Tuesday, December 14, 2010
“By forgiving, we take back the power we gave to the world to do us
By forgiving, we release ourselves—and the one who has hurt us—from the prison of our resentment.
By forgiving, we free ourselves to live in the Eternal Now, without
holding on to the past.
By forgiving, we acknowledge the Christ (the perfection) within
ourselves and the offender.”
from Ernest Holmes, “The Science of Mind”
I’m just about over an incident from last Friday that tried to lay a claim on me. One of the ironies surrounding the road rage that appeared to be aimed at me is that I was on my way to State Farm to start my auto insurance in New Mexico. Having made the decision earlier in the day to become a New Mexico driver, I had finally gone for my driver’s license and to find out what is I need to do to register my car in this state.
I guess the process makes sense to whoever sets policy at the motor vehicle division, but as an interested party, I can see some government use of tax dollars that just might be called waste. Take a number and wait, go to a window to show proof of residency and for further instructions on waiting, then to another window for a picture and then further instructions on waiting, and so on. But that’s for another story. The point is—I have a temporary paper photo ID folded around my Texas license, and once I get a copy of the title from the financial institution that holds the lien on my car, I will be ready to return to the MVD with proof of residency, proof of insurance, proof of ownership, and cash or check (no credit or debit cards accepted!).
To return to my story. I’ve seen more than a little of rude, rude drivers in Santa Fe, but on this day I was in Albuquerque, where—until this day—I hadn’t experienced the nasty attitude of entitlement that is all too common among Santa Fe drivers. Pedestrian rights? Hardly. Parking lot etiquette? Drive defensively. As I made my way north on Carlisle Boulevard, I was the first in line at a traffic light. Red changes to green, and before I can hit the gas, the Toyota 4Runner behind me lays down on the horn. I accelerated into the intersection. Obviously pissed off by my attempt to move ahead, the woman—whose vanity license plates read a fancy word for graceful, slim—sped by me on the right, raging verbally, shooting me the finger, and then hitting her breaks several times as we both moved north on Carlisle. She continued to act like a crazy person, waving her hands and shaking her head. I commented to my friend Tom that maybe she is from Santa Fe.
“Maybe her husband is from Texas and dumped her,” Tom offered. (Speak impeccably. Don't make assumptions.) Tom had already advised that I “stay back—you don’t know what she might do”. Maybe she just doesn’t like Texans, I thought. I lost count long ago of the number of times in the last three years that I’ve wrestled with the notion of giving up my Texas plates—largely because I know lots of New Mexicans are hostile toward Texans. Such attitude has a long-standing history here, in spite of the fact that Texans contribute substantially to the state’s economy. It’s called biting the hand that feeds you. But that, too, is for another story. The big factor is the cost of auto insurance in New Mexico because of the large number of uninsured drivers, in spite of a law that requires everyone with a driver’s license to also carry liability insurance. There are lots of ways of creatively, or not, getting around this law. Just take advantage of the opportunities to slip through the cracks. As it turns out, I am totally satisfied with the insurance rates offered me.
My instinct with the crazy woman sporting the vanity license plate was to find out who she is and report her. Such naivete makes me smile only a little at the same time that it confounds me. Let it go. Let it go. Remember the Four Agreements. Speak impeccably. Don’t take things personally. Don’t make assumptions. Do your best. I guess these don’t leave much room for revenge. So today I am probably 80% over last Friday’s frightening encounter with road rage. One of the burdens with which I struggle is an insistent need to understand what causes people to act the way they do—especially towards me. Don’t take it personally, I remind myself. Let it go. Don’t stay attached; bless her and send her own her way. This would be the advice of my friend Gayle. And to this, I would remind myself further to remember this experience with road rage the next time I over-react to some situation where I want to pummel someone else. Maybe she had an emergency and needed to go to the aid of a family member or a friend. I won’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Let it go.
So is forgiveness at play here? Do I need to forgive the driver of the Toyota 4Runner? Yes. I do feel a little the victim of someone else’s baggage. But that’s just it. It is someone else’s baggage, and so, just as I might want someone else to cut me slack when I act the crazy, I need to do the same. I want to want to do the same. “Bless you. Just take care of yourself,” I counsel myself to say to anyone who has failed to remember that his or her rights end where my rights begin. Forgive me for appearing to be in your way. I forgive you for putting your life, my life and the life of my passenger and friend in danger. Let it go. Don’t stay attached. Surely this is the lesson to be gained here.
Drive—Santa Fe, New Mexico (December 14, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, December 13, 2010
"God just another man, far as I'm concerned, he triflin' and lowdown . . . (Celie)
"No, Celie. God not some gloomy old man like the pictures you've seen of him.
God not a man at all.
GOD IS INSIDE YOU AND EVERYONE ELSE
THAT WAS OR EVER WILL BE.
WE COME INTO THIS WORLD WITH GOD.
BUT ONLY THEM WHO LOOK INSIDE FIND IT. (Shug)"
--from "The Color Purple"
Everywhere I turn, the message remains the same. Last night, with friends and a house full of theater lovers, I heard about God’s boundless ways in song. Earlier in the day, I was reminded that the only thing getting in the way of God and me—is me. I’m learning my lessons, but the process is oh, so slow, and I keep backsliding. Even though I know intellectually that I am an expression of the Divine; even though I understand that I can choose at any moment between fear and unconditional love; even though I know that whatever way the spears are pointed, they’re really about the person who hurls them; even though I fool myself sometimes by abdicating responsibility for the wrongs I see around me—I know. Sometimes I feel that I have lost direction, but I know that I'm not lost. I just have to look inside to find it.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I don’t know much about birds, and I think about this every Tuesday morning when I show up for my volunteer assignment at the Audubon visitors center. Sometimes I make it through my three-hour shift without one of the visitors asking about some bird specific. I used to count this as at least a small blessing, when I was more sensitive about the whole birder thing. Now I don’t think about it so much. After all, I’m comfortable chatting it up with visitors about life in these parts—hiking, places to eat, museums and galleries, and I’ve gotten really handy using the Internet to look up information about birds that are common to our area!
Last week I took a phone call from a man in Michigan planning a visit to New Mexico. He had questions about a specific bird, and thanks to the board that the center here maintains with information on recent sightings, I was able to tell him that a pinon jay was recorded for the day after Thanksgiving. I managed to talk intelligently with him about his plans to see the sandhill cranes at the wildfowl management area south of Albuquerque. Most important to me in our conversation was the feeling of connecting. I felt helpful.
I guess most visitors here assume that whoever volunteers in the visitor center is at least a novice birder. What drew me to this place was the setting and the historic house that is its anchor, a sawmill dating to the Mexican American War that an established artist from New York made into a home for his family in the early 1920s. I had planned to become a docent in the house, but I am allergic to something that has left me feeling a little asthmatic every time I’ve been in the house. Old stuff in an old building that remains closed most of the time—an irony for sure for someone who has a long love affair with that sort of history. Though I don’t conduct tours of the historic house here, I welcome the chance to talk about Randall Davey, whose family generously donated this property 20 years after his death. And during the growing season, I’m reasonably conversant in talking about the native garden on our grounds, which is maintained by the local master gardener group.
No expert am I—not really about anything—even though I know more than little about a few things. As I used to say when I was a recent graduate of the master gardener course in Texas, I can’t really get my thumb and forefinger close enough together to show how little I do know. Doesn’t the same apply to most of the stuff most of us spend our time on? Sometimes I marvel at the talking heads on cable television, holding forth on everything from finance to human trafficking to the threat of terrorism. How does one become so smart, I ask. And would I really want to be such an expert? Not really, I answer myself. That’s fine for someone else. I’m happy knowing more than a little about a few things and handily pointing out the whole thumb and forefinger visual.
On this day, with the local dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees (or is it the mountain chickadee?) and pine siskins flitting around the winter shrubbery and lighting on the feeder outside the window of my workplace, I’m celebrating my modest share of knowledge and the opportunity to grow it each day. Each time I answer the phone, “good morning,” I’m remembering the gift I’m offered of being connected, indeed.
What Do I Know—Santa Fe, New Mexico (December 7, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Tomorrow morning I will make green bean casserole for 30 people, one of the groups in our small city of privilege who find themselves without permanent shelter on this day that Americans gather to give thanks. I made my initial trip to the market yesterday for the various canned ingredients I need, and for a large, disposable aluminum pan for baking this Thanksgiving favorite—green beans, immersed in cream of mushroom soup, and topped off with canned onion rings. Half way home from the market, I realized that I had left the pan at the checkout stand. Then I realized that I needed aluminum foil to cover the pan for transporting and a large disposable spoon for serving. Now I am completely armed. No doubt, my concoction will be much more visually appealing than the current commercials I’m seeing on TV, and as I write, I’m close to salivating as I imagine the aroma from the oven after about 30 minutes of baking time.
It’s no big deal—this modest contribution that will have taken no more than four hours of my life from the store to the serving line. How my offering will be received I can only imagine. I do know this, however. Giving is a privilege, regardless of the size of the gift. “Thank you, thank you, thank you” was at the heart of the pre-Thanksgiving talk last Sunday, specifically for those gathered in the beautiful replica of an historic northern New Mexican church in the heart of old Albuquerque. The minister talked about how for years she had begrudged the work of the Thanksgiving meal. Then one year, illness and the prospect of loss touched her family in what in the retelling is worthy of a Hallmark Hall of Fame story. Many of us drift toward the sentimental during the holidays. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she repeated, and in the retelling, the privilege of giving thanks and sharing it with a few of those we care about became palpable.
I will gather with a few friends on Thanksgiving day. And though it won’t be our family’s version of the Hallmark holiday that will always remind me of how special my growing up years were, it will be a time with people who show me often that affection is about more than blood. Over the years I have realized that many people spend most of their adult lives away from the families into which they were born. Some people seem to prefer it this way. Tales of holiday dysfunction, such as the now-classic film, “Home for the Holidays,” bring both belly laughs and tears as we are reminded of how tough relating to our kin can get as we grow up and maybe think we’ve outgrown our families. My own family’s Hallmark card doesn’t look so much like a TV commercial. But it is our card—our very own story, and in our case, I know that it’s made us all better in so many ways. Like so many other memories, I wouldn’t trade it for gold.
To those who will share in the bounty of my green bean casserole and all the other traditional Thanksgiving bounty tomorrow—away from family, away from the shelter and safety that I knew growing up—I say “thank you” for giving me this opportunity. The gift is small, and in some way even impersonal. Yet I trust that when I stand in my kitchen tomorrow morning, I will know what giving thanks is all about, and I somehow will carry this to the table I share with friends on Thanksgiving day.
Thanksgiving 2010—Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 23, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, November 15, 2010
“There been times that I thought I wouldn't last for long
Now think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gonna come, oh yes it will”
(“A Change is Gonna Come” Sam Cooke)
Okay, I’m up to my ears with myself. This attitude that’s causing me to want to slap the crap out of way too many people is weighing me down. It’s also clear to me that I’m not alone in this boat. I wish I could blame it on something—the weather (which is gorgeously sunny and cold), retired interlopers in this town who are blessed with more than their share of disposable income (of which I am one—sort of), a sense of privilege that is frankly without foundation, a lack of something, but what I don’t know. Well, I forgot. I do know.
A few weeks ago, someone with whom I share many noon hour Wednesdays in a group of similar-minded sojourners told those gathered that she just doesn’t have anything to say, to say, that is, in her journal. She recently lost her aged mother, who lived near her other aging offspring in their homeland across the Atlantic. Life here in the west is somehow not as harmonious as my friend would like, but she can’t quite put her finger on the source of this dissonance. Maybe Raven, who I’ve just noticed calling beyond the energy-efficient patio doors of my condo, has an answer. I need one because I've been feeling the same lack of harmony.
The recent elections gave voice to the dissatisfaction pervading our land. And though I am forced to tip my hat to the will of the majority—at least those who have expressed a will—I distrust that the prospect of change now set in motion is any real chance of change at all. All of it is too wearying, for me—this prospect of business as usual.
Against a background of selfishness that parades itself wherever we look, I am reminded of the message at the heart of what I read each day from a monthly collection of readings, and I what I hear each Sunday when I gather with others who at least seem to claim this message. We read about and listen to this message about Truth and Love. We even repeat the words printed for us to speak collectively. We sing songs about Oneness with Spirit. Two weeks ago I asked the two friends with whom I sat for the Sunday gathering if they understood what the minister had said during her talk. “No,” they both replied, yet each said that he was glad to have been at the gathering. I puzzled over that for a while, and as I sat listening yesterday, I told myself that I was going to remember the message at the heart of her talk. The words that took up the better part of 30 minutes seemed clear at the time, yet got lost in the after hours. What I remember is the funny story the minister told toward the beginning of her talk. That message is clear—way too many of us think that we’ve got it right. And there the disharmony begins. There’s not room for all of this ego.
There’s not room enough for me to scowl at others in the aisle or checkout stand of the supermarket. There’s not room enough for me to plow through the parking lot as if I’m the only car trying to make its way safely out of the lot and back home. There’s not room enough for me to come unhinged at someone who doesn’t move through the stop sign or traffic light to suit my immediate pleasure. There’s not room enough for me to treat the virtually anonymous voice on the other end of a wireless connection with disdain. There's not room enough for me to make a practice of embracing seemingly unfriendly comments, which as I have been taught, are really not about me anyway. I see way too much privilege and way too many people behaving as if they alone are privileged. I see this, and too often I behave just like the “shithead” that one of the female characters described in the play I saw with friends yesterday.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking like a jerk, and though I spare myself and others the discomfort of acting out, I’m still left with a single recognition. I’m choosing to be disconnected. I’m choosing to find fault and assign blame. I am choosing to become the Disharmony. The real challenge to be answered is how do I find my way back?
A Change is Gonna Come—Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 15, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Last week’s issue of the "Santa Fe Reporter" has a lengthy, informative and eye-opening article on nursing homes in New Mexico. I say eye-opening, although I’m fairly aware of the dilemma of nursing homes in the U.S., based on a couple of books I read after my mother died in 2007. Fortunately, our mother never had to endure the sad reality of nursing homes. The incidence rate of outright abuse and neglect in nursing homes is appalling and frightening. I find it especially so, considering that most of us don’t know just where we’re going to end up being cared for before we make an exit from this life.
Much of the problem in nursing homes centers around understaffing, poorly trained staff, and staff turnover. In New Mexico, the certified nursing assistant (CNA) turnover is about 100% annually. I get it. That means that the people doing most of the work completely turns over each year. In the two books I read by Dr. William Thomas—The Eden Alternative and What Are Old People For—How Elders Will Save The World—Thomas sheds a big old spotlight on the nursing home for-profit industry in the U.S. Further, though, and more important, he shines a light of hope on the efforts to change elder care. His work has led to a redefinition of elder care—the environment, the staff, everything that effects quality of life.
I recommend the current issue of the Santa Fe Reporter (SEE LINK BELOW), and I heartily recommend Dr. Thomas’s two books. Three years ago I visited an Eden Alternative elder care home in Olathe Colorado, which is on the western slope of Colorado. Although I was there for only a few hours, my spirits were buoyed to see that it can be so much better than the little I had witnessed before with regard to nursing homes. We had just lost our mother, and though she lived in her own home—thanks largely to the commitment and efforts of our oldest sister, Joan—I needed to know that for those who don’t have the luxury of family who are able and willing to take care of their elders, there is hope. Eden Alternative homes are a big part of the hope of the future for elders who can’t live on their own.
Blessings to each of you reading this message. And blessings especially to the friend who introduced me to the Eden Alternative in 2007.
Friday, September 17, 2010
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….” (from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew; also told in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke).
The gospels go on to tell us that those who mourn will be comforted, that the meek will inherit the earth, that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, that the merciful will be shown mercy, that the pure in heart will see God, that the peacemakers will be called the sons (and daughters) of God, and that the righteous will live in the kingdom of heaven.
In the last few years we have all received too many of the messages that seem to fly as if they were witches through cyberspace, and we have witnessed more than we would choose of people who somehow believe that they are justified to stand in judgment and cast the metaphorical stone. Let’s face it—judging others is something most of us know first hand. But I am reminded that in the gospels, Jesus is recorded as having said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone [at her]." (John 8:7) Some places today the stone is still very real. Even in those places, though, such utterly cruel behavior of human against human is not the sentiment of the majority, nor is it historically part of the faith roots of these places. It is instead an extremist corruption of these teachings. It is indeed a matter of power with its foot on the necks of those who feel powerless. In these places, fear reigns supreme.
Earlier in the summer I read an excessively long but nonetheless engaging novel set in the Carolinas in the late 17th century. Although according to documented history, trials of so-called witches were confined mostly to Puritan New England, nonetheless, accusations of witchcraft is at the heart of this story. Underlying these accusations is greed, playing on the fears of the masses. Fear was the weapon that dealt the blow, destroying lives in every way imaginable as people were falsely accused and condemned to die—in this story, to be burned at the stake. And in this story, all of this madness led to the death of the fledgling community where the plot unfolds.
In an article I read this morning, one writer calls forth the compassion that is at the heart of every God tradition. He has this to say about the absence of compassion as expressed in our judgment of one another: “Strangely enough, stoning for adultery isn't even mentioned in the Quran. The practice was common in the Middle East because it is the prescribed punishment in both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22.
“Modern day Christians like to pretend otherwise, but Jesus didn't change that, either. In fact, he told his followers that every law on the books would remain there until the end of time.” ("Huffington Post", posted September 13, 2010, by Dr. David Liepert)
I just celebrated my 67th birthday on September 16. When a friend from Albuquerque called me the evening before to ask about my plans, all I could say is that they are simple. Early in the day I did 30 minutes on the treadmill at the gym 20-plus miles from this home in rural Leon County. I had to work at not letting either the right-of-center cable news channel that runs on both flat screen televisions in this gym or the too-loud claims of local “boys” about the “socialist direction” of our country spoil my modest workout. Later in the morning my sister, Joan, and I went “to town” 35 miles in a different direction with a list of things to-do. It was my list, and my sister did the driving. The outing ended with a lunch treat in glorious air conditioning, on a mid-September day that peaked out at 95 degrees. The night before I had said to my friend that the best birthday gift I could get is the temperatures dropping below 90 degrees. Somehow the persistent heat seems to make things seem a little worse than they actually might be. I’m waiting. I am waiting somewhat impatiently, but I know a change will come.
September 16, 2010—Normangee, Texas (September 17, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will…”
(lyrics from “Kissing a Fool” by George Michael)
In a message to a friend this morning, I described some part of my extended blood family as a bunch of angry, selfish, greedy, spiteful and prideful people. “Do you think I got enough adjectives in there,” I asked rhetorically. Then I added that the same blood runs in my veins. Having acknowledged this, today I am even more mindful about my own potential to be any and all of that list of adjectives. I also realize that I can choose to be the polar opposite of any of these woeful human traits. May it be so.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
“Well you see, Jane, it just goes to show you, it's always something….” Or something like that was the intro to the response of Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna when asked to explain the relevancy of her weekly monologue to Jane Curtin’s news anchor on “Saturday Night Live”. I have not been a regular viewer of the show since that time in the late 70s, which, by the way, has nothing to do with the shows wildly funny energy for close to four decades. It’s just not one of my habits. Like Radner’s other characters, Roseannadanna was “wild and crazy”. And so it can seem with life. Cause and effect? I know it’s there even though at times I’m challenged to figure out this relationship.
My right hand is just about healed from the dog bite I received a week ago. For seven days, I soaked this hand in Betadine solution twice daily, put triple antibiotic ointment on the wounds, and bandaged the hand to keep it clean and protected. During that time, my left hand had to carry the load of any work I tried to do, including the dishes or cleaning the commode or connecting the water hose. With my right hand on the mend, two days ago the pinky finger of my left hand erupted in angry red blisters, the same breaking out that I have experienced periodically on that hand over the last 10 years. My doctor’s PA told me not long after I started experiencing the problem that it was an allergic reaction to something I’m coming into contact with. I guess that would be life, since it seems to happen without apparent provocation. “Just put some hydrocortisone on it,” she advised. How simple, I thought, over the counter hydrocortisone, simple, inexpensive. I have decided it is just another way that stress manifests itself in my life. Dog bite, one week later the recurring breaking out on my life hand, go figure. I’m no doctor.
As I lay in bed at 4:30 this morning, awake really early compared to the previous days on this fall trip to Texas, as I lay awake trying to focus my groggy but pestered brain on giving thanks for this day, this life, I thought about my irritated-feeling left pinky finger. Finally, my feet hit the floor shortly after 5 a.m. and I made my way to the kitchen. Hmm, I guess I’ll go ahead and shower, I thought. Dried off and dressed, I headed toward to the kitchen sink, to the rinsed but not washed dishes from last night’s batch of Texas chili, and the coffee pot that had not been cleaned from yesterday morning. I had put some hydrocortisone on my left pinky and quickly realized that I had now traded a compromised right hand for a compromised left hand. I shook my head in dismay, but I had to smile over life’s crazy, connected ways.
So today, as I make a mark on the list of things to do, I am thankful that a generous rain two days ago has watered my native garden. The first of two batches of laundry is underway. A couple of guys I engaged will be here this morning to load the furniture into the trailer my neighbors are generously providing for the transport of goods and merchandise to my antiques show in two weeks (another thank you). These guys will also man handle some other furniture that I want moved around inside this barn house. My back, compromised over years of lugging around stuff, says thank you. Percolating in the back of my mind, immersing my pinky in dishwater is only one of the things to avoid. My list goes on, but it doesn’t have to be documented.
Today will be a day of moving forward. The laundry will get done. The first push at loading the trailer will be accomplished, and maybe I will begin reviewing stored boxes from previous antiques markets, picking candidates for “another day in the sunshine” at this fall outing. I will use the broom—with both hands. The almost endless list of things that can benefit from the use of both of my hands will amaze me as the day progresses. And just to be nice to myself, I will continue reading the third in the series of Stieg Larsson’s engaging trilogy of crime stoppers in 21st century Stockholm. Ah, it will be a good day. One thing or the other has an upside as well.
It Just Goes to Show You—Normangee, Texas (September 10, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I guess my contemporaries and I are finally at the place in life where we take up the habit of looking at the obituaries. I don’t do it, but I have a couple of friends who have this habit. As I passed through north Texas the other day on the way to my home in east Texas, I had coffee with one of these guys. As we talked, I remembered to tell him that I had heard a couple of weeks ago of the death of an elderly woman from the small community where he had lived for close to 30 years. I was too late. He already knew because he subscribes to the local rag so that he can keep up with such comings and goings.
We come and we go, and especially as we get older, we wonder about what we are going to. “We believe in the eternality, the immortality, and the continuity of the individual soul, forever and ever expanding.” So reads one of the statements of belief from the United Centers for Spiritual Living.
For me, I’m not talking about heaven and hell, as those brought up in fear of God are taught. I remember as I child being a little preoccupied with the end of the world. At that point, I had heard enough hellfire and brimstone from the Baptist preacher to at least have a concept of beginnings and endings, rewards and punishments, and had developed a fairly healthy concern for the seeming nothingness that death brings. I realized at a young age that I didn’t want anything to do with those Baptist Sunday mornings. When I was in my early 30s, my Daddy overhead a conversation between my middle sister and me, where she asked if I believed in the devil. “You mean the devil with horns, cloven hooves, tail and pitchfork,” I asked. “Yes,” she replied, and “no,” I answered. “Well, you’re going to hell,” my daddy insisted from his chair at the breakfast table. So he had been taught, and so he believed. I give thanks that my mother, who had somehow evolved beyond her conservative Lutheran upbringing, never spent her time talking about hell.
At that point, Daddy was only three years from his own death from congestive heart failure, although we didn’t even know he was sick. I can only wonder now what he felt in the days leading up to his death. I know that he wanted to get well enough to make a trip to the country—the place where Joan, my oldest sister, now owns the house that was a retirement home to our parents and the place where the barn that was our Daddy’s refuge in the four short years he got to live here became my home more than 10 years ago. As I recall, he might have gotten to make one trip, but I remember clearly that only a few days before he died he longed to make his own “trip to Bountiful”. Whether our Daddy was afraid of death I cannot answer. The only clue we have is what middle sister Sue and I heard Daddy say as he lay in his hospital bed only minutes before he died.
Daddy was in ICU for several days on his last trip to the hospital, and we had become accustomed to visiting him at appointed times. On that late Saturday afternoon, when we arrived at the hospital we found that he had been moved to a room, without our having been notified. He was no longer hooked up to any monitoring devices. He simply lay in the bed. Because we were naïve in some ways and laboring more than a little from denial, the meaning of this move didn’t register with us. As Sue and I stood at Daddy’s bedside, we thought we understood him to say that he wanted to pee. So Mother, Sue’s husband, Henry, and I helped Daddy to the commode, where he died, looking straight at me, his bluer than blue eyes locked onto me, as I squatted in front of the commode and Mother and Henry braced him from either side. Later Sue and I agreed that Daddy was no doubt saying, “Peace, peace.”
On the day that Mother died, almost 26 years later, she awoke restless, lying in the hospital bed she had occupied for less than a week at the house here in the country. On this last day of her time here, she registered no blood pressure when the hospice nurse arrived late in the morning. For several days, we had wondered how she could look at us with her penetrating dark brown eyes—the same eyes shared by Sue and me—and not respond to our attempts to talk to her. “Keep talking to her,” we had been advised by hospice, informing us that hearing is the last sense to leave us. “She is crossing over,” was the explanation for how she could seem to be awake and aware, but at the same time not answering in the voice we longed to hear one more time.
The morning of Mother’s death, after the hospice nurse had gotten a blood pressure reading, she positioned Mother so that she was sitting up against the pillows of her bed. The den was filled with family and friends. With those penetrating brown eyes open wide, Mother looked around the entire room, smiling. “In recognition,” I ask, I wonder, I hope. “This is a gift,” the nurse said—to me, it seemed, although she might have said it loud enough for everyone in the room to hear her. Yes, it was a gift. Mother died six hours later, as she slept quietly.
For three years now, I have thought about the gift from our mother on the day of her death. And I think of it each time I have cause to consider the departure from this life of family or friend or myself. I have thought about the so-called “crossing over” explained to us by the nurse and chaplain. How privileged we were to have been there and to have experienced first-hand this gift—and not to have simply heard about it later on. And now, as I reflect on the words of our daddy on the first day of spring 1981—the word “peace” that my sister and I have chosen to take as our witness of that brief but huge moment in our lives—I can only shake my head in acknowledgement. How do we wrap our hearts and minds around this frightening yet ever beckoning mystery? September 9th would have been my mother’s 93rd birthday. Amazing as it seems, my 67th birthday is one week later. The journey continues.
Beginnings and Endings and Beginnings—Normangee, TX (September 7, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Sunday, September 5, 2010
As I finished my shower this morning, wincing in anticipation that my right hand continues to feel sore and weak, I made to wring out my washcloth. And to my delight, I realized that the strength is already returning to the hand that was bitten less than 72 hours ago by an adult male German Shepherd that belongs to a long-time friend. That frightening event, another story that doesn’t really need to be retold, is behind me. The good news is that I am healing.
As I continued to get ready for my first day of feeling stronger and ready for the challenges ahead of me on this fall visit to my Texas home, I picked up the deodorant spray—and bam—my right forefinger pushed the plunger. I am still a little compromised, but then guess what, my right hand is nimbly pressing without pause the keys on this keyboard. I am so blessed.
Give thanks for the things we take for granted—the things we take for granted, like gripping the handle of the front door, wrapping our hands around the broom handle to sweep up the mass of bugs that have built up on the floor of a barn house during three months of absence, the prospect of soon immersing both our hands in the dish water, the ability to cup a pencil in our dominant hand and write a shopping list, the joy of clapping our hands in response to, well, joy.
I’m looking out the door leading into the place in this barn that I call an office, where lots of treasure, and lots of wonderful books, along with my computer printer—and for the winter a small wood-burning stove—live without thought of compromise, even when I am absent. An adult male cardinal pecks at the seeds in the grass just outside the door. Maybe he’s the same one that was just perched on a blooming limb of the Desert Willow planted farther over, just east of the barbed wire fence. I have noticed that the cardinals are indeed in residence of the somewhat weary summer garden that fronts my barn home. A summer that I am told began with ample rains has given way to the annual cycle of triple-digit days and infrequent showers.
We are thirsty, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I am optimistic that soon the ground and flora will smile as fall showers make a difference. There will be a bounce in our step, and the conversation will shift, even if only slightly. I smile at the prospect of putting on my buckskin gloves, grabbing the rake, the pruners, the loppers, and with both hands firmly fixed on the handles of the wheelbarrow that I haven’t pushed forward since spring, do some fall gardening. Everything has changed, but then it hasn’t. My eyes and ears and spirit are ready.
Change—Normangee, Texas (September 5, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The daily guide of the August 2010 Science of Mind Magazine tells me—no—reminds me that life is amazing, that I am, in truth, amazing. Yes, I’ve heard this before. At times I’ve even believed it. I know about what I call amazing days, amazing happenings, which most times are not really so much amazing as they are life affirming.
Yesterday, as I sat with a group that gathers each Wednesday at noon, listening to the others check in on their week, I smiled as one sojourner talked about her own struggle recently. In the big picture, not such a terrible set of challenges, but then who ever wants to measure the size of his or her own picture. As it turned out, I had a similar story to tell, and as I reflected—both while talking and then later in the day—I realized that I had to try to return to that moment Tuesday afternoon when I suddenly, instantly was reminded once again that God is in the world—just as it should be.
Tuesday morning I went to my weekly assignment as a volunteer in the visitor center at the Audubon Sanctuary here in Santa Fe. We sit at the very top of Upper Canyon Road, nested on the edge of where the land starts to rise into the mountains, “…at an elevation of 7500 feet…135 acres of intriguing landscapes and wildlife…bounded by thousands of acres of National Forest and [the] Santa Fe River Watershed….” Well, as the saying goes, you just have to have been there. This summer, Tuesday mornings have been especially rewarding—lots of visitors from lots of places—and from every conversation that I’m been privileged to be a part of, lots of happy campers, as another saying goes, even though camping is not permitted in this sanctuary.
I left Audubon early Tuesday afternoon, ready I thought for the rest of that beautiful day, but when I got back to my tiny home here, I realized that I was processing some anger. Likely it was intricately related to the heavy heart I have felt lately. When I started to talk about this Wednesday at noon, I realized that I’m pissed off. Now, who’s at the center of that story, I also realize. That would be no one else but me. So Tuesday afternoon, I just got in my car and headed north on Highway 84. I didn’t have to drive far before I was staring deep into the Rio Grande Valley, pueblo land surrounded by mesas and two mountain ranges, the Jemez and the Sangre de Cristo. The gossamer light that envelops this God-inspired place, well, thank you for sight.
If I hadn’t been so arrested by the beauty of what I saw, if I hadn’t been so thankful for the truth it told me, I would have pulled over and retrieved my camera. As I told a friend last night, though, no picture that I can take with my digital could tell the story. Once again, you just had to be there, and I was. Late yesterday I drove north with my camera, intent on capturing that image. Mindful that cell phones and cameras in the hands of distracted drivers are weapons, I was intent that I would stay focused on my principal task of driving without taking out either myself or someone else. Staying in the right lane, and keeping my speed well below the posted speed limit, I just pointed my camera toward the scenery and clicked-clicked-clicked, through the windshield and out the side windows. I saw it again, but no image that ended up in my camera can capture the feeling.
During the final Wednesday night of our weekly celebrations here in Santa Fe, our spiritual leader asked us to pair up and tell each other something that makes us happy—maybe it was truly happy. My chair neighbor, who is also part of the Wednesday noon group and a member of the drum circle that I participate in on Monday nights, told me two things in her journey that have made her happy. I didn’t even have to think about my part. All I had to do was put myself right back there Tuesday afternoon, heading north on Hwy 84. Though my camera doesn’t capture it, it is imprinted on me—my mind’s eye, my heart. It is amazing.
Suddenly I Am Amazed—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 26, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, August 23, 2010
When I think of home
I think of a place where there`s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing
(from “Home,” Charlie Smalls, THE WIZ)
“God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is!” Macrina Wiederkehr
But where is home? At church this morning, I was reminded that Mother Earth is my home. Earlier, as I looked at the only message that had arrived in my email mailbox during the night, I discovered that a friend here had awakened in the night, fearful that the physical pain she was experiencing might be a heart attack, and though she didn’t call me, she wrote me asking that I call her when I read the message. Fearing that she might die, she had left her front door unlocked, and in the message she told me who should get the kitten she had adopted only recently.
I’ve been wondering why my heart felt so heavy lately. August 14 would have been my daddy’s 99th birthday. The older I get, the more he and my family are on my mind—even though he died 29 years ago on the first day of spring. My mother’s 93rd birthday is coming up—one week to the day before my own birthday in September. She died the first day of February 2007, the year that I stuck my head through a crack in life, daring to be so bold as to create a life here in Santa Fe. Such boldness is not part of my upbringing.
The courageous ways of my daddy as a young man—forced to make his way in the years of the Great Depression—were not pronounced in my genes. Our mother, exercising her German upbringing, taught us not to venture out—to indeed stay near the nest. Only five years ago, as my mother worried about me driving to New Mexico for a summer visit, I reminded her that I might have moved to New Mexico in 1967 to take a teaching job (if I had had the courage). “I remember,” added my oldest sister, who was sitting nearby, “Daddy was all for it, and Mother clipped your wings.” How odd it seems in retrospect, a 24-year-old man not having the courage to “leave the nest”.
This past weekend was the annual Indian Market here in Santa Fe. Hundreds of artists displayed their work for thousands of seekers, from all over the U. S., at least. I walked through all of the displays early Saturday morning, and one of the things that struck me most was the presence of family. In many instances, what appeared to be generations of a family, quietly sat behind their displays of silver jewelry and pottery and weavings. Many of the older women (those who would be perceived as the matriarchs) were dressed in traditional garb, their hair pulled back in a recognizable bun, and wearing velvet blouses adorned with silver buttons, skirts almost touching the ground. Here and there I saw my own mother. As I walked around the market, the presence of family—not without conflict and strife, I’m certain—was so real. Should I conclude that my own mother’s tribal instincts were not so different than what I was witnessing? Ultimately, it is all about family and connecting, however we end up defining it.
I’ve seen my own mother a lot recently—frail and being helped from the car, making her way up the aisle on the arm of a son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter. What I haven’t seen is Mother laughing, younger, still full of hope and promise. I know she’s here. I just haven’t opened my eyes enough to recognize her. I wanted and I needed to go away after our mother died, to exercise the courage to be on my own. And having done so, I know that—as I was told by a priest friend a couple of years ago—“home is where you are”.
At church yesterday, the person sitting next to me asked about our friend, the one who sent me the email during the night. I knew she would not be in church. When I described what had happened, that is frightening, my chair neighbor replied. And then she (divorced and living alone in her 70s) described an event in her own life recently where a middle-of-the-night experience filled her with fear that she might choke to death—alone. She, too, expressed a dread that she might not be discovered quickly and that she would lay dead, for maybe days. What is this fear we have? We choose our separateness, our aloneness. Someone gave this advice recently: “Get a dog!” “We already have two cats,” the other replied. And so on.
Family, home, what does this mean? I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have the courage to be alone, if that is what life is offering us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have the courage to be different or more than we have convinced ourselves is our lot in life. It doesn’t mean that we saddle ourselves with reasons for not making new choices. Family does mean—if we are blessed to have been brought up in love—that we always feel close to our upbringing. We always feel connected, regardless of our current circumstance. The instinctive need to feel connected and stay connected is imprinted on us. I am away from all that I knew for the first 64 years of my life.
I am alone, by choice, even though I know I am not alone. Most of us are blessed to have family and friends who care about us, even though we sometimes question this. It is at those times that I remind myself to remind myself that I get what I give. If I want to be loved, I must love. If I want to be needed, I must need. “I'm not asking to be loved. I want to love.” So reads one of the inscriptions on the angel who hovers protectively at the start of the labyrinth walk in front of St. Francis Basilica here in Santa Fe. Loving—that is my assignment this day.
When I Think of Home—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 23, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
As I lay only a little awake 15 minutes ago, thoughts of thankfulness played in my groggy brain. I stretched out belly down on my bed, also stretching my hands and feet and wiggling my fingers and toes. "Thank you!" I said to myself for feeling and smelling and hearing and tasting. Now I'm showered and my coffee is brewing, and I get to say "Good morning".
Gayle, my friend in substance and in spirit, has been talking to those who gather with her at various times about gratitude. We talk about so much more. “I am thankful for all that my life is and all that my life isn’t, especially what my life isn’t.” It doesn’t take much thought to assign meaning to that statement—what my life is and what my life isn’t.
Following the gentle but enthusiastic advice of my friend, I am forming the habit of giving thanks—before I go to sleep, when I first wake up in the morning, and any time during the day or night when monkey mind is trying to have its way with me. To remember family—now my two older sisters and our only aunt still living, along with the cousins who have been a part of my life in some way these 67 years—and the friends who let me know regularly that they want to spend time with me (How precious is that!) comes to mind so readily. To give thanks for the comforts of my home, the gifts of intelligence and creativity, for the privilege of expressing this intelligence and creativity, for the education gifted by my parents and the ability to earn a living, for opportunity to travel, even in some relatively modest way—all of this I could so easily take for granted.
Today I will follow my routine of reading for learning and growing and for fun. I will walk for health and nourish my body with good food. I will gather with fellow sojourners. I will talk to my sisters and, no doubt, to at least a couple of my friends. I will meet someone new, and in this meeting I will have the opportunity to make a loving difference in someone’s life.
As I lay half asleep earlier this morning, thoughts of thankfulness played in my groggy brain. I stretched out belly down on my bed, also stretching my hands and feet and wiggling my fingers and toes. An image of a cat leap- trotting across some terrain danced in my head. No particular fan of cats, although I appreciate their beauty and pay attention to their clever and amusing ways, I wonder about that image. "Hmm, thank you!" I said to myself for feeling and smelling and hearing and tasting. Now I'm showered, my coffee is brewed and lovely tasting, and I get to say "Good morning".
A Good Morning—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 18, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love, Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please, Don't fence me in
Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in
"Don't Fence Me In", Cole Porter
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Let me tell you a story. When I first came to Santa Fe three years ago, I had lunch one Sunday with a couple from Texas, members of the Episcopal Church I attended in a relatively small East Texas town, but one with a university of close to 15,000 students. They were out here visiting her brother, who although he had grown up in this town when it was much smaller, had gone on to become a landscape architect, lived in New Mexico for close to 30 years and was recently retired from the State. Of this couple, the husband is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a retired college English teacher. The wife, an accomplished writer on religion and life, and who is now legally blind but continues to write using special technology, has published a number of books, a few of which I have read, enjoyed and learned from.
I had known these folks for only a short time, while I attended the church were they were established members. In addition to being smart and learned, they both have a great sense of humor. Virtually the last thing she said to me before they let me out of the car that Sunday, after we had feasted on cheddar and green chile burgers and fries at the Lotta Burger, was something like, “don’t get caught up in any of this New Thought stuff here (maybe she even used the term “woo-woo”),” (which thrives in Santa Fe, as anyone who knows anything about Santa Fe might know, along with every stripe of Christianity, Buddhism, Universal Unitarianism and lots of stuff that I know absolutely nothing about). Over the last three years I have continued to read writings about Christianity, including Gnosticism, and I have read several books on Buddhism. After all, it’s all about God.
I stopped going to the Episcopal Church here in the spring of 2009. In June of 2008 I had moved my membership from the Cathedral in Houston, where proof of my life in the Episcopal Church had resided since the 80s. It wasn’t long after that I realized I would change my walk. My friend Steve had invited me to the Center for Spiritual Living (Church of Religious Science) on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2008. The evening was an open mike experience, where everyone was invited to step up to the mike and talk briefly about what he or she wanted to give thanks for. Most of the 50-60 people gathered stepped up, including a couple of kids. Neither Steve nor I did, however (When visiting churches, I don’t even like to answer the invitation to stand and introduce myself—even to receive the gift that always accompanies the invitation!). That Thanksgiving eve experience stuck with me, though. I had never had such an experience before.
I’m just now getting around to reading the writings of Ernest Holmes (Science of Mind), although I have been present at lots of Center for Spiritual Living gatherings since the summer of ‘09. Holmes is not an easy read. But hearing the principles of Holmes’s philosophy, which he did not intend becoming an organized religion, spoken on a regular basis, does catch my attention. One of my favorite times during the week is gathering with a group at noon Wednesday (for some time I have been the only guy), that is led by a practitioner, who has just this week completed her ordination as a minister. It is a time of great affirming. One of the daily writings from Science of Mind magazine included this quote recently: “There is one life. That life is God. That life is my life now.” Pardon me, for I repeat myself. Well, I like that. Let it mean what you want it to mean.
I will volunteer this morning at the Audubon center here in Santa Fe. I get to spend three hours in the visitor center each Tuesday, where I look out the window into the mountains, where a wealth of native flora thrives in the gardens and beyond, and where as you would expect, we have lots of birds. And rarely do you meet a jerk (only a know-it-all here and there) in such a splendid environment. A visitor from Austin, Texas recently—and until recently I hadn’t met many Texans on my shift—commented quietly and smiling to me, “I don’t know anything about birds”. I replied, just as quietly, “Neither do I”. And then I added, “That’s why we’re here”.
Say it Again, Sam—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 3, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Barn's burnt down --
I can see the moon.
“I desire, Brother Wolf, to make peace between you and [the people], so that you may offend no more, and they shall forgive you your past offenses.”—St. Francis of Assisi, from “The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi”
“This…speaks to the workings of grace and love in all of us. We have the same power as St. Francis to transform animosity into love. Are you [we] open to this power of grace and love that extends to all sentient beings?”
(from [The Mystic Hours] by Brother Wayne Teasdale, 2004, p. 278)
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
"I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet." (Anonymous)
A couple of weeks ago our Wednesday group went through a repeating exercise of identifying the habits that put us down and keep us down. These are the stories we learned long ago that just keep showing up in our lives.
One of the new participants in the group, when asked what she thought of this exercise, quickly offered that at first she thought itt was corny, silly, weak, pointless—I don’t remember her exact label. But then she added just as quickly that she realized it had hit the mark for her.
To jump to the chase, from the exercise sheet we had completed, we ended up with three statements that we were then asked to take home with us. Our assignment was to stand in front of the mirror and do the following: Extending our left arm, say “I release my need to ________. Then extending our right arm, say “I release my need to ________. And finally, raising our arms above our heads in the shape of a V (perhaps V for Victory), say “I am grateful God is the ________ I am.” For me, it was: I release my belief in Rejection. I release my need to Self-Criticize. I am grateful God is the wholeness I am.
I guess it should come as no surprise that the words, habits we each chose to complete the blanks were not that dissimilar.
Fear, isolation, rejection, blame and shame plague most of us in some fashion or another. They live at the heart of the stories we have learned and that we continue to tell ourselves. We make them the truth.
Each time I get one of the “Forwarded” email messages that are continually circulating—the ones whose purpose is to separate us one from the other and promote the belief that we can’t trust one another—I immediately go on alert. After all, these messages intend that we should divide ourselves—us and them—and articulate our fears and isolation. They are about rejection and rejecting.
I had paid little attention to these emails until the most recent presidential election. When the messages arrived periodically bearing some alleged truth about the Black man who would be president and the female who would become Speaker of the House, in a combination of outrage and disgust over the ignorance that too frequently has its foot on our necks, I questioned, can this be true! For some time now, messages aimed at charging and condemning people of the Muslim faith are trafficking on the Internet. Thankfully, good sense led me to do a little fact checking (in my case to go to the Internet) and search for the source of these alleged truths. Without exception, I found the email messages to be hoaxes. Websites like www.urbanlegends.com and www.religioustolerance.org nailed it.
My own sense of right told me that I needed to let the person who had forwarded the message to me each time—and usually the list of recipients was at least a score of people—know that he or she was passing along information that was either distorted or untrue and that had clearly been manipulated to slander individuals and groups.
These habits of acting out our fear become most pathetic to me when I see the printed versions in the hands of people who probably haven’t joined the 21st century and don’t have computers. Thank you, friends and family, who are so ready to help us reinforce our fears by putting this nonsense in our hands and heads.
So as corny as it might seem, this morning when I came across my exercise sheet from two weeks ago, I thought, “well maybe this is a sign that I should give this a shot.” With sheet in hand, I went to the bathroom mirror. Clad in t-shirt and boxers, my night hair plastered in twenty directions, I stood there, thinking, “loser”. But I went on, counting the times I repeated the exercise. Maybe I made it to ten. Not the point, however. As I repeated this three-part mantra, at first focused on the sagging flesh of my face, my cow-licked hair, and the lack of muscle tone in my triceps (a reminder to go to the community gym for my modest dumb bell workout this morning), I got it. Gee, I’m better than the credit I give myself. Better yet, I am God’s own. I can love myself, and maybe, just maybe, it might become a lot easier to love—and to trust the love—of others—regardless of the tribe, regardless of how we are different. Smile begets smile, I’m thinking.
I have my habits and stories—learned long ago. And they’ve become comfortable to me, even though they’ve kept me from growing. Do we dare talk about happiness? My dissatisfaction with myself really can’t be separated from my fear of and dissatisfaction with others. As I was reminded the other day, any time we want to start working on figuring out where that gnawing feeling of discord is coming from—fault finding with this person or that group or some situation, all we have to do is look for the common denominator. That would be me. We get what we give—fear, trust, hate, love, blame, responsibility. The least I can do is try to discern when I’m fooling myself, or worse, using the same weapons on others that are part of the arsenal I use on myself. Sometimes a slow learner, I’m getting it. And so it is.
“I'm Starting With The Man In
I'm Asking Him To Change
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place…
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change”
From Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror”
Look into the Mirror—Santa Fe, New Mexico (July 28, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I was one of 14 nieces and nephews who recently received another cash gift from the estate of our aunt and uncle. While the heirs come from both sides of this childless union, seven of us especially know the love of our aunt, who at times was a mother to each of us. She was the mother who loved and didn’t judge, who while she treasured any time she spent with us—singly or otherwise—didn’t feel any ownership over us. She simply loved us.
The letter we received, asking us to agree to the terms of distribution from our aunt and uncle’s estate, reminded us to think about our stewardship of this gift from our aunt and uncle’s hard work, good fortune, and mindful ways concerning their good fortune. For my part, I was totally surprised when I was told a year ago that I was to be one of equal heirs of my aunt’s generosity. In the world of big money, which has a mighty broad definition, this gift is not huge. But I realized then, and I know even more clearly now, this gift will make a huge difference in my future, my life. “Thank you,” I say, “thank you for blessing me in this way”.
On July 13th, some of our Hollis kin gathered for lunch and then visited our Aunt Mary’s grave in Houston. I loved what cousin Donald had to say about this. “[We] bought silk flowers and went to talk to Aunt Mary. She didn’t have much to say, but we did. Took pictures and did a little praying with her. I know I really needed this and was happy to be joined by the others.” I missed out on this celebration of familial love, but I am reminded again today of what I trust to be true. Although Aunt Mary might have been quiet that day, she was present, and she was touched by the love offering of her nieces and nephews.
This matter of heirs and money is essentially settled. What will never end, though, is the recognition that we are only as much as our love. So again, I say “thank you” for the love and the generosity of my aunt and uncle. I smile at the prospect of the stewardship that is my choice and my privilege. Thank you for blessing me in so many ways. And so it is.
Stewardship—Santa Fe, New Mexico (July 21, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
So you ask,
"What does gratitude look like?"
I know what it feels like.
Like an encouraging message,
Especially one you didn’t expect.
Like a handshake from a stranger
Who decides to sit and talk.
Like a sun-cleansed breeze,
On an otherwise hot day.
Like walking through a door,
A door you didn’t even notice,
And finding a friend
On the other side.
R. Harold Hollis
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Each Wednesday night, a currently small group of us gather for what has been named “Wednesday Night Inspiration”. We do this at the center where I have chosen to have my formal God experience each week. Having said that, I am reminded that I read, I am told, and I try to remember, “There is one life. That life is God. That life is my life now.” Surely our human experiences are mostly similar. Regardless of how we choose to name it—God, Spirit, Creator, the Divine, all of the above—if we have chosen to be conscious of our essence, then we have also grappled with trying to reconcile that essence with the challenges of life.
On Wednesday nights, we begin with a little dancing, and because we are mostly similar in age, the music speaks to our generation's experience with radio music—a little rock ‘n roll and a little rhythm & blues. Dancing in church? My Internet friend, Wikipedia, affirms that dance has been an important part of ceremony, rituals, and celebrations throughout human history. As I read from “Science of Mind” magazine this morning—the current issue focusing on our creativity—I came to an article about a man who grew up in Malawi. Political unrest in the 1980s in his country brought him to the United States as a young man. And though he thought he would pursue a career in business, he chose instead to study theater and dance. Among the many accomplishments he’s made over the last 30 years, he has been recognized with the Dalai Lama’s Unsung Heroes of Compassion award for his work in using performance art as a tool for healing. Peace is at the center of his message and work.
So it dawned on me this morning—that’s what we are doing each Wednesday night. Even though I’ve commented, with a grin, several times—“My God, we’re holy rollers” (no offense intended). Last night, Steve Winwood’s 1986 #1 hit, “Higher Love” provided the inspiration for us to sweep into the floor space that had been created for us to get into the spirit, as it were.
“Think about it
there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above.
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart
I'll look inside mine.”
(from “Higher Love,” Steve Winwood)
The lyrics are dynamite, but the music, well, I couldn’t and I wouldn’t want to sit still.
Our weekly gatherings are about so much more than dancing. We do a little drumming—hmmm, more woo-woo. We light candles and release that which would hold us captive, someone sings a solo, we sing together, we state our affirmations, but most importantly perhaps, we hear a talk on God, faith, love, gratitude, forgiveness, blessings and the act of blessing, the freedom that our Creator wants us to know, and all of the things that any of us have learned on our spiritual journey. But we don’t talk about sin and guilt. And we don’t understand God as a male figure in the sky who wants to control us and exact punishment when our human nature leads us to fall short somehow. We are reminded as the prayer attributed to St. Francis tells us, it is in loving that we are loved; it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And we are reminded that we are at choice—always at choice.
How marvelous it is to know the healing power of music and dance. How marvelous to know that in spite of how we choose to separate ourselves one from the other, that we really are one and that celebrating this oneness is our challenge. The home of two of our Wednesday celebrants was broken into yesterday, so they were not physically present at the celebration last night. Before Steve Winwood’s music began, our leader offered a prayer of blessing for those who see themselves as victims and therefore privileged to violate the sanctity of another’s space. How marvelous to pray, as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, 5:44—“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
And so it is.
Just Let Me Bless You—Santa Fe, New Mexico (July 15, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
When I began a walk this afternoon, I saw dark clouds to the east. “Rain in the mountains,” I thought, wondering if I would make the loop back to my home base before rain reached me. The sun shone where I stood. I wasn’t concerned with getting wet, but I was mindful that I didn’t want to be in a rainstorm, especially if lightning accompanied the storm.
The fact is that monsoons in New Mexico mean you might get rain, and then again, you might not. At least that’s been the case for the three summers I’ve spent here. Dark as the skies might become—and they might well be dark nearby while you stand in the sunshine—rain on the desert plateau is something you hope for.
No rain today where I live. The air cooled down, but the sun continued shining, tenacious, in a sky mostly bereft of clouds. The wind had its way with the tall cottonwoods and the lone pine outside my balcony door, and the chimes made music. Somewhere nearby someone raised his face to the rain and smiled.
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, July 5, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I have misunderstood,
I have heard what you did not say.
How easy, how natural,
How perfectly normal,
To assume your words were clear.
How luxurious to hear your explanation,
How blissful then to understand.
How peaceful to have no reply.
R. Harold Hollis (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
“Hey, I’m retired. What’s all this craziness?” So I reminded myself yesterday afternoon, following a 1500-mile round trip to my home in Texas—in the throes of summer—a trip that was about work. Sure, it was by choice. By choice I had once again overwhelmed myself and my tiny condo here at the foot of the mountains with stuff, and so I chose to make a run to Texas to remove some of this stuff to my Texas barn home. There it waits an opportunity to belong to someone else this fall when I trek to Texas again for the fall antiques market.
For the better part of seven years, I have fretted over the small portico on the west side of the barn. The portico was put up in haste by someone I had hired. It was part of a larger project, and it came at the tail end of three weeks of working against an unrealistic deadline. As is often the case with contractors, he had underestimated the time required by the project, and he had his two sons half ass the portico at the last minute. Finally, on this recent trip to Texas, a friend accepted my invitation to go along—and work—in the Texas summer—to make this portico right and lovely.
Even if you’re smart by braving the humidity in the early morning before the day begins to take its toll, Texas summers are tough, especially for folks who have escaped to the high and dry of 7000 feet, even if these folks grew up in Texas or have spent long years near the Gulf coast. Once again, I puzzle over how my forbears tolerated the heat and the mosquitoes—and without air conditioning. And again, I remind myself that I didn’t grow up with air conditioning in the 1950s. That luxury came when I, the youngest of three, was in college.
My friend, who had apparently forgotten what 98 degrees and humidity feels like, discovered quickly on day one of our efforts to make right this terribly wrong portico. Actually he was doing the making. It was his design, his plan. I just bought the materials, provided the tools, and served as helper and questioner. “Shouldn’t we fasten all of the old two by sixes with screws?” “Shouldn’t we wait until early tomorrow morning to work?”
But I remind myself that I’m retired. Each time I go away from Texas—usually for at least two months at a time—during what I also remind myself is the growing season—I come back to one of two things. Either Texas has had rain and the place is a jungle, lush with the blooms that can prosper in heat beating away each day. Or, Texas hasn’t had rain, and only the weeds are prospering nonetheless. Regardless of the circumstance, it all spells work. Our part of Texas had close to 10 inches of rain in early June. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the reality. Yet I remind myself that blooms and weeds are far easier on the eye and soul than an untended garden that has suffered the Texas summer without water.
As I finally sat down yesterday in my tiny living room here in New Mexico—following the return leg of the trip to Texas, portico repaired and stained, garden untended though flourishing right now, and following a day of tending to matters that just needed taking care of—I thought, “What’s all this craziness?” “I am retired!” Even the things that feed my spirit, which right then were just one more chore, had little appeal.
All I had done for over a week is go. I needed a second wind. I needed to make a different choice or two, right then. The dusty county road that leads to my place was already a 14-hour drive behind me, and the chores of choice biding their time until my return to Texas in late summer. As soon as I cross something off the list of that place, at least two new things make their way onto the list. They all require time, energy, and most often, money. I give thanks for a willing, capable friend.
This morning I’m back to my routine here. Road weary still, I headed to the little gym in our condo community at 5:50 a.m. Last night I chose to go to the weekly practice session of the drum choir I joined in January. This morning I go to my volunteer work in the visitor center of the Audubon center. Right now just about everything seems like drudgery, even though I know that all of these choices add meaning to my life. The monthly spiritual guide that I read most mornings went unnoticed on my trip to Texas. I thought I was too busy to take time each morning. So this morning, after my trip to the gym, I opened the guide to the reading that I would have read 10 days ago, if I had taken the time. “Give me the strength to be free,” it begins. “What pictures come to your mind when you see or hear the word ‘freedom’?...Are you ready to jump in your car and get on an open road under the blue sky?...Or is there some kind of change or reordering that you feel compelled to do?” (Science of Mind for June 12, 2010)
The writer of the meditation quotes Howard Thurman (1899-1981). According to my favorite Internet friend, Wikipedia, Thurman was an influential American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Theology and the chapels at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades. He authored 20 books and in 1944 helped found the first racially integrated, multicultural church in the United States. Thurman “spoke of freedom as the ability to deal with the realities of one’s situation so as not to be overcome by them.”
The writer continues, “I found that…freedom and I are often having a tug-of-war about that very thing. Initially I feel free to choose to get involved in this or that, but when I have taken on a large chunk of ‘to-dos,’ I feel so overwhelmed that it is difficult to think, sleep, or even eat. In a sense, this can be like self-sabotage because I become so overwhelmed that I give up everything.” She closes with the affirmation, “I am free to be, for the Power within me can handle it all.”
Over the years I’ve been reminded that “it’s all about choices.” My habit is not to wrap my mind around this—what do we call it: truth, premise—even though more and more I know it to be so. I get to choose, even something as simple as opening my little magazine to the meditation I didn’t read 10 days ago—a message that was spot on for just how I’ve been feeling for a few days. And I get to choose to pay attention to the message. I give thanks. And so it is.
On the Go—Santa Fe, New Mexico (June 22, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Thursday, June 10, 2010
To all of the trash talking and divisiveness that happens right before our eyes, right where live, I say “No”. Yesterday I received a welcome message from a sojourner I don’t even know reminding me that efforts to spread misinformation meant to enflame and divide don’t have to go unchallenged.
It is sometimes hard for me to wrap my mind and heart around the teachings most of us learn as we grow up. We are all loved equally by God, regardless of how we imagine and define god. We are all worthy, regardless of how well we are taught to believe in our unworthiness. When we judge ourselves and others unworthy, we do so out of fear that we fail to recognize as just that. We are all equal and perfect in God’s eyes, all equally deserving in God’s eyes. God’s abundance is right here, now, not in some distant, hoped-for heaven. In God’s eyes, none of us has a birthright or earned right to more than someone else, especially at the expense of someone else.
We are all in this together. We succeed and fail together. I read this, I am told this, and I believe it. I give thanks for the reminder that you and I are not at war, regardless of what you mistakenly believe. To the notion that we gain courage and strength at someone else’s expense, I say to myself, “No”. Sometimes I have the courage to say to the messenger, “No.” Spare me your lies and hate. Spare me your fear masquerading as truth. Spare me your dissatisfaction. Spare me your belief in failure. If hate feeds you and you think that is how I’m nurtured, spare me, please. And so it is.
Spare Me—Santa Fe, New Mexico (June 10, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
It’s been over 30 years since a friend in Austin Texas gave me some of the best advice a still-young sojourner can get. We had been talking about parent-child relationships—really the complications of my own relationship with my mother and my friend's tapestry of experiences as a divorced mother of three bright, independent-spirited children. As I told the same story again—one that I had revisited over and over and woefully continued to revisit for another three decades—my friend said, “Harold, parents do the best they can. They don’t look at a child in the crib and say, ‘I’m going to f--k you up.’” I don’t ever want to forget that wisdom, even though I am not a parent. My mother is dead three years now, and I still mourn at times that we never made a complete peace, even though she was a wonderful and loyal friend until the very end of her life here. It is what it is.
Relationships of any kind are complicated—friends, siblings, professional, romantic—and we all too easily forget that on any given day we are most likely doing the best we can. On the continuum of our behaviors—if such a model is appropriate for talking about the good and the ugly that we are capable of as human beings—we are making our way in the way that seems to work for us at the time. What any of us does on any given day—how we relate to one another, the peace or joy that we bring to ourselves or that we offer as gifts to others, regardless how small the offering might seem, the “hell on earth” that manifests in similar measure—the sounding of our lives is all part of the journey, the journey home to our center, to the Divine of which we are all expressions, as I was reminded in reading from “Science of Mind” magazine this morning.
Are we dealt a hand? Are we mostly choice makers? Are we victims? We work with life the best we can. Earlier today I saw a group arrive at the nature preserve where I volunteer one morning each week. I didn’t pay much attention, although I noticed that they sat at a picnic table near the visitor center and shared a meal. “Early in the day for lunch,” I thought, but went about my task of filling the feeders with seed and hummingbird nectar. Only later did I realize that the group was made up of three mentally challenged adults and their caregivers, when one of the caregivers brought her charge into the visitor center. With great tenderness, she shepherded the young man around the small visitor center, commenting when I asked if they had enjoyed the trail that it was nice, “but that Jeff was frightened coming back down” the steps that lead up to the trail. “Yes, those steps are challenging,” I remind myself aloud. I walked with them as they left the visitor center, where another of the caregivers waited outside the door, a young man, smiling as he gathered the flock.
Do the next right thing. That is a choice we sentient beings have all day long every day. Here in this sanctuary where some come to work, others to volunteer, and many to walk the trails and delight in the birds, evidence of other wildlife and the typography above 7000’, I am reminded as visitor after visitor comes into the center—most eager to talk about the experience of just being here—I am blessed, once again—in remembering the health I enjoy and the independence that I assume each day is my very right. One visitor this morning from Florida walked the lower trail while his wife, who wasn’t up to the challenge, waited in the car. He came into the center to thank me—“No, thank you,” I’m thinking—telling me that he had seen a Spotted Towhee on the trail, as if this had made his day. I noticed earlier in the morning a small group pushing two of their companions in wheelchairs up to the small landing that leads to the trailhead. One of them came into the center to say, “Thank you,” telling me that they were from one of the pueblos nearby. “No, thank you,” I’m thinking. And so it is.
Thank You--Santa Fe, New Mexico (May 18, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, May 10, 2010
I made my first hike of the year yesterday afternoon. I went alone, which is usually how I entertain myself, regardless of where I am. Although it makes me a little sad—to be reminded that I didn’t have a companion to join me on this outing—I realized a long time ago that there are harsher truths in life than spending much of my time in sole pursuit.
As I made my way up and down the trail, which to my surprise was still blanketed with heavy drifts of now-dirty snow in areas where the sun hasn’t yet done its work, I passed several families—perhaps on a mother’s day outing. The last, a young couple dragging a stroller up the trail, prompted me to say to the young woman, “I guess ‘Happy mother’s day’ is in order”. “Thank you,” she replied, smiling. It seemed a little strange to be saying that to someone young enough to be my granddaughter, especially on a day where I was thinking about my own mother.
Earlier in the afternoon I had received an email from a friend. “I wish you a good mother’s day, yes, I know you´re not a mother but think about it there might be a little of a mother in you. Let´s hope so….” In church on this Sunday morning, the minister wished all of us a happy mother’s day, then proceeded to talk about masculine/feminine archetypes and male/female qualities that characterize each of us. “Interesting,” I answered my friend’s email—that you should acknowledge my nurturing ways, especially since that was at the heart of the talk given by our minister just two hours earlier. With a smile, later in the day I wished the tattooed 20-something male sacker at the super market a happy mother’s day, but I think the whole notion of male/female qualities within each of us was lost on him. He smiled back, nonetheless.
I guess the point of all of this comes down to celebrating who we are. Eventually, we are all orphans. In the three years since our mother died, I have made peace with the truth that I can’t walk up the road to her house and fix her a bowl of Cream of Wheat or pick up the phone and say hello, without giving it a second thought, to anyone from our parents’ generation—not anymore. Only one aunt—our Aunt Edna by marriage—remains from that generation. And at 83, she is living with a terminal diagnosis. Living friendly with the news, it seems, she is taking each day for what it brings. I saw her a few weeks ago. Although I was a little frightened (What do you say to someone who is facing the inevitable news of our finality?), I realized quickly that day—as she sat in the passenger seat of her granddaughter’s pickup truck, ready for the return trip to her home some 200 miles away—that loving feelings trump whatever fears cause us to feel uncertain. We visited for only 15 minutes. I almost made it through without crying. But when I told her that I named her and all of her family in the list of blessings I speak each night, I couldn’t contain the emotion I felt at remembering, remembering. And one important truth sitting arms outstretched on the front of my brain is that we are all in this together.
I chose to live in this place where I have no blood connections—not that any such connections guarantee anything at all. There are no Sunday family dinners here, at least not for me, and not of the kind that I recall from all of the years of living around family. But somehow that seemed all right when I stood where Big Tesuque stream crosses the road that leads to almost 12,000 feet. With the water rushing behind me and in front of me, I fixed my eyes on that tumbling water making it way around a fallen aspen and down, down, how far I don’t really know. I stood there, legs akimbo of sorts, my hands resting on my hiking pole, and I breathed and counted, trying to stay focused on the sounds of the wind and the water and the cool afternoon air, wrapping itself around my legs, in short pants for the first time this season. I made it to 10 times 20, breathing in and exhaling my emptiness, and I found a lovely peace. Alone I was, in one sense, but somehow it didn’t seem so lonely, as I made my way back down, greeting families and even one sole sojourner such as I. I am reminded in all that I choose to read that we are never alone. Sometimes we long for quiet times, sometimes we long for the company of others. Sometimes we long for something we know not. And so it is.
Mother’s Day—Santa Fe, New Mexico (May 10, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis