Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grandmother Reverberations

She had those glasses that darken automatically so it was hard to see her eyes. Still, you trusted her, liked her. Something about her demeanor -- a quiet, a peace – was reassuring. She had a service dog, a golden retriever I think, as quiet and as peaceful as she.

We were among 70 or so people attending a meditation retreat. Quiet and peaceful were expected. Still, I noticed her – doing the slow, deliberate steps of walking meditation. Diminutive, she could easily be spotted in her yellow quilted jacket with a knitted cap over her straight, charcoal hair.

Following the tradition of exiled Vietnamese Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hahn, the retreat schedule included dharma talks and dharma discussion groups. I was delighted that she was in my group. I liked the things she said. Her name was Elaine Little.

 During our first session, we were to describe a benefactor – someone who had taught us important lessons. I described Grandmother Margaret Behan, the Cheyenne elder who had hosted the 11th Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. I shared her lessons of history and forgiveness and told of my awe at hearing the songs of the wolves she had brought in to participate in ceremonies.

When our discussion session ended, Elaine came up to me and revealed that the Alaskan Indigenous Grandmother, Rita Pitka Blumenstein, was her aunt.

Throughout the retreat, Elaine and I would manage short exchanges. She told me about fetching herbs for her aunt, a Yupik elder, about learning from her and from her uncle, whom she described as a New York Jew. 

On the retreat’s final evening, each discussion group was to perform something for the others. Elaine suggested a song taught to her by one of her Yupik elders. Soft-spoken, she sang with surprising volume. As soon as we heard the song, we wanted to sing it – with minor modifications that she graciously accepted. 

She turned out to be one of the teachers designated to lead us in movement between meditations. She was so easy to follow. It was such fun to do her tribal dance.

Whenever she led, we followed, amazed at her powerful voice and presence.

 My participation in the 11th Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers was a profound experience -- an experience that reverberates throughout my days – in amazing ways . . . most recently, in encounters with a short Alaskan elder with a service dog

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Sun

I don't have grandchildren.

That would be sad and kind of lonely if it were not for the fact that kids 'adopt' me. Every once in a while, a very young person (usually connected with my congregation) decides that he or she (usually a she) thinks I'm really nice and decides to sit with me and/or give me things made in religious exploration classes.

Most recently I have been adopted by Taylor (or whatever name she is using at the moment -- it takes time to decide these things). I'm not sure how old she is, perhaps six or seven. She is a wonder -- perhaps because -- like many people her age -- she is full of wonder.

Going through the mail that accumulated while I was away for a few days, I found an envelope with my name and address in red and Taylor's name and address in the return corner, underlined with a tiny heart.

Inside, was a piece of scrap paper on which Taylor had printed the following:

The Sun
The sun makes me feel warm and relaxed
and it reminds me of a big warm ball of blankets.

And so. I am blessed. And it feels like a big warm ball of blankets.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


In virtually all of the hundreds of books written by exiled Buddhist priest, Thich Nhat Hanh, he reminds us that the secret to a life well lived -- to happiness -- even to possible enlightenment-- is to be fully present to our lives every moment of our lives.

 None of us does this/is this.

We play with smart phones in the middle of paradise.

 Too often, I sit in front of my computer and play solitaire instead of writing a blog or novel.

 Fortunately, my computer sits on the desk next to my study’s second floor windows. I look out onto my quiet street, onto the maple that shades my front yard in summer, and onto the comings and goings of people and cars.

 The other day I witnessed a mini-parade progressing through lightly falling snow. Three kids, each with a different colored umbrella, walked single file down my sidewalk shepherded by (presumably) their mom and dad. The three colored umbrellas – one blue and white striped, one orange with flowers, and one just plain red – provided the only obvious color in the gray and white landscape.

 It was somehow touching and beautiful. It was a moment and I was present.

 Then one of my cats walked in front of the computer screen and onto my lap. Sitting there, purring, that cat had no thought of the past or the future. He was fully present to that particular moment. His purrs brought me into the moment as well.

A present.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Not So Automatic Transition

I bought my Toyota Celica right around my birthday in August 1998. It was Renaissance Red, low slung and responsive with a five speed manual transmission and a moon roof. An extremely cool car.

Because I purchased it with money from my mom’s estate, I named it Esmeralda, the name she had given to her favorite car, a little gray Plymouth.

Esmeralda took me all around Chicago, on adventures in the surrounding states, and to the Cattaraugus Reservation in upstate New York. Packed to the gills, she brought me west to my new home in Colorado. Then up to Yellowstone, Wyoming, and Montana, and south into New Mexico.

We were a team.

Recently, we became estranged. I felt less sure of her – and, I suppose, she of me. She wasn’t as sure-footed as I (now 14.5 years older) needed her to be. And low slung was now more dangerous than sexy. Both the CD player and radio were problematic.

So. I began looking around and online. Here in Colorado, half the population seems to drive Subarus, so I looked at Subarus. And found one, an XV Crosstrek, with four-wheel drive, six speed automatic transmission. It’s at least a foot further off the ground than my Celica. It is Venetian Red (more burgundy than its predecessor) and has snazzy wheels and a moon roof. Both the CD player and radio work quite well.

It’s in my garage. We’re getting used to each other. It’s nice to be able to see other cars at intersections and to reach tollbooths and drive-through mailboxes and nice to have room for passengers.  It doesn’t look like an old lady’s car. But it doesn’t look like an Esmeralda. I’m still not sure of the name. Perhaps Sam --definitely male (because of the height and heft).

 We’re going through the normal period of adjustment but I think -- down the road – we will be a team.