Thursday, December 30, 2010

oh, what a difference a day makes

Two days ago I blogged about patience and mercy.
Since then, I've recalled other plane rides, less serene moments:
reminders of questions that strained credulity...and my last nerve.
A fearless and searching moral inventory has revealed
that, while my first thoughts remained unspoken,
EPIC FAIL has, at times, loomed large in my mindset.
A little shame is a good thing.
Mea culpa.
Mea extremis culpa.

 I am now living with one of life's great truths: 
 Pray for patience & God gives me many chances to practice it.

The Questions

1.  Three states in a week, working in airports and on planes.  A Friday night flight and a report to finish. From a lady across the aisle:  "Would you mind turning your computer [squeezed onto an airplane tray table] so I can watch you do that?  I've never used a computer.  Breaks my nails."

2.  From an adult at the front of a long line:  "How do I work this thing?"  The cellular representative opened the instruction booklet to the page with pictures.  This precipitated a follow-up question accompanied by a laugh:  "Does anybody actually read these things?" 

3.  A quiet moment in a busy day, sipping a cup of coffee at a table in the mall.  From the person hovering by my chair:  "Are you sitting here?"

4.  Back on another plane:  "Do you mind if I put this bag under your seat?  It's too large to fit under mine with my purse." 

5.  This past Tuesday on a flight from Charlotte: "I lost my cell phone and didn't have time to stop in Charlotte for a phone card.  Could I borrow your phone to call my ride so she'll know where I'll be?"

The Thoughts That Sprang to Mind 
For Which I Am Now Atoning
and One Real Answer

1.  "Need anything else broken?"  

2.  "Just the twelve of us WHO READ THE BOOK and are now waiting in line with LEGITIMATE questions."   

3.  "No, this is an illusion.  In real life, I'm younger and less wrinkled."   

4.  "Yes, with every fiber of my five foot, nine inch being, yes, yes, yes, I would mind."   

5.  This answer was a kind, immediate, out-loud "Of course!"  To me.  I am grateful for the sweet young blonde woman seated next to me, for her mercy.  I haven't earned it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

on a winter's day

Today was a travel day.  All day.  Searched and re-searched.
First plane.  Plane stuck on tarmac.  
No time to grab a bite between flights.  
Another plane.  Luggage delay.  
Car.  Car stuck on I-65.

Filter out the irritations.  I crossed a continent in five hours.
Granted, the time spent in lines, waiting for a jet to move, 
and backtracking from Charlotte to Birmingham
almost doubled the actual travel time.
If I were a time traveller, however,
I'd refrain from telling my woes to, say, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

One nap and then I began to write.  
Wrote from one end of the country to another.
Didn't notice that three babies were crying 
until another passenger mentioned this fact.
Several times.
Louder than the babies.

Air travel is great for people watchers.
And eavesdroppers.  Writers call this research.
Nevertheless, the experience provides 
a unique opportunity to practice civility, 
to think about loving one's neighbor,
even when she snores.
Rather than fight the inevitable,
sit back and muse.


Act Three [written]
Lavish arrivals for some, the hope of work for others…promises in gestation.  
Act One
The last landfall
Act Two
A new script
Past the proscenium, through a scrim, beyond a black drapery
Dreams dissolve

The picture of the harbor at Cobh, formerly Queenstown, shows the site where the Titanic last took on passengers. Too large to pass through the harbor entrance, the great ship weighed anchor just beyond the narrow opening.  The last to board were ferried to the Titanic in small boats.  I regretted the blurry snapshot made especially for my son.  The discovery of the ship's wreckage when he was five had captivated his imagination.  Yet, in the mist of the photograph, I can imagine a gossamer silhouette of the great ship and ghostly whispers of last farewells, ethereal reminders of a bygone era.

My childhood was spent in a hot humid landscape of gentle, rolling hills bordered by pine woodlands.  Flat beaches of white sand, the marshes of Glynn, and ancient oaks, with their moss-draped branches that brushed the ground of the tranquil Georgia coast, quietly seduced.  But the raw, rugged beauty of distant seaside cliffs called to a young girl, a desire that hinted inexplicably of homecoming.  Decades later, I finally climbed to the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.  Struggled to stand against the force of the gale that raged.  But a quiet grew within as the waves lashed and the gusts howled.  Below me, the show of millenniums:  perpetual creation born of erosion.  

My carefully scripted life long scrapped, I found strength in the fierce landscape.  Maria Harris writes that "Native Americans describe spirituality as having a 'moist heart,' perhaps because native wisdom knows the soil of the human heart is necessarily watered with tears.  And that tears keep the ground soft.  From such ground new life is born."  Life pounds us.  We are diminished.  Watered with tears.   Void of expectation. Rent by sorrow, made open by the tearing.  Open to love.  

Such a miracle, love.  Not for or from a single individual but a state of being.  This absolute that does not grow but arrives complete.   That whispers, shouts, "I cannot be quantified.  I AM!"  Ah, to live in the presence of the gift, each day an unwrapping.  To be grown by the great I AM.  Love demands only that we wait.  Wait upon it with all our senses and know the full measure.  Listen.  Watch.  Keep the channel open.  Cede to the death of self and let go.  

"Celeste," the older woman said one afternoon, "you just can't please some people.  Say to yourself, 'Your opinion of me is none of my business' and let it go.  Jesus said, 'Love - not please - your neighbor.  To live otherwise is to use people for personal gratification.  And be grateful for everyone you encounter," she continued.  "Not just those who treat you well, whom you respect.  But everyone.  Each is a teacher.  Some mirror good choices; others, the consequences of bad ones.  All instruct."  

Perspective.  Patience.  Respect for others.  Humility.  Praise.  Peace.  Prayers.  For the broken ones.  For those who cannot give love because they cannot receive it.  

I can be grown by love.  If I so choose.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

bent out of shape: lessons in grace and artful living

words hide as thought takes flight
hands reach out
then telling
with paint or stone
   clay or silver
      wood or fiber
TRUTH that will not be silenced

In 2007, I traveled to Ireland, where I lived in a five hundred year old stone cottage with  my friend, Jane. The seacoast village of Kinsale, south of Cork city, was home for six months.

Three years ago this week, we took a bus to Killarney to visit Father Paddy, an Irish priest who served parishes in Alabama, a dear friend of Jane's cousin, Father John Owen.

Riding to Killarney, past fields littered with ruins and the odd standing stone, we saw the horse.  Not one of the countless thoroughbreds that grazed in green fields, this horse reared its legs over the edge of a stone cliff.  The creature, made of rusted iron, born in a sculptor's mind, rose above us, its Celtic presence as natural as the stone that anchored it.

One afternoon several months later, we stopped to watch a stonemason build a wall.  Jane commented, "You, sir, are an artist."

"No," he replied with a laugh as he continued his work.

Jane persisted.  "Oh, yes, you are.  You have an eye for composition."  He was smiling when we left.

Like time, language is man's invention, an often clumsy attempt to order existence.  Even St. Francis admonished us to "use words only when necessary." Love, art, and music: these require no translation.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I never felt the ring slip off, never heard it slide into the rarely-used garbage disposal.  Only later, when I slipped my thumb behind my finger to twirl the sterling band, did I discover the loss.  The search continued for weeks as I ransacked closets and drawers to no avail.  I did find the mate to one earring and three other mismatched loops.  The net losses mounted but none so personal as the Irish memento.

Dom, the talented artisan at Kinsale Silver, made the ring, with its slashed lines that spelled "grace" in the Ogham alphabet one sees carved into the standing stones of 4th century A.D. Ireland. I usually wore the simple, inexpensive silver band with its message facing outward. Somedays, though, I turned it toward myself...a reminder that I have to ask for my daily love.

Now the remains sit beside my computer on the breakfast table. Lop-sided, a bit mangled, hoarsely whispering an eternal message nonetheless. At one time, I would have fretted over my carelessness. Today, though, I do not feel loss. I take joy in knowing that, for a season, I wore this ring which triggered lovely memories of six months in Kinsale, Ireland. I wore it unselfconsciously, this talisman that I spun around my finger whenever deep in thought. Fine jewelry never suited me. But this simple, richly personal band pointed me to grace. And still does.

I have an artist friend who owns a kiln. We could melt it down and form it into a charm of sorts. Even stamp GRACE into the molten lump. But I think I will keep this bent, misshapen token by my sink. A reminder of the Celtic prayers that declare the sanctity of daily tasks or the Japanese tea service that refines the ordinary. Yes, this resonates. I am growing into a new season myself, one that treasures the simple. Fatigued by years of traffic jams and corporate politics, by reaching, always reaching to achieve, I am ready to wash up with quiet joy or to cook a consecrated stew.

Here I sit, typing with a southern accent, part Celtic, a bit Zen, with a rosary given to me by the Sisters of Mercy at a going-away party in a pub.

My chassis is dinged and I am a bit worn around the edges myself. I tire more easily and regularly yearn to retire to solitude. I think I'm being pulled to a good place. A centering place. In my autumn, extraneous bits of life are shed like the leaves that pile around my walkway and I revel in the lightness.

Now, if I can bide my time, listen more, love better, bite my tongue when compelled to share some wisdom, maybe...just maybe...I could point to grace occasionally. And then my Irish ring and I would have become bits of accidental art.