What is dying, Nina?

Cool sunrise over a fake lagoon in Chandler, AZ, oasis in the desert. A November day here will turn hot and we will go jump in the community pool. I have brought my teacup and journal to a little veranda to write and think about my mother who lies dying in the nursing home that has tended her this past year. I am in Arizona. She is in British Columbia.

My reverie is sweetly shifted by the arrival of my six-year old granddaughter. She is watching me closely this week as I am tracking with my sister & brother who sit at our mother’s side. In the vacation rental house where we are all staying during a reunion and family Thanksgiving, there is a flickering candle altar with photos that honor my mother and also her Uncle Brian who died three years ago. In this same three-year period she has also lost her great-grandfather and her other grandmother, her father’s mom.

altar2

She is twirling my hair, sitting on my lap. “What is dying, Nina?” she asks. “People get dead and then they’re gone.” I take a breath, she’s trusting me to give her something she can understand.ns

“People have two parts that make us who we are: the soul, and the body. I recognize you because I know how you look, and sound, and feel. And I recognize you because who you are shines out from inside you. When you are in your mommy’s womb, the body and the soul come together and you are born in one piece that is both physical and spiritual.

“Then you live your life—one beautiful piece of body and soul. Dying is when those two parts separate again. The body goes back to the earth, and the soul goes back to spirit.”

“Is that heaven?”

“Yes, heaven is one name for where the spirit goes.”

“Why is your mama dying? Is she hurt? sick?”

“She’s dying because she’s so old her body is tired and her soul needs to be free again. I am happy that she is going to be free, and I cry when I remember all the things we’ve shared and learned from each other.”

We look across the lagoon, and there is the metaphor made visible. “Look at the palm trees, Sasha… see how they are reflected in the water?” She nods. There is the tree that we see growing on the ground, and there is the tree that is reflected upside down in the water. The standing tree is like the body, the reflected tree is like the soul.”

Body & soul.

Body & soul.

“Oh… okay. Can I draw the picture in your journal?”

She takes a pen and begins to draw palm trees and us on the veranda. The day moves on. My mother still breathes. We wait in vigil, both near and far.

PS: The afternoon of this posting, November 27, 2016, my mother Connie died peacefully with my brother and sister present. Now she knows the “big secret”of what is dying. Hallelujah.

Half-mast in sunlight

Friday afternoon in my little village by the sea. Second Street is closed for a summer market: flowers, vegetables, crafts, bread, the stalls are lined up and people stroll through. Dogs on leash are everywhere. Two friends have a new puppy they are carrying in arms. Sunshine and a refreshing breeze off the water.

My father and I are sitting at a patio table in front of the Commons coffee shop chatting about his upcoming 96th birthday. He wants a pizza party on our patio with his four children, three in-laws, a friend or two. He wants this—all this: a village around him, a street full of familiar faces, people waving to us, some stopping to say hi, to bring their own story into the ones we are telling each other. He wants this—his daughter, his daughter-in-law at the next table talking with friends from our decades of work and travel. We all want this—peace amongst acquaintances, friends, strangers, the earth’s abundance spilling over our shoulders. Ice cream cones and coffee. Our corgi, Gracie, wanders back and forth under the two tables seeing who might be eating something, who might have a dog biscuit to share or a cookie crumb. Safety. Peace. A couple of young musicians playing acoustic guitar and familiar songs about love.

It is a moment of complete refuge and beauty.

On the other side of us a group of several women and a man are finishing ice cream cones. One gives her waffle-tip to Gracie to finish. The man asks, “May I pet your dog?” Gracie snugs her back up to his legs and he begins massaging her: both of them blissed, his fingers in her luxuriant fur. A few minutes later when they are ready to stroll, he speaks to me again, “Thanks for letting me pet her.”

We really look at one another. I reach for his hand, strong brown fingers, in this moment his eyes bright with ease in a dark face. I am a seventy-year-old Caucasian woman: he is a middle-aged African-American man. We are in the village together. There is sunshine. Refuge. Beauty. I say back to him, “She loved it. You take care, now. Have a good day.” We smile. He’s gone.

My father and I look at each other. Tears rise in our eyes. What is happening in our country? In the world? In the unspoken chamber of my heart, I want to shelter this friendly stranger, be ready to push him under the table, wrap him in my white skin. “Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t drive too fast or too slow or with a tail-light out. Don’t get shot.” In various ways, my father has worked for social justice all his life. My first memories are of living in downtown Indianapolis where he was a social worker in what was then called a “neighborhood house.” It was the early 1950s, Negroes were streaming North from the rural South looking for work and needing to learn the ways of the city. My brother and I, at four and two, unaware of race or skin tone or poverty, were just kids on the block, racing around in summer heat, days like this. Eating ice cream cones, our mother would strip us down to our white carter spanky pants so that she could just hose us off afterwards, not have to do a load of clothes. Little half naked kids, vanilla and chocolate, all sticky chested.

The seed of my gesture, white hand and brown hand, resides in those days. So do the seeds of our current violence. We talk about then, and now. I am facing the end of my work life. He is facing the end of his life-time. We have done and are doing all we can.

IMG_6408We walk slowly through the middle of the market toward the post office. The flag is at half-mast. Orlando?—where 49 died and 53 were injured dancing at the Pulse? Istanbul?—40 dead and 230 injured? Baghdad market?—where nearly 300 die from a truck bomb? This week’s police murders of black men: Baton Rouge? Suburban St. Paul? The sniper murder of five police in Dallas? The flag is at half-mast. My heart is broken for the world.

Social trauma at this scale is incredibly hard to hold. We are surrounded by problems for which there are no resolutions. How do we help one another not go mad? Not get utterly lost in despair? Find moments of sweetness such as this summer afternoon?

These moments exist in every life: when we trust the friendliness of public spaces, when we pet one another’s dogs, smile at one another’s children, hold one another’s gazes, smiles, and hands. This is what I call a stackable moment: a choice to remember something, to stack it into our memories. We can stack trauma: we can stack healing. We can stack violence: we can stack love.

I choose to stack this moment, to savor it, roll it around and around in my mind until I can call it back to sustain me. There was sunshine. There was my father alive in his stories. My beloved was next to me. There were friends. Dogs. Fruits and flowers. There was a kind man who trusted to put his brown hand in my white hand. We were in the weave together and the world was whole and holy.

The flag is at half-mast. My heart is broken—and open. This is how I stack the day.

 

The Thread You Follow

I recently attended the 3rd National Journal Writing Conference— representing a 25-year cycle in my life. Kay Adams, a dynastic/prolific author of journal writing books, founder of Therapeutic Writing Institute, Center for Journal Therapy, and several other entities devoted to writing practice, has three times called together a tribe of journal writers. In 1991, she and I, Kay Leigh Hagan, and Dan Wakefield were faculty at the first conference just as Life’s Companion was coming out, and just as that book and the power of circle were about to shift my whole life into a deeper path.

In 2008, just as Storycatcher was catching fire, I showed up again as the opening keynoter, and along with Tristine Rainier, it was the closest I ever expect to come to a “rock star” moment.

Now, Kay convened us again—a dynamic event at Kanuga Conference Center in the green and blooming hills of western North Carolina. Ann Linnea and I offered three pre-conference events: Ann did a lovely morning on “Writing Nature’s Wisdom” which included rocking chairs and lap blankets on the dock at lake’s edge; I did a circle on how coherent story-line/life-line emerges from the original chaos of journal pages; and both of us taught circle process for writing groups in the afternoon.

Western Carolina vista

Western Carolina vista

By observation, the group was 95% women, 98% white, 90% midlife and older. Some exciting research was presented on neuroplasticity, on reframing trauma, on advances in recognizing writing as a therapeutic modality. It was a sweet, deep dip into my own story, carrying around journal and pens, doing an afternoon of collage. My cell phone didn’t work. The rains held us to the page. The conversations were meaningful, earnest, held with respect. I saw former students and long-time acquaintances and friends in the field.

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Myself, with Sandra Marinella, teacher and author from Phoenix, AZ.

I wish there were more men. I wish there were more young people. I wish there was more diversity of all kinds. And it is what it is: this is a cadre striving to maintain a way of life where pen and paper are the primary tools of spiritual practice, where reflection is built into the heart of the day, where life questions are tracked with determination until their insights are revealed.

What I want to declare, to these mostly graying, mostly women, journal writers and journal facilitators, is to keep on trusting the value of the journal writing practice.

Keep holding the thread of meaning-making that emerges from time spent articulating your most personal experiences and the tumble of thoughts and feelings that follow. You are organizing reality: not controlling it, but practicing a resilience that comes from standing inside your story. The world needs people who can stand in the story of the times and help others around them make meaning and come to coherent action.

Be bold.

Be invitational. Share the strength of your voice and insight. Write in public: in cafes and libraries, in airports, in any setting where you have a few minutes to say hello to yourself.

Imagine taking the long flight home: the person next to you glancing at this odd behavior of spreading a notebook over the tray table, coping with the leaky fountain pen that doesn’t like the air pressure at 32,000 feet. Their eyes keep wandering toward your handwriting. You turn, and invite, “I’m writing in my journal. I do this several times a week to keep track of my life. Want to hear a few paragraphs?” They will be so surprised. They will most likely be receptive.

Read.

I heard you at the conference. I was in awe at the beauty of your personal voice, your courageous comprehension, your compassion for human frailty, the forgiveness of yourself and others. Deposit some chosen bit of that. They will hear you. They will catch the story. And perhaps their longing to know this much about themselves will awaken. Have an extra notebook and pen ready to give away. Have a question on a post-it note. Teach them five minutes of flow-writing. To put a few paragraphs of self-check-in on the page or screen could change their lives in ways you will never track. Someone did that for you…

Remember: William Stafford’s poem, “The Way it Is”–

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
….
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

(William Stafford © 1998)

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Pink Ladyslippers

 

 

 

Writing Time

Tuesday and Thursday mornings—it says in my electronic calendar: Christina writes… an injunction that spins out through the year and into perpetuity—purposely. This is my commitment for the foreseeable future: save time to write, and use it to write!

Yeah. Right. A review of the past weeks:

Tuesday: PeerSpirit Annual Meeting to set our course for the year.

Thursday: yay—WRITING.

Tuesday: Fly to Austin, TX with Ann to present a day of health care consulting.

Thursday: hanging out in Austin after teaching, visiting friends, talking about circle.

Tuesday: Fly home from LA, after adding a visit with the grandchildren to our business trip.

Thursday: taking my dad to the dermatologist—kicking off a lot of medical decisions about skin cancer abrasions.

Tuesday: over at my dad’s apartment, helping him get carpets cleaned and other tasks.

Thursday: yay—WRITING

Tuesday: Self as the Source of the Story Alumni group convenes.

Thursday: Teaching, consulting with students—and WRITING.

Saturday: WRITING all day—silent time at the seminar. Ahhhh.

Tuesday: Day after teaching: barely talking, writing only a few emails. Breathing in the satisfaction of the class. Listening for my own voice to re-emerge.

Thursday March 10: High winds and two inches of rain in an already saturated season. Ann is up at dawn to check the damage. She discovers water running down the neighborhood ditch has backed up flooding across edge properties, slurry over the bluff, very real prospect of losing our community beach stairs and bulkhead. High tide, high winds, destruction and hammering by water and drift logs against this precious access to our greatest spiritual practice—walking the water’s edge with Gracie.

I’m an English major, but I know impending disaster when I see it. The cliff is in danger of “calving” and burying our 77 steps to freedom, and the 70-year-old bulkhead. Ann has meetings over town we try to make a plan—get on the phone to someone who might know what to do.

My only writing of the day is an emergency email to the community warning everyone to stay away from the stairs and the cliff.

I call the project manager who has been helping us prepare a major repair on the aging bulkhead; he calls the county, the county sends two road crew guys and we all agree the overflow pipe right at the edge of the county road and private property is not working, is behaving like an artesian well. Yup. Water is everywhere. It just keeps rolling downhill the way water does. More rain coming. No other help from them.

I call a private drainage company. It is 3:30. Clouding over. It’s my writing time.

It’s my lifetime. A river runs through it…

This is how it goes.

Life is full of itself. Life demands. We make the best choices we can. We hold focus—and we hold relationship, emergency, replenishment, duty, love. There is an edge to things—people have to figure out how to go forward without understanding how it’s going to turn out. We have to make do with what we have, with what resources we can muster, with the folks within reach who can help. Oddly enough, this is exactly the theme in my novel, though set in another time and place.

My fictional story is full of people of the land, ordinary people who make extraordinary choices… and my reality is full of ordinary people making some extraordinary choices, as well. It took a while for the gravity to register. Water running where it should not run… so disorienting… and the idea that it would not stop running or unplug itself and then what to do??? Waiting on the county road crew, I stick my arm into muddy ice water all the way to my pit, feeling into the dark trying to understand the pipe juncture and where the blockage might be.

I call the young men of Apollo Drainage who have been up since 4:00 AM when the first frantic calls from the storm battered island woke them. They pump the water on long hoses over the bluff and down onto the beach so that the drain hole emerges… and eventually they find the problem, and unplug the drain and the river magically disappears back into its plastic tubing and safely over the edge. But damage has been done. There is a deep crack in the earth at the top of the stairs. There is a slumping slurry of mud on the south bluff face—it’s not done falling down, more rain is coming. The high winds, high tides, have ripped at our bulkhead, huge concrete pieces broken, logs ramming the fragile toe of the bluff.

The power of water rules all. I stand there thinking: you should know this, Christina… it was just a year ago you stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Water wins.

I am president of our homeowners association, Ann is secretary. We have a good board of four neighbors who face this crisis and inform 25 homeowners: the stairs are not safe. We put up Caution tape and buy and emergency lock. It is possible this shared asset is gone forever.

We bought this house because of the tree behind it and the beach access in front of it. I am grieving this loss of spirit and routine.

The storm passes. There is a day of sunshine, calm, rainbows. Another storm approaches. More extreme winds are predicted. It is now Sunday morning. It is pouring rain. We check the drain, watch the amount of flow coming off the neighborhood. We pray. We sing to all the trees around us to “stand strong.”

Writing time: my work in the real world is to accept challenge and change with at least as much equanimity and courage as the characters in my story. That’s why I’m writing: to use another time and place to make a story map, a model of pulling together instead of pulling apart.

A lot is pulling apart: I am focusing on pulling together.

I will post this now before the power goes out.

The community beach access--a river instead of a path.

The community beach access–a river instead of a path.

South of stairs, mud slurry and slumping already pulling down that part of bluff.

South of stairs, mud slurry and slumping already pulling down bluff wall.

Two foot crack  at top of stair landing. Predicted to break away that part of bluff.

Two foot crack at top of stair landing. Predicted to break away that part of bluff.

All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.

After water diversion, the old, buried drain emerges

After water diversion, the old, buried drain emerges

Drain unplugged, fixed, and capped.

Drain unplugged, fixed, and capped.

Calm presence looking across the yard.

Calm presence looking across the yard.

Double rainbow over neighbor's roof and Puget Sound.

Double rainbow over neighbor’s roof and Puget Sound.

Welcoming the stranger

In 1952, when I was six years old, my parents scrambled together a down payment on a chicken coop. that’s what we called the strung together shed-like building on half an acre in the flood plain of the Wabash River at the edge of Indianapolis. Linoleum floors, drafty fireplace in a small living room, funky kitchen, big yard, a few climbable trees. My parents put in a garden, bought real chickens for eggs and meat, and we began subsistence farming while my father worked two jobs, and my mother managed the harvest, the chickens, and sewed clothes for three little children aged 6, 4, and 1. We got new underwear for Christmas and one real toy. I thought it was paradise.

In the wider world, I was oblivious then to McCarthyism, Stalinism, nuclear arsenals, the Cold War, the subjugation of women, racism, etc. etc. I was a child in a pocket of relative safety in a difficult age. We all just held on as best we could. And then the Hofmann’s came to live with us.

In that tiny house, we absorbed Doktor and Frau Hofmann, their daughters ages 13 and 17, and their 20-year-old son. I was just learning to read and came home with my picture dictionary, seating myself between these big girls and teaching them basic English vocabulary and pronunciation. They had been living in a displaced persons camp since the end of the War—7 years in a railroad car. Dr. Hofmann had stood up against fascism and spent the war imprisoned and tortured; his son Christofe was so mentally traumatized he required the full-time attention of the Frau. Gisela, the older girl, did housework helping my mother, while Angela occasionally came with me, crammed in a tiny school desk, learning to read. Refugees.

Our family, borderline poor by American standards, was borderline rich by theirs. My parents, stressed and unsure how to make their own way in life, sponsored this family’s immigration and integration into American society. Soon they had an apartment downtown, clothes, second-hand furniture. Eventually the family moved to Iowa where Doktor Hofmann got a job as a medical assistant in a mental hospital, and, hopefully, help for his son. We got Christmas cards over the years, always thanking us for saving their lives.

I don’t know what happened to them (and their names are changed here for privacy). They were part of my childhood. They remain unforgettable teachers who opened my early awareness to the realities of the wider world. And it is through this intimate experience that I watch the current refugee crisis in Europe.

I acknowledge the social, political, economic, and religious complexities regarding what is happening there. I understand this unstoppable influx is overwhelming even the most welcoming countries and raises important questions about what it will mean to be “European,” as the continent becomes more and more multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-worldviewed. The consequences of centuries, are swirling around: shall we increase the razor wire or increase the dialogue?

Our friends in Europe are on the lines in Austria, Slovenia, Germany, handing out food, helping to maintain calm among exhausted, stressed people who can barely speak a few words of common language, who are looking into one another’s eyes to grab a bit of trust and courage to stay on the path.

I have no idea how my country, state, or community, would react to 10,000 people crossing over the nearby Canadian border every 24 hours, walking down the Interstate desperate to get somewhere…anywhere…safe.

Even if there is “no solution,” there is choice in how we respond. We have turned into a new age and I believe we can show up for this!

What I know is that welcoming the stranger into our homes and communities makes them not a stranger. Six years after WWII, a German family needed help: they got it. They were no longer the enemy. Now people who are largely Muslim, largely from Syria and Africa need help: it is up to us, the white, privileged folks, to stop seeing them as the enemy, and to react with so much kindness that our actions breakdown barriers and misunderstanding.

I am well if you are well.

I am safe if you are safe.

I am home if you are home.

Dr. Hofmann, Frau Hofmann, I hope you had good lives. Christofe, may your suffering have been alleviated. Gisela, Angela, somewhere you are women in your 70’s, may you remember the little girl on the couch earnestly teaching you first grade English. I remember you.

 

For more information:

This video helps explain and calm some of these fears about immigration into Europe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvOnXh3NN9w

If you want to HELP– support the World Food Programme of the United Nations: wfp.org. They are desperately in need of money to keep feeding the millions of people displaced in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is not the time for them to go broke.

 

*** BESTPIX *** HORGAS, SERBIA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary on September 7, 2015 in Horgas, Serbia. Thousands of migrants crossed into Hungary today from Serbia near Horgas. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

*** BESTPIX *** HORGAS, SERBIA – SEPTEMBER 07: Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary on September 7, 2015 in Horgas, Serbia. Thousands of migrants crossed into Hungary today from Serbia near Horgas. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called ‘Balkans route’ has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

 

 

A Summer Day

CBwrites

CB writes

whitebuck

White buck–local guy.

What a sweet local life I have. Waking with early light, I raise the shades to look at Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. I make tea. I take time to write a bit in my journal. Sitting on what we call the facing bench, my partner and I watch Nature waking up around us. We talk about who is doing what on the list that accompanies our days. We talk about what is next, what we want to contribute in our island and global communities. Deer parade by.

The garden is erupting with greens, veggies, and fruits—salad for dinner every night. I’m home after leading a vision quest and two consulting jobs with long plane rides in June. Now, it’s summer and I want the world to stop being in trouble so I can relax. I want a compassion vacation, an engagement reprieve, and an awareness respite.

The mind that won’t leave me alone is my own! I am keenly aware of the delicate privilege of my life. Every day around the world, people wake to moments like mine: a sweet hello in morning light—and then life changes. Out of work. Out of money. Family crisis. Diagnosis. Death. Fire. Flood. Volcano. Earthquake. Violence. War.

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Wenatchee, WA on fire.

pintarist

Texas flooding

The world’s woes are stubborn and persistent.

“News” finds me—and it should. I want to know. I feel a responsibility to know. Events become part of our shared cultural experience, marker moments referenced in short-hand: “911,” “the Tsunami,” and now, “Charleston.” Most of these stories are depressing, but embedded even in horrific events is the uprising of human spirit. An extremist walks into a church, prays with a group of African-Americans… almost changes his mind, but ends up shooting 9 of them. This activates the racist polarities of our nation and words like white supremacy, Confederacy and its flag flood the Internet. And this outrage activates people’s determination to not be torn asunder, to cross the bridge together toward authentic racial understanding, to worship together, to walk side by side.

Whenever an act of hatred erupts, it is counter-balanced by acts of love, courage, and faithfulness. And in these past months with so much brutality, particularly the murders of African American men, making the news and the skin being torn off our white privilege, we have needed that counterbalance! Acts of kindness always happen: they are the uncounted on by-product of violence, the unintended consequence—waking up more and more of us, over and over. Do a Google search on “random acts of kindness following Charleston” and you will be reassured that this supposition is correct: good arrives to balance bad: love balances hate.

Obama

How sweet the sound

In this confidence, we may stand at the end of the eulogy, at the end of the service for nine faithful people shot while they prayed; we may stand with family and friends able to find forgiveness in their hearts before their beloveds are even buried, we may join the President of the United States in singing, “Amazing Grace…” and trust that, yes, despite anything—grace abides.

Planet of the Stones

Tracking Kadachrome During his two-week spring break last month, we took our ten-year-old grandson, Jaden, on a road trip to camp in the magnificent canyon lands of southern Utah.

For Ann, this trip was a touchstone into desert landscape that had shaped her early adulthood and the golden years of mothering. As a young teacher and naturalist, she had taken her two children, including the mother of Jaden, on extensive camping trips into this territory.

For me, it was a dip into the opposite of everything I know: green became red, wet became dry, ocean became river, river became sand, soft became prickly, cool became hot, the uprise of mountains became the submersion of canyons eroded through sandstone. Busyness became stillness, distraction became focus, e-mail became Nature.

For Jaden, coming from apartment life in Los Angeles, this was his first road trip, his first camping trip, and his first time completely away from city-boy routines. We picked him up from the Las Vegas airport on Spring Equinox and started driving the Interstate toward southern Utah. He fell asleep with the dog’s head on his thigh—and woke up after we had turned were dipping into the first drive-through landscape of red rocks towering over us. “Whoa,” he proclaimed, as he opened his eyes, “Where are we?”

“Glad you’re awake,” I said, “Welcome to the Planet of the Stones…” So our magnificent adventure began! Jaden was up for everything. He loved every campsite, loved every hike, loved having our dog become his dog, loved learning how to split wood, make a fire, light the camp stove, whittle an arrow, put up the tent. He hiked part of “The Narrows” in Zion, walked the Escalante River, rode bikes along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, studied and pledged himself as a Junior Ranger in four parks… promising to “be a friend to the Earth.”

He brought some LA life to the campfire, sang and danced “Uptown Funk,” with all the moves and lyrics. He played Monster trucks in the red dust, making a racetrack around the camp chairs. He regaled us with stories. And he tuned in, deeper and deeper to Nature, to birds, to animal tracks, and star constellations.

Now he is back in LA, loved on by the family who missed him. He is a boy of color, in a city density of over 7,500 people per square mile, in a greater metro area with 12.8 million people, nearly half Hispanic; he is immersed in the streaming world of Minecraft, X-Box, videos of violence and adventure that boys love: How to Tame your Dragon, Big Hero 6. And we trust, that his boy of wonder, naturalist self is tucked inside him and growing.

Now we are back in green lands, planting and weeding the gardens, mowing grass, enjoying the edge of Puget Sound, watching the Olympic Mountains appear and disappear in clouds and sun. We are aging Anglo women, living on a sylvan island just off-shore from the frenetic energy of modern America, holding onto the BIG concerns for the life coming toward our beloved grandchildren and all the children who stream in and out of La Ballona Elementary School, who will make the 21st century their home.

GrandCanyon

The Planet of the Stones is hard to comprehend when you are ten years old. We watched Jaden’s eyes glaze after a few minutes of trying to understand how “220 million years ago, this land was under the sea…” We had a few conversations about sand turning to stone, about river erosion… and then released him to thumbing through Ann’s copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds and listing nearly 40 “first sightings.”

Geology is nearly unfathomable at any age. Standing in the canyons, my mind raises the question, “Whose planet is this, anyway?” in the resounding quiet—punctuated by bird calls and the riffling of pages as Jaden IDs another feathered friend, the stones calm the spirit in this grandmother’s activist heart: they withstand.

Astronomer Carl Sagan, in his television series, Cosmos, collapsed the last fifteen billion years of galactic history onto a one-year calendar. Earth does not condense from interstellar matter until September of that imaginary year. Plants do not colonize until December 20th. Human beings show up on December 31st, 90 minutes before midnight. Sagan calls human beings, “matter grown into consciousness, coagulated star-dust, a way for the cosmos to know itself.” I breathe deep, inviting the red dust of former seas into my lungs.

Come with me, red dirt. Come into the cells of my being, become my teacher. Show me how to withstand what is coming. Help me blow stardust where it is needed. Help me erode away all that is not needed and discover the pattern for what must be preserved. I am the grandmother of Jaden and Sasha: I am the granddaughter of the stones.Big view

Come with me.

Summer sweet & sorrow

Picking raspberries on a Sunday, early evening. The sun is coming through the leaves of the plants, creating a golden green, the veins illuminated, infused. This is how it happens: the Earth doing her earth-thing, providing us with what we need, and more… It is a zenith moment, high summer… just before the first tip toward autumn.

We have pulled the peas that our grandson planted last March, visiting us on his spring break. They were wonderful Jaden, and we thought of you with every bite! Earlier this day, we planted another row of lettuce and spinach, hoping for the garden harvest to extend long into the cooling days. I love this tending–such an antidote to all things digital.

I am entranced in my task, eating as I pick. Our little corgi is sitting at my feet, waiting her share. Her dog lips gently pluck the offered berry from my extended palm. I am a smile–my whole being is happy and running with juice.

IMG_22761-225x300A couple of newly married neighbors walk down the gravel road that is our shared string of homes. They are holding hands and talking softly–their almost daily ritual at the end of work: he in the local shipyard, she at the local grocery store. They wave. I walk out to meet them.

“Cup your hands,” I say to them. And into their empty bowls of flesh, I pour a mound of raspberries for each. We stand in our delight. They move on, their conversation punctuated by raspberry sucking. I go back to my happy harvest.

Earlier today I was fashioning a memorial card for next Sunday’s gathering on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth when Brian’s Minnesota family and friends will spend the day remembering him. We remember you every day, Brian… Eight months into this passage, I am the stage of grief where I find myself calling out to him from my heart, “What an amazing journey, this grief walk… Your mother and I have learned so much… and we miss you so much. I am sure you are learning wondrous things over there on the other side of the garden, your being infused with golden green. Could you come back–just for an evening? Let’s sit on the patio in the high point of summer, sit where we sat last summer and did not know it would be the last time, please…. I have raspberries, and so much I want to tell you and hear from you!”

The “dead” respond as they can. I hear his voice in my head. I receive him in my dreams. I look at his photos. I watch the raspberries turn to rubies through the prism of my tears. I look up– The white stag who lives in the neighboring woods is walking down the road. He stops, unafraid, turns and looks directly at me. We hold one another’s gaze.
I move quietly to the patio, Ann and I stand arm in arm… I feed her berries. The deer regards us still, then moves on, hoofs tapping lightly on the gravel. The dog has not barked.

WS1-300x225This is how it is. Sorrow is sometimes sweet and juicy. Grief can be infused with light.

You who are freshly suffering–know that the juice returns. Know that magic happens, that the veil is often thin. Hold out your cupped hands and they will be filled with what you need to get through this moment, and the next. This is how it is.

What my father did in “the war”

My father (who will be 94 years old in July) came to dinner on the patio at our house on an early June evening. We were hosting several lovely colleagues, Holier (age 44) and Roswitha (age 55) from Germany. We had a long meandering conversation talking about different travels and experiences in our lives and then one of us asked him what he did in “the War…”

Leo Baldwin was the only conscientious objector from Cascade County, Montana. He had to fight the draft board to accept this status, and he had to stand firm in a family that included four older brothers (non of them actually in service, but all patriotic). He has been profoundly influenced by this decision throughout his life.
To be a man of “the greatest generation” who did not go to war has cost him dearly and (I believe) finally also benefited him in many ways. That is a long story, and I am privileged to live nearby and to have enough chats around the dinner table that I hear him as he reminisces and reflects on the decades of his life, and on the impact of his pacifism.

The story in this moment is sitting on the patio on a summer evening, speaking humbly of his participation in 1944 in hypothermia and protein starvation experiments conducted on the roof of a mental hospital in upstate New York. While the war was still raging, the US military was working on plans to rehabilitate Europe, particularly interested in how to bring a population nearly starved to death back to health. What was the tipping point for irrevocable damage to internal organs? What kinds of protein could be most easily absorbed, teaching the body to absorb nutrition again?

For months, Leo lived by a totally controlled diet of barest calories, and the protein was washed out of his system, and eventually, through trial and error, successfully reintroduced. In June 2014, he was telling this story to the children of people he helped save. Late light slanted through the Madrona trees. Long dusk held us. And it seemed to me that a bit more peace came into the world. That was the point, so long ago: to respond nonviolently in a violent situation.

William Stafford, the Oregon poet who was also a conscientious objector, sometimes in the same camps as my father, wrote later… “Here is how to count the number of people ready to do right in the world… One…one…one…one. You don’t fight, and you don’t turn away, you look for something else.”

Thank you, dad. A lifetime of knowing someone is always a complex journey.

Leo and Christina

Leo and Christina

We are in such a good spot in the road. I’m grateful for your years and presence.

All we are saying…Peace

Last Saturday, driving to a day of teaching for the Self as the Source of the Story seminar, I drove past the weekly Peace Vigil alongside the highway a few miles from our house. I was so touched I decided to write about this in my blog… and today, into my box came this anonymously penned “history and celebration” of the current peace activism on Whidbey. I have participated in both these events over the years, but have been so much on the road in the past 4 years that my personal ability and dedication to stand in place has eroded.

I am sharing this pretty much as shared with me–only removing local names since this has a much wider audience.

The Saturday Morning Peace Vigil and Women in Black –
A brief History and a Celebration, May 24, 2014.

On Saturday of Memorial Day week-end, two different peace groups are being celebrated. The Saturday Morning Peace Vigil (every Sat. 10-11) and Women in Black (first Fri. of every month in the late afternoon – times vary) both meet in Bayview, one in silence, and one decidedly not, but with a common hope for a peaceful world to pass on to their children.

The Saturday Morning Peace Vigil began in the summer of 2002 to protest the growing momentum in the U.S. Government for war with Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. This war eventually became a reality in March of 2003, in spite of millions protesting all over the world, including the group at Bayview.

As the deceptions and tragedies of Iraq became apparent, there were times when as many as 150 people protested up and down Highway 525. Over the years, the numbers have decreased, but many have been there most Saturdays, braving rain, wind, ice and snow for twelve years to witness their belief in the futility of war and the wisdom of using our resources to improve our world.

The messages on the colorful signs being held vary according to U.S. and world events and the passions of the individuals. There might be a sign saying “Harm No Child”, “Books not Guns” “Health Care for Vets” or one saying simply “No War.” Spirited discussions about current events and community involvement infuse the gathering. Over the years there have been at least four Naval aviators from the Vietnam era who have been regular participants.

In the beginning, when 9/11 was fresh in our memories, the hostility toward the demonstrators was sometimes palpable with verbal and physical expressions from passersby. However, over the years, peace signs, honks and thumbs up became the norm. …

South Whidbey Women in Black began standing in silent vigil in the summer of 2006, inspired by the Coupeville WIB. (A small group) began in Langley. At later vigils at the ferry landing, women in black often stood in single file up the long hill, causing quite a stir as commuters came off the ferry. Part of their mission states, “We ask you to reflect on the aggression occurring in the U.S. and other countries around the world as well as in our homes, in ourselves and against the earth itself. Let our stand remind us there is a limitless capacity for healing wounds of all kinds. Together, we can move forward into a world we would love to pass on to future generations.”

Niece Erin and her friend the time they stood with us.

Niece Erin and her friend the time they stood with us.

The public is invited to attend a celebration of these two groups on Saturday, May 24th from 10-11 at the Bayview Park and Ride. There will be refreshments, written materials, music and a short ceremony from 10:30-11 where there will be a chance to share memories. Especially invited are the drivers of the many cars who have honked or waved over the years (and yes, those who lifted their middle finger, too).

Come stand with us for a day or a decade! I’ll be there, again.