Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shedding



Coco is shedding her winter coat in great, black clumps that glob onto the living room carpet and blow like tumbleweeds under the kitchen’s ceiling fan.  Twice a day now, we are vacuuming our rugs, emptying the canister between runs, watching matted dog hair and dirt drift into the kitchen trash.

In the evenings, after work, I change into old clothes and call her out onto the front porch.  We both sit on the wooden floorboards and I pull our dollar store pet brush slowly through her wooly black curls.  

It’s satisfying and soothing all at once, the way I imagine brushing a horse must be.  When the brush is full, I pull the clumps off, gathering a growing pile to mark my progress, my accumulated success.  

Tonight, I cornered our tomcat, Blackie in the green grass and gave him a good brushing too.  He took it with equal parts purring and complaint. 

A friend admitted awhile back, after her elderly dog died, that she was elated to be freed from the extra mess – she would not be getting another dog.  I know, for a lot of people, pet hair is reason enough to refrain from ownership.  My own mother battled dog hair with a broom and dust pan, like she was battling the devil itself.

It does bother me – the hair, the dirt, not to mention the litter box’s stinking mess.  But, still, I know those few minutes each evening are some of the best of my day – some of the purest, the simplest - stroking and gathering, shedding what no longer serves. 


Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Road is Wide, the Rain is Falling


The words, "deeply grieved" hardly begin to convey the depth of fear, anger, and concern I feel over the treatment of asylum seekers at our southern borders.  Men, held in standing room only conditions.  Children, separated from mothers, from fathers.  Children younger than my own boys who beg for dessert after every meal and snuggle into my sides while reading on the couch. There is something deeply wrong with all of us who can endure these reports and still believe it has nothing to do with who we are.  

Yesterday, I thought again of Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, "Shoulders" - only this time it is a man crossing a river with his daughter in his arms, the hum of his daughter's dream - his daughter's future - deep inside him.  Only now, that dream is dead. 

This fourth of July, I'm sharing Nye's poem along with a post I wrote in 2017.  At that time, I could not name the force that kept us apart. Now, two years later, I believe that force is this: the belief that the differences that separate us are stronger than the forces that unite us.  

The road is wide, friends.  The rain is falling.  I fear, if we don't reach out, don't learn to hold hands, to see beyond what divides, we will all be swept away.

//
  
Shoulders

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo
but he's not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy's dream
deep inside him.

We're not going to be able
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling. 


//

Cold rain turned his thin, white t-shirt translucent as he bent his body, like an umbrella, over the double stroller.  The newborn baby cried and he cradled it against his chest with one hand while rooting in a diaper bag with the other.  The girl, a big sister at three or four years old, sat quietly in the stroller - her brown eyes wide, her dark hair and pierced ears glinting in the early morning light.  

//

Hundreds of strangers had lined up throughout the morning, eager to bargain hunt at the annual thrift sale benefiting United Way.  A friend of mine, a veteran shopper of the sale, arrived at the door by six thirty.  Among the first in line, she staked out a coveted position as the best deals went very, very quickly. 

I rolled in a few minutes after seven, with a mug of coffee in hand, and took my place thirty to forty people behind my friend.  I waited behind a young Hispanic man with two children in a stroller and in front of an old-timer who'd brought a plastic crate to sit on.  The line stretched out, single-file, across the parking lot, growing steadily as we waited for the doors to open at eight.  

Time passed slowly.  The old-timer held my spot for me while I went to find a toilet.  The newborn in the stroller woke and cried and was jiggled back to sleep again.  Pleasantries were exchanged in that guarded but polite Central Pennsylvania way.  

The old-timer behind me carried on a long conversation with a woman two people ahead of me, bemoaning his no-good sons-in-law who couldn't keep a job, couldn't even change a tire.  The woman, in exchange, revealed she'd recently been laid off after twenty years on a job.  "Ain't nobody wants to hire you when you're my age," she said.  "Believe me, I know."  The general consensus between them seemed to be that young people weren't worth much these days.  The Hispanic man and I, both younger by far, exchanged uncomfortable glances.

By 7:30, the sky was growing darker, not lighter, and the forecast of possible rain turned certain.  I ran back to the truck and grabbed my rain coat when the first drops started and my friend, still stationed at the front of the line, brought me her extra umbrella.  

Scattered drops turned steady and an icy wind picked up.  About fifteen feet away, the building we were waiting to enter offered a small triangular overhang.  The old-timer was the first to take cover, leaving his plastic crate to hold his place in line.  The father followed soon after as the wind forced rain past the double stroller's shabby shades and the baby woke again, crying and hungry.  

He pushed the stroller the ten steps to the overhang and sidled it as close as he could against the wall.  The old-timer scooted over to make room in the tiny triangle of shelter.  The rest of us in line, some with rain coats and umbrellas, watched this father without a coat, trying to protect his children while also mixing a bottle of formula.  We were rooted in place, rubberneckers, observing one small family's drama unfold. 

//

I can't name the force that held us in line, keeping us from offering help or heading, en masse, to wait under a large catering tent nearby.  Whatever it was - fear, longing, desire - the feeling was palpable, like a force-field keeping us all apart, causing us each to suffer the storm in isolation, single-file in the passing cold and rain.  This force, I believe, though I can't put my finger on its exact shape or name, is one of, if not the signature evil of our times.  Under its sway, as Naomi Shihab Nye predicts in her poem, Shoulders, "the road will only be wide, the rain will never stop falling."

Somehow, we must kindle the courage, the imagination, necessary to enact an alternative to our chosen isolation.  What will it take for us to break out, to break through, to one another?

//

It was the way he curved his body over the stroller, the rounded defenselessness of his back as he leaned, rooting in the diaper bag; it was the way he sheltered them that caused my feet to move, that broke me out of line.  My feet moved, of their own accord, and then I was there, behind him, my body blocking him from the wind, my friend's umbrella held high at an angle over the two children and their dad.  

He turned, slightly, at my approach, acknowledged me with a nod, and carried on preparing the bottle, then feeding his infant son.  We stood close, awkwardly close in the small space, and didn't speak a word.  I smiled at the solemnly shy little girl with her deep brown eyes that drank in the world.

The rain passed, the sun peaked out, and we moved back into line.  The old-timer caught my eye.  "That was a nice thing you did," he said, "real nice."

//

Somehow, we must kindle the courage, the imagination, necessary to enact an alternative to our chosen isolation.  What will it take for us to break out, to break through, to one another?

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Pious Groundhog




The Pious Groundhog

A groundhog
has taken up residence
in the church prayer garden.

He (we assume) is eating
the Hostas and giving our
gardener fits.

What to do?

This is not St. Francis’
wolf, no livestock
has gone missing
and not one single
human has been
devoured.

Still, there are
the Hostas to think of
and the gardener’s hours
of focused labor.

Perhaps the groundhog
might say a prayer for us
while making his daily rounds,
that we might know
the meaning of this thing
and how, charitably, to proceed.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Take Care of the Birds (a Poem)


If you take care of the birds, you take care of most of the big problems in the world.               - Biologist Thomas Lovejoy

My advice to pastors
and others who care 
too much is this
hang a bird feeder
outside your office window.

Check its contents
every morning, upon
your arrival.  Do this first - 
before you wake the sleeping
computer or tend to voicemail's
flashing, red light. 

Fill it, as needed, before 
the day's work begins.  

Look up, often, 
from behind 
your computer's screen.

Offer the window-facing
chair to the worried ones
with whom you meet. 

The bluebirds, finches,
and wrens will come; 
the male cardinal,
astonishing, in his 
red, velvet coat.

The fat squirrel will
also come. 

Observe your spirit,
as you observe the birds.

Pay attention as you alternate
between admiring the squirrel's  
clever, clenching claws
and despising his endless,
gorging feast. 

If what the biologist says
is true, it's worth it, isn't it -
this time spent to scatter
seed, to tend the feeder 
of your soul?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

One Craft, Many Ways: The Gift of Large Families and Writing Retreats

 

On a recent afternoon, my middle son flew off the bus and in through the front door, driven by an urgent demand.  “Mom!  Mom!  I want to buy a felting kit!  Can I buy a felting kit?” he cried, throwing his coat and backpack to the ground. 

“A what?” I asked, while reminding him to hang up his things.


“Get the computer,” he said, “I’ll show you.”

Curious, I pulled out the laptop and sank into a chair.  Isaiah and his brother, Levi, both in second grade, crowded around me, buzzing and bouncing with excitement.  I googled the words, “needle felting kit” and quickly found the set his art teacher recommended.  We placed an order and several days later, the kit arrived in a small cardboard box.

The box was packed with bags of felting wool dyed in shades from black to ruby red, as well as a foam mat, finger guards, and long, deadly-looking, metal needles.  Isaiah pounced on the kit like a hungry lion tearing apart its prey.  Bags of wool exploded in all directions and he dove into a project following the step-by-step instructions included with the kit.   

He felted like it was his job.  

He felted like his life depended on it.  

In short time, he completed one, two, then three penguins, repeating the same step-by-step directions.

//

Levi also ordered a felting kit.  But, being more frugal than his twin brother, he carefully sorted through options on Amazon, pouring over customer reviews, before deciding on a smaller kit that saved him ten dollars.  He was most excited about the plastic toolbox included with his kit, as well as a special pair of dangerous-looking scissors.

Levi’s box arrived a few days later than Isaiah’s and, given the intensity of Isaiah’s progress, Levi felt pressured and behind.  He chose a project and worked doggedly toward its completion, clearly not enjoying it as much as he thought he might.  Within a day, he completed an adorable owl with big blue eyes.  Then, he tucked his tools into the toolbox and placed all the wool and the toolbox into a larger cardboard crate.  This, the storing and saving, pleased him more than the crafting itself.

//

Finally, my third and oldest son asked if he could try felting.  Isaiah gave him a small amount of white wool and he set about felting haphazardly, without the intensity and stress his brothers displayed.  He made a small, white ball, then added a green dot, which became an eye.  Then, he added a yellow beak, followed by a short, white tail.  He laughed at every new idea, every new addition.  He was playing, improvising, like a jazz musician.

Watching him, I commented to my husband, “His work is so outside-of-the-box.”

My husband said, “I don’t think he even knows there is a “box.””

//

I watched my boys working at the living room coffee table over a series of several days.  I tended their needle-jab wounds and held wayward pieces of wool in place while fearing for my own fingers’ safety.  I encouraged them when the going was rough and exclaimed over their finished projects.

They were all creating, but each did it in their own way. 

This can be one of the gifts of being part of a large family, being part of a group large-enough to allow space for a variety of ways of being.  This can be one of the gifts, too, of attending a writing retreat. 

//

The Friday night Open Mic event is one of my favorite parts of the God’s Whisper Writing Retreat.  One-by-one writers of every genre share glimpses of where their words have taken them.  As each writer shares, the variety of voices and styles present works its magic on the group as a whole.  I can almost feel the artists in the room heave a collective sigh as it becomes clear, There’s room for my voice too, for my way of being and creating in the world.  There’s room for me AND you.

Part of the beauty of God’s Whisper Writing Retreat is that it echoes this “large family experience.” Exposure to others, coupled with the space to explore and hone your own abilities, leaves attendees with a clarity about their unique gifts and this clarity produces confidence and enthusiasm.  God’s Whisper Retreat celebrates one craft, honed and practiced in many ways.  Everyone receives the same life-giving message: There’s room for your voice too, for your way of being and creating in the world.  There’s room for me AND you.

*   *   *
Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned author, there's room for you at God's Whisper Writing Retreat - sign up NOW to register at the Early Bird Price which ends April 1st.