Nature Therapy

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Sunset at Ocean Beach. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017. 

Northern California has had so much rain this winter that it’s been in the national news. After five years of drought, the last one finally bringing water use restrictions, record-setting rainfall has caused flash flooding and has compromised the dam at the state’s second largest water reservoir.

This past weekend brought a welcome break in storm systems. People, my husband and I included, came pouring (pun intended) outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. Ocean Beach in San Francisco was busy with people strolling on the sand and dogs chasing seagulls. We were soaking up the sunshine and storing away vitamin D as fast as we could. At the end of a wonderful day, we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

For me the day was a metaphorical respite from the current political climate in our country. With each day bringing heart-stopping headlines and Twitter battles, it feels like ominous clouds never give way to blue skies. If only our country could catch its collective breath like I did. My beloved land of the free and home of the brave needs a day of sunshine.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

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The Pedaling Shepherd

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Sister Libby Fernandez of the Sisters of Mercy is legendary in Sacramento, California. She has been the Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes, a private charity that serves the hungry and the homeless, for 11 years. She joined Loaves and Fishes in 1985 as a volunteer. In the 32 years that she has been with this organization, it has blossomed to have a budget of six million dollars, 80 employees, and 12 programs with services that include hot meals, restroom facilities, showers, day and overnight shelters for women and children, medical and mental health care, and a school for children between the ages of three and fifteen.

It’s not Sister Libby’s prodigious work with Loaves and Fishes that recently caught my attention, however. She has announced that she will leave Loaves and Fishes to start a new ministry called Mercy Pedalers. On an adult electrical tricycle, she (and volunteers, in case you’re interested) will go to meet homeless individuals where they are instead of waiting for them to come to Loaves and Fishes, something which may never happen for some.

Unfettered by the administrative duties of being Executive Director, Sister Libby hopes to bring people more than needed supplies. She wants to build connections and trust. By helping people to build self-respect, she hopes they will decide to move forward with their lives and trust her to link them to the services that will help with that next step.

Imagining Sister Libby on her tricycle searching for people who feel forgotten or unwanted in order to help them believe that they matter and are loved, I can’t help but recall the parable about the lost sheep and the shepherd. Jesus taught that the good shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep to find the one lost. I get it, Sister Libby. Ride on.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

Man in the Vestibule

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This photo of homeless protestors outside Sacramento City Hall appeared in an article by Steve Milne in Sacramento Capital Public Radio News on January 26, 2017. 

A homeless man died outside Sacramento City Hall the other night. He was the second man to die outside City Hall in a week. It has been a wet and cold winter so far, and homeless people have left their campsites at the river’s flooded banks. Some of them, like this man, found spaces to sleep under the well-lit overhangs of City Hall.

The paper said the man had nothing but the clothing on his body to keep him warm. This immediately brought me back to a homeless man my husband and I were startled to find sleeping in a parking garage two weeks ago. We had dinner downtown and were returning to our car, parked on the roof of a public parking garage. The elevator doors opened inside a tiny vestibule that offered some shelter from the cold and the rain. Our laughter was abruptly cut short as we stepped out of the elevator and saw a man sleeping on the floor to our right.

The first thing that struck me was how long his body was. He had to curl up into an almost fetal position to fit into the space between the elevator door and the door that led to the garage roof. His face was light tan. His skin was clean and unwrinkled. He was clean-shaven and handsome. His black hair was streaked with long strands of white. His pants and coat were dark.

I didn’t want to wake him. It was well before 8 p.m., but how was I to know if this would be the only rest he would get that night? I didn’t stand over him and stare – it felt invasive to catch the glimpse that I did – but I saw so much in the few seconds it took me to walk past him.

“He had nothing,” I said to my husband when we were a few steps beyond the door that led out to the roof. “He had no blanket, no backpack, no bags. Nothing.”

And then came the silence in the car as we tried to process what we just saw. Wrestling with helplessness and guilt, we started to make our way down to the first floor of the garage. We spotted a young man carrying a broom and a dustpan. The wet spots and smell of urine in the elevator when we arrived; the wet, washed floor of the elevator when we were leaving; the man sleeping in the vestibule; and the anxious look on the attendant’s face as we passed him – it all made sense. Would the police come to escort the homeless man from the garage if the attendant called? Would the attendant let the man sleep there as long as no one complained?

I felt sad when I read about the second homeless man to die outside City Hall in a week’s time, but the sight of that man sleeping in the vestibule that night was personal. If you don’t want to be racked by helplessness and guilt, look away from the homeless. But if, like me, you happen to glance at a homeless person and see this person – really see this person – you’re screwed. You might be haunted into action.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

Bless Me Father, For I Disagree

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Graphic by LikeSuccess

In his homily this past Sunday, my pastor said that sin darkens our intellect and obscures our ability to see the truth – God’s truth, God’s will. Even when we see the truth, sin causes us to have a hard time obeying and following it.

As an example, my pastor said Hitler had a brilliant intellect, but his darkened intellect kept him from knowing the truth that Jews are equal to, not inferior to, Aryans. In the same way, our nation’s darkened intellect kept us from knowing that Blacks are equal to Whites.

Because sin will always be there to hamper our ability to see the truth, we need people through whom God can lead us. We all have the potential for such spiritual leadership, so we shouldn’t be afraid to fulfill our God-given potential, lest we deprive the world of a leader – “a fisher of men” as Jesus said in the Bible.

Here’s where my pastor’s homily took a weird turn. As an example of a man who is not afraid to become all that he can become, my pastor chose Donald Trump. My pastor added that he does not agree with all of Trump’s decisions or all his goals, but he nonetheless approves of his attitude in striving to be all that he can be.

My pastor marvels that Trump is not afraid to be all that he can be.

My pastor is not repulsed that Trump is not trying to be more than he can be.

My pastor seems to assume that everything Trump will be will be good. Why? Because Trump’s anti-abortion position endears him to the religious right?

Am I supposed to be impressed that Donald grew up affluent; went to private schools; didn’t have to serve in the military; got through business school; went into business with seed money from his dad; made a lot of money; went through several bankruptcies; stayed mega-rich while he stiffed contractors who worked on his buildings; and then decided to become president so he can single-handedly save our nation from economic malaise and a lack of worldwide respect? Is this a man trying to be all that he can be?

Could Trump try to do more? Could he strive to be: Mindful of the working poor who can’t afford healthcare? Compassionate toward immigrants seeking safety and a decent life? Informed about science that warns of imminent dangers to the planet we share with all the other countries of the world? Embarrassed by his locker room talk about grabbing women by their genitals? Ashamed of publicly mocking a person with a disability? Aware that lying is forbidden in God’s Top 10?

Should this man of such privilege, and now of such power, be wary of all the wrong things he can be – like the intellectually darkened Hitler? And if he is not wary, does that give us all the more reason to be?

My pastor might be correct that Trump always goes for it when it comes to becoming all he can become. But Trump goes unchecked by Christian values rooted in love. His anti-abortion stance does not give him a pass for the Christian directive to love one another.

Does my opinion make me a bad Christian? A hypocrite? Many will condemn me as such. It’s my struggle, a matter between my conscience and my God, but I cannot love with one hand and hate with the other. If Trump is a fisher of men, I pray he does not catch me in his net.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

Love Must Push Back

 

 

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Lady Justice with her scales and her sword. Source: Internet, no credit found. 

Like many Americans, my mind is swirling with many questions about the 2016 presidential election, particularly its results. As I did during the contentious 18 months of campaigning, I am reading opinion pieces and articles to try to comprehend why people, especially people of differing opinions, think the things they do. Peace starts with empathy. One journalist asked why people are still touting the “Love Trumps Hate” slogan after the election results proved it wrong.

“Love Trumps Hate” is for me a belief rooted in faith, not a mere slogan. Since God is the source of all love, then God trumps hate – ultimately, seldom instantly, but in a sustained fashion. Being a person of faith means accepting that things happen in God’s time, and we are not privy to the reasons. Waiting is hard for us, especially when times are hard. And we are quick to forget that we need to work, to fight, and to sacrifice for things worth having.

Why did hate – in the forms of disrespect, bullying, misogyny, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia – get tolerated and perhaps rewarded in this election? Were people so filled with rage born of fear and resentment that nothing else mattered? Were people were so filled with distrust and laziness that they did not bother to vote in rejection of these things?

Women, racial minorities, immigrants, veterans, the LGBT community, and disabled persons were all made to feel less than, unwanted, intimidated, and threatened during this election. Now that the responsible person is in a position to affect their lives, many people have reason to fear and doubt. Now more than ever, I need to cling to my belief that love trumps hate.

Love sometimes requires courageous, difficult, and unrelenting work. To act in the name of love means to act with patience, respectfulness, and humility. When hate pushes against and looms over some of us, we have the choice to stand together, lock arms, and push back.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Reset Button

 

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Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2016.

Work periodically brings me to the city of Martinez, California. On my last trip to this city, I learned that naturalist and conservationist John Muir, the first president of the Sierra Club, lived in Martinez with his wife and two daughters. This might have triggered a subconscious craving for some one-on-one time with nature.

Fighting a growing sense of burnout, I fled to Napa Valley this weekend. On a mission to flush out the crud in my mind, I purposely drove down roads I didn’t know. In my search for places I hadn’t seen before, I also rediscovered places I hadn’t seen in more than 10 years.

Pretty views from the car weren’t going to cut it, so I trekked through mud in search of vistas that would make my brain fire up synapses and light up like a Christmas tree. In my knee-high leather boots with rubber soles I was undaunted by the feeling of squishy earth rising up to meet my ankles.

Gradually receding into the far back corners of my mind were news stories about sexual assaults and building walls; discussions about emails and private servers; worries about what the future holds for some of my clients; and reminders to pick out new cabinets and counter tops for my kitchen update. None of these things were going away, but they were being relegated to their proper places. A healthy perspective was being ushered back to the head of the line.

In the peaceful, open spaces of hills and vineyards, my mind quieted and emptied itself. My reset button clicked. Problems and crises shrank down to their real size, ceasing to be the giant monsters that were stalking me. My body purged the toxic chemicals caused by tension and worry. My muscles loosened, releasing their grip on my joints, and allowing my body to flood my lungs with air.

John Muir wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” (The Yosemite, 1912.) These words proved true for me this weekend, as they have countless times before, and as they will for countless times to come.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

A Scaredy-Cat and October 31st

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I am that person who gets in a roller coaster car, buckles in, white-knuckles whatever she can hold onto, and then proceeds to scream for the entire ride with her eyes closed. And then I have the audacity to giggle and tell people the ride was fun. I’m also that person who will watch a scary – supernatural scary – movie and then sleep with the lights on. Sometimes not just for one night. Yes, I’m a scaredy-cat about a few things.

A friend who happens to be psychic taught me that the veil separating the dimensions of the living and the dead thins before October 31st, making it possible for spirits to visit the land of the living. It is now October 27th, and I’ve noticed an uptick in small but unusual occurrences.

It started several nights ago when I woke up to a faint beeping sound. I could tell it wasn’t one of our smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. I woke up my husband and asked him if he had set the alarm on one of his electronics. He said no and then confidently declared that the dryer sensor must be broken. We went back to sleep. There were no clothes in the dryer that night, and the random beeping fits continue.

Twice this week, I woke up during the 3am hour. I didn’t need to go to the bathroom, and I wasn’t having a bad dream. My eyes popped open, my mind alert as if I hadn’t been sleeping at all.

There’s been more creaking around my house. I tell myself it’s the wind going through the roof vents, the weight of the rain in my gutters, or metals expanding…or contracting.

I always smell cigar or pipe smoke in the home of some friends. No one in that house smokes, and no one else smells what I do. During a recent visit to this home, I heard someone go to the kitchen for a glass of water in the middle of the night. When I told this person it was good he slept in late after his sleep was disrupted, he said he had not gone into the kitchen that night.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. Shake your head. Laugh. Call these instances coincidences strung together by a silly imagination. Of course. That’s what being a scaredy-cat who rides roller coasters and watches scary movies is all about – being silly. Scared silly.

The countdown to October 31st continues.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.