on solitude borne up by all souls

Were it not for the kindness of strangers, friends, and loved ones (human and not), I could not imagine my own existence.

The self, it seems to me, readily and daily fissures the bounds of body and soul in which we presume ourselves to be singular and individual, apart from any others while here, and it so easily flows into all that is around (and within) us. Porous we are, spirits taking fire from beings we may never know, bodies and minds connected to all that is at depths we cannot fathom or touch.

There is something deeply comforting about feeling one’s self alone amidst such an ancient and enduring gathering, for our solitude is sheltered and made verdant by all the souls who have ever—or will ever—exist. When we feel ourselves most alone, we most fully join these legions.

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on doing

Do what you can when and where you can for as many as you can every day.

For years now—since my middle teens—I have lived by this trusty old motto and one other:

Be gentle. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden. 

The gentle one came from an issue of Grit Magazine, which I remember because they were the first place to publish something I wrote, and I carried that tattered scissored-out quote around with me until it fell apart, and then wrote it on another piece of paper and did the same thing again. Four times in the course of not quite four decades. I am not a gentle soul. The quote gigged me to aim that way anyhow on occasion.

The doing quote, I always assumed, also came from somewhere similar, but I’ve never been able to find the source. Likely I read something like it and tweaked the wording enough that searches are waylaid. Even these days, with Google, I still can’t find it, though, so perhaps I made it up on the hoof somewhere in the long past? Don’t know. Would be happy to get provenance on it, if there is any version available (please feel free to share in the comments below), but today I just want to say it here, because I’m doubling down on my commitment to living by its lights. I have always been a doer and a giver. Having things for myself while others do without hurts me to the bone and hollows out the marrows of my soul. But even when I believe I have been doing all I can? There’s almost always something more I can do.

Today I heard again the story of 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, who has now been arrested twice by the Fort Lauderdale, Florida police for feeding the homeless. Bless his heart: he went to jail for it, got out, and went straight back out to do it again! Now this is the kind of behavior we need a lot more of. I so admire Mr. Abbott and his organization—Love Thy Neighbor—and all the millions of people who every day are doing everything they can for others, so I’m posting these old quotes and a link to his story here. I will also keep this page updated with information, since there’s a Kickstarter project in the works to help pay for Mr. Abbott’s legal costs. But mainly I just wanted to gig myself to live ever more deeply these mottos of my youth.

Thank you for all that you do for those around you in need. Let’s take our cues from Mr. Abbott and find ways to love and help our neighbors (strangers and loved ones alike) more than before, whenever that is possible!

Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP/Corbis

Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP/Corbis

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I

on coexisting in chilly times

The last insect of summer visited me tonight, coming close again and again to skin of face and hands and arms, in pursuit of tiny hoped-for sips of my warm blood in these 32F-and-headed-for-25-or-fewer degrees: a mosquito the size of a middling housefly flirts with ending its own life sooner, if that’s what it takes to have one last drink.

Little does s/he know that the one around whom s/he hovers tonight? Is sufficiently chilly herself and perfectly willing–even happy–to provide that last libation and not ask for a life in return. Should such a grace be offered, that is.

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on what is in places

Of late and especially this week, I have been mulling on how one’s immediate physical surroundings—and what is required in order to do basic things like stay warm, stay fed, stay washed and clothed and capable, stay safe and alert and carrying on—affect a person’s perceptions of everything. Family. Friends. Acquaintances. Foes. Love. Loss. Estrangement. Work. Breathing. Possibilities. What is or what could or might be in our PastPresentFuture. Is it the immediacy or the physicality of place that pervades us thus?

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on going from good hearts to good societies

Every day, and many times during it—no matter where I am or what I am doing—I think about the people who are suffering in places far removed from me: Gaza, Guantanamo, Sierra Leone (and many more), refugee camps in so many places, communities and cities and whole nations hardhit by violence and war and famine and disease and lack of access to basic necessities of life like health care and clean water and sufficient food or places to worship, play, and be. Presumably we all do this—thinking about so many who have not our privileges, no matter what else is going on, right?

I also give whatever I can pull together every single day to help those who are less well off than I am, too—even if it means doing without things that I need or want and sometimes doing that for good (as I have scaled down my lifestyle drastically over the last 15 years so that I can require less and thus give more)—and presumably everyone else is also doing this now, too, right?

And yet, still and ever it seems, the dogs of war and inequalities seem unleashed ever more deliberately every day. How does an individual or family make any real difference when we’re all doing it separately, coming together sometimes in groups for activism or joint organized efforts, but then going back onto our own little lanes on the treadmills that pass for life in industrialized nations? How can we break the commonest of our widespread patterns so that having more for ourselves is no longer a cultural value, and ensuring that ALL have enough to live good and meaningful lives becomes our highest societal aim? How do we make the shift from having good hearts to being good societies? (For all and not just a few.)

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on oneness and being

For a short while last night, trapped between sleep and waking, I could not remember where I was, and for a few moments I also could not remember who I was. From there I fell into a series of fast, detailed dreams about being back in school—all grades simultaneously, from first through graduate alike—and passing by in-crowds of each with every person in them still signaling in all the ways common to such gangs that I did not—and would not ever—belong there.

So this is what it feels like to return to myself, I thought, deeply unsettled but unafraid. To stand on the foundation of my being sans identity. There was an inexplicable emptying of the busy, frantic world, an opening up on spaces of wonder unmet heretofore, and I felt the pace of my own stranger soul being honored. And trusted. And, too, for the first time ever and without effort or forethought or planning on my part? Known.

And then the small dog who has kept steady company alongside me these last eight years shifted, roused, and raised his head to check on my wellbeing, and I instantly remembered—first, where I was, and next, who I was, and then the familiar settled back in as a warm blanket swathes a chilled body on a cold night far from home.

Hours on, I awoke to a sunlit morning feeling more refreshed than I can remember ever having done. A deep sense of being only a being still abides, even now, far from sleep, and I have an unshakeable knowing of an essence always present in my self, but never before encountered in quite so literal a manner. The emptying remains. I cannot describe in words how comforting this is. There is a whole universe that partakes not of our hope|fear-entangled selves, and we do not exist merely in or of it: we are it. The one of all that is.

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on happy, no matter what

Amidst a slew of news and happenings over the last week (four of which qualify for the crazy-bad category and four more which simply cannot fit anywhere but in the crazy-good sector)? I look around every day to find myself teary-eyed joyful and teary-eyed sad, usually at precisely the same time (no sequencing afoot) and guess what: I am happy. Period. No matter what.

Fascinating, that. Happiness was never all that big a goal of mine. Since childhood, I’ve always been a lot more focused on the thing I was trying to learn right then. I suppose I went about my first three decades figuring happiness itself to be an odd duck and unhappy if pursued by anyone, but especially me—not at all equipped with duck-hunting genes. About ten years ago, that laissez-faire attitude morphed into near desperation to make a contribution before I die, to do something that would make a good difference for somebody else, to lay myself out and use myself totally, completely up in service to something besides my own personal desires or needs. It became an obsession almost, with every single decision run through the hopper of valuable contribution or no? And it fueled long hours of work toward a path sure to let me do that . . . which turned out to dead-end in a carbon steel-mortared brick wall.

Only having hit it full force, and then having taken a few steps back and knuckleheaded it again at high speed (three of the crazy-bad happenings of the last week forming said wall)? Only then did I raise my weary head and lay one beady eye on forever and erupt in happy laughter at it all. It was as if a great old soul was standing next to me and said, “hannah, when will you ever accept that you do NOT belong in these lines of endeavor?!! Seriously, dear, do we need to break your nose or something next time?!”

And I laughed, and still am laughing today, as miracles and nightmares keep erupting all over, and much of what I thought was solid disappears while stronger firma terra materializes all about and without my least assistance. And in such a space I know that the crazy-bads are honestly not a whit different from the crazy-goods, because when you come down to the puppy’s nubbin on things, I am just a little human being in a great big world. For however long I am breathing, I shall breathe and be to the best or worst of my abilities in that moment, and the second I do not? I know not a smidgen of what comes next. One thing I know for sure: Hell’s already my friend, because love—unconditional, wide hearted, and unceasing—leaches even the worst crazy-bad times of their furies and has proven to me, over and over and over again already, that every hell carries heaven in its innermost heart. So I am happy. Period. No matter what.

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