Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday Wish (148); Foolish Ecstasy

photo by via googleimages

My world is one of scents. I breathe in to better understand—the scented flavors of my surroundings sharing secrets the rest of me could never know.

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The scent of the Southern Highlands in Papua New Guinea begins with the reeds along the dirt road moving like an ocean, their gentle rhythm whispering slow down, listen, be with the sacred silence. I gladly melt into the equatorial heat, my head rising up for still more, the sun’s kiss a welcome warmth upon my thirsty face. I close my eyes and when I do, the scent emerges like faint ribbon of smoke twisting its way to my open, unsuspecting heart. I breathe in to better see. I breathe in and smile. I breathe in and an old woman finds me, just a solitary soul in front of an ocean of reed, soaking up the gifts of an ancient sea.

Years later, I lift a string bilum from its storage place and the scent emerges again, sending me back, back to that day on the road with the old woman.

She herself carries a bilum, the knotted ends meeting at the top of her head, its heavy contents weighting her rounded back until she is almost horizontal. She rubs her leathered fingers up and down my legs as if to be sure I am real, my skin so different from her own. She squeezes my flesh and pets my head of long hair as if I am a treasure. But she, she is the treasure. Her eyes look up at me, wet with age, red- rimmed with life experience and she begins to speak to me . . .

I remember. I remember when your people first came. I was a small one but my eyes were open, my ears listened and my fingers, they knew what they touched. Some thought your people were angels reincarnated from our dead. And maybe you are. But I know as well as you that your pek pek smells just as bad as ours. It’s just that your eyes, they still confuse me. Why do so many of your people close them? Close them, you say? Yes. From the inside. So they cannot connect. How do your people live so closed off? I see how they do not feel the earth with their feet never touching the ground, but their eyes . . ? Why do they hide those, too? Are they so afraid? Do they not know that they have given themselves dead eyes, broken tools, a fire that can no longer provide warmth? Neither for themselves or for anyone around them. Why have they forgotten to stay foolish, foolish enough to feel it all? Is there anything more to fear than living a life without fire, yes a life without deep connection?

She screamed a little fright when she looked into my eyes that day. I wasn’t like the others, she said, for I still had my fire. I could hear her! Not her words, but her scented mystery. I was not afraid to connect, to deeply connect, with someone so different from myself, to slow down, to listen, to be present in our shared sacred silence. 

And so the souls of our eyes danced in those few moments along a dusty dirt road in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, a dance scented like a sea of roasted grass on a hot equatorial day, my every bit ablaze in foolish ecstasy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Wednesday Wish (147); Beauty . . . Anywhere

photo by via google images

If you go up the hill and around the bend, then slow down to make a turn to the left at the baseball field, you will have found the road. It’s a kind road. It starts out gently with a church on the right and a big parking lot around that church to hold all of the faithful’s cars. And when you drive a little further, you begin to notice that the houses seem kind, too. They don’t brag. They don’t scream out to be heard. And they don’t want for attention. They just feel kind.

Except one.

The outside is nothing very memorable. Not the siding nor the windows, nor even the shape of the house speaks of anything much to be heard. But there is one thing that does. One thing that yells out at me every time I drive by.

But that’s not really the story. The story is far more important than a piece of fabric hanging from a pole. Yes, you must know me far better than that by now. This story is about a person. A person just like you and me.

His name is Benjamin and he lives next door to the not-so-memorable-house with the memorable flag that yells out at me every time I drive by, next door in the kind-feeling house on the kind-feeling road not far from my own.

So one day as I was driving home, I saw that Confederate flag flying, and next door I saw a man who I would later learn was named Benjamin, standing in his front yard. I stopped the car.

            “Hello there,” I said, with nothing but connection and open-heartedness lurking in my eaves. “How do you do it?” my eyes gazing over to the flag proudly flying in his neighbor’s yard.
            “Oh, you mean the flag?”
            I nodded. “I know it’s supposed to be about pride and that it probably isn’t directed at you, but I also know that for many, if not most of us, it’s a symbol of oppression and hate, and you, being African American, how do you handle that? Is it hard for you? How do you look outside every day, probably multiple times a day, and then get on with having a happy day?”
            Benjamin nodded and shared one of those knowing smiles. (I forgot to say, we had already exchanged names and earlier smiles) Then he said with sparkling eyes, “You know, it actually reminds me of Evel Knievel. He had a similar pattern on his clothes and on his bike so every time I look outside and see that flag,” he turned to look at it as he spoke, “I just smile.” And I think I even heard him share a little chuckle.

What else could I do right then myself other than smile, too? 
How could I be anything less than who Benjamin was? 
He got it right, said my own spontaneous chuckle.
Benjamin got it ALL, right.

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What if the world was made up of only Benjamins—of people who looked insensitive actions and things in the face and saw only beauty? How different would things be? Might we live in a different world altogether? What if we tried it out ---you and me?

What if the next time someone honks at you, you agree to assume they are trying to tell you something beautiful . . . maybe to look up at a pretty bird or a lucky rainbow, or maybe they think you are beautiful and need you to know.

What if you agreed to find some bit of beauty in every insensitive or mean or ugly thing you came across? Would your world change? Would you let it if it tried to? Could you allow yourself to let go of the hardened parts in favor of the gentle and soft and kind? What if I told you that the simple act of seeing beauty, of finding it when it seems to most eyes simply nonexistent, takes courage? Would you dare to find that courage within yourself?

What if I promised you such daring could change your world?

It can.
It changes mine every single day.

Besides, if Benjamin can find beauty in the Confederate flag flying in his neighbor’s yard, then I know you and I can dare to find it . . . anywhere.