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Archive for the ‘community’ Category

chagall dreams

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4

Someone vandalizes a church and a Jewish community center in Northern Virginia. They paint swastikas on buildings and dark words over a sign supporting Muslims. This happens on the first night of Passover, at the start of the Christian holy week. The story is here.

Then the police track down a suspect. Dylan Mahone is a 20-year-old man who has found his way into white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles. A student at the community college. A neighbor who lives just blocks from the house my former partner shares with his two kids. A young man whose Facebook page drips with racism and hate and noxious fantasies of violence.

White. Christian. Educated. Male.

One of ours. One of us.

(more…)

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unity papalini

The minister of my Unitarian congregation invited me to share the story of why I joined our church. The Sunday I’m scheduled to speak happens to coincide with a moment of extraordinary upheaval in the national Unitarian Universalist Association. A senior-level hiring decision unearthed patterns of white supremacy and bias that many people of my faith believed didn’t exist, not here, not among us. We see yet again that privileges, blinders, and oppressive structures exist everywhere — even within people of goodwill who speak of inclusion and equity. Even those of us whose deepest value is radical love.

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NOW poster makers

The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.

– Yann Martel, Life of Pi

A handful of friends and neighbors gathered for a second time. We got together in my living room to share ideas and support each other in our efforts to become more politically active.

Our first meeting took place in early February. We kicked off with drive and energy and a fury of commitment. In the intervening six weeks, our national disaster escalated and many of us lost momentum. Speaking candidly with friends and peeking into my own heart, I notice that many are experiencing the outrage fatigue we predicted. The Republican administration continues to throw all its might into dismantling regulation, research, democratic checks, civil liberties, protection of the commons, and social safety nets. Those of us committed to these institutions as well as to the values that undergird them have lost our sense of direction. How do we respond when everything is a crisis?

First we admit the sense of loss.

Then we remember that these power mongers win if they paralyze us, so we must keep moving.

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spiral-jetty-2

… forgiveness is not rational. One can seldom find a reason to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is often undeserved. It may require a dimension of justice (penance, in traditional terms), but not always, for what it holds sacred is not fairness, but self-respect and community. Forgiveness does not wipe away guilt, but invites reconciliation. And it is as important to be able to forgive as it is to be forgiven.


-Sara Moores Campbell, Into the Wilderness

He invites us to call up a regret we hold, a mistake.  Through our restless quiet echoes the faint string of notes we each play: I wish I had  and I wish I hadn’t and if only.  The salt, he tells us, is that regret, that unforgiven act or omission.  In water, it never vanishes entirely — there is no forgetting —  though the hold it has on us dissipates.   It joins with the larger body of life, of surrender, of renewal.”Anyone who is so moved,” he says, “may come up and add a pinch of salt to the water.”

One by one, the congregants rise.  Does music play?  It’s hard to hear above the gathering notes of memory.  Our collective, unspoken remorse finds its chord and travels along the thread of bodies.  We shuffle and nod to one another. We make our way to the place where we are allowed to let go.

At the front rest two clear vessels, soap-bubble delicate and huge as bellies.  Water catches golden light filtering in from an October sun. Two deep platters of salt welcome a pinch or a fistful, depending. Some of us, I confide later, could do with a shovel.  Each of us drops our quantity of crystals in through the glass mouth.  The salt bursts into tendrils and swirls to a cloud. In one motion, our mistake both falls and rises, dissolving into light.  As we watch it go, each of us says these words:

“I forgive myself and begin again in love.”

We make our way back along that strand holding us to the place we started.  Something is changed, though.  The path feels emptied somehow.  The rows of seats, more capacious.

I watch the last of the congregants weave through the space.  Each of them, like me, carries these sorrows, these hurts.  We recognize the damage we have certainly caused.  We can see how it lives on not only in us but around us in the small world we inhabit.

Each of them, like me, goes on anyway.

For this one moment, alongside the unlikely echo of a shared chord, we are free to give way to forgiveness.

We begin again, together, in love.


Image: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970

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dore dark forest

Someone is pooping in my neighborhood.  On the edge of the path that connects the playground to the AT&T parking lot, a pile of black feces swarms with silver-winged flies.  They are doing the important work.  All around the heap of waste are scattered thick restaurant napkins, crushed, stained with smears.  Someone squatted right here.  Right where our kiddos play.  Not in the brambles, not behind a tree, but right here.  When he (because I assume it’s a he, who else would be so bold?) finished, he left his tissue all over the ground.  The garbage can is 20 paces away, and there is another at each corner of the park.  (more…)

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CCT

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.


– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

With a little vacation away from work and my kiddo off canoeing at day camp, it’s time for a fix of woods.  I pull up Hiking Upward to find something near enough to hit in a few hours but far enough for solitude.

This is the goal: solitude.  And its accompanying quiet.

Humans are social creatures, sure, and we need to be in proximity to people as much for a sense of connection as for all the stuff — the supermarket and hospital, the auto mechanic and school.  To survive, we need to be in community.  Even so, too much proximity to too many others can take its toll.  The buzz of engines and clang of machines, the soundtrack of urban and suburban life, can jam the signals.  When I start to notice myself too focused on the clock and task list, too alert, too aware of every demand and every passing vehicle, I know it’s time to seek out a forest.

Hiking Upward’s interactive maps let a user explore a stretch from southern Pennsylania to northern North Carolina.  The descriptions cover each leg of the journey and reviewers add details to keep things up to date.  Many of the reviews make note of the presence or absence of “road noise,” which is almost impossible to escape anywhere in the mid-Atlantic.  The site rates each hike on five characteristics: difficulty, streams, views, camping, and — yes — solitude.

For a mid-July hike in Virginia, shade would be more important than peaks.  Quiet, most important of all.  Out west in the Shenandoah and beyond, several hikes hit all the right numbers.

The problem is that lately, I’ve been taking care to drive less.  My dual commitments to frugality and environmental stewardship have me hopping on the bus and train when I can, even though this choice extends the commute.  Bug and I bike around the neighborhood for fun instead of driving to parks further away.  My shopping and entertainment are much closer to home, and I make every effort to combine trips by doing things like picking up groceries during my weekday lunchtime walk then lugging them home on the metro.

This desire for the woods is in direct conflict with the desire for sustainable living.  Still, the girl hungers to be out in the quiet.  By the time I’ve gone to bed, I’ve settled on a regional park about 16 miles out of town.  It seems shaded enough, isolated enough, and close enough that it would meet all the criteria without my little Corolla belching too much carbon monoxide back into the atmosphere.

Thankfully, sleep has a most refreshing effect on my conflicted mind.  Blessed is the deep rest that washes clear the path.

I wake to this thought: I want to go somewhere free of road noise, and I’m going to put my car on the road to get there?

The hypocrisy makes me smile.  I climb out of bed determined to make a choice that will honor both of my commitments.

With my hiking gear already in the car and my kiddo packing up his sunscreen and bug spray for day camp, I hop back online.  Where can I hike without leaving town?

Fairfax County, Virginia is home to environmental leaders whose dedication far surpasses mine.   My neighbors have been working for decades to protect the fragile watersheds that sustain our region.  In the 1990s, a critical mass of residents and leaders began to plan the 40-mile long Cross-County Trail. Its path  moves through vast ribbons of green whose undeveloped foliage act as sponges to filter pollutants from our streams.

This trail weaves in and out of neighborhoods.  It follows busy roads to connect sections of woodland.  I’ve walked parts of it further east, popular sections next to parking lots and ball-fields.   Those areas are wide and groomed, with bikes and families and runners.  But miles of the trail wind through areas that are hard to find unless you know where to look.

The truth is, I’ve never thought much of this local trail as a “hike.”

It’s time to change that.

One section of the trail happens to be within a few hundred yards of the bus pick-up spot for Bug’s camp.  The Corolla will clock exactly zero additional miles and I can be hiking.  So this is what we do, Noodle and me.  We drop the kiddo at the bus, I shrug into the backpack, and we start walking.

Around the golf course, behind houses, and into the woods.

Woods!  Woods like forest, like Shenandoah, like a wild place.  Creek crossings.  Lush carpets of ferns.  Damp oak leaves drooping across the sky.  Solitude, yes — in three hours, only four people pass us.  And while the occasional distant leaf blower or lawnmower jars me back to this zip code, the morning is almost entirely quiet.

“Quiet” isn’t the same as “silence.”  Truth is, when we need to replenish the spirit, silence is not really what we’re after.  Rather, we crave the absence of pressing need, the muting of the incessant clatter that keeps us in a heightened state of reactivity.  Quiet is far from quiet.  It’s a music, a pulse of wildness that tracks the beat inside us.  Quiet is the chittering throb of cicadas, the swooping cry of an unidentified bird.  The small crystal shattering of water over stone.

Eight and a half miles we walk through the morning, through our very own town.  I see its raw underside, the part that feeds us whether we know it or not.  It nourishes us without us drawing down its riches.

It’s here.  It’s not just in our backyard, it is our backyard.

It turns out that it is indeed possible to hike close to home.  Isn’t a hike just a walk with intention?  Even a cross-county trail isn’t a requirement.  A hike can cover suburban neighborhoods and city streets.  Seeing any stretch of ground as hike-able reveals a whole new terrain.

Of course, it isn’t new at all.  It simply asks to be entered as if it contains the possibility of wildness and wonder. It simply requires of us “a willingness to trudge.”

We teach our kids to revel in the natural world in ways that minimize damage to it.  We don’t let them deface trees or leave trash.  As grownups making our more complicated calculations, it’s critical to remember that the same simple rules apply.  If we want to keep finding refuge in the forest, if we want our grandkids to seek sustenance in the unbuilt world, then we need to do our part to sustain it.  Sometimes that means choosing not to go at all.  Sometimes means opening ourselves to the wild places waiting right outside the door.


 

 

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