What Is Brave

When we hear the word brave the first thing that comes to mind is a very traditional picture. I think we all think of soldiers, of police, of first responders. And they are indeed brave, most of them, most of the time.

And then we perhaps think of those amazing civilians that we read about that step up in the face of danger. The teachers that sacrifice themselves for students in an active shooter situation. Folks that jump in to save someone drowning, in or out of a sinking car. Just watch the news for the rare good story.

These days we think of the medical people who continue to go to work despite the widespread nature of the COVID 19 virus. They put themselves at risk and often are separated from their families. And the teachers, again, who have adjusted as best they can and try to keep our children on track through virtual means.

There is a much quieter version of brave that we often don’t think of and don’t acknowledge. There is the single mom with three children struggling to make ends meet. There is the student that stands up for a bullied friend. There is a group of teens that go to Haiti to help rebuild. There are doctors that provide low cost or free healthcare to the under served. There are the volunteers in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. There are folks that bring meals to seniors, shut ins, who can’t get out for food.  And there are so many others.

I found it odd that when I made the decision to become single at sixty three a vast number of people told me how brave I was. As if growing old alone is an act of courage. I didn’t feel it that way. It was just necessary. And being single is not a state of being that should invoke pity. Doing what is right for your life and your spirit shouldn’t be an act of bravery but in today’s world where complacency and mediocrity is the norm, I suppose it can seem that way.

These days there are some renewed kinds of brave. Young people facing anonymous armed forces, marching to be heard. People banning the confederate flag even where it has been revered. While it is only leveling the field in a way, it still takes brave. In the same way that it took brave for the first professional athletes to come out as gay, it was only leveling but it took brave. These days, it feels brave to go to the grocery store. A small thing and you aren’t likely to be tear gassed. But it feels like brave.

The world is full of brave if you just look around. There are those smallest acts of kindness and bravery, and there are the big things where hope to change the world lives. Be brave, start small and work up to it. And one day it will be the norm and won’t seem quite so extraordinary.

Let the memory and spirit of John Lewis be an inspiration to bravery, march on.

Things I See

Seeing. Often we go about in the world with blinders on. Picture the horses that draw carriages in historic places. They wear real blinders, able only to look straight ahead. More and more, I find myself looking around with more focus not on what’s ahead but what’s around. There are those of us that have the knack for this instinctively. I am not sure I do. But I am trying to be more mindful about looking around, not at. I am trying to see past the brick to the history of a building, past the spoken to the intention, past the facial expression to the heart.

Sometime the things we see can be funny depending on our perspective. I was driving along a fairly rural road. There were few buildings and fewer businesses on it. Smack in the middle of nowhere was a long low building the signage on which read “Recovery Saloon”. All I could think of was in what world do those two things go together? Recovery from a long hard day of work at some terrible rural job? I think of recovery as the sobriquet for abstinence from the use of alcohol or drugs, or any other obsessive or addictive behavior. And thus my confusion, or amusement, arose.

On another occasion, while scrolling my Facebook feed, a marketplace headline popped up: “Electric Chair $900”. I could not stop laughing, as morbid as that sounds. As a death penalty attorney, I worked with people charged with the death penalty so, of course, that is where my mind went. It seemed to me unthinkable that someone could write that headline not imagining what it sounded like. I eventually went to the listing out of curiosity and, sadly, it was a mundane attempt to sell an old powered wheelchair. Sadly only because it was so ordinary and not funny. But I suppose it deserved gratitude for not being a do it yourself sparky.

What about our “snap judgments”. We judge people on their clothes, on their speech, on their eating habits. Do we look past those things? Do we listen hard to “see” who they are? Do we watch them to see how they actually live, what they do? Are they kind? Are they generous? Are they smart? Do we see it? Are we willing?

Not everything I see is with my eyes. If I am willing, if my ears are open I can see with my ears, if my heart is open, I can see with my heart.

 

Which is which?

Ritual, religion, spirituality. Are they significantly different? The same? I think about this sometimes and have the opportunity to talk to people about it on a fairly regular basis. So I will report here what I have arrived at for the moment.

Spirituality seems to me to be an individual thing- personal and very intimate. Religion, I think, is a communal thing – an affirmation of grouphood. Perhaps a way of joining prayer for gathered strength. For those that believe in the power of prayer, the power of communal prayer is larger, stronger than individual prayer. Ritual for me is a heritage thing – an affirmation of identity. I also think that often ritual is the glue that binds our spirituality and our religious ideas together, or at least finds them common ground.

If you are someone that grows in spiritual practice, then sometimes you find that rituals help to bring you that most sacred space. I consider my religion and my spiritual life to be things that have grown separately. But there are those times that they merge. For example, when I set my seder table with my grandmother’s things and prepare to welcome loved ones to that table, I feel near to her and those that came before. It creates a sacred moment in which my spirit, my religion,my ritual, my community and my past all come together.

And when I meditate, some of it is about prayer. And some of prayer is about how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power. And some of how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power is through my religion and the rituals that are a part of it. Circular, no? So in this way, rituals bind the personal. But in a very major way, rituals bind the community.

There are many views in major religions about the utility of some rituals. There is some idea of “modernizing” religion by eliminating some ritual. But I was told by a religious eastern orthodox woman that ritual “warms” religion, keeps it from getting cold. I thought that was a wonderful description. In the same way, ritual warms our spiritual, non-religious, practices. We sit in certain places, listen to certain music, scent the air or sit in nature’s scent, sit by the ocean or contemplate the stars. We each of us with our own particular rituals for spiritual practices that have nothing to do with religion. 

I love the final shavasana and meditation at the end of my yoga class and my shabbat service rituals with equal intensity. Sometimes they lead to the same place, often not. But all my paths take me to personally important and sometimes enlightening places.

Shabbat Shalom

Life Happens

You see it in the old stone walls of New England cities, in the concrete blocks of America's highway retaining walls, in the trestle gravel of old train tracks and in bare petroglyph cliffs - life happens. Click To Tweet

It is amazing to see, in places where no soil appears, growth happens. Things grow; life flourishes where there is nothing apparent to nourish it.

And so it is with humans. Time and again we see the struggle to survive, to grow, where there is nothing to nourish. Children love abusive parents, starving parents find a way to feed starving children. People continue to plant, and hope for growth, where the ground is unforgiving. People who grow up in abject poverty rise to great leadership. A child who learns piano on a tabletop becomes a concert pianist. People innovate in the hope of making growth more viable; look at Israel, a blooming country in the desert, a testament to human persistence.

We grow or we die. And so it is with our very selves. The physical is obvious, the emotional, intellectual and spiritual less so. Faith dies but we continue to mouth the words, attend the services and fail to seek a renewal of faith. Marriages die and we stay because it is easier, familiar and the alternative is too scary. Our minds atrophy but we sit in front of the television instead of seeking revitalization, new inspiration.

And yet, despite our own worst efforts, we grow. And if we put some effort into it who knows what might happen. Like the plants in the unforgiving stone wall, we struggle to grow no matter what.

The Moment

The twisting narrow road is lined with sea worn stone walls overwhelmed with flowers. The road is so narrow it feels unsafe as we drive on what to me is the wrong side. The island is small but this trip takes us most of the way along its beautiful length lush with greenery and adorned with spectacular homes. As we navigate the ups and downs the bluest sea is mostly to the right of our small van transport.

There are flowers everywhere, some I could name, some I could not; oleander, bougainvillea, hibiscus, jacaranda, exora, plumbago. I could spend weeks here just looking at the landscape and of course, the sea.

We took some very hard curves, what felt like switchbacks, until I lost my sense of in what direction we were headed. And then, like magic, the sea appeared on my left in a suddenly opened view of that amazing clear blue water.

I looked out the window at the blue sky, a mirror of the sea – or the other way round – at puffy cumulus and moored sailboats with their white sails furled. And what I thought was “what a fine day.” And suddenly, I was simply overwhelmed with the wonder of my life. I was amazed that I was really in this beautiful place and I started to cry with a feeling of gratitude for this amazing life. It has been a long time in the making, but it is amazing. I have been to places and done things I never thought possible. I have given and received love from absolute strangers who are strangers no more. I have shared my joy and my pain with others who understand. I am writing. I am singing.

As I looked at the sea and sky and flowers all I felt in that moment was pure gratitude. I did not summon it, it just happened. How rare to have that pure and strong a feeling, and to know what it is.