My personal path


I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.
—Eckhart Tolle

In 1999, a few months after Shonnie and I were married, I got a mid-day call from her at her office at the Mission Hospital marketing department in Asheville, North Carolina. I was putting the finishing touches on a client’s marketing plan at our home office in a little four-plex nestled in the woods just off Merrimon Avenue.

I answered the phone and Shonnie excitedly said, “Merrell brought in two abandoned kittens this morning, and they need a home. Can we keep them?”

“We’ve got three cats already,” I replied. “I really don’t think we need any more.”

“Please? They’re so adorable. Won’t you just come look at them?” Shonnie asked.

“Well, I guess we could consider one,” I said.  “Just let me get to a stopping point, and I’ll drop by.”

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

A half hour later I drove the four or so miles to the squat one-story building that housed Mission’s marketing offices. Upon entering I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of Shonnie’s fellow staff members and walked into Shonnie’s office. There on her desk were two very furry little kittens—both male, one black and white, one tabby—alternately grooming one another, wrestling and playing chase.

I took in the scene on the desk, smiled at Shonnie’s entreating and hopeful visage and said, “Well, if we’re going to take one, we’ll have to take both.” Shonnie beamed with excitement, and it was settled. We were now a five-cat family.

Though our three older cats—Chocolate (11), Kaali (5) and Attabi (4)—weren’t quite sure what to make of the two little fur balls and all the new masculine energy, the kittens settled in pretty quickly. Over the next few days we tried out various names, but settled on Bandit for the black and white because of his mask-like markings and Desmond for the tabby kitten in honor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (though I never related this to “Arch” in my occasional email exchanges with him). Based on their big, tufted paws, their big bones and muscles (Desmond weighed 18 pounds in his prime, Bandit 11) and their long multi-layered fur, vets suggested that our boys had Maine Coon blood, a breed known for enjoying interactions with humans and being sociable, devoted, playful and at ease with children and other pets. Bandit and Desmond lived up to all of these characterizations and more. (more…)

“What is your purpose in life?” the guardian of the gate at the men’s retreat demanded.
“To work toward a more compassionate, just and sustainable world,” I immediately replied.
“You may enter!”

I guess I’ve known why I’m on this planet for 15 years or so,
And at first I organized workshops that encouraged folks to wake up,
To get off automatic pilot,
To live and love more fully.

Later I took to writing,
Hundreds of op-eds for a variety of publications,
On peace, simple living, climate change, treating our children well, the connection between us all,
Taking a few potshots at George Bush and his pals in the process.

Next I endeavored to shift the course of our nation by working for worthy candidates,
As a field organizer for Obama in Ohio in’08,
As a campaign adviser for Cecil Bothwell’s victorious campaign for the Asheville City Council in ’09,
And as the communications director for Patsy Keever’s successful race for the North Carolina State House in ’10.

And now on the final day of 2010,
I sit down to reflect on how I’ll help bring about,
Compassion, justice and sustainability in the coming year.

I call out to Life: “I am your instrument; I am ready; show me the way.”
And when I get no response, the relentless planner in my head jumps into overdrive,
Maybe I should complete my book on happiness . . . or my essay on gay rights,
Or I maybe I should go to work in the 2011 city council campaign . . . or the 2012 presidential race.

But Life finally answers my plea with the joyful giggle of a 16-week-old baby girl.
And immediately I understand,
This is my mission, my purpose in life:
To honor the sacred responsibility of consciously parenting this lovely, loving, loveable child,
To love Gracelyn unconditionally,
To trust my intuition,
To allow her her independence,
To be fully present with her . . . moment by moment by moment.

With Shonnie, to create safe, secure, loving, fun, enlivening space,
In which Gracelyn is empowered to grow into exactly who she is intended to be.

Thus we three begin our 18-year meditation retreat . . .BabyG14
And I follow my breath as I change Gracelyn’s diaper,
I buckle her into her car seat, and I breathe,
I gaze into her brilliant blue eyes . . . and I breathe.
As she cries and I wonder what to do . . . again, I breathe.

And something imperceptibly shifts . . .
Within Gracelyn, within me, within the universe,
And nothing will ever be the same again.

December 31, 2010

Dear family and friends,

We hope this post finds you doing well on the first day of the new year. Life in 2014 has been joyous, fun-filled and fulfilling for us, though not without with the ups and downs that life always brings. Here are a few highlights:

Gracelyn and Snowy

Gracelyn and Snowy

Gracelyn started preschool three mornings a week at a delightful, new home-based school in our neighborhood, Thrive Preschool. There are no more than six children attending each day, and they are all quite compassionate, fun-loving and cheerful. Thrive is all about play, imagination, and enjoying time with friends. We’ve really enjoyed meeting the kids and adults involved and look forward interaction with them in 2015.

Gracelyn enjoys playing games like Busytown, Go Fish, and hide-n-seek, and playing doctor is still a favorite, an activity during which Gracelyn assumes the identity of Dr. Cranberry. We also have lots of fun playing family games of MadLibs with Gracelyn using adjectives such as “poopy” and nouns like “arugula.” As you can gather, the results of these games are often quite comical.

Our little girl continues to make up rhymes and songs on a daily basis. Some of her recent lyrics:

The sun is shining overhead,
First you, then me get out of bed.

After attending a performance of “Peter and the Wolf” with her school, Gracelyn has also been staging productions of the story using her stuffed animals and dolls as the characters . . . as well as any humans or cats she can round up. (more…)

Once again I’m struck by how the universe responds when I clearly ask for what I want and take action toward that end.

On November 19, I posted a personal essay on my blog about my first year in public school in Mount Pleasant, Texas in 1949, a piece in which I experimented with writing my internal dialogue as events unfolded. My blog is set up to send new posts via email to subscribers, and the next day I got an message back from my friend and subscriber John Coats, who’d read my piece. John reminded me that his grandfather had been mayor of Mount Pleasant during the early 1950s, the period during which my family lived there. What’s more, John spent a portion of his summers at his grandfather’s home, an experience he’d written about and now shared with me. So our paths had crossed prior to my experiencing an intensive personal development workshop in Houston in 1986 at which John was the trainer.

I emailed John back commenting on our common history, letting him know how much I’d enjoyed his story about his grandfather and suggesting that he expand it into a full-blown memoir. And, since I was embarking on a memoir project of my own, tentatively titled “A Tale of Two Daughters,” I asked John if he knew of mentors or coaches who could support me in this project.

John highly recommended Cat Parnell, who he’d met at the Bennington Writing Seminars and who had very thoughtfully edited some of his work. John also reported that Cat had already had a look at my blog and my Amazon Author’s Page and was interested in working with me. (more…)

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