Confronting where I’ve been.

I’ve been thinking about this panel discussion on healing which I’ve been invited to participate in tomorrow at St. Paul’s in San Miguel. I’m billed as a former Christian Science practitioner, a profession/denomination usually referred to as “those people who don’t go to doctors.” Right. I didn’t. Then I did. Now not so much anymore. It’s ironic that sometimes your credibility increases when you’ve failed spectacularly at something. One question I’ve been asking myself these past few days is “When was I healed of being a racist?” And “Am I well and truly healed?”

It’s time to speak about this. I hope I can do it with compassion for myself, for my parents (who are both gone), and for anyone who happens to read this. The events of the past few days, particularly the words and actions of the “leader of the free world,” have evoked a visceral reaction in me that I’ve been loathe to voice, mainly because I look at those tiki-torch bearers, and think “There but for the grace of God…”

I’m not going to say “go I,” because if you notice, they were all men carrying those torches. Now that’s a whole other riff, but not one I’m going to pursue at this moment. For now I’m sticking with blatant racism. I would dearly love to see some healing take place along these lines. I speak as one who has been in that fire.

I like to think that when push came to shove, my father and brother and uncles would not have been in such a crowd. But let’s just say that sweeping racial generalizations and stereotypical judgments were pretty standard fare in our house. Dad and Mom were ardent Goldwater supporters, and in 1967, (this is so difficult) Dad was the local poll representative for George Wallace’s American Independent Party.

There. I’ve said it. But I need to say more, because at the time I thought my Daddy was the smartest man in the world and if anyone thought differently, I at least didn’t hear them voice what needed to be said then and needs to be — no, must be said now. Dad was wrong, wrong, wrong. And my mother was wrong when she questioned President Obama’s birth certificate, and when she said Michelle didn’t “look like” a first lady.

I loved these people. They loved me and I believe on the whole they raised me well. Many would say I don’t need to say these things about them now, raking up the rotten and exposing the yuck. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last few years of studying history on sight, it’s that the most important stories, the ones that most affect the course of countries and of the world, are seldom written down.

My purpose in writing this story down now is that I know from my own experience, that racism can be healed. I hope I stand as living proof. I have to admit that even as I write this, a nagging inside voice says “Don’t be a Pollyanna. We’re not going to get through this by joining hands and singing Cum By Ya.” (or however you spell it.) But my higher self asks me to consider the alternative: As a people, the American people, we need to hold to the fact that healing does happen — even when confronted with all those young white male fire-lit faces in Charlottesville. Racism has to be recognized, called out and condemned as evil. That’s where Number 45 has failed so miserably. But despite what anyone else does or doesn’t do, we ourselves can make an effort to follow the Jesus-example. He cast out the demons, and healed the individuals. He didn’t fight fire with more fire or fury. He snuffed out insanity with his unconditional love and moral authority.

So in this healing process, I have to start work with myself and my history. I have to recognize where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and acknowledge how far I have to go. I have to cherish every honest human heart, even though that heart is misdirected, misguided and mistaken. That goes especially for my own. We human beings are always works in progress.

My parents did raise me to “seek truth righteously,” even if in retrospect there was a lot more self-righteousness in their manner of seeking than any of us recognized at the time. But because of this innate love of truth, the opinions I so passionately parroted in junior high and high school quickly became cringe-worthy and repugnant when I was actually exposed to and engaged with people of color in college and in the workplace. I trust, I hope, and I pray that Mom and Dad have moved on in their life-after-life experience like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. In the meantime, on this side, I will continue with deeper attention to the prayer I learned in the Sunday School they sent me to, Mary Baker Eddy’s “daily prayer:”

“Thy kingdom come.”
Let the reign of divine Truth, Life and Love be established in me,
And rule out of me all sin.
And may Thy word enrich the affections of all mankind,
And govern them.

Gratitude Part Deux

having a birthday 2

Well, it’s pretty easy to be grateful when you’ve got Facebook Friends by the minute wishing you a happy birthday, and memories like this one from last year cropping up. (As I post this, I realize I’m wearing the exact same shirt today as I did one year ago, so I’ll start out by saying I’m grateful I still (choose one) a) like my clothes, b) fit in my clothes. Oh, heck. I’ll choose both.

This was taken in France in the company of a group of remarkable women and a few fine men. Many of you know that I’ve been traveling these past five years on the trail of early Christian history in Europe. Travels have taken me to Turkey, Spain, England and France. Especially France. Such special stories from France, all ultimately centered around Mary Magdalene. For those of you who are not familiar with Mary Magdalene’s history and presence in France, maybe if I say “Madeleine” instead, the pieces may fall into place. Yep, that wonderful church in Paris where all the fashionable weddings take place. Yep, that cockle-shelled cookie the crumbling of which launched Marcel Proust  on his 3,000 page epic A La Recherché Du Temps Perdu — Remembrance of Things Past. Why am I “mansplaining?” You people have read The DaVinci Code. But before that, there was Margaret Starbird and her Woman with the Alabaster Jar, as well as all the research done by Kathleen McGowan which resulted in her bestselling Magdalene series of historical novels. (Kathleen is who I’ve been traveling with this summer and the two prior.) My point is, Marie Madeleine, Mary Magdalene, Maria Magdalena, is in the spiritual DNA of southern France and much of Western Europe.

I’m going to be writing more about Mary Magdalene, a lot more. Turns out she’s in my spiritual DNA, as well. I first encountered her in the Christian Science Sunday School where every Easter Sunday I could look forward to a new scratchy petticoat and singing one of my favorite hymns. The first verse goes:

What brightness dawned in resurrection/And shown in Mary’s wondering eyes?               Her heart was thrilled with new affection/She saw her Lord in Life arise.

I liked that idea of light reflecting back out of a woman’s “wondering eyes.” There was a lot I had started “wondering” about, myself. Still wondering, if truth be told.

My birthday misses her Feast Day (tomorrow) by just one day. It was funny, or “coincidental” (you know what they say about that word…) that out of that group of around forty people, there were four of us with birthdays on July 21, and three with birthdays on July 22. We each got a cupcake with a candle. Kind of sweet and special.

So winding up this edition of my gratitude journal, I’m grateful that my husband wanted to do something special for me this evening, and I’m grateful I had the courage to say what I really, really want: order in pizza, early into jammies, and a night of binge-watching Outlander. (I know! I know! But I’ve just found it!). I’m grateful I love my life and my husband so much I just want it to go on and on like this. Blessings on your day!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Like gratitude and prayer.

In the interest of sanity (mine) I am starting a gratitude journal. I’ve done this in years past, but I need it now more than ever. This time, though, I’m not going to choose some pretty blank volume that I’ve bought on impulse and whose blank pages serve as a constant rebuke. I’ve got a blog I’ve not been using. I’m going public with this, hoping my friends and followers will hold me accountable. Please! Rattle my cage if you don’t see something I’ve written filled with joy coming up on your screen, let’s say, well….at least three times a week. I know JOURnal means daily. I don’t want to set myself an impossible standard. I promise they’ll be short. Not like this one. Brace yourself.

The truth is I’ve found it really hard to write anything since the final days of the campaign and then the cold water shock of the result. Everything seemed to draw my attention back to the Elephant in the news. I’ve felt like the energy has been sucked out of me. Oh, I’ve signed petitions and occasionally marched in the streets, but basically I’ve read the lamentations of others and nodded in agreement. There has been no lack of opportunity to indulge this recent tendency of mine.

It has to stop. None of it has made me feel effective.

Now, I know these gratitude journals work. I’ve used them before in the face of frivolous lawsuits, federal red tape, unjust circumstances of all stripes. WHY they’ve worked I never analyzed, until several years ago, I found this in Eugene Peterson’s translation of a section of the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s the way he puts Jesus’ words:

You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”

The “energies of prayer,” may be just what I need. It is no secret to those who know me, that before and after the election, the enemy I’ve had in my head has been Donald Trump and those who surround and support him. I’ve found a lot to be angry about. Honk if you agree. I’m not quite ready to say I’m capable of “loving” that enemy. But perhaps I can learn to love the opportunity that enemy presents. Here’s how I’ve evolved to this point.

I caught myself the other day laughing gleefully, rejoicing in another example of STUPIDITY by the current administration. I think it was an article about no one having thought to make hotel reservations for the U.S. delegation to the G20 Summit, and how 45 and his wife were sleeping in the guest house of the Hamburg city government instead of at The Four Seasons, and others in the delegation were finding accommodations wherever they could — like in the U.S. Consulate. True or not, I thought it was hilarious. Then I caught my breath mid-haha.

The problem with being raised with an intimate acquaintance of the Bible, is that relevant verses keep surfacing to bite you in the butt when you get off track. What came to mind in the middle of my laughter was that litany of things in First Corinthians, Chapter 13. (Not “Corinthians One,” as our illustrious leader….Oh, God, please help me. I can’t resist! Do you see why I need to do this?!) Anyway, there in that chapter is a list of things that LOVE (also referred to as “charity,” “affection” in various translations) doesn’t do. There are sixteen, more or less. Down there in the middle is one about not rejoicing when things go bad for others.

Oh. That.

Now don’t get me wrong. I hope things go bad, REALLY bad, for those who have connived, lied, and worked against the interests of democracy, or are standing by like cowards, making excuses while others do it. I’m not about covering up wrong doing and “moving on.” What I’m concerned about is what this constant barrage of bad news is doing to me, on a personal, individual level. Since when have I become the kind of person to be constantly looking for the next example of idiocy and taking pleasure in it? Yech!

“The abiding consciousness of wrongdoing, tends to destroy the ability to do right.”

I love the English language. It’s one of the few idioms where a writer can write abstractly without pointing a finger at YOU or at ME, or even at HIM or THEM. Mary Baker Eddy, when she wrote that statement I’ve put in quotations above, didn’t say WHOSE abiding consciousness. It could pertain to any individual, any culture, any mental or moral atmosphere. I know it pertains to me. It’s probably played a part in this stagnation I’ve been experiencing.

Well, this is me, “responding with the energies of prayer.” Anne Lamott says there are three kinds: Help! Help! Help! is the first. Please! Please! Please! is the second. I’m moving right into the third: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

First entry in this prayer-filled gratitude journal:
I’m grateful for having set up this blog, and grateful for God giving you the patience to read this far. More to come.

How big is your “all”?

This blog entry started out as a Facebook post, a response to a post which read (with some editing):

People with the privileges keep saying: “It’ll be OK!” “It is what it is now.” “Oh, well, better luck in four years.” “He’s our President now. It’s time to accept it.”

All my friends without those same privileges are saying: “Will my marriage stay legal?” “Are we safe?” “What will happen with my health care?””Will my trans child be safe at school?” “Will this increase the militarization of the police in my pre-dominantly black neighborhood?” “Will I still have sovereignty over my own body?” “Will my autistic black son be safe in public places?”

If you tell people to accept this and move on, your privilege is showing.

 

As one who has been privileged, so very privileged, I share this. I had a Sunday School teacher who would ask me “How big is your ‘all’?” She was talking about the concept of God as All-in-all, and she wanted me to recognize my individual infinite potential. As a white child from a prosperous upper middle class family, it was pretty darn easy to see a lot of possibilities. Even if I was limited by a 1960’s vision of women’s roles, the horizon for me and my desires stretched pretty far.

But I’ve grown to understand that it’s not all about me.  My concept of that “all” (the lower case part of the All-in-all) has to billow out, grow and stretch to cover the vast expanse of humanity, the earth, and the universe. I’ve discovered that the more I’ve recognized the existence of the challenged, the disadvantaged, the infinite variety of those other-than-me, the more my concept of the “All” part of the “All-in-all” has developed.

To widen our view of humanity and the world it inhabits is to see new aspects of the face of God. To belittle their existence diminishes our own potential.

My tendency over this whole election process has been to say “I love humanity, just not that man.” Watching Mr. Trump, listening to his speeches has evoked in me a visceral reaction, a bodily sensation of snakes in the stomach, a foreboding of evil to come. I have been repulsed by trolls, disheartened by friends who support him. I know who you are, even if you have not openly trumpeted your political leanings. You’re the ones talking about the weather and casseroles instead of mourning the end of the world. I’ve been caught up “with us or ag’in us.” I am tired of living like that.

I am surrounded by sisters in warrior mode. Oh, how much I love and respect you! I will march with you today, and my heart will be with you in the coming days on every battlefield you choose to fight on. But I know myself, and I cannot sustain a warrior mentality. No, I am not “getting over it.” I am not “moving on.” but the very term “resistance” implies that what we are resisting has power. “You belong to the power you acknowedge,” counseled the apostle Paul. I refuse to acknowledge the power of what Trump represents.

I have to go back to what my Sunday School teacher asked: “How big is my all?” And just how big is my All, the one with the capital A? What is that All?  I know that  All in all of us is Love. It has to be. For what other purpose are we here on the planet than to live that Love?

“There is nothing on earth that can withstand the power of Love. Whatever it is we are going through, whatever anyone has done to hurt us, it is a gift, an opportunity to learn how to love more, to learn more about love.” That’s what the priest in charge of the relics of Mary Magdalene told our group, when we visited the church built to honor her in St. Maximum Le Beaume in the summer of 2015.  So I choose love. I will find new ways of directing and reflecting its beam, new ways of reaching out, new ways to let people know they are safe. It will be my privilege.

 

An old, old story, and hope for today.

I woke up this morning thinking I might have overstepped some boundaries, after I’d posted on Facebook links to two news articles. (see below) I mean, comparing Donald Trump to the Pope? I will grant you I may have offended some.

But it’s not about personalities. It is about ideology, the deep-seated one that takes as its primary tenet that half of humanity is inferior to the other half, and must be suppressed at all costs. No matter that the face presented in one case is benign, the other not so much. One might even ask, which face is more dangerous, the one that is blatantly “out there,” or the one that eludes detection by appearing to be something other than it really is?

This pope has been seen as inclusive, forgiving, reaching out….in short, different than his predecessors. But I was witness to this pope’s agents trailing our tour group this past July, one of them taking photos of us through a long telephoto lens, making themselves known to us and specifically the woman who was leading the group as a form of intimidation. She is Kathleen McGowan, an historical novelist, author of a meticulously researched series of books dealing with early Christian history and the role of Mary Magdalene. She has been threatened before, verbal threats directed specifically against her children, if she were to continue her work of exposing history that the church of Rome has done its best to erase from written accounts. Make threats like that against a mother’s children, and that mother remembers who you are. Yep, this was the same guy. He was back on her trail after several years of absence.

These past two summers, traveling through the south of France with Kathleen, learning the history that has been suppressed re the Christian vs. Christian brutality that culminated in a century and a half of unmitigated genocide, has given me a perspective on present day events and attitudes that makes the very hairs on my arms stand on end. It all came down to the role women could play in the church. When you stand on the spot where women were systematically raped and then thrown down a well and left to die, all at the hands of soldiers fighting at the behest of the Vatican and professing their love of Jesus at the same time….well, those troll-like remarks on Hillary websites don’t seem so harmless and inane.

I was raised a Christian Scientist, and anyone who has followed me or read my book which appears on the masthead of this website, knows I’m not the most outwardly devout or church-going representative of that faith. Both my husband and I have had adventures in Mexican medical care, and I do love me a margarita or a cold beer from time to time. In fact, the new memoire I’m working on has a tentative title Mary Magdalene and the Third-Rate Christian Scientist. I’d like to work Mary Baker Eddy’s name in there somewhere, but I don’t want it to get too unwieldy. But it was in fact Mary Baker Eddy who epitomized that leadership role of a woman in church that has been so anathema to so many for so long. In fact, during construction of the original edifice of what came to be known as The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, the local Catholic diocese opened an office directly across the street and staffed it (oh, I don’t have to be politically correct here. They manned it) with priests charged with praying specifically against the Christian Science project.

Before I go further, here are the two links I shared on Facebook:

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/01/opinions/2016-and-the-return-of-the-double-standard-robbins/index.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/11/01/pope-women-banned-priesthood-forever/93118528/

Mary Baker Eddy and Hillary Clinton could compare notes on being maligned in the press and excoriated from pulpits. In 1898, Mrs. Eddy instituted a speakers bureau to carry her story and publicly defend her. Members of that board were able to go places a woman in her mid-eighties might find difficult. The board and its work continue to this day. It was my privilege to serve nine years on that board, so defending Mary Baker Eddy and more broadly, the rights of women everywhere still comes as second nature. It helps that she wrote amply on the subject. One excerpt here, seems prophetic of these times. In her work, No and Yes, she writes:

Let it not be heard in Boston that woman, “last at the cross and first at the sepulchre,” has no rights which man is bound to respect. In natural law and in religion the right of woman to fill the highest measure of enlightened understanding and the highest places in government, is inalienable, and these rights are ably vindicated by the noblest of both sexes. This is woman’s hour, with all its sweet amenities and its moral and religious reforms.

What I Learned in India

“So what did you learn about yourself in India?”

Maybe that’s the question I’ve been waiting to hear, the nudge to finally get me to put into words what that trip last month meant to me. Thanks, Dilia. Saturday night was fun, but your question really got me thinking.

A few days ago, The New York Times ran an article about the temperature in Rajasthan reaching 123.8 Fahrenheit; they invited readers in India to share how they were coping with the heat. I haven’t checked the responses. Who reads in that kind of heat? Who moves? Who thinks? Who writes to The New York Times? No one gets “used” to that kind of temperature.  It was much cooler five weeks ago when I was there, but when I did finally start writing in my journal, the first words were “I would rather stay here in a darkened hotel room and write about India, than to actually go out the door and be in India. India is waiting out there, for I see its white hot light seeping under the drawn drapes.” Such was my state of thought.

Let me be clear. I am very glad I went. I would do it differently next time, if there is a next time. I’m grateful I did it this way this time. But it was exhausting. My friend Penny who spent five weeks in Jaipur (heart of the heat wave) during November and December a year or so ago, had a totally different experience than this whirlwind tour of mine. She spoke of wearing a light sweater, walking unimpeded to the corner of the block where she was staying and negotiating a tuk-tuk to take her to the center of town where she could wander in the shops at a leisurely pace. She went to a yoga class every morning in the temple a block away. She took walks in the big park next door to the inn where she stayed the whole time. She took the time to really get to know India.

No one (that means me) who flies into Delhi, spends one night there, two nights in Agra and two nights in Jaipur, all in four star hotels, can claim to “know” anything about India.  I saw India. I’ve written briefly about the main attractions that impressed me. Our small group saw most of them in early morning light. We would arrive about seven in the morning and be making our exit between ten and eleven, emerging into teeming hordes of aggressive vendors and less aggressive sightseers.

We spent a lot of time on the bus. I have photos of teeming streets in old Delhi, tree and park-lined streets of New Delhi, and everywhere traffic.

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We looked down on tuk-tuks, pushcarts, and thousands of scooters and cycles, motorized and not.

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2016-04-19 18.04.16

From that privileged vantage point high above and far-removed in air-conditioned comfort, I caught glimpses of monkeys, elephants, camels and cattle not only in the country side, but moving through the city streets of both Delhis, Agra, Jaipur and points in between. Our bus drove on the left side of the road, like they do in England. We used four lane highways going from one major town to the next, but local traffic in the country uses the same four lane highway for local purposes, staying in the outside lane, walking, driving, herding cattle, going whichever direction is convenient.  It gets crowded. I closed my eyes a lot.

There were fourteen of us on a bus that would seat more than twice that many, so we were able to move around and spread out. No one could really sleep, write, or read, as the pavement was, shall we say, “challenging.” Nor was the bus of the same standard I’ve experienced with other Smartours tours. Padding in the seats was minimal, the seats were small, and the glass in the windows was neither tempered nor tinted. But our travel conditions were so far above what the masses around us were experiencing, that to even take notice of these finer points seems churlish.

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I will mention the rock that someone hurled at us, which crashed through one of those un-tempered windows, showering glass in the seat beneath. It was the window two back from the driver and one back from where our guide, Arvind, was sitting.  The seat was vacant. No one was hurt, but the incident was upsetting to us all. Was it merely unsupervised children after school? That was the explanation offered. Perhaps. But maybe our latent guilt at being so obviously separate from those around us made us think it might have been more. I for one felt rattled.

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“The problem is,” my travel mate Marilyn counseled me, “is that you have no barriers. You engage too much. Even when you say ‘no,’ you are still engaged.” She was right. I can’t be surrounded by so much humanity and not “engage,” mentally, if not physically.  At 5’10” and totally white-headed, I definitely stood out in the Indian crowds. I felt like a lighthouse with waves crashing around my base. I defended myself by moving into an ivory tower in my head and moving my body forward. Marilyn, consciously or not, had assumed the role of my protector. She of equal height as the aggressors met them eye to eye. “Shoo!” she would say. “Go away!” Words I could not utter from my exalted height without seeming like a bully.

That was the dynamic we’d adopted when on our next to last day we ventured out after lunch to buy spices in Jaipur. We had spotted the little shop a block and a half away from the hotel. We negotiated the short distance without incident, and entered the dusty half light, the air redolent of meals we dreamed of making in our own kitchens at home. We poured over the directions for preparing curry and tandoori chicken.  A new shipment of saffron had just arrived. We shelled out rupees for tiny little cases of the tiny little threads. The shopkeeper prepared us tea. It was like a ritual: one cardamom pod, one thread of saffron, and a few chips of cinnamon bark in each cup. It required time to steep.  We settled in and bought more – black rock salt from the Himalayas, a chai tea mix so strong it requires only a quarter of a teaspoonful for every two cups of water and milk. Almost an hour later we emerged, precious packets of future indulgence wrapped in pink plastic bags. Now this was the India I’d dreamed about, the India I wanted to carry home! Safe India.

We blinked in the blazing sun outside the shop. The crowds were formidable, the noise overwhelming, the distance back to the hotel longer than we remembered. That’s when one small piece of Indian humanity attached himself to me. I would guess that from his size that he was four or five, but he was probably older. He grasped a wad of my skirt in his little fist and trotted alongside me to match my stride. “Missy, Missy, Missy,” was all I could decipher of what he was saying. Marilyn tried shooing. He grasped tighter. I looked down at him, but he didn’t meet my eyes. He was like a little automaton, repeating his mantra. I breathed hard and looked around as I plowed forward. There were other children watching us. I realized that if I stopped, opened my purse or reached into my pocket it would be like feeding the seagulls in Galveston. And it would all be useless. Marilyn and I soldiered on, and finally, escaped into the hotel.

But I didn’t escape that little boy. I felt helpless and sad. It was like the feelings that had been hanging heavy around me during our trip condensed into one heavy cloud. I was miserable. I dreamed about him that night, realizing that under the current circumstances, there was nothing humanly I could have done to help that one child. It wasn’t a comfort. I woke the next morning, our last day in India, eager to head home. What right did I have to swoop into this country, take in the sights, do a little shopping and blithely take my leave? I had joked about this tour, admitting to being unabashedly shallow in this approach. I wanted it that way. This was a “bucket list” trip, purely for my own indulgence. I wanted to “see” India. I didn’t want to be touched by it.

Marilyn and I went down to the hotel pool while it was still cool. She swam while I sat in the shade, thinking about the day we had before us. We were to get on the bus at 11:30, drive six hours to Delhi, have a farewell dinner and then be dropped at the airport. Our flight back to JFK would leave at 2:30 a.m. for an early morning arrival in New York. Lots of hours, lots of travel. We savored this last little bit of cool serenity. I was more than ready to leave.

At 8:30, the sun was fully up. It was hot. We crossed the white marble pool deck to descend pink marble stairs, all sharp corners and shining. When I stepped onto the white marble floor of the courtyard below, disaster struck. The staff had been watering the potted plants and the floor was covered with the leakage, absolutely invisible. I stepped onto it and my feet slid out from under me. I remember the sound of glass breaking somewhere and I came down hard on my back, my head striking the last marble step at the base of my skull. I lay there and the thought came, “This is serious.”

The last thing I wanted to do was end up in a hospital in India. I knew I wouldn’t actually end up there. I had with me my about-to-expire Air Rescue card. I’d been assured I could be whisked away to any hospital in the world that I desired. But I didn’t want to even go through a hospital experience here. People were gathering. “Marilyn,” I appealed to my protector. “I need to be quiet for a while. Can you keep them away?” She was frightened and valiant and faithful. She stood guard while I lay on the floor. Did someone put a prop under my head? I don’t remember. I just lay there.

Then I did what came naturally. I turned to God. “Help! Please!” I started saying Mary Baker Eddy’s “scientific statement of being” – the “go to” position I’ve had since childhood. “There is no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter.” That’s the way it begins. “All is infinite Mind, and its infinite manifestation.” Then I stopped. Two sentences in and I was “engaged.” I had been trying so hard to disengage, to not think, respond or react to all that seemed to have been assaulting me this trip. “All is infinite Mind…” How could “not thinking” happen when all was infinite Mind? How could I not engage with Mind’s “infinite manifestation?” I was part of that infinite manifestation!

“What do I need to know, Father? I’m ready to listen.” I don’t know if I literally thought those words, but I experienced them. It was a major shift in attitude, lying there on that marble floor. Arvind’s concerned face looked down at me. “I’m fine,” I assured him. “I just need a little time here.” Marilyn continued her watch. She was obviously worried, but fiercely determined to honor my request. I turned my head. It hurt. “What do I need to see, Father-Mother?” I really wanted to know how to get through this. I desperately needed….I didn’t even know what I needed. I closed my eyes and just was still.

When I opened them again, it was there. I saw what I needed to see. It was all around me. My request was being honored. There was a periphery of people ready to help, eager to help, but they were giving me space, letting me do whatever it was I was doing without interference. I did not feel invaded or assaulted or pushed or shoved. I felt held totally in the love of that “infinite Mind,” which is Love itself. I felt enveloped in love, like there was nothing but me and the Universe and all was well. A flood-tide of comfort and well-being washed through me.

Then the image of that little boy came into my thought. But this time I saw him in a different way. “Why, he has as direct a line as I do, straight to Mind, straight to Love,” I thought. I wasn’t helpless, vulnerable, with a hard shell that needed to be cracked open – and neither was he. We were both made up of better stuff than mere matter. We were idea, individual shining expressions of the infinite One. The most effective thing I could do for him, for India, for myself, was see all of us as gathered into “infinite Mind,” see all of us as part of Mind’s “infinite manifestation.” My whole view of India shifted.

The pain just drained away. I left it like a jacket on the floor when I got up. I accepted some helping hands to cross the still slippery floor and went back up to our room with Marilyn. A little while later I got a call from the lobby. Some things I had ordered had been delivered. What was my pleasure? “I’ll come down,” I answered. Arvind was in the lobby, with the man making the delivery. The hotel manager was also there, along with the doctor who had been called. Would I please allow the doctor to examine me, they all asked. I realized the tour company needed this to happen, as did the hotel. It would also be an assurance to Marilyn. “Of course,” I said, and he did. There was no mark, no lump, no physical evidence of injury at all. The doctor shrugged his shoulders and left.

I’ve waited a while to write about this. I’ve learned to let experiences like this one “set.” I don’t know how else to explain it, but rushing out to tell the world about it when you’ve gone through something, well, holy, just isn’t the thing to do.  In the days following my return, I felt some soreness through my back and shoulders — mostly memory of the fall, and maybe of that fifteen hour flight back to New York in seat 51D on Air India. Those are all long gone.

What hasn’t gone is what I learned about myself. Most of what I’ve written in this blog has to do with “virgin qualities.” If you want a reminder, here’s what I’m talking about.  But just because you can talk a good game, doesn’t mean you don’t have to get out on the field and play. That’s the way we learn. India reminded me in spades that more is demanded of me than just “staying above it all,” and occasionally fumbling for change. I know now I have to engage; I can’t avoid it. But I’ve got to do it first through Love, for my own sake, as well as for the sake of others. Then if there is an opportunity or need for me to do something as one human being for another, it will come to light, and it will be just the right thing for that moment.  But the love has to come first.

 

India — the highlights

I’ve been putting off writing about India until I got my head around it. It was intense. Perhaps taking a two week trip to spend five nights in the country of destination isn’t the ideal way to get acquainted, but neither do I think five weeks of residency (my original plan) would have been an ideal alternative. There is no “perfect way” to see India, just like there’s no “perfect way” to dance with an elephant. The fact that you are doing it at all should be notable.

I’ll start with the places that made the biggest impression on me, the ones people read about in guidebooks and that are listed on the itinerary.

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One of the places that moved me most was the Ghandi Museum in Delhi where walls are filled with photographs, biographical information and quotations from the physically diminutive spiritual dynamo who transformed India, and still wields transformative power in the lives of anyone who will listen.

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I wasn’t familiar with the culture of khadi. How could this be, when I was raised in a family dedicated to making cotton better?  It is the whole reason India has a spinning wheel on its flag. I photographed volumes of information. I could have spent a whole day here instead of just the few hours. So much more to learn!

The Birla Temple in Delhi, one of the few Hindu temples which opens its doors to people of all faiths. They don’t, however, allow photographs. Sorry! But here’s a link where you can see the outside. We entered in mid-morning, leaving our shoes in an anteroom and walked barefooted over red and white veined marble floors, immaculately clean under intricately carved ceilings. The walls, spires and towers were red sandstone trimmed with white and gold paint. Shrines within the temple – dedicated to Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva and others — were decked mostly in marigolds, which reminded me of our Mexican Day of the Dead. It is colorful, color-filled worship.  Guadalupe has nothing on this pantheon.

 

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The glow of the Taj Mahal in morning’s first sunbeams is magic. It is essential to get here early, to see the extensive gardens, stone work, pools and fountains that lie between the entry gate and the main attraction before harsher rays and teeming hordes dilute the effect of pure radiance.

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Obviously, it was undergoing some restoration work when we were there.

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The glory is all outside in the intricate inlays and stone work, the amplitude of the gardens and fountains; the interior of the exquisite building is claustrophobic, confining. After all, it’s a tomb.

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The vast empty spaces of the abandoned colonial capital of Fatehphur Sikri. All of the Muslim engineering skills that have attracted millions to the Alhambra in Spain are present here, but without water the artistry is lifeless. Canals and fountains are filled not with liquid, but with the dry pollen of pepper trees. The elaborately carved red sandstone facades look out on vacant plazas.

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The Muslim influence is seen not only in the water engineering, but in elaborately carved screens. They let in light and air, but keep out the sun’s harsh rays.

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It is a ghostly place.

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The Amber (also Amer) Fort, crowning some of the hills surrounding Jaipur, provided me another time warp.

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I rode an elephant to get up to it, the last of our group to step elegantly from a stone platform onto the twin bed contraption that bore us onward and upward.Never mind what we left behind us.

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All I could see of the elephant was the top of his head beyond the turban of Ali, the driver.  The hordes of clamoring vendors had followed the main body of the tour group far ahead, and Ali, the elephant and I were left behind plodding and swaying our way up the medieval road in silence. In my mind I was a maharani; there was nothing outside to contradict the illusion.

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We had a long time to explore the many nooks and crannies of the Amber Fort — which is essentially a palace.But there were palaces within the palace for different seasons of the year and different slants of the sun.

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The designs made me think of the interior of the churches we saw last summer in the south of France.

That is the rundown on the tourist highlights. As impressive as they were, they did not have as great an effect on me as India itself did. For that I will write further.