Dust, dirt, time lurk in the corners of our lives

Neglected corners

Dust, dirt, time lurk in the corners of our lives.

Since spring, I have purposefully and energetically dug into many neglected corners of the house we have lived in for 33 years. That is when we decided to undertake refinishing our wood floors and freshening the paint on our walls. During the months of preparation, my home office, otherwise known as “the back kitchen,” got a pretty thorough purging and re-organizing: but Life instructed me to get deeper into its corners, then turned up some treasures.

I was rehanging a freshly laundered valence when the curtain rod slipped out of its fabric track and fell down behind a heavy wooden file cabinet. I pondered my choices, then reached for a yard-long dowel we keep handy for retrieving wayward spatulas that fall behind the stove. Reached next for a flashlight to see how the curtain rod had landed, and where to apply the dowel to moving it out of this tight and otherwise unreachable space.

 

An odd assortment of objects gone missing

There were other shapes visible, though I couldn’t make out what they were, so like a golfer teeing up one practice shot after another, I kept whacking away until all the items heaped up within reach.

Fallen leaves in various stages of disintegration from a Money Tree that had lived on top of the filing cabinet for years. The Pachira aquatica prospered my creative life until it grew spindly and tall. Repotted and relocated to another room, it no longer thrived.

A Palm Pilot that served as my right hand in the nineties and early aughts: it was my PDA (Personal Data Assistant) after all, with it’s quaint stylus: address book, daily list-maker and calendar. It met its demise not long after the Iphone debuted in 2007.  The sueded protective case is held together with carpet tape, much like my current Iphone case is held together by rubber bands. My Palm Pilot has a sweet heft in the hand, and holds mysteries of folly and wisdom: for several years I used it in place of a paper journal. No longer retrievable, the mysteries remain.

A small framed photograph of the sun rising over Mt. Mandagni (Fire Mountain) that I took during a1991 pilgrimage to Gurudev Siddha Peeth in Ganeshpuri. At that time it was not  unusual for me to be up at sunrise. The first Persian Gulf War began while I was there. On this trip I received the sole personal verbal command from my Guru: “Take rest.” A command I have practiced to great benefit from many angles, from the most literal to the probably fantastical over the years since then.

Three Perelandra Nature Cards carrying the following quite relevant “answers” to current life situations as well as to some long-forgotten questions:

The first, partly encrusted with something brown and unidentifiable, reads: Empathy – Moving forward with care.

The second lightly stained card reads: Balance in Partnership – The focus on the elements of one’s partnership with nature.

The third card, hardly discolored, reads: Woven Oneness – The serenity, softness and inner peace of a parent who is at one with his/her child. Supporter, teacher, nurturer.

The real treasure here is that time has collapsed in this odd collection of forgotten objects, these particulars, and pulled “me” right along with it. And so these objects are not the stuff of nostalgia-only, but speak to and act on the present moment. 

So whether your neglected corners are literal or metaphorical, keep your hands and heart open.

Being special is different from what I was taught

Like all human beings, I want to know that I am special. I was schooled to earn this state of grace by being different:  by standing out, cultivating individuality. Excelling. At all costs, avoiding the ordinary.

At some point in my healing and awakening, it occurred to me that we are each an ongoing special event. That is, we are each a unique archive of happenings and choices, blessings and curses: circumstances, encounters, people, places, words, fragrances: beautiful and plain permutations that cannot be replicated.

Life happens and we choose.

On the one hand, irreplaceable specialness everywhere. And on the other, nothing out of the ordinary.

A great angelic tenderness arises when I walk through the world with this vision.

 

traveling with Angels, or

on the verge of tears

by Sara Eisenberg

 

every once in a while, an Angel descends,

or perhaps rises up within.

eyes peer out through the heart,

the cityscape vibrates with saturated colors,

and the plain beauty of strangers crossing

paths, intent on some other

street corner that says

“home.”

 

i dodge a plastic cup blowing across my path,

a guy in cap and tee-shirt dodges traffic.

the post-office clerk takes time to show me the proper way to handle the various stickers involved in sending certified mail.

a bass rhythm shakes my car as i pull up to a red light.

 

Tenderness, that’s her

name.


Banner photo: Superstitions II, Alicia Armstrong. Eno Gallery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

More poetry: http://alifeofpractice.com/musings/transition-and-mischief-makers/

http://alifeofpractice.com/poetry/women-friends-come-bearing-gifts/

 

Getting to Justice: stories to heal me, heal America Pt 2

Justice must be hard-won over and over again. In these chaotic times, our centuries-old dueling narratives are shaped by identity politics and intersectional disputes.  The heart of each narrative is how we identify with our social groups  – and the biases, assumptions, and expectations that hide within the cultural stories we inhabit.

There is both personal work and collective work to be done to establish that every single story bears seeds of truths, that no single story is The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth.  To the degree that we fail to understand this, we will continue to duke it out, trying to make the world over in our small image of justice.

 

Here’s my cultural story

I’m an aging Jewish woman. That’s how I think of myself. “Aging” has to do with the seventy-three+  years I’ve been traveling around the sun in this body, which is both slowing down and holding up. “Jewish” has to do with my tribe and a world-view that feels like home. How I see myself: as a wanderer, question-asker, wrestler with God, inheritor/innovator of tradition, admired/envied/despised Other, repairer of breaches, restorer of justice, story-teller, lover of wordless melody, cycler through a liturgical year, devoted learner.

Please note, however, that both “aging” and “Jewish” are merely adjectives that modify my primary identity: “woman.” And my particular story about woman: strong, container, crafty survivor, undervalued, physically and economically vulnerable, home to mystery, darkness of all kinds, holder of the keys to life. My particular family lineage story about women also conveys an implicit story about men: not trustworthy, and mostly, not necessary, albeit they are in (undeserved) positions of power and authority.

If you ask for more, I’ll tell you I am “a post-war baby.” That’s World War II.  Only from within the viewpoint of my generation is World War II understood. Otherwise it’s a natural question to ask, post-war? Post which war? My generational view elaborates on the aging self: we keep our troubles to ourselves. And underpins my Jewish self: highly assimilated, rising middle class, infected with a post-war surge of optimism that masked the extermination of six million Jews – a trauma so fresh it could not be talked about.

Rising middle class doesn’t get the explicit role in my story it deserves relative to its influence: the unearned gifts – and limitations – it has showered on my life. My 1950s neighborhood was well-segregated from despair, penury, and violence. I regularly rode the Rapid Transit downtown with my mother. And I regularly asked her about poor people as we traveled through trash-strewn gullies and neighborhoods of shabby, grey, tilted homes. I have yet to recall, or reconstruct, her answer.

If you are wondering about the limitations of my secure middle-class upbringing, here are I few I can speak to: the primacy of appearances, caution or paralysis in violating norms, condescension to the less fortunate, expectations of safety and happiness, reverence for the intellect, and low emotional intelligence.

 

Here’s how I haven’t consistently thought of myself until recently: white. 

I have only selectively thought of myself as white  – not as a key part of my identity. I noticed my whiteness and its significance as my working life opened up to include relationships with many black people. When I worked in Baltimore City for a mission-driven non-profit founded and fueled by black churches. When I came to head that non-profit and set out to make it look more like the city itself. When I then had to figure out how to address expectations, assumptions and biases about “professional behaviors,”  and foster respect, cooperation, even friendship across employee racial divides. When we chose how to challenge public policies that enshrined institutional racism. Immersion in black culture was humbling. I stumbled. I had many patient guides and teachers.

Through those years, and others, when I team-taught diversity work to business, nonprofit and business leaders, I often took my work home with me. Still, I went home to my white neighborhood, prayed with my white progressive Jewish fellowship, and thoughtlessly enjoyed the comforts of being on the white side of privilege. 

 

These days, I am uncomfortably white most of the time 

I am pricked by my whiteness as I follow the daily news, pray for justice, sign petitions, join a march, read the black press or black-authored fiction, shake and wake myself and my white world,  indulge in mourning either my lost innocence or my “guilt,” and go about my still-protected white-charmed life.

I still move freely through my days with vastly confirmed expectations that wherever and however I show up 1) I am not in immanent physical or psychological danger and 2) I feel I actually “belong.” It requires thought, effort, a willingness to be vulnerable. To choose to show up where I am in danger of being called out on my cultural story and ignorance. To stumble as the ideal ally I wish to be!

And that implicit family story about men that figures so prominently, the untrustworthy men in (undeserved) positions of power and authority? Those are white men. I am married to a white man, which affords me numerous comforts and protections beyond those of my own white skin. More discomfort, as close to home as you can get.

 

Yet, I am not uncomfortably Jewish enough.

Meaning I am aware of how much more attuned, and motivated I am, when it comes to racial justice than anti-semitism. The trauma of the Holocaust that could not be talked about in my childhood is much more difficult for me to be uncomfortable with, read about, wrestle with, than racism.

Anti-semitism is not something Jews will ever “solve.” It takes non-Jews, whether motivated as religious believers or secular moralists.

Just as it takes legions of white people to dismantle ways of doing business that perpetuate racism, to hold space for the personal and societal telling of stories, for reconciliation and healing, for policy and procedural changes, for changes of heart.

And I am still left with my own bias: it’s white women I depend on. White men are my “Other,” and late to the party. “They” have a lot to lose: “their” unchallenged narrative of reality, based on an individual’s hard work and unbridled capacity to pull oneself up by the bootstraps. That’s my cultural narrative speaking.

 

These are a few broad strokes of my cultural story, what’s yours?

Understanding that the biases and expectations I have expressed live in my cultural stories brings me to a vital and wakeful noticing, and changes how I see myself, and even how I see the white men I Other, including the one I am married to. I hope it helps me to be a more intelligent, self-questioning and awake ally.

If I am ever going to really live in this body, the only one I have, I have no choice but to continue my personal work here, that includes engaging with you in the collective work of dismantling barriers, reconciling hearts, and pursuing a just world.

Together we must both bend with and shape that arc of the moral universe whose end remains beyond our sight.


Banner photo taken at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Read Part 1: Stories to heal what ails me, what ails America

 

Stories to heal what ails me, what ails America

Life events, aka Reality, continuously weaves surprising plot twists and characters into my preferred story about my life. Pops or induces slow leaks in my inflated views of myself, nudging or hurtling me towards the Real. Deprives me of false hope and false comfort.  So it goes with America’s stories as well. Whose precious and difficult story are you willing to hear, bear, receive, and hold?

 

Sara’s story: the idealized and the real

In my preferred telling, the Main Character is selfless, empathic, honest, fair and equitable, and trustworthy. To claim these virtues as parts of myself is to claim some hard-earned wisdom. To claim that is the whole of who I am is to idealize myself, to leave aside my limitations and the work I have yet to do, to flatten myself into a paper doll. Because I also can and do fail to even consider another’s needs; steel myself against feeling another’s turmoil or suffering; deliberately ignore, skirt or disguise what I understand to be true; play God; fail to follow through on a commitment. I become a human, dimensional, interesting Protagonista when I invite all this into my story.

The problem is not that I have ideals and wisdom that I aspire to live into. Nor is the problem that I fall prey to quite human limitations. The actual difficulty is when I take a partial view of myself as the whole. Not a believable character, but one I maintain by default whenever I fail to notice what I am doing. Or when I take my story as Everyone Else’s Story.

 

Once I notice what I am doing, living into these questions helps me:

  • What story, whose story am I telling?
  • Who are the heroines, the allies, the enemies?
  • What drives the action?
  • Who and what am I leaving out, filling in, emphasizing, dismissing?
  • What pattern of my lineage or culture am I continuing to act out or react against?
  • How am I responsible, and how do I act on on that?

 

Reflection – Ask yourself

How do I appear in my own story?

Who and what am I including?

Who and what am I leaving out?

The shattering of an idealized America

We live in raucous times, pitting our stories against one another. Heroines, allies and enemies are shaped by where and when we were born, into what circumstances, with what skin color, with what religious belief, with what expectations, with what gifts and burdens of history – and countless other influences.

From all around and within us our many and varied stories resound with the thunderous cracks of shattered dreams, the heavy sighs of disappointed expectations, and piercing cries for justice. We are challenged to separate out the many actual injustices from the collapse of our idealized stories of ourselves – and most especially how our stories are supposed to end, our partial stories of others, and our partial versions of America itself.

To draw on Khalil Gibran’s potent words – we are in an agony of pain as the shells that enclose our understanding, our precious and difficult stories, break one after another. Until such time as we each, in our own way, are willing to hold the pain of one another’s stories, even the pain of someone who we have written in as an enemy in our  own.

CHALLENGE: Whose precious and difficult story are you willing to hear, bear, receive, and hold?

How big a story treasury are you willing to risk becoming?


Banner photo: Lend a Hand, acrylic by Linda Carmel, Hillsborough Gallery Of Arts, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Hit a blank wall, writer’s block? Practice!

Facing a blank page and a blank mind, I could either turn off my computer and go on to my to-do list for the day

OR:  practice, and go right into that blankness.

I chose practice.

In these dog days with the heat turned up globally, locally, and for so many of us, very very personally, I invite you to do the same.

Solo practice is sometimes necessary, if not always virtuous.

So if you need to, grab a hand, grab two hands, practice together.

 

Blank

by Sara Eisenberg

 

we pull back from one

another,

me and words, untagged,

into our plain

 

space

 

it is August,

too many stories on walkabout,

shimmer

in the heat and rise

as steam, follow the occasional

 

downpour

 

Yesterday Lisa and I sat, two herbalists under

a generous urban tree we could not identify,

relieved to leave aside too-difficult topics over

our sweating icey drinks.

 

I faced a plain, freshly

painted blank

wall, three stories high, an open

invitation to any street artist just beyond an easily scaled

 

fence

 

(at four years of age I straddled Blanco,

many hands high)

 

summer’s hot magic: i walked right into that wall and spread myself out,

three stories high, plain,

you couldn’t see me there for all that white brick,

 

without story,

without moniker,

wholly untagged.


 

More on Practice: http://alifeofpractice.com/musings/when-receiving-becomes-a-gift/