Monday, March 15, 2021

Becoming Instruments of Peace


My brain has always been like a pinball machine—ideas bouncing from one pole of interest to another with irradiating lights announcing delight, joy, curiosity, knowledge, fact, possibility, gift, rosiness, success . . .  OR . . . worry, fear, concern, trepidation, desperation, disaster, mistake, failure, flaw—the 180° differences embedded in my psyche, personality, and philosophy! 

That pinball machine of a brain has led me to embrace many changes in life and to find peace and serenity as I’ve surrendered my need to always be in control or to be right or to be the ultimate judge and arbiter not only of my own choices and life, but also of the choices of others.

Pinballing has led, I believe, to my accepting differences while looking for ways to act in a way that will bring to others and to myself a quality of mercy that surpasses all understanding. Mine included. 

Of course, none of us can journey through life without the occasional failure to embrace a recognized universal good. We make mistakes; we fail in our commitments. We talk the talk, but don’t always walk the walk. 

That is to say, we are humans with human flaws and failings. But we can always recommit ourselves to serving human kind in the least obtrusive and destructive way. We can hold on to an empathy grounded in the truth that undergirds every major spiritual tradition: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

That is, in accepting ourselves with all our foibles and flaws, our darkness and our light, we pledge, we vow, we commit to accepting others. We may not accept their actions. In fact, we may find their actions reprehensible. Just as our actions may be reprehensible at times. But we accept that at the deep center of themselves, they are driven by some emotion that makes what they do seem right to them. 

We may not understand that emotion—what it is: fear, greed, pride, lust for power, antipathy, jealousy, envy, whatever. But we can try to begin to understand our own feelings . . . and those of others. We can try to search out and understand the experiences that prompt the actions of others.

Then we can try to create through our thoughts and actions a world that responds to the experiences that led to seemingly destructive actions—whether in ourselves or others.

Is there some perfect world of emotion? Some perfect world where are can live without fear? Some perfect world where power is seen as a source of doing good for all humans? 

I don’t know. I’m at the end of this posting, and I admit to not being smart enough to know how we can fill up the cup of others with life-giving waters as they . . . and possibly, we . . . wander through the desert of our own needs. 

If I were more philosophical or more well read or a deeper thinker or a more abstract thinker . . . if I were wiser . . . if, if, if. Then, perhaps, I could find the words that would be like a rain shower, washing all of us clean of our own arrogance, presumptiveness, pride, self-righteousness, or whatever it is that holds us back from being wholly human. From being holy humans, whose lives bless those of others.




So, I ask you, what is it that we can do to help all of us become, as Francis of Assisi said, “an instrument of peace.” That is, what actions will help us become the life-giving humans we are called to be. Called perhaps by the God in whom many believe. Or, called by our own inners selves that have known the thirst for wholeness. 

What is your response to the needs of our world today and to the great divide between so many of us? To the chasm that exists today in our culture? 

 

·      Francis of Assisi wrote a well-known prayer on how we can be instruments of peace. Click here if you’d like to read his words.

·      The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization I wholeheartedly support with monetary contributions when I can, succinctly says: “Fight hate; teach tolerance; seek justice.”

 

I wish you peace, pressed down and overflowing today and all days. 

 

PS: For those of you who would like to learn more about what’s happening with Elisa as she lives with cancer, here’s her blog URL. On it you will find her postings since 2011. The cancer postings go back to November 1, 2020.

 

Illustrations from Wikipedia.

 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Winter Saga

On October 20, 2016, I officially became a recluse. The cause? Having to give up driving because of my narrowed field-of-vision due to Glaucoma. The serenity of my reclusion changed recently with a fifteen-day saga that ended on February 20.  During those fifteen days, I met a plethora of helpful and concerned strangers, all of whom made my problems theirs. Here’s the story:

Upon rising at 8:30 A.M. on Friday, February 5, I turned the thermostat up from 58° to 70°. Ten hours later, the temperature had risen only to 68°. I noted this, but thought little of it. \It happened again on Saturday. Then Sunday. Clearly something was wrong. 

On Monday I called a recommended furnace repair service. Marvin came the same day, checked the furnace (“Fine!”), then examined the filter onto which was attached a quantity of insulation.

“Must be a hole in one of the attic flex ducts,” he said. Deftly, he climbed the ladder and disappeared into the attic. (I have no basement.) 

When Marvin came back down, he said, “Ms. Ready, you must have some animals in the attic because I found eleven places where the flex ducts were ripped open.” 

Many nights in the past four years, I’d heard the sounds of racing, especially above my bedroom. I’d pictured a nightly Indianapolis 500. However, friends and family members thought the sound was just squirrels scampering on the roof. Stilling my inner voice that thought differently, I’d ignored the sounds. Result? All along the pounded-down insulation were eleven way-stations providing heat to the merry marauders. 

Before the duct work could be repaired, the animal(s) had to be caught. Another call and explanation. On Wednesday, February 10, Ben came, walked around my one-story home, found an entrance/exit hole right above my bedroom, and set a trap beneath the soffit. 



Ben returned the next day and found a trapped raccoon. He reset the trap and returned for the next four days. Concluding on the 16th that the raccoons had vamoosed, he nailed some sort of metal sheet to cover the hole. Marvin then returned on the 17th to repair the ducts. Yesterday, insulation was blown into the attic that would, Greg assured me, save me considerably on my heating bills. 

During those fifteen days, the house grew increasingly chilly. Starting on the 8th and ending on the 17th (the days of the Arctic Vortex rampage from Texas to the East Coast), the furnace valiantly tried to heat the rooms, the attic, and the air outside that raccoon entry. The task was impossible. For eight days, the room temperature hovered between 58° and 61°. For two days it got up to 63°. I bundled up and looked like the Michelin Man. 


One last thing: On Monday morning, the 15th, at 1:14 A.M. a neighbor’s security camera recorded that someone drove her/his car down the street, onto my driveway, and into my garage door. I heard a loud bang. Thinking it was a raccoon overhead, I simply turned over and went back to sleep. The next morning, when I opened the kitchen door to the garage, I discovered light pouring in from the bottom two panels of the four-panel overhead garage door. 

More calling and explaining to seven different people. Ultimately, a police officer came; someone from an overhead garage door company; and someone from the insurance company.

Brian, the garage door representative, proved to be a “prince of a man.” He used his clenched right fist, his right hip, his booted feet, a hammer, and an electric screw driver to gerrymander the damaged panels backs into a position that he could lock. “You’re safe,” he said, “until the door comes.” 

I was safe. Cold but safe. And I tell you that feeling safe was more important to me than feeling warm. 

Thus, did the month of February shatter my seclusion/reclusion. How fortunate I was to meet and talk with such helpful, courteous, friendly, concerned service representations who saw me as a fellow human being and not as a statistic or a bloodless number. 

My Meniere’s mantra has always been the following prayer of Julian of Norwich, who lived during the Black Death pandemic of the mid-fourteenth century: “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well.”

So it has been and is and will be for me. Gratitude wells up from the deep center of my being where Oneness dwells.

Peace. 

PS: For those of you who left comments for my previous posting, I finally was able to respond. So if you're interested, please scroll down and read the thoughts that came to me after reading your welcomed comments.


Photographs from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Inspired to Walk the Walk





Way back in October 2019, I published the historical novel The Reluctant Spy. A month later, I had a left knee replacement. The recuperation from that was both difficult and disappointing. It’s been fifteen months since then; problems persist. In addition, two of the three cats with whom I live have had health concerns that involved visits to the vet and my vigilant attention for six months.


Those health concerns coupled with two others—vision and Meniere’s—contributed to my not publishing in 2020. However, something more basic explains my not writing: I slipped—perhaps plunged—into a malaise accompanied by a hefty dose of self-pity. Throughout the past year, I stepped backward into the start-and-stop writing pattern of the years 1989-2016, when I wrote the memoir Prayer Wasn’t Enough.


 

To illustrate that pattern, I’ll share with you the on-again-off-again writing of those twenty-seven years. Right now, on this computer, I have the following:

·      a rough draft of a historical novel, which takes place in Bronze-Age Greece; 

·      a rough draft of a contemporary novel about four ex-nuns and the mystery tying them together;

·      partials of two cat books—one about the Stillwater cats and one about the cat saints who followed the teachings of Bastet-Net, the great god of cats, whom some of you may have met in The Gift of Nine Lives.



·      a series of prose poems in which angels comfort those of us living with the problems of simply being human;

·      two children’s stories—both about enterprising cats; 

·      partials of two memoirs: my childhood and the ten years after I left the convent. 

 

If I were a follow-through person who wasn’t easily bored when in the midst of a project, all the above, except for the memoirs, would be finished and published by now. But, once again, the truth is that I start things and don’t finish them. I move on to a new challenge. So, all those first drafts and partials await the work of completion: the final polish, the edit, copyedit, and publication.

 

I simply haven’t been equal to that in the past year or so. An old Chinese adage is that “the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step,” but I simply haven’t been able to take that step forward. That’s the malaise speaking. And, perhaps, also the self-pity.

 

In the final week of 2020, however, I figuratively took myself by the scruff of my neck and asked, “Is this the way you want to live? You say you want to write—that it’s your passion. Yet you do nothing. You talk the talk; you neglect to walk the walk. Get with the program, Dee!”

 

The prompt for that admonishment? The ongoing journey with stage 4 cancer that my “adopted” grand-daughter Elisa is going through. She’s living her new life with courage and joy. She continues to work—at home—to earn a living. She continues to write her own books. She continues to play board games with her children, listen to them recount their school day, celebrate their lives.

 

Despite the prognosis given her by the cancer specialists, she hasn’t put her own life on hold. 

 

Her uplifting attitude prompted my letting go of the grip of that octopus we call “malaise/depression/down in the dumps/the blues.” She inspired me that last week of December; she inspires me still.

 

Since January 1, I have been writing at least a half hour each day. I’m working on a childhood memoir in which I explore the painful events that led to my emotional immaturity in the convent and beyond. Wish me luck!

 

Peace.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

Meandering and Moral Compasses


 This posting meanders down three streams running through my heart and brain. They make up the landscape of my life right now.

First: Elisa had her second immunotherapy infusion on December 31. On February 9, the doctors will do a total scan of her body. Elisa is matter-of-fact about the outcome: “Either the tumors will have shrunk after radiation and two infusions,” she told me, “or they won’t. One of the two.” 

She exhibits great equanimity. On Facebook, she’s been posting snippets of her journey with Stage 4 cancer: the pain, fear, hope; the laughter when she and Mike and their children play board games; the freelance editing she continues to do; the questions about death and mortality that trouble her children. 

Donna begins her 24-day radiation treatments on January 25. One of the removed lymph nodes was concerning. She exhibits a serenity that inspires. Both she and Elisa have a sense of humor that is like a broad seam of gold in the dark mine of cancer.  Both of them appreciate your holding them in the belief that expresses your concern. Thank you.

Second: Last May, I began listening to both fiction and nonfiction books on my iPad.  Since then, I’ve encountered many “translators” of the written word. Their voices can present the words in such a way that I’m drawn into another world. For me, that world since last May has been the historical period of the American Revolution and the Constitutional. 

I just completed the lengthy Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter Edmonds. His historical novel, published in 1936, was on the best-selling list for over two years. The movie, based only loosely on the novel, starred Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert



The book details the lives of the frontier settlers in the Mohawk River Valley of New York state. During the years of the Revolution, the settlers fought Tories, British regulars, and the Native Americans who took the king’s side. Other Native American, members of the Iroquois confederation, helped the settlers. 

I never realized what war had been like in the hinterlands beyond the Atlantic seaboard. Whole settlements—three or four families—met death. Laboriously built cabins, harvested crops, and fields fashioned when settlers took an axe to the forest were set ablaze. Much violence. Much revenge. Much terror. Much diminishing and then swelling hope. 

And, little reflection in the 1936 novel on why Native Americans would take part in the skirmishes and massacres that bloodied the ground they’d lived on for centuries; moreover, a racist portrait of the few slaves “owned” by settlers. But amidst these concerns, a history little told to us in school. A history that perhaps reflects attitudes not only of the 1770s but of the 1930s.

Third: Right now, I’m reading His Excellency, Joseph J. Ellis’ biography of George Washington. Although I’d read about his leadership in the revolution, I knew little about his ambitions, mistakes, and possible deficiencies of character and personality.  A man of his times, he saw nothing wrong with slavery or the taking of Native American land. 

Yet this man was a "Founding Father" whose courage, wisdom hard won in battle, and understanding of human nature led to a Constitution that has served our country well for nearly 235 years. He was a man who learned from his mistakes and mastered his own flawed attitudes. He is, truly "the" founding father.

What of today? What do we mean when we say, “He is a man—or she is a woman—of his/her times”? What will future biographers have to explain about these times and how their subjects acted? About their deficiencies of character and personality?

In 1970, Professor Cooperman, in a political science class I took at the University of Minnesota, said, “A statesman considers what’s necessary for our country fifty years down the line. A politician’s interested only in the next year or two.”  

We seem today, especially in one party, to have, unfortunately, not statesmen or women, but politicians who put party before people; present before future; power before common sense; money before mercy. What will future biographers say of them?

Peace.

Monday, December 21, 2020

"Shepherd's Pipe Carol" and My Journey to Bethlehem

 In yesterday’s (12/20/20) posting, I said that I hoped to explore how tonight’s “Christmas Star” might lead us all to Bethlehem: “each in our own way; each in our own time; each with our own story.” Early this morning, I began today’s post. When I found myself writing the 4,798th word, I realized that my thoughts were too many for my usual 600-word post. That many words suggested that, at another time, I might describe in a memoir my journey into the spirituality that has evolved within me over a period of eighty-four years. For now, I’ll simply summarize.

 

In 1969, I found a book, in a Minneapolis bookstore, that contained letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke to a young poet. One piece of advice he gave resonated with the Dee Ready who’d left the convent three years before and was searching for she didn’t know what. Rilke wrote:

 

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

 

And the point is to live everything. 

 

Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

 

At that time, questions abounded within the dark labyrinth that was myself: Would I always be a misfit? Would I ever be loveable? Would I ever stop judging people? Was there some good I could do to justify my existence? Would I forever be needy? Was this loneliness peculiar to me or were others lonely too? And, one last question, the presence of which became like the breath I breathe, “What is the best way to love?”  

 

I began to wend my way through life. I had been raised a Roman Catholic, but as the years passed so, too, did my need for a belief in the Trinity, in the divinity of Jesus, in a personal God. Reflection on my own experience of life led me to let go of that which no longer spoke to me. Or nourished my spirit.

 

Slowly, ever so slowly, I began to live into answers. It was the beloved myth of the Christmas story that finally brought me to the spirituality that informs my life today. The “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” by John Rutter is the Christmas carol that announced—like the dawning of a great light—the answer to my lifelong search. If you have time, please click below and listen to it.

 


Note that the carol is about a question. The shepherd boy is already “living” his way into an answer as he hurries to Bethlehem to see a baby nestled against his mother’s breast. Gathered there he will find shepherds—cold, hungry, homeless—and magi—educated, world travelers, wealthy—as well as the innkeeper and the animals who inhabit his stable.

 

The baby in that life-giving myth grew into a man. He, too, must have had questions, heartwishes. He, too, must have lived into answers. From my reading of the Christian gospels, I came to understand that he grew into a truth that envelopes us all: All that matters is inclusive love—love especially and always for the poor, the outcast, the “lowly. Moreover, if we are to give love, then we must include ourselves in the great Oneness—inclusivity—that binds us together, for time and for eternity.  

 

Love then became the theme of that man’s life. A theme born of his experience in a small Roman province called “Palestine.”

 

And that, my dear friends, became the answer to my questions also. Bethlehem for me is the answer to my deepest heartwish and my lifelong question: “How do we love best?”

 

The answer is there in the stable of each of our hearts: We love best by loving inclusively, by seeing ourselves as part of the Whole—each of us essential unto the other.

 

So simple and yet perhaps the hardest part of living: to live into the Oneness that awaits our questions. To live into the Oneness illustrated by those gathered in that stable.

 

We all have a lifelong heartwish or question; we are all on a journey to live into the answer. For me that journey, that question, that answer is the substance that is the myth of the Christmas story repeated throughout the ages. It is a necessary myth that assures me that if I am to find myself, I must live in the Holy Oneness of All Creation—all humanity and all creatures that inhabit the planet—donkeys, cows, sheep, and, oh, yes, cats! And dogs!

 

Well, I’ve now written not 600, but 827 words—a rather lengthy summary. It’s time to leave you in your own Bethlehem stable with your own questions that have become the heartwishes of your life. 

 

Peace, Merry Christmas, and Joyful Journey.