My latest essay, published by Vox Populi, February 16, 2016.
Category Archives: They Live On
Wearing t-shirts that read, Today I am a Muslim too, twenty of us piled into the United Church of Christ’s bus to head to our local mosque. When we disembarked, three times our number were already there. People of all denominations and ethnicities were gathered on that cold December night for the same purpose: To show solidarity with Muslims, defending their right to worship as they are called to do.
While Muslims prayed inside the mosque, we stood outside with candles and sang a hymn written by the mission’s organizer that included the refrain, You’re never alone because we stand beside you. We were then invited to join the worshipers, leaving our shoes at the door. The mosque was strikingly bare with no statues, paintings, or furniture; no “false gods before” them. The men prayed up front, women in the back, heads covered – admittedly ruffling my feminist spirit.
The imam spoke in Arabic, the sound disarming with its harsh consonants coupled with our inability to comprehend the foreign tongue. A tongue showcased by the media as radical and violent.
We stood in the back as worshipers bowed prostrate to their God. Our God.
After the prayers, we were invited into the worship area. The imam explained that we’d been asked to remove our shoes so that the area would remain clean for God; typically, we’d also have been asked to wash our hands to be pure for God. He explained that the worship area was stark so nothing would distract worshipers from focusing their attention on God.
He told us the prayers recited were about “the beautiful story of Jesus and Mary” – that Muslims also commemorate the birth of Jesus this time of year. There was at least one audible gasp in the group, reflecting our collective ignorance of the Muslim faith.
As the imam spoke, children ran around, playing games, and laughing. Muslims love their children too, a parody of Sting’s song about Russians, went through my head. We were hugged and photographed in appreciation. We laughed, cried, and broke bread together.
The imam expressed gratitude for support received since bullying and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. When asked if they have an outreach plan to teach other religious, educational, and civic organizations about their faith, he said they’re a humble people who don’t want to push themselves on others. But they’d be delighted to explain their beliefs when invited to do so.
It’s important to understand the basic precepts of a religion before condemning those who practice it. If the Roman Catholic Church were to be judged solely by the Crusades, the Inquisitions, witch hunts, Nazi-collusion, Timothy McVeigh, or bombings of Planned Parenthood centers, it would be judged as one of the most dangerous and violent religions. As Pope Francis said in August of this year, “There is always a small group of extremists in practically every religion. We have them too.”
In Jesus’ day, there was violent hostility between Jews and Samaritans. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus exhorted followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Samaritan who had stopped to care for a Jewish man who’d been beaten, while others – even the most holy – had walked on by. Jesus answered that the neighbor was “the one who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus instructed, in his native Aramaic tongue, “Go and do likewise.”
If you are a school leader, member of a religious or civic organization, invite the imam of your local mosque to speak about the Muslim religion. They are our neighbors; they deserve mercy.
Patricia A. Nugent
I’m no shrinking violet. Most who know me, or read my work, think me somewhat bold and outspoken. Not afraid of a showdown if I deem it a moral imperative. But I could not screw up enough courage to watch the recent presidential debate. The thought of watching that know-nothing misogynist harass the candidate President Obama considers “the most qualified person to ever seek the office” made my stomach turn over.
So at 9pm, after Hillary’s historic entrance, I took to my bed. Scared and nervous, filled with negative energy. There’s so much at stake in this election; I’m very emotionally involved. For distraction, I reached for the biography of Julia Ward Howe and snuggled in to read. (She wrote that catchy little song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, although too few recognize her name.)
But there was no escaping the debate. Text messages started pouring in from friends filled with similar angst. Giving me a blow-by-blow of how Trump was steamrolling Hillary and hogging air time, yet the moderator wasn’t keeping him in check. With matching vitriol, I replied to each for a while and then decided that these pinging messages were equally bad for my mental health.
I recalled that my friend Ellen is trying to convert her abhorrence of Donald Trump to energetic support of Hillary Clinton. Admirable as that is, I’ve been so consumed by my own loathing of him that I’ve made no effort to follow suit. My Facebook page reflects my obsession with exposing him in order to defeat him; I can think of little else.
Yet seeking refuge in bed at 9pm forced me to re-think my reactions to this campaign. I decided to focus on what I want rather than on what I don’t want.
To center myself, I lit a candle. Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes and envisioned Hillary in her red suit surrounded by purifying white light. I began to send Reiki to her right there on stage. (I had enough confidence to hope it wouldn’t relax her so much that she’d appear “low energy.”) I sent her light and love, strength and wisdom. I whispered my intention that she be forthright and a force for peace. I asked that she be able to break through the barriers that prevent so many from fully embracing her candidacy. I even wished her more likeability, allowing myself to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of that sexist view.
When I was done, I rested my head on the pillow, calmer and more confident that all shall be well. My terror was gone.
Texts from friends kept coming, but their tone had changed. My correspondents were now reporting that Hillary was strong, really knew her stuff, got in a few zingers, and looked radiant.
When I knew for sure the debate was over, I crawled out from under the covers to watch the postmortem. Many analysts had detected a noticeable shift about forty minutes into the debate. While Trump had started out somewhat coherent, she’d seemed tentative. She then became “scorching,” according to the New York Times. And he melted down.
The timing of her gaining momentum perfectly correlated with the timing of my sending out positive energy.
I’m not claiming any credit for Hillary’s debate performance; that would be absurd. She’s worked hard for this moment and has the cred to whip his butt. But I do believe that the universe showed me that using energy to empower her is more productive than railing against a madman. (See? I haven’t fully reformed…) Perhaps my little ray of white light joined forces with light sent by others who believe in the power of intention. Those who are also tired of being scared, anxious, and angry. Perhaps our collective white light can be refracted as through a prism to generate an inclusive rainbow of color. If so, together we can be an impetus for tipping the scale toward a more civilized America.
If nothing else, my new commitment will help me survive the next month. I’ve been giving Donald Trump way too much of my energy; I’m taking it back to resend it to the only person right now who can save us from imminent self-destruction.
Dolly swam this morning. Like many mornings this summer. In and out. Smiling as she wades in, wagging her tail until it’s submerged. Smiling as she runs out.
She doesn’t know it’s Labor Day, doesn’t realize the significance of the fireworks that scared her half to death last night. Doesn’t realize that summer is coming to an end. All she knows is that she went swimming.
She doesn’t know that it might be the last time she swims this season. That the cool evenings will give way to cool days. That too soon, the lake will be frozen once more.
Because she isn’t cursed with that knowing, Dolly suffers no melancholy. But she also isn’t blessed with knowing that she should savor every moment because it’s fleeting – and perhaps should linger a while longer in the cool waters of the mountain lake.
I’m both blessed and cursed with awareness that things change; life is ephemeral. Yet I still fought back my desire to swim in the dark blue water under the stars last night.
Tonight, maybe I’ll have another opportunity.
-Patricia A. Nugent, September 2016
This isn’t what I want to be writing about. But I can’t keep silent – not when the stakes are so high.
It was so fascinating that I stayed up until I finished it. Frankly, I didn’t care for it at first, but then I couldn’t put it down. The story about two young lovers in Louisiana during the Civil War unfolded in a very stark yet intriguing way.
Entitled Penthe & Alphonse, the thin book was a gift from my friend Frank. He sent it from the hospice room of the author, Mark Morneweg. A dozen years ago, Frank had logged many hours at my mother’s bedside, generously helping to pave the way for her passing. He was now doing the same for his friend.
“Perhaps you could write Mark about his book, just a few words from a fellow author. It would mean so much to him,” Frank wrote, including Mark’s email address.
I readily agreed to do so – once I had read it. After all, I wanted to be authentic in my review and not just appease him. As a writer, I’m sensitive to the difference between concrete feedback and superficial acknowledgement.
After carrying the book around with me for ten days, I resolved yesterday morning, while traveling the NYS Thruway, to read it that night and respond to Mark. When I arrived home, I grabbed it out of my satchel and placed it in queue for my evening’s activity.
While I was working on my own writing project that afternoon, Frank notified me that Mark had died the night before. Regret flooded my consciousness – regret that I had squandered the privilege of offering a fellow writer some appreciation and encouragement, two things every writer craves – especially one hoping for a literary legacy.
Last night, I read his book in its entirety. The beauty of Mark’s 99-page novel lies not in what he wrote but in what he left out. Much like poetry, his prose painted an image, gave an impression, while trusting the reader to figure it out. That’s a challenging literary device, one that I struggle to master, so eager am I to draw conclusions for readers.
I missed the opportunity on this physical plane to commend Mark for his literary contribution. But I can commend his work to others. And share my oft-repeated lesson that time and people are finite, and we should act accordingly.
Thanks for finding me on the Thruway yesterday, Mark. I hope this tribute finds its way to you.
Patricia A. Nugent
July 11, 2016
White caps crash
Waves slam the sandy shore
Surf chases meandering feet
Back away, she roars
You’re angry, I say
And why not?
You offer bounty
And we dump plastic
Bring on your fever
Back away, she warns
Or I’ll melt my ice caps
Bust your levies
Flood your cities
Kill your food source
Deny you life
I’m angry too, I confess
My planet is being destroyed
My water, my air, my land
My life force
Back away, I roar
Frackers and drillers
It’s my ocean too
White caps crash
Waves slam the sandy shore
Surf chases retreating feet
Is the ocean fighting back
Or just reflecting my own anger?
© Patricia A. Nugent
Earth Day 2016