Saturday, March 31, 2012

You are Needed

I used to have a terrible issue with comparing myself to others.  It was not that I wished to be their superior, but rather because I was one of those who did not feel worthy of notice and constantly berated myself in comparison to others.  And many people I knew energetically aided my low opinion of myself.  But over the years I have learned a rather interesting tidbit of wisdom.

Don't do it. It's pointless.  We are all different and all of us are needed in our own spheres.  Let me illustrate.  I have had the very good fortune to get to know two absolutely exquisite men in my lifetime.  They are approximately 5'7" with the same build, same eye, hair, and skin color, both independent, highly patriotic, intelligent and wise.  I often wondered which of the two was superior since they were so similar in those qualities.  I furthered the comparison. One was a university professor and the other a librarian who read stories to children.  The storyteller was thoroughly upstanding morally and the professor was a little rough around the moral edges but often stood alone against many highly immoral academic foes.  One was content with the idea of having a family and putting that first and the other wanted to change the whole world for the better.  Which was the superior man?  I finally came to the conclusion that they were both needed and valued in their own personal realms.  In a piece by piece analysis, neither of them could ultimately triumph over the other.

Remember that we are all different and each person is needed.  You are needed, right where you are, and right what you can do to brighten the world around you.  No one can take your place.  Never think because you do not have this talent or that one that your own personality and energy is inadequate.  Whether in poverty or wealth, with beauty or plainness, strength or weakness you fulfill a needed place in this world.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

My extended family proves highly diverse in religious opinions.  Within our ranks we have Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, undefined Christians, agnostics and atheists.  Some of us have powerful ties to Taoism and the like.  And yet we manage to lay aside our religious differences for the most part and remember that first and foremost we are family.

Aren't we all one great family with God at the head?  Aren't we all His children?  I may not know you, my reader, personally, but I can respect your right to believe as you do.  Although I may not belong to your faith, I can defend with my life your right to worship according to the dictates of your conscience.  And indeed I would do so for any peace loving human being. 

Don't I believe in missionary work?  Don't I believe that everyone has to have certain rites or else they will forever perish in the flames of hell?  I don't know what God some people may worship but the God I have come to know and love wants the best for His children.  He understands we aren't perfect and our understanding is limited.  I can't help feeling that no matter who we are, if we live our lives as best we can, spiritually progress as best we can, give our all for truth as we can understand it we will one day come face to face with the Almighty and He will say the same thing to each person, "Well done.  You have done the best you could with the understanding you had.  Come now and let Me teach you what you might have missed.  Let Me teach you now greater things of which your mortal mind couldn't conceive before." 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It Takes a Woman to Stop an Army

My family's history proves rather an exciting one.  One of my favorite stories belongs to my great great grandmother Rafaela LaMadrid.  Anyone who knows more than one female in my bloodline knows that a matriarchal order prevails.  Strong women are par for the course in the Duarte family.  No one wrote this story before it fell into my hands so a couple of details are a bit sketchy but you get the idea.

Firstly I ought to introduce you to Rafaela.  She was beautiful, healthy, tough and confident.  She could ride horses like a man, smoke, drink and as you will see, outsmart an army. 

She lived during the Mexican Revolution and bore 14 children.  When she was about to give birth to her last child she locked herself in her room and delivered the baby herself.  Tough cookie. 

Well, as the story goes, one day a large group of soldiers turned their gaze toward her small town. I do not know exactly how many as some details prove muddled, but apparently a very large group.  Knowing they were coming and that they would likely rape her daughters and force her sons into the military as they had done in other areas she employed that brilliant mind of hers and thought quickly.  She told her daughters to hide and her neighbors to start cooking.  Then mounting her horse she flew like the wind to meet the approaching soldiers.  Greeting them with her winning smile she invited them all to her house for a good home cooked meal.  The soldiers accepted gratefully and while they ate and smoked she smoked with them and chatted.  At the close of the meal they asked if there were any men in the town that they could coerce into the army.  She scoffed, saying that the men in that town were pathetic and would prove a hinderence to them.  The soldiers left praising her to the skies and bestowing benedictions upon her head.   

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Relgious Freedom: The Power of Passionate Speech

I have a degree in English Education and have always been passionately in love with language.  Why?  Let me illustrate by relating the words of my all time favorite writer and orator John Taylor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  He lived in the early days of this country's infancy and was a leader and prophet in his church.  One day he was lecturing to a group of people about freedom and knew that there were men in the crowd in wait to tar and feather him.  These are his words.

"Gentlemen, I now stand among men whose fathers fought for and obtained one of the greatest blessings ever conferred upon the human family - the right to think, to speak, to write; the right to say who shall govern them, and the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences - all of them sacred, human rights, and now guaranteed by the American Constitution.  I see around me the sons of those noble sires, who, rather than bow to the behests of a tyrant, pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors to burst those fetters, enjoy freedom themselves, bequeath it to their posterity, or die in the attempt.  But, by the by, I have been informed that you purpose to tar and feather me, for my religious opinions...If so, now you have a victim, and we will have an offering to the goddess of liberty."

He then tore open his vest and said,"Gentlemen, come on with your tar and feathers, your victim is ready; and ye shades of venerable patriots, gaze upon the deeds of your degenerate sons!  Come on, gentlemen!  Come on, I say, I am ready!"

No one dared move.
(Am I the only woman rather interested in swooning - with a grin - about now?  Just sayin'.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Say "Ohhhmmmm"

I am a firm believer in meditation.  Keep this page or a favorite quiet picture in your bookmarks or favorite sites so that when frustration or anxiety strikes, you can take a moment to clear your mind and remember that beauty surrounds us all.  As an amateur photographer I find beauty in the strangest places - traffic lights, shadows dancing on a wall or merely a close up shot of the ground.  These quiet moments have just as much right, or actually more, to claim your attention and to calm you as the hysterical moments of life have to destroy your peace.  Give yourself to the quietude and beauty that surrounds you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ghost Stories

I have always had a passion for family and since I was 17 have studied with overwhelming fire my family's history.  I uncovered a story that proved so powerful I determined to name my daughter after the main character in this history.

My great grandmother Julia was one of the most amazing women in my genealogical line.  She was hardworking, selfless, patient, kind and excessively poor.  My grandfather, her son-in-law, said she was the best woman he ever knew.  Her son loved her so much he insisted upon sharing a burial plot with her that he might rest "in his mother's arms."  But that is only the beginning.

Julia had given birth to three children when she found she had a terrible and life threatening disease somewhat akin to cancer.  This prevented her having more children and forced her to consider that she might not live to raise those she had.  One night she walked alone under a bright full moon, contemplating what to do and agonising over leaving her young children motherless.  As she thought, she watched her shadow move before her on the ground.  Then she heard the voice.

A man who stood behind her told her to wait until morning and then gather a wild herb called azafran which grows wild in the area surrounding her home in Tuinadepa, Mexico.  He instructed her to boil it in a new clay pot that had never been used, drink it each day for seven days and she would be healed.  When he finished speaking, she looked back down on the ground and realized that whoever spoke behind her cast no shadow on the earth before her.  She turned around to find nothing but empty air.  Rushing home she woke her husband and they both waited in anxiety until daybreak when he left to gather the herb. 
Seven days later the tumor exited her body and she lived to bear two more girls including her youngest named Catalina, who in her turn bore children and eventually became my grandmother.   

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Judge Not

My bedroom wall bears a sign that says "Puris omnia pura" or "to the pure, all things are pure." And I find that we as human beings waste much unnecessary anxiety in worrying about the supposed sins and, more still, the possible tiny transgressions of those around us.  What does it matter to us what other people do or what sins they commit?  Does it somehow abase us by being around them?  Is it our responsibility to stand over them with a whip and a prayerbook ensuring they act according to our understanding of acceptable morality?  Somehow that reeks of a Pharisee and a dictator.  Perhaps after all, it is not their behavior but our perspective that is mistaken.

Suppose you see a so called upstanding man of your acquaintance hold an unknown woman on his arm and enter a hotel room.  There can be no excuse for that!  Or can there?  Perhaps you were not acquainted with that man's cousin who was ill and had come to town in order that she might have better medical treatment.  Perhaps you open a door and accidentally stumble across a married lady burying her face in a single man's chest.  You know for certain she is a harlot.  Or perhaps you didn't know that her husband was abusive behind closed doors and she had confided in someone who knew her situation and was helping her to flee for her life. 

In my office there is another sign which says "Veritas vincit" or "truth conquers."  Someday we will know all the particulars of life and will understand why certain things may seem strange to us now.  Until then, we might do better to save our energies for beautifying the world around us, loving those within our spheres of influence and working on our own moral characters.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Violet Winter Ray

Written for and dedicated to my new niece, Violet Winter Ray Newberry.  We haven't met her yet but anxiously await the day!

Underneath the battered edge
Of garden’s red brick wall
There grows a tiny, gentle plant
That hears the angry call
Of blasted winds and hailstorms near
And shivers in her place
Within the shielding, darkened soil
And hides her lovely face.
But soon she lifts her little head
And gaining courage, speaks
Of brighter things and bids the winds
And elements to cease
Their fearful hollering.  Let down
The sun kissed rays that hush
The winter chill and thus allow
Her growth from underbrush.
And when the hatred of the world
Is calmed and heaven rings
The little violet of the spring
Lifts up her voice and sings.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Comfort and Death

It seems that a great many people in my life are facing potential death in a comparatively short while.  I understand that death causes a great deal of fear, doubt, and anxiety in those facing it and those watching loved ones step toward it.  I am sorry for your situation and the fear and sadness you experience.  I do not speak of this often because it is a very sacred experience but let me reassure you that everything will be okay. How can I do that? I have tasted death myself and by the grace of God I returned.

Those of you who know me well know that I suffer from potentially life threatening seizures due to trauma.  At one point, before I was able to begin healing from this condition, my heart stopped for a few moments and I was elsewhere for a short while.  Please believe me that there is nothing to fear from death.  Death is a great friend to those who do not purposefully bring it upon themselves.  I say this only to illustrate that I do not recommend suicide for moral reasons.  But to those who have relatives of people who have committed it, I believe their experiences are fairly similar, at least in the initial moment.

What is it like?  What does the transition feel like? Is the moment of death painful?  No.  It feels like nothing. It feels, if anything, like comfort and freedom and in one moment you no longer carry anxiety, worry, or any other negativity with you.  Instead of saying "I am dead" the emotion is more akin to "now I am alive!"  You do not lose the love you have for others here on earth.  If you have lost a loved one, know that they have not forgotten you. They still love you and always will.  They are still conscious of you.  To those facing potential death, you will not suddenly become a different entity.  You still have your own personality, your own form and person, but you are more free than you have ever been in this lifetime.  You realize more perfectly than ever before that you are indeed a child of a living God and you have an eternal birthright.  Your mind understands and learns faster and more completely than it did before.  And to those thinking of a loved one who has died, death is a stronger force than anything in this life or everything combined. If it is a person's time to die and death claims that person, all the world together cannot change it.  Be at peace.  God is at the helm. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

I played the part of Belle onstage when I was younger.  In truth, it was not because I sought the role. A friend who had heard me sing blackmailed me into auditioning and when the director heard me sing she refused to let me off the hook. 

Nevertheless, the theme has been a reoccurring one in my life and it seems that I have something of a habit of seeing beneath the surface in people or looking beyond the obvious.  Allow me to illustrate. There is a person who has long occupied my thoughts.  Were you to look at him you might think precious little.  He believes that in order to find romantic acceptance and happiness in social intercourse he has to fit a certain image, alter his appearance and hide behind those things in life that he considers cool.  It doesn't fit him well and he appears at first glance somewhat an awkward though well meaning guy.  Now follow me into what I see in him.  He is a morally strong, spiritually powerful, intelligent, wise and amiable person.  Strip him of the images behind which he hides and dress him in simple, clean cut clothing and you would better see the inner fire that can take a person's respect and fullest admiration captive.  Revert him back to the appearance that God granted him and he would prove an absolutely gorgeous specimen of eye candy.   The beauty is there.  It is hidden behind insecurity. 

Let us consider ourselves both Beauty and Beast.  For one thing, never feel that you have to fit an image or pander to the world.  You are more beautiful being yourself as God created you. He knew what He was doing. You do not have to dress in the indecent manner society dictates.  You are more attractive wearing something modest and simple and walking with confidence.  Secondly, don't be fooled by the external situation of other people. Take a moment and look beneath the surface.  You might be surprised at how many socially awkward Beasts are really Prince Charming in disguise. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mitt Romney, Illinois and Emotional Justice

It is never my intention to create division and this blog is only ever meant to uplift the soul and prove a refuge from stress and negativity.  Whatever your political convictions, I hope my words will never prove politically offensive.  But today is an important day and potentially a day of miracles and I would feel quite remiss if I failed to point it out. 

Today is the Republican Illinois Presidential Primary.  Whatever your political convictions I invite you to lay them aside and listen to a miraculous possibility with an open heart.  Mormonism has long been the subject of hatred in this country.  In its infancy the Mormon Church was subject to persecution, murder, torture, and infamy.  In Missouri the governor pronounced it legal to murder Mormons on sight - man, woman and child.  But the darkest moment for the Mormon people came when their beloved first leader was brutally murdered in cold blood by an armed mob in 1844 in Carthage, Illinois.  This event has inspired heartache and tears in millions ever since that miserable day.   Today, by what seems an absolute miracle, Romney, a Mormon, enjoys a 14 point lead in that state.  Let us put aside our differences for this one day, and recognize that this could prove a powerful moment of joy and justice in the hearts of millions of people around the world.  For them, the White House is not the point today. 

When the injustice of life troubles your mind, when you feel that evil is winning in the course of your life contrary to fairness and decency, remember that goodness can win in the end.  I find it profoundly beautiful that the Vatican City is situated in, of all places, Rome, where thousands of early Christians were torn to pieces for the amusement of the populace and where the Emperor Nero set the city aflame, blaming the Christians as an excuse to exterminate them.  And there in the ashes arose the international headquarters for the mother Christian faith of the Western World.  When the frustration of injustice overcomes you and you do not see those who have injured you paying the price for their actions, know that there is a Higher Being who oversees all things and He is only waiting for the right time and opportunity to raise you higher than you ever could have imagined.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Anna Karenina and Bony Legs

I have always had something of a passion for progression.  I began reading Shakespeare on my own when I was in junior high school and spent my Saturday mornings as a high school kid in the library studying the lives of the great composers from Beethoven to Benny Goodman.  My dream was to be a university professor.

Then in a mind shattering series of events I contracted amnesia and all but forgot how to read.  I struggled to finish a small paragraph without my head spinning into splitting tension and dizziness.  And in that setting God taught me a very important lesson.  Progression is widespread.  It is not about crossing an academic finish line but gathering knowledge and wisdom from all you see around you.  Since I could not learn with my mind I studied dance, yoga, and various other forms of exercise. I began reading and better understanding God's plan for His children in all the miniscule things around me.  While my academic prowess crumbled my overall wisdom grew. When my mind sufficiently healed I took great joy in reading to my children and renewed my passion for my favorite book as a young child - Bony Legs.  It is a Russian folktale by Aleksandr Afanas'ev and retold by Joanna Cole.  Now that my senses have returned I read Bony Legs to my children by day and indulge in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina by night. 

When life requires we sacrifice something of great importance remember that there is a mind wiser than ours at the helm.  Continue to make the most morally correct choices possible and watch as life opens and embraces you in a manner in which your mind could not have previously conceived.  And when life's tempests beat upon you remember to smile because a mighty hand is strengthening your wisdom and opening new horizons.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Power of Now

I wrestle with post traumatic stress.  The type of condition I have is potentially fatal if anxiety rises too high.  You may well imagine that I have researched with passionate intensity the art of relaxation.  I invite you to join me in a quiet moment and clear your mind of anything that may be weighing on it.  Take a moment and let the earth stand still. The outside world will be there when you get there but for this one moment, don't hold onto anything.  You don't need to do so.  Imagine yourself surrounded by warm, gentle light and breathe it into every inch of your body from your toes to the crown of your head.  Deeply breathe out any tension or anxiety that still lingers in your body and expel all the air from your lungs.  Continue breathing like this for a few more moments.