Letters from Oz
Michael Pollan has done it again! The author of the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, has written an even more accessible book about eating well, for health and coincidentally for sustainability. It is entitled Food Rules, An Eater's Manual. It is out in paperback is small and has approximately one rule per page. It is broken up into 3 sections which correspond to his general message message about food, which is "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much."
It seems like a simple statement, but contains much food for thought (forgive my pun). For instance food, means real food, nothing chemical, nothing fake- no phood! Take this rule:
#2 Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Each rule comes with a paragraph or two of explanation, but rarely over half a page long.
Another of my favorites in the 'eat food' section is:
#6 Avoid food products that have more than 5 ingredients.
Have you ever read the ingredients on most processed 'food'? It can be an extremely long list and most of them unpronounceable let alone edible!
I highly recommend buying a copy of this book- and USING the information in it.
to the imaging center to get my annual mammogram
After a moment of doubt
I turn onto the path to the bio-pond
A sweet anomaly on Penn's campus
Overhung with trees and bushes
drunk with last nights rain
momentarily annoyed by second hand smoke
Unexpected in this little oasis
There they are- eight newly hatched ducklings
unbearably cute and ridiculously fuzzy!
A small crowd of my own species
oohs and ahhs
A two foot drop leaves me wondering
will the mother prod them to a less precipitous spot?
Suddenly one sails over the edge-
Then two more , then the mother and the rest
to human squeals and wordless exclamations
filled with wonder and glee
I head on my way
with a little piece of inter-species delight
tucked into my heart
our Quaker Meeting's weekend retreat on racial healing, lots about class come up, and I had
the revelation (again) that Mom is just a working class party girl forced to
pretend elsewise. Not that there aren't other aspects of her personality worth mentioning,
but she is definitely 'life of the party' to the core. I really wish I
had gotten to meet Granndpa Sam Outlaw, who I have been told she resembles more
than any of his other offspring!
My mother, Martha Outlaw, is 87 years old and in the tenth year of increasing dementia. Many of the last, approximately, 415 days that she has lived with me, I have been irritated or annoyed, until I realized a few months ago that I was actually deeply grieving the loss of the Mom I knew, while having to take care of this often amusing, sometimes cranky old lady who is masquerading as my mother!
Though frail, Mom has been incredibly healthy, until about 5 weeks ago. She got a bad cold with a lingering cough and then virtually stopped eating, with no apparent cause. So we started taking her to the doctors to have blood tests done, and various x-rays and body scans. It turned out to be an impacted bowel- but I won't go into the gory details here. She has gradually gotten better since 'the cure'. But there were some things still to check out, to make sure all was well, so back to the hospital we went.
During most of the previous 5 weeks she had no energy and was acting kind of depressed, but she was her amazing self at the hospital yesterday. She was cranky and mad a Judy, her other main caretaker, on the way there, partly or perhaps solely, because she had soiled herself just before we left and Judy was pretty directive in the cleaning up of it- AND got it done! But there was no problem getting her cooperation or the blood drawn once in the tech's room. There was a line of several people waiting when we were leaving and she commenting loudly, "Isn't it amazing how many people are lining up to get hurt!" That made just about everyone in the hall laugh or smile. Then as we were entering the elevator, she turned and waved good-by, saying, "Take care everybody, hope you make it out alive!" This time even making me guffaw!
She was unhappy waiting so long for the x-ray, it was quite busy over there, but once we got into the x-ray room she flirted with the cute young man who was the tech. It was not the quasi-obscene flirting she can do, especially with any man who seems remotely near her age, but sweet and funny and he was charmed.
I realized (again) as we were leaving for home, that Mom is such a great model for connecting with people in public places and though she gets to be briefly the center of attention, the life of the party, everyone benefits. It is not as self-centered as it has seemed to me in the past, in fact, it may not be self-centered at all. When we hold back form connecting with the people we meet, perhaps that is the most self-centered we can be. Making people laugh, or even just smile and especially when some outrageous thing she says or does makes someone's day, is truly a gift that she gives.
It can be oppressive, if one feels one HAS to be entertaining or make people happy, as I know from personal experience, but Mom does it effortlessly; it IS who she is. May I grow to be so, in my own way. May we all. So be it.
Gradually, yet consistently and persistently, I have come to experience that the world we, humans, have been trying to build, or re-capture, or co-create; the Eden we have felt cast out of, exists now, has existed from the beginning and will continue to exist. We cannot build it, we cannot actually destroy it either. It is the only real realm that exists. The realms/societies/empires that we have created are illusory, though real in their capacity to cause unnecessary pain and suffering and the destruction of the physical matrix of life as we know it, here on Earth.
What we can and have done is conceal or reveal this kin-dom, the realm of that which we call God, by the actions we take and even the thoughts we have. Day by day, minute by minute, we do things that either reveal this reality or conceal it. I suppose there is a third thing, or way of describing what we do or can do and that is that we can witness the concealment or the revelation of it. Perhaps is it important to say that this can also be described as: we can notice, discover, uncover, elicit, recognize, acknowledge, or invite the kin-dom. Can we evoke it? or even provoke it? We can cover it over, bury, hide, and deny it. But it is here, now, and can be neither created nor destroyed.
But what then of human creativity? Are we not, as some have proclaimed, co-creators, with the Divine, of this realm, the new Eden? Are we not called, as many Quakers say, to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth? Are we not building the realm of G!d on earth? Humans are, by our nature, creative. In fact, I would say that even more than language, it is our creativity, that defines us as human. When, in the Old Testament, God says, "Let us make man[sic] in our image", it is our creativity that is most god-like. Often the very best artists, and even scientists when asked to describe their creativity, or the creative process, say something like, "I get out of the way and allow it to come through me." Or as sculptors have been known to say, "I am taking way the wood or stone, and revealing what is already there, or what wants to be known..." Perhaps, then, our most true creativity comes through us, more than from us. Though, to be sure , it would not happen at all were we not present.
Yes, that may just be it! Our presence is necessary for the creativity of the Divine to manifest on the physical plain, or the earthly realm. Are we present? Are we present to the Kin-dom in us and among us? Are we present to G!d?
We are fond of the concept of cause and effect, as a species. This causes that. It is especially gratifying when we seem to notice that what we are doing causes an effect that we desire. There is, however, something much more subtle happening most of the time; co-arising is likely happening much more than we are aware of or maybe even are capable of being aware of. Co-arising is when two things are some how connected so that they both happen, neither actually causes the other but there is a relationship. This could be described as the 2 things evoking each other, or each eliciting the coming forth of the other.
This is very exciting to me because I am such a fixer and because I feel so responsible for everything. I mostly forget to let G!d do what G?d does, and just do my part. It is freeing to recognize that the "heaven on earth" that I thought I was supposed to be creating doesn't need to be created! Because it already exists. This doesn't mean there is nothing for me to do, or nothing for anyone else to do.
As I was in morning meditation and prayer a powerful image came to me. The realm of G!d can be described as an ocean of light. It is what we live and breath and have our life in, though most of the time we are unaware of it, not present to it. Human culture, what is often referred to as 'world' or 'flesh' in the Bible is like a gi-normous oil spill spread out over most of the ocean of light. So, although the ocean of light is the only true reality, and the cultures/societies/civilizations we have created are merely the thinnest veneer on top of it, it does have some substance. Our job is to clean up the oil spill so the ocean of light can be seen and known. It is, of course, never one person's job to clean up the whole schlemiel (to use a Yiddish term). If we listen and pay attention we will hear/notice what part of it is ours to clean up-transform.
The vision had another aspect. The oil slick has the capacity to make whirlpools, from small ones to large ones to devastating ones such as war, causing much pain, suffering and unnecessary destruction. These whirlpools are the ultimate concealers of the Kin/dom! But when someone gets sucked into a whirlpool, dragged down and under, especially to the point of death, or wishing for death, the whirlpool clan actually be a way into the ocean of light. One can be sucked down so deep, so forcefully as to be free and clear of the oil slick altogether and resurface, as if reborn, renewed or refreshed by the Spirit! Those who have experienced a whirlpool and being sucked down into the ocean of Light often have important stories for the rest of us. (Currently, two such, are Malala and Elizabeth Smart.)
"Mom, why did you do that?" I asked, not annoyed but curious. She has always been a people person; you know, talks to complete strangers, greets people walking down the street, gives rides to folks waiting for the bus... Martha, my mom, had already had dementia for a few years, but, at that point, conversations were still possible. We were at a motel in central Pennsylvania, the cheering section for Kate, my oldest daughter, at the statewide Special Olympics. On our way to the free breakfast we met a woman walking the other way. She had a plain face, seriously crooked teeth and long platinum blond hair, obviously not natural. Mom greeted her with a cheerful, "Oh my ! your hair is gorgeous! Want to trade?" This made the woman smile and chuckle as well. In fact, her whole face lit up and she was gorgeous.
As we sat down to eat our carb-rich breakfast, I asked why she had done that. Martha looked at me and said, "I just wanted her to feel good." I am a witness that she did. As I understand things now, I would say that all three if us experienced a bit of heaven. Martha revealed this small patch of the Kin-dom, as I call it, and I witnessed it. My mother often uncovered the Kin-dom. It was natural and genuine, in other words, with no thought of herself, or of manipulating the person or situation for gain of any kind, not even to make herself feel good. Martha was by no means a saint, far from it. She even, on rare occasions, took great dislike to a person for no reason that I could see. And twice brought or allowed people into our family who actually harmed us.
I, now, after her death, can see that she really did, 99% of the time, see the good in people and that most of the time, this brought out the best in them. I also know that I would not want her different, that you have to take the bad with the good, even though I was deeply hurt by one of those she allowed in our life, and harder to forgive, both my younger sisters were even more deeply hurt by him. I guess what I am trying to say is that these things were two sides of the same coin.
This knack she had, cheering people up or exposing glimpses of heaven, not only staid with her as her dementia s-l-o-w-l-y progressed, but became even more pronounced. Most of the last 3 years of her life, Mom lived with me and I spent some hours every day with her and experienced this regularly. One of my favorite stories from this time was an outing to the local corner store. It is only about a block and half away from our house in West Philly. At that time Martha's dementia was such that she no longer could remember what we were doing or why for more than 30 seconds, so that we often had the same brief conversations over and over again.
When we entered the shop, it was crowded, as it usually is, and Mom ended up standing in one of the 3 narrow isles, waiting for me to find what I'd come for and pay for it. A rather large man of another race needed to get past her and as so often happens, she stepped right as he stepped left, then they both quickly stepped the other direction to avoid bumping into each other. Without missing a beat, Mom said, 'Let's dance!" and raised up her arms. He smiled and took her hands, they laughed and took a couple more steps together, dancing, as it were. About five minutes later, as I was paying, I noticed the man leaving and caught his eye. "Have a nice day," I said, and he replied, "Oh, that MADE my day!"
Occasionally I catch myself spontaneously greeting a stranger in a way that reminds me of her. The other day on the trolley, I sat down and noticed across the isle a young African American woman with her infant son sleeping on her chest. She was holding him tenderly, dozing on and off herself. I suddenly became aware I was witnessing a little patch of heaven; love, protection, caring and enjoyment... As I got up to leave I spontaneously said , "You have a beautiful son." the mother smiled and her whole face lit up. The Kin-dom revealed! At times like that I notice the presence of G!d's love, and it definitely has the flavor of my mother, too. Thanks, Mom.