All Shall Be Well

I am eerily reminded this week of my experience during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Hunkered down here in my little house without power for days, the whole world seemingly stalled and subdued. There was no work and no technology, the roads were strangely as quiet as the airwaves. And no one knew how long it would last or how bad it might get.

At first, there was the natural reaction to kick against what I could not control. Worry and fret. Freak out. But then a calm settled in, a different pace than the norm, a day guided by the rising and setting of the sun.

Looking back now, I remember those quiet, restful days as blessings.

So here we are — on the edge of a storm we’re watching overtake everything we know as normal. And we are freaking out.

But the Universe is sending messages, if you listen. She’s there in the poem “Pandemic,” that Lynn Unger was inspired to write this week.

She’s in our daily prayers, if you are inclined, like me, to whisper on occasion:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

She even showed up yesterday morning in my meditation reading:

“We must except we are there and settled enough so we can be carried by the deep. The willingness to do this is the genesis of faith, the giving over to currents larger than us. Even fallen leaves float in lakes, demonstrating how surrender can hold us up…. In life as in water, when we curl up or flail we sink. When we spread and go still, we are carried by the largest sea if all: the sea of grace that flows steadily beneath the turmoil of events.” — Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

So listen for those messages.

Pay attention.

Do the things you need to do to stay safe and healthy.

Get rest.

Breathe.

“Just as fish can’t see the ocean they live in,” writes Nepo, “We can’t quite see the spirit that sustains us.” But it’s there.

Pandemic

A POEM BY LYNN UNGAR

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love —
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Poem ©2020, Lynn Ungar. Lynn’s first book of poetry, Blessing the Bread, earned her fans around the world. In her professional life she serves as a minister for the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online congregation for Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals. In her free time she trains dogs for competition in obedience, agility and canine musical freestyle (dancing with dogs). She is also an avid singer and contra dancer. Lynn lives on the east side of the San Francisco Bay with two Australian Shepherds. For more, visit www.lynnungar.com. IMAGE: Creation of the World III, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis.

Morning Inspiration

This morning, as I settled into my day with coffee and the local newspaper, I found myself wondering on things. Wondering on the miracle that a local print newspaper still exists. Thinking about the young journalist I met 20 years ago who recently announced her departure as its publisher. Reflecting on how things move and change seemingly so fast sometimes, and how brave and resilient we are in the face of that.

And then a photo caught my eye — the determined and genteel final photo of a woman named Phoolan Nandlal.

Phoolan was born in 1931, and died at the age of 88 on February 16 surrounded by her seven children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. She was the daughter of Motyah and Galo and is the last of 4 daughters: Bhyaratie, Sylvia, and Lutchmin.

Phoolan’s parents died when she was only 2 years old. She was born in Siparia, Trinidad, West Indies, where she attended school. Later, she moved to Avocart and grew up with her grandparents Bhahuartya and Dhoray who were from Bastilya, India. She was taken out of school and married at age 16 years to Raghunath Nandlal.

Phoolan was heartbroken that she was denied an education, not being told about her parents, and denied her inheritance. Despite her anguish, Phoolan persevered. She brought up seven children on her own, took care of her 14 grandchildren, and visited her 10 great-grandchildren.

Phoolan valued education and instilled this among other values in her family. In addition, she went back to school in her 50s and 80s for a GED. She was astute, witty, organized, clean, neat, and took pride in her appearance. In addition, she loved all those who came to know her and vice versa. She enjoyed cooking, gardening (fruits, vegetables, flowers), flower arrangements, art, and music. Phoolan was detail oriented. She always wanted to learn how to play the piano and learned to play the keyboard at age 88 years.

Phoolan worked very hard from sunrise to sunset in Trinidad with her husband to build her empire while raising eight children. This work ethic stayed with her into her golden years. In 1978, Phoolan lost her husband, a son, and a grandson. She persevered, and was extremely independent as a widow as well as a private person. Phoolan lived independently in Trinidad for about 25 years and designed the addition to her home. She chose to live with her daughter Radhika Nandlal and son-in-law Richard LaRonde in Branford for the last 4 years of her life.

I never met Phoolan — these remarkable details are from her obituary — but I suspect she had as much moxie as my local newspaper, and of that young journalist now off to seek new adventures.

Things do move and change so fast sometimes…and oh how brave and resilient are we!

Find a Sacrosanct Work-Life Balance

The other night, my home office land line rang at two o’clock in the morning. A client thought they could just leave a voice mail for me to retrieve later.

Another client was clearly nonplussed when I would not divulge my cell phone number so she can reach me when I’m not in my office.

Very often, I’ll be at an appointment or in a meeting with someone, their cell phone rings or a text dings, and they excuse themselves to take the call or thumb-type a response.

The boundaries start to blur, don’t they?

What is appropriate? What is polite? Are we ever, anymore, in the moment?

When are we working and not working? Does the presence of technology mean we’re on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

A friend of mine regularly fields phone calls and emails on Sundays — forget about down time, sabbath, weekend, time with the family, or just time off.

Connecticut used to be a sabbath-inspired Blue Law state, and up until the late 1970s most businesses could not even open on Sundays! Maybe blue laws seem quaint now — or controlling— but they indicated a respect for work life vs. home life, business time vs. private time.

Then in walks technology and voraciously eats up our time and stomps all over the lines. We’ve kinda created a monster, haven’t we?

It’s why I was intrigued to read Josie Le Blond’s article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age?” on the BBC website recently. The right to switch off? Check this out:

What seemed perfectly normal to the American, working after hours, was inconceivable to the German[s]. After all, it was Feierabend, a German term which refers both to the end of the working day and the act of switching off from work entirely.

Down time is taken very seriously in Europe’s biggest economy. That’s why, when the European Union introduced mandatory work and rest periods back in 2003, the Germans embraced the chance to enshrine their sacrosanct work-life balance in law.

A SACROSANCT WORK-LIFE BALANCE

“People think it’s not so bad if they just send a quick email, but in most cases, they are then back at work in their thoughts for much longer, making it difficult to switch off and detach.” — Nils Backhaus, Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Switching off from work entirely. Imagine! For German workers, it’s pretty much mandatory. The Working Hours Act says: “After each working day, employees are entitled to have an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours (twelve hours for those aged between 15 and 18) before the beginning of the next working day. ”

Reading an email or taking a call from a colleague counts as work and restarts the clock on another 11-hour break. And — get this — if an employee can show that interruptions to their rest periods have made them ill, that’s considered a crime on the part of the employer.

Not everyone is thrilled with the rule, of course. And I’m not sure how those stringent guidelines would apply in the States (eye roll) or for those of us who work for ourselves or freelance. But still, the recognition by businesses that rest is critical to both our physical and mental health is amazing.

Think it’s not possible? “Back in 2011, Volkswagen announced it would turn off its email server overnight to prevent the exchange of work emails out of hours. Others, including BMW and Bosch, have established guidelines for employees when it comes to contacting each other after hours.”

If you build it (a different way of thinking about technology and our work life), we will come (to the table with some new approaches for how to live a more balanced life).

“The Feierabend culture is really healthy,” says [one] American academic. “How refreshing for it to be totally okay to leave work at five o’clock and never exchange work emails on the weekend.”

How refreshing indeed.

©2020, Jen Payne. Read the full article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age? by Josie Le Blond, February 24, 2020 on BBC Worklife, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200218-can-germans-right-to-switch-off-survive-the-digital-age. Read Connecticut’s Blue Laws https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/agy1674.0001.001/5?view=image&size=100.

Which came first…

An ekphrastic poem inspired by The Egg by Susan Doolittle

Which came first…

Who better to guard
the mountains than
Ursa Major?

Great She Bear
mothers over
oak and pine
where Noctua / Owl
keeps watchful eyes on
swayed grasses
grown by Eridanus.
Sister river flows
clean and pure,
sings bubbling songs to
Grus and Vulpecula
crane and little fox —
running nearby

We can almost imagine Aquarius,
great water carrier
divine this lush, verdant sphere,
pour life from a star-crystal pitcher.

But man gives and man takes
hardly in equal measure —

The ghost of Lepus, rabbit,
runs quick from Orion
hunter and destroyer
wondering: is this your Eden before
or our Eden finally after?

Poem ©2020, Jen Payne. Poem presented at the Guilford Poets Guild Fantastic Ekphrastic event at Guilford Art Center, March 1, 2020 in response to its 2020 Student Art Show. IMAGE: The Egg by Susan Doolittle. Susan’s stoneware egg is carved, painted, and glazed with animals, trees, plants, rivers, and oceans. It’s crowning glory is the cobalt blue sky with stars. Throughout the years, there have been hundreds of constellations named in the sky, some with familiar names, some with Latin counterparts, like Ursa Major/great bear, Noctua/owl (noke-tua), Eridanus/river (eri-dah-noose), Grus/crane (g-roose), Vulpecula/Little Fox (ool-peck-oola), Aquarius/water bearer, and Lepus/rabbit (lay-poose) who is said to be chased in the sky by Orion/hunter.

If you’re reading this…

If you’re reading this, then you follow my blog Random Acts of Writing — either by email, or from Facebook, or within the blogging community at WordPress.

According to WordPress there are about 1,500 of you who might, at any moment, read something I’ve written or see something I’ve seen. How cool is that?

Of course, some of us remember the old days of WordPress, when we seemed a little more connected than we do now. But that was before the shorthand days of Facebook, the cryptic moments of Twitter, and the no-words-necessary glances at Instagram and Tik-Tok.

We weren’t memes back then, we were writers and poets, philosophers and considerers, photographers and artists, sharing ourselves with the world. And the world shared back. Not just with a thumbs-up or heart emojis, but with questions and conversations. Some so real, we’d find ways to meet in person to keep talking. Imagine!

One of my dearest friends today is someone I met right here, in the comment field of this very blog. Seriously! Here we are, seven years ago, meeting in-person for the first time. >>>

Some of you have been following Random Acts of Writing from its very beginning — 10 years ago this month! Some of you have joined us along the way, and some of you are brand new to this hodge-podge of writing, photography, art, and musings I call my blog.

No matter your history here, I’d like to say Welcome and Thank You and Please Keep in Touch. Because if you’re reading this, you’re curious and inquisitive and maybe of like mind to start a cool and lasting conversation. I’d like that.

Happy Birthday Sir John Tenniel

Sir John Tenniel (28 February 1820 – 25 February 1914) was an English illustrator, graphic humorist, and political cartoonist prominent in the second half of the 19th century. He was knighted for his artistic achievements in 1893. Tenniel is remembered especially as the principal political cartoonist for Punch magazine for over 50 years, and for his illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). (Wikipedia)

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