Manifesto

(Because Audrey asked for more verse)

I shall eat when hungry
sleep when sleepy
move when weary
seek beauty when weighted down
   by the hugeness of the world

Where do I stand
in the midst of not just darkness
but depravity that hollows us out and leaves
   not even a stench, or a whiff of what once was,
   but soul-less-ness?

How do I bring myself to the front
and hold myself accountable?

How do I wage not war
   but resilience in the face
   of hope-less-ness?

Like those tulips that rose
through this winter that 
   ended finally not in spring
   but in May flurries
   and frost warnings

And still they rose.

High and hope-filled
stamens billowing with curiosity.

And will you
  dear friend
   who lives within my heart
will you
    rise and meet the day

with beauty
with soul
with purpose

These days are small and short
and we are young
and must bear witness
Backs as straight as they can be
while the sun beckons our petals

to open

with strength, grace,
   hope
     beyond, with, and without
         reason

Hope

Because

Hope 
    will
          rise

Accordion Home

Fall has finally fallen; I know this because I sleep with a blanket of cats these days.  The last several days I have awoken not just with a cat at my feet, but with one on my abdomen or my arm (depending on if I’m lying on my back or my side). This is the cat who never slept with me because she had a human of her own. Alas, we have been betrayed, this calico harpee and I. That human has left us and left us both wandering the house, at times, yowling.

Then another cat’s human left us, and now I have two that follow me around with eyes and mouths wide. And this cat weighs about the same as a small car, so when she walks up my body to stare into my eyes, whiskers tickling my eyebrows and nose, I feel it as one would feel, I imagine, those giant walking robots in one of those Star-titled movies–with all the weight distributed on one pointy paw and then another.

I’m counting the days until those humans return to us, if only for a few precious hours. I’m counting the hours, too, trying to determine how best to spend them. They want to be home, with their kittens, on a couch they know intimately, eating food that has been prepared for them.

It is the hard irony that I who love to cook no longer find the impetus to do so.  I’m drinking coffee right now, dreaming of a brunch I won’t fix not only because I have a bedroom to finish painting but because we no longer keep food in this house. Or so it seems.

The one child left in the house is hardly ever here, thanks to her involvement in extra-curricular things. And all she ever asks for is money with which to purchase food. There are apples rotting in a bowl that I meant to make into sauce–and they appear to be doing it themselves, but not in a good way.

I’m complaining, aren’t I? I don’t mean to be. I mean just to be noting, because I find for myself that if I can name something it then makes sense to me and I’m on the way to making it right–or adjusting.

I’m naming the experience we are having right now of being a family in transition. Of being a home that billows and withers as required. We are an accordion home now. That’s it.

While three of us live her all the time, two come and go. The year before it was only one and I realize that we have reached the tipping point with the second one gone. Before we still planned meals depending on who would be home when. Last year, we bought a calendar because schedules were so crazy so we could circle the nights when everyone would be home and meals could be savored, together, at the table.

Now it seems we eat things that can easily be consumed wherever we all wish to be. Of course, there are still nights when forks and knives are required, and so we sit together, the three of us, at a table meant for more. Early in the year I took the leaves out of that table, so it wouldn’t seem so empty. But then we had company. And those cats’ humans came home, and now the table is filled with my husband’s office, so when we do huddle around it, it is at the end reserved for eating.

But that’s why I’m painting a bedroom. So we can move the remaining child into another bedroom and move his office into the small room. And build a sleeping chamber for the ones who come home to visit.

I was thinking, yesterday, as I put yet another coat of paint on this particular bedroom, about this accordion home. How I never thought I’d stay in the Midwest as long as I have, let alone this particular home. We purchased this home when one child was 2 and another was not yet 1.

The room we are painting this weekend has belonged, in turns, to: the eldest, alone; the eldest and middle (after the third one was born), shared; the middle and youngest, shared; and the middle one, alone. And now the youngest moves into it, alone. It has been many different colors, I think, though I’ve lost count of how many.  The colors I know it was are the two that I just painted over (because the last time I painted I didn’t do a very good job and strips of electric aqua scream out from between the white baseboards and the very dark purple walls.

My husband asked me why I did such a bad job on this last. The purple dripped down the walls and onto the baseboards (which I will tackle this morning) and I sighed and tried to come up with a reason. Maybe it was because the kids were old enough this time that I thought they could help and when they did, bad things happened? Probably, I told him, because I was tired and stretched and needed to paint because I said I would. And so I did, but not well.

But this time he is here to help and the taping and cutting in has been done properly–or at least we will find out when I pull up the tape in a few minutes.

I read a really nice piece in the Huffington Post this morning about parenting little, little children and unsolicited advice, and it reminded me of where we all have been, this accordion band of misfit toys (and pets). And through most of it, this house has stood and kept us bound to each other with its four small, yet brightly-colored walls. And it has billowed and withered as needed.

It has been the place of blanket forts and lava-floor; of sleepovers that sometimes only consisted of the three who sleep here anyway; of shared spaces, of singular spaces, of good food and crap food and sometimes even “nothing to eat” food. It has been open to friends and to relatives and to Halloween Candy and Christmas Eve fudge. We have patched holes in walls and cracks in hearts in this house that magically expands and contracts.

I remember my first glimpse of the house from the street when we were looking for a home 17 years ago. “Oh, it’ll never do,” I said. “Too small!”  And when we came in through the back door (which we consider the front door), and I saw the large open (though weirdly configured) space and thought, “it might do.” I see now that it was a magical house, an accordion house, that looks small from the outside, but holds –and has held–so very much within.

Now, though, it is time to tackle that wood trim in a room made smaller by coats of paint for each set of inhabitants, while cats curl up in blankets on beds throughout the house, oblivious now, it seems, to those who are missing but soon will appear.

Lost and Found

A common theme for my dreams is lost things. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who spends her nights searching for lost items and sometimes lost people. Last night was one of those nights, when I was searching and searching for something (I can’t remember what, now), and suddenly my dad was there. He drove up in a pristine classic car (wish I could tell you what kind it was, I want to say Impala, but I’ve had a day to reflect and so I see him in his old El Camino). He pulled up beside me and said, “come on,” which was not, as you might think, an invitation to get in the car with him, but an invitation to follow.  And so I did.  On foot. I raced after him and he led me into a parking garage under a shopping mall, and then sped off, leaving me standing there, panting, yelling “Dad?” in a real “WTF?” tone. It was only after he was out of sight that I remembered he is dead.

And then I woke up.

And the dad-feeling I had in that dream spirited away like a birthday balloon in a Santa Ana wind.

You go ahead and analyze the dream for me because I’m done trying.

But I will say that the dream has come back to me in strange moments today and as much as I yearn for restful sleep, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have glimpsed my dad again–even if it was in the bleary-eyed recesses of my brain.

I can explain this, maybe. I’m listening to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson as I drive to and from work these days. It is the story of an older father who is dying who writes a letter to his 7 year old son. It is the story of three generations of ministers and it is quite beautiful. I’ll listen to the end of the book tomorrow, but as the government shutdown has lingered on, it has been a real comfort to be able to settle into this story of hard times and strong faith and …. love. Love of family, love of community, but mostly love of God. Yes, it has been strange comfort. In fact, tonight I heard a line that made me stop the CD and just roll it over in my brain for a while. The narrator was talking about his father and grandfather who had a history of difference, anger, and distance, but he describes them sitting on the porch shelling black walnuts (that his mother said tasted like furniture) and remarks that they enjoyed each other’s company best of all–when they were silent. I’m not doing it justice. It’s a beautiful line that paints a picture of love beyond reason, of the familiarity that is usually strained, of the need to sometimes just be with people, shelling walnuts. It sketched silence as a gentle buffer that actually envelopes and connects.

The dream of my dad came back to me in that moment. My dad liked to talk about ideas and theory and sometimes his thoughts weren’t in league with mine. But there were times when he would be watching tennis or football and I’d go in the room regardless of my interest in the sport. I’d go in the room just to sit. I’d read the paper or a book or pretend to watch the television. In listening to Gilead tonight, it became clear to me what my motive actually was.  Just to be with my dad, to be in his presence, especially when we weren’t talking to each other.

That last makes it seem like my dad and I were at odds. We weren’t. But sometimes you need to have that person in your life who will sit quietly with you and not ask your motives, your desires, or even if you want a snack. Someone who provides that buffer of silent comfort.

Tonight, as I lay me down to sleep, I’ll pray my father comes again. And maybe he’ll have a basket of black walnuts and take a seat on the porch instead of speeding off in his El Camino.

And then maybe I’ll sleep deeply and well, as he watches.

Stealth

Sleep patterns disrupted. Went to bed with heartburn last night and was certain I was dying. I’ve never had pain like that before, so close to my heart. Not physical pain, anyhow. Plenty of the kind of pain that starts in anguish and for which there is no physical wound or ailment.

Funny how the brain is, yeah? It works on us in our sleep and tell us the unreal is real and we feel it as if it is so. And, sometimes, it works on us as we wake. Wave upon wave of heartburn and anxiety over that which isn’t. A balm, I think, sometimes. A balm to cover the actual atrocities–the ones we can’t fix because they are so large, so woven into the fabric of who we are and where we’ve been. The ones we feel so powerless to change.

Or maybe not so much a balm as a distraction. This is where the story is, your head tells your heart. This is where the grievance starts and this is how it is perpetuated. And it sends currents and waves of pain over and through the body in strange abstractions of the lived reality, twisting and turning over slights and miscommunications with loved ones and strangers alike, until the pain … is just there. A constant companion.

But this is also how it works, that brain, that stealth bomber of distraction. It can feed and fester on the slights, or it can find its place at the banquet table overflowing with the foodstuffs that grow our joy, compassion, and possibility. Mercy. Grace. Love.

What a wondrous vessel this is, the body that houses such ferocious wildness and trots it about in slacks and sensible shoes.

Rootless

As I wait to take my middle daughter to school (late start for her as she prepares to board a bus to compete in State debate meet), I realize that the heft of snow is one of many things that has left me feeling rootless today.

First, I’m not sure how one feels rooted when the ground, itself, has risen by at least one and sometimes many more feet. It’s an optical thing, I’m sure, but when the ground is not visible and when that which you walk on gives way, there is a tugging at the soul that says “no, this is not it, keep going until you reach something solid.”

Second, I have been “away” from work too long.  Yikes! Did I really say that? I didn’t realize how grounded my work makes me–it gives  me purpose and meaning in a life that too often bounces from one thing to another. And, while I still bounce from one thing to another at work, they seem like pieces of a connected whole–casting a net that keeps me close to that which is solid.

I never felt good about leaving work for vacation when everyone else was working so hard–and at a time when I could have spared more time to talk with the people I hardly ever see. It’s hard to say, though, that I felt bad about going here:

 Rootless, still, though, as I morphed between beach bum and corporate wife and shameless, pink-tinged tourist. Resort life is not real life, as evidenced by my husband’s insistence on me getting a massage as well as the pedicure I dreamed of–and oh, was it a pedicure–emphasis on “cure.”

The rootlessness continued as I read Cane River by Lalita Tademy while sipping a non-umbrella-ed drink by the pool (on Kindle for iPhone, no less). The book is the fictionalized history of four of her fore-mothers and their lives as slaves and freewomen. The reserach and history are real; but she had to make up dialogue and some of the plot points, I’m sure. It is a history of slavery and of the legacy of not just the condition of slavery, but of the mindset of those held captive. In this instance, it is a legacy of strength and endurance. And as I sat around that pool, surrounded by other pink-skinned sun-bathers and having my needs met by a mostly-native population, well, this rootlessness took another turn.

Returning to my homestead should have eased my physical and psychic restlessness, but it did not. Storm prep; plane changes for my mother, my mother’s own rootless story (which she is now trying to write down and is sharing with me in bits and pieces); the storm itself and the inability to return to a “norm” has me twisting and tossing about like a wet rag in the dryer.

But this morning, I think I grabbed hold of the heart of it–the piece I hadn’t paid tribute to in all the fuss and mess of the last few weeks. I haven’t been to church in weeks. I haven’t paid attention to my church duties until a few flurried emails this a.m., nor have I simply given thought to that which has rooted me for over a decade. The songs, the quiet, the affirmation of faith and doxology, and those kids who aren’t mine who will always be a piece of me. The overt reminder of my connection to all: to the Egyptians (on both sides); to the Hawaiian people who welcome us all to their islands; to the women who survived slavery and those who did not; to the kids in my house who ask questions like “is the U.S. going to intervene in Egypt?” and the kids who can’t sit still in the pews. The reminders are under the surface and are what create that edgy unknowing that makes my skin and soul prickle; but it is in church when I take the time to put the pieces together and gain an understanding of what, of why, of how, and of what next.

I didn’t expect this; and if this one more day of not going back to routine allowed me this moment to reflect and understand the prickliness, then, for this I am grateful.

With all the pieces of my heart

I’ve heard of UUs who consider forgiveness as a “spiritual practice.” While I admire those who are diligent in their own personal spiritual practices, I think putting forgiveness in that box is inviting us to exercise that particular set of muscles as we do any exercise: either sporadically or with an “ought to” discipline. These ideas makes forgiveness either optional or mandatory. I think forgiveness ought to be in a category such as breathing: we do it not because it is good or right, but because it is necessary.

When there are particularly ugly scenes in this house, one of the phrases I’ve recently started using is: “I think there is enough wrong to go around, here. Is it worth ruining a relationship to stay stubborn and unwilling to offer an apology.” Or some such. I’ve been startled that it works at ratcheting down the rhetoric more often than it doesn’t–actually, now that I consider it, I believe it has worked each time I’ve offered it up. It is a variety of the “would you rather be loved or right?”

It used to bug people around me how often I would say “I’m sorry” in a day. I learned to apologize for that, as well. But I think I’m learning now that I need not apologize for being sad for someone, or for trying to right a wrong I committed with or without malice aforethought. Maybe forgiveness is who I am, as it appears to be what I do all the time.

I do not see it as a sign of weakness to be sorry for someone else’s fuck up. I see as a sign of weakness when we can not get over our own smallness and see that injury happens in clusters, not always in a straight line.

We are all wounded; we are all wounders. We are also all wonders of adaptability, of tenacity, of mercy.

Of course, these were my thoughts BEFORE I read the story of the 9/11 baby shot dead while learning about democracy.

I am brought back to my favorite line from “The Knight’s Tale,” when William is found out and his friends urge him to run away rather than be sent to the stocks. He turns to Chaucer and asks “would you have me run, then?” and Chaucer says “with all the pieces of my heart.”

It makes me cry every time–and sometimes when I only think of it. We walk around with our hearts in pieces most of the time, I think, by acts of violence on people we don’t know or may never know. Tonight, I am wishing peace to those who seek it, love to those who wish it, and forgiveness to those who require it–with all the pieces of my heart.

Magically Manageable

We leave for church in just over an hour. The community Thanksgiving feast is today and I have two pumpkin pies ready to go and there are sweet potatoes roasting in the oven. And they smell delicious.  I wish I’d had the foresight to take the rest of this week off. I would spend it cleaning and baking and trying the recipies I hope will work out. Like the batch of carmel I made last night which is hard and mean and I would never force on a friend. But would gladly let a piece rest on my tongue while I sip my coffee this morning.

Last night, while rolling out pie crust, we put in “Love Actually” and it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. And I don’t mind that, even though we haven’t finished with Thanksgiving yet. I saw a few people moan on the book of face about people getting all Christmasy before Thanksgiving (before Halloween, even), and to them I say “Sorry.”

The best and sometimes worst of us comes out with the holidays. We have anticipation galore and sometimes the day lives up to it, and sometimes not. But the doing of the holidays is worth it, regardless of what we who like to think we are non-consumerists feel. The cooking and the gifting–whether done glitzy and large or homey and small–are done with the purpose of making others feel loved and cared for and about. We take this time each year to do so because it is so easy in the “busy-ness” of the rest of  the year to do so.

I do not bemoan the coming of the holidays nor do I, any longer, bemoan the going of them. I enjoy them fully while they are here and then I enjoy them fully as memory. If I bemoan anything, it is that our society tends to be all about the anticipation and angst and never really in that moment around the table, when everyone is fed, the wine bottle has been passed around, there’s is no room (yet) for pie, and we can sit, talk, laugh and share the quiet rites of family and community. 

Sometimes the carmel is hard and tacky. Yet, as my 15 year old said last night, it still tastes “delicious.”  I’ll be remembering that as we travel into this holiday season, my eyes and heart wide open to the wonderful mistakes as well as the well-crafted “wins.” In the meantime, those sweet potatoes taste yummy and the church community awaits.

My wish for you this holiday season is that you enjoy it as it unfolds and have room to breathe when it gets over-taxing. Moreso, my wish is that you make it manageably magical. As most everything is, with love.

Happy Holidays

Colorblind

It was early and I was driving youngest daughter to basketball practice. It was early, and yet the grayness of the dawn was lifting just enough that the sun was bathing the trees with this golden light that was more than delightful–it was … divine. I was drinking up the colors of this spectacular fall day, when a bumper sticker on the car in front of me caught my attention. It was hard to read, as most bumper stickers are, but I finally discerned the words laid one over top of each other. “God is” was in a black script overtop the rainbow-lettered word “COLORBLIND.”

“Dude,” was all I could mutter (because it was, afterall, very early). I looked back up at the sky, where the light reached up even higher in the seconds that had passed since I last looked. I looked at the trees, some still holding tight to their gold and fuschia leaves. The gray was lifting even higher and I saw that the sky was going to be blue that day. Grass was still vibrant green below, not yet the dying, still holding the light of the sun.

“Dude,” I thought again, “I think your missing something.”

I know what the bumper sticker is supposed to mean: God doesn’t see the color of people’s skin. And if God is what you believe in and God loves us all equally, I suppose this could be seen as an affirming, loving statement.

But I think it misses the idea that color surrounds us, giving us the richness of a midwest fall, and the striking beauty of a Sedona afternoon (thanks, middlest sister for that image showing up on my phone earlier this week), the sunset over Catalina (thanks for that image, you who shall not be named). You get my point. Skin color should also be considered a part of the palette, a part of the body of work, as it were. It can mean nothing other than a richness of depth and hue, but it also can indicate a richness of variety in culture and in point of view.

Color brings a  wealth my heart holds dear. I can’t imagine God planning it any other way. I can’t imagine a world where god would be, could be, colorblind.

Home

I just checked the publication date on one of my dearest, dearest volumes: Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. 1990. Yup. That makes sense.

I found Natalie in a little independent bookshop (remember those?) in Flagstaff, Arizona, when I went with my husband on a business trip around our first anniversary. He went to meet with clients and I took a walk and found the bookstore, found the book, went back to the room and took a long hot bath while reading and lost myself completely.

Here was a book about writing, about spirit, about attending to details, about love, about Buddhism, about … everything I didn’t yet know I was or would one day be emphatically infatuated with.

The book is, quite frankly, a mess. I remember when my grandmother died when my oldest daughter was 2 and I took with me to the memorial service the blanket that my grandmother had made for her when I was pregnant. Well, I took what was left of the blanket with me. As my tribute to my grandmother, I held it up and showed those assembled the tattered pieces of flannel that had once been sewn back-to-back, but now clung to each other by one, double-stitched seam. But held-together, it was. I don’t remember what I said, but I remembered I cried and so did others, but it was something about how love endures, in the rags of things that give us comfort.  No, it couldn’t have been anything that profound.  If it had been after the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” I’d have told people that the blanket had been “loved up.”

When I pick up my copy of Wild Mind, I’m reminded of that blanket. It is all loved up. The spine is cracked and peeling and there are little sticky notes and scraps of Orders of Service stuck in all over the place–at least a dozen places marked for permanent reference. Hemingway quotes are underlined; whole chapters are dog-eared together so I know to read them all.

I thought of this book today because there is a chapter/writing exercise on “Home” that I often go back to–a reminder that we carry ‘home’ with us, in many ways, and that ‘home’ isn’t just the walls that surround us. 

These days this is good for me to remember.

If it was easy, everyone would do it

This week was hard. But it wasn’t completely unwieldy. It wasn’t out of the range of doing. It was just simply hard. I could string out the list of events (church’s, children’s, spouse’s and mine) but that would bore me, let alone you.  And the truth?  I don’t think my week was any more or any less challenging than yours.

One of the nights I was going to be home to eat with my family required me to stop at the store to purchase food that we could eat together. The wind was howling that night. It was bitter and cold and cut through the heavy jacket I had on (not a winter coat, but a jacket).  Because I had milk and beer as well as food, and because the cold had made my shoulder ache in a particulary poignant way, I opted to wheel the cart out to the car rather than schlep them all out by hand. This meant that I then had to wheel the cart over to the “cart corral,” where one of the women who bags groceries at the store was collecting other stray carts.

I wheeled up to her and her gray-streaked hair was flipping around her head in the wind. She had on a hoody and a slim windbreaker, and as I wheeled over to her, I shouted over the wind “I wish you didn’t have to be out in this.” She smiled at me and then laughed. And as I rushed back to the shelter of my car, I heard her laugh become a cough, a rough, smoker’s hack of a cough. Once in my car, I saw her, pushing carts into the wind, while shrinking with her cough.

The next morning I got up to do it all again, delivering a child to a meeting early at school, then in to work on the tollroad of perpetual construction. I was about to complain about it, but then I remembered driving over the nice smooth part that had been under construction earlier this year, and I drove by the men out in the wind in their Carharts and I realized: these men are employed because of this construction. These roads are getting nicer. It’s a bit dusty and discombobulating, this construction, but it is doing good things–it makes it easier for me to drive in my shelter of a car to a job far away where I sit in a building and talk to people. Theirs is hard work. Mine? Not so much.

I drove on and into the city, still thinking about the woman with the cough and the construction on MY road, when I saw a woman waiting to cross the 8 lanes of traffic. She was a young woman with a toddler on one hip and a gas can in her other hand. THAT, I thought, is hard.

This week was crazy and confusing and I got to see some people I haven’t seen in months and meet people I’ve never met before. It was long and complicated. But it wasn’t hard.

If I were ever to write my own theology, it would be a series of film clips. Right at the beginning would be this:

My heroes are the ones who do hard every day and don’t recognize it –PUBLICLY–as such. Life is hard. So is politics. So is parenting. So is finding out you have no gas and no neighbor to take you to the station or watch your toddler while you take care of the problem at hand because it needs to be taken care of.  Can I put this any more simply: Of course it is hard. If it was easy, you’d be on vacation or in a coma. Life is hard and complex and continually changing–and that’s what makes it great. That’s what makes YOU great–the way you rise to the challenge of the difficult every day and slough it off as “just doin my job.” The way you hold your child instead of chastising her when what her bad behavior is saying is “I really just need to be the center of your universe right now” but she just doesn’t have the words for it. The way you stand on the bus so someone older or more frail can have the seat, even though holding the strap makes your arm ache. The way you build those roads and corral those carts and carry your toddler to get the gas. The way you bring food to a neighbor who has experienced loss, the way you pull someone aside and say “I’m sorry,” and the way you stand up and say We will not allow our children to be bullied to death any longer–and the way you say, to the teen who is lost, “I’ve been you and believe me, it is hard to be a teen queer and I won’t kid you it is much easier being an adult, but there are people here, more than before, who love you for you, so stick around and meet them.”

It is hard, but it is the hard that makes us great. But know, too, that when it gets too hard, there are people here who know it is hard and will hold you while you regroup.

I don’t know who it was that led a nation of young people to think that life would be easy because their parents worked so hard. Maybe the best gift we can give our children now is the realization that it will be hard for them–in different ways than it was hard for us. We’ve already seen that with the explosion of techno-harrassment. Old men talking about burying our children in debt. Well, let’s stop it. Stop talking about it and start doing–doing the hard work of hard choices and truly showing our children that life never gets easy, it just sometimes gets less hard. Let’s give them the ability to stand on that reality so that they are not undone by difficulty, but, instead, challenged into greatness.

And lets not forget to pause in those small moments when it is easy: when the roast and the potatoes are done at the same time, when this stretch of road is finished, when we all sit down to a meal together and talk and laugh and enjoy the ease of simply being together. Because those, my friend, are the moments that make the struggle absolutely and insanely doable.