It is Wednesday.
In the cold pre-dawn
I empty the dish rack.
Pots and spoons I washed
Seven hours before
When the week was young.
Glisten with wednesdayness.
It is Wednesday, Woden's day
Full moon of the week
Day of the wild hunter
Master of the runes
Seer of the single eye.
It is Wednesday, Mercredi,
Day of the winged one
Gifting us quicksilver speech,
Sprinkling everyday things
With emerald glitter dust.
It is Wednesday
Heart of the week
The kingly day,
After the sleepy infancy of Sunday
Monday's awkward adolescence
Tuesday's impetuous youth.
It is Wednesday
Apex, turning point,
Before the leaves of the week
Turn Thursday gold
And fall to Friday's rich, moist ground,
Before the lighting of candles
Invites Saturday's repose.
It is Wednesday.
Where does the Sabbath go
During the week?
The mills are closed, the children hungry
Proud workingmen in soup kitchen queues
wi't stondin paupers too,
Ut wilno work when works t'be 'ad.
The cotton hoed beneath the lash
The cotton picked by bleeding hands
The cotton cleaned by groaning slaves
Rots in Charleston warehouses.
For the pure cloth spun in Manchester mills
The fine cloth woven by Lancashire lads
Is dyed with blood
And stained by chattel slavery.
And the men in the Free Trade Hall rise up
Not to demand the blockade be broken
Not to agitate for cotton to come
But to call for the end of that foul blot
On civilization and Christian faith
To call for the day when all the slaves
Shall be forever free.
Night falls on the silent spindles and the idle looms
The factories dark and shuttered
The cold and crowded tenements
The children crying for food,
The slight man wearing kadhi cloth
Depressed and distressed by this misery.
And you whose grandfathers stood with Lincoln
Men and women of Darwen
At Greenfield Cotton Mill
Raise your voices for freedom
Raise your arms for Gandhi
The simple man with a spinning wheel.
January 17th 2013
"You must love if you yearn to be loved; you
must trust to be trusted, serve in return to be served." Menuhin to the Knesset
Eighty-seven years ago today
You made your debut
At the Metropolitan opera house
Returning to the city of your birth.
My parents were not yet crawling
And you were nine years old.
When other boys were playing fivestones
You played Handel and Paganini.
A Russian Jew from New York City
You won an unparalleled place
In your adopted homeland.
For us, you will always be
King of the violin.
You inspired our troops,
Played for wounded soldiers,
Roused dead souls in Belsen,
Planted deep roots
Among your young musicians,
Lord of Stoke D'Abernon.
When I was nine years old
You were my hero
Your unseen presence guiding my bow
As I played Hungarian Dances
Inaccurately but with passion.
I saved sixpence a week
For my first gramophone record,
You and Hephzibah playing Bach.
You were an elder cousin
For a lone Jewish child
Close to my heart
Although we never met.
You spoke to Israel of love and trust
Gave benefit concerts for Palestinian refugees
Reached out in friendship to Germany.
Your humanitarian spirit guides me still
As a lover of animals
Practitioner of ahimsa
And builder of bridges
Between East and West.
You have passed to other worlds
But your music lives
Awakening dead souls now.
Today you play Bach in my living room
As you always have in my heart
The tender adagio reminding me
To listen to the Master's Voice within.
2012 year in review
(Actually beginning from December 15th 2011)
Thanks to TS Eliot for verse 15)
Five birthday cakes
A total of sixty candles
In Britain I would be a pensioner.
It was the year I knew I was growing older,
A year of struggles and triumphs
As perhaps all years are
But more remarked
Because of the sixty candles.
Menorah kindling at Rhoshelyg
Caroling in the mud
Christmas pudding flaming.
It was the year I went carol singing in a Welsh village
The year I saw a mother grizzly bear with two cubs,
The year we were pulled over by the Washington State patrol
Going five miles an hour over the speed limit
And Sarah was thrilled, because it was like the movies.
Willow tree of life and death
Springs anew and green
Beside Goose Creek.
It was a year when trees befriended me.
I stood inside a hollow redwood,
Camped amid sitka spruce and mountain hemlock
And meditated beneath an ancient English oak.
Brilliant Mars with Mercury and Saturn
Venus and Jupiter conjunct in Western sky
Night falls on Bluestem trail.
It was a year of celestial events.
The perihelion of Mars lit our evening hikes.
We watched the transit of Venus in the alley
With binoculars, printer paper
And our physics graduate neighbour.
Dormant for years
White orchid awakens
Delicate, breathtaking bloom.
It was the year I worked late nights and early mornings
Compiling twenty years of herbal studies
And the year the first white-robed students
Flowered as Ayurvedic doctors.
You have received everything.
Lama's last words.
It was the year Tenge Rinpoche shed his nirmanakaya form
Meditating for three days after death
And the year Juba and Julie exchanged vows
Witnessed by squirrel and vulture.
Scent of pine smoke fills the air
Flames leap on the mother mountain
Beloved home of bears.
It was the year winter was like spring
And Summer was an inferno
Fires blazing to North, South and West,
Smoke burning throat and lungs.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art.
It was the year I sprained my ankle
Five days after the doctor told me to exercise more
And the year I travelled to Hammersmith hospital for thyroid surgery
At the height of the London Olympics.
Rose perfume in my hands
Rose quartz around my neck
Unbidden, unforeseen generosity.
It was a year graced by the kindness of stangers;
The family who shared their Ramadan fast-break food with me,
The Arab woman who filled my hands with perfumed oil,
The Jesus tower builder of Antonito,
Who gave me a rose quartz Navajo necklace.
Winter Solstice twenty twelve
World didn't end
Or did it?
It was the year the Mayan calendar ended
Polar ice caps melted
And New York subway was flooded.
The year we began to notice
That our fate lies in our own hands.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
TS Eliot, Little Gidding, Four Quartets.
On New Year's Eve 2008, my father, Peter Daniel Hudis, breathed his last. It was a fitting time for his life to culminate. Dad had always loved New Year's. He enjoyed singing "Auld Lang Syne," listening to the ships sounding their sirens in the port and first-footing across the threshold with a lump of coal. He loved the sense of adventure and freshness that each New Year of his long life brought. After sitting with his body for some time, I left the ward, together with my siblings. As we exited the hospital into the car park, the sky lit up with celebratory fireworks. Church bells pealed through frosty air. It was the stroke of midnight and a new year was beginning in joy and loud cheering. Never before had I felt so strongly the words embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots while in prison before she was beheaded-- " In my end is my beginning."
That frosty night was not my father's first encounter with Yama, the Lord of death. My parent's love story was a remarkable one, not simply because it played out against the backdrop of the London blitz, nor even because relationships between Jews and Christians, such as theirs, were rare and frowned upon at the time. At seventeen, shortly after meeting my mother, my father was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and sent away to a sanatorium. There was no cure for tuberculosis in 1942, and after some months, he was sent home to die. But love healed what no medicine could. Sixty-six years, four children, five grandchildren, many mountain peaks and a golden wedding anniversary lay ahead before he did indeed die, as each of us must.
My father's time in the sanatorium was a sojourn in the halls of death. He was given the job of pushing the library trolley from ward to ward, a chilling experience that offered him a weekly glimpse of what lay ahead of him, as he visited the wards full of more advanced cases. This time in the hall of Yama, together with the daily brushes with death he had experienced in London during the Battle of Britain, made my father resolve to live his life in the cause of peace, raising children who would advance peace in the world.
The Katha Upanishad opens with the story of a youth, Nauchiketas, who, like my father, takes a journey into the halls of death. Nauchiketas' father, in a fit of temper, gives his son away to Death. Winning three boons from Yama, Nauchiketas takes Death as a teacher of the ultimate meaning of life. Indeed, it is death that endows life with meaning. In his short story "The Immortal," the existentialist author Luis Borges explores the theme of physical immortality. The abyss of endless time reduces life to meaninglessness and ennui, for without death there is no freedom and no choice. Endless time, like a vast desert, engulfs the capacity to choose. The value of anything I choose in this brief and mortal existence rests on the fact that time is finite, so choice has value. My life has a limited number of years, so if I spend those years with you, that choice has meaning. My day has a limited number of hours. If I spend an hour with you, it has meaning, because I chose this over other things. The finitude of our life, the fact of our mortality, offers us the invitation to make meaningful choices.
Taking Death as his teacher, Nauchiketas discovers faith, shraddha, not in the sense of belief in theological postulates, but in Paul Tillich's sense of Ultimate Concern.
O brother, o sister
Don't waste this precious human life
On idle pleasures and futile cares!
Fame and wealth mean nothing when you die.
You can't bring with you even one needle.
This life will vanish like a dream
Or like the clouds before the rising sun.
Nobody knows when death will come
So take the Holy Name while you can
And do a little kindness every day
Yes, do a little kindness every day.
Underlying this short poem is a story of the great Jewish teacher, the Bal Shem Tov. One day, the Bal Shem Tov was informed that one of his devotees, a merchant, was on his deathbed. When the rebbe arrived, he found the dying man busy running his business, instructing his sons about day-to-day details. The Bal Shem approached the man. " I need your help. Remember your old friend who died a few weeks ago? I saw him in a dream. There's a problem. He has a tear in his shroud and can't enter the World to Come. Since you will be passing over yourself soon, would you bring him a needle?"
" But Rebbe, you know I can't!"
" If you can't even carry a needle with you, why worry about all this?"
The grave of the great poet TS Eliot carries a twofold inscription. In my beginning is my end and in my end is my beginning. In my beginning is my end refers to mortality, to the fact of death and impermanence. As the Buddha said, all compounded entities must decay. Strive on with diligence. Our body is a compounded entity and so must die. Yet as we have seen, it is our very mortality that endows our span on Earth with meaning. Choice is the gift of Yama. In the halls of Yama, diagnosed with a fatal and incurable illness, my father chose life and love. Having sought and found meaning in the jaws of death, he lived his life with a passion and thirst for adventure and exploration and a profound understanding of how to walk in ways of peace and guide his offspring in these ways.
In the Katha Upanishad, Nauchiketas first has to make a very important choice--to choose his three boons. His first boon is the one any child in his position might ask for. He wants his father to be happy and reconciled with him. For his second boon, he asks to learn specific rituals that will lead to Heaven. But for his final boon, Nauchiketas asks Yama to answer the ultimate question. What happens when we die? Yama tries in every possible way to put the boy off. He offers him fabulous wealth, luxuries, vast lands, even kingship. But Nauchiketas points out that all these things are impermanent and here, in the Halls of Death, have no meaning. He insists upon the boon he has chosen--to know the meaning of death and hence of life.
And the answer Death gives is simple. There is a fundamental choice in life--a choice between the good and the pleasant. By choosing his final boon, Nauchiketas has already made this choice. We make this choice in a big way once in our lifetime, by choosing to step on the spiritual path. Having made this choice, we will be held to it. If we step off the path, we will be guided back. But we also face this choice in myriad small ways throughout each day. It takes constant discrimination to choose the good, to examine each possibility and ask, "Does it benefit?"
In my beginning is my end leads us to question, as Nauchiketas did, what happens when we die. Who is it that dies? Who am I? In my end is my beginning is the answer to this question. Yama says to Nauchiketas,
The self is never born, never dies. He sprang from nothing, and nothing sprang from him. He is the Unborn, the Eternal, the Abiding, the Ancient one. He is not slain when the body is slain.
As Jesus said, Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. If we understand that when Jesus says 'for Me' he refers to the Eternal Self, he is clearly saying In my end is my beginning. We let go of our clinging to this temporary life, destined to end in death, and enter into our true identity as the one who is never born and never dies.
Yama goes on,
Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, the Self abides in the heart of every being.
All the endings in life are so painful for us. Birth is a joyful occasion, but it ends our womb life in pain and struggle. Weddings too are seen as joyful occasions, yet many tears are shed at weddings, because the new beginning also brings an ending. The dawn of a New Year brings the Old Year to an end as we realize that all it held is just a memory. Death is perceived as a sorrowful event, yet it is a birth into a new reality.
Our experience of pain in endings comes from our deep-rooted identification with temporary things and our ephemeral body. We forget, again and again, That which abides in the heart of everything. Knowing the Self, bodiless among bodies, the abiding among the ephemeral... the wise man does not grieve, says Yama.
Die before you die and be resurrected now! These profound words from Rumi remind us that we do not need to wait for our bodily death to find the new, transcendent beginning contained within our ending. Every day, life offers us fresh invitations to transcendence. For some, as for my father, a life-threatening illness evokes meaning and transcendence, calling upon us to let go of our identification with that which dies. Or perhaps the death of a friend of similar age comes as a reminder that we too will die--unless we enter into That which does not die. I always enjoy my birthday, a few days before the winter solstice, as an occasion to gather with friends and experience warmth and light on a dark evening. Yet with each birthday, life's ending draws closer. So a birthday brings a very special gift, a card from the cosmos saying "Resurrection now!"
At the ending of each day we enter into sleep, the little death. In the sacred moments between waking and sleeping, we have a unique opportunity to direct our minds towards the Dweller in the heart. We sleep, but That does not. The Self remains ever wakeful, conscious and aware. And as day dawns, we are resurrected from the sleep state to the waking state. The sun rises, calling us not just to wake up, but to Awaken. That radiant being in yonder sun, soham asmi--I myself am that, as Isha Upanishad says.
Life and death offer invitations, yet it is up to us to respond. The practice of meditation helps us learn to read the invitation and gain the skills to respond through moment-to-moment awakening. In our meditation, we are choosing to die before we die. We let go of our activities and set aside time to do nothing. The past and the future keep beckoning us, with all the agendas and notions that make up our temporal identity. Yet we bring ourselves back, again and again, to this moment, this breath. We see that each breath dies into the next as day dies into night and night into day. With each day, with each sitting, with each conscious breath, we die before we die and are resurrected now. As Nauchiketas leaves the halls of death alive, awake and enlightened, we awaken, moment by moment into the new beginning that is beyond all endings. In this body, in this life, without any fanfare or grandiose experiences, but with ease, gentleness and simplicity, we pass beyond the sphere of death into the immortality that was and always is our true nature.
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets.
Bitter midwinter day
Icy sidewalks, snowy foothills.
A woman eats gelato. Brrr!
The school playing field is green
Where midwinter snow has melted.
Red moon rises
Above glittering streets
Dogs are barking.
Luminarios flicker on adobe walls
Star is shining above tree of light
Ice sparkles, Rio Pueblo glistens
Cottonwoods glow golden
Against the indigo sky.
English: Sandlings walk The Sandlings walk as it passes through a gorse filled clearing in Rendlesham Forest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A flight of ringdoves
Welcomes us to the heath.
Blackbird sings solstice carol
To midwinter sun.
Gorse blooms golden
Above frisking dogs
On Rushmere Common.
Brambles climb over dry brown bracken,
Squirrel scampers through rotting leaves,
Mighty oak looms through the gloaming,
Moon rises behind interlaced branches
Bracken higher than a man
Adorned with ruby ladybirds,
Ravishing fragrance of honeysuckle
Mingles with wet vegetation,
Glossy bramble berries
Sweet and tart upon the tongue,
Bumblebee delves in purple heather bells,
August on Rushmere Common.
Child of the dark time
I long for light
Recall the light.
Lights before I came into the world
Cranley Mews menorah kindling
Behind blackout curtains
In the days when London burned
And no church bells rang.
Lights that welcomed me to the world
Sodium lamps glowing on icy streets
Advent candles calling to Emmanuel.
Lights of childhood
Yule log in the hearth
Lantern in tent,
Lamps shining through leaded glass
Pooling on cobblestones,
Sunlight on warm brick wall,
Shafts of light through stained glass windows.
Trinity wharf lighthouse
Illuming London docks
Ipswich harbor lights
Reflected in the Orwell
Ship lights, port red, starboard green.
Lights of faith
Lumen Christi shining in dark church
Tiered arati lamps
Circling before Shanta Durga
Sea of butter lamps at Svyambunath
Divali lights floating down the Ganges.
Lights of joy and sorrow
Birthday candles, yahrtzeit candles
Kirtan votives, romantic candles,
Wildfire blazing on Bear Peak,
Starlight in the desert
Firelight by full moon.
Child of the dark time
I seek the light
Light in face, in smile, in eyes
Light of spirit, light of love
Light of lights
Beyond the darkness.
Child of the waning year
I see the light
Hidden in the hearts of all.
What gift can I give you, sister
In this season of gold, incense and myrrh?
You were my wondrous child,
A magical Christmas gift.
Today, what can I offer you?
I send you midwinter spring in the Rockies
Dazzling sun on snow
Sky of brilliant blue,
Soft moonlight on the foothills.
I send you the hollow willow tree
Springing green from the stump,
House finches trilling at the nest,
And the call of the mountain chickadee.
I send you the fragrance of ponderosa pines,
The howling song of coyotes at nightfall,
A bumblebee dusted with sunflower pollen
And the hazy afternoon,
Rich with sound of cicadas.
I send you a golden aspen leaf
Fluttering to the ground,
A shaft of light through the red maples
And a crunchy, frost-sweetened apple.
I send you the tinkling murmur
Of water flowing beneath ice,
The sound of fresh, crisp powder underfoot,
And the jewel-bright stars of midnight.
May all these beauties bless your year!
What gift can I give you, my poet