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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Our Place in Creation

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Be Gentle with Yourself

Illuminata — A Return to Prayer, by Marianne Williamson

Illuminata — A Return to Prayer, by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles

* * *

Dear Sister Alma Rose ~ Some time in my 50s I figured out that we spend the first half of life discovering that we’re not the center of the universe (“Don’t show off,” “Share your toys,” “Be a team player”) and the second half discovering that we ARE. Being a woman, I don’t know if this is QUITE as true for men, but I suspect it’s close.

A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

In any case, for some of us this realization comes at the time when we’re no longer responsible for running the family… and it IS, of course, by the way, important for kids, during the “first half” of life, to learn to be attuned to other people’s needs, to make compromises without throwing themselves away or kicking the dog.

These days, all the New Age wisdom, which I study, along with lots of other wisdom, is about “being gentle with yourself” and “not beating yourself up” (I love Susan Piver on this in How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy), and, necessarily, figuring out what you WANT, when your WANTS have been on the back burner, by choice or necessity.

Doing what you WANT is one of the compensations of middle age (unless you’re in an icky marriage or have grown children who are parasites) — THEN the first challenge is to realize that you have choices. I think the sudden freedom is too scary for many people; they like their lives to be structured around other people’s needs and wants… or, at least, that kind of life feels familiar and safe, and they don’t aspire to joy, self-discovery, a pair of wings….

We are conditioned to suppress our gifts… until we see them as GIFTS… and find ways to use them that give us great joy. When that happens, we are benefiting “humanity” in the way that is MEANT, speaking metaphysically; we have found “our place in Creation.”

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, by Susan Piver

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, by Susan Piver

Don’t you agree, Sister Alma Rose? Signed, Free in Fredericksburg

Dear Free—What y’all say is true and wise. But Sister Alma Rose believes that children can be raised to be independent and self-aware. So often, children are admonished to be “unselfish,” but as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche has said in his marvelous book The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, “Everybody wants to be happy.”  We just can’t help it. The difficulty is figuring out what balance of “selfish” and “selfless” acts and compromises will bring us the greatest satisfaction.

Every choice we make, regardless of our age, is the choice we believe will bring us closest to happiness. Sometimes we’re wrong. Children figure out pretty fast that if they hog all the toys, yes, they have all the toys, but nobody else will want to play with them.Rinpoche_The_Joy_of_Living

Take care of y’all’s self

Sister Alma Rose might not use the phrase “center of the universe,” as y’all did, but she understands what y’all mean. Lovely Cheryl Richardson has written a book called The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time. Sister Alma Rose has not read this book, but she is inspired merely by the title (just as the brilliant book title Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff hardly makes it necessary to read the book).

Sister Alma Rose supposes — although, as mentioned, she has not read the book — that Cheryl Richardson advises her readers to refrain from guilt and worry, and to be aware of those times when y’all’s stress levels threaten to push y’all over the edge. Sister Alma Rose also supposes that taking a nice, long, relaxing bath with bath salts that smell like a summer flower garden, or, sometimes, cucumbers, is not the only antidote to dangerous stress that Cheryl Richardson recommends, if at all.

Sister Alma Rose believes it’s a damn shame that folks have to be reminded to stop doing the things that make them sick.

The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson

The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson

Find y’all’s balance

Sister Alma Rose has found, in her exceedingly long life, and this is just one of many (of Sister Alma Rose’s lives, that is), that y’all must always endeavor to have a life in balance, in which there is time for y’all to do what y’all love, even if y’all have nineteen children and a herd of pet llamas. And even children should learn to meditate, in order to find their true and genuine selves, which will unfailingly lead them to their dharma, their unique and particular path of joy and righteousness.

May God bless you, and when God shows y’all that path with neon signs and balloons and arrows and horns and whistles, as God is wont to do, may y’all be paying attention and not picking y’all’s nose or watching Gilligan’s Island reruns.

llama

New! Only $9.95. Great gift! Click on image for details.

The_Rules_frontcover

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Can we have a little GRATITUDE here?


Thank you.

***

The Mysteries

jesus_6th_c_mosaic

A 6th-century mosaic of Jesus

When asked which is the “greatest” of God’s commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22:37-39

Who Is Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose prays to Jesus. I have heard her. “O Jesus, have mercy!” she’ll say when there’s a calamity. But if you ask her if she’s Jewish, she says yes, she is, which is also what she answers when asked if she is a Buddhist, which I know because I was with her at Polly Ellen’s when she quoted from the Gospel of Buddha

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

The deva said,

What is the greatest gain?

What is the greatest loss?

Which armour is invulnerable?

What is the best weapon?

The Blessed One replied,

The greatest gain is to give to others;

the greatest loss is to greedily receive without gratitude;

an invulnerable armor is patience;

the best weapon is wisdom.

…and Polly Ellen said, “Sister Alma Rose, are you a Buddhist?” and Sister Alma Rose said she was.

“But I thought you were a Christian,” Polly Ellen said.

“I am,” said Sister Alma Rose serenely.

Polly Ellen turned to me and said, “Fanny, do you know Jesus?”

I never know quite what to say when people ask me if I “know Jesus” or if I have “been saved.” The short answer is Yes, but I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.  I mean, I don’t think my “yes” means what the other person thinks it means.

I was sure that Polly Ellen and I weren’t having the same conversation when she asked me to give my “testimony.”

“Why don’t you go first,” I suggested, and could have bit my tongue off. Sister Alma Rose just smiled and settled a little farther back in her chair.

Polly Ellen’s testimony

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Don’t worry if there are things you don’t understand about Jesus. I have been learning about who Jesus is all my life, and I still don’t understand. It is one of the mysteries, and that’s okay. Mysteries are exciting. Someday, all the mysteries will be explained. I don’t mind waiting.

Polly Ellen

Polly Ellen

When I was a little girl, I didn’t like Jesus very much. In fact, I was quite afraid of him. Most of what I knew about Jesus I learned in Sunday school. I went to Sunday school every week because I was a very serious little girl and I wanted very seriously to be good.

Even after my family stopped going to church, I kept going to Sunday school to learn how to be good. I asked my brother why we had stopped going to church as a family, and he said it was because Mom and Dad thought the minister at our church was a big poophead. This is not a word I think you should use. I’m just telling you what my brother said.

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

At Sunday school, the teachers would have us memorize a little piece of the Bible, and it usually was about something Jesus wanted us to do that wasn’t fun. “Give all your stuff to the poor and follow me.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to those who hate you.” These verses were from the part of the Bible called the Gospel, which means “good news.” But I couldn’t figure out what was so good about it.

The Sunday school teachers said that Jesus didn’t want me to be selfish and that I should care more for other people, ALL the other people in the world, than I cared about myself. This was hard for me to understand, because I knew these Sunday school teachers, and they all lived in big fancy houses and had expensive cars, and also, they wouldn’t let black people come to our church.

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

But still, I grew up feeling more or less guilty most of the time because I was selfish. The only good thing about it was that I was always nice to everybody, even geeks and nerds and people who smelled bad, and so I got to be Homecoming Queen because geeks and nerds vote too.

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

By the time I was a grownup, I was sure that I was a horrible person and that God couldn’t possibly love me enough to want me with him in heaven. Sometimes I would start to feel happy, but then I would catch myself and remember that I wasn’t supposed to be happy, not as long as there was a single person in the world who was poor or sick or suffering in any way.

Now I am almost always happy. And I will tell you why.

Many years ago, I met a very wise woman named Margaret, who read Jesus’ words to me out of the Bible. She read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotta de Bondone), early 1300s
Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotto di Bondone), early 1300s

“Jesus doesn’t want you to love your neighbor instead of yourself,” Margaret said. “He wants you to love yourself too. If you let him, he will fill you full of love — enough for yourself and the whole rest of the world.”

Then she read to me from Matthew, chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Do not worry.”

“Pray, and give your worries to God,” Margaret said.

And so I think that the Good News, which Jesus taught, is that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, any time you want to, you can give your mistakes and your fears and your worries to God, and God will put love in the place where your fears and worries used to be, and God will guide you in the way that you should go, because God loves you and wants you to be happy. That’s why God made you in the first place.

* * *

By the time Polly Ellen finished her testimony, tears were rolling down my face — tears of pity, thinking of Polly Ellen making herself so unhappy all those years because she thought she needed to carry the weight of the world… tears of joy, because the Polly Ellen I have always known is like a merry sprite, shining and humming and dancing through life.

When Polly Ellen walked with us out onto her porch to say goodbye, I gave her a big hug. “I am so grateful for you, Polly Ellen,” I said, and she held me tight and a little bit extra long, and when Sister Alma Rose and I were walking up the hill toward home, Sister Alma Rose handed me her clean, ancient floral hankie, which had been very neatly mended in several places, and I wondered if Sister Alma Rose is the only person in the world who still mends raggedy old hankies and darns her socks.

* * *

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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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The Unselfish Automobile and the Good Christian

Detail from "Views of a Fetus in the Womb," da Vinci

Detail from "Views of a Fetus in the Womb," da Vinci

When I was a child in Presbyterian Sunday school, I was taught that being a good Christian means being unselfish. Somehow I interpreted this to mean that my wants and needs were unimportant… that I had been put on earth exclusively to Serve Others.

This was a troubling concept, but it didn’t cause much of a problem until I was out of my teens. During one’s adolescence, it’s almost impossible not to be self-centered and self-aware. I think it’s a hormonal thing.

By the time I was twenty, I was married with an infant. Self-abnegation is a poor basis for marriage and motherhood. I was a slave to my husband and my baby. I was unhappy – but wasn’t that okay, since God wanted me to Serve Others and to be Unselfish?

At that time I owned a 1960 Mercury Comet. Like me, my Mercury had been created to serve. It was unselfish. But in order to serve, its basic needs had to be met. It needed fuel. It had a hydraulic clutch (or something) that needed to be filled from time to time. It needed regular oil changes. It required maintenance and occasional repairs.

Eventually I learned that I too required maintenance and occasional repairs. Without receiving, I became unable to give.

Over the years, I have found that giving and receiving are inseparable. Think of a lake that has an outlet — a stream flowing out of it — but no source of fresh water. Soon the lake will dry up. It will no longer be able to sustain fish or waterfowl. It will have no beauty to be enjoyed. It will be unable to cool and entertain swimmers on hot summer days.

When I discovered that I, like the Mercury Comet and the lake, had needs that could not be ignored, I learned a great deal about myself and about how the world works. Knowing myself better, I took better care of myself. I made wiser choices. I was happier, and so were the people around me.

I now believe that people — women and men alike — should always treat themselves as if they are pregnant. Caring for oneself beautifully and wisely during pregnancy is, as it happens, the best way to care for one’s developing fetus. And I believe that there is a sense in which we are all, always, “pregnant” with our future selves. We carry inside us the embryo of what we will become.

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