Archive for January, 2008

The Gift

January 31, 2008

Each of us has been sent here with unique talents. Somewhere, there is someone needing us to use them. What if we never do?

Keep going . . . you are needed

The Post – Scarlett O’Hara and her molted ghost

January 31, 2008

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Well, I’ve been promising pictures of the fiddler family members so let’s start with Scarlett O’Hara and her recent molt.

The first picture shows her just after she molted, climbing down the side of the water filter. I love how they can have their eyestalks going in two directions as they move about. If you look closely, the right eyestalk is vertical, while the left one is scanning in a horizontal direction. Off to the right in the picture, her whitish “ghost” sits, discarded. With the water currents waving the legs and claws back and forth, the discarded shell looked eerily alive.

The second one shows her nestled safely under the water filter and behind her old self (fuzzy part in front), where she rested for some time. It is not unusual for newly molted crabs to hide. Their new shells are soft at this point and they feel vulnerable. So they hide to give themselves protection as their new shell hardens.

The third picture though a bit dark, gives you a close-up view of the ghost version. You can see the empty leg, claw and eyestalk casings. I will add that the “ghost of Scarlett O’Hara” no longer exists. Admiral Byrd ate it. Perhaps he is getting ready to molt. Crabs often eat discarded shells to reclaim the calcium the shells contain.

Last picture shows Scarlett O’Hara when she finally emerged from under the water filter. Still a bit tentative, she sought shelter under an overhang on the Live Rock.

These were all from Saturday, the 26th. Today she was back to her old self, running around the tank and eating. Maybe I can get a lighter picture of her now that she’s out and about. I need to work on “lighting” issues for these, but still, not bad considering no flash and long exposure times.

Soon to come, Admiral Byrd and Melanie Hamilton!!!

The Gift

January 30, 2008

“You should never have expectations for other people. Just be kind to them.”

Pema Chodron, from her book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living.

The Post – Caring, is catchy

January 30, 2008

Probably the most interesting thing in the fiddler crab experiment is my family’s reaction to them. My son came home from college at Christmas and initially looked at me like I was crazy because I talked so much about the crabs. In fact, my independent college student complained I was paying more attention to the fiddler crabs. He kept laughing at me as I talked to the crustaceans in that high-pitched mommy voice previously reserved for my toddler son and pet poodles. My husband just kept teasing me about the total amount we were up to on fiddler crab expenditures.

Within of day of being home, my son started watching them, and within a few days he was keeping track of who was doing what and telling me to check on Melanie Hamilton or Rhett Butler. In fact, I think he was the one who first noticed that Rhett Butler was dead.

My husband was the one who spotted Scarlett O’Hara molting and eagerly called me over to see her when I came in from grocery shopping. Last night, he came in from work and before he even said hello to me he stopped, peered in the tank and said with great concern, “There’s something wrong with Admiral Byrd! I think he’s dead!” As it turned out (after I poked Admiral Byrd with my latest acquisition, a 25 cc plastic pipette and bulb from Science Safari that I use to siphon out excess food), I think Admiral Byrd was just sleeping – they kind of hang there, their claws floating above their heads, and don’t react to much. But my husband walked away and said very seriously, “I think you’d better keep an eye on him.”

What I realized is that caring, like a cold, is an occupational hazard of sharing space. When you share space, even with a creature who has a brain the size of a pinpoint, it starts to get personal. When it’s personal, you start to care, even when you didn’t mean to.

I think the same thing happens with people. So often you hear people say, “I don’t like this group or that.” Then they meet someone from that group and find out they really are okay . . . maybe even . . . nice. It’s hard to share space – sit across the table from someone, hear their humanness, see it in their eyes – and not care. That’s the real risk factor I suspect . . . contact . . . sharing space. The minute you share the space, you start to see the real person. Once that happens, it’s personal. And once it’s personal, you’re done for because caring is catchy.

The Post – There really IS a deeper process at work here

January 29, 2008

Some lighter fare on tap in the next few days…photos of Admiral Byrd waving his claw, Scarlett O’Hara and her molted ghost self, and . . . even the ever reclusive Melanie Hamilton! Finally caught her sitting on her “front porch” – ie the open hole in the Live Rock – at 6:30 this morning. Stay tuned.

For today: So does staring into a tank of fiddler crabs, never mind shooting photographs of them at 6:30 in the morning, REALLY have anything to do with writing?

The answer? It all depends. You mean you wanted a definite answer? Here’s a clue – Mindfulness and heart. Still confused?

Simply said, it’s what you bring to the situation. You can sit there and stare at them and your mind could be on the bills, what you’re going to buy at the grocery store, what you could be doing instead of sitting in front of a tank of crabs. You could sit there and nod, “Yup, they’re crabs. Eyestalks. Sideways walk. They all look alike. So what?”

Or you can sit there and notice that Melanie Hamilton has much tinier front claws than Scarlett O’Hara. That she is timid and almost never comes out of her crevice in the live rock…except early in the morning when the sunlight streams into the kitchen and hits that side of the tank. She loves to sit in the sunlight on her front porch. Or that Scarlett O’Hara, who normally never stops eating and never hides out, suddenly after molting has stopped eating and has refused to move from under the water filter. Or that Admiral Byrd, normally fearless, crawled into his tunnel cave after discovering Peter Lorre’s lifeless body and started twitching and wouldn’t eat.

The difference is how you watch. Are you fully present? And did you bring your heart? The heart makes all the difference.

I am taking an online spirituality course with some friends, studying the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh (pronouced Tick Naught Han). He is an 80-year-old Vietnamese monk who endured the horrors of the Vietnam War, came to America to try and stop it, and was deemed a threat by both the Communist and non-Communist regimes in Vietnam. While searching for peace, he found himself everybody’s enemy. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his efforts to stop the war, and in his later years one of his many healing works has been to heal the souls of former American servicemen haunted by that war. Having lost close personal friends to that war, he has every reason to hate Americans. Instead he’s spent half his life healing people around the world, including Americans.

He tells a story in one of his books about a young man who wanted to learn to draw lotus flowers. So he went to a master to apprentice with him. The master took him to the lotus pond and left him sitting there for 10 days. Can you imagine in today’s busy world, signing up for lessons to learn something quickly, only to be left sitting at a pond for 10 days?

The real essence was what the young man did with that time. He could have gotten impatient (something I know a lot about), and grumbled, sighed, walked away, went shopping, took a nap, try to do something USEFUL with that time instead of just sitting there. Instead for the whole time, he watched the flowers bloom when the sun was high. He watched them close into buds at night. He watched one flower wilt and drop its petals into the water, then studied the stalk, the stamen and the rest of the flower.

On the 11th day the master returned and brought him a brush to paint with. Although his picture showed his naivete of technique, a childish style, the lotus he painted was beautiful. Deep beauty shone from the painting. He had become the lotus and as such, even with poor technique, he could paint something that moved another’s heart.

Mindfulness and heart. He paid attention to the lotus. He worked from his heart. Writing, really good writing that moves people’s souls, comes from the heart, not the brain. You can write a technically beautiful book but without heart it’s a sterile desert emotionally.

I started out watching fiddler crabs not sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect them to have personalities and subtle differences in appearance and actions. And I most certainly didn’t expect to feel such upset as I watched Peter Lorre tumble off his rock, dead.

With any luck, at least a little part of me has become the crab. With just a little more luck, maybe that crab heart will come through in my book. I’d trade a whole bunch of technical expertise for just a handful of heart.

By the way, if of interest to read a good summary of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life, check out this link at Parallax Press.

http://www.parallax.org/about_tnh.html

The Gift – a writer’s extra

January 29, 2008

For any writers who want to play, I learned of this new virtual writing site. The author describes it this way:

“Flip through the Flash Fictions, read the papers scattered on my
desktop, play vocabulary solitaire and fill someone’s rice bowl at the
same time, add your comments about a 21st century spell on our
adolescents, and look for the squirrels that hide random things in the
walls.”
http://rhombusroom.net

The Gift

January 29, 2008

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Can you tell I hate the cold of January? A reminder of summer – a “resident” hard at work on the thistles at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, a place I’ve loved since I was 10.

The Post – Father, if Jesus exists, Then how come he never lived here

January 28, 2008

I had planned to write about the serious soul process that underlies the seemingly frivolous hours of fiddler crab watching – the quiet transformation of heart that yields the creation. However in moving the freezing car out of the driveway so my husband could leave for work, I caught a request from the Universe in the form of a song lyric, to share some thoughts about something else, so I decided to do the writing post tomorrow. For what I write here, these are simply my thoughts, how I make sense of things for me. No one else has to believe this, or agree with it.

I turned on the car and immediately the request blurted from the speakers. On the car’s CD player, Sting’s The Soul Cages; the song, “All This Time”; the words: “Father, if Jesus exists, Then how come he never lived here.”

I’ve spoken similar words SO many times in life, though mine were less eloquent and much more enraged. “Where ARE you? You don’t even care, do you? You did this to me. I did what you asked . . . I prayed. Every single day in Catholic school I went to Mass. Loved being there in that quiet with you. BELIEVED in you. In everything you said. And THIS is what you leave me in? How could you?” The rant usually ended with a 4-lettered action suggestion for God. And I meant it. There’s a saying – we give out as much pain as we feel. Truer words were never spoken, and I threw every last bit of it back at God.

Yet even as I did that, there was this small tiny place inside that knew He wouldn’t get mad at me for it – He was more like a gentle parent with an overwrought two-year-old. The child doesn’t understand. The parent knows it’s useless to explain because the child is too young. All the parent can do is hold the child while it cries in frustration and fatigue. Underneath my rage, I still felt a small voice saying He knew, He understood, He wished He could change it right that minute. For a moment it would comfort me, but then the rage would start again. “Great! So you feel bad I’m in pain. Why aren’t you fixing it?”

It was Buddhism that actually helped me understand that Catholic/Christian God I grew up with, forgive Him, let go of the rage, and learn to love and trust Him again. Buddhism has something called the Four Noble Truths. The very first one is short and sweet, but when I heard it, I felt such relief – Life is suffering.

Now at first read, that almost sounds depressing. If that’s the case, what’s the point? For me though, I heard that and almost immediately felt years of rage drain out of me. I realized . . . God didn’t do it. Suffering. That’s just the way life is. It is the result of living in a world where God doesn’t interfere and let’s us choose. It is the logical result of living in a natural world where sometimes there will be ecstasy and sometimes ultimate black despair. God honors His word to let us have the freedom to make our choices. He lets the world unfold in its natural way. He makes suggestions, but we don’t always listen. As a parent, I know how hard that is, watching from the sidelines while your kids choose something, crash, and choose again. And you want to tell them, but you can’t. So all you can do is suggest, then step back, watch, and stand by them no matter what.

If suffering is, then our role is to choose how we will respond. Either we take it and see what can we create with the hand life dealt us . . . or we give up and die. At least to me, that’s what it comes down to. What will I choose? Life? Or death?

So where is Jesus in all that? Right at my side. He stays there through it all, letting me be mean, letting me vent, lifting me when I can’t go on, whispering suggestions when I’m totally lost. It’s that Latin line: Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit – Bidden or unbidden, God is there. If anyone thinks that’s not very much of a gift, think about the last time you were with someone you loved when they were in tremendous suffering – illness, dying, life misery of some kind – and worst of all, you could only watch. You couldn’t help them. If that isn’t the ultimate suffering in life. Most normal people want to run the other way rather than stay with someone in pain. How many people go to visit someone who just lost a spouse or a child or are dying? It’s hard to watch that, sit with that, not run. Well, consider what it’s like to sit with an entire world of people in pain, support them endlessly, and NEVER leave, get impatient, or tell them off. That TRULY requires a God.

Now, all this said, it’s not to say there aren’t times I want to tell God to go to hell, that what He’s asking for is JUST TOO MUCH. So many times, even when I’ve agreed to do what He’s asked, it’ll come to a point of despair and being driven to my knees and all I can say is ‘I thought I could do this for you but I can’t. Take it away. Please. I just can’t do this anymore.” And the quiet voice just says – try again.

It’s like that parable (Luke 5:1-11) of the apostles spending all night fishing and coming up empty. Exhausted, frustrated, despairing, they return to shore. Jesus is waiting for them. Does He comfort them? Commiserate with them? Put an arm around their shoulders? No. He tells them, go back out and put your nets out. I wouldn’t have blamed the apostles if one of them told Jesus to go pound sand. I mean they worked themselves to the bone all night and all Jesus can say is “Go do it again”??? And if that wasn’t enough, He still didn’t make it easy for them. In spite of whatever they thought, they went back out and did what He asked. Now yes, their nets were filled to the breaking point. Well, great. So yeah, He gave them lots of fish. But still He made it hard. I mean, why didn’t He make it so the fish nets were filled and the fish jumped in the boat or they got tons of fish and God magically transported them to the beach so the exhausted guys didn’t have to kill themselves hauling them all in?

Because…that’s life. God doesn’t change the rules of the world. He helps us work with them, sustain, try again, look for solutions, even when we want to quit. But we still have to do the work.

So. I guess my answer to Sting’s lyric is – He does live here. I don’t always feel Him in the middle of the despair and rages. These days at least, I’ve learned that sooner or later, I will feel Him there and to just trust in the meantime that He is there. All I can suggest is do what the Buddhists say, or that line from Tom Hanks’ movie, Castaway – just keep breathing. Just keep walking. Just keep going. See what you can create with the hand you’ve been dealt. Choose life. Death comes fast enough.

The Gift

January 28, 2008

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

The Gift

January 27, 2008

It’s natural to struggle with that sense of we don’t measure up, especially when we compare ourselves to another. We’re always checking ourselves for how do we look or think or succeed, compared to someone else. Are we as smart? Or pretty? Are we as good a parent? And of course there are the times someone else is trying to make us feel inferior with all their bragging and strutting. Adults can usually regain perspective with lines like, “it’s what’s inside that counts” or “we’re all equal” or that line from the Desiderata: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” These did little though, to comfort a six-year-old boy many years ago. Such lofty abtracts just don’t mean much to the six-year-old brain. They require something plainer, more direct, tangible, not to mention shorter. So I share with you the 8-word bit of wisdom we taught to our son, that in a funny way even works to comfort adults. When feeling like you don’t measure up, or someone is trying to make you feel that way, just remember: “We all taste the same to the worms.” At least for six-year-olds, it did the trick.