By Barbara Belknap
“Suspended above the palace of Indra, the Buddhist god who symbolizes the natural forces that protect and nurture life, is an enormous net. A brilliant jewel is attached to each of the knots of the net. Each jewel contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality.” – Buddhist teaching. Thoreau called Indra’s Net the “infinite extent of our relations”.
I believe I first heard of Indra’s Net from Jeanie DeRousseau. We were at the 2006 Gather the Women North American gathering at the University of Victoria in the lovely city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Jeanie had a huge image of a net with sparking jewels at each knot up on the screen behind her. Jeanie is an anthropologist with a scientist’s inquisitive mind, and a poet with a gift for finding just the right way to explain inexplicable things. Indra’s net was the perfect image for what Gather the Women was creating.
Today, in mid-July eight years later, I’m thinking of Linda Higdon, who lives in Wisconsin, and Mona Al-Faara who lives in Gaza. I met Linda at a 2008 Gather the Women gathering at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Cloud, Minnesota. We sat next to each other at one of the big round tables in the dining room. Linda is from Wisconsin and so is my mother, so we chatted about Wisconsin and how we came to be sitting next to each other in Minnesota. As I remember it, Linda was one of the speakers and talked about connecting American women to other women in war-torn countries via teleconference. Intrigued, I signed up.
Dr. Mona Al-Faara of Gaza was one of those women who stayed up into the middle of the night Middle East time to talk to American women spanning all five time zones in the United States. I was awed by all the women, but Mona struck me as one of the bravest human beings, man or woman, I’d ever heard speak. She described driving the length of Gaza delivering food to children at various nursery schools and primary schools. It would often be their only meal of the day. Gaza is so tiny, 6.8 miles wide and 32 miles long, that she would drive the length of it every day on her rounds.
Today, with the news full of terrible images from Gaza, I Googled Dr. Al Faara and found her at http://www.windowintopalestine.blogspot.com. The headline was “Urgent message from Dr. Mona Al-Farra in Gaza”. She cites her organization, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, and the water purification systems they are installing in schools. I donated $50 to the umbrella organization.
Yes, it is political. Yes, it is controversial. However, I cannot forget her voice on the phone years ago when I asked her how she could keep going through all the infighting between armed groups and the constant danger of airstrikes from Israel. Her response was, “An activist never gives up.” I have had that sentence on the back of my cards ever since.
When I saw Linda Higdon last November in San Francisco at the Alchemy gathering, we hugged and I asked her how she was doing. She said something to the effect that she just didn’t know if anything she had done made a difference. So, I pulled one of my cards out of my purse and showed her the quotation on the back. Her eyes filled with tears. She hugged me and said, “Thank you.”
We are all connected as human beings. The women we meet in our gatherings touch us and we touch them. Each of us is a brilliant shining jewel in a net cast around the world.