Friday, September 23, 2016

The Waiting Game

The following poem was written on retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Wendy Johnson: Mind of Autumn: Timeless Writing and Zen

Someone said, "If you see clouds in the morning
it is certain to rain
in the afternoon."

Is that a promise, I wonder?
Some folklore of the Sangre de Christo Mountains?
Does pilot know this and cricket, too,
when a cloud casts a shadow on morning dew?

Nature beguiles, this I know.
The suspense in expectation tells me so.
She doesn't plan the burst of shower, the ray of Sun.
She waits until our glance is gone.

The sunrise that tricks, a thousand hues,
The rainbow. The pinecone, wonder anew.
Sit and listen. Secrets are shared,
That one who hears Nature will never be prepared.

For the moment of Awe,
At a hummingbird's shimmer,
The drip of a raindrop of pine needle's center.
The push of a cloud into dragon or bear.
The patterns of breeze as lake's skin meets air.

Sit and listen. She waits for you,
To lose your compass, your time, your place.
To awaken the pulse, stirred by grace.

The grace of alive.
The blessing to see,
The bounty of nature just sitting under a tree.

Baptism Equinox

The following poem was written on retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Wendy Johnson: Mind of Autumn: Timeless Writing and Zen

Baptism Equinox 

I lost time at the Buddhist Temple. 
Left the cell phone, perhaps with needed intention
On a bench. 
In the middle of the La Posada Hotel lobby. 

Time sits there on a bench. 
Watching the comings and goings
Of Expectation and Consequence. 
The nice couple who just wanted a room with a view. 

The pen is full, though paper empty, 
No clock on the wall. 
They will take care of me, 
Buddha sits before me. 
He is time, 
And complete forgiveness, 
Sitting though the seasons. 
A pinecone placed in his lap. 
Cobweb on pinecone. 
A new home in the Lotus Pose. 

I am the cobweb, 
Creating new places
to walk under a Cerulean blue New Mexico sky. 
It rained last night, 
Rocks dry responsibly as Sun requests them to. 
Skies scrubbed fresh, the Sun pulls back, 
Hibernation begins. 

I am the pinecone in the Buddha's lap. 
Chosen, held, placed by someone else. 
I am the structure for new spaces. 
Sitting in the center of One with An Open Heart. 
Listen, he says, Be Quiet. 

Cricket and dove, pine needles have something to say. 
Through them Wind says hello to Autumn, 
pushing droplets of last night's rain on to my knuckles. 
Bluring the "o" in hello. 
Reminding me that I am real. 
In a skin that feels rain. 

The rain that comes from the place of stars and universe. 
And that's real, too. 
The place where time began. 
With a measurement, and a theory. 
The time we created to mark the hour when I left my cell phone
on a bench in Santa Fe. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Compassion and Consequence

Several weeks ago I attended a conference in the Rio Grande Valley: a lush collection of old railroad towns along the border of Texas and Mexico. As an alumni of the Texas Lyceum, the organization presenting the meeting, I was intrigued by the topic: Beyond the Hype: Immigration and Border Security in Texas.

My husband grew up in Pharr and San Juan, two adjacent towns just a few miles from the border. When we met in 2002 and visited "The Valley" a year later, I fell in love with this part of Texas: a blur of consequence, identity and place. I loved it so much we married there in 2004. Two communities, overlapping for decades over a very fluid river border: employees and employers, access and opportunity are now in the middle of a front page fight about violence, drugs, walls and political will.

I attended this meeting to try to understand more about this very complex problem, or rather set of problems. I went looking for someone to help me make sense of it all: economic impact, ISIS, Drug trafficking, immigration and trade. I went looking for the human story. I went looking for compassion.

On the morning of the second day we filed into the "great hall" of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. On the way in we passed two army tents in the empty parking lot. We were greeted warmly by Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen. He shared a story, just two years ago, of a city and a region in crisis. You'll remember it: thousands of refugees arriving in the valley, fleeing the horrors of gang violence and crime in Central America. It was August 2014. Hundreds of asylum seekers arriving on our side of the river daily: dehydrated and sunburned, hearts weary from sometimes as many as nine months making a dangerous journey across Mexico. It is a story I remember, but it is also a story I forgot.

Sister Norma didn't forget. She didn't get distracted by the next headline or crisis (real or perceived). Two years ago Mayor Jim Darling called her and he asked her to help. Sister Norma, one of the leaders at the church, was called in those critical hours to open the doors to the very humans we build walls to keep out. She spoke to us with warmth and luminous compassion. I'd actually seen her at the dinner the night before, and not yet knowing who she was, said to myself, "that is a woman I would like to know". Two years ago, she quickly designed a harbor for these refugees with one mission in mind, "To restore human dignity".  To restore human dignity. What beautiful words. As she spoke she described a most beautiful protocol. Asylum-seekers, the lucky ones who make it across the swift and dangerous currents of the Rio Grande, are greeted by the Border Patrol on the US side. They walk toward these border warriors with their hands up. They are children, sometimes traveling alone. They are mothers, sisters, brothers, fractured families who have paid immense sums to get to the safer side of the river. They've risked everything, a certain indication that what they've endured on the journey far outweighed the threats of home.

The Border Patrol gives them water and refuge. But before they are taken to the Day Shelter at the Sacred Heart Church, their ankles are banded with a monitoring device: a GPS tracker they will have to charge three-hours a day until they are cleared by the court in some future "Sanctuary City". And where is the plug for that when you're homeless?

As we sat listening to this unimaginable story, 16 asylum-seekers walked in, across the front of the room. I fought tears watching them. Sister Norma explains how she does it, how she restores dignity to these beautiful and brave humans. Her actions, deeply compassionate and astonishingly simple are this:

1. Process the paperwork: welcome them at a table with a warm smile. The children are engaged and acknowledged. I noticed they were hauntingly quiet. They are given bus vouchers and a plan. They are given a sign that says in bold letters "I do not speak English. Please help me find the correct bus."

2. Help them find clothes and toiletries from a vast assemblage of tables piled high with used-clothing donated from well-wishers across the United States. Each section is categorized, and a volunteer helps them find just the right clothing to make the rest of the journey.

3. Take them outside to the army-issue showers. Sister Norma turned the church parking lot into two large tents equipped with showers. When the Governor of Texas called and asked her what she needed this is what she asked for. A hot shower for these weary dispirited souls. One step forward.

4. Feed them. Guests to this day-harbor are given a meal, perhaps the first they've had in days.

5. Say goodbye.  Sojourners are taken to the bus stop where they will begin a multi-day journey to parts very unknown.

In most cases they are traveling to meet a family member. The suspense of this journey must be unimaginable: mothers and fathers separated, waiting for the word of the impossible: the miracle that these loved ones survived the immense impossibilities of this flight.

If they make it to Sister Norma's open arms, they weren't killed by coyotes in a drug exchange gone-wrong. (These travelers are commonly used as a diversion.) They survived dangerous transport on the tops of trains. They didn't die of heat exhaustion on the US side in 105+ temperatures. The twelve year-old girls might still have the "Plan B" tablets they were given when their journey began: sent with real prayers that they wouldn't have to use it. These survivors are human miracles. Sister Norma and the Sacred Heart Chapel receive 80 pilgrims a day on the average.

We cannot turn away nor can we forget these future Americans. We look at Greece and Syria and shake our heads when we read about European countries closing their doors to those in need. This is happening right here in our state, on our watch, just 500 miles from Dallas. The problem is complex: overshadowed by terroristic threats (there have been zero incidents of ISIS crossing over the Mexico/US border), a drug war and an emotionally-charged presidential campaign. In the mix of this is trade: 22 states consider Mexico a number-one or number-two trading partner. The trade between Texas and Mexico represents over 200 Billion dollars and 465,000 jobs. Just in the region of the Rio Grande Valley, Mexican nationals spend 13 Billion annually. Annually 18 million people cross the border to visit McAllen's Outlet Mall. 

It is a complex matrix and these are not small numbers.

The Governor of Texas is asking for an additional $170,000,000 in aid to "secure the border" bringing the total close to a billion dollars of state-support. Texas State Troopers come by the hundreds to "help"--monitoring the river in Swift boats. The machine guns on their boats are more for show than action. The Border Patrol isn't sure how this is helping. It's a very mixed-up model of enforcement and accountability.

And then there's the wall. One leader in law enforcement lamented that in the days after the seventeen-foot wall went up, they started finding hundreds of eighteen-foot ladders left on the US side. They are now piling up in warehouses.

Money. Commerce. Terrorism shroud one issue: our response to the human seeking refuge: asylum: the freedoms we promised in our charter of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

I don't have the answers but I can be inspired to do one thing: love like Sister Norma. I watched her holding strangers, washing their feet and restoring their dignity. I am different because I watched her compassionate heart in action. I watched what happened to those she harbored. Sister Norma hasn't forgotten. I won't forget.

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