NEIGHBORCARE NEWS #23 MARCH '03
"No service is too small when given mindfully, with good intention and an open heart."
Dear neighborcare volunteers and friends: These are mythic times. We walk the balance line between forestalling cataclysm and creating, togetherreleasing together, rediscovering togethera world of such splendor we can hardly imagine it.
In the movie Normal, actress Jessica Lange discovers that her husband longs to be a woman and will be taking action to become one. Lange suffers. However, when a priest suggests she would be forgiven by the church if she chose to leave her marriage, she glares at him, weeping, and blazes passionately in defense of her beloved. "But he is my heart," she says. "He is my heart." So must we cleave, must we not, to this world as our heaven placeto one another as belovedsdespite wrenching threats and devastation, no matter our individual shocks or circumstances. So doing, we fulfill our destiny as human beings of the highest consciousness and compassion.
I refuse to dwell on the roster of what we have suffered and lost or are at risk of suffering and losing. The list grows to such proportions we are in danger of drowning in the sea of its particulars. Better to be mute, on that score, and instead use our voices to sing out as one voice, loving God as we know Godliving God as we know God.
Taking steps in our communities, however broad, however simple, and in our hearts and mindsto make peace, to ease agony of whatever kindwe bolster this commitment in our own lives and inspire others to do the same. We must, at the same time, conceive a new story for our neighborhood the world and act without fail to manifest that story. Until we conceive itand act as if we conceive it, it cannot be. Oh, the good that comes from our imagining the best in us, and for all of us, everywhere. And such good believing we are helping birth miracles. we are the heroes the world needs, and the world needs us now.
A friend wrote: "When so-called 'bad news' gets very, very bad, it means the brightest realizations of possibility move to rising, like the brilliant sun before a darkened dawn." Imagine the moment, as one of our wise daughters envisions it, when all fear and anguish will be history.
NEIGHBORCARE NEWS A few months ago, I was asked to interview an elderly gentleman in a local assisted living center. This gentleman (a former Harvard graduate and/or professor, I believe) was grateful for a man in a nearby community who tended to him, and he wanted this man celebrated in print for all to read about. One newspaper had respectfully declined, suggesting this was not enough of a human interest story to warrant a feature article. Someone thought that since I was a writer, I might helpat the very least, by offering tribute in the neighborcare newsletter.
My conversation with this genteel and well-spoken man was rich, for both of us, I think. I assured my new friend I would mention the caregiver he treasured in a newsletter. As he requested, I left copies of various neighborcare newsletters for him to read. Two or three days later, on an impulse, I called the caregiver I would be honoring. I wanted to share my enthusiasm and ask him. So doing, I learned our mutual friend (whom I had intended to keep visiting) had died peacefully in his sleep the night following our time together.
In retrospect, I am grateful I did not put off my visit. And I am grateful for two serendipitous conversations that have made my own life richer. Hats off to you, Chesley Dunlap (formerly of Parker Ridge) and, as promised, to your caregiver, Ivar Olson of Brooklin.
reading faces As part of her homeschooling program, my granddaughter and I have included reading faces, i.e. looking deeply at faces that impress us, be they pictures in magazines or those worn by people in our company. This, as a spark for writing essays and short stories. Also as a practice of "listening" well, for all the good that can bring. (Certainly, we can "listen" with more than our ears.)
From a magazine, I had clipped a photograph that struck me. After some reflection, my granddaughter wrote fine words to accompany the photograph. I was so taken by it, I contemplated it again and again. Even now, months later, I can picture the scene in great detail.
The background features bombed out buildings and the absence of plant life. The middle-aged woman in the foreground looks to be of medium build. Her face is free of any blemish. She wears a scarf and simple, layered clothing. Her expression, gazing down and away, is of one who has suffered so much there is nothing left to lose. It is disturbingly, yet inspirationally, serene.
The woman holds
a sleeping kitten which she has scrupulously wrapped in a gray and white
scarf. The kitten is carried like a baby, one paw resting on the womans
chest, her left arm cradling its neck and head, her right hand supporting
its scarf-wrapped body. The scene suggests the woman has few choices.
Of course, one has been to care for the kitten she embraces, a creature
who could look no more content if he lay cushioned on a throne.
"It seems to me that the thing for which you spend your life to build, if you would be whole, is not a bank account, or an unimpeachable social position, or success in any one of a thousand lines of endeavor; it seems to me the only thing worth having is a certainty of yourself, a complete confidence in how you will act under any circumstances, a knowledge of yourself. People who have this knowledge are people who have kept their edges intact, people with what I can only call core; by which I guess I mean th indestructible skeleton of character, shown through manner and mannerism, as good bones show through flesh. It is the thing you know you can count on in yourself and in others, and its not easily acquired." from Happy the Land by Louise Dickinson Rich
living questions Does what I think, say and do harm Life or benefit It? What effect will what I think, say and do have on unborn generations? Can something benefit me, truly, or harm me without also having its effect on the world? How can I train myself to see these deep connections? What good can tracing them bring? Who am I, really, if I dont take the time?
And once again: "Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Dont open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." Rumi
highly recommended a "Down Under" movie, The Sum of Us, starring Russell Crowe. The movie, made in the early 1990s is unique, real, tender but unsentimental. One of its final scenes should be seen by every caregiverby everyone.
from the kitchen a quick no-fat, lentil vegetable soup. tastes good right away. start it an hour and half before you plan to sit down and enjoy it. no sautéing necessary. Ingredients: Good water. Plenty of slivered fresh ginger root and garlic, and chopped yellow onions. Rinsed lentils. Potatoes, carrots and parsnips (I add these whole and pull them out when theyre soft enough to cut easily in any shape I choose. Broccoli, celery and cubed butternut squash, optional.) Braggs amino acids (instead of soy sauce or tamari or salt.)
When the soup is nearly done, add salsa, turmeric, garam masala, curry, and a bit of black pepper, to taste. Sprinkle in astragalus powder and a touch of burdock power for the immune system and liverthese thicken the soup deliciously. At the end, add in chopped kale. Crumbled sheeps milk feta is a plus, added before serving. An economical and warming meal for cold weather days.
Make enough and you can eat the soup all week or share it with those you care for, and about, in nursing homes (dont make it spicy then) or in your neighborhood. When the broth dwindles, the soup becomes sauce for rice, rice pasta, or stuffed potatoes, or filling for hash. (We just finished a round of it at home. Am making it again.) Serve with sourdough bread slathered with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. (I scoop out some of the softer sections of bread, for manageabilitys sake.) Sprinkle on garlic granules and dill. Bake till crusty on the outside, still-a-bit-chewy on the inside.
from the not-a-doctor Caution: Do not wear heavy-duty cramp-ons/ice grippers in a store which has no "give" to its floor. Doing so you risk crashing to that floor and ripping ligaments in your kneeI am living proof. Doses of homeopathic arnica, taken externally and internally, comfrey root tea, ice, bromelain (found naturally in pineapple and used, in tablet form, for sports injuries), ice (in the form of an ice cuff and/or snow in a ziploc bag), basic restorative exercises (one of which was flexing my toes), having my knee adjusted by an illustrious local chiropractor, two weeks on a walkerplus prayers and gracebrought me in a few weeks time to a 95% healed knee. How very grateful I am! (note: Immediately following my accident, two store personnel rushed over, mostly concernedat least as I read the expressions on their faceswith legal matters, about which I immediately reassured them. A third person rushed over as well. She wrapped her arm around me, held my hand, was present for me, completelythis angeland saved the day.)
caregiving tips Tell folks how wonderful they look, no matter how old they are. Find something true to say that will lift. Just because a person is old doesnt mean s/he doesnt want to be seen. If a new haircut is truly complimentary, noticeout loud. If a flattering color is worn, say the color is flattering. Why hold back? (Not just "What a great color!" but "What a great color on you!")
You can rescue someone magnificently, but if you dont follow up, at least with a phone call, the person might think you felt trapped into giving, and overburdened. Following up, unbidden, often does as much good for a person you cared for as did your initial service.
growing neighborcare: the good that connections can bring
A young woman in Boulder, Colorado has been receiving neighborcare newsletters for some timewe have been emailing back and forth occasionally. As part of her masters in gerontology program with Naropa in Boulder, my neighborcare friend created Common Hearth: Inviting Neighborhoods to Voluntarily Serve our Elders. On her lovely "invitation" to serve are the words "No service is too small when given mindfully, with good intention and an open heart Neighborcare of Maine." Lovely!
Someone from the Blue Hill peninsula mentioned neighborcare to a woman living in Vermont. This woman and some friends (already reaching out in their communities) began receiving the newsletter. I met with them nearly two years ago when I was visiting family near Montpelier. Recently, I received an update on their work. Not only do they continue to do neighborcare-like work locally. They are the recipients of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help them "spread the word" about such community effort and thus induce system change. In support of neighborcare, my contact in Vermont sent along names of people who would like to receive the neighborcare newsletter, plus an offer to donate money toward postage. From Cincinnati, too, requests for newsletters to pass along to others.
So, once again, if you can think of even one person, young or older, who might like to receive the newsletter, no matter how far away that person lives, thank youwhile youre thinking of itfor emailing me names and addresses. In this way, you make neighborcare so much more than just a nice idea.
Blessings all around youthis spring and in every season,