Tell Me: What IS Environmental Justice?

The BeZine is currently open for submissions for the September 15 issue (September 10, submission deadline) that will focus on Environmental Justice, which is also the theme of our 100 Thousand Poets (and friends*) for Change virtual event on September 24. In order to propel the discussion into deeper focus from the outset, we invite and encourage contributing authors to ponder a few things about their perspective and their voice on this topic.

When we talk about Justice, it is sometimes assumed that people will agree on what is ‘the right thing to do’. However, as with anything else, our decision-making about Justice is influenced by our values, by the things that we deem ‘special’, ‘important’, or ‘sacred’. I propose that there are (at least) three categories of valued environments, or ‘Holy Ground’: Nature, Place and Community. Think about these three different arenas and how you see Justice being applied to them.

For example, if Community is your value, you may feel that Environmental Justice has to do with how people are impacted and how human activity creates change. If Place is your value, then questions about Justice probably will involve a particular area with borders of a physical or conceptual nature. It may be that feelings of injustice are felt in terms of ‘This, not That’ or ‘Us, not Them’ or in a desire to see a Place resist change. If Nature is your value, then you may see Justice in more fluid terms as the balance of resources between producers/consumers and prey/predator is in a state of constant flux with perhaps no ultimate goal.

So, as you sit down to write about Environmental Justice in your unique voice, identify your values. Perhaps use the lenses of Nature, Place and Community to focus. What is important to you? Why? How does it affect your decision-making? What factors impact this ‘sacred’ ground? How do different cultural models or systems impact your cherished home? What feelings arise in you – what empathy for Living Things or Living Habitats? What fears?

Thank you for spending time with these concepts and these questions. Your presence, your life energy, and your embodiment of love is a gift that we are privileged and honored to receive. Please, share your thoughts, your words and pictures with us!

  • What started as a poets’ event in 2011 now includes artists, photographers, musicians, drummers, mimes, dancers, arts lovers and other peacemakers. Neither the September issue of The BeZine nor the 100,000 Poets for Change (100TPC) virtual event to be held here on September 24 are restricted to poetry. Send Zine submissions to bardogroup@gmail.com no later than September 10.  For the 100TPC event, work can be shared in the comments section and via Mister Linkey.  Michael Dickel, 100TPC Master of Ceremonies, will provide direction for sharing in his blog post on the 24th.  All work will be archived here and at Standford University. Feel free also to post comments, work in progress and questions in the comments section here today.  

Priscilla Galasso and Steve Wiencek, editors

me & Steve

© 2016, prompt text and photograph, Priscilla Galasso and Steve Wiencek, All rights reserved.

RELATED:

LET’S FACE IT! Peace, Sustainability and Justice … on 26 Sept. 2015, 100 Thousand Poets (et al) for Change

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Editor’s Note: Priscilla Galasso (scillagrace, try to live gracefully) wrote this last year just before the 2014 event. (We’ve adapted it here with current links and dates.) It seemed a good piece to share with you today to welcome and encourage you to join with us this year on 26 September for 100TPC, which is not just for poets but includes artists, photographers, musicians and friends of the arts.  100TPC is about Peace, Sustainability and Justice.  We chose “poverty” for our theme this year and have devoted the entire September issue of “The BeZine” to that subject.

On the 26th, a blog post will go up on this site with instructions on how you can share your work and view that of others.  We look forward to your participation and to your works.  J.D.

As a core team member of The Bardo Group, I am invited, encouraged, challenged to participate in the The BeZine’s 100 Thousand Poets for Change event to be celebrated virtually at this blog. For more information about this event, and to be stirred and prodded in you own artistic lethargy, click here

I yearn to be a poet, an artist, a musician.  I often find a piece that seems so right, so seemingly effortless, so fitting that I think it can’t be hard to craft a work like that…it simply lays over its theme like a glove.  Not so.  Listening to music on my way to work yesterday, I heard a poet’s frustration: “I don’t know why I spend my time / Writing songs I can’t believe / With words that tear and strain to rhyme.” (Paul Simon: Kathy’s Song.)

I feel these core values of Peace, Sustainability and Justice coursing through my life, my thoughts, my work, my hopes, and I wonder how hard it would be to write a poem about it.  I talked to a young man half my age who has studied forensic justice and just interviewed for a position as a mentor, a parole partner, someone who will help perpetrators and victims get together and talk, face to face.  I thought it was a great idea, for both parties, for all parties.  Here’s my attempt to let that idea percolate:

Let’s Face It

Behind the veil, the dirty shroud, the black burka, the white Klan sheet,

the knit ski mask, the heavy gas mask, the transparent oxygen mask, the impenetrable death mask,

the dense fur, the redwood bark, the shiny scales, the matted feathers,

the protective shield, the official badge, the repeated slogan,

the coarse beard, the perfect make-up,

the injections, the implants,

the scars, the screen

There is a face, a viable being.

When eyes recognize

kin and skin, then peace begins.

Face to face is the starting place.

– Priscilla Galasso

©  2014, notes and poem, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Celebrating 50 Years of Wilderness Protection

It’s a time for celebration! 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the landmark conservation bill that created a way for Americans to protect their most pristine wildlands for future generations.  The 1964 Wilderness Act…created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast. This anniversary is a wonderful chance to celebrate all that’s been achieved for wilderness in the past 50 years and remind Americans of all that we can achieve in the next 50.” (from The Wilderness Society website, http://www.wilderness.org)

wilderness

I read this call to celebration with great delight. My partner Steve is also turning 50 this fall. We’d been searching for a way to live out the next half of our lives more intentionally embodying all that we’ve come to value. He’s been reading up on ‘Deep Ecology’ lately and examining his own philosophy of land ethic, relationship to the Earth, and living responsibly. It can all be a very thick soup to me, but at the mention of “WILDERNESS”, I began to find a kind of clarity. Images, feelings, an intuitive sense of freedom and sanctity began to emerge from the murky definitions and contradictions. Yes, I value ‘wilderness’. I need it. I know this, deep in my soul. What is this recognition about? What does ‘wilderness’ mean, and what do I learn from it?

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Wilderness Act of 1964

tent

What is our relationship to wilderness – or to Nature, for that matter? Are we visitors? Are we managers, stewards, masters? Conquerors? I hear the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of construction vehicles in reverse and the thud of jack-hammers that are currently tearing down the green space near my home and widening the interstate highway to create a Research Park, and I know that a large part of my culture is dedicated to conquering and altering the land and calling it ‘development’.

playing house

I am drawn to the prairie, to the woodlands, to green space wherever I find it, but I don’t want to be a mere visitor. I belong to this planet. My ancestry is here. When I was a little girl, I used to play in the Forest Preserve across the street from my house. I would duck beneath the shady boughs of a bush and sweep out some floor space with a stick. I would set up rooms and fashion utensils of twig and bark. I played House for hours on end, staking my claim, perhaps, to domesticity within that habitat. I want to live on the Earth, with the Earth, not in dominance or enmity, but in peace and harmony. In order to live in peace, however, I have to know when to leave well enough alone. I know this in my relationship with people, and I know this in my relationship with animals. It’s called Respect. Why shouldn’t this be true of my relationship to land and sea and air as well? Let it do what it wants to do. Let it enjoy autonomy, as I do. Let it be “untrammeled by man”.

 If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” – Lyndon Baynes Johnson, President who signed The Wilderness Act into law.

secondary wilderness forest

Is it naive to think that there exists any place on Earth that is truly pristine? Perhaps. And that need not be grounds to dismiss the idea of wilderness with a cynical roll of the eyes. I believe there is merit in creating what I call ‘secondary wilderness’ by allowing areas that have been previously used and even exploited to return to a more natural state. There is much to be learned by observing what time and non-human agents will do in a particular environment. Steve and I found a section of secondary wilderness right here in Wisconsin. Although most of the 110 million acres of federally designated Wilderness is west of the Mississippi in mountains, deserts, and Arctic tundra, there are forests in the North that have been abandoned by logging operations and allowed to return to wildlands. The Headwaters Wilderness in the Nicolet unit of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is 22,000+ acres of previously logged forest that has been left wild since 1984. There are 2 Forest Service roads that divide the area into three sections, but enough contiguous acreage to qualify still for wilderness status. Backpacker Magazine’s site has given it the distinction of “deepest solitude” within that Forest. We headed there just after Memorial Day.

wilderness map

wilderness:(1)  a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) :  an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)

We found a dispersed campsite across the road from the designated wilderness on the banks of Scott Lake. As we set up camp, we were greeted by two trumpeter swans on the lake, a raucous chorus of frogs and a host of mosquitoes. That night, we had a bit of rain. In the morning, a bald eagle perched high in a dead tree on the far side of the lake, illuminated by the rising eastern sun. Staring at him through my binoculars, I imagined him enjoying an aerial view like ones I’d seen in pictures of Alaska. Could I really be in the wilderness, finally? My rational brain convinced me of the disparities, but my romantic soul glowed. Even here, in Wisconsin, there can be solitude, common-union with nature, and a wild hope.

 

swans 2

“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind…I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862

We found a hiking trail into the edge of the wilderness, marked by a series of white diamonds on the trees. The trail was maintained, after a fashion, but not with meticulous interference. I preferred it to those wide, paved “trails” in city parks where cyclists, boarders and baby strollers whiz by all weekend.

The inevitable down side of climbing the wilderness mountain is returning to ‘civilization’, re-entering the spaces that humans have altered and asking a million critical questions about our involvement. Was this action necessary? Was this change beneficial and for whom? How is this decision going to effect this environment, this habitat, this life? How do I take responsibility when my ignorance is so vast? How do I do my best to learn and choose and be aware? What do I do when I see individuals or systems causing destruction?

I learned the 4 pillars of Environmental Education while volunteering at a local Nature Center: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. My experience in the wilderness took me on a journey past those milestones: being aware of the solitude, of the multitude of interconnected lives as well; being awed by the variety and majesty of all that I saw; feeling a deep desire to protect, to respect, and to serve Life; and finally, deciding to make changes and choices in my own life and lifestyle, to learn to embody the experience, not just as a vacation or a change from habit, but as a daily practice.

wilderness sunsetSteve & I are planning to attend the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico this October. We are eager to explore the sacred space of our common ground, the Earth, with like-minded people who are also interested in fostering the understanding of our life in proximity with each other and with the life around us. I look forward to feeling the refreshment of wilderness in my soul and encountering new ways of expressing the spiritual aspect of this quality of life in art, morality and intellectual discourse.

Please consider this an invitation to join me, if not at the Conference itself, in the exploration of Wilderness as a part of our humanity. Please share comments here and likes here. If you would like to share a link or links to your own relevant posts, you may use Mister Linky below or leave the link in the comments section.

Ben Jonson exclaims: ‘How near to good is what is fair!’ So I would say, How near to good is what is wild! Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees. Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862

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© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

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004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey. Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

BARDO NEWS: Wilderness Week coming up….

Editor’s Note: Please join us for this event sponsored by The Bardo Group and hosted by Priscilla Galasso (scillagrace).

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004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey. Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

During the week of August 31 – September 6, The Bardo Group will post essays, photos and poems on Wilderness to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act being signed into law in the U. S.   You are encouraged to add your voice to ours on this site via Mister Linky or by sharing a link to your work in the comments section of any post that week.  Although this is an U.S. event, we recognize that there are places all over the world that are still wild and that are protected by naturalists, scientists, governments and concerned citizens. Hence, we invite participation from everywhere. We think it would be a good thing for us to share information and insights about the world’s many wild places though poems, essays, photographs, music and videos. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us.  

“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind…I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862

 

wilderness signBen Jonson exclaims: ‘How near to good is what is fair!’ So I would say, How near to good is what is wild! Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees. Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862 wilderness campFind some solitude and some wild land and let your spirits explore! 

cranesWe’re looking forward to hearing from you!

© 2014 photographs by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Thank you to all who share their extraordinary and diverse works here, to those who read and comment, and to those who spread the word and reblog posts. Thanks to the Core Team for their consistency, commitment, and professionalism. You rock!

In the spirit of peace, love and community,

THE BARDO GROUP

The Bardo Group, Facebook Page

bardogroup@gmail.com

Honoring My Father

George William Heigho II — born July 10, 1933, died March 19, 2010.

Today I want to honor my dad and tell you about how I eventually gave him something in return for all he’d given me.

My dad was the most influential person in my life until I was married.  He was the obvious authority in the family, very strict and powerful.  His power was sometimes expressed in angry outbursts like a deep bellow, more often in calculated punishments encased in logical rationalizations.  I knew he was to be obeyed.  I also knew he could be playful.  He loved to build with wooden blocks or sand.  Elaborate structures would spread across the living room floor or the cottage beach front, and my dad would be lying on his side adding finishing touches long after I’d lost interest.  He taught me verse after verse of silly songs with the most scholarly look on his face.  He took photographs with his Leica and set up slide shows with a projector and tripod screen after dinner when I really begged him.  He often grew frustrated with the mechanics of those contraptions, but I would wait hopefully that the show would go on forever.  It was magic to see myself and my family from my dad’s perspective.  He was such a mystery to me.  I thought he was God for a long time.  He certainly seemed smart enough to be.  He was a very devout Episcopalian, Harvard-educated, a professor and a technical writer for IBM.  He was an introvert, and loved the outdoors.  When he retired, he would go off for long hikes in the California hills by himself.  He also loved fine dining, opera, ballet, and museums.  He took us to fabulously educational places — Jamaica, Cozumel, Hawaii, and the National Parks.  He kept the dining room bookcase stacked with reference works and told us that it was unnecessary to argue in conversation over facts.

Camping in Alaska the summer after his senior year in High School: 1951.

My father was not skilled in communicating about emotions.  He was a very private person.  Raising four daughters through their teenaged years must have driven him somewhat mad.  Tears, insecurities, enthusiasms and the fodder of our adolescent dreams seemed to mystify him.  He would help me with my Trigonometry homework instead.

Playing with my dad, 1971.

I married a man of whom my father absolutely approved.  He walked me down the aisle quite proudly.  He feted my family and our guests at 4 baptisms when his grandchildren were born.  I finally felt that I had succeeded in gaining his blessing and trust.  Gradually, I began to work through the  more difficult aspects of our relationship.  He scared my young children with his style of discipline.  I asked him to refrain and allow me to do it my way.   He disowned my older sister for her choice of religion.  For 20 years, that was a subject delicately opened and re-opened during my visits.  I realized that there was still so much about this central figure in my life that I did not understand at all.

Grandpa George

In 2001, after the World Trade Center towers fell, I felt a great urgency to know my father better.  I walked into a Christian bookstore and picked up a book called Always Daddy’s Girl: Understanding Your Father’s Impact on Who You Are by H. Norman Wright.  One of the chapters contained a Father Interview that listed dozens of questions aimed at bringing out the father’s life history and the meaning he assigned to those events.  I decided to ask my father if he would answer some of these questions for me, by e-mail (since he lived more than 2,000 miles away).   Being a writer, this was not a difficult proposition for him to accept.  He decided how to break up the questions into his own groupings and sometimes re-phrase them completely to be more specific and understandable and dove in, essentially writing his own memoirs.   I was amazed, fascinated, deeply touched and profoundly grateful at the correspondence I received.  I printed each one and kept them.  So did my mother.  When I called on the telephone, each time he mentioned how grateful he was for my suggestion.  He and my mother shared many hours reminiscing and putting together the connections of events and feelings of years and years of his life.   On the phone, his repeated thanks began to be a bit eerie.  Gradually, he developed more symptoms of dementia.  His final years were spent in that wordless country we later identified as Alzheimer’s disease.

I could never have known at the time that the e-mails we exchanged would be the last record of my dad’s memory.  To have it preserved is a gift that is priceless to the entire family.  I finally learned something about the many deep wounds of his childhood, the interior life of his character development, his perception of my sister’s death at the age of 20 and his responsibility in the lives of his children.   My father is no longer “perfect”, “smart”, “strict” or any other concept or adjective that I could assign him.  He is simply the man, my father.  I accept him completely and love and respect him more holistically than I did when I knew him as a child.  That is the gift I want to give everyone.

I will close with this photo, taken in the summer of 2008 when my youngest daughter and I visited my father at the nursing home.  I had been widowed 6 months, had not yet met Steve, and was anticipating my father’s imminent passing.  My frozen smile and averted eyes are fascinating to me.  That I feel I must face a camera and record an image is somehow rational and irrational at the same time.  To honor life honestly is a difficult assignment.  I press on.

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

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004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey. Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

interNational Photography Month: Wordless Wednesday

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  So said sources from the early 20th century, and advertising and marketing departments were quick to adopt this maxim.  Images became icons; symbols got recognition and replicated themselves.  In our viral age, this happens in a nanosecond.  We are bombarded with so many images in a day that we simply filter out most of them.  Junk mail, pop-ups, video clips and trademarks pass in and out of our field of vision at an alarming rate. 

When was the last time you looked at an image for more than 10 seconds?  When was the last time you stood in a museum or gallery in front of an image for more than 10 minutes?  Was that image a photograph? 

Suppose we create a virtual photographic museum here on Bardo.  Share with us a photo that you have taken that will draw us into some full minutes of contemplative focus.  It may be a photograph that tells an entire story in itself.  It may be a place to which we’re drawn, compelled to step into the frame.  It may be a portrait of a face that speaks volumes of stories.  (What’s interesting to note is that we, like infants, will look long into the faces of people, especially those to whom we feel strongly connected.) Perhaps one of these photographs will inspire a story or essay in the writers amongst us for a future time….for now, let it be wordless.  Here are some from my collection to “prime the pump”.

 

YOU ARE INVITED TO SHARE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS WITH US.

PLEASE LINK THEM TO THIS SITE USING MISTER LINKY BELOW

OR LEAVE THE LINK IN THE COMMENTS SECTION

THE LINK WILL STAY OPEN FOR 72 HOURS AND PRISCILLA WILL VISIT AND COMMENT

WE HOPE YOU WILL ALSO VISIT ONE ANOTHER TO COMMENT AND ENCOURAGE

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

I Love My Mom

This morning I got an e-mail from her titled “catching up on the blogs”.  I felt her heart bubbling over like she had just emerged from an afternoon reading a favorite novel.  She had associations, appreciations, memories, connections to share, like her synapses were fireworks going off.  From a reader to a writer, this has got to be the highest praise.  She started off by remarking, in all caps, that there has to be a book in this somewhere and that she wants an autographed first edition.  Aw, Mom!

My mom is not a literary push over.  She has a degree in English from Radcliffe (now coed with Harvard).  She devours books regularly and always has.  Her typical posture these days is sitting in her high-backed rocker with knitting in hand, book strapped in on her reading stand, mind and fingers flying.  She used to hide away in her bedroom with a bag of snacks and emerge an hour or so later with renewed energy to tackle her household obligations, sporting a kind of secret glow.  Get her talking about one of her recent historical sagas, and she will enthusiastically engage for hours!  I love seeing her pull thoughts that have been carefully laid aside like unmatched socks and bundle them together with a flourish of discovery and pride. 

She recently told me that her doctor mentioned her good prospects for living another 20 years.  That would make her 97; she wasn’t sure she’d want to live that long.  But think of all the books you could still read!  Or that could be read to you, if the cataracts cause the eyes to fail.  I can still hear my father’s voice reading to her behind the bedroom door.  His partnership to her intellectually was so rich, until Alzheimer’s whittled his brain away.  I wonder if she feels the same phantom guilt I have in enjoying a healthy body and a sound mind after our husbands’ deaths.  Well, I suppose consciousness is a responsibility to approach with reverence.  We live, we feel, we think, we read, we make connections still.  May we both bring life and light to the world like fireworks, Mom, as long as we are able. 

© 2014, essay Priscilla Galasso, photo Dharam Kaur Khalsa.  All rights reserved

 

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Living With Mystery

Possessing a human brain is no picnic. The cumbersome chunk of gray matter is quite the dictator. It wants to know: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? It shines the light in our eyes, makes us squint and squirm until we come up with an answer. And “I don’t know” won’t appease its inquisition. Somewhere in our distant evolutionary history, this dictatorship must have presented some advantage to survival. Possibly it pressed us to a more efficient way to find food or use tools or attract a desirable mate. When the interrogation continues after it has served its immediate purpose, it becomes rather annoying and can create anxiety, frustration, torment and suffering. Think of a 4-year-old asking “Why?” to every explanation offered. It never ends. When you shout back, “I DON’T KNOW!” do you feel you’ve failed and slink off to ponder your existence? (For a good example of this “insane deconstruction” peppered with ‘adult language’, check out comedian Louis C.K. in this clip.)

Humor aside, the suffering is universal. We have all lived the anguish of a mystery at some point. As I write this, I am thinking of all the people whose loved ones disappeared on the Malaysian jet that has been missing for 11 days. Unanswered and unanswerable questions must plague them. The few photos of their grief that I’ve seen are hard to bear. Add to that circle connected to those 239 people all of the families of military personnel MIA throughout history, all of the families of travelers to foreign countries in unstable political climates who never returned, all of the parents of children abducted and gone without a trace. The stories of devastation are heart-breaking and inevitable. The common denominator is The Great Mystery – Death. Ironically, it is the most mundane mystery as well. We will all be touched by it, every one. And we know it. The two deaths that I experienced first hand were not shrouded by any great cloud of darkness. My sister and my husband both died right beside me: my sister in the driver’s seat of a car, my husband in our bed. They were not ‘missing’ by any means. And yet, I will never have the answer to basic questions like, “What were they feeling?” “When exactly did they lose consciousness?” “Was I to blame?”

Mystery is the Truth. We do not know. We delude and comfort our demanding brains in a parade of ideas. When that effort is expended, can we accept and live with Mystery? What does that feel like? How do I do that?

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You see, again the questions surface, the never-ending tide of the probing lobe of consciousness. Maybe some day that flow will be replaced by the still, mirrored surface of a quiet mind.

Peace out,

Priscilla

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Good Gawd, Y’all!

Another school shooting hit the news yesterday. The impact seems dull. Repetition has begun to numb my response. The predictable media storm continues, but just as raindrops seem less penetrating after your clothes are soaked, I simply can’t absorb this horror. And that is rather shocking.

 I Googled “List of school shootings in the U.S.” The Wikipedia article’s chronology goes by decade, starting with the 1760s. There is one entry there. The next listing is 9 decades later. Two items there. The narration continues to list shootings for every decade. When we get to this millennium, the bullet points are replaced by a chart. From 2000 – 2010, there are 46 different shooting events chronicled. From 2010 – 2014 (n.b. Not even half a decade!) there are 65, including yesterday’s. And I may have lost count of one while scrolling down through the list.

Obviously, this storm is escalating. This is a flood. Our country is awash in violence being perpetrated against school children. School children! What can that be about? What madness has overtaken our culture that young people at their studies have become targets? I’m pretty sure it’s not so much about the targets as it is about target practice.

 Our culture has target practice deeply embedded in its psyche and readily available in its entertainment, military and politics. Angry? Take aim. Proud? Take aim. Patriotic? Take aim. Need security? Take aim. Impoverished? Needy? Insulted? Invisible? Defiant? Miffed? Whatever the uncomfortable feeling you have, you can get relief by pulling out a weapon and taking aim at some target. Children in school apparently make a pretty easy gallery.

 This approach is like using the same tool for every situation, no matter what it is. Would you use a hammer to wind your watch or play your piano or punch down your bread dough or crochet a sweater? No. And how did you learn to lay your hands on the appropriate tool for each of these situations? Most likely, at a very young age, you watched someone do it. A role model. Perhaps a parent or grandparent. Someone you trusted, who spent time with you, doing everyday kinds of things.

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 Let’s look around. Where are the role models that are pulling out weapons for every crisis? Where are the role models who are negotiating, discussing, creatively engaging, brainstorming and experimenting with different non-violent approaches? Who are the role models who have multiple tools in their belts and use the appropriate ones for the situation? And violence, what is it good for? Is it ever the best tool for the job?

 And, c’mon, let’s be creative. Why does our entertainment have to follow this unimaginative formula of violence? There are a million other options. There are a million other roles to play. Playing something different will make us smarter, wiser, more flexible, more open, more like children. School children….our vanishing resource.

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Model Behavior

I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.

 Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.

 I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.

 Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?

 When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.

Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.

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© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

What’s Important?

When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”.  That was a core value in life.   I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways.  I very much resonate with the value of relationships.  I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me.  I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle.  I was a compliant kid.  I was afraid of my father and of all authority.  I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished!  Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal.  First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental.  Second, how do you even know what is “right”?  Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to?  What if that authority tells you to harm someone else?  See, it gets tricky.  How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything?  I think that covers it pretty well.

One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity.  It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads.  Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so.  Some have just stopped communicating with me.  I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism.  Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life.  This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study.  Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it.  I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17.  Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day.  So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today.  First, a photo or two to open the mind:

What is the value of a sparrow?

A cardinal, far from the Vatican.

My thoughts for today:

I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church.  On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going.  At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie.  As we walked to the library, it was just Steve.  Now you’ve entered the discussion.  Welcome!  Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church.  So much of it is about the social aspect.  Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other.  Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be.  What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off?  Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation.  Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for?  People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle?  How do they behave?  Is that what Christianity is about?  There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.

Theology & Philosophy.  The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe.  And why.  I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it.  It can be worked in with the other legs.  Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story.  But it’s still a story, a Myth.  It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true.  I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other.  If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected.  I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again.  I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact.  I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness.  I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing!  Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together.  The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible.  Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same.  I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir!  Singing!  And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down.  Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight.  He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!”  It’s so true!  I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence.  I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt.  I want to be free and respected for what I am.  And what am I?  A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.

Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today.  I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey.  It means a lot.  I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something.  You know what I mean?  And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement.  Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well.  I respect you for that.  I think that’s how Jesus was, too.  I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees.  He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on.  And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting.  What a great example!

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photographs, Priscilla Gallaso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~  started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Joy in January

The temperature on my car dashboard said -10 degrees this morning.  A “polar vortex” has moved into Milwaukee, and my partner Steve is a US Postal Service mail carrier.  He will be working outside today despite warnings (no doubt escalated by our sensationalizing media) about frostbite and hypothermia.  However, he is excited about the opportunity to live in the moment, make decisions one after another, and flow with the realities of the environment.   His attitude reminds me that we can choose to feel victimized and we can choose to feel joyful.  The following is a post on Joy that I first published 2 years ago.

Joy to the World

December 22, 2011 by

Gift of the Universe #22:  JOY!

I truly believe that joy is available to everyone.  No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful.  Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”  – Richard Wagner

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  – Joseph Campbell

My late husband was ill for many years.  He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31.  He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control.  When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick.  I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy.  I choose happy.  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it.  The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner.  Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me.  We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches.  Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her.   Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV.  When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light.  We fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  And he never complained.  Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I don’t buy that.  Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.

Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle.  Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”  – Julian of Norwich

This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today.  My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”.  Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present.  Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is deeply felt.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering.  I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful.  I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being.  Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!).  I always felt that mothering mattered.  That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world.  I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged.   Never underestimate the effect of a smile.  Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

My joyful (and crazy!) kids

Are you smiling every day?  I’m sure I am.  I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background.  He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s joking with me.  I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself.  Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”.  I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement.  I so don’t need to be.  There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.

Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along.  Rejoice, my friends.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2011, 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Peace on Earth

In December, I reblogged a series of posts acknowledging the free gifts that are available to humanity every day.  The idea was to approximate an Advent calendar, opening a door to reveal a treasure each day as a count down to Christmas.  This one was first published on the 23rd day of the month.  — scillagrace

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head-on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those which cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Wise or Otherwise

Editor’s note: This lovely piece was originally posted by Priscilla on her personal blog and is a part of her Advent series. Like a spiritual box of Advent chocolates, each day she unwrapped one of the free gifts life gives us.
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The free gift for today is something that can be acquired, but cannot be bought.  I don’t think that it can be given, either.  The gift is Wisdom.  According to Wikipedia, “Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding.”  In other words, “To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)  However, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”  (George Bernard Shaw)  And finally, “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”  (Mohandas K. Gandhi)
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It would seem, then, that wisdom is something that can be acquired in living with awareness and engaging humbly with experiences.  It seems to me, though, that you can’t give someone the benefit of this process.  You might point out the process and talk about its benefit, you might set up the beginning of the process, but you can’t impart the journey or the result.  It has to be lived.  I’m a mother; trust me on this.  I wanted to give my children wisdom more than anything, probably for selfish reasons.  I wanted to be spared the pain.  I wanted to spare them the pain.  I asked God to give them wisdom…like on a magic platter descending from heaven…but spare them the pain.  Can’t be done.  Wisdom is born of pain and suffering and effort and failure.  You have to be awake through it all as well.  You can’t gain wisdom while you’re anesthetized.  I’ve made a great discovery, though.  This process is a great equalizer.  Keeping Gandhi’s wisdom in mind, my children and I are fellow travelers on this path.  We share our stories as friends, we perhaps contribute insights to this process, but we cannot assume the roles of provider and receiver.  I try to remember that as I talk to them.  It is too easy for me to slip into the “teacher” role and begin to spew language about what they “should” do and what is the “right” way to do something.  I often issue too many reminders and begin to sound like I’m micro-managing them.   They notice.  They mention it.  I have to challenge myself to be wiser and trust them to be wise.

I remember the day my father told me that something I said was wise.  It felt like a great victory for me.  I was 19 or 20.  I had been talking to my oldest sister about some article I had read in an evangelical Christian newsletter taking issue with science and carbon dating.  My father was eavesdropping from the breakfast room and jumped on the subject by voicing some objection to the fact that the money he was paying for my college education hadn’t stopped me from discoursing like an ignoramus.  I was scared of his strong emotion, ashamed of myself, and angry at his insult.  Embarrassed and hurt, I fled.  We didn’t speak for 3 days.  I realized that he wasn’t going to apologize to me or mention the event on his own, so I decided I needed to take the initiative to talk to him about my emotions, clear the air, and try to restore our relationship.  I’d never talked to my father about our relationship very much before.  He was always right, often angry, and anything that was amiss was my fault.  I also knew that he would not show his emotions, that it would be a “formal discussion” on his part, but that I would probably not be able to contain my tears, making me feel foolish and not his equal.  I decided to brave the consequences and approach him with Kleenex in hand.  I began to talk, and cry, and tell him how I felt.  Then he asked me if I wanted an apology.  “What do you want me to say?”  I told him that part was up to him.  My dictating an apology to him would be meaningless.  That’s when he said, “That is very wise.”   Suddenly, I felt I had grown up and been respected as an equal to my father in some way.   What I understood or didn’t understand about evolution and carbon dating and creation didn’t matter to me any more.  That I had been able to navigate emotions with my father and repair a broken relationship was far more significant.

Dad & me in 1992. Photo by my 8 year old daughter.

Wisdom isn’t easy to get, but it is available.  If you pursue it, you’ll probably get it eventually.  It’s completely avoidable, though, if you so choose.   I know which way I want to go, so I’ll keep paddling my canoe and checking the horizon.   For those of you heading the same way, STEADY ON!  I salute you.

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Have Some Divinity

The premise is this: for each day in December, instead of counting down on an Advent calendar, I’m counting the free gifts we all get every day.  (to see the rest of the month’s gifts, visit my blog!) Today’s gift is divinity, but I don’t mean the candy.  I mean The Divine, The Sacred, The Holy and experiences of them.  Don’t we all have the opportunity to receive that every day?  If you look for it, will you find it?  I think so.

So, what is sacred?  How do you recognize the divine and holy?  In art, there’s always a halo or a sunbeam to give you a clue.  What about here on earth?

‘Namaste’ is the Sanskrit greeting recognizing the existence of another person and the divine spark in that person, with the hands pressed together in front of the heart chakra.  I think the divine spark exists in every living thing as the breath of life.  Every encounter with a living thing is an experience of the divine.  We hardly ever act like that is true, however.  But we could.  Native Americans and many African tribes have hunting rituals that celebrate the sacred exchange of life.  The hunted animal is divine, sacrificing itself for the life of the hunter, and the hunter shows a holy appreciation.  Often, when I look at macro photography of living things, flower stamens, insects, mosses, I am compelled to worship the divine in the detail.  Life is sacred and beautiful.  Looking closely and deeply is a way to practice recognizing that.

In a dualistic world view, the mundane and the divine are polar opposites.  One is worldly, one is sacred.  If this world were imbued with holiness, if God became incarnate and entered flesh in this world, those opposites would run together like watercolors.  Many cultures believe this is the truth about life.  The waters under the firmament and the waters above the firmament are separated in one telling of the creation story, but the Spirit of God was moving over all of the waters from the very beginning, even in that story.  The understanding that divinity is everywhere has inspired people all over the globe for centuries.  This place we inhabit is special; it’s valuable.  It’s all holy.  This is the beginning of respect for the Universe and everything in it.  Somewhere in Western history, that idea lost its power.  Earth and everything in it became base and fallen.  Good turned to bad and life turned to death.  I’m not sure if that new idea has been very helpful.  I rather think it hasn’t.  And I don’t think it has to be that way.  It’s an idea, after all.  So if it’s not a helpful idea, why support it?  How would you rather live?  In a fallen world or in a world where the sacred and divine can be found everywhere?  Just wondering out loud.  I’m not saying that one idea is right and the other wrong.  The glass is neither half full nor half empty.  It’s a glass, and there’s water in it.  The rest is conceptual.  Why argue?  Choose how to live with the glass and the water.   As for me and my house, “I choose happy.”  (One of Jim’s conclusive statements.)

I hope this gives you something to ponder for today.  If you like, you can add a scene of Edmund Pevensie in Narnia being asked by the White Witch what he craves.  “It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating.  What would you like best to eat?”  “Turkish Delight, please your Majesty!” he responds.  What if he had said, “Divinity”?  Same story, nuanced.  I would like to taste the sacred in this world, and I believe it’s here.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Habit

Habit might be the enemy of Awareness or Mindfulness.  Doing things routinely without thinking is a practice that allows our mind to wander into the past or the future or the make believe without really being present.  Sometimes, this is just what I want to do!  Yes, I admit to blowing up Mah Jong tiles and Free Cell rows when I want to veg out.  But if I want to be truly alive, I try to pay attention to each present moment.

Thich Nhat Hahn gives a wonderful lesson to Oprah Winfrey on drinking tea mindfully in this clip.  Oprah, out of habit, takes a sip of her tea before the meditation even begins.  I smile, thinking, “how embarrassing!” and noting that I probably would have done the same thing if I wasn’t careful.

Habits can be comforting…and they can lull us to sleep.  Do you want to be awake?  Do you feel like there will be plenty of time to be dead later on?  I do.  Except when I don’t.  It takes a lot of psychic energy to be alive!  Think about all that’s involved when you do a simple thing like climb up a short flight of stairs.  Your weight is shifting, balancing, your muscles are contracting, your toes are gripping, your hand may reach out to the banister, your eyes are measuring the height of each step, you’re breathing with the exertion, and all while trying to remember what you’re going upstairs for!  Walking meditation, tea meditation, stairs meditation…it’s all the same practice of mindfulness.

This picture adds another aspect: Steve in meditation.  I see him every day.  I want to be mindful of that miracle.  He’s alive, different, changing, dynamic, and important.  So am I, but I have a long way to go on that one. Appreciating myself is the hardest practice for me.

Habit

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photographs (above and below), Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~  started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Claiming Rites of Passage

St. Luke's columbarium
St. Luke’s columbarium

A few years ago, I went to an exhibit on mummies at the Milwaukee Public Museum.  It was fascinating.  Listening to the whispered comments and questions of other patrons was fascinating as well.  We have a very scattered cultural approach to death, with so many various ways of marking the rite of passage, including not really marking it at all.

American culture, as a whole, has been dominated by technology to the point that important parts of our lives are relegated to “experts” and taken out of our hands completely.   My mother fought against this trend in the late 50s when she insisted on breastfeeding her babies instead of allowing the “experts” to convince her that artificial formula on an artificial schedule was better for them.

Birth experiences have become sterilized, institutionalized, and anesthetized as well in the mainstream. My 4 were all born in a hospital under the HMO system (but not under any pain killers!) because in my 20s, I wasn’t brave enough to seek more creative options.   However, my sister birthed one of her children at home, and I once assisted a friend who had a home birth.  It’s not impossible to choose to take full responsibility in this event.

Death is another part of life that more and more people deal with by proxy. The hospice movement is a wonderful example of the purposeful effort to maintain the grace and dignity of this stage of life by bringing it back into the home, away from institutions.  I recently watched an Ingmar Bergman movie set at the turn of the century, called Cries & Whispers (well, it’s actually called something in Swedish, but that’s the English title).  This intense family drama deals with the death of a spinster sister from cancer.  The action all takes place at home, in this case an elegant manor.  The doctor’s largest role is in an affair with one of the sisters, in flashback.  When I think of the family drama of my husband’s death, experts and technology played a huge part.  Unfortunately, that became a distraction from entering into the rite of passage, from experiencing the more intimate aspects of the dynamics that were changing my family.  What I mean to say is that it enabled denial.

The last photo taken of me & my husband
The last photo taken of my husband: 11 days before he died at home.

What does it mean to choose to take responsibility for my life?  Not to delegate the more painful or complicated bits to an “expert”, not to live by proxy or by representative?  In which situations do I most often abdicate my ability to decide a course of action?  Are they likely to be mostly financial, political, medical, social, spiritual, emotional or physical?  I am only beginning to wake up and ask myself these questions.  Steve often puts it to me this way: in every situation, you have at least 3 options:  1) Run away or hide  2) Try to change the situation  3) Change yourself.

This is a good time for me to think about aging, about how I want to live and address the changes that are happening now and will continue to happen.  What do I want?  I want to experience life in a more authentic way, not behind a duck blind or a proxy, not behind a curtain of denial or dogma, not by avoiding discomfort or hard work.  I want to make decisions about who I am and how to live proactively.  How do I embody this?  At this point, I am still figuring out who I am and want to be and recognizing places where that has been dictated and I have responded without looking deeper.   My father and my husband took great care of me.  I want to learn to do that myself.   I often dream about Jim returning as if he’d never died.

Last night, I had a powerful dream about him, set in the house I sold, with my young children around.  My consciousness struggled with it; I knew that the house was emptied and I’d moved.  I couldn’t understand why the furniture was back and the place looked so “lived in”.  I couldn’t understand why Jim was there.  He told me he was going out to work because he wanted to support me and the kids.  In a choked whisper, I closed the door behind him and said, “Don’t come back.”  I woke up crying.  Talking about this dream with Steve, I realized that I do want him to come back and float through my subconscious and consciousness without confusing me, without affirming me or correcting me, just visiting.  I suppose when I gain the confidence to affirm and care for myself, my dreams will change and Jim’s place in them as well.  Then we will both move beyond this Bardo and into a different sphere.

—- Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~  started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Affairs of the Heart

“Sudden massive coronary events” are dominating my thinking lately.  I am reading Joan Didion’s account of her husband’s death in The Year of Magical Thinking and recently browsed the pertinent pages of Ekaterina Gordeeva’s book My Sergei while waiting for Steve to glean salable items from Good Will on Tuesday.   I am also writing my own memoirs of my husband Jim in a Continuing Ed course.  What struck me this morning was the role of the grieving person’s best friend as hero.  Not the knight-in-shining-armor type hero, but the simple, calming presence modelling a way to be.  In a moment when shock obscures all notions of how to act, having a trusted person exhibit some caring, helpful behavior is a distinct grace.

My mother was that hero to me when my sister was killed in a car crash.  Alice and I were traveling across country together, enjoying the freedom of being 20 and (almost) 17 when it happened.  My mother cobbled together connecting flights from San Jose to reach me in Nebraska the next morning.   She got me discharged from the hospital and set us up in a hotel while she went through all the details of bringing Alice’s ashes back to California.  We went to the mortuary the next day.  I was still rather zombie-like while my mother handled the business.  Then the director asked us if we would like to see the body.  “Absolutely,” was my mother’s reply.  For some reason, I hadn’t realized that was why we were there.  I hesitated.  Mom led me into the room while the director closed the door.  “Oh, honey,” she sighed as she approached the table.  “No, she’s not there.  She’s gone.  Look here…” she began to comment on Alice’s wounds, on her swollen face and how old she looked, as if she were a battered wife decades in the future.  My mom said something about all the suffering her daughter had been spared.  Then she tenderly bend down and kissed that pale, waxy forehead.  My mother has never looked more beautiful to me in all my life than she did at that moment.  Strong, compassionate, wise and incredibly beautiful.  I wanted to be like her, so I kissed my sister’s forehead, too.

photo credit: Dharam Kaur Khalsa
photo credit: Dharam Kaur Khalsa

Gordeeva writes about her coach, Marina, prompting her to go into the ICU room where her husband lay.  “Don’t be afraid.  Go talk to him.  He can still hear you.”  She goes in and begins to unlace his skates, a normal gesture that helps loosen her words, her tears, her emotions.  I remember our priest asking me and two of my daughters if we’d like to anoint Jim with some olive oil, bathe his face, and prepare his body to be taken away.  It was a relief to excuse ourselves from the people downstairs in the living room and go up to him together, to say our goodbyes together, to touch him one more time.  I am so grateful someone thought of allowing us that right then.  We had another opportunity to say goodbye to his body at the funeral home later when my two other children came home.  By then, I could take the lead with them and encourage them to approach.  I can’t remember who started humming “Amazing Grace”, but we all joined in, musical family that we are, and swayed together, arms and bodies entwined.

In the aftermath of Jim’s death, my youngest daughter and I fought frequently.  I didn’t know how to talk to her, to listen to her anger directed at me and recognize that she wasn’t hateful, only grieving.  Steve was the one who suggested that she was hurt, not hurtful and agreed to sit by me while we attempted an honest conversation.  My instinct was to run away.  I was grateful to observe someone who could be calm and present, reasonable and compassionate in the face of powerful emotions that frightened me.  He is adamant about not rescuing me, but equally determined to be the best friend he can be.

I hope that I will have opportunities to be a great friend to someone in grief.  I would like to be a conduit of such grace.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~  started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

“My courage is in the affirmation of my part in co-creation”, she wrote in her first published poem, composed on her thirtieth birthday and submitted alongside her seven-year-old daughter’s poem to Cricket magazine. Her spiritual evolution began in an Episcopal environment and changed in pivotal moments: as a teenager, her twenty-year-old sister died next to her in a car crash and, decades later, Priscilla’s husband and the father of her four children died of coronary artery disease and diabetes in his sleep at the age of forty-seven  Awakening to mindfulness and reconsidering established thought patterns continues to be an important part of her life work.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.