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Archive for June, 2010

Lost and Found

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster…
Elizabeth Bishop

True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.
Bahá’u’lláh

***

There was a Lost and Found basket at the Caribbean Initiative Reflection Gathering in Trinidad, and during those two weeks, it became my best friend. I would return to the guest house each night to find I’d lost something—my ukulele, my notebook, a tube of chapstick—and, sure enough, when I’d return to Uncle Bobby and Auntie Annmarie’s home the next morning, the missing item would be waiting for me in the Lost and Found basket.

If only there were a big Lost and Found basket for the world…or at least one for each Island.

I don’t know if I could yet be deemed a Master in the Art of Losing (by Elizabeth Bishops’s standards), but I seem to be working towards a solid Associate’s degree. In the two weeks since returning from Trinidad, I have lost my camera, my travel mug, my computer case, a pair of sandals, our soup ladle (now, how in the heck did I manage to lose that one?), a bottle of sparkly nail polish, and both of my cell phones (which means, dear friends, that if you want to reach me on any other day than Thursday, you’ll have to send me a subliminal message. The phones are not lost in the technical sense—they just stopped working. I’ll send out word if they get fixed). And, of course, we lost our dog…but I’ve written enough about her already, haven’t I?

What is going on?

I guess I should acknowledge two things. One is that, as much as I’d like to blame the Bermuda Triangle-like phenomena of the universe, many of these “losses” (which I put in parentheses because they are, after all, quite minor in the grand scheme of things) are due to my own absentmindedness. Most of the time, I stumble through this world with my head in the clouds, and it’s highly probable that those two phones of mine stopped working because I spilled coffee on them without even realizing it. I must also admit that I am a person who has not yet experienced great losses (multiple little losses, yes, but not big losses). So when I lose something like a coffee mug, it becomes a drama of gargantuan proportions. I throw little tantrums in my head. I berate myself for my carelessness. I mourn. I feel like part of me is missing (well, that coffee mug was pretty much attached to my right hand).

It’s easy to get disappointed by these little losses. But there is a popular saying in the Carib Territory that every disappointment is a blessing. The first person who quoted this to me was my dear friend Lia*, who is teaching me how to lose, and how to find. Because to truly master this art, I think, is not to merely engage in the act of losing…but to find the grace within the loss. And to emerge from it stronger, more radiant, and a little bit less attached to the world.

Lia knows a lot more about loss than I do. She lost her childhood to homelessness and abuse. She lost her father to drugs, her mother to rum (both are still alive, but her father is in prison and her mother resides in an intoxicated fog). She lost five of her six siblings to adoption. She has even lost three pet dogs to poisoning, one after the other. This week, as I was crying over the loss of my sparkly nail polish, Lia lost the only means of sustenance for her family when the father of her children was taken away to jail (she is acutely aware of the blessings that accompany this recent “disappointment,” as the man was arrested after threatening to disfigure her with a cutlass…and it was Lia who called the police. She wonders, though, how she will feed her kids without their father’s monthly income).

Yet, through all of this she smiles, and she continues to give. When she obtains a bushel of ripe plantains, or a stick of cacao, she shares half with me and Roushanac. She never complains. She perseveres. And with every loss she sustains, her reservoir of strength only seems to increase. I watch in wonder as she weathers the storms life sends her way, and I’m reminded of this passage from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”:

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Now that I’ve thought about it a little more, a big Lost and Found basket for the world wouldn’t be too practical. Some things, after all, simply can’t be retrieved…and when we let them go, our load is lighter. And so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

In other words, as my sister posted on her Facebook page last week:

“Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the stars.”

_________

*The same “Lia” I wrote about in the “Even as the shining moon” posting a few months ago. Her name has been changed.

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To the South

From “Meditations on the Eve of November 4th,” by Abul Qasim Faizi

“Dear companions of my heart, solace of my eyes, and strength of my soul. When I am tired, sad and gloomy, I think of every one of you. At this hour as I stand at the window of my hotel room and gaze at the beautiful stretch of water called ‘The Straits of Magellan,’ I think of you; thousands, nay millions, of waves like unto white feathered pigeons, emerge from the invisible horizons and approach the shores, I take them as messages of love and prayers which have taken wings throughout eternity.

Today as I was gazing at this picturesque work of nature, my memory turned to what I had read years ago about the discovery of this ocean path. Suddenly it seemed that an unseen hand tore asunder the veils which covered the past centuries, and a glorious vista stretched in front of me—the year 1520.

It was in this year that Magellan, despondent of procuring the means for an expedition in his own country, left Portugal for Spain. He had one fixed idea and of that he was so sure that he pleaded with all his vigour and power for the royal sanction and promise of financial support.

‘I shall find The Paso,’ he roared in the Spanish court. ‘I alone know where to find it.’

Months passed before he was on his ship leading four others with no less than the magic number of 260 sailors under his command.

It was one of the most arduous tasks that could be undertaken in those years, when no means of comfort and no wholesome provisions were available. It was an act of faith, vision and audacity. Nothing could be foreseen and no measure could ever be premeditated. Yet they sailed on.

Inhospitable climates, the wrath of nature in the form of tempests and gales, snow and hail, met them wherever they dared seek harbour.

Notwithstanding the incalculable disasters such as had rarely been inflicted upon any adventurer, or the schemes fraught with fear, consternation and threat, he, the captain of his fleet and the master of his soul, with indomitable courage and supreme audacity always kept on sailing and commanding ‘To the South!’

…One year passed. The last days were the gloomiest. One ship was lost. Stores and provisions dwindled. The coastal inlets they penetrated proved to be buoys of false hopes.

Fear of the unknown and uncharted south seas, fear of starvation and death, overtook everyone. What moments of paradoxical visions; what grave times to take great decisions; what a struggle within and without!

He started the expedition with clear vision, had faith in what he saw, was brimful with zeal and enthusiasm, braved all dangers, weathered all storms, suppressed mutiny, created discipline and order and traveled thousands of miles.

But now he was all alone in his cabin and did not know that he was at the threshold of final victory, had little more time to go, two more degrees of latitude to cover, two hundred more miles to travel an then to discover The Paso.

He peered with his keen sight to the dark horizon and could discern nothing but darkness—darkness and nothing more.

He sighed and whispered that nothing was discovered, nothing was achieved, his quest ill-fated, without the slightest hope of any future resumption, the work of all his yesterdays at the brink of ruin and destruction.

Had he been a man with less vision and faith, he would have followed the path of least resistance, yielded to the counsels of his companions and returned home.

At this juncture, however, when his fate and everlasting glory were hanging by a thread, he closed his ears to the repeated clamours and claims of men and patiently assessed the situation. Then, suddenly emerging from the depths of despair, free from the pangs of doubt and clutches of dismay, once more his command rang out:

‘To the South.’”

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I think my very first posting on “Sounds of Laughter” was about Capacity. I feel it’s appropriate, then, to post her obituary here. At the time of last week’s posting, we were still holding out the hope that she’d return. But we’ve since found out that she was hit by a car a few days after we left for Trinidad, and buried by the side of the Carib Territory road.

My only experience with obituary writing was in a college Journalism course, where we were tasked with writing our own obituaries—as in, an obituary for ourselves. This was quite a challenging exercise. Writing about Capacity, however, will be much easier… ‘cause there was so much about her to love. I’m gonna look up the average newspaper obituary length before I begin, and try to limit myself to that. Shorter is usually sweeter…and this little pup’s life was both very short, and very sweet.

“Capacity”
November 2009 – May 2010

Capacity—whose full name was Consultation Action Reflection, but was also known as CaPARcity, Boo, Tail-Wagger, Conehead, and Oatmeal—was born in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Stoute of St. Cyr, Carib Territory, Commonwealth of Dominica, and adopted by Roushanac and Denali on November 25th, 2009.

Capacity’s interests included foraging for mangoes and coconuts (and consuming them on the front porch), doing somersaults and other clumsy acrobatics, tormenting the neighborhood chickens, chewing on prayer books, playing tag, taking long walks along the Carib Territory Road (a hobby which, in the end, led to her untimely death), being rubbed on the belly, chasing crazed cows named Connie, and wrestling with Shaloop.

She had a heart full of love. But there were certain things she loved a bit less. These included: anything with curry in it, being picked up while lying down, tall men, baths in cold water, and sleeping outside.

Her people suspect that she had a secret identity as a superhero, who—when no one was looking—donned a cape and leotard, and carried out heroic acts of service in Gaulette River. But her greatest service was the joy and laughter she brought to Roushanac and Denali during their first six months in Dominica. Having a warm, fuzzy little creature to cuddle with made the difficult days much lighter.

Capacity is survived by her people Roushanac and Denali, her sister Shaloop, five new soon-to-be-named nieces and nephews, her great-aunts Whitey and Snoopy, and a community of wonderful friends, including Ms. Petra (who always fed her scraps of meat), Ms. Belle, the kids in the neighborhood children’s class, Noah and Alilah Porter, Anna Resnick, Caity Bolton (Capacity’s personal photographer), Fetaui Knight, Holly Woodard, Rene and Bill Weiler (who sent her the best care packages in the world), Hand of the Cause of God William Sears, and Liz Washington, who sent the following message of condolence…which brought great, great comfort to the hearts of Capacity’s people:

Y’know, I find myself thinking a lot about that sweet little pup. The more I think about it, the more sure I am that Bahá’u’lláh took her for a very specific reason–she was your companion and in some ways a sign of your own growth as a pioneer–as she got bigger and more self-sufficient, so did your understanding of the people and the area of Dominica. But now, after this Trinidad meeting, there might be some kind of need for you and Roushy to let certain things perish and begin certain things anew. What those things are, I have no idea. But if she hadn’t died, it’s possible that you two would not have taken this much-needed hiatus to reflect. I know your heart must be aching with her loss, but I wonder what spiritual reality her death serves to illustrate or support. No matter how much we nurture or love someone/thing, when its purpose has been fulfilled, one day it is just gone from our sight….

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Gratitude

“O ye loved ones of God! Is there any giver save God? …Erelong will He open before you the gates of His knowledge and fill up your hearts with His love.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá

“Where we love is home.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes


The Carib Territory has become home, now. Often, I think, you have to go away and come back for that to happen. After two blessed weeks in Trinidad, we are back in Dominica–and, though it’s been more than 48 hours since our arrival, we are still a bit dazed from the intensity of it all. But, mostly, we are filled with gratitude. And, though we’ve been wiping tears from our eyes ever since we boarded the airplane, we are happy to be home.

The love and joy and fellowship we experienced at the Caribbean Initiative Reflection Gathering in Trinidad was not of this earth–and although, of course, we carry those bonds of friendship with us,  both Roushanac and I can’t help but feel a deep sense of….well, the only word I can think of to describe this feeling is “saudades.” I wish there were an English equivalent to this beautiful Portuguese word, which–very roughly–translates as longing, missing, nostalgia. We know that precious time in Trinidad could not have lasted forever. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. But, still, all we’ve been able to do these past two days (besides SLEEP) is reminisce. And look at photographs, and listen to recordings of the songs we sang, the prayers we chanted, all accompanied by drumbeats. What a gift, what a gift.

I wasn’t sure if I should bring this up on “Sounds of Laughter,” as I’m still holding out hope that circumstances will change–but this deep feeling of “saudades” is augmented by the loss of Capacity. Ohhhh…perhaps I shouldn’t use the word loss: as I type, I am calling to mind a Grant Hindin Miller song, “If We Knew,”which reminds us that nothing is ever truly lost. But the fact of the matter is that Capacity was not waiting for us on our doorstep, tail wagging, when we returned from Trinidad. No one has seen her for a week, and the neighbors (who have been searching the length and breadth of the Carib Territory for her, God bless them) suspect that she was stolen. You can make up to 50$ from a nice, fat dog, they tell us.

We miss her like crazy.

Every little thing reminds us of her, of course–her little dish with the pink and green flowers, the chunks of flooring that she’d chewed away, the spot under the mango tree where she loved to nap–but we’re trying to be strong. We knew from the beginning that our time with her was limited, and so, instead of mourning, we’re trying to just be grateful for the six months we spent in her company. She was a wonderful friend.

We are, also, all the more aware upon our return of how blessed we are to be a part of this community. Our two days of sleep have been interspersed with visits from children, junior youth, neighbors, who have showered us with hugs and love and pineapple (it’s fully in season now!!!). The mountains appear greener than ever before, the ocean a brighter shade of turquoise, and–after two weeks of intense study–walking on the Carib Territory road has never felt more exhilarating.

Towards the end of the Reflection Gathering in Trinidad, Roushy and I were asked to share some of the joys of pioneering in Dominica. Knowing that if we didn’t find some way to organize these joys, we’d be liable to talk all afternoon (and we were only allotted ten minutes), we made a list of 19 of them. I will include it here, mostly as a reminder to myself…of how much we have to be grateful for.

1. The love and true friendship of our newfound family here

2. Finding our physical and spiritual footing—and learning from all the stumbles

3. Seeing the ocean (even if we have to climb down a steep, perilous mountain to reach it)

4. Getting phone calls and guidance from Holly

5. Living off the land—in the form of mangoes, dasheens, yams, plantains, and breadfruit

6. Witnessing the development of capacity in the community

7. Calling on the Concourse—especially the Hands of the Cause, to whom we cling with desperation!

8. Receiving encouraging emails from loved ones every Thursday

9. Deepening together every morning

10. Visiting our special prayer place on the edge of a mountain

11. Beholding individuals become enkindled and confirmed

12. Being deluged with hugs from children every time we leave the house

13. Laughing together—morning, noon, and night

14. Experiencing the generosity, humility and openness of heart of our neighbors and community members

15. Knowing we are a part of something much, much greater than us and our feeble efforts

16. Appreciating the beauty of simple pleasures—like hot coffee, red-orange sunsets, the nightly chirping of crickets, and walking on the Carib Territory Road.

17. Praying for our fellow pioneers, laborers of the Initiative, and the beloved Coordinating Committee

18. Being given the opportunity to teach the Faith at every moment

19. Interacting with 6-inch centipedes, grapefruit-sized spiders, flying roaches, flooding floors, and crazed cows in our front yard…because they’re proof that God loves laughter, too.

And there is something else, too. We came home to new life–in the form of five baby Shaloops. They were born on June 3rd, and they are precious. Warm, and squiggly, and tiny. They haven’t yet opened their eyes. Technically, they don’t belong to us (in the end, what in this life can we claim as our own?)—Ennick and Aishema are Shaloop’s official owners, and the pups are currently under their house, but we’re hoping that maybe they’ll let us keep one. And maybe one of these days—when we least expect it—our sweet Capacity will come running up to our door, tail wagging.

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Reflections…

Friends! This week, instead of one special guest contributor, we’ve got nineteen of them. Here are the voices (and radiant faces) of various participants in the Caribbean Initiative Reflection Gathering, sharing some highlights, insights, and learnings of the past nine days.

*********

Uncle Bobby (aka Continental Counselor Ganesh Ramsahai), Trinidad

This week has been really wonderful for us. We are learning from the Ridván Message that we need to go back to the sequence of courses and review them carefully if we are going to be more effective in our work. We are really getting some fascinating insights, we are seeing that we are having a better, deeper, and more thorough understanding of how we can be more effective as tutors, how we can be more effective as coordinators, how we can be more effective as children’s class teachers.

Cara, Virginia/St. Thomas

I think the thing that is the most striking to me is the profound sense of purpose that I suddenly have. This whole time before coming here I was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” And people kept asking me but I kept giving very vague answers… and now it’s really clear to me. Even though I was involved in the institute process and community building beforehand, now it feels like a laser beam focus.

Leila, Washington, DC/St. Lucia

Something that I hadn’t thought about much before which was brought to my attention here at the Reflection Gathering is the importance of empowerment within the work that we’re doing now—within our study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups, and devotional gatherings. We think of these as community building activities, but I’d never thought of them as a way in which individuals can be empowered. I’ve been thinking a lot about something someone brought up in the discussion yesterday: the importance of strengthening, or revitalizing, indigenous culture, music, drama, and crafts, through the institute process and the work that we’re doing.

Barbara, St. Lucia

We’ve been giving our best, but there’s so much more to be done! One of the highlights has been the experience of meeting so many different, beautiful people from so many different places. This is the first time I’ve been in such a big group of Bahá’ís. It’s a big thing for me. I can’t even find words to describe this experience.

Ruth Anne and Patricia, Bahamas

Ruth Ann: This time has been an opener to guidance for me personally of what my goal plan is. Like, I already have it down pat. When we came her, my mom and I had already spoken a great deal about what to do next, but now I have no doubt now what I have to do…and there are a lot of things that I have to clear from my schedule!

Patricia: I prayed for clarity before coming down. I have a lot of clarity now, plus I know I have to make changes in my personal life to be able to really serve, like, Mission Accomplished. 12 months from today, we’ll be saying “We did it!”

Becky, New Jersey/Bahamas

One of the things that I found fascinating, coming from my home cluster, is about how applicable these learnings are cross-culturally. This message is talking about building a new culture and Bahá’í identity and it clearly defines what that entails. It doesn’t matter what country you come from…this is applicable to all communities. This message traverses all boundaries…it’s not defined by country or culture.

Uncle Hyatt, Trinidad

This week has been super excellent, with a smile! It’s wonderful to be of service to the friends. Events like this reinforce the Bahá’í Faith.

Christine, New York/Haifa/Barbados

Where to start? There’s so much going on: the intermingling of all these youth from all over the world that are just so amazing…and to see the youth at the forefront of everything is so inspiring and so hope-filled. And the new believers here—their engagement and comfort with their Bahá’í identity and their co-collaborators in this Plan is profound…and it happens immediately. It says a lot about how much love they’ve received, and the inclusivity they’ve experienced in their home communities. This whole dichotomy of new and veteran believers, and deepened and undeepened Bahá’ís has completely fallen away. It’s a new culture!

Tracy, Jamaica

What’s been inspiring to me is thinking a little more deeply about how the arts can move people’s spirits… and the possibilities of using the arts, music in particular. I’m a musician—I play the drums—and believe the arts have the ability to transform and transport the soul. Our fellowship here has been heightened because of all the music we’ve had. Whether it’s poetry, storytelling, graphic arts, dance…art is an amazing tool that we have, and it lends itself to spiritual endeavors and activities.

Emelda, Dominica

This gathering has been very fruitful. I’ve learned so much, things I never knew. The learnings of this week have excited me, and will spur me o to go and serve in my community back home.

Pedram, California/Grenada

This week has been fantastic for many reasons. I think one reason why it’s been so fantastic is because we’re learning in practice what quality is, in all of our core activities. The Universal House of Justice is calling for quality in everything this year. This is really the year of the institute. So when we read the Ridván Message, in theory we have one understanding, but now we’re  hearing from different experiences and concrete examples of what’s happening, we’re getting a picture of what quality really is. This stimulates a lot of thought on how we can improve the quality in our own clusters. So, yeah, I’m just absorbing everything like a sponge. Word!

Arthur, Jamaica

Alláh-u-Abhá! It’s good being here with all the learning and the intensity. Really, it all comes to the Ridván Msg. This has been the biggest impact so far on this gathering…it really takes us back to the basics that we haven’t been doing, haven’t been observing. It’s good that we have this guidance to help us to be more systematic and effective in our work. I cant wait to go back to Jamaica and put all this learning into action.

Nasim, Atlanta/St. Thomas

It’s really interesting to look at community art and using art as a means of community development. This takes it away from the way we currently look at it where if you’re not talented you can’t participate and it’s reserved for the artist…but through this process we’re taking it to the community level where everyone can be a part of it.

Barbara and Ray, Georgia/Jamaica

Ray: It’s been awesome. I’ve learned a lot about transforming communities and that the only way that that’s going to happen is through a systematized method of study and action using books developed by the Ruhi institute.

Barbara: The most exciting thing for me is going to a neighborhood level…bringing to certain neighborhoods the aspect of uplifting the community through prayer and involving children and junior youth in activities that will help them in service and living a purposeful life. This is really exciting, and I can’t wait to take it back to my neighborhood!


Jasmine and Nabil, North Carolina/Trinidad

Jasmine: This week has been pretty mind blowing just because we didn’t know what we were doing, where we would be, who we would be with…and so we got here expecting no more than 15-20 people, and there’s like 80! But it’s been awesome, ‘cause everyone is so engaged in service, and I feel like I’ve learned more in this past week than I have in a few months. One of the highlights was going out and meeting some of the locals and talking to people here. People are so open, and it really put me at ease.

Nabil: I’ve just been really grateful because it seems like there s different levels of experience here and I’ve benefited a lot from people’s sharing, and have been able to learn at a basic level of what it entails to being able to do everything the institute process has to offer. I feel really encouraged and empowered to just get going!


Lionel, Barbados

This has been a wonderful, wonderful experience. Number one, it is intensely spiritual. It offers creativity, but for the most part what it offered for me is a breadth of vision about the Bahá’í Faith and what it is doing right now and our current work that I didn’t have before…and that breadth of vision has really opened my eyes.

Mercy, South Carolina/Jamaica

This feels like the culmination of all the new energies that are arising in the Bahá’í world…there is this huge desire to serve, and this movement of social action is being responded to by the Universal House of Justice, and out of this comes a completely new collection of vocabulary. I feel so grateful and honored to be a part of this emerging new level of Bahá’í activity.

Francillia, Dominica

It has been so great for me–I have learned so much. Especially that section about incorporating the arts in our study circles. I’m seeing that I can go back and try it out to increase the quality of my study circles. I have thought about how in the Carib Territory they have traditional instruments that have gone extinct, so I want to try to bring them back, through our study circles. And even our handicraft, the weaving of the baskets, we can incorporate that into our study circles. What was also interesting for me was the discussion of home visits for accompaniment: accompanying our participants to do acts of service, accompanying them to start devotionals…so when I go back, I feel like I’ll be able effectively accompany my study circle participants.

Dorren, Jamaica

This week has been wesome, awesome. We don’t even need food—we’re so filled with the spiritual food! I don’t ever want to go home. But when I do get home, it’ll be an explosion…and it’ll encompass the whole of Jamaica.

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