Happy Celebration!

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” ~ Marianne Williamson

My life has included many different cities and states and each move has taught me a little bit more about the importance of community and why we should try and build it wherever we are.

In some ways, the actual definition of the word community is a bit contrary to modern-day realities. Depending on your situation, it can be challenging to find a group of people with whom you share common interests, attitudes and goals or have a common characteristic.

As the world becomes both more divided and diverse, we have to find ways to look past the obvious and seek to find the commonalities. While we come from different ethnic origins, have varying political beliefs and refer to God by the name associated with our religious beliefs. At our core, we have more in common than we don’t. I believe that finding this common ground is key to all of us coming together in a way that allows us to have different points of view and to share them with the intention of both teaching and listening.

I thought I understood this, but my neighbor’s daughters have unknowingly taught me many lessons in this area.

My neighbor’s homeland is Saudi Arabia and they have lived in the U.S. for I’m guessing about six years, Texas before Syracuse. Yesterday, during our sidewalk chalk art afternoon, I learned that three of the four kids were born in Saudi, the oldest daughter was born in Pakistan.

What I learned was amazingly simple. Kids are kids, no matter where they were born or raised. They have favorite subjects in school, and there are subjects that they dread. Siblings fight, but they also love each other fiercely. Kids pull pranks on each other and do their best to get out of doing chores.

It got me to thinking if kids are kids no matter what – doesn’t that mean that people are just people? At least when you strip away all of the baggage, we seem to accumulate as we grow up.

My neighbors recently confirmed this notion through a recent act of kindness and generosity.

They are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in the Islamic faith. This year it begins on 7/30 and ends on 8/3.

Friday afternoon, the girls (my sidewalk art buddies) rang my doorbell and offered a basket of sweets for me to choose some from. The oldest girl said, “We are celebrating a holy holiday and want to say thank you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Happy Celebration!”

A bit later in the evening, my doorbell rang again, and this time, it was all of the girls in the family, including the mother.

She offered me something tucked between two paper plates, and said, “I am sorry you weren’t able to come and share doughnuts with us earlier, but we wanted to bring you one.”

I explained that I had been working and would have loved to be there with them to share, and of course, I accepted it graciously.

I asked her the name of the celebration, she responded, “Eid al-Adha” and was kind enough to spell it for me so I could look it up later.

I asked her about the celebration, and she explained the history. I will need to do more research to share it, but, the crux of it is, that kindness is everything, something that is common to all religions.

At the heart of the celebration is to recognize and acknowledge sacrifices and to share with others. Sharing gifts of food is one of the traditions.

It was a simple but meaningful conversation.

My last question to her was, “What is the proper way for me to thank you and show my honor for your holiday.”

She simply said, “You told my girls, Happy Celebration, you did it just right.”

Community is all around us, sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find and build it. It’s incredibly rewarding when it happens.

Building Community During COVID19

My move to Update NY has been a tough one for a variety of reasons, one of them being, it’s been challenging to build community and make friends. Something I’ve prided myself on finally learning how to do when moving someplace new.

I intentionally moved into a townhouse community over an apartment because I hoped that because we would all be living side by side with mini-yards and driveways, it would be easier to form connections than in an apartment building. Turns out I was wrong.

December was not the optimal month to move to one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. and expect to make friends. My new job and moving in kept me more than busy during the first several months after arriving here. Finally, summer came, and the pool opened. I thought, here is my chance to meet some people to invite for brunch.

Wow, what a rude awakening I experienced.

After several conversations with a couple (in my age range), I said to the wife, “I really like to build community when I move somewhere new, and brunch is always a fun meal to share. Would you and your husband like to join me some Sunday?”

She looked me straight in the eye and responded, “No, we have enough friends.”

End of conversation.

It’s a good thing I’m persistent because I’ve met some wonderful friends as an extension of meeting a gal while volunteering at a local state park. The friendship has grown, and I’m now part of a group that I refer to as the “Bunco girls.” We meet once a month and play bunco, which is a perfect game for me. The rules are easy to understand, and it’s mostly about catching up with each other, laughter, wine and snacks.

My network has continued to slowly expand within the city, but I still had not managed to make any connections where I live. I was on the verge of hosting brunch for my new next-door neighbors, and then COVID hit, needless to say, they haven’t been over for brunch.

Finally, the sun came out, the skies turned from grey to blue, and the temperatures invited people to spend time outside. A welcome change that also led to an unexpected event.

Saturday, I had the first neighborhood/community experience that I’ve had since moving to Syracuse.

I spotted a little turtle crawling out of the natural grass in the middle of the common area behind my townhouse.

Naturally, I quickly pulled out my phone to try and capture the moment.

Lazurus the turtle

Before I knew it, Gavin (10) and Kenna (5) were beside me watching the little guy’s movements.

They live two doors down from me.

I didn’t know for sure if the turtle was a male, so I asked Gavin how we could figure that out. He said, “Well, we’d have to pick it up and look underneath. But I’m pretty sure it’s a boy.” I nearly fell over laughing.

After we watched the little turtle crawl back into the grassy space that he emerged from, we went and shared the experience with their mom. We all agreed that the turtle needs a name.

I told them about the turtle that hangs out on my mom’s patio – he always looks like he is about dead, disappears, and then he comes back. She’s named him Lazarus, which is very fitting. They all got a kick out of it.

The kids are going to come up with a name for the turtle and let me know what it is. We will have some fun watching it throughout the summer.

Sunday was even more special.

It got off to a bit of a rough start, but in the end, it was a beautiful day. Not only was the weather picture-perfect, but we also had a fun family zoom call, and I finally had the opportunity to visit with my next-door neighbors – Ben and Jen.

The best part of the day, though, was creating some artwork on my driveway with sidewalk chalk.

After drawing in a few leaves, I realized that I had drawn an enormous tree and was starting to wonder how in the world I would ever finish it. Just then, my neighbor’s wife came out – followed by her youngest daughter.

We chatted a bit, and I asked Amira if she wanted to help me finish the tree. She shyly nodded yes, and then skipped over to my driveway.

I picked out three colors of green chalk and handed them to her, showed her how to draw a leaf, and then we went to work in companionable silence.

Tree Driveway Art Close Up

I was explaining the need to create some grass at the bottom of the tree to anchor the tree. I said, “We can’t leave the roots hanging out all alone, they need someplace to live.”

She nodded with understanding.

We finished the grass and were just getting ready to start the wildflowers when her older sister joined us. I said, “Pick out colors that you want to use for flowers, and I’ll show you how we’ll make them.”

They both listened intently as I demonstrated my technique. The three of us did a fantastic job.

Tree Driveway Art Flowers.2

Afterward, we stood back and admired our beautiful work of art.

Tree_Driveway Art

A bit later, as I was finishing my domestic chores, the doorbell rang, and on my step stood four neighborhood kids, including the two sisters from next door.

With sweet politeness, they asked, “We were wondering if we could use your sidewalk chalk to draw.”

I responded, “Of course you can, thank you so much for asking so nicely.”

The older sister, with some hesitation, asked, “How much may we use?”

I said, “You may use all three boxes. All I ask is that you put the chalk back in the boxes and back in front of my door. Have fun and create beautiful art!”

The boxes of chalk were indeed returned to my front door, and the neighborhood is blessed with new sidewalk chalk art.

Sidewalk Chalk Art.kids

It turns out it’s possible to connect with neighbors, even during a pandemic. It just takes patience, and in some cases, a bit of sidewalk chalk.

Peace Surrounds Me

Peace Surrounds Me

July 11th was the second Friday of the month, which for the past four months in my world meant it was time to enjoy another drum circle.

This one was extra special to me because my youngest son and his girlfriend agreed to be my guests. At dinner I did my best to give them a preview so they would know what to expect.

The one and only prediction I knew would come true is that they would be by far the youngest people in the group. Beyond that, each circle creates a unique footprint that becomes a part of each participant’s memory but impossible to recreate.

During my short exposure to drum circles, it’s common for our leader to start the evening with a question. He asks each of us to describe how we feel with one word. The words included perplexed, nervous, anxious, happy, optimistic, flurried, and uncertain.

Stormy weather got in our way in June, but we lucked out in July – and instead of playing our instruments under a roof, our heads were covered by clouds and the only light was the setting sun followed by the rising of a nearly full moon. The sounds of city life were present but unimportant as each of us found and followed a rhythm that was uniquely ours, but also part of the group’s.

It may only be me, but in my mind, together we traveled to distant lands while beating our drums. We became part of a rain forest; alive with chirps, clicks, and the gentle rhythms of nature while each of us played a small hand held instrument. We also learned that almost anything can be used to create a musical sound, including an empty coffee can – as long as it still has its yellow lid. 🙂

The sun set, the moon rose, and the evening ended with a walk along the beach.

Each of us played our own quiet sound, keeping in harmony with the underlying heartbeat that led the group. I have no doubt that others also heard the waves and felt the sand between their toes as we took a moment to imagine and dream.

The evening ended with the same question it started with.

“How do you feel?”

We all used different words to describe feelings of gratitude for the chance to be temporarily transported away from our worries and fears to place where our hearts felt surrounded by peace.

Peace Surrounds Me