Bowed

One of my neighbors teaches at Harvard Divinity School, a fifteen minute walk. So I often see him pass by on his sidewalk commute. Yesterday morning and, again, today, he walked past slowly, head bowed, his tall, gangly body folding into itself, into his grief. Yes. His grief. You know and I know what news he woke up to yesterday. You know and I know what is breaking his heart. We know what crushes him. It crushes us all. Again? Again? Dear God.

No, I am not comforted as I watch him walk past. (And, yes, I will continue to do what I can do change our unconscionable gun laws.) My neighbor’s grief speaks to me, though. It touches me. It is public—and, literally, moving.

Which is why, I guess, I feel compelled to write about it.

 

 

 

 

OG’s Seat

White Butterfly on Ficus Tree

Just before my turn to speak at a parole hearing last week, a story came to me; a story I hoped might convey what I wanted to say. So, after telling the parole board after my meeting’s Wednesday night sharing circle, I concluded by saying something like this:

“One of the founders of our circle, OG*, often comes late. He does construction so it’s hard for him to get to the sharing circle, which begins at 7:00, until it has already started. So, because he’s so important to our community, we always put out an extra chair. Now, you might say “That’s OG’s seat.” You might say “That’s Elijah’s chair.” Or you might say that every week, our circle is saving the space for redemption, for transformation.”

Honestly? From where I sat, only one bit of all that verbiage resonated: That OG did construction! I could see the parole board take that (seemingly minor) detail in. Nod their heads. “Ah, yes,” those nods seemed to say. “Returning citizens do construction. That’s how the world works.” And, those nods also seemed to say, “This white-haired Quaker is connected to people like OG. Who is real. So this circle she’s describing seems to be real. And an actual possibility for X, if we decide to grant him parole. Oh.”

So, no, those precious words, redemption, transformation? They didn’t carry the water. A seemingly insignificant detail did. Oh.

Whatever works, right?

*Not his real initials. But OG kinda works.

“Profound, Deep Work”

[Captured (Rosy-Fingered) Ray from Setting Sun; Alfred, Maine, March, 2017]

Sunday I had the privilege to hear Dr. Amanda Kemp talk about “holding the space for transformation.” Wow. Just. Wow. Or, as my late, beloved friend, George Preston, used to say: “Good stuff!”

So I invite you to acquaint/reacquaint yourself with Dr. Kemp. Good stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Primary Source

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[My Life as Spiral Notebooks; My Journals]

This summer, I am pretending to be the Jane Goodall of swallows. I sit on my deck sipping iced coffee and watch their silver underbellies dart and circle above me. I note swallows’ different altitudes on different mornings and hypothesize why. I note clouds, weather, what’s in bloom in my back yard. I plan to make meaning of what I watch.

But, you say, why don’t you simply go online, go to the library? You could read what the real Jane Goodalls of swallows have already observed; everything you don’t understand, all swallows’ peculiarities and behaviors will be nicely explained for you!

Yes, I know. Not seeking others’ info is the whole idea!  Imbedded in that “I plan to make meaning” statement are a whole bunch of adverbs. Like “Haphazardly.” Like “Randomly.” Like “Sketchily.” Like “definitely not Type A-ishly.” And, most important, “Reverently.” (And let me just note how indulgent it was to write out that string of adverbs—which I tend to avoid because they are considered the sign of a second-rate writer.)

What liberation to let my own eyes and ears—and heart—be my primary source!

“More powers and personalities than are visible”

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[Chevy Hubcap; San Diego, 2015]

I was ten years old the first time I saw “Friendly Persuasion”— at a small-town movie theater in upstate New York.*  Surrounded by classmates and friends, devouring, sating myself on an entire box of Welch’s Pom Poms, I watched lots of movies at that movie theater. Kids did that in those days.

Later in my life, after I had become a Quaker, I watched that 1956 movie again and was pretty horrified by this schmaltzy version of Jessamyn West’s best seller. But by then I’d understood enough about child development—and movie making—to realize that this “In Magnificent Colour”  feature, with its simpy theme song sung by simpy Pat Boone and its other Hollywoodisms, had nevertheless made a real and lasting impression. About war. About the challenges of living out one’s faith. And, to some degree, about what it means to be a Quaker.

So last week, when I spotted a used copy of Jessamyn West’s short stories for sale at my Quaker meeting, I eagerly bought it, curious about this Quaker writer who may be better known these days as a distant cousin of Richard Nixon than as an accomplished writer in her own right/write. And as a Quaker writer, myself, I was also curious if I’d discover overt or covert references to her faith in her writing.

What a beautiful writer! For the past week I’ve been sating myself as if devouring Pom Poms again. A fairly frequent visitor to southern California, I have especially relished her exquisite descriptions of Inland Empire wildlife and small-farm family life as it once was.

But, no, I haven’t come across much “Quakerly” writing—but perhaps I’ve missed them. Because, as you will see, West was a SLY Quaker writer:

“My God, my God,” Mr. Fosdick said.

Mr. Fosdick used the name of God, Christ, Jesus, heaven, hell, the devil, and damnation very often. I wouldn’t exactly call it cursing. It was more as if he felt himself the resident of a universe where there were more powers and personalities than were visible, and that this was his courteous way of letting them know that he was aware of them and was trying to include them in his life. (from “Up A Tree”)

*Think “Bedford Falls”—which was actually Seneca Falls, NY—from “It’s A Wonderful Life”