Visited by Grace

Grace comes from Latin, meaning ‘pleasing’ or ‘grateful.’
When are you in a state of grace?
Find grace in nature:
dolphins,
butterflies,
that fox there darting across the field.
Graceful
belongs in a dance.
But also in the way you make your coffee,
set the table,
wipe the counter,
turn the page of the book you’re reading as you snuggle in
before you fall asleep.
Grace is found in dreams.
Grace is found in bedtime prayers.
And before we eat,
children with their heads bowed
mouthing words, an incantation of gratitude,
in remembrance of the hands that grew and picked and prepared
the food we eat.
While there are many things that I miss about life and school
BC (Before Covid)
Oddly, I miss the ruckus of the dining hall
and the hastily said grace,
the pause before the pandemonium of
eating, laughing, arguing.
You still have grace, I remind myself.
There are still dolphins, butterflies,
foxes that dart.
There is still the coffee, the table,
the countertop to wipe.
There are still rote prayers of gratitude
for the hands who grew, picked, prepared our food.
And I am visited by grace as I use my hands to cook,
to clean, to pray,
To turn the page as I snuggle in.
Before the dreams dart like foxes into the night

This morning, I walked the dog. I prayed. I asked to be visited by grace – a gift, not a given.

Daffodils

The morning light
hit the daffodils at the dining room table.
Flowers that my mother-in-law planted
decades ago,
Years before her grandchildren – my now adult children – were born.
What do you plant?
What is the gift of beauty
for descendants
or daughters-in-law whom you have yet to meet?
Plant kindness.
Treasure hope.
Look for signs of spring.

My mother in law’s daffodils
Those who plant kindness shall gather love.
In memory of Charlotte Weaver Jones at the local library.
Where I write, in the morning light.

Spiritual Liberation

Good afternoon from beautiful and sunny Westport, NY. On my morning walk with Charlie, I had a good (and brief) cry because I miss my NYC life. But I am not alone. We’re all missing some semblance of familiarity and normalcy in our current landscape. There are major and minor losses and shifts in our ways of relating to home — with each other and with the world. Knowing that I am not alone comforts me. I am full of gratitude for health and family.

I joined my beloved #spiritchat on Sunday morning. Sign in on twitter at 9 am (eastern time), type the hashtag #spiritchat and witness and join some amazing conversations for an hour. What follows are some of my remarks, observations, and tweets from yesterday morning’s session on ‘Spiritual Liberation.’ Every week, there’s a new theme.

Spiritual liberation sounds like women’s liberation and I am all for that. I love so many things about liberation. Been thinking about the theatre of the oppressed. I have a fleeting memory of meeting some adherents to this improv group in Rio de Janeiro back in ’93, I think. I was leading a small contingent of United Methodist Women leaders to an international conference. And the improvisation group whom I met in my hotel lobby was performing in the City Hall Center the next day. They invited me out for drinks that night. And as an improv performer and theater lover, Oh, I wanted to go. But I hesitated. I did not want to leave my colleagues and that day my camera had been stolen off of my person. I felt fearful. I didn’t leave the hotel that night. I have always regretted my inclination to play it safe.

Self forgiveness.

What are your constraints to liberation? The spatial distancing is getting old. I am trying to see it as an enforced sanctuary. Like Jesus’s 40 days in the Judaean wilderness. What lessons can we take from monks? sequestered nuns? folks on house arrest? How do we fricken’ do this much longer? Like many people, I am an extrovert; I miss the verbal jostling, joking with my colleagues and neighbors.

What is required for spiritual liberation? What is required for this moment in time? Stillness seems a prerequisite and pregnant waiting. Yes and I’m committed to listening to and following the health directives of people way smarter than me.

As for needing to ‘make do,’ yesterday we went on our weekly store run. We were so excited to be out and about — we bought the fixings for a cake but forgot the toilet paper. Note to self: Remember the essentials. Let them eat cake — for reals.

Someone mentioned ‘synchronicity’ on my twitter stream. I remembered being in college, in this course ‘Body, Mind, Soul,’ and I loved discovering Jung’s words about meaningful coincidences. Signs, symbols, myths.

And how does spiritual liberation relate to the community?

‘“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together,” Lilla Watson said. I find liberation in the mutuality of helping and working together.

And I’m keen to find the humor in our present moment. Where is the silliness in life? The other day we ordered from Ledge Hill, a local microbrewery, a beer called Compassion. The kids tried a sip. One wrinkled her nose. “Compassion is bitter,” I said. We laughed.

Feeling rooted in a particular place, I find comfort. A local artist here in the Adirondacks left seashells around town. I’m always seeing them as I walk the dog. It feels like such a gift — to come upon a seashell in the countryside. Like life is one big Easter Egg hunt.

Here are some pictures of the seashells in town.

Creating Rituals

In high school, I had a friend Sue P., who always stepped into her home on her right foot — through the threshold on the same foot. And I was jealous of her ritual. Her magical thinking seemed exceedingly sophisticated. I admired her commitment to it.

What are my quirky rituals? Do I even have any? Of course, I do. We all do. Commuting via citibike to work? Or earlier in the morning, coffee with my journal, alone at the kitchen table. Yes, I have that comforting ritual.

I’ve been thinking about rituals and the purpose they serve. I believe they somehow connect us to the divine.

And these rituals, like bedtime prayers and journaling and making art and maybe even chatting on the phone with my mother every day now, keep us sane and connected.

I’ve been reading Eric Booth’s Tending the Perennials, lent to me by Lindsay. And we talk about the book as we walk the dogs — a ritual.

Booth writes about his pilgrimage into the woods for a week. Alone. Naked. He sets himself the task of writing or thinking of one thousand things for which he is grateful.

And today, when I started my day with journaling, I wrote about the things for which I’m grateful:
It started like this:
my nose
the sun peeking through the clouds
my parents, my darlings
the New York Times
homes full of light
travel to Italy, esp. that memory of riding through the wet streets on the back of a Vespa
jigsaw puzzle pieces
homemade quiche
social media for good
Deb’s generosity
hearing aids
home

And there is more. There is always more. At least one thousand good things more. It is a comfort to simply keep a ritual for which to remember gratitude.

Morning walk today.
I find myself making flowers.

Lost and Found

If I visit the small lost and found department of my life, I wonder what I would find there. The things that I don’t even recall losing. That high-collared Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown, I wish I had it now for this spring dressed as winter in the North Country.
During this pause, this enforced sanctuary, I’m aware of the recent big and small trips I’ve missed. To commemorate my dad’s life in Sarasota; to volunteer at McCurdy School in Espanola. I grieve.
Take time to grieve so many losses. And the loss of certainty.
Of course, we’ve found things too. Vast swaths of uninterrupted time with darlings. Sometimes bickering. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes walking the dog. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) watching Netflix.
I’ve found that frisson of joy when I hear a friend’s voice on the phone. Definitely, I feel loved.
There is – yes – a sense of finding and losing. And we’ve experienced loss.
One recent twist, I’ve found a forgiving heart for any and all who live with fear, the shadow self.

And a desire to turn to visual art — as ‘not the thing I do, but the place I visit.’ Imperfectly, yes. For we are only human.

My dad would say, ‘what someone thinks of you is none of your business.’

This prompt was inspired by my creative muse Julie Jordan Scott.

Some Say

Some say the world was shook like a timepiece on its side

What’s that called again?

drifting, falling sand in a time thingy?

It doesn’t matter. Words don’t matter.

In the mornings, I’ve watched the birds

I hear their screeches calls pitches as if nothing’s changed.

I watch

I wait

It is not forever in a moment

It is only shifting sand. I lose words.

Loose words.

Words take their own meandering path.

Words, at a loss.

Picked up by birds

Flying where?

I will watch

Wait

Shifting, falling sand in an hourglass.

Oh, Thank God! That’s the word – hourglass.

I thought I’d lost it.

Shifted, shook untimed time in an hourglass beyond the sun when the dawn or dusk swoops like sand

falls

drifts

drops

done

timeless time in a moment. Now.

Coloring and sleeping. Restoring and replenishing.
Walking. Watching. Waiting. Travels with Charlie.

Welcome Home

A neighbor dropped off the cobbler and the soup.

I greeted him from behind the closed screen door.

“Welcome home,” he said; he turned away.

Small acts of kindness set down like homemade vegetable soup on your doorstep.

We live to lighten each other’s load, of course, we do.

Yet when someone lightens your load, it comes as a surprise.

The load unexpectedly lighter.

The heavy weight drops. You were unaware of how much you carried.

Just because of the soup.

Just because you’re anxious,

Doesn’t mean you’re not right to be. You still get to laugh.

A lot.

Laugh more.

While you dance and the floor collapses and the space expands.

And yes, in meditation, the rising and falling of breath, the expanding and collapsing.

The rising and falling of sunshine and moonshine, dance partners,

Taking turns.

Like this planet turning around the sun.

Life and home and welcome and distance.

Gone from the city for a week, in ways we are more connected.

We are more reflective.

Who knew walking the dog would save me?

I never had a dog. I’m liable to make mistakes.

Who wants to be perfect anyway?

Yesterday, I gave up. I said, “Forget the family dinners. It’s too much work for me. Too much bickering from the three of you.”

And then the kids cooked dinner and I set the table.

I was on an island, and the kids came on a boat to rescue me.

And we laughed. And we bickered more. And cleaned up together. Mostly.

This is not Gilligan’s Island. Or a sequestered monastery in Switzerland.

But life is richer and more full of gems.

Gems of compassion and heartbreak.

The world is both simpler and more complicated than we ever knew.

I needed the homemade soup, the pizza, the rescue from my neighbors, children, friends.

I needed the “Welcome home.”

I took Charlie for a nature walk this morning. Travels with Charlie.

Amelia Flew Alone

Amelia

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia it was just a false alarm

-Joni Mitchell

Amelia Earhart. Flew alone. Flew and disappeared.
I’m thinking about Amelia as I wait and watch.

The view from the office window, I call command central.

The snow falls in slow motion;
that sideways snow,
white falling from the sky.

Watching from the window as if I had nowhere to go.

(I have nowhere to go.)
Nature puts on a last gasp of a winter show.

Like this little pup, we care for

for a few months,
we nap.

Unused to flying like Amelia,
unused to stillness,
to silence,
to slowing down.

To stop, stop, stop,

when I want to go, go, go.

Like the snow,

quiet,

sideways falling.

Embrace the view from and of and in the sky.

Become like the snow in a
slow motion life,

turned upside down, a snow globe.

Flying in the crystal sunshine.

Landing safely, slowly.

Amelia Earhart “passed the time by reading poetry, learning to play the banjo and studying mechanics,” while convalescing from the Spanish Flu one hundred years ago.

according to Wikipedia.
  • Who are your heroes?
  • How are you getting by?
  • Are you able to write? Make art?
  • What’s your secret to slowing down?
  • What’s the view from your ‘command central?’

Why here?

About ten days ago, I got my hair highlighted at Jean Louis David. As I was leaving, I saw a friend, an older neurologist, getting his haircut and he said that his spouse was coming up to Westport the next day. A voice inside me cried, ‘Can she take me with her?’

But then I remembered my three kids and the dog we were planning to dogsit. My connections. One of my daughters was returning the next day from college and the other was uncertain if her college was going to reopen as planned.

That night I helped at the church soup kitchen. Then the kids met me and we walked to my son’s climbing wall. That was the last time we were in a group of more than our core family unit. My one daughter and I climbed very briefly, then we shopped.

And now we’ve landed here.
Why here?
Why now?
I think that there is something about this place in the Adirondacks. It is where we came after 9/11. It is where I was when Hurricane Sandy hit.

And when my friend Mary suggested the escape from NYC and connected with me one week ago today, I jumped. We moved up to Westport, NY on Saturday night.

Because, like with 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy, once again, the world changed over night, didn’t it?
Our indoor rock climbing jaunt was not even two weeks ago. But it was a lifetime ago. It was another world. One we knew would change. Change for good? We wait.

The climbing wall is definitely a great metaphor for this moment. ‘We grab a hold, not that one, this one. stretch this way. scamper up. use every bit of strength you have. use every possible move. like chess but with your body. find your toe hold. hang on. if you fall, land gently.’

Tough times can spark depression. It’s possible that if you’re not depressed right now, you’re not paying attention. Yes, there’s depression and there’s planning and gratitude. Of course, immensely grateful for the medical workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers. My beautiful, crazy kids, this crazy dog.

Let me add: grateful for car rental companies and gas station attendants. I bought milk on the four or five hour trip north on Saturday night. Overflowingly grateful for my sister-in-law who’s been caring for Chris while he shelters in place in Florida with her.

Having a spouse with physical challenges is hard enough. Disability is hard enough in good times. Extra hard in tough times. Still he and I talk by phone every day. We say, I love you; It’s going to be okay.

I find comfort in the beauty and the softness of nature as the world came / comes crashing down.

I write these thoughts by setting my timer for ten minutes. Creativity and nature and community and friends will save us. They already have.

A week ago I jotted down this list:

1) write thank you notes and birthday cards 2) journal 3) make a schedule 4) eat well 5) slow down 6) take the news in small doses 7) notice nature 8) check in with the olds 9) read 10) foster an animal 11) make art.

Charlie – our dog for a couple of months.
View from the office this morning.

You are special

This!

“You can’t do what I do,
but I can’t do what you do either.
That’s why we are both important to the plan of God.”

This quote from Mother Teresa, heard by my friend Fr. John Cusick and shared this morning on his Lenten reflections Facebook post, reminds me, firstly, that there are so many things that I cannot do. I cannot sing, speak Arabic or Spanish, wire electricity, move mountains, provide hospice care, trade bonds, nurse a baby, or climb a high ladder.

But there are also real gifts that I do have. There are many things that I do really well — write, edit, teach, laugh, encourage, walk, dance, paint, and advocate for justice.

When I was a kid, we had a poster in the kitchen, something like: ‘You are beautifully made. God doesn’t make junk.’ I believe it was a contemporary version of the Psalms: ‘You are beautifully and powerfully made.” This poster always made me feel good. Because, you know, sometimes we all feel worthless. But if we’re made in the image of God, we can’t be all bad. And I do believe God was so happy when God made us. God said, ‘wow, this is good,’ not just when the great saints, like Mother Teresa, were made, but when you and I, ordinary saints, were made. That warms my soul.

See, every day is a chance to start anew, to take ordinary actions in this extraordinary moment in history. Write the new story. Find the new way. Seek higher ground. Unite rather than divide.

And in telling your story, choose to emphasize your gifts and the talents of those around you. Do not belittle yourself. Or bully those whom you perceive as weaker. The other day when the boys I teach were gossiping a bit cruelly, I reminded them, “Do not be like vultures, eating at the tragedy of others.” I know it’s a graphic image but mean-spirited gossip is like that — a bit of a foul feast. And the boys paused when I gave them this image and I hope that they asked themselves whether they were dining on roadkill or stopping like a Good Samaritan to help some fellow animal in need.

For we are only human animals. In our shared humanity, we can find and celebrate our own gifts and the gifts of others.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Poster

After seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood the other day, I was inspired by Fred Rogers and told a third grader C. who was struggling with a grammar problem, “You’ve got this. You’re special.”

“I hope so,” C. replied, a bit indignantly, as if it was so obvious how special he was. It made me smile. I hope today finds you smiling at the wisdom and gifts of those around you, too, including yourself.