I didn’t buy a coffee mug, but I did take the picture. If only remembering was as easy as buying a souvenir. Memory, though, it much more ephemeral. I’ll remember this day. Sometimes I will deliberately recall it. Sometimes, images will come unbidden as something triggers a memory, just as the solicitation by a friend last week to support an orphanage in Peru brought back the thought of 9/11. I had been in Peru at the retreat center that supports the orphanage when the planes hit the World Trade Center. I hope for news tomorrow of the imminent closing of Guantanamo to start reshaping our relationship to 9/11.
At about 10:30 am, I left my house and walked over to the Capitol. I knew that by leaving the house at that hour, instead of at 7am, I would be outside the fence, but I instead practiced in the morning and opened myself to the sense of amazement and hope filling my city.
My friends who were inside the fence either are press or have other jobs that got them an invitation or they arrived at 5am to volunteer. I look forward to hearing their stories and seeing their pictures.
It felt urgent to be present for this occasion. One of the things that made it especially poignant is that where I went was on my walk to work. I forget, sometimes, the import of the capitol and the Mall because they are so much a part of my daily geography.
The audio visual we had in my spot just north of the Capitol (turned out to be next to the cannons for the salute) was a couple of ipods with speakers and boom boxes, rather than the big, fancy rock concert screens, but we were in fact physically closer than most on the Mall. Some of us were just happy to be there together celebrating and being less densely packed into the crowd. Some, so used to being marginalized by society — being able to see privilege and insider status, but have it be completely out of reach — grumbled that they might as well have stayed home as they witnessed even those with tickets not getting through the security lines towards the end.
But every one was hushed, even in the crowd, even without a view, for the oath of office and for the President’s speech. It was a privilege to stand with these neighbors and fellow citizens. It was an honor to see grown men unashamed to let their eyes fill with tears as they witnessed what they never saw they would see in the Nation’s Capitol, in their town, an African-American President.
I am filled with hope, not because I think there will be almost instantaneous and miraculous “change,” but because we have just witnessed an enormous step in a better direction.
If I had been born a different person and chosen an entirely different career path (say a secret service agent), I might have had a view like this today. Would it have been worth it? So interesting to watch the dance of intention and fate. This, by the way, is the view from the cafeteria at the Department of Labor, so I can have it any other day. If you look closely, you can see where the podium was set up in front of the capitol. The pictures in the next post are mostly from the park just north of the capitol — so they would be just outside of this shot on the left.
Yesterday’s inaugural concert spurred all sorts of memories from me. When I was a child, we went a number of times to the Clearwater Revival Festival and other folk festivals where Pete Seeger was a headline. He is just ten years older than my Dad, and though my parents were not among those who became famous, they were hanging around the Village and my Dad was doing activist things at the same time. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” was a favorite when I was in junior high school. There was a boy from camp who played the guitar who I remember saying that “a little James Taylor goes a long way [towards getting a girl’s attention].” Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellenkamp, U2, Bob Marley, Aaron Copeland, and the great oldies (played at the concert and listed as Obama’s top ten ipod songs), are part of the music of my high school, college, and law school years.
Not needing music or advertising to help me decide to vote, I didn’t pay much attention to how music was being used in the campaign. But here was the music, and it was mostly my music, too. The concert was very clever, designed to appeal to black and white, young and old, and populist — they were careful to have the performers whose oevre might not appeal to an older or younger crowd stick to songs with mass appeal.
Interestingly, it gave me an insight to those conservative guys from the middle of the country who said they liked W because he was the kind of guy they could hang with and have a beer. The concert was a concert I might have attended when I was in high school or college or law school. I had an insight about what it feels like to feel comfortable with the education and background of the President, but only up to a point. I enjoyed this trip down memory lane, but it did not impact my politics or how I would view the Presidency. There is a fine line between relating and agreeing, appreciating and accepting without question.
The picture on top shows police blockades put up on the west side of the Capitol for inaugural preparations. The bottom picture shows a bandstand erected at the extreme west end of the Capitol lawn looking over the reflecting pool and the Mall. I’ve refrained from posting pictures of the hundreds of port-a-potties on the Capitol side of the Mall. Event planners brought in 5,000 — more than has ever been put in the Mall area for an event. The ones next to the Capitol are “United” port-a-potties; do you think they planned that?
Hard to imagine 2,000,000 plus or minus a million in this space. I’ve been here with 700,000 or maybe even 800,000 at the fireworks and a couple of really big demonstrations. But what seems a nice open space seems awfully small to hold that many people. Just think: right now there are only 450,000 residents of the District of Columbia and the greater metropolitan area has only about 3,000,000 (last time I checked, maybe it’s a couple hundred more). But having them all 10-20 blocks from my house on one side with 10,000 of their charter buses only 8-15 blocks seems a shocking sandwich of huddled humanity.
Where will you be? I know a few of you are volunteering and will have seats on the bleachers. Many more of you have said you don’t plan to go any where near the festivities, but will appreciate this rush of energy from your warm homes or a friends’ house in your own neighborhood. Several hundred thousand people on a nice day would be one thing, but a million plus on a bitter cold day with large chunks of the city not only cut off for cars, but also cyclists and pedestrians, seems quite another.
I do not think it means that I am not celebrating (nor a real tantrika) if I end up choosing not to squeeze myself into the crowd because I find it hard to revel in a crowd. I’ll just be celebrating in my own way with groups of a size where I feel more comfortable. I’ll be up in Takoma Park on Saturday teaching my regular Willow Street yoga classes. On Sunday, I’ve planned dinner with a friend, but I am not sure about trying to plunge into the sea of humanity at the Lincoln Memorial earlier in the day. On Monday, I plan to join 400 other yogins at a giant kirtan as my “inaugural event.” As for Tuesday — I’ll wait to see what the energy feels like. Whatever I’m doing, I will be sending energetic support for the trees. They are stressed enough in the city that it is hard to have their roots trampled by so many people. If you come down to be part of the crowd, please send loving energy to the trees. Let’s also hope the new administration honors its promises and starts taking care of trees all over the country and the planet (and let’s support advocacy groups that work to care for the environment — now’s a great time to move forward in a positive way).
My dear friend from college, Dan Harper, just posted the following on his website. I feel fortunate to have a friend who inspires me to me more learned and more concerned.
Martin Luther King would have been 80 today. On February 25, 1967, not long before he was killed, he spoke about the Vietnam War and its effects on our country. The following excerpt from that speech could easily be delivered today, with just a few minor changes:
“This confused war has played havoc with our domestic destinies.
“Despite feeble protestations to the contrary, the promises of the Great Society [anti-poverty program] have been shot down on the battlefield of Viet Nam. The pursuit of this widened war has narrowed domestic welfare programs, making the poor, white and Negro, bear the heaviest burdens both at the front and at home.
“While the anti-poverty program is cautiously initiated, zealously supervised and evaluated for immediate results, billions are liberally expended for this ill-considered war. The recently revealed mis-estimate of the war budget amounts to ten billions of dollars for a single year. This error alone is more than five times the amount committed to anti-poverty programs. The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. The bombs in Viet Nam explode at home: they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.
“If we reversed investments and gave the armed forces the antipoverty budget, the generals could be forgiven if they walked off the battlefield in disgust.
“Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession. When it is not our security that is at stake, but questionable and vague commitments to reactionary regimes, values disintegrate into foolish and adolescent slogans.”
When we can connect to the essence of the element of akasha, space, within ourselves, we feel less crowded by things pressing in on the outside, whether it be actual confinement or overcrowdedness or the sense of crowding from having too many pressing things to do. For those of us who live in the District of Columbia, this weekend, with the extra million or two or three people in our neighborhoods and using our transportation systems is a great opportunity to discover the spaciousness within.
Practice dwelling in a supremely spacious place in your heart when you meditate this week. Start by visualizing a vast space just beyond your third eye (the point between the eye brows). Once you can visualize that space, the chidakasha, draw the space into your heart and rest there. Then, when you go out onto to the Mall or onto the metro or onto crowded streets, bring enough of your consciousness into the vast inner space that you can feel comfortable with the crowding outside. When dwelling in the inner and outer at the same time, it will be easier to marvel at the outside crowds.
For those of you who are extroverts who get exhilarated by crowds, of course, this practice would seem less critical. I invite you to give it a try anyway.
Yesterday I celebrated the bounty of Thanksgiving with my friend Pat and her children, which was just delightful. The food was bounteous and delicious, but not to the point of groaning excess. While I was at the yoga fundraiser in Takoma Park, Pat and the children were cooking.
Jonathan, who is eight, made the cranberry sauce. Being the superb cook that she is, Pat said it’s just the recipe on the back of the bag (one bag cranberries, one cup sugar, one cup water, cook until the cranberries are split and liquid starts to gel), except that she replaced the water with apple juice, replaced the sugar with brown sugar and halved the amount, added currents (nice touch), and then put in orange rind, cinnamon, all spice, cloves, and powdered ginger. Only a true cook would think that is just the recipe on the back of the bag, but I know what she means. As long as the proportions are right you can vary anything to taste. The addition of the dried fruits and spices were just right for the latin-influenced cooking of the rest of the meal.
Rebecca made the mashed potatoes, which we had because she wanted them. They are amazing, they are miraculous, she claimed, mashed potatoes. All you do is mash them and then they are amazing. Ordinary potatoes completely transformed, just by mashing them. Rebecca also offered grace, giving thanks for “food, family, friends, and just for being alive.” Simply said from the heart; no more needed to be said.
I was sent home with the leftover vegetarian rice and peas, which Pat had specially prepared for me to honor my preference to eat vegetarian. As is traditional in her family, I brought home the leftovers with the understanding that when I returned the container, it would have within it a food offering in return.
Pat did cook a turkey as part of the meal. When we were cleaning up (I was carving the rest of the turkey to store for future meals), I asked Pat whether she would be making stock with the turkey bones, so I would know the best way of carving. She said she did not have time, so though I am mostly vegetarian, I took the bones to make stock. I had, then, the leftovers one would never have if you’ve long since stopped roasting birds, and Pat felt more content knowing that we would be using all of the bird that fed us.
Today, when I am home cleaning and cooking and enjoying a precious vacation day, I will make turkey stock. With the blessing of these particular leftovers, I can make what would be traditional to a Thanksgiving meal that I would have cooked: roast winter squash and stuffing (using the turkey stock, the remains of a loaf of bread I baked last week, dried mushroom, and celery). My delicious meal of stuffed roasted squash, will be enhanced by the lingering (not leftover) energy of the friends with whom I shared a delightful meal and the knowledge (that by minimizing what goes uneaten) that we are eating in a more sustainable manner) [yes, it’s all about balance; my vegan friends would no doubt be compelled to remind me that eating vegan would have been more sustainable].
Many thanks to Pat and her family for welcoming me and for sharing.
Many thanks to all who came and participated in the yoga fundraising class for Oxfam. Special thanks also to Suzie Hurley and Willow Street Yoga for making the space available. True gratitude for the practice of yoga itself. Together we raised $935 for Oxfam, sharing our own abundance with those who are needier. Many blessings on this holiday weekend to all of you.
11-11 is the eleventh day of the eleventh month of our calendar. It is Veterans’ Day (still on 11-11 and not on the nearest Monday). It is a day to contemplate what I, as a citizen, can do to invert a National policy of creating war and turning our young people into soldiers and then neglecting and abusing them when they come home wounded physically and psychologically. Surely, it should be the reverse: we should be doing everything we can to avoid war and then do everything we can to take care of the health and welfare of those who have served.
11-11 is also a day for me to honor my own ancestors; it is the anniversary of the day my beloved Grandmother Rose left her body.
11-11 is a day of celebration; it is my mother’s birthday. She has said that when she was a littlge child, that she thought the parades and the day off from school were for her birthday.
11-11 is also a delightful treat of relative leisure (Federal Holiday in the middle of the week).
It is rare for me that a single day has so many different personal imports. Each day, though, indeed each moment, impacts all of us so differently depending on our life circumstances. Some of those impacts just happen; some are chosen; some are how we react both to what happens and what we choose. I’ll be enjoying my day off to the fullest, but will also be sending loving energy to those in need, especially those suffering from current and past wars.