March 1, 2011

As Simple As Breathing

Legacy.  A tall order to fill. A big deal.

And something maybe only the purest of heart can leave.  By the dictionary’s determination it is just a gift or some property handed down by a predecessor, but to me the word has sacred overtones of something enduring and humble.

When I think about the legacies of others, I tend to focus more on kindness than money; more on emotional endowments than professional, athletic, political or even nobel prize winning achievements.  Those stories will all be included in history’s narrative.  What interests me, are the stories that will be included in families’ stories to each other, to our children, to their children, and amongst friends.

My grandfather left quite a legacy in our family, he has been gone a very long time and still he is a constant presence in stories and anecdotes.  The man was seriously loved.  As my mother and grandmother tell it, loved by all.  A magical, almost mythic, character.  I never knew him but I know him through his artifacts; the Christmas stockings we use are made from his army parachute (the one that saved his life in a plane crash in Burma), the piece of that plane’s windshield which he lovingly carved into heart necklaces for my mother and grandmother, the piece of metal from the plane which became a heart and initial adorned bracelet for my grandmother… I have heard stories of his sense of humor (pretending to hit his thumb with a hammer and howling loudly into a cassette recorder), his charm (having friends everywhere he went; going camping and knowing all his camp neighbors’ names and stories within a few hours of arrival) of his tenderness for his children (leaving work early if there was a thunderstorm to comfort his daughter who was extremely afraid of thunder), and of his tenderness with animals– including a few unusual pets (a monkey and a tiger) while working on the Burma Road during WWII.  I may even know more stories about this man whom I never met than I do about some of my living relatives!  And the stories of his character have long provided the family standard against which all others are measured.

For me, the greatest indicator of his continued gift is the way everyone looks for pieces of him in all the other family members.  Some of us have his spatial abilities, others his quirky sense of humor, his creativity, his social skills, his affection for animals, or his devotion to family. My son was named for him. And his special endowment from his great grandfather is his tendency to befriend people of all ages, everywhere he goes, earning him the nickname “the mayor.”

My grandfather’s gift was in his kindness. Not because of grand overtures, but because of the everyday kindnesses.  The people who leave the greatest legacies do so in their ordinary interactions; in the persistence of little altruisms; as if it were as simple as breathing.

***This post is dedicated to the friends and family of Elizabeth Harkes.  She would’ve been 35 today, and her legacy of kindness and authenticity continues to inspire the people who loved her and inspired this writing.  Her light endures.***

February 26, 2011

The Boy and The Bottlecap

A few years back there was a nice lady that worked at the desk at my gym.  We would always chat a little and one day she was handing out flyers for a massive yard sale.  She was selling all her family’s possessions so they could move to Ethiopia to do missionary work. She went on to tell me about how her 6-year-old daughter was very distraught about giving away all her books.  I had a 7-year-old daughter at the time and (surprise) found this very difficult to hear without losing it.  My (then) 7-year-old also had a passion for books and I couldn’t imagine her having to part with them.  The nice gym-desk lady went on to tell me the story of adopting her Ethiopian son (then 4).  Her family felt that it was their calling to return to his home country and affect positive change.  One thing she said which stayed with me was that “he always needs to be reassured that there is plenty of food.”  Even though he had been living with them for a substantial period of time, he had to be told daily that there was plenty of food to eat because the memory of no food was central in his mind.

This conversation affected me deeply.  We always have food!  In fact we not only have food but we have so many choices of food!  And I, for one, delight in all the different ways that food can be combined and recombined into delicious recipes and beautiful, satisfying meals.  I love eating and having enough to eat. The thought of a child being that hungry makes my heart hurt. He remembers chronic hunger vividly.

Within a few months, I happened to meet a man who was a business associate of my boss at the time.   He had adopted a child from Ethiopia.  Of course I interrogated him as thoroughly as I could politely manage, and he was generous with his stories and information.  The part of that conversation which I will never forget was his description of his son’s life before they brought him home.  This little boy was begging on the streets at age 4.  I had a 4-year-old boy at the time.  A precious little wonder who I protected like a mama bear. 4 is practically still a baby.  And the thought of someone else’s baby with no one to fiercely protect him, no one making sure he has food…

When the man and his wife went to pick up and bring home their new son, they asked him “do you have any possessions you would like to bring with you?” And the child said that he did and with a huge smile on his face produced a bottle cap.  That was his toy, his favorite item in the world, and he brought it with him.

When we find ourselves riddled with guilt for not providing for our child’s every whim, we must bring to mind the joy that this boy was able to extract from a bottle cap.  And we must teach our children to care, to reduce their consumption of the world’s resources, to be happy with less, to devote more of their hearts to the needs of others.

And the best way to teach this is to do it ourselves.

February 20, 2011

Planning Your Perfect Life

My husband and I are in the process of trying to find and buy our first home.

We, who live in wealthy cultures, are burdened by the pressure to live a perfect life, to design every major life transition like a skilled architect, to decorate our lives with the shining scenes a film director would carefully craft.  Fancy soundtracks and all.  We are repeatedly reminded, via shows like “A Wedding Story” that what every girl thinks about from infancy is how her perfect white wedding will look from the elaborate princess dress to the exact flavor of her cake.  Some of us (read: I do!) spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out every intricate detail of the paint colors of our someday home, the rugs we will walk across, and how we can fill our daily lives with “small” (read: grand) luxuries like extra deep bath tubs, beautiful bathroom tiles, plush beds piled with soft sheets and coziness.  We dream of all we can collect and arrange and what it will say about who we are and how we like to live.  I think about my future gardens, all the abundance and joy the bursts of color will bring to me as I gaze peacefully out the window with a cup of tea and a good book.

I wonder how many people living in this great country of dreams come true realize… we are kings?  We are KINGS!  We dream the dreams that others wouldn’t ever dare. And we are able to make many of these dreams come true.**  We can educate ourselves, feed ourselves, get the health care we need, and have shelter.  It is not just the meager basics of survival, either.  We can design our lives the way we want them.  We can choose careers we like, choose where we would like to live, choose our companions, friends, relatives, whether or not to become parents, whether to live a life of pursuit or leisure or both.  We are SO FREE!  But not just in the ways most people tend to think of when they hear the word “freedom.”  This is not just about our military, our fancy weapons, our position as a superpower.  This is about the every day privilege that so many of us take for granted, choosing instead to focus on the little disappointments and struggles.

Let’s frame our struggles a little differently for a moment.  Let’s say that if we didn’t have to walk several miles for a bucket of water this morning, we are doing pretty well!  And let’s be so amazingly grateful for that luxury!  As we slowly add each of the additional luxuries back into our lives, grateful for each one, let’s come to the exciting and overwhelming opinion that we live lives of great abundance.  From that abundance we can take a portion and apply it to the massive suffering of others in places where there is no water, no sanitation, no money, no education; where there are no resources.  Let’s celebrate our joy by helping others create a sustainable means to help themselves.

Please help me with a project to help provide infrastructure to a small village in Ethiopia: Tuk’a.  I have never been there, but I know they need us.  And this is one small gesture of generosity that will have a tremendous, measurable, sustainable, joyous impact.

We need 99 for Tuk’a (plus me).  For only $12/month we will raise this village out of poverty.  And we will raise our own spirits knowing we lived on this earth for a purpose beyond our own perfect lives and high thread count sheets.  We will have made an effort to reduce suffering in the world.  There is no greater accomplishment.  Thanks for your help!

**Please note that I am speaking of those of us who have resources in this country (the US) and do not mean to imply that we have no poor.  I encourage people to help the poor no matter what country they hail from.

February 13, 2011

A Valentine To Tuk’a

With all the waste associated with holidays, and our family focus on reducing our consumption and helping others, my kids and I decided the best way to show love on Valentine’s Day was to give to those who really need it:

Valentine made by kids for Tuk'a

 

Each of my kids will give out these little notes to their classmates at very little cost to us, allowing us to donate $12 for each class to the 99 for Tuk’a fund!  That is 2 months support!  We would love to have additional supporters sign on and adopt Tuk’a with us!

 

February 7, 2011

A Starfish Situation

This morning I am getting ready to make lunch and thinking about freedom.  Specifically, the freedom of having enough.

Anyone who has ever gone through a check out line only to realize they don’t have the cash to pay for their items, or who has been surprised by the rejection of a card that “should have enough room on it,” or who has ever bounced a check, knows that feeling.  That feeling of complete and utter humiliation, because they don’t have enough.

I have done it. *Cringe*

Imagine if instead of a teenager at the grocery store, the one you have to face with not enough is your child.  Imagine the feeling when “the bill” is your precious child’s hunger.  How can this reality co-exist with ours?

When I am hungry, I make myself a meal. When I am thirsty, I run cold, fresh water from the tap. When I am dirty, I wash, then change into fresh clean clothes. When I am cold, I turn up the heat. When I am sick, I go to the doctor, I take my medicine. When something is wrong, I vote, inform others, and protest to change it.  I make it right as best I can. I have a primary, secondary, college, and graduate education.

We live in a country with INFRASTRUCTURE!

1.7 Billion people on this beautiful planet cannot say the same.  They do not have water, food, shelter, clothing, access to medical treatment, education, sanitation.  That is more people than the entire populations of China and the US combined!

We have the resources to attend to our own needs.  We have access to the resources we need to attend to the needs of our family.  (And to their wants.  And to their whims.) This is freedom.

And with great freedom, comes great responsibility!

So, knowing that we are dealing with a starfish situation here, we can choose to turn toward the hurt instead of away.  Let’s choose not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem.  Let’s choose to make a tangible difference to one community living in poverty.  We can help make the infrastructure needed to have clean water, food, income, health, and education.  $12 a month, each. (Just 100 of us)

I spend $12 without thinking.  At least once a week, I do! (Admit it, you do too!) Instead, we can think about it and treasure spending this $12.  We can help a stranger have enough that she doesn’t have to face her child’s hunger with empty hands anymore.

We cannot help everyone living in poverty, but together we can help these people.  And to these people our help will make all the difference.  My favorite freedom is having enough.  Lets spread that freedom to Tuk’a, Ethiopia.

We only need 99 People for Tuk’a.  2 down, 97 to go!

Image by Bill Longshaw Portfolio available at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=341

 

February 3, 2011

Rumi Named My Blog

Rumi’s Ruby

“It has no resistance to sunlight.”

“The ruby and the sunrise are one.”

“Be courageous and discipline yourself.”

“Keep digging your well.”

“Submit to a daily practice.”

“Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.”

When we allow ourselves to be pierced by something true and authentic, it can warm the coldest parts of ourselves.  So too are we one with everything that we split into little categories and isolations.  The best discipline there is, is in service of our true mission in life. Instead of persisting in the attempt to quench our thirst through others or through things, if we relentlessly “dig” our own “well”, we will tap into endless waters.  The ideas and actions we give energy to on a daily basis, show our true values.  That which we give the most time to, should be that which we value most.  Devotion is its own reward.

So, just in time for Valentine’s Day, a little love poem to ourselves…

In the early morning hour,
just before dawn, lover and beloved wake
and take a drink of water.

She asks, “Do you love me or yourself more?
Really, tell the absolute truth.”
He says, “There’s nothing left of me.
I’m like a ruby held up to the sunrise.
Is it still a stone, or a world
made of redness? It has no resistance
to sunlight.”
The ruby and the sunrise are one.
Be courageous and discipline yourself. 

Completely become hearing and ear,
and wear this sun-ruby as an earring.
Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.
Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there. (-Rumi)

 

And that is how this blog got its name 🙂


February 3, 2011

Begin With the End in Mind

My grandmother is 89.  She is a vibrant 89 and has been fending off cancer for the past year.  We talk about dying quite a bit, about unfinished business, about love.  And I think about being in her place someday.

Her greatest joy in life, has been the time she spent gardening.  I know, because I ask her pesky questions all the time to see if she is satisfied with the life she has lived.  We don’t know how much longer she will be with us so we try to make every bit count.  She gives me tips like, “don’t save the good china for special occasions” and “don’t become overly reliant on what will be in the future, enjoy life now.”  And then we both usually end up in tears, laughing, or both.  My life has been blessed by the opportunity to get to know her really well, these last few years.

When I think of being at the end of my life, things get really clear.  For as long as I can remember I have felt personally affected by the struggle of the hungry and the very poor.  I did a project through the UNHCR as a teenager that solidified my passion for those struggling in the third world.   It was 16 years ago.  It still brings me joy!  And while the last 16 years have been about getting an education, starting a family, and (ugh) “finding myself” it has been too long since something felt as right as that did.   Is there a higher calling than To Do what you are here To Do? (No.)

My To Do is to help those living in the poorest places in the world get out of poverty.  To Do my part to bring awareness, love, and resources to people who need our help.   That is the Why of this fledgling blog.

An organization called Global Hope Network International facilitates village adoptions in very poor places worldwide.  They help adopted villages become self sustaining by partnering with the village to create infrastructure.  Water. Food. Income. Education. Health.  After the adoption period (3-6 years) the village can stand on its own.  They won’t be living in poverty anymore!  They will have what they need to be sustainable.  They will not just “eat for a day” but for the rest of their lives!

We can’t end all suffering.  But if we can prevent a little bit of it, isn’t that worth the small cost to us!?  So with the End in mind, I am setting out to help a little village in Ethiopia called Tuk’a.  We can call it 99 People for Tuk’a.  Lets find 99 People to adopt Tuk’a!

Because Caring is my Gardening!  What’s Yours?