E Pluribus Unum


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“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus

I didn’t grow up a very patriotic child. I was confused by the contradictions in my life.  At Catholic school, we obediently pledged allegiance and sang in our sing-song voices of the “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride”.  Then, at home, I watched my much older siblings being swept up in the hippie movement with its slant against blind patriotism. They sang, “This land is your land.” My reaction was to take a more passive role, choosing neutrality over activism. In truth, I was caught between two worlds. I wanted to be the “good” child: school was where I thrived, after all. But I looked up to my brother and sister, and longed to join their causes.

If there was anything I believed about my country as I was growing up, however, it was the above quote and its passionate sentiment. One of the most important and special aspects of my country was its welcoming arms to immigrants. This I saw with my own eyes. This I could understand, because it resonated in my own family and the families of my friends. My mother’s family was from the Ukraine. My paternal grandmother still spoke the German of her parents, and my surname, given by my paternal grandfather, hailing from Ireland, was Kane.  My little working class neighborhood in Jersey City was home to my friends Susan Calabrese (Italian) and Paul Zukowsky (Polish). I had classmates who were African American and Puerto Rican. Lady Liberty stood proudly not far from where we lived and learned. So when they taught us that America was a melting pot, I understood this in my bones and in my blood. It made me happy, and yes, proud to be an American. E Pluribus Unum, it said on my coins: “Out of Many, One.”

Eventually, we realized that we should NOT promote the concept of the melting pot. The word “melting” implied a degree of assimilation that caused people to discard their ethnic traditions in favor of a blander American culture. Sadly, my husband Charlie’s grandfather gave up his Italian newspaper after little Charlie innocently asked him, “Can’t you read English, Grandpa?”  The reason was simple: first generation Americans fervently wanted to blend in, and rejected their old ways in their eagerness to become American. Only later, with hindsight, did we realize that this was not necessary. Or no longer necessary, because our society had reached a point at which cultural differences were not a threat, but a rich part of a beautiful tapestry being woven by the people.

So: out of many, not one, bland culture, but, indeed, one country. A country with a wealth of diversity and traditions, a multi-colored collage of individuals sharing the rights and freedoms our constitution bestows. Intoxicating stuff, really.

Not being a Pollyanna, I realize that problems have long persisted and prejudice and xenophobia remain insidious toxins. In spite of that, we have as a country been evolving in the right direction overall. Consider the fact that we just had a black president for eight years!

Until now. While I deeply believed that our open door to the “huddled masses” was a powerful part of our country’s identity that would never be rejected, it now appears that I was wrong.

Just days after the first Syrian refugees arrived here in Rutland, Vermont (a little family of four who came here for a better life for their small children), the entire refugee program is threatened to be discontinued due to Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration policies: treating all people of Muslim descent like criminals, and building walls between borders. This is not the America that made me proud. Are we becoming a place that people will flee from, rather than flee to?

Unfortunately, “reasoning” with the POTUS will get us nowhere. He is not a reasonable man. That is why last Saturday I joined the millions of protestors around the world to raise my voice against Trump. It was this formerly neutral child’s first protest march, and it was a powerful inspiration to stand next to my daughter and son among so many beautiful voices and spirits.

Tomorrow, I will join a group of protestors in Rutland, Vermont, to stand up and fight for the Syrian refugee program.

We cannot watch in helpless outrage as the very fabric of our country is unraveled.©

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Boston Commons January 21, 2017

The Light Within Us

Today marks two weeks since we arrived in Vermont. It has snowed about seven times…..not heavy snowfalls, but enough so you know that it has snowed again, and everything is kept clean and pretty. I wanted snow, a fact which people keep reminding me, as in “You wanted this,” implying, “Don”t you dare complain!”

I am not complaining. If I had to get up and go to work in the morning, I would admittedly whine about it. I don’t like driving in it! But in spite of more terrifying experiences driving in icy weather than I care to remember, I have never stopped loving the snow.

So here we are, ‘reverse snowbirds’, spending the winter in Vermont! Charlie is being a fantastic sport about it. He doesn’t like the cold, he says, but he seems to be getting into it. He couldn’t wait to get the fireplace in this house up and running, since Virginia, our friend and gracious housesitting host, had never used it.

We have taken a lot of walks, and it never ceases to amaze me how much better it feels to live in the cold when you make sure to get outside. When you are dressed for it, it is usually not uncomfortable, with the exception of when there is a frigid wind. When  I get out in the cold, I end up walking further and longer than I originally planned, because it feels so damn good. Because I feel good……alive, strong, invincible. Invigorated.

And is there anything better than returning to your cozy house after such a walk,  bringing the positive energy back with you, feeling jazzed up by the fact that you didn’t let a little weather defeat you?

While if you stay inside all the time, the cold seems more formidable, more threatening. The thought of going out in it becomes ever more daunting. You must rise above it.

People love to complain about the weather. The heat….the cold….the rain….the snow. Perhaps this is because the weather is one thing in life over which we have absolutely no control. We like to have control, so it bothers us that we have to acquiesce to the weather. And thus we complain. We COMPLAIN.

What if we admitted that we were powerless over the weather, and focused on acceptance and making the best of it?

We have friends, Graeme and Karen, who live in Saskatchewan, Canada, where they  have a very cold, very long winter. Take a look at Graeme’s wood pile! These are people who have come to terms with their place on the planet, with it’s beauty as well as its demands.

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Woodpile, courtesy of Graeme Wesson

In all fairness and for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that we actually met Graeme and Karen on Isla Mujeres. Like us, they have taken to spending long stretches of their winter in the tropics. But by no means is it for the entire winter. They had their first huge snowstorm early in October this year, but they won’t go to Mexico until mid-February. And then, when they return in April, they will still face snow, and several weeks of winter weather.

They are amazing.

From the years that I have lived in Vermont, I have a bit of that pioneering spirit in me. I guess it is something that either you have, or you don’t. The cold makes me feel very alive. It awakens something in me that just is not stirred in the warm weather, and brings a clarity of vision, a razor sharp awareness, to my being. It makes me grateful.

Tonight the temperature is predicted to be -5 Fahrenheit, much colder with the wind chill. It can be a little scary when it gets that cold out. You don’t want your furnace to break or your car battery to freeze. I remember, back when I lived in Vermont full time, going out once at night during a sub-zero deep freeze. I was walking on the street feeling the snow squeak under my feet, and I thought the very strange and chilling thought that in such weather, if you wanted to murder someone, you could simply lock them outside.

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But mostly, when I take a walk in the evening, I see the glow of warmth from inside the houses pouring out through windows onto the quiet snow. I see flickering Christmas tree lights through translucent curtains. I see smoke curling out of chimneys against the winter clouds. I see black silhouettes of trees against the purple twilit sky. And all of this makes my heart overflow with the ache and pride of being human.

I recall that when I was a child in northern New Jersey, winter was a joyful feast for the senses. Sledding, ice skating, hot cocoa. All the holiday lights. Perhaps those childhood roots are what still make winter a joyful time for me. And I think this common history is the reason that Charlie can rally by the fire and share in my joy.

All four seasons are lovely, and each has its beauty. But winter holds the most magic. It is not magical that we find the light in the darkness, each and every year? Is it not magical that many of us still keep a tradition of cutting down a live evergreen, dragging it into our home, and whimsically decorating it? And is it not magical that still we sing, make love, bake cookies, and care for one another through the deep cold winter? We don’t just survive. We make the best of it.©

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Home, Again

Hello!

Over four weeks have passed since my last entry, and much water has flowed beneath the bridge of my awareness. Although (or perhaps because) our days have been so full, I have not been writing. It has been very comfortable, in a snugly kind of way, to be back in New Jersey. Times with good friends and family that we have missed, nesting a bit before our next wave of travel, sorting through belongings and musing about what will be needed for our anticipated journey westward  in Casa Blanca.

We are now nine months into our first year of living a nomadic life, and I am delighted to report on a wonderful discovery. It is simply this: I have become aware that I completely feel that I am at home no matter where I am. I have shaken the idea that one particular location bears that designation. I feel at home in Charlie’s parents’ retirement village, driving in my car, walking in the woods. The locus of home has become for me like that little arrow on the gps that locates me in the world, except that it zeroes in on my heart and says, “There.” Or, more aptly, “Here.”

And so, today “home” is sitting in my daughter Eva’s living room looking through the picture window at the grey lake and sky, crading my iPad in my lap and sipping strong coffee as I type.

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Lake Bomoseen

Yesterday, “home” was riding beside my good friend Mary in her Prius, on the way to Vermont. In the coming weeks, “home” will be visiting Theo in Cambridge, and dog sitting for Robert in Philadelphia. Or meals with Gabe and Elise, Katie and Alex, Ellie, and many dear friends. Or sitting beside Charlie with the atlas in our laps planning our next adventure.

I know that not everyone would feel as content to be living like this – in fact, I didn’t  dare hope to be content myself! In the beginning, I worried about how I would manage without a “home,” and even needed to hold my future dream of a home as a carrot in the distance. “Home” was something I would eventually reach by moving through the coming months of travel (which I saw as a trial even while I was excited about the adventure in store).

It never occurred to me that one could feel so calm and present in these circumstances. But I do. It feels like wearing the most comfortable of garments. The temperature is perfect, nothing pulls or tugs. I am wrapped in perfection.

There you have it. I am home. I do not mean to imply that everything is ideal at every moment. Nevertheless, this is the closest to lasting contentment I have ever come. Why? Because it is simpler. Much less is needed to live a meaningful life than we realize. In fact, much of what we accumulate interferes with  our inner peace.

Of course, this is only true for me because my physical needs are beyond met. I not only am able to have food in my belly, I can pick from a wide selection of delicious and nourishing choices. I have a reliable car,  money for gas, shelter, water to drink, and the means to travel and enjoy the world. I am as wealthy in circumstance as a millionaire is in dollars.

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Whitesbog – Where we like to walk

Flash! Another three weeks have passed since I began this entry. All those meals with friends and moments of joy delayed further productivity. We have also had a delay in setting out on our new  journey, as I am now a little less of a person than I was three weeks ago – minus my gall bladder! It was removed by laparoscopic surgery on Monday morning. This was a development which was looming for the past year and a half, but I am not one to hand myself over to a surgeon lightly. The time seemed right, and the cost/benefit analysis pointed to getting the bugger out.  So this has been a week of recovery for me, which I am pleased to report has gone very smoothly. We will travel next week, so it is high time that I began recording once more. And it is time to get moving: I am gathering moss! (See blog entry of July 22 – (Gathering Moss)

When immersed in my familiar world, I am less reflective and thus feel less inspired to write.  Although there have been ponderous moments. One such moment occurred when my daughter Ellie reported that, while she was recently visiting family in the Netherlands, a friend or family member familiar with my blog remarked to her that, “Certainly your mother doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life on vacation! She must want something more than that!” This gave me pause. Is that how my blog makes me appear? I will admit that I felt a tad defensive. I’m not a hedonistic couch potato! (It is probably for the best that Ellie cannot remember exactly who made the comment.)

Admittedly, some of our travels may come across as a prolonged vacation.  (And  if you knew what we have in store over the summer you would roll your eyes and say, “Madame, methinks thou protest too much!”)  I completely get this, and feel guilty about my great good fortune.

Still, this year of travel is, for me, so much more than a vacation. I wanted to know whether I could be comfortable living with less, and not having a big house full of my worldly possessions surrounding me. In order to be able to have the wherewithal to travel for a prolonged period, I had to give up all that security. We are not rich enough to travel like this and pay a mortgage, property taxes and so on.

In addition, I have taken a year (plus) off from working and am enjoying the opportunity to “work” instead on my writing, painting, and becoming the person that was on the back burner through long years of child-rearing and wage-earning. While this is indeed a luxury, it is not laziness. There are many days when I feel more productive than ever! I have time to feel, which seems to me an essential ingredient for creativity.

What a privelege, only too rare in our society, to spend ones’ days doing things that bring one satisfaction and joy. I know this. Still, when people comment that they are jealous, I do know that this is a lifestyle choice, one that many people could make at some point in their lives if it is important enough to them. It’s all about what you are willing to sacrifice. So I will make no apologies.

Blogging is my effort to share my joy and wonder and the insights about life that give meaning to my journey.©

Whitesbog Today

Whitesbog Today