Good Words to Begin the Year

One of my beloveds nearly died this past summer. I’m not being over-dramatic about that. It was touch and go with his first treatment for his lymphoma, whether his failing liver and kidney function could support the clean-up work of the immunotherapy and chemo. I felt Death hovering in the corners of the room, thought I could see the shadowy and bright forms of his escorts from realm to realm.

Today, the oncologist gave us some glorious words: “complete remission” and “probably a cure.” I still don’t know how to articulate the joy of this. It’s a moment to pause in the glorious rays of morning sun and whisper hallelujah.

Gratitude List:
1. Those miracle words of such great relief: “complete remission,” “probably a cure”
2. Trusting that excellent substitutes can take my classes for two days while I finish my Covid isolation
3. A warm house
4. Patty Griffin’s song, “Mary”
5. Words! So many words!
May we walk in Beauty!

“Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
And I’ll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair.” —Minna Thomas Antrim

“How do we go on living, when every day our hearts break anew? Whether your beloved are red-legged frogs, coho salmon, black terns, Sumatran tigers, or fat Guam partulas, or entire forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, or oceans, or the entire planet, the story is the same, the story of the murder of one’s beloved, the murder of one’s beloved, the murder of one’s beloved.” —Derrick Jensen

“The Work. I am learning, slowly and in tiny little ways, to stop asking myself what I can get from each moment, but instead what my Work is here in the moment. And realizing, ever so dimly, that when I am really doing my Work (really doing my Work), I am also receiving what I need.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” —Peter Drucker

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it will be a butterfly.” —Margaret Fuller

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” —T.S. Eliot

“So my mind keeps coming back to the question: what is wrong with us? What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”
― Naomi Klein

The Wheel Turns

“Fortune, good night; smile once more, turn thy wheel.” –King Lear (2.2.169).

How is your fate determined? Are you destined to live a life decided by the vagaries of fate? Or are you, as William Ernest Henley declares in “Invictus,” the master of your fate? The Greeks wrestled mightily with the question in their ancient plays and poems. Do I bring my fate upon me by trying to avoid the fate the gods have ordained and the oracles have declared? Over and over again, humans in the ancient Greek tales, are playthings of the gods, unable to escape their fate, caught more inextricably within Fortune’s Wheel the more they try to escape.

The ancient Greek goddess Tyche (Fortuna to the Romans) was said to spin her Wheel capriciously, setting peasants and paupers in powerful positions, and kings and saints in the mud and the dust. The Wheel is the symbol of that which we cannot control: the accidents and diseases, the privilege we are born with or without, the world events that set the stage for the eras into which we are born.

And yet, this card reminds us, we are never without choices. We may not be able to control the Wheel’s turning, but we control our own responses. We make choices that affect the patterns of our lives within the larger framework of the fate that happens to us. Some people come to the tarot as they come to an oracle: Tell me what is going to happen to me so I can prepare myself for my fate. A healthier approach, and the one suggested by this card, is to use the cards to better understand ourselves so that we can respond in a wise and grounded manner when we seem to be wrenched out of our even keel by changes beyond our control.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius, trying to convince Brutus to help him assassinate Caesar, tells him, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.” And later, when the brutal deed is done, and Cassius begins to doubt that they can win the coming battle, Brutus acknowledges the role of fate in their destiny–“There is a tide in the affairs of men”–but urges Cassius again to action, to take that tide at the flood, which will lead them to their fortune, cautioning him that to refuse to take such a tide will lead them to ruin.

Sometimes, the Fool learns in the tarot journey, the wisest path is to be ready for the tide, like a surfer awaiting the perfect wave, to grab fortune as it approaches, and let it carry you to greater heights. And sometimes, it is helpful to sort out your story by remembering that not everything that happens to you is by choice, that you did the best you could with what you had. And mostly, it helps to know yourself well, so you can be equipped to make choices and to respond in healthy ways.

The Wheel of Fortune is one of the central motifs of Shakespeare’s great (greatest, in my opinion) play, The Tragedy of King Lear. As a teenager reading the play, I fell in love with the Fool, perhaps the play’s wisest character. Lear’s Fool seems to disappear out of the play, perhaps to surface in the tarot cards to gently advise us, as he did King Lear: “Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill,/lest it break thy neck with following it; but the great/one that goes upward, let him draw thee after” (2.4.71-73).

Gratitude List:
1. Cautiously good news on the cancer front for two of my best beloveds
2. The angels
3. The little screech owl who is calling in the dusk
4. These golden, perfect days
5. The ability to choose how to respond
May we walk in Grace and Beauty!

“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
—Walt Whitman

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.” ―Arundhati Roy

“Be like a headland: the waves beat against it continuously, but it stands fast and around it the boiling water dies down. “It’s my rotten luck that this has happened to me.” On the contrary, “It’s my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I still feel no distress, since I’m unbruised by the present and unconcerned about the future.” What happened could have happened to anyone, but not everyone could have carried on without letting it distress him. So why regard the incident as a piece of bad luck rather than seeing your avoidance of distress as a piece of good luck?” —Marcus Aurelius

Who is Pushing them in?

My father, a physician, used to give talks about healthy diet and lifestyle.  One story that he used to tell has really stuck with me.

Once there was a little town located beside a wide and perilous river.  Occasionally townspeople would rush to the aid of someone who had fallen in upriver.  At great risk to their own lives, they would mobilize and save a hapless stranger from drowning.  As time went by, and more and more of these rescues began to occur, the little town developed an excellent rescue aid society.  They had their own boats and equipment.  They held fundraisers to support the River Rescue Society.  Volunteers trained long hours.

Over time, more and more people came floating by, in peril of drowning, and the town’s rescue crew grew and grew.  They began to post watchers on the shoreline because the numbers of people in need of rescue had begun to increase monumentally.  It was all the little town could do to keep up with the work.  But they were proud of their River Rescue Society.

One night, at a town meeting, the topic on the table for discussion was (once again) the need for more money to fund the Rescue Society.  They were now in need of full-time watchers on the shore and more money for training and research into the best techniques for safely pulling people out of the river.  Finally a quiet woman who had been knitting in the corner stepped up to the microphone and asked, “Perhaps we ought to send someone upriver to discover who is pushing all these people in?”

Yesterday, I found out that yet another friend of mine has cancer.  Leukemia.  Two friends of mine are walking with their mothers through the rocky terrain of breast cancer at the moment.  I find it alarming and disconcerting, the way we just accept that cancer is a way of life for us now.  I’m glad that we’re working so hard on the rescue side of this story.  I am so grateful for the treatment options for my friends, for my friends’ mothers, for your friends and family members.  It seems to me that in recent years, the number of people floating down this particular river has increased rather dramatically.  What are we going to do about figuring out who is pushing them in?

We can start, I think, by letting the dandelions grow.  Refusing to put chemicals on our lawns and gardens.  Cleaning our houses with soap and water and vinegar instead of chemicals.  We can pay attention to the food we put into our bodies, where it comes from, what practices were used to grow it.  We can stop drinking out of plastic containers.  These things will not ensure that we don’t fall in the river ourselves, but they might begin to slow down the numbers of people who do.  We need to take a look upriver, and find out who has been pushing all these people into the river.


Gratitude List:
1. A lovely day yesterday with my mother-in-law
2. Singing together–I love that my son joins in with the hymns in church
3. Community–how it falls together sometimes, how we can also work to build and maintain it intentionally
4. Anticipation (as edgy as it can make me, I love having possibilities to dream)
5. Language and the gifts it offers to our reasoning brains

May we walk in Beauty!