The Multiplicity of Pilgrimages

And I also do believe that we have this possibility of doing a pilgrimage every single day. Because a pilgrimage implies in meeting different people, in talking to strangers, in paying attention to the omens, and basically being open to life. And we leave our home to go to work, to go to school, and we have every single day this possibility, this chance of discovering something new. So the pilgrimage is not for the privileged one who can go to Spain, and to France, and walk this 500 miles, but to people who are open to life. A pilgrimage, at the end of the day, is basically get rid of things that you are used to and try something new.       Paul Coehlo

A friend turned me on to a podcast interview with Coehlo. Too late to listen, I was able to read the transcript.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage to clean the house, well, the upstairs. Basically, that was my try something new part. My husband cleaned the downstairs a few days ago. He got the kitchen, me the bathrooms and the office and the writing room. He managed the work in one day; I’m on day two with the writing room still to go.

I could whine a little, say all the stuff on shelves and layers of saved pieces of paper on the desk and the bookcases were harder than the kitchen where things all have their place, but I won’t.

In many ways, cleaning the upstairs is a sort of pilgrimage. I cleaned windows and floors, washed and put away the extra fleece blanket I keep on my side of the bed for cold nights, hand washed the rabbit wool socks and retired them for the season.

While we’ve had a lot of rain and chilly days, the sun is now out and growing warm. As I cleaned the little office window, I saw the purple iris are blooming in the back garden. The purple iris are often a topic in my blog posts. There’s one here, and another here, but if you simply put iris in my blog’s search box, there’s several. Seeing them reminds me of the pilgrimage involved in going home.

The office shelves are full of photos. Some of my husband and me, and that takes me on a journey in time, remembering when that photo was taken; another I took of my sister when I lived in Hawaii. There’s a little blue Chinese teapot with gold dragons my son gave me one Christmas, and a small silver kaleidoscope he gave me another year. And books, mercy are there books.

On the top shelf are the art books from when I was going to be a sculptor, forty years ago. The History of Art. That’s a big one. Downstairs, I still have a bust I sculpted from clay, made a cast of, and poured in molten something or another. It’s not metal, but it is heavy. I call her my Bedouin Woman.

The office also holds Cliff’s pilgrimages. One corner shelf, defying easy dusting, is filled on one level with hockey pucks, including one signed by Patrick Roy, my favorite goalie, one year, years ago, when we were in Denver. Another shelf is full of baseballs from various stadiums where he’s watched games.

A spring-cleaned room is a destination one can rejoice in. Yes, yes, I still have the writing room, which, if you could see it, is a little scary. Talk about pieces of paper and books! I am not a tidy writer.

Four floor to ceiling bookcases, filled, mind you, cover one wall and wrap around one corner. Another corner holds a antique built in corner shelf with frilly cut sides (it came with the house) and is filled, mostly, with stones and tiny collections from the places I’ve traveled. Another corner shelf, matching with frilly cut sides, is filled with books and one ceramic lady whose wide skirt is open at the sides for flowers. I painted it, once, so long ago I don’t know when except childhood, and there’s layers of papers and old manuscripts.

I have left this writing room for last. It will feel like 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela by the time I’ve finished, and I will surely feel virtuous.

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An Untimely Death

Last weekend, I presided at a friend’s memorial service. Ten years ago, I presided at their wedding. A second marriage for both and a happy marriage. They were out bicycling on a sunny day; an undetected blood clot; a heart attack; sudden death.

This isn’t a post I particularly wanted to write, and yet, it kept digging at me. In part, because I’m still in dismay and sadness as I was all last week. In part, because I, too, am in a second and happy marriage; in part, because of the truth I spoke at the memorial service and which lingers.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

At some level or another, we all know that. We just don’t want to recognize it or think about it.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

It’s a very old idea: Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”; from the Book of Proverbs, much older than Ben Franklin and said to contain the sayings of King Solomon, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

I think I’m wandering in the land of meaning to avoid the reality: it sucks. It really sucks. But I didn’t say that.

What I said to the some 200 friends gathered was to live as our friend lived: kind, generous, loving, laughing. I said, take a moment to slow down in traffic; let someone in who’s trying to change lanes; take time to laugh with your family, to be generous to others in need.

All of which I believe. All of which I endeavor to do, even from my isolated perch at my desk at home.

I guess I thought writing might ease some of the sorrow I’m feeling, both for life and for my other friend in that marriage. A few months ago, my husband and I did both a marriage and two months later, a memorial service for a different couple.

Baby christenings are happier, as are weddings, usually, but the same rules apply. We do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Impermanence, the Buddhists teach: all things are in a constant state of flux.

We’ve had rain the past few days, finally, after a winter of drought with very little snow. The bluebonnets are thrusting little blue heads through the cold dirt and leftover oak leaves. That’s courage.

Perhaps that’s what I’m struggling with: the courage to accept impermanence. And yet, I know when the sun and warm days return, the bluebonnets will fade quickly as they do every year, leaving a mat of green leaves…as one thing transforms to another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Women’s March 1/21/17

It’s all over the news, this march, and all over the Internet. It is, in fact, a worldwide event. I’m glad and proud of the women and the men who are there.

My husband and I planned to go. But I woke this morning with my body uncomfortable, feeling resistant, uneasy, tense. And wound through it all, sorrow. I’ve learned to pay attention when my body reacts.

I sat with the feelings, brewed tea, gazed out the window. While I vote every election, city, state, federal, financially support candidates when I can, and watch and read and evaluate, I’ve been out of politics for a long time. I wondered at my resistance. There’s a march here in Kansas City; many of my friends are going. Why didn’t I want to go?

I kept remembering a vow I made years ago: I would no longer man (or woman) the barricades (civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war protests) but would change the world one person at a time.

Shift to Germany, late 1974. My first husband a soldier and the family had transferred to Germany. The Watergate hearings were going on, but all I could get on our military housing television was German-language hearings, and printed information from the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

I’d just come from three years of Texas politics. In those days, Texas politics were fun: Barbara Jordan, Sissy Farenthold, Sarah Weddington. The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification (and ultimately failed).

(As a digression, what’s interesting is that Civil Rights has passed; Gay Rights and Gay Marriage has passed–all of which I’ve supported–but no Equal Rights for women.)

In those Texas years, I was deeply involved in politics and in the women’s movement. My friend Cynthia and I formed a consciousness-raising group in Temple, Texas, and joined as charter members of The National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC). We attended the first women’s convention in 100 years at the Rice Hotel in Houston. Here’s a post on that if you’re interested.

But in Germany, there were only Military Wives Clubs. My politics did not fit.

And so, I read. Fortunately, the post library had a good selection of novels and I checked out Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. I don’t remember what it was in the novel that suddenly lifted my head, but I remember my snuggled body in a patch of weak sunlight by a south window. I stared at the television, tuned in to the Watergate hearings, sound turned down, and the realization struck: I would no longer man the barricades, I would change the world one person at a time.

And so, this morning, when I remembered my vow of so many years ago, I thought that was the reason for my body’s resistance. But the resistance didn’t fade. And the sorrow deepened.

That’s when I remembered Cynthia. Here’s one post on life with Cynthia; and here’s another.

That’s when I realized what the resistance meant and why the sorrow. If she were alive, we would have gone together today, either her coming to me or I to her. We would have laughed and told stories and remembered together.

But we can’t. I’m still traveling on this plane and she on another. Perhaps that’s why death is so hard–not just the missing or the emptiness, although there is that, but the stories we held that can only be told by me to others who will hear them for the first time. Or the second time, since I’ve written so much about her influence on my life.

But no chance to reminisce together, to laugh, to fill in each others’ lost pieces.

I could not go without her.

With the realization, my body relaxed, and I sighed. There are some things that cannot be done without the other part of who you are.

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January 20th, 2016

Inauguration Day. It makes me sad. Not sobbing sad but melancholy for a First Family that felt like mine. Like one of my kids has lost a job he was good at. And while I know there will be another job, this is, after all, a resourceful and diligent child, I won’t see him as often.

Yes, I know you know I’m white and you may think I’m being melodramatic. Perhaps I am.

Here’s the thing: I grew up in a family of six white Kansas farm kids with a Quaker mom who wrote stories, a hard-working step-dad who told stories, and his dad, Grandpa Albert, whose stories were of “trading with the Indians” and scary stories from his Bohemian immigrant father. We always had books in our home. The farm, an 1800s land grant farm, is still in the family.

This middle-America family raised wanderers. Likely, that influence came through my biological father’s family, the Sunderlands, who wandered: six brothers who wandered from England in the 1800s, whose children who took up the wandering, and whose grandchildren did the same. My biological father was one of those wandering grandchildren. (Although Quakers wandered, too, my great-great-grandmother, for example came across the country in a covered wagon, and my step-dad’s family wandered from Europe but stayed put once they found good farmland.)

By the time I was five-years-old, we’d lived in five different places. Unfortunately, heart disease wandered with the Sunderland family and my father died young, hence the step-father. But my siblings and I took up the heritage and kept traveling.

Our children, raised by this eclectic and wandering group of siblings, married a world: one Korean, one Filipino, one African-American, and two Hispanics, and a bunch of various background white folk. Barack Obama is two years older than my oldest son who now also has gray hair and a gray beard.

What gives me hope is that there’s more of us multiple-race families who love each other; more of us who welcome strangers and make them family; more of us who care deeply for the country and our family. I’m proud to say all of us were Obama supporters.

I hope Barack Obama has a good break. Sits and stares out the window. Sleeps late. That’s what I’d wish for any of my kids/nieces/nephews after a long stretch of work.

But I’ll miss him and his elegant wife.

Afraid isn’t one of the things I do much. It’s an over-used word that means nothing. I’m afraid it’s going to rain; I’m afraid the mail hasn’t come yet; I’m afraid it’s windy today; I’m afraid they were out of mayonnaise at the grocery store.

Really? You’re afraid? Do something about it. Write letters to congress – not blasting letters but letters well-reasoned; write letters to the White House – not denigrating but

reasoned; get involved with doing instead of fearing.

I’ll join the women’s march tomorrow but avoid the sections where yelling and anger are going on. It’s not my first march. There’s a trail of them behind me. I will walk for my mother who remembered when women were “given” the right to vote; I’ll walk for my mother-in-law who never took authority, church or any other kind, seriously; I’ll walk for my friend Willy’s mother who was, eight years ago, denied communion because she wore a Hillary Clinton button to church one day. My first women’s march was in 1972, so it’s about time for another. I will support the younger ones, women and men, who are determined to change the world.

But I won’t watch as the Obamas take off in the helicopter or however they are leaving. They’re not going anywhere.

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Halfway to the North Pole

Outside the window, night is full-black, muffling sound. On this side, my vague reflection twitches. Not because I’m stressed or upset–well, maybe at not sleeping rather than staring at my own ghostly reflection, unsure of what to do with myself. So I open the laptop and play with words.

Sleep has been an erratic quality these past few weeks. Most of the time, I’m just up, sipping chamomile tea, and reading.

Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech, studied sleep patterns.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

This seems to have been most common in the long nights of winter before advent of the electric lights which prolonged our days.

I’ve been napping a lot this winter. In fact, for a while in mid to late December, I had more trouble being awake than sleeping. Long afternoon naps were my normal pattern. Maybe I’ve used up my quota of sleep for now.

Or maybe, living halfway between the equator and the North Pole as I do, it’s a normal state for these long winter nights.

I must admit, it’s a seductive time. There are no sounds. None. Not even the far off hum of traffic on the freeway some miles off. I can always hear it in the morning, but not now. No wind rattles the few shrunken oak leaves which I know still cling, out of stubbornness I expect, to winter branches.

Only the soft velvet of night.

From Wikipedia: delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, is a chronic dysregulation of a person’s circadian rhythm (biological clock), compared to the general population and relative to societal norms.

And there we are, at societal norms, few of which I’m very normal at.

I often think of my northern European ancestors when I’m awake like this, and see someone in a chair with a lap robe, next to a fire, tilting a book just so in order to see the words in reflected firelight. And what would they have thought, I wonder, if they could have seen into the future some two hundred years to a woman sitting in the glow of a computer screen.

Frank Kafka wrote at night. Hmmmm. That brings up images of cockroaches on their backs, cockroaches being nocturnal animals themselves.

Wikipedia provides a long list of nocturnal animals, in case you’re interested. The list begins with aardvark. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an aardvark although nighttime coyotes are common where I’m from. Well, not so much in the city, but they are on the farm.

Here’s a line from one of my night poems set on the farm: coyotes run through the draw/warble sweet and high/as if they were angels, singing in tongues.

Maybe that’s the reason to be awake in the deep of night, halfway to the North Pole…magic happens.