Love In Action

 


Love

In

Action


a column by

Elizabeth Hill


Elizabeth Hill is an artist, teacher, nurse, and mother of three grown daughters.

Her early work in pediatric nursing inspired her international award-winning sculptures, which led her to live at a spiritual and eco-conscious community called Findhorn in Scotland for four years.

There her art became community-based, which ultimately led her back into nursing.



She now finds the two careers have merged in her teaching as well as creating therapeutic products for people with minimal mobility.

www.findhorn.org

www.elizabethhillart.com


Read Love in Action 2016

HERE


And Love in action 2018

HERE

 

Red-Handed


A friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.

~Anonymous


I admit it was mostly my fault. My friend Michelle and I had cooked up the whole ridiculous idea which—to us at fourteen—seemed like an exciting secret adventure even though it was a bit out of character for two goody-two-shoes girls like we were. In order to pull it off, she stayed overnight at my house. The house was very small, so to be allowed to have a friend stay over was, in itself, a very rare event.


It was warm outside that night. Michelle and I stayed in my room and pretended to be asleep until my parents settled down in their bedroom next to mine. Once Dad started snoring loudly enough to cover our whispers—sometime after two a.m.—Michelle and I tip-toed into the kitchen and filled up the hoods and pockets of our summer jackets with apples and oranges.


Our plan was to walk ten miles south to the town where two of our regional bused-in classmates lived—one boy named Rich—with whom Michelle was completely smitten, the other, a short-term crush for me.


Once ready with our fruit and flashlight, we snuck out the back door and into the night. Giggling much of the way, we crossed town, dodging in and out of hiding every time a car passed by. We successfully made it through the business district and nearly to the opposite end of town where we would get on the main thoroughfare- less than a mile and a half from where we started.


It was then that a police car pulled up next to us. The officer got out of his car and asked us what on earth we were doing, being out at that time of night! As he began to lecture us about the dangers of the night, I could see that his patrol car was rolling backwards down the slanted street where he caught us.


With a bit of sing-song teenage attitude I yelled, “Your car is running away!” Obviously embarrassed, he bolted to the vehicle, and managed to get inside to pull up the emergency brake. When he re-emerged, it was clear he was annoyed! He ordered us to get into the car, and then took us to the police station.

Michelle was totally silent, and her eyes fought back tears. Foolishly, I continued to act tough, answering every question the officers asked me with a chip on my shoulder.


Meanwhile, they called my Dad. It was three o’clock in the morning. Suddenly, I too, was scared.

Dad arrived a few minutes later, his hair askew, his face like stone, and his pajama pants sticking out from under his trousers. He spoke to the officers and thanked them for having picked us up.

To Michelle and to me, he said not one word.


Later in the morning, Michelle went home. Feeling guilty, she made up her own punishment by grounding herself for two weeks as she told her parents what we had done. I never did have a talk with Dad about that night. I just knew there would be no more sleepovers. Perhaps compared to my three older brothers, who were often reeking havoc of one sort or another, my one and only middle of the night mischief may have seemed tame. That said, the best result for Michelle and me was that our friendship had been sealed. From that day forward we had a story to tell: “We got arrested together!”


At eighteen, Michelle and Rich were married, and I was thrilled to be their bridesmaid. It was a match made for always and forever. They would still be together today had it not been that Rich suddenly passed away at age fifty, just after he and Michelle returned home from their oldest son’s wedding.

Now solidly in my seventies, I find that women friends have become more important to me than ever before. Though we all have the usual scratches and dents that come with aging, we do our best to get together—or at least stay in touch—as often as possible.


I have spent much of my life caring for children, many whose lives are shorter than most. These special kids have taught me that the length of time in a life is not nearly as important as the amount of Love that life has shared.


Michelle has been on my mind and close to my heart in recent days, as I just learned that she is now in hospice care. She has always been a shining example of someone who built a life jammed packed with Love. She gives and receives it freely with every breath.


It takes a long time to grow an old friend. ~John Leonard


My dear old friend, this one’s for you...




Dance Everybody Dance


“If spirit is the seed, dance is the water of its evolution.”

― Shah Asad Rizvi


We were teenagers at the time, and that evening the church hall was filled with people of all ages. My best friend and I didn’t know what to expect. We’d been invited there by a mutual friend who was a member of this Armenian congregation. As the unfamiliar music began, everyone came together, forming a large circle—each person linking pinkies with their neighbors—both right and left. Except for my friend and I, everyone else knew the words to the song being played, as well as the simple dance steps that were being demonstrated by a few of the people in the circle.


Gradually, we mastered the steps and came into sync with the rhythm. Though we couldn’t sing the Armenian words, we hummed along as the circle of pinkie-linked people gently danced forward in circular unison.


Each dance continued for several minutes, long enough to feel a sense of calmness and belonging with each new dance and song. Not only were the people welcoming, but so too were the dances.


Our small suburban home town included a number of Armenian families—most of whom were related to each other. Since no one talked about it then, I didn’t realize until more recent times that the Armenians of my parents’ generation had to escape a horrific genocide in their native country to find asylum here in America. It’s seems only natural that, once they arrived in this country, refugee friends and relatives would settle near each other like they did in the villages of their homeland. Looking back, I wonder if the folk dances they knew in Armenia might have taken on a different meaning after having survived their flight to safety?


At the time, the only other community-based dancing I was familiar with was Scottish square-dancing, which I’d enjoyed every summer when my family visited our relatives in Nova Scotia.


In later years, I learned about—and came to love—Sacred Dance. Dances from many cultures around the world came to Findhorn where I was living via guests that graciously shared their country’s folk dances, each adding to the community’s treasure trove of dancing diversity.


Many of these dances are circular, while others are linear, moving around the space like a snake with participants gently holding on to each other. These dances build community. They can deepen connections with the natural world and also generate healing energy that helps dancers connect body, mind, and spirit.


Dance, alone, can not heal all the darkness that lives—and too often tries to hide—in the minds and hearts of Humankind. However, I like to think it can be a vehicle for bringing diverse people together and perhaps raising consciousness when approached with an open heart.

“The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word.” —Mata Hari

At times, I’ve experienced circle dancing to be similar to a walking meditation- the words or humming, like a mantra. Most profoundly, I’ve found it heart-warming to greet each passing face as the circle continues round and round.


In these present times of unbridled fear, mistrust, and emboldened racism, I’d like to share the following lovely words as an invitation for each of us to join into the dance...

“Spirit is a child, the tune of dancing feet its lullaby.” ― Shah Asad Rizvi

Click on this link to view Sacred Dancing at Findhorn:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=equvK61ggho



ElizaVanGoghbeth


“The beginning is perhaps more difficult than anything else,

but keep heart, it will turn out all right.”

-Vincent Van Gogh



“It’s a squamous cell carcinoma,” said my Dermatologist over the phone. She explained that my lesion was small, and that larger ones usually itch. She also said that mine—because it had already gone through the top layer of dermis—could not simply be zapped off with liquid nitrogen, but would require a surgical procedure called Mohs.


Had that news come to me about a lesion somewhere on my body that is almost always covered with clothing, I would not have been the least bit anxious. But no—this little unwanted visitor had planted itself in the outer fold of my beloved, perfect, and fully visible—left earlobe.


As I write this, I confess to feeling a bit ashamed of how this news unearthed my ancient body issues that I thought had been fully processed years ago: As a teen and all through my twenties, I struggled with anorexia. It wasn’t until I was thirty and had started running long distances regularly that I began again to eat properly.


Mohs surgery is commonly used to remove basil cell and squamous cell skin cancers. It is a technique that involves scrapping off layers—one at a time—immediately examining the tissue samples under a microscope with each layer and repeating the process until all cancer cells are removed. Dermatologists that perform Mohs surgery are highly trained, usually by plastic surgeons.


The earliest appointment I could get for surgery was more than a month away. Though I was told that squamous cell cancers do not grow very fast, I was not sure just how long this lesion had been on my ear, nor how much cancerous growth might happen in a month.


About a week into that month of waiting for surgery, the lesion on my ear started itching–a lot!


As I often do when circumstances seem fuzzy to me—I meditate—this time focusing on my left ear. As I meditated, an image of the lesion sprouting roots came into my mind’s eye. In response, each day I continued to visualize sending love to these cancer cells—helping them on an energetic level to open up and receive extra oxygen—which might slow the chaotic overgrowth that is cancer.


Additionally, I’ve read that CBD oil can shrink and even heal cancer cells, so I started taking two doses a day. After only one day’s doses, the itching stopped completely! I felt encouraged by this.


On surgery day, my eldest daughter and I entered the Dermatology waiting room—filled with people of all ages—most of whom had bandages taped on them somewhere, apparently waiting for lab results. After signing in, we sat among the others. All afternoon, every ten or fifteen minutes, a person would be called to the surgical side of the office—later emerging with a bandage on some part of themselves.


The staff and the surgeon were fabulous, and worked together like a well-oiled machine.   One of them told me that seventy percent of people needing Mohs surgery are free of cancer cells after the first go-‘round under the knife! Everyone was upbeat and reassuring throughout the process—lacking only a catered buffet and lounge chairs for napping!


Ears, in general, have very little excess skin to lose gracefully if the cancer cells have gone deep into the underlying layers of dermis. Although I do not take lightly any type of cancer that people have to deal with, I admit to being relieved to learn I was one of the lucky seventy percent that only needed one surgical swipe.


As a teenager, my girlfriends and I would lay on the beach at high noon, having coated ourselves with a mixture of baby oil and iodine, essentially basting ourselves like a Thanksgiving turkey! My pale-peach-with-freckles skin never tanned—only burned, blistered, and peeled.


Even after scientists discovered that the protective Ozone layer was breaking down due to climate change, I continued to run long distances for many years in the blazing sun—having lathered only my face, neck, and shoulders with sunscreen. I ask myself now, “How is it that I never thought to protect my ears as well?”


In writing this, I hope to encourage others to be vigilant in protecting your skin—the body’s largest organ—from sun damage. For those of us who have ancient sun damage, please do yourselves a favor by seeing a Dermatologist regularly, especially if any mole, tag, or other skin lesion changes, or especially if it bleeds.


To celebrate my ear’s recovery, I’ve been window-shopping for groovy hand-made sterling silver ear cuffs.


I’ve changed my dressing three times so far, and my ear already looks like it will eventually heal with just a slight crack of a scar. And, like the precious Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi, the crack or imperfection in all things is the most beloved because that’s where the light gets in...




A Ladybug’s New Year


To what do I owe

the pleasure of your visit

little ladybug.

~David LaSpina



The first thing I see when I wake each morning is “My Gratitude Wall.” This wall, which faces me about four feet from the foot of my bed, brings me out from under the covers each new day with a smile in my heart. Every single item on this wall carries a personal story. Most are handmade, many given to me as gifts over the last couple of decades.


The sweet ladybug image you see here is my wall’s latest addition, given to me this Christmas. It is a trivet made from a drawing by a very dear child named Megan, who was just five years old when she drew it. 

The past few days, I’ve been mostly confined to bed due to a nasty virus. As I sit here writing, Megan’s lovely Ladybug—having arrived here in the nick of time to usher in 2019—fills my heart with a dose of hope for the days ahead. 


Unlike many other insects, ladybugs are friendly workers and protectors in gardens, as their favorite food are aphids and other bugs that destroy crops and flowers. Ladybugs’ life cycles are similar to butterflies. They begin as an egg, advance to a larva stage, and then to a pupae stage from which emerges a lovely adult ladybug. Once full grown, they can live up to a year, depending on their environment. 


Ladybugs’ symbolism is commonly considered to be good luck and prosperity in life and love. In spirit animal traditions, ladybugs are seen as messengers of promise that reconnect us to the joy of life. Ladybugs are thought to teach us how to release fear in order to restore faith, trust, and love in our spirit. Some people say that when a ladybug appears, it is asking us to get out of our own way and allow our spirit to guide us. 


Personally, this week’s time of rest-due-of-sickness feels like a cleansing of body, mind, and soul at the end of a most challenging year. For so many people around the world, 2018 was a year of confusion, injustice, mean-spiritedness—and for way too many—danger. Though these things continue to exist and fester in our world, I am heartened by new grass-roots and cooperative creative initiatives popping up in many areas around the world. 


For this New Year 2019, I’m placing my hopes on ladybugs and the entire natural world to help awaken humans who will actively participate in co-creating a more sustainable, kinder world for all beings. 


Until you spread your wings

you won’t know how far you can fly.

~Author Unknown


Image by Megan, photo credit- Kate Hill Cantrill


Click on this link for some lighthearted ladybug fun:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr8vUTm64h0




Choosing Hope


Hope is the thing with feathers

That perch in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all…


~Emily Dickinson



While in art school, I was assigned to make a sculpture inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Pandora, who was given a locked box and warned not to open it. Needless to say she did open it—releasing pestilence, sickness, death, and all manner of strife into the world—leaving only one thing inside it—Hope.


Not wanting to make something that would focus on the harshness of the Pandora myth, I carved an image of my hands in white alabaster—both palms together with fingers entwined. One finger lifts itself upward—free from the entwinement—as a personal symbol of Hope.


This sculpture showed me that my natural inclination as a nurse wanting to soothe and heal pain would also be the foundation of my work as an artist.


Small Seeds of Gratitude will produce a Harvest of Hope.

~Author Unknown


Last weekend, a dear friend invited me to a play in Philadelphia called “Every Brilliant Thing.” We entered the intimate theater-in-the round, no bigger than an average grammar school classroom. As we took our seats, a man—who turned out to be the play’s singular actor/narrator—gave us each a post-it note with a number and a word or words on them. He instructed us to speak out the words when our number was called.


The actor’s character was not introduced by name, which made the story seem as if it were his own autobiography. He was hilarious, and very much at ease, spontaneous, and welcoming with audience participation.


The stories were loaded with intense and ultimately tragic circumstances. His childhood had been often disrupted by the consequences of a loved one’s depression, despair, and even suicide.


Early in his life, this boy started writing down things that made him feel happy and for which he was grateful. Over time, this carefully numbered collection became obsessive as his “brilliant things” approached a million notes.


As did everyone who’d been given a post-it note as the play started, when he called the number on mine, I shouted out—“Batman!”


All of this was delivered with heartfelt empathy, compassion, life-affirming humor, and humility.


As the audience left the theater, the actor shook each person’s hand. On top of that, inside each playbill was an invitation to write and share our own “brilliant things.”


Downstairs, at the street level exit, people were writing their own Every Brilliant Thing on post-it notes—then sticking them among thousands of others that already covered the walls from prior audiences.


A statement from Philly.com sums up the power of this play-

“We come away with more love for life.”


Both my friend’s family and mine—along with so many others—have had to deal with the mental health issues portrayed in this play. Both of us felt its message to our cores.


It seems to me, this is what the Arts do best. They can heal, enlighten, celebrate, honor, and humanize us in times of deep stress, grief, uncertainty, and even tragedy.


Perhaps—truth be told—in practicing Gratitude we are choosing Hope.


Enjoy Playing for Change song around the world at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddLd0QRf7Vg




Of Home


Every heart to love will come
But like a refugee…

~from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen


The date on the official certificate is August 7, 1953. I was seven and that particular day I sat next to Mom in the County Courthouse. She stood up when her name was called, was sworn in with her hand on a Bible. She answered a few questions, and what I remember most vividly was her reciting The Pledge of Allegiance.


Stoic as she was, I could see she was upset as we left the courtroom. It was the only time in my childhood I ever saw her cry.


At the time I didn’t understand that she had, that day, been obliged to give up her beloved Canadian citizenship to become a naturalized American. After all, her four children had been born in the States, and dual citizenship was not allowed in those days.


Having grown up in Nova Scotia, Mom never appreciated the Mid-Atlantic climate. As a kid, I remember her cursing the summer heat by calling it—and I quote— “Damn New Jersey!” She said it so often I thought “Damn” was our state’s first name!


That being said, my Mother—like most Americans of European ancestry—was one of the lucky ones. She wasn’t ripped from her Homeland because of her skin color, trafficked under deplorable conditions to America, or sold as a slave. She did not have to flee in desperation to America as a refugee or a migrant escaping genocide, war, or poverty. She never had to risk life and limb in a crude dingy boat trying to cross a vast ocean in search of safety. 


She came here voluntarily as an immigrant because she had married my Dad—a native Bostonian—who had found shipbuilding work here in New Jersey when WWII started in 1939.


Except those with Native American heritage, all other Americans have, in their ancestry, stories of immigration.  Do any of us really own this land? Should any of us have privilege over other people who look, speak, worship, or love differently than ourselves?


Last weekend, Art as Advocacy came here to Collingswood, New Jersey for one spectacular evening of acoustical music from none other but Emmy Lou Harris, Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Douglas, Lila Downs, and Steve Earle!


The six artists were seated on simple folding chairs that had been set next to each other across the front of the stage.  One by one, sometimes harmonizing with the other artists and the audience, they each contributed their unique and diverse instrumental and vocal songs of exile, resistance, longing, family, and home. Stories, too, were shared in this relaxed, informal, and intimate atmosphere that felt like being wrapped in a cozy quilt of many patterns and colors.


Throughout October, The Lantern Tour artists performed five separate concerts across America—all benefiting the Women’s Refugee Commission—whose mission it is to protect the lives and rights of women and children seeking asylum at the US border and in detention centers. 


I’d like to share Leonard Cohen’s hope-filled refrain for those who may be feeling a need to tuck it in their heart pocket for the days ahead…


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in


Enjoy “Anthem” in its entirety by Leonard Cohen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48AJBXs5dNc


https://thelanterntour.org/




Spiritual Smorgasbord for Soul Sisters


Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

~ Matsuo Basho

I arrived more than three hours later than scheduled that Thursday evening, after the flight from Toronto to London Ontario was cancelled due to an air traffic control issue.


Amidst some chaos at the re-booking counter, I was told the next available flight would be the following day. The only same-day transport to my friend Nancy’s place was to catch two separate train rides that would take me to Central London.


A young Polish woman named Maggie asked me if we could go together, as we would need to hurry to make it to the first train, and our instructions from the airline person were rather vague. We power-walked almost the full length of the terminal, zoomed across moving walkways—our wheeled luggage in tow—then pretty much jogged up escalators to get to the first train. It was packed, we were pooped, but we both got seats.


I’m telling this because, the whole time Maggie and I were kickin’ up dust, I felt certain (to borrow a phrase from Findhorn’s founder, Eileen Caddy) “All is very, very well.” In fact, the travel delay allowed my friend Nancy to complete her workday, plus Maggie and I not only got a great workout, we also became instant friends, exchanging contact information so we can stay in touch.


Nancy picked me up at the train station, and then we headed to a restaurant she had recommended. Before exiting the car, we took a moment to express gratitude for this weekend we had planned together, and also to invite the energy of The Transformation Game to be with us throughout the weekend.


Nancy and I first met while living at Findhorn in Scotland. It was from there that The Transformation Game was created. Over time, it has become a treasured globally recognized tool for fostering personal and group growth, awakening insights, and assisting with decision-making. Produced in numerous languages, it is available at the following link: https://www.innerlinks.com/


While eating dinner, a fly kept circling around us both. It was not really bothersome, though persistent in announcing its presence. Rather than shooing it away, Nancy smiled and said, “ Well, Spirit takes many forms. It looks like our Game has started already.”


Nancy and I spent the next day in a lovely culturally rich town called Stratford. One particular shop/gallery was filled with Native Canadian arts of all kinds—hand-made woolen and leather goods, moccasins, and jewelry. In the back, there was a gallery of Inuit and other Native stone carvings. Most were animal images, many of them in playful dancing positions or carrying their young.


These creations—carved from a variety of colors in alabaster and soapstone—made my heart sing! Most of them had a language of form that was essential, direct, and infused with the power of less-is-more.


Not surprising to Nancy or me, our “spirit fly” visited momentarily at least once each day.


We were blessed to be able to see two stage plays. Both were powerful enough to warrant an essay of their own, which I’ll save for a future Love in Action column. So, please stay tuned…


Sunday morning we walked a labyrinth at nearby Brescia University College. Called Circle Labyrinth, is has a Sycamore tree at its center. Sycamores are exceptionally adaptable, known to grow where others cannot. They are thought to promote relaxation, while raising energy and reducing lethargy. They also have many medicinal usages, and some believe they bring success and abundance.


Nancy entered the labyrinth a few yards ahead of me, each of us walking alone and in bare feet—very slowly and deliberately—with mindfulness of where our feet landed and what they felt on the path.


When I reached the center, I touched the sycamore with both hands. It felt very welcoming. There were many pieces of fabric tied around the branches from previous walkers. I didn’t have any fabric or ribbon, but felt drawn to make a gift for the tree. I gathered up a few longish dandelion-like leaves and tied them end-to-end around its branch.


Walking out from the center, I followed the winding path, which eventually exited me at the place where we’d begun. I turned around just outside the labyrinth, and motioned a “Namaste” to the sacred space.


Once back at Nancy’s peace-filled home, we prepared The Transformation Game board and its accessories. First, we each wrote our intention on which we would focus throughout the process. All afternoon, we were completely immersed in the game. There were surprises—some painful, others healing and inspiring. There were even a few tears of sheer Joy! Both of us came away feeling more confident about our next steps, and grateful for the care and loving support from the energies of the game and each other.


The whole weekend was an exercise in how sharing fun, play, and creativity feeds souls. Our unbridled laughter—blended with a few sweet tears—along with evenings of listening to Nancy play guitar and sing her inspired songs, all were sacred moments that lifted us both from the sometimes heaviness of being human.


And yes, in case you were wondering, our “spirit fly” reappeared one last time at the London Airport, while I was nearing check-in for my trip back home. With a wave of Love and Thanks for a job well done, Nancy and I bid farewell to our tiny winged friend!


Nancy Jane Small albums for purchase at: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/nancyjanesmall


Photo Credits: Gameboard Nancy Jane Small; ‘Young Labyrinth’ Brescia University College.