gifted him with a ‘Keep the Circle Strong’ pin which delighted me as much as him, seeing his surprise and joy. ‘I’ll put this on my Camino shelf,’ he smiled, wishing me ‘Bom Caminho.'”
I wrote Monday’s post days before the US Supreme Court voted to overrule Roe vs Wade, the historic federal legislation ensuring and safeguarding a woman’s right to choose. While I live in Canada, I know it to be both naïve and privileged to think such matters don’t affect me. The personal is political, a truth ever and exceedingly so.
When a friend said she couldn’t wait to begin her Camino to get away from it all – not an uncommon urge – her words gave me pause to consider. I knew I wasn’t walking to get away but rather to deepen into life as it presented itself. And so with “singleness of purpose,” and “freedom from distraction,” I remained tuned in enough to know about and walk with my feelings and prayers for:
the millions of people affected by storms that devastated Ontario and Quebec, news of which reached Portugal and Spain. I knew my nephew, a supervisor with Hydro One, would be leaving his young family to head up a team and taking as long as needed, would together undertake significant safety risks to repair transmission towers and poles to restore power.
the people of Buffalo, New York in the aftermath of a strategic, race related mass shooting. As my birthplace and always visually present in my childhood and youth having grown up across the river, and with family who have always lived there, the shock and grief felt by its people carried across the sea to me.
the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. What can I say that hasn’t been said, watching Americans I met walking the Way shake their heads in grief, with shame for the hundreds of school shootings and children killed in their country?
the ongoing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Again, no words.
Many mornings I’d be awakened early with powerful dreams seeded by the previous day’s events – near and far – and the “loosening” created by walking kilometers by and in the elements. Deserving of my attention, I’d be preoccupied and silent during breakfast and as I walked, working through to their wisdom. Too, daily tending to my body’s aches and blisters…navigating long distance family matters…and weighing heavy, the worry and risks of misjudged and insufficient preparations rubbed, creating its own blisters: insomnia, injury, illness…
Given my intention, walking the Camino – and now writing about it – I couldn’t disconnect from life, people, and the world around me. The paradoxical gift being that the weight of these ordeals kept me present in my body, on the path, in my life, and in the world I inhabit. Now home, some blisters have healed, some are callused. Others remain tender to the touch.
From my journal: “I wondered this morning that if by walking shorter stages, by ‘sauntering,’ enjoying the vistas, meeting people, taking it all in, if this is enough? Should I be carrying a full pack, walking longer stages? If that by allowing one to encounter and deepen into oneself, easefully, is this the true Camino experience? But as I write, I am answering my own question, and go back to why now and in this way? To walk in love and appreciation. To notice the beauty and encounter people. To go slow and easy…with de-light and in joy. And while I’ve yet to write a poem or paint a picture, I’m gathering the pearls of impressions to string together a beauty.”
“Only through a journey such as this could I come full circle in my life and touch something sacred that could revitalize my life.”
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 dike.
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 in all who talk: though we could fool each other, 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 a breaking 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 The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, 1998
Two weeks ago, wise elder Parker Palmer shared this poem with an incisive commentary on Russian president Putin’s “bloody, power-hungry invasion of Ukraine,” while imploring his American readers to demonstrate bravery by confronting the anti-democracy darkness wielding its way in their country. I would add, around the world.Moments ago, doing a quick scan of the today’s news, I read that over 400,000 Ukrainian citizens have been forcibly taken to Russia, many to be used as hostages in the battle for Kyiv. Too, that more than half of Ukraine’s children have been driven from their homes, with their mothers, to take refuge in neighboring countries. As I wrote last week, I hardly have words. What I do have is a silent scream that could shatter if I gave it full voice. So instead I will do as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes implored earlier this week, “Dear Brave Souls: Now would be the time for prayer that uses everything you’ve got: muscle, fervor, rigor, verve, pounding down and raising up…”
May we all be brave in such ways. May we be awake for the darkness around us is deep, lulling us back to sleep.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Mary Oliver, Devotions (2017)
“There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.” Posted by a friend mere days before Russia invaded Ukraine, I saved this gem for its reminder, and the abundance of joy described, never imagining the mind-numbing poignancy of its prescience.
My writing here has been episodic, due in part to Russia’s horrific war on Ukraine, for which I am at a loss for words. So as you may have read, I have relied on those from others (again, my plug for Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty – please consider buying and sharing it far and wide.)
Too, I’m quite full of my own words, preparing a manuscript of poetry for publication, riding the slipstream created at the start of the new year, when I submitted 22 pages for a chapbook contest. Both longshots. Both labors of my love. Both my ways of fighting back. Both my ways of saying,
Beauty made from love matters makes a difference during days of such madness.
“But this week, we entered yet another hard, shocking chapter in the life of the world.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, March 5, 2022
Yes, here we are, the global community, again trying to keep our collective hearts open in the hell that is war. These weeks in Ukraine. Before that…and before that…and before that…In a recent poll close to 70% of Canadians believe we are poised for a third world war. (Global News, March 3, 2022) With the invading leader stating that all sanctions levied by the west are akin to a declaration of war (Reuters, March 5, 2022), anxieties, already exacting their cost during the pandemic, continue to manifest in myriad ways within and among us.
“Trauma isn’t limited to the mind or body of a singular person. It has the ability to have a cumulative impact on an entire people…When an entire society is desecrated, demonized, invaded or imprisoned, it reshapes the cultural gene pool of that entire generation. What is trauma then, but a collective and cumulative phenomenon.”
Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014
Last week I wrote in my regular Friday photo and poem feature that I had been reminded by a friend with whom I had shared Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. Selecting a piece for that post, I scanned other of his entries in preparation for my virtual women’s circle, wanting to offer into the centre a “start point” inviting us to each speak to the impact of the current world events:
“In this moment, an echo is occurring across the globe. It is the human spirit craving to be reminded one does not need permission to grow.
In this moment an echo is occurring across our hearts. It is the realization that love has its own logic.
Live. Love. Grow. Even if one cannot make life more beautiful, at least make it more bearable. This should be considered the base for being human.
May the passion continue. May the circle expand.”
Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014
We felt deep resonance and relevance with Mark’s words as each of us took our turn speaking, passing our virtual talking pieces through several rounds of conversation. Our time together marked easefully with several substantial pauses for silence. One by one, we shared evoked images and memories, silent tears and fears, wisdom borne of dreams, intuition and lived experience. By the end of our two hours together, soothed and more settled. Life made more bearable.
In my imagination, I see copies of Mark’s book, translated so all can read, dropped from the skies into the hands of every person on earth, much like the millions of propaganda leaflets dropped from planes during World War II. Instead I’ll end with more of his good words, medicine to heal our aching souls and make life more bearable:
“What better way is there to shift a paradign than by speaking in ways that encourage dreams, laughter and imagination. For those acts of creativity are not luxury, short sighted or simplistic, they are essential.”
“In this collective environment, an isolated story transforms into a personalized submission into an anthology of shared experiences and unique memories. With each new telling, we cocoon to butterfly that sees each breath we have left in this life as an exercise in evolving our own narrative.”
“This is way for you who battle with self-doubt and hyper criticism, I remind you we are a generation experimenting with healing in public. Be fierce. Be forgiving. Hardcore is a façade and a trend.”
“Educate the human heart. Elevate the human mind. Grow the human soul. This will be our generation’s idea of a multi-taking model of learning.”