Welcome/Go Home

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This article is updated from the original written before I retired from teaching ENL.

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“Go home,” said Juan.

            To me.

            Those two words made me feel sick at heart, rejected, and devalued.  After days of planning lessons and gathering materials, after four weeks of driving 80 miles to Middletown and back during my summer vacation, after four weeks of orchestrating writers’ workshop for this group of middle school students, those two words were my feedback.

            “What can we do to improve the program?” I had asked the students on the last day of Young Writer’s Camp.

            “Go home,” said Juan. 

            Two months later, I heard those two words again, this time from a teacher.  They were spoken during a workshop on English as a New Language (ENL) that I was co-presenting to middle school teachers in my school district.  My colleagues and I had composed several fictitious profiles to illustrate the varied backgrounds of our English Language Learners (ELLs).  One of the teachers read this profile:

Profile II: Beginner

Anton

            I am a refugee from Afghanistan.  We left two years ago.  My father is still there.  I live with my mother and four brothers and one sister here in Highland Mills.  None of us wanted to leave our country.  I miss my father so much and I worry about his safety.  I can speak English in short sentences using functional vocabulary.  I am literate in my first language.  I don’t want to be in the U.S., and I am not motivated to learn English.  Because my mother leaves for work early in the morning, my brothers and I often sleep late and miss the bus.  We hate everything here and we want to go home.

            “So go home,” a male teacher called out. 

Some people laughed.  I felt heartsick again.  Surely this teacher’s attitude was communicated to his ELLs, our students.

            Now, I’d been a teacher for many years.  I knew the extra pressure that fell on a teacher with one or more ELLs in his or her class.  Often, teachers were already overwhelmed by the daily demands of our jobs.   I knew what it was like to deal with students who would rather be anywhere but in school.   That kind of resistance from a recent immigrant seems to smack of ingratitude, never mind the additional attention required from teachers to repeat directions or adjust assignments.

I didn’t know if the teacher who called out was a willing, interested member of the workshop, or if he was just enduring another in-service day.  Whatever the teacher’s story when he yelled, “Go home!” I was on the verge of responding aloud.  I remained silent, but what I wanted to say was, “Yes!  That’s it exactly!  Anton wants to go home.  But the point is that he can’t.   He’s just a kid, subject to the decisions of adults who believe they know what is best for him. 

“So what areas of his life can Anton control?  He can control his life at school. He can choose not to like school, not to learn English, not to like the United States.  From Anton’s point of view, acquiescence would only distance him further from his father.  Maybe, for Anton, there is no home to go back to, just a pile of rubble that used to be his neighborhood.”

Pondering the lives of today’s immigrant students, I wonder how their experiences compare to those of my aunt Helen.  She passed through Ellis Island around 1900.  Did someone ever tell her to go home to Poland, where the Jews were being corralled in ghettos or victimized by pogroms?  Did the teachers at her public school in New York City make her feel welcome or unwanted? 

            The greatest teacher I know begins all her talks with these words, “With great respect and love, I welcome you all, with all my heart.”

            When we welcome someone, we give that person value and recognition.  Welcoming is an invitation to belong, to be included.  Welcome offers warmth and generosity.  It says, “Share with us.”  Often coming from difficult situations, our ENL students want and need to feel welcomed.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  Some teachers perceive an ENL student as an added burden.

            When I taught ENL, my first duty was to look in the mirror.  Was I welcoming my new students?  When a new child registered and joined one of my already crowded groups, did I make her feel safe and included, or did I project an attitude of exasperation that communicated, “Go home”?

            It’s not always easy for teachers to find the time and energy to make a new ELL feel welcome.  To welcome a new student with respect and warmth is surely no more than we would want for ourselves, or for our own children in a foreign land. 

Ribbons

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Today my friend gave me

blue and yellow ribbons

to pin on my jacket.

Two to hand out.

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The war grows desperate.

Compassion for the suffering Ukrainians

battles with my smoldering anger

for the attention and support

given to that country

of white-skinned Europeans.

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Yes, says our president,

we will take in 100,000 refugees.

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People fleeing El Salvador

are turned away–

South Sudan, Syria, Myanmar,

Congo, Nigeria, Yemen,

Afghanistan, Eritrea—

all in states of war,

10,000 or more

deaths this year

in each country.

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Look in the mirror with wide eyes.

Who cries on the other side of the wall?

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Welcome to new followers! Thank you for reading.

The Bridge

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The Holy Spirit manages the bridge before me.

It guards the tollbooth with holy hand outstretched.

The toll it requires is my ego.

All that I imagine I am.

All the crazy, negative thoughts

roaming loose in my mind.

All the judgments, complaints, and criticisms

are part of the fee.

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I must also pay with my body,

this skin suit I identify as me

that the Holy Spirit won’t admit through the gate.

It requires payment of my past and future

because this bridge crosses over

to the eternal present.

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And so, I wait in line,

wondering if I can let go of the five senses:

the glorious fragrance of rosemary, eucalyptus,

cedar, sandalwood.

The feel of cat’s fur, orange peel, silk.

The sound of gospel harmonies, rain,

happy children.

The view of waving leaves,

their shadows on the wall.

And colors.

Yes, colors.

And taste.  Cucumbers and chocolate,

steamed rice, curry.

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It’s no loss to toss the negative thoughts.

Who needs those?

Satya IV: Soul Travel

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Satya lives in this house, but it is not her home.  Right now her home is two continents away, in a dusty village, with him.  He’s probably eating his evening meal of rose-flavored yoghurt and a mango.  Wherever her teacher resides, Satya’s home is in that place, at his feet.

            It is not yet dawn in the Hudson Valley.  While her daughter, Devi, her heart’s delight, dreams gently in the bedroom across the hall, Satya lets her soul fly home, to the hut beside the temple, and there he is.

            He feels the presence of her spirit and greets her with a wide smile, even though his eyes are closed.  The evening meal is over.  Others have come to sit in the presence of this man.  The silence is alive with his energy.  Satya allows her astral body to rest in the love pulsing from her teacher. 

            His white hair seems incandescent; his high cheekbones rise above the full beard.  He is wrapped in a blue shawl, sitting on a folded white wool blanket.

            When her dogs begin to bark, Satya’s soul sails back through the dark and light of half a day, back into her body of muscle and bone.  It feels at first like she has put on a suit of armor, cold and unyielding.  She cannot move her fingers; she must consciously tell her heart to beat faster.  The dogs lick her hands; their warm tongues and worry have her eyelids opening.  Satya stares up at the pale blue ceiling.  Tears trickle from the outer edges of her eyes.  The longing is always the worst of the pain.

            “Here I am again,” she thinks.  “Still such a long, long way from home.”

Invitation

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Come with me

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Step inside the body temple

Follow the arteries to the heart center

Anahata chakra

where Spirit has set an altar

embellished with fragrant leaves and flowers

freesia, mint, sandalwood, lemon

strewn on a blue silk cloth.

Tiny golden bells ring

Gongs intone “om.”

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And on the divine altar

we place our stories

of triumph or sorrow

anger, regret

Here on this holy table

we offer the narratives

that we believe define us

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Who chose to marry,

Who said no,

Who stayed in a hated job

Who sailed away

Who danced

Who tripped

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In the clean light of Spirit

the stories disperse

like steam into air

when the sacrifice,

intention, is true,

only love remains

At Dawn

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I did a handstand on the pine tree.

Below, the balsam wind swirled in spirals.

Winter’s slanted sun set the frost aflame

while I swished bare toes in the crisp sky.

Scent of laundry, pancakes, mud.

A nuthatch landed on my head,

tweaked a hair, his laughing eye.

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At dusk, I will make a nest of rye straw

in the broken willow,

with the wedding ring quilt

and a down bolster.

Hear the stars ring out

between the gnarled branches,

wrapping me in soft solitude

above the house that clings.

So high, so high.

Ho’oponopono: cleaning prayer

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My first brush with the practice of Ho’oponopono occurred in 2015, at the Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach.  One of the workshop presenters, an Energy Medicine practitioner, mentioned it.  I suppose I stored the seed away in my mind somewhere, and now it has begun to grow.

Recently, the reverend and practitioners in Agapeeast.org (part of Agape International Spiritual Center), whose classes and services I attend online, spoke of the power and usefulness of the short Ho’oponopono prayer (I’m sorry—Please forgive me—Thank you—I love you). 

For quite a while I had been feeling flat during meditation, with no recognizable sense of Spirit.  Reverend Victoria of Agapeeast taught the Ho’oponopono prayer.  Several students in the class mentioned that it was their “go-to” prayer when their upset was too great to focus on any other method of prayer. 

The continued stress of the COVID threat added to family troubles led me to try Ho’oponopono.  What an experience!  I found focus, ease, and peace in repeating the prayer.  It’s been about a week since I’ve used the prayer instead of my traditional mantra. Now I look forward to each meditation session, extending it to forty minutes if the daily schedule permits.  It’s like sinking into a scented, warm, cleansing bath.  I recommend giving Ho’oponopono a try.

The prayer comes from Hawaiian tradition.  Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona, a Hawaiian Kahuna (the one who guards the secret), adapted the practice for anyone to master and apply. 

To learn more about her, the history of Ho’oponopono, and the technique, go to:

Another well-known proponent of Ho’oponopono is Joe Vitale  (http://www.joevitalecertified.com/?msclkid=0dde52cd86d211a4bd3730ce64e6eb81) who has partnered with Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, a psychologist and teacher of Ho’oponopono.  https://bluebottlelove.com/hew-len-hooponopono/

If you already do Ho’oponopono or if you try it, please send me your comments.  I’d love to know what others have discovered.

Satya III: Rising with Angels

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“The most powerful time to pray or meditate,” Satya tells me, “is between three and five a.m.”  She leans back in the peacock chair.  On her lap is a cat with the oddest markings, black and white splotches more like a cow than a cat.  The dog, Belle, sits at Satya’s feet.  It licks her toes with long, tender strokes. 

            “That must tickle,” I think, but Satya seems not to notice. 

            “That’s when the higher spirits are most accessible,” Satya adds.

            “Like archangels?” I ask.

            “Mmm.  Uriel and Gabriel, mostly.  Michael and Raphael are busy with the dead and dying.”

            Am I really having this conversation?  Satya’s patio is overhung with sprays of maple leaves turning red at the edges.

            “I’m a morning person,” I say, “but that’s even a bit early for me.  I like the quiet before the household wakes up.”  Today I hold a mug of Satya’s homemade chai, a mixture of black tea, milk, turmeric, ginger and honey.  It’s golden, warm in my hands and in my center.

            Satya smiles with her wide pansy-blue eyes. “I’m usually up by three. The spirits wake me.  I can feel their energy.  It’s a lovely time of day, so new, unspoiled. So soft.”

            “What do you do at three a.m.?”  Sometimes I feel like I’m in the presence of a saint, like Mirabai or Teresa of Avila.  And sometimes I think maybe they were right to commit her.  But Satya does no harm to anyone.

            “Oh, I take a shower.  Make up some chai and sit with the animals a bit.  Then I align my energy field for the day.  And I meditate, of course.  And pray.  Do some visioning.  Nothing special.”

            I think of my morning, starting at about six a.m., when the sudden shrill of the alarm clock frightens me out of some odd, rambling dream.  After my heart stops pounding, I get up, start the coffee, and make the kids’ lunches.  Go back upstairs, give my husband a poke in the ribs and hustle into the bathroom before the kids take over.

            What if angels woke me at three a.m.? 

Nothing special, Satya says.  Nothing special.

Signs

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Woodsmoke from the neighbor’s chimney

prickles our noses.

The old apple tree is down,

split white on mud.

Here a scattering of gray fur,

the remnants of a fox’s meal.

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Long meadow grasses beaten down

dampen our boots

on the slope to the river

brown and swirling.

See where the water rose highest,

rotting leaves strewn

across the overturned canoes.

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Rock wall tumbled down,

hidden by wild rose and fescue

where the snakes winter.

Squish uphill to home,

past a branch erupting orange lichen.

A thick vine of wild grape

winds its sinuous way

into bare branches above.

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Feel how the rough twist of vine

becomes our wrists.

The boundaries blur.

Part tree, part muscle and bone,

entangled in the wild,

we see only light.

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Welcome, new followers! And thanks to all of you readers out there!

Satya II: At the Fair

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The Satya stories are from my archives.

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When Satya told me her mother and sister had her committed, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The questions popped into my head at the weirdest times, like when I was eating a crème filled chocolate doughnut on my coffee break, or brushing my teeth before bed.

            Satya and I were on the Arts Council, and she was preparing to do a yoga demonstration for a Health and Wellness Fair in our town.  Her daughter, Devi, and I worked as ticket-takers on the Saturday of the fair. 

            Toward the afternoon, the stream of visitors slowed to a trickle.  The two of us sat together at the long table sipping lemonade.  It was one of those terrible humid days that make me wonder why I ever left Arizona.

            “Your mom is brave, doing yoga in this heat.”

            “She’ll be wiped out tonight,” Devi agreed.

            “How long has she been doing yoga, anyway?”

            “She started in the psych hospital, I think,” Devi said.  “I was little, maybe four or five.”

            “And you were living with your grandma then?”

            “For a little while.  And then with my father.  But that turned out bad.”

            “You don’t have to answer this,” I said, “but I’m curious why your mother was in a hospital.”

            “Oh, it’s no secret,” Devi said.  “Gosh, it’s hot.” She lifted her curly hair off the back of her neck.  “Mom was talking to the archangels.  Which wouldn’t have been a problem—she still does—it’s just that she told the wrong people about it, like my grandma, the super WASP.”  Devi gave a dry chuckle.  “Ha, and worse yet, she told my grandma what the angels said about her.”

            “Not good, I gather,” I was probing, but Devi didn’t seem to mind.

            “Not good,” she confirmed.  “So my grandma and my aunt Delia got my mom committed.  Mom could have lied about her visions, but she wouldn’t deny the angels.”

            “You said she still talks to the archangels?”

            “Oh, yeah, but not as often now, what with the yoga classes and me to look after.”

            “What’s it like, having Satya for a mom?” I asked.  I thought of my own three kids, how the two teens are so easily embarrassed, like when I sing in the supermarket.

            Devi turned to look at me directly.  Her face was still and her usually wide, relaxed lips were drawn into a line.  “What do you mean?”

            I drew in a breath; aware I’d gone too far.  “Well, uh, like she’s not what people would consider…”

            Devi pushed her chair back and stood up.  “I have to check in with her now,” she said, and walked away, her lemonade cup in one hand, and running the other hand through her curls.

            “Whoa,” I blew out the breath I’d been holding.