Let No Man Write
My Epitaph - I Will
Write It Myself
By Judy Andreas
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 about "what?"

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 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



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