Opening the New Year with Compassion

If you want the world to be happy: practice compassion. If you want to be happy: practice compassion.
~ Dalai Lama

I particularly love this time of year, the silent yet stirring segue of the final week of 2015 into the fresh new pages of 2016. As I pondered what I would say here today to open this new year, I found the answer when I prepared to do my morning mindful meditation. Its theme, which resonates deeply in my wishful heart, was: May all beings be well and happy.

This metta-meditation, a very old Buddha technique to cultivate compassion, with regular practice can recondition our minds and open our hearts to both ourselves and others. Metta-meditation tells us we must not decide who deserves our compassion and who does not, but rather that compassion is something all beings deserve, even those responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity.

The guided meditation method to wish happiness and wellness for all beings is to first sit comfortably and, if helpful, close your eyes. First, see yourself in your mind, and mindfully say:

• May I be well and happy. Repeat.
• May I have no fears or sorrows. Repeat.
• May I be healthy and free from illness. Repeat.
• May I live calmly and peacefully. Repeat.

Then repeat the same affirmations for all others in this list, adjusting it to apply to you; for example you may not have a child but someone else you’d like to include. These are examples:

• Parents
May my parents be well and happy. Repeat.
May my parents have no fears or sorrows. Repeat.
May I be healthy and free from illness. Repeat.
May I live calmly and peacefully. Repeat.

Then repeat the meditation for each person on your list:

• Spouse or partner
• Child
• Teachers and mentor
• Friend
• A neutral person with whom you share the simple bond of being a fellow human being
• A person you dislike, keeping in mind the truth that “he or she is just like you—with pains and frustrations, desires and hopes.”
• All humans in the world
• All living beings everywhere, from single cell organisms to the highest form of intelligence

Professor Muesse (see below) states that “medical studies have been conducted and support the claim that prayer has a tangible, empirical effect on the health of those prayed for.” And “whether or not you believe in the effects of this practice… consider the fact that relieving a little of the hostility of just one person—yourself—will make that world a little better for everyone.”

I have found over time this practice has brought a noticeable and welcomed softening to my heart.

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Source: The Great Courses Series – Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation by Professor Mark W. Muesse, PhD, Rhodes College – Lecture #17

 

Posted in Compassion, Gifts, Gratitude, Kindness, Mystery, Simplicity | 6 Comments

Leaving the Farm, Part II – Hilary, 21 Years Later

As I drove up the mountain to have my car serviced early this morning, I noticed some yellow walnut leaves lightly fluttering to the ground. They reminded me that in a few months there will be, instead of dying leaves, large snowflakes gently falling in a hushed early winter snowfall.

I’d been thinking about my cat, Hilary, and her more than two decades of life thus far. At my vet’s office, she’s known as the poster child for wellness chec2010-06-03 22.08.20k-ups. Why, you might wonder? Well, four years ago I took her in, expecting the usual good checkup, and learned she had breast cancer. Stunned, I didn’t even know cats got breast cancer. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she also needed surgery for stones in her urinary tract. I asked the vet my questions: what was her prognosis with and without surgery? With surgery, if the cancer didn’t re-occur in six months, chances were it wouldn’t. Without surgery, her life could last a few months more. What was her general condition aside from her current problems? Her blood work showed she appeared otherwise in good general health for a seventeen year old cat. What was the cost? Both surgeries could be done the same day and would amount to roughly $1,000.00.

I asked for some time to consider. Alone, then, with Hilary, I looked into her eyes as she watched me, almost appearing to understand we were going to have a serious talk. A tabby, she has black lines near her eyes that also give her the appearance of a perpetual frown.

“Okay, little girl, we have a choice: surgery or not,” I said in a low voice, still not knowing the decision.

“Remember when Mom’s cat got so sick and the vet did more than a thousand dollars of testing to determine what was wrong, and then Buster died two days later?”

Hilary, feet tucked under her on the gray Formica exam table, watched me, seeming to get the drift of the conversation, if her eye expression was any indicator. I stared at her quietly then, weighing our options: aged cat, costly surgery, would it give her added life or would it put her through discomfort and she might die soon after?

Was I imagining it, or was Hilary staring at me with obvious trust in her eyes? The options silently swirled around in my head until finally the vet’s words stood at the front of the line of the other choices: she’s otherwise in good general health.

I had my answer and it felt exactly right. “Okay, Hilary. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
She listened attentively, her lime-green eyes fastened on mine. “Let’s do the surgery. What I hope you can do is survive the six months cancer-free, okay? Let’s hope that will happen because we’ll do the breast cancer surgery just this once.”

So that’s what we did. She came through the surgery beautifully, passed the six-month cancer-free marker, and we got to share two more healthy years. When I took her in for a check-up last year, she’d been noticeably losing weight and I braced myself. Her new diagnosis was renal failure, quite common in older cats, I learned. “How much time does she have?” I asked the vet.

“It’s hard to tell,” she said. “She’s lost a lot of weight, but she appears to be doing okay otherwise.” She prescribed some maintenance medications which have brought us to today. Hilary’s a little over five pounds now, tips and totters a lot when she walks, yet still seems comfortable as she maintains her usual patterns. She sticks to her routine of waiting by the door each morning for me to let her out on the front deck where she spends her Virginia retirement in warmth, she begins pacing when around 6pm when it’s time for her wet food, and, otherwise, is a bit snippy with my other cat, my son’s cat when she visits there, and my daughter’s dogs who really want to be her friend.

And so, as golden leaves gently spiral to the ground, I do the one thing I can: I treasure each day, aware that the bitter-cold day will come when she and I will have to say good-bye.

Posted in Animal friends, Gifts, Gratitude, Health, Mother Nature | 4 Comments

Ordinary Grace

This afternoon I read Ordinary Grace  by William Kent Krueger, a book that took me to a small town, New Bremen, Minnesota in 1961, where complex tragedy strikes a small family and ripples through the community in astonishing ways. Krueger is an author I’ve followed for many years, relishing my dozen or so visits to the place he knows so well, Minnesota, and with his part Irish, part Ojibwe Indian protagonist, Cork O’Connor.

Although I just recently discovered it, Ordinary Grace was first published in early 2014, and is a significantly different book than any of Krueger’s previous mystery series. Krueger says he wanted to explore another way of writing to explore the themes of loss, hope, faith, and the relationships people have. Although the richly colorful characters in this literary mystery all possess brokenness in either physical or emotional ways, we are guided by the protagonist, young Frank Drum, as he comes of age and eventually discovers that the sometimes-fragile thread of grace is always present, even in the face of his own profound loss.

Krueger notes that he felt the story came largely from outside himself, although parts are drawn from his own childhood experiences. “That there was so much brokenness surprised me, but we are all broken in some way. The task became to fit these people together into a not-perfect whole; sometimes that meant letting go and allowing the story to show me what it’s supposed to be.”

Twice, lightly in the beginning and in more depth at the end, he makes mention of the following quotation by Aeschylus, often called “the father or founder of tragedy.”

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”                               ~
Aeschylus

In this context, awful grace sounds terrible—but is not—because, while tragedy is beyond our comprehension and seems terrible, enormous grace surrounds us all and is what accompanies us as we sojourn through the tragic parts of life.

One of my favorite parts of the book is this conversation between Warren Redstone, an Indian and  prime suspect for the murder of Frank’s young sister—and Frank Drum. The actual murderer has been identified and this conversation between the two men follows:

Redstone: “They’re never far from us, you know.”

Frank:        “Who?”

Redstone:  “The dead. No more than a breath. You let that last one go and you’re with them again.”

Later, Frank verbalizes this truth to himself: The dead are never far from us. They are in our hearts, in our minds, and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one puff of air.

I found Ordinary Grace to be a treasure, one that has left me feeling filled with, well, grace. And that is not an ordinary gift.

 

Posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Childhood, Community, Compassion, Courage, Family, Grace, Kindness, Mystery, Peacefulness | 2 Comments

A Childhood Vacation

The first vacation my childhood family ever had taken was approaching and we were all so excited. My mother and her lifelong best friend, Geneva, had planned it. Geneva’s three kids were Kathy, about my age, 14ish; Eric, close to my sister Jackie’s age 8; and Joanna, near my sister Bonnie’s age 5. The two husbands would be working —my father on Long Island where we lived, and Geneva’s husband, Prince, in New Jersey, their home state. On the last day of our vacation, the fathers both would help us pack up and go home.

When the big day finally arrived, we kids all helped pack the two cars with camping gear, food, and clothing, then jumped into our mothers’ cars. We barely noticed the thick, menacing clouds overhead, as we drove to Hither Hills State Park on Montauk Point, the eastern end of Long Island.

The drive was long, but with so much anticipation in the air, my sisters and I were pretty well-behaved during those 75 miles. When Mom finally turned into the huge sandy parking lot and turned the motor off, Geneva pulled in right next to our car. We kids hopped out of the cars and started to run to the path toward the ocean. Mom called, “Come back here as soon as you’ve seen the ocean. I need you to help carry things. And tell me if the water is gentle or rough today.”

 

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“We will,” we shouted, as we ran toward the broad opening between two sand dunes ahead, densely covered with swaying dune grass. We stopped between them and from this gateway stared with awe at the broad, gray expanse of water about 150 feet in front of us. The ocean! The water met the sky as far as we could see. Today the endless waves were rough and crashed noisily, one after another with much ferocity, but we were so happy to be there we gave them no thought. Nor did we notice there were just one or two people walking the beach, strong winds blowing whipping their garments. We didn’t wonder where the numerous people scattered across the sand on blankets beneath bright red, blue, yellow, or orange umbrellas were, who were always present on any day we went to the ocean near our home. This was all new: this was our first visit to Hither Hills. We didn’t understand this ocean was an extension of the one at home.

We watched the waves until we felt chilled, then returned to our Moms’ cars.”The water’s really rough,” we told them. They didn’t seem surprised.

Soon, our arms embracing all kinds of beach and camping gear, we followed our mothers’ down the beach until we reached an elongated oval of sand that contained large square cement pads, located privately behind the dunes. It was surrounded by vast sand imprinted with endless foot indentations that resembled tiny mountain ranges.

Mom and Geneva began to set up two tents, a large one for them and whichever kids wanted to stay with them. As the wind whipped up more, making tent setting-up quite a challenge, I helped with the small pup tent, where I planned to stay. In late afternoon, Mom and Geneva had the two tents set up just as the big drops of cold rain began. We hurried into one of the tents for cover as a downpour fell on us. Somehow we managed supper in the big tent without getting completely soaked. After eating, Cathy, my little sister, Bonnie, and I scrambled back into to the pup tent. It was fun for awhile as we played cards, but we soon got bored. We hadn’t brought much more indoor activities. Outside was where we’d planned to be.

Finally, darkness descended as rain poured down on us. Kathy, Bonnie, and I lay on our backs and watched our tent top. The weight of the rain caused the 45-degree angle to droop much closer to our heads. I decided to touch the tent top with my pointer, for a reason that I no longer recall. I pushed up on the rain weight and held it as though it might stay elevated, which, of course, it didn’t. But it did do something else, when I took my finger away, rain dropped down onto me from the spot I’d touched.

“Huh,” I said. “Look, the rain’s leaking in.” Four other eyes gazed where I pointed. Then I did something pretty quirky. I began touching one spot after another about ten more times and when I removed my finger, sure enough, rain dripped down from each spot, not a steady stream, but a regular drip, drip, drip. Bonnie touched a space above her and Kathy did, too. They were wiser children than I, for one touch was enough for them.

It rained all night as we lay curled up so we weren’t beneath any of the drips. I don’t recall how much sleep we got, which I imagine was little, but I do remember that water covered our tent floor in the morning. We quickly scooted over to the big tent where things were much dryer than our tent, but the people inside were getting cranky. Some of us soon declared we didn’t like camping and wanted to go home. The heavy rain continued. Finally my mother called my father for help. He arrived several hours later, in a dark mood because he’d had to leave work, and within an hour, all of us soaking wet, we hauled everything back to the cars.

I talked with Bonnie yesterday and asked if she remembered the Hither Hills camping trip.

“Oh, yes,” she said.

“Have you ever gone camping again?”

“Nope,” she said crisply. “That was it. The first camping trip. The last camping trip.”

“For me, too,” I said. We laughed.

Unwittingly, whoever had scheduled our vacation had chosen dates that matched the arrival of one of the worst Nor’easter’s of that summer of 1954.

 

Hither Hills

The eastern end of Long Island at Hither Hills, N.Y. on a sweet summer day.

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, Mother Nature, Simplicity | 8 Comments

Homelessness: One Man’s Story

In recent months, I’ve been deeply moved by a Story Circle Network blogging friend’s writing as she courageously brings forward her son’s long-term homelessness in California’s Bay Area. Margie Witt has written several compelling articles about her son’s journey from early rich promise in his life to his present journey on the street. She is also writing a memoir. To learn more, kindly follow this link to Margie’s recent Facebook post, This Man is My Son.

Tonight, on your local PBS station, Independent Lens is focusing on three homeless people. If you follow the link, the man you see in the photo is Margie’s son. I hope you’ll find the program on your local station (it’s at 10pm where I live in Virginia) and gain a deeper understanding of the roots of homelessness as well as considerations for what we can each do to help heal this heartbreaking problem that belongs to us all.

Should you read this post later than tonight, watch PBS listings for encore  presentations.

Posted in Community, Compassion, Courage, Family, Mental Illness, Poverty | 1 Comment

The Wonder and Mystery of Marriage

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They married on the one year anniversary date of the day they met, May 1, 2015. They planned the simple, yet richly meaningful celebration with high efficiency, low stress, and much happiness–in just 29 days. Polly had waited a long time for Mr. Right, as had Chris for her, and when she proposed to him in early April, they began planning immediately.

I woke on their wedding day to rain that had tapered off enough by mid-morning that Chris sent an email saying the wedding would take place on Raven’s Roost Lookout on the Blue Ridge Parkway at 2:30 pm, as opposed to Plan B, on the huge porch of their secluded home. The day remained overcast and humid as we approached the Parkway and we could see fog covering the mountaintops ahead.

When we ascended the mountain, the fog slowly dissipated as we drove the seven miles to Raven’s Roost. There, as we waited for everyone to arrive, the fog continued to disappear. By the time Polly and Chris arrived several minutes later, sunshine had replaced the fog with warmth, light, and a lovely deep blue sky with puffy white clouds.

The sunshine also brought a warming to my heart that swelled into a belief that the universe was gifting us all with a loving affirmation for Polly and Chris’ union. I also felt we were not only graced by the presence of our Creator, but also in the presence of beloved family spirits who had left us long before this day.

The hand-written ceremony was delivered by long-time friend Anne Tallent, Polly and Chris exchanged their personal heart-felt vows, the ceremony concluded, and the newly married couple kissed. Joy surged in all our hearts with the wonder and mystery that brought them to this day.

In the heavens above, our mountaintop must have appeared to suddenly burst with tiny dancing lights as cameras clicked while we all basked in our joy.

When the photos were completed, we all prepared to leave just as the second numinous moment arrived. We were bending into our cars to begin the drive to the reception, when the sun began to fade and the sky transformed back to gray clouds. When we reached the bottom of the mountain, sprinkles of rain arrived and stayed the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, we all—the wedding party and guests—gathered happily inside the reception restaurant and enjoyed a lovely afternoon in everyone’s company. At one point, as I sat quietly for some minutes and gazed at Polly and Chris, his family, their friends, and listened to the joy, happy conversation, laughter, and other expressions of love, I remembered back to our earlier time on the mountain. I recalled the warm sunshine, the cottony clouds, and the joy and mystery of those moments when the small, sacred window of sunshine had opened just long enough to gift Polly and Chris time for their ceremony, pictures, brief lingering, and then closed, their embrace by the universe in joyous celebration.

My heart filled with gratitude for the grace bestowed on the two and on all of us. Bless you always, dearest Polly and Chris.

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Posted in Family, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Mother Nature, Mystery, Simplicity | 16 Comments

God’s Eye

More than four decades ago, my second-grade son, Keith, brought home a God’s Eye he’d crafted in school shortly before Christmas. At the time I’d never heard of a God’s Eye and asked him to tell me about it.Keith's Last Gift - God's Eye

“My teacher said it can be a Christmas tree decoration. Or we can use it any way we want to.”

“It is certainly pretty,” I observed as I looked more closely at the colorful, interesting creation that started with two narrow strips of cardboard fastened into a cross configuration. Keith had then wrapped bright colors of yarn—red, then blue, and green—around each of the four arms of the cross. Later I would learn that red symbolized life, blue represented sky and water, and green on the outer edge was for vegetation.

“We don’t have our tree yet,” I said to Keith. “Suppose we hang it in the window until we do get the tree?”

“Sure, Mommy,” he said.

We set God’s Eye on the table and didn’t get it hung that afternoon. A family crisis arrived the next day , about which I prayed almost non-stop. There was something about the name of Keith’s craft, God’s Eye, that caused me to keep it near.

The events that ensued during the next four months were life-changing and during that time God’s Eye was placed in the box you see it resting on above.

Several years later, I re-discovered the God’s Eye and placed it on my desk in my cabin in the woods. I’d started writing my memoir then and became curious about the story behind the God’s Eye. I found through research that a God’s Eye was an ancient symbol that originated in Jalisco, Mexico with the Huichol Indian tribe. When his child was born, a Huichol father wove the central eye in the God’s Eye, or Ojo de Dios. Each following year until age five, the father wove another round of yarn, another “eye.”

On a deeper level, this Christian symbol represented a spiritual covenant with God, to watch over and grant the child good health, good fortune, longevity, and auspiciousness. The four ends of the cross symbolized the four life elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Whether a God’s Eye was hung on a wall, the end of an arrow, or in the child’s hair, the Huichol believed it had the power to heal, protect, and ensure the child a long and healthy life.

I’ve created a quilt square that replicates Keith’s God’s Eye for my story quilt;  God’s Eye is also the title of Chapter 20 in my memoir.

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Posted in Childhood, Family, Gifts, Mystery | 1 Comment

Another Sunday with Nelson

You may remember that every other Sunday, my grand dog, Nelson, spends the afternoon with me while his human, John, goes to Almost Home, our local Humane Society, and walks dogs who are waiting for their forever people to come to claim them.

Nelson appeared at the back door as usual, knowing that a treat (or two, or three…) waited for him inside, along with a hug and a warm welcome. He wagged his tail excitedly as John and my daughter, Polly, came inside. Polly carried a plastic bag filled with colorful pieces of fabric, which turned out to be a bag of doggie ties she ordered from Amazon, apparently one for each dog in her life who is attending her marriage to Chris Deppmann this coming Sunday.

She selected one tie, a pretty green that complimented Nelson’s beautiful brindle coloring, and slipped it around his neck, as he seemed to not notice. Polly and John left then to walk the shelter dogs, while Nelson and I did our usual Sunday activities, which included a nice long walk outside beneath warm sunshine. I was surprised that he never seemed to notice his new formal accessory, even when it slipped askew several times.

Doesn’t he look ever so handsome? Just as he will next Sunday, tie or not. This beautiful dog with such an amazing story to tell never ceases to fill me with admiration for his remarkable spirit, his intelligence, and his deep affection for those in his world. IMG_20160424_144814784

Posted in Animal friends, Courage, Family, Gratitude, Kindness, Mystery | 4 Comments

An April, 2009, Tiny Surprise

After a blissful afternoon on the riding mower, the warm sunshine above and the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains across the road from me, I decided to empty the mower’s utility wagon, which had spent the winter behind the shed overflowing with branches I’d trimmed last fall. The multitude of winter’s snowfalls had compacted the pile, I noticed, as I attached the wagon to the mower. I went into the shed for the pitchfork, lay it across the wagon and drove several hundred feet to my burn pile.

As I slid the pitchfork under the last stack, lifted, and tossed it onto the mound of dry wood scraps and twigs, I heard a squeal. I stood stark still as my mind filtered through decades of learned sounds and instantly recognized this sound that I hadn’t heard in a very long time. Seeing nothing on the ground, I peered into the wagon and was stunned to gaze at four black and white kittens, eyes closed, squirming in a nest of pine needles, one squealing loudly as it nuzzled around its siblings. I blinked disbelievingly, imagining a homeless mother cat using my not-very-pristine wagon for her birthing event.

I wanted to touch the crying baby, to reassure it that things would be okay, but held my hand back. Were they like birds, who abandoned their eggs or young if touched by a human? I didn’t know, so decided not to take the risk.

Quickly I jumped on the mower and returned the wagon to the rear of the shed. I wanted mama to find her babies, so I left; a  re-visit a few hours later showed no sign of mama. Or—wait—was there? I looked toward the burn pile and saw a dark cat standing nearby. Ahh, I’ll bet you’re mama, I thought. Come on over here. Your babies need you.

I left again, re-checking several times until, just as the bright orange sun lowered behind the trees near the shed, I found the kittens still there alone; yet, I believed that mama would return. The following morning, a sunny day greeted me as I walked around the shed, silently praying for the kittens’ safety. Before I turned the corner, though, I heard squeals. One kitten remained, pushing against the wagon’s corner, crying profusely. Okay, three are gone. She’s in the process of moving her family to a new home, I thought, and returned to the house.

Engrossed in projects, I forgot about the kitten. Hours later I hurried to the backyard and was dismayed to find it lying on his back under full sunshine, making no sound or motion. Lord, had he died? Quickly I scooped his soft body into my palm. He began to squeal just as before, which reassured me. Now I suspected mama had abandoned her noisy child.

I brought Kitty inside, wrapped him in a soft towel, poured some organic skim milk into a tiny bowl thinking, I don’t know if this resembles your mama’s milk or not, little one, but it will keep you hydrated, if nothing else.

I found a tiny dropper sealed in cellophane in my silverware drawer and tore it open. My fifteen-year-old cat, Hilary, slept on the back of the couch in the next room, completely unaware, as Kitty squealed while I warmed the milk. When I placed the dropper of milk in his mouth and squeezed gently, Kitty quieted and eagerly lapped. After several droppersful, he seemed satisfied and I returned him to his outdoor nursery, giving mama one last chance to claim her sweet baby.

At 5 pm, though, he still lay alone and my heart officially pronounced Kitty “Abandoned.” I brought it inside, then drove to PetSmart to purchase a feeding kit for orphaned kittens, a new experience for both of us ahead. I heated the thick yellow milk and poured it into a plastic bottle about three inches high. When I first gave the bottle, Kitty briefly choked and struggled, yet quickly got the hang of our endeavor.Once, the precious being no larger than a sausage, lifted his tiny paw and held the bottle.

An hour after feeding, Kitty woke, shakily muzzled around his basket but, in time fell asleep again, curled into a circle, and occasionally whimpered or twitched. My God, how fragile and precious is life. Can this tiny being survive? I wondered as I gently stroked Kitty’s head and back with my forefinger, wanting him to know how deeply I cared, how much I wanted him to survive. If he did, I promised, I’d care well for him.

The next day we went to the vet, where I learned Kitty was probably less than two weeks old. Kittens open their eyes at two weeks. The tech thought he was a male; the vet didn’t guess because she said she was usually wrong. I needed to put Kitty on a heating pad, she told me, feed him every four hours, stimulate its butt so it would eliminate, and return when it was three weeks old for deworming and a checkup. She told me how to begin weaning him at 3 weeks: mix some kitten food with formula and work on the transition to the bowl. She told me also to keep his eyes wiped; one kept getting stuck shut.

Kitty opened both eyes on 4-15-09, a few days later. They were deep blue, almost navy, and extraordinarily beautiful. The next day Kitty didn’t smell as clean as I wanted him to when he met my friend, so I filled a chili bowl with warm water and suds, gently sponged him, and rinsed him off under a gentle, warm stream of tap water. He howled ceaselessly during the entire one-minute bath but quickly quieted when I wrapped him in towel bunting. Then he ate and slept, nestled in all the clean towels and rolled washcloths that I tucked on either side of him to give the sense of companionship.

I took Kitty to work each day until he could stay home alone, which was several weeks away. My friend below, Carol Tyree, loved and cared for Kitty, along with me, throughout our workday.

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(The above is an excerpt from Kitty’s Journal. I named him Button, as in “cute as a …,” and estimated his birth date as April 2, 2009. It was the date my seven-year-old son, Keith, died. I knew Keith would be happy to transform the date from sorrow to joy.)

Happy belated birthday, Button!IMG_20150722_115759655

Posted in Animal friends, Compassion, Gifts, Gratitude, Kindness, Mother Nature, Mystery | 8 Comments

An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

“In 1965, when I was eighteen, I ran away to Portland, Oregon. Running away was an act of rebellion, but also of faith. In one beautiful leap I would escape my family, my past, and the insufferable person I’d been living with for the past few years—my teenage self.”

Thus I met Pamela Jane and after a mere few pages, knew I would read this book slowly to savor both the beautiful language and Jane’s ability to keep moving forward as she came of age during the tumultuous 60s. The author described her memoir recently at womensmemoir.com as “a personal, psychological, and political adventure, a coming of age story about a young woman caught up in 60s radicalism who is trying to find her way back to the imaginative and lyrical world of childhood.”

For the remainder of my review, kindly follow this link, where it was published a few days ago at the Story Circle Book Reviews site. While you’re there you might want to look around this, the best internet site for review of women’s memoir and fiction.

Posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Childhood, Courage, Gifts, The Writing Life | Leave a comment

The Circles of Mary Sullivan, r.c.

I’ve been knitting another child’s hat for the Carol’s Coats project for next Christmas. As I dug around in my metal tin of knitting supplies—needles, markers, crochet hooks, small scissors, cable stitch holders, a tangerine-sized magnifier, pom-pom makers—looking for something, my eyes fastened on a small red plastic item, the size of a silver dollar, that I’d completely forgotten about. My heart paused a beat as a floodgate of memories spilled open.IMG_20160307_134555303_HDR

I stared at the knitting row-counter that Sister Mary Sullivan gave me years ago. Attached to the  circular gadget was a memory that rose powerfully into my mind. I slid back in time to sit in a circle of ten women at The Cenacle, Mary’s religious home on Long Island, NY. Other Cenacle sisters as well as parish women sat in our group as Mary gave instructions about knitting a pretty lacy pattern. I had traveled from VA to visit my nearby family and attend Mary’s workshop.

Mary gave us knitting needles, a ball of yarn, typed instructions, and a row counter. When she finished her lesson, we began to silently knit. Then someone asked a question. Another woman quietly answered. More silence followed. Then a woman shared a knitting tip that I do not recall, yet today clearly hear her kind sharing.

We knit for about an hour in this silence which had transformed into sacrosanct for me, interspersed with periodic comments, questions, and wise women sharing their knitting wisdom. I soon felt embraced in a timeless activity: creating something useful with my hands amid peers in a sacred circle.

As I write about this treasured time with Mary, I’m reminded of Lisa Shirah-Hiers’ Opening Remarks at the Story Circle Network National Conference in 2010:

The circle is feminine. Women understand it on a very deep level. We gather, we encircle the one who is crying, the one who is ill, or giving birth, or dying. We understand the power of the circle, of coming together, the wisdom of sharing, the necessity of connection, the strength in softness, in curves, in arches, in roundness. That deep, unconscious archetype is part of our feminine heritage, our collective memory. It is the source of our unique strength.

By the end of the afternoon, I left feeling rich connections with the women I’d met for the first time. I also felt deep gratitude to Mary for her gift to us: the creation of a mystical circle where we could experience the ancient custom of women gathering.

Mary completed her circle of life in 2011. A long time member of my Story Circle Network online writing circle, as well as facilitator of her own writing circle, Mary generously shared personal stories that let us know the real, the delightful, the complex, and the very human woman who resided for five decades in simple religious garb.

Mary always signed her emails this way: love you, dear one – me, r.c.

Today I’m feeling so grateful to the little stitch-counter that re-opened such a sweet memory. Love you, too, Mary Sullivan, r.c.

2008-11-26 11.34.31 (2)

Posted in Aging, Community, Compassion, Friendship, Gifts, Gratitude, Knitting, Mystery, Peacefulness, Simplicity | 4 Comments

A Small Quilt with a Big Life Lesson

Remember the days of balancing: raising young children, holding a full-time job, laundry, IMG_20160304_135127089meals, and the myriad of other responsibilities we juggled and somehow it all worked out? Today I was gazing at the small wall hanging I made decades ago and remembering the important life lesson it taught me.

The early 1980s were a busy time in my life and I ached for just a little time to quilt. Impossible, I told myself and put the thought aside for another time, probably another year. Yet, shortly after, leafing through a quilt magazine, I found a wall hanging idea I loved and felt compelled to create it.

The theme was variations on the World War II Spools pattern. The pattern evolved during the early 1940s as women at home were left with abundant numbers of empty spools as they sewed prolific supplies for the soldiers so far from home. A seamstress from early adolescence on, and later, a quilter, I had always particularly loved the Spools Pattern as the perfect symbol of my love of textile-work.

Suddenly I had to find a way to make my wall hanging. How to do it, though?
Shortly after, the Universe somehow (via radio, television, newspaper, magazine, or a conversation) reminded me of a saying I’d long ago heard but never acted upon: You can read the Bible in one year if you read fifteen minutes a day.

Fifteen minutes a day. There was my answer. Not the Bible, (Forgive me, my Creator!);  rather, I gathered my fabrics and quilting tools, carved out those daily few minutes, and within two months was able to hang what became my all-time favorite wall hanging.

Posted in Bovina Stories, Change, Peacefulness, Quilts, Simplicity | 3 Comments