Friday, November 7, 2008

"I see the Moon and the Moon sees me"

"Fly me to the moon, Let me sing among those stars,Let me see what spring is like, On Jupiter and Mars…..” ~ Frank Sinatra

Have you ever taken note of how many songs, books, myths, stories, poems and speeches have remarked on the subject of the moon ? Whether positive, or negative, whether metaphorical or literal, the moon is in the very fiber of our being. While scientists and scholars all have their own interpretations of the moon, and its effect on life on Earth, we can never really reconcile the romance about the moon, with its scientific properties. For millions of years, the pull of the moon has been strong. Gravity, of course creates the tides, but more than that, all life on Earth is effected by the moon: from the growing cycles of plants to the long held beliefs that the moon’s position in the sky can change our behavior, the moon's nature is present. People have blamed the full moon for “lunatic” behavior since the beginning of time, and have viewed the “moon dark” evenings as mysterious. For lack of the a better word, the moon is captivating. We, as human beings, have struggled to understand the moon, to harness its power and, of course, to reach it. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful, or more powerful, than watching a large, radiant moon rise up in the sky at night. What still remains incredible to me, is that humans have felt this same way for as long as time has been recorded…and perhaps, even longer.

One of my favorite movies is “Apollo 13”, starring Tom Hanks. The epic, and unforgettable, lines of “Houston, we have a problem” and “Failure is not an option” permeate our pop culture and thoughts. But, my favorite scenes are those in which Tom Hanks, playing Captain Jim Lovell, uses his thumb to blot out the moon from Earth, and then again, from the Capsule, covering the Earth from space. This small gesture indicates our own sense of control over the moon, its mysteries, and the vastness of space. “Apollo 13” is a dynamic, and invigorating, film because it not only conveys the technological aspects of lunar research, but the emotional ones of man’s quest for the moon. “Apollo 13” also captures the imagination of man triumphing over adversity…which the ancients used to view, metaphorically, as ‘moon dark’ time.

The use of moon imagery in books, in music and in art is endless. In Yoga, however, there is a wonderful pose called “Half Moon”. Part balance pose (involving gravity), part flexibility pose (involving strength) and part heart opener (involving that mysterious spirit), “Half Moon” is an extraordinary part of a Yoga practice. Not surprisingly, this is one of my favorite poses. The goal is to remain in balance, halfway upside down, and keep your chest and eyes pointed to the sky. It’s fabulous for opening up your hamstrings, as well as for providing a twist of your torso for spinal health. But, beyond that, it simply feels good. When I come out of “Half Moon”, I feel as if I can take on any challenge. It’s a pose of empowerment. Just as the astronauts in the NASA program feel empowered by their lunar missions, practicing “Half Moon” regularly can bring an overall sense of well being, positive attitude and increased self-esteem.

So, tonight, go outside at gaze at the moon. See if you can hear coyotes howling at it. Dance under it with someone you love, or just enjoy watching its progress across the sky. Even if it may just be a chunk of rock, orbiting our planet, it’s awfully mesmerizing. Look to see what images you find by gazing at its surface. Laugh, cry, dream and wonder. It’s all part of the moon’s allure.

Just walk carefully as you go home. And look both ways before you cross the street in the dark.

"May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door. " Old Irish Blessing

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Murphy & Me

The popular book (and, soon to be, the movie) “Marley & Me” chronicles the life of an outrageous, persistent and highly destructive Labrador and his hapless owners. Marley is a larger than life character, and yet when I read this book, I found that it didn’t make me laugh or cry, as was intended. It hit a bit too close to home for me. Marley was a wild, goofy, out of control dog who takes his owners on an insane journey that involved offending innocent bystanders and closing beaches. He joyfully welcomed his human siblings. He was brave until his death and taught his owners to keep a zest for a dynamic life in their hearts. As an animal lover, I had expected to adore this story. But, because I have Murphy as a real life Marley, I must say the authors’ trials and tribulations were frighteningly familiar.

I have discussed Pancakes, the Demon Bunny, and her wild disregard for long held animal behavior truths. Many people have seen pictures of Mackenzie, my long haired German Shepherd. But, Murphy is a bit of an enigma in our pet family of female divas. Murphy is part Golden Retriever, and we believe, part Newfoundland. He looks an awful lot like a snuffling walrus with a weight problem. Murphy was, fittingly, born on Saint Patrick’s Day, and since his happy Irish soul entered his pudgy doggy body, he has never met a stranger. Literally. Murphy likes everyone. He likes the mail carrier. He likes the man running the gate at the town dump. He likes the vet. He likes every dog he’s ever met. He gets along with pets other people have deemed to be aggressive. In short, Murphy has the luck of the Irish, and he brightens our lives with his joyful exuberance almost every day.

On the days he isn’t filled with a frolicking heart, Murphy is doing something he probably shouldn’t. While we have perfectly serviceable, but not terribly attractive, family room furniture from Sam’s Club, Murphy chose to eat our good leather couch in the living room that was made from the finest, softest hides imaginable. When I arrived home to see the innards of my sofa strewn all over the room, Murphy was lying on his back in the midst of the chaos, exalting and rolling in the foam. He wasn’t embarrassed at all. He brought me a small piece to keep as a memento. He ripped the shingles at dog height off the side of our house, and then nicely stacked them before burying them. Murphy also has the gifts of Houdini at being an escape artist. We have a well fenced in backyard. We have yet to discover how he does it, but Murphy manages to squirm his 130 pound girth under the tiniest gaps imaginable. I doubt the bunny could escape from places Murphy has squeaked under. Once he’s out, Murphy goes on ‘walkabout’. He visits neighbors, and if their doors happen to be open, he walks right in and wishes them “a top of the morning’”. It never occurs to Murphy that he may not be wanted someplace. In his happy-go-lucky mind, he is welcome, just as he welcomes others.

I’ve come to think of Murphy as my doggy Buddha. He’s rotund, jolly and incredibly friendly. He is generous and brings people gifts; often their own shoes. He’s joyful. Nothing ruins Murphy’s day. If he has a bone or ratty sock, he’s completely at peace. He’s completely self-actualized and knows he is just what he’s meant to be. Maybe Murphy does have some Zen-like lessons to teach me. I can learn to be more forgiving and outgoing. I can also learn to do without material possessions. I just don’t think I’ll practice drinking from the “Magic Water Bowl” in the bathroom. I have to draw the line someplace.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Ever since I saw the original "Parent Trap" movie, with Hayley Mills, I always wanted to have a twin..or rather, to be one. There is something irresistible about twins. They’re just alike, and yet separate. They have their own short handed language. They are, in short, a mystery. We wonder if they can communicate telepathically. Those of us who are singletons wonder if they never have a sense of feeling alone, since their sibling is always a part of them, even far away. Plus, they’re just so darn cute when they’re little. I don’t believe that anyone can resist seeing small twins, dressed alike, walking down the street holding hands. We also love the twin stories; tales of switching classes in school partway through the day, or later on, switching dates, as we see in the movies. There is an inherent, implied mischievous nature in twins that many of us find both curious and desirable.

I have the good fortune of being friends with twins. When my family moved from New York to California, I was thrilled to find two new best friends just down the street, who just happened to be twins. I was desperate to be one of them, and our moms ended up calling us the triplets, with a new surname that combined both of our own. I was desperate to shed my boring straight brown hair, for their beautiful red ringlets. I wanted freckles in the place of my tan. To this day, I am thankful beyond measure by my friendship with Maryann and Amanda. But, being part of the inner circle of “twindom” taught me many things. While other people found my friends identical (who, by the way, are fraternal twins, despite their similar coloring) and would ask ME to tell them apart, I couldn’t believe that other people couldn’t tell which twin was which…when I saw it as plain as day. I could see the frustration my friends felt when they were referred to as a ‘matched set’, rather than as individuals, each with her own unique talents, gifts, tastes and desires. I began to see the burden that twins carry…yes, they’re adorable together, still. But, they are also two very special, very individual women. And, they were two very special, very individual girls. Yet, with all the love and care our families, and our community, showered on them, they were still ‘the twins’. Thankfully, my friends had always had a deep sense of self, and have grown into remarkable adults.

But, the magic of twins still just seems to tweak our interest, doesn’t it ? Despite my being ‘the third twin’ growing up, and seeing the day to day life of what being a twin is, I still have a yearning for that ‘other half of me’, wondering what my own life would be like if I had a sister who was just like me. I imagine that she’d be able to read my mind, know my thoughts before I said them, and understand my point, even when I’m rambling. When it comes right down to it, and when we all day dream about being a twin, isn’t what we’re looking for truly a person that understands us, down to the very cells of our being ? Isn’t it not so much a sibling to argue over chores with, but a mirror image of ourselves to bounce ideas off ? Don’t we wish, on bad days, that there would be someone, who looked and sounded just like us, but we could say “Here, you take over….I’m done !”, and that person would just step in and take the test, pay the bills, clean up after the dog or attend a boring meeting ? Don’t we wish, sometimes, that we could have an ‘evil twin’ (as Soap Operas love to create) that would just jump in and do our dirty work, giving the annoyances in our lives, the heave-ho, so we don’t have to ? Or to take the rap when we do something unkind ?

Since twins only represent a small portion of the population, and since twins, in reality, are their own people, and not mirror images of each other, I think it’s a safe to say that the romance of twins is not the reality of twins. But, since we all look for that perfect someone who will understand us, completely and unabashedly, I suggest we all learn to cultivate that sense of “twindom” within ourselves. No, I’m not suggesting you go out and develop multiple personalities…though at times, that thought does have its appeal. No, what I’m suggesting is that we become our own twins in that we are able to look at ourselves objectively, step back, be able to read our own emotions and ask ourselves the tough questions that only we can ask and answer. The reality is, even twins can’t know what’s in one another’s deepest hearts. So, try working on cultivating questions to ask yourself each night, before you go to sleep. Ask yourself what you accomplished today, who you helped, what you truly feel, and what you could have done differently. Look into your heart and ponder the answers. Think about what you can do to improve your life, and the lives of those around you. You don’t need a twin to tell you what you’re thinking. You need yourself to be honest inside, and then to move forward. All we really want is to be completely understood, and that’s what being a twin really means to many of us. As you proceed with this, your inner twin will thank you.

All this aside, I still have a matching outfit for the twin I hope to meet someday. I just hope she likes the Gap.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in World War II stories. I believe this is, in part because “The Greatest Generation” are slowly passing away. Many of these people are taking their stories with them. Some stories from the late 1930’s, and throughout the war, have been written as fictional accounts, and make for riveting novels and movies. I grew up reading books like “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and cried my way through them, feeling such a sense of sacrifice and heroism. I don’t believe any movie has brought more tears to me than “Saving Private Ryan”. I had nightmares for weeks, and felt changed by the bravery shown by these soldiers. Even my favorite children’s book, “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” takes place during World War II, since the children were taken out of the dangers of bombing London and out into the country. I believe the Narnia trip was a safe, fantastical journey of the imagination, during a brutal and unforgiving period in history.

And yet, there have been stories written about the lighter side during World War II. During war, more than during peace, people need to be able to laugh and find humor. In doing so, people rediscover their humanity and their courage. I just finished reading “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. In this sometimes touching, and often hilarious, series of fictional letters between an English journalist, looking for her next story, and a group of Guernsey islanders, we learn the story of the occupied English island during the war. I was shocked to learn that part of England was invaded by Germany, and held by the Germans for five years. It is a chapter completely left out of any American history book I ever read.

While this novel should be deeply depressing, it is extraordinarily uplifting. The authors have created, through the writing of letters and exchanging of information, fully dimensional characters whom I wish I could meet. The fact is, the world of Guernsey Island in the 1940’s seems so real to me, thanks to this novel, I do feel as if I’ve traveled there, met the people, had a cup of tea and discussed literary works with them. I loved hearing about the half-Jewish butler impersonating his English Lord, and in doing so, not only saved his own life but a very fine wine collection. The brilliant islanders had a quick ‘ancestor’ portrait painted of this disguised “realm of the peer“, and the Germans treated him with great respect as they confiscated the “Lord’s” manor house. Because the characters spontaneously form a “Literary Society” in order to be able to meet with one another, under the noses of their German occupying forces, the quick thinking islanders buy out all the remaining books from the local bookshop to read. Little did they know that these would be the only sources of information they’d receive for the full duration of the war.

Each one of the characters shows humor, humility and love of literature. As a bookworm myself, I could easily have joined in their discussions, but would have had to dig deep to discover their bravery. These islanders, many of whom knew very little of one another before, pulled together, and created a deeper sense of community than they’d had before the invasion. I have often heard that “war makes for strange bedfellows”, and these people were no different. The true Lady of the island becomes exceptionally close with the local “witch”. The quiet fisherman becomes close to the island drunk. The dire straights these characters were in made them open up to new possibilities of both friendship, and personal strength.

In Yoga, a position that opens the heart to new possibilities is called “Gate”. By strengthening your side, your heart is opened, both literally and metaphorically. I find that allowing myself to open up to new possibilities brings me more of a sense of closeness to others, more of a sense of humor and more opportunities to see life around me as a wonderful journey.

“Gate” pose can be the beginning of that journey for many of us, but so can literature, well made movies, meeting new people and enjoying the long time friendship of those dear to you. This novel shows me that trying something new, whether it’s reading a book I’d never imagine liking, or introducing myself to a stranger, can bring about extraordinary promise. We just have to remember to always keep our sense of humor, according to my own Dad, and keep our eye on the objective. Whether your objective is pure survival, or just getting through the day, knowing when and how to laugh can make all the difference in the world.