War & Peace

Six feet from the kitchen door, my neighbors spend the glorious days of spring squabbling from dawn to dusk—

If they were human, maybe we could negotiate the terms of living side-by-side…but these squabblers are hummingbirds. Particularly the rufous male guards the round of sugared water. Anna’s hummingbirds of both genders, and even female rufous, swoop and dive trying to get to the essential sweetness that sustains them in the early spring weeks of courting, nesting, laying eggs. But no—this feeder has become the property of the male rufous. Dancing in the air above the plastic red flower with the 8 little holes for their tongues he is lord of the ring.

Thinking we are St. Francis, creating a little haven for birds in our yard, we recite to him. There is enough for all. We put up another feeder.

But no—not while the little warrior is on duty.

All day long he fights for territory. Other hummers get past him from time to time—sip and dart away. Not enough for all—mine. Mine. MINE. He conveys such fierce claiming— I think it must be exhausting. He dips and sips and fights. I cannot tell if even his mate is allowed to drink.

You know this scene: how the tiny flying jewels, wings a whirring blur, come to drink at the feeder. How they swirl over the offering bowls put out by human tenders. You know this fight: guarding nectar as though there is not enough to go around… and yet, every day we make sure there is plenty. Abundance. Replenished by the giant unseen hands of “gods.”

I stand at the kitchen window: Learn! Learn!—I want to shout at him: There is enough for all. You could be doing something else besides defending what is already gifted. Stop fighting in the presence of abundance.

It doesn’t take me long to realize I am talking to myself: that this territorial behavior is mimicked in human behavior—only theirs in instinctual, and ours is driven by the mind and market.

Costco. WalMart. Amazon.com. Too many sugar feeders: too much stuff! We act out a certain madness fueled by this rapacious belief that it is our God-given right and economic imperative to destroy the garden of Gaia (or the whole system will collapse and there will be no work, no jobs, no way to sustain ourselves). Panic all day long. Fighting at the feeder. Plundering the ecosystem. Posturing for control. And fighting, fighting, fighting—most of it a lot more harmful than the buzz-bombing of the 3-inch rufous.

And then the scene changes when the light changes… slant of sun in western sky, that yellow look, as though the day is infused with honey just before night comes. I am back at the kitchen window clearing dinner dishes, look up, and now there’s a dozen hummers—rufous and Anna’s sipping together, some of them even sharing the tiny bore hole into sweetened water. World peace in the world of the hummingbirds.

Cooperation at last!

Cooperation at last!

They know: night is coming. It will be cold. They need to return to the nest, to tiny babes, to their mates, to the twig at the center of the tree. They need to calm down (their heart rate in full day-flight can reach 1200+ beats per minute).

So, all the fighting stops. They share. They sit down with their differences and suck sweetness together as the day turns dusky.

What time is it in the human world?

The long day of defense and avarice, of territorial ridiculousness (hello—Congress!!! Really!), of so much busyness and distraction is coming to an end. The light is turning to honey. Can we just settle down now, please(!) and all sip from the gifted sweetness of life and notice that there is enough? Is it time yet?

This is my daily prayer.

This is my daily work.

Planet of the Stones

Tracking Kadachrome During his two-week spring break last month, we took our ten-year-old grandson, Jaden, on a road trip to camp in the magnificent canyon lands of southern Utah.

For Ann, this trip was a touchstone into desert landscape that had shaped her early adulthood and the golden years of mothering. As a young teacher and naturalist, she had taken her two children, including the mother of Jaden, on extensive camping trips into this territory.

For me, it was a dip into the opposite of everything I know: green became red, wet became dry, ocean became river, river became sand, soft became prickly, cool became hot, the uprise of mountains became the submersion of canyons eroded through sandstone. Busyness became stillness, distraction became focus, e-mail became Nature.

For Jaden, coming from apartment life in Los Angeles, this was his first road trip, his first camping trip, and his first time completely away from city-boy routines. We picked him up from the Las Vegas airport on Spring Equinox and started driving the Interstate toward southern Utah. He fell asleep with the dog’s head on his thigh—and woke up after we had turned were dipping into the first drive-through landscape of red rocks towering over us. “Whoa,” he proclaimed, as he opened his eyes, “Where are we?”

“Glad you’re awake,” I said, “Welcome to the Planet of the Stones…” So our magnificent adventure began! Jaden was up for everything. He loved every campsite, loved every hike, loved having our dog become his dog, loved learning how to split wood, make a fire, light the camp stove, whittle an arrow, put up the tent. He hiked part of “The Narrows” in Zion, walked the Escalante River, rode bikes along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, studied and pledged himself as a Junior Ranger in four parks… promising to “be a friend to the Earth.”

He brought some LA life to the campfire, sang and danced “Uptown Funk,” with all the moves and lyrics. He played Monster trucks in the red dust, making a racetrack around the camp chairs. He regaled us with stories. And he tuned in, deeper and deeper to Nature, to birds, to animal tracks, and star constellations.

Now he is back in LA, loved on by the family who missed him. He is a boy of color, in a city density of over 7,500 people per square mile, in a greater metro area with 12.8 million people, nearly half Hispanic; he is immersed in the streaming world of Minecraft, X-Box, videos of violence and adventure that boys love: How to Tame your Dragon, Big Hero 6. And we trust, that his boy of wonder, naturalist self is tucked inside him and growing.

Now we are back in green lands, planting and weeding the gardens, mowing grass, enjoying the edge of Puget Sound, watching the Olympic Mountains appear and disappear in clouds and sun. We are aging Anglo women, living on a sylvan island just off-shore from the frenetic energy of modern America, holding onto the BIG concerns for the life coming toward our beloved grandchildren and all the children who stream in and out of La Ballona Elementary School, who will make the 21st century their home.

GrandCanyon

The Planet of the Stones is hard to comprehend when you are ten years old. We watched Jaden’s eyes glaze after a few minutes of trying to understand how “220 million years ago, this land was under the sea…” We had a few conversations about sand turning to stone, about river erosion… and then released him to thumbing through Ann’s copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds and listing nearly 40 “first sightings.”

Geology is nearly unfathomable at any age. Standing in the canyons, my mind raises the question, “Whose planet is this, anyway?” in the resounding quiet—punctuated by bird calls and the riffling of pages as Jaden IDs another feathered friend, the stones calm the spirit in this grandmother’s activist heart: they withstand.

Astronomer Carl Sagan, in his television series, Cosmos, collapsed the last fifteen billion years of galactic history onto a one-year calendar. Earth does not condense from interstellar matter until September of that imaginary year. Plants do not colonize until December 20th. Human beings show up on December 31st, 90 minutes before midnight. Sagan calls human beings, “matter grown into consciousness, coagulated star-dust, a way for the cosmos to know itself.” I breathe deep, inviting the red dust of former seas into my lungs.

Come with me, red dirt. Come into the cells of my being, become my teacher. Show me how to withstand what is coming. Help me blow stardust where it is needed. Help me erode away all that is not needed and discover the pattern for what must be preserved. I am the grandmother of Jaden and Sasha: I am the granddaughter of the stones.Big view

Come with me.

Cursive or Cursor?

As I entered my local library, I walked past a sign that read, “Quiet corner, slow reading in process.” I have been seeing announcements about this on various Internet threads around town: a return to placing books in hands. A device free zone. A place for the whispery rustle of turning pages. A place to curl up with a good book. A life-long habit for me—being rehabitualized in the digital age.

I peeked in to see a mixed group of grey heads, teen heads, and a girl of about ten reading. Just reading. In the knick of techno-e-time the library is hosting a place to remember, learn, and enjoy the art of handling paper pages. Like many things these days that seem about to disappear, some group is grabbing treasured human experience back from the brink of disuse.

I turn left into the community room. I am carrying my ever-present journal and a fountain pen into a meeting with Kindles, iPads, and smart-phones spread out on the table. Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book about my relationship to journal writing. It was titled, Life’s Companion—and it’s a most accurate description of how writing sidles up to the busy edge of my life and invites me into the slow zone.

Volume by volume, now stored in boxes at the back of my closet and under my desk, and filling the bottom row of my corner bookshelf, I accumulate uncountable pages of handwritten heartfelt reflection, inquiry, lament, and celebration. I have favorite pens and brands of journals that support my attachment to writing.

CB&journalsWhat erodes this attachment is the lure of the cursor… the demands of typing, typing, typing that that fill modern business and create modern busyness. I can’t imagine how I would construct my workday or personal life if I could not type. Typing has become essential to our communication patterns, a core skill. Little children, barely able to recite the alphabet, are learning to type it.

Typing seems to carry the day, but as someone who has been both writing and typing for sixty years, I know they are not the same activity. I know that handwriting and typing stimulate different thought processes. My journal is a handwritten document, and it has taught me to trust slow writing, to experience writing as a form of meditation. When writing professionally, I often warm up my creative flow by writing first by hand and then very carefully switching to the keyboard. Carefully, because the switch from pen to keyboard can rattle a line of thought right out of my mind. It’s a delicate maneuver. I breathe into it. I move as though I have a hot cup of tea in hand—don’t spill the inspiration. (And don’t-don’t-don’t look at e-mails or start shopping for a new journal, pen, or whatever!)

Over the years, discussion between cursive or cursor has been passionately debated in hundreds of my journal and memoir writing seminars: write or type; type or write? Finally, neurologists and psychologists have joined the writers’ debate.

Journalist Maria Konnikova, a student of Harvard’s Stephen Pinker, raised the question in the New York Times in June 2014, “Does handwriting matter?” She sites several interesting studies, that are no surprise to me. Here are two quotes from her piece that seem to be the crux of the matter:

“New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.” And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.””Teacher holding student's hand

“A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again. The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex. By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.”

Child and mother using a digital tabletI don’t know where the fusiform gyrus is in my brain, but I know it’s been activated since I was in first grade—and that my life is a study in the power of the hand to the page, and the power of the fingertips to the keys. My point is to caution the larger “us” from removing something so foundational as writing by hand just because it seems temporarily “not modern” or not necessary. The brain has been evolving for basic literacy for thousands of years, and it knows what it is doing in a way that developers of the digital keyboard do not.

Shall we not protect this heritage? Shall we not bend lovingly over the shoulders of our children and grandchildren and help them hold the pen as well as help them find the letter on the Qwerty board?

Besides…. If the coming generations don’t learn to write and read cursive…who is going to peruse all the millions and millions of journals, letters, and old fashioned first drafts for the bits of encoded genius streaming out of our activated fusiform gyruses?

 

 

Seven Daily Cups–loving practice in busy lives

Imagine that every day you have seven cups laid out before you that are full in the morning and empty in the evening.

Each of these cups contains a marvelous and amazing libation that is comprised of just the right combination of delicious ingredients: love, attention, focus, action, kindness, gesture, and forgiveness. These are not cups to chug it down, not something we can order as “a grande double-shot soy milk hazelnut latte´,” a libation cup is a drink poured out for the Divine, an offering to that which sustains us.

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We pour, we drink: we give thanks, we partake: we acknowledge source and we imbibe source so that we are nourished and nourishing. These are the cups that overfloweth. Every morning they are laid out before us full. The Star card in the Tarot deck is a depiction of the ever filling cup, the spilling forth of universal energy, which we should never be afraid to expend, because as fast as we can pour it, or drink it, or offer it to the lips of thirst, we are re-sourced.

This version from Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert

This version from Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert

I have been thinking about energy as another year of teaching and travel and work comes to a close. I am tired, and I am not tired, depending on the metaphors of energy that run in my mind. When I  draw from personal resources, I experience those resources as though I was licking the last drops of moisture from a nearly empty cup. When I draw from universal resources, I find both energy and a reassuring sense of attachment to something greater than myself.

When I wake in the morning, I often start the teapot heating water as soon as I am out of bed. I get a big mug down from the cabinet, I have several special ones. I remember these invisible cups, and lay them out as well. What do I need to do today? Who do I need to relate to? Where are my priorities? How will I attend to the pace and flow and make good choices?

When I see all seven cups laid out on the counter, not just my mug for tea, then I plan my day much better. Start with time for self and beloveds–our ritual of sitting on a loveseat facing into the view, watching the day rise, writing in our journals and talking gently together. Ahhh, that first cup is so satisfying to sip fully. Then together we prioritize the work parts of the day, and what else and who else we need to tend.

If I get exhausted I know I’ve been drinking from the wrong well, and I remind myself to check the source, to not be stingy, to pour it out and create space for replenishment.

This is our job in the world: to pour forth our energy and confidently drink from these cups every day knowing that we will be replenished over night and the cups will be waiting for us in the light the new day dawn.

May your cups overflow in the holy days upon us.

Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us: We taste only sacredness.” –Rumi

Europe– a soft autumn & full circles

From 9 October to 1 November, Ann Linnea and I have been traveling in central Europe through weeks of soft weather and incredible people-time. Landing in Brussels, we were whisked into the Belgian farmlands to visit friends and spend a day in a small, informal, circle of women…a breath upon landing. Then we trained to Cologne, Germany, and spent the rest of the weekend in Bad Honnef, near Bonn—and our education began. This would be a visit in which our friends took the time and effort to fill us in on European history and prehistory—Celts in Germany and Austria, Romans along the Rhine and empiric walls under the city of Vienna, the path of the Crusaders marching home, the intertwined politics of church and ruling families and the emergence of nations.

Old castle ruins in the Eiffel region of Germany.

Old castle ruins in the Eiffel region of Germany.

Roman walls under the main square, Vienna

Roman walls under the main square, Vienna

Durnstein, Austria

Durnstein, Austria

Ann and I, and our Canadian circle colleague, Amanda Fenton, were lovingly plunged into an “audio visual world history course” that happened while driving through the countryside and walking cobbled streets. We come home with an immersion into our roots that will work in us for a long time.

And somehow all of this grounded the work we did depositing circle practice and learning about what is already happening here. We had full groups in every setting and circle did its magic while we have conveyed the strength of the structure to hold us in complex, multi-cultural, multi-lingual settings. It’s astonishing to have created a body of work and see what’s happening 20 years later with folks mostly 20 years younger.

We had a 4-day training in Germany, a 1.5-day training in Vienna, and a 4-hour salon evening, followed by a 3-day training in Bregenz. Amanda’s traveling with us brought both great support and a bridge between how the work is growing in Europe and in North America.

Many of the people we work with are also working in the European Commission in one way or another and have shared stories about the internal transformation of communication occurring in an extremely formal, complex hierarchy. We are humbled to see how deeply circle work has moved into consulting, facilitation, community organizing, and government. Wow… We are just starting to integrate these experiences… more to come.

A View from Offshore

After some consulting work, Ann and I stayed in Los Angeles for a September weekend to visit daughter Sally, partner Joe, and our two adorable grandchildren, Sasha and Jaden. Hot sun and big city, we revel in the diversity of people, options, and activities going on all around us. And we two island grannies, who live among trees and along beaches, are also a bit overwhelmed by billboards, traffic, street lights, crowds and shopping malls.

That Sunday, it turns out is “National Grandparents Day.” Wikipedia says this is a secular holiday passed into law in the US in 1978. The day is based in honoring the specific life work of several women who made profound, behind the scenes contributions to their communities, to the younger generations around them, and to recognizing the importance of elders in a healthy society. We can align with that.

Sally announces we can do whatever we want—the Getty Museum, Studio Tour, or Whale Watching out of Long Beach. Guess what we chose?

Hot sun, blue sparkling water, cool ocean breeze, and the possibility to see the world’s largest creature, the Blue Whale.

Grandmas on board.

Grandmas on board.

The haze of the mainland fell away. The wind blew. The waves gave us a prolonged roller coaster ride out to deeper waters… and there we met Bottle-nosed dolphins, 6-10 feet (2-4 meters) swimming alongside the catamaran, and not too far away the long plume of Blue Whale breath, and a prolonged roll of spine, spine, spine, as the great creature undulated through the sea.

Stock photo of Blue whale--the waterline view is different than aerial viewing.

Stock photo of Blue whale–the waterline view is different than aerial viewing.

And then—surprise—Humpback whales surround us—two, three, maybe four—hard to count. The captain pulled the engine way back. A Humpback rolled its torso visibly alongside the boat 50 feet away. Even Sasha, not quite four years old, got the scope of the creature and the significance of its swimming near us. Just a bit further out, a breech, a tale slap… the full Humpback show. We were thrilled.

And on the way back, the boat happened upon a school of Pacific white-sided dolphin— hundreds of them, playing in the wake of the boat. We hung over the railing, reveling in their presence, able to hear the high-pitch of their voices over the rumble of the engine and our own squeals of delight.

As Los Angeles came back into view, I sat with the children tucked around me and thought, “I do not want to be the grandmother who presides over the death of oceans; who has to explain to them that everything is dying; who faces their faces—and the faces of their generation with unending dire news.”

In the midst of all humanity’s crises—they were born trusting the hands of love that caught them. I was one pair of those hands and the responsibility I feel is huge.

How to best use my remaining years of eldering, is the question that haunts me day and night. It is the subtext to my daily activities. Meaningful and love-filled as I try to make my days, I feel the crumbling of the larger scale of things all around me. Even a glimpse into the news is overwhelming. And yet I can also find so much good happening—leaps in innovation and creativity, determination, healing, reclaiming. re-empowering ourselves.

I watch the dolphins spinning under our boat as we head back toward shore. Jaden calls out over our own shouts of delight, “Listen, listen, I can hear their voices!” High squeaks and clicks from water to air to ear to heart.

I am.

Whatever answer there is for me I know will come from the art of listening.

Gray hair, wrinkles, and name tags

I walked into the country club, at the west suburban edge of Minneapolis, on a muggy August evening. There were kids splashing in the pool, golfers at the bar, a wedding reception in the main lounge, and two rooms at the back hosting “The Wayzata High School Class of 1964, 50th Reunion.” First stop, the name tag table, to pick up a sticky patch that had my name and current location written on it and (most importantly) a scanned replica of a 1964 airbrushed photo that sheened my hair and removed all traces of zits and acne and presented a glamorized portrait of how I showed up at school on an ordinary day.

I looked up into a sea of faces—largely unrecognizable. All of us glancing quickly from aging visage to tag and back—and breaking into huge smiles of welcome… Then, then we recognized each other—our smiles breaking through the years to familiarity and the sudden uprising of memories. Oh, you’re the last boy on the school bus route… my reliable school paper photographer, the girl whose pony tail I twirled as it hung over my desk in 8th grade English, the girl who moved away before senior year, the boy who asked me to a 10th grade dance, the exchange student from Sweden. All of us who were 18 together are now 68 together.

Wayzata was a small school among its peers: we were a class of about 145. Twenty-five of us have already died. The next table beyond the nametags was a memorial collage of young faces: auto accident, Viet Nam, cancer, heart attack, suicide. A candle flickers next to white roses. We didn’t know everyone in our class: but we knew every face.

I had debated and debated about squeezing this into my schedule: but I couldn’t let it go. I flew on “miles” and a bargain rate home. I emailed the girl I had never lost track of, my companion through the insecurity of adolescence and decades of womanhood when we could dip into immediate confidences, no matter how long the gap between talks. “I’m going—I feel some kind of cycle is waiting to be completed. I don’t know what, a sort of ‘soul retrieval’ to get the young girl into the old girl.”

BFFs: Christie & Christina 2014

BFFs: Christie & Christina 2014

She wrote right back, “I’ve been so ambivalent… but if you’ll be there, I’ll be there.” And she included a quote from MFK Fisher that made me cry: “Had we ever been anything but dull with one another? Had we ever, one to the other, put out our spirits’ fingertips and touched the sensitive fronds, the tendrils, the antennae of what each human is condemned to be, a fern, a vine, a slow sea creature?”  (Long Ago in Paris)

And so from east coast and west coast we arrived at the middle. What touched me most was the generosity of spirit with which we all paused and talked to people we had ignored through most of high school— kids who were not in the same clique, not in the same sport, not in the same classes—but now, we “put out our spirits’ fingertips” to one another.

Our comfort with each other, based on our comfort being ourselves, was palpable. We reached for one another, stopped, inquired, were curious, without judgment. Hugs and smiles.

What I received that night and at the picnic the next day, was a sense of having come from somewhere. Whether I “fit” then, or “fit” now didn’t matter: we had lived together through our own coming of age. We were a village cohort, moving around under the eyes of the elders, yet in our own spheres of influence and communication. We spoke honorably of teachers, of history, of remembered relationships, of nearly forgotten connections that sparked to life in one another’s presence.

Honoring the Viet Nam vets

Honoring the Viet Nam vets

Small talk, big talk, the roads taken and not taken. Honoring the vets—because the politics of our generation could no longer divide us. I move on with a greater sense of wholeness, still smiling at our stories. Still moved at how genuinely we were glad to see those still here. We are 68 years old: the first year of the “boomers.” There’s talk of throwing ourselves a 70th birthday party.

Summer sweet & sorrow

Picking raspberries on a Sunday, early evening. The sun is coming through the leaves of the plants, creating a golden green, the veins illuminated, infused. This is how it happens: the Earth doing her earth-thing, providing us with what we need, and more… It is a zenith moment, high summer… just before the first tip toward autumn.

We have pulled the peas that our grandson planted last March, visiting us on his spring break. They were wonderful Jaden, and we thought of you with every bite! Earlier this day, we planted another row of lettuce and spinach, hoping for the garden harvest to extend long into the cooling days. I love this tending–such an antidote to all things digital.

I am entranced in my task, eating as I pick. Our little corgi is sitting at my feet, waiting her share. Her dog lips gently pluck the offered berry from my extended palm. I am a smile–my whole being is happy and running with juice.

IMG_22761-225x300A couple of newly married neighbors walk down the gravel road that is our shared string of homes. They are holding hands and talking softly–their almost daily ritual at the end of work: he in the local shipyard, she at the local grocery store. They wave. I walk out to meet them.

“Cup your hands,” I say to them. And into their empty bowls of flesh, I pour a mound of raspberries for each. We stand in our delight. They move on, their conversation punctuated by raspberry sucking. I go back to my happy harvest.

Earlier today I was fashioning a memorial card for next Sunday’s gathering on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth when Brian’s Minnesota family and friends will spend the day remembering him. We remember you every day, Brian… Eight months into this passage, I am the stage of grief where I find myself calling out to him from my heart, “What an amazing journey, this grief walk… Your mother and I have learned so much… and we miss you so much. I am sure you are learning wondrous things over there on the other side of the garden, your being infused with golden green. Could you come back–just for an evening? Let’s sit on the patio in the high point of summer, sit where we sat last summer and did not know it would be the last time, please…. I have raspberries, and so much I want to tell you and hear from you!”

The “dead” respond as they can. I hear his voice in my head. I receive him in my dreams. I look at his photos. I watch the raspberries turn to rubies through the prism of my tears. I look up– The white stag who lives in the neighboring woods is walking down the road. He stops, unafraid, turns and looks directly at me. We hold one another’s gaze.
I move quietly to the patio, Ann and I stand arm in arm… I feed her berries. The deer regards us still, then moves on, hoofs tapping lightly on the gravel. The dog has not barked.

WS1-300x225This is how it is. Sorrow is sometimes sweet and juicy. Grief can be infused with light.

You who are freshly suffering–know that the juice returns. Know that magic happens, that the veil is often thin. Hold out your cupped hands and they will be filled with what you need to get through this moment, and the next. This is how it is.

What my father did in “the war”

My father (who will be 94 years old in July) came to dinner on the patio at our house on an early June evening. We were hosting several lovely colleagues, Holier (age 44) and Roswitha (age 55) from Germany. We had a long meandering conversation talking about different travels and experiences in our lives and then one of us asked him what he did in “the War…”

Leo Baldwin was the only conscientious objector from Cascade County, Montana. He had to fight the draft board to accept this status, and he had to stand firm in a family that included four older brothers (non of them actually in service, but all patriotic). He has been profoundly influenced by this decision throughout his life.
To be a man of “the greatest generation” who did not go to war has cost him dearly and (I believe) finally also benefited him in many ways. That is a long story, and I am privileged to live nearby and to have enough chats around the dinner table that I hear him as he reminisces and reflects on the decades of his life, and on the impact of his pacifism.

The story in this moment is sitting on the patio on a summer evening, speaking humbly of his participation in 1944 in hypothermia and protein starvation experiments conducted on the roof of a mental hospital in upstate New York. While the war was still raging, the US military was working on plans to rehabilitate Europe, particularly interested in how to bring a population nearly starved to death back to health. What was the tipping point for irrevocable damage to internal organs? What kinds of protein could be most easily absorbed, teaching the body to absorb nutrition again?

For months, Leo lived by a totally controlled diet of barest calories, and the protein was washed out of his system, and eventually, through trial and error, successfully reintroduced. In June 2014, he was telling this story to the children of people he helped save. Late light slanted through the Madrona trees. Long dusk held us. And it seemed to me that a bit more peace came into the world. That was the point, so long ago: to respond nonviolently in a violent situation.

William Stafford, the Oregon poet who was also a conscientious objector, sometimes in the same camps as my father, wrote later… “Here is how to count the number of people ready to do right in the world… One…one…one…one. You don’t fight, and you don’t turn away, you look for something else.”

Thank you, dad. A lifetime of knowing someone is always a complex journey.

Leo and Christina

Leo and Christina

We are in such a good spot in the road. I’m grateful for your years and presence.

All we are saying…Peace

Last Saturday, driving to a day of teaching for the Self as the Source of the Story seminar, I drove past the weekly Peace Vigil alongside the highway a few miles from our house. I was so touched I decided to write about this in my blog… and today, into my box came this anonymously penned “history and celebration” of the current peace activism on Whidbey. I have participated in both these events over the years, but have been so much on the road in the past 4 years that my personal ability and dedication to stand in place has eroded.

I am sharing this pretty much as shared with me–only removing local names since this has a much wider audience.

The Saturday Morning Peace Vigil and Women in Black –
A brief History and a Celebration, May 24, 2014.

On Saturday of Memorial Day week-end, two different peace groups are being celebrated. The Saturday Morning Peace Vigil (every Sat. 10-11) and Women in Black (first Fri. of every month in the late afternoon – times vary) both meet in Bayview, one in silence, and one decidedly not, but with a common hope for a peaceful world to pass on to their children.

The Saturday Morning Peace Vigil began in the summer of 2002 to protest the growing momentum in the U.S. Government for war with Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. This war eventually became a reality in March of 2003, in spite of millions protesting all over the world, including the group at Bayview.

As the deceptions and tragedies of Iraq became apparent, there were times when as many as 150 people protested up and down Highway 525. Over the years, the numbers have decreased, but many have been there most Saturdays, braving rain, wind, ice and snow for twelve years to witness their belief in the futility of war and the wisdom of using our resources to improve our world.

The messages on the colorful signs being held vary according to U.S. and world events and the passions of the individuals. There might be a sign saying “Harm No Child”, “Books not Guns” “Health Care for Vets” or one saying simply “No War.” Spirited discussions about current events and community involvement infuse the gathering. Over the years there have been at least four Naval aviators from the Vietnam era who have been regular participants.

In the beginning, when 9/11 was fresh in our memories, the hostility toward the demonstrators was sometimes palpable with verbal and physical expressions from passersby. However, over the years, peace signs, honks and thumbs up became the norm. …

South Whidbey Women in Black began standing in silent vigil in the summer of 2006, inspired by the Coupeville WIB. (A small group) began in Langley. At later vigils at the ferry landing, women in black often stood in single file up the long hill, causing quite a stir as commuters came off the ferry. Part of their mission states, “We ask you to reflect on the aggression occurring in the U.S. and other countries around the world as well as in our homes, in ourselves and against the earth itself. Let our stand remind us there is a limitless capacity for healing wounds of all kinds. Together, we can move forward into a world we would love to pass on to future generations.”

Niece Erin and her friend the time they stood with us.

Niece Erin and her friend the time they stood with us.

The public is invited to attend a celebration of these two groups on Saturday, May 24th from 10-11 at the Bayview Park and Ride. There will be refreshments, written materials, music and a short ceremony from 10:30-11 where there will be a chance to share memories. Especially invited are the drivers of the many cars who have honked or waved over the years (and yes, those who lifted their middle finger, too).

Come stand with us for a day or a decade! I’ll be there, again.