Cool Change

IMG_1805Well, fall is officially here. The autumnal equinox occurred just 2 weeks ago and I already miss summer. It could be my imagination but I feel cold. One of the many reasons I moved south is because I like it hot and humid. In the summer, I enjoyed going out for my 8AM morning walks when the temperature was already a steamy 80 degrees. I’d rather sweat than turn on the A/C. Ok, that might have more to do being cheap but when it’s below 70 and the air is dry, my lips get chapped and my hands get ashy. My friends and family in Boston feel differently. They wilt in the heat and perk up on the first crisp morning with a nip in the air. Fellow blogger The Modern Philosopher  lives in Maine and recently described summer and fall the way a typical New Englander does.

There is a lot to like about the fall, though. I do love the autumn foliage, exposed as I was to its glory growing up in New England. The trees here in Virginia turn later than they do in the Boston area. It feels to me as though in New England the change is dramatic but too fast. The trees have started to color here and I’ll grudgingly admit that it is beautiful. It feels as though the slower southern way of life extends to the foliage and I can take it in over a longer period of time. I saw a tree today that was green except for the tippy top, which was bright red. (It reminded me so much of a Dr. Seuss character.) And of course there was the stunning Harvest Moon last month.

Still, I’m slower to wake in the mornings now that the sunrise is later and I experience some anxiety since the sun sets sooner. Did you know Daylight Savings Time ends on November 3rd , darn it? There are days when I ask the migrating birds stopping by my feeder on their way farther south to take me with them. They give me looks of pity with black birdie eyes then fly off without me.  On the other hand, I watch the squirrels pull the acorns from small oak branches and throw the defoliated sticks to the ground. They dash across the streets of my community with stuffed cheeks to hidden homes. Obviously their internal season sensors are telling them there is limited time left to store their supplies for the winter. I’m taking heed and doing the same by making soup and canning vegetables. I appreciate the heads up.img_0344.jpg

So while I feel the pangs of a loss of summer’s delights like long days, dips in blue water and inhaling warm, moist air instead of using my neti pot, I also appreciate the wonder of the change of seasons. I don’t take for granted the blessing of awareness; intellectual, sensory and spiritual, of nature’s cycles being played out miraculously and in living color.

My gratitude goes to Little River Band for the title of this post. I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound banal.

Reblogged for:  The Daily Prompt: Mid-Season Replacement, October 11, 2013. 

One Chair On The Beach

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. They’ve been very difficult to get through since my husband passed away. Unfortunately, the passage of time doesn’t make them any easier. While I was reminiscing, I re-read this piece I wrote. It was published in my writers group online magazine (http://atableintheback.blogspot.com) earlier this year but I want to share it here too. 

 

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How I love the ocean.

When I was young my mother would make a lunch, pack us up in the car and drive from Boston to Gloucester, Massachusetts on Sunday afternoons. Mom had a bad case of wanderlust so for her gazing out at the ocean meant plotting possible places to land. I must have inherited my love of the sea from her.  She’d park along the shore road so we could get out and walk. The shoreline in Gloucester is glorious and the air is salty and brisk, no matter the season. I loved running along, challenging the grey water and annoying the fisherman from the enormous rocks at the edge of the water.

When Bill and I were dating and had money to burn, we vacationed in Nassau in the Bahamas. We went to nighttime barbeques hosted by hotels on the beach where we danced in the sand under colored lights strung from poles.  In the daytime we rode horses in the blue waves and white foam of the tide. We lay in the sun holding each other. For us, the beach was romance.

After we married and had children, Newport R.I. became our family getaway spot. It was only an hour and a half from our home so it was easy for us to go there on day trips to swim and enjoy the seaside. When the kids were in elementary school we spent their spring vacation weeks there. We’d get a time-share right on the water where I’d stare at the yachts on the horizon late at night, relaxing and losing myself in the their rocking on the waves.

The ocean has always been one of my best friends. Right now I’m sitting on a different beach looking out at another lovely ocean view. I thought coming here to Cancun would be good for me. I thought seeing the sun and the ocean in a different place would rejuvenate me. I bought this e-reader so I could read on the beach. It’s supposed to symbolize that I recognize my vacations have to have a new take on an old theme. I feel foolish using it though. It doesn’t make me less of an old woman sitting alone, passing the time.

I know I should be grateful that I have memories but I miss those good times on the water and I miss everyone so much. Mom and Bill are gone. The kids aren’t kids anymore and they’re off making their own memories.  It’s a gloriously sunny day and I’m sitting here watching plucky seagulls hop across the sand but Bill isn’t here to make jokes about them. I see children up the shoreline playing in the surf and I wish they were mine. The beauty here seems cruel because I don’t have anyone to share it with.

It’s such a beautiful day and I’m here wrapped up in my sarong and my own arms. But this is my “new normal” as my therapist calls it. It’s my new reality and I’ll have to get used to it.  So I’ll be taking a walk along the beach, leaving a single set of footprints behind me.

Time That Neither Marches Nor Flies

Welcome little one.
Welcome little one.

Ok, Let me get this out of the way at the onset. Here is the main reason I’ve been away from my blog for a while. We met on March 16th in a NY hospital. But I don’t want to talk about her. (Even though she’s adorable.)

I wrote about my view of western medical facilities a year ago in a post called “I Steal From Hospitals”. (https://stopalongtheway.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/i-steal-from-hospitals) My experience on March 16th with the place that’s’ name sounds like a Caribbean island did nothing to change my opinion. The only difference was at this hospital there was nothing to steal. But I don’t want to talk about hospitals either. I want to talk about time.

Today i took hold of time and hung on tight. I had to. I had to in order to get this post written. There has been so much packed in what seems to be each moment that I decided to just stop and create a few more minutes devoted to WordPress. I’ve been  disoriented in time recently. Back before I was a mother of adult children, a widow and a grandmother, I used to use the Gregorian calendar to keep track of the passage of time like a lot of western folks. I put particular emphasis on the seasons and my clan’s traditional holidays as transition markers. And of course I used clocks. I watched the clock like it was my job and patted myself on the back for being an up to the minute type of person. Years, months, days, hours, those distinctions we call units of time made sense to me.

We miss you Dad.
We miss you Dad.

Now it seems I blink my eyes and the seasons have changed, yet at other times I blink again and again and it’s the same moment. Sometimes it feels like something happened a very long time ago and something else will feel as though it happened in the last five minutes.Then I realize they both happened yesterday.  How to explain the change? What has happened to make my sense of time so different? I think part of it has to do with getter older.The other day an actor who I thought was attractive when I was in my twenties died. He was 95. According to my sense of time he should have been 65. I had to update how I see aging. And life events like the deaths and births that have occurred in quick succession in my family have also caused me to develop a more fluid delineation of the flow,the pace, the time of life.

Nature Walk Through Heritage Park

Green
Cascading down to
Still water 
Red
Reaching up to 
Moving Sky 
Stream
Trees
Cemetery
Coming into
Moving out

I guess I’m learning that it’s all one big minute. One long second. The one big, long nanosecond that’s really the nature of existence. As Boethius called it “the abiding instant”. Or as George Clinton says “Everything is on the one…”

I Can Get There From Here

Things got out of hand in February
Things got out of hand in February

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I didn’t mean for it to be so long. I’d been doing so well too. I’d been reading and writing everyday. I’d gotten up to going three days a week to my library “office”. I was going to my writers group meetings regularly and loving it. I’d even started taking on the WP daily prompts, not to publish but just as an exercise. The last one I wrote was the 2/22  “Seconds….describe your most satisfying meal”. I wrote the description with a sharpened literary sensibility and developed a grandiose plan for pairing it with a recipe for the soup I described.

But then the weight of February fell on me and stopped me in my tracks for a while. The photo is real. Things got out of hand in February. I had to get the tax papers together. I use the word “together” loosely. (On April 16th of every year I erase all memory of how much work goes into tax preparation so I’m always surprised and inadequately organized the following year.)

And the vacuum broke. Like most appliances made these days, my vacuum’s too cheap to take to be  repaired. (Take it where?) I can’t afford another cheap one so I took mine apart and put it back together. It was time consuming and I don’t know which one of the many parts was the problem but it works now.

And of course I had to make the choice between writing and the mounting number of projects related to  the imminent appearance of our newest family member.  I have to keep the phone on even in the library so I don’t miss The Call. That decision was a no-brainer since the little person and I have been waiting for this baby for months. (There’s been talk of forming a girl group.)

And I can’t find my pants.

This kind of complexity and confusion in everyday details used to frustrate me. In the past I’d give up on trying to write everyday if I missed a few days and blame myself for lack of organization. We all know that life throws curve balls.  The challenge for me has always been accepting when the curve balls don’t roll down my straight path of plans. I still make plans but I don’t set them in stone anymore. These days I’m confident  I can successfully make my way on my journey because I don’t feel as though I have to take any particular route. I just need to pick the right one for the right time. I finally get that it’s great to be efficient but it’s also great to be attentive, appreciative and active in the right now.  It’s March now and I’m going to post that recipe today even though it feels like it’s a month late. I’m going to add the beautiful description with it too… And I’m ready to go when I get The Call, but I’ll have to wear a skirt.

Please go to the Heaven’s Menu page for my Pasta Fagioli Soup recipe.

I Don’t Know but I Have Faith

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Image from Wikimedia

I was reading in the newspaper today about the recent sectarian violence in Turkey and Pakistan. I was thinking about how much tribal, factional, “us” vs. “them” violence still happens all the time all over the world. It doesn’t just happen in places where we Americans can point and say, “What’s the matter with them?” It happens in this country too. (How many gay youths have been bullied or beaten recently and remember the massacre of six worshipers at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee?) I guess it’s been uppermost in my mind lately because a spiritual practice group I belong to is having an event in remembrance of Dr. King in a few days. There will be discussions during the event and two of the themes are, “the goal of interracial, global Christian fellowship” and “the pursuit of justice as a holy calling.”

In light of the violence, I asked myself if true interracial, global fellowship (Christian or otherwise) and therefore peace, is actually possible.  And given peoplekind’s penchant for using  “otherness” as a reason for inequity and for that matter, elimination, can the pursuit of justice ever be consistent with a goal of peace and fellowship?

Sometimes I fear, in my more pessimistic moments, that the only way we’ll have peace and justice is by the “Day the Earth Stood Still” model; that is if we’re forced into it by beings much wiser than ourselves.  That would achieve peace and begrudging justice but that couldn’t be called fellowship, could it? It’s more than just my being disheartened and saying, “Oh, the fate of the world!” It’s because I belong to a faith community now and if we’re going to talk the talk I wonder if it is really possible for us to walk the walk. Do even people of faith fear deep down that our human nature negates the possibility?  I was around during Dr. King’s ministry and at that time many people were fast and loose with the use of the words peace and justice. They became rallying cries for assorted social and political agendas. Unfortunately, many times those agendas didn’t include “others”. Are we still throwing the terms around?  Are these discussions really meaningful to us in the context of our modern world views?  Are we simply having them because it’s MLK’s birthday and we think it’s what we’re supposed to talk about at the interfaith events and prayer breakfasts?

Image from Wikimedia

I went to one of my favorite sources of lucidity and insight in these matters, Richard Rohr. (https://cac.org)  In his book “Breathing Underwater” he says, ‘…a system of retributive justice (author’s italics) …has controlled the story line of 99 percent of history. It seems history could not see what it was not ready to see; but in our time more and more are ready and willing to understand. One cannot help but believe there is an evolution of human and spiritual consciousness.” He goes on to say that there are many theories (like Spiral Dynamics) that describe the evolution and they “are recognizing that history is moving forward, even if by fits and starts, and even many steps backwards.” (pg 39) I wonder if Dr. King would believe that now. When I think about his agenda I wonder if he would think the fits and steps backwards are too large to move past. But then I think, of course he would have the kind of faith Fr. Rohr has.

I want to have that kind of faith. I want to believe the theories and research are correct. I want to believe that the conversations my community is having aren’t just because it’s MLK’s birthday but because they are a manifestation of our evolution.

I guess that has to be a component of my faith, believing that the process of working toward peace and justice is important even without the expectation of witnessing the eventual success.

By The Way

Holiday food. Yum!
Holiday food. Yum!

I didn’t want the month to end without adding to the recipe page, so please head on over to Heaven’s Menu for my seasonal selections of Mince Meat Balls and Pumpkin Mousse. I hope you can use and enjoy them.

Full Moon over Virginia
Full Moon over Virginia

If you’ve read this blog in the past you know I have what I call “moon mania”. Did you see the full moon the other night? As usual, it was both breathtaking and beautiful. (It helped a lot in my reflection on the nature of life as I processed my stepdad’s passing.) It was an unusual full moon in that it was the smallest full moon of the year and Jupiter could be seen just to the left of it. (Star of wonder!) There are some beautiful pictures of it at earthsky.org. Here is the link: http://earthsky.org/space/photos-from-friends-jupiter-and-moon-awesome-in-late-november-2012

I’m off to Boston for the funeral. I hope your weekend is one with peace and love.

The Love In Loss

FlowersTHE FATHER WHO RAISED ME FROM THE AGE OF 12, MY STEPDAD, PASSED AWAY TODAY. I’ve experienced the loss of several loved ones in the last few years, my husband, my mother, my biological dad, a cousin, an aunt and now “Gramps”. I didn’t have this blog when the others transitioned. This post is for all of them.

Loss through death is the big one, isn’t it? It affects us more than any other type of loss. It’s accompanied with so many complicated feelings besides pain and sadness. I have also felt guilt, confusion and anger with each passing. When my husband died I was blessed to have the insight of two very wise people (a friend and a therapist) who taught me about the Love in loss.  They showed me that all those feelings were/are really products of the power of the most important feeling and of course, that’s Love. It’s the power of Love that keeps our loved ones with us in a very real way. The pain in our hearts when we think of those who have transitioned is where we are blessed to keep them through the power of Love.

My stepdad wasn’t a perfect man but he had a quiet strength of character (He had to be quiet and have strength to be married to my mother!) He was also a man of immense faith. He taught me to have faith in that power of Love. That’s why at this time of his passing I’m sitting in gratitude instead of grief.

History Lessons III

Image courtesy of ushistoryimages.com

The other night I took in a lecture at The Lyceum in Alexandria, VA.  It’s a historic landmark and the lecture was on the role Alexandrians played in the Underground Railroad.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m very interested in studying American slavery, the Civil War and my family’s southern history so I was looking forward to learning something.

Unfortunately, I was distracted throughout the lecture. The first distraction was the presenter. I didn’t expect a speaker with the oration skills of Frederick Douglas but I didn’t expect a soft-spoken elderly woman reading from shaking notes either.  She was informative and clearly very dedicated to the subject but her style was challenging to the attention span.  The second distraction was the language. The presenter is a researcher from the “National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom” program and she said they call those who used the Underground Railroad “freedom seekers”. Really? I kept thinking about the term. It seemed to me that it makes the slaves sound like they were armed soldiers. It undermines the horror and indignity of their condition by framing it in positive language. The researcher also kept using the term “master” to indicate a slaveholder. I thought that wasn’t used anymore because it seems to elevate the status of those who simply dealt in human flesh. The program  is federally mandated and administered by the National Park Service. That probably explains both the elderly speaker and the language.  Anyway, the website is:  http://www.nps.gov/subjects/ugrr/index.htm .

I left the Lyceum with the discouraging thought that even when we try as a nation to take in the complexities of slavery and it’s effects on race relations, we can’t bear up under the weight. The next day I was reading a piece on the Pro-Slavery Constitution  by Paul Finkelman. In it he says,

The problems created by slavery-the moral and political legacies of slavery-were further complicated by the fact that the national constitution protected slavery in a myriad of ways…

We should not be shocked or surprised that the Constitution protected slavery. Slavery, after all, was a powerful economic institution…. But, slavery in the United States was more than simply an economic system designed to extract labor, at a relatively low cost, from those who were enslaved… 

Slavery was also a system of racial control.”

Even during the time of slavery the tendency was to try to frame it in the cleanest of terms (simply economic) without the ominous undertones (racism). And that’s why we can’t hold it. We want to think of ourselves as a nation of freedom seekers and not a nation of enslavers. I recommend the article. In plain, unflinching terms Finkelman speaks some realities we have yet to face on the national level. The “National Underground Railroad Network To Freedom” program attempts, in its own way, to hold a national conversation about slavery. We really need to have that conversation so it is a baby step in the right direction.

To read Paul Finkelman’s article search http://racism.org.  “How the Pro-Slavery Constitution Shaped American Race Relations”   

Back To The Bow

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Now that my move is complete and I’m officially a permanent resident of Virginia, I can return to my spiritual practice. I’d like to say that I was practicing all along but that would be a lie. I was intermittently distracted during the move from the main components, which are:

Prayer/meditation– Prayer is never an issue for me but if conditions are right I can go from a gratitude prayer to swearing in a heartbeat. (That’s the reason I stopped praying while driving.) And I wasn’t in a place to quiet my mind enough for meditation while negotiating the issues around moving.

Living in the moment- Impossible for me while moving because I’m an obsessive planner which requires thinking ahead.

Community- I’ve only been here a little while but I’ve made progress by joining meet-up groups.

Yoga- Let’s just say it petered out mid-summer.

Compassion- This is the one that’s the hardest but it’s the most important to me. You see, compassion isn’t so much a component to my practice as it is the goal. I’d like to come to and stay in a place of love and compassion because I feel it’s the state that’s closest to the divine. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, when dealing with people in challenging situations it is not my go-to position. (My posts that deal with this are; “Stumbling on Pebbles” and “Bowing at Easter”.) So, I’m going back to “The Bow”.

For those readers who don’t know, “The Long Journey To The Bow” is an article that was the subject of my very first blog post. (December 2010) It deals with a Buddhist take on love and compassion. Basically it says that the sense of self contains the,

worlds of comparing, evaluating and judging.…the cessation of conceit (of self) allows the fruition of empathy, kindness, compassion and awakening.

I re-read the article as many times as I can to remind myself of what compassion looks like. As I said then “I have to be willing to bow to my fellow beings without the intellectual exercise of judging one way or the other.” Fortunately for me I also discovered a Catholic priest by the name of Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation, who, curiously, shares that definition of compassion and speaks eloquently to it.  Reading his daily meditations also helps me bow.  He has said,

The enormous breakthrough is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. That is why you stop judging, and that is how you start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone is worthy or not.

When I first read “The Bow” I was living a “greater than, less than” life in my own home and in my larger circle. I’m blessed to have been able to re-orient myself. Obviously, this blog bears witness to that process. What I didn’t realize until recently is how many others there are that embrace and try to live with that mindset. Now I understand that if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many folks “bowing” to our fellow beings, this world couldn’t possibly continue. Stevie Wonder expressed it best as the song “Love’s In Need of Love Today”.  He begs us all to take our love and compassion and “send it in right away” so hate won’t take us out.

So as I attempt to return my practice to the forefront of my everyday life, I’d like to ask you if you have a spiritual practice. If being compassionate is an important part of it, how do you demonstrate it? Does your life allow you to be as loving and compassionate as you’d like to be? Do you find it as hard as I do to “send it in”? Thanks and I bow to you.

(The article “Long Journey To The Bow”: appeared in Tricycle Magazine. It’s on my blog roll.  Fr. Richard Rohr’s quote is from his book “The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See”. I’ve added his website to my blog roll. “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is from Stevie Wonder’s album “Songs in the Key of Life”. I’m grateful for all three.)

History Lessons

I’m taking advantage of being in the southern U.S. this summer by giving myself some American Civil War history lessons. I’ve decided that rather than WWII, the Civil War is the one that should be called “The Big War”. Although it didn’t involve other countries, I think it had more of a lasting impact on this country. Maybe it’s because I’m African-American that, in my mind, it’s the war that is the most significant in U.S. history. We still live with some of its obvious and not-so-obvious symbols.

Civil War Cemetery in VA

But it’s a hard war to completely understand. Multi-layered, prickly and complex, it was a briar patch of a war. I don’t know about you but I was only taught the superficial ” blue and gray, we freed the slaves” aspects in primary and secondary schools. (I was too busy partying and trying not to flunk out  to take challenging classes in college.) The biggest hole in my knowledge though, and the reason I’m undertaking these lessons is because I come from a family that ran from the enormous effects of slavery and the Civil War. I don’t just mean my family was part of the Great Migration although they were. I mean that the familial response to this part of American history was to deny and detach from the effects. All African-Americans have to face the legacy of slavery and we have varying ways of doing it. Some in my family chose to detach because they believed in the American Dream and so to believe they had to deny the things that made it untrue. They wanted to endeavor, achieve or fail and believe that the outcomes were the result of their own doing. I’m of the “Outliers” school of thought. “It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like…It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”* I believe that the American Dream has a subtext in which slavery is a large factor. But some of my family who were actually from the south (but who have passed on) denied that subtext, choosing instead to detach from the past and redefine themselves. Some went so far as to change the birth cities to ones in the north on their birth certificates, much like when Jews anglicized their last names. They didn’t forgive or tolerate those who acknowledged what history had done to them. And so, much of my family history was concealed and then forgotten.

I choose not to deny and detach. I want to uncover and learn as much about the history that was too painful for many of my ancestors. So while I’m here in the south I’m visiting the sites, reading, reflecting and trying to understand more about the Civil War. And I’m honoring family who lived here before me. I don’t think they had the choices that I do.

Next week I’m going to a living history program. They’ll be asking attendees their thoughts on the effects of the War. I’ll let you know about the responses in a future post. What are your thoughts?

(Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Galdwell, Little, Brown & Co., 2008. * I did read the book but to be honest, the quote is from the summary on Wikipedia. I left my copy at home.)