It’s not easy when others expect you to be a bodhisattva
or describe you as the smartest person in the room
You know it’s the kiss of death to friendships
Those who seek status and control will vengefully attack
Those you thought friends will opine “I’m not in your league”
and demand you assume responsibility, make decisions, and lead
How can others learn their own wisdom, strengths, or who they are
if they always expect others to know the answers and serve as the vanguard?
You know you’re not anyone’s guru –
you stumble and fall more times than most
After a while you retreat and grow silent
knowing others need to find their own truths
all you can do is to keep seeking and forging your own path
It’s a paradox, isn’t it
when the only way to lead is to simply live
without need of recognition or followers
in hopes that others will find the song in their own hearts
that’s been waiting patiently to be discovered all along
I wrote this poem when I was wondering if I would recover from a serious illness recently. Although I am recovering, there are no guarantees for the future. It’s only one moment at a time now, so I have to be ever mindful of how I spend those moments. I had no intentions of sharing this poem until today when I read the following passage from Gitanjali: Spiritual Poems of Rabindranath Tagore.
I THOUGHT that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power, ⎯ that the
path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time come to take
shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country
is revealed with its wonders.
(from Gitanjali: Spiritual Poems of Rabindranath Tagore – An e-book presentation by The Spiritual Bee, pp. 31-32)
I wonder how many others have felt silenced by others’ expectations for them to be strong, smart, or a spiritual healer because of their Native American heritage. Reading Tagore is helping me focus on following what’s in my own heart. He’s a gifted thinker and poet.
If you want to read more of Tagore’s work, you can access a free copy from The Spiritual Bee. “This e-book is a reproduction of the original “Gitanjali – Song Offerings” by Rabindranath Tagore, first published in 1913. This book is now in the public domain in the United States and in India; because it’s original copyright owned by the Macmillan Company has expired.”
The Spiritual Bee also has a number of other copyright-expired books that can be downloaded for free.
in the part of the city where Mr. Trump will soon appear
How fervently I wish real heart and intellectual power
would be restored to the people
as children are once again
being torn from the arms of loving families
The “Raised Fist Image” by Keith Tyler, Courtesy of Wikipedia, “… is a variant of the clenched fist motif which has been widely used by leftist, workers, and liberationist groups since the nineteenth century. The motif itself is not under copyright.”
Keith Tyler’s image was released into the public domain by its creator February 2007. “The wider motif itself is not protected by copyright.”
This is my final post for an indeterminate time. I wanted to let you know why I have been so slow responding to comments and remiss in visiting your blogs.
Rocking Away Pain (May 27, 2018)
Tears flowing silently
despite the growing pile of blankets
lovingly placed to warm me
by the daughter and granddaughter
now holding my hand
while I lie supine
in a hospital emergency room
These are not tears of fear or regret
They come from gratitude
and the deep knowing
that ultimately we all die
The time and manner of passing
are not really ours to determine
For my daughter’s sake
my choice at this moment
to face the uncertainty of fate
not knowing if the dye that will be injected
for diagnostic tests
will stop my heart
as it did to my mother’s
starving her brain of oxygen
the first step in her long journey
wandering through the unknown territory of dementia
With an explicit advanced directive
“Do Not Resuscitate”
for me the test might mean death
This time, instead
it meant painful survival
and days in my glider rocking chair
trying to rock away pain and discomfort
and choking down food despite nausea
Even now, though, I find joy and humor in life
Recovery Reflections (May 29, 2018)
There is a time to bring forth blossoms
and a time to release flower petals
to dance in the spring winds
and softly clothe the earth in beauty
followed by a time to focus on forming fruit
then giving it a chance to ripen
before the first frosts come
signaling the time for rest
and deep reflection
to gather strength
for next season’s
It’s the necessary cycle
to feed one’s spirit
This morning when I awakened, silent tears of gratitude fell as I thought about my life. I have been blessed with so many gifts. Even now, I have the privilege of tending lilacs I can share with others who can no longer do so. It’s the small things we do that bring beauty and kindness into the lives of others that matter, as many of you have done for me over the years. Thank you so very much.
Please note that I have attempted, perhaps unsuccessfully, to close comments for this post. I am not sure when I would be able to reply. Let me just send my deep gratitude and best wishes to all.
We teach the next generations
through our lived example
how to care for the earth
and all our relations
We’re ever creating the world
our children and grandchildren will inherit
across all of earth’s imaginary boundaries
and within diverse fictive nations
The question to consider
is what we want that world to be
Do we teach children to care,
cooperate, and conserve?
Or do we teach them to compete,
conquer, and consume?
The answers matter profoundly
but we need to remember
awareness can’t be imposed
It can only be encouraged
through living examples
that offer another kind of education
opening up new possibilities
that demonstrate the value
of compassionate contemplation
A lesson from an “Inchworm”
Sometimes it feels futile and foolish to work on creating healthy gardens on a city lot that has long been neglected. Factories just to the east churn out foul-smelling toxic fumes. My neighbor on one side has spent more than a decade burying garbage along the fence-line. Lately, the garbage has merely been left exposed, joined by plastic toys his children abandon when their interest wanes.
I have tried to engage in reasoned conversations and offered to help create a healthy landscaped transition. My words have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps suggestions from an Ojibwe grandmother (you know, a triple whammy – age, gender, and ancestry) even exacerbated his unwillingness to consider alternatives. The experience has taught me how profoundly cultures and life experiences affect our ability to discern how our everyday choices affect what our children learn and the health of the environments they will inherit.
I’ve been told it’s a matter of perspective. Some prefer landfills that will someday look like manicured lawns despite the toxic or dangerous things that are hidden from sight, while others prefer healthy gardens.
May 31, 2014
May 23, 2018
I still wonder, though, how someone who claims to love children doesn’t seem to realize his actions are destroying a child’s garden.
July 3, 2015 – My granddaughter standing next to the garden she helped create.
May 23, 2018 – Damage control in process as the wooden divide grows ever higher to protect my granddaughter’s garden from the growing pile of refuse (including piles of dog feces).
Reflections during My Hiatus from Blogging – May 19, 2018
Unpredictable spring with two constants that keep me busy gardens and a manuscript in process
Landscaping gardens regardless of weather one day sweating, the next day shivering and yet on another, grateful for heavy workboots that keep me grounded despite fierce gusty winds hauling logs, branches, and new soil planting the first of the seeds, new bushes, and flowers watering in these days of drought
It’s hard physical work that gives me time to listen deeply for bird song and wind chimes to listen intently for deeper truths to revise the beginning of the story I began more than two years ago
I ponder how one can touch hearts and raise awareness about the need to consider the importance of what can be learned about human possibilities from different cultural perspectives that understand and honor our inextricable interdependence with nature and each other I wonder how one can inspire collective efforts to heal the legacy of a brutal homogenizing history of colonial oppression with written words alone
Listening deeply for inklings of answers kneeling on the earth hands in the soil thoughts and feelings not easily translated into words
I think about my grandmother imagining what it was like to grow up in an era when the last of the great pine forests fell victim to illusions of “progress” when her people were herded onto the least desirable land “reserved” just for them When Indigenous children were captured and lost to abusive institutions under the colonial guise of civilizing the children of savages
Reflections and My Grandmother Part I – May 11, 2018
When beginning the story of my research about Ojibwe child welfare, I made a decision to be as honest as possible about my experiences and findings. Yet, I changed the name of the researcher who is telling the story. Initially I thought it was purely to protect the identities of the people who shared their memories and lives with me. Choosing among all the possible fictive names for the researcher, though, felt at odds with the goal of presenting a truthful account that honored people’s authentic voices.
Ultimately, I chose to refer to the younger version of myself recorded in my fieldnotes by my maternal grandmother’s name, Agnes Sero. I didn’t realize then how much alike we were and how profoundly the differing circumstances of our births affected our lives.
When it came time to edit and revise the very long manuscript that resulted, though, I once again wondered about this choice. Why did I really give my grandmother’s name to the character of my younger self? For the most part, she was a stranger to me. My mother only shared parts of her mother’s story. Agnes was 17 years old when my mother was born, still a child herself. At two weeks old, Agnes gave her first child to her older sister, Anna, to raise.
Agnes’ life wasn’t easy. Her father worked as a lumber jack in the northwoods. Growing up in lumber camps would have been challenging for a beautiful young girl like Agnes, especially without the protection of a community and traditions to guide her path…
Reflections about my Grandmother Part II – May 18, 2018
There is a haunting out-of-focus photo of my grandmother as a teenager nestled in a birch tree. The tree stands alone amid a neighborhood of hard-packed scraggly grass-covered earth and newly constructed wooden frame houses. The tall pines that once provided a sheltering home for the Ojibwe people were, by then, only memories that would one day be passed down in stories through the generations.
I sometimes wonder what my grandmother’s childhood was like as a daughter of a lumberjack who was forced by economic and political circumstances to cut down the last of the great pine and hemlock forests in Ojibwe ceded territory. The timber my great grandfather harvested helped build cities to house the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals streaming from Europe every year.
My grandmother was harvested, too, by the settlers who now claimed the land as their own to spend some of her childhood years in a euphemistically named institution, an “Indian boarding school.” There, under the guise of civilizing the children of savages, she was stripped of the relationships, stories and language that gave meaning to life for Ojibwe people just as the earth was stripped of abundant forests that once provided their food, shelter, and a sense of kinship with nature.
To me, as a child, my grandmother’s life seemed as barren as the clear cut that was left behind. She was only 17 when my mother was born. My mother was given to my grandmother’s older sister to raise on the reservation pictured in the photo. By the time I spent my twelfth summer on the reservation with my grandmother, she was a lonely, angry, alcoholic.
I look back on her life with deep sadness and compassion. I am awed that she found the strength to survive despite so many difficulties and losses. And I am grateful to the child she gave away, my mother, for raising me to be proud of the Ojibwe heritage that brought both of them so much suffering and internalized shame. Once again, I vow to try my best to honor their legacy in my humble account of Ojibwe child welfare in hopes that future generations will not suffer the cruelty and discrimination that they both had to survive.
Approach the art of creating
as a sacred ceremony
emerging from spirit
as a path
for honoring and celebrating life
knowing deep in our hearts
Loving thoughts will vibrate
in whatever we create
long after we are gone
as the essence of light and new possibilities
like the scent of rain and roses
and the peace of sun-kissed pine
blessing all those who follow
Endings are never easy for me. They signal times of transition. Yet, as I walked to my car Saturday after my last class of the semester, I had a sudden realization. Regardless of my circumstances, I have always found ways to express creativity. The subjects and media changed based on what was close at hand. Sewing, singing, drawing, studying pond-life under my microscope, making pottery, hooking rugs, tying macramé art, knitting, gardening. Learning about life and crafting useful things that were colorful and well-made proved to be a form of peaceful meditation. I could daydream and reflect. My spirit needed to express creativity. It gave me a quiet space to think and time to breathe love into being.
Under different conditions, I worked with people, developing innovative programs and experimenting with different ways of supervising staff, evaluating programs, conducting research, and teaching.
Creating living art, if you will, is like building sand castles that dissolve in the waves of time. Gaining fame and fortune was never the goal. The only legacies my “art” left were the interventions and projects others believed they had created (and in reality, they were essential and made it possible) and the memories for me of what had been possible to create in the past.
During times of transition, I have learned to ask myself a crucial question. Why not create again, and again, in each new now with whatever opportunities and media are available? There are grandchildren to love, gardens to revitalize, and endless issues to ponder and thoughtfully address in creative ways.
The privilege to dream of possibilities is accompanied by the responsibility to work toward their realization. I don’t claim it’s an easy choice. I have no power to change others who don’t seem to be able to see and honor the wonder and beauty of life. Despite the deep sorrow that accompanies witnessing disrespect and destruction and the seeming futility of giving voice to the art of change, I still believe simple caring actions matter. I’m just not sure what form that will take for me in the coming days…
A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony.