Thursday, December 29, 2016

Little Feathers: Stories

Little Feathers: Stories: Ever since Homer sent Odysseus on a hero's journey. Ever since Beowulf chased the dragon Grendel. Ever since Hamlet gave us sympathetic ...

Stories

Ever since Homer sent Odysseus on a hero's journey. Ever since Beowulf chased the dragon Grendel. Ever since Hamlet gave us sympathetic eyes into a suicidal soul. Ever since Margaret talked to God as only a twelve year old can. Stories that wrestle with the fundamental questions we all ask sometime in this life give us new perspective, new compassion. New heart.

I love good writing. But even more than that, I love a good story. When a book has both, it is pure magic. Some incredible wordsmiths paint memorable pictures. But some great story tellers never use complex sentences or four syllable words. They simply take us to a place where we need to be. They simply lay bare the human condition and let us feel life along with the characters. Sometimes it's fun to read about someone like me, with a life like mine. But the big payoff for me comes when I read about something I could not have known from living my particular life.

Yesterday we saw the movie Manchester By The Sea. It was powerful. And it did what good story telling does. It fleshed out the character of a man broken by a horrible incident. Not a two dimensional character. Not the one we hear about in a news report who did something terrible, that we would label as a complete and utter loser. But a news report doesn't take us into the man's heart and let us see pain so big that he will never get past it.

Here's to the writers who have a story to tell. Here's to the writers who brave rejection and self doubt and more rejection, but keep after the story they have to tell. A hero's journey takes many different roads. Just ask Harry Potter. Now, there's a great story!



Thursday, December 22, 2016

Little Feathers: In the Middle of a Phrase

Little Feathers: In the Middle of a Phrase: Sally Nava, our beautiful middle child, teaches music to young children and the adults who love them. A couple of days ago she taught some h...

In the Middle of a Phrase

Sally Nava, our beautiful middle child, teaches music to young children and the adults who love them. A couple of days ago she taught some holiday classes to her families, and I got be a part of them, singing along and reading the Night Before Christmas.

One activity she taught was a simple line dance to a Christmas carol. She changed her mind about which song to use, and that meant that the "turn one quarter and face a new direction" happened in the middle of a phrase. Which is exactly what I need to practice!

Rarely do all my ducks line up before an event. Rarely does every detail fall into place. My check list always has blank boxes, including sometimes failing to make a check list. Rarely, rarely, rarely am I able to meditate without the tugging and pulling of rogue thoughts sneaking into my space. So I thought, when I was dancing with Sally's class, that it is really quite wonderful to learn early on that freedom comes with flexibility. That I can't wait for the next musical phrase when it's time to begin a new dance phrase. You turn one quarter and go!

Christmas comes to those of us who celebrate it, whether or not the preparations have been completed. Parents with young children know that better than anyone. Except maybe pastors and church musicians. Christmas comes and somehow we arrive at the day, take a deep breath of family love or friend companionship or travel wonder, and all the lists fall away.

There is great freedom in being able to sit with the chaos and meditate in the vortex. There is great freedom in feeling absolute whimsy at moving to the right four steps in the last quarter of musical phrase. Try it. Try beginning your Silent Night vocals on the second beat. I dare you. You'll laugh and start over, guaranteed.

We're in the middle of a phrase, Bob and I. We'll be putting our house back on the market soon. It's tricky to wait and see where we want to live next. While we're still in the middle of this house. I want to know, know, know so I can be ready to turn one quarter and face a new direction. Being patient with the phrasing isn't natural. I'm convinced that impatience is basic human default thinking. But then, so are a lot of other things I spend my life working to overcome. So we'll just keep turning one quarter and stepping out.

Wishing you all joyous Holidays. I'll see you on the dance floor.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Little Feathers: Cindy Lou Who

Little Feathers: Cindy Lou Who: Where are you Christmas, why can't I find you? The commercials this time of year are full of luxury cars, diamond rings, fantasy vacat...

Cindy Lou Who

Where are you Christmas, why can't I find you?

The commercials this time of year are full of luxury cars, diamond rings, fantasy vacations. All with a big red bow tied on top. Churches are extra beautiful, with greenery and poinsettias everywhere. Every store wants to sell us the perfect gift. Because if we spend enough, our loved ones will get what they want, and that will make us happy.

The news footage doesn't share the vision of sugar plums. Aleppo. China installing weapons systems in disputed waters. Homeless people literally freezing to death. Murderers everywhere. Slanderers running amok with fake news.

Where are you Christmas, why I can't I find you?

Some say there is a war on Christmas. I agree. But I don't think it is because of different cultures or political correctness or Christianity falling out of fashion. It should never have been the fashion to begin with, if fashion is all it was. The war on Christmas is coming hard and breaking in wave after wave of assault. And it's coming from the great disparity between those who can put the big red bows on gifts and those who can't put food on the table for their children. In every war there are permanent casualties.

Where are you Christmas, why can't I find you?

America is fractured into groups who've lost the ability to talk to each other. We talk at each other, spouting ideology, but if everyone is screaming, who can possibly be listening? Good people believe we must help the poor. Good people disagree on how that should be done. Meanwhile, good people are rolling up their sleeves and doing it. That work is urgent. It is necessary to our very survival as a civilized people. It does not depend on government programs or elected officials. It depends on the Cindy Lou in each of us to find the heart in the Grinch. Who is the Grinch? Our own miserliness that demands our own way or fights so hard to keep what we have that we turn a blind eye to our own power for good to help those in need.

Where is Christmas? It's not in the gifts or the tree or the light or the music. Those only serve as the backdrop. Christmas is in the cold, the damp, the animal stable. Christmas is in the hope born to a mother who dared to say yes to the ridiculous, a father who put aside his own pride and married a pregnant girl. And not just that one baby 2000 years ago. Hope is born again and again every time someone takes a chance on the ridiculous notion that giving is the thing that will save us. That giving will save Christmas from becoming actually ridiculous.

What can I do today to stand up for good, to offer help in this cold winter? Imagine if all of us spend time each day seeking out a way to help. What if the first thought in our morning mind was, how can I be of service today? I say the world would change. I say the war on Christmas and every other thing would be over. Because good will triumph if enough of us say that it must with our deeds and not just our lips.

Where are you Christmas? "To be determined". By us.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Little Feathers: Christmas In A Minor Key

Little Feathers: Christmas In A Minor Key: There is a reason that we love to skip straight to the angel chorus astounding the shepherds with glad tidings. The hard part of Christmas c...

Christmas In A Minor Key

There is a reason that we love to skip straight to the angel chorus astounding the shepherds with glad tidings. The hard part of Christmas can be too painful to dwell on for long. But anyone who has faced the holiday after losing a loved one knows that ho-ho-ho can sound hollow, or worse. For me, only the whole story will do. Only the part where God looked into the hearts of people and knew we needed a story born of our own sorrow, our own worry, our own limited understanding. That's why my favorite Christmas carols are the ones set in a minor key (I'll use that term for simplicity, so if you are music person please don't be offended when I describe a plainsong that way). The music that voices the yearning for solace speaks to me at Christmas time, more than any other.

My favorite was written in the 5th century. Before Pope Gregory gathered songs and called them Gregorian Chants. It's called Of the Father's Love Begotten. Just writing the title calls the haunting melody into my heart. It is unlike modern Christmas Carols that use harmony modes. It was originally sung in unison, and was unaccompanied. Just humans singing in a world where music is sometimes the greatest comfort. It has lasted so long, handed down through centuries, because it is beautiful, and because it is hopeful. Because people who loved it before I was born needed assurance that we don't exist in a vacuum, that there is a reason we are here.

There is much about the Christmas story that we hurry past, not taking a long hard look. I do it because I can't bear to think of the tragedy of the parents whose baby sons were murdered at Herod's command. All male children under two years of age were slaughtered. I want to cry with them and rage at God who let that happen. It's no different from the tragedy in our world. How can a God of mercy allow children to starve to death? To drown trying to flee from murderers in their own country? What does it mean that God should intervene to send Jesus, but not to save the suffering children? I don't know. I won't know in this lifetime. When I feel the crush of sadness about it, about the loss every person will endure, I don't want to hear the glorious strains. I want to hear the cry of God's own heart. Because I can't pretend that all is well and lovely.

What Child Is This is set to the beautiful melody Greensleeves. The minor key draws me to the beautiful lyrics. Because even in the triumphant last two lines of each verse, the victory stands in the middle of the pain, not in denial. And I believe that is where Christmas is the most valuable, the most important. Not in pretending that everything is fine. But that even in the darkest time of the year, even when we are mired in the darkest times of our lives, we are not alone in that darkness. God does not rise above that and ignore our sorrow. Instead, the story of a baby born in the squalor of a stable, born to common people rather than royalty, born into the bondage of the rule of Rome, that story is what gives me hope. If you get a chance, look up the tune to this ancient plainsong. You can be a purist and not listen to goopy SATB versions, or you can just enjoy a good recording. Think of the voices who have sung it through the centuries. Evermore and evermore.

1. Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.


2. Oh, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Savior of our race,
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.

3. O ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

4. This is He whom Heaven-taught singers
Sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the Long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.

5. Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.






Monday, October 3, 2016

Little Feathers: Oh, THAT Inner Child

Little Feathers: Oh, THAT Inner Child: It used to make me a little uneasy, the admonishment to "get in touch with your inner child". Like a lot of other people, I poo-po...

Oh, THAT Inner Child

It used to make me a little uneasy, the admonishment to "get in touch with your inner child". Like a lot of other people, I poo-poohed what we liked to belittle with the term psychobabble. You know, because, clearly, we were too sophisticated and well adjusted to need any kind of therapy. Funny how trends go. Or maybe we really do simply grow more open minded with age. At any rate, this morning while checking Facebook (where else can I see my friends from 62 years of life lived in different places?) I had one of the those little epiphanies. And yes, we have joked about those, too. But this was a sweet one, and I had to write it down so I could remember it happened.

Part of the reason I never like the inner child saying was because I thought it meant to go back in time and try to heal the hurts your young self suffered. Or to peel back the years of protective armor and see who is really under there, all vulnerable and raw. No doubt that is part of the agenda, for some. But this morning I was reminded that children can sometimes have a purity of thought, a keener understanding of things that has not yet been muddied by self preservation. It's that inner child I want to summon.

Remember when all of life was ahead of you, and you didn't worry about anything? I mean, go all the way back to the time when you thought your parents could shield you from anything scary. When just putting on pajamas warm out of the dryer was a moment of nirvana. Eating your grandma's cooking nourished your heart because you felt her love way deep down in your bones. When running was easy, skipping was preferred, and riding a bike was very much like having wings. Remember when you imagined your life as an adult, and you were just barely short of a superhero? Before you messed up enough to doubt yourself. Before tragedies made you doubt that anyone anywhere was really in charge.

Children see things that adults can't see sometimes. That there really is such a thing as magic. That no biologist can categorize away the magic of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. That falling leaves whisper as they circle to the ground. That sticks floating in a stream will someday reach the ocean, and it will matter to someone or something somewhere. That the safety they feel in their family's circle of love is real and lasting. They have not yet had the wonder educated out of them.

One author told a workshop of children's writers that some of us have a child inside who remembers clearly what it felt like to be a certain age. Not that we are stuck there, needing to solve some puzzle to move on and grow up, like some poor stranded ghost who has to prove who murdered them. But that some have been gifted with the sight of a child for whatever reason. Maybe just to create stories kids can relate to. The picture books I love the most are the ones that the author got from the child-mind, leaving behind the temptation to let the adult peek through and wink at the reader. There are a lot of those, too. And some are so clever I have to like them. But the pure ones, the ones that take me back to the simple time when I really did believe in magic, those books stay with me.

Imagine if every adult walking the earth saw the intricate beauty of creation and put the preservation of that magic above monetary gain. What if it was simply more important to honor the earth and the sea and the sky that it was to make money off them? Was there ever a child who had a lemonade stand and refused to serve the friend who came along without a nickle? Was there ever a child who saw a dog suffering and didn't cry tears of shared pain?

Imagine if every human had the instinct to be honest that small children have. Not cruel, not mocking and shaming, but honest. Because if we are truly honest, we have to admit that we not better than someone else. That just because we were born in a loving home to parents with the means to make a good life, doesn't mean we deserve more than some who were not. Kids know that luck should come from a four leaf clover, not the color of your skin or the color of your political party.

Children aren't natural bullies. They have to learn that. Small children, left to their own natural inclinations, are loving.

It's not rocket science. It's not even a new thought (yes, Shakespeare was right). But it is worth hoping for. That we can get in touch with that inner child. The one who loves life and believes in the good, sees the unanswered questions as fabulous mysteries, and hopes for the future. That inner child.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Little Feathers: The Dance Floor

Little Feathers: The Dance Floor: For the past several years, I've been thinking about my life as a journey. Focusing on the moving forward part, not expecting to arrive ...

The Dance Floor

For the past several years, I've been thinking about my life as a journey. Focusing on the moving forward part, not expecting to arrive a destination. All the while thinking that I needed to be growing, learning, gaining insight and wisdom. Somehow it all seemed uphill. And yet, there were niggling inconsistencies with that model of my purpose in life. For one, why would I seem to need to learn the same lessons over and over, if I was indeed on a path toward something? Even switchbacks constantly gain elevation.

Happily, that pathway/journey/hike-up-the-spiritual-mountain metaphor was blown up recently by a mind-altering video my friend Jeri Saper shared on facebook. What if life is not about the journey? What if it's not about taking a trip to somewhere more enlightened? What if it's more about the experience of this moment, more along the lines of flowing with the music. A dance floor instead of a mountain path?

It works. It works for me. It explains why I would experience lessons again and again in a slightly different way. Maybe a different spiritual language. And this idea makes it okay for me to learn it again. I get another go at it, not because I'm not smart enough or good enough, but because I will benefit from experiencing it again. Because it's a gift. Sure, Judy, you can do that in your street shoes. But can you do it in tap shoes? Pointe shoes? Cowboy boots?

I love the dance floor idea for other reasons. It's a level place where others are laughing, dancing, singing, enjoying the music. Sometimes we dance together, sparking energy in each other. Sometimes we stand on the edge and watch, not because we can't do it, but because we need a rest. Because we need to watch. Because watching is therapeutic.

Back on the trail, I was only aware of those who were further along than me. And I could never catch up. On the dance floor, we are all in this together. And if the DJ plays one we don't like, well, we just sit it out. Or we dance anyway, to heck with the expectations of the song. I can do a mean Charleston to a hip hop song.

Perception is everything. I like this dance floor thing. Music, please.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Little Feathers: Growing Up Big

Little Feathers: Growing Up Big: Growing Up Big Rewind. Back to 1954. A really big baby, one with toes that hung over the edge of the box for footprints on the birth ce...

Growing Up Big

Growing Up Big

Rewind. Back to 1954. A really big baby, one with toes that hung over the edge of the box for footprints on the birth certificate. Could be a linebacker in the early stages. Or a forward for the Celtics. Just one problem. This baby was a girl. In a time when the perfect size for girls was 5’2”.
***
It was rarely hot where I grew up. Even in the summertime. Western Washington was a green, cool, mountain ringed place. My family was small but perfect. One older brother and a mom and dad who loved to do fun things. Like drive into the mountains to find a perfect picnic spot. Usually beside a clear, icy cold rushing river or serene blue lake, but always filled with the smell of pine trees. Or a drive into the snow covered mountains to sled or ski. Walks on the waterfront in Seattle, drives up a mountain to see a view in our Jeep. Jumping in an icy cold river and getting out as fast as humanly possible. Pretty idyllic.

Sometimes my grandparents went with us. They were the best. They added a magical ingredient to my childhood- they had time.  My grandma had time to make matching dresses for me and my dolls. Time to bake special cakes for birthdays, to grow incredible flowers, make pies and cakes and lunch for me to eat when I walked to her house from school. These last gifts of love added to the picture of a girl growing up big.

I didn’t really know I was “chubby” until I saw family pictures that showed a pouching belly and rounded cheeks. I might have been ten when I tried my first diet. I had complained to my grandma about being fat, and she, being a professional dieter, bought me Metrecal. It was a disgusting chocolate liquid with little odd tasting chocolate cookies to go with. It tasted more like metal than like food, and after my first Metrecal lunch, I cried. Grandma felt bad. She made me a hamburger. But it had begun. The search for the magic bullet that would make me smaller.

Most of the time I pretended I didn’t care that I was big. Even if I was in the middle of the back row of every school picture. No one in my family was petite. I felt normal around them. My mom was tall, my dad was tall, my brother was tall. I didn’t think any of them should be smaller. Just me.  I never wished for a different family, because mine was perfect.

I was lucky I didn’t grow up in high society. My town was normal, all American, hard working. Nothing terribly fancy, and designer clothes were something I didn’t encounter until I was grown. I can remember the excitement of ordering school clothes from a catalog- probably JC Penney or Sears and Roebuck (whatever happened to Roebuck, anyway?) and anticipating the arrival of a package just for me. Pleated skirts and sweaters complimented the dresses my grandma made for me (and spent hours ironing) and if we had to order the chubby blue jeans, I wasn’t aware.

I loved looking at pictures of ballerinas, and kept asking for ballet lessons. Finally, when I was in fourth grade, my mom took me an old VFW hall where a woman was teaching ballet to middle class kids. I fell in love. I fell in love with Miss Van Valey, my teacher, with her stories of life on the stage, of dancing all over the world, of the beauty and rigor of ballet. And the truly great thing, for me, was that for the first two years of my ballet life, we danced in the big room downstairs that had no mirrors. I’m not sure I would have made it past that stage if I had seen myself. Years later, Miss Van Valey, who loved me very well, told me I was the most amazing success story she had. That I had been so awkward she was surprised I turned out so well. She said it because she believed it was a huge compliment.

By 7th grade, we were upstairs in the mirror lined studio where I would spend much of my teenage years working on my turnout, my elevation, turns, jumps, adagio…where I would stare at my tights-and-leotard-clad self and wish to be smaller. What I lacked in natural ability, I made up for in passion. I loved ballet. I could not wait to dance on point. And that brings up my feet. My shoe size.
Remember those toes that edged across the line on the birth certificate? They kept on edging. Into a size many stores did not even carry. A size ten. Goodness, the shoe clerk said. Well, I could show you nice pair of wingtips. Thank heaven for the basement of Nordstrom in Seattle. They carried tens. In women’s shoes. But point shoes were another concern. We ordered them from New York.

My parents were very supportive of my ballet habit. They never said so, but I imagine they were grateful for the grace it was lending me in my awkward years. My mom wrote out checks to the ballet school, ordered shoes from New York, and my parents were both at every dance recital. In a time when all my friend’s moms were stay-at-home housewives, my mom had a great career with the phone company. My dad worked two jobs. My brother and I had many opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had. My grandparents pitched in to take care of us when we were small.

Ballet was more blessing than curse, even taking into consideration that I developed an adversarial attitude toward my own body. It fed my soul, clich├ęd as that sounds. And while it was feeding my soul, I was beginning to starve my body. It began slowly. My dance friends and I would envy the ultra-thin bodies of other dancers. I cut calories. Skipped meals. In the cafeteria at school, many days I pretended to eat, throwing out most of my lunch. I poured milk in a cereal bowl and dumped it out, wanting my parents to think I’d already eaten breakfast. In high school I had a 24” waist. But I thought I was fat. When I looked in the mirror at dance, all I could see were my thighs. Topping out at 5’ 10” by junior high, I felt like a giant everywhere I went. Boys didn’t even catch up with me until later in high school. I would have been a first class slumper if Miss Van Valey hadn’t stayed on my case about my posture.

Miss Van Valey discovered my self-defeating thoughts one day after class when I admitted I would give anything to look like a girl in my class. My teacher made me sit down with her (arthritic knees that looked like bags of rocks kept her from dancing, but she could still demonstrate positions perfectly) and talk it through. She told me I was perfect. That I was healthy and beautiful. That I was a good dancer. That I had stage presence and could pursue a dance career if I wanted. But that life was more than being thin, more than looking a certain way. Life was looking at others, and yourself, with love. Then she told me the dancer I envied was fighting a terrible disease. Her thinness was not natural. She was ill. I remember this conversation very well. It made an impact, but the sneaky lie of perfection-seeking was too embedded at that point to be cured in one conversation.

My senior year I had a solo. I danced on point in a beautiful costume in a theater filled with dancer’s families and friends. In 1972 not that many people danced. Ballet was pretty much the only genre that was widespread. I knew only a handful of girls in my giant high school who danced. So when some of my friends came to my senior recital, it was the first time they had seen me dance. One friend told me she couldn’t really believe how graceful I was, or how I could stand on my toes like that. It helped me to know they thought I was amazing, but it was how I felt when I danced that made me call myself a dancer. It was a descriptor I would not bestow lightly. I was snobby about who was, and who was not, a dancer. But there was always a voice inside insisting that I certainly didn’t look like a dancer. I needed to be thinner.

The summer after graduation, Miss Van Valey brought in a new teacher. He was strict. He pounded with a stick to the beat, and used the stick to point out errant body positions. Not meanly. Just strictly. After class one day I was putting away my point shoes. By then, I had had my big toe nails surgically made smaller, so my shoes were less bloody than before. At any rate, I was sitting there winding the ribbons around my shoes, tucking in the lamb’s wool wisps I still used to pad the toe box. The teacher came and sat beside me. He asked me my plans, and when I told him I was going to Pacific Lutheran University in the fall, he told me I should consider dance. He told me that Balanchine was changing the face of the dance world, that he wanted tall dancers. Of course, he wanted tall, thin dancers, but thinness could be attained. At that point, I was 5’10” and weighed 136 pounds. With a large frame, I was thin by most standards. But not ballet’s. But that was not a problem, he said. He could give me tips to lose weight. A heavy smoker, he could only make it through one class without going outside to light up. I am pretty sure that was his “tip”. He wanted me to take advantage of a Joffrey Summer Scholarship.

I didn’t know whether to be flattered or scared to death. I spent some days thinking over what he said.  I made some excuses, but deep down I think I knew I might pull off dancing in the corps of some small company, but I would never make it beyond that. I told myself I had other fish to fry, (not that I would ever eat them if they were fried) but I had other dreams. So I finished classes that summer with that teacher, and told him I was not going to pursue dance, but would go to college. He thought it very, very odd that I would go to a college hat didn’t even offer a dance degree. He told me I’d regret it.

I didn’t. Regret it, that is. I did wonder about it, years later. You know, we all play, “what if…” but still I wouldn’t change my past. Oh, I would hope to avoid some mistakes. I would hope to learn to love my body sooner. Spend less time on diets and more on appreciating the incredible machine I live in that can do so many things. I would love it if I hadn’t passed on my blindness to self-acceptance to my daughters.  If the faulty thinking had stopped with me, I would be ever so grateful. If I had embraced growing up big as a perfectly good way to be. But you know what they say, (I don’t know who “they” are, but sometimes they’re funny and correct at the same time) if wishes were horses, we’d all have saddle sores.

Sometimes I think of my ballet years, and I know they have grown rosier in memory. But I’m grateful to have those happy memories of childhood and youth. I can still do a gloriously graceful grand reverence in my mind. That’s the pretty combination that ends in a bow at the end of class. I hear Mrs. Erheart playing the piano, smell the rosin, feel the watery Washington sunshine coming in the windows of the studio. I can see Miss Van Valey, her kind and wrinkly face, her twinkly eyes, her smile when we got it right. It was worth it. All the checks my mom wrote, all the bloody toes, all the missed high school activities. When you find something that feeds your soul, that’s how it is.

We are given our bodies as a gift. We can use the efforts of our minds to grow in grace, to embrace our gifts, or we can spend our time wishing for something we can’t, and won’t, ever be. Maybe growing up is simply the process of learning that. Growing up. Growing up big, or small, or in between. Growing up is the thing. It’s not too late. Even at 62. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Little Feathers: She Just Stood

Little Feathers: She Just Stood: Written with one person in mind, shared in awe of people everywhere who get up one more time. She just stood. She just stood there, still...

She Just Stood

Written with one person in mind, shared in awe of people everywhere who get up one more time.

She just stood. She just stood there, still;
swaying with the effort.
They said she couldn’t do it,
they said she wasn’t strong enough to make it up again.
But what do they know?
Sure there were some weak parts,
sure there were some days when even she believed them,
and she wondered if the time would ever come,
ever come again
when she could stand.

What can be more loaded,
what can be so strong as the things
they say about you when you’re down,
when you’ve fallen?
Well, let them all be shocked this time,
let them be amazed.
Let them make their theories,
let them give their learned theories
because they are not what matters.

She closes out their voices,
cuts of their sentences
by stopping up her ears.
Stopping up her ears
with her own true voice,
the only one she knows for sure is
leaving out the lies this time.

So they say the world is ending,
that we really can’t get better,
that we messed it up so bad this time
there ain’t no going back.
It’s the same messed up message that they
poured on her head when she fell last time.

But she knows they are wrong.
Because they just missed the blinding fact
that she just proved them wrong and stood
on her own two feet again.
What can be more loaded,
what can be so strong
as the things they say about you’re down,
when you’ve fallen?
Just one thing, only this:
The feel of your own two legs beneath you,
your own two legs are the final word.
She just stood.
She just stood, still;

swaying with the effort.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Little Feathers: Younger Than Springtime

Little Feathers: Younger Than Springtime: I always, even when I was young, felt it was odd that we celebrate youth so emphatically in our culture. It seemed like we wrote people off ...

Younger Than Springtime

I always, even when I was young, felt it was odd that we celebrate youth so emphatically in our culture. It seemed like we wrote people off the minute they no longer had that youthful glow. And we chase the preservation of that look to the tune of millions of dollars. I'm not judging that. I would love to look 30 again if I didn't have to live all the years over again (and learn all those dad-gummed lessons). But I'm just beginning to glimpse what seems to lie beneath the desire to look young.

Last night I went to a Sun City choir concert with my mom and friends. One hundred and forty voices. They put on a great show. Clearly they loved to sing, and the audience responded. During the concert, two things struck me, and they've been milling around in my mind ever since.

The first is that we do to voices the same thing we do to faces. We love them when they are young. That is how they are supposed to be, right? Strong and clear. And why do we not consider that they are still good, in fact still beautiful, when they are no longer that way?  Are they not also a shared part of a person, a gift to the listener? If people are interesting and beautiful their whole lives, even after the coveted tight skin and sparkling eyes are not so much there anymore, can't we learn to hear the beauty in voices that have lived a lifetime? I'm guilty of listening with a narrow ear, a mind-made-up as to how a voice is supposed to sound. Now, I'm thinking I might learn something by abandoning that judgmental approach. I might hear beauty where I've closed my mind to it before.

The other thing that happened involved a rendition of Younger Than Springtime showcasing the men. The narrator admitted that though the song from South Pacific was originally sung by a very young man to an even younger woman, these Sun City men, these singers of a certain age, remembered. They could remember. And they sang like it. I get teary thinking about it. Their faces showed the depth of their memories. It was beautiful. And it got me thinking about youth.

What if a big reason we chase and adore and covet youth has as much to do with where we are in time as it does with the physical aspects? Maybe knowing we are much closer to death than we were when were young causes us to try and put a stop to the clock. Maybe we just don't want to go. We don't want to look like it's time to go. Maybe this seems obvious, but if it does, I've missed it along the way. Maybe it hasn't occurred to me because I don't want to know. Maybe. But I can tell you that on the inside, most of the people I know whose outsides say otherwise, still feel younger than springtime.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Little Feathers: Quiet Gifts

Little Feathers: Quiet Gifts: It's misty and still on the river this morning. The new Spring green is still popping out of the trees in the ravine, giving that rocky ...

Quiet Gifts

It's misty and still on the river this morning. The new Spring green is still popping out of the trees in the ravine, giving that rocky chasm some youth. This time of year in the Texas Hill Country brings changing weather, and the bright sunshine I know is up above these low clouds is staying away. For now. It's cool, and damp, and lovely. There's a blue heron fishing the river, and lots of rippled rings from fish hitting the bugs on the surface. And there are birds out there, singing their wordless tunes they always sing. But it's mostly quiet. Seems like we're waiting.

That sense of waiting follows me around, and it's one that I have to turn toward, calling it out for the sneaky siren it is. How much of my life have I spent waiting? Years ago, waiting to fall in love. Waiting for children, Waiting to feel like I've arrived at some level of wisdom. Waiting to find my voice...

The only antidote for the waiting game is awareness. There is nothing new, no startling revelation from people smarter than me that spells out answers to the big questions in life. The ones that niggle at the edges of my awareness. The lessons I do keep learning, over and over as if they were prepared just for me to learn at this moment in time, those lessons are the ones I must be content with. That life is fleeting. That the only thing I control is my behavior. That moving through today worrying about tomorrow is looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. That the goal is not more, more, more, but gratitude for now, now, now. That the sweetest thing in this life is to cherish the people I've been given to love.

The little windmill across the river is almost never still. Its three blades, frozen in place right now, are reminding me. In the hurry hurry hurry of life, this small piece of a day, these minutes of this quiet morning are precious.I think I'll take my cup of coffee out on the porch. Shhhh. I'm not waiting. I'm listening.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Little Feathers: Room at the Top for Cream

Little Feathers: Room At The Top For Cream: Science is a rock star in our world. A giant presence filling the blanks, solving the puzzles, reducing the riddles to cause and effect. Exc...

Room at the Top for Cream

Science is a rock star in our world. A giant presence filling in the blanks, solving the puzzles, reducing the riddles to cause and effect. Except for the mysteries still remaining: the room at the top for cream.

I had never heard that expression until Starbucks. And because I have almost always treated myself to a latte, I didn't hear it until recently. Ordering an ordinary coffee (I know, a little expensive for ordinary coffee), the barista asked me, "Do you want to leave room at the top for cream?" A little light went off in my mind. Shouldn't I always leave room at the top for cream? No matter what?

This question came on the heels of some other thinkering I had been doing lately. A combo of thinking and tinkering. Playing around with thoughts is a specialty of mine. Maybe that's why kidlit is my genre of choice. Anyway, as I get older it seems I crave more scientific evidence. More proof of things before I can settle down to believe them. Yet, that is a very unsatisfactory way to approach my spiritual journey, because the science is pretty scarce on the ground.

The Sunday before I heard the barista's question, I was sitting in church. I love the ancient liturgy, I love the hymns and the rhythm of worship. But that day I was attacked by, "yeah, but" and, "I just am not sure about that". I was busy trying to reconcile things in my mind when I got another little gift. A voice that I have come to believe is an assist from beyond (yes, I think it's God in my ear, and I love when it happens) said, "You don't have to get it right." Really? I don't have to get it right? What a load off! What a relief! You mean, I can leave room in my mind for the mystery, the unknowable, the true enigma/conundrum/riddle?

It's a temptation in life to try and control the plot-line. To boss the characters in your life by any means possible, including nice-ing them into doing what you want. That same control freak streak wants to have the cheat sheet. To know exactly what God has in mind, and not be drawn into the mistakes of seekers from the past. But, not only is that harmful to the spirit, it is impossible. What a relief it is to let go of all that (again, and yes again, and no-doubt again and again) and just allow the blanks to be filled in later. Leave some questions unanswered rather than settling for the multiple choice bubble you know is not quite right. Leave some room at the top for cream.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Little Feathers: The Search for Joyful

Little Feathers: The Search for Joyful: It's a book title. The sequel to one of my favorites from my youth, Mrs. Mike . But it's also a to-do list. The search for joyful. T...

The Search for Joyful

It's a book title. The sequel to one of my favorites from my youth, Mrs. Mike. But it's also a to-do list. The search for joyful. Twin sister to the pursuit of happiness. I especially like the fact that Thomas Jefferson understood that happiness requires action on our part. And I am very grateful that we have the right to do that work.

I began thinking about this because of Powerball mania. The temporary insanity gripping lots of otherwise normal people (I admit I bought a ticket, though I hesitate to call myself normal) made me ask myself over and over, how much is enough. The promise of a mind-boggling fortune had many people pinning hopes on that slight chance that they could win happiness. That they could arrive at the station of joyful courtesy of good luck. All we have to do is look at the history of winners of the lottery to see that happiness is not for sale. And evidence is everywhere that wealth and fame can destroy lives. Taking away someone's need to be productive, to have a reason to get up in the morning and get to work of some kind can be a most devastating thing.

The flip side of that coin is all the hand wringing going on about the political scene. So and so wants to keep me from praying. Really? They are going to get inside your head and stop your conversation with God? Sounds more like science fiction than reality. Of course it matters who we elect. Of course it does. But we have weathered all kinds of leaders, all kinds of presidents. Some were better leaders than they were people. And vice versa. But I'm not going to believe that my pursuit of happiness, my search for joyful is dependent on anyone else. Exactly like prayer, that search comes from inside.

I know people that I don't agree with politically who are doing amazing work to make the world a better place. Some in very visible ways, others quietly working one on one to treat people with respect and kindness. Their journey is not dependent on me agreeing with them, voting as they vote, or sharing theology, or theosophy, with them. My opinions are valid. So are theirs. I have yet to meet a person who is right about everything.

I have lived a very lucky life. Born to loving parents, married to man who I admire, mother to children who give me great joy...the list is long. I have had advantages that many don't have. I can't claim I chose or earned my parents and my lovely childhood. I am simply grateful for the life I have been given. And I choose now to believe that focusing on good, reaching for the light, searching for joyful is a worthy response to the life I have been given.