Hair Wars

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File:BattleofSluys.jpeg

The Hundred Years' War: Battle of Sluys from a manuscript of Froissart's Chronicles, Bruge, c.1470

[Edward III of England, who reigned 1327-1377]… was, in most ways, a conventional king, mainly interested in warfare….
He declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1338, starting what would be known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Wikipedia

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edwa...

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edward III of England (seated) and his son the Black Prince (kneeling). Image via Wikipedia

[Edward, the Black Prince] would fight for a brother knight or undertake the rescue of a degenerate king like Pedro [“the Cruel,” deposed king of Castile] even if it cost the lives of thousands of common men…. Thomas B. Costain, The Last Plantagenets

Peace begins with one person but spreads like warmed syrup. When I connect with my neighbors, they return it in kind. Ivory Harlow

Our most important task is to transform our consciousness so that violence is no longer an option for us in our personal lives, that understanding that a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time. Deepak Chopra, “A New Age of Peace” (interview)

The Battle of the Barbers

Diner similar in style to Dixie's; photo by Jeff Boyce

Diner similar in style to Dixie's; photo by Jeff Boyce

There are no gangs in Hilltop. We have a police department, which is Clyde Peoples, and he spends most of his time at Dixie’s Main Street Diner, jawing with the retired farmers who drink coffee at the diner all morning and then go home to plague their wives in the afternoon. At least that is what Mr. Truman LaFollette says they do.

(I don’t know why Dixie calls her diner “Dixie’s Main Street Diner,” because it’s not like there’s a “Dixie’s Fourth Street Diner” or a “Dixie’s Sycamore Road Diner,” there’s only one Dixie’s and everybody knows it’s on Main Street, but maybe she just doesn’t like the alliteration of “Dixie’s Diner” or maybe she’s trying to make her diner sound important, which it already is, everybody goes there, for Pete’s sake.)

In Hilltop, gays and straights, Jews (seven) and Christians and Muslims (nine), North Africans, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, even Gypsies (Romany) (nine or ten; they come and go), all live in peace and harmony, and it’s not because the people in Hilltop are any more virtuous or noble than the people in Houston or Philadelphia. Although I do think that Hilltop’s being in such a lovely setting, with mountains in the distance and streams and the Turkey Hill River, and lush farmland and miniature forests, and Sister Alma Rose’s big old farmhouse overlooking it all, just makes people happy to be alive, if they stop to notice how beautiful it is.

Hilltop environs

Hilltop environs — the view from Sister Alma Rose's porch

Antique hot-water tap

Antique hot-water tap

Hilltop is also a prosperous town, and the ancient red-brick buildings on Main Street, with their transoms and their white-tile entryways and their wondrous bathrooms with the toilet tank high on the wall, and to flush you have to pull a chain, and some of the tanks are covered in oak. Where was I? Oh, the buildings in our little downtown are in beautiful condition, no loose bricks with the mortar gone, the old floors sanded and sealed and shined. But our town wouldn’t be thriving as it is if people were hateful and discontented, because, well, as my daddy says, angry people expend a lot of energy being angry and they don’t work as efficiently and they are sick more often, et cetera.

So you see, people have to get along in Hilltop. Maybe you are the coach of the soccer team that your auto mechanic’s daughter is on, or maybe the auto mechanic is also the director of the church choir you are in, or maybe you are a Scoutmaster, and the son of the vice president of the bank in charge of loans is in your troop. People don’t cheat each other or act snotty when you’re shopping in their store, because there is no anonymity. There’s no place to hide.

The Bridgebase basic bidding system is used co...

Internet bridge; image via Wikipedia

The closest we’ve come to having a war in Hilltop had to do with a recent scheduling conflict. What happened was, Mrs. Washington at the library arranged an Appreciation Luncheon at the Queen Anne Hotel for all the library volunteers and supporters, that is, people who gave money this year, and Mrs. Washington scheduled her luncheon to commence at the same time that Mrs. Bertie’s duplicate-bridge club meets every week, and there are eight ladies in Mrs. Bertie’s club and three of them are library volunteers. Mrs. Bertie was livid because she thinks that everybody in town ought to know when her duplicate-bridge club starts and ends and, if they can’t remember it, they need to mark it on their calendars, along with the names of the club members, to avoid planning any event that might conflict with Mrs. Bertie’s bridge club, which the ladies take turns hosting, and they always have those wonderful little chicken-salad sandwiches in triangles with the crust cut off, and three kinds of bread, including rye, and petit fours for dessert, and so forth.

I want to learn to play duplicate bridge so I can go to Mrs. Bertie’s club and eat petit fours.

Petit fours. Yum. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, via Wikipedia

Petit fours. Yum. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, via Wikipedia

So anyway, Mrs. Bertie tried to get practically everybody in town to boycott the library, but practically everybody in town adores dear Mrs. Washington, who somehow, incredible as it may seem, was not even aware that Mrs. Bertie had a duplicate-bridge club, but then Janie French from the library called Mrs. Bertie to tell her that the copy of The Other Queen: A Novel, by Philippa Gregory, which Mrs. Bertie was on the waiting list for, was available, and Sister Alma Rose heard that Mrs. Bertie didn’t even refresh her lipstick, which is fire-engine red and unbecoming to Mrs. Bertie, at her age… she just got in the car and drove to the library, lipstick-deficient but absolutely delighted to get her book earlier than expected, and that was the end of the war.

The Other Barber Shop

Even more recently than Mrs. Bertie’s totally unjustified snit, however, Hilltop has found itself divided, against its will, over a conflict so ludicrous that I am almost ashamed to relate it to you, and you probably won’t believe me anyway.

Just a few days ago, a man who is called Henry Hunter opened a barber shop, and above the door is a very large, very conspicuous sign that stretches the entire width of the shop, and the sign says, “The Other Barber Shop” in huge letters. For at least 150 years there has been only one barber shop in Hilltop, and it has always been owned and operated by Mr. Bill, who is himself at least 150 years old.

At Large album cover

Image via Wikipedia

Now, to tell you the truth, customers have been leaving Mr. Bill in a slow trickle for the past year or so, because, though everyone wants to be loyal to Mr. Bill, his eyesight isn’t what it used to be, nor are his hands as steady as they once were, plus he has cut everybody’s hair the same way since about 1958, so if you want to look like a member of the Kingston Trio, Mr. Bill is your guy. He just does crew cuts, you see.

Mr. Bill’s customers have been quietly defecting, finding in La Mesa a veritable plethora of barbers who will cut their hair the way they want it and who won’t poke them in the eye with scissors accidentally.

A traditional red and blue striped pole locate...

Image via Wikipedia

So as soon as Henry Hunter’s barber shop opened, the customers came in droves, apparently believing, though they would soon discover that they were sadly mistaken, that Mr. Bill wouldn’t mind if his old customers didn’t patronize his shop as long as they were taking their unruly hair to be cut by Henry Hunter. This was doubly unfortunate in that Henry Hunter’s barber shop is right across the street from Mr. Bill’s. It is also a very delicate situation, this rivalry, I mean, because Henry Hunter is Mr. Bill’s only son.

Sister Alma Rose has heard about the entire misbegotten affair from Mrs. Bill, who is very worried about her husband because his heart is “hinky” and she’s afraid he will have a heart attack one of these days, that’s how angry he gets at Henry Hunter, his face turns about as red as Mrs. Bertie’s unbecoming lipstick. And of course she’s concerned about her son. She wonders whether Bill’s vicious campaign might actually drive Henry out of business. Secretly, Mrs. Bill wants Mr. Bill to retire so that they can go live in their villa on Corfu. Who knew?

Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea

Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea

Apparently, when Mr. Bill paid his son’s tuition for barber school in La Mesa, he assumed that when Henry graduated he’d come back to Hilltop and work as a sort of apprentice to him, Mr. Bill. But Henry did not want to work for his dad for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the awkwardness of being an “apprentice,” the second-string backup barber, for a man who cuts hair in only crew cuts, and even the crew cuts aren’t looking so crisp these days.

Carry some means

Image by nssf04 via Flickr

Mr. Bill, who has nine or ten loyal customers and nothing at all to lose, except the respect of his son and his wife and at least half of the residents of Hilltop, has begun a vitriolic campaign against his own son. He actually registered to run for the vacant seat on the city council for the sole reason of creating some kind of ordinance that would make his son’s business illegal. Mr. Henry Hunter also plans to run for that seat to keep his dad from getting elected and possibly having a heart attack, although if he had been concerned about his father’s health, he should have known better than to make the in-your-face kind of decision to open a barber shop where Mr. Bill would see it every time he looked out the window.

Sympathy for Mr. Bill is strong, as you might imagine. But Henry has begun working his way through the telephone book, with the objective of calling everyone in town and ingratiating himself and offering them free haircuts. Mr. Bill reacted by adopting the same tactic. The thing is, once people are in their shops, Henry Hunter and Mr. Bill are asking them to sign loyalty pledges. And the town is in an uproar, although the men have never looked so well groomed.

Several employers have asked the mayor to Do Something, because none of their employees is getting any work done, they are having noisy partisan arguments about Henry Hunter vs. Mr. Bill instead. Mayor Atticus Hines, unable to cool things off through his official status, has appealed to a higher authority: He has asked Sister Alma Rose to restore peace and quiet to Hilltop, one way or another.

Peace begins with one person’s outpouring of love

Second Floor, Northwest Gallery. Mural of Peac...

Mural of Peace, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Image via Wikipedia

Now, I know what Sister Alma Rose would like to do:  She would like to teach the two barbers — and everyone else who has aligned with one side and is angry with the other side — about peace, as she has been teaching me.

Peace, I am learning, begins with one person’s outpouring of love. Peace is not a bunch of unsmiling men in uncomfortable suits meeting in The Hague and playing tit for tat with nuclear weapons, truce conditions, and ultimately the lives of men and women all over the world. As Deepak Chopra says (see full quote above),

…a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time

The International Court of Justice—"The Peace Palace"—The Hague, The Netherlands

The International Court of Justice—"The Peace Palace"—The Hague, The Netherlands

The Law of Love

Sister Alma Rose gave me a wonderful little book, which I have read over and over. It was written in 1947 by a lady called Agnes Sanford, the daughter of  Presbyterian missionaries and the wife of an Episcopal priest; and the book is The Healing Light, and here is what Mrs. Sanford has to say about love, and it is so beautiful and true that I have memorized it and say it to myself every morning:

The flow of energy that we call the law of love is the rhythm for which our beings were created, the thought-vibration in which we live and move and have our being.

And then she says, a few pages later,

We become perfected in love by [practicing love]…. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person,  and see him recreated in goodness and joy and peace.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Much research has shown that people respond dramatically to others’ perceptions and expectations of them, so that if we can honestly see someone who seems mean and ornery as not mean and ornery but rather as God created her — full of goodness and joy and peace — then she will fulfill that expectation.

To be continued…




A new age is being born. The day has come when love-power, at the command of ministers and surveyors and children and everyone,  is sufficient to change hearts… in the world about them.

This is the beginning of a new order. It is the dawning of a new day!

Eckhart Tolle, 2005? NOPE! Agnes Sanford, 1947, The Healing Light


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Fanny in Lust

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Shine a little light

Shine a little light

Whether you accept or reject it, God’s Love for you is permanent. After God has forgiven me, granted me His Compassion and showered His Blessings upon me, then I have to feel at every moment God’s Love. I have to feel that the One who has forgiven me, shown me His Compassion, and blessed me, really cares for me. If I feel that God really loves me, then only can I have true and abiding happiness. The Creator is all love for His creation. But the creation quite often does not feel it or realize it. Since I am part of God’s creation, it is my… duty to feel God’s Love at every moment. Only then will I try to become good, divine, and perfect, and please Him in His own way. Sri Chinmoy, 1931-2007 [emphasis is the editor’s]

I will experience love as a light that begins in my heart and spreads out as far as my awareness can reach; as images arise in my mind, I will send love and light in their direction. —Adapted from The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004)

Polly__Kate_Greenaway

I Will Send Love and Light

I guess I’m a late bloomer. I don’t have any bazooms yet, and until recently I wasn’t interested in boys except as pals.

Whereas, Mama told me once, while she was ironing Daddy’s dress shirt with a tender expression people don’t usually wear while they’re ironing, she was eight years old when she fell in love with Daddy.

Nebraska windmill

Nebraska windmill

It was the day he and his brothers were out riding their bicycles and they stopped to ask Sister Alma Rose if they could have some water from her pump. (Sister Alma Rose still has a working windmill next to the house and several more out in the fields, so she can pump water up out of the wells without electricity.)

Mama was drinking lemonade on the porch with Sister Alma Rose, who graciously asked the boys if they’d rather have lemonade instead of pump water. They said, “No, thank you, Ma’am,” and scooped water from the pump into their mouths and splashed it on their faces.

They were about to ride off when Mama asked if she could run over home and get her bike and ride along with them. Isaiah and Jesse just laughed and did some wheelies to show off, then turned and went lickety-split down the hill. But Daddy stayed behind and told Mama she could ride with him if she wanted to. So they crossed the road and got Mama’s bike and went all the way to La Mesa and had cherry phosphates at the Rexall. (From The Ancients, Part 1: Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell)

cherry_phosphate_15_cents

Vintage sign, 1920s

Lust is not love

Apparently I am changing hormonally, though it doesn’t show on the outside, as far as I can tell. My (ha-ha) bustline, waist, and hips are exactly the same size, which is about seven inches, and I have to wear belts to keep my jeans from falling down.

It used to be that when I saw romantic scenes in movies I would close my eyes and plug my ears and ask Pablo, or whomever I was with, to tell me when the mushy part was over. Suddenly I am wildly interested in mush, and there is this one part of The Runaway Bride where Richard Gere is just looking at Julia Roberts and the hairs on my arms stand on end.

Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

I have seen this part of the movie about thirty times because my friend Tootie (you do not want to know why she is called “Tootie”) owns the video and we watch it every time I spend the night at her house because she, like me, has just gotten interested in boys as sex objects. (If there is one thing that Sister Alma Rose has taught me, it is that lust is not love.) [Note to Mama and Daddy, if you are reading this, I don’t mean “sex objects” literally, okay, I just mean hotties, foxes… um… heartthrobs.]

So although I am not quite 12 years old I am in lust with David Harkness, whom everyone calls “Lefty” because, naturally, he is left-handed and is a really good baseball player and he throws and bats left-handed but can switch to batting right-handed in the blink of an eye. And all of a sudden, life, which had, for me, always consisted of childhood and was therefore not terribly complicated, got terribly complicated.

So what I did was, so that I’d be able to have sparkling conversations with Lefty, I studied up on baseball, and left-handed baseball players, and especially switch-hitters, notably Mickey Mantle, who played his entire career for the New York Yankees and who was the American League‘s Most Valuable Player three times.

Coming of age

Persian_Gulf_NASA

The Persian Gulf (NASA)

Before I got this crush on Lefty, I never, ever thought about what other people thought about me. When I was comfortable with someone, then that someone became my friend. When I was uncomfortable with someone, then I avoided that person. Hilltop Elementary School is so small that there aren’t really “cliques” like those I’ve read about at larger schools… so there’s no “in crowd” and there are no popularity contests. Smart kids seem to hang around with other smart kids because they sort of speak the same language, not because they’re snobs or think they’re better than someone who is great at, say, running track but totally does not get algebra.

Barbie house that costs more than a year of college

Barbie house that costs more than a year of college

Every once in a while a family will move to Hilltop from someplace like the Persian Gulf or Africa, and Sister Alma Rose always knows about it and tells me to be especially kind to their kids, which is how I met Mehrnaz, whose lovely name means “the sun’s glory.”

Mehrnaz is about my age, but she couldn’t wait to move to America because in America she would be able to have a Barbie doll.

I had outgrown my Barbie dolls, of which I had maybe twenty (including Air Force Barbie and Ken, who are African-American, and two Native-American Barbies, and then a bunch of other quasi-Barbies made of molded rubber or something).

So I gave them all to Mehrnaz, which made my little brother Johannes cry, and I’m ashamed to admit that it never occurred to me that Johannes would want to play with my Barbie dolls, although they’ve been sitting out in plain sight for years and Johannes never showed any interest in them until they were on their way out the door.

Fisher-Price dump truck

Fisher-Price dump truck

But Daddy, who tries to be broad-minded about these gender-role things, reverted to type and promised to buy him a dump truck, or it might have been a chain saw, I wasn’t really paying attention), and even though some of them (Barbies) had stupid hair because I had tried to cut or style it, and some had dislocated shoulders and compound fractures, Mehrnaz cried and hugged me and Mehrnaz’s mom cried and hugged me.

And they hadn’t even seen the Barbie house yet, or the closetful of other Barbie accessories (including Barbie’s T-bird convertible and the rest of her fleet plus a foot locker full of clothes, with the tiny shoes in plastic zipper bags meant for pills), which Daddy was going to bring over in his truck.

Barbie T-Bird, Amazon.co.uk

Barbie T-Bird, Amazon.co.uk

Boy crazy

But back to Lefty (or “but I digress” —I’ve always wanted to write “but I digress” in a story)… I had known Lefty for as long as I could remember and we always got along fine. Sometimes we walked home from school together — his family lives about a half-mile west of our farmhouse — but it wasn’t like we were boyfriend and girlfriend or anything.

And now I was writing our names in hearts with Magic Marker all over the inside cover of my school notebook and trying out my first name with his last name — “Fanny Harkness,” which isn’t too bad, especially if you consider that I could just as easily have fallen in lust with Tim Ranney — “Fanny Ranney”? I don’t think so — who is very cute, even though Tim’s dad puts a bowl over Tim’s head and cuts his hair so that he looks like Moe in the Three Stooges.

Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday, 1953

Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday, 1953

Suddenly, because of the Lefty thing, I am very self-conscious about my clothes and my hair and about not having any bazooms — and before this I have never had a self-conscious moment in my life, not even when I was in sixth grade and wearing these pretty white corduroy culottes that I had made in Camp Fire Girls, and our teacher, Mr. Lee, who looked like a young Gregory Peck, asked me to go up to the blackboard and solve a math problem, so I stood with my back to the class for a full five minutes working this problem, and when I sat down again, the dear, sweet boy who sat behind me, Larry Levin, leaned forward and whispered that there was a gigantic bloodstain on the back of my culottes. I thanked Larry and raised my hand, and when Mr. Lee called on me I just pointed to the door and he nodded and I stood and picked up my books and backed out of the classroom and kept walking backward until I reached the nurse’s office, and the nurse called Mama, who brought me clean clothes and Towelettes and “supplies,” and I freshened up and changed and went back to class and nobody ever said a word about it.

Puberty bites

I dropped my books...

I dropped my books...

But now I’m stuffing Kleenex in my bra and trying to pluck my eyebrows and wondering if Lefty is in lust with me the way I am in lust with him. So one day I am walking home from school by myself and it’s a day that baseball practice has been canceled, but I don’t know that, and I don’t even hear Lefty walking behind me until he says, “Hey, wait up, cute little Fanny,” which is what he has called me ever since he figured out what a double entendre is, and I am so startled I trip on my own foot and drop all my books, which has happened dozens of times, that’s why Lefty sneaks up like that, only this time, instead of laughing, I am embarrassed and I can’t think of a thing to say, not a thing. Whereas I would normally have said, “How about helping me pick up these books, Creep!” in a friendly way.

Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, one of the first to identify the process of Bell's palse

Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, one of the first to identify the process of Bell's palse

But I don’t have the presence of mind to say anything normal, because all kinds of other stuff is rattling around in my head. What’s happening is, I’m trying to see myself through his eyes and I’m wondering if I have bad breath and if any new zits have popped out today, and I can’t even meet his eyes. When I finally think of something to say, it’s totally lame, like, “How come you don’t have baseball practice today?” and I try on this dazzling smile I’ve been practicing, and he looks at me a little oddly and explains why he doesn’t have baseball practice and I’m not even listening because I’m still trying to crawl inside his head to see what he sees when he looks at me, and then, to my total and extreme humiliation, he says, “What’s wrong with your mouth? Hey, I’ll bet you have Bell’s palsy!” And he takes off running, like Bell’s palsy germs are going to leap onto his face. “See you, Fanny,” he calls back. I try to yell after him, hoarsely (he can’t hear me), “Mickey Mantle won the American League MVP award three times.” And as soon as he’s out of sight I sit down on the grassy shoulder of the road and burst into tears and get a few hundred chigger bites on my upper thighs along the edges of my underpants, and I’m thinking, I’m not ready for this, and wondering if it would make me a terrible, mean person if I asked Mehrnaz for my Barbies back.

Sister Alma Rose's virgin oak grassland

Sister Alma Rose's virgin oak grassland

I could barely see Sister Alma Rose’s house from where I was sitting, because of her undisturbed oak grassland that she is so proud of, but I can see Sister Alma Rose, wearing one of the big, flowing gold dresses she makes, so that she looks a bit like an oak herself, and I can feel her eyes on me, and they’re pulling me like she’s a magnet and I’m an iron filing, so I pick up my books and scratch my chigger bites in a very unlustful manner, and I drag my sorry self to her porch, feeling despised by Lefty and practically everyone else in the Western Hemisphere, except Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette, and of course the latter has already made my frosty glass of lemonade appear and then vanished, which no one the size of a sequoia should be able to do the way he does.

Love is a gift

My face is tear-streaked and I’m sniffling and wiping my nose on the sleeve of the ice-blue boatneck sweater I had worn that day to make Lefty fall in lust with me, but I don’t have to explain anything to Sister Alma Rose. She sees all, she knows all.

Lavender; photo, fir0002

Lavender; photo, fir0002

“Miss Fanny,” she said, handing me a clean, lavender-scented hankie for blowing my nose, “y’all just lost part of yourself in that boy — the watcher part, the observing, outward, interested part. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Miss Fanny together again. Who’s the only one who can do that?”

“I am,” I said miserably, folding my arms on the green wicker table and laying my head down on them, “by the grace of God.”

“And right now y’all can’t put yourself together because parts of y’all are still with David Harkness, thinking about how y’all can look and act and smile and smell like lilacs and otherwise perform for him like a trained seal next time so that he’ll fall at y’all’s feet. Fanny, there are women in this world who can manipulate men into loving them. Praise God, y’all ain’t one of them women. Because if y’all get all tangled up into wanting to be loved, y’all got nothing left to love with.

“Now y’all listen to me, Fanny, because I ‘most never lecture y’all, do I?”

I shook my head, as well as I could with it buried in my arms on the table.

“All right, then. Next time y’all catch yourself trying to be good enough, to look pretty enough… next time y’all start performing… stop right then, and remind yourself that love is a gift; y’all can’t earn it.

Love is a gift

Love is a gift

“Then silently say this prayer, as many times as y’all need to, and I don’t care if y’all are in the middle of a conversation with David Harkness or in the middle of y’alls presidential-nomination-acceptance speech, and y’all look like a blinkin’ idiot, y’all say this prayer silent in y’all’s head. Y’all know the prayer I mean, don’t y’all?”

I picked my head up off the table so I could nod.

“Then say it with me, Fanny.”

So together we said this prayer, which Sister Alma Rose calls my getting-myself-back-together prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore in me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Me, Fanny, just being me

Me, Fanny, just being me

They say that kids hardly ever learn from their elders and that each generation makes all the mistakes that the previous generation made. But from that day to this I have never, not once, tried to shape myself into something I wasn’t in order to win approval or to be loved. I have never, as Sister Alma Rose has said it, “put someone else on a pedestal” made of my “own stuff.” I have, instead, tried to love purely and generously, have tried to radiate love “as far as my awareness can reach,” and I never (hardly) worry about whether I am getting love back in equal measure.

This is not me saying, “Hey, aren’t I just the most wonderful thing!” No, it’s two other things entirely:

  1. It’s easy, and it makes life much more fun, to be one of the watchers instead of one of the watched.
  2. Somebody wise, I can’t remember who, said that most neuroses come from worrying about what other people think of you.

Sister Alma Rose has a framed cross-stitch in her hallway, exquisitely embroidered and decorated, and it says, “Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. —Mary Baker Eddy

Harvest moon

Harvest moon

We sat quietly until the moon rose — a huge harvest moon that seemed to fill the eastern sky. “Lookit that,” said Sister Alma Rose. “The Ancients say that if a heart beats pure, the moon can feel its throbbing; and the moon grows strong and governs the tides; and in the end, Miss Fanny,” she said, touching my cheek, “love really does make the world go ‘round.”

Giving Yourself Away

Giving Yourself Away

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Nirvana

Krisha with the goddess Radha (18th-century painting)

Krisha with the goddess Radha (18th-century painting)

Sister Alma Rose’s Prescription for a Sore Throat

Sister Alma Rose is advancing my “meditation education.” Yesterday, I had a sore throat, and she had me lie still in her wonderful pink attic bedroom and listen to readings by Dr. Deepak Chopra from the Bhagavad-Gita [Sacred Verses, Healing Sounds, Volumes I and II: The Bhagavad Gita, Hymns of the Rig Veda (Chopra, Deepak)].

Sister Alma Rose said I would find these readings to be “very healing.” What I found them to be was “very confusing.” They were all about a conversation between Krishna, who, I think, represents God, and a guy named Arjuna, who is about to go into a battle, and among his enemies are his cousins, people he cares about. Krishna tells him that the souls of the people who die on the battlefield will live on — I think he means that they will be reincarnated or else they will go into the Supreme Realm.

Arjuna is not buying it, so Krishna goes on to explain about the paths of yoga, which doesn’t mean the postures and exercises that Mrs. McCallister teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays down at the library, it means harmony, union, integration, and balance. Anyway, these paths are (1) unselfish service devoted to God, (2) action without being concerned about “fruitage,” which means you’re not supposed to be “attached to” the outcomes of your actions, (3) meditation, and (4) knowledge — which comes from “transcending the ego, or ‘false self,’ and discovering the soul, the ‘true self,’” which is called Atman, which sounds like a superhero, and in a way I guess it is.

Krishna with Arjun

Krishna with Arjuna

Okay, so first of all I have to tell you, my sore throat went away, and I don’t know if it had anything to do with the Bhagavad-Gita or not. But then, since my throat didn’t hurt any more, I pestered Sister Alma Rose with a bunch of questions, which mainly amounted to, What’s In It for Me? I thought I was supposed to love myself, not lose myself. Sister Alma Rose has told me before that I can’t truly love others unless I first love myself.

The joy of unity and the pain of separation

So here’s what Sister Alma Rose said yesterday, in summary, and I’m still trying to sort it out, but I think it makes sense:

Arjuna and his fourth wife, Subhadra

Arjuna and his fourth wife, Subhadra

My ego, or false self, is limited by what I and other people believe about it, whereas the true self, the soul, experiences unlimited potential. The soul can’t help but share itself, because it’s where love resides in us mortals — it has a direct connection to God — and we become spontaneously loving when we experience our true selves. Love, and “action” that springs from love, is its own reward.

She reminded me of experiences I have had with the joy of unity and the pain of separation. Once I sang with a large regional chorus in a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Creation oratorio, and it was such a beautiful thing that I got lost in it and totally forgot about whether I messed up the notes, which I knew I wouldn’t anyway because we had practiced it a thousand-million times. I felt, at the same time, completely and personally joyful and completely one with the chorus and orchestra and audience. That, Sister Alma Rose said, was a fleeting experience of the “perfect peace” of Nirvana — where everyone is totally in unity and totally their “authentic selves.” I am quoting Sister Alma Rose here, who also reminded me of how I felt when my daddy was in a bad car accident and how lost I felt when I thought he was going to die, because I loved him so much. Real love, says Sister Alma Rose, comes from the soul, and in the soul we can never be separated from another.

I thought about a woman who came to see Sister Alma Rose one summer afternoon, and in the warm breeze in the shade of Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green porch, on a halcyon day that just makes you want to run and shout for the joy of being in the world, this woman was weeping because her son was a heroin addict, and she said she would gladly die if it would mean her son could have been spared the torment he was going through. I got a little glimpse of “selflessness” then, and I thought of all the promises I had made to God about how good I would be, even mucking out the barn and other stuff I hate, if my daddy could get well after his accident, though I don’t think that actually dying was on the list of sacrifices I was willing to make.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Sister Alma Rose said that our false selves take a lot of beating up before we realize how fragile and undependable they are, and that it can require many lifetimes before a person evolves to the place where she is willing to surrender her ego and embrace God, but that when you’re ready, you’re ready, and then you find indestructible happiness in harmony with the universe.

She said that people who go around “doing good” because it’s, like, a rule, don’t have their hearts in it, but that we all will evolve to where “good” is all we want to do, it flows from us like a river. And I thought about all the stuff I’m attached to, stuff that seems to be necessary to my happiness, and I said, that’s okay, I can wait. And Sister Alma Rose gave me a big suffocating hug and told me I had a beautiful aura that shines like the sun.

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