At church, they hand out the palms. Fronds for some, long, thin leaves for others. Judas plants the kiss on Christ once again. Peter denies him. Pilate prepares to wash his hands. The congregation–that is us–yells “Crucify him!” And we file out silently, placing paper programs into the recycle pile, carrying our leaves of palm. I grab two extra. Wildflowers at the edges of the parking lot are unstoppably bright. At home, I offer a palm to Chris. He shapes it into a cross and slips it under a magnet on the fridge.
March 29, 2015
We miss our neighbor J, who loved this house with its overgrown wisteria. Since he left, the house has sat vacant, and we’ve watched to see what happens to it while big new homes sprout up and down the street. I clipped a few of these sprays of purple and set them spilling from a wine glass on the kitchen table. And then I returned to the porch, where I’ve cleared old firewood and dead plants, hung a basket of red flowers, painted the door, set out new chairs. It was in this space–uncluttered, freshly clean, occupied only by things alive and cherished–that I could relax. I read the New Yorker until C arrived home. And space is what’s on my mind these days, after reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up. I’d started clearing the clutter before I’d heard of the book. Front porch. Back porch. Deck I cleaned and vacuumed and set right last Saturday. And now I’m ready to take on what’s next, KonMari style. Clothes. Then books. Then the rest of it. Because I want space. Space to read and write and rest, to be part of a family and a marriage and a community, to practice reverence for the present and envision the future. Space. Not the empty space of J’s old house, which so deserves happy owners who love it. Just this space, our own, enlivened by what “sparks joy.”
March 19, 2015
How thin the line, sometimes, between happy and sad, healthy and ill, charging forth and staying in retreat. I was bullish on 2015. Last year was one of the best of my life, rich in writing, travel, meaningful work, family and relationship. I entered this year the way I’d been entering my boardwalk walks after the Camino — on strong legs, ready to climb. But ten days after being felled by the flu, it wasn’t just my health that was flagging. My spirit flagged too. All those imagined walks and poetry submissions and major milestones at the office slipped into the distance. What was I doing with my life? How had I gotten here? All of it seemed like too much. And so a day in bed–cats sitting in the open windows–resting and recovering my strength. It’s a phase, the lowness, just as the highness is a phase too. But I am back to what Sting told us in the 1980s, How fragile we are. How fragile we are.
March 18, 2015
My Ash Wednesday church going was spontaneous. I was driving home from work and thought, Yes, Now. I turned left instead of right and arrived at the chapel at St. Edward’s about five minutes after the service started. Many of you may not have decided what your Lenten practice will be, the priest told us. In fact, many of us on staff here haven’t decided either. He read a list of Pope Frances’s 10 tips for Lent. (If we ever needed confirmation that this is a modern Pope, offering a list of 10 tips is it.) Pray. Fast. Help the poor. Do something that hurts. I listened. I considered. And I looked around the beautiful, light-filled chapel with its bleached wood pews and high white ceilings. I exhaled. Church. It was the first church service I’d attended since I was on the Camino. And church, I understood, was my practice for Lent. Each Sunday a different church, praying for the possibility of a church home. This week it was All Saints, near the UT campus. The priest pondered the meaning of the word “so,” the tiniest word of John 3:16, and perhaps the one on which it all hinges.
March 15, 2015
While I walk by the lake, I listen to an interview with the New Yorker cartoon editor. He says he knows what will be in his obituary, the punchline from his most famous comic — “How about never? Is never good for you?” Yesterday my social media lit up with notes about the anniversary of John Keats’ death and the phrase of his gravestone — “Here is one who was writ on water.” A former student grieves the suicide of a friend and veteran and sends me a link to a video she’d made of him. She keeps watching it. We seek ways to memorialize, to mark the place we have held on this earth. On this tree on the trail I discover dog tags, names written in pen. They represent those who died in poverty, the homeless of our city who were lost last year. Someone wanted to mark their place. Someone wanted them remembered.
February 25, 2015
The cross on my forehead smeared to simple ashes through the evening. The next morning I read Oliver Sacks’ beautiful piece about learning he has terminal cancer, published in the New York Times:
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
And to dust you will return.
February 18, 2015
Driving his truck and trailer down the highway at the start of his sabbatical, Lyman asked the question a poet would ask: What kind of traveler do I want to be? Tourist. Migrant. Nomad. Settler. He and his family would be on the road a year, crossing the country, living in campgrounds. Pilgrim, he thought. I want to be a pilgrim. One who goes all the way out and all the way back and arrives home changed.
So we watched that pilgrimage – first on his blog – and then in his performance at ACC last night. The journey included numerous hats, visits to the graves of Emerson and Cotton Mather, echoes of those lost in the Holocaust, at Gettysburg, on 9/11. There were heavily armed RVers, yogis with limbs in four states. He gave us an evening that was reflective, moving, and righteous. His pilgrimage opened with lines from Simon and Garfunkel, “… all gone to look for America,” and ended in the most American of places: a baseball field in Iowa. Father, sons, ghosts, and future selves throw the ball, hit it, then watch it sail past.
Thanks for a beautiful evening, Major Dude.
January 29, 2015
Walking the Camino de Santiago, I was often aware of my shadow. It stretched out in front of me in the mornings, drifted to my right in the afternoons. In it I could see my moving legs and swinging arms, my pack changing my body shape from human to something vaguely tortoise. Maybe the brim of my cap. Maybe the nub of a ponytail at the back of my head. Scanning through Camino photos online there are countless snapshots of pilgrim shadows, I think because seeing your figure cast down upon the path is proof that you are doing it — that figure is you, who after planning and dreaming and training and imagining is actually walking, one step at a time, on an ancient trail west toward Santiago. And so this morning shadow as I head out to walk to the office. The streets are familiar, the park I cut through one I have crossed hundreds of times. My shadow is bigger than I am. I’d like to think it is carrying some of the strength, confidence, certitude that I picked up along the Way.
January 28, 2015
Pretty quickly I begin to believe that life is too full. During my time off the days shifted back to the most essential — writing, reading, time with family, long walks on the boardwalk and beyond. When the new year dawned I went back to work, which has meant not just the eight hours a day I spend at the office, but also the active life I was once used to. Happy hours, readings, friends from out of town. Good things, all of them, even when they feel like too much. Meanwhile, the hard news keeps coming. People I love prepare for or recover from health crises, major surgeries, big losses. I carry them with me. I send up prayers. And I know that once I was the one delivering the hard news, and that someday I will be again. We don’t always get a life of too much good stuff. In fact, we don’t often get one. So we pop into C-Boys on a Tuesday evening to marvel at the music of 8 1/2 Souvenirs,the smooth spins of a dancer in a swirling dress. You’ve got to dance while the dancing’s good.
January 27, 2015
If you came to our New Year’s day open house last year, you may have written an intention for 2014 on a tag and hung it from a branch. Maybe that intention became real last year. Maybe a new intention has arisen for this one. Here are the intentions we’ve held onto for you, still attached to their shiny ribbons.
Spending more time in my garden
Improve my voice and percussion; improve animal communications skills/volunteer
Music from a violin
To prioritize experience over stuff
Let gratitude grow and envy recede
Clarity, peace and progress
Embrace my faults
Stay in my own hula hoop
Delve deeper into the mystery
Play with contra dance band more regularly
Good luck and good strategy
I intend kindness to myself and others
Saying what needs to be said
Be joyful, be thankful, love
Believe in myself
If I were hanging intentions on a tree this year, I’d write: Practice. Reverence. Play.
January 2, 2015