by Gwen M Plano
If you are like me, you react with anger at hearing of the abuse of children, and if you are like me, you feel frustrated with self-serving political nonsense. Some mornings when I hear the news, I just feel profound sadness. Do you?
We all want an end to predatory behaviors. We want justice, we want peace. We want the good guys to win. But how? Is there anything you and I can do to help?
I believe there is much we can do collectively and individually, but whatever action we might choose, if we lose our humanity, by becoming hardened and divisive, we have lost everything. Why do I say this?
All the major religions, the field of psychology, and even medical research point to an important truth – hate destroys, and love heals.
It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? How can we possibly “heal” the ails of our time through love?
If we understand love as the vital force that animates us, that makes us human, then we have a sense of its magnitude. People like Malala Yousafzai and the Dalai Lama come to mind, extraordinary individuals who hold on to their humanness, no matter the circumstance.
Whatever our response might be during this challenging time, I believe it is important that we safeguard our hearts for this is a time in which our humanity is critically needed.
How do we keep our hearts open when each day is an assault on our sensibilities?
Think with me for a moment to a time when you were you at peace. Who were you with, what were you doing? Were you walking in nature or holding the hand of someone you love, or perhaps you were cuddling your pet? Once you identify a peaceful moment, then you know how to hold on to your humanity.
If each of us were to listen to our hearts, I suspect miracles would follow.
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DEAR READER, I AM MIGRATING OVER TO A NEW WEBSITE. I HOPE YOU WILL JOIN ME THERE: www.gwenmplano.com (The address is slightly different, in that it includes my middle initial.) Thank you very much.
by Gwen M. Plano
Every week author Ronovan Hester invites readers to participate in a Haiku challenge. This week he provided these two words as prompts: rebel and change. If you'd like to participate, just open the link above and you'll find "how to" information and guidance.
Since I grew up in the Sixties, I thought about the idealism of that time when I created my 5-7-5 syllable poem.
I wasn't exactly a "flower child" but my parents certainly saw me as a "hippie." They didn't know what to do and finally told me I could not write to the family about politics or religion. Even at the height of my rebelliousness, I recognized and respected the wisdom of their request.
Considerable time has passed, but my idealism remains. It has, however, become much more moderate. What I didn't know at eighteen was that we humans don't like change - unless we are the ones creating it.
What do you think? Have you discovered that to be true as well?
by Gwen M. Plano
1968 is often referred to as the “most turbulent” year of the century. The Vietnam War was at its peak, evoking confrontations between student protesters and police. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and just a few months later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was murdered. The young were disillusioned and angry, the old were lost in a world they did not understand. It was a very difficult time.
I was a student at San Diego State University in 1968, and fifty years ago today my first child was born. I had married the year before, and the birth of my son followed ten months later. When nothing made sense, when everything that could go wrong went wrong, I had a precious baby to hold. He was my miracle, a concrete sign of hope during a time that appeared hope-less.
Fast forward fifty years and what has changed? Turmoil persists. Adversity and mistrust are rampant. Perhaps the biggest change I see is the internet. Now we don’t need to talk with neighbors or listen to speeches or pick up a newspaper. We can check our smartphones and find out what people think about any topic.
Tempers flare easily when we’re upset with impersonal entities: such as the Republicans or the Democrats, the Christians or the Muslims, the Blacks or the Whites. But, if fifty years have taught me anything, it is that truth is elusive.
During this time of extraordinary change, hold on to what is precious, find reasons for laughter, and know that this, too, will pass. Happy Birthday, dear son. Could it really be fifty years?
by Gwen M. Plano
My dad was not a man of many words. In fact, if you wanted to know about his work in the CCC camps or his military service, you'd have to ask him directly. And, even then, he would not say much. But, if there was a job that needed to be done on the farm or any where else, my dad was on it. He was a living example of "show don't tell."
Dad didn't trust words. Too many he knew were hurt by them. "If you love someone, you show them," he'd tell us. And he did.
It wasn't until adulthood, however, that I understood my dad. He gave me and my siblings a gift not easily wrapped in pretty paper. And, as he neared the end of his life, I thanked him for this extraordinary gift.
Leaning over his lift chair, I whispered, thank you, Dad, for teaching me how to survive. He didn't respond, but tears welled and rolled down his face. I had received his gift and in doing so, I had embraced him.
To all dads, thank you for your self-gift, spoken or silently offered.
by Gwen M. Plano
Each week poet Ronovan Hester sponsors a Haiku prompt challenge, and folks (like me) try to follow his lead. This week the two words are faith and choice. If you have interest in this poetic form, please click on his name and you'll be guided to his website where you'll find detailed instructions.
This poem is entitled Building Tomorrows.
By Gwen Plano
A few hours ago, I returned from a 2-week journey to the East Coast. During my travels, I visited a dear friend (Gracie), who is a cloistered nun, and I attended my youngest son's wedding. Both encounters were amazing.
The meeting with my friend was unlike any other that I've had with her over the 35 years we've known one another. On this visit, she relayed a vision of such extraordinary power that I was left speechless.
I don't have the words to explain her vision adequately, but I've attempted to relay it in verse. Fundamentally, she spoke of the unquenchable nature of the Creator's love -- it being all that exists. There is no hell, only our personal blindness, and love is its healing reprieve.
My humble attempt follows.
by Gwen Plano
Each week poet Ronovan Hester sponsors a Haiku prompt challenge, and folks (like me) try to follow his lead. This week the two words are body and art. If you have interest in this poetic form, please click on his name and you'll be guided to his website where you'll find detailed instructions.
We imagine our memories to be lodged in our mind, and then a simple touch brings us back in time - to another touch, loving or unkind. Hidden, it awaits our discovery through The Art of Life - the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, the joys and the fears.
I've attempted to capture this dynamic through the image of a young woman holding life itself.
by Gwen M Plano
We carry two calendars in our heart. One tracks the tragedies, the other our joys. We usually don’t think about these interior calendars, until someone or something hurts us. It is then that we become aware of the past month, the past year, and our life in general.
We use these inner calendars as a measurement of the worthiness of life. Though not visible markers of time, they hold real events. When our tragedies overlap, we can lose balance and with it, our sense of perspective. It is then that we say things, harsh things, about ourselves or others. Hurt becomes all that we know, and we lash out. We want others to feel our pain.
If laughter fills the months of our other calendar, we live unaware of its shadow. We see but don’t see the suffering around us. We live oblivious to pain and imagine joy is our right. Because of this, we are even more upset when hardship comes our way. We question why me.
My calendar of the last twelve months is very full. Medical challenges and my mom’s passing top the list, but there were other difficulties as well. If it weren’t for my friend Joyce, I might have been overwhelmed.
Joyce is wheelchair-bound. Guillain-Barre changed her life overnight. Her courage and determination help others summon the same. Though I don’t have a fraction of her strength, her example provides a direction for me. She chooses to see beauty rather than brokenness, and irrespective of the difficulty, she sees a gift.
We are surrounded by hurting people. The impatient clerk at the grocery store, the rude driver on the freeway, the yelling couple down the street. We are not alone, but alone we stand unless we reach. This song from R.E.M. hit home for me; perhaps it will for you as well. ♥
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Why do you write? One of my sisters has asked me this question multiple times. She is a dyslexic and writing is a frightening task for her. Misspellings and absent punctuation are part of her life; she does not see either. She’s quite aware of this handicap, unseen though it is, and she compensates through her developed verbal skills and persistence. Why do you write?
I’ve tried to explain why I write, but my sister has remained dumbfounded. She equates my avocation to the world of extreme sports. Just as a climber needs to scale El Capitan in Yosemite, writers need to write, she thinks. It’s just something they must do, a risk they must take. But why?
Yesterday my sister called, excited by what she had read. She explained that she now understood why I write. She proceeded to read from one of Henri Nouwen’s books, and as she did so, I choked back my emotions. Nouwen’s words had captured my heart and given voice to its secrets.
I wonder if Nouwen is writing for all of us who sit before a computer putting thoughts to bare pages. My question prompts me to share his words with you. If you have a moment, let me know if you find resonance.
Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, writing requires a real act of trust. We have to say to ourselves, “I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write.” Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving. Once we dare to “give away” on paper the few thoughts that come to us, we start discovering how much is hidden underneath these thoughts and gradually come in touch with our own riches.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
1972 seems so long ago, several lifetimes ago. I was just twenty-something when I traveled to Japan in April of that year with my then three-year-old son and former spouse.
Jesse didn’t notice the language barrier. What baby does? He would scamper over to another child and together they’d excitedly speak toddlerese. Joy is one language that needs no translation.
But, learning Japanese did not come easily for me. I struggled to communicate and often used Jesse as my translator. I’d carry him with me into the post office or bank and have him repeat to the clerk in Japanese what I’d say to him in baby English. With a bit of imagination, the clerk and I could do our business and enjoy a few laughs.
There were many foreigners in Japan in the 1970s. Most, like me, came seeking enlightenment, that elusive state of mind where suffering does not exist. During my five years there, I sat long hours in meditation with legs crossed, hoping for freedom and longing for home.
Now forty-six years later, my legs can no longer twist the way they did when I was young. But, I often sit in silent prayer. When I think back to my years in Japan, to the places I visited, to the people I met, to the world that opened up for me, I’m reminded of Matsuo Basho’s quote, “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
Somehow, over the great expanse of time, I got comfortable with home being wherever I was. It’s not a structure or a location; it is much less tangible than either of these. I’ve discovered that home is where my heart is at peace, which is to say that when I am at peace, I am also at home. Do you experience home similarly?
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Over time, I've realized that as I read, I look for the author. I want to know him or her. When the two of us meet through the pages of their work, I discover a friend. This poem attempts to capture my reading process.
How about you? Do you search for the writer?
by Gwendolyn M Plano
We all face them – the final goodbyes to loved ones. A year ago, my dad passed away and two weeks ago, my mom joined him.
Both of my parents had long and productive lives. Together and separately, they experienced the breadth of life’s sorrows and the not-so-obvious joys.
For about twenty years, my mom was bent over, the result of a back injury and severe osteoporosis. She did not complain about this burden, but she did not like photos that showed her condition. This picture was taken eleven years ago and is of mom with her identical twin; the difference in height tells the story.
During mom’s last hours of life, she could barely speak but she whispered, “I don’t know what to expect next.” I shared the documented cases of near death experiences and talked of the love that would surround her and how she would meet her loved ones. I also asked her to send me a sign from heaven.
A couple of days after mom’s funeral, my friend Nancy, a strong intuitive, called to offer her condolences. As I was sharing, Nancy interrupted and said, "Your mom is here. She is telling me that she can stand up straight now and her back does not hurt. What does that mean?"
Stunned, I described my mom’s back condition, and after a few tears, we both knew that mom had sent her sign from heaven.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
I grew up in the wild west, on an isolated farm in the California desert.
My dad left the house before daybreak and returned as the sun set. He spent each day in the fields, managing the water, driving the tractors. My siblings and I helped on the farm. I’ve been up to my knees in mud trying to fill a gopher hole, I’ve walked the fields to check on the irrigation, I’ve picked cotton.
Always Dad carried a shotgun in his pickup. And, he made sure each of us knew how to use it. When he took us into the Chocolate Mountains, however, he brought his pistol. We'd climb into his homemade dune buggy and drive through the rugged terrain. On one such trip, we discovered a cave and my sibs and I decided to explore the darkness. The chilling sound of rattles drove us back out. I never liked snakes. Dad didn’t like snakes either. He took his pistol, walked into the cave, and one shot later he emerged holding the rattlesnake by its tail.
I have many stories like this. Gun stories. But, I also have car stories.
By the time I was eleven, I knew how to drive. Dad showed me the gauges and taught me to manually shift gears. This proved invaluable one day as I needed to drive mom to the hospital fifteen miles from our home; I was just twelve at the time.
Dad made sure his kids knew how to handle guns and cars. They were a necessary part of our lives on the farm.
I currently live in the mountains, in a bountiful hunting area. Children are taught how to use a rifle and or a bow. It is part of their lives. There is nothing sinister about this practice.
Over the span of my career in higher education, I’ve been bedside in hospitals dozens of time with college students who drank too much, who drove foolishly, who got in fights, who overdosed on drugs, or did something else foolish. Young people do foolish things, especially when they are not taught consequences.
Guns and cars are dangerous in the hands of those who do not know how to use them appropriately. They are not partisan objects. Democrats and Republicans own guns and cars.
We must to do something about gun violence, rhetoric simply divides and most of us are sick of it. Why are assault weapons legal, why are high capacity magazines available, why are guns sold to the unstable? The answer, from my vantage point, is that people would rather point a finger than insist on appropriate legislation. Our children are demanding change, and they deserve our thoughtful response through our elected representatives.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Recently I was asked, "when you wrote your memoir, what section was the most difficult?"
This was an interesting question for me to consider, because my book is about the journey of life, and as any of us can attest, the journey includes deep sorrows. I cried a lot when I wrote my book, because my heart was free to do so. But, my struggle was not about sorrows.
The most difficult writing task for me was sharing experiences of angels. My career in education was built on logic and proven facts; my experiences of angels defied such knowledge. To publicly share these encounters meant risking credibility. The angel visitations were like nothing I had ever known, and I felt very vulnerable writing about them. Yet, these ethereal beings were integral to my life story, so in the end, I chose to speak my truth and let readers decide as they may.
This past week I have been with my mom as she gave her final goodbyes. Her strength, courage and faith brought me to tears many times. Perhaps hardest to endure was seeing her suffer. Today she was freed of that suffering, freed of confusion, freed of all binds. With just one slow exhalation, she left us.
And then we felt it, joy. And many sensed it, angels. And, together, we cried.
Mom's tiny body had carried nine children and held dozens of grandchildren. In the end, there was little left of her body; but, those fragile remains held a mighty spirit, a spirit that reached through our tears and offered consolation. When visitors stopped by to see mom, many mentioned celestial beings.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see." And so I wonder, what would our world look like if we could see these miracles? Would we realize that we are never alone?
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Three more days and it will be Valentine’s Day. For Hallmark Cards, online and local flower stores, and all vendors of chocolate, this is the day for trumpeting Love – new love, old love, healed love, remembered love. It is a time when hopes and memories meet at the hearth of life, and emerge either invigorated or scorched.
For Jan Sikes, an award-winning author, screenwriter and songwriter, love is the heart of life. She learned this the hard way, after her fiancé was incarcerated for 15 years for a crime he did not commit. When he was finally released, they married and began the difficult journey of creating a life together. Music was integral to their relationship and livelihood, and remained so until her husband passed away in 2009.
Jan has written a four-book series about her one love, Rick Sikes. In the books, she refers to Rick as "Luke" and herself as "Darlena." It was easier for Jan to write about their love through fictional names.
The books follow the stages of their relationship. Flowers and Stone is set in raucous Texas honkytonks where Rick sang and played his guitar. The Convict and the Rose chronicles the time behind bars in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Home at Last captures the years after Rick was released from prison, and Till Death Do Us Part brings the reader to his final goodbye. I just finished the last book; it was a powerful, beautiful story.
Jan is a friend and fellow member of the Rave Reviews Book Club. If you are looking for a real love story, this series is one to read. It will warm your heart and fill your senses.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
I’m a child of the Sixties. I know what it is like to dream big and fall hard. I remember innocence, a time when I thought I could change the world. While a college student in San Francisco, I danced to the Grateful Dead in Golden Gate Park and the Doors at the Fillmore West. When my friends left for Vietnam and did not return, I marched to stop the war. Martin Luther King Jr was my hero.
Then the world turned upside down - three assassinations: President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The streets that had been filled with flower children became angry with lost dreams.
It’s been 50 years since the tumultuous Sixties, and we are again facing a pivotal cultural shift.
The sexual abuse of children is now center-stage through the trial of Michigan State physician Larry Nassar. Sexual harassment is in the spotlight because of the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. The government of the United States as a federal republic is under scrutiny because of various election machinations. The streets are again angry with lost dreams.
When I was in my twenties, I reached a point at which I stopped hoping. I had seen too much, felt even more. For years, I ignored Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley; I didn’t trust what they had to say. As a student of psychology and an eventual counselor, I worked at interior transformation, doing a lot of soul searching. There were mountains to climb, rivers to cross and oceans to maneuver. I was not well-equipped to do any of these, but I learned.
Unlike the Sixties, I’m surprisingly hopeful about the current cultural shift. As icons of Hollywood, academia and politics fall, truth is searing our complacency. It is returning people to their hearts, to the only place of real strength.
It takes great love to reach across divides and offer a hand, it takes vulnerability to risk trust, and it takes hard earned self-respect to stand tall for truth. All of this is present now in its magnificence, even while the opposite rears its ugly head.
2018 will likely be turbulent as there is too much at stake. But if we can show up in our innocence, in our truth and with our hearts open, I believe the year will be like none other, for we will be standing together building bridges of authenticity.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Throughout this year of turmoil, I have had one recurrent feeling - gratitude. It sneaks up on me when I walk alongside the lake, but it also surprises me when I do the laundry. Whether involved with the extraordinary or the mundane, I am frequently overwhelmed by this sentiment. Like a child on a teeter totter, I move from laughter to tears and from tears to laughter in just seconds. Both erupt from joy. But why?
During an era when trust eludes us, when weather threatens us, when countries terrorize us, and when elected officials leave us gasping, why would any of us feel gratitude?
For the last six weeks, I’ve been dealing with a cerebrospinal fluid leak requiring a lot of bed rest. I know the ceiling of my bedroom very well now. I can tell you exactly where there’s been a bump or a misplaced stroke of a paintbrush. But, I can also tell you, that as I drifted between worlds, material and otherworldly, I saw that consciousness is distinct from the body. As much as our body defines us, it is not who we are.
One day when lying flat on my back counting the ceiling tiles, the book John W. Howell and I have co-authored came to mind. The Contract will be published in early summer, and as the title suggests, it involves a contract. In my supine position, I realized that just as the characters had a contract, so did I. And, because of my circumstances, I was provided the opportunity to imagine what my life contract might be.
I walked through the decades looking at what I had learned. Through sorrow came joy, through deprivation came generosity, through fear came hope. I realized the gift of life’s unique challenges, the gift of my CSF leak, for I understood how each hurdle brought me to a place of vulnerability, close to my heart.
We see differently when life brings us to our heart.
During this season of hope, I am grateful to be alive. There is much yet to see and to experience, and there is so much I still need to do, books to write, grandchildren to hug, friends to embrace. The world needs my loving, your loving, our loving. But, loving requires us to be close to our heart.
I might be a dreamer, but I can't help but wonder, if we could fast from negativity and re-frame our lives to ones of grateful living, wouldn't hearts soften and wouldn't dreams come alive?
I have been on quite a journey this year. I suspect you have as well. It's been one of those years that will claim its mark in history. But, thinking through the months, I've realized that there has been one constant - you. Thank you for accompanying me this year. You are family and from you, I have learned so much.
I have two wishes: that 2018 will surprise us with laughter and each of us will remember or find hopeful maybes.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Each week author Ronovan Hester invites interested readers to participate in a Haiku Prompt Challenge. This week he provided the words Flare and Steam. Though I know little about this art form, I'm intrigued enough to attempt this simple verse. If you have interest, please click on the link above, where you'll find detailed instructions.
Today I write about looking back through the years since the holiday season tends to evoke that reflection. May your memories bring you delight.
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