Foundational

Sounding Board, New Bedford Quaker Meeting, New Bedford, MA. September, 2017

Years ago, for about a year, I was my Quaker meeting’s First Day School Coordinator, i.e., the principal of a pre-K—12 school open one hour a week and taught by volunteers. Dimly, very dimly, I understood that, for example, when I met with newcomer parents, I spoke for not only my meeting but, in a sense, the entire Quaker world: its history, its faith, its practice. (Yikes.) So, silly as it sounds, now, when a peach-colored scarf mysteriously appeared on my coat rack one day, I decided that I’d use that scarf to, ahem, ordain myself. If called upon to, indeed, be A QUAKER, that castoff scarf became my stole or vestment. Praying for guidance, praying for the right words, praying to listen with love, praying to be open to Spirit, I ceremoniously draped that scarf—which, luckily, went with everything I wore—around my neck. (Writing this, I still feel its soft cotton warmth against my skin.)

More recently, when my Quaker meeting offered training to become a “pastoral caregiver” I was, at first, not interested. “Why do I need training to do what I am already doing?” I thought. (and, yes, frankly, am doing pretty well!) But, again, dimly, I intuited that this seventeen-hour training, created by The Community of Hope International, was exactly what I was supposed to do.

How right I was. For not only do I get to explore delicious—and challenging— subjects like pastoral care and Benedictine spirituality and humility and healing (and lots, lots more) with others from my faith community but when, girded and guided by this training, I do pastoral care, every month I will have the opportunity to talk with others about “God in the Hard Places.”

Yum.

 

Say It! Name It!

Tanner Fountain, Harvard University, July, 2017

 

One evening last week, after a full day of swimming and story-telling in the hammock—just she and I—and playing with her cousins, my granddaughter crawled into my lap.

“Show me a video,” she asked.”Please?” (Here’s one we both love.)

I thought a bit, Dear Reader, for, truth be told, as a Facebook/don’t own a TV kinda grandma, I watch a fair amount of videos! And then I showed her this one.  “Blue jeans!” She loved it.

Because her parents were apparently content to let her keep watching and Youtube being Youtube, she and I watched other such videos, conveniently grouped and accessible: the first time a mother hears her son’s voice. The first time a blind child sees his mother’s face. The first time . . . And in every single one, tears. Copious tears. “It just wells up, doesn’t it,” notes a Brit technician to a weeping young woman who has just experienced sound for the first time.

Exactly.

How Sweet the Sound

[Jesse in the Groove, Honk!, Somerville, MA 2016]

When you’ve traveled around the sun as many times as I have, and been blessed, as have I, to know a host of lovely people, you’ll want to send off a LOT of Season’s Greetings* cards, right? I do. And, because I am human and, this season, easily overwhelmed, by Hour Three of writing and addressing cards on Saturday, I hit the wall. Only up to the H’s in my address book, I questioned my sanity; I doubted that a pretty card touting “happiness”—ordered  in sunnier, cheerier, pre-election August—was even the right thing to mail!

But, you know, Grace happens. Sometimes. Sometimes we are given, willy nilly, an opening: Suddenly I saw my-way-too-facile-cards and the United State Postal Service and the water warriors of Standing Rock and Sanctuary Cities and activist lawyers and the Muslim owners of a restaurant in London that invited the homeless and the lonely to come eat for free on Christmas Day and good people everywhere; millions and millions of people profoundly and intrinsically and powerfully connected together. What a vision! What an opening! I saw how perhaps-silly-but heartfelt acts of reaching out, connecting with those we love, can be a simple yet significant act of solidarity, reassurance, kindness; support. Yes!

But, wait, there’s more. I heard it. That ginormous web. Just for an instant. I heard its hum. Like the sound I remember from my teaching days when my writing students silently, happily settled into their individual work.

Yes. I heard that sweet “Mmmmm.” I’ll end by offering another sweet sound:

“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

*Although I celebrate Christmas, many people do not. I respect that. It’s that simple. End of discussion.

Stronger Together

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[Sign outside a Louisville, KY church; June, 2016]

Like you, maybe, I’ve somehow been inducted into the 1.3 million-member Pantsuit Nation on Facebook.  Numbed, worn out by this long and painful and ugly election, I’d been unwilling to read what contributors had to say. Until this one grabbed my attention:

November 6 at 6:44pm
Took my brother with special needs to vote earlier today. When he was done I asked him why did he vote for Hillary? He said because Trump reminds him of guys at his HS that used to call him names and pick on him, and Hillary reminds him of his favorite teacher that protected him. I told him his story was inspiring if could share it with people and he said YES.

Wow.

You know, when I saw the video of Donald Trump ridiculing a New York Times reporter’s disability, my horror went so deep it was impossible to imagine that my distress could be shared. That’s what deep, deep pain does, I think. It’s exquisitely and powerfully personal. It isolates as it overwhelms. Our horror is strictly ours.

But as countless Pantsuit Nation’s Muslims and survivors of sexual abuse and immigrants and men and women wearing “Don’t Dis My Ability” tee shirts are making clear, our pain and horror at all the gut-wrenching things Donald Trump has done and said is shared. Magnified. Sanctified. And we are stronger together.

Thanks, Facebook.

 

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.

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.”