• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Long Distance Mom: Birthdays and the Dalai Lama

I've been wondering how to keep spirituality in a family that does not choose a particular faith...?

July 20, 2011

I've been wondering how to keep spirituality in a family that does not choose a particular faith...?

My daughter Katie turned sixteen last week while staying with me in Chicago. The weekend of her birthday she got her ears pierced, threw toilet paper at the screen for the Rocky Horror Picture show, witnessed the Chicago Cubs win a game, saw the new Harry Potter movie (of course), and sat in the audience for the Dalai Lama. It was quite a weekend.

Katie and I have had some tensions between us since I’ve been commuting from a university job in Chicago to Katie’s full time home in Tampa with her father. It is not easy to explain to a nine year old why your mother needs to leave for a career move to another state, and will only see you on the weekends. For the last seven years Katie and I have struggled over our proofs of love for each other—our sincerity, our authenticity, our humor with each other. There was nothing I could really say about why I left Florida for a job in Chicago. I just needed to be with Katie as much as possible.

Writing for this blog has definitely been an outlet for us as we have moved through our mother/daughter development (Katie has helped to write it too). I say “our” development because I’ve finally learned that I also had some psychological work that I needed to do—controlling my temper, not being so defensive, etc… A little family therapy went a long way towards establishing a “peace” between us.

This ongoing development work is why it felt so appropriate for us to see Nobel Peace Prize winner Tenzin Gyatos, the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet on Katie’s birthday weekend. When a friend gave us last minute tickets, I was surprised that my daughter was so eager to attend with me. Once there, we joined a crowd of about 10,000 people, which included Illinois’s new governor, Pat Quinn, and actress Jennifer Beals discussing interfaith tolerance and planting aspen trees for the environment. The Dalai Lama praised Quinn and the state of Illinois for passing a bill that abolished the death penalty because of the amount of false confessions and erroneous convictions (a phenomenal action that does not get enough national media attention.)

This Dalai Lama is particularly recognizable for his relaxed, engaged speaking style and for his delightful laughter. Whatever one thinks about his political connections with the U.S. or position against China, the Dalai Lama exudes the values that Buddhism represents (for most Westerners). I recently noticed a photograph of him that begins a chapter of the Public Speaking textbook I’m teaching at the moment. It’s the chapter about the delivery of a speech—the speaker’s physical comfort, eye contact and ability to engage one’s audience with humor and authenticity. After listening to the Dalai Lama speak, I am not surprised he found his way into my textbook.

The Dalai Lama spoke to the crowd with enough of an accent that it was difficult to understand everything he was saying. But it did not seem to matter—to the crowd or to my daughter. We picked up enough words that we could ascertain that he was discussing different faiths, tolerance, patience, moral values and, as always, humor. At the end of his speech Buddhist singer Ani Choying gave an incredible rendition of “Amazing Grace” in her native tongue, and I found myself in tears.

Quite a weekend...


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