Wednesday, March 31, 2010
When I was ten years old, I was forced to go to the Freeport pool on Long Island with my family.Usually, that would have been a great treat if I didn't have to wear
it. The it was a blue/green crotcheted bathing suit that my aunt made.She lived in Florida and when the package arrived for my birthday, I was pretty leery.For my 8th birthday,she had sent underwear ,which when I opened the box, thought were doll clothes.Then I saw the crotches.I was so disappointed.For Christmas, we were sent oranges and grapefruit.Well, she didn't miss this occasion either.This year, it was the suit.I wanted a pink polka dotted store bought suit!I was miserable.
But I do remember that on that day, a pretty teenage girl deliberately came over to admire my suit.Did she see my unhappiness and guessed or did she really like it?In any case,I felt better,just a little.Kindness.
In all those years,until today,I never thought of what came before the suit arrived.Did my aunt take pleasure in selecting the pattern?She didn't have children;did it please her to make a gift for a child? They didn't have much money; was this the cheapest way to be sure that her favorite niece had a gift? How many times did her blind husband interrupt her in making it? Did she pray in her love for me,as she created this gift?And I, pouting with all my might ,hated her gift.How awful.I'm glad that she never knew.
On my lap is another gift that triggered these memories.It is a blue/green knitted scarf that I love.The maker says that it matches my eyes.How thoughtful a gift!Kris made this while going to school and working so I cannot imagine where she found the time and I treasure her,her effort and the scarf.When I put it around my neck, it feels like a hug.
I am so grateful that I have received enough grace to appreciate the gift and the giver and the fact that all three of these things seem to me to be blessings from the Hand of God. As the psalmist says:"Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life"Ps.23.Amen.
P.S.If you click on the picture you can see how beautiful the scarf is.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Lilacs in La Verna ,Italy May,2005
I found these lilacs not by sight.As I slowly walked passed the high stone wall, they were trying to get my attention by cascading over and showering me in their perfume.This is the scent of my childhood.Purple lilacs grew to be tall bushes by the door of my parent's bedroom and they found me again in Italy.
But La Verna is more than lilacs.It is where the most loved saint received the stigmata.A small chapel is built around the spot and I found myself there on that bright day in May, while on a Franciscan pilgrimage.A fellow traveller handed me a book to read about the place but I wanted to just BE there.We were seated in heavy wooden stalls that made a rectangle around the chapel wall with the stigmata site in the middle.I closed my eyes and asked what this stigmata is all about.
And then I perceived that I was being answered by Someone in the seat to my left.I could feel it. We both were looking ahead to where the small hole in the floor reveals the stigmata site.And then I heard this..."The stigmata is just an outward sign of the inward change that takes place when a person so wants to be transformed into Me that they don't mind the pain or disfigurement,they only want Me in whatever form that takes........complete surrender to the transformation...an inner consent to the change..that anyone who wishes may obtain...
There was more but as this was transpiring, the sense of another person being next to me was so strong that when a young friar went to sit down in that spot, I almost
waved him off.Since he lives there ,I gathered my senses and let him sit.
They say that Assisi is a "thin spot" where the spirit world is separated from the physical world by the width of the edge of a butterfly's wing.It is that and so too is La Verna.
Every morning,the people in the houses by the shore see her go out,bending and stooping,looking for her sea glass.It is what gets her out of bed on some days, this obsession of hers.If she didn't do this,what would she do? Her desperate loneliness is the other constant but she brushes that thought aside.
It has been five years since her husband died ;some say rather unkindly that it was to get away from her constant talking. From the minute her feet hit the floor in the morning, she would chatter,draping complaints over all the chairs,tables and walls.To listen to her was so tiring;but he had to stay alert in case she said,"What do you think?" Of course, she never did but paying attention and holding back any random thought that he had just wore him out and he died.He had read that constant talking was a way of keeping people and pain at bay and he tried to discuss this with her to no avail.She thought herself witty,learned and very interesting.When her family joked about her talking too much she smiled at the attention.
As she walks, she thinks of the child that she encountered on the beach yesterday.He asked so many questions..."what are you doing...have you found many...what do you do with them?" She had found three pieces of glass and she showed them to the small ,red-headed boy with the bright eyes.He was rather cute but such a bother.
He took the pale blue one that is shaped like a diamond and looked through it at the sun and then the swirling gulls.He shrieked,"blue gulls" and fell down laughing. He held it to his ear and then sniffed it."Such foolishness," she thought."This looks like the kite that my Dad and I fly ,it twirls and dashes like this",he cried, and he spun around and fell to the sand and laughed.
He felt the edges of the glass ,the smooth edges and wondered why he doesn't get cut.He wondered how long it had been out there and who lost it.His eyes lit up when he pictures a boy like himself heaving a bottle into the water and the big splash it would make.
He hiked up his wet shorts ,brushed sand from his knees and handed the glass back to the lady.He looked to see if he might pick another one.She handed him a yellow glass that is the color and size of a lemon drop.The boy rubbed it between his hands and listened to the sound.He thought that maybe a ray of sunshine had come down, thrown to earth by a huge man the size of a giant like in the story his mother read to him, "Jack and the Beanstalk".He ran around looking for beans but didn't find any.The yellow glass might be his favorite,he just loved the brightness of it.It seemed like happy glass.
He told the lady that;she just shrugged and handed him the third.This time he was in deep thought,holding the green one.The color seemed to calm him.He smelled the glass to see if it was like the lawn that he lays on when it is summer and the grass has been cut.He thinks of how the grass holds him while he looks to the sky and checks to see if the clouds are lazy or grumpy and mean.
The green glass really holds his attention."Maybe it is an eye of a princess who lost it here and I will find her and give it to her and be a big hero,"he thought.He smiles with pleasure at this.The boy really wanted to keep this one and he hesitates a minute ,hoping, but then he hands it back.
She didn't know this but the small boy was sorry to see her go ,this lady with the much admired collection of sea glass.But she hurried up the beach to keep looking and he didn't know but she was hoping he wouldn't follow.He liked her and as he ran home he was so excited at the idea of telling his family about the glass.
That night, with his sandy feet curled up, he would fall into a deep sleep that came very quickly.She rocks in her chair as she thinks of all the sea glass in the cold plain jar,and for her sleep is far away.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
When I was a child in the summers we spent in the Catskills, my Mother and I would occasionally ride up the valley road to the ramshackled house where we would buy eggs from Mrs. Black.On the way back to our house, we would rip her to shreds with our sharp tongues.Did you see her plaid men's shirt that was held closed by a big safety pin?And she had no shoes!She walked through the chicken manure in her bare feet with it squishing between her toes.Yuck!She never went to church and her house was rumored to be wallpapered with the New Your Daily News.Shall I go on?
In 2005 , I stood at Mrs.Black's grave on a hill that overlooks the peaceful town of West Kill and whimpered my apologies.I now know the whole story and It's a wonder that I can get out of bed.
I have met and talked to some of the people who actually lived in the Spruceton valley back in the '50s.There were many farms and people did live there all year round.When they were kids, they knew Mrs. Black.They said that she was the most loving and kindest person they had ever met(but she didn't go to church!)She always was glad to see the valley children and made them feel special.
And then there was her life with Mr.Black.He used to beat his farm animals.Of course, he was a drunk and when a cow knocked over a bucket of milk,he beat her bloody with the milking stool.The kids witnessed this and were horrified.It gets worse.
Mrs. Black was delighted when she found out that she was pregnant with her first child.Since Mr. Black was away alot working on the railroad, he determined ,in his drink sotted mind ,that this could not be his child. After it was born, he took it from her and gave it to a relative and since Mrs. Black couldn't drive , she had no way to leave the valley. After that, when he did leave , he would chain her in the basement 'til he got back.You don't believe this? This was the forties after all and we never know what goes on behind doors do we ?
In the '50s, my Mother told me that Mrs. Black had breast cancer and refused to go to the hospital.This was not true as I have her death certificate.She had surgery, contracted pneumonia and subsequently died.Her child never knew her.
I hope that Mrs. Black was unaware of what we thought of her.To me, her grave is holy ground and I had to go there.If I visited all the graves of people that I have judged, I would constantly be on the road.
I don't want this good woman forgotten.Bertha Black you lived a saintly life with your chickens.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
It was a bitter cold winter day,when our high school Senior class went on retreat.I can see the old ,grey stone mansion that had become a retreat house in my memory.It stands at the end of a tree lined drive and it had high casement windows that reflected the white winter sun.It looked like a castle to me and I know that someone must have donated it to the Church to be used for this purpose.It must be worth a fortune because it is on a strip of stony beach on the North Shore of Long Island.I loved being there for those few days because I always wanted to be a princess.Fortunately,unlike many old things on the Island,this building remains.
Our bus pulled up to the front door and we four friends stumbled out with our stuffed bags and high hopes.Our room was on the third floor and we laughed as we searched for it.I recall that is was cosy and charming with a white slanted ceiling and a stunning view of trees and the Long Island Sound.The door was old oak wood and heavy and had an old black latch that reminded me of my summer home in the mountains.Perfect.
I am sure that we were anticipating a good time and not too much holiness.
As we put away our things,there was a gentle knock on the door and a smiling nun opened it.
Behind her was a frightened,unsmiling stranger our age, with straight white hair and glasses with huge lenses.We were asked to take her in because she had come alone.I was appalled.How could this nun impose on our happy foursome ? We had become such close friends that no one had to finish a joke; we read each other's minds.Carole could raise an eyebrow and we would fall down laughing.This would ruin everything !
I have no idea who said that this would be fine with us but I will bet the farm that it wasn't me.I sulked and she came in and put her stuff away.I am telling this story because,despite what we felt, we were good to her.We really took her in.Even me.
The next day she was at the jetty walking alone and I actually went up to her and started to talk and I remember loving her in those moments.
It is hard to describe how impressed I was with all of us.I know now that it was the Spirit that gave each of us the opportunity and the desire to love a stranger.It was the first time that I had reached out in that way and the fact that it is so vivid tells me how profound it was.
Years later, I saw her on a public bus and we didn't speak .I guess I had reverted back to my smaller self.I wonder where she is and I say a prayer that she is happy.Because of what happened to me on that retreat, she is more important than many people who I have known for years.And as I type,I feel that love again.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
It seems to me that very few of us would be unable to relate to Thoreau's statement:"most men led lives of quiet desperation."I recall getting out of bed in 1971,in California, and feeling this gaping hole,this emptiness in the center of my being.And on that day, "I turned my gaze."
In meditation yesterday, this thought came to me and it feels right so I'll share it.
If you are aware of this "hole",this feeling that your life has no purpose that you can discern,it may be time to hoist yourself up on the Path.Oh, that's scary.I'm a sinner, I don't belong on the Path.Or what will I have to give up? I want to do what I want to do.How is that working for me? What will people say?I don't want to become a Jesus Freak.What will I have to do?
I have a suggestion...just for this day,express gratitude.Tell Someone that you are happy for the trees, siblings, friends,talent,work, health ,all those things that please you.See how that feels.You have begun the conversation that can radically change your life.We were meant for this Mystery and something in us knows it.
Here is my short list ...Van Gogh's life, my niece,Teresa, mountains, health, nothing hurts, writing,colors,old friends from 50 years ago, daffodils,trees, birds,John, new friends, I could go on.How does it feel when I do this...joyful.
And that is where God meets me.
Friday, March 5, 2010
The peace of the light green pond is momentarily disturbed as the single crane takes flight.His wings are enormous as he glides a few feet above the water.The other two cranes are ankle deep in the pond as he lifts off and flies away.What are they thinking in their beauty and stillness?
I would like to be standing where they are with the cool water about my feet and the soft air brushing lightly against my feathers.I would try to gaze in their eyes and see what is there.
To see these large birds safe and enduring in this pond gives me pleasure.
The painting is by an American artist,N.C.Wyeth but the art seems Japanese in its quietness,gentleness. When the crane takes flight, you hear nothing.The cardinals that come to my feeder create more wing noise.I would like to be as self contained,still and at peace as these cranes appear to be.
I will take a moment now and picture my soul lifting with the crane.Oh, for a split second I felt actual fear at the height but now we are just drifting and flowing and free to ascend.We are over the trees now and I want to just rest on these wings and go
wherever this creature takes me.Since I am just spirit, I have no fear up here.How wonderful to feel this free and alive.
Gratitude washes over me and I know that in a very mysterious way, this is eternity I am feeling.
The crane is Spirit and I have turned my soul and safety to it and ,of course, I have no idea where I am going. We, all of us ,are made for this journey.How long and where we will go together is unknown, but my hands grab around the tops of the wings and we soar.