November 22, 2010
September 23, 2010
October 15, 2009
If I stand and pee in our upstairs bathroom and look up I see Jaimen’s handwritten sign quoting Jesus’ “Do to others as you want them to do to you.”
When I turn to wash my hands my eyes fall on the besplattered Mary Azarian “N is for Neighbor” print that is pinned into the wall just above the sink. A man and a woman conversing, smiling, standing on either side of a fence.
When I lie in bed and look up I see the sky and stars, the moon if the timing is right, and the condensation that has gotten trapped in the skylight, and water stains on the wood frame.
I don’t think much of religion anymore. I used to. I know that it has a powerful draw for many people and that that draw pulls from deep inside their being, or seems to. I know that it makes many promises, many claims, and that it shapes language and thought, and corrupts language and thought.
I was always trying to get to the core of things, which of course means that I thought things had cores, which I suppose is a religious idea.
The core that I finally found, dwelling as I was in the realm of Protestant Evangelical Christianity, is hanging over my toilet, and the teaching about loving your neighbor, and that your neighbor is, well, everyone. That was my holy of holies, that’s what I found when the veil was torn. My ticket off the magical mystical tour. My pass out of religion, into the world, into myself, my ordinary self and my actual surroundings. It didn’t make things any easier, but a lot less cluttered. It made things harder, since many of the consolations faded away as well. But more authentic, more real. And for me there are no greater consolations than those. That is certainly what it feels like.
It opens you into the lives of others, and into your own life. Into the life of your community, your society, your time, your world, our world.
It is a strategy, a theme, a posture, and a throw away line, a slogan pinned to a wall, that means less than nothing if you don’t actually try to do it, and think seriously about it. There are other “cores” out there, other strategies and themes, instincts, tendencies, many of which run fiercely counter to “love thy neighbor” and they are not trifles.
I’ll end with some words of Hillel, a famous teacher and contemporary of Jesus. They are on a notecard stuck in a folder somewhere in my office, it used to be up on my shop wall:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
February 23, 2009
Service at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier
October 7, 2007
A full stomach says a ripe guava has worms.
An empty stomach says, let me see. (Creole proverb)
We light this chalice for those with empty stomachs
For those who wish to see, for those who wish to be
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow,
not some more convenient season.
It is today that our best work can be done
and not some future day or future year.
It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater
usefulness of tomorrow.
Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work,
and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.
It felt like a play, like I was in a play, if I could only remember the words being spoken I could write them down, but I knew I wouldn’t and then Stephen would stop and it was my turn and the words came, few and perfect and then Stephen was off again, pacing the floor, stopping by the bed, taking another can of beer off the pillar of six-packs. It was so like a stage, the big grey bed, the bare light bulb hanging from a cord in the middle of the room. The tired armchair in which I sat, the rusty sink in the corner into which Stephen would pee every 30 minutes or so, even as he kept talking, guiding me ever deeper into his life. Even the window was theatrical, the one window opening not to the street or the sky or color but rather the still gray air of a light shaft that penetrated the heart of the hotel.
An hour earlier I had been on a different stage, the shelter on 30th and Lexington. It too was spare and gray and held two actors, Charles and me. 8 am on an Easter morning, coming off the night shift and we had sent our sleepers into the street so we could sweep and mop and rearrange the tables and chairs for the day’s big dinner. I was a young Wasp seminarian, a recovering evangelical trying to find God, serve God, play God, among those living and dying in the margins of New York City. Charles was a merchant mariner, taking a break from the sea, older than me, a man of few words, as dark-skinned as anyone I had ever seen, large and powerful and new to the shelter. Read the rest of this entry »
February 10, 2009
“Te amo,” he said, I love you, his eyes bright, glistening, nervous, looking straight into mine, “mi amor,” my love.
“Verdad?” Truly? I responded. “Si, si,” he insisted, and blushed, and laughed.
“Es muy fuerte,” I said, it’s very strong. Amor. Love.
“Si, si, escribelo,” yes, yes, write it.
“Okay,” I said, and turned back to the keyboard and resumed typing.
He had met a beautiful gringa in Morrisville; actually, verdad, every gringa he had met was beautiful, bonita. But this one he had danced with, laughed with, and now I was helping him make a Facebook page, create a Gmail account, and find her, in the confused, multi-noded net of the Web, the world-wide web narrowed to one pulsing axis, Nicaragua to Vermont, Vermont to Nicaragua, beating with music and dance, with youth, energy, and beauty, with the allure and magic of the other, the new, the foreign, that is now holding your hands and hips and dancing you across a high school gym floor in Morrisville, in Montpelier, at U32, in Henneker.
He was in love and I was translating. Would this email find her? Would she write back? Return his amor?
The email (correo, related to ‘correspondence’?) flew out into the night and then we returned to Facebook and his search for ‘Friends’. Facebook is all about Friends, Amigos, searching for them, finding them, confirming, and adding. So-and-so wishes to be your friend; will you confirm? Friends of Friends, Friends in Common, People you may Already Know. Why, just the other day my own wife accepted my offer of Friendship. It should have been a no-brainer, but I was still relieved.
Our Nicaraguan guest is 18 years old, from deep in the campo, the countryside, a good place for camping, a campesino, a countryman, living a full and demanding life in a small casa, house, with a large family, working four hours a day teaching literacy to adultos, adults, walking two hours a day back and forth to high school, and working for Planting Hope, the organization which central Vermont’s own Beth Merrill created in 2001. He is here with eleven compañeros, companions, (com-pany, someone who eats bread, pan, with you, ‘with-bread’, ‘bread-with’) dancers, ambassadors, bringers of Nicaraguan cultura, both folk and pop, for four weeks in January, in a deep cold spell. He is our house guest, staying in our very large casa, with our small family and multiple cars.
Four years ago Jaimen, my son, and I had gone ‘down’ to Nicaragua with Beth’s first big delegation of Vermonters and gringos for a ten day visit. If I hadn’t been a gray-haired 47 and married I would have been just as taken with the Nicaraguan mujeres, women, as our own guest was now with Vermont girls — verdad, I was, taken with, by, all of them, and the heat and music, the dancing, the food, and the beautiful, bonita, people, the friendly, friendly, amistoso pueblo.
Since then muchos grupos, many groups, of northerners have gone south to Central America and now, finally, a grupo of Nicaragüeñses has come here.
It took two days for the cherished one in Morrisville to respond, but respond she did, and once again I was called upon to translate — to carry across, to transfer, to move the words from one world to another, English to Spanish. And the word I had to carry? That terrible wonderful word that cuts both ways — friend. “Good friends,” she wrote, but only friends. “Amiga,” I said to him. “Amiga,” he repeated blankly. “Amiga, no amor.”
“Ah, si, entiendo.” I understand. He looked hurt for a moment and then smiled, “amiga, si” then allowed as how it would be better to find a novia, girlfriend, back home in Nicaragua. Verdad.
Amiga, amigo, amor… the funny thing is that they share the same root, the Latin amare, love. At its root amigo means love, so also the English ‘amiable,’ ‘amicable,’ some scholars trace amare to amma back to mama, to the sounds of the suckling babe finding and naming its first love, its momma. Friends, lovers, and mothers, one in origin, in etymon, in essence? And ‘friend’ itself, a different word, from a Germanic root, but one with the same loving meaning– frijaz — “dear, beloved,” Frigg, goddess of love, Friday, goddess-of-love-day, a root that also branched into ‘free’. Free and friend and Frigg — same root. To be free is to love and be loved. Love frees. If you love someone set them free. Or dance with them, listen to them, visit them, learn their language, tickle their tongue, translate your self, carry yourself into new places, new rhythms, new friends and loves. Love your mother, your child and lover, and be a friend, to the stranger and your neighbor.