29 October 2008

diwali greeting

it's the indian new year, or one of them, and i don't particularly know what to do other than what my elders tell me. this time it was, predictably, calling my elders ("superiors") and asking for blessings. which i find altogether natural, so yesterday night and today my mother and i spent a couple hours on the phone dialing india and new jersey and california and texas, calling on uncles and aunts and flute teachers and cousins and jayeshbhais (mentors) and friends and brothers and sisters.

it was incredible. pleasing. a rush. high. maybe from all the blessings. i had a vision of what hallmark, in its heart of hearts, beyond all the corporatism and commerce, is really aspiring towards. what if on national secretary appreciation day we really went and visited or called all the secretaries we ever knew, thanked them, and asked for their blessings and best wishes for the coming lunar year. lunacy. lunocracy. philocracy.

getting closer.

there was some sadness too in the long dark house with the sliding doors pointed south towards snow-covered peaks. warm days and clear nights in late october (as predicted). it's gorgeous september weather. perfect for scything and coming home to mulled appled cider. my mom had lit a few candles after the cooking class calmed down and i realized only when going to bed that Diwali is the festival of lights and lighting a candle is an integral part of the ritual. i can only imagine the other parts. big feasts and visiting families, special dishes and all night dances. it's big news everytime i go to india, six months before and after the party. and here we had a couple of sad vanilla candles and no dancing and no drumming and no flirting and certainly no marriages being planned. to the relatives' collective dismay.

so i recalled my cousin telling me it was only proper to make a "rangoli" (that is, a sort of intricate design) out of flowers, in the shape of an om, and place candles around and within it. so, in a desperate act of acculturation, i tenderly tore all the red flowers off my mother's only flowering houseplant, and assembled them into an anemic om on the checked tablecloth. with a vanilla candle a little to the left.

we're all doing the best we can. at home and in the hospital. for the new year, the new light, and the new love.

i just saw a patient, slightly confused (we say "demented" in the hospital). he thought we were in portland and was reminiscing for that great harborview hospital back in seattle. he said his son just left a 5-10 year career in a national professional sports league and was now a chaplain. we should talk. and he loves gandhi. he even told me "I love that man. Gandhi has a big heart. Like a lion.". And he was proud "Most people follow [Gandhi's] philosophy, his theology. All the American Presidents. Like Martin Luther King Junior."

I'd be proud, too. I'm proud that most people are into the Love if you have the angle light and the shimmering glare of ego and suffering don't blind you to what's really going on. I'm proud of the work everybody in this hospital is doing, proud of lovers driving each other to separation and partnership at airports, at comings and goings which reveal the strength of the ties below.

Blessed are the filmmakers and the rappers (you'll see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of5OJpEladg)
Blessed are those who cook for the homeless and the winos
Blessed are those who imitate the shadows and those who seek the flame.

After a short lifetime of worshiping the beauties of freedom and choice, independence and aspiration, I came yesterday face to face with the gorgeous surrender to duty. A woman thousands of miles away asked me to visit a friend of hers -- just because we're both in the same state, hours and busy schedules apart -- and I shocked myself at being So Damn Eager to perform the slightest service, to honor this woman who had treated me so well, took me in as a hungry son, taught me how to sort mangos. You get the idea. As Vanessa says in her yoga teacher training, "I stand ready to obey your least command".

ready and willing here we are. festival of vanilla candles and wilted pink flowers. doing the best we can. a poem to end with, that i read earlier to the gentleman over there:

(by Mary Oliver, from _Thirst_)

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird --  equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.


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