Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sacred Privilege

Twice this week I talked to voters as a volunteer for the Obama for America campaign. The first day I canvassed in a neighborhood I had never been to. A lot of people weren't at home because they were working to pay their rents. I left get-out-to-vote flyers. Many of the people were home, and about half who were home opened their doors. I reminded them how much their vote really matters and gave them information about when and where to vote. The other half ignored my knock, probably worried that I was a bill collector or an attorney's agent, or worse. Two sent their preschool-age children to the door. One of the neighbors I met on the street, the only person I spoke with who had already voted by mail, told me there'd been a drug bust a block over the week before.

I wonder how many of the people who live in that neighborhood are actually going to follow through and vote.

Yesterday I knocked on doors in a neighborhood where several acquaintances live. Lots of people were at work, but like the previous day, many of the residents were at home, too. Only one of the voters I spoke with had not voted for President Obama yet, though his wife had. He apparently wanted to wait until the high holy day itself to make his vote for the president official.

Yesterday's canvassing was much more pleasant, but Monday's was way more important. I thought of what our sons' middle school social studies teacher once said: working with students who don't have the tools and support for success was more rewarding for him as an educator.

I didn't say this to anyone I met the last two days, but I'll say it here: Voting is a sacred privilege, even if so many of the candidates go out of their way to cheapen it. It's still a great way to make your voice heard.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Make a Joyful Noise

For years my yoga teachers have recommended chanting. I own some kirtan CDs, I've attended kirtan sessions at the ashram where I received my yoga training, and I have gone to hear Bhakti Shakti at Studio Be in Boulder. I've always found kirtan enjoyable and beneficial, but my participation has been inconsistent. Chanting alone at home felt dry, and I didn't enjoy hearing the longely sound of my voice.

My family gave me an IPad for my birthday and an ITunes gift card I used to download music for my yoga classes. I've taken to bringing my IPad into my meditation room and chanting along with some of the kirtan.

The effects have been immediate. Hours after I've chanted, the rhythms are still going through my head, and sometimes I burst spontaneously into song as I go about my work! My silent meditations have become deeper and more peaceful. I like to think that's because the kirtan has softened me up that much more.

I especially love Jai Uttal's "Ganesha Sharanam." A small child begins the chant, and I smile every time I hear his sweet little voice. Even a grinch would hear that voice and smile and sing and feel her heart growing nine sizes too big.

Besides Jai Uttal, I also like Deva Premal and Krishna Das. Don't be intimidated by the Sanskrit. If you buy kirtan CDs, the lyrics are printed phonetically on the sleeve. If you use ITunes, there are online kirtan lyrics.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Being Green

This dashing devil is my great-Uncle Gilbert Arts. This pick-up might well have been one he and his brothers kept around for parts.

On the ranch where my grandmother's family settled in the early 1920s, there were several storage sheds near the barnyard where her brothers parked old tractors and pick-ups. To the untrained eye the vehicles were no good to anyone or anything. Out to vehicle pasture.

It was true the guys couldn't bear to throw out anything. After all, they'd lost both parents when they were teenagers during the Depression. It was hard enough scraping enough money together to buy clothes and pay taxes on the place, never mind buying new equipment. They were reducing, recycling and reusing long before it became a slogan. Keeping those old clunkers around served a purpose--they scavenged them for parts. Repair, and re-repair. What made them successful ranchers was their ability to do a lot of things well, maintenance being primary. Their dad had taught them how to work, how things worked and how to fix stuff when it stopped working.

Fifty years later, two of the brothers, Gilbert and Ted, had long since left the ranch. Good old habits die hard. The instinct to fix stuff was just as strong. They went around picking up old lawn mowers people had never tried to fix. They'd haul them back to Gilbert's shop for reconditioning, and they'd sell them or give them away. They'd picked up a cold case from a meat shop that had closed, and Gilbert set about turning it into a greenhouse.

I didn't inherit their mechanical genius, but I did inherit their conservation instincts. I have reinterpreted the instinct to repair, and repair again, as using only what I need.

In August my family and I attended a rally for President Obama at the University of Colorado. As we waited for him to arrive, I struck up a conversation with two students. They were lovely young women whose enthusiasm about their futures in the health care field inspired me and gave me hope.

"I only wish we were leaving things in better shape for you," I said, my eyes filling with tears.

They touched my arm and said, "It's OK. You're doing the best you could."

Maybe I have done the best I could. But it's not OK, and it's certainly not good enough for them, and for my own sons, and all the other young people who are inheriting this scarred, ravaged planet.

Next week I'm attending an Environmental Justice Training sponsored by my denomination, the United Church of Christ. Here's hoping that goodwill and love, though perhaps not enough, is at least something.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Praying for Rain

Gorgeous shot at Dead Horse State Park, Utah

On our way to a family reunion in Yosemite, my husband, kids and I camped at Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah. Despite the beauty of the painted rock and the gravity-defying geological formations, it’s still in the desert. It’s still a monument to deprivation.

When we arrived at the campground late that afternoon, it was 102 degrees under a cloudless sky. Everywhere we looked, there was more rock than vegetation. The sun had bleached what little grass there was. The only shade available was inside the visitors’ center and the outhouse, or beneath the tarp my husband strung up against the sun.

After we set up camp, we joined a ranger and other campers for a short hiking tour of the area. The temperature had dropped into the low 90s. The ranger reminded us we needed to drink a gallon of water every day to keep adequately hydrated. With an annual average precipitation of less than three inches—compared to Longmont, Colorado, which can expect about fifteen—it’s a wonder there’s enough water for everyone who visits.

Yet in this apparent scarcity, there is grace. I had camped in the desert before, but this time I began to understand why so many holy people retreat to the desert. The desert is always at prayer, because it is always in need of relief. Praying is more natural there.

And the prayers are being answered. A species of mouse has adapted so that it never needs to drink water. It gets all the moisture it needs from the food it eats, also in short, but sufficient, supply. The slick rock is pockmarked with tiny depressions that become oases for the animals when it does rain. As the ranger described them, I thought of angel hands cupped expectantly, waiting to be filled with whatever goodness comes their way.

That night we didn’t bother to put the rainflies on the tents. We needed every whisper of air we could get. As my body worked hard to keep cool, I slept restlessly and worried I wouldn’t be fit for hiking the next day. Around four that morning, a cloud moved over the campground, loosing a fine mist of raindrops. I rolled onto my back to expose my skin to its cool blessing before falling into a deep, grateful sleep. A raven’s fractious call woke me a couple of hours later. Back home I would find it hard to function on so little sleep. Under the desert’s spell, it was enough.

Growing up in the land of plenty, I’m accustomed to a certain amount of excess. I doubt I would ever choose to live in the desert. But I do like to visit. Camping there reminds me that I can stand the discomfort of a little want.