Saturday, January 31, 2009

One In Three

Today, Iraq is having its second provincial election since Sadam Hussein was removed. That's cause for celebration, but not a drop of credit goes to Former President Bush and his comrades in terror. All credit goes to the Iraqis themselves, who are surviving an American invasion killing nearly 100,000 innocent civilians and destroying their entire infrastructure in the process.

It is not possible to bomb a people into freedom. Today the polls open because of their own courage, resilience and hope.

And clearly Iraqi women have a double gene for courage. reports that 4,000 Iraqi women are running for office. Due to something like America’s impossible-to-decipher electoral system, one out of every three seats is guaranteed to go to a woman.

The struggle before them is enormous. CNN reminds us, “Under Hussein, Iraq was one of the more secular Arab countries, but the 2003 U.S. invasion unleashed extremist militias. Now, many activists say women have been forced back to the Dark Ages, forced to be submissive, anonymous and fully veiled.”

Sure, they have a long way to go, but just look at them. I have one piece of advice for the men who'll be taking office alongside them : Don't expect these women to fetch your tea.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Playing Leap Blog

This morning I visited Bowdawg on the Mend--the blog my sangha buddy Chris writes-- and learned that his Katrina rescue Joy Beagle is currently in need of both prayers and a pirate costume.

Then I blog-hopped to one of his favorites Faster Than Kudzu. Today's Kudzu post began with a link to Little Blue School. I laughed so hard that my oatmeal took the same exit route as the foot-long flexible nasal scope from a few weeks ago (I'm still creeped out remembering that thing was inside my delicate head).

Then I hopped back to Kudzu and read the rest of her post, which included a hysterical story about a girl named Cecily, a train trestle and a Catholic nun.

No wonder I needed a nap.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Last Word

Okay, so I am officially the LAST blogger to write about Inauguration Day. Maybe it was my plan all along—let everyone else bombard the internet with their reactions and opinions first, and then like a Ninja I slip in quietly. Because now that President Obama is ensconced in the Oval Office with shirtsleeves shockingly visible, as Obama addicts are desperately panting for more Obama, as our hourly fix is reduced to pathetic little snippets of news—he’s signing this, redoing that— just then, I post.

(While that might have been a good strategy, what really happened was a brief visit to the hospital that threw me off for days. Ah, well.)

Even so, I wouldn't have missed the day for anything. On Inauguration Day, I poured myself into a big cushy chair at the home of several other nuns (the famous Ani House) and just let myself enjoy the entire celebration.

Amidst all the activity—the shivering crowds, the cameras snapping and clicking, the security officials on alert and in constant motion , and the hopes and fears rising around the world—was this precious moment of stillness as Obama waited to walk onto the dais and take the Oath.

It is the image I will never forget.

As he delivered his Inaugural Address, I was breathless. It was both his words and what they had inspired. I contemplated the vast amount of merit being generated all over the world right then, as people actually celebrated virtues like love, patience, and compassion.

Simply put, we all stopped to think how we could be kinder to one another. And if that isn’t “Change,” then I don’t know what is.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Say “Woof” If You Love Me

No matter how I feel each morning, I wake up to a room full of love.

Konchog Birdy starts his singing and daily recitations. Then my dogs line up at my bedside. Patch is the submissive one, but also has the rank of “The Baby,” granting him first cuddle rights. He knows it, too. Like he has a Press Pass or something. Impossibly cute, I can’t even look at him without smiling. Lotus wedges her way in and locks her warm brown eyes on mine. And then, zoink! She gives me a quick lick on the face and sits back down, staring, reloading, then zoink! Because of the attention I’m giving her, Patch begins (I’m not kidding) mooing. His pink lips curl, his head raises in protest, and he moos. Konchog loves all this activity, so he starts singing and talking louder. This is all too much for Lotus to contain herself. She is now leaping around the room like a flea, engaging Patch in a raucous morning tumble.

All my animals are rescues. Looking at what they do for me, I guess I’m a rescue, too.

* *

Though it may seem a geographic impossibility, Tibet lives in Arizona. After Hurricane Katrina left him homeless in 2005, he was rescued by Tara’s Babies Animal Welfare and became a lifelong resident. Right now, Tibet’s days are a mixed bag. On the one hand, he could not be more loved. On the other, he’s having difficulty breathing, gets tired easily and has numerous golfball-sized lumps at his throat. For some of us, those symptoms hit pretty close to home. Tibet needs veterinary care to diagnose and treat him. If you’d like to help with his expenses, please visit the Tara’s Babies website and do what you can to make his days a little brighter.

* *

Despite the fact that Rosie is not my dog and never has been, she's my big, sweet girl. She’s so near and dear to my heart, I can hardly write about her without tearing up. We came pretty close to never meeting in this life.

In 2007, Tara's Babies began working with a volunteer at an Arkansas shelter, rescuing as many dogs as they could. The “shelter” is no such thing—built on a landfill, filthy, with intact dogs roaming freely in an open pen, a high kill rate, you get the picture.

On the way to picking up two large dogs, our volunteers got a call, “Would you be able to take an additional two?” And then, “One of them is a really pregnant Rottweiler.”

I had an instant, inexplicable attachment to Rosie. As soon as I met her, she snuggled her giant bowling ball head into my neck. I mean, just look at her. She's exquisite.

I visited her the day she gave birth to 11 enormous puppies. She escorted me to them with the most human expression of pride I’ve ever seen on an animal. With the puppies outside of her, we could see how starved she was. Yet she doted on them and they all grew fat and healthy.

It took a few months to find her a perfect home, but this week Rosie was adopted by a loving family right here in Maryland. This morning as my own animal circus woke me up laughing, I thought of sweet Rosie who was no doubt doing the same.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Last Spoon for the Day

Several posts ago, I handed out an assignment : Read The Spoon Theory. Two of my friends did so, and receive an A+ for their efforts in understanding what millions of people with chronic illness live with every day.

After reading about Spoons, one of my beloved friends Marilya has consequently made it her New Year’s resolution to be kinder to people. Her Kindness-o-meter already registers a pretty high number, so I expect to feel the ripple effect of her stepped up activity all the way across the country.

And one of my sangha brothers Chris has demonstrated such a deep understanding of Spoons that I am at a loss for words. So please read his.

What a gift to our world—to have people who would make such an effort to connect to the silent suffering of so many when they could just as easily look the other way.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inside Out

Yesterday it was back to Johns Hopkins for more tests, one of which was a nasal scope. To do it, they snake a foot-long flexible scope up each nostril and down your throat. I had no idea that was on the menu—thought it was just a routine visit to the ENT to discuss some recent symptoms.

A resident came in first and hastily prepared to do the test without much of an explanation. I was a physical and emotional wreck by then, so the thought of having a foot-long flexible scope snaked up my nose and down my throat freaked me out much more than normal. He mouthed, “I understand,” as he dug around through the equipment and left to get the treating physician.

I’ve dealt with this indifference a lot. For awhile I decided to teach my doctors how to connect with patients. These attempts had a 100% failure rate, and led to many tears and therapy sessions.

I kept trying to change them instead of me.

When he arrived in the room, the treating physician was kind and asked a little about Buddhism before starting the procedure. So while he looked in my nose and throat, I took a good look at all of me—nearly collapsing from exhaustion, experiencing pain in a previously pain-free area, heart racing with anxiety, and using every coping skill I had to keep from running out of there dangling a foot-long flexible scope out of my nose.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fruit Headache

A story I read today on got me reminiscing about Africa. Whenever I open the latch to that memory box, the overriding emotion I recall is a general sense of being confused. It was almost impossible to tease out the truth even in ordinary situations.

“When does the bus come?”
“It’s coming soon.”
“How soon?”
“Not long.”
“Do you know what time it’s coming?”
“Then how do you know how long it will be?”
“It isn’t long.”
“Do I have time to go eat something first?”
“No, wait here. It’s coming.”
“Oh good, you see it coming?”
“Not yet.”
“I’m going to get something to eat. I won’t go far. Just call me when it’s coming.”
“Okay. It’s coming.”
“It’s coming now?”
“No. There is no bus today.”

Monty Python was big in the US right before I went to Africa. I often felt like John Cleese was going to step out from behind a palm tree at any moment.

So when I read the headline and saw that it originated in Nigeria, I settled in for a tale : Bikers Strap on Fruit, Pots to Dodge Helmet Law

The story begins, “Police in Nigeria have arrested scores of motorcycle taxi riders with dried fruit shells, pots or pieces of rubber tire tied to their heads with string to avoid a new law requiring them to wear helmets.”

Apparently, the law is part safety measure and part money-maker for the traffic cops who thrive on bribes. And clearly the cops are in a huff about the fruit.

"We will not tolerate this,” said Yusuf Garba, commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission in the northern town of Kano. “We gave them enough time to purchase helmets. Six months ago the price of helmets was below 800 naira so complaints about non-availability and high prices are no excuse."

“The regulations have caused chaos around Africa's most populous nation, with motorcyclists complaining helmets are too expensive and some passengers refusing to wear them fearing they will catch skin disease or be put under a black magic spell.”

Okay, so expensive we understand.

Skin disease?
"The story is that people who have scabies, craw-craw, ringworm, dandruff and all other such diseases would easily infect others with them through the helmets," Steve Nwosu wrote in the Daily Sun.

I flashed back to countless memories of being squished into vehicles to the point of experiencing extreme pain and difficulty breathing as a routine part of travel throughout West Africa. I don’t recall anyone worrying about catching skin diseases at the time. I’m starting to get that confused feeling again.

Black magic spell?
“Newspapers quoted passengers as saying they feared the helmets could be laced with magic spells so as to knock the wearer unconscious and make them easier to rob.” Little gnawing pains creeping up the side of my head....

The whole thing reminds me of the part in The Poisonwood Bible, where no one in the Congolese village will allow the new missionary to baptize them in the river. He thinks it’s because he hasn’t succeeded at converting them and goes at it with full force. No one tells him it’s because when the last missionary did it everyone who was dunked in the river got eaten by crocodiles.

Maybe the Nigerian traffic cops know the real reasons or maybe they’re getting a smoke screen, too. As for me, I don’t know if the fruit helmets are a sign of poverty, widespread disease, fear run amok or just plain old defiance. Maybe it’s something else entirely. But here I am, 20 years later and thousands of miles away, and I still really want to be let in on the big secret.

Monday, January 5, 2009


No matter what either side says about who caused what and when,
the results are in, and everyone has already lost.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Chain of Love

If there can be such a thing as a beginning, then this love story begins with my dear friend Aleia who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. I met Aleia at a wholistic fair-- she’s a massage therapist and Reiki practitioner and I’m a chiropractor. We became fast friends and over the past 10 years or so have shared not only our own ups and downs but those of our loved ones, too. Throughout all these years, I have watched Aleia reach out in kindness to anyone who needs help, no matter what it takes.

Aleia and her husband Robert were best friends with Wayne Marinelli for a couple decades. Wayne was one of those guys you just love right away—big open smile, contagious laugh, kind and compassionate. In September 2003, samsara struck and Wayne was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. Aleia instantly became his primary caregiver and advocate, all the way through hospice. Wayne died at his home 13 months later, surrounded by these loving friends.

Wayne, who said he always lived as if he had Jesus on one shoulder and Buddha on the other, had planned his memorial service with his friends in mind. The week he died, I took my first set of vows allowing me to wear the Buddha’s robes. Aleia asked me to carry out one of Wayne’s wishes by offering mantra and Buddhist prayers at his ceremony. It was outdoors on a very windy day, and I was brand new to managing the voluminous robes. As I read my favorite passage from Shantideva, the wind threatened to embarrass me. I focused on Wayne’s wishes and threw all my energy into recitation and leading the guests in chanting Om Mani Pedme Hung up into the sky.

Aleia and Robert had known Wayne for some 20 years and grieved his loss deeply. Out of their pain grew Further Shores, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing pre-hospice support. Wayne’s beautiful mountain home became “Wayne’s House,” a place of retreat for this work.

By the time I got sick Further Shores was up and running. I was the beneficiary of their volunteers who came regularly to help me clean, cook, and cope. Two of them—Janine and Eliot—make me smile just thinking about them. Though they didn’t become a couple for many months, they were just such a natural pair of lovebirds. Two of the most gentle, calm and loving people I’d ever met—until I met Janine’s daughter Alana, who is all that in a child. Alana’s serenity was immediately apparent to my dogs, who are usually overly excited (read : annoying) when guests arrive. Alana walked in the first day and the dogs laid down on their sides as if a comforting patch of sun had appeared on the carpet. She played with my bird and didn’t jump the slightest when he gave her little nips. I’ve honestly never met a child like her.

Janine and Eliot married last year and a few days ago, this chain of love acquired another link : Sky Lewis Schipper was born at home on December 29. Janine described him to me today remarking how seldom he cries—seeming not the least bit disturbed by hunger, wet diapers and even a difficult blood draw his first day. Content. My joy for them all is beyond words.

So gentle Sky, welcome to the world. Your timing is perfect, little boy, because we sure need you. May you be strong and healthy, and may you, too, know the joy of serving others throughout all your days.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Thanks to a bizarre karmic ripening, I spent the past several days in Johns Hopkins Hospital with still-unexplained but spontaneously-resolved GI bleeding. I got released just a few hours before the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. This post is dedicated to all those who helped me get through it:

The Doctors
Hands down, the doctors at Johns Hopkins are the best. Their level of expertise is staggering. For the first time ever I can relax, knowing they each understand not only all the complications and contraindications, but that they also deeply appreciate the toll this illness takes on one physically, emotionally and mentally.

The Nurses
Because of complications, I had a lot more nurses than a typical patient. With the exception of one odd apple, each one cared for me with such kindness, compassion and respect. It's a ridiculous job description : Must mop up the emotional and physical debris of perfect strangers without getting to hear how it all turns out. Given that, I marvel that they return to work each day.

The Nuns
Ani Alyce Louise holds the sangha record for the most hospital hand-holding sessions with me. She intends to maintain her record in Maryland, enduring a 9-hour local ER visit and several hours of travelling after work just to visit me in the hospital. I don’t know how she did it. Her smile wove itself into those 4 pain-filled days.

Also intending to keep her medals, Ani Dorje holds two sangha records: one, for the most overnight hand-holding sessions and second, for always pet-sitting while I’m hospitalized. Knowing my babies are safe in her loving care brings me much needed peace. On top of that, she gave up the popular New Year’s Eve celebration at our temple, to come pick me up on a freezing, windy night. My hospital stay was particularly harrowing, and our laughter on the way home went a long way towards getting me back on my feet emotionally.

It’s hard to describe the relief it gives me to have my Vajra sisters with me during times like that. Hospitals swim in fear and chaos, and the mere sight of the Buddha’s robes seems to settle it all down a bit.

The Sangha
Our Maryland temple has maintained an unbroken 24-hour Prayer Vigil for nearly 24 years. Sangha members take 2-hour shifts every day of the year. It's a monumental task to keep the shifts filled each week—especially the middle-of-the-night ones. Failure is not an option. Seeing the endless suffering in the world, each of us does our best to follow our Lama’s teaching, “Pray as if you’re the only one in the world praying, like it all depends on you.” I'm personally humbled that during the nearly 100 hours of my own ordeal this week, there was always at least one person in in the world praying for the benefit of all beings.

The Lama
In one of Jetsunma’s teachings, she explained that there is no beginning to the relationship between the lama and a student, that it has always been so. I had always wondered when it all began—how it came to be that I have only to look at a picture of her, picture her in my mind, hear her voice or her name to feel my heart melt. She is the embodiment of Wisdom and Compassion, existing in the world only to liberate beings. Jetsunma’s prayers and miraculous intervention have quite literally kept me alive. For the few days that I was geographically further away, the potency of her embrace was just the same.

To all these people, and to everyone who prays for me and contributes in whatever way towards ending the suffering of beings: Thank You and Happy New Year!