Sunday, March 27, 2011

Highlighting JOY

We cannot erase the world of sorrow,
But we can choose to live in joy.
--Joseph Campbell

* * *

“Why’d you do it?”
“I don’t know, Miss Brynne. Stupid. Mama always said I was dumb. Teacher did, too. Guess I’m just not a good person.” He lowered his eyes to the cold, hard floor. “No, I know I ‘aint.” The disgust he had for himself wasn’t just painted on his face, an act to enjoy some rare sympathy. I wasn’t the parole board. I wasn’t a victim of his crime. He didn’t have a reason to fake what he believed in front of me. This man really hated himself. Probably did for years. I just gave him an opportunity to be honest.

* * *

How do you work in the prison and not get burnt out on all the negativity? Isn’t it horribly depressing? Aren’t those thugs pathetic? Why do you want to work there? You don’t really think you can reach any of them, do you? Are you honestly that na├»ve?

* * *

I knew I couldn’t erase the anger or pain inside each inmate I met. But I had to find a way to grow some hope, some joy in their world of ugly. And not of the surface. Or for show. Or for my ego, either. Even if they had committed crimes, I was determined to see them as human beings who for whatever reason made bad choices, human beings who deserved to be seen with fresh eyes, as the good people I believed them to be inside, before their paths turned sour.

* * *

I stopped reading charts before they arrived. A murderer or someone convicted of food stamp fraud, I wouldn't know. Let them show me who they were. Who they really were. My paper lay blank upon my desk, the direction of my writing all up to them. I didn't have any idea what was in store for me and honestly, was shocked at the results. For the first time, I started seeing each inmate as the human being he really was.

*Jason gave up drawing when he was a little boy because his
daddy said it was a sissy thing to do.
*Rueben grew up with the dream of being a singer.
*Alonzo used to love to make sculptures out of anything he could
find in the junkyard behind his mama’s home.

I saw creative urges long ago buried or forgotten and kept each inmate there, with me, looking at their buried treasures just a little while longer.

*Why’d you stop drawing, Jason? You have a pen and paper,
don't you?
*Do you ever sing, Rueben? Maybe you oughta start...today.
*Why’d you stop sculpting things, Alonzo? Wanna show me what
you can do with this paper?

Before my eyes I suddenly had the toughest of the tough weeping their hearts out in my office.

And the line outside my door grew longer every day. Some said, she's psychic. Others said, finally someone cares. All I knew was that it was working. Seeing each inmate as a human being, as the person they were before their lives turned sour, was working. They felt less sorrow. I felt less sorrow. And all of us lived in greater joy.

* * *

We cannot erase the world of sorrow,
But we can choose to highlight joy.
--Brynne Betz


Sunday, March 20, 2011

A gift from a Reader...


...an invitation to find yourself here, in a picture, in nature, in a gift from a Reader.
To relate to the flower
and then to the frog
blooming
hidden
hiding something
reveling in a secret decadence
where are you this week...?
what you see will tell you.
Synchronicity speaks.
If you dare to listen.
and then...when we are our best, we honor that which we hear.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Love Muffin (noun)

1 a (1) : term of endearment <I’ll miss you, Love Muffin> (2) : Slang –informal term of address <Love Muff Or Muff>

2 : parcels of affection <sending you love muffins>

3 :warm feeling, flutter, or emotion <Ooo…I feel love muffins>

* * *

Squish (noun)

1 :love-infused embrace. A step up from a hug. Reserved for moments you wish to convey a deeper sense of affection. <a bushel and a peck and a squish around the neck>

* * *

F.S.D. (noun)

1 : Fresh start day, also known as ‘Monday’ in the English speaking world. Used when an extra boost is needed, particularly useful for the first Monday after day light savings. <How’s your FSD going, Mary?>

* * *

A wise soul once said that one of the greatest gifts we can give is to see one another with fresh eyes each time we connect. Inanimate objects, included. Maybe it’s a form of forgiveness. Maybe it’s an invitation to reinvent yourself. Maybe it’s a way to leave baggage behind, bait your imagination, and jump start joy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Magic 101

The tap-tap-taps inside our hearts, the flutters of our spirits, the dull aches of our souls—they aren’t as content to sit in silence anymore. We want magic. We want invitations to kinder, gentler worlds. We want nuggets of bliss not mundane tastes of the same bland days. But we don’t know how to get there. We’ve lost our maps and dropped our glasses along the way. But still, we continue to feel with our hands in the dark, hoping that one day something will change, that one day, we will know what to do and when to do it. And then, then, all will feel right again. Like it did before. Before we forgot. Forgot to sense the presence of magic.

1. Listen to your senses

Cry when you feel sad. Don’t watch the movie if it hurts you. Say no when you don’t want to go. Take a nap when you feel tired. Ride your imagination when the conversation doesn’t feel good. Buy the pretty flower. Smell it over and over again, letting its petals lick your nose. Eat the doughnut in the store. Close your eyes and devour it with a goopy smile. Smell an orange up close when you miss the tropics or long to feel warm. Dip your toes in the fountain. Even when you aren’t supposed to. Touch the softness of the fabric. Let its sensuality open your pores. Sing along, even out of tune. Ask yourself what you feel. Listen better for the answers.

When we honor our senses, they begin to show us more than we knew was there. Our senses trust us the more we trust them and that trust, opens up hidden worlds.

2. Share the delights of your senses

Compliment when you see something nice. Tell when you are moved. Laugh when you are happy. Weep when you are sad. Write them. Call them. Send them your feelings. Now, when you feel it. Take off your bubble. See your connections. Smell the flower in front of the clerk. Eat the doughnut when the person walks near. Sing when they are looking.

When we share we connect. When we connect, sparks fly and magic is released.

3. See with your heart

Be open to unproved, non-logical thinking. Believe in things that you cannot see. Expect the unexplainable. Notice how your mind cannot understand but your heart somehow does. Giggle more. Find the side of love. It’s always there. Water it. Fertilize it. Make it your own. Invite it to stay. Watch your world soften. Soften its edges away.

We have a choice. We can see dark or we can see light. The two are always there in tandem. Slowly, steadily, guide your Self in the direction you wish to be. Let your heart, via your senses, lead the way.

Dream Rangers

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Amazing Grace-- how sweet your sound

Overcooked peas, macaroni drowning in Velveeta colored cheese, jello, applesauce in little plastic bowls, burnt coffee and a big basket of Sweet-n-Low. I looked around, desperately trying to find something I actually wanted to eat.

“I know what you mean,” said Teresa, noticing my hesitation and gently touching my shoulder. “Hard to choose, huh?”

I did a double take to make sure she was serious. She was. So I mustered up a smile. It was then I saw the chicken. Ok, so maybe there was more skin than meat but it still seemed like my best bet. I decided on white rice and iced tea, too. Everyone knows that no one does iced tea like the Southerners.


I was invited to the cafeteria on South Estes Drive by the Board. My Board. A group of seven public housing residents, all women, who oversaw the non-profit that my boss and I ran in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was unusual to hold a board meeting at a restaurant but then everything about living in the South and working in public housing communities was unusual (and stimulating!) to me so I thought nothing of it.

“I think I better tell them I’m leaving. Do you think this is a good time?” I looked over at Teresa, one of the most beautiful women, inside and out, that I had ever met.

“Why don’t you just wait and see how things feel. You’ll know.”

She was wise, too.


Intermittently, like ants across town who heard about a new and especially delicious picnic, the board members trickled in. They got their food, pulled their wood chairs out from beneath the big round table, and joined me.

“You’re probably wondering why we invited you here, Brynne.”

I looked up from my chicken, wiped my fingers on a napkin so small and thin it could have been a toilet paper square, and gulped. I hadn’t.

“Well, this lunch is for you.”

“For me?” I didn’t understand.

“Teresa said you’re leaving us.”

I looked around at the beaten-down, courageous, soul-driven women as they stopped eating to look toward me, their eyes filled with kindness and care.

“Its not gonna be the same without you, Miss Brynne. You cared, you really cared. About us, about our children, about our communities. We saw it and felt it and appreciate it. Still now. We’re sad to see you go.” They were smiling now. Not a one eating, their hands folded in their laps.

“I’m gonna miss you, too. More than you know.” I said. I really didn’t want to cry. But moments like this, when I could practically taste my heart and the hearts of those around me, it was hard not to. These women had changed my life, given me insights into myself and others that would alter my whole life trajectory.

“And while we don’t have a lot to give you,” someone cleared their throat.

I shook my head no, please….

“we do have something special for you that we hope you’ll like. It’s a thank you of sorts. And a 'please don’t forget us'.”

Her smile lit up the room.


Before I knew what was happening, the eight women at my table began to sing. And not just sing, but sing. The rest of the cafeteria fell silent. Not a chair, not a dish, not even a fork moved. We were all frozen. Harmony, voices like sweet molasses, soul and spirit and love all mixed into one as Amazing Grace echoed through each of us, its sweet sound softening me into a puddle so deep I could have covered the whole town with my love. I sat, mesmerized, my hands clasped to my heart, my eyes wet with disbelief. Was it true that the cadence found it way out the door, lifting wilted flowers and sending birds still higher? Was it true that shoppers next door stopped for a moment to hear the gentle rustling inside their hearts? Was it true that life got just a little lighter that day not just for me but for everyone who could hear the beauty belting from their ever-resilient souls?

That’s how I’d like to remember it. So that’s how it shall always be.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Honor Thy Self


...and then the day came
when the risk to remain
tight in a bud
was more painful than
the risk
it took to
blossom.

Anais Nin

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Yesterday I Met a Cocoon

Yesterday I met a cocoon...
Outside. Hidden between the flowers. It trembles.
It aches to shed its layers, to free its newly created wings, to release the butterfly within. This cocoon, its crafted well. Weather-resistant, camoflaged, protecting its precious cargo, its treasured, unborn child. I watch it from my room, holding my baby girl, my body warm, my spirit filled to overflowing.

Yesterday I met a cocoon...
Inside. Hidden beneath my skin. It trembles.
What are these layers that keep my wings tucked away, that keep me safe and nurse my silly fears? Where do i, I, wish to fly and why do i, I, not let mySelf free?

Yesterday I met a cocoon...
Within. Hidden behind your eyes. It trembles.
It aches to shed its layers, to free its newly created wings, to release the butterfly within. This cocoon, its crafted well. Weather-resistant, camoflaged, protecting its precious cargo, its treasured, unborn child. I watch you from a distance, honoring your heart, my eyes teary with hopeful joy.