Kindness: The gift of sorrowful connection

At some point in our lives, we each have had such deep sorrow that we have been able to see this connection.  Somehow that has to envelop you to see where kindness really lives— in the daily interruptions it shows its face in holy grace— this week I saw it in the man who needed a jump start in front of AutoZone, in a colleague who needed a hug, in the blessing of writing a hand written thank you note, in sitting with a friend in her darkest moments, in kissing sweet heads as they trot off to school.  I have seen the things I could not schedule bring me closer to being centered myself.  Each instance bringing me a bit of grace I didn’t expect, reminding me that kindness will turn this world right.  I have faith that the rest will be revealed as I am ready to act on it.  

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Rise up: Your time for action is now

Many of us are waking in disbelief.  How could this happen?  What America do we live in, that a candidate endorsed by the KKK is now President?  We live in the same America we were in yesterday, the same one that has been showing us who she is for the past several years as conflicts between races and nationalities have simmered.  The signs have been there, and I am ashamed to say I am one of the ones who is surprised at the results this morning. 

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Radical Love in the Classroom: Kindergarten lessons for life

How we ever got to 6th grade graduation is a mystery.  My strongest memory from elementary school was the one where I’m jammed, as a 35 year-old, into the minuscule desk my son would occupy for the next year.  Knees about level with my chest, the chair wasn’t even a foot off the floor, which put the stack of papers in front of me level with my pupils. In the midst of it I knew there was a lesson for me in kindergarten.  Even that first night, dizzy with the prospects of my eldest even arriving at that place where he would leave home alone (with 40 other children on a yellow school bus) the following morning, I knew.  The sadness that toddlerhood was surely over mixed with the single-mom relief of no more day care bills for one child.  She must have been a magician to teach me anything that night, but she did, and it is with me still.  

When I met Julie Grinell I knew she was the right one for my kid, but I had no idea how she would go on to change these lives, my own among them.  Her kind eyes sparkled at us all, individually.  She’s one of those people who makes you feel supremely special, even though you know she does that for everyone...

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Summer To-Don't: Setting the scene for a summer full of memories

If you are a parent, and perhaps even if you are not, you’ve long since come out of the dark winter and into the craze of spring activities.  It seems to crescendo up until the very last minute of school, with recorder concerts, graduations, end of school parties, field trips and much-needed teacher appreciation gifts and events.  I find myself arriving breathlessly at this time each year, and making resolutions of a different kind:  not to do lists surround my summer.  Here’s what my to-don’t list looks like for the summer ahead:

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When Popular Doesn't Become You

My parenting is directed toward self-sufficiency, but there are times it is meaningful to step in as a more active coach and guide. Sam's decision to give up football was one of those. For years, Sam has aspired to fit in at school. Waffling between being emotionally worn down from bullies, and just not caring that he's a one of a kind guy-- which frequently means he is lonely, he has made various attempts to find activities where he belongs. Like most boys...

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In the Midst of Gorillas

There are many things about Uganda and its people which will take me some time to process, you’ll hear more in the future about that, but today’s experiences take very little time to digest— I’ve so eagerly awaited today’s adventure, I can’t wait to share.  Waking at 4:30 in the morning to bush whack through the Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest (appropriately named, by the way) en route to track mountain gorillas (aka “Silverbacks,” more about that later).  Even after talking to a family who had been yesterday, my friend Frank and I, the only two from our group of Habitat leaders to take on this adventure, were completely surprised and delighted by the experience.  The thick forest intimidates you before you even enter it, lush with plants growing plants, growing on other plants growing on trees.  there is life everywhere you look, everywhere you step the earth seems to move beneath you— possibly thanks to the millions of forest ants waiting to invade your pant legs, drop into your shirt, and crawl up each of these to invade your hinder parts.  The clouds lifted from the forest floor as we made the final turns up the dirt road to the ranger station. 

Meeting with a ranger for our orientation, it was clear that the rangers’ primary loyalty is to protecting the mighty mountain gorilla, and therefore the forest that is their habitat.  When Uganda established the preservation area for the protection of these endangered species 30 years or so ago, Rwanda and Congo quickly followed suit, respecting the fact that the gorilla does not respect the borders between the 3 countries which run directly through its habitat.  With only 800 left in the species, 480 live in Bwindi, the remaining families roaming in the surrounding countries. 

Like so much other Eco-tourism, the protection of the lands did not immediately impress the locals, who are subsistence farming on the steep slopes of the mountains and need increasing amounts of land in order to do so, but by now, they are well employed far beyond what would have happened had they continued clearing the forest .

After 2+ hours mostly on a dirt road, we were given an orientation “briefing” to be sure we wouldn’t be the ignorant, photo-hungry tourists itching to get a little closer to the wildlife.  We learned that the forest was home to 3 of the great apes— Chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, and humans.  The latter a tribe of Batwa Pygmies— nomad hunter and gatherers who have been moved off the land and relocated nearby to continue forest preservation.  The other two species remain here- the wild chimpanzees afforded us a quick glimpse just before we caught up with a family of 15 gorillas.  This family, the Bitikura gorillas is one of 15 families which have been habituated to humans— going through a 2 year process of acclimation led by park biologists where they are exposed (in their existing habitat) to observing humans (not sure who is observing whom) for up to 4 hours at a time.  They are never fed, never interacted with directly— but the continual exposure without threat or food association creates an experience much like that which happens in the Galapagos— it is as if we are not even there— they may look at us, but they do not otherwise interact. 

When I booked this adventure, I thought we would be viewing these amazing apes from far below and trying to make out a limb or a face through the trees.  I thought they’d be together as a group, and we would watch them as outsiders.  Instead, we were completely surrounded at times with gorillas above us, behind us, in front of us, and on each side.  They came as close as about 5 feet from us.  While we aimed to keep a distance of at least 7 meters, they had other ideas at times, and approached us— making it clear we were in the path they intended to take. 

This experience was not a bucket list item for me.  Not something I will simply check off my list.  It will live with me forever.  Being in the midst of a family of beings which shares more than 99% of our genetic make up is unmistakably spiritual.  When the silverback (the term given only to the dominant male in each family) locked eyes with me, those big brown gorgeous eyes let me see a new piece of him.  My heart shifted, my soul filled.  Watching a newborn cling to her mother’s back, and an adolescent tumble and somersault down the mountain with pure reckless joy, there was no mistaking the connection— their tribe is akin to my own in countless ways. 

There will be some who question this practice of habituation get the animals to human observers, and still others who may disagree with this bio-tourism entirely.  It strikes me that this is the same path I’ve taken many times over in understanding humans who may not look or behave at all like me.  Yet when you are in their midst, when you spend enough time to truly understand them, you will forever want to help them, protect them, and to ensure they are allowed to live as they were intended— in a forest with plenty of food, space to be the nomadic creatures they were created to be, and room to nurture their families.  From what I understand the same passion for preservation is also true for the locals who once wanted fewer acres allotted to the gorillas— they’ve reaped the benefits of employment and the resources it ensures.  If we humans don’t protect these great beings, we will kill them.  I am so grateful economics found a way to create a safe haven.