Tuesday, April 13, 2010

There was a Reason

(The Monfort Professor-in-Residence Program brought 'citizen writer' Terry Tempest Williams to Fort Collins for a reading and discussion of her newest book "Finding Beauty in a Broken World". She is a naturalist who shows how environmental issues are social issues and ultimately matters of justice. This is my reflection.)

There was a reason I made the trip to hear Terry Tempest Williams speak one night last week. There is always a reason. I need to remember that. The problem is that I have to be shaken up a bit before I really believe it. I know part of it is because of my early childhood. According to my Enneagram I learned about myself through seminal experiences ages ago. Birth order, inheritances, experiences…so it has to do with self-esteem. So I don’t believe what is in my gut because I wasn’t believed 50 or so years ago. Hogwash. (Sorry, my Iowa roots) But the fact remains, it takes a while. And I want to change it.
That’s why when I read in one of my local newsletters that Terry Tempest Williams was going to do a reading in Fort Collins I wrote it on my calendar with great excitement. She was the one who introduced me to memoir, nature, compassion, grief and was the epitome of an examined life. Underneath I wanted to write like her. I read her memoir, "Refuge", just after my own mother’s death. This book connected the death of her mother with the displacement and loss of birds around the flooding of Great Salt Lake. It didn’t need to point a finger at the atomic bomb testing in the Utah desert for me to know the ache in her soul from the many cancer deaths in her family. Their stories carried that message. It was beautifully written and again I wanted to write like her. But something inside told me I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. Fear. That was a long time ago. I think I'm learning.
When she took the podium she commanded a presence in a soft and gentle way. This not in spite of but why her words rang true. She spoke out of an unimaginable brokenness.And while she sounded soft and gentle, her words packed a punch. She is masterful at making connections . The title of her new book speaks her theme and her cause, "Finding Beauty in a Broken world". She wrote it in the same way she wrote"Refuge". In her current book she connected the art of mosaic with the massacre of a million people in a thousand days in Rwanda with the annihilation of prairie dogs. It is a mindset she says.
And so I come back around with the reason. I recently began taking a new direction in my writing, stealing myself to stories of loss but with a "heart broken open and ready for service" (from J.Barrie Shepard in one of my favorite books.) Peace and justice had been at the heart of my ministry as a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA)all along. So now what? What is the next step for me and for you too? How do we make a difference without polarizing?
Each of us in our own way.I began with the animals...to parallel the path of respected C.S.U. professor Temple Grandin. I began with feral, abandoned or stray cats. I am convinced that we have much to learn from animals. The study of communication skills of prairie dogs can begin to teach us how to communicate, feral cats like prairie dogs have community and take care of each other too. Helping to provide humane ways to respect life while respecting property is a challenge. Bottom line for me is when eyes can see with compassion 'the least of these' then compassionate eyes can be opened to the Rwandas of the world.
As a shy person I have experienced a hesitancy when I speak of my passion about animals and recently feral cats. But life, plain and simple is a gift. I believe... God’s gift for all creatures 'great and small'. Terry Tempest Williams' soft smile and honest words have underlined my search for ways to express my passion. She shook me up. That was the reason.