Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thinking of You

Every morning, while on my daily walk, I recite my Morning Meditation. One component of my Morning Meditation is sending healing. There is a Jewish prayer for healing that is transliterated something like elnah refah n’lah. It’s a prayer that originates in an old testament story about Miriam being cured of leprosy when her brother Moses speaks the words elnah refah n’lah, beseeching God to heal his sister. In our synagogue it’s traditionally said as a chant when the Torah is out. When I walk each day, I say the elnah refah n’lah words to send healing to those in pain, those who are sick, those who are grieving for the loss of a loved one.

There is a woman in my synagogue community whom I have known for many years. We are not exactly friends, but we are friendly. I will call her Mona for this story. A few months ago, Mona’s son died suddenly in a bizarre accident. He was 40 years old. It was a crazy thing, unpreventable, not his fault; and very hard to accept because he was young, full of life, and in good health. I have included Mona in my elnah refah n’lah prayer every morning, wishing for her to be relieved of her suffering, able to heal and move on from this tragedy that befell her.

A few weeks ago, I saw Mona at synagogue and I told her, “It’s so good to see you in person. I think of you every morning when I walk and I include you in my prayers. Every morning I send you healing energy.” Mona looked stunned. Later in the evening, as I prepared to leave, Mona came up to me and put her arm through mine and said, “It means a lot to me to know that you are keeping me in your thoughts. It is a great comfort. Thank you for telling me about this.”

The other night I saw Mona again. She gave me a hug and a smile and she said something like the following:   I have thought a lot about what you said, about how you think of me every day and send me healing. I’m very grateful for that. Since my son died, I have been preoccupied taking care of myself. I don’t have the ability right now to give much energy to caring for others, but you have inspired me to send thoughts for healing to people I know who need it, every morning, like you do. And I have made it a point to tell them that I’m doing it; because it made a difference to me to know that you are thinking of me. I find it comforting. It helps to know that other people remember my loss and my son and that my grief is not invisible. I am noticed and cared for by others. It is more helpful than I can say.

I have not always told people when I was holding them in my heart and sending healing energy to them. It seems such a small thing to do. But after hearing Mona’s words, I think I should let people know when I am praying for them. I now realize, from Mona’s words, that it is good medicine for someone to know that they are cherished, held in another’s daily thoughts, included in prayers. Mona said she feels the healing energy coming to her. I know what she means. When my mother lay dying, I could feel the energy people sent to me. So if you are in need of healing, you just let me know and I will say your name in my daily elnah refah n’lah. I will include you in my virtual embrace.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Justice, Healing, Transformation

Justice issues are on my mind on this, another King Day weekend. I am presently deeply immersed in the topic of justice since I have the privilege and the responsibility of writing a half a dozen grants for Native tribes to expand and enhance their justice systems. I love writing grants for tribal communities. There is always so much to learn and I often feel like I am visiting a foreign country, which in fact I am since tribes are technically sovereign nations. Even so, there are parameters to the types of justice issues that tribes can handle within their own tribal justice systems.

I recently read an interview with the Native writer Louise Erdrich in which she asserted that increasing numbers of tribal youth are heading to law school. She believes that the future of Native peoples lies in their ability to manage justice issues, and that tribal youth are beginning to recognize this. She has a point. One of the brightest young men I have met from a local Pomo tribe that I work with just went off to Harvard Law School this past fall. He had to give up his position as a member of the Tribal Council to go. But I know he’ll be back one day, probably to serve as a judge.

The judge who works with some of the tribes that have hired me is an extraordinary woman. She is Klamath. She is married and has two young children and she travels all over Northern California to serve as the contractual “circuit” judge for a number of tribes. Her big thing is developing Family Wellness Courts. In this type of court, people who have committed crimes related to drug use, child abuse, and domestic violence, among other things, are not locked up. Instead they are placed in a diversion program where a case manager links them to a web of services, including therapy, to help them address the root causes of the criminal behavior. Perpetrators of these kinds of crimes are not evil people; they are usually people who experienced trauma as children and have not received adequate therapeutic services to heal from their own trauma. The judge continues to oversee the progress of individuals in Family Wellness Court through periodic visits with the court. If the person fails to take full advantage of the services, to meet the terms of their program, and to complete any community service required (very often including certain forms of restitution), then the judge has the power to send that person to jail. But the Family Wellness Court program works so well that people don’t wind up in jail. They wind up changing their lives. How sensible! When someone makes a real mess of things, instead of locking him or her up, the community provides an avalanche of supportive services to get to the bottom of the problem and resolve it. So basically, tribal justice systems are about healing rather than punishment. They are about transformation rather than shame.

These types of courts don’t just exist in tribal communities. I have written grants for similar court structures for agencies all over the country, particularly drug courts. But I do love the way tribal communities view justice and healing as intrinsic to one another. You may wonder why we don’t convert all our justice systems to healing structures like this. The reason why it doesn’t happen is pretty much all about lack of money. It’s labor-intensive to provide the necessary services to people who have a lot of issues. That’s where I come in, writing grants to secure money for Natives to expand and enhance their tribal justice systems so that these systems can change lives and transform communities. If I had a mission statement for my life it might be something about acting as a change agent in the world; so writing these grants is, as we say in the grant writing world, “in alignment with my mission statement.”  

I submit these tribal justice system grants in March and then I’m done with them for this year. This is the third year I have written them. I’ve met with success in the past and have secured money for local tribes each year that I have written. After I complete this batch then I’ll have to wait until next year to go after more. Grant writing is not a very glamorous occupation. I don’t wear sequins to work (more like fuzzy slippers). And I often have to write rather boring material. What a treat to write tribal justice system grants for a few weeks. My heart is in it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Phil Remembered

On December 19, 2012, my friend and former Ranch neighbor Phil Schneider passed into spirit at the illustrious age of 93. Today I am heading to the Coast to attend a celebration of Phil’s life at The Woods, a senior community where Phil lived with his wife Nancy.

I met Phil and Nancy during our second week at the Ranch when they brought us a home-baked peach pie to welcome us to the “neighborhood.” Either Ron was in the shower when they came by and I was driving our daughter to the bus stop for school, or it was the other way around (Ron driving, I showering); but whichever way it happened, it was left to 4-year-old Akili and our newly acquired 2-year-old Australian Shepherd Juno to greet Phil and Nancy, who petted the dog, conversed with the child, and went back to their home across the road from ours. I met them in person when I returned the pie pan a few days later. They lived in a beautiful house they had built themselves on top of a high hill (with gorgeous view), surrounded by Nancy’s gardens and fruit trees. Aging lifelong Lefties, they instantly became our most cherished neighbors at the Ranch.

After we had been at the Ranch for a few weeks, and before Sudi was born (October 1991), we hosted a camp-out weekend for our friends from the Bay Area. That first camp-out evolved into our annual Labor Day bash, which we started the following year and have held ever since. Phil and Nancy came to our house for the Saturday night barbecue. While sitting next to me on our deck that evening, Phil said something like “This is exactly what this property was made for—this kind of gathering. Beautiful children. Families coming together. Delicious food. Music. Lots of laughs. And all beneath the gaze of these tall, tall trees.” The previous owner of our property had been rather reclusive. Phil loved the fact that we opened our home and our land often for others to enjoy its beauty. He and Nancy did the same with their place.

Phil was tickled when I gave birth to Sudi at home, and he referred to Sudi as a genuine Ranch native. He and Nancy (who is a former schoolteacher) enjoyed our children, who viewed them as a spare set of grandparents. One year, after we took the children trick-or-treating in nearby Hopland, we drove up to Phil and Nancy’s before returning home so that the children could show them their costumes. I had called Phil and Nancy that afternoon to give them a heads up that we would be paying them a Halloween visit. Upon arrival we discovered that they had baked an apple pie for us. They served it up (still warm) with scoops of ice cream on top for the children, while the candy bags stood idly by the door. Phil had a wedge of sharp cheddar with his pie and it looked so tasty that Ron and I followed suit, going for the cheddar instead of ice cream. How old-fashioned, how British, how Phil. He surrounded himself with the simple things that made life good:  good food, good wine, good people, good conversation.

I wish I could remember the many things that Phil said (with that characteristic twinkle) that made me laugh. Here is one I can recall off the top of my head. I was talking with Nancy about cookbooks one time and I said, “You know, Joy of Cooking has recipes for everything in it. I even noticed a recipe in there for cooking opossum!” Phil interjected something like “Nancy and I wouldn’t have much use for that recipe – we try to avoid opossum as a rule.”

Phil was sensible and knowledgeable. He knew how to do everything. He was resourceful, well-read, and a deep thinker. He had incredible tales to tell. He served in the military in World War II. He chose to raise his three children close to nature, as we did ours. During his working years (he was already in his 70s by the time our lives intersected) he was an educator. He served as the assistant superintendent of schools in San Jose and the superintendent of schools in Novato. He was the superintendent of schools in Marin during the 1960s when the schools were integrated. Phil rode, with a shotgun across his lap, on the school buses transporting black children to formerly all-white schools, to personally protect them from harm. Nancy says he was friendly with the Black Panthers, which does not surprise me. I have always thought of Phil as a warrior for peace, justice, and equal rights. He had such a tremendous respect for all people. Phil proved himself to be more than a friend to us, he was also an ally on whom we could depend when racism reared its ugly head.

Perhaps the thing I admire most about Phil is his inquisitive mind. He was an educator to the core and with that came his lifelong love of learning. For all his years he remained genuinely interested in the perceptions, beliefs, and thinking of others. He was always at-the-ready to glean some valuable insight from another person.

I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend who lived to be 93 in reasonably good health; someone who made good use of his time, made a contribution, knew how to enjoy himself and to be productive; someone blessed with a wife he loved dearly; a man who was mentally alert and active right up until the end. But nothing will change the fact that I’m sad that he’s gone and I’m going to miss him. So I will pour a libation for you Phil:  well-played.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


On New Year’s Day 2008, I started The View from Amy’s World Blog. Originally people called it a “web log,” a term that swiftly morphed into “blog.” In the beginning I think the main idea was that a web log would serve as public documentation of one’s life. On the occasion of my five-year anniversary of becoming a blogger, I went back to read my very first blog, which I’m sharing with you this week. Here it is from the archives.

January 1, 2008

Why start a blog? Why now? Why me?

Back in the early 1980s I wondered why on earth anyone needed a home computer. If you wanted to do math that badly then you could balance your checkbook or ask a friend to set you some problems to figure out. Then I landed a writing job and I had to provide material on disk. So I learned how to use a wordprocessing program on my friend Jim’s old Kaypro (remember those old DOS operating systems?) and it changed my life. I had been struck by lightning. I needed a computer.

Some time later, I wondered why anyone needed an internet connection at home. If I needed to know the weather I could look outside. If I needed to figure out where I was going I could look at a map. If I needed to communicate with people I could pick up the phone. I had an encyclopedia and a cookbook and a dictionary. But Ron, my husband (you’ll be hearing a lot about him on this blog), decided to put a satellite dish on my roof and hook me up to the universe. Suddenly my world expanded to the infinite power. Email. Google. Mapquest. Amazon. I can engineer my life from my desk using someone else’s satellite in outer space and never take off my fuzzy socks. I need the internet.

Fast forward. Not long ago I wondered why anyone would have a blog. How conceited. How self-centered. Who wants to know what Bingo Gillespie thinks about his neighbor’s new dishwasher? Who wants to see Abby’s new shoes? Why would anyone read a blog? They have their own life. Then I started reading blogs. They are fun, interesting, informative, and I don’t care what those luddites say, blogs are a way to communicate. In fact, blogs, email, and social marketing are beginning to bring back the art of writing letters. The art of writing, period. Sure, a lot of people write a new txt msg language with no vowels. But a lot of other people write real stuff. Stuff I like to read. I had to put myself on a blogging diet. There are way too many interesting folks out there with delightful things to say. And I want to be one of them. I need a blog.

I heard Bill Moyers on the radio talking about how the internet, and blogging in particular, has turned us into a nation of storytellers. He said:  “The moment when freedom begins is when we realize that someone else is writing the story and when we pick up the pen and start writing the story ourselves.” I have read so many stories by others, some magnificent, some useless, and I have asked myself “when is it my turn?” You know what? Now is my turn.

Blogging brings us together. I invite you to meet me on my blog. I have so much to share with you. And please do join in the conversation. Be part of the story. I’ll post whenever I have something to say and can make the time to write, hopefully several times a week. Check back whenever, see if I’ve been here and left you a message, a story, a laugh, a word, an insight. Welcome to my new blog!

At first I wrote on the blog whenever the mood struck me, but less than a year into my blogging adventure I began to write on my blog on Sunday every week. I think of it as my Sunday Column and consider it good discipline as a writer to post a piece every week. Crazy that I actually have something to say weekly, huh? Some things more interesting or humorous or insightful than others, but I usually have a worthwhile story or idea to share with you. I have never “promoted” my blog so I don’t have very many readers. I mean I don’t run all over the internet linking back to the blog. And I certainly don’t advertise on it, since I worship in the Temple of Stop Shopping. You would be surprised at how many solicitations I receive trying to get me to advertise on my blog. But I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it for the storytelling. The only thing I do to solicit readers is to post a link to the Sunday Blog on my Facebook page.

I honestly have no idea how many people regularly read my blog so I’m running a test this week to celebrate my five-year Blogiversary. Please leave a comment, email me, or send me a message on Facebook if you read this blog entry (unless you are my father, my husband, or my brother, because I know you guys are reading). I’m curious to see how many readers I have. And thanks so much for listening. Have a terrific 2013!

[P.S. If you like to cook, check out my gluten-free persimmon bread recipe on Amy's Recipe Project (click here). I made up this recipe last week using persimmons from Betty Springer's orchard in Kenwood. Knock your socks off delicious.]