I will lift up mine eyes . . .

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[Salt Lake City’s reservoir; Easter Sunday, 2014]

A few summers ago, the teenaged son and daughter of an old friend—who now lives in Wyoming—stayed with us for a couple of days to take a look at colleges, these young people’s first trip East. At breakfast one morning the teenaged son stepped out onto our deck: “There’s nothing to see but houses!” he complained. “Back yards. How can you stand it?” Other Beyond-Route 128 residents have told us the same thing. “I just felt so boxed in,” the Washington-state father of my son-in-law complained of his college years at Dartmouth.

Gotta say, a major joy when visiting my step-son and his family in Salt Lake City is just looking up! To push my grandson on a SLC park swing and gaze at a snow-capped Wasatch mountain is always a thrill. Since I’m clearly quite content to live exactly where I live, in sardine-can Somerville, I must not require these heady, Rockies glances to sustain me. Or even, as Psalm 121 goes on to say, to be reminded of “whence cometh my help.” (Sometimes the King James version is just what’s needed, right? Or is it just me?) But these ever-present mountain views never get old.

No, as thrilling as these sightings are, my experience of Divine Assistance is inward. I know this is a construct, I know I’ve been using English, both modern and early 17th century, to explore The Unexplorable, “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9)

But it works for me.

 

 

Once upon a time . . .

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This past weekend, our family rented an art-filled, conveniently-located-for-most-of-us farmhouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; nine adults and three children under the same roof. Overjoyed to spend a couple of days with my daughters, three out of four sons-in-law, and precious grandchildren, it wasn’t until I got home yesterday that I realized why this mini-vacation had been so thoroughly satisfying and relaxing: no Wifi. (A son-in-law checked; the rental owners hadn’t paid their ComCast bill.)

Sunday night, after roasting marshmallows in the fireplace fire, instead of watching the Olympics or “Downton Abbey,” my four-year-old grand-daughter and I pulled a couple of pillows off the couch so we could cozily watch the flames—and tell stories. She’d overheard me tell the Jonah and the whale story* to her older brother that afternoon and wanted to hear it again. When I’d finished retelling that ancient tale, then she told me a story about tiny, tiny people living in a rock—I’d explained to her brother that Nineveh was a real place and located in Iraq—at the bottom of the ocean. When a giant squid came to eat the rock, she said, the little people didn’t hear the squid at first because they had water in their ears!

Both times I told the story, I used the word “God.” Because it’s impossible to tell the story without mentioning that all-powerful, key figure in the drama, right? God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. God sends the storm. And the whale. Jonah prays to God from inside the whale. Etc.

And both grandchildren simply took in that highly charged, highly loaded, capitalized noun. For my logical, scientific grandson, who has often informed me that there is no God, my saying, “This is how this story is told in the Bible,” was apparently sufficient. He’s reading Harry Potter these days. He gets the internal integrity of a good yarn, the understanding between an author and a reader that between the covers of this book, this is what the world looks like and how things work. And for my tiara-wearing because she’s often a princess grand-daughter, magic happens.

Yes, it does.

 

 

 

 

 

* My (incredibly talented) musician co-teacher and I are writing songs based on Bible stories with our high school First Day School students. First song: Jonah and the Whale. So I, not conversant with the Bible, actually know that story.

 

A Brief Visit to the Now

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Mondays I babysit for my grand-daughter Lilian; every Monday teaches me something.

This Monday, having just started Eckhard Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, an intriguing passage from the book came to me while Lilian played:

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life. Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation.

So what does it look like when you’re totally focused in the Now? I decided to watch Lilian to find out. Here’s what I observed:

It looks totally engaged and absorbing and sounds happy—lots of humming and non-verbally-expressed delight.

It looks haphazard, random, even a little dopey although, perhaps, undetected by older, rational, linear eyes, some sort of complicated problem-solving’s going on.

It looks experiential. The surrounding world to be worked upon, discovered, or arranged is stroked, smelled, sucked on, chewed,  i.e. all senses are more relied upon.

It looks pure. And holy.

It looks like a place I would like to visit more often.

Emerging, Becoming

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Leaving today for this summer’s last hurrah: a writing-retreat weekend in New Hampshire followed by a week in the Catskills at a YMCA family camp (I’m to serve as a pinch-hitting member of my daughter’s and her kids’ family because her husband has to work.). Odd to pack swimming gear and sunblock and a murder-mystery when, emotionally, I’m already into September. And the upcoming year (even bought a 2014 datebook this week!). And the rest of my life!

But I’m remembering summer camp lo these many years ago and how, sometimes, between things, i.e. walking alone from the dining hall back to my cabin through the woods, the eight or ten or twelve year old me thrilled at my aloneness, loved that pine-scented quiet to simply think. Ponder. Feel my breath. Smell. Listen. I loved that!

As a told my physical therapist this week: “It’s never been more clear to me that this IS the first day of the rest of my life.” As I hang out with my writing buddies and swim and read and chase after grandchildren and practice my archery skills (Yup! For real!), my prayer is that I’ll be gifted with quiet moments, too. Moments to ready myself for Fall’s bustle. Moments that will offer new insights into what’s to be.

March 23, 2011: “What Keeps You Going?’

Went to a retreat that past weekend in southern Maine with about 30 people from my Meeting where I bayed at the full moon, went to some terrific workshops, and connected more deeply with a couple of wonderful people.

For a couple of reasons, missed one workshop where people explored sources of strength in hard times. So at lunch, someone asked me, “What keeps you going?”

“All of you,” I answered promptly. “And my grandchildren.”

Good news: I will see two of those grandchildren tomorrow. (Here’s a link so you can see both the incomparably adorable Dmitri and Ruby AND daughter Hope’s lovely tribute to my father.)

Here’s something else that keeps me going: Insightful, brilliant, hilarious social commentary.

(Not exactly Good News but these are desperate times.)

October 18, 2010: Query, Query, Query, Query

My father, Albert F. Wild, died on October 15th at the age of 95. So to end this “query” series, I’d like to post the very last question my father asked me.

Like all doting and watchful fathers, my dad asked me lots of questions:

“Did you bring your money?”

“Have you done your homework?”

“How many cigarettes are you smoking a day?” (Until the day I quit, I’d always lied.)

“What sort of health plan do you have?”

“Have I ever told you about the time. . . ?”

His last couple of days, my sailor father imagined many, many scenarios to give meaning to what he clearly sensed was happening to him. Most of these stories involved water, boats, cruises. So it’s altogether fitting that his last question to me was:

“What do you do in the Navy?”

April 7, 2009: “Count on me”

When step-son Jeremy and his wife, Vita, invited David and me to travel with them and their toddler daughter Sasha this fall, maybe to Spain, maybe to Croatia, maybe to Turkey, we were flattered to be asked. Since I’ve been to what used to be Yugoslavia and spent several months in Spain, I’d volunteered that, given my druthers, Turkey would be my first choice (You know, life-lists, and all that.) It was only when Vita e-mailed that, yes, let’s do Turkey together that it occurred to me: What will Garen, my Armenian brother-in-law, and my sister, Deborah, also well-connected to Armenia, think? Will they be pissed that we’ll be traveling to a country that ethnically cleansed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1918? And now denies that genocide?

So I called my sister; we talked. Former assistant director of the Peace Corps in Armenia and still very active with Armenia-based organizations, with a wide circle of Armenian friends, my sister is far more in tune with the ongoing tensions re Turkey’s denial than most Americans. (Indeed, she’s been enormously  supportive re a play I’ve written re the genocide and denial.) But my sister, mother of a terrific son (who BTW, once attended an Armenian school), is also deeply connected to the whole idea of family. So while not thrilled about our plans (“It’s your life.”), she completely understood how excited we were to be accompanying “Baby Sasha”—no matter where.

“It’s [the genocide] going to come up,” she predicted. Which made me realize that, like the “Count on me” campaign here in Somerville a few years back, when white people in this community actually discussed what to say and what to do when someone made a racist remark, our little travel group (excluding year-old Sasha) needs to practice our remarks ahead of time. How to be honest, how to acknowledge a tragic event without putting notoriously gracious and hospitable Turks on the defensive, how to encourage talk, listen to stories? Not easy. But definitely required.

And, of course, not every Turk is a genocide denier. If we enter Turkey EXPECTING the worst from its citizens, that would be grossly unfair. So I am excited to see the wonders of this historic country and equally excited to learn from its people.

December 18, 2008: Allison’s “competition”

Judging from the frenzied activity at my bird feeders, tomorrow’s snow storm will be a doozy: lots of cheeky, fat sparrows and late this morning, a female goldfinch at the niger seed feeder. Usually skittish and/or really fast eaters, goldfinches, at least the ones who visit MY feeder, stay briefly and then flitter away. But this particular gal ate and ate and ate. That she lingered so long just feet away from where I watched her gave me a much-needed opportunity to reflect:

Before the goldfinch’s arrival, I’d been missing Allison a little bit (she’s spending Christmas with boyfriend Dustin’s family this year.) But the goldfinch reminded me, as goldfinches always do, of Michael Merkin, who, when I’d visited him at a Hospice in Queens, had assured me that, yes, he was dying, but he’d be back. One summer afternoon, a couple of months after he’d died, I was sitting on the deck writing in my journal about Michael and his deathbed promise. Just then a male goldfinch flew to the feeder. “Is that you, Michael?”

A few years before that visitation, however, Allison had been mock-jealous that I lavished so much attention to the feeders. She especially resented that I babytalked and cooed when goldfinches showed up. (Who could blame her, really?!) “They’re our competition,” she told her twin, pointing to a pair of goldfinches. “Now that we’ve gone to college, Mom’s replaced us with THEM!”

No golden bird, not even a reincarnated Michael Merkin, could ever replace my precious daughters. That a very hungry goldfinch lingered for a deliciously long time this morning enabled me to remember Michael, Allison’s wiseass quip, AND to experience the unmitigated joy I always feel when a goldfinch comes to feed. (I feel only slightly less euphoric about chickadees.)