Thursday, September 27, 2012

Free to Be (You, Not Me), Revisited


NPR strikes again!  This time it was a program on race that played an interview conducted many years ago by Studs Terkel where he talked to writer James Baldwin about his newest novel, "Nobody Knows My Name."  At one point, Terkel laments a societal framework that sets Baldwin up to feel ashamed of his rich cultural heritage - one deeply steeped in gospel music, family, and food among other things - simply because he is "accepting of the white man's stereotype."
Baldwin:  "It is one of the great psychological hazards of being an American Negro....One is born in a white, Protestant country where one was once a slave, where all the standards and all the images...everything you see, none of it applies to you....I obviously wasn't white. It wasn't even so much a question of wanting to be white, but I couldn't accept what I'd been told. When all you are ever told in this country about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be."
At this sentence, my breath caught mid-way between my gaping mouth and my lungs. It simply stood still in my throat, unable to move forward or back.  I realized that I could not begin to plumb the depths of how damaging, how alienating it must be to feel as though you are at once pitied, reviled, and set aside simply because a vocal, powerful group of individuals sees you as shameful or less than. Simply because they have no idea who you are and no intention of learning who you might be. And no care for the fact that you had no hand in finding yourself in this color skin.

The next thing that struck me was the sincere knowledge that, today, the word homosexual or disabled or, in some countries female could be easily substituted for black.  And I began wondering how often I have been guilty of seeing another person as limited by something they cannot control, placing barriers around what I think they might accomplish or how they might feel. Stereotyping or pitying them simply because I did not see who they truly were beyond my own ideas of what they were.

The ultimate theme of the interview was that James Baldwin found the resolve within himself to dig deeply and find his own notions of himself and who he was.  He gave himself permission to own his American Negro status, to revel in his rich cultural history, to express himself beautifully in his novels and poetry.  He did this, in part, by looking to other black people around him who led by example. Who owned who they were without reservation or apology.

I came away determined to remember that breath-stopping feeling of acknowledgment. To force to the front of my consciousness my own preconceptions of what it must be like to be _____________ and realize my part in stepping back and encouraging others to own their own stories.  Not as some sort of reaction to any perimeters I draw around them, but as a wellspring of personality that finds its source within each and every one of us.  I live in hope for a world where none of us ever feels as though the over-riding message they are receiving is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be whomever they are.

*The entire interview can be found here. There are two other stories first - sorry I couldn't find the interview as a stand-alone, but you can jump to the final third of the audio and hear James Baldwin's rich, cognac-smooth voice with a steely edge of self-knowledge behind it as he answers Studs Terkel's questions confidently and thoroughly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our 21-Day Sugar Fast

Well, tonight is the last night of our family's 21-day sugar fast.  After a busy, debaucherous summer (we discovered every gelato, frozen custard and chocolate shop within walking distance in our new neighborhood) I decided to start the school year off right.  My first two acts were to limit the number of days that school lunches could contain chips of any sort to two and to impose a ban on sugar of any kind for 21 days.

The girls sputtered and moaned, but I pointed out that I would be foregoing some of my favorite things, too (ahem, wine contains sugar, people!), and they scuffled their feet and nodded their heads.  There was no denying we overindulged this summer and I was intent on breaking the habit of having some sort of treat each and every day.

The ban extended to honey and agave (the girls love to put it in their tea and on bread), but not to sugar from whole fruit.

The first morning came with a new kind of awakening:  my favorite breakfasts all include sugar of some sort.  Yogurt with fruit and granola - out.  Baked goods (even gluten-free ones) - out. Oatmeal with brown sugar and dried fruit - out. Even a bagel with cream cheese was unacceptable since the bagel has sugar in it to make the bread rise.  Eggs became my best friend for a while.

I headed to the local co-op to grind my own nut butters, sans salt or sugar, and stock up on sweet-tasting veggies like sugar snap peas and sweet bell peppers.  I learned to make oatmeal with dried fruit and water that leached the sweetness out of the fruit to add to the oats.  I discovered that most commercial salad-dressings contain sugar or cane juice or agave and stuck to salads without.  The girls were horrified to learn that most brands of ketchup have sugar as their second or third ingredient and that honey-mustard was no longer an option for their chicken nuggets (homemade and GF).

Within three days we had all lost our cravings for treats such as ice cream or cookies after dinner, and were continually shocked to find other things that contained 'hidden' sugars - like sweet potato chips and even some canned soups.  We hadn't felt like we ate much sugar in our regular diet (not counting desserts or occasionally indulgent Sunday breakfasts of waffles or pancakes), but we were pretty amazed to find that we eat a lot more than we thought.

None of us had any sort of earth-shattering revelations from our sugar fast like physical symptoms disappearing or behavioral changes, but I do think I lost a few pounds. It would be hard to know given that I don't own a scale, but my pants feel a bit looser. I did cheat one night when Bubba and I went out to dinner to celebrate selling his company, indulging in a few glasses of wine.  I woke up around 2am, my heart pounding with anxiety and my mouth dry from dehydration - a good bit of information to tuck away for future reference.

Probably the most profound lessons I learned, however, are these:

1.  We can do it - all of us. The girls were absolute troopers, even given the fact that their friends at school were constantly bringing in treats to share (although they can't have most of them given their gluten allergy, anyway).  They did keep a count of how many days were left in the challenge, but never, ever did either of them break in to a massive whine festival or refuse to try.

2.  There is a LOT more sugar/honey/agave in our diet than we ever realized.  The girls and I decided that next time it would be cool to measure how many teaspoons of sugar we managed to avoid in 21 days and pile it up on the counter in a bowl.  I suspect it would freak us all out at the end of the challenge.

Tomorrow I will let the girls have a decadent breakfast as a reward for their hard work and willingness to try the sugar fast, but I know that their awareness of what they put in to their bodies has just become that more attuned and they aren't likely to seek out sugar every day anymore.  Eve, who has a sweet tooth to rival The Candyman, admitted to me that she has stopped craving sugary treats altogether. That doesn't mean she won't accept a gluten-free cupcake or a trip to frozen custard now and then, but if we can keep it to a minimum, I'll be one happy mom.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking the Toddler Approach

As I listened to the girls snipe at each other on the way home from school the other day, instead of allowing my blood pressure to rise, resisting the urge to insert my words into the cacophony of chaos and swirling anger, I detached. I listened.  I traced the progression of hurt, fear, anger, misunderstanding.  Later, as Lola set the table for dinner, a new argument erupted and I again noted the path from misinterpretation to rage and a thought began to crystallize.  A question:

What if, at any point during the escalating war of words, one of my girls stopped to ask 'why?'


  • Why would she say/do something like that to me?
  • Why does it bother me so much?
As an observer who knows both of my girls and their developmental stages intimately (Lola - fearful of transitions and just starting a new school, living in a new house and neighborhood and meeting all new friends. Eve - nearly thirteen and experiencing everything as if it were personally aimed at her and her burgeoning identity and having her younger sister encroaching on her school territory for the first time in years), I can instantly spot the moments where perception and interpretation is everything.  I can see where a word was misheard or an intention assumed that wasn't there.  But by the time I wedge my perspective into the middle, the harsh words have already inflicted pain and harm and the fight is no longer able to be stopped.  

A few months ago I heard someone say, "Most people listen with the intent to respond rather than the intent to understand."  I felt myself in that realization.  I cringed as I looked back to the numerous times I had barely been able to hold my tongue until the other person took a breath before I inserted my story/wisdom/advice/perspective.  I was embarrassed. Fortunately, that uncomfortable feeling soon gave way to curiosity.  How much information and clarity am I missing by not seeking to understand what someone is telling me? How often am I arresting their narrative by shifting the focus of the conversation to what I have to say?  

All it takes is 'why.' 

For those of us who have been around young children and toddlers, whether as aunts and uncles or parents or teachers or grandparents, we recall with enormous sighs the days of "Why."  The days where every answer or statement is met with the question, "Why?"  Where no amount of information is ever enough.  We have all been pushed to our limits of patience and, often, knowledge, by the rapid-fire inquisition of a curious child.  And while that is exhausting and often annoying, I wondered the other day if it isn't something we all ought to be doing more of as adults - asking why.  

I think that the power of why lies in its ability to stop the ego-centric notion that most of us walk around with all day long, that everything that happens around us or even to us is about us.  That the checker at the grocery store who appeared to roll her eyes at me might have entirely different reasons for doing so than I originally think.  Why would she do that?  Maybe her contact lens slid off to the side of one eye and that's how she gets it back on track.  Perhaps she heard something on the radio in the store that I didn't key into. Or maybe, yes, maybe she thinks I'm annoying for some reason.  Okay. Why does her eye-rolling bother me? Because I feel judged by her? Because I was actually being somewhat annoying by insisting on something extra and I feel a little guilty about it?  Because I got in a fight with my teenager this morning and I'm feeling a little emotionally fragile?  

I haven't solved my issue here, but I have given myself a moment to breathe by asking the questions, and I have also considered things that give me more information about the way I am feeling.  The important part is that I haven't assumed anything that might send my mood spiraling out of control or cause me to growl at the checker when she may not deserve it.  

I haven't broached this subject with Eve and Lola yet because I wanted to test it out on myself for a few days first.  So far, I have learned a few things:

  1. Asking, "Why?" gives me the opportunity to step back from a biting remark uttered by one of my children and acknowledge that there might be a reason she is being snarky right now. It doesn't excuse the behavior, but it does allow me to consider whether or not she has had a bad day and refrain from taking her remark as a personal slight.
  2. After this momentary breather, I am often able to ask "Why?" out loud which gives the other person a chance to examine their own behavior and either explain to me something I may have misunderstood or realize how it sounded.  It also gives them the impression that I am willing to stay engaged in the interaction in a positive way, listening and truly trying to understand, and it often has the effect of turning the conversation around.
As a child I was known as a chatterbox and, feeling impotent to change that or battle the label, I embraced it.  At the age of 40, I'm beginning to see just how much I may have missed out on by not staying quiet more often and simply listening.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Debunking the Myth: "We Are Never Given More Than We Can Handle"

I decided to take advantage of the Indian Summer we are having in the Seattle area today and finally pull some of the weeds in the yard.  As I squatted in the dirt, my beloved hori hori (Japanese weeding miracle pictured above) in one hand and an enormous pile of dandelions and chickweed piling up next to me, the neighbor's toddler began to scream.  Great, gulping wails of sadness punctured every few sobs by a blood curdling shriek.  My sequence of thoughts went a little like this:


  • Thank God that's not my kid.
  • Poor dear. He sounds so sad.
  • I wonder what's going on in his head right now to make those screams necessary.
  • Thank God my kids are too old for naps.  I'll bet she's just put him down in his crib and left so he'll sleep and he's crying it out.
  • I wonder if she sits in the kitchen and cries like I used to.

  • And just like that, I was transported back to those incredibly lonely days of parenting a toddler. The days where I never really felt like I knew what I was doing and yet I had convinced myself that I had to present a confident picture to the world and my child.  The days where I woke up determined to follow the parenting books and let her cry herself to sleep so she would learn to soothe herself and caved somewhere around minute two, going in to lay down with her and stroke her back and kick myself for giving her mixed messages.  

    I hoped that my neighbor didn't feel angry or scared or frustrated. I hoped that she felt like she had a good plan and didn't feel a searing pain in her core each time her baby cried so dramatically.  I hoped she didn't feel like this was more than she could handle. 

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I remember visiting my grandfather the week after my high school graduation.  He had been caring for my grandmother in their home as she struggled with Alzheimer's Disease and was coming to the point where he would have to make a decision about whether or not to move her to a nursing home.  I was there to party since he lived in Southern California near all my cousins and he had an extra bedroom.  Thanks to my grandmother's dementia, he also had an extra car I could use.  

    I was shocked at my grandmother's decline.  She was confused almost all the time and prone to wandering off for hours on end.  For someone who could barely remember her name, much less her address, this was alarming to say the least.  My grandfather had been reduced to a prison warden in his own home, watching his wife of 50 years waste away physically and mentally and having to scratch all of the grand retirement plans they had made together off the list of possibilities.  He was sad and a little bitter.  One night as we sat chatting after dinner (grandma was asleep on the couch in the living room clutching a bottle of Butterscotch schnapps), he talked about his frustrations.  I didn't know what to say. I had no life experience to draw from and I was at a complete loss.  I opened my mouth to say I don't know what and he cut me off.

    "Don't you dare say what your mother did. That God never gives us more than we can handle. That's a load of bullshit! This is more than I can handle and I don't believe that God stuff.  I only went to church  because it made your grandmother happy!"

    I was stunned.  I hadn't been anywhere near about to say what he anticipated, but I suspect that what I was going to say would have been as cliche and useless as what he thought I would say.  I simply put my hand on his freckled arm and squeezed, my eyes full of tears.  

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    And so, knees in the dirt, I contemplated that platitude - that we are never given more than we can handle - and found it lacking.  I can count many times in my own life where I felt overloaded with grief or responsibility or pure ignorance in the face of obstacles.  Everyone I know has felt that way multiple times.  

    I decided that, instead, we are often faced with more than we can handle and maybe this is by design.  I know that when I find myself in that position what I have learned is to ask for help.  For most of my life I thought that asking for help was the definition of weakness and was determined to figure things out on my own.  The messages I got from my parents and the media and society as a whole informed me that independence is an important trait. That people who do things on their own are revered and praised.  I was in my 30s before I realized that the only thing independence got me was isolation and a deeper hole.  I felt lonely and less capable than ever when I tried to handle everything by myself and, while I may have eventually found my way out of that hole I was in, I didn't do it in the most efficient way - often reinventing the wheel as part of my process - and I was bloody exhausted by the time I got out.  

    Human beings are social creatures.  We draw strength and information from each other.  Even those individuals who may be examples of pioneering spirit and a can-do attitude didn't truly do anything on their own. They built on the successes of others who came before them. Or they benefited from the support and love of their family and friends.  Maybe being routinely faced with more than we can handle is the Universe's way of ensuring that we continue to find ways to work together, to ask for assistance.  

    And when assistance isn't possible, perhaps this overwhelming feeling serves another purpose - innovation.  For people who are struggling with lack of finances or mental illness or disabilities for which there is too much bureaucracy or too little empathy to find help, maybe the mounting troubles prompt action.  No one person is going to effect policy change, but if your difficulties spur you to action, to build community around your cause in an effort to make a difference, to rally voices loud enough to be heard by those in power, I'm not going to say it was "worth it," because, honestly, we all wish we could simply sail through our days with fewer challenges, but maybe it serves a purpose.  

    Some of my closest friendships have been forged through the process of asking for help or being asked for help.  The people I most trust are those who recognized when I was in trouble and offered a hand without judging or mocking me.  And so, in that light, maybe I can appreciate (just the slightest bit) being given more than I can handle on occasion, if only to remind me that I should reach out and ask for help.  If only to help me recognize how much farther I can go when I am supported by others, buoyed by their wisdom and love.  

    Sunday, September 09, 2012

    Bullying and Restorative Justice: A New Approach

    I am so grateful for my local public library! I have discovered so many amazing books simply by walking in empty-handed and perusing the shelves set up to highlight particular books.  I don't know the formula the librarians use to decide which books to set out at what time (except for the obvious holiday-related ones), but I'm incredibly glad for the ones I've found throughout the years.

    The remarkable book I discovered by 'chance' this summer was Walking After Midnight by Katy Hutchison.  It is the story of a journey that began with her husband's murder one New Year's Eve and her path to forgiveness.  It is so much more than that, but I won't reveal more here because I would like to encourage you to read it yourself.  I will tell you that she and her husband's killer have since forged a relationship that enriches the lives of people everywhere.  Their work focuses on the concept of restorative justice, defined on Wikipedia as
    "an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, "to repair the harm they've done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service".[2]Restorative justice involves both victim and offender and focuses on their personal needs. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than the state.[3] Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.[4]"
    Together, the two of them travel around the world telling their story and revealing how their lives were impacted by this notion of repair and restoration as opposed to strictly punishment.

    I was struck by one part of the book in particular where Katy talks about several schools who have instituted restorative justice programs as a way to address bullying.  Bullying has been highlighted as a serious societal problem in the last few years and, as a result, many schools have declared so-called "Zero Tolerance" programs, meaning that punishment for bullying is swift and severe.  I was intrigued by the notion that other schools have chosen to bring the victim and the perpetrator together in a facilitated discussion to resolve issues and use these incidents as teaching moments.  Having worked at a school for several years, I have seen kids who were labeled as bullies or troublemakers and expelled or asked to leave the school.  On more than one occasion, our school received one of those children.  I often wondered what a simple change of venue was supposed to accomplish for these kids and how difficult it must be to remove that label once applied.

    After finishing the book, I did a little more sleuthing and discovered this website.  Dr. Tom Cavanagh writes about a "culture of care" in schools, offers training for educators and parents in restorative justice, and critically reviews books on bullying.

    We have, blessedly, not been touched by bullying at this point in our girls' lives, but I love the idea of restorative justice when it comes to nasty disagreements just as much as "bullying."  I have seen firsthand how much Lola squirms when asked to sit across from Eve and listen to how her bad behavior made her sister feel.  Eve has asked to simply be punished rather than facing her sister, taking responsibility for her behavior, and making things right.  It is incredibly uncomfortable to face the person you have harmed and spend a little time in their shoes, but such a powerful deterrent to further incidents.  For the victim, being heard and acknowledged is often more important than knowing that the person who hurt you is being grounded or suspended or expelled.  For the perpetrator, the emotional distance that is provided by a punishment, no matter how severe, does nothing to help them understand their actions and the natural consequences that stem from them.  And for both parties, the process of restorative justice is an opportunity to grow empathy, compassion, and a sense of community.

    Restorative justice in our schools would require more time, energy and training on the part of the school personnel.  Ultimately, though, I feel certain that it would offer more opportunities for growth, dialogue and community within the schools.  Students on both ends feel cared for - their emotional needs met - by restorative justice and isn't that what we want for our kids? To feel part of something that cares about them? To be in a place where they matter?  Maybe if we start this trend in our schools, this generation will grow up to embrace it in their adult lives, seeking to repair and restore relationships and relying on principles of humanity and forgiveness rather than punishment and revenge.

    Thursday, September 06, 2012

    When I Run for President...

    I want Bill Clinton to talk about me at the Democratic National Convention.

    Say what you will, but the man is a masterful public speaker.  He has an absolutely incredible way of talking to an entire convention center (or an entire nation) and making it seem as though he's right in your living room, sitting at the edge of your most comfortable chair.

    He is articulate, passionate, and funny.  And I truly, honestly believe that he means every word he is saying when he says it.

    I got a lot of flack for my opinion on BC in years past.  You see, although some of my dearest friends are Democrats and championed President Clinton for his work in the White House, many of them will not forgive him for his marital indiscretions.  Okay, affairs.  Crappy judgment. Inability to keep it in his pants.

    I get it.  If you have ever been in a relationship with someone who cheated on you, there is a knee-jerk reaction when you hear about someone cheating.  And when that someone is outed for cheating publicly and they happen to be a public figure (like, say, the President of the United States), it is hard to think about trusting that person again.

    I understand on an entirely different level, too.  You see, my father, while he spent most of his life identifying as a Republican, was a lot like Bill Clinton.  Charismatic, persuasive, logical.  Passionate, gregarious, funny.  People really liked my father -or they hated him, there weren't many who were lukewarm - and most saw him as a strong leader.  He was also a cheater. And even though he was my father and not my husband, I vilified him for a long time because of that, unable to see the other parts of him.

    With Clinton, I have the luxury of being able to see beyond his sexual indiscretions and hoping that he has learned a great deal from them.  I am not a friend or family member, not someone who was directly affected by those errors in judgment.  I am able to look to his record of service, his work done on behalf of social justice and continued efforts as a retired President, and see the bulk of his message.  I listened to his speech at the DNC last night and was mesmerized by his ability to switch from levity to sincerity, all the while feeling as though he was speaking to a much more intimate group than the billions of people likely watching on television.  I was struck by his passion and clarity and proud to know that he represents many of the ideals that are important to me.  I know that he has probably spent many thousands of hours being coached on public speaking and that he didn't likely write the speech he delivered.  None of that dampened my enthusiasm for his message, though, and here's why.  Because I think that the "X-factor" in his speech that kept it from being flat or cynical is that he truly believes what he is saying. That he honestly puts his faith in Barack Obama to do the things he says he will.  That the choice to stand up and throw his hat in the ring with the President is not one of loyalty to the Democratic party, but a sincere belief in him as a person and his ability to affect the lives of those who need it most.  Perhaps my favorite moments in his speech came when he talked about community and cooperation.
    "President Obama's approach embodies the values, the ideas, and the direction America has to take to build a 21st-century version of the American dream, a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, shared prosperity, a shared sense of community."
    "...if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we're-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."
    It is his ability to rouse a crowd to passion, empathize with them and tell a damn good story that makes Bill Clinton such a dynamic speaker.  And while all of those things are important, it is ultimately my honest assessment that he means what he says that is the tipping point for me.
     *photo from nbc.com

    Saturday, September 01, 2012

    From Catholic to Buddhist in 40 Short Years

    Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Klamath Falls, Oregon
    My spiritual journey has been, well, a journey so far in my life.  I'm certain that on the day I was born, nobody expected me to have a spiritual journey. They expected to baptize me in the Catholic Church, raise me in the Catholic Church, and bury me after a lifetime spent in the Catholic Church.  I guess, technically, that's a journey, but it stays pretty well within the same track, or at least I (and my mother) always thought so.

    Until I was eight or so, this worked out pretty well.  Enter: divorce.  We were fairly rigorous Catholics, going to Mass on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, taking confession (at least my parents did) and signing us kids up for catechism classes.  The path was preordained.  Until my folks split up. And the Church politely asked us not to return.  Bad example for the rest of the parishioners and all that.

    Until that point I hadn't questioned much about religion or faith. I didn't know anyone who didn't go to church on Sunday and I frankly loved the ritual of church, if not the time spent there on sunny mornings.  I loved dipping my fingers in to the font of holy water at the entrance to the church and crossing myself like I saw the adults do.  I loved genuflecting before entering a pew and memorizing the steps that went along with different prayers - when to sit down, kneel and stand.  I loved the music and the stained glass and knowing when to say a solemn, "Amen" or "and also with you."

    After my folks got divorced, Dad seemed to have no issue not going back to that church and sometimes, especially in the summer, took us to his version of church on Sunday mornings - a short hike near Crater Lake or up Mt. McLoughlin with a few quiet moments to stop and enjoy the view while he prayed and thanked God for our time together.  I much preferred that kind of church to the ones my mother tried out thanks to recommendations from friends - a new one every weekend we spent with her.

    By the time I was in high school I had thoroughly catalogued the hypocrisy I saw in my own family and friends Monday through Saturday and decided that church and religion seemed ridiculous.  I still liked the music, but there was little ritual in any of the churches we attended and I cringed at some of the messages of punishment and anger I heard over and over again.  I was relieved when I got a job at a local resort that held a huge Sunday brunch because I could beg off of church - we needed the money more than Mom wanted to admit.

    I had also become increasingly interested in science and liked the ordered, logical view of the human body as a machine.  I renounced religion of any kind and decided I was an atheist.  I didn't see any reason to think there was an afterlife and was openly disdainful of anyone who seemed to be simply tolerating their time on the planet until they could get to some paradise. I was determined to create my own paradise now - hedge my bets because I would be really pissed off if I discovered there was no Heaven after I had waited decades to get there.

    Philosophy classes in college further solidified this view for me.  I took a comparative religion class and was astonished to discover how many really strange theories there were about different leaders and prophets and how malleable morality could be depending on which one you adhered to.  Couple that with the more complex science classes I was taking and I was definitely convinced that humans were basically machines.  Yes, we have emotions, but I was certain there were discoverable physiological processes that could account for those.  This view did not diminish the wonder of nature for me a bit - in fact it increased it more than anything.  The notion that there were so many variations in this mechanistic view of the world - that DNA could be expressed in so many different ways from a strawberry to a hyena to a human with Down's Syndrome - that was truly miraculous to me.  And, ultimately, explainable with enough scientific knowledge.  Who needed religion?

    And then Buddhism hit me.  It was not one of the religious views I had learned about in college and I knew very little about it, but about six years ago I started writing book reviews for Elevate Difference and was assigned a few Buddhist texts.  I also began taking yoga classes and heard more about Buddhist beliefs there.  The entire idea that a spiritual world view could exist without worshipping some deity or other was fascinating.  The tenets of peace and equanimity and love appealed to me greatly - especially in their inclusion of every other sentient being on the planet.  I was determined to learn more.

    Today, I guess I would say that my spirituality is more deeply rooted in Buddhism than any other world view.  And while I still love the idea that the human body is a machine, and live that reality every day by trying to feed it well and rest it appropriately and work all of its parts with some regularity, my notion of it has expanded to include a spiritual component.  I don't know exactly how I would describe it - a soul? some invisible connection between all sentient beings? I'm not sure.  But I heard an explanation on NPR (where else?) a few weeks ago that has slowly been settling in to my bones.  I can't for the life of me remember what program or who said it or even what the context of the conversation was, but the question was whether animals have souls or not.  The answer came by way of analogy:  If you have a computer that is broken and you take it apart to discover why, you can fix it and put it back together and it will work (assuming you knew  at you were doing) the exact same way it did before.  If your pet (or your sister-in-law or your favorite dogwood tree) is ailing and you take it apart piece by piece and put it back together exactly the way it ought to go, it won't come back to life.  There is something more, something extra, something intangible that we sentient beings have that defies mechanical explanation.

    In my atheist days, this explanation would have thrown me.  I am certain I would not have known what to do with it, given that I had an entirely mechanistic view of humanity. You die and you're dust. Period. Nothing else.

    Today, I'm not so sure. Some might say it's because I'm getting older and facing my own mortality, but I would like to think that one day I'll be back in some other form to finish this journey of mine.  If I get to choose, I'd like to be a very pampered indoor cat who spends its days chasing bugs and sleeping in the sun patch at the end of the bed.
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