Listening in Tongues (4)

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[Harvard Square Post, 2016]

“Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words,” wails Eliza Doolittle. Me, too, sometimes. For no matter how well-chosen or apt, sometimes words are merely background noise while whatever truth welling up within us finds language to make itself understood.

Saturday night, for example, was the “staged reading” of a play I’m working on, i.e. a performance solely dependent on the words the actors read aloud. No sets, no costumes, no bits o’ business, no lighting; no stagecraft! Just words. Lots of them. As four actors holding three-ring binders sat in front of my Quaker meeting’s meetinghouse.

At intermission —or “halftime” as my husband says—a member of the audience came up to me. “I think this is a play about how we know things,” he said. (You could almost hear the capital K as he pronounced “know”) “That’s something I’ve been thinking about, lately.”

And, yes, my play did offer several examples of just what he was talking about. But, clearly, he’d heard an echo of a question he’d brought through the meetinghouse door that night. A profound question—and alive for him right now. So he heard what he heard.

How do we listen in tongues? How do we hear beyond/beneath/(in spite of)  what we know? That’s the question alive for me right now.

 

 

Listening in Tongues (3)

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[Shoulders: Louisville, KY, June, 2016]

As a Wheelock College sophomore, I was required to take “HGD” (Human Growth and Development) for an entire year. Aka Ages and Stages, the course ended at adolescence. Yup! When you turned twenty-one, HGD implied, you, me, all of us were done! Finished. Realized. (Really?)

Luckily, in 1976, eleven years into my own (developmentally vague and misunderstood) adulthood, Gail Sheehy published Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life—and rocked my world. Sheehy gave me a whole new set of ages and stages I could imagine myself moving through. Someday I’ll be middle-aged, I realized. Someday, perhaps, I’ll be a grandmother.

And so, the other day, when I got into a suddenly-deep, suddenly touchingly-honest conversation—re “adulting”— with a fifty-year-old father I’d just met, a part of me was able to step back from the conversation to silently acknowledge: he and I are in very different places developmentally. I have already lived through what he’s now experiencing. (I won’t repeat what he told me. It’s his story to share, not mine.) Surely, to remember such adult ages-and-stages is yet another way to listen in tongues.

So it didn’t surprise me when I told him my latest adulting/being-a-grandmother story—and he didn’t get it. (He blinked politely. But he didn’t get it.) For what it’s worth, here it is: Last Monday, just for a moment, as my four-year-old granddaughter put her heart, mind, and soul into lifting her vintage Radio Flyer (Lord knows why!), I saw in her determined, little face the woman she will become. And I was both grateful to see that vision and welled up realizing I might not live long enough to see my actual, over-21 grandchild.

Such preciousness and such mindfulness in that teary moment!

Listening in Tongues (2)

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[A Black Shoe, a Lei, Other Detritus, AND a Fork in the Road]

“No one’s interested in anyone else’s dreams.”  That quote—or something like it—and usually attributed to “The Philadelphia Story” (Well, it might have been that 1940 movie but . . . ) effectively shut down my siblings and me. For while my parents were always fuzzy when it came to both exact quote and attribution, their distain for their children’s unconscious creations was always crystal clear. We kept our dream-lives to ourselves.

So I offer a recent dream and its crystal-clear “listening in tongues” Aha with great humility (and trepidation):

I had this dream the night before I was to have “care of meeting,” i.e.  to be the person who holds/prays for a meeting for worship. (Rarely, but still a part of the job description, having care of meeting can also mean being the person to intervene should someone offer a message that does not reflect Quaker values.) And then there’s ending the meeting when it’s both close to an hour but also has allowed time for quiet reflection at the end of worship. And inviting newcomers to introduce themselves. And encouraging the numerous people who want to make an announcement to be brief. And . . .

So, not surprisingly, my dream began when numerous members of my extended family, all with pressing concerns and questions and stories they wanted to share, simultaneously approached me! “Mom! Listen to me!” “What should I do about . . . ?” “Patricia! I really think you should. . . ” “Mom! You’ve got to . . . ! Right now!”

But as dreams often do, this nightmare suddenly morphed when, as my youngest daughter demanded an an immediate answer—about where a bicycle should be stored—her adult face transformed into a child’s. My child. My precious daughter. Wordlessly, my overwhelmedness transformed to love.

Quakers talk about ‘answering that of God in everyone.” Post that dream,  I’m trying a silent next step: And look into everyone’s eyes to seek out and to acknowledge the precious child within.

“Listening In Tongues” (1)

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[Ghost Bike, Park Street, Somerville, MA, August, 2016]

Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes we’re asked to let ourselves move beyond words, to listen for the notes between the notes, to let the silence speak to us. Sometimes we’re invited to allow a sound or a smell or a color or a gesture or a wordless moment in a dream tell us everything we yearn to know or feel. Sometimes we’re not supposed to parse or define or explain. Sometimes we’re supposed to be dumb (as in speechless); to be a stranger in a strange land, illiterate, lost, using all our senses except hearing to make meaning of what surrounds us. Sometimes we’re asked to let our humility guide us and to breathlessly wait to see what ensues when we let Judgement go.

Connected Quiet

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[Sunset from Dane Street’s Commuter Rail Bridge, May, 2016]

Environmental noises of 42.39°N, 71.09°W : ebbing and flowing traffic, sidewalk conversations in multiple languages, birds in season and, when the wind’s from the South*, commuter trains’ horns—that haunting sound now more mournful since a Fitchburg-bound commuter train fatally hit a bicyclist. (Whose name, two days later, has still not been released.)

It happened Sunday afternoon. It happened at the Park Street crossing. It happened even though the train gates had been lowered and the warning lights flashed. It happened despite pedestrians shouting to that young man on his bike to stop. Stop! It happened in my neighborhood and about an hour before I arrived. (I pretty much walk over those train tracks twice a day.)

By the time I’d arrived Park Street had been cordoned off, emergency and Somerville police and MBTA officials’ vehicles lined the length of the quarter-mile street, and the train, a hundred yards or so down the track from the accident, silently waited for its passengers to be transported to a T bus (which arrived just as I walked by.) The silent train, the silent street, the hush of the groups of people gathered along Park Street’s sidewalk on either side of the crossing; such collective, respectful, deeply connected quiet!

Pedestrians had not been allowed to cross the tracks, either—for chilling reasons, I assume— so I’d walked about a mile out of my way to a grotty, ramped pedestrian underpass. Which I shared with a young woman and her bicycle.

“You be safe out there,” I said to her, misquoting a beloved “Hill Street Blues” line. Since that seminal show had gone off the air in 1987 I was pretty sure my reference would be lost on her. But at that moment  in that narrow, graffiti-darkened tunnel I’d needed to say something about my own tenderness towards her, her youth, her aliveness, her emergent possibility.

“I know!” she replied. “It really gives you perspective, huh.”

 

 

*When the wind’s right, too, you can hear Logan Airport jets throttling up just after they’ve landed.

Welling Up

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This past week my family vacationed on a quiet, spring-fed pond in New Hampshire; indeed, one spring welled up precisely where swimmers would stand if using the dock’s ladder to enter or exit the velvet water: always a brisk and bracing surprise!

Having grown up on spring-fed ponds, that sudden chill was familiar. Familiar too, yet still mysterious, wondrous, was the subsequent thrilling moment when I contemplated from whence cometh that water. To imagine water coming forth from out of the ground and beneath the water thrilled/s me. Welling Up—it’s a construct about The Source that speaks to me.

Last evening, back in Somerville, I went to a cook-out hosted by a dear, new friend—and a member of the Saint James Church’s choir. Most of the crowd milling in her back yard were also in the choir or members of her beloved church. So, naturally, before we tucked in, everyone sang “The Doxology”Praise God from Whom all blessings flow / Praise Him All creatures here below. 

Does it matter how we imagine where all blessing flow from? You say “From On High,” I say “From Within”; let’s call both crude approximations, shall we?

And praise.