The light left us, but
only for a while. After
the darkness, morning.
A big challenge each day on the road is finding a place to blog. Most campsites don’t have cellular signal. In towns with signal, there’s the typical crowded cafe where the cacophony of clattering dishes, background music, and traveling families with loud kids surrounds me on all sides.
But yesterday, while hiking up a three-mile trail on Humbug Mountain on the Oregon coast, I came across a blogger’s dream: a comfortable wooden bench with plenty of signal and the kind of view that provides the space to think big thoughts.
I sat down and waited for inspiration. Maybe a poem about the mountains, the redwoods. the sea or the earth.
Instead, I found myself obsessing about something much more mundane — a daily to-do list. It’s a time of transition for me, and I’ve been looking for a way to balance everything that’s going on, everything I want to do and everything I have to do. How about a little poetry, I asked the part of my mind/soul that does the writing. Here’s your poem, came the answer. Pay attention to this list, and share it.
So here it is. And if you’re paying attention also, I invite you to comment and share your own list of actions for daily living. Maybe we can learn something from each other.
10 Actions for Daily Living
- Get up early.
- Thank God for the amazing gift of another day, and for your purpose here in this world. Ask for clarity about that purpose today.
- Drink some good tea (or coffee), the best you have, and write.
- Do what has to be done today. Keep the bills paid, the body healthy, the house in good shape. Keep your promises.
- Do what you’re here to do — your part in making the world better. Do it with all year heart.
- Get out. Connect with people. Connect with the earth. See what the world is saying to you today; see what you can learn. Embrace the mystery of what you don’t yet know, and leave the door ajar.
- Drink some tea in the late afternoon and read.
- In the evening, if you haven’t already done so, sit with Wendy, hold her hand, listen to her, give her a little massage, remind her of how much you love her.
- When you go to bed, check your heart for anger, let it go, and forgive every person at whom it is directed, whether they deserve it or not.
- We never know what tomorrow will bring, or if we will ever wake up again. Commend your body and soul to God’s care.
When you walk through an old growth redwood forest you are surrounded by living beings who were here at the time of Chaucer, Maimonides, and maybe even back to the Prophet Mohammed, Rabbi Hillel and Jesus. This forest, thousands of years old, undisturbed by humans, with the redwoods still in charge, is healthy, stable, clean, orderly, beautiful and temperate, very comfortable for humans.
Question: how healthy, stable, clean, orderly, beautiful and temperate are the cities where most of us humans live? How is the planet as a whole, the “forest” where we are in charge, doing? Maybe we could summon the humility to learn something from the wisdom of these ancient beings.
Here’s one thing: burls. A trail sign in Humbolt Redwoods State Park says:
Redwood burls can weigh several tons and hold hundreds of cloned dormant buds which can sprout into new saplings if the tree is put under too much stress … [such as from] fire, injury, or even the toppling over of the entire tree.
Take another look at the picture, at the burl and at the little tree. Imagine if we were a little more like the redwoods. Imagine if we devoted ourselves to properly preparing the inheritance of life for the next generation, for everyone who lives together in the forest.
I, a silent old man alone at his campsite retreat, sit surrounded by the cheerful noises of young families looking prosperous, healthy, well-educated, energetic, optimistic. When I encounter them on the way to the bathroom, they smile politely.
The RVs, pickups, bikes, two-tents-per-family, camp tables, chairs, cookware, tableware, endless other family-ware, crowd like shiny, brightly colored invasive mushrooms into the clearings among the tall redwoods.
Morning comes quietly. Yellow sunlight pouring down from the tops of the redwoods washes away the grey fog, while a young Hispanic woman, looking older than her years, carrying her excess weight with resigned determination along with the mop, pail, garbage bags and cleaning supplies, washes away the evening debris from the bathrooms.
You may not notice,
but I’ve accomplished a lot.
My turn is coming.
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi met Elijah the Prophet standing by the entrance of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai’s tomb…. He then asked him, “When will the Messiah come?”
“Go and ask him himself,” was his reply.
“Where is he sitting?”
“At the entrance.”
“And by what sign may I recognize him?”
“He is sitting among the poor lepers….”
So he went to him and greeted him, saying, “Peace upon you, Master and Teacher.”
“Peace upon you, O son of Levi,” he replied.
‘When will you come Master?” he asked.
“Today”, was his answer.
When he returned to Elijah, the latter enquired, “What did he say to you?”…
“He spoke falsely to me,” he said, “stating that he would come today, but he has not.”
Elijah answered him, “This is what he said to you: Today, if you will hear his voice.”
Babyonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 98a
(Based on the translation at Come and Hear.)
The opportunity: more people from distant places are starting to show up on our doorstep and express an interest in joining our community as Global Citizens.
The challenge: Help! As more and more people find us and want to get involved, how are we going to decide whom to designate as a Global Citizen?
I offer the following draft document as a starting point. Global Citizens, Working Founders and Guiding Founders please offer your comments & suggestions. Thank you!
Global Citizen Application – 1st Draft
Supporting each other in accelerating humanity’s course change toward a healthy, just, peaceful, sustainable world.
- We are leading positive change in our own communities and/or with our favorite causes — change that also contributes to our shared vision of a healthy, just, peaceful, sustainable world — one world for all of us.
- Regardless of our differences, our actions are guided by a common set of values. (See oneworldlights.net/values.html)
- We each set aside a little time on a regular basis to support other Global Citizens in our community. We do this by either (1) participating in Wisdom Circles in our local communities; or (2) globally over the Internet by making ourselves available to interact with other Global Citizens through blogs, social media, Skype calls, email, etc. — or both.
- We regard everyone in our global community – regardless of country, background, affiliation, views, etc. – as a potential teacher that we can learn from. Where opinions differ, we withhold judgement and seek to understand.
- We each share responsibility for maintaining One World Lights as a safe, healthy, productive commons for all of us.
New Global Citizen Questionnaire
Your name, address, email address:
- Your profession(s)/job(s) – paid or unpaid. Please feel free to explain and help us understand what you do.
- What are you doing to lead positive change in your own community and/or cause?
- Why do you want to affiliate as a Global Citizen with One World Lights? What are the greatest gifts you bring to our shared purpose of supporting your fellow Global Citizens? What do you most hope to receive?
- To what extent do you see your life and your actions as congruent with our shared values, and where are the greatest differences? Please feel free to explain and share your personal views.
- How much time do you estimate you’ll commit each month to communicate with & support your fellow Global Citizens? Would your preference be to do this through a local Wisdom Circle, or via our web site or elsewhere on the Internet, or both? If on the Internet, how?
- What are the possible situations where you think our 4th Requirement could pose the biggest challenges for you. Why? If these challenges come up, how will you deal with them?
Optional: is there anything else you’d like us to tell us about yourself?
On Sunday, May 5, we launched the first One World Lights Wisdom Circle, at the home of Wendy and me in El Granada, California. This is a very exciting milestone for us, a small beginning to the big vision: of 1,000 Wisdom Circles around the world!
A meta-purpose of this first circle is to use our own experience as a laboratory for fine tuning a Wisdom Circle template to share with our fellow Global Citizens around the world as they create their own Wisdom Circles. This includes the OWL Wisdom Circle 1 blog, where we will “circle-source” the record of our journey and lessons learned along the way. As other OWL Wisdom Circles form, I look forward to their blogs as well, as we begin sharing our stories and learning globally.
When Our Smallest Children Are Hungry …
Friday March 1, 2013: a day of cruel irony. The beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring documentary, A Place at the Table, was released, placing hunger in America back on our national agenda. Today 1 out of every 4 American children – that’s right, 1/4 of our children – go hungry, placing us at the very bottom of a UN list of 30 industrial countries.
On this same day, March 1, a dysfunctional national government (triggered mostly by one party which has abandoned responsible governance in order to pledge allegiance to non-stop hyper-partisan warfare) pushed us into the sequester. According to the NY Times, “Policy experts are particularly concerned about cuts to the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, which provides food and baby formula for at-risk families… Up to 775,000 low-income women and their children might lose access to or be denied that aid…”
To up the ante on the irony, although we are at the bottom of industrialized countries on childhood hunger, when it comes to food production per capita, we are still number one in the world! So hunger in America is unnecessary! It not caused by scarcity; it is caused by social policy. And once upon a time, when our social policy was more enlightened and compassion had not yet become a dirty word, we actually approached the goal, in the late 1970s, of ending hunger in America.
So fast-forward to March 1, 2013. When our smallest children, one in four of them, are hungry today, how does our government respond? Unbelievably, tragically, by pushing more of them over the cliff, closer to starvation. Not a big deal according to Senator Rand Paul, who commented, “I believe the sequester is a pittance.”
Thank God, most Americans disagree. A Place at the Table has the potential to spearhead a new social movement, of millions of Americans who are reaching out to get involved, to do what our government can’t or won’t do, to act now, urgently, together, as compassionate, caring human beings.
These people taking leadership are shining examples of what we at One World Lights are calling Global Citizens – serving people in their own communities, each in their own way, reaching out to support each other, animated by the vision of one world for all of us.
A Place at the Table left my heart broken, and inspired. Inspired to reach out and become part of this new movement to end hunger in America. If you are moved to do the same, you can find practical things you can start doing, today, at A Place at the Table.
I don’t know about you, but what gets me out of bed every morning is, I want to connect with my brothers and sisters everywhere who are placing compassion for everyone at the center of their moral compass, and are acting to make it happen. And when a basic existential question arises, a question like – when our smallest children are hungry, what do we do? – to rise up and answer it together in a way that is worthy of who we are.
Jewish tradition teaches that in every generation the world is sustained by 36 hidden righteous people. They may look ordinary, but they’re not. No one knows who they are. When humanity makes choices that threaten to destroy the world, God says, “Because of the compassion which these 36 have shown my creatures, I too will show compassion.” And the world continues for one more generation.
I was taking my regular afternoon walk to the harbor and passed by one of my favorite places: a clump of bushes near Sam’s Chowder House restaurant. A colony of feral cats lives there. It seems that every few months there are new kittens; they look so vulnerable as they blink out at the big, busy world teaming with gophers and moles, boats, cars, dogs and people. I fall in love with them every day.
I continued walking and soon ran into a woman I’ll call Bonnie. She has short straight hair, a big smile, and is about a decade younger than I am. Bonnie’s husband died a couple of years ago, and she is still adjusting to life on her own.
“Have you fed the kitties?” I asked.
“Not yet,” she said, laughing. I walked with her over to her car. In the back of the hatchback, neatly organized in boxes, were many stacks of canned cat food, dozens of them, of several varieties. I watched as she gathered her materials for the day’s feeding: cans, paper plates, plastic spoons, plastic garbage bag.
“How are they doing?” I said.
“Two more disappeared yesterday.”
“Disappeared? Where to?”
Bonnie shrugged in exasperation. “Oh, I don’t know!” She told me she had spotted the mean lady who sometimes walks by with her two big dogs, unleashes them – watching while they run up, chase away the cats, and eat their food – and laughs.
“Amazing,” I said, shaking my head. “How could anyone want to torment these poor little creatures?”
“I know.” Bonnie sighed. For a moment we both stood in silence. What can you say?
Bonnie’s been feeding these cats every day for years. Three times a year she brings down people from the Humane Society to spay and neuter the kittens in order to try to control the feral cat population. But somehow, more always show up. And there are rumors that every once in a while a rough looking guy in a pickup truck drives up late at night, puts some cats in boxes, and no one ever sees them again. And when Bonnie comes the next day and all the cats gather for their food, looking up at her and wagging their tails, she notices who’s missing, silently mourns the loss of her kitties, and feeds the ones who are still there.
I looked out over the harbor where a flock of seagulls was flying. A few years ago those of us who live here witnessed a shocking sight: seagulls stumbling around in great distress with empty beer cans shackled around their necks. The poor birds were so tormented. When an occasional well-meaning person would approach a bird to try to rescue it, the bird, if unable to fly, would run in panic. Eventually people who care, working with organizations like WildRescue and International Bird Rescue, began showing up to rescue them. A reward was put up for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators, and the crime stopped.
Why? Who? How dangerous to be a defenseless stray kitten or seagull living close to humans. And how equally dangerous in so many places in the world today, this morning, to be a defenseless woman or child. They all become magnets, and mirrors, for the unfathomable darkness that can dwell within the human heart.
I asked Bonnie how her cats at home are doing. “Oh they’re fine,” she said, beaming. “Another one showed up today, a little orange one. How could I say no? So I took him in too!”
“How many kitties do you have?” I asked.
She laughed and shook her head. “Too many!”
I said goodbye and continued on my way. If the darkness within us is mysterious, is not the light that dwells in our hearts even more so? Where does it come from? And how many more people like Bonnie are there out there, everywhere, ordinary people, usually unnoticed by the world, acting in their own ways to make a difference, with no other motive than pure compassion? And hopefully, hopefully, teaching God to save this world of ours for one more generation.
That’s when the idea hit me: maybe on the OWL web site, we can start telling their stories.
It rolled up the street in El Granada, lights flashing, quiet, slow, deliberate in the 3:00 AM darkness. I was there outside my house in sweats, Sperry Topsiders with no socks, and a small flashlight. I waved it and the fire engine pulled over. Three young guys in fire outfits, much more cheerful and awake than I was, jumped out.
“I told the dispatcher we have two theories,” I said, “either a big natural gas leak, or the strongest skunk we’ve ever smelled.” The guys laughed.
“Whew, this is strong!” one of them said as Wendy and I showed them around the house. Another guy was holding up a meter in various directions.
As I watched them I thought about the old, retired firefighter I had met on the subway last time I was in New York. He and his son had been 9/11 first responders. Do you remember what it was like back then, over 11 years ago? Like so many Americans that day I got the message loud and clear: no matter how big the oceans are that separate us, like it or not, we’re all connected.
“There’s no carbon in the air, so it must be a skunk,” announced the guy with the meter. His buddies, having sniffed everywhere, agreed.
“So how do I get rid of it?” I asked as I walked them back to the fire engine.
One of them laughed and shrugged. “We don’t do skunks; that’s your job!”
The next morning, after an hour and a half on the Internet and the phone, I found myself talking to a young guy I’ll call Tom, in San Francisco. He sounded very knowledgeable.
“I’ve smelled lots of skunks, but never anything this strong,” I said. “It’s still making my eyes water!”
“Yep,” said Tom, “this is a special odor, and it’s got to go a long distance.”
He proceeded to explain details about skunk behavior. “It’s their mating season. You’ve probably got a female looking for a warm, cozy place to have her litter. What you smelled is the special odor she puts out to attract males.” We made an appointment for him to come that afternoon.
I returned to my computer and scanned the day’s headlines. Everywhere you look, examples of human society coming unraveled: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Greece, Mexico, Egypt, Mali. Here in the U.S., there’s the Mexican border, there’s Puerto Rico, there’s the political gridlock that blocks any solutions to our most pressing problems. There are so many people who are slipping into poverty, while neighborhoods and whole regions of chronic despair fester and multiply.
Even the relatively peaceful and prosperous community where I live hasn’t been spared. There are still abandoned houses, like the little house with a wonderful ocean view on the corner of my block, which became a home for raccoons and rats. Recently a guy with a pickup truck has been showing up to haul away debris. Maybe someone has finally bought the place.
I get back to work, trying to ignore the skunk smell. I’m winding down 15 years of operating the HR Forums, and moving forward with One World Lights. This new change feels like stepping outside of a comfortable, gated community of mostly privileged people, and into a much bigger and much more diverse neighborhood: chaotic, unpredictable, noisy, often dangerous. Sometimes I feel scared at the audacity of what I’m undertaking. But there are so many caring, loving, strong, committed people all over the world, each doing what they can to make a difference, so many role models, so much inspiration. I push against the fear by telling myself: maybe I can make a difference too.
At 6 PM Tom showed up with his van and his assistant –I’ll call her Rebecca – and his little white dog. They were both young; she’s in her 20s. Wendy had just returned from work. We invited them in. Armed with his gas mask, floodlight, gloves and iPhone, Tom descended into the dark crawl space under the house.
When he emerged 10 minutes later, the four of us sat around the dining room table over coffee. “The good news,” Tom said, “is that I didn’t see any skunks.”
“That’s great!” I said.
“Wait,” he said, “take a look at this.” He passed around his iPhone. “Your insulation down there is completely torn up. And see those piles on the ground, everywhere? Raccoon feces.”
“Yeah! They’ve been down there for a while.” Then he showed us another picture, a dead raccoon. “What I think, is he was old and weak, and came here for a nice warm, dry place to die. There weren’t any maggots, so he’s just been there a day or two. You’re lucky. If he stayed like that a few more days, the smell would be horrible, way worse than the skunk smell, and it would take much longer to get rid of it. “
“What about the skunk?”
“It looks like she saw the dead raccoon sometime last night, got startled, sprayed a really big spray, and left.”
Wendy & I made eye contact. I can see that she’s sad about the dead raccoon. We had thought the raccoon problem was confined to the house on the corner. But here they were, also under our house the whole time. That was sobering. “That skunk alerted us to the raccoons,” Wendy said. “She did us a big favor.”
The four of us talked about the details of what would come next: cleaning up, sealing off, and deodorizing the crawl space under the house.
I was curious about these two young people, who seemed to be about the ages of my two kids. They live near SF State University, in two separate apartments. Tom has been doing rodent and small animal removal for 14 years. Rebecca just graduated from SF State with a BA in media production. What struck me as she described her college experience is how scary it had been for her to walk to classes. Students, and particularly young women, are frequently assaulted, robbed, and worse. There are campus police, but there just don’t seem to be enough. And they both said that their neighborhood has been getting worse. Violence, gangs, shootings, lots of police everywhere – it’s all become depressingly routine.
Tom’s ambition is to grow his business to the point where he can afford to move out of the neighborhood. He’d like to live in a safe, affluent community on the Peninsula. Rebecca agreed. He feels optimistic that he can do it.
“I love this work,” he said. “I understand skunks and rats and raccoons. And when I clear people’s houses, they’re really grateful. That’s satisfying.”
I thought back to my days in the ‘60s as a student at SF State. It was a time of flower-power and love-ins, of the spiritual revolution and visions of a better future. The issue of day-to-day safety never entered anyone’s mind. The difference between my student experience and Rebecca’s makes me sad. What happened? Is there an infestation of social unraveling that has now spread to this part of San Francisco, just like the raccoons from the corner house migrated to ours? If so, why, and how do we turn it around? Isn’t that what One World Lights is all about? I hope that my determination and optimism will remain as strong as Tom’s.
Wendy and I watched as Tom and Rebecca walked back out to the van. “Are you guys really just business colleagues?” I said. They looked at each other and giggled.
OWL on VoiceAmerica Radio
OWL Global Citizen Kay Sandberg has been co-hosting a radio show this month on VoiceAmerica Internet Radio, called “Visionary Leader, Extraordinary Life.” She and the show’s host Kate Ebner interview people they select as visionary leaders. Kay herself was previously featured discussing her organization Global Force for Healing.
This week it was my turn, for an hour of Kay and Kate asking me about One World Lights, and how my life led me to the vision of this community. You can hear the entire interview on their web site at:
If you’d prefer to listen in shorter segments, I’ve edited the show into four parts:
VoiceAmerica Interview Part 1
My story; how I came to do the work I’m doing today: Right Livelihood Workshops, the HR Forums, One World Lights. My experience of the spiritual revolution through the House of Love & Prayer and Meeting of the Ways. The power of circles.
VoiceAmerica Interview Part 2
A moment of discovery among Silicon Valley human resource leaders when “the circle was the teacher.” The role of “inn keeper” in designing and convening circles. How that applies to OWL. Example of best practices for bringing people together in circles. Relationship with local, face-to-face OWL circles, with the global, Internet based OWL community.
VoiceAmerica Interview Part 3
Biggest challenge for me in making the transition to OWL. How we can support each other as leaders in working through these kinds of challenges. The Silicon Valley experience of seeing big things happen quickly from humble beginnings. The importance of something simple and practical at the core of a big idea. Who has inspired me. Example of a partnership between a visionary corporation and a visionary social enterprise. The OWL vision.
VoiceAmerica Interview Part 4
The OWL vision in terms of numbers. How people can get involved. What does it means to be part of the spiritual revolution? What is spirit? Starting a wisdom circle.
You squirm out of the dark womb onto a narrow carpet of winter light. Days get longer as you push yourself up, fall, laugh, push yourself up again, and learn to walk.
By spring you’re in your 20s, strong and georgeous in your growing physical glory, thrust onto the stage as the sap surges and earth bursts forth in flowers like a flood of light sweeping away the darkness.
You stride through June into mid-life, your longest day and brightest moment, breezing through the gateway to proudly toil in summer’s sunny fields of dreams, ambition, work, family, achievement, barely noticing, as you follow the afternoon sun, the shape of your shadow lengthening behind you.
In late September when the days and nights are equal, gazing at the candles on your table surrounded with people you’ve invited to enjoy the harvest of the field, you may notice, even as you smile at the expansive play of the young ones, an unexpected ache in your muscles and an unexpected question in your mind: what do I do with this weariness I’m feeling? Do I yield to the night and excuse myself? Or do I push against the darkness, put another log on the fire, drink more coffee, and party on?
It’s October now and you’re approaching 70. With longer nights and shorter days there is less of you visible on the stage, more time in the wings. Young people pass you by without noticing. Your true presence and greatest power – your wisdom, experience, memory, judgement, compassion, and love – are invisible to those without night vision.
It’s October and time to organize yourself for today’s shorter day. What does the world need and what do you have to give? What do your loved ones need? What do you need to sustain yourself in the days ahead? The night is giving you abundant time to prepare.
What the world will see in you today is the glistening tip of the iceberg of your whole self, itself the glistening tip of a far greater iceberg. Laugh and walk, fall and get up, love and dance and dream, act and make a difference. Together we can join hands to welcome the next season.
In this election season America is being bombarded with messages from the Republican right about how we need less government and more liberty. Let businesses and people make their own decisions. I learned a lesson yesterday about liberty.
Wendy and I were taking a walk through El Granada where we live. At the top of Coral Reef Avenue we step onto a trail that leads us out of the little suburban neighborhood and up into the hills. Vast open spaces high above the harbor and ocean, carpeted with wildflowers, where clusters of pampas grass, glowing in the sun and waving in the wind, dot the hillsides.
We see a couple of little girls, about seven and four years old, absorbed in playing a board game as they sit on a bench overlooking the harbor.
30 years ago when I first moved here, there were no trails above Coral Reef Avenue, only a rutted, muddy roadway where countless motorcycles and pickup trucks had made their way into the hills. The land was owned by a large corporation that was planning to build subdivisions with hundreds of homes. It was littered with mounds of garbage where bands of Hells Angels and drunken teenagers had partied. Parents warned their children about going into the hills, and it wasn’t safe for women alone. I haven’t been here for a long time.
Wendy and I follow the trail up the hillside and marvel at the views. An elderly couple and their two dogs pass us on the trail and wave. After a while Wendy decides to head back home. I watch her for a moment as she walks down the trail.
I enjoy the rest of my walk. It’s calm and peaceful up here, beautiful, great exercise.
On my way back down I see a National Park Service car. A park ranger is standing outside the car, writing something on a clipboard.
“Beautiful day!” I say.
“Yeah, it sure is!” He tells me how he’s been spending his day, checking out sections of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area between San Francisco and here.
“Is this land part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area?” I say.
“Yeah!” He says. “This is the southern end of the park, and one of my favorite places.” A local non-profit, Peninsula Open Space Trust, acquired the land and transferred it to the National Park Service.
“Wow, that’s great!” I say.
“Well,” he says, “I get mixed responses from people here.”
“Really? How come?”
“Some people don’t want to see me here, especially when I have to enforce the rules. For instance, no motor vehicles in the park, and no trash.” He gestures up to a pickup truck on the hillside. Two guys in their early 20s are pacing around nervously, smoking cigarettes. He’s writing them a citation. “There are other people here too who see me as the long arm of the government in Washington reaching into their neighborhood, taking away their liberty.”
I look back up at the two guys. They look agitated. I think about the two little girls, and the old couple with their dogs, and Wendy walking alone back alone. Liberty for whom, I think. Liberty to do what? How do we establish and secure that liberty?
I look back at the park ranger. “I’ve lived here for 30 years,” I say, “and I’m glad you’re here doing your job. Welcome to our neighborhood!”
August 23, 2012
I see men’s judgements are
A parcel of their fortunes; and things outward
Do draw the inward quality after them.
William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra
If Shakespeare were living in Ashland today, they’d elect him president of the Chamber of Commerce.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with its magnificent campus downtown that includes three theaters, gardens, courtyard, and an outdoor stage, is Ashland’s second largest employer. In addition there are dozens of thriving businesses – restaurants, shops and inns – that serve theatergoers. As a successful businessman himself, Shakespeare would no doubt enjoy a hearty laugh at being a lynchpin of this economy.
In our visit this year, Wendy and I have also been drawn to something else about Ashland – Lithia Park. We began with breakfast downtown, at an outdoor table near Ashland Creek, picked up a trail nearby, and wandered up into the forested hillside. In the whole experience – the combination of wild forest with gentle landscaping, trails along the brightly flowing stream, picnic benches, duck ponds, and wild deer – we can feel the artistry of John McLaren, the landscape architect of Golden Gate Park, who was commissioned to design Lithia.
We get to a lovely place of open meadows near the stream. Wendy lies on the grass in the sun; I sit at a picnic table to compose my blog. I say hi to a female police officer walking through the park, making sure that everyone’s okay.
I’m blown away by what this town of 20,000 has accomplished. What have they done right? Is there a lesson here for other communities?
As a point of comparison, I think about the town where I live, Half Moon Bay, CA. Both places were settled by Europeans in the mid-1800s and began as agricultural settlements, both cover about 6.5 square miles, both are blessed with beautiful natural environments. Ashland, population 20,000, has Southern Oregon University within its borders. Half Moon Bay, population 11,000, is close to Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and several community colleges.
Half Moon Bay has a well-educated population with an average family income almost twice that of Ashland. Yet our amateur theater and other cultural events, and small parks, don’t come remotely close to what Ashland has. And the town is in financial trouble, downsizing everything, even eliminating the police department. (We now get police services from the county sheriff.) And the merchants on Main Street are struggling to hold on.
So what can communities like mine learn from Ashland? Sitting here at a picnic table in Lithia Park, answering this question seems beyond me. Is it about the politics, the tax structure, the local leadership? Is it about accidents of geography or history? Is it about establishing your own university? I don’t know.
Suddenly four deer show up, very close, out of nowhere. Wendy is sleeping and no other people are around. They look like a family: a mother, father, two young ones. I stay very still. They wander across the grassy field to a spot near some trees.
Wikipedia offers an interesting clue about the Shakespeare Festival and Lithia Park. They both trace their roots to the Chautauqua movement . It was an independent movement of both religious and secular people that brought culture and entertainment to people throughout rural America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Shakespeare Festival began as a facility built in 1893 to house Chautauqua events. And Lithia Park began when members of the Ladies Chautauqua Club formed the Women’s Civic Improvement Club, which petitioned the city council in 1908 for the establishment of a park in Ashland.
Maybe there’s a lesson in that. What would be the equivalent of Chautauqua today?
I set my camera on the picnic table and snap some pictures of the deer. Whatever I wind up saying on the blog, this will make a good picture.
August 20, 2012
(Continued from Part 1.)
In a thick flourish of sign language, facial expressions, broad gestures, smiles, tears, occasional Arabic words and occasional strange sounding English ones, Hanin, who grew up as a deaf, religious Muslim girl in Cairo, Egypt, tells us the story of her life.
Hanin’s listeners and witnesses, besides Yitz and Shonna and Wendy and me, include two guests from Eugene, Judith and Chava. None of us can understand all the details of her story, but we all get the message. The great hardships she has had to overcome, and her enormous empathy for other deaf women in Egypt whose lives are so difficult. Her job with Egypt’s Education Ministry, focused on educating deaf children. And now, here in Eugene for this international conference, her praise for all God’s blessings, with joy, hope, gratitude, and love. Her determination to take the message of empowerment back to Egypt, and to make an even bigger difference to people there.
We all sit around the dining room table with our food contributions in the middle, spread out before us as a sumptuous feast. Earlier today, Hanin went shopping at a local natural food store for spices. She didn’t know how to describe what she wanted and couldn’t understand the labels, so what she did was, she opened up every bin and smelled them all. When she got back to Yitz and Shonna’s kitchen, she took a couple of eggplants, her newly purchased spices, and made baba ghanoush, which is sitting in a bowl on the table. We hold hands, bless the food, laugh and talk all at once, pass the dishes around. Hanin’s baba ghanoush is amazing, the best any of us have ever tasted.
As dinner progresses, the conversation between Yitz and Hanin gets too complex for either to understand the other. Not to be deterred, Yitz pulls out his laptop, fires up Google Translate, types in his question to Hanin in English, and there underneath is the same question in Arabic. Hanin laughs and claps her hands. I fire up Google Translate on my iPad with an Arabic keyboard on the screen, so she can answer. Soon we’re passing the devices around the table. Words are flying a-mile-a-minute, with everyone talking and typing at once.
Wendy has a question. She’s a nurse practioner who works in the neurology clinic at Kaiser in Hayward, California. Recently she saw a patient, a devout Muslim woman, who was suffering from severe migraine headaches. It was Ramadan. Fasting on Ramadan (or any other time) can trigger migraines, so medically it is not advised. Wendy discussed this with her patient.
“The Koran permits me to break the Ramadan fast for medical reasons,” the woman had said, “but then I will have to make it up later.”
How can this be? Wendy thought to herself. Is Islam really that harsh that it will require this woman, eventually, to suffer excruciating pain? She typed in this question onto my iPad, waited for the Arabic translation, and passed it to Hanin.
Hanin looked at the Arabic sentence, then at Wendy, then around at all of us. She set the iPad down on the table and laughed. “No, no, no!” she said, very clearly. “Allah is merciful!” In gestures and sounds, she told us the following: Allah does not want this woman to suffer. If she cannot fast on Ramadan, then what she must to is to feed the poor and hungry instead.
I honestly don’t remember if the rest of us of us broke into applause, but that was certainly the mood. Wendy’s excited. “Hanin, you’ve answered another question for me. I not only treat migraines in others; I also get them myself. For years I haven’t been able to do a complete fast on Yom Kippur, so I’ve done a juice fast, but that never feels complete. Now I know what to do.” I don’t know if Hanin understands all the words, but she smiles and reaches out to Wendy.
“It’s the same thing that Isaiah says!” says Yitz. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen?… To award your bread to the poor.”
At this point we’re all beyond words. “Maybe it’s time to say Birchat HaMazon,” I say to Yitz. The traditional thanksgiving blessing after the meal. Yitz nods and is about to start the blessing.
Suddenly Hanin reaches up, as if extending her hands to the heavens. Then she circles her arms around the table. “All one!” she says. We all do the same. All one, all one.
Yitz smiles. “Now that’s a good blessing.”