Steve had a headache; I have a head cold. We talked about celebration and seriousness, listened to Medieval motets and re-read John Keats’ The Eve of St. Agnes. We watched The Apartment again, and fell asleep shortly after midnight, listening to music. Thich Nhat Hahn talks of birthdays and other milestones simply as “continuations”. Life goes on; time is our own invention. There will be another occasion for champagne. Today we slept and listened to our bodies healing.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
from In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
blogged by thousandfold echo
The world did not end yesterday. We are in a new cycle, heading closer to the Sun once more.
In years past, I would have spent this day at an Episcopal church, practicing with the choir, ushering my children through the Christmas pageant, greeting friends, and sneaking private moments in the candlelit darkness whispering devotions to Jesus and His Father. I would have sent more than a hundred letters through the mail to people far and wide with Scriptural messages and personal anecdotes illustrating the great salvific actions of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the world. I would have asked for and promised prayers for numerous specific ailments and misfortunes. I would have spoken and written my heartfelt greetings using words like “blessings”, “gifts”, “faith”, “Emmanuel” and “Savior”.
This year is different.
I have no tree; I have no gifts wrapped and waiting; I have not sung a hymn or carol; I have no creche with empty manger awaiting the figure of a baby. I am the same person, though, with the same heart and breath and life blood. I use a different language now to try to express my deepest hope for peace and love to rule my life and the lives of those with whom I share this planet. I no longer profess to know a single Truth; I no longer presume to belong to a select portion of humanity; I no longer pretend that the concepts in my brain adequately reflect very much at all of reality.
The posture I hope to adopt is openness. To face the world, the people in it, the marvel of change and mystery beyond my control, without hiding behind a mask or label or system, is a severe challenge. Had I not already buried a husband, fledged a flock of four, sold a home I had for 20 years, and left employment, I might not believe that I could live without clinging to conventional structure. I test my ability to be flexible, graceful, alive and aware every day. I hope to learn. I hope to grow. I hope to love the world (and myself) more genuinely as I do. This is my holy quest, and every day is a holiday. I celebrate the mingling of material and spirit, the incarnation of life in the substances of Earth. I will eat and drink and hug the bodies of people I love with festive joy as before – but differently.
I include the entire Universe in this celebration. Yes, this means you! Peace to you all. Love, joy, humility and grace be with us all together….scillagrace.
Life continues; a new cycle begins. It’s the shortest day of the year. Imagine our ancestors noting the the diminishing of light and wondering anxiously if the sun would return…and it does! We are so used to “knowing” all this that we can grow so jaded and incapable of surprise and awe. But why not retain the ability to be surprised, delighted, bowled over by the wonder of Life?! And also to include Death in that cycle. One of my favorite passages from Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself”):
“What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
Looking through my files of photos, I found two that I remember as being surprising moments of serendipity, both of which are of birds. Birds are surprising. They alight and fly off at their own whim, so catching one on camera is a gift. The first shot is one I took with the little Lumix when a hawk landed in the maple tree right outside my bedroom window. To have this elegant wild predator just a few feet from my hidden wide-eyed face was a real treat. I had to take the shot through a dirty window, but still…
This second shot is one I took the first time I went to a State Park with my brand new Canon Rebel T3i in hand. Sandhill cranes were flying overhead, and I took a chance that perhaps with this new camera, I would actually get a clear image.
Yesterday was a very sad day for me. I was following up on a news article I read a few weeks ago about indigenous Americans purchasing sacred land in the Black Hills. I was happy that they had raised the $9 million they needed, but I was led deeper into the story and watched a TED talk and slide show that made me very emotional. Then the breaking news stories started flooding the internet. Gun violence, death, fear, suffering, blame. A hurting world in sudden outbursts of information and misinformation. Another seemingly random mass shooting.
Do no harm.
I suppose that is an impossible task. Everywhere we tread, we harm something. It’s our responsibility to be aware of that. What is the positive alternative? Make peace. What if there were mass ‘peace’-ings instead? What if the media covered screens with healing stories of kindness, of love, of compassion, of good will? What if our every breath was tuned toward acceptance and wholeness? What would that look like?
Imagine. A group of people, young and old, of all colors, surrounds a school where young minds are developing ideas of the world. The students are beginning to formulate their own opinions about the world and whether it is a place of fear or not. These opinions will shape their interactions and responses for years to come. And the students hear from their open windows a sound that begins to grow…it starts with a single voice. It is singing a clear melody in an ancient language…”Dona…nobis…pacem…”. Another voice joins in. The tune is spread, broader, higher, deeper, from voice to voice. A child inside the school picks up the cue and begins. And another…and another. The music blankets the classrooms, the cafeteria, the hallways, the offices. “Dona nobis pacem”…”Give us peace”. Peace is given, shared, lived, spread. This is how the world changes from a place of fear begetting fear to a place of safety and love.
What world do you want to live in? Click here to listen to the melody. Join in, with your voice, with your breath, with your life. Imagine that spreading like news to a hurting world.
I do a lot of reflecting in my mind. Every so often, I also do it with my camera. This week’s photo challenge prompts me to share a few shots. It’s not coincidental, probably, that my reflections show the natural world off some man-made surface. A window. A puddle in the pavement. How often do you feel that you’re looking at real life through the rear-view mirror? What is it that keeps you from turning fully around and facing it head on?
The precepts of Buddhism are on my mind. I’m trying to be precise (aware) and gentle and graceful in this blog, but today, what I’m aware of is anger. And this is very uncomfortable for me because I’ve built up quite a habit of avoiding anger at all costs. I don’t like to find it in others, and I don’t like to find it in myself. However, it’s a very important part of being human. So, how do I face it gracefully?
Steve has some cassette tapes of Thich Nhat Hahn giving talks on relationships. He speaks (or whispers, practically) about how to confront your loved one by opening with, “Darling, I suffer…”
So, who is the loved one I want to confront? Yahoo! news.
Seriously, I am angered by a sense of false reporting that I feel every time I log on. Important issues are sparsely represented. Celebrity activity is ubiquitous. The site reeks of phoniness, of Lifestyle but very little Life. So, in my state of indignation, I wrote a kind of rant. I will post it here with the graceful prefix:
Darling Yahoo!, I suffer. Unemployment isn’t news. Celebrity divorces aren’t news. Pet tricks aren’t news. Death isn’t news. Where is the joyful message of Life? The new moon, the new day, the new leaf, the new mutation, the new energy, the new decomposition, the new layer of sediment, the new moment, the NOW that has never been before and will be over immediately so that the next NOW can appear? The earth, the stars, the Universe is moving and changing, and you’re afraid to report it. The one thing we’re not making up, inventing for our own fascinated misery, gets shushed and shunted because certain people don’t want to hear. What makes them so certain? Their belief freezes everything real, stops it mid-drip, or so they think. Nonsense. Wake up! Get your mind out of those delusions. You can make observations; you can’t make certain. Bring me observations of the Universe, dear Yahoo!, and less of the machinations of man.
The WordPress Daily Post sent me an interesting challenge: “For this special mid-week photo challenge, we want to see portraits of you doing something that inspires you to blog.” The challenge for me is that I am rarely in a photo, as I’m usually the one behind the camera! However, I found a selection of 5 photos that may serve this purpose.
The theme of my blog is “Striving to live gracefully in my 50th year.” I began it on my 49th birthday, and its purpose was to give me a vehicle for sharing my journey toward maturity in writing and pictures. I find inspiration for growth all around me. These pictures illustrate just a few examples. Here is a self-portrait of me wearing the corset that was part of my costume as a historic interpreter. That job inspired many posts about history, lifestyle, and preservation. Here is a picture of me with my father before he died of Alzheimer’s disease. I have met others who are caring for a parent with dementia through this blog, and questions of facing mortality, change, loss and frustration with grace have inspired many posts and comments. Here is a picture of me hiking in Zion National Park. Nature inspires me and demands my maturity every day. How are we to live in harmony on this planet with all other living and non-living things? Here is a picture of me with my children and my partner and other members of Team Galasso setting out on a walk to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association. My husband died almost 5 years ago from complications of diabetes, namely heart disease. The process of grieving his death and parenting our children drives much of the writing which finds its way into my blog. And finally, here is a picture of me beside a campfire with an abandoned lamb who is dying of starvation without its mother. It illustrates the compassion that inspires me to blog, to connect with humanity through words and photos, to face the reality of our common suffering without looking away, simply to be present in the world, aware, and alive.
The 2012 presidential election is over, swept up like confetti in the parade of change and movement. The conservative, religious, wealthy White male was defeated…for the second time. This seems to be frightening a lot of people. Our nation was founded and shaped by those types. Isn’t that what America is supposed to be? Or is America “The Melting Pot”? Is evolution, change and movement something to resist, or something to embrace? Why?
Fear is a powerful agent. Safety is a motivator. Primal survival instincts are very active in our social species. However, the history of the planet shows that species evolve, they change, they adapt to the environment, and they die out. It’s natural. Is it acceptable? Can you accept that your country, your “club” and your family will change? Elements that may threaten you WILL be introduced. How do you respond? How do you want to respond? Who do you want to be? The “fighter”? The “opposer”? The peacemaker? The tolerater? Do you change along with the rest of the Universe…or do you go down stubborn as plastic into the landfill?
You can probably guess my preference. I want to be mulch. I believe something beautiful will always grow.
All the best, America! Be joyful and courageous in change and movement!
Last night, we saw our first Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of the season: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi. An appropriate story for an election month, dramatic and political. Two opera megastars were featured in the leading roles: Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto. The story and the music are captivating. (This performance was rather a disappointment, stiff and unimaginative. I much prefer the La Scala production starring Placido Domingo in the title role, even if his voice is not as resonant as a baritone.) The point is that Simon Boccanegra is a man who spends his life and loses his life in the pursuit of peace. The Italian political scene is characterized by vendetta, family feuds, curses, treason, and rebellion and peopled with villains. The story shows, though, that everyone is a villain. We all harm each other in one way or another. Forgiveness and reconciliation is the only way to make a difference. How many people must the Doge pardon by the end of Act III in order to die peacefully in his daughter’s arms?
This morning, I logged on to the internet and began a conversation with my blogger friend, Helen, of 1500 Saturdays. Her post was about brutal killings in Nigeria, titled “How did humanity get so lost?”. How do we respond to suffering, to the villainy that surrounds each of us? Which stories do we listen to; which do we tell? How do we make a peaceful Sunday in our world? Please click here to read her post, the links, the comments and spend some time considering your own response. “May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.”
Yup, today is Steve’s birthday. He is beginning to get comfortable saying that he is “in his late 40s”. We are still working on being transparent with ourselves and each other, genuine, authentic. This morning we talked about how difficult that is for parents to do with their children. We want to be better people, better role models, especially in front of them. But we miss the opportunity to be fully present, fully alive, and fully responsive when we hide behind those roles. That can hurt. The child may feel like they are not worthy to receive the person they love the most. I remember how honored I felt when my father asked me to help him with something. I was the mother of 4 children by then. He had broken his back and was lying flat in traction in the hospital. He asked me to help him brush his teeth by catching his spit in a pan when he spouted it straight up. It was the first time I truly felt that he was volunteering his vulnerability. I left the hospital in tears, not because I pitied him, but because I was so happy to feel connected to this man I adored for so long.
A man who had been my spiritual director for years sent me a TED video this week about Vulnerability. I highly recommend it. See if you don’t recognize something about yourself here. It may be a surprise. Then see if you can find someone to talk to about it. It may be a pivotal point in your life.
Today is All Saints’ Day as well. Here’s to all the truly good friends, the saints in our lives, who allow themselves to be seen, to be vulnerable, to be genuinely available and thereby, help us to find the courage to join them in that important place. “And I mean, God helping, to be one, too.”
(Steve, dressed up to see the musical “Hair” with me.)