December 28, 2010: . . . “And it’s all still in there.”

To paraphrase W. C. Fields: All things considered, I’d rather have the Blizzard Christmas of 2010 to the Norovirus Christmas of 2007 (when our entire family took turns being violently ill.). Although the terrible driving conditions meant some family members had to leave our Boxing Day dinner early—so we didn’t have our annual opportunity to systematically check-in, easily my favorite Christmas tradition—two members of our far-flung family stayed an extra day. A treat. Being housebound also meant all those special holiday leftovers were especially appreciated and grandchildren’s toys entertained their owners and their doting aunts and uncles and grandparents.

And, of course, we were lucky: We didn’t lose power and this drafty old house, which shook and swayed every time a stiff wind roared past, kept us (relatively) warm and dry. And when we ran out of coffee—ohmygosh!—we could simply climb over the snow banks of Union Square to buy locally roasted French Roast.

The people of Scituate, a seaside town south of Boston, were not so lucky: homes and businesses were flooded, two houses burned down, dozens of people had to be evacuated from the chest-high water.

Maureen Trayers, who lives next door to one of the burned homes, and whose own house was heavily flame-damaged, said this as she was being rescued: “We just had Christmas. And it’s all still in there.”

Presumably, at that very traumatic moment, as she’s climbing into a rescue vehicle, by “all” Ms. Trayers meant the presents and the gift cards, the tinsel and the wrappings, the decorated Christmas tree, stockings; cookies and a turkey and eggnog.

But I’ll bet that very soon she’ll realize that, yes, the wonder of the winter solstice, of light in the darkness, the hope of a peaceful, promising new year, the blessings of being alive and together and safe; yes, Maureen, all that is still in there. In you. In me. In all of us.

December 20, 2010: “Star of wonder. . . “

There’a a little beauty parlor on Somerville Avenue that’s hung some cheesy, glittery Christmas ornaments in its large, plate glass front window. Feeling glum a couple of days ago, I’d walked past that window just as the morning sun struck those ornaments. And the world—at least my teeny part of it—was transformed.

OK, I thought. Instead of viewing the asphalt and concrete and heavy traffic of Somerville Avenue as portents of doom and destruction (which is what I’d been doing), maybe I should instead look for something that speaks to the GLORY of my species.

And, immediately, there it was: the brand-new bike lanes of Somerville Avenue. Truly, those lanes are a miracle, a gigantic break-through, yes? (Unfortunately, there were no riders on the bike lane when I had this revelatory moment. That would have made this Ah HAH perfectly cinematic!)

As somebody noted at yesterday’s meeting for worship—which preceded Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s always tear-producing Christmas pageant—when the Holy family knocks on the door of that crowded Bethlehem  inn, it’s a “metaphor” for letting in light/joy/wonder/God. We get to choose if we open that door.

And how often.

December 13, 2010: Disquiet = Repeating Joy (Eventually)

Haven’t we heard this story before? A gentle and Spirit-imbued man, a traveler, a stranger, by his powerful yet graceful presence, shakes things up, challenges the complacent and the easeful, but then dies much too soon.

For me, Elphas Wambani was such a man. (And Elphas would roar at being paired with You Know Who!)

A Quaker from Kenya, Elphas had come to this country a few years ago to study at Episcopal Divinity School—and, although his Kenyan Quaker/FUM tradition was decidedly programmed, to worship at decidedly unprogrammed Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

From the very first time I met him, Elphas pushed my “I’m not doing enough; I should be. . . ” button: Enormous pain about his country, its AIDs epidemic, and how little I have done, how unfair it is that I have so much; you know, the usual White American Woman’s Guilt.

At his memorial on Saturday, a gathering for EDS and FMC folks, I reflected on that disquiet: And I think it’s because he was so gentle, so loving, such a man of faith, that I couldn’t discount his witness. His presence keenly reminded me: Yes, Patricia, there is a Kenya. And a Bangladesh. And a . . . Had he been a hectoring, rhetoric-spouting guy, had he been angry or unpleasant, how easy it would have been to not allow myself to acknowledge his reality. And my own.

Tragically, Elphas died in his sleep this summer at age fifty-four, after returning to Kenya. Such a loss. So unfair.

But there is such joy to be reminded that, yes, gentle and loving are so powerful they can change the world. Because, yes, we have heard this story before.

July 28, 2010: What Have We Done?

I live in a densely populated, 79% paved-over city that, in the past, had been sneeringly referred to as “Scummerville” or “Slummerville.” (These days, that Somerville is so hip has pretty much quashed those taunts—but not entirely.) Whenever my husband and I venture outside our fair city and see some lovely countryside or acres of trees destroyed by McMansions or a strip mall or another highway, we sigh. But then we tell ourselves,” You know, sometimes it’s less painful to live in Somerville where the rape and destruction of the land and its rivers happened three-hundred years ago!”

As I’ve noted in many of these blogs, I have been drawn to the Transition Town movement and its fundamental, resilient message that, given climate change and the eventual end of the Cheap Oil Era, the ONLY way we’ll survive these huge and scary changes is collectively. So from time to time I hang out with Somervillians who are into weatherization or the Buy Local movement or community gardens or extending the bike path. Wonderful initiatives. Wonderful people.

Marla Marcum of “Climate Summer”* said something recently that really shook me. A climate change activist and deeply spiritual person, Marla noted that there’s something deeply shameful about what our species has done to this planet.

More and more I am feeling that, perhaps, my role in Somerville’s ongoing initiatives re the huge upheavals we’re facing ** is to somehow engage in community-wide conversations about that shame. And, oh yeah, about our overwhelming feelings of helplessness and terror.


* “Climate Summer”  has been about a group of college students biking throughout New England to talk about climate change. Marla was one of the chief organizers.

** I use the present tense because Somerville, like so many communities around the world, has already suffered 3 times this year from dramatic, destructive weather—in Somerville’s case, 3 devastating rain storms.

May 29, 2010: Spiritual Preparedness

[The opposite of fear is love.]

The prediction of 7 (7!) major hurricanes this year in yesterday’s paper was still very much on my mind when Allison, my California daughter, called. Predictably, this forecast had left me blue; hearing my daughter’s bouncy, animated voice cheered me up. Still. . .

When, after catching up with her exciting news, I’d admitted that I’m struggling with, you know, a pervading sense of DOOM, Allison responded perfectly. Not “Oh, Mom! You’re such a downer!” Not “I call you from 3,00 miles away and I get this?” Not  “I don’t need this right now.” No way.

Instead, my California, always waiting for The Big One daughter asks me: “Do you have an emergency kit?” And then gently coaches me on how to prepare for disaster.

So, yeah, I’ll start to put together the things she suggested and other items that just make sense in case we lose water or electricity. I’ll get ready.

But what do I need in my spiritual kit? That’s a question I’ve started asking, too.

Stay tuned.

May 6, 2010: A Spiritual Exercise

Yesterday, leaving NYC on a Peter Pan bus, heading home on I-95 N, a truck caught on fire just ahead of my bus. What a scene! Billowing smoke, screaming fire trucks somehow getting past the backed-up traffic and, in very short time, a complex, beautifully organized rerouting process involving stopping all the traffic on I-95 S and miles of backed-up cars and trucks and buses on I-95 N—like the one I was on—crossing the median strip to get on I-95 S—and, presumably, alternative routes. (And yet my bus eventually arrived in Boston only a half-hour late.)

Having just left the Big Apple, where every newspaper I saw screamed something about the Time Square (botched) bombing attempt, I immediately assumed that truck fire was a terrorist attack. How could I not?

Well, here’s how: all this month, I’m going to write about fear and its antidote: love.

Keep reading.

March 29, 2010: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do. . .

. . . with your one wild and precious life?” [from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver.]

Here’s how extraordinary Nesto Monell is: he’s now asking himself, “What am I supposed to be doing with my life, now that it has been given back to me? How do I give back?”

May all of us, transformed by Nesto and his story, listen to what the Universe is saying when we ask the same questions.

December 22, 2009: Glad Tidings

Christmas preparations are 95% under control (next year I really do have to figure out how to simplify this thing—for real) so am going to try to say something, here:

First Off/Let’s be Clear: I am not saying that Barack Obama is Jesus Christ, okay? In this season of both glad tidings/hope/ “Oh, come let us adore him,”  and seriously compromised effort (the health care bill, what didn’t happen in Copenhagen), however, my president and my Inward Teacher have weirdly blended together in my mind.

I’d been hoping to bring this confusing co-mingling to meeting for worship this past Sunday but the big snowstorm and very few people showing up meant I played one of the Wise Men for our Meeting’s Christmas pageant instead. So bear with me; I haven’t gotten very far.

Re Obama: Like the “Jesus Christ Superstar” song goes: “He’s just one man.” Again and again while campaigning, Obama told us: “I am not going to do this (whatever promise he was taking about) alone.” But I, weary at heart, was oh-so-yearning to worship and adore. (And, let’s be honest, the fact that he’s our first president of color means my belief in the guy verged on hero-worship. As readers of Way Opens know, I do this.) So when President Obama commited 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and didn’t single-handedly pull off a Christmas Miracle in Copenhagen, I was crushed.

Re Inward Teacher: My take on the Good News is this: Again and again Jesus was telling us, reminding us that God/Spirit/Higher Power is here, is now, is present. His followers, then and now, weary at heart, yearned/yearn for him to take away the sins of the world, to give us rest, to comfort, to save us. But I believe he was trying to say something quite different: God’s love is within you. Open your heart to that love. That love, that power is your salvation.

What the world learned from Copenhagen is the same message that our former community-organizer president is telling us and what Jesus—and Ghandi—taught: Change happens inwardly first, it happens when two or more are gathered, it often happens in spite of elected officials—and, might I add, when women and children’s voices are heard and supported. “When the people lead, leaders will follow.” A global response to climate change will happen because voices from non-super powers will make it happen.I truly believe this.

Our Inward Teacher, aka the Prince of Peace, brought us glad tidings. Spread the Word.

September 15, 2009: Beyond Words

On my couch are lovely, artisan pillows from Armenia, Greece and, now, Turkey, souvenirs from countries with centuries of hatred towards one another. In Istanbul last week, walking a few paces behind my sixteen-month old (step) grand-daughter, seeing the soft, “ahhh” eyes of Turkish men melting at the sight of this adorable, determined toddler, I remembered the many horror stories told by Greeks and Armenians of “those horrible Turks.”

How do we relate to one another from that gentle, loving, “ahhh” place, I wondered in worship on Sunday. Good question, huh?

On my way to Meeting on Sunday, I had walked past St. Anthony’s just as the congregation was singing a hymn I’d fallen in love with in Cuba. Hand on my heart, I stood on the sidewalk and listened. I don’t remember the words to that hymn either in Spanish or English (I vaguely recall something about Jesus and boats). Because, somehow, the hymn’s words don’t matter. It’s the melody which directly and profoundly speaks to my gentle, loving, “ahhh” core.

When we put language to that-greater-than-ourselves, that’s when it gets dicey. Love, Light, Peace, God, Christ, Allah, “There is a Spirit that delights to do no evil;” whatever word(s) represent our gentle, loving, “ahh” core, may we speak from that place to one another.

August 25, 2009: This will be a little longer

Within minutes of posting the last, brief acknowledgment of  discouragement, my doorbell rang. My neighbor and her sister wanted copies of my book. They also urged me to contact Oprah! Now, we all know what a long shot that would be. But these two women’s encouragement and enthusiasm came at just the right time. Their visit made me cry.

And yesterday, I met with my amazing godson who gave me excellent feedback re some downloadable discussion questions I plan to add to this website. (Apparently I have some more work to do!)

So I leave tomorrow for a two-week adventure in Turkey, “renewed and refreshed.” Thank you, Spirit.

One of the things I will be doing in Turkey is making a (brief) pilgrimage to Konya where the poet Rumi  is buried. Since my spiritual journey lately seems to be about embracing Mystery (how else to describe a doorbell ringing JUST when needed?), I’ll close with an appropriate poem by the “Mevlana” (Our master):

The Mystery of the Moment

by Rumi

To the mind there is such a thing as news,/ whereas to the inner knowing, it is all/in the middle of its happening./ To doubters, this is pain./To believers, it’s gospel./To the lover and the visionary,/it is life as it’s being lived.

December 22, 2008: Happy Hannukkah

The problem with not writing for The Somerville Journal anymore AND taking a break from novel-writing is that everything, EVERYTHING becomes a possibility for this blog. The early morning light sparkling through the massive icicles hanging from our neighbor’s porch? The overheard comment at a Somerville Avenue gas station  today? A (probably Arabic-speaking) guy pumping gas said to an SUV owner: “You’re better off with a Toyota than that thing.” The politics of who makes way for whom when two strangers approach each other on a narrow, snowy sidewalk pathway?

But in honor of Hannukkah, I think I’ll talk about light/Light. Which, as I’m sure you’ll recall, was the theme for my Christmas stocking gifts last year. (This year’s theme: From Around the World.)

[FYI: Something like what I’m about to say was said yesterday at Meeting by dear friend/Friend Mehmet Rona:]

It’s a miracle, isn’t it? As of yesterday, the days are getting longer. Right at this moment, the sun’s starting to melt our icy sidewalk. When you REALLY contemplate the miracle of light, then it’s pretty easy to accept that, yes, it was possible that only enough oil for one day miraculously stretched and stretched, right?

In honor of this miracle, today at Cambridge Naturals, I bought Sunbeam Candles, 100% beeswax, as stocking gifts.

“Wait a sec,” you say. “Light was last year’s stocking theme.”

Oh. Did I fail to mention that these candles were “Created with Solar Power”? How People’s Republic of Cambridge can you get?!

December 17, 2008: “Christmas happens.”

Yesterday, at Porter Square Books, I ran into Wendy Jehlen. In her mid-thirties, daughter of good friends Alain and Pat Jehlen, mother of two beautiful daughters, Wendy is a gifted dancer who’s also an interpreter for the deaf. Seconds before she’d entered the bookstore, apparently, Wendy had learned that the mother of one of her daughter’s friends had just died. “She was my age,” Wendy said tearfully.

The grim faces of the people I’d passed on the way to  Porter Square very much on my mind (people, I’m guessing, suffering from what’s happening to the economy), Wendy’s sad news, and knowing how many of my own friends and family are presently going through hard times, I commented on what a challenging Christmas this was going to be.

Wendy’s face brightened: “There’s a wonderful piece written right after Pearl Harbor,” she informed me. “I’ll try to send it to you. But basically it’s saying ‘Christmas happens even in the midst of hard times.’ ”

Ah ha! We’d talked about exactly this same concept in yoga class last week. Annie Hoffman, our amazing teacher, had read us something about how we’re essentially and fundamentally joyous beings. Sounds like the Quaker construct of Inner Light, doesn’t it?  Put in another way: Within each of us is Joy, Light, That of God, Love, or as this shiny, hopeful, loving and generous whatever-it-is thing is sometimes called at this time of year, Christmas Spirit. (Since we’re talking constructs, here, I can be a little sloppy with language, right? YOU try writing about the Unexplainable!)

That’s the thing about essential and fundamental: Like the sun, it’s always there. Even at night. A New Yorker short story about a deeply unhappy family on a ski trip who, to their surprise, were touched by the spirit of the season, ended: “Christmas happens.”