Like a tornado, with its endless supply of material sucked up as it moves along, my curiosity feeds on all in its path. Every info bit that enters spools to another bit and then another, each interrelating and expanding all the others. And it never stops.
Every radio show discussion –say, on the effects on the brain of electromagnetic radiation– brings with it some new concept not fully clear to me that needs googling. This in turn diverges into brain maximization, supplements for brain health, the brain and meditation, and so on. There are, of course, whole other streams: differing magnetic frequencies, safer and less safe devices, products for blocking radiation, and on and on. Every morning, my radio brims with well-researched, informative discussions. They all prod me to better understand –and keep me searching online. Always being led forward, with always more to ponder, and always the ever-increasing sense of never catching up…
That level of curiosity was useful for the 14 years I operated the Lysistrata Project. My online portal for educational resources spanned a wide range of interests from activism to simple living –highlighting the contributions of women. It began in 2002 –focused then on the roots and the end of war– in the wake of the planes attacking the World Trade Center and the utterly incomprehensible retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan. Why dirt-poor Afghanistan when all the hijackers were nationals of oil-rich Saudi Arabia? Paddling fast through the white-water convergence of multinationals vying for their share of the Caspian Sea and its rich deposits of oil and natural gas, I was driven to get at the why.
During those years I had also been teaching at City College of San Francisco, teaching English to speakers of other languages –a population and a work that was entwined with my heart. Then my feet began revolting at standing so long, and in 2010 I retired. The Lysistrata Project bustled on. Once the realization hit, four years later, that endless hours sitting at the computer were taking a toll on my body, I stopped maintaining the site. Much more difficult would be giving up what had become an obsession –excavating what was hidden, and hauling it up into full view. This remained an always-on mental scanning for the meaning behind appearances, for how disparate pieces emerging into view clarify into patterns, and to what they all lead.
Indeed, to what they all lead… I’m only now coming to see that in the seven years since leaving CCSF and my work with immigrants, I’ve been sampling options, trying to find a new way of contributing that –now more than ever– feeds my heart. But it did not work for me to choose just one. In the last two years I’ve been homing in on the up‑to-three elements I can weave together in ways that move me enough, intrigue me enough, and draw from within me enough to become the single devotion. The essence at the center of this dance is the love with which Earth nurtures us and teaches us, heals us, and ultimately speaks through us.
~ * ~
Three a.m., I come awake to the images, already fraying, of a dream. I lie still, hanging on to the dream’s final impression. I’m telling someone –I can hear my own voice– “she needs to feel it’s safe to be herself,” about the tiny black and white kitten in the dream, hiding beneath a chest of drawers. That fragment is all that’s left of the dream. I remain still, an empty screen for the real-world association that will follow. Moments later, tenderness sweeps through me for the sweet animal that is my body… and then the insight: with all the empathy I possess, attend now to the healing of this creature. And neither hurry, nor demand more from my weakened muscles and bones than they, at their own pace, have the strength to give.
I take in the message, intending to go back to sleep, but my mind is already moving words around, crafting the perfect opening sentence for a piece I’m writing. Not wanting to disrupt my circadian rhythm by turning on a reading lamp, I fumble in the dark for paper, pencil, and a tiny low-level booklight. I sink down onto my favorite rug, brought back thirty years ago from Oaxaca, and in child-pose begin putting down the words coming to me.
At some inner prompting, I turn my head to find Pahti, my feline housemate, who seven years ago accompanied me home from San Miguel de Allende. Imperceptibly, she has sidled up next to me where she plumped down like a small Buddha, front paws tucked in. When our eyes meet, she greets me with a soft sound in her throat. I respond in kind. She slips her gaze past me and beyond the sliding glass door to our wild patch of a garden, still cloaked in darkness. She’s asking for nothing, and I return to my page. But memory draws me back to when Pahti first arrived here, bewildered from a long flight in a cargo hold, the bustle through two airports, and a midnight car ride to an unfamiliar place. For several days all she wanted was to hide. And for several days I cooed to her, inviting her out of the crevice beneath the kitchen sink by reaching in to stroke her with the long wing feather of a hawk. Whenever she came out of hiding I curled my body around her, slowly raking my fingernails back along the top of her head until her body softened and her eyes closed in surrender.
I had returned three weeks early from my half-year in Mexico to avoid flying with Pahti during the added delays of winter holiday travel –and to give her time to feel safe before I returned to work. Our slow time together was the medicine Pahti needed. At 15 months old, she began the kittenhood she had never had, halted before she was four months by an injury that broke her left leg and allowed the dislocated hip joint to deform. The pain from that unresolved injury left her hiding inside a clay urn in a cat rescue in San Miguel. I worked with her several weeks once I began volunteering. It soon became obvious to me she would never be adopted without corrective surgery –and so I gave that to her. It was not my plan to adopt her as I would be returning to San Francisco to finish up my last working semester, then packing up and returning to retire in San Miguel. But painfully-shy Pahti had come to trust me. My heart, ignoring reason, whispered to me to care enough… whispered that what I instinctively am and have to give was everything that she needed.
I’ll never know who might have won had not a Ferocious Mother intervened. At day’s end, on the freeway back to San Miguel from Queretaro after Pahti’s surgery, the inconceivable happened. The painkiller wore off and Pahti erupted into a savage –wild-eyed from the pain of the metal rod jammed up her leg bone. Within the wooden carrier I held tight on my knees, she thrashed against its walls. Gnashing at its wire mesh, she broke her front teeth. Somewhere in the roaring blur of that hellish race to San Miguel, in the dark interior of that car’s back seat, Pahti’s agony and my horror fused. Somehow, in some way, something exploded. Physically, I could have, for all I know, volcanoed, fang and claw, into a grizzly. But no matter… Inside me, unleashed, was a raging Mother Bear. Every cell reconstituted to one purpose, defending my cub. Without thought, in that instant I knew no one would ever again stand between me and this child.
When the time came to leave, we were together. In her new safe and quiet home in San Francisco, Pahti blossomed, with a curiosity I abetted no matter how many times she sent the pencil holder flying off my desk. Everything was new for her and an adventure. The fridge –or any cabinet, drawer or box– could never be opened without her hopping inside. Just like me, seven years it took Pahti to have her fill, to settle in among the warm clumps of grass in her own backyard –no longer scanning for every tiny hole in our fence for the more that lies beyond.
~ * ~
When rosy-tinged light begins filtering in, I sit up on the floor to watch the ritual of dawn. Outside, starting from the highest tip of the 90-foot Monterey pines, the rays of the rising sun begin slowly brushing the trees in amber. That slow descent down the craggy bark of their trunks, imbuing their branches and dark green needles with honeyed radiance, is liquid poetry. With the neighborhood Lark trilling his exuberant song an end is signaled to the quiet pursuits of the dark. Another new and full day is beginning… and I too rise.
But I startle myself. My hand hesitates over the power-on button that opens the floodgates to KPFA and DemocracyNow!, to Rising Up with Sonali and Letters and Politics –the swarm of in‑depth dialogues that normally accompanies me as I move through my morning stretches, Tai Chi, shower and breakfast. A vague unease ruffles me… a mixture of tugs… a head hunger to follow up on yesterday’s news, a quiet body urge to be out walking among trees and geese at Stow Lake, and in my gut a twist of guilt. All the more in these times with our government verging on fascism I feel pulled to keep up with the threats to our planet’s health, to people’s health and our freedom from surveillance. But I back away from the radio, from assaults to the well-being of workers and voters, immigrants and all who are marginalized, assaults to true education, net neutrality, and a free press –all the mayhem brought on by entrenched corruption and magnified by the chief predator in the White House. I turn away –today– and instead slide open the door to the garden. Pahti leading the way, we step out into the morning symphony of birds.