reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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our H. [merely-a-thought monday]

the last time i had an in-depth conversation with him, H said, “i have my hope on the generation coming up…that they will be a force for the good.” i cannot imagine a bigger force for good than sweet H.

the candle is burning now. we have had it lit many times in recent days as H has struggled with the fine line between living and dying. the image of his dear face in our mind’s eye reminds us of how to grow old gracefully, how to live into aging, how to participate, how to be in the river not on the river’s edge.

we just heard that H died last night and, as i write this on saturday morning, the sun bursting outside and the birds in full song, my heart is breaking. i have adored H – now ninety-something-something – since the first day he walked into the choir room in which i used to direct choirs, ukulele bands, handbells and be a part of all the joy and community mutually created in that room. his spirit entered before he did, flowing positive energy and a will to try anything, laughter his guide. his bass voice in our choir, in our ukulele band, in our lives was grounding and the gift of angels who had gone before him. H was intrepid. rain, sleet, snow or ice did not deter him or any adventure he took on. he worked harder than most in his earlier years and he played with childlike glee in his later years. mostly, he was not afraid. he wasn’t afraid to learn new things or take on technology. he wasn’t afraid to sing solo or rap in front of others. he wasn’t afraid to travel or to just simply be who he was. he was fiercely devoted to his family, each of them. he wasn’t afraid to love or to state how he felt or what he thought. he was more genuine than many who claim authenticity as their core. a faithful human being, he was.

the refrigerator magnets cluster together from places he went; he always proudly brought me back a magnet from his travels. at the end of the year he’d give me a multitude of those calendars you get in the mail – from all different organizations he had contributed to or of which he was a part – and i’d pick one to hang in the choir room, one to hang at home and one to use for notes. the charlie brown coffee mug in our mug cabinet, that he had carefully wrapped in its suitcase-journey from the peanuts museum in california, is a favorite treasure. he loved butterfingers. he was H.

our last conversation, just a few days ago, was a little disjointed. H couldn’t hear what i was saying on the phone but was trying hard to speak. unlike all our other calls, we didn’t really talk about anything that time. but one thing was clear – shared love and respect for each other and the absolute happiness we each felt having this special friendship. he was H and, oh, his heart.

in an earlier longer call he had talked about the dynamics of our country. he was worried and said that his concern was that current circumstances were like a snowball going downhill…getting bigger and bigger, worse and worse. while i would agree that our country, in big places and small, is in desperate need of a thawing-out of mean-spirited snowballs going rapidly downhill, i would offer that there are other domino effects as well, the kind that take frosty snowflakes and build magical snowmen and the snowforts of children’s imaginings. H is such snow magic, if you will – a trillion unique flakes joined together by infinite molecules of kindness. a snowball that gains in momentum and size – in every good way – each time he was around people. brilliant snowflakes attracted to a genuine and gentle man who would dedicatedly stick with you through thick and thin, persons drawn to each other like perfect individual crystals, stars together.

H lived his hope for the future – he was a force for good. there is no reckoning about this. he will shine in the stars and in all the bass solos. he will gather angels around him, singing, and create fairy-dust-snowflakes. he will be missed and he will be remembered. he was H and his heart was gigantic.

*****

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the air of the complicit. [merely-a-thought monday]

the snow was untouched. our steps, way over our boots, made the first tracks and it’s visible in the photograph where we chose different paths, where we broke off and went different ways. across the snowy field we trod, heading north, heading south. our tracks would not cross again unless we turned, faced and walked toward each other. otherwise, they would not. a snow-simple illustration of division, an illustration of disunity, of not walking together, of estrangement.

having just passed by the second senate impeachment trial for the person who used to be the president of this country, no far-reach into the recesses is necessary to exemplify this quote or this photograph. without getting into the nitty-gritty details, and gritty they are, the insurrection at the capitol was ghastly. but the incitement of the fervor and the lack of responsibility placed upon the powerful inciters was egregious. the positioning of those grasping onto their jobs rather than their integrity was appalling yet predictable. the snowfield was divided; a chasm of incoherent morality between the tracks of those who walk in capitol halls. the evil remains, sticking to the floor, the walls, the offices, the grand rooms…in all the places that people-who-did-nothing occupy, in the air of the complicit.

momma would say, “speak up!” and speak up i did.

in the late 70s i spoke up. there was a man, a leader, who was sexually abusing young women in my town, me included. i spoke up. i spoke out. i reported it to the people-in-charge, to the parents of these young girls, to the authorities. it was a different time for victims of molestation and it is revolting that this man was never held responsible for the way he changed each life including mine, a forever arc of impact. though his hideous actions remain unpunished, and his threats on my life back then were terrifying, it would seem that at least some of the evil moved on in the rush of air that speaking up provides. impacted forever but not silent, not in dark shadows of aloneness. you simply cannot watch someone do evil and do nothing about it. even when you are in some way imperiled. even when it’s scary.

momma said, “speak up!” and speak up i do.

and i wonder. i wonder about people who don’t, who watch evil and do nothing about it, who hunker down and just mind their own business, who figure that anything that doesn’t directly affect them doesn’t really matter, who get lost somewhere in the chasm of incoherence. those not willing to ask questions, not willing to speak up, to speak out, to speak for, to speak against. or, worse yet, those who are propelling falsehoods further into the world, never pondering their actions or the actions of leadership, never measuring them against truth. i wonder what they would do were they to personally feel the assault of evil – anywhere on the spectrum of questionable to inappropriate to shockingly grievous. i wonder why they jump on unlabeled bandwagons to mystery destinations alongside people-with-authority-but-without-veracity, people-with-authority-but-without-moral-compass, people-with-authority-and-with-unchecked-personal-agenda.

i wonder why they trek through the snow, never turning to face in, never trying to come together, to challenge evil, to reconcile, to unify.

*****

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the tree-hollow-hole. [merely-a-thought monday]

i have knelt on the ground in front of this tree-hollow many times now – in spring, fall, summer, winter. peeking through the hollow-hole to the world on the other side of the tree has revealed sky and trees and the river in many moods. the river has overwhelmed its banks. the river has recessed way across the horizon. the trees and grasses are verdant. the trees and grasses are dormant, waiting. i have knelt there, in front of this little keyhole, and fussed with the depth-of-field, the focal point of my photograph. near. far. near. far.

i have knelt on the ground in front of this tree-hollow many times – my eyes focusing on the edges, my eyes focusing beyond. they look different. different views. but they are the same. it matters where i place my focus. near. far. near. far. either way is truth.

were we to be looking through a hollow-hole at life and standing in front of words we say and deeds we do, would it matter whether we examined them up-close or from a distance? what would it reveal? are they clear, do they blur, do they disclose, or do they hide, an indistinct image.

when you pull them into focus, are they the same? are the words we say consistent with the deeds we do? are we personally abdicating responsibility while at the same time sanctimoniously expecting it of others? are we conveniently focused on our words, our deeds dropping off into depth-of-field glaze? are we claiming righteousness this side of the tree and jumping with both feet into hypocrisy on the other side? where is the focal point?

i have knelt on the ground in front of myself. i have recognized that there have been words and deeds that have not resonated, that have not passed the do-as-i-say-not-as-i-do test. i have looked through the tree-hollow, seeing the trunk-bark up-close and personal; i have looked through the tree-hollow, my eyes on a distinct horizon.

i can only expect that, just as i try again the next day, that each of us tries again the next day. that our words up-close gel with our deeds. that what we say aligns with what we do. that no one sits on a pedestal with nary a view through the tree-hollow-hole, but instead, we each stay aware of the whole picture, up-close and at a distance. we owe that to each other. seems germane, in each little corner of the world. near. far. near. far.

*****

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first. [merely-a-thought monday]

it’s rare to wander into a place without footprints. a combed beach, an untouched snowfield, beckon you to step, to be first, to be the only one.

after a snowfall a few years back we went hiking out in the county. the only being there before us was a deer, its tracks evident in the snow. and then ours. the three of us in quietude together, before anyone else. it made everything feel pure and connected; it was a jewel of a day.

we went hiking on one of our favorite trails closer by. snowpants swishing and our feet breaking through the snowcrust, we were the only ones. the snow was untouched, a blank canvas, inviting both our steps and the humble retreat we considered to preserve it. it’s magical to look backwards on the trail and see only the tracks you have laid there.

yes, “there’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on.” (c.r. brunt)

in the opening notes of a new composition, many composers, artists, writers feel that they are going where no one else has trod before. we are given to the thought that in our uniqueness we will have something to say, sing, play, paint, draw that no one – ever – before has said, sung, played, painted or drawn. it is not likely that this is true.

in the way that everything cycles around us, so do the notes, the colors, the words, waiting in clouds of possibility all around us to be positioned together, partnered, brought into one. we, as artists, choose from these barely visible pots. we fuss, we nuance, we finesse, we fingerprint, we make it our own.

and yet, much later, decades even, in looking back over the trail – the song, the poem, the story, the painting – we recognize glimmers from those who have walked before. threads of connection, purity of the artist-collective-story, souls woven in the telling of the human-tale. original-first and cyclically-repeating.

because, indeed, as the snow melts on the trail, it reveals evidence of others who have been there, others who have left their words, their notes, their colors. others who have left their footprints, their tracks, back to another day when someone else was first.

*****

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“look!” [merely-a-thought monday]

ken, my producer, called it a ‘thinking note’ and he’s right. he knew i’d get to the point, but i had to get past the moment of time during which i could not think. in music, the thinking note buys that time; you are held in the shallows of suspension until released into the rest of the sentence. it slows the breathing down a little; it gives rest where there is no rest.

since the instrument of choice for politicians is spoken word, the thinking note has become “look”. i would count how often we hear it, keep hash marks to tally it all up, but that would be unnecessary and tedious. instead, i giggle every time i hear it, viscerally knowing the person who is about to speak is maybe buying a tad bit of time.

in music, the thinking note is a prelude for more, the honest line of melody, perhaps an entrance into a new theme, the slight pause of artistry, the powerful momentary suspension of new sound. it’s the “look” spoken by music. sometimes, though, for me, as ken will tell you, it is simply procrastination, when composition or improvisation falls into the moat surrounding the synapses in my brain – stopping all forward thought for the moment – as i wait for creativity to climb out of the gatehouse and make it to the next note.

in politics, i wonder…does “look” serve the same purpose? is it a prelude for more, an honest line of narrative, an entrance delving into a new topic, a suspension of speak to take a breath and gather thoughts? is it useful, preparatory, formative space between a question asked and an answer given? or is it something else? it feels a little like over-convincing when someone says “look!” to you. a snap-to-it-pay-attention admonition. perhaps an entrance into a one-way conversation. a bit aggressive.

as an artist and not a politician, i’d have to say: look…ummm…i have no idea. maybe we should ask ken.

*****

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a good old chinwag. [merely-a-thought monday]

you speak. i speak. you speak. i speak. conversation. back and forth.

conversation: (noun) a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.

conversation – synonyms: discussion. gabfest. heart-to-heart. dialogue. conference. confab. exchange. chinwag.

chinwag??

probably one of the most frustrating things in human community is the willingness for people to forego hard conversations and, instead, accept things as-is, invest in misinformation and make assumptions. toxic in almost every situation, assumptions are the stuff of poison apples and they will destroy everything in their wake.

a good old chinwag would do wonders for forward movement. people – together – back and forth – who are candid and honest, forthcoming and steadfast, who ask the hard questions and demand straightforward answers, who don’t leave out pertinent details, who expect truth and speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, freely upfront.

a good old chinwag is a mature opportunity for growth, for learning, for progress. silence is the opposite – it is a wound that will fester, a mistake that will become exponential, an injustice that will become a wart, a carbuncle on the integrity of a community.

a good old chinwag is not easy. it is the stuff of bravery, the stuff of guts, of risk-taking, of fortitude and perseverance. it is the stuff of dedication to the bigger picture, to progress, to being proactive. it does not yell or scream; it is quietly respectful, using language of negotiation, of reconciliation, of courtesy, a deference to thoughtfulness.

a good old chinwag may lead to tears. it can be the stuff of renewal, of healing, re-establishing relationship, correcting wrongs. it can be the stuff of granting forgiveness and the stuff of receiving forgiveness. it can be powerful and it can be most tender. it can bring weeping into the back and forth, drowning out toxins and harvesting hope.

a good old chinwag can never be a bad thing. it can forge or strengthen mature friendships and dig deep foundations with honesty and candor. it can elicit change. it can revitalize and reinvigorate. it can rebuild.

a good old chinwag. simply caring enough to have a conversation.

you speak. i speak. you speak. i speak. back and forth.

*****

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maria, tennis and tow trucks. [merely-a-thought monday]

i wanted to be maria. who wouldn’t? the lead of ‘the sound of music’ was a coveted role and every girl wanted to try out for that part.

i was cast as sister berthe. reading the sheet of paper on the wall outside the music room at harley avenue elementary i was not reassured by the fantastic job that portia nelson delivered as sister berthe in the 1965 film; i wanted to be maria and i knew in my heart that julie andrews would have agreed. sigh.

but i held a double role. i was also in the chorus. and mrs. lafayette took no prisoners. she was charming and beautiful to the eyes of all of us elementary school artiste wannabes but she was also deliberate, purposeful, and intentionally firm about making sure we understood the role of the chorus. “singing together in unison,” she’d tell us, encouraging us to listen to each other and match our timbre to that of the choral line, admonishing anyone who tried to stand out. “it is a chorus together,” she’d tell us, “and there is no ‘i’ in ‘chorus’.” it was humbling for all of us, striving to be tiny stars. and yet, it was the moment during which we understood that that we, indeed, became tiny stars.

driving hours to tennis matches was a big part of my life when my son was in college. he played singles and i would sit on the sidelines, my breathing shallow when i wasn’t utterly holding my breath altogether, my adrenaline racing, making tiny motions with my hands as if i could help move the tennis ball down the court or slice at the ball with the racket in his hand. he was a good tennis player – passionate and strategic. i was an anxious mess watching but i was often lucky to be watching with another mom and, together, betty and i forged our way through. although our sons played singles and we clearly wanted them to win their matches, i was always struck by how the team came together. instead of simply zeroing in, each on his own performance, the team cheered each other on and it was how the team did – in an overall sense – that really mattered to them. that doesn’t mean that disappointment didn’t exist for individuals, but they were encouraged time and again to remember that they were on a team and there was no ‘i’ in ‘team’.

the show ‘highway thru hell‘ is kind of a masculine show. big-rig tow truck drivers in the mountains of canada pull wrecks out of ditches, out of snowdrifts and from all kinds of precarious situations drivers find themselves in. before you roll your eyes at the thought of watching this kind of show, let me just add that it is fascinating. the mathematician in any of you will revel in the geometry and physics of it all; these tow truck operators are highly skilled and often put their lives at risk doing recovery alongside icy highways. egos are definitely rampant – each wants a little piece of stardom – but in the end they never hesitate to call each other for help, for another rig, for the rotator to show up. as kevin, one of these diligent heavy rescue workers, said, “there is no ‘i’ in ‘team’.” they are all part of the milky way on those dangerous roads in british columbia.

real life doesn’t cast us as maria each and every day. real life doesn’t grant us wins every day. real life places obstacles in front of us, calamities to sort out, heavy rescue needed. together, in chorus, as a part of a team, foregoing the ‘i’ in self-agenda, the ‘i’ in selfishness, the ‘i’ in narcissism, the ‘i’ in division, we are all stars.

*****

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happy birthday, my beloved son.


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soundtrack on repeat. a balm. [merely-a-thought monday]

were i to have their addresses, i would write thank you notes to ben folds, jon boden, sam sweeney, ben coleman, nick laird-clowes, paul buchanan, ron sexsmith et al….you get the picture. this soundtrack is our go-to right now. not only does it elicit thoughts of this most-marvelous-movie, but the music just speaks to us. on repeat. over and over we listen to it, never wearying of it.

there are just certain pieces that center you, that give you pause, that lift you. there are really too many to count for me. some of them are as simple as the text sound my phone makes when either of my children write to me. some of them are unembellished and sound like my husband humming along. some of them are as complex as layered music can get. some of them are silent, floating rumi’s words on their wings: “listen to silence. it has so much to say.”

these words of wisdom from this film, brilliance written and directed by richard curtis: “i just try to live every day as if i’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.” and these words on re-living days that have passed: “live every day again almost exactly the same. the first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing.” i am reminded again and again as we listen.

this movie stays with you. it’s right there, beckoning you to remember. in the recesses behind the lists and tasks and daily troubles, in profound je ne sais quoi it quietly sits and waits for you. it’s a well to dip into even on the darker days and its music evokes each thoughtful scene.

we sit in many layers of complexity right now. it’s a symphony of great proportion, filled with questions, with challenges, with things begging for our angst-filled attention.

this album, on repeat, is a balm.

*****

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“christmas tree drop-off”🎶🎶 [merely-a-thought monday]

it was instant. “christmas tree drop-off” to the tune of “beauty school drop-out” started singing inside my brain. it would not stop. i still cannot look at this sign without the 6/8 song incessantly nagging me and nagging me.

it was the day after christmas – just one mere day – and we went hiking out in one of the nearby state parks. we came upon the drop-off near the parking lot. already – not even 36 hours since santa’s arrival – there was a tree, lonely and discarded. a few days later, after the snow had fallen and sleet had crunched over the trail, there were several more trees. we are pretty certain that these will be chopped up into mulch, which is a good thing – back to the earth – but it was sad to see a pile of no-longer-wanted christmas trees, their value diminished by the passing of the day.

hiking the snowy trails, my memory bank filled with sweet stories i read aloud to my girl and my boy. “why christmas trees aren’t perfect” is a story about an imperfect tree named small pine and my ridiculously emotional heart remembers this sweet tree and its generosity, its commitment to the wildlife in the forest, its community. in this classic book, also a video, small pine was chosen for its connection to sweet animals and its warm and giving spirit. each time i read that little book, my heart celebrated the spirit of that tree. in that same thready heart, i wonder about what it feels like to be one of these trees, out in a cold pile, chosen, used and then quickly and unceremoniously discarded out in the snow. do they know why, i wonder, as i gaze at the pile, animating the inanimate.

ditch sits on our table in the sunroom. it is surrounded by twinkling white lights and we sit with it at that table every day. we will not dispose of him. his purpose is not just for christmas. instead, his role continues on – to remind us of time spent in the mountains, to remind us to see the little things, to appreciate the imperfect, to remind us of caring for something that may not otherwise have made it. it reminds us that being chosen and employed in good use deserves explanation in discard.

and so, i want to go sit in the snow and talk to these trees.

*****

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“not the same.” [merely-a-thought monday]

the dog hides in the bathroom when there is even the hint of a disagreement, an argument, any kind of underlying tension he senses in his sweet and highly intuitive body. he slowly rises from the old wood floor in the living room or the tiled floor of the sunroom or sprawled on top of the raft and tiptoes down the hall to lie down out of the fray, even if it’s a quiet fray. he can feel it – the tension – and it makes him feel angst.

this year. angst. how can any of us be without angst this year? it seems that things in the universe have spiraled out of control, things are afire and we drop-roll in anxiety. we succumb, in pain, to the extreme pressures this year has presented and sometimes we direct it at each other. ptsd is alive and well and will likely prevail past december 31, rolling its tentacles into the new year.

“things will not be the same because we will not be the same,” 20 texted us, having stumbled across this quote. he captured, in his passing on of these words with no attribution, the truth of it. things will not be the same. and neither will we. we will not be the same. and neither will things.

so i guess the question is this – how do we all rise from the ashes of this year? how do we “live above the circumstances” as jonathan texted? how do we drag our tired bodies and minds and hearts into 2021 and have hope?

though, decades ago, i was granted a master’s degree in counseling and i try to incorporate the methods of communication i learned, i still fail miserably in the middle of spatting with d. i try to resist my and his laundry list of what-happened-last-times or i-remember-you-saids or i-remember-you-dids. it is to no avail. somehow we end up tiffing not-so-much only about now, but instead, about all the back-thens up to now. i don’t think we’re alone in this. and i suspect that this year has burdened us all with so much stress and insulated time together that it is inevitable. there has been so much; confusion and anger and grief and sadness wash over us all. we are all exhausted. we are forever changed.

but i hope we can also take away from this year that we survived it. broken wrists, pandemic fears, covid-lost jobs, a city stricken by violent social injustice, a country in chaos, chasms of relationship differences, isolation, suffering a firing, losing a community. we will not be the same. things will not be the same.

and yet, we are here…on the doorstep of 2021…in the tiny liminal space between the holidays, rapidly approaching the new year. the bootstraps call our names and, again, we bend, like rugged, ragged reeds in the wind, and tug them up. we try, once again, to remember that we have somehow gotten through 363 days – already. we are changed. things are changed. i heard myself saying to a dear friend, “yes. you are made of every single thing up to this very minute. but now you are here and your next step is in now, not in then, not in all that.” i need remember. we need be in now. in spite of and because of. looking forward, stepping forward. ever slowly, but doggedly forward. tripper would celebrate this phoenix-choice.

two wise women offer these words:

“the life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” (anna quindlen)

“tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (mary oliver)

alike. and different.

things will not be the same, yes, because we will not be the same.

maybe that’s ok.

*****

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