Dichotomies: Begging and Offering Bowls

27 03 2017

Bowls Ann27 March 2017

I knew I was in the right place when artist Ann Grasso mentioned Big Magic, a book I’d blogged about, at her recent opening of Begging and Offering Bowls. Then she referenced Arrival, a movie that friends had encouraged me (and then discouraged me due to its potential to tap into a personal tender point), to see. I felt we were kindred spirits!

Grasso provided her definition of bowls, which she perceives as circular instruments that allow content to enter and leave. She sees begging bowls as icons of the poor and needy. On the other hand, offering bowls, generally filled with water, symbolize generosity. These she painted appropriately with watercolors. Grasso described part of her creative process as the “Overnight Mind” that takes ideas and makes connections she can see clearly the following morning.

Bowls struggleAnn believes titles can offer entry into the piece, particularly abstract art. My favorite of her begging bowls is this one above. I like the sense of space and distance, continuum and juxtaposition, the textures and color tones. Her title, Struggles, surprised me as I didn’t feel any conflict within the work. Then I remembered my reframing of The Myth of Sisyphus: instead of struggling to push the boulder up the hill, I envision it as a sled ride down. Perhaps that could be applied here, with its meaning depending on if one is looking up the hill at all that must still be covered, or downward and envisioning jumping from bowl to bowl along the way.

Grasso’s work was inspired by a trip to Vienna where she clearly saw the dichotomy between the haves and have nots. Gold-encrusted churches and buildings were juxtaposed with prostrate beggars and their bowls on the sidewalks. Interestingly enough, this irony is evident at her gallery exhibit itself. Her artist’s statement say, in part: “Religious institutions…are constantly assaulting either through guilt or advertising. Their aim: increase their earnings with our money.” These words are positioned on the table next to the Free Will Donation box of the hosting religious institution!

Bowls Free willWhen I mention this dichotomy to Grasso, she smiled and noted that people had added money to one of her three bowls on display that was identified as an offering plate. We both laugh and shrug our shoulders. Kindred spirits again.

A Cup of Tea

24 03 2017


24 March 2017

Meditation is a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself (Wikipedia).

The value of meditation has become commonly known and accepted, with centers springing up around the country. Some of these are focused on particular religious beliefs, while others are nondenominational. A meditation practice can have a number of positive physical and psychological impacts.

mediaton-centerMediation is a dynamic, structured, interactive process where a neutral third party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques. All participants in mediation are encouraged to actively participate in the process. Mediation is a “party-centered” process in that it is focused primarily upon the needs, rights, and interests of the parties. The mediator uses a wide variety of techniques to guide the process in a constructive direction and to help the parties find their optimal solution. (Wikipedia).

Mediation has been used in legal cases, particularly those involving family issues, and in business situations. Schools have trained peer mediators to help resolve conflicts between students; generally, mediation is considered a way to resolve conflict in a less adversarial manner than through litigation and the legal system.


Recently, I noticed that, although they sound quite different, the only difference between the writing of MEDITATION and MEDIATION is the letter T. T, I mused, tea. Hmm.

If you were involved in a conflict with another person, and you both were to spend some time in meditation, you would be able to clear your mind, calm your emotions, and bring some compassion and empathy to the issue. Then, if you poured yourselves a nice cup of tea to sit down for mediation, perhaps the results would come more quickly and be more equitable and amenable. Just a thought.

Ireland’s Great Hunger (An Gorta Mór)

21 03 2017

Recently, I met my friend Maggie at Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, housed at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT. I remembered my shock years ago at encountering the Famine Statues (Rowan Gillespie, 1997) on Dublin’s sidewalks in an evening stroll and wished to learn more.

At Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, I had that opportunity. The museum, whose exterior resembles the workhouses of the time with a lower entrance replicating the bowels of a boat, emphasizes a shift in historical perspective. The Irish potato blight of 1845 to 1852 caused a significant decline in available food to the tenant farmers but, quite significantly, the country continued to export food to England. Absentee farm owners ousted the people on the land who couldn’t pay rent and many were forced to emigrate. Some landlords even paid their tenants’ steerage, as it was less expensive than keeping them on the land.

Few artifacts or artistic works from the time are available, with the exception of illustrations such as political cartoons. The majority of this museum’s collection is newly developed work that reflects the more current view of the political and cultural aspects of the hunger’s calamity.

An unsung hero of the time was Elihu Burritt (1810-79), a New Britain resident. His resume was extensive, including his establishment of an international peace organization and the provision of humanitarian aid to Ireland.

Lacking a docent (they are currently being trained), we were treated with an engaging commentary from security guard Officer McCarthy. He also informed us that the entire contents of the museum will be shipped to Ireland for a year, so prompt visitation is encouraged.

Maggie, an Irish-American with deep roots in and multiple visits to Ireland, commented on her intense visceral responses to the material at the museum. She suggested she registered the hunger terror in her body, just as African-Americans may harbor the memory of slavery or Jews of the Holocaust. Interestingly, significant funding for this museum came from Murray Lender, son of Jewish immigrants and partner of Lender’s Bagels. And one of the artists, sculptor Margaret Lyster Chamberlain, used photos of Holocaust camp prisoners to modify her depiction of Irish destitute.

After our museum experience, Maggie and I headed out for a bite of Irish food. I looked at my plate when it arrived, laden with delectable food, and I considered the irony of this after going to a museum that honors those who perished unnecessarily from hunger. And here I was, eating as much as I wish, without a major dent in my pocket.

And I also considered how rich our country has become because of the Irish influx resulting from the dire conditions “over there.” And reveled in the diversity of foods we have available, right here in this restaurant and in our supermarkets. Global in nature. I looked around this restaurant, typical of many, staffed by people of all backgrounds. Only in America. I am grateful to live here.


17 03 2017


17 March 2017

Many of you know that my daughter was diagnosed with a serious health issue in April. Since then, there have been multiple hospital stays during which someone, mostly me, has remained with her. Recently, it was a nine-day visit which included the ICU. During that time, I was 150% focused on her, managing the multitude of medications, tests, and decisions that occurred while working with a multi-disciplinary team.

I was ever so thankful when she was discharged, but still I provided a wide range of tasks while she regained her strength at home. As each day passed, I was needed less and less, a miraculous event. I was honored to have helped in the process, grateful my schedule was flexible, and just thrilled that it all had made a difference. But I found myself struggling with the transition from being “Kay’s Mom” to “Beth” again. I felt a bit like a yo-yo, focusing on her and her only, and then flipping back to my life – what was it that I used to do with my time? And there also was the question: how to return to my life, especially knowing that I might have to drop it again at a moment’s notice?

I share this with my partner, a therapist with forty-plus years of experience working with people. “I tell my clients that transitions are hard,” he says. I wait for more from him, more insight, perhaps some gently prodding questions or a  hug. But that’s it.


And it’s exactly that type of communication/lack of response (among a slew of more serious things) that led me to decide to make a break from this three-and-a-half year partnership. And it’s yet another transition, this time from being in a relationship to being single. What happens with the space that has been devoted to Relationship and Other when they are gone? What flows in to fill up the time, the mind, and the heart?

Well, I definitely am writing more. I put these ideas out there, into cyberspace. Sometimes I get heartfelt responses, sometimes not too much. Either way, that feels better than what I was getting when I was coupled. I’ve returned to my part-time, short-term position with the city’s Arts and Culture Office. I’ve reconnected with a writing partner. I am trying to resume my meditation practice. I am spending more time outside. I am playing less solitaire and eating less chocolate, both of which were indicators of my stress level.

I’ve also noticed that it’s amazing what comes when there is space. Even unaware of my relationship change, one friend volunteers to shovel my driveway after a significant storm. Another sends me an interesting article about forest bathing, the process of experiencing the healing atmosphere of a woodland environment. A third brings a full-course meal to my back porch. Someone suggests a book that provides a significant boost to my creativity and courage. In fact, life is rich and fills my spaces with meaning.

Revere Life

10 03 2017


Throughout history, our religions have admonished against killing. The Ten Commandments, with “thou shalt not kill” directs those of Judeo-Christian backgrounds. The First Buddhist precept is “avoid killing or harming living beings.” The Qur’an prohibits “taking any human being’s life – that God willed to be sacred – other than in [in the pursuit of] justice.” Even the Hippocratic Oath of doctors includes, “first, do no harm, primum non nocere.”

But in fact each of us kills daily.

Mark's pie 07.14.15.jpg.jpgWe eat. Whether it be plant or animal, that which we eat has been alive and has died in the process of nourishing us. Thus: the Native American tradition of silently thanking a deer before taking aim and releasing the arrow.

We move. We step on small organisms we can’t even see or don’t notice. We drive and birds fly into our windshield or squirrels dash under our tires. We remove insects and spiders, mice and squirrels from inside our homes, most of us by killing them directly. We poison our lawns so only grass can grow. We treat noxious plants with weed-killer to enjoy our yard settings. We euthanize our pets when they become too old or infirmed to live a quality life.

In essence, it is virtually impossible not to kill.

However, it is always possible to revere life, to recognize its importance, its value and meaning. We can consciously name what has died to nourish us. We can mindfully select our actions, aware of our impact on others.

labyrinth-walk-solstice-2012-002We can choose to acknowledge the source of our food, all the connections that have made it possible for us to eat: the sun, water, and earth; the harvester, transporter, and distributor; the truck manufacturer, mechanic, fuel supplier, and so on.

If we decide to have a pet, we can select our dog or cat from a no-kill shelter instead of supporting the puppy mills. We can converse (aloud or internally) with the plants we consider weeds and clarify where we would like them to grow, as we remove them from areas that do not match our plans.

Keeping an open perspective allows us to continually search for ways to be more respectful and appreciative of life around us. If we are thoughtful, at the end of the day, we can say that we have revered life today.

Family Stories

3 03 2017

March 3, 2017 I’ve been doing some family genealogy research and I enjoy the detective work, putting together pieces and tidbits into a tidy whole (at least when I can). In the process, I’ve uncove…

Source: Family Stories

Family Stories

3 03 2017

March 3, 2017

I’ve been doing some family genealogy research and I enjoy the detective work, putting together pieces and tidbits into a tidy whole (at least when I can). In the process, I’ve uncovered some information that has left me wondering about the value of this work.

Several years back, I learned that a great-grandmother from Connecticut had died in New York City in early 1929. When I received her death certificate, I was shocked to discover that she had jumped out an apartment window. She and her husband had been in NYC only a few weeks. Why were they there? Was her issue emotional? Some family lore indicated that she had cancer. Perhaps it was to escape the pain and inevitable? We may never know.


My great-grandmother who lost her infant son

Recently, I discovered that my grandmother had a younger brother who was still born. Her parents lived on a farm miles from a hospital and the cause of death was listed as “pressure effects and prolonged labor.” I hated the vision of my great-grandmother out in the country going through a long and fruitless labor. I wondered if he were buried somewhere; I’ve seen no record of it in the cemetery where this family is interred. Did they ever speak of this child? How would he have changed the family?

Then I learned that this same grandmother had a niece (half-niece actually) whom I’d not know existed. Her death certificate indicated she died from intestinal tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1927 in my home town. Her mother, my grandmother’s half-sister, had died eight years earlier (angina pectoris) and her uncle, my grandmother’s father had passed (chronic intestinal nephritis and pulmonary edema) five years before that. Two years later my grandmother’s sister, with four young children, lost her husband in a plane crash at the Chicago World’s Fair.


These years in the early twentieth century were fraught with danger that impacted these ancestors, my people. They had left a dismal Eastern Europe and forged lives here in America that likely were immensely better than they would have had. But how do people handle these losses of family? How do they move on, under the cumulative uncertainty of who might be next? And why do I think I need to know this, to pass this on to future generations? Some of these facts were likely intentional family secrets. Couldn’t I have left them unearthed and allowed them to fade into nothingness? Or do they need to marked, noted, and honored?

Last month, I was waiting for the microfiche machine at the library to look for obituaries for some of the family mentioned above. A (handsome) young man was researching the 1938 hurricane and we started talking. He really wasn’t interested in the storm, but more how people shared information in those days. We discussed my genealogy research and he asked me, “Why are you doing this?” I managed to give him some type of an answer at the time. But since then, I’ve learned some of this other family history. And the truth of why I do this?

I really don’t know.