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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

Valentine

 

MY VALENTINE FOR THE WORLD

 

This is for the ones who believe they shine too bright
For the ones who think they're not enough
It's for the ones who lose their hearts again and again
And for the ones who have yet to fall
And, too, for the ones who fell one glorious, lifelong time
This is for the self-contained
And for the spurting, the overflowing
This is for the ones who believe they carry the world
It's for the ones who think they have nothing to carry
And for the empty, the hollow
For the trembling, afraid the light or the dark may
     Swallow them whole
     Or in pieces
It is for the one who steps off the edge
     No thought
For the one who plunges the knife of shame to their own heart

     Day in and day out
It's just as much for the ones who think they're all that
It's for the savior
And for the destroyer

For the one who forgives everyone

     But not themselves

And for the one who only makes an excuse

     For themselves
 

This is my valentine for the world.
For you. For us.

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Forgiveness

forgiveness
tenderest wine
that washes away
the shame
the tension
all blame
with each sweet draught

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HARMONIOUS

Still cold but past the hard frost time in southern Sweden, yet before the crocuses had sprung. Tommy and I dug and turned the black earth for the planting of stones. To build a stairway leading from the ashram's kitchen door down to the gardens. It was after breakfast, always after breakfast, which was a small glass of grain tea, with perhaps a third of a cup of parched grain resting in the bottom. We dug, we smoothed, we went to the rockpile and chose one slab after another. Together we lifted them into the wheelbarrow. Moved the first one to the top of the slope. Pushed and shoved it into the dirt. Pounded with mallets. Laid the next and pounded the earth between the stones. Some were thicker than flagstones, rounded or pointed on the bottom, needing to be settled. More digging. More pounding.
 
We nodded, shrugged, smiled, shook our heads, because we were building without speech. In silence. And there was Tommy. Not a common name for a Dane. One day during meditation Tommy started sobbing. I made up a story then. That he had an American father who had abandoned him. I knew the meditation had released some long-held sorrow. To be experienced, not expressed, Swamiji had said when he cried, and with that, Tommy calmed. I wondered if Tommy might be like me. Queer. Always with my antennae out. And him a sensitive boy.
 
A few days into the stairs, the karma yoga leader came by. Lanky, dressed in ashram orange, Kim said, "Harmonious." The work of karma yoga was seldom praised. Tommy and I looked at each other. Didn't try to hide that we were pleased. "Fortsætte," Kim said. Continue. We wouldn't be assigned to cleaning the yoga room, weeding parsnips, or digging out the new basement. Rare to be allowed to take a job from start to finish.
 
Tommy and I. We were harmonious. Made a harmonious set of stone steps together. The whole stairway. We did it harmoniously. 
 
Years later I went back to Håå to take another course. I walked around to the kitchen door to see the steps. Gone. That is the way of karma yoga. The task is done for the sake of the task. Some tasks, like the basement we dug by hand one year, yield permanent results. Just as often, perhaps more often, the work teaches us to be in the present, that nothing is truly permanent. Teaches us to find harmony in that.

 

The word harmonious was brought to you by Corliss Kruis Mock, my double cousin. When she read my book, To Drink from the Silver Cup, she wasn't sure how she felt about the chapter that told some of the things I learned at the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School. She changed her mind after re-reading (props to her), so I hope she doesn't mind that this is the story that wouldn't give up when the word harmonious arrived.

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ENDURANCE

ENDURANCE


This reflection was written in the fall of 2020, shortly after my move to Elk Horn

 


Yesterday and today, I worked at reclaiming a very neglected flowerbed, if it could even be called by that name. The wonderful black earth of Iowa had been covered in black plastic and packed down by a load of gravel. I couldn't understand it. We do this in the desert Southwest to avoid water waste, and if we landscape the area with drought tolerant plants, it's known as xeriscape. If we only use gravel, it can't go by that name, but it does save water. Here water normally falls from the sky, so it makes sense to plant vegetation. This was heavy work––moving the gravel, cutting away the plastic, digging up the hard-pack. Yesterday, I petered out after 45 minutes, exhausted. Not great endurance.


Today, I took things at a slower pace, and there was less gravel to move in the spot where I planned to plant crocus bulbs. Still, it was hard work. About halfway through, I unfolded my camping chair and sat with my face to the sun, listening to the sweetness of the birds. Thoughts came to me, thoughts about where to start this piece of writing. After ten minutes or so I got up, planted 24 bulbs, cleaned my tools, moved fallen leaves over the plantings as mulch and called it a job well done. There was a lot more to go but not today. In track, I was more of a sprinter than a distance runner.


One of my favorite books is God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet. One reason I love it is because of the author's use of etymology to introduce ideas. So here I go with endurance. It's a hard word. Literally. Because it comes from the Latin indurare, meaning "to harden," which in Late Latin transformed to mean "to harden the heart against something." The word endure made its appearance in English in the late 14th century, and at the time it meant "to suffer without breaking." Endure replaced the Old English word for drudge. Thus, endurance may carry some heavy, less than positive connotations. In the 15th century, though, endurance meant simply "continued existence in time," and it can still be used that way. For this reflection, endurance was suggested by a Danish friend, and the Danish word is udholdenhed, which I roughly translate as "the quality of holding out."


Even though I'm not a distance runner, I think of endurance as a positive word. Endurance requires stamina, which in fact, is offered as a synonym for endurance. But stamina, rather than suggesting suffering, emphasizes power and strength––ability, not drudgery.

 

There is an element of time in endurance—how long can a person hold out? How long are you willing to suffer through something to get to the other side? Or to achieve a goal?

 

Endurance requires some faith—faith in oneself, faith in one's support system, faith that bearing with the travail will be worth the prize. I was concerned that today's gardening would be like yesterday's, that I would give out before I enjoyed the pleasure of putting those fat Dutch bulbs in the ground. Taking a break can be essential to endurance. Knowing that somewhere there will be an end when the muscles are burning can grant the necessary stamina. Sometimes, as with the endurance required in giving birth, there is no choice but to carry on to the finish. And there is the great feeling of accomplishment, all the sweeter when we've struggled through the hard parts.

 

 


The word endurance was brought to you by Tina Kragh Rusfort, who is a sea kayaker from the Danish island of Fyn, and I assume but don't know for sure, that endurance is a valuable quality to embody when kayaking the sea.

 

 

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