Letters from Oz

War is a symptom of Empire

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Distraught, my sister wrote to me the other day, saying that she and her husband had watched a documentary that was very upsetting and had left her feeling that President Obama is a war criminal. She asked for some comfort and/or advice. This is what poured out of me in response:

I remember, way back, when it began to look like Obama might actually win the nomination (I think we were in Botswana) and I suddenly got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. If he does win, he will be the President of the United States! And I knew he would never be able to live up to what we had all been hoping for! Even President Kennedy, who so many of us idealized, was probably a war criminal: the Bay of Pigs, the Missiles on Cuban soil, 50,000 US troops in Korea... Although he did inherit the Cold War he was determined to contain communism. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the failure of the Korean war (ending in partitioning Korea) and the construction of the Berlin wall all were or seemed like abject failures- so he decided (or he agreed with his advisors) to draw the line in the sand in Vietnam. We had no business in Vietnam. There were much less credible reasons to be fighting the Vietnamese than to be fighting in Afganistan!

My sense about Obama is that he knew little about about national security. He knew about the American Dream from the position of an African American and just plain American, about inspiring people, community organizing, law and whatever he learned about governing from being a Senator. So he has really been at the mercy of his advisors. I can only imagine the pressure he must feel at being responsible for the whole nations safety and security! Yes I have been bitterly disappointed at the continuation of the wars and the war crimes he is ultimately responsible for as President, but only a little bit surprised. 

One day in Quaker meeting for worship about 2 years ago, I had this flash of insight. Someone was giving a message that was accusatory of Quakers these days, saying that during the Vietnam war every Quaker meeting was a center of anti-war activity- and asking what had happened? why wasn't it so, now? The flash of insight was and is: war is a natural consequence of empire. Human beings have over and over again created empire, I am sad to say. Some version of the very same empire Jesus was standing against. I have come to understand that the only lasting antidote to empire is what 's called by many the "Kingdom of G!d"; I call it just the Kin-dom. 

It seems to me that President Obama's failures (his war crimes etc) are mostly about the time of history we are in. All human-made systems after 3, 5, 10, 100 years (depending on the size and scope of the enterprise) become more about perpetuating the system than the original mission/ideals. Sadly this is so very true of modern wester-style democracies, and most especially about the USA. No doubt we are still the "best" place to live, have the most freedom and opportunity- but increasingly at the expense of millions and millions of poor people in developing countries, not to mention the increasing 'poverty-ization' of so many US citizens and the destruction of the planet!  We have become the modern day Roman Empire and war is a symptom of empire. Plus, there is no such thing as war without war crimes, there just isn't, especially these days with drones and other weapons that keep us from being 'directly involved' in the killing.

So many of us, myself included, have hoped that the USA would lead the world to create a kind of heaven on earth: little or no decease, enough food and good jobs and education for everyone.  We have believed that science and technology would enable us to do this without curbing anyone's greed! We have hoped and dreamed so much, that we have turned a blind eye to the creeping transmogrification of our democracy into empire; an incredibly well disguised domination system exploiting millions of people and the earth for the material benefit of fewer and fewer, while also destroying their souls .

My words of consolation are only that there is indeed that of G!d in each of us, that the human species is young and that there is still time. Is the darkest hour just before the dawn? Is it the darkest hour yet? Pope Francis gives me hope. Mayor Bill de Blasio of NYC gives me hope, so do Vandana Shiva, the Quantum Activist (see youtube movie), and so many others. I also take comfort from every part of nature, the entire web of life on this dazzling planet that is, indeed, our mother. (For every part of our physical selves comes from her, we are bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh...) Every blade of grass pushing up through the concrete every act of kindness and generosity, every campaign to stop the destruction and restore human rights that I see or read about gives me hope.

(I wouldn't wish being president of the USA/empire on my worst enemy!)

One last thought, action is often the best antidote to despair, especially thoughtful action. Write the President a letter, plant a flower in a public place, teach someone to read, help a prisoner with a legal problem, cry with a friend or listen to her cry...AND get involved in campaigns/movements that are about real transformation, that are about revealing the Kin-dom!

Waltzing

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David an I are taking ballroom dancing lessons- just for fun. Altho I arranged it and was the instigator, much to my surprise, I am not good at it, and slow to learn! AND David is much better at it than I am! What a role reversal! We do laugh a lot and it is time spent together...  Our daughter, Kate, has been taking ballroom dancing lessons for 3 or 4 years. She is quite good, but I haven't seen her waltz much.  Last night she was over to watch Dancing with the Stars, since her housemate has something else he likes to watch on Tuesday evenings.  David and I were practicing when she appeared after the show was over. 

I mentioned that she and David should waltz sometime. David invited Kate to dance then and there, since the music was still playing. Kate was fantastic! She and her Dad looked great together and they both enjoyed it, even though our living room/dinning room space isn't really suited for ballroom dancing. But I don't think they enjoyed it more than I did watching them. There is something so amazing and wonderful watching a child of mine do something well, something I can't do or do well! And it is doubly wonderful when that child has Down syndrome!

This reminds me of the first time I experienced this regarding Kate.  She was 9 or 10 and was taking recorder lessons along with her whole class at University City New School. She needed a little extra help- she was the only child in the school with D.s. or any other profound disability/difference- so she got an extra 15 minute a week lesson. She learned to read music and play the recorder, much to my amazement.  (I still cannot read music!) The first school concert I attended, blew me away, seeing her up there, watching her play, hearing her and the whole recorder "chorus" make beautiful music, filled me with joy and amazement. Of course, being me, I cried! Tears fill my eyes just remembering it.

Food Rules (or Food RULES!)

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#46 Stop eating before you are full

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.

On the Way

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 Intuition prods me to take a new way
     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-
          WHEEE!
Then two more , then the mother and the rest
   to human squeals and wordless exclamations
Grateful,
    filled with wonder and glee
 I head on my way
    with a little piece of inter-species delight
     tucked into my heart

Just A Working Class Party Girl

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 At 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.

 

 

 

 

About Amy


Amy was born in 1952 to Quaker parents in Philadelphia, PA. She is the mother of 2 young adults and one teenager. She and her husband, David who is a physician, have been married 27 years. Amy lives, works and writes in West Philadelphia, though a large part of her heart resides in Africa. More about Amy.

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Firstday Reflections

There Is Only Love or Fear

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About a week ago I received a message in Quaker Meeting for worship. I cannot recall the exact message but it was something like this: "The ocean of Light that George Fox saw in his vision  could also be described as an ocean of energy, and that energy is love. This is the primal energy of the universe, emanating from G!d, the source of all that is. We  have access to that ocean of love, always. Intact deep in the core of our being is a little flame of that love, or perhaps its more like a little doorway into it. But it is there, our birthright as human beings. There is only one thing keeping us from accessing that love and it is fear. What are you afraid of? Really, I mean it in all sincerity; I would like to know. We need to recognize and acknowledge our fears, so that they do not block the love from flowing through that doorway out into the world. For this is what we long to do, allow that love pour through us, through the doorway that is us, the only one shaped just so. It is the greatest fulfillment of who we are to express our love in the way only we can. Only our fears stop this from happening. There is an ocean of love that desires to flow through us, each of us and all of us. So be it"

This morning, as I was struggling to pray, attempting to feel the presence of the Divine and listen for what's being asked of me, as I let go of the  sadness and depression that has been creeping up my leg (our beloved cat is dying, violence and racism seem to be engulfing the world, everything I can think of to do or am doing seems paltry or futile at best...), I was finally to really let it all go, hand it over to G!d, I was filled with peace... and then came this: 

There is only love or fear. One can be in-love, or in-fear. The "powers that be", the systems of domination that keep recreating themselves for at least the last 5000 years maintain their power over us to the extent that they cause  us, humans, to exist in-fear instead of in-love. Hate is not actually the thing that cancels out love, it is a slightly less uncomfortable feeling than fear; it feels "better" to hate than to begin-fear.

While my use of 'in-love' and 'in-fear' connote a state of existence, neither of them has much power until we act, until we do something stemming from that place. It is an odd but perhaps wonderful thing about us, humans that it is possible to choose to act against the state we find ourselves in. For example we can choose to act bravely when we are afraid. And perhaps even more amazing taking that action can actually sift our state of being! (Think of the song Whistle A Happy Tune from the King and I.) There is an old adage that tries to state this: "It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than to think yourself into a new way of acting." Choice is really the key, her, I believe. Can we choose against fear? for that matter can we choose against love? Yes, I believe it is possible. I think this ability to choose is often being described when the term 'free will' is used.

Just like all G!d's creatures we have natural instincts; when faced with danger, without any thinking at all, we go into fight or flight mode. But our ability to choose is one of the things that distinguishes us, as human beings. Take fire, for instance. Fire is dangerous, always has been, always will be. All creature will run away from fire if they are able. What allowed those first humans to come closer, to investigate and eventually learn to control fire? Curiosity! We are naturally very curious creatures (double meaning intended!). What is curiosity? It is related to fascination. It can be described as a desire to know more about the object of curiosity; a desire to touch, explore, experiment, even perhaps enjoy(?)... Ultimately curiosity could be called a form or an aspect of love.

What if we could cultivate curiosity about the things we fear? especially the people we fear! Although it maybe easier to act yourself into a new way of being than think yourself into a new way of acting, that doesn't mean it is easy! Easy or not , it is possible to choose to act despite the state we find ourselves in. I don't think we can choose the state we are in. Something happens and we find ourselves in- fear or in-love. Can we practice choosing to act curious when we find ourselves afraid? Start with little things (or not).  Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face... You must do the thing you think you cannot do."  She also said,"Do one thing every day that scares you."

There is only love or fear. We were created for love. The systems we have created continue to transmogrify into systems of domination,  increasingly built on fear and engendering fear.  You are not to blame for being afraid, for finding yourself being in-fear. but it is possible to act with love, in spite of it. While hate is a less uncomfortable aspect of fear, curiosity is, perhaps, a less intimidating aspect of love. Stop and notice, before you act, whenever you can, and choose to be curious. 

The Kin-dom is Here, Now

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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.)

 

Last year at this time my siblings and our families were gathered at my mothers bedside, in hospice care, to accompany her on her final journey. We feasted, told stories, laughed cried and sang our hearts out- every hymn and love song we could remember. It was a sacred time, full of grace and full of grief and yes, even joy. The first evening at the hospice center, she was conscious, loving us and beaming her gorgeous smile and inner radiance all round. Then she closed her eyes and never opened them again, though it was 4 days before she took her last breath. 

I read somewhere that it is hard work separating oneself from the physical realm, dying. This seemed true for Mom. After her farewell, she turned inward for the final work, a kind of birthing (back) into the Oneness. I was not there when she took her last breath, but arrived 15 minutes later. I walked into the room and gasped!; her body was there, but SHE clearly was not! It was an astonishing joy-filled moment; such a clear indication of the mysterious reality that we are not our bodies, not only our bodies. Of course, the awesome joy was soon eclipsed by overpowering grief, missing her terribly! Gradually over the coarse of the year I have experienced times of grief and times of joy, more joy and less grief as time goes on-but as long as I live, I will miss her, Martha Outlaw Kietzman!

As I write, I wonder if this experience might not be analogous to the larger situation we find ourselves in. Could this version of Empire we are experiencing now, be on its death bed?  The wars, and economic recessions, and widening gaps between rich and poor- are these  death throes? Shall we put this empire, this global system, into hospice care? Let's feast, tell stories, laugh and cry as we sing it out and sing in the Kin-dom? Can we face it- those of us who have benefitted from this flawed economic model that is yoked to western democracy... those of us who have benefitted from the racism, from the sexism, from the colonialism and now, globalization of this form of empire. I do think we have to grieve, tell the stories, laugh and cry. For many of us, if not all of us, we hoped we were building heaven on Earth- hoping that there would be enough for everyone to have a single family house (McMansion?!), two cars, TV's and many computers as 'needed'. We had merely mistaken comfortable material US standards for heaven! Since we were born of this culture/empire, don't we need to mourn as it passes?

A few years ago I had a vision of a personal-car-less future. I knew then and there, that we would need to mourn our cars, our way of life based on personal, fuel inefficient modes of transportation! We will need to tell the stories, including the love-stories about our cars, as well as the horror stories of all the tragic deaths caused by car-driving and the planet eroding, ocean polluting and atmosphere poisoning the oil industry has caused. 

Can we dedicate our sabbaths, our time of worship not only to praising G!d/Abba/The Oneness, but also to singing the Empire out and the Kin-dom in? Out of us, as well as out of the world? For being children of Empire, it surely lives within us, and therefore is dying within us as well. Just look at the fascination and mesmerizing effect Downton Abbey is having on many of us! It is clearly a story of the dying of the British Empire in very human terms! I can feel it in myself, the seduction of that Victorian image superimposed on modern sensibility; assuming that everyone's home can and should be their castle, the servants may be modern appliances and we may have to all work two jobs or be on call 24-7, chained to our cellphones and internet devices- completely unaware of the the slaves half a world away or even in the ghetto nect door as the Earth, the very matrix of life, convulses with agony and rage? 

Let's put all this in hospice care; in other words, stop feeding the dying body, but instead assist the process of dissolution, set it free, (return it to it's maker?)...

Aleluia chorus anyone?

A Quaker Pope?

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"I would not speak of 'absolute' truths, even for believers... Truth is a relationship. As such, each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one's own circumstances, culture and situation in life."    Pope Francis

I am enthralled with Pope Francis along with much of the rest of the world. It is almost as if he has taken on many of his namesake's attributes. Being a Quaker and one who, much of the time, cannot claim to be Christian, I wonder at the genuine delight and gratitude I feel as a result of this Pope's actions. Thinking about it, now, as I write, I sense the longing we all have for truly compassionate and humble leadership the world over.

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is the washing of the disciples feet in the Gospel of John. At the last supper, there is no mention of bread and wine, but rather "Jesus rose from his place, and taking off his upper garments, tied a towel around his waist. He then poured some water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet and wipe them with the towel. When he came to Peter, Peter said, 'You, Master. Are you going to wash my feet?' ...
'You will never wash my feet!' exclaimed Peter. 'Unless I wash you' Jesus said 'you share nothing with me. 'When he had finished washing their feet... He spoke to them again. 'Do you understand what I have been doing to you?' he asked. 'You yourselves call me Teacher and Master and you are right I am both, if I, then have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet..."

Today I read this in the New Yorker: "A couple of weeks after his election, the new Pope went to the Casal del Marma jail, a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Rome. On Holy Thursday Jesus' washing of the apostles feet is reenacted in Catholic churches all over the world... The Pope usually bends for a token swipe at the feet of 12 selected priests. But at Casal del Marmo, Francis knelt on the stone cold floor and put aside his white skullcap. He washed, dried and kissed the feet of 12 young inmates, some of them bearing tattoos. Two were Muslim. More pointedly, in violation of church tradition, two were women."

Why does this make me weep? I suspect it is because with one gesture he acknowledged the worth of so many who are not treated as worth much, let alone the compassion and attention of a spiritual leader of the Pope's stature.

Pope Francis lives simply, as simply as his circumstances allow. He chooses to live in two smallish rooms instead of the papal Palace, to dress modestly, and use an inexpensive compact car instead of a Mercedes, without overtly criticizing those who have gone before him. He is also a bit like Paul who was a persecutor of the early Christians before he saw the Light and joined them. Francis had a checkered record regarding the poor in Argentina, but now is their advocate. Although he is theologically conservative, he has publicly stated "I am a sinner" and "Who am I to judge?' Both his statements and his actions are often startlingly Christ-like.

"Preach the Gospel often, when necessary use words," has often been attributed to his namesake, St. Francis. No matter who actually said it, Pope Francis is heeding this sage admonition more often than not. Of course it is silly to put the words Quaker and Pope together. Nonetheless, this Pope speaks to my condition.

Martha's Knack

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"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.