To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…
The secret is that every day a new world is born.
It is the first week of September, and a new season is upon us.
I must confess that, when living in the tropical regions of our planet, one of the things I miss the most is the changing of the seasons. I was blessed to “raise up” in a land of snow-covered winters, wildflower-laden springs, hot, golden summers, and crunchy, delicious autumns (I can’t tell you how intensely I’m craving a Hood River apple right now!). And there’s something about the changing of the seasons, the passing of the baton from one to another that evokes a sense of nostalgia and wonder. Of time and place and purpose…of connectedness with the cycles and rhythms of the earth.
Of course, it is also a blessing to be here, on this green island. And it’s not that we don’t have seasons in Dominica—we do. But we don’t exactly refer to them as winter, spring, summer and fall. Rather, they’re known as “Rainy Season,” “Really Rainy Season,” and “Hurricane Season.” Or they’re identified by the fruits they bear—April and May are Mango Season, June and July are Pineapple Season, etc. Presently, we are in Guava Season.
In these September mornings, as I walk down the Carib Territory Road, breathing in, breathing out, and beholding the world around me, I can’t perceive any of the usual indicators I associate with the arrival of fall: the briskness in the air, the taste of apple cider on my tongue, the crunch of flame-colored leaves beneath my feet. Here, regardless of the Earth’s position as it circumambulates the sun, the leaves and vines and grasses remain a robust and brilliant green. I wake every morning to the thudding of coconuts and the crowing of roosters, and sleep to the chirping of crickets. And whether it is breadfruit season, grapefruit season, or sour sop season, the tropical air is either heavy with rain, or heavy with the promise of rain.
But the calendar says September. And this week, the children of the Carib Territory will grease and braid their hair, iron their pleated skirts or navy blue trousers, fill their backpacks with sharpened pencils, crisp new notebooks, and jars of guava juice, and go Back to School. Fall in the Caribbean may have a different flavor, but it is still a new season. And I welcome it with open arms.
This summer was hard.
I don’t know if I’ve conveyed much of the heaviness of these past three months on “Sounds of Laughter.” This is partly because, if I dwelt too much in the dark side, I’d have to change the blog’s title… and “Sounds of Wailing” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? But I’ve focused more on the positive mainly because there have been many, many joys, and I feel that when I’m able to recount them here, it deepens their beauty and significance for me. Sharing laughter and light and victories uplifts us all. Yet, sometimes, sharing our struggles can uplift us too. “For this reason,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes, “must all human beings powerfully sustain one another.” “Love thou the children of men,” He exhorts us, “and share in their sorrows.” Our loads are so much lighter when we carry them together. Now, I have a feeling that when I put them in writing, the “sorrows” of this summer won’t seem so onerous. This tends to happen when take a step back from something and stare at it in the face. The more distance between you and it, the smaller it becomes. Small, and even laughable. But initially, it’s a goliath.
As Hand of the Cause of God Dorothy Baker so wisely articulated, “Pioneering is ecstasy and tears.” As I acknowledged, these weekly postings have focused mostly on the ecstasy, which has been in ample supply here…but let me tell you, we shed a lot of tears this summer (I can almost hear the Junior Youths’ voices as I type, “Oh Den-Den, stop being so emotional”). Our morning cry-sessions have become almost a daily ritual. We trundle out of our home with prayer books in hand, and situate ourselves on the green plastic chairs we’ve placed in our backyard prayer spot (well, first we tip the chairs to dump off the puddles of accumulated rainwater, then re-situate them so as not to sink into the mud…but they sink anyway). One of us starts with a prayer, or a meek little song, and—inevitably—something in it will trigger the waterworks. So we sniffle our way through our prayers, and by the time we’ve read a page or two from The Dawnbreakers (our morning reading of the summer), the sniffles have become blubbering sobs.
Why has this been happening to us? I can’t say for sure. But I think that when we commune with our Maker, we’re reduced to our rawest, most vulnerable state of being (I’m calling to mind phrases contained in Bahá’í prayers such as “Thou seest my lowliness, weakness, and humility…”, “O Lord, I am single, alone, and lowly…”, “Lowly and tearful I raise my suppliant hands to Thee…” and so many others, most involving some form of the word “lowly”). I’ve gotta say, never before have I felt so acutely my own lowliness as I have this season. Part of it is that, with the passing of the days and months, as both the tests and the joys intensify, I am made continuously more aware of the preciousness of this work, of this Cause…and what a bounty it is to be here. A bounty whose sacredness I will probably never—at least not in this world—fully comprehend. And a bounty of which I feel entirely undeserving. It’s amazing how, when you venture onto the path of service, all your imperfections boil up to the surface and force you to acknowledge them…not unlike the scratchy heat rash that has covered my skin the past three months.
So when we sit on those green plastic chairs in the morning, turning our faces eastward to the crashing Atlantic and—just beyond the horizon—the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, begging desperately for spiritual strength, for the progress of this blessed community, for worthiness, the irony of the chairs sinking deeper and deeper into the mud is not lost on us. They can be paralyzing, these feelings of inadequacy, and there were days this summer where we couldn’t even muster the will to leave our house. But this is all par for this course, isn’t it? Shoghi Effendi writes, in a passage that brings tranquility to my agitated heart:
Your sense of inadequacy, your realisation of your own unworthiness is not unique at all. Many, from the Highest to the humblest have had it. Now the wisdom of it is this: it is such seemingly weak instruments that demonstrate that God is the Power achieving the victories and not men. Rest assured, dear sister, you will ever-increasingly be sustained, and you will find joy and strength given to you…
Lately, one of the sources of joy and strength for me has been through immersing myself in books. In earlier seasons, Roushy and I had an evening ritual of cooking dinner together and listening to an inspiring talk (here’s a link that has some wonderful ones, from Hands of the Cause and members of the Universal House of Justice. Ted.com, which I’m sure most are familiar with, is another favorite. We would download these on Thursdays, and listen to them throughout the week). But this summer, bouts of sickness forced Roushy to go to bed early (and made it hard to eat a full meal), so in the absence of our evening ritual, I did a lot of nighttime reading. I began the summer with Be Here Now, followed by The Sergeant, the General, and Armageddon; Meditations on the Eve of November Fourth; The Te of Piglet; The Crying Tree; The Omnivore’s Dilemma; The Shadow of the Wind; The Art of Racing in the Rain; The Faith Club; Getting Stoned with Savages (please don’t judge it by its title! It’s surprisingly witty and educational); In a Sunburned Country; and this week I started Dr. Muhajir: Hand of the Cause of God, Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, which, I believe, began to alter the course of my life by paragraph two of the introduction. I dare you to read it.
As I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier posting, I rarely remember details of books, no matter how deeply they impact me. But a certain thought from Be Here Now (which was a gift from dear friend and fellow member of the Caribbean Initiative Christine Kurzius-Krug), has remained at the surface of my mind:
Either you do it like it’s a big weight on you
Or you do it as part of the dance.
I love this. And I’ve been trying to carry it with me throughout the ecstasy and tears of this summer. We can choose to trudge, or dance. This beautiful truth is reinforced in one of those Ted.talks I referred to (“The Opportunity of Adversity”), which concludes with a poem from Hafiz:
Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does
But the God who knows only 4 words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me.”
This poem makes me really happy. But here’s the thing about our dance. Not only has it been clunkety, unrhythmic and utterly devoid of elegance, but it insists on following the most frustrating of choreography: one step forward, two steps back.
Yes, there were some encouraging steps forward this summer. One of the greatest gifts the season proffered was the renewing, soul-nourishing visits of loved ones from overseas. And, of course, there was the arrival of Accompany, Darling, Boofy, Foofy/Pip and Butterscotch into our lives (Butterscotch has since been adopted by an uncle down the road, but it appears the other four pups are going to permanently reside on our front porch). There was growth in the community, the establishment of three wonderful new children’s classes, the formation of a new junior youth group, and the deepening of bonds of friendship all around. There were Feasts, Service Projects, a Holy Day, a Teaching Campaign, long walks on the road and trips to the sea.
But the steps back have been disheartening. One of our most active Bahá’ís has been bed-ridden for the past three months. Amongst some of the community members, hurt feelings and misunderstandings have given rise to an estrangement felt by all. The Local Spiritual Assembly has only once been able to reach a quorum of five members—and at the last meeting only two members showed up, even though we’d planned to do an afternoon of home-visits together (the two members were Roushy and Den-Den). The denunciation of the Faith from church pulpits has persisted. And the Carib Territory’s sole Junior Youth Animator left for college last week.
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! (that’s the sound of me wailing).
Yet, in the midst of my sobs, I am reminded of Kibomi, the protagonist of Glimmerings of Hope, one of the texts studied by the Junior Youth. He decides, in the face of adversities far greater than mine, to choose hope. He chooses to shake off the mud and dance, placing his affairs in God’s hands—even if it means taking two steps back sometimes. He reminds us that optimism is ever an option…and it’s a far more graceful dancer than despair.
Thus, although it may not feel like fall, and though that promising era of sharpened pencils and crisp new notebooks is over for me, I am going to make a Back-to-School Resolution: to be like Kibomi. To cling to hope, and let it lead me. After all, if—as Dorothy Baker avows—a new world is born every day, how much more so with every new season.