Sunday, November 27, 2011


To share or not to share my thoughts on Myanmar/Burma! That is a question I have been pondering these past few days---ever since learning of the upcoming visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a country that has long (and strongly) captured my heart. I am considering this impending visit with concern---if not foreboding.

My points of view, with regard to “The Golden Land”, have often been at odds with the prevailing “inside the beltway” views held and expressed by the United States Government and by the people who get their information from those sources. Clearly, my ten extended visits in the past decade, have given me a different perspective from the information disseminated by the mainstream media. The unyielding hatred of the regime, spewed by angry ex-patriots as well as by good and sincere supporters of the abused political prisoners and ethnic minorities, doesn’t tell the whole story. And the partial story has, in my opinion, damaged and delayed opportunities to understand, assist and repair the lives of the Myanmar people. Yes, the abuses and atrocities are reprehensible. However, they do not show the whole picture. Moreover, the anger, propaganda and sanctions that result, neither improve the situation nor protect and support the innocent—and most of the people living under the repressive government are innocent. The continued anger and vilification of the ever-changing regime offer no pathways to understanding. And understanding (listening, acknowledging, apologizing, forgiving) is essential if peace, opportunity, and cooperation are our true and honorable goals with regard to this largely unknown and misunderstood land.

…I site the parable of the blind men and the elephant: By simply and blindly probing the tail or the foot of the proverbial elephant one cannot get a proper understanding of the animal. The ears, the torso, the trunk…all need to be explored. It is important to give a possibility to the fact that there is much good in those whose ideas are at odds with our own. There is much to learn. I don’t want the good that exists to be overlooked or buried by those--with power--who lacked the ability to consider the whole elephant!

My travels through Mandalay, Pyin U Lwin, Bagan, Pathein, Kyaiktiyo, Kengtung, Taunggyi, Mawlamyaing…by train, car, horse cart, ferry, bicycle and foot strongly informed my view of the people, their beliefs, their ordeals. In many ways, these considered conclusions are at odds with the information that has formed the U.S policy towards this beleaguered and oppressed country: The U.S. and British Governments say “Burma”/I say Myanmar.

“Burma” a far sexier name than Myanmar and far easier to remember and pronounce is what the British renamed the country when they invaded it, exiled the Royal Family and colonized the land in the late 19th Century. They named it after the Burmans, a major ethnic group in a land of many ethnic minorities. But the official name—and an ancient name, at that---is Myanmar or Myanma. It is a common misconception in the west that the Military Regime, in a power-usurping fit of xenophobia changed the name--out of spite or meanness. In truth, they just removed the British name and restored the historic name. Ma Thanegi, a former personal secretary to Aung San Suu Kyi, researched the name “Myanmar”. She writes that on a “stone inscription known as the Yadana Kon Htan Inscription, written in early Bama (Burmese language)…are the words ‘Myanma Pyay’ which means Myanmar Country. The date of this inscription is 597 in the Myanmar Era---this translates to 1235 in the Roman calendar. Ma Thanegi concludes by saying “Even during the British era and beyond when the English speaking world used the name Burma as given by the British, to the citizens of the country, the official name in the local language has always been Myanmar.

On the first day of my first visit to the country I used to call Burma, I went to the shabby U.S. Embassy/Consular Office in downtown Yangon (most westerners still think of it as Rangoon) to let my government know that I was in “Burma” and to get some advice about traveling upcountry. They were decidedly unhelpful and offered no answers to my questions. They gave me a faded sheet (it looked like mimeograph paper) with some travel agency names and addresses. Most no longer existed. As it turned out, I didn’t need the assistance of the United States. I quickly met taxi drivers, shopkeepers, artists, monks, poets and friendly children …all of whom smiled, pointed me in interesting directions, taught me essential words and phrases, educated me about the food, currencies, family dynamics and in so many small ways exemplified their loving kindness way of living.

Ten years later, many of these people are cherished friends. Almost every day, I think about the ninety year old woman who was a Fulbright Scholar at Temple University in the late 1940’s. Her impeccable English, her deep Buddhist practice, her generosity, her wisdom and grace humble and inspire me.

The political situation in Myanmar/Burma has begun to change. Government officials are engaging in talks with members of the NLD (National League for Democracy). Aung San Suu Kyi is planning to run for election. Now, after decades of living under severe government oppression, in relative isolation and after enduring the damaging sanctions imposed the United States, Myanmar is receiving a formal visit from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This visit will bring worldwide media attention to a country that has been ignored or vilified for too long.

I wonder what will happen to the gentle people of this fragile country. How will world perception of “Burma”/Myanmar change? Will things be better or worse for the people in the Chin State? The Mon State? The Shan, Karen, Kachin States? In the past, only the bad aspects of the ever-changing, xenophobic, greedy and frequently ignorant regime got press. The good---and there has been good was almost totally ignored. One example: recently, the government of Myanmar, working with the Wildlife Conservation Society, designated an area the size of Vermont, in the northern Huwang Valley, for the largest tiger reserve in the world.

An experienced traveler friend of mine just wrote from Mandalay to tell me how much things are changing/have changed in the country since his visit the previous year. Crowds of curious tourists are suddenly flocking to the shrines and beaches and ancient sites. Hotels are full. Souvenirs are selling. In his words: “…It’s going to bust open like a ripe pomegranate! And it will not be the way we wish it was. Globalization has a way of eradicating exoticism! Already in Yangon everybody’s walking around talking on cell phones. The locals are in a big hurry to modernize…so be it! Who am I to stop them?”

Sometimes my CASSANDRA persona makes a futile rush to the fore---only to retreat, weeping!

Foreign business concerns are selling genetically modified seeds and insecticides to farmers, who for ages have grown healthy and plentiful crops in the fertile soil of the country, without “benefit” of chemicals.

The Chinese are exporting precious resources and importing junk. They almost succeeded in building a dam and a hydro-electric plant north of Myitkyina in the pristinely beautiful state of Kachin---a dam that would have destroyed villages and farmland while providing electricity (mainly) for China. The Myanmar government listened to the people and (just in the nick of time) stopped the project from going forward. I want to say that again: The government listened to the people!

My friends chide me for being an unapologetic apologist for Myanmar. Perhaps. I prefer to call myself a freelance cultural explorer who embraces that which is beautiful and memorable in the country. If I were a praying woman, I would pray that these indications of change will position the country in a solid place on the world stage---without sanctions and fighting and landmines and pollution and…

Secretary Clinton, please be gentle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This morning I read a report filed by my friend Johnny Barber who has just returned from a friendship and fact-seeking trip to Afghanistan. His heartfelt findings filled me with sadness and frustration.  Sadness because my heart weeps over the cruelty and ignorance that foisted such hardships and pain on so many and...Frustration because I do not know where to turn nor how to work or pray or shout away the forces that would let these crimes against Nature persist.  It's surely not okay to be content with signing a petition, writing a letter to an editor or standing on a busy street corner with a sign.  I don't even know what my sign would say.  Stop The Wars?  End Corporate Greed?  Teach The Children Well?  Peace Over Profit?  Fill the Donut Holes With $$ From the Corporate Loopholes?  (that's probably too long to be read by a passing motorist) Save the Rivers...the Forests...the Water...the Mountains...the Snail Darter? (whatever happened to the snail darter?).

I think Nature Is Weeping? 
Or is it Nature's fault?  Does Nature not only "abhor a vacuum", but resent peaceful co-existence as well?
                   "In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments---there are consequences."
                                                                           Robert Green Ingersoll  1896

In 1783, President Washington spoke about consequences in an address to his Army Officers.  I want to share it with you and with myself, thinking perhaps by typing it right now, right here, I might get a fuller understanding of what George meant:

               "If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter
                which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can
                invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom
               of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like
               sheep to the slaughter."

Sheep to the slaughter.  I think about that when I am slogging through a security line at an airport.  In fact, not long ago, I said to the barefoot man in front of me in the queue, as he was struggling to ease his laptop out of a makeshift case, while holding his belt in his mouth (I think it was a snakeskin belt)..."I don't know if I should "mo-o-o" or "ba-a-a-a".  He didn't get it.  Or if he got it, he didn't let on---perhaps out of fear of...of what?  The consequences?  I endured the unpleasant humiliation of being fondled by a short, chubby, uniformed Patriot-actress because I refused to go through the naked picture booth at the Albuquerque Sunport.  Two men watched from behind the safety of a Plexiglas barrier while she explained just how she was going to be touching me.  She wore plastic gloves while she inspected my hair and breasts and inner and outer thighs while I cried---real Grandmother umbrage tears!  Consequences...

But that is a small --borderline insignificant--example of consequences or "sheeple-ness".  There are bigger ones, of course.  What if one is late with a payment?  Utilities, Cable, Mortgage, Credit Card...These companies offer the "infractor" an opportunity to experience shame.  Someone from the Phillipines will call.  They will recite their name but it won't be understood because the cheap phone connection is just that: cheap.  They will speak from a script.  They will ask for information that they already have.  They will offer unacceptable terms or suggestions.  Or they will attempt to extract a promise that the delinquent debtor will or will not re-finance an old car to make a payment or hit up old Aunt Blanche.  Finally there will be an offer to consider a reduction in interest in exchange for answering endless questions about bills and savings and income and blood type!  Shame is an unpleasant  consequence.

However, I am mainly concerned with national and global consequences.   I am mentioning the consequences that have arisen because of the greed and sociopathic behavior of a few powerful corporate types.  Clever, sneaky individuals who are far more interested in accumulating obscene amounts power, political access and manipulative skills that actually go a long way toward the destruction of our planet, our relationships with the people of other countries, our civil society.  These are some of the dangerous and dreadful consequences of greed-mongering. 

How did it get like this?  How did we fall into a somnambulistic state as a country so that we no longer Pay Attention, no longer think for ourselves, no longer see through the propaganda and hype that fills the airwaves.  Did you watch Dancing With The Stars this week?   Did you follow the story of the missing white baby girl?  Did you spend money at WalMart?  Did you ask your Doctor if you need any one of a score of designer pharmaceuticals that get more media time and attention that people who are working to end child hunger...or homelessness or environmental degradation?  I did some of that...I tuned in to see Chas Bono attempt the Pasa Doble.  And I began to question whether the parents of the tiny white baby girl might have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of the child.  At least I did NOT go to WalMart.  I have never been in a WalMart---but that's because I am willing (and sort of able) to spend a little more money for things by buying from locally owned businesses who support my community.  Not everyone is able to do that.   WalMart can easily under-buy and over-advertise thereby successfully seducing people into their lairs.  And, in the process, they can crush...obliterate...many neighbor-friendly small businesses through aggressive and strategic corporate competition.  Consequently, I resent them and the other soulless mega-corporations that have built and climbed the ladder greed toppling countless small businesses (and small business people).  I resent the power they have achieved over our lives--power that has become nearly impossible to reverse.
Consequences  These lamentable and practically irreversible consequences are the result (I'm getting all wound up here) of the horrendous and savagely greedy actions and policies of a (relatively) few people; a few people who sit in plush offices...or on lavish yachts dictating these regulations to lobbyists who then present them to our Congressional representatives (along with perks or threats) who then vote yea or nay, in accordance with the dictates of those flying around on their private jets...These "corporacrats" are practically worry free.  Their kids are in excellent private schools.  Their houses are warm in the winter and cold in the summer.  They pay off their sexy black credit cards easily--every month.  They have rich private doctors and extravagant insurance policies.  And they rarely encounter a struggling single mother who has been threatened with foreclosure.  They don't run into many eighty year olds living on social security alone...Alone.
Somehow, we have let this happen---through misunderstanding, laziness, pre-occupation, disinterest.  And now, we can see the consequences

Minutes ago, I heard on the news that the United States Attorney General (and associated minions) had foiled a plot by an Iranian (?) terrorist (?) to assassinate the Saudi-Arabian Ambassador to the U.S.  Everyone is already speculating that this could be an act of war on the part of Iran.  At least that's what the Israelis think.  I'm suspicious.  And that is a consequence of the many times that things "the American People" were encouraged to embrace or to believe turned out not to be believed!  Instead, we were "fed" carefully scripted propaganda to seduce "us" into accepting lies for truth.  I'm not buying the lies---even though there might be a grain of truth in them. 
That too is a consequence!

Something that Oliver Wendell Holmes (Abrams v. United States) wrote strikes me as a fitting close to all this:
                             When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths,
                             they may come to believe even more than they believe the very
                             foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desires
                             is better reached by free trade in ideas--that the best test of truth
                             is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition
                            of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes
                            safely can be carried out.  That at any rate is the theory of  our                 
                            Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.
Let's "experiment" with a new way of thinking.  Let's take care of one another.  Let's occupy our minds with thoughts of justice and peace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


                     Fortunately (psycho)analysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. 
                     Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.
                                                                    Karen Horney   Our Inner Conflicts 

All day I have been sitting in front of this computer--not writing, just sitting.   I've been  carefully turning and examining the big globe of the world that lives within arms reach of my desk.  I want to refresh my memory about the neighboring countries of Croatia (there's Hungary, Slovenia...uh...Bosnia-Herzegovenia and another former Yugoslavian country--but, I can't recall it at the moment and now the globe is turned to the South Pacific. 
I don't know what to write but I don't want to stop typing--now that I'm actually typing.  If I stop now I know I'll get all wrapped up in something that keeps me from my intended task:  noting down various motes of  thoughts, in their brief moments of existence, before they float out of reach as thought motes so easily do.  So easily.    Just now, I turned the globe around:  Montenegro!  That's the country I couldn't recall. 
Now, moments later, I'm checking out Iran.  I am planning to travel there in November.  I notice how big Iran is compared to Iraq, for instance. I touch certain raised surfaces of the globe indicating the mountainous areas in Iran and also in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan...My long-time fascination with globes and atlases and maps may or may not pre-date my life-long fascination with the great cities of the world and with exotic islands and mountain deathzones and desert oases and remote cultures of our remarkable planet.  I'll chalk it up to a simple--or not so simple--chicken/egg conundrum. 
Having tired (for the moment) of my global investigation of countries and their neighbors, I decide to read and answer some e-mails and facebook messages.  I aam restless, but fighting it.  I resolve (I'm frequently "resolving") to write a new piece for this blog, which is precisely what I'm doing now (not your "now", my "now"). 
Hmmm...When I'm not near my computer, I notice that I have lots of ideas for topics I want to tackle in my writing.  But, today, with plenty of time and access to this keyboard, I cannot quite locate a teeth-worthy topic.  So, I continue to read random passages from a book about a woman traveling alone in 1930's Persia...and I peruse the book section of The Sunday New York Times...

Then...PAUSE...maybe some tea would be tasty right about now.

In the kitchen, while making a pot of tea and finishing the Sudoku puzzle, I turn on the news:  Occupy Wall Street;   cruel destruction of a mosque in the troubled West Bank;   pundits discuss the "N" word;  joblessness;  Greece may default...Aaahrrgh!  I have passionate feelings about all of these topics but I am somehow (temporarily, I hope) unable or otherwise disinclined to slow down or to speed up enough to write about them with any depth or clarity.  The potential depth and clarity, that I feel certain exist for me, remain lodged somewhere between my bleeding heart of the matter and the never-ending matter of my wandering mind. This mind of mine loves to slide swiftly from one thrilling idea to another possible or impossible solution and then onto a new radical conclusion or an ongoing intriguing or thorny puzzle...hoping to land on an answer to an issue of monumental importance.

Forsooth!  Methinks this Ego, with whom I am intimately associated, doth not dally long enough in any realm in order to uncover the elusive truths for which it lazily yearns.  It is a dancer; a hip-hopper with a limp.  "...a player who struts..."

I cover my open eyes with the palms of my hands.  I look hard into the mano-manufactured darkness.  Is it possible, I wonder, with full purpose and intention, to see through these hands and through my self-created barrier?  What does this habit of self-imposed darkness tell me about myself?  I want to see something.  I want to see something more; something on the other side of the darkness---where the light originates.
Once again, I am searching through magazines, atlases, dictionaries, news reports, rooms, closets, memories, fantasies...looking for something to caress, to finesse---something that will hold my attention, something to take me away from the news and the books that need to be arranged and the table that needs dusting and the plants that need watering and the bills that need to be paid and the hunger that taunts me...I want to go somewhere or to be somewhere or to be someone who is somewhere, somewhere else... somewhere from which to return to tell others of the somewheres where I have been.  "somewhere I have never traveled, gladly..."  (e.e. cummings)

What is this restlessness?

My tea gets cold, steeping too long in the little white pot, while I retreat to my office to look up a quote that I think is by Alexander Pope---but I'm not sure.  Yes, it is by Alexander Pope:  "A little learning is a dangerous thing." 
But so is a lot of learning, Alexander!  And so is no learning, I hasten to add.


It's actually the next day---the day after I wrote what is written above.  So much has happened since the pause...I have no idea how much.  No one does.  It's unknowable.  Somehow I stretch (futilely, of course) to feel the weight and wonder of everything that has happened since I paused...I can't even fathom how much has happened to me, in my world and now (!!) I am imagining everything that has happened to the billions of people in the world in these few hours and, by extension, to all the animals and plants and inanimate objects that exist:  the accidents and the births and deaths and the tears (of joy and anguish) and the secrets and the clouds and the movement of the sands in all the deserts and...and I am so fucking awed by the everything-ness of everything. 

And the above is what I sense I sense in those times when I cover my open, searching, wondering, wandering eyes. With the palms of my trusty, well-used hands with all their lifelines, relationship lines, wrinkles, freckles and veins, I attempt to touch the fathomless and unfathomable universes in this particular Time and Location in which I have placed myself---in a (I know, I know) hopelessly naive effort to figure things figure out this Self of mine...

To me, I am a fascinating and super-complex, Gordian knot-like tangle of the memories, fantasies, plans and confessions of a wondering, wandering totally incomplete creation (or creature) made (simply) from Time and dirt and air and static and some magnificent secret ingredient...

                                      "We dance round in a ring and suppose
                                       But the secret sits in the middle and knows."
                                                                                       Robert Frost

Monday, September 26, 2011


                      "...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
                       and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
                                                    John Donne  Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

It was through ignorance and impatience that I killed the unhatched/unborn robin.  And it was through sheer neglect that I killed the tiny turtle with the pink flower painted on its tiny shell.  Sixty years later, I still feel some guilt, some sadness when I recall those killings.  I get a queasy feeling and I gently clench my teeth and I squeeze my eyes shut in apologetic acknowledgement of those long ago crimes against Life.  Small crimes.  Still, I think those small killings have left a tiny black speck on my soul--all innocence notwithstanding.
Over the years, I've killed ants and mosquitos and other insects as well as the occasional spider...but not so much any more.  Now, I shoo their peskiness away...or I leave them alone...or I gently remove them to an unobtrusive place.  I do this not because I am slouching towards Buddhism so much as because I find that I am moving, naturally, to a place of compassion for all living things.  Although, I still sense a snippet of ego in my actions/non-actions toward all life.
                                                And so I wonder:  Why am I not a vegetarian! 

In the long ago seasons of love (circa 1960 something) I killed a rattlesnake...days after I had been taught how to load and fire a little 22 calibre Smith and Wesson.   You see,  my gun-savvy husband was insistent that I should be pistol competant---living, as we did, off the grid, in the wilds of the New Mexican desert.  I didn't shoot the rattlesnake because he/she was threatening to bite me.  No.  It's not like the rattlesnake was invading my home or about to eat the quail that lived nearby.  Nor was the rattlesnake in the corral where it might have spooked one of the horses---thrusting its poison-filled fangs  into the leg of my Palomino.  No, the snake was by the side of a country road, far from any so-called civilization.  My husband spotted it as we were driving from one rural place to another.  He stopped the truck.  He handed me the twenty-two colt revolver.  He encouraged me (coaxed me) to get out of the car and to shoot the rattlesnake...

It was coiled up in rattlesnake fashion, next to a yellow chamisa.  I stood at a safe distance.  The snake looked at me.  I pointed the gun.  I pulled the trigger.  BANG!  The little bullet went through the snake's body several times.
I never shot the gun again.  I can still recall the place in the road where I killed it.  I can conjure the blue sky, the autumn foliage, the distant mountains..and I can still see the mangled piece of flesh that once was a creature---minding its own business, doing no harm, thinking about crossing the road...thinking about getting to the other side, perhaps.

I have a t-shirt that says DO NO HARM.  I got it in Greece during my weeks with the passengers of The Audacity of Hope/International Peace Flotilla;  a gathering of people who would not kill, joining together-from the far corners of our world to stop the killing and harming of others---to stop violence through peaceful means...wearing shirts that plainly said DO NO HARM.

Do peaceful means succeed in stopping killing?

TROY DAVIS was killed last week.  MURDERED

     "You never had time to learn. 
     They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base
     they killed you."
                                                    Ernest Hemingway  A Farewell to Arms

Troy was executed, murdered.  Despite the pleas and various peaceful protests and despite the petitions to stop the killing, the execution was executed. It was carried out in order to satisfy the decades-long cry from a few angry friends and some family members of the slain victim---an off-duty policeman.  The angry and unforgiving people were tireless (and ultimately successful) in their pursuit of retribution.  Retribution?  There is no righteous retribution to be found in the murder-for-murder form of punishment.  And in a justice system that is sometimes unjust, who can justify strapping a young man to a gurney and---in a semi-private "screening room"---injecting him with lethal poisons! 
People watched this spectacle.  Yes, they did! 
While hundreds of caring anti-death-penalty friends and strangers stood outside the death penalty prison with signs and prayers and petitions (petitions with thousand upon thousands of names of people asking the government of the state of Georgia to stop the execution, to have a new trial, to consider the "recantations" of the original witnesses and the clear evidence of reasonable doubt and the pleas from The Pope and Bishop TuTu and President Jimmy Carter) a few people sat in stone silence and stillness and watched a man be murdered thinking it would (at last, at last) assuage their pain or end the annoying, ongoing questions:  to kill him or not to kill him?  Guilty or not guilty?  Right or wrong?  Forgive or withhold forgiveness?

     "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. 
     But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle
     and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure that
     it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." 
                                                        Ernest Hemingway   "A Farewell to Arms"

Forgiveness.  Now, we who cried when Troy died, we who signed petitions to spare his life, we who stood outside the execution prison must forgive those who---decades ago---rushed to judge him, tried him, found him guilty, sentenced him...It is up to us to find, in our hearts, forgiveness for those who wanted him executed, who held on to their anger, who denied him a new trial, a polygraph test,,,We must forgive the parole board, the governor's office, the Governor...the Supreme Court...We must "forgive them" for---in the words of a great man of love and peace (Jesus Christ)---"... for they know not what they do."

Or words to that effect.

I want to know that I am forgiven and that I have forgiven my childhood self for forgetting to keep water in the tiny turtle's habitat that I kept in the abandoned chicken coop in the back of my neighbor's yard and for my misguided notion that I could speed up the hatching of the little blue egg by wrapping it in a paper towel and placing it in a little metal bowl and warming the bowl with some matches my friend Margie stole from her brother's room...and for the unnecessary murder of the rattlesnake...and for the accidental killing of the jackrabbit in the road one night very late, driving home from an evening of idle conversation...

And while I'm at it:  I wonder if I might forgive myself for all my lazy or cavalier or thoughtless killings of... ideas, and friendships, and Time, and opportunities...And finally, let me strive to understand and to remember that, not  unlike Hemingway,
                "I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after
                 and what is immoral is what you feel bad after." 
                                                                              Death in the Afternoon

Friday, September 16, 2011


"...shepherd...I lie down in green pastures...still waters...
restoreth my soul...righteousness...fear no with me...
a table before cup runneth over...goodness and mercy...
all the days of my life...forever.                                
                                                                excerpts from Psalm Twenty-three

(Caution if you are squeamish!)
My left big toenail and the second toenail of my right foot are growing back--after falling off.  First the toes were injured.  Then they were infected, sore and fragile.  Black.  Soon the nails were dead.  Now they are growing back.  It's amazing, isn't it, the way the body restoreth itself.   I've been wearing a band-aid on the big toe since early I've had a summer of unfortunate pedicurial realities to endure.  Not an earth-shaking inconvenience...I wouldn't even mention it except...
Last evening, in the middle of a luxurious mountain pine-scented bubble bath, I looked at that offending/offensive toenail...and noticed that it is actually restoring itself, reproducing those peculiar cells.  And, I began to wax semi-poetic and philosophic about the way in which virtually everything works; about how things begin and how they are affected by other things or events and how they respond to those events or things and what the various effects and outcomes are and how...just how, things are restored.

I believe that I, we, you, he, she, it, they shall be restored.

There is a desire for order in the universe...I think.  And it all seems so alternately mysterious and predictable.  I am thinking about those tests in which one is asked to predict the next number in a series of numbers.  But how can one answer accurately without considering how at that next number perhaps the whole pattern would change and the series would have to be reconsidered and reconfigured from the point of the next unexpected number.
I wait, and I search while waiting, for the next expected or unexpected number or incident or accident or event.  And I wonder if there is something that should be--or might be--observing me and wondering or predicting just what to expect with my next move or accident...Probably not.  And yet...I muse on...
"Re" is such a wonderful suffix.  So forgiving.  Restore.  Revive.  Rework.  Rearrange.  Re-evaluate.  Re-energize.  Remember.  Revisit.  Relive.  Relieve.  Resuscitate.  Resurrect.  Resume...
Restore the court of public opinion.  Restore our faith in humanity.  Restore a sense of optimism in the land---across the land.  Restore confidence in the future...That's what I am struggling to do.  Confidence in my future and yours and ours...Restore a sense of community, a sense of purpose, a sense of goodness...
Restore our collective pride in our family, home, neighborhood, town, city, country, world...a sense of cooperation.  Restore our trust in our neighbors, our laws, our leaders.
We are weary from the erosion of so many valuable things in our lives--in the environment, of course...but even more so in our values...
My father lived by the saying "My word is my bond."  It was his truth.  We could rely on his word.  He valued it.  We valued it.  Today?  "Sorry Sir, we don't take words for bonds.  We're going to need to see some collateral."  Collateral.  My collateral has been damaged...I only have my word.  Of course they're going to need to see some collateral.  Because Trust is gone.  It has no value in today's world. 

But...couldn't it be re-built? Couldn't we realize that it was injured.  That it was sore and that it got infected?  And that it is fragile...Isn't it possible to realize that there is in Nature (including Human Nature) a force to restore.   Let the land lie fallow so that it will be restored so that it can hold and nurture and nourish that which is planted in it...

What do we as a PEOPLE value today?  What did we value that we now have lost?  Do we want to reclaim it?  How do we reclaim it, given that we've done what we've done and are where we are?

                    "I do not believe that civilization will be wiped out in a war fought

                      with the atomic bomb.  Perhaps two thirds of the people of the earth
                      might be killed, but enough men (and women, I add) capable of thinking,
                      and enough books, would be left to start again, and civilization could be

                                                                                               Albert Einstein, 1945

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


"...For I have known them all already, known them all:--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So How should I presume?..."
                        T.S. Eliot  from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Something in me is loathe to admit that one of my all-time favorite poems was written by a notoriously difficult man musing on his aging; musing on his approaching death.  Still, I confess that I have loved this poem since my high school days:  ah! the rhythm, the phrases, the images...

I never knew what Eliot meant by "I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."  These days I think he might have meant that he was losing height...shrinking!  I am losing height---but I am not shrinking.  No! I tell myself that I shall not shrink.  I shall not shrink.

It is now late in the year 2011.  I was born even later in the year 1942.  That should tell you something.  A few days ago, I confronted myself in the far-too-big mirror in my bathroom.  I looked closely at my face.  I may have said aloud, "Thank God I don't look like my Mother."  If I said anything aloud, I would have said that--because my narcissistic mother and I shared a lifelong dislike of one another--a definite repulsion of the other.  She was borderline obese.  I am not. PHEW!   I continued to stare at my face and then (all this in the privacy of my over-lighted salle de bain) I clasped my hands to my mouth and garbled out, "Oh, good heavens!  I look like my Grandmother Bailey!"

In that moment, I did.  I looked like my maternal Grandmother!  What an utterly and deeply disconcerting realization.  I may look (a bit) like her but I am not a bit like my Grandmother.  She was a forlorn and lonely woman whose husband abandoned her a few minutes after her prime---to pursue Las Vegas Showgirls and the like!   I, on the other hand, abandoned three husbands in pursuit of a life  I seem compelled to chase!  Grandmother Bailey spent her remaining, self-created tragic decades (She lived well into her nineties) lamenting her lot in life.

I have rarely, rarely, rarely lamented my lot in life!  Oh, I have lightly lamented the fact that I do not play the cello or the piano.  And I frequently lament the fact that I am not fluent in a multitude of languages.  But those are my only real and  recurring lamentations regarding my personal day-to-day, decade-through-decade lot.   Of course, I lament BIG non-personal things---like the ongoing destruction of the ecosystem and the greed of the super rich at the expense of those in need...things like that.  You do too, don't you?

Now, at the extraordinary age of sixty-eight and three quarters, my memory is still excellent (Merci, Dieu!) --save for an occaisonal forgetful moment---like when I walk, with purpose, into a room and then pause to remember the purpose of the walk.  At those times, I pause and in a snap, I remember.  It comes back to me in a matter of a few seconds:  Ah, yes!  I wanted the scissors or a particular book or a phone number.  Surely you have experienced something akin to this.  I am comfortable knowing that I have tolerance for the quirky absent-mindedness of this quirky mind of mine.  This is not Alzheimers, I tell myself.  And then, to assure myself, I remember how much I remember:  hundreds and hundreds of poems and song lyrics; the location in books of particularly important quotes;  my exact location--along with everyone who was with me--when this or that monumental event occurred.  Still, I have friends who talk of "senior moments" and I tell them to STOP using the phrase or the excuse.  It's bad luck.  I might suffer from a soupcon of superstition.

There is one good thing I keep forgetting.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to forget it:  I keep forgetting that I am no longer young.  And when I remind myself that that is so, a whole long list of private do's and don'ts appears:  don't even think about wearing those super short skirts or skinny tank tops or see-through blouses or strapless dresses or spandex anythings ever again and do remember to stand up straight, to drink plenty of water, to do crossword puzzles and to floss...What about a multi-vitamin!

                                "...There will be time, there will be time
                                To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet..."

More and more, I wonder about Botox, facelifts, injections of puffy stuff for my thin lips...but then I remember (see! I remember) that I want to be graceful in my aging...I want to be healthy.  I want to celebrate the years. I want to drink life to the leas---however I don't want to drink foul tasting gooey green drinks with strange powders in them even if they are guaranteed to build strong muscles and make me irresistable to my peers (that actually doesn't seem too appealing!).  Actually, I drank my foul tasting green drinks decades ago.  Peyote. 

Peyote taught me many things.  It taught me to see between the molecules of a leaf.  It showed me my (future) hundred year old face.  It introduced me to the mysteries of the wind.  It gave me a glimpse of my important place in the world.  It instilled in me a sense of safety.  I can definitely live with that.  Until I can't.

This morning I awoke before the sun showed up at my house.  My lower back felt stiff as I put on my slippers and went outside with my dog.  "Good morning", I said aloud to the air.  And then, on impulse, I sat on the dry ground, next to a small grove of junipers.  I closed my eyes and listened...shhh...just a few birds chirping,  preparing for the day.  Like me.  I tried to chirp convincingly.  Nah!  I touched the Earth and sifted some dusty dirt through my fingers.  I felt the small stones, the pieces of twigs...And I felt my precious Earth turning, slowly and surely...eastwards...toward the Sun.  I let the stffness in my back slip into the soft earth.  Gone!  I plucked a berry from the closest juniper branch and rolled it between my fingers... and the earth turned to meet the sunrise.  With the light, I stood and walked to the road and then back to the house.  With each step I marveled at the small pale coral clouds---like an arc of prancing feathers overhead.  Then, in a kind of communion with the sunrise, I swallowed the berry.  I hardly tasted its bitterness.

                                 "Do I dare to eat a peach?"

T.S. Eliot asked.  I do not ask.  For breakfast, I slice a big firm Colorado peach into a bowl of semi-healthy flakes.  I turn on the news.  My right knee creaks a little as I lean down to pick up the dog dish.  Maybe I'll wear that "knee thing" today to strengthen the lazy ligaments.  I touch my hand to my back where the stiffness no longer is...The phone rings.  It must be my daughter who knows that I am an early riser!  I pick up my frothy latte, "Good morning, Pussycat..."

                                 "And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
                                  Smoothed by long fingers,
                                  Asleep...tired...or it malingers,..."

Saturday, August 20, 2011


And throughout all eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
                      William Blake  (from My Spector)

All day today I have been reading about friends and friendships---and about the loss of friends and friendships.  I've also been reading about forgiving and forgiveness.  I have been reading on these topics in an effort to come to terms with my personal reality around these remarkable--borderline essential--aspects of Life.  
In the past month or so, some really good, long time friends removed me from their friendship list.  They stopped including me in their social events.  They told mutual friends that I was now persona non grata in their book. Why?  Because we turned up on different sides of an important and volatile socio-political world issue:  The Palestinian/Israeli issue.  I've also been "unfriended" on facebook by a good buddy who e-mailed me--after the fact--and told me that he could no longer tolerate my sympathetic posts about Gaza.  And just tonight, coming out of a movie theater, two staunch and unyielding Zionists---long time friends with whom I have traveled, celebrated, danced and broken bread---saw me, made eye contact and turned away in a snub-like fashion! 

 ...I walk to my car, unlock the door, sit with my head and hands on the steering wheel and cry...not because I feel snubbed; not because I realize I won't be among the guests at their lovely parties anymore but because I am filled with a familiar, yet confusing sense of existential sadness about everything---including the film I have just seen.* 

Perhaps some older, sentimental readers might remember a book from the 60's called  A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You.  I'm thinking of it now.   It is a very small format gift book that one might give to a friend or a child.  It is profusely illustrated with images of sweet-looking people performing kind acts--like smiling or bestowing a kiss on a forehead or presenting someone with a bouquet of wildflowers...Actually, I made that part up.  I don't recall any of the slim text nor any of the illustrations.  I only remember the title...

Is it possible for a "friend" to like you---but not to like what you do or what you believe?  I think the answer is sometimes...some friends...                    

When I returned from Gaza in 2009, I learned that a close friend had called me an anti-Semite.  Ouch!!  I called him immediately and arranged to meet and talk.  He came to the Gallery.  Because we have been friends for decades, we took time to speak and listen to one another.  We acknowledged and explained our feelings, our opposing points of view.  After a brief conversation, my friend--a creative and successful older Jewish man--embraced me.  He said, "I know you're not Anti-Semitic...I know if they come to get me you will hide me."  "Yes!  I will hide you, I will hide you." I told him.

Yes, of course I would hide him.  I would defend him and protect him with all that is in me...if they came to get him...if they came...

I think about his words and I recall the tremble in his embrace.   My Palestinian position had wounded him.  It wasn't so much a disagreement about politics.  It was an absence of understanding about a soul issue.  In the presence of his authentic, marrow-level fear, a piece of my ( perhaps narrow) point of view slipped off my know-it-all shoulder and fell away.  My friend has something I do not have (never have had):  a sense of belonging to something profound.--albeit, in my friend's case, the profound was profoundly painful! 

My friend harbors an indelible fear of something shared by his "tribe":  a deep dread of what might happen to him based upon what happened to his Jewish relatives in Germany, Poland, Hungary...He lives with this  fear and from time to time it flares afresh--unsummoned--triggered by something as seemingly innocuous as  reports of a friend's journey to  Gaza---and her subsequently published  cri de guerre. My quoted words triggered something in my friend, caused him to imagine that what happened in Europe, during the war, might happen again, might happen to him.   The power of the "cry" we all know and repeat and associate with the horror of the Holocaust "Never Again, Never Again" holds no comfort for him.  His truth  trumps my experience... 
I have no deeply imbedded personal, generational family history.  I have never had a particular religion.  I have never bonded with my Scotch-Irish ancestors.  Sadly, in my family there were no stories of our Irish relatives and forebears (except the one about Uncle Buzzie, whom I never met and who was found dead in a Philadelphia flop house---having drunk a can of Sterno).  I never bonded with my "white bread" ethnicity nor with the Protestant-style "Sunday School" I attended where I memorized Bible verses and Jesus songs, nor with my race nor even with my family.  Directly put:  I don't bond well. 
                             "...Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,
                                  red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight,
                                  Jesus loves the little children of the world."    

Until recently, I assumed that I bonded well enough with friends---but now, I doubt it. (dubito ergo sum).  I'm not certain I understand friendship in the way  friendship is meant (?) to be understood.  Solitude and meditation and loneliness (three daily components of my current life) can elicit thoughts of doubt in a person!  On the totally positive side: I am beginning to understand LOVE.

It's only partially true that I don't bond well.  I bond with the disenfranchised and with those who are hurt or stuck or vulnerable or oppressed.  I bonded with the women and children of Palestine for example--and with their sons and brothers and fathers whose frustration leads them--not towards peace and comfort and safety---but farther away.  And I bond with those who stand up to injustice---regardless of the consequences.  I bond with those who work and pray for solutions to poverty, ignorance, powerlessness...wars.  I bond with ideals more than with individuals. 

I love whoever I'm with.  When I'm not with them (not writing to them, talking with them, lunching with them) I file them away.  I hardly think of them.  Instead, I think of how to find cures for the socio/political diseases of our times...and how to mend the broken friendships in our world.  

I confront my abiding sense of loneliness by embracing opportunities for friendships; all kinds, everywhere.  I know that "nothing lasts forever."  I understand that  I am not the "decider" of how friendships should be...and I realize that I am frequently unsuccessful in presenting the true reasons for my search for friendship and acceptance and understanding. 
 I believe that  we ALL are alone...and that "we are one"...and that no man (woman) is an island...and I understand the essence of the statements: "to each his (or her) own"...and don't judge anyone until you walk a mile in their shoes and...and...
and I guess it's true that "a friend is someone who likes you"...And I want to be that someone. 

Every day, I move closer to being one who likes everyone...If I can't like them because of some personal hurt or slight I've experienced from them (real or imagined) or because of some "wrong" they have done or I have done, then...I will  LOVE them.  

I practice a personal love action when I am alone in a public place with lots of people moving this way and that---like in an airport or a market.  I direct my gaze toward them as they pass in front of me...and I project these words at them (without moving my lips) "I LOVE YOU".  It's surprising to discover how difficult it is to sustain the practice.  Pretty soon my mind is wandering into petty judgements about their posture or their weight... 

I struggle in these difficult times to find a meaningful place for myself--a meaningful and positive way of being in this world.   

What kind of friend am I? 
I wonder.  Is there any friend to whom I would give a kidney?  What do I do to make friends, support friends, love friends? 

As I write this, I realize I'm not certain what I mean by friend or friendship...I notice that I really want to get away from this keyboard...make some tea or watch something on television and not think about people I've hurt or people who have hurt me and what--if anything--can be done about it. In fact:  I'm going to save what I've written so far and go outside for a few minutes.  It's raining here in the desert and I want to get wet...

* The Help

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FIGURING THINGS OUT (while stumbling)

What can I figure out today?  I wake up with that question in front of me.  I wrap the question around my morning routine...and my morning routine embraces the question.  Think: yin/yang
Every day, my dog and I take a walk with the rising sun.  This morning our first view of the sky showed a flock of small silver-y clouds to the northeast.  Overhead, a comforting coverlet of soft grey clouds holding some promising raindrops.  As we reach the foot of the winding, gravel driveway, pink and coral edges begin to surround the small clouds.   I stand on the quiet road and watch the sky fill up with a new sunrise---a totally original once-in-a-lifetime, perfect sunrise.  I breathe this high desert air--deeply.  I listen to the conversations of the birds and the hum of the distant highway getting up to workday speed.  I break off a tiny twig from one of the still-dormant chamisas that lines the driveway.  I turn it in my fingers...
Another Good Morning. 
I begin to review my tasks and appointments for this day.  The review takes me on side trips, tangents, dead ends.  Many times I linger a bit too long at the dead ends.  I have a need--a crazy need--to resurrect them.  (A dead friendship; lost through carelessness or hastiness or thoughtlessness.  A self-sabotaged opportunity; missed through laziness or forgetfulness.)  
These admissions of failure prompt me to re-group; and I resolve (once again) to be more diligent, more present, more aligned with an open, unbiased bias (as if that is possible or makes sense; as if one could have a bias towards being unbiased?  Or could one?)
What do I mean?  What do I mean to say?  To do? To figure out?
I'm searching for Truth.  I'm yearning for it.
When I discover it--if I discover it--what will I do with it or about it?  I wonder.
I reach into my store of thoughts and experiences---into the coincidences and accidents and happenstances contained in my past and present days.  I do this in a never-ending (borderline naive) effort to figure out my destiny---my true purpose---my Life:  My Life's Purpose.
"Is it possible?" I ask the day?  Is it possible to know, with any certainty, my Life's Purpose---right now, while I am still here---somewhere between the beginning and end of this mysterious life span of mine?  

For a long time, I have been conducting an ongoing informal survey among friends and acquaintences in which I pose the question:  What is your Life's Purpose?  Many people respond by saying, "to be happy".  This strikes me as too vague---not enough, not a big enough answer.  No, to be happy--just happy---is not enough for my life.  At least not this morning!  I'm already happy in most every sense of the word or concept of happiness.  That's not to imply that I'm content!  I keep telling myself, "There's something more to do, to be."  And then I sing my own version of that famous Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is."

...In a remote area of Myanmar, in the Southern Shan State,  I asked a young English-speaking Pa-o (ethnic minority) woman guide my question.  Her answer:  "To end the cycle of suffering".  I couldn't quite relate---but then, I'm only a fair weather Buddhist.  Many of my responding friends simply (and I don't mean "simply" in the simplistic sense of the word) want to be good parents or a great musician or a successful doctor, lawyer, painter...Sure, all well and good...but is that your Life's Purpose---your purpose in this mysterious world of ours?  One friend said, "To be."  That's it...for him his Life's Purpose was "To be."  Ah, yes!  A wonderful my world.  Of course you want to be...but simply (?) Be?  Don't you want to "Do"?  Perhaps my question needs "to be" re-stated so I can get some new answers.  I know how important properly phrased questions can be with regard to figuring things out; getting to the so-called crux of the matter.  What is the crux?  What is the matter?
When I began asking the Life's Purpose question (which was originally posed to me, by a man named Nicolai, long ago at a Peace meeting in Russia) I drafted my own response: My Life's Purpose is the search for and rescue of Truth and Beauty
 Lofty, huh?  "Well, why not have a lofty pupose to one's life!" I say aloud, straightening up in this chair, making myself a bit taller...puffing up.  Wait! Lofty is not the same as it?  Recently I asked myself, "Well, Durham, how are you doing with that searching for and rescuing of Truth and Beauty thing?  Tell me, did you just tap into your rambunctious super ego to formulate such a (ahem!) lofty-sounding purpose?   You may have made up a phrase that could mean anything?  Or nothing?  Did you, Linda Durham, make a conscious choice to be so unconscionably vague!  So SAFE!?"  

I used to think the "purpose" was profound and noble.  I want to be........noble!  (This speaks to my personal and abiding loneliness trait of wanting to do something astonishing and beautiful and real).  Maybe I could simply (I clear my throat) BE astonishing, beautiful and real.  Nah!  That's so fake!
I can't stop wanting to make a positive difference in the world.  I want to wake up filled with kindness and forgiveness and clarity.  And curiosity!  Who, pray tell, am I meant to be?  Is the answer from the Universe "Nothing"?Is the answer to it all "humility"?  No, I cannot find my way to humility.  Not now; not yet.  (Aye, there's the rub!) 
 Humility seems so boring to me at this stage of my life.  I equate it with a kind of surrender---one that will catapult me into failure and disappointment and expendability.  My darn ego is not ready to be expendable although I understand that we are---all of us---expendable.  But, please don't expend me yet, I tell myself.  I have a feeling that I have some purpose that I have not yet approached; a purpose I have neither achieved nor understood and I am stretching to find it, to figure it out.  I search. 
This search takes me to far away places on the planet and in my mind.  I stretch toward those an effort to make my life worthwhile---not merely to me, not to those who know me or like me, not to those I've helped or haven't harmed, not to those I've hurt...But to our World...
In the question is the answer/in the answer is the question.  (Think: yin/yang again) In the wrong space, the profound becomes trite and the trite...I am profoundly stuck...Still, I am moving through remarkable, opportunity-filled days, losing time and choices with every moment and choice. 
I am recalling a phrase from a child's prayer, one my mother taught me to say before going to sleep... "if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."  Really?  Is that a nice thing to teach a child!  How many times did I recite those words before I figured out that I didn't want to assume my death might occur that night.  In fact I wanted to assume the opposite.  One more day, one more opportunity to figure it out.  One more chance to hold the world as it holds me.  One more day to begin to be...Or?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Following Orders

"These, in the day when heaven was falling,

 The hour when earth's foundations fled,

 Followed their mercenary calling

 And took their wages and are dead."
               ---A.E. Housman from Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

I've been thinking about the pros and cons of following orders...actually, I've been thinking more about the "cons" of following orders.  This thinking has a lot to do with the interactions I had with Police and Coast Guards and U.S. Embassy Staff during my recent time in Athens as part of Freedom Flotilla II.

I think it's true that following orders can be a most dangerous step on a path leading--slowly, insidiously, perhaps inevitably--to the loss of personal honor, to the decline and fall of civilizations, to the perpetuation, crystallization of fear and loathing.  Following orders cows people.
            --from The papers of Mahrud ad Nil, 2006

The Greek Coast Guard Captain, whose vessel forced The Audacity of Hope to end its intended voyage to Gaza, yelled across an expanse of water to the Captain and Passengers standing on the bow of our boat that he was not in disagreement with our political views.
He was just following orders. 

The Greek Police who forced nine "fasters" to end our peaceful demonstrations in front of the U.S. Embassy in Athens explained, as they half-carried and gently dragged us into waiting patrol cars, that they were just following orders

The Police, in battle gear and gas masks, who used tear gas and batons to quel the People's Demonstration in Syntagma Square were only "following orders." 

Not all orders are worthy of being followed.  This is my strong belief. 

An anti-terrorist task force member, who paid a visit to the Police station where six of us were being detained for making an unscheduled visit to the home of the United States Ambassador to Greece, told us that, if he were given orders to kill, he would kill.  Oh, there was the caveat that he would not follow an illegal order.  What is an "illegal order"?  When someone--say a member of an anti-terrorist task force--is given a "legal" order to kill, does that killer know or care who is killed? What sort of person or target is killed?  A terrorist?  Can you imagine a context in which "terrorist" is just another name for "freedom fighter"?  
What part does fear play in these scenarios?

In some people, fear of not following orders, is worse than following certain orders--orders that one knows are wrong.  Sometimes the individuals giving orders are not honorable individuals.  Sometimes they have sacrificed their honor out of fear and intimidation and are "just following orders" from some higher order-giving authority.  (I am not suggesting God nor spirits nor even intuition.  Although from time to time we read accounts of people who, having "heard voices," feel compelled to obey the orders they are given and to commit some uncivilized act).  Sometimes "order givers" are afraid to fail to give the orders that they were ordered to give!  Order-givers, although often feared by order-takers are frequently fearful of their superior Order Givers.  What are the fears?  When are orders good?  When are they not?

Usually we don't know the true purpose of an order---for example: an order to fire on a group of peaceful unarmed or rock-throwing people.  We don't know why the orders are given to drop bombs and white phosphorous on an already debilitated community.  We justify.  We pass the buck.  Or, if we know, we don't know what to do or to say about that knowing.

Who gives the orders to the Members of The United States Congress? (...and we know that "orders" are given--along with consequences and threats.)  Is it fear or plain old intimidation that causes elected officials to vote against the best interests of their constituents?  Who instructs formerly decent men and women to cast their votes straight into the pockets of those who have the greedy goal to disempower the American citizenry? 

I was listening to a Bob Dylan song earlier today: "You're Gonna Have To Serve Somebody"  He's right.  But who, whom do we want to serve?  Those who would diminish our opportunities to live a life of peace...who would deny us the opportunity to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, eat untainted food?  Or to receive needed medical care?  Who is making these rules and making other people follow them?  Yes, we are "gonna have to serve somebody" but not just anybody! 

Not long ago, I refused to go through the "Naked X-Ray" security machine at the Albuquerque Sunport. "Why?" the guard asked.  "It's not dangerous...there's almost no radiation," he told me.  I was far less concerned about the radiation than I was in the invasion of my privacy.  For my safety?  Really?  I wanted to say---but didn't---"You think, because a few misguided/deranged people have succeeded in terrorizing or harming a few innocent people, that it's okay to make EVERYONE endure the demeaning, cattle-prodding treatment that is now an accepted everyday occurence for people needing to get from one city to another...people visiting their grandchildren, people going on their honeymoon, people on business?" 

Instead, I "moo-ved" on to the groping procedure:  A short, stocky matron was charged with the assignment of patting me down while two uniformed men watched.  She was nervous as she put on thin plastic gloves and recited the procedure we were about to share. "I will be touching your whole body, starting with your hair...I will use the back of my hands to..." I started to cry. "WHAT IS MY COUNTRY COMING TO?"  I exclaimed, as I held my arms out to the sides while she felt my breasts and my inner thighs.  "I'm a sixty-eight year old grandmother," I continued.  And then, while I reassembled myself, the matron said, in a very small voice, "I'm sorry. These are just my orders."

Who creates the system that causes everyday sensitive beings to perform acts against their better judgments?  I felt sorry for the matron...and I wondered, as I made my way to the gate to board a plane to some unnamed destination,  just how those Homeland Security employees felt about following orders...orders that turned innocent people into sheeple? Are these procedures really (I mean REALLY) about protecting travelers?  Are these rules and regulations put in place to save lives?  Or to sell Naked X-Ray machines?  It seems we are always ordering new machines to tamp down, discourage or end the free expression that once was a basic tenet of These United States. 

For many, in these difficult political and economic days, "following orders" is a two-edged sword.   For the officers on the Police Force and the Coast Guards--who forced our boat back to a US and Greek run Military Compound--following orders is simply (?) their job.  Sadly, these officers follow orders against their better political and philosophical judgement.  They cannot afford to lose their jobs. 

When The Audacity of Hope was forced to return to shore, our Captain and crew were arrested.  The Passengers couldn't leave; we were required to remain in the compound. When our ground team showed up that evening, at the big metal gates of the compound, they were prevented from joining us on the boat.  The guards were "just following orders."  Whose orders?  That night, we slept on the decks and in the lower cabin of our beloved boat.  All night it rocked ever so gently, moored (locked up) in the Coast Guard Compound. 

The next morning, I woke up early.  My fellow passengers were still sleeping.  I slipped off the Boat and wandered around the secure compound.  When I walked past one of the imposing Coast Guard boats, a door opened and a man appeared.  "KalimEra", I said.  He returned my greeting.  "You wouldn't happen to have any coffee would you?  Yes, he said.  A second passenger joined me and we gave our coffee preferences to the Coast Guard.  In a few minutes, he returned with coffee in two dainty china cups with blue, Picasso-esque peace birds on them.  We talked.

Syntagma Square

He acknowledged that he was one of the men on the Zodiac who participated in the forced return from our intended destination.  He drove the Zodiac that delivered the black clad "Ninja" warriors who then boarded the Coast Guard vessel and aimed their big guns at us.  He said he was on duty, following orders.  When he was not on duty, he said that he spent time in Syntagma Square in solidarity with those who were demonstrating against the harsh austerity measures being imposed on the Greek People by their government.  He "confessed" that he was "with" the people of Gaza in spirit---but he had to follow orders.  He had a wife and a mortgage and a child and his salary was being cut by "thirty-five to forty percent." He didn't know what to do.  He felt helpless.  He shared a painful personal incident with us:  While he was taking his four year old daughter for a walk, she saw a small toy in a store window. She wanted her Daddy to buy it for her.  He was ashamed, to the point of tears, because he couldn't afford it. 

He needs his job.

He has to follow orders...