Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Note to Timothy

Last week I inadvertently posted a piece by Ira on this site. The piece is now posted at Word Collage— along with your comment. Ira dropped me an email and said he was quite pleased and amazed to read your comment. I gather he has not seen you in thirty years. He enjoyed the comment.

Linda ( Marginalia)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shifts and Transformations

Yesterday Massachusetts elected a Republican senator, something considered unthinkable in this liberal state, a state that hasn't sent a Republican to the senate in decades. Fingers of blame for the upset point to the democratic candidate, the national agenda, the economic unrest, unemployment, foreclosures, another war, -- mold, mildew, midlife crisis, and a truck. The truck belongs to the Republican senator elect.


If you're transformed, when you're transformed by a religious experience, a meeting with a guru, a book that spins your reality upside down, the usual responses prove inadequate. Facile transformations alter nothing.


Transformation brings ruts and boulders into the path. How do I respond? Do I wrestle with my decisions? Do I allow for seismic shifts in perspective? Do I recalculate, reformulate, and allow for a revision of old paradigms? Do I perceive the stranger as other or as someone whose humanity and personhood is equal to mine? Do I see the person behind the facade or do I succumb to the narrow confines of my own alleyways?


Transformation isn't cheap. It's costly. It's hard. It requires diligence and a willingness to fall flat and stand up again. Too many people speak about being transformed, seeing the light, and then move forward — a bulldozer wiping out the boulders and mountains. They don't stop to question anything. They refuse to recognize the beauty of the granite boulder, or the straggly grass, or the terrain. The journey must continue even when blinders cover the void. The void isn't an empty place. It's a crossroad, a stop, a chance to try out that transformation and test it's reality, a chance to shift perspective, a chance to try out new words, a chance to be transformed.


I remember attending a concert at Carnegie Hall and then eating dinner in cheap cafeteria. Two teenagers, enamored with our day out. After “dining” on a tuna sandwich and limpid salad we used the ladies room. A bag lady stood by the sink with a washcloth, her belongings in a bag on the floor.

First, she soaked the washcloth, applied some of the dispenser soap and washed her neck and face, scrubbing her neck and ears until red. While I washed my hands, she unlaced her shoe, took it off and then removed a black sock. She lifted her foot up, held onto the sink, and swayed a bit, turned on the water and said, "The water's off at my house. So maybe I can soak my foot here. I got bunions. Ever had a bunion? "

Her words accompanied by a stale aroma drifted down to my sink.
"No." I said.

A woman entered the bathroom.
"You ever have a bunion?"
"My apartment has a water problem."

Then this woman, probably middle aged, probably worked, probably had an apartment and probably had somewhere to go, walked over to the woman at the sink. The woman held her washcloth and foot in the palm of one hand.
"Maybe," she said, I'll soak my foot for a bit if you don't mind."

I'm standing there watching like it's a Saturday afternoon movie at the Mt. Eden Theater.

This middle-aged woman walked over to the sink.
"I'll steady you," she said, "so you can reach the sink and soak your foot. That bunion looks angry. "

That old bag lady, acted like a boulder in the way of someone's path. At that time I didn't want to get too close to her.


Back to Massachusetts and an upset. Last year President Obama made a host of promises—transparency was one promise. This past year, in his urgency to get his agenda passed, he bypassed transparency; the democrats bought votes by promising individuals special perks. A bulldozer screamed down the path.

No one listened to the frustration. Too many people had bunions and the democrats did what I did—watch.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Demonstration


To demonstrate, to show how to do something , to present a skill in a manner that is clear, to share knowledge, to do so with a deft hand and to take pleasure in the give and take, the learning that ensues, the questions, the inept attempts to replicate the deft movements —translates into a pantheon of possibilities.

The demonstration of How to mount a Chinese Ink Painting challenged me to mist evenly, avoid creases, spread glue evenly,and to take help because the glove I wore over an infected finger made some of the steps difficult. As is my wont, I took copious notes on the sheet of directions and took photos for a visual recall. Last night I removed my mounted ink painting of milkpods from the mounting board—no creases, no lumps,a success.


I watched the doctors and nurses pack supplies for their humanitarian trip to Haiti ; I viewed video segments of rescuers, troops delievering supplies, individuals setting up places to send donations. I heard the pleas of people in the streets, family and friends urgently calling Haiti and waiting for someone to answer the phone.

I heard the sound of shovels digging through rubble. I heard the sound of whispered words, cries, and prayers.


A preacher, wellknown and with access to a national podium, accused the people of Haiti of having made a pact with the devil. The earthquake, he stated, was set in motion by this pact made long ago. How could he say these things in the midst of this horrendous tragedy?

Fundamentalists, no matter whether they wear religious or political garb, can't tolerate other views. But more than not tolerate —they spend time, money, and too often use force or coercion to obliterate the other. Alter your opinion, take my outstretched hand and accept my view. There is no room for other ways of seeing the world. This preacher, this man who professes love, demonstrated rancor and the oppposite of love.


Dr. Hexter taught Contemporary Civilization and I signed up for every course he taught, save English history. We read the "philosophers" —or as he stated, "The people who think." "Don't criticize," he said, "until you understand their point of view and are able to articulate that point of view." He wasn't interested in whether we agreed or disagreed—just understand. In my senior year Dr. Hexter left for a position in another university. The last day of class he showed up with a battered, well-read black leather covered Bible. He said, "I've never shared my beliefs with you." Then he opened up the Bible to I Corinthians 13 and read "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." Then he exited the class.

I immediately went out and bought a RSV version of the Bible and underlined that passage.

My RSV Bible with its underlined passage sat comfortable next to my Tanach and my grandmother's yiddish book of women's prayers--a comfortable triptych.


My father taught me how to find words quickly in a large unabridged dictionary. Later on I demonstrated the skill to a class of learning disabled adolescents.

Pass it on. Pass on all the learning, the love; don't hoard.


Preacher, repent and demonstrate love.