The peonies are blooming now. This is how I mark my time. I do not use a “smart” phone but rely on Mother Nature. The late May calendar shows white and lavendar colored phlox, lilies of the valley, and deep purple, almost black columbine. Wild geraniums dot the pachysandra, and grandfather rhododendron (15′ high) arrived for their Memorial Day spectacular.
Foxglove, mugwort, irises, roses, and astilbe will join others to color my pages of June. Sometimes I can hardly wait. But then I catch myself to breathe in the beauty of the moment.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Strangers pound on my door. Ding. Ding. Ding! DING. DING. DING! The PC shouts Facebook sent 26 e-mails! Already? Only a few days ago I dabbled on FB during our workshop. Now voicemail haunts me with social media messages. I feel alarmed. The inferno is building, engulfing me and my time. Hours sizzle away, days go up in smoke, night quickly singes morning then BOOSH! My responsibilities topple over. Hopes swirl around my peaceful life exploding into the black hole. Like trying to contain a room ablaze, something tells me I’m better off not opening the door. It’s not good to play with matches I’ve been told.
Argh. I get a little cranky when sleep deprived. Time to go outside and breathe some fresh air.
Driving home on this rainy Saturday evening, the windshield wipers are paragraphs separating my thoughts. I’ve been hand-drumming for 3 hours in a drum circle at the local health food store. Some of the participants I’ve known for decades, others I met today.
The face of my friend flashes through my mind. We lunched earlier at a neighborhood deli whose house-made bread is better than anything in Manhattan for sure. I met Meg through hand drumming a decade ago. We smile, laugh, talk serious. We are not looking down at our phones because we intentionally have unsophisticated, un-smart phones. Just practical little devices for emergency. That makes sense to us. Neither of us wants to be tethered to technology. We talk dogs, travel, gardening. The wonder of a kindergartener seeing a real robin or eating a nasturtium.
“What does it taste like?” I am curious to know.
“A little peppery,” she says, and especially to a five-year old.
“I’ve always wanted to grow asparagus,” I tell her. “I put it in with rhubarb last year.” She nods, confirming my assumption that they are good companions. My friend teaches biology. I hope she can teach me about growing asparagus. “I didn’t know what to do with it at the end of last season…now I’ve got a 12” stalk like you see in the grocery store but next to it is a 4-5’ high, tree-like stalk but much thinner…” I show her with my hands. “It’s actually got several thin branches that also look like asparagus…”
“My friend Margaret grew asparagus. I can ask her,” she offers.
“Great! I’ll send you a photo to show her.”
“She doesn’t do e-mail so she would have to come to my house and look at my phone.”
If anyone can easily explain how to properly grow asparagus please contact me!
Hmmm. This is interesting I think. There are more people than the handful in my Social Media workshop and me who are intentionally not wired, or loosely.
My friend and I agree how much we love getting together for lunch or dinner, being in nature, the warmth of human communication. Her eyes twinkle when I share a bit of synchronicity with her. “Good thing you were aware, and paying attention to notice all those things,” she says. Good thing you weren’t looking down at your phone and I could see your smile I think.
“I notice and appreciate nature more and more each year. I’ve never considered myself very religious, but a spiritual person,” I tell her. “I’ve been reading more of the Tao and it speaks truth to me. Everywhere.” Her smile confirms we are on the same page. I like making eye contact and our welcome and parting hugs.
Swish-swish. Swish-swish. The parting conversation with another friend at the drum circle pops into my head. “I’m addicted to my phone,” he confesses then shows me a photo another drumming friend posted 17 minutes ago. I confide that I’ve signed-up for a Social Media workshop, that I’m hoping to find a balance so I can still function in a technological society but not become an addict.
“Did you see the 60 Minutessegment on technology intending to make you addicted to your phone?” I ask, feeling fear and audacity rising within me.
“Well, I don’t think they want you to be addicted,” he says. “Just use it a lot.”
I can’t imagine having to ask others to like me I think. It just sounds so, so unnatural. Either you like me or you don’t, but do you have to announce it to the world? Is privacy passé? Social media is the antithesis of my values. I’ve never wanted 1,000 friends. That sounds too exhausting. I like the quality ones I have and they know it. Solid, true friends sharing quality time together… Does the world need to know that? Swish-swish. Swish-swish. The wipers clear away the thoughts that have kept me true to my values but from going with the crowd and against my own grain.
Faces of people I’ve hand-drummed with over the years are a slide show in my mind. The deep connection we’ve developed through hand drumming is like the comfort of a best friend yet I may not know the person, their last name, career, education, socio-economic status, ethnicity, where they live, or any other defining label, and it doesn’t matter. We speak a universal language that has no words but is expressed from hands to hearts, through conga drums, djembes, doumbeks, bongos, or any other piece of percussion (we are not prejudice). Hand drumming is yin-yang conversing — talking and listening at the same time.
I’ve often described hand drumming as cooking a large vat of soup where everyone adds a little something different be it a vegetable, herb, color or spice, and soon the flavor deepens, the aroma permeates the air and it’s evolved into something so darn good that I wonder why people do recreational drugs when they can hand drum.
Swish-swish. Slowing rain reveals the lush green mountainside. Rounding the corner, I’m home now, welcomed by dogwoods brilliant as the full moon, and bursting pinks. I’m breathless from the splendor of spring. Can social media really do that for me?
These guys (or gals) don’t look alike but they respectfully share from the same feeder, while happily chirping away. People could learn a lot from them.
I learned a lot from Jamaicans when visiting their homeland. Most Americans warned me ahead of time to “not go off the resort premises,” but strolling down the beach while mesmerized by the turquoise sea drew my curiosity beyond the boundary line. Haphazard tin-roofed shacks from whatever washed ashore leaned every which way — a yin-yang contrast to the well-manicured all-inclusive that was my home for 7 days.
The Jamaican Patois (pronounced Patwa) beckoned me into the makeshift beach mall. My ear took some getting used to their creole language but I appreciated the creative twist on english. In and out, I scanned the line of booths sand to ceiling but most of the wares were tchotchkes made in China that I could purchase in my hometown dollar store. Still, each proprietor smiled widely while proclaiming, “Tank yuh. Tank you fi looking. Tank you fi di respect.”
Most Jamaicans live in poverty. Tourism, music or selling drugs sadly seem to be the major opportunities to increase their standard of living. I’ve had panhandlers in other countries follow me into the water ruining an afternoon swim, or camp out just beyond the garden patio, calling for me to buy their goods. (One couple from Manhattan quit their Grenada vacation early, stating, “The panhandling isn’t this bad at home. We came here to relax…”) But, Jamaica was different. The people spoke to my heart and I quickly understood a universal desire for respect.
“I love your food. The Jamaican Jerk is delicious…nothing like back home,” I shared with the merchants. “I’ve been listening to a lot of your music on MTV in my room. I never knew there are so many types of Reggae. Do you have Tanya Stephensor Beris Hammond? I’d love to take some CDs home,” I explained to the last few shopkeepers. (Yes, I’m of the generation that still listens to an armoire full of CDs. Just another segment of my staving off technology.)
Walking back to the resort, a young Jamaican boy ran down the hill toward me, waving his arms. “Yuh di lady looking fi music?” he asked, showing me a handful of CDs.
“Well, yes I am. What do you have there?” The jewel cases sported homemade labels depicting the very artists I inquired about. We exchanged smiles as I paid him then crossed the boundary line to the resort.
That night, I watched a Jamaican grandmother teach her granddaughter the art of basket weaving while a Rastafari man let me listen through his headphones to other Jamaican musicians I might like. The next day, the little boy made me nearly a dozen more CDs which I carefully wrapped in the intricately hand-woven two-toned basket for my travels home.
For me, the best souvenir is a meaningful piece of culture. The best vacation is connecting with natives of the homeland. I travel to experience diversity. Maybe that’s what the cardinals and chickadees do too.
It’s all a matter of respect.
Some less respectful tidbits about Jamaica…
Don’t refer to a Rastafari as a “rastafarian” as they connect “ians” and “isms” to oppression. Likewise, referring to their philosophy as a “religion” or “ism” is against their beliefs.
Dudus (Christopher Michael) Coke led the violent Shower Posse drug gang that exported marijuana and cocaine to the United States. In 1992 he took over his deceased father’s position as leader of the Tivoli Gardens community in West Kingston. Providing programs to help the poor community garnered him so much local support that Jamaican police could not enter this neighborhood without community consent.
I didn’t make a connection with a stranger on “social media,” but I did through a review on TripAdvisor.com. In reading reviews about a place I long wanted to visit — the Caribbean island of Nevis — I sent an inquiry to a woman who posted that she and a friend had an enjoyable lunch at the Oualie Resort — a pricey place beyond my budget.
As it turned out, Mary and I connected instantly — she was also from my home state of Pennsylvania but started a new life in Neviswith her own business. Knowing the manager at Oualie, Mary got me a significant room discount.
When I visited Nevis a few months later, Mary and the resort manager welcomed me with dinner and cocktails. We had dinner a few more times during my 10-day stay, and she was kind enough to give me a complete tour of the island as well as invite me to her home in the rain forest. For years I had been drawn to this island without knowing why. The friendly strangers I met all around Nevis made this an unforgettable journey of Synchronicity.
Some lesser known tidbits about Nevis…
Nevis first got electricity in 1954.
The first Secretary of the US Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was born out of wedlock in Charlestown, Nevis.
At 98%, Nevis has one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere. English is the official language.