About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Developing a green thumb

It is a blue skies, warm, sunny Friday here in northern California, and I am heading down to Bosch Baha'i School, nestled in the redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains to teach children's classes for the long weekend. I am going to be working with the 3-5 year-olds, which is an age group I do not have much experience with, but I am looking forward to it. I have seedlings that we are going to transplant into the garden, and am excited to see how the kids experience getting their hands in the soil and planting something. The theme for the weekend is service, so I thought getting them outside and contributing something of beauty to the school might be one way of offering service.

I have done quite a lot of gardening in the last few weeks. I transplanted my tomato plants in the back yard, and they are looking really happy. I planted peas that are finally pressing up through the soil, and my arugula and lettuce greens aren't looking too shabby either. I have also been out working in the youth garden on Soil Born Farm, and volunteered at the open farm day this past weekend, teaching kids how to mix soil and plant sunflowers that they got to take home with them. It was a lot of fun -- there is something magical about watching a child fall in love with planting and growing a garden. It nurtures a sense of responsibility and excitement, and a connection to their food and the land they live on in a way that few other things do.

Yesterday I was out on the farm working in the garden while a fifth grade class was on a field trip. Watching them graze through the garden, picking fresh arugula, lettuce greens, and radish, and eat them right there in the garden made me realize how important these opportunities are for nurturing a familiarity and willingness to engage with food intimately, as well as helping the kids develop a taste for fresh, healthy food.

Do you have a garden? A few potted herbs? How do they influence your day? I was weeding a row of tomato plants yesterday, and the smell coming from them as they warmed up in the sunshine was divine. The smell alone made me happy. Garden aromatherapy, anyone?

If you think you might like to give it a try, go to your local hardware store and grab a few peat cups (which you can actually plant into the ground with your seedling in them, because they disintegrate into the soil), some potting soil (or, for those of you who want to mix your own, some compost, some peat poss, some perlite, and some vermiculite). If you are mixing your own soil, mix it in a bowl, with about a cup of compost, half a cup of peat moss, and a little less than a quarter of a cup each of perlite and vermiculite. Plant your seeds, or, if you bought seedlings, transfer those to your soil. Make sure to water well after planting. Once your plant is firmly established, you can plant your cup outside in the soil, or in a planter. Tomatoes are a good choice to start with, since they are hard to go wrong with, and they produce delicious, sweet fruit. Cherry tomato plants are my favourite.

If you get a chance this weekend, get your hands in the soil and plant something. It need not take very long. It only takes a few minutes to plant one plant, and I guarantee you that the rewards will be well worth it! You can also just pick up some seedlings at your local nursery and transplant them directly into your garden.

I want to thank those of you who took the time to make comments on my last blog entry. The winner of the giveaway of Green & Black's fair trade chocolate is Pamela Douglas. Congratulations, Pamela! If you could please email me your mailing address, I will get your chocolate off to you early next week!

Have a superb weekend, everyone!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Building a water system

Photo courtesy of Stanton Media. May not be used without permission.
 I have been meaning to finish the story of my Dominican Republic expedition for some time now. You can see the first four blog entries describing the purpose of my trip, here, a little background and first experiences of Santo Domingo, here, how organic, fair trade cocoa is grown, harvested and processed, here, and an introduction to the community that we were building the drinking water system in, here.

Our days in La Laguna were long. We were up by 6am, having a quick wash out of a bowl of cold water that we would collect from a barrel that our host family had kindly provided for us. By 6.30 we would wander across the yard to our host mother, Teresa's back porch for breakfast. Breakfast usually consisted of fresh pineapple, some bananas, bread, butter, sometimes some cheese, and a hot cup of freshly made hot chocolate. Teresa made her hot chocolate from cocoa grown on the land just behind her house. There are few things as enjoyable as a hot cup of cocoa made from freshly toasted, ground cocoa beans.

After breakfast, the whole group of volunteers would meet up along the road, in the centre of the village. We would then hike to our work site, which was a couple of miles away. I really enjoyed those early morning walks to the trench -- the freshness of the air; the cows out munching on grass; the sound of birdcall, and some time to think and reflect on where we were, and what an incredible project we were involved in.

Photo courtesy of Stanton Media. May not be used without permission.
Every day different villages would take turns digging with us. Most of them were cocoa farmers, and they were all strong, hard-working men with leathery skin, calloused hands, and arms and legs that were pure muscle. At the start of our project, and to some extent for the duration of it, we came up against the cultural bias against women doing hard manual labour. We were sharing tools with the locals, so there was usually a shortage, which meant that it was quite frequent for us to be working away and all of a sudden have a local worker come over and take our tool right out of our hands, and usher us out of the way.

Photo courtesy of Stanton Media. May not be used without permission.
Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
 By the end of the project the men had warmed slightly to working alongside women, and our presence out on the work site drew a number of local women out to dig with us, which was inspiring to see. By the last few days, many children had come out to join us also, enthusiastic boys and girls filling in the trench alongside us. It became a truly community-driven project, and it was great to see the community feeling so empowered.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Laying pipe. By Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
The project had begun long before we arrived in the area. The local farming communities had tapped the spring up on the side of the mountain, and lay pipe from the spring down to the river Nagua, which was where our work began. In all, we lay 11.5km of pipe, which is about 7 miles. The first week we worked entirely by hand, using pick axes to dig down 80cm, and shovels to dig out our trench. Pipe was brought in by truck, and carried up and down the hills on our shoulders to its final resting place in the trench.

Pipe being brought in. Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
The digging was very hard work, especially given the hot, humid climate. By day three, we were all very sore and tired. We would dig until lunch time, and then take a break to eat the delicious meals of rice and beans, plantain and chicken and salad that our host families would send us. Sometimes they would tuck in an ice-cold Coke or 7-Up, which would make our day. After lunch we would be back in the trench, working until late afternoon. In the early evening, as the sun was starting to sink behind the cocoa trees, we would pack up and head back to La Laguna, our boots feeling like weighted extensions that had attached themselves to the bottom of our legs.

Our film crew and myself enjoying cool drinks after a long day's work.
There was a little bar/shop just on the edge of the village, that sold sickeningly sweet, but icy cold soda pop, and we would usually stop on our way back to our houses to enjoy a cold drink and some social time. After supper we would often re-group at this same bar, that seemed to shift gears after dark when the pool table became the centre of community life, and, if there was power, the boom box would get switched on, cranking out loud Dominican dancing tunes that would bring the locals out of their houses, dressed in their best, to take a spin on the dance floor. Dominicans can dance -- the people have some serious rhythm, and it was great to watch couples spin around the dance floor, hips rocking back and forth to the beat, feet moving expertly, enjoying the beat and human connection so completely.

During the second week of our time in La Laguna, our pick-axes and shovels were joined by two diggers that significantly sped up the process. After they joined us, most of our time was spent filling in, rather than digging, and progress was much faster. Perhaps a bit too fast -- pipe was laid and the trench filled in behind as as we moved rapidly forward, without first checking to see whether the pipes would, in fact, stay together once the water was moving through them, exerting pressure on them. The pipes were plastic, and were glued together at their ends. There were no extra joining pieces to fortify the joints however, and on the last day of the project, when we finally turned the taps on in La Laguna, we could hear water, but we could not see anything. The reason for this, it turned out, was that at least one water pipe had burst, or come separated at the joint. It was a disappointing conclusion to our time in La Laguna, but we were assured that it would be fixed in no time, and the village would have running water within the week.

Joining pipes. Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Attaching the pipes. Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
I had hoped that we would leave La Laguna knowing that our host families' lives were a little bit easier because of access to fresh, clean running water. Unfortunately that did not happen because of the burst pipes. As I write this, it is now over a month since we left the village, and the system is still not working. I realized the other day that this was one reason why I was avoiding writing my next blog entry about our project -- I wanted to be able to say that it was a success -- that we achieved the goal that we went there to accomplish. In a sense we did accomplish a great deal. We established relationships between the cocoa-farming community, and Green and Black's. We made a connection between cocoa producers and cocoa consumers. We put into action the fair-trade values of community development, mutual support and respect. But I have been wondering how the residents of La Laguna are feeling right about now, and how we could have done things differently to make sure that they achieved their goal of having clean, running water in their village this spring and summer. Maybe we could have consulted at greater length with the engineer to make sure that the pipes were sufficiently reinforced at the joints. Perhaps we could have consulted with the local workers and suggested that we wait to fill in the trench until we had turned the taps on in the village, and we knew water was making it through without any major problems. For such a major project, I think at the end our sights may have been a little bit too focused on our desire to see the taps come on before we left, rather than making sure that everything was being done with the utmost care, even if it meant that we had to leave before the project was completed.

Waiting for water. Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Discovering a burst water pipe. Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission
I have thought a lot about the water system since getting back to the US. When I wash my hands; when I use the toilet and am able to flush; when I am standing under a stream of water in the shower. I think about our host community, and wonder how they are managing with digging up the pipe again, and reinforcing the joints. I also wonder how much longer they are going to have to wait for water. One of the participants gets text messages from her host family on and off. The recurring message is "no hay agua..."

Our work in the Dominican Republic had many positive outcomes, most of which involved the building and strengthening of human relationships. I learned a great deal about cocoa and the fair trade industry that is invaluable to my writing and that I know I will put to good use in my work serving agricultural communities. I just hope that we get a text message from La Laguna soon saying "Hay agua." Those two words would make our trip complete for me.

About a week ago I had a knock on the front door. When I got there, the delivery man was gone, but an enormous box was sitting on my front porch. Green and Black's had mentioned that they were sending me some chocolate, but I did not realize when they said "some" that they were planning on being quite so generous. Needless to say, when I unwrapped the box and saw the quantity of chocolate they had sent me, I was very excited. I also immediately started thinking of ways that I could share my chocolate with family and friends. I took some to share with the youth that I work with in a local youth garden; I shared some with my parents and friends, and even sent one bar to Canada to a friend who was having a craving for some Green and Black's milk chocolate. But since you have now read the whole story, I thought it was only right that I share some with you too, right?

Enjoying chocolate in La Laguna.
If you want to be entered to win some Green and Black's chocolate from the Dominican Republic, leave a comment below this post before midnight Thursday, and I will send one lucky person a delicious cocoa care package. I will announce the winner Friday morning.

Photo courtesy of Stanton Media. May not be used without permission.
Have a great week, and good luck!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Swell Season

A number of years ago I watched the film ONCE. I fell in love with it both because of the frank, honest and humorous perspective it took to relationships, but also because I absolutely *loved* the music. The two main characters in the movie, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, are actually professional musicians. They have a band called The Swell Season, and they went on to record many more tunes, and perform all over the world.

Yesterday I came across Youtube videos of some of their songs -- some of which were from the film, and others newer compositions. The purity of their harmonies blows me away, so I just had to share some of my favourite clips with you. (Disclaimer: I did not film any of these. Please follow the link to the YouTube video for the source).

This first one is of a song I had never heard before, called In These Arms: 

This second video is of another song I had never heard before, but love, called Forgive Me:

The last three clips I have heard many times before, and I think are just beautiful. The first is called If you want me: 

The second is called All the way down. I couldn't find one recording that is perfect. This one is cut off at the beginning and end, but the sound quality is the best of all the choices:

The last clip is called The Hill:

And with that, I will leave you. Have a great Saturday, and I hope you enjoy these tunes as much as I do! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ariana and the purple crayon

About two years ago I attended a conference on poetics on Prince Edward Island. The conference was attended by incredibly talented people from all over the world. One of them was a great woman by the name of Daniela. I cannot recall her last name right now. Daniela was from Bulgaria, but her parents had moved to Africa to work as agriculturalists when she was a child. She was living in British Columbia, and finishing her PhD. There were many things about Daniela that intrigued me, but the thing that has stayed with me is a creative exercise that she encouraged all the participants to do during their free time between sessions.

Apparently there is a cartoon called Harold and the purple crayon. Harold has a purple crayon, and with this crayon he can draw anything he likes, and whatever he draws will come to life, and he can step into the reality of his drawing. Pretty cool, eh? I thought so, anyway. I had never heard of Harold before Daniela handed out her pile of purple crayons (can you imagine the crazy kind of creativity that must exist in the mind of a woman who carries boxes of purple crayons around with her?) and challenged everyone in the room to take a few minutes to draw the reality that we wanted to be living, as a means of bringing our dream to fruition. I have to admit that I did not take the time to do the drawing at the time. I was too preoccupied with talking to someone about something that I do not remember now at all. But the purple crayon made an impression on me. So much so that when I packed up and drove across the continent last spring, I brought the purple crayon with me.

I was cleaning my room last week, and I came across the purple crayon. I have been immersed in job application after job application lately, and am starting to feel rather discouraged about the whole process, and even wishing on and off that I had never left Canada, so finding the crayon when I did made me smile. I was in the middle of doing something at the time, but I set it on my writing desk where I would see it every day. Over the past week I have been working very hard at my job applications, but I look up every now and then, and catch a glimpse of the purple crayon out of the corner of my eye, beckoning me. So last night, feeling exhausted and tired of staring at my computer screen, I decided it was time to unplug and spend some time with my journal and the purple crayon.

I drew my dream house -- a renovated old stone house in the Mediterranean. I drew the amazing vegetable garden that I am going to have, and the balcony with a grapevine over it, and the roses that will climb up to my veranda from the garden below. I drew the cat that I want to have some day, lounging in the garden, my fruit, nut, olive and carob orchard, and my gigantic trampoline that I have wanted ever since I was a child and never had a yard large enough to get, and a glass greenhouse that I intend to sit in and read books in the sunshine. I drew the sun streaming down on me, the beach just down from my home, and the Mediterranean Sea. I drew two chairs sitting right where the waves break on the beach: one for me, and one for the partner that I hope to have some day. I even added some birds overhead for good measure. When I finished I felt.....happy. Lighthearted and happy. I know I may well be years away from this dream, but the exercise helped me to visualize what I think I want at this point in my life. They say that visualizing what you want helps move you towards achieving it, so I figure I am on my way. I enjoyed the process so much that I wondered why I had waited so long to pick that crayon up.

When was the last time you took some time for yourself, away from all the crazy electronic devices that seem to rule our lives nowadays, sat down, and drew your dream? If you give this a try and feel like sharing your image, or a story about your image, I would really love to hear from you (either by email or in the comments section below). 

Happy drawing, people. And have a great Thursday!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Forever like the rose

When I was an infant, my mother used to sing the Seals and Crofts song Forever Like the Rose to me to calm me down. She sang it slightly differently than Seals and Crofts did, and to be honest, I still prefer her slower version to the original recording. When I came home from yoga in the park today, I walked into the kitchen, and saw this beautiful rose in a vase on the windowsill.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
 Our neighbour has a rosebush that grows up his red brick wall outside our kitchen window. Despite not being cared for or watered, it has produced some excellent blossoms over the last couple of weeks. They came and went rather quickly, and I thought that was it for this spring. But apparently I missed one that my mother, whose sharp eye notices such details, caught.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
  The rose was so delicate, its petals so creamy, and the light touching it so gracefully, that I could not resist grabbing my camera and sharing it with you, along with the lyrics of the song my mom used to sing to me, because the two complement each other so perfectly.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
 Forever like the rose, I suppose that's the way to be.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Fresh and ever growing, always showing lots of beauty to the world.
I know it's not an easy task. All I ask is that you try.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Try for me, be like the flower, within its hour of final glory.
Open up and let the sunshine touch your heart. And show the world what you can be.
If you are free, free to grow, free to grow. Forever like the rose.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
The centerpiece of life will always be unfolding its cardinal petals
For the dew of children's tears. To grow a new rose.
Forever like the rose. Oh, forever like the rose.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
Forever like the rose, I suppose that's the way to be.
Strong and ever giving, always living with a purpose and a goal.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.
To blossom day to day, then someday to fade away.
Forever like the rose.

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be used without permission.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Just beneath the surface...

Resting place of the Greatest Holy Leaf. Photo courtesy of Pascale Battrick. May not be used without permission. 

"We ought to show something greater than forgiveness in meeting the cruelties...in our lives. To be hurt and forgive is saintly but far beyond this is the power to understand and not be hurt... It is not that we would make the 'best of things', but that...we may find in everything, even calamity, the gems of enduring wisdom. We ought to be incapable of impatience as one would be of revolt. This is not being so much long suffering as a quiet awareness of the forces that operate in the hours of darkness or years of waiting and inactivity. Always we ought to move with the larger rhythm, the wider sweep towards our ultimate goal, in the complete acquiescence, that perfect chord which underlies the spirit of the Faith itself." - The Greatest Holy Leaf (Daughter of Baha'u'llah)

About a year ago I was in Haifa, Israel, immersed in a nine day pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre (which you can read about here: Part I, and here: Part II). It was a life-changing pilgrimage, and I often close my eyes and imagine myself wandering through the spectacular gardens in Haifa or Bahji, enjoying the bright crimson roses and geraniums, and the cool shade beneath a canopy of twisted olive branches, or the sunlit silence within the Shrine of Baha’u’llah – the way light streamed in over everything, and the musky, sweet scent of roses. It being late spring here in California, the roses all over the city are in full bloom. I run three days a week, early in the morning before I start my work day, and am fortunate to live in a very lush, beautiful part of the city. Every home I run past has roses of every colour imaginable climbing walls, trellises and fences. One house in particular that I love to run past has a tall wall running all the way around the back garden. The wall has a thick carpet of peachy, cantaloupe coloured roses that literally cascade over its lip, blossoms tumbling over each other, down the rough red brick. I usually just run past this wall, making sure to inhale deeply, but the other day I could not resist stopping to stand on my toes, and, with my eyes shut, press my nose into a thick cluster of roses. The intensity of the sweetness took me right back to the spring of 2010 in Israel. So deep was I in my thoughts, that when I opened my eyes, and turned to go, I nearly knocked the owner of the house, who had just come home from a walk himself, and was watching me enjoy his flowers with great amusement, over.

It is interesting how small, seemingly unrelated things come together to illuminate each other in ways that, if each event, experience, person or object had remained in isolation, would have remained in shadow.

I take part in a few study circles with various groups of friends. One theme that has been coming up regularly is how every little thing we experience, do or say has both a physical reality and a spiritual reality. Sometimes we catch glimpses of that spiritual reality, but often our conscious experience is that of the physical reality. Nevertheless, the spiritual reality is always there, beneath the surface. While I was on pilgrimage last spring I made a number of “connections.” I say “connections” because they were not physical, although there were physical sensations associated with them. They were the spiritual kind of connection. The silent, mysterious, unexplainably powerful kind that are hard to put into physical words.  

One of the “connections” that I made last spring was with Bahiyyih Khanum, also known as the Greatest Holy Leaf. Bahiyyih Khanum was the daughter of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i faith. Bahiyyih Khanum was born around 1846, and died in 1932. At the age of six, her Father was arrested and imprisoned, and the family lost their home and all of their possessions. Bahiyyih Khanum spent the remainder of her days moving from one place of exile to the next with her family. A good portion of her adult life was spent in prison. Bahiyyih Khanum was an incredibly strong woman. At a time in history when few women held leadership roles in the Middle East, she led the international Baha’i community through sensitive and fragile periods of transition, giving unwavering support, unconditional love and gentle but firm advice to everyone who crossed her path. Bahiyyih Khanum never married, instead dedicating her life to service. She is buried on Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel. In order to reach her grave you have to enter through a small iron gate, and walk up a long, steep path of white pebbles, lined on either side with tall, deep green Cypress trees that sway in the breeze. A few marble stairs lead up to the circle around her grave, and surrounding the circle are a myriad varieties of flowers. I visited her grave many times while on pilgrimage. I am not sure what kept drawing me back, but it felt like I was visiting the grave of a close friend. I would sit and pray, or write in my journal, or just stand silently on the flank of the mountain in silence. For some reason I felt that on a spiritual level, her presence was like a deep well of cool water from which I could draw inner strength.

I was reading an article recently about the Greatest Holy Leaf in the magazine The American Baha’i. The article, written by Janet A. Khan, is about accompaniment, which is a skill that is highly valued in the Baha’i community. When I think of accompaniment, I think of something I read somewhere many years ago: the best leaders are those who know how to encourage others lead. I am not sure where that came from, but Bahhiyih Khanum in many ways embodies this model of leadership. Janet Khan highlights a number of qualities that Bahiyyih Khanum had that made her such an excellent leader. One was a posture of humility. Her great-nephew said that she possessed “an unaffected simplicity of manners; an extreme sociability which made her accessible to all,” and “a quiet and unassuming disposition that served to enhance a thousand fold the prestige of her exalted rank” (Shoghi Effendi, in Bahiyyih Khanum: The Greatest Holy Leaf). Janet Khan goes on to say that an American pilgrim, Marjorie Morton, who was fortunate to meet Bahiyyih Khanum, said of her that:

“Her strong will was never used to override and her decided opinions were never pressed upon another. Her ways were gentle…In her you met with no exactions, no biddance; she beckoned, smiling, and would have no one come heavy-footed or bent to her will. So quietly did she make her influence felt that you were scarcely conscious of its working” (The Baha’i World, Volume 5). 

Bahiyyih Khanum was forgetful of self, but very mindful of the needs of her community and Faith. She also had an incredible and unshakeable trust in God, which not only helped her to get through the endless challenges and hardships that she experienced during her lifetime, but to help others who were being tested as well. Janet Khan, in her article ‘Accompanying: An advance at the level of culture,’ explains that “her confidence in the power of divine assistance and in the knowledge that God’s will must ultimately prevail endowed her with true patience and the strength to endure.” She goes on to say that in one of her letters, Bahiyyih Khanum writes:

“It has been demonstrated time and time again that whatever comes to pass only enhances the glory of God’s Faith, and further proclaims His Word. This time it will be the same.  However savage this tempest of trials, however battered by surging waves the Ark of the Faith may be, still the Divine Mariner has taken into His own two powerful hands the helm of this Ark – and He, steady, calm and able, and endowed with all authority and might, is steering its course, and will bring it at last safe and secure to its glorious haven. Of this there can be no question.”

The last point that Janet Khan highlights in her article is the great delight that the Greatest Holy Leaf took in the progress and service of those around her. One way that she encouraged those around her at a time when she was not able to freely travel herself was by writing letters. In one of her letters, quoted by Janet Khan in her article in The American Baha’i Bahiyyih Khanum says:

“O you men who stand fast and firm, you women who are steadfast and firm in your faith! Whenever I visit the Holy Shrines, I think of you, and in all lowliness at His Threshold, I entreat the Almighty to send down upon you all His invisible confirmations, and to let His endless bounty enwrap each one of you…” (American Baha’i, January/Februrary 2011, p.39).

I have been thinking a lot lately about how struggle and loss challenge me to grow in new ways, and how often I draw on the spiritual realm for strength and inspiration. This past week, as I was sorting through some papers, I came across hand written letters from two women with whom I shared very deep spiritual connections. One of them, Alana Birchim, was one of my best friends in college. Like Ruhiyyih Khanum, she was always encouraging those around her, and bringing joy into everyone’s lives. She was a free spirit, always going the extra distance to live life to the fullest. She rode her bike to a local farm to get fresh milk that she would use to make butter and cheese; bought freshly ground flour that she would use to bake her own bread and make her own tortillas, and she was always turning up at my door urging me to come dancing with her, or inviting me out to explore the wilderness near our homes, to make art or to come garden with her. What differentiated her from other people was her infectious joy. Rarely did I see her without a smile on her face. Alana did not speak about the spiritual “connection” often, but she sent me a number of letters before she lost her battle to cancer when we were 23, in which she talks about the spiritual a lot. Even from her hospital bed, she was, bringing joy to those around her. She says: “it is traditional white walls, cold floor hospital that has become my home…that’s ok. That’s why I’m here to liven it up a little and help others see it’s not so hard. I am living on the edge. The edge of what? The edge of truth, perhaps. Everything in life passes on. Keep your spirits high. I am praying a lot myself. Prayers keep me warm and light and send so much positive energy and love and healing.” In another letter she says: “It’s a funny thing the way life works, and how it takes critical, challenging situations like the one at hand to help so many people open up, learn or realize, come closer…GROW! I am taking and making huge bounds towards enlightenment in every realm I’ve known to exist (and many I did not know existed before)! I am broken and re-broken a million times, in a million ways, over and over. Yet I rebuild and reconstruct myself each and every time and I am stronger yet with every repair.”

The other letters I came across were from Ruth Hampson. I wrote a long blog entry about her when she passed away this past year, which you can read here. Her letters, filled with stories, always return to a few central themes. Reliance on God is one. She says: “Never forget that the source of all courage is promoting His Word,” and in another, “don’t worry. It is a waste of energy. God is in charge, and everything will work out as it should.”  In a third letter, she says:

“I have to tell you that only after I relinquished to God my will and agreed to live with His Will instead of my own did things start to happen. After that I became not nearly as tense and determined, but became filled with assurance that the right thing would happen, and now I believe things are working out the right way. God surely knows our innermost thoughts and will help us if we allow it.”

And in response to a letter that I wrote to her many years ago, as a young girl, about leaving my home in Cyprus to live in North America, she wrote back:

“I think that loving God includes a continually deepening appreciation – a conscious love – for all created things, including all human beings! Love is not dependent upon other people or places. It is love for the Creator of all that is beautiful and good, and the inevitable aftermath of such emotion is astonishment and appreciation for the Power of God that allows us, even forces us, to love other people independently and without need. The more we feel that, the less we fear, until, finally, there is nothing left to fear. The people you love will never leave you. The Island of Cyprus is lovely and very precious, and it is simply the reflection of the real Cyprus which exists in the spiritual world. Nothing can harm you when you truly love God and His creation, and you come to know that the things you love will never be taken away from you. The stronger is our love for God, the more dearly do we hold His creation, and we know that He, the All-Powerful, will protect it.” 

Today a friend of mine shared a poem with me, that resonated deeply. It is about loss. She lost her mother not too long ago, and it has been both painful and transformative for her to press onwards as a woman in her early thirties who thought her mother would be around for many years to come. She had, and still has a deep spiritual connection with her mother that gives her strength. I will share the poem with you here:


I am fooling myself when

I say my mother exists now

only in the photograph

on my bulletin board,

or in the outline of my hands,

or in the armful of memories

I still hold tight.

She lives on

beneath everything I do.

Her presence

influenced who I was,

and her absence

influences who I am.

Our lives are shaped

as much by those who leave us

as they are by those who stay.

(Author unknown)

I feel as though the “connection” with those who we cannot see is very close. As close as my own breath. Whether it is Ruhiyyih Khanum’s strength, or Alana’s joy and commitment to others, or Ruth’s absolute confidence in submitting to the Will that is larger than her individual will, or Laragh drawing on the strength and grace and courage that her mother gave her and continues to share with her, there are things happening on another level that I can sense, even though I cannot see, or even describe them in physical terms. These “connections” are mysterious to me because they do not distinguish between this world and the next. I can draw on relationships with those who are no longer living in this physical reality in the same way that I regularly draw on my spiritual “connection” with a dear friend in Spain who is very much alive, but who I have not physically spoken to in years.

What experience have you had with drawing on that invisible strength that seems to lie open to us whenever we need it, just beneath the surface?