Losing a Community – Lessons of Stan Lee

Losing a Community – Lessons of Stan Lee

2018.11.13

Growing Community

 

With pen and paper, Stan Lee created communities of fiction that, sometimes, became fact.  All of the quotes in today’s posts are his.  Stan lee passed away earlier this week at the age of 95 but his legacy will live on in his characters but more importantly in their examples and dialogue.

 

Two weeks ago I happened upon an advertisement for a house in Calabasas, California.  I still am not sure what I entered into the search engine to arrive at this site and yet, intrigued by the house pictures, I happily spent twenty minutes there.  It was a real estate website and the houses featured were gorgeous – large, sprawling, and guaranteed to make anyone envious.  Yesterday, as I watched the national news about the horrific wildfires in California, something looked familiar.  Then I realized it was part of one of the houses from my earlier search in Calabasas.  Sure enough, the captions showed I was correct with the location. 

 

The community I had so envied fourteen days ago was not smoldering rubble.  No one would be envious of those who had lost their home.  Fourteen days ago the houses I had viewed online seemed flawless and one would have assumed that their owners led charmed lives.  “No one has a perfect life.  Everybody has something that he wishes was not the way it is.”

 

When we think about community, as I mentioned last week, we tend to think of a homogenous area where people share many things in common.  Today, many families in Calabasas are sharing grief and horror.  “I think people have always loved things that are bigger than life, things that are imaginative.”  I was certainly envious of those mansions I had viewed online.  They not only tweaked my envy but my imagination.  I had spent time pretending I lived there, happily forgetting the knee pain the winding grand staircases would have increased or the problems in cleaning the yardage of windows.

 

This had been a community of my dreams but not of my reality.  I could not fathom having clothes and shoes enough to fill the massive walk-in closets.  In truth, I would not enjoy such but still, for a brief time, it was fun to imagine living in such a community. 

 

“Every day, there’s a new development…There’s no limit to the things that are happening.”  The day after I had perused those impeccably designed grand manors in the California community of Calabasas, I looked about my own much more modest abode.  It was time to do fall cleaning and prepare for holiday decorating.  Suddenly I was very happy to have thousands less square footage as I had more than enough to clean and declutter.  I was content to live in my own community.  Now two weeks later I grieve for those very people I had recently envied.  Their homes were consumed by a fire that cared little for their grandeur.  Now, instead of needed my admiration for their magnificent lives, they needed assistance from ordinary people like me.

 

Farther north another wildfire raged and a family with a one-year-old toddler had to leave everything and evacuate.  As they sat far away from the fire that leveled much of their hometown of Paradise, they understandably wondered if their home was now a pile of ashes.  Suddenly they received a Face Book message from a stranger asking about their address in Paradise.  An ambulance loaded with patients had been stuck in the town of Paradise.  The nurses and patients had sought refuge in this family’s garage.  The Borden family home had provided protection from the raging fire which created a community of those rescued and this family.

 

Community is not just a geographical location and through organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others, we can create our own community and be super heroes.  “America is made of different races and different religions, but we’re all co-travelers on the spaceship Earth and must respect and help each other along the way.”

 

Stan Lee once said that the greatest super power is the ability to help another.  Today we have the opportunity to help our community by rendering aid to those devastated by these wildfires.  We also need to look ahead and enact policies that will reduce such in the future.  We cannot control Mother Nature; she is a super character in her own right.  We can, however, plan, prepare, and protect for future generations. 

 

“It’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race – to despise an entire nation – to vilify an entire religion….There is only one who is all powerful, and his greatest weapon is love…. We all wish we had superpowers.  We all wish we could more than we can do.”  We can do something, however, and we should.  “Life is never completely without its challenges. … The power of prayer is still the greatest ever known in this endless eternal universe.”

 

There has always been much discussion about the afterlife but perhaps we need to focus on the community of the here and now.  When we insist on derisiveness and division rather than building community, then we lose not only today’s communities but the chance for those of tomorrow.  We need to be the super heroes of today and offer whatever aid we can to our fellow man.  This is how we grow a community, even one that appears to have been lost.  After all, things are only lost when we stop giving them value.  As long as we value community, we will create it.  Then we will all be super heroes.  

 

 

 

 

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

2018.09.12

 

One of the oldest forms of being creative is often one of the most overlooked and underappreciated – sewing.  Early humankind needed coverings and the art of sewing created them.  Sewing is much more than simply joining two pieces of fabric, though.   It also includes decorative stitches and the art of quilting.  Grammy-winning pop musician Mary J Blige is an avid quilter, explaining that “I like to do interior design; I love to quilt.  I love to see different colors together, and I love to match thing up.”

 

Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. In this way, it has been practiced for decades.  The origin of embroidery can be dated back to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000 BC. During a recent archaeological find, fossilized remains of heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing, boots and a hat were found.  In Siberia, around 5000 and 6000 B.C. elaborately drilled shells stitched with decorative designs onto animal hides were discovered. Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 B.C. where pictures depict embroidery of clothing with silk thread, precious stones and pearls. Examples of surviving Chinese chain stitch embroidery worked in silk thread have also been found and dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC).

 

Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment. Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations show people wearing thread-embroidered clothing.

 

Thicker filaments were woven into heavy yarn and today, some acrylic yarn is made from recycled water bottles.  Can we do sewing with these and call it being creative?  The answer is a resounding yes and this type of sewing is known as crochet… sometimes.  Ruthie Marks explains:  “You and I call it crochet, and so do the French, Belgians, Italians and Spanish-speaking people. The skill is known as haken in Holland, haekling in Denmark, hekling in Norway and virkning in Sweden. … No one is quite sure when and where crochet got its start. The word comes from croc, or croche, the Middle French word for hook, and the Old Norse word for hook is krokr.

 

American crochet expert Annie Potter, has a different theory: “The modem art of true crochet as we know it today was developed during the 16th century. It became known as ‘crochet lace’ in France and ‘chain lace’ in England.” She also refers to a 1916 visit by Walter Edmund Roth to descendants of the Guiana Indians in which Roth found examples of true crochet.

 

Fiber arts researcher Lis Paludan of Denmark, who limited her search for the origins of crochet to Europe, puts forth three interesting theories. One: Crochet originated in Arabia, spread eastward to Tibet and westward to Spain, from where it followed the Arab trade routes to other Mediterranean countries. Two: Earliest evidence of crochet came from South America, where a primitive tribe was said to have used crochet adornments in rites of puberty. Three: In China, early examples were known of three-dimensional dolls worked in crochet.  But, says Paludan, the bottom line is that there is “no convincing evidence as to how old the art of crochet might be or where it came from. It was impossible to find evidence of crochet in Europe before 1800. A great many sources state that crochet has been known as far back as the 1500s in Italy under the name of ‘nun’s work’ or ‘nun’s lace,’ where it was worked by nuns for church textiles,” she says. Her research turned up examples of lace-making and a kind of lace tape, many of which have been preserved, but “all indications are that crochet was not known in Italy as far back as the 16th century”- under any name.

 

Another form of fiber arts is knitting.  Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment or some other type of fabric. The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot. Its origins lie in the basic human need for clothing for protection against the elements. More recently, hand knitting has become less a necessary skill and more a hobby.

 

Knit as a word in English has probably come from Knot meaning to tie. In old English there are references to ‘knit/ knitting’ meaning to draw close, (knitting the brows), which we even use today. More often than not the history of a word, tells us a lot about the craft, e.g. ‘weaving’ as a word exists in many languages, but knitting does not. There is no ancient Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit word for knitting.  The art of combining fibers to make fabric is where weaving got its start but why some languages use the two terms interchangeably is unknown. 

  

Like the other forms of creativity we are discussing this week, the needle arts also have health benefits.  Anna Deen listed them for AllFreeSewing.com:  Sewing is a relaxing alternative to watching TV and scrolling on our computers. Screen time leads to a sensory overload—while watching your favorite TV show may seem relaxing, such an activity is actually tiring and leads to feelings of unrest and unhappiness. However, because sewing is a purposeful, completion-based activity, you actually feel relaxed, focused, and accomplished while sewing!  Sewing is a great social activity with which to meet people and form sewing groups, get advice, and build relationships with others who share similar interests. You can join both online groups as well as attend in-person meet ups to build sewing communities and friendships.  Focusing on one activity helps relieve stress and focus your thoughts after a long day. By focusing on sewing, you become mindful of concentrating on one activity at a time, which helps you feel relaxed.

 

 Additionally, there are mental health benefits as well.  Sewing can help decrease levels of depression? When you do an activity that you enjoy (like sewing!), your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which is a natural antidepressant. By sewing, your brain releases dopamine which makes you feel happy and decreases depression.  Working through a sewing pattern gives you a sense of accomplishment. This feeling of accomplishment improves your levels of self-esteem and confidence. The high confidence levels you get from sewing help you overcome hurdles in other parts of your life.

 

At its most basic, sewing and the other fiber arts require us to focus both physically and mentally on a task. It’s hard to sew if you’re not paying attention – many a pricked finger stands testament to this. So if you’re concentrating on your sewing you can’t be worrying about what to give the kids for supper, or fretting about problems at work.  Monica Baird, pain specialist at the Royal United Hospital Bath states “It changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.”  It also improves eye-hand coordination and assist the elderly in emotional, social, and cognitive skills.

 

 A stitch in time might just save your sanity and increase your life span, as well as helping clothe someone and decorate one’s abode.  By the way, that famous quote goes like this:   “A stitch in time saves nine” and means an action taken now will prevent problems later.  It was first used by the English astronomer Francis Baily, in his Journal, written in 1797 and published in 1856 by Augustus De Morgan:  After a little while we acquired a method of keeping her [a boat] in the middle of the stream, by watching the moment she began to vary, and thereby verifying the… proverb, ‘”A stitch in time saves nine.”   By being creative with the needle arts, a stitch in time might just increase your life span.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

2018.08.09

Literature and Life

 

In 2014, writing for “The Guardian” Alison Flood reported that a survey reveals that 54% of traditionally-published authors and almost 80% of go-it-alone writers made less than $1,000 a year.  Over nine thousand writers took part in the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, presented at the 2014 Digital Book World conference.   The survey group was composed of beginning writers to highly acclaimed, well-published authors and then divided the 9,210 respondents into four camps: aspiring, self-published only, traditionally-published only, and hybrid (both self-published and traditionally-published).  More than 65% of those who filled out the survey described themselves as aspiring authors, with 18% self-published, 8% traditionally-published and 6% saying they were pursuing hybrid careers.  Just over 77% of self-published writers acknowledged they made $1,000 or less a year, with “a startlingly high 53.9% of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6% of hybrid authors, reporting their earnings are below the same threshold.  A tiny proportion – 0.7% of self-published writers, 1.3% of traditionally-published, and 5.7% of hybrid writers – reported making more than $100,000 a year from their writing. The profile of the typical author in the sample was ‘a commercial fiction writer who might also write non-fiction and who had a project in the works that might soon be ready to publish’,” according to Flood’s report.

 

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite quotes about writing: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”  It was said by today’s featured author, Jane Austen.   Jane Austen is a world- renowned English author who completed just six works during her time.  Few have such a small portfolio that have managed to command the legion of fans around the world that Jane Austen has. Her timeless stories have been turned into a plethora of movies, television shows, and modern adaptations in addition to being translated into multiple languages to cross cultural boundaries. Today she remains as popular as ever and is revered as much as any literary figure in the history of the English language.

 

During her lifetime Austen wrote approximately 3,000 letters but only about 160 survive.[6] Many of the letters were written to Austen’s older sister Cassandra, who in 1843 burned the greater part of them and cut pieces out of those she kept. Ostensibly Cassandra destroyed or censored her sister’s letters to prevent their falling into the hands of relatives and ensuring that “younger nieces did not read any of Jane Austen’s sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbors or family members”.  Cassandra believed that in the interest of tact and Jane’s penchant for forthrightness, these details should be destroyed.   Ironically it is the humor and wit of Austen’s characters that have made her writings so popular and timeless.

 

Austen lived a relatively short life, even for the time period and yet, she read many books, volumes of poetry, and plays.  Some of her favorites included “The Corsair” by Lord Byron and “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Anne Radcliffe.  Her all-time favorite was reportedly said to have been “Sir Charles Grandison” by Samuel Richardson.  Austen endeavored to incorporate Richardson’s epistolary style in her own writing, but found the flexibility of narrative more conducive to her realism, a realism in which each conversation and gesture carries a weight of significance. This narrative style utilized free indirect speech – she was the first English novelist to do so extensively – through which she had the ability to present a character’s thoughts directly to the reader and yet still retain narrative control. The style allowed her to vary discourse between the narrator’s voice and values and those of the story’s characters.  Jane Austen is considered one of the best authors to have used syntax and tone in the presentation of not only the characters but also the plot and storyline progression.

 

Critic Robert Polhemus once said “To appreciate the drama and achievement of [Jane] Austen, we need to realize how deep was her passion for both reverence and ridicule … and her comic imagination reveals both the harmonies and the telling contradictions of her mind and vision as she tries to reconcile her satirical bias with her sense of the good.”  Austen herself proclaimed:  “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!  How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! … but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.”

 

 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

2018.08.06

Literature and Life

 

Few writers have failed on so many things and yet made all those failures successful as Mark Twain did.  He apprenticed as a typesetter and printer and then turned to mining.  He penned a story he heard in a California bar with the unlikely name of “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County”.  It became a worldwide sensation, published in both English and French.  Mark Twain became known for his wit and his satire in prose and in public speaking gained him the friendship and support of American presidents, European royalty, fellow artists and writers, as well as industrialists.  He would earn a fortune and then just as easily lose it.

 

Mark Twain is perhaps best known for his “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” so no one should be surprised that among his favorite books he listed “Le Morte d’ Arthur” by Sir Thomas Mallory.  Twain took the tales of King Arthur and spun them into the story of an American lad with a little of his second favorite book, “The Arabian Knights” thrown in for good measure.  Another successful and noted American author, William Faulkner< called Mark Twain “the father of American literature” while many others consider him the greatest humorist the United States has ever had.

 

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 and his life was not an easy one.  Three of his siblings died before reaching the age of twelve and when Twain was eleven years old, his father also died.  He himself dropped out of school at age twelve to work, later educating himself at the public libraries he would frequent.  His one goal in life was to become a steamboatman.  “Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary – from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and no board to pay.”  Twain considered the pilot’s job the most important of all as  the pilot had to “get up a warm personal acquaintanceship with every old snag and one-limbed cottonwood and every obscure wood pile that ornaments the banks of this river for twelve hundred miles; and more than that, must… actually know where these things are in the dark.”

 

Mark Twain did become a steamboat pilot although it took him two years to earn his pilot license.  His pen name came from the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.  Twain worked as a pilot on the Mississippi River until the second year of the War Between the States and then joined his brother in the Nevada Territory.  In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City, including a tour of Europe and the Middle East.  It was on this trip that he met a young man and, upon seeing a picture of his sister, fell in love at first sight.  He later married the man’s sister.  The lived in New York state, Connecticut, and then Europe.  Mark Twain died in New York City after the death of two of his daughters and his beloved wife. 

 

Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach in 1835.  In 1909 he remarked upon this:  “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.”  Twain was a great friend of Nikolas Tesla and the only surviving film of Twain was taken by another scientist, Thomas Edison.  Twain also financed a girls’ science club in NYC. 

 

In recent years the works of Mark Twain have been subject to censorship for his brilliant use of the colloquialisms of the period.  I understand how several derogatory terms would be painful but I personally feel that serve to further educate us and exemplify the inequities that existed.  Such knowledge could, if utilized, prevent future discrimination and continued politics that encourage such. 

 

Upon hearing of Twain’s death, President William Howard Taft said: “Mark Twain gave pleasure – real intellectual enjoyment – to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come … His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.”  He wrote of the common man, used humor to unite the different social classes, and through it all, was as much a knight of the round table of the world as any that ever graced the world in literature and in life.

 

 

 

 

Beauty Within and Outside

Beauty Within and Outside

2018.07.21

Pentecost 2018

 

Two years ago we delved into mythology during Pentecost and this is a reposting of one of those posts.  The ancient world used mythology to explain both their world and their curiosity.  Generally there were the villainous gods and goddesses but there were more those of goodness and beauty.  In all the mythologies there was a relatable aspect to each and every deity.  They served as a point of reference for understanding ourselves and our fellow man.  Perhaps when looking within our own beings to find that which is good and beautiful, we should reflect back on the mythologies of the past.

 

In Norse mythology we found ourselves almost in a comic book with their gods and goddesses reminiscent of action heroes.  With Celtic mythology, it was as if we had walked through a tome of literature with their wood nymphs and magical spirits reflecting the basis for the stories and movies of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.  Greek and Roman mythology proudly proclaimed with great statues their mythologies, some of which still stand today as do columns from their great temples.

 

In the mythologies of the Far and Near East, you will be excused if you sometimes forget we are not walking through a lovely botanical garden.  I think these emphasized more than any others all of creation in explaining how nature played a most important role in their legends and admonitions for better living.  As we will learn, it is not unusual for one object such as a flower to have multiple meanings, depending of the myth or spirituality being discussed. 

 

The lotus flower is one such example.  Known officially as the “sacred lotus”, this aquatic plant holds a major place in the mythology of India.  Before we discuss its spiritual aspects, though, let’s discuss its physical ones for they also are something a bit magical.  The delicate white and pink flower grows on top of thick stems that look almost like stalks.  The roots of the lotus plant are firmly planted in the soil at the bottom of a fresh water pond or river.  Lotus plants usually grow to an average height of five feet, or about 150 centimeters, spreading horizontally to a little over three feet or one hundred and eighteen inches.  The leaves of the plant themselves can reach a span of over twenty-three inches or 60 centimeters while the blossoms can be up to almost eight inches in diameter or 20 centimeters.

 

Of greater interest to botanists is how the lotus plant seems to regulate its flower in spite of its environment. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia discovered lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Garden maintained a constant temperature of 30-35 degrees Centigrade or 86-95 degrees Fahrenheit in spite of the ambient temperature of the surrounding environment dropping to 10 degrees Centigrade or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Nelumbo nucifera, the scientific name for the sacred lotus is also called the Indian lotus, or the Bean of India.  It plays, as mentioned before, an important role in the mythologies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  Hindus worship the lotus in connection to the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Kubera as well as the goddesses Lakshmi, and Saraswati.  Vishnu is often called the “Lotus-Eyed One” and used as an example of beauty and purity.  It is said that the lotus flower booms from the navel of Vishnu and uncovers the creator god Brahma in the lotus position of yoga.  The unfolding petals of the flower are symbolic of the expansion of one’s soul and the promise of potential.  The Hindu interpret the blossoming of such a pure white flower from the mud of its roots as a spiritual promise.  Brahma and Lakshmi are the spirits associated with potency and wealth and also have the lotus as their symbol. 

 

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is symbolic of creation and renewal as well as original purity.  It is mentioned in one of the sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita:  “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.  Not surprisingly, the lotus is also connected with other Eastern spiritualities.  The Chinese scholar and student of Confucius Zhou Dunyi said: “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”

 

The petals of a lotus blossom are said to have once numbered over a thousand and the thousand-petal lotus is a symbol of unending spiritual enlightenment.  It is more common to find an eight-petal lotus, although only five are original petals, the other three a modification from the stamen.  Considered one of the “eight auspicious signs” of Buddhism and Hinduism, the eight-petal lotus is also used in Buddhist mandalas.  [Mandalas were discussed in our Advent 2014 series and I hope you have been able to find some to view.  There are now coloring books for adults that feature mandalas and it is a most relaxing way to leave the real world and connect spiritually while relaxing and meditating.]

 

The eight petals of the lotus also relate to the Nobel Eightfold path of the Good Law of Hari Krishna and the eight petals of the white lotus correspond to the Noble Eightfold Path of the Good Law. This lotus is found at the heart of the Garbhadhatu Mandala, regarded as the womb or embryo of the world.  Many Deities of Asian Mythology are illustrated on a lotus flower.  According to some myths, everywhere the Gautama Buddha walked, lotus flowers appeared and blossomed. 

 

Hopefully today wherever we walk we will also leave a trail of beauty.  First, though, we must open our eyes to all that is around us and see the beauty within as well as portrayed by the outer appearance.  Each of us had the muddiness of a past but with faith and good deeds, we can blossom and leave the world a better place.  We all are a thing of great beauty in our being.

A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

2018.07.15

Pentecost 2018

 

We often think of “separation of church and state” as a means of keeping politics and religion separate.  Recently in India it has become a way of one faction’s campaign of lies being used to usurp power and gain control.  West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted on Thursday, July 12th, that the religious order founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta – more popularly known simply as Mother Teresa – is being targeted by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is affiliated with a Hindu nationalist group.  Although the state government is run by the BJP, the state has a large proportion of India’s marginalized tribal people, who exist outside of Hinduism’s traditional caste system, and many of them have become Christian as the Christian church has done much to improve their quality of live, standard of living, and educational opportunities.  Jharkhand has a Christian population double the national average.  The BJP has even gone so far as to accuse nuns of the Missions of Charity of illegal and wrong doing.

 

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born August 26, 1910 was an Albanian-Indian descent in Skopje (now the capital of Macedonia), then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman.   After belonging to many different empires throughout history, Skopje today is the capital of an independent Madeconia.  After living in Macedonia for eighteen years Anjezë, then anme’s English equivalent being Agnes, moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life.

 

The youngest child in her family, Agnes’ father died when she was eight years old.  He had been involved in local politics but the young girl was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal.   She decided by age 12 that she should commit herself to religious life and this resolve strengthened in 1928 at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, where she often went on pilgrimage.

 

Agnes left home in 1928 at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English with the view of becoming a missionary. She never saw her mother or her sister again.  She arrived in India in 1929and began her novitiate in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas.   She learned Bengali and taught at St. Teresa’s School near her convent.   Teresa took her first religious vows on 24 May 1931. She chose to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, opting for its Spanish spelling (Teresa).

 

On 10 September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as “the call within the call” when she travelled by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”  Joseph Langford later wrote, “Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa.”

 

Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulty. With no income, she begged for food and supplies and experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months: “Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. “You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again”, the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.”

 

Teresa received permission to start her order from the Vatican in 1950.  In her words, it would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone”.[43] By 1997 the 13-member Calcutta congregation had grown to more than 4,000 sisters who managed orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide, caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine.[44]

In 1952, Teresa opened her first hospice with help from Calcutta officials. She converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, free for the poor, and renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Those brought to the home received medical attention and the opportunity to die with dignity in accordance with their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction. “A beautiful death”, Teresa said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”

 

She opened a hospice for those with leprosy, calling it Shanti Nagar (City of Peace).  The Missionaries of Charity established leprosy-outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, dressings and food. The Missionaries of Charity took in an increasing number of homeless children; in 1955 Teresa opened Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless youth.

The congregation began to attract recruits and donations, and by the 1960s it had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses throughout India. Teresa then expanded the congregation abroad, opening a house in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters.  Houses followed in Italy (Rome), Tanzania and Austria in 1968, and during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in the United States and dozens of countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.

 

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976.  Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. Responding to requests by many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa founded the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests and (with priest Joseph Langford) the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1984 to combine the vocational aims of the Missionaries of Charity with the resources of the priesthood. By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered about 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.  In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front-line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas.

 

A friend of mine from India told me of meeting Mother Teresa as a boy of eight years.  His class was on a school trip to one of the orphanages for which they had donated goods.  At one point during the tour, he said, he heard someone approach him from behind.  He thought it another student since the person was not much taller than he.  “I felt a hand on each shoulder,” he said “realized the strength and weight of those hands.  I thought surely it must be a giant because they were so strong.  I dared no move or squirm.  Suddenly a sweet voice spoke and I turned.”  Mother Teresa was standing with her hands on my young friend’s shoulders. It was over thirty-five years later that he told me this story and still, he assured me, he could feel the imprint of her hands on his shoulders.

 

Mother Teresa resigned as head of the Missionaries of Charity on March 13, 1997 due to her failing health and died on September 5th of the same year.  At the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters and an associated brotherhood of 300 members operating 610 missions in 123 countries.  Teresa once said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” According to former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, “She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world.”

 

In the 19 years since Mother Teresa’s death, the Missionaries of Charity have not only grown in faith and service, but in numbers around the world.  Teresa of Calcutta once described the reason for her being to accomplish what she did:  “My secret…I pray!”

Eat It – Part Three

Eat It – Part Three

2018.07.10

Pentecost 2018

 

This is the third and last segment of my post about eating and how we can make a difference by eating.  The first part centered around how we can help ourselves, be our own hero in our own lives by eating responsibility.  The second featured a wonderful organization called Dining for Women.  Today, we are going back to college  and focusing on a college pre-med student.

 

Columnist Jillian Kramer wrote about today’s woman making a difference in a January issue of Food and Wine Magazine.  “Fourteen-year-old Maria Rose Belding skirted past the block-deep line of hungry people, and launched another box filled to the brim with expired macaroni-and-cheese into the dumpster. It wasn’t the first time she’d tossed food into the trash at this particular food pantry—Belding had begun volunteering at the Pella, Indiana location when she was just 5-years-old—but this time was different: this time, she was really, really, really angry.  “I remember really thinking: how have we not done better than this?” [Belding explained to Food & Wine writer.] “And it was really frustrating because it was very clear there wasn’t someone to be mad at—it didn’t appear that someone had screwed up and that’s why we were in this situation. The donor who gave us all of that macaroni-and-cheese had done so out of the very best of intentions. The food pantry director had worked incredibly hard trying to move it and place it within other communities and organizations. The volunteers had done everything they could do. I was so angry, but there wasn’t an easy person to get mad at.”

 

The fourteen-year-old knew there were other hungry people who would have jumped at the chance to eat the food being discarded.  She wondered at the lack of communication between food pantries serving this demographic and was frustrated by it.  Kramer’s article continues:  “The tech-savvy teen figured there had to be some sort of online communication system on which food pantries could communicate with one another about their stock—a system that her local pantry simply had to sign up for. She searched and searched—and found nothing. 

 

“I thought it was real because I would watch [the pantry director]—who is a saint of the woman—make so many phone calls to landlines, and she would get calls back weeks later to try to move this macaroni-and-cheese,” recalls Belding. “It was so incredibly inefficient, and I remember standing there going, but we have the Internet. But we have the Internet.”  Five years later  a fellow college student Grant Nelson, Belding helped her create MEANS, a nonprofit communications platform for emergency food providers and donors.

 

After three years, MEANS has reached people in 49 U.S. states and territories, and boasts some 3,000 users and partner organizations. The organization has recovered 1.6 million pounds of food, food that has reached hungry people instead of over-crowded dumpsters headed for the garbage dump.  Let those numbers sink in and think about how they have impacted living, breathing people and crime statistics.

 

“We get everything from fresh vegetables to 5,000 pounds of pizza sauce in individual one-ounce packets,” Belding says. “There are so many stories where you just go: what? How did this happen? But we are so grateful that it ends up with us [MEANS] and more importantly, the people who need it.”  They even had a donation of 42,000 pounds of milk that MEANS staff had to help relocate.  They were successful and the milk went to grateful recipients.

 

Quoting again from Jillian Kramer’s article:   “Belding, now 22, runs the organization full-time—while attending American University to one day become a doctor. Her staff is also impressively young: “We are 16 to 25 [years old], we’re from a host of different backgrounds and gender identities and races and religions and socio-economic backgrounds,” says Belding. “But one of the things that we all have in common is the same kind of sense of …  a collective dumbfounding that hunger is still such a prevalent problem and how we have so much food waste, when this is so, so solvable.”  If you are interested in joining MEANS—or know someone else who is—you can visit the program on its website, call the staff at 202-449-1507, or email hello@meansdatabase.com.”

 

Pentecost is a season during which the ordinary can become extraordinary.  As I mentioned in Part One, one of the most ordinary things many people do is eat and it benefits everyone when we turn that ordinary meal into something extraordinary.  Maria Belding and her staff, like the members of Dinging for Women we discussed in Part Two of this blog post are using food to offer a hand up, not just a hand out.  Life is all about making choices and you can turn your ordinary meal into a super-charged extraordinary gift to your health by making wise choices and then turning those choices into effective actions.  That will make you our hero for tomorrow!