“Sensible and Human Things”

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atom bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting with our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep.

[C.S. Lewis, 1948]

Climate disruption and endless war and global health issues and political unrest undeniably lurking, looming, can we be sensible and human? Can we, despite our fears and how numbingly and satisfyingly comforting it is to scroll, scroll, scroll, can we keep on keepin’ on? Can we co-create the just, equitable, radically-inclusive world we yearn for? Can we remember to be silly? Can we celebrate this precious gift of life. Loudly? And together. In a park, maybe, or having taken over city streets. Let’s sing together, not just “Amazing Grace” or “This Land Is Your Land,” but maybe something written in this century.  (“Imagine”!) Let’s dance as if  no one’s watching. Let’s shout out whatever/whoever is precious: our grandchildren’s names. “Guernica.”  Mount Ararat. Blue Whale. Lake Superior (which, let’s face it, really is.)

Let’s be grateful.

Let’s get to work.

 

“Sorry!”

[Walgreen’s, February 3, 2020]

This week, as I continue to read the amazing On Repentance And Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World, by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a snippet from one of my favorite movies, “A Thousand Clowns” nudged me. And, lo, fifty-nine years later, this cinematic moment is actually  better than what I remember! (It’s “scientific.”)

Unapologetically sick and worn-out this week, I am delighted to let Jason Robards/”Murray” explains what he’s discovered:

Enjoy!

Lumi means “snow” in Finnish; it also means Light.

I’m not a dog person. Which means quizzical-verging-on-contemptuous looks from the numerous dog owners in my neighborhood as I briskly walk past their adorable fur balls without comment or gushing. (“Sorry. I really don’t mean to offend you. I’m just not into your pet, okay?”) But, serendipitously, the same week an intriguing article on dog tail-wagging came out, which examines the long-term relationship between dogs and humans, a blue-eyed husky named Lumi reminded me that “dog” backwards is “God.”

This spiritual awakening happened like this: I was in New Hampshire visiting dog-owning family and offered the opportunity to try snowshoeing. Which I instantly loved! Although walking on snowshoes is a lot like wearing the heaviest, most mud-caked boots ever, snowshoes allow you to trudge on fresh, deep snow. (Duh.) So silence-lovin’ me immediately saw how eerily quiet and reverent such unsullied walks could be. And if, given global warming, it makes sense to buy me a pair, I’m in. (How do I even figure this out!)

Not that our Saturday trek was all that quiet. Two parents, one granddaughter, two dogs, plus me meant a less than worshipful stroll. Especially when Lumi would suddenly stop to frantically dig some piled-high snowbank. And have to be scolded, again and again, “Leave it!” Huh?

Under all that pristine, glistening snow were woodland creatures—and Lumi could hear them?! That stopped me in my tracks. (Which probably looked like Grammy catching her breath.) It wasn’t just the sudden gestalt when recognizing the symbiosis between ancient humans and dogs unearthing what’s for dinner tonight that earned my slack-jawed awe. I stared at Lumi as if seeing God made manifest: “You heard chipmunks or field mice or . . . under all that snow? What an amazing creature you are!”

And dog-owners get this, right? They get to have moments when their pets remind them: “Actually, creation is not anthropocentric. Humans just assume it is. If we’re incredibly lucky, we humans may be in a long-term relationship with lots of life forms. Dog willing.”

 

 

What Am I Called To Do (with asterisks)?:

To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure

and discovery may be almost the greatest service 

one human being ever performs for another.

Douglas Steere

As my father got more and more frail and his children and grandchildren had begun to take on the major responsibilities at family get-togethers, leaving him with nothing to do, he’d say, “Never mind. I’ll just sit in the corner and drool.” He didn’t drool. But sometimes a younger family member would pull up a chair, sit down beside him, and listen to his stories. Which were wonderful.

As I and the warring, climate-disrupted world we all inhabit get more and more frail, asking the Universe: “What am I called to do?” seems an existential/spiritual question with some asterisks:

* at almost-eighty.

* that doesn’t add to my carbon footprint if I choose to witness/show up/minister.

*that would actually make a difference yet which I, on a fixed-income, can afford.

(You get the idea.)

Lately I have been pondering some ways we potential droolers might be useful in this unimaginably challenging time. Let me count the ways (so far):

Like the wonderful Steere quote, we can listen as others share their grief, their fears, their suffering.

Like my father, we can share own experiences; we can offer a long-view perspective. No, let’s be clear, there has never been a time quite so fraught (my dad’s word) as this. Yet surely our stories contain some nuggets the present generations might appreciate? Dare I say learn from? (Some buy-in’s probably required. Someone willingly chose to sit beside my father. Someone needs to ask us to recount the time when . . ., right?)

We can speak to the non-binary-All because we, too have suffered. We, too, have experienced unmitigated joy. And here we are. Our breath of experience adds more to the spectrum of What Being Conscious Is About, the All of it, its spectacular, wondrous, terrifying, maddening, unlimited array of experiences.

And, finally, this: I have seen what Love can do. Love is thoroughly embedded in that All; Its all-embracing power continually takes my breath away. It feels naive—silly—to write that, now, as wars wage everywhere. Everywhere! Yet over a lifetime, in the midst of conflict, when I remembered to speak or to act from a place of Love, everything shifted. Improved. Softened. This I know at almost-eighty.

Where is Love in Gaza? Where is Love in Ukraine? Yemen?  The streets of Haiti, the streets of vandalized San Francisco? That’s impossible to say. What I can say is this: some of us along Elder Path may want to listen to your grief, your rage, your fears. Grateful to be able to experience this “greatest service one human being ever performs for another,” we can hear you with Love.

 

 

Moving Day

Years ago my Mets fan son-in-law, he and my daughter toying with the idea of leaving The Big Apple to live in Boston, did a really smart thing: he rode the T.*

“Nope,” he declared, when he finally made it home.** “Too many young people.”

He wasn’t wrong. With its 64 colleges and universities, greater Boston’s demographics are definitely skewed. Some MovingDay/Labor Day weekends, when thousands of people under the age of twenty-five return to this part of the world, I celebrate our region’s abundance of youthful energy. Some years: not so much.

This year, for an abundance of reasons, I teetered. (Pretty sure that our planet’s burning up has made me a little cranky.) But Friday, aka Moving Day, in late afternoon, as I walked in my neighborhood, its sidewalks strewn with all the stuff—like dish drainers and books—no one could deal with after a long, hot day of hefting boxes and furniture, I overhead  this:

She: “So how was it?”

He: (Blustery, upset): “It was. . . ” (Stops. Considers; calmly) “I had an experience.”

She: (Pauses; warmly) “Right.”

 

*The T is what we greater Bostonians call our (ancient, ailing, maddening) public transportation system.

**Did I mention slow, too?

“Hot Enough For Ya?”

Due to some fortuitous timing this week, a writing assignment arrived as if a prayed-for thunderstorm on a torrid summer day. What a gift! A new friend, Tom, drawn to the intersection of theater and truth-telling and brevity, encouraged me to write a five-minute play about climate change. (Tom’s helping to organize such a national festival.) So the same week when it’s this part of the world’s turn to endure a terrifying heat wave, I’ve been given the opportunity to write “Hot Enough For Ya?” (Believe it or not, this stringent attempt at truth-telling may be less than five minutes. Don’t blink!)

But here’s the thing: What most excites me is this: that generous gift. I was trying to explain why I’d felt so moved by this serendipity to a group of friends last night. “It was like the Universe was being kind, or my Muse showed up, or it was kind of like grace or . . . ” my voice trailed off.

A dear friend—whose childhood had been vastly different from mine—offered another version. “‘Krisha‘s mercy,’ it’s sometimes called.”

I love that!

 

Message Received

Every night for the past week or so, hours before dawn, a nearby robin begins to chirrup. And wakes me up. Now I’ve learned from countless dark-night-of-the-soul tossings and turnings that if I allow myself to think about anything negative, I will anxiously stew and stew and never fall back to sleep! So instead of focusing on how pissed I am to be awakened, I listen. With curiosity. “What do you want me to know ?” I sleepily ask that unseen, winged creature. For surely such relentless urgency deserves my attention, yes?

That his song is varied, complicated, intricate in my first half-awake discovery. Could it be that what I’m hearing is a sales pitch cum love song? An enthusiastic, juicy details, over-the-top description of his outstanding nest-building and sexual prowess? And when I hear a phrase repeated, it’s because, like any skilled sales person or lover, he’s sensed a theme, a riff, a woo he’s realizing has enormous appeal. So: repeat that bit. Of course!

But, dear robin, why this pre-dawn performance? Is it that the early bird gets the mate? Or are you, like my forsythia blooming two months early,  thrown off kilter by climate change? Do you no longer know when dawn arrives? Are you, like all creatures great and small victimized by my species, deserving of my deepest compassion? Or does your pre-dawn performance mean something else?

I do know this: You, singing from a nearby branch or nest, and I, warm and dry in my luxuriant bed, both occupy the same tiny plot of land. You and I are neighbors. You’re relentlessly, emphatically here!

And that’s what you want me to know.

One Small Step for Sisterhood

[“My” Walgreen’s; February 3, 2020]

My husband and I have lost a step or two; we joke that soon we’ll “take all day” to walk to the bank, the post office, the library, the Market Basket right down the street.  Until a week or so ago, we would have added “and our drug store” to this fortuitous list of convenient neighborhood services but: no. Because Walgreens will now only sell the FDS-approved drug Mifepristone in states where abortion is legal, we’ll be shlepping to the CVS in Porter Square from now on.

Which, frankly, is a pain in the ass. Or, rather, the knees, the back, the quads, etc. Strolling a couple of blocks for more extra-strength, 10 mg. melatonin? No big deal. Hiking a mile to fetch this now-a-staple in my post-pandemic, anxious life? Not a walk in the park.

But when I consider my outrage at the overturning of Roe, when I read articles like this?  I’ll manage just fine, thank you very much! My anger—no, rage—will put a kick in my step. And with every step I’ll hold my sisters in the 24 states that have banned abortion or are likely to do so  in the Light.

 

Deep In My Heart I Do Believe

In 1966, I joined a handful of other Wheelock College seniors to research cultural opportunities for greater Boston children. We interviewed the well-dressed and pleasant middle-aged woman in charge of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s children’s concerts; we probably met with her counterpart at the Museum of Fine Arts, too. (Who can remember?)

What I do remember, cringy-vividly, was our meeting with Mel King, then director of a settlement house in the South End—which housed a children’s arts school. Given those pre-civil-rights-movement times, given how little Wheelock interacted with Boston’s Black and Brown children in those days, our meeting now seems a miracle! But someone at Wheelock recommended we interview the tall, remarkably tall, gracious, long-time Boston activist. Who may have given us a tour of the art school; I don’t remember.

But I know this: as our time with him was coming to an end, having heard of the others we’d already interviewed, he’d said, “You know, a street festival is a cultural opportunity for children, too.”

I thought about that life-changing remark last night watching the Huntington Theater’s latest production: “K- I- S- S- I- N- G.”

“Could you or I ever imagine seeing a play at the Huntington Theater written by a woman of color, directed by another Black woman, with an all-people-of-color cast?” I would have loved to ask that lovely man. (Who died in 1983.) “Or, like that foundational street festival, that this cultural opportunity reflected and affirmed and, yes, celebrated the lived experience of the majority of the people sitting in that audience? And that this majority would mean that when it was announced that Roxbury-raised Thomika Bridwell, understudy for “Dot,” would be stepping in tonight, Ms. Bridwell received a hearty hometown shout-out?” (She was amazing BTW.)

I certainly couldn’t.

 

Palabra means Word

On Mardi Gras, sensing I might find what I sought in a space unlike my unadorned meetinghouse, I attended evening mass at Saint Anthony’s, the Catholic church nearest my home.  On my five minutes walk in a soft rain, I imagined the smell of beeswax candles, incense, chipped and faded statuary dimly seen, I imagined the priest’s and congregants’ words in Spanish, a language I do not speak, washing over me as if a steady stream. I imagined myself lighting a couple of candles and then to be left alone.

My first surprise—of many—was to find myself in the church’s basement; brightly-lit, its walls and brick archways framing the alter painted a bright, sunflower yellow, its pristine statuary equally glowing as if lit from within.

My second: In front of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I found rows of red plastic candles with a metal slot in front of each one. I tried inserting a quarter into one slot. It worked! So I did that again with a second candle. And tempered my disappointment with my first opening: this is how millions of people all over the world light candles before holding someone in the Light. I can, too.

Third surprise: I was not to be ignored. At certain moments the other worshipers would turn around, smile, extend their hands in my direction. Such lovingkindness made me teary; warmed me. Though we speak different languages, though our hands did not touch, as in namaste, something of Spirit within them connected with something of Spirit within me.

Last surprise I’ll note: The priest’s words or song lyrics sung to guitar accompaniment were not a steady, unintelligible stream. Certain words or phases asserted themselves. When the priest began The Lord’s Prayer, for example, from the rhythm and repetition of certain words I knew what he was saying. And heard that prayer with different ears. Repeated palabras made me wonder if maybe he was reading John 1 through 5?

But did it matter if I was right or wrong? No. I exercised new heart muscles and although my soul heard Good News in Spanish, it understood.

 

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Last summer during a fierce heat wave, discovering Shannon Beach was a godsend. Pristine, beautiful, located on Mystic Lake in nearby Winchester, the beach offered fresh water swimming, a wide, beautifully-maintained sandy beach and ample parking. Its only downside? In order to get there, I had to drive through five, five rotaries—a bit excessive for even this seasoned greater Boston driver! But to swim in fresh water or to hear children happy and splashing while reading a trashy novel was definitely worth the nightmarish drive, I decided.

Close readers have noticed that first paragraph was written in the past tense. Why? Because in its infinite wisdom, Massachusetts’ Parks Department decided to renovate Shannon Beach, making much of its sandy beach inaccessible. When did this happen, you ask? When summer was well underway.  Huh? (These same brilliant souls’ equally inept counterparts in state government recently shut down an entire public transit branch, the Orange Line, with, so far, no good options for the thousands of people relying on the Orange Line to get to work or school. JEEZ!)

That gorgeous lake isn’t past tense, of course, so in the midst of one of this summer’s heat waves, I navigated those pesky rotaries and parked in the Beach’s parking lot. “Surely I can find a spot abutting the beach where I can swim,” I reasoned.

But what I discovered, Dear Reader, was heartbreaking. Because the large expanse of beach was no longer accessible, the pebbly “shingle” lining the lake was crowded, impossible to walk on, and, worst of all, covered with broken glass. With no shingle maintenance, climate change’s back-to-back heat waves, and so many families flocking to this “beach,” it’s no wonder that this past Sunday night a violent fight broke out at Shannon Beach resulting in one hospitalization and several arrests.

And, yes, we can be pretty sure alcohol and COVID-frayed nerves contributed to this nasty fight.

But not entirely. The brilliant souls who decided to begin work on a wildly popular swimming area just as things were heating up must shoulder some of the blame.

 

“Intensified Sky”

[Bird at the edge of the Grand Canyon}

I am currently going through an intense passage; Rilke’s poem speaks to me:

Ah, not to be cut off

Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner—what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.

— Rainer Maria Rilke