A View of the Hudson

april, cherry blossoms in central and riverside parks
april, cherry blossoms in central and riverside parks

At the end of the day at my coworking community, New Work City, occasionally, we’d get jello shots delivered to our work stations. Now I get chocolate chicken chip cookies and hot chocolate. My career has shifted from corporate-y to entrepreneurial to teaching.

And the river runs through it.

I started writing this blog post on Pajama Day last week. Yes, I got up and changed out of one pair of PJs and put on another pair. Working in a classroom is so way better than working in a cubicle. If only for pajama day. (At New Work City, I could’ve worn PJs, I’m sure; but not at GBGM.)

I asked my husband last night, “Do you think I’ll ever want to go back to corporate-y or non-profit work?”

“No,” he paused, then added, “But you did love your office.”

Ah, gone are the days of having a beautiful office on the 14th floor overlooking Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church. With a big desk (containing a drawer full of shoes) and an expansive view of George Washington Bridge spanning the beautiful Hudson River…Those were the days… (Here, I enter a reverie state…..)

february, the view from my old office
february, the view from my old office

Ahem. Back to reality. From my shared Green Room drama classroom space at the school, I have a drawer in a desk. And still, to be sure, a view of the Hudson River — this time from the first floor.

Between the school buildings and the river, the children run, play, scream. I love the outdoor space of the country school. I love that the kids breathe in cold air between classes. Fresh air is enlivening. I love running outside myself between classes. Hugging my heavy sweater tightly around me.

And all along my pathways, the Hudson River is my guardian angel. Watching over. Gliding beside. Big-shouldered and steady. Freezing over and then, thawing.

I do believe the big floats of ice will melt. Our parkas will be replaced by sweaters. And we’ll see the muddy ground.

First crocus. Then daffodil. Raises her hand. And asks, “Is it my turn?”

Spring asks Winter, “Isn’t it my turn soon?”

Winter hesitates.

“Can I go now?” Spring asks. And then, Winter takes a sabbatical.

Yes, yes, and yes. Spring, it’s your turn.

And all along the way, the river glides by.

Finding Beauty and Health Again

The experience with Coco at the hospital was pretty intense. And I feel a bit knocked off my life’s tightrope — balancing my paid work, my creative work and my (unpaid) family duties.

H. napping at one of the colleges we visited. He is an excellent napper.
H. napping at one of the colleges we visited. He is an excellent napper.

One such responsibility is supporting H. as he applies this week for early decision to a college. He needs a reminder to focus. He’s been coping with the added stress by napping when he gets home from school.

On Saturday afternoon, when I got home from the hospital, I realized I had to still feed and care for the kids. So I hopped on my bike to purchase rice and beans for Coco at La Caridad (the best Cuban Chinese food on the Upper West Side!)

There were a dozen limos on West End Ave. I wondered what was up. And then when I turned at 77th at the Collegiate Church, there were dozens of people pouring out of the church. It was a wedding.

And the sky was blue and the air was fresh, full of autumn but summer lingering. And I felt so full of life and beauty and gratitude. My kid was fine! We were going to be fine!

And people from the wedded were dressed up so fancily — men in tuxes and ladies in silk. I was elated.

At Caridad, I told the guy at the counter, “My daughter’s just out of the hospital.”

And he, this lovely tattoo’ed dude, said, “That’s great. You have two girls, right? And a son?”

Indeed, I do. I’m so lucky. My brother says, “Don’t say you’re lucky. Say you’re blessed.” Ya, that too.

The rice and beans were delicious. And I took a long nap.

I find so much beauty in the flowers in Riverside Park. I love taking pictures with my phone.
Blue sky, nothing but blue sky, and sunflower.

Try Enthusiasm

When I am enthusiastic about a subject I’m teaching, my students are too. If I tell the little ones, “You’re going to like this drama game!” They do. It may be a drama game they’ve played before, like the mirror game. (The mirror game is when you stand across from a partner and mirror their movements. And then your partner mirrors yours.)

When my kids get fresh, I tell them, “Hey, your attitude is contagious. Try enthusiasm.”

We live in a snarky culture. For sure, I can be sarcastic. Because I’m witty. But sarcasm seems the opposite of enthusiasm. Sarcasm stands back in judgment. Enthusiasm jumps all-in, without a care for consequence.

Well, there is the consequence that you may be made fun of. As I am by my children. Regularly. (For my bike, zipcar, business, enthusiasm, whatever.) But then, they’re teens. I think sarcasm’s wired in teens.

I tell my kids, Most people are naturally shy. When you meet someone new, if you’re just a little bit out-going, you put people at ease. Enthusiasm is charismatic, fun and entertaining.

Me at the Climate March. (photo credz Pamela Cooper)
Me at the Climate March. (photo credz Pamela Cooper)

Here’s an enthusiastic picture of me. As you can see, I’m enthusiastic about the whole world.

On a side note, I like to think I came up with the hashtag #yellowpants Whenever I see someone wearing yellow pants, I think to myself “hashtag yellow pants.” I’m enthusiastic about my yellow pants. Because they were one of my last purchases at Loehmann’s. But that’s another story.

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” — Allen Ginsberg via the daily post  

Do you follow Ginsberg’s advice — in your writing and/or in your everyday life?

Blessing of the Animals

Last Sunday I went to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis. It was so peaceful even though there were so many animals in the sanctuary. The music of Paul Winter filled the immense Gothic cavern with the sounds of whales and wolves.

A restless set of boys and dogs in the row in front of us left before it was over so they missed the exotic animals as they paraded (processed) down the center aisle.

The procession of animals was lovely and mind-blowing. You can see a rat carried proudly by preteen girl. I loved the humility of the goats and sheep, made all majestic by a wreath of flowers around their necks! There is beauty in the humility of animals. There was a pig and my favorite, a kangaroo. On the way out, a yak!

I so dug the anomaly of animals in church – the sacredness of animals. That which is ordinary became extraordinary.

I am not really an animal-lover, but I appreciate their lack of subtext.

I left the cathedral, oddly, filled with reverence. There is a variety to life — a vastness of our ecosystems and our living relations that is truly awesome. I can only imagine there must be a creator when you see the variety in God’s creation (and in the crazy matrix of evolution).

Here are some pics I snapped at the service. Thanks to Joanna Parson for getting me to St. John the Divine this year, something I have always wanted to do and now have done! I recommend you experience this beauty too!

Yes pets resemble their owners. A lot of dogs, cats, hamsters exist peaceably in the sanctuary.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Restless kids with hamsters and dogs, waiting for the blessing of the pets.
The communion line with dogs.
pig in church
Glorious turtle
This parrot loves NY
little pony in the sactuary
white goose
my favorite, a kangaroo!
I have no idea what this animal is
All this beauty in the largest Gothic cathedral in the U.S.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred . . . let me sow love. Where there is injury . . . pardon. Where there is doubt . . . faith. Where there is despair . . . hope. Where there is darkness . . . light. Where there is sadness . . . joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled . . . as to console, To be understood . . . as to understand; To be loved . . . as to love, For It is in giving . . . that we receive. It is in pardoning . . . that we are pardoned, It is in dying . . . that we are born to eternal life.” – St. Francis (c. 1181 – 1226)

In other words: Today, let me get out of my way. Let me find beauty in my ordinary world. Let me hear the music of nature. Let me be someone who goes with the flow. Let me not judge people harshly. Let me be kind and generous. Just for today.

What I Mean by Spiritual Autobiography

First Church of Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA
First Church of Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
scandinavia (Photo credit: herbstkind)

This morning Kelly forwarded me a question someone had written on our website, “What do you mean by spiritual autobiography? How is that supposed to help us grow?”

I felt defensive. Isn’t it obvious, dear reader?

But I’ve learned that quick email replies have helped my business. Answering random emails is part of the small business owner’s task. This is especially true as I’m trying to get participants to this month’s Writing Workshops. So here’s what I wrote to the person (who did not leave his/her name!)

Here’s what I mean: In the spiritual autobiography class, we look at moments in our lives not as random but as meaningful — small moments and big moments. For ex., being in my Scandinavian grandma’s kitchen was as sacred as church.

We look for the times when we turned one way instead of another — times when we felt found after feeling lost. These are the moments we look for and write about.

How spiritual autobiography helps: We see the pattern in our lives. When we find these threads of holy and sacred throughout our lives, we can create the patchwork quilt of our purpose. Like all quilts, this will warm and comfort us. It will add beauty to our lives.

We see the events in our lives. not as the results of a roll of the dice but as the intentional striving for growth — spiritual and personal growth. But we find within ourselves an increased sense of belonging, responsibility, and purpose.

I base my techniques on my friend and mentor’s book, The Story of Your Life by Dan Wakefield.

I’ve taught this class in weekly sessions and in day-long retreats. Most recently, at the end of March, I led this class for an afternoon session at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Boston. We laughed and cried. It’s a privilege to do this work. Thanks for being interested and for inquiring.

Sincerely, Mary Beth

M.B. Coudal and Dan Wakefield
Me and Dan (Wakefield) on his way home.
Visiting Harvard
I took the kids to the Boston area for their spring break.

Is the Pope Better Than You and Me?

At a disco party in the early ’80s, I snorted something and my heart raced, pounding like it was going to beat right out of my chest. I prayed to God, “Please God, let me live. I will never do that again! Let me get beyond this moment and if I do, I will be good. For the rest of my life, I will be good, God.”

I don’t know if it was at that exact moment but at some point in my life, I decided to be good. I prayed to God to be good. It was my trajectory. After all, as a girl growing up in a big Catholic family, I put stock in goodness.

Yesterday, I saw the movie, Oz the Great and Powerful. There is a theme in that movie about being good and doing good. About how pursuing the good is better than being a great man. And, of course, there is the theme that people need a leader to whom they can project their hopes onto.

And I think about these things as the world wonders about the next pope. Does he pursue good? Or simply greatness?

Is he better than average? Is he holier than you and me?

I wonder why good people don’t get ahead or to the top of institutions. Having worked for a church bureaucracy for years, I’ve noticed that church leadership values intelligence. Perhaps only colleges or universities value intelligence more than religious organizations. But just because you’re smart, does that mean you are holy? Or kind? Or Christ-like? Or have an attitude of servant leadership towards the world?

I bet the new pope is smart, probably smarter than me, and probably more diplomatic too. But does that make him good? He probably knows the bible better than me. But has he held hands with the sick or dying? Has he helped people who feel alone to become a part of a community? Has he loved the poor? I am good, but I am not always that good.

This I know: the greatest saints were the worst sinners. I hope this pope smoked or snorted something he shouldn’t have. I hope he had a revelation when he thought he was dying, like I did; and I hope he then dedicated his life to being and doing good. And I hope he is like Oz, not all that great and powerful after all, but simply a good man. He is, like me and like you, someone who is human, has made mistakes and now has stories to tell.

I want to be inspired by someone who is more than an intellectual, a bible expert, a magician or a diplomat. I want to be inspired by someone who is and who values the good in all of us.

a window at Duke University Divinity School
a stained glass window at Duke University seminary.

God in Las Vegas

They don’t call it America the Beautiful for nothing. God, this country is beautiful. I visited Las Vegas two weeks ago.

Wasn’t too interested in the usual things people go to Vegas for. To me, casinos are like Chuck E. Cheese for sedentary grown ups.  Not that I don’t like being sedentary. Not that I don’t like Chuck E. Cheese, but on the few times I’ve taken my kids there, I’ve left with a massive headache and a lot less money in my pocket. I’m not too interested in The Strip, because I have a problem knowing what to do when I’m overstimulated — too many lights, sounds, people. (That’s why I prefer Central Park to Times Square in NYC.)

I am into nature. I find God in nature. I find beauty in trees.

I am an unashamed tree hugger. I will hug a tree every chance I get. You can ask my kids. I make them hug trees too. I say out loud,  “Thank you, old tree, for being here.”  In Vegas, I didn’t hug a tree, but I discovered a canyon.

With only a couple of hours before I had to catch the plane back to NYC, I asked the front desk clerk what sight I should take in. “Red Rock Canyon,”  she said without hesitation. I never got to thank her.

It was other-worldly beautiful. The snow the night before made the whole thing look like a moonscape. The red of the rock. The white of the snow. The gauzy grey clouds. The ocean-blue sky.

Every turn on the 13-mile scenic drive caused a gasp in wonder. “Purple mountains majesty.” Indeed. 

When I left the scenic drive, and was back on the highway, I noticed so many cars pulled over on the shoulder. The drivers were all standing beside their cars, looking up at the canyon walls, the snow, the sky.

I bet just about everyone who saw the canyon that day pulled over to photograph it on their phones or pocket cameras. I did.

To me, the sights of the natural world around Vegas are so much more compelling than the lights of the Strip. Maybe the tourism board doesn’t promote the natural world near Vegas because the visit doesn’t add to the region’s economy the way casinos do.

Yet the sight of Red Rock Canyon covered in snow stimulated me in a deep spiritual way. In a way no manmade luxury hotel could ever do.

I twittered that afternoon that seeing the Red Rock Canyon covered in snow made me believe in God. Someone replied, asking me then if Ansel Adams was an atheist? I don’t know. All I know is that trees, rocks, clouds, and natural beauty inspire awe.

That afternoon reminded me that I am small and the world is big. For me, that’s a God moment.