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September 27, 2022

Practicing Maitri in an Unstable World

The older I get the more I realize nothing is as it seems.

I was raised in a small southeast Texas town beginning in the mid 1950’s.

Our parents believed our community was a safe place for us to play unsupervised. During the summer we were sent outside right after breakfast with a sack lunch and told not to come home till the street lights came on.

During the school year we walked ourselves to school and back, laughing and playing along the way.  I had little to no awareness of the goings on “across the railroad tracks” where an entirely different scenario was playing out.

The black community living there had their own schools, churches and grocery stores.

When I was very young I didn’t even know this place existed literally right across from my backyard.

When I was old enough to be dropped off at the local movie theater on a Friday night, I had my first experiences with these neighbors. They were made to enter the theater through a back door, purchase their popcorn and soda through a separate side window and then sent upstairs to sit in the balcony.

Throughout the whole movie, popcorn and ice cubes rained down on us in what I now know was an act of defiance. Back then, though, I did not understand why they were so angry. In my young, naive mind, the balcony seemed like a really cool place to be seated for the movie and I was actually a little jealous.

Whenever I think about that time in my life I am still so amazed at how well insulated I was from the real world.

The blindfold covering my eyes regarding so many subjects has been removed countless times since those early childhood days. It seems it wasn’t just my over protective family trying to keep secrets from me.

The history lessons I was taught throughout my school days either neglected to tell the whole story or were flat out lies. I remember a history class assignment where we were given a list of subjects to chose from to write a paper on. I picked the Bureau of Indian Affairs as I always had a natural interest in other cultures. The truths I learned during my research for this paper had no resemblance to the fairytale of the first Thanksgiving feast with peaceful “Indians” and generous “pilgrims”. 

The churches I attended told me a story of a heaven and hell that just never rang true with me. The son of God- a white skinned, blue eyed, blonde haired Jesus- was born into this world from a middle eastern virgin woman and her middle eastern husband. Believing in him would insure me a spot in heaven where beautiful angels played harps in front of golden castles. Not accepting him would mean an afterlife spent in hell for all eternity surrounded by flames and a mid evil looking red monster with horns and a tail. Included in this story was a rule that ten percent of my family’s hard earned money should be given to the church to help the poor. It isn’t hard to guess where that money went when you look at the mansions and private jets that the donated money purchased for the ministry of these holy institutions, or the masterpieces of art owned and political alliances bought by the richest church in the world- the Vatican.

I pledged allegiance every morning in school and on patriotic holidays to a country and a government that claimed to stand for one set of rules but secretly followed a hidden agenda.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This quote greets all who enter our shores from the New York Harbor. This bears little resemblance to the treatment given caged immigrant children and airplanes full of asylum seekers being used as political pawns.

I was raised by a single mom who worked in the man’s world of chemical plants, doing a job only a man had done until her, and she taught me that I could be and do anything and that I deserved all the same rights and freedoms as men. I believed her. But the truth of the matter was that those in power did not and still do not agree with her. Women in this country are still fighting for equal pay and bodily autonomy. Women in other countries are fighting and dying for the rights to drive or even more basic, to wear hair and clothing the way they want.

We are taught by schools, churches, governments, and our own families that humans are innately kind and generous. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, I chose to believe this tale. My ability to sleep at night and carry on with my days depends on this belief.

As I sit in my comfy chair, contemplating my last great adventure on this planet, I realize that though nothing is ever as it seems, I am able to create my own reality, but I must stay grounded and remain curious so that I can find ways of still being of benefit.

I must be a truth seeker.

I must read anything and everything I can get my hands on- especially the things “they” don’t want me to read.

I must listen- to thoughts different from my own as well as those that are preaching to my choir.

I must be active in doing my part to create the world I want to leave to my grandchildren.

I must be generous in my service to others.

I must keep moving forward, not allowing the harsh realities of this unstable world  to keep me from being kind everyday in every way, to everyone.

And I must show myself the same loving kindness that I offer to everyone else, because even though things are rarely what they seem, I can be the one constant in my ever changing world, and that, my friends, will sustain me.

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