Giovanna Chirri, who covers the Vatican for Italy’s ANSA news agency and is the editor of a lay people’s newspaper, immediately understood what was happening. When Pope Benedict XVI started whispering his farewell speech in Latin, “my brain short-circuited: I thought it was absurd,” Chirri said. “I knew, just like everybody else, what he’d written in his book. But I was convinced he would never quit.”
A journalist who has covered Vatican affairs since 1994, Chirri was able to break the news under pressure. “As a person, I was really, really sorry. I admire Ratzinger. I respect him,” she said. “I knew the importance of the news: I tried to contact the agency, to get the information verified, even though I didn’t doubt my Latin, then they took care of breaking the news. That’s how I communicated the information.”
As this story reminds us, being able to speak multiple languages — normal for many Europeans, less common for most North Americans — is a terrific skill. It not only helps reporters, but anyone trying to work across borders: translators, aid workers, non-profit employees, pilots, medical professionals, academics and students.
I decided to study French and Spanish during my years at the University of Toronto because I wanted to be able to work in both languages, ideally as a foreign correspondent. I did some volunteer work while an undergrad, interpreting the testimonies — grim, graphic and heartbreaking — of Chilean political refugees seeking asylum in Canada. I later used my French to win an eight-month journalism fellowship in Paris and a job at the Montreal Gazette, where we often worked in French.
I used my French again last week while reporting in Montreal, delighted at the chance to use it and refresh it naturally, not just sitting in a classroom or language lab.
I know some Broadside readers, like Kate, speak multiple languages.
How many do you speak? Which ones?
Why did you learn them and when?
Do you find it helpful personally and professionally?
“A decent and humane society requires a shared language of the good. The one our society lives by — a language of rights — has no terms for those dimensions of the human good which require acts of virture unspecifiable as a legal or civil obligation.”
Religious organizations receive about one-third of the nation’s total charitable contributions, not including donations to religious hospitals, schools and social charities. Donations to human services charities, by contrast, which work to ease poverty, feed the hungry and the like, amount to less than 12 percent of the total.
It’s a question I ask myself frequently — what, if anything beyond our taxes, do we owe to others in our world, whether that’s in our town, county, province/state, country, hemisphere?
Others’ needs for help are boundless and our individual resources with which to alleviate them — unless we are very wealthy or have no need, ourselves, to earn a living — extremely limited.
In the same edition of the Times containing Porter’s column is the full-page ad announcement of a multi-million gift to a college, bearing, of course, the generous donor’s name.
As the government grapples with how to address the nation’s deficits over coming decades, Americans have an opportunity to reassess the role of philanthropy in addressing the nation’s problems. Should we continue to provide lavish tax breaks? Should we demand that in return for preferential tax treatment, programs target more clearly the needs of the poor?
Many Americans might think that keeping tax breaks for donations to build, say, a new university football stadium when so many poor students can barely afford college, is not the best way to spend scarce resources.
Those on the right end of the political spectrum scoff at the notion of handing money to the poor and indigent, arguing that it merely enables them to continue their shiftless, lazy behaviors. Those on the left feel it’s immoral to let needy people starve, suffer and die from restricted or non-existent access to the basics of human dignity: food, shelter, medical care.
Last week my church, a small Episcopal parish in a wealthy town north of New York City, held its annual clothing sale, in which we donate our own clothes and shoes, for adults and children, sell them for low prices, then distribute the money earned to local charities. I worked a few days at the sale, and a few people asked when prices would drop to half-off, when they could better afford a wool hat at $2.50 instead of $5, or a pair of leather shoes for $7 instead of $14.
We raised more than $50,000, far more than if we’d been asked to open our wallets individually.
It’s humbling and sobering to see what sale shoppers need and can afford, and somehow ironic that the sale depends on volunteer labor — all the stay-at-home mothers with high-earning husbands flee at 2pm to pick up their children — and the only people who can offer their time are retired, unemployed or, in my case, who work freelance and may have a flexible schedule.
Those who came to shop included parents buying children’s clothes, teens snapping up fun stuff and a nun in her habit who, after I folded and bagged her sweater, asked with a smile: “Do you do closets?”
For many of us, the world has become a place where we rarely encounter, touch or speak to people whose lives are circumstances are unlike our own, whether richer or poorer. We attend different schools and colleges — if at all — travel by different conveyances, shop in different stores.
The clothing sale brings us together in a week-long fellowship. Like many people in this economy, I’m liquidity-poor, but time-rich.
Every letter we receive is a “there but for the grace of God” experience.
If I didn’t have a generous, loving husband with a steady job and excellent health insurance — which so many people do not — I might be writing one of those letters myself.
Few of us will escape our lives financially unscathed, without a crisis in which we desperately and suddenly need help from people who do not know, or owe, us — a dying parent, an ill child, a lost job (or several), a hurricane or flood — or both.
Poverty, misery and physical devastation are frightening. They smell bad. Storm-ravaged houses, crying children, old people huddled around a trash can fire. No one wants to be that person.
It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist than meet them face to face, seeing in their weary eyes and lined faces the existential terror that, one day, might be ours.
Blaming the poor and indigent is an easy out. There are few quick, simple solutions, as the miserable and angry survivors of Hurricane Sandy are still learning.
What do you think we owe one another?
Are taxes the only way to re-distribute funds from the better-off?
Do you do volunteer work and/or give money to charity?
There are several strains in the American worldview I find, even after 24 years living here, confusing and wearying.
There is the persistent narrative that government is bad, that self-reliance is good and that no one who needs government help — other than victims of natural disasters — really deserves it. If they were just smarter/harder-working/thriftier/better educated, they’d be fine.
The self-righteousness is pervasive and ugly.
I get it. My first book, which looked at guns in American women’s lives, included interviews with many women who own guns, some of which they use for hunting, for sport and for self-protection. In speaking with 104 men, women and teens of every income level from 29 states, I came away with a much clearer understanding why 45 percent (then “only” 30 percent) of American homes contain a firearm.
This is a nation predicated on the belief that everyone is responsible for themselves.
This is, (and this is the confusing bit), also one of the most overtly religious nations on earth — the percentage of those “churched” is much higher than England or my native Canada. This is a nation where some people proudly, loudly and routinely boast that they are God-fearing Christians, while sneering at the poor and weak, something Christ would have difficulty with.
I’ve seen extreme wealth and extreme poverty here.
Yet, in today’s deeply divided nation, as Romney and his supporters lick their wounds and Obama and his staff prepare for his second term, the rich rarely — if ever — encounter the poor. They remain some weird, distant abstraction, nothing they or their children will ever encounter or experience.
The middle class, however you define it, is terrified of falling into poverty. It’s so much easier to hate the poor and struggling than face the reality you are them or soon to be.
The middle class has been told, from birth, that if you just work really hard and go to college and get a degree, and then get another, and maybe another, you too can become wealthy. For some, yes. For many others, who can’t even find any job right now, that ever-receding horizon is starting to look unattainable.
So much easier to look down in terror and disdain than cease gazing up at the private-jet set with awe and envy.
I have mixed feelings about this intractable divide, one that is only growing.
I was a Big Sister in the late 90s for 18 months, mentoring a 13-year-old girl living a 10-minute drive east of me in my suburban New York county. I had never, in the U.S., confronted poverty firsthand or known someone personally in its grip.
My time with C was instructive, and ultimately left me less reflexively liberal. I liked her, and admired her grit and humor. She was fun and a loving, affectionate girl. But her family’s behaviors, attitudes and expectations — even with four tax-payer supported workers helping them — horrified me and I struggled to make sense of them. Her mother had simply disappeared for five years, and showed up a week after C and I were matched. I’d feed C fresh vegetables at my apartment, or take her to the library, while her mother — a decade younger than I — watched TV in the basement night and day.
I tried, writing a five-page single-space letter pleading her case, to get C a scholarship to a local private school, where if she boarded, would have offered her a respite from the shouting, filth, junk food and three-generation welfare dependency of her family.
She never showed up for her tryout day at school. I never heard from her, her family or Big Sisters again. I still wonder how she is doing.
In my retail job, I served some of the nation’s wealthiest men and women, in their triple-ply cashmere and five-carat diamond rings. The one word they never hear, the one that makes them recoil in shock and disbelief? “No.” It took me a while to realize that money buys you a lot of agreement: your nanny/au pair/personal trainer/driver/SAT tutor/assistant(s)/maids/staff/employees are unlikely to ever argue with you or deny you your every whim.
Their world is a shiny, pretty, insular one, where material success safely brands you as a winner, a member of the tribe.
They often spoke to us low-wage, part-time, no-benefit hourly workers slowly in words of one syllable. They leaned over the counter as we entered their addresses, certain we couldn’t possibly know how to spell. One man (not in our store) threw a quarter behind him as he left, sneering: “Go to college!”
Everyone in our staff of 15 had. Two were military veterans.
Several different Americas went into the voting booth this week, their mutual incomprehension unmitigated by billions of dollars spent on attack ads, “informed” by Fox News or NPR, but rarely both.
The side that lost is apoplectic, crying foul, red-faced with rage. Romney cut off his workers’ credit cards immediately.
This past weekend, shaken by the hurricane and our renewed sense of vulnerability — knowing the next power outage is inevitable — Jose and I instinctively went to be, in person and face to face, hug to reaffirming hug, with two of our long-time communities.
They are certainly distinctly American: softball and church.
I started playing co-ed softball about a decade ago, on a suburban park field in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, joining a group of men and women, ranging from their 20s to over 70. It was founded by Jon, who then worked for the commuter railroad, and who soon adopted two small children, a Chinese girl and a tow-headed boy named Dakota, who used to sit in their strollers behind the batting cage.
The years since then have been a parade of deepening friendships. When Ed’s Dad died, we drove into the city to attend his wake, much of it in Spanish. When CJ fell and shattered his leg, Marty, an orthopedic surgeon who also plays with us, was able to do a quick, if sobering on-field diagnosis. When I went onto the DL list in November 2009, unable to play for the next three years with a damaged left hip (fully replaced Feb. 6, 2012), I kept coming out for after-game lunches to stay in touch with this group I love so well.
At lunch last week, as one of only two women among 20+ men, I felt — as I always do — completely at home, teasing Sky, the handsome young man sitting to my left who’s become a personal trainer, with his Mom, a newly retired teacher, sitting to my right. We now feel like family, laughing and teasing and hugging. Ed, a tall, thin lawyer my age, has the same last name as Jose, so I call him “el otro Lopez.”
In an era of almost constant job and financial insecurity, some of us shifting careers in our 50s or beyond, having a group of people who love you, sweaty and dirty, injured or healthy, employed or not, is a wonderful thing.
One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.
Off the field, too, we cherish our longstanding ties. When one player had a multiple organ transplant and spent many long months in the hospital, teammates went to visit. (He’s now back to running the bases full tilt.) We’ve attended friends’ parents’ wakes, celebrated their engagements and weddings, applauded their concerts.
And, after every game, a group heads to a cafe where — like some sweaty version of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” — we gather green metal tables in the shade of a spreading tree, with stunning views of the Hudson River, and settle in for lunch.
We’ve watched Jon’s kids grow from toddlers to grade schoolers and cheered when Joe’s author made the best-seller list.
Jobs and homes and friendships have come and gone.
It’s said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. This dusty little one is mine.
I rarely blog about religion because it can be such a divisive issue; I’m Episcopalian (Anglican) but not super-religious, another reason I don’t blog about it. I began going there in 1998 after I became the unwitting victim of a con artist, a man I dated, a convicted felon whose predatory behavior terrified me.
His ability to so effectively dominate me psychologically proved to me how terribly lonely, isolated and lacking in self-confidence I had become, allowing him access to me, my home and my property. He stole a credit card of mine, forged my signature and committed other crimes — but the police and district attorney were derisive and dismissive, making me feel even more alone and scared.
I needed to repair my fully broken spirit. Two of the women I met my first week at church, Niki and Barbara, married women a bit older than I, are still friends. We’re still in touch, years after they have moved away, with our former minister and one of his assistants.
On our visit back this week, I was worried we might be snubbed for having been away for so long, but people were lovely. One older man, much more hunched over his cane than we had ever seen him, stopped me to say, with joy: “You’re walking so well!” They had seen me suffer 24/7 pain for 3 years with my damaged hip, on crutches for three months to relieve it, seen me through three prior surgeries.
I congratulated one woman on a 60-pound weight loss, saw another get baptized and heard about a friend’s move.
They knew me single, knew me when dating and living with Jose, and know and value us now as a married couple. We were asked to carry the elements — the Communion wine and wafers — down the aisle in their gleaming silver containers, cold to the touch. I feel deeply honored to be, however briefly, a part of the service, and in such an essential way.
Jose and I are not much like our fellow parishioners, many of whom are wealthy and live in large houses, the women staying home to raise multiple children, when we have none. But his parents are decades in their graves; his two sisters live far away and my father is a 10-hour drive north in Canada.
Like all of us, we need to know we are appreciated!
And, while I obviously value on-line connections, I most crave being in a room with people I know.
It is deeply comforting, especially in times of such fear and insecurity, to be known, loved and accepted by community.
Where — in person — are you finding this sort of community in your life now?
Anyone who watched the debate this week between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan heard this phrase repeatedly from Ryan. If Mitt Romney wins, the only way an American woman will be able to get a legal, safe abortion in this country is for those three reasons — she is pregnant through rape, incest or her life would be threatened if she carried to term.
Ryan then went on to say something oddly disarming in its inherent lack of self-awareness. He talked about how, looking at a first sonogram of his daughter, he was thrilled by the beating heart in the tiny “bean” on the image, so much that he and his wife still call that child “Bean.” …Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.
The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor).
I am solidly and unmovedly pro-choice.
I think the right to a safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right for women who — as we do — want to control when, how or if we become someone’s parent. We might get pregnant, unplanned, at 13 or 18 or 28 or 37 or 42. An unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is one of the most fundamentally life-altering events in any woman’s life.
The right to abortion is the most important way for us to preserve the most essential autonomy we have over our own bodies.
“The life of the mother” ignores a basic fact women know intimately — it is the sudden death of our dreams, hopes, plans and ambitions that, for many of us, determines the difference between “life” and death.
A woman with no:
— reliable income
— clean, safe home
— partner, whether male or female, married or unmarried
— family to help her with baby-sitting or childcare
— education or access to education
— safe, loving marriage
is not a woman who wants to, or should — weak, scared, broke — become someone’s mother. Women’s role on this earth is not simply to create children, no matter their emotional or intellectual strength.
Women become pregnant through laziness, ignorance, ambivalence — and a lost, broken or unused condom. Women get pregnant if they screw up their birth control or never knew exactly how to use it properly in the first place. Women get pregnant when they least expect it. (My husband was born to a woman who was 49.) Women get pregnant by men who, they soon realize, or already know, are absolutely unfit and unready, emotionally, financially, professionally, to become someone’s father and assume those lifelong responsibilities. Women get pregnant by men they are married to who are, they discover, having an affair. Women get pregnant by men who turn out to be scary shits, even abusive.
And single mothers are those most likely to fall into poverty.
No woman wants that for her future, or a child she might be forced to bear.
I do not think choosing abortion is a decision to be taken lightly, without a clear understanding that you are making the choice to end a life. It is no substitute for intelligent, thoughtful, responsible, consistent use of effective birth control. If you’re too scared to ask your partner to use a condom or find and use an effective form of birth control, your decision to abort is, in my mind, a sad, painful consequence of your own unresolved ability to handle your own sexuality.
• Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year, 82% are unintended. Fifty-nine percent end in birth and more than one-quarter end in abortion.
• The 2008 teenage abortion rate was 17.8 abortions per 1,000 women. This figure was 59% lower than its peak in 1988, but 1% higher than the 2005 rate.
• Compared with their Canadian, English, French and Swedish peers, U.S. teens have a similar level of sexual activity, but they are more likely to have shorter and less consistent sexual relationships, and are less likely to use contraceptives, especially the pill or dual methods.
• The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).
From the American on-line magazine Salon:
There is hope for America yet: A new survey finds that most adults in this country believe that teens should be taught about both abstinence and birth control. What’s more, seven in 10 adults agree that federal funds should go toward teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been “proven to change behavior related to teen pregnancy” (i.e., actually work). And three-quarters of teens and adults think that antiabortion policymakers “should be strong supporters of birth control.” Sanity prevails!
Now here’s the bad news: Most teens “say they have all the information they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy,” according to the report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and yet “many admit they know ‘little or nothing’” about contraception. Forty-seven percent feel clueless about condoms, and a whopping 72 percent admit ignorance about birth control pills. Worse still, 42 percent of teens believe contraception doesn’t matter all that much, that you just get pregnant “when it is your time,” says the survey.
I do not want men in positions of power telling women when they may become a mother.
What does it say about the college coed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.
The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns — no! We’re not the johns. Well — yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word.
OK, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.
Women in the United States are living in the most toxic era I can remember since moving here in 1988. We joke nervously on Facebook about when burquas will be required.
It’s become so bad that one of the few remaining moderate Republicans, a woman who supports the right to abortion, Olympia Snowe, will not be running again. Like all of us, she’s fed up.
Reported The New York Times:
“Everybody’s got to rethink how we approach legislating and governance in the United States Senate,” Ms. Snowe said in an interview on Wednesday. She shook her head at how “we’ve miniaturized the process in the United States Senate,” no longer allowing lawmakers to shape or change legislation and turning every vote into a take-it-or-leave-it showdown intended to embarrass the opposition.
The vote set for Thursday, framed as a choice between contraceptive coverage and religious freedom, was not the reason Ms. Snowe made her announcement, she said. Her retirement decision was bigger than any one vote. But people familiar with her thinking say the re-emergence of such hot-button social issues helped nudge her to the exit.
Georgia Chomas, a cousin of the senator who described herself as more like a sister, said social conservatives and Tea Party activists in Maine were hounding her at home, while party leaders in Washington had her hemmed in and steered the legislative agenda away from the matters she cared about.
As I posted last week, the American economy remains in the toilet. Having officially left Afghanistan, remaining American troops are being targeted there and killed by people we’ve spent billions trying to help.
Women’s rights look like the easiest, softest next target. Women have become complacent, people tell me, persuaded that the battles of the 1970s are long-over, our freedoms won and secure.
It is with terrible shock and sadness that journalists of all ages, working in all media worldwide, are today mourning the sudden and awful death of veteran foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, working for The New York Times, who died of an asthma attack while trying to move secretly into Syria with Times photographer Tyler Hicks.
Mr. Shadid, 43, had been reporting inside Syria for a week, gathering information on the Free Syrian Army and other armed elements of the resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose military forces have been engaged in a harsh repression of the political opposition in a conflict that is now nearly a year old.
The Syrian government, which tightly controls foreign journalists’ activities in the country, had not been informed of his assignment by The Times.
The exact circumstances of Mr. Shadid’s death and his precise location inside Syria when it happened were not immediately clear.
But Mr. Hicks said that Mr. Shadid, who had asthma and had carried medication with him, began to show symptoms as both of them were preparing to leave Syria on Thursday, and the symptoms escalated into what became a fatal attack. Mr. Hicks telephoned his editors at The Times, and a few hours later he was able to take Mr. Shadid’s body into Turkey.
Forgive a rant here from a writer who has worked at three major daily newspapers and whose husband covered the end of the Bosnian war.
There is a very real cost to reporting very real news.
And this is it, the terrible death — with his colleague trying CPR for 30 minutes to revive him, then carrying his dead body over the border into Turkey — of a writer many of us have revered for decades for his brilliant Mideast reporting.
Soldiers expect to see their comrades killed, instantly. They often have a medic or Medevac copter to evacuate a wounded soldier…Journalists and photographers working independently, working with local fixers in dangerous territory, do not.
The next time you gulp down what Facebook — risibly — calls a “news feed” or scan the headlines of yet another celebrity scandal, perhaps mistaking that for journalism, please say a prayer for Shadid and Hicks and all the men and women, armed only with bravery, street smarts, cameras, microphones and notebooks, committed passionately to bringing us the real stuff.
This is what news is.
This is what it can truly cost.
If you want to know more about journalists and how they are treated for trauma, visit this website, for the Dart Center, which has helped several of my colleagues heal from such work.
I met a woman recently who said she was a “moderate Republican.” It’s fair to describe my sweetie as a “devout Buddhist.” I know a woman, an artist, who could fairly say she’s a “passionate flea marketer.”
In an era of identity politics, when identifying as member of one group can alienate members of another, how “loud and proud” are we?
I’ve never owned one, nor plan to. I did shoot a bunch of different handguns as research, but am quite able, as a career journalist, to write about all sorts of issues without attaching myself to them emotionally or investing in that identity or personal allegiance.
That’s what being a traditional news journalist means — finding and reporting stories, not signing up for every cause or group.
Other than our work titles or job descriptions, or our family relationships (Mom, husband, sister, nephew), how do we choose to define ourselves to the wider world?
Words can have such different meanings to many people; one person’s definition of “conservative” (fiscally but not socially) might signal the red flag of a very different belief system to someone else.
I’m liberal in some ways, politically and otherwise, but quite conservative in others, like finances and the way I often dress.
Is there anything less amusing than a day — a week — longer? without laughter?
Especially when times are terrifying and horrible and painful, you gotta laugh.
The men who have won my heart are the ones who made me laugh so hard I almost peed, like Bob, who took me to a Manhattan comedy club but made me laugh ten times harder on the drive home.
The sweetie and I met on-line, so our first few conversations were by phone, as we lived about 30 miles away from one another. I have no idea what he said, but something made me laugh so hard I snorted.
That’s the end of that, I figured. What man wants to date a chick who snorts?
But Jose, being Jose, thought this was — as Buddhists like to say — an auspicious sign. If he could make me laugh that hard, clearly I had some appreciation for: 1) the same things; 2) seen the same way; 3) him. All true, and here we are 11 years later.
The eight-day silent Buddhist retreat I recently attended certainly looked Very Serious Indeed. All the students had mala beads wrapped around their wrists, and prayer books wrapped in gorgeous Chinese silk bags and some of them fully prostrated before each teaching. Yikes!
I do take such matters seriously indeed, but a little lightness goes a long, long way with me.
Thank heaven for Lama Surya Das’ love of laughter. We were killing ourselves at his raucous, bawdy humor — which made a deeply thoughtful 90-minute teaching, with 20 points on one slide alone — fly by.
There were times I had no idea what day it was, even when I kept counting them off on my fingers, like some crazed prisoner. A nine-day silent retreat is its own sort of marathon, intellectually, spiritually, physically — and if you’re not a vegetarian, culinarily. (If that’s a word.)
We broke Noble Silence Saturday at 4:00 p.m., finally able to talk to the many people who most intrigued us all week, and vice versa. Our group included teachers, a lawyer, software engineer, an artist. They had come to the Hudson Valley from California, New Mexico, France, Colombia and Canada.
Oh, the chatter!
Within a few hours (sigh) we’ll soon be back in the heart of all of it:
the partisan insanity running the country; finishing up my book proposal; finalizing my keynote speech to retail executives on August 10 in Minneapolis; making social plans; trying to plan a fund-raiser for the writers’ grant-making group on whose board I sit; the usual aaaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhh…..
What do I carry home?
A renewed appreciation for silence.
A reminder of how much I love and appreciate ritual: the bells, the gong, candles, the prayer wheel, the gesture of namaste.
Some cool new friendships.
A bracelet of wooden skulls strung end to end, a gift from Lama Surya.
Story ideas! Maybe even a new book idea.
The knowledge of how a week without any animal proteins except butter, eggs, yogurt and cheese affects my body.
Discovering I really don’t want to eat kale or quinoa again. Ever.
That, despite my hatred of most things institutional, routine, managed, scrutinized and communal, I actually had a great time.
That Buddhism is the spiritual equivalent of freelancing. You may have a whole network of fellow path-followers, striving at their own skill level, but you’re on your own, baby.
That elegant and sensual austerity — fresh flowers, pretty bedspreads, gorgeous/simple bathrooms — is not only possible but very pleasant.
That I crave brie, hummus, nuts and beer.
The absolute thrill of meeting and hearing from a brilliant woman I’d never heard of before, Mirabai Bush. Hearing teachings from a woman who is deeply spiritual and smart as hell and able to work in the real world is soooo cool!
A small folding fan, pressed into my hand at breakfast by Alice, an artist here who noticed me fanning myself in meditation with a folded prayer sheet.
A fervent hug, offered in the dining hall by a young woman we had dubbed Pretty Girl, after I revealed in a Q & A that I was trying to find ways to comfort a friend whose Mom is newly diagnosed with cancer.
Realizing that everyone is here for their own reasons, moving at their own speed; PG fled Friday, never to return.
Wonderful photos: of the lama and Tulku Dorje (another teacher, a reincarnated lama) sitting on a bench beneath the bamboo, laughing; of the sweetie and the lama, laughing; of the bad bunny I found in the garden; of the flowers there.
A glimpse of a possible way to blend the spiritual and practical, the intellectual and emotional, the bodhisattva and the blogger. I’ve always seen the two in opposition, and maybe they’re not.
How much I enjoy being a room with people excited about the same ideas.
How hungry I am to find a way to live and work that’s both ethical and fun, earns me the sort of living I want but doesn’t poison me with material obsession.
That time flies when you’re totally absorbed in what someone is saying. I normally want to jump out a window if someone tells me to sit still and listen for two hours to dense stuff. Here, I can’t get enough of it.
Realizing how spiritually parched I often feel.
Finally — ka-ching! — a much clearer understanding of the duality I struggle with more and more: between my cerebral/intellectual/competitive/money-making/I want to write a bloody best-seller dammit self and my softer/emotional/striving for social justice self.
And my new refuge name….Urgyen Gyalmo…Dharma Queen.