Hands open to see the color of paradise

Muhammid is a small boy, about 5 years old, and Muhammid has seen the color of paradise.  The mystery of his seeing paradise is that Muhammid is blind.  Muhammid sees the color of paradise with his fingers.  He has learned to read Braille in a school for blind children.  He has learned to understand the language of birds by listening closely; he translates for the birds.  He has learned to see his sister’s beauty by touching her face with his gentle hands.  He knows the smells that are carried on the wind.  He knows his grandmother – his beloved grandmother – is near when he hears her walk.

Grandmother loves Muhammid also, and he knows this, for she says to him:  “I would die for you.”

Always as he walks, Muhammid holds his small hands out in front of him, arms outstretched, his fingers curled to embrace the next touch.  A loving teacher has told Muhammid to keep his hands open, to keep his hands open to touch, to keep his hands open to look at the world with his hands.  If Muhammid will keep his hands open, his teacher tells him, he will surely one day meet God.

Muhammid’s father is a widower with two daughters and a son of whom he is ashamed, for his son is blind.  Muhammid’s father, unable to accept the life he has, and so he rails at his mother, at his family, and at God.  The heart of Muhammid’s father is turned in on itself, in contrast to the hands of his son, whose hands are open to the world.

Muhammid is the one who sees the color of paradise.


A long time ago, I heard an anecdote that I have not forgotten.  A little girl takes her father by surprise when he comes to her bedroom to kiss her goodnight.  She asks her father:  “Isn’t it amazing that I exist?”


My hope for you, my hope for me, my hope for this world is that we see, with our hands, with our eyes, with our feet, with our minds, the color of paradise.  My charge for you is this:  keep your hands and heart open to the world, and its color will unfold before you.

[“The Color of Paradise” is an Iranian movie written and directed by Majid Majidi.]


Your Guide on How to Stay Sane In Peace Corps Morocco

You go, Audrey! What a wonderful post!

Aud Lives Abroad

I don’t know if you know this, but Peace Corps is hard, like kinda really hard. I know, I know Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 4.45.01 PMyou’re probably thinking “WHAAAAAAAAT?!, but Audrey makes it look so easy and fun!!” Which, don’t get me wrong, all in all I am very, very happy here, but I still have those days. Those days where I’m hitting my head against the table because I’m frustrated with my language level. Or when you haven’t changed your clothes in a week because it’s just too damn cold to expose your skin to the elements. Those days where I’m trying so hard not to freak out too much because I haven’t written any lesson plans. Or those days were I’m just so exhausted from just simply existing.

If you’re going to survive in Peace Corps Morocco you have to have a “How to Keep Sane Plan.” It really is the only thing…

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Didus’ (grandpa)



With joy: “Mara, she’s walking!”  you called, in your own tongue.

I expect I understood as I took my first few fuzzy steps

before I fell on my rear!

Mom arrived in that narrow front room,

head covered in a patterned scarf,

drying her hands on a damp towel, too late.

She and grandpa confirmed then, I’m sure,

this moment – this only moment –

as I gazed at them, through baby-big eyes:

love flowed, in that narrow front room, and joy.

Mary Elyn Bahlert, 2/06/2017


How to list…

For most of my life, I was good at making lists.  Creative, even.  When I wanted to exercise, I made lists of what I could do; a list protected me from becoming bored, and then, no longer exercising.  When I wanted to lose a few pounds, I made a shopping list before I went to the grocery, and I made sure I only bought what was on the list.  When I took a night class in communications at the University while working full time, I lived my life by following what was on my carefully crafted list.  Later, when I had work that allowed me to set my own schedule daily and weekly, I made a list at the beginning of each day, and had the satisfaction of crossing out what I did during each day.

Now, I know  a “list” of a different sort.  The birch tree I love (and the tree that returns my love), lists elegantly to the right.  I love its list.  I am accustomed to that sway, the elegant list, as if I had caught my friend mid-step as it danced alone, not expecting to be seen.  I have the luxury of those few precious moments that are needed to relish that sway, the list.  I compose lines of poems in my mind when I am walking, lines that include the precious word, “list.”

I expect that life has always been this rich, but I was so often like a beggar, empty hands pressed forward, hoping for a few crumbs of beauty.

Now, I see beauty wherever I look:  the sky turns turquoise for a few moments in the evening, I remember the face of someone I love, who I will not see, ever again, I watch for long minutes the sliver of sunlight on the west side of the eucalyptus tree across the street, not looking down for fear the sun will no longer light that place.


And I notice, daily, with pleasure, the list of my faithful companion, the birch tree, which bends so gently, without pain, to the right.  Today, I saw a little bird enjoy that place, too.  After a few moments, the bird was gone, rain fell.  My tree, my friend, listed, to my delight.



The Way, by Mary Elyn Bahlert

If there was a path, I didn’t know it,
although I prayed for it to show itself, sometimes –
of course –
not knowing another way.
I took each step, afraid,
dead leaves crackling under me,
my heart, beating hard in my throat.
Sometimes I froze – did I stop too long? – I wonder now,
but I was alone, and sad, and so I needed to stop, sometimes.

If there was a path, the forest did not open its way for me,
as it has for others.
I was not given a map at birth, or a spoon, or even instructions
as to how to proceed.
I simply moved, because the years passed, and others moved:
I didn’t know what else to do.

I put one foot in front of the other and tried not to scream.
Sometimes, I held my breath, to hide the whimper in my throat.

I think of the others now.
Was the way easier for them? We don’t talk about it.
I think of the ones I left behind, images of me,
waving to them from the moving train, thinking I would see them again.
I did not.

Now you wonder why I gaze with sadness and delight at the trees,
the light flickering, days passing – so quickly,
why I think about those who are gone,
why I am grateful for my breath.

-Mary Elyn Bahlert, November 28, 2017




It’s magic:  the seasons change,
magic, how time – that mysterious substance – moves along,
one touch of light to the next.
And then: darkness.

Magic: the clouds waltz in the sky.
Sometimes, they float together, granting us grey.

It is magic, (is it not?):
life passes so quickly and we are lost in trying to understand,
to comprehend its passing. (We forget to shake our heads in wonder.)

Magic: how ordinary light burns the branches of a tree,
sets it ablaze,
and I, witness to it, am grateful.

Magic: moment to the next moment:
now – now – and now…

Mary Elyn Bahlert, 9/24/17, Oakland