Blog Archives

The Heart of the World

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Artist’s image of the Sacred Heart I “happened” upon while on retreat

Sometimes I need to reground. Connect with my center again.

 

With all that’s been surfacing lately – within the world and within myself – I knew I needed a day away. I planned it for October 10th – my 36th wedding anniversary. A day when I feel especially held and embraced by love.

I knew I’d feel the spiritual support I needed.

I chose my favorite place – a Franciscan retreat center in New Mexico. A place with real wide-trunk trees and leaves that actually curled and floated to the ground, crunching underfoot, making me feel like fall has truly arrived.

It’s no Sevenoaks (in Madison, Virginia), but it’s probably as close I’ll get to it around here.

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A wide-trunk tree is cause for joy in New Mexico

Why? Because I hear the invitation.

I hear an invitation to let go of “distractions,” like Martha in the Gospel story, distracted by so many things when only one thing matters.

The Divine invites my mind to rest. My heart to awaken. My soul to remember.

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Only when I am still and my mind is silent can I remember who I am and whose I am.

Only then can I “hear” the voice of the Divine calling me “beloved.”

 

And from this place, I can reflect more easily on this heart of God. The heart that I’ve been asked to receive in that meditation. This heart of the world that bleeds for all, yet doesn’t die. This heart that never stops loving.

But in reflecting on this heart, I also hear another invitation. An invitation to let down my boundaries. The self-imposed ones I created to protect me, to keep me safe. I recognize them very clearly in this place. I see how they’re holding me back.

What if I cross these boundaries?

Is that the invitation I’m hearing now? To cross the boundaries that prevent me from knowing who I am eternally in God? Boundaries that prevent me from knowing myself “hidden with Christ in God forever”?

What if I then discover that we all belong to this Heart? That no one and nothing can exist apart from it? That we are never separated from the heart of God? Even when we’re unaware. Or we reject it. Or we think we don’t deserve it.

No one and nothing is excluded.

Sacred Heart

It’s one heart. And it’s the heart of the world.

I’ve created my own collage of this heart. Cutting out photos that cause strong reactions in me. Pasting these tiny pictures into a heart-shaped image. A sacred heart where everyone is included.

Everyone.

From innocent children to violent gang members. From poets to presidents. From Mexican immigrants to poverty-stricken Nigerians. From Jihab-wearing women to white supremacists. They all fit in this bleeding, bulging, beating heart.

It causes me to weep. And to soften, so that, ever so gently, I can move beyond my self-imposed boundaries. Into the very center of this sacred heart.

And I just may find that I wake up on the inside of understanding the intimate immediacy of the One who calls me “beloved.”

 

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My collage of the sacred heart of the world

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Paradoxes in Paradise

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Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

I needed to be held.

Difficult feelings had been arising in me well before I landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation last Sunday afternoon.

The previous day – Saturday, August 12 – I was driving back from Albuquerque, having spent the last four days at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. This was the beginning of my two-year journey under Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley. Master spiritual teachers, all of them. I was feeling excited and grateful.

And uncomfortable.

I had slept fitfully every night since arriving.

Encountering what was showing up in me in the lessons and meditations had not been easy.

And as I drove the four hours back home to El Paso, something else was on my mind. Charlottesville – my former home, my community, my friends.

Keenly aware of the anxiety and trepidation that had been building in that city for weeks, even months, in anticipation of the alt right march planned to descend there on that day, I knew prayers were needed.

And I had been praying. Praying for love to prevail in the face of such hate and violence.

You could say I had a lot on my mind and heart.

But in the midst of my prayer, something else arose. The violence and hatred I was praying to heal out there was also in me. I suddenly recognized the violence I was perpetrating towards myself in response to what had been showing up in me.

It may have been subtle, but it was definitely present. The self-judgment. The self-rejection. The ways I was hurting myself through my erroneous thoughts and beliefs.

In that moment, I realized that it was only in acting with nonviolence towards myself that I could even begin to help heal the violence out there.

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I needed to be with that painful realization. And to hold it with compassion.

But early the next morning I flew off to Hawaii without having the opportunity to venture into that painful place.

Yet I knew I would have to go there. One of the key teachings I’ve learned from Pathwork is that any difficult feeling must be fully felt before it can be transformed. Whether it’s hate, fear, grief, pain….

So, one morning I sit with that hate in my meditation.

As the feelings of hate increase, I feel my body grow tense and tighten up. I hear myself ask God, where were you? Where are you in this pain and hate?

And I believe that I must tense up to care for and protect myself.  The hate feels too big.

I am deep in the middle of this growing, threatening force when suddenly the image of a beautiful, white Hibiscus emerges. Its delicate blossoms are surrounded by a sea of soft, green leaves that seem to expand as they enfold all the misery and pain and hatred that had surfaced.

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And now everything is enfolded and held tenderly in the arms of this Source. A sea of Love.

Allowing this Love to hold my own hate softens my heart and, in turn, allows me to hold my darkest and most painful places with love, mercy, and compassion.

This is the place I needed to come to.

And I will need to return to again and again.

Because before I can stand against the darkness – and not come from a place of self-righteous certitude – I must be grounded in this love, vulnerable and aware of my own woundedness.

The darkness of the kind of hate we experienced in Charlottesville is, I believe, the pain of separation from this Love. Separation from the unconditional love of our Source.

As Rohr teaches, “The great illusion that we must all overcome is that of separateness.”

“Sin” is a symptom of separation, he says.

And yet the paradox is that we can never really be separated from God.

Here’s another paradox:

We are already whole and yet each of us is in need of healing.

And darkness must be revealed before it can be transformed by the light.

Before I left Hawaii, a hike at Volcanoes National Park gave me a great metaphor for what can emerge when what is percolating underground rises to the surface. Volcanic eruptions have created the most beautiful black sand beaches.

It’s just one example in nature.

All of this gives me hope that healing from the painful darkness we are seeing now is possible.

Because I know that love is trustworthy.

It is trustworthy. And it will prevail.

 

Desiring the Stars

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Hueco Tanks at dusk

Sometimes you have to go out of your way to see the stars.

The other night a couple of friends and I drove out to Hueco Tanks State Park just outside of El Paso to go stargazing.

Used to be, I’d step out onto my back deck in rural Virginia whenever I wanted to view the stars. Most nights I could see the Milky Way, it was so darn dark out there.

Not anymore. Now I live in a place where the lights never go out.

Sometimes I miss the darkness. And I especially miss the stars.

Light years away, they seem so far from our grasp.

Not unlike our dreams.

Sometimes we desire a thing so badly, yet it feels far out of our reach.

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Like reaching for the stars.

Like building a log home in the woods in central Virginia, for example.

A far-away dream of mine, yet almost unbelievably, it came to fruition.  And although my time there seemed short-lived, I know that home served its purpose. It planted the seeds for what would follow. Then I heard guidance ask me to leave that dream behind.

As if that were easy to do.

It reminds me of when I longed to have a child.

For six years I tried unsuccessfully, thinking there must be something more I could do – some other method David and I could try.

During that time, I simultaneously stumbled upon a path that led me on a deeper spiritual journey. One that taught me the meaning of detachment, of detaching from a specific outcome. Of surrendering to a God who is nothing but Love.

Still, when my 36th birthday came along and I was still childless, it was hard not to feel emotional. My mind told me “time was running out.”

I didn’t give up on my desire to have a child. But over the course of a painful journey of being attached to the outcome, I had learned to entrust the desires of my heart to God.

Whatever the result, I could trust the One who had placed the seed of that desire in me. I could trust the truth that “all things work together for good….”

In other words, I had set the intention and learned to let go of my demand for a certain outcome.

Months later I found myself pregnant, and before my 37th birthday, I had a child in my arms.

Now, again I find myself facing a desire to manifest a deeply held dream. One I’m passionate about that involves my writing.

It feels like my desire has been taking a long time to be realized. And yet again, I find myself relearning the lessons of patience and faith as I surrender control.

Because I know that whenever I am clinging to a particular outcome, my ego is still in control. Whenever I am attached to the way “I” think things should turn out, I’m not free. I’m not in the flow.

What are the deepest desires of your heart?

Do your dreams seem like stars out of your reach? Or are you clinging to them, unable to let go?

Here’s what I’d suggest:

Set your sights on the stars. Plant and nurture the seed of your deepest desires. Set your intentions.

Then relinquish the outcome. Open to the flow of creative possibilities.

Entrust the results to your co-Creator.

And watch the stars appear.

Harriet-Tubman_Dreamer Quote

 

 

We Have Awoken

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We faced the fear with love. Our spirit is not broken.

That was the message of the film “Awake” that my new Native American friends presented to the public this afternoon. A film that was more than disturbing. I felt sickened as I watched the events unfold at Standing Rock in North Dakota – the site of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We all heard and saw the news reports last year as the protests persevered and expanded, well into December. We know how the story goes.

And, sadly, how it ends.

But to see it unfold in real time, in this documentary…to see peaceful people standing in prayer in the river pepper sprayed and hosed down with water cannons in freezing temperatures…to watch as unarmed Native Americans fell to the ground after being hit with rubber bullets…

It hurt my spirit.

Sadly, this is not new to indigenous people. They have been fighting for land rights, for nature, for the environment, for hundreds of years.

Funny to think that English-speaking people were actual immigrants to this country. And they were welcomed by these natives. Without visas. Without knowing the language.

Coming without jobs or ways to support themselves.

As Rudy, one of the elders of the tribe that has befriended me, explained, “Community is most important to us. We are taught to be gracious hosts, to welcome all into community.”

And that they did. And still do, despite how they were treated in the past.

I can vouch for this based on how they have welcomed me, a white-faced stranger, into their community.

So, why do indigenous people still fight to protect the land?

“What we do is for the next seven generations,” Rudy explained. “It is for our children and our grandchildren. We must protect our earthly home and keep a balance in all of life. Honor what is sacred.”

The Missouri River – which the DAPL travels under – is the longest river in North America and the water source not only for the Sioux Nation, but for 17 million Americans.

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Missouri River, South Dakota

Not only was the pipeline built, but in the process, sacred sites were desecrated. Elders were arrested. Tepees slashed. People brutalized.

But something else happened as well. Something positive.

A movement began. Many people – around the globe – heard the truth the indigenous people speak.

They understood the message of DAPL protestors: “We belong to the water. We belong to the air. We belong to all creation. We are all guests on Mother Earth. And we must honor her.”

They realize the truth of these words: “We will pay the consequences for desecrating Mother Earth.”

And more people have joined these water protectors. These global protectors.

DAPL is not the end.

Hundreds of pipelines are being proposed all over the United States. But now millions of people have awoken.

“Will you join us?”

I’VE BEEN WOKEN

by the spirit inside that

demanded I open my eyes

and see the world around me.

Seeing that my children’s future

was in peril. See that my life couldn’t

wait and slumber anymore. See that I was

honored to be among those who are awake.

To be alive at this point in time is to see the rising

of the Oceti Sakowin. To see the gathering of nations

and beyond that, the gathering of all races and all faiths.

Will you wake up and dream with us?

Will you join our dream. Will you join us?”

FLORIS WHITE BULL, ADVISOR AND CO-WRITER OF AWAKE, A DREAM FROM STANDING ROCK

If you’re interested in a screening of the film, go to: http://awakethefilm.org/

Standing Rock

If You Knew the Gift

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Imagine someone gives you a precious gift and you never open it.

Most of us, I believe, are living with such an unopened gift. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are “the beloved.”

Maybe we are afraid to acknowledge and claim our “belovedness.” Maybe we can’t believe it’s true.

Somehow it’s easier to claim what we perceive as “wrong” with us. The places where we fall short. Where we don’t measure up or haven’t succeeded enough. So we walk around with these interior wounds and scars. And much of the time our inner pain gets projected “out there.”

But what if we could be retaught and remember that we are the beloved? What if we could open ourselves to claim the gift that we truly are?

compassion Jack KornfieldIf each of us could hold ourselves with such acceptance and compassion, no matter what shows up in us, what then?

 

Henri Nouwen, a spiritual teacher and writer, said a lot about this in his book Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World.

“To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice.”

I know when I claim the gift of my belovedness, I can’t help but open myself up to love. Love for myself and love for those around me. If more of us were able to do that, I don’t think we could possibly treat one another with hateful comments or hurtful actions. We would feel so incredibly graced, we would want nothing more than to give that love out to others. Because we would know the truth.

But, as Nouwen said, the real work of prayer is to become silent enough to hear the voice that calls us the beloved.

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The God whom I love dwells within and never ceases to remind me that I am the “beloved.” But I admit that most days I am hard-pressed to really take that in. And to understand the depth of that love.

But there are moments.

Like Monday morning.

For some reason, I awaken around 3 a.m., with a dream half-remembered. And the word “Beloved” on my lips. I breathe into it and feel myself smile with joy. Because even in my half-awake state, I “know” the truth. This is not something I can explain. But I “know” it.

And I know that this gift has been given to me in the early morning hours when I am too sleepy to fight it, to discount or disbelieve it. I simply take it in.

And I pray.

Teach me to come back to You again and again, and lose my “self” in You so that I may recognize the true treasure I possess – life in You, with You, for You, of You. This is my belovedness.

There is no other gift I need.

There is nothing more.

May each of us come to know and live from this truth. The gift of being the beloved.

 

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Emptied Out

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I was a little over an hour away from Dallas, where I’d planned to stop for the night, when three warning lights popped up on my dash.

Panic. I’m on an interstate surrounded by nothing but ranchland. I still had about another 10 hours of driving to get back to El Paso. Plus, it’s Friday night of Memorial Day weekend.

After pulling over to peruse my manual and check my engine, I offer a prayer to get somewhere safely. Then I decide to calm down. I decide to trust that whatever happens, it’ll be OK. And I let go of any expectation to make it back to El Paso tomorrow.

This is not a typical response for me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting a lot of practice in learning to trust over these past several years.

Maybe it’s the effects of listening to CDs on Meister Eckhart and the art of letting go while taking this incredibly long roundtrip drive from El Paso to Virginia.

Maybe it’s because, from the beginning, this journey has been about ridding myself of what is unnecessary. Of letting go of attachments and outcomes. Of learning to say yes to what is in front of me.

And there’s no doubt it’s because of what I’ve seen and experienced along the way.

Days earlier I had emptied out the extra bedroom at a friend’s house where I’d stored boxes I couldn’t get to before leaving Virginia last January. Sorting through years of family photos and other memorabilia filled me with gratitude for the blessed life I’d had.
A life I couldn’t return to. No matter how appealing it seemed.

And appealing it was. Visiting friends who were settling into a simpler life with their husbands, their kids now grown and out of college, yet still living close enough for family get-togethers in the beautiful rural countryside of central Virginia – I’ll admit, it was attractive.

This physical emptying out, I realized, was a metaphor for the internal releasing and emptying that has been going on. An emptying of attitudes as well as possessions, of the way I would like life to show up. The way I would like things to be.

Like not having car issues on the interstate, for example. Or not having my husband die so young. Or living so far away from my son who’s remaining in Alaska for at least another year.

Yet I also saw how, the more I “empty myself out,” the more I have room for God. And for “the other.” Room for true listening. For opening to the grace that’s right here.

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The next day, as I sat in the customer service area at the Dallas Sewell Subaru, waiting to get the news about my car, I pulled out a letter I’d received from Martin, a 27-year-old Mexican journalist who’d come here seeking asylum because his life had been threatened. He was stuck in the El Paso detention facility, awaiting the results of his case.

I’d begun writing to Martin, hoping to encourage and visit him soon. I was considering my response to his letter when I received a text from a friend in El Paso saying that Martin had been denied asylum for the second time! Losing hope, he’d decided to give up his case rather than appeal and remain in our prison-like system. That means he’ll be returning to Mexico where at least half a dozen journalists have been killed in recent months. His young life is surely in danger.

Suddenly my minor inconvenience is irrelevant. My calling to follow my heart clearer than ever.

It may be that every time I step out in faithfulness, I’m taking a risk. But my risks are insignificant compared to the risks taken by those I’ve accompanied, my brothers and sisters running for their lives. People who live in constant fear and danger.

Living with an open-hearted stance is not easy. I feel the pain of the other as I grow in awareness that my life is not about me.

But this is what I choose. And I need grace to succeed.

“Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaningless in which we ask, ‘What is it all for? What does it all mean?’ All we can do is try to keep our hands cupped and open. And it is even grace to do that.”       Richard Rohr

I hope that I am being “emptied out” so that I can be filled with the very fullness of that grace.

Spring Is Stirring Everywhere

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Memorial Park in El Paso

 

I’ve been missing Virginia’s spring. Luckily, I’m about to experience it once again when I drive back to Virginia next week to attend my niece’s graduation from George Mason University. Soon my senses will be filled with sweet-smelling blossoms, blasted with the color of azaleas, irises, dogwoods, and lilacs. And, of course, stuffed with pollen.

I imagine Davis is missing it, too. Up there in Nome where the earth is just beginning to thaw and show sprigs of green.

Like him, I’ve been having a different kind of spring.

As in Nome, spring’s arrival in the desert is slow and subtle. You have to really look for it.

So lately I’d been paying attention to the stirrings of the earth. Seeking changes in the landscape. Looking and listening. Trying to find what I thought I was missing.

Turns out, I found something. Something within myself.

One day I ventured out to a park located not far from my apartment. So close, I’d wondered why I hadn’t been there before. Sinking my feet into the grass – real grass – I strolled across the lawn and finally settled down under a tree. A wide-trunked tree. Placed my back up against it and took in the energy of one of my favorite forms of life. Right away I started missing the greenery of Virginia. The red cardinals and indigo buntings. Even the squirrels.

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Roses at El Paso park

Suddenly a slight breeze stirred the leaves above me, as if to say, “Hey, we’re here. Can’t you see us?”

And then – I’m not kidding – a squirrel scampered across the hillside. The first I’ve seen since arriving in El Paso. He was quickly followed by another chasing after him. All along I’d thought squirrels didn’t exist here!

In the silence I sensed God saying, “Everything you need is here.”

I smiled as I was shown once again that I have everything I need. That “everything is everywhere” – to use a title of a lovely Carrie Newcomer song I recently came across. That I am never separated from my Source.

And I remembered why I am here.

In this desert, at the border, I am finding my heart, my compassion, my voice. What was planted in me is thriving. And I’m discovering that the changes I seek in the landscape are happening within me.

Just as Davis discovered something stirring within himself in the dark of winter. Something that called him to remain in Alaska and be a voice for the people there.

It’s part of the sacred pattern of life. This rhythm to the cycle of the seasons. A sacred rhythm that’s playing out within us, too. If we can only have patience to allow it to unfold.

Whether it’s under the deep, dark, frozen earth or the dusty, dry landscape, life is stirring within. Seeds have been planted. Seeds that will miraculously burst forth at the appropriate time.

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It’s all part of the cycle. A cycle you can trust.

And you can trust the Source that’s fulfilling what has been planted within you.

Whether you’re at the Bering Sea, the Arabian Sea, or a place like El Paso that’s never seen the sea.

Because, as Carrie sings, “Miracles are everywhere. Love is love; it’s here and there. Everything is everywhere.”  (from “Everything Is Everywhere”)

It’s a message we need to remember. No matter what season we’re in.

To listen to this beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer, find it at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuCb8EwApQM

We Are All Grieving

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View from my apartment looking out across Mexico

We are grieving our loss. My fellow volunteers and I – the women and men who worked alongside me at the Nazareth hospitality center.

We know we’ve lost something special.

Several weeks ago, our center for migrants and refugees closed. We were told it was due to staff transitions in the main health center that owns the wing we were using. We thought it was temporary. So far, it hasn’t reopened.

But even before the center closed, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had been bringing us fewer and fewer refugees. In mid-January, our daily numbers began dropping to single digits.

The interesting thing is, all of this happened soon after I’d closed on my house, packed up all my belongings and moved here – lock, stock, and barrel. Suddenly, what I loved doing most and fed me spiritually had disappeared.

You gotta wonder what the Universe has planned.

Still, I know without a doubt this is where I am meant to be. Living close to the border. Living, as I call it, “close to the bone.”

I’m not questioning my heart’s guidance.

But I am grieving. And I’m not the only one.

I realized this last week when I unexpectedly ran into several of my fellow volunteers at a Taize service.

Volunteers like Martha. Every Tuesday, she and her friend Cuki would come to Nazareth to prepare breakfast and lunch for our “guests.” When our daily numbers jumped to well over 100, they enlisted other friends to help.  They spent their entire day there, every Tuesday.

And they’ve been doing this for nearly three years.

Martha and I were so happy to see each other that night. With moist eyes, we shared how much we missed Nazareth and “the people.”grief-loss-therapy

Without really having words to express why, we both knew the fullness of this experience had touched our lives.

Other volunteers joined our conversation. And that’s when I realized, we all were grieving.

Grieving because we missed interacting with the people who had clearly given us a gift by their presence.

Grieving because we know the tragic and violent situations that existed in these people’s lives – the reasons they fled their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – have not changed. They’re still subjected to death threats, extortion, and gang violence. But where are they are fleeing to, we wondered?

Grieving because we know that human rights abuses are increasing – at detention facilities, at ports of entry, and elsewhere. And we don’t expect it to get better soon.

Some Customs and Border Patrol agents are turning away asylum seekers without consideration of their claims. Cases have been documented of people with credible fear being turned away at the border, like the mother who fled Guatemala after gang members killed her two sons and threatened her life. Turned away, even though those who are fleeing violence have a legal right to seek asylum in the U.S.

Or, in some cases, ICE is locking up asylum seekers. Sticking them in detention for the duration of their case, even though they pose no threat to our society. Even though they have passed their “credible fear” interview. Causing them more pain, more harm, more trauma to their children.

Here’s a recent example. Martín Méndez Pineda, a 25-year-old journalist from Acapulco, Guerrero, was detained and denied parole after seeking asylum here in El Paso. Pineda had received death threats and police beatings for his critical reports of the Mexican federal police. Only a week earlier, a female journalist had been murdered in Mexico.  Rather than assist this young man, we threw him in detention like a criminal.

Yes, we are definitely grieving over the direction our country is taking towards migrants and refugees.

Because for us, this is not just a controversial issue on the 6 o’clock news.

We have come to know “the people.” We have listened to their stories. We have accompanied them and been transformed by the encounter.

And we know they are human beings. Worthy of being treated with dignity and compassion.

El Paso Columban Missions

Please, no matter where you stand on the issue of immigration and refugees, let’s remember that these are human beings. That human rights abuses should not be part of our protocol.

And it is absolutely inhumane to separate mothers from their children as a deterrent to immigration.

All that we will accomplish by such inhumane treatment is more grief. And the loss will be much more extensive and personal than we can anticipate.

For more practical and humane suggestions for curbing the flow of illegal immigration, listen to award-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario’s TED talk at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/sonia+navarro+ted/15ada9caf1939193?projector=1

 

Davis Gets It

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Davis’s hair is thinning.

We were sitting across from each other in a restaurant in Nome when I first noticed it. The hair draping his forehead wasn’t really covering his forehead.

“Are you losing your hair?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah,” he said disgustedly. “And I’m only 23, Mom!”

But Davis knew, just as I did, the sad reality. He’s inherited his dad’s hair genes.

When I met David, he was 28 and already balding. It made him appear way too serious for me. Only 21, just out of college, I wasn’t ready for someone who looked like he could have three kids, a dog, and a minivan! And it didn’t help that he smoked cigars and liked expensive wine.

But luckily, we stayed connected. It took me a while, but I finally realized what a treasure David was.

Fortunately, bad hair genes isn’t the only thing Davis has inherited from his dad. He’s also got David’s level of maturity and generosity of spirit. His compassion. His ability to thoughtfully weigh a situation before he speaks.

And, observing him in Nome, I noticed something else.

Faced with an unusual and challenging environment, Davis adapted. Very well.

Better than I would have to such a harsh, frigid climate in an isolated place that gets down to as little as 3 ½ hours of daylight in December.

I certainly admired him for that. I probably would have hibernated in my room and slunk into a depression.

But not Davis. He immersed himself in the culture and the community. Joined their indoor sports teams. Helped out at community functions. Accepted invitations for traditional outdoor activities.

And he got to know the people. To pay attention to their customs and their culture. To their traditions. Their way of living.

While interviewing me for his audio blog, he shared that what had most impacted him about Alaska wasn’t the difficulty of living in the darkness. Or living without his active social life and cable TV.

It was the people. The folks in the communities and villages he’s visited.

Many live with very limited income. In the outlying villages, many are poor. They live without even basic infrastructure. Some have difficulty finding potable water. Yet they share with him whatever they have.

Alaska's Kivalina

He says that, going forward, it’s the generosity of the people and their simple way of living that have inspired him to do something meaningful with his life. To live more simply and appreciate the little things. To recognize that consumption at the expense of others is not the answer.

Of course, Davis is my son, too. And a lot of what he described sounded like words that came out of my mouth not that long ago in describing the poor I’d met at the U.S-Mexico border.

The generosity and simplicity of people who have so little.  Their faith and joy of living.

Oftentimes they are people living in the shadows. The poor. The undocumented. Those living on the margins of society. Or in tiny villages in western Alaska.

Already, Davis knows that life isn’t just about him and his needs or wants. He has an ability to see “the other” and be open to those who are different from himself.  To open his mind and heart to understand their lives. And to want to use his gifts and talents to make a positive contribution.

What more could a mother ask for her child?

So, yes, Davis did get his dad’s genes. He’ll have to deal with the premature hair loss. But he’s gotten so much more out of the deal. I believe he’s gotten the best of both of us.

NOTE: You can catch Davis’s interview of me on his audio blog at: http://www.knom.org/wp/blog/2017/03/03/impressions-of-nome-from-a-visitor-a-majestic-place-pauline-hovey-says/

 

Life Below Zero

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Frozen tundra of the Bering Sea

Leaving Nome is hard. Literally.

A fog rolled in during the wee morning hours on the day I was supposed to leave and it never lifted, cancelling my flight out that evening.

Finding another flight that would get me all the way from Nome to El Paso? Well, let’s just say, it ain’t easy.

The end result? Another full 24 hours in Nome.

Not that this was a hardship by any means.

I spent the morning as I had every day since arriving – walking on the frozen Bering Sea as the sun rose, turning the snow and ice various shades of blue and violet while golden light danced across the landscape.

Western Alaska is a special place.

Honestly, it was not on my list of vacation spots, so I’m thankful to Davis for being there to give me an opportunity to visit. Even in the coldest season.

But, truthfully, I didn’t mind the cold. Dressed in layers every time I ventured out, I barely noticed it. That is, until Davis took me out on a snow mobile.

I asked him to take me, so I have nobody to blame but myself. It’s just that I hadn’t taken into account that zipping across the frozen Bering Sea at nearly 40 miles per hour – I asked him to take it easy on me – was going to make the air just a little bit colder.

Somehow, frigid air managed to make its way up the cuffs of my coat, chilling my wrists and arms, while the wind whipped against my legs as I sat on the back of that machine, holding onto Davis as tight as I could. Wearing my thick, insulated gloves, it was hard to even feel his waist. Whenever we’d hit a bump of ice, I’d pop off that seat and pray that I’d land safely back on. By the time I told him I needed to stop, my knees and quads felt like blocks of ice.

It felt exhilarating and a bit frightening at the same time.

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Favorite mode of transportation in Western Alaska

Not only was this my first time on a snow mobile, but I’d never raced across a frozen body of water while my breath fogged up my sunglasses and ice crystals formed in my hair.

Here are some other first-time experiences I had in Nome:

Cross-country skiing on the Bering Sea. This was a rather awkward and slow event since I’ve not been on skis since I was 22.

Snow shoeing up Anvil Mountain – although I didn’t make it all the way up. I had to yell to Davis, who was far ahead of me – no need to wait for mom, after all – to stop and wait up.

I tried to explain that trudging up a snow-covered mountain in heavy snowshoes, in sub-freezing temperatures, while bogged down with extra layers of clothes, is not the same as climbing the dry, dusty Franklin Mountains in El Paso in 70-degree weather. Nor like hiking in Shenandoah National Park. Nor like anyplace I’ve ever hiked, for that matter. I suggested we stop and take in the view.

Paying double and triple the usual amount for an onion, bananas, tomatoes, and spinach at the market. Produce gets shipped in from the lower 48, and it’s costly.

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Eating freshly caught Alaskan King crab. The plentiful amount of fresh crab, salmon, and halibut more than make up for the above inconvenience.

Hearing a language I couldn’t recognize. Inupiaq – the native language of the region’s Eskimo people – is spoken on the radio and even sung in church.

Nome wooden Eskimo

Constantly seeing heavily-bundled Eskimo children playing outdoors, whether climbing mounds of snow, throwing Frisbee with their dogs (no kidding), or ice skating down the middle of the street. You can do this when the streets are covered in slick coats of ice and the main mode of winter transportation is snow machines.

But my undebatable favorite was capturing sight of Aurora Borealis – the northern lights. Two nights in a row I was lucky enough to venture out after midnight and see this majestic, mystical, surreal event. It looks and feels like a spiritual presence hovering above the dark images of the mountains as the light eerily changes shapes and glides in and out of view.

Yes, life is challenging in Nome, but the generosity of the people and the freedom of the open landscape, the closeness to Nature, and their simple, sustainable way of life, offer something unique. Something precious. Something that despite the challenges, not only makes the natives want to stay, but brings visitors back to settle.

The day I finally flew out of Nome, I spotted a young man in the airport wearing a hooded sweatshirt depicting an outline of the state of Alaska. The words “Life Below Zero” were plastered in the center.

I smiled.

Whereas before coming to western Alaska, I would have seen those words and thought they represented something harsh, unappealing, a sort of penance. But not now. Now, I knew. I’d discovered yet another secret about what makes life worth living.

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Sun rising on a morning walk across the Bering Sea

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