Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Muharram


The Imam Husayn's Concepts of Religion and Leadership
S.H.M Jafri
Vol XI No. 1

ONLY now and again does there arise above the common level some rare spirit, who, having looked upon God face to face [metaphorically speaking!], reflects more clearly the divine purpose, and puts into practice more courageously the divine guidances. The light of such a man shines like a strong beacon on a dark and disordered world. Our concepts of human values, human dignity and human freedom are better understood today because there has come into its life, among others, a personality that is a flame of God. His suffering embodies the pride of mankind, and in his sacrifice is reflected the eternal patience of man's greatness. An intrepid spirit, an impregnable will-power, and a superhuman passion for truth and justice are his main characteristics. And that man is Husayn b. 'Ali, the grandson of the Prophet of Islam. He presents to us the purest, the most elevating and the most inspiring ideal known to man. He is the one who taught man that death is not worse than a dishonourable life. He showed the world the real meaning of religion and the function of the leaders of mankind.

Religion as such is as old as man himself and is an inseparable part of his history, and therefore it has always been an object of deliberation, speculation, interpretation and also of rejection and criticism. From its earliest form of animism, nature-worship or totemism to that of its purest form of monotheism, religion in its broadest sense symbolizes and articulates society's most basic values and commitments. Moreover, there is the elemental urge in man not only to live, but to live nobly. When our passion for noble living receives cosmic backing, we have the peculiar ardour of religion. There is no one who does not raise at some time or other these fundamental questions: What am I? What is my origin? What is my destiny?

Religion is based on the discovery of the essential worth and dignity of the individual and his relation to a higher world of reality. When the human being perceives that he belongs to an order of reality higher than brute nature, he cannot be satisfied by worldly success or materialistic achievements. That he is capable of martyrdom for ideals shows that he lives in and for a world of eternal realities. Worship is man's reach out to the divine. Religion is the discipline which touches the conscience and helps us to struggle with evil and sordidness, saves us from greed, lust and hatred, releases moral power, and imparts courage in the enterprise of saving man from his inordinate desires. As a discipline of the mind, it contains the key and the essential means of coping with evil which threatens not only the dignity of man but his very existence. It implies the submission of our thinking and conduct to eternal truth. In its essence, religion is a summons to spiritual adventure. It is not theology, but practice and discipline. It is the only remedy for a pride of spirit which has divorced itself from the eternal; when the human spirit defies its sources and conditions and claims absolute self-sufficiency, it becomes insane and suicidal. To restore the lost relationship between the individual and the eternal is the purpose of religion. It is this basic and fundamental relationship which alone can bring ease and harmony in man's relationship with God, with himself, with his fellow man or with the society in which he lives, and with nature. If the relationship between the individual and the sole Creator is broken, the entire fabric of peaceful and meaningful human life will be broken. It is this harmony which religions serve to establish, Islam being the last of them.

Islam means peace as well as submission to the will of God and this is the essence of the Islamic concept of religion. The submission to God in Islam implies, in attitude and action, a regulation of our lives. God, according to Islam, is not a dogma but an ideal and a regulative force in life, and a guarantee of our highest values. Thus, the submission to God, the 'Ideal', with a firm belief in its reality, is a life both of virtue and inner happiness. A man who submits himself to God is true to his real self and, therefore, attains inner peace, which is real happiness, and quite different from worldly pleasures. This happiness more than compensates for any lack of material gain, or for physical pain and suffering.

It is with this concept of religion in general and Islam in particular that we should try to understand how the grandson of the Prophet of Islam, the Imam Husayn b. 'Ali, explains the meaning of religion and the function of religious leadership. The question of the leadership of mankind is the oft- repeated topic of the Qur'an. Whenever the Qur'an talks about divine guidance it also points out those who are entitled to guide. The Qur'anic terms for leaders of mankind are rasul, nabi and imam. The first two are specific terms, whereas the word imam is used in a rather general sense for those who are endowed with the special qualities with which they can lead others to righteousness and good deeds. Thus, for example, we read in the Qur'an that when Abraham, the patriarch of the prophets was told by God 'Behold, I make you an imam (leader) of the people', he asked: 'And what about my offspring?' God replied: 'My covenant will not go to evildoers.' Thus an imam, or leader, of the people is one who leads the people in all cases of conscience, keeps the covenant of God remembered and the teaching of the Prophets alive and effective. He is to protect the religio- ethical message delivered by the messenger of God from being corrupted and changed, and to save it from the reactionary forces which emerge from time to time.

The Message of the Prophet of Islam passed into the hands of the worldly Umayyads within thirty years of his death. After the death of 'Ali in 40/661, Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan appropriated the office of the leadership of the community for himself through the use of force and deceit and ruled the Muslims for twenty years. On Mu'awiya's death, his son Yazid assumed the role of the leadership of the Muslims as the caliph in accordance with the former's unprecedented testament. Yazid's anti-Islamic behaviour and openly irreligious practices were well known throughout the Muslim world and earned for him contempt and disfavour, especially among those who cared for Islamic religio-ethical values. An embodiment of all sorts of vice, tyranny, injustice, oppression and despotic rule, Yazid wanted Husayn to pay him homage as the leader of the Muslim community and submit himself to his authority. That was the crucial point in Islamic history when the meaning of religion had to be reasserted and the function of leadership redefined. This was done by Husayn b. 'Ali with the most effective method of sacrifice, suffering and martyrdom. In reply to the letters written by the people of Iraq inviting him to come to Kufa to take up their leadership, as they had no imam other than him, Husayn wrote to them:

From Husayn b. Ali to the believers and Muslims [of Iraq]: You have invited me to come to you because you have no imam to guide you, and that you hope my arrival there will unite you in the right path and in the truth. You must be clear about the fact that the imam can only be one who follows the Book of God, makes justice and honesty his conduct and behaviour, judges with truth, and devotes himself to the service of God.

In response to the invitation of the people of Basra, Husayn replied:

. . . I have sent my messenger to you and I call you to the Book of God, and the sunna of his Prophet, the sunna which has become obliterated; innovations have become active and energetic. If you listen to me and obey my orders, I will guide you to the right path. May the peace and mercy of God be upon you.

There is space here only to give these two quotations from numerous such statements which Husayn made from the time he left Medina till his martyrdom about six months later. These quotations are by themselves a complete explanation of Husayn's approach to the question of leadership as well as of the function of religion in society. They also explain the duties of an imeim and the nature of the Imamate which was so distorted at this point in Islamic history.

The main points which emerge from them are: (i) that an imam is one who unites the people; (ii) that he should lead them to the right path and to truth; (iii) that the Qur'an, as the Book of God, is an eternal truth, and the duty of the imam is to follow its model, and conduct his life according to the will of God; (iv) that the imam must make justice and honesty the cornerstones of his life; (v) that truth in its most universal and absolute form must be his only criterion; (vi) and that he must devote himself to the service of God.

The functions of the imam enumerated here are both particular and universal, descriptive and normative, and primary and evaluative; they can be applied in every society, time and epoch. They are particular, descriptive and normative when read strictly in the context of Islam, and are universal, primary and evaluative if read in their general meaning which embraces all religions and the whole of humanity. The key terms in Husayn's declarations are: the unity of people (which is basically a unity of purpose), the right path, truth, justice and honesty, and devotion to the service of God. These are in the essence of all religions as well as of Islam. Here religion is not separated from the well-being of society, and society is based on the eternal reality which creates consciousness in society.

An inseparably implied meaning of Husayn's declarations is that the leader of men need not take an active part in politics or in governmental affairs. His primary function is to serve humanity with ethical and normative integrity. He must create moral consciousness and a sense of responsibility which transcends the limits of the political community. He must serve social and spiritual values, but unfortunately totalitarian and despotic regimes subordinate spiritual and moral activities to their ends. It is at this point that Husayn rises up to set a new standard of leadership for challenging totalitarianism, despotism and the forces of evil. There were two ways open to him, one to mass his forces, gather strength, power, weapons and the military might to combat the despotic rule of Yazid. This would not have been difficult for the prestigious grandson of the Prophet, if he had wanted to resort to such action. But the actions of Husayn show that from the beginning to the end his strategy aimed at a much higher goal than simply accession to the caliphate, the term given to temporal authority in Islam. There is no evidence that he tried, while at Mecca, to enlist active supporters from among the people who gathered around him, or to propagate his cause among the great number of people who were coming to Mecca for the hajj; there is also no evidence that he attempted to send his emissaries to stir up any rebellion in the provinces such as the Yemen or Persia, which were sympathetic to his household, even though he was advised by some of his family members to do so. Above all, had he acted promptly on the invitation of the Kufans, while Umayyad control over the city was weak, he might have had a fair chance of success in grasping temporal power. In the six-month period before the battle of Karbala', Husayn did nothing to consolidate his strength and military power. Instead, throughout this period he was preparing himself for a different strategy of revolution.

Some of the writers on Karbala', looking at it from the common standards of war and victory, describe Husayn's action as an ambitious attempt to wrest political power and as an error of judgement. Husayn's numerous speeches, addresses, letters and statements bear testimony to the fact that he was fully aware of the situation and the consequences. Suffice it to point out that on the road from Medina to Mecca, then at the time when he was being the 'House of God' for Kufa, and finally throughout the journey from Mecca to Kufa he was informed and warned by dozens of people about the danger and that 'the hearts of the Iraqis were for him but their swords were for the Umayyads'. But Husayn's replies to all of those who attempted to deflect him from his purpose were always more or less in the same vein:

I leave it to God to choose what is best.... God is not hostile to him who proposes the just cause.

From these replies it is clear that Husayn was fully aware of the dangers he would encounter and that he had a certain strategy and plan in mind to bring about a revolution in the consciousness of the Muslim community. Furthermore, it is also very clear from the sources, as has been pointed out above, that Husayn did not try to organize or mobilize military support, which he easily could have done in the Hijaz, nor did he even try to exploit whatever physical strength was available to him. On the contrary, from the moment he left Mecca for Kufa, time and again he gathered those accompanying him and asked them to leave him alone and go to safety, the last of these requests being on the night of 'Ashura'. Is it conceivable that anyone striving for political ascendancy would ask his supporters to abandon him? No one can answer this question in the affirmative. What then did Husayn have in mind? Why was he still heading for Kufa?

A careful study and analysis of the events of Karbala' reveals that from the very beginning Husayn was planning for a complete revolution in the religious consciousness of Muslims. All of his actions show that he was aware of the fact that a victory achieved through military strength and might is always temporary, because another stronger power can, in the course of time, bring it down in ruins. But a victory achieved through suffering and sacrifice is everlasting and leaves permanent imprints on man's consciousness. Husayn was brought up in the lap of the founder of Islam and had inherited the love and devotion to the Islamic way of life from his father. As time went on, he noticed the great changes which were rapidly taking place in the community in regard to religious feelings and morality. The natural process of conflict and struggle between action and reaction was now at work. That is, Muhammad's progressive Islamic action had succeeded in suppressing Arab conservatism, embodied in heathen pre-Islamic practices and ways of thinking. But in less than thirty years' time this Arab conservatism had revitalized itself as a forceful reaction to challenge Muhammad's action once again. The forces of this reaction had already moved into motion with the rise of Mu'awiya, but the succession of Yazid was a clear sign that the reactionary forces had mobilized themselves and now re-emerged with full vigour. The strength of this reaction embodied in Yazid's character, was now powerful enough to suppress, or at least efface, the Prophet's action. His conduct amounted to open ridicule of Muhammad's sunna and the norms of the Qur'an. He openly defied the Prophethood of Muhammad and the revelation received by him. Now this same Yazid had become the head of the Muslim community and was asking Husayn to accept his authority. Husayn's acceptance of Yazid, with the latter's reactionary attitude against Islamic norms, would not have meant merely a political arrangement but an endorsement of Yazid's character and way of life as well. Thus the entire ethical and religious system of Islam, in the thinking of Husayn, was now in dire need of the reactivation of Muhammad's action against the old Arabian reaction and required a complete shaking up.

He realized that mere force of arms would not save Islamic action and consciousness. To him it needed a shaking and jolting of hearts and feelings. This, he decided, could only be achieved through sacrifice and suffering, and therefore, in order to save Islam and its values, and the freedom of man and his dignity, Husayn made one of the greatest sacrifices in human history. Eighteen male members of his family including a six- month-old son and 44 of his companions were killed in front of him and then he himself laid down his life at the altar of truth and human rights.

Husayn's body, already torn by numerous wounds, was trampled under the hooves of the horses, his tents were burnt and looted; the helpless women and children were shamelessly paraded through the streets of Iraq and Syria as captives, and were treated with humiliation at the crowded courts of Ibn Ziyad in Kufa, and Yazid in Damascus.

Husayn was fully aware of the extent of the brutal nature of the reactionary forces. He knew that after killing him the Umayyads would make his wife and children captives, and take them all the way from Kufa to Damascus. This caravan of the captives of the Prophet's immediate family would publicize Husayn's message and would force the Muslims' hearts to ponder on the tragedy. It would make the Muslims think over the whole affair and would awaken their consciousness. This is exactly what happened; Husayn succeeded in his purpose. It is difficult today to evaluate exactly the impact of Husayn's action on Islamic morality and way of thinking because it prevailed. Had Husayn not shaken and awakened Muslim consciousness by this method, can it be said that Yazid's way of life would not have become standard behaviour in the Muslim community, endorsed and accepted by the grandson of the Prophet. Even after Yazid, despotic rulers have held power in Islam, and the character and personal behaviour of these despotic rulers has not been very different from that of Yazid, but the change in thinking which prevailed after the sacrifice of Husayn always served as a criterion of distinction between the Islamic concept of leadership and the behaviour of totalitarian and despotic rulers. Husayn tells the world that it is no use destroying man; we must destroy man's anti-human actions and conduct. If rulers are overthrown but the system remains unaltered, nothing is gained.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eid Mubahila

It is the time of year to celebrate Eid Mubahila. But what is Eid Mubahila?

"If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge has come to you, say: "Come! let us gather together,- our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie! 3:61"

Eid Mubahila celebrates the famous event in the year 10 AH when a party of Christians led by the Bishop of Najran called Abdul Masih or Abu Harisa came to debate with the Prophet (saw) about the nature of the Prophet Jesus (as). They came after receiving a letter from the Prophet (saw) inviting them to be Muslims and meeting and debating amongst themselves about the contents of the letter and the appropriate response. When they first arrived, they were dressed for a show of wealth and superiority, but the Prophet (saw) waited for them to put on normal attire and then met them. The Holy Prophet (saw) told the Christians not to regard Jesus as divine, for he was a mortal man -- a prophet. The Christian delegation responded by asking who the father of Jesus was, as they believed that Jesus not having a mortal father proved his divinity. At this, the following verse of Qur’an was revealed:

“Verily, similitude of Jesus with God is as the similitude of Adam; He created him out of dust then said He unto him BE, and he became.”

The Christians did not accept this reasoning, so then the call of mubahila was made.
A mubahila was a meeting in which the two parties would challenge another and invoke God’s curse upon the liars. When the Prophet (saw) showed up the next day for the mubahila, he came with Lady Fatima (as), and Imams ‘Ali, Hassan and Husain (sa). On seeing this, the Bishop said to his delegation,

“By God, I see the faces which, if they pray to God for mountains to move from their places, the mountains will immediately move!
“O believers in the Jesus of Nazareth, I will tell you the truth that should ye fail to enter into some agreement with Muhammad and if these souls whom Muhammad has brought with him, curse you, ye will be wiped out of existence to the last day of the life of the earth !”
So the Christians backed out of the challenge and entered an agreement with the Muslims.
But why is this day an Eid day? We know that the event of the cloak is another famous example showing the identity, purity and important roles of the Ahlulbayt (as) but the date or dates of that happening are not marked on our calendars as an Eid, even though it is similar event in terms of recognition of the role and status of Ahlulbayt (as).
But the event of mubahila is special for an additional reason. It was on that occasion that even non-Muslims essentially acknowledged the holy status of the Prophet (saw) and Ahlulbayt (as). Although they did not change from calling themselves Christian, their response to the appearance of Ahlulbayt (as) at the challenge was one of recognition of the superior claim to Truth that the Prophet (saw) had. So here is an event in which the Christian scholars and leaders in Arabia had to acknowledge that the Prophet (saw) was what he claimed to be and publically gave witness to the holy status of the Ahlulbayt (as).
That can speak volumes through the centuries even to today. While we were not there to meet the Prophet (saw) and Ahlulbayt (sa) for ourselves, we can see the effect they had on even non-Muslims. The most learned and highest-ranking Christians of Najran were so moved and so completely unable to prove their creed against the challenge of pure Islam that they did not dare to complete the mubahila against Ahlulbayt (as). How powerful that is! In this event, we find a form of proof of Islam – of tawhid, of the true role of Jesus (as), of the prophethood of Muhammad (saw), and the status of Ahlulbayt (as). Today’s Christians and Muslims could draw nearer to each other through the message of this event alone, if only this Eid were marked in such a way that we shared that message with our Christian neighbors in a way they could hear it.
Eids are for all of humanity and not only for the Muslims, because they mark events that are important for all of us as we make our journey back to our Creator. Why not invoke the Eid of Mubahila as an occasion to reach out to the People of the Book as neighbors and invite them in a gentle way to learn a little about Islam, and at the same time take the interest to learn a little about them and do some kind deed that may speak even louder than anything you might say to them? What good is marking an Eid for an occasion such as this if it is not shared with those who may benefit, but instead is only marked by those who have already benefited? What would happen if Eid Mubahila were an occasion when Christians and Muslims came together to talk about Jesus (as)?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Muharram is almost here

Here’s something I think about fairly often: Given that the events of Karbala are so moving and the message so powerful and the results so important, why is it that most of the world doesn’t know a thing about it, and why is it that the yearly observance of Muharram does not shatter the worldly paradigms and result in a true change of the human condition?

Throughout history, the lovers of Ahlulbayt (as) have survived despite heavy oppression. At times, that oppression meant that they observed their faith privately while having to be very careful what they presented in the public arena. For many Shias today, however, there exists the opportunity to be free in living their faith publicly and privately. Today we see processions in Muharram all over the world, and we see people donating blood and giving out water on Ashura. Shias come to the Muharram observances in number, many feeling increased love and connection to Ahlulbayt (as) and renewed faith as a result. I thank God to see these happenings. But I am not satisfied.

I was not raised as a Shia, so I did not grow up with Muharram observances. When I first became a Shia and went through my first Muharram, it wasn’t all that I hoped. For one, the fact that all of the moving things people recited for matam were in a language I couldn’t understand, I didn’t know what was going on and felt isolated. I had trouble concentrating on the message of Karbala and instead found myself just questioning if I belonged there while I tried to figure out all the rituals – what were they doing and why? I certainly understood why things were not in English and tried to appreciate and absorb as much as I could. But I felt alienated, and I felt selfish for feeling alienated, because I was focusing on my own needs and experiences rather than on Imam Husain (as). Aside from taking in what I could, knowing I was missing the majority of it, I didn’t know what to do to fulfill my desires to approach a similar connection those around me seemed to be achieving. I decided to go home and read books about Imam Husain (as). I found a few good ones, but it wasn’t long before I felt I was just reading the same things over again in slightly different words, while I wanted to move forward rather than just repeating. How could I make what was available work for me?

Truthfully, I haven’t found the answer to that question. I just keep trying to engage in the experience with everyone else and cultivate true response to the call of Imam Husain (as) in my heart. Over time as I become more accustomed to the traditions that have developed for observing Muharram, I can get more out of them. I can be satisfied with that. But I am dissatisfied that the world doesn’t stop with the Shia heart on Ashura. My non-Muslim co-workers and students go about their lives like it was any other day, because to them it is. I have at times wanted to do at least something small about this within my own family, but there is an unspoken rule with them since I converted that anything to do with religion is not open for discussion. And even if I did tell them the story of Husain (as), I don’t think they would feel it the way I want the whole world to feel it.

When I went for hajj in 1999, alhumdooleluh, one of the hardest things about it was coming back. I came back to a home in which no one lived that I could share anything about the life-changing things I had experienced. They had no way of understanding that walking around a small stone building could be a transcendent experience. To them, it was all just alien ritual that would sound silly when described. And if I were to get them to join a Muharram observance or tell them about it, again, if I had so much trouble getting it when I desperately wanted to, I know they wouldn’t get it. Sometimes I have wanted to maybe take a family member or a friend to a majlis or something similar, but for many of them, I don’t think it would help to bridge the gap between us. I fear it might increase it, because it would just be too alien for them. I have met a few wonderful people over the years that could be an exception, but for the average folk in my life I feel compelled to keep much of my religion in a compartment away from them. And I know this isn’t right. How can I bring my Muslim and non-Muslim worlds together?

In some ways I am a cynical person. If I pass by a booth where an organization has a message to share, I think their intentions are at least partially self-serving. Maybe the message is a good one and would benefit me, but I suspect that they are seeking to benefit themselves by getting their message out – to gain more acceptance, more followers, more money, more something. And honestly, were I not a Shia, I would look at a Muharram procession, giving out water on Ashura, donating blood on Ashura and all such similar things the same way. I think these are good things and they should keep on happening, but I am not satisfied.

I don’t see the world quaking on Ashura, I don’t see real inroads being made to spread the message, and I don’t see Shias really changing that much in answer to the call. I feel we’re just going in circles, repeating the same things year after year. Am I alone in feeling this? Is it just that I am missing the picture that much compared to everyone else? Stepping into a Muharram majlis is like stepping into another world – it is, for the most part, cut off from the rest of the people who have no idea and no understanding of what is taking place there, nor any sturdy bridge to approach. The effects of it, while potentially great, often stick within those walls, or at least within the walls of the hearts of those attending. But shouldn’t the effects shatter all walls?

So I ask myself, what would satisfy me? How could the gaps be bridged and the world finally respond in unison on Ashura the way it should? What would it truly mean to answer that call? One thing that comes to my mind is that Shias need to be more like Ahlulbayt (as), more like the martyrs. We need to be extraordinary, not ordinary. We need to truly expend ourselves in the way of Allah swt in ways that we feel it and the rest of the world feels it, too. And if I were to pick one aspect for focus, I would focus on altruism. I would make Shias known the world over for being the leaders in doing good deeds and charity without seeking anything in return, for the sake of God, because that is something that speaks to everyone across all linguistic and cultural barriers. Not on Ashura, not on Eid, but every day. Not just the youth, or a few adults, but all Shias.

Hopefully all do not judge this a sacrilegious idea, but while I love the spiritual feeling I get from a good religious lecture and by no means imply the lectures and matam go away, I would forego it, for a change, to see and be part of an entire Shia community gathering to help the homeless, sick, cold, and hungry neighbors where they live, Muslim or non-Muslim, in the same numbers as showing up for a Muharram speech, for all twelve nights, and throughout the year. For one year, no fan clubs of Muharram speakers and reciters, just selfless giving in the name of Ahlulbayt(as), and a lot of it - mending clothes, giving blankets and coats, filling food bank shelves, reading to children, repairing someone’s car or home, cleaning parks, finding someone a job. Would the message reach beyond the usual walls? Would we make progress? Would we answer the call?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bucket List Meme

I was tagged by Sr. Manal to make my Bucket List - a list of things I'd like to do before I die, i.e. 'kick the bucket'.

"Simply state any number of goals you want to achieve in the next 8-10 years. Let them be small goals, big goals, silly goals. It is always nice to think about a bucket list, write it down, and share it. But most importantly, tag others to do the same when you are done."

The list could be quite long, but I decided to focus on a few things. Some are unrealistic, but hey, this is the bucket list.

Bucket List

Visit the 11 imams (sa), the Prophet (saw) again, Bibi Masooma (as), and occultation place of 12th Imam (as).

Visit a place in summer where the sun does not set.

Go to Mars.

Go to every state in the Union I haven’t been to yet.

Pay off all debts and stay out of debt; build emergency savings.

Get in and stay in the kind of shape in which I can do pull-ups and jog a 5k easily.

Hike/enjoy nature a lot more.

Get 'the powers that be' to release Destination Truth on DVD and own/watch all the episodes for the jokes.

Learn the answers to some intriguing world mystery like if Big Foot exists or what really happened to DB Cooper.

Improve my deen and never give up.

Be one of 50/313.

Find and marry the right man for me and be the right woman for him.

Take care of my parents as they age if and when they need it.

Be grateful to God at all times and all circumstances.

Tag: any reader-blogger who wishes to make a bucket list.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Weather on Pikes Peak

Every get curious what the weather is up there?

Check on it here. It's pretty cold up there today!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


One day before Thanksgiving Break, one of my more social classes was on-task quite a bit more than usual. One student said I should take a picture, but laughed heartily when I actually did.

I'm still taking sewing classes. Actually, my October class was canceled so I was taking it in November. I am working on a dress but I'm not more than half-way done yet. But one night last month I made these fleece pillowcases for my nieces and nephew for Christmas. I found the fleece cheap. Not my best sewing work, I just wanted to get them done.

For the adults, I made family-photo calendars for Christmas, using I also made one with all the Shia calendar events and hijri dates - if anyone wants to order one I can do some customizing for you so let me know. Not cheap for ordering one, but when you order several the prices are more reasonable.

And tonight was my first quilting class. Long day from being at work at 7am and getting home from quilting at 9:30pm but so far it is going well and I like it. It is a bit mathematical / geometric and the sewing and directions so far are simpler than trying to do some of the crazy things that go on in garment-making.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Which Way is the Horse Looking and Facing? You can see it two ways.

Just finished Black Friday shopping. Got some very good deals on a few things I specifically wanted, and finished Christmas shopping (I think.) I also bought my fabric and supplied for my next sewing project at Joann's. I "saved" a ton of money there - nearly $170 off everything there altogether. I hesitate to use the word saved, because if you're spending, you're not saving, in my book. But I got cheaper prices by a lot then if I had bought the stuff at another time. Mom finished her shopping, too.

Wednesday night we had some very strong wind come through. I had gone to bed late, at midnight, for the second night in a row, but I was woken at 2am to what sounded like an animal running around in my attic. It freaked me out. I listened to it on and off until after 4am and almost got out a ladder and crawled up in the attic to try to find the animal but I decided I didn't want an animal jumping on me in the middle of the night. As I listened to it more, I found the animal scurried the most when the wind was strongest, so it could be something blowing around in the attic a lot, although I couldn't imagine how anything would blow like that in there unless my roof was seriously damaged. In the morning I went out and checked the roof and found it fully intact but covered in these big seed pods from a tree in my yard. So I decided the mystery animal was actually the sound of these seed pods being forcefully dragged across the roof back and forth by the wind and then hitting the metal gutters really hard. I didn't hear the animal last night so hopefully that is really what it was.

We had snow tonight - yay! Forecasters say we may get more this evening. I am so happy to have snow! But at 4-something a.m. we did encounter scary roads on the way shopping.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Yesterday was my Grandma's 84th birthday (my dad's mom). Today, dad, mom and I went down to Florence to visit her and grandpa in the Vet home. It was a really nice visit - she liked her presents and was happy the people there had thrown her a party the day before, too. And the GREAT news - she is beginning to be able to walk again! She hasn't done it for us, yet, but with her physical therapy session I guess she's walked up to nearly 200 steps at a time with a walker a few times now. She still can't go to the bathroom on her own, but she seems stronger and happier.

I brought a few of her photo albums I am the steward of and she looked at them with me and told me who some of the people in the pictures were. I now understand her side of the family much better than I did before, and so does my dad, and I think she kind of liked seeing the pictures and talking about them - so that was very nice. Last week I brought her album from when she was in the Navy Waves at the end of WWII for a girl at work to see because she is maybe going to do Navy ROTC in college. I guess my family is a Navy family - grandma's dad Ernie joined the Navy as soon as he was of age right after WWI to help out his family because his mom Nettie had been widowed with 12 kids and they were really struggling. Grandma and Grandpa both were in the Navy in WWII, and then so was their eldest son Jack, my uncle, and my brother Jeff (in the reserves for both of those). Both of her grandmas remarried as did her mom so there lots of name changes to keep track of. But I was excited to realize that her Grandma Snurr is the lady I know in the genealogy papers as Nettie Jones - born in 1878 here in El Paso County, Colorado! - my great-great grandmom and first in the family to be born in Colorado. I also learned more of the family is buried here in town than I knew - even Nettie's parents, my great-great-great grandparents, are buried here in town! So one of these days I want to go find their graves - I looked up the lots for both sides of my family online and made a list. I also saw a picture of the house grandma grew up in here in town where she was born. I want to go up to that house on Del Norte St. and see what is there today - I don't think the same house will be there but I'm not sure. My dad told me a story about going to visit his step-great grandpa Ned Lenari (husband of Bessie Maud Hanks, who married Milton Ooley, my grandma's grandfather on her mother's side). (spelling?) who lived in an apartment above the original Guiseppe's restaurant when he was in high school. I got to see pictures of Bessie and Ned, too, and even pictures of another set of my great-great-great grandparents John Ooley and Hester Ann Light, the grandparents of Viola, grandma's mom. But I know at this point I lost everyone and no one would really care about this except my own family anyway. :)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Nova - Hunting the Hidden Dimension

Nova makes some awesome shows.

Here is a great one from last week or so about fractals:

Make your own: (There are others as well, just Google it.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Blogblast for Peace

For more info, see Mimi Writes. A wish for a more peaceful and just world.

Qur'an 10:25: And Allah invites to the abode of peace and guides whom He pleases into the right path.

From 4th Imam (as)'s Supplication for Neighbors and Friends:

Let me, O God,
repay their evildoing
with good-doing,
turn away from their wrongdoing
with forbearance.
have a good opinion
of every one of them,
attend to all of them
with devotion,
lower my eyes before them
in continence,
make mild my side toward them
in humility,
be tender toward the afflicted among them
in mercy,
make them happy in absence
through affection,
love that they continue to receive favour
through good will,
grant them
what I grant my next of kin,
and observe for them
what I observe for my special friends!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pink Hijab Day

For Breast Cancer Survivors, Victims, Friends, Research

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A man and his horse

So mom was dropping me off at my house today after running some errands together, and as we're getting ready to turn onto my street, we see an old black man riding an old black and white horse up the street. We stop and talk to him for awhile. He lives in Fountain and his horse is housed on Old Pueblo Road (south of Fountain). But he rides his old horse everywhere all over our little town. Every weekend he rides his horse up to his grandkids' house so they can see and play with the horse - that's what he was doing when he saw him. He said he also takes his horse to McDonald's and Walmart. How cool is that?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to Supplicate

From Understanding the Month of Glory.

What is Du`a?

Dua is a simple acceptance of the difference between the existences of God and the human being.

-The existence of Allah as the source of all good, perfection, independence and bestowal.
-The existence of the human being as a vessel of poverty, need, dependant on constant bestowal and favor.

Thus the human being needs to ask for and receive the favors of the Almighty. He is in constant need for what only Allah can give Him. To help him achieve his dreams, to give him success and happiness in this world and the Hereafter, he needs the favors of Allah.

The Almighty God, in His mercy and love for the human being, has allowed believers to ask from Him, and has promised to answer them. This is a great favor of God. The following Qur'anic verses show how Allah invites believers to ask from Him:

* And when my servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the supplicant when he calls upon Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me, that they may walk the right way. (2:186)
* Call unto Me, I will answer you. Those who are too proud to worship Me will enter Hell. (40:60)
* Call your Lord humbly and secretly, He loves not the transgressors. (7:55)
* And call on Him, fearing and hoping, surely the mercy of Allah is near to those who do good. (7:56)

Many Hadith also emphasize the importance of supplicating to Allah:

* Du`a is the weapon of the believer, and the pillar of faith, and the light of the heavens and the earth. Holy Prophet (s)
* Know that He who owns the treasures of the skies and the earth has permitted you to pray to Him, and has promised you acceptance of the prayer. He has commanded you to beg of Him in order that He may give you, and to seek His mercy in order that He may have mercy on you.

He has opened for you the door of repentance. Therefore whenever you call Him, He hears your call, and whenever you whisper to Him, He knows the whisper. You place before him your needs, unveil before Him yourself, complain to Him for your worries, beseech Him to remove your troubles, seek His help in your affairs, and ask from the treasures of His mercy what no-one else has the power to give, namely long life, health of body, and increase of livelihood. Imam Ali (a) Letter 31, Nahjul Balagha

Allah loves the believers who ask from Him, and supplicate constantly. The Holy Prophet (s) has said that on the Day of Judgement, two men with very similar deeds will enter Heaven. One of them will see that the other is granted a rank above him. He will ask Allah: "My Lord! We have the same actions. Why have you preferred him over me"? Allah will reply, "He asked from Me, and you did not".

Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (a) often encouraged his companions to ask from Allah. He once said to Maysar, his companion : O Maysar! Supplicate, and do not say the affair has been destined. Surely there are ranks with Allah which cannot be reached except through asking. If the servant (of Allah) closes his mouth and does not ask, he will not be given anything, so ask and you will get. O Maysar, the door that is knocked often is most likely to open.

Dua is a great tool given to believers by Allah. Using du`a they can achieve great things and overcome many problems. One who has been given the power of Dua can never lose hope, as in his hands lies a great weapon. It is man's own loss if he does not make use of the tremendous potential of Du`a.

Effects of Dua

1. Pleases the Almighty

Allah loves that believers should pray to Him constantly. He says in the Holy Qur'an: Allah would not care for you were it not for your supplications. (25:77).Ahadith also tell us of how Allah loves those who pray and ask from Him:
* God loves nothing better than that His servants ask from Him. Imam al-Baqir (a)
* Supplicate, for there is nothing like Dua to get you closer to Allah, and do not leave out your minor needs, for the One who is the Master of the major needs is also the Master of the minor ones. Imam as-Sadiq (a)
2. Gives Peace and Contentment

A person who prays to Allah, putting all faith and trust in Him, never feels alone or lonely. He has harnessed his own insignificant power onto a being who is the Supreme Power, and who has promised to answer His call. This gives him great peace of mind. It makes him confident that with the help of Allah, all things can be done. He knows also that whatever happens to him is the decree of the Wise, the almighty. Says the Holy Qur'an: Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah, surely by Allah's remembrance are hearts set at rest. ( 13:28)
3. Increases Knowledge and Humility

Most duas teach us about the greatness of Allah, and His qualities. They also make us aware of our lowly position and our helplessness. That is why Allah says: Call unto Me, I will answer you. Those who are too proud to worship Me will enter Hell. (40:60) Those who do not ask from Allah are described as the proud ones. Believers are encouraged to pray all the time, and for all things - even those which seem minor. Allah once told Nabi Musa (a), O Musa! Ask Me for everything, even the mending of your shoelace. When a human being realizes that he is in constant need of the favors of Allah, this will prevent him from becoming proud and arrogant. It reminds him of his own neediness and poverty.
4. Changes what is destined

Du`a reverts what has been destined. Although Allah decrees all things, He has given us the ability to make changes through Dua. The Holy Prophet (s) has said: What is destined cannot be averted except through Dua. Another Hadith says: Indeed caution cannot save you from what is destined, but what can save you from it is Dua. Imam `Ali(a)
5. Averts Difficulties

Many problems and difficulties in life can be avoided by praying to Allah. He is in complete control, and can keep away all afflictions from those who ask Him for that. The following Ahadith explain the importance of Dua for avoiding difficulties: Whoever fears difficulties should supplicate, Allah will never let the difficulties come to him. Imam as-Sadiq (a) Surely Dua meets the difficulties, and the two join together until the Day of Judgement. Imam al-Kadhim (a)

Etiquette of Du`a

As we spend more and more time reciting Duas during the holy months of Rajab, Sha`baan, and Ramadhan, it is necessary to know the correct etiquette of Dua. Supplicating to the Almighty should be done in the appropriate manner - in the manner that Allah loves - in order to benefit fully from it. The following are some of the Etiquette of Dua according to Hadith.

Begin with Bismillah: A Hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) says: No dua which has Basmalah (saying of Bismillahir Rahmaneer Raheem) at the beginning of it is rejected. A dua should begin in the name of Allah, putting all trust and hope in Him alone. Describing Him as Kind and Merciful creates confidence that the dua will not be rejected.

Send Blessings on Muhammad and his family: A Hadith of the 6th Imam (a) says: Whoever has a wish he wants Allah to fulfill, let him begin with blessings on Muhammad and his family, then let him ask his wish, and end by sending blessings on Muhammad and his family. Allah is nobler than to accept the first and the last (the blessings) and reject the middle. Salawat is a dua for the Holy Prophet (s) and his family. Whoever includes that dua is assured of the acceptance of his dua for himself.

Praise and Glorify Allah: Every Dua should begin with the praise of Allah, the recognition that He alone has the Power and Might over everything. A supplicant increases in his humility as he acknowledges the greatness of the Almighty. He realizes that everything is in the control of God, and if He wishes, the dua can be accepted and answered immediately.

Acknowledgement of Sins: When supplicating to Allah, one should be aware of and confess that one is a sinner, undeserving of the favor of Allah. Humility and apprehensiveness are commendable qualities in the one who supplicates.

Pray emotionally: Allah says in Hadithe Qudsi to Nabi Isa (a): O Isa! When you ask from me, supplicate to me the supplication of the grief stricken, the overwhelmed, the one who has no helper . . . and do not supplicate to Me except in an emotional state. Your grief should be only one. Whenever you pray to Me in such a way, I shall answer you. A soft heart and tears are the best weapons of a human being in his quest to achieve nearness to Allah. When one prays emotionally, the Dua is very sincere and acceptance is assured.

Pray for others: Whoever prays for others pleases the Almighty greatly. A Hadith of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) says: Nothing is more swiftly answered than a Dua recited for others. According to the Holy Prophet(s), the Dua of a believer for other believers is returned to him as many times as the number of believing men and women from the beginning of creation to the Day of Judgement.

Have confidence that Allah will answer your prayers : When praying, the supplicant must have trust that Allah will answer his prayers. A Hadith says, Whenever you recite Dua, assume that what you need is at the door.

Du`a is always answered

Whoever asks something from Allah, his du`a is always heard and answered. Sometimes it is not answered in the way the supplicant expects. No du`a is rejected. Allah is more noble than to tell His servants to ask from Him, and then reject their du`a. Many Ahadith tell us of how Allah always answers the supplicant, and is pleased with Him. A believer who prays and asks from Allah, is guaranteed one of three things:

* Either his du`a is answered immediately
* Or he is given a reward for it for the Hereafter
* Or a difficulty is averted from him

During the month of Ramadhan, believers try and spend as much time in du`a as possible. This is the month in which du`a carries even greater reward than usual, a month in which the mercy of Allah guarantees immediate acceptance of du`a.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Steve Fossett

I'm sure most have heard by now that Steve Fossett's plane has been found. I think missing persons cases are one of the greatest tragedies anyone left behind has to endure. The mystery and incompleteness of the ending is torturous. An acquaintance of mine had to suffer through her mom being missing for a few months. Eventually they found her and her car in the bottom of a pond or lake. A very sad end, but by the time it came it was also a relief, just to have some idea of what happened and have her found.

The Steve Fossett case was a big deal because he was a daredevil, a bit of a celebrity. I actually participated in the search for him, looking at hundreds of satellite images for his plane using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. It was fascinating work - see some of the sightings people made. I suspected we would not be looking for an intact plane, but rather anything that could be wreckage. I believe the search did turn up a number of previously unlogged small plane wrecks - I wonder how many of those involved other less publicized missing persons cases? It was a case of random people all over the world coming together to do something needed. That doesn't happen too often, it seems. What if people did that for just anyone, not just a famous person?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dolphins making and playing with ring bubbles

This is sooooo neat!

A little more information about it is at Snopes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Horsethief Falls

Thanks to some friends, I got out in nature today to Horsethief Falls.

We were visited by a gray jay, known as a Camp Robber. I tried to get a picture but it kept moving too much. Beautiful song, and it was definitely curious about us. This is what it looks like:

Thursday, September 11, 2008


We had rain this evening, alhumdooleluh! As a dry state, when rain comes our way we are joyous for the blessing - even with flash floods. :) What a sign of God rain is.

I guess our rain broke a record nearly 100 years old: story here

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


If you've read my blog in the past, you might recall that I had made some posts about recurring places in my dreams.

Lately I've been reading a book that made me think about dreams again. One thing this author (Robert Moss, if I recall) says that I am pondering is that the places in your dreams are as real as this place, just a lot more fluid and possibly much easier for us to control/manipulate. In Islam, we learn that this world is really not the "real" world, but illusory - it is what our senses tell us is there, but ultimately our brain chemistry acts much in the same way to images in this world as it does to dream or "imaginary" images. This is one reason why people can heal themselves sometimes through dreaming or imagination, because the body and brain can respond to these "made up" visions the same way it does to sensory input from this world.

So it seems to be that the dream world or imaginary world is as real as you decide to treat it. If you decide to regard it as real, then you can interact with it as if it were and get results much more "real" than you might otherwise, such as the healing, etc.

Well for about a week, every time I wake up I've asked myself what I just dreamed. Sometimes it takes me a moment or several to realize I was dreaming at all because it was so real or so gone already, but other times the dream itself wakes me up and I remember it quickly. I turn on the bed light, write a few notes about the dream, and then go back to sleep. As I write the notes, I have discovered, I think, that every single dream is in a recurring place. Previously I had thought only certain dreams of mine were in recurring places. As I think about the dream, I realize that although maybe I wasn't in that exact same place, it is connected to it, or it is the same place but slightly modified. So I am concluding that perhaps there is some entire universe-reality in my dreams of actual places that I can see and describe, sometimes I could map them, and sometimes change at will, and I keep dreaming in that universe, the same places, every time, my whole life. It is a big place - so I can go somewhere I've never been before in my dream but realize how it is connected to other places I have been - just like someone can go to, say, Pueblo, in real life for the first time, so it is unfamiliar, but he or she has a sense of how it is connected to Colorado Springs, Denver, Chicago, or whatever.

Perhaps that lends credence to the idea of its reality, just maybe not as collective as one as this one? It makes dreams seem much more important and powerful, a whole other life, one in which we have a lot more direct manipulative power. Yet one connected to this reality, our brain working out things, who knows all what - so that sometimes we can do things in our dreams that can affect us here, like healing, or we can pay attention to dreams and learn something about what is going on in our psyches, perhaps.

Some people in all religious backgrounds have claimed to be able to travel in this reality in their dreams, and to meet people who had lived before or are in other places, etc. Maybe they really can! Maybe we really can! Anyone want to try to meet up with me in dreams? :) I had one experience like this I can particularly remember in which I woke feeling I had really been to this basement room in the Haram in Mecca that I had passed through once briefly when I had gone for hajj. It was really peaceful; but I don't think I commonly experience that - but maybe people can train themselves to do so.

And then there are the occasional precognitive dreams. It is suggested that these dreams are just tapping into something that is 'in the wind' in our psyches before it has happened in this reality, but time is much more fluid in the dream world. I don't know that I've ever had a precognitive dream; I wonder if any reader has?

Anyway, I'm still thinking about a lot, such as some other ideas I read about - that we can have guides - sometimes human or animal or whatever in our dreams. I've noticed lots of cats and dogs in my dreams, more than I expected. Last week I saw Scooter, a cat that my brother's family had but they quit taking care of it (! lots of sadness, anger, .....), it became a neighborhood cat and a few weeks ago it disappeared. In my dream he was on a neighbor's roof in pouring rain. He came when I called him and he was terribly skinny and that's what woke me, and I remember thinking, "This is Dreamworld, you don't have to be skinny if you don't want to be" and I think he got the message, he seemed okay and I lost contact with him then, and I also felt his appearance was meant to alert me to something, like a message for me, but I am not quite sure I figured that out.

Another idea I'm still thinking about is the idea of problem solving in dreams. I think we've all experienced it to some extent, when you are thinking of some problem, sleep and wake up with an answer or solution. Apparently in history some people used this as a major source of their problem solving and creative work. Robert Louis Stevenson claimed the vast majority of all of his stories were written by creatures he called "brownies" in his dreams. A lot of physicists had scientific breakthroughs in dreams - and I did study physics after all, didn't I? :)

I've also noticed a lot of these dreams I've had, 'I' am not necessarily in them - sometimes I am more of an observer, or 'I' am there but not really, like I am playing a character that is kind of me but that I am not really that attached to, like I am not "in" that person so much. That has surprised me, too. But we'll see what happens if I keep paying attention to the dreams.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Lady of Shalott (by Tennyson)

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road run by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, burning bright,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right --
The leaves upon her falling light --
Thro' the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Red Rock Open Space

This is Red Rock Open Space off highway 24 near Manitou and Garden of the Gods, with fellow teachers Jenny and Eric and Jen's dog Baloo.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Upper Columbine Trail

Mt. Cutler was closed for maintenance - but we found other trails in the area. Thanks for coming down Carol - and sharing zucchini! We intensely examined and pondered tree sap, listened to the wind, talked about Sherman Alexie novels, Alzheimer's and lots of other things. I guess I talked her ear off. Then she drove home to a wildfire, which had also been a topic of conversation....

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Mom and I were walking the dogs and the little old hispanic lady across the street by the track compelled us to visit her on her shady porch because her family was out. She is 83 and lost her husband of 62 years this spring. She cried about it and went on telling us about various things in her life, often looking far into the distance with her memories while repeatedly forgetting our names and losing track of the conversation. I thought of my own grandmother down in Florence in the Veteran's home, silently comparing how well the two women of the same age were in terms of health and memory.

My neighbor never drove, so she walks to the store, although her son and other family that live with her or visit her disapprove, she said, worrying about her safety. Often her house is overrun with people and cars - she has 18 great-grandchildren. But at the moment she was alone. She said it gave her a chance to clean up the house and went on about a particularly messy room used by a grandson.

Today she was upset that she didn't have a cold drink to offer us, she said; Someone in her family was supposed to bring her some soda but they hadn't, and she was clearly disappointed or distressed. After awhile we left,having to excuse ourselves, as she would talk as long as we would sit and we were always eager to go on back to our homes.

And I went to my house across the street and contemplated if I should bring her a soda. I wanted one myself after being out in the heat, and I knew she must be sitting there wanting one, too. How terrible that I was contemplating it and not just doing it without a second thought. But here I was, thinking things like if it would upset her son who lives with her but wasn't home at the time, or if she has some medical problem that a soda would exacerbate, like the lady in Chocolat, or if I would make her feel bad by bringing it over.

But finally I went to my fridge, found I had two sodas left, and I got them both out, put one on my counter and took the other, went out my front door and across the street to give it to her. She came down to the fence to meet me. I gave her the soda and fresh tears came to her eyes.

"I was just sitting there praying to God for someone to give me a cold soda!"

I thought that was a funny prayer, and then followed that thought, "Well, why not pray to God for a cold soda?", but I just said, "Well,there you go, then," wondering if I was really the answer to a prayer for cold soda and still feeling pretty stupid about the whole thing. But her tears had taken me aback, made me uncomfortable that I did it and uncomfortable that I almost didn't.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Devil's Head Lookout

So today I met some IES friends at Devil's Head Lookout on Rampart Range Rd. for a hike. For the drive up, I went through Deckers and the remnants of the Hayman fire and it took about 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 hours. The hike took maybe two hours, and then for the drive home I stayed on Rampart Range Rd. down to Woodland Park - dirt all the way but I got home in about two hours.

After a 1.4 mile hike up, you go up these stairs to get to the lookout tower. A ranger is stationed there to look for forest fires.

Here is one view from the tower. There were some turkey vultures flying around, so if something looks like a bug, it is probably one of the vultures. Oh and you can buy a t-shirt from the ranger to prove you were in the tower, if you want. :) He also gives out these little cards to everyone that goes up there to prove you were there. And you can sign a log book. Some of the kids were busy signing it and I wanted to head down since I didn't know what to expect for the drive back down the dirt Rampart Range Rd.

I recommend the hike, but it does require some fitness to get to the top. Fast and easy down. I thought my niece and nephew were going to go with me, but they ended up having a birthday thing today. It was a long drive without company but I didn't really mind except briefly in the middle of Rampart Range Rd. when I hadn't seen another soul/car for many miles and a fair chunk of time. :) No one would know where to look for me. Did you ever read that Richard Bachman (Steven King) story about the roads that cut through time?

I would like to hike more but I need a partner; my mom would worry too much if I did it alone very much. So let me know if you want to go hiking sometime. I'm not going back to working Saturdays this fall - I am arranging to try to pick up near the same hours during the week after my regular work day - so Saturdays would be great!

Saw the moose at the Cheyenne Mt. Zoo yesterday.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

South Dakota trip

On Wednesday we left by 7:30 am and headed out via Limon to Brush to I-76 into Nebraska. In Nebraska we took I-80 to Grand Island (neither Grand nor an Island) to Columbus up to Yankton, SD where my nephew's ball tournament was taking place. We stayed in Vermillion, SD. As we passed into Nebraska, the scenery changed to be greener, flatter and more humid. Nebraska along I-80 seems to be pretty much nothing but corn fields with occasional little ponds and villages of a few hundred people. Grand Island is the third largest 'city'at about 40,000 people, but it feels and looks small. It is kind of spread out and flat and reminded me of Oklahoma that I've visited before. Nothing exciting going on there that we could see.

Passing into South Dakota, the land became more rolling, which was welcome. But Vermillion and Yankton might as well be Nebraska or Iowa. They are very close to both - just a few minutes' drive, and maybe an hour's drive to Minnesota. We didn't have time to step into Iowa or Minnesota, but I would've liked to just to say I've been in those states. It was very humid in Vermillion/Yankton. How can anyone from Colorado stand humidity? Or any human, for that matter? The air smells moldy, it feels thick, it blocks the sky and steals its color, and it just oppresses. I know the benefits of wetter climates, I just don't want to live in one.

The boys managed to catch a bunch of frogs by the motel and put a bunch of them in a motel bathtub and we got rained on a very hard, male rain that first night in town. It was hard to find things for the boys to do between practices and games, including the fact that the team coaches and parents did not have the planning personality I have - they were more last-minute, seat-of-the-pants people than I am. I would've made itineraries and travel maps and directions, etc., were I in charge. I can try to go with the flow, I just like to have an idea of where the flow is going - even just a stated expectation that this is how we're going to do things - at the last minute - as opposed to just not knowing. Also, no surprise to me, but I learned I'm really not much of a social creature. I was an observer on the trip, observing people and places, interacting a bit here and there. Listening to some people talk, I couldn't figure out why they were talking most of the time. Or rather, it seemed they were talking for some psychological need that had little to nothing to do with what they were saying.

Vermillion is a college town, so they did have some fast food places but not much in the way of family entertainment we could find. One motel had a tiny miniature golf course the boys went to one day. And the town had had very nice ball fields. Unfortunately, the team lost its first two games in the tournament, but the nice thing about that was we could head home a day early. We headed north to Sioux Falls, population about 125,000 - the first "city" we'd seen in days, but it felt smaller, more like on par with Grand Island. As soon as we got a bit away from Nebraska, South Dakota abandoned cornfields for beautiful, less humid, rolling green and gold hills of hay and winter wheat and other green stuff - but not corn. The I-90 drive west was very pleasant. We crossed the Missouri, encountered no cities or traffic, but the occasional small town, many desperate or optimistic tourist traps with a million billboard signs, and many miles of road construction requiring the speed to drop 10 or 20 mph even though no labor seemed to be actually being done. But this was very pleasant driving - cruise control actually very useful and usable. We made a detour through the Badlands.

They reminded me distinctly of the paint mines out near Calhan, just bigger and not as colorful. It also reminded a bit of lands we've seen in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico (or even Colorado) - but again, not as grand or colorful. So I'm glad it is a National Park but it isn't bigger or better than what I've known or seen before. We stopped at Wall, SD for lunch and then went on to Mount Rushmore. Two great things Presidents of the US have done - Teddy and the National Parks, and Dwight and the highway system.

It was smaller than expected and really a 10-20 minute stop is all it takes (and $10 if you actually stop - but a drive-by really should be sufficient if you just want to see it). But I'm glad I've seen it so now I don't have to wonder if I'm missing anything by not seeing it. We passed through Custer and other small towns in the Black Hills that reminded me of Manitou or Cripple Creek - existing primarily for tourists. It seems much of I-90 and the Mount Rushmore exist primarily for tourism. We only skirted Rapid City, population 65,000 or so according to Wikipedia. But the area over all feels more developed than Sioux Falls, which exists kind of as an island in a sea of nothingness, while the whole area around Rapid City has a bit more going on. Custer had an alpine slide I would've liked to ride given time - it brought back memories of the one the Broadmoor used to have that I got to ride once as a kid. But the whole area felt very touristy - most of the things were kind of how we think of Seven Falls or Cave of the Winds - yes, you might want to see it once in your life, but it is overpriced and kind of made up for tourists and not as grand as someone from somewhere else might think before getting there.

Then we headed into Wyoming - still a very very empty state, least populated in the nation. The scenery changed from rolling hills to brush, with the sagey stuff we know and love but not the yucca. We drove 80 miles between any services or even towns. Places qualified as towns by some strange system - like Lost Springs, population 1 - yet having a bar. Several miles of nothing, then Shawnee, town of four buildings - two abandoned. We drove half the north-south breadth of the state before encountering a real town, Wheatland, population 3600 and the first place that had anything with a name you could recognize - like a fast food restaurant or chain motel. Well, I forgot Lusk, the first town from Newcastle by the SD border for 80 miles that we passed. It had about 1200 people and felt right out of another time. It had a main street that reminded me of places like Silverton or Fairplay, but not in the mountains obviously - so maybe like Rocky Ford - except Rocky Ford is closer to other places like Rocky Ford, where Lusk is more isolated. Even the one grocery store for a 100 miles was mom-and-pop - the only thing with a "name brand" we saw as we passed through the town was a True Value hardware store - but also named after the owner like True Value's are - Davis's True Value, or whatever. I didn't grow up in a small isolated town so they feel strange to me. And those really isolated ones make me think of the vulnerability of humanity that can be disguised and forgotten in cities because you can get something, almost anything you want, somewhere within a short drive - even though that could all change in an instant.

An hour or so from Wheatland into Cheyenne and then the scenery changed again to much more populated and it was time to turn off the cruise control the rest of the way home. The whole corridor from Cheyenne to home just has so many more people and buildings and traffic - it feels completely different.

Seeing the night skyline of Denver was almost shocking to the senses after such an endless expanse of tiny places, fields, open space. It made me think that the urban sprawl we grow more accustomed to every year as it gets bigger here is wholly unnatural and rare. And mostly unsustainable. There is something natural about cities - people do come together, but they are not meant to be everywhere and cannot survive everywhere and so cities have to balanced against isolation and open space. Empty road belongs and everyone should see it. Someday all may return to it.

The road trip also helps remind one of what matters or what doesn't. Because you notice what you miss and what you don't miss. You remember you don't need most of the material things and habits of time and behavior you have back home but not with you on the trip - and could be just fine with a lot less.

I learned I don't like dirty motels where you can see stains on your bedding. But I do like driving through scenery I haven't yet seen - particularly the West, or open spaces. And I realized that although I want to see the places I haven't seen, no place feels like home. I reinforced my general discord with the humidity and pointlessness (except for feeding the country) of Nebraska. I did, however, like the rolling hills of mid-SD and even its Black Hills kind of like Black Forest or Palmer Lake. I could survive there. Wyoming actually felt too empty to me to want to stay there, too lacking in diversity and culture. I mean, if you are in the empty expanse of Navajo Country that I love, there is still a soul to it, a diversity, a root. What makes us feel rooted? People - family - yes, but also seems to be something else - something about the very land and air themselves.

One thing I was disappointed about SD - we could be just minutes from a reservation but all to see was a sea of white people, if any people. I see a problem there. If people are living right next to each other but not mixing, something wrong is going on, something unequal - at least it seems so to me. I could see that people might choose not to want to mix in that world of whites which seems so artificial - the million billboard signs for Wall Drugs and 1880 town and other things to take your money for pointless trinkets. But I don't think that's the full picture of what's going on there. Another thing I didn't like - most corner stores, gas stations, etc., have 'casinos' in them - slot machines as far as I could tell. Not glitzy and shiny like the Reno Airport, but dirty, depressing machines. Either way, a sign of sickness. And an oddity - super unleaded gas was cheaper than regular unleaded by a dime. Here's why, according to the 'net:
The 'Super Unleaded' gas sold at South Dakota stations contains 10% ethanol. Regular unleaded does not contain any ethanol. The super unleaded has a higher octane level, but since ethanol has a lower tax rate and is government subsidized, the price is lower. Even though you get a slightly lower gas mileage with the ethanol supports the local farm economy!

I would like to go on other road trips someday if I can afford it. I would like to drive up into Montana and over Idaho into Washington, down into Oregon and maybe back through Utah or Nevada. I would love to go back to Four Corners - one my favorite places in the world - and wander around there more, as well. I'd like to take my brother's kids to see Yellowstone.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nice book

I've been looking for this book in print for some time. I haven't found it, but I did find a nice digital version that looks just like the printed one.

The Tasbih of Fatima Zahra (as)

It is brief but lovely.

I've been quite busy with my brother's kids. I watched them for 10 days while my brother and sister-in-law were away and now they still want to play with me. We've been playing tennis and video games and just hanging out and going different places. Today we are supposed to play volleyball. My nephew's baseball team won state for his age group and so next week we are insha'allah going to South Dakota for a regional tournament.