16 Apr 2017 Leave a comment
an rsvp sent to friends with whom I will be missing our annual reunion.
Good morning friends,
I awakened, as I imagine many of you also may have, to exubertant birdsong celebrating the return of life from the long sleep of winter. I am in Tennessee where the awakening is vibrant. The drive south was like a fast motion film of spring’s arrival, with blooming redbud painting the roadsides and hillsides throughout Virginia before the first dogwoods made their appearance in the southern end of the state. I’m always struck by the way in which the spring vistas seem to be mirroring a subtler shade of autumn, the softer pastels of those reds and yellows and apple-greens washing over the land.
We visited the Smoky Mountains, for a few brief days, before making our way to Nashville for Easter with my daughter. There the forest floor was blooming with promise after the devastating fires that had ushered it into its deep sleep last November.
As you know, I will be missing our annual time of reconnection and renewal. It was not a hard decision at all to accept the invitation to go north when it came, though as with so many decisions to say ‘yes’, there soon came the tension of the necessary ‘no’s’ that were naturally attached to it. Even as I write this, I note the regret that would have me in angst about my decision, but I am seeking to live a life less torn asunder by so many pulls on my heart, a life where I can be present as wholly as possible to the place where I stand.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons I go. When I am there, I am there.
I trust that, with you all, one of my deepest desires will be true, that I can be connected and free at once. A paradox, of course, as all the deeply true things of life seem to be.
Don and I continue to search for that balance, I suppose, too as we seem so often to be pulled in opposite directions…. his ESTJ to my INFP, his southwest to my northeast, his human-made material and concrete world to my natural intangible one. In good times, we wonder together about our complementary pairing. In stressful ones, we wonder what we were thinking! I sometimes think about those householder, childrearing stages of life in a marriage, the way that two disparate selves come together to create a separate third, an actual new life into which the two then also come together with mutual passion and love. I think I am waiting (longing?) for that 3rd love that the two of us might pour ourselves into at this stage of our lives.
Don had a second ankle fusion surgery last fall, and the recovery has been difficult and long. He is still not physically able to walk without a cane and has significant pain. WE are hopeful, but I am coming face-to-face with the reality, much sooner than I’d anticipated, of having married a man 10 years older than me, something that is inviting the deeper practice of surrender in me, no matter how I resist. It has been a frustrating time in our marriage these last 2 years, as being nurse/caregiver to your partner develops habits, establishes roles, and reveals communication and control issues in the relationship. I have recently realized quite a bit of anger in me at choices and actions made by others, including my husband, that impact the direction of my life. So often, I feel like George Bailey on the train platform with my suitcase in hand… When I am able to step outside and observe, I find it fascinating that my partner developed a problem that kept him grounded in place at precisely the time when my long-waiting spirit had been imagining flight!
Connection and freedom.
I won’t go on, lest I lose you in my endless ponderings, but I wanted to share with you all here something of my life , as I will miss the sharing we have when we are together. ( gosh, and here comes that longing again…. See! It isn’t the other at all, it is me who does this to myself)
Loving you all,
02 Apr 2017 2 Comments
There I stood again, so dumbfounded I am certain that my mouth was agape, as my mind searched in a panic, rifling through so many blank pages for an answer. Though the question was asked slightly differently, I was just as caught off guard as I’d been for all those years when it was posed that other way, ‘What do you DO?’ (for a living –‘career’ implied). This time, innocently proposed, the children’s nature hike leader attempting to use the adults in the assemblage to illustrate the ways in which all living (and even nonliving) beings in the forest neighborhood have a job to do, she turned to me and asked, ‘What is your job?’
‘Oh, I’m retired’, I stammered. (wait, is that even true? or is that simply one more place that I have hitched myself to the coattails of a man – my husband retired 4 years ago – has that become my easy out? – though I never had a career to ‘retire’ from – oh there I go still discounting all those years of devotion to the art of motherhood)
‘Oh, but surely you still have a job to do. Everybody has a job!’
Back home, I rehearsed all the responses I might have given… each one of them so soft and indistinct, they may as well have been an abstract watercolor, those free-flowing works of art where the water and the pigment seem to be given rein to do their own thing, without boundaries or structure or any sense of control, outside of the artist’s command.
Seer of Beauty.
Seeker of Wisdom
Lover of Earth
Payer of attention
I thought of Mary Oliver’s ‘Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Harrumph. What is the purpose of a life such as that, what ‘job’ does it perform for the neighborhood?
A friend supplied me with this one – ‘Guardian’ – ( she also gave me ‘Caregiver’ but I have been desperately trying to escape that!) because I suppose this is who I am for her, the space I hold in her life. Back to that image of Indra’s net flew my heart, to the assuaging notion that each of us is to simply be who we are, to hold our bejeweled knot in the web.
Guardian of the Sacred? Perhaps. That seems like it could be a ‘real’ job in the neighborhood after all. A Doing Something Job. A Tangible Job. A Needed job.
I realize that perhaps the first place that requires my sacred guardianship is my own value. Is my worth dependent upon what I can do for others? Or is there something inherently sacred about my own life, regardless of my role? And might there be something profoundly sacred about the lifeforce contained in hope or the energy of a dream?
I have been feeling diminished lately, not quite desecrated, but definitely unseen. When something is not seeable, it is far easier to forget that you are walking on sacred ground. Choices are made that don’t honor the inherent dignity nor take the essential welfare (not to mention, thriving) of the other into account. I wonder if all beings start screaming a little louder for attention when they are about to get stepped on.
You see, my anger has been acting out lately. Actually, for years now I have felt myself to be in an almost constant state of rebellion, fighting determinedly to survive, not to surrender to the crushing, striving valiantly to hold on to some sense of self –self-agency, self-determination, self-direction, self-worth. Instead I have felt my life so very much out of my own of control, as if I am utterly powerless to move it in the direction I seek it to go, as if it is flowing haphazardly in response to opposing external stimuli, its color helplessly altered by a drop of red spreading out on the wet canvas.
Alternately angered and then aggrieved, it seems the choices of others continually alter my own. Of course, I realize that on some level, it is my choice to acquiesce, and most often that choice stems from love. I am a relational being, after all, and when one of those jewels in the web nearby me pull, I come naturally attached. We all affect one another with each move that we make, I suppose. The birth of (8) grandbabies, the retirement of a spouse, his choice of a second avocation, a year and a half of orthopedic surgeries, the pulling of our hearts in opposite directions, the ‘settling’ into a new home, the saying ‘no’ to a dream. Cancelled plans. Altered visions. Diminished dreams.
Then there are the tangible everyday pulls, tugging loose my guilt and fear-of-missing-out from the sweater I wrap around myself to keep out the cold and keep myself contained. Beneath that false guilt, I realize that these everyday pulls nag at my heart because I understand that each moment shared is an opportunity to nurture relationship, and I continually feel as if I am letting someone down. A birthday party. A baptism. A grandparent’s day. An invitation to lunch. A daughter’s phone call. A yoga weekend with a friend. A son’s unexpected weekend visit. A mother’s decline. A dance/violin/gymnastics/piano recital. A daddy-daughter camping trip. A neighborhood need. A sister’s walk. A beloved’s recognition reception. A relationship here. A relationship there.
A nature walk.
The stuff of ordinary life, each one attached to my heart. Each one a seeming obstacle on my path, altering the course I have longed to set for myself, to that elusive Sacred Lake, where I might find myself in the reflection, or be stirred awake by an inner passion, or even be held in stillness beneath the ice. To my own true North, where I feel my own sense of self, grounded, centered and rooted, come alive, I long to flow.
I write this morning with green ink. My husband bought a new box of pens for me because he knows I prefer the Ultra Round Stix roller pens. I like the feel of the pen in my hand, the way the roller glides across the page, allowing my thoughts to flow easefully from my heart through my hand. Nevermind that the store didn’t have any blue ones left. I hadn’t asked him to go purchase them, but he had seen. Who knows, perhaps my eyes will grow accustomed to the muted pastel flowing across the page. Perhaps it might even become a signature of mine. Become a longtime companion made from ‘making do’, receiving a gift of love even when it feels like a compromise, from letting go of control. Become a watercolor wash of beauty.
Though something deep within my spirit longs for my life as a lake – contained, secluded, and bounded, still and deep, quiet and reflective, perhaps I am destined to be a river, and not such an old river at that. Not at all ancient or wise or even wide, but quite young, narrowly twisting and turning around obstacles along my way. Unable to carve my way through the huge boulders of granite left behind when the glacier retreated, or through the upheaval of my own bedrock, my path is altered on its way.
Perhaps life never flows in a straight line, after all, it is always more organic than that, dynamic, continuously changing … ceaselessly slipping through our open hands. Like this ink from my pen, my own life continues to flow from my heart, though it looks not at all like I’d envisioned it might on the page.
Oh, I don’t know. I only know that when I check in with my heart, it feels at peace in that other, quieter place. It feels like it can see itself there, and to be seen is to know oneself as Sacred. To be seen is to be Guardianed. My heart does not feel at home in the river. Always distracted. Never focused long enough to deepen. Constantly running. Forever catching up. Never quiet.
What is a woman to do?
So much latent in me, longing. A friend emails breathtaking photographs , images that tug at my soul, instinctively drawing my hand to my heart. There is that yearning in me, too, to follow that love of the lens of my own eye, forever undeveloped in me. I read a few essays that likewise draw my hand, my heart, my tears, at the beauty and tenderness, presence and pain revealed and expressed, contained by those words on the page, my own story forever unwritten in me.
Except in this blessed journal, where it flows green (though I yearn even here to be blue), like those abstract watercolors, unstructured, uncontrolled, uncensored, pastel and vague. Hinting at something unnamed and yearning to be seen. Though it appears that I also have no control over my life, perhaps it can still be a thing of beauty.
Something sacred. Worth guarding.
In the forest neighborhood, those trees that are rooted, unable to move from where they are stuck, are greening. The children were asked what the job of the Tree was. Their answers – shelter and shade- were diverted quickly away by the sight of a salamander under an upturned log, but I knew the true answer to that one. She is the primary gatherer of the light, transformer of that primal energy into something green that can offer nurture to all other life forms in this vast web.
I wonder if she ever wonders what it would be like to be blue….
30 Mar 2017 1 Comment
“against the starry cold, one small blue ring of flame’ – Ted Kooser
When she was 12 years old, she stepped into the teacher’s classroom,
and closed the door on her childhood.
While driving her carload of boys to visit her sister’s
the space shuttle exploded in the blue.
Her mother had boiled a formula of canned milk and corn syrup
to feed to her babies
In the whitewashed sanctuary of the brick walled church
she was pushed under the water three times
Julian of Norwich sequestered herself inside of those walls, in the midst of black death,
to proclaim that ‘all shall be well’
When will I feel free to be me?
Cheri Serfass was just as terrified as excited
when her father brought the pony home from the carnival
The sky kisses the water so intimately in that place that she
cannot discern where earth ends and heaven begins.
Lying down on that earth heals all of her wounds
Her hands on his narrow shoulders soothes her
28 Mar 2017 Leave a comment
I have been dwelling for some time, as you know, in my journals from last summer and fall. As I have been revisiting those days, I have been back-posting my entries to the time in which they were written. I have just completed the the last group in the series, chronicling the time when my friends and my spouse came north to join me, at last, and we entered the park together for a 10 day slow-paced journey, which was ironically the beginning of re-entry for me into my life back home. You will find all of those posts related to that time listed below.
The series previous to these can be found here. This series chronicles the time I spent working at Hay Lake Lodge.
Keeping with the backward unfolding spiral of time, the following post tells of the week I spent introducing my sisters to my beloved. Here all of the days are compiled in one post. I was a bit busy!
Before that, I had come with one woman, which I think of all of my canoe trips last summer was the most intimate and memorable for me.
And finally, the beginning of the journey, a blessed week with some of the men in my life, whom I love
25 Mar 2017 2 Comments
This morning we walked the slave trail along the river. Imagining shackles, our interlocked hands held on to each other, as if in some sort of séance calling forth ghosts from that river of commerce that was the slave trade in this city. Trudging clumsily along, single file, simultaneously dragging and holding on, we were invited to enter with our hearts the darkness of that night, to feel the filth and bruises on our bodies, naked and cold, to experience the confusion and terror.
In the midst of that disorientation, my heart reached for something to hold onto, sorting and searching frantically its hidden chambers, recalling the ways it had learned to survive the immediacy of trauma. My body responded in familiar ways to calm the chaos it felt. One foot in front of the other. Hold on to the moment before you. Feel the presence of what is behind you. Breathe.
Sensing the sharp contrast between the roughness of jostling and the coolness of the air, my feet fell quickly into the shuffling gait of my 86 year old mother inside the box of her walker, within her own confinement – a confinement of body and mind- within the walls of the institution. And I thought of the myriad ways our autonomy is stripped, our ability to choose denied. How the human journey is continually reshaped by such enclosures. I wondered if perhaps the most noble and mysterious thing about being human is the way in which we survive our bondages.
Bondage. That word comes to me succintly as we walk. Holding on to the person one footfall afore, feeling the handhold of the one just behind, this small band of travelers with whom I am bonded brings a bizarre but intimate comfort. We are bonded together in and by this experience, desperately needing one another , holding on because of the trauma we share. This is the only cure I can conjure up from these ghosts to survive this terrible breaking. Hold on and Connect.
But of course, the cure for being broken is always (re)connection.
I thought of the people’s hearts severed from their land, surveying the plants here, seeking their bearings by reconnecting with the earth in this place, searching for home. I thought of infants and children ripped from their mothers’ arms being gathered into the bosom of a stranger, pain being healed by being held, again.
Last evening, we were called by the haunting melody of the flute to gather lost pieces of ourselves – pieces we have given away, pieces that have been stolen – to call them home. I wondered, how does one begin to heal a brokenness such as that? As I walked that trail today, my body remembered how I have done it.
Perhaps it is true that the long lasting bond, of which I have so long lamented the loss, was severed long, long ago, but I learned to bond again and again, each time one was severed. Throughout successive traumas and successive bondages, I held on, bonding over and over again, becoming something new each time in the (re)union.
I have fantasized that there are those who bond in a more full-bodied way than I, who have been able to hold on by more than a hand, who have known themselves to belong, to be loved, to be good, to be connected whole-heartedly, but I suspect today that this projection is just that, a fantasy. Perhaps each one of us has successive bindings. We connect and hold on in order to survive each time in each place because each connection makes us more whole, each (re)union makes us more human.
In the midst of my heart experiencing the atrocity of slavery, my head was recalling the images from the film, Salt of the Earth, which documented the life of photographer, Sebastio Salgado, whose decades of work chronicled human suffering and terror, remembering how he yearned to heal himself by returning home, to his birthplace, which he then grievously discovered had been also desecrated. There, he set about restoring the land, planting seedlings by the thousands. The homeland he subsequently reforested is now a refuge. The land has reclaimed its goodness. Birds have returned to sing. Wildlife has returned to run free. The man has been healed. Telling the story of that film to my friend, she suggested to me that perhaps our severance from the earth is the original source of our brokenness. Each successive disconnection is piled, layer upon layer, upon that primal breach. I thought about how this felt true, that we are able to dishonor and desecrate the other when we believe we are separate from it, different than it, when we believe that it is an object we can use, forgetting that it is a sacred part of us, we a sacred part of it in a seamless whole
And so I long to lay down on the earth now, knowing it will heal all my wounds if I can just re-member myself to her here.
We visited the Burial Grounds of the enslaved. Until a few decades ago, this land had been paved over, made into a parking lot. Uncovered now, we walked through that greening field, where bodies, once desecrated have returned to the earth. Set free? Or bonded again to that primal relationship with the earth?
We survive by holding onto our fellow travelers here- for a mile or a century – one step at a time, together, bonded in bondage, whatever those bondages look like. Whatever our brokenness looks like, we love in the midst of atrocity. We find intimacy in the midst of terror. Until perhaps, at last, we lie down on the earth and are healed.
10 Mar 2017 2 Comments
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Enroute to the post office
on a Monday afternoon, strolling
mindlessly along the winding
path, soles rolling with the cobble
stones, through familiar ivy
laden trees, you pass
the musty theater.
The dusty scenery appears
to be leftover from Act 1;
the plot, surprisingly, the same
one you’d performed when you were 5.
Although the stage has long been dark
(you gave up acting years ago) you know the lines
by heart, you pause
to glance, and there they are
as if they never tired, the players,
apparitions of the way
it was, ghastly
distortions crafted over time.
But you continue on your way.
You’ve no desire
to perform that role again. Besides,
the hope tucked in
your pocket holds potential
for something new.
A first glimpse
into that box, you’re disappointed,
the package you had hoped for still
in limbo so it seems.
But what is this ancient postmark?
Expectation shifts at once
into astonished wonder, as if this
postscript has been circling
the planet 50 years, awaiting
time to drop out
of the sky into your open,
outstretched palms. Confession.
And though you didn’t comprehend it
was a cell that you’d been living
in, you feel its instant
release, fall away,
an opening, the first deep breath
in years, a thrill!
Decades of guilt reprieved
in the turning of a key.
It wasn’t you.
It never was. No matter
you could not
recall being laced
with drugs, the ones that made you
doubt reality, that made it next
to impossible for you
to walk without that hidden shame. No
matter that the story told
for all the world to read
that you’d kept secreted
so long indeed unlocked
a treasure chest. You simply hadn’t
realized where to look.
Passing by that
stage again on your way home,
the lights now up, transforming
tragedy to comedy. The actors
just as tireless, parrot
their recycled lines,
you glance again and smile…
as you continue on your way.