Sunday, January 29, 2012

CALL me, call ME, CALL ME*

When I was a child, my family's rural phone was on a party line with three other families. Ours was the end of the line, with four rings. One ring--it could be for us! Two rings--it could still be for us. Three! And finally four! A long time to anticipate possibilities. I was but a child, though, it was never for me. And I don't know if my mother hoped for it to be for us, or hoped it would stop ringing before it got to four. In any case--unlike the families with one ring or two, who knew quickly it wasn't for them and could go on about their business--it's a long time to hold your breath, hoping or dreading.

My dear, gifted friend has been working for a really long time toward answering a call to a particular job. She started her journey toward this job many years ago; doing all that was in her power to prepare herself. She heard the call, she listened, she responded. It has been a rigorous application process, with many hoops. She jumped through them all without touching the sides; she made it through every cut, every ring of the party line phone. And this week, someone else was chosen.

My sister heard a call, too. It led her to seminary as a, what-you-say, mature student. She did spectacularly well, and had the time of her life--A-cing Greek and Hebrew at the same time and falling in love with the idea of pastoring a church. And she has continued to say yes to pulpit supply and retreat leadership to further prepare. She ceaselessly  educates herself and engages in spiritual direction. But the work that she hears calling her has not found her.

For my friend and my sister, perhaps it is not important to unlock the mystery of why they haven't been chosen when the call is clearly for them. They aren't who the search committees are looking for; and though they have controlled all they can control, they cannot be what they are not.

I go to the movies this weekend to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In the movie, nine-year-old Oskar's father dies in the Tower on 9-11. Oskar finds a key in his father's belongings and sets out on a search through the Burroughs of New York City for the lock it opens; sure that he will find something his father must have left for him that will make his death make sense. But instead his dad left him something to make Oskar’s life make sense. You will have to see the movie to discover what that is. The movie is wonderful. It should win the Oscar. (Oskar should win the Oscar, but he wasn't even nominated.) The movie won't win the award. It has everything a good movie needs. And it won't win. It's not what the voting members of the Academy are looking for. It cannot be what it is not.

It is another spring day in the garden yesterday, and I get out. I rake out some of the leaves that have been mulching the beds against the cold that didn't come. I find emerging growth buried under the leaves. And the banana tree has a new, tightly furled leaf amongst the dead leaves that whisper in the breeze. The Lenten rose that I thought was dying this year has more blooms than ever. I can't stop taking pictures of the centers of the rose; I think they are incredible in their complexity. The Carolina jasmine on the porch rail that doesn't get enough sun, is bud-filled. The early spring, before the trees leaf, has given it more light than usual. I splurge on three pots at Logan's that match my doors (well, they didn't have a purple one, I substitute red).

I head out in search of the sunrise Saturday morning. It is good to get back out at dawn after a month-long hiatus. But the sunrise is unspectacular. No clouds. It is a recurring reminder that beauty of the breath-taking variety requires clouds; perfectly clear does not
make a perfectly beautiful life. Finally I turn my back on  the east, and there in the west--reflecting the rising sun--the sky is glowing pink. I notice the buds on the trees. Perhaps it is only when it is perfectly clear that where we thought we were going isn’t going to come to pass, that we have to concede that maybe we misinterpreted the call; and then we can let go and our eyes can open to new possibilities.

Oskar's father tells him that he has always loved science. Oskar asks his dad if he would have liked to have been a scientist. His dad replies,"I don't know. I became a jeweler." At first blush, it sounds like a call not taken, a disappointment, a passion not followed. But he finds other ways to be a scientist. He is a scientist. Oskar and his father have been on a treasure hunt to discover NYC's sixth Burrough; the invisible, not-obvious, have-to-dig-deeper treasure. When it becomes perfectly clear that the lock that fits the key Oskar found will not reveal anything for him, Oskar says, "I’m not sorry to have disappointment. It’s better than having nothing." In his disappointment he is freed to look at what his father really left for him: the key that unlocks the secret of the sixth Burrough.

My friend and my sister have grown while pursuing their call. They do not have nothing. My friend is free now to look in a new direction for what her call might be leading her to. She will find other ways to feed her passion and to support the people she wanted to serve in this job. Like the banana tree, there is new growth hidden among the dried up leaves; sprouting up from where last year's growth left off. My sister isn't there yet; I hope she will be soon. We base our security on certainty that we know where we are headed; and that if we keep at it, eventually we will arrive. It's hard and frightening to let go of the pursuit, and turn around and face west.

"How do geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we humans know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if only we would listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown." -Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

*Inspired by Call Me, by Blondie, which I hear on an NPR interview after thinking about this post all day on Saturday. I love that. "Call me (call me) on the line/ Call me, call me any, anytime..."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Got to Get Back to the Garden

We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. 
(Woodstock, Joni Mitchell)

It rains Friday night. I open the window so I can listen to it on the roof. It is still raining Saturday morning; and it rains off and on all day as the clouds crack open then slide back together. The sky is hanging low early this morning; mist gathers on the windshield, though not enough to turn on the wipers. You know the kind. Except in North Carolina it is rare. Perhaps that is why I find it invigorating. And enervating. Uplifting and depressive. It is weather that puts me in touch with myself in a way that constant sun does not. It makes it okay to curl up on the couch if I want to and not feel like I should be outside or engaged in some activity. It makes it okay to be weepy and not think something is wrong with me.

I have been low-energy this week. All month, really. And I could make a long list of accomplishments. Odd that those two can stand together. I'm not sure I have ever thought about it. Energy is more than checking things off a to-do list. The check list merely serves as evidence that we have been energetic; it has nothing to do with being energized. Interior energy is a whole nother kettle of fish. It's January at work. January at my job takes a lot energy. There isn't any left when I get home. I haven't been in the garden; I haven't watched the sunrise from the cemetery (though I do catch the skyline on fire in my rearview mirror on my way to work and take my camera the next day); I haven't been walking at all. These are the energy producers in my life. I figure that out yesterday when I allow myself to be sidetracked from heading to Cafe Carolina for my Saturday coffee time. I go back in for my camera and spend a quarter of an hour taking pictures of raindrops and breathing the petrichor. The scent of the earth after rain is on my top ten list of favorite smells. Mid-afternoon I force myself out from under my afghan on the couch and walk in the cemetery in the drizzle with a friend. (Actually, I don't force myself, my commitment to my friend does; I would have happily stayed on the couch. Whatever works.)

It's so easy to think there is nothing to examine in the garden in January, so I don't go out. In a normal year, it's too early to watch for emerging plants. This year some have already emerged, but that was last month's discovery. There are a few swelling buds on the daffodils, but that's about all that's new. Aah, but there are the raindrops. Raindrops hanging on the nandina berries and glistening on the curry plant and the velvety euphorbia leaves. They form a necklace around the bottom of the candle holder hanging in the dogwood tree.There is a high gloss sheen on the autumn pumpkins I put in my garden when I switched the porch to Christmas decor. I try to take pictures of the drops on the weeping Japanese maple, but my camera lens extended in micro setting won't focus and keeps bumping the motion-sensitive drops and knocking them off as I move around trying to find enough contrast to focus.

There is an Indian (I think--I finally discovered something that Google doesn't know about, so I have to depend on memory) saying about the need for a "third place" in our lives. We have our work and we have our home. I expect many would say that is enough. That is richness. And many survive on a foundation of those two points. But for true and steady balance, we need a third place. (I am embellishing my memory here.)
Our passion may 
reside in any of the three points, but where our passion lies does not diminish the need for the other two. My work has never been my passion. I love my home and there is no place I would rather be, but with my family grown and gone it requires less of my attention and provides less inner energy. Both are important and necessary to my living. But it is the third place where my passion lies: the gardens (including the cemetery) and wherever I write. And I haven't been to the garden.

I am walking across the street from the parking lot when the neon OPEN sign comes on in the window of Cafe Carolina--welcoming me to my other third place. Brian holds the door open for me and gives me a hug, then brings me my coffee and water cups and tells me it's on him this morning. My eyes well up. I make no apology for the tears--it's raining.

I have a lengthy to-do list for today. I will add "get to the garden" to it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Like a Rolling Stone

Omniscient They say rolling stones gather no moss. And I guess that is true (though they may pick up a good bit of mud as they roll on). So does it follow that a stone at rest, growing moss, becomes stuck; trapped in its opaque moss casing? It is also true that one must slow down in order to notice that the constantly moving stone is gathering no plant matter.

Because we humans have well-honed selective--dare I say faulty--memory, we must record and compare to be sure of whether or not one something is different this year from last. I am a recorder, if not much else. Last year in a mid-January blog post, I included a picture of the first bloom on the winter jasmine. The photo above is this year's mid-January winter jasmine.

I started this blog in May 2010, thinking I would record a year in the garden, and after that there would be nothing new to write about and I would stop. But I just keep on rolling. And neither I nor the garden gather moss. I am different. The garden is different. The blog has become my journal of a life--all that's fit to print (which means a lot is left out). I no longer keep a journal in my own hand, which is a little sad to me, but there is a lot less verbal diarrhea and a lot more intentionality. When I did keep the journal, though, I often looked back at the same time in a previous year. And I often thought, "Good God, nothing has changed." I wondered how I could get unstuck. But the truth is, everything changes; it's just so tiny and slow that it doesn't always seem like it. The days whip by, the seasons cycle through at lightening speed, and our lives roll on inch by excruciating inch. That doesn't mean there is no change.

A year ago this month I tore my meniscus. In May I had surgery. My record of healing comes in the form of yoga. In fact, noticing change throughout my body is recorded in Julie's yoga classes at the YMCA. My very least favorite pose when I began yoga--when? three years ago, four? I must look back in my journals--was the dreadful pigeon (Eka Pada Kapotasana--I don't think I have heard Julie use the sanskrit name for that one). I don't know why it came to be my favorite over time. Perhaps because it is one that initially I Could Not Do At All. And then I could. It is a major victory. But after the injury and even more after knee surgery, I couldn't do it again on the right side. I suppose I did notice that each time we did it, I could bend it a little more and for a tiny bit longer, but I had given up thinking I would ever again do it completely. And, frankly, all I really cared about was the end goal. But this week I did it, a full year after the injury. (I still can't do a straight-legged forward fold with my palms on the floor. I think Never is a safe word with that one.)

That caring only about the end goal gives me pause. That's why we don't notice change. We tend to overlook the miniscule. We look too far ahead. And too far ahead looks too far to ever reach. And so we imagine that we are stuck--no longer a rolling stone. When we get stuck, stuff sticks to us, and that keeps us more stuck. There is a mathematical principle that I read in some novel several months back. It got my attention, so I wrote it down in my electronic file of Things I Might Want to Explore in a Blog Post. "Never start with the unknown variable." Even though we might think we know what's down the road, we really don't. It is an unknown variable. So we start with what we know. I think the same thing might be true when I begin the time in my life that what's ahead is most certain to be decline. The variable might be worse or better than what I imagine; but what I have is what I can notice and fall in love with today. My mother has started calling me, or sending me a note or even an email! about things she is falling in love with in that moment--like the fog in the valley. She often tells me what she has not been able to do; I love when she tells me what brings her joy. 

Shake off the moss. Shake off the mud. You are not stuck. Notice that pigeon is easier this month than it was last month. Start noticing the tiny buds on the hydrangea. One day they will have extravagant orbs of tiny flowers, or there might be a blight or an insect infestation or a hydrangea-loving deer. But right now the leaves are budding and beginning their slow rolling journey toward fullness. Rejoice in today's tiny bud. And eat your muffin one delicious bite at a time.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Every Little Epiphany

Wikipedia says epiphanies are rare and are the “last piece of the puzzle after significant labor." Any other use of the word, according to Wikipedia, is made of myth. Well, I’m just going to re-appropriate the word to suit me. Because I can. I think we have little aha moments pretty much every day. Often, like dreams, we don’t remember them. Because we don’t pay attention. What if we did? What if every time we we had a blast of insight we wrote it down? Just another way of being present. No epiphany too small. That is my epiphany for today.

For Those Who Have Far to Travel

An Epiphany Blessing

If you could see

the journey whole
you might never

undertake it;
might never dare
the first step

that propels you
from the place

you have known
toward the place

you know not.

Call it

one of the mercies
of the road:

that we see it

only by stages
as it opens

before us,

as it comes into
our keeping

step by

single step.
              -Jan Richardson
(art by Jan Richardson, Wise Women Also Came.

The last line in the biblical story of the three wise ones, is that they listened to their dreams and “returned to their country by another road.” Along with our epiphanies, it seems to me we don’t pay enough attention to our dreams--maybe we are even afraid to dream. I wonder if we dis dreams because to listen and follow might mean getting off the yellow brick road that is so clearly glistening (or even grown dull, but at least is familiar) before us?

A friend posted this Jan Richardson poem on her FaceBook page on Friday--the 12th Day of Christmas. It feels true to me. Looking too far ahead is likely to scare us into inactivity. If the Magi had known they would have to return home on an unfamiliar road, would they have gone? And if they had not gone, would it have changed the world as we know it? Probably not; it wouldn't have even been missed in the biblical tale, really. But the baby would have missed out on some really cool gifts, as would the wise people have missed out on being among the first to be in the presence of the Savior of the World, which was a gift to them. If we don't step out on a dream, or an epiphany, we might not ever even know what we missed. But oh the gifts when we take the risk.

Cellist Yo Yo Ma, one of the 2011 winners of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the performing arts, says he isn't a brave man, that he is scared much of the time. "But," he adds, "I must like being scared," since he keeps on doing things he fears. Doing it scared. I daresay he probably doesn't like being scared, but maybe it is his signal that he is on the path he needs to be on. Pushing the envelope; taking a different route home.

On Friday, after work, I was exploring my One Little Word through the January assignment, and I had a little epiphany. I remember it because I wrote it down, in a text message to a friend who is engaging a wonderful word of her own this year. I was looking through magazines for the word "go" to add to "boldly" on the page (and, no, neither of those is my word), when I came across the word, "be." In an epiphanal flash, I realize the direction I am seeking is not about going or arriving, but about being--being bold. That's not new, of course; it's some of my favorite spiritual mumbo jumbo: It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. But right there, in the first week of the year with my word, I learn something new about the one I have chosen, and why I chose it. Another little epiphany this week puts $15 in my wallet! Pay attention to your epiphanies--or your aha moments, whatever you want to call them.

The weather this winter is completely wacky. On Tuesday it is 19 degrees; yesterday it is 72. I build a fire on Friday, in spite of the warm weather, and have a burning of the greens. The cold snap finally completes the cycle in the garden. I pull the Persian shield and the purple heart, and cut off the limp elephant ear caladium stalks and leaves and the out-of-season new growth on the banana tree. The main stalks of the banana tree are still sturdy, however, so I leave them standing. Each of  the three winters since I planted the wee banana tree plant, I have treated it differently. I love my experimental garden philosophy. I could read and do what the "experts" say to do, but I prefer to learn as I go. It's my garden, and my life. Besides, the experts don't agree with one another. I am happy that the cold does not affect the single black-eyed Susan bloom, the lorapetalum, or the Lenten rose.

On Saturday's spring-like afternoon, I sun with Smudge on the patio, then walk to the cemetery, where the crows are preening their feathers in the tree tops. I discover that one of the stumps from a tree snapped off in the tornado in the Civil War section has been re-appropriated. I sit for a while and watch the clouds. It's quite comfy. I think of a quote I read with my morning coffee, "Barn burned down. Now I can see the moon" (Basho).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

One Little Word for a New Year

“And now let us welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been” (Rainer Maria Rilke).

A week ago I spend my Saturday journaling time making a list of highlights of 2011--what brought me happiness, and what brought sorrow. As I live with my list this week, I realize three things: 1) the joy far outweighs the sad; 2) without intentionality, I did not name the list successes and failures; 3) I drove every one of the pleasures, and the sorrows were all out of my control.

It felt like a hard year; I am surprised that the balance tips heavily toward joy. Why do we so often let the hard feel weightier than the good? It feels important that I don't think in terms of success and failure. Those words imply something completely different from how I am growing toward the sixth decade of life, and what is important to me. I didn't realize that before now. And, while there is always going to be disappointment and sorrow, we can't always control it; maybe we usually cannot. It is even true that sometimes with wishes fulfilled there is something lost. I don't believe that is always true, but often we must weigh the gain against the price and then proceed, or not. And when life gives us lemons, well, you know: we either make lemonade or jump into the disposal. Our choice.

I leave work at midday on Thursday to use some vacation hours. I feel a little lost; unsure of how to use my precious afternoon. I end up in the garden on what feels like a spring day. I go out to take the trash and recycling to the street, and don’t go back in. I start in on fall garden clean-up, without my gloves of course. It’s been so warm that a lot of the garden hasn’t died back in a timely manner. I start with the summer phlox. It is definitely dried up. I pull the annual penta out of the shard garden. I take a picture of the sun in the tops of the trees up through the dogwood. Without warning I am crying. I feel unbearable sadness. I take it out on the English ivy, just as I did when I began the garden nearly five years ago. It feels good to yank it loose, just as it did then. I get my gloves and clippers.

The banana grove has many dead leaves, but the stalks are still sturdy. I have been kind of enjoying the rattle when the wind blows. And there are several new leaves ready to unfurl. I cut off the leaves I can reach with my short clippers and leave the ones in the top. Perhaps they will protect the new leaves next week when the temperatures plummet to their lowest of the season after this weekend back in the mid-60s. (My mother wants to see another spring in the south before she leaves this life. She should have come for Christmas.) I don’t know what to do with the Purple Heart, the inspiration for the Global Purple front door. The dead parts are all tangled up with the not dead parts, and there is some new growth. I run my hands through it gently and throw out what comes loose, leaving the rest. It, too, will probably be gone after the coming cold snap. I feel like the Purple Heart. Much of who I have been in this city for the past 24 years is dead. I need to run my hands gently through my life and see what comes loose and what is left.

The year that was is gone, and I am looking forward. It is going to be an interesting year, for two things I am going to be a second time grandmother, and I will welcome a new daughter-in-law. Happy things. On day one the year is already unusual: I go out with friends and stay out to see the New Year open! We have dinner al fresco (yes, you read that right, outside in December). We walk among the revelers at First Night, and observe, but do not ride, the "similar to the one in Paris" ferris wheel in a downtown intersection; and touch for good luck, but do not stay to watch drop, the Raleigh acorn.

One of the experiences I am pursuing for this year is signing on to an online workshop called "One Little Word." Amelia did it last year and found it provocative and challenging. Participants choose one single word to invite into their life and engage with all year; to listen to and to see where it leads. Each month there is a prompt with a simple creative, writing, or photography project and a gentle reminder to check back in with your word. Presumably this time next year I will have a journal of some sort to look back on and see where my word took me.

I am not going to share here, right now, the word I have chosen. I need to let it dwell within me for now. I am sure you will see on the page where it is leading me. However, if any of you would like to join this venture with me, let me know. I will share my word with you, and embrace you and yours. Perhaps we can share our journeys on some online interactive web-something, or just between the two of us. Partners are always good when embarking on a new adventure. You can learn more at  One Little Word.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover” (Mark Twain).