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Posts tagged ‘letters’

Aunt Tova’s Closet

imagesChantall’s story about her aunt’s material things. Excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Master Tova’s niece, Chantall, had recently arrived from the land of the Maori to care for her aunt in her final days. The first thing The Master requested was that Chantall clean out her bedroom closet.

“It would be my pleasure Auntie. Where would you like me to put everything?”

“Just clean it out first, then we’ll figure out what to do with it.”

Chantall went to work and was surprised to find such an array of items packed into such a small space. She pulled out three bags of clothes, ten pairs of shoes (including some sequined platform clogs), a shredded bed roll, five pairs of candlesticks (which were melted almost to the wick), fifteen unmatched socks, a pair of rusty engraved silver scissors, scroll after scroll of some ancient texts (which she could not read and did not understand), two balls of yarn, a broken knitting needle, seven lightweight blouses (with stains and various colored material), a large pair of men’s pants, a moth-eaten velvet hat, an earring, nose ring, ankle and wrist bracelets, an array of playing cards, a begging bowl, an ochre-colored robe that had turned almost gray, a wooden chess set, two brass bells, some old letters (which she planned to read as soon as her Aunt drifted off to sleep, as they appeared to be love letters), a drawing of an elephant sitting in meditation, and a necklace with a green emerald pennant in the shape of a Bodhi tree. Clearing out the closet took much longer than she’d expected.

“Now what Auntie? What would you like me to do with all your things?”

“We must first clear out the closets of our mind, before we can be free,” Master Tova replied. “A mind cluttered with ideas, thoughts, the past, the future, or desire, will never find freedom.”

“Okay,” Chantall said, “but what do you want me to do with all this?” She nodded towards the high pile of Master Tarantino’s possessions.

“That? That is nothing more than a collection of matter, which had been stored inside a container of matter. Holding on or letting go of material objects makes no difference. It is our attachment to people, places, or things which causes suffering and keeps us on the endless wheel of karma.”

“Yes. I understand Aunt Tova, but where should I take it? What do you want me to do with it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Just leave it. Better yet, why don’t you take what you wish, give some to your mother, and distribute the rest to charity?”

“I’m not sure how to say this Auntie, but most of this is useless. It wouldn’t even be worth donating.”

“Then burn it all. Light a pyre and reduce it to dust, just as I will soon become.”

“As you wish.”

Chantall took load after load out into the light of day, built a fire, and started throwing Master Tarantino’s material goods onto the fire. She kept the ancient scroll, the necklace, and a bell. She tried to retrieve the love letters, which she’d inadvertently thrown in with everything else, but it was too late. Then she returned to her aunt’s room.

“It is done Auntie.”

“Excellent. Now you are free. There is nothing holding you back. You can move on.”

“Those were your things, not mine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter, does it? Desirelessness is a trap and desire is liberation.”

“Don’t you mean . . . oh, never mind.”

As Aunt Tova drifted off to sleep, Chantall quietly tiptoed out of her room, wondering what she would have found in her aunt’s love letters, and berating herself for having inadvertently thrown them into the fire.

Chantall told this story to her mother after she returned home from caring for Aunt Tova. Her mother wrote it down and later passed it on to an undisclosed student of her sisters community.

More stories of desire at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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Don’t Breathe Twice

A regretful excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

imagesLife is a card.

You play what you get.

You do what you can to feel no regrets.

Don’t think or feel. It’s all un-real.

If it feels nice, don’t breathe twice.

Speaking Without Words from Mistress Tova’s Letters.

More rhymes and nonsense at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Chen’s Family In Danger

Dear Gabriel,

Two months after a Houdini-like escape from house arrest in China, human rights activist Chen Guangcheng walks the sidewalks of New York a free man — thanks to sustained pressure from you and tens of thousands of other Amnesty activists worldwide. Now he urgently needs your help to protect his family back home, which is under threat from Chinese authorities.

I had the great honor of meeting Chen face-to-face last week at New York University, where the self-taught lawyer has taken up formal legal studies. He asked me to share the following message with you:

“When you get back to your office, please say thank you to members all around the world for their continued support and concern for my family. When the opportunity arises, I shall thank them in person.”

Chen received hundreds of messages of solidarity from activists like you after he was detained for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in China. I’ll never forget how his face lit up when he recounted the encouragement he felt after receiving your handmade cards and handwritten letters.

Your letters provided Chen with the comfort of knowing that he wasn’t forgotten — and they put Chinese authorities on notice that Chen had Amnesty’s millions-strong global human rights movement in his corner.

Now he needs your help again. Chen warned before coming to the United States that Chinese officials would retaliate against his family – and they have. His nephew, Chen Kegui, has been detained and could face the death penalty. Chen Kegui claims he had to defend his family against an attack by plain-clothes local police in his home.

Urge authorities to guarantee that Chen Kegui is given a fair trial and to investigate local officials in Linyi county, Shangdong Province.

As each day passes, our call-to-action becomes more urgent. The court has switched Chen Kegui’s lawyers, calling into question whether he will have access to a fair trial.

Thank you for calling for the protection of Chen’s family today.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Nossel
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

Champion’s For Humanity

Dear Gabriel,

If you want to know why letters are important, just ask Yusak Pakage.

Yusak was serving a 10-year prison sentence in Indonesia simply for taking part in a peaceful flag-raising ceremony. Amnesty International supporters campaigned for his release, and in 2010, authorities freed him. He knows from personal experience the impact Amnesty’s letters can have.

“Amnesty is … the strength for those drowning … the friend of the excluded … the protector of those in need … and the hope which keeps our hope alive,” Yusak Pakage told Amnesty International members after his release from prison.

Will you donate today to support Amnesty International’s life-saving human rights work?

This year’s Write for Rights starts in a few weeks. Letter-writers will send messages to demand release of imprisoned Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan, Iranian student organizers Behareh Hedayat and Majid Tavakkoli, and Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, among others.

Donate today to support Amnesty International and our 2011 Write for Rights campaign.

For 50 years, Amnesty has given us the ability and the opportunity to expose and confront abuses in a way that is profound, fulfilling and effective.

When you Write for Rights, your words bolster a human rights defender whose life is in jeopardy. They ignite hope in a forgotten prisoner.

“Thank you to Amnesty International members across the world from someone who has suffered and who now smiles again thanks to Amnesty.” — Yusak Pakage

When you make a financial contribution to Amnesty, you empower a formidable human rights movement. A movement that is tackling crises around the world, and needs your help now.

Donate today.

Sincerely,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Campaign Director, Individuals at Risk
Amnesty International USA

Traveling With Pomegranates

Traveling With Pomegranates
by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor.
(Penguin Books, 2009)
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A mother and daughter travel to Greece, Turkey, France and home to South Carolina and provide their respective perspectives on the experience. Sue Monk Kidd (the well-known author of The Secret Life of Bees) is reflecting about her life and turning 50, while her daughter Ann navigates periods of depression, self-doubt and uncertainty about her future, her career and sense of self-worth. The consistent and similar traits that hold the story together, as well as both authors (one to the other), are the love; respect and admiration each have for the other. Sue writes, “The laughter has cracked the heaviness that formed around us like tight, brittle skin, and even now delivers me peeled and fresh to this moment, to Ann, to myself.”

Traveling With Pomegranates is a combination of memoir, journal writing and travelogue, which takes readers to places that will be familiar (externally and internally) and others that seem to fit for the author’s reflections alone. There are times when the prose is engaging, such as when Sue is speaking about turning 50 and says, “The spiritual composition of the Old Woman, not through words, but through the wisdom of a journey” is an apt summation of how she is seeing herself at that time. Many may find it hard to think of 50 as “old”, but it is used in this context as a starting point to look at change, old age, death and birth. At other times, it seems as if the writing should have been left in a private journal or in letters shared between mother and daughter. Not because of any private content or big secrets, but because it had no weight or meaning for a larger audience.

Sue has long had a kinship with the Black Virgin and used it as metaphor and object throughout her novel The Mermaid Chair. She speaks of it in length once again, on their visit to see the statue of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour in France. “As I look at her, my throat tightens and I dig through my bag for the travel-size Kleenex. Just in case. I’m not sure what moves me about her, only that she’s beautiful to me. Someone vacates a chair, and I sit down, staring at the flinty old Virgin until the tears really do start to leak. I rub them away and focus on the back of Ann’s brown hair. Ann’s fingers, I notice, are curled around the stubby piece of chain, and I wonder what she has decided about it. What I will decide about mine… I know suddenly what moves me about the Black Virgin of Rocamadour: She’s the Old Woman. It comes with some surprise, as if the bird on the altar has just pecked me on the forehead.”

While her mother is having the previous insights and feelings, Ann is writing about hers. “I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough. I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer.”

It is obvious that traveling together and writing about it were important for the author’s lives. Whether their reflections and insights are also of relevance for those outside their family will have to be left up to others to decide. This reader has mixed feelings about Traveling with Pomegranates, and doesn’t expect those feelings to be any less cloudy in the foreseeable future.

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