zendaughter

I am an imperfect, off-beat single mother of three who is blessed every day to find sacrament in the ordinary, making my life extraordinary.

Christ, Crackers, Communion and Keeping It Real (I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French-fried potatoes)

 “Chase after the truth like all hell  and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.”
― Clarence Darrow

With fists flying up in the air
Like we’re holding onto something
That’s invisible there,
‘Cause we’re living at the mercy of
The pain and the fear
Until we get it, forget it,
Let it all disappear
. –C. Bennington (et al)

For George, Chester and all those who suffer no more.

Amazingly, we just last week had the anniversary of the famed Scopes trial that took place in Dayton, Tennessee ninety-two years ago. You read that right: 92 years. I am certain most know the history. In 1925, the state of Tennessee brought charges against one John T. Scopes for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in any publicly funded school.

Clarence Darrow represented Mr. Scopes while William Jennings Bryan (three-time presidential candidate) represented the prosecution. The trial basically pitted Darwinism and the Bible against one another and tried rather successfully to say if you believed in one you couldn’t possibly believe in the other. It didn’t last long but it was just long enough to whet the whistle of the American people and create a dialogue (diatribe?) that lasts to this day. (More on this in a moment.)

Fast forward to today (remember, NINETY-TWO years later) when a group of atheists and agnostics has commissioned an artist’s rendering of Clarence Darrow to sit alongside the statue of William Jennings Bryan outside the famed courthouse.  Now the contingent from the Baptist college in Dayton, Bryan College (so named for the aforementioned Mr. Bryan) finds this unsettling. The sculptor of the Darrow monument and its patrons, consider it a well—balanced addition to the history of the courthouse.

Here we are in 2017 and the separation of church and state and maybe, more importantly, the discussion of Darwinism, Creationism, evolution and the story of Adam, Eve, that wily serpent and the apple, has reached an almost fever pitch.

I remember being a teenager and trying to explain (in my relatively small Bible-belt town) to my friends that I believed in both the Bible and evolution. I can still recall the shock and horror on a certain friend’s mother’s face when I broached the subject during a slumber party. She was Antioch Baptist and she did not appreciate my heretical ideas being thrust upon her daughter.

As I recall, we also discussed chastity belts and upon starting my period at said slumber party I was given a ginormous belt with clips and a pad about three inches thick to “fix” the “situation”. (Where the hell is Judy Blume when you need her?) When she handed it to me I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I smiled politely and rigged it up best I could.

When I got home I showed my own mother, who had a really good laugh (about the evolution, the “situation” and the belts) and softly told me I should perhaps not spend the night there again.

The thing is- why must Christianity and evolution be mutually exclusive? Why is it so hard (and frightening) to believe in both? Of course, these days this is simply the tip of a melting iceberg.  I find it more and more disheartening that the Christian discussion has become one of fear, loathing, and alarming rhetoric. Certainly, the political climate in our country is contributing to this, however, the discussion and apprehension is nothing new. What is new, is the adamancy of the Christian right that everyone adheres to their very specific and rigid view of Christianity. I don’t mind telling you, this rubs me more than a little, the wrong way.

Way back in the day, Jesus was not only a rebel but an outlaw (for the record, there is debate as to what law he broke, whether Roman law or Sanhedrin). He rose up against the establishment and spoke out often and with defiance and passion against the dangers of complacency with the powers that be. He taught inclusion rather than exclusion and accepted everyone and counted all among his family. He still does, right? RIGHT?

Jesus basically gave us a rule of life- a manifesto of how to live and it was fairly simple. In fact, it was almost remedial. ‘Love God, love yourself, love others’ (I am paraphrasing a tad). It seems almost laughable when you repeat it back…and yet, when I do so I find my pulse quickens and the hairs rise on my arms. It is so basic and so meaningful but somehow we have turned his very life (and death) into something almost unrecognizable, but I digress.

Last week was also the first year we marked the passing of George, my old love. I don’t ever focus on those types of anniversaries, but the entire day found me spaced-out, closed up and fighting tears. I don’t know why. George would have never wanted me to be sad. “HORSE SHIT,” he’d have said. He’d be right, of course.

I had a theological retreat this weekend in which the discipline was to better mentor the students in a theology class I will lead (co-lead, actually) in the fall. It was at Camp Allen, a beautiful stretch of property owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas nestled in the woods of Navasota. I spent a good deal of my free time walking the grounds and thinking about George and other high (and low) points in my life.

We are all aware of my zany and sometimes a hair less than heartbreaking life. I make no secret of it, and in fairness, it is not really anything others do not deal with on a daily basis as well. (Yes, I am also glaringly aware of how good I’ve got it in comparison. Stay tuned.)

Case in point: Lily, the ever pain-in-the-ass but oh-so-sweet Rottie pup, throwing up (and having diarrhea for good measure) in my room while I was out of town for the weekend. Or maybe let’s talk about das auto being broken down going on about two weeks now. Perhaps I could mention that my second child is leaving soon for college in North Carolina and that is yet another child who will never live at home again.

It could be interesting to note that I no longer have a bank account and that I will likely never get into seminary due to the small loan I have to take out each year for Jack’s college. My family (the one I grew up with) is generally as dysfunctional as the rest of the population’s with some really fascinating dynamics at work on any given day.

I could mention my sometimes more-than-mild flirtation with my boss, or the ½ a decade I’ve spent in love (and longing) with the Cajun in which I have let several really good men fall by the wayside (and to be fair, some not-so-good ones too).

Here’s the thing: it’s easy to get caught up in life…to assume or presume perhaps, that we are meant for different things. When I look back on my life (which I really try not to do unless it is to recall some fantastic memory from my youth or young adulthood) I tend to get caught up in the reality that I am not, in fact, the next Jane Pauley, or that I never went to law school or won my Oscar. (I had a lot going on.) I still hold out hope for my Peace Prize and/or either the Pushcart or the Pulitzer.

The point is- wherever you go, there you are. (Thank you, Dr. Seuss.) What I mean to offer is this: life is why we are here. It is messy and uncontrolled and sometimes unfathomable and uncomfortable and at times, the next worst thing is lurking just around the corner. But it is also wonderful, warm, exciting, unplanned, unrehearsed, and unavoidably awesome. There is real substantial joy in the ordinary, every day if you will let yourself go and feel the freedom of feeling all the feelings.

We talked a lot this weekend about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It is difficult to think of a guy so totally alone in his hour of need- crying out to be heard, wishing for a reprieve or simply an answer from his father- and finding none.  At that point, he is a totally human man feeling utterly human emotions. There is no saving grace for Jesus. We know how the story ends. There is a kiss, a cock crows and he is hung on a cross and left to die in a place some have called the valley of bones.

And yet, what happens next is unexpected and dare I say beautiful, humbling, beguiling, mysterious and divine. He says no to death. He says so knowing there is already a place for him waiting- that his lonely hours are forgotten and that he has triumphed over the obstacles set before him. It was always meant to be this way.  Let us not forget, first he asks in a moment of complete and unbelievable compassion, for his father to forgive us- all of us, forever. He conquers death and then ensures in a contract that can never be unbound or broken, that we all get to live forever too. But make no mistake; he went headlong into the shit many a time before he ever became the guy we now worship with icons, stained glass windows, velvet paintings, crosses and air fresheners.

Here’s the meat of it: life can really be shitty sometimes. People we love die; they get sick or sad or old. They have accidents or make poor decisions or just simply drop dead when it is their time to vámonos. There’s genocide and suicide and infanticide. All of those sound as horrible as they really are. There is child abuse and drug abuse and animal abuse and abuses every single day that goes unknown.  We could talk about cancer, or AIDS or Ebola or the next “big epidemic”. We could talk about hate and hate crimes and the loss of love and the urgency for redemption. All of that would never be enough. Some of us have experienced darkness others only have nightmares about. (Again, a lot going on.)

Here’s the manna of it: life can be the stuff of magic most times. If every single time I felt love I had to stick flaming bamboo shoots under my fingernails, I would.  It’s that good. It’s everything. And it’s not just between two people. Quite the contrary. It’s in all things. Think of the first time you felt the snow on your tongue or heard the whisper of the wind. Carry yourself back to the first time you heard Otis Redding sing ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ (even if it was ‘Pretty in Pink’). How did it feel the first time you got ankle deep in cold creek water and squished the silt between your toes? I guarantee you have never felt a cool breeze on your neck and felt the sunshine on your face without smiling. Remember the shivers when you hit the air conditioning after a day at the pool? Or how about the first time you tasted cake or drank a beer? When was the last time you read a really fantastic book? Or began to write one? What about your first kiss? Or the last one?

I’ll tell you what- I would take heartache every single day if it meant I would always remember the way I felt the first time I laid eyes on the Cajun. I would feel pain every other moment if it meant I would always recall the day I had each of my children or the day I got married or the first day I met God. I would also endure anything to retain the exact moment I was denied my Holy Orders or learned of Kevin’s death, or George’s or Drew’s… I would cry a thousand tears to always be able to fully hear George’s laughter in my ear.

Pilate asked, “What is truth?” That’s the truth. The good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, are wed to one another; the macabre and the mundane swing slowly on a pendulum which houses the extraordinary and the ethereal on the other side. You cannot have one without the other- you must know one to fully appreciate the other. The things that occur outside of the two extremes are the “stuff in the middle”. The garnish, if you will. You must also have the middle- it is no less important than the bottom or the top. All these things culminating in which direction we choose to let our lives lead us.

I read something the other day that was both tragic and profound. The gist of it was that even when we see a crushed Robin’s egg we still see the beauty in the cracked shell’s perfect hue of blue. This is truth.

People above my pay grade talk about how we have lost communion with one another. I say, “Baloney,” to those people. We haven’t forgotten- we do it every day.  It might not be the stuff of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting but somewhere, somehow every day we offer the bread of life to someone else. It’s frequently messy and not at all how we envisioned it, but we minister just the same.

Think of the last supper. Jesus telling his closest friends that they never really ‘got the message’, that one was going to betray him (with a kiss, no less) and another was going to deny his very existence and finally, that at the end of a very long night, morning and afternoon, he was going to die. “Hey guys, let’s drink to Jesus!”

He never said communion was supposed to be easy- in fact, he pretty much let us know going in it wasn’t. Guess what? We continue to do it anyway. Why is that?

I think I have an idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somebody Tell the Truth

I’ve been doin’ a little drinkin’
It don’t tickle my bone
What’s a man to do with these old walkin’ shoes
If they never get you home? –
The BoH

I wrote a fan letter last week. I mean a real old-fashioned fan letter. I’d like to say it was a kind of promising exchange of correspondence worthy of say, Jane Austen- but I feel like that would be romanticizing it a bit. I felt goofy writing it, but also engaged and fully alive and a little hopeful.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to write it – or more accurately whether or not to send it (which means the length of my bath) and decided I am old enough to do exactly what I want to do. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? He never answers back? Ok.

The letter was to Colin Brooks, an amazing musician whom I have had the pleasure of seeing live more than a few times. The first time I saw him live was all the way back in 2006 in my current locale, Marble Falls, TX, at a restaurant-slash-bar that has a teeny tiny “stage” area where musicians perform on Tuesday evenings. My friend (also a musician, John Greenberg) was the standing opening gig and had asked me to stay and listen to the band I “just had to hear” following his and Mike Blakely’s set.

Colin happened to be one of three front men for The Band of Heathens, a bluesy, ballsy, bluegrass funk band (is that a thing?). All the guys have incredible guitar skills and vocals but it was his playing the Dobro that really did it for me. I felt a tugging inside at the sight of him and when I heard him sing ‘Hanging Tree’ I just felt…connected to him somehow. (I know, I know…I continually find connections everywhere with everyone it seems. I suppose it is that collective consciousness I like to talk about more than a little. I just firmly believe when you feel those things it is best not to discount it.) Of course, it seems fair to mention here that he is rakishly handsome; like the kind of fellow you would want to take home to mom, but maybe never would.  (I laughed when I typed that.)

The thing is, I’ve seen a whole lot of bands live. I’ve been to some really great shows but I have never acted (or more importantly felt) the part of the groupie. It just isn’t me. (Of course, I guess all girls who are groupies say this. It’s like the people who say, ‘I don’t like drama’ when they are clothed in it daily. But I swear- I am no Penny Lane.) [For those of you who just missed the ‘Almost Famous’ reference- get thee to Netflix!]

I watched the entire set with Johnny and his gal Jessica. The BoH were performing songs from their live album ‘Live at Momo’s’ and with each song, I loved them a little more. There really is something to be said for intimate settings to listen to live music. The whole house seemed invested in their music and the evening was a little like being in your favorite honky-tonk with the greatest house band ever.

I watched him play that night and moreover I watched him sing the lyrics with heartfelt meaning, even though he’d sung the words probably at least a few hundred times already. I tried to catch his eye, of course- hoping for the shy sideways glance of a teenager. I think I managed at some point probably the goofball, innocently sexy (comical?) look of a recent divorcee.

I also really longed to ask him to go have coffee or a beer after the show.  I convinced myself I would if the moment presented itself and it did. I saw the guys after the show loading up a minivan and I had the perfect window and I just… failed miserably. (I did have a momentary chuckle at the minivan. I’m not sure what I thought they’d be hauling all their expensive and delicate equipment around in, but in my mind, it resembled more the ‘Partridge Family’ van than the reality.)

It was the end of the night and I made a million excuses, the final one (and a rather good one, I think) being that he was in front of ALL his band mates. I just stood there like a school girl and no words came and then they drove off into the night. (Story of my life…or a great Nora Ephron script.)

I saw them later a few times at bigger venues and I watched them grow in popularity and stature I suppose. They were still magical every time I saw them. I waited for the perfect opening for the chance of coffee but lo, the opportunity had never again presented itself. I’d always secretly wondered if he would have said ‘yes’ to my invitation for coffee and I always still wish that I had asked. Life moves at increasing speed and when you have those sort of stop-motion moments you should definitely take them. They are usually the game changers.

He left the band after the album ‘Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster’s Son’ in 2011. It was a departure for them for sure. There were deep grooves in this album filled with music reminiscent of The Swampers and Freddie King. I heard old school Beatles a little too and ‘Should Have Known Better’ made me grab a tambourine and bang it with reckless abandon. (The phrase, “More cowbell” springs to mind.) I had purchased all their music up until then but after he left I confess I missed the ragged blues and raw soul he had brought so beautifully to the band.

I never really knew where he disappeared to after that. I mean, I know he didn’t actually disappear, but like I said, not a groupie and so he just vanished from my purview and that was that…until I went down the YouTube rabbit hole. In YouTubeland you can watch or listen to just about any Band of Heathens or Colin Brooks song, any performance, any interview…you name it. Search it and *poof* there it is. I heard performances by him as a solo artist before the Heathens had even been born and to my delight, I was able to download his solo music and catch up performances both here and abroad. I do a lot of belly-aching about technology but this time I used its powers for good. (My good, anyway- and sometimes that just has to be enough.)

There have been some profound music experiences in my life. Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Sting, U2, Elton. I mean, I was raised on ‘The Redheaded Stranger’ on vinyl and I saw B.B. King for 20 bucks on Beale Street. In fact, a good deal of the Heathens stuff reminds me of a good ole Bernie Taupin/Elton John collaboration say, off Elton’s self-titled album released the year of my birth.

One was the night I found the Heathens tune ‘Hey Rider’ live at MoBoogie Loft on YouTube. I know it seems weird to say you had a transcendent moment from something you got from an electronic device but bear with me. To have heard this song’s studio version is one thing and even to have heard it live with an audience is another; but there is something so intimate about this performance that is so organic and true that I found myself unexpectedly weeping the first time I listened to it and then again as I watched the video.

The musicians are so into it– it is so authentic and emotional and there is this point where it all just sort of comes together in this crazy crescendo and you are just moved. Or I was anyway.  ‘Hey Rider’ is basically an old-time spiritual with some serious heart. The lyrics are haunting and the imagery unmistakable, but add Colin’s weathered vocals, the wealth of good (really good) guitars and Ed Jurdi’s seasoned fingers at the piano…well, it is just about perfect.

As someone in discernment to become an Episcopal priest someday, I am constantly awakened to legit secular music with a sacred undertone. This song speaks to the ancient in me, as so much of their music does. Monday as the late evening sun came creeping through my window, I lit some candles, poured a glass of good Cabernet, poufed my pillows and nestled into the cool darkness of my room. I plugged in and put on my son’s exorbitantly expensive headphones and queued up the song. I turned the volume up just loud enough for my device to warn me I might encounter profound hearing loss if I turned it up one more notch. I did so anyway. (What a rebel.)

There are moments in life when you are so sure of the existence of God. Times when you feel the Holy Spirit do its thing in your life and you…just let go. I have experienced scenes from life when absolutely every single thing feels fully interconnected in the landscape of being alive. This tune makes me feel this way.

Each time I listen to this version I find depth and beauty I missed before. I’ll admit the kid’s headphones took the experience to a whole ‘nother level. The lyrics are delicate but heavy with biblical depth- references to God’s breath on the water- a direct take from Genesis (my favorite part actually), a crown of thorns, being created from dust… When I had listened to about an hour’s worth of truly exceptional music I went to rustle up some dinner.

The thing is- you can admire a musician, writer, painter or another kind of artist for their craft (and their beard, if applicable) but you can never really know them. Ok, I’ll admit, people who read my writing probably really do know me as much as anyone else- save my sons. That being said, you see the point I am trying to make. His music made him attractive to me…but that is not really a glimpse into the person, merely his music- and only a small sliver of it at that.

A fair while back when I was active on Facebook  (before I bailed when the politics made my skin crawl and people’s words seemed poisonous) I had “friended” him. He never replied, which was not a shock. I mean, he doesn’t know me. I never used to accept friend requests from people I did not know unless they had read my blog. (‘So not very many then’, I hear you saying.) I thought he might acquiesce since he was, after all, a lauded musician and thought he might use the forum to keep fans updated on his life and leanings. I thought I suppose selfishly (or hopefully) that I might get a glimpse too. Perhaps something notable that would ease the mystery I felt about this person. No such luck.

I hadn’t been down the rabbit hole in a while and not really sure why or what I hoped to find, but after dinner I ‘googled up’ (as my friend Bob says) Mr. Colin Brooks. I found some of his older music before the Heathens and snippets of old interviews at various stages of his career but nothing too flashy. (To be a musician with a pretty great pedigree his internet footprint is pretty light. I dig that.)

Anyhoo, after a bit I stumbled upon a podcast called ‘Slightly Chewed’ broadcast by another musician with Mr. Brooks as his guest. The episode is almost three hours long and the topics are all over the map. The mood is light-hearted but the subject matter is sometimes not. They talked about religion, music, politics, drinking, memories, work, fly-fishing… the topics touched on humanity, anthropology, technology and he mentioned things that made my ears prick with interest. I found him to be intelligent, intellectual, endearing and really funny. There was a touching moment when he talked about his mom and some spontaneous instances when I found myself laughing out loud.

You run the risk I suppose, of learning about a person you desire to know and being disappointed by the result. I did not find this to be the case. In fact, I found myself wanting to know more- again wishing I had asked him for coffee all those years ago.

I sat down the next morning and penned the letter to him. It was written along the same vein as this blog with what I hoped were moments of girlish charm and brilliance. It’s hard to know really. I tried to read it back but I felt like such a goofball in doing so I’m not sure I made it to the end without blushing and giggling before tossing it aside.

Later after I had decided not send it I wondered why. I mean, what in the world is wrong with letting someone know you admire and are completely blown away by their work? Further, that after you had actually learned more about them you still crave to know more? I guess it is because he is a very handsome fellow that I feel this way.

Years ago, I met my friend Carrie (the lovely and exceptionally talented artist Carrie Jacobson (http://carriejacobson.blogspot.com/) while searching the internet looking for a concrete stain for my driveway of all things. I have no idea how I found her but I am so thankful that I did. I adore her and I tell her so all the time! I have no qualms about letting her know how much her paintings speak to me and no issue telling her I love having her in my life. I wish to tell him such things didn’t make feel like a seventh-grade girl sitting on the bleachers waiting to be asked to dance. (‘Good luck with that,’ my psyche tells me.)

I ended Colin’s letter asking delicately if he might want to write and exchange letters (read: emails, I suppose) like friends used to do long ago. I also ask if he perhaps should find himself in this neck of the woods again or me in his, he might be up for coffee.

Sometimes the things in life we leave undone really can be our own undoing. I am a free-spirited, thoughtful person who (I hope) lives my life unencumbered by the rigidity of what society wants me to be. I love hard and deep and I expect the same from others. I still play air guitar to Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and sing at the top of my lungs holding my hairbrush as a microphone when I hear Aretha’s ‘I’ve Never Loved a Man’ and go full-on Temptations groove when I hear ‘Can’t Get Next to You’. (I know…)

I still cry every single time I watch ‘Old Yeller’.  I like my cheeseburgers with a chocolate shake. I miss my Mercedes. I do. Sometimes I like to stay up very late and sometimes I go to bed lamentably early. I like my eggs over medium and I go to church on Sunday. (A little play on a favorite Lyle Lovett tune right there.) My politics lean left and I see no change in that anytime soon- or well, ever. I love my sons, my life, my dogs and my relationship with God. I visit the Buddhist temple and still say prayers when I lay down to sleep. I run out of gas at least once a month and I carry my banjo pick in my purse to remind me it is something I need to pick back up. I cuss a fair amount and I can be really whip-smart clever when I want to be.

All of that is to say, when I want to tell someone I am a huge fan I will. I mean, I have, I did and I would again…it felt pretty great. And who knows? Maybe one day he will write me back and tell me coffee sounds like a really good idea…or maybe he will just simply say ‘thank you’. Either way, I did what I tend to do best which is let him know in my life his presence made itself known and mattered to me.

Life really is not for the faint of heart. It demands participation. The soul yearns to show you the secrets of the universe and it all begins with the first step into the unknown. How you navigate this wonder is completely up to you.  I would caution you however, not to let fear keep you from doing the giant cannonball into the deep end.  There is freedom in being just who you are- and hope and let’s be honest- faith and trust in something at work bigger than yourself.

So someday if (when?) you see me in a small hole-in-the-wall diner having coffee (or a milkshake) and hushed conversation (or conversely, raucous laughter) with a handsome stranger, come sit down and share a cup. My treat.

P.S. If you don’t already know his music- you should. You really, really should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Everything’s Lost, the Battle Is Won With All These Things That I’ve Done

 We have slaughtered

In the garden

Digging graves instead of planting

Mercy for the crucified

A bitter justice

Begging eternity for love – A. Morissette

I have been asked a lot of questions since the election in November, both from the supposed ‘right and left’ about how I feel about the world and her people and the way things are going. I usually manage to deflect somehow and talk about the weather.

I’m kidding of course, at least about the weather. The thing is, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what is happening near and far. The conclusions I draw are very personal and I think there are enough valuable opinions out there in the ether without me adding mine.

Someone I disagree with regularly told me the other day that I am (we are) unable to “know” God or be in “relationship” with God. This really got under my skin. It actually crawled all over me, Believe me, I fully understand about God being unknowable. This much is true. God is creator of all that IS- so, that means everything. I mean, I get a little “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ just thinking about it.

Let me give you a small but meaningful example. I am not very good with living plants. Those who know me best are well aware of this. My friend Christopher is growing Valhalla in his yard and mine looks like the set of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’. I digress; let me get back to the example.

I have a couple of very lovely fake plants in my home because I am not very good at keeping the real ones alive.  One is an arrangement of silk flowers I acquired while working for an interior designer. It is a bouquet of iris, bird of paradise, palm and snapdragons with peacock feathers. The other is an orchid. It is a lovely bright pink color with realistic leaves and roots.  It sits in my bathroom and I admire it while I’m brushing my teeth, bathing, and other things you do in the loo.

I began looking at those flowers and thinking further than the fact of their manufacture. I began to think of the creation of the fabric used to create the petals, the leaves, and the roots. I started to open my mind and further think about the way these materials were all put together to make this beautiful plant.

Additionally, I became intrinsically interested in thinking about the people who had put these flowers together. A machine could perhaps sew the flowers and maybe cut out the leaves and attach the flowers to the stem (maybe). But there is humanness to the process I cannot ignore. Someone had to assemble these things into the plant I now look upon with favor.

I begin to imagine who this person might be. I think about their story, their life, and their place in the world. Is it a man or a woman? How old are they? Where do they live? Are they married? Single? Gay or straight? Do they have children?

Someone somewhere put this plant together with at least a modicum (probably more) of care and pride in their work and created something beautiful for me to enjoy.

This is a gift from God and a definitive part of his creation. This is the way my mind works. Every single thing on, in, around this earth has meaning and purpose and it was all put here- again, created for us to enjoy and reflect on. When you reflect on it this way, as I do, God becomes infinitely knowable. He is mystery too, because he is…well, everything.

I sent my friend Cathy a message asking her how it could be that I find myself in an intimate and what I hope is a mutually rewarding relationship with God when he is seemingly beyond human comprehension. For the record, I do not doubt my closeness to God. I carry a piece of him around inside me. I am simply asking the question.

She directs me to immanence and a light bulb goes off above my brain. We have discussed immanence in my theology class (quite a lot actually) and it resonates with me. Immanence basically says that while God is supernatural and divine, he is also present here in the material world; in fact, in my life every moment.

I spend my life in constant conversation with God. Some of the conversations are mundane and some border on the fantastical- all are imperative and meaningful. My life is a continual prayer.

I am no deist. To me, my God is one whose hands are down in the muck and mire pulling me to safety, sometimes saving me from myself. The one who fights for me and lets me win sometimes. My God is the one who will catch me if I fall and encourages the skinned-knees of exploration. He is the one who hears me when I cry…the one who would die for me.

Here’s where it gets really good. A few weeks ago I was having a talk with Papa (God) at a stoplight as I waited for the light to change. I had all my windows down and was blaring Annie Lennox’s ‘Waiting in Vain‘ while I sang the words loud enough for all the passersby to hear. I turned down the volume just as she sang, ‘In life I know there is lots of grief, but your love is my relief’.  “Ok listen,” I said. “I never ask you for specific things, I never have. Today is the day. I need a definitive sign one way or the other. Please just let me know. Give me a sign.”

Let me interject here that I do not ask God for parlour tricks. I wasn’t asking him to part Lake LBJ or make day into night (or vice versa) or even make it rain (though it did…). I was just asking him for a sign. In keeping with ‘honesty is the best policy’, I should tell you that I twisted my fists and shouted a little and there was quiet crying (because, well…me…) and then I just matter-of-factly said, “I need this from you.”

About a week later I got my sign. It was like a neon billboard in a barren desert. There was no denying its intent. I felt awash with gratitude and joy and comfortable and uncomfortable all at once. I mean, I have had God definitively answer me many a time. I have heard his voice. But I feel like I have never asked for something so selfish- that’s not really the way it’s supposed to work- and he freely gave it to me anyway. I want you to think about that for a moment. How profound is that? Like mind-blowing. But I suspect that’s kind of the point.

So I began to think about the person who tells me I cannot be in relationship with God. I respect his opinion and his faith, actually. He adheres to a strict biblical faith and I appreciate that. The Episcopal faith can at times be a tricky one. We ask for the respect and performance of sacred traditions handed down from the Apostles themselves. Then we turn and say it is ok to question everything- including your faith. Frankly, it is precisely why I love it so much. We are visionaries.

That said; let me get back to the world and her problems. (I know… I tend to wander when you let me. I like rabbit holes.) I don’t really get involved in politics. I am a registered independent and I like who I like. I also have never really been comfortable on the front line of a sit-in or smashed in a throng of thousands in a rally or parade. Make no mistake, I LOVE THESE THINGS. Our freedom is never as assured as when we exercise it. I just choose to exercise mine a little differently.

Do I worry about the world? As my friend Jaybo used to say, “You bet.” So here’s what I do. I wake up every morning and (after I have grumbled the requisite five minutes) I say thank you for the creation of a new day. I brush my teeth, put on a little lipstick (and blush on a good morning), throw my hair in a top knot and dress. I feed the pets and I speak to the birds and the day. I greet the strays I feed out front and hop in the old beemer.  I put something on the stereo tried and true and crank it up. Then I start talking to God.

I try to be the face and voice of Christ wherever I go and to whomever I meet. In truth, sometimes this falls on deaf ears and blind eyes and sometimes I am not the face of Christ but of someone I do not recognize and sometimes, someone I do not like very much. This is intrinsically part of being mortal and flawed and why it was so imperative Jesus be human too.

People talk a lot about sacraments, what meaning they hold and they refer to them as specific things: baptism, communion, burial, and marriage. I refer to life as a sacrament; the sacrament of the ordinary. It is the sacrament of the lady or gentleman who makes those fake flowers that make my home a happier place, the lonely guy under the streetlight wondering about his life, or the child who cries in the night because they are hungry. It is the giving of spiritual bread to the socialite who is starving for faith or the person dying of cancer that requests forgiveness for deeds left undone. It is the sacrament of holding an old man’s hand as he navigates the crosswalk, or holding on when it would be so much easier to just let go. It is the whispering of prayers for a troubled world or your troubled son in his ear as he sleeps.

God is there for all of this. We rest at his feet, he rests at ours. Somewhere in the world someone starts their day like me. Somewhere someone lives their ordinary sacraments- just like me. In fact, I’m willing to bet more than one; all around the world, no matter whom or what or how they believe- they believe. My boss and friend (friend first, I think) asked me how to stop the trajectory this country and this earth seems to be on. I answered him with truth and a little bravery, I hope. “By being kind, “I say simply. “If I love others as God loves me, if I am kind- if I am always kind…if that is all I do, well then, I believe they’ll do that too…and somehow, some way it will all be alright.”

I know it’s simple (and a little like jumping from a plane with no parachute) to believe, but I do. I also know God answers my prayers.

“Love without restraint makes one saint and the other faint; the sweetest face and the tenderest embrace bring the sun to every place in such grace.”

Ana Claudia Antunes, The Tao of Physical and Spiritual

In My Life, I loved You More

For my mother, who always knew what I needed but always let me figure it out for myself.

05.14.17

Dear Mom,

I remember so many things from my childhood, but some of the warmest, most wonderful and profound memories are of time spent with you.

I can still smell the chlorine and feel the warmth of your tanned skin as I cuddled close after a day spent at the pool as I drifted off for an afternoon nap.

I cherish the memory of you bringing me an Albert Porta’s cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake to Field Day instead of the crustless sandwiches other moms brought to their children.

It makes me smile to think of the days when I ran late for junior high and missed carpool and you took me in the Bronco (in your pajamas) and drove me right up to the front door!

I love that my friends were always welcome in our home. Even the ones you didn’t like very much.

I am so thankful you were there to teach me about art and history and music. I cannot listen to Chopin without hearing your voice intermingled with the notes.

I am humbled that you always trusted me and you let me be exactly who I wanted to be.

I am blessed you understood that much education is learned outside of a classroom and that you were always willing to be the teacher.

I thank my lucky stars you never me made me turn a stray animal away.

I recall with so much affection the snow days when you, grinning, handed me a giant bowl and asked me to ‘fill it all the way up’ with fresh snow because you knew I couldn’t wait to have snow ice cream.

I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of anyone (other than my boys) than the moment you told me you had made the Dean’s List when we were both freshmen in college.

I treasure the memories of art exhibits, traveling Broadway shows, libraries, museums, zoos, aquariums, historical sites and other afternoons and evenings spent in the pursuit of the arts and humanities. You encouraged me to understand politics and to join the discussion. You also fostered in me a freeness and happiness in uncharted travel and the unplanned adventure.

I am beyond fortunate to have had a mother who embraced fashion and whose sense of chic both in decorating and clothing was years ahead of the crowd and something I admired and aspired to in my own life.

I remember Saturday afternoons when the late sun of autumn would peep in the kitchen window and I would watch you make loaves of French bread and then how you taught me to delicately roll it in the cornmeal. I can still hear the crackle of the cornmeal as we cut the piping hot bread and ate it with warm butter.

I adore the memories of you picking me up from Camp Mitchell and our rides down the mountain spent in animated conversation as I filled you in about C.S. Lewis and Aslan and the Wardrobe and God at work in my life. I smile too at the very distant memory of Kevin coming with you and if I strain my eyes just long enough I can still see his smile upon seeing me.

I can still call the Hogs louder than almost anyone and I would never part with the memories of tailgating (the best part), cheering on the Razorbacks and precious time spent in the company of good friends late into the evening with you and Daddy.

I love how my life was filled with such diverse and fine people- Versa, Angelo, Emmy and Al. Sitting by the fire at Emmy’s as she told us tales of her homeland or in the kitchen with Dad bugging Al as he made schnitzel… I can still imagine me at the kitchen counter mesmerized as Versa peeled the potatoes in one long string while she snuck me shortbread cookies and told me about her father. I remember the darkness of Angelo’s bar, the grit of the floor and his joy at watching me belly up to the bar. I remember too his rough laugh and the thick ribbons of cigar smoke as he blew magical smoke rings big enough for me to step through!  I am still startled by the freshness of such memories and the priceless treasure they hold.

When I first returned home from the hospital with newborn Jack I remember being so afraid when I fell ill and you just tucked me in and kissed my forehead and told me not to worry, that you and Jack would be fine- and you were. Just like that. (Dickens trying to smother Jack in his Moses’ basket notwithstanding.)

When I was ten, I remember you hearing about John Lennon being shot while watching the 5 o’clock news. I saw you move slowly toward the television from the kitchen where you were preparing supper and watched as tears filled your eyes. I remember you reminding me he sang for The Beatles and I felt profound sadness for the loss. You opened Rubber Soul and put in on the record player and we listened as the lyrics to “Looking through You’ held a meaning different than before. ‘You’re thinking of me, the same old way, you were above me, but not today. The only difference is you’re down there- I’m looking through you, and you’re nowhere.’ You said there would never be another like him…and you know? You were right.

My love of the cinema is directly rooted in your indulging me on Saturday matinee’s to feel the force and fall in love with Han Solo, to get down to the ‘Bear Necessities’, to watch Superman save Lois over and over again, or to watch Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn make movie magic. You always let me get “butter” on the popcorn even though you hated it and we were never late.

Lately, I have been pondering how absolutely magical those moments were after all the boys had been born and we were without a home and you took us in. I know there moments that tried your patience (and mine) but you were and have always been dedicated to the boys and me. You and Daddy both have. The joy and happiness from that time still radiates through the house. This is a sacred feeling.

There will never be enough time to tell you what having you both has meant to me. It’s everything. The relationship you have with the boys is so important to them- and me. God doesn’t plan our lives, but he does have a hand, I believe, in where we are meant to be and I’ve no doubt at all you were meant to be my mother and I, your child.

I know I do not visit enough…or tell you enough or show you enough but you are the mother I would have wished for if had all the wishes in the universe and I thank God everyday for the chance to be your daughter.

 “I wondered if my smile was as big as hers. Maybe as big. But not as beautiful.”
― Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I love you, Mom. Happy Happy Mother’s Day!

 

40 Days and 40 Nights, Twenty Lefts and Twenty Rights (She’s Having a Baby)

        For Sally and Patty:

Ab amando ductum est amicitiae nomen  (From loving derives the word friendship.)

‘Forty days and forty nights
Twenty lefts and twenty rights
Fifteen songs and fifteen flowers
Ten more ways to say that I love you.’

-Band of Heathens

When I was home at Christmas I had one of those moments where your memory is so fresh that you feel as if time has reversed itself. I was immersed in my parent’s bath tub having let the water fill my ears so that no sound was present and the only noise the beating of my heart.

I used to do this frequently in the tub when I was a kid and then later as a teen I would do the same thing and think about my life (love life, usually) as I held my breath. The trick (in my mind) was that when I could hold my breath no longer I would inevitably come to the conclusion I needed to about the situation I was in. It’s kind of like going with your gut but without oxygen.

During my lack of air, I thought of the last time I’d made a big relationship decision in that tub (“that tub” being the old white 1970’s era porcelain tub that is about the size of a very narrow coffin with the aged gold faucet and knobs with the verdigris of a long and well worn life). I’m pretty sure it was whether or not to marry David and I definitely did not listen to my gut on that one. But that’s not really the point. The point is the tub.

I still at forty-six use my tub as a think tank. It is there I do my entire heavy spiritual, relational and emotional lifting. Of course now it involves candles, Epsom salts, various kinds of oils, herbs, an assortment of fine music (the type utterly dependent on my mood at the moment) and wine.

Interestingly, I read an article today that scientists have found that soaking in a bath of very hot water is equal to about a thirty minute run. Now my sister and my children can cease-and-desist in their needling me about the temperature of my baths. I figure with the addition of red wine (which scientists also say provide benefits that mimic working out) I’m all set.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. Those closest to me know this- but this year I promised myself really only one thing: let go of things not meant for me. (I did not have this thought first, the Buddha did.) I’ll admit it seems a broad statement on the surface but what I was really telling myself internally was, ‘Stop messing around with the Cajun’.  I mean I can still Google ‘the difference between Cajun and Creole’ and I can still watch ‘Wallace and Grommet’ and laugh but other than that, I gotta give it a rest.  Further still, I need to stop fooling around with people and things that do not bring me joy.

I never did the whole ‘tidy up’ thing with the lady who instructed you to hold something for ten seconds (or whatever) and if it doesn’t bring you joy- toss it. For one thing, my OCD demands I do that anyway and secondly and most importantly, if I did that with my children or the pets on any given day at a random moment I might have to toss them.

[Author’s note: Someone got on to me the other day about using the term OCD- let me assure you that I have heightened awareness about not using a disorder as a “funny example” of some casual clutter problem. I have been treated for OCD and I am not being casual in use of the term, I promise.]

Today it is 72 degrees after a few days of rain. It is a day filled with warm sunshine and cool breezes and if I had any sense at all I would suddenly develop a major “allergy attack” and go home and leash up the dogs, pack up a couple of beers (or six), grab the White Album or The Band of Heathen’s Live at Momo’s and head to the campground.

I’m thinking about this as I drive home for lunch and I’m pondering who I would like there with me basking in the gentle rays of light and the truth of the matter is, I can’t think of anyone other than God. (Dogs and boys the exception, although…see paragraph 7 above.)

Last night as I laid in the bath I talked to God. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “How irreverent is too irreverent where you are concerned?”

God: “I’m not sure I understand…” (This causes me to laugh out loud. I mean really. ) “I am all that is– so, I am those thoughts whether you share them or not. You cannot hide from me. That goes all the way back to the Garden, right?”

Right. I talk a lot about God and the closeness I feel to him. I don’t mind telling you it’s passionate. I feel my very best self when we are alone and the intimacy I feel satisfies every area of my life. If I am being truthful, I am in love with God in a very corporeal and yet ethereal way and the way he makes me feel is a joy I will never fully be able to describe. (Again, how irreverent is too irreverent?)

He gets my jokes and he sings me to sleep, he holds my hand and he cares for me. He delights in me. He delights in ME. I carry the mark of God in my own image. Wow. Best of all and most importantly, he created me just to love– out of love so that he could love me and then share the meaning of that love with me so that I may share it with others.

Last Wednesday we had a Lenten series event at church and it was presented by the Mission and Outreach Commission. I used to proudly serve on this board until my life grew too busy to accommodate all my activities and I was forced to give it up. This commission is the one that allows our parish to “put our money where our mouth is”- it allows us to be Christ’s true presence around our little town and her surrounding areas. It’s a really good thing.

The talk was about physical hunger and the imperative of the group and the newly formed Burnet County Hunger Alliance to end hunger in Burnet County. One of the questions posited by the group was to remember a time you missed a meal and what that felt like. Lots of people spoke about being ‘hangry’ and most admitted they had never experienced real hunger or missed a meal that wasn’t intentional.

I don’t really ever get ‘uncomfortable’ but I felt a little apprehension when deciding whether or not to share that I have in fact, gone without food. It hasn’t been any time in recent years, well maybe one or two (thanks for the pizza Auntie Sloane) but once it has happened to you and your children you never quite forget it.

I’d like to blame it on David or the muffin man or whoever, but maybe the truth is I didn’t manage our money well. Perhaps I was not really judicious with any kind of savings. It could be the fact that I was never very good with any kind of money at all and it just got amplified by being a single mother with three gigantic humans to feed and clothe and care for in all ways always. Whatever the culprit, there were moments I had no money. No money means no cash, no bank account and no credit cards. It still means this to me and so I am heightenedly aware of the import and significance.

What I neglected to mention (and should have) was that at no point did I ever feel abandoned, alone or afraid- I never really even felt truly hungry.  God’s sacred and constant presence in my life allowed me to sustain myself and my family without worry or despair. This is what I consider an everyday extraordinary miracle and why I believe as I do.

My sister is on a constant search for love and commitment. (I’m not sharing anything she would not tell you herself. I mean, she might not write it down and publish it, but hopefully she will understand my need to share a little of herself with you. ) She believes the right life partner will give her own life purpose and meaning. Sunday morning we were chatting about this and other things and the discussion inevitably turned to my own love life, or lack thereof.

I told her like I always do that until I stop being in love with the Cajun there can never really be any love life; but further, that in my life, God is and will always be my significant other. I tell her that once you have experienced a moment in time (or out of time, or beyond time…)when you are certain of God- when you know without doubt or expectation that God is with you, really with you…it’s enough. Once you understand, however simplistic the understanding may be, that you are in relationship with him forever, well… everything else kind of pales in comparison.

She tells me I have found a depth and intimacy to my faith not privy to many. I bristle at this because in truth, it is available to all of us if we are open to it. I’m not saying it is easy- that would be a lie. Sometimes he asks things of me that I’d rather not consider; sometimes he presents me with hard truths and consequences of my own lackadaisical behavior and sometimes, well sometimes I abuse the privilege and sometimes I am no better than any of the disciples who could not stay awake in the garden even though it is all he asks of me.

There is a real humanness to our relationship: cussing, humor, hurt, healing, and discussions about the world and beyond. We share significant amounts of time in prayer, in thanksgiving for the earth and her inhabitants- all of them. There is love and there is romance.  Of course, as with any union, there can be discord and anger, injury and upset. There are also moments so bare when the pain of this mortal coil becomes more than I can stand…and it is in the quiet desperation of these times that he holds me so tight and whispers his devotion to me in my willing ears.

Sunday I received the news that my ex-husband and his wife are expecting a child- a little girl. I’d love to tell you that I handled this piece of information with grace and kindness and joy for their good news. That too, would be a lie. (At least a little tiny white one anyway.)

My initial reaction was thought for the child; I had been dreaming and talking and thinking about babies for the last two or three months. I had quite honestly almost completely convinced myself that I should entertain the idea of adopting a baby. (Sometimes I still do not know how to read my empathic intuition. Obviously.) You cannot be angry at a baby. It’s a baby for Pete’s sake.

Soon enough however, my thoughts turned to the other stuff- all the other stuff. I don’t really want to list my thoughts here. I mean, if you search your noggin long enough you can, I’m sure, come up with some scenarios that might fit the bill.

Needless to say, this announcement has caused a bit of a stir within our immediate family (read: the boys and me). We are all processing this with care and thought (and sighing and cussing and crying and more sighing), but each of us has our own way and timeline frankly, of dealing with this news.

I tell you all this because here is where the devotion comes into play. Sunday afternoon is my reserved nap time. There is little else that I can be persuaded to engage in on this day, the day of rest. I spend it first at church, and then at lunch and then barring any interference I slip on my lounge clothes and read until sleep finds me.

Well of course, Sunday my nap got all shot to hell. I mean Jack calling and announcing, “Mom… Dad and Lucia are having a baby,” will tend to do it. I laid there a good long while. My stomach began to churn and my brain began to take flight. Very suddenly, wet hot tears stained my face and I just let the enormity of it all well to the surface and overflow.

There was really nothing left to do but draw the shades, light a candle that smells like rain and hydrangea and run the bath. I let the scalding hot water fill the tub over the drain and I felt my skin goose as I eased into the tub and all the way under the water. I was aware of the pressure as my ears popped and then I held my breath.

I waited for clarity to come as the salt from my tears mingled with the bath water and pondered what this meant for all of us moving forward and why I was crying tears for which I seemed to have no remedy.  Suddenly, I heard his voice.

“Tough afternoon, eh?”

“Indeed.”

“You’re not going to find what you’re seeking in this tub. Not this time.”

“When then? When is it ever going to be my turn? When is the good news ever going to be mine?” I felt like a petulant child as I spat the words at him but said them anyway.

Later that night (after margaritas and machinations with Sally) I tied my hair in a loose braid and slipped into my favorite Razorback tee. I nestled in the covers as exhaustion finally overwhelmed me. At that moment I became enveloped in an embrace I can only describe as pure love and though in darkness I became keenly aware of God’s presence- his light and warmth filling every space in my body and singeing my soul. I wept openly- yet this time, the tears were filled with understanding and peace. “I love you, my dear Ashley and I am not going anywhere. Cross my heart.”  Cross my heart.

He stayed there with me in the still darkness holding me through the night.  The next morning, I confess I still didn’t have the answers I sought, but I did think about the guf and the soul God picked for my sons’ little sister. I thought about the mystery of the universe and the miracle of new life. I thought about Jesus as an infant lying swathed in a trough while the angels sang him to sleep. I thought about Holy Week and his death too and the sequence of events that led to the miracle in my own life that I am able to not only know God but feel his unending love and living presence within me.

I’m still not sure what the take-away is, or even if I am really sure how I feel. I can tell you this though with absolute certainty, whatever the answers may be I won’t find them on my own.  As C.S. Lewis so aptly said, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”

‘And I wish her insight to battle love’s blindness
Strength from the milk of human kindness
A safe place for all the pieces that scatter and
Learn to pretend there’s more than love that matters.’ –E. Sayers

I look forward to meeting you, little one. You will be loved.

 

Cats, Chaos, the Cosmos and My Call

For Jennifer who was my friend.

‘As we live our lives, we are in a sense creating a picture, a canvas. Every day we add strokes to the growing picture. I find it very helpful in my prayers to reflect on my life so far and ask if I had to paint a picture of my life – what would it look like? And then to ask for grace to glimpse something of what God’s picture of me is like.’  -Br. Geoffrey Tristram

This morning I awoke to Django (our Pyrenees/Golden mix) begging me with insistent panting and a low growl to let him out back. When I say this morning, what I actually mean is 2 a.m. I get up and try to focus. The tiny Rottweiler puppy Lily rolls off the bed to the floor and suddenly I hear her make the dreaded vomit noise. You know the one. I hear it happen before I can reach the puppy and then, in the silent black of my room, I step in said upchuck. (I suppose I find I’m grateful she wasn’t still on the bed.)

I let Django out and he immediately trots to the far corner of the yard and begins to pester what I can only assume is Mr. Possum on the fence. His low growl turns into a mad barking and I cuss the dog. I somehow manage to wrangle the two dogs inside and I pad over to the icebox for a bottle of water. I am barefoot and the sensation of cold water hits the soles of my feet before I realize it should not be there. I am standing in a small lake of water.

Upon inspection the water is coming from the washing machine in the utility room adjacent to the fridge. I look to see if Alec has perhaps loaded the washing basket over-full as he tends to do- but he has not. I dry all the water I can with a bath towel and then run a very small test load in the washer. By now it is 3 a.m. and between all the dogs’ barking and my cussing, we have now woken up the wild cats that live in my garden. They are all gathered around the front door howling in anticipation of the food they think must be inevitably coming.

A little back-story on the felines: my neighbor across the street (a gracious lady I should have taken the time to know better) took care of all the feral cats in our neighborhood. I watched her do this for a couple of years with admiration and curiosity. I had no idea how many were hers and how many she took in.  One day about three months ago, she came and knocked on my door. “Hi,” she said. “I’m moving to Maine tomorrow, can you take care of the cats?” (I’m paraphrasing, but not much.)

Now you might be tempted here to think I would lament such a request… I did not. When she had asked me her eyes were bright with tears and I knew she was worried. She explained all the cats had been tagged and fixed but were still very wild save one- Luna, who would appreciate the occasional petting.

Of course I took the bowls and the food and began to feed them on the reg. Three months later they are all still wild but they have come to know and love me (even the giant Tom who lives under the mesquite tree in the meadow comes to call). They gather  comfortably on the sidewalk leading up to the porch where they sprawl out and discuss their day and at night they reside under the sage and rose bushes. They are still leery but will now let me pet them in short bursts and sometimes I can hear them purring against their will.

Anyhoo, they now all believe it to be actual morning, not fake morning at 3:30 a.m. when we should all still be sleeping. I feed them a small amount which makes the indoor house pets think it is time for them to eat too. By the time I am finished feeding everyone, walking everyone, cleaning the vomit and watching the washer do its thing, it is 5 a.m. I have an hour and a half before my alarm will ring.

My first instinct is to nestle back down into my bed, pull the covers up and hit the snooze button until I am almost late to work. What I do instead is pull my Great-grandmother Tatum’s quilt off my bed and go out and lay down on the driveway to look at the stars.

It is still pitch black and the temperature is a crisp 49 degrees. I have waited all summer for fall to come calling and now that it has found me, I find myself quietly going over the events of the last week. Friday night during a quick text conversation with someone I hold dear the question was posited, ‘Are you happy?’ I hadn’t really thought about it then because I knew it needed my full attention to answer truthfully.

The last fortnight has been full of weird and wonderful moments and I replay them as I consider his question. (For the record, stepping in the throw-up was not wonderful.)

Last Friday I shared a meal with my friend, mentor, priest and confidante Cathy. (More on this in a moment.)

Monday morning I had my theology class and the discussions were thought-provoking and most of the participants were open to the discussions and involved, aware and present in such an invaluable way. I left feeling so thankful that I am able to be a small part of such an exceptional class and group of people.

Later, I got a phone call from the Cajun, which was surprising and welcome. (Yes, we still talk. No, it’s not like that anymore.) We were having a perfectly lovely conversation when he held my feet to the fire a little bit over something he was pretty passionate about and I got my feelings hurt more than a little. The details aren’t important. He was right and I knew it, but it was the way the conversation went that had my heart tighter than a piano wire. The thing is, after it all shook out we were ok. We had the discussion (read: argument), we apologized and both of us meant our apologies, we said we loved each other (which we do) and adulted very well, I think.

Two days later Paxton left out of NYC after a brief visit with his older brother Jack, headed for Morocco.  I did not feel apprehensive or uncomfortable. I felt excited for him and honestly, proud that I had raised a child so well that he feels comfortable moving half-way across the world alone. This doesn’t mean that I do not miss him terribly.

I spoke to Jack after Paxton had left; I guess he sensed my need for his company. We discussed his dating life, his friends and his grades. We also discussed his internship and his job as a Resident Assistant for his dorm at The New School. He is doing so well at his internship that the company’s owner has already asked him to consider a paid position for the summer. (I don’t think he’ll ever come home.) We spoke about his brother leaving and the experiences he was going to have and whether or not he would ever come home. It was a good talk and one I had really needed.

Over an ice-cold dirty martini that night my friend John asked how I was doing. I file that away with my other question and promise myself to think about it later. How AM I doing..?

The dynamic between my youngest son and I is in transition- and that’s being kind. It is not that we are in conflict or unhappy, quite the contrary. But I am used to a houseful of boys who liked being at home, who wanted a home-cooked meal on the table every night and liked to watch movies or television and just lie on my bed and talk about stuff.

Alec likes to be in his own room, he likes to be out and about with his friends and more often than not, he is not home for dinner. He is the kid I must remind not once or twice but SEVERAL times about laundry and keeping his room clean and signing up for the SAT and letting the dog out and brushing his teeth…

Friday night he played a solid football game at the position of center and even though the game was a loss, I was very proud of him. He played a great game. He called after and asked if I would pick him up out front (he usually gets a ride home with his friends). I happily swung around to get him. He was sweaty and tired and hungry.

He decided on Whataburger and as we waited in the line we talked about the game, his friends, his girlfriend, his brothers and his grades. It was the kind of fortuitous talk you hope for as a parent- the kind where truth is being told and you are keenly aware the moment is honest and good.

Saturday night I had what I would consider a pseudo-date with a man I really like but it’s a little complicated and I am not willing to provide many details at this juncture. Needless to say, I kind of invited myself to his humble abode because I needed a television to watch the Razorback ballgame and his Longhorns played during the day. (The only thing I really miss about no television is live sports.) We made plans for the evening- I would provide dinner and he would provide liquor and electronics. Win-win. We had a lovely time and after all the ballgames were finished he put in a movie and we watched until late and our eyes grew heavy. When we both began to feel sleepy I headed home relaxed and happy.

Sunday morning my dear friend and mentor Jane asked me to co-chair adult Christian Ed. The topic was Spiritual Journey. Jane allowed that she would lay the foundation of the discussion and then she wanted me to share what exactly spiritual journey means to me- and share my own journey with the group. I thought a lot about this request and in truth, I had been thinking about this very topic for close to a year with no ceasing.

What I shared with the class was a metered if not overzealous account of my own journey and the love I feel for God and how I live my life in accordance with that love. I’m sure I sounded like an over-age zenned out hippie. It’s not too bitter a pill.

Back to Cathy and lunch on Friday. As most of my loyal readers know (all twelve of you), about a year ago I was turned down again for my postulancy for the Episcopal priesthood. This was the third time to be denied in a process I have been involved in for seven years. Yes, I said seven.

The last time had been tragic for me and in truth, I took a much needed sabbatical from all things church related save the occasional serving on the odd Sunday. I backed away from the commissions I served on, I took a break from my theology class, I quit attending church on any sort of regular basis and I did not attend any extra-curricular church activities. Make no mistake please, I remained steadfast in my love, devotion and relationship with God- but I did not want to be in the pew. What I needed was the space and quiet to deal with my loss, to talk to Papa and to listen for his reply.

About six months in to my self-imposed exile, God began talking to me rather loudly, incessantly really, about the future of my call and what he was very clearly still expecting of me. And as with any good parent/child or husband/wife relationship I began in earnest to talk back. I mean, could I really be willing to put myself out there again…and could he really want me to do so? Well the answer over the course of time was very clearly “yes” and ‘YES’.  I could give you specific details but they are kind of private and might make me seem a little crazy.

My eldest son Jack asked me the other day if I just talk to God or if he answers me. He does very definitively answer back. Sometimes it is in nature; sometimes it is music or a piece of prose or Mary Oliver’s poetry. Sometimes I hear him in the wind or feel his breath on the water (I borrowed this from Genesis). When it rains his spirit clothes me in contemplation. Sometimes I am filled with his presence in the clover on the meadow as I watch the aphids work and notice the petite flowers that bloom underneath even the tiniest leaves. I find him speaking to me in the darkness of my bedroom when the first light breaks through the morning.  And yes, sometimes I actually hear his voice.

The thing is, the God I know is everywhere. He is in all things- every single thing. And so believing as I do, I feel him absolutely everywhere; I see him, I hear him and experience him in all things in all ways… And I never ever want to feel his absence from me- and you know what? I never do. I never have.

So in trying to ignore his Louis Armstrong-type trumpeting of the last six or so months, I do myself no good service. I am humbled beyond measure to know what little of God I do and I am constantly seeking to know more. When the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, presents himself to me, asks me to do something for him…you better believe I am going to find a way to make it happen or at least give it a really good college try.

Here I sit at lunch with Cathy, having asked her to lunch to as delicately as I can explain to her that I am going to try again- that I must try again. I am struggling to tell her this news in a semi “tidy” bundle, not wanting to seem too fanatical- even though I feel as though my chest might burst any moment with the revelation that has taken up residence in my beating heart.

So there it is: the basic canvas of my life minus bills, banks and bullshit. I feel a little like the sidewalk masterpiece Mary Poppins and Bert created with chalk in ‘Mary Poppins’. Everyday something unique and lovely until the gentle renewing rain washes it away making room for something more beautiful.

Am I happy? Indeed I am. How could I not be? How am I doing? The best I can, I think. I think about what the picture of my life would look like if I painted the contents contained herein and conversely, what it would look like if I were able to glimpse God’s canvas of me. In truth, I feel like my life is a wonderful collaboration of both and probably a little more Jackson Pollack than Rembrandt. Beauty is of course, in the eye of the beholder and so either way, it really is quite something.

It is not the priceless Van Gogh for sale at Sotheby’s but rather a small hidden treasure found at the last flea market of the day. The one painted with care and love, filled with brilliant colors and deliberate brushstrokes. It is the one with the worn edges and the shabby frame.

The one that will be the perfect gift for my Father.

 

 

 

 

Love is Old, Love is New, Love is All, Love is You

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I dreamt of autumn last night. I felt it rush in like a thousand winds on a single wing and my soul was refreshed. My dreams aren’t always that eloquent- not hardly.

Lately my dreams have seemed a collaborative mess between my psyche and my heart. They have been fueled of course by events in the world, in my own life and the heat- the ridiculous scalding dry dust bath that is central Texas in high summer.

A few Fridays ago the owner of the company I work for was disgruntled with me, and rightly so. There was no error on my part, more a sin of omission, but I had not been entirely forthcoming in the omission and there were cross words and hurt feelings (on both parts) and I almost cried. (I know, again with the crying…) But she and I are friends and have never been sideways and I regretted the incident deeply.

I told the Cajun I was having an unreasonably bad day at work.  He immediately answered and was appropriately caring in his response, but also added, “It’s the heat- it’s making everyone testy.”

I wish I could wrap the events of the last few days, weeks, months, years…into a tidy bundle and place ‘blame’ on the weather. If perhaps the global warming some of us decry was actually bleeding over into our actual lives then we have a reason for all the bad behavior. It’s too bad that‘s really not a “thing”.

I don’t really want to have a ‘gun’ debate or a ‘mental health’ debate or a ‘political’ debate about the state of our union or the upcoming shit show that will be our presidential election. I kind of just want to tell you, dear readers, how I feel.

One of my best friends Karen always tells me I am brave; when I ask her to clarify what she means, she says I “live my life on my own terms”. I usually self-deprecate and tell her she is mistaken. I mean, ‘my terms’ is a fair stretch. This is not the life I’d have chosen if there was a giant Life vending machine. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

I would have picked the one where I was always tanned and toned and skinny. The one where I never had to worry about eating the doughnut or the filet with the béarnaise (or the vat of homemade peach ice cream I consumed last night around the witching hour).

I would have a fat bank account- not only so I could pay my bills without getting physically ill, but also so I could always provide for my boys and spoil them a little. This bank account would allow me to travel and set up charitable foundations and live on the beach or in the mountains- or both. It would provide enough money for me to pay for the boys’ schooling and attend seminary myself without the Bishop’s approval; if for no other reason than for me to get my masters and then PhD in Divinity or Theology or Philosophy- or maybe all three.

I would pick the one where the man I love loves me unconditionally and worships me for the intellectual, intelligent goddess I am. He would laugh at my jokes and write me poetry and let me have all the dogs I wanted.

About now is when my friend Patty would appear and say (while clapping her hands loudly), “STOP. IT.”

One of my great loves passed away recently; Thomas George Maurer, (T.G. or George as he will always be affectionately known by me). He died from complications arising from a routine gall bladder surgery. We weren’t together any substantial length of time and yet, the love I felt for him was never defined by a number. He was such a good person and he was always so beautiful to me.

His death stunned me. Drew dying almost exactly a year before and then George- I’ll tell you what… I’m glad my heart is my strongest muscle because I’m not sure how much more I can take.

Death is kind of this crazy conundrum. When you believe like I do, that there is a God and a Heaven (whatever that looks like for each of us), then it really shouldn’t be a sad state of affairs but rather a celebration- a giant bonfire with all your closest people and a cooler full of your favorite beer on the perfect autumn evening. Even so, I find his death reminds me of where I am in my life and perhaps more importantly, where I’d like to be.

There is an urgency (for me) that sets in after someone dies- a very real alarm that I have let people go without letting them know they mattered to me and why.  I generally try to stay on top of the things I am grateful for and my thanksgivings, but not always. Frankly, does it hurt to allow for extra heaping portions when you feel them arise inside you?  I think not.

Sometimes it stuns or embarrasses those I am telling how much they mean to me, but most all the people who I am close to in my life have adjusted to my outbursts of adoration.

For awhile now I have been uncharacteristically holding in check my feelings for the Cajun. Now when I say this, it does not mean I have not let him know that he is loved and admired. Simply put, it means I have not told him I am “in” love with him.

Every article you read (and yes, regrettably, I have read a few) says you must never tell a man you love him first and certainly not until a certain amount of time has passed or whatever the ‘rule of the month’ may be. Well, George’s death lit a fire in me. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The fire was ignited one winter long ago when the Cajun topped the stairs and looked at me and has been a slow burn for years now, with George’s passing simply fanning the flames.

I think back to Karen’s words. As much as I want to say she is wrong, she’s not. I DO live my life on my own terms- where I am able anyway.  I have been carrying around these feelings for the Cajun in my belly like a stove overflowing with burning hot coals for long enough.

So, in a last nod to George and the way he lived his life out loud, last Tuesday I told the Cajun exactly how I feel and why. I mean, I really vomited it out. (Those of you who know me, can imagine…) There was talk of seeing the world in his eyes and my heart singing and hell, I threw in clown cars and fireworks just for fun.  I left nothing to chance either- not a shred of doubt as to what I meant.

I did not tell him these things to elicit a response, or issue some hard-line ultimatum (or to scare the holy hell out of him either).  In fact, I did not say them hoping for any kind of action at all. I told him how I felt because he deserved to know.

When someone makes you see the whole universe when you look upon their face, aren’t you bound to tell them? Don’t you sort of throw caution to the wind understanding the magnitude of how you feel requires the person who makes you feel that way aware that in his (or her) life they have made another human feel so close to what God wants us to know of love?

I know that is a heavy burden and kind of a weighty statement, but honestly, I just had to let him know.

When you fall in love with someone it can be lightening quick or develop slowly over time. I’m struck by the memory of taking a Polaroid picture and waiting for what seemed like eternity for it to develop as I fanned it and blew gently waiting for the images to appear.

I knew I loved the Cajun the moment I saw him. It was as if my soul was saying ‘hello’ to a dear old friend. I don’t really know what you might believe about reincarnation or not, but there is no doubt that I have known him much longer than my forty-five years. Haven Kimmel said in a favorite book, ‘There are people in this world so perfect that the fact of them feels like a personal gift.’ That’s the Cajun.

Here’s where it might get tricky for you. I have not heard a word in response. Now this makes most of my best girlfriends, my sister and my sons (to mention just a few), want to throttle the Cajun and send him packing (in lead-weighted boots) back to the bayou.

There was (I confess) a moment however brief, when I hoped for a bunch of wildflowers tied with twine and a shy smiling face standing before me at the threshold when I opened the door. The sun set and rose on the next day and I found myself happy with the decision I had made and unequivocally certain I had done the right thing. Regrets are for things lost or unattained. Neither of those applies. The love I have remains and so it is that I have been blessed to know it.

Here’s the thing: when did love become something that necessitates a reaction or an answer or even a mirror image for the giver? When did we become so unsure of ourselves and frightened of our own feelings that we must have them validated for them to be true or meaningful? If you are putting love out in the world in the hope of being loved in return, well you’re sort of missing the point.

Why can’t we just love- pure and simple; unadulterated by what society deems we should do with who and what and how we love? Oh, that’s right. We CAN; and I for one, will. (This doesn’t mean that I don’t trust that in my life others will love me, it simply means I am not dependent on it.)

Honestly, I don’t choose who I love; I love everyone- even the people I don’t like very much. Everyone is deserving of love and if we let loose with more of the unconditional love Jesus so freely gave away during his brief time here the world would be a much better place.

What if when people mattered to us we just told them? What if we didn’t wait to let those we love know how much we love them and why? What if we knew that telling the teller at the bank her haircut looks fantastic was as good a form of love as any? Or that saying thank you to the trash collector and taking him an ice cold glass of water was a way of saying, ‘I love you’ too?

What if when we felt love we let it out and gave it life and voice and purpose in the world instead of wondering what the outcome or the response would be or depended on the reciprocity? What if we just gave it away..?

What if we quit letting barriers and beliefs and bogus ideals about what love should look like dictate who we love? I’ll tell you what. We’d see a whole lot more faces that looked like Christ’s than strangers or suspects. The reservoir of our hearts would be overflowing and the universe would breathe a sigh of respite and relief.

Now you know why I told him I loved him. Now you know why I love you too. And if ever there should come a day when you doubt it, just ask me- I’ll tell you.

 

Maybe I’m Amazed

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For Paxton, who keeps me honest and knows my heart and loves me still. These are his words from the sermon he gave today and my heart is full. I love you, kiddo.

“When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”

When I first sat down to read these lessons, the word “earnestly” jumped out at me. I consider vocabulary a personal strong suit of mine, but I admit earnest is a word that I leave to context clues to decipher. However, this being the Gospel, I decided to learn it once and for all.

Many people I asked for suggestions about my reading immediately gravitated toward the emotion of Jesus (amazement), but my eyes drifted not to Jesus’ feelings, but those of the centurion, and by extension the Jewish elders who spoke with such strong conviction (earnestly) that it was able to get Jesus’ attention enough to enact one of his few long distance miracles, healing a person close to death through unknown distance and the walls of a dwelling.

This centurion, a Gentile in a Jewish world, made a jump to an unknown source of aid, mirroring my own path away from tried and true after high school plans. I say this because while most graduates decide to enroll in one of their so-called safety schools, after being denied admission to their dream university, this is not the route I chose. Rather than settling for a subpar education at a lackluster institution, I decided to throw the Hail Mary. I cannot explain the apprehension I felt from my closest family members as I decided my plan for my first year out of high school; I would take the often misunderstood gap year. I might not have made this bold move, but schools like Harvard in Cambridge, UNC in Chapel Hill, and Reed in Portland, Oregon obviously do not know me personally, as they placed me on the waitlist. For those of you unfamiliar with modern college admissions, it means the admissions committee was too polite to turn me down entirely, so they let me wait around to see if any of those actually accepted to a school like Harvard or Princeton decided to pursue their higher education at another institution. Sounds plausible right?   They ought to have known I would do everything I could to be on the list, not the waitlist.

As the centurion heard of this faith healing rabbi known as Jesus, it is easy to imagine a dumbstruck man in clanking armor scratching the bristles of his horsehair crested helmet. But rather than siccing the 68 or so commandos he had under his command in order to apprehend Jesus without fail, the centurion chooses the measured approach, knowing full well Jesus could simply say no to his request for care to aid his dying slave. The centurion arrives to his last option, much like my own option of pursuing the dark and mysterious gap year, for saving this slave not out of desperation, but out of pure hope for the arrival of the mysterious cloaked figure, with that same hope permeating to his feelings about the downed servant.

Before I myself decided to pursue this year abroad, working in exchange for accommodation and experience in a country that is not my own, I would have certainly considered the gap year a seemingly useless tool of those more affluent than myself in their glamorous lifestyle that offered them limitless routes to take following high school. In a similar fashion, this centurion could not have seen Jesus as a viable option for his slave’s sanctuary from death, and yet had no choice but to extend a welcome wagon to Jesus, known to most people at the time as the all-time zealot of Judaism. With no other paths to take, this centurion was in full reliance of an outlet he could not have had the utmost faith in. The centurion had faith not that Jesus would be fully capable of healing his servant; his faith was that of a man who understood that hard work pays off, and that this action symbolizing his last-ditch effort of his slave’s salvation would pay off simply because he willed it to. To this same degree, I have decided to will this gap year to fruition. I have heard others say I was great for many years recently, and this gap year is my agreeance. I am only as confident as each action I take, and if I wish to attain the centurion’s success, I must first gather his conviction.

In a way, my mother’s recent spiritual trials have mirrored my own in the world of competitive academia. When I entered my 8th year of education, formally known as the beast that is 7th grade, I first heard my mother speak of her call to become a priest in the Episcopal faith. I still find it difficult to describe a light in her eyes that I had not seen for many years leading up to that moment. She had a goal, and had decided, along with her beyond supportive son of course, to pursue her goal of ordination.

I watched the first year as she was challenged every Monday in her Education for Ministry classes, eating many frozen meals and Big Macs due to her earnestness in carrying out her life choice of pursuing a deeper relationship with god, which is fraught with its’ share of meetings, don’t get me wrong. After a hectic year of discernment committees, spiritual pathway writing, and intensive advice from me, her favorite son in addition to Dave our priest, my mother’s earnestness towards her goal was rewarded with a denial of acceptance from the diocese of Texas in response to financial strain seen of her credit reports and tax returns, in addition to other, unnamed factors.

But I didn’t learn my own traits of stick-to-itiveness and far-reaching confidence out of a book ­ I learned these from my mother. For even as she explained the reasons of her denial, the light never faded from her pupils. If anything she worked even harder in EfM and her second round of discernment, but was met with similar pushback and ultimately was denied again.

Put in her position, that would have been my last year putting myself through those spiritual strains, but thankfully, I am not my mother. Her going through her third year of discernment was actually the most apprehensive I have been about anything, ever. That being said, I understood deeply that my mother was indeed called to this line of work and she would have to be accepted eventually. However, the crushing weight of a third denial is enough to ruffle even the most convicted feathers.

I still see my mother as that woman with fire in her eyes talking feverishly about episcopal doctrine, but if anything she is now that much more prepared for her journey. She has lived through the hardships she will someday have to offer counsel on, giving her a leg up on all those who made their way to seminary without strife.

For now she has decided to break from the spiritual tribulation that is the process of discernment in favor of more internal exploration, confident that what she does is better preparing herself for the alb and pulpit. I cannot think of anyone acting more earnestly than a person striving to attain their goals, while knowing completely that there is a chance their goal is unattainable. Truly that is the faith that Jesus was amazed by, when he speaks of the centurion.

The Centurion’s moment of earnestness is what moves Jesus so much, not the fact that he reached out at all. His conviction is such that he decries the traditional Roman methods and reaches out to a rabbi, going so far as to understand Judaic customs. He knows that should Jesus, a rabbi, enter his household he would then be unclean. Just as he was rigorous in his own centurion training, he is also just as particular about the customs and culture of the foreign nation he currently occupies. I must keep this in mind when exploring a new culture, as ideas and customs I would not normally open myself up to might be the only options available to me. Broadening my notions of what is and is not my norm, which I’m imagining will not be much of a norm once I return.

Jesus is amazed by the centurion for a reason that can be difficult for some of us to act out ­ changing our culturally rooted ways in favor of foreign methods previously unknown and mysterious to us.

Surely the faith intended by Jesus is that of this lowly centurion; the ability to go about with free will, knowing without a doubt that what we do influences what we wish to be done in our collective future. Amen.

This Is My Opening Farewell

A lady stands before an open window
Staring so far away
She can almost feel the southern wind blow
Almost touching her restless day

She turns from her window to me
Sad smile her apology
Sad eyes reaching to the door

Daylight loses to another evening
And still she spares me the word goodbye
And sits alone beside me fighting her feelings
Struggles to speak but in the end can only cry  

It’s a little early in the game for my swan song for my middle son Paxton as he heads into the great unknown after graduation, but he’s been on my mind and so I better strike while the iron is hot (read: while I remember what I want to say). Also it is important to note that I could fill several volumes with stories and remembrances about my son, but I have chosen a small few that are written on my heart.

When I found out I was pregnant with Paxton I was at my six-week (late by two weeks) check up for the birth of Jack. I’d already been given my supply of birth control and was almost out the office door when my beloved OBGYN Dr. Caesar’s nurse informed me she’d forgotten to order a pregnancy test during my exam (required for new mothers).

I’d managed to pee in the cup and now sat waiting in Dr. Caesar’s office for the results as we made small talk and he appropriately cooed over little baby Jack. The nurse appeared in the doorway and made an ‘X’ with her arms. “Oh good,” I said and got up to go. “No, no,” she said, “I meant it’s ‘positive’.

Now I’d like to say that I had this moment of peace and clarity and I left the office happy, anxious to share the news with David. The reality was a little different. I burst into tears and Dr. Caesar quickly put Jack safely in his carrier and hugged me tight. The man had seven children. (SEVEN!) Thankfully, he knew exactly what to say to halt my descent into panic.

Nine months later Paxton was born and I found my heart grew in ways I had not known were possible. He was such a good baby. It was almost like he knew I needed him to be.

At about  3 ½ years of age we learned Paxton needed glasses. His vision was impaired in hard ways for a child of three to digest or understand. He picked out the cutest (and tiniest) pair of round lens glasses. They were actual Harry Potter glasses and came with a case that looked like a book and a wand! He was the sweetest thing to look at- that little round cherub face with the big ‘ole round glasses. Paxton never complained about the glasses. Not once. He smiled I think, because he could finally see. (His vision righted itself at about age 6 and now he has perfect 20/20 peepers, the lucky kid.)

This is how most of his life has been. For several months when he was around the same age, we lived with my mother and daddy while David traveled for work. His bedroom was the library with a nook carved out for his tiny blue toddler bed nestled amongst the furniture and books.

Every night after bath he would slip into his dinosaur pajamas, we would read a book (And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was a favorite) then I would turn out the lights, turn on the closet light and crack the door. I would tuck him tightly in and lay next to him and sing him to sleep. Some nights it was ‘Froggy Went A’ Courtin’’ but most nights  it was ‘Little One’ from the musical ‘High Society’- a remake of ‘The Philadelphia Story’ starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. (This film is easily in my top three movies.)

‘Little one, I was so gloomy,

Felt that life sure would undo me, till, one day, you happened to me,

My little one.

Little one, no controversy, You’re my downfall, you’re my Circe,

I’m a good guy; show me mercy, My little one.

I have such love for you,

Our future could be Heaven above for you

And paradise for me.

Little one, fate might miscarry,

Little one, why do you tarry? Little one, when may I marry you,

My little one?’

Almost every night he would say quietly, “’Gin (Again in toddler-ease) please Mama, gin gin.” I would sing it again until I saw his face soften with sleep and I would carefully remove his glasses, kiss his forehead and pull the door to.

My husband and I divorced when Paxton was nine. To say it was a tense time for everyone would be a gross understatement. It was terrible and frightening and hurt in a way that descriptions can scarce do justice. In the immediate years that followed, his father moved far away and while there were visits of course, our family really became just the four of us.

In sixth grade I transferred him to a different school district, which meant all new students and all new friends. Paxton had always been the leader of the pack. His friends looked to him for companionship and guidance, help with homework and the oft-needed belly laugh. Transferring at an age in adolescence when weight is changing, hormones are raging, bodies are growing and everything feels topsy-turvy- I worried about him. I shouldn’t have.

He overcame what shyness or unease he had (if any) and made a great group of friends who remain his comrades in arms today, come what may. First love found its way to Paxton then also, Kate. Kate was (and is) a beautiful girl with fiery red hair and a personality to match. She was the perfect balance for my understated son. He fell for her hard and it was something to behold. He picked her wild flowers and hung on her every word.

Eventually it ended as all things must and his heart was broken for the very first time. I remember his tight embrace as tears streamed down his face. There is something both horrible and wonderful in seeing your child learn about romantic love. It both breaks your heart and rights it somehow simultaneously, because you know he will love again and what that means for him in his life.

Paxton’s life has always been led in love. He would perhaps shudder at the thought (he IS a teen-aged boy, after all) but it is true. He loves with genuine affection each member of our family, including the pets. He has helped me raise several dogs, several cats and kittens, a skunk, a handful of baby raccoons and their mama (Esmeralda), several fish, a couple of rats, a mouse and his beloved ferret, Shamrock.

When Shamrock passed away after a life well-lived, I asked Pax what he wanted to do with his little body. We filled a shoe box with Shamrock’s favorite things, wrapped him in the blanket from his bedding and took him to our favorite spot, the campground in town where there are beautiful wild flowers, tall grasses, small rocky shoals and a narrow winding creek that empties into a small pond. We said a simple prayer and lit the box as it sailed out onto the water. We talked about Sham and how he mattered in our lives as we watched the flames consume the box and the ash rise into the air. It was a beautiful thing and worthy of a creature that brought us so much joy.

We have always attended the Episcopal church. During his formative years we helped a member of our church and friend, who was unable to walk, Helen, get to church. We had to leave the house very early because we lived a pretty good distance from the assisted living facility. Paxton would wheel her to the Excursion (a giant behemoth of a vehicle), physically pick her up and set her in the seat, fold the wheelchair and load it in the vehicle. Upon arriving he would do the exact same, in reverse…and then repeat the process after church. He never said a word. In fact, he went to visit her with me a few times without my even asking. Helen died a few years later and while I sensed an unsaid sadness in him, I also gathered he knew she was finally free.

This is the kind of child he is. He has the ability to find beauty even in death. He makes the most of whatever he is given- in a situation, in love, in learning, in life. We have moved several times since the divorce and each time he has been able to settle without complaint and find (and add) some amount of splendor wherever we go.

He is open with his affection and never shies away from warm bear hugs and telling me he loves me. He shares his love too with our family and our church family as well. He is the same way with friends, co-workers and even strangers. His heart is pure and his soul is untarnished by the trappings of his life. I hope he will always be this way.

He is extraordinarily smart. I know, I know, all mothers say this about their children…but it’s true. He is resourceful too; the street smart kind that if in the wrong hands can lead to trouble. He is always exploring, always learning and always open to any possibility. At a very young age he began to consider the world in a different way. He contemplated big ideas and bigger problems and what each meant for not only himself as an individual but the world as a collective whole.

He and I have always been extremely close. Our situation demanded candor and forthrightness from all of us but he always took (and takes) it to the next level. There are moments I find this cringe-worthy (“I touched her boobs”) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. What it means is that we have unfettered dialogue about things that matter. We discuss both enormous and acute subjects and I always find I am more knowledgeable after a discussion with my son. That’s really quite something.

Of course, he’s also still just a kid. He eats a lot of junk food, belches loudly and a lot (see prior), reads Hellboy comic books, cusses with reckless abandon at times and watches entirely inappropriate television.

Paxton regrettably, has been and remains the man of the house after the departure of his father. He has fixed many a household issue (the dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, icebox, vacuum, shower head, etc.) when I have been too poor to hire a professional. He does chores without prompting and he acolytes at church on Sunday.

He has been ever supportive of his older brother, who happens to be gay. He is his biggest supporter and they are very close. He has never wavered in his acceptance and has made it very clear if you are in his life, you better be accepting as well- otherwise, there is no place for you.

He has in a very tangible measure helped me raise his younger brother, Alec. They too are bonded in a substantial way. He has taught him about everything from manners to grooming, schoolwork, girls, to driving and beyond.

He found work as soon as he was legally able and has helped our family financially at every turn. He has never complained. In fact, he is careful to remain positive even in trying times. He has never intimated to me this has been a burden- but I know it to be so. There are times when his friends are going on trips or buying material things that I know he must wish he could do those things too… But it’s more than that, he has grown to understand the importance of being earnest and he appreciates with great veracity the simple visits to my hometown or a good meal prepared with love by yours truly.

These things, this life- are not the things a mother wishes for her son, but he has risen to the challenge beyond merit. He is very truly the glue that holds our family together. Without him, it simply wouldn’t work. I probably woefully fail at letting him know often and enough the truth of this and how much he means to me and our family, but I do try.

This is not to say we have not had our share of missteps, shed tears, hurt feelings and harsh words. There have been times when the struggle and stress of being a single mother and a teenager trying to be both a man and a boy have collided. It is what he and I have done during those times that speak to our relationship. We have emerged unscathed and for the most part, such instances have only strengthened our bond.

He will graduate in a few months and as Student Body President he will be Master of Ceremonies. I dig that. (It will also hopefully get me a better seat and force me to for once to be on time.) He has a school full of educators and administration and kids that he adores- and adores him. While he finds school tedious (he is a brain, after all) he loves the interaction with these people.

In his life Paxton has only intimated one goal from a very young age- he wants to change the world. He wants to learn all about her, help her thrive and leave this earth and her kinfolk better than he found it. He says he’d like to be the President of the United States. I believe him and in this current political climate- he’d definitely have my vote. (Plus I could live in the Lincoln bedroom, just saying’…) Just as everything else in his life, I have no doubt if he sets his mind to it- he will make it happen.

He has applied to some amazing colleges and universities and as of today we await with trepidation the daily visit from the mailman. I am curious and excited to know where he will go. Wherever the wind carries him, whatever he sets his mind to- I can almost assure you he will leave an indelible mark. That’s my boy.

What do I wish for this child? This boy who for nine years has put everyone and all before himself? Simply put: everything. For him, the world is not enough. It never will be- and maybe that is the way it was always meant to be.

He walks in kindness, compassion, urgency and peacefulness at the same time. He is ever thoughtful of others and so very rarely considers himself. He is a study in complexity and yet lives his life so simply. He believes in the power of history and the importance of philosophy. He understands the significance of freedom and the way it makes you feel.

He believes in God and some of his best moments are realized when at the altar preparing the table for Eucharist. That said, he respects the greatness and mystery of God and believes in the right to explore and question his own faith and learn from others.

He is not bound by the conventions of this earth and that has made all the difference. When he leaves this place years and years from now, long after he is gone whether it is for something life-changing or simply for changing one person’s life, people will remember his name. They will remember that he was good and benevolent, that he was empathetic and believed in humanity.

As a mother you wish for child happiness, peace, love, joy and compassion. You hope for their faith in a weary world and that their heart will always be open. You wish for their wildest dreams and you pray for their comfort and continued enlightenment. You wish for them all the things. So much of all the things. And you cross your fingers that no matter what happens, they will always know how very much you love them and that you would lay down your life for them so that they might know even one moment of joy.

I have wondered what it will feel like when he walks out the door for the last time. I have pondered too what his path in life will be and the roads he will travel. Who can say?

The words I’ve written cannot do this special child the justice he deserves. I could write a million things for a million years and they would never compare to the actual boy who became a man and what his life has taught me about my own. What I can tell you dear reader, is that for 18 years he has stitched his name on the fabric of my soul and it is there he will always have a home.

Suddenly it’s so hard to find
The sound of the words to speak his troubled mind
So I’m offering these to him as if to be kind:
There’s a train everyday leaving either way
There’s a world, you know
There’s a way to go
And you’ll soon be gone – that’s just as well
This is my opening farewell

A child’s drawings left there on the table
And a woman’s silk lying on the floor
And I would keep them here if I were able
Lock him safe behind this open door

But suddenly it’s so clear to me
That I’d asked him to see what he may never see
And now my kind words find their way back to me
There’s a train everyday leaving either way
There’s a world, you know
You got a ways to go
And I’ll soon believe – it’s just as well
This is my opening farewell

I love you kiddo.

 

*The song lyrics are from Mr. Jackson Browne’s ‘My Opening Farewell’ and I took liberty with a few.

Come Sail Away

When I have the map, I will be free, and the world will be different, because I will have understanding. –Evil, Time Bandits

Up until today I thought the lyrics to Styx’s ‘Come Sail Away’ said, ‘I’m sailing away, set an open course full of urgency…” Come to find out, they actually say, ‘set an open course for the virgin seas…’ I’m afraid I like my lyric better. I make no apologies. My words speak to life. Set a course for yourself. Be deliberate. Life is the blink of an eye. Love hard and fast and make sure what you do matters-and perhaps most importantly, if you’ve not already…get going. Time is flying.

A friend of mine told me a riveting story once about getting car-jacked and mugged. Well to be fair, it was actually two stories: one about getting mugged in Kansas City and another about being car-jacked in rural Louisiana. The stories were dark and kind-of scary. Amongst other things there was a brick to the head, a stolen watch, a car chase and a night wrongly spent in the county jail due to a “failure to communicate”.

I asked him what, if any, remnants remained from those incidences. His answer was simple but telling, “I never allow myself to get blocked in. If you’ll notice, I always leave myself a quick get-a-way.” A few flashbulbs went off then in my mind and a lot became clear about my friend and maybe myself. That’s a different story.

A good many things happen when you are 45 years-old and a single mother of three boys. You begin to contemplate perhaps more seriously your place in the world (obviously) but more than that- the mundane become the perverse. The future becomes a thorn in the flowering vine of time. ‘Where will I live? How will I live? Where will I go? What will I do? What will become of me or more significantly, what will I become?’

I mean, I’m not really one of those “watch me while I FREAK OUT” kinda people. I take things in stride and more than once or twice I have risen from the ashes. I’m proud of the person I am and seek to be. That said, I screw a lot of it up and there are times of uncertainty, frailty and frankly, fear.

I don’t have any savings; I don’t have any credit cards or really any credit to speak of, a bank account, stocks, bonds or a 401k. I’ve got a fat lot of nothing…of the monetary, security, investment, important-type stuff. I wonder at times if I will end up the old hippie lady in someone’s garage apartment. It’s not really that I oppose that, it’s just not exactly what I dreamt of when I was kid. Few things so rarely are.

When you are a divorced woman as you age several things begin to shift- including apparently, your ass. I’m just saying. There are of course, the aforementioned material things but there are also my physical and emotional needs to consider. I haven’t had a serious relationship since 2010 and that one was kind of a mess. I have had less than a handful of dates and no second dates.

The questions that form are a logical chain of thought. Why is there never a second date? Why are there really no first dates? How come I haven’t found someone I want to spend time with, or maybe more accurately, who wants to spend time with me?

I’ll confess here too that as I age my “filter” becomes less and less. I want to be true to who I am. I don’t really care if you dig me or not. Facades are so Eighties. I’ve earned the right to speak my mind, to love whom I choose, to wear my pjs to the store if I want (which for full disclosure, I may or may not do). I am not an easy person to be sure. I am passionate and opinionated, stubborn and unyielding, bold and sometimes wild (with myself, not others).

Of course, I am also honest and true, loyal and loving, joyful and playful and full of desire and hope and sometimes even magic. The trade-off works. (She said sitting in contemplation of her singleness…)

It’s not that I need a significant other to “complete” me. It is simply that I enjoy entertaining the thought that somewhere out there is an individual I would like to spend my life with – share my life with, as my friend Karen so aptly puts it. But that leads to other rabbit holes… I am not sure I would ever marry again. I like my independence and not having to share my personal space with anyone other than the dog and cat (and three giant heathens from time to time).

I don’t need help parenting my boys. I have done a damn fine job of that all by myself. Also, who will love my boys the way I do purely because they love me so much they want to love them too? When I pose this question to myself the answer is cloudy at best. In addition, I have a few skeletons and a few more quirks; things that inevitably would be made clear as time goes by.

The last person I was in a relationship with was so stunned the first time I slipped from the pedestal I really don’t think our relationship ever recovered. There’s also the fact I pick my nose sometimes, I have cellulite and scars. Lots of scars. (Internal and external.) Sometimes I eat cheese (cheez?) from a can. Yes, I do.

It took me a while to realize where I was going with all this. In a mere two years, Alec will finish high school and then I have some really important decisions to make. I could walk around a fearful cartographer until then- afraid of the uncharted. Anxious the course might be wrong, terrified the path could hold danger, or most frightening of all- that there might just be no path.

Or… I could see this as the exciting stuff dreams are made of; a destination of untold treasure. Consider this: not since college have I had that kind of freedom. The freedom to choose, to go forth into the unknown and to embrace what may unfold. For the first time in a very long while, I will have no map, no sure plan and no real timetable for what lay ahead.

Lately things have been a bit touch-and-go and stressful. (That is being kind.) I find myself trying to push back at the universe as if she is a brittle bully plaguing the school yard. She’s not. I finally realized (after a glaring display of my peon-ness by said universe) what it is she wants me to know. (I think.)

There comes a point, and mine is coming soon, when all we have to carry with us is our faith; faith in the kindness of the weary world, faith that can move any mountain. A steadfast faith that will allow me to dive headlong into the black and know there is light. The Indigo Girls said it so eloquently, The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.’

To hold on, I must let go.

I have finished one chapter, perhaps two, of my life. The next chapter has not yet been written. In fact, there’s really not even a pitch for a script. Of course, as all bit players know, some of the best and most meaningful material comes from honesty and improvisation.

It bears mentioning humor is intrinsic in this process. Someone once said, “Want to know how to tickle God’s funny bone? Tell him your plans.” Maybe I’ll just tell him I have trust and devotion and let the humor come naturally, as it most assuredly will.

That said, I do not intend to be reckless with my time. There is a finite amount, this I know… and so I shall spend it wisely, if freely. Every choice I make matters and is somehow valuable to me and others. There is something beloved and sacred gleaned from setting a course full of urgency. Of taking every step as hallowed and feeling the indescribable joy and fullness of living a story of surprise and wonder- every single day.

Confucius said, ‘They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.’ Mary Chapin Carpenter said, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

While You Were Sleeping

For Mr. Frey and Mr. Bowie, because you moved me.

I’m goin’ back in time
And it’s a sweet dream.
It was a quiet night
And I would be alright
If I could go on sleeping.

The last two and half weeks I have been plagued with pneumonia. I tell you this mainly because its full metamorphosis occurred during a rather interesting bout of laryngitis and so I had no voice (also for sympathy, of course).

Sometimes our voices cause consternation and unnecessary kerfuffle; for example, my son’s over-enthusiastic yet genuine hooting and hollering for his friend in the recent musical at the school caused an apparent issue with some patrons. I didn’t really get upset, I mean he and this boy have been friends a very long time and he and his group of tight-knit compadres is legitimately excited to see him when he performs. (Sorry theatre people. I do apologize and did briefly remind him of proper etiquette, I being a theatre maven myself. But wouldn’t we rather have the excitement of a few good-hearted teens than empty seats? I think yes.)

Conversely, I tend to overuse when it suits me the lack of words as some sort of confirmation for unsaid acknowledgement, which is of course ludicrous. I tend to do this with handsome folk of the male persuasion in particular. For example: ‘he may not have said what I hoped but his eyes said so much…’ Right. I need help. But that is a topic for another time. (The men and the needing help part- equally.)

A great many things are said without any words. Some might even wager that it is what is seen in the eyes that matters more than any words the tongue could ever utter. I believe this to be true. It’s funny, of course, because I love words almost more than anything else.

Still, there are moments where words simply do no justice. Very recently a friend of mine lost someone dear to them suddenly. What to say? I want to reach out, to be able to somehow ‘touch’ her from a million miles away- to somehow make her feel my love. There are no words. The word ‘shit’ was all that came to mind- more precisely the French, merde.

I think of the times in my life when I have felt the most pain- not physical pain of course (all though that would perhaps apply) but the emotional pain of battles long waged internally and otherwise. Those times I have felt loss, emptiness, loneliness, longing. Those scattered memories of brokenness and betrayal, bereavement and despair…anguish of the highest order.

I have felt these things torch my flesh and sear my brain. I recall with certainty the exact moment my Camelot crumbled; I remember making nary a sound. It was as if the whole of the Earth was a vacuum and I was writhing, struggling, drowning in its dark ground with the decay choking my lungs- wanting to scream without the ability of sound.

I had a dream Sunday afternoon that will be hard to explain. I was in such a deep slumber and the things I dreamt of were so real…but there were no words at all. The dream relied completely on all my other senses to tell the story, to make me understand the meaning of it all. In it, I traveled through my entire life from birth until the present.

There were blue skies and thunderstorms and the smell of the asphalt after a sweet summer shower on a hot afternoon. There were fireworks and the smell of smoke bombs and spent Roman candles. There were snowflakes I caught on my tongue and the sputter and hiss of a comforting fire, the smell of chlorine and new tennis balls.  I observed the softness of bentgrass golf course greens underneath my bare feet, the scent of North Carolina pine and the taste of salt water from my tears.

I tasted fresh peach ice cream and ice cold watermelon and felt the mosquito’s sting. I heard the distinctive siren’s call of the ocean and sensed the sand between my toes. I smelled wet dog just after a lake swim and I felt the crunch of the autumn leaves as my sister and I played in the front yard.

I saw the delight in my father’s eyes as a child of about four years,  I stepped into his larger-than-life penny loafers, took his legal pad and fountain pen and pretended to very officially (and loudly) argue a case as he sat working at the kitchen table.

I watched outside of myself ask my husband if he was unfaithful and heard first the shattering of the perfume bottle and then immediately felt the intense burn in my nostrils as the concentrated aroma found its target. I was aware of the glass under my feet and then my bright cartoon red blood on the white marble floor.

I experienced the birth of each of my sons in warmth and light and had midnight honeysuckle tickle my nose and free my senses as I drove down 66th Street with the top down. I recalled with vivid clarity the first time I put on my pointe shoes and the resin crackled on the hardwood floor.

I felt the softness and strength of my mother’s hand as she led me into P&R Bakery for our weekly ritual of hand-frosted sugar cookies. There in the warmth of the bakery I felt alive amidst the fairy flour dust and dreamed of creating a secret space there where I might have those confections anytime I so desired.

I glimpsed myself decades ago scavenging my medicine drawer for different narcotics and pooling them together in a pile that I planned to take with a fine red wine to end my life.  In the moment of my darkest hour, I sensed beyond this mortal toil God hold me in his arms and release me from my earthly burdens. I arose the next morning to the warmth of a new sun with goose flesh and a renewed soul.

I recalled as a child summoning all my breath to blow the dandelion seeds and watch them scatter in the wind so that I might have just one wish. (I still do this.) I felt Kevin’s hands on me and I saw the world in his eyes.

The dream ended swiftly, speeding up to a fever pitch and then I heard someone whisper, “Mother.” I awoke with such a start that it very literally took my breath.

I cannot with any accuracy or ability express how profoundly this affected me. We use our ability to speak so lazily it seems these days. I am of course, as always, as guilty of this as anyone; perhaps more so because I love linguistics. This is a mistake we all make.

This current climate political and otherwise, lends itself to a certain amount of chest-thumping and great ‘roars’ from all sides. Nary is a one of us actually listening, because we are immediately planning what next to say.

When was the last time you really savored a conversation because you intently listened and learned something new you hadn’t known before? For me (sadly) if I am honest, it was over Christmas when I shared a meal with someone I really dig. It shouldn’t be a month ago; it shouldn’t be more than a day ago!

When was the last time you treated your taste buds to every morsel of a good old-fashioned chili cheeseburger? Or rolled up your jeans and waded into ice cold water feeling the smooth stones of the creek bed below your feet? Or this: when was the last time you watched a movie and got more out of the scenery than the dialogue? (I did this one very recently in viewing The Revenant.) What about stopping to smell the flowers; not the hothouse kind, but the gentle wildflowers that grow unabashedly along your path to home?

In the last couple of weeks we have lost the genius of so many. For me, Glenn Frey and David Bowie were heartbreaking losses. I of course, love the lyrical brilliance of both of these gents, however the strings in the reprise of ‘Wasted Time’ (though arranged by Jim Ed Norman, Mr. Frey’s fingerprints are all over it) and Bowie’s piano on ‘Life on Mars’ are something to relish. Sometimes it is the music behind the words that digs into your craw and makes you feel more deeply than perhaps you thought possible.

Our entire lives are based upon our senses and the ability to feel, to taste, to see, to smell, to touch, to hear and mostly to listen. The world is constantly bellowing its collective ‘YAWP’ demanding we acknowledge our place in the framework of existence- if only we will take the time to hear it.

Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What do you say?

 

Being There

My horoscope this morning said this for the month (and yes, I have the coolest astrologer in the world): ‘One of the reasons you are on the earth is to remind people that things are good, that “it’s all good” …so be a kindness freak this month. Like, do some bizarre f&$king nice shit.’

I tend to oversimplify things. A few to wit: be kind (see above), leave it better than you found it, love one another, listen more, talk less, be honest, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…or go take a nap– I feel like that one is kind-of 50/50.  Those are just a few…and sometimes I fail at the talking one.

Sometimes these things cause me some trouble. It’s not that that I see things in black and white, in fact- my life is more like brilliant Technicolor. But what it does mean is that I am quick to tell people how I feel and why, I am loathe to change my mind and very often get my feelings hurt.  Such is life.

Part of the over-simplification of things is so that I am careful not hurt others’ feelings. Sometimes I fail at this too.

Paxton has had to write so many essays for his college applications and I have been dutiful proofreader and editor. One of his essay prompts was a quote from Ptolemy (Ivy leagues like to talk pretty) and the question, ‘When was a time you were unable to find a royal road and what did that mean for you in your life?’

Let me begin by saying I love reading what he writes. He is thoughtful in his speech and provocative in his prose. That said, his essay was about the end of my marriage, the absence of his father in his formative years and how my ‘hurt and bitterness’ had colored his relationship with his father and how he viewed marriage as a whole. Also and maybe most telling, how the end of our union had forced him to become the man of the house contributing physically, fiscally and emotionally to our family. Heavy stuff.

Of course, the essay’s denouement was that he had developed strength, resilience, certainness of self, character and unbreakable familial bonds within the role so unwittingly thrust upon him.

But of course, my heart seized when I read the words he had so carefully constructed. They were indeed considerate and metered, but I felt the sting nonetheless. I tried very hard when David left to hold it together and abide by the things I espouse. As I have said prior, sometimes I fail. There were moments I am sure that my hurt and despair was apparent. At times it was a very thin veil between light and dark.

I make no apologies; I did the best I could. I looked at Paxton with tears welling in my eyes and said, “Bitterness?” I saw my hurt cloud his eyes for the quickest flash and then he said, “Mom, I had to say some things for dramatic effect, you know- keep them engaged.” He hugged me then; a good hug- the kind that heals what’s broken.

I have loved having all of my sons under one roof again during the holidays. There are the normal weekday dinners, the normal in-fighting and the laughter. So much laughter. Case in point: Jack ordered several pairs of new underwear with his Christmas stash. Yesterday they arrived via UPS and he quickly opened the box and I could hear him changing in his room. “These are fantastic!” He yelled to Paxton and me and came sauntering through the living room. He stopped for his brother to admire his tush and then entered the kitchen where I was busy preparing dinner. He struck a pose for me then in his navy boxer briefs, putting his bottom high in the air with his hands on knees. (Think the Coppertone girl, except a giant white male- good stuff right there.) “I mean, look at me. I look gorgeous.” I smiled. “Having a little moment in them right now, are we?” I said with a chuckle. I heard Paxton laugh too and it was one of those contagious laughs that steal your breath and makes your sides hurt. I think we’ve all turned out better than okay.

There are these glimpses into the men they have become- whether it is a kind word to a stranger, a thoughtful gesture to a friend or a mouth full of cuss words artfully executed at the exact moment they are needed. (They get this from me, I confess. Again, sorry Mom.)

Reading Paxton’s essays (and in truth, Jack’s the year before) have made me aware that they really have in fact, listened to me and taken my teachings to heart. They are their own people. Individuals who care about the world, their place in it, the history that will be their footprint in the sands of time and humanity as one entity, one whole earth- a family of souls.

Lately we’ve (you and I) had a lot to masticate on. I’m not going to write all the madness down, mainly because I don’t like to give it power over me. I know to some of you this will seem silly or reinforce my already teetering status as a “bleeding-heart-liberal-peace-loving-hippie-preacher-cool-funky person” as my boss lovingly put it. (I’ll take it.) Thing is, it’s not that I am detached or unconcerned about the world, or the United States or what happens to either in any given moment. I do, I absolutely unequivocally do. But I don’t think posting mean, degrading, belittling exchanges on Facebook or any other social media site, or reading or watching any biased media from either realm of extremism is going to change anything or solve a specific problem or even make you feel marginally better about the things you choose to believe in.

My preacher Dave gave a great sermon Sunday. It was about Christ as a teenager and how frankly rotten and disrespectful he’d been to his parents. Leaving the caravan, staying in the temple for three days and when they finally caught up to him all he could manage was, “Shouldn’t you have known I’d be in my father’s house?” Essentially saying, “Screw you, you’re not my REAL parents anyway.”

He then went on to say sometimes it’s ok to be a punk. It means we are human. It means we are totally undeniably ridiculously flawed human beings. We screw so much of it up. We get angry and hurt and we lash out before we even understand why we are upset. We become afraid and the fear paralyzes us like the worst kind of sickness.

Dave said it’s important for us to discuss and more importantly question things. Forming and asking the difficult questions and then seeking the answers are the only true way to understanding. I say this knowing full well some of you will think I am ‘picking sides’. Not at all. In fact, I like a circle.

I think the things we believe as individuals stem from a deep entrenchment of upbringing, life experiences, soul and passion, really it is what makes us feel that strange fire in our bellies that drives how we feel and what we do and importantly, the things we believe.

Now here’s where we screw it up. Technology has made us lazy and a little (ok, lot) solitary. Instead of being with people, in relationship with people, we look to the internet to search for our answers. It is more comfortable to be sure, to be in the privacy of our homes… to type in a question and have an answer from whatever outlet we choose online in a split-second.

There’s a problem here though. In our lone searching we are dismissing the element of being there-of being people. We are removing the brain, the heart, the flesh and bone that house the spark of humanity and the compassion of a benevolent maker from the discussion.

I want to ask the tough questions face-to-face and I want to be able to look in the person’s eyes when I tell them why I believe the way that I do and why it matters so much to me. Even if we will never agree, I want to know that we can have the discussions- that they don’t have to end in hurt feelings or anger or dejection or anguish.

For me, life is perhaps in a different spectrum. I walk as a believer, as someone who honestly believes I am made of the very sacred fabric of a fully divine and fully human God. I am filled with the very spirit of my creator. Basically what this means is that while I will forever hunt and long for knowledge of things beyond my understanding, some things are just too big for me to know. It drives everything that I do.

So I charge you with this: go out and seek what makes you uneasy or uncomfortable and learn more about it from the source- not A source- the source. It’s okay if upon leaving you still feel the same, but at least you will have had the dialogue and interacted with and engaged others in your search for your truth.

But like I said, I tend to oversimplify things. I will forge on a willing apostle, walking unafraid in kindness, hope, love, faith, strength, humbleness and learning- trying to listen more and talk less (though like I said, I’m still working on this one). And I will do so amongst the people, out in the world sharing myself with all of humanity.

So for now, I’m going to go to lunch and remind people “it’s all good” and do some bizarre f&$king nice shit for people…and maybe buy some boxer briefs. I hear they make you feel fantastic.

How Old Would You Be if You Didn’t Know How Old You Were?

Last Saturday I celebrated my 45th birthday. It was a wonderful birthday and in truth, the week was pretty swell as well. I find getting older a joy I never had counted on. What beauty lies in knowing yourself a little more intimately each passing year and being more certain in who you really are!

Again, I thank my parents for loving each other so that in sharing that love they created me. How wondrous. So for the third year, here are some things you may or may not know about me and some things you may or may not want to know about me. If so, read at yor own peril. If not, read no further.

  1. I like cold weather much more than hot. I mean, in a perfect world I would get four seasons each meted out appropriately…but in the absence of that, I much prefer rain, snow or a bitingly breezy morning to the Texas heat any day.

 

  1. I miss my Great Danes every day. I really want a puppy. (Please don’t tell my mom.)

 

  1. I have never visited Vegas. I’m not sure I really want to either.

 

  1. Every morning I drink a concoction called Bulletproof Coffee. It is basically coffee with Pflugra butter and coconut oil. Laird Hamilton says it is good for me. I’d rather have a caramel macchiato- that’s my favorite, but I do what Laird says.

 

  1. In addition, I drink tea mid-morning and late afternoon. I prefer it as the British do- with milk and sugar, though usually I drink green tea or Oolong with no sweetener at all. Sigh.

 

  1. I am very particular about my birthday cake(s). This year my sister ordered my cake and I requested a vanilla layer cake with white butter cream frosting, no filling and no fondant decorated with dragonflies and cattails. It was gorgeous. The lady at the bakery inquired of my sister ‘how old the birthday girl’ was going to be (I’m sure thinking I was quite the little princess being so demanding). My sister had a good laugh when she said,
    “Forty-five.”

 

  1. I cannot wait for the Star Wars movie. In fact, I already have my ticket and I am going to marry Han Solo if he’ll have me.

 

  1. I have a lot of little tchotchkes around my desk. My favorite is probably my Santa riding on a motorcycle with a sidecar. I have yet to find an appropriate companion to ride shotgun.

 

  1. I do not like taking showers. I prefer a scalding hot bath. You can do a lot of critical thinking in a bath so hot you can’t feel your extremities.

 

  1. I get horrible migraines. I began having them around ten years of age. The neurologist tried several very trippy drugs on me which at the time I hated and now would probably be happy to ingest.

 

  1. I always wanted to be a lifeguard like my sister. I took the test twice and twice failed because I could not bring the weighted dummy up from the bottom of the pool. Damn my tiny limbs.

 

  1. It makes me unnaturally happy to get a free ticket at the movie theater with my “rewards” card. I mean seriously, soooo happy.

 

  1. My blood type is A+.

 

  1. Green Cholula is the best hot sauce, in my humble opinion. Scorned Woman is a close second.

 

  1. I have a tiny freckle on my left big toe. It’s kind of cute, but if you don’t know what it is it might look like a little bug. I also have a freckle on the bottom of my foot. In fact, I have a lot of freckles in a lot of places.

 

  1. I’ve never had my ears pierced, although I am seriously considering it. I did, at one point, have my belly button pierced though- which I loved.

 

  1. I have been known to binge watch Netflix. I used to have a little guilt about this, but considering we did not have a television in our home until about five years ago, I think I’m due.

 

  1. If I ever have extra money I spend it first on the boys and then I buy books.

 

  1. Someday I would like to get another ferret. I miss Shamrock like crazy and no, he wasn’t smelly or gross or stupid. In fact, he was lovely and intelligent and funny and better than a few people I know.

 

  1. I believe listening and hearing are two separate things. I also believe listening is a form of the greatest love.

 

  1. Coconut crème snow cones are my favorite.

 

  1. I collect pencils. And vintage handkerchiefs. I used to collect bird’s nests but those take up a lot of room I do not presently have. I still love seeking them out though. It is so fascinating to see the intimate and intricate handiwork of such tiny creatures.

 

  1. I love having a fireplace with a roaring fire burning in it. I love fire pits too, or a good bonfire. Hmmm. Maybe I just love fire.

 

  1. I have a family of bull frogs that lives out back in the bricks beside my house. In the summer I hose them down in the evening and they all come out to greet me. The dog does not know what to make of these visitors.

 

  1. When I was about 14 years-old I entered a contest through the Arkansas Gazette for the prettiest eyes in Arkansas. I came in second place! My dad always says, “Second prettiest eyes in Arkansas.” So proud. I think that might be only thing I’ve ever really come close to winning- except the spelling bee in grade school. It was down to me and another child and I misspelled guppy. Guppy. Really.

 

  1. I dislike music snobs. Listen, we’ve all been there. I like to consider myself an expert on a few bands that have my heart but music is for everyone. And every type of music is meant for and holds meaning for someone. Why would I presume to judge? That said, I do not trust people who don’t like the Beatles.

 

  1. I believe God speaks to me. This has caused much consternation among people who do not know me well. They think I must be crazy. Maybe I am…maybe God is all in my head. And maybe, just maybe- that is exactly where he is supposed to be. Who can say?

 

  1. I really like talking on the walkie-talkies at work. ‘Breaker 1-9. We got ourselves a convoy.’ (And yes, I know the difference between a CB radio and a walkie-talkie.)

 

  1. I have a thing for shoes. I used to have a thing for exorbitantly expensive shoes, but now that I’m poor I just window shop and covet. One of the seven deadly sins ain’t so bad…right?

 

  1. There is something really seductive about fresh rainfall on black asphalt. It’s some kind of noir thing for me, but it really gets me.

 

  1. I have a good deal of scars. Appendectomy, three c-sections, radical hysterectomy. Frankenstein’s monster- or his wife anyway. I always did love Madeline Kahn.

 

  1. I have a not-so-secret love affair with Irish Maid Doughnuts. Maple bars, to be specific. In high school Kevin dared me to eat six maple bars and wash them down with milk. I confess that since then I rarely drink milk (unless it is in my Froot Loops) but I have nary a problem inhaling the maple bars.

 

  1. I have not had ‘relations’ in four years. I think about it a lot though. HA! I fit right in with my house full of teenage boys.

 

  1. Baby cows running is one of the things that fills me with unadulterated joy. If you haven’t had the pleasure, make sure you do. You won’t regret it.

 

  1. Along that same vein, when I was in high school I used to go see my grandfather almost every day after school. There was an old cow in a small pasture on the road to his house and I would stop and feed him a Tootsie pop- always raspberry. My favorite and I think his too.

 

  1. I read an article a few months ago about the ’36 Questions to Foster Intimacy’. Apparently if you share this discourse with someone you will know whether you are compatible relationship material. I really dig the questions and the premise behind them. I’ve tried to get some folks to answer the questions with me. No takers. I mean, I know it’s wildly romantic, but so am I. Also, it’s a scientific study…What could go wrong? Check out the questions here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/no-37-big-wedding-or-small.html

 

  1. I believe that every so often exits are really a secret entrance to something magical.

 

  1. I love Ferris wheels. The higher the better. There is something quite breathtaking in that feeling of sitting on top of the world- even if only for a moment.

 

  1. Speaking of fairs and carnivals, when I was little I used to always beg my mother to let me visit the ‘Emporium of Oddities’. (Think the Wolfman, the World’s Tiniest Woman, a captive Mermaid, etcetera, etcetera…) Then I would cry myself to sleep for two days straight about the plight of the people I had seen in the show and my guilt at having wanted to visit such a place. In truth, I still feel awful about it. What drives us to prey on things we do not understand?

 

  1. I am huge proponent of truth. Of course, my truth may not be your truth- and you might not want to hear my truth. But I am bound to tell it and I will do so with candor and aplomb. I know no other way. And wouldn’t life be boring if none of us ever shared how we were feeling?

 

  1. I think whoever invented the hammock should be sainted. There. I said it.

 

  1. I am convinced how kind you are to others is a direct reflection on how much you love yourself.

 

  1. I have done things I am not proud of and I have hurt others and myself. I will never be able to negate those things, but I can certainly make damn sure I try never to do them again.

 

  1. I have really long fingernails and all but one (my poor pinky I smashed in the sliding glass door) are my own. Everyone seems to have opinions about my nails- the color, the length, the shape of them. Frankly I don’t give a good damn what you think of them. They’re mine- I’ll wear them how I want. And yes, I can type on a computer (even a typewriter if I so desire) and dial a telephone and I am one helluva good back scratcher.

 

  1. I believe hope springs eternal and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

And one to grow on:

46.   I am a hopeless romantic. I still believe in happy endings. Every             day is a choice. The pitfalls and pratfalls of life and love and being in the thick of it are not lost on me; but I would rather be knee-deep in the muck of love than set adrift on an unforgiving ocean of fear and loneliness. Sometimes you just gotta relax and see what happens       next.

Until next year I leave you with this:

All men should strive
to learn before they die
what they are running from, and to, and why.
~James Thurber

Can’t Buy Me Love

I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend
If it makes you feel all right
I’ll get you anything my friend
If it makes you feel all right
‘Cause I don’t care too much for money
For money can’t buy me love

I’ll give you all I’ve got to give
If you say you love me too
I may not have a lot to give
But what I’ve got I’ll give to you
I don’t care too much for money
For money can’t buy me love,

Can’t buy me love.

-P. McCartney

I had a dream last night that I was at church. I was serving as a lay minister, giving communion wine to those receiving the Eucharist. “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life,” I said. In real life, this would be the point where I would raise the chalice to the lips of the person allowing them to drink from the cup. In my dream what I raised was a red Starbucks cup. You know the one. Talk about a Stanley Kubrick moment.

I’m sure as I type this morning the “cup” issue is passé but I feel like there is some comedic gold to be had there if mined right. No doubt we’ve already moved on to Caitlyn Jenner’s insensitive remarks about what was most difficult for her as a woman in 2015- ‘picking out what to wear’ probably doesn’t resonate much with most women I know who are truly busy being strong, independent full-time badasses who are navigating relationships, parenting, love, feelings, hopes, dreams, work, play and faith among other things, while holding it together with duct-tape and super glue.

Maybe we’re outraged because it is Veteran’s Day today and instead of dedicating the day to those men and women who have valiantly and selflessly served our country at her birth and beyond, we’re talking about the Kardashians. Again. It’s hard to be sure what people are upset by these days, it moves at light speed- but for my purposes, I am going to stick with the cup.

Truth be told, this is not my first foray into my grievances surrounding the holidays. I know, I know, some of you are bracing yourselves, ‘Oh God, this is when she is going to start regurgitating her problems with Christmas.’ Ok, you caught me. I am, but perhaps just a little. I know some of my more faithful readers will recognize my tribulations with the upcoming holiday.

For one, the day of Christ’s actual birth was really probably not on the 25th of December and not in the little town of Bethlehem. Historically it just doesn’t add up.  However, to those on which everything hung ‘the law and the prophets’ this was a tricky thing. Almost like setting up an alibi. I envision some goodfella –types sitting around on the stoop:  “For this guy to be the relative of David, we gotta get him to Bethlehem.” “But how, Ishmael?” “I don’t care, just do it.”

But does it really matter? To that end, I had a very interesting discussion with myself early this morning about the fact that since God is all that is and the absence of all that is– that is to say, everything- then rules really do not apply anyway- which has sort of always been my argument.  Since he can bend space time, change light to dark (and vice-versa), create something from nothing (and vice-versa)…then it stands to reason he can make Christ’s birth whenever and wherever he wants.

I see every year the signs and memes with the glaring red and green lettering, ‘Put ‘Christ’ back in Christmas’. When did he leave? I mean, I can’t ever decide if that means get back to the spirit that Christmas is intended to evoke or if means people who say “Happy Holidays” can go screw themselves. Sometimes it’s hard to know. In truth, Christ has been absent from Christmas much longer than we’ve had the internet or Starbucks or even computers or the Kardashians.

It’s impossible to pinpoint the moment. I won’t get into all that. I will inquire, when was the last time anyone looked at their Christmas tree decorated and all aglow and said, “Oh boy, Jesus is really going to love that.” Like never. (I giggled as I typed that.)

The thing is, the Christ story is really compelling. Here’s Mary, labeled an adulterer and probably a whore, several months with-child, Joseph along for the ride- not really sure if he saw an angel, a harbinger of a Lord he’s never know to really be “hands-on”, or if he’s losing his mind. I mean, here’s a woman he’s still learning to love and at the same time she is pregnant with someone else’s baby. If this were a blues song it would write itself.

They are traveling through the day and night on rough terrain, some on foot. Finally they arrive at their destination- tired, hungry and unsure of what they’re doing there. They have been offered no place to stay (though this is likely untrue, for storytelling sake stay with me).  Mary goes into labor and Joseph, doing the only thing he knows to do, lay her on the floor of a stable where beasts of burden were kept. Imagine if you will for a moment: no hospital, no drugs, no epidural, no bed- no doctor. There are no clean towels, no water, and no scissors. This is no miracle birth; it is a real birth- an excruciatingly painful and messy affair, just as God demanded it must be. It must be crystal clear that the part of himself he sacrificed to us be fully human.

And so, Jesus came into the world in the pitch dark of a dirty stable- born homeless really, surrounded by filth and sweat and placenta and the wet tears of his mother as they splashed his face; a face that was to be the light of a weary world.  When did that story become obsolete?

When did Christians begin to care more about what others thought of them and outward meaningless material signs of Christianity than the inward faith that drove us to believe in a man born some 2000+ years ago? When did we stop doing the things that God has called us to do? Why did we?

How did we somehow manage to whitewash Christ into this guy with the perfect “beach hair” wearing these unblemished flowing white robes hovering above us all with sparrows carrying him through the air on diaphanous wings? A guy whose values resemble more of what is wrong in the world than what is right?

Let me remind us (myself included) of a few things. Jesus was a scalawag as a kid. He frequently saw fit to ditch the Sabbath and play by the riverside instead. The townsfolk were already skeptical of this child that Joseph could not possibly have fathered. Later as he began his ministry in earnest, he was openly committing treason against Rome and Caesar. He was in no uncertain terms a lawbreaker, a thorn in the Jewish hierarchy’s side (irony implied). He was a zealot, a rebel, a truth-teller and troublemaker. He was labeled a madman by the very church he sought to teach. A madman. Jesus Christ: a poor, dirty, unkempt and uneducated young man whose views were considered heresy and the company with whom he kept questioned.

After all, Jesus spent his time not idle in the temple, but rather out in the world among its people; its entire people. He spent his short life among the prostitutes, the lepers, the criminals, the poor, the disabled, those labeled ‘riddled with demons’ who were most likely stricken with brain disease or disorders not known at the time and those labeled beneath untouchable. He ate and drank with the tax-collector; he even sat with the dead.

He visited with the rabbis and questioned their knowledge of the prophets and their teachings. He declined the status quo and taught a new vision- one he swore his father, Abba in heaven had sent him to earth to share with his people. He turned angry at times and sad with his charge and he rejected the temple and the moneylenders and turned the tables not only literally but figuratively as well.

He fed the poor. He clothed and sheltered those who could not provide for themselves. He sat with the elderly and the infirm and he nourished not only their minds but their souls. He redeemed the faithless and the forlorn; he struck hope in those who were lost and despairing. He gave love and peace to the greedy and corrupt and some gave away all they had just to be near him.  He healed the sick, he brought life to death. The world would (and could) never be the same.

Sometimes I wonder if there are other worlds (and I use the term ‘world’ very loosely) that God has created; places with life and sentient, intelligent beings. I wonder if their stories involve a garden and an apple- I wonder if they still live there, never having tried the fruit at all. Or if perhaps they did, but they never needed a savior. No savior, no Jesus. No Jesus, no crucifixion. No crucifixion, no Christ. No Christ, no last supper. No last supper, no cup of Christ. No cup of Christ, no Christians. No Christians, no holiday outrage over a cardboard cup. Is that what utopia must be like?

Let’s recycle that cup of Christ. In fact, let’s recycle what it means to be a Christian. Let’s not go shopping on Black Friday. Hell, let’s not go shopping at all. Let us fill our cups with the gifts within us, the ones given to us by a gracious God, the ones Jesus charged us with sharing with others.

Let us give away compassion and kindness with every breath, words of love and concern for those longing to hear them. Let us if we are able, share our wealth with others: let us feed the poor, clothe those in need and give comfort, warmth and encouragement to those struggling just to stay alive.

Let us help those who are sick find the curative they need to heal their bodies and beautiful minds. Let us visit with elders in our communities and listen to their histories with the grateful appreciation of the suffering they endured to make our lives easier today; let us make certain they know they are valued and revered for what they offer to us in wisdom. Let us sit with those in despair and proffer our faith as a beacon to those who see not light but infinite darkness. Let us not make his birth meaningless. Instead, let us share it with the world in our own intimate and intriguing ways.

Let us light candles and sit close with those we love and listen to the music that moves our spirit. Let us bake bread and share it with our neighbor. Let us learn about others’ religious traditions as a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path without being fearful of what they may represent, instead excited about what we may learn from the light offered while enhancing and brightening our own.

Let us again and again share the story with the wonder and the beauty and the complexity it deserves. The electrifying story of the birth of this man some would call a madman, a traitor, a heretic, a zealot. A man others would come to call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Yes, I believe I’d like a refill.

Are We There Yet?

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house,
with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself- Well…How did I get here?

-The Talking Heads

I couldn’t decide whether to use the lyrics from The Talking Heads ‘Once in a Lifetime’ or ‘The Pretender’ written by the great Jackson Browne for my opening quote. I mean, both are to me, pretty prophetic in their own ways. So, I started with one and I’ll end with the other. At least that’s the plan right now.

It has been over a month since I’ve written a diary. I have started four (to be exact) diary entries but lately I just could not get motivated to finish them. The topics were varied- some whimsical, some over-the-top serious, some bordering on the profound… but the words to finish would not find me. Such is life. ‘Oh me, oh life, of the questions of these recurring…’

A few months ago I had a conversation with someone I love dearly. It was a late night call fueled by liquor and the really deep questions that sometimes come when we reflect too long on what our lives were supposed to look like- and what they actually do.

As we age the days seem to stretch into infinity and the months and years speed on in a fiery blaze toward something as yet unknown. I used to laugh at my mother who would say, “Just wait till you get older.” Wait for what? Well for time to completely rearrange itself as you age, of course.

Our phone conversation was a deep one. He is doing very well in his chosen field, but he is not where he thought he would be and this causes him some consternation. “What exactly am I doing? I sell stuff. I go home to a loving wife and beautiful children but I still wonder about the one who got away. I am watching my parents decline and eventually perish. Where is my joy?”

In fairness, he has dealt with a lion’s share of struggle and stress over the last few years; the tragic sort of things that have bleak implications and cause a person to question their place in the world and the meaning of it all. I am careful in my answers to such questions because long after I have spoken, what I utter stays with the person I am speaking to, and more importantly the universe.

We had an intense dialogue about the marrow of life- what really matters in the whole of things. He has a stable income, a home, a beautiful wife and adoring, smart children. He has a close-knit and interesting family filled with love. He is terribly witty and wise and knows obscure authors and music. He is adventurous and child-like and has a genuine spirit for the unknown.

I tell him all of this and what exactly having him in my life has meant to me. I explain the best I know how, that we all start from a different perspective- ‘these are things I want, this is what is important to me.’ Sometimes these things are fortune, power, fame, celebrity. Sometimes they are recognition, admiration, enlightenment or empowerment. Different strokes for different folks, but generally we all would like to be notable, noteworthy, namable… worth knowing.

Long after we had hung up the phone this line of thought stayed with me. Down again into the rabbit hole I trod with trepidation. When I was young I wanted to be Anna Pavlova with every fiber of my being. When I was about fourteen I wanted to be Scheherazade. As a girl of about eighteen, I thought about nothing more than being Jane Pauley. When my twenties rolled in I was convinced I was going to be the next Holly Hunter or Faye Dunaway.

As I settled into motherhood and my thirties and we started our company, I dreamed of traveling the world and meeting famous architects and golfers and perhaps seeing the Seven Wonders of the World while raising the boys as gypsies over several oceans.

After David left and the dust settled and I stepped out of the shit and back into the world, I dreamed of writing the great spiritual tragicomedy novel of our time, of winning the Oscar for the adapted screenplay of my book, of the movie that would be made about my life (I think Maggie Gyllenhaal in the lead) and perhaps winning the Nobel prize for peace. Aim high, says I.

Then later, I settled into my bones the innate calling to become a priest and that my life’s work would be spent in the sacred care and feeding of others.

I still think about those things- the ones left undone, and I still dream of the novel. (And the Peace Prize and being Scheherazade.) I’m working on it. But considering these things beg the question, what is it with my life that I have really done? Further, what are the things that really matter to me now? Do I even know what they are?’ Hmmm.

Here’s the thing- In just over a month I will be 45 years-old. The surface of my life looks something like this: I am a divorced single woman and have been for some time now. I have been raising three boys for a decade on my own. (One now ensconced in the Big Apple finding his own way.) I love my parents and my sister and we are all extraordinarily close.  I am the Director of Accounts of a mom-and-pop boat dealership which does a helluva lot of big business. I have been denied postulancy three times and sadly, have set it aside for now. I have a dog, a cat and a fish. I cook dinner almost every night and I keep a very clean house. (Minus some stray pet hair here and there.) I attend the Episcopal Church as I have most of my life- with visits to the ashram and the temple in between. I drive an old beat-up BMW, the first car I ever bought by myself. I read a lot. I write a lot. I am not living the American Dream, hell, I am not living my own dream- or the dreams of my prior selves. But there is so much more that shines beneath the surface of what is seen.

To wit: I am an ever-hopeful romantic. I may be single but I still believe in love and the power of romance and the beauty of attraction. The dream has shifted of course, from a Nora Ephron-type of romantic comedy, to something real; someone with their head in my lap as I work the crossword and they watch the Razorbacks on a lazy Saturday. (and we win the game.) Somewhere out there is someone right for me; someone who will care about me enough to stake a claim and stay even when I am unlikeable. Loving beauty is easy, loving ugly is exceptional.

I have raised three amazing men. I do not say this with conceit or aggrandizement, I say it in truth. They are exactly the people I would want to know if I got to choose. I expect and hope great things for them and I am overjoyed to watch them become who they are meant to be.

I am crazy about the people I work with! My job is a wonderful mélange of pirates and maidens, of serious work and serious play and I am thankful everyday that I have a place I enjoy spending my time and get paid for doing so.

I am grateful every single day to have a roof and running water and people to feed and the means to feed them. Cooking for me is not a chore but a labor of love and a spiritual endeavor- each meal a Eucharist of a kind shared with those I love best. All of these are monumentally important; none of them are necessarily what I envisioned.

Most important are the conversations I share with God and the work I do unfettered out in the world. This is my life. These are things I am meant to do. Sometimes it is as simple as a ‘hello’ to a stranger, burying a baby raccoon, talking to the Earth as a companion not a foreigner, kibble for a hungry dog or words for a hungry soul. Sometimes these things are enough.

We all wonder our place in the fabric of creation. We all at times feel unimportant, underappreciated, inconsequential or even apoplectic about our state of affairs. The phrase ‘the grass is always greener’ was not written about a cow with a lack of chlorophyll-laden fields. It is maybe the simplest phrase to explain our unease into settling into our lives; small lives, valuable lives- lives of some discontent and yearning. This is the way it has to be.

Sometimes it takes looking through a lens darkly to see what is so clear. We were created for a purpose, not for the folly of an uninvolved maker. Our struggles, our questioning our ability to question- all stems from the mind we were given. A mind I choose to believe is uniquely my own, created specifically for me.

I create my own existence. I make the history and I provide the players. I decide what matters and what will be indelibly written in my story. On the surface it may not seem like much, but oh what lies beneath…

When we hung up the phone I spoke these words, “Long after you have gone, people will remember you with love and reverence for the magic you brought into their lives. You will leave a family behind, a legacy of who you are and what you meant to those lucky enough to know you. Yours will be a spark that will light a fire for future generations- there is the true significance. That is enough. It has to be.”

These are things that were written on the cave walls before the sands of time began to swirl and shift and set time into motion. These were the things that mattered before there was light and these will be the things that will matter as it dims again.

I truly believe that. Peering into the looking glass is inescapable; we would not be human if we did not seek answers to the queries of life. We are wired that way. But make sure dear reader, when you go searching that you look deep inside first and around at the moments and places and people on whom you have left your mark. For most assuredly, the list is long and written on your soul. And that my dears, is exactly where you will find your joy.

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen.

– Jackson Browne

Love Is (a Four Letter Word) a Many Splendored Thing

Author’s note:  This is but a smattering of the memories I carry, of the men who meant something to me and the reasons why. I could have written for days, but this is a blog post not War and Peace. Not yet anyway. And further, I have taken liberty with paragraphs because again, not Tolstoy. Also, this piece is about the men I have loved- it in no way diminishes my self-awareness, self-worth or self-love. Sometimes a girl just wants to talk about boys.

“If ever they remembered their life in this world it was as one remembers a dream.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Today is my wedding anniversary. Well not really my wedding anniversary per se- what would have been my twenty-year wedding anniversary. My “un-anniversary” if you will.

So of course I have been hearing the Eric Clapton song Jed Clampit played so brilliantly for our first dance as husband and wife everywhere. I’m pretty sure the dentist’s office even had a muzak version playing as I was held captive audience getting my teeth x-rayed. Good times.

I could wax prophetic about my marriage and divorce and the lessons I’ve learned…blah, blah, blah. In fact, I even started a blog about that very subject. It delved into reincarnation, the writings of Hindu mystic Abolade Nkosi Tayo and the subconscious and was really an ode to Jack Handy. Maybe another time.

I got to thinking about all the men in my life. All of them. The inventory is long and contains a whole laundry list of eclectic and wonderful characters in the romantic story of my life. It made me think of Alanis Morissette’s song ‘Unsent’ and inspired me to write (loosely) one of my own. (My apologies in advance to Ms. Morissette and anyone forgotten, unceremoniously {or ceremoniously} omitted or under-appreciated. We are all legends in our own minds.)

My eternal gratitude also to every man who ever gave a bit of their time to me. In doing so, they shared a piece of themselves, a hope of something more and a small glimpse into what could be. None of that is or could ever be small or unimportant.  The time I have spent in my life with others is remembered and cherished always. It is celebrated in thanksgiving to a higher power who allows me to make my own way. I thank you all for including me in your story.

Dear Kevin, what do you say about someone who very first held your heart? I think about the way you used to talk so gently to me when we were alone. You told me you loved me under a blanket of a million stars and I felt the earth move beneath me. I smile every time I think about our ongoing argument of who was “the boss” knowing it was always you. It had to be you; the golden hair and oceans of blue in your eyes notwithstanding. The moments we spent were so precious and unassuming in their simplicity. The first touch of your hand, the first kiss on my lips- the first time you told me I meant something important to you as you touched my face; writing ‘Will you marry me?’ in the sand, writing your name forever on my heart. The many miles managed by hand-written letters, birthdays remembered and phone calls that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. We were just children then but I never really gave you up and I never really will. A life cut short and a million lived in-between will do that to you. I love you still with all that I am.

Dear Cole, what would I have done without you in my life? I really do not know. The importance of what you gave me will never be forgotten. You, the red-headed boy with the kind smile, the generous heart and the old soul. You loved me so fiercely in spite of myself with no thought to your own welfare. You would have died for me. I couldn’t see that then but I do now. I was selfish with your heart and at times unkind. You gave the world to me in the snow globe of our small lives and I at times took it for granted. I did love you with my whole heart. When I was lost you found me, when I fell you picked me up and when I was broken you somehow always knew exactly how to mend me. These are gifts I can never repay and yet a day does not pass that I do not feel joy for the life you have created and for those you love who also love you-those more worthy than me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for everything.

Dearest Kenny, you were not ready for me. I liked you too much but I still wouldn’t change that for anything. You made me believe in love at first sight, magic and the possibility of both. Seeing you made my pulse quicken and my throat dry and my synapses fire all at once. It was the first time I had ever felt such physicality attached to the way I felt emotionally; my body and my brain wanted you. It made me feel outside of myself for the very first time. You were something I wanted but could not have- which was new for me and gave me insight into who I was and the world around me. What I felt when I was with you was real and honest and I treasured more than you will ever know the complexity and truth of our friendship. When I told you I loved you it was not only for what you had been to me, but what you brought forth and what you eventually became. The unencumbered ability to share anything with you without fear was a gift. Your understanding of the depth beyond what you could see inspired me to become more than the expected. Thank you. Thank. You.

Dear Clinton, when I think of you sometimes my heart still seizes and the pain is very real for just a moment- and then the memory of you covers me in a warm embrace. It is a good thing. You were the first person to love the entire me. You saw all the bumps and bruises, the better and the worse and you still stood by me, with me, for me in all our moments. You never shied away from what our lives brought forth. You were my shelter in a hurricane. I had never witnessed such strength of character or conviction in another human before. You believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. You were the first man I saw a definitive future with and I liked what I saw. You created a fire in me, a passion for you that burned brightly within. I was crazy for you.You were my first real lover and the lessons I learned from you about the healing power of touch and the wonder of sensual pleasures stay with me to this day. Ours did not end well. It was bitter and battered and as broken as anything I’d known or maybe known since. The sadness I felt when you left was uncharted. But you know, you gave me passion and unadulterated joy and when I think of you it is always in thanks for the time I was given. Thank you.

Dear Matthew, I owe you so much. You gave me humor and taught me to laugh.  You allowed me in so many ways to be who I was inside- the inner dork and ultimate goofball and it seemed somehow to make me more attractive to you. You let me be impulsive, you encouraged it even- and it was exciting to explore that part of me without judgment. You always had a kind word and a sweet soul and you still do. The time we spent was definitely in the moment. We played like children without thought for the future or its trappings. We sang loud to the radio and rode in the jeep with the top down and tears of too much laughter stinging our eyes. Our story had two chapters and even though they both ended, they are written with special ink and kept in an important part of my heart. You reminded of a simpler time- a time when I felt free and peaceful and young and that is a present I will never forget. Thank you.

Dear Nathanael, what can I say about someone who indelibly changed my life forever and still continues to do so? Meeting you made me dream of faraway places and big ideas. You spoke to me of romance in French and we talked about everything and nothing all at once. The time we spent together was important for so many reasons. You made me think and feel and for once I became acutely aware I was so much more than a pretty face. Dancing with you in the moonlight was perhaps the only time I have ever danced and not cared who was watching. You brought me so much joy in such a small spanse of time. The life you encouraged in me and the emotion you prompted have stayed with me to this day. The fact that we are still close is a testament to their meaning. You are a rare and unique find. Thank you for caring for me in so many ways and so many languages, spoken and unspoken.

Dear David, all the things. So much of all the things. What can a woman say about a man who loved her enough to take her for his bride? There are seemingly too many words and at once, not enough.  Ours was not a fairy tale. It was work for you; you worked for me. You became schooled in the art of Ashley. You became what I needed you to be. You took care of me when I was sick, fixed my favorite meals for dinner to woo me, laughed at my jokes, listened to my music and brought me books of poetry which you read aloud as I was falling asleep in your arms. Sometimes life is these perfect moments and sometimes it is stifled screams and the silent crying of a love too soon gone. It can be wicked and weary and worn and adrift. A good deal of what I was with you was borne out of fear. Fear of time, fear of loneliness, fear of singularity in a pluralist society where we seem to value groups more than the individual. I felt lost and alone and you quieted the voice and calmed the void. I am certain for awhile I did those things for you too and it was our own Secret Garden for a time. What you gave me through the birth of our children can never be quantified or valuated. It is infinite. We created life; delicious, messy, genius, beautiful and perfect life. I would never trade one moment of our tragicomedy for any other because when the curtain goes down for the last time, you are the player with whom I have invested a very piece of my being.  In sharing our blood with our boys we have forever been made one. Just because it didn’t end ‘…and they lived happily ever after…’ does not mean it didn’t matter- and for that I thank you.

Dear Jackie, you taught me about grown-up relationships and that it is okay for me to need what I need and take it when offered me. You also taught me it is perfectly acceptable to need more than is proffered in a relationship and that it needn’t be a criticism of either person. You taught me in your temperate way that intimacy is really complicated for some people and not something to be so cavalier about with others. With you, I came to the realization that sometimes things really do just end and that not everything needs dissection or discussion. You gave me the understanding of your past and the example that there are in fact, some scars that do not heal and wounds that reopen with the simple utterance of unforgiving words. It was a painful lesson but one of significance just the same. You made me realize there was life, good life, after my divorce and for that I am eternally grateful.

Dear George, you brought the smile back to my long saddened face. You make me smile still- even though you are long since gone. Your love filled me with a comfort and joy I had yet to know after the dissolution of my marriage. For the first time in my life, I think- I loved someone unafraid of what would happen next or what the outcome might be. You gave that to me…and you presented it so freely in such a sensitive and ultimately compassionate way that I wasn’t really aware of the magnificence of it until it was gone. We had our trials to be sure but I never once felt anything less than your very favorite thing when we were together. You said once that ‘you splashed in the puddle and I swam in the ocean’. In truth I liked the puddle. You helped me see the beauty in the simpler things and you encouraged me with the more difficult that I struggled with in my discernment as well. You cared about me and for me. You showed me affection with zealous abandon and for that I thank you.

My Dear Cajun, the first time ever I saw your face (thank you, Ms. Flack) you rounded the stairs and you were covered in sawdust and dirt of the day, but there was a twinkle in your eye and shyness in your smile and I thought to myself I had never seen someone so handsome.  You looked at me and through me all at once. I fell for you just then without a word being uttered; the way people do in the movies or a really great love song. I gave my heart away without ever really knowing it. Then you spoke and words suddenly seemed foreign to me and later I recalled how I’d seemingly forgotten the alphabet. I’d never had the “thunderstruck” moment or my breath taken away but that day and every day since I have experienced both when you are near. It is silly for me to entertain the ideas of you that I do and yet I would not trade them for even Jack’s magic beans or the Professor’s wardrobe in the spare room. You hold your own enchantment for me just by being who you are. When we are together the rest of the world disappears- I exist simply for the pleasure of your company or the touch of your hand. The pieces of your life that you have shared and the ones I wish to know that remain elusive hold equal tension in my heart and imagination. Somehow in my affection for you I have allowed myself to be hopeful and that is precious commodity as I get older, so I thank you for that. Thank you.

Now is when I suppose in my song there would be a coda or a really great guitar rift or some fancy instrumental that would perfectly wrap up the music and leave you weepy and satisfied. Yeah, I don’t have any of those things…not yet. In fact, at the moment my epic romantic ballad seems more like a chaotic mosaic or mash-up of all my favorite tunes.  Each song holding its own against the other and all the while, me knowing all the words and effortlessly singing along.

Somewhere out there is my perfect vinyl. My Otis ‘Tenderness’, my Zeppelin ‘Going to California’, my Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9…  I have had so many good ‘B sides’ but the definitive masterpiece- well, it just hasn’t been penned yet. But I got to say, I do have a pretty phenomenal rough cut.

Heavier Things

For Drew

The Past lies upon the Present like a giant’s dead body.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables

 

Editor’s note: I know about not looking back. Most, if not all, of my writings contain some form of warning about such a decidedly unhealthy, unhelpful and wicked practice.  God help me, I just can’t seem to help it today.

In the midst of my divorce or just right around there (frankly, all the days and months and years ran together until my heart righted itself) I decided a move was the just the right thing for a fresh start for us all. So I packed up the G-wagen and loaded the boys and Redford (my beautiful baby of a Great Dane) and we headed to Arkansas from Texas.

I will note here for honesty and posterity’s sake that I did not tie up loose ends, I just left.  There were no going away parties, no sad goodbyes- just my small family and a few of their favorite belongings and the hope of something that wouldn’t feel like a hole in my heart every time I took a breath.

To be fair, I don’t know if I ever really loved David. I thought I did and lived in accordance with what that meant every single day. It’s just, you don’t go swimming in the ocean and expect to drown.  So for awhile after the affair was common knowledge and then the divorce was too…I’d just been treading water. It was then the tsunami or the white squall or whatever came (or my legs and my heart just got tired of treading) and I went under.

Little Rock was the tonic to cure my ills, I was so certain of it. My best friends lived there- Lindsey and John, who were married and Stan, my sometime bachelor friend who had recently tied-the-knot. I was excited.  Lindsey had found me an adorable rental in Hillcrest, the mostly kitschy neighborhood I loved and the boys were enrolled in a really wonderful magnet school for the arts. Paxton was learning to play the bass and I thought the tide might actually turn.

Several months later, I was still treading water with no shore in sight- the boys were unhappy in their new surroundings and to be quite honest, I was too. I didn’t fit in. I was not your typical stay-at-home mom; I enjoyed the bookstore much more than the tennis court. I didn’t want to join the junior league or the country club and I didn’t know how to meet single men or if I even wanted to at that juncture. Life was not getting tidier, it was getting messier and I was not a fan.

I discussed it with the boys. We have always been the executive board of the decision-making of our little family; one vote holding no more import than another- all four must agree, there is no veto. We decided we wanted to move back to Texas, specifically Horseshoe Bay where our life had been for over a decade.

My friends were understandably surprised and disappointed (angry even) at this choice. I understood. It was abrupt and perhaps seemed impulsive. The thing is, I am and have always been a huge believer in my empathy and intuition. I did not know how I knew, but I knew the move would be the best thing for my boys and that is really all that mattered.

Fast forward to nine years later and last Sunday: Jack, a newly minted high-school graduate, heads off into the great unknown bound for college at The New School in New York City. I hug him tightly to me, tell him I love him and then with joyful expectation, release him into the wild.

So many people inquired whether I had shed big tears at his leaving. In fact, I did not shed a one. Let me explain. As a gay teenager in a very small town in Texas, Jack has had an amazing experience. One better than I could have dreamed of for my son. He has a wide circle of friends: athletes, drama kids, student leaders, the cool kids, the smart kids, the beautiful people- basically he has managed friendships with every stereotype of The Breakfast Club. He was active in school in so many programs, activities and honors and I truly believe he had a very rewarding and exceptional education and personal life.

Still, it is a small town. He has never been in a relationship, never had his first kiss or a date to the dance. He has yet to fully experience the freedom of being exactly who he is with no blinders, the joy of that first love or the very simple pleasure of being openly gay in a group of his peers and knowing how wonderful that can be. I yearn for him to have these things and I am so excited for him to be living in a place where so much emphasis is placed on individuality and expression of one’s self. The possibilities are endless.

Let’s not be mistaken, I’m no hero (thanks though, Patty). I am just a mother who loves her son and looks forward to his future and the treasures it undoubtedly holds. This does not mean however, that the dynamic of our little household will not change.  It does not mean that I will not miss with every fiber of my being his witty banter, his crushing bear-hugs or the fact that he did most of the chores without my asking.

The other part of my peace in this whole process (other than the fact I still have two giant heathens at home to keep me on my toes) is that in this one life we have been given, my boys know exactly how much I love them and that they are my most perfect thing. I have screwed an infinite amount of stuff up in my life so far. I mean vast amounts of stuff. But these boys…that is to say, raising these young men- I have done almost flawlessly.

A couple of weeks ago my old friend Drew went to meet The Maker. His death was unexpected and hit me like a freight train. I hadn’t seen Drew in a couple of years, but we kept in contact through Facebook and the occasional phone call. He had been searching for awhile for the meaning of life and the answers to some heavy faith-based things and I had been a source of counsel for him.

It was a difficult time for him but I relished our dialogue. Drew had an amazing intellect and grasp of the human condition. He cared about the whole, not just himself and you could hear it in his voice and see it in his ever-twinkling eyes. Of course, sometimes the realization the questions being raised were and are unanswerable feels a bit like stubbing your toe on humanity’s despair. I get that. I only hope I provided him some comfort every once in awhile.

Drew was really too young to die. With Brooks already gone so long ago, the list of people I have loved that were significant to me in my life and that I have lost grows to two. (This will tend to give a person a good deal of perspective if they have been lacking it.) It is different to lose a family member or a beloved teacher or someone you used to know; it is quite something else altogether to lose someone who shaped who you were and made you feel… Someone you chose on your own to love and let know you, really know you– without reservation or inhibition.

His death has reminded me of the very short list of people that mean something to me. His absence has made me acutely aware of the necessity of meaningful relationships, of saying what you mean and meaning what you say- without waiting for appropriate times or using your “inside” voice.

It has brought forth in me some weighty internal dialogue. Have I told those I love that I love them? Enough?  Have I been attentive to those who might need me? Have I let the people important to me know why they are so important? Have I been honest with those I’d like to know better? Have I been brazen in my care for these people?

There is strangeness too in feeling this way. There is an undercurrent of uncertainty about the future; an urgency to live my most genuine life. A pull deep inside me to take nothing for granted and expect nothing less than magic in return.

Life speeds up as you age. This is a truth no one warned me about. I am an active participant in how this time is spent. I want, no I need, to make certain it is spent as the gift it was intended. I do not intend for any of it to go to waste. I will not squander its value. I will walk in the sun and I will sing in the rain. I will learn to play the harmonica and finish the novel. I will do the things I am afraid of and the things that are maybe a bad idea. I will laugh too loudly at inappropriate times. I will forget apprehension and submission and worry. I will let my guard down. I will not tarry in the land of self-doubt, self-loathing or self-worth. I will talk to and about God in a language everyone will understand. I will have a last first kiss, I will fall in love and I will still wish on a star for my wildest dreams.

If you are in my life I will let you know how much you mean to me. I will take care of you if you’ll let me and I will always be there for you. I will not forget your birthday. I will discuss important things with you and your opinion will matter to me. I will whisper quiet prayers in the early morning before the sun rises that will say your name. I will always share my truth. I will smile when I see you. I will hug you full on- not a side hug, but a hug worthy of our history. I will tell you how I really feel if you ask me. I will come when you call if it is possible for me to do so. I will always listen, because sometimes listening is the highest form of friendship. I will hold your hand. I will celebrate your intellect and the depth of your knowledge about things foreign to me. I will always be kind to those important to you and love them as my own- because if you love them then surely I do too.  I promise to be the person you have always thought me to be. I promise to love you. I promise these things to be your reality whether you are my friend, my lover or my child.

I sent both Drew and Jack forth into the wild blue yonder with these truths. I am optimistic and misty-eyed that they knew I meant them. I am filled with great expectation that you realize I intend them for you too.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
― Shel Silverstein

It’s The End of the World As We Know It…and I Feel Fine.

“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.” -French Proverb

My life has been a bit of a bummer lately. It’s not anything really definable other than a general malaise that has crept in and sort of made itself at home in my psyche. I attribute it to my eldest son Jack’s imminent departure for NYC and the wanderlust I feel but am unable to act upon.

I had occasion over the weekend to pull out all my music that makes me feel love and listen for several hours. I sipped a couple of really good glasses of tequila and was knee deep in the what-ifs, the what-abouts and the what-fors when the phone rang around midnight.

I love late night/early morning phone calls. It generally means whoever is doing the calling knows you well enough to know it’s ok to call anytime and also that it’s probably going to be a pretty good conversation. It was.

When a very old friend calls and you haven’t spoken in awhile, you sort of ditch the pleasantries and just get to the meat of the matter. I mean, you can yada-yada-yada all the live long day about work, weather and the heathens but you know this is not the intent of the phone call.

“Do you believe in monogamy?” “What I mean to say is, do you believe there is one person out there for all of us… only one person in the entire universe out there for each of us?” I literally scratched my head. It has been so long since I’ve honestly thought about the subject matter I paused unsure what would spring forth from my mouth.

I used to believe it. Hell, I banked on it. Then one day my husband summarily announced he was in love with someone else and our marriage was over and all my tidy definitions sort of went to shit. Let me clear, our marriage was not what you’d call traditional anyway. There had been affairs; I had not condoned them but I also hadn’t done much in the way of reparative (preventative?) medicine after said affairs. I don’t know what I should have, could have, would have done differently though. Perhaps nothing, maybe everything.

When someone tells you they do not want you or the life you have created, there is a definite breaking that occurs. Imagine the proverbial bull in the china shop delicately walking every aisle and very simply smashing every shelf from the top down along the way. You repair yourself, of course, but the brokenness is still a part of who you are- for better or worse, you might you say.

Since David left I have thought a great deal about who I am and have been attracted to and why. I have thought so much about the definitions of love and lust and pleasure and pain and all of the very complex feelings that make us uniquely human.

We humans like order. We want these definitions to be neat and tidy. And we want the way we feel to run parallel to the neatness. We like coloring in the lines, paint-by-number and tracing paper. Well I hate to tell you folks, sometimes life is just freehand.

For two years I have been in ‘longing’ with the Cajun. His silver hair and his scratchy beard and the way he looks at me when he thinks I am not looking… He likes me too; probably more than a little, of this I have no doubt. We are connected on a deep level and the attraction is apparent. He reciprocates (sort of) and then he disappears. I found out a while back he has a girlfriend. Someone he has been with a long time and someone I do not know.

I didn’t know this when I met him, but I know it now and so the obvious begins to make sense. Now I know where he goes when he disappears and why he is always so conflicted. I know now that I have to quit daydreaming about someone that is not free for me to love and that probably stings worse than the rest. This doesn’t however, mean I am terrible person or that he is either. It just means we both found ourselves in a situation we did not expect and the tricky part will be navigating away from how we feel.

Lately I have been playfully indulging in a bit of a mild flirtation with someone much younger than me. He is very handsome in his boyish way and he is so sure and optimistic about his life and the future which I find both amusing and charming. He is funny and fun and he engages me in a way that is satisfying somehow.

There was a knee-jerk reaction to discount his attraction to me. After all, why would someone who could in theory have whoever they wanted choose to spend time occupied with me? Then I decided that was a terrible line of thinking and one I was not going to give my energy.

I mean, (legal ages definitely understood and recognized) attraction finds you where you are. It really doesn’t discriminate about age, race, sexual orientation or gender.

So on that note, it is with great trepidation I tell you dear readers, that I have very gingerly dipped my toe into the online dating pool. Something I swore repeatedly and with fervor, I would never do. I’m not sure why other than I might like someone to go to the movies with or feed me when I am hungry.

The pushback for me on this is immense. For one, I find it a completely inorganic way to meet people. I like the old school ‘lock eyes in the grocery store aisle’ stories. I know I know, it’s a romantic notion. I am in fact, a romantic.

There are photos to look at and decisions to be made and with one keystroke I can dismiss or accept someone I know absolutely nothing about. Those who know me well know I have a very difficult time dismissing anything, much less a person without really getting to know them. Here are these people putting themselves out there in such an intimate way. It hurts me that I might hurt someone. God give me strength. Aaargh.

Then there’s me. What do you tell a complete stranger about who you are? I mean, do you share enough for them to be interested but not enough to frighten them away? I suppose that is the goal; but I pushback with that too. We all know I am a little different and I think it’s probably only fair that they know this going in.

So what is important that they know? Hmmm. Let’s see. Let us begin with the basics. I have brown hair. It is fairly dark but sometimes in the summer I like to go a little blonde. I don’t know that I have any more fun, but it sure looks good with my tan.

I have really blue eyes with a tiny yellow ring around the iris. My eyelashes have always been fairly long and I like the way they look. In truth, my eyes are probably my favorite thing about me. I got them from my daddy and I am so happy I did.

I am a bit obsessed with my nails, my toes and my teeth. I have a tattoo on my right arm I got on my 43rd birthday. It is the only one I have and I love it. I am still pretty after 44 years, for whatever that is worth.

If I am being honest, my body is average I guess. I am not super fit. I am soft and squishy in places when you touch me, not chiseled marble. I am only 5’2” and every pound I gain or lose makes a huge difference in how I look to myself and others. I do love my stomach and my boobs- I will admit that much… The rest is…well mostly a work in progress. Sometimes I am motivated, sometimes not.

I am never going to run a marathon or be a triathlete. I do well to run every once in awhile and half of that is stopping to smell flowers or look at a bird’s nest or feed the deer. Like I said, honesty is best.

I love the beach but have come to the understanding with myself that I might like the mountains more. I love the cold air and the scent of snow that lingers even in summer. I love Aspen trees and the way fresh pine makes me feel old and young at the same time.

I like camping, but prefer a cabin. I love a day spent beside a brook or stream, fishing or wading or swimming in its cool water. My favorite part of any good campout is the fire pit at the end of a long and uneventful day. I feel like the dialogue is real then and unfettered as nighttime comes to call.

I appreciate the hunter and the hunting, but only if they are going to in fact eat what they kill and use the parts too. I do not have time for people who kill simply for sport. I don’t kill things- except plants and that is really not on purpose. I love all God’s creatures and it is difficult for me to see anything die. In fact, I’d much rather leave a spider and watch the web it weaves than kill it and I have even gone so far to shoo a fly back outside.

I love animals! I would have a sanctuary of sorts if my yard was any bigger and livestock was not frowned upon in my neighborhood. I have a goofy, intensely loyal and loving half Great-Pyrenees half Golden pup named Django (I love big dogs), a pain-in-the-ass cat named Phinnaeus and Bluebeard the Betta, aptly named to be sure.

I love symphonies, books (about almost anything), movies, theatre, poetry, museums, art and storytelling. I rely on these art forms to keep me in touch with who I am and the way they make me feel. I cannot listen to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy without weeping or see Picasso’s Blue Nude without feeling her sorrow.

I am a sucker for a good conversation. There are people in my life who connect with me in ways I cannot adequately express in written word. They have known me so long and so well that the dialogue is easy and always welcome. I’d like to share this with a partner as well.  In fact, it is non-negotiable.  I need someone in my life that possesses both the intellect and passion needed to engage me in discourse, whatever the topic may be. I don’t need someone to agree with me per se, I just need someone to be able to have the conversation, you know?

I love a good hot bath, an excellent meal with a great Cabernet, good live music, hole-in-the-wall diners and dives, good craft cocktails, chilled Casamigas tequila with salt and lime, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon…

I love to nap. In fact, I really like sleep and I love my bed. I can be a bit of a night owl if properly motivated or I can home and slip into my pajamas in the blink of an eye. It all just depends… Here lately I have been feeling like a bit of a hermit. It’s not that I do not like being out in the world, it is just sometimes I like being alone too- besides, I am really good company.

Politically? I love Bernie Sanders so far… I hope they legalize Mary Jane in all fifty states soon.  It made my heart unbelievably happy that SCOTUS decided people (all people) who love each other can now get married and have the same human rights we straight folk enjoy (all the same headaches too). I am all for removing the Confederate flag from government buildings. I mean, you want to fly it in your yard, go right ahead, but the south did not win the war and it has seen its day. Anything that intentionally represents hate and bigotry and hurts another human needs to have seen its last hoorah. Let us look at it in a museum where we might talk about our varied and diverse history- some of which we dare not repeat.

I believe in one God and also that Jesus was his son, wholly human and wholly divine. This does not mean that I discount any other religions than my own. In fact, I believe we can learn so much from looking at the world through a compassionate and understanding lens. All religions have something to teach us and the learning is never-ending. The moment we stop seeking should be the moment the last breathe escapes our lips.

To that end, it should probably be mentioned that I have been denied entrance into the Episcopal seminary three times now.  Twice due to finances and the other, well I’m not really sure. Needless to say, it leaves me with my time and my options wide open.

Along that same vein, my finances are a total mess. But then again, I don’t want to share finances, I just want to share time and maybe a little of myself.

The crux of my entire existence is my boys. Jack, age 18, Paxton age 17 and Alec, age 14. Jack heads off this August for New York City and college at The New School Eugene Lang School of Journalism and I couldn’t be prouder. Paxton is a senior in high school this year and the President of the student body. He is motivated beyond my greatest expectations- who knows where he will go? Alec is my mess. He is content just being a kid and I love that about him. His truth right now is that he wants to be a high school football coach when he graduates and I believe he will do it.

My boys are all sensitive, kind, funny, intelligent beings and they are wise beyond their years and compassionate in ways that I could only hope for in my children. They make my heart very full every single day. My world does not work without them in it. Period.

I care for all people, even those I do not know and may never know. I believe in kindness and the healing it can do. I believe in love too and that it really is ‘all you need’. I believe in the collective consciousness and that empathy and perception are active verbs and I live my life in accord with that every single day. I always have time for others and I always will.  

Sometimes the urgency to help others gets in the way of other plans, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every now and then people just need to know you are there. ‘Reach out your hand if your cup be empty’, after all…

That seems like enough…too much perhaps? Who knows? For now I’ll just be over here crossing my fingers and hoping I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings…and perhaps wishing just a little that someone who finds me interesting might look a smidge like Charlie Hunnam. Just a thought.

I’ll keep you posted.

Look Away, Look Away, Look Away… Look Forward and Love Who You Love

This blog was supposed to be about me. “Dear Diary: It has hit me that I am no longer sixteen, that I no longer look sixteen and that in a few short years I will become the bohemian shut-in cat lady down the lane…” Two of my three boys being out the house during the summer have caused me to make peace with old adversaries and perhaps confront new and relevant demons if there be any. Well best laid plans… A few things happened over the course of the last two weeks which were game-changers.

As a child I was always very unsure of the diving board. I mean, I loved it- but I also spent a lot of my free time at the pool simply sitting on the edge of the board looking into the water for answers. I was never a good diver and there were decisions to be made. What kind of dive? Which side of the pool to swim to after the dive- important things like these. And of course, the foremost decision to dive headfirst into bone-chillingly cold water also had to be considered.

I liken the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage to diving headfirst into the swimming pool. You can only sit on the edge of the board for so long and then you have to decide…’what’s it gonna be?’

As the decision was handed down, I confess I was awash with emotion. As the mother of a gay child all your emotions sit raw right at the surface anyway. You worry for their acceptance, their happiness, their safety, their future. An added bonus is that you get to fret about their basic human rights; their rights as a person. (That’s crazy, right?)

For me this has never been a “thing” between Republicans or Democrats, or Christians versus well, Christians. It is simply a human thing. It is essential for life for all to be given the same rights. The same chances to make the same mistakes, the same freedoms to live a life in the pursuit of happiness (I borrowed that line).

I started thinking about all the rhetoric about our founding fathers and how ‘disappointed’ they would be to see the country they had liberated from England in its current state of affairs. I beg to differ. I have given this a lot of thought. Now granted, I am no Constitutional scholar; in fact, I am no Presidential scholar either. But there are a few things I do happen to know.

I know that the patriot leadership contained both liberal and republican philosophies in their wish to break from the aristocracy and monarchy. They believed all men should be afforded the same rights and privileges given the higher classes of society. It was this yearning that led them to decree ‘all men are created equal’.

Now we can speculate about their motives or meanings, but that is not really my point. My point is this: here were a group of men (and women) who felt so strongly about something that they put everything they had on the line, including their lives and said, ‘this will not stand’. They were all in.  They were unsure of what the outcome would be, but they knew things needed to change and so they went to the mattresses. (I borrowed this line too.)

Now you don’t suppose after 18 some odd years when the war was won and we were free, that the men who signed the Declaration of Independence sat back, put their feet up on the old Constitutional table and said over a cold cup of ale, “Good job. Well done. We can now rest on our laurels knowing nothing will ever change again- ever.” Right.

I can’t know this for sure, but I imagine they knew that what they had done would change not just their lives but the lives of every future generation and in fact, the world. They couldn’t have known what that would look like, but I bet they would have embraced it, encouraged it, expected it. Hell, hoped for it.

I envision they would have anticipated that we as a free people given this right by their very actions would have fought tooth and nail for what we believed. That we as a nation would have had the discourses necessary to promote our intellect and our opinions just as they surely did.

This brings me to the terrible tragedy, the shooter and those left murdered within the walls of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, just little more than a week ago. (I say shooter because I will not give him the fame and notoriety of writing his name.) Here is a kid who knocks politely on the door of the church during an hour of Bible study and is let in and welcomed warmly into the group. So warmly in fact, he expressed the notion he almost didn’t want to go through with his horrific plan. Instead he did and so nine people who were devout, loving and kind were taken too soon from their loved ones, their church and their lives.

This led to a jarring and unprecedented discussion about the Confederate flag and it’s flying over the South Carolina government offices. Which in turn led the entire country to weigh in on the flag, the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, racism, segregation, desegregation… you understand. Some of the folks thought this conversation about the flag meant that the young man who shot up the church, who also just happened to be a raging racist, did so due to the Confederate flag’s prominent flying in Charleston and other South Carolinian cities. I’m not sure that’s really what the people were trying to convey.

Maybe I am simple, but I kind of think people were saying, “Perhaps in light of this unspeakable heartbreak we should look at ourselves through a finer lens, and maybe begin to think about removing things from our current government offices that are no longer valid examples of our state and her people.” Of course people from every angle of this dialogue have very strong emotional and passionate responses to any ideas about change and history and so the temperature of the nation has been running a little hot lately.

I will concede that the Confederate flag is a symbol of the South’s history, of South Carolina’s history. I will allow that there is a place for this flag in the history textbooks of American children and in museums, libraries, art galleries and other places of intellect, learning and education.

I will also tell you in an article late last week a vexillologist (someone who studies flags) said that the Confederate flag we know as the ‘stars and bars’ wasn’t even carried in battle by Confederate soldiers or used very much during the Civil War, but actually adopted much later by hate groups such as the KKK to further their agendas. In fact, the Confederate flag was not added to the South Carolina flagpole until 1962 which was supposed to commemorate the Civil War centennial, but most agree was a thinly veiled ‘f— you’ from the state to the federal government and for those involved in the civil rights movement and desegregation efforts.

Those who have read my blog before (thank you, btw) know that I have personal feelings about this issue. (Perhaps go back and re-read: https://zendaughter.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/three-little-birds-and-skeletons-changing-the-world/) Of course, in this blog post I mention my high school and its mascot the Confederate soldier, Johnny Rebel; our fight song, ‘Dixie’ and of course, the waving of the aforementioned flag at all school sporting events.

These things captured national attention last week when our school board voted summarily to remove/rename the mascot, flag and fight song from our high school halls. You’d have thought war had broken out again! (I kid.) But seriously, there were so many diverse and dissenting and dividing opinions…

You didn’t ask (no one did) but here is my opinion: let us as a nation, a state, a city or even a school remove the flag. It won’t stop racism, no it will not. It will not end the years of segregation, slavery, burning crosses, white robes or abuse. But it’s a start. And in my humble opinion, anything in our history (the South did not win the war, in case you forgot) that causes pain for another human has had its day.

I heard William Ferris, associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in an interview on NPR say it thus: “Well, I think a proud Southerner is a Southerner who is aware of his or her past, and being proud of one’s past does not mean you accept it. It means that you realize that we’ve come through the fire, and we’re headed in another direction.”

So a lot goes on in the world. It has always been this way and if you think of just these United States of America it is more mind-boggling still: the Trail of Tears, Ellis Island, abolition, state’s rights, segregation, de-segregation, Roanoke, Jamestown, the French and Indian War, the Boston Tea Party, WWI, WWII, The bomb, the Pony Express, gag rules, Roe V. Wade, The Scopes trial, universal healthcare, human rights… the list is endless and each moment has mattered in the lives of those affected by these irascible flashes of fevered narration in the story of our country. These moments belong to all of us.

My stories are always about love. Always. Am I happy that we no longer make a distinction of what love is? You bet. Am I filled with indescribable joy that my child will be able to someday get married and have a life with whomever he chooses to love? You’re damn right I am. Do I understand that not everyone sees the world through my kaleidoscope? Absolutely.

But here’s the thing: even in our darkest hours we search, we yearn, we voice what it is that bothers us and in doing so, we become those men around that table signing that sheet of parchment stating we are free. If that’s not love then I clearly do not know what love is- and we all know that’s just not possible.

Happy Independence, my dears.

Pigs, Puzzles, The Beatles and Bowling

It all started with a pig working a puzzle.

Well to be fair, it really all started with someone on Facebook posting some quote akin to, ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.’ I gotta say, at first I really dug that line of thinking. I could think of several practical applications of this quote for myself and others.

If I workout the second Tuesday after never, I will never see results. If the person I know who drinks too much too often continues to do so, she will continue to be unable to hold down a job, unable to authentically love others because she does not love herself, etc etc. If my friend continues to second guess every decision he makes he will never make a good (enough)decision. If I maintain the current relationship and expectations with my ex-husband I will carry on being disappointed (and struggling). You surmise the idea by now I’m guessing.

Back to the pig and the puzzle. A woman I really like posted a video last week of a plump perfectly pink pig working a puzzle with the caption, “I think I just gave up bacon”. The puzzle was matching pieces in various shapes and their corresponding colors with their respective spaces on the board. The pig worked quickly rooting the pieces with his snout, grabbing them by the rope to which they were attached and placing them (after more rooting) in their appropriate spot. I was awestruck and amazed. That’ll do, pig.

I suppose this is where I should for truth in journalism (blogism?) tell you that I once owned a pig that was in fact, named Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon was supposed to be a Poland China miniature pot-belly pig. I brought him home much to the chagrin of my mother who indulged me anyway. (I love you, Mom.)

After a few months it was evident there was nothing miniature about this pig. What Bacon ended up being was a full-on American Yorkshire pig that grew and grew and was a wild pain-in-the-ass that turned a portion of our backyard into a sty. (I can almost feel my mother side-eyeing me right now.)

I should also confess here that this was at a point in my life when I had given up all meat for Lent and it had stuck. I was convinced I could go without meat (which I did for about a year) until one day my body told me in no uncertain terms that I needed an Albert Porta’s Malt Shop cheeseburger and I folded like a southern socialite’s handkerchief.  If you’d ever had the pleasure of ingesting one of Mr. Porta’s burgers you’d understand.

Anyhoo, eventually my mother had had it and my father called his friend Brandon who said he would take Bacon off our hands. I was 16 years of age and I knew exactly what ‘off our hands’ meant, but it was never really discussed. I knew he had gone on to be someone’s delicious dinner or breakfast and I shed big tears and then just as easily I considered it the circle of life and my mind became preoccupied with other things, as is so often the case with teenaged girls.

Back to today. (Sorry, I do love the rabbit hole…) I thought about the pig working the puzzle and how much it was bothering me. I discussed it with Jack- my go-to for life’s quandaries when I cannot sort them out for myself. I inquired if I might need to stop eating pork because it is a universally accepted fact that pigs have at least the smarts of a four year-old child. Then I elaborated that if I quit eating pork I might also need to quit eating beef because while cows are not near the pigs in the intelligence pool, they are so darned cute. That led to a musing on chickens, which while tasty and delicious are neither smart nor cute.

All of this made me delve further into why I have never eaten veal or lamb or venison simply because I cannot bear the thought of something wide-eyed and wonderful batting its innocent lashes at me while I consume its parts but I will freely eat foie gras while batting an eye of my own.  And beyond this- what, if anything, could all this possibly mean for my sensibilities..? Sigh. Jack had no answers for me other than an eye-roll and an offering that I might need to step out of the Disney film I was living in. (Not a chance, kiddo.)

Later I began to think of the quote. The damned quote.  ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.’ Well alright. Let us look at this another way.

What if Muhammad Ali had decided at the pinnacle of his boxing career he’d rather be an opera singer? Perhaps Ernest Hemingway might have determined halfway through ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ he’d rather be a watchmaker? Or maybe Julia Child mustered enough gumption to put away the sherry and her apron and go be an astrophysicist? What if half-way through, The Beatle’s had become professional bowlers? I know. I know- I am being flip, but really…

I began to think of this in terms of my own life. I mean sure, I could go all Ninja-crazy on people who make me sad or unhappy or even people who make me question myself and the way I do things. I could be hard and unfeeling and go through my days with rote passiveness and lack of emotion. I could care less and bitch more. All of these things are true. None of them are ever going to happen.

Here’s the thing: I am going to do what I’ve always done; not because I’m gonna get what I’ve always gotten, but because I hope precisely the opposite. If I walk in love and spend every moment in compassion and communion with the earth and her people what is the worst that can happen? If I show kindness to everyone I meet and even those people I find utterly reprehensible am I spending my days in waste? If I wake every morning convinced we are all children of God and all worthy of eternal love am I tilting at windmills? Maybe… but I don’t think so.

A dear friend told me once I made her want to walk her path in different shoes. (She could borrow my sandals if I wasn’t always in them…) The point is: I’m not any better than anyone else, less probably. But I am committed and I believe. I believe that what I do matters. Every. Single. Day.

It is absolutely why I wake up in the morning. It is also why I don’t give audience to negativity, jealousy, pettiness or belittling exchanges. It is as simple as why I always speak to the UPS guy or conversely, it’s why he gives Django a bone and then an extra one for later. It is why I talk to the birds and listen for the crickets. It is why the stars hold such infinite wisdom and flowers not only need water but my breath upon their petals. It is why sometimes I can see God in the clouds or hear him whisper in the wind. It is the answer to why every conversation, every glance and every thought I give to another is relevant to my life and the world.

That’s a bold statement, I know. But consider for a moment that everything is connected from the ground, to the trees, to the animals to the water to the heavens, to the unknown, to us: you and me. The breath of life breathed into well, everything. How then would you proceed?

I am no big fan of Paul of Tarsus, but he did say, “I have fought the good fight.” And although I would probably add, “and I went down swinging”- he has a very good point. When I leave this earth I think I’d like it to be said, ‘she stayed the course: strong and intentionally, she gave it all she had, she fully engaged her life- purposefully without regret, remorse or sorrow.  She loved with her whole heart and lived with every spec of her soul’ And maybe that she was kind. That she was always always kind. Oh, and she persevered. She did what she had always done and she changed the world. We’ll see how it goes.

For now you can find me walking the path in the same worn out sandals singing the same old Beatle’s tunes. After all, they never were any good at bowling.

Umbrellas and Smoke Signals

Rain poured down,the river flooded,

a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house.

It was fixed to the rock. (Matthew 7:24)

 It rained what seemed near biblical proportions this last weekend. The sky turned a devilish shade of black and the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. There were tornadoes and angry thunder and wicked lightening and the rivers raged and the lakes rose and there was flooding. Lots of flooding.

We have needed the rain in a most desperate way and Mother Nature delivered. Of course, she made no bones about it. There was also devastation, destruction of property, loss of livelihood, loss of life. This is heartbreaking. For me, the storms that swept through were very much a metaphor for my current state of affairs and emotions.

Jack is graduating this Friday. It seems like only yesterday I was cleaning the poop off his toys after he’d woken from his nap, escaped his crib and smeared his own bodily excretions all over every inch of his playroom. Ah memories.

His ‘blended family’ will be here this weekend to commemorate this milestone (the graduating, not the pooping)and while I guess I applaud his father, stepmother and me for being so amiable with one another it brings up a whole lot of weird feelings. Feelings and pontifications, if I am being honest, about who I am, the future and my relationships with others. (And by others I mean men.) This is something I do not usually give great discourse to, but every so often I am asked to think about and must oblige. Like today.

Since my divorce I have dated only three people seriously. When I say seriously, this means it was a relationship in which said partner met the boys and I considered what our family might look like fully integrated. This is also usually where I realize the relationship is not meant to be. It is one thing to ask someone to love me in all my glory, it is quite another to ask an individual to love my boys as well.

“Oh but Ashley,” I hear you saying, “Anyone who loves you will also love the boys too,” Ehhhh… perhaps.  But I feel that is a grand expectation few could ever really live up to. It’s not that I believe it impossible, mind you, just tres difficile. I mean no one will ever really love my children as I do and I struggle with that. And then there’s the whole “parenting” thing- I mean, do I really value what someone unrelated to me might contribute to the way I am raising my children and more importantly, do I want or need to add someone to our already pretty perfect familial unit? Someone who might at very least wonder why I do certain things the way I do or disagree with me?

Yes… yes I think I do. In one of the more frank conversations with the Cajun recently the discussion rolled around to the children: my three, his one. Both of us intimating in no uncertain terms our children come before everything else. Of course they do. So what exactly does that mean? Who knows? I find it impossibly bizarre to have these ridiculously meaningful dialogues with this man when after two years we have yet to share a meal together…and yet.

And yet, this does not diminish how I feel about him or what he means to me. I am filled with wonder about the prospect of truly knowing his daughter. I have no idea what that looks like- but I do know I would love to be given the opportunity. How could I not want to know something he created? Someone he loves above all else who happens to share his DNA? Someone beautiful and intelligent and perhaps filled with the same sublime adoration and joy I feel emanate from her daddy when he talks about her? Surely, if I feel this way there are men out there who feel this way too? I mean, maybe the Cajun maybe not. Either way- the hope of it is here within me.

I thought a lot about this after we’d finished our marathon exchange. I have a good deal going on at present: I have been denied my Holy Orders; I have come to the gentle realization I will never advance further in the company than where I am right now.  In just a year Paxton will be gone, in three years, Alec. My credit is an abominable mess due to my divorce and what little headway I had made is now back in the abyss due to unpaid child support. I have bills that are due I cannot pay and that is not some slight exaggeration. I am holding it together with duct tape and piano wire. No lie. But make no mistake I am holding it together.

In our family we are completely honest, sometimes brutally so. We count a dog, a cat and a fish among our family. There are as many weeds in our yard as flowers. There is nothing in the icebox at present save some beer, some eggs and a hunk of good cheese. My car is a little flooded from the rain, and when I say a little I mean a lot.

Phinnaeus the cat is injured from a fight with a Tom from the neighborhood. It is a fairly hideous abscess at the base of his tail and I have no money for a vet visit. We have all been keeping a vigilant eye on him the last few days; me sitting with him while he eats and ferrying him to and fro from the kitty box so he can do his business in the box instead of on the sofa. I paint a pretty picture, do I not? Who would want to purposefully buy into this mess, love or no?

A long time ago I realized I love myself enough that if it came right down to it, I would be content (if at times a little lonely) being singular. I have read with interest the stories of cloistered monks and nuns and thought I could really live that life if not for the fact I happen to like sex (a lot) and I cuss like a well-seasoned pirate and enjoy that too. (Sorry Mom.)

I tell you this not because I need a pep talk, or want you to tell me something great lingers around the corner or that God is fixing to open a window or that I am worth having. All of those things are true and I appreciate the sentiment, I truly do. I tell you this because I’m okay with it all. Do I wish it was this way? Certainly not. Will it be alright? Of course it will.

The fact is, we are better than alright. Years ago when David left I might have wondered how I would make it, how life would shake out for the boys and me. I might have pondered if I was capable of being a single mother and what that looked like and how we would survive. I don’t wonder those things anymore. I have raised three exceptional gentlemen and I have done it on my own. They are kind, compassionate, zany, peaceful, joyous- and free to be exactly who they are meant to be.

Some of my proudest parenting moments of late have been watching Jack’s delicate and deliberate care of Phinn in his hour of need, Paxton bringing home his art projects for the year which included a Zoso (Zeppelin) coffee mug and a Grateful Dead skeleton watercolor and the realization he loves the music as much as I. And Alec? Well Alec’s friend’s father lost his battle with a brain tumor yesterday. Alec baked his family brownies all on his own and as we delivered them I watched my son hug his friend tight without ceasing and tell him he loved him. That is what it means to be a good man.

These are the key moments; the ones that make the uncertain weather of this life meaningful, the storms that befall us manageable. We lead a very small life but it is significant in so many ways.

Sunday was Pentecost in the Episcopal Church. First Pentecost was celebrated as Shavuot in the Hebrew tradition- a feast day in which Moses being given the tablets on Sinai is celebrated. Later in the Christian tradition, this became the Sunday we celebrate the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles.

When the holy day of Pentecost came 50 days after Passover, they were gathered together in one place.

Picture yourself among the disciples:

A sound roars from the sky without warning, the roar of a violent wind, and the whole house where you are gathered reverberates with the sound. Then a flame appears, dividing into smaller flames and spreading from one person to the next. All the people present are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in languages they’ve never spoken, as the Spirit empowers them.

Because of the holy festival, there are devout Jews staying as pilgrims in Jerusalem from every nation under the sun. They hear the sound, and a crowd gathers. They are amazed because each of them can hear the group speaking in their native languages. They are shocked and amazed by this. (2 Acts)

Fire rained down and filled them with the Holy Spirit. Poetic imagery or no that is some serious hoodoo and how apropos Pentecost came as the personal storms raged within me and the rain fell swiftly as the parched earth surrendered to its need.

In the midst of a conversation with someone I esteem I had a kind of epiphany. I have always cherished Pentecost. I have always loved it so because it harkens me to Jesus’ words to the disciples: ‘Honestly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.’ For me, it reiterates what I am already certain of- God rests within me through the Holy Spirit and it is there I find my meaning for the things I do and the strength and bad-assery I need to move my mountains and bare my soul.

That said, I think a lot about Eve and Adam and the tree- and that with the fruit God gave us knowledge. We were given knowledge of all things…what a heavy burden and surely a punishment dire as any other. But with Pentecost we were given understanding and that, my dears, has made all the difference.

Understanding is how I know everything will be okay. Understanding is what allows me to love others and show compassion as I first love God and then my own self. Understanding is what gives me the courage and wisdom to be the matriarch of my family and to impart what little I know with love and insight to my boys so that they too might always feel the Holy Spirit at work within them.

A friend quoted Longfellow recently, ‘Into each life some rain must fall’. Indeed. But with God within me, I’ll take my rain stormy, my spirit fiery and my mustard seed thriving. How about you?

Congratulations Jack, I am proud of you. Now go move mountains.

 

Into the Light of the Dark Black Night

Did you know blackbirds only sing after the rain?

Life is messy. Rejection is devastating. Heartbreak hurts. Children leave. These are not new themes of course, but they are recurring ones these days in my own personal snow globe.

A man I met very recently had been reading my blog. “It’s a bit like reading your diary,” he said. “It’s very personal.” Well duh. What is the point of my writing if I am afraid to be honest? It’s as much for me as it is for you, dear reader.

Dear Diary:

Last week I had the occasion to sit with two of my very best friends and watch our children be recognized at the National Honor Society ceremony. (Jack, my senior, received his stole for graduation proud mama moment.) Both friends looked beautiful. Patty with her full head of crazy curls that I adore and Karen…well Karen especially so. She had on these crisp white jeans and a black chiffon shirt with delicate ruffles and a sleek black cardigan (the girl can rock a cardigan like I’ve never seen). Her hair and makeup were perfect- her lipstick the color of the best peonies. She looked amazing.

I rolled up in my bright red tee and camouflage pants with my little dhurrie fabric sandals I probably wear too much and my paper necklace Alec made me when he was away for spring break. In a word, disheveled. I’m still not sure about the new haircut and I haven’t worn makeup since Christmas, save the one time a few weeks ago that ended up in disaster. I am not apologizing for these things mind you, just trying to keep the diary honest.

Anyhoo, she was telling me this story of another blog-ess and it had to with her trials and tribulations with a bathing suit and a certain swim skirt debacle. The story went on to discuss each of her friends’ swim attire choices and ended with the one she called Blackbird, who she said, ‘would always wear the bikini’. Karen looked at me and said, “You are our Blackbird.”

I’ll admit that I went home and had a good cry about this news. I know Karen was paying me probably the greatest compliment and I love her for it. Of course, at this fragile time of inner turmoil and frankly unsettling outer issues I could not see it that way. All I could muster was, ‘Do I really want to always be the wild card? The unconventional one? Is that perhaps what has left me in this mess in the first place?’ 

I climbed into bed and asked Papa for some help. “Here’s where I am right now,” I said. I laid every bit of everything out in great detail: the ex, the money (lack of), the sex (lack of), the church, the guy I somewhat adore, the boys, the hurt, the Blackbird. After I had spat it out I felt a little better and then I handed it over to him. “I’m giving this to you,” I whispered. “Please help me.”

I awoke smiling about Blackbird.

Being turned down for my Holy Orders has left a definite hole in who I am. For seven years I have tread this unsure soil with only my purpose to guide me. Now that it’s gone… What? Where to go, what to do…and what does this new road look like? Feel like underneath my feet..? I have no idea. I can tell you that slowly I move from what seems like torture to a broader more interesting perspective- which is that at this point, I have no idea what the future looks like for me…and that is rather exciting.

Over the weekend I binge-watched the new Netflix series ‘Grace and Frankie’ with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The premise (in short) is this: two law partners have fallen in love and leave their spouses after 40 years to marry one another, leaving the wives to deal with the fall out of this great revelation.

The series started off shakily but grew on me and I found myself invested in the characters and laughing out loud a lot. Lily Tomlin plays Frankie, a seventy-something hippie who wears hemp clothing and crystals, old Ramone’s t-shirts, drinks peyote and smokes grass, loves her husband and her sons with all her heart, holds a painting class for reformed convicts in her makeshift art studio and lives her life according to her own terms and no one else’s.

The more I watched the more I realized I will be Frankie- in many ways I already am. Then it hit me- I AM Blackbird. Why bristle and run away from simply me being me- in all my untidy but never unholy mess? That’s neither who I am nor who I will ever be. In fact, after thinking on it, there is probably another tattoo in my future, a whole lot more turquoise jewelry, holey jeans, maybe a nose piercing, maybe piercing my ears…more than once. I’m gonna listen to a whole lot of Led Zeppelin, Aretha, Janis, The Breeze, Prince, Willie and others loud and often. I am going to roll the windows down and I am gonna sing along.

Sunday I walked into church uncertain. Church is always heartrending for me- something I move through unapologetically. My reaction to the Anglican doctrine and Holy Spirit is something hard to decipher or describe. I knelt at the altar and felt my whole body relax in a way that does not occur anywhere else. Prayer for me is the most comfortable I will ever be.

I often say ‘God never tells me I look fat in my blue jeans.’ Prayer is where I find myself in my most natural state. It is where and how and who I am meant to be. It is at the altar I find all the external melt away and my soul becomes one with my maker. I am not a drop in the ocean, I become the entire sea.

The collect for the day included the phrase ‘that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…’ That we may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire. Now I don’t know about you, but I can desire a whole lot of stuff. Think about what that is saying for a moment. We completely trust God. It is the ultimate relationship. No doubt (ok, maybe sometimes a little doubt), no fear, no compromising. It is a love like none I have ever known.

It is in that trust that I offer what I can to Papa and he takes it from me. Lately this involves a lot of strife, struggle, sadness, brokenness. Sometimes it involves a good deal of bitching…but always ends with thanksgiving. The thing is: he takes it from me. All of it. Whatever I throw at him he accepts.  Well, that’s not really true. I mean he not only accepts it, he welcomes it- and loves me for it.  I don’t have to be perfect. In his eyes I already am- whether careworn and weary or blissful and beaming.

So I will move through this life unapologetic and taking nothing for granted. As a new favorite lyric says, ‘Hope is taking it’s time to go my way but I don’t take my life for granted. I’m gonna hold on tight to what I’ve been handed. Oh I’ll try not to complain about the things I have lost, cause when you have something great that just means there’s a greater loss. So when you look at yourself tell me who do you see? Is it the person you been or the person you’re gonna be..?

Who am I gonna be? I am gonna be Blackbird. I will wear the bikini, go barefoot, bust out the faded Levis, maybe let the hair go gray (maybe not). I will roll the windows down and sing along and let my soul be free. I am going to be brave and strong and love large and move unafraid, valiant in the unsure path set before me. I will seize this sojourn I’ve been gifted- solitary and sentimental, pluming my soul unrepentant. And when I am ready I will fly.

(Thanks Karen for the reminder.)

Requiem For a Dream

“Now I know I’ve got a heart because it is breaking.”
– Tin Man

I am standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom. It is dimly lit, not because I am setting a mood, but simply because two of the three ridiculous LED ultra-expensive light bulbs in the vanity are burnt out. I am looking at myself, but seeing someone I do not recognize.

I am talking too- out loud and frenzied in hushed tones sandwiched in between the uncontrollable sobbing. But perhaps we should back up.

A week ago Friday I had my final meeting before the Bi-vocational Commission on Ministry about my call to Holy Orders. This was the game changer. This was the interview that would make or break my future. I nailed it. NAILED. IT.  The questions asked of me were in-depth and intimate. Some of them had several parts and some were difficult on an emotional and theological level.  I answered every one (I thought) honestly, thoughtfully, with reverence and intent- I felt the Holy Spirit move through me.

The hour ended with a promise of hearing something ‘within the next couple of days’. I knew the weekend was coming, so I presumed Monday…Tuesday at the latest. By Thursday I hadn’t heard anything and I was pathetically short on any kind of meaningful shut-eye. I was wired tighter than a banjo string, but I still remained hopeful.

After work I picked Jack up from Starbucks where he’d been studying with friends and we made our way slowly home- slogging along with all the other poor saps stuck on the 281 bridge during small town ‘rush hour’.

Our mailbox is actually a collective giant box of smaller boxes at the base of our subdivision. I hate checking the mail (bills, bills and more bills) but Jack enjoys it and so he grabbed the key and we stopped. “You got a letter from Brenham,” was all he said. My heart lurched appropriately. The head of the Commission lived in Brenham and though I wasn’t sure why I knew it was bad news. They call you with good news, right?

I tenderly opened the letter taking great care to not wrinkle the page.  I read the first paragraph. Ok… Second paragraph, ok… All was well until I got to ‘However,…’ It was then I lost what seemed like all control of language and motor skill and made a noise I can only describe as primal and threw the letter at Jack as grief tore through me like a smoking hot bullet burning through my flesh. I felt it. All at once I was hot and flushed and needed to vomit.

Somehow I managed to steer the car home and I didn’t speak I just curled up fetally on my bed. I was ugly crying at this point (I know, I know, I ugly cry a lot) and very near an anxiety attack. I could feel my heart racing and it was becoming very hard to breathe. Jack quietly lay down next to me and put his arms around me.

I remember in ‘Temple Grandin’ her in a cattle shoot finding comfort. I am a hugger and love to be hugged, but sometimes Jack (in all his giant-ness) envelopes me and I push back.  I didn’t Thursday, I let him hold me and I felt my breath come back as my heart rested a little. “This is quite possibly the worst day of my life,” I wailed. “Mom. The worst day of your life was when you had Alec.” (Gotta love a kid for trying.) I found myself laughing while the tears raged on.

I managed to somehow type out a text to Cathy, my friend and associate rector at church and then another to my “he-woman wolf pack” of my dearest girl friends. (I still haven’t called Brett, I just can’t yet.) Sally immediately offered a drink and some counsel and that seemed like a very good idea and so we made plans to meet; the other girls would meet later if they were able. I told her I would be there soon. We are now back where we started- the powder room and the mirror.

I am still crying and the fact that I picked this day to actually wear makeup has not been kind. My face is streaked and stained and there is black covering every inch in mottled blotches. I look a little (and feel a little) like a Rorschach ink blot. Still, I press on.

I lower my head and say with quiet determination, “Sometime in the near future you are going to explain to me this course of events. You are going to enlighten me on why so many years ago you chose me for whatever this is and then time and again I am denied. Soon you are going to show me what I truly am supposed to be doing for you because I just don’t know anymore. And while we’re on the subject, do not presume to tell me that today’s denial means something bigger and better and more meaningful is just down the road. That is so cliché… And you know what? Right now I feel abandoned by you and betrayed.”

I let the words settle in my bones and feel a sharp intake of my breath as I await…what? A strike of lightening perhaps? There is nothing save my sobbing.

I meet Sally under a blanket of old lazy oak trees just as the sun is saying goodnight to the day. The trees are something to behold. Their magnificent branches are long and winding- making an unpatterned maze as I gaze longingly into the sky. The breeze picks up just long enough to cause the sun to shimmer through the undergrowth and my pulse quickens a little.

We share stories and Bloody Marys and one by one the other girls show up, minus one. (Track meet.) We don’t talk much about the letter, we don’t need to. We do talk about what it may mean for my future and my friends say some very meaningful things about why I matter to them and why I matter to others I’ve yet to know. We talk in generalities and hopefulness about my quirky friendship with the rogue Cajun and whether or not I will share this news with him that night. (I do not.) We talk about our children and the future and upcoming events and life…I feel such love in that place in that time and yet, I remain inconsolable.

By this point my head is throttling me with a dull ache of being trapped in tight vice with no escape. My crying has reddened my eyes to something out of Roger Rabbit and I am spent: physically and emotionally. I hug my girls tight and venture off into the night.

As I head home, Jackson Browne sings as if the words were written just for me:
And I’d have fought the world for you
If I thought that you wanted me to,
Or put aside what was true or untrue
If I’d known that’s what you needed…
What you needed me to do.
But the moment has passed by me now-
To have put away my pride
And just come through for you somehow…’ I sing as the tears find their mark and the words choke my throat.

I am home again- safely in the confines of my world where it is okay to simply fall apart. My body feels achy and tired and not my own. I feel feverish and uncomfortable and fatigued in a way I haven’t since my divorce.

I titled this blog Requiem For a Dream. A requiem is a funeral song. It is a lament for what is lost. This is a very real death for me. It is the breaking of my heart into a million grains of sand. It is my soul awash in agony and it is the most painful thing I have ever known.

I want to look up at the stars as I normally do- seeing something bigger than myself, bigger than the whole of us. Now I see only death. Fiery burning bereavement headed toward nothingness. This is not the way it was meant to be. This is not me.

I make my way to my bedroom- my sanctuary. It is clean and warmly lit and smells of lavender. I relax a little. I carefully and deliberately remove my clothes, my shoes, and my jewelry. I move again to the bathroom. I wash my face and as the cool water splashes my skin, my flesh gooses and my entire body shivers. It is then I feel Him. With me, in me. I feel a white hot singeing of my soul and a soldering of my heart- if only for a moment.  I feel his longing for me to accept and understand my life. I feel his hurt too and in that split-second everything I know- all the definitions and disappointment and distractions melt away. I am his child and he is my father and I am held and I am love and I am home.

What a wonderful world.

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” 
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Luck (and Love) Be a Lady

And something in the heart of me
Is telling me it’s time
To meet the eye of destiny
And leave it all behind

And through my bones an iron rage
Paints my soul upon the page
I hear the voice of Eden cry
Lift me up to walk on high
Make me wanna lay down and die

Its real love.

-D. Gray

I tried something new for me this Lent; instead of just giving something up, I took something on. I wanted to make sure I understood what true love means in my life and so I tasked myself with walking around in Mary Magdalene’s sandals for the forty days leading up to Christ’s death and glorious ascension.  I had no idea where the path might lead but it was an unexpected journey to be sure.

We all know (or think we know) Mary Magdalene. We used to think she was a ‘lady of the night’ although now those more scholarly than me say she probably was not. She was, in fact, a wealthy member of the upper class afforded social privilege by this rank and the ability to travel where she wanted and fund Jesus’ ministry if she desired as well.

She hailed from the town of Magdala, a successful little village known for their impressive dyes and fabrics. There is no mention of a husband or children which has fueled speculation she was perhaps a successful businesswoman all her own in a time when that was normally not the case.  Stranger things could have happened, right?

It is of course also well known that she had a bit of a demon problem- Jesus having cast out seven demons from Mary before she committed to his cause. I gotta say, if someone cured me of seven raging demons inside my head I’d probably drop everything I was doing and follow them too…but let’s delve a little deeper.

There were other women mentioned in the stories of Jesus, though none as predominately as Mary. Among the twelve apostles Mary inspired jealousy and curiosity- why did Jesus love her best among them? Why indeed? And why would Mary, a successful, single, strong woman take on this very intimate role of closest confidante to a poor man she barely knew?

A few years ago you might remember a little book that was published called The DaVinci Code in which a theory was floated that Mary was in fact, the wife of Jesus. Not only that, but they had a family as well and after his death Mary raised his child and their descendants still remain today.

I am not prepared to have a debate about whether or not Jesus was married. I really don’t care. I mean, no one doubts this woman was at his death at the foot of the very cross where he hanged and no one doubts that she was at his tomb to anoint and clean his body for burial. Both of those moments seem to me excruciating painful and intimate- and perhaps (just perhaps) only privileges given to family.

For me, if Jesus was married is really kind of a non-issue. If we assume that in his time on Earth Jesus was fully human- a mere mortal until such time as he was resurrected by the Father- then doesn’t that mean it would be perfectly normal and understandable for him to fall in love and want to marry? For me, the answer is yes and I am okay with that. However, as I stated, I do not really care.  What I do care very much about is Mary. There is just something about Mary.

I think perhaps Mary ‘got it’ more than any of the other apostles. In her own Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, included in the gospels labeled the Gnostic Gospels, she is said to have wisdom not revealed to the men in the group. It also allows that after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension she became a main cornerstone of preaching the good news and fueled the growth of Christianity starting in Marseilles, France. Good stuff. The focus of the forty days for me however, became about her love for him- her perhaps being in love with him.

Think about the first time you really fell in love with another person: the way you thought about them every moment of every day, how you wanted to stay up all night talking about life and the possibilities it held, how you talked about the future in specific terms without being afraid of what that implied.

Now go deeper. Remember how you loved them because they were different from anyone else you’d ever known and you wanted that in your life- in fact, you were sure you couldn’t live without it. And then consider maybe it got difficult, because love is not all sunshine and flowers and rainbows. It got thorny- maybe because what you both wanted shifted, or maybe because the perception the two of you had about the relationship began to shift out of focus.

Now imagine you are Mary. You have fallen in love with this extraordinary man: a rebel, a rabbi, a revolutionary. You have embraced his cause as your own because you believe in him. He has spoken intimate words to you about your brokenness and he has told you that he loves you in no uncertain terms. You have told him all your sins and laid them at his feet and he has forgiven you. He has whispered the words ‘I love you’ to you in the quiet of the night and you could swear that you have heard the mountains call his name. That kind of love changes your life forever.

In the moments you are alone you ponder what all of it means. You think about his unruly beard and his kind, ethereal eyes. You daydream about his kiss and brushing your own lips over his forehead. You fantasize about where you might live peacefully out the rest of your days together and what your children might look like. This is the kind of thinking you do when you give your heart fully to another. It is inevitable and inescapable.

But there is something nagging at you that seems hidden just from your view. He will not commit to only you and he has been very pensive lately and refuses to discuss the future in any terms other than the moment he is in. In fact, as the days grow longer toward Passover he has almost become impossible to deal with. He is not sleeping; he talks to the sky as if someone were there to answer him. He has become moody with his friends and he doesn’t want to talk for hours anymore. He just wants to be left alone.

Her heart wrenches with all of this knowledge- and still there is so much she does not yet know or understand. What he has made very clear is that he needs her with him for however long that may be.

Fast forward to the end. She has watched in horror and despair his friends abandon him, his people betray and curse his name and eager Roman soldiers exact their bloody torture on his delicate flesh. She has shouldered his mother and bore her wracked sobs in the hours of her agony. She watched in horror the soldiers place a crown of nettles upon the brow where her lips should have been. She has witnessed the man she loves die a slow, punishing and terrible death.

She tries with every resource within to recall their last conversation – bits and pieces are clear but with her heart racing she is unable to recall exactly what was said or what it meant. There were things uttered in the heat of the moment she was unclear about. She wondered why he said he was sure he would be killed and further, why he would say the outcome was assured- that there would be no other ending. And as she cried and tore at his clothing, she told him she could not live without him- she did not know how. And Jesus knowing her anguish held her fast against him and quieted her saying as surely as he stood before her in that moment, after his death he would stand before her again as if he had never been gone.

It was not until later when she sat defeated, exhausted and lifeless at the foot of his empty tomb that she understood. There he showed himself to her- healed and whole and suddenly every definition of everything she knew was turned upside down and written anew.

In front of her stood the only man she had ever really known how to love. With every fiber of her being she had loved him and here he stood in the flesh, speaking with a quiet confidence of the way things now would be. Her pulse quickens and the butterflies stir in her belly. She feels lightheaded and happy.

But what could she possibly say to him? There were so many things she longed for him to know and yet mere words fail her. And so it was with quiet joy, she merely touched his face and promised that she would love him forever.  And in that moment the secrets of his divinity to her alone were revealed.

How must that have felt? For she had simply loved a man.

I thought about this for a good long while in the dark recesses of my mind and the unknown caverns of my soul. Sometimes I am completely overwhelmed by Jesus and the way he loves me. It is not give and take; it is give and be given more. It is the most intimate relationship I have and will ever have with anyone. He knows every inch of me and my mind and the very depths of my soul and I am who he wants without exception. It is a romance and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

It turns out that I do know what love is- and now I know what it feels like to be Mary Magdalene as well. Because in no uncertain terms and for the rest of my life and longer, I will be in love with this man too. Lucky lucky me.

Three Little Birds and Skeletons Changing the World

So I’m sitting on the beach in St. Lucia. It is a perfect day- sunny, breezy, and beautiful. A man approaches me with the longest dreads I have ever seen. He is a deep dark rich and wonderful chestnut color with the bluest eyes I’ve ever come across. He is weaving a basket of palm fronds. It is intricately woven and absolutely amazing. I way over pay him for the basket and ask him to sit. There is no soliciting allowed here and I want to make sure he and I get a chance to talk.

He lights a hand-rolled cigarette and crosses his legs and looks at me intently. I ask him about his history with the island. I want to know his story. His name is Bob and he has lived on the island all his life. His mother died unexpectedly several years ago and he has no other relatives. He tells me the native St. Lucians are his family and he likes it that way.

We talk most of the afternoon, sipping homemade rum from coconuts watching the sun lower itself into the Caribbean. He tells me he is Rasta. I tell him I am Christian. He smiles at me. A big gap-toothed grin and he laughs heartily and it is infectious and so I laugh too. “You is one thing and I is one thing and so okay… but if we are together in this world, we is all one. Right?” Right.

By now we have all been privy to the ‘chant heard round the world’. I didn’t watch the video of the Oklahoma University SAE’s. I didn’t need to and frankly, why give more publicity to something so atrocious? I am also reticent to discuss the cross-burning that happened here a week ago in the yard of my friends at the Smoking for Jesus Ministry. The FBI has labeled it a hate crime. A crime that I innocently enough had hoped had seen its last day.

I have never really understood racism; of course, the caveat to that statement being I was never thoroughly ensconced in it either. I was raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and we were a very segregated city. White folks lived on the south side of town and went to Southside High School, where the mascot was Johnny Rebel and we waved the Dixie flag. (Yep, we really did.) Black folks lived on the north side of town and went to Northside High School and except for a few families scattered throughout, this is the way it was.

I would be remiss in not mentioning I had some truly wonderful friends who happened to be black that I attended school with- Ralph Smith, Marty Adams and my lovely friend Bisi Lipide to name a few. I don’t think they ever felt singled- out or different from any of us at school, at least I hope with all my heart they did not.

I lived in a fairly liberal household. My mom was a child of the sixties and the orange shag carpeting, the Heineken pillow on the olive green velvet sofa and the Janis Joplin artwork on the wall did nothing to quell the vibe. We had friends and acquaintances across the racial spectrum and while I was not close to many of them there were certainly a few in my life who meant a great deal to me.

We also had a darker side to our family history that was never really talked about. I didn’t learn about it until I was about twelve or thirteen (Uncle Blake shared it with me when he was angry at my grandfather about something completely unrelated) and I don’t think I understood the magnitude of it until much later.

My grandfather had been the lead counsel for Governor Orval Faubus during Case No. 3113: the injunction against the segregation of Central High School of the Little Rock Nine in 1957. Appointed by the Governor himself, my father’s father had little choice but to acquiesce. My grandfather also happened to be the Democratic State Committee Chairman at the time only adding to the media frenzy and heightened emotions that were already ready to explode.

In talking to my grandfather about it so many years later he did not allow very much- only that he had done what was asked of him and gave me some solid logic about the law and his ethics and being bound to do his best to represent the Governor no matter how reprehensible he found the subject matter. We talked too about standing up for what is right and having a hand in things that matter and as always, he encouraged me to learn from history and be an active participant in the world around me.

Our family library was and is filled with books about Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionists and Ulysses S. Grant. There are signed copies of books written by JFK and Lyndon Johnson and full volumes of books by Churchill and others written about the World Wars and the world.  We also had volumes and volumes on the American Indian and the horrific events of the Trail of Tears, the Battle of Little Bighorn and the Sandy Creek Massacre.

The latter being the massacre, occurring on November 29, 1864, led by Colorado Territory Commander, John M. Chivington, carried out upon Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne village, nestled along Sand Creek. Though the Cheyenne were flying an American flag over their village and had already surrendered, Chivington, who was a known “Indian hater” attacked anyway, leaving more than 200 Cheyenne Indians, mainly women and children, dead.

It is always with irony I remember this battle as it sits squarely around Thanksgiving, the time when we gather and remember events in history a little creatively re-imagined so that we can share a meal and give thanks together. (No, I am not a Thanksgiving “hater”, it happens to be perhaps my favorite holiday- but not necessarily for the ‘history’ it contains…)

Part of my childhood life’s lessons were given me by my grandfather’s keeper of the gate, Versa, who I have mentioned several times prior in my writing. She was a larger than life woman of wit and wisdom and she put me in my place more than a few times. She was also one of the kindest people I have ever met and she talked to me not as a child but as a person of the world and I loved her.

In the quiet of my grandfather’s kitchen we would share lemon shortbread cookies and ice cold milk and she would tell me stories of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and Sojourner Truth. I don’t know how much I retained, but I know every spring I walked the landscape of the yard and picked a special bouquet of the prettiest Jonquils just for her. She gave me beauty and I wanted to return the gift.

All that said, I remember a boy when I was about 14 years-old. He went to Kimmons Junior High and he was the most handsome boy maybe I had ever seen. He was the star of their basketball team and I am certain I made a girly ass out of myself when we played games against his team because I am pretty sure I stared at him the entire time. Now I know athletics are important to young men and women, I get it. But I also know at that age hormones are just going bat-shit crazy and you feel things you never knew were possible up until you feel them. Then suddenly the whole world seems to open up like an oyster with a black pearl in the center.

I saw him looking at me too and I have a lump in throat right now just thinking about it. It was so simple and yet so wonderful. I never considered what any of it meant, if anything, until he called me one school night after supper. I was doing homework with my sister at the dining room table and we heard my father take a message. He promptly handed it to me and went back to whatever he had been doing.

I looked at the message and I felt every neuron in my body fire at the same instant. I told my sister who it was and that I wanted to call him back, I was going to call him back. She gave me a thoughtful look and a meek crooked smile and then carefully said, “Well you can’t.” “Why not?”  “Think about it. Dad would have a cow if you were talking to a black boy.”

My sister and I argued about a lot of things and often. We did not argue about this. Man I wish we had. I wish I had told her exactly what I thought about that. I wish I had trusted my father enough to be the man I knew him to be. I wish I had known myself well enough to be the young woman I wanted, to trust myself, to have this thing that was important to me as long as I didn’t hurt others…I wish I had been his friend, held his hand, kissed his cheek.  I wish I had been brave.

What I did instead was ignore his subsequent phone calls until he stopped calling. What I did was ignore something that could have been important to me, something that might have had meaning in my life and a relationship with someone I may have loved.

I still feel guilt and shame about that. I still feel tears find my eyes as I think about him and hope is somewhere wonderful content and happy. I have forgiven myself but the remnants of this particular moment still have a jagged edge. One I still feel when the world seems so unforgiving and awful. I can’t erase time or the memories contained therein. The important ones stay with me as a constant reminder I must always be unapologetic for who I am and what that means in my life and the way I love others.

The world finds us in a unique position. We are at once brought closer than ever before by technology and social media, and yet- we are perhaps further apart than we have been in a good long while. Is this because we know more but understand less? Is it because we hear but do not listen? Or could it be that the current state of affairs has nothing to do with what we see or hear or understand intellectually, but very simply, how it makes us feel..?

One little bit of current event news that has me intrigued and excited (and hopeful) is the news that Harper Lee will publish her ‘sequel’ (which was actually written first) to To Kill a Mockingbird this June. I have already reserved my copy and cannot wait to see her words again in print on the page of a book. I look forward in anticipation to where Maycomb finds Scout and Atticus two decades after Atticus tried to save Tom Robinson and the town from itself and Boo saved Scout and she saved him right back.

Every year I read this book. Sometimes I hope it can possibly have another ending- one where Mayella Ewell does the right thing, where Tom is pardoned and one where Aunt Alexandra isn’t trapped by her own fear and society’s stereotypes which she imparts to no avail on young Scout.

It never does of course. The ending remains the same and every single time I weep in spite of myself. I weep because I want us all to ‘get it’. I want every human being to understand and embrace the wisdom that Atticus shares with his dear children. I want us to feel the ache he feels at injustice and inequality. I want us to know what it feels like, truly feels like, to look at one another and see not a person but a soul.

The last passage in the book has always been my favorite. Scout is explaining to her father the plot and resolution of the book she’s been reading. An innocent man is wrongly accused and the truth comes out in the end.

Scout: “Atticus, he was real nice.”

Atticus: “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

What will it take for us to look with those kinds of eyes? To hear with ears that listen with empathy not apathy? To speak with mouths that utter compassion and kindness? To embrace the things and people we do not understand with intellect, tenderness and mercy? What must we do to see the face of the Messiah in everyone we meet? More importantly perhaps, what must we do to be the face of Christ to others?

I’m not sure. Hell sometimes I don’t even know what day it is- but I do know that every day is a new day, a new chance to be the change we wish to see- not only in ourselves but the world. (Thank you, Mr. Ghandi.)

Since the dreaded time change the birds in my backyard are very busy. I imagine them preparing their nests with excitement and care. They wake early and begin their day in earnest with song. This morning as I listened to them chatter I found myself singing too.

I don’t really have an answer to what ails us. I do know that when the Ad Council runs a video of skeletons dancing to an audience unaware of their race, gender, disability, age- and it is shared almost 2 million times with close to a million ‘likes’ and counting, there is something much larger at work than just a video.  Love is love- it does not discriminate, it cannot– else it is not really love at all.

Perhaps in the midst of the turmoil of our mortal coil we humans are learning to let go of our fears- because that’s really it, isn’t it? Fear. We feel trepidation and anxiety of what we do not know or completely understand. Sometimes, in my very humble opinion, it is best to simply let those things go and just let it be. Live and let live. Love and let love. Let love. Let us see what it can do.

Somewhere in my mind I hear my birds and a tune floats by… ‘Don’t worry, ‘bout a thing- every little thing gonna be alright…’

It may not be now, but some day it will be. Just ask Bob.

It’s About Time

“Time and tide wait for no man.” – Geoffrey Chaucer

I like waiting. When I was little sometimes I would sit on the front porch until my mom called me in for dinner. For a visual, usually I sat in my faded jeans, my tiny red Keds with the white bumper toes, my “This Ain’t No Bull” t-shirt (with a cow with a daisy in her mouth on the front) and at times, my red windbreaker with the Echols Eagles logo on it- my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. (There is much to contemplate at six or seven years of age.) Man I had it good. She’d stick her head out of the front door: “Whatcha doing, kiddo?” “Waiting.” Sometimes she would ask me what I was waiting for, who I was waiting on- sometimes not. I guess it all depended on her day.

Sometimes I was indeed waiting on Gray or Maggie or Slates from down the street, or the sunset or Daddy to magically appear in the driveway after a long day at the office. Sometimes not. Sometimes I just waited.

I have been waiting all my life. I waited for God to show up a lot: in the backyard, gazing out my window in the still of a starry night, working in the garden with my father, at camp, at the birth of my children. I have never been left wanting. He counseled patience a good deal and the wonder of my life lay before me. Sometimes it was not at all clear what I was patiently waiting for- but I waited nonetheless.

In our lives we wait for a great many things: we wait on Santa Claus, we wait on the Christ child too; we wait on babies to be born, to turn sixteen so that we may get a driver’s license, we wait in anticipation to turn eighteen, to turn 21… We cautiously and hopefully wait for true love to find us, we wait for planes and trains and automobiles.

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday- the beginning of Lent within the Episcopal Church. Traditionally this meant to be a penitential time when we look inward at where we are in our relationship to God and in an effort to ‘right’ the relationship abstain from something that has perhaps become too important to us so that we may focus on our soul not ourselves.

For many, Lent is a means to an end. We tolerate this time of self-sacrifice so that we may celebrate Easter roughly 6 weeks later. For a great many Christians, the resurrection is the cornerstone of the faith. Personally, I do not like to think of Lent as looking forward to something.  I mean, (and I apologize for being crass) are we really looking forward to the crucifixion of Jesus? I for one, never am. That said, it doesn’t mean I do not embrace the reminder. I am also eternally grateful (see what I just did there?) for Christ’s ultimate surprise in his return to earth to let us human blockheads know we were really, truly forgiven.

For me, Lent is a time to contemplate Jesus’ time in the desert. As Dave, my rector pointed out, ‘Here is a guy at the height of his ministry, he’s got work to do and places to go and people to meet and what does he do? He heads off to the desert without so much as word to his friends.” Indeed. He went into the desert to wait; to listen, to learn from his father what he could of his life, his teaching, his destiny.

Sometimes I feel like we use Lent as a time to try and be something we are not. Perhaps we give up too much, we are too ambitious and so the meaning falls flat when we disappoint ourselves in our “goal”. To me, Lent is a discipline of being okay right we are at present.

Maybe where you are is giving up chocolate for the forty days. Lots of folks, preachers and normal folk alike, tend to make light of someone who’s given up chocolate for Lent. I get it. It seems simple and perhaps not serious enough or not serious at all… But what if all you are able to do is give up the chocolate for the duration of the days? Isn’t it something amazing in itself to know that may be all you are capable of and that is okay..? I don’t think that is a fault- I think that is fantastic.

Jesus waited in the desert. And he was tempted by all the temptations that being human allowed.  Resonate on that for a flat second and see if it doesn’t nearly blow your mind. You can only try to give up red wine or beer or cheese or bread or candy or smoking or whatever it is that you know needs to be less important to you than it is right now..? Good for you.  Good. For. You.

Admitting you are present and accounted for in your life exactly where you are at this moment is pivotal to the theory of everything.

A friend on Facebook posted something recently about notes and rests in musical composition; something about the music being in the notes but the creation of the music being in the rests. I think I remember Mozart said that somewhere, sometime. I imagine he knew of which he spoke.

We can fill our lives with busyness and restlessness and reckless abandon even, if we want to; ideas, questions, suppositions, fool’s errands, regular errands… We can cram so much living into the fabric of time that time itself becomes a parody of the life we lead.

All the while our souls remain tranquil within us. They wait for the moment of realization that God does not operate within our understanding of time nor in it and all the time we waste in the weary world away from him, is but a shimmer of perfect sunlight bounced of a bottle top in the bottom of a stream on a lazy day.  In fact, I think this is what he really wants us to understand.

Of course, in my later youth and somewhat into adulthood, I never cooperated with time. I forgot what Papa had cautioned me and I looked at my life through the eyes of someone in a mighty hurry. I looked around me and envied those living lives I thought important rather than categorizing mine as such, or realizing its worth. I wanted the boy, the babies, the brass ring; the comfort and slick surface gloss of lives I’d seen and filed away somewhere in the recesses of my brain. It was a detriment to me to be sure. I was in such a hurry to have what others had I frequently missed the gifts placed squarely at my feet. That is one mistake I will never make again though something I still catch my weaker self pondering from time to time.

I have done a great deal of waiting over the last several years and my fair share of wandering in the desert and denying my soul its rightful purpose. It is something I work on daily: hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. I decided somewhere in between to rest in God; to let him hold me, move me- be the fire by which I warmed my soul. I decided to trust his timeline for me not my own and I have never, not even for the blink of an eye- regretted this.

God is waiting for us in the desert- for all of us; his divinity resting within us until that cataclysmic moment when we can fathom what it means to say ‘all is love’ and then use our human time we’ve been given to show this in the world. He waits for us to question, to seek, to learn…to listen. It matters not how long it takes, what the hours may look like or what we do in between.

I think I’ve figured out why I like waiting.

Lent lasts a mere forty days of time as we know it; I think you can swing it.

Some Call Me the Gangster of Love

So, a girl walks into a bar. Just kidding.  But not really…

Christmas Eve this year found me at traditional midnight Mass in my hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas, at my childhood Episcopal Church, St. John’s.  Our church is an old church in the Anglican tradition with a giant pipe organ, beautiful massive stained-glass windows and intricately carved moldings and gilded beams throughout. Real greenery adorned every corner of the sanctuary and luminaria bathed the church in an amber glow.  It was, in a word, perfect.

I had not been home (much less awake) for true midnight Mass in several years and found myself having missed it without really knowing.  The priest, a gentle- spoken pleasant man, preached a sermon of tolerance, understanding and world peace.  Yes! Yes! Yes.

The service ended after the call to Christ’s table with a dimming of all the lights and a solemn and emotion-filled singing of ‘Away In a Manger’.  My sister, my mother and I drove home reflecting on the message and the meaning; I was happy to have shared the evening with them and I felt closer to Christmas than I had in a long while. My sister remarked later to me how listening to me sing during church she had thought of how lucky my (someday) parishioners would be to get to hear me sing the worship.  What a lovely thought.

Two years ago was a bit of a different story.  While Christmas Eve found me surrounded by friends, food, fellowship and gifts- Christmas evening found me at home alone with the cat, Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas’ as I watched ‘Holiday Inn’ bundled up in my feather bed.  The boys were with David, one of three “this is what a successful blended family looks like” dates on the calendar. I had a filet for dinner and a couple of really good glasses of Caymus Select.

The second phase of the night began with a viewing of my penultimate Christmas movie ‘The Family Stone’. (The first being the original ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ with Cary Grant and David Niven.) I got about halfway through the film and one of the many messages of the movie began to stick like a nettle in my already over-working, foggy brain: meet people where they are.  It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Having been turned down twice at this point for entrance into seminary, my thoughts turned to the Bishop and perhaps the inability of the establishment to do the same.  It was all too much.  I was getting weepy.

I decided on a drive to clear my head. I threw on some clothes (read: black yoga pants and over-sized mohair sweater) and headed down Highway 281 towards Johnson City and the Pedernales Electric Coop’s brilliant Christmas light display.  It was late but not too, and I drove for awhile, NPR playing untraditional Christmas tunes- a melodic backdrop to my journey. The streets were jet black, a mist having settled on the asphalt. The light reflecting off the pavement like fireflies dancing with the stars across the clear night sky. The beauty of that moment still makes my chest tighten at the very thought of it.

Almost to Johnson City I passed a bar with an ‘Open” sign flashing in the window.  It was a tiny place, non-descript save the few lone cars and trucks dotting the parking lot. I felt drawn there somehow and though it’s usually not my practice to hang out in a bar on Christmas, I went in.

It was as I’d expected it to be, a little dark and a little dated, but warm and cozy enough.  I slid into a stool (a red sort-of “pleather” with nail-head trim on a swivel).  I noticed a pool table and a very old Wurlitzer jukebox in the corner.  Two good signs this place was probably a keeper.

The bartender smiled at me.  It seemed kind of a sad smile- a ‘What’s a nice lady like you doing in a place like this?’ kind-of a smile. I grinned back and asked for a Patron neat and an ice water. Next to me an older gentleman turned his head and flashed a gentle grin. “Merry Christmas,” he said. “The name’s Buck.”  His expression was worn but not tired and I felt his kindness and knew I needed it.

“Well,” I began, “Christmas isn’t really in December and I’m Ashley,” I said winking at him. “Do tell,” he laughed and held his hand out in a gesture of continuance.  I explained to him my theories about the actual date and place of Christ’s birth.  We began with that in earnest and then found ourselves talking about our spouses (he a widower and me a divorcee), our children, my discernment, his retirement, the music of his generation and my birth- and so much more.

He was curious about my call to be a priest and we discussed it for quite some time.  There was a quiet lull in the conversation and he looked me squarely in eye. “How can you be so sure there is a God?” I thought about it for a moment.  In truth, I have never doubted the existence of God.  Frankly, I have never been able to. Every time in my life, both as a young girl and then an older educated woman, every time I have ever even thought to contemplate the Almighty, he presents himself to me in a such a definitive, infinite, mercurial way that I cannot even fathom what my question was in the first place.

“How can I be sure that you are not God?” I say grinning at him. “Good point,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.  I soldier on and tell him it is difficult to explain, that when you have had intimate supernatural dealings with the one I call Papa, there can be no mistaking them for anything else. Further, I try in my meager way I can to explain that the force I choose to give human form may perhaps be all in my mind, but that does not negate the proposition this is God. Like I said, it is difficult to explain.

I am on my second tequila at this point, we’ve ordered a woefully small plate of fries to share and we are in our second hour of conversation unfortunately (or fortunately, depending) for Buck on a topic of which I never tire.  He leans in, dipping his fry in the pepper and ketchup mixture I’ve created and asks when I become a priest how I will be different from all the other ‘phoney-baloneys’ already preaching the word of God? (His words, not mine.) It takes me only a second to answer.

I tell Buck a good long laundry list of commandments I’ve broken, lies I’ve told, sins I’ve committed against myself, God, humanity… And then I tell him what I know for sure: God meets me exactly where I am.  I am forgiven the moment I ask him for it, no matter where I am. Not the fake too-slick surface kind, the kind that comes from his grace and hurts deep down.  “The kind you think about long after it has been given” I tell him. It’s not that he doesn’t care about my indiscretions or who I’ve hurt, or perhaps mostly, that I’ve hurt myself- it’s just that he created me.  He knows me.  More importantly, he knows us all. And so, while it would be great to only preach in a church at a pulpit in a sanctuary filled with people- that is not what God created me to do.

His call to me has always been very clear: I am to meet the people where they are.  I tell Buck I am a different kind of evangelist. “What do you mean?” I ask him if he realizes we are going on three hours of conversation about God and Jesus. I ask him when the last time he’d spoken to anyone other than himself about God was and find him looking intently at me.  “Since my wife died,” was all he said.  It had been a decade.  “And yet,” I said, “here we are in a bar on Christmas night discussing God and his son…and without you, or maybe even me, knowing it I’ve got you thinking, seeking, and believing…right?”  A smile made its way across his face.

“What I believe,” I continued, “is that God wants me to help those who want to know him know him right where they are.” I went on, “He doesn’t care if you watch porn or you smoke pot or whether you are gay or straight or black or white or grey or blue, or if you eat shellfish or dye your hair, or whether you watch sports or movies or prefer to read… He doesn’t care if he meets you in the grocery store, in a bar or a hotel lobby, a movie theater or a gas station or a foreign country- he just wants to meet you. He wants you to know about his love for you, his favorite creation.  He wants you to know there really aren’t any hard and fast rules other than love him, love yourself, love others. It’s my pleasure to do what little I can to facilitate that- the “Ambassador of Affection”.  I saw a sparkle in Buck’s eyes then and he said, “I think you’re gonna do just fine.”

Lately I’ve been wondering what happens if I am denied approval for continuation of postulancy yet again.  I have said it will be last time I will apply and that is probably true.  What I’ve learned, from myself and others, is that while having a collar to go with my preaching packs a bit more punch, it certainly will not make or break my ministry and this has been a very important lesson.

God meets me where I am, wherever that may be.  Today will be different than tomorrow and tomorrow…well who can say?  A little over two years ago he found me in a bar on Christmas night.  He was wind-swept and weathered with salt and pepper hair and beard worthy of Grizzly Adams.  He wore a flannel shirt, some old Dungarees and a knowing smile. He told me his name was Buck and he met me right where I needed him to be.

Someone to Watch Over Me

We’ve all heard the 23rd Psalm.  It is arguably the most well known of all the psalms.  ‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…’ What some of you probably never knew is that the song ‘Ripple’ by The Dead is a rift on that very psalm.

‘Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.’

Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised at the places I find God.

When the twin towers fell we were living in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, a beautiful, scenic little burg about 40 minutes outside of Boston. Jack and Paxton were five and four, respectively, and were enrolled at The Village Preschool, a darling local non-profit preschool that was extraordinary. Their teachers cautioned me to get the children back to their normal routine quickly following that day and so I did. Frankly, I welcomed the hand-off of the boys to a place where I knew they would find love and learning and laughter during those dark days.  I also welcomed the silence.

In the days, weeks and months that followed the World Trade Center disaster I became a different person.  The changes were subtle to the innocent observer and easy to mask to my family and loved ones living seemingly a world away.  I called my father every morning, my sister once a week and talked to my best friend Lindsey once or twice (or more) a day. We talked about the boys and her girls, their upcoming birthdays, our husbands, our friends, gossip I was missing back home- the usual. I carefully avoided much conversation about the events of that day.

Inside I was slowly dying; even reading this I grimace because it sounds so utterly ridiculous from someone who lost nothing that day.  Oh, but I did.  I lost my faith in humanity.  In a hazy flash of fire and soot and smoke it was gone. The empath in me was paralyzed by the despair, hopelessness and sorrow of the entire world.  I could not eat, I didn’t dress.  I spent the days mostly medicated and asleep or moving through the slow motions of a life I still had but felt undeserving of living.

In the quiet of late afternoon I walked the salt marshes out behind our home, sometimes finding the ice cold water up to my chest. I felt my body quiver as the reeds slashed mercilessly at my arms and legs in their sway; my hands bloodied and burning as I tore through the murky saltwater brine. I didn’t care, I was thankful to feel anything at all.

Alec, my youngest, was barely a year old.  He was the most beautiful child I had ever seen.  He had eyes of the bluest ocean and this crazy shock of almost white curls covering his head.  He was a curious and happy kid. He was almost walking and teetered on the brink of toppling everywhere he did go. He was also stuck home with a mother who couldn’t stop crying.

In the mornings after David had taken the older boys to school I would wrap Alec in his favorite blanket with Ellie, his magical elephant companion and curl  up with him back in my bed where we would nap until lunch time. I had no will to do anything more.

Several mornings found me waking to find Alec gone.  Usually he was in his room playing quietly, other times he was in his brothers’ room pilfering through their belongings while they were away.  One such morning I awoke to a knock at the door.

I should interpose here that we had the loveliest neighbors in Hampton Beach.  It was four elderly people, two women and two men, and though I’m still uncertain who was married to whom (or if they were married at all) they were amazingly loving and compassionate to me and my little family.  They had taken a shine to us immediately when we moved in and brought us dinner our first full night in the house.  They were gracious and kind and I welcomed their company.

I should also tell you that our street was about as wide to allow one car (a small one) to travel the road at a time and dead-ended with our house and our neighbors were a literal stone’s throw across. (We were a block from the beach, it was perfection.)

The knock on the door was one of the ladies. “I found him out front, making his way to our house,” she said gently and smiled.  Somehow in his curious wanderings he had found his way out of the screened door, down about five precariously steep steps, through the soft grass and onto the pea gravel where he still sat as if deciding where to go. He smiled at me and waved.  I burst into tears. “Honey, it’s okay,” was all she said and then she hugged me.

I’d like to say that I had some sort of ‘otherworldly’ experience right then; that God moved through her arms and I felt his presence…but that would be a lie.  I just felt more defeated and lonelier than ever and frankly, thankful my son had not wandered all the way to pier and drowned at high tide. I picked him up, thanked her, carried him back inside and locked the door behind us.

My fragile healing began in earnest a little over a month later when my mother was brave enough to board a plane and come visit us for the older boys’ birthdays. (As I have mentioned previously, they are a year and a day apart.) I think the exact moment arrived when I came home from forced birthday present shopping to find my boys and my mother around the stove making homemade doughnuts.  It was a frightfully chilly day and the kitchen was warm and cozy and smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg with just a hint of vanilla.

The boys ran to me giggly and smiling and hugged my legs and waist tight and I moved to my mother and she held me for what seemed like an eternity and then proffered a doughnut.  The doughnuts were warm- crispy on the exterior and crumbly and moist in the center like any respectable doughnut should be. They were covered in cinnamon sugar and it melted on my lips as I savored every bite. There we were in a circle of bonding, in the circle of life savoring small circular baked goods.  A coincidence? I think not.

There was love in that kitchen, in that moment.  I felt it. It was then my soul became a looking glass and showed my heart and my mind a glimpse of godly love, pure and unpolluted. Slowly (very slowly) I began to understand that healing as a community, a nation, a world must begin with one person; that what I did and said and how I moved forward in the world surely mattered to not just those around me, but those I would never meet and those who had given their valuable, beautiful and mercilessly taken lives for this lesson.

Christmas is a difficult time for a whole lot of people for a whole lot of reasons. I am one of those people. (This post is making me seem completely neurotic, isn’t it?) It has to do with a good many things: the divorce (Christmas was always such an intimate time for David and me), the desensitization of Christ’s birth- the oversaturation and promotion of the idea of gift-giving oppressively (in my opinion) managing to blot out the advent of Christ’s coming completely. Further, the fact that Christmas is actually taken from a pagan festival day of the Romans, Sol et Victus (the unconquered sun) which was celebrated amazingly on the 25th of December. It’s not that I think that’s a bad thing- I very clearly do not. Christians needed a date and so we turned a day of worshipping the sun into a day of worshipping the Son. (Very clever.) It’s just that when I add up all my other Christmas ‘issues’, I don’t feel so bad being a Grinch around this time of year. I’ll celebrate in March.

That said, I am not making light of a time that is very dark, very nearly black, for those who are lonely, or poor, or disenfranchised or heartbroken or shattered or weary or weathered or worried or forlorn or despairing or beyond any kind of faith or hope.  They are many these masses and their pain is very real.  I had someone ask me yesterday, “Why does God do these things to me?” How does one answer that?  And how indeed does a hopeful future woman of the cloth dare to tread on such a hallowed topic knowing very well my answer matters without begrudging or dismissing how that person feels?

I carefully answered best I could that I personally do not believe Papa allows things to befall us- that part is a culmination of our free will (the decisions we and others make), nature (illness), the universe (karma or collective conscious) and the results of what we (as a whole) do with all those things. To one who has cancer that answer just won’t do.  So I continued that I believe many times we (as individuals) suffer and then God is able to shape that suffering, whatever form it takes, into something else entirely.

Perhaps we suffer because of the actions of others. A baby born addicted to heroin is surely not given that choice, having at the point of birth no “free will”.  But perhaps through that child’s suffering it is placed in the home it is meant to be : a loving, welcoming, comforting place to thrive. Perhaps later that child knows superhuman strength and utmost compassion from the trials of their arrival on this planet.

There is wisdom to be had in tumultuous times if we can manage somehow to be still and quiet and listen for the teaching. There is the gift of the glimmer (however small) of hope that is afforded someone who suffers.  It is a time to get to the nitty-gritty and know where we stand (or fall) in our relationship to God.  Is He really there?  Does he listen?  Does he even care?  These are hard questions and turning the mirror on ourselves in the midst of darkness to find an answer can be downright scary- but sometimes the answers surprise us. Sometimes we find a tiny morsel of character we were unaware we had and we feed it and it grows, and from this newfound moral fiber we never knew existed within us we become something altogether different.

Sometimes drowning in despair we are humbled by God.  We cry out and are answered, definitively answered, and we are lowered and lowly and yet lifted up.  Sometimes we suffer so that others are given the chance to shine.  Someone who for whatever reason has remained uncaring or unengaged in life suddenly finds themselves caring for an elderly shut-in and discovers that their life at once has been transformed into something wholly unusual and wonderful and full of meaning.

Sometimes we suffer illness and near death so that we can come to terms with our lives- who we were and the remembrance of who we wanted to be. We are given a Tabula rasa with which to engage those we love, to find those we might, to live without hesitation and move forward undeterred in a purposeful way.

Sometimes we suffer so that we may truly know God’s redeeming grace and unending peace.  Because believe me, when you have it, you know.  And sometimes, just sometimes, perhaps we struggle and ache and cry and toil and fail and hurt so that we might remember the one who was born so that we no more may die. Sometimes it’s just that.

Diogenes Allen said that divinity and humanity are simply separate non-parallel planes that at some point intersect.  I like the thought of that.  Perchance those planes intersect right at our core, a Rose Line to our very soul. Providing that at different times throughout history and life we all are connected in both a divine and human way. I like the thought of that too.

So back to the 23rd Psalm: ‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…’  Let us remember then during this time of Christmas that Jesus arrived not a shepherd but a lamb.  A human lamb given us by a munificent maker so that our cup might always be full and the road might never be too dark for us to find the light.

‘Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain, 
That was not made by the hands of men.’

 Happy Christmas, my loves.  Happy Christmas.

Clowns Are Only Frightening if You’re Looking in the Mirror

This Friday I turn 44 years-old.  It’s not really a milestone year but I love my birthdays.  Mostly I love them because it is the only day actually marked on the calendar that is centered around, well, me- but I also love them for the thinking they make me do.  So for the second year in a row (Dare I say 2nd Annual?) I am going to barrage you with things you may not know about me.  Forty-four of them, to be exact. I feel a little smidge of neglect at not writing something semi-profound about Thanksgiving, but let’s all give thanks my parents apparently sexed it up on their honeymoon so that I could be born in all my glory.  There. Done.

  1. I think Aspen trees may be my very favorite. The way their bark is so clean and white, their leaves when the sun hits them just right shine like copper coins in the sun and when the wind rustles through them it sounds like God’s perfect wind chime. In truth, I love all trees.  I’d be hard-pressed to tell you one I didn’t like. Although… when I was little we had two Sweet Gum trees in our front yard and their fruit that falls is a mean green spiked ball that turns brown with age. My sister and I were always charged with raking up those dastardly balls and my feet have never forgiven me.  (Yes I was often shoeless…it was the South- any girl worth her salt goes barefoot.)
  1. My dog knows approximately 165 words. Chief among them: get, down, be, still, good, boy, bad, dog, I, love, you, give, us, a, kiss.
  1. White cake with vanilla buttercream frosting is the best. There is something so decadent about it.  When I turned 40 my mom ordered the most delicious cake from Confectionally Yours in Fort Smith that had beautiful brightly colored sunflowers all over it. I think that might have been my favorite birthday cake ever.
  1. I love to swim. Not the type where you’re doing it to survive or stay afloat, mind you- more the type where you splash around and pretend you are a mermaid or a dolphin. I love standing on my hands and diving deep.  The silence that lay just beneath the surface is perfection.
  1. I would really like to smoke pot with the red-headed stranger.
  1. I hate microwave ovens. In fact, we do not own one much to the chagrin of my children.  Do not mistake this for some sort of healthy living decision.  We have plenty of processed, sugary and salty goodness looming around the kitchen.  You just have to cook it on the stove or in the oven.
  1. My office is really aesthetically displeasing. In fact, it takes every bit of my self-control not to let my OCD freak out about it.  I’m proud of myself, I’ve let it go.  Well sort of.  I mean, I am looking at it now with pure disdain. Baby steps.
  1. I miss having sexual relations (it has been at least two years for those counting, read: me) but I am unwilling to sacrifice my self esteem for a piece of what would probably be ‘just okay’ ass.
  1. I do not like surprises. Not even a little bit.  Unless it’s unsolicited money in the mail.
  1. I can only wear one type of running shoe- the Nike Air Rift. They don’t make them anymore (of course) and so I stockpile them whenever I can. They have a split for the big toe that separates the rest of the little piggies on the other side.  This is said to mirror the barefoot runners in Kenya.  I’m not there yet, but maybe someday.
  1. The first thing I look at on a man is his teeth. The second is his intellect. Sue me.
  1. There is a spot at work just near the docks that when I find myself there and inhale I am immediately transported to Lake Tenkiller and my summers spent there as a young girl. It is a mixture of damp earthy soil, lake water and freshwater breeze. I go there often.
  1. I hate having to check a box when I fill out any kind of form, EVER, that says I am divorced. It’s a stigma of some sort. I’d rather be widowed and get that sympathy vote. Sometimes I check that box just for kicks. (No offense to anyone widowed!)
  1. I love beards. I am so completely attracted to men with facial hair! For the record, I do not mean ‘Duck Dynasty’ or Hasidic Jew type of growth, but there is something about a man with a beard that makes me swoon. I love too the feeling of whiskers brushing against my lips amidst a kiss. *sigh* Just sayin’.
  1. I hate it when people tell me I don’t mean what I say when I answer them and then try to tweak it a little to better suit whatever need they may have. If I answer you, it is just as I intended and no, I don’t want to think about it further.
  1. I really, really, really want an old Subaru Forester. I want to cover that giant back window in my bumper stickers I love so much and put a sheepskin cover over the driver’s seat and become that old hippy lady I am meant to be.
  1. Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin is my favorite piece of classical music. Performed by an orchestra conducted by the great Leonard Bernstein, so much the better.
  1. Sometimes I really wish my coffee tasted like French onion soup.
  1. I am a dyed-in-the –wool Razorback fan. I miss going to games but I suit up most every Saturday in my Razorback gear and my boss lets me watch the games at work so it’s alright, alright, alright.
  1. I still sleep with a stuffed animal. Oatmeal the bear. He came to me at a pivotal time in my life and he will always have a home. Besides, he makes sure I am never lonely. My favorite memory (one of them anyway) of David (my ex) is that the first time he traveled out of the country and far away on business he took Oatmeal with him and took photos of Oatmeal at various places on the journey: swimming, dining, hiking, lounging in the sun etc. I loved that he indulged me that way.
  1. I like the Sammy Hagar Van Halen better than the David Lee Roth version. I have been lambasted for this previously, but I stand by my statement. I’m sure it has more to do with memories attached to the tunes than the actual music- but isn’t that what music is meant to do anyway- evoke emotion? I confess I can’t listen to ‘Why Can’t This Be Love?’ without dreaming of what might have been.
  1. Along that same vein, I have a confession to make: I love the new Taylor Swift song ‘Out of the Woods’. I make no apologies. It is pop nirvana taken straight from 1989. It reminds me of the T’Pau (yes, T’Pau) smash hit ‘Heart and Soul’ from about 1987.  How could I not love it?
  1. I have really good penmanship.
  1. When I was about five I cut all my hair off in my room with my child safety scissors after my mom had put me to bed. (It was a massacre.) When she asked what had prompted me to do such a thing I told her simply ‘I wanted my hair to look like the lady’s in the magazine’. When she inquired further, I climbed to the top shelf of my father’s closet and brought down his Playboy magazine and showed her the lovely lady on the cover.
  1. The incident mentioned prior paved the way for my mother to keep my “painfully thin” hair cropped into a military boy cut until about puberty. In fairness, now I sometimes cut it short just because I can.
  1. I really really want a motorcycle but know that my clumsiness probably prevents me from ever indulging the fantasy. I still remember with such clarity riding on the back of Jim Tate’s bike in the pitch of night with the wind on my face and God’s whisper in my ear. Those were some beautiful moments.
  1. I hate to fold clothes. I mean who thought up fitted sheets? What a pain in the ass.
  1. I utterly despise jewelry commercials during Christmas. In fact, I pretty much loathe all Christmas commercials but I will admit I love the commercial with the boy and his penguin. http://youtu.be/iccscUFY860
  1. Though my faith is unshakable I struggle greatly when children die. I remind myself that ‘Ours is not to reason why’ and more hopefully, that Papa called that child home because he needed him or her more in heaven than here on earth. It might seem simple to some, but it gets me by.
  1. A friend once told me I am a pluviophile. (Definition of Pluviophile: a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days.) As I sit with the window open listening to the raindrops fall softly on the tin roof, watching them puddle and scatter as tires break the flow and feel my heart swell as the thunder rolls, I’d say he was right.
  1. My name is Ashley and I have an orange sherbet push-pop problem. I have had this particular addiction since childhood and I see no signs of it abating in the near future.
  1. We have a teeny tiny dime-sized turtle at home named Sheldon. He used to be a loner in the tank but now he resides there in the company of two sucker fish, two catfish and two brightly striped fish whose name escapes me. I can’t tell if he likes them or not. He swims around and head-butts them.  It could be a sign of affection…or an attempt at battle.  Who can say?  I DO know that when I talk to him he sticks his head all the way out and listens intently.  He does. I swear.
  1. My safety inspection sticker has been out for about 8 months. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that my left headlight is out as well and so now it’s become more of a game to see how long I can go without getting caught. Moreover, I think I dream of the day when a sweet and kind person of the male persuasion might take care of those most ‘male’ tasks for me.  A girl can dream…
  1. There is a South Korean donut and burger joint down the street from my work that serves up one of the best bacon cheeseburgers in all the land. In addition, she lightly breads and fries her French fries just the way Fuzzy used to in Fayetteville. It is not something I indulge in too often, but sometimes working on Saturday requires self-indulgent sustenance.
  1. Last week I was stung by a bee driving home from the grocery store. It was a lovely day and so I had all the windows and the sunroof open and I felt something brush across my face. I of course thought it was my hair and smoothed my hand across my cheek and when I did the bee stung me! Several things worth mentioning: I could not get the stinger out and so I drove all the way home still being stung. That said, the sting was on my middle finger and so I also drove all the way home waving frantically with abandon my middle finger in the midst of five o’clock traffic, flipping the bird to all innocent passers-by. Also, I am apparently allergic to said sting which caused a fever of over 102 and my finger and hand to swell up like a Mickey Mouse puppet hand. Lastly, the main thing going through my noggin at the time was that I just taken the life of a creature worth sparing. Good times.
  1. I wear a fragrance from Demeter Fragrance Library simply called ‘Honeysuckle’. Imagine a honeysuckle vine from your childhood overflowing with the aromatic yellow and white blossoms. Then imagine the perfect scent as it tickles your nose and brings to mind a thousand+ recollections of times gone by. Yep, I smell like that. In thinking on that, see # 35.  Coincidence?  I think not.
  1. The lovely Vietnamese man who makes sure my nails and toes are always gorgeous thinks I am thirty. He has thought this for awhile now. (I have been visiting him for ten years.) I have yet to tell him the truth. I’m not ashamed of my age, but honestly, who does it hurt? No one, that’s who.
  1. About ten years ago I had what I like to call a ‘medical mystery’. I had a crushing pain in my head so terrifying I was sure I was going to die. It came on completely spontaneously and almost killed me. Turns out, my brain (actually the fluid surrounding it) had swelled to catastrophic proportions. Several CAT scans, MRIs, neural imaging and spinal taps later the doctors and neuro-specialists could find no reason for this happening. They did however, all mention my gruesome crack in my head from my bicycle wreck when I was five.  Good to know that’s still around. They drained the fluid, which relieved the pressure and put me on a medicine I would have to take the rest of my life to prevent a recurrence that is horrible for your liver and eyes. I quit taking it about 5 years ago when I lost my health insurance. So far so good.
  1. I have asked the boys when I die to burn me up in a funeral pyre. I’m pretty sure it is the send-off I am supposed to have.
  1. I never tire of people asking if I am wearing colored contacts. By the grace of God and good genetics, I received my daddy’s brilliant blue eyes and I love them; mine have the tiniest golden ring around the pupil. The rest of me may just be so-so, but those eyes- well those were a special gift.  If eyes are the window to the soul, I have lovely window dressing.
  1. I love the sound a barge or a tug boat’s air horn makes. There is a part in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’ where they are outside on the patio overlooking the San Francisco bay in the evening and the sound of a barge horn blows in the distance. Every time I watch it my heart skips a beat and I dream of living right there.  I know it is props and sound stage scenery, but it is also magical.
  1. Growing up I attended St. John’s Episcopal every Sunday with my mother and big sister. There was a tiny (think Frodo Baggins) little door just off the Parish Hall in the courtyard painted dark brown and covered in vines. Needless to say, it was ominous. My sister and Don Rhyne (meanies) told me once as we were walking through the courtyard to the sanctuary (at dusk, mind you, in a bitter cold month like January) that the devil was kept there. Now as a grown woman I believe that evil is the absence of God, but I’ll tell you what: walking past that door still gives me the willies.
  1. I like to make my friends watch youtube videos that make me cry. Somehow they always seem to find their way to me and I figure if I am made to weep they should as well. Friendship is all about sharing, right?
  1. I think ‘the heart wants what the heart wants’ is a corporeal statement. I feel it. Every. Single. Day. Now usually what it wants is private (or semi-private) but today it wants to wish you all a day of over-indulging in not just the meal, but in peace, in love, in friendship, in life. Today my heart wants to tell those I love that I do indeed love them and that I am so thankful to be loved in return.
  1. And one to grow on: There comes a day when you find you’ve lived long enough to know who really matters and to move unafraid to tell those written on your soul they have a place there. It’s a marvelous thing…and if getting older only makes me more aware, then bring on the birthdays! Perhaps G.K. Chesterton said it most aptly: ‘I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

They Say Life Should Feel Something Like Fire

“Don’t raise your voice; raise the level of your argument.” –Desmond Tutu

I yelled at someone Monday.  I mean, it wasn’t really yelling per se, so much as trying to be loud to get my point across.  My mother and sister will undoubtedly find this hilarious since I have been doing this since I was old enough to understand I actually had a voice.

In contrast, in my “adult” life I yell very little.  In fact, these days I might even be considered quiet. (I can see my sister snickering. Shut. It.) I have used the above quote from Bishop Tutu on my own children ad nauseum in their short tenure here on earth. I want them to think about why they are upset and perhaps rather than go off half-cocked, able to tell me or whomever it may be exactly what is bothering them and why in a coherent and wise way.  It’s a lot to ask of them considering I sometimes forget my own counsel.

My theology class has four years of students.  The fourth years study theologians and philosophers and ideas and theories and existential, exciting, mind-blowing concepts.  I am a third year, which studies Christian church history.  This finds me mired in Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection, factions of his followers after his death, Bishops, Popes, councils, creeds, wars waged, death, religious freedom, martyrs, saints…you get the general idea. I can’t wait to be a fourth year.

So we are in class Monday and the fourth-years are discussing a concept found in their reading material: Theology for a Troubled Believer: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Diogenes Allen.  Basically it is saying that God is almighty (‘having authority over all things’) and not omnipotent (‘able to do all things’).  To simplify, God created us and then gave us free will, thus never involving the creator in the world that was created.

A good deal of people believe this, I just do not happen to be one of them.  To be clear, I do not think God resembles a great robed chess player interfering in our lives as if we are mere pawns in a boring board game either.  The thing is, if we say God is the creator of all that is, Logos– THE word, the beginning…  The beginning. If we say he was outside of everything and created life from nothing, well then I am content to believe he can do whatever the hell he wants.

I’m not saying he always does or has to, but I feel like if he wanted to interrupt the daily life of any mere mortal he could.  He’s GOD.  Here I go raising my voice again…

About ten years ago I had an experience that remains privy to very few.  You might call it a conversion experience of sorts, although I have always been extremely close (at times too close for some) to my maker. In that time he visited me.  He didn’t “come to me in a dream” or talk to me through the TV (though I am not knocking those), he sat in my bedroom and talked to me.  Then in the really low point of the night, he held me.  He was gracious and kind and stern and loving and concerned and funny- all those very human characteristics we are so quick to heap on our almighty Father.  I felt his love, infinite and unconditional and I understood his embrace. The way it made me feel was like nothing I had ever known.

Now I concede that the night he visited me he presented me with a form that was comfortable to me and one I could see and understand, as he does still. (Yes, he still talks to me.)  I will admit that I haven’t had a conscious visit since that night but I have had plenty of conversations and by no means are they one-sided.

My question to the group was a simple one, I thought: if you believe God is a watchmaker, crafting the timepiece and then walking away unconcerned with the parts or its performance, then why pray? I mean, you can pray for thanksgiving or healing or joy or comfort or justice or love or any myriad things- but if he has no interest in the function of the timepiece (i.e.: us) why bother?

A man I love and admire said, “You’re just not getting it.” Perhaps.  I’ve been known to be daft a time or two or twelve (hundred). I answered, “Did God tell you he’s not involved?  Have you spoken with him about it?”

Still the thought stayed with me.  I don’t pretend to know the unanswerable.  That’s the thing I think, we sit and we have these magnificent, humbling discussions but none of us really knows. That’s where the faith comes in, right?

Days passed and the content of our discussion was like a burr in my saddle. For someone who believes God speaks to her in all sorts of ways, pondering whether or not he is always with me is fascinating at best and a little scary at very least.  Am I crazy? No one has ever said so- not to my face anyway.

My discernment (to become a priest or priest-ess as my girlfriends say) is once again up for review.  Honestly, I have been fighting a little- dragging my feet, pulling the oft used and never expiring procrastination card out of my pocket and using it with vigor. I should be excited and anxious to send in my paperwork and hopeful and confident that I will this time be approved.  That has not seemed to be the case.  Oh well, I am nothing if not predictably unpredictable.

It’s not the path I question I suppose, but more my tools to travel it without injury.  Being denied twice and up to bat for a third and final out is not exactly the catbird seat. So I resisted the things I needed to do, the forms to fill out, the things to sign…I have been weary and worried and well, a little adrift.  What is the direction I am meant to go? What is it God really wants from me?  Am I in fact, adrift or just exactly where I am destined to go?

About a week into my general apathy and malaise I received a call from someone I haven’t spoken to in four years; someone who had meant something to me long ago. After several minutes of pleasantries he announced without provocation: ‘I am very possibly dying of cancer.” We then discussed the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, the course of treatments and the prognosis.  We talked about his wife, his children and grandchildren and how everyone was holding up under the circumstances.  And then we spoke about his faith and what it meant to him and for him in this new development.

I listened to him weave the story of this disease into his life and his faith and I counseled him with what I hope was compassion and a heaping serving of God’s grace and understanding.  I told him I would be present for however long he needed me.  Sometimes people just want to be heard; sometimes they just need you to understand what it is they are trying to say.  The two are distinctly different. I trust I did a little of both. He ended the call by saying, “I knew you were the right person to call, and I just knew it.”

If God is not present within me, if the Holy Spirit does not course through me as a breeze off the ocean… how is it then, that right when I needed to know exactly what to say and how in fact to say it, I was gifted with the undeniable ability to provide collectively what was required? And how is it then in doing so my course, my call, my ministry and meaning were all completely reinforced, renewed, reinvigorated within me?  Am I to believe these things are mere coincidence? Pffft.

I began to wonder about the possibility of it all and then an altogether different thought occurred to me as I was watching a rather schlocky show the other night on the television.  It is a new show and I am giving it a little of my time as it deals with angels and demons and God and Satan and mystics and spells and all those things I find infinitely intriguing. A character said, “The soul is the purest expression of God’s love- the spark of creation.”

Further, Sunday Dave spoke of our faith, our love for God, our being… as oil in a lantern.  The soul is the spark; the fire given us by God, who in doing so shared his divinity with us.  As I’ve said before, part of him resides in us.  So if I believe this, and I do…oh boy, do I!  Then I must believe that even if he is indeed outside of creation conceivably looking in or perhaps not- it really doesn’t matter.

What matters is what he left within me: a piece of himself so great that it can never be diminished, not even in death.  The key here is the oil. I must tend and burn my oil carefully and cautiously but also with great zeal and belief. And so in knowing this, perhaps I am not so crazy after all.

Since he is always with me, inside me, forever a part of me- then he does in fact speak to me, walk with me and smile upon me. He laughs with me, cries with me, rests inside me and it is there He allows me to know the most infinitesimal amount of his love: his spark, his creation, my soul– because that is all I can handle and frankly all I will ever need.

Finding Scott Baio

When I was a little girl I spent most weekends at my grandparent’s (my mother’s parents) home.  It was a little house pretty much out in the country and they had a big yard and a wooded empty acre next to it that was perfect for exploring.  There were mimosa trees and a giant magnolia tree that my sister and I would hide underneath.  We would collect the mimosa blossoms and pretend they were powder puffs and that the magnolia seeds were lipstick and play for hours.

My grandmother had hydrangea plants too and their soil was such that the blossoms were the color of lapis lazuli and the clear blue sky.  Their yard always smelled heavenly; the culmination of these scents swirling through every space with just the hint of a breeze.

Truth be told, I was never very close to my grandmother (Granny we called her).  My sister was her favorite and I knew it and we’d had an unfortunate incident when I was still young that affected me profoundly.  She died unexpectedly when I was still a young girl and our relationship had never properly repaired itself.  My head-shrinker called this ‘old baggage’.  I always wondered about baggage.   Isn’t it a good thing? Doesn’t it mean you’re going somewhere?

I was my granddaddy’s girl.  My grandfather was a mountain of a man.  He had kind eyes and giant hands and he was handsome in a real way, a rugged way that said, ‘I have been here and I have lived.’ He was retired military and always woke before the sun.  He drank thick black coffee and he smoked cigarettes but never smelled of smoke.  His hands were rarely clean- a testament to the fact he was always building, tinkering, exploring.

Most mornings I would hear him upon waking, padding down the hall towards the kitchen for coffee. I would quietly slide out of bed and make my way down the hall too.  By this time he would be in his recliner, the first light of morning barely peeking through the window.  We were the only two people awake in the world it seemed in those moments.

I would crawl into his lap and talk to him as he had his first cigarette of the morning and sipped his coffee. Some mornings I would prevail upon him to read me the poem ‘Fairies’ by Rose Fyleman, a favorite, and others I would just curl up comfortable in the bulk of him and drift back to sleep.

Once morning was finally in full swing I hit the ground running.  Sometimes there were horses next door to feed, there were bugs to identify and butterflies to chase. When I had run all my traps I always ended up on the stool in Papa’s work shed.  I loved his shed.  It was immaculate.  There were all sorts of parts contained on the shelves- each with its own space marked and accounted specifically for it.  There were tiny little drawers full of miniscule treasure I could not wait to get my hands on. There were nuts and bolts, bearings, screws, nails, fuses and tiny wiggly copper wire all waiting for me to create a small masterpiece.

He was always building, always working, and always busy.  I loved watching him work.  The grease as it stained his hands and the recognition within me that he was getting things done.  He had an old tractor and when he’d mow he let me sit in his lap and steer.  More than once I careened us dangerously close to the fence and the horses but he never seemed to mind.

He had a little AM radio that played old Patsy Cline and others and at noon we’d listen to Paul Harvey tell us the ‘rest of the story’. Sometimes we went in for lunch and sometimes we just had cheese and crackers and a glass of Tang in the shed. Those were the days.

At night after supper and bath time I would crawl into my bed exhausted but content.  My bedroom had a small but wide rectangular window above it and the trees outside always cast lazy shadows on the wall. My bed was covered in the softest cotton sheets with the same hydrangeas I loved on the lawn.  I would cocoon into the sheets and listen to the whir of the attic fan.  I’d look up at the trees and dream about faraway places until sleep would find me.

Later as a girl of about ten or eleven with the sheets pulled around my neck I dazed absentmindedly at the shadows cast on the ceiling and dreamed of marrying Chachi from ‘Happy Days’.  His was my one and only silly “celebrity crush” and I was just so sure that if he met me we would fall madly in love and live happily ever after.  I would plan our life together until my eyes grew too heavy and my mind too worn to accept anymore possibilities. Those were the days.

Last Tuesday I spent an unforgettable evening with a man I have had an unrequited infatuation for over the course of almost two years.  Yes, I am aware that is particularly pitiful but as most of you know, I am not great at this.

I met this man by happenstance through work.  He had a nice smile.  I liked him right away. Through the course of time, the more I learned about him the more intrigued I became.  He is a Cajun and knows about much French as I do- just enough to be dangerous. He is a single father whose daughter is his entire existence. He is a good cook (I know this from sampling some of the gumbo he brought for the boss).  He is a builder by trade- he owns his own contracting company and has an incredibly strong work ethic. He doesn’t use email and doesn’t own a computer. (Thus my ease in sharing this story with you.) He is woefully shy but possesses incredible intellect and is very clever and witty-once you get him going the conversation is easy and never wanting. He is always a gentleman.

I also noticed he was learning about me as well as the days passed, commenting on the David Gray or Bill Wither’s I was listening to or the way I was wearing my hair or what I was wearing on any given day; he brought me a hand-written copy of his mama’s gumbo recipe. That’s good people in my book.

I texted him gingerly a good while ago, something innocuous enough not to seem too flirty but enough to perhaps let him know I was interested. (Again, not great at this, people.) He answered back harmlessly as well and since then we have been engaged in what I guess some would call a very meek and mild flirtation.

A couple of months ago I sort-of waved the white flag and gave up. He is always so busy and frankly I was kind of tired of playing to a (mostly) empty audience. A girl can only handle so much rejection per year.  Especially this girl. It was okay, I’d still like him, I just wouldn’t let him know that.

Lo and behold two weeks ago he asked me to dinner. Men are curious creatures, are they not?  We never did get to dinner but a little over a week ago I got a phone call just about my bedtime.  He seemed perhaps a little tipsy and was very talkative.

Needless to say, the conversation was and remains private, but he did allow that he’d thought about me too (more than once).  He asked if could visit and in a moment of complete high school passion and lack of fear, I said yes.  I mean really at 43 years-old what did I have to lose?

What followed was a late evening/early morning conversation sitting on my front porch discussing great writers, history, film, music, our children, our families… We talked openly about our marriages and their subsequent disintegrations. We talked about our lives in open and honest terms and we laughed a lot. There was a lot of shy side-ways glances and timid touching of hands and bashful stolen kisses until the night began to turn to morning and I felt the tug of the day at my heart and my sleeve.

He kissed me goodnight under a clear night sky with a million stars to wish on and I felt the breeze rush in as his lips met mine.  And then just like that, he was gone and I felt an ache that I haven’t known for quite some time. A good ache. The kind that just for a brief instant allows you to forget about pets and bills and work and responsibility and just dream of what might be.

And then, in the story of my life, I did not hear from him again. Now before you get out your pitchforks, I understand, I really do.  In his tipsy state he had perhaps said more than he’d wished to about his feelings for me and maybe he regretted that.  Maybe he was extremely busy, which is his usual M.O.  Or perhaps he fell in a well and there is no Lassie to rescue him.  Who can be sure?

I had occasion yesterday to drive down RR1431 in the pitch black of night.  (For my Fort Smith readers this is a little like taking the hairpin at Horan Drive with the top down.)I opened the sunroof wide and rolled the windows down.  I let the cool night air fill my lungs as the crescendo finale of The Stone’s ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ filled the air.

I thought about the men I have told I loved in my lifetime and then conversely the men I actually loved.  The two lists are markedly different- one is much smaller than the other. I’m not sure what that means if anything but I went down the rabbit hole as I always do. Follow the trail see where it goes.

I began to think about why I liked this man so much and why he meant something to me…then it hit me: he reminds me of my grandfather.  The rough hands that always smell of soap but remain stained just the same, the white t-shirts and old work boots.  The genuine smile of kindness and gentle way of speaking; the work ethic and the work.  He is always building, always busy- just like my Papa.

When I got home Paxton was sitting at the kitchen table working on Calculus. I sat down next to him and put my face in my hands, looking especially pathetic. “Why hasn’t he called?” I asked. “What is it about me?”  “Mom, you are beautiful and smart and if he isn’t calling you that’s on him, not you.” Jack rounded the corner and I said, “What about you? What’s your take?”  “Don’t ask me, I’m gay!” he said.  “By our very nature our relationships are flaky and layered. We’re like a delicious croissant.” Paxton smiled. “Good analogy,” was all he said.  “Very insightful,” I added. “Mom,” Jack said, “quit being stupid. You are all that and you know it,” he said snapping his fingers and exiting the kitchen. Sometimes a girl just needs someone to tell her she’s pretty.   I love my boys.

I pulled up my sheets to my chin that night and cocooned into the downy goodness and thought of my old bed with my favorite hydrangea sheets. I thought of my grandfather and his big hands wrapped around me and the comfort I found there.  I found the poem ‘Fairies” in an old volume of children’s poetry and read it twice before closing my eyes.

‘There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!

It’s not so very, very far away;

You pass the gardner’s shed and you just keep straight ahead —

I do so hope they’ve really come to stay.

There’s a little wood, with moss in it and beetles,

And a little stream that quietly runs through;

You wouldn’t think they’d dare to come merrymaking there–

Well, they do.

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!

They often have a dance on summer nights;

The butterflies and bees make a lovely little breeze,

And the rabbits stand about and hold the lights.

Did you know that they could sit upon the moonbeams

And pick a little star to make a fan,

And dance away up there in the middle of the air?

Well, they can.

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!

You cannot think how beautiful they are;

They all stand up and sing when the Fairy Queen and King

Come gently floating down upon their car.

The King is very proud and very handsome;

The Queen–now you can guess who that could be

(She’s a little girl all day, but at night she steals away)?

Well — it’s Me!’

Life is filled with wonderful moments. The lesson I suppose is that I am forever loved and I am forever magical and I make these moments. The trick is that I am the only one who need know this because what I feel about myself, my very existence in fact, is the most thrilling enchantment of all.

Goodnight Chachi, wherever you are.

My Heart Is On Fire, My Soul’s Like A Wheel That’s Turnin’

For my friend, AML.

“True friends are the siblings God forgot to give us.”

So there is this woman who visits Bay Marine on occasion who is always put together.  I mean always.  Hair perfect, makeup artfully applied- the works.  It always looks to me like she has stepped out of a dry cleaning machine.  No one should be thatclean all the time.  She sparkles, I’d swear on it.

I, on the other hand, am a bit of a lovely mess.  My friends sometimes call me ‘precious’.  I like the moniker although I’m not sure unkempt gypsy hair and holey jeans are endearing to anyone but those who love me best.  Oh well. I’ll take what I can get at the moment. Of course, my boss left for the weekend on Friday and left me a list of phone numbers entitled, “Contacts For When the Shit Hits the Fan” so I’m pretty sure I am in the right place.

A photo floated across my desk yesterday of me at a gathering of several women.  They are all looking straight forward at the camera and smiling.  I have my eyes cut to the left with a mischievous grin on my face looking at someone or something just out of view.  This is usually the case.

I am keenly aware of what lay just out of focus, or what lies beneath. I’ve discussed in prior musings my ability (or gift some would call it) to reach beyond the surface and feel what others are feeling.  I do not always use this gift to my fullest compassion, I admit. It can be very taxing, to say the least.

Truthfully, I have been very caught up in my own emotions of late.  There has been a lot going on and it has worn me down like an old ragdoll. The best I can hope for is to fall into my bed at the end of the day in silence and sleep a fitful forty winks until the sun rises again.

About three weeks ago I had the most amazing dream. It was this very sepia-toned, balmy experience and though I knew none of the people in it, I felt like I was home.

It was a family on a day trip.  They were all dresses in cotton and denim and there were canyons and waterfalls and trees and sunshine so warm the entire dream was bathed in it.  Even though the color in the dream was muted, it was vivid too.  It reminded me very much of Lt. Joe Cable’s visit to Bali Hai in ‘South Pacific’. There were small children- brothers and sisters, and there was laughing and smiling and gentle teasing, hand holding and a moment of hurt feelings.  All of the requisite ingredients for a family affair.

The dream felt like time was on a loop, stretched out before me in this wonderfully hazy, cozy and elegant day.  It was like I had stepped into a gentler time and although I was not a part of the family I felt like I could have been. I awoke so pleasantly that morning my boys asked what was the matter with me. (Smart asses.) I felt refreshed and alive and content.

About two weeks ago one of my very best friends popped into my head. It’s not that she is not always on my mind, quite the contrary- but this was different.  I sensed something more, I felt it. Like, I said, empathy on another level. I thought about her day and night. Still, being kind of selfish I quieted my inner voice and navigated my way through my own shit (which is myriad at present, just for the sake of clarification.)

By that same token, all of my girls (my wolf pack) know this and so it was no surprise to me when she showed up at my place of employ on a Friday morning. John called up from downstairs, “Ashley there is a lovely lady here to see you.” I gingerly walked down the stairs, thinking I was going to be ambushed by a customer with bellyaches about their statement. Instead, I saw my beautiful friend peeking her head around the corner at me.  Imagine my delight!

Immediately (and self-centeredly, I’ll freely admit) I assumed she was there to rescue me somehow. “Are you here for some sort of intervention? “ I inquired of her. “No,” she said quietly, “I am here because I need you.”  Sometimes God really does smack me around.  It’s ok, I deserve it.

We made a date for later that evening- one which I thoroughly enjoyed and one which I think was curative for both of us. The rest of the girls made plans for the following night: an impromptu get together at her house with food and drink and each other.  Who could want for more?

I snuck out to use the loo and as I made way back into the kitchen (of course), I was drawn to a black and white photo tucked slightly away amongst other photos on the top of her piano.  There in the photo were the people from my dream- in the same place, in the same clothes and in the same time- I knew it and yet it couldn’t be… But of course it could.

I nodded at her discreetly amid the chatter of friends and she made her way to me. “Who are these people?” I asked in what I hoped was a neutral tone. “That’s me,” she said excitedly. “My mom, my dad, and my brothers and me.” She pointed to the little girl standing sweetly in the front of the picture.  Her skin was the color of olives and her that of a raven and she was wearing the smile I had seen in my dream.

I felt a shiver make its way up my spine, the hairs on my arm rise and then tears wet my face.  “I have seen this photo,” I said.  “I have been in this photo and I somehow lived this day with your family.  I felt love and happiness and a comfort embrace me just from being there,” I told her.

She didn’t look at me like I was crazy, instead she brushed my hair lovingly away from my face, hugged me and then told me about the day: where they had been, what they had done- her facts of the memories I already knew. I immediately understood that while I do not understand this capability I have been given, I cannot ignore it. I cannot be selfish, I cannot even be silent.  I know why it was given to me (Papa has never been coy with me) and if I am good and I am kind and try to be wise with it I can help others even if all that means is giving my friend my full attention, my heart and a few much needed hours of my time. The reality is it healed us both.

I went home that night my head filled with the awe of what had occurred.  It had been a while since I’d had such a moving experience of seeing beyond what is front of me.

I lit some candles when I arrived at the house and ran a hot bath. I scattered rosemary from my thriving bush out front (the one thing I can apparently never kill, to my delight) into the water and waited for the aroma to enfold my tiny bathroom.  I love rosemary and the healing and enlightening properties it contains. For those unaware, rosemary is said to represent and enhance remembrance and fidelity.  Christians called rosemary the “Holy Herb” and associated it with Mary, the mother of Yeshua , who according to legend, draped her cloak over a Rosemary bush on the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, turning the color of the blossoms from white to blue.

As I slid down underneath the water I felt my worries and anxiety melt away and disappear in the bath. Suddenly I felt God with me as I so often do. “I’m sorry I have been complacent and grouchy with you,” I said. “I’ve been trying to hide from what you need from me, to dismiss it even.”

“I know,” He said. Of course he does. “I understand what you are going through.  I hurt when you hurt.  You are my child.” Sometimes I forget that God is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen.  He created life.  He created life. And yet, he visits me. He cares for me. He is my father here on earth- amidst the turmoil, tragedy, difficulty and messiness of my human existence he is right beside me, and when I am lucky I rest in his arms.

How then could I ever imagine a world where I did not embrace what he has given me and strive evermore to grow my soul into something he will not only recognize as his own work but perhaps some of his best? I can’t.  I won’t.

So even when it’s cloudy and the day seems gray and blue,  I am gonna shine brighter the sun and I am going to go forth and do what he asks of me, even when I don’t want to. That way, when I hear someone say, “She looks just like her father,” I will know it’s true.

Just Think of Lovely Things and Your Heart Will Fly On Wings

I like to wear flowers in my hair.  This is not a confession so much as a disclosure.  When David and I dated I wore flowers in my hair.  I liked the way the natural fragrance mingled with my own and how the flower was unique to me.  I didn’t do this all the time of course, but when the mood struck me or when we had a special occasion.  I still do this.

Anyhoo, David never liked the flowers.  I think it embarrassed him somehow that I was so free in who I was.  I think that’s why I should have known it wouldn’t work and why he should have as well. He would always look at the flower with a raised eyebrow. ‘Tonight? ‘You really have to wear one tonight?’ Well, no.  But I wanted to and so I did. I guess someone will read this and say, “You should have picked your battles.” Yeah, I guess.  But love shouldn’t ever be a battle.

Friday night about 7:00pm autumn came in with its seductive siren’s call.  It had been about a hundred degrees that day and all of sudden- the wind rushed in and snaked its way through the clouds and hid in the trees bringing with it a drop in temperature so distinct it took my breath away.  I sat on my back porch beer in hand, listening to the high school football game being played a stone’s throw away, heart in my throat.  Fall does this to me every single time. I looked heavenward at the stars littering the sky and listened to the birds chirp soft and low, welcoming the release from summer’s hold.

It was then I remembered about the flowers and then my thoughts turned to a laundry list of other things regarding love, my marriage, my life. Here’s what I learned- stripped down and honest.  I never wanted to grow up.  I really probably still don’t.  I am Tiger Lily with the crow’s feather in her hair blissfully stuck in Neverland.

I confess I just wanted to live in the world and be a part of it but perhaps not contribute to it all that much.  Smell the flowers, swim in the deep ocean, count the stars, carve my name (and my love’s) in the tallest tree… Thankfully my childhood and young adult years (and my loving parents) accommodated such wanderlust. I did exactly as I pleased and made memories not soon forgotten.

The problem I think reared its head when David and I married and I didn’t really have a clue what to do.  I thought I could love David and fix delicious dinners and tell him fascinating stories and have his progeny and he would love me.  I forgot about knowing how to pay bills (or wanting to), about housecleaning and dog grooming and tuning the piano.

I wanted him to be impressed and excited that at fourteen years of age I had choreographed and staged an entire ballet to the Amadeus soundtrack. Or appreciate that I am a crier. I cry at anything. I cry when I am sad, I cry when I am joyful, I cry when others are joyful. I cry at funny Hallmark cards, at ridiculous chain emails; I cry at the video of the dog and the Cheetah that are friends.  (Have you seen the video?  Don’t judge.)

I wanted him to fully embrace that while I wouldn’t hurt a fly, I love gory TV shows.  In fact, The Bridge is a new favorite because it is just swimming in blood.  I think this blood lust comes from my desire to secretly be a detective.

I tell all of this freely because it is part of who I am.  The apology I make is that I wasn’t what he wanted but I can never apologize for being who I am.  That’s a fool’s errand.

Don’t mistake this as apathy either.  I was a good wife. I cared for him, about him- I do even still. I loved him once, that never goes away. He would tell you I wasn’t supportive of him enough during our tenure together.  There is truth there because he believes it.  I feel sadness in that but I also know that I was instrumental in his growth as a man and frankly, a businessman.  He may never make the association of how I did those things, or what they meant, and that is okay with me.

But back to Neverland. Flash forward to this last Sunday: the boys and I are having lunch at one of three Italian restaurants in small-town Texas. (Three!) One of Alec’s coaches approaches the table and introduces himself.  He was handsome in a perpetually boyish way- his clothes were starched to perfection and his Roper boots were unscuffed and shined to a whistle.  He was very kind and I found myself smiling as we shook hands and then he went to his seat. “Cute,” I say.  The boys roll their eyes.

Halfway through my entrée I look down and notice I have dribbled a fair amount of tomato cream sauce down the front of my pitch black shirt. Awesome.  Jack looks at me, “You are a hot mess,” he says. “You are for sure getting remarried someday.” “I mean, who wouldn’t want this,” and he makes a giant circle around me with his pointing finger. Thanks, honey.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  I am forever spilling.  I have become a running joke around the office.  I gave in to it long ago.  It’s not that I like spilling things or walking around with the nickname Spot- it’s just I have bigger fish to fry or messes to make, if you will.

Last week I carried home a kitten from work.  The new guy Cameron brought it up to my desk.  She was barely a month, eyes just opened and the slightest bit wild.  I liked her right away.  “Everyone said bring her to you- that you would know what to do.”  Well… I know what I should’ve done, but what I did was take her home.  I’ve been bugging my boss to take her to his home but he is afraid his dog will eat her.  Seriously.  I made the comment that all my dog ever wanted to do with other animals was be their friend and kill them with kindness.  “You do know dogs are just like their owners?” was all he said.  Touché.

In the same week my two sons Alec and Paxton found a turtle the size of a small button while they were fishing.  It is the smallest turtle I have ever seen. They brought it home. (Of course.) It now resides in a palatial tank with plants, a sun deck, a sun lamp, fresh food and shell oil all at its disposal. We named him Sheldon. Family members are now outnumbered by the pets.  God help us all if they ever mutiny-or go union.

Tuesday morning I was in a rush. Tuesday is my Monday these days and it never fails to feel exactly that. I barely had on any makeup- in fact, I’m pretty sure all I’d had time for was some lip gloss. I’d managed a Life is Good tee and I was wearing my Birkenstocks.  You could call it a casual workday.   The saving grace of the entire ensemble I was sporting was the perfectly manicured blood red toenails peeking out of the granola shoes. At that point I happened to glance down and notice my left third toenail is MIA.

A little back story: a long time ago when the boys were small we had moved to the Woodlands for a project.  We had just settled and in my over-zealous OCD haze I decided the giant sofa had to be moved- right then, by myself.  I began to move it best I could and Paxton (all of five, I think) decided he needed to help me, God bless his little heart.  He lifted, I panicked and the end result was a swift (and very painful) dropping of the sofa right on my third toe on the left-hand side.  Needless to say, the toe (and foot subsequently) bruised up a nice violet/black color and the toenail took flight and much to my girly chagrin, never returned.  Ever. Now being the girl I am, a sometimes vain one, I have had a prosthetic (read: fake) toenail put on every couple of weeks since then so that my perfect little feet remain thus.

Back to Tuesday: I find the toenail (Yes!), find my nail glue (Yes!) and prop my foot upon the kitchen sink to reapply said toenail.  This should have been a relatively easy task.  Should have been.  As I was already running late, I hurriedly applied the glue, lost my hold on the tiny nail…and it went down the drain. NOT the drain where the disposal is mind you, because yes people, I would have fished it out.  Noooooo…it went in the drain on the side of no return.  I opted for my Chuck Taylor’s instead.

Later that day, sitting at my desk thinking about remarriage, college applications for Jack, work and money (or lack of), Alec’s dirty room… a real kind of anxiety crept in.  Not fear, gentle reader, but an angst or unease of some sort.  My mind wandering… ‘Will I be at this same desk at 60? Will I always rent a house and never buy another home?  Will I end up in a garage apartment (hmmm…? I prefer an Airstream trailer). What about when all the boys leave for college?  What about when I have roughly half the income I have now? What about when I’m lonely?  What about sex (or again, the lack thereof)? Aaargh. It was a little unsettling to be sure. Grown-up stuff. Wendy stuff in my Peter Pan world.

Why am I telling you all this?  Why, indeed. It is not my innate desire to torture you with my tales of toenail woe, although… Actually, I think it stems from my need to profess out loud to anyone who will listen that I will always be Tiger Lily.  I AM Tiger Lily. Adulthood may have caught up with me, hell I may have even embraced it a little, but I am a child at heart.  I will always be. This is why autumn carries me away with the wind, because I still believe deep down I can fly.

I say these things because I truly believe too, that somewhere, somehow, some way, sometime there is someone who innately, insanely, perhaps irrationally but passionately, infinitely wants Tiger Lily instead of Wendy.

You better believe it.

“I like to think that one day after I die, at least one small particle of me – of all the particles that will spread everywhere – will float all the way to Neverland, and be part of a flower or something like that, like that poet said, the one that your Tik Tok loved. I like to think that nothing’s final, and that everyone gets to be together even when it looks like they don’t, that it all works out even when all the evidence seems to say something else, that you and I are always young in the woods, and that I’ll see you sometime again, even if it’s not with any kind of eyes I know of or understand. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the way things go after all – that all things end happy. Even for you and Tik Tok, and for you and me.

Always,
Your Peter

P.S. Please give my love to Tink. She was always such a funny little bug.”
― Jodi Lynn Anderson, Tiger Lily

A Safe Place For All the Pieces That Scatter

Looking back on my life
The waters have been all but calm
Sometimes the storms they rage for days on end
The dark clouds they sing my song
But shipwrecked I am not
And surrender I never will
Because the God inside can never die
A man with peace is a man who’s cried
You can’t triumph unless you try
So sit back and watch us fly
Through these tough times once again.

–Mama’s Cookin’

 Have you ever fallen down?  I mean really fallen down.  Cheek on the asphalt, gritty sand and tiny bits of broken glass peppering your face and filling your mouth; skinned knees, loss of blood, a bruised ego and perhaps for good measure a knot on your head just to commemorate the moment?

I’ve written previously about sometimes needing to stay down when you fall and conversely the need to get up. Personally, I think it’s the length of time you stay plastered to the pavement that matters in the end.

Do you let the tears dry and chafe your face and the blood clot on your matted hair?  Do you stay prone and wish for death while your mouth goes slack and your mind wanders? Perhaps. Or perhaps you get up a little worse for the wear, brush yourself off, clean yourself up and proclaim you will never fall again.  Until of course, you do.

I had an old flame tell me the other night that I am ‘the coolest girl’, that I was always ‘the coolest girl’.  His reasoning was my very sort of lackadaisical approach to our courtship.  I never asked too much and so in his mind I never expected much and so I was never disappointed. Well…

Let’s talk about that.  There’s truth in there somewhere.  I set myself up for those remarks.  I was the “cancel if you need to”, “need a boys night out- of course, go have fun with your friends!” girl.  You don’t want to be too serious or serious at all?  Ok.  I’ll be over here acting casual about the whole thing.

The reality was a little different.  Not that I begrudged those things…I have always needed(and still do) my own time and space.  ‘Joined at the hip’ is not a phrase that suits me.  That said, I wished for at very least the forethought of how certain things might make me feel.

Of course, what happens is you set yourself up for disaster.  You stay down and a pattern emerges that by the end of the affiliation (oh yes, it will end, it has to) you are face down, flat on the ground biting the dust with no sure recollection of how you got there- of who you were (or wanted to be) at the beginning of the relationship.

For a few weeks (ok, months…semantics) I have felt this way about my life and the person inside and my relationship with God, whom I lovingly refer to as Papa. If I am being completely blunt, it has little to with Papa and a great deal to with the way I’ve been feeling about my relationship with myself.  Consequently, it is the most important one.   I mean, let’s be clear: God loves me in all my facets and forms- even the really loathsome, lowly ones, and yes, I have those too. But do I, can I, WILL I love myself in the midst of these? Good question.

For some reason if people know you are in discernment to become a priest, a bona fide card-carrying member of the ‘collar’, they expect more from you and the things you do and the things you think about. I’m not saying this is bad thing at all.  I truly believe in being accountable, and I try very hard to be someone people can put their faith and trust in without hesitation.  That said, in the end I am liable for the things I believe in and the way I live my life- but only to myself and my maker.  That’s the tougher crowd.

I gave in a long time ago and realized I am what I am and I was created this way.  Bad decisions and all.  And yes, there have been a plethora.  I hear the phrase, “if you’re doing something you wouldn’t want others to know about you probably shouldn’t be doing it” repeated ad nauseum. Well that covers a lot of stuff.  But who makes the judgment call about what is acceptable or not?  (Does this include picking my nose?  Making cookie batter just to eat the dough- raw egg and all?  Luridly dreaming about an ex with no remorse?) With the caveat of not hurting others, perhaps what is alright with me would be deplorable to someone else- or vice versa.

I have done plenty I regret. Plenty. And yes, I’ve hurt people.  That’s the part that really hits me in my gut.  I have done things that caused others pain.  Things that haunt me. Memories that find me in the stillness of night, waking me with sorrow and crushing me like a dried flower.  Actions that leave me with an apology on my lips that no one will ever hear and a terrible ache in my heart that will never be quelled.

Some involve decisions I’ve made and some we’ll call ‘life’s little lessons’ that happened to me but were beyond my control to avoid or change. I’m not sure which are tougher- the intentional or the accidents. Either way the scar tissue remains.

If you ask some of the hard-line Christian right they will tell you we are born into original sin and we are all perpetual sinners; that our whole life is a constant light saber battle between the dark and the light.  I don’t buy into this line of thinking. I understand it; I’m just not buying it. Why try to be something you’re not or pretend that you don’t have lusts (the other L word) or desires or inappropriate thoughts or deep-seeded regrets about the way you feel or anger you carry around or remorse for a lie you told to yourself or someone else.  I mean, maybe the lie was for the good of the group or you spared some feelings, or maybe it was just make you feel a little better about yourself.  Okay. It doesn’t mean we are mired in sin and all we do is sit around and think of other sins we can commit. We strive for better things, all of us.  We wish we wouldn’t talk about our neighbor or the lady with the really nasally voice who sings loudest in the congregation, but we do it anyway.  We are flawed, people.  Eve gets all the blame for the apple but let’s focus- Adam ate the apple freely.  He wasn’t even promised a good time. No one is perfect- save one.

Last week was a particularly bad week for me.  I’m not sure where or how it began but I can name the tipping point.  I had about ten dollars in my handbag after I had managed to spend what little I did have on bread and milk and cereal.  Ten total.  Ten dollars on a Monday that needed to last me until Friday.  Let me clarify that when I say ten dollars I mean that’s it.  No credit, no checking account with money it, nada.

My friend Sailor (thankfully, not her real name) asked me to lunch.  I really wanted to go but I politely declined and told her I was flat broke.  We don’t keep secrets.  At that point she offered to take me to lunch and when I absolutely refused she allowed that she had a coupon we could use so she wasn’t really buying me lunch.  I still declined.  I have never been one to easily accept help although God knows sometimes I should have when it was proffered.

I should have taken her up on the offer.  She always makes me laugh and feel all warm—fuzzy inside and frankly, she and I have a thread between us because we really lived the same life for awhile.  We had lives where we didn’t worry about money and then the bottom dropped out and we had none.  Or mostly none.  The fancy cars, the fancy clothes…the vacations and the jewelry and the extravagance of not worrying turned on us almost overnight and the wolves came and the worry and stress came with them…and somehow we survived it all.  She wouldn’t have offered if she wasn’t able and I know this.

I sat at my paper-laden desk mired in work thinking about the way my life used to be.  I could get into the nitty-gritty, but why?  We’ve all been there in some form or another.  You know the feeling…the one that starts off sort-of small and valid and then morphs into everything that is wrong in your life and then something invariably shakes loose deep inside and it snowballs into something completely unrecognizable and out of control.  Ridiculous.

I drove home wound as tight as a guitar string.  When I drove up to our little cookie-cutter house my youngest son Alec was out in the yard with his best friend Seth and Seth’s stepdad Greg.  They had mowed, edged and weeded the yard in the heat of an August day in Texas.  Believe me when I tell you that my yard had not been cared for in at least a month.  I just hadn’t had the time or the inclination or the devotion really, to do it (or make the boys do it either). It looked a bit like the Sahara (and not in a good way).

Alec stuck his head in the car, “We mowed for you, Mom. Kimmy (Seth’s mom) said you would appreciate the help.” Greg smiled and waved from his truck as they loaded up the yard tools and drove away.  I suddenly felt a little sick.  My mind immediately went to, ‘Oh my God, our yard looked so horrible that Kimmy made the boys come mow it.’  I skipped completely over the part where kind people had done something special for me.

I walked into the house where the dog greeted me with the hero’s welcome I seldom deserve. I noticed at the kitchen table leftover Sonic bags and cups and quickly surmised Greg must have bought the boys a meal after school and I felt the sickness grow.  Alec didn’t have any money; I didn’t have any to give him.  He couldn’t have paid.  I stood at the table a moment and then went to put the milk away; Django still so insistent (persistent?) in his affection, following close behind.   Eventually he overcame me and knocked the milk out of my hands. Crash, splash, blam!  It fell to floor and shattered.   Milk on the counter, the floor, my clothes…the dog. And then the tears came like the great flood and there was nothing I could do but put my hands into my hair, close my eyes and let it happen.

Jack rounded the corner and concern swept over his face.  (Why is he the one that always sees me cry?) “What is it, Mama?”  “The milk shattered… Kimmy had the kids mow the lawn- she must think our lawn is hideous (pause for effect), Sailor offered to buy me lunch…” (I am gross crying at this point.) “Jack, I do NOT want to be a charity case. I used to be the mom that bought all the kids food after school, or paid for everyone’s lunch or did kind things for unsuspecting people who needed a break.”

He looked at me a second and then hugged me close, my snot staining his shirt. “I know Mom, and I love you for it.  I had the best childhood; you were always doing the greatest things for my friends and their families but now it’s time for you to accept the same generosity. Give and take, give… and take.” When did my kid get so smart?

I laid down that night and talked to God.   I mean really talked, like we hadn’t spoken in awhile- and I confess, we probably hadn’t.  I talked to him about not having money, missing my parents, worrying about my sister who is far away.  I talked to him about my friends, close friend’s parents who are sick, the boys, work, church.  We spoke at length about my call to the priesthood and then we got to the good stuff.

I told him about my longing for things I cannot have, things that would hurt others if I had them.  I told him I was really struggling with this fact- at this point I perch precariously on the tightrope of not caring. I shared my regrets over past transgressions (the way I handled Kevin’s illness chief among them), damage over decisions I have made I have never forgiven myself for and the darkness that surrounds me when I remember them.  We talked about love and lust and the difference between the two.  We even talked about sex and pleasure and what that means for the parties involved. I shared my penchant for irreverent cartoons and jokes and other things not necessarily akin to the collar.  We talked a lot about being forgiven.

Papa listened patiently to me unload a few months worth of aches and pains and injure to my weary mind. And then as always he spoke softly but firmly in his still quiet voice. “You’ve had a lot going on,” he chuckled, making me smile and laugh too. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.  I made you this way. You were created to feel and to decide what is right for you in your life. I trust you. I am not saying do whatever pleases you, of course, but rather be insightful with whatever you decide. And as for the hurt you carry around, well you asked for my forgiveness long ago and I gave it, but only you can truly let it go.”

I had the best dream that night.  I was soaring through the night sky on an Arabian carpet.  The wind whispered around me and the sky was peppered with stars as far as the eye could see.  My heart was light and I was exactly where I was meant to be.  And do you know?  When I awoke, I was too.

Life is about the decisions we make.  It is also about how we feel about ourselves when we look in the mirror.  God trusts us to understand this.  He heaps a whole lot of reliance on our inner divinity and its ability to discern our will for own lives. Sometimes we do well.  Sometimes we fail.  Sometimes like me, we fall somewhere in the middle.  But we get up, and each time is inherently who we are meant to be.

Now we can ruminate forever on the good and evil, the sinner and the savior and which we have been and more importantly which we would like to be.  But as a favorite song lyric says: ‘Sometimes to keep it together you’ve got to leave it alone.’  I couldn’t agree more.

Turns out, I am pretty cool.

 

 

Oh Captain, My Captain!

“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.” –Robin Williams (as John Keating in Dead Poets Society)

I have been very melancholy lately.  It is of course fleeting and I wish for you to attach no worry to that statement, it just happens to be true. In honesty, it is related to several things- events and situations beyond my control.  What to do?  Retreat into the safety and comfort of a few things and people who make me laugh and dream and love and remember why I am meant to feel.

This has involved a lot of reading, a lot of listening to old Yes albums and frankly, a good deal of television.  I do not generally watch a lot of television and when I do it is usually older TV shows or movies that are favorites I rely on that soothe my aching heart. Anything Cary Grant, The Thin Man series, Stripes, Frasier, The Family Stone, Big, I am Sam, anything with Robin Williams or Dustin Hoffman, James Garner, Peter Sellers or Peter o’ Toole. James Stewart in Bell, Book and Candle, or Bing Crosby in High Society.  All things Hitchcock, Grace Kelly or Hepburn and Tracy.

Several weeks ago I began re-watching The Rockford Files starring James Garner.  I have already seen every episode of this show probably five times but there is something about Jim Rockford that gets me every time.

His honesty, charm, quick wit, sensitivity, street smarts, the way he loves his father.  His dimples, his plaid blazer and that gorgeous hair…consider me smitten. Rockford was an ex-con with a heart of gold.  A private investigator interested not in the law, but justice. He was kind and found himself in all sorts of situations where his genuine care shown through.

James Garner played Jim Rockford from 1974-1980.  He was the perfect cast for this role- he had a gentleness about him and an ease that made him loveable and likeable, and most importantly- believable.

Those were some formative years for me and he was indelibly a part of my childhood.  The show came on after my bedtime, but on that special night I was allowed a reprieve. I was permitted to make a pallet on the floor at the foot of my parent’s bed (my mother patiently watching as I dragged out several quilts and pillows from the linen closet, my father smiling with amusement).  With the lights dimmed low and a bowl of popcorn at my side, I would sit cross-legged- elbows on my knees, face in my hands rapt with attention for the entire hour long adventure.

I didn’t move, I didn’t interrupt, I barely spoke.  Except for the ‘chomp, chomp, chomp’ of the popcorn- I savored every moment. I watched the mystery play out over that hour, interested to see the resolution and how Rockford would win out in the end. (He always did.) Then I would greedily savor the scenes from the next episode and suffer the week long wait until I could see Mr. Rockford again.

A girl of five wants to marry her father, this is true.  I also wanted to marry Jim Rockford.  I’m pretty sure I still do.

Mr. Garner had his share of heartache- his mother dying when he was only five and his father remarrying to a woman who beat the children mercilessly until they were taken to live with other relatives and at age sixteen he joined the Merchant Marines.  He joined his father at eighteen in Los Angeles attending Hollywood High School and the rest, as they say, is history.

He starred in several movies before his fame as the good-natured gambler Maverick on the small screen, one of my favorites being a remake of the Cary Grant classic My Favorite Wife in which he starred with Doris Day called Move Over, Darling.

His one and only Oscar nod coming for his brilliantly understated and oh-so-romantic performance as Murphy Jones in Murphy’s Romance alongside Sally Field. It’s a beautiful little movie about loss, expectation, love and hope and his performance is so subtle and honest that it left a mark on me, one I am happy to have.

In one of my favorite films of all time he starred opposite the wildly talented Julie Andrews, Victor Victoria.  It is a hoot of a romp and has a stellar cast that includes a delightful turn by Robert Preston.  It is filled with gorgeous scenes and costuming and humor and music and Ms. Andrews at her very best.  I never tire of watching it, and again his charm shines through making me fall a little more in love with him every time I view it.

Mr. Garner passed away several weeks ago at the age of 86.  He was married to the same woman all his life, Lois. They met at an “Adlai Stevenson for President” rally in 1956. They married 14 days later on August 17,1956. Fourteen days! He notoriously said of their union, “We went to dinner every night for 14 nights. I was just absolutely nuts about her.” Mr. Garner died less than a month before their 58th wedding anniversary.

His passing hit me in a way I hadn’t expected. Deep in my gut like someone had sucker punched me.  I don’t really buy into the celebrity insanity, but Mr. Garner, Mr. Rockford, Brett Maverick, Murphy Jones…they had all been a part of my life.  I grew up with them, I trusted them- I loved them.  His death leaves a space that I’m not sure any actor of current day could fill and I don’t think I’d want them to.

Last night I heard that Robin Williams had died of an apparent suicide. There are no words to describe the loss of someone I loved so that I had never met.  I too grew up with Mr. Williams a fixture in my life.  My sister and I never missed an episode of Mork and Mindy and in 1982 The World According to Garp was released, in which he starred with the magnificent Glenn Close and John Lithgow. Garp taught me about celebrating difference and forgiveness on a level I had yet to experience or understand.

Many of Mr. Williams’s roles were accommodating of his improvisation.  He had a true genius for comedy and was blazingly fast in his delivery of quips and biting satire which was evident in such films as ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and the animated ‘Aladdin’ (one of my Disney “go-to’s”).

He was nominated for several Oscars- a feat not lost on those who start out in comedic roles.  It is difficult it seems in the film industry to be taken seriously when you have the ability to make people laugh.  But then, the laughter is part of his brilliance.

Robin Williams had the ability no matter the role to transport his audience to a place all its own- a place where pain, hurt, anger, sadness dissipate under the canopy of his magical talent. A gentle place where barriers melted away and the laughter flowed freely from deep within, a compassionate and comfortable place where we all felt safe to rest.

He was also kind and sensitive and sweet and generous with his gifts and his time.  He supported St. Jude, set up a Julliard scholarship fund, was actively involved in the Red Cross, the USO, Comic Relief and numerous other philanthropic endeavors.  He loved people.  He wanted to help them in any way he could- and spent his life doing so.

My son Jack and I had just watched The Birdcage last week.  I love this movie.  A glorious representation of the fact that “family” doesn’t always look like a 1950’s print ad, that love looks very different to every individual but it feels and means exactly the same.  His performance in that movie is utterly endearing.  The movie itself is a hilarious comedy but the undertones are so serious and so tenderly dealt with that each time I watch I find new reasons I adore it.

In 1987 I watched Good Morning Vietnam with my parents in our hometown movie theater.  I never knew the story of Adrian Cronauer the airman who ended up on the radio giving humor, music and hope to the troops in Vietnam during the war.  Mr. Williams was nominated for an Oscar for this role and deservedly so. His portrayal of someone struggling to find and bring joy to the men in the military through the airwaves, while learning the culture, compassion and complexities of the Vietnamese people we were sent to protect was luminous.  A gift, really.

That movie prompted many discussions between my father and me about the Vietnam War: the cause, effect and overall outcome of a war fought on foreign soil.  We discussed in quiet tones the lives that were lost both Vietnamese (North and South) and American- and the despair and repair that occurred as a result.

Two years later as a girl of eighteen I watched Dead Poets Society on a first date with one of my great loves- Clint Morris. The movie filled with rich references to the poetic giants of all time: Yeats, Keats, Longfellow, Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau. All of which I knew and loved from perusing my grandfather’s books upon visiting him as a young girl and then a teen.

My grandfather was not what you’d call a conversationalist with children.  Oh, I don’t mean to say he didn’t try, but I found the books carefully and lovingly kept in his office and study a way to crack the gruff exterior and get him engaged with me.  This worked especially well when I was able to drive and would stop by to visit him on my own.

He was lonely without my grandmother; he had been lonely since the day she died. But when discussing the works of great authors and poets, I saw a renewed fire in his person, a devotion to the written word I am certain he passed along (gratefully) to his youngest granddaughter.

The movie is centered on a private boy’s school, a few of its students and a rather larger-than-life professor, John Keating.  Mr. Keating, once a student of the school himself, has returned to spark the boys’ imaginations and take them beyond the limits of book learning.  What transpires is a memorable, exciting, wondrous and heartbreaking journey through adolescence- traced through the words of extraordinary men.

It is a movie about love, loss, forgiveness, intellect, fear, apathy…but mostly freedom and the call to live a life of joy. ‘Carpe Diem’- a charge to seize the day, to make the most of every breath and the moments both small and large that make up our lives and the canvas we will leave behind for others to view after our short time on the planet.

I watched, my attention never wavering in that dark theater until I felt my tears staining my cheeks- Clint’s hand finding mine for the first time as he dried my tears with his free hand.  It is no small wonder then why I loved him.

I cannot adequately express the profound effect this movie had (and still has) on me.  It is a film I have insisted my own boys watch and hope they glean the lesson that life is to be embraced every single day and lived without apology.  It is what I watch when I need reminding myself.

Robin Williams battled depression and addiction all of his life.  There is quite a difference in being sad and clinically depressed.  A friend of mine who has suffered the disease most of her adult life described it as drowning and not caring if you die.

It physically hurts me to know that someone who touched the lives and hearts and souls of so many people with his craft and his kindness, someone who brought the world such pleasure and happiness could have suffered (was suffering) so on the inside.

In yet another one of his beautiful offerings to humanity, Mr. Williams discussed his addictions and depression openly and thoughtfully with whomever wished to know what he dealt with and how he had managed for years to keep the demons at bay.  He knew his celebrity extended to him a gracious platform to help others and so he did.

It was only in the last few years that he had slipped in his sobriety and re-admitted himself into rehabilitation for treatment.  He talked candidly about this too and the world watched and crossed their fingers that he would persevere.

Sometimes those who make us laugh the loudest and think the deepest are those who are tortured the most. They live in spite of their illnesses and oppressions to make us a better people.  To have us think about what we think about and ponder sincerely what it means just to be alive.

His smile proffering an enchantment, his words and their delivery extending a hand into unchartered and fantastical territory of what my life could mean.

His daughter ‘tweeted’ this:

“You — you alone will have the stars as no one else has them,” the quote read. “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You — only you — will have stars that can laugh.”

-Antoine De Saint-Exupery from ‘The Little Prince’

‘I love you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep looking up.’

Z

How fitting that she should picture her father amongst the heavens holding the stars all his own in joy and laughter. Perhaps tonight I will look to the starry firmament and know he is where there is no more pain and he is wrapped swiftly and surely in God’s peace and understanding.

As for me, I lost two important men in my life in a short spanse of time and though I did not know them personally, undoubtedly they knew me.  For as they both seemed to know, in performing to the masses they would inevitably leave their legacy, a sage wisdom and a gentle reminder about the world, in the telling of their stories.

I for one, am better for the telling.

Rest easy boys and straight on till morning.

Mr. Keating Rockford

Because I Am Living a Life Full of You

Human kindness is overflowing and I think it’s goin’ to rain today. –R. Newman

 

There is a drought here in Texas.  It seems there has always been a drought in Texas since God was a boy.  Always with the burn bans and the water conservation and the winds threatening to whisk away into the abyss any greenery still impossibly left living.

The earth is parched here.  The dirt that was once a lovely rich brown hue now more of a dusty dried out pink.  On the hottest days the soil hisses and gasps pleading for a drink. The heat seeps into life as we know it, tainting the landscape and lending an edge to us all.

I watched in horror the scene play out as Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down last Thursday; this coming on the heels of their flight 370 vanishing into apparent thin air. In the same day, I watched the fighting in the Gaza Strip intensify to the point that Israeli troops said they were ‘all in’ on this one.  Up to a thousand casualties in what was supposed to be a ‘cease-fire’. Horrifically, India losing eighteen children after a school bus was hit by a train.  There are the anti-China protests in Hong Kong, the biggest democratic movement since China took over governship of Hong Kong from the Brits back in 1997. Moments ago I learned that an Israeli bomb had hit a UN school killing fifteen people. And what of Iran and Iraq? North Korea? Russia and Ukraine? All ticking time bombs. Several countries are on the brink of financial collapse.  Several countries hanging on by a proverbial thread needing more food, potable water and medicines. There are the women of Juarez- 450 dead and over 600 missing with no hope of being seen again. An Air Algerie flight crashing leaving 119 souls departed. There are blood diamonds, Darfur, AIDS, Ebola, botched abortions where this practice is still illegal- and babies left in dumpsters where it is legal.

There are hate crimes and war crimes and crimes against humanity. Crimes of passion and crimes with no passion at all.

Here at home we fret in uncertainty and anger and misunderstanding over the immigrant children who cross our borders in droves from Central America.  I have heard every argument and considered the cause and effect of both general schools of thought.  I don’t intend to get into a political debate, but I will say this: where are these countries? Where is their response to this awful tragedy? They are not present nor do they care to be.  Why would they when they know we will be.

These are children.  They are not convicts or drug dealers, thugs or “low-lifes”…they are simply children who have been displaced in hopes of living their lives in a place where they might simply find hope.

I know, I know, we have enough problems without heaping on more. Our soldiers still languish in the farthest corners of the world while their families wait for them to come home with fingers-crossed. Forest fires, unemployment rates going nowhere, veteran’s affairs all gone to hell…shootings, beatings, racial tensions, HMOs, GMOs, and people who seem more concerned with Kim Kardashian than the fate of mankind. 

I was slicing avocado the other night for dinner when Paxton entered the kitchen for a bottle of water and lingered there with me at the island. “Mom,” he said gently, “there is a lot of really bad stuff going on in the world right now, like…apocalyptic stuff.”

Yes, yes there is. What to say to a sixteen year-old boy who is looking at his mother for confirmation that the world is not going to end before his seventeenth birthday?

Civilization it seems is in a drought too. People’s hearts are dry, wrung out with fear, loss, worry, dread, despair, anger, loneliness.  People are tired of having to think of the last time they were happy and unafraid.  This in itself is a disease of sorts and it is very contagious.

I don’t know dear reader, if you’ve ever thought how easily it is to be swayed by bad news rather than good.  We are quick to believe dire information. We drink it in and yet it provides the drought inside us or the drought all around us, really, with no relief. 

We are swift to repeat the negativity too.  “Did you hear so and so is pregnant and single, or bankrupt, or in prison..?” We like to talk about people as if we aren’t judging, but instead passing on vital information.  We do this with people we are uncertain of, or even our children’s friends.  We don’t know them, we’re unsure about them- better to be safe than sorry- judge first, apologize later. We become the very hypocrites we are quick to judge ourselves.  It’s dizzying if you think about it.

It’s the same on television (ALL television, not just “fair and balanced”), Yahoo, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… The media blissfully reporting every repugnant detail of every morbid story or the ridiculous details of the rich and famous, outlining every detail of the frivolous and outrageous.  These are the things we seem to latch onto and share and so the drought spreads. And spreads. The mob mentality catching fire until all that’s left really are the torches and pitchforks.

I thought long and hard about what to say to Paxton.  What to say to my son who has barely begun his time on this planet about love and hope and human kindness when lately my soul feels as dry as any desert..? In the end, I told him what I believe to be true.

What is happening in the world starts and ends with us. ‘Us’ being civilization, not as whole but individuals. Please do not misunderstand, I fully comprehend that many of the world’s gut-wrenching harrowing difficulties stem from centuries old arguments to which there will never (and yes, I mean never) be an answer that will satisfy the parties involved. 

But again, I stand firm in my belief that I control not only my own destiny but moreover the destinies of others who are put in my path, or I in theirs.  It starts with one person. Just one.  Looking at a person and seeing another soul, not a body, not a color or a race or a religion or a man or woman.  Seeing their soul. Maybe not even who they are at that moment but who they hope to be.

This requires digging beneath the surface and allowing that you might have to get your hands dirty.  It is not always easy getting to know someone, and trusting them is harder still. But what if you did? What if we all did? 

What if we accepted others with open arms as readily as we offered a clenched fist? Ghandi said it is hard to shake hands through a clenched fist.  There is a whole lot of truth there.

Why is it so hard to imagine a life in which we not only embraced goodness but expected it?  A life where truth and bliss and happiness were words we felt but did not have to think about.

I like to talk about the collective conscious sometimes.  It makes some people uncomfortable when I do.  Some people think it’s voodoo science.  To me, it is simple: I get what I send out into the world…and when what I send out is love and joy and kindness and hope then that is what envelopes me and is transferred to those around me.  If those around me are affected by what I feel and they begin to feel it too then they are “paying it forward” let us say, and it is a chain reaction that then affects the people they deal with in their daily lives…and so on… and so on.

I asked Paxton if he believed in God. “I do,” he said matter-of-factly. I do too. And while it is easy to sit back in such treacherous times and say, ‘where is God in the midst of this?’ that is really an argument that serves to no good end.  The God I know created me in his image and you too; this means that we carry divinity within us; the breath of God blown into our very existence.   Think about that for a moment.  What does it mean to you?  For you?

To me, it means many things.  One of the most important being, I believe it is why we have free will. We were not created as God’s folly, but rather his family.  We are the sons and daughters.  We are souls chosen to be his creation.  We are endowed with the ability to choose because he wanted it this way.

We hold divinity within each of us which gives us a beautiful mind needed to make the decisions that affect our lives and the lives of others.  He is depending on us to be able to decipher what is required, to do what is right.

I do not believe I talk to a God who is not present. I believe I speak to a God who is my father. Who as my father hopes all things.  I am present at the altar and though I kneel there is little difference to me than being curled up in his lap. In this moment he does not tell me what to do rather encourage me that I already know.

This is how when I walk outside and the sun hits my face I know I must go forward in love; one foot in front of the other on a sometimes unforgiving path.  Each day a new day- a new chance to let my divinity shine. Because even though the earth seems parched, her vessel devoid of any loving kindness and compassion seems blown to the far corners in a brittle and unforgiving dust, I will dig until I find what I search for, until I find what is needed, what is expected of me. 

It is then that I will say a prayer for humanity: a prayer for all those who are lost in life, in mind, in broken spirit. A prayer for every inch of this earth and all her beings- a prayer for peace, love, tranquility, harmony and happiness.  A prayer for understanding, acceptance and forgiveness. A prayer I know will be answered; but a prayer where the answer must come from us.  It has to.

It was as I pondered all these things that I felt a peace overcome me and my eyes well with tears of anticipation…

And then it began to rain.

 

Sister Moon Will You Be My Guide?

“If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one,

you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colours suspended in the darkness;

then if you squeeze your eyes tighter,

the pool begins to take shape,

and the colours become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire.”

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

We all have heartache.  Loss is inevitable, so is hurt.  Death is certain. Health is not a given. Time is a precious commodity that not all are afforded. Lately I have been inundated with so much of all of the above that I bristle when my phone rings like my skin might turn on itself and attack me.

Not so much for myself of course, but in caring for others.  The weight of the care is perhaps different, but the feelings are markedly the same. My life trudges on like soldiers in a storm while all around me people suffer. 

There are people I care about whose parents endure cancer and the treatments that poison their bodies, friends’ children who have heart defects and diseases so rare some of them have yet to be named.  There are children who have died and some who continue to live in spite of their prognosis.  There are elderly loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s. There is depression, despair, attempts at suicide, impending divorces, people contemplating impending divorces, relationships in turmoil, unexpected pregnancies, surgeries, pets lost to old age and disease, disappointments and catastrophes small and large.

Again, I return to the minutiae. I mean, on a global scale if I were to contemplate the suffering every day I imagine it might just consume me and be too much for me to leave the safety of my room.

Last month someone very dear to me had a frightening health “event”.  I like to call them events because it makes me sound smarter than I am and things like this really are a happening of sorts.  They involve everyone in the periphery not just the principal players.  It was unexpected and scary as hell. 

To clarify, I am unabashedly unafraid to die.  (Also for clarification’s sake, I do not wish for it to happen later today.) What I mean is, when it is my time to go, I go fearless.  I am also not afraid to lose those I love.  (Also, hopefully not later today.) It’s not that I am any better than anyone else or have a deeper hold on the meaning of life, it’s just that I am absolutely certain of what lies beneath, of what comes next (or rather, that something does in fact, come next), of the life beyond life.  Prince said it pretty eloquently, “Electric word ‘life’, it means forever and that’s a mighty long time.”

Of course, for all my protestations, this doesn’t mean I do not feel the agony of the chance at losing someone dear to me.  I do, I just don’t dwell.

My theology class ended for the year last week.  We had a magnificent celebration of the end of our year and the anticipation of next year’s class.  During our gathering my friend and mentor Jane read from a book she’s been reading, ‘Learning to Walk In the Dark’ written by Barbara Brown Taylor, an esteemed Episcopal priest now retired who mostly writes about matters of God. Taylor’s book focuses on our knee-jerk to associate the dark with evil, weakness and danger.  She wonders, ‘Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well?’

Her words clung to me like southern cooking sticks to your ribs. The term ‘endarkenment’ was bandied about and discussed.  I have to admit that I have always believed that finding your inner light rests squarely with being comfortable with the dark.  This does not mean I do not search for the light- only that at times I feel like a solitary firefly flying blindly in the blackest of pitch.

In ‘Oh God Book II’ Tracy asks God why there is so much suffering in the world. 

He responds: I know this sounds like a cop-out, Tracy, but there’s nothing I can do about pain and suffering. It’s built into the system.

Tracy: Which You invented.

God:  Right. But my problem was I could never figure out how to build anything with just one side to it.

Tracy: One side?

God:  You ever see a front without a back?

Tracy: No.

God:  A top without a bottom?

Tracy: No.

God:  An up without a down?

Tracy: No.

God:  OK. Then there can’t be good without bad, life without death, pleasure without pain. That’s the way it is. If I take sad away, happy has to go with it.

We must toil in the dark if we are ever to find the light. My friend Bob who is a seeker of the grandest kind says that our studies have completely deconstructed his beliefs and then constructed them again in new and exciting ways, perhaps stronger than before.  Belief and faith are of no use in a stagnant still environment, say I. We must embrace the storm and not just wade in the waters of discontent but dive headfirst into the roaring waters.

I strongly believe that it is in experiencing the rawness of life that we become who we are meant to be. In stripping away the façade and getting to the very core of our being where hate, resentment, anger, fear, dread, disappointment, delusion and defeat reside we are allowing our souls to be broken and beautifully mended.  To feel those emotions, to let them move through you and engulf you- you are becoming truth. You are living in the honesty that comes with being exactly who you are, where you are.

It’s not a breaking down as one might assume, but rather a building up.  It is a renovation of your soul. When you are true to yourself and the pain you feel- when you are present in that moment and allow yourself to wholly feel to the depths of all that is sacred, perhaps then and only then does the healing begin.

The Japanese have a long tradition of repairing pots with gold; it’s called “kintsugi” or “kintsukuroi”.  Instead of trashing a broken vessel, they repair the cracks and broken pieces with solid gold or gold dust resin. This art has become cherished in Japanese culture; the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way becoming more valuable than the original. This repair is seen as a rebirth of the pot’s previous story; taking something that is broken and repairing it to make it whole again.   Japanese culture believes that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful. I believe this too.

We were made to feel both the dark and the light.  This is not a fault, but a predetermined part of our being.  Consider it a gift; for in the shadows when we are stuck in what seems to be the blackest tar of deceit or despair, mired in the abyss of what might have been, our eyes stinging with the saltwater of hot tears… we still struggle.  We fight.  We challenge ourselves to become.

Thomas Moore said it thus: “For a feeling of well-being, you have to shine, but your sparkle need not be superficial.  It can rise up out of a deep place in you that is dark but has its own kind of light…Imagine a black sun at your core, a dark luminosity that is less innocent and more interesting than naive sunshine.  That is one of the gifts a dark night of the soul has to offer you.”

‘…more interesting than naïve sunshine.’ We lose our innocence gradually starting the moment we are born.  We are expelled from the safe darkness of our mother’s womb and thrust into the light.  Perhaps there is wisdom in this association.  We are born from the dark.  The night sky holds billions of stars but it is still night. A cocoon wraps a caterpillar in complete darkness before its metamorphosis into something more beautiful than it ever imagined. 

Life hurts sometimes.  It’s that hurt, whatever it may look like to each of us, that assures us then of the joy and ecstasy on the other side of the coin. Heads or tails, darkness and light. Without one how would we ever begin to know the other? To become the butterfly we must endure the darkness and the truth therein.

So go ahead…throw the rock at your glass house and stand amidst the shards of your human suffering bound and determined to be that which you envision not what you have created.  Look in the mirror beyond the lie and force yourself to accept the past which you cannot change, be truthful in the present and embrace the future that is possible if you believe you can see in the dark.

Sky Blue and Black (But Mostly Blue)

Writer’s note: Believe me when I tell you I am okay.  I write.  It’s what I do and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending) it means I share with you my life in all its gory detail.  I don’t need private messages, or phone calls or for you to tell my mom, ok?  I swear I am as good today as I ever was… For what that’s worth.

“If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.” –C.S. Lewis

Where to begin… Close to a month ago I had what I thought was a pretty good date.  This fellow and I had been conversing for about three months and over that course had managed to share quite a bit of information and intimate details of our lives and truths about ourselves. I found him to be intelligent, thoughtful, funny and interesting and I am fairly certain he thought the same of me.  The connection had been happenstance and I just considered it a good bit of serendipity.

We lived a good deal of distance from one another.  I had plans that put me in his hometown and so we made arrangements to meet. Let me heave in here that there are a disproportionate amount of nerves attached to meeting someone for a date.  It’s not exactly like he’s your neighbor and you’ve been casually talking on your front lawn for months.  The exchanges are there, but the physical aspect of it is new.   The chemistry is new.  Oh hell, it’s all new every time you go on a date, and that doesn’t change whether you are 14 or 43.

I am not going to comment on the date further, because well, it’s private.  And I know that sounds utterly ridiculous from someone who tells you every hangnail of her life, but some things are better left in the recesses of my mind. Onward.

We had tentatively planned to spend a good chunk of time together, had we enjoyed the date- which, like I said, was pretty good.  Not that I haven’t been known to be wrong, but I feel like you inherently KNOW when a date is a flaming disaster. Right?

The weekend wore on and communication was decidedly scarce until it was non-responsive.  Completely non-responsive.  In fact, the last communiqué was mine and I got nothing in return.  I asked simply and levelly just to know exactly what had happened or why I had not warranted a second meeting.  Fair enough.  We are adults and in the scheme of things in this day and age of mass media he could have answered me through any number of various outlets without ever having to see or face me or even hear my voice. That was a few days shy of a month ago.  Still nothing.

Let me honestly interpose here that this is someone I have ‘known’ most of my life.  Let me also say that I am not the same girl I was at sixteen and I surely don’t look just like her anymore.  That thrust out front in truth speak, let me also allow that other than the extra lbs I carry around at any given juncture, I am still attractive.  I don’t look ‘rode hard and put up wet’ and if you like women who happen to have a big brain that is always firing and a heart that is bigger still, pretty brown hair and big blue eyes- well, I could be quite a catch.

I didn’t share the information of the complete radio silence with many.  In truth, I don’t need or want sympathy and it turns out, your daddy is always going to tell you that you are perfect no matter what.  (Thank God.)

Days went by and the thing that nagged at me most was really quite simple.  He has a daughter he is absolutely enamored with- and her, him.  In fact, she is his entire world and it is one of the many reasons I found him so compelling.  All I could think, the part that my brain could or would not let go of was this: is this the way he would ever want someone to treat his daughter? How would he feel if he knew that his daughter had liked someone, invested time in that someone- been excited about the prospect of this someone only to be completely ignored without so much as a “10-4”?

So I’ll admit to this clouding my thought and emotion for awhile…but only for awhile.  Frankly, you can only marinate on things for so long until the broth sours and whatever takeaways you have should not be that difficult to discern.

A couple of weeks ago I had the joy of listening to Anne Lamott read from her latest work ‘Stitches’.  I love Anne Lamott.  She wears her faith like a bright red banner and basically says “This is how and what I believe and if you don’t like it, go $#*& yourself.”  Trying still for entrance into seminary, I do not have that luxury.  She is unapologetically passionate and I feel kindred with her in the way she writes and how she feels.

Her new work is devoted to the Newtown shootings.  It is a beautiful piece of work. She talks about the great tragedies that have befallen humanity.  Among them: the Holocaust, Newtown, 9/11, genocide in Darfur. There are more, but you get the gist.  Enormous, gut-wrenching events that changed not only the course of history but also have become the compass for our future as a planet and the springboard for who we as a collective ‘we’ will be.

I listened to her talk so eloquently and fiercely about these things but at the same time I couldn’t help but notice the gnawing in the pit of my stomach.  Yes, infinity of yes, massive loss of life and shootings and bombings and violence and murder on a grand scale and those left homeless or widowed or without parents or children are deplorable and awful and wretched beyond measure.  And yes, those catastrophes do indeed cause us as a nation and a world to mourn, to think, to open a dialogue, to grow and learn and hopefully…forgive. But what if you start with the minutiae?

What if you start with what happened first?  Perhaps the day someone ignored a ‘hello’ or averted their eyes from the solitary person walking down the street… Or the moment someone quit caring if their child took their meds or if they needed medication in the first place?  What if someone had taken the time to just be kind to the angry youth?  If they had outstretched their hand in kindness and possibly negated the stereotype ingrained in that child’s upbringing instead of reinforcing it?

What if we started with the dialogue first?  If we started with the growing before it was needed as lesson in forgiveness?  What if we got so good at listening to others and hearing what they were saying that reconciliation became a term we rarely used? I have goose bumps just thinking about it.

I read something the other day, it said (I’m paraphrasing): ‘you don’t have to respect’s others beliefs, but you do have to acknowledge them.’ (Let’s stop and admit right here that a great deal of heartache and loss and violence we experience stems from religion and the misunderstanding associated with it; no matter what God or Gods or deities you believe in this holds true.) I partially agree with the prior statement.  I mean, to be fair, I don’t think it’s about respecting the belief at all, but rather the person for whom the belief is important.  In fact, I have learned many a valuable and important thing from friends and strangers of other faiths.  There is much to be gleaned and respected and loved if you truly open your eyes and ears but mostly your heart.

I also consider myself somewhat of a Christian zealot, but I am also not ever (as in NEVER EVER) going to try and change anyone’s mind about who or what they believe in (or frankly what they don’t) nor am I going to be tempted to in my lifetime tell someone who or what they love is an abomination or a mistake or wrong.  I mean…that is waaaay above my pay grade.

So what I am left with is this: what if we all treated others with the respect, kindness and caring we wish for ourselves? What if we knew that the key to preventing tragedy of the pre-meditated kind was merely saying words in friendship and compassion and truth? What if we knew that we could save ourselves a whole lot of heartbreak by just being kind?  Or by taking the extra second it takes to notice someone instead of just ignoring them we could start to change the world?

I saw a teenage girl outside the Walmart yesterday.  She worked there and was outside with the sale items working the cash register.  She was a little heavy and she wasn’t overdone but almost was.  Her outfit was a little snug and she looked a little uncomfortable, not physically uncomfortable you understand, but uncomfortable with herself…and a little sad. The rest of her was ‘off’ somehow but she had the most gorgeous hair the color of sun-kissed amber wheat.

She was very pensively looking at herself in a tiny compact makeup mirror.  “You look good,” I assured her.  “Your hair is beautiful.”  I saw her blush then smile then and show a wide row of blue-metallic braces.  I smiled inside and I felt warm all over.  It may not have mattered that I stopped and spoke to her…but it mattered to me and I hope beyond hope it mattered to her.

I never much cared for the phrase, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.’ Perhaps I disagree with don’t “sweat” it, maybe I prefer ‘Be mindful of the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.’ Indeed it is. A beautiful masterpiece starts with the first delicate brushstroke.  A brilliant author’s work begins with the first word.  And the Tree of Life, my friends?  It begins with one seed.

Why not plant it and see what grows?

Footnote:  I no longer am bothered by the silent treatment.  After all, every great symphony begins with silence first as the Conductor readies the audience for something amazing. But I know his mama taught him better.

Skinned Knees and Tender Mercies

Once Pang the lay­man was sell­ing bam­boo bas­kets. Com­ing down off a bridge he stum­bled and fell. His daugh­ter Lingzhao imme­di­ately ran to his side and threw her­self down. “What are you doing, my daughter?” he asked.  “I saw Daddy fall to the ground, I’m help­ing,” she said.

Sometimes I visit the Buddhist temple.  To those who know me best this is not news.  I used to visit quite a lot when my days were free until I had to pick the boys up from school.  To me, I have found the tenets of their way of life and my Christian faith more than compatible. I also find that inwardly, contemplatively and quietly the practice of Zen completes me.

The story above is called a koan (koh-an).  It is told much like a parable but with no teaching at the end. You decide what it means, or if it holds meaning at all to you. The first time I heard this particular koan my mind immediately thought, ‘She is respecting her father. She is getting down where he is so that he will know she is there for him totally- in his pain, embarrassment, humility…she is leveling herself in complete compassion for her father.’

Now the several texts I’ve read later, speak of how we as humans (lovers, friends, family, church members, priests, therapists, sons, daughters, siblings, etc. etc.)are “fixers”.  Our immediate response to someone who has fallen is to help them up- to right them.  Get them back on their feet, push them forward.  I understand it, I really do- hell, I am guilty of it without a doubt.  But I gotta tell you, I’ve never been a really big fan.

This morning as I was typing this blog my friend Mary happened to send me a daily devotional.   I don’t usually read those as my daily activity I engage in with Papa is non-verbal (ok, some days VERY verbal) but it is private and mine and I do not like to share it with words from others.  It’s just how I do things.  He nudged me, ‘Read it, ok? And quit being so fussy.’  Ok.

It was written by Brother Luke Ditewig and it basically said exactly what I am trying to write about today. Go figure. He speaks of community as the people who come along in our lives to ‘witness’ where we are: our experiences, our hurt, our grief.  Conversely to witness our joys, our triumphs, our good fortune, or our ecstatic moments we feel that make us free and open us to possibility and are life-affirming. It can be loving and healing- it can hurt and be painful.  It asks us to be open and honest and find that safe space where it is not just okay but necessary to be able to feel these things fallen down next to one another.

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of hearing a speaker who was a Zen Buddhist as well as an ordained Episcopal priest.  She told the same story of Mr. Pang I’d heard before.  Then she related it to a Christian parable in a way that altered me perhaps indelibly forever.

She talked of Zechariah’s Song in the book of Luke: To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet to the way of peace.”

She then happened to mention that the Greek translation of ‘tender mercies’ has several forms.  One being the most likely and probable literal translation: “gut-wrenching compassion”.  The phrase alone stopped me cold.  Think on those words for a moment. Gut-wrenching compassion.  Compassion so strong it might make you physically ill, make your stomach hurt or your head wet with perspiration from the anxiety of it.  It is going to hurt you; you have to know this going in. 

And then she said, “Now imagine the story of God and of humanity and Jesus.  And think of it in terms of our Father God in an act of GUT-WRENCHING COMPASSION, throwing himself down to the Earth to lay on the ground next to us- AS ONE OF US- to witness that he was “with” us, that he understood our hurt and our confusion and the ineffable pain of this life.” He fell down with us. Mr. Pang says, “My daughter why did you also fall down?” “I saw you fall and I am helping.”

Sometimes we forget that anyone can fall down beside us.  Sometimes we forget that anyone (including ourselves) can listen and be a priest of their own imagining with no particular skill other than a loving heart and an open mind.  Sometimes when people fall down they just want to be still for a while. Our learning must come not from the constant desire to “fix” but to just be with.  We must fall down with those we love, or frankly those we merely tolerate, so that they are able to endure what life hurls at them and they might weather their experience.

My friend Judy came up to me after the discussion Wednesday, a wide grin on her face. “I think I understood the story,” she said. “Sometimes life is sad and so someone cries…sometimes instead of drying the tears we need to just cry too.” Yes Judy, I believe you mastered it perfectly.

Brother Ditewig says: ‘It’s choosing to be alongside maybe not saying a word but showing that you’re really there with them that enables another to heal. That gives loves to another. You can do it. Anyone can do it. All of us together listening, loving another, we bring healing to the world. We collaborate with Jesus who came in next to us.’

Who came in next to us, alongside us, falling down with us- feeling it all with us.  Recently my friend Sally fell down beside me.  She somehow inexplicably knew just what I needed and I could feel her heartbeat a thousand miles away: it needed no real words or actions- only the truth of her presence there beside me. 

My friend Patty, who brought me into her life by invitation (and 4 other women who are my heart, into mine much the same way), is now free of cancer.  It has been a long road and one that honestly I struggled with.  I am not much of a casserole maker or a craftsman or a charity walker. (I feel guilty even typing that…) So every so often I would just send her a text or an email- the content was always varied and they were never very long, just long enough for her to know I was there with her- fallen down next to her. It is when we fall down and really listen that we realize some things need no sound at all but the feeling of oneness. ‘I am here with you. I will not move, I will not bend, I will not go.’ God, I hope she knew.  I hope she still does.

We all have the capacity for this if we are able to get out of our own way.  It is when we are quiet we hear the most. It is when I am forlorn or hurt or feel my heart tighten or am angry or tired or all of these things that Papa falls down beside me.  I feel his embrace and if I am quiet I can hear him whisper, “Shhh…I am helping.”

Keep Me Where the Light Is

SPOILER ALERT:  This post contains revelatory information about True Detective.

“Once there was only dark.  If you ask me, the light’s winning.” –Rust Cohle, True Detective

I don’t watch much television at all anymore.  In fact, I had resigned myself to two shows I watch religiously and then a few stragglers here and there (the occasional Frasier rerun)…and then came True Detective.  In a nutshell, True Detective is an HBO drama about two police detectives solving the case of a serial murderer.  From a purely philosophical standpoint it is an existentialist’s wet dream.

Rust Cohle is one of the detectives. His daughter is long dead and the aftermath is keeping him bound like Prometheus.  Rust says he believes in nothing.  Time is nothing more than a flat circle in which we are doomed to live on a loop until we die and then simply, there is no more.  The entire drama is centered on his hardness, his hurt, his inability to move beyond where he is and his resolute determination there are no secrets to the universe, only shadows.

My friend Nathanael (a self-stated atheist) has been enjoying the program as well.  He asked me a while back what I thought of Rust Cohle and his lack of any kind of recognizable faith.  I simply laughed and answered back that ‘Rust Cohle isn’t even convinced of what he espouses.’  It’s true.  Here’s a guy who’s been dealt such an incredibly shitty blow that he did the only thing he could do- he shut down.  He became a nihilist.  He made the truth (or his version of it) so rote that it didn’t really matter what transpired.  But what happened in the interim is what I clung to… In the midst of his belief in nothing, he began seeking without really knowing he was looking.  And there were signs- glaring signs; Preacher man Joel Theriot’s evangelical sermon at the tent revival haunting Cohle episodes later: ‘the world is a veil and the face you wear is not your own.’

Indeed the culmination of events in the end is so certain of Rust’s death I almost expected it, waited for it. Instead, he lives.  He lives and tells his partner and friend that in the cataclysmic moment of his almost demise he felt his daughter there beyond the darkness in a different layer of existence.  Not her material self, but her love and his father’s love in the purest form.  So pure that it in the darkness of death it consumed him and caused him to ‘lose his definitions’.

How many of us have had this moment?  The darkness enveloping us layer upon layer, coating with its film ensnaring us with ease.  It is hard to see in the dark.  It is even harder to feel.

Yesterday I found out a little lady from church that I love had passed away.  She had been in assisted care for awhile and it was not a surprise, but it made me sad nonetheless. Dorothy Book was a beautiful woman.  She was the epitome of class and elegance.  Even in her later years she was always dressed to the nines for church and she and her husband were always in the front row or near thereafter.

Her husband hadn’t always come to church with her.  It was a relatively new development coming on the heels of her accelerated dementia. Still, I liked seeming them there together. Later, when she had gone to the nursing home, he kept coming to church alone and sitting in their same spot. It made me happy in a way that is hard to define, or perhaps not difficult at all.

The uncomfortable newness he felt in doing something he had not vanished after a time. I suspect he then kept coming because it was something Dorothy loved and so he loved it too.  He grew to understand and respect the liturgy that was important to her and in truth, I think he felt a closeness to her there, in saying the words, which is just as it should be. I sit hopeful he will still come be present in the pew and let the light in.

I have been having conversations left and right lately that usually include, “but what if” “is this a good idea”  “should I do this” “what do you think about this” “but I’m afraid” “I don’t know how it will turn out”  “why bother”… I could go on.  The truth of it is that some of the musings have been my own inner dialogue.

Life presents us with all sorts of challenges and choices.  Some are our own and some are thrust upon us for better or worse.  Even the seemingly ‘easy’ things are fraught with unknowns and perils.  Life is messy.  It can be painful, aggravating, hurtful, boastful, sorrowful… It can also be brilliant, exciting, wonder-filled, happy, humorous and beautiful.

Again I tell you, it is what you do with any moment you are given that defines who you are. I certainly wouldn’t presume to tell you how to live your life (well, I might, but who would listen?) but if given the chance to fly do you really elect to stay on the porch? Isn’t the thought of soaring above the clouds and feeling the sunlight on your face, the imagined bliss as the wind rushes into your lungs and whispers in your ear enough to prompt you to leave the safety of your surroundings and head for the sky?

I had a dream last night about swimming in the lake after dark. Let me interject here that I love the lake.  I lived on Lake LBJ for several years and I lament I am not near the water anymore.  Few things are better than a lazy evening spent with your feet propped up gazing out at the water and counting stars as the night sets in… I do NOT however, love swimming in said lake. (All apologies to REM and ‘Nightswimming’.) I am a little uncomfortable with the idea I cannot see and the likelihood (however small) that there could be a ‘Nessie’ type monster lurking at the bottom.  Although in truth, I imagine Nessie as a gentle giant whom I might befriend if ever given the chance. Anyhoo, back to the dream…

I was forced into the water by the urgency of having to save someone I loved from drowning. It was unclear who I was saving, but it was imperative I get in the water and dive down as far as I could, being able to see nothing.  As soon as I hit the water, a bit of panic set in.  I could not tell what which way was up and which was down.   I had no idea of the depth of the water I was in and it seemed like everything was swirling in slow motion but my heart and head were racing at top speed.

I felt the pressure building, the all-encompassing fear stealing my breath.  I was swimming in circles and I knew this, but felt absolutely no way to stop. Then, in a moment of complete oneness with myself, my God and my surroundings- I let go.  The instant I did all my doubts, fears, anxiety, uncertainty and terror melted away. It did not matter which way was up or down, time held no weight of any kind. I was surrounded by light. I was peaceful and began to swim, sure of my purpose and resolute in my charge.  I awoke without really knowing if I had saved the day or not, but I’m fairly certain that wasn’t the important part of the dream.

Letting go is never easy.  We hold on to what we know and we cherish the way things were with ferociousness.  This is somehow easier than allowing ourselves to imagine something new.  Fear is a great motivator. So is hurt.  Or uncertainty.  Or safety.  I mean, if we have been hurt (emotionally and physically) and we vow never to allow ourselves to feel again…then hey, it’s all good, right?  We’ll coast through life uninterrupted and unscathed, right? Wrong. Life may be a lot of things, but passive it is not.  The very symbiosis of life ensures it must be interactive, forced or otherwise.

Life is short or long depending… So why not go ahead and live it as if every moment might be the last?  I know it is cliché and frankly, I am beyond caring.  I am 43 years-old (I like to think I am maybe circling mid-life but not there yet) and I have earned the right to be exactly who I am and tell you what I think or how I feel.  You don’t like it?  Stop reading now. It’s your life.

If forced to make a judgment call between letting the light in or wandering in the darkness, I choose to let it glow.

Why not ride your bike down the steepest hill with your legs out to the side and your hands above your head?  Or learn to speak French or Mandarin or pig Latin? Why not always keep your passport handy?  Or do a Chinese fire drill in downtown Dallas traffic?   Learn to cook Vietnamese cuisine or just a really great burger.  Get braces if you need them.  Adopt a giant dog.  Buy twenty lottery tickets and give them to strangers. (I did this one today.) Don’t cheat on the crossword.  Get your GED. Get your PhD. (One day you will all call me Dr. Harper-Oberle.)

Let yourself be moved by something you read.  Dream about falling in love, or just do it. Trust someone you have absolutely no reason to.  Believe in serendipity.  Or possibility. Don’t look before you leap, just leap and hope for wings. Tell someone a secret and trust them to keep it. Have faith in the power of touch. Tell the truth. Wrestle with your demons and win. Hold someone’s hand.  Touch someone’s heart. Cry.  Laugh.  Don’t apologize unless you mean it.  Forgive.  Look forward.  Move forward.  Say what is on your mind. Do what brings you joy.

Rust Cohle was paralyzed by what had been, never allowing himself to dream of what may come.  In the end, he was given a chance to right his life, to let the sun shine in.  To live his life present in the love he so desperately missed and have the life he deserved.  We are all worthy of this life.  There are moments of complete shit, even I, Pollyanna, cannot deny this fact.  But if you fertilize a whole field beautiful flowers will soon follow.

God did not breathe life into us to have us squander it away.  In fact, I’m pretty sure He gave us a bit himself so that we might actually feel what it’s like to be divine.  Can you do that from the porch?  Possibly. Can you do it soaring amongst the heavens?  Of this I have no doubt.

You know where I’ll be.

My Bonfire Heart

(Side note: I borrowed the title from a favorite song by James Blunt.  Thank you, Mr. Blunt.)

I had trouble with this one; stumbling over and over again trying desperately to reach what it was I needed to say. I’m still not sure I know.  Sometimes I start writing having no idea where it will take me until I am finished.  This may be one of those times.

A couple of weeks ago my ex-husband married his long –time girlfriend, who just happens to be the woman he left me for almost eight years ago.  Now let me interject here that I forgave both of them long ago.  Real forgiveness- the kind that releases you from its bonds like sparrows from a cage.

So I found it somewhat odd that the coming nuptials presented me with emotions I had not had surface in a vast expanse of time.  Not sadness or regret or any of those normal emotions you would expect… rather a turning of the mirror on me to wondering what (if any) lasting effects his departure had on my psyche and my soul.

A memory emerged that (I thought) I had long discarded.  It was the tenth year of our marriage.  There were three affairs I knew about already- one that had caused him to tell me he was leaving and wasn’t going to look back.  And yet, here we were in our beautiful extravagant (unnecessary) new home we’d built, in the tub I had special ordered that was the size of most people’s bathrooms.  We’d shared a delicious dinner and a good bottle of cabernet talking about the boys, the dog, the cats, the company business…everything but her.

Somehow it had felt natural to move to the bedroom and eventually we had ended up in the tub.  At first it seemed romantic and special- me running the bath, filling it with scalding hot water and lavender scented bubbles.  David lighting candles, stereo softly playing Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’…  There was the appropriate kissing and touching and gestures culminating in a private moment that required no words.

Now I lay nestled on David’s shoulder the water tepid and clammy and the sweat on our bodies causing a chill, his arms wrapped tightly around me.  I could feel the moment beginning to slip away.  Sensing it might be the only time I would have captive audience I seized the moment.  “Is it me?” I asked quietly.  “No,” was all he said.  “Tell me,” I said, “I have to know.”  David then told me a sort of short story.  It was filled with women- all sorts of women, and himself.  Some women he knew and some he did not.  For him, it was a game.  The travel required of our business provided the perfect backdrop for mischief.  He would seduce women at the hotel bar, or golf course project or wherever.  The first time he said it was just the risk involved.  Could he get away with it?  How would it make him feel?

After that the game became more interesting.  He would bed a woman that first night and in the morning tell her he was married.  He then waited to see what the response was, which was usually anger and then indifference.  Then the challenge, he said, was to get them to sleep with him a second time.  It wasn’t about the sex, he’d said.  That part was secondary.  It was first about the risk and then further about manipulation and control of the situation, which included these women and their feelings.

I was speechless and then I did something it took me a long time to forgive myself for.  I actually considered if I might be able to stay married to this man.  ‘What if’, I thought, ‘ I could let him go to business meetings and work on projects that were far away from home and let him play his games and then return home to me and his boys and still be a family?’  The logic, I assured myself, was quite sturdy.  I would still then have my husband, my partner in the company and best of all, a father for my boys… He would have  his strange fantasy life lived out in the company of strangers and come home to a loving wife and mother, a well-kept home, a savvy business partner and a life few imagine. It was then I felt the water turn cold and the dinner sour in my stomach.  That was the last night I ever slept with my husband.

Someone asked me recently if my call to the priesthood was caused by David’s leaving.  No it was not.  Fueled by it? Most definitely.  I have an exceptionally personal relationship with my maker and always have from a very young age.  I don’t think I understood the magnificence of this until I needed Him and he was there…and just like that I remembered he always had been.

When I was about fifteen my uncle Gary killed himself.  He was a good man who had been dealt a bad hand and the sadness of his life had suffocated any chance of happiness.  I loved him very much.  He was the wild card in the group- the one who made us all laugh, who lived his life on his terms, taking his life the same way.  He was kind and free-spirited and loving and I missed him.

I was also a teenager.  My life was filled with boys and braces, ballet, my best girlfriends and little else.  It had been awhile since I had spoken to God and the distance was beginning to show.

I visited Camp Mitchell that summer, much like every other summer of my youth.  I remember asking Chris Keller (the priest assigned for my camp session) point blank if he thought Uncle Gary had gone to heaven or hell, since he had taken his own life.  He answered more than a little vaguely leaving me with the disquieting thought that indeed my uncle was not with the angels but rather languishing somewhere altogether different.

I went to bed that night uncomfortable, anxious and unhappy.  About three o’clock in the morning I woke up and snuck out of the cabin quietly to go sit on the cliffs and clear my mind and have a good cry.  It was cool in the silent hours just before morning, every star seemingly burning brighter before the sun came to extinguish them with its brightness.  There were Hoot owls and crickets and cicadas and frogs and all the wonderful symphony of nature begging a chorus.  I looked heavenward and let the tears come.

“Hello,” He said.  “You’ve been on my mind.”  “Likewise,” I said. “Tell me,” I continued.  “YOU tell me, old man, where is he? What have you done with my uncle?” I felt the wind pick up and the hairs on my arms stand on end and I felt a shiver make its way up my spine until the weight of him enveloped me.  “Hush, my girl, hush. Be still.  Be quiet.  Listen to me. Feel in your heart what I am going to say.”

“A long time ago before you were born I created a child much like you.  He was inquisitive and smart, funny, handsome, loving, kind.  He was a special boy…he was my son.  I sent him to Earth to wash clean the sins of humanity forever.  I allowed him to suffer and die so that you all, my best creation, might be able to live fully as humans; to have the freedom to screw it up and try again and live life the best you know how.  One can only hope that life will be happy and filled with fantastic moments…alas, sometimes it is not so.  But if you believe I would allow any of my children who already had such sadness in their hearts to suffer further, then you do not know me at all.” I spent the few hours before dawn there comfortable in his embrace thinking on the words he had spoken to me.

We talk a lot in my theology class about deists and free will and Plato’s cave and the watchmaker- things of that ilk.  Frankly, I talk a pretty good amount about these things in my daily life (God bless my friends). There are many folks who believe God created us and then walked away to let us do what we will having no real vested interest in the outcome.  There are those who believe he controls the big stuff but stays away from the minutiae. Then there’s me.  The girl who speaks to God and is spoken to in return whenever I ask.  It has always been this way.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday the beginning of the most holy of holies for me: Lent.  It is the penitential time when I allow myself to walk the path with Jesus starting in the wilderness and ending at Golgotha.  It is when I am asked to remember his horrible suffering and sadness and at the same time remember my conversation with Papa those many years ago.  One can only hope that life will be happy and filled with fantastic moments…alas, sometimes it is not so.  But if you believe I would allow any of my children who already had such sadness in their hearts to suffer further, then you do not know me at all.”

I think it was that conversation as a girl coming-of-age atop Petit Jean Mountain that made me understand I had to leave David, to be done with that life and create a more meaningful, substantial one from that moment on… One filled with risk, reward, love, hope, happiness, faith and so much more.  God had given me the spark so long ago and had simply waited for my soul to catch fire.

My friend Bob said God is subtle flame.  ‘Yes’, I agreed, ‘he is, but he can also be a bonfire.’  My life is mine.  That is the gift of his sacrifice.  The thing is, why would I presume to squander that?  The God I know won’t let me.  He may be a watchmaker- but in me he has put together the parts and pieces for an exquisite timepiece.

I think to myself all the times he has been with me nudging me, encouraging me, smiling with me in my triumphs and holding me in my defeats.  I think of the conversations we have had big and small, in which he has shared so very much of the nature of my existence and revealed within the meaning of my life.

Every night of the forty days as I still my mind and quiet my heart I think of his watching his firstborn son perish so that the rest of his children might live.  I am resolute- waiting for the inevitable…knowing how the story ends but knowing that the end is really just the beginning.  Knowing that God never wants me to suffer but understanding I am meant to suffer some anyway; accepting that my brokenness is okay, that in fact, it is this fractured existence that has created the space for me to become a greater vessel to do the work I am meant to do.

I don’t always know or understand fully what that looks like, but I feel it.  And if I ever for a moment doubt…it is then I hear the words that cause my heart to tighten and my lips to sing. “Hello. You’ve been on my mind.”

May this Lenten season find you waiting for him in the quiet and still of your heart and may you feel the fire of the spark that waits to be ignited.

All Together Now…

‘America is a tune.  It must be sung together.’ –Gerald Stanley Lee, Crowds

I usually steer clear of mixing political and spiritual but sometimes those lines get crossed whether I want them to or not.  Last Sunday evening I, along with several other million folks from around the globe, watched Superbowl XLVIII.  I was for the Seahawks, and since they were the only the team that apparently showed up, I (like everyone else) turned to the commercials for amusement.

I confess that I loved the Coca-Cola commercial with all the different nationalities singing ‘America the Beautiful’ in their respective languages.  The tone of it was so haunting, and the scenery at the end breathtaking.  I did not know until much later there had been a scuffle about the commercial when my friend Lisa stated she guessed a lot of people would be switching to Pepsi.  I talked later with a friend whom I consider pretty worldly and wise and was surprised to learn that even the people represented in the ad were upset too. That left me puzzled a little.

We are a nation of immigrants.  Anyone who says any differently is deluding themselves. I went straight to the source: Ellis Island, which for me is a roll call, a remembrance and a portrait of who we are and from whence we came.  I was curious as to just how many languages were spoken upon entering the island.  According to their website (www.ellisisland.org) ‘To work for the Bureau of Immigration, applicants for interpreter positions had to take a federal civil service examination that rated their speaking, reading, writing and comprehension for each language. The common languages spoken at Ellis Island included Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, German, Yiddish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Swedish, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Czech, Spanish, Armenian, Arabic, Dutch, Norwegian and Chinese.’

Those were the languages we know were spoken, how many others were there that went uncatalogued?  

I don’t use the term ‘melting pot’ too often.  It seems to have been used so much that it has become rote in its meaning.  Instead let us think of our country as a quilt.  Each nationality, religion, race, color, creed, belief, language, becoming an individual square in the whole of it; each stitch representing a person, an individual if you will, making up this infinite blanket.  The threads within this work of art woven together seamlessly, though each with its own unique attributes. It can always be added to, never taken away from and there is no end. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a stitch in said quilt.  He died Sunday much to my dismay and sadness.  He was forty-six and a brilliant actor.  Immediately the news media and people on various celebrity websites and social media were engaged in talk of how he died, not that he was dead.  There was little talk of his long-time girlfriend and three children, but plenty of talk about the heroine that polluted his veins and the fact a supposed “gay lover” just ‘happened’ to come out of the woodwork at the perfectly tragic time to capitalize on Mr. Hoffman’s death. 

I’ve never seen a movie he starred in I did not love, although I confess ‘Magnolia’ was not my favorite but his performance was dazzling.  There are many I love I could list, but I often think of him in his role as Rusty in ‘Flawless’ opposite Robert de Niro.  It is not a big movie, small in fact, but it has a whole lot of heart.  His performance as a drag queen assigned to give a retired cop who has had a stroke (De Niro) singing lessons is unforgettable and touched me in a way few movies do.  A friend of mine said yesterday he finds it tragic Mr. Hoffman will be defined by the way he died and everyone will look at his work through that filter. I tend to agree and wish that were not so…

And what about the Olympic Games coming up in Sochi?  Marilyn Vos Sant said this: ‘What is the essence of America?  Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom “to” and freedom “from.” We as Americans are afforded this right just by the soil that stretches out underneath our feet.  It is not always an easy freedom and most certainly comes with a hefty price tag for those who have come before and those who come after.  But it also means that we do not have to subject our athletes to scrutiny, hatred or possibly even danger over their sexual orientation, which is frankly, not our business and surely not the world’s.  Then I am amazed too at the participating athletes who say they will gladly go to Sochi (some openly gay) and stand up for what they believe in and show the world what being a free American means.  Bravery in no uncertain terms and strength of spirit- not just of body. 

The funny thing is, here at home we are awful to each other.  No better than those we would wave our stars and stripes in front of in a show of chest-thumping. There are hate crimes everyday and people still use the ‘n’ word in passing conversation.  We (collective ‘we’) glamorize murderers and we celebrate defeat.  Just ask Nancy Grace.  We feed on sadness and despair and we revel in ugliness and petty argument.  We would rather strike out at one another than embrace in a gesture of true kindness.  Kindness makes us uncomfortable, but anger we do with ease. I yell, you yell louder. I poke you, you push me.  You push me; I punch you…until tensions are so high that all it takes is the pluck of the imaginary dividing line for it all to go to hell.

It has been very windy here lately- and cold. It is not usually this cold in central Texas this time of year.  As a rule, we generally suffer through a couple of days of really cold weather and abide about a 60 degree winter until spring finally shows up on the calendar. I watched with interest a few days ago a vulture perched atop a telephone pole.  Black vultures are pretty prevalent.  I live in an area that is ripe with plenty of road kill from the curvy highways and byways.  I have never really thought much about these birds other than to understand they are part of the circle of life and serve a vital function like much everything else.  (Save cockroaches. Those are the devil’s work. Ewww.) I watched the bird spread its massive wings and when I passed to the other side I noticed another bird sheltered snugly at its breast, sheltered from the wind.  I was awestruck. 

I went to the friendly (albeit zany) bird lady at the resort and asked her about what I had seen.  I was amazed.  Vultures mate for life and are frequently observed showing loving (you might even say kind) gestures to their mates and their young.  That bird was sheltering his mate from the whipping icy wind in an act of care and love.  So let me see if I understand?  A vulture can engage in gentle and considerate behavior and we as the highest life form have almost totally forgotten how to be even nice to one another?  Astonishing.

You might recall that even Jesus was compassionate and benevolent to Judas his betrayer and Peter who denied knowing him not once, but three times.  Peter, upon whom Jesus had bestowed the honor of being the leader of his mission after his death.  Judas, who ate dinner with Jesus, his friend and messiah, the night he was to be taken to die. Jesus looking at Judas, perhaps tenderly touching his face before feeding his friend with love and utter devotion knowing the coming deception.  Judas sharing the meal before setting out to destroy the Son of Man for thirty pieces of silver.  What a tragic waste and yet, Jesus knowing what he knew continued to show his disciples what unconditional love means and then died so we could know too.

Jesus died for the sin of all humanity.  And the moment he did God’s grace cracked the earth and turned back the clock forever on the misdeeds of man.  How heartbreaking then that we squander this treasure with what we do and say.  How ironic we are forgiven anyway

But there is something in me that yearns to burn bright, to be free, to share the gift of this grace with kindness, goodness, generosity of spirit- love.  I long to reach out in empathy always, to break down the barriers of all that ails us- those things that keep us from being who we are meant to be.  I want to shelter whoever needs it under my wings and let them know it matters not where they came from or where they are going. 

I want to shout to the world that ‘love is all you need’ and have it echoed back to me from every corner of the earth, but perhaps loudest from our own shores.  Hell, I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company…and when I get tired and it is my time to rest, I will cover myself with that quilt in which we are all a common thread.

Goodnight Mr. Hoffman, Godspeed. 

Dust On My Saddle, Mud On My Boots

A person I like very much  said recently, “Life just beats the shit out of you sometimes.”  Indeed it does.  Of course, sometimes it is an after school showdown between two testosterone-addled boys and sometimes it is a gloves-off bloody primal battle worthy of say, Jack Dempsey or Joe Frazier. Sometimes I am just waiting for the bell so I can go back to my corner.

Life is messy.  Hopefully no one ever told you it was a golden road littered with gum-drop candies and little people singing show tunes.  Eventually even Dorothy had to go back to Kansas, but not before the fantasy Land of Oz had her chased by evil flying monkeys, scared to near death by a lunatic witch with a grudge and drugged by an innocent looking poppy field.

For the last several days, weeks in fact, I have been nursing a turned ankle and torn ligament and a doozy dose of the flu that included a bruised rib and an inner ear infection.  I missed seven days of work and if I didn’t have the greatest boss in all the land and work on a pirate ship, I’d probably have been fired or at least given a stern talking to.  Instead, I nursed myself back to what seemed acceptable health to appear in the office and rallied. I mean really, whaddyagonnado?

2013 ushered in death and sickness, murder, war, plagues, genocide, more murder, disease, financial crises, heartbreak, heartache, bitterness, hatred, divorce, denial, more death, sadness, melancholia and a collective pensiveness I’m not sure I’ve noticed before. I’ve been asked a lot about redemption and retribution and why bad things happen to good people (and vice versa).  I have listened to a good deal of talk about karma and the universe being unkind and people being punished for the past, etcetera etcetera.

Believe me when I say I have been at the bottom of the barrel.  Under the barrel.  Despair is a word I do not use lightly.  I have felt despair and the loneliness it breeds in its captive environs. So low was I at one point, I thought taking my own life might be the only way to stop the onslaught of pain…and fear…and self-loathing.  I wrote a nice neat stack of suicide  letters to my children, my sister, my parents.  All the while knowing it was cowardice but not really caring.  I was tired.

It was then I heard God actually speak to me for the first time.  We’d had encounters, he and I, but never had I felt the certainty of his voice.  That is quite another experience altogether. You will not squander what I have given you.  ‘You will scrape yourself up off the floor and you will rise… You will give me wholly your broken heart and your broken spirit and I will mend them, but not before you promise me to fight.  To always fight and dig and claw and rise…never doubting that as challenging as life may seem, I am yours for the duration of the journey and I am always with you.’

I turned a corner then.  I’d like to think I would have on my own eventually, but honestly I’m not sure.  I am sure now though.  Stop and think for a moment.  Even if you don’t believe in God, stay with me.  You were created specifically.  Designed by God (as I choose to believe) or the earth, or the universe or whatever, to be uniquely you.  There is just one you and you were created to be exactly what you were meant to be.  Now what does that mean exactly, you ponder? Well I don’t exactly have the answer, and really neither do you.  But it is up to you…

Lately I have been loving the new iPad Air commercial which uses Robin William’s character’s voice from ‘The Dead Poet’s Society’ (a favorite) quoting Walt Whitman’s ‘O Me! O Life!’:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring-What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here-that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. It’s mind-blowing really.  What we do matters.  Not just to us or those we know and love…but to life.  And we are gifted with writing our chapter of history.  What shall it be?

So here’s the thing.  Let us look at this through a different lens, a darker one perhaps, but no less illuminating.  When you find fear, soldier on.  Walk squarely into the unknown with only your spirit to guide you. See life for what it is and make it your unknown in no uncertain terms. Facing uncharted territory?  Blaze a trail. Consider it an expedition and map it so when you pass that way again you are prepared.

Get dirty.  If you feel buried, claw your way up, dig to the surface-rise.  Break your fingernails, skin your knees or your heart but live every single moment with purpose. If you are drowning, swim.  If you are too tired to swim, tread the water.  It will not take you anywhere, but you will not sink.  Use this time to figure out where it is exactly that you long to go.

Bloom where you are planted.  Grow into what you are sure of…or grow into something wild and unruly but no less beautiful.  Just grow. Run towards never away from and when absolutely so moved, skip.  It will make the journey that much more fun.  If you find yourself on the edge, climb to safety.  If you cannot do it alone, you will find more than enough hands ready and willing to assist you.  If you are unsure about the asking, jump headlong into the chasm and see where it takes you, free fall into the darkness.  Dance into the fire.  Embrace the disaster with all the life you have in you.

I am reminded of Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump at the top of the bow soaking wet, legs shot off during the war, holding the mast and howling through the hurricane at the heavens, “Is that all you got? Give me your best shot. You’ll never take me!!!’  And in the morning, when all was said and done, there was light- and there by the grace of God was Lieutenant Dan.  Just as it should be.

I can promise you three things: 1. It may be hard to see, but there is always light somewhere.  Seek and ye shall find.  2. Life does undeniably beat the shit out of you sometimes, but there is always someone in your corner.  3. Every moment is an opportunity for greatness- to look harder, to love deeper, to dig into the untold and see something in you as yet unearthed.  Make it count.  And for God’s sake, get dirty.

Learning To Fly

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

 

There is a simple reason we wish each other a “Happy” New Year.  No one wishes to start out a new calendar year wishing others a ‘year fraught with peril and disaster’. Indeed, in one of the more plain gestures of kindness, we wish others well because it is what we wish for ourselves.

2013 seems to have been the year of ‘weights and measures’ for me.  Checks and balances.  I won’t bore you with the details, needless to say I got a very thought-provoking lesson in keeping my feet on the ground and letting go of the things not meant for me. (I just mixed up a little Casey Kasem and Buddha there. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.) 

Both are difficult lessons for a woman who for most of her life has searched for meaning and love above all else.  I have dedicated my whole life to this cause in big and small ways, so to focus on actual ‘life’ was, and is, a little daunting.  Things like learning to care about credit scores and trying to save money instead of giving it away, ascertaining what I need instead of what feels right and realizing what is to be gained from schedules and timing and wearing a watch after having not done so for ten years.

Sometimes I still bristle as if wearing a monk’s hairshirt.  These are new lessons and not the kind that come easily for me.  Trying to position myself more attractively for entrance into seminary seems at times disingenuous. I am straining to fit a mold of what someone else deems I should be.  I am not saying I do not understand the merits of such conformity, nor the importance of all things financial- I do.  Believe me, I do.  But I find myself wanting to push back like a child on the playground when a virtual stranger tells me what should be most important to me in the life I lead.  Go figure.

The instruction about such things is important of course, but more importantly perhaps are the sidebars that come with the education. Several times I have had the wearisome and frustrating “pity party” of concern over whether what I do spiritually, compassionately and in kindness really matter in the lives of those I seek to touch if the bottom-line is my bottom line?

If I am never granted approval what does that mean in my life?  I have been endeavoring to answer this question the better part of three years. 

The last two New Year Eve’s have found me in Austin at Rhada Madhav Dham, the Hindu temple and ashram, engaged in a 24-hour kirtan, chanting and meditating on the divine names of God.  I have found such peace in this practice.  However, I found it difficult this year to clear my mind and listen.  I spent at least three hours simply trying to make sense of the various thoughts and ideas swirling through my mind.  Finally I was struck by something my friend Patty had written to me on my birthday:  ‘No one twirls quite like you.’ 

It was then I released my heart and mind from the disquiet of the unknown, for there is truth and beauty in setting your soul a’wandering.  My existence long has been fueled by the belief that the divine is within me. This is not always the popular party line of Christians, or Episcopalians for that matter, for it means with no uncertainty that we have the power to know God, actually know him- not of him.  It means that if we can let go of all that burdens us and travel this path with intent and knowing and love, we will know God.

What I have learned of late is that all education (even unlocking the mysteries of the universe) is a constant.  We all like to make statements about change.  Most of them stating emphatically, “I haven’t changed; I’m the same person I always was!”  I am as guilty of this as the next guy and yet, how can this possibly be true?  Well I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but it isn’t, it can’t be. 

Change is invariable and I am so thankful that it is.  What a blessing it is to wake up each day anew and decide just then who we are going to be!  We are not defined by the past, but rather it serves as the spark for the evolution of whom we are and who we are meant to be. There is something so grand in that knowledge that I find myself smiling as I type the words.

As far as blueprints go, we were given some very simple and highly “doable” instructions: “Love Me, love yourself, and love others.” Live long and prosper.  (Ok, Spock added that last one…)  What I am getting at is this:  in the evolution of who we are it becomes very clear the most basic necessity we as humans need to survive is to love and to be loved in return. 

Now, the unrestrained joy of being human and being highly evolved and evolving still, is that the landscape of what this looks like changes all the time.  (There is that word again: change.) We as individual creatures are gifted with the ability to feel, to reason, to express ourselves and we are afforded the freedom to live our lives in the way we see fit.  Absolute freedom (within the acceptable mores of a society perhaps, though who am I to judge?) to do with our lives what we wish. 

This ability is not given us but once a year when the calendar changes a number and we gather and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, it is ours every single day.  We are the authors of our own redemption.  What does that mean for me?  Ah-so.  We have come full circle.

Today it means this:  I am free to be who I am without apology, to love whomever I choose and whenever I want (so this means everyone and all the time).  I am liberated in my humanity to pursue my dreams and dream bigger dreams still.  My heart (and my head) affords me the luxury to fall in and perhaps, out of love.  I may grow angry, submit to fear or grief and long for things better left alone.  I might experience sadness or loneliness or both. I shall play and write and sing for joy at my good fortune.  I will breathe.  And laugh.  And learn. I will pick dandelions and blow the soft seeds into the wind and make a wish, simply because I can. 

I am free to forge ahead with my life or to stand still and enjoy the safety that provides. Today I make my peace with what things may come and I will welcome the future no matter what it holds in its back pocket for me. I will listen and I will hear.  I will be unabashedly kind and compassionate- for we are all always in need of those two things and somehow they always seem in short supply. But mostly I will feel, because again, that is what we are made to do. 

We have been created to receive this life, to embrace it- this means every bit of it. To borrow from Mr. Thoreau, we are charged  ‘To live deliberately…to suck out all the marrow of life…’ I intend to do so with reckless abandon and ridiculous bliss , so that when I come to that great precipice and I veer over the edge there is no remorse for things left undone or unsaid.  I will have known them all and it is then I will close my eyes and fly.

Happy New Day, my dears.  Happy New Day.

It Came Without Ribbons, It Came Without Tags

I was having a discussion with a woman today who happened to be on a bit of a tirade about her family and Christmas.  “I finally said,” her voice rising to a fever pitch, “it’s not about what he needs…it’s about what he WANTS, it’s (insert expletive here) Christmas!”  I felt the color drain from my face and it took all the fortitude I had not to say anything…and I didn’t.  Not one word

Advent is always a strange time for me.   For one, I don’t really believe that Jesus was born on December 25th or even in December for that matter.  Oddly, scientists and religious scholars seem to agree that date is probably due much more to the pagan festivals celebrated that time of year  (The Cult of Mithras celebrated the birth of their infant god of light on the very same day) than his actual birth, and the Bible is ambiguous at best about most dates and times (go figure).  I also find all the in-your-face advertising and selling and various prostituting of Saint Nicholas, the elves, the reindeer, the Christ child, Mary, the angels, hell even the stable animals- well, disenchanting. 

The noise of the month before we celebrate Christ’s birth is deafening.  The pace is maddening.  There are parties to attend and clothes to purchase to make sure you look good for all the people who will be in attendance at the parties, there are gifts to buy and budgets to consider, though most are stretched beyond a shoestring.  There is family to figure out (who can get along with whom and for how long) and peace to keep and food to eat.  Presents must be wrapped and stockings hung, Christmas cards mailed and reindeer ears put on the dog for our own amusement.  We must decorate our homes inside and out  with lights: some white and glistening some that are so bright they seem to shout at you as you pass them,”Whaddayoulookinat?”  There are tacky Christmas sweaters and plastic nativities and inappropriate songs and carols to celebrate the season.

Not to mention the memories of Christmases past when I had a husband I thought loved and adored me (perhaps he did once), beautiful and bright children and all the treasures being loved held that were celebrated each Christmas as if for the first time.  Those recollections fester and gather right in the very middle of my heart, their remembrances like fingers extend and grasp it so tightly that I can barely breathe. Then there is the time when the boys leave to visit with their father shortly after Christmas- a time when I simultaneously miss them like mad and breathe a sigh of relief that I finally have some much needed silence in my home. 

This December unexpectedly finds me grieving the loss of people I love. There are the last performances of my play- which also involves striking the set and two cast parties.  In addition, there are basketball games and tournaments, sick children to care for and packing to do.  There are also menus to plan and plans to make with friends from afar for the short time I will be home.

I managed to squeeze in lunch Friday with my friend Sally.  As I am reciting to her my schedule of events she laughed and looked at me, “I bet you are feeling a little stressed,” she said.  “I know how much you like your bed.”  Amen sister.  I am frazzled, fatigued and frankly not in a very good mood.

The boys have taken to calling me the Christmas Krampus.  (Jack likes the term ‘Christmas Martyr’ better, FYI.)  For those of you who are not familiar with the Krampus, let me elaborate.   Krampus is Saint Nicholas’s outcast evil brother.  He is usually viewed as a hideous devil ‘with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them in baskets to a fiery place below.’  Or eating them.  Depends on which story you are enjoying.  Good stuff, right?

Before you all bombard me with hate mail or sympathy, it’s not that I don’t like Christmas!  There are plenty of Christmases I remember that were so filled with the spirit that I carry them with me still.  I recollect as a child holidays white with snow, it seemed to blanket everything and yet, there was no chill with the weather.  The streets seemed lit only with light from luminaria (the “real” kind made from paper bags and real votive candles) that lined every inch of the street. 

The day after Thanksgiving was reserved for years with the cherished task of my father and me hanging every inch of the outline of my childhood home with white lights.  (Keep in mind my little fits of OCD and realize what an absolute pain in the ass it must have been for Daddy to have to get every strand to the exact corner with no lapses or wire showing. Ouch.)

I remember Christmas gatherings at the Finks where the conversation amongst the adults was lively and filled with laughter and the kids ran will-nilly through the house (at least we little kids did… I’m sure the older kids were off doing something much cooler).  We always happily left with a Mason jar full of Ms. Emily’s most delicious marinated shrimp and hearts full of good cheer.  We would make our way to midnight church which began with beloved carols and ended with the church bathed only in candlelight with a spotlight on the nativity, the congregation singing ‘Silent Night’ as the Christ child was finally placed in the long empty manger. 

Once home, we would put out cookies and ice cold milk and make sure the fire was completely out for Santa’s certain visit down the chimney later as we slept. I would sleepily climb the steps to my room and once in my pajamas, I would raise the window wide and watch my breath as I conversed with God and told him ‘thank you’ for the magic of Christmas and I listened for sleigh bells before falling fast asleep.

The thing is: I think we’ve forgotten why we celebrate at all.  I’m not the first person to suggest this- this theme has been around probably since someone decided that December 25th would be a good time to celebrate Christ’s birthday and then decided we should remember him with gifts.  I don’t mind gifts, I am a woman after all…but perhaps the gifts I wish for this Christmas are a little different than the kind that come wrapped in pretty paper and designer ribbon.  Perhaps the presents I wish for and indeed want to give, need no wrapping at all. 

I wish for those who mourn, comfort and rest and freedom from sorrow. I long for them the gift of God’s grace and peace which passes all understanding and the healing that allows remembrance without sadness or despair.  I wish for the lonely, companionship.  My hope for them: the gift of hearts full of love and happiness at renewed relationships or the possibility of new friendships. 

I wish for those who hurt the smile of a caring stranger and the warmth of an outstretched hand.  I wish for those who struggle with whom they are and who they are meant to be, the gift of acceptance and tolerance.  I wish for them the certainty of knowing they are loved no matter who or how they love. I wish for those with low sentiments about themselves the gift of seeing themselves as others do: stunning, engaging souls who make this world we call home a better and more beautiful place. 

I wish for those without a home, shelter and the knowledge that the whole Earth is our home, all of us.  I wish for them  the gifts of warmth for their bodies and food for their bellies- not just for Christmas but for always.  I wish for them to know they are valued and understood and while disenfranchised, they are still respected members of humanity.

I wish for young women and men to look in the mirror and love who they see staring back at them.  I wish for them the gift of understanding surface beauty may in fact, only be skin deep but the splendor of a person does indeed come from the way their soul is painted and nothing else.  I wish them confidence in knowing and trusting who they are.  (I wish this for grown-ups too.)

I wish those who find themselves in turmoil, savage war, unrest and uncertainty- peace and safety, swathed in the protection of angels and guarded with the fierce prospect of hope.

I wish for us all this Christmas the gifts of human kindness and harmony.  My hope?  We, who were created in the image of a divine and loving father, will perhaps find some still quiet hours of contemplation to experience true joy, to feel the depth of how we are loved and to get out of our own way and pierce the veil of fear and share the knowledge of what that feels like with the entire world.  It is meant to be shared and sharing really is easy once you pass it on.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 

What if..?

 

 

 

 

Still Crazy After All These Years

Last night I had the strangest dream… (Some of the best sentences start this way.) Paul Simon was sitting in an old sailboat on the sandy bank of a very still ocean playing his guitar and singing to me: Thinking back to the season before, looking back through the cracks in the door. Two people were married, the act was outrageous. The bride was contagious. She burned like a bride. These events may have had some effect on the man with the girl by his side, the arc of a love affair. His hands rolling down her hair, Love like lightning shaking till it moans… Hearts and bones, Hearts and bones Hearts and bones…’  There were whales in the distance and fireflies lighting up the sky.  It was a grey day with soft pink and blue undertones. Moisture hung in the air like a wet blanket, but in the dream I was warm and dry. I was barefoot, wearing this sort-of ethereal white gauzy cotton gown and a single braid cascading down my back. Why won’t you love me for who I am, where I am? He said, ‘cause that’s not the way the world is baby, this is how I love you, baby. This is how I love you, baby’. One and one-half wandering Jews, returned to their natural coasts. To resume old acquaintances, step out occasionally and speculate who had been damaged the most. Easy time will determine if these consolations will be their reward. The arc of a love affair, waiting to be restored. You take two bodies and you twirl them into one. Their hearts and their bones and they won’t come undone. Hearts and bones, hearts and bones, hearts and bones.’

The song is ‘Hearts and Bones’– a favorite.  When he was finished singing, he set his guitar down and held my gaze with a look that held all the knowledge the world ever knew- and then I woke up. Paul Simon showing up in my REM sleep is not a big surprise.  I bought his Songwriter CD years ago and it has been in heavy rotation ever since.  I have always loved his music.  As a child I remember singing along to old Simon & Garfunkel played on my parent’s Dolby turntable and graduating later to the singular Paul Simon tunes like ‘Slip Sliding Away’.  I recall with great affection an evening before the beginning of my freshman year of college spent helping my beau Clint move into his new home he would share with three roommates.  It was just the two of us and an unseasonably cool Arkansas evening.  We had all the windows flung open wide allowing the breezes to waft through the house.  The first order of business was to hook up the stereo and soon Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park filled the empty spaces as we danced in the moonlight.  I won’t bore you with the details but needless to say, we didn’t get much unpacking accomplished after that.  Sometimes romance trumps everything else.  Thank you, Mr. Simon!

Later in life when David left, I listened to ‘Negotiations and Love Songs’ until the CD could or would not play anymore.  ‘Train in the Distance’ becoming so much more than a song, but a study in sadness and forgiveness: ‘Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true. Two disappointed believers, two people playing the game. Negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same…Now the man and the woman remain in contact; let us say it’s for the child, with disagreements about the meaning of a marriage contract.  Conversations hard and wild. But from time to time, he makes her laugh…she cooks a meal or two. Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true. What is the point of this story? What information pertains? The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.’ I must have played ‘Something So Right’ a thousand times- each time finding its mark and leaving me a little wiser than the time prior.  ‘They’ve got a wall in China it’s a thousand miles long…To keep out the foreigners they made it strong. And I’ve got a wall around me you can’t even see. It took a little time to get next to me…  His words allowing me that cathartic and cataclysmic moment of realization that I was as much to blame for the end of my marriage as any affair or any guilt I could heap on David.

Mr. Simon is one of the great musicians I will see in my lifetime.  His abilities are unlimited and exceptional to be sure, but I find it is the words he writes that make my heart weep and smile and start my brain to thinking bigger thoughts and dreaming bigger dreams.

So there he sat…waiting on me.  But for what?

I have spent my entire life saying what is on my mind.  “Precocious” a friend called me the other day.  I had never considered it really, other than being a known source of amusement for the grown-ups when I was a child and mild annoyance to my sister upon telling her things she’d rather I keep to myself (this one is still applicable).  I found it very difficult early on to suppress what I felt needed saying; in fact, I still do.  Writing is an integral part of this language I speak.  Moreover, at times I feel much more comfortable sharing what is written across my heart with my pen (or keyboard) rather than my voice.  Words come easily to fill the crevices when given time to think on the precise and perfect ones.

Still, where loved ones are concerned I am no shrinking violet.  I am learning however in my ‘older’ age, the delicate art of subtlety.  When faced with a situation last week in which my emotions were right on the surface and I felt the compulsion to share exactly what I was feeling, I quietly refrained.  More likely than not in truth, this person had already considered what I was going to say…and it would not have helped- and would have been mighty selfish for me to share.

Today is the opening gala for my play.  It feels like eons ago that I auditioned for and won the role of Florence in The Curious Savage. The play is set in the 1950’s and tells the story of a woman, Ethel Savage, whose husband dies and leaves her $10 million dollars.  She decides to give the bulk of the estate away to people who have never had their dreams realized and her step-children have her committed in a play to gain control of the money.  I play one of five residents at ‘The Cloisters’ where Mrs. Savage is a guest.  Florence’s son died tragically when he was 5 months old and Florence never recovered.  She still accepts her son is alive and has aged five years; she carries around a Raggedy Andy doll and believes this is her son, John Thomas.

Each resident has their own albatross round their neck and each manages to navigate their fragile lives with grace and beauty and heart and soul.  The tenants of The Cloisters are the best kind of family: honest, loving, kind, consoling, forgiving and humorous.  The genius of the play is found hidden in the contrast between the residents of the insane asylum and the horribly awful step-children who have had their mother committed.  Whose version of “crazy” actually rings more true?

I have marinated on these things heavily during the time spent in-between rehearsals.  Why is it we are always so certain our way is the ‘right’ way’? Or that there can be no solution other than the one we deem the best course of action? For all my protestations about faith, hope and love I am most assuredly guilty of these things.  I like to tie not only my life, but my friends and loved one’s lives as well, up in neat little bundles of bliss whenever I can.  No matter that I search and strive for the happy ending- I am still culpable of trying to make my existence and others’ fit a definition of what I consider meaningful. Unfortunately sometimes life has other plans.

Sometimes one must know the pain of death to appreciate wholly what it means to be truly alive.  There are times when one must experience the closing and locking of one door before flinging fully open another.  There are moments of unrecognizable sadness when asked to let go of things not meant for us.  (I struggle with this one daily it seems.) There are moments we are asked to gaze head-on into the unknown and call upon strength we were unaware we possessed; flashes when we must let go of what we think we know and fall into the abyss of what we do not.

I think this is why Paul Simon speaks so passionately to me.  Try as I might, sometimes I cannot find the right words.  They never come, or perhaps they do but not in the way I expected.  The lesson being: what I feel and want to share is not always needed at that moment and learning the difference in what is required and what is longed for is an invaluable compass to possess.

I went home for lunch, on the drive, ‘Graceland’ blaring through the speakers: And I see losing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you’re blown apart- everybody feels the wind blow. In Graceland, in Graceland… I’m going to Graceland. For reasons I cannot explain, some part of me wants to see Graceland. And I may be advised to defend every love, every ending. Or maybe there’s no obligations now. Maybe I’ve a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.’

I lay down and closed my eyes for a hopeful forty winks. There sat Paul.  “What is it?” I inquired.  He looked hard at me for a moment.  “You know ‘Graceland’ is a metaphor, right?”  “For what?” I asked.  “For whatever you need it to be.”

Today it is a metaphor for my life- all that is contained herein.  Those things which are shared and those which wait for the perfect words… There is plenty of time for both, just ask Mr. Simon.

In My Life (43 and I Feel Fine.)

Today is Thanksgiving.  As it also happens every so often, it is my birthday, my 43rd to be exact. I feel like my blog posts have been very introspective lately and a bit heavy… So in an effort to lighten things up, I have decided to list 43 things you may or may not know about me.  They are in no particular order and are completely random.  Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

1. I have a beautiful bonsai money tree sitting on my desk.  It is supposed to bring you good fortune (of the monetary type) and while I have not had a windfall yet, the happiness I get just from looking at it is fortune enough.

2. I raised a baby skunk (called a kit) from almost birth till he was one year old. We named him Poquito and we would probably have him still if the vet
hadn’t told us he would eventually spray in the house.  Here’s the thing: skunks will only spray when frightened.  He was never frightened, but we had a Great Pyrenees and a Great Dane in the house at the time and Dr. Jung made a very good point about those two pups rounding the corner one day and ‘surprising’ the little fellow and *poof* Pepe Le Pew.  (We took him to a wildlife preserve where I assume he lives still with a little family of his own and on Sunday evenings they join the muskrats for a picnic supper in the meadow.)

3. The song ‘With One More Look at You/ Watch Closely Now’ from the remake of the movie A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson is one of my favorite songs ever.  It is near perfection. In fact, I love the movie.

4. Samoas are the best Girl Scout cookies.  Period.

5. I wear my black yoga pants entirely too much.

6. When I was about five I had a horrible bicycle wreck.  I stole my sister’s ten-speed and decided to meet my mom at the Riley’s house, which involved two hills- one very steep, and I had no idea how to use the brakes.  There was this moment of indescribable freedom as I soared on the bike with the wind rushing past my face and then the inevitable terror when I saw what was going to happen.  I have never been on a bike since.

7. Jeff Van Herpen was my first boyfriend.  He gave me a stuffed puppy on Valentine’s Day that said ‘Hug Me’ on it.  I have loved him ever since.

8. My parent’s HVAC repairman is name Hon (pronounced “one”) Hung Lo.  You can’t make this stuff up.

9. I am afraid of birds.  Not all birds mind you (I like Finches and other small birds), but I am afraid of most birds.  I believe it stems from a combination of reading Poe’s “The Raven” as a child and then watching with rapt terror the winged menaces take over New England in Hitchcock’s The Birds.  I make no apologies.  Emus are especially frightening.

10. I love getting tan in the summer.  I know, I know, I am not supposed to worship the sun gods anymore.  There is just something really great about spending a day in the sun at the pool with a good book, great friends, my boys and a few cold beverages.  Sue me.  I DO wear more sunscreen than I ever used to, however. I tan to about the color of a walnut anyway.

11. When I was in South Dakota I was witness to the birth of a white buffalo. Among the Sioux this is a very rare and spiritual gift.  An elder of the Lakota was explaining this when he took my hand and said, “you are an old soul and one who walks with white buffalo.”  The rest of my time spent there I was known as ‘Walks With White Buffalo’ among their people.  Not a bad moniker at all.

12. The other moniker I have been saddled with all my life is ‘Toad’.  My father began calling me this at a very young age and it stuck.  Only a select few use it now for fear of flogging.

13. Along that same vein, I desperately wanted to change my name to Ashlene around the age of seven.  I have no reason why.  Thank God my mother put her foot down.

14. When I was about ten I read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  I guess even as a child I was obsessed with words.

15. I love spicy food.  The spicier the better.  In fact, a few months ago I took a burger challenge at a little diner in Buchanan Dam.  I had to sign a waiver before I could eat the burger.  It had Ghost peppers,  Habanero peppers and Trinidad Scorpion peppers chopped atop it. (FYI, a Trinidad Scorpion pepper is one rung below what is used for pepper spray.)  The burger was delicious, although I confess I could only eat half and that my lips and around my mouth swelled and turned almost purple upon eating it.

16. I love Neil Diamond. I figure there are two groups of people:  those who love Neil Diamond and those who do not.  I am squarely in the former.  I mean, can you really listen to ‘I Am…I Said’ without feeling what he’s saying to you?  I think not.

17.  Will Ferrell may be the comedic genius of our time.  He is at times bombastic and lurid and I cannot get enough.

18.  I did not have a bank account until this year.  I am still a little uneasy about giving in to “the man”, but so far so good.

19. I love my room.  Everything it holds some sort of significant meaning to me. It is my safe haven and quite literally my favorite place.  There is neither TV nor any other worldly distractions (other than three giant teenage boys). My bed is laden with feather bed upon feather bed of which the softest sheets adorn and fluffy down comforters lay cozily across the top.  There are pillows of all sizes, shapes and varying degrees of softness, always plumped with soft cases.All of which I sink into and nest down in whenever I steal the chance.

20. I do not like The Three Stooges.

21. I also never cared for Sylvester and Tweety or Tom and Jerry.  Cats may be a lot of things, but they are not that stupid.  Just ask Phinnaeus.

22. I kill plants.  It’s not on purpose of course… I just seem to have been given a black thumb.  I keep trying though and at present I have a lovely garden filled with lavender and sweet basil and thyme and sage that seem to be resistant to my torture.

23. When I was little we had a massive snow storm in the Fort.  We built a whale igloo (complete with blue food coloring for the whale to look ‘authentic’) with Sam and Eliza Harper. It took us three days and made the front page of the paper!

24. Jackson Browne’s acoustic concert was the best show I have ever seen. Just a guy and about ten guitars.  He was amazing. I sat in the concierge section and a very nice cocktail server brought me drinks when I ran low.  Heaven.

25. Every Sunday before church I crank up the Black Crowe’s ‘Soul Singing’ and sing along as loud as the spirit moves me.  Sometimes I think I get more out of it than church itself. God understands.  He likes the Crowes.

26. I learned a whole lot about life and human kindness just by watching Andy Griffith.  Laugh if you must, but I dare you to watch the episode about Opie’s job or the bird with the broken wing and not come away a little wiser and better, frankly.

27. I love real Coke.  Especially Mexican Coca-Cola which is made with real cane sugar.  I’m pretty sure they must still put cocaine in there, because I am definitely addicted.

28.  I love to camp, but only if someone else pitches the tent.  And if you’re going to hike, I’ll follow along for awhile and then head back on my own to sit by the lake and write or nap or swim.

28. I suck at mathematics.  I mean I truly suck.  It frustrates me beyond belief that I cannot do math, even the simple stuff.  I look at the page and it may as well be hieroglyphics.  In fact, those probably make more sense to me.

29. Peonies are my favorite flower when I am feeling sensual and romantic.  Sunflowers are my favorite when I’m just being me.

30. I wish I was more diabolical.

31. When I was very small I used to wake up late at night and raise my window and listen for the trains in the distance.  When I would hear their whistle blow it prompted dreams of faraway places and what might be possible.  I never knew where that train would end up and I still wonder about the possibilties.

32. When I was in junior high I made a little table in my Woodworking class. I was so proud of that table. To my mother’s horror I put it beside my bed, but Mom never said a word.  Gracious lady. I’m pretty sure it was terrible, but I crafted it with my own two hands and it was beautiful to me.

33. I am a big fan of The FEED Project. The FEED Projects’ mission is to create good products that help feed the world. They do this by selling various accessories, etc., each with a set donation built in to the cost. Then the impact of each purchase is stenciled on to the garment, satchel, or other product so that the help you provide becomes real and tangible to the you.  I have supported this effort for a since its inception in 2006.  As a result, I have provided hot meals and AIDS medications for children all over the world (including the States) and I have some gorgeous handmade bags that I cherish to show for it! Win-Win.  Check them out at http://www.feedprojects.com.

34. I am a good kisser.  Well, at least I think I am.  I’ve never had any complaints.  Legend in my own mind, right?

35. I think the Chinese Christmas dinner scene in A Christmas Story is one of the funniest on film. Irreverent and classic.  I tried to buy a leg lamp last Christmas but Walgreen’s sold out before I could snag one.

36.  My boys each get only present from me at Christmas.  It is not about the volume of gifts, but more to me about if they are meaningful and representative of why we give gifts at all at this time of year.

37. Not that I do…but I can drink like a sailor and cuss like one too.  Maybe in a past life I was Captain Bligh.

38. I am a little OCD. (Quit laughing, Auntie Sloane.) It used to be a good deal worse. For example: when I was a young girl, we could not leave the house for church until my knee socks exactly matched in length.  Since this is a bit of impossibility, we were often late to church causing my mother to want to throttle me.  Now I contain my compulsion to home things- drawers and closets and the like.  I still cannot sleep if there are dishes in the sink.

39. I really want to fly like a bird (ironic, right?)and I am fairly certain as soon as Alec turns 18 I will head directly to the skydiving place and jump out of a plane.

40. When we lived in New Hampshire we had the ocean in the front of the house and a salt marsh out back.  It was breathtaking.  I had an old-fashioned clothesline out back and I used clothes pins to hang all our clothes dry.  It was so still and quiet with the soft breeze and the whisper of the reeds. Not only did the laundry always smell otherworldly but it took me to a place of solitude and was a welcome respite.

41. It is my dream to someday live in a tree house, or an old barn that has been converted; or perhaps when the boys have all gone, to simply pack my things and move to St. John or St. Lucia and find a little cottage and fritter my life away writing in the sun and the cool shade of evening.

42. My very favorite fruit is watermelon.  Is there anything better than ice-cold watermelon on a hot summer evening?  Nope.  Peaches run a close second, but only because they make such delicious homemade ice cream.

43.  I think the five words ‘you’ve been on my mind’ are some of the most profound and provocative in the English (or any other) language.

A Kaleidoscope of Life, Love and Learning Both

‘I have hope…
Inside is not a heart
But a kaleidoscope.’ -Sara Bareilles

Yesterday one of the boys’ friends asked me what love was.  “Why are you asking me?” I asked him.  I was seriously taken aback.  “Why wouldn’t I ask you, you love everybody!” That’s probably not entirely true…but I try.  “Ok,” I said.  “I’ll give you that, but I don’t think we are talking about that kind of love, are we?”

My track record for romantic love is less than stellar.  I remind him of this and the fact I am still single at almost 43 years of age.  “I don’t care. I know you know.  Tell me.  I have to know.”  There is urgency there and I feel his pain. He is sixteen.  At sixteen little is more important than figuring out how to identify and experience love. 

I have a very simple theory about knowing you are in love.  I ask him this: “Is she the first thing you think of upon waking and is she the last thing you think of when you close your eyes to sleep at night?”  “I can barely think of anything else,” he tells me.  I feel my expression soften and a smile creep across my face. 

I ask him the important questions.  What does he find attractive about her? What is his favorite feature of hers?  Her favorite song?  Holiday? Can they carry on a conversation with no awkward gaps and by the same token sit with one another without having to say anything at all? Do they talk for hours about anything and nothing? Does she make him laugh? Is she a good kisser?  Is he?  (I know, I know, I am a parent…but kissing is important!)

I remember feeling that way.  I am still able to summon that same emotion without much prodding at all in the simple remembrance of love long since lost or faded- those moments in my life when I loved so completely, so perfectly, so deeply.  Those memories are quietly catalogued and kept in the silent recesses of my heart brought forth only for special occasions.  It is a little like using the fine China- yes, you can use it every day but you run the risk of it chipping, cracking and the added  wear over time that leaves it without its former luster.

In a conversation with a dear friend last Saturday night the question was asked, “If you could have that one moment you missed in your life right now, today, what would the outcome be? It would be different, right?  Not what you expected or imagined.  Too much time has passed, right?” (I’m paraphrasing.  He worded it much better and used an example from a John Hughes film which gained him all sorts of imaginary brownie points.)

I thought about that into the next morning and afternoon.  I don’t have the answer.  Part of me says he’s right, you cannot revisit the past, and that this is why the memories are so meaningful- because the dreams they hold will never be realized.  The other part of me, the one who believes in impossible things, thinks that is not necessarily so.  Mine is not to reason why, it is simply what is.  There are a select few who hold a sacred space in my heart, a kaleidoscope of those I have loved who have loved me too; each bringing a splendor and singleness never to be erased by time or situation.  What would happen if every encumbrance was removed and the forces of destiny were allowed to collide at will even if only for a moment? I honestly don’t know. 

 I do know that there are certain moments in my present life when I feel the fingers of the past wrap me in an unexpected embrace.  Anything can trigger these surprising flashes: the smell of mimosa blooms sailing through the breeze, a perfect crimson and aquamarine sunset when the air is just beginning to chill, or the flush of my skin after a day spent too long in the summer sun.  There are also the phrases or songs, a letter, books and movies that arouse my mind and set my soul free to wander where it will.

I am not a big photo taker, in fact, I tend to believe a little of your soul is taken with every picture.  For me, to remember the things I am able with such clarity is better than any memory a 4×6 copy could capture.  That said I find looking upon old photos sometimes makes me lose my legs and catch my breath.  To see the twinkle in someone’s eye and see their smile and know the purpose behind it…well there is little better than that.

So where am I going with this? Hmmm. Next Thursday is my 43rd birthday.  I have been single for 8 years now, and besides the brief interludes of love in my life I have never had any sort of lasting serendipity with love.  David was my longest run and at ten years that isn’t saying much.

The divorce from David was not a mistake, the marriage perhaps was.  We were not meant for one another- probably not even for a little while. I no longer feel remorse.  I do at times feel sadness for the ending.  They’re never very good are they?  Looking back on it, I believe I tentatively fell in love with David hoping he would one day be able to love me for who I was instead of wanting me to be someone else. In fairness, he fell in love with me dreaming I would eventually be what he needed.  We both drank the Kool-Aid.  Love should never ask you to be anything other than who you are.

Last Sunday as I was still contemplating the question asked the night before, I posed the question of ‘soul mates’ to a couple of very happily (and long) married friends.  One answered with a definitive ‘absolutely’.  She believes her husband is the one perfect person meant for her in the universe.  My other friend said ‘no’.  She loves her husband with all her heart and they are extremely happy together but she does not feel the depth a connection of the ‘soul’ would insist on. 

They inquired what I believed about love.  “How many hours have you got?”  We gave it a good run discussing the topic.  I honestly am not sure if I really know anything at all about love…and what I believe?  Well now, that is a very, very fluid thing.  I used to know.  I used to believe with every fiber of my being that we were each meant for only one person. 

That somewhere out there was the one other human whose design matched my own.  Not the same, mind you…but two halves making a whole.  The person who would ‘get me’ and finish my sentences and anticipate my needs and desires.  The man who would laugh at my jokes and think I was quirky and brilliant and beautiful.  Someone who would send me hand-written letters and flowers for no good reason.  Importantly, someone whose intellect and reasoning would allow us to have infinite debates about life and love and the universe and never tire of the discussions.   Imaginably, hopefully, extraordinarily someone whom I would make deliriously happy till death does us part.  And the passion?  Well that would be perhaps the most significant part of the connectedness of ‘us’ that would make every star align in our path and forever light the way. It makes me so contented just to think on it. 

And then suddenly I am pinched back to the subtle sting of reality.  Life moves at a clipped pace no matter how I try to slow it down, the past is no exception.  Sometimes I feel like I am on the outside looking in at something I will perhaps never know.  Last night I had a dream I wrote a poem while slumbering and when I woke up this morning I remembered every word: 

If Cupid shot me with his bow

Where he aimed I cannot know

In fact, I think it went astray

As if the Fates went out to play.

I stand behind the sliding doors

Looking out and in, at so much- no more.

What if I already had my chance at destiny and I let it slip away?  What if I have been so certain of a soul mate I have missed opportunities perhaps meant for me?  I may never have the answer and I may never know.  There is a fair degree of woe in that.

The contrasting side is that maybe we are not all meant for one person.  Maybe we are meant to take the gifts offered and accepted by each love we are fortunate enough to know.  Perhaps each presented as a tattoo on our hearts- sometimes scarring and painful, sometimes exquisite and poignant but always, always perfect in its own way.

The love I experience as a woman of spirituality is much broader than any worldly affection.  That kind of love knows no boundaries of mind, space or time.  The hindrances of our lives melt away like crayons under a hot iron.  There is no separation of color only a rainbow of peace and unadulterated joy.  There is no male, female, no old or young.  There is no rich or poor, no right or wrong…there is only love.  Love whose language is unconditional and kind, strong and wise and filled with a truth beyond what we can fathom. 

Sometimes when I feel God speak to me and move through me I need nothing of this world so much as a smile from a stranger to know I am loved and looked upon with grace and favor.  But sometimes at night when the moon is full and the wind is soft and low and the cicadas are singing, I glance upwards at the heavens and wonder about love and if there is someone somewhere looking up at the same moon and wondering the same.  I wonder if anyone will ever truly accept my heart and hold it tight with the care it deserves.  I wonder when my ashes are scattered to the wind if someone somewhere will whisper my name and miss me. I am after all, only human.

I told my son’s friend he was most assuredly in love.  I told him to savor every moment because while it might not last, it was something he would recollect with great beauty the rest of his life. 

I’m not sure he understood the message, but I sure did. 

 

 

Campground

I have really been trying to complicate things lately.   I don’t like the word ‘complication’ in any of its various forms. It is a man-made confection I choose not to indulge in.  “Life” is not complicated unless we actively choose to make it so.  So instead, I have lived a deliberate life while actively engaging […]

It Takes a Long Time To Grow An Old Friend

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.  John Leonard said that. 

I have been thinking about my best friend Brett solidly for the last month.  One, because I missed his birthday (I apologize again, man) and two, because he really is in fact, my very best friend. 

Brett and I have known each other since a (much) failed first date in the ninth grade.  He went to Ramsey, I went to Chaffin and for those of you unaware, that is a rivalry right up there with the Red River Shootout or say, the Hogs versus the Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl back in the day.  Back when we were kids, the junior high schools were 7th-9th grade and so it was the year before we would move up to high school where we would all merge and go to school together. 

My boyfriend Kevin had moved away that year but not before the “Who’s Who” awards had crowned us “Cutest Couple”.  Those were the days…  Brett had called in the last weeks before school was out for summer and asked me to a party.  He seemed sweet enough and he and Shannon Wright were the stars of the Ramsey football team, so to be asked on a date by either of them was quite a coup.  He relayed the plans to me: his sister Lisa would drive us and he would pick me up about 6:30p.m.

I spent a fair amount of time in front of the mirror that night and as it was the 80’s, I can only imagine there was a good deal of teasing my hair, hairspray and lip gloss involved. 6:30 rolled around, then 7:00…7:30…then at about 8:05 they came barreling down my street, stopping out front.  At this point, I really didn’t want to go.  I was over it.  However, said hair-teasing and lip gloss were done and I wasn’t about to let that go to waste. 

I hopped in the car and we sat in awkward silence as Lisa chauffeured us to our destination.  There was the occasional nervous chatter, but I could tell Lisa was mad about having to take us and I could tell Brett was mad at Lisa for picking me up so late. 

When we arrived at the party, everyone greeted Brett with the appropriate ‘hero’s welcome’ the star football player always gets and I was greeted with mostly icy stares from the Ramsey girls. “Why is she here…and why is she with Brett?” I knew these people but really only by reputation and friends of friends.  “Why am I here?” I thought.  I could have been at Christy’s lip-synching my way through her parent’s entire album collection (but that is a story for another time). We spent the allotted amount of time at the party and then Lisa picked us up and took me home.  There was no second date.

Late summer, as Brett and I had both been elected to the sophomore Student Council, we met again at work days at the high school.  We arrived early in the morning and basically for the entire day did whatever was asked of us by Ms. Sue Watts, our teacher representative.  Those days were the beginning of some of the best memories of my life.  Brett, Phillip Conley and I seemed to always be grouped together and we immediately and inexplicably formed an impenetrable bond that has lasted to this day.

Brett and I became inseparable.  We never seemed to have any of the same classes or lunch schedules, but we would pass in the hall and share a private phrase or a joke bringing a little relief to our days.  Many evenings after football practice, I’d already be waiting at his house for a visit when he arrived home.  His mom Judy and I ensconced comfortably around the kitchen table talking about life and love and any number of things.  Fridays before home games sometimes we would head to Eunice’s for a carb-load meal for Brett before the big game that night.

We had a bad habit of ducking out of parties and taking long drives with all the windows down and the sunroof open just us two.  We have always enjoyed the same music and it was always blaring.  Sometimes we’d light somewhere and look at the stars.  Sometimes we’d just drive not saying a word for miles.  We would talk about our relationships, our friends; our families and whatever needed saying.  Nothing was off-limits.  Nothing still is.

We graduated in 1989.  Brett went off to play football in Louisiana and I went off to a liberal women’s college to find myself.   A lot goes on in the space you are given to feel freedom.  He and I navigated it best we could and eventually grew apart.  Neither of us was at fault, it was just that life got in the way.  Some of it was good, some of it was tragic and some of it was comical, but all of it made us who we are as we went into the wild. 

Brett moved to Nashville sometime in the story to play the guitar and sing.  Everyone in Nashville dreams of the sidewalk moment when that perfect person hears your soul in your music and passes your name along to a great producer and then the rest is history…  Brett gave that a pretty good run before heading back home to the comfort of friends and family, white Arkansas winters and fishing for keeps in her clear, cool waters.  Brett plays for me sometimes and I can tell you, he could most definitely have filled a stadium.  That scruffy beard, those piercing eyes with the guitar slung low as he sings in that slightly gravelly voice so filled with meaning- he is old country and bluegrass and gospel choir all in one sitting.  I am always so awed by him and so thankful I get to hear it.

We reconnected several years ago, Facebook providing us with the current contact information we needed to get back in touch.  (Thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg.)  It was as seamless as anything has ever been.  We met for cocktails and talked through the night and well into the morning.  We are both extremely busy: full-time jobs, full-time single parents and all that goes with each of those.  Our phone calls have dwindled in frequency lately (totally MY fault) but the ones we are able to share are filled with truth and beauty and honesty and I am so thankful for them…and him. We visit when we can and in those moments we can cram so much conversation in a span of minutes that the earth stops to take a breath.  There are other moments when we are still and quiet and listen simply for what God wants us to know.

I have gotten to be a part of his family again and that may just be the best part.  I get private time with his brother Eric and his family,  his sister Lisa and his mother, Juju.  I am lucky to know both of his children: Luke and Hannah.  Hannah and I have always had a very special bond and I am honored by her trust in me and the way she at times looks to me to help her navigate being a woman.  I hope I am worthy. 

I have been fortunate enough to have a front row seat at family Christmas “performances” and the Thanksgiving table.  Theirs is a family of love and much laughter and the warmth I feel when I am in the midst of them is wonderful. 

Brett never tells me I look old, or that he hates my haircut (although, of the last cropped ‘do’-he was not a fan….).  He never tells me I need to lose weight or not to drink the last beer.  He believes in me, encourages me.  He is perhaps my biggest champion and I know that he knows for certain I am his.  We feel each other’s pain without really having to dissect it and we feel our excitements too and the promises that the future may hold.  He and I have been there through it all and I expect that to never change.  When we have each other, life is good.  In addition, you get me, you get him.  And vice versa.  That is the way it goes.

We finally are getting to spend some of our Thanksgiving break together.  Whew.  It has been waaaaaay too long.  He has made time for me even though he will have both the kids.  He makes time because he knows we need it and I am ever-so-grateful.  I sit in expectation and excitement about the visit.  We will most likely spend most of the morning talking (in between football of course), I will pet Pooh (his rescued Pug) mercilessly and there will eventually be some food and a few cold beverages.  We will descend upon his mom’s house so that I can hug her neck and tell her thank you for Brett and that I love her, because I do.  We will play with Luke and I will get all caught up with Hannah and it will be damn near perfect.  

That night, there may be a trip out to our friends Rod and Rae’s where we’ll settle around the fire pit and tell stories old and new and share and laugh and love.  They make me so happy.  Then mosey home and we’ll settle in: he in his chair and me on the sofa.  We will put some music on or the game and spend the evening until the wee hours talking about everything and nothing and knowing there will always be more to say.  And we will laugh.  Oh the laughter… it is the best part of so much.

He will ask me about my renewed friendship from afar and in his best fatherly manor he will make sure that I am contented and happy, while also making sure I am safe and protected.  It is why I have always loved him and love him still.

I will delve into his life too and poke and prod and make sure he is happy, centered and peaceful.  We will talk about his work, his dating life, the kids, his faith and where he finds himself at the end of the day.  His joy is important to me. 

So in this one month that we seem to remember what is we are thankful for, I tell you that I don’t need a specific month or date on a calendar to remember why it is that I am so thankful for Brett.  It is something I remember every day.  You see, you never forget a beautiful gift like that.  Thank you Brett for loving me. 

See you soon, love. 

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