community, Relationships, spirit

Season of Light

Solstice Android Jones

My Unitarian Universalist congregation rang in seven new members at an exuberant ritual following our annual Joy Service last weekend. This gives us one more reason to celebrate in a season already packed with celebration. It also gives me a chance reflect on our congregation’s many members and friends, and the variety of ways we experience our faith journeys this time of year.

The days grow shorter still. All around, twinkling lights frame homes and shops, even our own glittering sanctuary. Yes, December radiates holiday cheer, but not all of us feel warmed by the light. Some of us may instead feel the chill of absent loved ones, uncertain finances, national political turmoil and minute-by-minute news of mounting global crises. The festive glow surrounding us can make things even gloomier as it illuminates the distance between ourselves and the holiday spirit. And because our hearts already feel two sizes too small, we may just keep these troubles to ourselves.

Continue reading “Season of Light”

community, Love, spirit

Welcoming September

The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us.

Alexandra Elle

peg green flaming chalice

Barely a month has passed since the Board of Directors at my UU church welcomed me into my new role as the Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach. I could just as easily say they approved or endorsed or just plain voted. Yet none of those words capture the experience of stepping into this world of Unitarian Universalist leadership as much as “welcome.”

My family only began attending the local church in July 2015. Many of my fellow congregants carry much more history and knowledge about the workings of the community. I have to admit, when the Reverend suggested I consider lay ministry, I laughed out loud. Little old me? Newcomer? Someone who should rightfully still use a green mug during coffee hour?

Continue reading “Welcoming September”

body, community, neighborhood

Come As You Are

Oks New Friends III

Harmony calls out a greeting from behind the geraniums.  She folds a bookmark into a paperback and steps off the patio.  Noodle leaps all over her.  She chuckles and pets her then asks about my knee.

“Still hurts but I guess that’s normal.”  My recovery is slower than I’d like, in part because of an overzealous gym visit 3 days after surgery.  I’ve since re-discovered ice and moderation.  I bend it a little and show her.  “The boss has let me work half days from home, and walking at the pool has helped.”

“Oh, you go to the pool?  With your son?”  Noodle is now snuffling in around the mulched shrubbery so I pull her in closer.  After retiring, Harmony and her husband moved here from the Midwest and within two months, they had new floors, bathrooms, and bird feeders.  With a tidy patio set on top of a red striped outdoor rug, their condo is one of the most welcoming in the complex.  The kiddos in the neighborhood have already knocked loose two of their solar lights playing soccer on the sidewalks, and I don’t want the dog to add to the damage.

“Sometimes we go together.”  I wave vaguely in the direction of our small community pool where the kids are squealing.  “Mostly I’ve been making myself go to the rec center, though.  I can swim laps there, and there’s usually a free lane during the day.”   As I say this, a family ambles by.  The toddler carries an inflatable swim ring as big as her, and the mom lugs a bag of towels.  “It’s nice to have a place to get together here in the summer, though.  Have you been yet?”

“Oh!” She laughs, steps back, sort of half sits down on her patio chair.  “I guess I have a swimsuit packed away somewhere that hides most of the awful parts.”

A beat.

My stupefied gaze.

Did she really just say that?

I stumble over my astonishment and laugh along with her.  “Oh, geez, come out!  Everyone is welcome.”    She says she has another friend in the complex – a friend her age, she makes a point of mentioning – and they haven’t done it yet, but they’ve talked about going swimming.

So they can. . . what?  Band together?   Protect each other from the forces of evil?

“You know how you get a beach body, right?  You take your body –” I gesture towards her and then to me, “ – and go to the beach.”  We smile at each other.  “Just come be with your neighbors,” I say.  “The pool is for everyone.”

But she’s not giving an inch.  “Well, I never had a body like yours, even when I had the body I felt good in.” She laughs again.  It’s a strained laugh this time.

Are we still doing this?  In 2016 at 60-something years old, she’s still doing this?  Will I be in 20 years?  Who is going to tell us we can’t be at the pool?

This is what I need to say to her.

To all of us, tucked inside our soft and hungry bodies.

We want you.

As you are.

We want you in our community, just like we want the kids in their swim diapers, the lady in the wheelchair who zips around walking her giant black dog, the folks who grill out at the picnic area.  This pool is the closest thing we have to a common house.  Three months a year, this is our town square.

We can’t let scars and bellies and imagined impossible ideals keep us from being neighbors.

Things are not so great in this country of ours right now.  We have some tough battles to fight.  But we’ve already fought some and we shouldn’t have to keep revisiting that scarred ground.  For nearly 100 years, women have had the right to vote.  We can work.  Serve in the military.  We can pursue scientific research, write and paint and dance and sing.  We can sleep with any consenting adult, marry whomever we please or not marry at all.  We can write laws.  Change laws.  Have babies without men.  Ride motorcycles across the country.  Play professional sports.  Design rocket ships.  Run companies.  Run for president.

And yes, wear whatever the hell we want to the pool.

So put on a swimsuit.  Or a caftan.  Or a clown suit or a business suit.  Or a veil or fishnets or scuba gear or culottes or Go-Go boots.

But please.

Come to the pool.

Or sit here on your sun-dappled flowery patio and read all summer if that’s what you’d prefer.  Of course.  That’s totally cool too.  Because being a 60-something retired gal in the suburbs of an American metropolis means you can follow your bliss.

But please let go of being wistful or lonely when you can hear the chatter and cannonballs from that pretty patio, when you see your fellow residents flip-flopping past with their sun hats and iced tea.

We want you.

We need you.

As you are.

Let’s put to bed the notion that we live in a world populated by sylphs and Veelas, and that you are some mutant monstrosity.  You are a human in this neighborhood and you live in your body.  It is strong, it is weak.  It is the same body that installed the stone sculpture and refills the birdseet.  The same body that greets my dog, my son, me.  The body that has grandkids up the road who love you.  The body that filled years of a career leading art programs at a children’s hospital in Wisconsin.

You belong here.

We all do.

As we are.

We have to start showing up.  Pasty hips and jiggly arms, acne, wrinkles, spider veins, all of it.  We all have to show up in the bodies that carry us over the earth.  Because what’s the alternative?  What purpose or good do we serve by staying home?

I can’t promise you that everyone will think kind thoughts.  The cellulite will be visible, and some of us – present company included – have indulged petty comparisons.  I can promise you, however, that neither the stretch marks nor the judgments will matter one lick to any outcome or relationship that matters.  Here in the everyday world of our neighborhood, the distribution of wealth, luck, friendship, leadership, respect, and opportunities for love has no correlation to flab.  The only thing the size of our backsides influences is the size of the underpants we wear.  This is a pretty flimsy standard upon which to base any decision of consequence.

I understand you want to lose weight.  I do too.  I fight this damned fight every day.  This body you say you envy?  It’s packed on nearly 15 pounds in less than a year.  Stress, depression, thyroid problems.  Scoliosis, chronic pain, disordered eating.  Acne, bunions, insomnia.  And now?  A bum knee.

This body here houses all these things.  These are features of my physical form much like the roar of freeway traffic outside my balcony, the windowless shared walls, the claustrophobic  8-foot ceilings.  Sometimes focusing on the flaws becomes an addiction all its own, and those dark patches press in like glaucoma narrowing the vision.  But then I remember that this is my home, and it is the place where this full, loving life of mine is being written.  Then I notice the art.  Then I thrill to the blessings.

I live with these things also here in the home of my body because this body is like a physical address.  It holds the scars and all the rest of it, too.  The emotive poetry, the sketching, the puttering in the kitchen with garlic and oil and greens.  This body is hiking, friendship, sex, tinkering, and books.  It carries the late-night cuddles with my kiddo, the volunteer work, the advising sessions with students, the adventures, the confusion, the kaleidoscopic memories that comprise the narrative I believe is me.  The whole twisting, unfinished, colorful, at times plodding, and always character-rich story of me lives here  in the home of this body.  All of me.

Inside your body, you.

I want to know you.  You have so much to contribute to this place, so much you already have.

When you show up, good things happen.  The connections between all of us here grow stronger.  You have already helped us grow from neighborhood towards community.

When you show up.

You have to show up.

You are my neighbor.  I am yours.  I want to know the you who is unfolding within your skin.  That skin that holds glorious, kind you.

Your neighbors want to know you.

Please come.

As you are.


Image: Leon Oks, “New Friends III”

Poetry, Relationships

Choose your Own

I pull him on top of me, say let go,
I want all of you.

Fully clothed but so very naked,
he asks
Is steadily increasing
closeness required?
and I admit
(though not out loud)
that the way my ribs fall open
suggests, yes, I want him to enter
into me as tumblers
slip wide the hushed sliding
doors to a museum
where the glass wolf
eye and thinning lapwing feather
improvise a nest
in the last strip of silk from the wrist
of a deposed Saxon queen. This place
a low glimmer of a room
(it has only been rumored to exist)
and he is the unwitting key
as well as the single honored guest
passing us through virgin
corridors lined with relics
bearing no descriptions yet, one masterpiece
after another unfurling before our eyes,
no nameplate bolted into frame
and, come to that,
no frame.

He asks Can we have our vaults?
(his reliquary, a Parthenon of marvels
I circle in keen deference)
and I bite back the question
of whether he means spring
or safe (can we give and retain
with the same gesture?)
I say of course

and in this breath, speak a whole truth
with half a heart
threading its edge to one
who has the power of to draw
tunnels through concrete
and tilt the whole endeavor just enough
to spill us down to first strokes
of infant fingers through paint
whose color has neither been seen
nor imagined before
our eyes fall upon it. On me

he presses
open a fissure
between history and tomorrow
by defying logic
and lifting hands both
away from and into
gravity.
 

Home, Living in the Moment

Hello Here

On the brink of leaving this home for the next (inshallah), and I still don’t know what I’m after. Place? Family? Community? Safety? The list is long and it changes with the breeze.
 
Ambiguous purpose calls for simple acts. I turn to my son and say, “Let’s go outside.”
 
These days, he joins me. This is new. It used to be a struggle, cajoling and begging before demanding or giving up. Now, he pounds down the stairs, “I’ll put her leash on! Here, let me!” He throws open the sliding glass door and calls her with his quasi wolf-whistles. She is suspicious of his intentions but ducks inside, unable to resist the word “walk.”
 
Flexi-leash in hand, Bug races down the driveway dragging the dog. She tosses a few desperate glances back at me but I’m no help to her now. Bug has finally learned to slow long enough to let her have a break for her bladder. It rarely lasts past the last drop so she forgoes all olfactory temptations gets down to business. They lope down the swath of grass between the fences. At the bottom where the year’s accumulated leaves lay in drifts, Bug snaps off her leash and she tears off into the trees. He squeals in delight and tramps after her, knee-deep in brambles.
 
The dog is the leader but doesn’t know it. Winding and snoofling through brown tangles, she takes us on a looping journey up and back down the hillside. Scattered clumps of daffodils poke their way up into patches of sun and purplish flowers unfurl from buried brush. Light threads its way down through dry spindles scratching the sky. I carry a plastic shopping bag and collect the crumpled cans and muck-filled Corona bottles that peek up through the leaves.
 
I follow Bug. Bug follows the dog. The dog follows her nose. We come upon a creek snaking out from under a neighbor’s chicken wire fence. Across the way is a clutch of bamboo as high as a rooftop. It bends against the breeze. The road beyond is near enough to keep me vigilant. Bug fords the brook with a single leap and slips up the muddy bank beyond. He picks his way through the deep green flutes, swishing them low. Feathered leaves stroke the water’s golden skin.
 
“I’m in the bamboo jungle! There is a tornado coming! Get out of the storm, Mommy!” I duck across and hide with him in the cool dark there. Cars roar just feet from our back and I holler the dog back from the roadside. She bounds into the creek, splashing us with wet silt.
 
When it is time to go, we gather leash and garbage and assorted leafy treasures. I urge. Bug dawdles. The dog drips. Eventually we shimmy into a dry creek-bed and follow the tracks of raccoons and deer back to the trail into our neighborhood. Just as we start up the hill, we turn and see a strange sight. In all our years of walking here, we have never come across such a thing.
 
A boy.
 
He is making his jerky way over the buried roots up to a log that bridges the dry trench. His black hair and pale skin trace a ghostly curve over the hillside. He looks up and sees us. I wave. He pauses then waves back. Bug and dog and I are poised on the forest edge ready to go home.
 
“One second, Mom,” Bug says. And he is off. He plows straight through the weeds and pricker bushes and heads straight uphill. The boy leaps off the log, starts to climb, and then slows. Bug is talking to him. He turns and responds. In a blink, they are deep into it. By the time I have gotten the dog turned and have approached the pair, they are discussing the bamboo forest and the forts up on hilltop that some older kids built years ago. “We come in here all the time,” the boy says.
 
“So do I!” Bug cries.
 
They talk pets. Neighbors. Teachers. Movies. Books. The boy is into the Warriors series and Bug is reading JK Rowling. I hang back and marvel at their ease. They compare notes on the best scenes from the last Harry Potter movie. Bug seeks and seeks a common footing. The boy, a few years older, is happy to oblige. They giggle about an explosion at a quidditch match then giggle some more when the dog grunts and tries to lick the boy’s hand off.
 
The sun is sinking and it is past time for dinner. Bug manages to tear himself away. We plod back up the swath of grass. Bug watches the boy return to his own porch and join a group of children there. A grown man sees us and waves a big Hullo. I return the greeting.
 
“We come in here all the time,” the boy had said. We had never seen him, yet here he was. We have paid attention to this place for years without looking for anything. The dog’s nose has been a truer guide than our own intention. Only in today’s purposeless looking do we stumble upon what we didn’t know we’d been after: a person who shares our place and a similar way of wandering through it.
 
My son’s bold delight stuns me. Even with no idea what he will find, he bridges the distance to meet what glances against his sense of wonder. Call it innocence. Call it courage. Whatever it is, in our new home (inshallah), may that wide-open not-looking to guide us to what we seek.
 

Art, Children, Friends

Love before Love

Valentine's Soup

Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.

– Elie Wiesel

Bug creeps out of his bed and tiptoes into my room. “Mommy, I made twenty-eight bowls!” His eyes are far too bright for this ungodly hour. For the third time, I walk him back to his room and perch next to him on the bed. He has been drawing a Valentine’s Day picture. The pink and red markers are running to chalky streaks.

“You know it’s well past time for sleep, buddy.”

“I know, but see?” He starts to color in the legs of the lone person on the page, already forgetting why he called me in. Continue reading “Love before Love”

Uncategorized

Happy 100 Days: 45

She asks me how to tag the posts. I tell her any words that capture the essence of the content will do. She considers her options. “Everyone must use ‘gratitude,'” she says.
 
If only.
 
Afternoon light creeps in through the endless windows and churns to warmth the mango walls edged in cream. Her grown son is on the sofa doing his own work. He overhears our circuitous meanderings through the wilds of WordPress, and I catch him grinning. He takes a photo of us. We are too absorbed to look up to cheese for the camera. We manage to create her gravatar and a profile picture, and that bright smile of hers begins to leave its traces across the internet.
 
She is bubbling at the edges. Who would not be tickled at what we are attempting? She asks me to pause before tripping on to setting up an About page. In her notebook, she jots down “Gravatar,” and “Add Post” and “Dashboard.” She tries to number the steps, but sequence is not the way the interface works. It is cross-hatched and concentric (web-like, I daresay).
 
She recounts the story of the Young Monk, Old Monk , and we laugh as she peers into the screen trying to recall which button will get her to the page where a person just writes. She clicks her her first post to life. Her second and third, she whips right through. Less than an hour in, and my help is already unnecessary. I hold my breath as she hovers over the “publish” button. She clicks, and we both wiggle and pump our fists in the air.
 
Alive! The words are waking up, stretching out into the virtual world where anyone anywhere can stumble across them. It is a great contribution, this choice to learn past the boundaries for the sole purpose of marveling aloud.
 
She types in her tags. She chooses Gratitude.
 
I choose it, too.
 
I also choose Friendship. And Learning. And Perfect.
 
And Welcome.
 
And This.
 

When the flower is sated,
the stunted fifth stamen,
secret and invisible below the bee’s belly,
awaits his departure,
then lifts like a drawbridge
and shuts the door.
 
From “Upland Suite” in Sun in an Empty Room by Maryhelen Snyder.

 

Learning, Poetry, Reading

Sixth Scents

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing this, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.

“Such good luck!” the neighbors explained.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Such bad luck,” they said.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

“Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Continue reading “Sixth Scents”

Change

Squatter’s Rights

I’ve been running into this old friend all over the place. Bug and I opened up a worn copy of Rise Up Singing to find the words to “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, and there she was. She snuck up on me as I leafed through the battered vegetarian cookbook with all the mouth-watering photographs of phyllo pastry and parsnips. One of her handmade collages fell out of the back of the splashy covers of Graeme Base’s 11th Hour. A slim volume of her poetry slid from between the sturdier bindings of the published authors.
 
Her name, the long arc of the letters in an exuberant hand, greets me. Hello! Hello! I was here, and now I’m back!
 
The girl was prolific. Artistic. A little intense. I had forgotten how eclectic her literary tastes were. Never dull company, that one.
 
She left her mark, and now she leaves a trail of breadcrumbs. Mail addressed to her shows up at my house. She is registered to vote in my very own precinct. She even has an account with the university library. On the card alongside a grinning photograph, her name appears yet again.  She has been taking full advantage of the access my small-potatoes position provides. Titles covering everything from neuroscience to storytelling arrive by the week. She has been away for some time and certainly anything can happen to a person, but my guess is she has not changed so much. You would recognize her anywhere.
 
I am thinking of inviting her to stay. I didn’t realize how much I missed her spunk. Anyway, it’s just a formality. She has already staked her claim, hasn’t she? When that girl gets her teeth into something, she doesn’t let go. Hell, her nameplate is hanging on my office door. She has probably already designed her new business cards. Before you know it, she’ll be running the place.
 
Good thing. We need someone with strong arms and a little sass to throw open the windows and holler to whatever is out there, What are you waiting for? Come on, get your butt in here!