Sunday Morning ~ To Be Trusted

Sunday Morning ~ To Be Trusted

Nkhwangwa ikhulupirira mpini. ~ The axe-head trusts the handle.

~ Chewa proverb

December 1, 2019

Hi Everyone,

“If you have to go to the bathroom, wake me up so I know where you are.”  She said this as she struggled to keep her eyes open. She is falling asleep in my bed; snuggled into the cradle my body makes as I bend my knees around her. It’s the night before Thanksgiving. Her parent’s room is crowded now that her brother is big enough to sleep in the small bed jammed between the bureau and hope chest while the dog bed covers the only exposed floor. They could take a bigger room; I have one here, but my daughter is attached to her childhood room. Amelia won’t sleep alone, so there we were tucked in together in my bed. I could barely see her head surrounded by pillows and quilts. She was apprehensive when we first made this sleeping arrangement. She was worried I didn’t have a nightlight and she didn’t like seeing the dress forms in the sewing room across the hall. She said they scared her. I closed the bedroom door so they couldn’t see us. I told her maybe they want company too. Maybe they are scared. She said with conviction, “No. They aren’t. They are ok.” I felt her little body relax once the light was out and she saw the Christmas lights in the greenhouse gave the bedroom an approved glow. I thought, shoot, I forgot to unplug those, but when I saw how content she was, I was relieved I’d forgotten. She pulled her knees up tighter with a little quiver, as if she were excited all her conditions were met. Her feet rested against my legs. She reached out her little hand to hold onto my arm, additional insurance that I wouldn’t go anywhere. I assured her I will wake her if I have to get up, but I almost never do so she shouldn’t worry about that. It seemed a mature and insightful concern, an adult having to get up at night to pee. I’d rather suffer than wake her and sneaking away would be too cruel and dangerous. I was more concerned about the morning when I’d want to be up early in the kitchen, quietly drinking my tea and getting things ready for the day. I thought of activities I’d like done before everyone got up: getting breakfast food on the counter, making coffee, making a list so I wouldn’t forget things in the fridge once the kitchen was buzzing–––all a little easier when I’m alone. Amelia sleeps later than me and when she was here this summer, she didn’t mind me being up before her. I’d look up from weeding my garden and see her watching me, her blond hair rumpled, her suntanned legs and bare feet poking out beneath her nightgown. I always startled and she’d crack up laughing. I reminded her of this and whispered, “In the morning, if I’m awake first, could I go down and work in the kitchen while you sleep? I’ll leave the door open so I can hear you. All you’d have to do is call and I’d run up the stairs.” She shook her head no without hesitating and said definitively, “No, wake me up.” It was way past her bedtime and she was exhausted. I watched her and thought about how much she trusts me. She believes I’ll just stay here or wake her if I need to leave. 

I laid awake thinking about this. I looked at this little angel who needed her sleep. I wondered how I’d feel in the morning, anxious to get up but not wanting to wake her. Sneaking away while she slept wasn’t an option. I wouldn’t be able to bear her disappointment in me when she’d learn I hadn’t kept my word. I looked at the stack of books on my bedside table and thought I could catch up on some reading in the morning. I’d just delegate to make up for it later. I thought about all the times adults told me they’d do something then didn’t, never thinking they had to explain or apologize. It was the sixties. I thought of the times I was scolded for being upset about it as though I was the one who’d been dishonest. I was always “overreacting”.  I thought about promises that they wouldn’t rip the band aid off, they “only want to look at it”. I believed them, then whapp! off it’s ripped and though, yes, it was good to be done and over with, it was always a betrayal. I was apparently supposed to appreciate this. I fell for it every time. I thought back to when I was Amelia’s age and our babysitter told me she’d wake me up when the Flintstones came on. I was really tired but didn’t want to miss it so asked if I could nap until it started. It was only on once a week! This sixteen year old beauty said, “Yes! I will wake you! Go ahead and sleep.”  Reassured, I fell asleep and woke just as the show was ending and burst into tears. I said, “You said you’d wake me up!” and she said, quite sincerely and apologetically, “I know but when I went to get you you were sleeping so peacefully I just couldn’t wake you up.”  I laid there Wednesday night, wondering how much electricity white Christmas lights consumed and pictured that little girl wearing baby doll pajamas watching the credits roll with tears streaming down her face. I thought how I’d never want to be the reason my granddaughter felt that way. I laughed to myself as I was drifting off to sleep at how clear that memory was and how it had been triggered. I could imagine the flashback scene in the movie. 

Waking her in the morning wasn’t that hard. I slept later than I expected and when I rolled over, she opened her eyes and saw I was still there.

That’s what I want her to remember.

It was a really nice Thanksgiving. Everyone is gone now, headed off ahead of the approaching storm. Advent begins today and I’ll make the wreath and light the first candle. Hope this week, peace the next, then joy, then love.  Snow is coming and it’s time to turn inward and reflect. I like to keep this season simple. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Fantasy Life

Sunday Morning ~ Fantasy Life

Wasekera fupa wayesa mnofu. ~ He was pleased with the bone, thinking it to be meat.

~Chewa proverb

November 24, 2019

Hi Everyone,

As the holidays approach I’ve been thinking of past Thanksgivings when our house was the center of celebration when my mother was alive. My siblings and their families would come and the political discussions of the day were moderate and civil. Disagreement between my siblings existed ever since we were old enough to have an opinion, but the heated arguments and fact flinging never devolved into anything permanently injuring our relationships. We had so much other common ground and went about the family weekend: hikes, bonfires, food, and fun, never doubting it. Surely  I believed our family ties were strong enough to endure but I’m wondering if that’s true now, at least with a couple of us. The rhetoric has become vile and it saddens me. 

As a kid I clung to a fantasy that one day I would walk into my house and there would sit the family I always wanted. Mom and dad would be happy, we’d laugh, tell stories, reminisce, help each other out. We’d all get along, agreeing, or respectfully pointing out a differing view, laughing at our differences with an admiration of ourselves. I felt like if I was only good enough, got good grades, lived a good life, it would all be rewarded. Was it church and school that taught me that? Probably, but no one ever clearly identified what the actual rewards would be for hard work so I made those up myself, assuming they were tailor made. I was continually disappointed when it didn’t happen. Praying and being good just didn’t work! When I was in college and crying to our parish priest about something going on at home, he said, “You’ve tried so hard to patch that family up with bandaids. You need to let it go.”  It was good advice, and nudged me to look at the family and accept it as it is, or was. It let me move on and live a life I wanted. Soon after college I had my own family and diligently set about to create the fantasy I’d always imagined and I had that family for a good long while. We had a brood of little ones, cute, funny, smart, with an early bedtime and good appetites. They often slept piled up together like puppies. I’d look at them and swoon. We took up an entire pew at church. We were poor as church mice and I often obsessed and worried about money. Then one day after mass a woman came up to me and said, “You are the richest person in this church.” The statement and timing were right off a script and I stopped, took stock, and was so filled with gratitude I thought I’d explode. 

When bad things happened I’d envision a family overcoming adversity and coming out on top. Once, my ex sister in law said, “Things always work out for you.” And I agreed with her, but she’d said it like the universe just sprinkled fairy dust upon us and magically the fantasy was restored. It felt dismissive of what went into making that happen. When our house burned, we were blessed by this community who came out of the woodwork to help us rebuild. We didn’t have jobs yet, we had no insurance, and were sure we were doomed. We kept repeating: but we are all ok, but we are all ok, we could all be in the hospital now…we are all ok. And then I would burst into tears again. We eventually recovered but her comment negated how much it took to claw our way out. We made sure the kids knew the value of community and how proud we were of them for reacting with such composure, leaving their toys and filing out into the freezing night without shoes or coats. (Never had I valued fire drills likeI did that night.) That fairly devastating experience led to a deeper commitment to this community and a deep sense of safety and security here.

Likewise, I always felt quite safe and happy in my country at large. I never worried about whether freedom or democracy would be threatened. I found the Nixon impeachment to be something that would take care of itself because our system worked. Of course justice would prevail! And it did! While I was politically more aware after that I still never doubted our system would work. Now I’m not so sure. Or at least the suspense is killing me. I want this to resolve correctly, the movie to end with the hero vindicated and justice prevailing, the background music triumphant as the credits roll. I have watched and listened breathlessly to every minute of the impeachment hearings over the past two weeks, fascinated by how the system works, how desperation morphs into wickedness, and how integrity is the sexiest thing I have ever seen. In this instant gratification time we live in, I am impatient. I want the bad guys locked up by the end of the two hour movie. Then I think of the innocent men on death row waiting a lifetime for justice. They’ve amassed what cost to mind and spirit? The others who have succumbed to our unjust system leave me wondering if there is any hope for a just future at all. But success isn’t always sweeping and clean and when there is no place to rest on the ledge, the only option is to keep going. 

I so want to believe in good over evil. My fantasy that right is right and good will prevail isn’t as clean as airbrushed actors and stage sets. Birth isn’t like the time-lapsed videos. It takes a long time and is very painful. The hours we spend rubbing a mother’s back doesn’t make for good TV.  But at the end there is a beautiful new life, which, though miraculous, is messy and loud and demanding. Still, who would trade all that in or say labor wasn’t worth it?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Protecting Ourselves

Sunday Morning ~ Protecting Ourselves

Nkhanga zinapangana kusanapsye. ~ The guinea fowls made an agreement before the grass got burnt.

~Chewa proverb

November 17, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Guinea hens hide in tall grass. It’s a problem when the grass is gone. 

I’ve always been a worrier. When I was six or seven I overheard my mom chatting to a friend, “Remember being a kid and being so carefree? No worries in the world!” I remember thinking: What is she talking about? I have a ton to worry about!  What if my friends don’t like me? I might get in trouble for something I didn’t do! I don’t know when (insert some adult in my life) will be in a bad mood! I don’t know how to handle that! The list went on and on. I was constantly worried. After college many anxieties subsided but came back with a vengeance when my children were born. It was basic worry when they were babies: Am I right to let him cry it out at night? Should I start solids before he is six months old?–––stuff that seemed huge at the time but as they got older seemed wasted energy. That was JV worry. The real stuff was yet to come. When teenage years arrived, the worries multiplied explosively. It was before cell phones. If my kids were five minutes late coming home I was sure they were dead. I envisioned them under an overturned vehicle calling out for me as the life oozed out of them. I would be frantic by the time they got home, though my welcome was not a loving expression of relief they were safe. I was angry they’d caused me so much concern. After that my worry turned to thoughts of damage I was doing to their psyche because of my anxiety for their safety. Then I worried they wouldn’t win an award in the jazz competition. I worried they would lose a track race. If my kids felt bad I worried about that. I worried about how it would influence their decisions as they grew into adulthood. 

But want to know what I did not worry about? My kids getting shot in school. Never once crossed the very vivid landscape of my mind loaded with potential hazards. Nope. I never thought of how some kid might start shooting and killing their classmates. Never thought that one of my five kids would be caught in gunfire. When my kids were in high school they walked into the entrance of their choosing, getting out of the weather and into their classroom. We’d drop them at the most convenient door and watched them walk in, proud of them, awards or not. Now, there is one door to enter. The others are all locked. 

I pondered this as I walked into the high school to see Mama Mia Friday night. I thought back to when my kids were in the pit orchestra for the fall musical. I remembered the evening rehearsals, the worry they weren’t getting enough sleep, anxiety they might fail a test because they were putting all their energy into the show. I don’t have kids in the show anymore, obviously, but I was at the birth of many of the kids up there and my friends have kids in the show. It was wonderful and creative and a fun night. One of the leads got pulled that very morning and they had to replace him with another student with only six hours to prepare. She was amazing and pulled it off with grace and confidence. There was excitement in the audience as families got ready to watch their kids perform. I got nostalgic remembering that feeling and what our family was like then.  Earlier that day I’d been preoccupied with other thoughts and was looking forward to a night out. I drove to the high school, parked the car, and had to walk around the whole school to the one unlocked door. It was cold and inconvenient. I passed four locked doors. It was then I gave appropriate thought to the kids who had died the previous day in California, shot at school as they went to their first class. In sixteen seconds two kids were killed and three wounded. The news story about it lasted less time than it took for the kids to be murdered. The sick feeling in my stomach when I heard the news was resignation, not shock. I thought of that as I entered and found my friend and we took our seats. I was thinking of that when we heard of the last minute replacement for Sam, a leading role. I thought something bad must have happened for a role like this to be replaced at the last minute. I wondered if the student had gotten terribly ill but learned it was a rule infraction that morning. I wondered if the five Californian students, children, were in their school play? I wondered if there was a scramble to find five others to fill in? I wondered if they would cancel the show? Then was incredulous I was wondering any of this. 

It seems not a day goes by now without some call to action, yet I still have some deep feeling of hope. Children are dying in a bizarre war waged by cowardly adults guarding their piles of gold. But wars end, countries heal, communities rebuild, times and worries change. Brave people speak truth to power, others follow, and burnt grass grows again.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ We’ve All Got Our Part

Sunday Morning ~ We’ve All Got Our Part

Khoswe wa pa tsindwi adaulula wa pa dzala. ~ The rat on the roof revealed the one in the rubbish heap.

~ Chewa proverb

November 10, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I learned a lot from my ex husband. He was the smartest person I knew, though he didn’t do well in school. He probably had what would be diagnosed as a learning disability now, and if he were in school today instead of the 60’s I’m sure his life would have been very different. As a student, I memorized a lot of facts and dates, got good grades on tests, then promptly forgot all the facts and dates. I learned almost nothing about history or politics. I made the honor role but only because I’m a good test taker and can memorize. All I learned about world history I learned from travel and conversations with Joe. He taught me to read newspapers and be interested in the world. He knew names and dates of treaties I’d never heard of. He knew the chronology of world events way better than the history teachers I had. He could name every president in order. I used to be shocked by the stuff he knew wondering where on earth you get all that knowledge. It was way before Wikipedia. He was horrible to play Trivial Pursuit with. 

Joe asked me to marry him when we’d been dating two months. I grew up seeing a terrible example of marriage and didn’t want any part of it, sure that marriage would kill the love we had. Joe convinced me it could be different. He knew I wanted to do Peace Corps right out of college and he said he wanted to do it too. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just saying it because I did. I suggested I go and we could get married when I got home. He said we’d be different people then; having that kind of experience would change me and we should experience it together. I thought about that and it made sense. We looked into going together as a couple without being married, but at that time there was no guarantee of being placed together if you weren’t married. The more we talked the more I was convinced he was sincere about wanting to go. He had dropped out of college and was looking for some direction. The thought of telling my parents I was marrying someone who had dropped out of college, someone they’d never even met, was out of the question. I reasoned with myself…if you can’t tell your parents you want to marry him, do you really want to marry him?  But the more I got to know him, the more I understood that dropping out of school was a good decision. He was paying for everything himself, whereas my father was paying my tuition. Dropping out would have been suicidal for me but he wasn’t happy with what he was studying and didn’t want to waste the money until he knew what he wanted to do. How utterly mature and practical. It seemed brave and wise. I admired that and still do. 

We had long, long talks about how we would respect each other, help each other grow, support each other and learn from each other. And we did that. I had a better marriage than anyone I knew and always felt it was my reward for having a really crappy childhood. The fact that it fell  apart colossally does not negate all the good we had and, though he is a very different person now, I still love the man I married. 

In our first year together he talked about The Hobbit, a book I’d never even heard of. He’d read it several times. He related it to life situations in ways I found fascinating, and he just seemed so worldly for a guy who hadn’t traveled as a kid. It was a book we would read over and over again to our children, and when they got a little older we graduated to the whole Lord of the Rings series. We didn’t have a television, making a conscious decision to raise our kids without one. That was partly because of Joe’s addiction to TV. His mother always said it was because he had colic and would stay up and watch Jack Paar with her. This is how kids got diagnosed in those days. Ha ha ha. When we were first married and staying at his parent’s house I was in the shower and asked him to get the shampoo which was downstairs. I waited and waited and waited standing under the water until the hot water was gone, then grabbed a towel, wrapped myself in it and went down the stairs looking for what happened to him. He was standing in the living room, shampoo under his arm, watching something on TV. In those early days this was a funny family story. Believe me, that behavior got less and less funny as time went on and we agreed it would be better to not have a TV in the house. Not having that distraction gave us lots of face to face time in the evenings which I still cherish. We would read aloud to the kids every night all piled up together on the couch. Once a year we’d read the whole Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. We got to know the story well and we’d insert lines from the books into our daily discourse. I loved it. We had a cat named Galadrielle, renamed after we realized she wasn’t a Gandalf. I just thought we were the coolest family.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Hobbit series lately. It seems there are so many parallels in our current state of affairs. I want to be careful. I don’t want to jinx anything by being optimistic about the future, but I am a little more hopeful after Tuesday’s election and I rewrite the script to fit daily events. I haven’t decided who all the characters are yet, but who can deny there are evil and good characters in this drama we call America? Anyone can see that. Yes, there are differences of opinion about who is evil and who is good, but here, I’m the one writing so I get to decide. When Gollum got more and more threatening, Gandalf’s cautionary words were to wait and see as Gollum may yet have a part to play leading us to our ultimate destination. I’m still deciding if Gollum is Giuliani, Stone, Eric, or Barr; there are just so many evil characters to choose from! Gandalf is taking on a more feminine appearance to me in the form of Nancy Pelosi (wise wise woman), but I’m also impressed with Adam Schiff. The Orcs are all the republicans in congress and Sauron, well, who else could it be? Evil eye? World domination? Please. It’s just too easy. I feel like I’m watching the drama unfold and await each episode figuring out who is Frodo and who is Sam. I hold onto the belief that this evil will “be maimed forever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows…” (The Return of the King) and all us hobbits and elves will live in peace having done our part to make sure evil is destroyed. Some will take the journey and some will keep the fires burning at home awaiting those words: “Well, I’m back.” 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way

Khote-khote wa njoka, usata rumene kwaloza mutu. ~ Crooked is the way the snake moves, but follow where the head points.

~ Chewa proverb

November 3, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I drove over 4,000 miles the past three weeks, south to the Gulf of Mexico then north to Frenchman’s Bay again, crossing eighteen states. I just counted them. When we were kids on our big cross country camping trips (a book I need to write some day) my father would read a map laid out on the front seat of the car and navigate as he drove. My father was known for driving long distances at a time without looking at the road. It was terrifying. I’ve often thought that the only reason we are alive is that God wasn’t ready to take us yet. My mother would scream at him and he’d berate her for being scared, then point out he’d never been in an accident, as if that was logic for driving dangerously. We kids would huddle in the back seat and laugh as if his dangerous driving was an exciting family joke. It did become a sort of legend and  whenever people joked about his driving, he’d point out he’d never been in an accident. Until the day he drove off the road after he retired, someplace in western Massachusetts. He had to call my mother to tell her. I never knew the whole story. He was supposedly blueberry picking (I do remember that because his new galvanized bucket had been smashed). By then he was driving a smaller car and would take off for weekends without telling anyone where he was going. I always suspected he was with another woman, but never said that out loud. I was smugly congratulating myself for being right when that truth came out, but I so wanted to rub his face in that accident. I wanted to ask him if he was still so proud of the way he drove? What was his rationale now that the past record was ruined? By then none of us would get in a car with him; I guess as we got older all our suicidal tendencies took on a more independent nature. It’s terrible, but as I write this I can remember thinking, “Figures he’d be ok but the bucket was smashed.” sort of disappointed I still had to deal with him. Wow! Big introduction to say I don’t read maps while driving! Lots of unpacked baggage there! To be fair it is more dangerous than it used to be. My car is tiny whereas the front seat of our Chevrolet was the size of our living room couch. And there are zillions more cars on the road now. But still. All this brings me to how I think GPS is a wonderful invention. Me who rails against the overuse of technology, who loves paper maps, who rarely buys things on line––– I love GPS. I love having that nice lady tell me where to turn and give me a ten and two mile heads up. Love it. Now, if someone else is in the car, I’m happy to do it the old way. My friend Chris is a very good navigator and sat with the map on his lap as we traveled the Natchez Trace. He’d read the map and point out all the historical points of interest. I’m all for that. But when I’m driving alone in unfamiliar surroundings, it’s just quicker and more streamlined to hit the “Go” button and be magically navigated. It takes hours off my arrival time since I don’t have to keep pulling over to see where I am, never mind ask directions. 

Last Monday morning I left Chris and Sarah in New Orleans and headed for Montgomery, Alabama where I wanted to visit the Legacy Museum. Having just read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, I really wanted to see the tribute to his efforts to fight for justice in our modern day slavery of mass incarceration. He takes us through the history of slavery, emancipation, lynching, Jim Crow, and now mass incarceration of minorities, mostly black, in a for-profit system. The museum was…I still struggle to find the words to describe it… haunting? shocking? depressing? paralyzing? It was the same with the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Just gutting. Facing our sordid history with such nakedness. And both places have done it with a kind of grace. Not a (completely understandable) anger or fury. Grace is the only way I can describe it. The reality is plenty enough to be shocking. I felt such shame for my race but came away with a better understanding of what’s needed to start a healing process. In our midwifery organization we are confronting the institutionalized racism within and we are told not to come to the table out of a sense of shame or guilt. I wonder how we can feel anything else? I’m grappling with this.  

From the museum a bus took us to the Lynching Memorial. I handed my ticket at the entrance and was told I could take photographs as long as they were respectful. I didn’t understand what I was about to see. I’d only just learned of this memorial. I was confused and thought the glass jars labeled with the lynching victim’s name, filled with dirt, dug from beneath the lynching site, by families hoping to capture some of the DNA of a loved one, victims who had been strung up before a crowd of spectators without trial or burial… I thought this harrowing representation on this way-too-huge wall in the museum, was the memorial. But there is another. It is a six acre site on a hill overlooking the city. As you enter and walk along the walkway, you pass sculptures of slaves in chains. As you continue along, there are large, standing metal rectangles with names of lynching victims and the county they came from. Each rectangle, maybe twelve feet tall, has the name of the county and the names of the victims that could be found in the archives. As inscribed on the way along the path, these are the names that could be found, 4,400 of them. There are many more whose names could not be found. The path descends and the rectangles are hung from the huge ceiling until you are walking underneath hundreds of these heavy metal rectangles inscribed with names of people who were hung without trial or evidence. As I passed underneath my knees started giving out. They have benches to sit on. A few people were sitting down looking up. I wondered if they also felt they couldn’t walk. I didn’t ask. Speaking aloud felt sacrilege. 

I first heard of Bryan Stevenson when I was watching every TED talk I could as I was getting ready to do my own. He is one of those people who was born to do great things. A pied piper, almost holy. I sit in the great shadows of people like him and wonder what I should be doing? I need to find a job. The one I really wanted doesn’t seem to be coming through for me and I need to figure out how to make a simple living with a meaningful purpose. I was looking for inspiration on this trip. I had a long drive home to think about it. 

I spent that night in Montgomery, a city much nicer than I expected. I have so many judgements about the south. I was nervous about traveling there alone, afraid I’d see lots of confederate flags or some other signs that made me despair. But I saw none. I saw a beautiful city on a river, a city with a sordid history of injustice for sure. The museum is housed in a slave warehouse where slaves were shackled and brutalized until they could be sold. They were brought there by boat or train on a railroad the slaves were forced to build. The domestic slave trade I hadn’t really thought about. Spending time in Africa I’d always been focused on the transatlantic trade not realizing that after that was banned in 1808 we just bred our own. That kind of a history leaves it’s mark on a place. Whites were made wealthy on the backs of slaves and they did not want to give up that wealth or power. The civil war started there. I didn’t sense of anger or fear. I felt safe walking alone. I was struck with the thought that, wait a minute…all this talk about the country being divided because people feel they are being left behind is just hogwash. This culture of white supremacy is generational. Witnessing an attempt at making our country face it’s history of racial crimes and thus giving us a chance at redemption was incredibly humbling. I wondered what is being taught in schools there? Do they take field trips to this memorial? That someone had the energy and conviction to start this process in a loving and respectful way…what a model. If we can acknowledge our painful past in an honest way, maybe this country could lean a little more toward justice…what a dream.   

The next day I drove back to my friends’ Kathy and Michael in Tennessee. I’m so comfortable there. I was nurtured and fed and left early the next morning with the wonderful feeling of being loved.  I was heading for Pittsburgh to stay with friends from my old Peace Corps days and set Google Maps on my phone with their address. I had eight and a half hours of driving ahead and looked forward to catching up on my podcasts and finishing the book I’d been listing to. I just love road trips. I love being in motion and having some place to go. And, being alone, I find having that little voice telling me which exit to take reassuring. It had been a great trip but I was looking forward to heading north again. The weather was terrible. It poured rain through a lot of Kentucky then let up as I got into Ohio. It was slower going than I expected when my electronic traveling companion told me there was an accident on the highway ahead and I should turn off onto this country road to save thirty-one minutes. Isn’t that just amazing? How do they know that? Incredible, I thought, as I finished the book I was listening to. What incredible privilege I enjoy, smiling, now that I was on a smaller, prettier road without big trucks throwing spray in my face. I stuck an Alison Krause CD into the player thinking the last stretch of the trip would go faster as I sang along. George had made me the CD when we first got together and I’d been thinking of him a lot. Then my phone went black. The map, with it’s reassuring arrow on the blue line, disappeared. Hmm, I thought, maybe it’s tired. I know it’s charged. I’ll wait a bit. The voice just told me I’d be on this road for 68 miles so I’ve got time for her to rest. Well, the road ended and so did my phone. I could not get it to turn back on. I had another hour to Pittsburgh and had to navigate to their house with no directions. I stopped at a small gas station in a panic. I couldn’t even text to let them know I’d be late! The horror!! I ran into the little store and, thank God, there was a person under thirty at the counter. I said, “My phone died and I have no way to figure out how to get where I’m going!” The look on this girl’s face was just what I was hoping for. Sheer horror and pity. It was as if I’d told her one of my kids had died. Yes, I could read the map to get into Pittsburgh, but not to take the fifteen lefts and rights I needed to find their house. She pulled out her phone and asked for the address of where I was going. She typed it in and handed me her phone. I was incredibly relieved but my heart sunk when I saw the length of the instructions. I grabbed a sales slip out of my bag and started writing them down. I ran out of paper. Every time I touched her screen to scroll down it disappeared and she had to leave the pizza she was making to come back and fix it for me. I realized I was shaking as I was writing. I looked at the time on her phone and prayed it wouldn’t be dark by the time I got there. I would never be able to read all these road signs. And, bless goggle maps’s little heart, it doesn’t say “Take the third left” it just says “Go left on such and such street”, so how was I going to be able to do this without reading the signs or having that sweet little voice telling me how many more feet to go? Mom! I wanted my mom! (No idea why I wanted her, she was a terrible navigator, but I did.) I thought to ask this kind young person if I could use her phone to call my friend to say I’d be late, but no. I couldn’t do that because her number was on my phone, which, had betrayed me and died. Never even said goodbye. 

I got into Pittsburg at rush hour in the rain. I was getting a little panicky, partly because of being late, partly because of the coffee I had so stupidly drunk at three pm, and partly because I wondered how to communicate with everyone I usually text with. Would all communication be lost? Then worried again I’d never find their house. I reminded myself that runaway slaves had to grope the trees at night to feel the moss so they’d know which way was north. You’re being a sissy, I told myself. We used to travel like this all the time. It took an hour to go about two miles through the city traffic and it was dark by the time I took my exit into the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. I could barely read my writing on the sales slip and definitely could not see the road signs until it was too late to turn. I had to stop three times and ask people directions. Every one of them pulled out their phone. I pulled up to my friends’ house an hour and a half late, which, was kind of a lot when I was only staying an evening with people I hadn’t seen in years. I considered it a miracle.

Thursday it was to Vermont, super easy with only my paper atlas and knowing the road. I had a lovely visit with my cousin and 108 year old aunt who is another inspiration. Friday, I was anxious to get home as there’d been a huge storm the night before and I was worried about what I’d find. Long country roads took me back to a house with no heat but other than that my place was pretty much undamaged. The tremendous wind and rain left many trees down but mostly in the woods around my place. I was grateful I’d had the ones near the house removed last year and for the safe, familiar welcome.  And then realized I had no phone to call the plumber.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Walking in Memphis

Sunday Morning ~ Walking in Memphis

Diso la lumbe lili m’kamwa, nkulinga utaliona. ~ That the eye of a nightjar is in the mouth, you can only know that after you have seen it.

~Chewa proverb.

October 27, 2019

Hi Everyone,

If Sarah hadn’t wanted to see Graceland, I may have skipped Memphis altogether and headed south on the Natchez Trace from Nashville. But traveling with friends means being open to alternatives and I’d never been to Memphis, so good time to go. We could pick up the Trace in Tupelo, Mississippi. I figure I’ll do the northern part another time. I liked Elvis as much as the next person, but was not planning to spend an outrageous amount of money to see his house and jumpsuits. I am all for museums and love them, but I’m against extortion. I sat in the sunshine and read while Chris and Sarah toured the property which seems more shrine than museum. I did find out from one of the security guards, however, that you can walk to his grave for free from 7:30-8:30 a.m. but I didn’t go back. 

We checked in to our apartment in Memphis and I was completely blown away by how sweet the city is! Very walkable and safe, and the setting on the Mississippi is spectacular. Why had I not been there? We only had a day and a half so chose three of the dozens of museums to see and started out with the tiny Sun Studio where so many great singers recorded. I knew of this place only from seeing the stage play, The Million Dollar Quartet about the jam session with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis secretly recorded by Sam Phillips. We got there for the first tour and waited in the lobby, a vintage soda fountain, and drank a one dollar cup of coffee. I had no idea that Elvis started his recording career by stopping in to this studio on his lunch hour to record a song for his mother. Not a music scholar, I knew of this studio only from seeing the play with my cousin. I loved hearing the history about Sam Phillips who built this business and the luck and perseverance that led to his success. I always find those stories inspiring. The actual recording studio is just as it was when the great stars recorded there. The only thing they let you touch is the original microphone that they used during recording sessions. People can go have their photos taken with it, or just caress it. I was much more moved by that tour than I expected. I’m not sure if it’s just all the history I hadn’t known, or the thought that kept running through my mind of…this was during the depression and then World War II. All this life and talent kept rolling. That somehow felt reassuring. We left there and walked across town, chatting and laughing, to the Civil Rights Museum. OMG. That’s when the laughing stopped.

I was eleven years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. I knew of him from watching the news every evening in my house. The television occupied a quarter of the den with it’s small screen in the big wooden frame. The big knob protruding to the right had to be turned like a shower faucet to change to one of the three channels. Evenings it was always tuned to the news and Walter Cronkite. That Thursday my mother and I were shopping for fabric in Framingham, which was a special outing. We had a fabric store in Maynard, but the one in Framingham was enormous and had a huge selection. It was a treat to go there. We went to find fabric for Easter dresses and left right after supper, leaving the dishes for when we got home. Thursday evenings my father had office hours so my mother could use the family car. It was the one night the store was open late. I remember being happy in the ocean liner-sized station wagon on the way home. It was that early spring damp and cold, the kind where you need to wear a coat but you are still chilly with the lighter weight apparel. I remember walking into the kitchen with our shopping bags and being all happy about what I was about to start sewing. My brothers were in the den with the television on and I heard my mother say as she was bending to pick something up, “Oh no. They shot him too?” But not in a shrieking kind of grief stricken voice. It was more of a resigned voice, like you’d say when you overwatered a plant and it died. Oh crap. This one died too. I don’t remember what I did then, but it wasn’t sit in front of the television waiting for more news or hover around waiting to hear of the collapse of our country. It was a school night. I may have been told go get ready for bed. I was in sixth grade. Bedtime was nine. 

On this past Thursday, as I slowly walked through the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. King’s assassination, I was overcome with shame for not knowing so much of the history. Did our teacher talk about it on that Friday? I have no recollection of that. Did we discuss it at the dinner table? I don’t think so. There was sadness, yes, but no attempt to understand any of it. I never knew he had a brother. I never knew his parents were still alive then, but he was only thirty-nine! Of course they were still alive. I have a child who is thirty-nine! I didn’t know why he’d been in Memphis in the first place. I didn’t know Jesse Jackson was with him. The most shameful thing is that I never tried to find any of this out.

This museum is one of the best I’ve ever gone to, and I go to a lot of museums. I met Chris and Sarah outside afterward and we couldn’t even speak. Over and over I wondered if I’d have been that brave had I been a little older. Would I have marched? Would I have attended student protests? Would I have sat at those lunch counters risking arrest and beatings? I have no idea. Growing up white in a white town I reflected on what a tiny bubble I existed in. Where was the attempt at understanding such monumental shifts in our civilization? The Vietnam War, the murder of our leaders: what was in the minds of adults back then? Is it at all similar to what we feel now? Our marches aren’t all resulting in firehoses being turned on us, so it seems safer. National Guard aren’t shooting students as they protest but are we less racist as a whole with the racist leadership we have now? What kind of museum will stand as an education to those who come after us? Will it hold the bullet-ridden doorways of schools? Or the cigarette packs of young men strangled by policemen? What kind of species are we? 

Now having followed south the ancient route of bison and indigenous people on the Natchez Trace I’m trying to grapple with a line between hope and despair. I can see how we can come back from dark times in our history but then think, it doesn’t really change. It’s only the methods that change. 

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Road Trip

Sunday Morning ~ Road Trip

Kokomo kea mnzako mdi kamba wako. ~ The helpfulness of your friend is your provision for your journey.

~ Chewa proverb

October 20, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m on the road this week, and the journey started with an opera last Sunday. Each summer I host some musicians in Bar Harbor, one of whom plays the violin for the Metropolitan Opera. For several years now he’s been offering tickets and this was the week I took him up on it. He gave me two premium tickets to see Porgy and Bess which was playing at the Met for the first time in 30 years. Jake agreed to go with me and I drove from my brief visit with the grands early Sunday morning to his apartment in Brooklyn and then we headed over the Triborough Bridge to Manhattan. I’ve done this drive many times and it’s about twenty minutes; with terrible traffic it’s an hour. I wanted to be there in plenty of time to park the car in mid town and walk over to Lincoln Center, with time to grab a bite to eat. We allowed two and a half hours. It was a beautiful day and I envisioned strolling along in the sunshine to meet Leszek, get our tickets and have time for a chat. He said there might be a chance he could take us backstage before the performance. All very exciting. 

Well, it started out great. As we drove over the bridge I had warm fuzzy memories of running over it a year ago to the last borough in the marathon. I was all smiles thinking of it. Then we got stopped by a police barricade as I tried to cut across town. They directed me north, the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. We kept trying to go west and every single intersection was barricaded. I wondered if there’d been a terrorist attack but no one looked particularly anxious. The police looked a little bored actually. Finally, we got as far west as Fifth Avenue and we traveled south, again me reliving the glory of running down that stretch a year ago to the finish line, basking in my forty thousandth place finish. Seriously. I came in forty thousandth. There were ten thousand more behind me. But it was grand. But way before we got to 57th where I wanted to turn right and where I have always found a parking space, which is free on Sunday, they made us turn east again! What?! It was getting later and later. We thought we’d still be fine just wouldn’t have time for a walk. A half hour later the lunch plan was canceled, too. At this point I was getting worried about making it there at all. As I slowly got corralled back to Madison Avenue I thought if I found a parking spot I’d just take it and we’d walk. And then they sent us south again! We were getting further and further away and my calculations of how long it would take us was getting scary. These tickets cost more than my round trip airfare to Europe and if we were late they wouldn’t seat us at all. I was getting panicky. I saw a spot where the car would just fit, took twenty back and forths to tuck it in there, and we ran thirty blocks to Lincoln Center with me in heels. We made it with three minutes to spare. So that was fun. The opera was fantastic and I felt rather special in our box once we caught our breath and the sweat dried. Afterward we walked back to the car at a leisurely New York pace to find all the other cars gone and my little mini sitting there with a $115 ticket. It was a no standing zone. Didn’t notice that sign as we parked and ran but it was better than missing the opera and I was grateful the car wasn’t towed. Ah, New York, New York.

Monday morning I moved the car to the most beautiful parking space uptown and, because of the holiday, it was good there until Friday! Ruth said I should stay the week, because how could you give up that parking space? We walked to my favorite spice shop on 9th Avenue and then across town stopping at some new green spaces near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which, are really a marvel. Ruth then went off to a medical appointment and I headed to the fashion district. In the past I’ve have spent many a happy hour there stocking up on fabrics and notions. It’s heaven. Entire stores stocking only thread or buttons. It is a dream. But when I got to the area I couldn’t find any of the stores! The whole area was filled with coffee shops, handbag stores, psychic readings, Starbucks, appliances, noodle shops, and copy centers. It was incredibly disorienting and depressing. I finally found one little old store and asked the proprietor if all the fabric stores had closed. English was not his first language and with a thick accent of some sort he answered, “Yes, closed for the holiday.” I said, “No, closed as in gone. I can’t find any of the shops I used to go to.” He then understood and replied, “Yes. Closed or moved.”  I walked about ten miles up and down and found a few of the old stores seeming out of place next to their new neighbors. It just wasn’t the same. With a sense of loss I put my pins, zippers, and thread in with the spices and went to meet Jake and Ruth for dinner.

The next morning I reluctantly removed the car from that most beautiful (free and un-ticketed) parking spot and headed for Philadelphia. I spent a wonderful afternoon and evening with a good friend from my early Malawi days. A Medical Mission Sister, she was working in Lilongwe, the sole obstetrician for the entire country when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. She did this with great humility and sense of humor. I was a scared 22 year old with an unplanned pregnancy. I wasn’t scared of the pregnancy; I wanted that. I was scared because Peace Corps had threatened to move us from our remote location in the far north, to a place closer to a city. We didn’t want to move and argued that if women in Karonga can have pregnancies there, why can’t I? Nowadays they’d just send me straight home, but then the big fight was to stay in the community we’d gotten to know and love. The idea that I was a privileged white person who’s pregnancy was more important than the women in Karonga was intolerable to me. Myrtle was reassuring and supportive and advocated for me and I got to stay in Karonga. I’ve always been grateful for that and for her loving presence in remote corners of my life. To spend a good part of the day with her, and later Sister Helen, was a treat.

Then it was two days with the architect students at Jefferson University who are working on plans for health and maternity centers in Malawi. That was totally fun and fueled my longing to be back on a college campus teaching. Good to know the vibes were there. We had a conference video call with Malawi and got to see my colleagues! The technology I tell you. It’s like NASA to me. My last night in Philly was spent with a friend from my Women’s Health Center days. Al Vernacchio is a fantastic speaker, teacher, TED talker, author, and all around great guy who’d come to Bar Harbor to speak on healthy sexuality. We’ve stayed in touch and the timing worked out for wine and a meal in a great restaurant walking distance from where I was staying. More good vibes. 

Friday I headed south and though it was possible to make it to Kathy’s in Tennessee in one shot, the thought of a twelve hour drive made me feel my age. I don’t like to drive on unfamiliar roads at night anymore. I just don’t feel safe. It’s like having to admit my 1990’s skirts don’t button at the waist anymore. I hate to say it, but it’s true. So I got an Airbnb in the mountains in southern Virginia, and as I drove up to the house, the Deliverance theme started playing in the back of my head. The location was spectacular and the house looked amazing and I could imagine George and I joking about the place if he’d been there, but it was a little eerier being alone. I shook off the creepy feeling and punched in the door code. I was greeted with a gift shop-like scene with ruffled pillows scattered among the fake flowers and fruit. Millions of cutesy bible themed knick knacks covered every surface. On the walls were framed family photos and if you’ve ever seen the spoofs on family photos, this was it in real life. Framed photos of little kids who looked like they should have had soccer balls in their hands, instead had huge rifles. Little kids! I mean like six years old! Big framed family Christmas photos had guns in them. Every male adult held a weapon, smiling and looking directly into the camera. My first impulse was to bolt. Several of the photos in frilly frames standing on shelves and bureaus I laid face down. I couldn’t sleep with those guns pointing at me. Every woman in the photos was smiling ferociously with one hand on the shoulder of the gun-holder. Most of them wore white dresses. I counted six open bibles around the room and read some of the passages to see if there were some message being relayed. I left the door open for awhile thinking I may have to run out. But it was clean. Super clean. It looked like a second home in the country with a basement apartment. No one was upstairs that I could tell, and there was no cell service. The reviews were good. I repeated that to myself several times. The reviews were good.  And the view was glorious so I settled down, and went for a long walk along the country road. Wow. It’s good to get out and see who lives among us. I thought about going into town to get supper but it was more than ten miles away and I definitely did not want to return to that place after dark. There was an old bag of popcorn on top of the microwave so I popped that and drank herbal tea while watching a family of deer graze with a beautiful sunset showing off in the distance. I slept surprisingly well. 

Yesterday I drove 90 miles through the mountains as the mist rose off of ponds and rivers and flocks of geese flew south over head. The foliage isn’t dramatic here but the scenery was spectacular. Five hours later Kathy and Michael were waiting for me with a southern home cooked lunch and then it was girlfriend time. Life is good.

Later I’ll drive to Nashville for a gig at Vanderbilt tomorrow and some tourist time with Chris and Sarah who fly in from UK tonight. Zack was born thirty-six years ago today. How the world has changed since then. On this road trip, every motorist I passed who’d stopped to help someone along the road made my heart swell. There are so many good people. I felt deep down that we’re going to be ok. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Filling the Basket

Sunday Morning ~ Filling the Basket

Mtanga ukoma mdi kusomera. ~ The basket of maize looks good when you have really topped it up.

~ Chewa proverb

October 13, 2019

Hi Everyone,

This week I drove to Brunswick for a TEDx celebration and reunion for those who’ve participated in Maine since it’s inception ten years ago. The TEDx talk I did was in May of 2016 and is one of the most exciting and scary things I have ever done. I don’t think I ever would have been chosen if it weren’t for my luck to have friends who believed in my message and had skills to make a professional one minute video to submit with the application. My friends Kathy and Desiree had the knowledge and skill and generously gave of their time. I totally credit them with my being there. I so badly didn’t want to let them down. Once accepted, there was the writing and re-writing of the script, the practicing, the re-learning how to hold my body, stop pointing at the audience, stop swaying, remember the pauses and (not being a theater person) oh my God, it was hard. I felt so much pressure. I felt like I had nine minutes to make a difference in women’s lives. TED talks can be so powerful and I thought I had a chance and didn’t want to blow it. I watched about a million TED talks in the months leading up to it, and learned a lot! I watched some of them several times trying to glean from the speakers what made them powerful and riveting. I prayed. I did the wonder woman pose trying to gain confidence. I freaked at every criticism of my posture and gestures thinking I just wasn’t going to be able to pull it off. I wondered how people got through this? I’ve done scary things before! I’ve done lots of public speaking! I thrive on it! What was so terrifying about this? The lights! The rules! Still, it was an amazing experience and I am so grateful for it. I was euphoric when it was done. I received lots of positive feedback. But the women I spoke about? They have not felt any benefit.

I arrived at the celebration and mingled with the crowd. i didn’t see anyone from my May 2016 group there. I found my coach and reconnected, telling her how much I appreciated her. I chatted with some people from other groups, some were organizers some were speakers. I asked all of the speakers, “Was it the scariest thing you’ve ever done?” and there was a pretty good consensus that, yeah, it was. One guy I was talking to who’d done a talk in 2013 asked me about my topic. It didn’t take me long to get worked up into the frenzy that motivated me to do the talk in the first place. I started ranting about what’s happened in the rural parts of the country for maternity care for women. How the c-section rate is astronomical and is killing women, especially poor women and women of color. I was in a froth again and he asked, “So what came out of your talk?” I stopped and thought and said, “Not much, if anything.” Then went on saying, “It was a different world then. There was so much potential and there was so much hope for women’s issues. It was spring of 2016. We were about to have our first woman president and the focus should have been on how we should be cleaning up our act, refocusing our priorities, and joining the rest of industrialized countries with offering health care as a basic human right not an expensive luxury. We should have been addressing our gender inequalities and discrimination. But then November happened and the world changed.” I didn’t need to say any more. He nodded. He’d been mayor of a city in Maine for six years. We talked about the changing tide now in our state and both expressed hope that the pendulum is starting to swing. We’ve got a great woman governor, we’ve got potential for a brilliant new senator who is motivated to work on this. I told him about my dream of starting a graduate program for midwifery in Maine and we kicked around how to go about that. He finished his beer, I finished my cider. We exchanged business cards and moved on to other conversations with other interesting people. 

I’d thought about whether making the three hour drive to this party was worth it and decided to go, noting I could visit friends and get some errands done along the way. It was a luxury I am privileged to have. I traveled three hours in my well serviced car with a full tank of gas on dry roads. The foliage was spectacular. But imagine being a woman in active (painful) labor in a car that has no gas, faulty brakes, and bad tires in an ice storm traveling three hours to the closest hospital that will care for you. That ride would not be pleasant. But that’s what we are forcing women to do. It’s inhumane. It is a crisis. I got to sip a drink and schmooze with people as we ate fabulous food. I am so well aware of my privilege and fortune. I left there thinking, thinking, thinking, very glad I went, needing to do something tangible. 

I’d been thinking for some time about how to get a graduate program for midwifery started in Maine. Having more midwives is a very realistic solution to this problem but there are very few educational programs and none are in Maine. I’ve talked about it but didn’t know how to go about taking the first step. This reunion was a booster shot and motivator. I drove to Husson University parked in one of the lots and walked around looking for the nursing school. I found it, went to the deans office, introduced myself, and asked the secretary if I could make an appointment to talk with the dean. I was expecting a refusal or at least some hassle, but she said, sure, next week? We set a date for when I’m back from my current trip and then she asked, “Can I tell her what it is about?” I said, “I want to talk with her about starting a midwifery program here.” Then thinking she was going to act as if it were a ridiculous request, I added, “I know it’s a tall order.” The secretary wrote it down and said very sincerely, “Oh wow! She is gonna love this.” 

Step one. Done.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Seed

Sunday Morning ~  The Seed

Ndidyeretu, chire anasowa mbeu. ~ The one who ate all there was discovered the bush had no seeds.

~ Chewa Proverb

October 6, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I usually get up early on Sunday and write a draft of this before I go to mass. Today I woke early but fell back into a deep sleep with dreams so vivid that waking up was confusing. I’d overslept by a lot. I dashed to the garden to let the chickens out and getting distracted as I always do, stopped to pick a lonely pepper on the plant growing since May. One lovely, mid-sized pepper was the only resident on the plant I lovingly tended. One pepper! I spent a frustrating summer watching one blossom after another fall off and die even though the plant looked healthy. I’d given it the sunniest spot, and though I’d pictured myself picking dozens of peppers, only one lived. This morning I gave up on getting anymore, picked that solitary pepper, and put it in the bowl of random, partnerless vegetables on my counter. I looked at it and wondered what to do with it? Something special? Make a salsa so it can be spread out among a few meals? Or would it’s specialness get lost with that? Maybe I should stuff it and make it a whole meal, but having no one to share it with seemed sad. Oh hell, I thought, maybe I’ll just eat the thing right now, raw and naked while it’s still as fresh as possible. But I was late for church and ran out thinking about that pepper as a metaphor for my life. I’ve only got one. What to do with it? Solitary and healthy with resources and energy I feel a responsibility to use it wisely. As usual, I was late for mass. I blamed the pepper. I have a different excuse every week.

My usual spot was open and I slid into the pew just before the first reading and I settled into the comfort of the familiar ritual: the readings, the responses, the gospel, the sermon. I often don’t listen to the sermon. My mind wanders and my list of things to do replays a loop especially if the delivery is dry. When George was coming to church with me I was always worried the sermon would be something open to criticism. I felt the need to defend the priest even if I agreed with George that the message was less than inspiring. But then I’d think, who cares? No one listens to the sermon anyway. It’s all about the ritual. Today though, the priest hit it square. My current state of limbo made me spongy for soaking up the message. I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about how I can make a difference or have some kind of lasting influence. I’m a bit stuck trying to transform lofty goals into achievable steps and figure out what the first step actually is. Today’s story about the mustard seed, that tiniest of seeds which grows into the largest herb (or tree, or other large vegetation that feeds the world depending on whether you like Matthew, Mark, or Luke) seemed especially poignant and obvious.  We can all relate to the metaphor but it struck me hard today and, judging from the conversation at coffee hour, others as well. The priest spoke from the heart and his authenticity was refreshing. He wasn’t preachy. I loved that. He didn’t need to describe our current state of scandalous, racist, corrupt government or national shame, but the message was as clear as if he’d spray painted it on his vestments. Maybe others heard it differently; I know we can have personal interpretations. But for me focusing on the tiniest seed was brilliant, though I got distracted a bit with wondering if mustard seeds were really smaller than say, cabbage?  Actually as I write this it sounds corny as hell, but there was a shiny moment when I thought it was the most profound thing I’d ever heard. Like I said, I was yearning for a sign, and my mustard crop is always the most reliable of anything I plant. I wondered if I was stretching it too much.

Graham Nash gave a concert in Bar Harbor this week. He was my coming-of-age celebrity crush and I always credited him with saving the world with those protest songs. He sang in our little town, looking pretty darn good, reminding us to do something and have hope. Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that you can bring? We can save the world, re-arrange the world, it’s dying to get better. I thought the chance to see and hear him sing those words was long gone but there I was singing along with the rest of the audience, and I felt the same way I did after church today–– there’s a lot of us and we can change the world. But then I talked with a friend who told me she’d never heard of Graham Nash and I was shocked! “Really? Chicago? Teach Your Children?” I asked, horrified. “Nope, never heard of them.” she said without embarrassment. And I thought, good God, what kind of work is ahead of us? 

…Now it is Monday. I left this to attend the memorial service of a friend who was killed in a car accident. Like me, he’d been a Peace Corps volunteer right out of college. He was a bit older and I learned yesterday that Peace Corps saved him from fighting a war he didn’t believe in. He spent four years in Africa in the 60’s as a volunteer, came back and worked in many different capacities as well as a boat mechanic here on the island. He was my son’s baseball coach. He was a lover of music. He played the violin and I’d often see him at concerts in town. He came to many of the presentations I gave and we often talked about life and work in Africa. He was recently back from working with Doctor’s Without Borders in Central African Republic and two weeks before he died we had a long philosophical discussion about that organization. On August 13, I was driving back from the beach with the grandkids when we saw a firetruck blocking the road. In any other situation I would have eagerly exclaimed to James, “Look! A firetruck!”  But I knew at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon in the summer, this was not good. We got directed to a detour and as I turned I could see a demolished car near the woods. I had a sinking realization that any occupant of that car was most likely dead. I read the next morning that it was Ted, hit head on in his little old economical car. His memorial yesterday was beautiful with music and poetry and fabulous food. Many of his photographs of Africa were on display, stunning beauty both of the landscape and the people. I left there sad and confused. 

I went to my French group, then to a concert and got home late thinking I would continue writing. But everything I put down was crap. I was trying to be philosophical and it sounded pandering and pathetic, painful words my son once used to describe my writing. I thought he was right. I reread what I wrote about the priest’s sermon yesterday and realized I really hadn’t said much about it. How much of it did I really remember? The metaphor of sowing a tiny seed and believing something great would come out of it was what I heard, and thought, Right! Start with that! How obvious! But I’m not sure now that’s what he said. I thought of how messages get interpreted. I might consider something inspiring and think everyone must see it the same way. Of course this isn’t true. God knows this has been the start of many an argument I’ve had with others. I realize a lot depends on what I want to hear and what I want to be true. I think now of how many roads this has taken me down and how lucky I am that most of them have led somewhere positive. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Weddings and What?

Sunday Morning ~ Weddings and What?

Cosadziwa ndi nkhondo, adausa nkhondo pa dziwe. ~ The ignorant person is trouble; he seeks shelter from the war by hiding in a pool of water.

~ Chewa proverb

September 29, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday, I tossed some cauliflower with olive oil and was transported to New Year’s Day 2000. I had a vivid memory of Jake tossing roasted cauliflower with sesame oil for our millennial feast. We had a house full of people: my mother, my brothers, their wives, gaggles of cousins, my kids, and a couple friends. I thought of how full and happy the house was, how Jake learned recipes from his restaurant job, how proud I was that my kids had grown into interesting young adults, how kind they were to my mother, how happily Joe organized all the activities, and how right the world seemed to be then. The earth didn’t fall from the sky at the stroke of midnight and it all bode well. We watched the sun rise from Cadillac Mountain, we skated on Long Pond, we talked, laughed, ate and drank and I remember taking it all in with a full heart. I was so grateful for the choices I’d made in life, happy for our home that could accommodate everyone, and maybe a little smug that our hard work paid off. Yesterday I wondered, is ignorance really bliss? If I had known what was in store a year later, would I have been able to appreciate that holiday with such happiness? If we knew what marriage entailed, all that raising children took out of us, would we even begin? Would the human race die away? How do you reconcile being informed with blissful denial? 

I thought about all this as I picked green beans and pickled them, roasted the cauliflower, preserved grape leaves, and chopped tomatillos for salsa. My kitchen was sunny, I listened to the history of country music while reliving old memories, letting them wander freely in the landscape while doing things I love. The sorrel puree burst in the water bath and I didn’t fall apart. 

I thought of an image I’d seen of women walking through the streets of Kabul in the 1970’s wearing short skirts and long hair, smiling, chatting, confident and beautiful. It contrasted with an image taken in 2013 of women in the same city wearing burkas, their eyes barely visible, their heads lowered. I couldn’t tell if they were smiling or not, but something in their posture said, no. I thought about how things can change so drastically. How little our predictions alter reality. 

The contrasts in my week were remarkable. Tuesday we celebrated Lucy and David’s wedding here, a day that started early with a hike honoring Hannah’s birthday and her memory. When we reached the top of the mountain it was so socked in we couldn’t see the sound. Several of us commented that it didn’t matter, it’s always beautiful here no matter the weather, then before our eyes, the fog lifted and breaks in the clouds let the sun shine on us. It was symbolic and spiritual and comforting. Hannah’s friend lit a small leaf of sage and we held our own thoughts. I scooted down the mountain quickly to get things ready for the dinner, happily arranging flowers and putting finishing touches on the meal. Just as guests were arriving, a tempest exploded out of nowhere, pelting down rain and hail so hard I thought it would break the greenhouse windows. I looked at the beautiful table I’d set and waited for the leaks to start dripping on the linen tablecloths, jumping every time the lightening bolt hit nearby with the simultaneous thunder. It was the first time I was scared by a rainstorm, but it was fierce. The greenhouse leaks in three spots and one is directly over where I’d placed the table. But that night, not a drop on the table. A little wedding miracle, I thought as people finally could get out of their cars and come in. Jane made a toast, “Marriage can be stormy.” We laughed. 

At dinner we started talking politics at my end of the table and someone told me about Pelosi’s announcement at 5 pm that day. It was the exact time the storm hit and we laughed that the gods were speaking to us. A thunderbolt, a deluge. Let this be the beginning. I’d not given up hope that our country’s direction would change course but I was becoming more impatient. I want to be careful lest I gloat, but I have been saying his arrogance will do him in. His ignorance will kill him, like the one who drowns himself by hiding in a pool, forgetting he can’t breathe there.

Wednesday was bright and sunny, the perfect day after a storm, and I cleaned up, reliving the fun night listening to the news. Every reference to Watergate brought me back to the summer of ’74 and our last family camping trip. I was politically ignorant at seventeen, assuming the ship would right itself, since that’s what it’s supposed to do, and I wasn’t terribly cognizant of how it would affect my future. I thought of us camping in British Colombia, my father and siblings on what would be our last trip together. I thought of the supper we ate of fish we’d caught that day. We’d cooked it over the campfire and my father was happy. I remember my bother Richard stating an opinion about Nixon and the consequences he should face, and my father (who was apparently a Nixon fan), went from happy with the fish to apeshit that one of his offspring dared to disagree with him. I was on the periphery of this, but I remember coming to Rich’s aid with some morally superior comment. I remember thinking, jeepers, dad’s defending a criminal! Isn’t it the parents who are supposed to teach their kids to do the right thing? You don’t lie and cheat to win? You get punished when you get caught, that’s good right? But dear old dad couldn’t bear to be contradicted and I look back and am proud of us for doing so, despite the aftermath. He yelled his point loud enough that the people walking by our campsite stopped and stared. Rich told him to keep his voice down. Dad didn’t like being told what to do. The younger three of us got up to do the dishes, leaving Rich alone to face that firing squad. We may have looked around for something we could use as a bullet proof vest. We wondered why Rich didn’t use any self-preservation skills? We’d not had any news that week, it was long before the instant information era, this was a philosophical discussion (if you can call it that) only. This was nothing new to us, being told we were wrong, but it was incongruous in that beautiful setting with the good meal. The lord and ruler was not pleased; a nerve had been struck. The evening ended without any violence and the next day we went out on another fishing boat, or maybe it was a ferry, but we were definitely on the water, and we were definitely in Canada, and the captain of the vessel definitely said, “Your president is in trouble, eh?” Rich and I looked at each other, waiting for my father to throw the guy off his own boat, but instead he said something like, “Well, that’s what some people think.” and then the captain said, “He’s resigning at noon today.” And my father just stood there with a stunned look on his face and I remember thinking, “YES!” (but careful not to do the happy dance) not so much because justice was being served or that our nation was being saved, but because my father was wrong! Yes! And we kids exchanged glances, my look told Rich not to gloat, and this nice polite Canadian had no idea how happy he’d just made us, he just steered his boat in the August sunshine. It was a great moment. And I thought, funny, how all this came back to me this week…

Love to all,

Linda