Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Thread Runs through It

I consider myself a flight risk. I used to think it a liability; an apology for my flitting-from-one-thing-to-another behavior. I have recently come to embrace it. My way of being in the world. My way of experimenting with things I will never have expertise in, just desire to delve into new ventures. I can't hang on to everything--there isn't enough space--so I dabble and move on. I admire people who are maestros in their field; who stick with it through thick and thin and learn their music backwards and forwards. But it's not who I am, and I am going to stop making excuses for it. Perhaps that is the gift of the sixth decade.

I have lived in four states and nine towns; all but two of the latter as an adult. I count sixteen dwelling places (not including the orange VW van I lived in for one magnificent rambling summer). As a university student, I lived in three dorms in four years. I won't even count the number of jobs I have held; but except for my current job of ten years, they lasted just four months to four years. I have flirted with playing musical  instruments. Under my parents' influence, the piano lingered--though I no longer play; the flute, organ, recorder, and violin did not. I dabble in art forms until I tire of each and jump to a new one. Currently I  am a gardener, a writer, and a photographer. (Yes, I do, therefore I am. I don't believe one has to be an expert to name oneself fully.)

Sadly, I seem to be a relationship flight risk, too. I do have regrets in that arena. Two primary relationships that lasted many years, but are no more. Many friendships that were fully with me, and now are past tense. I am sorry for their loss. And without their endings, I would not be parts of me that I most love. Some things are hard to reconcile. They just are. Motherhood and family are relationships that are with me always; but are, of course, ever-evolving.

Last Sunday's beautiful sermon, given by Mahan Siler, helped me make sense of me. He spoke of the thread that winds through our lives, that we hang on to, even as the beads change. I would carry it a step beyond, and venture that the beads are kept on the thread with a knot on either side. As the thread wears and stretches, the beads may slide off over the tightened up knots and be lost; but the knots remain, keeping the thread strong. The knots are the part of us made strong by where we have been, who we have known, the experiences we have had.

The Way It Is

There is a thread you follow. It goes among
Things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what things you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
Or die; and suffer and grow old.
Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
             --William Stafford

My thread is creativity, adaptability, curiosity; dare I say, courage. Maybe I have a fear of being held hostage to attachment. I think that fear has the potential to be unhealthy, but I will venture to say that I live on the light side of it, not the dark. I examine it often to keep my thread curious, not afraid.

Back in the garden: this week has seen snow, 77 degrees, thunderstorm, torrential rain, and wind. The banana tree continues to astound. This is the first year I haven't had to cut it back to the ground. Instead of new stalks shooting up from the hard ground, the leaf fronds are emerging straight out of the dead-looking canes; like the phoenix rising. The single hyacinth my friend Porter gave me, is five plants this year. The snow drop leaves have, as they do each year, threaded themselves through my garden goddess. In looking for photos that represent my One Little Word, I find a goddess on the stump of a cutoff tree limb. The limb is gone, and beauty remains. The lenten rose--in ice and sun--the rain and the dawning of the day, like the thread, are constants.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

After Rain

Sometimes you just flat out blow it. After the all-day-and-night rain on Wednesday, I take my time getting up and out for work on Thursday. The pre-dawn sky appears cloud covered, meaning no sunrise will be visible. A good day to skip the dawn walk (again) and linger inside. When I step out the door heading for work I realize my mistake. The air is damp and fragrant, birds are singing, raindrops puddle in plants and drip from the trees, the sky is clearing and the fading gold clouds are skipping across it. My favorite kind of morning. Work can wait a few minutes. I tour the garden.

The bluebells are blooming! The narcissus buds are fat and the new growth on the roses is bursting with excitement. I find two close-to-the ground variety Japanese iris and tiny violets. On Saturday the snowdrops have opened and the back-garden camellia is looking like the Queen of Hearts rosebush in Wonderland. Closer examination finds the red peony and the sea oats emerging from the dirt.

Ah Saturday. A warm day that screams BE OUTSIDE BE OUTSIDE! Smudge and I hear and obey. A juvenile hawk is sitting in the tree outside the cafe. Seems like that should be some sort of omen. I buy and plant another half flat of pansies and can't resist purchasing a false something or other that calls to me. (I really don't understand why botanists feel a need to name anything "false.") I pull a boat load of the wretched carpet grass out of the flower beds. Surely it is too early for it. Oh, we didn't have 
winter. It is the after-pulling that makes it worthwhile: the open space its absence creates as I unchoke the annuals and perennials. I decide to try some early vegetables for the first time. I dig the leaf mulch into the vegetable strip, smooth out the rich soil (oops, forgot the compost) and plant snow peas and Brussels sprouts. I was too late with the sprouts last year. Trial and error and try again gardening. And I finally cut the dead leaves and upper stalks of the banana tree. It is still sturdy up over my head. I pull down an ENORMOUS vine that starts in the neighbor's tree and wends its way through my gardenia and camellia. How did that go unnoticed long enough to get so big?

Other rainy seasons have come to end, too. On Tuesday, I officially declare the annual December/January work hell
over-- 2011 done with on Valentine's Day. For ten years these have been months to just get through; but when it's over--the books closed on the old year, January caught up and closed, the new year budget adopted, and the backlog of filing done--it is the day after the rain. The day of opening up space.

Late Friday I receive a text message from a struggling friend. She thought she was out of the woods following a huge disappointment, but the pain has taken up residence again. We so want to be in the clear after the rain as soon as possible. But the forest is big, the path is long. And we are not lost. 

I don't know what is up with Julie on Friday, but yoga is so hard. I am popping ibuprofen for screaming pectoral muscles (Saturday yard work didn't help). On a bright note, after about the eighth chaturanga --the pose I decided long ago I just couldn't do and wasn't going to try--I forgot to not try. I did the last two without putting my knees down. But then I collapse on side plank and instead do gate pose with my knee down on the second side.

Pullen Church is honoring, this weekend, the 20th Anniversary of the church's decision to be a welcoming and affirming congregation and to bless the unions of gay and lesbian couples. As I listen last night to the three lay leaders who shepherded the church through the time before, during, and following the open forum and voting period; through the hate mail, the grateful mail, the picketers on the 
sidewalk, the national media, I find myself reflecting on where I was 20 years ago. I was discovering a part of myself about which I had been unaware. I was coming out in secrecy and silence, barely able to understand myself and completely unable to share it. I was an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church; a Church that, on a national level, was about to come to a completely different conclusion about homosexuality in the church. Amendment B to the Book of Church Order, passed a few years after Pullen's courageous decision, reads:

"Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament."

Eighteen years ago, shortly before the amendment was passed, I resigned as Elder and began attending Pullen, leaving the denomination in which I was baptized, confirmed, married, and ordained--and deeply disappointed. I wept each Sunday morning for at least a year as I was told both verbally from the pulpit and emotionally by those in the pews, that I was okay. That I was still a child of God. A couple of years 
ago, Amendment B was repealed and a revision passed, eliminating the explicit language about marriage and leaving the decision to ordain to the local governing body. Six hours before I sat listening to what happened at Pullen 20 years ago, the first openly gay candidate for ordination in the New Hope Presbytery (NE North Carolina) presented herself for examination and was approved for ordination. Last night is an emotional juxtaposition of events for me. A little rain falls from my eyes; grateful that God is still doing a new thing in the world; grateful to have spent the last 18 years in a church that opened its eyes and heart long ago.

Yesterday I finish reading Patti Digh's Life is a Verb. This book and its companion, Creative is a Verb, have added indescribable value to my living and have frequently found their way into this blog. I have read them both twice now, and may start right in on a third reading. The last chapter of Life is a Verb is an urging to "live an irresistible obituary." What would I like people to say about me after I am gone? And what daily decisions must I make to get there? "Live an extraordinary and irresistible life to ensure that when you die, the people who are left have the feeling that with your passing the world has become a duller place." There are many in my life who will leave the world a dull place when they are gone. I am so thankful for you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


My camera and I venture out on a lunchbreak walk on one of the week's warm Carolina spring-in-February days. We are looking for snapshots that speak to me of my One Little Word for the February assignment. I get sidetracked by cobblestones that pave one of the Cameron Park alleyways. I spend the rest of the week noticing what a linear world we live in.

Modern brickwork is of identically-sized bricks; and, unless the designer chooses to mix and match, they are all the same color. The patterns, though varied, are symmetrical; and they are tightly bound one to the other. It takes a jackhammer to dislodge them. Though I am sure the creators of cobblestone roads laid them out with some
kind of a plan, cobblestones are not all the same size or shape or thickness. They had to work with what they had, so the pathways are not linear. The stones are not mortared into place. Over the decades of time and weather, and the pounding of horses hooves, they have shifted; some have come out, leaving holes that no one bothers anymore to replace. Generations since they were put down, they appear haphazard in their beauty. I have to slow down when I walk on them, which is why I notice them.

My life is more cobblestone than brick. It didn't start out that way. I had a plan, one set before me by my parents' example. There is great comfort in having a plan; one that doesn't require
much thinking or decision-making, other than maybe at the beginning of the journey. Not to trivialize the traditional get married-have children-follow a career path up the symmetrical ladder that is missing no rungs-life, but the GPS is programmed and works well as long as the driver makes no off-grid mistakes (or choices) or the battery dies. There are of course, detours that the nice voice in the unit's box didn't anticipate, and she has to redirect. It takes a few moments to get back on track. Sometimes I long for a brick road life. Well, not really.

So all week I notice the straight lines: crosswalks, fences, power lines, buildings, walls, ceiling tiles. And I notice the contrasts: a cobbled together wall; a newly-blind woman learning to walk with a white cane tap-tapping back and forth and forth and back, unable to see the dangers that lie just ahead of her feet and her cane (perhaps it's better that way), but thankfully with a friend
walking with her as she learns to navigate; a vine wending its way around the linear fence in its way, and the square-cornered path of my passion flower vine. Like me, the passion flower began on a linear path, then it erupts into randomness, going this way and that and popping up in odd places, but always growing and blooming.

I pause on my early morning walk and watch the asymmetrical jet streams slow dance across the sky, glowing pink and gold in the dawning sky.

Linear, symmetrical paths are easier to race through life on; it's easier not to stumble and fall, or get lost. Cobblestone paths have bumps and can be unpredictable, often ending before reaching a destination. Connecting paths are not clearly marked, requiring some off-road walking and searching and path-cutting. Perhaps my side-tracked observations this week do tell me something about my One Little Word, after all.

"Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use." -Carlos Castanada

Happy Valentine's Day to all my dear readers. May your journey be paved with at least a few cobblestones.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Spin Cycle

"It is not where we stand but in what direction we are moving." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I skinned my knee. Wow. I skinned my knee (the very expensive one). I haven't done that since I was 12. I am so stunned by the fact of the fall, I don't even think about it hurting. (Walking and texting. Not a good idea. As friend Charly says, Oprah never warned of the dangers of that.) I congratulate myself on keeping my head about me, and my feet in contact with the ground after I stub my toe, long enough to propel myself to the hood of a parked car where I stick out my arm and slow down the fall to hands and knees. And I didn’t drop my phone, either. Later, sitting on a bench reading a book just acquired at the library, three young mothers parade by pushing babes in strollers. Wow. Been a long time since I did that, too. I could feel old: clumsy and so way-past childbearing years. Oddly, I feel great! Young enough to be transported back to the babies-in-buggies-with-buddies years. Young enough to still skin my knee and get up and walk away from it. (Fortunately no one saw my mishap. That would have been a game-changer.)

Groundhog's Day was, of course, this week. I never paid much attention before--it's not, afterall, a day off work--until a few years ago when dear Dori revealed it as her favorite holiday and the movie her favorite flick. In the movie, Bill Murray--a news reporter covering breaking news in Punxsutawney, PA--wakes up to exactly the same day over and over and over. He cycles through all the emotions: curiosity, frustration, anger. His responding actions follow suit. He cannot make the day change no matter how negative he becomes, and how violently angry he is. Finally he figures it out. To make the day different, he has to change who he is in it--in a positive, life-giving rather than life-diminishing way.

How often I keep waiting for my environment, my circumstances to change; thinking they will all on their own. There is a woman, I will call her Oz, who has been at Cafe Carolina most Sunday mornings for the past year and a half. We have never spoken. I remain hunched over my laptop writing; she over her Kindle reading. Both of us throwing off don't-bother-me vibes. Both of us, it turns out, wanting to speak, but afraid to interrupt the other's sacred time. Last week, after arriving at the same moment at the coffee pot, she makes the break and stops by my table. She opens with a line that makes it clear she read my blog the previous week. Long story short, she got the name of this blog long ago, reading it over my shoulder from the booth behind me, and has been reading it ever since. She is in Raleigh long-term-temporarily and has spoken about me to her partner who lives in one of the northern cold states. Her partner encouraged her to just say hello. And she finally did. Thank you, Oz, for altering our little Groundhog's Day scenario. (We talk this morning for a long time. Delightful. And many discovered connections.)

The point is, we don't have to do much to change who we are in our day. And one little change has a domino effect. Yesterday I go to a Yoga for Women over 50 class at a studio other than the Y. A new class with different people, a new space, a new day for yoga, a change in Saturday routine. (Same wonderful instructor--I have my limits.) That hour changes the whole day. (It also helps that it is gray and raining.) The yoga opens me up and inspires a creative project involving magazines, scissors, and glue that makes me very happy; I bake bread and make soup, loving the mixing and kneading and chopping. And the aroma that permeates the house. The devouring is pretty darn good, too.

This morning I read last year's Groundhog's Day post. There is a photo of the emerging peony. We have all been exclaiming about the early spring this year, but I check this morning--no emerging
peony. But the banana tree has many new tightly-curled leaves this week; having never frozen back to the ground, it didn't have to start over. The tulip magnolia that bloomed too soon in Fletcher Park is gone, but I find another. And the cherry trees in the Park are blooming their outrageous-scented pinkness. A swinger of swings delights in newfound freedom, swinging so much higher than he dared a year ago. My blog of a year ago, also proclaims January warmth. Perhaps the pre-season warmth and bloom is not as unusual as we think it is. Maybe it is the same over and over. Could it be that we are different? I hope so. In spite of ourselves, we continually reinvent some small part of our Selves and then credit it to external events. I wonder if we are so afraid of change, that we deny that we have.

On Thursday afternoon, I can't figure out why my left arm and my expensive right knee are sore. By evening, the pain has spread to my shoulders. Friday morning, my lower back. Oh. Yes. The Fall. Today I am pretty much back to normal. It is a good lesson. Changing direction can be painful; but we survive, and our days look different because we are different in them. This week I am determined to rise 15 minutes earlier and get back to my dawn walk. Missing the sunrise affects me all day. I will miss the 15 minutes of mattress time for only a nano-second.

"Get yourself to your life...Rise above the aches and pains, the nausea, exhaustion, general malaise. The show won't last forever." -Patti Digh