Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself

The Ancients… on Being Happy and Loving Oneself

Happiness is the highest form of satisfaction… the key to fulfillment… and your most important responsibility to yourself and the rest of the universe. [1] Your well-being contributes to the planet’s health in ways that are now being measured by scientists who study coherence, or “global order.”

This is not to say you shouldn’t be emotionally honest. Sadness, anger, unpleasant feelings will arise. Robert Holden, one of the leading experts on happiness, suggests that “emotions want to be felt”; giving them due respect will allow them to fade away, whereas denying them is the surest way to make them stick. But Holden, success coach Michael Neill, and many other authorities agree that happiness is our natural, “unconditioned” state of being.

Contented sleeping baby and puppy

Happy by Default

Seeking happiness is instinctive

I can’t choose to pursue happiness any more than I can choose to grow toenails. All my cells, every body process leans into the equilibrium that is happiness.

If I am drowning in misery I reach for happiness automatically – or at least for relief from suffering, which might look like happiness from the vortex of the black lagoon. I can’t help striving to find safety. The instinct is the same as if I were in a smoke-filled room gasping for oxygen.

Happiness comes more easily if we love ourselves. This too is instinctive, but many of us were taught that loving ourselves is selfish, wrong, immoral, un-Christian, sinful… and sometimes, as a result, the natural impulse toward healthy love, compassion, and respect for the self was scrubbed away.

Freedom Riders (1961) courageously manifested white support for civil rights (photo: Florida State Archives)

Freedom Riders (1961) courageously manifested white support for civil rights (photo: Florida State Archives)

I struggled for years, in my late teens and twenties, with guilt brought on by merely wanting something – anything, from a boyfriend to a frivolous pair of socks. My parents — paragons of healthy balance and sensible self-care — were mystified by my chronic, debilitating guilt, which reached crisis proportions in the late 1960s, spurred by a pathological extremism that afflicted many white middle-class college students in that era.

In 1966 I attended a lecture at Stanford University given by the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., who was – and here I’m quoting a Yale undergraduate who was well acquainted with Coffin –

the type of Christian minister who saw a higher calling in “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”  The “comfortable” were, of course, Yale students.  By and large, they came from prosperous middle- class families.  Their youth had been spent in well-furnished classrooms rather than [streets and alleys. Coffin robed them metaphorically in hair shirts] … because of how they were raised. —www.identityindependence.com/coffin.html

Toxic guilt

In 1969 and 1970 I served on a racial-justice speakers’ panel sponsored by the Presbytery of Missouri River Valley of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Our mission, truth be told, was to dispense guilt with a heavy hand among white congregations in the Omaha area… converting wealthy Presbyterians steeped in shame into philanthropic progressive Presbyterians working out their salvation by promoting fair and affordable housing,  job and education opportunities, public-policy initiatives, and other measures serving the needs of poor African Americans and other minorities in the vicinity.

The objectives were laudable, but guilt proved not to be a reliable incentive… and by this time I was so deeply immersed in my own guilt; so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the threats to our country both domestic and international; and so thoroughly distanced from my own wants, needs, interests, and abilities, that I fell headlong into severe clinical depression and spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital.

talk therapy

Talk therapy (photo: anxiety.org)

Back then, the few antidepressant drugs on the market were rarely used and psychiatrists relied principally on talk therapy. My doctor, Bob Young, was one of the nation’s foremost psychiatrists and, under his care, I quickly unlearned the ethics of self-abnegation and began to practice greater kindness toward myself and, spontaneously, toward others as well.

Dr. Young’s teaching shared much with the view expressed almost twenty years later by Marianne Williamson when she wrote, in her 1992 book, A Return to Love,

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’s 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 others permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Health and healing through meditation

I was still in my early twenties when I came to understand the wisdom of loving myself, which invariably leads to spontaneous generosity in the matter of love. Ultimately, however, it wasn’t until I began a daily meditation practice decades later that I realized how brutally I sometimes treated myself – scolding and berating myself for failing to meet my own standards, not quite understanding that I could love myself even when I behaved unwisely, and expending a lot of energy on worry and procrastination. From time to time I fell back into the habit of indiscriminate people-pleasing… valuing myself according to the pats and strokes and other gestures of appreciation I got from my “admirers,” as I naively thought of them. 

You are a gift to the universe

A ‘mirror affirmation’

When I began meditating in 1995, I wasn’t really aware of the ways in which I had been cheating myself of love, life, and abundance. Events and circumstances since then, however, have shown me how much I’ve grown thanks to meditation. Difficulties that would have crippled me twenty years ago have been manageable and I’ve been able to see the lessons in them.

To be continued…


[1]      “Ten Life-Enriching Affirmations and How They Can Transform Your Life,” by Athena Staik, PsychCentral.com.

        When happy, your brain functions in ways that optimally support your mental and physical health….

        See also “Nourishing the Collective Heart,” by Deborah Rozeman, HeartMath, Care2.com. Rozeman introduces the Global Coherence Initiative, which is investigating potential beneficial effects of positive coherent emotional states on, e.g., the earth’s energetic fields.

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What the Ancients Wear

Laundry (Wash It), Essay (Write It), Melon Patch (Weed It), Tikkun Olam (Work It), & More from My To-Do List

Alice Learns to Bake?

Talbots Fleece Jacket on ebay

Talbots Fleece Jacket: Buy It Now $7.85 + Ship

“What in the world do y’all wear up there?” Pablo asked me the last time I was home. I’d arrived in what looked like a white cotton nightie — long and plain, crisp and clean as new snow — with a light-blue-and-white-checked pinafore-style apron over it. Bit of  “Alice in Wonderland Goes to Baking School,” I mused as I unloaded my backpack… or, better, reminiscent of the Von Trapp children.

Absently I sang a few bars of Dîtes-moi pourquoi…” before I remembered:

Nothing wasted…

The dress and apron had once served as a sort of uniform at a 19th-century convent orphanage. Earlier still, the dress fabric had been bed sheets, and dozens of tablecloths had given their lives so the orphan girls could have aprons, which, I think, were more than decorative.

In Mama and Daddy’s living room, I was spinning gleefully in dizzying circles, generous fold upon fold of white cotton spreading out around me… managing heroically to avoid tripping on the hem… and loving the country quaintness of the dress and pinafore… though if Pablo had knocked on the front door five minutes later I’d have already changed into Levi’s and a flannel shirt, which I prefer to voluminous dresses, especially white dresses, no matter where I’m staying.

But nowhere on earth, not even at the United Nations, are you likely to see a more eclectic assortment of clothing styles than on the Ridge. Visitors and newcomers, expecting to find the Ancients living and dressing like Quakers or Mennonites… or huddled in caves, clad in animal skins… gape at the array of red-and-gold saris, white turbans, and Italian suits… along with the odd pinafore and the preponderance of jeans and flannel shirts.

What is of ultimate concern to me?

Sacred Threads Pink Dressy Dress on ebay

Sacred Threads: Buy It Now $19.95 + Ship

Pablo and I spent the warm afternoon on Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch. I had been assigned a short essay: an answer to the question “What is of ultimate concern to me?”

Pablo worked on his own essay, because that’s the sort of thing Pablo considers fun. Sister Alma Rose shelled peas and looked at our drafts, as we had asked her to. She knows better than we do when we are bullshitting, which is to say, writing what we think will please our mentors rather than what is in our hearts.

Here is my draft, about 60-percent complete. I’ll spend all the time it takes, because one certainly desires to know what is of ultimate concern to one, n’est-ce pas?

TO FOLLOW MY BLISS, joyfully occupy my place in the universe, effortlessly expand to accept and release streams of love always… thus to nourish the world… thus to swim in the tide of abundance (in the spiritual sense, but I wouldn’t say no to a cushy cabin cruiser and a circle of friends and maybe a roasted chicken).

Without my striving or struggling, my ultimate concern is to get out of God’s way so that God’s love can flow through me unobstructed. I pray, “God, surprise me.” I open my heart to accept the blessed assignment of repairing the world (tikkun olam, in the Kabbalah; or even, à la Gregg Braden, attuning my heartbeat to that of the planet — many metaphors are helpful).

Charter Club Gray Stripes Long-Sleeve T-Shirt on ebay

Charter Club: Buy It Now $3.50 + Ship

I could have said merely “to love one another” (Mother Teresa: “Spread love everywhere you go”), but there is also the clearing away of barriers and stumbling blocks.

Or I could have said “to love God and have no other Gods,” but that too means waking up and shedding addictions to stuff, to people and their regard, and to cream-cheese pie with hot fudge on the side… while remaining capable of enjoying cream-cheese pie and so forth.

The Ancients, most of them, are not ascetics. You will not see obesity on the Ridge, but there is no shortage of cream-cheese pie. Sugary desserts are enjoyed in moderation, usually after a meal.

After I’d been a year on the Mountain, immoderate displays of obscenely sweet pastries and frozen treats turned my stomach; but not so long ago, I could stick a spoon into a just-opened jar of hot fudge… slip into a trance… and emerge from it with an empty jar, a sticky chin, and a seriously offended stomach.

Love is not one of my attributes. It is my essence, as it is yours. When I move with confidence and courage and in integrity, no matter what I do I am love in motion and cannot help but bless the world.

So simple a message, and I still forget, and my mentors won’t allow me to tattoo it on my forehead….

Eddie Bauer women's jeans size 10 black

Eddie Bauer jeans 10 Buy It Now $3.85 + ship wow.

Serenity

Riverside Lookout

This is one of my favorite contemplation spots

Editor’s note: I’ve been trying for weeks to use Typekit fonts, with zero success, but I don’t get frustrated. No, indeed. I nip frustration in the Sister Alma Rosebud. I SO Am Mindful! Omigosh! I am radiant with mindfulness and only a little peeved at the Typekit people, whose instructions are, to say the least, pitiful

Mindfulness Is the Real Deal

My grandmother once said of a friend of hers, Mrs. McPhail, that she “rolled with the punches.” I liked that metaphor. When I was a really little kid, I did NOT roll with the punches. I got knocked out, bruised, and bloodied. A LOT, not literally, I just did not play well with others, and my parents disciplined me for throwing toy trucks at kids and for being “oppositional” with them. And I screamed bloody murder every time.

Pretty teenaged redheaded girl

Moi, Fanny

Then Sister Alma Rose taught me a form of meditation — I was maybe 7 or 8 — that mainly focused on not taking stuff personally (even when it was personal), like getting teased about my hair — certain people taunted me with “Orangehead!” — or about my name (“Fanny is a butthead” was the least offensive phrase flung in my direction for a time) — or being excluded from Mary Louise Hobbs’s birthday bash, which was an ice-skating party and I was a good ice-skater, which is probably why I wasn’t invited, but it didn’t matter, because I didn’t take it personally, because people learn pretty fast that it’s no fun to be mean to other people who don’t react, and the bonus is they sort of open up to you and you get to know their other qualities.

The Church of What’s Happening Now

Kids love Mr. Tim's toys

If you have been paying attention, you know about poor Mrs. Ana and Mr. Tim. Mrs. Ana is still in the hospital, in a coma, and Mr. Tim has no memory of getting snockered and bashing her in the head or of someone else coming into the toy shop and clocking that dear woman. The current theory is that Mr. Tim was “set up,” because no one wants to think ill of kindly, softhearted Mr. Tim, who makes custom toys just exactly the way children want them. Please. Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana were CPAs in a previous life, and they were successful and prosperous but they didn’t engage in nefarious practices like cheating their clients or “offing” their rivals, which, as far as they know, they didn’t have any, so it remains a lovely little mystery for people to wonder and theorize about, although it would be MORE lovely if Mrs. Ana would wake up and tell the world what happened that bizarre morning, though THAT would ruin the fun of the wonderers and theorizers.

[Sister Alma Rose has pulled the plug on the rumors that (a) Mr. Tim has a “side dish” in La Mesa who got drunk with Mr. Tim until he passed out and then broke an entire shelf of Hall pottery on her head, and (b) Mr. Tim has a brain-wasting disease — Dr. Deirdre, however, did have her neurologist friend come over from La Mesa and examine Mr. Tim for dementia, and he, the neurologist, concluded that Mr. Tim’s mind is clear as a bell. Now, what does that mean? “Clear as a bell”? Why not “clear as a cloudless sky”? Please.]

RAISED BY FOREST FAIRIES. Father Dooley and Dr. Deirdre and I were sitting in comfy grass-green rattan chairs with floral cushions on Sister Alma Rose’s magical grass-green wrap-around porch just yesterday, in the afternoon, which, I’ll do some research but I’m sure it was the most splendid afternoon in history. (Splendid is an odd word, isn’t it? You hear it a lot on the Ridge among the Ancients, I suppose because some of them might have arrived straight from the 1930s, at least that’s my guess.)

Fairies in Victorian art

The Forest Fairies

A glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade was sitting on the table in front of me, and it must have got there by magic because Mr. Truman LaFollette is off chasing his fey fairy-child, Portia, who could be anywhere, though she feels most at home in the forest. Portia is not like the rest of us. Oh, I suppose there are other Portias out there, God help us, but Portia was born without inhibitions and lacking any sense of danger, and she has wandered more or less at will since she learned to walk — not that Mr. Truman LaFollette hasn’t tried to keep her at home, but she always escapes and cannot be found, and I am almost convinced that the Forest Fairies look out for her and feed her and protect her from being devoured by wolves, because the last time I saw her — every once in a while she wanders back our way — she was rosy-cheeked and voluptuous and displayed no wolf-bite marks, but Mr. LaFollette is frantically searching for her right now because he doesn’t want her to get pregnant. Again.

THE MIDDLE WAY. And that’s what we were talking about when Dr. Deirdre mentioned mindfulness. People who are well schooled in mindfulness do not become frantic, she commented, “and Mr. Truman LaFollette is one of the Ancients and ought to trust in Providence and practice detachment.” Dr. Deirdre is a serious meditator and also a Methodist.. “walking,” as she explains, “the Middle Way.” I simply adore her.

Father Dooley mentioned J. Krisnamurti, the famous sage who was always unruffled and serene because, as he put it, “I don’t mind what happens,” and Father Dooley said that he was “not ready, spiritually, to be quite THAT detached” and he was profoundly grateful for the Buddha’s wisdom in allowing the Middle Way. Dr. Deirdre replied that she has to practice detachment because almost all her patients are people whom she knows well and she could not do her job if she were pulled into their suffering, but she is exceedingly attached to the St. Louis Cardinals and has a baseball signed by Stan Musial in a Plexiglas cube in her office.

“But I no longer let the St. Louis Cardinals’ wins and losses fling me from joy to despair,” she said with a little laugh, “just as I don’t allow my nephew’s struggle with addiction make my heart pound and drive me to drugs… prescribed tranquilizers, I mean, though I always carry my little bottle of Rescue Remedy.

That's Dr. Deirdre--the woman on the left, of course, wearing the mask

“When I’m meditating and worry intrudes, instead of clutching, instead of fighting it off, it becomes my mantra. I turn my compassionate attention away from my breathing toward my mental state, which is worrying, and I look at it and silently repeat ‘worrying, worrying, worrying,” for as long as I need to. That way it doesn’t grab me by the throat and have me creating dire scenarios for the future. And you can learn to function this way, you see, not just during the time you are meditating but all the time.”

Thanksgiving? No, thanks

“Last November,” she said, “I was supposed to prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner for fourteen people in my home. The house was a mess. I mean it was a disaster. It should have been condemned. I’d had emergency after emergency during the time I’d set aside to clean, and, I’m telling you, I was stepping over dog poop Thanksgiving morning. Poor Jerry. There was no one home to let him out.

Puppy under a blanket

Poor Jerry

“And staying down the street at the bed-and-breakfast were all those aunts and uncles and cousins expecting a royal feast, and I hadn’t even bought a turkey, and there were clothes growing mold in the washing machine and dog poop on the floor and maybe a can of sardines in the cupboard, and I’m thinking, I am NOT Jesus Christ and I canNOT feed fourteen people on one can of sardines and half of a soggy cantaloupe.

“So I panicked, and I actually picked up the phone to call the inn and have Marlene, the owner, you know, tell my family that I had some dreadful and highly contagious viral infection and no one could come near me, because, of course, I wasn’t sick, really, but it would be a horrible thing if my relatives came to my house and it weren’t spotless and the meal weren’t perfect, and the REASON it would be so horrible was… and I couldn’t think of a reason. I could, in fact, clean up the dog poop, rewash the laundry and put it in the dryer, and serve turkey TV dinners, and we’d still all enjoy each other, unless I spoiled it by being embarrassed or upset.”

Window, tulips in vase, white lace curtains

...at the bed-and-breakfast...

“Is that what you did?” asked Father Dooley, impressed. “Serve turkey TV dinners?”

“No,” said Dr. Deirdre. “Actually, I literally wept with relief after I made arrangements with Marlene to buy Thanksgiving dinner for everyone at the inn. Around two o’clock I walked down to the inn, ate a delicious, traditional Thanksgiving dinner that I didn’t have to cook or clean up after, which I enjoy when there’s no dog poop on the floor, and I had a wonderful time with my family, except for Uncle Skinny, who chews and farts and leers… and then, after dinner and one glass of wine, I went home, meditated, cleaned the house (my mantra was “cleaning, cleaning, cleaning…”), and had everyone over on the Friday, the next day, you know, to watch college football games and eat cheese and crackers and drink this wine punch I make that’s mostly fruit juice and just a little wine.

Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods

...murky future...

“The point is, you can see what happens when you let a thought or a feeling attach itself to you and pull you away from the present and into this murky future where something just awful is surely going to happen related to that thought or feeling, which is just, after all, one of the gazillions of thoughts and feelings that are part of life rolling by.”

to be continued…

Café Inmediatamente

Tchaikowsky's last home

LET’S REVIVE THE PRACTICE AND ART OF LETTER-WRITING. Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy Russian widow, and the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky exchanged more than a thousand letters between 1877 and 1890 without ever meeting. Pictured above is Tchaikowsky’s last home (at Klin, northwest of Moscow). The composer died in 1893

Letters from Henry

Adventures in serendipity and exercises in navigating nonsequiturs

She stopped, just stopped in the middle of the drive. Just to look, and to think, and remember. Inside was warmth, fires burning with the crackle of real wood. Everything in her life had somehow navigated her here. Whatever the horrors had been, the pain and blood, whatever dogged her dreams like a hound, had brought her here. She believed that…. She had this because she’d survived the other. J. D. Robb (pseudonym for Nora Roberts), Memory in Death

"Come In, We're Open" antique sign

A battered old OPEN sign like the one at the farmhouse. Source: http://virtualspace.nclude.us

RECAPPING MY LAST ENTRY, which related my walk into town with Sister Alma Rose to visit Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana, the toy- and dollmakers: When we arrived at their beautifully restored old farmhouse-workshop-store, the cheery, battered old sign practically sang out COME IN We’re OPEN!

But something was off. It was too quiet… no skritch of sawing or sanding, no sewing machine clattering, no voices conversing about dolls or trains, boats that really sail or  airplanes that really fly. We pulled open the fancy Victorian screen door, wood-framed with an old-fashioned spring that yanked the door shut behind us with a good, solid slam.

Two kids at a pond on a summer day
…boats that really sailed

In the few seconds it took for my eyes to adjust to indoor light, I didn’t see anyone. Then a flash of white caught my eye, and the glint of sun on glass. Mr. Tim was on the floor leaning against the big counter by one of the west windows, paler than I’ve ever seen him, his face as white as the bib apron he wore, his blue-jeaned legs splayed like a broken doll’s. He took a long, greedy swallow from a brown liquor bottle — no label (Was he a bootlegger?) — arranged his face in a parody of a smile, and tried to get up but succeeded only in flipping over and ending up face-down on the pine plank floor.

“Mr. Tim!” I moaned. “You’re snockered!”

I should have mentioned that Mr. Tim has always been a teetotaler. Seeing him blotto on the floor was discomposing, like surprising your second-grade teacher and the church youth pastor in a steamy lip-lock. In my memory Mr. Tim had always been upright, his back straight and strong as a chimney, his eyes scanning my face anxiously to make sure that the doll or dollhouse or kite was precisely what I had requested, which it always was, only better.

Cute blonde toddler with stuffed dog on wheels

Not wanting to watch him grope for his dignity, I skittered around Mr. Tim and into the kitchen hoping to find coffee while Sister Alma Rose looked around for Mrs. Ana. I was scooping coffee into the filter basket when I heard her startled exclamation — “Sweet Jesus” — which, coming from Sister Alma Rose, is a prayer, not an oath. I hurried to pour water into the coffee maker and push the BREW button and ran back into the front room, where Mrs. Ana was out cold by the basement door. 

There was a large lump purpling on her left temple and Sister Alma Rose was telephoning for an ambulance, muttering a prayer and motioning me away from Mrs. Ana. I had poured a cup of coffee, took a restorative sip, put an ice cube in it, and was force-feeding it to Mr. Tim when the ambulance came and whisked both of them away.

A redheaded Cabbage Patch Kid

...too much like a Cabbage Patch Kid (Source: http://www.CabbagePatchKids.com

Dr. Deirdre had followed the ambulance in her VW bug. Holding onto the coffee cup for dear life, I slipped into the back seat. Gracefully for a large woman, Sister Alma Rose squeezed into the front, and five minutes later we were sitting on the cold marble benches in the hospital lobby being grilled by Police Sergeant McCaslin, if the man’s tentative, apologetic, and mostly irrelevant questions could be considered “grilling.” Sergeant McCaslin looks too much like a Cabbage Patch Kid to be scary. Then again, there’s never any crime in Hilltop. Unless today turned out to be an exception.

We sat in the second-floor waiting room, where the morning sun streamed benignly through mullioned windows, the trim painted shiny hospital white. We could hear snippets of Sergeant McCaslin’s questioning of Mr. Tim, who, we supposed, would suffer little more than a nasty hangover for his sins — physically, in any case. As for Mrs. Ana, we had no idea what to expect. We didn’t want to dwell on the bleak possibilities, though the words HEAD INJURY flickered in my mind like a police-car flasher.

Mullioned windows

Mullioned windows. The mullions are the pieces--in this case, of wood, painted white--that divide the larger window into two or more panes

Sister Alma Rose prayed and prayed and prayed. Whether she sat, walked, or looked out the window, she had her praying face on. I prayed for a good five minutes, then reached into my jacket pocket and took out Henry’s last letter — for comfort — already crumpled from numerous rereadings.

Dear One… I miss you… the way I miss fresh, crisp apples in February, with some sadness but even more anticipation [followed by more endearments, which I give you leave to imagine]….

Spanish Word of the Day is fugarse (para casarse) = elope. Fine, but as a casual speaker of Spanish, mostly in situations involving commerce, I seldom have a need to mention elopement or to hear it talked about. Yesterday’s and the previous day’s words were only slightly more basic: (el) formato = formatting and (el) formato = format. When I learned French, it was all la plume de ma tante and je vais bien, merci. Ah, the good old days of vapid conversation in an unfamiliar language….

Hall china antique coffeemaker, an especially elegant one of all porcelain

Mama coveted this spectacular antique coffeemaker -- a Hall porcelain Drip-O-Lator. Mama has a Hall Drip-O-Lator whose "guts" are aluminum, and she loves it, but she salivated over this porcelain one. It was reasonably priced but still too expensive for my blood, and Daddy's as well....

One of the things I miss most when you are gone — something I have never taken for granted, and I never will — is your rapping, tapping, rapping at my door every morning and the sight of your just-scrubbed face in a sort of mist created by the steam from the two cups of coffee you are carrying. I’m almost surprised that some Lowlander with an entrepreneurial bent has not developed a lucrative business around delivering morning coffee on demand. Sure, there are coffeemakers on timers, but I’m definitely not the only person for whom the mood of the first few hours of the day is soured by the early-morning recollection of having forgotten to set the timer or prepare the coffee, filter, water, etc., before going to bed the night before. You might discuss this with Johann, although this sort of enterprise might not be well suited to bicycle delivery….

Your plan to buy a motorscooter is excellent, my love, and I know I don’t need to tell you to be careful and to always wear a helmet, which, of course, I wouldn’t even mention if I weren’t trying to tell you to be careful and to always wear a helmet. Maybe I can figure out a way for you to bring it with you when you come back up. [There are no cars or trucks on the Ridge except for farm vehicles, but a small percentage of the population ride motorbikes, golf-cart-type vehicles, and a few other low-powered varieties of motorized transport.]

Since I am without you on my rambles, I am practicing walking meditation quite a bit, the type that you showed me.* Once I got out of the hyperawareness habit and focused just on the sensation of foot meeting ground, I pronounced a thousand blessings upon you. I love you not only because of the coffee delivery but also because you are such a charming combination of ageless wisdom and age-related naiveté. You will never grow cynical, sweet Fanny….

I folded the letter and put it back into my pocket, meaning to read the rest of it that afternoon when I sat down to answer it. Our letters are exchanged via Sister Alma Rose. I don’t have the faintest idea how mail and other stuff gets transported to and from the Ridge. Maybe by quantum leap á la Harry Potter. It wouldn’t surprise me.

The Ancients’ Waiting Meditation

How to meditate and firm your calves at the same time

People who live on the Mountain — by which I mean the Ancients, of course — rarely stand in lines the way we Lowlanders do, waiting to buy movie tickets or pay for groceries or have a spin on a ferris wheel. If the Ancients are going to queue up it has to be for something really, really worth waiting for —

Alice and Stieg Norlander’s wild-cherry dairy sorbet.  

Friends Eating Ice Cream

Everyone loves the Norlanders' dairy desserts

To think about Alice and Stieg’s delectable wild-cherry sorbet is to find your feet moving in the direction of the dairy without your head being involved in the process. Savoring that sorbet is a religious experience. So, yes, on a warm Saturday evening on the Ridge, people’s minds turn to thoughts of Alice and Stieg Norlander’s wild-cherry dairy sorbet.

Folks generally don’t mind waiting in line at the dairy, because all their friends and neighbors are there, and people even bring guitars and blankets and picnic baskets, like all-nighters camped out to buy Rolling Stones tickets during one of the band’s rare tours.

If the line is only moderately long, you are likely to witness a curious phenomenon: sorbet customers bouncing on their toes as they wait, much as dance students do as a beginning-of-class warmup. Henry explained this to me soon after I arrived on the Ridge, pointing out that it helps you be patient while you’re waiting for something OR it can be a simple way to meditate almost any time and any place.

View from the Empire State Building's 86th-floor observation deck

View from the Empire State Building's 86th-floor observation deck

Ground yourself, standing straight but relaxed, with your feet far enough apart to give stability. Rest your attention on the bottoms of your feet and the supporting ground underneath. Ideally, you’re barefoot and outdoors, but you could do this meditation wearing cowboy boots and standing on the Empire State Building’s observation deck. Well away from the edge, if you don’t mind. I know, they have those fences. Just saying….

Now roll up onto the balls of your feet by lifting your heels just an inch or two off the ground. Repeat, finding a comfortable rhythm. Your knees should be straight but not locked. Don’t rise any higher than is comfortable. Your calves will pay you back the next day if you do. Relax into the rhythm and go for five minutes the first time, gradually working up to ten.

This little meditation helps me feel both courageous and supported. For the second or two that your heels are in the air you are metaphorically flying — risking, adventuring, and “rising above.” The sensation of the heels meeting the earth again is like going home, having a base… having, so to speak, both feet on the ground.

Physically, you’ll tone and strengthen your legs and improve your balance.

* Sister Alma Rose’s Walking Meditation

during which “each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe”

Before she begins a walking meditation, Sister Alma Rose prays fervently for several people she knows who’d gleefully give up all their worldly goods for the ability to walk at all, even to Hilltop and back in the wind and sleet.

The way Sister Alma Rose practices walking meditation is much like the way she does sitting meditation, except that she focuses on the sensation of encountering the edge of the earth with the soles of her feet. (For you chakra balancers, this can be a form of grounding meditation in that one foot or the other is always on the ground, Mother Earth nourishing the root chakra.) It is the repetitive, rhythmic intersection of self and surface that induces the meditative state, rather than the cycle of inhaling and exhaling… with the additional benefit of motion.

Bare feet walking outdoors“Y’all are headed toward a destination,” Sister Alma Rose explains, “though the place is irrelevant and should not be allowed to intrude on the focus of y’all’s meditation.”

Sister Alma Rose offers this caution to walking meditators: “Leave space in y’all’s outer awareness for some of the more aggressive external stimuli — automobiles, rampaging wildebeests, and the like.”

The Purest Race

The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus
The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

Who Do We Think We Are?

from Fanny’s journal of her time among the Ancients

There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the [Caucasus region]… a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including Europe’s highest mountain (Mount Elbrus).  

The Caucasus Region, 1994

The Caucasus Region, 1994

North Caucasus  comprises… Russia (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai).    

 

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

South Caucasus comprises… Armenia, Azerbaijan (including disputed Nagorno-Karabakh), Georgia (including disputed Abkhazia and South Ossetia)    

The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s.

Tindi, Daghestan, late 1890s. "This region of the southern Caucasus is home to a mixed population, the majority of whom are Muslims (mosques and their adjoining minarets can be seen to both the left and right of the village). The photograph was taken by M. de Déchy, who returned from the area with large collections of plants, fossils, and photographs." Wikipedia, "Peoples of the Caucasus"

There is so much to write about:

How we traveled here (dirigible), Henry, Sister Alma Rose, Henry, Mr. Truman La Follette’s mama, how the Ancients’ communities remain hidden (not sure if I can even put this on paper, except to say that technology is both a help and a hindrance), Henry, how you can Pray Without Ceasing and still walk around and not bump into things, Henry….   

But I am going to begin with what is foremost in my mind (other than Henry), which I am trying to understand without passing judgment, which I am just beginning to study in preparation for being a Peacemaker of the Ancients, which was triggered by the YouTube dialogue at the very end of this little essay, which concerns…   

Ethnic Pride and Conflict among the Peoples of the Caucasus

 

I did not know that I was living a sheltered life. I believed that representatives of all manner of humanity came and went via Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch. I believed that “ethnic pride” was the kind of warm but not profound satisfaction I get out of my Scots heritage or the healthy awakening of pleasure in one’s own racial or ethnic background.   

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus (User:PMX)

I also believed that YouTube was a website where people shared videos (ranging from very polished to I-just-bought-this-camera-47-minutes-ago) and laughed or gagged and then moved on. Which it is, and I am a big YouTube fan, and I am certain that since I reported the comments you will soon read if you just hang with me here a minute they will be expeditiously removed from YouTube, we can all continue to be big YouTube fans. (You will get a hernia if you try to diagram that sentence.)

Crossroads of cultures and continents

Maps and photographs of the Caucasus sometimes make it appear to be not an area that you would just stumble upon or where you would be stumbled upon, given the altitude and the rough terrain. If I wanted to hide, I might say to myself, “I think I’ll just pop into this little village here, elevation about forty-five-hundred feet and inaccessible by road during the winter and tucked nicely into this deep gorge where it’s practically invisible, and no one will ever find me.” 

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

But I would probably be wrong, because I would not have taken into account (a) the invention of the helicopter, and (b) the region’s unique geography: its position at the virtual dividing line of Europe and Asia and also, historically to some extent, between Christian and Muslim cultures, though in parts of the Caucasus adherents of Christianity and Islam have peacefully coexisted for a long time; the region’s proximity to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Volga River, all important for shipping by virtue of being filled with water; its wealth of natural resources, including oil and other minerals; and its inexplicable popularity among tourists who evidently collect musculoskeletal injuries instead of postcards on their vacations.  

During the many decades that the Caucasus was part of the Soviet Union, hardly anybody with a normal job like “weed control inspector” or “dentist” had ever heard of Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia, unless one of those places happened to have a crabgrass or tooth-decay emergency that the Soviet professionals couldn’t handle, although that would have been unlikely in the extreme since, as I understand it, the Soviets basically marched the folk down out of the mountains, shouting instructions in whatever language had won the coin toss, and settled them in posh hotels to wait out the dictatorship.  

Tellingly, when the Soviet Union collapsed in, um, 1991? “a dozen or so families” decided to go back to what is literally a medieval fortress and village called Shatili, whose appearance is picturesque (see photo above) but bodes ill for coziness on those long, cold, high-altitude winters, though I could be mistaken, but I doubt it and under no circumstances will I go there without Sasha the Ski Patrol Samoyed. It’s just that, in the winter, once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s kind of the way it is until that bright summer day that signals the approach of autumn, and it seems that if you try to leave then you could be trampled by herds of trekkers taking advantage of the fine weather to photograph each other at their destination (Shatili) and then galloping back down the mountain with their overheated Samoyeds panting along behind.   

Grozny, Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya. Source: trunghocduytan.com

I did uncover— after much searching, avoiding anything written using an alphabet in which all the letters look like cursive W’s as well as “ergative-agglutinative languages [such as Chechen,… Ingush and Bats, which are members…] of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family” [Chechen (depending on the dialect) can have up to 60 consonants and 44 vowels, not to mention geminate fortis stops, ejectives, ligatures, aspirations, frigates, and so forth (Wikipedia)] — a concise and (as far as I can tell) factual article using the familiar Latin alphabet with no diacritics, thank God, there are times when a diacritic could just throw a person right over the brink — with paragraphs excerpted below that account in part for perennial conflict in the Caucasus (as if it weren’t enough that there is less than a 10-percent chance that you will ever be in the same room with five other people who speak the same language and dialect as yours, even in your own home).

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Since the region is among the oldest settled regions on earth and populated by peoples speaking languages related to no others in the world, it has a great deal of history which extends far back into ancient times.  During the Soviet period history was either suppressed or forced into a rigid, dogmatic framework which left most Caucasian peoples feeling cheated of their past, but deeply concerned about their identity and their roots.  With the collapse of communism, they are free to repossess their history and explore their roots….   

Each ethnic group has its own version of its origin and its past and these, more often than not, conflict with neighbors’ versions.  There is, thus, a great deal of argumentation about history.  More often than not, current problems are debated in terms of ancient texts, archaeology, and even legends and myths.  Intriguing and entertaining as such argumentation may be, it tends to exacerbate and obfuscate conflicts rather than facilitate settlement of them. —Paul B. Henze, “Conflict In The Caucasus: Background, Problems, and Prospects for Mitigation,” CircassianWorld.com, accessed May 18, 2010   

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia. Photo: Tripwolf. Text: VisitGeorgia.ge. "The major part of the territory of Georgia is mountainous, therefore some of its regions like Khevsureti, Svaneti, Tusheti, Pshavi, Mtiuleti, Khevi ans Racha are hidden is high mountains. Each of them has its own history and traditions but they all have something in common: Americans cannot pronounce their names without extensive mouth surgery. NOT! Just seeing if you are paying attention. "Travelling in the mountains is an experience for live! Little has changed there since the Middle Ages. The fields are still worked with the scythe, and the ox and cart still remain the usual mode of transport. The people in the mountains live in a world of their own. They are proud and haughty as they have never had a master ruling over them. Even the continual aggressions of the enemy could not break their bellicose character. Although Christians, their religious practice still includes some pagan elements. Of course, ancient customs and traditions are very closely followed. In some parts the blood feud was observed even in the 20th century."

My research revealed little in the way of ethnic antipathy directed at Jews in particular, though there was some discussion about what constitutes genocide and there were isolated comments by Armenian sympathizers making light of the Holocaust or dismissing it as fiction.  

Comments on the video (I am ‘M’)

I have learned just enough about the Caucasus to understand how dismally ignorant I am. Just before I left Hilltop, however, Father Dooley and I spent hours discussing the history of the century preceding World War I, in which conflict, eastern European nationalism — in particular, Yugoslav nationalism, which no longer exists because the Yugoslavs, as a nationality, were a fiction, being actually composed of Serbs, Croats, Herzegovinians, and other peoples who couldn’t get along, and today, a century or so  later, there are so many splinter nationalist and ethnic groups* that some individuals have to be members of two groups at the same time — and so I was especially disheartened by the irrational and possibly inflammatory comments you are about to read, and in semi-real life, too, stirring what I suppose are similar chauvinistic passions.

* Some of the groups are just holdovers from antiquity, we postulate. 

Do I think that I, at not-quite-13, have more wisdom than “K” or “G”? Not necessarily, because I have never lived in the way described above under the photo of Bakuriani, that is, in a world of my own with no master, nor am I “bellicose” by nature. We puny weaklings learn early on that there are better ways to solve disputes. We also develop a sense of humor, which, perhaps, “being bellicose” and “having no master” do not facilitate. 

What I do know is that I am not fundamentally my nationality, my gender, my role in the family, my race, or any of the other qualities that Eckhart Tolle characterizes as “content” (emphasis on first syllable: CON-tent). Someone else has said that nothing you can know about yourself is your Self. Makes sense to me. 

Note that (1) The video referred to was a song about alchemy to which a fairly spectacular Caucasian video had been attached. The song itself is immaterial to the “debate.” (2) I have rearranged most of the comments into chronological order. (3) When you see the word Caucasian below, it will always refer to “Peoples of the Caucasus.”

dot

 3 months ago (?) — I`m very proud to be 100% caucasian! Caucasus will be free from russian Occupants. Our people will never give up to fight for freedom. Long live Caucasus!   

Pretty redhead

MOI, Fanny the Bilingual

3 months ago (?) — Georgians and all Caucasians always had to fight for the freedom. I think, that also this time it will not be peacefull, but the TRUTH is on our side. That gives me hope, that we`ll win.   

M – 1 week ago — [My comment addressed to creator of video, who did not participate in this conversation] I don’t know what is wrong with the 23 people who did not like this video. It is stunning. I just don’t know how you did it! You have L_____’s amazing song…, with YOUR beautiful video… which appears to relate to weddings, one long ago and one contemporary? And you make it work so well! I love the men’s dancing — They are the peacocks, the women are in the background. Thanks for this!    

G – 1 week ago — CAUCASIAN RACE THE PUREST EVER   

M – 3 days ago — Please. No one can control where they’re born or who their ancestors are. Your people and mine have been massacred because a bunch of people REALLY, REALLY did not like what we represented. And what do Jesus and all the wise prophets admonish us to do? Forgive. Emanate peace, not war. Who needs more wars?   

K – 3 days ago – 23 jews   

M — 3 days ago — Blaming the Jews is SO 20th-century. Isn’t it time we picked another scapegoat? How about the Congregationalists?   

K – 3 days ago — Not at all. The jews aren’t “scapegoats”, they are the aggressors.   

M – 3 days ago — ALL of them? My dentist? The kids I went to school with? Sweet Rabbi V_____ who brought me matzos and pineapple preserves when my family had nothing to eat? I truly, genuinely, with all my heart wish you and your people well, and I can understand (trust me) your feeling for this land that has been continuously occupied by your people perhaps longer than anywhere on earth. But the soul is more important than the tribe. No two souls are alike.   

K — 3 days ago — “ALL of them” ? Yes, of course, all of them, to the extent that they are jews. If Sweet Rabbi V_____ was so sweet with you I bet all my 20 $ that I own in cash that you are a jew. A rabbi is someone who knows the unholy jewish literature. He can prove to you that you must be cattle if you are not a parasite and that you are required to give up your property to them b/c all the wealth of the earth must be turned over to ugly tribal beelzebub. Thanks anyway for the reply.   

M — 45 minutes ago — I’ll take the $20 in quarters; I need them for the laundromat   

“K” gets around

Different issue, one in which I did not take part   

H – 3 days ago — You deserve to be killed
but I think you know that already
   

O – 2 days ago — Zionazi – I received your private love letter, in which you wrote: “I want to slit your throat open can you tell me where you live so I can slit your throat” I have a vehicle so why don’t you tell me where you live?  There are no bus stops for you near my house.   

K – 2 days ago — The United States look like they are on their way out and those wars for the jews help a lot. They tell the soldiers that the Afghans aren´t human and that´s why they are able to massacre them at a whim. It is the attitude of the kosher parasite who lives by his unholy and insane religion. If you aren´t a parasite then you must be his cattle.   

 

These comments were still in place this morning (Tuesday), though it had been only about 12 hours since I flagged them. And may I say something schoolmarmish and utterly irrelevant here? *** The last two syllables of antisemitic rhyme with critic. *** Please do not refer to a man as a chauvinist unless you really do mean that he is “fanatically patriotic.” *** Thank  you.   

   

Photo sources
Kaukasus Reisen— Flora in the Caucasus, a Botanical Journey to Kazbegi, Bakuriani and to the Black Sea Region, June/July 2009
Tripwolf, Bakuriani   

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A Lovely Young Woman

Green leaf on blue water

'Up the mountain'—the pool at the spring near the Upper Shrine*

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Digesting a Difficult Book

Beautiful redhead with freckles

Fanny at almost-13

Fanny, who will be 13 in August, is about to leave for Daylight, the almost-inaccessible mountaintop home of the Ancients, with her mentor, Sister Alma Rose, and Henry, the man she knows she will someday marry. Fanny has learned only recently that she is a reincarnation from the Ancients. She will live with them until she feels that she is ready to serve among the “Lowlanders,” doing the healing and peacemaking work that will become her mission.

coffeecup wingding

I am packed to go “up the mountain” — indefinitely, although Mama and Daddy will be allowed to visit because they’re “special,” and I can come home as often as I want, maybe via magic carpet, I’m not really sure. Sister Alma Rose and Henry will be taking me. Henry will stay as long as I do; Sister Alma Rose is keeping mum about her plans.

Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591

Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591

While we are waiting to leave, Sister Alma Rose has assigned me to read The Metaphysics of Mysticism, A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross, by Geoffrey K. Mondello, a book of which “the goal… is unabashedly epistemological.” Whew! What if it had been gastronomical? Would I have been forced to eat the book? Would it have eaten me? And tidied up afterward?

It is heavy going; the author uses a lot of words such as solipsistic. And only occasionally can I infer the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the context, because the context is full of words such as refractory (not to be confused with refectory, which is where St. John and his fellow Carmelites went to eat dinner).

And so I slog along, reading indoors at the computer so that I can easily look up words every three or four sentences, until it is just irresistibly gorgeous outside, when I lug the unabridged dictionary out to the garden or go read on Sister Alma Rose’s porch. Sometimes I think she forgets I’m only 12.

Detail from Riding a Flying Carpet, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880

Detail from Riding a Flying Carpet, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880

Visiting Cousin George

Mama was an only child and so was her cousin George. (Everyone I know just calls him “George,” even my little brothers.) George and his parents— Mama’s mother’s brother and his wife (“Big George” and Jake, I don’t know her real name) farmed outside of Hilltop when Mama and George were kids, so they were like siblings.

Now George lives in Chicago, but he is hardly ever there because he makes huge amounts of money as a freelance photographer who specializes in going with linguistic anthropologists to remote places like Papua New Guinea (where more than 850 indigenous languages are spoken!) and the Amazon rainforest. So when he is in the U.S., which is hardly ever, he comes to see Mama or she goes to Chicago, and since he was at home last week, and I was going to be leaving soon, Mama, Henry, and I all flew to Chicago. Henry bought our tickets, and I still don’t know where he gets all his money, even though his parents are rich, but they don’t know where he is, and I don’t understand that either. I’m sure he’ll tell me when he’s ready to tell me (this is the new, patient, serene Me talking). 

 
 
 

The Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

The Amazon rainforest, Brazil

We didn’t tell George that I am going to Daylight, although if you could tell anyone and not be scoffed at, it would be George. We also didn’t exactly explain about Henry, but George takes everything in stride. His wife, Annette, used to go with him on long assignments, but she and their baby (Annette was five months’ pregnant) died on Borneo, not from some exotic jungle disease or snakebite or anything. She was standing at the edge of a four-foot embankment near a dry streambed when an insect flew into her eye, and she lost her footing and belly-flopped onto the hard ground, and she died of “multiple internal injuries” in a helicopter on the way to the hospital.

Being the observer

This tragedy happened while Mama was carrying me, so the baby, who was a girl, would be about my age. I used to wonder if I might be an unwelcome reminder of George’s unborn child— he always seemed to be scrutinizing me— but Sister Alma Rose has taught me to not be self-conscious but to observe rather than “feeling observed,” and when I started observing George I realized that he scrutinizes everybody, because he is actually interested. George is a person who lives in the moment. As Sister Alma Rose says, George remembers “where he is” (here) and “what time it is” (now). He’s kind and sensitive but not at all sentimental. He probably doesn’t know it, but he practices “mindfulness.”

Sexy blonde with cigarette, leather outfit, and fur stole

Daddy thinks Carla's a spy

George’s girlfriend, Carla, swears like a sailor and is physically the kind of woman who could have been called a “blond bombshell” in an earlier era. Carla might be a little on the flashy side for high society, and you might assume that she was no rocket scientist, but you’d be wrong because that’s exactly what she is, an aerospace engineer who was an associate professor at some university with initials like M.I.T. but not M.I.T., but now she’s a handsomely paid consultant with ultra-ultra security clearance, and she loves to talk but she doesn’t talk about her work. Carla lives in George’s apartment when he’s away and when he’s home. Daddy doesn’t approve, not that anybody asked him.

George is a self-professed Christian who says he has seen God’s grace “up close and personal” too many times to doubt its reality. It was grace, he says, that brought him and Carla together and that keeps their relationship strong though they both travel a lot and sometimes Carla can’t tell even George where she’s going.

Sultry beautiful blond woman

...Dagmar WAS a spy...

Daddy thinks Carla’s a spy. That’s because a long time ago, just before Mama and Daddy got married, there was a woman called Dagmar who was another “blond bombshell,” and she worked at the Diner and chewed gum and had this Bronx accent, and Daddy told Mama, “She’s a spy,” and Mama said, “What would a spy be doing in Hilltop?” and Daddy said, “Keeping a low profile,” and Mama laughed because Dagmar would have stood out anywhere, but it turned out that Daddy was right and Dagmar was a spy for the Russians or the Chinese or something. Daddy said she was less like a waitress than like somebody playing a waitress on television, and the gum-chewing and Bronx accent were “overkill.”

Loving is the main thing

Coffee in a light-blue mug

...a wonderful time drinking coffee...

Our day in Chicago ended too soon. We all had a wonderful time drinking coffee and eating George’s “culinary specialty,” fruit salad made with cream cheese and marshmallow cream and it is just to die for, if everyone had left the room I would have been compelled to eat it all.

As Sister Alma Rose has told me over and over until it finally sunk in, you cannot be loving when you are being an “observee” instead of an observer.  And loving is the main thing. So I got over myself; I relaxed and observed instead of being self-conscious and feeling as if all eyes were on me. It was fabulous, wonderful, liberating… liberating most of all. And when we left, George told Mama he thought I had “grown into a lovely young woman.” I didn’t need George’s approval any more, but it felt good. Validating. “The truth shall make you free.” **

 * Green leaf on blue water, vnwallpapers.com
** John 8:32

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Serenity Shots

A Cottage in a Cornfield, oil on canvas, John Constable 1776-1837

A Cottage in a Cornfield, oil on canvas, John Constable 1776-1837

An Indelicate Incident

The parade of people who march into and out of Sister Alma Rose’s little world is endlessly fascinating. I know why they come, at least some of them: You cannot help feeling safe with Sister Alma Rose. She just sends out these vibes: “Everything will be okay,” or, rather, “everything is fine, as it should be, right now.” She inoculates people with serenity.  

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821

The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821

Sister Alma Rose does not expend energy needlessly, by which I mean, (a) she never worries, though occasionally she catches herself “fretting,” but she snaps right out of it, and (b) she is absolutely unconcerned about what people think of her— not in an in-your-face sort of way; it would just never occur to her to try to crawl into someone else’s brain.  

There’s a book I have not read (there are still a few of them out there) called What You Think of Me Is None of My Business (which is one of those books, like Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow, for which the title is so instructive that you almost feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth without actually reading the book)…. Where was I? Oh, I think that Sister Alma Rose could have written that book, because she doesn’t ever speculate about what people think of her, like, does my hair look okay, or, I wonder if she likes me.  

Book: What You Think of Me Is None of My Business

Terry Cole-Whittaker earned a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1973 and was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Religious Science in 1975. She left that denomination to found an independent New Thought church in San Diego

That being the case, she is never embarrassed. Here is something that happened, which, if it had happened to me then, I was in fourth grade at the time, would have sent me bolting to my room vowing never to emerge, picturing myself at age 73, that eccentric McElroy spinster who hadn’t been seen since the Embarrassing Incident sixty-four years earlier:  

Let me start out by saying that Sister Alma Rose never, ever naps. She is almost never “poorly” with a cold or the flu or aches and pains. I asked her once if she had always been so healthy, in her past lives, and she laughed and said that she had been an invalid during the Renaissance but that in each successive life she gets healthier and happier, which led me to wonder if people are always reincarnated forward in time, and she said that usually, when you die in one life, you are born into another at the same moment, and that she had always lived in this universe, on Planet Earth, which is usual but there are exceptions. I will have to remember to ask Henry about that, and about whether you are simultaneously a fetus and an independently living, breathing human being who is about to die. 

It was about six weeks after Daddy’s accident, a breathtakingly beautiful September afternoon, and Daddy wanted to walk across the road to see Sister Alma Rose. 

PICTURE OF SERENITY. Girl in the Garden at Bellevue, Édouard Manet 1832-1883. Manet, a French painter, was one of the first nineteenth-century artists to approach modern-life subjects [and]... was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism

PICTURE OF SERENITY. Girl in the Garden at Bellevue, Édouard Manet 1832-1883. Manet, a French painter, was one of the first nineteenth-century artists to approach modern-life subjects and represent the transition from Realism to Impressionism (Manet article, Wikipedia)

This was something Daddy and I traditionally did on those rare afternoons when he came in early from the fields, although of course he hadn’t been working since the accident; his brothers were taking care of the farm.  

The Cornfield, John Constable, 1826

The Cornfield, John Constable, 1826

I held Daddy’s hand protectively and we walked across the road, which is still brick as it winds out of Hilltop and climbs and curves to Sister Alma Rose’s farm and then on to La Mesa. We were a little surprised not to see Sister Alma Rose on the porch, shelling peas or whatever it is she does— her hands are always busy— but Mr. Truman LaFollette was washing the grass-green wicker furniture with soapy water, and he looked up at us and almost smiled, he is in general very grave, and said in his deep voice that always sounds rusty from disuse that Sister Alma Rose was in the kitchen.  

Caught napping

So we went around to the side door that opens into the pantry and the kitchen is just beyond, and she wasn’t there. I said, “Maybe she’s in the chapel,” which was on the other side of the parlor, so we turned into the parlor, and there she was, lying on that big old scratchy brown sofa with her back to us, and my first thought was that she was dead because I had never in my life seen Sister Alma Rose lying down.  

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

Daddy whispered, “I think she’s sleeping,” but I went closer to make sure she was breathing, and just then she woke up and turned her head toward us and started to smile, but the smile was interrupted by a violent sneeze, maybe you have experienced one of those, where the sneeze just takes possession of your entire body, so it wasn’t just an ordinary sneeze, it was one of those HONK fart-sneezes that is impossible to ignore or pretend you didn’t hear, especially since Sister Alma Rose’s backside was still turned inelegantly toward us and also, within a few seconds, something I can describe only as green swamp fog pervaded the atmosphere in the room.  

Peppermint, Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897

Peppermint, Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897— Peppermint is effective in treating certain stomach ailments; discuss with your doctor before using

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I didn’t dare look at Daddy. But Sister Alma Rose just chuckled and said, “Well, for pity’s sake,” she said, “pardon me,” and she stood up gracefully and glided across the room and gently herded Daddy and me onto the porch, saying, “Let’s just go out here where the air’s a bit fresher,” chuckling again, and then, obviously not giving it another thought, she expressed great pleasure at seeing Daddy looking so well, and we all temporarily forgot about the HONK fart-sneeze, although I tucked the incident away in my head to tell Mama and maybe Pablo.  

We didn’t stay long, because Sister Alma Rose did indeed have a cold and she said that she thought that she would treat herself and spend the rest of the afternoon in bed, reading or napping and letting Mr. Truman LaFollette fuss over her and bring her chicken soup and peppermint tea with honey.  

Sister Alma Rose recovered quickly, but “the incident” was never to be forgotten, despite Sister Alma Rose’s aplomb. Just the other night, after my brothers, Yo and Angelo, were in bed, Mama and Daddy and I were waiting for Henry so that we could play Scrabble, and I recalled “the incident,” and Daddy blushed like a teenager, and Mama laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks.  

Hampstead Heath, Looking Towards Harrow; John Constable, 1821

Hampstead Heath, Looking Towards Harrow; John Constable, 1821

“I read recently that people ‘break wind’ an average of fifteen times a day,” I said to Mama and Daddy. “I’m actually surprised that people don’t fart… you know, audibly… more often, especially when they eat broccoli or something.”  

“God is merciful,” Daddy said piously, and then grinned and confessed that he’d wondered the same thing.  

“Well, even if Sister Alma Rose weren’t who she is,” Mama said, “and I can’t believe we’re having this conversation— even if Sister Alma Rose weren’t the most gracious and self-possessed human being on this earth, I guess if you’ve lived as long as she has, and so many times, you’ve seen— and heard— it all, and you grow up beyond embarrassment.”  

“I can vouch for that,” Henry said, letting himself in through the screen door and making disgusting fart sounds with his mouth— which I can’t do, it’s mostly a guy thing— and cracking everyone up.  

Clearing the air

I still can hardly believe I actually got these Scrabble letters (“tiles,” I think, is the proper word for them)— maybe Henry switched letters on me with this sleight-of-hand thing he does— but Daddy had made the word L-A-T-E-R and I was able to add F-L-A-T-U to the front of it. Mama and Daddy burst out laughing, but Henry narrowed his eyes at me and said, “It would be O-R, not E-R, if there were even such a word, which there is NOT,” and of course he was right.  

Henry and Daddy have discovered that, by bizarre coincidence, of which, Sister Alma Rose claims, there is no such thing, they both like to smoke a particular blend of perique pipe tobacco. Since perique is grown only in Saint James Parish, Louisiana, it’s not available at your 24-hour convenience store, or, for that matter, anywhere in Hilltop. Daddy was getting it by mail order from a company in Vermont until Henry showed up with an apparently inexhaustible supply, but they still smoke it sparingly, as if it were gold dust. It smells wonderful.  

Lake District Scene, John Constable

Lake District Scene, John Constable

So they were out on the porch sharing a testosterone moment, and Mama and I were tidying up as we womenfolk have done since we all lived in caves.  

Something was off, though. Mama had been unusually quiet since Henry got there, and Henry and Daddy were outside longer than usual, and there was an uneasiness growing in me that I couldn’t explain away. And then Henry and Daddy came inside and we all sat down, and that’s when I learned that Henry and Sister Alma Rose and I would be going “up the mountain” to Daylight on the first of May.  

Blue Ridge Mountain Road

The Road to Daylight

 
 

John Constable, 1776-1837, English Romantic painter

John Constable, 1776-1837, English Romantic painter

John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known as “Constable Country”- which he invested with an intensity of affection. “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”.  

His most famous paintings include Dedham Vale of 1802 and The Hay Wain of 1821. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful and did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. He sold more paintings in France than in his native England. —John Constable: The Complete Works 

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The world's best Mother's Day cards, on 100% recycled cover stock

The world's best Mother's Day cards, on 100% recycled cover stock