Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Following the spiritual breadcrumbs

As I revisit themes from my novel, The Munich Girl, during my travels in Europe over these next weeks, I am mining, inwardly, for facets of my experience in writing that book that have been calling –and loudly — for quite some time now.

Doesn’t matter whether I’m awake or asleep, they mean business, and they’re not going away. What they want even appeared like a sign on a wall in a dream: memoir.

This is always the point at which I hear a voice in my head, with a mild British accent, asking, “Whatever bloody for?” It chimed in frequently over the nearly nine years that The Munich Girl came into being. The process of that book showed me that if I didn’t flinch or back away from that question but met it head-on, that voice frequently shifted to something like, “Oh, right, then,” and actually became a helpful ally.

As a writer, I have actively avoided the prospect of memoir for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is public embarrassment. (“Who cares?” is an effective deterrent, too.) Some might argue that I’ve already gotten the embarrassment part out of the way, perhaps more than once, and I wouldn’t disagree.

When I finally understood enough about the purpose of memoir as focusing in and reflecting about a specific stage or aspect of personal experience, I had a humbling recognition. The fact is, in much the way creative process, in all its mystery, delivered every part of the novel’s story when I was willing to let it lead, it offered up, at the same time, a cache of memoir material. It was like those dual-action machines gaining popularity in Europe that both wash and dry your clothes — it had practically outlined the next book for me.

If I had the heart, and will, to follow the trail again. “Spiritual breadcrumbs,” one friend calls this, adding boldly, “Are you going to be so ungrateful as to let them go to waste?”

I hadn’t planned to write a memoir any more than I had a novel that includes Hitler’s wife . But just as the environs of that story did, something is acting on me in a way I’ve given up trying to explain, but absolutely cannot deny.  As I have more conversations with readers of The Munich Girl, encounter the deep questions they ask and the observations they make after living in the book for a time, the following passage, which played a big part in the emotional themes of the novel, is right back in front of me for re-examination.

Without a doubt, I’ll let it lead again, whatever the outcome, because my heart knows it’s too big a piece of our current dilemmas in this world — too universal a one — not to heed, and honor.

We are all of us searching for love, for the intimacy, closeness, tenderness we may remember from when we were in our mother’s arms or may have glimpsed in a lover’s embrace.

Or we may know it just as a sense of something we always wanted, something missing from our life.

This love is at the core of our being, and yet we search for it everywhere, so often causing our self pain in the process, losing our way, becoming entangled in our desires and all our images of love.

Then, one day, something makes us turn away from the outer world to seek this truth within us.

~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Compassion and courage go hand-in-hand

Reader Chele Hauschildt may hold the distinction of ordering the very first copy.

My big thanks to each and every reader who is helping Jamila find her way into the world — and adding to the book’s page at Goodreads.

I recently had the joy of spending time with the story’s illustrator, Leona Hosack, at the wonderful Spirit of Children conference at Green Acre Baha’i School in Maine.

I came home to find a growing collection of reader reviews for the book:

The story provides the opportunity for the young reader to explore how to solve problems by working together, facing fear, having courage, trust, and of course faith,” notes Eric Mondschein, author of Life at 12 College Road.

“This charming book instantly captivated my young daughters, who reenacted the story after just one reading,” writes reader Stephanie Robinson.

The story importantly reminds us, parents included, that we all react differently to the unexpected, and because of this, we all have a role to play in problem-solving,” Stephanie adds. “With cooperation, resoluteness and prayer, Jamila learns that compassion and courage go hand in hand.”

“Of course the bat is the antagonist, but not a malevolent one, just another (probably) frightened being trapped in the wrong place,” says reader N. Augusta Vincent. “I love how the author makes all her characters sympathetic, even the bat.”

Melanie Kyer wrote: “This is such a great story! It calls on fears we all can have and validates them for the reader. Jamila is anxious about the bat but ultimately learns the bat is also afraid and the resolution happens as a result of teamwork.

“I also love how small elements of the Baha’i Faith are incorporated without alienating those who might not know about the faith. The illustrations show the emotions of those involved and include lots of little details which bring the story to life. ”

Jamila Does Not Want a Bat in Her House is available for purchase from the publisher at: http://www.bahaibookstore.com/Jamila-….

Or ask for it at your favorite bookstore.

If you’d like to order a signed copy, contact info[at]phyllisring[dot]com. 

 



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Going the distance, staying the course

Sometimes, as one friend has described, we’re simply “riding the donkey”. Decades ago, this was how one got from one place to the next and in many places, it still is.

It could be tedious. It can be tiresome, taxing of heart and testing of patience — even of confidence and faith, when the going is especially slow. Eventually, inevitably we all face such biding and abiding (ask any pregnant mother). Ideally, we make peace with it, yield to receiving what it brings – what our own ideas and designs often chafe against.

A heroine of mine, Marion Jack, learned a lot about this. When I need inspiration for staying the course, going the distance, perhaps when I most want to quit, I remember what her life demonstrates about accepting this price of some of life’s most valuable outcomes, even though our urge may be to flee, dodge, or fight.

Marion Jack

Marion stayed the course, consciously, willingly in very trying times, and places. One was Nazi-occupied, and filled with treachery. She could have left – she had opportunity. She chose to stay for others’ sake, and for commitments she’d made.

“As I have the capacity of suffering much, so I also enjoy much,” she once observed. She also noted with real pleasure, “It seems wonderful, what one can do without.”

Other words of hers hit close to home: “Each one has his own little work to fill in the great scheme of things. Mine seems to be to work quietly in new fields or in assisting the real [workers]. So I always think it wisest to try and do one’s own work and not think of attempting the line of other people.”

She was well-experienced with riding life’s donkey. I imagine her as thankful for the steps it covered on her behalf, however much the movement may have sometimes seemed backward. Or, at best, like treading in place.

She didn’t forget that, whatever circumstances felt like around her, she was being carried. And no matter what she could see, things were advancing. Often, the biggest of those was love, just as the real means of their advance was love, too.

She knew from experience that the pace that took, even when it resembled a donkey’s, was always exactly right.


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The time we own, the space we inhabit

Image: courtesy Tarot by Cecelia

The young tree of my life was planted in a culture constrained by many limiting beliefs.

It believes:

there is not enough for everyone,

that having is being,

that age is an ending.

It believes that it owns space, and place, and most often feels owned by time.

Photo: Liz Turner

Friends from cultures close to the natural world remind me that, truly, it’s the reverse.

Whatever we may think, we are one with space, “owned by it,” as it were. But in the matter of time, the invention of our minds, we are free to take ownership, and choose.

In reflecting about space, and how to direct one’s time, artist Mark Tobey said:

“The dimension that counts for the creative person is the space he creates within himself. This inner space is closer to the infinite than the other, and it is the privilege of the balanced mind… and the search for an equilibrium is essential—to be as aware of inner space as he is of outer space.”

And where is that balance to be found? In what longs for us to hear it, and to become the ear with which it is heard, as the wise visionary knew:

“Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. We ourselves become His echo and His answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question and in awakening us to contemplation He answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.”

~ Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation


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Fanning the tiny sparks

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Artwork: Judy Wright

I like the idea of dreaming the big dream and making small steps.

I’d like to think that you reach your hand, just a little bit further than your reach, not enough so that you’ll be frustrated, not enough so that you’ll give up, but just enough so that you’ll stretch yourself.

~ Maya Angelou

Trust yourself.

Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.

Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.

 ~ Golda Meir

Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

Sometimes we forget that we must bring presence to the as yet unmanifest dream which wants to come alive around us.

By presence I don’t just mean attention, but a certain quality of attentiveness which holds the anticipation of being met.

It doesn’t require the world to act first, to prove itself, or miraculously appear.

Instead it behaves as if the thing one is becoming is guaranteed and moves as if it carries that secret in its step. Life isn’t only happening to us, we are happening to life.

~ Excerpted from  Belonging,

by Toko-pa Turner

 


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An over-shadowed life

As I continue to receive valued feedback from book-discussion groups and readers, I reflect on how much the world’s continuing hunger to “understand” Hitler is aided by understanding more about Eva Braun.

Much of what’s conveyed about her (huge amounts of it inaccurate) has been based on presumed understanding about him.

But the reality is that more complete information about her can help us better understand more about why Hitler, despite the evil he represents (or perhaps because of it), has occupied collective consciousness for more than 70 years.

Far from attempting to redeem her, my novel, The Munich Girl, follows along patterns of how Braun’s life in Hitler’s shadow, which ended alongside him when she was 33, is emblematic of what many women have done, and still do, in a world still hobbled by inequality. Unable to enact their own potential in a direct way, they resort to doing so from the invisible sidelines and background.

Eva Braun with her mother, Franziska Kronberger Braun.

In Eva Braun’s case, that public invisibility lasted the entire 16 years she spent with Hitler.

One reviewer notes: “The Munich Girl looks at the role of women in different cultures and periods in a way that is quite relevant right now. Do women choose to play the lead in their own lives or do they sacrifice themselves for others? Ms. Ring also leads us to ask what we know of our parents’ lives. How might their experiences or traumas be passed down to us? How open are we to the changes that can come from deep healing?”

Another reader writes: “Women, even well-educated women such as [Anna], the novel’s protagonist, are groomed to give up their lives for the ‘larger’ missions of their husbands and lovers. … one of the many ways in which the feminine aspect of humanity is subjugated, Fascism being the most extreme form.”

The story of The Munich Girl is about many things beyond Eva Braun and the time of the war in Germany.

It’s about how women share our lives with each other, the power of our friendships, and the way we protect each other’s vulnerabilities, perhaps as part of how we begin to gain compassion.

So that our world can, too.

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

 


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A life between the lines

Following the trail of The Munich Girl

Seventy-two years ago this spring, Eva Braun’s world, and life, were coming to their end as Germany succumbed to defeat and ruin.

From a bunker under Berlin, she wrote her final letters, to her younger sister, Gretl, and longtime friend Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

She writes to Herta of preparing to die, and bewilderment at how things are ending, for Germany:

“Greetings to all my friends.

I’m dying as I have lived. It’s not difficult for me. You know that.”

Footage of Eva Braun with her childhood friend Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

On this same day, she chose an action whose significance would only be revealed later, during the war crimes trials in Nuremberg. In testimony there during the Ministry Trials of 1948, a high-ranking German officer credited her with ensuring that one of Hitler’s last desperate orders had come to him, rather than to someone who would actually carry them out.

As a result, the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war were saved.

Among them were likely two relatives of mine, and a whole lot of those who were the loved ones of tens of thousands of people.

When writing fiction that includes elements of history, accuracy must always trump creative possibilities. It’s been suggested to me several times that Eva Braun’s “character” in the story might be conveyed through letters.

However, her very last letter, to her younger sister, Gretl, asked that most of her correspondence be destroyed, and the remaining small amount hidden. It has yet to surface, and those who’ve tried to track it down doubt it ever will.

So, any story true to Eva Braun’s consistently private personality must reference only the handful of pieces of her correspondence that are still in existence.

And seek, as so many stories do, to find the story of a life between the lines.

 

More about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/