Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Good Day to Die

As I climbed the stairs to go to bed late last Thursday night, I wondered if my dad would still be with us in the morning.  He was nearing the end of his time on earth. I had my hopes.  If he could wait just a little longer he would pass over on my birthday.  When I came down again in the morning, the caregivers whispered “He’s still here.”

And so began one of the most remarkable days of my life as we waited and watched –singing to him – reminding him that we were all there to cheer him across the finish line.  Near the last moment, I whispered the words of the 23rd Psalm in his ear with a few embellishments of my own to remind him of all the times he had walked by still waters and rested in mountain meadows.  He breathed a sigh of relief and did not breath again.  He died on the anniversary of the day he welcomed me brand new into the world and I was blessed with the gift of witnessing his birth, brand new, into the realms beyond life – a circle completed.

One sibling was missing and trying to get to my dad’s bedside.  He arrived after the fact so we kept my dad’s body with us until all of us could be together to bathe him one last time and prepare his body for removal by the funeral director.  Because my dad and I will now share my birthday as a very special kind of new beginning for both of us, we brought my birthday cake in and sang Happy Birthday to him - -and then to me – and then we said farewell.

In the 24 hours that ensued there was much to be discussed while we far flung siblings were all together in the same place.  Emotional issues to be received and honored, financial decisions to be made, dates for memorial service and spreading of ashes - - all things that in many families are a source of great contention and suffering.  As we sat around the kitchen table and processed all that needed to be done, we laughed and cried and received and embraced one another.

And then we gave thanks for my dad and the many life lessons of nonviolence he had taught us throughout our lives – not so much with words as by the way he lived in relation to the world around him.  He was not an ego driven man.  He could laugh at himself.  He offered friendship not only to us as his children but to pretty much everyone he encountered.  It was his way.

 I am pondering this lovely life that has passed from among us as we move along together as a family in his absence.  We are his legacy - -four remaining siblings all influenced by this soul we called “Dad.”  He taught us to live in the world in a respectful way – respecting self - - respecting others - - respecting the earth. His motto was “Always leave a place in better shape than you found it.”  I remember cleaning up many a campsite and having to pass a rigorous inspection before being allowed to climb into the car for our departure.  His early shaping of my values were the foundations for my commitment to trying to live nonviolence. What better gift can a father give to his children?

As I talked with many of his 27 grand and great-grand children over the last few days, I could hear in their love and appreciation of their Poppy that the lessons are indeed being passed on to yet another generation.  It is confirmed to me once again that what we do here matters.  Even if the only thing we do in life is to get our relationships right – it will be a significant contribution to the future.

So – Dad - - Here’s to you – our ancient one. May your legacy live strong and bless the future with the leaven of nonviolence.  

Vicky Hanjian

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fixing Things

I was celebrating not long ago. 

It all started when my wife was mowing the lawn. She came into the house with the news that the self propelled component wasn't working. This was an emergency! She says she can't push a mower, that if she's going to mow, the mower needs to be self propelled. In other words, the mower needed to be fixed quickly or I would end up finishing the job, pushing the mower myself. I'm not aware of any emergency small engine places in town. My  experience in the past has been waiting more like a day or two, or six. Given all the rain predicted, this couldn't wait.

I'm not known for my ability  to "fix things." Nevertheless, not seeing any other options, I took my new tool kit out on the lawn to see what I could do. My guess was that  the belt had come off. This proved to be correct, so I set out trying to find the easiest way to get it back on. After two or three false starts and removing more coverage than I had initially hoped, I "fixed it." My wife was pleased and surprised, but not nearly as much as I was. I quietly celebrated.

Like I said, I'm not known for my ability to fix things. When you live in a 123 year old home, there are usually things to fix. Often my efforts at plumbing end in tragedy and the plumber we call has a larger problem to solve. My wife still reminds me of the time I put the screwdriver through the web between thumb and index finger, instead of in the screw head. I'm still not sure how that happened.

An old friend often reminds me of the time he and I took the family Volkswagon apart. We were going to fix it. We never quite got the pieces back together. Then we moved. We borrowed a friend's car to get to our new home. A mechanic I knew gave me a few dollars for all those car pieces and hauled them out of the new owner's garage.

I've come to the conclusion there's something in the male psyche, perhaps because of our conditioning process, that we are to be "fixers." If something's broken, we should be able to fix it. If life is not going so well, we should be able to change it. Some men take to this role with enthusiasm while others of us have modest or no aptitude. But whatever the aptitude, there's always that pressure, "you need to fix it."

I realized mid way through marriage that my wife didn't always expect me to "fix" things that weren't going right for her. I always thought, "she's not happy about this. I need to fix it." Most of the time all she really wanted me to do was listen to her. I didn't have to "fix" her feelings. Usually she managed to do that just fine on her own, especially if she had someone to listen to her and share her concern. 

Then there are the demands for "quick fixes." We're under pressure to get the blood pressure down, so we opt for an enormous pharmacy, ignoring lifestyle changes or a search for the cause. Or, we don't want to spend money and men on  war derailing a tin horn dictator, so we flaunt international conventions and laws with assassination attempts, ignoring any promise of diplomacy or reflecting on the causes of our impotence.

When I worked at a college in Maryland a donor had given money for an outdoor pool. A date was set when it would be dedicated and the donor would be honored. It was a rainy spring and summer. The pool was way behind schedule and the dedication fast  approaching. I was at the meeting when the President told the staff member in charge of buildings and grounds he didn't care about the rain and problems of concrete setting. The pool was to be finished for the presence of the donor. Period. Weather be damned. Fix it.

For me, men having to "fix things" is just another one of those stereotyped gender roles. My wife is better at fixing things around the house than I am. So is my son. We all do much better when we listen, understand what's broken, consider our options with others, assess skills and liabilities, and then choose the appropriate solution that will actually "fix it" for the long term. 

This is a suggestion for all those intent on fixing things, like budgets, relationships, torrential rain, international conflicts and lawn mowers. It's called using common sense and the nonviolent wisdom we all possess.

Carl Kline

Monday, May 13, 2013


Every once in a while I come across something that gives me hope for our energy future. It cries out, "people are smarter than we seem." The latest example comes from an article in "Sierra" magazine. 

Jong Bok Kim, a researcher in chemical and biological engineering at Princeton University, was sitting outside his office thinking about his research subject. He was asking, what is the most productive and efficient skin for a solar cell: pyramids, strips, mirrors? As Kim gazed at a nearby shrub he realized he was looking at the answer. A leaf is covered with transparent cells that act like magnifying lenses and there are millions of ridges that guide the light deeper into the inner workings of the shrub. When Kim created a solar skin like a leaf, he discovered it absorbed six times the light of a flat surface.

Did you know how researchers at MIT discovered the best arrangement for a concentrated solar plant? They arrange solar mirrors around a central tower in such a way that the light is reflected to the tower's tip. They learned this design from a sunflower, one of the best and most efficient conductors of solar energy. 

Or, a scientist in China made a solar cell arranged like the tail of a swallowtail butterfly. The butterfly's wings have ridges and valleys that deliver maximum warmth when the wings are spread wide. Rather than use his butterfly solar cell to create electricity, this scientist used it to create hydrogen, a clean burning fuel that could power cars of the future.

All of these discoveries reminded me of a visit I made to a house in my hometown of Brookings with a built in passive solar system. The thing that most impressed me was the design of the roof. It was constructed in such a way that when the sun was in the southern sky in the winter, it entered the house under the roof line. When the sun was high in the sky in the summer, the roof line shaded the house. At the time I remember thinking, how bright! Such a simple recognition of how nature operates saves on heat and air conditioning. It begins with observation of how the world operates and adapts human operations to nature. 

What a difference to the typical Western attitude, where we say this is what we want to do and if nature can adapt fine, if not, nature be damned! As if we weren't part and parcel of nature!

Exxon Mobil or not, solar power is coming. Solar installations in the U.S. more than doubled from the second quarter of 2011 to the second quarter of 2012. In California, utility scale solar production last year matched that of a large coal burner or nuclear plant. In the meantime, the rooftop solar production in the state reached a comparable level, plus 20%. At West Oakland's Peoples Grocery, 70 community members financed an 8.6 kilowatt solar project on the store roof that will save $32,000 over ten  years, just one of several projects enabled by Mosaic, a solar start up. St. Vincent de Paul, serving a thousand meals a day, found 80 supporters for a rooftop project that saves them about $1,200 a month. It's estimated that the rooftop potential in the U.S. is about a fifth of the electricity demand we had nationally in 2011.

And solar costs are coming down. Expectations are that in two or three years, New York and California will have "grid parity," when power from the sun is no more expensive than normal electricity for one's home. 41% of building permits in Hawaii now include requests for installing solar.

Then there's Germany. On May 26 of last year, rooftop solar in that country produced half their electricity demand. In a country that's not known for sunniness, the investment in solar bodes well for their future. And the costs of installing solar in Germany are half what we would pay in the states, partly as a result of less red tape. 

You would think it would be a no brainer. Sunshine is free! It's the free gift of the creator to power the growth of flowers and trees, butterflies and bees, and you and me. But there's the rub! It's free! In a world of our creating, someone has to "own" the sunshine, or the wind, or the water, or the heat of the earth, in order to satisfy the "green frog skin" of Lame Deer fame. Instead of choosing a vision where we live in harmony with the creation, too many continue to choose a path of exploitation and profit, pitting one person or one country against another.

Our living room has several large windows, facing south. The sun in the winter comes streaming through those windows with warmth and cheer. They say sun on the back of your neck is good for depression so if I'm feeling down I sit on the couch, set just right, so the sun hits the back of my neck. And then I read about smart people, mostly young, who are looking at the world and realizing how we might fit in better. The sun and their intelligence, give me hope.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Poisoning the Planet: Bees First

One year the house got painted by my own hand. There was some help from my two children. But my son was basically a slop painter. He only wanted to do large areas, none of the subtle work around windows. And although my daughter was better at the heights than I and could do trim, whenever she was ready to start painting a friend would come by and she'd be off someplace. So most of the work I did myself.

One day, as I was scraping on the porch roof under the eaves, I disturbed a family of bees. Mind you, I don't like heights and wasn't all that comfortable on a slanting roof in the first place. But with one of those angry bees staring me in the face, just buzzing in place, I was doubly uncomfortable. So I swung at it with my putty knife and connected. The bee flew off, angry I guess, because a few seconds later it came flying back and stung me on the nose.

So here I was on a slanting roof, panicked by an angry bee, my nose hurting, afraid I was going to fall off the roof. So what I did was what I usually do when I'm in trouble, called for my wife; who calmed me enough to come down the ladder to the ground and helped me get a home remedy paste on my nose. (I know she was smiling inwardly the whole time, or outwardly, behind my back). She said I looked funny, with a red, swollen and pasty nose.

This was my first close-up and personal experience of bees. I'd watched interaction with bees from a distance before.

There was the time a friend was stung while we were hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He had a bee allergy. I remember the panic we felt getting him down the mountain. Fortunately he didn't swell badly, or die.

There was the time a whole host of bees invaded the downtown business area of the town where we lived in Maryland. People were frightened and panicked and business owners called the police. Instead of trying to kill them all with a flamethrower or spraying them with chemicals, someone had the good sense to call a beekeeper who brought a hive and took them home.

And then there were the times I visited a friend who lived south west of Brookings on a rural acreage and kept a few hives of bees. They had lots of flowers and their hives thrived, except when the neighbor had aerial spraying of his crops and the wind drifted toward their hives. Those years, all the bees died.

Bees are struggling these days. Slowly it's dawning on us how important they are to the functioning of a healthy food system. About one third of every bite we take goes into our mouths through the work of bees pollinating our crops. Approximately 130 different crops in the United States are pollinated by bees including apples, broccoli, almonds, watermelon, onions, cherries, blueberries and many other fruits and vegetables. It's not just honey production at stake with colony collapse disorder and other bee die offs. Our dinner table is seriously at risk.

As the crisis grew early last decade, the suggested culprits multiplied. Investigators identified the possible cause as bee mites, viruses, drought, even cell phones. But increasingly attention is centered on a particular pesticide, neonicotinoids, a nicotine derived pesticide European regulators implicate in bee deaths there. "The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005," according to a recent article by Michael Wines in the New York Times, "roughly tracked rising bee deaths." 

This is a systemic pesticide, applied to seeds that travels into the plant and into the pollen the bees carry. They take it back to their hives. It's a neurotoxin and Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex   concluded from his research, "Exposure to these pesticides, which are essentially a neurotoxin, was affecting the ability of the bees to learn, to find their way home, to navigate, to collect food, and so on, which is hardly surprising if you realize they're neurotoxins. ... What we found, which was I must admit surprising in its extent, was that the treated nests did grow more slowly, but most dramatically, the effect on queen production was really strong. So we had an 85 percent drop in queen production of nests that were exposed just for that two-week period to pretty low concentrations of these pesticides compared to the control nests."

Since last year, when bee deaths averaged about 30%, the problem has grown. Now beekeepers are losing between 40 and 50% of their hives.

Needless to say, the big chemical multinationals like Syngenta and Bayer, Monsanto and Dow, have mobilized their public relations firms, their legal staffs and their lobbying dollars to secure their bottom lines. Monsanto even purchased a major bee research company, Beeologics. It is another instance of a company creating a problem, then trying to create a technological fix for it, and making profits both ways. It seems to be a burgeoning strategy in the business world of multinationals. 

In the meantime, we'll have more flowers in our backyard than ever (chemically free). I'll continue believing that the wisdom implicit in the harmony of creation is healthier for us all than the experiments with nature being engineered in corporate labs through poisoning seeds and genetic manipulation. And if I paint my house this summer, as I should, I'll actually welcome a bee sting or two. It's all in respect for the wisdom of nonviolence and the harmony of creation.

Carl Kline

Friday, May 3, 2013

Toward Healing and Wholeness

Standing in the garden, feeling the gentle breeze upon my face, hearing the rustling of leaves touched by the breeze, hearing the gleeful voices of children at play in the school yard just beyond, the song of birds in the air, I was immersed in solitary witness, joined with all of Boston in a minute of silence one week to the moment when two bombs shattered our city and our hearts. That stillness of witness speaks so loudly of our being one, across all lines that would divide. In pausing we are touched by a spirit of gentleness, the heart open to hear its own beating, to hear the still small voice of God. In that moment of collective stillness when we pause to remember and affirm, our shared vulnerability becomes our strength and seeds of hope and possibility are planted.

The challenge is to hold on to that sense of oneness and unity that is spun from the silence. As so many reach out to each other, shrill voices rise to shatter the stillness, even as the bombs themselves have done, adding to the pain and heartache, breaking grieving hearts into yet smaller pieces. So did my heart break further in reading the op-ed in the Jewish Advocate that condemned our Muslim neighbors, poison words meant to sow fear; that would divide us from each other. The Muslim community has probably been the most organized of all of Boston’s faith communities in its response to the tragedy, organizing blood drives, providing space, collecting money, coordinating volunteers to help in whatever way called upon, providing counseling services for their own community and beyond. And yet they have had to defend themselves and their religion, to justify their own grieving among the citizens of Boston. 

In the Torah portion of that week, Parashat Emor, we are told, and do not profane My holy name/v’lo t’chal’lu et shem kodshi, for I will be sanctified among the children of Israel/v’nikdashti b’toch b’nei Yisrael, I, God, make you holy (Leviticus 22:32). This becomes the basis for Kiddush Hashem/the Sanctifying of God’s Name. In its most extreme expression, Kiddush Hashem refers to martyrdom, when all that is left is to affirm with one’s life. More importantly, to affirm with one’s life applies in every moment of our lives. A way of life, Kiddush Hashem is a commandment to each one of us to live in a way that sanctifies God’s name through deeds of righteousness and goodness, affirming the best of who we are meant to be. I received a gift during the week following the bombing, one that came as an opportunity to sanctify God’s name in the face of so much that would deny it. A friend and colleague in “Building Bridges through Learning,” a program to bring imams and rabbis together, called me late one night. The associate imam of the Cambridge mosque so much in the news, as the mosque attended on occasion by the bombers, he asked me if I would offer a prayer during their first Friday service since the bombing. Toward cleansing and healing, standing with and for each other, it was a great and humbling honor to be among this congregation. I was moved to tears by the sobbing of an elderly man as I spoke. He was sitting on the prayer rug just to my left, saying over and over through his tears, Amin, Amin. As we reach out to our neighbors, may the Holy One say Amin/Amen

Prayer at the Islamic Society of Boston Mosque
April 26, 2013
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Asalaam U'aleikum/Shalom Aleichem/Peace be Upon You

God of Avraham/Ibrahim, Hajar and Sarah, Yitzchak and Ismail, guide us please in their footsteps along paths that are so beautifully different and the same. Open our hearts to know that until we embrace each other we cannot fully embrace You or be held in the fullness of Your embrace.

Holy One of Being in Whose image each of Your children is created, receive our tears that flow from so many eyes into one great wellspring of humanity, waters of life freely cried, rivers that join us all in so much pain and sorrow. As You comfort us, we shall comfort You, receiving Your tears in the vessel of our prayers, holding them in the tenderness of our hearts, honoring Your tears, dear God, with deeds of loving kindness one to another.

Of so many bowed in body and spirit, Healer of Shattered Hearts, bind up our wounds and make us whole, raise us up to reach for the sky, each of us an angel in Your service when extending a hand to another. Let us be at all times in the spirit of those who rushed to the fallen on that day. Give succor to the wounded and the grieving, healing those of broken limbs and torn bodies that they might dance and sing and smile again. Hold close to You the souls of those whose lives were cruelly taken, torn in all their beauty like springtime flowers from the garden of Earth. May we honor You in the noble and worthy ways of our honoring them.

Let not our fear give rise to hatred, of finger pointing and blame. That is not the way You seek of us, not the way to ease Your pain, nor to look beyond our own. Open our lips to speak Your name with holy words of love and hope, that we not succumb to tough talk that in its speaking divides people into us and them. We are all one, and of one faith, whatever its name and path to You, in our city, in our state, in our country; hands reaching around the whole world in one great yearning, a prayer for violence to end, a promise to work for peace.

May the echo be heard and magnified, the spirit of their words rising, of a gathering of imams and rabbis that was held in this holy space, coming to learn each other's sacred texts, building bridges from heart to heart and house to house. Let that be the message that goes out from this mosque, from this house of Your dwelling among us, God of Ibrahim/Avraham, of Sarah and Hajar, of Ismail and Yitzchak. May we, Your children and theirs, go forth together, walking hand in hand in the springtime sun toward healing and wholeness.

And let us say, Amin/Amen

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein