My 80th Birthday
On my birthdays, I reflect on the zigzag path I have taken. Even as a child, I was not content to accept beliefs without questions. As a naive teenager, I vowed to not accept any belief unless it has some practical use. Obviously, I threw out many religious and secular beliefs entirely. It took some age and experience to grasp the significance of metaphor and story to build my own belief system.
Then I took a turn. I became aware of the need to have my life show my beliefs rather than articulate an abstract belief in words.
When I began writing, I was told over and over again “Show, don’t tell.” Describe in sensory terms, what is happening (like, laughing from my stomach ) instead of telling the reader how I was feeling (like, I was happy.)
So for this 8th decade birthday, I am going to describe short vignettes of my experiences and you can interpret my core beliefs as you will.
At the end, I will include some of the key quotes that hold me up when I forget what I am about.
- Some of the Native Youth Group and I had just bought some chicken, bread and fruit juice for our day trek. As we were about to enter the van, Jacob said, “Look at that.” We saw two homeless children picking day old food out of the Grocery Store’s trash bin. Without words and without delay, we ran over to them and gave them all our food. We couldn’t stop laughing and talking about how the eyes of the kids lit up when they smelled the chicken.
- Stepping over dead people who had slept on the stairs of our apartment in Mumbai froze me inside out. Having starving children grab my leg and let themselves be dragged along the street, put me into a trance. My eyes were seared open and my heart constricted daily. I wanted to leave India until I saw a man place a sari tenderly over his children and wife sleeping on the cement under Byculla Bridge. From my window, my eyes turned wet and a strange tranquility settled into my bones.
- Living in Zambia, I visited Victoria Falls with friends. Our conversation mainly consisted of “Look at that, look at that, look at that.” Inner laughter over took me as the mist dampened my clothes and I watched the water fall into the bottom and bounce back up. When I saw the otters playing in the bottom of the pool, I called out silently,” Brother Otter, I want to play with you.”
- Every week, a friend and I would sit at a table at the homeless park and hand out socks and supplies to whoever came by. One man sat under a nearby tree and stared at the ground. He would not look when I offered him socks or food. When someone gave me chocolates for Christmas, I went around and handed one wrapped piece to everyone. When I got to our silent man, I told him that I had chocolate. With that, he raised his head up and took it. After that day, he started coming by to talk to us at the table and even making friends with other street people. He even started volunteering to hand out food. I thought about this a long time and finally, I walked into Richard Rohr’s office before our contemplation time and told him that I had a metaphor. “When I arrive at the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter asks me what have I done in my life. I discarded all the things others have praised me for in working in villages in Developing Countries, building schools, a library, roads and wells and so on. I will tell Saint Peter that once I gave a piece of chocolate to a homeless man.”
- When I started criticizing the Native Youth in our youth group and finding too many issues for complaint, three of the youth suggested we drive to the Grand Canyon for the day. When we got there, they insisted that each of us sit under a tree in silence looking out across the canyon. We sat there for an indeterminate time. Finally, I sighed and my bones melted. I saw only endless wonder swirling around me.
- When a friend and I took supplies to the Asylum Seekers in El Paso, the children and youth crowded around us, laughing in glee, as we handed out backpacks and shoes and books in Spanish to everyone. I looked at the sea of hands and the voices saying “Gracias, Abuelita”, and an undefined longing settled in me.
- Visiting Machu Picchu, Peru, I climbed the stairs in a fog, barely able to see the top of the mountain. Something deep roiled inside my gut, and I felt like I was surrounded by ancient people who had climbed those steps in anticipation of something inexplicable.
- When living with the Australian Aboriginals, my mentor told me stories of their ancient times while dancers mimed the story. My mouth opened and no words came out. Some dimension opened before me and took root.
Quotes that have directed me.
Antoine St Exupery “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Nikos Kazantzakis “If you can, Spirit, rise up over the roaring waves and take in all the sea with an encircling glance. Hold the mind fast, don’t let it be shaken. Then plunge suddenly into the waves once more and continue the struggle.”
Bishop Steven Charleston “Listen, however it comes to you, listen wherever you are, and you will hear the sacred speak, a language born before time, a meaning meant for you.”
Rabindranath Tagore “Suddenly some ancient mist had lifted from my sight and the ultimate significance of all things was laid bare. Immediately the world is bathed in a wonderful radiance with waves of beauty and joy swelling on every side and no person or thing in the world seemed to me trivial or unpleasing.”
Maya Angelo “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
e.e. cummings “i thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”
Dorothy Saucedo: “My late brother Robert would say, “In morning mist, the Holy People walk to replenish Mother Earth, praying for us.”
Tecumseh “When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.
Lucy Greely “Sometimes the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.
Dorothy Day “You love God only as much as you love the person you love the least..”
Richard Rohr “You have to go deep in one place. When you do, you fall into the underground stream that we all share.”
Rumi “Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us. We taste only sacredness.”
Simone Weil “Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted…To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
These people who have died before me have shaped my life: Lyn Mathews, Rodney Wilson, George Winunguj, Charles Hahn, Robert Rafos, John Gadway, Dorothy Saucedo.
Thank you all my kin for sharing my 80 years with me. My interior life is filled with infinite spaciousness and inner aliveness.
Kaye Hayes (Kaze) Gadway September 13, 2020