Thursday, May 26, 2011

...there's a hole in the clouds somewhere

As my readers know, I moved out of my condo in February. The intervening months have been a “come as you are.”  I was terribly organized about the clothes packing thing, largely thanks to my friend, Joanie. And her system has worked rather well. For the most part. 
Keep in mind, I’m not operating out of an efficient, packed-for-business rolling bag. I have ALL my clothes with me during this transition. Every last thing. Almost. Some winter things are still in Georgia. And Tuscaloosa. For any of you who have lived in suitcase-land, AKA moving limbo, you will understand. I am happy to report that last Wednesday was an especially good day. I found my silver loop earrings.   
After spending a month in Georgia, I came to the west coast. Home, for the moment, is a sailboat. The v-berth...or, as I like to call it, “my crawl-in closet”...has room for my clothes, a blanket and a pillow. Cozy. This is adventure living!  No yard work involved.  I occasionally re-position the boat in the slip when the wind blows. I am also happy to report that I can now make a pretty knot and coil. Just don’t ask me the name of the configuration.
This morning I am ensconced below deck. Motionless except, of course, for fingers on the keyboard. Enforced stillness for the most delightful reason. Part of my boat-sitting responsibility is to facilitate the re-naming process. A wonderful artist name Mike is currently painting the new name on the sloop. He can’t have me jumping around below decks while he works. 
My marina life has afforded me the best of all possible worlds. I have solitude. And I have community. A number of live-in’s have introduced themselves. One, a grandmother, lives three docks over. She’s a delight.  Spunky and positive. Another, close to my age, lives two docks away. She immediately took emergency information in the event of the unforeseen. Thoughtful. We have bonded through stories shared in the marina laundry.  
Privacy is respected here. But when you are sitting on your fanny tugging on a line, help is offered. I’ve noticed also that sailors do not mind inquiries about their respective ladies (boats, I’m speaking of boats here). Quite the contrary. And I love to observe the relationship that exists between captain and boat. Recently a 34 ft. Hunter docked in the adjacent slip in the late afternoon. After the equipment was stowed, the sailor carefully hosed her down with fresh water. He stopped and wiped the stainless rail with his sleeve, then disappeared below decks. In a few minutes he reappeared, a satchel in hand. He climbed onto the floating dock and walked away. Head down, he slowly moved in my direction, then stopped suddenly. I watched  as he turned around, shoved his left hand into his trouser pocket, and rocked back on his heels. His eyes swept over the beloved boat, one long, last tender look before leaving.  
This lends credence to my theory about widow’s walks. Supposedly these rooftop spaces were inhabited by wives who watched their men leave in tall ships. Widowed by the long voyages. Enter the Wiki (text and photo):
“However, there is little or no evidence that widow’s walks were intended or regularly used for this purpose.  [They] are, in fact, a standard decorative feature of Italianate architecture, which was very popular during the height of the Age of Sail in many North American coastal communities. Beyond their use as viewing platforms, they are frequently built around the chimney of the residence, thus creating an easy access route to the structure. This allows the residents to pour sand down burning chimneys in the event of a chimney fire in the hope of preventing the house from burning down.” The Wiki refers to the design as “high maintenance and prone to leaks.” What boat owner wouldn’t grasp this concept?
Interesting. But I can hear Captain Smith explaining to his wife the need for such a design element. “I’m only thinking of your safety, dear. And, of course, I care about the style in which you live. All alone much of the time. So unselfish. The very least I can do.” (In my mind, Captain Smith looks amazingly like a young Rex Harrison in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”  Ahhhhh.) And while the words are slipping through his lips, a scene plays in HIS mind. He is home from the sea. The nautical clock in the hall has just struck three bells (two-thirty a.m. - an explanation of bells will have to wait for another blog). He slips out of the four-poster bed, walks quietly out of the room and journeys toward the housetop. Armed with his spyglass, he climbs into the cupola.  Off in the distance, lit by a full moon, gently rocking by the dock, is his ship. All is well. He smiles as he walks down the winding stairs to check on his other lady.

Life in a marina is much like life anywhere else.  Details may differ but essential truths resonate everywhere.  A friend who has spent much of his life traipsing around the world wrote this of his experience.  “As I travel all over the world to places as wealthy as Monaco or as poor as rural India, I find one recurring theme irrespective of religion, culture, education level or standard of living.  Just as a shake of the head means “No” anywhere on the planet, people simply want to live in provide for and raise their families, to enjoy social interactions.  It’s the same everywhere.  Only the crazies want to destroy others.  Only the desperate turn to violence to make a statement.  Almost everywhere that there is tolerance, there is peace.”
The Golden unto others what you would have them do unto you.  Stated throughout the ages, in infinite forms, a variety of languages, and almost universally culturally non-specific.  
It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing ‘neither to harm nor be harmed’) and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.  Epicurus.

One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.  Plato’s Socrates
Zi Gong asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not RECIPROCITY such a word?” Confucius, Analects

Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe. Abdu’l-Baha
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.  That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. Talmud, Shabbat
Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes. Sirach 31:15

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12
When I was twelve, I lived for the arrival of The Ladies’ Home Journal. Fresh reading material delivered to the wondrous. I recall an article about Helen Hayes, the doyenne of American theatre. She was also an inveterate needleworker.  While being interviewed, she stitched away on the center square of what would be part of a nine by twelve foot living room rug for her New York apartment.  Inscribed were these words attributed to Confucius:
If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.  
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.  
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.  
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.  
Whatever corner of this good earth you call home, may peace, love and light be with you.  There's a hole in the clouds somewhere.  And don't forget to let YOUR little light shine!

Saturday, May 14, 2011 a man walks into a bar

One Person, Two Journeys

Who is this person in the mirror?  Who spent time pleasing. Who followed the rules.
Who sought approval, then risked all to play the fool.
Who rushed from one endeavor to another. 
A prodigal who wasted time and gifts. Lost in a maze. 
Awakened, finally, to reality, 
To the nothingness inside.

Who is the prodigal? And who, the good? No line of demarcation.
Each of us is both. At the start, the good son, the winsome daughter.
Untested. Pliable. Guileless. Satisfied. 
Life unfolds. The prodigal emerges.
 Smart, stubborn, proud...I set out.
Will I be transformed by the journey?

*Based on writings from my friend, Eileen Sauer

The story begins with a conversation. I was huddled in my corporate cubicle when her head appeared (just barely) above the fabric-covered barricade. 

“You’re one of us,” she said. I remember her impish smile. From this opening statement, we were off and running. We are the odd couple of girlfriends. I am tall. She is petite. I am a southern woman from Dublin, Georgia who graduated from the University of Georgia. She, of Asian descent, grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Notre Dame. While I am an audience, she could have easily been a concert pianist, such is her talent. I, however, maintain steadfastly that I am more Zen-ish. 

Our conversations have been wide-ranging, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Substantive and fun. Between us, trust. We are both seekers. We question, rock our respective boats. We care deeply for each other. We, as Anne Morrow LIndbergh wrote, “stretch to understand (each other) and are invigorated by the stretching.” 

Back to the cubicle. Out of that conversation my friend shared the following piece she had written several years earlier:

"Whether we like it or not, we are creatures who learn through experience, who grow through the experiences and mistakes we make, who develop compassion through our hardships. If we do not willingly put our necks on the chopping block, risk being the fool, the prodigal who wastes his effort as he flits from one endeavor to another only to run into one dead end after another, we risk not awakening to what is real inside. Until we have hit rock bottom, until we have learned that there is nowhere else to run [or hide] - for we cannot run [or hide] from ourselves; until we have learned that there truly is no 'grass is greener on the other side,' then and only then can we begin to move in the only direction available to us - up.

"If you view the prodigal son as the prodigal son and the good and faithful son as the good and faithful son, the parable makes no sense. But what if you view the good and faithful son as what we all are when we start off:  untried, soft, comfortable, naive? And the prodigal son is what we are with our efforts and energies which, like money, are a source of currency that we exchange for experiences, knowledge, growth, awareness, and compassion?” 

The story of grace.  This version, though, has a bit of a twist.  The prodigal returns home and is welcomed by his father.  The good son, miffed because he feels he is taken for granted, walks away . . . to begin HIS prodigal journey.  The story ends as the father and prodigal watch the good son leave, knowing they will be there to welcome him when he returns, humbled and teachable.

Eileen, you get it.  We ALL start out as the Good Son and, in our journey, discover within us our human nature.  If we are willing to surrender pride, we discover grace, freely given.   

So, a man walks into a bar.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asks.

“Nothing.  Uh, I don’t drink.”  The young man felt uncomfortable in the surroundings. But the sign in the window said “Closing early tonight for private party. Temporary help needed.  Apply inside.”  He needed a job.  His car was out of fuel and so was he.  He had taken a deep breath before entering.  Over the years, he had driven by this bar many times, noting the patrons with disdain as he passed. 

“Well, son, if you don’t drink, maybe you need to head down the street to the diner.”

“I’m here about the job, sir.  Guess it’s too late.  I ran out of gas at the county line.”

“That’s over twenty miles.  You walked here?”

“Yes,sir.  As I said, I need work.  Anybody else hiring around here?”

“Not so fast.  Never said I wasn’t.”

“But the sign says you’re closing early.”

“Son, you sure do know how to talk yourself out of a job.”  He chuckled and extended his hand.  “Name’s Sam.”

The two shook hands and the young man said, “I’m Pete.”

“Well, Pete, you know anything about setting up for parties?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”  He had been in charge of the business dinners and parties his dad had given. 

“After we close, we have a private party in the back room.  Two of my waiters are sick.  You’re hired.”

With that, Pete headed toward the back.  A small boy who lay on a blanket in the corner of the room waved and smiled.  “What’s a kid doing in a place like this?” he wondered out loud.

From behind, a woman’s soft voice responded. “I’m Anna. That’s my son, Tim. He was hit by a car last year and can’t walk. Sam let’s me bring him here. I clean and help out with extra bits.”

Pete recalled seeing a woman walking through the door several months earlier, carrying a child. At the time, he was appalled and recounted the story of a delinquent mother to several friends. Now he felt only shame.

He spoke to Tim, then Anna gave him a quick rundown. They joined the others who were moving tables and chairs. At the end of the evening, Sam walked in with several envelopes and the workers queued up. 

“Thank you, Sam.”  Anna’s voice shook slightly as she peered inside at her pay.  “This is generous.”  Sam winked and said, “Get that boy one of those new-fangled games.  And buy yourself a new blouse.  I’m getting tired of this one.”  He laughed heartily at his own joke.  When Anna smiled at him, he wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and muttered, “I think I’m allergic to those fancy flowers.”

Pete was next.  At least he would have enough to eat tomorrow.  He reached out and took the envelope.  What he saw inside surprised him.  “Sam, I think you gave me the wrong one.”

“Let me see.”  Sam took the envelope, looked at it, and said, “Nope.  Says ‘Pete’ plain as day on the front.”

“But I only worked for a few hours.  This looks like a full day’s wages.”

“Son, this is yours.”  The older man looked deeply into Pete’s eyes and said nothing else.

Pete thanked him and walked outside.  Overhead a full moon lit the street.  Six long, frustrating months had passed since he had last driven down this street.  An angry, proud exit. Tonight, he turned to his right and stared into the distance.  Tonight no anger remained, his pride long beaten into submission.  Just two more miles.  He could get the car tomorrow.  Tonight he was walking home.  To his dad and brother. 

The ego believes it can survive all things.  But it can’t.  Grace for the journey.  Grace from the journey.  Count it all joy.