Circle of Life

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The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere. Empedocles

Spring comes reluctantly to Northern Maine as the cold fingers of winter cling selfishly to the land before the relentless warmth of the sun forces her to retreat. Salmon Brook runs through our property and each spring, swelled with melted snow, it rushes with all the pent up energy of a horse long confined to a stall. It takes savage bites of the banks and seeks new territory to explore after its frozen winter imprisonment. It tumbles rocks and flings trees in its desire to flex its freedom and each year new channels are carved in its impatience to join up with bigger waters on their inevitable rush to the sea.

I eagerly await the moment when the snow melts enough for me to get to the brook’s edge to see what changes have been wrought by the spring runoff. Just across from where we have our firepit a small island splits the brook and some years the water cuts a channel towards the front of the island. These are the years that taking a nap in the hammock are accompanied by the giggling of the water as it tickles over the rocks nearby. Other years the brook jumps to the backside of the island and it creates a nice swimming hole to cool off in the hot summer months.

This week I decided to put on my waders and walk through the water to the island and try to determine if the brook has made up its mind which way it will go this year. I could see a new gravel bar along the side of the brook and uprooted trees were bridging another section. I thought about how life is like this brook. When we are young we are sure of our path and we rush headlong toward our goals. In our single minded need for success and happiness we fling obstacles out of our path without regard to where they will land. We don’t look back to see what damage we’ve done, focusing only on our efforts to reach our destinations.

As we progress in life some of the obstacles throw us into a different direction. Births, deaths, jobs, illnesses cut new channels into our path and take us into unplanned and uncharted territory. Just as the flow of the brook begins to slow as the summer months sap its strength and it can no longer manhandle boulders and impediments we begin to slow down as the years go by. We figure out that obstacles can be overcome by reason and ingenuity. As we tire we learn to value not the achievement at the end of our journey but the journey itself. We stop more often to enjoy the peace of the still pools and the beauty of the overhanging branches and wildflowers along the way.

As fall approaches the brook slows to a trickle, reluctant to rest on winter’s cold breast. As we approach our final destination we value each day more and more. And like the last of the summer wine, life becomes sweeter because it is the last leg of our journey. We remember with fondness when we galloped through life kicking up our heels with the sheer joy of living. We remember the boulders and limbs along the way that threatened to derail us and we marvel at our resilience to withstand the bruises and cuts they inflicted to emerge stronger and more assured.

As I near the last part of life’s journey I still have a kick or two left in me. I am no longer afraid to take a new path because experience has taught me that there is always something wonderful waiting round the bend. I don’t fret if I want to spend a day in contemplation and rest because those are the times when the deep pools can be explored and long hidden memories return and we embrace as old friends. Sometimes I wonder why we can’t have the insights we gather as we age when we have the exuberance of youth to enjoy them. But it is the journey of life that weaves all our joys, pain, laughter and tears together into the complete masterpiece God intended.  This knowledge reassures me that death is not to be feared, it is simply the end of the journey we embarked on the minute we drew our first breaths. When our journey is ended we will wake refreshed into the warm, loving arms of our Lord; reborn into the light, just as the brook wakes up each spring, for life is a never ending circle of birth and death, sleep and renewal.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3

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Watch What Happens When a Man Asks People to Translate a Hate Message He’s Received

Words matter.

Kindness Blog

During a social experiment, a man requests help to translate a Facebook message he has received.

The man, who is in Lithuania, speaks English only. He receives a message in Lithuanian and can’t read it, so he asks some locals to translate it for him.

www.svetimageda.lt experiment video

As he asks one person after another to translate the message for him, two things become obvious.

1. He’s received a message full of hate speech.

2. Translating it for him is breaking people’s hearts.

It’s nearly more than these people can bear.

There’s a sudden, powerful connection between the translators and the man they’re translating for. They want to protect him, telling him not to bother with the message.

www.svetimageda.lt experiment video

They apologize for the message.

They look like they want to cry.

www.svetimageda.lt experiment video

Words hurt.

Most of us would never think of saying such horrible things. This video shows people realizing in their gut what it…

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7 Things That Good Mothers Do That I’m Not Going to Do Anymore – by Leigh Anderson

Kindness Blog

child in bath wallpaper1. Bathe the kids every day.

Children, unless they’ve been rolling in the mud,do not need a bath every day. In the summer I rinse off sand, sweat and sunscreen pretty much daily, but in the winter it just makes their skin dry and rashy. Twice-a-week baths are fine and save me the soggy wrestling match that is washing a screaming toddler and preschooler.

2. Do an elaborate bedtime routine.

Literally everyone told us we needed to do a bedtime routine. Bath, infant massage, dim lights while nursing—this was bad enough and clocked in at about an hour. Now, with our 4-year-old, more rituals have crept in, like:

  1. sing a song;
  2. read three books;
  3. listen to Freight Train Boogie;
  4. dance;
  5. play a game he and daddy made up, called “crashies,” in which I always get injured;
  6. a good-night “wrestle” with his brother;
  7. tooth-brushing;
  8. a game called “burrito” in…

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Lyudmila Pavlichenko – Smart, Beautiful and Deadly

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My regrets are the people I couldn’t save–Marines, soldiers, my buddies. I still feel their loss. I still ache for my failure to protect them. -Chris Kyle, Navy Seal

Recently, the suggestion that female military personnel be allowed to join American Special Forces has caused much controversy, with both men and women questioning whether or not women can physically and psychologically meet the challenge. My opinion is an unqualified “Yes!” I’d like to introduce you to Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, 24-year old Lyudmila Pavlichenko was in her fourth year of studying history at Kiev University. She was among the first round of volunteers at the recruiting office and requested to join the infantry because she wanted to carry a rifle and fight.  The recruitment officer eyed her in amazement. She looked like a model, with well-manicured nails, fashionable clothes and hairstyle. He laughed and asked her if she knew anything about rifles. Little did he know that Lyudmila was a member of DOSAAF, a paramilitary sport organization in the Soviet Union and she was an expert sharpshooter. Even when she showed him her marksmanship certificate, he was reluctant to take her seriously and offered her a position as a field nurse. She refused. “They wouldn’t take girls in the army, so I had to resort to all kinds of tricks to get in,” she recalled. To prove she was as skilled with a rifle as she said she was the Red Army unit held an impromptu  audition at a hill they were defending, handing her a rifle and pointing her toward a pair of Romanians who were working with the Germans. When she picked off the two she was accepted and assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division. There she became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, of whom about 500 survived the war. “I knew my task was to shoot human beings. In theory that was fine but I knew that the real thing would be completely different.”

On her first day on the battlefield, she found herself close to the enemy, and paralyzed by fear, she was unable to raise her weapon. A young Soviet soldier set up his position beside her, but before they had a chance to settle in a German bullet took out her comrade. She was shocked into action. “He was such a nice, happy boy,” she recalled.” And he was killed just next to me. After that, nothing could stop me.”  Private Pavlichenko fought for about three months near Odessa where she recorded 187 kills. She fought for eight months on the Crimea Peninsula and in 1942, having been promoted to a lieutenant she was cited by the Southern Army Council for killing 257 German soldiers. In her career she had 309 confirmed kills.

As her kill count rose she was given more and more dangerous assignments, including the riskiest of all – countersniping, where she was engaged in duels with enemy snipers. She never lost a duel, notching 36 sniper kills in hunts that could last all day and all night. “That was one of the tensest experiences of my life,” she said, noting the endurance and willpower it took to maintain positions for 15 to 20 hours at a stretch. “Finally,” she said of her Nazi stalker, “he made one move too many.” One duel lasted three days. “That’s three days of waiting perfectly still, in the cold and in the silence, knowing that somewhere out there was a sniper doing the same thing.”

She was wounded on four separate occasions and suffered from shell shock, but remained in action until her position was bombed and she took shrapnel to the face. Pavlichenko and her spotter, Leonid Kutsenko, were caught by Germany artillery and she knew he was not going to make it but with blood streaming down her face she laboriously lugged her comrade back to camp. For her bravery she was awarded the Order of Lenin Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honor her country awards and equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor.

After a time, even the Germans knew of her, blaring messages over their loudspeakers, “Lyudmila Pavlichenko, come over to us. We will give you plenty of chocolate and make you a German officer.” When the bribes didn’t work, they resorted to threats, vowing to tear her into 309 pieces, a phrase that delighted the young sniper. “They even knew my score!” Killing Nazis aroused no complicated emotions in her. “The only feeling I have is the great satisfaction a hunter feels who has killed a beast of prey. Every German who remains alive will kill women, children and old folks. Dead Germans are harmless. Therefore, if I kill a German, I am saving lives.”

In June of 1942, she was only 25 but had been wounded four times in battle. After she was wounded in the face with shrapnel from mortar fire, she was withdrawn from combat and sent to Canada and the U.S. for a publicity visit, becoming the first Soviet citizen to be received by a U.S. President when Franklin Roosevelt welcomed her to the White House. She found a friend in Eleanor Roosevelt and was asked to go on tour with the First Lady to tell Americans her experiences as a woman in combat.

She was dumbfounded by the questions the U.S. reporters asked her, who criticizing the length of her skirt saying it was too long and made her look fat. The women reporters plagued her with questions about nail polish, how she curled her hair and was she allowed to wear make-up at the front. When faced with these types of question she answered, “There are no rules against it, but who has time to think of her shiny nose when a battle is going on?” No doubt she was thinking that a few months earlier she had been recovering from wounds to her face sustained in the mortar attack. She eventually grew tired of these frivolous questions and said, “I wear my uniform with honor. It has the Order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see with American women what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for, they have yet to learn.”

She held audiences spellbound with the stories of her youth, the devastating effect of the German invasion of her homeland and her career in combat. She made the case across America for a U.S. commitment to fighting the Nazis and in doing so drove home the point that women were not only capable, but essential to the fight. She stood before large crowds chiding the men to support the second front. “Gentlemen, I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”

She spoke out about the lack of a color line or segregation in the Red Army, and of gender equality, which she aimed at American women in the crowds. “Now I am looked upon a little as a curiosity, s subject for newspaper headlines, for anecdotes. In the Soviet Union I am looked upon as a citizen, as a fighter, as a soldier for my country.” She also made trips to the UK and accepted donations to pay for three x-ray units for the Red Army. Having attained the rank of major, she never returned to combat but became an instructor and trained Soviet snipers until the end of the war. After the war she completed her degree and began a career as a historian and was active in the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War.

In 1957, 15 years after she accompanied Eleanor Roosevelt on tour, the former first lady was touring Moscow. Because of the Cold War, a Soviet minder restricted Roosevelt’s agenda and watched her every move. She persisted until she was granted permission to visit her old friend, Lyudmila. She found her living in a two-room apartment in the city, and the two chatted amiably with a “cool formality” for a moment before Pavlichenko made an excuse to pull her guest into the bedroom and shut the door. Out of the minder’s sight she threw her arms around her, half-laughing, half-crying, telling her how happy she was to see her. In whispers the two old friends recounted their travels together.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and was commemorated on two Soviet postage stamps. She was immortalized in a song by American folksinger, Woody Guthrie called “Miss Pavlichenko”:

                                              Miss Pavlichenko’s well known to fame;

                                              Russia’s your country, fighting is your game;

                                             The whole world will love her for a long time to come,

                                              For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.

Pavlichenko was credited with 309 confirmed kills and she is still regarded as the most successful female sniper in history. She is an example of the bravery and skill that women can bring to the battlefield. While the ultimate hope is that there will be no need for men and women to wage war, reality and history shows us that there will always be those who don’t want peace. When the need arises to fight those who oppose freedom, abuse human rights or attacks our country, then our military needs to be the best it can be and that includes equipping the forces with men and women who can meet that challenge. To exclude women from any branch or section of our military is to limit the pool to choose from by half.

Women have always fought, wounded and been killed in wars. Individual women have served in combat in leadership roles such as Queen Bodicea, who led the Britons against Rome; and Joan of Arc who led troops to drive the invading English troops from France.  In WWI, Russia used an all-female combat unit. In WWII, hundreds of British and German women served in combat roles as anti-aircraft gunners, snipers and combat fighter pilots. After 1945 all these combat roles were ended in all armies and the women and their contributions largely unrewarded and forgotten. Israel, along with Norway and Eritrea in Africa, have mandatory military service for men and women, and 3% of Israel’s combat units are women. Today all-female Kurdish troops are fighting against the spread of ISIS in Syria. In the U.S. only in 2013 has the ban on women serving in combat been lifted. Army Ranger Battalions and Navy SEAL units plan to integrate women  by 2015 and 2016, respectively. On November 21, 2013, the first three women graduated from the U.S. Marine Corps School of Infantry. Let’s give these women who have the dedication and skill a chance to prove themselves. If the successes of women in past conflicts are anything to go by, then we have nothing to worry about.

At the Bazaar

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The heart and soul of an Afghan village is its bazaar. – WDAGarner

Excerpt from “Small Gifts from the Heart”

Friday is the only day we have off at the Embassy. It is a day I treasure like that first peanut M&M from the three quarter pound bag.  I wake up at 5:00AM with my hooch shaking and rattling,  determine it is a Blackhawk helicopter passing over and not an earthquake (it could be either one), open one eye, look at my watch and with a sigh of pure joy roll over and sleep the peaceful sleep that only people who work in a war zone can appreciate. Granted, it is a false sense of peace because at any second a duck and cover alarm can go off and I am instantly awake, reaching for my body armor, my senses heightened, listening for an explosion or gunfire.  But I have also learned to take every opportunity to feel I am “off” because no one can sustain their sanity in a constant state of high alert.

Friday is also the day I allow myself a dessert, hopefully cake. The Embassy cooks make wonderful sheet cakes and Friday is usually the day we have them, except for when we have VIPs, then we have two sheet cakes. On one memorable occasion we had a CNN film crew doing a story on life at the Embassy. The Ambassador joined us for lunch and we had three sheet cakes that would rival anything you will ever see on The Food Network. We also had steak, prime rib and lobster tails. Love those photo ops!

But the best thing about Fridays is the bazaar held at the NATO compound next to the Embassy. About fifty Afghan vendors, who are heavily vetted and screened, set their up stalls and display a dizzying array of loose gemstones, jewelry, antiques, scarves, clothing, electronics and DVDs. It is a glorious hodgepodge of brightly colored tents, shouting vendors and exotic merchandise.  I usually go at lunchtime and the smell of kebabs being heated over portable stoves are tantalizing. As I pass through the entrance to the bazaar I show my ID to the guards then tuck it into my shirt. We are not allowed to display our IDs in order to prevent anyone from gathering information that could be used in a terrorist attack.

As soon as I get in sight of the first vendors I hear, “Madam! Madam! How about a beautiful necklace (scarf, sunglasses, knife, etc.)? It costs nothing to look. Please Madam?” Right and left, the frantic pleading assails me. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, I chant like a mantra. If I make eye contact, I am doomed. Masters at selling, the Afghan traders instantly size you up and determine what product to show you that will cause you to stop, because when you stop, they have you. At least they have me. Once I stop, they use every psychological trick to close the sale. If I am wearing a pink shirt, they pull out a stunning scarf to match or hold up pink agate earrings for me to drool over. If I hesitate, they take my hand; look at me with soulful brown eyes and say, “I give you good price, just for you, because you are my friend.”

Scarves are my weakness and at $4-15 apiece, they are a cheap addiction. And you need scarves in Afghanistan, right? The seller will pick up a rough, ugly scarf that looks more like a burlap sack. He says, “This is what you get from other vendors. Feel how rough on your beautiful hand.” He drags it across my hand and it is like sandpaper. “Bah”, he says, dramatically throwing the scarf aside. “This is not for you. But this scarf”, he says, picking up a beautiful silky scarf, “this scarf is for you. Look how soft it is. You will find nothing like this anywhere else in the bazaar. Only I have it. And I give you  good price, just for you…” His voice is low, seductive and he slowly allows the scarf to glide sinuously across my hand like a snake easing into a cool pond. The colors swirl before my eyes. I envision myself draped in this wonderful scarf, people staring at me with awe, stunned at my beauty. Like a mouse held in the hypnotic gaze of a cobra, I feel my hand reach for my money and I am handing it over without a whimper. The seller smiles and says, “Are you happy?” Oh, yes, I am happy. I thank him and take my scarf and walk, dazed, onto the next vendor, Shakib, a jewelry maker.

Shakib was fourteen when I first met him. He has worked in the bazaar since he was ten. If I don’t see him right away, he stands in the middle of the milling bazaar patrons, lifts his arms into the air and shouts, “I am here!” He is so earnest, his young face scarred from some injury, but with a smile that wins my heart every time. We have a ritual. It is sacred and must not be strayed from. He asks me, “How are you? Are you healthy? Your family is healthy?“ I say I am fine, my family is fine and I ask him if he is healthy. Is his family healthy? He takes me by the hand and leads me to his table and begins to show me necklaces and bracelets he has made. Jewelry is my other addiction. A veritable cornucopia of gemstones–jade, lapis, agate, amethyst–is spread before me to admire. Shakib knows I like unpolished stones and he has several on display to whet my appetite. I pick out five necklaces and ask, “How much for these?“

”What would make you happy?”

“I don’t have a lot of money.  How about sixty dollars?”

He rolls his eyes, draws a finger across his throat like a knife and says, “You are keeling me!! Anyone but you I sell this for two hundred fifty dollars. This is real gemstone from Afghanistan.”

I say, “They are beautiful and I love them, but I only have one hundred dollars. How many can I get for a hundred?” He says two and I pick out four. We negotiate back and forth, inching closer to a deal. Finally I get three. As I give him the money and he puts my treasures in a little velveteen bag, he picks up two more and says, “These are for your daughters.” I thank him and he says, “Are you happy? I want you to be happy because you are my friend.” I tell him I am happy and we part, both getting something we want. He gets money to support his family and I get beautiful jewelry.

This weekly transaction transcends a mere monetary exchange. I know and he knows I could just give him a hundred dollar bill, pick out five necklaces and walk away. But this is not our ritual. I am old, he is young. I am a woman and he is a man. I am American and he is Afghan. But for a few minutes every Friday our cultural differences disappear and we are two people who genuinely like each other, and yes, it makes me happy.