We Are the Real Countries

Penelope (Penny) and me, February 12, 2022.

We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you will come and carry me out into the palace of winds. That’s all I’ve wanted—to walk in such a place with you, with friends, on an earth without maps…”

Michael Ondaatje, (1943- ) – Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet, novelist, and filmmaker; from the book and movie “The English Patient”

We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.

What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others.

Thomas Merton, (1915-1968) – American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, and poet

Yes, we are the true countries. We, the people. And we do not exist only for ourselves. In order to be truly happy, we must focus on our real work: to love and to embrace life with passion and connection. To throw our arms wide to the possibilities of living. To jump and know you will be caught. To risk, to give, to love.

~~ Anna // 3/31/2022

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In Your Eyes, In Our Eyes

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies, my love
To the dark and the endless skies

Ewan Maccoll, Songwriter; Singer Roberta Flack
Walker, a few days old.

A week ago our third grandchild, named Walker by his proud parents Justin and Tracy, entered the world. At 2 days old, he was holding his head up and staring at us with his dark blue eyes. On one of the final days Walker spent in the hospital, the megalomaniacal dictator that is leading Russia, Vladimir Putin, sent his army to invade neighboring Ukraine. One era ended and another began, but we do not yet know where this act of war will lead as Putin reminds us that he has nuclear weapons. As if we could forget.

Life and Death stretch themselves across our planet with Russia’s army continuing to pour into Ukraine to kill and maim. For one man’s ego, for one man’s gain. How can the whole planet be at risk for one very short man’s ambition to be God? He seeks to repaint the past, paint out the ending of the Soviet Union, and reclaim his country’s empire that once included countries flattened under Joseph Stalin’s boot in the wake of World War II.

Our former president would like to be Putin and praises his actions as the majority of the Western world condemns Putin’s senseless brutality at invading Ukraine on false pretenses. We can only thank our lucky stars that our former president is not president now, or there would be no American-led coalition standing together to sanction Russia.

I have been reading the history of our species, Homo sapiens, in Yuval Noah Harari’s magisterial book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In this book, Professor Harari shares theories for how our species of humans prevailed and all the other species, such as Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo erectus, and Homo rudolfensis, went extinct. He mentions our unique language as being a prime factor in our rise, since we Homo sapiens could organize in a way not possible by our sibling humans who had lesser language skills.

He also mentions the ruthless behavior of our species may have played a factor in the demise of the other humans.

Another possibility is that competition for resources flared up into violence and genocide. Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin color, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 2015

We are human animals with, apparently, a genetic predisposition to divide and conquer. But unlike other animals we tend to kill our own kind in vast, unfathomable numbers. How we can continue to despoil our planet and destroy our fellow humans and continue to, as Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock famously said, to “Live long and prosper”? We cannot. As Dr. Harari writes:

The more eastern regions of Asia were populated by Homo erectus, ‘Upright Man’, who survived there for close to 2 million years, making it the most durable human species ever. This record is unlikely to be broken even by our own species. It is doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now, so 2 million years is really out of our league.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

For the sake of my grandchildren, the children of Ukraine, and the children throughout the world, I hope we adults can find a better way for short men to prove their prowess and a better way for sociopaths who run countries to prove their manhood. And I hope our own country will find a way to deal with, as Dr. Harari writes, “a small difference in skin color”. As Americans we have already fought a civil war over our inability to see Black people as humans. May we find a way to see that we are all humans regardless of the language we speak, the color of our skin, the God we pray to, the sex of our birth, or our sexual orientation.

Sidney Poitier, in the 1960s, Photo credit: The New York Times

The great Bahamian-American actor Sidney Poitier died recently. He was a Black man who stood out from his peers of all skin colors and won an Academy Award in 1964 for the film Lilies of the Field. When he emigrated to the U.S. from the Bahamas, he could barely speak English. In a few short years, he spoke the language in a way that moved people even in a more racist time period than our own. His advice was:

Be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey.

Sidney Poitier, 1992 (1927-2022)

So no matter whether Homo sapiens last on our planet for a thousand years, or a few hundred years more, we the people who care about children and beauty and nature and love and creativity and lifting up the fallen must be useful to our journey so the little feet that come after us will know which way they are to go.

~ Anna // 2-28-2022

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The Sun Inside the Rain

I cannot remember a time that music was not center stage in my life. We never had much money when I was growing up, but my father had a small record collection that he played over and over again. From his adolescence in the 1950s, Daddy had 45s, so-called because they played at 45 revolutions per minute, unlike the vinyl albums that we have today which are played at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. Forty-fives were smaller, two-song recordings with the hit single (if the artist was lucky) on the “A” side, and usually a filler song on the “B side” or “the flip side”. Daddy collected some rousing Black gospel and records as well as his favorite pop tunes. When he played them, my sister Lisa and I knew all the words and would sing them together at the top of our lungs.

Don’t have to buy me diamonds and pearls
Champagne, sables and such
I never cared much for diamonds and pearls
But honestly honey, they just cost money
Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way
Give me your shoulder to cry on
Whether the day is bright or gray give me your heart to rely on . . .

Little things mean a lot.

Carl Stutz / Edith Lindeman, Songwriters; Singer Kitty Kallen

The songs taught us what was important, that simple kindness and love were more important than diamonds and pearls, as in “Little Things Mean A Lot”, Kitty Kallen’s big hit in 1954. That people were important than things. And Daddy told us stories about being one of the few white guys sticking out like a sore thumb when he went to see his favorite Black group, the Platters, when they came to town.

As I got older, I continued in my father’s footsteps. Many of my favorite singers were African or African-American fusion artists who wove disparate musical traditions together, Johnny Clegg (who was white) and his group Savuka (who were Black) from South Africa. As Savuka’s Wikipedia page says:

Johnny Clegg photographed with his son for the cover of his “Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World” album, 1989.

Savuka’s music blended traditional Zulu musical influences with Celtic music and rock music that had a cross-racial appeal in South Africa. Their lyrics were often bilingual in English and Zulu and they wrote several politically charged songs, particularly related to apartheid

Savuka, from Wikipedia

When Johnny started playing music with his Black countrymen, he lived under South Africa’s apartheid rules which among a host of other things, forbade Johnny, a young white man, from playing music with Blacks. He ignored his country’s institutionalized racism and segregation and continued to play music with his Zulu friends. He learned their tribal dances and their music that was so joyous even when the lyrics were full of longing for better days.

They say that four walls do not a prison make
I’m trying to find a way out but there seems no escape
When I feel the hidden power that lies inside your sound
Like the ghost inside the atom that spins it round and round
There’s magic in some words, some things you can’t explain
That conjures up that feeling of the sun inside the rain

From “I Call Your Name”, Johnny Clegg, 1988

I was mesmerized by Sade Adu who is Nigerian and British, and Americans Roberta Flack, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone. Somehow songs from the Black experience have always resonated with me, perhaps because I have always felt like an outsider, and I love the passion in their music.

And although she is not Black, I discovered Loreena McKennitt in the early 1990s. Loreena is a Canadian singer, songwriter, musician who combines Celtic and Middle Eastern musical traditions. Early on she was inspired by the Celts who show up in many places around the world.

Why does combining different racial and cultural backgrounds threaten so many of my fellow white people today in America and Europe as it did white people living under the apartheid system of South Africa? And the Germans before World War II?

From the Oregon Holocaust in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Kurt Weiss

Similarly why did the Board of Education members in McMinn County, here in my home state of Tennessee, feel so threatened by Maus, a graphic novel depicting the Holocaust, that they voted earlier this month to remove it from their curriculum? The book, created by Art Spiegelman from the experiences of his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and remains the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer. Maus depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats. The McMinn County Board of Education said they were offended by a handful of curse words and a depiction of a”nude” mouse.

Is the world just a little too rough for some people in McMinn County, Tennessee? Should unpleasant truths be scrubbed clean? Truths such as the systematic murder of 6 million Jews and perhaps just as many other people the Germans found inferior or threatening in any way: Polish people, gypsies, intellectuals, homosexuals, people with disabilities, prisoners of war, Serbians, and anyone who tried to help the oppressed people who were being slaughtered.

I am reminded of another Tennessean who courageously took another kind of stand: Roddie Edmonds, an enlisted man in World War II, who hailed from South Knoxville where I grew up.

Roddie arrived in Europe in December 1944, only five days before the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise German winter assault, in which around 20,000 American soldiers were taken prisoner. Edmonds, a Master Sergeant, was captured along with more than a thousand other American enlisted men, and they were eventually sent to a POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.

Roderick W. “Roddie” Edmonds, born in 1919 in Knoxville, Tennessee.He grew up in South Knoxville, graduated from Knoxville High School in 1938, and s erved his country in World War II and the Korean War.

As a Master Sergeant, Edmonds was the highest ranking non-commissioned officer at the POW camp which held 1,275 American soldiers. On January 27, 1945, their first morning there, the German commandant, Major Siegmann, ordered Edmonds to have all the American Jews appear the next morning outside their barracks. Instead the next morning, all 1,275 American soldiers stood at attention outside the barracks behind Roddie Edmonds.

Furious, Major Siegmann shouted, “They cannot all be Jews!” To which Roddie Edmonds of South Knoxville responded, “We are all Jews.”

The German drew his sidearm and aimed it at Edmonds, but Roddie would not back down. Instead he reminded the German officer that under the Geneva Convention’s armed conflict protocols all he was obliged to tell the enemy was his name, rank, and serial number. Edmonds said, “If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.” The German commandant backed down and 200 to 300 Jewish Americans were saved that day. Edmonds spent a further 100 days as a prisoner of war, then went back home to Tennessee, and did not speak about his brush with death, not even to his family.

Edmonds died in 1985 and never received any recognition for his courageous stand, but others recalled his bravery. Thirty years after his death, in 2015, Roddie Edmonds was selected to receive the Righteous Among the Nations award, Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. And President Obama spoke about Edmonds’ heroism and human decency during the Righteous Among the Nations ceremony of 2016.

From the Oregon Holocaust Memorial, Portland, Oregon. Photo: Kurt Weiss

Would we have the courage of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds?I know your dad said he was just doing his job, but he went above and beyond the call of duty, and so did all those who joined in that line. Faced with a choice of giving up his fellow soldiers or saving his own life, Roddie looked evil in the eye and dared a Nazi to shoot. His moral compass never wavered. He was true to his faith, and he saved some 200 Jewish American soldiers as a consequence. It’s an instructive lesson, by the way, for those of us Christians. I cannot imagine a greater expression of Christianity than to say, I, too, am a Jew.

Remarks by President Barack Obama at the Righteous Among All Nations Ceremony, at the Embassy of Israel, Washington, DC, January 27, 2016

“We are all Jews.” Roddie Edmonds’ words ring down through the ages. We are all Jews. He took a stand and saved lives. Some estimates of the number of people who died in World War II have reached 75 million. Why did 75 million civilians and soldiers die? Because Adolph Hitler was not a good enough painter. Oh, if only he had been a better, less frustrated artist! Instead Hitler saw a way to achieve ultimate power by manipulating the simmering hatred and jealousy in the hearts of his fellow men and women. He rode that crazy horse all the way to Armageddon and 75 million people died. Do we want to whitewash that history and say that Hitler did not really kill 6 million Jews? And another 5 or 6 million people that he found undesirable? And what about the other 63 million people who died during the Second World War? Yes, the Nazis were racist. Yes, they were White Supremacists. Yes, they were Fascists. And they were Anti-semitic. And young men around the world fought to defeat them.

Roddie Edmonds made a difference in the lives of 200 to 300 Jewish American soldiers, and he inspired many people who have heard the story since 1945. He saw the common humanity in people who did not share his religious background. Although he was a Christian, he put his life on the line and said, “We are all Jews.”

//Anna ~ 1/31/2022

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The Victorious ‘Yes’

I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death. I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.

Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), writing about his experiences during the Holocaust of World War II, from his masterful book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Viktor Frankl was an internationally successful author, physician, psychiatrist, philosopher, professor, and lecturer from Austria. But after the Nazis annexed his country in 1938, he became only one word: Jewish. Or, as it would be stated in the masculine form in German: Juden. Between 1942 and 1945, he labored in four different concentration camps. In his research before and after the war as well as his experiences in the camps of the Holocaust, Frankl declares that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how we think about it and how we cope with it.

In the camps he would look up at the sky, and know that despite what the Germans were doing to his body, his mind and spirit were free. He could go back, in his mind, to loving moments of his life, and the Germans were powerless to take those memories away.

On Christmas Day this year, our extended family met for our annual Christmas celebration at our home here in the East Tennessee valley near the Great Smoky Mountains. It is not supposed to be nearly 70 degrees on December 25, nor should my daffodil bulbs be peeking their green shoots above the ground as they are now–but we put tablecloths on two tables outside and made some memories of our own.

The huge stufffed dinosaur and octopus my sister gave Lincoln and Penny for Christmas.

My beloved sister Lisa, who has been fighting cancer for the last two years did not feel well enough to join us on Christmas Day. However, she sent my grandson Lincoln, aged 4, a giant stuffed-animal dinosaur, and my granddaughter Penny (almost 3) a huge stuffed octopus. It was a great loss that Lisa could not be with us, but the sweeties were delighted beyond measure at their oversized friends.

It is hard to hide presents that are larger than their recipients, so it was not long before Lincoln and Penny had found their new toys peering expectantly from among the other Christmas presents in the guest room. The three-feet-tall, stuffed animals were too big for the indoors, so outdoors we went, where the swish of a dinosaur’s tail and the long legs of an octopus would not wreak havoc.

“Let’s play hide and seek,” said Lincoln.”You hide, and I will find you,” he said, and he began counting. His sister Penny, his dinosaur, and I ran away to hide.

Lincoln, as he discovered his dinosaur and me as we were played hide and seek on Christmas Day 2021.

It is not easy to hide with a huge dinosaur, but Dino, Penny, and I did our best. Luckily we had three cars in the backyard and the back fence which gave us a few good places to hide. Eventually Penny’s giggling gave Lincoln a clue, and his squeals of delight were glorious when he finally discovered us.

“When was the last time you played hide and seek?” my husband asked me.

Immediately I recalled playing hide and seek in my Aunt Rheta and Uncle Bob’s yard many, many years ago. There were four of us: my sister Lisa, 15 months younger than me; our cousin Robbie, a few years younger than Lisa; Bobby, a few years younger than Robbie; and me–the oldest. We played happily for awhile, then Robbie would complain that Bobby had done something he shouldn’t, and I would get into trouble because I was the oldest.

There was another time I played hide and seek, but I was a bit older.

To escape my childhood home, I married a man I had only known for three months. It was two weeks before my 19th birthday, and my husband-to-be was 23 and had already been married once. He was a bill collector at the finance company where I found a job after I dropped out of college before my sophomore year. His father Max had warned me, “You know, Gary has a temper.” I did not, but I discovered that fact for myself on our honeymoon when a whole new Gary emerged from the facade he had showed me during our courtship.

My sister Lisa (left) as my maid of honor on my wedding day to Gary. The lovely bridesmaids were my friends Lisa Hood and Ann Stanley.

Every year of our five-year marriage was excruciating. It was a perpetual give and take: I gave and he took. Control, emotional torture–he was an experienced practitioner, and I was learning the rules as he sought to separate me from my family and friends–but most especially he tried to keep me from spending time with my sister Lisa.

I had a low-paying job as a secretary and occasionally I would sit at work doing the math to see when I would have enough money each month to leave him and still afford to take care of our son, Justin. When the columns of income and outgo matched well enough, I sought spiritual counsel about this momentous decision from the pastors of the two churches I had attended. Both men of the cloth told me to go home to my husband, that love would return. I knew that love was never in our home, and would most definitely never return.

My sister Lisa and me in a photography box during our teen years.

One of my co-workers added her unsolicited advice saying I should wait until my husband had an affair, then I could leave him without risking eternal damnation and so forth. For me, living with Gary was eternal damnation and so forth. I was not waiting until he had an affair to leave him, nor did I want my son to grow up in a home with his manipulative, narcissistic father.

My sister Lisa was the only person who supported my decision to leave my abusive husband.

After we divorced, he stalked me for eight years. I hid as best I could, but he followed me on dates, broke into my apartment, took whatever he wanted from what little I had, and, since he was bill collector, always had ways to find out my phone number so he could harass me–even after I remarried.

But I had escaped the marriage, and Lisa and I would walk through Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains, talking constantly for the entire 11 miles–or for seven miles if we decided to take the shortcut route. We would meet at our favorite consignment store Reruns, and one glorious spring, we walked one of Lisa’s favorite Dogwood Arts trails here in town. Lisa loves dogwoods and the Dogwood Arts local nonprofit organization.

My sister Lisa (right) and me at Stanley’s Greenhouse in February 2015.

We each had two children; and eventually Lisa fulfilled her dream to work at her husband’s family business, Stanley’s Greenhouse, where our mother, Arzelia, had worked since we were in high school. Lisa became more and more famous for her enthusiasm, devotion, and love for her customers. She was featured on a local gardening radio show along with other expert gardeners, and she was interviewed regularly by local television and print reporters.

My sister flourished until her first bout of cancer in 2010. She had surgery to remove the cancer, and, for the most part, she went on as if nothing had ever happened. And for nearly a decade, she again was the queen of all she surveyed as she worked tirelessly to help her customers and the many local charities who asked for her support.

Lisa and Pat Summitt, in the fall of 2015, at Stanley’s Greenhouse.

Then in 2019 the cancer returned in a more aggressive form, a late-stage bone cancer–not the kind of news you want to hear, but Lisa was undaunted. She could no longer work full-time at the greenhouse, but for the last two years she has taken the treatments one after the other while doing a little work when she is able. For two years she has persevered and beaten the odds. Her spirit and strong beliefs have allowed her to spend time with the people she loves, to carve out her own way forward, and to soar above as the cancer fights to hold her down.

I had many flying dreams in the years after I left Gary. In these dreams, I floated above houses and trees. With the wind rushing past my outstretched arms, I looked at the ground and the forest below me and thought, “So this is how it is to be a bird.” Then I alighted gently in the top branches of a tree. Safe, whole, free.

Lisa with our late father, Roy Rotha Allen, at my son Justin’s wedding to his beloved wife Tracy, in the spring of 2016.

Tomorrow is officially a new year, January 1, 2022, with a clean slate as we turn the page from a difficult year to the unknown of a new one. For my dear sister, I hope that she soars safely above the fray, alights gently in the top of trees, and is pain-free as much of every day as is humanly possible. I hope she continues finding the victorious ‘yes’ of meaning and purpose. May she know that she is dearly loved and treasured.

And may she be free.

~ Anna – 12/31/2021

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Holes Let the Light Shine Through

That’s the contradiction. That you have to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. Because you need to have holes in order to make the light come through.

Academy-award-winning, French actress Juliette Binoche, as quoted in “The Radical Vulnerability of Juliette Binoche” article by Sasha Weiss in The New York Times Style Magazine, October 17, 2021
Photo Credit: Kurt Weiss Photography, August 2021

Is it true that as we make our way through life it is best to understand that we should–paradoxically–seek to be strong and vulnerable? Do our imperfections and the difficulties we have faced–our holes, as Juliette Binoche says–open us to new ways of being and make us stronger? As I mused about whether my own life experiences supported her words, I thought about our rescue cat, and how we both startle so easily.

Two years ago our cat Cadi Kitty was living on the streets of Lexington. Our nephew Zach lived near the basement of a home where she had been taking refuge from the cold Kentucky winters. One of Zach’s neighbors, B., was feeding her, but he had a cat already, and could not bring Cadi inside his home. Zach and his partner Paige could not take her in because they had two dogs. Cadi’s situation became more critical when the couple who owned the house decided to board up the access where she was getting into their basement at night. Zach and B. feared Cadi would freeze to death, so Zach asked my husband and me to consider giving her a home.

We had lost our former cat companion when we moved a few years ago, so we said, yes, we would take her. On a cold November day, we met Zach halfway between Lexington and our home in Knoxville. During the drive home, Cadi was meowing pitifully in her cat carrier. I tried to soothe her by talking to her in a reassuring voice, and sticking my fingers into her carrier to pet her.

B. and Zach called Cadi (short for Acadia, as in Acadia National Park), “Charlie” because they thought she was a male cat. When we took her to the vet, we learned that not only was this adorable cat a female, but she had a microchip, meaning she once had an owner. Our veterinarian got in touch with Cadi’s original owner in Lexington, and she was willing to sign Cadi Kitty over to us.

It took awhile for our new resident to settle into our home. She was used to living on the streets, seemed ill at ease, and nervously scratched our upholstered furniture. I suggested we allow her to go outside, and she seemed much happier as an indoor/outdoor cat.

Cadi Kitty sitting by our backdoor.

We learned that she is called a tuxedo cat which means she has markings as if she is wearing a tuxedo. Such cats are highly intelligent and quirky. That describes Cadi very well because she falls into regular habits, then one day decides to do something entirely different. But in the main, Cadi is the happiest of cats, acting more like a lap dog indoors and just wanting to be near us.

However, on one point, Cadi has not gotten better: She is hypervigilant; startles at sudden movements or loud or unexpected sounds; and is terrified of strangers. Perhaps she suffered some abuse at some point in her life that has caused her to be more sensitive than the average cat. Or maybe being constantly on her guard is how she stayed alive when she had no home.

Even though Cadi startles easily and often, is easily frightened, and is a very sensitive cat, she no longer scratches the furniture. She sleeps through the night in the guest room, without meowing, and although she will not eat people food–and will only eat dry and wet cat food that contains turkey–she is a gloriously happy and healthy cat.

She feels more relaxed and confident when she is with us. She loves it when I go with her into the backyard so she can let down her guard and nibble sweet grass. To thank me for accompanying her, she rubs herself against my legs repeatedly. Occasionally she gets so excited with her thankfulness that she jumps up and rubs my face if I am bending toward her.

Gorgeous Cadi Kitty looking at me as I pet her.

Although Cadi and I are both hypervigilant and startle when someone appears unexpectedly and neither of us can abide cacophonous sounds, we are more comfortable when we are in the company of those we love and who understand and accept us. It is not easy to be vulnerable and strong.

To be vulnerable opens us up to possible harm, but it also opens us to living life to the fullest, to passionately embracing the joys that make us dance with possibilities.

To be strong invites us to do everything we can to make a difference toward justice, truth, and the yearning always to learn more.

As Bertie Carvel, the British actor when he was discussing his title character Dalgliesh in the latest serialization of the “Dalgliesh” mysteries written by P. D. James:

Contradictions define a person.

Bertie Carvel, British actor

I can with great confidence say: Contradictions also define a cat.

~ Anna – 11/30/2021

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Another belief of mine:
that everyone else my age is an adult,
whereas I am merely in disguise.

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
My sister Lisa (left) and me, around the time I started first grade, age 5.

I share Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s belief that I am somehow the same me as I was at the time of my first memory, when I was a 5-year-old girl. I feel exempt from easy categorization and the stereotype of who a person my age is supposed to be. I will admit to being an adult, thank heaven, but in many ways I feel the same way I did as a child. I felt my opinion should matter, I wanted to learn and know the truth for myself. I wanted to make a difference with my life. I wanted to love expansively and joyously. And I did not fit in easily among the other children. I was afraid to be myself in public. I was shy. In many ways I was hiding.

Here I am still hiding in plain sight, camouflaged as a mild-mannered, white Southern woman with many ideas and dreams.

Disguises are very big during the Halloween season, and adults and children in costume are walking outside our house today on their way to Halloween parties. Masks are important not only for Halloween but in order to protect us from Covid with more than wishful thinking and misinformation. Yet masks have become a battleground as has so much else: Vaccines, school board meetings, city and county legislative meetings, social media, airline flights, cities and rural areas, red states and blue states.

The sunset over the River Thames in London, 2019. Photo: Kurt Weiss

What is it like to live now? It feels as if we are living on the edge of a precipice overlooking a great expanse of sea and sky. There are craggy, jagged rocks far below, and the fall looks particularly horrifying and unforgiving. I try to stay away from the cliff’s edge and look to the horizon where the sky and earth meet with color and possibility.

Lincoln on his 4th birthday.

The sky and earth meet with color and possibility in the eyes of my grandson Lincoln and granddaughter Penelope. They do not hide in plain sight. Who they are, what they are feeling, and what they want are clear from their words and actions. They instinctively want to learn new skills such as jumping into the water from the wide of the pool or lake into the arms of the people they love and trust. They learn new words, whole sentences, complete paragraphs. They emulate what they see us doing around them.

Lincoln, age 4, loves dinosaurs. At some point Lincoln will learn that dinosaurs were once alive, but became extinct 65 million years ago. Yet their skeletons and where their bones were found have been guideposts for us to learn what they ate, how they lived, and where they died. We still learn from creatures that dominated our planet for 165 million years and then, for the most part, died away. Lincoln loves their dominating, mysterious, and wild ways.

Penny, age 2-1/2, at Lincoln’s birthday party.

Lincoln’s younger sister Penny, age 2 and 1/2, loves cats. Felines are mysterious and elusive animals who live with us as pets, but they will not be led on leashes as dogs are. Cats make their own rules and are still in some ways as wild and undomesticated as their kind ever were. Penny loves their dominating, mysterious, and wild ways.

In your eyes
The light, the heat (in your eyes)
I am complete (in your eyes)
I see the doorway (in your eyes)
To a thousand church (in your eyes)
The resolution (in your eyes)
Of all the fruitless searches (in your eyes)
I see the light and the heat (in your eyes)
Oh, I wanna be that complete
I wanna touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes

Peter Gabriel, English musician

My goal is to aid and abet Lincoln and Penny in their adventures to become themselves so they will not have to hide in plain sight when they are adults. My wish is that they can be independent, think for themselves, make their own way, and learn from the creatures and ideas that inspire them.

May they each seek and find a habitat that will support their life; may they seek and find fellow travelers who will accompany them as they make their journeys; may they have the freedom to find their bliss and fulfill their passion; may they find what stimulates them and makes them feel gloriously alive. May they not only survive, may they thrive. May they not perch on the edge of the abyss; may they fly from it.

May they not only run–as Penny especially dearly loves to do–but may they fly.

~ Anna – 10/31/2021

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The Garden Within

A flying insect exploring a native climbing aster.

If I believed in such things I would have done a spirited rain dance this summer and early fall to implore the skies to deliver the right clouds to make it rain for longer than the brief five minutes at a time that we experienced this summer.

Farmers and gardeners, and all humans for that matter, must adapt their lives to the seasons. Feast or famine. Drought or flood.

By the time we make it to October in East Tennessee, we have slogged through a stew of vaporous humidity, high temperatures, and day after day, week after week, and month after month of little-to-no rain. Yet we have plants, trees, shrubs, and grasslands that need rain. And, yes, people need rain too.

Water is what makes life on our planet possible. Our bodies are around 60 percent water, and even our bones contain 31 percent. No wonder the sounds of water falling over rocks, water lapping on the sides of boats, and water trickling through a creek are irresistible and balms to our souls.

Without water, our gardens would be deserts. And so would we.

A heart-shaped leaf in my sister Lisa’s garden.

Globally most of us have been metaphorically slogging through a desert created by the fear, uncertainty, and disruption of Covid, the disease of unease caused by a coronavirus that has killed at least 4.5 million people around the world, and around 700,000 Americans.

It is not the virus alone that causes us to be bleed our discontent. We Americans cannot agree on how to respond to the virus, despite the fact that nearly every American knows someone who has died. Some of us are vaccinated, others not. Only 45 percent are currently vaccinated in my home state of Tennessee. Not caused by availability problems, mind you, but mostly for political reasons and misinformation. Yes, while some countries suffer without access to vaccines, too many people in rich countries such as ours squander the benefits of a lifesaving vaccine by refusing to do their public-health duty to ensure we reach something close to herd immunity so the babies, children, and immunocompromised people can be safe.

The new little boy who is due to enter our world in February 2022.

In our family, we have a new baby who is due to join us in February next year. He knows nothing about drought, disease, floods, hurricanes, hatred, vaccines, masks, wars, guns, and politics. I feel sorry for this little man who hardly has a chance. We have the memories of better times. But for him there may be no butterflies to inspire him with their delicate, ethereal beauty. For him no country that hangs together when things are tough. And just like his older brother and sister, he will never know my Daddy. Oh, what a loss! He will not know the force of nature and passion that was Daddy–the man who was the matchmaker who believed his parents should be together before anyone else thought so. And yes, this little boy will be the youngest and will compete with his older siblings for life’s goodies. In the short term, his siblings will find him to be the tiny, crying usurper of his parents and grandparents’ time, attention, and affection.

Eventually his siblings will know him in a different way. Those of us who are old enough to know the score will welcome him straightaway and love him because we know how precious new life is. And we will welcome him with wonder and delight, awestruck at his unique qualities and nature. We will love him immediately, and help him get the feel for how it is to live in the 22nd Century. We his adult family members will shield him, but we will also help teach him how to–with every new step–make his own way in the world.

Frank Cabot was an American visionary who created a gloriously idiosyncratic private garden called Les Quatre Vents at his home in the Quebec province of Canada. My husband Kurt and I watched the documentary, called “The Gardener”, that tells the story of his life and his way of thinking about gardens. To him, gardens are life. He believed fervently that people can have a personal relationship with each garden they visit. Frank Cabot (1925-2011) was a gentleman, a gentle man, and he dedicated his life to making gardens, and saving endangered private gardens. In the documentary, he shared his belief that:

Everybody has a garden within them, and it’s a way of expressing one’s creativity.

Francis “Frank” Cabot, Self-taught American horticulturalist and saver of gardens
The impossibly intricate flower of the native passionflower vine.

Cabot created beauty and was never happier than when he thought that a person was touched spiritually when they visited his garden. May we encourage our new little man–this tiny little gardener entrusted to his parents and his family–to explore the beauty and awe and spiritual nature of the natural world. May he find his way, may he find his passion, may he find his bliss, may his spirit soar.

~ Anna – 9/30/2021

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Stop. You Look Fabulous!

Yes, you look fabulous, you gorgeous flower! In addition to my night-blooming cereus that is shown below, I also grow a vining plant that blooms at night: the luminous moonflower shown above. Each bloom lasts for only one night, and the flowers of both of these night-blooming plants smell intoxicating. And perhaps not too surprisingly, the two flowers smell similar to one another.

There are many ways to bring joy to this our second summer of the Covid pandemic, but I prefer the ones that are simple, inexpensive, and can be easily accomplished without interacting with large groups of humans who may or may not be vaccinated, may or may not have the virus, and may or may not take common-sense precautions to keep themselves or others safe.

What’s a thinking woman to do when confronted with a second year of pestilence and pitifully inadequate state and local politicians? Well, here are a few of the antidotes I have been using to raise my flagging spirits.

The night blooming cereus in bloom. Photos: Kurt Weiss & Anna Montgomery

  • Grow an indoor/outdoor night blooming cereus cactus – Also called Queen of the Night, this plant can be bought in a nursery or even started by placing a piece from a friend’s cactus in good-quality potting soil or cactus growing medium. It will root on its own. Amazing. My year-and-a-half-year-old plant bloomed a few nights ago for the first time this summer. These cacti bloom at night, for one night. My cereus had five buds: three opened one night, two opened the next. And what other-worldly flowers they have with a delicious fragrance. During the late spring, summer, and early fall, put the cactus outside in shaded or indirect morning sun (I have one on my porch and one beside our house near our porch). Bring your plant indoors for the winter. From November till May, I have mine near a large window that gets afternoon sun (although morning sun would be fine). My cereus grows exponentially over the winter. When the branches get too big, just clip them off and start another pot. What a mysterious and interesting plant! If the plant is happy, it will surprise you how much it will grow in the winter. And what an easy plant to grow!
  • Give yourself a refreshing spritz with Avene Thermal Spring Water – On your face, on your body, when you are outside in hot weather, before you put on moisturizer, when traveling, after a workout, after shaving, on the beach–wherever, whenever. You say, hey, it’s just water. Nope. No one does toiletries like the French. The spray nozzle is a spa experience unto itself! Spray it, let it dry naturally for a few minutes. It has minerals that are healthy for the skin. You deserve it! It is even safe for sensitive skin. Not expensive either. The thermal water sprays come in three sizes: $9, $14. and $18.50.
  • And put serum not just on your face, but your body as well, especially after a shower or bath with Necessaire The Body Serum (yes, it is French too) – This serum allows you to apply hyaluronic acid on your body as well as your face. And no, I do not receive any of these products for free or even a percentage off. They are just products that make me feel pampered. Maybe they will work for you too. And all these fun products are good for men and women. Necessaire The Body Serum is $45 and fragrance free.
  • Take an aromatherapy mineral and epsom salts bath – with Aura Cacia Chamomile for tranquility and Geranium for comfort. Soak for 20 minutes, and you are new person! These blends make an entire house smell like a spa. You can buy a 16 oz. container from Aura Cacia for $13.55 or a 2.5 oz. packet for $3.57. Besides my favorites of chamomile and geranium, these mineral baths are also available: Balsam Fir, Cedarwood, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Sweet Orange, Tea Tree, and Ylang Ylang.
Books by Oliver Burkeman that are witty, well-written non-self-help, self-help books that encourage us to move aside the detritus and make room for the joie de vivre.
Hanalei Lip Treatment (Clear) – the best lip balm and lip hydrator I have ever tried. It comes in tinted versions do.
  • Take care of your lips – Hey, cause it is a dry, windy, cold or hot world. Hanalei Lip Treatment (Clear) can be used by anyone (men and women) to take care of their parched lips. I put it on before I go to bed (I also use it all day long), and I can still feel it on my lips when I wake up the next morning. That’s staying power. It has Kukui seed oil, beeswax, shea butter, and a host of other softening oils and ingredients. If you want long-lasting pucker power, this is the lip balm for you. The lip treatment is on sale now for 25 percent off its regular price of $20.
The sign leaving the Pure Magic Carwash located on Broadway in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Wash your car at the easiest and most fun car wash in town – Yes, a fun car wash. Three years ago we moved to a house near the downtown area of Knoxville, Tennessee, and gave up, yeah you guessed it, a two-car garage. Our cars have been suffering daily doses of bird and tree droppings. Then our next-door neighborhood said she and her husband use Pure Magic Carwash that has a location about five minutes from our home. We tried it and it is wonderfully Covid perfect. I ride through the carwash–which is my zen moment of three or so minutes of having nothing whatsoever that I have to do–then they have plenty of free vacuums to clean your interior, and plenty of parking spaces so you can wipe off the little bit of water the machine did not remove. We have monthly plans that allow us to take our cars as often as we want. The packages are $19.99, $24.99, or $29.99, and there are seven locations around Knoxville. We were paying $9 a go for a drive-through carwash that was doing nothing but splashing around water and a bit of suds. This has been a life-changer. It makes me feel powerful, organized, in charge of my life, and as the sign says when I drive out: “Stop. You look fabulous.”
  • Listen to music from The Mavericks (Latin, eclectic rock, country–they can really play any style of music!), Natalia Lafourcade (Mexican, dance, pop, and folk), and the late Johnny Clegg and Savuka (African, Euro-African). What all these musicians share in common is their zest for life no matter what. Born in England, Johnny Clegg grew up in the apartheid of South Africa, living with his Jewish mother after his parents’ divorce. He defied the separation of whites and blacks, learned Zulu culture and music, and was arrested repeatedly for being with his black friends after curfew. The Mavericks’ trumpet player Lorenzo Molina Ruiz was attacked for speaking Spanish to a friend in a Franklin, Tennessee, restaurant. Although Natalia Lafourcade did not grow up under apartheid or suffer violence for being Mexican, her father, Gastón Lafourcade, a celebrated Chilean musician, dismissed her musical choices as not classical or serious enough. She persevered and has worked in a host of artistic and musical genres. What these three musicians have in common is fusion–the bringing together of disparate styles–and joy. All three make me want to dance and sing and share the joy with others.
  • Meditation through the Calm app – I was never a person who thought meditation would work for me because I have a very active mind. But the Calm app that I access through my iPhone has daily ten-minute meditations that have really helped me feel that I can better handle my every-day life and the sorrows that inevitably come my way. After the free trial periods, the app offers a host of price points from monthly to yearly with special add-on options. Check them out carefully and choose the one that is best for you.

And keep growing, especially in the fallow periods. Learn from the life-affirming movie, The Gardener, a documentary about self-taught American horticulturalist Frank Cabot (1925-2011). This beautiful man created one of the most spiritual gardens in the world, his beloved Les Quatre Vents in the Charlevoix region of Quebec in Canada. Yes, he wanted visitors to have a spiritual experience with his garden. He also worked with like-minded people around the world to save endangered gardens. His work continues now through The Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization he started in 1989 to preserve gardens for future generations.

Francis H. “Frank” Cabot, an extraordinary man who described himself as a “horticultural enthusiast”.
Photo credit: The New York Times

Frank said gardens have souls and he wanted people who visited his garden to have a life-altering experience by communing with it.

Everybody has a garden within them, and it’s a way of expressing one’s creativity.

Frank Cabot, Plantsman and Self-described Horticultural Enthusiast

We can create our own gardens whether they are indoors, outdoors, metaphysical, or solidly literal. Nourish yourself, create beauty; grow something, create something. And if you are lucky, you can get your hands dirty, see something bloom, and experience the world smiling at you through the eyes of a cat or a dog or another fellow animal that we are lucky enough to share this planet with.

Cadi (short for Acadia, such as the national park in Maine) Kitty, our 4-year-old rescue cat, is originally from Lexington, KY. She has now agreed to share a home with us here in Old North Knoxville in Tennessee.

~ Anna – 8/17/2021

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Let the Wind Blow Back Your Hair and May It Rain

My husband Kurt and I were in Egypt twenty years ago in the car of a young woman who had been a participant in one of my husband’s training classes in Cairo. I will call her Lela although I cannot remember her exact name. I remember it started with “L” and was a lovely name that suited her: a young, beautiful woman, with long, wheat-colored hair and wisdom beyond her years.

An Egyptian scarab necklace I bought in Cairo in 2000. In ancient Egyptian religion the scarab beetle was viewed as a symbol of life, the sun, immortality, resurrection, and transformation. They were considered a good luck symbol in Ancient Egypt.

She told us she was from Lebanon. Although she loved the country of her birth, she could no longer live there due to the civil war destroying it. She visited as often as she could to see her family, but could not make a life for herself with the instability caused by hatred, violence, and death.

Suddenly Lela reached for a CD and said, “Listen to this song. Isn’t it the best!”

I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand

Desert Rose, songwriter Sting

Although the song pulsated with passionate Middle Eastern rhythms and opened with background singing in Arabic, the main voice was unmistakable and I knew immediately it was Sting, the British singer/songwriter. It was a powerful song, and I was struck by it immediately. But why had this song spoken so powerfully to our Lebanese friend?

Well, Desert Rose was a huge hit in countries around the world including the Arab world. Sting said he wrote it as an homage to the Rai music he had heard in Paris nightclubs. which is a fusion music, combining elements of Arabic, French, jazz, and other world-music styles.

The cover of Sting’s single “Desert Rose” released January 17, 2000. Photo: Wikipedia

Some of the most popular musical genres, such as rock and roll, are combinations of earlier musical influences.

Rock and Roll: a type of popular dance music originating in the 1950s, characterized by a heavy beat and simple melodies. Rock and roll was an amalgam of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums.

The Oxford English Dictionary

Like Rai, rock and roll is a fusion music bringing together musical styles from countries very different from one another.

So Desert Rose was a top ten hit in a host of countries, rose eventually to number nine in the U.S., and was a Top 20 hit in the U.K., but again why had this song resonated with our friend from Lebanon who could not live in her home country because of war.

I dream of rain
I lift my gaze to empty skies above
I close my eyes
The rare perfume is the sweet intoxication of love

Desert Rose, Songwriter: Sting

I believe the song gave her hope that vastly different cultures can respect each other’s cultures by coming together. Hearing Sting singing in English combined with Algerian singer Cheb Mami singing in Arabic, with a wall of Middle Eastern rhythmic beat supports the possibility of union over division.

Many people in the 1950s were at first not comfortable with combining black and white music, or black and white musicians playing together. To these people, country music should stand alone, rhythm and blues should stand alone, and they had won the day, rock and roll would never have been born. In their homogenous, white-bread world there would have been no Elvis Presley, no Chuck Berry, no Johnny Cash, no Little Richard, no Buddy Holly, and no Everly Brothers. And without them, there would have been no Beatles, and the deluge of musicians influenced by the Beatles. Thankfully the music won–and so did we.

I believe the song gave her hope that as rain can fall in the desert bringing new life and the possibility for renewal, growth, and fulfillment. Even if it has not, as yet, happened in Lebanon.

Today, twenty-one years later, we have a worldwide plague, the coronavirus Covid 19, to add to the tensions between countries, religions, tribes, sexes, and people who speak different languages, have different cultural mores, and have different skin colors. We can argue that such things as skin color and religion and sex and the language a person speaks should not be the determining factor in whether a person has value, but we have not collectively arrived at the enlightened moment when such things can be overcome. And if history is an example, humankind cannot get to that place.

Unlike the other animals living on our planet, we humans have proven throughout recorded history that we have the capacity to kill our own kind in the millions with reasons that upon reflection are truly mind boggling. Case in point, take World War I, where the heir of a European country and his wife were assassinated in another country in 1914, and after four years of carnage involving a good portion of the world, at least 16 million people were dead. That was not nearly enough, however, so 21 years later, in 1939, during World War II, around 75 million people were killed including around 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians, many of whom died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.

Doves patiently waiting to fed on a rooftop in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo: Kurt K. Weiss.

We could learn many things from the other animals on this planet. History has shown us that as a species we have not evolved to be sentient creatures who value the life of our own kind enough to act on that awareness.

However, and there is a however. We still abide. We are still alive; where there is life, there is hope. We still love. There is still music. And there is Bruce Springsteen.

Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Thunder Road, songwriter: Bruce Springsteen

Perhaps there is an answer in the Arabic opening lyrics in the song Desert Rose that Lela loved:

Oh night oh night
It has been a long time
And I am looking for myself and my loved one

Desert Rose, songwriter: Sting
From 220 miles above Earth, one of the Expedition 25 crew members on the International Space Station took this night time photo featuring the bright lights of Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean coast. The Nile River and its delta stand out clearly as well. On the horizon, the airglow of the atmosphere is seen across the Mediterranean. The Sinai Peninsula, at right, is outlined with lights highlighting the Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There is such a concept in ancient religions called Karuṇā which is translated as compassion or mercy and sometimes as self-compassion. Perhaps we can elevate our human condition and a have a decent shot at happiness by having compassion for ourselves by putting the metaphorical oxygen mask on ourselves first before we place a metaphorical oxygen mask on our fellow life travelers. This self-compassion and self-love makes it at least possible to extend love and compassion to our loved ones, our friends, and other humans.  

If we look at things from above, perhaps 220 miles above our planet as in the photo above taken of Egypt from the International Space Station in 2010, we can get a glimpse of what is really important in our world: Our planet, beauty, inspiration, and life.

~ Anna // 7-31-2021

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Dreams Walking in Broad Daylight

. . . dreams walking in broad daylight
Three hundred, sixty five degrees
Burning down the house.

“Burning Down the House”, songwriters: David Byrne, Christopher Frantz, Martina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison

Seeing the world through the eyes of a baby or toddler is to find magic in every raindrop and bubble that floats past. What is real, what is fantasy? If we look with their eyes, the world reimagines itself with each new life, with each new day.

In David Byrne’s American Utopia, he says research shows that:

Babies’ brains have more neurons than adults’ brains. We lose the ones we don’t think we need.

David Byrne, American Utopia

After spending the last few years with infants and then toddlers, it is not hard for me to believe that babies and children come into this world with an essential wisdom we would do well to heed:

~ Simple joys are the best.

~ Laughter is the right answer for everything delightful that happens.

~ Run, run, run, in circles. Sometimes with your sister, sometimes by yourself.

~ Sand is wonderfully malleable. Shape things around you to your heart’s desire.

~ When you are in water and you cannot swim, ask for help from someone you trust to hold your head above water.

~ If things get scary, seek out those who love you best.

~ Dance to your favorite song, even if a song is not playing.

~ Keep your eyes open for the wonder and discover.

~ Anything that looks remotely like a flower, is a flower.

~ Sometimes you can chase the bright, shiny bubbles that come your way and catch them.

~ Climb higher than you have climbed before, say “Whee”, let go, and fall back into the arms of someone you love.

~ Choose joy over fear.

~ And red boots are fine to be worn at any age!

~ Anna – 6/30/2021

Posted in Beauty, Childhood, Dance, Family, Happiness, Ideas, Joy (Joie de General), Music, Wonder | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments