Can Love & Prayer Save 2 Small Boys?

My friends Susan and Andy Nelson threw over successful careers (his in law, hers in corporate America) some time ago to join the foreign service. They spent two years in Managua, Nicaragua, two years in Hanoi, and are now representing our country — the very best of our country — in Delhi, India. Susan posted the following on her Facebook page recently. It’s been tugging at my heart every day since; I hope it will tug at yours:

 

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Chandan and Nandan

Last Friday we received the devastating news that the High Courts of India decided to reunite these two beautiful boys with their physically abusive parents, for a one month trial. Our family sponsors Chandan and we do monthly play dates at the children’s home where they live. The father is out on parole after serving a shorter than expected sentence for murder. And the mom is violent, threatening, and unrelenting in her struggle for power. The boys were forced by their parents to beg as street dancers, like trained monkeys, which is what led to their rescue and move to the children’s home two years ago. The parents will be back in court on Nov 14, fighting for permanent custody. If they win, these kids will slip through our fingers – likely forever. Between now and Nov 14, Andy and I are trying to do anything we can to influence the Court’s decision that day. We’ve reached out to lawyers, reporters, clergy, friends, child welfare advocates, even a Nobel Peace Prize winner – and now I’m reaching out to you. I believe in the power of prayer. And even if you don’t, hopefully we all believe in the power of LOVE. Please shine your love and light into the world for Chandan and Nandan – every day, several times a day, when you lay your head down on your pillow each night, when you wake up and have your morning coffee….PLEASE!

Image may contain: 3 people, including Susan Johnson Nelson, people smiling, people sitting, people eating, table, child, food and indoor

The Nelsons with one Nelson son & his playmates

Please keep these boys in your heart for the next 3 weeks – and send love to them, to their parents, to the courts, to the children’s home where they are loved and where they were safe, to the child welfare watchdogs….to everyone involved! Our love can influence this decision on Nov 14. I believe that. Andy and I are working every angle, chasing every lead or creative idea we can think of, here in Delhi. If you could do the loving part – HARD – we would be forever grateful! Please don’t stop!

 

Seems like prayer, if you’re into praying, and hard loving wherever you stand on prayer,  are easy things to do.

Loss, Love and Loyalty

broken-heart

Several decades ago a close friend of mine lost her only son in a senseless, tragic accident. He was in his late teens, on his motorcycle, on his way to work at a part-time Christmas season job. All of which added to the unspeakable sadness: a promising life cut short amidst the merriment of a season of joy.

Her friends gathered around to do what we could. We brought food, made lists of callers, tried to keep track of daily needs. My friend’s daughter, a best friend of my own daughter, suddenly found herself the middle child of three girls, all bereft of the one brother they had so loved.

In the large, shifting, changing, sorrowing group of those who came to the house  were a number of young men also in their late teens who had been friends of the one now gone from their midst. They said to the bereaved parents, “We’ll always be here for you. We’ll always remember Mark, and represent him in your lives.” The kind of thing people often say at such times.

These were teenagers. Ordinary kids starting out in life – who had been in their own share of ordinary teenage mischief. In the ensuing years they had their own share of ups and downs. But as it turned out, they were true to their word. They were there for Mark’s parents at Christmas and New Year’s, graduations he would have shared, special times he would have been a part of.

Time passed, Mark’s friends matured as his parents (and this writer) aged.

Recently, Mark’s father died. I happened to be back in town at the time – though like many of those young people I had gone on to life elsewhere – and was happy to be able to be with my old friend and her daughters at his memorial service. It was a bittersweet time: he had lived a full and honorable life; old friends had come to celebrate that life and talk of the good times we had shared. My daughter, still best friends with Mark’s sister although they live on opposite coasts, was there with me.

As I looked around the gathering after the service I slowly began to recognize middle-aged men I had known all those years ago. Several had married women I recognized — also from all those years ago. They were now telling stories of their own children who are starting college or launching their own new lives. They were Mark’s representatives. The stand-ins for their long-ago friend whose memory they would not let die, whose presence they would certify to the mother who lost him so long ago.clouds-stock-image

How to make sense of it all, young life cut short, long life come full circle? How, indeed, to make sense of life and death and loss and continuity?

Mark’s friends, I think, help answer those questions. Out of loss and tragedy come love and loyalty. Out of singular death comes communal life. Out of anguished sadness comes humanity. We all come and go, but we’re all in it together. For a few years or a few decades – but together.

 

A Memorable MLK Day Celebration

MLK on darkness

Dr. King would, I think, have approved.

One celebration of his legacy involved a collaboration between members of a fairly mainline Presbyterian church in an affluent area of San Francisco and members of a soul-spirited Pentecostal church in the city’s Bayview community, where crime and poverty run rampant. The partnership – and friendship – between the two unlikely groups has been growing ever since its beginning in response to the mass shootings at Charleston’s Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in June of 2015.

For openers, the African American Pentecostal pastor preached (only minimally more reserved and shorter than is his custom) to the mostly white Presbyterians. His message was primarily about the Biblical admonition to welcome the alien and show hospitality to strangers. He also had a few words about justice rolling down like a river, and about Martin Luther King Jr’s assertion that love will overcome racism, materialism and militarism.

MLK Day cable car

After the service some fifty or so Presbyterians boarded motorized cable cars and sang their way across town to the Pentecostal church. There the white pastor preached to the now-multicolor congregation about the Biblical suggestion that nothing much is required of believers other than to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with the Creator. He also had a few words about some of the ads he had noticed on the trip over. Dr. King, he suggested, probably didn’t live, work and die primarily so there would be three-day mattress sales, or a 25% MLK Weekend discount on leather jackets.

During the second service, which another minister termed Presbycostal, there was a generous amount of rousing hallelujah music led by the hosts and several gospel pieces from the visitors, whose choir director and trumpet-playing musician in residence made the trip.

MLK Day Dave & choir

After the second service the hosts surprised their guests with lunch in the adjacent social hall: homemade salads, chips and dips and plates of fried chicken. A dozen or so small children, varying shades of white, brown and black, snagged their fried chicken early and set to entertaining themselves by jumping up and down a stairway below a banner that read “The Audacity to Believe.”

One of the visitors remarked to one of the hostesses, as everyone dispersed, “I think we had a lot more fun than anybody at the weekend sales.”

MLK Day lunch

 

Warren Buffett & the Perfect House Gift

Gift boxAll I wanted was three boxes of toffee sent to my daughter as a house gift. This was because my daughter, who has exquisite taste in many things including candy, is particularly fond of See’s Toffee-ettes. I discovered this on a visit to her house, when I was about to withdraw a toffee from the See’s box on the counter. “Watch it,” remarked her gentleman friend; “you don’t want to be taking the last one.”

My daughter, it seems, had brought a box back from a trip to San Francisco some time ago, and rationed them carefully out to herself. Down to the final toffee, she walked in from a long day and reached into the box. Turning upon her mild-mannered gentleman friend she said: “YOU. ATE. MY. LAST. TOFFEE-ETTE? I cannot believe you did that!! My LAST toffee-ette.” It was reportedly a very bad scene. But soon afterwards a package arrived from the See’s people (via the gentleman friend), containing three boxes of Toffee-ettes, and harmony was restored.

Back in San Francisco, the motherland of chocolate and toffee, I knew exactly what I wanted to send for a house gift. I went immediately to the store, found the toffee and placed the order; anyone who has ever found The Perfect Gift will know how supreme was my self-satisfaction.

Weeks later, curious as to why I hadn’t heard anything, I learned that no house gift had appeared. More weeks passed as I struggled to trace the order. Equipped with sales ticket, order number and a clutch of stapled-together slips of paper, I pleaded with the local store manager (“You’ll have to deal with the online order department”) and the online order department (“You need to go back to the store”) in an ongoing comedy of errors that was not funny at all. More days went by.Toffee-ettes

“Maybe you should call Warren Buffett,” my husband remarked.

“Warren Buffett?”

“Sure. The story is he bought See’s because he liked their candy.”

Well, this reporter was unable to confirm that story… but Buffett undoubtedly likes the company. Berkshire Hathaway bought it in 1972 for $25 million. Today it brings in more than three times that much every year in earnings. My daughter and I certainly do our part to help.

Whether or not Mary See – the smiling, bespectacled lady on the candy boxes – had the Toffee-ettes recipe in her collection when she helped her son Charles open the first store, in Los Angeles, in 1921, is also unconfirmed. But likely; Mary did know her candies.

Somebody, somewhere eventually found my order and started a new shipment, which reached my daughter approximately two months after my visit.

We want to believe the original shipment went to Warren Buffett.

Saying Goodbye, and Hello to 2015

sunrise

My friend M has died, just shy of the old year’s end and significantly decreasing the joy of the new. But her dying was full of life lessons about saying goodbye, being grateful and trying to ring in a better planet for the days ahead. And thus she leaves a gracious greeting for 2015.

M was a believer in good causes, and she put her substantial time and energies to work for them all. We became friends over our mutual love of writing but we bonded over our mutual commitment to end-of-life choice. Once you concede that you won’t live forever, a reality most prefer to ignore, it is possible to live both gently and joyfully even in tough times. Both of us spent long years encouraging anyone who would listen to confront mortality, make choices, and make personal decisions known to all. It’s called living fully, even into dying.

So M, after conceding her own days on the planet were dwindling, sat down over a cup of soup I’d brought her not long ago and we went about the business of saying goodbye. I told her why I thought she was such a wonder, and she told me all the things I’d be happy to have said for my own eulogy. OK, we had an extravagant mutual admiration society. But the life lesson is that telling others about their own gifts and good qualities (however hard it might occasionally be to uncover them) is something anyone can do, any time; the planet would be immeasurably better if more of us did it more often.

M was supportive of my activism for reproductive justice, having done more than a little of that herself in years past, but once she expressed reservations about how much time I was investing in that cause. “It’s time for young people, young women, to take that on,” she said. Well, yes. Another 2015 greeting for that demographic: reproductive rights are disappearing at an alarming rate. Unless more of us of whatever gender or age pitch in, women – particularly women without money or power – will soon be back in the pre-Roe dark ages, with no control over their own bodies. Which could make for a very unhappy new year for uncounted thousands of women.

The daughter of a rabbi, M was aggressively non-religious. We didn’t waste a lot of time on the subject, though she applauded the idea of my Presbyterian church working to break cycles of poverty. But once, after some sort of “What Would Jesus Do?”-type remark I made she said, “Oh, you and Anne Lamott.” I am personally fine with being lumped in with my funny, gifted friend Lamott, but this was not meant as a compliment. It did lead to a brief, lively discussion about faith and practice. And wouldn’t 2015 be a happy new year if fewer wars were fought in the name of Allah (or Whomever) and more focus were put on the peace, justice and love for fellow creatures that is the basic message of every religion around.

Rest in peace Maya Angelou, Robin Williams, James Brady, Pete Seeger – and all those other good souls we lost in 2014. Most especially, M.

And Happy New Year to us all.

More on kindness…

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

Some favorite people – okay, my daughter and daughter-in-law – recently posted a link to a heartwarming story from “Prank it Forward,” about a waitress who clearly deserved some good luck getting a LOT of it from her co-workers and friends: $1,000 cold cash, two airline tickets to Hawaii, a dream job and a new car. It was hard to follow without laughing and crying all at once.

Clicking around for the source revealed an originating site heavy into pranks of all sorts, apparently good-natured ones even if not always winding up life-changing good news for the prankee. The site originators seem committed to bringing moments of joy, and if there’s anything this world needs right now it’s moments of joy.

Clicking farther led to another site surely worth visiting, DoSomething.org. Over at DoSomething.org, members are doing things like collecting jeans for homeless kids, recycling cans to save the planet, or campaigning to stop bullying. You have to love the DoSomethingers. Their avowed purpose is “to make the world suck less.” This writer, unfortunately, can’t join them, as their members are between 13 and 25 and everybody over that is Old People in whom they are pointedly not interested. And who can blame anyone under 25 for that?

But it’s still the personal random acts, those small kindnesses anyone can do and no one organized, that most warm this writer’s heart. The little things: picking up the neighbor’s overturned trash can, handing the grocery checker a $20 for the food stamp buyer behind you in line, giving away roses from your garden, sending a snail-mail note to a perfect stranger in a nursing home.

Catherine Stern, co-founder, with Carole Mahoney, of Project Grace and herself an act of kindness, shared one such story about a Project Grace participant. The young family had just moved into a new house in a new community when their three-year-old was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of cancer, forcing them to spend long hours driving to the hospital many miles distant. They were faced with juggling care for their other young children alongside the overwhelming needs of the sick child. Every time the exhausted parents pulled into the driveway of their new home they worried about what the neighbors must think of their unkempt yard, overgrown with weeds and scraggly grass. But one day, coming home after another long and exhausting time at the hospital, they were astonished to see their front lawn fully landscaped, grass mowed and flowers planted by their unseen neighbors who had somehow learned what was happening with the new family in the community.

Which is what kindness is all about: the community of humankind.

You CAN go home again…

… but it won’t be quite the same.

I’m just home from a trip to Washington, DC

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

for a nice event at The Corcoran Gallery that included a wide-ranging assortment of events — business, pleasure and in between. There were old faces, new faces and vastly altered landscapes, familiar turf and unfamiliar weather.

There were serendipitous treats like catching up with old friends I’ve not seen in a few years or a few decades… in the case of old friend  Roger Mudd, it was a matter of catching up on some 60 years.

Photo credit W&L.edu

Photo credit W&L.edu

And a side trip to my childhood hometown of Ashland, VA, where the characters of many of my short stories roam.

Thomas Wolfe, whose book title inspired this blog post, put it this way: “Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.” I wasn’t inspired to lean down my ear on the frosty February earth of Ashland (although the phrase brings fond memories of leaning our childhood ears upon the train tracks to figure out whether a locomotive was en route,) but it was fascinating to find things changed, and unchanged:

The dining room where I ate dinners for some 20+ years features a different wallpaper and is decorated with different art, but it’s still a warm and welcoming room and I was incredibly blessed to be invited to a “Homecoming Dinner” therein with family, old friends and the now residents of the home. 2014-01-31_18-53-31_136

Randolph-Macon College is unchanged in some of its gracious, over 100-year-old buildings and long familiar original campus on which I grew up, but surely changed in the rapidly expanding new campus… and the student body which was all male in my long ago childhood. It was a very special treat to meet with some of the current students and faculty, in class and at lunch. That story follows in a few days here; I hope you’ll stay tuned.