Category Archives: Experiences

Being Tolerant of Intolerance

That was the topic of a conversation after Quaker silent worship yesterday. A small group of us stayed to chat. The topic of intolerance came up. We wondered together how do we respond to intolerance without becoming intolerant and aggressive ourselves? How do we stay true to our values of peace and non-violence?

Our consensus was that it is important not to meet intolerance with intolerance. But we were uncertain about how to share our values when confronted with intolerant attitudes, speech and behavior. I’m sure we all left continuing to ponder this increasingly important subject in our country.

Then an amazing thing happened. We were with Scott’s father in the emergency room of the Veteran’s Hospital. He is 92 and was not feeling well after a trip to see his twin sister in California. I was sitting in the waiting room while Scott was with Jim in an examining room.

There were two men behind a glass partition in the lobby behind me. One of them had helped us when we entered. I was sitting behind a partial wall with my back to them, reading. I had noticed they were two large men who seemed to double as greeters and security guards.

One of the men began a long, angry diatribe about children’s exposure to homosexuality in the schools. He must have been reading an opinion piece from the local paper, because he kept quoting passages from it. I gathered a video had been shown to local schoolchildren depicting homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, and the writer of the opinion piece objected to this. This man was also outraged, though he had no children, because his taxpayer money was paying for this atrocity.

Occasionally, through the diatribe, I heard the other man’s soft voice interject content into the conversation. Sadly, I couldn’t make out his words because of his soft voice and my distance from the conversation and the glass partition. (Which tells you something about the volume of the other speaker’s voice.) The angry man seemed to take in the calm man’s comments/questions and then launch into another phase of his attack.

I’m not sure how the topic changed, but he began to rant about Pearl Harbor, the Japanese and the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The general gist of his point was that we needed enough nuclear weapons to destroy as many of an enemy as we could, because that is what ends wars. Again, I heard a calm, soft response to this. Then, the angry man accused the calm man of being a liberal and a Nazi. He made some accusation about him being from Columbia, so not a “real” American. I remember raising my eyebrows. I wondered how he was going to respond to this.

I so wish I could have heard it. But again, it was calm. Suddenly, the angry man switched tactics and softened. He began talking about his 4th of July plans and asking the calm man about his. If you hadn’t heard what had come before, you would think they were two congenial co-workers. The angry man announced he was headed home and came out from behind the glass partition, heading towards the door. He paused and bantered some more, then wished his colleague a Happy 4th of July before leaving.

I sat there and soaked all this in and I thought, “Now that is Spirit giving you a real life demonstration to your question from earlier today!” I became curious about this calm man. Who was he? How did he learn to respond in this way to intolerance?

Later, when it was decided that Scott’s father would be staying the night in the hospital, I got the opportunity to see him in action. He was the one who handled the admission. It was quick, maybe 10 minutes. During this time, the gentle giant quipped and made jokes with my recalcitrant father-in-law, softening and cajoling him. I watched Jim grin in spite of himself. The man was probably in his mid to late 50’s and had a slight, Spanish accent. He must have been in the U.S. most of his life. His badge said he was a veteran.

My First Quaker Meeting

I’ve been writing for a Quaker newsletter called What Canst Thou Say?  (WCTS?) for about twelve years now. One particular editor, Mariellen, has kept me in the query loop all these years after we were connected by the death of a mutual friend, who also wrote for WCTS?.  This newsletter is a place for Quakers to share their mystical experiences and the insights which have come from their contemplative practice. Reading their essays and poems have helped me understand some of my own experiences, and to feel less alone and strange! There is an honest poignancy to their writing, which speaks candidly of the light and dark, blissful and tragic, mundane and sublime that lives in us all. Here is the website if you wish to check it out: http://whatcanstthousay.org.

As my hips fell out from under me, much of my world also changed. I found myself home and sitting much more than I was ever inclined, or allowed, to do before. I felt irresistibly drawn to the writings of mystics and contemplatives, discovering a number of books on my own shelves thanks to my friend who passed and left them to me those twelve years ago. I again recognized some of my own experiences and realizations in their stories, just like I had on the pages of WCTS?.

Some time before my first hip replacement, I had a transformational experience related to a past life and I wrote an essay about it. Mariellen asked if I would be willing to Guest Edit an edition of WCTS? on “Other Lives.” I agreed to do so. More related experiences happened around my surgery and I added to the story. Now I am in the final editing process of that newsletter. It has been a beautiful process where everyone works to come to consensus about what is included and how it is edited. Editing is done gently, with reverence and respect for the offerings of each author. Here is a PDF of my essay:

My Sister, MySelf

Simultaneously, I was reading editor, Mike Resman’s book Immersed in Prayer (available on Amazon). Many of the authors in the book spoke about their experiences during silent meetings for worship. The desire grew in me to experience a meeting for myself. I remember getting online and discovering a Quaker Meeting House only two miles from our home http://renofriends.org.  I had to LOL while reading their page on “Wonder If You Might Be A Quaker At Heart?” This past Sunday, I decided it was time to go.

Quakers believe that we all have the living spirit of the Creator within us. They seek to be quiet and listen to the “still small voice within.” When they feel moved to do so, they speak from this place. The Reno Friends (another name for Quakers) meets for silent worship from 10:00-11:00 on Sundays. Inside the cozy, brick house, chairs are set up in two concentric circles in a large, well-lit living room. You pick your spot and sit quietly, allowing yourself to settle and center, to be receptive to that “still small voice” and to anything Spirit might wish to impart. In my own experience, it is most like sitting in a meditation circle or group. Sometimes people speak; sometimes there is only silence, punctuated by the breath and stirrings of those in attendance. During my first meeting, no one spoke. I recall thinking how refreshing it was to come and simply listen, to wait expectantly and be still, not needing to say anything.

When the Clerk ended the meeting, we were again invited to speak and again we chose silence. Then the peace was passed to those near us–touching hands and smiling into each other’s eyes. Announcements came next. Some people left. Others stayed to talk, and to find out who I was and how I came to be there. So, I told them this story.

Here is some of what I wrote in my journal afterwards:

I forget the sweet depth I can enter when sitting in circle silently with others. The restlessness settles and my mind quiets. There were 8 of us–a small group. I sat between a mother and her son. Later, I discovered they are neighbors of mine, only two blocks away. Being here feels like coming home. Coming home to something that was always within me and has been pursuing me for 12 years now. Finally, I have turned around to embrace it. I can’t shake the strong sense of having been here before, like being wrapped in an old, familiar quilt from childhood.

Magic Meetings Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about the magic meetings between Scott and I, and Peggy and Bruce. After our coffee with Peggy and Bruce, we headed to the hot springs to soak with Marta and Larry. I promised I’d tell the story of the magic meeting that led to our friendship with them.

~~~

I met Marta in the mid-1980’s in a COBOL programming class. We were both Business majors at the University of Nevada Reno. Marta and I were partners in this demanding class which required us to write computer programs in the COBOL language, a language used for business applications. We spent many hours searching for elusive missing periods and errors in syntax that caused the program to crash repeatedly. Finally, often in the wee hours of the morning, we got the program to run perfectly right before the deadline.

Sharing this experience created a friendship and Marta came to my bridal shower and wedding when I was married in 1988. She was also married around this time. It seems like we lost touch some time after that as our lives moved in different directions.

In 2012,  I moved back to Reno after 20 years away. Shortly after returning, I was demonstrating yoga at a health fair. My partner at the time and I were teaching yoga at a training studio and they had a booth to promote their studio at the health fair. I was demonstrating poses and talking to people about yoga, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was a familiar face surrounded by a cascade of brunette hair. “Rhonda?” “Marta?” That same laugh again, the one that is filled with both wonder and delight. We disappeared into a big hug and everything else faded into the background while we quickly caught up.

Now, what are the chances that we would end up at a random health fair with booths right next to each other after we had not seen each other in over 20 years?

We exchanged cards and parted with an agreement to get together soon. “Soon” happened about two years later when I needed Marta’s help with my mother. Marta works with the Center for Healthy Aging and runs the Philips Lifeline program. My mom needed a Lifeline to help keep her safe in her home. Marta came out to install it. This time we set a date for lunch. Since that date four years ago, we have grown closer and closer. Scott knew Marta from high school, so our friendship also reconnected them. And both Scott and I now know and love Marta’s partner, Larry.

We often go to the hot springs together where we share a membership. When we got in the pool yesterday, another member looked up and remarked, “Are you guys a package deal or what?”

We laughed, “Yes, we are!”

~~~

When I look back at these magic meetings, I am still filled with wonder, and gratitude. How did these old friends end up back in my life after a 20-year absence under such mysterious circumstances? We are even closer now than we were before. It whispers to me of the threads of heart that weave us together in the tapestry of Life. We always find one another again, when the moment is right. This I have come to trust.

Magic Meetings

Yesterday Scott and I took my cousins out to lunch. This is an annual event to celebrate their Birthdays. They were born on the same day. Later in the afternoon, we planned to meet our friends Marta and Larry for a soak in the hot springs about one hour south of Reno.

We had some time in between and found ourselves exploring the little towns of Gardnerville and Minden, which are essentially the same town. This is where my parents met when they were teenagers. We checked out the new Community and Senior Center in a beautiful building on the south end of town. We went to the cemetery where my family is buried and one of Scott’s Nona’s, Theresa. Then we decided a coffee sounded good and settled on a Starbucks on the north end of town. We pulled in and as we headed towards the door, who should pull in but our next door neighbors, Peggy and Bruce!

What magic in the Universe would have brought us all to the same Starbucks in a small town an hour from our neighborhood in Reno, at the same moment? If we had agreed to meet there, we could not have timed our arrival more perfectly. We all laughed and marveled at this amazing synchronicity. They had been gone for three days, celebrating New Years with friends in the South Tahoe area. We had been watching their cats and their home. They had also been wandering around exploring, slowly making their way back towards Reno. They decided, like us, to stop and have a coffee.

It reminded all of us of another magic meeting, the one that resulted in their becoming our next door neighbors. That’s a story worth telling. When you hear it, you’ll understand why we all shrugged as we sat down with our coffees, and agreed, “This is how it is with us.”

The story begins 27 years ago when Peggy, Scott and I all worked as computer consultants for the University of Nevada System Computing Services. This is how we met. Our working time together was brief, maybe only a few months. Peggy moved on to teach math. I went to graduate school in Florida. Only Scott remained, working there until he retired in 2013.

I eventually ended up in Colorado, moving back to Reno to be with my aging parents in 2012–20 years after I’d left. Scott and I had reconnected over email in 2008. When I moved, we started spending time together in late 2012 and fell in love. In the spring of 2013, he asked me to move in with him. He lives in a charming neighborhood near our city’s largest park and the University of Nevada where we both received our undergraduate degrees. I loved the neighborhood and was looking forward to living there.

I put my home, on the opposite side of town, on the market in March. It sold in one day! Talk about a green light from the Universe! I was drinking a glass of wine to celebrate when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find a realtor who had two clients with her, a couple. I told them I’d already sold it and they were visibly disappointed. I asked them if they’d like to see the place, just to give them some ideas. I always figure every house you see is good information when you are looking for a home.

As we wandered through the house, I learned they had recently married and this would be their first home together. We were standing in the dining room area when the woman asked me where I was moving to and I described the neighborhood. She knew it well, including the street. “Who are you moving in with?”

When I told her Scott’s name, she cocked her head to the side and asked, “Rhonda?” In that moment it struck me why she seemed so familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. After all, it had been 21 years since we had last seen each other. Suddenly, I knew! “Peggy?” We laughed–that same laugh. How could this have happened? The realtor didn’t have an appointment, didn’t know the home had sold, but decided to chance stopping by. In all reality, this magic meeting should never have occurred. But it did.

Turns out Peggy used to stay with Jana. Jana lives two doors down from us. Here’s another amazing coincidence: Jana and I were officemates for the 4 years I worked at the Computing Center! Now we are neighbors.

Anyhow, Peggy looked at me and said, “That’s where I really want to live.” She was still teaching math at the University and our house is within walking distance of UNR.

I said, “Well, this might be your lucky day. The next door neighbor just put a For Sale By Owner sign up in the front yard this week. I’d love to have you for a neighbor!”

The next minute the realtor was asking the address so she could look it up. The next day they were taking a tour of the home. The next month they moved in. And the rest is history. Peggy and I often connect with each other at just the right magic moments when we need to share something.

Even though we know this is how it is with us, we still marvel when it happens like it did yesterday and reminds us with such clarity, that there are mysterious, magic threads connecting us through space and time.

~~~

Tomorrow I’ll tell about the magic meeting that led to our friendship with Marta and Larry. That’s a good one too.

What goes out, returns in

I wanted to share the experiences of my day yesterday. This is a new theme I was inspired to begin, one that is about raw, unedited, unanalyzed experience.

In my morning meditation, I was doing a Qigong exercise where I draw in energy into a chakra, feel it filling me, and then I give out that energy back into the world. As I do this exercise, I reflect all the other beings who make my existence possible. Thousands of hands, plants, animals have created that which gives me sustenance. From the air I breathe to the food I eat to the clothing I wear to the materials in this home to the love that surrounds me, it all came from some form of Spirit to give me life. I offer my gratitude and I feel myself fill up. Suddenly, this morning, I wasn’t there anymore. There was nothing to fill up. I was just a living, breathing part of Life with no separation. Breathing in, breathing out. It was blissfully peaceful and electrifying all at the same time. There was no need to hold on to anything, to fill anything.

~~~

Mid-morning, I went shopping for the monthly wine supply. I asked the cashier if she was ready for Christmas. She said, “Yes, all except for my husband. I can’t come up with what to get him.”

I said, “My honey and I have decided to give each other experiences instead of gifts. We give each other a nice meal out or a weekend getaway or a vacation or theater tickets.”

I watched her light up as she considered this possibility. She reflected over scanning a few bottles. “You know, you’ve given me a great idea. I wonder what I could do… You know, he upgraded us to first class for our Hawaii trip as his present. I can’t top that.”

I queried, “Is there some experience you’d like to have in Hawaii?”

She grinned, “Wow, I could buy tickets for something and surprise him!”

I nodded. She finished scanning wine. I paid the bill and wished her a Merry Christmas. She looked me in the eye and said, “Merry Christmas to you to and THANK YOU.”

~~~

At lunch, I met my friend Peggy at a Chinese restaurant. We had an engaging conversation about remaining peaceful during the holidays. She gave me a Christmas ornament with a picture of Scott and I in it and I was so touched she had done that. What a sweet and thoughtful gift. She said, “It was an inspiration. When you showed me this picture (taken on our 5th anniversary), I knew I needed to get this for you.”

A few minutes later, our waitress showed up unexpectedly (we already had our lunches) carrying a platter of chicken lo mein. “Would you ladies like to have this? Someone just sent it back and I hate to throw it out.” We lit up and accepted her gracious offer. I’ll never know why she picked us out of all her tables to offer it to. I left her a $20 tip.

~~~

In the evening, I had a long conversation with my friend, Debs. She told me the story of a really rough day she had after I wrote the Let Go post in Musings. She wanted me to know how it had helped her through that day. She was struggling with being home ill and alone, and the old abandonment fears were closing in on her.  “I didn’t reach for a distraction like the TV, I just sat in my chair with myself and my fear.” Then she described passing through the fear, the pain of feeling abandoned and alone, and feeling love fill her. She knew she was loved and she saw how she abandons herself. In that moment, she promised to stop doing that, to stop looking outside herself for what is always there inside of her. She said, “Now I’m not so afraid of being home alone.” She knows that isn’t really true anymore. She is never alone.

I thanked her for sharing this beautiful experience with me. I admitted that I feel compelled by Spirit to write in this blog, but sometimes I wonder if anyone reads it, if it is helpful. Her sharing inspires me to keep writing, keep sharing.

And then we came up with a whole bunch more material to reflect on and write about.