Living in this World

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#83 Farm Share

Our farmer is sick.

Community Supported Agriculture provides the relationship. You buy a share of a particular farm’s harvest at the start of the season. They get the cash to do the upfront work, and you get a weekly supply of vegetables fresh from the farm--more or less, depending on what’s growing well that season.

We tried one several years ago but it wasn't a perfect fit, since I can supply a lot of our vegetable needs from my little community garden plot. But then I heard of another one that offered a winter farm share--winter vegetables, eggs, meat, cheese, and granola. Now this wouldn’t compete with my summer harvest--and we were delighted to start picking up our box every Saturday at the local farmer’s market and eating more good local food. When spring rolled around, we took advantage of their flexibility to order just a half summer share, with extra eggs. This complemented my garden well and kept the meat, cheese and granola coming. Though sometimes we had more eggs than we knew what to do with, it was a problem I was happy to have.

Then one week we got a message that there would be no delivery that Saturday. Remembering the time in the winter when they’d missed a week because the husband had pneumonia, I went to their website, and learned that impetus for starting their CSA had been his serious illness. The family could no longer manage the relentless daily demands of a dairy farm. Switching to vegetables would allow a little more flexibility and a chance to save the family farm. I wondered if this missed Saturday delivery had anything to do with his health.

Sadly, I was right. We got an apologetic note from the wife (an equal in the business), saying they’d had a medical emergency, but would be back the next week. Late in August, as I was struggling to find someone to pick up our farm share when we would be away, I decided to check the website before looking farther afield. I found a one-line note at the bottom of the page saying there would be no pick-up that Saturday. While this solved my little problem, it didn’t make me happy. I was sure things were not well for this family. I kept checking the website. No pick up the next Saturday. Or the next. Then came a delivery, along with a note. The husband had had a bad reaction to medication, had been seizing and gone onto life support. The wife had been with him in the hospital for three weeks. Thankfully he was no longer in immediate danger. Unfortunately there was no granola because the grandmother had been in the fields. They would extend the season three weeks and apologized again for the inconvenience.

Inconvenience? How could I claim any inconvenience compared to what her family was going through? This, I reflected, is the real meaning of being part of Community Supported Agriculture. Food has a context. It’s grown by real people in real places, under real conditions. When winter storms close the roads, they can’t get to market. If late blight had struck, as was feared, we wouldn’t have gotten any tomatoes. When a farm family has serious illness, their work is disrupted.

In a way, I don’t think she should be extending the season. After all, we signed up for better or for worse--knowing that some years are better than others. This was a hard year. I would be willing to go without that box of fresh farm food for three weeks if that would help this family pull through. It seems a small price to pay to support the real live people who are providing for our sustenance--to be a vital and aware part of such a vital community.

I could go on and on about how important it is to know where our food comes from, to buy locally, to appreciate fruit and vegetables in season, to avoid excessive processing and packaging, to challenge agribusiness and toxic pesticides. But mostly, my heart just goes out to this farm family, and I hope for the best for them in these hard times.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

#82 Grass 8/09

The boys are little, and the letter on Sesame Street is G. “What is green
and grows in front of your house?” Any little suburban child would know the
answer. I am incensed. On our narrow city block there is no grass in front
of anybody’s house. I had taken a sledge-hammer to the bit of cement by my
steps when we moved in, and planted flowers. We hauled in old brick to
transform our shady backyard weed lot into a little patio. Our children
walked to the park to get their grass. I was defiant of the suburbs, proud
of our choice.

Since then, I’ve learned more about what goes into lovely lawns--the
broad-band pesticides that kill off weeds and micro-organisms
indiscriminately, the fertilizer that leaches into our streams and rivers,
the heavy fuel use, noise and air pollution of power mowers, the high demand
for watering. I have seen luxurious lawns in the southwest and at the
shore--places where grass it totally out of place, wholly dependent on
fertilizers and imported water. I have mourned the energy and resources
that go into those beautifully manicured showcase lawns, and the high bar
they set for homeowners across the country.

You could say that I am anti-lawn. Yet here I find myself, day after day,
tending a strip of grass beside the spot where the street trolleys head
underground for center city.

It started by accident. On a walk that was purely for exercise, I came
across three big flowerbeds planted in this strip, woefully neglected and
overgrown. It didn’t seem right that something which had once been
beautiful should be so unloved. I stopped to pull out some particularly
nasty-looking thistles. One thing led to another and it became a regular
stop on my walk. Over the years I conquered the thistles, pulled vines out
of trees, uprooted saplings, cleared away the remnants of a homeless man’s
nest. Then I went on to expose the rock borders of the beds, which meant
paying attention to the low weeds--and the grass.

Now, while I don’t like what goes into expensive lawns, I hate to see them
unkempt. Particularly in the city, where public green space is usually more
weed than grass, I always wish for better. I know where my high standards
come from. My mother was an indifferent housekeeper, but she didn’t like
weeds in her lawn--and her solution was labor intensive. On summer mornings
as children we would set out a loop of rope three or four feet in diameter
in the grass, and pull every weed inside our circle. I learned that it is
possible, and that it makes a difference.

So here I am weeding the grass. I weed around the rocks that border the
flower beds to keep that line sharp. I weed along the sidewalk--the edge
that is most visible. I weed out the coarse, wide-leafed plants and those
that grow quickly above the grass. I weed out the fat crabgrass that
spreads sideways and is always ready to take over. I weed out the plants
with runners that climb over the rocks and into the beds. I choose the
places that most offend the eye. It’s a job that will never be done.

Why bother? Why not let it be coarse and ugly like the rest of the city
grass? Yet it is in the struggling neighborhoods of a big city that we need
beauty the most. The people who walk by here need a place to rest the eye,
a sign that somebody cares. This is not a hardship. It’s something I can
do. I get to take my walk, have a quiet time with myself, and leave a
little more beauty and order behind. It’s a way to share my love of the
earth, away of saying that we all matter and that everybody deserves the


Do you have crows here?

Crows--big and loud
with no music or beauty
low on my list of favorite birds.

No I say
striving for a neutral tone.
She is Native American
from a reservation in Maine
gracing our kitchen by chance.
I don’t know her position on crows.

I miss seeing them, she says.

Oh, I say.
We have more pigeons here.

We chat about birds
and I know
my encounters with crows
will never be the same.

#81 The Gratitude Trap 7/09

A story based in the South during slavery that I came across recently was
particularly effective in creating believable owners. They were convinced
that they were doing those who were enslaved a favor by taking care of
them--and when gratitude was not forthcoming, they felt hurt, misunderstood,
and ill-used.

This may be an extreme example, but the expectation of gratitude continues
to trap us. Parents who give their children everything can’t understand why
they aren’t more grateful. Superpowers that send money to poor countries
are surprised to find themselves disliked. Philanthropists and missionaries
who labor to save bodies and souls wonder why the recipients of their good
intentions are not always thankful.

What’s the problem with knowing how to help people, having the means to do
so, and then getting to bask in the glow of righteousness? The keys are in
the “knowing” and “having the means”. As a species, we seem to have a low
tolerance for people who know what’s best for us--and one party having the
means implies that the other does not. The power is unequal, and those who
have less would often prefer to address that power imbalance than to help
those who have more to feel confirmed in their benevolence.

Now this isn’t to say that there’s no place for gratitude in the world. I
believe that our lives go better whenever we can notice what we’re grateful
for. I would encourage everybody to fill up their moments with gratitude,
open their hearts and souls and minds to everything, little and small, for
which they can give thanks.

But whenever we hear a voice saying that “they should be grateful for all
that we’ve done”--inside our heads, or in the world around us--something is
not right. It’s the “should” that is the trap. Gratitude is not an
obligation. It is a feeling that grows from inside us, freely felt and
freely shared. We can be grateful for the opportunity to be connected, to
learn about other people’s lives, to share, to be of use; we can be grateful
for loving friends and thoughtful gifts. But if we try to extort gratitude
from someone else, what we get, if we get it at all, is a cheap and ugly
substitute. Everyone would be better off if we went for the real thing.

Safe place

Close your eyes
imagine your safe place
she tells the group
in that dreamy voice
of a guided meditation.
It could be any time, any place
real, or just alive in your mind.
Think of how it looks, feels, smells
this safe place of yours.

Now open your eyes
and draw.

I am surprised
but the image is clear.
I draw the street and cars
the red brick of the portal
where the trolleys
go underground
the strip of grass, trees, flowers
in between…
my safe place.

Why this spot
street’s edge
trolleys rumbling
the chaos of weeds and trash
always encroaching?

I have claimed this piece of earth
slowly brought order
from a tangled wilderness.
I know its look, its feel
have watched and weeded through the seasons
dug deeply in the earth
loved, brought forth living beauty.
I am grounded here.

Grounded and connected
(alone is safe--but separate
and separate has been my enemy).
When those who pass by share a word
it’s always one of blessing.
They bring no burden of need
no disappointments to ward off.
Centered, in myself, yet not alone
I rest.

Here I can do only good.
Any weed I pull
adds to the beauty of this street.
As I feed myself
I get the greatest gift of all—
to be of use.

These are times to treasure, when
sprung from inside
from work and obligations
I grab the shovel at the door
breathe deeply of the out-of-doors
take in the sky
and step out lightly
toward my place at the portal.

#80 Demolition Derby 5/09

I love the diversity of my urban neighborhood. I love rubbing shoulders
with my African American neighbors, with immigrants from Southeast Asia and
West Africa, with other white folks who value this kind of community. I
made a point for many years of working with Italian and Irish Catholic moms
across the river, and building relationships in those close-knit ethnic
neighborhoods. It makes me feel safer to not be so separated from people
who are different from me. I can get to know human beings, and have some
protection from the trap of believing that those differences are too great
to be bridged.

Yet here, at the fairgrounds, in a rural county hours away from any big
city, I realize how separated I still remain. It is the day of the
Demolition Derby, an event that many locals look forward to all year. The
road along the fairground is lined with cars and trucks, and the simple
stands dug into the side of the hill are filled. Below us, eight old cars,
windowless and battered beyond belief, are crashing into each other in a
small enclosed space, vying to be the last one running.

I remember my first Demolition Derby, years ago when the boys were young, at
a county fair near where my in-laws live. It was the thrill of illicit
activity that drew me there. My parents—-middle class academic types with
progressive values—-would never have dreamed of lending their support to
such an uncouth spectacle; their disapproval would have been unconditional.
Yet, a theme of my adult life had been engaging with that disapproval,
throwing out any part of it that seemed rooted in fear or ignorance, testing
whether I wanted to claim any of it as my own.

So I came to face down my childhood; I stayed for the excitement. This was
a big, loud, outrageous world I had never even known existed. Just the fact
that people were intentionally ramming into each other took my breath away.
Then cars that looked like they could never move again, wheels askew or off
entirely, back ends demolished, found a way to keep going, roaring in for
another crash. At the end of the mayhem ordinary people stepped through what
used to be the windshields of their mangled machines to accept the applause.
We gasped and cheered. It was a totally memorable family outing. This
time, with some idea of what to expect, and the illicit thrill factor less
prominent, more of my attention was on the crowd.

We share a cabin in this county with six other families and have been coming
up since before the boys were born. We know a lot about the land—-our part
of it in particular. We look forward to reading the county weekly. With
the chatty local columns on who has visited whom, 4H Club news, police
blotter announcements of the occasional broken window or car accident,
photos of proud hunters with their prize turkey or bear, we feel light years
away from the big city.

Reading their news aloud to each other in the comfort of our cabin, however,
is different from joining much of the county in person in their
entertainment of choice. Surrounded by buzz cuts, cigarettes, tattoos,
flags, and cars smashing into each other, I was definitely out of my
element. My parents’ disapproval hovered. Why waste so much energy on such
needless destruction? What was the point? Surely people could find
something more civilized, something quieter to watch.

But if I were taken to a popular local spectacle overseas, I would go with
an attitude of respectful engagement—-and that was the attitude I was
interested in. These were my people, people I didn’t have a chance to rub
shoulders with on a daily basis, but people I needed to know and value if I
would claim them as fellow Americans. These were people who worked in our
forests, farms and factories, loved their children, did their best. I could
get to know them, learn about their lives, their strengths, their dreams,
the things that they--like my parents, like myself--feared and judged. Some
of them I would surely love.

Some might even enjoy other kinds of entertainment as well. But this was
where we were together right now. So I gave thanks for the opportunity to
be among neighbors I don’t always remember I have, and entered into the
spirit of demolition. A high point was watching a little green car in a
heat of compacts. Not much to start with, it got smashed in more and more
till it was unrecognizable as a vehicle. Yet every time we thought it was
done for good, it reached deep and found wholly improbably new life, to not
only move again, but go after other vehicles that still looked a little like
cars. At the end, one of the last three still running, out the windshield
opening came an unassuming young man, and we all gave a great cheer. It was
good to be a witness to such skill, tenacity and enormous will to life, good
to celebrate those qualities with my neighbors.

#79 Teaching, learning, knowing 4/09

I love learning. It’s exciting to go places and learn everything about a new
environment—-the culture, the history, the land. I love languages--the
process of decoding an unfamiliar alphabet is a thrill. I can’t imagine any
craft that I wouldn’t feel privileged to master more thoroughly. I’m
passionate about understanding how social, natural and economic systems
work—-and how they could work better under different conditions. What makes
people tick is endlessly fascinating, and the more I learn about how to play
a useful role with other human beings, the happier I am.

Yet if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being taught. Having to listen
while somebody expounds on something in my direction is torture. I’ve never
attended a training that hasn’t made me impatient. Being confined to a desk
with an authority in the front of the room is a sure recipe for irritation.
Of course there are explanations—-bad school experiences from the past
rearing their ugly heads, poorly designed lessons, expounders who don’t
really know that much. But being taught is not always the best way to

I’ve been struggling with questions of learning and knowledge as the group
of people I work with—-early childhood educators-–are being required to go
back to school in order for their programs to be rated of adequate quality
to receive state subsidies. Many of these women are gifted in their work
with children, yet that gift has no easy way of being acknowledged, so it is
without value in this developing system. I rail against the injustice of
it, against the incredible burdens of extra time and work that are being
placed on skilled, hard-working and already-overstretched women. Why can’t
their competence just be recognized?

Yet some of these women speak of the value of the experience, the sense of
accomplishment and pride that they feel, their excitement about taking new
ideas back to their programs. Am I wrong?

I go to a conference on prior learning assessment, higher education’s
attempt to attract older workers with skills and experience by giving credit
for some of the things they have learned on the job. It’s a good step, but
I’m still mad. What about the core of this job that makes all the difference
yet cannot be taught in even the most advanced early childhood course—-a
loving heart?

As I make my way through this conference, however, stories from all over
begin to form a pattern. Over and over again I hear that it is not easy for
many people who have had no higher education experience to articulate what
they have learned in life, to tease out what they know and how they apply
that knowledge. Many struggle to think in terms outside of what it takes to
get the job done. But when they understand that they possess complex bodies
of knowledge that can be applied in a variety of settings, a new world opens
up. They see themselves differently; they stand a little straighter; they
can imagine that more is possible.

Ah. Self knowledge. Reflection on one’s role in the world. Now those are
things I would want for everybody—-even if it means some sacrifice. I’m
still opposed to a belief that more classroom hours logged measures greater
mastery of a skill. And I’m still passionate about having a system that
recognizes and appreciates those who are gifted, skilled, and
knowledgeable—-regardless of how they got that way. But I’m ready to support
efforts that help anyone reflect on what they know, widen their horizons,
identify what they want to learn, and get access to opportunities to learn


Married for seventy years
she stood by her man
grieved his loss.

eating with her son
she poured coffee
looked across the table
wondered aloud
what would it taste like with sugar?

And she reached.

#78 Poems: Mine & Shopping 3/09


It is early March.
The dwarf iris in their deep purple
and touch of gold
surprise with delight
call out to me.

Tiny, striking, ablaze with color
they grace the new beds at the parish house
around the corner,
unexpected riches
in the midst of winter’s brown.
I am captivated
want them for my own.

And I realize
with eyes to see
and strength to walk around the corner
they are already mine.


I like to shop at times
finding treasures at a thrift store
mingling with neighbors at a farmers’ market
fingering crafts from worlds away

But mostly I don’t.
In my mouth it easily has the taste of failure--
Failure of imagination
that I cannot come up with something
to meet the need myself,
Failure of skill
that I could not keep the old one working,
Failure of strength
that I cannot be content with what I have,
Failure of integrity
knowing I already take more than my share.

When the world is turned upside down
all the advertising and excess shaken out
when we deal in real needs and real wealth
value all who do the work on this green earth
maybe then this bitter taste
will wash from my mouth
and I will be happy
to shop.

#77 Growth Dilemmas 2/09

It’s hard not to have a love-hate relationship with growth. On the one
hand, everybody wants things to grow. We nurture little children, coax
seedlings into healthy plants, incubate new businesses, invest in emerging
talents with the hopes that they will make it big time.

Yet growth can be a problem. It’s not always true that if something is
good, more of it must be better. My six-foot five son is relieved that he
has finally stopped getting taller. Enormous impersonal consolidated high
schools are now being broken up into smaller units more conducive to human
interaction and learning. And we would do anything to stop those cancer
cells from growing.

How do we balance these two truths about growth? It’s easiest with children
and other living things, where we don’t have a whole lot of control. They
will grow, for the most part, until they are at their mature size, and then
they’ll stop. Some mysterious internal mechanism knows when they are big
enough, when more growth would actually hinder their long-term ability to

But with our human-made institutions, we have no such internal regulator,
and our deeply culturally-embedded belief that bigger must be better is
getting us into more and more trouble. Nowhere is this more true than in
the economy, where growth has become enshrined as a central, unquestionable,
quasi-religious, belief. Our well-being, we are told, is dependent on an
ever-growing economy: more markets, more consumption, more loans, more
debt, more hedge funds on Wall Street.

Yet this economic system is looking less and less like a little child that
needs to grow, and more and more like a seven foot person who’s having
trouble fitting into ordinary spaces and showing no signs of slowing
down—-more and more like a cancer growing out of control.

The idea of continuous growth inevitably runs into the limits of the system
that contains it. Our growth economy is running through the stored wealth of
a finite planet, paying dividends in the present by running up debts against
the future, while becoming ever less effective in meeting people’s real
needs. We find ourselves in the surreal situation of being strong-armed
into spending ever more money on things we don't really need in order to
keep a system afloat that has become unmoored from reality and common sense.

Luckily there are other ways to think about growth. It doesn’t just have to
be about being bigger. After all, we have confidence that our children can
continue to grow after they reach their full height. We look forward to
them becoming smarter, more able, more mature, even wiser. It’s harder with
the economy. We’ve accepted growth in this area as a good thing for so long
that it seems like a law of nature. But nature is crying out against it, and
what we have made, we can change. (Though our economic high priests could
use some help from ordinary folks here—-like the child who pointed out that
the emperor had no clothes). We can trade in this outmoded model centered on
bigger for one centered on smarter, cut out the cancerous growth, and start
learning all the joys as well as the challenges of finding our place within
the constraints of a finite planet.


Cleaning this room requires disposing of the old men’s overcoat
Picked up from a discard pile somewhere
To warm a girlfriend unprepared for cold one day
It’s big and warm.

One button’s missing, easy enough to fix from my accumulated store
Whoever gets it need not be ashamed.
I do it right, with little button sewed behind
To make it strong.

I see the other buttons loose, one dangling
No work at all to make them tight
Then sew the lining where the seam has come undone
It’s looking good.

One final check, and now I see the button holes
Raw edges crying out for neat repair
This is a bigger job, but now I’ve come so far,
I cannot stop.

I learned to button hole in childhood, do it well.
The coat is ready now to give away, will serve somebody well
Though why I spent this time
Is hard to know.

My son comes home from warmer climes and finds the coat
Shrugs himself into it, checks it out
The battered elegance suits his style, looks good on him.
My loving care intended for a stranger finds its mark
More close to home.

#76 Going All Out 12/08

I had agreed to sit beside a woman with profound hearing loss and type what
the presenter said so she could read the screen. She had hearing aides and
an amplification system, but still lost words and meanings, and wanted to
take the information in as fully as possible.

I wanted to help, but was a little nervous about how well I would do. I am
a fast typist, but quite an inaccurate one. I don't like making mistakes,
am proud of my work, and always carefully edit and clean up any copy before
letting anyone see it. Now this would not be an option; everything I did
would be immediately visible. Nor would I be able to capture every word, or
even every thought, given this speaker’s fluent continuous style.

So I launched in—-and started making mistakes before the end of the first
sentence. It was like being on a roller coaster. Once started, there was
no stopping. Mangled words just got worse by lingering on them, and there
was no time to linger. I couldn’t look back to correct. I couldn’t type
fast enough to capture everything that was said; what was lost was gone
forever. And I certainly couldn’t put any time or attention into worrying
about either one. I just had to keep on going and doing my deeply imperfect

When my turn was over I was a little breathless, and doubly surprised.
First of all, this mistake-ridden incomplete best was good enough! Our goal
had been that she understand more fully as a result of my efforts—-and that
goal was achieved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Typos were irrelevant and,
despite all the gaps, the part I was able to do was the thing that mattered.
Even more surprising, it was an exhilarating ride! I found myself laughing
at the mangled words as I continued to type furiously away—-and the more
mangled, the funnier. It was easy to start a new line and a new thought
when I got too far behind on an old one. All-out effort was what was
required, that’s what I was giving, and it was a thrill to try so hard.

Of course there are times when it is useful to revisit mistakes for what can
be learned—-and there are certainly situations where thoroughness is more
important than speed. Nor is that kind of intense effort sustainable
indefinitely. But there was gold here. I look forward to internalizing the
lessons of this experience and finding ways to replicate them in the future:
blithely consigning mistakes to the past, being fully in the present,
focusing on what I accomplish rather than what goes by undone, laughing at
my imperfection as I try all out for the benefit of my world.

Celebration, squared

Excitement is thick in the air
Abandon work and school
Take to the streets!
Young and old in costumes
sprinkled through the crowds
stickers, fliers and confetti everywhere
The jostle in crowded trolleys
full of good will
heady anticipation
good things to come.

What new holiday is this?
The stars are aligned:
Baseball championship parade
Obama victory eve
all rolled in one great festival.

#75 Cleaning, decorating, gift-giving 12/08

I love the December evening when we gather at a friend’s house, pack into
every space in the living and dining rooms, and pour ourselves into bringing
Handel’s Messiah to life. I’m filled up with beautiful music, and it’s one
of those gifts that keeps on giving; the music makes its home inside my head
and I keep hearing it for days. As I reflected on what a good choice this
had been about what I wanted in my head, I started to consider how else I
can pay attention to that space.

I already think about the movies, books, and TV I consume with an eye toward
what will remain in my head. What scenes and words, what kinds of
assumptions about human nature and the world we live in, will linger?

I remember wise things that I’ve heard about this: “There is both a wolf and
a dove inside each of us. Which will grow? The one that is fed.” “Hanging
on to resentment is like giving yourself poison and hoping the other person
will die.” It’s been a thrill to discover that when I start down a path of
resentment inside my head these days, I can often notice it happening,
remember that I don’t want to go there, and get back on a path of my own
choosing. My inside space is so much cleaner as a result.

Then there’s the question of other things I might want to add to that space,
to make it an even more inviting place to live. In a children’s book I came
across recently, a child says: “Dad believes that the things of nature are
a gift. And that in return, we must give something back. We must give
thanks.” I like being thankful for the sky and the earth as I walk down the
street. My commute goes better when I remember to offer a brief bless and
keep prayer for each person who gets on or off the trolley.

When I focus my attention more on what inclines me toward hope, and less on
what tips me toward despair, it’s easier to think well about what to do.
It’s like there’s less stuff lying around inside to trip me up. (And while I
may need to look straight at despair at times, I always know where to find

This way of thinking puts housekeeping and interior decorating in a whole
new light. I’ve never been big on pouring resources into making my external
house beautiful, but I realize that I care deeply about the space inside my
head. I would choose to clean out everything that hinders me from acting
with love and power in the present. I would choose to create lots of space
and light. And I can’t imagine a better gift than one that enhances that
love, power, space and light.

#74 Thanksgiving poems 11/08


Bank screw-up
checks bounced
my good name on the line
no choice
jam a trip
into a busy day
fight bureaucracy
to make up
lost ground.

Too much is wrong

life is burdened, gray
and grim.

No car
I choose to walk
am startled by beauty
blue sky
strong breeze
fall leaves
meet an old man
down on his knees
in earth and color
a fellow gardener
who knows
my face.

The woman at the bank
is friendly, kind
sorts out the mess
waives fees.

Outside again
the air is fresh
and all is well
I breathe it in
give thanks.

Cultivating confidence

I have taken on another infestation
at the point of the 45th St. flowerbed
A nasty weed has taken hold
and now it spreads.

The dirt is soft
I pull out plants
with great long runners
under ground
know there will be more
come back in two days
get the ones I missed
come back again to see new sprouts
from hidden roots—
dig out every root
prepare to dig again.

This is a strong resourceful foe
yet I rest in certain confidence
that I will win.
All it takes is patience
decision to take the time
knowing it will not happen
the first time or the tenth
Respecting this weed’s tenacity
and hold on life
but sure that if I hold out
for the flowers long enough
I will prevail

(though other weeds
will come of course—
the larger work is never done).

I like this stand.
Can I transplant it
lend this steady confidence
to other parts of life
where weeds are choking
things I love?
Learn to not succeed
the first ten times
and still go back?

Some things are worth doing
no matter what the odds,
at other points we can’t prevail,
and time is a factor, true—
but with a win on the horizon
it’s not so hard to find the time,

And to see that distant win
requires the confidence
I know the best
when gardening.

#73 The Visit to Gitega Prison 11/08

The context: In August 2005, a group of people who participated in a
Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) workshop, wanting to put their
desire for reconciliation into practice, decided to visit the prison where
people accused of participating in the violence in their community were
being held. This is Marius' story of their visit and its aftermath.

The visit to Gitega prison

What we got from the HROC workshop has really made a big impact in our
hearts. Before it, I would never think of going to visit the people who
were in prison in Gitega, because one of them had killed my brother. But I
did it because I have been changed.

For me, when we did the visit, it was like putting down a heavy load I had
been carrying. If you are traumatized and you see the one who caused your
trauma, it continues to re-traumatize you, or might cause you to just run
away because it is too much. But choosing to reach out was a way of digging
out—-you know this root, the root of war, the root of killing—-it is deep in
our hearts. And we need to uproot it, and in order to uproot it we need to
start by forgiving those who are close, who are in our communities.

For example, if I have purchased something on store credit, but then I
delayed to pay back my debt, I would always feel ashamed, and if I came upon
the shop owner I would want to change my path because I feel he is accusing
me. The same way, when someone has done something wrong to you, especially
these killings, he or she will come to avoid you, whatever he or she did,
but it’s up to us to start because we are the victims, to start letting them
approach us, because we have loved each other, and we need them to see the
love we are carrying for them and draw them to us. So that’s what we did.

We say in Kirundi, “The medicine of bad actions is not more bad actions.” I
learned this to be true—-now our relationship is like brothers. The man who
killed my brother now comes to help me cultivate my plot and I go help him
to cultivate his. This makes other people in village question themselves,
saying, “Hmmm, Marius is a Tutsi and the other man in a Hutu, how is it that
they are helping each other when they know what happened between their

So the visit to Gitega was very, very fruitful. Fortunately, after the
visit some of the prisoners were released and now they are back in the
community. And now we are sharing. When we meet at the bar, we share the
same beer, whereas that was never possible before. So it has really
strengthened our relationship and it has created a sense of forgiveness in
our community. That’s why I am asking you to do more HROC workshops for
everybody living in our community.

Marius Nzeyimana


Choosing this stop
to get to work
requires a longer walk
but gives a stretch of loveliness—
a park, with grass, trees, flowers, peace.
I soak it in
do not regret the extra block of gray
where office towers soar.

Once past the park my eyes
no longer see.
This block is just
a means unto an end
the price I choose to pay,

And then one day
my clouded vision clears.
I notice what is there
and I see—-trees.

Slender oak and birch,
ambassadors from living earth
to this alien place,
reach up the narrow canyon
fresh green amidst the gray
full of grace.

My choice was good--
to take in beauty that I knew was there,
but better still
to look beyond the known
beyond the easy focus point
to train my heart and eye
to see the rest.

#72 The American Dream 10/08

I had started an on-line opinion poll and discovered after all the
preliminaries that it was about the American Dream. Did I believe that I
had reached that dream or that I still could? Did I believe my children
would have more chance of attaining it than I had? Did I believe everybody
in the country could get there?

I found myself at a loss. How could I answer these questions if I wasn’t
even sure what the American Dream was? The way I hear it talked about, it
has everything to do with materialism--a house in the suburbs with a lawn
and a white picket fence; a new car every two years; rising success at a
white collar job; luxury cruises and five-star-hotel vacations.

I’ve never had any of these things, don’t want them, and wouldn’t wish them
on anybody I love. The house in the suburbs seems too isolated from
community. The series of new cars is planned obsolescence at its worst, and
a recipe for global disaster. The career focus obscures the question of
what gives life meaning. The pampered vacation, which those who do the
pampering could never afford, highlights the ugly inequalities of our
system. If this is the American Dream, I would be happier if we all woke

But the survey doesn’t give me the option of saying this, or asking
clarifying questions. It has, however, piqued my curiosity, so I do little
research. One source calls the American Dream a “belief in the freedom that
allows all citizens and residents of the United States to achieve their
goals in life through hard work.” The idea is that, without the rigid
European class structure, anybody can get ahead if they want to.

I see two flaws here. One is that it’s hard to set goals outside of one’s
cultural context, and if material wealth and winning out over others are
relentlessly rammed home as the ultimate in achievement, then any other goal
falls short. The second is that, like it or not, we still have a class
structure. Just look at how legally-sanctioned discriminatory lending
policies made it almost impossible for hard-working Black Americans to build
wealth till well after World War II, and how economic disparities are
greater now in our country than ever before.

I could stop here, but I would rather be a believer than a cynic, so I
investigate further. I find that the term was first used by James Truslow
Adams in 1931. He says that the American Dream is "that dream of a land in
which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with
opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult
dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many
of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of
motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each
man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which
they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are,
regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Well now. I’ve been in a cranky and contentious mode, but do I want to
argue with this? Divested of all the trappings of materialism, I would have
to say that this is a worthy dream, and one that I do believe in. But I
couldn’t cast it so narrowly. I would want it not only for myself, my
family and my fellow Americans, but for all humanity. Now, THAT would be a
Dream worth working for.


The Sox, down in the series,
come back to force game seven.
Our visitors,
a Pole and two Scots,
are clueless.

I remember a season
picking apples
on crisp October days
long ago,
resting over lunch
and hearing a radio
far far away.
It was too far
to make out words,
yet the rhythm, the cadence
called forth knowledge
deep in my bones—
unmistakably a ball game.

throws out its lure
over the years
across the land,
an old song that is always new,
leisure and tension entwined
in the taut expectancy of each pitch.

Not caring,
I am still drawn in
every time.

Is the purpose of the game
to round the bases
score a run
make an out?
(all words
almost too familiar to explain--
the translation is halting,
like telling an alien
how to breathe)

Or is it a context
for being alive
with others
on a long summer evening
or a crisp October day?