Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Monday, July 31, 2006


I live in the nation's capitol, recently redecorated in the style of fear. There are barriers outside all the public buildings, which means just about everywhere. There are guards who stick acrylic sticks into my purse whenever I go to a museum. I must present my ID to a guard to get to my credit union in a government office building. I have grown accustomed to seeing all the stuff to guard me against the terrorists of this world. I have recognized how stupid most of it is, how helpless to actually do anything, and yet I am not afraid.

Tonight, all the young folks must be at home or with their parents by 10:00 p.m. to attempt to stop a youth crimewave that has thus far claimed many lives in the poorest neighborhoods, but shockingly reached out to kill 2 people in an extremely wealthy neighborhood. Driveby shootings in Southeast do not constitute a crimewave, but 1 guy mugged and killed and his girlfriend threatened in Georgetown, and suddenly, Something Must Be Done. I walked at night in my neighborhood tonight to get a snocone to help deal with the heat, and to soothe my headache - there were young people everywhere and I was not afraid.

But this:


this frightens me. Lorcan of Plain in the City posted earlier this year about being warned by police officers not to take their pictures. A friend recently emailed me about someone who had posted that their property was monitored, yet when they took that tape in to police headquarters to complain of police harrassment, they were arrested on charges of illegal surveillance. On their own property, no less. How are we to keep the people who tote guns, have the power to take our lives and liberty away, in check?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Peace on the small levels

This weekend, something very stressful will be happening for me. My in-laws are coming to town, and of course we'll be spending time with them. Now, this doesn't have to be a scary thing. My mom and her mother-in-law get along very well and frequently visit each other.

Now, we're getting along better than we did when my in-laws told their son, in front of me, not to marry me and that we'd be divorced within 5 years. Not the best beginning, I'm afraid. And I do my best to understand that part of it is a fear that they've lost their son. But it still hurts.

And I'm aware that I will never be the sophisticated, worldly type that they dreamed of for their sons. I still don't wear black to weddings. I prefer eating at little hole-in-the-wall local places to eating at the $50 a plate places frequented by lobbyists and politicians. For starters, at the little places, there's a wider variety of people. And the pasta is better.

But it's not about whose choices are better, is it? It's about learning to appreciate each other. It's about not putting my poor husband in the middle of a tug of war that he would inevitably lose. So tonight, I wear the clothes I have that I think are the closest to what they would like me to wear without buying anything new and I eat at a restaurant with an upscale atmosphere. And I worry about whether she will like the card I made for her with a very pop art theme, and the glass bracelet I picked out for her in a trip with her sons. And I muddle through, hoping that we all want peace badly enough that we can spend a weekend together amicably.

The past

How do we look at the past? This is an important topic right now, as everyone seeks to line up history on their side. "Mom, he started it!" "Did not! Mom, she got on my side!"

Do we have to pull this planet over?

The really dangerous thing about history is that everyone picks the facts that they look at to tell the story. My great granddaddy was a man of the earth, a farmer who never would have stood for some of the ideas you see today. What kind of man does this sentence draw to mind? What if I change it to: My great granddaddy was a warm and compassionate man who reminded his children through his every action that economic justice was important. Changes the perception, doesn't it? Both sentences are absolutely true. It was her father that gave my granny the confidence to walk, against police advice, into an economically disadvantaged community during a labor dispute and get the story. When the "reporter lady" showed up, she was warmly welcomed and didn't have a bit of trouble, though she said that the police did their best to frighten her.

http://www.teachthefacts.org/2006/07/re-defining-and-re-writing-history-in.html has a story about how the teaching of history is being restricted by legislators. Just the facts, ma'am, is not a viable way to learn or teach history - who brought out these facts? How reliable are they and what is their bias? Do we accept wholesale one source or another? And to whose benefit did this system work?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

More thoughts on prayer and crafts

As I prepare for my in-laws coming to town, I have been doing small crafts - a birthday card and braided bookmark for my mother-in-law, a little crochet purse for my husband's cousin who is leaving to go back to the midwest. And as I braid, crochet, fold, and glue, I sometimes leave the radio on to have something to think about other than, "okay, now catch the loop, turn..." or the fact that I'd like to pick up a tapestry needle to try naalbinding with.

I remember once visiting a contemplative convent as a girl. The mother superior explained the schedule the sisters followed - from waking up very early, taking exercise in the yard, watching the early morning news to add some more names to the prayers for the troubles of the world, to the long hours in the chapel, either kneeling or prostrate before the altar, taking turns so that the chapel was never empty, the prayers never stopping.

Now, I fully confess that a lot of the time, the most prayerful response I get out of the radio is thinking, "Oh, for heaven's sake, just cut it out already!" But this morning, with the yarn pulling through my fingers, the rainbow forming at the end of my hook, I listened, really listened to the interviews they were doing, with a Lebanese mayor, an Israeli official, and just people on both sides of that border. And I heard pain, I heard both sides need for respect. And I wanted to say, why is it a reporter from America that is getting this from each of you? Why isn't this coming out as you speak to each other? Why are each of you distancing yourselves from the violence that is growing around you, pretending it has nothing to do with you?

And I found myself slipping into prayer, asking what I can do to alleviate this suffering, to bring just a drop of peace to a world rushing headlong into myriad wars. What I can do doesn't feel like nearly enough, but there's an old story about the Baal Shem Tov that speaks to me as I think about "enough" - Once, he had a certain prayer that he said in a certain place while lighting a fire in a certain way, and when he would do this, it brought a little comfort into the world. Well in the next generation, his students had forgotten exactly how he lit the fire, but they prayed the prayer in the same place, and that was enough. Many years later, the exact place was lost, and all they had was the prayer, but they prayed it, and that was enough. Finally, even the exact words of the prayer were forgotten, but we still tell the story, and it is enough.

I am not enough to stop others from taking up rockets and tanks and bombs and guns, but perhaps as we continue to bear witness to peace, and the whole world begins to choke on the blood, others may begin to join the chorus calling for an end.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Structural obstacles

This weekend, as some of my family headed off to services, I headed out back to the blackberry patch behind the barn. Yep, that's pretty much me - sometimes, I just need to head out to remind myself of my connections to nature. That I, like the rabbits and the birds, think of the bramble as "going to ground" and like blackberries. There were even a few raspberries hanging on to the very end of the season. What an incredible gift that was. When I finished, my arms and legs were scratched, and my fingers were a little stained, but the bowl I'd brought was about half full. I noted that the grapes were coming on for a good year, and the apples for a poor one. I'd missed the cherries completely. It was a chance both to connect with the land I'd known since childhood, and to do something practical for my family - I was taking on that classic role of providing food, joining people together over a meal.

And yet, in order to get there, I had driven a car a fair way. How much damage did I do for a weekend with family and blackberries? Admittedly, this was a pretty special weekend for my mom, and one I would not have wanted to miss, but I think of something Pam recently said in "Reaching for the Light" - which of us thinks our lifestyle is "excessive"? When I took the ecological footprint quiz, I came out at about half the footprint of a typical American - and still use much more than is sustainable (with the caveat that these quizzes are so general that it's hard to get an accurate reading from one.)

And yet, a good bit of my concern is for people. When the environment is poisoned, it will be people that suffer. When cultures have destroyed the land's ability to bear, it is people who starve, people who erupt in war for the precious resources that remain, people who destroy each other. And I wonder when we will begin to mine our own garbage dumps. All that iron and plastic, glass, resources that could be reused.

When will we once again encourage victory gardening? Composting our food wastes, and growing food with actual flavor? When will we turn to helping out the areas of this country which suffer want, so that there is opportunity for all? Encouraging local foods? How many people still can their own foods? Re-use jars? Interact with their neighbors? (This last is one thing I love about the building I live in. We do have some community going on. Yesterday, I was talking with a bunch of women in the lobby when my husband came in, and he was invited into the discussion.) When will we realize that workers need a fair amount of personal time? Americans work longer hours and are incredibly productive, but reap very few of the rewards of this work ethic.

How much of the structure we currently have inhibits change for environmental betterment? Why are the (mostly very wealthy) users of a golf course able to block a light rail that would benefit many (mostly not very wealthy) workers in the county? Why must young people, especially those with an education, leave home to find a fair-paying job? Why are we encouraged to think of extended families as more "quaint" than the nuclear family, leaving people without the support that an extended family can give? Why are voices of dissent silenced?

I honestly believe all these questions are linked.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Short thoughts on a long trip

I went home this weekend, and I'm still processing some of the experience. At a ceremony to honor people who work with high school athletes, I found myself surrounded by the same war-talk that seems to permeate everywhere. May I say that I am much more proud of the leadership that my dad has displayed by going where others fear and providing medical care than I am by military adventures? That I love my dad dearly and am deeply upset that such a good person is being used in such a bad way? That leadership is not shown by bombing people into the stone age? That I am at least as proud of my granny who is not a soldier, but who has had the bravery to cover stories that people in powerful positions found threatening?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

How can I sing?

Thank you to Lorcan from Plain in the City for reminding me that everyone can and should sing. This is a lesson I need to re-learn every so often because I was so often silenced as a child. At one point, I was even told that God would prefer it if I didn't ruin the harmonies of the choir. Oh. You see, I have a lot of difficulty knowing what key I am in, so while I may enjoy singing, other people often don't enjoy hearing me sing. So I tend to sing when I can't be heard - quietly while other people sing loudly, or in the car, or off in the woods, or just on an empty sidewalk.

This isn't to say I can't do other things - that same choir director did recommend me as a good reader, and I became a lector pretty young. I have done liturgical dance, sign interpretation, and of course readings. This continued for a long time, until I visited a friend's church and began my usual routine of waiting until everyone else was singing loudly to sing quietly. My friend, after services, took me aside and told me that God was missing my voice. My voice? My off-key voice? The one that got me in trouble so often? Oh, yes, that voice. God made that voice, girl, so that it could be heard. When the Spirit moves through you, you're meant to sing out with it, lift a joyful noise unto the Lord, let the heavens ring. Hallelluyah!

And so, the next time, I sang a little louder, and the ceiling didn't fall in, and nobody told me to be quiet, couldn't I hear that I was singing badly? And while I never sang as loudly as some in that congregation, I began to reclaim singing, at least to myself. Sometimes, I need the reminder. Thanks again, Lorcan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

By their fruits shall you know them

Whether or not this phrase was ever spoken by a radical rabbi from Nazareth during the Roman occupation of his land, it's good advice. You don't go to one kind of tree expecting another kind of fruit. Pokeberries and blackcurrants may superficially resemble each other, but one makes a tasty jam and the other is a poisonous dyestuff. I don't go to pokeweed expecting to harvest blackcurrents, and somehow, with all the blackcurrant stuff I've eaten, I've escaped pokeweed poisoning.

So many people today claim to speak for God, and they claim to do so under so many different names. Jesus, Allah, HaShem, etc. Each claims that they are the only legitimate voice, and yet... what has been the fruit? Violence, hatred, murder, rape, war, rockets, spying, lack of liberty, hunger, privation, fear. Sorrow, oh sorrow. Concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few while the vast majority taste lack. Grief, anger, violence...

This doesn't taste like blackcurrant wine to me.

When a person claims to speak for God while calling for murder and violence, you know you've got pokeberry sitting there, in all its shiny purple glory. When a person claims to speak for God while calling up hatred, reflect on the beauty of poisonous fruit.

Blackcurrant isn't always the easiest fruit to eat - it can be astringent and mouth-puckering. It's much harder to harvest than pokeberry, which grows in abundence and lifts its unprotected berries up to the first incautious hand. But it is nutritious - lots of vitamins, and plenty of goodness. I think it's time to tend the blackcurrants, lest they be choked out.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Little bits and peace

I'm not a very big person, and sometimes I feel like saying with Piglet that I'm just a little animal, and recently, I've been feeling that way a lot. Yesterday, my husband and I headed for the local theatre, both for a dose of excessive air conditioning and for a dose of escapism via Captain Jack Sparrow and the rest of the silly pirate brigade. I brought my crochet project with me - a delicate bit of extra fine thread in double crochet for an elegant doll shawl. As I waited in line to pick up a small popcorn (has anyone else noticed that even a *small* popcorn anymore is plenty for 2 people?) and some soda, a woman noticed my hands working away with the little steel hook and asked me what I was making, so I showed her and we talked a little about how meditative it can be to have something to do with your hands.

Recently, I've been praying for peace as I work with my hands, whether crochet, braiding, weaving, folding, whatever. I've written to my government representatives. I have tried to live peacefully, and yet, I feel as though the world isn't listening, as though it is set on the path of violence, and is rushing over whatever little pebbles may be trying to form a dam to say stop now.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What is it we call God?

As some f/Friends have been writing about what it means to be Christian, I've been thinking about what we mean when we say "God" - omnipotence? omniscience? Lovingkindness? Justice? Tsedaka v' chesed? And what does our definition of God say about what's important to us?

There are lots of answers to the classic question posed by Job: why me? Why do good people suffer? Why does anyone suffer? There's the answer that Job gets: unless you were around for the founding of the universe, you couldn't possibly understand even the basic explanation. I admit, I find this one ... unsatisfactory. Perhaps we couldn't understand Everything, but maybe just a smidge? Hmm? An eensy clue? By this view, God boils down to a totally capricious being with infinite power, but little seeming understanding of what it is to be human, to be without power, to suffer. When I am told that suffering is part of an Infinite Plan, I ask myself for whose good is this Plan? For the baby who dies of starvation? For the people who suffer disease, privation, war? What kind of being causes that kind of suffering for some plan?

There's the "they had it coming" idea: even if they didn't have time to be bad in this life, they were probably bad in a previous life and should suffer for it. Who is bad enough to deserve to die of starvation? Can't the Infinite find the mercy that I, a limited being, found to forgive a pretty serious hurt? Or perhaps it's there to teach us a lesson. Is suffering the only way that the infinite can find to teach goodness? Because it doesn't work very well - most of the people that folks want to label as monsters suffered before they decided to turn around and inflict that suffering on others.

There's the existentialist answer: there is no reason, just suffering, but one must continue the struggle against suffering anyway, for it is through this struggle that we define ourselves. Any further meaning we try to layer on is simply the result of the human mind being an incredibly efficient pattern calculator, evolved to see the shape of the golden lion crouching in the golden grass. This one is hard to argue against. It claims reason for its own, and any "supernatural" reasons given are dismissed as a further reflection of the pattern finding human brain. And yet... and yet, I have felt a Oneness with something greater than myself. I have been urged to do things that were not necessarily in my own rational self interest, acts of lovingkindness that extend beyond my own narrow interests.

I do not believe in an omnipotent God - I believe God must work through people, and that that is how miracles can happen. I believe that our acts of tsedaka (justice, charity, taking care of people in a just way) and chesed (lovingkindness, caring) are the acts of God, working through people to build the world. I cannot define God, but I believe in an infinitely compassionate God.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The power of words.

For a brief time today, I was granted an unexpected power, one I didn't even know I would be granted. I felt a rush of surprise and awe when I was granted the power to give an incredible gift to someone: forgiveness. I'm not going to get into what was to be forgiven, it's something that goes back many years and the situation has changed incredibly since then. Both the other person and I have changed and gotten to know one another better since that time. I had even sort of begun to stop thinking about it. And today, in a coffee shop, this old hurt was brought up anxiously, to ask something that I never thought (especially then) that I would give. To be honest, I thought I wouldn't be called upon to give it. And yet I realized that I'd already given it - the grudge from that time was gone years ago. I can even smile when I think back on that time, knowing how much we've both changed, knowing that we both learned lessons that we needed to learn from each other. And he just taught me another.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

In the sweet by and by

How many songs are there about how good it would be to be dead? Oh, Beulah land, I'm longin' for you, on thee someday I'll stand... I'll fly away, oh Glory... This world is not my home, I'm just a-travellin' through... When I cross Jordan's deep tide... Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me Home...

These songs used to make me really mad. I mean, just furious. How dare we give up on making this world better, and just hope it will be better in that undiscovered country? As I've gotten older, I've realized that most of these are the songs of the folks that carry a disproportionate share of the burdens and get less than their share of some of the nice bits of this world. Well, in this world, I may live in a trailer on marginal land, but just you wait, I've got a mansion waiting by the shores of Mighty Jordan*. And I've begun to hear the songs just a little differently now.

This world is not my home. Too many people have no safe haven in this world, no real share in the abundant resources that could sustain us all. Where is the world that could be home for everyone, and how are we working towards that? Oh, Beulah land, I'm longing for you. I long for the day when we realize that our disputes can be solved by sitting down and listening to each other's needs then trying to cooperate on getting those needs met. We're living in a time that needs to hear the words of Isiah: Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the case of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Or the constant refrain of the Torah: Deal justly with the stranger, for were you not a stranger in Eretz Mitzraim? Or the teachings of so many who have had a mystical experience of God: cut it out, and start being decent to each other, already. Don't you see the light that infuses us all?

When will be beat our swords to plowshares, our warplanes to shelters for the homeless and dispossessed? When will we reach that blessed shore?

* My husband, who has been there, informs me that this world's Jordan is a polluted mess that would barely be considered a drainage ditch back home, but the Jordan I've seen in my head since childhood bears a lot more resemblance to the Ohio, big wide rolling waters that nourish an incredible swath of green.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One of the joys of foolishness

Is that you don't always have to be an adult. The other day in the grocery, I was singing along to the oldies playing over the loudspeaker, and ended up talking to one of the store employees who was doing the same thing. As we said goodbye to get back to our respective tasks, we observed that it was better not to be in too much of a hurry to be all grown up.

Well, today I can certainly say that while I may be somewhat grown up, all grown up is still a ways away. My toys came in. Yes, they did. I now have lanyard braiding disks that are very similar to the kumihimo disks from Japan, but smaller and made in the U.S. And I've already taught one kid to braid on one. Yay!

And my dolls came in. One for me and one to share. And the one for me is already in a different outfit - she's in a pink and purple plaid sari, and maybe tomorrow night, I'll get around to making her somewhat more constructed clothing. Sometimes, it's good to remember to be an adult. And sometimes, it's good to forget.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A handful of blackberries

At the end of a long, stressful day, I got a quick reminder of the love and plenty in this world: there, outside my apartment building, the bramble had a few handfuls of ripe blackberries. I gathered a couple handfuls at the mere cost of a couple of thorns. And I shared them with my husband. I even left plenty for the squirrels and birds.

The power of life

From childhood, I have loved to watch water flowing - whether it was orange well water into a bathtub, clear water over the stones of a creek, a thunderstorm sheeting down, or the mighty brownish Ohio running into the arms of the Mississippi. I was entranced with the power of the water, and when I finally saw the ocean, I perched up on some rocks, just to watch the waves flow. My dad pointed out to me that the ravine behind our house had been carved by water over an enormously long time, shaping the rocks, and that in other places, water has carved through even harder stone than the limestone bones of the Appalachians. So powerful, and yet so necessary. Without the water, people, trees, everything would die.

When we would visit the ocean, I loved to wade out until the water was nearly chest high, then begin swimming until a bigger wave came along, and let it carry me back to the beach. I could feel the power of the water all around me, and once or twice, I was slammed harder than I expected, knocking the air from my lungs, leaving me coughing, but always I would go back to the water again, to feel the rushing waves carrying me. And though I am a strong swimmer, always I knew the need to be careful, to respect the water - because water is stronger than the strongest swimmer.

And I remember while my parents were finishing their educations, we lived for a couple years in the Big City (though my husband, who is from Chicago and proud of it, informs me that the cities I think of as so big, aren't *that* big.) In front of the place we lived, there was a sidewalk, old and cracked, and there the grass would grow up through the cracks. I remember thinking how strong even the little grass must be to break the thick concrete, so that it could reach for the sun. Only when I was older did I learn that the grass and the water work together to break rock and concrete so that there is space for life. Without the strong little roots reaching deeper, the water wouldn't have the cracks to reach deeper, and without the water and ice breaking those cracks further, the roots couldn't reach so far in.

And sometimes, I wonder how the rock must feel, being worn down by the water and the living roots to make more space for life. There are the Rockies, majestic, strong, and tall, broken very little yet. I hope I will see them later this year when I head West for a vacation with my dad before he is deployed again. And then, there are the Appalachians, ancient, worn enough to accomodate the rich life that fills them, cris-crossed by creeks, runs, rivers, ravines, lakes, and, of course, morning fog. I can close my eyes, some days, and find myself looking out over the hill I was raised on, thinking about nights spent outside, watching the stars and the bats, and mornings spent watching the sun come up over the fog-filled valley, listening to the birds waking up, and the rabbits heading for our garden. (Why is it that rabbits would eat the lettuce, which I also liked, and leave the beans, which I hated, alone?)*

And I ask myself how new space is being created within me. What in me needs to soften, to open up to new life? What needs to remain firm, so that that life doesn't slip away in the first storm? And also, I ask, how can I be like the grass, reaching up for the light, reaching down, to open up new possibilities for others? How can I be like the water, nourishing those around me, flowing together into the whole?

* Yes, I'm aware that the Rockies also have quite a lot of life in them - a fact inevitably pointed out in histories of the Donner tragedy. (Apparantly, most of the group were in fact right next to a lake filled with fish, but they didn't recognize the food sources available to them from hunting and gathering, thinking only of their lost livestock and severely depleted food stores.) But the Appalachians have worn down enough to be a lot more comfy for life.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Even in darkness...

Despite the beginnings of a headache, last night I walked through the woods in the dark. No flashlight, no streetlights, even the moon was low, yet the white gravel on the path seemed to gather all the available light. As I walked, the glow of the fireflies stood out a glowing green beacon, and the song of the crickets filled the air. In contrast to the rich greens and reddish browns of the day, at night, everything was defined in shades of grey.

There, in the hushed grey coolness, I felt a little better, a brief respite from the aching pain in my head, even though the heavy summer humidity still hung in the air. There, though my muscles ached from the walking, my head and my heart felt clear and calm. In darkness, we do not walk alone, and there we have less to distract us. In the light, we see the butterflies, the beetles, the flowers, the berries, the richness of leaf and bark. In the light, we are dazzled by the sun, but in the dark, there is little to see, except a bit of the path ahead. There, with little to distract us, we feel our connections, unless we allow the fear of the dark to become our distraction.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What is luxury?

A couple days ago, the Washington Post published a story that included a reference to a $120,000 bathroom remodelling job. Wow. $120,000. And a $30,000 bathtub. And a woman dismisses the store selling the bathtub as "too geared to the masses to really be luxury." What?

Lady, hot running water is a luxury. Just ask my granny, who used to pump water into a tin bathtub and leave it in the sun to have a hot bath. Just ask me, who used to regularly bathe in water contaminated with sulphur and iron. My little apartment tub, filled with water and no-brand epsom salts is one of my favorite luxuries. No sulphur stink, no orange or brown water. Just ask all the people in this world with no access to clean water. There are millions in this world who aspire to the true luxury of bathing in clean water - not drinking it, actually putting your body in it, rendering it unfit to drink.

Some of us aspire to the luxury of owning a home of our own. Where I can paint on the walls if I want. Or sit in quiet without hearing my neighbor's teenaged son's music or the sound of the elevator through the wall, feeling the vibrations though the floor. Or replace the showerhead with a more water efficient one. Or even install a backsplash over the stove so that if tomato sauce splatters, it doesn't splatter onto beige paint.

And the thing is that monster houses, stuffed to overflowing with luxuries the residents take for granted mean that there is less space for more affordable options. Even the little cape cods around the corner from my apartment are being bought up, supersized, and resold at obscene prices, driving up the cost of the little houses. (And ruining their good points - the expansion projects are made much less sturdily than the original brick houses.)

And I confess that I am looking forward to my luxurious vacation next month. I will be visiting Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, a spa town that is among the oldest in the country. (George Washington bathed there as a young surveyor, and wrote about it.) There, I will take the waters by walking to the public pump and drinking the waters (you have to remember to bring a cup), then visit the historic bathhouse and pay to take a bath and steam treatment (essentially, an old clawfoot tub or Roman pool, then that scary steam cabinet thing you see in The Road to Wellville.) Afterwards, my friends, my husband, and I will eat at a nearby tavern that uses local produce and provides a venue for local musicians and artists, probably look through the resale shops (last time, I found an old hat and a green sweater in my size!), and either catch a movie at the old moviehouse or retreat to one of the rooms we're renting and talk and play card games. If we can stand the excitement, we'll likely do more of the same the second day, along with walking down one of the many available nature walks.

While that hot bath in a clawfoot or Roman tub will be very nice, it wouldn't be the same thing to have it in my home. For starters, most of the day will be spent visiting with friends - in the resale shop, or the tavern, or the park grounds, or the movie house, or the rooms, or just walking from point A to point B. I'll talk with the bath attendants, admire the tub, appreciate the whole experience as something I don't do every day. It will bring me out of my house and into contact with other people. I will walk where I need to go and say hi to folks we pass on the street. And last time I went, I took my parents, who have a jetted tub.

You know what? They enjoyed going, too.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Art and prayer

A friend gave me an incredible gift last night: a beautiful hank of fibers for braiding. They are the colors of early fall - the fading green of the last leaves, the brilliant orange and red and yellows of the dying leaves, and the deep brown of the branches just beginning to peek out. There are nearly 2 yards of fiber for braiding, and all I will have to do will be to lay them out on my braiding stand. I have already decided that such beautiful fiber must be done in a simple circular braid, with only the simplest of embellishments, if any.

From the moment I lay the bunch over the top of my braiding stand, through winding the weights, doing the smooth motions of braiding, through the final securing of the braid, I have an opportunity to open up my work to a feeling of Communion with the work of Creation. In Hebrew, there's a notion that human beings are called to help God in the act of creation. The idea is called Tikkun olam, and speaks to a partnership of building the world. When Jews pray over bread, they thank God for bringing bread from the earth. Well, wheat springs from the earth, but people do the rest of the work. In the same way, creating a better world is the job of humanity, working together with God.

I am looking forward to this weekend, when I will work carefully with that beautiful fiber, probably outside on a blanket, so that I can be surrounded by the summer, even as I work with this reminder of early fall. And the time to braid those two yards, perhaps only a few hours, will be set aside for a kind of prayer. For me as I meditate and pray and braid, I think it's a little like the Catholic prayer of the rosary, something solid and grounding to keep me on the subject as I spend some time with nature, with silence.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More on the future

One other ad on Metro bothered me yesterday. This time, it was on a train out to Virginia, where my husband and I planned to meet some friends, catch dinner at a local restaurant we all like, maybe take in a movie, and head for ice cream afterwards. The ice cream part is important. What's the good of seeing a movie with friends if you can't all sit around for an hour afterwards, talking about it?

In any case, we hopped onto Metro, and were lucky enough to get seats for the second half of our trip. Right under the ad. At first, I ignored the ad, talking to my husband, but I confess the picture drew my eyes. As I sat there in the loudly rumbling rail car, decorated in shades of orange and brown, there was a lovely sylvan setting - a broad, unpaved track through a forest, with moss-covered rocks, a leafy canopy far above, a little bit of underbrush on either side of the track. You could practically hear the wind and the leaves singing their duet. To one side, in curly script, the picture advertised that these were the Alleghenies, and just underneath, the script changed to something I'd expect to see with a fictional character, maybe named "Sergeant Guts" or something, and invited the viewer to go offroad, taking this no roads experience to the MAX!

My first reaction - I can't even really call it a thought - was horror. One off-road vehicle could do serious damage to that moss. And the forest floor has a pretty delicate ecosystem. Soon, the actual thoughts were flying fast and furious. Here in the East, we have maples, and maples don't do well with exposure to air pollution, or with having their root systems compressed by extra weight, or... And those big tires tear up the top layers of ground cover, exposing more delicate lower layers to erosion. Mountain bikes and horses are hard enough on the leaf mold layers of the forest floor. Why invite people to come with more destructive recreational transports? Why use this kind of language to describe the treasure that you have been granted?

Here in the city, we have loud vehicles. We have plenty of space to run them in, and there is even space not too far away, in which to make them go fast. What we don't have is quiet. Even as I sit here on a holiday morning, I can hear the machine that runs my apartment's air conditioners running. I hear the occasional click or moan from the elevator. I am not yet hearing cars on the road, but I imagine that by this afternoon, I'll hear plenty. After all, we're only a few blocks from the local fireworks display. (I won't be leaving to watch it. My husband and I have discovered, much to our joy, that we can watch from our balcony, or if the smoke starts blowing in our direction, from our living room.) And there's the constant push push push of city life. Gotta be going, gotta be doing, what are you doing in my way? The one thing I've observed in this town that annoys people most about tourists is that tourists don't know the unspoken rule in DC: if you're going to stand still on an escalator, you must do so on the right, so that people can dash by you on the left. In fact, if you're only going to walk up the escalator, could you do that on the right? We want to *run* up the left.

Life rushes by, faster and faster. I've made arrangements next month to head for a slower pace over a weekend. My husband and I will head to West Virginia with some friends. So far, the plans include walking around, maybe doing some swimming, bathing in a spring, having some slow, leisurely meals at our own pace, maybe playing a few rounds of Uno or Flux. Possibly catching a movie at the nearby movie house left from the Depression (mostly because I want to see the inside - apparently, there are couches available.) Note all the possiblys and maybes. We're not on a schedule.

And I wonder what it does to people when they are encouraged to experience nature at the same pace they experience city life. When I was a girl, my dad and my uncles taught me to fish. Cast it like this, see? Now, sit back and wait for mister fish to want that lure. The Good Lord will grant you enough time to wait for a fish. We would go walking in the local forest with my dad pointing to various plants: now, look at this one - see the shape of the leaf? This one is safe to eat. Here, try some. And we'd look closely at the moss-crusted limestone - sometimes finding fossils, sometimes different kinds of moss or lichen. We could tell you the type of every tree in our woods, beech, cherry, ironwood, maple, hickory, sassafrass, and so many of the little plants below, trillium, phlox, mayapple, jack-in-the-pulpit, christmas ferns, poison ivy, poison oak, and several of the fungi. We saw rabbits, deer, beaver, squirrel (country squirrels are much more shy than their city cousins), and badger. Late at night, we could see racoon if we were watchful. We listened to stories about our great grandfather and the panther.

And yes, there was a dirt road we sometimes followed back into the woods when we went to gather blackberries. Our neighbor used that road to have access to her gas wells, and had given us permission to gather the blackberries on her land as well as our own. But while we would stop in spring and look at the tadpoles in the puddle in the middle of that access road (it had a little bit of grass growing on it, and every spring there were tadpoles in that puddle in the rut - that road was used maybe 2 or 3 times a year, and never in spring for cars or trucks - the ground was too wet to support them after the melt and before the land had dried some - in summer, the clay would dry, forming weird crack patterns), it would never have occurred to any of us that it would be fun to drive a car on unpaved byways. Maybe it was that we lived on a dirt road and got our share of being jounced along on bad roads, but I think it was at least partly that when you are racing along that fast, you'll never find the mayapples.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Looking to the future.

This weekend, I've gotten a chance to get a tourist's eye view of the city I live and work near. There are tons of tourists who pour in every year for this holiday, and there are all kinds of things going on to cater to that crowd. So my husband and I and some friends made like tourists and went. And as we went out there (though with a local's knowlege of where to eat, etc.), I found myself looking at the ads. Normally, like most people overexposed to advertizing, I just tune them out. They form an ever-present backdrop to public transit, and yet, I found myself noticing them.

They worried me. Only not in the ways they were meant to worry me. There was tons of advertizing warning against the dangers of complacency. Be afraid of terrorism was the not-so-subtle theme. This on top of the everpresent enormous trash cans for containing explosive blasts, the announcements that "Metro is here for you," and other reminders to be afraid, constantly afraid. Gone are the subtle reminders of a few months ago to keep an eye on bags. They've been replaced by signs that don't even have specific suggestions for practical things to do- just... be afraid.

And then, I saw It. It was lurking in the Chinatown exit, between the escalators and the fare machines. It scared me in a way that the constant bombardment of terrorism reminders had failed to do. Now, I confess this ad would likely not frighten some of my fellow Americans. It might even make them proud. But it scared the willies out of me. The picture was of some bright looking kids sitting very seriously around a computer. The caption was "The Crew of Tomorrow's Destroyer". It was obviously paid for by some military contractor or another, and it scared me badly.

I know I've posted before about having been a whiz kid in the 80's. It took me a long time to see the ways in which other people sought to use my intelligence for ends I do not ethically support. It's hard to admit when so much of your identity is wrapped up in a number that that number doesn't mean you know it all, and that other people can, in fact, manipulate you. Our best and brightest are encouraged to serve their country, and this is not all a bad thing, but how many bright kids of today graduate only to join the military in the hopes of getting tuition for college, or even just of advancing the glory of our country? How many kids, filled with the wonders of science and technology, are working on weapons systems to more efficiently kill? How many other messages are they getting?

And part of me wonders what will happen when they realize how they've been used.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A day spent with friends

Yesterday, my husband and I met up with some friends and explored the National Folklife Festival on the Mall. I recently heard on the radio that Americans recently responded to a survey saying that they had few close friends. That sounds to me like a major problem. Friends teach us patience, compassion, and so many other good things, sometimes by being there for us and sometimes by needing us to be there for them. They let us use our imaginations together, sometimes by just sitting around in a "bull session." They dream with us.

When I wrote that I would like to be able to put up some small houses to share a single urban lot, the first names that came up that I would like to share said urban lot with were the folks that we went to the festival with yesterday. They also don't need much in the way of space, but would prefer to have the privacy of a separate house. Plus, if we're going to share some dining and cooking facilities, she's someone I'd love to share those with. It *would* be every day I got to say I sat down with a professionally trained chef to eat. While we have had arguments in the past, and fiery ones occasionally, we've also learned the power of saying, "I'm sorry."

And when life happens, we're there for each other. And helping make each other stronger to reach out to others. I live just outside Washington, DC, and on September 11, 2001, I went to an assignment for my job that was very close to the White House. Like so many others, on that day, I was evacuated from my workplace and went home. That afternoon, as I sat there feeling helpless, a friend called me to ask if I would help out. It seemed that the Red Cross was overwhelmed with people wanting to donate blood, and had closed down the donation point for the day, but needed people to come in on the 12th. We were there, bright and early, helping keep the line of people that stretched around the block entertained. I learned how to make balloon animals, and taught others to make origami cranes. We all painted cheeks with greasepaint smilies, flags, stars, butterflies, and roses. Thanks to a friend of mine, that dark week had a bright opportunity to get out of my apartment and help other people. And in being cheery for others, to find some brightness for me, too. After an entire day of clowning (I wore a ren faire costume, because that's what I had), we went for kebab together.

When I chose what I wanted to do with my life, one of the choices I made was that I wanted a job I could leave at my desk after a 40-hour week. No calls after I'd left to bring me back in. No being chained to a cell phone, pager, laptop, etc. Time to have friends, live a life, do things is important, and I wonder how many people lose sight of that.