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.

“The Wish For Water”

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Yesterday at the park I got into a conversation with a young mother who didn’t know what day of the week it was. “I’m on maternity leave,” she explained. “All days are the same right now.”

I’m having a confusing summer, too. For despite one glorious vacation and two more planned, I feel as though I’ve been working non-stop for months!  And ‘though it’s summertime the livin’ ain’t easy; even at peak moments my joy’s been, well, muted.

Why? At first I attributed these stirred-up feelings—or lack thereof—to three challenging, out-of-my-comfort-zone projects coming up for me this fall—and my perfectly logical anxiety! Deeper reflection, however, reveals a deeper truth: this has been the first summer I’ve truly experienced global warming. Up close and personal.

Record temperatures, a drought, weird weather patterns affecting crops like New England’s peaches; reducing fossil fuel emissions has never been more urgent for me.

But, wait! Have I allowed myself to truly listen to, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “the sounds of the Earth crying”? No. Have I really addressed my despair? Named it? Let it have the time and attention it requires? No. Have I allowed myself to consider the millions already experiencing the havoc and upheaval and disruption due to climate change? No.

But I must.

As I write this the smell of basil, soon to be transformed into pesto, wafts from the kitchen; it’s a summer smell. Somerville’s goldfinches feast on the city’s sunflower crop this week; those finches’ bright, sweet call is a summer sound. Like it does every August, our planet’s about to cycle through the Perseid meteor shower.

Summer still happens, however parched or broiled. May I/ may we find strength and joy in its eternal rhythms.

California Hills In August
I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion.
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

by Dana Gioia

 

“it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”

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[Cairns, Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia]

maggie and milly and molly and may
E. E. Cummings, 1894 – 1962*

 

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

 

* Thank you, Kip Harris, for including this poem in your “Artist Statement” at your current exhibition at the Jo Beale Gallery. (I love your work!)

First Responder

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[Subway Eldering on the Red Line; June, 2016]

This past weekend on retreat in New Hampshire I swam, I picked blueberries, I read—and kept my SmartPhone off. Guess what happened? Unplugged from the wider world was just fine. Delicious. But not being accessible should something happen to My Loved One—I am her health care proxy—was not.

No crisis. She’s fine; I was not needed. My anxiety was around both my failure to have arranged a back-up while out of town (Ooops) but, also, my realization of how central my sense of responsibility for my Loved One has become. (Oh!)

Ironically, this realization came on a weekend spent acknowledging my overweening* sense of responsibility. (I know !?)  A sweltering weekend back home, every time I cooled myself off in the velvet-feeling lake or felt refreshed by a gentle breeze a part of me scolded: I have no right to enjoy this! I should be organizing around climate action. As if I were solely responsible for fighting global warming! Overweening, much? Absolutely.

But as I have noted before, being with Loved One and accompanying her in any small way I can during her final journey is sacred work. Holy. So I want to Be There in the fullest sense of those simple words.

 

[I willI be away next week; please check out my next post on August 2nd]

  • Overweening: ” Arrogant. Overbearing. Immoderate.”

Wallowing In It

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[Peace Cranes in the Trash; Cambridge, MA, July, 2016]

When I was younger, I believed my activism to be fueled by (righteous) anger. Racism, injustice, violence infuriated me; seething, I did stuff. I showed up, grateful for my rage. My anger kept me going.

Unlike many of my fellow Quakers, I’d grown up in a family where it was okay to be angry. Sadness, however, was stronger discouraged. “Don’t wallow in it,” I was repeatedly scolded when brought low. At an early age I learned how to efficiently acknowledge my sorrow and move on.

Implicit in this childhood training was fear: if you stay in that sadness you will get stuck in it. (For me, the word ‘wallow” conjures mud or some other thick, viscous substance.) Be careful.

Friday night, in a called meeting for worship at Beacon Hill Friends Meeting around the violence and horror of last week, surrounded by like-minded people, I let myself stay in my grief. I felt safe to wallow. And realized—not for the first time— that sadness opens up an unlimited source of guidance and compassion within me.  I reconnect with interconnectedness. I pray for victims’ families and friends and loved ones. I stay with, I hold their pain. I pray for my brothers and sisters of color. I pray for our earnest young people who have inherited this broken, far-from-enlightened world. I begin (ain’t there, yet) to consider the perpetrators of violence and hatred with sadness; as fellow wallowers in this broken world, just as trapped, just as stuck, just as dehumanized by oppression and greed and selfishness as their victims.

So, this week, the words of Bayard Rustin are really speaking to me:

Loving your enemy is manifest in putting your arms not around the man but around the social situation, to take power from those who misuse it at which point they can become human too.

 

 

 

 

Sacred

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[Cave Hill Cemetery. Louisville, KY]

My Loved One, ninety-three and struggling with dementia, wanted to talk about her memorial service. Again. So I described a scenario she’d stipulated countless times before. Since what I described were her own wishes repeated back to her, she listened, she smiled; she approved. But then, suddenly, her face fell: “Where will I be?” she wondered.

As you may know, correcting someone with dementia is almost never the best approach. But what to say? Especially since My Loved One does not believe in the Hereafter? I prayed for Divine Assistance.

And something came to me, something based on the fact that she and I had also talked, many times, about how she can still feel her husband’s presence—although he died is 2010.

“Hovering,” I was led to say. “That’s where you’ll be. And you’ll be whispering in my ear.”

She smiled again.

I’ve been having sacred conversations with my Loved One.