Friday, February 27, 2009

Forgiveness, Part II

A happy, healthy 22-year-old college student with a loving family, Immaculee Ilibagiza’s life was transformed during 1994 Rwandan genocide when, as EM Forster so aptly put it, “the spirit of evil strode abroad and carried men forward over a new precipice.” She weighed 115 pounds when she went into hiding in a tiny bathroom from those who wanted her dead, those infected with collective madness. And she was one of eight Tutsi women who survived, all starving, in this tiny room. When she left the room 91 days later, she weighed 65 pounds, her family had been brutally murdered, and her country had been destroyed.

Later coming face to face with the killer of her mother and brother, she said to him, “I forgive you.” So often our human response is to punish in return, to rail against the storm without to attempt to quell the storm within. Rather than being crushed by the enemy and remade in his hateful image, she released him, and it released her. Immaculee realized retaliating would only add fuel to a fire that would destroy them both.

After reading things terrible to think about but impossible to forget, I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness requires great courage. It’s been said that courage is fear that has said its prayers, but it’s not something you can just grab for in a time of need and expect it to be handy; it has to be something you build a life around. Courage, faith, and love gave this remarkable woman an inner security against which all outside battering was powerless. Her forgiveness was an act of self-healing not tied to this man’s response, but essential for her to move forward with hope, courage and peace.

She immigrated to the United States in 1998, told her story in a book, Left to Tell, in 2006, and now works with the United Nations heading a charity to help children of that tragic genocide. She sets such a wonderful example for us in how to live extraordinarily during horrendous times and how to be truly forgiving. But most impressive to me, she reminded me of our obligation, once over our own hurdles, to help others. What a lesson! Immaculee, I’m in your debt.

“If every man would mend a man, then all the world would be mended.” –Anonymous

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Forgiveness, Part I

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It's a quality most people would like to think they possess, but true forgiveness seems curiously lacking in many—and even in myself on occasion, truth be told. When we've been harmed or wronged, to forgive seems the proper thing, and we think our ability--our willingness--to do this says something about us as a person. But sometimes we become so preoccupied with being wronged that true forgiveness can't happen. Tennyson captured a common attitude toward forgiveness: Forgive! How many will say “forgive” and find a sort of absolution in the sound to hate a little longer? Truly, words of forgiveness are nothing without truth behind them.

What prompted my contemplations on forgiveness? Two things: A very precious and dear friend of mine has been terribly betrayed by her husband, and has remained both strong and truly forgiving; and I just finished an amazing book about the best and worst of humanity, the undefeatable human spirit in the darkest of times, and the power of forgiveness.

Through both, I'm reminded that forgiveness is not a self-righteous, self-sacrificing gift I bestow upon another, as though I'm generously offering something out of a superior heart. Rather, it's a releasing of wrongs and their attendant feelings in myself. It's as though I'm forever relinquishing my right to hurt someone for hurting me. True forgiveness is an act of self-healing not tied to another's changing, apologizing or acknowledging that they've caused me pain. In fact, it requires no response on their part at all. It's giving up the possibility of a better past, and facing the future with hope, courage, and love. I'm inspired by my best friend's example, as well as by an incredible book, which I'll post about tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

February Gifts

We returned home from our out-of-town getaway just in time for my seven-year-old's 110th day at school. Each student was given 110 sunflower seeds to feed the birds. What a wonderful idea! With at least a month left in our Winter here, it reminded me to refill our birdfeeders for our colorful little backyard visitors.

I gave one-hundred and ten presents.
One-hundred and ten, did I say?
I gave one-hundred and ten presents
one cold and wintry day.

I didn't put my name on them
or any other words,
because my presents were sunflower seeds
for the February birds!

--Aileen Fisher

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suitcase in Hand...

How incredibly thoughtless of me to go traveling out of town without some sort of goodbye to all my bloggy friends! I'll be back on Friday, February 20th. I wish everyone the happiest and healthiest of times until then!
Photo, Marianne McCoy

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Tempest

Winter is losing its grip. We were gifted today with a blue sky, a bright sun, and 60-degree temperatures. It was so lovely you almost didn’t notice the 50-mile-per-hour winds scouring the landscape. Intense and volatile weather is not unheard of along the shores of Lake Michigan, where the water seems to enhance whatever the weather throws at it. Storms are born over the lake and rush toward us with wild abandon, flinging themselves eastward like supplicants toward Mecca.

The unbroken horizon over the lake is a panoramic canvas for the vast and ever-changing cloud formations. Because the lake and the weather are so interconnected here, when the wind is as high as it is today, so are the waves. Their frenzied assault on the pier and the shore can be heard from a distance, a brutal and exhausting roar. There is storm building even now. The beautifully portentous clouds are bunched and herded by the relentless, strident wind. Darkly dramatic, Nature looks glorious in all her wild raiment. In respect and awe, I reluctantly take shelter.

Monday, February 9, 2009


On her blog, Joanne recently asked about where we go for inspiration. I didn't even need a moment to think about it. One of my favorite places to be is in used bookstores. It’s about more than just a love of literature. It’s about holding a book someone else has owned, a book someone cared enough about not to throw away. It’s about being in a place that connects generation to generation, culture to culture, and age to age.

Sometimes I’ll crack open a book to see a cache of forgotten keepsakes: an old bookmark, an old letter, a note in the margin, a name on the inside cover. Once I bought a used book simply because there was a loose photograph of a woman inside. I felt an odd but instant kinship with this woman, choosing to believe she was the previous owner of the book. A hotel cocktail napkin fell out of a book once. It had a name and room number on it. Was there a story there?

Even the term, ‘used bookstore’, conjures up for me instant atmosphere: dusty, un-inventoried, and overflowing shelves to the ceiling; creaky floorboards and irregular lighting; controlled chaos; the lovely musty and heady smell of old books; tilting towers of lettered spines. It’s like a treasure hunt, this browsing and searching for idle hours in a place that seems detached from the rest of the world and where the pace is slow motion. You never know exactly what you’ll find, but the longer you stay, the more you’ll leave with.

I know some who feel used bookstores are beneath them. I, on the other hand, love their worn, disheveled, slightly shabby interiors. As I wander down their treasured aisles of out-of-print books and lost knowledge, it seems to me that more life is able to take root and grow there. When I have to leave, it's always reluctantly.

"It was clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down." — Agatha Christie (1963)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Art of Living

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling
of letting go and holding on.”

Quotation: Havelock Ellis
Painting: Ride, Don McAfee

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Einstein's Folly, Part II

After his expulsion from school, Einstein also had a two-year stint as a first-chair violin playing with the London Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Sir Neville Mariner. Even in this dignified setting, Einstein's antics abounded. He would improvise musical embellishments, often from other songs, into the music he was playing, and he played when he should have been resting. He simply couldn't stick to the score.

Therein lies my fascination with Albert Einstein. This quirky comedian with unruly hair and rumpled clothes couldn't stick to the “score.” While this wouldn't serve him well in an orchestra, I thought it was a smashing tribute to a man whose early life gave little evidence of his sprawling genius or the destiny he would fulfill. Thinking outside the box, being open to new possibilities, and seeing fresh ideas through new eyes served him well, this man who fundamentally changed the way we see our physical world.

He experienced so much, followed his heart and dreams, ignored critics, and retained his sense of humor. What wonderful lessons for us. One of the many wise things Einstein said was, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I choose to believe he was not speaking solely of things scientific. And so this has become my mantra, as well, as I stray occasionally from my “score” to discover more about myself and life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Einstein's Folly, Part I

Albert Einstein. What a brilliant mind. What a complex man. Arguably the most recognized scientist in history, he won a Nobel Peace Prize for physics in 1923. But there was a funny side to this serious man that many are unaware of. We've glimpsed it here and there, like in the famous photo of him sticking out his tongue, which was actually part of his vaudeville act. Vaudeville? Yes, vaudeville!

After being expelled from school in Rotterdam, Germany for classroom pranks involving bats and skunks—which resulted in the injury of seven students—Einstein performed vaudeville in New York under the unlikely moniker “Fuzz Ball,” surely a reference to his wild hair. His outrageous and physical comic act brought him into the company of Harry Houdini, WC Fields and the ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen. Bergen's dummy, Charlie McCarthy, was stolen one evening. In the ensuing investigation it was discovered that Einstein, a kleptomaniac, had collected hundreds of “souvenirs” from his fellow performers, including Bergen's dummy. The response to Einstein's scandal included an offer of treatment from Sigmund Freud, and The New York Post dubbed him the “Comic Kleptomaniac.”

Although his antics and practical jokes were not always well received by others, and compulsive behavior aside, this was a man with a hearty sense of humor. Here was a man who loved to laugh. We can’t, of course, know how much of an impact, if any, Einstein’s sense of humor had on his brilliant mind. But when I look at pictures like these, I’m reminded of Jean Houston’s profound words: In the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of possibilities.” How much richer we are today for having been shown the possibilities. Thank you, Mr. Einstein.

Einstein's Folly, Part II

Monday, February 2, 2009

(Silent) Poetry Reading

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore—
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Here are a few other blogs that are participating:

Sunday, February 1, 2009


This is a reminder that Monday, February 2nd is the Fourth Annual Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading. Post your favorite poem (your own or someone else's) on your blog anytime on Monday. Visit Reya's blog for the details.