Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Soul Place

We'd been hearing about this place of hers in South Dakota ever since we met her ....back in the 80's.

This place.... two small cabins, one large shed, one double-holer outhouse....her father's former hunting camp .... on a piece of land near the itty bitty town where she grew up.... deep in the ruralness of the Black Hills.

As a married couple, they spent each summer here in this place...with their children, then their grandsons....connecting and reconnecting with relations, friends, swimming holes, hiking trails, and quiet.  It was a long trek each year, both geographically and otherwise, from their involved lives as university professor and public school teacher in a sizable town up in northwest Washington.

We knew, from the stories, this place held rich memories laced with history. For years we wanted to take her up on the invitation to visit.

Finally. This was the year.....this was the summer.

She told us to watch for the county line sign, then a big tin shed on our right... their driveway would bend off that narrow winding road just past the shed.

And there she was on the red porch, waving through the dust our tires kicked up .... smiling her love and hellos from every bit of her small but sturdy, almost 82 year old frame.

Three days ...with her... in this place.  Wildly wonderful, but not enough.  Not nearly enough.



                    On our first night there, as we lay back into the dark of the lower cabin amidst the hooty hoot of the owls outside, while half of me remained on alert recalling her comment, 'I hope you're OK with rodents!" my husband said across the quilt, "Well, this certainly is her soul place!"

Yup.  True.  We both knew it and felt its embrace.

For those three wonderful days ... (and still, actually),  I wondered about what defines a Soul Place .... what bullet-pointed items fall under that heading ....  what descriptions get the blur out.... what words articulate the experience....that palpable yet intangible experience that shouts Soul Place.

Was it that we were snugged in amongst family photos, memorabilia, tale after rich tale, furniture and artifacts from times past, abundant quiet, new faces that understood and shared our love for her, longings for a dear husband and father now gone from this earthly place, bird song, pine smell and breath-catching beauty?

Certainly it was present in that visit to the six building town where her Mom and Dad had run both the only store and the only gas station while she grew up with a beloved Grandmother some distance away.....and at the visit to the ranch that was home for her earliest years where we couldn't distinguish which weather-weary-but-still-beautiful building had been the house and which the barn... and at the visit to that peaceful ponderosa pine-smelling cemetery high on a hill where she and her husband will rest alongside one another some day....

Was it present here,  I wondered,  because internet, cell phone service and television reception were not?

Was it present here, I wondered,  because this strong wise woman has, it seems, done her own version of the Australian Aboriginal Walkabout... alone on this wild land much of each summer since her husband passed away?

I started a new book the night before we left ... one I had picked up on the trip.  In A Singular Notion, Renee Carrier describes her ranch outside the small town of Hulett, Wyoming as "not a ranch, not a farm per se, it is a place."  
"I love,"  she continues, "the Muiresque definition of a place as being a part of the environment claimed by feeling."

I dog-eared that page.

Certainly, my friend has deep and strong feelings for this place. It seems to breathe the very values she holds dear.
Or could it be the other way around?  Did her values come from this place?
Sort of a chicken and egg kind of question.

Either way ....what a joy to have and know a place that sings the very song your heart sings ....a place that calls you to remember what it is that brings you closer to your sacred self.

I treasure the gift of those three days with her in that place. They reminded me to live more fully into Rumi's words ....

Wherever you stand
Be the soul of that place.

   Rumi 













Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Orange Cake





Orange Cake


A slice of the orange "W" cake sits before me.
Ice cream pools at its edges.
My fork lifts a bite.
I chew and swallow....not tasting.

Bubbles rise in the champagne along with the emotions inside me.
Toasts, tears, poetry bring memories of that day seven years ago.

His siblings, eating orange cake alongside us, watch, listen, ask questions, take it in.

We are two families, strengthened, perhaps even bonded, by this grief....
Gathered as one
Around an orange cake,
Longing for a little boy.



Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ideas are All Around .....

I am having trouble concentrating on my writing .....



THIS MIGHT BE WHY!!!!

We are rejoicing in a week of warm, stunning weather here in the Pacific Northwest!  After a wet and rainy past few months, this tantalizing spring-time beauty and longed-for warmth has come exactly when I took myself on a three day writing retreat.....to a spot where the beauty and the warmth is especially stunning.  I am in a full-out fist fight with myself to stay indoors writing lit for kids when this weather screams at my window to come out and play.

 I want to walk the beach ..... poke in the nearby village ....  sip pinot gris on the deck .... and chat with my writing buddies.
And..... I want fresh, fun ideas and creative inspiration to abound in my brain.

This morning when the third-in-a-row bright sunny day dawned, promising to be warmer still than its two predecessors, I thought of this wonderful new kid lit book I bought last week.  Titled Ideas are All Around,  it is by the enormously talented Philip C Stead (think A Sick Day for Amos McGee) and his wife, Erin E Stead.  Philip Stead needs to be spending the day writing but hasn't any ideas and his dog, Wednesday, wants to take a walk.  So off they go ..... into the sunshine, the neighborhood, the neighbors,  the turtles at the pond,  the spilled blue paint that looks like a horse, and find that IDEAS are all around  ---- you just have to find them.

So I went for a walk .....      
                                                               

     I returned thinking about WallyDing, a bell-ringing Orca whale.

Thank you, Philip and Erin Stead.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

She Wonders Why she's still here.....




My Mother is days away from celebrating her 101st birthday.   Macular degeneration has taken much of her sight; very little hearing remains in either ear.  Her world has become  small and narrow.

She wonders almost daily why she is still here with us.

I understand.  I've even wondered this too at times .....

But after walking alongside her for the past six months, now I think I know why she is still here.



To teach me about affirmations and the power they hold to lift a person up .

To teach me about appreciation and how even when you can't see well, or hear well, or understand much of the why, and you hurt a-plenty .... you can still say a warm and sincere thank you for a kindness done.

To teach me the importance of allowing people in - to care for you and love you ---- that vulnerability  brings closeness.

To teach the young ones in our family about giving love.... about stretching to accommodate the needs of those you love .... like speaking slower and louder so she can hear.

To tell her stories again so the children can hear them and we can all keep them alive when she is gone.

To remind me about appreciating - every single day - those that I live with and love .... and to tell them that I do ....

....and so so so much more that I either can't articulate or don't know yet that I have learned.

She has been teaching me things all my life.  But somehow she is doing the underlining.... adding the Caps and the bold font right now .....

I am no longer wondering why she is still here.
I know why.
I will stay alert for the rich lessons.



Monday, December 28, 2015

What STAR will you follow?






Stars are a big part of my holiday decor....a large one greets visitors outside our front door, a plethora of different sized stars dance across our mantel, and of course one tops our tree ---- an aged wooden star we chose when the kids were little.  Our first family star.  It has a hole in the center ---- right where the fat ends of the points all start their journey outward.  There's a heart in that hole.


For many Christmases I added more ... I put them out and up and about .... their simplicity and beauty appealing to me. Until this year, that's been about the extent of it .... simple, beautiful stars.  And certainly that is enough.  I am grateful for that.

But this season, the stars gave me more than simple beauty.

On Epiphany Sunday last January our minister asked us to think about what STAR we would follow this year.  She challenged us to find a STAR that called us, one that we would give more to than an Oh-that's-pretty glance .... to watch for holy moments to guide us in our journey toward our chosen STAR .... and to be able, in January of 2016, to reflect on our Star-led journey of 2015.

Kind of a sacred way of setting a New Year's resolution.

So ..... what STAR would I follow?

Seeking an answer to that question led me to my generosity .... or specifically, my lack of it.  Not so much in my giving or my actions, but in my thinking!  I wanted to think more generously.
Yes,  that was it .... I would follow the kind-and-generous-thoughts STAR.....

I looked for Wise words to guide me.... words to give me a leg up as I took the first steps towards that star.....

Parker Palmer has always been my go-to.  His touchstone  When things get rough, GO TO WONDER  is on the wall by my desk.  I love those words.  It's always a challenge for me to go to Wonder .... to wonder why another did or said something ..... to wonder why I reacted the way I did ....  to go to wonder instead of to judgement.

But I needed some new words too .....

When I found this quote by Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr...."An alternative orthodoxy is never stingy with grace and inclusion because it has surrendered to a God who is infinitely magnanimous and creative in the ways of love and mercy,"   I thought, YUP .... and YIKES.

YUP !  I no longer wanted to be stingy with grace!  Bingo.  That's it.
But YIKES.... all the time?  Even when someone really bugged the heck out of me?

And this "infinitely magnanimous and creative with my love" part .....whew, tall order.
I remember thinking I was glad I had 12 months for this journey.....
ha .... 12 decades or lifetimes maybe.

So, it's almost January 2016 .... my journey to the kind-and-generous-thoughts STAR has had its successful days and its failed-badly days. But what I have loved is noticing how I feel when I am stingy with grace .....and how I feel when I am magnanimous with love.  Loving creatively comes easily some days and is downright impossible on others.
I plan to keep following this star in 2016.  I have work left to do.

As the simple and beautiful STARS came out of their boxes earlier this month and went up and about and on top, they each held a reminder of this star I am trying to follow.  They were more than simply beautiful.

And when that old wooden star went on top of the tree this year and I saw its red wooden heart in the cutout center where the points begin their journey outward and where it's been for lo, these past thirty  something years, I saw that old STAR and this journey I am on with brand new eyes.



May your 2016 be full of wonder and blessed with magnanimous and creative love!



Sunday, November 29, 2015

Grow, Grow!

Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.”

I love this quote from the Talmud.  It is a long-time favorite.  

But last week I was cursing those whispering angels when my lawn needed mowing AGAIN!
I have an old push mower  - my patch of grass is small and I enjoy the exercise – but last week it was cold and I had a long TO-DO list and it was almost Thanksgiving, for crying out loud.  

“Stop, already,” I wanted to yell down to those tall, green blades as I pushed that old mower.




YIKES!  What if someone said that to me?  
What if someone said, Stop already!  Stop growing ……stop  developing, improving, evolving.

I’d want to stand at my highest height and shout in my loudest voice, How dare you
Even at 65 years old, I'd shout that.    Wait!  Especially at 65 years old.

Sure, by now I may be done growing more bone and muscle – isn’t it just our cartilage that keeps growing at this age?   So basically, my nose and ears are getting bigger ….. lovely! 

But I'm certainly NOT done with that critical, crucial kind of growing!  Conscious growth.

Rabbi Alan Lurie talks about this Talmudic quote and conscious growth in an article titled Listening to the Call of Growth….

“….. we can grow in consciousness – in our ability to connect to others, to live meaningfully, and to have a positive impact. This force of conscious growth is what drives us forward to create a personal and communal future that is better than what we had yesterday and what we have today.
We can choose to hear and to act on this call to conscious growth, or we can ignore it, drowning out the angelic whispers with the noisy external distractions of constant entertainment, the internal chatter of our mental judgments, or the drone of our unconscious routine ways of thinking and reacting. We resist the call of conscious growth in order to feel safe and to avoid the discomfort of change, but this strategy inevitably backfires.
Conscious growth begins when we choose to listen to its call, and invite it in.  We invite growth when we are willing to examine our fixed beliefs: who we think that we are, why others behave as they do, and how the world works. “

It seems especially important to do this as we age ... to watch for places where our unconscious routine ways of thinking and reacting might be causing us to stumble,  or closing doors of opportunity, or affecting the growth of new relationships, or keeping us stuck in old broken ways. We all know folks like this.  It's not pretty.

But it seems important to do this at any age, really.... and especially important now when the world so desperately needs all of us to quiet the chatter of our mental judgements.  To stop always picking sides and living in US and THEM thinking. To step away from fear.

  Maybe these angels are whispering us into new ways of thinking and being and loving and living. And accepting.

I feel gratitude for their urgent and persistent whispers to GROW.

I wonder if I am listening with an open heart.

.....And I think I owe my lawn an apology.

Monday, August 3, 2015

But there was this Love Story ....

We will gather to celebrate my brother's life this weekend.  He died in late May...less than a week after turning 74.  And less than three months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

His wasn't always an easy life ... though you'd never know it from his ever present smile, love of laughter, and great talent as a jokester. Born a twin, he always had a ready side-kick and straight man.  There was almost nothing the two brothers couldn't dream up.  And very little that could stop them .... except cancer.

Contracting polio at nine years old left marks he carried throughout his life.  Isolated in an iron lung in a big hospital an hour from family was a lonely and scary time for a young boy.  Yet it only seemed to make him stronger.

Two failed marriages brought shame he carried about divorce.  For a bit, that shame kept him in a self-imposed exile from family.

When his twin brother and soul mate died of cancer, he stepped in to fill the hole left by that loss in our family as well as in the lives of his twin's children.

Distance, both geographically, and at times emotionally from the sons he was so proud of caused him great heartache.

But ....there was this love story .....



Halfway through his adult life, he met her....and it seemed, started loving himself again because of her love.  She became his straight "woman", his adoring companion, his cheerleader AND the brunt of his effervescent teasing.  She cheered on his hobbies and he, hers.  She loved his family and he, hers. She talked of feelings and he tried to. She gave him the dickens and he listened .... and behaved .... for awhile.

Each of them became more because of the other.  Isn't that what we hope for every couple? Being secure in another's love allows that to happen, it seems.

When illness came and he knew life here on earth was short, he wanted her alone.  Always a private soul who didn't much like showing vulnerability, it was in her care and her arms he felt safest.

On the evening of the day he died, she said to me, "We had quite a love story."

Indeed they did.  And it was a gift to all of us.