Circle of Friends

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This sculpture by Gary Lee Price was a part of last year’s special sculpture display at the Naples Botanical Garden and I was so excited to see it is still on display. I made several attempts to photograph its spirit last year – but deleted most of the photos. On this visit, clouds blew in as I was finishing my photography walk-about so I had ideal conditions for another try. All my previous attempts on sunny days (Florida isn’t named the Sunshine State by accident) resulted in too many highlights that Lightroom couldn’t correct enough. 

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With the currant administration’s nasty rhetoric about how dangerous immigrants are, especially those seeking asylum, this sculpture holds special meaning for me. See that spot on the bottom left where I joined in the circle – leaving enough space for you to join me._DSC0246

 

This sculpture touches my soul and represents so many of the values I have chosen to believe in and build my life upon. 

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I remember when I first experienced someone who was poor face-to-face instead of just hearing about “the poor.” I was in second grade and we were instructed to get in a circle and hold hands. The girl that was next to me, the one I would need to hold hands with, was someone who I had been only vaguely aware of – she was always on the fringes of our class. This wasn’t a “hoity-toity” private school, just a neighborhood school in a working class neighborhood but she was different somehow, maybe her clothes were a little more warn than everyone else’s or her hair never looked clean. I had to take her hand and somewhere within me I was uncomfortable even though I had never thought about her nor understood why she seemed different. Then I took her hand. Her hand was uncomfortable in my hand and I felt repulsion. Her hand was horribly dry and crusty. And in that instant I knew very deeply in my mind and heart what poor was. Poor is being different, poor is being on the margins because poor is not having enough basic needs to be able to put a decent hand forward. Poor is suffering. That was almost 70 years ago and today I am weeping because of her exclusion from our class and because she probably never had access to the simple rights and privileges I would experience.

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“I hope I can assist the world in visualizing a place where fences and boundaries, both real and imagined, are non-existent; a place where bias and prejudice are long forgotten; and finally, a place where acts of kindness, mutual respect, and love are everyday happenings.” – Gary Lee Price (obtained from his website)

I believe that this statement comes from Price’s very soul because it would be impossible to sculpt these figures to depict his message, his goal, without believing in it with all of his mind and heart. His written beliefs shine so brightly through this sculpture that they have lit my soul.

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The artist has maintained the integrity of each animal’s body but in fantasy has illuminated each creatures’ personality. The penguin has a crown and the elephant has a necklace. The fantasy within the sculpture is the depiction of human experience in these animals joined together, this circle of friends. It expresses joy and laughter and movement, the love and respect within relationship, the display of inclusion in spite of differences.

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I think I almost captured the energy this sculpture emits – the movement that can be felt. I think that when we are in troubled times, like the people of all nations and continents are currently experiencing, it is difficult to see how we will work our way out to better times. We can become de-moralized, feel helpless and incapable of making our world a better place. But we can do it, you and I.

We can embrace and shake the dry, cracked and dirty hand of a person we meet and offer some help while respecting the dignity of the person-hood we see in their eyes. Maybe instead of looking at and seeing difference in skin color, hair texture, or clothing styles we can share a space with them, looking for ways to work together, respecting all contributions. Maybe instead of hearing and being frustrated with a difficult to understand accent, we can work to find ways to listen to what is being communicated so we can find commonalities and relationship for a better outcome for all. We can admire them for being smart enough to be bilingual.

Most important, we in the U.S. can be thinking about the election coming up in less than two years. We need to get beyond the noise of empty promises and lies to understanding the candidate’s values. Do they recognize income inequality and have ideas about how to bring about wages that allow all people who work to be able to support their families without living below the poverty line? What do candidates believe are human rights – adequate education to give all people skills to earn a living and critical thinking ability to participate in our democratic system, basic health care for everyone, adequate housing, healthy food, access to infrastructure? Do they believe children should be protected and taken care of – even Black or Jewish or Muslim or Hispanic? Do they embrace “other” and “different” so that social values can continue to change to make room for people who aren’t just like us? What do they believe about our place in the world? Do they believe we should fight only for our interests or do they believe all people should have a share of the world’s resources? Does the candidate recognize the complexity of international relationships and articulate a way of relating to foreign leaders that is respectful of our rights and the rights of the people of foreign countries?

Different does not mean the same as bad, illegal, immoral, or dangerous. My challenge for the coming year is to find ways to respect different while fighting against actions that are really bad, illegal, immoral and dangerous. I need to clarify my values and work to understand whether proposed national policy is consistent with what I believe. I need to continue working to do what I can to make life better for those individual who have been denied basic needs because of their differences and political greed. And of course there is room for you to join me in creating millions of concentric and overlapping Circle(s) of Friends.

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Let’s join hands.

Thoughts on a Banana Blossom

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I was walking into the Botanical Garden, focused mostly on getting where I wanted to be before the harsh Florida sun was high enough in the sky to sap all color out of my photographs. The entrance is lined with lush plants and this banana tree bud caught my attention. It was just below eye level and cocooned in leaves so, from my perspective, just a portion of the red top poked above the leaf in front.

I am fascinated with how hands of bananas grow but this bud elicited more of a response than just curiosity and amazement. It touched the part of me that wants to be safe and protected, cocooned by something bigger and stronger. This is probably an indication of the extent that the chaos in our government is once again undermining my emotional health. My sense of being vulnerable and insecure also probably comes from the subtle and increased aggression of Russia against democratic countries, including our own. They have waged war against us and our allies, in a way that doesn’t use guns and bombs but is just as destructive. It is similar to domestic violence that is psychological instead of physical. We know something is happening to break our mind and spirit and health, but there are no bruises or broken bones or burns or bullet holes to use as evidence, as proof for those who are skeptical or want to deny that it is happening.

That is what drew me in, my own emotional response from my primitive stress response of fight or flight. I wanted to flee into that softly lit, protective environment. But there was also a cognitive response, one that is more of a fight response, a call to action. My mental reaction was that every developing child, every developing creature, deserves and needs this type of protective environment for optimal well-being – physical, spiritual, mental and emotional.

Statistical data comparing us against other democratic, developed countries has historically shown that we, as a country, really don’t care for our children. We score poorly on so many measures of factors that are known to be good for children, such as infant death rate, number of children who go to bed hungry, preventive health measures like vaccinations, number of deaths from accidents among children aged one to seventeen, indicators of opportunity to gain a quality education (like having more than 10 books in at home). Reading the UNICEF 2007 report on child poverty fills me with a sense of shame that our country, with one of the highest GNP,  falls at the bottom of so many charts of indicators of child well-being. In the best of times our society seems to put wealth and prosperity for the privileged few and lower taxes ahead of the well-being of all our children and in the last year it seems like programs that have worked to level the playing field for children and families are being dismantled through funding cuts.

That is where my mind went as I photographed, processed and started writing this blog, but I still find this blossom with developing fruit fills me with hope. For me it is symbolic of what we will be able to accomplish if the #Never Again movement started by the young people of Parkland High School continues to grow. I hope the “adults in the room” will hear their plea for safety, especially safe places in which to learn. How wonderful it would be if policy makers at all levels put the needs of Every Child ahead of self-interest and greed, ahead of the interests of the 10% who don’t need any more of anything.

Sometimes Life is Messy

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Sometimes life feels really messy and I become overwhelmed, over-stressed. I want to fight for human rights, equality of opportunity, a healthier planet, kindness and generosity. I see problems that need solutions and solutions proposed that are purposely designed to take from those with the least to give to those who already have more than they need. I see hatred, corruption, sexual harassment, self-interest over caring for those in need and a planet in distress. My heart hurts at constant examples of people who value obtaining great wealth over doing what is right.

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I work hard to take care of myself so I have adequate energy for living life on my terms. Over the past two and half years I have periodically realized that politics and the meanness in the world was going to bed with me, interrupting my sleep, and sapping my energy. During those times I would decrease my internet and television political time and would focus on all that is beautiful as an antidote for the messiness of life.

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For some reason this strategy stopped working for me during the first part of October. I could feel myself slipping into a mild depression and frequently said to friends that I wanted to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. The problem was that I knew how not to be part of the problem – by not making derogatory comments about people who express support for incompetent politicians. I know I can maybe be a part of the solution by having the integrity of living a life that is consistent with my values of honesty, truth, compassion, inclusiveness, equality and living simply. But I didn’t know how to be part of the big picture solution. It sounds grandiose but I wanted to be able to do something that would fix Washington, to fix the injustices that were happening, overrule the harmful policies that hurt those without power. I wanted the power to do right but was realizing that I might belong to the group that is without power. Ouch!

My solution: for the past 40-some days I have been knitting hats. Lots of hats with more yarn being shipped for even more hats. I have been knitting almost a hat a day and hope to be able to make them available to low- and no-income people who visit a pantry that gives out personal care items and cleaning products in my community in Michigan. I have knit little hats and big hats, hats with stripes and hats with cables, and hats with fancy stitches. I have knit hot pink hats and blue hats and green hats and grey hats. I just finished a “roy g b” hat with red, orange, yellow, green and blue stripes (I don’t have indigo and violet).

Most important, I knitted every hat thinking about some child, some teenager, some parent, some homeless person who will be a little warmer during the cold Michigan winter. I knitted in a little joy and goodwill into every stitch, hoping that the people who get them will feel it. By knitting hats, I also knitted my soul back together (with a help of a couple of good sermons that were relevant).

Happy Birthday, Canada

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JB flies the Canadian flag a couple of times a year – on his father’s birthday and on Canada Day. Today is a very special day for our friends down the road and across the Ambassador Bridge because they are celebrating 150 years since the federation of their country.

Bravo, Canada. We are proud of you – you have a lot of class. You feel like the next door neighbors who are like family, who are invited to special parties, who we celebrate holidays with. We have visited your special places often over the years and look forward to visiting Nova Scotia again in late summer. We always feel welcome when we cross into your land and have experienced countless acts of kindness during our visits.

JB and I feel a special kinship with you that runs deep in our souls. Many of our visits have been to the area where JB’s father was born and raised. I have often wished that his father hadn’t denounced his citizenship to become a U.S. citizen. It would have been nice if JB would have been granted duel citizenship when he was born. Funny how, because I love JB so much, I share his special heritage and experience his kinship with Canada.

But our ties to Canada have grown more special in the past few years because several of our Florida neighbors live in Ontario and winter with us. I’ve been thinking about them over the past few day and today decided to write this post for them, especially the Nash and the Welch families.

Today we received a surprise package in the mail from our Canadian neighbors, Don and Jackie. Jim loves the hat with the big, red Maple Leaf, Don, and we are both eager to use the Parks Canada Discovery Pass on our travels in a couple of months. And maybe the most special gift for Jim – a postcard from the Segwun, the steam boat we booked passage on a couple of summers ago. It was addressed to “An Honorary (not Ornery) Canadian – JIM.” That makes both of us smile big! We miss you, too.

Thanks, Sweetheart

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A love letter to my co-parent:

Doesn’t this photo bring back lots of memories! What a great dad you were in those days, and your capacity to nurture and care for your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews has grown with time.

I looked for digitized photos of you and the kids together but there are only lots of photos of the kids. Lots of photos from camping trips we did “on the cheap” at state forests like House Lake, east of Harrison in Michigan’s lower peninsula. You aren’t in the picture, but you were very much there. We raised our children in an era when men were suppose to be involved with their careers while women stayed home taking care of children. But you were always involved with our children – both at home and away.

Seeing this photo brings a flood of memories of us, together, having fun, creating fun for our kids. You were there, working along side me to open the pop-up camper, get out the lantern and cook stove, the wooden box you made that served as our kitchen, the ice chest, and struggle with that heavy canvas awning – just in case it rained. You taught the kids how to collect and cut wood for the evening campfire – and took them fishing, although I don’t remember having any fish dinners as a result. We found and picked wild strawberries for supper and blueberries for breakfast pancakes although not many made them back to the camper. We went swimming when we needed showers because at this campground we had to pump and carry our water. And we hiked, looking for streams to play in and sticks to drag and stones to throw – and this chimney that stirred our imagination and provided a prop for the photo.

All those years you were doing exactly what you were designed to do so it doesn’t seem special to you. But I know differently. I know what a special dad and uncle you have been (remember all the nieces and nephews and friends we took camping with us). And the kids remember, and adore you; I can tell by how they interact with you. Remember the fall that Mike and his two young sons went camping with us. We stayed in Gladwin because they have hook-ups, but Mike wanted to take the boys to House Lake so they could spend the day doing the things that Mike so fondly remembers. He has this same photo hanging on his wall but with Zach and Alex are sitting on the ledge.

I don’t spend a lot of energy on these “Hallmark Day” but today I am saying a prayer of thankfulness for you. By being such a great father, you made it possible for me to be a better mother and you helped me be a better person.

Thank you, sweetheart, for your dedication to your family. I love you very much.