The Broken-Hearted People of the World Agree

“There is a field out beyond right doing and wrong doing,

I’ll meet you there.”

~Rumi

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There’s been a lot of debating, especially on Facebook, but then twenty-seven or forty-eight or ninety-two heated comments later, someone trips over the fact that we essentially agree.

I’ve seen it happen again and again–minds so tattered from the brutal slaying of innocents allowing HEARTS to speak louder.

First we are insulted or offended or threatened. Then we are furious or obnoxious or despairing.  But with each reminder of the devastating loss in Connecticut, we re-evaluate… we attend our child’s holiday concert, we wrap her presents, we tuck him into bed–and with our joy comes the bitter sting of “their” devastating loss.

One Facebook friend stormed against the focus on guns in favor of prayer and the banning of video games, and then suggested this: Let’s see where we agree. I definitely think guns should be regulated and that assault weapons should be illegal and not even manufactured.

Another friend vigorously defended the need for guns as a means of protection, but eventually said: I’m confident that Vice President Biden will do what needs to be done. I would be thrilled if this administration banned all automatic assault style rifles. I also support ammunition limits. I think in the end we’ll all move forward with changes everyone can agree on.

Even a young man, claiming the need for arms against a potential dictatorship, relinquished his absolutism in the face of the  Sandy Hook massacre, with: I whole heartily agree with some of the anti-gun arguments.

His friend, a Marine, did his own bit of surrender: I have learned a lot in the last 24 hours on Facebook. It certainly was not my intention to take our conversation this far, and I honestly had no idea so many people would be involved. I do appreciate that everyone respected each other and their opinions and had a civil conversation. Although my feelings remain the same,  I am beginning to see others’ views. In the end we all want the SAME thing for ourselves, our families and our children who have their whole lives ahead of them.

I think the mystic poet Rumi had it right when he suggested that we meet out beyond the field of right doing and wrong doing. It’s the children of Newtown who have led us there.

Kelly Salasin, December 2012

See also: The Courage to Change–a child’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre

And here is some of the best writing I’ve found this week in response to Newtown:

Going Home (author returns to Newtown for Christmas)

In Gun Debate, a Misguided Focus on Mental Illness

The Newtown Shooting and Why We Must Redefine Masculinity

No More Newtowns: What Will It Take?

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?

The solution to gun violence is clear

Tools of an ugly trade (a S.W.A.T. officers addresses assault weapons)

Six things I don’t want to hear after the Sandy Hook massacre

God can’t be kept out (a woman of faith takes on religious extremists)

a majority of cowards (a sobering, thought-provoking read)

Envisioning a Healed World (the world is an echo of wounds)

Looking for America

Why America Lets the Killings Continue

Our Dissociative Relationship With Gun Violence

One Million Moms for Gun Control

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice

when He could do something about it.

But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

– Anonymous

The Courage to Change–a child’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre

“There are too many men with enough courage to kill one another,

and not enough men with the courage to stop the violence.”

Lee van Laer

jkLGW

On Friday, when I learned of the shooting, I wanted to drive to the elementary school in my own town and get my son.  It wasn’t that I was afraid.  We live over a hundred miles away from Newtown, CT.  I just wanted to bring him home. Because I could.

Instead, I let him finish the day and enjoy his long-awaited “Friday Free Time” with classmates. While I endured the wait, my heart broke for the parents who wouldn’t welcome home their children that day.Or any day after.

When my own son finally walked through the door, I exhaled, and drew him onto my lap to explain why I had been crying. His tears silently joined mine, and then so did his anger.

When we had exhausted both, I suggested we light a candle… but instead of one, Aidan dashed around the house to collect one for each child.

Even as far as Pakistan, fellow school boys were lighting candles for the lives stolen.

The President reflected on this global mourning during the Prayer Service in Newtown last night:

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart.

He went on to say that our first job is caring for our children:

If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

But we aren’t getting it right. And to be honest, I’m not sure we can, especially when I witness us reach back to the comfort of Mr. Roger’s words or over-reach toward heroes.  I

It’s time to set sentimentality aside, and to sober up with the facts–not only about guns: 94,871 people shot in this country this year, but also about ourselves: We believe in killing. It’s part of our national fabric. We celebrate it in history, in video games, in theaters, and in warfare around the world.

And yet, I don’t believe the situation is hopeless; because I don’t think that we have the right to collapse into such self-pity after first-graders were murdered during morning circle.

Yes, it is complex. It is terribly complex. But one component is simple. Let’s start there.

Compare the U.S. to Japan, where almost no one owns a gun:

In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides while Japan had only 11–about half of how many children lost their lives in a few moments in Newtown. Incidentally, 587 Americans (including children) were killed in 2008 just by guns that had discharged accidentally. (Read more.)

We don’t even need to go anywhere near the extreme of Japan when it comes to fireaarms. We can look at Australia, where they only banned assault weapons.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings – but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect.  (Read more.)

I know that some in our country are too afraid to give up their rights to weaponry. They cite a history of domination by dictators in the face of unarmed civilians around the world. I feel their fear. I understand it. They want to protect us.

What they won’t admit yet is that our greatest enemy is–within. We are actually killing each other (and ourselves) with the weapons we claim as our protection:

  • A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home.
  • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms.
  • Gun death rates are 7 times higher in the states with the highest household gun ownership.(Read more.)
  • More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (Read more.)

So the real question is this: Will we stop pretending that this is about our right to protection? Or are we prepared, as President Obama asked, to say this:

Such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom…

“NO!” my 12 year old cries out to his President.  Aidan isn’t interested in “freedom” that takes his life at the school and at the mall and in the movie theater and at the mosque; nor does he want the the honor of meeting the President of the United States in response to the random death of his little sister or mother or grandmother or teacher.

This freedom for violence disgraces us as a Nation:

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

Isn’t it ironic how many uniformed men, with impressive weaponry, appeared at Sandy Hook–too late.  How devastating to be prepared–for nothing. My heart breaks for them and for the fathers who weren’t there to protect their daughters. For the mothers who couldn’t comfort their sons as they lay bleeding. For the first-responders who found almost no one there to rescue.

Though dozens of ambulances raced toward the school, only a few departed with such purpose. The hospital was readily prepared to care for massive casualties, but only two adults and two children arrived–the latter pronounced dead inside their doors. There was nothing for the highly trained doctors and nurses to do.

Contrast that with what happened in Central China on the same day: 22 school children were attacked by a man wielding a knife. Some of the injuries were serious. The act of violence despicable. The terror horrifying.

While this readily points to the truth that madmen can always challenge our resources, this doesn’t mean that we can’t limit theirs.  Those 22 children are being cared for–in a hospital–instead of buried–in the ground.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

“You GO!” my son hollers to his President.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Can we admit to ourselves that this kind of violence has become routine? By the end of this day, two-hundred and forty-four people will have been shot; an average so common place as not to receive national attention.

The massacre in Newtown simply brings to light what happens in the land of the “free” every day:

There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

“Yes…” my son whispers back, as he embraces me.

(Kelly Salasin, December 17, 2012)

More on guns and the USA:

Batman & Bullets

Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)

Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)

My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

Batman & Bullets

“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

—Bertolt Brecht

Batman’s Mirror

I’m only mildly anxious that my teenager is heading out to The Dark Knight. Colorado is 2,000 miles away and security is heightened–everywhere. Even as far away as Morocco, Facebook friends are talking about it.

Some say they’ll keep their kids home from the theaters. Others say that gun laws must be tightened. Warner Brothers cancelled their red carpet Paris Premier.

I get to wondering about Christian Bale. How do all those working on the film feel? Their efforts marred; their celebration stolen.

My heart goes out to the community of Aurora (a place I lived as a kid) and to all those whose loved ones were hurt, terrorized or stolen.

The newspaper explains that scenes of public mayhem are the hallmark of Superhero movies which begs the classic question: Does art reflect reality or does reality reflect art?

Ever since the first Colorado massacre in 1999, I began to examine violence in my own life. I gave up shoot’em up films, and redirected violent play among my boys–explaining that we didn’t have toy guns, not because they were “bad,” but because make-believe had become real.

Tragedies such as these are complex beasts. There are gun issues and mental health issues and all kinds of responsibilities to explore. The Director of “The Dark Knight Rises” expressed sorrow on behalf of the cast and crew for such a “senseless tragedy.”

But is it truly senseless? Aren’t we beginning to “sense” a larger pattern? Or will we continue to call these acts of violence random?

Kelly Salasin, July 2012

For more writing on guns, violence & culture, click the links below:

Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)

Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)

My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

Finding God in the Music

Klimt (visipix.com)

I lost Jesus at 14 when the woman I loved most in this world was ripped from my heart. In typical teenage fashion, I needed someone to blame. Instead of the eighteen-wheeler.

The truth is that I didn’t trust God anymore. What kind of world kills your grandmother (and her three best friends) on the way to a fundraiser?

In the absence of His love and that of my grandmother’s and aunties, I found myself a man; But in the end I couldn’t trust him either. Neither did my own father remain steadfast in his love. Those years were swollen with pain, as I watched my family splinter, until there was little left upon which I could rest my faith.

After I gave up on God, two of my younger sisters took up with him–in that boorish, effusive way of the freshly born again.  Their new-found love, only made me feel lonelier.  Their certainty that Jesus belonged to them, left me wondering how he was ever my friend.

In my twenties, I came to Al-Anon, and there I began dating my “Higher Spirit,” who remained faceless, and who never quite hit the spot like the man in robes with penetrating eyes and long, sandy hair. It would be decades before I came to peace without a spirit lover, and until then I searched for him in many faiths.

When I finally found what I was looking for, it wasn’t in a chapel or a temple or even a women’s circle, it was… in the music.  On the night before my beloved grandfather’s funeral–the man who lost his wife to the tragedy that stole God, my born-again sister handed me some music that she was ready to discard.

While The New Jersey Mass Choir seemed right up her holy alley, I was beginning to understand that there was a hierarchy among Christians which placed Catholics below the born-again.  My sister saved my soul that night, though not in the way she had always wanted.

When the soloist delivered Jesus to me in her rich, sultry tones, it didn’t matter that my passion made no sense.

When the storms in my life are raging. When the weight of this world drives me to my knees… I found a Hiding Place…

I felt the love that had once been mine.

I reclaimed Spirit then, in every song and sound, no matter whence it sprang.

Allah, Yahweh, Jesu, Krishna, Shakti, Earth, Water, Sky, Home.

With music–and now movement–I make sacred the mystery of this journey we call life, without needing to know why.

Kelly Salasin, Vermont

Find out about Falling into the Music with YogaDance here.

ps. Special mention goes out to my two beloved, born-again sisters with whom I share an ever-expanding communion in the Mystery that transcends understanding.

My Favorite Republicans

(On election day, I can’t help but think back to our 2008 canvassing in neighboring New Hampshire.)

A tall vibrant man in a flannel shirt held back his dog, but only slightly, asking if we were Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons. When the four of us answered “No”(on both accounts) from behind car doors, he told us we could approach his house, a neatly built log cabin with a long view of distant Vermont hillsides.

He softened a bit at the sight of Lloyd, 13, and Aidan, 8, dressed in Obama “Change” t-shirts (the ones they bought in Unity) before telling us that someone had already been to his house–twice that week–from the campaign.

We apologized for the intrusion, explaining that we weren’t meant to be duplicating efforts, but he countered that the others–a young couple and two college students–had said the exact same thing.

More apologies followed after which he stated, “I’m a lifetime Republican–40 years,” and then he added: “Until this election.”

There was a collective exhale.

Thirteen-year old Lloyd jumped into action with his clipboard, asking the man if he’d be voting for the NH democratic candidate for Senate. The reply? A firm, “NO.”

When he told us that he was voting for Obama however, we all smiled. He shared how nervous he was about the election and asked us if we thought Obama stood a chance.

“Watching the television is making me crazy,” he said.

We commiserated with him. We didn’t have tv.

“You could call your friends or email them,” we suggested, “Especially if they live in Pennsylvania or Ohio.”

“That won’t help,” he explained. “They’re all like I used to be… making six figures. They just don’t get it.”

8 year old Aidan offered him some campaign materials which he politely refused before we said our goodbyes (on “almost” friendly terms.) Just as he stepped back onto his porch, he turned and asked if anyone needed to use the bathroom.

There was a pause, and then a “YES, Please!” from me; my bladder had been full since the first road of houses where we began this afternoon.

He then invited everyone in to see the house which delighted my husband who had once dreamed of building his own log cabin.

The man’s unsuspecting wife was in the kitchen emptying groceries when four strangers poured in through her mudroom. “Just some Jehovah Witnesses,” I joked before slipping into her bathroom.  I let her husband explain.

She winced when he offered to take Casey and the boys upstairs. “The bed isn’t made,” she said, but he headed onward, engaged in a conversation with my husband who had appreciatively noticed his collection of antique pistols.

By the time I was out of the bathroom, she was giving the kids handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and he was pouring everyone lemon-aid.

“It’s so great you’re doing this, especially with your boys,” his wife offered, almost guiltily. “My own sons are grown, but I called them and reminded them to vote. My oldest works on Wall Street,” she added.

We continued to chat, while her husband invited Casey downstairs to see his WWII machine gun. The boys quickly followed behind.

“His brother gave them to him,” she explained, as we went on to discuss how far we both had to travel for groceries and how much we liked the Obama website.

When the men returned, we said our goodbyes, refusing even kinder offers for lunch, and they walked us to the door and watched and waved as we pulled down the road. “Good luck,” they called after us.

The next stop was a horse farm across the road. A man in coveralls grumbled that it was his cidering day so we offered to make it quick as we watched him drop apples into the grinder. He politely but firmly refused and his young daughter stared as we drove away up the dirt road.

The split level a quarter mile down was the next house on our list and we were almost turned away there too. It was a nice day for early November and as we pulled into the driveway, the owner was strapping a kayak to his Subaru. We hadn’t stepped out of the car before he complained that he had already been visited that week, twice. We apologized once again and explained that we didn’t know why they’d send us to the same places. This was our first time canvassing.

Checking the democratic polling sheet, we asked if we had his name correct, only to discover that it was his son’s name that was listed. “This household was divided up until a month ago,” he explained with angst. We’ve always voted Republican. Then he added, “My son’s out at sea.”

“Oh,” we replied cautiously, figuring we were heading into tender territory with a son in the military.

“Not in the service,” he said, reading our faces. “He’s out on a ‘Semester at Sea.'” He pointed to his baseball cap that said, “SEA,” and then told us all about his son and how he had gotten interested in Marine Biology after a childhood visit to Sea World and how he had combined Psychology with that major to work with dolphins. My other son’s in college too. “We’re all voting for Obama now,” he told us.

“What changed?” we asked.

He spoke of McCain’s age and Obama’s ability to relate to the people, of Sarah Palin and of the economy. “My friends and I all owned businesses during the Clinton years and we did really well for ourselves, really well. None of us are doing that well now.”

We shared that we had heard a similar shift from a neighbor up the road.

“Who, Stan?” he asked, taken aback. We didn’t recall the name and didn’t feel right saying. “The guy with the shooting range?” he pressed. My sons’ heads bobbed before we could stop them.

“My own boys used to go up to his place and shoot,” he said, shaking his head. “Wow, Stan’s voting for Obama, who would have thought!”

He turned back toward his car with a sheepish grin, before saying, “You know, one of the last things that kept me from voting Democratic was that I didn’t want to loose my guns.”

“Did something change?” we said.

“Oh, yeah,” he answered. “Biden said that no one is taking away his Glocks. ”

He went on to reiterate that he wanted a President that could relate to the world and to our day to day lives. He said that Americans needed a wake up call. He thought we all needed to reconnect with what makes this country great.

Guns aside, we all agreed.

Kelly Salasin, November 2008

Late Summer Collection

One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer.  I hope you  find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome.  Read a post, share a comment/connection!

Pissarro, visipix.com

Summer’s Harvest

~This Vermont Life: The Dog Days of Summer and Until I Moved to Vermont, a tribute to the summer sun in the Green Mountains.

~The Motherless Muse: Days Like ThisThe Writing Cellar and Namesake.

~The Marriage Journey: posts from My Sister’s Wedding.

~The Empty(ing) Nest Diary: The Running Away Thing, Last Days of Summer Panic, and The Wisdom of Fatigue.

~ Two Owls Calling (and the Life Purpose Path):  Thought Anthropologist, Dis-Orient Me, Life’s Debris, The Stream of Love, The Path of Women, The Yoga of Teeth, The Party Gene and Weeding My Life.

Kelly Salasin, Fall 2010

In Unity with Inspiration

(this piece was written following the appearance of candidates Obama and Clinton in Unity, NH)

Democratic Candidates Obama and Clinton, Unity, NH 2008 (LLoyd Salasin-Deane)

~for the children

4:30 am
Saturday, June 28
Marlboro, Vermont

Dear Community of ALL,

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending a political rally in Unity, New Hampshire. I use the word “privilege” because I could afford the time, the energy and the gas it took to devote an entire day to this journey. I also had the privilege of the company of my two young sons, Aidan 7 and Lloyd 12. It was their enthusiasm that fueled this endeavor for me.

Despite being born in the sixties, I grew up with little inclination to participate politically. As a young adult I found politics disconnecting and depressing. When I moved to Vermont at age 30 that changed.

Suddenly things were on a small enough scale that I could manage the attention and faith it took to begin to get involved. Vermont’s Town Meetings were my springboard. Political humans like Bernie Sanders and Jim Jeffords were accessible and worthy.

I still wasn’t hardwired to fully engage in the political process, but I began to hope for my own sons. They attended town meetings with me, ate a chicken supper beside Bernie, and participated in walking with his senate campaign down Main Street in the 4th of July parade.

Lloyd and Aidan showed more interest in politics in their short lives than I had in my entire life. In fact, much of their sand play with peers at South Pond was politically based.

When I went to tell my boys that Obama and Hillary were going to be in New Hampshire–less than 2 hours away–they gave an enthusiastic, “Let’s go!” That was all I needed to take the next step to get the tickets and pack us up for my first national campaign event.

I don’t have the poltical savvy to know all the reasons why I shouldn’t have been inspired by Senators Clinton and Obama, and I never will. My mind just doesn’t operate that way. I am much more interested in the internal politics of our own hearts and spirits than I am driven by what happens on the outside with others.

That said, I do want to be part of the change. Like Gandhi, I want to “be the change” that I want to see in the world… rather than just complain that it doesn’t exist. And though I have never been politically minded, I have always had a passion for history, and a deep fascination and regard for the spirit of this country–for our Declaration of Independence and the freedom we created in it.

9/11 was for me and for many others the spiritual “bottom” of my political experience. It left me wanting to disown this country once and for all; and it also caused me to realize just how much I loved this big bully. I grew up, politically speaking, around 9/11. I began to realize that my participation or lack of it played a part; and that for whatever reason, I was tied up in this country–in its identity and actions.

On the drive to Charlemont, New Hampshire where we boarded shuttles to Unity, I explained to Lloyd–and to myself–what a leader was all about.

“It’s like one of those amazing teachers you hear about,” I said, “like that guy in Los Angles that took that poorly performing class and made them math wizards. Those kids were disconnected, self-absorbed, criminal, disenfranchised–and rightly so.

And it wasn’t as much about his greatness–but that inside each of those students was greatness and he helped them find it. He “lead” them to it. He created a place of belonging for them. He believed in them. He inspired them to their own strengths and greatness. That’s what this country needs in a President,” I said, as much to myself as to Lloyd, whose nose was in a graphic novel.

At the rally, under the bright afternoon sun, surrounded by trees and fields, Hillary and Obama echoed my voice–albeit in their political speech writing ways.

She says, that it wasn’t about one person, that it was about the change we wanted to create.

He says that his hope lies in the faces of all of us, in our basic decency and caring.

Balance (Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

For me–seeing them together like that–two leaders–male and female–black and white–I felt complete.

I don’t know if these two beautiful people have the answers, but I do know that the answers lie inside of us–inside each of us. I discover that every time I work with someone in my role as a life coach.

My hope, and the reason why I bought my very first bumper sticker (that says “HOPE”), is that these two people can lead us to our own inspiration to change.

It pains me and I know it pains each of you that we live in a world where children are hungry. It brings me to tears that I don’t know what to do about it. It anguishes me that great suffering is happening on “my watch” while I eat my organic cereal and type on my laptop to you.

“NOT ON MY WATCH!” I want to scream, but I don’t know where to direct my voice and my energy and my passion.

So many of you have that clarity. I see you act on behalf of others in so many ways. Social and political activism have never had the clarity for me. But I am a writer and a thinker and connector; and that is what I have to offer to make the change.

What about you?

You don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be good at everything…”You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. ” (Thank you dear Mary Oliver for planting that seed.)

That’s why there’s so many of us, to make it easier. Our talents and interests and gifts blend like circles on a beautiful hand sewn quilt. Let’s get stitching so that we can cover this world with a blanket of warmth, and food, and protection, and safety.

I know I am idealistic. That’s how I came. And I know that many of you know much more about the process because you’ve actually been participating for a lot longer.But maybe there’s a place for me to inspire you with my innocence and heartfelt conviction.

I know our leaders are imperfect, but is that where we want to focus our attention? How would this country and its ideals ever been born if we had focused on the imperfections of our inspired founding forefathers!?

And I know this country isn’t perfect either. There’s history books filled with our sins against humanity.

But there’s also a light, and that’s what I want to follow and help grow.

I see the light of hope in my children. They each wanted an Obama t-shirt that showed his face in red, white and blue with the word, CHANGE, below it. My oldest wondered why I didn’t buy the “CHANGE” bumper sticker. I explained that I couldn’t put one man’s face on my car–but I could put the word “HOPE” out about him–appreciating that my sons’ would be the change.

That morning, before the rally, the three of us stood under a hot sun in a parking lot at a race track in New Hampshire–waiting for the school bus that would take us to UNITY–to the playground of an elementary school–where the groundskeeper in suspenders was crowned “honorary mayor” for the day, and introduced not one–but two candidates, that I had respected for President.

Unity’s “Honorary” Mayor (the school custodian) introducing Obama (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

Behind us in that shuttle line of hundreds, stood two elderly women, who looking around them at all the young people, said with pride, “This is our future.”

On the return bus ride to the racetrack after the rally, I looked at all the folks around me– in front of me and behind me–and I thought, “This is my country:  the elderly man with Parkinson’s beside me, the college students laughing in front of me, and the family, behind me.”

Obama/Clinton Rally Attendees on the bus ride back to their cars. (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I’m not writing to tell you to believe in Obama or even that I do; but I believe in us, and I know that we need a leader to bring the change that we need in this world—not cheaper groceries or gas prices for us–but provision for all and stewardship for the blessing of this earth.

At the end of this long day, the boys and I raced home to the pond. I wished Hillary and Barack could have joined us. I’m sure they needed the swim more than we did, and I would have liked to see them out of their suits enjoying the gift of Vermont.

But alas, they have a different dharma… They’re no doubt off on a plane to do more of what they did in Unity–more speeches, more politics. God bless them.

Obama and Clinton leaving the podium; Unity, NH 2008 (photo: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I find myself praying for Obama and his family, that they would be safe from the dangers of this world so that our country might be led by a man who I saw to be “good.”  He stood, not more than 6 heads in front of me, and I took him in–not his words or his plan–but his spirit. That’s what I went to see.

Barack Obama~Unity, NH 2008 ~photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I had to wake my boys before 7 in order for us to be there on that field when Clinton and Obama stepped out of the newspapers and into the world before me. Now that it’s summer, Aidan is the hardest to wake. But when I said to his shut eyes, “Aidan, today is the day we go see Hillary and Obama,” he jumped out of bed like it was Christmas.

By noon, under that hot sun, in a crowd of thousands, he broke down in tears, begging to find any way to get back home. Lloyd and I created a little world under a beach towel for him and he found his strength to go on.

Though they were only 15 feet ahead of us, Aidan could only see Hillary and Obama when I lifted him up on my shoulders. He spent most of the time on the ground, half the size of those around him–but he said that he was glad he came.

And when we got to the pond, he told his cousin all about the rally with pride.  And to my surprise, my older son’s classmates were enthralled that we had gone to the rally and ran to find him to see these photos he took and to hear about it.

My popularity index as a parent immediately rose, having plummeted the week before when I was not among those many Marlborians who made sure their kids found a television to watch the night-long Celtics win. “You put us all to shame” said a father about the journey I made with my boys.

“No, they were our community representatives,” a mother clarified.

I have great hope that this beautiful man of color and character might be our country’s representative.

My husband tells me that both Michelle and Barack Obama made the maximum individual contribution to Hillary’s indebted campaign the other night, and that Barack has asked his supporters to donate what they can to offset her great debt.

Today, I’ll make my first ever direct financial contribution to a political campaign at a national level to both Hillary and Obama. I like the feeling of supporting his campaign and supporting Hillary with hers that has ended.  I like the spirit.

That’s what drew me to Unity, New Hampshire yesterday morning–the spirit of it.
And did you know that the school groundskeeper that introduced Hillary and Barack, was a Republican?

United we stand, divided we fall. My greatest hope is that we can co-create a world and a country that we are proud to call our home–and that when our time comes to leave this place, we can say that on “our watch” unity and beauty prevailed.

Do I believe a political leader can provide the change we want to see in the world?

No.

But I hold great hope that we can co-create it with his leadership.

“Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.”
-May Sarton

Kelly Salasin

Touching the Heart of Childhood~ a visit with poetry teacher extraordinaire~ Ann Gengarelly

“If we forget poetry, we will forget ourselves.”

Octavia Paz

Most know Ann Gengarelly through the children– and the poetry they write– under her care.  These poems have traveled from the hearts of families and friends in her home state of Vermont–to the floor of the United States Senate, where “Distance,”  a student’s poem about a grandmother suffering from Alzheimers was read by Senator Jim Jeffords at the 103d Congress.  (Written by Hannah Pick of Putney, VT.)

Ann has been sharing the gift of poetry with children for over thirty years.   Her work as “a-poet-in-the-schools” has taken her all over southern Vermont– and as far away  as The Little Singer Community School on the Navajo Reservation in the state of Arizona.  Ann also teaches at area colleges, and offers classes for adults and children at her studio in Marlboro, Vermont.

I had the pleasure of joining Ann while she led a workshop at the local elementary school.  My visit came at the end of a four-part session with the primary students there– a multi-age class of six, seven and eight-year olds.

The relationship between Ann and these young ones is palpable the moment they see each other. “I’ve missed you!” she croons as the children arrive in the school library.   “Nice hair cut, Lloyd,” she says. “Hey Tim, how are you?” Ann makes a point to greet each child individually, and she laughs as a succession of children drape themselves over her in an embrace before taking their place on the floor.

Each class begins like this– with a warm reunion and a circle gathering.  The children are bubbling by the time Ann is ready to begin, but they quickly respond to the sound of her voice.  (She can’t help but whisper a few last hellos.)

Can everyone look at me so I can tell you something?” Ann says softly with a touch of intrigue.  “I woke up this morning feeling…  Oh… I’m not sure how to describe the feeling in my heart,” Ann says as places her palms over her chest before continuing. “I felt both so excited to see you, but also a little sad.  Does anybody know why?”

Hands shoot into the air with the obvious answer:  Today is the last day of poetry. The children hang their heads in shared disappointment.

Until we come to your house!” offers eight-year old Anna, reminding them of the visit they make to The Poetry Studio each spring. The children remember Ann’s stone pathways, her bright gardens, and especially –the small frog pond– surrounded by birches and evergreens.

Ann shares that she looks forward to their visit after the snow and then introduces the theme for today’s class, encouraging the children to close their eyes.  “I want you to take a minute to go inside yourself, talk to yourself, and think about this:

How do you know when something or someone is your friend?

Ann repeats the question with great emphasis, adding,  “I really want you to help me with this.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  How can you tell?”

The children respond as thoughtfully as Ann asks the question.  “You tell by time,” says one boy, “by getting to know them better.”

Did you hear that?” says Ann.  “Say that again,” she asks,  focusing the  children’s attention on each response as the conversation unfolds.  Ann intentionally keeps the themes broad to allow for personal expression while carefully guiding the children’s awareness to greater depths, “I’m going to ask you a different question now so you might want to close you eyes again:

Does anybody here in the circle have a very special friend that’s much, much younger than you; or much, much older? ”

One child raises her hand to ask Ann’s age.   “Oh me?” she says, “I’m poetry age!”

The children giggle with delight. Another child raises her hand and offers that her grandmother is her friend, even though she has died.   This causes quite a commotion, but Ann stills the room to say,  “Wait a minute…  let’s just stay quiet, so that you can breathe that in.”

This is how it is with Ann–heartfelt, focused, attentive. “Children are hungry to be listened to,” she says.   “We all have the need to tell our stories.  Poetry is often the telling of the soul.  It can be the key to unlocking thoughts and feelings and visions.”

If poetry is the “key”, then Ann Gengarelly is one of its most trusted keepers: “Poetry is a dance between our inner landscapes and the external world,” she says.  “We could all go out and look at the full moon, but our individual response is what creates our unique vision, our particular voice.  Poetry, in many ways, is the invitation to pay attention–to notice–to be ‘present’; whether it’s to a birth of a pet, the death of a grandparent, the song of a whippoorwill, war.”

Ann models this attention, this ‘being present’, with each child.  “I have watched, shy, silent kids pour out passionate words to her eager face,” says Rebecca Bateman, an intern from Antioch Graduate School.  “I have seen angry, stubborn kids melt when she handles their truculence with a gentle embrace.”

Ann continues to explore the theme of friendship with the children with work from the great Masters: Emily Dickinson, Monet… and from the Masters To Be: Art and poetry from students who have written with Ann on other occasions, her ‘poetry children’ she calls them–some who have graduated from this very school, leaving the legacy of “voice” behind.

Ann offers a variety of verse to the children,  “Poems that are ‘paintings in words’, poems that are songs,  poems that are messages from heart and spirit, poems born from imagination, poems rooted in literal experience,” she explains.

There is a building sense of excitement and momentum as the children prepare  ‘to give birth to their own poems’.  By the time they pick up their pencils, they are overflowing with inspiration. “Nick you have five poems in you!” Ann says after he shares that rocks are his friends, and later that his dreams are too.

One by one they leave the circle–some to find a quiet spot on the floor, others to nestle in a corner, and yet others to sit at tables with one or two poet friends.  The atmosphere in the room shifts dramatically as Ann encourages a ‘quality of silence,’ enabling these young poets to hear their ‘inner voice.’

At this young age, the composing process is initiated through art.  The children begin by folding a large piece of paper in half, using one side on which to draw and the other on which to write. “When you start with your drawing,” says Ann, “I don’t want you to think so much about what this friend looks like…  think more about what this friend feels like to you.”

Ann moves about the room offering  her support as needed.   “Let’s draw a picture about that,” she suggests to a little boy whose pet frog has died.   “Close your eyes, travel back, and tell me–How was he your friend?  You’ve got to help me see it in my imagination.”

He lived in a little castle in a fish tank,” shares the boy.  “But it wasn’t really a castle.”

It seemed like a castle to you, right?” says Ann.   “Let’s write that; we can do that in poetry land!”

Ann refers to this part of the writing process as ‘witnessing.’ “There is the poet as witness–witnessing his own experiences, feelings, dreams, hope.  And then there’s the teacher as witness.  When a teacher shares a dialogue with a student about a poem, she offers dignity to the human experience… of being human together.”

The witnessing process continues as the children read their completed work to each other.  Ann brings the class together again, saying, “Our last poetry party, come on over, let’s share!”  She calls this final gathering, ‘a circle of humanity.’

“Who will offer the first gift?” Ann asks expectantly.  Most are eager to share, and after each poem is read, another ‘gift’ is requested–that of the listener. Ann directs the children’s attention,  deepening their understanding and appreciation of each others work and of the craft of writing poetry.

What part makes you go ooh?” she asks.  “What part was a poetry way of saying what was felt?  What part makes you feel convinced that someone was a friend?”

As the last gifts are offered, Ann laments that the session is about to end.   “I wish we didn’t have clocks in poetry land,” she says.   “These poems were just extraordinary.”  She takes a deep breath and looks around the circle at each face, exclaiming, “What friends we have here!”

There is a sweet sadness as goodbyes are spoken, but the children’s time with their poems hasn’t ended.  In the upcoming weeks, the students will edit and type their work, compiling their poems into handmade books to be presented to parents at a poetry celebration.  Ann will rejoin them on this occasion, and will also stop in to see them in the months to follow when she returns to work with other classes.

By the end of the school year, the entire student body will contribute a piece of poetry to a bound collection–one that is sent home with each child–a tradition that has continued for more than twenty-five years.  At a special ceremony before graduation, Ann will read the 8th grader’s earliest poetry from a decade ago.  The newest kindergarten class will also be present, seated beside their eighth-grade ‘elders’, who will support them in reading their very first poems.

Ann is passionate in her belief that everyone has poetry inside them, affirming that the journey of self-discovery is as critical for children as it is for adults.  “The power of metaphor, of the image world, is evident with people of all ages,” she claims. “Poetry, in the deepest sense is an invitation to remember who we are.”

At her poetry studio, Ann delights in bringing together multi-age groups, and often does so in  after-school and summer programs.  One of the most memorable gatherings was a spontaneous one following the events of September 11th:  “Twenty-five people, mainly families, joined together to give voice to their feelings and reactions, beginning a ‘journey of healing’ as a community.”

Ann feels strongly that we are living in a time where there’s a vital need for compassion in the world, and she believes that poetry plays crucial role.  “In a profound sense, there is a compelling connection between compassion and imagination.  If we were truly able to imagine what it feels like to live in a war torn country or to be homeless, wouldn’t we be more likely to develop a deeper sense of compassion and commit fewer acts of violence!  If  we could feel the souls in trees, flowers, and stones as do Native Americans, maybe we would experience a deeper reverence for nature.”

Ann shares the power of poetry, relaying her experience with a young poet,  “I remember a 5th grade boy who many years ago came up to me and said, ‘I often make fun of old people.’   I was in awe of this child owning this behavior and proceeded to ask him how he thought that made elders feel.  His response was: ‘I’m going to find out today in poetry’– and then picked up a wooden figure I have of an old man.  What unfolded was a persona poem in which the boy assumed the voice of the old man whose heart felt like ‘a broken window’ in response to the mockery of a young boy.”

As the recess bell sounds to announce the closing of the morning session, Ann offers these parting words to the young faces before her, “I just want to thank you for the gift of listening to you.  It’s been most powerful to hear what is inside you.  I hope that even though I’m not doing classes with you, that poetry will remain your friend and that you’ll feel poetry saying- Listen to me, I’ve got something to say.”

Poetry

Poetry, the one thing you’ll

always remember.

It’s always with you

like your heart-

Poetry soars above you

like a raven,

taking away your fears-

Poetry takes care of you,

listens to you.

Ann listens to me

as a sister

Poetry will always

be with you

and me.

(Zoe Chaine, age 7)


Kelly Salasin, 2003

Notes:

7 year old Poetry author Zoe Chaine is now teenager now– still writing–and publishing– her poetry.

To read more about Ann’s legacy at Marlboro School–even with older children– click here.

Photo taken at Poetry/Art day on Hogback Mountain, 2009;  Pam Burke, Marlboro Elementary School.



 

 

 

 

Free Healthcare

“In America, no one should go without health care.”

~AFL-CIO

My husband is a teacher so we don’t have to pay for health care.  They just take $3,000 a year in premiums out of his paycheck.  We’ve chosen the most affordable “plan” his school offers.  This year they didn’t even increase our premiums, they just doubled our co-pays.

With our Vermont Health Partnership Plan we get a “Primary Care Provider,”  “preferred benefits,”  and a “three-tier prescription drug benefit.”  It’s fancy, and it takes an entire staff to explain the “features” of our plan each time we need to use it.  But that’s not too much of an inconvenience because we rarely use it.

Our family of four actually relies on traditional care provided by a Naturopathic physician.  Though Naturopathy is on the rise and is more affordable and effective in treating common ailments, it’s frowned upon.  Thus in addition to our premiums and co-pays, we dish out another few thousand a year to cover our “real” care.

On the other hand, given our limited use of “the system,” we’ve never had to  encounter some of the insurance sagas that we hear about from those unable to get the medical attention they need.  Until yesterday.

Yesterday was the first time we’ve needed something from a pharmacy other than an antibiotic.  A simple air cast is all we wanted.  At the cost of $180. Our Naturopath put the order in, but then called us right back to say that there was a problem.

Apparently, our insurance plan with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont would cover pharmaceutical prescriptions, but not “durable equipment” prescriptions because this pharmacy was not in our “network” as a “durable equipment provider.”

After an aggravating amount of time on hold, my husband was given the name of two “providers” in network and he scrambled to call them before the end of the work day.

Unfortunately, he discovered that the two local “providers” did not have air casts.  In fact, one of them was simply an oxygen supply company.  Didn’t the insurance company know this? Thus my husband spent another half an hour on the phone after which he was told that he would need to use an out of state provider if he wanted insurance to cover the cost.

This seemed a ludicrous request given that the same product was available in our town– immediately–and given that my husband was in pain and required the cast to support his leg from re-injury.   After another 20 minutes with the insurance company, they suggested we request “delivery” of the item, which was an additional expense that they would surprisingly cover. (Imagine how much that would cost from an hour away.)

However, delivery wasn’t available from the out state “providers” and neither was a cast– for 3 to 7 days.   Thus my husband called the insurance company again, punching in all his numbers, giving all the same information to a new person, and finally being told that he should call our physician to have her submit a special “pre-approval” for the local cast– which could also take up to 3 days to be “approved” by the special “pre-approval durable equipment reviewers.”

Unfortunately by the time my husband got off the phone with the insurance company and the various “providers,” the doctor’s office was closed.

During this circus, we learned that had he used the Emergency Room over the weekend, rather than wait for our health care provider to see him on Monday, the hospital could have easily issued the air cast and all expenses would have been covered.  (The system obviously doesn’t reward the cost-effective prudence of a doctor’s daughter who thought the Emergency Room wasn’t an appropriate use of our benefits in this instance.)

Toward the end of this escapade, I found myself wanting to rip the phone from my husband and scream bloody murder at the insurance company–or cry.     This was inane and cruel and despairing.  The poor guy just needed an air cast for his leg to relieve the pain and protect him from greater injury, but we had to play some crazy game to get it.  (Imagine how many insurance “players” it takes to “pretend” that this game actually works.)

Be specific in the pre-approval request,”  our Blue Cross, Blue Shield  Health Advocate tells us.  “Make sure they know that it’s urgent.  Tell them that you can’t find a local provider.  Tell them that it will take a week to get one through the out of state provider. The “advocate’s” sincere (and misdirected) kindness makes me want to cry, and I’m appalled that I’m in the ridiculous situation of begging for a cast for my husband.

Make sure the doctor includes all the details,” she repeats over and over again, saying “They can’t read your mind.”

Can they read an x-ray?  I wonder.  WTF!

This was our family’s first bitter “taste” of what many others endure in much more dire circumstances~ when it comes to having their medical needs met–or unmet–by our country’s “superior” health care system.

Our personal drama–and call to actionis aligned with the national one following the loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat (to a Senator who opposes health care reform) on the one-year anniversary of President Obama in the White House.

The politics of the healthcare debate may have changed,” says the Democracy in Action group MomsRising, ” but the needs of real people for healthcare have not.” Click here to tell your members of Congress to be strong and continue the fight for real health care reform.

Kelly Salasin

(Click here to see additional posts on health care reform at the intersection of life and politics.)