Sunday, February 13, 2011

the Buddha in the bedroom

Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, 
but they will not be what you see 
and they will not be a substitute for seeing.
Flannery O'Connor

For reasons I never knew, Mother did not leave the hospital in the family Chevrolet following my birth. No, instead, she and I were driven home in the Horne's Funeral Home hearse which doubled as the local ambulance. We drove through Eastman at the rear end of a parade. Had Flannery O'Conner submitted this scenario to her publisher, he would have looked up, shaken his head, and said, "Miss O'Connor, this time I'm afraid you've gone too far."  But the circumstances go a long way toward explaining what has followed. Welcome to my circus.

"Ms. Brady, I'd like you to write a single sentence that encapsulates your persona."
"Certainly.  No problem.  I like to color outside the lines."
"Ma'am, you can color later.  Right now, I need that sentence."
"Sir, that was the sentence."
"The thing about coloring outside the lines? That's not what I had in mind."
"Well, don't feel bad because, with all due respect, you don't know me from Adam."
He looked at me with a glazed expression that indicated I should have scribbled, "Makes therapists cry."

Decades passed before I got the courage to say, "Hello, my name is Celeste and I am a recovering art major." You see, before I went to college, I LOVED coloring outside the lines. Four years and a B.F.A. later, I graduated, certain that my work was trite, my talent minimal, and my future prospects dim. This largely from a professor whose entry in the faculty art show consisted of nine blank canvases. Well, almost blank. Titled "I" through "IX", Roman numerals lending a touch of elegance, the twelve-inch squares hung in a row. Each bore three single slashes: one each of red, blue, and yellow. Shot from a water pistol. "I" sprayed from one foot.  "II" from two feet. You get the picture. I didn't. Not back then. Ended up working on an agile software development team as a technical communicator, graphic interface designer, and usability engineer. Don't ask. Simply know that this preceded the therapy.  

I did benefit from the sessions. Just not the one with the wonk in the white short-sleeve dress shirt and pocket protector. His apparel should have been a dead give-away. He obviously had taken a wrong turn himself, seeing as how he was dressed like a Georgia Tech engineering student trudging up The Hill back in the sixties.  The only thing missing from his ensemble was a slide rule hanging off his belt. 
One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons depicts a doctor's examing room. A worried, middle-aged man in skivvies sits on the edge of an exam table. The physician stands in front of a light box, perusing an x-ray. Ribs and internal organs are discernible. In the man's stomach, letters of the alphabet float. Hundreds of them.

The doctor is pointing, his mouth open. Beneath, the caption reads, "Bob, that novel in you has to come out."

Like Bob, I've discovered that whatever is hiding inside - real and neglected - needs to be voiced. Or painted. Or climbed, swum, or sung. For the sheer joy of the doing. To become the integrated, genuine creature that God made.

The historical Jesus embodied Eastern qualities that stand in stark contrast to our western culture. One in particular. He operated outside the box. Just ask the Pharisees. He broke rules. Hired all the wrong people to be disciples. The only one with a decent resume - this line borrowed from a minister whose name I can't recall - was Judas.  Christ ate and drank with sinners. Talked to the prostitute at the well. Drew in the sand. And I'd bet dollar to doughnuts that He drew outside the lines.
For the past five years, I've awakened to the sight of a graceful, tall, ivory-colored Buddha by the window.  A rosary hangs from the elongated raised hand and, in the adjacent small chest, my Bible from the First Baptist Sunday School department rests. To the woman who said that I should remove Buddha, citing idol-worship, may I submit that many idols have permeated my life.  At one time, I would have been intent on pleasing you, ma'am, sacrificing my authenticity on the altar of fear. Gave that false god up for Lent not too long ago. My idols are rarely carved in stone or wood but woven of my own cowardice and inconsistencies. Buddha reminds me of who I am, an aging southern belle, Christian with a bit of Zen thrown in for good measure.
So, my dear Buddhist friends, accept my gratitude for gifts shared.  
And know that I mean no disrespect.  
This past week, in the midst of my move, Buddha departed the condo.  
Southern style.  
In a pink camo sleeping bag in the back of a pick-up truck. 
A certain symmetry exists between the beginning of this saga and now.  
The irony is not lost on one who began her journey behind a bunch of Shriners on little motorcycles. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

do you want to be healed?

The walls are empty, waiting to be puttied and painted. Stacks of books have been given away. A  young friend, aptly named Angel, has been helping me sort, store, and stash. Checklists have replaced grocery lists. The sequel to January's virus is currently playing in my sinuses.  Not bad timing.  Any desire to flee the scene of the wreck that is currently my condo has been obliterated.  

Pack up and old memories will come out of deep storage. I discovered a long-lost photo when leafing through the "to be donated to the library" pile. The morning light revealed a faint red-brown stain across the bottom of the  Steinberg poster that hung by my desk, a reminder of a more hectic relocation. That would be Episode 12, my friends, The One Where the House Moved Before I Did. On Thursday, as I bandaged my knee after a minor skirmish with an open drawer, I noticed the scar. Not the one from a bike crash at the bottom of the Roberts' driveway. Or the ribbon of taut, silver skin left by a a barnacle-covered rock on the causeway leading to Merritt Island. Daddy's fishing trip had ended abruptly that summer afternoon with a blood-soaked dash to the doctor's office for stitches. The dash also ended abruptly when we halted while the old bridge swung slowly open to let a boat pass. Daddy took his saturated handkerchief and handed me a clean beach towel to hold against the deep cut. Alas, the doctor favored butterfly bandages. I sighed, knowing that no playmate would ever appreciate the extent of my suffering. Stitches. I deserved stitches.

Back to the first scar, a badge from a childhood move. I was carrying my small white hobnail glass vanity lamp when my ankle turned. The glass shattered as I hit with a thud and skidded on the loose gravel. The resulting knee injury left me side-lined at recess for weeks. Adding insult to injury, the wound that would not heal was reopened when Randy Hunnicutt collided with me as he raced around the corner of the building. I have vague memories of coming back to consciousness in the classroom, a front tooth missing from the fray and a trail of fresh blood soaking my leg. Randy had a large protrusion over his eye where his forehead had made contact with my mouth.  We enjoyed our brief primary school notoriety before passing the throne (an iron playground bench reserved for the injured ) to the next casualties. Decades later, however, tiny pieces of glass or rock still work their way to the surface of my skin and escape.

The scrapes of my youth birthed silver talismans that evoke sweet memories of riding bicycles and jumping for joy. Other wounds, however, ones born of fear and choices, left no visible marks but whispered darker messages. I put aside art and writing because I feared I wasn't good enough. Dropped hobbies and interests that others deemed frivolous. I got lost in the process. And sick.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ (John 5:6 NIV). 
I first heard the story of the invalid by the pool as a child. 
My response had changed little in the intervening years. "Well, of course I do!"  
Now, however, the response recorded in John 5:7 resonated.  
Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me…  

I had once seen this as weakness, victimhood even.  
Now I heard the humility of a fellow traveler echoing across the ages.
I saw the questioner, his gentle eyes smiling.
You are not alone. I am with you always.  
But I'm a mess.  I can't even take care of myself.
You, he said softly, are not alone in that either.  I am with you.
The humility landed like an anvil.   I was not, would never be, self-sufficient.
I've met Him so many times.  Incarnate in friends, in strangers.  Kairos.

Love heals scars that love left. Henry Rollins

"God, I can't but You can."  These words had marked layer upon layer of capitulation over the years.  What power or control did I still claim?  I was too tired to figure this out and knew that I had run up on something that couldn't be Googled. My analytical brain needed a time-out.  Within these condo walls, I became willing to face the truth, to make the difficult decisions necessary to heal spiritually, physically, emotionally.  To tear down walls within me. Discovered that I could not afford pride.  Literally. 

During the process, bits of my past worked their way to the surface.  I acknowledged each and let each go.  Sometimes. Progress, not perfection. Each day the process continues.  One choice at a time. The bite-sized life.

There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts.
One of them asked, 'Why on our hearts, and not in them?'
The rabbi answered, 'Only God can put Scripture inside.  But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.'
Anne Lamott

Take in the holy words. You will know them. They are the ones that reach across time and space, that arrive quietly and write themselves across the back of your mind. And when your heart breaks open, they will fall inside.  Your tears will water them and their Truth will grow inside of you.  Like kudzu, these words have staying power.  They are portable, require no packing.

Hello, walls. 
Thank you for sheltering me.  Protect the ones who follow.  It is time to say good-bye.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

moving out...moving on

I became ill three weeks after I purchased my condo. While my little home has been a haven, shouldering the financial burden when corporate disability did not pay for months on end was daunting. As if a fourteen month delay two years ago didn't resonate, the seven-month delay this past year did. To reinstate the coverage, medical tests were repeated. This time with no health insurance, out-of-pocket, an increasingly shallow one. The Lord's Prayer took on new meaning. Asking humbly for my daily bread was very real. I kept this home only because of the generosity of friends and strangers. Suddenly, dusting took on new meaning. 
Thank you, Lord, for the privilege. 
Now, out of the blue, I've received an offer to rent my place. 
Another gift. 

48 x 72
A housewarming gift to myself, this painting echoed my journey four years ago.
I call it "Big Girl"... mea culpa,  o creative one, mea extremis culpa.
I've enjoyed this home. Coming on the heels of the collapse of my house in 2002, which insurance didn't cover, I sense a trend or some cosmic message. Perhaps I am born to be a renter. Whatever the meaning, I am grateful that life trumped my arrogance with a humility born of fatigue. Thomas Merton wrote that a tree honors God by being a tree. When I read this years ago, I was struck by his words. To be made in the image of God is to be perfectly ourselves.  Perhaps the journey is a treasure hunt, recognizing bits of truth here and there, integrating each into the whole being...the road to authenticity. 

My daughter, Adrienne had this  made for me in Venice, during her semester abroad
while an architecture student at Auburn University.  She drug this fragile piece through
several countries and on a very long flight home without so much as a wrinkle.  
I love this girl.

The night before Adrienne was born, I saw Chariots of Fire. One scene in that movie remains vivid.  The sister of the missionary/Olympic runner is frustrated that her brother "wastes" time running.  She confronts him, saying that he should spend his time evangelizing. Frustrated, she asks, "Why do you run?"  His answer:  "I run because God made me fast.  And when I run, I feel His pleasure."  Foreshadowing? I don't know but my daughter became a runner.  And now, I feel God's pleasure. I admire those who were more fully formed early in life. But every step I have taken has brought me to a place of acceptance. Ah, yes, George Eliot, 
"It is never to late to become what you might have been."  

I sense no hesitancy nor do I seek a geographical cure. Past wounds have healed. Adrienne confirmed this in an email before my Irish jaunt. "Mom, you've been stuck in the rinse-repeat cycle too long. Go for it." This is a letting go of a different sort. Yes, there is risk. But there is risk every time I cross the street. Twenty-one months without pay taught me lessons about the illusion of security. I am excited about this new chapter. And so is my checkbook. A bit of income and out I go!!!

As we looked down the hill at the hole that had been the front of my house, my friend asked,
"How on earth are you going to make it?" I answered with a bravery I didn't feel, "With grace, bailing wire, and all the broken bits." That Christmas, my art-gifter, Adrienne, unaware of the conversation, gave me this "found art" cross,
a tangible reminder of words given to me that fateful day.

This past week has been incredible...a time of gratitude, reminiscing, and a few tears.  
Amazing grace.  Strength for the journey.  
May God bless ALL our broken roads.

A preview of coming attractions:
yes, Virginia, there's a Buddha in the bedroom
a song from my son
do you want to get well?