“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you!
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?”
– Fred McFeely Rogers
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”
Author Terry Tempest Williams spoke at the Madison Public Library a couple of years ago. I eagerly listened to her tell stories of her creative process and her life as an environmental activist. As an advocate for Nature, she is a voice in the political arena, speaking and writing for a crucial entity that has no verbal communication of its own. Often her advocacy comes down to what she calls “Difficult Dinner Parties” where she engages with leaders of various types in discussions of how their actions and policies affect the environment.
In today’s political climate, there could be many reasons why hosting a “Difficult Dinner Party” might be advantageous for coming to understand a different point of view from friends, colleagues, even loved ones. Unfortunately, due to the threat of coronavirus, getting together for dinner isn’t an option in many cases.
Consequently, communication in a convivial setting has been hampered. To me, that’s a sad thing. I think it’s a morale-buster. Maybe it’s not the biggest problem we face in these difficult times, but I sure do miss a good dinner party — the preparation, the anticipation, the conversation, the communication of shared food, shared words, shared ideas, shared affection.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
How many different cultures have a ritual of gathering together at table to confer? Conference tables still occupy the high-rise offices of the most sophisticated enterprises. Maybe they only serve water and coffee, but the origin seems the same to me.
“Communication is truth; communication is happiness. To share is our duty; to go down boldly and bring to light those hidden thoughts which are the most diseased; to conceal nothing; to pretend nothing; if we are ignorant to say so; if we love our friends to let them know it.”
Here’s hoping that around the globe, we will be able to return to conversation around the table, that we will create safe and hospitable places and times to communicate directly and honestly, that we will come together to build bonds of understanding and friendship. Thanks to our guest host for this week’s challenge theme, a horse named Biasini. I’m sure you’ll want to follow the link to learn more about that!
(Reblogging from 2012. Today would be Alice’s 61st birthday, but she will be forever 20 years old.)
Blue eyes. That was one thing that made her unique among 4 sisters. She had our father’s eyes. She was the shortest among us; I believe I grew to have at least a half an inch over her. But that took a while. Since she was 3 years older, I trailed behind her most of my life. I definitely didn’t mind following in her footsteps. I adored her. She was the sweet sister, the kind one, the one who loved children and animals and had friends. She somehow spanned the gap between being a nerd and being popular. Not that she wasn’t picked on early in grade school. We all were, and she was very sensitive to it. When she was 10, she ran away from a boy who was chasing her down the sidewalk. He caught up to her and managed to grab the back of her coat hood. He yanked her down hard, and she fell backwards onto the sidewalk, hitting her head and fracturing her skull. The boy was sent to military school, and Alice recovered amid cards and gifts and angels surrounding her bed.
She started dating first among us, though she wasn’t the oldest. I wanted to learn how this “boyfriend” business worked, so I watched her very closely, sometimes through the living room drapery while she was on the porch kissing her date goodnight. She modeled how to be affectionate in the midst of a distinctly cerebral family, shy about demonstrating emotion. She gave me my first pet name: Golden Girl or Goldie, and then the one that stuck in my family, PG or sometimes Peej. By the time I was 16, we were very close friends as well as sisters. She invited me to spend Spring Break with her at college, and enjoyed “showing me off”. She told me that the boys were noticing me and that she’d need to protect me. I was thrilled!
We spent that summer at home together in California. I introduced her to my new boyfriend, who eventually became my husband. She begged our parents to allow me to be her passenger on a road trip back to campus at the end of the summer. She had just bought a car, and although I couldn’t drive, I could keep her company, sing with her along the way, and be her companion. The road trip was a travel adventure flavored with freedom, sisterly love, and the sense of confidence and brand new responsibility. We flopped the first night in a fleabag motel in the same bed. She woke earlier than I and told me as I roused and stretched how sweet I looked cuddling the stuffed bunny my boyfriend had bought me. Then we stayed with her friends in Colorado. Our next day’s journey was to go through the heartland of the country and hopefully, if we made good time, get to Chicago for the night. We never made it.
Nebraska is flat and boring. We’d been driving for 6 hours. I was reclined and dozing when we began to drift off the fast lane, going 80 mph. Alice over-corrected, and we flipped. She had disconnected her shoulder strap, and flopped around, hitting her head on pavement through the open window. Her fragile, gentle head, with two blue eyes. She was dead by the time we came to rest in the ditch.
Life is an experience, a journey of unexpected and unimagined happening, a verb in motion, not a noun. Alice was in motion, at 20, and may be even now…somewhere, in some form. I still taste her sweetness floating near me from time to time.
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Low founded the Girl Scouts of America with a troop of 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia. I became a Brownie Girl Scout on Jan. 21, 1970. My mother was already a leader with one of my older sisters’ troops. I stayed in Scouting through my senior year of High School, and then became a Daisy and Brownie leader when my youngest girls were in kindergarten and first grade. Here is proof of my dedication to this fine organization: my fifth grade school picture.
School picture day just happened to be the same day that I had a meeting after school. We were encouraged to wear our uniforms to meetings. So, because I was an obedient child and followed the rules, I have this historic photo to prove that I was a bona fide Girl Scout at the age of 10. I found it pretty embarrassing at the time, though, to be the only child in uniform for the class composite photo. Ah well, there’s a nerd in every class. Oh, this photo also supports the story I told about visiting Hawaii and being mistaken for a boy. One could also have mistaken me for a chipmunk.
What was great about Girl Scouts? Camping. Singing silly songs. Downhill skiing. Climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty in my uniform and platform shoes. Sneaking out of my tent in the full moonlight and posing as a statue along a State Park road. Skinny dipping. Roasting marshmallows. Learning a whole bunch of useful skills, like swimming and first aid. Meeting other girls from all over the country at a national event and feeling accepted. Gaining confidence in my capacity to learn and be responsible.
What will I always retain from Girl Scouts? My love of the outdoors. My ability to build a fire. My enthusiasm for hiking up a mountain in the hot sun. My desire to be helpful and do good deeds. Here’s proof from this decade:
So, Girl Scouts, how about a chorus of the old song:
Girl Scouts together that is our song
Winding the old trails, rocky and long
Learning our motto, living our creed
Girl Scouts together in every good deed.
Happy Birthday, Girls!!
This post is a feature article in this month’s Be Zine. To view the entire blogazine, click HERE.
I had all but disqualified myself from writing about Friendship this month. “I have no friends,” I thought, envisioning ladies’ magazine coffee klatch groups, beer commercials and Facebook statistics. I don’t have the requisite exercise buddy, shopping buddy, or the Oprah-sanctioned “5 Friends Every Woman Should Have”. That little childhood rhyme started playing in my head: nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll go eat worms.
I’ve decided to re-frame the topic.
I do not have a lot of friends. I do not make a point to get together with acquaintances to socialize. I am an introvert and was raised by introverts. I didn’t have birthday parties or play dates as a kid. I had one good friend who lived two doors down, and we played together almost every day. He was a year younger than I and a boy. When I was in 5th grade, a girl joined my Sunday school class, bringing the class total to three – myself, the rector’s son, and this new best friend. She still sends me Christmas cards. When I moved from Illinois to California the summer before high school, I had to start all over. After a year, I had made a good friend who was a year older than I. She was a bit bossy, but she connected me to the Girl Scout troop, the school choir, the Italian club, and my husband. I was 15 when she introduced us. I was 45 when he died. Later that year, I met someone online – a bookseller who’d just finished a course in Spiritual Psychology. I’d found my new best friend. We’ve been together for almost 8 years.
What I know about Friendship is not about quantity. It is about quality. I think I have enjoyed all the important health benefits that Friendship adds to life distilled into a few precious draughts. To feel that freedom that creates well-being, we have to be able to establish a trust that allows me to be completely myself; we have to create a safe vulnerability. Honesty, copious communication, time, and kindness are the key ingredients. For me, this doesn’t happen easily. It takes concerted effort. More often, I find myself in relationships with mentors or students. I feel quite comfortable as a student or a teacher. Those are roles I can hide in. To be in a true friendship, I have to come out of hiding and operate in an arena of wholeness and equality…which is far more risky. A tremendous accomplishment of my 24 year marriage is that I know that I can survive and thrive while being fully open to another human being. Still, I suppose it has to be the right human being. And those are rare.
The love of a true friend is extraordinary. It goes beyond the giddiness of fun, beyond the pleasantries of companionship, beyond the nobility of human kindness, beyond the affirmation of attraction. The love of a true friend is challenging. It asks you to be entirely forthcoming. It asks you to question your habits and assumptions. It asks you to change and react to change. It asks you to be the best you can be. And it asks you to challenge your friend in return. Because of this dynamic love, life is never boring and your relationship never goes stale. Because of the trust you build, you can enter into the most intense realities of life with some security and the sense of adventure. As my husband used to say after another trip to the hospital, “Never a dull moment!”
My calendar is not full of lunch dates or parties; my phone doesn’t ring for days at a time. Still, I have tasted the best of Friendship and grown braver, healthier, happier and wiser. And no worms were harmed.
This post was written for The Be Zine which is dedicating its April issue to International Poetry Month. As a Contributing Editor, I am honored to be able to join with truly accomplished poets in celebrating Poetry, but I am well aware that my skills do not match those of my colleagues! Treat yourself to some truly substantial fare by visiting the magazine here.
My favorite poetry is philosophy dressed in dreaming, not logic. It imagines a larger reality, a more expansive love. Rilke is the gold standard, I think. Oh, but that is the pièce de résistance, and there’s so much more besides that. I am a poem consumer, not a gourmet chef. I know very little of form or craft, but I love to taste and participate. So I’ve written a love poem to my late husband because, well, you might as well start with breakfast.
Thick, boyish lashes fringe
Other eyes, perhaps as blue,
Open, tender toward Beloved
Still smiling youths may offer
Eager grins, warm confidence
Gleaming ‘neath soft whiskered lips
Clear voices might ring
Thrilling, gentle as yours when
You sang at daybreak just for me
Surely now first loves make vows,
Grow mature together, devotion’s
Friendly joy becoming solid strength
Fathers must bend heart and arm
Wrap manhood’s grace boldly around
Each golden, blessed child – like you
No doubt live sorrowing pairs
With looming loss, still holding,
Fingers trembling, to brave last words
I cannot boast an only, greatest grief;
I know this storied world is vast.
But still I weep in fond belief
That you and I loved first and last.
If you’re puzzled by relationships…
January 7 – past and present
1984 – It’s my wedding day. The weather is chilly and foggy in Northern California. I am too excited to sleep late. I have a date with my fiance for a morning meeting. He comes to pick me up at my parents’ house. My grandmother is aghast that we are seeing each other before arriving at the church; it’s just not done. But we know what we want. We want to focus on each other, on the meaning the day has for us personally before being caught up in the ritual. We park the car under some oak trees in the foothills. We decide it’s too damp and cold to walk, so we sit in the car and talk. We are calm and happy. He drops me off at the house. The next time I see Jim, he is standing at the altar, grinning. I take his hand. I notice it’s cold and clammy, so unlike the warm bear paw I expect. I smile at him. He’s caught up in excitement. The wedding mass is a long event. We emerge from the church and see sunlight for the first time that day. It doesn’t last long. The reception in the Parish Hall is intimate and bustling. It’s dark when we leave. I get home and change. My mother takes care of the dress. The station wagon is packed with my belongings, gifts, and leftover bottles of champagne. We drive south to Pebble Beach. I’m hungry. I hope the restaurant at the inn is still open by the time we get there. We find we are able to get sandwiches at the bar. We retire to our room. I feel so incredibly grown up; in one day, I’ve suddenly matured. I’m married. I’m 21 years old.
The sun comes in the southeast window, and I begin to stir. As my mind brightens, I remember the day. Steve is sleeping beside me. I pull out the battered photo album from the box in the corner and settle back on the bed. Was it really cloudy that day? I flip through the pages in front of me, my mind turning over more leaves than my fingers. My phone beeps. My daughter is texting me to let me know she’s thinking of me today. Her baby face smiles at me from a photograph. She will be turning 30 in a few weeks. Steve begins to stir. I look at his face as his eyes open. “What are you doing here?” he asks. That’s a good question! “It’s a long story,” I laugh. But that doesn’t really answer the question. I am living. I am aware now of the present moment. As I look around, I see the beauty of this day, this year. The air is cold and dry. The trees outside are bare, the branches dusted with snow. I look down at my left hand. It is lined by swollen veins and wrinkles. There’s a brown spot just there. I have a ring on my index finger with a blue topaz heart set in it. No other rings. My fingers press Steve’s arm. “I am waking up. And you?” “I am Steve-ing.”
Female energy. I see it as a sisterhood of excitement…
…and of compassion.
I recognize it in generations of curiosity and understanding…
… and in powerfully individual dreams.
It is the energy of a sparkling and fecund Universe…
…and our human response to it.
A response that encourages our own growth…
…and the growth of other lives around us.
It is creative…
Feminine energy in harmony and peace is a vibrant good in the world.
May it resound across dividing spaces, bringing us closer in union with All.
* Dedicated especially to my mother, my three sisters, and my three daughters. Your energy brings me life!
This photo essay is featured in The B Zine, Vol. 1, Issue 3 – An online publication of The Bardo Group/Beguine Again. Please visit the site to see my colleague’s works by clicking HERE. Enjoy!