Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Check One- Spiritual? Religious?

The question for me is: can we not choose both? I can and do, but often in our roiling, defensive, divisive social milieu, it can seem wiser to keep it all to myself.

Not only these days but, honestly, as long as I have been here we’ve been offered a plethora of options for personal belief, endless pegs on which to hang our hats at doorways into various faith systems. “Step right this way!” It can be brain-stunning, considering the bombardment of ads, social media platforms and random videos. Some revolve around specific diets; some require certain forms and lengths of meditation or prayer; some involve lifestyle changes, such as leaving modern technology and possessions behind; still others insist on engagement just within that proscribed community; and often the center of it all is an allegiance to a religious–or spiritual- leader. They may ask of practitioners certain ritualistic behaviors that may be forbidden to “outside” persons.

Though there are often several cross-over elements to faiths and practices–an aspiration to enlightenment, whatever that is for the group; a belief in the wisdom of the earth; a commitment to times of ascetic, solitary devotion to core beliefs–there are also clear divides. I bump into some of these out in the world: a unique dress code followed; jewelry worn to identify a wearer as a follower of that faith; tomes read that are reflective of one’s serious study of that belief and none other; café discussions that devolve before long into arguments. And the various posters hawking this natural lifestyle or that set of soul-and-body-purifying methods, or meetings to instruct one of an avenue less travelled. They all state they lead to “a well being of wholeness.” And maybe we are a bit more fragmented in 2021…so some might be tantalizing, while others seem absurd. A few beliefs are popular in our culture; some are decidedly not. And how far can a philosophy venture before it is considered a “fringe” movement? There is room for everything out there.

Or is there? It likely depends on where you live and who you are. I can’t say being Christian is easy on the Northwest. Then again, I had not thought of it much one way or another–then it turns out not everyone tolerates other peoples’ faith affiliations… Who knew the liberal West could be that judgmental? I am a left of center sort of person but, then, there are just lots of rumors out there about what my faith means and what it does not. No one asks for my ideas or experience. I want to be nonjudgmental of the naysayers. But hope for more respectful and open discussion. As recall it really was more likely decades ago.

The one thing many people contend is that religious principles and beliefs are in opposition to spiritual ones. Distant from one another, not at all the same. Choose one or the other–but the two do not mix. Or so we are encouraged to think. Here are the first three definitions from Merriman-Webster says:

Definition of spiritual, adjective:

1: of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spiritINCORPOREAL spiritual needs

2a: of or relating to sacred matters spiritual songs

b: ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal

spiritual authority, lords spiritual

3: concerned with religious values

Yet they remain separate to lots of people despite there being an overlap that is significant. Religion generally gets a side or back seat, if any seat, at a proverbial round table talk. Additionally, we learn early the two topics that are most incendiary are politics and religion. Humans wage wars over both–at great length and to great losses. Maybe that is why some are loathe to address actual religion. We too often tiptoe about it–that is, unless we are moved to speak up loudly/protest/rally in the name of whatever we hold dear. I grew up in the 60s so know about protesting. But when it comes to my faith, I do not unleash a humungous voice, usually. In fact I am very often quiet in most arenas. And I don’t like the sense that there is less and less choice for being able to share, to talk, to discuss openly– without penalty.

When did t his shift happen…? Over a lifetime I have sat around many tables, energetically engaged in debate that have led to insights with deeper understanding. A welcoming energy has been noticeable as ideas were bandied about. Bridges were constructed. Even with topics religious and political. Yes, there can be conflict and words one wanted to retrieve at the end of it all. But it wasn’t an exercise in disrespect or worse, cruelty.

More recently I have become more habituated to being quiet about things of the spirit unless I think present company will tolerate, perhaps enjoy, such conversation. Sometimes it is hard. My life is imbued with what matters most to me. As it is for most people–even if we are not conscious of it. We grow into such things and they accompany us on life journeys, shaped and reshaped, changed or replaced as we go. And one’s philosophy or faith is the same.

If I was still a serious seeker, perhaps looking for a religion, I would likely be overwhelmed. I tend to delve in, immerse myself in ideas–the nitty gritty. Because of that characteristic, I looked into various religions as youth and young adult–as young people are apt to do. Besides, I had had multiple experiences that didn’t necessarily cohere with what I had learned of the Protestant traditional ways of faith. Long before adolescence, I had a sense of deeply holy presence in my life, and divinity alive in complex realms of nature as well as human beings. I had difficulty finding words for this as a child and teenager but it seemed endemic to all natural-made life, and it reached far greater than the world beyond mine. And before I even knew what well-honed intuition and “extra sensory perception” meant, I was familiar with it within me. It never seemed unusual or extra anything. For one thing, my mother had it and used it without explanation or fanfare. In fact, it seemed almost a family thing. So–traditional church, spirituality, sacredness, intuition, everyday applications of belief and faith…it was all wrapped up together.

Raised in the First United Methodist Church by parents who left their childhood Southern Baptist and Church of Christ affiliations, respectively, when they moved north from Missouri, I was more or less at ease. (I later realized how radical a thing they did according to their Southern/Midwest culture.) I was shown that Christianity’s hallmark beliefs are based on Jesus Christ’s teachings: of love of God, others and one’s self; mercy; forgiveness; a deep commitment to supporting human progress–for the betterment of one and all; and personal accountability and authenticity. It made basic sense to me in my childish understanding and later, as I transitioned into adulthood. I learned more as I went, but these stuck with me even when it didn’t always add up to the reality of my life.

It was a moderate sized church community in a smaller city, housed in a building that Alden B. Dow had designed; it was lovely moving through it, gazing out beautiful windows. And what I heard was what I experienced. People were congenial but much more–considerate, quick to help others in need (not just at church), generous-minded, gentle mannered but strong in the face of tragedy. I went to Sunday school each Sunday morning, then joined the family in the sanctuary. I attended church camp many summers–fun with others and nature; participated in events at Christmas and Easter; and was confirmed in the faith at 12. My father oversaw the music; my family sang or contributed instrumentally–a favorite part of services was robustly singing hymns from pews or in the choir loft.

As I moved into teen-dom I was, for a time, in a Methodist Youth Fellowship; we were active in the community helping others. But I began to diverge from known entities and ways as I grappled with trauma, increasing drug use over the next several years as I tried to cope. Yet I was not one to ignore the implacable sense of God here, there, everywhere. I wrestled with often obscure but profound meanings of existence, the greater purpose of living. I drew closer to nature’s mysteries and lessons and sought out ancient Celtic ways (some of which still resonate with me). I read books on philosophy and world religions. I sought out magazine articles of other cultures’ spiritual practices. I became interested in shamanism and poured over Kierkegaard and CS Lewis and marveled at their different views. Then Joseph Campbell’s writings on classical mythology, Native American beliefs, Christian saints and arcane writings, Buddhism and meditation, white witchcraft and paganism, Subud, Bahai, parapsychology, the uses of graphology and astrology–well, the list went on for years…Some of this seeped into me as surely as Christianity. I sorted and tossed as I began to embrace enlarged viewpoints.

Did all this worry my parents? There weren’t arguments, but there was voiced concern. They felt I was far too serious, even somber for a teen-ager; so did many of my classmates. In time, I found more friends–those in the arts, those who loved to exchange ideas. Many of us became hippies, playing folk music, aligning ourselves with natural ways and means of living. But with the advent of the anti-establishment movement we became more politically engaged. That opened up a whole other vista. Religion could pose as nearly anything, it seemed; doctrine could have many facets and faces. But not all were Christian, of course. We were busy trying to be “free spirits.”

Heady times, dangerous times, passionate days and nights and beliefs to explore and dreams and justice to fight for. I became involved with Students for a Democratic Society for three years. By then, my parents were very concerned; no doubt their prayers were more fervent for my well being; we became estranged at times. I had begun to forge my own path out of childhood and their home. By 16 I had essentially left; by 18 I had literally moved on. Many ups and downs taught me to fight my own battles, alone or with other young adults.

Except that I still believed in God. Nothing was capable of shaking that up much or for long. I might have felt alone, been literally abandoned. But I knew I wasn’t, truly. And through it all, I felt and remained Christian.

Looking back, I have no complaint about being raised in that Methodist church. I left it awhile and returned to it, have off and on attended other Methodist churches wherever I have lived as well as others. For some time it all seemed bland, too moderate for me, but that also spoke to my tumult and hunger for different experiences. I was looking for greater passion to put to use in life, more effective activism in society– and a truer response to God’s ubiquitous presence.

By my early twenties it hit me that my faith could be as strong or weak as I intended it to be. That it changed as I grew up, went on. And that it didn’t require me to attend a church, though that was good, too, if it benefitted me and, later, my family. But the priority was that I live it, daily walk it– not just talk it. I intended to try always to adhere to the chosen tenets to the best of my capability, not get messy and slack off because it was challenging at times to believe, even harder to act on them. And it mattered that I continue making my sacred relationship with God my first priority. And take to heart Jesus’ teachings which were rooted in love’s wisdom and shaped by extraordinary courage in his own vexing, turbulent times–and yet serve scores in an often tragic, angry world.

Have I been able to follow through? I have made errors in my life, some grave and damaging ones. I have failed my own expectations, yet I keep on with it. Nothing destroys my belief in the revolutionary compassion shared and taught by Jesus, his radical acts of love flowing from the eternal, powerful knowledge and grace of the ever creative, universal God. And every day I am brought closer to the certainty that nature compels us because it reflects God’s intricate and astounding work in this world and those beyond–and that it is a gift to us, to learn and cherish.

Can I even talk about this in public? I just did.

Do I have to check one box or the other? Already have checked both.

Can I try to understand other faiths, respect other kinds of believers? I can. Somehow I also believe we are all entwined in the ultimate sense.

Is it likely we become more committed to beliefs by being taught from the beginning their value? But then by way or trial and error, recurrent discouragement and hope, human fear and spiritual-religious transformation, the resilience of our souls?

Yes, and more than that, God never moves apart from us. What our earthly eyes see is only part of this story. We need to better see with our spirits. May I live and move within God’s welcoming presence and vast designs of life, now and always.

Blessings to all who seek God, and may the seeking bring more unity and charity.

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Writing as a Way of Being

Photo by Sam Lion on Pexels.com

Marc said, “Writing is your therapy, I guess.”

I thought about that a moment. It rang predominantly false.

“No, that’s a whole other thing. Of course I journaled for decades, starting with little, gilt-edged diaries as a child that I could lock with my own tiny key… I doubt it was helpful in a significant way; I was noting very little, the day was three sentences. By adolescence, maybe all the scribbling out feelings and events was semi-therapeutic. I had a private place to share the reality of my life. But was it writing? No. Not to me even as a teen. It was dumping emotional excess at its best and obnoxious perseveration at worst. True therapy exists in another realm.” I thought a bit more. “Maybe there is some crossover. But I think I write best when there is much less emotional excoriation…and more inquiry and imagination.”

Marc nodded. He knows better than to expect an abbreviated answer when he brings up writing. And I do like to talk, if not as much as I do writing.

We agreed that all sorts of creative action can be therapeutic. It certainly is a lifeline in troubled times, as well. And I have always liked to make paintings, collages and drawings to clear and liberate my mind. For decades I made music via guitar and cello, and wrote songs in small part because it was an emotional outlet…and dancing, acting and so on, to a degree. Because creative activities do help people expand intellectually; move past emotional blockages; explore more modes of experience; interpret worlds around and within; recover from woundedness; clarify needs/wants; gain self esteem; develop a deeper sense of soul. It figures prominently in wellness regimens the world over.

But a strong creative urge is primary in and of itself, and can be far removed from therapeutic intent or result. It is an energy, a movement that comes from a deep wellspring, from passion for what is undertaken. It is the moment-by-moment action that draws me, not the finale. It includes the design process, but it is the act of writing and seeing where it goes that is most powerful viscerally, intellectually, spiritually.

Writing, then? This is just what I do. It has come first as long as I can remember, back to early childhood. Music was the most important creative mode in my family but for me, despite my adoration of music, writing won out. It was such a strong urge that it started my day and ended it before I entered. I wrote little plays for the neighborhood gang and poems for fun. I wrote on scraps of paper, in cheap spiral-bound notebooks and on clean white paper on the ancient Remington manual typewriter. In school, my writing was often pointed out; a poem I wrote in third grade was published and presented at a state conference on children and creativity. I found it funny my teacher would do that. It had nothing to do with my desire to keep writing.

I had no clear sense of whether it was “good” or not, and even now don’t think it is worth the effort to try to rate it. I write and rewrite and write some more, then see how it stands up to my own interest during more reads and rewrites. It is necessary to improve but not for someone else–for myself, for the work I labor over. Being self-critical is necessary as I delve into exposition of a piece. It spurs me to design sentences that better deliver ideas and experiences. I can do this for long hours and do it alone. Marc’s voice is unheard or jarring when he speaks to me as I work. My dinner goes cold; other pressing duties fade. Time disappears; the written words engulf me.

I do, however, miss face-to-face interaction with other writers–conferences, workshops, writing sessions/sharing with one other writer, talking with editors at presentations, participating in public readings. These educational and fun events help me grow as a writer and as a human being. Both roles benefit from redefinition, willingness to learn. And I am not reluctant to get down to business.

I was having that earlier conversation about writing because I have been thinking about writing an ever greater amount of time. And this blog. I’ve noticed recently that though I have over 15,000 followers–a deceptive number, who knows what that quite means?–I have very few views, overall, in comparison to other weeks, months, years. There are also much fewer “likes”. Especially in the last weeks. This has not been the case, generally. I have had high numbers and moderate numbers and low ones, all. But 6? And practically no one comments–and is likely telling…of something. What is the data worth to me? Not that much, in the end. It doesn’t stop me from posting thus far. But I am curious, since I have had better statistics much of the past eleven years.

Yes, that’s a crazy long time to have a blog. Do I write here because it is not truly as rigorous as writing for other venues and platforms? If I even ask that, it must have bearing. Yet, I clearly am hooked; I enjoy myself.

But back to readership: the lag of viewers may mean people don’t relate to topics I am writing about lately. Or, as one reader says, many pieces are longer than most blog posts–I guess that can turn people off. It might mean followers just got tired of my blog–there are countless fascinating blogs to check out. Or it could even be the quality of my offerings has been in decline and I’ve failed to see it. I naturally consider that. Whatever the reasons, it gives me something to mull over.

Ultimately, it is about keeping on writing. I think it, dream it, wake up in the middle of the night and do it, phrases and characters run about my brain in the shower or store, while driving or walking, listening to people talk or seeing them play or work, when hearing music or sitting outside watching leaves shimmy, reading something else–any time at all. I take small breaks when feeling emptied out of good words or distracted by events in my life. There are times I feel like what I write is lacking oomph and just needs to be dumped. But there is always another concentrated attempt, and a fine word comes to me on the next wave of language rising, unfurling on a page. I can’t not write for long, even if it is a quick phrase on an envelope or receipt.

I have notebooks of listed ideas, many starts and stops. And mounds of sticky notes plastered on my desk with notes on reference material, titles that come without anything attached to them, quotes from other writers, literary mags to check out. And print outs of articles that demonstrate fine wordsmithing. I can’t keep up with it all but it isn’t daunting, it’s invigorating. It inspires me. And I am not a writer who stares at the screen or page a long time. I like prompts to get started for fun, but don’t need them. For some weird reason, I can sit and begin immediately; I write fast for a first draft. The deeper, better writing comes with revision. That takes much more time, is harder. A great deal harder. Even for this blog, I am often writing at midnight–and still miss necessary editing.

So it is not that I want to stop writing–I cannot imagine it–or even take a break. (I had some of those with the death of our granddaughter…and car accidents, illness, vacations, etc.) It’s about what I want to do with it next. I believe I must make changes. I don’t spend enough time revising my posts, and my proofreading needs attention. I easily spend 4-6+ hours working on them but I should clean up more. Including any photographs demands more time and labor. The truth is, I might make many improvements, even the design of my site; maybe readers would appreciate that, come back more. Or maybe not.

I also think it would be fun to start a new blog under a pseudonym. What, exactly, I’m not yet sure, but it would be entirely different than this one…Maybe satire. Maybe vignettes of real people whose names are changed, or stories of the most harrowing or spiritually intense moments in my life.

But beyond writing for the blog three times a week, several hours a day, what else might I want to do?

~I love to write poetry. For decades that was my genre, my preferred way of being and doing creatively with words. I write free verse but have written other kinds of poems. I can spend months on a poem that pulls me in and shine it up. I have published more poetry than anything (and under various names due to marriages). I quite like its economy–perhaps surprising for me, who tends to verbosity–and potency. Its elegance and truthfulness.

~I love fiction writing. I fell for fiction as a kid but felt intimidated by writing it until I kept working at it, reading and learning more, trying things out. In time I came to understand it better. It still is a form that seems complex and demanding, yet I love stories so much that I pursue them to the page, anyway. It is more like a story arrives, grabs and takes me to the page. I enjoy all the walking about in unknown places with strangers who become friends or curious bystanders or witnesses via the written word. It fulfills me immensely to complete a decent story. Or a series of short stories; I’ve written one grouping that takes place in a small northern lake town with many recurring characters. It is a collection I love to work on.

But then arrives the question: which genre would I like to explore next besides dabbling in mainstream, literary or women’s fiction? Psychological suspense? Fantasy? Old fashioned mystery? And flash fiction intrigues me, too. The only one I can’t get excited about is popular romance. Maybe a different angle on romance would be interesting.

Then there are novels. I have written two but only one may still have a drop of lifeblood. But I would rather begin a new one than return to those that I have worked half to death. I have ideas that come and go. If there is a really good idea it sticks– so far nothing has stuck well again. But this doesn’t mean I won’t begin another novel. Maybe not just today. I am stimulated by the work on very long projects. They require discipline, stamina, optimism, ruthless editing, and deep faith in the story–as with everything else, I suppose, but for much longer periods of my life.

~ Nonfiction, including memoir, is newest to me. I began working on it more seriously as I wrote for this blog. Then I published a couple pieces in collections so was encouraged. It was a challenge I enjoyed tackling. I appreciate its brevity requirement–though I have much to learn about that! I like to ask questions, search for answers whether a factoid or greater history or a recollection in family history. It moves quickly– or should. Succinctness is something I crave to master…and keep working on in nonfiction especially. I also love that it offers truth in a very direct way. The more stripped down the better; it generates more power.

~This is an addition since I initially published this post: I also have written (and published two pieces) young adult and children’s short fiction. It was also a pleasure taking months of classes on writing for children and applying more skills; I had the bonus of a children’s author providing great critiques. This genre remains of interest to me.

I have so many choices, that’s the issue. I have profound attachment to the written word, and respect for the value of language well crafted. But there is not enough time to do all I want to do, even in retirement. I need to heed these questions about what I will write further. There may not be another ten years left for me–or perhaps there will be, but time is not endless on earth. Some days I have a stronger tug to submit my work again for possible publication. Other times I want to dive right into that story collection, revise and polish until it is finished–then perhaps submit it. Or get back to more serious poetry writing, just because it is a beautiful form and it speaks to me with such grace and comfort. And it is good to know life most vividly, tp draw closer to God and maximize my compassion for the earth, the world–poetry is a good way to do all that.

The last question I ask myself tonight: do I keep on with this blog? Have I said all I have to say here? Does it matter if anyone reads my posts or not–or is it primarily an exercise in creativity, as so much of what is meaningful is to me? I do care about writing for others though I have written in solitude all my life, for the sake of the writing–that is what most writers do–and for myself, also. I need to write. I am entirely in love with the process, even during uncertain and self-doubting times or days of stalemate, or when I am fed up with the grinding work of eliciting the best words so they will cohere and open new doors… that I can walk through and so, too, the reader, into the next ones.

But it matters to me that I can send out my voice, and the voices of characters, and believe they may be heard. To be a small conduit of creative energy, of discovery. That I can offer up my vulnerability and then readers may open and connect more fully to themselves and others. That what I offer in words has meaning, even though fleeting. And that human language once more gives the gift of expression, that tool of powerful searching and finding, giving and taking, hoping and healing. Because language speaks the story of humankind. That is what matters to me, for this is what we all offer: astonishing stories of magnitude. So whether I write here or elsewhere, the stories will guide me faithfully. For this, I am grateful.

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Loving and Learning to Live with Cars

Before you get too excited, this post is not about classic cars though I admire them greatly. I visit the local Matthews Memory Lane, a vintage car business, about once a year with my brother, sister-in-law, and sister, who also feel as I do about fine vehicles. I would not mind snagging one of these shining works of design and function if I could afford such a car for sheer fun.

It is about a short history of my cars, and their untimely demises.

But I really wanted to post a video of my 2 year old granddaughter to demonstrate an early fascination with them. At the park there was an abandoned toddler-type toy that nabbed her attention. She pushed the somewhat-lame, plastic red and yellow child-sized car way down a bumpy, narrow gravel pathway. She got in it once, but it was useless on gravel with a bum wheel. Plus, she was a bit too big for it and it went too slowly for her taste.

So, she climbed out, got behind it and shoved and pushed it all the way to the end–then turned it around–no help, Grandma, she batted my hand away–and pushed it back the other direction, one hand holding onto the car, the other partly on steering wheel. When it veered off the pathway (it was often as it drove badly), she stopped to straighten it up, then got right back to work pushing, guiding it along.

“That’s the spirit, Alera, keep those wheels a-rolling!” I shouted, clapping at her success.

She grinned, kept on. She displayed such curiosity and an attentive, pleased attitude required to become a true car appreciator. The mechanics of the thing were a magnet as she tried to help it perform better. What a marvelous time she had. I had to tear her away from it.

Oh dear, another one in the family…a natural car nut. Where will the car loving, the mechanically inclined/engineering instincts take her one day?

I love cars enough to stop and walk around an interesting or sporty vehicle along the side of a road, then take numerous pictures. I ogle them at stop lights and parking lots. I go to car shows. I try to name cars running on the street from a distance by simple recognition of body style, the distinguishing features that differentiate it from another nameplate with the same or a similar platform. I am pulled in by sensory input of its design, curiosity of what is inside and what it can do, and the imagined scenario of getting in, firing her up, and taking off for a long drive, the power of the engine carrying me to another destination, another state of mind… Car passion. What a wild invention!–Even now, when we worry about emissions and efficiency and safety matters far more than we once did, there is this magnetic attraction..

I have respect for cars, how they intricately work for us, not just for how they look. I have long enjoyed driving, especially on lazy country roads where I can feel the car almost slink down and adhere to curves and take on hills and ease on down to flatter land once more when the gas pedal depresses and we fly together…. (Full disclosure: I fantasized about becoming a race car driver for a short time and like to watch races.) But routine errands as well as trips are also good. It’s relaxing, mostly; I scan the fleeting closer-to-ground views of people and the higher places. Turn on tunes and it can be even sweeter. Riding the roads over mountains, to the sea. Freedom’s bliss, and I am in control. Or so I think.

Well, maybe not so much in city traffic at rush hour. When living in the Detroit area I assiduously avoided freeways even when it took longer. It was like playing chicken; you had to drive 15-20 mph hour over the limit and stake your claim to all your space. Each time you took a car on the road it was a gamble. I don’t miss that; when we moved here, traffic congestion was mild to manageable, and the drivers were so laid back and polite it could be confusing, at times frustrating. Not so much anymore. Marc and I occasionally still say, “Time to get my Detroit on!”–which in our case means being clearly assertive when moving from point A to B successfully. Not preferred, and so I still seek innovative side street directions.

But I still appreciate driving experiences, overall. Even after being in too many car crashes, and truly missing all my lost personal vehicles. Yes, always mine, despite the accidents not being my fault…And I have had only one traffic ticket in my entire life so it’s not as if I am not careful.

My basic car romance started early with my father’s fascination with small foreign cars but also any regular sedan. Although a classical musician/teacher/conductor, he loved to tinker with most anything, especially cars–and motorbikes and bikes. He seemed to have a knack for fixing things, knew his way around things mechanical and made of mysterious parts, a talent I found magical. As a kid, I’d tag along on a Saturday afternoon, studying him as he about-disappeared under the hood of the current vehicle. I stood on tiptoe to see what he was doing in there. And ran for tools and whatever else he wanted, then handed them to him as requested, a very important part of his work, I felt. And riding in a tiny, front-opening Isetta– or even a Fiat– was a blast–even with sputters and trouble starting as much as it revved up and went.

I’d also while away time on our porch watching cars zip or meander down busy Ashman Street, learning the distinctive shapes of cars at an early age. Soon I could name the makes, models and years of increasing numbers of vehicles. If my older sister sat with me, we’d make it a competition to see who named more.

Whatever my teenaged dates drove to pick me up just fascinated me, whether a dented but sturdy GM truck or a flashy new Mercedes with leather seats; a sporty green Triumph Spider or a chugalug black VW Beetle. Let me admire it, settle in and away we go! My favorite was the turquoise 1964 Mustang that a boyfriend drove. Once we drove all the way from Midland in mid-Michigan to Detroit on the freeway and I was ecstatic, the wind blowing my hair about, his driving quite good, the beautiful car taking us far away. I may have fallen in love with the Mustang as much as with him…

I didn’t get my own car as many friends did in high school, but I enjoyed every one they had, and looked forward to the one day I’d have the pleasure of driving my very own, not just my parents’, and rarely. Yet I didn’t get a driver’s license until age 19–I saw no use for it when I got rides, just biked or walked. I didn’t possess a car–there was a truck in our lives when I married, which was fine though I got to drive it very little–until age 24. That, too, was shared with my first husband: an Opel Kadett, brand new and powder blue.

And that’s just when the trouble started. The accidents, the lost cars. It isn’t a tale of fancy or fast cars, but of cars that served me well and that I felt attached to–yes, enough to name a few. You might think I am a poor driver, but that wasn’t the case. I was a fine driver and still th8ink I do well. No, it was always an event beyond my control that happened to the car and anyone inside it– most often, me.

A note: I admire all kinds of vehicles, and require just a basic mode of transportation. I have never owned or wanted to own a really fancy car. I may stare at your Maserati, lust over the vintage turquoise Thunderbird, even secretly pine for a red Mazda RX-9 but really, I want something reliable, comfy and pleasing for daily use.

Accident #1: Driving along a quiet Michigan secondary road to a college class one dusky summer’s eve, I breathed in warm fragrances, admired very tall corn in fields lining the road. Suddenly out of nowhere (a simplistic definition of accident), came a car plowing into me (it was a preacher, full of remorse). He had missed a stop sign at a crossroads, but I knew nothing. I lost consciousness and came to looking down at my body in the speeding ambulance, wondering why I was lying there so still. I knew it had been “close”; I heard the EMTs say so. Our pretty new Opel Kadett was totaled. I had bleeding gashes and a concussion. Whiplash caused significant neck and head pain. I still have neck problems. I still have scars on my forehead–and scar tissue affects how aging skin lays above my eyebrow –and my right knee, as well as that knee gaining a slight weakness. Using crutches for weeks was not easy with a new baby at home. And I no longer drove much for a year. We didn’t replace that car–there was the truck. The scar with pale horizontal stitches is visible about 50 years later; no one remarks on it. But that knee gets crunchy and sore–in fact, has been more so since the last accident though there is nothing to see there–but that old wrinkly scar.

Accident #2: The metallic bronze Buick Century with buff leather seats was driven by one of our teen-aged daughters. She was crashed into while out and about one night. Someone hit her hard as she was joining the traffic flow on a main street in Rochester, MI. Totaled it. She was, thankfully, alright. She did not drive our cars a long time afterwards.

To replace that one was a new Saturn sedan and it lasted about 10 years, a good and dependable car–and was it never in an accident other than a bump or two at parking lots!

To take its place– when the AC didn’t keep working and it burned some oil–was a new Buick Sunfire. It was my son’s initially, but I quickly took it over when he lost a job.

Accident #3: The car of my dreams! My white jazzy Pontiac Sunfire was driven for 12 years. It still ran like a charm. I was looking forward to several more years with it. I loved its sporty lines, fuel efficiency, how it purred just a bit. Another daughter was driving this one on a busier Portland street. As a car merged from a turn, it ran into her and…it was totaled. Daughter walked away intact. I felt quite sad. They don’t even make this car, anymore. I called it Sunny-it always cheered me driving it.

Accident #4: The metallic blue Hyundai Elantra I purchased after the Sunfire was, like most of my cars, purchased for fuel efficiency, excellent safety record, and a quite moderate price. It served me very well, and as with all cars I pay off and keep driving, I liked it more each year and soon gave it the name of Bluebird. I had it so long–12 years– I thought it’d be my last as it had not once been in a shop for repairs. But it was– of course it was– totaled in a crash. I was on my way to ick up a grandson for Thanksgiving in November, 2019. I was tired and had a headache so perhaps I failed to think as fast as I would have otherwise. I made a U-turn and an SUV sped off a highway exit ramp underneath an overpass– and I didn’t see it coming soon enough. The policewoman said we were both at fault and, oddly, did not give tickets to either of us. Perhaps because it was Thanksgiving… Both grandson and I were okay enough, though I suffered a mild concussion and significant whiplash that left my long ago damaged neck in pain for weeks.

I was sorry to say goodbye to my Elantra. So I got a second one.

Accident #5: A trip to the beach for my husband’s birthday gift–as is usual–last week end ended up being a bust. The first day and a half were wonderful in and around Yachats, OR. But it ended fast as we returned to our lodgings following a hike above the ocean. From behind a passing vehicle passed one car and then barreled into my white metallic Hyundai Elantra (the “Dove”) just as we began a turn. After the sickeningly powerful impact on the driver’s side where my husband sat, we heard screams and crying beyond. He and I were very still, Marc saying, “What happened? What happened?” The double air bags had deployed against the left side of his face; he had trouble hearing, his face burned. I could barely breathe. I unclipped my seat belt. My chest and ribs hurt badly, my neck…I thought I was having a dreaded heart attack.

We both were taken by ambulance to a city 30 minutes way, as well as passengers of the passing van that hit us then flipped and landed upside down in a ditch. Six hours of CT-scans, X-rays, blood and urine tests, and then good news: no heart attack (the seat belt must have pressed very hard against me…); no ruined eardrum for Marc; no significant concussions, so we were released. Apparently the other people were, too. I never saw them. But when I understood they had fared okay, I wept. It was an astonishing occurrence that we all walked out of that hospital ER.

The good managers of the cottages where we stayed drove at 11:30 pm to pick us up, as we had no way to get back. We had one more night at our place. They brought us blankets, water, pillows for the ride back. We also were allowed to wait at another empty cottage the following afternoon until our youngest daughter drove over three hours to get us. The managers offered calm words and acts of generosity–their kindness will not be forgotten.

We stopped to find my car at an impound lot that was more a junk yard, or a cemetery of ruined, dead cars. It was not a pretty sight but we took pictures, cleaned it out, got more information from the owner.

I am in need of a new car now. I barely can ponder it after four days. Still, my mind is clearer and sleep better than it was in 2019 after the last accident. Well, soreness increases but mentally I seem less traumatized. Saddened. Weary of our various troubles over the last year and a half and now this. But if truth be told–why not us? Things happen all the time to others that are worse. I count the ways we’ve overcome, celebrated any new ray of light. We were spared this time. I feel especially fortunate once again.

Perhaps I am more at ease because I wasn’t the driver, a position which often carries with it regrets, anger, self-doubt and attendant anxiety. Marc has never been in a high speed car accident as I have, and understands now that it impacts all systems, not just visible flesh. And soon arrives random teariness, shakiness; flashbacks, sleeplessness. It takes time, patience, support and medical aid to recover well from inside out.

My love and respect for the attractive, innovative four-wheeled machines that carry us from one place to another has not decreased. However, I’ve wondered if I might just walk most places from our home as I am a veteran walker, anyway. Or get a bike. But we live in a landscape that is informed by steep hills, not a flat grid. I’m perhaps not as energetic or strong as I was at forty so it would require training for me to take a bike to these roads. The last few years I’ve longed for a moped, a zippy scooter. I sometimes ride one of my son’s down his quiet road, what a blast that is. (I once rode motorcycles, what a treat.) Perhaps a sunny yellow Vespa for this older woman’s forays into the wider world? But my husband declines to support this desire, convinced I would be at risk of another debacle, sad to say. He would have me drive a Hummer or, more to the point, a Humvee.

He may be right. The traffic has continued to worsen in Portland metro. And there are frankly a tremendous number of cyclists on the road, as well. It can be a task to doge them safely, as well, amid all the honking and lane crossings. Twenty first century hurdles. I may be better off on foot, on sidewalks. Or taking a bus or train–the train is especially useful here but not a pleasure in a pandemic.

In any case, we will get over this and go on. And be more alert, driving ever more defensively. The reality is, though, that accidents simply happen, random events that alter, damage or even end a life. In my case, the damage has been such that it can be lived with and worked with over time. We well eluded death’s snare…so thankfully.

But just now came a phone call from the car rental agency. My car is available tonight and for the next month if needed. And it’s a new Mustang convertible. Can you believe it? I’m all in!

Hold on, I may want this one–a car that is forever cheery!

Monday Meander: Grief as Companion for a Birthday at Jenkins Estate

It has been 11 days since our family’s loss. I keep walking, communing with nature. It is the only place I get real relief that means anything, something tangibly good and cohesive, fascinating and reassuring. Something powerful that does not unduly distort or painfully challenge, usually, what arrives with each day. Someone somewhere wrote that beauty is in itself a wonder but in the end it means nothing much. Not so for me. Nature’s offerings–even homelier parts–reflect the strange, abundant and always numinous to me. A walk or a hike, and explorations via boat ride, train ride or flight, even a drive in the car, a spin on a bike…these open my view and mind, and instruct me in more collaborative thinking, allow me to reach far beyond those sharp borders of ego-centered self.

I like to move and see and find things out.

Today, then, because I awakened again with tears and because it is my birthday, Marc and I visited the Jenkins Estate which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, built in the early 20th century on 68 acres. There are several outbuildings as well as the house (which is only partially visible here) in a style common to the NW for country gentry. We saw only a little of the grounds–rain threatened–and we will return. But today there were brightly greened trees and plants with scattered flowers abloom in the redolent, damp April dirt. I had wanted to see a garden today, but I am in love with the woods; it was a good walk.

And I took with me the weariness of loss; my husband walked slowly, as well. Often we are silent these days.

Grief is collective over time. And at times–especially since the pandemic– it seems to vibrate under the surface of all. I have felt it all my life, everywhere and in everyone, within all tableaus of life. As a therapist once pointed out to me, I carry grief for all life even as I celebrate living. How can it be otherwise? I truly haven’t always felt it frightening or depressing or damaging–and not endlessly. I feel it as part of intense, continuous currents of life. It has made me scream out or has sent me to my knees. But it also echoes a song so ancient, so profound that its ethereal yet earthy call evokes recognition not only of inevitable dying but of the potency of living and mysteriousness of becoming…from the moment we arrive until the moment we take our leave. So we are ever in the process of gathering close and letting go. I know this. We all know this. It doesn’t get easier, really, each death. It gets more familiar, a visitor we recognize and so let in, if reluctantly and with eyes cast down at first. But looking at it in its center becomes perhaps less daunting, less unsettling. Perhaps. It is a reminder: the transitoriness, evolution of beginning to ending to secret beginnings. For we know what was, what is now, and only guess at the years, the vistas to come.

I am 71 today. Every day I live is valued and lived in tested faith and a shimmering hope. I live inside this blood and bone, and deep within the spirit of Love, despite my paucity of wisdom and unnecessary desires.

Our granddaughter was 28 ; she knew loss before passing on, and such vivacious life.

Next time I return I will share more photos, offer other experiences. I only wanted to put down a few words, say a small hello to my fellow bloggers and readers. I wanted to say Krystal Joy’s name, to honor her being. The funeral is very soon. I am as grey shadow with marrow deep sadness but, too, I know she is free of a myriad burdens of humanness. The tricky ache of it.

We have so much invested in life’s ongoing and often random travels–even as we know all is temporal in this world. It is so worth it to me. May it also be worth the effort to you.

The Gate House, my favorite spot so far.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: My Mother’s China

It is a peculiar habit– to possess objects that are excellent, perhaps even valuable, but unnecessary, and thus are shuttered away. I had forgotten about it, this certain thing, like most items I don’t use. I am utilitarian in my habits, I greatly admire fine creative design and enjoy holding a piece of art in my hand, or wearing it at my neck or seeing it upon a gold-lit shelf. But when an object is impractical or secretly disliked or in need of major repair, it is quite promptly forgotten.

My mother’s china pieces fall within the “impractical” category. And then a subcategory I might name “awkward.” What does one do with china that has no real place in one’s ordinary abode? And yet I have kept it, though hidden away.

I have only a distant–often unnoticeable- attachment to most of what I own. I may well like much quite a lot but a thing oddly matters very little if and when ruined or disappeared. The initial bite of loss is felt but after a bit, it seems upon reflection that it held far less meaning in my scheme of life than previously and often dramatically noted. I feel it is all easy come, easy go in the end. It’s good I am this way, and that I don’t have buckets of money. If I see something something magnetically exotic or thrillingly original that I might love, a feeling comes over me that I am not fond of having: a sudden desire to place it into my realm–and covetousness may pounce inside me. So unattractive a characteristic. I don’t mean to want things like that, even the best things. It takes such energy and attention when I need those for other activities. I’ve never even bothered to putting time or cash into properly decorating wherever I live. Nonchalant might be a good description of my style, ad-hoc and eclectic….. If it’s comfortable and has some color with a bit of pattern tossed about, I’m good. No, I am less about details that look good, more about moments that can live well in real life.

But right, my mother’s china. (Or a portion of it–yes, I’m coming to it.) It’s not the sort of item that fits well into this way of doing things, I suggest. It requires the appropriate display and use. It requires a certain kind of event. So I have left it in a box or on high dark shelves ever since she died in 2001. A sleeping stack, gathering colonies of dust mites.

The truth is, it is quite enough to manage what I have. I’m well pleased with small tokens of artistic renderings or gifted lovelies. I can get excited about simple handcrafted items or occasional treasures in a second hand store but I can walk away with no longing, too. Maybe it has been all the practice I’ve had; one feeds and clothes the children, one doesn’t buy art or jewelry. One needs orderly rooms to move about, not extra piles to stumble over. (Alright, I have bought books, too many.) The few artistic pieces that are spread about my home required a lifetime of modest acquisition– none of it would impress anyone. They are not pricey. (I have also been known to cut out inspiring pictures from magazines and tape them to a wall.) Many have been given to me. But they’re cared about for one good reason or another. Usually the experience of finding it, the person attached to it.

Yes, that’s what gets us most of all–by whom or just how an object comes to be in our lives. It resonates of these every time we use it or walk by it or try not to think on it too long. That odd energy of things imbued with an essence of place or time or person–how alluring to mind and senses.

And so this comes around to my mother’s Rosenthal china. The twelve person place settings she bought and had shipped when my parents went to Germany. She had other china, and everyday ware (Franciscan Desert Rose, which I use daily). But this was the one she used to dress the most gracious table, along with crystal water goblets and silver. The dinner plates are pure white and embossed with a faintly, to me, architectural design. Yet I don’t have those with me. The fruit bowls that I have, and love and avoid are decorated with delicate flowers of deep pink, yellow and periwinkle, arrayed atop the raised pattern.

I happened upon them again recently. I stood tiptoe on a kitchen step stool, rummaging on the top cupboard shelf for something else. My hand reached behind a front row, and barely touched the rims of the delicate fruit bowls. That sound they make when moved against one another–a soft, bright noise. I took down two more ordinary bone china tea mugs my mother-in-law gave us long ago (that we use often); a few colored or etched glass candy dishes (a couple from my mother); and a diminutive vase that looks like an old-fashioned gentlewoman with an open-top hat made for tiny blooms. (This I happened to buy in a hospital gift shop after I completed cardiac rehab 20 years ago–it made me feel even better.)

I touched the bowls gently once more, hesitant.

I didn’t attempt to bring the them all down. I counted them: twelve, as meant to be. And then–because I suddenly wanted to hold it in my hands–I took the top one off the stack gingerly and stepped down from the stool. I proceeded to wash it with my fingertips and a spot of dish detergent under running water. I grabbed a tea towel. I decided I wanted to use one, perhaps just once. Applesauce, perhaps. Blueberries. Chocolate covered raisins. I visualized a vivid mound of raspberries against the white hollow in the bowl, rinsing it clean.

And then I dropped the china bowl. It lightly struck the quartz countertop, delicate against rock-hard. Only a bare inch from my hand to surface. I snatched it back up. But too late, though it somehow held together in my wretched hands.

You can imagine the bad words I said. How my heart plummeted. Eighteen years well sequestered and then, when once in two years I take one down to clean it, I drop it? Why was I not ever more careful? (My hands are notorious for dropping things. I suffered severe myalgias and weakness after taking statins 13 years; some days grasping strength is still impacted.) I ought to have called Marc to help. And so on.

I examined the bowl more closely in the light. The thinnest telltale line crossed from the smooth edge of rim and continued two thirds to the other side. I expected it to split apart but it did not, so I firmly pressed it tight together so that the line of fracture disappeared, then set it far back from counter’s edge. And then, after showing it to Marc, I thought once more how often my favorite things have been damaged or destroyed. It has happened again and again–and most often it is an accident not even of my doing. (I have come to see it as a further lesson to not hold tightly to things of this world.) I fussed a bit more, then decided if it sat there safely it might be useful, afterall, until I found the correct glue to fix it. If I dared to fix it. I put raisins in it and plucked them one at a time. The next day I put two pieces of chocolate in it and delicately lifted one piece and the other. The next day, a few crackers. It was being used just fine, but I was wary of moving it. I watched it as if it might.

I know I need to fix it soon, and fix it right. I am the caretaker.

The truth is, these fruit bowls are not mine, but are for my daughter, Naomi. The artist. She was originally to inherit the whole set, twelve of everything imaginable. This is what my mother had told me, and what she told Naomi so long ago. My daughter has been to Germany, also, and she appreciates beautiful, well made and interesting objects. She is my oldest child, was close to my mother dearly (so adored, that woman), visiting her and helping her off and on the last few years. My mother’s children had long gone from Michigan. But her granddaughter Naomi stayed with and worked with her father and his side of her family–construction and plant nursery work– many summers when she had time off from university and later from teaching jobs. Gladwin, a rural area where her paternal kin lived, was not far from Midland where my parents, then only my mother, resided. Mom looked forward to Naomi’s visits greatly. They gabbed, watched television and read, walked, did errands. They both loved to sew, to cook. They enjoyed classical music and much more. Later, when it was needed, my daughter helped with more personal needs. I recall feeling burdensome guilt that I had moved far away, that I could not visit Mom often since I lived in Oregon. And feeling deep gratitude that Naomi could, and without any prompting. She loved her dearly. And was appreciated and loved by Mom.

So the Rosenthal china was to go to Naomi, among other things. But things are open to interpretation when an estate comes into question–if some intentions are not signed and sealed. My oldest sister was the executor of the estate and told me after our mother’s death that it was not going to happen. Apparently, Marinell understood things differently; that Naomi got it was not explicit. She suggested that her daughter would like the china at first but in the end, she determined it would be shipped to her home state of WA. And then, to my surprise and for an unknown reason, I was t old the whole lot was ultimately sold.

Yes, I was aghast. Why did that happen, I wondered. It was entirely uncharacteristic of kind, fair-minded Marinell (now deceased or I wouldn’t write of it), the whole thing. She hadn’t taken my word as the truth. It was very disappointing–and she’d not even thought it might hurt us. Maybe because she had many fine things, herself, it didn’t impact her much in the general view of things. But there it was–the china was gone. Naomi and I simply let it go, as one must–it wasn’t worth holding any grudge.

Except. I had the fruit bowls.

I barely recall it–perhaps such details matter yet they’re blurred–but they were separate from the rest as we sorted things after the funeral. Or they ended up being sent to me accidentally with a box of other things; either may be the case… But Mom likely used them as she loved a small snack of fruit, cottage cheese, carrots and so on. She had left them out, then boxed them up at some point. But I chose to keep them for Naomi as the vast bulk of china slipped away. I knew she would be happy to eat a little yogurt or ice cream or pear slices or strawberries from them one day. My sister never mentioned missing anything. I felt it was justified, even that it was meant to be. They stayed with me and have remained here– until Naomi can use them.

It is about time, I sense. I am not getting any younger. And I don’t want to break one more. They are a meaningful remnant of a time, place and person for her to keep close.

How much do things matter? Things that may not be used as one hopes or imagines? My mother entertained, happily if modestly, and pulled out all the stops when friends or visitors from the arts and education and church worlds came for dinners and lunches. I was a shadow part of that as a teen. I helped prepare food, set the table just so, laid the silver and the place settings. I served others with a smile and a nod. I sat with them at those extraordinary tables–the loveliness of her centerpieces, the light slipping over crystal and silver– and talked about books and music and a mix of ideas. Nothin earth shaking, but good topics. Music played always in the background. I easily crossed over from inquisitive child to a seeking and also forlorn young adult at that table. Such rituals held us all together.

So, that Rosenthal–“All food tastes better when eaten from it” Mom said, and it was true– was partly mine, perhaps, long after my older siblings departed from home, and still when I came around a few more years when attaining adulthood. I never once needed it for myself–I am a mix-and-match person, a casual meal person. I have a cupboard full of handmade mugs, ones from special places; I hold on to chipped pieces. I had a couple of pretty goblets but they–of course–broke. Mom had a different passion for beautiful things, and worked them well into my parents’ middle class, educated, well travelled lifestyle, the pleasing china cabinet brimming with perfect, shining pieces. Ones she used with ease and often, as if it was always so. She, a farmer’s daughter, with an eye for more diverse beauty.

So that was in my mind when I pulled down one bowl–that I ought to use one now and again until Naomi has them for fond use in her own life. I had rarely done so before. I’ve regularly used her bone china teacups sets and those doomed goblets and many other culinary-related items. I have her LLadro figurines in a cabinet. I wear a couple pieces of her good jewelry. But those bowls… Maybe I felt a niggling guilt for having them, though it’s unlikely as the years rolled by and they weren’t missed–who used fruit bowls, anymore? Mostly I wanted them to stay safe.

You never know what means the most until faced with it’s possible loss. I was mad at myself last week and sad, but it didn’t make me weep. I have blinked back a few leaks over few possessions badly ruined. But full tears come easily for me only when it is a true matter of heart. Like when I awakened the other morning with cheeks wet and I thought to myself, Oh yes, it is April, then comes May, June. These times are full of losing a sister, a brother, my mother. Then, after that, my father. And all this has no shape but fills an amorphous realm of bittersweetness, and not one sharp memory to stun me but a tender and brazen moving picture of long, mysterious, amazing lives, and no heft in my hand or within my arms but the silken air and the puzzling ether beyond.

But inside there is resounding love, far more valued and useful than a fine white and floral china bowl meant for berries. Still, I gaze at and touch that broken bowl with a private tenderness. The line remains invisible, but it is there in the center.