Friday, August 22, 2014

The Twenty-Dollar Bill

      When we lived in St. Louis I taught kindergarten sunday school . At the beginning of class, as in many sunday schools,  first we took attendance and then we collected a little something for charity. 

 On one particular day we passed the small donation envelope around the room. Quarters fell in, dimes, on top of one another, ‘clink, clink . . . clink.’  

It was little Lauren’s turn. She had found a twenty-dollar bill at a store earlier that week and had turned it in to the store's ‘lost and found’. After a few days the store called her parents to tell them that no one had claimed it, and that she should return for it.

Quiet, funny, five-year old Lauren did not buy Barbies and she did not buy gum with that money. Instead, she put the twenty-dollar bill in the little envelope. 

Because that was the best thing she could think to do with it. 

And when we saw her  put that twenty-dollar bill on top of all the quarters, dimes and nickels, her mother cried. Her father cried. 

Her teacher cried (oh yeah, that was me).

So.   Things are lost and things are found. 

In the book of Deuteronomy where such things as war brides and capital offenses are discussed, there is a discussion of losing and finding:

“If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it. You must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, then you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him.” 

By the way, this applies to anything lost: donkeys, mittens, children–and marbles. We learn that we have an inherent responsibility for that which belongs to others. 

We are responsible to and for each other, and each other’s material things.

Let me share another story. A rabbi comes upon two merchants in the road. They hand him a sheaf of wheat and ask him to hold it until they return. Seven years pass and the merchants call upon the rabbi at his home. They ask him, where is their sheaf of wheat. He steps aside and gestures at two silos in the distance. 

In those seven years, the rabbi had planted the wheat, had cared for it, harvested it, replanted, re-harvested and so on….

 It would seem as though we are not only responsible for the keeping of another’s things – but also for their increase.    It’s interesting to note that we do have the ability – each of us – to be a leader in be remembered whenever we take the time to pause to reflect on the type of person that we are, have been and want to be...

Here we are being handed a message. We are entrusted with the the care of each other.  We are charged with enriching our community and fostering the spirit of those around us all. We hold in our own hearts the hopes and dreams and secrets and feelings of our neighbors, friends and families. 

They are not ours to keep, really.

Our job is just to be aware of it all, and to hold it for a while, and to treasure all this fabulous trust. It is really not about us; we are just the 'bookmarks';  we watch over, harvest, re-sow, re-water until the amazingness of those around us has grown tenfold.  

After which, it is time for us to give it back... 
Give back to others that which had been entrusted to us—the part we were holding—for them. 

Because we all have an inherent responsibility: that we will take care of one another.

So…we need to think about all that we have been entrusted with. Whatever we do—each of us --affects others, in the same way that the beating of a butterfly’s wings can affect our weather (or so they say) or that a waterfall’s movement affects everything downstream.

And one day, with the movement of the river of life, at the beginning of one little class in one little city, a five-year old may give twenty dollars to charity...

...because that is the very best thing she can think to do with it.    

Monday, August 18, 2014

We'd like to put you in a home.

When I was a little girl, I always thought I would live near Chicago.   

It had never, in fact, occurred to me that any one of us might leave.

But then, for me, there was California and then Missouri – Georgia and now Wisconsin.

Finding a home and making a home has become very important to me.   

It might be also for many people.

My friend’s nine-year old daughter continued to look at houses on, for hours at a time– for three months after they had already moved.

Was she still looking for a place to belong? 

A hundred years ago, in my brief time working in advertising, one client, Coldwell Banker,  had asked for a new campaign.  And, as most people know, the process of looking for a place to live can sometimes be crazy-making.

I envisioned that this company would be the competent and comforting, padded-wall professionals to help when most needed.  

Thus my slogan: 

“We’d like to put you in a home”.

When we moved here, six weeks before the move, I was on the phone with a guy here, 1000 miles away, when he asked me:

"well, have you decided where you are all going to live?"

We had a job, two dogs and three children – no place to live.

I started to cry.    Crazy-making, indeed.

I realize now that I have spent almost fifteen years painting pictures of houses.

What is it about having a place and that we call home?    

My ancestors wandered in the desert for forty years – looking for a home.    We were indeed refugees, looking for a place where felt we belonged.

Look at all the people in the world now: refugees!

Driven from their homes, by day and by night – by abuse and violence and war and political and religious difference and economic depletion and. and, and, and – the reasons are endless.

But so many people need homes.    So many people are looking for homes.  
So many people are looking for the place in the world where they feel at home.

A place where they feel safe.

What might make a nine-year old girl still search online, over and over – for a home – three months after she had one?

It is in our souls, I believe, to want to know where we belong.  
We want to know our direction.   We want to know where to hang our hats.

Even the most adventurous of us needs a place to return to…four walls – padded or not.

Are we as trees?  Without the roots to stabilize, in our growth we will topple?  

Look at the Bedouin communities – as well as the other indigenous hunting and gathering communities which still exist in our world.     

They don’t seem to be toppling.  

Not at all.

To put them into ‘homes’ would be to confine them.   They would feel ‘displaced’ in a conventional ‘western-type’ society version of home.    For them, the larger land is their home.   Their families are home.   Their tribes are their peeps.   

These traditionally-transient communities thrive on openness and flexibility and the land.  

And they always have.

But we all need to have a place where we feel we belong.   
A place with open air – or tent walls, or stone walls or plaster walls…

Or padded ones.   

But for sure you should be in a home.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Everything is a Seed.

Basically I’m an hopeful soul. 

Along with all the other hopeful souls in the four-season world, the end of summer makes me excited for the bulbs which I can plant in September for the time when life returns after long winter.

I gaze longingly at the garden catalogs which arrive in January amidst the month of bright, beautiful and clear snowy light…(and barren) landscape. 

And ah, I love the spring.   From the fragrant black earth shoots teeny skinny bright green bits of ambition.  
I always want to be part of that process.   I want to have the illusion that I am the starter of that greenness.   So, I find myself at the hardware store gazing at the packages of seeds.    I think to myself…which of these will actually grow in my world?   My intentions are always good.  

They are always good.  (almost...)

Years ago I started seeds in little newspaper cups and little moss cups and plastic cups near windows, in bathrooms and in the kitchen.   I have soaked seeds, scored seeds before soaking and before planting.  I have done what I was told to do.

I have used little pitchers, little spray bottles….but at some point, either the seeds don’t come up for me or – after a period of time…after an inch of growth – or two….suddenly they wither and they die.

I look at them for awhile.  I wonder what I have done wrong.   I realize that once again, for another year, I have spent probably fifteen dollars on seeds because I was hopeful...and again, I have failed.


I was thinking about this recently because I was thinking about how we all have something in our lives which we have planned…planted and carefully tended.   Something that we all have watched and watered daily with spray bottles and little pitchers.  

We all, in our own ways, have searched for the green and have poked around in the earth, looking for the sprout.  

Looking for the beginning and the potential.   
And then…either the seed doesn’t grow or after a few hopeful days, it dies.

And we are left with a little cup of dirt and a brown leggy bit of something that we hoped would live.

There are many others, gifted ones, in this world…who plant seeds in March…who put them in windows and bathrooms and under lights…and they grow.  Boy, do they grow!   They flourish and are replanted outside and become bunches of flowers or prolific zucchinis….too many for one person to use….or pumpkins or lettuces in abundance.

For me, the only seeds which seem to grow are the accidental ones.    Seeds like Nasturtium…which I carelessly throw into pots only to have them dance about with their rounded leaves and happy orange edible flowers.     The fact that I can grow those makes me feel lucky.

But I am jealous of those who seem to have more fertile gardens.

I am jealous of the woman with the beautiful beans -- purple and green and yellow.   I am jealous of the guy down the street with the beautiful tomatoes.   I am jealous of the river of tulips.   

But not everything that they plant comes up so nicely -- because the guy down the street with the beautiful tomatoes…doesn’t speak to his children.   

So here is the question:    The guy planted tomato seeds, obviously.  But also – he planted other seeds – those other, unintentional seeds – the seeds with his family that grew to be something -- painful.

The truth is – that all the seeds we plant – in our garden and in our lives – grow to be something that we want – or something that we don’t want…if we are not aware what we are really planting.   

Intentionally or not, we are planting.

In relationships and in society, kindness, for instance, is a seed that can grow into something magnificent.  

Trust is a seed that grow into a tree which can help different communities relate to each other peacefully. 

The seeds of peace, the seeds of racism, the seeds of violence, unnecessary violence,  as well as the seeds of the overuse of power– these all start somewhere.  Even these seeds are planted and fed and watered and tended.

Everything is a seed.

It is easy, easy to look at what has grown and say to ourselves – that is not what I have sown.  
But you know, we only reap what we have sown.   
Nothing comes from nothing.

There is war and and mistrust in the world news.    
There is pain.

So I ask, which seeds did we plant – and why?  For all the good seeds that we do plant -- why would we even bother to plant the bad?  It takes so much gosh-darn hope to even get a seed to begin, why even exert energy to grow the bad.?

Nah, people say, I didn't plant this.   

I didn't, they say, contribute to the mistrust.
I didn't, they say, treat another with carelessness.
I didn't, they say, overreact.

But yet, how is the world such as it is without the seeds?   How can we continue to say that we were not, did not plant the seeds which made the world thus.

Shall we only take credit for the planting of the beautiful tomatoes -- and the almost-unintentional nasturtiums -- but not for our troubled family relationships?

We all, in our own ways, have searched for the green. We have poked around in the earth, looking for the sprout -- and maybe we have found the sprout we hoped we would not find. 

We are left with a a brown leggy bit of something that we hoped would live -- while the menacing vine flourishes.    

How can any of us deny that we did not plant those seeds as well?

I can't speak for them.   I can only speak for me.
I have planted them.   
I have planted all the seeds.
All the beautiful ones...some of which did grow a little
and so many which did not flourish.  

I also planted some ugly ones. 
I planted some painful ones.

Even when my intentions are good.   
And even when they were not. 


Everything, everything we do....everything is a seed.
We have to be so careful.

So very careful.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Is this all there is?"

Two years before my father died, he was refusing medical treatment.

At that time it became increasingly apparent that if he did not choose treatment soon, his passing would be very soon after.

It had not been very much time -- perhaps only a year -- since his own mother had died, just before her 103rd birthday.

So there we were, in the hospital.   My father said to me "why didn't I have 103 years?"

And then: "Is this all there is??"

To me, this was the most spectacular question I had ever heard --- not to mention the fact that this was from my own father.

My own father.

I responded to him that in my eyes, that he was the luckiest of the lucky.

Look, Dad -- I said -- you have had two healthy children, healthy grandchildren, many years of health yourself and happiness and good food and good friends and warm, secure homes.  You have had talent and music and games and cars and genius.

What more would you -- could you --want?

You have had -- I continued -- the opportunity to pursue research in your field with support and interest and that this had changed the lives of many, many people.

Dad!   If this has been all that there is -- it has been amazing!

I have to say, he did not really believe me.

He did, however, agree to receive medical treatment -- finally.

This story of my dad really reminds of the story of Moses.    Great, epic Moses.
He leads his people out of Egypt, forty years' through the desert (probably in a huge circle) and up to the mountain, above The Promised Land...

But no, he is not allowed to enter.   He is left, high on the mountain, to look into the valley and wonder.

He is left to his disappointment.

He pleads with the Divine: "can't I please go to Canaan? pretty please?"

But no, unfortunately, the answer he is given is "enough"!

You know, though, "enough" in an excellent answer, in my humble opinion.

"Enough" might have meant:  You have had a lovely and beautiful life.  You grew up in a Pharoah's court and then were asked to lead a generation out of Egypt -- and then have watched two more generations rise.

Further, Moses, you have had a lovely wife, two sons.   Life has been good.

Life -- has been very good.

Perhaps the "promised land" is not the land on the other side of the mountain, but it is the land where we are.   It is the land where we have sojourned -- with our families, our friends, our deeds.

The Promised Land is the place where we have already loved, already made mistakes, expended our energy and cried our tears.

Moses, and my father, had already reached The Promised Land.

So have we all, actually.

I think that in the not-quite two years between that conversation of between my father and I and his actual death, he eventually came to realize that his own place in the world had been a beautiful one.

That not only is that "all there is" -- but perhaps all of it is all one might ever want.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Everyone Has Bones

A hundred years ago, when I was in college, it was my job to plan all the big events for the university's Student Union.

And when it was Halloween and I had to plan the Student Union Party, I had this bright idea (!?) that I wanted a skeleton to greet everyone as they entered the party.  As it turns out, to find a skeleton at a large university is not the most difficult thing in the world, if you are willing to work for it.

And I was.

After inquiring all over campus, I finally found a skeleton at the medical school, in the anatomy lab.


The only caveat was that I had to go to the medical school on my own to retrieve it.   True to my (adventurous?) nature, I walked all the way to the other end of campus to claim (my) skeleton.    Of course I felt quite a bit ridiculous as entered the cadaver lab.

So now, little me, nineteen-years old, was seen wheeling a skeleton all across the campus.   Two days later, I wheeled it back.

But while I was walking with the bones I was thinking about the Israelites who brought Joseph's bones out of Egypt when they left -- keeping the whole family together.

I wondering about the person who had left that particular skeleton to science.  I was wondering who I was really bringing to the party.  Here, on the trolley, was the center of a person, that person's very center.    Without regard to their name, self, behavior, family -- they were "simplified" to skeletal form.    Of course I could have been bringing anyone to that party.   Anyone -- absolutely any one of us -- to that party.

Because, you know,  everyone has bones.

Far below our skin, our personalities, our belief systems, socio-economic status...our language....we are comprised of bones.

Our bones keep us upright.
Our bones are our stamina.
Our bones keep us strong.

Our bones are  what we are really made of.

When times are difficult -- in a very real sense -- it is our bones that get us through.   When something is felt very deeply, it is said that we 'feel it in our bones'.   Our bones are our framework.   Like a tree with its trunk and branches -- our bones frame us in the world.

As a tree grows, our bones grow.

When we are young, like young trees, we are flexible.   When we are older, sometimes like older trees -- we become more dry and brittle...

Like bones.

To see the quality of someone's bones -- to determine if they are brittle or strong or look into their "bag of bones", that would be quite a feat, I believe.     If one could only catch a glimpse of how another is very deep inside, to get a feel for their framework, then this could possibly reveal what they are made of...

There is this story of a man I know -- a man who was a pallbearer at the funeral of his friend.

For him and for all, it was a terrible day.   Not just for obvious reasons, but it was also chilly and rainy.

It was the worst kind of day for a day like this.

After the graveside service had concluded, the attendees returned to their cars.

However, this one man did not move.    
He stood until the workers had finished their chore.
He stayed in the rain. standing in the cold.

Because he did not want her to be buried alone.

Then he walked the mile to the house of mourning and arrived, dripping wet.

You know, sometimes we don't know what people are really made of.   We don't know the strength and quality of their convictions.   We don't know the strength of their bones...until one day we see a man who arrives late and dripping wet -- because he did not want her to be buried alone.

Perhaps you see this sort of thing all the time...but I do not.

Everybody, I believe, has something that we don't know about them:  something that is buried deep beneath their skin and their eyeglasses and their sweaters and their socks -- and their political views and their opinions...

Hopefully it is something good.

One day we might be lucky enough to see:
to finally see who they are really bringing to the party.

Something that will amaze us:  their bones.