He is Risen

Today is Easter for the Christians, Passover for the Jews, and the bridge makers of it all sometimes sigh:  What exactly does He is Risen truly mean?  Last night, I watched “Jesus Christ Superstar” again.  I’ve watched it ritually for close to forty years.  Ted Neeley is still playing the part of Jesus in his seventies, and, worldwide.  Where does he get his vitamins to move onward every year?  He imbues the kindness of Jesus as well as his human frustration as he plays that powerful role.  “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” takes on a deeper meaning.  Last night, I put on the captions and actually sang along. Why not?  But as I studied those captions, I realized dialog I had missed even with my repetitive viewing on Good Friday or Holy Saturday.   It became clear that often the lyrics were subtle Sometimes they were evocative:  “Jesus is cool”  voiced by the high Sanhedrin priest.

And then the dialogs of Jesus and Judas.  Clearly the love between the two of them was there as well as the agony.    Tim Rice, the lyricist, is my hero.  He brought the story to life, not just another repetition of something written so long ago.  It is timeless.

Well, here is where I’m going with this blog:  What if  He is Risen was reflected in all our thinking?  What if Redemption, ah the elusive word, was ACTIVE NOW.  Redeem? Rise? Crucifixion? Forgiveness. All the words repeated ritually just might take on a new meaning.

We are smack in the middle of global change whether we wish it or not.  This “Holy Week” I contemplated who actually cooked the Last Supper.  Now there’s a subtle veering to the side  I honestly thought:  Wow!  The girls are at the market buying the lamb today (Tuesday).  Wow! The girls are prepping the roast for cooking and doing side dishes.  I even asked a Jewish friend what kind of side dishes would be at the Last Supper?  Sure it appears humorous but in fact, it’s kind of nice to wonder.  We glean over so much in our rituals.  And then I went to “Who cleaned up the dishes?”  Women quietly did their thing then as we do now but often invisibly.

What I’m trying to say is this:  What if we just threw out all the ritual repetition and allowed ourselves to feel the Rising from a very personal space.  Maybe we could throw out bigotry, judgment and taking any sides and oh yes, TWEET kindness for all.  Sure I’m Polly Anna again but Polly also rises. Our planet, our people, our nations our states, our cities, our homes just might HEAL.

A Rare Kind of Courage

I lost a true friend this weekend.  She wasn’t human but she possessed the incredible attributes that make fine humans and fine dogs.  Maggie was a Golden Retriever who had become blind in adulthood.  In some ways it might have been easier for her as she had memorized so much of life by the time she lost her earthly eyes.

I pet sat her for a number of years and the very essence of that beloved pup seemed to remain with me even after I had driven away.

We had long conversations out at the common area where she particularly loved a variety of sniffs.   It was miraculous with its soft grass, wildflowers and yes, sniffable spaces.  I like to think she saw it all with her “other” eyes. When I walked her, there were the occasional bumps into objects that she quickly learned.  Later she became frightened of the tile floors that made her slide a bit.  Still, she carefully proceeded down the stairs to her pit which she had dug under a shade tree.  A gentle command of “Down” was all she needed to start the descent, and oh how she loved to roll in the grass. Pure Joy!

I loved sitting in the chair in the lounge with her close at hand.  We were buddies and I often read aloud to her.  Most humans don’t reach that far into pet assignments, but Maggie was NEVER an assignment.  I was honored to be with her whenever her owners called.

I like to think that since it is Chinese New Year, and the year of the Earth Dog, Maggie left at an auspicious time.  I also know that she is somewhere above us watching with her new eyes.  Her very gentleness fills the room as I write this last farewell.

The courage she taught me to go on in the face of all aridity will carry me through for many years to come.  Blindness never stopped her one instant.  It was, well, just something that happened along the way.  Wouldn’t it be fine if we humans had that much detachment and yes, courage?

Paws up to you, Maggins.  (This was my pet name for her).  As I sit and watch the falling snow, tears fall for one of the finest dogs I’ve ever had the privilege of caring for.

Pet sitting has become a true journey of the heart, and this fair girl will be missed, incredibly missed by us all.

 

Me and Maggie Dog

 

Looking Back on Mother

This Sunday, September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa will be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.  In simple language:  She will be declared a saint in Heaven, as is she didn’t already occupy that zip code a long time ago.

I spent an incredibly powerful time in Kolkata some years back and Mother Teresa featured highly in that experience.

Looking Back at Mother  

We arise at 4:30a.m.

We will be walking the dark streets to Mother Teresa’s house.  Mass begins at 6.

As we pass through the back alleys of Calcutta (now Kolkata), winding through the Muslim sector, we see many people sleeping on the cement. Early tracings of dawn reveal a city awakening to business as usual. Many later up at gushing fire hydrants. goats hang in the market place. Vegetables lie in piles ready for sale. Slowly, locals rise to get their wares organized for yet another day of haggling.

Beggars sift through the eternal trash in line with a dump truck that races them for scoops. The scent of peat, combined with urine and rotting garbage hangs heavily in the air.

As we turn down the alley, we see the door marked Mother Teresa’s.  Entering the main courtyard, a large statue of the Virgin Mary greets us. Nuns move quietly about their business, readying for Mass and their duties which will take them to the House of the Dying, Home of the Children and other centers near Calcutta, including the leprosarium one hour out of town.

We remove our shoes to enter the chapel and a sense of excitement arises. I am at her very door, this precious woman who has guided my heart for so long. Sisters enter quietly while incessant crows squawk outside the windows midst a cacophany of horns and street noise.

Mother, herself, kneels unassumingly. She appears much tinier that I expected. As I gaze at her feet, I see they have hammered toes. This must be painful. Her severely rounded shoulders and upper back bespeak of osteoporosis. Still the very presence of this extraordinary soul inspires all to quiet smiles of awe. Very much present, this little woman adjusts the light switches above her.

At communion, she leads the sisters and then takes the Eucharist to dispense to lines of postulants, sisters and volunteers. Memory of the sight of her at prayer still thrills me. After Mass, Mother leads the sisters in singing and prayer. They seem almost childlike in their recitation revealing a remarkable innocence.

Later, in an uncommon time alone, she takes my hand and holds it for a long time as we speak together. I ask her if I can videotape some of her centers. “Go photograph the children, photograph the living!” she insists. Before I know it, Mother has arranged a nun to personally escort me to Shu Shu Bhavan, the place of the children.

Later, my companion and I take a taxi across town to the House of the Dying. Entering the huge wooden door, I say to my attorney friend, “Be prepared to walk to the edge of your soul.” This sacred place can be a confrontive experience for anyone. The first time I served here twelve years ago, I spoke with Sister Dolores.

“Sister, I hope I haven’t been in the way. I’m new and just followed in the footsteps of the other volunteers.”

Sister Delores smiled and said,  “My dear, you can carry a body to the morgue, feed an old woman, change bandages, paint beds for the Pope’s visit or just stand at a distance and love them with your eyes. It’s all the same”

We find aprons and gloves and quickly immerse in cleaning plastic mattresses and pillows. I stand at times and simply witness the scenes before us. Encounter of the heart, between volunteers and the sick and dying reveal an amazing experience of compassion.

As the morning wears on, we go from bed to bed, offering a hand, sometimes administering medicine, stroking, feeding or just sitting and holding. While massaging an old woman’s feet, I suddenly ask myself, Why can’t I do this for my own mother? Why do I have to go halfway around the world to experience compassion?

Determined to seek permission to somehow invisibly videotape the “Moments of the Heart”, I return to my hotel with a homework assignment from Sister Priscilla, the lead organizational nun. I must write a letter to explain what I want to do, for what use and who, in fact, I am. Late this night, I search my soul for the words.

A rickshaw driver delivers me and my handwritten letter to the convent. sitting outside the door marked “Private”, I gaze at the simple blue checkered curtains separating within and without:  the points between rest for Mother and greeting the ever-present devotees.

Now, sitting in the wings, I’m not seeking photo opportunities as I watch Mother at work, greeting souls, ruffling baby hair, tickling a child. I see some tiredness behind that tiny arthritic frame. Who protects Mother form exhaustion, a personal Jesus? Who sends her energy? Batteries that just keep on keeping on like the Energizer bunny?

Sister Priscilla suddenly appears and sits down beside me. She delivers the permission signed by Mother, which will enable me to proceed with my video work.

On our last day in Calcutta, I’m not expecting to see  Mother but she suddenly emerges from behind the curtain. She smiles and I say, “We’re leaving today, Mother.”

She hesitates and asks, “Where are you going?”

I answer, “Home, to the U.S.”

She takes my hand and holds it gently and look up. “You are coming back, aren’t you?”

I promise, “Of course, Mother.”

Suddenly she asks, “How many houses do you have?”

“One, Mother, why?”

She laughs and answers, “I have over 500 in 105 countries!”

I counter, “Good Lord, I hope you have someone to clean them all. I have trouble with only one.”

We laugh together and then she speaks quietly to me of dying with grace, dignity and love and how important it is to have support.

And….I hold her hand one more time.

She’s gone now like a whisper on the wind, my beloved Energizer Bunny, who kept on keeping on. She’s left me with a smile, her wonderful business card, medals which keep multiplying, a picture of One Moment in Time and her gentle hand in mine.”

 

The House of the Dying

Looking down on the roof, one can view Kalighat, the temple of the Goddess Kali. It abuts the very walls of the House of the Dying. Here, animal sacrifices take place and the energy is quite Hindu.

In the beginning, the head Brahman of this temple, quite opposed Mother’s work and sought to prevent her from proceeding. When he contracted cholera and lay dying, no one in the temple would touch him. Mother collected him and nursed him herself. After he survived and healed, he became her chief proponent.

After washing and scrubbing, we return to the hotel to change clothes. We immerse our sandals in bactericidal solution. Are there risks working at Kalighat? TB, AIDS and other diseases are rampant in the back streets of India. Still, precautions taken can withstand most challenges.

I soak my sandals for two days, hang them up to dry in the harsh Calcutta sun and give them to the rickshaw driver as a gift. By this time, I’ve purchased rubber sandals that are far more practical.  Geri Lennon

I’m a video producer and author who lives in California.  I’m currently co authoring a bio book on Pandemics and working on a video documentary based on the work Mother Teresa began called “Moments of the Heart, the Path of Compassion”. Over the last several years, I’ve worked as a lay volunteer with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity whenever I can get to India.  I wrote this article after three weeks in Calcutta in 1996.

Another Face of Mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthem for a Divine Pussy Cat

For the first time in my writing life, I find I am speechless and in awe.  I struggle to form the words for how I truly feel.  I mean no humor or diminution in calling our beloved Cecil, a Pussy Cat.   He was a magnificent and royal lion.  He was also a poster being for all that I find painful in a world of audacity and arrogance.  In a heartbeat, a wild and wonderful creature can be erased from life as we know it by someone who needs a trophy on his wall   Do I forgive this entitled fool?  Heck, its the Christian thing to do, is it not?  Frankly, I must put this item, this elusive forgiveness, aside until later.  Right now, I’m in grief and find a huge lump in my heart for a creature who will no longer be reigning over his pride. As for laws and protection,  Cecil was SAFE.  It took law breaking, insane arrogance and money to lure this wonderful creature out of his place of sanctuary. .    Maybe silence is all I can muster or, perhaps, a silent roar.  I’ll look up and do so, but for now I can only bow my head and weep.