Community and Family

thoughts on how we fit into the web of community, family and society


I woke up this morning remembering. How could I not? People all over the world are remembering and thinking about the events of 9/11 and how they changed the course of global society.

And yesterday morning I woke up at my friend’s house in the East Bay to the news of the explosion in San Bruno. Even as we enjoyed the city and got together with another friend, the frightening and intense tragedy going on just a few miles away was not far from my mind. How is it that but for having read the news, we would not even have known?

This morning we will be going to hike in Muir Woods. I will be embracing nature and friendship, but still remembering. It is, I think, by loving and embracing life to the fullest that we can remember and have the most strength and will to offer of ourselves and move towards a more compassionate existence, and I think that is the true teaching of the tantric yoga.

What are you doing today? How are you sharing your memories and your dreams? What are you doing to help make the changes you wish to see in the world? I am asking myself these questions even as I am sharing them.


Did You Do Anything Fun for the Labor Day Weekend?

When I go back to work tomorrow, people will ask me whether I did anything “fun” over the Labor Day Weekend, just as before the weekend I was asked it I had anything “fun” planned.  At recent gatherings where I have bumped into people I haven’t seen in a while, all the questions have been about whether I did anything exciting this summer.  I have been pondering these questions and what they say about how we structure our lives.  For me, the seasons change based on what I cook and eat, how I dress, and to some degree, when I sleep (more at night when it is cold and dark; more afternoon naps when it is overly hot and bright), but I both work and take breaks throughout the year, so summer did not bring anything more or less exciting than usual.

I am acutely aware that part of the reason I have the luxury to live in accordance with the seasons is that I am not on a school schedule, and I have a job that allows me a little flexibility in terms on when to take breaks and when I come and go on any given day.  I also realize that I have blurred the difference between work and “fun.”  I have had a most enjoyable Labor Day weekend, but some would think much of it has been work:  I taught two classes; I gardened; I cooked; I’ve done some housecleaning; I am writing this blog entry, etc.  As I took pleasure in all of these activities, I think of it as having had fun, even though everything I did was something someone could have been doing as “work.”  I think that when we take pleasure in our work, we are less in need of grasping at “fun” and can find more joy in the leisure activities that are more usually labeled as “fun.”

I hope whatever you have been doing, whether working or playing, you are enjoying the day, and can take a few moments to reflect on those who fought long and hard for ordinary workers to be able to have the time to play in between working.


Spiritual Unity in Religious Diversity

It has been heart-rending for me to read about the growing rancor and bigotry about religion and race as we approach the mid-term elections.  I am concerned as a peace-loving and community-minded citizen.  I am also concerned as a personal matter.  My great grandparents fled the pograms, and my parents felt free to become members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and bring their children to Friends’ meeting.  I both honor my ancestry and religious upbringing and can study and practice yoga without fear of societal condemnation.  Current events remind us all too painfully that the importance of religious and spiritual freedom can never be taken for granted.  It is a matter of constant attention to seek spiritual unity in religious diversity, to recognize the spirit in every one, no matter the form of practice they choose (including choosing no practice or faith at all).

Today, I received the following email from Joe Volk at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.  I invite you to join me in taking action if you are so moved:

At FCNL, we’ve been sick at heart and concerned at the hate speech, confusion, and misinformation about American Muslims that has spread across the country in the last month. Many of you have told us that you share our concern.

The controversy is not over yet.  Between today and the September 11 anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, we at FCNL expect another outpouring of bigotry and misplaced anger at the proposal to build an Islamic cultural center in downtown New York City. 

In the first eleven days of September, please state publicly that you stand with our brothers and sisters in the American Muslim community.  We support their proposal to exercise their religious freedom by building an Islamic Cultural Center in downtown Manhattan, where they have lived and worshiped for years.

Worship, Talk, Take a Stand

Our country needs this cultural center and the public discussion that it is generating. The proposal for this Islamic cultural center can be transformed from an ugly controversy into perhaps the most important public opportunity in this decade to celebrate and exercise the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.

Many of you are taking this opportunity. From New York to North Carolina and from Maryland to Illinois, we have heard about local community groups using the public focus on the cultural center to organize opportunities for Christians and Muslims to find out what they have in common. To counter the distrust and misinformation, more people need to state publicly that they support the freedom of American Muslims to worship and to gather together.

Please start by signing this petition supporting American Muslims and the proposal to exercise their religious freedom to build an Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan. Ask 5 friends to sign it as well. We’ll add the names of those who sign to the bottom of the petition to show the support that’s out there.

That’s the first step, but we encourage you to do more if you can. Here are some suggestions.

  • Ask 5 friends to sign the petition too.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper supporting the Islamic Cultural Center.
  • Find out if the American Muslim community in your area might welcome a public or private opportunity to get to know your own local church, meeting or community group;
  • On Friday, September 10, many local American Muslim communities around our country organize public celebrations of Eid ul-Fitr — the end of the holy period of Ramadan. Find out if Muslims in your area might welcome the participation of people of other faiths.
  • Write your senators to ask them to speak out in support of the Islamic Cultural Center.

“Meet and Greet” with Tommy Wells

On Friday night, I went to a neighbor’s house for a “meet and greet” with Tommy Wells, who is running for reelection for the Ward 6 Member of the DC Council.  I had received an email invitation and was thinking about going.  Then on Friday morning, a neighbor who is just around the corner stopped by to give me an invite in case I hadn’t gotten the email.  I decided it was important to go to connect with neighbors I already know and like, to meet new neighbors, to clarify my thoughts further about the upcoming primaries (don’t forget to vote!), and to get a chance to talk to my council member.

I walked the two blocks to the party with nothing in my pockets but my keys.  Even though I did not know the hosts, I knew or recognized from the neighborhood at least half the people who were there.  Given the purpose of the gathering, much if the discussion about what changes we would like to see in the neighborhood and the city to make our lives better (and, of course, I gave information about installing solar panels to a couple more neighbors).

Tommy Wells speaks to my condition, because he takes action in connection with his campaign slogan:  “a livable, walkable city.”  After we all had time to catch up with each other, Tommy’s campaign manager gave a solid introduction, talking about key accomplishments in the past four years.  Tommy then talked about what he wanted to do next and fielded questions, including ones about the disposable bag 5 cent fee, which has cut down pollution in the river significantly) and what is going on with the community gardeners at Virginia Avenue v. the marines.

I, like the others, came with a specific question, but I did not ask it in the group.  I was not sure that everyone present would be in agreement with me, and I did not want to cause controversy.  I asked about it afterwards, when people went back to connecting and enjoying the food.  Tommy recognized me, probably from my three-year stint as a member of the Board of Directors of the Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corporation, which coincided with the time when Tommy was getting noticeably serious about his engagement in politics as a way to make some visions actual.

“I gave up my car for the war,” I started.  “That’s great,” replied Tommy, “thank you.”  We followed up a little on living without a car in the neighborhood.  Then I got to my point.

“Every time I walk to work, it feels like I am taking my life in my hands,” I continued, after thanking the District for having put a four-way stop and zebra crossings at the intersection of Constitution Ave. and 10th St., NE.  “I did not want to bring this up in the group, because I was not sure how everyone would feel, but I have a few locations where I think it would be great to have a traffic camera.”  I then described the intersections I had in mind.  He told me that he has a task force on pedestrian issues, and that if I went to his website, I could contact Ann Phelps, who would be interested in hearing the suggestions for particular intersections.  He left me know that the District is getting more cameras and the cameras are mobile, so it would not be hard to try the different intersections suggested.

“Wow, that’s wonderfully more responsive than I’d dreamed,” I thought.  I thanked him and left to talk to other friends and to give other people time to ask their own questions.

These are the times when I truly love being part of a neighborhood.  It is not just about being able to walk to a party two blocks from your house hosted by someone you have never met and know or recognize at least a few people and find all sorts of connections and commonalities.  It is not just about sharing a way of life that holds a similar commitment to the city, even if politics, religion, work, and lifestyle in other ways are diverse.  It is also about meeting people who care and have depth and out of a true calling for service truly give of themselves to make things better for all of us.


Solar Panel Installation Update

Last week the supplemental electrical panel necessitated by living in “this Old House” was installed.  The existing panel did not have room for the solar panels to be connected.

Today, the DC Building inspector came, inspected, and gave approval (conditional on contractor sending photos of the roof).  Last step is to get PEPCO to come and change the meter.  That could take a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, there is no rain in the 15-day forecast.  Best start doing the rain dances.


Another Storm Passes Without Any Rain Falling Inside the Beltway

What’s a gardener and concerned for the trees and the health of the planet citizen to do?  I’ve got enough water in the rain barrel to water the vegetables and herbs once or twice, but what impact does that really have?  At work, people were grumbling because it was cloudy.  They seemed shocked when I advised them that we are an inch under normal rainfall for August and have a fairly significant deficit for the summer despite the July rains.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could move some of the flood waters that have fallen only a couple hundred miles away to irrigate our fields without disrupting our eco-system?  Part of me just wants not to know about the consequences of global climate change, but it is hard not to notice that all the weather patterns I used to know and understand do not seem to apply quite the same way anymore.  What do we do when the systems and practices we have in place for our ease, comfort, well-being, and understood day-to-day peace of mind are disrupted?

Yoga will not fix the big outer problems, but it can provide us with the steadiness and ease needed to stay present and be flexible in the face of crisis, upheaval, or disease.  It can also provide insight into how we can live in better alignment.  In the meantime, I am practicing gratitude.  I know how blessed I am that, so far, the wild upheavals I read about in the news have not kept me from all the food and comfort that a person could possibly want.  And I pay attention, because to be ignorant ultimately never serves ourselves or others.


A Memory of My Grandmother

My Grandma Rose (for whom the name of this blog is partly in tribute) was a very important part of my childhood. She had a small, but lovely apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and I spent about a weekend a month for most of my childhood with her. One day when the family was visiting and I was no more than seven or eight, I took a carton of her cigarettes and destroyed them. She was very angry, and I got in a lot of trouble with my parents for the deed. I had just learned in school about all the horrors of smoking (that was the very early years of starting to admit and warn of the hazards of smoking), and I wanted to protect her.

When my grandmother died at age 76 from her heart unexpectedly stopping, I was in 10th grade. They found she had advanced stages of emphysema. Occasionally I wonder how my life would have been different and think about how much she would have enjoyed seeing me grow up if the smoking had not shortened her life.

Although I was too young to know that we cannot change our loved ones by force or even by the force of our love, I hope she knew that my childish act of destruction was borne from love.