The Pope vs. The Donald


Why, oh, how did it come to be that the deranged Muppet that is Donald J. Trump is an actual contender for President of the United States?

I have a good friend who has spent the past three years in the Peace Corps, in a bleak post-Soviet country. She has been following the news here at home with flabbergasted dismay. Joking, but not, she has said that this development almost makes her not want to come back now that her term is up.

It’s not so much that Trump is running, but that he has found such a hearty following amongst our countrymen. I mean, honestly, no one thinks he is really going to go the distance. But what he is selling (master businessman that he is) is hate and fear and, God help us, a lot of us want to buy it.

How did it happen? One word: immigration.

The Donald has based his platform on an issue that plays to Americans’ lowest common denominator of xenophobia and knee-jerk defensiveness.  Trump the capitalist maven knows that “hot button marketing” is an actual thing —in other words: appeal to people’s basest fears in order to make them buy what you’re selling. Sadly, this technique has proven effective in the marketplace. (Does the presidential election = the marketplace? This is a question for another day.)

But obviously Trump’s cries have struck a nerve:

Build a wall! Ship ‘em out! Don’t let the “rapists”  come in and take our jobs and use up our services and destroy our country.

It’s not just here, either. The refugee crises abroad that are wrenching our hearts stem from the same sentiment: NIMBY. We don’t want ‘em. Send ‘em back.

This is all very far from the ideals of openness and pluralism that founded our fine nation. What happened to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?”  As even schoolchildren know, America is a country of immigrants. Trump himself is a child of immigrants (and don’t even ask about the national status of his numerous wives…)

The Pope gets it: “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.

As our growing nation struggled throughout history with these questions, different approaches emerged. John F. Kennedy wrote a whole book about it.

Ronald Reagan had this to say:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…”

Maybe Trump doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying and it’s all just a (successful) marketing ploy. Even if so, it is unfortunate that his invective is getting so much airtime.

Now the Pope has come and gone, and he says: “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart. Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remain truly convincing.” Amen.

Thank Heaven, the Pope’s is a voice of sanity, humanity and acceptance of the current global reality that evidently a bunch of Americans just can’t grasp. This is the new normal. Ideas, currency, germs, etc. are obviously not constrained by national borders anymore. Neither are bodies–if ever they were.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it must come from a place of: 1) acceptance; 2) triumph over fear; 3) international co-operation; 4) morality and compassion. Pope Francis is adding these to the conversation when he says things like: “Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home.

Now, more than ever, it is clear that we indeed have one (global) home, no matter where we were born, have lived, or are moving.

May words like the Pope’s drown out the shrill exclamations of hostility and fear that have found such willing ears. And may our country rise in this strange new landscape like that beacon of tolerance and hope that it was founded to be.

That, Mr. Trump, might even “make America great again.”

Nature vs. Nurture

About 3 weeks ago, a mockingbird family took up residence in the jasmine arbor that surrounds our front stoop. We looked on with delight as Mama flew back and forth between the nest and the crepe myrtle trees along the steps, and listened to the little nestlings’ funny cries right outside our front windows—like a squeaky swingset: EE-aw EE-aw . . .

We cleared out fast when she seemed to think we might be lingering a minute too long on the step . . . her (or were they Dad’s?) threatening displays of chest-puffing, wing-beating, and strident vocalizing were clues that were hard to miss.

Today the birdbabies reached a milestone: instead of the wobbly beaks we’d been seeing wavering up from the nest as we passed by, we saw actual feathered birds, perched on the edge…

I was grateful the nest hung over our soft green lawn—having witnessed some less forgiving fledgling situations in Brooklyn. Like . . . Fledgling Situations—with poor, puny birdlings lurching across the sidewalk while hungry dogs looked on . . .

Good Lord these babies on our porch were cute—they had this funny, wispy hairdo I’ve never seen on a bird before . . .

For a couple of days we marinated in joy and dread in equal measure: would there be a Fledgling Situation?

I tried to practice isvara pranidhanam—total surrender of my individual will to some greater Will (see Yoga Sutras, II:45)

I repeated the mantra:It is not up to me to raise these birds. Thy will be done.”

But I knew from experience it was likely there would be a few hiccups before the little guys were successfully launched from their nest . . .

The days passed without incident. No attempted launchings. No need for me to do anything about them . . . until:

Tonight I was leaving the house around 7pm, when something caught my eye on the corner of the bottom step–

OH NO!!!

A dead birdbaby. Flattened against the bricks, on its side, scrawny, scaly legs pulled in, eyes closed . . .

Setting aside my evening plans, I went back inside for a soft cloth, planning to wrap the poor thing and bury it in the back yard But when I picked it up, I felt life–


A tiny silent pulsating.

Its mouth opened and closed noiselessly (no more squeaky swing set.)

I held it to my breast, whispering soothing nothings (even singing, at one point, the same poignant lullaby I had sung to my daughter when she, too, was a scrawny newborn teetering on the precipice of life) until I could find the key to the garage and bring out the tall ladder.

I put the baby back in the nest (inciting no small degree of distress amongst its birdbrothers and sisters) And . . . hoped for the best.

I know nature does its own thing, and I know better (usually) than to interfere.

But, damn it, nature is not always kind. In fact, nature can be kind of a heartless bitch.

What was I going to do? Just walk on past the sad little pile of feathers on my very own doorstep and pretend I hadn’t seen it? Clearly not.

So, in spite of my mantra, I got involved.

I pray the critter is okay in there tonight, nestled back with its maybe-not-so-friendly siblings (I read somewhere that the stronger baby birds will sometimes push the runt out of the nest. Ya know, Darwin and all . . .but, Darwin be darned, I was there and I saw that little runt on the bricks and I could not un-see it.)

These birds, God love them, did not choose to build their nest off in the forest somewhere. They chose to build it in my front doorway, right here in one of the more urban areas of Savannah. So if nasty old nature was going to take her course, I was going to be part of that course.

Isvara pranidhanam. Thy will be done.

I, too, as the birds, am part of the fabric of nature. And if it is indeed true that only we humans enjoy free will, not to mention opposable thumbs (not sure how Mama Bird would have lifted her kid back into the nest . . . )

Let’s use it. Not to contravene nature, but maybe, once in a while, to be the deus ex machina—perhaps even the agents of miracle? where we see that we might.


And Namaste,



Only in Savannah would you find purebred puppies running loose in the streets.

 We have had a wild ride the last day or so:  one of the city’s many stray dogs literally arrived on our doorstep late yesterday afternoon.

 I had gone out front to sit on the brick steps for five minutes and bask in their accumulated heat, which I often do when it’s cold inside the house (the sun is always shining in Savannah!)

 I hadn’t been there a moment before a scruffy little dog trotted by, sans owner.  I craned my neck down the block, trying to see if someone was with him . . . very soon it was clear he was traveling solo.

 The four-lane highway to the beach (US Route 80) runs one block parallel to us, so whenever I see a loose dog, I make an effort to grab him before he makes his way toward certain doom amidst the fast-moving traffic so nearby.

 This one was no effort at all.  I made one small kissy noise from my stoop, and he was in my lap—not to move from there for the next 24 hours.  (I have always had an image of myself as a big-dog kind of gal.  Indeed, the only dog I ever owned was a German Shepherd-y mutt.)  This little Yorkie showed me the joys of small dog ownership.

 In the car running errands, there he was, standing on short hind legs to peer out the window.  In the back yard he clambered into my chair.  On the couch he was a cuddle monster.

 Sure, he had his vices . . . in spite of our cat’s extremely gracious and tolerant welcome, he behaved like a spastic derp—alienating her at first, only to be given a second (and a third, and a fourth) chance, and blowing it then, too . . .

 An un-neutered male, he developed a disturbing relationship with a treat-filled Kong toy we offered him (I won’t go into detail, lest this post cross over out of G-rating).  He had clearly never learned to walk on a leash.  He smelled strongly doggy (but in that good, maple-syrup sort of way).   His bark earned him the middle name “Chuckles” from my daughter—the high-pitched, breathy yap sounded almost like laughing, even though it was plaintive.

 But he was a total sweetheart.  He adopted our family instantly—barking at passersby that first night.  Jumping for joy when reunited after brief separation . . . everyone who saw him fell in love with him.

 I wanted to keep him.  I had an inkling he might have come from “the wrong side of the tracks,” and I thought it likely that he might vanish into the vast statistics of “strays” here in Savannah . .  . Even though we made sure to do our due diligence (calling Animal Control, Humane Society, posting “Found Dog” flyers all throughout the neighborhood, an ad on Craig’s List, and even in the PennyPincher, a posting on the board at the neighborhood veterinarian’s office), I thought he was likely to slip through the socioeconomic divide . . . and become mine.

 We had two near-miss responses to our postings by noon, and I was growing more and more certain he would be ours, when a terse reply came through via CraigsList:  “I saw your posting and that’s my puppy Ian.  Call me.”  We agreed to meet in the nearby park, and, sure enough, it was a bona fide match.

 Ian (pronounced Ee-on, it turned out, and dubbed by our daughter “Sir Martin Chuckles of Yorkshire”) was not ours, after all.  It was a quick turnaround.

 When his true family pulled up to claim him, Grandma got out of the van and held out her arms, real tears in her eyes.  Ee-on bounded toward her.  Then a daughter, barely 20, and her bi-racial son (who evidently called the dog “Brother”) reunited as well, scooping the little dog into a family hug.  Grandma said, “Oh, thank God, thank God, we didn’t sleep last night.  [Daughter] was crying and crying, and . . . oh, thank God . . . “

 Well.  That was quite the reframe for me, because I too had hardly slept last night, and also on account of Ee-on.  But for me it was because he was barking, or scritching at himself or the bedroom door, or noisily humping his Kong.  Or because I was worried he would pee in my bedroom, the way he had several times in the PetSmart when we went to get him food and a leash (and that Kong) . . .

But that other family—Ee-on’s real family—hadn’t slept because they were frantic with worry.  They were imagining him dead by the side of Highway 80.  They were grieving in advance the loss of this furry angel who had kept them company through a teen pregnancy, a father away in military service, a life of economic scarcity . . .

 That simple sentence:

“We didn’t sleep last night.”

meant such very different things for us, respectively.  We couldn’t sleep because we had the puppy.  They couldn’t sleep because they didn’t.

 The strange, mirror-image nature of this fact reminded me of the yoga idea called pratipaksha bhavanam —or turnaround:

When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of.  This is pratipaksha bhavana. (Yoga Sutras II.33)

I have always understood this concept to mean substituting positive thoughts for negative ones . . . but maybe it just means to bring our awareness to our perspective of a situation.  And realize that there might be others.  This also makes me think of The Work of Byron Katie.

 Anyway . . . as Grandma hugged me tight and thanked me, still crying from joy, I could see clearly from this more panoramic perspective.  While I honestly mourned “losing” my temporary companion, I was glad at the same time that he was going back home.  I could see both sides of the coin.

 Things sure seem a lot quieter around the house today now that Ee-on has gone.  At least the cat is happy about that.


Be the Light

Whole Foods Market just opened in Savannah, right around the time we moved here last summer.

Last night I dreamed I was shopping in some dream-time Whole Foods.  In my dream the store was a big glass box, surrounded by a huge parking lot (not all that different from our day-time WFM.)  Inside I was shopping, along with other people like me, for baked brie and satsumas, avocadoes, pork loin, Prosecco and chocolate truffles.

Outside, on the other side of the four walls of glass (dream WFM), indigent people were camping in the parking lot.  They were not trying to get in. They were just there.  One of them lay sick on the blacktop.  Others were huddled amidst the Christmas tree display under the eaves.  These were people on the edge of subsistence.  No baked brie for them.  Shopping in my dream I felt ill, knowing they were out there, seeing them out there.  But I continued to shop.  I checked out, with the bright-faced, Christmas-bedecked cashier (likely a graduate from the local elite art school).  Walked blindly past the parking lot people to my fancy little car.

Well.  This morning I happened to need a few things from Whole Foods shortly after they opened at 8am.  Holiday madness in full swing, the store was pretty busy, even that early.  When it came time to check out, only one register was open, plus the Express lane.  In the Regular lane was a lady with a towering shopping cart, so I opted for the Express (I think I had less than 15 items).  Only one person was in front of me:  quick.

As I stood there, a gentleman joined the line behind me, tailed by some seemingly managerial Whole Foods employee.  The man was older, black, rather disheveled.  Not the usual clientele.  The manager was speaking rapidly to the man (I couldn’t make out what he was saying), then I heard the older customer loudly proclaim, “I GOT money to pay!”  The man had assembled a modest plate from the hot-food breakfast buffet—his sole purchase–some scrambled eggs, a biscuit, some potatoes . . .

The manager bustled away (presumably in search of higher authority), and it was just me and breakfast man in line.

When my turn came, the checker began scanning my items:  spinach-artichoke dip, dark chocolate, organic toothpaste, Roquefort cheese, hydroponic lettuce . . .

After twenty seconds or so of this, I turned to the man behind me and asked, “Can I buy your breakfast?”

Clutching his five-dollar bill, he gaped at me with surprisingly pale blue (cataracted?) eyes:  “You would do that for me?”

Of course.  Done.  A no-brainer. (The cost of his breakfast was $3.47.)

He was effusive:  “Merry Christmas!”  “God is good!”  “I love you!” “Have a blessed day!”

I do not recount this story just to show y’all what a great good person I am.  I know we all find and act on these little opportunities often.

It just was a pretty interesting confluence—what with my dream the very night before, with Savannah’s many different worlds bumping up against each other, with Christmas . . .

Once again I am struck by the simple ends my spirit seeks—as I have said here before, mostly I just want to be kind—and, in contrast,  the elaborate trappings of a 21-st century “spiritual path”:  expensive outfits, impressive gymnastics, exotic retreats, starvation diets that cost hundreds of dollars . . .

Just be kind.  That was the take-home today.  When faced with a choice to be kind or be blind, be kind.

Now is the time.  Christmas time, all the time.  The world is in darkness.

Be the light.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Merry Christmas.

And Namaste,


Out of Gas

Dear Sunoco Service Station Guy in Devil’s Crotch Virginia:

I’m sorry I was an a**hole.  Let me explain:

We set off Tuesday morning for Georgia, from Brooklyn, with my small family in two cars.  I was driving a rental car with kiddo and kitty cat in the back seat.

The day was warm.  No, the day was already stinkin’ 90-something degrees by 9am.  Immediately it became clear we had made a mistake not to sedate the cat (something we have done every other time she has traveled).   By Metuchen, NJ (35 miles into our 800-mile journey), she had pooped, peed, and passed out in her carrier.  Not to mention she was howling the whole time.

So we stopped and took care of her for an hour or two, then got back on the road.

Due to the earlier delays, we reached Washington D.C. at rush hour.  Traffic was heavy, and inching along at 20 mph for dozens of miles.  I had made the unfortunate choice to have an Oreo McFlurry for lunch.

By 5pm or so, I was dehydrated, glucose-challenged, (oh, and I forgot to say that the total number of hours slept in the 3 days leading up to this journey totaled probably 15).  I was completely out of gas.  And the car had about an eighth of a tank.  So, even though we hadn’t seen one of those easy-off service areas in many miles, I pulled off to fuel up.

The first station we saw was a Sunoco.  Quite crowded, but with a few pumps miraculously empty.  I drove up to one, and saw a sign:

Pump credit card reader does not work.  Please pay inside store or use another pump.

I tried another empty pump.  Same message.  Well, the store was a good 400 yards away across the hot blacktop, and kitty was starting to drool and pant again, so I waited (a LONG time) for a different pump to open up.

Long story short, that pump also couldn’t read my card, and neither could the next one (even though neither had the out-of-order card on them), and I was in and out of that store six times while the kid and the cat baked in the car, and after pump number two didn’t work (by this time it had been almost an hour since we had left the freeway for a fuel stop that would ordinarily have taken a few minutes), and you behind the counter were trying to say something, in a pretty hard to understand accent, about did I lift the nozzle, I just lost it.

I didn’t swear at you or call names or anything, but I was . . . well, an a**hole.  The three people I cut in line who were buying cigarettes, or Slim Jims, or 42-ounce sodas (Mayor Bloomberg would NOT approve) looked at me with disgust as I demanded you return my credit card, stomped out of there, got in the car, and drove off without my gas.

Now it is two days later, and I am thinking of you, working in that convenience store, in that godforsaken Virginia town.  You probably have a family, too.  Probably a kid, or maybe a bunch.  Pets.  Problems.  Likely a good deal worse than mine.  I am sure you encounter many rude people every day.

I didn’t want to be one of them!!  I kinda think it doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in my pretty yoga room doing poses, if I charge ungracefully through the social interactions (large and small) that make up the rest of my life.

There was a video circulating on the internet a while back.  It showed people acting like jerks, then it went back and showed all that was really going on in the backgrounds of their lives.   The guy who cut you off in traffic?  Maybe he was rushing to the hospital to get to his sick wife.  The woman who scowled at you in Starbucks?  Maybe she just had eye surgery.  I think the point was:  never assume that someone is just an a**hole.  Maybe there is another explanation.

Obviously you didn’t know, sir, what was going on in the background for me, and neither is it an excuse for my bad behavior.  Maybe what I need is not your compassion, but self-compassion.   I think that day I just needed to get back to basics–enough sleep, proper food, and that would have been a start . . . 

In that moment of complete nervous system overwhelm, I could not even remember any more sophisticated tools.  Did I stop and breathe consciously?  Did I pray?  Chant OM?  Did I use any of the helpful tips Yoga Journal sends me in emails?

I did not.  Instead I cried and cursed to myself and jumped up and down like Rumplestiltskin on the steaming asphalt.

Forget about advanced pranayama, awakening energy centers, pretzel-y postures, or any of it.

I just would like to be able to be a kind human being most of the time.

And to you, man behind the counter at that Sunoco station in Virginia, I was not.

I would like to have met you, whom I know as a soul with fears, needs, struggles, joys, just like my own, from a different, clearer, more peaceful part of me.

Tuesday afternoon, I could not.

My sincere apologies,

and Namaste,