February 12, 2011: Let Go, let Rumi

[from A Year With Rumi: Daily Readings—here’s an excerpt from the February 12th poem]

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,

through this migration of intelligences,

and though we seem to be sleeping,

there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream.

It will eventually startle us back

to the truth of who we are.

February 6, 2011: Let Go, Let NStar

We had a power loss again last night. And although I’d been sleepy before the lights went out, suddenly I was wide awake and hyped-worried. So I got out of bed to look out the window—yes, indeedy; it was dark out there—and, stumbling around in the dark, smashed my baby toe against a wooden trunk. So I limped back to bed.

Really, I counseled myself, what else could I do except remain in my warm bed?  And just wait for someone to fix whatever power lines were broken.

So I tried simply going to sleep (almost immediately heard lots of sirens. That was reassuring. Until it wasn’t.) But my mind couldn’t help itself: Instead of letting me sleep, it insisted on obsessing about all the things that would now go terribly wrong because we’d lost electricity.

But, really, I scolded myself in my darkened, spookily quiet bedroom (Never realized how many things HUM in my house). Worrying is nuts. You are powerless. Get it?

The NStar truck rumbled past soon after that and, maybe a half hour later, my house hummed again.

February 5, 2011: Let Go, Let Light

Sometimes when it’s overcast because another storm’s coming, and I’m a little worn out from dealing with snowbanks and ice—today, in other words—it’s hard to “walk cheerfully over the earth.” I’m glum, chum, and see, as I walk, the very worst of human nature as represented by icy, dangerous unshoveled sidewalks and dog shit.

But the Light comes through—even on a gloomy day. Like it’s compelled to shine or something.

Completely randomly, my YakTrax-shod boots today brought me to 3 locations that lifted my spirits, nourished my soul, reminded me that, yes, humans are capable of wonderful things.

First stop: Somerville’s bustling winter farmers’ market. Expecting nothing but turnips I’d gone simply out of curiosity. But, hey, there was locally produced wine and coffee and cheese and baked goods and seafood—and root vegetables. And lots of people. Heart Lift # 1.

Second stop: Anticipating staying home tonight, decided to go to the library to get some DVDs. Again, the place was packed. After selecting some films, managed to do the teeniest bit of research for a new writing project. A few clicks on the library’s catalog site, connected to greater-Boston’s libraries’ collections and—presto chango—what I need will be delivered to my library. For free. So, OK, there are dog owners who don’t pick up after their pets. But there’s also this incredible, free, accessible-to-all service called our public library system. Heart Lift # 2.

Third stop: Waking home, an SUV stopped beside me and a woman rolled down her window: “Excuse me,” she said in a Somerville accent. “Are you wearing something strapped to your boots?” (Maybe she’d noticed me confidently striding along and figured  I was either suicidal or had special gear.)

Yes, I told her.

“Where did you get them?”

“My husband bought them for me.”

“Ohh,” she said. “What a wonderful gift!”

What I heard was: Aren’t you lucky to have a husband that gives you gear that allows you to walk safely. And she said this without rancor. Without jealousy. What I heard was someone, a complete stranger, able to express joy at another stranger’s incredible blessings. Heart Lift # 3.

February 1, 2011: Surrender!

Like many Americans of a certain age, my first experience with today’s title was when the Wicked Witch sky-scrawled “Surrender Dorothy” with her sulphur-spewing broom. NOT a positive association.

But, this morning at breakfast as the snows fell—as they’re destined to fall for several days—that usually-scary word  just welled up and, ohmygoodness, what a relief! What unexpected joy!

Surrender to the weather. Surrender to not being able to do what I’d expected to do for the next couple days. So, for example, I postponed tomorrow’s scheduled Mohs surgery. (I did check in with my dermatologist; she said a 2-week wait was OK.)

At my Quaker meeting’s Wednesday night meal-and-sharing-circle, the formerly incarcerated circle members often remind us to “Let go, let God,” or “Go with the flow.”

Good advice. Especially when you have no choice!

January 6, 2011: Light: elucidated

A canceled meeting meant I could merely sit at the kitchen table this morning, still in my jammies, drink my coffee, and leisurely watch the feeding frenzy at our birdfeeder: the sparrows and chickadees already know a snow storm’s coming. So I was in the right place at the right time to notice when the morning sun pierced the crown feathers of a female cardinal so precisely, I saw the individual feathers.

Maybe it’s the coffee talking but that feels like an opening. A metaphor, maybe?

Something about Light?

Certainly I could start by elucidating why, in this month-long series re heat and Light, I capitalize that second noun.

Answer: because I am trying to write both about my bumbling around re heating this house and, dimly akin to that light-piercing moment at the birdfeeder this morning, seek Something Greater Than Myself as I bumble.

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.