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Catholic circles are talking a lot these days about evangelization and the new evangelization. Much of this is because of the writings of Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XV and now Pope Francis. Our Church leaders have called us to be aware of how we “preach” […]
Maya Angelou wrote about her life in several books, but we also read her heart in her expressive face. She knew the power of her voice and had pride in her many accomplishments. I was awakened to Angelou’s powerful gift when she read the inaugural poem On the Pulse of the Morning in 1993. That was the first and last time I ever bought an entire poem as a book; I read it and re-read it and sometimes it still feels new to me when I read it again. What strikes me the most when I read about Maya Angelou’s life is her fortitude. She never, never gave up. In a wonderful public interview with George Plimpton for the Paris Review, she said, “There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”
Over many coming days, there will be a great many lists of powerful quotes and tributes to this amazing artist. Tonight I would like to leave you with just three. They might not make anyone else’s top ten, but they leapt out at me. The quote on the top picture is a stanza from On the Pulse of the Morning; I believe it is worth a great deal of thought. And action. I chose that picture from the inauguration because it reminds me of that wonderful moment. The Washington Post obituary contains a fabulous gem from a speech at a conference called Families Alive at Weber State University. There are plenty of rainbows jumping out of clouds these days, but this celestial picture adds an unexpected layer to the text: When I read the full transcript of the speech after I made this graphic, I discovered that the lead-in to the first line completely fits: “We know that rainbows, stars, all sorts of illuminations, comets and suns, are always in the firmament. But clouds get so low and dark that you can’t see the illumination.” I may have to make another graphic to work that in, but it’s getting late. Instead I’ll give you a quote that goes beyond pictures, from the Paris Review interview:
I’m working at trying to be a Christian and that’s serious business. It’s like trying to be a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Buddhist, a good Shintoist, a good Zoroastrian, a good friend, a good lover, a good mother, a good buddy—it’s serious business. It’s not something where you think, Oh, I’ve got it done. I did it all day, hotdiggety. The truth is, all day long you try to do it, try to be it, and then in the evening if you’re honest and have a little courage you look at yourself and say, Hmm. I only blew it eighty-six times. Not bad. I’m trying to be a Christian and the Bible helps me to remind myself what I’m about.
Peace be with you.
Get ready for rain drops on roses, puddles in driveways, and a small creek between our patio and the parking lot.
Get ready for rivulets on the windows, nonstop dancing on the roof, and mud tracked across the gray tile of our kitchen floor.
The sky will be gray, relentless and constant.
Decide now to drown in its kisses.
The sun will be absent, tentative and weary.
Choose now to forgive its weakness.
The storms always come.
Resolve to meet them with love.
Tadpole Photo credit: RayMorris1 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Duck Photo credit: ViaMoi / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Night owl I am not.
Fortunately my friends are. Or they had jet lag… I woke up to a pretty stream of pictures in my twitter feed. Of course there are some great collections via NASA’S Flickr group:
These are gorgeous triumphs of the photographic arts but I also love the simplicity of my friend Carmela’s shot, which she accomplished by playing with the settings on her point and shoot Elph:
Psalm 65 truly struck home this morning:
The ends of the earth stand in awe
at the sight of your wonders.
The lands of sunrise and sunset
you fill with your joy.
It snowed in Atlanta, causing a traffic jam that lasted into eternity (or somewhere between twelve and eighteen hours) and eventually required the assistance of the National Guard…
…and Rolling Stone put Pope Francis on the cover. Crazy, huh? Next, Deadspin will send a journalist along during the pope’s visit to the Holy Land and the apocalypse will really begin. Except that it won’t.
A lot of times, what seems weird, shiny, ridiculous and portentous is just one more cycle of life in on our big, complex planet. This was not the first big snow storm that ever caused a traffic jam in Atlanta. In fact, a blizzard hit in 1993 (though that was a Saturday and kids weren’t trapped in their schools).
Pope Francis was not the first pope to be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. He was the third. He may be the ultimate in Catholic click bait, but what he’s saying is about 2,000 years old. Seriously.
We are not about to face the zombie X-Games. In three days or three hours, our lives will slip back into their quotidian rhythm. But perhaps we can gain something from this week’s headlines.
Northerners may pride themselves on being able to handle blizzards, but Southerners are smart enough to live in a warm climate in the first place. For me, the inconvenience of one snowstorm every few years definitely beats weeks of subzero temperatures. There’s no point in mocking the people of the greater Atlanta region; they have suffered enough and (hopefully) learned from their troubles.
Nor is it necessary to speculate about when coverage of the pope will jump a shark, because being the top ranked search term is not really the core of his job. Sharing the joy of the Gospel is his key mission. Yes, he uses modern means of communication to do that, but no, the medium is not the message.
What we can learn from all the media chatter this week is to be prepared. Like, seriously, get ready for a winter storm in Georgia even though it’s been a few years since that happened. And let your heart be open to find God in strange places, including the pages of a magazine better known for encouraging hedonism than prayer.
Many people around the world are mourning Lou Reed, whose seminal work with Velvet Underground transformed the way many people played and heard music. He had a huge impact on our culture, largely because he dared to look life differently. In some ways he was perpetually an angry teenager, looking at the world sideways through a cracked lens and spitting out poetic lyrics about the ugliest, darkest parts of human relationships and existence. For that reason, I can’t listen to his music for long but I totally admire his writing, his music, his artistic daring and accomplishments.
Later in life, Reed took up mellow hobbies like tai chi and photography. He lent his song Perfect Day to the BBC and its Children in Need charity, married Laurie Anderson and settled into his role as one of rock’s coolest godfathers. His spunk remained, however, as The Guardian reported back in June after his liver transplant. Today, the tributes are rolling in from around the world across the Internet.
Here in Virginia, the tears are rolling for Gabriella Miller, a little girl with a heart big enough for the whole world. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 9, she chose to spend her precious time on earth smashing walnuts and raising awareness about childhood cancers. It wasn’t enough that the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted her three wishes (a trip to Paris, becoming an author and graduating from college). Gabriella wanted other children to have their wishes fulfilled too. She embarked on a campaign to gather letters to Santa, deliver them to Macy’s and thus raise $1 per letter. Her quest succeeded far beyond expectations.
Despite her indomitable spirit, Gabriella did not win her fight against cancer. As she entered hospice, a new campaign began, this time collecting paper flowers. These flowers will be shared at her memorial and then delivered to the families of other children fighting cancer, their caregivers, nurses and doctors, as well as scientists, policy makers and advocates for better cancer treatments and cures. I learned about Gabriella from my Team in Training teammates who plan to contribute flowers. People are sending paper flowers to Leesburg from all over the world (see below for details). Roberto and I had paper flowers at our wedding, so there’s an emotional connection here that I didn’t anticipate.
(November 10 Update: Over 1,000 people attended her memorial and 35,000 paper flowers have been delivered around the region to pharmacies, hospitals and even the National Institutes of Health).
Gabriella and Lou are an odd pair, and they probably don’t have much in common besides leaving this world within hours of each other. Yet their zest for life can inspire us to live fully and transform our world. We don’t all have to be rock stars and inspirational leaders. We just have to recognize the power of paper flowers and a perfect day…
There’s so much to celebrate today — it’s the feast day of the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, it’s the first day of October, a generally lovely month. I had a great day at work and my handsome, smart, amazing husband keeps making me laugh and sending me lovely links to encourage my writerly aspirations.
And yet, there’s a burning anger in my heart.
The two pictures above illustrate the frustration many Americans feel. Some people will be upset about the picture on the left, some will be furious about the picture on the right, and just about everyone is disgusted with the state of politics and discourse our country. The country itself is pretty fine, I must say. We often forget how fortunate we are that we can even have fake filibusters and ridiculous Twitter fights (and flirts) about government funding. Our wonderful republic is so strong that every once in a while we act like a failed state just because we can. It’s great that a few legislators see the hypocrisy of the current situation and generously promise to donate their own salary to charity but most Americans actually need their paychecks, and federal employees can’t feed their kids with an IOU.
As someone who has been denied health insurance on the individual market, I understand the impetus behind the Affordable Care Act. It’s imperfect, but it’s the law. Viable alternatives have not been offered, and many people like certain aspects of it that have already gone into effect. Some people even think the crazy employer-based health care system we have will eventually fade away, just like rotary phones.
A lot of people don’t like the individual mandate because, well, it’s a mandate. We Americans will not be told what to do for any reason that does not involve a free T-shirt. We are just too special, too exceptional, and too proud. Any bossiness from the federal government is an infringement on our individual rights, except of course for those food safety rules, air traffic controllers and those other random essential services that save our lives.
In 2012, Republicans promised to repeal Obamacare if they won. They lost. Yet a number of politicians seem to have a problem with math. Perhaps their public schools were underfunded, or maybe they just believe it’s magic. Because that’s really the only way the 65,899,660 votes that Obama got could possibly be less than Romney’s 60,932,152.
Even in the House, Democrats won over one million more votes than Republicans, who maintained control due to the way districts are drawn. The word “control” might be a little strong for what actually happens in their caucus because no one seems to be able to restrain those members who still think Obamacare can be stopped after 42 failed repeal attempts and one Supreme Court ruling.
Apparently we now have a number of politicians who confuse making headlines with actually governing or counting votes. So the votes the American people do not count, and the votes of their own party also seem to vary depending on the day of the week. It’s easy to understand why so many people don’t believe in our government when the people running it send 800,000 people on furlough because they are afraid of a website.
Seriously. That’s what happened today. The health care exchanges opened, and the moon fell out of the sky. And NASA was closed so nobody can send a rocket to catch it before it crashed into earth, which is how you know that I’m writing this from an alternate universe.
I can joke now, but really, there’s a burning anger in my heart.
There’s a lot to be said about the benefits of checks and balances, but I don’t think this is a shining moment for democracy. The world is watching with confusion and bewilderment while the federal government shuts down even as one of our most famous and beautiful national parks celebrates its birthday. Yosemite must be closed not because it’s a luxury we can’t afford, but because health insurance became available, affordable, and mandatory for everyone.
I’m not usually prone to rant on this blog, but topic for day two of the Days of Deepening Friendship writing retreat is about emotion and that opened the floodgates. I definitely need to take note of the advice to utilize my support system and transition out of emotional intensity. Writing out what I feel helps a lot. I love this paragraph:
But here’s the grand part: emotions will help you tap such deep, wonderful stuff as you’re writing. If you’re going through an ordinary day and experience anger or sadness or bliss or curiosity—you can follow that emotion down through layers of your experience and memory and find all sorts of scenes, stories, and concepts attached to those emotions.
Earlier, Vinita Hampton Wright described the emotional work that artists do as spending time in the “cellar of the soul.” That’s the perfect image for how I feel right now; I know I will eventually write, walk and talk my way upstairs and into the light but for the moment I am down in the basement, sorting through the detritus of American stupidity and exceptionalism, letting this burning anger in my heart feed my thirst for justice.
Despite all the nonsense across the river, it’s glorious fall day here in Northern Virginia. The leaves are just starting to turn and the sunlight has a golden sheen that foretells the harvest. This week I’m taking a break from my normal busy-ness for a writing retreat with Vinita Hampton Wright, author of various books and the blog Days of Deepening Friendship. Today we’re thinking about the five senses, and challenging ourselves to use a sense we don’t normally use to describe things. For me, that means having a cup of tea because I almost never focus on the taste of things.
The chamomile blend that I chose tasted like gold with a twinge of citrus. It didn’t stay hot very long and slid across my tongue, a happy burst of warm water flavored with sunshine.
That’s it. I just don’t have many more words to explain it.
It’s very tempting to describe how one of the berries in the tea bay shot brilliant red trails around the mug as the tea brewed, and to dissect the various contents of this lovely blend, but that was not the assignment. Taste is a tough sense to articulate, at least for me, the ultimate un-foodie. Maybe I would appreciate tea more if I had the patience to make it often and really perfect it…
I had a challenging but fun and very busy week, and about three this afternoon I was ready to crawl into bed with a good book. Trouble is, everything on my nightstand at the moment is either work related or deliberately somnolent. Not the best reading for refuge.
Then I discovered that today’s Google Doodle honors Jane Addams. As a native to the Chicago area, I’ve known about Hull-House and many of her contributions to social justice here in this country. Only recently did I learn from the podcast Stuff You Missed in History class that she was also an author and peace activist who was so committed to her cause that the FBI investigated her and J. Edgar Hoover labeled her “the most dangerous woman in the country.” A national heroine for her work on child labor and other causes, Addams was greatly beloved until she dared to suggest that the United States should not intervene in what was inconceivably called the Great War, the war that introduced the world to the horror of chemical weapons.
The introduction to the Illinois edition of her 1906 book Newer Ideals of Peace establishes that she was thinking about peace as more than the absence of war long before other 20th century philosophers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Like him, she recognized the relationship between poverty and conflict and the dangers of a militarized society. I’m looking forward to reading Newer Ideals of Peace this weekend as the world considers what to do about the situation in Syria. It seems fitting to see what this wise Nobel Peace Laureate has to say, and how it could apply today. Maybe it’s not that supposedly scintillating novel everyone talked about all summer, but I’m looking forward to it.
You cannot run a marathon — or walk a half-marathon — the first time you step outside your door wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a hydration belt. Theoretically, if your life or the life of your loved one depended on it, you might try and you might even succeed. But you will hurt yourself… every runner or walker I’ve spoken to has told me that a race is a challenge even when you are ready for it. Similarly, very few social changes occur the first time an agitator stands on a street corner and proclaims that a great wrong must be corrected. Just ask Susan B. Anthony; one of her tireless efforts was writing and publishing the history of the suffrage movement.
This weekend our country began to celebrate the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. These anniversary observances are both celebrations and protests — we’ve come so far, and we’ve got so much farther to go. Jelani Cobb catches the spirit well in his New Yorker article, insisting that we have grown enough to both recognize our incredible progress and insist that it be protected and further developed. Our collective memory tends towards mythologizing strong individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and in doing so, we lose our sense of joint ownership and team accomplishment. We turn history into a series of dates and turning points instead of a flowing river of human endeavor.
Roberto and I joined the festivities for a few hours on Saturday, and it struck me that our civil rights movement is a marathon, a long-distance relay through generations that keep pointing towards that ever elusive finish line where we break through the tape of fear wrapped in ignorance with a strong dose of selfishness and finally “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Back in his day, Martin Luther King and the men who organized the original march made their wives and female colleagues like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks walk a separate route, away from the media. They allowed only a short ovation to six pre-selected women Daisy Bates, the leader of the Little Rock Nine who gave a brief statement(listen here); Prince Lee, the widow of murdered activist Herbert Lee, Diane Nash, a key leader of the freedom rides; Gloria Richardson, and Rosa Parks.
Myrlie Evers was also scheduled to be onstage and got a huge ovation in absentia; circumstances intervened in 1963. This year, like so many other women, she got the opportunity to speak:
I love that she encouraged us to turn “Stand Your Ground” into a positive force for change, remember the women who worked so hard for the movement, and be trees standing tall for justice.
Let’s keep standing, marching, walking — and running — together. All of us.