What does it mean to be an animator-

  • Be a true friend to those who are younger. Junior youth, or those who are between the ages of 11 and 14, are at an age where they rely on their friends. When they experience friendship that isn’t rooted in superficial interests or appearances, they thrive.
  • Provide an example of positive growth. Since you are just a bit older than the junior youth–not so old that they can’t relate to you, but not quite so young as to be a peer–they will look to you to see what kind of person they could become in just a few years.
  • See potential in all its forms. Society offers us a vision of junior youth that isn’t necessarily accurate. Looking at adolescents and seeing their capacity for kindness, for creativity, and for service to others helps them to see themselves not as a problem to be fixed, but as protagonists and agents of change.
  • Unite youth, families, an communities. A junior youth group doesn’t only affect participants, it draws in everyone around it. Through service, visits, and consultation, the presence of a strong junior youth program can actually transform the surrounding culture.

Interested in becoming a junior youth animator? Learn more about the training institute or contact the Baha’i community nearest you.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. Part of that has been because of work: I’ve been helping to create a textbook! The work alternates between incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly tedious, and both aspects have taught me a lot. And while it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, from this day forward I will always judge a book by its bibliography. I’ve become quite the citation snob!

But this isn’t to say that I haven’t been doing any creative writing. It’s just taken on a bit of a change of format.

I’ve been speaking.

It’s odd, when I tell people about it. They want to know what my hobbies are, and my answer is one of the biggest fears many people have. Writing and giving speeches for fun? Heck no.

And yet, it makes sense to me. It’s a bit like writing. It’s a bit like performing. It’s a bit of poetry and logic and theater, all mashed up. And it’s social. The immediate connection between speaker and audience is addictive, and the friendships formed are genuine. We release our hearts into the world and find them welcomed, flawed and growing as they are.

And I’m improving! There’s nothing like seeing yourself get better at something that’s a little bit scary. New challenges, new adventures. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get really brave and post a video or two. 😉

It’s funny, when I wrote that last post about ebola, it was something far-off. And now it’s here. I mean here.

When I first heard there was a patient with ebola in Dallas, I thought, “Huh, I wonder which hospital he’s at.” Then I found out he was at the hospital where I work.

Then they mentioned that children from four different schools might have been exposed. Someone remarked that it was unlikely that children attending four different schools could all be in one family, and I thought, “Not really. That’s very common in my neighborhood. I wonder if he lives here.” As it turns out, he does.

Now, I’m not afraid of contracting this virus. It’s not particularly easy to catch, and I follow standard precautions. I know that the hospital, and the health department, and the CDC are all doing excellent jobs.

The news crews who are swarming this gentleman’s apartment complex? I have less faith in them.

Lots of the kids I work with live there. They all came home from school today with an ebola fact-sheet. And the whole world wants a snapshot of the place where this virus lived for a few days before being isolated and hospitalized.

My neighborhood.

And I’m worried about what these news people are describing. Crowded instead of close-knit. Full of refugees instead of diverse. Dirty. Dangerous. Poor.

I see you looking at us through the lens of the news, and the combination of xenophobia and paranoia this lens promotes is a bit frightening. Much more so than a simple virus.

No, not every road here has sidewalks. No, not all of us speak English. No, we don’t look like any other neighborhood in Dallas.

But we’re not a throwaway neighborhood. We’re not a public health risk. We’re not the problem here.

We’re the solution that has yet to be called upon.

We speak 33 languages. We know our neighbors. We gather regularly to share information on the soccer field, in the laundromat, and on the street. You couldn’t ask for better participants in a campaign to ensure the safety of our friends and relatives.

But nobody’s asked us.

So we’ll try to mobilize as best we can, ducking between the cameras trying to sell a frightening story about immigration and public health. I hope that, when they start using that story as a reason to tear these old buildings down and build condos that none of us can afford, someone will remember our story too. That we aren’t just a ghetto full of scary people from scary places.

We’re the solution to problems that have yet to be understood.

And this is our home.

While I’ve been following the current ebola outbreak for quite a while now (my job requires me to visit the CDC website on an almost daily basis, so it’s constantly in my face), it’s only recently that I’ve seen Americans without ties to west or central Africa becoming actively afraid of the disease. And where fear goes, exploitation follows. Scammers are selling all kinds of products to “protect your family against ebola,” from essential oils to magical water to expensive dietary supplements. Never mind that the best way to avoid contracting ebola is to avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has ebola—not terribly difficult to manage here in the US.

But people quite naturally want to do something when horror strikes. As such, here’s my list of suggestions of things you can do, as an average person outside of an area where ebola is endemic, to help the situation.

1. Support science education of children, youth, and adults.

If we as a people do not understand science, we will not produce scientists. We will not be able to develop cures and methods of prevention. We will be easy prey for scams. We will not know where to donate money or time or energy in order to be of service. Supporting science education might mean tutoring a neighborhood youth. It might mean pitching in for science supplies for a local cash-strapped teacher. It might mean organizing a workshop at your local library, or calling your state legislators. It might even mean logging on to Khan Academy and educating yourself. Choose the path that makes the most sense for you.

2. Demonstrate and teach compassion.

Nothing gets better when nobody cares. (And caring is different from fear.) Does picking up litter in your neighborhood on your daily walk really have any effect on something like ebola halfway across the world? Not directly. But in a world where editorials make sarcastic cracks at those who dedicate their lives to curing disease and alleviating suffering, any attempt to eliminate cynicism is a step that brings us closer to being able to act in unity with our fellow human beings.

Vickery Meadow neighborhood cleanup

3. If it’s not about you, remember that.

If you live anywhere near a decently-sized city, there are people in your area who are affected by this crisis. You have neighbors or coworkers who are from central and west Africa, who have family there, who are worried sick in ways that probably don’t apply to you. A visit, some baked goods, a word of understanding can go a long way. Listen. Listen well, and do it more than you speak. Share the burden of those who are suffering, rather than adding a burden of your own.

4. Live in a learning mode.

Medicine is a tricky practice. It involves some science, some art, and a sizable chunk of engineering all thrown together. It requires a process of study, action, and reflection that doesn’t always run perfectly on an individual level, much less on a global scale. But when we allow ourselves to internalize this learning cycle, we stop being defensive about past mistakes, and instead upgrade our knowledge and habits without shame. While most of us aren’t going to develop a cure for ebola, we can bring to a halt the spread of misinformation, even misinformation we ourselves had a hand in promoting. We can encourage habits of creative thought and concerted action that might lead to a new scientific breakthrough, or just a better experience for the families on our street.

I know that these aren’t the kinds of advice most people are looking for. They don’t particularly alleviate fear. They aren’t direct. They aren’t immediate. They’re not simple. And they’re definitely not glamorous. But when we finally conquer this outbreak, there will be another crisis to capture our attention. Perhaps another virus. Or a war. Or a hurricane. Or a messenger from outer space—who knows? We can’t possibly hope to preemptively develop exactly what is needed to handle every possible contingency. But in all of these cases, there is a shared truth: that the best preparation is a community of people who strive towards acquiring and applying knowledge for the betterment of all.

If you want to make a difference, start there.

I love how the more I work in the community, the more it becomes a process of mutual sharing. Sharing a song with the youth in a study circle is so much lovelier when they teach me one in return. A gift of my time visiting a neighbor in her home is quite literally sweetened by the tea she serves me. A word in English traded for a word in Spanish, or in Nepali, or maybe just a loving smile.

It sounds so selfish, I know. We’re taught that we should give selflessly, without regard for reward. But I can’t help the feeling that what I’m experiencing isn’t something as petty as tit-for-tat, it’s an emerging environment of equality. We’re just neighbors. Collaborators. Friends. There are no martyrs here.

So I know a prayer in Sanskrit now. I’ve learned to make chatpate from a group of middle school girls and to make origami flowers from a talented boy who used to curse at me in the street. I hoard a collection of construction paper cards that say “I love u Mis Cat” and “Thank you for being a awesome friend.” I’ve been invited to saints’ days and birthdays and dinners and festivals. And I’ve come to understand, most people love the opportunity to share what they have. Knowledge. Art. Stories. Passion. Faith. It brings people joy the same way it does for me. Silly not to have known it all along, eh? But I’m so much richer for having discovered it now.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

It’s Vegan MoFo, the Vegan Month of Food. While I’m not participating because I just can’t get into the idea of being a food blogger, I figured I should be a good veg citizen and contribute something to the collective endeavor. On the other hand, I don’t feel like writing recipes and taking fancy pictures and all that. So instead, I’m going to share my nine favorite ways to eat toast.

  1. With butter* and zatar.
  2. With butter and nutritional yeast.
  3. With butter, honey**, and cinnamon.
  4. With butter, honey, and masala chai spice mix.
  5. With butter and marmalade.
  6. With butter and apple butter.
  7. With almond butter.
  8. With almond butter and banana slices.
  9. Surrounding a sandwich. The kind is unimportant, so long as it includes sauerkraut.

Of course, I’m all for new ideas. Tell me about your favorite ways to eat toast!

*By butter, I mean of course whatever your favorite buttery spread happens to be. I like Earth Balance, but I’m no snob. Eat what you like.

**Generic term for your favorite liquidy sweet stuff. I just like the texture better than sugar. But sugar works too.

 “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

-The Princess Bride

Coherence does not mean the same thing as balance. To balance two or more aspects of your life, they must be separate, but given equal or appropriate weight. To live a coherent life is to understand how your work, your health, your service, your family, support each other, and are one. A coherent community does not attempt to separate the needs of children, youth, adults, families, and institutions. A coherent thought does not need to be diagrammed, balance sought between nouns and verbs. If balance is a pie chart, coherence is the combined ingredients in a strawberry-rhubarb pie. There is a difference.

Sustainable does not mean the same thing as easy. Lowering your standards might seem like a great way to ensure that a program or habit can carry on for years, but without the thrill that comes from meaningful challenge and the chance to create true change, is it really so feasible? Daily flossing is easy, but many people skip it even so. Try to see the sustaining power in exhilaration, inspiring greatness of spirit rather than smallness of action. There is a difference.

Empowered does not mean the same thing as independent. Just because someone cannot take on all the responsibility for a task without help does not mean that they cannot begin by taking some. Just because someone has all the skills to act without support from others doesn’t mean that they should. Abandonment is not a condition of power. There is a difference.

walking the path

A few reflections on walking a path of service, a theme that ran through the 10 day intensive youth training campaign I helped facilitate over the last two weeks.

It’s a path, not a road. It is built by the people who walk it. It is being built by you, now, for as long as you walk it, until you stand still. And even then it is shaped by your stillness, your feet sinking into the mud and leaving the imprint of where you stopped to catch your breath and look forward and behind.

But it’s still a path. It’s not only for you. Hiding the way so that you can show how singularly unique you are does not make you a pioneer, it makes you an egotist. The one less travelled by may very well be the better choice, but it is because of the challenge of the journey and the gorgeous views from the top of the mountain, not simply by virtue of being less walked.

Some walk at different paces. Smile and accommodate them. Step to the side for the quick ones, excuse yourself to the slow ones. Touch hands and walk alongside someone for a while, then separate when your legs beg you to stretch them out and give them a really good run.

It’s not criminal to step off the path, but it will certainly expend more energy and slow you down. Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not. How important is the direction you’re headed?

When in doubt, move forward. Quit assembling maps and equipment and go. Leave your shoes if you can’t find them. There is someone else on the path who will help you if you need it. But they’re not waiting for you. Walk out and let your feet find a place they can move as they were meant to, with joy, one in front of the other.

You’re not the first person to set out on a life of service. But your service matters just the same.

photo credit: Skinnyde via photopin cc

I don’t usually talk much about my professional life here, because I have another blog for that. But there are times when certain aspects of my career push me into musings that are a bit too rambling and philosophical for that setting. This is one of them.

There’s a bit of a schism in the massage therapy profession. Really, in the complementary care community as a whole, but what I know best is the massage world. It has different names: materialists vs. spiritualists. Science vs. Woo. Whatever. And I find myself oddly placed in it.

On one hand, I’m solidly on the science side. My massage education emphasized basic science education. Our instructors had PhDs in Anatomy. I do not perform energy work or other techniques for which there is no evidence. I’m not a “healer.” I don’t “detoxify” my clients. My bosses have been physicians and physical therapists, not yoga teachers or New Age gurus.

But I am also a person of deep religious convictions. I pray daily. I believe in God, and an afterlife, and nonphysical reality. So why don’t I incorporate these things into my work? Is it not hypocritical of me to compartmentalize my life and seal off a huge part of me daily experience from my faith? Am I wronging my clients by failing to offer them all of the tools for health and wellbeing at my disposal? Is it dishonesty to offer clients exclusively materialist assistance when I am not myself a materialist by belief?

I don’t believe so.

In fact, I don’t believe that I have removed my faith from my practice. Do I pray for my clients? Of course I do. In private. Just as I pray for all the people I care about. I choose to work in a way that exemplifies the teachings of my faith: with compassion, trustworthiness, and a profound sense of gratitude. Another tenet of my faith is truthfulness, which is why I cannot claim to offer spirit-based healing. I cannot in good conscience claim to understand or control such things. Accepting payment for them would be akin to accepting money for making the weather pleasant, or for a meteor shower. It isn’t right.

Beautiful, isn't it? That'll be $20.

Basic lovely weather package is $50, but only $10 extra gets you blooming flowers too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sense of control science offers us. If I let the ball go, I can make it fall to the ground! If I angle this glass correctly, I can bend light! If I split an atom, I can create an explosion! Truly, it’s a lot of fun. Babies adore it. So do adults. We’re wired to control things like this in order to survive.

But if you believe in the Divine, you can’t approach it with a microscope or telescope. Revelation in one form or another might give you guidelines for how all this spiritual stuff works, but the thing about being the creation is that you don’t get to order the Creator around. Making up rules about what God must or must not do based on your personal desires is ridiculous. It’s effing the ineffable. And it makes you look foolish not only to people of science, but people of faith.

I’m not saying there are no services that faith can offer to others. I would be an awful hypocrite if I thought that. Absolutely pray for people. Lay your hands on them if that’s your thing. Anoint them with oils or chant or draw symbols on their skin or just hold them in your heart and love them. There’s nothing wrong with seeking spiritual aid on a suffering person’s behalf. But don’t take money for it. That’s like being baptized in a church and then next week receiving a water bill. 

Do I think people have things to gain spiritually from massage therapy? Sure. Being cared for with respect and compassion by another human being touches far more than skin and muscle. But it’s not my place to tell my clients that, and it’s not my job to try and make it happen. The ineffable doesn’t need my chatter to do its work. I wouldn’t believe in it otherwise.

photo credit: code poet via photopin cc

This is a bit older. I wrote it in 2008 while living in Malawi (and clearly reading too much Rumi), but the feeling is as fresh now as it ever was then. Maybe more.

The Second Way

There is a way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry. To see injustice,
famine, the virus of the blood, and yet stand
straight enough to speak
is difficult, but not impossible: forget your glasses.
Bring instead your weak
myopia, your astigmatic haze,
dulling the vistas of hopelessness until
there is only your nose and one pot of maize,
one school fee, one welcome song, one child
wailing in your arms. This way,
survive, and serve again.

There is only one way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry.

But if you would cry, get up!
Walk out of that body, prostrated
and voiceless in its shame. Baptize
yourself in its tears and turn your back.
When you see the fires of impossible hope,
jump in! Blaze. Immolate fear in the coals
of your joy. This is the second way.
Then watch: these sparks,
they are heating a nation,
they are lighting the world.