On the outskirts of Waimea in the northern hills of the Big Island, there is a machine which dispenses purified water for drinking. One day, as Kati and I stood in line waiting to fill our gallon bottles, we started chatting with the man behind us.
In the course of conversation, he told us how his parents and siblings lived and traveled together with another German family in the sixties.
The fathers had been friends since childhood. Now they both worked to help under-developed nations.
In one of the poorest countries of Africa, the two families came into a village where the natives are of the blackest skin. In the culture of these people, it is a long-held custom that a baby is born sick may not be touched. In this way, only the strong shall live.
As it happened, a sickly baby was born the day before the families arrived. It had not been touched since it was born and was so ill its skin was ash grey.
Our story-teller's father, knowing it was forbidden, picked the baby up in his arms. He held it against his chest and felt the little body close to his heart. People watching could see by his firm stance they should not interfere. In moments, the baby’s skin turned from grey to its healthy deep ebony.
The Germans fell in love with the baby. With some persistence towards the villagers, they adopted him as their own. We were hearing the story some forty years later, and the baby is now a healthy and brilliant man.
Kati and I were entranced and forgot that we were standing in line. We sensed ‘oneness in the air’ as our surroundings became more luminous and our awareness expanded in bliss. We felt the gift of love.
On the outskirts of Waimea there is a watering hole,
where a machine dispenses water for a quarter toll.
While filling up our gallon a man with patience waited,
and we struck a conversation – by this I was elated.
For he told to us a story that still warms my heart today,
how a best friend of his parents came to his dad to say,
“We can travel all together, our families, you and I,
our love of life we’ll share, our friendship satisfy.”
They traveled as a team, an extended family,
to the villages of Africa from their home in Germany.
The culture of one village forbade a touch to give,
to infants that were sick, this way the fit shall live.
The people of this village are of the darkest skin,
and it was this scenario the families landed in.
Just the day before, a baby had been born,
so ill its skin was gray, abandoned and forlorn.
Our storyteller’s dad held the baby in his arm,
close to his beating heart and would allow no harm.
As he held him there the baby’s color changed from gray,
to black, his natural color, it was as if to say,
there’s life and healing wonder when a being loves so much,
and reaches out to give from the heart a human touch.
Patrick’s ending of this story could really be no other,
for the children of the Germans now have a black-skin brother.
It's All Atoms
At the Banjos in Alhama de Granada, the hot springs in the Spanish countryside flow out of the hills into three tiers of rock-lined pools, then into an icy stream.
I was enjoying the relaxing warmth of the lower pool when I noticed that a large woman in the upper pool was shaving the hair under her arms, and the hairs were floating in the current to the lower pools.
My first body reaction was to tighten in resistance. Then the words rose inside me, "It's all atoms." I relaxed and allowed that to sink in, giving assent, and expanded beyond the pools with the realization that the atoms of the underarm hairs are no more repulsive than the leaves and the earth. It was only the meaning that I had given it, based on old patterns, that had caused the reaction.
The charge of the resistance was gone. I could embrace the whole, and enjoy my time in the hot pool.
In the rolling countryside where we were in southern Spain,
people go to natural pools to soak and ease their pain.
Hot springs gush from the mountain and pools form into three tiers.
It seems these mineral waters wash away the dirt and fears.
For on a Sunday morning we visited the pools
and folks were in the water, these people are no fools.
We were in a lower pool with people up above,
and as water streamed from them I was thinking of
the fact we got the water of two pools where people soaked
and I kept one eye on them as they sat and laughed and joked.
I enjoyed the country freshness of the Spanish morning air
until I saw a woman shave under arm her hair.
And somehow I was bothered that the hairs were flushing down
into my pool of water and then were floating ‘round.
But as my indignation rose up in my self-defense,
I heard my inner voice say “Let go of your pretense.
“Relax and feel your body and enjoy the natural beauty
remember It’s All Atoms and fighting’s not your duty.
“Don’t judge the heavy woman as she shaves her underarm
the hairs are also atoms and they will do no harm.”
And as my judgment eased something magical occurred.
The songs of songbirds lifted, ones before I had not heard.
I saw the light upon the water, heard the sound of waterfall
and the colors were much brighter, I was more present to it all.
And from that day whenever my resistance tries to rise,
I remember It’s All Atoms, and see life with laughing eyes.
A Soldier's Choice
In the hills above Stanford University, a walking path meanders to the viewpoint at the top. It was a late afternoon when Kati and I made our way up the trail.
Weary from the day, we sat on a knoll to rest and watch the joggers, speed walkers and strollers as they followed the path. One woman we did not know gave us a greeting in passing.
She continued several paces then paused. We could see her consider. Then she turned around and came back to us.
“I’m sorry,” she started. “I just have a feeling I have to talk with you.”
We invited her to sit with us. She had the dark hair, eyes and complexion of a Persian.
At first her talk was about a recent happening in her life. We had the feeling she wasn’t sure yet what she needed to say.
Then, the energy between and around us shifted. We listened intently as she went into a story about one of her cousins in Iran.
He had been drafted into the military during a war with Iraq. While being trained to shoot and kill the ‘enemy,’ he reflected on it within himself.
His thoughts went to the families of the enemy soldiers, and what it would be like for them if he killed one of their men. How could he live with himself, knowing the grief he had brought upon them?
“If it were not for the geography and politics,” he considered, “I might share a beer with the man I am supposed to shoot.”
Then he was sent into battle. On his way to the front line, the thoughts kept swirling in his head. In the midst of a conflict, he found himself pointing his weapon at an Iraqi soldier, who also had him in his sights. They were close enough to see each others’ faces.
The Iranian made a choice in that moment and refused to kill another man. He did not shoot, and was shot. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and he went down.
From his hospital bed, he told the whole story to his cousin – the woman who was now telling it to us.
He added, “I do not blame the Iraqi. He was only doing what he was ordered to do. He could have killed me. He could have aimed for my heart. We were close enough, and he had me in his sights. I think he deliberately hit my shoulder so I would not die.”
After the telling of this story on the grassy knoll, Kati and I felt encompassed in a golden light as at times before in our lives. I intuited that the universe was acknowledging the compassion and understanding of the soldier’s life-affirming choice.
A Soldier’s Choice
A man was called by duty to fight his country's war,
a war between two governments, not on a distant shore.
No, this war was with a neighbor, with people like his own
and the leaders made a battlefield of their hearth and home.
The army drafted him and told him he must kill
the soldiers of the enemy, and for him this was no thrill.
His thoughts were of the men, the soldiers he would fight
and of the ones they loved, on them a death would bite.
They have sons and daughters like the dear ones that he knew,
and they would grieve their father's loss if he did what he must do.
The feared attacking soldiers that he was told to kill
have also wives and mothers whose hearts would be most ill
if he shot and killed their men, even though in self-defense
and there would be no turning back, no way of recompense.
He felt his inner conflict ‘til he was face to face
with an Iraqi soldier and then could find no space
to avoid this confrontation, he could only look inside.
It was his moment of decision, there was no place to hide.
In the heated battle, they saw each other’s eyes
and something in one soldier knew, it is more than blood that ties.
He saw that fighting’s not the way, there surely is another,
and the soldier from the Persian land refused to shoot his brother.
The Iraqi fighter shot him and the bullet went in deep,
but he lived to tell the story, and their mothers would not weep.
From the bed of his recovery, with family gathered round,
the young man told his story of the treasure he had found.
It came from seeing clearly the Iraqi soldier's face
and awakening to awareness that in another time and place
the two men could be closest friends and share a mug of beer.
It was religion and the politics that had fed their fear.
Should we choose to serve those abusers of their power?
If it's not time to take a stand, then when will be the hour?
The soldier from Iran who took a bullet to the shoulder
is a message to all people to have courage, to be bolder
and make choices that are true and that will give new birth
to hope for all humanity, with acts of peace on earth.
More to the Story
When Ali, the Iranian, told the story from his bed,
he reflected on the soldier who could have shot him dead.
“The other man in combat did what he was told to do,
I don’t blame him for his action, to his orders he was true.
“I am sure that in himself he would have made another choice
than to hurt a human being, but he felt without a voice.”
“We saw each other’s eyes and he could have hit my heart,
but he intended to not kill me, and for peace that is a start.”
As all about him listened to the story Ali told,
I saw the spark of living truth in this man is bold
and wondered what would happen if each person saw the same
and the higher human values every human sought to claim.
Bliss in the Junkyard
lyWe left the auditorium, not really refreshed by the speech. Our packs felt heavy like the unfulfilled longings we had carried into this occurrence. Our money was not enough to rent a motel room and we had not yet heard from intuition. Drained and without direction, we walked for hours through the streets of Kahului on Maui. Finally our eyes caught sight of a local health food store with a deli. We decided to spend our last money for a sandwich with tea. And to make it round, there were some cents left for a licorice bar!
The air conditioning of the store felt soothing to our bodies. But looking out of the window, we saw that the sun was low in the sky. We needed to find a campsite before dark and went back to the streets. After some blocks, we were walking alongside a hedge when there came an opening. Curious, we entered the space between but were shocked to see a scrap metal junkyard and old industrial buildings. There was a stench of greasy, stagnated water. Kati, totally exhausted, sat down and said, “I cannot move on anymore, and for what.”
In that moment, the last sun beams hit an old copper-toned metal shield and the light around us turned radiant, golden and beautiful. We asked ourselves, “What is really important in life?” Almost at the same time, we said, “To see and feel the love we are in everything”
Just as these words were spoken, our bodies felt rejuvenated. A sense of renewal and serenity pulsed through us. Words became unnecessary and with mutual understanding we found a space within a thicket of weeds where our tent would be well hidden from the street.
That night, it seemed the radiance of the sunset came into the tent with us. There, in the midst of the trash and smell of the industrial area, our tent pitched among the weeds, with no money to our name, we entered a state of bliss. We were beyond happy, and for no apparent reason.
With innocence in our hearts, like newborns, we fell soundlessly asleep. A junk yard been the catalyst that opened the door into the magical kingdom of life where we felt totally nourished. We value and enjoy to apply ourselves with diligence and presence in a natural flow, but realized from the junkyard that sometimes being in the flow means having not the need and hard work that wanting brings.
Header photo courtesy of retreatcentral.com