Being Grammy

Reading “The Granddaughter Necklace” at Grammy’s house, August, 2018

For the past week I’ve been “Grammy.” That this delightful grandma-derivation is both something my beloved granddaughter began calling me one day, but can also mean prize-winning musicality, makes me very happy. Being Grammy makes me very happy— in the same way I feel whenever I am doing what is truly asked of me. Why is that?

What is it about being a grandmother that feels so “in the place just right”? For starters, spending time with the children of my children is a non-stop intimation of mortality! As Grammy, I am ever-aware that, yup; I am going to die. I. Just. Always. Am.

This fundamental realization immediately prompts a couple of questions: Okay, then, Grammy. So how do you want to spend this time with this child? And what do you want this child to remember about you?

So, yes, I am probably My Best Self as Grammy but, honestly? The role—which, for me, blessedly, also means being retired—allows that. Having cleared my calendar of all but the most essential duties and responsibilities when my grandchildren come to visit, Grammy time is pretty leisurely. You want to dawdle over breakfast, spend all morning in your jammies? No worries. (I could go on and on about this! But won’t.)

And what do I want this child to remember about me? My stories. Stories about when this child’s mother was a little girl; yes. Of course. But stories, too, about when I was a child; how different the world was, then. For I learned from my own, gifted, story-teller Grandma what a blessing it is to look at one’s own life as the next installment of an ongoing, mysterious, amazing story. To understand how we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

And, yes, looking into the eyes of my beloved grandchildren, I know I am looking into The Future. And ask myself: what am I, Grammy, called to do?

 

 

 

 

Show not Tell:

Enemies Should Know That Syria Will Never Fall—Assad/Syria Will Never Fall—Assad” by Nazgol Ansarinia, 2012.

A newsprint collage currently on exhibit at the Katonah (NY) Museum of Art’s current exhibit: “Long, Winding Journeys: Contemporary Art and the Islamic Tradition. (I took these pictures on Friday.)

A closer look at Ansarinia’s collage, created from two different newspaper articles cut into tiny, geometric shapes. (The geometric pattern she has used was inspired by the Shah Cheragh mosque’s mosaics, Shiraz, Iran.)

About those articles: Both newspapers had written about the same event from differing perspectives; the Iranian artist has interspersed her mosaic pieces so as to make the newsprint unintelligible.

Easily found in Ansarinia’s profound reflection on truth, however, is a head shot of Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad—presently being accused of gassing his own people. Again. (He denies this.)

Thank you, Nazgol Ansarinia.

 

So Much Greenness!

Country Road, Hamden, Connecticut, July, 2017

“The green!” my husband noted as we drove along the leafy country roads of Wyndham County towards our summer rental. “Look at that soft, pale green. Why is that?”

It took us a couple of days for a couple of city dwellers like us to understand what we were seeing: the aftermath of a devastating gypsy moth infestation. Which must have been something!  For, once we knew what to look for, we could track the widespread damage those foliage-munching caterpillars had wreaked. Acres and acres. And began to notice how all along the roads, beneath the wayside ferns and wildflowers and weeds, lay huge, tree-limb segments. Everywhere. Had those thick limbs been chain-sawed off to save the rest of a tree?

So, we realized, in fact, what we were seeing was new growth. The tender shoots of renewal, rebirth in the middle of summer. (A wet summer. That certainly helped).

There were butterflies, too. Hundreds. Some in colors I’d only seen before on the end of a pin. So many butterflies, so much soft, spring-like greenness! As if to make clear: transformation happens.

Once home and once again in worship inside, on a bench in a Quaker meetinghouse, I reflected on those acres of pale green, those butterflies. “Is there more?” I wondered inwardly. “Am I to go deeper than ‘Transformation happens.’?”

But that seemed to be enough.

 

What Love Will Do

A pro-affordable housing rally, City Hall, Somerville (a Sanctuary City) MA; May, 2017

We may be cooked. Even The Boston Globe, whose editorial policy regarding climate change reportage is sometimes mystifying—and often infuriating—featured a front-page article this morning admitting that things look grim.

It’s taken me a couple of years to let this horror sink in. And maybe that’s okay. Because, denial/magical thinking/distractions to help me to forget/bargaining; all the crazy stuff we humans do when faced with Bad News have, over time, brought me right to where I am supposed to be: accepting my humanity. Humbly.

And to ask myself: What am I asked to do? (Besides, of course, doing everything I can possibly do to sharply bring down global emissions.) And although a dear friend says mine is “Pollyanna thinking” (and she may very well be right!), here’s what I’m dedicating/rededicating my life to from now on: lovin’ the hell out of everyone. If my species is doomed, let me affirm what is best about being human; our ability to love.

May my life continue William Penn’s experiment: “Let us then try what Love will do.”

Whatever Works

 

When I learned that Nelson Mandela had found great strength in Invictus, I made copies of that William Ernest Henley poem and mailed them to two men I correspond with, currently behind bars.

Nice gesture, right?  But pointless. I see that now. Somehow, mysteriously,  a Victorian, “stiff upper lip,” Brit poem (i.e. language of his oppressors) spoke to Mandela. He discovered that rereading “I am the master of my fate” every day reminded him that his strength was with him. He chose that particular poem; he let it speak to him. Through him. And it worked.

Each of us has to chose our own Invictus. One poem can’t fit all. But whatever works for you, oh Lordy, I hope you’ve found it, find it!

Here’s what’s working for me these days: a cheesy* version of “How Can I Keep from Singing?” It sounds an echo in my soul, indeed!

*A word about cheesy: From an interview with Patty Jenkins, director of “Wonder Woman” (New York Times, June 1, 2017):

This may be a cheesy question, but what do you want people to take away from this movie?

Did you say cheesy? Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis.

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

“Profound, Deep Work”

[Captured (Rosy-Fingered) Ray from Setting Sun; Alfred, Maine, March, 2017]

Sunday I had the privilege to hear Dr. Amanda Kemp talk about “holding the space for transformation.” Wow. Just. Wow. Or, as my late, beloved friend, George Preston, used to say: “Good stuff!”

So I invite you to acquaint/reacquaint yourself with Dr. Kemp. Good stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Sweet the Sound

[Jesse in the Groove, Honk!, Somerville, MA 2016]

When you’ve traveled around the sun as many times as I have, and been blessed, as have I, to know a host of lovely people, you’ll want to send off a LOT of Season’s Greetings* cards, right? I do. And, because I am human and, this season, easily overwhelmed, by Hour Three of writing and addressing cards on Saturday, I hit the wall. Only up to the H’s in my address book, I questioned my sanity; I doubted that a pretty card touting “happiness”—ordered  in sunnier, cheerier, pre-election August—was even the right thing to mail!

But, you know, Grace happens. Sometimes. Sometimes we are given, willy nilly, an opening: Suddenly I saw my-way-too-facile-cards and the United State Postal Service and the water warriors of Standing Rock and Sanctuary Cities and activist lawyers and the Muslim owners of a restaurant in London that invited the homeless and the lonely to come eat for free on Christmas Day and good people everywhere; millions and millions of people profoundly and intrinsically and powerfully connected together. What a vision! What an opening! I saw how perhaps-silly-but heartfelt acts of reaching out, connecting with those we love, can be a simple yet significant act of solidarity, reassurance, kindness; support. Yes!

But, wait, there’s more. I heard it. That ginormous web. Just for an instant. I heard its hum. Like the sound I remember from my teaching days when my writing students silently, happily settled into their individual work.

Yes. I heard that sweet “Mmmmm.” I’ll end by offering another sweet sound:

“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no “meaning,” they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

*Although I celebrate Christmas, many people do not. I respect that. It’s that simple. End of discussion.

“There Is Mystery”

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[Post-It on the E Train, 2016]

Sunday was “extended worship”at my Quaker meeting, a two-hour-rather-than-one meeting for worship which began an hour early. (We do this from time to time.) Only a handful sat in silence for that first hour. I was one of them.

Here’s The Thing: Somehow the presence of a scattering of people in a commodious meetinghouse* for that first/extra hour altered that space in some profound and mysterious way so that when the bulk of worshippers arrived at their usual 10:30 arrival time, they stepped into a room “”that felt different.” (Someone told me this later.) And worship felt deeper, more grounded, too. Why?

Part of me wants to dissect this phenomenon, to explain it—so that it can be replicated! But a larger part of me wants to give over, to let go of my need to put words to this mystery. And to simply and to gratefully celebrate That Which Is Beyond Words.

 

* Factoring in its balcony, the Friends Meeting at Cambridge meetinghouse can easily seat one-hundred fifty people; two-hundred scrunched together.