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Archive for January, 2010

Calling all angels

Calling all angels
calling all angels
Walk me through this one
Don’t leave me alone.

Send down upon them, O Lord, the concourse of the angels in heaven and earth and all that is between, to aid Thy servants, to succor and strengthen them, to enable them to achieve success, to sustain them, to invest them with glory, to confer upon them honor and exaltation, to enrich them and to make them triumphant with a wondrous triumph. The Báb

_________

I have this rock that looks like an egg, and it reminds me of the angels.

I just stopped typing for a moment, to remove it from my backpack (yup, I often carry it around with me) and hold it in my hand. I bought this little rock, which is the exact size and shape of an egg, at a Chinese store in Portland, Oregon, for a dollar or two. It is cool and smooth to the touch. It rests, heavy and solid, in my palm, and when you hold it up to the light, it shimmers.

Do I have some explaining to do?

Maybe the following passage from Adib Taherzadeh will help clarify the connection between a rock that looks like an egg, and the celestial concourse:

“…the spiritual worlds of God, as testified by Bahá’u’lláh in His Tablets, revolve around this world, the world of man. This means that the next world is not divorced from life in this world, but rather encompasses it. We notice in nature that while the child grows in the womb, he is, in reality, in this world. Only a small barrier separates the womb-world from this one. It is like a chicken inside an egg: before the egg breaks open, a thin shell acts as a barrier, but both the egg and the chicken are in this world from the beginning.

…As longs as man dwells in the physical world he is unable to apprehend the features of the next world, which embraces the human world and all that it contains… it is only after its separation from the body that the soul will appreciate how close the spiritual world has been, and how it encompasses this physical world.”

I am reminded of a field trip I took in Elementary School. I don’t recall if it was to OMSI or a farm or what, but it involved an incubator with a chicken egg inside. We kids clustered around it, peering in eagerly on the little egg, willing it to hatch before our very eyes. To expand on Taherzadeh’s metaphor a little bit, we and humanity are like the chicken embryo, encased in our eggshell, and those giggling schoolchildren—of whom the baby chicken is totally oblivious—are the angels that surround us.

Let’s pause for a second to introduce some “Bahá’í jargon” (to be utilized in this posting) that not everyone may be familiar with:

  • The Abhá Kingdom: The “next world”—that is, world beyond the eggshell. Abhá means “Most Glorious.”
  • Hands of the Cause of God: Very special individuals who were appointed by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi for their spiritual knowledge and wisdom to propagate and protect the Baha’i Faith. They traveled the world over, and devoted their lives to serving the Faith and loving humanity. Only fifty individuals received this title, and all are now members of the concourse on high. We’ve really been putting them to work, and call on a different one to assist us each week. This week, it’s Hand of the Cause of God John Robarts, who—conveniently—once ended a speech with the following affirmation: “We know that we are accompanied by a band of chosen angels who will open the doors and prepare the way for us.”
  • The Concourse on High/The Supreme Concourse/The Hosts of the Heavenly Kingdom/The Scattering Angels of the Almighty/The Hosts of Divine Inspiration: What I have been referring to as “angels”…only ‘cause it’s less wordy. J But my understanding of what these titles refer to is the gathering of souls that have “crossed over” from the eggshell into the world beyond. They are our physical ancestors, and our spiritual ancestors…and they are eager to help us out.
  • Prayer Journal: I think this phrase originated with Liz Washington. It’s essentially a little diary in which one writes down prayers and poems and beautiful words that inspire the soul. Isn’t it nicer to call it a “prayer journal” than a “quote book”? (Incidentally, it’s time for me to start a new prayer journal, as Capacity ate a good portion of mine for a midnight snack last night).

Roushanac and I call on the angels every morning, and they walk us through the day (I think I’ve come to rely on them even more readily than coffee). I mean, honestly, is there anyone out there who can make it through the day without their assistance? The Bahá’í Writings offer myriad assurances that the members of the heavenly concourse are yearning to rush to our side, if only we call on them (which Roushy and I do, unabashadely). Here are a few such assurances:

“The souls of the well-favored among the concourse on high, the sacred dwellers of the most exalted Paradise, are in this day filled with burning desire to return unto this world, that they may render such service as lieth in their power…” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

“The triumphant hosts of the Celestial Concourse, arrayed and marshaled in the Realms above, stand ready and expectant to assist and assure victory to that valiant horseman who with confidence spurs on his charger into the arena of service.” Abdu’l-Bahá

“The hosts of the invisible Kingdom, be assured, will sustain and reinforce your efforts. The essence of power is now dwelling within you, and the company of his chosen angels revolves around you.” The Báb

As I mentioned earlier, we have established the weekly routine of calling on a Hand of the Cause to assist us in our work. But we don’t stop there. We have also been calling on the souls of early pioneers in Dominica, such as the Segens, deceased loved ones of our neighbors, my grandfathers, Bob Marley…frankly, anyone and everyone. If you have a friend or family member in the Abhá Kingdom, especially if you think they have a soft spot in their heart for the Caribbean region, send us their name, and we’ll put ‘em to work! 😉 I hope you realize that, even though it’s impossible for me not to write in a playful tone, I take this matter quite seriously.

We have also been calling on the soul of Veronica Darroux. Veronica was Francillia’s older sister (Francillia is our main contact person/auntie/best friend/mentor here), and she was, I believe, one of the first Carib Bahá’ís. She was deeply in love with the Bahá’í Faith, but never lived to see it flourish in her country (God willing, Francillia will live to witness this!). She passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, a little over two years ago, and is buried in a cemetery on the Carib Reserve. The nurses at the Princess Margaret Hospital still remember her radiance, and sense of humor, and ever-present smile.

Francillia, Roushy and I recently took a walk to the cemetery to pay Veronica a visit. I believe there are few more lovely places to pray than a cemetery. What is it, after all, but a gathering of angels? Veronica’s resting place is located on a sloping green hill overlooking the sea, nestled amid banana trees and hibiscus. The air smells like ocean and flowers, and there is an ever-present breeze. We weeded her grave a bit when we arrived, and then we just sat in silence, listening to the crash of the waves. After a time, we began to sing. Veronica’s favorite Bahá’í song, Francillia had told us, was “Queen of Carmel,” an homage to the Shrine of the Báb on the Holy Mountain in Israel, and we sang out:

Standing on a mountain
looking across the bay.
The Queen of Carmel reigns
She reigns majestically…

It felt almost as if we were in the presence of that Shrine during this visit…and I knew that, somewhere beyond the egg-shell, Veronica was beaming. At some point during the devotions, Roushy opened up her prayer journal and read a passage from Hand of the Cause of God Ruhiyyih Khanum:

Everything that man does, every experience that he encounters, his whole world, mental and physical, is there but for one purpose—to launch him on an eternal voyage to a destination far better than his dearest dream. The day his plane takes off on its journey is the day of its death.

Above our heads, a small white plane soared over the Atlantic Ocean.

I heard that Maya Angelou was once asked, in an interview, how she is consistently able to speak with such inspiration, to repeatedly move her audience to tears. “It’s simple,” she responded. “When I approach the podium, I wait…and only when I feel my ancestors lined up behind me, do I open my mouth to speak.” Dorothy Baker, another inspired speaker, and a Hand of the Cause of God, has said, “Listen to the inner silences…There is always divine companionship in every loneliness. A soul is never alone.”

But we do feel alone sometimes, don’t we?

It’ so easy to forget that the angels are holding our hands, when we can’t see them or hear them or hug them. I can, however, see and feel this egg-rock. It It is cool and smooth to the touch. It rests, heavy and solid, in my palm, and when you hold it up to the light, it shimmers.

It reminds me that we are surrounded by angels.

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Bush Medicine

“It is therefore evident that it is possible to cure by foods, aliments, and fruits; but as today the science of medicine is imperfect, this fact is not yet fully grasped. When the science of medicine reaches perfection, treatment will be given by foods, aliments, fragrant fruits, and vegetables, and by various waters, hot and cold in temperature…” ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

_________

Roushy was bitten by a centipede this week.

Now, I realize that this statement seems to pack about as much punch as “Roushy was tickled by a butterfly last Tuesday,” but do hear me out. Centipedes in Dominica are NOT the fuzzy orange and black creatures that might first come to mind (those cute and innocuous little things are caterpillars, I’ve since learned). I realize that all God’s critters have a place in the choir, but oh. Mightn’t there be one or two exceptions? These centipedes are vile, vile things. They are flat and thick and segmented, generally purplish-brown in color, with horn-looking pincers that curve out menacingly from their heads. They eat meat, lurk in dark corners, and will bite you “out of pure wickedness,” as Francillia puts it. The most effective way to kill one, according to our neighbor, Dinnees, is to “beat it like it owes you money.” Or just slice its head off with a cutlass.

We’d been hearing centipede lore ever since first arrived: “It crawled up my pants, and when it bit me my leg swelled up like a breadfruit, man!”/ “One took a bite out of my finger while I was sleeping, and I couldn’t wash clothes for three months,” etcetera. These are the type of stories that keep you awake at night, trying to decipher in the darkness what exactly is crawling on your back. Yet, as the weeks passed with no sign of a centipede, we began to wonder if it wasn’t the Caribbean equivalent of the abominable snowman. And then Roushy was bitten by one (a centipede, that is. Not an abomidable snowman. Although, in the end, she probably would’ve preferred the latter).

I won’t go into detail about the amount of pain she experienced as a) I didn’t feel it myself, so I’d have to use some poetic license, and b) I intended this posting to be about natural remedies, rather than an elaboration on the degree of pain caused by a creepy-crawly. So I will just say this: Roushy’s arm did, indeed, swell up like a breadfruit. And, although she never complains, and constantly downplays any challenges or discomfort, Roushy said that, after the bite, it felt like her arm was on fire.

On a far less dramatic note, I came down with a ridiculous case of the coughs this week. Ridiculous in that I felt perfectly healthy, but kept all of Gaulette River up for several nights with my relentless coughing fits.

But every cloud has its silver lining, right? And the upside of being bitten by a centipede, or nearly coughing up your lungs, is that these ailments open the door to highly educational conversations about folk cures—or, as they call ‘em here: “Bush Medicine.” Much of what we heard this week was quite humorous, but I have not the slightest doubt that—as outrageous as they may sound—these remedies work. The folks here know their jungle. 

Here’s a sampling of what we’ve learned thus far (regrettably, I don’t remember the specifics of one of the coolest bush remedies, involving boiled lizards and guava leaves…I shoulda been jotting down notes):

*Instead of using pesticides in a garden, all you have to do, according to Ms. Regina, is plant garlic inbetween each row of vegetables…and the strong aroma will ward off potential predators, such as aphids and vampires.               

*To ensure an easy childbirth, boil one and a half leaves of a yellow yam, drink it down, and out comes baby.

*Granny, Ms. Joyce, and Ms. Claudette insist that what Roushy should’ve done when the centipede bit was stick her finger in her ear, wiggle it around to maximize earwax collection, and then smear the earwax over the bite. Mr. Brian and Ms. Magreta, on the other hand, assert that the best course of action post-centipede bite is to run straight into the ocean (which, of course, would require tumbling down the mountain). “And speaking of the ocean,” they said to me, “that white leg of yours will turn as blue as the sea if you ever get bitten!”

*The elegant lady with bright red lipstick (whose name always eludes me) informed us that, if Capacity ever gets sick, we must mix a handful of dirt with potato peel and powdered milk. After drinking it down, the pup will be better in no time.

*These three are from Titus, Aishema, and Decuster. If you have a blister, simply fry up some papaya, smear it over the blister, and then wrap a leaf around it. After an hour or so, the blister will have vanished (leaving nothing in its wake but the fragrance of fried papaya). If you’ve stepped on a rusty nail and are worried about tetanus, find a nice big cockroach (living or dead), and fry it up in some castor oil. Rub the oily cockroach (which should at least be dead by now) over the puncture, and you’ll be tetanus free. Yet another indicator that all God’s creatures really do serve some purpose. But the centipede? Anyhow, if you have an earache, find three plump earthworms, and fry them in coconut oil. Then slice a lime in half, scoop out the pulp, and invert the peel to form a little cup. Pour the worm-coconut juice in the lime cup, and then pour it in your ear.

*Roushy and I truly have the most wonderful neighbors. At 2am this morning, in the midst of a coughing fit, I heard someone bustling about in the yard. I thought it might be Shaloup, or the rooster, but then I heard a knock at the door. It was Dinnees. “Denali,” she whispered. “I made you some bush tea for that cough.” She handed me a steaming mug of what she explained to be boiled “chook-chook” and “tabag zobi” leaves, both of which grow on the side of the house, mixed with grated ginger and a spoonful of sugar (to help the medicine go down). She waited while I sipped the spicy, honey-like concoction, and assured me that I would be asleep in no time. Indeed, I was.

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Doo-doos

If young people would talk to old people it would make us a better people all around. ~India.Arie

What a power is love! It is the most wonderful, the greatest of all living powers. Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

* * *

For this entry, I’m not gonna philosophize, or reflect, or even really share any stories. I simply want to introduce to you three beautiful elders, who brighten my days here, and bring joy to my heart.

GRANNY

I don’t know her “proper” name, since everyone around here seems to know her only as “Granny.” Granny lives right next to the Bahá’í Center, which means we get to spend a lot of time with her. Whenever we arrive, she greets us with a question that is heavenly music to my ears: “Coffee?” In her Creole accent, it sounds like she’s saying “Kah-fay.” My response is always the same—I practically shout, “Yes, please!” and then shower Granny with hugs. She is very huggable.When she’s not making us coffee, her hands are always busy. At times, she can be found tending to her baby pig, which she’s fattening up on passion fruit and yam peels. She’s excited to eat him in a year or so. Other times, she’s seated at the sewing machine, stitching together elegant straw hats, or patching up the jeans of one of her many grandchildren.And she loves to garden. Even though she’s been suffering from a sharp pain in her hip, which makes it difficult to bend her legs, she refuses to let it stop her from nurturing her hibiscus plants. So great is her love for the flowers, that she barely grimaces when she bends down to pull up weeds. Sometimes, she’ll just look at me and crack up, and then say something in Creole I can’t understand, and lay her head on my shoulder. I love it when she does this.

PA DELL

I learned today that Pa Dell doesn’t have any biological children. He had two, but they died when they were very young. Everyone he meets, though, becomes his instant and true family. One day, I’m sure of it, the whole world will be like Pa Dell. His name is Lundell Bruney, but because he’s the father and grandfather to everyone in the Carib Territory, no one calls him anything but “Pa Dell.” He lives in a tiny hut, with few more possessions than a couple of wooden benches and some bowls made of gourds…yet we have never left his home empty handed. He speaks in a voice that is barely louder than a whisper, and you have to lean in close to hear him. He is so very thin that one worries about crushing him with a hug, yet there is a quiet strength about Pa Dell. One of the only phrases he knows in English is “I happy to see you!” which he repeats lovingly and earnestly when we—or anyone—arrives. We usually find him sitting outside under the breadnut tree, weaving baskets. He prides himself on making his baskets extra-strong: instead of one layer of weaving, his have two, with a banana leaf inbetween for extra reinforcement.  Roushy and I are each the proud owners of one of these baskets, which make lovely purses. Today, Pa Dell gave us handmade finger traps, and laughingly showed us how your finger gets stuck when you try to pull it out. It can only be removed when you cease to exert force, when you are gentle. Pa Dell is the embodiment of gentleness.

MS. LIZANDER

When we stopped by her little house by the river yesterday, en route to our “laundromat,” Ms. Lizander was a sight to behold. With a machete in one hand, a burlap sack in the other, she was clad in a hot pink skirt, a bright red “Vote Labour” tee-shirt, and enormous rubber boots. And, of course, the ever-present baseball cap and gold earrings. She flashed us her toothless grin, which lights up the entire island, and told us she was heading into the bush to dig up some yams. Hence the machete and big rubber boots. “I’ll see you when you get back from your washing!” she called out, and practically skipped into the jungle. Though we thought we’d washed our clothes quickly that day, she—possessor of super-human strength and energy, I believe—must’ve returned long before we did, as she was already busy in the kitchen as we passed.We waved to her, and began heading back up the road. But before we knew it, Ms. Lizander was right behind us. “Waaaait!” she pleaded, with a twinkle in her eye. “Have lunch with me. Please?” We tried to resist at first, only because she has showered us with so many kindnesses in the short time we’ve been here, that our hearts almost can’t take any more. In the end, though, how could we refuse such a loving offer? We situated ourselves on the flat stones outside her woodfire kitchen, while Ms. Lizander put the finishing touches on the noonday feast. She emerged moments later with steaming bowls of freshly dug yams, covered in beans, and adorned with slices of onion, ginger, and avocado. She beamed at us while we ate, and then zoomed back into the kitchen to make us some lime juice.

We baked a batch of oatmeal cookies and painted a prayer card for her last night, wanting to reciprocate the love with something besides hugs and effusive thank-yous. When we stopped by today to deliver them, Ms. Lizander was nowhere in sight. When we asked her husband where we might find her, he just laughed and pointed upwards. We looked up…and there was Ms. Lizander (who, incidentally, is probably in her late seventies) in the topmost branches of a grapefruit tree. “Hello doo-doos*!” she called. “I picking grapefruits for you to make juice!” All Roushy and I could do was laugh. Some moments are just too precious to allow for anything else. Ms. Lizander joined in the laughter, and began hurling grapefruits down at us. “Nice juice you’ll be making!” she sang.

“Love be the best thing in life,” Ms. Lizander once told us. “Every day,” she added, “I asking Papa God the same thing. I praying Him, ‘Please, Papa God, just fill up my heart with love. Make me to love people more. And make them to love me too!’”

* “Doo-doo” means something very different in Creole than in English. 🙂   It’s a term of endearment, like “sweetie.” Doo, we’re told, means “sweet.”

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Going bananas

Just a quick little aside: we have bananas coming out of our ears. We were reminded of that age-old maxim (or is it a Bible verse?) this week, “Ask and ye shall receive.”Or, in the paraphrased words of Paulo Coelho: “When you desire something with all your heart, all the powers in the universe conspire to help you achieve it.” This week, what Roushy and I desired with all our hearts (besides, of course, the flourishing of activities and growth of the Bahá’í Faith in the Carib Territory) was bananas—known here as “ripe figs.” This totally confused me at first, by the way. I kept thinking, “Where are the figs? I don’t see any figs. Why do they keep talking about figs and pointing to those bananas?” I can be astoundingly slow.

Anyhow, we had a kitchen full of grapefruit, babadeens, fresh ginger, and young coconuts, but nary a ripe fig. They’d been scarce lately, and we really, really wanted a bushel of ‘em. No sooner had we expressed this yearning, than ripe figs nearly began falling from the sky. In the course of one day:

While walking down the Carib Territory road, we noticed that the elderly gentleman they call “Taco” was selling more than just bags of passion fruit at his little roadside stand today: ripe figs! We bought as many as we could carry, and proceeded down the road on our way to a study circle, feasting on figs as we walked. Upon arrival, Mr. Gabriel, with whom we’re studying “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit,” presented us with a beautiful bunch of ripe bananas he’d just retrieved from the jungle. Fortunately, we’d already eaten enough of the figs from Mr. Taco to allow some arm space for this next batch. After dropping off our loot at the house, we headed back out to the river. Ms. Belle, who weaves baskets by the side of the road, ran to meet us as we passed, and tucked three ripe figs into our laundry basket. “To snack on by the riverside,” she said with a grin. Arriving home again in the early evening, our neighbors Titus and Aishema mentioned that their uncle St. John, a friend of ours from St. Cyr, had stopped by for a visit, and had left a gift for us. They handed us a heavy plastic bag, filled with….yup. You guessed it.

Anyone wanna come over for some banana bread?

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Many Rivers to Cross

I have been thinking about rivers, and about crossing them.

Today was our weekly washing day, which means I sat in a shallow bend of a river for two hours, and listened to the water splash rhythmically against the rocks as I scrubbed and rinsed the laundry. But I had been thinking about rivers ever since breakfast. As I stirred the oatmeal and brewed the coffee this morning, I put my ipod on “shuffle” (a feature that is a bit like a Ouija board, I’m convinced) and it decided I ought to hear Jimmy Cliff’s rendition of “Many Rivers to Cross.”

Many rivers to cross,but I can’t seem to find my way over. Many rivers to cross, but just where to begin…

Oh, Jimmy, amen. I can’t seem to find my way over, either. The work feels like too great a struggle, sometimes. It is also profoundly joyous, in the truest sense, and even on the most challenging days, there isn’t a moment in which I don’t feel a deep sense of gratitude for having been given the opportunity to be here, and to do this.

But it’s hard!

It’s like we’re swimming upstream, and for every millimeter we advance, the current pushes us back half a mile (I know, I know, I’m mixing measurements…but, hey, I’m an American, and will fine-tune my knowledge of the metric system once I cross all these rivers). Yes, our days are filled with laughter, and beauty, and learning. But there are also many setbacks and stumbles and frustrations…and the ever-present worry: will our efforts here bear fruit?

What are these efforts, exactly? I don’t think I’ve really explained it in this blog yet…in fact, I probably haven’t fully explained it to many of my loved ones. In a nutshell: We are part of the twelve-island “Caribbean Initiative,” an effort to strengthen the national communities of the Caribbean Region, and bring about a significant increase in junior youth activities. The activities that Baháís are engaged in all over the world, particularly the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, have been slow in gaining momentum in the Caribbean Region. To help accelerate the process, about two dozen Bahá’ís were recruited to serve in these islands, in teams of two, for 6-24 months. Mine was the great bounty of being sent to Dominica. The work we’re doing here is essentially the same work that Bahá’ís are carrying out across the globe—we’re just focused on it full-time, and get to sip coconut water in the process. But still, despite all the tropical fruit and strands of Calypso in the air, it feels, at times, like we’re crossing a mighty, mighty river…and I don’t know that I’ve ever relied so heavily on prayer (or begged so shamelessly for prayers from others).

The Universal House of Justice (aware of the vastness of the river!) offered the following prayer to the Bahá’ís of the world in a recent letter, which also serves as a loving reminder of our tasks at hand:

“Let them not fail to appreciate the value of the culture now taken root in the community that promotes the systematic study of the Creative word in small groups in order to build capacity for service. Let them never forget the imperative to tend to the needs of the children of the world and offer them lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character. Let them come to realize the full significance of their efforts to help young people form a strong moral identity in their early adolescent years and empower them to contribute to the well-being of their communities…By the rectitude of their conduct, the sincerity of their love for their fellow human beings, and the ardour of their desire to serve the peoples of the world, may they vindicate the truth proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh that humanity is one…That they may not falter in accomplishing their ambitious goals, no matter how severe the crises engulfing the world around them, is our most heartfelt prayer…”

I must say, though, that it can be tough not to falter, or to remain undaunted by the amount of rivers left to cross. Dominica, they say, is the land of 365 rivers “one for each day of the year”—yet it feels, at times, that we have to traverse all 365 of them every waking moment here. And doing so is a lot like what Bill Bryson describes in this excerpt from “A Walk in the Woods” (please pardon the expletive, which I tried to clean up a bit):

We took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our pants, and stepped gingerly out into the frigid water. The stones on the bottom were all shapes and sizes—flat, egg-shaped, domed—very hard on the feet, and covered with a filmy green slime that was ludicrously slippery. I hadn’t gone three steps when my feet skated and I fell painfully on my @$$. I struggled halfway to my feet but slipped and fell again; struggled up, staggered sideways a yard or two, and pitched helplessly forward, breaking my fall with my hands and ending up in the water doggie style… As I crouched there, breathing evenly and telling myself that one day this would be a memory, two young guys strode past with confident, splashing steps, packs above their heads. ‘Fall down?’ said one brightly.

He’s speaking of a river in Maine, along the Appalachian Trail, but don’t you think that he could, just as easily, be describing any given day in your life, or mine? It so often seems like others are just skipping across, while we plod. And stumble. But guess what? Bill Bryson eventually makes it across. And so do we, somehow.

The sun has gone down now, and I am still thinking about rivers. At some point in the afternoon, I remembered that beloved old computer game, “Oregon Trail.” (If you weren’t born in the early 80’s, you may not know what I’m referring to. If this is the case, you missed out on something truly epic). For me, the most nerve-wracking part of the game was fording the river, since—no matter how skilled one was with the joystick—inevitably, something was gonna go overboard, either half the party’s rations, or the ammo, or sister Suzie (unless she expired of yellow fever earlier in the trek). You basically just had to hold your breath and hope the whole wagon didn’t go under. And that’s the scary thing about crossing a river—there’s so much unknown. All we really do know, with certainty, is that the foundation is ever-shifting…and that the other side appears to be a long, long way off.

And yet.

And yet there is another foundation, besides the shifting sands of the riverbed, and the “ludicrously slippery” rocks. I noticed for the first time today, that in the very end of the “Many Rivers to Cross” song, Jimmy Cliff changes his tone, and reminds himself of a truth more comforting than a life-jacket: “Our foundation is love” (actually, I think it goes: “Love is my foundation, yea-ah”). That is, our feet may be slipping, but our spirits tread on steady ground. It is love that sustains us, inch by wobbly inch. And what propels us forward, I believe, is the knowledge that we are all in this together. We may be knee-deep in different waters, but, dear friends, we are all crossing rivers, many of which are rushing, and wide. It would be whole lot easier if we could just sprout wings and soar right across. In the end, though, is “easy” really the point of all this?

All we can do, it seems, is work with what we’ve been given, hold each other’s hands, and battle these currents with our endearingly awkward human limbs. And, if we can, laugh at ourselves in the process.

*********

In 2001, the Hopi Elders wrote a message for their “fellow swimmers”:

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold onto the shore, they will feel they are being torn apart, and will suffer greatly…The Elders say that we must let go of the shore, keep our eyes open and our head above water. And we say, see who is there with you, and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves, for the moment that we do, our growth and journey come to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

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