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Morning walk is always a marvel. That it happens everyday does not dull the mixed sense of contentment  and excitement I find as I follow along the familiar ritual of its routine in my life.

First there is the dog, Bentley. Typically he wakes and stirs as I wake and stir. Sometimes he bounds awake ahead of me and I am groggy and met by his pleadings to get up.  He will even tap at my shoulder with his front paws to inflict an unavoidable urgency if I am lagging too far behind.  But today we were in synch, and he patiently waited as I put on my robe and stepped into my shoes, leash him safely, and carefully descend the stairs. The cat was waiting in the front entry way and meows expectantly.

Off the three of us go together, with the cat stepping out first and bounding far ahead to the culvert by the side of the road. It is absolutely her favorite place and I always imagine that it is filled with tiny tadpoles and single celled creatures that she partakes in the flow of the water that collects in its protective cover. She dips her paw multiple times but eventually leans in to drink as well, always remaining there a while before rejoining our meanderings.

Our path varies by my willingness to follow the dog’s lead or resist.   The choices include a lakefront across the street or a variety of edged flowerbeds within our own yard.  Today Bentley was inclined to stop and look, rather than bound or pull. The sprinkler fountain is his interest because it is creating a mist that smokily arises even to the height of the trees along the far edge of the lake.  Even though I have been on this walk for several years, I have never seen it mist like this before.

Eventually I guide Bentley to the garage side garden. This is the area of the yard where my oldest and favorite plantings of bushes and perennials are located. Two large English Rose (Roseum Elegans) Rhododendron and a smaller bush of large deep red (‘Nova Zembla’)that grow alongside a variegated pink Weigela. Across the grass near the fence several plantings are in bud now: Japanese Iris, varieties of Columbine and Peony, summer flowers that are just beginning to sprout or spire, and a tall white Shasta Viburnum.

The cat stops again to methodically drink from a large round concrete birdbath that I salvaged from one of my neighbor’s trashday offerings. It is one of my favorite yard spots, because it offers the dog and cat in fresh water.   We head down the long hill behind the house and finally over near the woodline on the far side yard that adjoins a community nature and wildlife reserve.

So we are done and take a meandering walk back up the hill to the front yard. What is noticeable this morning are the repeated edgings in the freshly mowed grass.

My roommate James mowed just yesterday. He has been providing regular mowing and supportive care of the yard since he moved in over a year ago. I am so very thankful to him. Before Mother’s Day last week he helped me power wash the  back yard wooden deck and a concrete porch underneath.

My family extended was coming for a rare holiday visit to my home and I was so very grateful. We were trying to get it ready for the first visit to my home by my youngest son’s family after the birth of my seven month old granddaughter.

I am still reveling in the joy of our extended family’s holiday time together.  Few pictures were taken because I was completely occupied in the excitement of grandchildren, my sons and their families.

I have so many reasons to be thankful, grateful, and filled with wonder for multiple blessings and the miracle of life itself.

Time to go inside and feed AnneMarie the cat, who is almost twenty years old.  I must carefully hold back Bentley on his leash so he will not crowd her too close as she climbs and winds her way up to her feeding dish in the kitchen.

Bentley happily takes his chew treat as we head back up the stairs again. All is well.

 

 

Saturday, August 15, 2015 – 6:13am  (with thanks to on being)
Photo by Hamish Irvine

Wild Sanctuary

BY TOM JABLONSKI,  GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
worked in the environmental field in industry, consulting, and government for over 25 years. He lives in Blaine, Minnesota and blogs at Ecological Leadership.

A patch of wilderness, a remnant of land not completely taken over by humans at that point in time, surrounded me. It was a small strip of land located between Highway 65 and the vacant land that paralleled it to the west, and the housing development in which I lived.

At one time the land was likely cleared and the earth had been reshaped. Old berms and piles of dirt marked the landscape, but the wild vegetation had reclaimed the disturbed soil. My observations were interrupted by the call of some animal. I thought it might be a bird, crying out in a loud shrieking that almost drowned out the sound of traffic on the highway. The call got louder and then softer. The chickadees that flitted around the nearby trees seemed to ignore it. What was the call and who was making it? And what was my call?

I had been doing some volunteer work to try and fill my day with some meaning, but the tasks did not fill me with the sense of accomplishment I sought. What was it like to experience a real sense of accomplishment? Maybe it was not experiencing accomplishment that kept me going. For what more was there in life once accomplishment had been achieved?

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Round Lake in St. Paul MN.

Credit: Jim Brekke License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The leaves had mostly fallen off all the trees, and they lay covering the ground. A brown layer interspersed with a patch of black where the leaves had been pushed away to expose the rich, black humus below — a silt-sand-organic matrix filled with microscopic life.

As was typical of those times of solitude, two airplanes sliced through the sky above, their engines churning out there own matrix of noise, exhaust, and propulsion. The sun broke through the overcast sky, sending a strong beam of light and warmth my way. Some remnants of grass dangling from a brown stem rocked back and forth in the breeze that blew through the tangle of wilderness. The trees in the area appeared to be a hardy lot: poplars, box elders, and other shrubs.

A red fox walked through the clearing in front of me, wandering within 30 feet of where I sat. It passed through sniffing the ground, not seeming to notice me as I watched and marveled at the site of it.

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A fox near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.

Credit: Max and Dee Bernt License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

And then it faded away into the past year’s dried grass. Times like those were good times. This patch of wilderness brought me back to the areas of wilderness I spent time with during my childhood. Going to that place reminded me how sacred those small patches were. They were sanctuaries for life, for creation, for sanity.

So what was it that brought me to that spot at the time when the fox would share its presence with me? And was it the fox that made the strange call I heard when I first came to the place? What brought the leaf down from the tree above and caused it to land in the open spot between my left thumb and forefinger? Were all of those happenings merely coincidences, merely chance meetings of different life forms? Or was there a connection, was there meaning, a message to me telling me what I was called to do? Or was it that I simply enjoyed sitting there, observing, savoring; escaping the places that did not seem to fill me with the same sense of awe.

Small birds somewhere in the distant treetops sang a soft short song — a calling out, an experience of joy, a voice announcing a presence. A crow much further away cawed. The hum of the traffic masked the softer sounds, the more distant sounds. And vines enveloped the tree and the brush, below which I sat ruminating my life.

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Light illuminates the Reservoir Canyon Trail in San Luis Obispo, California.

Credit: Steve Corey License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The tree that I sat under reminded me of the tree that the Buddha sat under while experiencing nirvana. What creatures, what voices, which distractions called out to the Buddha as he pondered his own life? Was there more to enlightenment then simply being present to that which existed around me? Was the moment all there was? Now that I had found it, was I called back to chop wood and haul water, clean bathrooms, vacuum and go on with the volunteering jobs that did not give me the sense of meaning and accomplishment I sought? Could it be that smiling at some kids or helping one or two of them to zip up their coat was all I needed to accomplish that day?

Questions like those would not likely be answered. They likely existed to simply keep me prodding along, to keep living, to keep moving, and to keep interacting. It seemed like it was the interactions of life that could give me the sense of accomplishment I desired.

The time of reflection, serenity, and existence would not hold meaning if it was not shared through the interactions called life. Maybe what I needed to do was to not just focus on the fox, or the voice of the bird, but to pay attention to the brush, to the distraction, to the traffic, and the long grass that hid the fox. The breeze picked up, the sun receded behind a cloud, and I felt chilled. It was time to recede myself from that remnant of wilderness, time to return home to face the distractions of my life, time to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and find what I sought.

A strange call reverberated dull. Questions of meaning filled the skull. A fox — red, soft, and close to the ground — walked through the place as leaves tumbled down. Sniffing the earth, searching, and blending, it entered the zone, the place of grass bending. The red coat began to disappear, its white-tipped tail the only memory it was near. Time, space, and tranquility. It seemed that was what life could be.

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love and scotus

It Is Accomplished

JUN 26 2015 @ 1:21PM, Andrew Sullivan

weddingaisle

As Gandhi never quite said,

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I remember one of the first TV debates I had on the then-strange question of civil marriage for gay couples. It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer’s response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,” he joked. “Why are we even discussing it?”

Those were isolating  days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens. In the words of Hannah Arendt:

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”

This core truth is what Justice Kennedy affirmed today, for the majority: that gay people are human. I wrote the following in 1996:

Homosexuality, at its core, is about the emotional connection between two adult human beings. And what public institution is more central—more definitive—of that connection than marriage? The denial of marriage to gay people is therefore not a minor issue. It is the entire issue. It is the most profound statement our society can make that homosexual love is simply not as good as heterosexual love; that gay lives and commitments and hopes are simply worth less. It cuts gay people off not merely from civic respect, but from the rituals and history of their own families and friends. It erases them not merely as citizens, but as human beings.

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today. In that 1996 essay, I analogized to the slow end to the state bans on inter-racial marriage:

The process of integration—like today’s process of “coming out”—introduced the minority to the majority, and humanized them. Slowly, white people came to look at interracial couples and see love rather than sex, stability rather than breakdown. And black people came to see interracial couples not as a threat to their identity, but as a symbol of their humanity behind the falsifying carapace of race.

It could happen again. But it is not inevitable; and it won’t happen by itself. And, maybe sooner rather than later, the people who insist upon the centrality of gay marriage to every American’s equality will come to seem less marginal, or troublemaking, or “cultural,” or bent on ghettoizing themselves. They will seem merely like people who have been allowed to see the possibility of a larger human dignity and who cannot wait to achieve it.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never befully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day., who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

I never believed this would happen in my lifetime when I wrote my first several TNR essays and then my book, Virtually Normal, and then the anthology and the hundreds and hundreds of talks and lectures and talk-shows and call-ins and blog-posts and articles in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought the book, at least, would be something I would have to leave behind me – secure in the knowledge that its arguments were, in fact, logically irrefutable, and would endure past my own death, at least somewhere. I never for a millisecond thought I would live to be married myself. Or that it would be possible for everyone, everyone in America.

But it has come to pass. All of it. In one fell, final swoop.

Know hope.

kennedy_2.png.CROP.promo-mediumlarge

  redwood-forest

Here, in an ordinary train station in Wuppertal, Germany, the group Árstíðir began singing the Icelandic hymn “Heyr himna smiður”. The hymn — the oldest known Scandinavian hymn — dates back to the early 13th century when the Icelandic chieftain Kolbeinn Tumason is purported to have written these familiar words on his deathbed. Then, more than seven centuries later, the composer Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson put them to music.

fir

For those interested, here’s one English translation:

Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one,[1]
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
human every sorrow
from the city of the heart.

Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.

Because Árstíðir sings this hymn in the cathedral of a train station rather than a concert hall, the experience feels special, significant, universal. And this act contributes to the transforming the everyday into something aspirational, transformative.

trillium

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory