Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare Me!

“…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these, the least of my Brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Here’s an opportunity for some deep questions: Who are “the least”? Who are “Brethren”? How do you treat them? And who is “Me”? There can be many answers to these questions, and they all help us to understand what is meant by kindness and mercy. At this stage in my life, I am trying to expand my concepts of Brethren and Me, to be more inclusive, more at One with all kinds of beings. Here are some of my new friends: 


Spare

Weekly Photo Challenge: Jubilant Wedding

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Going through my memory card files, I came across this photo from my daughter’s wedding. Perfect for this theme! There’s only one problem – I don’t think I took this shot. My camera was handed off to my son, who handed it off to his girlfriend, and I think SHE took this picture of him. Hats off to you, Daena Wallace, for this great capture!  Here’s one I did take that day…

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Jubilant

Books That Change Lives

I have 4 broad cubbyholes for experience titled “Distraction”, “Entertainment”, “Useful” and “Inspirational”. This is not a system of judgment, simply an organizational game that my homo sapiens brain finds oddly relaxing. I can truly laud events in any of those categories, but sorting them is something that satisfies in a strange way, like the way I play Solitaire on the computer before bed. When I thought of all of the books in my life (and since our home is an online book-selling business, I literally have tens of thousands of books in my daily life!), I wondered how to pick which to write about. These categories are going to help me navigate this topic. Books that change lives can fall under any of these headings.

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I have to start with Children’s Books because I was a child when books began to influence me. Certain Children’s Books can fit under each of those labels. Did you ever try to distract a child in tears by offering to read a story? Sure. Did you ever pick up your jacketless copy of Ferdinand and flip to the illustration of the contented bull under the tree smelling flowers because you were seeking escape? Yes! So maybe “Distraction” is a place where some of my favorites can be filed.

“Entertainment” is a fine role for a Children’s Book. Pure imagination (Roald Dahl), puzzle-solving (Graeme Base, I Spy…), and song and dance (Priscilla Superstar, Eloise) come to mind. Rhyming books by Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet were always fun to read aloud to my kids. Of course, I do voices. (After all, I was a Voice Performance major in college and a theater teacher!) Books can serve up silliness in all shapes and sizes.

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A child’s book becomes “Useful” when it has a gentle way of teaching a very important lesson. I loved Babar immediately, and slept with a plush version each night, thumbing the yellow felt of his crown until its softness lulled me to sleep. I learned to respect animals and humans, that responsibility can bring anxiety, and that belonging to a community helps you to feel secure and peaceful.

When I think of books that are “Inspirational”, I think of them as initiating changes that transcend mood and feeling and circumstance. Perhaps you can call them “paradigm-shifters”. Every so often, a Children’s Book has that kind of impact, too. They defy the age-ism of the Children’s or Young Adult section. The Lorax, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Little Prince, A Wrinkle In Time. These books introduced me to the realms of mysticism and philosophy that I began to explore in greater depth as an adult. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Poems by Hafiz.

There are iconic books that have shaped my life that I think I would put in a separate cubbyhole, perhaps shaped and decorated more like a shrine. These are sacred texts: The Bible. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn. They became almost monolithic in my life journey at certain points.

Most of the goods manufactured by human beings are problematic to me. Luxury items strike me as senseless and leave me completely cold. Clothing is necessary but has a seamy underbelly in Fashion. You don’t even want to get me started on Plastic! But Books – well, they could be the veritable justification of civilization itself, as far as I’m concerned. I cannot imagine my life without them.

This essay is featured in this month’s issue of  The Be Zine. To see the entire blogazine, click HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: That Marvelous Face

First Face:

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My Mother’s Face had to be the first face I learned to love. I am sure that I gazed at her for long stretches while nursing. I learned to get over my teen-aged embarrassment at her lazy walleye, her “long Celtic chin” (as she called it) and the fact that she never wore make-up. Her face is particular and characteristic. Her prominent eyes and small nose and mouth have been gradually swaddled by more wrinkles and folds as she ages. She is now 81; this photo was taken 3 years ago. What I love most about this picture is that she is in her natural state – enjoying life! 

Second Face:

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This is the face I see continually in my dreams, the face of my true love. He was 19 when I took this picture with the camera he bought me – a Canon AE-1.  We were married for 24 years and had 4 children. He died in 2008. This face has echoes in the living expressions of my kids, and I love that they inherited his warm eyes, his strong jaw, his brilliant smile.  

I have what might be called a photographic memory.  I close my eyes and see faces. Sometimes they are faces that I don’t recognize. I used to play with that ability to imagine crowds of strangers with particular faces and wonder if I had actually seen those faces in passing or if my brain was just making them up. I do know that I pay close attention to faces and always have. Perhaps I do carry those faces within me and always will. No matter how many I collect, I think these will always be #1 and #2. 

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Mothering Instincts

mothers day 001_NEWI became a mother a year after I was married, when I was only 22. I had recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a prestigious women’s college, and the prevailing response to my new role was, “Why are you throwing away your education to be a mom?” followed closely by “Why are you throwing away the freedom of your twenties to be a mom?” I was wracked with anxiety about whether I was “old enough” to take on the awesome responsibility of Motherhood. I was a very young-looking mother; I got accosted in public places by people who felt compelled to tell me what I was doing wrong with my child and with my life.  I turned to my church community for support and was mentored by some wonderful women.  Then I took on a leadership role and led a group I called M.O.M.S. (Mothers Offering Mutual Support) for 9 years. These MOMS were mostly older than me and from an affluent suburb of Chicago.  Motherhood was most often discussed in terms of practical instruction in efficiency, in education, in success.

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Now that my nest is empty, I am turning my consciousness more and more to Nature.  It is now that I am more thoroughly accepting, befriending, and appreciating the tremendous biological grounding of life. I notice how my attitudes and concerns have shifted away from social influences. I feel the memories of Mothering in my body; I am beginning to forget the words, the events, the situations.  Childbearing was a fine activity for my twenties.  I gave birth 4 times without surgery or drugs. I rarely drank alcohol. I never smoked anything. I nursed all of my children for a full year.  In my thirties, I cuddled and carried and played. I was not an athlete, and I was not particularly wise about food, but I was healthy. In my forties, I was stressed. My husband was dying. My teen aged children were struggling. I started making relaxation a “conscious effort”. I found it difficult to regain my biological grounding, so I would go off to the prairies and woods near my home – alone – as often as I could.

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Now, in my fifties, I am rarely stressed. I do notice a gentle waning of energy. I have zero gray hairs, but I do have drier, spottier skin. I don’t feel “old”, but I do feel “mellowed”.  

I suppose that my thoughts today on Motherhood are simply about the awesomeness of Life. As far removed as modern humans may be from the rhythms of biology, that pulse continues. When all the screens go dead, when all the mini-vans run out of gas, when all the PTAs and soccer leagues disperse and the suburban homes fall into the dust, there will still be the energy of Life seeking a new generation. It will find a way. I enjoy feeling part of that flow.