LANGUAGE BARRIERS

. . . LOST IN AN UNFAMILIAR CULTURE

Have you ever traveled to a place where  you couldn’t understand the local dialect or language, and the people there didn’t understand you?  I have.  Let me tell you a story.

My husband and I were new arrivals in Cairo, Egypt in 1987.  He worked for the American Embassy while I planned to study anthropology at the American University in Cairo.  Knowing no Arabic, I had chosen to take a colloquial Arabic class at AUC designed to get foreigners started; formal language classes would begin with the new semester.  A couple weeks into the class, I found myself in the position of having to hire a taxi to get from my suburban home to the Embassy in Cairo.  “Maa-lesh!”  (no matter!) I thought;  I believed I knew enough Arabic to do this one simple thing.  I found a taxi driver (who spoke no English) in the market area  near our home and told the driver in Arabic that I wanted to go to the American Embassy, about 30 minutes away.  I got into the cab and he began driving- but NOT toward Cairo!  He continued to ask me what I thought was ‘where do you want to go?’  so I kept repeating the same answer, mystified as to why he kept asking.  Around and around we drove, stopping to talk to several people shopping in the market area.  It dawned on me that he was looking for an English speaking person, as there was apparently some misunderstanding between us.  After what seemed ages (actually about 20 minutes!) an English speaking Egyptian woman got into the cab with me; only then did the remarkable story come out!  She told me in Egypt, it is standard for a driver to seek more than one fare when traveling a certain distance.  However, it is considered inappropriate for a driver to allow a woman (me!) to ride with two or more men alone; so it was necessary to find a woman who wanted to go to Cairo.  Furthermore, drivers expected their passengers to give them directions if the destination is not known to them.  His question had not been ‘where do you want to go?’ but ‘where is the American Embassy?’  I felt so relieved to have my co-passenger explain it all to me!

But what had I felt before the bi-lingual lady had so graciously stepped in?  I had felt frustrated, slightly angry; followed by a sort of low-level fear and anxiety; then stupid, humiliated, humbled.  You may think I shouldn’t have felt all these things, yet I did- all in the course of a mere twenty minutes.  Imagine the gratitude I felt toward my empathetic interpreter!  She had taken it upon herself to solve my problem for me, explaining both language and cultural misunderstandings.  She had erased my uneasiness with two minutes of her time.  She taught me a lesson I will never forget, much more than she could have ever imagined or intended.  To her, it was a simple kindness.  But then kindness is never simple to the recipient, is it?

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LOVE- SACRED OR PROFANE?

He walked with me that day-
The day after the storm,
The day I finally knew
I loved him more than life.

We walked in his world
Through a forest whose trees
Glistened, wet in the sun-
Dripping, sated with fresh rain.

My upturned face welcomed
The heavenly tears
Cleansing those which had scourged
My body only last night.

Now with him beside me
I know I can live again.
He had touched my heart
And so my soul is his.

Like an innocent flower
Petals open to the sun,
I took him within me,
Amazed by his gentle power.

He showed me my own beauty,
Long asleep, now wakened
In the ecstasy of our union-
Whole, beyond complete.

My breath ceased- unneeded
By a body aflame
Melting into the earth
While ascending far above it.

Yet my breath returned
As he released my soul,
Setting me free
To choose him again.

Love- sacred or profane?
Holy or mundane?
There is but one love
Its expressions are infinite.

 

Love is: “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.  . . . the desire to love is not itself love.  Love is as love does.  Love is an act of will- namely both an intention and an action.  Will also implies choice.  We don’t have to love.  We choose to love.”

—-M. Scott Peck, MD (Psychiatry) in The Road Less Traveled 1978

 

 

 

 

LET’S KEEP AMERICA GREAT!

LET’S KEEP AMERICA GREAT!

Forget the GOP problems. Forget all the posturing, name-calling, and fear mongering from both sides of the political fence.  THINK INSTEAD about who we are as Americans.  Consider our history as descendants of immigrants to a new land who sought freedom from oppression.  Think about the cultural values our forebears defined in our constitution to maintain our freedom while ensuring humanitarian morals.  Reflect on our continued perseverance in evaluating and incorporating changes in our society through our chosen form of government.  We have faced and overcome challenges throughout our history yet America remains a great country, a place many millions choose to call “home!”

Look around you.  Everywhere you look, you see heroes!  They are: our families, who care for their loved ones; our religious communities, who rally with prayer and assistance when anyone is in need;  our civil servants- police, firemen, military- who often go beyond their required duties to ensure our safety; you and I, who respond with heartfelt empathy and a hand to help a friend when life frowns his way. We are Americans; this is what we do!

     We certainly continue to face our share of challenges, many of which are related to our fears. Like all humans, we fear death and disease.  But we are wary of change as well, which we sometimes view as a threat to our way of life.  Thankfully we have the capacity and desire to evaluate such changes and define their potential for actual harm so we can respond appropriately.  We have the ability to calm our fears while seeking rational solutions, striving to avoid having fear alone determine our choices of response and action.

To KEEP America great, we must continue our good work by remembering who we are: human beings dependent upon one another for the quality of life we enjoy.  We have morals, integrity, a conscience.  We are humanitarians.  Our choices to be so have made us heroes in the eyes of the world.  We ALL are America!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I became weary of the rhetoric about how we should “make America great again,”  and the preposterous suggestions for how we should  do so- suggestions which I believe are based in fear and intended to provoke fear.   I am of the opinion that America is and continues to be great, so I wrote this as a letter to the Winchester Star Editor. [published in their  web edition 5/18/16]  SEV

SELF-REFLECTION

About a week ago, I watched as a bright red cardinal repeatedly flew from a tree limb toward my house and back again.  Curious, I decided to get a closer look and found he was attacking my garage door window!  I went down to the garage imagining there must be a delicious bug infestation nearby.  No such evidence.  Yet the cardinal continued his attacks every day; he seemed to be so engaged each time I checked.  I mentioned his bizarre behavior to my family, and my daughter promptly sought an answer on Google.  She read me the query response: it was likely that the bird believed his own reflected image was another bird. He was attacking his own reflection believing his territory was under siege!  This morning I watched again and wondered if my cardinal (or so I had come to think of him) would ever realize the threat to his territory existed only in his tiny bird-mind.  He was wasting so much time and energy fighting with his own reflection; it seemed he was his own worst enemy!

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Most of us at some point in our lives have come to the conclusion that we’re our own worst enemy in some particular life scenario.  We have realized we are getting in our own way by thinking or doing something which has interfered with our own goals, our own peace of mind.  Such an insight is helpful to us, in and of itself.  Yet that same insight can be life changing  if we can put it to work in areas of our lives beyond our “Eureka!” moment.

This is, in part, what consciousness and conscious living are all about.  With a bit of effort, we can use the experience of an insightful moment to show us we are capable of both creating and using insight to solve other issues in our lives.  We do not have to wait for the lightbulb to illuminate our minds; we can search for the switch and turn it on any time we choose!  It would be ideal to do so when we first note any negativity in our lives. Yet getting the inside view first doesn’t usually occur to us.  We have a tendency to blame circumstances and  others for anything which seems less than ideal in our lives.

I have certainly “been there.”  One day several years ago I was in a terrible mood.  I had just gotten off the phone with an old friend who I kept in touch with several times a month.  During each and every conversation we had, she would devolve into a rant against her ex-husband  (from whom she had been divorced longer than a decade.)  Over the years, I had tried to change the subject, confront her with the futility of her obsession, and finally just  avoided picking up the phone sometimes.  But that day I had answered, and I reacted later with my own  obsessive thoughts:  “What is WRONG with her?”  I fumed to myself.  After about an hour of this, I finally realized I’d been asking the wrong question; I needed to ask, “what is wrong with me?”  Despite the fact that my friend had a problem, I realized there was more going on.  Why did her issues have such an impact on me and my frame of mind?    After a little soul-searching, it occurred to me she reminded me of myself and my own still festering issues.  I didn’t appreciate being reminded of such an unattractive self- image!   The insight directed me to unexpected solutions.  I realized we all have baggage in need of being lightened, but we don’t have to deal with anyone else’s unless we choose to do so.  Eventually I was able to talk with my friend and not feel depressed afterward.

 

This afternoon, my cardinal has a companion which seems to remain very close to him on the tree branch.  Do you suppose his attacks on the threatening bird in my window have helped him to succeed in finding a mate?  I must say I doubt he will ever realize his energy has been wasted, and that his success will likely be due to his own natural beauty.

5/22/16 UPDATE:   While watching the above pair, I discovered a nest of brand new baby cardinals in the shrubs just below my porch!  Dad continues to make sure his territory is safe, checking out the garage window frequently!

A MOTHER’S SOUL

When souls choose an earthly path,
They contemplate the needs of man:
The voids to fill, a master plan-
Bringing peace to our lives again.

Those loving souls know their choice
Could challenge all their Heavenly skill:
Being human, given free will,
Earthly bound, great dreams to fulfill.

To such souls one choice remains:
Which human role shall be embraced?
Each one presents an empty place
For soul’s breath to fill the space.

Some souls seek a path to nurture
All who will become our future;
A sacred role above all others-
Those souls choose to be our mothers.

~~~ Dedicated to my beloved Mom, Irene Louise (Kallien) Hueckman
~~~ 8/6/1926-9/28/1968

IT MATTERS

Can you 
     Dry her tears,
     Allay her fears
     Throughout the years?
Because, you see, 
     It matters.

Can you 
     Hold his hand
     Support his stand 
     Without demand?
Because, of course,
     It matters.

Can you 
     Say a prayer
     A burden share
     When life's unfair
Because you know
     It matters?

Can you
     Speak with love
     Act with love
     Give your love
Believing that
     It matters?

. . .AND SOME ENDEAVORS MATTER LESS

 

Having  control and being “in control” seem to be  persistent human desires. Yet I believe most of us realize how little control we actually have;  that in fact, control is a seductive illusion.  We are all at the mercy of our biology as well as our environment- especially the whims of nature and the choices of other people.  If we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it a thousand times: we are only in control of our own thoughts, choices, actions and reactions.  Still we persist, saying to ourselves, “I can have a little more control if I ____,”  then fill in the blank with whatever seems appropriate under the circumstance:

“…am the driver on our trip.”  (but then the car’s brakes fail.)

“…use parental controls on my child’s computer.”   (but then she connects with a questionable older boy while using her friend’s X-box.)

Both examples show choices we might make, but our choices are not the issue here; how we incorporate those choices into our internal dialogues may be crucial. If we allow ourselves to believe our choices enhance our control in each situation, we risk becoming complacent (eg: “problem solved!”) or compulsive (eg: “that worked- more controls might be in order!”)   Even if our thinking doesn’t bring us to either end of the spectrum, it still perpetuates the illusion of having or creating control.

It might be useful to do a “reality check,”  a process useful only if we can be totally honest with ourselves.  The goal is to examine the sequence of events which took place when we sought to control something/someone. Start by identifying your control target then ask yourself exactly how you approached it.  Consider each action you took, step by step, and describe the results of each step along the way.  Follow your questioning to the end of your endeavor then evaluate the final result.  To do so, ask yourself these questions: What deviations of my planned approach were necessary along the way, if any?  Did my actions precipitate unwanted or unanticipated results? How did I feel as I progressed through my attempt to control?  What might I have to do to maintain my control?  Did my self- image change in any way during the endeavor?  What did the process cost me?  Am I content with my results?  You may be surprised by your conclusions!

We can make plans, use caution, choose actions which seem right for us, while realizing our choices do not control the outcome.  Acknowledging this to ourselves allows us more freedom of mind to manage unanticipated events or unintended results of our actions. Our internal dialogues will have included the concept that the unexpected is always right around the corner, and we will feel more able to deal with anything that arises.

If it were up to me, I would probably eliminate the word “control” from our vocabulary!  We would do better to use words which more accurately reflect what we are able to accomplish with the resources available to us.  We can direct change in ourselves and in our lives using the tools we have that can make a difference, that can matter: our thoughts, choices, actions and reactions matter.  They belong to each of us alone, and are therefore our only dependable means of directing our lives along the course we desire.

I don’t suppose I’ll realize my wish to eradicate the word “control” from our vocabulary, since that’s not under my . . . uh. . . control.  But I hope we can all be encouraged to concentrate our efforts toward change using the powerful means at our disposal.  Aspiring to have or create control beyond those means is nothing more than a distraction which leads us down a path of futility.  Let’s accept and use the power we have; it’s all we need.