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.

Love, UU-Style: a report

So, for you who followed my FB drama about writing a sermon last weekend on Love, UU-Style, I’d like to note that I think the service went really well. And I want to thank you all for your kind support.

My measure on it going well? When I am approached by a 27-year-old gay Latino wearing his hat backwards who wants to tell me, tears brimming, “I’m so glad I found this place,” and proceeds to tell me that he didn’t think he could ever find a church where he could fit, well, that’s enough. I also want to be clear that I am not sure that this young many has ever attended college; I say this explicitly not because I care one way or the other, but because I want to compare and contrast that encounter with another one that happened the same morning.

Another couple approached me after the service, to express their appreciation for my message and for the presence of the church. They, too, were gay. One was, by appearance, of European descent; the other, of East Asian descent. Both were probably in their late 30s or early 40s. Both were raised Catholic. Both had at least one (and one of them had several) post-baccalaureat degrees. (I know this from the conversation–believe me, it came out naturally and not as a grilling–I was really enjoying the conversation!). So, when this couple approaches me and says they were moved by the message of the service AND the young Latino man tells me how grateful he was to have been present that day, well, I have to say: it went well.

But it also told me that this message of Love, UU-Style is one that people are yearning for– across socio-economic, educational, and cultural backgrounds. How are we inviting them in? How are we bringing them into the fold, and how are we sending them back out? If I were a minister, these would be my guiding questions every single day.

I’m honored to have been present in the moment on Sunday. I hope we can live up to it. (Or should that be “love up to it?”)

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.

Being real about reality

***Note: old post found in drafts folder.***

Middle daughter just turned 14 this week … was it this week?  I went in to work on Saturday, very early while the house still slept, trying to pull together what I could before leaving for GA tomorrow. Middle daughter was at a “sleep-over” with friends.  I won’t even go into the oxymoronic name of such gatherings.

When I pulled into the driveway about 3:00 that afternoon, I sat in my car and watched her dozing in her brand new hammock–the only thing (besides books) this kid really, REALLY wanted for her birthday.  I didn’t think we were going to be able to pull it off, I mean, hammocks are expensive, aren’t they?  At one point I joked with her father that we should just give her a macrame kit and tell her to make her own durn* hammock.

But there it was, at Target, a cloth hammock for under 40 bucks, which seemed a steal considering what we had seen elsewhere.

So I sat and watched her for a bit, waiting for her to hear the car and notice me, but she didn’t. She didn’t even wince when I closed the door of my van.  Not a glimmer of a movement as I walked toward her. Ear buds in, she couldn’t hear me. Tired as she was from NOT sleeping over, she was in that place, she told me later, between being conscious and not.

Eldest daughter and I had been out the night before, a long-overdue mommy-daughter date, and during the evening the conversation turned to Middle Daughter in a way that was neither teasing nor mean-spirited as we agreed that she was just so fully herself, we can’t imagine her needing much protection from the rest of the world. I can’t remember my eldest daughter’s exact words, but she said something along the lines of Middle Daughter being “the most realistic person about reality.”

What was really cool for me was to hear eldest daughter admire her sister’s strengths in a way that was neither envious nor mocking.  She was just being real about her sister’s reality.

Bring It

Since so many of you gave me prayers the last few days, I’m sending one out to you.  It is the prayer I read as part of Sunday’s sermon.  Thank you, once again, to all.

Bring it
Bring your joy/ bring your sorrow
Bring your anger/ bring your understanding
Bring your sweetness / bring your bitterness

Bring it
Bring it all to the place where we lay it out and down
And wonder what we brought it all for
in the first place.

Bring it
Bring love / bring indifference
Bring the snark and the snipe and the request for apologies later
Bring the loneliness that haunts your dark night,
The doubt that whispers around your heart
The failings you can’t help but see.

Bring it
Bring the quiet / bring the noise
Bring your unfettered joy and your dancing shoes.

Bring yourself to this place, once more
And let yourself feel loved
And leave, loving in return.

Valentine’s All-nighter for a different kind of love

Well, I’m recovering from an all-nighter Saturday night.  Nope, not havin’ a “love hangover” as my friend Lisa calls it.  No, I spent Valentines night writing Sunday morning’s sermon.  Yep.  I said that right.  I stayed up all night (though I slept on the couch in 20 to 60 minute stretches, then wrote in similar stretches).  I was very nervous for a lot of reasons:

  •  First, my mouth was drier than usual due to a cold. 
  •  Second, it was an emotional service for me and I feared being unable to get through it. 
  • Third, though I’d thought it through all week long, and felt I had a pretty good frame for it, i was just too blurry to feel that what I was saying was coming through. 
  • And, finally, we’ve been seeing an uptick in visitors lately–especially in young adult visitors (anybody else notice that in your congregation since the election in November?), and I wanted this to be a quality experience for them and not seem like something that was slopped together just that morning (even though, that is, frankly, what happened.

The results: 

  • My mouth was dry; I drank lots of water.
  • I didn’t cry, though I choked up on occasion and took the opportunity to drink a sip of water
  • People were grateful that I reframed an issue for them. (The sermon title was: The Would-Be President, part book-review of Thurston Clarke’s book, The Last Campaign, and part reflection of how Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign and the ‘phantom-presidency’ affected our nation, and provided me with a new understanding of my own family dynamic–seeing that time of our life now from the eyes of history, rather than the eyes of a six year old.)
  • It was interesting. I stood to receive people afterward and the older people who lived through the time were thankful that I reminded them of the campaign.  One of the young women who has been bringing her family (I HAVE to write about Ezra and Aidan at some point–please remind me to), hugged me tightly with tears in her eyes.  A couple who just attended for the first time and appeared to be in their late 20s early 30s, came through and introduced themsevles and seemed very uplifted by the “experience” of our worship service.  Phew!  Seems to have been a success.

Because I’d had little sleep and even less coffee/food, I wasn’t as awake as I’d like to have been during coffee hour.  But my spies were out.  My husband said as he walked around he heard a lot of different conversations specifically about the service–people making their own RFK reflections and confessions.  So, the effort seemed to have been worth it. 

I really do enjoy doing worship services at our congregation–for selfish reasons, such as being forced to process my own thoughts and the great response and love I then receive from my community when I do.  I suppose because it does matter to me–THEY matter to me.  I don’t often reflect on that.  The all-nighter just was a force of several events–the life of a full-time working mom with three children, a husband, and another time-consuming task at church (co-chair of a DRE-less RE program).

I count success in the number of hugs I got in that line.  Worth an all-nighter?  You betcha.

More on doubt

First thing this a.m., I got an email from my sister with this link to a column written by a man in the South who “came out” as having doubts about God.  That’s my sister in there, talking about her doubt and our dad.

My sister and I don’t talk about God much–not with each other.  I don’t know who I talk with about God these days.  I guess I just don’t.  I liked Ms. Kitty’s sermon today very much.  Her God is mine: Love which is itself a kind of gravitational force.  If I were to sit with my sister and talk about God, I think I’d probably tell her a lot of what Ms. Kitty said.  I think doubt about a father-figure who is omniscient and tediously involved is fair doubt.  I cannot think that someone/thing/being has my life already figured out, and I couldn’t possibly go on without abusing substances if I thought that nothing I did was going to change a pre-ordained thing.  I’d think that god a rather cruel and dull bastard if he did exist. 

Back when I wrote fiction my favorite thing about writing was also my favorite thing about reading: finding out the ending.  If I were a god, I don’t think I’d want to know the end.  I’d want to be surprised.  I’d want to know that people came up with prose such as this all on their own:

“When he shall die, take him and cut him into little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with the night and pay no attention to the garish sun.”  (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

If I were a god, I’d be the kind that sat back and waited to be surprised by human kindness and, I suppose, even human cruelty–and then the redemption of that cruelty with still more human kindness.

I do not consider myself a humanist, but I do put my faith in the goodness of people–that people will rise to the occasion of love in the public interest. I put faith that people will simply rise from the beauty that is love, so that someday, when they die, someone will want to look to the face of heaven for the stars cut from their bodies.

That’s the God I do not doubt–the God who recognizes that we are all, each of us, capable of weaving something divine out of that ordinary cloth of love and humanity. To this God, I pledge my faith