Thursday, January 31, 2013

Prayers of the Children

The Glorification of Mary by Botticelli

Prayers of the Children:
All Divinity Blessed

Children on the altar
Petitions in hand
Teachers standing there
Microphone in hand
With utter sweetness asking:

For the sick and the lonely
For the elderly and those departed;
Remember us, Lord and Mary, and
For New Life just started;

Heal us,
Gift of Peace,
Be our salvation
Ever Rising 
Under dear feet beneath
Grant lasting pardon;
Mercy, the gift of your hands,
We offer our joys, hurt, our sufferings,

So our transformation 
For lifting others
We aren't changed alone,
Save by loving, caring for each other:
these offerings for
We are praying
  each other Home.

Written January 31, 2013
by Connie Nelson Ahlberg
All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 18, 2013

White Gloves, Wide Brim Hats

Little girl in kindergarten uniform in Japan

Even after only two weeks in Japan, it's been an adjustment coming back to the States.
I literally looked up white gloves when I got home, wishing I still had some. I was comforted
that they are still available.

In Tokyo I saw young girls in navy uniforms with wide brim hats on one of my sojourns. They took my breath away. So much so, I failed to get the picture I wanted, I was too transfixed. There must have been eight or so who descended a staircase to the train, and I was--too late.

The first shock coming back was landing at Chicago's O'Hare airport. An attendant just stared at me and said: Next. She told me I was in the wrong line. I apologized. No one bowed, no white gloves.

In fact the young man in security was most abrupt, touching his chest after moving me along with great haste.

"Maybe he has indigestion," I said myself, trying to give him a pass.

When I got to my gate in Chicago, I was stunned. The passengers looked as disheveled as the seating was decrepit. The chairs should have been removed five years ago: the metal was chipped and unsightly. No one was well dressed. It was a motley crew, and definitely not the rock group.

I ran to the grocery store late tonight; it was almost empty. I nearly had to enter the freezer to find what I wanted, finding the product only after moving what was in front of it.
One lone clerk was standing ready to check you out. So many were forced
to check their own groceries. In Japan there are eight smiling faces in a row.

They bow so much in Tokyo that you bow back--with joy.

After grabbing my dilapidated cart I pushed my way to the parking lot. An attendant was collecting carts wearing his night-time orange vest as if he was hunting. Wordlessly
he took the two carts in the carrel and shoved everything along. Nary a bow. I
guess he was too young, cold, or tired to acknowledge another human nearby.

Driving home I decided I'd rather pay the $75.00 for the foundation make-up I forgot in exchange for the loving-kindness that went along with it.

Moreover I've vowed to clean up my act, get new shoes, get rid of my second-hand purple coat.

I saw a diamond ankle bracelet on a young woman as she walked the considerable distance to one of the shines in spike heels. A few wore traditional Japanese kimonos. No one was loud or beating their chest for attention. Most wore black coats, with their throngs of dark hair forming a sea under the majestic trees that formed a canopy on the walk. It was the New Year. People were there to show their respect in prayerful recognition at the Shinto shrine.

In contrast, my 6'5'' blond son walked with his fair-skinned daughter perched on his
shoulders, singing and swaying to a Wisconsin song they love.
It didn't fit, but it did.

I can't make the U.S. as polite as Japan. I can only seek to live graciously myself.
This I know. How lovely to be reminded of the simplicity of white gloves.
How softening to feel the respect we all so deeply deserve.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Beginner's Mind

If you go away, you want to come home different. And you are different. You've absorbed
new food, new sights, and experiences you couldn't have had if you'd stayed home.

Walt Whitman said: I am larger than I thought. I didn't know I held so much goodness.

If you go away you want to come home different. So you bring your new-found wisdom with
you. Wisdom you learned from steep hills and long walks, a tall son, a warm daughter
in-law, an enthusiastic granddaughter, and a 21 month-old grandson who can now say his
name: Hammy.

You don't want to be a stick-in-the-mud.You down sushi and apologize for nearly causing
a flood in the shower since you didn't turn the water off. (How could you? There were so
many bells and whistles. And you were nervous during the demo.)

You ask for a taxi when you're tired but walk on when the answer is, "Oh, no!"
You suck it up while pushing the four year-old in the stroller. You are better for it.

After realizing you can't be what you're not, you try to be the best that you are.

Since your gosling imprint says you overstay your welcome after 20 minutes,
you surrender, and attempt a Buddha walk for two weeks. You succeed. You fail.
You live with it. They live with you.

Inexperience is the mother of a thousand miles. You try a spicy beef noodle soup. It blows
your head off. But you return and order it again.

Part of your stress in leaving was knowing you'd have to deal with all your frailties when
you arrived. But a wise woman said, remember you are going where the energy is lighter.
So you said the words: I am light. I am light. And you see the lightness in the Japanese people.

You survive a long walk even getting lost because of the kindness of strangers who tell
you how to get home. One even runs after you when you still thought you were right!

You take lessons on how to bow. No, not that way, you're told. Hands to your side and the
deeper, the lower your bow, the more respect. You bow to everyone.

You meet a tour guide called Mori-san. You ask him: what would you like a poet to know
about Tokyo and the Japanese people?

Mori-san pauses, then says: The Japanese people are kind and clean.
You can't understand the last word but then realize what is being said.

Kind and clean. Many lessons summed up in two words.

On the All Nippon Airline, you realize the flight attendants are so impeccably trained, so
graciously turned out, that they were near-geishas. They are smiling. They are light. Yet
they are warm. They are everything Mori-san said and more.

It took courage to go. It took courage to leave and come home. You did it.

I bow to Tokyo, Mori-san, Moto Azabu, all of Japan, and my host family.
I am forever in their debt.