- The year 2005 was a turning point for me. By taking an
early retirement from my job at Social Services, I freed myself from the
constraints of a cluttered schedule and wandered happily into the abyss
of unstructured time. Sure, I still held my part-time job teaching piano
students, but that was not overly consuming. And so, not only had I emptied
out my "Daily Reminder Calendar", but I now found myself with
a curious "perk" ......I had more time to think. But....think
For the past few years, my days have routinely begun with a trip through
the Internet to get the news. Usually, it's a "bad trip."
First there's the world news. The weather changes continue to wreak havoc
on the planet. Deaths are climbing numbers......like the national debt
ticking away in Times Square. I can't help but wonder how many people are
aware that each number represents a once living feeling human being; each
number was once flesh and blood...someone's loved one. Each number leaves
behind a legacy of sorrow to those whose lives were touched. And yet, too
many people are so removed from the pain and suffering that the numbers
become lifeless......more lifeless than the bodies they symbolize.
Lately, there are those who are questioning whether certain natural disasters
were, indeed, "natural" or had, somehow, man's murderous hand
been implicated? I realize that I have digressed and perhaps will subject
myself to being labeled a "political paranoid" and placed on
5 or 6 SSRIs. I do, however, find it difficult not to question everything,
especially when there has been such a disturbing amount of tampering with
the atmosphere. After all, "Pick a flower...disturb a star."
To add to the drama, lest you not forget that there are at least two wars
going on. These wars are leaving a legacy of devastation and disease for
generations to come. How many more casualties will there be in Iraq? And
let's not assume Afghanistan has gone away because it's not making headlines.
In addition, while I am traveling through the Middle East, has anyone seen
the way the Palestinians have been forced to live? How many more injustices
will be perpetrated in that region because somebody's "God" gave
one group of people land that another group was living on? Is there any
end to the greed inspired land grab?
And then, of course, there's the local news. On the home front, our culture
is growing fatter and sicker. Our food contains everything but nutrition.
Our demineralized soil is hardly an incubator for life sustaining food.
Drugs are ingested more routinely than drinking water......despite the
news that much of the medicine does more harm than good. Ever hear of
the rebound effect? To add insult to injury (and a well placed cliche)
the economy is in shambles and service oriented programs are being cut,
poisoned and burned. Ladies and Gentlemen "your tax dollars at work"
Yes, the news contains a paucity of peace agreements, a dearth of columns
of compassion and a scarcity of selfless acts of service. There is very
little nourishment to go with the whine.
When I was but a bonnie wee thing, I, like most bonnie wee things, had
my own lovely pair of rose colored glasses. However, as I grew older, the
glasses were ripped off and crushed under the foot of life. Please do
not despair ....... it was not as tragic as it sounds. It is my belief
that disillusionment is an important passage. Nobody should grow too comfortable
suckling at the breast of the Mother Kali.
Remember how the Buddha's father attempted to shelter him from the cruelties
of life? One day, however, the Buddha left the womb of the palace and
saw the aged, the infirmed and the poor. It was at this point, that he
took the "hip hop" off the stereo and set out to find answers
to life's deeper questions.
I was not born in a castle, but my parents were middle class creatures
of comfort. They did not believe in indulging me, but I never knew "want"
in a physical sense. I did, however, understand emotional "want."
I set out on my own at 21, and moved from a comfortable existence in "dull
as dishwaterville" to the world of the hippies and the disenfranchised.
Greenwich Village became my home. At the time, I had recently begun teaching
in Harlem, so I had one foot rooted in reality. I taught young minds by
day, and at night I opened my own doors of perception. I'd traded crystal
chandeliers for a tenement dwelling.......yet I had, at the same time,
traded mundane concerns for real life issues.
There are many people who turn a blind eye to the suffering of the poor
and the infirmed. "They brought it on themselves" is not an uncommon
comment. Did they? I hardly think it matters. "What are we going to
do about it?" is a much more relevant question.
I joined the staff at a public school in Harlem in October of that year.
I was placed in a class while awaiting a more permanent assignment. The
teacher asked me if I would focus on a young boy named Gregory. She disliked
the child and her actions made it obvious. While she struggled with her
feelings about Gregory, I struggled with similar feelings about her. Gregory
was a sweet child who responded well to the attention I gave him. When
Christmas came, he brought me a gift. It was a handkerchief and though,
obviously not new, it had been laundered, folded and wrapped. What a beautiful
present that was.
Those were the years before Harlem had gone through its renaissance. Some
of the apartments I visited made my village "crib" look palatial
in comparison. There were many poignant stories during those years of teaching
and even more dramatic ones in my years at Social Services. When I look
back on those days, I feel a sense of gratitude that is palpable.
Please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing saintly about me, and,
to use an overly used phrase, some of my sins have been quite original.
And yet, as this planet becomes more and more strikingly the domain of
the "haves" and the "have nots", I am acutely aware
of the countless opportunities for generosity, kindness and charity.
After my second divorce, I took my three children to Montego Bay in Jamaica.
Lest they thought that life on the Island was a Holiday Inn, I hired a
driver to take us through the mountains. The children were amazed at the
way the people lived. It was a sobering experience and one that I hope
contributed to their recognizing the importance of sharing.
And so, in the year 2005, I find that I am spending more time in contemplation.
Every day I am confronted by the finitude of my existence and yet every
day I am also given opportunities to make my life more meaningful. Isn't
that our purpose on Planet Earth? Aren't we all Buddhas in the making?
I like to think we are. You see, when I took off the rose colored glasses,
I put on the lens of greater clarity. Each one of us must find our own
answer to the question of meaning. Perhaps we will never change this planet
into a 1950's sitcom, but, personally, I don't believe that is our raison
d'être. Perhaps, at the end of the day, Earth is merely a workshop........a
stop along the journey. And, as we move through our brief sojourn on this
planet, will we leave it a bit better than we found it? This is the epitaph
I am writing.
- Copyright 2005