Tuesday, November 27, 2012

...two years abiding

...and always at the threshold 
photograph, Italy, 2004: Villa Emo, near the village of Fanzolo di Vedelgo, in the Veneto.

In an earlier post, I wrote this: "I'm aware of time's passage. It is carved on my face and hangs in aging muscles. But the concept of time escapes me. I'm in good company, though, because really intelligent people have struggled with this man-made construct."

My bright, thoughtful blogging friend, Gretchen Joanna, commented: "I admit that time is hard to think about objectively, as we are so immersed in it. But as for it being a man-made construct  -- d0 you mean it's something we make up? Time is real, and it's something God put us in, so it's good, too. Like your stories, and process, and journey. I'm glad to be on the journey with you, fellow pilgrim."

I am thankful for those who hold me accountable.  Yes, my friend, time is real and precious. I grapple with the measurements. During decades of writing five-year business plans, ambiguity crept into the process. Until, finally, the process was the point. No longer the product of creative, challenging thinking...just another plan, another round of resolutions wrapped around a vision or mission statement. An "another item off the to-do list" moment.

An advocate of planning and discipline, I consider these hallmarks of good stewardship. But I'm a simple [minded] person.  Once guidelines and budgets and goals are set, I seem to operate best in the moment. Focused on the current activity. Listening to the spirit, to others. Hearing my own thoughts. 

Thanksgiving is a case in point. First, we made a menu. Then, we made grocery lists. And shopped. Then shopped again. (Once must allow for last-minute inspiration.) Prep and cooking began in the days before our family meal and the ages converged. My grandmother and mother - long deceased - abided with me in the kitchen as I cooked. The smells and tastes of familiar recipes conjured  glimpses of my children over the years. 

Savor every minute. Susan B. Anthony wrote, "Sooner or later we all discover that the important milestones in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these."

When anniversaries and holidays do roll around, enter the time warp each affords. For a day, we can have a heightened sense of every age we've ever been, of all our encounters if we're present to this sweet/bittersweet, humbling/enlarging gift of convergence. After all, as Flannery wrote, "Everything that rises must converge."

How I spend my allotted days is no small matter. With mindfulness , I struggle to balance meditation, work, play, solitude, community. Without, I "kill" time. Literally.

The official abiding birthday is November 30.  Thank you for joining me these past two years. I have no idea what lies ahead. No five-year --  or even one-year -- plan here. This is simply a journal of the journey. In the sort-of words of Minnie Pearl, "I'm just so glad to be here." Today.

I send you these good wishes from the writings of Neil Gaiman:
I hope you will have a wonderful year, 
that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, 
that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, 
that you will be loved and that you will be liked, 
and that you will have people to love and to like in return. 
And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), 
that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. 
I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, 
and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. 
And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

...ubuntu to you

My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Everyone needs an empty chair. A reminder of those who have gone before us. Of those who are separated by physical distance. Or emotional gulfs. Of brief encounters with lasting memories. Of all who remain uninvited to the circle. A solitude that both comforts and afflicts.

Perhaps the table will be crowded this Thanksgiving with loved ones. Or perhaps not. Sometimes all the chairs are empty except for the one you occupy. This Thursday, Salute, the lovely waterfront restaurant five minutes away, will feed six hundred homeless people, a tradition that reaches more people each year. The Ethiopian-born owner, one of the most beautiful women I've ever encountered, once found herself alone with an infant son in a shelter in Italy. She vowed then that she would help others who needed help. Now the owner of the restaurant here where she first waited tables, she keeps her promise. And she would be the first - for all her diligence, discipline and dedication - to say that she is not self-made but the recipient of grace...a grace that flows through her like a mighty river and baptizes all she encounters.

One of the first people I met here, Menbe smiled and hugged and brought me into community. The nicest thing about her circle is that no one need apply nor bring a pedigree. For her, love and gratitude are active verbs. She has ubuntu. [Update for Thanksgiving 2013...an additional offering: "Salute will host a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with Celebrity Waiters and White Table Cloth Service for those less fortunate in our community on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday November 28th from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. In honor of our 10th Anniversary, we will give each attending disadvantaged family a coupon good for ten free meals to be redeemed at Salute e Vita Ristorante during the holiday season. A Health Fair will be set up in the parking lot with the help from our local medical professionals, registered nurses and doctors. Flu Shots and informational tables will be available.”]

Click on the link below for a wonderful peak at Menbere and her guests last year.
2012 Thanksgiving at Salute

[From Saving Civility by Sara Hacala] "Ubuntu is an African word that, while difficult to translate, is one whose meaning we should each know. I have heard it described 'I in you, you in me.' Archbishop Desmond Tutu translates ubuntu as 'I cannot be, without you.' He explains further, "When we want to give high praise to someone we say, 'Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.' Then you are generous; you are hospitable; you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. A person with ubuntu  is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole...a person is a person through other persons."

God bless our empty chairs. They point us to the compassion that loss can bring if we allow. To the promise of new relationships. To something bigger than ourselves, greater than narrow notions of "our own kind".

I invite you to listen to George Winston's Thanksgiving.

And send you



Sunday, November 11, 2012

...every day is thanksgiving

This past week provided a bit of departure from my typically tranquil life. Beginning at five a.m. on Wednesday morning, the circuitous route to ten a.m. emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix on Thursday included six hours in a very uncomfortable chair in the ER waiting room.

Once behind the magic curtain into the ER, the care was fine, the caregivers finer. Prayers and support from family and friends kept our spirits up. Now at home, the mending continues, also a circuitous process. The energy I had yesterday dissipated over night. But healing comes in stillness and quiet.

All that illness encompasses - pain, tender care, love, concern, lonely moments of waiting, thanksgiving - enlarges life. I am most grateful for all my blessings.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

...when a door closes

 All your questions can be answered,
if that is what you want.
But once you learn your answers,
you can never unlearn them.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I passed this stairway daily as I walked to and from the bed and breakfast in the Dorsoduro area of Venice. Only when I returned home did I notice the illusion in the photograph: a door opening to a wall of windows. In actuality, steps on the other side of the door lead down to another sidewalk alongside a small canal. The windows belong to a building on the other side. I know this because I climbed up and stuck my head through the opening. 

Kindly erase this explanation before you proceed. The scene now becomes a metaphor for life's vagueries...those moments of between and betwixt when a door has closed and a window is not yet open. That place where progress is measured one step at a time, not always forward. Upward and onward, through a portal that quickly shuts. Then down...down to a murky canal over which no bridge can be seen in either direction. Opposite, a wall of shuttered windows whispers, "Patience, faith. Wait." 

Bowed, contemplative, I stand before the mystery. Did I say bowed? Yeah, briefly...just before I scream,"Enough! Enough already! I can't stand it any longer! I need answers NOW!" Yes, I know that exclamation points and all-caps are frowned upon by teachers and editors. But I don't know how better to convey raw "instant-gratifcation-isn't-fast enough" moments.

I realize that ready answers are inevitably borrowed or, worse yet, my own creations...small, limiting, and ultimately unsatisfying. But if I am unwilling to accept "no" as an answer, can you imagine how no answer at all resonates with me?  Once upon an unnatural, transcendent, uppity moment, I journalled, "Finite answers pale in the face of an infinite universe." And God laughed.

 I'd stick with Rainer Maria Rilke's words if I were you:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books that are now written 
in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you 
because you wouldnot be able to live them. 
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now. 
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.

Love y'all more than my hairspray.
Hope you have a good one.

As for me,
I'm going to cook a big batch of garlicky beef stew
that we'll eat on the back porch
under billions and billions of stars.
Contemplation is easier this way.