Tuesday, October 2, 2018

an American original

The wind whips fiercely as she stumbles along the desert floor. It is winter and the white sun gives light but little warmth. It suits her mood. She has always been drawn to the dry, empty waste that is the West. Here poets write, painters sit and saints pray. She is none of these. She has come to seek his bones.

He has been missing for over 80 years; but she hears his voice sometimes. Is it that face, full of youth and maleness? Or is it the picture of his burros, abandoned and grazing idly by the stream ?Or is it enough that he was a young painter and poet who cut all  ties to be as free as the eagle? She is haunted.

This young man took the road less traveled and left these words behind: "I have seen almost more beauty than I can bear."By foot and burro he would walk the empty spaces of Utah and the surrounding states for months, seeing no one.Setting up his easel occasionally and with great simplicity, he painted what he saw.

"Where is Everett," his parents in California were asked time and again."Oh, he's wandering ", they always said." We send him money to a post office in Utah and that keeps him going. He comes home once in a while."And then all contact ended in 1934.Silence.No word. The world empty of Everett Ruess. Men searched for years. Bones were found , not his; theories expounded. The poet never found , never seen again. Did he cry out at the end? Did he regret his wildness?

His last words answer:, "I'll never stop wandering and when the time comes, I'll find the wildest, most desolate spot there is."He was 20 years old.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Summertime in Venice

Have you ever watched a movie that broke your heart ?

When I was a teenager, that movie was "Summertime in Venice" with Kate Hepburn. Kate played the part of a lonely spinster who saved her money for a solo trip to Italy .I can see her now, after arriving, throwing open the doors of her room enchanted by the piazza below.
And then later, eating with a married couple on that same piazza feeling like a fifth wheel. Trying desperately to fit in somewhere. .

It seemed to me that I rather looked like her but without the glorious high cheek bones. Slender, freckled, unremarkable hair., knobby knees .We were nothing like the busty stars of that day; Marilyn, Jayne, and Sophia.
Kate and I.

I have to confess that I always thought I would be a spinster, an unmarried lady, still on the shelf , alone. I hadn't thought of this specter, that had hung over me for many years, until the other night. It all came to mind as I looked around the restaurant where my family was celebrating my milestone birthday this month. Another woman was partying at another table with female friends, relatives (?) She had her sparkling crown on her head as they sang lustily to honor her day. I looked around our table, with just half my family.there, the other two grown children being away.My heart swelled. How could I tell them what having this circle means to me? A marriage of over 50 years through turmoil and calm , a place where I belong with arms that hold and protect. A son and a daughter who, no matter what, will be there for me. A daughter-in-law who is raising my two grandchildren with wisdom and love; the little grands who call me Grandma Graham. So proud to be that.

The last scene of that movie is so poignant. Kate is leaving on a train to begin her journey back to America and in the distance, her married Italian lover is racing to hand her a gift. A perfect white flower. He cannot reach her, but it's O.K.,she sees it and waves in joy. For a season, she had been loved. A season, a lifetime, I am grateful beyond telling.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

This is all that matters

The dragonfly visits.Whenever I leave the house , he swirls nearby. A garden friend whose colors often make me smile. Who knew they come in blue, green , yellow and black?.They enchant me and I am grateful that I have time to notice.They flit, then light and wait, for a traveling food supply, I suppose.

How like those little insects are my thoughts, going here and there but yesterday I had a revelation. I should know this of course but something made it very real and I am holding tightly to this knowing. I offer it to all who drop by.

In the Catholic Church, the belief is that the bread consecrated at Mass becomes the body of Christ, Him and real. Not a symbol. This is something I have accepted without understanding how this can be so.What in the natural world is like this phenomenon ? It is like believing that God had no beginning and will have no end: always was , always will be. When I explained this to my 5 year old granddaughter, she did a head slap and walked away.I know, it's hard.

Perhaps by just putting this belief in my pocket for another day, I was rewarded. On retreat in Alabama a few years ago, I knelt before the host in the monstrance on the altar and with eyes closed, I heard this: "This is all that matters." If you were next to me and spoke, it wouldn't have been as clear as this. And the only reason the Host would matter is if it is Christ. I believe.

Now to the other day.I was fretting over some slight, some sharp tone headed my way, a  feeling of being overlooked and I brought that to prayer.This is what was given to me:.".if you have done your best, as you know it, the rest is out of your hands.Seek first the kingdom and leave the rest at My feet. It is of no consequence." What freedom! To know, really know that I have a choice about these matters.I can dwell on the hurts or release them and focus on what, in the end, IS all that matters.

Monday, July 23, 2018

where you are going....

Art by Everett Ruess, Desert Light.

"I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."

 I found these lines while reading a book about writing for the Fall group that starts in September. I have had some solitude lately with my husband gone helping one of our sons.The time on the porch in the cool morning perched in a wicker chair is wonderful. I stop reading to feel the breeze on my cheeks and think there are no better moments than these.

The words at the beginning were written by the American icon, Henry David Thoreau. I visited his grave once on an autumn day in New England. The memory is a happy one.We, my husband and I, were tired from the drive and the dogs that kept us awake the night before.We slogged through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts, looking for Poets Hill and I was ready to give up. John, however, kept at it because he knew how much it meant to me. Finally, there was the Thoreau family plot. Holy ground.

I noticed something right away that touched me.The stones just had the first names of Henry and his siblings.These are old stones and grey. But unlike the others, Henry's stone was white on the top and I immediately knew why. Pilgrims like myself feel compelled to stroke the top of his stone, to connect, and thus it is rendered almost clean. In front of the stone someone had left a small bright orange pumpkin.A gift for a poet, a solitary, that has touched something deep in me.

Alone, in the quiet, is the only place that I can hear the Voice, the lover, comforter, guide, the one who encourages. In the stillness , face turned away from everything, pen in hand, yesterday I heard this. I offer it in love to all who may need to hear:

"Once you were lost, hanging by a thread.You remember those times of pain and shame.
See where you are now. All the things that hurt can be looked back on and forgotten.Where you are going, nothing like that exists, even in memory."

Thursday, July 12, 2018

the legend of Jingwei

Across the room she stood looking so healthy, way beyond what I knew.I had heard about her deep faith and wanted to know this beautiful, blond young woman.We fell into an unexpected friendship.

The painting above depicts the Chinese tale of Namu, a young girl who is playing  in the Eastern Sea. She was unable to reach shore and drowned.She is then transformed into a bird called Jingwei. She lives on Departing Doves Mountain among the mulberry trees.Namu now resembles a crow with a patterned head, white beak and red feet She regularly carries twigs and stones to the sea in an effort to fill it up.The sea laughs at her and she answers that she will spend the next hundred million years filling up the sea, so no one else will share her fate. From this myth comes the Chinese chegyo idiom which means Jingwei tries to fill the sea or dogged determination and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

My friend Michele was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005  when she returned from her honeymoon. The honey of that trip left her shortly thereafter. After treatments, she was doing well but in 2010 her cancer returned with a vengeance. At that time she was given 3-5 years .That was 8 years ago, She fights, she hopes, she endures.

In the midst of her journey, she has been led to produce beauty products specifically for cancer survivors whose skin has been affected by chemotherapy. She now goes to a retirement facility and gives facials weekly. But what she brings is her story. One that has touched me so deeply that I can't explain it. In the painting above, my sweet girl stands facing that dragon which is cancer. Through all of this, she has a heart filled with appreciation. Her most recent note says this: "I am so grateful to the Lord , especially for putting all these angels in my life.." Those are the white doves swirling about her speaking words of love as she faces her journey.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

if you are in My boat....

Katie's first memory is of overwhelming sadness.

It is Christmastime and she was unsure of what was happening but all her family members were in tears. Her father had just passed away and the family was trying to find a way to celebrate Christmas for their beautiful little girl of two.This sadness is engraved on her soul but somewhere along the way, Katie decided that this was not going to define her, this loss.She is sunny, this daughter-in-law of mine. Loving and sunny.I treasure her more than she knows.

Our first memory is usually of something out of the ordinary. Mine was. I may have been four years old and my sister and I are playing on a dock at a lake in Winsted, Ct. All I recall is being over my head in the lake and a green hand reaching down to grab mine. My sister pulled me up and I am sure I shrieked loudly for the next hour.What a fright.

My grandson John is 4 and he tumbled into the pool a week ago at the place where he was getting swimming lessons. My son alerted the comatose life guard who hauled him out.Will this be his first memory?It's a frightening experience.Will it color his life?

My son Sean and a friend were lost on the Flint River behind our house when they were in high school. I remember that the day's light was rapidly leaving  when it occurred to me that something was wrong. I stood on the hill above the river frantically praying for their safety. I never knew until later that that happening was the most  frightful of Sean's life, he who has handled snakes and traveled to strange places. Finally, they spotted a house and went to find an open door and safety.

We are instructed to hear God's words and put them into practice. When the rainy season and the torrents set in,  if we have built our house on that rock, it will not be destroyed. We will not be destroyed.

Today,I heard this:

"Today you are Mine, tomorrow, Mine, through eternity, Mine. Nothing can harm you or your thinking if you just claim that knowledge and trust it.
What can go wrong as long as you are in this boat of My constructing ? This is what the stormy sea story is all about. You are in My boat and no harm can come to that essence which is you."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

the mysterious circle

Raise your hand if you are weary of my dreams.Sorry, not enough hands, so here I go again.This dream happened at least twenty years ago and though brief, it stunned me and left me mystified.

We are in a circle, a group dancing with abandon and great joy. God is in our midst, I am holding His hand. To my left is Jesus and I hold his right hand as we twirl.We are all at peace and sodden with joy. Then, it happens: Christ lets go of my hand and starts to drift away.I say, "No, You can't go.What will we do?" He took my hand , put it in the hand of the person on His other side and said clearly: "Now, you lead the dance." He drifted away and we danced on.

What did this mean? What was I being asked to do?I had no idea and for years when I thought of this occasion with Christ it still made no sense. Until last week.

A circle suggests a lap where a mother will hold her child until the child decides it's time to go off. That's the best kind of circle.The stones on the beach on Iona, are all round and smooth, tumbling around for eons in the ocean until they are finished and are flung up on the shore in their dazzling colors. And then there is our writing circle at church. Three years ago, I put an ad in the bulletin and wondered if anyone would come.

We have gathered in a small classroom to share our stories, inspired by art pieces. The joy is palpable.We have even started Joy Journals to record our happy moments. The circle is safe, affirming and inclusive. Everyone is heard because everyone is seen. Some comments:"writing has given me such peace of mind and soul,.'..we are all better people for this experience, '.'we have a loving environment to be as creative as we want to be,, this class opened the door to creativity and real joy."

A circle.

.Sometimes the circle feels like a carousel as we laugh and  go up then down in mood. Sometimes, it feels like circular confessional as we share our wounds.The tissue box travels easily in a circle as do the hands of compassion..

A circle, no beginning and no end. In all of this Christ is the center. I can see him looking through the door window as His grace circles, swirls and heals.I nod.