Monday, May 28, 2012

On Memorial Day

We are spending some blissful, relaxing time at home on Memorial Day. The horses are grazing happily in the pasture. The sun is shining on the peonies that are about to open any minute and spread their lush, heady scent across the yard and into our windows.  We are so lucky.

So, my thoughts go to those people who are in places like Syria or Afghanistan or the Sudan, where children and many brave souls are dying in wars. Both my parents fought in World War II.  My dad never spoke of how it felt to slip behind enemy lines as a young American officer and help organize the Resistance. In noticeable contrast, my mother talked to me about her war experiences as the only woman in the Polish parachute brigade all the time, and even now, at 97 years old, still wakes up screaming at night with haunting visions of what she lived through.  I recently finished writing a book about her life, using interviews I did over the years with her, so she could leave a legacy of her story for my daughter and future generations in her own words. 

In honor of her bravery, I want to share one of the incidents she describes:

“In Holland, there were a lot of snipers, and Queen Wilhemina welcomed the Germans. Not one bomb was dropped, so the buildings were not damaged, but there were lots of snipers. The poor men, who were out on the Frontline were out of cigarettes. I was the welfare officer, and I had started a canteen with coffee, cigarettes and chocolate. So I asked my driver, who was Jewish, if we could both get on his motorcycle and bring some things to the men. He said, “Lieutenant, if you want to go, I’ll go with you.” Some of the men when they saw me said, “See I told you, the devil couldn’t make it through, but a woman did.” That was a compliment. But they were so glad to see us.”

I used to think that my mother was fearless, but I’ve come to realize that she did what she did even though she was often totally terrified.  I’ve been reading some of Alice Walker’s writing, and one thing that she says really touches me: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” My mother understood this deep in her bones, and she still is able each day to find her power and carry on. Millions of people who are in terrible circumstances do, and that is what makes them heroes.  Today, let’s take a moment to appreciate them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Love Is In the Air

Maybe because we are enjoying the most fabulous, blue-sky days in May, my thoughts have been turning to love.  I came across a quote from George Washington Carver: “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”  As I was grooming Siete yesterday, I decided to make a commitment to loving her more, since I often feel that I love her mother too much and Siete feels it.  This makes me wonder what kind of secrets she has that might be revealed if I give more of myself to her.

My daughter is reading John Steinbeck in her English class.  And she is now at the age where boys and crushes and the first pangs of love are swirling around among her friends. She watches them with amusement and astonishment, not having experienced these feelings yet herself.  So, we have had an on-going discussion on this subject, to which John Steinbeck has made an unexpected but helpful contribution.  Last night, I discovered a letter that he had written responding to his son, Thomas, who had fallen in love.  It was so appropriate and charming that I shared it with my daughter.  Here is what Steinbeck said: 

“There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it…The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it…It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good…And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

John Steinbeck in a letter to his son, Thom.

I realized that what Steinbeck was saying really applies to everything and every creature that you love.  One of the other interesting things about a love that has the duration of many years is that it ebbs and flows.  So, with each season that passes, my relationship with my little horse changes depending on how much I am willing to put into it.  We may not have spent much time together over the last few months, other than the day-to-day routine tasks that I do to care for her and Silk, but no ground was lost.  I can start right now to reaffirm how I feel.  If I love her enough, she will know it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrate the Strong Women

I was out early this Mother’s Day to pick up some hay from my favorite farmer. As I drove past his cows towards the barn, I noticed five or six very pregnant ones resting in a small circle in the pasture.  Coming back, most had moved on to graze nearby, except for one of the cows, who had given birth in those few minutes and was gently licking her tiny wet calf as the baby wobbled over to begin nursing. It was the perfect reminder for me of the miracle of life.

We spent most of the day with my mom, who loved every minute of it. She has recovered from her bout with diverticulitis and enjoyed the hugs from her granddaughter and the licks and snuggling with the dog and the two pieces of her favorite ice cream cake. She is my role model for being a strong woman, and even at 97, she encourages me to speak out against injustice and work for change.

Mother’s Day has been so corrupted by commercialism that I think it’s important to remember that it was originally started in 1870 as a cry against the Civil War and an attempt to remind people of what happens when you put mothers at the center of all things.

It was activist Julia Ward Howe who wrote: Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!   Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

So, as I appreciate how I am blessed by the life that I am living, my thoughts are more and more drawn towards what I can do to help the women in the world who need our voices and support in order to be safe and respected.  I recommend that you check out the Half the Sky Movement and this powerful article written by Nicholas Kristof today in the New York Times, “Saving the Lives of Moms”.

"If one woman is hurt, all women are hurt, there is no here & there about it."
 2011 Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Soft Morning

This is one of my favorite moments. Everyone else in the house is sleeping, except me and the kitty.  The morning is soft and foggy, with only the intensely happy song of some little birds nesting in the barn. The horses are enjoying their breakfast. Between the munching of hay and the chirping of the birds, I find the space to listen to the possibility of everything.

I was looking at some beautiful photos taken by an Indonesian photographer, Tri Joko,  and I’ve been thinking about what he said: “We need to realize that life can not be repeated.”

Walking back to the house, with each step that I took, I found myself saying, (left foot)“Thank” and (right foot) “you”.