Sunday, December 27, 2009

Agave moments: We've got it so good


Today's Portlandian adventures included sister-time shopping at Moxie, a boutique on Burnside that sells beautiful and affordable clothes, hats, jewelry, much of it locally made. An inviting sofa offers a place to sit or toss your bag while you explore the small store. I tried on hats and mugged for the mirror in between giving my best fashion advice on layers for my sister's upcoming trip to the cold climes of Holland and Paris. I think her husband learned a lot as well: how, where and when to wear a skinny belt, why A-line cuts are always flattering, and perhaps to find another errand while sisters shop.

But in the midst of a debate about how a certain cut of fabric fit, I had that sudden moment of realizing just how good we have it. What a luxury to worry about the flattering fit of beautiful clothes, when other girls are happy to have a dress or sweater to keep them warm. And don't get me wrong, I love a great-fitting, figure-flattering dress.  But it's that awareness that I want to foster, to be more than just odd moments in life, but my way of seeing my place in this world.

It reminds me of the idea of "Agave moment" I read about in Philip Gourevitch's piece about philanthropist Greg Carr in the Dec. 21|28 issue of The New Yorker. Carr's interest in theatre led him to a fascination with the Agave moment, the moment one changes, that one sees "themselves engaged in action of a kind that they wanted to believe they stood against." Reading ancient Greek drama, "the play that really blew Carr away was 'The Bacchae,' in which the women of Thebes rebel against the city's Apollonian order (sunshine and rationality) and turn to worshipping Dionysus (night and debauchery). The leader of these women is called Agave, and her son Pentheus is the king of Thebes, and one night, in a Bacchanalian frenzy, the women set upon him, and Agave tears his head off. 'And she's holding this bloody head in her hands, Carr told me. 'And she kind of looks at him, and she goes, Oh, that's my son. And then she has this moment of recognition, like, Who am I? What have I become? I've been fever-following a god and, um, I don't know who I am anymore.  Maybe I've been following the wrong god. What path am I on?'"  ...

"In Carr's own life, there was no severed head, no drama worthy of Euripides, but the chapter that was at odds with the way he thinks of himself was, he said the years he spent as a 'crazed businessman'... ."

That same day I read the first few chapters of Greg Mortenson's story, Three Cups of Tea, about how he came to dedicate his life to building schools and educating the kids of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

"After the last note of the anthem had faded, the children sat in a neat circle and began copying their multiplication tables. Most scratched in the dirt with sticks they'd brought for that purpose. The more fortunate, like Jahan, had slate boards they wrote on with sticks dipped in a mixture of mud and water. 'Can you imagine a fourth-grade class in America, alone, without a teacher, sitting there quietly and working on their lessons?' Mortenson asks. 'I felt like my heart was being torn out. There was a fierceness in their desire to learn, despite how mightily everything was stacked against them, that reminded me of Christa. [Mortenson's sister.] I knew I had to do something.'"  (From Three Cups of Tea)

So much of life is paying attention to the Agave moments, and then acting on them.  I feel like the universe is giving me a lot of the moments, and I need to take more action to honor them.  Have you had an Agave moment that changed your path?


(Greg Mortenson's next book, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan was released this December. Mortensen is also the co-founder of Pennies for Peace:  "The Pennies for Peace service-learning program includes: a K-12 curriculum, linked to standards with an assessment tool; an implementation guide; fact sheets; printable maps, postcards, stickers & poster components; remarkable videos that open the world of Pennies for Peace; and much more!
By participating in Pennies for Peace you make a positive impact on a global scale, one penny at a time. While a penny is virtually worthless, in impoverished countries a penny buys a pencil and opens the door to literacy. Join Pennies for Peace and give lasting hope to children half a world away!")

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