The 12th Northern Winter Solstice Epistle

Jamaican Sorrel

Washington DC Blizzard 1209
My neighborhood after the historic December 2009 blizzard

Hibiscus sabdariffa

The past has flown away.
The coming month and year do not exist;
Ours only is the present's tiny point.
~ Sa'd Ud Din Shabistari, 13th C. ~

Lily Rose Lee
  Lily Rose Lee
  Lily Rose Lee

Lily Rose Lee neé Chang
June 30 1935 - May 23 2009

This year started off much the same as what went before but quickly picked up pace as it wore on. It changed gears with the death of my sister.

Lily passed away May 23 in the St Ann's Bay Hospital where she underwent vascular surgery. She developed complications, lost one kidney function, her blood pressure fell and she slipped away. All her children were with her as Suzanne and husband Mikey had been staying with her on their return from Knoxville. I had spoken to her just the week before when she told me of her surgery date; she had been experiencing pain from blocked arteries in her legs. She even spoke of visiting me in DC once she had recovered.

Due to my asylee status i was unable to attend her funeral at Our Lady of Fatima in Ocho Rios. I did send a message which my dear friend, Rev. John Scott, read on my behalf:

Friends and family,
As much as i would have liked to be there with you in person, circumstances ordain otherwise.

We each have our own reason for being here, our lives enriched in some way by having known Lily, by her caring, her thoughtfulness, her charm, her hospitality and culinary skills. Naturally we miss already hearing her voice, seeing her smile.

I speak to you from the depths of my grief to meet you in your grief to share with you what has brought me some measure of comfort. We do not speak of her in her absence but in her presence. She lives on and is here with us in all the love and kindness she has shown, in the lives of her children and grandchildren, and in the hearts of everyone whom she has touched.

Through a dream, i have seen her in the eternal realm in which she dwells.

Come with me as we make our way through the tall green waves of the cane fields like those around Llandovery. A rough and winding path has been trampled through the otherwise uniform rows. The land begins to slope upwards, gently at first, then progressively steeper and rockier. We look up and try to see ahead but the view is obstructed by the waving fronds. We turn a corner and there above the crest of the hill we see Lily enveloped in light, her face radiant and peaceful. The thought comes unmistakable and unbidden: Guadelupe.

The mystery and paradox of life is that once Lily passed through death’s door, she was released from the limitations of form and became universally and more fully present to us all. And so we acknowledge the privilege of having known Lily. We celebrate a wondrous life and a continuous presence among us.

Indeed she lives on through the fruits of her love and caring. This time of year is particularly poignant. I am well-stocked with Jamaican coffee and rum she sent, the rum i pour on her famous fruit cake, slabs of which i've kept frozen and "reconstitute" with a zap in the microwave; i have her cake this Christmas though the baker is no more; the rum i use to spike the annual sorrel. The afghan i pull on wintry nights was crocheted by her and mailed in a big cardboard box i had to get a ride to the post office to collect. I still have chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon leaves to make chocolate tea. The tins of ackee and callaloo. I cannot use any of these without remembering and giving thanks for her. Even as i write these words, my eyes well up ...

Death is not a beginning; death is not an end. Who knows when the end is reached? Death may be the beginning of life. How do I know that love of life is not a delusion after all? How do I know that he who dreads to die is as a child who has lost the way and cannot find his home? How do I know but that the dead repent of having previously clung to life?
~ Zhuangzi, c. 369-c. 286 BCE ~
Larry Chang speaking at AU

Sharing a Transition powerpoint presentation with students of Professor Eve Bratman's Global Environmental Politics class, 2009 Washington Community of Scholars, American University, August 24 2009.

But life, as we've come to think of it, goes on — despite the threat of climate change, energy crisis and economic decline. These will impact everyone in one way or another, whatever one believes. Much of my time has been spent trying to address these challenges at the local level as this is where i feel i can make a difference. I have continued to preach the Transition gospel to all who will listen. Consequently, i have given presentations in Maryland at Frederick, Towson, Greenbelt, Bethesda and Takoma Park, many of which now have budding Transition initiatives.

This is the true joy in life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.
~ George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950 ~
Larry Chang at Green

Not only did Ecolocity have a booth at the Green Festival in October, i was also invited to organize and moderate a panel on Transition.

Potomac bill

Potomac bill. Other denominations are 5, 10 and 20, accepted at five businesses as of this writing.

Local currencies are perfectly legal in the US and have usually emerged at times of economic uncertainty. Because earnings cannot leak away from the community and must be spent locally, studies have shown that one unit can circulate up to five times more than the equivalent dollar.

First Potomac issued

One of Transition's key mechanisms is to set up a local currency to unify the community, encourage self-reliance and resilience. To this effect i started the Greater Washington Exchange to issue Potomacs. Here Dr Rogate Mshana, economist with the World Council of Churches, purchases the first Potomac at the Forum on Faith, Economy & Ecology, Washington DC, May 3 2009 where i was invited to make a presentation on Transition.

Larry showing Potomacs
Photo Rebecca Sheir/WAMU

The Potomac story has been carried by The Northwest Current and WAMU-FM, an NPR affiliate as well as a RT, a Russian cable channel.

Grow tunnel

Grow tunnels allow plants to survive winter.

In the same vein, our group is working to encourage local farming and food production in the District. We have a demonstration garden where we conduct workshops and we field volunteers to help with community gardens. This becomes increasingly critical as USDA data has shown that one in seven US households have difficulty putting food on the table while 40% of food in the US goes to waste. As droughts continue and energy costs increase, cheap, imported food will become more difficult to sustain. If this is true of the US, countries like Jamaica which depend on imports for much of its food supply need to take note.

Additionally, a diet high in animal fat, processed carbohydrates and refined sugar has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. More people need to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods. If you have not yet reduced your meat consumption, begin now.

Food & Farming group harvest celebration

Our Food & Farming group celebrates this fall's harvest with a cookup.

Protect McMillan Park

Since joining the McMillan Park Committee, to help with design and communications, i've contributed this logo and set up a Facebook page for Friends of McMillan Park . Sign up to support this unique historic treasure.

McMillan Park

Above ground: The surface of the site was designed as a park by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the leading landscape architect of his time. Tower-like structures are bins for storing clean sand for filtering the water in underground cells. The vines covering them were a part of Olmsted's design. Tours are held twice a year.

Another project which i've adopted is McMillan Park, the 25-acre site of DC's former water filtration plant. Underground there are 20 acres of catacomb-like cells which commercial developer plans call for demolishing to erect housing and shopping facilities. As an environmental designer and wearing my Ecolocity hat, i have proposed a Low Impact Development (LID) approach whereby the green space is conserved and given to urban farming and the cells are restored and repurposed for light industrial, agro-processing and retail use.

This could include a glassworks, utilising the tons of sand on the site to make bottles for filtered water from re-commissioned cells, possibly wine from grapes grown on the surface, beer and honey. Cows grazed above could also provide milk for cheese-making below. Mushroom growing is another possibility in the naturally cool, dark caverns. An existing underground stream could be exposed and developed as an urban beach, completing the creation of a destination that would bring delight and pride to the area's residents and countless tourists to replenish the depleted District coffers.

McMillan Sand Filtration Site cells
Photo Robert A. Reeder/Washington Post

Underground: The catacomb-like vaulted concrete filter cells where i estimate the summer temperature to be at least 10 degrees cooler than it is at the surface.

Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual 

Both my books, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing and Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk are still available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. These books are my bread and butter so if you haven't bought yet please do so and support a struggling self-publisher. You can also order directly, especially if you want them signed.

I've not expended further time or dwindling resources on developing other publications i had planned; the economic downturn is not the best time to expand production of something with as low a turnover as books. So those have been deferred indefinitely. I've been otherwise occupied with maintaining my patois website, Langwij Jumieka and other domains.

In October, after years of sending out resumés and applications, i was fortunate to land a part-time job as editor/designer for a monthly newsletter put out by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which is the lowest level of local government in the District of Columbia. It helps pay the rent though it doesn't cover it entirely. My immediate boss is Commissioner Michael Yates, originally from Jamaica. Another Caribbean connection brought me another part-time position working with a Maryland heritage tourism non-profit, but that was short-lived due to internal constraints.

So i subsist hand-to-mouth, living on the edge, good thing my needs are few and my lifestyle simple. In a more ideal economic dispensation not wholly defined by monetarism, i'd be more than adequately compensated for the non-paid work i do. Never satisfied with things as they are, i've begun to explore Edgar Cahn's Time Banking and Co-Production, systems of mutual credit that are based on equitable exchange of service. That will probably be my next big thing.

Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk

I haven't had much time for anything else. I try to keep up my yoga and zazen routine and get some reading done on the train or while resting between sets at the gym. I've finally gotten around to reading Ken Wilber and am completely sold on his integral vision. It has given me a firmer and more defined framework for much that i already intuited and that i've tried to represent with SoulVentures and I-sight. I keep my counseling skills honed by the occasional consultation and by reading Wisdom Cards at Takoma Park Metaphysical Chapel once a month. After 29 years, i'm inspired to paint again. I've already bought brushes and acrylics, a new medium for me having worked almost exclusively in gouache. Check back next year this time.

  These are exciting times and we have so many tools at our disposal. We are now more intelligent and more prepared than anyone who has gone before to take the next evolutionary step. Welcome to another year, another life.  
  Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world some day remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day.
~ Hermann Hesse ~

Year-end 2009

These annual epistles have been archived for ready retrieval:
1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

Quotations from Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing

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