In my small bucolic New England town sitting at the foot of rounded tree-filled mounds of earth we call mountains, I am nestled in the valley of the Housatonic with my fellows. Humans are not necessarily the majority of inhabitants here, although they claim to be in charge.
Some of us have been here a long time and some of us have been here longer. Personally I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. My own history in this place where I live now is very brief – I just moved in a year ago. Before that I was somewhere else I hadn’t lived long in and before that the same. I have always been welcomed as a native although that is hardly the case. Before my ancestors came here, they were some place else. Who can say otherwise?
It happens that here, where I live now, there are many we call Hispanic, they have been here far longer than I. They might have moved here, as I did, recently or years ago but they are only called Hispanic because the country I call mine invaded their country and won.
For some reason, perhaps because of the might of Teddy Rooseveldt and others, I do not call myself English-German-Dutch-French-Irish American, nor do I have to fill out forms or be counted as anything much. Demographics in this country have largely confined themselves to my gender and my politics, neither of which I have to explore to any degree.
I once did live in a place – Concord, MA, with three small, quiet rivers surrounding and running through my environs. It was only when they flooded and I had to drive thirty or forty minutes to get to a destination five minutes away that I noticed their existence. Time is relative until it isn’t and now the people I work with who far outdate my contribution to this area are being threatened. If not they themselves, their relatives, friends – you know what I mean.
Living here has become very stressful, we are being raided and rounded up. I used to ask my mother, “What did you think when you heard about the pogroms? About the raids? About the trains? What did you do? How did you act? What did it feel like?”
Her reply, like many of her answers to other questions, was more than disappointing. She didn’t know – about anything. She didn’t know what to do and she didn’t ask. In fact in her life she didn’t feel safe emotionally, I know that colored her heart. And she felt she had made her mark, made her life, even though she felt vulnerable in it as a woman. In truth if she had set herself free with her opinions and desires, she would have been shunned, pushed aside. She was pushed aside anyway and she didn’t invite more. It also wasn’t happening “here.”
Now it is. When Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) is pushed out of a meeting of his peers in the House of Representatives, we are in trouble. When my friends are rounded up all over the country –including the ones I know along this corridor between CT and NY – I am afraid.
Now is the time. This is on us.
People talk of Hitler and his ilk. They only mean they ones we know – Papa Doc, Idi Amin, Pol Pot – to touch the surface. But these days, this month, has caused me to think there are many Hitlers. We are surrounded. I asked a friend who lives in VT and has gone to Canada for decades – weekends visiting friends. She says that after this election when she comes back, they hassel her, take her phone, keep her and her husband pulled over. I asked after the tone of her interaction, what was on the minds of these agents who had been quiescent for decades. How could one person’s voice give them this power, this drive? Did she think they had been waiting for the chance? She thought it was that they could. Now, it was supported, they could be kings, they had a mission. That simple.
In such a simple world, I find simplicity too.
Paula has been up in New Hampshire since last month. She and campaign workers of all ages have been working in states near and far to them for months. Yes most of them are younger, without homes, jobs and families to take care of while those of us who have those things do what we can. We cross borders to help. For disasters, family gatherings, celebrations of all kinds.
I live in an area of three states where a few steps takes you into another tax rate, school system, set of rules and regulations. When Paula and I moved from Massachusetts, where we were legally married, to Connecticut where we had to do a ceremony with a justice of the peace to get some of the rights we had left behind reinstated, we joked that if we moved to New York, which we abut, we would have to do something else. At the time – six years ago – each state was separate and unequal.
Now they all recognize us. Cross pollination of people and ideas, different ways of being has made it easier to see the humanity in us all. When we cross a barrier we take a step in the unknowable. How will we create change, how will we be changed. I know for my own self that when I went door to door campaigning for Obama last election my life was changed forever. I am not easy with people, shy in a crowd, even shyer at your doorstep. In 2008 all the passion I experienced in my life – the civil rights movement, all the issues of the 60’s, Stonewall, and Equal Rights – came into play. I felt these issues come together in a tsunami of action I could take and believe a difference would be made.
I went door to door with a man I respected as very savvy, very used to the world I was stepping into. At the end of each day he remarked on my effectiveness, my ability to inspire and my compassion. He hardly said a word, he let me lead. Transformation. I don’t think others were as surprised as I was. The fire within me had found a place to go and a voice to give it oxygen. When I was going house to house I felt I was making the difference I was born to. I felt like the story I’d heard of the man on the beach after a storm putting stranded fish back into the ocean. When someone looked at him and the miles of beached fish and said, “you’re not making much of a difference,” and he replied, “I am to this one and this one and this one,” as he picked fish after fish and put them in the water.
I am changed by my actions. By reaching out I got feedback I couldn’t have gotten otherwise. As we get to know each other, we change. As we reach out to touch we are touched. We are not acting without the combined actions of people worldwide who we may never meet but whose light, air and water we share. If there is inequality of opportunity there is no peace among us. Yes, we are different and we don’t have to like what each one of us does or doesn’t do, but we share what we share – this earth, this life, this time – and peace within diversity is our choice. Take yourself out into the world. Stand your ground. Be a friend, love yourself, know you are loved.
Here is Cho when he first came to us. He was returned to the shelter because he would not get along with other dogs, do anything his person wanted. She had gotten him into a therapy program, where he went with her to hospitals and helped patients. He was good at that. She made him pajamas, coats, had this photo taken – it’s the only formal portrait we have. She just couldn’t get him to get along with her other two greyhounds. She returned him after 1 1/2 years. Oddly enough we had seen him on his first day in this country. We were returning with our Gordie, the first Galgo Espanol to enter this country, to Greyhound Friends for their spring reunion. We got a glimpse of him rushing past.
Later, when we took him home, we had five other greyhounds and his “thing” about other dogs kind of got put aside. He definitely is not one to take on walks to the park – he tries to kill every other dog he sees. And, if you are bullish enough to bring your dog into our house – even when we say don’t – he will reliably try to kill it. But he will not touch his mates, or the cats.
Cho now, after his flight.
and Liam, resting in my studio
and Guinnie – resting
All looking for adventure
This morning the dogs did what they have been studying and wanting to do for some time. For two years they have watched Cho hop the fence. Easier for a Galgo Espanol than a couple of muscled Greys and a chunky Jack.
I’ve noticed Guinnie looking at Cho and moving her body, cocking her head – looking to my human eye like she’s trying to figure it out. Jules runs after Cho as he scales the fence, all bark and teeth. Jules wants to stop him or at least not have to see him. But I thought I saw him doing some stretching exercises yesterday – maybe last week, too. Cho just looks at them like he’s the Man. He looks at me that way too when I try to outrun him barefoot in the morning dew. He just dances up to the fence and pops over. Done.
Well this morning I saw them all fly over while I was making tea. They sailed across the fence and out into the farmer’s field hardly stepping on the muddy ruts – hope that means their feet won’t be so muddy.
I couldn’t believe I was seeing Liam in such a leap – he was airborn! Mouth open, ears flying, the only Jack Russell to have scaled such a height. All his back was muscled and his hair flying in the wind of his creation. It was a beautiful sight. And the greyhounds were only a little in front of him. Not the leaps and bounds behind he usually is. What an amazing spectacle they all were. They flew around above the house – taking Cho’s line of “whaddya going to do about it?” to new heights before they took off to parts unknown.
Well luckily I have a friend with a small plane, called him and he’s on his way. We’re going to get up to a few hundred feet and see if we can see them and where they might have gone.
To be continued….
“The very purpose of spirituality is self-discipline. Rather than criticizing others, we should evaluate and criticize ourselves. Ask yourself, what am I doing about my anger, my attachment, my pride, my jealousy? These are the things we should check in our day to day lives.”
I saw this posted yesterday by the Dalai Lama on Facebook. It encompasses all life as I know it and it reminded me of the advice a friend got when she asked for help with her new husband and his children.
She had been suffering watching what she considered bad and confusing parenting that as she saw it was leading to behavior issues with children she now found herself living with. She didn’t want to put a charge in her new married relationship and when she asked a friend, who also happens to be a phenomenal therapist, she got the answer, “Be a safe place for the kids.”
What a good idea! It kept her out of her new husband’s and his ex’s faces and it allowed her some autonomy with new and fairly adult housemates. She also, on her own, decided she would not participate in actions she thought eroded the children’s taking responsibility for their actions.
Instead of getting enmeshed in the situation and adding to what was already confused, she added clarity and kept herself a safe place both for the kids and her husband. She did not tell him what she thought – a marvel of self-restraint. She didn’t tell him what she “saw” or describe or ascribe anything to anybody.
Her self-discipline kept her safe for everyone to go to – they wouldn’t be shamed or abetted, she didn’t take sides. Her role-modeling allowed anyone who could to learn and anyone who wasn’t ready to wait – safely.
A simple (ha!) act of non-engagement can be our strongest stand. Taking our self in hand can be the most powerful step we choose. Vietnamese Vipassana master Thich Nhat Hahn asks us to “let peace begin with me.” He advises to take a breath when the phone rings, the door opens, any entrance into our physical space or our emotional mind, take a moment of breath connection before acting. We will be more ourself, and that is all we’re here to do.