Home

Matters at Hand (a New Year Reflection)

Leave a comment

“Fork in the Road”

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
~ Matthew 18:3

So here it is, the first day of the new year. So much anticipation. The above bible verse came to me last evening while contemplating the prospects of all the possibilities of the new year ahead, like a blank page waiting to be written. A clean slate.

I personally have found that in order to make changes in my life I not only have to make changes in my habits but also myself as well. Like the old Buddhist saying goes, “change comes from within.”

The above passage is interesting to me for a number of reasons, especially when thought of in metaphorical terms (which is basically how I treat most of the bible). This said, let’s look at this in a sort of deconstruction, or in sections.

In the first portion of the passage Jesus tells his disciples that unless they change, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. This is from the New International Version, but in other versions the word “change” may be translated as “turn around” or “convert.” Interestingly, the word repent comes from Greek and one of it’s means is to “turn around” or to “change one’s way of thinking.” I bring this up to counter the negative connotations the word repent often conjures. And also (along these same lines) when John was in the desert baptizing and preaching he would cry out, “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This is also one of the first quotes of Jesus when he began his public ministry (Matthew 4:17). Think about this sentence in this way… Repent (think differently or change your ways) because the kingdom is at hand (or the kingdom is right in front of you). This is spelled out explicitly in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 113), “the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and people do not see it.

So then, how do we do this? How do we see/enter the kingdom in this life? Well, we are told clearly to “become like little children.” But what does that mean? Are we supposed to act like imbeciles or babies? No, I don’t think so. I’ll give my thoughts on what this means with a brief story.

Recently I was at the local Jewish Community Center where I swim. I had just arrived and was locking up my bike when a father and his young daughter exited the building. It was snowing big fat flakes; they slowly cascaded down to earth. Upon seeing this, the young girl spreads her arms wide, lifts her face skyward and shrieks, “Daddy, it’s snowing.” She then stuck out her tongue and gleefully caught flakes on it as the walked. The father, seeing me, sighed in a low voice, “Yes, it is snowing…again.” The difference is obvious. The young girl was so excited and in awe that in some ways she was experiencing her own slice of heaven right there in the JCC parking lot. Her father, on the other hand, was not; he was miserable.

So my thought on this is that if we change (mostly our thinking) then we too can have what the little girl had, or at least glimpses of it. What the bible passage is saying, I believe, is that we should attempt to be in awe of everyday events, everyday miracles. When we were children everything was new and interesting and innocent, but then somewhere along the way as we grew into adults we began acting like adults, stifling our sense of awe in the everyday activities. When I think about it, I feel as though I should be in awe at the very fact that I awake every morning, at the miracle of this living body that I currently inhabit.

This year I want to return to awe, that sense of innocence. It will not be easy, and it will take work and conscious effort, but I do think it is possible. This, after all, is what we’ve been told for more than two millennia. Even longer if you look at other traditions. To put this in Buddhist terms, this could be compared to being present, or mindful; seeing and appreciating what is right in front of us at this very moment. Walking the middle path. After all, the past is history and the future is just a dream at this point. All we have is the moment in which we live. All we have is now.

Advertisements

A Day in a Life. Journal entry 5.14.17

Leave a comment

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

 ~Allen Saunders (but often inaccurately attributed to John Lennon)

Sunday.

I wake before the alarm goes off,

and I lay there for a few minutes.

Thinking.

When I go downstairs I turn on the coffee maker.

The dogs scurry about.

They act as if they haven’t seen me in 8 years instead of 8 hours.

I feed them.

Franklin, the finicky one, just looks at me.

I have to feed him a couple pieces of food by hand to get him started.

Coffee ready and dogs in the backyard,

I check emails, the NY Times, and scroll Facebook.

Looking at the clock I realize I’m running late for church,

and I’m scheduled as head usher.

Showered, I wheel one of the bikes down the plank on the porch,

and when I do I notice a tulip in a neighbor’s yard.

It’s withered.

Just yesterday it was in full bloom.

Nothing is permanent, I think to myself.

I snap it’s photo.

As I pedal to church the air feels good.

It’s chilly but the sun is out.

It’s Mother’s Day, and during worship the pastor speaks of mothers.

I think of my mother, who left us too soon.

I think of a specific time and tears well in my eyes.

I hold back tears as I ready myself for collection.

So many years later and I still feel.

I am grateful.

On my way home I stop at a coffee shop,

to read and write.

But it’s crowded and I can’t focus,

so I leave.

I have an egg sandwich for lunch and feed the dogs pieces of the crust.

I lay down and am surprised that I fall asleep for just a few minutes.

After a few stretches I sit on a cushion in front of the small altar,

which is off to the side of the room.

I pray, asking mostly for guidance.

Then I meditate for a few minutes.

I have to pick up photos from a show that came down last week.

But it’s raining, so I make coffee and scroll Facebook,

and wait.

I use my large bike, and a trailer, to retrieve the photos.

The gallery is about two miles away, and I push hard into a strong headwind.

I huff and puff but know that the wind will be at my back on return.

The reward.

Pushing the bike up the plank I notice the tulip again.

Now is all we have.

I switch bikes,

To a shorter one,

then head to the JCC for a steam and swim.

I love riding this particular bike,

but there is an incessant click in the crank,

and it’s gotten louder.

The street is slow and crowded,

I keep pace with traffic,

but I pull over to the side to inspect the sound.

When I do the person behind me beeps

and yells an obscenity out their window.

I make eye contact as they pass and say nothing.

I feel sorry for them.

Angry and saddled to their car.

When I swim it feels good.

In the buoyancy of the water nothing aches.

The steam room feels even better.

I have leftovers for dinner.

Rice-and-beans with roast vegetables.

My dogs stare at me while I eat.

I don’t give them any; they’ve had their meal.

It’s still early so I decide to stop out for a couple beers.

As I pass my neighbor’s I notice the tulip again.

It’s beautiful, even in its weathered and wilted state.

A snapshot of life, I suppose.

Real life.

I walk to the tavern.

It’s still light outside but dark inside.

The first sip of beer tastes good.

If fizzes across my tongue.

When I return home my dogs greet me as if I’ve been gone for two days.

I sit on the floor and let them crawl all over me.

This is now, I think.

Now.

Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Another day in a life.

But now is now.

And it’s beautiful.

But sometimes I need reminders.

To remember.

To return to now.

And that’s okay.

“Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul.”

~Fr. Thomas Merton

Journal Entree 1.12.17, or how to make potato pancakes, or a day in a life.

Leave a comment

In the same way that an auto mechanic may repair other people’s cars all day yet he himself drives a jalopy, I being a lifelong professional cook often have a refrigerator and cupboard that are spartan to say the least. Such was the case today when deciding on dinner.

When surveying possible options I noted an odd assortment of ingredients…a couple potatoes, a half-head of cauliflower, a spaghetti squash, a bell pepper, an onion, an avocado, and a few other things. Potato pancakes is first that came to mind, and I’d also add cauliflower for added flavor and nutrition. So I peeled a potato and hand grated it. The sound of the grating brought the dogs running, hoping to catch scraps. I put the grated potato in a bowl and mixed it with a couple eggs to keep it from tarnishing while I prepared the remainder of ingredients.

While removing the core of the cauliflower I noticed that some of the plant was a bit soft and gray, so I cut that away as well. A metaphor of life, I suppose; not everything is perfect but you simply deal with it, focusing on the good parts and letting things unnecessary fall away. I then chopped the florets small—the size of grains of rice—and added them to the bowl with the potato and egg. Mixing it with my bare hand it felt cold from the fridge, and the contrast of textures felt odd.

After julienning a small bell pepper and half an onion I added them to the bowl as well, along with some crushed hot peppers, sea salt, shredded cheddar, and about ½ cup whole wheat flour. I then mixed everything together, put a plate over the bowl and set it in the fridge. It was late afternoon and I was planning ahead. Before heading to the local JCC for a steam and swim I texted my son, “Making potato pancakes for dinner. They’ll be ready around 6:30.” Home cooked food is always bait to a young broke college student.

On my bike ride to the JCC it was drizzling a little, more of a mist than rain. What an odd winter, I thought; it should be snowing now. But I’m not complaining. And on the way home the rain had stopped and the temperature dropped. It was dark now and the streets seemed oddly deserted. I was still sweating from the steam room as I pedaled home and the cold air felt good; refreshing. My phone buzzed in my pocket and when I stopped at a traffic light I checked it. It was a text from my son, “I’m here.” I looked at my watch and it was 6:30.

Arriving home, and after parking my bike off to the side of the living room with the others, I put another log in the wood stove, which was down to embers, then went to the tiny kitchen to feed the dogs.  While the dogs ate I retrieved the pancake batter from the fridge and mixed it. Then while my son minced garlic I began frying the pancakes, dropping them in the hot oil by the spoonful and shaping them as they spat and sputtered. Some of the oil jumped onto my fingernail and I exclaimed, dammit!, startling the dogs.

While the pancakes cooked in batches, we cooked spaghetti squash in olive oil with garlic and hot peppers. When the first batch of pancakes came out of the pan I cut one and we ate it with our hands. It was delicious and also tempting to eat the rest that way, but we refrained.

When everything was complete—the pancakes, spaghetti squash, sliced avocado drizzled with olive oil and hot sauce, and a couple small peeled sweet oranges—we ate together at the kitchen counter and talked. I learned some things that have happened in my son’s life recently and he in mine.

When we were finished, I wrapped the remaining pancakes, first in paper then in plastic, for my son to take with him. After he had left I put another log on the fire to keep the chill at bay while I headed out for an evening beer. The cold air felt good as I walked the few blocks to a local cafe. And as I sat sipping my beer I thought of the dinner we had together, and how delicious it was—literally and figuratively—and it was made with just a few simple things. It was a dinner, yes, but also it was another day in a life.

Potato-Cauliflower Pancakes with Cheddar

Makes about 8 pancakes

1 cup grated potatoes

1 cup minced cauliflower

2 eggs

½ onion, julienned

½ bell pepper, julienned

½ cup shredded cheddar

½ cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon baking powder

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine all of the ingredients except the vegetable oil and mix well. Cover and let stand for a few minutes. Mix again, then pan-fry I about ½ inch of hot oil until golden and crisp on both sides ad the potatoes are cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper.