February comes, a month of hygge, squirrels burrow in the knots of trees, stalks huddle in the too-cold shade, waiting for the glimmer of a warming sun. February kills my high, bums me out. with its soft slow snow, feathery fistfuls. February, the heart-smacking, lip-centered, wait for longer days. For the spring of birthdays, of another hula hoop, scoop around the sun, for stronger days, when the shoots doesn’t break in the brittle cold, and the loon calls from the lake. And even the Met opens her front doors, wide, like a seamstress, ready to unfurl her crazy quilts.
After today’s second dose of the vaccine, I feel freer but not free. I will follow my bliss but ever so cautiously, slowly. And here’s something to know about me when we meet again, I will not shake your hand or anyone else’s hand for that matter, Never again. Alas, I will hug you.
See, I met a doctor at Kripalu when I were there, from March 6 to 8, 2020, a few days before the world shut down. She, the endocrinologist, told me that hugging’s safer than shaking hands.
Namaste, she and I said when we parted, hand to heart probably safest still. I signed up for an online Kripalu zoom class because I miss the vibe. The class began yesterday. And we were invited to make a wheel out of the areas of our lives. My wheel looked a little deflated.
Look what it is to ride out a pandemic
the tear of masks from a new pup, call him Brandy,
from the makers of masks in China or Russia via your school or workplace
not made for the bite of a dog who mistook the mask for a bone.
You noticed another pile by the entrance to the M5 bus,
comfort to know there is more by the door,
paper and cloth masks
in a glass bowl or on a silver hook.
And look what it is to give your mask away,
three times now, and to grab another,
in three different multiverses, oh tears
for the people, the older, the younger, or maybe born on your same birthday
who forget their masks or must wear the oxygen mask
alone in a buzzing room with hazmat suits,
flowers by the door, pings on the hospital floor,
sirens closer or passing your home
where you left no room, only tears,
for the M5 ride or the dog walk or the recovery room,
torn mask by the door
for the freezing long hauler.
Because we were theater nerds — RJ and I and who else? Pam maybe — we were asked by Mr. Martello to clean the backstage area and scrub the bathroom because Maine South was hosting a guest speaker of great importance. This was probably 1979.
I remember cleaning the counters for her. And putting flowers in the bathroom. I remember hearing her read her poetry. She was diminutive and grand.
The speaker was Gwendolyn Brooks.
I was jazzed by her colloquialisms. By her direct language. Though small of size, she was huge to us, to us in the lily whitest of white suburbs. Her poetry sang.
I especially remember her reading, “We real cool.” And I remember reading it on the page — how she set out the way to read it out loud by the way she broke the lines. She made us pause. At that time, too, I was learning about ‘the Pinter Pause,’ and I was excited by the pauses that poetic language could invite.
The “We”—you’re supposed to stop after the “we” and think about validity; of course, there’s no way for you to tell whether it should be said softly or not, I suppose, but I say it rather softly because I want to represent their basic uncertainty.
So this is February, Black History Month. And I’m pretty much in love with poetry written in spoken language. And I thank God for Ms. Brooks, and Maine South for introducing me to her poetry. In high school, before I learned of Ms. Brooks’ work, I had fallen hard, as young people do, for Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. We’re so lucky to have such a history of amazing women poets in this country. The dramatic work of poet laureate Amanda Gorman continues and expands this poetic tradition.
By hearing Ms. Brooks read her work, I discovered that poetry could merge with drama. That poetry allowed you to try out a new voice. Just as acting allows you to embody a new person. I celebrate the newness of voice and vision of great poets in this country.
When I began that Church a Day writing project, I thought I might find God. I thought I would find out why my Great Uncle Bob loved being a Knight of Columbus. He’d dress up all in white and carry himself proudly as he made his way to his church, the Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Florida.
My childhood memories are imbued with memories of happy church events — of my First Holy Communion, of my father reading at a podium of St. Joan of Arc, of my walking the aisle as a flower girl at my godfather’s wedding, of singing with a Sun City choir as a teenager.
And because I loved church, I started the Church a Day journey. I thought I might find out why I always felt better, coming out of a church than going in.
After a month of visiting churches ten years ago, I discovered — maybe it’s obvious to you — that God was not found alone in a pew. He/she/God was found, at the front door, in the people — the welcoming handyman who turned on the lights for me or the shyly smiling older woman in the row ahead of me.
The thing I hated though, as I sat in the pew, was the moment a priest, pastor, chaplain, deacon, or officiant began puttering around in the sanctuary. Or the altar. Or vestibule. As if a service might start at any moment and I’d be trapped — having to sing or recite some rote passage.
And then the other side of church would set in — my childhood boredom and teen doubt and adult acknowledgement of the ridiculousness and unlikeliness of the Christian faith. I didn’t want any part of organized religion.
I simply wanted to feel the wooden pew, sometimes padded beneath my seat. I wanted to smell the musty, dusty sacred air. I wanted to stare at the symbolism of the stained glass windows. And the way the light shone through them, catching the dust motes. I wanted to be alone with God.
So I must tell you, I won a little award for that Church a Day blog from the Religion Communicators Council. I felt proud and embarrassed. And I share this with you — why? To let you know that I did dig deep and I have had writing success.
Visiting a church a day was a solitary endeavor. I didn’t know what I would find. Didn’t know if I would need anything. Or anyone. And I didn’t want to have to ask. Well, that’s a theme in my life. Like I should know it all already. That I should leave the wisdom of the world to everyone else.
Sitting in a nearly empty church, for it’s true, the churches were almost always empty, I felt at peace. And I’m embarking on a 100 day project and considered visiting a church a day.
But I have questions: What if the churches are closed? What if the people don’t let me in? What if I get stuck in the middle of a service? And who will I meet? Where will I sit? Will I find some calm? Will wisdom descend on me? Or will I learn to be patient for the ways in which I am not wise?
Will, as in the earlier journey, I discover that faith is not found in places? It is found in people.
And so as not to hem myself in and so as to participate in #the100dayproject, I’ll simply call my church a day, thinking about god and beauty project, #100daysofPoemsandPics so that I can play with words and pictures.
I advise you too to start your day by visiting poems and gaining inspiration at the Poetry Foundation.
On New Year’s Day (Do I apostrophize? Note to self: check that.)
I citibiked to 100th Street. (Note to self: get a helmet. Also, note: how nouns become verbs.)
To get a COVID test. (Rapid or reliable? Reliable? The efficacious front desk clerks says, “That will be three to five days for results.” The breezy LPN says, “Expect results in two days. We have to say five.”)
Choose reliable. Wait longer for better.
In waiting room. (Or am I in exam room? Where am I? Note to self: find out where I am.)
I check my feed. (No, wait, note to self: you said you would do poetry first. Too late. You check your twitter feed. The world is falling apart. Has fallen apart. Note to self: stay together. stay in one piece. do not let the world dictate your mood.)
Now. Now. Complete your vow. The vow to write. Write daily.
Visit the poetry foundation every morning. First thing in the morning. Read a poem and the poem, like an umbrella, protects you from the downpour.
(Note to self: avoid the news until you have written or read your daily poem.)
The LPN swabs deep to the brain. Checks the swab.
I wrote this a month ago. I have trouble finishing things sometimes. I am a sprinter not a long-distance runner. What can I say? The test was negative.
In other news, on Wednesday, I will receive my second vaccine shot. As a teacher, I was deemed ‘essential.’ I lunged at an appointment as soon as New York opened sites for educators.
I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a Church a Day post again. See, tomorrow begins #the100day project. I thought of 100 projects I could do:
creating abstract art
caring for my skin
accepting the world as it is
holding self compassion
selling my stuff
writing thank you cards
calling old friends
wearing dresses and skirts
finding meaningful work
traveling during the pandemic
giving hope away
writing my novel and memoir
Yes, these are the ideas I had and then I took a bath. And it came to me as I was submerged under the lavendar water: I could visit a church a day again. I have the time. But are churches even open again?
When I embarked on that blog a million years ago, visiting a church a day allowed me to think about God and my life’s meaning and purpose. The daily pause could even ignite me to do many of the things on my list. And, of course, to pray for an end to this pandemic.
Sparkle. Shine. Refuse to dull. Refuse to cower in the shade. Step into, ride through, bask in the sun.
This morning as I biked through Central Park, hitting the bridal path. (Are those two not the two most beautiful words in the English language, say it with me — bridal path — conjuring up images of weddings and horses and journey), I bathed in the quiet. The loud morning sun shone through the quiet trees. Were they the American Elm trees? Ready to tap out, to hunker down for winter, spread their leaves like a blanket across the path. Like a gentleman in an old movie, laying his coat across the puddle.
See, I have to arrive to school by 7:50 in time to thermal scan (those two words — thermal scan — are not my favorites — conjuring up images of technology and disembodied temperatures). Biking is the fastest route. My heart gets pumping. Earlier, about 6:50 today, the cool in the air, I took a walk with Charlie (Charley? Does it even matter how you spell a dog’s name as they can’t read any way?) And the walk turned into a run, he and I along the Riverside Park sidewalk — this middling age woman and her frisky newfound dog.
What was the point I was trying to make? Oh, I recall, once I heard at a 12 step meeting, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the sun’s rays. And every time I see them, I’m reminded of a Higher Power.” Yes, this. You may not believe in God, but you may believe in the sun’s rays and the way the leaves drift down the bridal path. Believe in the shine, the luminescence the ineffableness of the sun’s sparkle through the bowing of the great Central Park trees.
The sunlight, the trees, they ask for nothing, Not even you for you to notice. Run. Ride. Scan. Shine. Sparkle.
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, A cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, This is the best season of your life. – Wu-me
The poem cleared – unclouded – my mind. Cleansed me. The way a novel, say, the Overstory by Richard Powers, wipes away worries every night. I read a page, another, I try to block out my worries – for family, country, future – take comfort in the overhang of branches.
A novel, like a tree, offers shade. Does not throw shade, offers a respite from worries.
I’ve been telling one daughter to stop saying, “I’m worried about…” and instead try, “I’m wondering about…”
My mindfulness class showed me that I’m fixated on fixing. What is the difference between fixing and healing? I wondered. My mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher, Elaine Retholtz, a wise guru, introduced me to Wu-me’s poem. We shared some reflections:
What do you want to see next? – Lake Bell
You will never own the future if you care what other people think. – Cindy Gallop
A signpost is usually found at a crossroads. So says the definition. And in the teaching book Notice and Note, you’re given six avenues — ways to go or topics of conversation. What should we notice in a book? How do we note what we read?
When discussing literature, there’s often no right or wrong answer. You’re using the signposts to get into the characters of ask the book questions. And questioning is what we want young people to do — in literature and in life. After all, we all have essential questions, such as Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning? The word ‘essential’ has taken on such important meaning this year, with the rise in respect for essential workers.
Have your heard of ‘essential questions?’ When I first started teaching high school five years ago, the department chair told me, “Be sure that you have your Essential Questions posted for all to see somewhere in the classroom.”
I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ I had no idea. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to have the right — the most essential — questions on my bulletin board. So I did what all teachers do when they don’t know and they don’t want to ask. I googled, “What is an essential question?” And of course, I fell into the rabbit hole of what makes a good question. The more questions I had, the more confused I became. But my mentor at my new school four years ago turned me on to this Notice and Note process. Look for the signposts. Discuss these topics. Yes, one category is called Tough Questions, which to me is the same as Essential Questions.
Ultimately, I decided that an essential question is a deep question — one that that leads to more questions and cannot be answered simply with a yes or no response.
Hey, I love learning about learning. Yes, I’m meta like that!