Sunday, May 31, 2015

...where the journey leads

She is to the magnolia born, my friend, Jane-Anything-But-Plain. A Southern beauty, lover of hats, well-schooled in manners, terrifying at times. Holly Golightly as written by Louise Erdrich. Loves the lush green of Ireland. Lives, sometimes, in the red-dusted New Mexico land known as Ghost Ranch where she received the phone call every mother dreads. Her daughter had died and her own heart was not so much broken as shredded. She returned to this landscape to mourn. And has returned again, and yet again, to the land where she ruminates and sheds a layer or two.

Mentor, friend, bossy pants, she drug me to Ireland, then across the landscape in her VW Beetle to New Mexico...Tucumcari, Las Vegas (not that one), Taos, Abiquiu, Chama, Trampas, Chimayo, Espanola, Santa Fe. And Ghost Ranch. Where Georgia O'Keefe, another bossy pants, had lived and painted. Where, the day after we left, Don, a Presbyterian minister/volunteer at the ranch, fell to his death hiking Kitchen Mesa. Not a place for sissies. During a subsequent six-month volunteer stint, her emails described a sidewinder that crossed her path and the afternoon the Coca-Cola man removed the machine on the porch of the Trading Post because a six-foot bull snake had taken up residence in its innards. Then there's the October tarantula migration. I offer Exhibit A which crawled up the wall where I had stood the day before. Multiply five-inch long "A" by thousands and then picture the creepy-crawly horde pouring across the land and roads in search of a date.

Jane was a buyer for an upscale department store in Birmingham, a woman who made regular trips to New York City, wrapped in an ankle-length Blackgama mink coat to ward off the winter cold. She could intimidate a cabbie and collect a brilliant smile from, of all people, George Peppard in a Manhattan crosswalk...all in an afternoon's work. Or manage two chance encounters with O.J. Simpson, first on the street where he beamed at her, then an hour later at Barney's, with Nicole, when he recognized her and said, "We have to stop meeting like this." [Or did he say, "Are you following me?" Not sure. She'll set me straight.] Her appraisal of the man: spot on. She sold the mink coat to underwrite the Ireland trip. Just as well since the only time I ever saw her take it out of the closet was a frigid Birmingham night when she took the garbage out clad in her huge black-rimmed glasses and grey sweats topped with The Coat. To paraphrase Phineas Nigellus' talking portrait in Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix (or Kingsley Shacklebolt in the film version), "You know, you may not agree with Jane on many counts...but you cannot deny she's got style."

Style and moxie in spades she has. Enough cracks so as not to be unbearable. Some hard-earned knowledge, of which Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: "It isn't for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for that long, uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security." And, with this, the growing awareness that sanity and faith and security aren't formulaic goals - doctrinal and attainable - but forged by the authenticity of the journey...the grace "between the macro and the micro". I've been watching, Jane, and learning. Thanks for the ride.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

...intersections and forks in the road

ACT I - Breakfast with the lady in the pink spa robe

The beautiful young woman was clad in a thick, pink robe...not so unusual at a B&B which features a spa just up the hall. I crossed to an empty table in the corner where I hung my red jacket on the back of a chair and placed my phone by the window. Then I headed for a large cup of cappuccino. When I turned, I saw her, reading and taking notes at the corner table, leaning against my jacket.

I took a deep breath and walked over. Smiling, I said, "Excuse me, let me grab that jacket. I dared not carry it and a full cup at the same time."

"Were you sitting here? I didn't notice the coat. I'm sorry." We were both polite in that way that strangers are in awkward moments.

"No problem. Don't get up." I retrieved my jacket and phone and crossed to an empty table for two where Bill joined me for a leisurely breakfast. He returned to the room to write a progress note and I lingered over the view. Beyond the lawn and flower beds, the azure water of the Pacific sparkled in the morning light. The window frames transformed the scene into a series of pictures. I took a couple of photos, then screwed up my courage and once again walked to the corner table from where, during breakfast, the young woman had glanced at me a couple of times.

She looked up with a pleasant expression and I said, "Excuse me for this intrusion but I hope the episode of the red jacket didn't diminish your experience. Could we have a do-over? You again?"

She was beautiful, with flawless light brown skin and big dark eyes that lit up when she smiled. "Of course. I'm sorry about the mix-up. I wasn't paying attention."

Paler-Than-Ivory and More-Caramel-Than-Ebony met and quickly discovered that both of us were born in the south and now live a few miles apart by the bay. She described her birthplace in West Virginia as home to "3,500 people including those in the surrounding area. And I don't mean suburbs but the folks who live in the hills." Then she added, "From as early as I can remember, I thought the stork had dropped me in the wrong place." Now fully engaged, the minutes flew by as we connected. As I thanked her for the chat, I added, "We should've pushed two tables together." She laughed and agreed.

ACT II - Turn left at the stump with the Blessed Mother holding a bass clarinet

We headed once again to the unique home deep in the big woods. The dwelling is a series of small buildings connected with stairs and walkways, built incrementally over a number of years by its owner, Bill's patient, now unable to ride long distances due to a back damaged more by sitting (he's a master bridge player) than by the heavy lifting. This time I met his wife, same age as I am, dressed in jeans and a sweater. She moved with a natural ease. Her long, straight hair, equal parts light brown and gray, escaped from behind her ears with every breeze and whipped across her face, iconic and warm. Each time the strands were tucked once more with an unconsciously elegant gesture. Is there any better company than  a woman comfortable in her own skin?  (Or a man...but our men were nowhere to be seen at the moment...gone temporarily but not forgotten.)

We sat outside on the porch and looked out over the valley and mountains beyond, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers...and a single, curious, eavesdropping lizard.  I confessed to having described their home - a blend of art and whimsy - as "the hobbit house". She replied that they call it "the house that acid built", adding with a smile, "That was a long time ago." 

The conversation turned substantive. For a couple of disparate women - The Art Major and The Forest Ranger - we hold similar views. Never apolitical, we have been quiet for a very long time...not so much now. The morning passed in a nanosecond but I left with a longer reading list and gratitude.

ACT III - Homecoming

The journeys of three women intersected that morning. Our roads had carried us out of West Virginia, south Georgia, and California's central valley to new vistas, not so much "away from" as "toward". More importantly, "into"...the interior journey of choices, assimilation, experience that is the road to authenticity, to a home that is not place but belonging. Along the way is a learning.  The journey is sometimes rocky, filled with chinks, slick in places. And we never know when we'll come upon some sisters (and brothers) and a few eternal moments around the next bend.

Epilogue - Musing in Gualala

The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year,
and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going,
for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone
for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming.
But again and again we avoid the long thoughts.
We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all?
We get confused. We need such escape as we can find.
But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need
...not all the time, surely, but from time to time...
to enter that still room within us all 
where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again,
where we are most alive ourselves to turnings
and to where our journeys have brought us.
The name of the room is Remember,
the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart,
we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.
Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

Monday, May 11, 2015

...the seat of wisdom

The Chair

I took the photo because of a memory. Fourteen months ago we sat here at the outside corner of a small restaurant in Sausalito. My son, his wife, their Ukranian exchange student and my granddaughter huddled with Bill and me as the wind shifted directions, blowing cool off the bay. Five year old Ciara, a kinetic creature, sat uncommonly still as she soaked up the sights. She was a long way from Tuscaloosa. The food arrived and talk subsided a bit. As I tucked into my gnocchi, I glanced at a group of twenty-somethings who crossed the street toward us. Most were Asian. All were laughing. Ciara watched as they drew near us. In a moment stripped of all vanity, as pure as any I've seen in her young life, she waved her hand and said with utter delight, "Hello, California people!" I will treasure that moment forever and speak of it a bit too often. But it was special, see? Wise. A double helping of joy, of love.

Just after I took this shot yesterday, a couple sat down beside us. With the respect we afford our neighbors in tight spaces, I didn't stare. But I recall a drift of Rastafarian hair and baggy shorts as the tall, thirty-ish man passed my chair. The woman was slight. Sated by the breakfast, as we lingered over coffee in the warm silence of familiarity, the soft, thoughtful voice of the raggedy young man behind me drifted my way. In one of those "and then he said" moments, I could hear nothing else. A teacher, he related a conversation he'd had with a colleague. "Religion is a personal choice, a way to relate, to order. But when it becomes dogmatic..." He paused and I thought, 'Don't stop there.'

He continued, simply, as unconscious of self as Ciara had been that night in March 2014. "I told him that I love the walk of Jesus. He was about love for all people, not some select few." After a pause, he went on. "If  religion keeps us from loving another person, Jesus isn't present. It's not enough to say the words 'I love you but...'. That's equivocation." He repeated, "if religion comes between me and another, if it keeps me from caring for, loving, reaching out to others, then Jesus is no where to be found."

We left after this. I fought the urge to walk over, confess to deeply conscious eavesdropping, and thank the man for the best sermon I've heard in a long time. But I would've probably ended up hugging him and this was no Kumbaya moment. I'd been present once again for a proclamation from the seat of wisdom at a little cafe in Sausalito. Love. Double and triple helpings heaped upon all. May the peace that passes all understanding be with us. Before we blow this good earth - and all who call it home - to bits. Amen.