A Thankful Day in San Francisco

Thanksgvng 2018 programMy favorite Thanksgiving thing has been – for the past 14 years – the San Francisco Interfaith Service. This year it was hosted (every year it’s a different faith community) by the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist in the city’s Tenderloin District, primary locale of the homeless and the down-and-out. Thanksgvng 2018 Church plan(The Christian Scientists have been in their historic building there since 1923, and after endless years of negotiating have recently gotten the green light from the city to build a multi-use high-rise including below-market housing on the site, keeping the façade and interior details –with the church itself staying put.)

Thanksgvng 2018 group

Faith leaders posing after the service

One gets to give thanks, at this event, in every known faith tradition. This year we had a little Greek, a little Hebrew, but I missed the Buddhist bell that’s usually rung and the Muslim call to prayer – both very much present, though, at the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast two days earlier. A few years ago a member of a Native American tribe spoke briefly at he prayer breakfast, opening with the comment, “I want to welcome you to my country.” I told him afterward I’m not sure he should’ve welcomed us. But anyway.

Thanksgvng 2018 Alcazar

The Alcazar

California is giving thanks for the approaching end to wildfires that have ravaged the state, destroying lives and property in the worst such events yet seen. In San Francisco, after days of smoky skies and streets filled with masked walkers, an overnight rain left the city washed clean. So it was a joy to walk the short mile home under brilliant blue skies, past historic buildings such as the Alcazar Theater.

But there was also the sad underside of life: the guy shouting into the sky, the mentally ill man tossing bottles from a recycling bin at passing traffic.Thanksgvng 2018 homeless (Another passerby said he had already called the emergency line to get help.) One can at least give thanks for helpers.

When I reached the corner near our building, another few blocks away I was rewarded with this view of Old Glory against the blue skies.

Thanksgvng 2018 flag

What’s not to love about a Thanksgiving Day in San Francisco?

 

 

 

Prayer, Peace & Song to Start the Day

world-peaceOK, this is San Francisco: love and peace reign. But it’s also Thanksgiving: gratitude and community. Celebrations of love, peace, gratitude and community are taking place not just on the left coast but across the country, as we begin to exhale after a bitterly troubled few months. Exhalation in community can be a great way to start the day.

“Hope,” said one speaker at the recent Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast, “is right there where it’s always been, between faith and love.” There was plenty of all three. Some 385 early-risers were gathered for the event, sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council and billed as “The Soul of the City: Faith and Social Justice in San Francisco.”

Marsha Attie

Marsha Attie

It all began with the sounding of a Buddhist Ceremonial In Kin Bell – a successful attempt to bring a little quietude into the amiable masses – followed by Pacifica Institute’s Fatih Ferdi Ates’ recitation of the Muslim Call to Prayer, in a voice that certainly reaches to the heavens. Brahma Kumaris Sr. Sukanya Belsare read the interfaith statement of the sponsoring SFIC, which is read at all board meetings and events and says, in effect, “Whatever your faith or faith tradition, it’s okay. We’re here to learn, and understand.”

Led by Cantor Marsha Attie of Congregation Emanu-El, the crowd then launched into a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Throughout the two-hour scrambled-eggs-&-mixed-fruit breakfast there were songs, honors, laughs and commentaries. Not to mention prayers in virtually every known faith tradition. A few highlights are encapsulated below:

SFIC Executive Director Michael Pappas: “The interfaith community will always stand for human rights, social justice and equality for all.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (to a standing ovation): “San Francisco will remain a sanctuary city.”

Kat Taylor & Tom Steyer

Kat Taylor & Tom Steyer

Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of California, introducing event honorees Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer to the audience and audience to the honorees (loosely paraphrased): “Bringing the mind effectively into the heart to do good works can result in reverence, compassion, forgiveness and courage.” Andrus then did a warm-up exercise, reciting a litany of actions such as feeding the hungry, protecting the oppressed and helping the poor, to an enthusiastic audience response of “We’re Still In!”

Honoree Tom Steyer, Founder and President, NextGen Climate (and major donor to progressive political causes – San Francisco is still San Francisco): “Troubled times give everyone a chance to lead a meaningful life. (A) challenge is to embrace our full humanity. The. U.S. didn’t start with full humanity for everyone.” Steyer then deferred to the co-honoree, his wife Kat Taylor, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Beneficial State Bank and a ferocious advocate for changing the food and banking systems for good through business models and philanthropy.

Mark Leno

Mark Leno

Honoree Taylor: “You knew I would sing” – launching into the Christian hymn standard “Here I Am, Lord,” with several hundred of the guests joining in.

Presented a proclamation by SFIC Board Chair G. L. Hodge – who said he relished the opportunity, since the recipient was famous for issuing proclamations himself, termed-out California State Senator Mark Leno: “I recognize this frame, from something I sent earlier. But I always say, ‘Reuse, Recycle, Re-elect.’”

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, after leading the crowd in reciting “The Prayer of St. Francis”: “Ministering to God’s creation is an act of worship. We must affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and we all have to be instruments of God’s peace.”

 

 

 

On being grateful – for rain & waterfronts

bridge in rain

(This essay also appears on Huffington Post)

“It’s not happiness that makes you grateful,” goes one of my favorite recent quotes (thanks, Joann Lee;) “it’s being grateful that makes you happy.”

Here’s to gratitude.

For one thing, it has been raining in San Francisco. That strange wet stuff that falls occasionally from the sky – but we haven’t seen in a very long time. A planned Commonwealth Club Waterfront Walk tour, which I had earlier volunteered to help host, was advertised “Rain or Shine;” and as it happened there was both. The rain dampened all streets but no spirits, and the beauty of the waterfront literally shone.

There is something mystic about a waterfront on a dark day: an ethereal quiet hanging just below the clouds, the call of a gull who could be from another world, the scent of newness.

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The waterfront in sunshine is brilliant and exciting; in rain it invites your imagination – and appreciation.

As with waterfronts everywhere, San Francisco’s is steeped in history: sailors and conquerors, longshoremen and adventurers. There is public art, and private beauty. Waterfront Walk guide extraordinaire Rick Evans covers a remarkable range of them in two hours:

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The rise and – literal – fall of Rincon Hill, once one of San Francisco’s famous seven, which overlooked the Bay until the city unwisely bulldozed a street through it in the 19th century and the sandy hill collapsed upon itself. (Earthquake and fire finished the job.) Today Rincon Hill is rising again, as gleaming steel towers. The buildings that survived earthquake and fire are other centerpieces of the walk, plus the monumental artwork on the waterfront that was a trade-off for Gap tycoon Don Fisher’s corporate headquarters building when it went up – insurance of unobstructed, breathtaking views.

Some of the beauty of many waterfronts, physical and informational, is manmade, as is true of this piece of San Francisco Bay. But every waterfront has its story, and its soul.

Rain or shine. A cause for exquisite gratitude.

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A little thankfulness

English: Cornucopia

English: Cornucopia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Thanksgiving starts, as it’s done for nine years, with the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service — this year at the Buddhist Church. (Past services have been at churches, synagogues and last year the Mormon Stakehouse; it’s a learning experience and a lovely one.) And because thankfulness is indeed good for the soul, here are just a few of the things I’m thankful for… or not:

While the remarkable folks at places like St. Anthony’s continue to feed the hungry, Thanksgiving Day and every day, for which we can all be thankful, it’s hard to be thankful for Congressional Republicans who voted earlier this year to cut some $40 billion out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which millions of Americans count on just to have enough to eat every day. But I’m thankful to live in a democracy and hopeful that a focus on the common good will eventually prevail over today’s focus on the one percent.

I am thankful for the slow but steady progress of the cause of death with dignity in this country. And that is thanks largely to Compassion & Choices, a fine organization if there ever were one. I’m not just thankful, but proud to have worked long and hard as a C&C volunteer for more than a decade.

Closer to my heart today is the cause of reproductive rights, partly because those rights are being relentlessly eroded. I remember so vividly what it was like to be a woman without such rights that it leaves me thankful beyond measure for those working so hard to protect them. People like –

Cecile Richards and everyone else connected with Planned Parenthood. Vilified because abortions are provided at some clinics (a tiny percentage of the services offered,) Planned Parenthood is now defending those who need insurance coverage for contraception. “Put simply, birth control is basic, preventive health care that millions of women rely on every day,” Richards wrote in a recent email. “Over 99 percent of sexually active women use birth control at some point in their lives, for a wide variety of reasons. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are now required to cover contraception with no out-of-pocket cost, a landmark step for women’s health that gives many women access to affordable birth control for the first time. (But) now a handful of out-of-touch, mostly male employers want to take that coverage away — and force their own beliefs onto tens of thousands of employees…”

In other words, a fertilized egg must be protected at all costs… including the cost of women’s health? Go figure. It’s headed to the Supreme Court, and reason, sanity and women’s health are likely to lose. So I’m thankful that Planned Parenthood is here at least to fight the battle.

Or others, like –

Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien, whose recent letter to the New York Times pointed out one simple, obvious truth: “Catholics in the United States have abortions and support access to abortion services at the same rate as other women do.”  Many of my Catholic friends are weary of themselves being vilified for a belief they do not hold — just because church officialdom insists on valuing their fertilized eggs more than themselves.

The Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service always includes a reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s (somewhat tedious) proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving, urging us all to be grateful for our multiple blessings “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Some things haven’t changed in the past century or so. But listening quietly to the historic proclamation, surrounded by a bunch of Americans of every imaginable race, creed and political persuasion, somehow makes one hopeful that human rights of all sorts — daily bread and individual choice to name a couple — will eventually win out.

And that’s something to be thankful for.

Holidays and the “Worried Well”

Our local paper, the thin-but-still-here San Francisco Chronicle, greeted the morning recently with a story about a new hospital facility for “the worried well.” And I say, just in time. Some of us may be sick; most of us, I suspect, are among the Worried Well. Especially from now until next January 1.

The facility in question is the Brain Health Center, part of the California Pacific Medical Center‘s Davies campus. It is designed (with a little help from an anonymous $21 million gift) to address a multiplicity of brain-related issues, including help and support for those in fear of lurking neurodegenerative disease. If you haven’t ever worried about where you put the car keys or left the cell phone you can stop reading right now. You are in that tiny population of the angst-free unworried. Then there are all the rest of us.

(Since I am a contented Kaiser member, I feared for a moment that CPMC was one-upping us. But a quick check reveals Kaiser offers things like core dementia training and behavioral understanding, not to mention support groups without end to comfort the Worried Well.)

Worried Well issues range far beyond the challenges of short-term memory loss.  WWs don’t know where the next paycheck, or mortgage payment, is coming from, or whether that little lump might be malignant. Or if the good-looking guy at the party is ever going to call. Closer to home for yours truly it’s how a half-century of accumulated Stuff scattered around a four-story Victorian will ever reduce into the 1600-sq-ft condo at the continuing-care place where worries would be less and wellness more.

Here is the good news: faith trumps angst. At the annual Thanksgiving Day interfaith service sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the hearts of the Worried Well were encouraged by just about every known faith tradition. A little inner peace from the Buddhist bell, a few stories building trust and understanding from the Mormons and the Muslims, eloquent prayers from the Jews and the Brahma Kumaris. Pastor Maggi Henderson of Old First Presbyterian Church, who organized this year’s service, then spoke convincingly of how hard it is to be angst-ridden when simply contemplating being loved by the creator.

So it seems, with science and religion BOTH looking out for us, the worried may yet be well.

Diet, exercise and Alzheimers

These paragraphs are a segue from talk of holiday festivities, over the past several days,  into the very un-festive subject of Alzheimer’s disease.

Part of the conversation at the very festive Thanksgiving dinner I was lucky to enjoy (without having cooked a single dish!) centered around food for the brain. One argument was that the good stuff for one’s neurotransmitters — egg yolks, broccoli, soy, starches — should be meticulously watched. I heard my mother’s voice in my head in response. “If you have three meals a day that look pretty on the plate,” she liked to advise, “you’re getting the proper diet.” When pressed she would explain that “pretty” equates to “color-coordinated,” i.e.: toast/bacon/scrambled eggs with parsley; or broccoli/carrots/potatoes/hamburger. I can’t remember whether our plates were 9-inch or otherwise.

Then there is the larger issue of exercise. Fitness, and occasionally brain exercise, have been contemplated several times in this space over the past few months (10/5: How’s your brain fitness today?; 9/7: The new best thing.) These theories hold that it is possible to strengthen, possibly even build anew, those neurotransmitters.

The definitive word on all this has not been written, and answers surely won’t originate with someone who barely passed Science I-II for the math/science requirement of her BA in Art. But some fascinating studies are being done, and new American Recovery and Reinvestment Funds will be going to projects that will be the focus of this space tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia remain the ultimate tragedy in millions of lives, diet and brain exercise and clean living in general notwithstanding.

One of the most poignant insights into this disease you’ll be likely ever to see is currently offered by the PBS series Life (Part 2.) It follows a beautiful, articulate woman named Mary Ann Becklenberg as she confronts her own decline with incredible courage. What science may find answers for in the next few years, Mary Ann Becklenberg is exploring in real time. Schedules and clips are on the Life (Part 2) website.

Chances are, whether you’re over 50 or not, your life will be impacted by dementia. I, for one, am grateful for science and for Mary Ann Becklenberg.

The after-Thanksgiving 9-inch plate diet

At a very special holiday feast yesterday, one super-health-conscious guest chose a small plate for his buffet serving rather than the elegant-size plates of the rest of us. It was, he maintained, a matter of not having seen the table around the corner where the elegant-sizes were laid out, but he did manage to mention something about smaller portions being sufficient…

So. Now that you are, perhaps, stuffed with stuffed turkey, this space is pleased to pass along a novel idea passed along several days ago by Washington Post writer Jennifer LaRue Huget:

The holiday season brings with it an overabundance of advice on how to avoid gaining weight in the face of all those festive meals, cocktail parties and plates of cookies brought in by co-workers. Depending on whose advice you’re inclined to heed, you can cut back on carbs, mind the glycemic index of the foods before you, fill up on fat or count every calorie.

Or maybe you could just use smaller plates.

That’s the premise of “The 9-Inch ‘Diet’ ” (PowerHouse), a book published last November by a pair of advertising executives that makes a strong visual and verbal argument that much of America’s weight problem stems not from eating the wrong foods but from eating too much.

Alex Bogusky, who wrote the book with Chuck Porter, is best known for his work on the “Truth” anti-tobacco ad campaign. He starts the book with a simple tale. Having just bought a lakeside cottage built in the 1940s, he and his wife went out to stock up on dinnerware. But the plates they bought (regular ones from somewhere like Target) didn’t fit, no matter which way he tried to jam them in the cupboards. Slowly it dawned on him that those cupboards had been built with much smaller plates in mind. Further research revealed that while most dinner plates today measure 12 inches, in the middle of the past century the standard was nine inches.

And so a “diet” was born. (Bogusky notes that it’s not a diet at all — and thank goodness, as most diets don’t work in the long run, he observes.) Bogusky replaced his plates with vintage nine-inchers, and he and his family adjusted their serving sizes accordingly. “Research has proven,” Bogusky told me in an e-mail, “the mind is a much bigger trigger for how and when we feel satisfied and full than anybody had formerly realized. More so than the stomach.” As a result, he says, he’s eating considerably less food at every meal.

And you can, too.

“The 9-Inch ‘Diet’ ” is a fun read, chock-full of images that show how the continual super-sizing of American food-serving vessels has led to our consuming ever-increasing portions. Obviously, the diet is just a way of exercising portion control. But it’s an elegant and adaptable way.

Huget explains the subtleties of this system: you take smaller portions, which means you select and cook foods that will work (forget the 12-oz steaks and indivisible barbecued ribs…), and explains why, as the book in question has been around for a year, she is now bringing it up:

…I know it works, and I knew so even before reading the book. Last Thanksgiving, feeling sentimental, I dug out of my attic my Grandma LaRue’s 1950s-era dinnerware, including her nine-inch plates, in a pattern my husband and I have long referred to as “Hideousware.” They looked kind of Thanksgiving-y, so we used them at our celebration. The plates were indeed tiny. And we all ate less than usual — without really noticing.

I have to admit, I noticed what my very fit and healthy friend was consuming on his 9-inch plate.  Maybe a little bit less than I had on my elegant one. But if one were also to pass on the offering of seconds, and then not sneak extra bites when helping clean up, or pick friends whose dinners aren’t as delicious as my friend Liz’ …  There may be another diet book here.

Meanwhile, you might want to stimulate the economy by getting a new set of 9-inch plates before the next holiday season.

Jennifer LaRue Huget – Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: 9-inch plates are key to diet success – washingtonpost.com.