Happy New Year, everyone!
Time is like a circle.
We humans have marked time by watching the movements of the planets in the sky, by noting shifting periods of more and less light to work by, more and less heat and cold in the air, the periodic falling of rain or snow, the flight patterns of birds.
We humans have been observing and commenting about time since our species has had a consciousness capable of doing so. We did this simply at first, watching the sky and the tides. Then with sundials and math. We have written time down, with clocks and calendars and schedules, and now with such speed that we may sometimes miss the underlying circle, the endings that are also beginnings, the unbroken chains.
Everywhere we go, we are offered a laboratory for observing the circle.
On my daily walks with Maggie, she is my ambassador. Ordinarily strangers and I would not greet each other or chat. Maggie breaks the ice. She doesn’t care what anyone looks like, how old they are, or what they’re wearing. She just wants to “say hi.”
We were at our wonderful Pt. Isabel dog park on the bay earlier this month. Maggie runs and jumps on each park bench regardless of who might already be perched there. We spotted a couple sitting close, the woman weeping into the shoulder of her friend. Eleven-pound Maggie jumped on the bench to join them. I urged Maggie to jump down and let them be, but she would not. She got on the woman’s lap and started licking her face, and since this seemed to be consoling and helpful, I let it go on, and I sat on the bench, too. We struck up a conversation, and the woman told me a bit about this difficult time in her life.
We sat for an hour, chatting about this and that. All the while the woman’s beauty shone through her tears. She has taken to using her Hebrew name. It’s the same Hebrew name I had. We talked names and name changes and astrology and exchanged stories of tragedy, and before long it came to light that this woman and I had both become initiates in the Sufi Order around the year 1976, in different parts of the country. We swapped a few memories, recited a prayer together, and marveled at the synchronicity of the circle.
No then, no past, just now.
This year Maggie has befriended some new neighbors. One is Alice, 80 years old, who survived breast cancer 16 years ago. We bump into Alice walking on the street sometimes, and we update each other about our health statuses and kvetch about events in the news. Will I reach 80 and shuffle with a walker? In Alice, I see a possible, future me.
Maggie’s favorite new neighbors are the children in a large immigrant family from an Arabic-speaking country. The love fest started over the summer when a tiny, dark, curly-haired girl dressed always in pink t-shirt and pink shorts would run down her front steps, asking if she could pet the dog. “How old is she?” she’d ask each time. “Four? I’m four!” Now O. is five and waits by her living room window: will Maggie come by today? Maggie stands on the family’s driveway: will O. and her siblings and cousins come down the steps today?
I’ve taught the kids how to reward Maggie with treats for commands: “sit” and “high five.” O. has named her favorite doll “Maggie.” I learn that in their home country, dogs roam the streets and are not treated as pets.
When I was O.’s age, we lived in a duplex in a small town in Wisconsin near a military base where my father worked. Our landlady and neighbor, Mrs. Razak, was a Lebanese woman with beautiful dark, wrinkled skin who smelled like tobacco. Over two springs and summers, she taught me about bugs and flowers and mint growing in her yard. She would get down on the sidewalk with me as we’d collect caterpillars and put them in jars so we could then watch them spin cocoons and become butterflies. I loved Mrs. Razak. I have kept a set of animal soaps she gave me when I was six years old.
Now I am the white Jewish neighbor lady on my hands and knees on the sidewalk teaching Arabic-speaking kids about loving dogs.
No then, just now.
Love between children and a little dog breaks the ice between adults who might otherwise seem very foreign to each other.
I know only one Arabic phrase, and I say it to the mom. “As-salaam aleikum.” “Peace be with you.” The dad speaks English, and I convey my concern about the climate of fear that is being stirred up against Muslims.
He doesn’t know that I’m a Jew whose family, half a century ago, were the only Jews living on that street in Jainsville, Wisconsin. He doesn’t know that I felt very peculiar as the only brown-haired child in a kindergarten classroom full of blue-eyed blondes. All he knows is that I like his kids and that they love Maggie and the person they call “Maggie’s mom.”
I need no name.
A circle has no beginning, no end, no high point, no leaders.
My wish for the New Year is to be on the lookout for more ordinary, unexpected chances to observe and be inside the Circle of Love.