Sunday, May 27, 2018

One Teardrop

Last night as I was meditating before bed, something unusual happened.

I am in Denver, Colorado for an art show. My hotel is quite comfortable and a block away from the festival grounds. Sitting on a couch in a dark room, I had been quieting my mind but had been thinking of various situations present in my life. One in particular has occupied my thoughts—the extreme conditions of an Egyptian family I am friends with. (See: Inshallah)

Strangely, as I sat still and upright, a teardrop formed in my right eye. Slowly my eye brimmed and the drop flowed down my cheek. I wondered where it came from.

Retracing my thoughts, I realized I had remembered Amira, the oldest daughter of Hagag. I had worked hard to collect some money for her college, which is an impossible dream for any of the five children. Amira, eighteen, is a pure soul, shy yet intelligent and strong.

The family has many pressing needs. It has been decided to use any money to help her mother with urgent eye surgery. The first installment of funds has been delivered. The family will be relieved that Edleah will have her eyesight protected. But I know too that Amira sleeps on the hard earth at the feet of her brothers and sister every night.

The tear that fell down my face was her tear, the one she would never show her family.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


“Inshallah.” This is what Amira said the last time I spoke with her and asked if she wanted to go to college. Her father, my friend Hagag, had handed her the telephone. I sensed that she deeply would like to go on with higher education, but is also aware of her family’s needs. They share a difficult life in Luxor, Egypt with deep bonds of love.

Inshallah means “God willing” or “if God wills it.” It is an Arabic language expression. When I am in Egypt I hear it used frequently, and also, alhamd lilah which means “thanks be to God.”

I have raised money for Amira to go to college. Perhaps it was simple minded of me to offer to help in this way without consulting in depth with Hagag. The family has so many pressing needs. The oldest son had to go into the army after graduation since no money existed for college. He is out now, after serving two years. There are four other children. Amira, the oldest daughter, is about to take college qualifying exams.

Iyah, the youngest daughter, Edleah and Amira
Hagag has a spinal disk problem and needs surgery. He is almost disabled and has trouble doing work on his tiny plot of land along the Nile River. Edleah, the mother, has eye problems. Add to this that the refrigerator is broken and they have no money to fix it or buy a new one. The entire family lives on about two dollars a day—yet if you were to arrive at their home they would welcome you to sit and serve you tea with the utmost kindness.
The last several times I have spoken with Hagag about money and college for Amira, he has sounded unhappy. “Edleah needs eye surgery. The doctor said it is very important.”

I have a new friend, Hazem, who is Egyptian and speaks fluent English. He has a daughter attending college in the USA. We have not met personally, but were introduced through someone I know in Santa Fe. I needed someone who speaks Arabic to talk more in depth with Hagag. Hazem has now personally met Hagag and the family. He reports that Hagag insists that the most pressing emergency is saving the mother’s eyesight.

Edleah and the youngest child, Bilal   (December 2017)

Look how much clearer Bilal's eyes are . . .

I have prayed about what to do. The surgery is a little more expensive than the year of college. But I also learned that college is not as expensive as thought. Public institutions are quite cheap. It is the room and board that adds up—but that can be alleviated by sharing.

At this point, it is me saying inshallah . . .

Sunday, May 13, 2018

It Is Your Birthday!

I was fifteen, playing basketball after school on a springtime afternoon with friends at our local playground. Suddenly, my distraught mother showed up on the other side of the tall chain link fence. “Steven, Steven! It is your birthday! We forgot!” Indeed, even I had not noticed.

Today is my birthday. I am 66. At this age, I am sometimes amazed I am on earth and not somewhere else. There have been a few close calls with death, yet I escaped.

I had a dream once about leaving the planet for other realms. It was not long after my young daughter Naomi departed this life. I had sometimes taken to sleeping in her bed where she died. One night I dreamt this: I was outdoors on a wooded hillside. I looked down below to a small village. Suddenly I was there—standing on a street amidst a festival. People were walking about and I found myself holding hands with a little girl. Then she was gone. I saw a moving carousel and hopped on as it circled in place. The landscape swept by. As I stood rotating, a doorway appeared in front of me. I realized that I could get off the merry-go-round and into another world if I threw myself forward. The opportunity would not come again so I made the choice to jump. Immediately, as I hurled forward, I heard a voice in my left ear: “First you must do something more if you wish to pass beyond the door!” That same moment, I bolted upright in bed and struck my head against the rough plaster wall. I woke, bleeding from a gash on my forehead.

And so I stay active and alive on this merry-go-round earth revolving each day while it travels around the sun.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sunday Times

Both my parents were avid consumers of information. My mother, a speed reader, read five library books a week for decades. When she was too frail to go to the library, her neighbor would deliver fresh books to her and take a sack of used ones to return. She read everything from physics to history to pulp fiction. Her mind was an encyclopedia. She did not need to leave the charms of her home, with its big trees and garden, to see the outer world. Books brought her adventures.

My father was engaged all his adult life with social matters and remaking America into a fairer and more just society. No wonder then that every day three newspapers arrived at my parents home in Santa Barbara, California: The New York times, the Santa Barbara News-Press, and the Los Angeles Times. When he passed away, his obituary and an article appeared in the same papers. (See my blog, I Always Loved Him)

I inherited some of my parents intellectualism. I am an artist, a designer, photographer, business owner, writer and world traveller. When I am at home I have a weekly ritual of going on Sunday morning to a well known local coffee bar and newsstand, called The Downtown Subscription. I buy a pastry, cup of coffee and the New York Times. Then I sit by myself and enjoy the ambience of art exhibits on the walls, music, and conversation all around. The Sunday paper is thick and full of timely and interesting content. I take it home and read it thoroughly, taking a week to finish—in time for another.

Eleven years ago I wrote a similar piece about going for the Sunday paper: (See- Sunday Times and Dried Leaves)