All Things Are Connected

The chief of a certain village had many advisors.

If there was something he wanted done, he would order it done, and it would be done. “Is it a good thing?” the chief would ask. Whether it was a wise decision or no, his counselors always agreed.  Those who did not were beaten.  There was one counselor who never said ‘yes’ and never said ‘no.’  This counselor would consider the matter and reply, “All things are connected.”


The village was located at the edge of the marsh.  At night when the chief couldn’t sleep, he became aware of the noisy croaking of the frogs.  Once it came to his attention, he found himself listening for it each night.  The sound annoyed him so much he ordered all the frogs killed.


“Do you agree with my plan?” he asked.  His counselors all agreed, except for the one, who warned, “All things are connected.”  “Pah!” said the chief, and that night he sent his people to the marshes to kill frogs.

They killed frogs and they killed frogs until there were no frogs left to kill.

“Ah,” said the chief. “Now I shall be able to sleep.”
That night he slept very well, and for many nights thereafter.

But one night he heard another annoying sound.  “Zzzzzz…Zzzzz…Zzzzzzzzzzzz…”

He summoned his counselors.  “The mosquitoes are worse than the frogs!  Why didn’t you tell me they would rise in swarms and eat us alive without the frogs to eat them? Tonight I will send my people to kill all the mosquitoes!” So they killed mosquitoes and they killed mosquitoes. But as many they killed, there were many more left. The mosquitoes made life so miserable that everyone left their fields and homes to start new lives far away, until the village was deserted, except for the chief and his family.


All day long the chief sat alone in his hut, swatting mosquitoes and muttering, “All things are connected.” But it was too late for the frogs. Too late for the village. Too late for the chief. Finally he too moved away.

The wise understand that all things are connected…

By the ground we walk on…

By the air we breathe…

By the the water we drink…

By the rhythm of the heart.

All things are connected…

…and hang by a delicate thread.

We too are living on the edge, and must find the balance between give and take.

Can we learn the difference between just enough…

…and too much?

All…

…things…

…are…

…connected.

What kind of world do we want to leave our children?

The answer is in our hands.

All words and images copyright 2016 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Edge.

 

He Lived Long and Prospered

 I mourn the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought depth and integrity to the role of Mr. Spock in the classic Star Trek series and films.

I grew up on Star Trek reruns.  The show helped me formulate ideas about writing, as well as life.  It was an enthusiasm I passed on to my kids.

No wonder I became the Proud Mom of a Starfleet Cadet and that so many of our parties…

…favorite toys…

…and family fun has been inspired by Star Trek.

 

Leonard Nimoy co-wrote and directed Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, which was my favorite of all the Star Trek movies.  His vision for the story was to have “no dying, no fighting, no shooting, no photon torpedoes, no phaser blasts, no stereotypical bad guy.”  It was funny and quirky, and didn’t take itself too seriously, yet its message was important– advocating protection and conservation of our world and its creatures.

There was much more to the man than Star Trek or Mr. Spock.  He was the son of Ukrainian Jews, he spoke and wrote Yiddish, was a photographer, a poet, and a man of principle.

According to NPR, when he found out that Nichelle Nichols wasn’t being paid as much as the other actors on the show, he protested on her behalf.  When he found out that she and George Takei were to be excluded from the animated series, again he went to bat for them and they were hired on for that series.

His last message to his fans was very appropriate, wise, even logical:  “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

He lived long and prospered, but he also lived well.

And we will never forget him.

c2015Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Reward.

Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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Look On My Works, Ye Mighty

Teachers, parents, siblings, mentors of every kind leave their mark upon us.  I was in the fifth grade at Isaac Newton Elementary school in Detroit when my teacher, Mrs. Chapman, had us memorize Ozymandias, a poem composed in 1818 by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Then we had to recite it to our classmates.

I walked to the front of the room and paused, a dramatic device storytellers employ to command the attention of their audience.  Actually, I was just trying not to throw up: it was my first public solo performance.  I was terrified, but it was also electrifying to be able to convey such a compelling story, such unforgettable imagery.   Not only did I not throw up, but I got an A.  And I never forgot that poem.

My mother used to recite poetry to us, like “Daffodils” by Wordsworth and “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.  Over the years I’ve shared Ozymandias and other gems (okay, sometimes I sing jingles from the TV commercials I watched as a kid), to a certain captive audience–my children.  Occasionally I recognize my own words reflected back to me from the mouths of my babes.  Sometimes to my chagrin, but most often to my surprise and delight.

My son Eli is home between teaching assignments…

 

…and tonight Bea returns from Stanford on spring break.  It will be so good for us all to be back together again.  My ritual, when the kids depart for school, is to tidy their rooms, change the sheets, and drop a tear or two as I make their rooms ready for them to come home to…and they are always grateful.

The last time Eli left I was tempted to hire a bulldozer…

…but it’s like spending a little quiet time with that absent child.

Last night, in a burst of inspired procrastination (he was tired of reorganizing his own room), Eli decided to surprise Bea by cleaning her room, and not just the sort of tidying I do, but a thorough reorganization, including the mountain of books stacked haphazardly in the corner, that pile of her things parked just inside the door, not to mention the surprise found in a teacup discovered under a pile of stuff on her desk.  It’s either a science experiment or a strange new life form.  It took Eli over five hours.  He found so many new ways and places to shelve books that they almost fit on her shelves now!

But nothing comes without a price tag.  In fact, after Eli was finished, everything had a tag on it.  Oh, yes.  He had made his mark.

I love this one…

But my absolute favorite touch was the greeting on the door.

I howled with laughter. “Oh, good,” said Eli. “I didn’t know if you’d get the reference.”  “Do I get the reference?” I asked, launching into a recitation of Ozymandias.  “How did you think of it?”  He said he remembered it from all the times I’d recited it.  Of course I  ran to find my book of Shelley…

When I opened it up in search of the poem, I saw that someone else had made her mark.  Upon the book…


…and maybe even upon me.

I believe those little things that we pass on from generation to generation, the poetry and the stories, whether silly or sad or sweet and heartfelt, will outlast the Mighty, their monuments to themselves, and, I hope, their wars.

Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Mrs. Chapman.  Thank you, son.  And welcome home, Bea!

All images and words (except for Mr. Shelley’s, of course)

c2013 Naomi Baltuck

The Most Noble Story

There was once a widow who had three sons, Alberto, Eduardo, and Ernesto. She had spent a lifetime trying to teach them the meaning of charity and compassion.

The day came when she knew she was dying, and would no longer be there to guide them. She called her sons to her bedside.

“My sons, the only thing of value I have to leave you is my diamond ring. It was given to me by my mother, who had it from her mother, whose mother handed it down to her. It cannot be divided and it must not be sold, for one day, it shall go to one of your daughters. Now I must decide which of you is most worthy of this treasure. Go, my sons, and do good in the world. Come back in one week’s time and tell me your stories. The one who has performed the most noble deed shall inherit the diamond.”

By the time the three young men gathered again at her bedside, their poor mother was near death.

She said to her firstborn, “Alberto, tell me your story.” “Well, Mother,” said the eldest, “after much thought, I gave half of everything I owned to the poor.” “My son,” said the old woman, “no one can tell you that you haven’t performed a good deed. But it is not a noble deed, for have I not taught you that it is everyone’s responsibility to care for the needy?” She said to her secondborn son, “Eduardo, tell me your story.” He said, “Mama, I was passing the river when I saw a small child swept away in the current. I can hardly swim, but I jumped into the water and pulled the child out to safety. It was only by the grace of God that I didn’t drown myself.” “My son, you too have performed a good deed, but not a noble deed. Have I not taught you that everyone should be willing to lay down his life for that of a helpless child?” The old woman said to her youngest son, “Eduardo, come tell me your story.” Ernesto hesitated before taking her hand. “Mamacita,” he confessed, “I haven’t much to tell. As you know, I’ve no earthly goods, and I cannot swim a stroke. But I’ll tell you something that happened to me this week. Very early one morning I was walking in the mountains. I came upon a man sleeping at the edge of a cliff. If he were to stir in his sleep, he would surely fall to his death on the rocks below. I determined to prevent this tragedy. I crept over, so as not to startle him awake. Then I saw that it was my bitter enemy, Juan Miguel. At first, I thought to leave him there, for the last time we met, Juan Miguel threatened to kill me if he ever got the chance. But I knew what I had to do.  As I put my arms around him, Juan awoke and I could see the fear in his eyes as he recognized me. “’Don’t be afraid,’ I told him. I quickly rolled him away from the precipice to safety, and helped him to his feet. When Juan Miguel came toward me, I was sure he meant to kill me. But then he threw open his arms to embrace me. Juan said, ‘Last night darkness fell before I could get home. Rather than chance a misstep in the dark, I decided to spend the night where I was. I had no idea I was so close to the cliff edge. You saved my life, Ernesto, and after I treated you so poorly!’  To make a long story short, Mamacita, Juan and I are no longer enemies, but have sworn to be friends forever.” The old woman shed tears of joy. “My son, I have taught you well. That was truly a noble deed, and you are a noble man, for you risked your life to save a man sworn to kill you. With one act of kindness, you have transformed hatred into love and made the world a better place.” With her dying breath she told her sons, “The diamond shall go to Ernesto, but you must all remember that with each noble deed you perform, you shall add to the treasure that awaits you in Heaven.”

All three sons married and had children of their own. They, like their mother, taught their children the meaning of charity and compassion. When the time came, Ernesto left his mother’s diamond to one of his daughters. But Alberto and Eduardo left their children a gem worth as much as any diamond, for their children held in their hearts their grandmother’s precious legacy, the story of the most noble story.

All photos copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Enlightenment.

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The Most Noble Story is from Apples From Heaven, copyright 1995 Naomi Baltuck, and retold from a folk tale of Mexico.

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK  is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE .   She is also a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller at The Bardo Group. 

Still

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.  And so do we.  It was over a hundred degrees, and the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky.   The plaza was nearly deserted as we approached Batalha Monastery, and I was wilting.  Still, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we couldn’t miss it.

Batalha Monastery, the ‘Monastery of Battle’, was begun by King Joao I to commemorate his victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

I was glad I came.

In the cloisters, time stands still.  The view hadn’t changed in six centuries.

Inside the church the stained glass softened the harsh sunlight.

A dramatic tomb for King Joao and Queen Phillipa of Lancaster depicted the royal couple with joined hands, symbolizing the alliance between Portugal and England.  Surrounding bays contained the tombs of their four younger sons.  I’d already seen so many tombs that week, and couldn’t muster the energy to snap a shot, although I was moved to photograph the stillness of the Royal Cloister.

I found the symmetry soothing.

And then I stepped into The Unfinished Chapel, where rests the tomb of their eldest son, King Duarte and his wife, Leonor of Aragon. Their final resting place was less monumental, and still uncompleted, without even a roof.  Their chapel too was designed to house the tombs of their descendants, but that hadn’t happened either.  Duarte and Leonor were its sole occupants.

Duarte’s story was also less remarkable than his dad’s.  His reign was short, troubled, and plagued by poor choices.  He preferred writing to war, and was likely better at it.  He began The Art of Riding on Every Saddle“…in accordance with the saying that writing books is an endless task, which I do for my own relaxation and entertainment…I am going to write…with the objective of improving the riding skills of those who decide to read my writings in good will…”

That book, like his chapel, was also unfinished.  Duarte died young, swept away by the plague, leaving his wife to mourn.  From that day on, she signed her name “the sad queen.”  She lived only a few more years, her short regency also plagued with conflict.  Sadly, she died in exile.  But she rests beside her husband.

Their tomb, their accomplishments, and their lives might have been less glorious than those of their victorious parents.  But their unfinished tomb is open to the sun and the breeze, the infinite sky.  The sad queen and her husband, in gentle and loving repose, seem less a statement of diplomatic alliance than a forever snapshot of a loving couple, still tenderly holding hands after all these years.

I think I’d rather be remembered for my pen than my sword, and would rather be successful in love than in war, or even in my writing.

Still, plague notwithstanding, I’m going to finish my damn book.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Stillness.