Friday, January 27, 2012

Competitive Genocide

Did we need more conflict? Something else to argue about? Did someone, somewhere decide that now would be a good time to increase acrimony?

Perhaps this new wrinkle was meant to distract the world from its economic debacles.

Why else would the French government propose a law fining, and possibly incarcerating, anyone who denied the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks.

In response, the Turkish government accused France of genocide against Algerians in the period of French colonial rule.

Now, it seems, we have competitive genocides.

I do not question the fact that too many Armenians and too many Algerians were killed.

And I do realize that unless atrocities are acknowledged and remembered, they are more apt to be repeated. We have enough atrocities going on right now.

However, I do question punishing people for saying the wrong thing.

I do question escalating vilification.

And I do ask that all of us – individuals, political parties, and national governments – cease unnecessary acrimony and begin, please, to practice civility.


Friday, January 20, 2012

A Rose in the Wintertime

Carolyn McDade wrote a great song, Come Sing a Song With Me, that lifts me with its rhythm and its chorus: “And I’ll bring you hope when hope is hard to find, and I’ll bring a song of love and a rose in the wintertime.”

Roses in wintertime are important -- actually any kind of flower can perk up the bleak midwinter -- and my spirits.

It has long been my tradition to buy a bloom or two (more if I’m having company) once a week beginning in January.

In case you need some perking up, here are some roses for you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Should We Remember?

Last night, a group of volunteers and one school teacher put on an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The school superintendent, mayor and city manager took part. Dancers from a local studio performed. A storyteller made the civil rights movement come alive with her personal stories. Kids got prizes for their drawings and essays about ‘hewing from the mountain of despair, a stone of hope’ – from one of Dr. King’s great speeches. And an accomplished composer played and sang an original song.

Why? So we would remember --remember how hard it was to make the progress we have made in race relations – and how far we have to go. Not just in race relations, but in class relations and gender relations [and human relations in general!].  If we don’t create special events, we might forget.

Last year, I had a tiny speaking part in our MLK event:

Great men and women don’t start out either grown up or great. Like everyone else, they start out as kids.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life changed when he was six years old. Just before school was to start, he rang his best friend’s doorbell. He wanted to play but his friend’s father said his son couldn’t play with Martin any more. Why? Because Martin was black and his friend was white.

Until that moment, Martin had not realized the huge separation between blacks and whites. In the city where he grew up, black people couldn’t sit at lunch counters with whites, or drink out of the same water fountains. And black children could not go to school – or play – with white children.

Martin’s whole adult life was dedicated to ending that separation. He helped change the world. His dedication began one moment when he was six years old.

There are still many things that need changing. I have two questions for the kids here tonight: When will your moment be? What will you do to change the world?

Looking back, I think that is a question each of us needs to answer.

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Decades Service' message

My name is Mim Neal. I turned 70 on August 12. It was something I could either mourn or celebrate so I decided to celebrate. I had a great party.

But turning 70 requires more than a party. It is a major wake-up birthday.

Being 70 means I am officially old – well into the natural process of deterioration—most probably closer to death than the other speakers (which, by the way, is okay). Being officially old means that I have more wrinkles and that my body does not work as well.

On the other hand, being old means that I get senior discounts, a pension and Social Security and am (for now at least) covered by Medicare.

Being old does not mean that I am ‘done’ – I have not finished much of anything. And I have less time to waste.

Turning 70 is a time to look at the patterns of my life. There is a security in patterns. We rest in their predictability, secure in symmetry. Patterns in our lives--the routines and learned responses--allow us the illusion of familiar ground. It has always been easy for me to sink so deeply into routine that I no longer see options. The older I get, the stronger my habits get.

But I can be saved from dozing at my steering wheel by a simple comment or a major circumstance. Turning 70 is a major circumstance. It is time to examine patterns – change some, keep others.

One of the patterns I will keep is writing. I am in the process of publishing my memoir. And I am STILL working on a novel. And I will keep posting blogs and writing other stuff – it’s a necessity for me.

And I will maintain the relationships I have with friends and family.

I will also stay open to new relationships – new friends and perhaps even romance (nothing is impossible).

70 is not yet time to hunker down. I resolve to have more adventures – traveling in this country and other amazing places on this amazing planet.

I will strive to relate to the Spirit/ Life Force/ Universal Energy that is in all things, and all people (although less apparent in politicians).

I will continue to draw strength from and find ways to contribute to this incredible community, Namaqua Unitarian Universalist Congregation -- and through Namaqua and on my own, to contribute to the larger community.

In my lifetime, every time I have jumped off a cliff – filing for divorce, traveling alone, moving to Loveland -- I have become a higher dimension of myself. So now, being 70, I will stay alert for cliffs. I will pay attention – look for new ways of being in the world.

Ah! Being! Being is the important thing. Paying attention.

Whatever else I may do, I resolve to remember to
              Breathe in the beauty
              Savor the moment
             And rejoice in the fact that I will not have to do this again for 10 more years.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Our congregation has a traditional "Decades Service" early in January each year. Speakers in their teens, 20s (if available), 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s respond to Mary Oliver's poem, The Summer Day (see below) by revealing their plans for the rest of their lives. 

I have always enjoyed learning from service participants -- but never wanted to be one. This year, I was asked. Not only did I have to speak, I had to reveal my age to everyone. I did it. To find out my age -- and what I said, you will have to read my next blog.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reprising Connections

Every year after the Christmas decorations are down and whatever we call normal life returns, I take a few moments to re-read all the Christmas cards I received.

This year the cards were especially important – I needed objects to hold, to admire, to make me smile. Email messages just can’t do that, or at least not as well.

My favorite is of course the one my brother created – a thing of beauty at a time of incalculable loss.

Then the four pieces of paper adorned with colored scribbles and glitter that were folded into ‘cards’ from the daycare kids who helped decorate my tree.

Some were extraordinarily beautiful: silver trees from UNICEF, a photograph of a Marsh Tit (that’s a bird) from my friend in England, and cards from a friend in Australia, and another in Switzerland.

This year, for the first time, I received cards from my sister-in-law’s family. We got to know and appreciate each other because of our shared loss. And my California cousins are closer now because we connected during a summer visit.

A new friend wrote a great tribute. An old friend reminded me of our deep connections. I even got a card from someone who used to work for me. How cool is that?

And I received two cat cards, both depictions of Christmas tree disasters (which, fortunately, did not occur this year) and both funny.

I’ve put most of them back in the basket. I won’t recycle them yet. It is so good to have them to go through again – to hold, to laugh, to smile – to treasure each connection.

I hope this tradition (and the U.S. postal service) never ends.