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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Great Movie - My Name is Khan

Just watched, for the second time, a great movie called "My Name is Khan". I love this movie. This is one I want in my personal collection.

The movie is almost 3 hours long. I laughed, I cried - what else do you want from a movie? Beyond that, I thought a lot about my own beliefs and behavior.

The couple at the center of the movie are famous 'Bollywood' actors, who are usually singing and dancing away in an Indian romance. Here they have shown that their acting capacity is way beyond what they have previously done. The charisma between them is hypnotic.

The movie is about Rizwan Khan (Shahrukh Khan), a Muslim man with Asperger Syndrome, who lives happily with his wife Mandira (Kajol), in San Francisco until a tragedy drives her away after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now he is on a quest to recapture the heart of the woman he loves. Traveling across America, Rizwan faces prejudice because of his religion and unusual behavior, but he also inspires the people meets with this unique outlook on life.

Some lines from the movie will stick with me forever: "We used to designate history as BC or AD. Now there is a third event: 9/11."

The story reveals prejudices on all levels. Framed within the story of immigrants to America, it shows the misconceptions many of us have regarding 'foreigners' and how they themselves respond and react to our treatment of them.

It also educates regarding the religion of Islam in a subtle, but effective way. Not just telling us about the religion, but by example...the best way.

Because of his so-called 'disability' Rizwan has always been marginalized in every society he has lived in... including his original homeland - India. He as always been an outsider. This has given him a unique perspective. He can objectively see what others cannot - what is really important in life. We learn that just because a person has a 'disability', that does not mean they are not intelligent, sensitive, compassionate and highly capable. So it is also a movie about prejudices regarding disability.

Early in life, his mother demonstrated to him in a graphic way that there are only two kinds of people - good people who do good and bad people who do bad. He has never forgotten this important lesson. And that is what the movie is really about.

Not to be overlooked, is the love story between the two major characters. How Rizwan wins Mandira's love, then is forced to regain it after a tragedy.

This is a 'must see' for anyone who is concerned about the current trend to demonize Muslims and how we must always keep our minds and hearts open to people who are different from us.
Here's a link to the movie website.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This Time They Went Too Far...

When I was a child my parents had bought me The Book of Knowledge, a type of encyclopedia. A photo I saw there so deeply affected me that I have never forgot it. I must have been around 5 years old. It was a pit full of emaciated bodies with a bulldozer pushing more bodies into it. I asked myself what was this about? How did this happen? I knew it was something horrible, but had no idea what. Through the years I found out.

As a pre-teen I was obsessed with reading books about the holocaust starting with The Diary of Anne Frank, which my mother had given me.I also developed a curiosity about Judaism and something in me resonated with this religion despite the fact that I was a Catholic. I was inexplicably drawn to it.

I began to notice words and practices within my Sicilian family that were not 'Catholic' nor 'Italian' but Jewish. My mother would merely say it was something grandma and grandpa brought from Sicily, period. I was curious about all this. Now I believe that my grandmother's family had been Jewish at some point in their history, but had been forced to convert way back when.

As an undergraduate, I studied the kibbutz educational system and wrote a term paper about it. Later in my graduate program in Linguistics, I chose Hebrew as my non-Indo-European language (all others in the program chose Japanese or Chinese). As it turned out, I was the only gentile in the class which was taught by an Israeli woman. She also taught us about the holidays, which we celebrated in class.

When I returned from the Peace Corps and lived in Washington, D.C., my best friend Connie was Jewish and we used to go to the Jewish Community Center dances where I hoped to find a husband.I planned to convert and fulfill my desire to be Jewish.

A few years ago, while pursuing a study of the religions of the world, my teacher told us that often while studying a religion in depth, one discovered such an attraction that it lead to a conversion of some sort. My first reaction was that I would become a Jew. That didn't happen.
Instead, I got attracted to Islam and studied Arabic.

I found out that my grandfather's family had been Muslim at some point in the past because the family name was not Italian, but Arabic. Sicily had been part of the Moorish kingdom, that Arabic was spoken in the court and in the church even after King Roger took power. That many words in the 'backwards' Sicilian dialect my grandparents spoke, were Arabic. I felt that I embodied the three religions: a Jewish soul, a Christian body and a Muslim heart.

But that is another story.

I heard about the concept that Jews who died during the holocaust had been reincarnated in non-Jewish bodies because there were not enough Jews. That there were many (of us, for I believed I was one of these people) who had 'Jewish souls' in Christian or other bodies. I totally resonated with this idea. After all, my name was Judith and I had always felt Jewish. I even discovered someone who I believed I had been. Although she had converted to Catholicism and was preparing to be a nun, she died in Auschwitz. I found out about her while at an Anthropology conference at the Carmelite convent in Santa Barbara (go figure). She had been calling to me. Her Nun name was Theresa and I had been hearing this name in my heart for months.

In the past, I was so proud that the State of Israel was founded a couple days from my birthday in May of 1948. I felt it was fated that I would become Jewish and go to Israel and live on a kibbutz.

I tell you all this to underscore the pain I feel about what Israel represents today. I feel they have become the abusers, like most victims of abuse. They learned from the Nazis. They are becoming better Nazis.
They stop any criticism by screaming anti-Semitism and try to halt any comment by Jewish people by accusing them of being 'self-hating Jews'. I admire Norman Finkelstein so much for having the guts to speak the truth.

This latest action of attacking the compassionate flotilla, is the last straw. They are a rogue state. They are the 'evil empire.' Now the world sees the truth of what they have become.

I am so glad I was not successful in becoming Jewish or finding a Jewish husband. I see that Jewish people are in a difficult situation. To criticize Israel can ruin your career, your life, and disrupt your family. Yet, not to criticize is to be complicit with criminal behavior.

When I first heard The Shema I was shaken to my core. As a Sufi minister, I always use it in the Universal Worship. It goes deeply into me every time I hear it and recite it. It is so beautiful and evocative.

Listen, Oh Israel, the Lord thy God is One. The Lord (Our God) is One. The God of the Jews, the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims... IS ONE. Three religions from the root of Abraham! You are the self-hating Jews because you are killing your own family!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Where Do I Go From Here?

You know you are over the hill when instead of wanting a resume of your achievements, they want a resume of all your illnesses and injuries. They want to have the cause and proof of your PTSD, rather than your success at keeping yourself out of addiction and despair.

They ask you to describe in detail every blow you have received from life and to promote your victimhood rather than your recovery and health.

After a half hour telephone interview the other day with my worker at Social Security, I was reduced to a quivering and helpless old lady.

In the past, at job interviews I extolled my talents and accomplishments in order to get the job (make money). Now I have to complain about all my aches and pains to get the disability insurance (make money). It was a real shock, believe me.

Something is very wrong with all this.

It occurred to me that I am tired of trying to convince anyone of anything. Take me as I am without the bragging or the excuses. This, to me, is the mark of my gained wisdom. But it will not get me anything in this world of skewed values.

If, 20 years ago after I was nearly beaten to death, stalked, forced to hide out in a battered women's shelter... I had become a drug addict, homeless person, felon, or alcoholic, I could have gotten more out of the system than I have as a person who has always sought wellness and wholeness.

Geez, by now I could have written a book about all my travails and gotten a movie contract. Instead, my intelligence has only served to make me 'over-qualified' for most jobs and envied by my fellow employees at others. Now, I have to use my intelligence to try to figure out what they need me to say to get disability. Pathetic!

What kind of world is this that rewards victimhood, crime and addiction? And where a person who has had the excuse to fall apart on many occasions has instead opted to stand up and try one more time, only to find out that falling apart pays better.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Haiti - Revive Your Indigenous Soul

At the risk of alienating everyone I know and those loyal readers I do have... I must express myself about Haiti.

My first thought when I heard the news about Haiti was... if this had happened 200 years ago we wouldn't even know about it. All the people would die and that would be it. Hasn't this kind of thing happened throughout time all over the world, where whole cultures fell because of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption or earthquake which destroyed palaces and disrupted agriculture? Pompeii, the Minoan civilization. No one rushed off to help because no one knew. And....since the population was much lower in the past and people did not live is such density, fewer people died or were left homeless. A MILLION HOMELESS PEOPLE sitting around on the ground. What's going on here?

For them, the end of the world - apocalypse. They didn't have to wait for 2012.

Maybe I've been watching too many apocalyptic movies and reading too many books about the end of the world. I do teach a course on Mayan Hieroglyphs, the Calendar and 2012 and although I teach from a more academically oriented perspective than the 'stuff' I've been watching and reading, I do feel I should at least look into what others are saying, since it is bound to come up in class and I need to be abreast of what's out there in the popular culture, and.... I can't help having my own opinion about it all (which I do not impose on my students).

I couldn't help thinking as I heard what was coming down in Haiti as many forces hurriedly gathered to send in aid, rescue people and deal with all the trauma, that.... what if there were another one, just as bad, in a just as poverty-stricken a place as Haiti.. within a day or two...would there be enough of anything to handle it?

I believe that we will be soon seeing so many disasters happening simultaneously all over the world, that we won't be able to put out all the fires.

Haiti is the canary in the mine-shaft friends.
Haiti with its deforested, degraded environment, its lack of infrastructure and over-population is the face of most of the world outside of the affluent European/American world. Most countries have shanty towns extending miles out from the urban centers.

This is the fate that awaits the world. Haiti is doing her dance of death to show us what the world will come to if we do not control population, decrease our consumption of manufactured goods and greatly simplify our lives. We need to grow more of our own food, learn to make at least some of the things we use and reconnect with the natural world.

While you may feel sorry for the Haitians, and who wouldn't? I must say that they were in many ways better equipped to deal with that tragedy than we would be. One commentary I heard on the radio said that since the people of Haiti already live at the near starvation level, their bodies were more accustomed to deal without food than ours. Since they 'fasted' (starved) regularly, they were able to go without food for days as they were buried in the rubble. The average American obese teenager, would have a fit after a couple of hours without the greasy snacks and sugary sodas they pump in continuously throughout the day. My travels have shown me that poor people know how to cope better than we do. They have fewer, if any expectations. They know how to just 'be' and can go for hours without doing anything but just sitting. They don't have a constant need for entertainment or distraction.
I have a habit of looking at what people eat. The fattest people always have loads of junk in their shopping carts. It's amazing! I think to myself, 'don't they know any better?' The only thing I can figure is that they are addicts. Just like an addict, they might know better, but another voice whispers: "it's okay... you deserve this... go ahead."

Another issue is that there is just so much that can be done. Haiti has one disaster after another. Their government has been corrupt for decades. Their limited resources have either been exploited by others or have been used up. They don't have anything anyone wants (except cheap labor). Another thing is that say 'someone' fixes it all up... the next hurricane could take it all down again in no time. They are kind of living on a time bomb. Bad location folks.
In a radio interview someone said: "We need 100,000 tents. Are there that many tents in the whole world?" Good question.

As to the role the U.S. has played in the poverty of Haiti, I would like to say this... anyone who thinks we can have the standard of living we have here in America without someone paying the price, is totally naive. Corporate capitalism must have slaves/serfs/low-wage workers in huge quantities to do all the dirty work. Most Americans who call themselves free are really wage slaves making money for a corporation. One month without an income would put them in trouble (as we are now seeing). Most of your so-called possessions are on loan. When you can't pay the bill, the company takes it back. Anyone who has a mortgage does not own a home. The mortgage holder owns the home until it is paid off and... can be reclaimed anytime. DUH! Why are people so surprised by this? Credit card debt makes the average person a slave to the job so they can pay their bills.

When I had 'the best' job I ever had, I wondered why I never had any money despite my good income. When I figured out how much I spent on the clothes I needed for the job, the cost of meals eaten away from home, the parking fees or parking ticket fees, the cost of gas to commute to that great job, I realized I wasn't even 'making' minimum wage. I was working to pay for the job. Not to mention the 'goodies' I bought myself because I was so stressed out due to commuting, and working under a mean-spirited supervisor. I began to develop physical symptoms and after many tests, my doctor said it was all stress related and I would have to quit my job. I knew I was already too far in credit card debt to do that... besides, this wasn't just a job it was a career! No matter that my hair was falling out, I had dizzy spells and headaches, I had to stay. The doctor prescribed Valium. He said, "Drive to work then take one. Take another at lunch and by the time you are ready to do the commute home, it will have worn off enough so you can drive." HUH? Excuse me... now I have to take drugs so I can stay at a job I hate? I was really in a quandary as to what to do.

One day, life intervened, and my whole life changed in an hour. My family called to say my father found out he had six months to live, so I left the job and moved back home to be with him.

Within a couple of months, I was no longer able to keep up on the credit card bills. I didn't have much total debt, but when you have no income, any debt is too much. When I finally got the whole thing straightened out, I vowed never to have cards again. I went from having a secure government job to no income for a year. True, I left voluntarily, but, at the time, I felt it was the only option. I had to be with my dad in his last days. There was no other choice for me.

The average American is tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Many of these debts are incurred because they are miserable and need to buy themselves stuff to make it through the night or the weekend... or worse yet, their life. Then when someone pulls the plug by laying them off, or moving the job to a place where the labor is cheaper, they are stuck with all the debt and the stuff. NOT FAIR!!!!

Rather than see it as an opportunity to do things totally differently, they do everything they can to restore what they had.

My advice to Haiti and the Haitian people....
Soon, outside corporations will be brought in to rebuild the country in their own image. Burger King, the Golden arches, all the junk food outlets will come in. The people of Haiti would be better off to go back to the old days of agricultural villages, build simple houses out of renewable materials, plant their own food, raise animals to eat and pull wagons. Forget the 'bright lights of town', their only promise is empty and meaningless. Don't you know that most Americans take anti-depressants because they are so alienated from each other and the natural world? Take this golden opportunity to 'go back to the land' rather than to let ANY outsiders, or even their own government officials, force them into 'restoring' what was in the city. LET IT GO! Be the harbingers of a new day! You just had a major Pluto transit... don't waste it. Those who survived the Apocalypse should not try to go back to 'business as usual.'

This is a chance to create a sustainable future. If you do, Haiti, you will become the teacher for us when we fall into decline, which could happen any day. Rather than being beholden to 'developed' countries for aid, you will lead the way in showing us how to live. You will be the experts. Grow medicinal plants that can only thrive in your particular environment. Make your own medicine. Don't wait for anyone to put a band aid on your life. You will always be beholden to outsiders. Don't let the Zombies, the walking dead from the developed world, take over. Revive your indigenous soul!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good Advice from Janis Joplin

I don't know about you, but 2009 was one of the hardest years of my life. And yet, I learned many valuable lessons.

I broke my ankle and was out of commission for almost 3 months, unable to earn any money, drive, walk. It really taught me a lot about what the disabled endure every day of their lives for their entire lives. Just a few examples:

1) People treat you like you are stupid just because your legs don't work.
2) There are not enough disabled parking spots at popular venues - like grocery stores - Duh!
3) It is hard for others to know when you really could use some help and when it's unnecessary.
4) It brings out your creativity and resourcefulness.
5) You gotta have a sense of humor or you are finished.

A few lessons for the year...

Everyone should know the following things:

1) How to shop.
2) How to cook from scratch.
3) How to eat right.

If you know how to compare prices, remember which stores have the best buys on items you use a lot, and stock up when there are sales on items you regularly use, you can save a lot of money. Buy family packs of chicken and meat, then repackage into small bags and freeze.

Cooking does not take as much time as you think. You can prepare large amounts, divide it up and freeze meal-sized portions. You can do a lot with a crock pot, although I never leave one on when I'm not home, because I fear fire.

Maintaining your health by eating right can save you from getting sick.

Pawn shops can help you with short-term loans. Don't get more than you think you will be able to pay back, even if you feel the item is worth a lot more, unless you don't care about losing the item. There are finance charges, but if you fail to pay and lose the item, it does not affect your credit record and haunt you the rest of your life, because they have your collateral and the deal is over. You pawn your diamond ring, you can't pay them to get it back. They keep it. End of story.

Live in present time as much as possible. In every moment, find any small thing to be grateful for. A full belly, a hot bath, a bed, a roof, your T.V., your dog... whatever. Things could be worse. I guarantee the more you can do this, the better off you will be. Worrying about things you cannot change right now, is dangerous to your health.

Try to negotiate with those you owe money to. The worst they can do is say NO. They might say YES, but if you don't approach, they will not offer.

You can make a few bucks bringing your cans and bottles to a recycling station. If you don't need the money, give it to the attendant. I know they can use it.

Be as generous as you can even if you have very little. There is always someone worse off than you and generosity gets energy moving. I know this to be true. The more you give, the more the Universe gives you.

Allow yourself a treat once in awhile. "Splurge" and rent a movie or buy some food item you really love, but "can't afford". I'm talking $5.00 items here, not a new Mercedes. This will lift your spirits, which, again, is a way to bring in the light energy.

Now, of course, none of this applies if you are flush and having no financial challenges at all. But....who knows, lately even millionaires are going bankrupt and you could find yourself needing this advice after all.

Recently I was talking to the guy who runs the recycling station in town. I asked him how was his Christmas. He said, "I did without." He said he'd better shut up because he had to be careful what he said to people because they complained about his attitude and he could lose his job. This did not surprise me. Having worked as a 'public servant' most of my life, I knew that people treat you like shit and expect you to keep smiling. When you defend yourself, they report you. I took a lot of abuse from the public when I was a letter carrier. There were many nice people too, but the majority treated me like I was "less than", inferior and stupid.

I mentioned this to the guy hoping to convey some empathy about his situation.

I also said "Look, if the shit continues to hit the fan, or it gets worse, those same people are going to be coming to you for advice. Remember, you are the expert. You know how to live on nothing, how to survive the cold, sleep in your car, stay alive. They have lived their pampered entitled lives for so long, they don't have a clue how to keep warm without the heater on. And...since their self-esteem and self image are so tied up with their material possessions, if/when they lose it, they are going to go nuts. They're gonna need our help."

We had a good laugh over that one.



So, to summarize...in the words from a Janis Joplin song: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." For those of you who have nothing or feel you are on the road to having nothing, think of it this way - the less you will have to lose later. And... the more you will value what you do have, which is the real message. You will then be on the road to true freedom.

And remember, nothing lasts forever. You may have already noticed that in regards to
'good' things, well, it's true of the 'bad' things too. The tide always turns. Learn to endure. Learning to be patient can serve you in ways you cannot even imagine. Start when you are standing in line. Do not distract yourself with your cell-phone. In fact, throw your cell phone away, right now. It is an enemy to your peace of mind, yes... really. Studies are showing that the latest addiction is to cell phones and texting. Anyway, back to the line. Just be there. Observe where you are, who is in line. Take it all in. As soon as you begin to truly be where you are.... believe me, you won't be there anymore. It's almost a law of nature. The line will move so fast, you'll have to adjust to that. Ha ha!

I feel this is going to be a good year. I have no real basis for this belief, just faith and trust, two of the gifts this year gave me.