Monthly Archives: December 2012

The ring

Today I was rummaging through my tiny jewelry box and found a little ring I’d nearly forgotten about. I’d dragged it back and forth between Brazil and the US many times without even being aware it.

It’s an ornate little silver ring with an oval-shaped blue stone in a raised setting. It’s quite a pretty ring, really, and as I looked at it—nearly black with tarnish—I wondered why I hadn’t worn it all these years.blue ring

Then I felt a little stab in my heart. And I remembered the day I got the ring. And then, at the same moment, I recalled an event many years before the ring, when I was playing piano in a trio at a fancy hotel in Boston. There were couples dancing on the floor, and I could hear a young woman, pretty and blonde, as she and her partner danced by me, saying to him: “Stop looking around. Look at me. Pay attention to me. Don’t look at the other women!” She seemed really distraught, but was obviously trying to control herself and “lay down the law” to the young man with her, who looked confused and slightly irritated.

I’d felt a stab in my heart that night, too.

Now I’ll tell you about the ring. I was in my fourth marriage, and not happy at all with myself, my husband, or my marriage. I felt overlooked, ignored, and worthless much of the time. I wanted so badly to have a good marriage, and I felt that this was my last chance after three previous failed attempts. In my desperation, I tried to force my husband to pay attention to me, just like the hapless blonde dancer. I made him go with me to an open jewelry stand in the train station and buy me an inexpensive ring. He went along reluctantly, his mind on other things. When we got to the stand, I couldn’t find any ring I really wanted—they didn’t have one with a green stone—so I settled. I settled for the little silver pinky ring with the blue stone, just as I’d settled for a marriage that wasn’t working and never would.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the pretty blond girl and her partner, or husband. I can’t imagine that it could have turned out well, and my heart goes out to both of them. Her for her neediness, him for feeling cornered.

I forgive myself for being so needy back then, and I forgive my ex-husband for not understanding. I didn’t understand then that everything I really wanted and needed was in my own thoughts, dreams, and feelings, and not in other people’s actions.

So I polished the little ring with the blue stone, and now I’m happily wearing it on my pinky finger.

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Filed under individuality, my history, spiritual

Which open door is the right door?

Yesterday a Facebook friend posted this on her wall:

This is an honest question, something I’m pondering, and I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on the topic. It has generally been my approach to accept opportunities that unexpectedly fall in my lap or doors that swing open without too much effort on my part—I tend to take that as an indication that it is the right path for me. But I wonder…should one bypass those open doors and strive for something bigger sometimes? Where does a disjointed series of open doors lead? Is it like a dream deferred? And if there isn’t a clear alternative to the door that is open….hmmmmm. Generally the doors that open aren’t the ones I hoped would open! Sometimes I put a lot of effort into prying open doors that stay shut.

Over the years, I’ve found that opportunities tend to appear whether we’re actively seeking them or not. Sometimes there may be a dry spell, but then something will pop up, sometimes to our surprise. When I’ve been surprised by an opportunity that seems good, or at least reasonable, sometimes the temptation is just to jump on it before it slips away. And I’ve done that with things that seemed possible for me to do, that might bring in a little money, and that sounded at least somewhat interesting. So I’ve accepted some of them, and done them for awhile, and then moved on. But I don’t think this is really the issue my friend is touching on here.

Just because something appears unexpectedly without our making any effort, does that mean it’s necessarily the right thing? It depends on what we mean by “the right thing.” I happen to know that the friend who posed this question is a person of considerable and varied talents who often finds herself in jobs that have nothing whatsoever to do with her talents. Sure, I know we all need to earn money, but let’s be careful that we don’t confuse the need for a “day” job to keep us going while we develop our talents, with the real and genuine need to bring out and utilize our talents to the fullest—to make our dreams come true and do what we really LOVE.

I’ve been confronted with this dilemma my entire life, and I can’t say things have turned out exactly the way I would have liked. But I refuse to give a “day” job the importance in my thought that I give to my dream. And when it comes to picking a job out of the various opportunities that present themselves, I do take the time now to consider whether my choice will be manageable or whether it will suck my soul away and keep me away from my dreams. We all do the best we can when it comes to taking care of our basic needs, but we need to be alert to protect ourselves, especially if we are creative types.

I must say that when it comes to my dreams, even if I’ve tried to pry open doors that have stubbornly remained shut, even if I’ve been rebuffed and ignored, that still won’t stop me from nourishing my dream, working at it, loving it, valuing it, seeing that it is deserving, respecting it, protecting it, caring for it, appreciating it, offering it.

If it seems as if there’s no alternative to the doors that are opening to the “day” jobs, just keep cherishing the dream. Those doors don’t open to the dream, so they don’t really matter all that much. Keep them separate. Isolate them. I believe that our true job is to know that the gift we’ve been given comes with its own fulfillment, and if we’re patient and diligent, eventually the real doors will open to us.

The secret is not to identify ourselves with the jobs that we may have to do along the way to sustain ourselves. This doesn’t mean we don’t do our best at them or that we approach them with a negative attitude. It’s kind of like cleaning the house. It’s something that needs to be done, even though we may not feel like doing it. So we do it as cheerfully as we can, but we’re not thinking the whole time: “I’m a house cleaner. This is who I am.” Our identification should always be with our God-given gifts, no matter what other things we may have to do along the way to keep ourselves going. This is where we belong.

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Vegan—who, me?

Over the past year or so I have found myself gradually eating more and more food that might be styled “vegan.”

I wasn’t looking to be vegan—in fact, I wasn’t consciously doing anything to change my eating habits. I was just going with my gut. The first thing my gut told me was, “Ew, I don’t like cooking chicken any more, and I’m feeling kinda squeamish about eating it.” OK, out with the chicken. Then it was the fish. Fish had always seemed fine to me, but it started to seem just a tad nasty. Why? If I knew, I’d tell you. It was just a feeling I had, and I went with it.

Finally, it was the dairy products. I bought some Brie cheese and it grossed me out so bad I had to throw it away. What was happening to me? What would my friends think—that I was losing my marbles? So out went the dairy, too—the milk, the eggs (nasty), the cheese, the mayo, etc., etc.

I had already dumped red meat over thirty years ago, and had also been macrobiotic for seven years in the 60s and early 70s, as well as eating vegetarian food off and on over the years, so it was no chore for me to start eating vegan-type food. I say “vegan-type,” because I’m not really a pure, 100% card-carrying vegan. Although I’m appalled at the way animals are treated in the factory farms, I can’t say that I’m really convinced that eating meat in and of itself is wrong, and I’m not an animal rights activist—a sympathizer perhaps, but not an activist. I’m not any kind of activist, that’s just not me. The vision of the “lion lying down with the lamb” is a very appealing one, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, at least not on this planet.basket-of-vegetables

Anyway, I started getting into eating vegan, investigated some different kinds of soy and rice milk (not a whole lot of vegan “specialty” foods here in Brazil), and joined a couple of vegan groups on Facebook—one Brazilian, one American. The Brazilian group is really fun and the people are friendly and pretty easygoing. See, I’ve heard that vegans can sometimes be kind of militant and uptight, and I’m sensitive to that. So you can imagine my horror when the person who runs the American group posted this less than a week after the terrible attacks at the school in my hometown, Newtown, CT: “In his press conference the other day, our president said that we must oppose ‘a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence.’ — At a dinner function that evening he ate a steak dinner, the dead cow on his plate violently bolt-gunned from existence.”

Hello?!? I immediately dropped off the group. OK, says I to myself, I’m going to eat this food, but I absolutely refuse to be a fanatic. Who’s to say that I won’t eat a piece of chicken or fish ever again? I just can’t get on other people’s cases about what they eat. It’s none of my damned business. When you get down to it, self-righteousness is worse than eating meat.

So I’m enjoying eating my beans and grains and veggies and fruit and chocolate (oh yeah, chocolate!), but if someone has me over for dinner, I’m going to eat what’s set in front of me and be grateful. I know that the judgmental vegans can’t help themselves—I used to be that way about macrobiotics when I was much younger, so I can’t get all up in their faces, either. I’m just gonna mind my own business and see if I can pick up a few good recipes along the way.

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The Newtown I knew

Those of you who have read my book, “Getting Down to Brass Tacks,” or the blog posts here about my childhood, know that I grew up in Newtown, CT, where the terrible shooting took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.

I pray for the children, the teachers and the families of this tragedy, and that all those who survived will find peace again in this beautiful town. I hope and pray that Newtown will not carry a stigma forever because of this horrendous event.

My family moved to Newtown in 1947. It was a quiet, rural place then, and our house was set back from a dirt road and surrounded by woods and fields.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School didn’t exist in those days, and my sister and I went to the Hawley School until we later attended Newtown High School. I don’t remember why, but I did attend an old-fashioned school house in Sandy Hook for third grade.

Back in those days, Sandy Hook was considered the “poor” part of town. I haven’t been to Newtown in many years, so I can’t imagine what it’s like now, except that I’ve heard it’s much more upscale, with fancy restaurants and boutiques.

I have many wonderful memories of Newtown—the freedom of being able to wander alone in the woods, the feeling of safety everywhere. Sometimes my sister Bertie and I would walk all the way from our house to the center of town where the now-famous flagpole stood—a three-mile trek. I remember the soda fountain on Main Street right near that flagpole, and the two churches that faced each other—one Episcopal, the other Congregational, shown in the photo here. I remember riding in my mother’s old Plymouth down Castle Hill Road, seeing those churches in the distance, and always counting the seconds to when they would line up one behind the other, as we came down the hill. Funny the silly things you remember.ar126334467266236

What I don’t remember was violence. Even a minor crime in Newtown was a rare event. It makes me realize just how much things have changed. But as awful as the crime was that took place in Newtown day before yesterday, along with all the other mass murders and increasing disturbances around the globe, I still pray and trust that some good will emerge—an increasing awareness of the need for change, for more brotherly love, and more concern for those who may be struggling with mental illness. Some say that love saves the day. The Bible says, “God is Love.” I believe that our expression of that universal Love truly will save the day.

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Thoughts on Connecticut

Today I’d like to share an article by my friend Gordon Myers. He said it better than I could have:

The news is inundated with reports about the recent school shooting in Connecticut, where it appears a young man with mental health challenges killed many innocent children, some school faculty, and himself. The president gave a speech yesterday, and had to pause in the middle of it because he started to tear up. I thought his remarks were helpful, encouraging, and I particularly loved that he closed by quoting Scripture.

Simply, there is no answer to the question, “Why?”, and so I will not attempt to talk about the “why” behind this. But I would like to write today about what we can do. These sorts of situations leave people feeling helpless, powerless, and afraid. I do not believe that more fear is the antidote needed in our lives. So rather than echoing the fears that are justifiably being echoed across the country, I want to share a few ideas that I find helpful, beginning with an incident where a “school shooting” in New Hampshire was successfully averted.

I am a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist. I believe in one God, and Jesus as the promised Messiah. My church was founded in the late 1800s by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who herself was a devout follower of Christ Jesus. The following is an excerpt from a biography titled The Life of Mary Baker Eddy by Sibyl Wilbur, first published in 1907, and describes an incident when she was little more than 20 years old, the same age as the man responsible for the tragedy yesterday.

While Mary was attending the academy an incident occurred which was long related by old residents of Tilton [New Hampshire]. A lunatic, escaped from the asylum at Concord, invaded the school yard, brandishing a club and terrifying the students who ran shrieking into the house. Mary Baker advanced toward him, and the pupils, peering through the windows, saw him wield the club above her head. Their blood tingled with horror for they expected her to be struck down before their eyes. Not so. She walked straight up to the man and took his disengaged hand. At her request he walked with her to the gate and so, docilely, away. On the following Sunday he reappeared and quietly entered the church. He walked to the Baker pew and stood beside Mary during the hymn singing. Afterwards he allowed himself to be taken in charge without resistance.

This story, from the 1840s, had a very different ending than the one we read about yesterday. They both involved young men with mental health challenges carrying weapons into a school full of many young children. But this story from the 1840s ended with the man voluntarily turning himself before any harm was done. I think everyone can agree that that is the best resolution to these kinds of stories. The reason I believe that story had such a powerful turnaround to it was not because of any special person involved, but because of the power of God’s love, and a fearless obedience to the teachings of Christ Jesus. More on that in a moment. Next, I also want to share a short, one-minute video clip. This scene took place in a courtroom in 2003.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EIkywrKVWAo

This scene shows part of the trial of Gary Ridgway, known as the “Green River Killer,” a serial killer who confessed to killing 71 young women over the course of two decades. This clip shows Mr. Rule, the father of one of the young victims, speaking to Mr. Ridgway with, remarkably, nothing but unconditional forgiveness, despite the fact that the man he is forgiving murdered his own daughter. The full video goes onto say that, while Mr. Ridgway had seemed emotionless and unaffected by everything else that happened in the trial, especially by the rightful condemnation of the victims’ families, he was clearly and visibly affected by this man’s miraculous sense of forgiveness. Indeed, shortly after hearing these words of forgiveness, Mr. Ridgway – for the first time – confessed to the murders, tearfully. The thing that most struck me in Mr. Rule’s comments was when he said “what God says to do is to forgive.” Again, here is another instance of a transformation made possible by fearless obedience to Christ’s commands. Lastly, I am also reminded of a famous quotation from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where he said this:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

There are many discussions that are taking place and will continue to take place about the recent school shooting – about how to prevent this kind of thing in the future. People will talk about gun control laws, metal detectors in schools, mental health warning signs, and so on. Whatever solutions we come to, I think the most important question, a question that searches deeper than any metal detector ever could, is what motivates our actions? Are we motivated by fear? By a desire to live in a bubble? Or by ostracizing all those who seem scary? Or rather, can we be motivated by the same kind of unconditional love that we see in these examples? These examples prove the power of that kind of fearless love.

I do not believe that the dark shadows of fear, hatred, and ostracization can do very much to calm or comfort people – least of all those already “at risk” with mental health challenges. But the unconditional, agape love that Christ taught and demonstrated does transform lives and characters. That kind of love motivates people to stop short of committing heinous acts in the first place, and motivates people to take responsibility for their own actions. This is the kind of brotherly love that forgives in the face of the worst hardship and pain, the kind of sisterly love that offers to hold someone’s hand and makes a stand for the best in them even when they seem most scary or out of place. This is the kind of Love that recognizes the unity of all mankind, as Malachi puts it: “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” Jesus himself is perhaps the greatest example of this kind of Love and forgiveness, as he was someone wholly innocent who did not hesitate to forgive those attacking him right in the midst of the pain. That forgiveness transformed the world.

As for the innocent children lost, I refuse to believe that God has, even for an instant, stopped cherishing them, nurturing them, protecting them, and holding them dear, as the “apple of His eye, under the shadow of His wings.” I believe that the light of those dear children’s lives continues to shine brightly in the Kingdom, and that nothing can ever extinguish that light. As St. Paul puts it, “I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God.” That beautiful and innocent light may have been obscured from view for most of us yesterday, but as Jesus promised that “the kingdom of God is within you,” I know that those children live on, eternally, within all of our hearts, and within the mind of almighty God, where they are forever kept safe, joyful, and free.

http://gordon-myers.com/

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Pop got mad at me

I can remember only once in my life when my father got mad at me. Maybe this is why I’ve never forgotten it. My mother, it seemed to me, was often angry or displeased about my behavior, but not Pop.

I’ve often thought of the incident, and puzzled over it. Why was he so mad? I was so surprised when he lost his temper that it startled me. I think I actually jumped. Pop—my champion, the one who seemed to understand my peculiar ways—was mad at me.climate-change-tv-ad

So what was it all about? Pop was a writer and an avid reader, and when my sister Bertie and I were kids, he liked to read to us at night when we went to bed. On this particular occasion, he was reading a book called “The Back of the North Wind,” written in by George MacDonald 1871. It was a very thick book, as I recall, with somewhat gloomy illustrations. It tells the story of a sweet little boy named Diamond who has numerous adventures riding on the back of the north wind. The north wind represents pain and death, supposedly leading to something good according to God’s will. The country of the north wind is without pain and death, and she brings Diamond there, but it’s only a shadow of the real country, which he can’t see until he dies, which he does at the end of the book.

Although Pop seemed fascinated by this tale, I found it boring and depressing. When he was only a chapter or two into it, I took the book one day and sneaked a peek at the ending, because I wanted to see what happened to Diamond right away instead of having to endure listening to Pop read a chapter every night.

Then I made the mistake of telling Pop what I had done. He was furious. He said, “You NEVER, EVER skip to the end of a book to find out what happened! EVER!” The veins in his forehead were popping and he slammed the book shut. After that he didn’t read it to us any more.

I wonder to this day what made him so mad. Was it really because I’d spoiled the story by skipping to the end? Or did it have something to do with his own somewhat insecure feelings about being a writer himself? Was he afraid that his own work was so boring (as my mother used to tell him it was) that people would want to skip to the end? Or had he just had a bad day? I guess I’ll never know. But one thing is for sure—I never skipped to the end of a book again to find out what happened.

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The paperback is here!

Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My adventures in jazz, Rio, and beyond is now available in paperback on Amazon, just in time for the holidays!

http://tinyurl.com/atqt6oy

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