Living in this World

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#95 Come

This stretch of road
calls out in many languages:

Be here for the exercise
Smooth roadside surface
flat and humble countryside
of woods and fields
invite a walk.

Be here for the beauty
subtle in its plainness
colors of late autumn now,
soft and sun filled, hard to name.

Today the call is new,
compelling: Come
Be here for community.

Come be with the Pines
whose sharp needles in blunt narrow fans
create an airy solid whole,

Be with the Big-leafed Trees
as their leaves take off into the wind
to meet the earth,

Be with the Birds
a hidden rustle in the brush
till eye picks out the moving brown and white,

Come bring your species in
your Mammal skin
awareness that is yours alone.
Turn that awareness not away
but toward your place
in this community of life.


Some things that have made me hopeful recently:
--How Thanksgiving continues to resist the forces of commercialism that have taken over so many other US holidays.
--Clerks who are kind even when the lines are long and people are impatient.
--All the Macedonians who came out one day this month to plant seven million trees.
--A Honduran minister who moved from a suburban church to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia and is living out the core message of Christianity among his parishioners.

Check out:, a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years.

Also: START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to
(If the background is too dark to read, I hope you can get a computer whiz
to help--and let me know what you figured out! When I go there on my Mac
via Safari, it's fine.)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

#94 My Indonesia Story

I’ve never been to Indonesia. I’ve never met anybody who lives there. But, with a friend who was there for years and has been back many times, I do have my own story to tell.

Nadine and I met through a leap of faith. I offered her and her eleven-year-old daughter a place to live in our home, sight unseen, she accepted, and we discovered that we were sisters of the heart. As we grew deeper into each others’ lives, even after she moved hundreds of miles away, I took in more and more of her story.

I’ve heard the joys and struggles of her work in Indonesia and with her family and community at home, stood by as she faced forks in her road, joined in wrestling over knotty issues of power, inequality and conscience, listened out greater clarity and gathered others to listen, added from my experiences, offered suggestions of ways to move forward, written and shared what I’ve heard and come to know, been an anchor at home as she’s traveled.

Most simply, my story is one of friendship. My community now includes people I’ve never met, because they are connected to Nadine and she is connected to me. There is Dahlan, who has built a structure beside his little fish farm to house people who come to Alternatives to Violence workshops that he helps lead in his community. There is Ririn, an early childhood teacher, who is doggedly pursuing her degree with the goal of starting a trauma healing center. There is Pak Darmo, who heads a refugee camp and is helping his community learn to farm without destroying the rain forest where they are located. There are the women in the refugee camp who now staff their new preschool as volunteers. There are the poor neighbors who brought food and water to shipwrecked refugees who were even more in need. There is Yuyun, who was taken off the street to clean for a human rights group--and is now using his artistic abilities to illustrate children’s books for pre-schoolers. I am richer for having all these people--and so many more--in my life.

This is also a story of opening up to new ways of knowing myself and seeing the world. Nadine’s insistence that I write my own statement of conscience clarified my conscientious objection to our deeply flawed and damaging economic system. I’m more actively engaged with questions about rich people interacting with poor people: When does foreign aid that outstrips local capacity do more harm than good? When is it patronizing to give money when people can earn it themselves? What kind of work should always be volunteer, regardless of one’s ability to access resources? When the goal is to help build a community’s strength, is it ever wise to accept money that demands particular project outcomes? When does a big investment in one person damage their relationships with their peers?

My mind is busy with Nadine’s big “new idea”: through the three-legged stool of practicing conscience, nonviolence/trauma healing, and developmental play, people become clear and strong enough to pursue healthy lives and choices that make peace with the earth as well as each other. I continue to be challenged by her demand that whatever she does or asks of others in Indonesia, she does and asks of herself and others at home.

So I find myself part of a growing web of relationships and initiatives, that offer group training in non-violence and trauma healing, support developmentally appropriate pre-schools, work on the production of ceramic water filters, help refugees establish land claims, provide technical and marketing assistance to wooden block makers, bring Christians and Muslims, Acehnese and Sumatrans together, help in healing from civil war, make story books for little children, and call all of us to lives of integrity.

This is a story I’m happy to tell. It is a story of friendship. It is a story of hope, when hope seems in critically short supply. It is a story of possibility--of what can happen when people follow friendship, follow conscience, and believe in our capacity to transform our lives and the communities of life around us.

For more information:

Viewing options

A moralizing mama
from a children’s book
firmly bans the TV and
invites her brood
to sit outside
and watch the stars come out.
What red-blooded American child
would stoop to such a trade?

Our friend shows me her vegetables.
A terrace at the garden’s edge
has four chairs facing to the hills.

The dad goes out for dinner lettuce,
calls "Come here
there’s something you have got to see.

We all rush out,
find a spot
on chair or ledge behind.

Six red-blooded American teenagers
and four parents
hang out
among the vegetables
in deep content,
watching the sun
as it sets in all its glory
behind the distant hills.

Some things that I've found hopeful recently:

Roberto and Alfredo, two young men who grew up on the streets of Nicaragua and were helped by my son and others to come of age, proudly telling of how they're giving back by helping children in their neighborhoods to be on a team and learn a trade.

How the Transition Town movement, a response to peak oil, is demonstrating potential for building community and helping people gain skills in resilient living in towns all over England and the US.

A retired county planner in north central Pennsylvania who is responding to the economic and environmental challenges of gas drilling in his region with deep wisdom, compassion, resourcefulness, and creativity.

Jon Stewart and the power of laughter.

Check out:, a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years.

Also: START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to
(If the background is too dark to read, I hope you can get a computer whiz
to help--and let me know what you figured out! When I go there on my Mac
via Safari, it's fine.)