Monday, November 28, 2011

Back to Travel Stories

I have been digressing from my tales of divergent lands and idiosyncratic people, visitors who cross our path as we make our passage through that nebulous and meandering journey called life. My thought process has never been linear, and neither has my record of these adventures, my first somewhat "successful" attempt at keeping a journal or diary. I used to think that I had nothing to share, that a blank page by virtue of its blankness and therefore immense possibilities, was far more exciting than the monotony I called life. Now I realize that we all have something to share, that no matter how small, is vital to that thriving tapestry of life, that each of our voices, if we cared to speak, is woven in this continuum.

The travel stories will continue, as will my awe of the colors and varieties and idiosyncracies of the world, the world that at times will truly dazzle the heart.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Twin Dresses of Love

There is a divinity within the human spirit that allows us to reach and connect to one another. I have always called that divinity God. Yes, I believe in God. It is interesting to me how eager my contemporaries are to eradicate that term, or to use alternate terms, instead of merely expanding it. God resides within us, a perfect and immortal essence that is part of us, a universal and unconditional love that is embedded within the self. If only we could rediscover it…

Few are enlightened but most, like us, experience only flickers of this divinity, glimpses of the love that is buried deep within our consciousness. Recently, I was offered such a glimpse.

I was shopping at Ann Taylor, one of my favorite fashion haunts, and I tried on a rather tight dress. A young woman called from the dressing room, “That dress looks fabulous on you; you should get it.” However, it clung too tightly around the abdomen for comfort and I promptly placed it back on the rack.

As I was browsing, the same woman joined me and we engaged in casual conversation. She was beautiful, masses of flamboyant gold-spun hair framed a fine-boned face, large, inquisitive eyes and full lips. She looked like a mermaid. Yet her face was a bit pasty around her nose and redder around her cheeks. Her name was Lisa.

Lisa confided that she had just returned from the plastic surgeon and was currently on painkillers, as a result of a car accident. Then on the subject of weight (inevitable topic with women), she told me she was happy to gain weight since she lost twenty pounds earlier due to cancer.

My heart went out to her, this radiant creature who had endured so much. She was only thirty-five. I took her hand and led her in a corner, where we began to pray. I don’t remember what I said, except I asked for blessings, abundant blessings to fall upon her and the awareness of being loved.

Tears sprung to her eyes and she said, “You don’t realize what you have done today. You have shared love with me and it is a ripple effect as I pass it along to my son. It is nothing short of monumental. This is how the world changes.”

Of course, I only thought she needed a prayer. Then Lisa decided to do something for me. I assured her it wasn’t necessary, but she picked up the dress I had tried on (00P) and then another one identical to it when she found out I also had a very petite friend. Against my protests, she took them to the register and bought them for me.

Twin dresses of love.

The story doesn’t end here.

The same dress revived my friend Nethea’s spirits when she was depressed, when I shared with her how someone who doesn’t even know her loved her and gave her a wonderful gift. Unfortunately, the dress was a tad too tight for her (positively scandalous, she informed me) and she gave it to a teenage girl who was sorely in need of a new dress.

Last I heard, the teenager had worn it to church and a cotillion, looking absolutely stunning. “Like a million bucks.”

Sounds like she wore the love well.

Love. Lisa, me, Nethea, and the teenager whose name escapes me. That is the divinity in all of us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Answer of Begijnhof (Amsterdam)

Recently, I was thinking of lifestyle options for women these days. There is always marriage, that centuries-old institution that ensures a woman a legal (if not emotional or sexual) partner. A more informal path is cohabitation, (i.e. living in sin), although by universal consensus the woman ends up doing most of the work anyhow, so why not get the seal of legitimacy? Then there is singlehood, with the presumption that single women are "in transition," and they are eventually looking for "someone" and the inevitability of at some point, when the timing is the right and the stars are aligned, consummating their life to completion with a mate. Or there is the convent, a place of belonging for the religiously inclined and celibate, content to commune with God and serve in community.

I must admit, none of these options satisfy me. I am not the best at "sharing," nor am I amenable to the restrictions placed on nuns, the most salient of which is their inferior status versus men, reinforced by archaic guidelines of the Catholic Church. Nor do I think my life is on hold until I met someone, because the reality might just be that there is no romantic mate for me. Look around us. Not everyone has someone and half the couplings are mismatched at any rate.

But there are examples of innovative living and inspirational communities throughout the world. The Begijnhof in Amsterdam is one such model, which I stumbled upon when visiting Holland. It actually refers to small inner court of tall historic buildings in the heart of the city, adjacent to the English Reformed Church. The buildings feature Gothic woodwork and elegant facades. There was a statue ensconced by green-gold leaves. There was an aura of serenity that pervaded the small block of gardens and homes. It was more than a sense of peace; it was the smell of self-acceptance.

The Begijnhof (Beguine's Court) was first mentioned in documented records in 1389. The Beguines were a group of single patrician women, women of status and property, who maintained their assets and lived in community performing altruistic works. One would compare them to nuns as they took vows of chastity, although they had considerably more autonomy and they were free to leave the community at anytime to get married. Best of all, they retained separate residences and didn't "share" their living with the entire community.

The last Beguine died in 1971. This beautiful community lasted over 600 years, which is longer than most Empires and older than America itself, and it was a sustainable lifestyle for 100-150 women at a time. Ironically, the Begijnhof predated the women's liberation movement and yet it offered women more freedoms than some have even today: manifest destiny, control over one's income and assets, a supportive network, a private dwelling, and the choice to leave at anytime.

So maybe the answer to this modern-day, successful and solitary woman conundrum is not marriage nor the blatant defense of a single life nor the nunnery.

My answer? Start a Begijnhof. Right here in America

Sunday, November 13, 2011

About the Suit that Didn't Fit

Miracles happen everyday. Often we are so distracted, so consumed with our daily cares, with our long-term goals and objectives, that we miss the most vibrant occurrences before our eyes. When your vision is focused on the elusive "somewhere," we forget what is here and now. We forget to listen to our inner voice.

This story began when I purchased a ravishing mint-green Tahari suit, discounted to quite a reasonable price at an outlet. Growing up in a financially strapped household, I had long learned to pick up varieties of apparel on sale and finding a use for them later on. This classically tailored, sartorial wonder had the workmanship worthy of a designer label and I was ecstatic at my purchase. Of course, it didn't hurt that I had an excellent seamstress whose hands were magical. Her creations were ash rose chiffon, lime green satin, and champagne silk, to name a few (none of which were for me.) She only did my alterations.

I called her and discovered that she had given up sewing for the past year. Disappointed, I asked why and the culprit was cataracts, which blurred her vision and she is now unable to thread a needle. As I hung up the phone, I said a silent prayer for her, a woman whose identity was defined her ability to stitch and sew. I wondered what she would do next.

Then I thought of my mother. My mother was under the care of one of the most renowned opthamologists in the state, and her appointment was in November. (It was currently March). I had a nagging feeling, an uncanny insistence that she needed to see the physician earlier, but since he was so esteemed, his earliest available appointment was nine months later. I had repeatedly tried to move her appointment up, to no avail. On a whim, I called his office again. Apparently, there was a cancellation a few minutes before and I scheduled an appointment for my mother the following week.

On her visit, she was diagnosed with close angle glaucoma and was in immediate danger of losing her vision. Apparently, the pressure build-up in her eyes had increased so dramatically and quickly in the past few months that there was no possibility for the eye surgeon to predict it. She had been experiencing blurry vision, headache, and nausea, but she just thought it was a bad winter healthwise. We had no idea it was caused by glaucoma.

She was promptly scheduled for emergency laser surgery in the next few days. My mother, being one of a relaxed nature, had wanted to know if the surgery could wait until after Easter. My surgeon's response was "Don't blame me if you go blind."

Post-surgery, she emerged bright-eyed and luminous. And I am forever thankful to that inner voice, that intuition, the guiding spirit which insisted on making that fateful phone call. For once, I am aware of what was averted.

That's the funny thing about intuition. It inevitably binds you to those you love, despite distance and time, awakening you to any potential danger they may face. And you find that you are never alone; they are always with you. Perhaps that is the true miracle, how human emotion spans any geographical length and all barriers of reason, to be united to the source and the recipient of love.