“Would you hold still, Aussie?”
“I hate it when you brush me.”
“You have two layers of fur that shed continuously. If I don’t brush you every day, it shows on the rugs and the couches.”
“What are you doing with the hair you’re removing from the brush?”
“I put it outside with the birdseed, Auss.”
“You want the birds to eat my hair?”
“No, I want them to use it for building their nests because it’s wonderfully soft, and now is the time when they need it.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re giving my hair to the birds?”
“Yes, Aussie. Your hair is for the birds!”
“Come on, Aussie, think of it as interspecies cooperation.”
“Is that what you call our relationship?”
“Don’t you think it’s nice that your hair will hold and embrace newborn baby chicks, Aussie? It’s like you’re their godmother, see?”
“XXNYDOPXXXMGY! It’s my hair. Mine, mine, mine!”
“Oh Aussie, nothing in the world belongs to just you or just me. In fact, the Buddha said that there really isn’t a you or me to begin with.”
“Oh yeah? Watch me bite you and then tell me there’s no me!”
I recently listened to an interview of the poet Mary Oliver, who said that when she began to write poetry she was warned by another poet against excessive use of I. Many of Oliver’s poems talk of her walking in nature and witnessing the life around her; she has said that her poems come out of her walking outdoors, holding a notebook, and making notes.
When I go walking I hold my phone rather than a notebook and I talk into it when something grabs my attention. But I was very struck by the warning she’d gotten against excessive use of I. I—this writer—was nervous about it from the very beginning of this blog. On the one hand, there are the stories you want to share about your life, good stories, maybe even important stories. A friend used to tell me that it’s always women who feel that their stories aren’t important enough to be told.
But I’ve read and heard too many anecdotes, ruminations, reflections, and insights that seem to hit you on your head relentlessly with their constant I: This is what I see, this is what I think, this is what I’m learning, etc. In this culture, we are self-involved even on the path towards finding God, or at least towards realizing no-self.
Reproducing my dialogue with Aussie is one way of avoiding that self-important I. The challenge, which Oliver met so well, is always how to open a life so that others could see themselves in that life, in that walk to the woods, in the joy of blue skies after days of rain, the return of purple crocuses after a hard winter, the finches finally turning yellow, the gray, hungry deer becoming warm brown over summer. Can I see my own changes in their changes?
The founder of Japanese Zen, in his instructions to his monks, wrote: “Fools look at themselves as if looking at another; those who are developed look at others and see themselves.”
Bernie liked to introduce himself as an addict. “I’m addicted to the self,” he used to say, and added: “I will always be addicted to the self.”
I see this over and over in my own life. Even when I’m on a Zoom screen with others, listening deeply to what they say, I sneak a look at my own little box and mentally talk to the person there as if it’s another: Why didn’t you put some lipstick on before the Zoom, you look so pale! You need a haircut pretty soon. Can’t you sit straight?
Someone asked me about the status of the immigrant families I work with. The local farms have reopened. In addition, there are many work openings (which officially, at least, are not always available for immigrants without the proper papers). For these reasons, after talking with Jimena, I decided to stop buying food cards in the local supermarket for a while.
But I continue to give cash assistance for urgent or emergency needs. Last week, using the funds you donated, we helped Perpetua avoid eviction. She received an eviction notice after not paying rent for 3 months.
Perpetua had left her children in Guatemala in the care of her mother while she works here on the farms and send as much money as she can back home. Her mother got Covid in early winter, which was a big strain on the family, and Perpetua also had to send money for medications. The farms were shut so there was no income, and in February she herself contracted Covid.
I can well imagine why she didn’t pay her rent. But if she gets evicted, she can’ help herself or her family. So yes, we paid the rent, and these are the kinds of situations during which we step in to help. Please continue to give to this fund (using the button below); we continue to make good use of it.
“I’ll send you a picture of the eviction notice,” Jimena said. I told her it wasn’t necessary; after more than two years of our working together, I trust her completely. She texted a photo of it anyway. Also, she said that Perpetua was so grateful that, once the vegetables start coming in with warmer weather, she wants to bring me some.
I used to say to these palpable offers of gratitude that they’re not necessary, but I’ve learned that actually, they are. Instead, I warmly thanked her.