The Magpie Manifesto.

Dear friends,

breathenoticelove

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s a sign of the times, but some days I am tempted to jump headlong into the pit of existential despair and allow myself to be swallowed by irrevocable disheartenment.

I know. Not exactly the maxim of the Gratitude Girl.

This week I was grievously buffeted by the news around me. One corporate leader is going to jail for 28 years for knowingly selling tainted peanuts that sickened and killed people; one corporate leader admitted his auto company created an emissions system meant to defraud consumers and evade environmental regulations; one corporate leader defended his “market based” rationale for buying a life-saving drug then increasing the price 5000%. Meanwhile, many of our presidential candidates are appealing to the basest human instincts, including an exclusionary, belittling, deceitful and winner-takes-all doctrine. And if that wasn’t enough to discourage us, millions of human lives are at stake as Middle East conflicts continue to escalate and those seeking refuge are literally washing ashore.

Really, how does a tender and seeking soul find its way in the midst of all this?

The other night, Mr. Mom and I discussed at length the Syrian crisis. Mr. Mom said he’d be willing to “adopt” a refugee family, where adoption means bringing them into our home and sponsoring them financially. He asked if I would be willing and I said yes, but our conversation went nowhere because how does one do that, anyway? I even spent some time researching the topic, seeking out online information and resources about the United State’s program to accept (in my opinion, far too few) refugees. I found no path for taking concrete action beyond contributing to various charitable organizations, which seems like my reflexive action far too often when I am moved by the need around me. I work in philanthropy so I will never disparage the role it plays in improving our world, but so often I’m yearning to do more than write a check or endorse a cause but am somehow stopped short of translating my passion and my compassion into something that feels more like direct action.

Yesterday I heard a newscaster say one of the Pope’s messages during his US visit will be to encourage others to “serve people instead of ideas.” This hit in me the gut in a way only a moral authority can provoke. I’m not Catholic and I’ve never looked to the Pontiff for guidance, but I’ve found Pope Francis to be the kind of leader our world desperately needs. His words made me ask myself how many times have I served ideas instead of people? (Maybe just as importantly, how many times have I reduced people into mere ideas, especially people I think represent ideas I find distasteful?) How have I actually, tangibly served people beyond my family, friends and colleagues? Honest answers elude me, as does the conviction that I am one person who can make a difference in the midst of so much human suffering.

In times like these, I look inward. I examine the roughest clods of my intentions, determined to unearth bits of beauty and grace that only the divine can inspire. I seek solace in what I know to be the kindness and love that live within all of us. I face myself and the universe with a tenderness that is both terrifying and necessary to take another step, to wake tomorrow, to confront the world and my place in it with hope as my shield against the outrage and cynicism that dog us all.

Many times I reiterate – sometimes to myself, sometimes to others – my values. Doing so sometimes makes me chuckle as I think I sound a little like Aibileen Clark in “The Help.” “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” I mentally shout to myself and to the unseen broken hearts around me. Inevitably, I end up meditating on the two pieces of wisdom I find most centering: the Buddha’s “Do no harm” and Jesus’ “Do unto others.” I wonder if earnestness counts in the face of human frailty as conspicuous as my own as I seek a path lit by altruism and look for even a single hand I can hold along the way.

I don’t pretend to have answers, dear friends. Some days I ache with the knowledge that my time is short, my focus too self-serving, and my reach barely beyond my nose. I struggle to find substance in the paucity of my effort. Some days I even shake my fist at my God-given sentience, an existential ingrate prone to irritation by the spiritual chafing of an examined, some might say privileged, life.

And then, just when the despair threatens to swamp me, I somehow quiet. I remind myself to trust in all that is larger than me. I let go of the corporal and rest in the discarnate, in the mystical psalm that connects you and I to each other and sings the praise of a love that is universal and unending, even as I struggle to understand it. I offer three words of encouragement, to myself first, then to whoever is closest.

Breathe. Notice. Love.

Breathe. Why do I forget this simple instruction, which is the easiest way to reboot, to extend myself a kindness?

Notice. I will not sleepwalk through this day. I will take note. I will acknowledge. I will honor that from which some turn away. I will praise and affirm those who inspire it; I will grieve for and hold those who need it. If nothing else, I will bear witness.

Love. Because that is the beginning. And that is the end.

With gratitude {for three simple words, the best I can do in these times},

Joan, who got some very good news yesterday and so is reminded the sun will come out tomorrow

Life and the ephemeral meaning I seek to ascribe to it.

Dear friends,

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Source: torufukuda.com

I’ve had the oddest week. Not so much a week as an off-key symphony of gasps and stumbles and indignations and re-opened wounds and thoughts about my life and the ephemeral meaning I seek to ascribe to it.

I made a Facebook post on Tuesday about how awful my day was and felt immediately guilty. Because, you know, the Ukraine. If the cultural and socio-economic gnashing of teeth and splitting of skulls we’ve come to know as geopolitics doesn’t incite guilt in you, I’ve also got examples close to home.

One friend’s father is dying of organ failure. He put off seeking medical attention because he couldn’t afford it. Another friend’s mother is gravely ill with an unexpected, often fatal illness, the kind that blindsides the loved ones of otherwise healthy people who end up dead in less than 48 hours. My friends’ blushed faces, their tears, their cracked voices and halting logic overrun by emotion remind me of 2010, the Year I Lost My Mother. I cry for them and I cry for me, knowing their wounds are fresh and will take years to heal and, even then, the scar tissue will occasionally bind them until they wince with pain at unexpected moments.

On the day I cursed life, many of my Facebook friends darted out from behind the social network curtain to send me cheer, to commiserate, to remind me of both happier and sadder days. And so I watch the curious parade of status updates — a recipe, a birthday celebration, “prayer warriors” bound by cause and faith, political rants, happy babies, vacations, and sporting events — and I think to myself that the world spins with or without my participation, without the injured or dying or dead and with no regard for either the gleeful or the grieving. This makes me feel at once small and enormous. I am inconsequential, as are my moods, and yet the world, the glorious, infuriating, life-sustaining and soul-sucking world continues to spin around me, spinning so fast that I am compelled to stand perfectly still, like the spindle in a centrifuge, unswerving, observant, disquisitive about the meaning of my Week of Crap until a kind of willing equanimity washes over me, the immensity of which swells my heart with reconciliation for my mysterious earthly journey.

And I think we’re all just plodding — hopeful tramps looking for the slightest evidence of grace in the next soul we meet, so we can shake a hand, offer a word, compare notes, and head on down the road, none the wiser but maybe a wee bit closer to the divine that lives in all of us.

With gratitude {for a week that reminded me of a Jackson Browne song, perhaps a little less harmonious but just as lyrical},

Joan, who’ll get up and do it again, Amen

Incarnation.

Dear friends,

I have a recurring dream that has punctuated most of my adult life.

The details vary from occasion to occasion, but the theme is the same: I’m in between semesters, in between jobs, in between places to live. I don’t know exactly where to go or how to support myself. Graduation is still a few classes away, so adulthood is just around the corner, but not quite here yet.  Sometimes I imagine I will go back to my mother’s home and other times I imagine my father’s. (Neither landing strip is attractive to me so I try to keep moving.) Always, I am unsure – how to stay afloat just a little longer until I can earn my degree and get a real job.

Unlike a lot of my friends, my college experience was not idyllic. I worked three jobs and took out loans to get myself through, so I was certainly not carefree. Honestly, I don’t remember having much fun. I remember stress and worry. I remember being restless and melancholy and impatient. I remember getting my heart broken by a boy and feeling adrift. I remember just trying to get through another semester, then another, and another, just hoping something better was in store for me beyond graduation.

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that the old anxieties of my early 20s come back to me through dreams.  What does sometimes surprise me is how far I’ve come since then, how a girl who didn’t have a clue who she wanted to be or how to be it managed to find her place in the world and put down stakes,  how the ennui of my youth became the equanimity of my adulthood.

A friend of mine started an interesting thread on Facebook the other day about graduation memories, in which he said: “I think my 1988 self wouldn’t be comfortable with my 2012 self, but could recognize him dimly.”

His words gave me pause because it’s the opposite of my experience. I’m pretty sure my 2012 self isn’t comfortable with my 1988 self, or any of my selves before it.  Sometimes I think my recurring dream is suggesting that my 2012 self is still trying to outrun my 1988 self.

Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by the AMC series “Mad Men” and its protagonist Don Draper, a man who recreates himself at will, over and over again, at no small cost to those around him.  I’d like to think I’m not nearly as self-centered and detached as Don, but a piece of me understands his shark-like instinct to keep swimming or die.

Middle age (as I define it) officially arrives for me in 2012. My “big” birthday is in December and after I cross that line of demarcation, I am no longer young. But I often think youth, except for the stamina and the slenderness – and, lord, that taut, tan skin – is vastly overrated.  I think I’ve arrived at a place unimaginable in my teens and 20s  – a place amply comfortable, and peaceful, and stable, despite my peripatetic beginning.

Maybe I didn’t really run away from myself as much as I ran into myself, into the heart of a girl who couldn’t see the destination but clung to the path anyway, jaw set, hopeful the margin would widen over time, only to look up one day and see the self she never imagined but whose reflection is startlingly satisfactory.

Or maybe my previous selves coalesced, a collage of incarnations, each of them contributing a piece of my existential puzzle that is never really solved but whose mystery is nevertheless a glorious, curious, amaranthine quest for the single self which eludes us all.

With gratitude {for all my selves},

Joan, who offers many thanks to her friends and fellow lovers of words, Dave and Maridel, whose sentence and word, respectively, inspired this post

“And only the enlightened can recall their former lives; for the rest of us, the memories of past existences are but glints of light, twinges of longing, passing shadows, disturbingly familiar, that are gone before they can be grasped, like the passage of that silver bird on Dhaulagiri.”

— Peter Matthiessen, in The Snow Leopard

“I am no Hindu, but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state (rebirth) to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishments without end.” 

— William Jones