Saturday, June 30, 2007
A few days later, I participated in a small group Presbytery discussion on church revitalization issues. One of the topics I raised was the difficulty we seem to have in telling our story -- a difficulty brought home to me by the power of 5,000 people gathering at Chautauqua to hear our story there retold, as it is in countless ways year after year. I was so moved by what Tom Becker, the President of the Institution had to see, that I am including much of it here:
Three Taps of the Gavel: 2007
“To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by the way in which you know not.”
…St. John of the Cross
“There once was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.” So begins the Book of Job, today’s source for liturgical lessons. These lines evoke the opening lines of other stories and fairy tales. “Once upon a time…” Early in the story, as the tragic consequences of the devil’s attack on his life and family unfold, Job is visited by four messengers in quick succession. Each includes with his tale of woe the lines, “I alone have escaped to tell you.” Like many of you when reading these lines, I am transported to the story of Moby-Dick, where Ishmael, floating amid the wreckage on the coffin that Queequeg built, declares that he alone has survived to tell the tale. I am reminded of the fundamental human need for storytelling. We have a need to relate to the themes of almost all literature – contest, struggle, suffering and the disparities between the apparent and the real.
Today we open the Chautauqua Season for the 134th time. A presence in three separate centuries, this Institution has opened its gates to those like you who approach these grounds to create a community of the mind and spirit.
Whether found in the ancient text of Virgil’s Aeneid or the recent memoir by Donald Antrim, The Afterlife, the opening and closing selections in this year’s CLSC program, the message of meaning within suffering and even death is constant. Job tells us that despite our best moral intentions, our devotion to family, community and the sacred; despite our applied ingenuity, the creative forces of our intellect and imagination; despite our sincere attempts to walk a righteous path; despite all of this, things happen. Our businesses fail. Sicknesses visit our loved ones. Senseless violence grips a university campus like a mad dog indiscriminately extinguishing youthful dreams and ambition. Where is God in all this?
The covenant we celebrate in this service is a covenant of faith. We gather here precisely because we know full well that this remarkable gift of life is essentially mysterious. We affirm that the task that runs through all other tasks is love, a sincere and compassionate love of our own andthe lives of others.
Our language, our social, governmental and economic systems, our science and technologies: these are the wondrous gifts of human development. Indeed, these gifts are so astounding that they often cloud the very reality of their limitations. Our satisfaction with the benefits of these accomplishments can lead us to think we have completed the task. And yet, our world remains beset by hunger, poverty, injustice, and environmental and human degradation. There is much to do. And in this place, at this service, we acknowledge that the endless nature of the exploration for meaningful discovery carries with it a moral responsibility directed both at the world in which we live and toward our inner landscape.
I had always understood the story of Job to be one in which Job was humbled by the devastation inflicted on him and the subsequent knowledge that God remained with him. But I was struck during the last reading by the muscular quality of Job’s humility. Humility was not a default condition that Job fell to. Rather Job exhibits an active humility before God throughout the story even in the most abject and painful and angry of circumstances.
“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know.” These are Job’s words near the end of the story. An enlightening quotation on this subject comes from St. John of the
“To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by the way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not
you must go by the way in which you possess not.
To come by the what you are not
you must go by a way in which you are not”…
We must be willing to open ourselves to the unknown; to take risks; to acknowledge that despite all of our applied energies we do not know all of our inner and outer worlds. And so we come to Chautauqua.
In 1874, two fabulously accomplished people – Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent – came together to form this endeavor. They were men of faith whose commitment to lifelong learning was driven primarily by a reverence for the mystery of life and a sincere sense of obligation to make the world a better, more just place. They never declared this place nirvana or trumpeted its perfection. Instead they honored the effort. The annual trek to this lovely grove is about that effort to at once examine the conditions of our politics, economics, science, technologies, humanities, arts and theology, and to speak to one another of our lives;to relate our stories.
I noted at the beginning of this statement that we are here for the 134th time. In effect, we come to the surface of Chautauqua each year and write the story of our season: our sense of the world around us, the choreography of our public exchange, and the narrative of our inner lives. When we do it right, we write that tale with humility, aware that there are layers of stories laid on this surface before us and stories yet to tell, many of them.
In olden times, when parchment was scarce and valuable, transcribers would often scrape off the text of parchment to reuse the surface. When the original image could be brought forward, these doubly used pieces of parchment were called palimpsests.
Think of the texts residing under the palimpsest that is Chautauqua. In some ways, this image helps us understand that with each new beginning we return to the original story that formed us. Welcome to the beginning, to the continuing, to the story of and by Chautauqua.
I tap the gavel three times. Chautauqua 2007 has begun.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
In his wonderful little book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Ronald Rolheiser argues that the nonegotiable pillars of the Christian spiritual life are as follows:
private prayer and private morality
involvement within a concrete community
committment to social justice
mellowness of heart and spirit.
We all have our areas of strength and our areas of challenge; none of us is a perfectly balanced composite of all four elements. And at different times of our lives, one or another strength may rise to the forefront. But my personal observation, for what it's worth, is that the individuals I would be most likely to describe as holy, or deeply spiritual, or having encountered God in profound ways, all exude a consistent mellowness of heart and spirit ~ a sense of interior peace and open-hearted acceptance of the mystery that is God's Kingdom.
I'm just saying.
Oh, and the image is from Iona ~ photoshopped for fun.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
It is 90 degrees. It rained for about 10 minutes and I swear you can see the steam out there. I am too old for this.
I washed some dishes. I put a load of laundry in. (It's cool in the basement, but it's not a place you'd want to hang out.) I watched part of a movie and fell asleep. I pretty much finished speed reading Eat, Pray, Love, which is entertaining but hardly the spiritual tome it is touted as. There was one page I might write about later. I thought about going to the post office to buy the stamps I need to mail the bills but it's too hot to go anywhere. The Lovely Daughter and I thought about going to a movie, but I am too cranky and lethargic.
Please, someone. I need something short and provocative to read. Or I am going to have to open that book with the word "missional" in the title.
I will read just about anything. I was, after all, one of those children who read the backs of cereal boxes if no books were lying around on the kitchen table at breakfast. But I usually read things that I personally want to read. Well, maybe not the State Standards for Graduation Tests. But otherwise, mostly, yes. And I have an extremely wide-ranging set of interests, and a genuine desire to learn about experiences and views that do not reflect my own. So I truly will read just about anything.
(OK, I do not read Ann Coulter or her ilk. (She has clones, right?) I did read online this morning what she had to say about John Edwards. She could have said the same about George Bush; either way, she would assure my non-readership forever.)
Anyway, that little introduction was designed to lead up to the disclosure that I am now embarking upon two books at the request of other people. The first is called We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era by Patrick Keifert. Yesterday I went to a Presbytery discussion group for which we had been asked to read either the Keifert book or Diana Bass Butler's Christianity for the Rest of Us. My contributions to the discussion were based upon the latter, but I was intrigued by the references others made to the discernment model presented in the former, so I agreed to read it, too.
The problem is, I loathe the word "missional." I detest it. It grates on each and every one of my teeny tiny nerve synapses. It reminds me of the oft-misused "hopefully," against which the 11th-grade-English-teacher-who-taught-me-to-write would periodically rage with such eloquence. It reminds me of the word "unchurched." I suppose my nerve synapses are teenier and tinier than one night hope, but I cannot stand those words. Give me a story any day. Do not give me a made-up word designed to convey -- well, what, exactly?
I mentioned my little problem with the word as someone at the table handed me the book. Almost everyone else in the group laughed and nodded their heads in sympathy, and the gentleman next to me said, "It's on about every other page."
The other book I am reading at the request of someone else, and the one I have actually started, is Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. A friend of mine, one of my very best and most beloved friends, no longer connected to the church, told me I "had to read" it. It's clearly been a meaningful book for her, and I had the sense that she wanted to discuss it with someone. Perhaps me, since she told me it reminded her of me. And it is, in fact, a narrative. I should be happy.
I'm not. So far, I have reached page 58 and I do not much like what I am reading. A tad bit self-absorbed, perhaps? I am speaking of Elizabeth Gilbert here. I realize that it might verge well over the edge of ludicrous for a blogger (especially a blogger who has just described her own rather limited brain structure) to berate someone else for her inward focus, so I am going to refrain from being overly-critical. I also realize that, while I am liberal and progressive and exploratory and one of those people who might be accused by certain other people of being so open-minded that her brains are scrambled all over the sidewalk, I am also alarmingly orthodox on certain matters of faith. Jesus is a little more than "that great teacher of peace," as she describes him.
I'm hoping that what reminds my friend of me is the author's passion for searching out gelaterias in Rome, and not anything else. (Stracciatella and lemon is my favorite combination, if anyone is moved to send me some.)
So, there you go: today's report from the front, where I am apparently willing to go beyond my comfort zone in my willingness to be Open to Discussion. I am, however, going to read really, really fast. And perhaps I will reward myself with a visit to the local gelato emporium. Stracciatella all by itself might be required.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
We look after them and sigh over damage
Monday, June 25, 2007
Beautiful meditation on Job from the President of the Instiutution as he opened the 2007 seaon, using both the Book of Job and its Moby Dick echo ("I alone have survived to tell the story") to talk about narrative, about how our personal narratives intertwine with the narratives of others, about how the narrative of Chautauqua has become part of our own. For the twenty or so years that our family spent a week or two of each summer at Chautauqua, the President of the Institution was Dan Bratton, a Methodist minister who sometimes preached in an official capacity, but whose introductory remarks upon any occasion always turned into a thoughtful and moving homily. The next President was something more of an academic, and I missed the evocative nature of Dan Bratton's remarks. As I listened to Tom Becker speak yesterday morning, I thought, "The pastoral presence has been returned."
One of my favorite parts of the Sunday schedule is listening to the morning preacher present his journey of faith to a small crowd in the Hall of Philosophy as the day winds to a close. John Buchanan is a gifted speaker who made a clear case for the importance of mentoring figures in a young person's life as he described the pastor he encountered at sixteen who brought home to him for the first time the intersections among faith, politics, the arts, and science.
Other good parts: those 5,000 voices thundering Holy, Holy, Holy as the morning worship service in the Ampitheatre began, sitting on the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel with the Lovely Daughter to while away the afternoon watching the sailboats on the lake and reading and writing ~ and, of course, the ice cream.
And the best of all: running, entirely by accident, into an older couple with whom we spent much time over several summers as their grandson and one of our sons, both in elementary school at the time, played endless games of chess. We learned to our mutual delight that their grandson is about to begin grad school at Northwestern, not far from our son's new apartment in Chicago. Here's to the renewal of a childhood friendship!
Saturday, June 23, 2007
I'd completely forgotten, but three years ago I was doing a Great Walks series, and Chautauqua showed up here and here.
We visited here.
Two summers ago, a friend and I went up to hear
And last year, another friend and I went up to hear Barbara Brown Taylor.
I know that the aol images show up only erratically; sometimes if you click back and forth on a couple of entry links in the sidebar, they materialize where they have not before.
At any rate, a quick skim of these posts will give you an idea of the wealth (and I mean wealth for the spirit, but then there are those "cottages") that marks a Chautauqua summer.
Friday, June 22, 2007
The Quiet Husband is leaving tomorrow with a group from my church for a learning trip to Nicaragua. I say "my church" because The Quiet Husband is not a religious person. In 33 years we have learned to make space for widely divergent paths, and so he has become an internet architect with an interest in fair trade and third world issues and I have become an almost-seminarian and would-be spiritual director. A couple of weeks ago he announced that he was thinking about joining the Peace Corps when he retires. The Lovely Daughter rolled her eyes. Just home from college for the summer, she had been visiting friends. "Everyone else, when asked what their parents are up to, says, 'They're working, same old stuff.' I'm supposed to say, "My mom is going to seminary and my dad's thinking about the Peace Corps. What kind of family is this?'"
I stacked up all the books I have planned for summer reading. I have about eight weeks left. There are 87 books. They range from poetry to Catholic spirituality to contemporary novels to John Calvin to Talmud to early Christian history to . . . Oh, never mind. I have to clear out the basement and the attics and deal with the gutters and the plumbing and the plastering and four years worth of photo albums.
Maybe I'd better start with Jodi Piccoult.
The Lovely Daughter and I are off to Chautauqua on Sunday for the opening day of the season. The chaplain is John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago and Editor of The Christian Century. I think I might try to get over there for at least a couple of more Sundays this year. I might add that the Quiet Husband and I met as college student employees of one of the Institution's historic hotels (no longer operating as such), where we spent a most excellent summer.
Last summer was the first in which The Lovely Daughter and her oldest brother did not spend at least some time at Chautuaqua; his twin had already missed a couple of years due to summer study in Europe. I so hope that when they have families of their own they will make their way back, at least on occasion.
Yesterday was the best day of the year, The One With The Most Light. Today is so lovely that there is no point at all in thinking about the fact that we are now pointed toward the One With The Least. Better to think that we are looking toward the Chautauqua season and all new things thereafter.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
So I took the unprecedented step of making medical appointments.
How unprecedented? Well, this is my OB-GYN a few hours after The Lovely Daughter was born: "No, you cannot go home this morning. I know you can't stand it here, but you did just pass out cold. Why don't we make sure that you can remain conscious when you go to the bathroom before you try it at home?"
And the same gentleman on the phone a few years ago: "No, Gannet, OF COURSE you don't have to come in for an appointment, no matter what the nurse said. I would be DELIGHTED to write you an rx for a mammogram. I APPLAUD the fact that you are giving some attention to your health. And just so you know, it would not be a terrible idea for you to come in for a real live actual doctor's appointment. Anytime at all would be just fine. "
You get the idea.
However, I forced myself to overcome my distaste (I am trying to be restrained here) for all things medical and went off this morning to spend some time drinking disgusting chemicals and getting x-rays in Polar Cap Medical Building. Global warming has clearly failed to make an impact there. One of the technicians finally brought me a blanket and I spent my down time huddled underneath it in a corner, looking as if I were terminally hypothermic.
But here's the surprise: the x-rays themselves were WAY COOL. Really. The human body is such a masterpiece of creativity. It really was a jolt to see how intricately our insides are put together and how elegantly they function -- all of it out of sight and (usually) out of mind and taken completely for granted.
So far my particular insides look fine. And my appendix is extremely cute.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Last night, thinking that I should find a way to prepare myself for changes ahead, I decided to open the Bible to the center and pray with whatever passage presented itself. I knew that my text was likely to be a Psalm (given that the Psalms are in the middle), but I was baffled by the one that materialized before my eyes. I am used to thinking about this one in something of its literal context. I am used to thinking of it in the milieu of a community of people who would prefer to be in Israel but pursue lives of energy and celebration here, singing the Lord's song rather than moping about in despair. And yet. . . somewhere in my stack of hardbound journals, in the writings that seldom see the light of day, let alone the waves of the internet, is a meditation on this very passage, an exploration of the layers of meaning that might be ascribed to "strange land." As I recall, I have pondered this passage before.
Last night, the immediate matter before me had to do with a very personal transition. This evening I have a meeting with someone to explore new possibilities for spiritual direction. I am something of a reluctant participant in this venture, being forced into it by circumstances beyond my control, but I feel a twinge of anticipation and excitement as well. The building of new relationships demands tremendous patience and effort, and this one will require that I leave behind old ways of doing things and the comfort of easily anticipated expectations. But it may offer new venues of perception and understanding as well.
Perhaps the question that presented itself to me was exactly the one I needed to ask. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a new land?
There are, of course, much wider and deeper changes and challenges ahead of me. In ten weeks or so, assuming all goes well, I will be both in seminary and in a spiritual direction training program. I've made a detailed chart of my schedule for the nine-month school year ahead. Just as an image on the computer screen, it's intimidating ~ and the image does not take into account the personalities and priorities and preconceptions and committments I am going to be asked to navigate in each program. I am accustomed to being the lawyer, the teacher, the leader, the one who establishes the environment and sets the agenda. Remember that term, "radical disspossession?" Umm-hmmm.
The question that presented itself to me is exactly the one I need to ask. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a new land?
It has also recently become excruciatingly apparent to me that someone whom I love deeply is going to face an endless stream of difficulties in life, difficulties which will affect everyone else I love and about which I can do nothing. I am also accustomed to being the Solver of Problems, and there may well be no solution here. I am going to have to find ways to endure with both compassion and integrity, to extend myself without losing myself, to persist in a space not of my choosing.
Indeed: How shall we sing the Lord's song in a new land?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Among my favorite good-byes this past week:
The booklet my honors students made me, full of pictures of them and me, along with loving and quite humorous commentary.
The speech from the young lady whose academic status often leaves a bit to be desired: "You instilled such a sense of confidence in me; I know that I can succeed!"
"If you need help with your Hebrew, we're right here!"
"Have the BEST time being a minister!"
"When you get stressed out, just remember that you have an entire family behind you here at our school."
Really. I do.
Friday, June 15, 2007
1. Fiction: what kind, detective novels, historical stuff, thrillers, romance????
I don't read all that much fiction but, when I do, it's usually in the line of a long and lavish historical novel. As indicated on the sidebar, I am currently reading, sometimes, The Rebels of Ireland. I am newly motivated to get going again because The Lovely Daughter and I have just come back from seeing The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a brutal but beautifully filmed movie about the 1920-22 Irish uprising against the British, with a focus on two brothers who end up on opposite sides.
I love Jodi Piccoult novels, too.
2. When you get a really good book do you read it all in one chunk or savour it slowly?
I read very very very fast; I'm not much of a savour-er. If it's raining and I have the day off, I will happily read as many pages as I can, but I am more likely to spread a book -- along with the five or six others I am reading -- across several days or weeks.
3. Is there a book you keep returning to and why?
I've probably read To Kill a Mockingbird 50 or 60 times, Refuge (nonfiction) about ten times ~ and I have a feeling that there are one or two others that I'll be reminded of when I read what other people have to say today. Yep ~ Diane reminds me that I have read Gilead at least three times.
4. Apart from the Bible which non-fiction book has influenced you the most?
I would have to say The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which is not a book you read so much as a book you do you do with the help of someone else. I've already written a tiny bit about that experience here. (Maybe I have finally reached the point where I can write more. It's taken me a year to digest.) The other one would be Peterson's Field Guide to Birds. Although there are better books on the market now, that's the one that got me started.
5. Describe a perfect place to read. ( could be anywhere!!!)
My favorite place to read is actually my bed. It's next to a long tall window and a bookcase and filled with pillows. But just about anywhere else is also a perfect place to read.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
This past week, I drove through a place I used to go every few days in the spring and early summer. It's one of the fastest growing interstate exchanges around here, evidence of the reality that you can never have enough low-rise office buildings or Holiday Inns. Twenty-five years ago, just beginning to go forth and multiply in the form of concrete, it was an open area of countryside with woods and fields flowing into an wide valley. Springing from one small gulley was an enormous sycamore tree, and settled in the center of the tree was an enormous nest occupied by a pair of red-tailed hawks each spring. I would drive out there after work on a summer evening, wearing a lawyer dress and running shoes, park in the back of the deserted Holiday Inn construction site, walk across a dry cracked-clay field torn apart by bulldozers as parent hawks soared and shrieked over my head, and disappear into the woods, where I knew there was a vantage point offering a perfect blind from which to watch the young. The parents would forget all about me, and I could crouch out there for an hour and watch their family life unfold. I haven't had much reason to drive in that direction for a number of years but, when I do, I always wonder: what happened to the chicks of those years? Where have they found nesting spots? Bank branch buildings do not suffice. A place I have been, in body and spirit: at home with the red-tails.
I was driving that way this week to attend a meeting. I am a member of a small group in our Presbytery that has begun meeting to develop and practice ways to talk with each other across chasms of great difference of viewpoint. The Prebyterian Church, like others in the mainline, is beset by controversy over whether gay and lesbian individuals may be called to ordained ministry. In response to the clear differences of opinion bubbling to the surface, we are trying to approach our relationships with dialogue rather than anger and recrimination. The group emerged out of the conversations of two of our pastors over the past several years -- two people who could not be further apart on the issue in question but who have come to deeply care for and respect one another as they have met for lunch month after month. If they can do it, the sense goes, then so can we all -- but it's a long and difficult piece of work which we have barely begun. Another place that I go.
As I prepare to go to seminary, it becomes increasingly clear that opportunities for travel to places like Europe and the West Coast are diminishingly rapidly where I'm concerned. The money and time crunch is making itself dramatically apparent. (Let's not even talk about the two hours the roofing guy spent here yesterday, measuring and photographing this gutter and that with a somber look in his eyes. Or was that the look of a fortune being unearthed?) Just as my friends are doing things like buying time-shares on the Cape (yes, I read that entry and yes, I turned various shades of green), and making plans to visit a child studying in Cairo, and returning from Italy and Ireland, I am thinking that local interstate exchanges may be my new habitat.
"Radical dispossession" was the term my spiritual director used when I pointed out, in a rather lengthy diatribe, that my life was changing in ways too big and too all-encompassing for me to maintain a handle on. I know that he wasn't referring to the material aspects of my life, like trips and time-shares, houses and gutters. Those are merely symbolic of something else changing so emphatically that I can barely keep up. The entire orientation of my existence is shifting.
As I talked with my brother a couple of days ago, I realized that I have packed a lot of living into what I insist upon referring to as the first half of my life. (My grandmother having reached 100 years of age, I tend to see the half-lives of human beings as rather lengthy.) I have wrapped my arms around women giving birth and sat with my step-mother as she died, and participated in many of life's most joyous and most desperate events in between. I am beginning to understand that ministry may well take me, in a new capacity, to many of those kinds of thin places, rather than the ones populated by nesting hawks or Celtic crosses. I am going to go to meetings where people try to find ways to stay together as church even as they acknowledge that they are separated by inner conviction, and to homes and restaurants and hospitals and other places where people who are not my beloved friends and family members need the presence of someone who might, just possibly, help them recognize the Presence of Another.
Oh, the places I might go. . . .
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
1. I went to the second half of first grade in Florida. The "hallways" were outside and the drink machine offered little cartons of milk and orange juice. My ideal educational institution.
2. I went to three summer camps and two boarding schools in five states, three colleges in two states, one law school in one state. How surprising is it that I have lived in the same city for 30 years and the same house for 23?
3. I can't cook, except for toast.
4. My favorite natural place in the world is the beach at St. Augustine. My favorite human-made place is Chartres Cathedral (I know; you already knew that.) My favorite place that I haven't been is Nepal. My other favorite place is a hot tub anywhere on earth under a full moon and starry night.
5. I am an avid although fairly mediocre birder. "My" bird (another surprise) is the gannet, although I am thinking about transitioning to the willet. Willet Woman instead of Gannet Girl. My best birds ever were the members of a family of elegant trogons, two adults, two chicks, southeast Arizona. Here's a great set of photos of a similar family.
6. I just this very minute realized that I do have an overall hero (see earlier post) : it's St. Ignatius of Loyola. Of course.
7. I am totally and completely a cat person. We don't have a cat at the moment, which is a source of great sadness for me, but I am off to seminary in the fall, the Quiet Husband doesn't like cats, and the remaining dog is enough for him to contend with. My cats have been Tomasina (she was Tom, but these things have a way of changing), her offspring Butterball, Pigeon (so named because at the time we had a pigeon named Cat), Noel, Hop Whiskers, Big Kitty, and Apollo. Not so many cats, but most of them enjoyed long lives. There is a very furry and lively cat living at the vet's who should move in here, but as I said about the Quiet Husband . . . .
8. I do not own a laptop. Am I the only person in the Lexus (in contrast to Olive Tree) world who does not? I don't have a Lexus either, but then I can't fathom spending perfectly good money on a luxury car. Computers, cameras, and maybe an ipod -- a different story. But cars? Let's just say that I've been driving the rental allotted to us while one of the cars is being repaired, and I have lost it in four parking lots -- including the very large Target lot, that time for about 20 minutes. All cars look pretty much the same to me.
I seem to be getting more garrulous as I continue.
I don't think I have as many as eight online friends or even new acquaintances who haven't already been tagged. I'm going for three -- Lisa, Cynthia, and Quotidian Grace.
Monday, June 11, 2007
A child is, in normal circumstances, under the impression that her mother is the center of the world. It is obvious that the sun rises and sets on her mother; her value to everyone around her is unmistakable. And then she dies and the family shatters into a thousand irretrievable pieces and retreats into the silence of profound grief. And the child wonders (albeit not in so many words): what is going on here? I thought that everyone loved and adored my mother. I was under the impression that they all considered her to be the most significant person in the entire family. But now that she is gone, no one mentions her name. No one talks about the things she used to say and do. No one seems even to notice that she is no longer here.
And then, the inevitable conclusions: I guess I was wrong. I guess she wasn't so important after all. I guess my affections and confidence were misplaced.
And finally: If I could have been in such error about the person who was most important to me, if my understanding was so off base, then my powers of perception are really quite limited. Completely untrustworthy. Not reliable in the least.
An adult might say: The power of discernment has completely eluded me.
But I was seven and so, of course, yes, my vocabulary was limited and no, I could not articulate my sense of loss and confusion as I have here. But I remember it clearly. I remember the utter confusion with which I approached what had become my life, a life in which I was surrounded by loving grandparents and aunts and uncles who tried to fill in for a dazed father, but who seemed to have completely forgotten my mother. I remember the sense of slotting away my own emotions and reactions, the sense that my feelings were out of place and were not worthy of address, by myself or anyone else.
My youngest brother, as well as my mother, had been killed in that car accident. It happened the week before his first birthday. The next year, as October came into view, I asked whether we would be having a party to celebrate his second birthday. I certainly knew that my brother was gone, but I had apparently not yet grasped that that meant we would no longer acknowledge that he had ever been with us. The look on my father's face in response to my question gave me to understand that my hopeful desire to retain the presence of both of my brothers, one living and one dead, was painfully unacceptable. I think that may have been the last time I attempted to offer an expression of my own grief.
I did not begin to overcome that sense that I was a person whose views and experiences were not legitimate or, perhaps, even real, until I was in my early 30s, between pregnancies. It was the disappointment with respect to how badly things had been handled at the end of my first pregnancy and the ease with which my feelings had been disregarded that finally led me to understand that, if there were things that I wanted out of life, it was up to me to go and get them. No one else was nearly as concerned about my hopes and wishes as I was. And my hopes and wishes, I had begun to realize, were entirely reasonable and defensible, as least to the extent that anyone else's were.
I had graduated from a prestigious university with honors and had practiced law for seven years and I did not have any idea that I was a person of value. I was still the seven-year-old girl whose understanding of life was grounded in two fundamental realities: that the universe was catastrophically untrustworthy, and that my understanding of said universe, or any part thereof, was completely unreliable and insignificant.
Twenty years of learning have passed since the dawning of my discovery that I might have been a bit in error. I doubt that I could even begin to unravel the gradual transformation of my understanding of myself as an individual to be taken seriously. I am willing to settle for gratitude that I apparently managed to translate my experiences differently where the Lovely Daughter, who is (obviously) almost twenty, is concerned. We talked all of this over a few nights ago, and she is light years beyond the young woman I was at her age in both self-awareness and self-confidence.
However, the people who would pull us down and suck us under are relentlessly present. Certainly I have friends, women well into their fifties, who remain sadly damaged by words spoken (or not) long ago that seemed designed to bores holes into the fragilities of dawning self-consciousness. I don't think that most of the harm is a consequence of intention. I think that we, all of us, are often reckless in our interactions with others. We do not take into account that silence at the wrong time, or careless words of disregard, can destroy the most profound gifts others have to offer. And it seems that while the devastation can be quick and complete, the healing is more often a lengthy process of uncertain outcome.
The world will never be for me the locus of unadulterated ease that I knew at six. But my sense of myself has been much restored, and I no longer accept the assessments of others in lieu of my own. I am increasingly able to value the input of friends and colleagues and advisors, but that capacity comes from the knowledge that my own initiatives and responses are of value as well.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
1. Imagine a young person you know is about to be deployed to Iraq and has asked for your advice and/or blessing. What would you say?
Pay attention. Soak it in. Find a way to remember. That's what I always try to say, in one way or another. When my children went off to summer camp in North Carolina, I said, "Look around and pay attention. At least every once in awhile, notice the blue mountains rolling above you and the sound of the brooks along which your paths will wind. You'll take it all for granted, but try not to. Try to appreciate it all while you are there and absorb it all to savor later." When one son went off to the University of Chicago, I said the same thing. "Pay attention. Every once in awhile, as you walk across the quads, think about the reality that you are a student at one of the world's premier universities. Soak it in. You are a participant in a great community of research and teaching, and your time there is short. Find a way to remember." And so I would say the same thing to a young person en route to Iraq. I am sure that she would be the recipient of plenty of training about attentiveness in the military sense of the word, attentiveness in the sense that might literally save her physical life. But I am talking about attentiveness to the daily, to the experience of her life: the sunrises and the sunsets; the people, both American and Iraqi; the military base and the villages and towns of the country it occupies. Even in Iraq, even at war, there will be things to soak up now and savor later because -- everything is connected.
2. They say you can’t teach on old dog new tricks. What new trick have you learned in the last, say, twelve months?
I can't really take credit for this one, but I'll claim it anyway. There aren't too many things that intimidate me into inaction (well, almost), but public transportation is one of them. The geometry and inner mind of most metro systems completely elude me, at least at first. I love trains and at one time I worked for a major railroad company, but I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THEM. I have been all over Boston and Washington, D.C. and Portland, and have at least made it from the Atlanta airport into town, but each time I encounter a new set of rails with their accompanying colored and dotted maps, I think I might just go ahead and have a full-fledged panic attack. So the fact that The Quiet Husband and I navigated the Paris metro system for a week and got ourselves to Versailles and Chartres and, astonishingly, back again, all on TRAINS, and that by the end of the week I actually understood what we were doing, was a major triumph.
3. If you had your choice of living in the perfect place, having the perfect job, or finding your perfect mate—and you could only have one of the three—which would you chose?
I choose all three.
4. Do you have a song/music that you think of as your personal anthem? What is it?
I don't really, but as I've thought about this over the past few days, the answer I come up with is: Ta-Da! The Beatles. The Beatles were the background and foreground music to my life from sixth grade onward. I doubt that it takes more than two or three notes or chords coming over the airwaves for me to recognize one of -- what, hundreds? -- of the songs to which I know every word and which transports me immediately back to a scene or experience of my youth. I suppose the other biggies would be:
Beethoven's Seventh, Dvorak's New World, and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphonies, and at least half the songs on Gordon Lightfoot's 1990 Gold album, all of which have been Significant Life Transition Music for me; and
5. Who is your hero?
Today it's Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
And I think that's enough self-revelation for the moment. For your reading pleasure, More Cows has also responded to Lisa's questions here. If you'd like to be interviewed yourself, which will require me to come up with some questions of my own, just leave a comment and we'll see what happens.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Tomorrow night there will be speeches and accolades for the seniors who, along with their parents, will bask in the triumphs of graduation and college admission. I will have the opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of my proteges on the yearbook staff, whose incessant telephone calls as crises created shadows over spring break caused me to develop a new appreciation for true Shabbos observance. 'WHEN IS IT GOING TO GET DARK?" I muttered as I answered yet another call, knowing that in a matter of hours no one would be permitted even to think about the yearbook for awhile.
Yesterday I asked a colleague to review the first draft of my remarks. "It's fine, she said, as she handed it back. "But what about the most important thing?" I asked. "Can you tell that I love them?"
I've been trying to think of a good story to illustrate the kind of relationships we have with students in such a small school, but I'm coming up dry. So I'm switching to poetry as I try to honor the bridge between their creative homage to the past in the form of their yearbook and the reality that the future is now upon them:
The Summer Day
(by Mary Oliver)
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Monday, June 04, 2007
And so what did I do today to celebrate? I tried to carry a heavy box out of an office and slammed my forefinger into a file cabinet, with all the weight of the box behind it. Apparently I iced the wrong spot, because now the joint is a deep hue of purple and I'm guessing that by tomorrow morning it won't be bending.
Honestly, you would think I work on the Big Dig in Boston.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
1. Think back to the time you left High School, what were your hopes visions and dreams for your life/ for the world?
This is a sad thing. I don't recall having had any hopes or visions or dreams for my life when I left high school, which only goes to show that even the most rigorous of educations in the most beautiful of settings cannot compensate for a complete lack of an inner sense of self-worth and direction.
As far as the world was concerned, the Vietnam War was in full swing, so my hopes for the world were not much different than they are today, although the geographical focus lies elsewhere now.
2. Have those hopes visions and dreams changed a lot, or are some of them still alive and kicking? (share one if you can)
Ummm.....there have been a few changes. The major problem for the past 20 years and into the forseeable future is that no one, least of all me, could have enough time or energy to fulfill all my grown-up dreams.
3. Hebrews 11:1 " Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. " Comforting, challenging or frustrating?
I usually find faith challenging, often frustrating, and sometimes comforting.
4. If resources were unlimited, and you had free reign to pursue a vision what would it be?
I'm one of those retreat center people. But I'm beginning to have a different sense about that than the place with the water and kayaks I've always imagined. An idea is starting to form in my head about a place in the city that might be available to working people during the day. I think it's emerging out of a dual thought process.
In the first place, I wandered back into the church largely out of my frustrations with and ambivalence about the demands of a corporate legal career. In my late 20s, I was having a hard time reconciling my work with what my education in two religious schools had emphasized as life's priorities in terms of service and justice. Now, of course, I know that the world is full of people trying to reconcile faith and daily life. Maybe a work arena retreat center would be a good thing.
And in the second place, the one thing I have been pretty sure about in the past few years is that I do not want to be called to serve in the city. I so need the balm of the natural world. And therefore, given the general labyrinthine path of my life, I am probably called to serve in the city.
5. Finally with summer upon us- and not to make this too heavy- share your dream holiday....where, when and who with...
Oh, that's too easy. A month in the Cinque Terre, hiking from one charming hostelry to another, with any or all members of my family. Click to enlarge the photo of Manarola, and you can see the paved path along the Mediterranean (where we once spent a day walking) and imagine the rocky path on the hillside above.