Thursday, August 25, 2005

Pay it forward

The vision of Ordinary is my sanity in an increasingly violent world. Sometimes, though, it is hard to keep the vision clear and near.

Not long ago, an old family friend was killed by her husband. There had been no history of abuse in the family according to news reports. The family tells us that the 72-year old retired professor who killed his soul-mate and wife of many years, herself a retiring professor, suffered from dementia.

It is terrifying to imagine that a disease of the brain could render me so senseless that I might bludgeon my dearest loved to death. How is this possible?

We are a culture that celebrates violence. Murder is the theme of at least one television show on the major networks (never mind cable), almost every hour. The more graphic and "real" the bloodletting, the better.

Ignore fiction, stick to real life, and all I have to do is watch the news or tune in online for a smorgasbord of war, drive-by shootings, and yes, extraordinary examples of family violence, over and over and over again.

These past weeks, I feel increasingly surrounded by violence. Bombings in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, London. Gang-banger shootings on trains in my own city.

People are angry. People are greedy. People want to get even. People need control.

For some, so the television news magazines indicate in interviews with killers, violence is what they do, like picking their teeth or eating Cheetos.

Closer to home, though not so graphic--and therefore, not so entertaining--is emotional violence. A man I know, a good man trying to do the right thing for his company, recently demoted an employee because, he said, he felt his division had become "stagnant" and needed "shaking up."

The employee, loyal and dedicated, built his department from the ground up and must now train his successor. Had my friend attacked his employee physically, I doubt he could have done more damage. Will it help the bottom line? Will they grow bigger faster?

Look closer. Examine my own life. My bookshelves contain numerous who-done-its. I have read most of them, some more than once. A quick, easy read, I call it, when I want to escape. Imagine! I, who work for peace, escape to violence--to human hatred, betrayal, and loss--as entertainment.

Look closer still.

More and more, I am aware of the ways I participate in or choose violence on a daily basis.

Frequently, I jockey for position in the commuter train queue, making myself big to keep another from edging me from the front and center spot. If I am lucky today, that spot will get me on the train first so I can snare a rare open seat.

You think this a small thing? It is pure aggression and greed. When I become aware of my behavior in these moments, frequently my heart is racing, sometimes pumping so hard that my head hurts with each beat. Often, my fists are clenched, my jaw tight.

Too often, I sacrifice inner peace to create a personal advantage for a seat.

Friends and family argue that conflict is human nature, that it's in our genes, a hold-back to survival of the fittest, or simply a part of us because we are animals too, animals with teeth, brains to make weapons, instinct to guard our territory.

Perhaps that is true.

Perhaps that is a good excuse for choosing not to examine the way we do violence to ourselves and to others in our daily lives. After all, we have something other animals are believed not to have: free will and choice.

I'll tell you this. There have been plenty of times that I, bone-tired, got lucky and grabbed a seat on the train. Then someone shuffled on the train whose weariness was so deep, so profound, that I was up and offering my place almost without thought.

Not everytime, but often enough, they have responded with a gratitude that strengthened me, and I stood the twenty-to-thirty minute ride home energized, with a smile on my face.

Other times, I have been the one holding the bar with a fatigue so great it was all I could do not to swoon, and some individual has risen and said, "Please, take my seat. I'm getting off soon."

I wonder if they know what comfort their kindness brought, lasting long after the ride.

Kindness stays.

What was it that fellow said--"Pay it forward."

Kindness pays it forward.

You never know how far reaching a simple act of kindness in a rather mundane moment might be.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

When is a friend food--i

Do people eat meat in Ordinary? If they do, how do they obtain their meat? How does the community sustain joy if it must kill to sustain life?

What about clothing, shoes, heavy-duty straps, belts? Where do these things come from? Is wool gathered for warm winter sweaters against the fog-chilled air? Do people collect feathers for ornaments?

How do people who eat only vegetables and fruits work alongside people who love the taste of meat?

Do the meat-eating villagers eat only wild meat, caught by hunting? Do they raise animals for food? Who does the killing? Who butchers the animal, cleans the hide, gleans tools and collects the offal for fertilizer?

How do the villagers deal with the death of an animal?

These are some of the questions rocking around in my head as Rose began relating the story of Bonnie's death.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Building Ordinary ii

I'm struggling with a myriad of questions these last few weeks.

How big is Ordinary? How many people reside there? Does it have a hospital? What type of structures for observing spiritual practices exist? How much land does it take, per capita, to support the villagers? How much additional land is required between Ordinary and neighboring villages to assure a diverse ecosystem?

What materials do the people of Ordinary and surrounding villages use in their daily lives? What are their kettles made of? Where do their textiles come from?

Internet searches on "sustainable living" and "eco village" turn up a lot of hits, from Los Angeles to Ithaca, Australia to Colombia, Africa to Ireland.

All over the world, people are creating community in harmony with the land and the Earth's creatures. Some of these communities, like The Farm in Tennessee, have existed for years. Others, like Solto in Grohote, Island Solta, Yugoslavia, (see A Cluster of Eco-Villages) are still in planning stages.

It takes time, a lot of money, enormous commitment and dedication to bring people together in a common vision.

Underlying threads in most of the experimental villages I found online are: 1) to develop an environment where human beings live fulfilled lives in peaceful cooperation; 2) to respect and honor the environment, harming none and taking no more than they give; 3)to nurture individual spiritual and creative expression.