Autumn has come to the Southwest, though not with flashy bright colors or gloomy, gray rain, but with a sudden crispness. The days have become cooler and the mornings and the evenings are cold. The sun hangs lower in the sky, and the length of the day is much shorter. I wake up before the sunrises and dinner is just about the end of time. Though some of the cottonwood trees are beginning to yellow, there is still some green in the valley. There are vibrant pink flowers in the garden at the center that still haven't died.
A few nights ago it rained and looming dark clouds and big winds have lofted through the valley since then. In the morning mist the peacocks casually perch on our neighbor's chain-linked fence as I jog onto the acequias towards the road with the neighborhood watch sign. The mountains look blue in the moist air and partial sunlight. Huge puddles fill the sunken parts of the street pavement.
Earlier this month, Albuquerque held its annual International Balloon Fiesta. One morning before dawn, Heather, Diana and I hiked to the top of one of the several inactive volcanoes west of the city. We huddled on a slab of black rock with peaches and croissants. As soon as the sun rose and colorful round specks began to fill the valley, we popped open a bottle of champagne.
With the changing of seasons I am beginning to recognize the most subtle change of my perspective.
In the community that I am apart of we gather together on Wednesday nights to discuss Non-Violent Communication. Judy Bierbaum, who most recently leads our discussions, is a psychotherapist who works with children in the areas of trauma and abuse. She has been to India, Latin America and Asia to work with marginalized people and has served two prison sentences for protesting against the U.S. Army School of the Americas.
When I first heard about Judy my immediate thought was "she is one of those types." And by "those types" I mean those activists who make you feel bad about the war in Iraq, for owning things, or for eating meat.
However, upon meeting Judy my opinoin of her was completely altered.
Judy is a petite women with a huge energy. With brown hair held loosely in a long pony tail, flowing skirts, sky blue eyes and deep crows feet, she greeted us with animated gestures and excitement. At the beginning of our class, Judy seated herself and entered into a more contemplative mode. Calmly she looked around the room as if to register each of our faces, to clarify the wall color and make note of every book on the bookcase. She invited each of us to breath, to feel our feet firmly planted on the floor and to listen to the wind beating against the adobe house.
She began by reading a poem by Hafiz.
"I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music
I am the concert from the mouth of every creature
singing with the myriad chorus
I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this
Judy closed the book and softly searched our faces again with great interest. "You all come with your own music," she said.
Then she told us her story. "When I was a teenager I decided that if I could learn how to love God and love others then I would be learning everything there was to know."
Judy went to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa in the 1980's and later to Gauetmala during their civil war to advocate peace.
"You can ignore poverty if you want to, you can. But I knew that If I went [to India, Central America & etc,) I could never go back to not knowing what is going on. But here is the Good News - we all have to wrestle with this. That verse took me on this journey, but the conclusion you reach may be different. It may take you in a different direction."
During our third time together, Judy asked each of us where we were at with what we were learning. While everyone spoke eloquently about how they were grappling with non-violence, when the time came for me to speak I had little to say.
It wasn't until I was walking through downtown Albuquerque one evening last week that what I had been learning finally struck me.
Walking on my own, my anxious thoughts began to surface. Is this guy following me? Oh it's fine, I could most definitely take these three guys if I had to...when I ripped my cellphone out of my bag like a warning to all who would approach me, a lightbulb flickered above my head.
I live this way all the time. I am constantly ready to defend myself, to fight back or shout back at any threat that may come my way.
But what if I allowed the next harsh word aimed in my direction to end with me? What if I ended the cycle by refusing to dig up a sharp, cunning or sarcastic comeback?
Giving up "violent communication" may be a notion as ridiculous as that time I tried to give up chocolate because I thought it was made by child slaves. However, in all my yearning for Christ to walk through some kind of a wall in my life, I'm beginning to realize that I may need to meet him half way.
With all the changing leaves and new coolness, I can't help but notice the sky. Without the hazy humidity of the Midwest, the desert sky is bright and a clear in a way that seems unique to the West. It is almost always sunny here, and so it is this constant blue that guides us through the seasons, stretching across the valley and the mountains, so protective and suggesting so much potential.