Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Loosening

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Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Bits of me have loosened, come away
like birch strips, so thin they curl, flutter,
litter earth where unseen creatures trod.
It’s the peculiar renewal of nature,
losing this and that, cells sloughing
with nary a shudder, everything
an invention, old making way for newer.

I dreamed once of an entire heroic life,
believing it likely but the person
I am is not made now of that heart
which floated in heaven’s boat,
soul vibrant as flutey chimes.
I have become other than imagined.
Deepened perhaps but less substantial,
working toward transparency.

More diminished as each one I’ve known
passes through the eye of storms
and into an evermore, far halcyon place.

I am not yet invisible but missing parts-
her laugh that sustained, his silence that
taught, their smiles that unlocked more life,
that brilliant blue eye of family that held the world.
One who offered poetry, a necessary bridge.
And, too, one who came ashore to find me,
then we dove right in from high places.
Now only I stand here, putting on my courage

while bits of me have loosened
like failing, downy petals,
revealing a tender center
where– despite fiery tears,
these worn regrets, swift delights,
sorts of love which defy naming–
you you you you you you
still roam, here, inside this sphere

I yet must inhabit

Being Here is a Dream of Love: the first story

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“Remember when you could take a step and be carried above the clouds? The worlds below and above would change into something new as you travelled. It seemed like a giant safety net was always there. And all around us were others, moving along, some flying and diving. And we spoke nothing but understood.”

Radya chattered away as she inspected the tiny yellow petals of a dandelion she had found by their shack. She shouldn’t have picked it–there were no others around–but it was so homely, but she liked that. Bright and round, like an orb of sun, it was worth admiration.

She found Lanay shaking out the extra water from a shirt. They were at the river the second time this week, washing themselves and their clothes. There had been more rain than usual, so everything had been muddied.

Radya reached up and tucked the cheerful flower behind her sister’s ear. “Guess we will smell good after all this washing.”

“This mess–just a nuisance,” Lanay said. “Yes, of course, I remember that much. But what we need to talk about today is the possibility of going somewhere drier and warmer. Dusty air would be delightful after so much mud and slime.”

“Back to our doomed Ketterin, by any chance?”

Lanay threw her a look. She knew she missed her ordinary life there, the school, the friends. So did she. Her younger sister was more naïve, but surely Radya had to know they were not going back there. Ketterin was the place they were least welcome, a city of scientific institutions and ideas that verged on militant, of technological wonders to dazzle the poor brain. People were getting used to plugging in every apparatus and entertainment to be functioning and alive. More and more were absorbed in the unreal of this world, whether electronics or other material magic. Whatever numbed them to the greater needs of this planet beckoned. She had watched friends languish in increasingly small and singular mind-body spaces and it scared her. She felt the pull, herself. It was so easy to forget.

“Ketterin? Of course not. The barreness made it too hot; trees were taken when it wasn’t necessary. Besides, you know why we left. It wasn’t safe. There is no turning back. No, I need good even heat. The rain forests here either block or absorb the sun’s energies. I feel less like myself. I want the sunlight to cover me like it used to–remember? Light that never diminished, even inside gradations of dark within slits, foldings and tunnels.” She caught herself then, and scanned the woods. There was no reason to believe they weren’t okay here, but who could be certain? Who that they didn’t discern might hear or see them trying to survive here? But nothing felt wrong. “South, maybe New Mexico or Arizona. But we need a pass first and that will take some thought.”

Radya dug her toes into the damp earth. “We are here because of me. I was not silent enough and the wrong ones paid attention. But I don’t understand why they can live without memory of home. I can’t stop thinking of it. They need to remember what they have chosen to forget. They know something is missing. We could all be happy…”

She walked into the green-blue Botha River; cold water nearly numbed her feet. The currents swirled between layers of rocks and left traces of sweetness. She picked up an oval grey stone and put it to her lips. The water sang to Radya of the mysterious spring and with that came otherings, those bright-winged bearers of kindness. The momentary entry into her soul’s home base clarified her mind.

She brought the rock to her lips, then took it to Lanny. She placed it on Lanay’s cheek. “Here, the elements kiss you and give you gentle heat. The water is well, sister. But not for long; it will grow sour. We need to leave before summer’s end. The pass holder is Jacques Armente. He will know what to do.”

The stone was so warm on Lanay’s skin it filled her head with humming. She took Radya into her arms and held her close. “Little light, thank you. I know what you say is true. But beware your words even here. We are growing in number but not yet enough. We never know who is our enemy.”

“But I do.” Radya pulled back and looked at Lanay deeply until their eyes blurred and became deep pools of shimmering space. She entered Lanay’s consciousness and took them beyond, to the spinning colors and most radiant darkness, music radiating from every even imagined movement, all beings of beauty connected by the universal family.

Remember, Radya intoned without speaking. Do not forget we are creatures of universes within universes. We have no enemies save who we decide to make enemies while we are here. This is a dream of love. We have been gifted these bodies to bring the One back into this earthly consciousness. We will find our way. Be at peace, sister.

Lanny felt her hands loosening their grip on her sister’s arms and she fell away, eyes wide but focused. “Stop, Radya! It hurts to recall what we cannot fully become here! Why must you still be in possession of the knowing? Let me be, at least for the rest of this day.”

Radya felt a heaviness shadow her, but she gave her attention to the woods and saw birds nesting and birds desiring to fly higher, heard  animals seek nourishment and rest, felt the air thicken and stir as more rain gathered on tails of wind. But she wasn’t ready for the music that roared in like a powerful chorus. Radya held her hands out to catch it as her human eyes sought the sky. Yes, she was young here but perhaps that was why she was less ready to accept defeat in this place. They still had ways and means; here there was time.

She pointed toward the celestial spheres that were not quite visible to the human eye. But she saw, and knew there were others, too, with their eyes raised, and some looking back. “Lanay, look.”

High above the trees spun a fiery circle emanating every color of the rainbow as it flared. It revolved, twisted and turned into the infinity sign, a manifestation of the One. It transformed into an everlasting and inestimable ribbon of light, then spun brilliant white-gold filaments that spread to every destination and soul, a phantasmagoria of light radiating perfect love.

They stayed close to each other but it was not fear that rose up, but relief.  The thrill of ancient joy. The energy they needed was coming through, was enlivening every sinew and synapse of their human bodies and brains.

Lanny spoke first. “I so easily forget I am more than this flesh. The veil lifts despite my stubborn resistance. I do remember why we are here. And we are responsible for what happens next on this path.”

“Yes,” Radya said. “We let love speak. We simply help the others to remember the souls we all are and will ever be. We are the fortunate ones; we can retain consciousness.”

Radya watched the last of the great light diminish and float into a far distance that, in truth, was so very near with its dauntless love. The eternal Presence invigorated her. She and Lanay could get on with their work.

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Angels Welcome at our Table

I was savoring salmon and salad at the table, looking over a wind-ruffled lake. The light was hinting at bronze and the air had the scent of fall on its tail. It was good to spend time with four family members. My oldest sister had just had a pacemaker successfully implanted and was smiling again. My brother-in-law had recovered from a debilitating illness he contracted when travelling in southwest Asia.  My other sister  and Marc, my spouse, and I had come to the Seattle area to visit for the week-end.

It had been a satisfying day spent at a botanical garden and the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Winding down, we talked about a little of everything with a comforting rapport, despite our varying views. It struck me that I had had a lifetime or a few decades hanging out with my family, yet they are still enigmatic. We each carry our particular experience in complex ways that no one can entirely comprehend or embrace. Spoken or written language carries us closer to understanding and touch speaks intensely. But there are frequent occasions of partial understanding with fewer moments of thorough comprehension of who we truly are and what we mean to offer.

Brother-in-law, R., laughed easily as he joked, then was silent a few moments as he dug into his seafood dish. Shortly, he sat back and said, “If there is one thing I do know, it’s that there are angels. You know I was a pilot in the Navy, landing fighter  planes on decks that are not nearly as big as you might think, not when you’re flying. Everything has to be precise. I was so exhausted a couple of times, I knew I was going to miss. Twice I would have died, it was a sure thing,” he jabbed the table hard with a forefinger, “but twice I was saved. I can’t tell you exactly what happened but I landed when I knew I could not. That plane landed safely each time and it was not my skill, anymore. I am certain angels were watching over me. I was being kept from death, allowed to live.”

R.’s voice was resonant with the vivid recollection, and his blue eyes sparked with the wonder of it. He leaned forward, elbows on the table. I studied him. R. is a strong-minded, debate-driven, somewhat crusty sort of guy. Having commanded small and large planes most of his life, he is not an emotion-based person, but he cares deeply. In his seventies now, he is fascinated by life as well as intrigued by what others have to say. So now he waited for us to respond.

We chimed in with appreciation that this had occurred. One story led to another, each of us telling a tale or two. Marc, for example,  spoke of diving off a fifteen foot cliff as a kid and somehow landing safely in the water below with no injuries. Afterward, it frightened him to think he had been so foolish. He felt he was protected by angels. I was impressed; I had never heard of it.

This is not such an unusual topic in my family. We chat as easily about religion, the physics of mysticism and God’s work in our lives as music, books, and choice facts or fiction about our family tree.

Finally it was my turn. My husband glanced at me. He knew what was coming. He thinks I walk a bit on the wild side of the spirititual life, and he just accepts it.

But my sisters know a great deal more about me. They were around much of the time I grew up, after all, although my oldest sister is thirteen years ahead of me and our middle sister is five years older than I.  We visit on the phone. We have been there for each other. We have yearly sister week-ends when we take off for somewhere fun, and at end of each day can talk into the wee hours. There was one year when we swapped stories of having seen or spoken with our mother after she’d passed on, and the motel room had fairly vibrated with our love and her essence. That was a powerful night.

But some things I have not easily shared in a more public, casual manner, and not for the reasons one might think. I find it difficult to locate precise enough language to share what I have experienced not once or twice, but countless times in my life regarding angelic beings/celestial energy or simply God’s presence. For one thing, they may sound like rather dramatic events. (They seem familiar, natural to me.) For another, they often reflect times in my life that have been taxing. (I have fewer of those but they are often accompanied by extra-ordinary experiences.) And how does one explain what occurs largely beyond the confines of human language? How do I say: “These things–this and this and that–just do happen” and not have someone discount them or look away in embarrassment? Or ask a lot of questions I can’t answer? So I generally keep things to myself. It is enough for me that I get to live this life. It is what it is.

But this was my family. It was a pretty day, an afternoon of good food and lazy talk. So, I shared what I thought everyone knew by now, anyway.

“Well, I was lying in the back yard when I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, and looked up at the summer sky and there they were. I guess you would call them angels. I knew they were like my friends, but with brilliant clothing on, blinding, really, all sorts of colors, yet it seemed more like light than fabric. They were very large,  blotted out the sky. Sort of hard to see their features–they were just too bright, but they seemed like human beings, too. They stayed above me, up in the air. I could hear something like music but not anything we have likely heard here. It was like a chorus of millions singing, spine-tingling music. And they said, ‘Do not worry, you are not ever alone. We will be with you all your life.’ I didn’t hear them out loud. I just knew their words. Like a message. I felt so peaceful. It was a great comfort. I had been having very bad times then, so it was good to have them visit. I wanted them to stay but as quickly as they had come, they rose up and were gone. It was just a summer sky again. I lay in the grass awhile, then went inside. I told mom. She acted like it was not surprising but, then, you know mom was close to the thin places, to God.” I paused. “I have always known I was not truly alone, good times or bad. I have never forgotten they are with me.”

There were murmurs of assent. I felt the old emotions coming up, a mixture of joy and sadness; this often accompanies the telling.

I shifted in my seat, took a drink of water, then turned to my husband. “Another time you might recall was when I had that second stent implant in my artery. I was apparently asleep but not doing so well. I was drifting somewhere outside my body and looked down at a mighty, rushing river. Everything was sepia-toned, from where I was, but the other side was brilliantly-hued. I was excited; I could see crowds on the other side and they were waving to me. I was filled with relief when I saw mom and dad smiling at me, waving. Then, all of a sudden, mom said, ‘Why are you here now? Go back!” and then they disappeared and I came back to my body. I didn’t want to open my eyes yet. I wanted to go back to that river. I was irritated; Marc was shaking me. I awakened and he said, ‘You were so still, like you weren’t breathing! Are you okay? Stay awake now!’ But all I could think about was that river and everyone welcoming me. Once more, as I had often been over sixty years, I was terribly homesick for that other place.

I offered two more events that anyone sitting nearby might have thought were scenes from a fantasy or sci fi story. I looked down, felt this was enough telling. Everyone was quiet.

“There are a lot more than this, but…I don’t like to talk about it that much. Not everyone understands or cares to hear. It gets to sounding foolish to others, I suspect. So I keep it  close.” I looked into the distance at the tidy white-sailed boats. I thought, I have said too much.

But R. was leaning across the table and said, “You have to write about all this. You could help someone, your experiences could make a difference to others, inspire them, comfort them. You have to write it down and share it.”

I  smiled at him. “Well, really, I don’t think so. I mean, lots of people write about things like this, anymore. Times have sure changed…and I don’t know quite what I would say. This is only a very small part of what I have experienced. I have had a strange life. Hard at times. A few detours, as you know.”

“You’ve done some dumb things. But look what you have gotten to experience, anyway!”

“Yes. There has always been this constant, powerful awareness that God is with us every step, that we are here for so short a time. That heaven is close, so close. ”

R.’s eyes glimmered with tears. “But you need to share this with people. You need to write about it. It could make such a difference in people’s lives.”

His face shone with the intensity of his certainty, his feelings. He started to turn away a little, not accustomed to letting his tears fall before others. And in that moment I was allowed to see him, the man he is, his soul filled with compassion and courage, the complicated beauty of his life. The sacrifices he has made. The burdens carried and released. His devotion to his many friends and his family. His unerring and inordinate love of life.

“Thank you for saying that,” I said softly. “I’ll think about it.”

So here I am writing about things I have never planned on sharing with people other than my family. I may not ever do so again. I would have to tell the whole messy story, the most painful bits, in order to get to the miracles  known and witnessed, the treasures excavated. More likely I will continue to fictionalize some of it, slip in another God story here and there so you barely see it coming.

But the very best experience that autumn afternoon spent with my family was this: everything fell away from R., his heart was bared and his soul, oh, it shone–how, truly,  each and every one of them shone.

(The crew gathered during my oldest sister’s 75th birthday March 2012)

Writing the Life Eternal

The short man in a bulky tweed coat and brown fedora stepped around a young woman who sat on a camp stool. Her reddened fingers stuck out of gloves that looked sadly as though they hadn’t been finished. They tapped on an open notebook and she held a pen aloft. She smiled vaguely in his direction, as though she wasn’t really expecting a smile back. He was about to reach for a dollar but there was no cup or box for donations. When he looked back, she was scribbling away on a rumpled page. He sighed and rushed on. He had much to do before Christmas dinner with his sister, Rose, and her family.

The fact of the matter was that Earl Jay had never liked Christmas as much as he did other holidays, like Memorial Day or Labor Day, days that you got to take time off from work but didn’t have to fuss over at length. There were fifty-two public holidays in the United States; he had looked it up once and was astonished. But just a few seemed to command all the attention and Christmas took the prize. It wasn’t that he was irreligious–he attended church enough and he prayed nightly for everyone he loved and then some as he fought off sleep until the “Amen.” His faith was a given, but he was not a showy man, not one to make a public hullabaloo about what mattered. But there were obligations, traditions. He did what he thought best and participated.

A simple window display caught his eye as he trotted down the street, a large shopping bag in hand. All those garish, blinking lights seemed designed to blind you if you stared longer than three seconds. He pressed his nose against the glass and looked beyond six neat little elves amid giant stuffed stockings. Reese Hardware was not the place he had thought to shop for any gifts on his list. He did have a blank space after the name of Carl, his eight year old nephew. The window fogged up and he cleaned it with his gloved palm. He could see on a front shelf a grouping of child-sized tool kits. Earl rushed into the warm store, nodded at the salesman checking his watch, then studied them.

Everything was there: hammer, pliers, screwdriver, small  boxes of nails and screws, a wrench–all scaled to fit the hands of someone (a bright-eyed boy grinned at him from a decal) nine to twelve, it was noted on a large tag. Earl mused that it was  poor marketing. He imagined his neighbor’s daughter, age thirteen, pounding nails into the wall to secure shelving so she could display her collections of sea glass and shells. (That’s what she needed, a nice pine shelf). But Carl would like it a lot. He had inherited a talent with his hands. Tools, with some candy, would be the ticket. Maybe not chocolate Santas–did boys that age even still like those?–but something with good peppermint.

He turned the tag over to read the price and gasped. Forty dollars. Earl was thrifty. He saved change in a tall glass jar and turned it in every six months, at which time it went into his growing savings. As a single man for twenty-two years (all of his adult life), the only kids he knew well and truly liked were his two nephews. And also, of course, Keira the neighbor girl and Tate, the toddler grandson of his cleaning lady, Mrs. Hallender.  They were all on his list. He picked up the toolbox. This was not the time to second guess what he wanted to do for them all: give them a little happiness. He certainly  had the means and his interest had increased the last few months.There had been trying times with that mean, stubborn tumor. Yes, the children had seen him through without even realizing it, with their exuberant locomotion, good questions and laughter that turned the greyness of his days into vivid color.

When he stepped into the deepening darkness, Earl Jay looked up and felt a miniscule, chill snowflake land on his eye, and then several more on his pale cheeks. He watched the snow gather velocity and thicken in the lamp light. Cars were honking and people rushing by before the snow fell faster and there was one more delay in the completion of their tasks.  He pulled up his collar and felt the comforting weight of the coat about him; the  hat was pressed firmly on his bald head. He started down the street, then slowed as he neared his car.

She was still there, the girl with the notebook, writing away by the light of a tall candle that someone must have offered and which she held tightly with her left hand.  A faux fur coat was draped over her legs. A fuzzy hat covered her hair and ears. Earl Jay wondered why she didn’t put the coat on; her sweater didn’t look substantial. He stepped toward her. Although she didn’t stop writing, she looked up and smiled as before.

“What are you writing?” he heard himself say and was embarrassed. It was really none of his business. You never knew what people were up to. Street kids often used drugs, came from terrible situations and landed in worse. She might be waiting for someone, for all he knew. For something that might not be so commendable. He was a stranger and he ought to have the good manners to let her be. Earl shivered and reminded himself he had to get to Rose’s.

“I write whatever seems right,” she answered amiably, and her pen stopped moving. “I write little poems for the kids. Or stories that take us away.”

She brushed her stringy brown hair out of her eyes and he saw them clearly in the soft darkness: they were palest, melting-ice blue. Blue like an early March sky. They took him all the way back to childhood and the train he boarded on raw spring mornings to visit his beloved grandparents for the week-ends. Those eyes carried him back to the sea where his mother had lived and painted and truly loved him, even from a great distance. They took him back to a blizzardy winter replete with snow blindness–and to where his anger-powered father cut dead and downed trees for extra cash. Until the time he slid into the ravine and broke his leg. He called out for Earl until he went hoarse. But Earl had found him; they made it back to the cabin, eyes aching and useless. Back to each other when they had thought it was too late. And her eyes even took him back to true love, just once. A blue dress, a blue night, a perfect last dance before he left for the Army. And left that splendid girl.

“Who are you?” he whispered, clutching his coat as the wind pressed  against the wool.

“I write the life that no one should forget, but got lost somewhere or hidden way or longed for so hard that it stopped breathing. I just write what seems good. And tonight I have written what I love most, one more life eternal, because it is nearly Christmas and you saw me and stopped to talk. I write until it seems enough and it always works.”

She looked at Earl steadily and this time he felt she really saw him standing there. It struck him that she still smiled and yet her young eyes held a most sobering gravity.

“A life eternal?”

But she pulled on the coat and gathered her notebook and pen,  then headed down the street. “Oh, you know.”

“But exactly what life eternal?” Earl called after her. He didn’t move, couldn’t move.

“Merry Christmas Earl Jay Jr.,” she called over her shoulder and slipped in between the gauzy windswept snow. It looked to Earl like the dark was raining jewels under the streetlights, or maybe wintry tears or bits of crystal breath, the breath of God. And he knew it, what she meant. Soon, maybe months or a few years, there would be no more happening here that he need attend to. But there was the life eternal. His life. His own quiet, rather fussy being. First he had more to do here, gifts to give. He had a Christmas dinner to share. It was that simple and he had to remember.

Earl walked  over to the abandoned camp stool and looked around. There was nothing much to see. No trace that she had been there all that time. But there was one glove lying in the shadow that looked as if it hadn’t been finished. He took his thermal-lined gloves from his pocket and laid them with the snowy forgotten one. Then he left to visit Carl and Rose. Tomorrow, Keira and Mrs. Hallender and his littlest friend, young Master Tate, were coming over for brunch. Earl truly did make excellent cinnamon rolls.