Happy Birthday Solomon!

BMW i8 

Dearest Solomon,

I saw this BMW i8 in the airport in Frankfort last week. I could just see you driving it! YES! So I am giving it to you as a birthday present to drive through the clouds with either DJ AM or Michael Jackson after a heavenly concert. We can all picture you doing that.

I miss you. I wish you could come over after a bike ride and swim in the pool, then barbeque some burgers with onions for us. After, you would curl up on the couch with Nicole, after spending a half-hour with dad in the office on computer-tec things and all of us would settle into a sweet groove.

Oona gaining speed!

Oona gaining speed!

Oona. I wish you knew each other. You would appreciate her giddy physicality, and take her wake-boarding in a few years. Maeve would make you smile and smile —as she does everyone. You would chat with Arrow Solomon. You’d play with Mila Sol and Varun Solomon. All the next generation who carry your name. Pharrell Williams would be up there on your mix —Happy and …up all night to get lucky. I love those songs because of you. 

                                                                                                                                               

Maeve, now two years old

Maeve, now two years old

Miss you, baby! Hope you have fun driving the newest, playing the latest, climbing the highest, and boarding on down. I feel you in my heart, and in my hands when I play the djembe.

Love you.

Fawzia Koofi changing Afghanistan

 

afghanistan_map I just read a heart-warming, inspiring book.  I have a confession to write. After I completed The Favored Daughter, One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future, by Fawzia Koofi — I checked the internet to be sure she was still alive. True, I did. The book was published in 2012. Was she still allowed to be Afganistan’s first female parliament speaker after two years? Multiple assignation attempts. What a woman! She is on fire with her cause. She is magnetic. Speaks English very well.               Fawzia Koofi is running for President of Afghanistan in 2014.

Fawzia's book This is a well-written book. It flows well, is gripping in the narrative, and between the chapters are letters to her two daughters, with wisdom like this: Never turn anyone away from your door because you never know when the day will come that it is you who will need to throw yourself t the mercy of another’s door.

She was born in Koof, in the rural North, Badakhsan, in 1975. As 19th child, she had to face discrimination and injustice, loss of her parents. War. She was the only girl in the family who went to school. She spent time between the north and Kabul. First came the Solviet Union, and when they left in 1989, the Talaban began to darken Kabul with it’s restrictions and terror, especially for women.  Since 9/11 prompted more changes, Fazia writes:  there were “…social changes in past 11 years, not measurable or reported by the media… During Taliban period, life was difficult; to see a doctor or walk on the street —difficult. Now my daughters go to a good school in Kabul. “Since the fall of Taliban regime, there has been huge progress!”

 “Afghani woman’s life is full of struggle. I represent hope for my country.”

Fawzia was on the Jon Stewart show. He said, “Your life has remained in peril on a daily basis.” She replied, “If you become stronger politically or socially, you find more opponents… (yet) I see myself as part of the agency of change in Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan is a country of relationship and value. That is the face of Afghanistan I would like to demonstrate to the world!”

Fawzia_Koofi_MP,_Afghanistan_-_Chatham_House_2012

“When you see the love of people… the needs, that keeps me always moving when I see the needs of my people.”

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/p7c657/fawzia-koofi

and Arthur Kade (a clearer tape)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S91ej-RBgvA

Fawzia, may you have a long, safe and happy life!

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Honoring poet Mirza Ghalib

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Yesterday we went to Mirza Ghalib‘s resting place. It is located in Nizamuddin neighborhood in Delhi, not far from Hazrat Inayat Khan’s dargha. Today was his URS celebration, which we attended in 2007. So in honor of the great Urdu poet and master of the ghazal, here is a poem by him:

Let the ascetics sing of the garden of Paradise –

We who dwell in the true ecstasy can forget their vase-tamed bouquet.


 
In our hall of mirrors, the map of the one Face appears

As the sun’s splendor would spangle a world made of dew.


 
Hidden in this image is also its end,

As peasants’ lives harbor revolt and unthreshed corn sparks with fire.


 
Hidden in my silence are a thousand abandoned longings:

My words the darkened oil lamp on a stranger’s unspeaking grave.

Ghalib, the road of change is before you always:

The only line stitching this world’s scattered parts. (trans. Daud Rahbar)
 
 
Ghalib

Mirza Ghalib was born in Agra December 17, 1797, and  died in Delhi on February 15, 1869. He was a very liberal mystic who believed that the search for God within liberated the seeker from the narrowly Orthodox Islam, encouraging the devotee to look beyond the letter of the law to its essence. His Sufi views and mysticism is greatly reflected in his poems and ghazals. As he once stated: 

“The object of my worship lies beyond perception’s reach; 
For men who see, the Ka’aba is a compass, nothing more.”

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Ghalib believed that if God laid within and could be reached less by ritual than by love, then he was as accessible to Hindus as to Muslims.

He once wrote in a letter to a friend: 

“In paradise it is true that I shall drink at dawn the pure wine mentioned in the Qu’ran, but where in paradise are the long walks with intoxicated friends in the night, or the drunken crowds shouting merrily? Where shall I find there the intoxication of Monsoon clouds? Where there is no autumn, how can spring exist? If the beautiful houris are always there, where will be the sadness of separation and the joy of union? Where shall we find there a girl who flees away when we would kiss her?” 


Info on Ghalib ~  http://www.poemhunter.com/mirza-ghalib/biography/

Peacock in the courtyard of Ghalib! photo by Shabda

Peacock in the courtyard of Ghalib! photo by Shabda

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SOLOMON 7/11/77-1/31/12 and “Get Lucky”

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Last night we watched the Grammys. I remember watching them with Solomon and Nicole, probably in 2009. He gave a running commentary of who was good, and I still follow it, the tunes in the Grammy-nominee category. Many people my age think of Grandparents when they hear the word Grammy. But I got early training. So when GET LUCKY came on with Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk and wow— Stevie Wonder!! I joined Staples Center attendees who were – several thousand of them – on their feet dancing with a kind of slow joy that held the room; joy that shone on the faces of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Beyonce, Keith Urban, Katy Perry, Jay-Z, and Yoko Ono and more.  Beautiful moment.  See for yourself. Watch it here!

Like the legend of the Phoenix
All ends with beginnings
What keeps the planets spinning
The force from the beginning
 
We’ve come too far

Pharrell +Stevie "Get Lucky"

Pharrell +Stevie
“Get Lucky”

To give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar
And our cups to the stars
 
She’s up all night to the sun
I’m up all night to get some
She’s up all night for good fun
I’m up all night to get lucky
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 I got some cough-and-sneeze bug a couple weeks ago and it has taken forever to clear out, so, since I leave for New Delhi, India tomorrow morning (Feb. 28), I paid a quick visit to my Ear-doctor to get the OK to go.

 As I got close to the office, I turned on the radio to see what the message the universe was offering for this journey and there it was: GET LUCKY blasting out. Timing like that has a name on it. SOLOMON.  I burst into tears and cried and sobbed: Not from sadness, but from utter joy to feel him so present in the serendipity of how he knew those best songs before anyone, and this was his gift. Have a good trip, Mom….

        ( Get Lucky… more verses)
The present has no ribbon
Your gift keeps on giving
What is this I’m feeling
If you want to leave I’m with it
 
We’ve come too far

Solomon DJ'ing the Black 'n White Ball, SF.

Solomon DJ’ing the Black ‘n White Ball, SF.

To give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar
And our cups to the stars
 
 
Like the legend of the Phoenix
All ends with beginnings
What keeps the planets spinning
The force from the beginning
 
We’ve come too far
To give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar
And our cups to the stars
 
She’s up all night to the sun
I’m up all night to get some
She’s up all night for good fun
I’m up all night to get lucky
 
 

I’m so lucky to have had Solomon Kahn in my life for 34 years. The anniversary of the end of the second year of his passing, January 31, 2012 is almost here. Those of you who love him, I’ll be with you!

Solomon, you still get me dancing! Feeling the happiness in being alive. I return to the place where we spent the first 4 months together — you, a stowaway in my womb — to Mother India. I got Lucky.

Solomon in India in the 90's

Solomon in India in the 90’s

The little three-year-old girl (green circle), Shahana Ali Khan, is an adult singer and will be singing a Raga Concert for us in New Delhi next week. She is the daughter of Usted Mashkoor Ali Khan seated next to her and her mother.  The music goes on….

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POEMS: WS Merwin and WS Di Piero

green boat and sharks2

WS Merwin has a stunning historical poem called Odysseus from  1960. I first heard it on a poetry tape or CD and said out loud — Oh, yes! What was that?!  I played it again. I was driving on Stockton street near Union Square in SF. It was around 1998. I’m a sucker for terse historical poetry. Here are some lines:

Always the setting forth was the same,

same sea, same dangers waiting for him

as though he had got nowhere but older.

Behind him on the receding shore

the identical reproaches, and somewhere

out before him, the unraveling patience

he was wedded to…. 

http://www.poetseers.org/contemporary-poets/w-s-merwin/merwin-poems/odysseus/

Merwin around the time he wrote Odysseus

Merwin around the time he wrote Odysseus

Penelope, his wife is the unraveling patience
 he was wedded to… Penelope, whose job was to weave by day, secretly unravels the weavings by night, so she won’t finish her work and have to chose a suitor among the unappealing gold-diggers trashing her downstairs rooms, men who have waited over a decade for her to complete her work. Odysseus carries the continual confusion of being becalmed or moved about by the gods, until his mind no longer can hold the certainty of reaching Ithaca, his home. Metaphoric expertise carries the reader into new realms. It takes Merwin 17 lines to take us to the inner state —with not a word wasted.<>  <>  <<>>  <>  <>

When my son Solomon died, the short Merwin poem called Separation felt true and wise. Its strength was sustaining and held the painful paradox — presence and absence at the same time.

Your absence has gone through me   
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

photo 2

This morning I came upon a poem by poet and Stanford Professor Emeritus WS Di Piero called: There Were Such Things [in 2014 Pushcart Prize XXXVIII, Best of the Small Presses from ZYZZYVA]. I was stunned by where it took me. Here it is:

 

 

There Were Such Things
I knew the words would be waiting for me,
how various sounds play in the mouth and mind,
each time a different estero in my heart
like your bracelet’s lost coral scale, your bone hairpin,
the lipstick smudge sliding off torn tissue
a special event each time, thing by thing,
word by word. I knew these creatures, as before,
would be waiting in their familiar names,
in dowicher, willet, whimbrel and coot
or snipe or curlew, that I could speak and speak.
Where were you that day? Why weren’t you with me?
But what waited there was something else.
Muscling nonstop around each other,
dingy leopard sharks shadowed the shallows,
the light dying on their silty backs.
They seemed to be themselves the moving waters.
They were the swimming absence of the words
they drove away, part of the new vocabulary
of exclusions, of what might have been birds,
symmetric in their bones like umbrellas,
the feather and flesh of what was now elsewhere.
 

I love the wordplay in the first part, then come the 4 lines:

            Dingy leopard sharks shadowed the shallows,
            the light dying on their silty backs.
            They seemed to be themselves the moving waters.
            They were the swimming absence of the words
            they drove away…

What just happened? The knowable just expanded. The sharks are vivid, then they shift to moving waters then

They were the swimming absence of the words they drove away.

Crazy Good! The absence of words drove away the new vocabulary.

Big shark

Sharks appear. Sharks are an attention-grabbing image— then they are an absence… then they shark into “the vocabulary of exclusions”  [an invisible contrast to, say,  dowicher, willet, whimbrel]

Finally, an introduction of birds, symmetric in their bones like umbrellas,… now elsewhere. The metaphors work so well they appear and vanish, you can see through them, participate in the graceful dance of paradox.

This is an area of experience that feels true, but new, unexplored. I can still see the sharks, the excluded umbrella-birds.  Clean. Solid. Bravo.

bird in flight

David Hockney at the DeYoung Museum

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You won’t need 3D glasses, but you’ll feel like you have them on. The London Times calls his work: “An unqualified, life-enhancing joy…” I went to see this exhibit twice, actually 3X, because I could not quite fathom the effect the paintings had on my mind and heart. I really liked this selection of artwork.

David Hockney

David Hockney

IMG_7953

Part of it is scale and short-hand details, though neither scale nor detail comes across well in these small photos I am posting. I’d look at a ten-canvas landscape, and as I walked closer, the realism shifted into elegant abstractions representing light, shadows, water and plants. His work carries a certainty that makes you feel safe in his created world of form and color. And yet you have fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland at the same time. David Hockney has invented a painting language that effects me the way Arabic does.

IMG_7956What do I mean? First of all, Arabic is seductively beautiful to see, the calligraphy flows. Then when you study the individual letters a new layer upon layer of visual integrity draws you in. In different scripts the letters appear as if in new clothing. So here is Hockney pulling me into his universe with his mastery and whimsey, his language of brush-dancing. The portraits carried so much of human nature I was astounded. But mainly it was the landscapes that I relished.IMG_7988

I’m his— in those lighted rooms. I went with Wendy and David the first time. We were amazed, and after about 20 minutes I was too full — and bolted out of the exhibit.  I went outside and gazed at grass and sky while they continued looking at art. I went back to look again when my vision quieted down,  and snuck a few photos because I needed proof I had actually seen these things.IMG_7954

Asha was in town from Virginia a week later. She is a wonderful artist, and I couldn’t wait to see Hockney’s art with her.  She liked it a lot. We went and sat in a quiet room. The one with Yosemite pictures, a smaller scale. What do you feel is going on with these paintings? I asked her. She commented on his I-pad drawings, [some enlarged and mounted like the oils], and how he was balanced on the edge of present and future in art. Also that he communicated more than artistic mastery. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I felt like she helped me to digest this banquet-for- the-eyes. If you are near San Francisco between now and January 20 and you like this preview, make it a point to go.

Asha and a landscape...

Asha and a landscape…

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Reza Aslan in Berkeley

bike-photo-manipulations-erik-johansson-1

Last night I went to see and hear Reza Aslan part of the CIIS series: Great Minds Speaking on Provocative Subjects, at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley. I made the mistake of sitting in the first row. I’m very glad I did, even though the sound system in that church is located forty feet above the stage above and projects overhead, sending back a weird echo and no bass tones, so all of the commentator’s words and most of Reza’s were mostly unheard, especially the quips, followed by laughter. Next time I’ll sit further back.

Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan

In the question period, a woman asked him about the difference between “truth” and “history.” He leaned forward and spoke slowly and clearly. He mentioned a gospel and an example: one day a poor man came to the house of  — and asked for alms. The man who had a house had nothing else, so he gave him his shirt. That, Reza pointed out, is a generosity story to illustrate a quality.  No one who read that gospel saw that as news reporting.  There are many “one day Jesus…” gospel stories. Some contradict each other. As Reza writes: “none of the gospels we have were written by the person after whom they were named… These are not eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s words and deeds recorded by people who knew him.” That was understood. The gospel writers were offering teachings, not the biography — in the sense that we write biographical stories today. That is, history was a very different consciousness, a very different slant from twenty-first century storytelling. Yet, the twenty-first century readers often see it as  “gospel,” kind of cell-phone recordings, or the equivalent from that time.

So my brain is running — Ah Reza, you have found the elephant in the room and taken a picture of it for me!  My attempts in the last two years are to comb through and distill stories about Fatima, daughter of Prophet Muhammad: Fatima’s name is inscribed on the leg of God’s throne. Fatima crossed a bridge as narrow as a hair with thousands of Heavenly Beings, riding a blue horse….

These fragments are preserved, shared among those who wish to know about Fatima, while the room where Fatima spent her childhood sleeping and playing, the room to the left of the front door of her mother Khadija’s house is under sand and cement, sealed off. Her birth: We have Mary, mother of Jesus; Assiyya, wife of the Pharaoh; Kulthum, sister of Moses; and Hagar or Sarah, wife of Abraham who delivered Fatima when Khadija gave birth. Umm Ayman, who delivered Muhammad and was a servant in the house — isn’t mentioned, just those legends. So there is a gap. Poetry is good for this kind of situation, since it can give wings to words when the trail ends, as long as the reader can follow the new trail through air….  My job with Fatima is to haul all of it, a pack-rat’s-vehicle-of-lifetimes, to a place where I can chose what to hold, fold, walk or run away from…. a challenge that needs one thing; a quivering antenna, a very refined radar that keeps asking the question: what needs to be said here? 

324 The next book I will begin on the plane tomorrow is Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan, Random House, 2013.

 “gospels” quote Zealot, p. XXVI

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DOCTOR, LAWYER, INDIAN CHIEF…

Desbarats on the Ste. Mary's River, Ontario...

Desbarats on the Ste. Mary’s River, Ontario…

 

There’s a doctor livin’ in your town
There’s a lawyer and an Indian, too…    [popular song from 1945]
 

My Grandfather Proxmire, my mother’s father, was a DOCTOR. The man my mother married, John Baker, was a LAWYER, as was his father. And then there was the INDIAN CHIEF. These three men had a great effect on my mother’s life.

my mother, Adele

my mother, Adele

The Lawyer, John Baker, my father

The Lawyer, John Baker, my father

There was a mystery around “the indian,” an exceptional man who bridged two worlds, who lived a fifteen-minute walk in the woods from the cabin past the blueberry meadow, near the place called Killaly Point, South-east of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontairo, where my mother spent her childhood summers (and so did I). Her brothers used to tease her about Dr. Eastman. I’ve looked all over for the tiny black and white photo of her eldest brother, Ted, wearing Dr. Eastman’s feathers. The ones he is wearing in his portrait shown here. Can’t find it.

Dr. Charles Eastman, Ohiyessa

Dr. Charles Eastman, Ohiyessa

Dr. Charles Eastman,  also named Ohiyesa, (pronounced O eee su), “the Winner,” was born near Redwood Falls, Minnesota in 1858, great-grandson of Dakota Sioux Chief Cloud Man. His grandmother (Stands Sacred), was the chief’s daughter. Eastman’s  grand-father was a well-known Army officer, Seth Eastman. Their daughter, Mary Eastman, died soon after giving birth to Charles. Eastman’s own father was a full-blooded Sioux, Many Lightnings. The boy was raised by his grandmother, who fled with the 4-year-old to Canada, and gave him traditional training. Many Lightnings returned for him when the boy was 15 and took him into the white culture. Charles cut his hair, was raised in Mission Schools, and went to Dartmouth, graduating in ’87. He became a medical doctor with a degree from Boston University in 1889 and was sent back to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as a government doctor there. — the same year as Wounded Knee, 1890. He was close by the massacre and was the first doctor to reach the “blood-soaked field,” and treat the wounded. He experienced the horrible tragedy first hand. Three hundred Lakota died that day. He was never the same after that day.

<> He began to work to bridge the far-apart-worlds, wrote eleven books, numerous articles, lived in many places with his wife, social worker, Elaine Goodale. They even lived in D.C. where he worked at lobbing congress for his Indian Nation from1897-1902. Dr. Eastman believed that the teachings and spirit of his adopted religion of Christianity and traditional Indian spiritual beliefs were essentially the same, a belief that was controversial to many Christians, including his wife. They separated.

In 1928, Eastman purchased land near Desbarats, Ontario, within walking distance of the cabin, with a view of the North Chanel of the Ste. Mary’s River. For the remainder of his life, when he was not traveling and lecturing, he lived there in his simple wood cabin in the nature that he loved so dearly. He died in 1939 at age 80.

My mother was 10 when he moved there. Her brothers used to tease her about

Doctor Proxmire with a baby he delivered, 1955

Doctor Proxmire with a baby he delivered, 1955

“the Indian” My mom was a teenager who wanted answers about life and the world. She never shared with me what he told her because she gradually lost her ability to speak or move much, due to severe M.S, so I never had those conversations with her that a girl would have with her mother. All I know is Eastman was in her early life and impressed her deeply. And Mother wanted to know about the Dalai Lama. She read Seven Years in Tibet, by Hendrich Harrer, when it came out in 1954.

When I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Shabda and my son, Ammon (age 5) in Dharmsala in 1976, he wanted to know why I was had come to see him. I said: because my mother always wanted to meet you. His Holiness was a real chief of all his people. I had grown up with the doctor and the lawyer, here was the Greatest Chief, who, like Dr. Eastman,  had to deal with two worlds, the one of a dominant race holding power and assumption of superiority, and the other of his own people… in this case, the Tibetans.

I just spent 32 days at a writing residency in the town where both my mother and father grew up, where I was born. One morning the phrase: Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief was running through my head. That is the story.

I'm on the porch roof just down the river from Dr. Eastman's cabin

I’m on the porch roof just down the river from Dr. Eastman’s cabin

 

        <>  <> May all beings treat each other with sincere dignity! <>  <>

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Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp ~ Can we take this in?

Muslim refugee camp in Jordan

Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan —there it sits as my screensaver pic, lit and staring at me. It’s been there for two weeks, daring me to recognize it for what it is, birds eye view of an emergency residence for more than 115,000 people (as of July 15, 2013), thanks to the Kingdom of Jordan, the host. Each “box” houses families or supplies. They seem to have run out of prefab containers called “caravans” so the bottom of the screen has some tents, which give a perspective on the miles of boxed lives. Over 60,000 are kids, they say. Who can say how many Syrian refugees in Jordan? I walk outside and the backyard hillside is musical with spilling water from three stone containers and a small pump. Flowers and trees color my view as sun begins to burn through the fog. I am in an unlocked house in a town with no soldiers. My nephew-in-law is a local policeman. My nephew a building inspector. I know my neighbors. I feel safe.

Angelina Jolie at Zaatari

Angelina Jolie at Zaatari

In June Angelina Jolie visited the camp and speaks to the growing crisis. She says: “1.6 million people have poured out of Syria with nothing but the clothes on their back., and more than half of them are children…… Every 14 seconds someone crosses Syria’s border and becomes a refugee.” <> http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/jordan/10133034/Angelina-Jolie-visits-Syrian-refugee-camp-in-Jordan-on-World-Refugee-Day.html>

Oxfam International has installed solar powered lampposts outside several sanitation facilities, lighting the streets, so people could feel safe going to the toilet at night. UNICEF recently claimed lack of water and sanitation in the camp poses an enormous threat to the health of everyone, especially the children living there.

camp 2 kids

“Jordan’s Water Minister Mohammed Najjar said he has asked Western nations for donations to buy water for the refugees. Jordan suffers acute water shortages and has complained that the refugees were exhausting its limited resources.” Huff PostcWorld

Samantha Robison's art project

Samantha Robison’s art project

The desert and water. I comb the internet for positive news. I found this special story. Samantha Robison (twenty-seven years old) founder of AptART brought art  materials to the young people at the camp to give them a means of expression. The artwork is a wonderful gift here. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/23/aptart-samantha-robison_n_3640193.html

camp mapZaatari is a word that refers to a delicious Middle Eastern dish made up of wild oregano and toasted sesame seeds, I’m told. But maybe it means something else. The Arabic lexicon is illusive as I struggle for the root of the word. Food. My plum tree is heavy with fruit, tomatoes ready for salsa in jars. How can I justify living in a paradise garden while Syrians, some there I may have prayed with a decade ago, suffer such fear and uncertainty and the loss of nearly all that they value? I feel like the middle ground is being eroded, yet the only sane solution is to hold both extremes, the way I have held the unthinkable loss of my son, Solomon, a year and a half ago, held him in my heart along with the abundance of friends and beloved family. Sometimes one is in focus, sometimes the other, but all of this, every part — makes up my life and has inclusive value. So I look at this desert refuge camp, and I’m struck with the surreal thought that this is the time Burningman begins to come together a desert city — half the size of Zaatari — a celebration of life, way out in the Nevada desert. Two cities: one a sudden city of survival, the other — an enormous party of freedom and excess. Hold them both! I tell myself. May all beings have what they need NOW. May all have shelter, food and clean water, be well, safe, and happy.

the encampment of Burningman

the encampment of Burningman

Zaatari Refugee Camp

Zaatari Refugee Camp

More on this: http://arabist.net/blog/2013/4/2/the-zaatari-refugee-camp.html

 

 

 

 

Patience

Ya Sabur  I looked up patience. The Latin/English meaning is proportioned as a small donkey beside a great camel caravan of Arabic usage. Sabr means patience and much more.  The Oxford Dictionary, a somewhat thoughtful book, defines it as: “… the capacity to accept or tolerate suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” … from patiens, patientis (latin),  patient (patience) and “able to endure.”

Ya-Sabūr is the last Divine Name of the 99 Beautiful Names of Allah. There is a sense of accumulated development; one who continually manifests sabr is  called Sābirūn. This manifests “perfect equilibrium and moderation in all that he (she) does.”1

I’ve been reading about Fatima az-Zahra, daughter of Prophet Muhammad. Reading and reading. Writing about her life. Friends send me articles. Here’s a sentence from the Mafatih of prayers to Fatima. (The “He” is Allah.) When He tested you, He found you to be patient under affliction…2

Sabr means giving up complaining.  Something I work on constantly. When I am  at ease with someone, it seems to open a door that holds a closet of complaint and the furniture of annoyance spills out before I can press it shut. Here is the rectangular glass dish that seems to be coated with baked-on dark crust

camel-caravan-libya_43370that needs heavy scrubbing every time it lands in the sink. I complain. The stopped traffic. Mmm. Sabr means go easy. Make a joke about it. Be in the present. Gratitude seems to feed all the camels in the caravan of patience.

Cultivated sabr prepares you to withstand hardship. There is also a sub-meaning in the root (SaBaRa)  to bind, tie, or fetter — a no escape clause. Canned, preserved, food is called musabbarāt.

The great Sufi, Junaid, says, “Patience is swallowing a bitter draught with out displaying a frown or scowl.”3

And what of sabr as a jewel of mysticism? One of my favorite books, Physicians of the Heart notes: “As-Sabūr embodies development of complete inner capacity. It is a great container that enables a spiritual student to endure the long journey of the path…”  and  “….According to the story in the Qur‘an of Khidr and Moses, sabr is the one essential element for following the path of mystical union.”4  Why? Moses is unable to trust Al-Khidr, the one annihilated in truth; the one unveiling higher understanding while seeming to do cruel and harmful acts. Al-Khidr tells him,” You will not be able to have patience with me.”  Moses insists he will be patient. The master proves him wrong. The story hints and plays with the power of sabr. It takes up sixteen verses of the Qur‘an. 5

It occurs to me that deep patience is an antidote against anger and reactivity. The patient person contains his (her) reactions at the onset.  That is, being so very onto yourself, you could shoot an arrow across the spaciousness of your mind… and it would not reach the other side. I was amazed to see, after I’d written this that there is an expression for being “at the end of one’s patience” in Arabic that translates: “There is no arrow left for the bow of my patience!”

I am thinking as we age this is an essential quality — to be patient with all we can no longer do so well. Aging, limitation. My mother-in-law, Ilse, was quite graceful at turning her book-keeping over to my husband. Giving up driving was harder. She, a precise, well-organized woman could no longer do those things.

When the Prophet whispered to Fatima he would die soon, the advice he gave her was to keep sabr and taqwā, superficially translated as patient and fearful of God, 6 but the mystical meaning is “to remain steadfast on the path to Allah like holding a burning coal in one’s hands…”7

as-Sabur, beautiful calligraphy from Jordan

as-Sabur, beautiful calligraphy from Jordan

The inner meaning of taqwā is awareness of Unification, no separation. All is infused with God-consciousness. That was her father’s message to her. The timing of this message is good, as I have not been able to distill the story of Muhammad’s whispered message. Now maybe, I will.

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1  The Most Beautiful Names, compiled by Sheikh Tosum, 1985. p. 133.
2  Chittick, A Shiate Anthology, 1981. p. 18.
3 Shaikh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Sufficient Provision for Seekers of the Path of Truth,
vol. 5, 1997. p. 141.
4 Wali Ali Meyer, etc… Physicians of the Heart, p. 76.
5 Qu‘ran, 18:66-82. Also Talat Halman’s new book, Where the Two Seas Meet, 2013.                  
6 Hadith: (Bukhari, #8.301)
7 Hadith: Anas ibn Malik/ Al-Tirmidhi.

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