Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem/Photo: Order and Otherwise

Japanese Garden, Portland, OR

This is one sort of preference:

vessels useful and voluptuous,

lithesome fishes lined up for breezes,

trees well refined that mind themselves,

stone with a softer side but that does not give in.

A variety of order beguiles with certainty.

I am intrigued by definitions of texture

and design, of utility and indulgence.

But within chaos rises a web of connectivity

that brings to the fore the powers of Presence.

Out of strife surges creativity,

intimacy with confusion allows clarity,

and it is a value of peace and discord

that we humans can jostle to and fro,

discern amazement within, without

and secure our (mutable) selves here

and beyond the living maze of mirrors.

Mirror Art Installation in San Diego (artist unknown)

Wednesday’s Word: Great Ocean, Take My Grief

I wanted to write a short story today. I really did, something richly arresting, bright-toned but real. And almost did, as my writing habits are so ingrained a story would have let me shape it and set it free upon this page. Yet what sort of story would it have become?–for elegies of loss are lately becoming a deafening refrain.

But my sister-in-law passed away this afternoon from the damage wrought by that heinous thing, cancer. She has been one of my valued sister warriors. A survivor of life’s harrowing and strange times. A woman whose heart had such breadth and width, whose mind was tough, quick, coiled and ready to work. Any work–even work for abandoned or forgotten creatures. She stood steady amid the draining minutiae of living and knew how to yet find the glimmers of good.

We haven’t seen each other much in decades; we moved, they moved, days rushed us forward, took time away from us. We visited her and my brother-in-law last autumn in Michigan. She was frail then, and persistently alive. Quiet as in a cocoon yet available as she could be. We used to talk a mile a minute, smoking and drinking coffee. Laughing. Her eyes missed nothing, spoke of all she did not say.

I think she still missed nothing of importance. She listened well. But no more.

This is the second loss in a month. First, my brother Gary, now Sherril. The ache is a flame that cannot cauterize such pain; it can feel like danger, this diminishing of the heart’s natural fullness. The remainder after death: an abyss of a surprisingly darker sort. And in it  the rising volume of sorrow. Tears can barely do their job, there are too many, and yet not ever enough.

I know, of course–how can we avoid knowing it despite attempts to do so? it waits in our personal realm, our daily news — that we live. And then we die. But each time a dying takes something out of us, a gigantic thing not a small one as it leaves the new absence. Like a drowning in the wake behind a mighty ship. We struggle to keep afloat despite the impulse to slip under. I think some days I am weeping for the world, not just my family, not just friends, but all of us.

There is this bone-deep yearning for more time, more love and stories, more moments when you even do no t one noteworthy thing…. but simply be with one another. Experience has such quality if we only give it its due. Nothing should be ignored or wasted, not the hurt, not bafflement or even outrage. Never the energy of compassion, the ease of simple appreciation. No words ought to be tossed here and there or out the window as if they are useless, or recyclable. They are not, not ever, not really. They are potent. Meant to tell us things we need to hear–and to say. Otherwise, we require the sort of silence out of which Divine Love, a harmony we do not even understand can rise. Inform us of more that needs to be known and done.

The words that she and I shared were quite good enough, even really good. Those conversations, those times are held close, pull me into them as if only yesterday…A dry wit. A rapid fire comeback. We exchanged lines that rang with our truths hidden in a raised eyebrow and fast look, little truths that swelled inside our words with balloons of life and respect.

We always wanted Sherril and my brother-in-law, Bill, to come to Oregon, explore the Northwest, share adventures and belly laughs and even music we might make right here, but it just never got to happen. So today I am posting pictures of the Pacific Ocean that Marc and I enjoyed Sunday for Father’s Day.

I am wanting sea spray to flick its feathery tails at Sherril, for glossy sunshine to slide about her being, the great blueness to carry her far and to whole soul joy. But she is already there, wherever she is. I’m just counting on it.

Let a hallelujah love transform you, be ever prefect as the perfection that fills each star and all gaps between. Oh warrior sister you’ve made it through this quick bitter this long sweet life and now it is done it is done

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Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: Less is More

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This is not the deft poem
that other poets may identify,
but all that manifests this moment

a breath across wild space
a plea for uncommon sense
a gesture made toward heaven
a climb up a sycamore tree
a well echoing new fullness
a semblance of those gone
a blossom spun on a wave
a wish for someone’s scent
a tantrum that lost its steam
a trust in shadow’s light
a belief that remains whole
a falling down and rising up
a heart made only of singing
a ghost empty of pain
a release of all that fails
a river dancing my dreams
a madness that creates joy
a woman who ushers in dawn
a secret safely revealed
a whisper of boisterous things
a desert that welcomes rain
a love known to shift shapes
a tale of mercy for us all.

This is not a deft poem and
arrives as a living thing,
hews a trail to more,
thus grants me peace.

Framing Life

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The theater of living provides an endless array of delights, an intriguing jumble of conundrums. A panorama of mystery that goes blood deep and beyond. It throws me for a loop at times, can wound me, but I relish again a brighter state of being. It is a numinous realm that we move within, if only we can stay awake to become more intimate with it. Or I should say, it is magic, the sort that is the real stuff, unadulterated.

I would guess living with someone who thinks like this is not simple. There are pros and cons of working at living a creative life propelled by a spiritual bent. My days and nights are underpinned by deep roots of belief in a higher power whom I call God for the purpose of easier communications. (I don’t know what God’s true name sounds like but I feel it often, everywhere.) For as long as I can recall, I have sought to tap a source that is omnipresent, if often constricted by human definitions. It makes me not content to skim the surface of things, as there is no impenetrable “surface”–the exterior I see beckons and what lies beneath is a richer extension of it, a spiraling variation, another chain of possibilities. And guiding me is the constant sense of being connected to earth and to humanity while being tethered to the universe. To the great knowns and unknowns.

As a young person, I assumed everyone thought this way. How could they not? It would be like not realizing lungs were the organs of distribution for crucial air to be carried into our blood, to our sinews and brain–and for releasing CO2. And that trees et al have a vital part to play. But by adolescence I at least realized we each experienced existence uniquely–furthermore, developed different ideas and ways of using them. What I see from my little window on the world may appear to encompass all but, of course, it does not–it likely cannot encompass much of who you are unless you invite me to your window awhile. Or I request information and then try to fill in the blanks, at best. So I’ve continued to watch, feel, think, sense, listen, take mental notes. And what is revealed is often amazing to contemplate.

Like the neighbor many years ago who I liked in a general sort of way but worried about. She was very well spoken– held a Ph.D.–and was guarded sometimes pleasant. But she also who kept us up at night, seemingly rearranging furniture, opening and shutting file cabinet drawers (we thought). She talked loudly to herself, placed alarming political messages on her car windows. I asked her many times to please be more quiet so we could get some sleep. I once banged on her door the next morning, demanding silence…she said, “Then call the police!” I felt perhaps she was mentally ill. I wanted to know her story and I cared–I was a mental health clinician then–but she wasn’t telling it. She was a powerful person who felt lost.

One day she packed up and left with her son, and the key to her distress and fear was shared with me. She had been a teacher in a school across the street from the federal building in Oklahoma City when it was bombed by a domestic terrorist. She was a witness and a victim. She never really recovered. She lost many; her survival was a nightmare day and night. I went to my place and wept, for her and for myself, felt ashamed of my lack of patience and acceptance. It hurt to meet my shortcomings face-on. But she had made an impression. She helped me see I always need to think a gain–not react but think and sense what the bigger truth might be.

So you never do know, until you know more. We live with one another in a world that seems prone to catastrophes more than ever. But we still have beauty and wonder. We can share tenderness and courage with one another. There are terrible things, yes, but there still is goodness and we must not forget that, either.

I suspect many who do not feel part of the entirety of life manage to frequently and temporarily disconnect. From themselves and others, global life and the universal ball of wax. There are so many ways to do it. I certainly once tried–I drank or used various drugs, I worked too hard, loved too much or badly, slept less than sensible, tried to lose myself in a multitude of ways. I had my memory jogged a few harsh times and fortunately recalled that to be awake was far more rewarding that sleepwalking through life. The last time–decades ago–it finally “took”. More or less, most of the time.

So, to go forth and embrace–a good intention tempered by caution as needed.

I might appear hobbled by an insistent interest in too much, a magnetic pull to whatever is perceived. For example, walking with me may require forbearance. I start out fast, prefer to go quickly, yet move in fits and starts, pausing to take a closer look at a vine against a fence, a white porch with a green chair, a tree branch with three yellow leaves against a cloudy sky, a scarlet flower that lies amid crispy curling leaves. Then comes a lady in a bulky coat and floral scarf. She bends over to pet a grey Persian cat who has chosen to rest at her feet. The sun emboldens the space; the cat languishes. It shoots a glance at me as I hesitate behind the woman; it has green eyes. The lady and I smile, nod, move on. I feel good. I liked how her eyes warmed, the woman’s not the cat’s. The cat is gorgeous, tolerant, regal and now addresses more important matters than my admiring words. We have, afterall, already exchanged flick of energy, that recognition by one being of another.

My husband waits a few steps apart. He looks on the ground for the odd rock, interesting sticks, the bit of detritus worth a moment. He, too, is present in experience but the wide arc of scanning, a review of everything does not move him in the way it does me. I want to absorb the lovely strangeness of life, its willful and predetermined responses. To be open to its vagaries. Let it all trickle through me as if I am a sieve, catching and savoring the choice parts amind the  big picture.

One way to immerse myself in this buzz of daily living is taking photos as I go. I carry a camera (other than phone camera) everywhere. I seek to frame the richness of territories and persons within it. Grand or humble designs of civilization and the natural world that may open like secret chests when I attend them. There is a vibrant energy inherent in any moment, a tableau, an object. The life force is a basic phenomenon; it animates all living things. I like how the French put it: esprit de vie, or life spirit. It emanates from all things in some way or another. My camera takes charge as soon as I push a button. What I see again in the resultant photograph is not always what I think I saw. I am often surprised by the more or the less of an image, but in the meantime, I have chosen to focus in the here and now. To be open to what crosses my path and vice versa. And most often it shimmers with something, a vibrational presence, a welcome, a dazzle of curious joy.

It is simple and exacting at once to take pictures. But I don’t worry about becoming a great photographer; I expect different things of this happy habit. I do aspire to note and capture some essence of a thing or being. I want to see and find truth, the one nestled within another. What astonishes is how much variety of life there is, how what is similar, especially human beings, can be so alike yet distinct. All this patterning and deviation from pattern arranges a vivid criss-crossing, a panoramic verve. And I value the peculiarity of being human, that we have personal identity, a spirit we can claim as ours due to DNA, group culture and life circumstances as well as our relationship to this greater picture. To an ever-evolving and sacred map of infinity.

Earth. The plant and animal life it sustains is a freakishly complex yet flexible work, in process of being born, growing and living. Dying. Rebirthing. That little remains static is essential to the scheme. We witness its suffering, too. I give my attention to this composition of energies. I don’t want to be distracted or seduced by spectacles that lack substance. Fabulous work is going on quietly beneath our noses; dramas unfold in nature and lives that we barely can imagine. We inhabit this place with minds intent on other things, on the minutiae of daily routines, demands of work, wants and basic needs. We rather too often take our beating hearts for granted until our living is under siege. Unpredictable events are spawned by weather or political conflict, or disharmony between friends or strangers, misunderstandings within our own families. How can we allow ourselves to be waylaid when we have brains wired to make choices–smarter ones? It happens so easily.

So begin again, I think.

I awaken and come back to the body’s reign. I sit down at our too-cluttered table, drink tea, welcome another chance to survey more unfolding of events. I pray for opportunities to learn and love, to better trust my instincts, my evaluative skills. I hope for rain and sun; both are necessary and appreciated.

I do value my traditions, principles and insights, yes. But I also keep strong my desire to learn more of what I do not know or understand. I want to honor these moments I am given. That includes clarifying a more thorough view of what being alive means to people, to me. I care not only about what works, symmetry and a flawless synchrony but about errors and anomalies. It all is here to explore and consider. Life is a empowered by its essence of one sort or another. As creatures set upon this globe, we do not have to do much more but stay alive in the end, I suppose. But it flourishes with our contributions, hopefully for the greater good, not just our own. Experience is truly transformative when we participate in the creative actions that occur each day.

So I watch, I listen, I aim and I click the camera button. The photographs tell me generous stories. I am filled up as I enter the moment and share it. They give me a way to better understand. And the taking of a picture also gives me freedom from this nattering self. One moment is suspended, is a gift, even as it is already moving through and beyond me. I am important enough but so is all that is before me, incandescent with matter and spirit.

Discover and believe. Live and strive. Do not forget to offer your beauty and help to one another. Become your own best witness to the smallest of miracles.

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Life, Texturized

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My head feels as though it wants different nerve endings, ones that cannot transmit this particular pain. It starts at the top of my spine, crosses to the base of my skull and thereupon spreads out like tenacious ivy overlaying my brain’s domain. I have had communication issues all day due to the fog that has made itself a barrier between internal and external stimuli. My eyes have felt like tiny balloons waiting to explode. My mind whirls and floats a bit like when I have had migraines only with less intensity. I need a new neck to hold up my head.

Last night’s sleep was heavy and tinged with dreams about visiting a hotel in a village that felt familiar, where people were vaporous yet colorful, half-ghosts or characters let loose from stage left in a play. I knew this place yet not every corner or staircase. There was also an unnamed man whose hand on mine felt familiar and vibrant. Our words meant things without spoken language as often happens in my dreams. Some of these people and rooms glowed. The furnishings were beautiful, brocade and velvet curtains, furniture to last centuries. In the end I slowly made my way out, then didn’t know where I was and asked myself, “How could I be lost?”, irritated, as though I was responsible for knowing my way around a seemingly infinite and complicated structure. But it was the architecture of dreams, an oddly cantilevered netherworld, supported by one thing only: REM sleep.

Why would I write of this today? Why not lie down nice and easy? The answer is three-fold: 1) I know many others can empathize, 2) I write daily and 3) pain is not generally a good enough reason to not do whatever I want or need to do. I have had familiarity with all sorts throughout my life due to a few chronic health issues. I know its nuances and what each kind augers, how I can best handle it as well as when to ignore it. I don’t mean deny its actual existence. I give it a nod but then deny it its fearsome and full power as long as possible. Often it dissipates when I am busy looking elsewhere.

So I wonder: why the odd dream? Why do we tend to dream of unusual spaces mingled with the common? Why do both loved and unloved, alive and passed on all appear like sudden visitors, as though they have been waiting for us to swing open the door? And they inhabit the same conversations as strangers do, making me feel there are no strangers, really. And that landscape that is so familiar to me, as though a second home… Who knows what exactly happens as we close our eyes? It is an adventure which allows us to experience things differently. Sometimes it is a revelation.

In the morning, icy air sneaked in through a cracked window. And that old companion, pain, told me I had slept askew. I took stock of the past week as discomfort drummed against sinew and bone, squinting past the quilt that wanted to be pulled closer.

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It has been a Christmas season that I would note as a “10” on the rating scale for holiday satisfaction: three of five children with their families here for various events, a perfect tree from an Elysian tree farm, food that fed us well, made us happy. A candle light service at our Presbyterian church: music sung from the core, flames casting flickering halos, communion as conduit for mysteries of faith. Not even once was perfection my goal; I wanted to share love and it happened. I embrace my family’s quirkiness: five children who include an artist/professor; a grad student who will manage a performing arts venue; a professional skateboarder/painter; a budding sociologist/activist; and a chaplain. They each are called to do service for others in some way, are strong-willed and live a bit (or more) on the edge. Five grandchildren, as well. Two daughters were visited via Skype, something I never expected when they were born. How good it was.

Actual gifts were the extras. Among other things I received three fat books to savor. One is about American residential architecture, one about exceptional children (dwarfism, autism, genius, and other traits that fascinate me), another a biography of great composers. They reflect some of my interests; my spouse knows me well. I can’t imagine a lifetime long enough to learn all I want to learn. Sometimes I gaze out a window at the scenes unfolding before me and think of it: in this sixth decade of my life there is so very little I have mastered yet I remain passionate about learning. It both distresses and thrills. The engine of curiosity thrusts me forward.

The days will proceed of their own accord and rhythm as before, now that Christmas is over. If all goes reasonably well. It is just as likely not to, I know. Last January started out with challenges including an inner ear disorder accompanied by a nagging malaise I loathed to call depression. The last half of the year I have been recovering from severe muscle toxicity due to taking a statin for thirteen years. I have to save my heart from its disease now only through beta blocker, blood pressure medicines and vigorous exercise. I can and will do the best I can. My siblings are older, too, I notice. But the world is ancient and confounding. Marvelous and horrid. Who knows what is next? It keeps me present and attentive to what matters. How swift, how tenuous life on earth can be, like dandelion fluff carried far, then no longer visible.

So I move through time on faith, flying on light wings of grace so I may engage in life’s creation of a rich warp and weft. I want my being and doings to make some difference. I sweep up this fullness of life in my arms and wrap myself in it, unfurl it like a flag, throw it around another’s shoulders, offer it as a bridge over deep chasms and use it with gusto, pain or no pain. We all suffer somehow; we all make our way as we see fit.

Ah, you see? That pain in my neck and head is lessening. Writing makes me strong. Love makes me brave. Music (today: Bach and Gilberto) grants me pleasure and peace. Spiritual practices keep me lithe of soul, unifies the pieces. And I think I’ll head to the gym or take a brisk walk to give my heart a chance to work with me better. What is it that you will nourish and honor as one day slips into another, then soon–so soon!– melds with a whole new year? I trust you are making good weavings of your own distinctive threads.

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