and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
“we’re standing at the crossing, where day and night divide. it takes all of your heart to keep the light alive. and the darkness seems so endless until the dawn arrives. we’ll hold the spark between us and keep the light alive.” (“keep the light alive” by lowen & navarro, 1995)
it would seem that we arrive at this place each and every year to see light infinity. there, beckoning, gesturing to us or quietly waiting. the days have run into each other. the successes, the joys, the learnings, the disappointments, the issues, the slights, the worries, anger, hurt, promises kept, promises broken, the new, the old, humanness … all gathered in the place of the light.
the flame reminds us of the spark of love into that which is around us. the flame reminds us of the frailty – just a breeze away from extinguishing. we invest too much in the each-day and not enough in the big-picture. we know that.
the light gives us a little nudge. again. a reminder to allow it. grace, acceptance, forgiveness, hope, love do not cease nor do they choose only one wick, one candle. they continue on. and on. lighting. every one. every where.
we just need intend to allow the light. infinity.
allow the light is all the call implores. allow the light to flood the heart, to flow the veins, to fill the space that craves. allow the light is all. the light is all.
we lit the first candle with the shamash on sunday about a half hour after sundown. and then we lit the first candle on the left. our tiny menorah has a place of distinction on the table in our sunroom. the festival of lights began surrounded by tealights and happy lights and two people wanting to bring more light into the world’s hearts as well as our own. we honored my uncle tony’s family as we lit the candles, read blessings in mispronounced hebrew and sat and gazed silently at our simple newly-purchased menorah. beautiful. a celebration of the right to exist, i read. a time to remember courage, to bring divine light into inky, murky corners. we seek connection to the spiritual universe all around us in manners familiar and unfamiliar to us. on purpose, respectfully, with intention.
joshua davidson, a rabbi in new york city, spoke about his views of “the deep meaning of this year’s hanukkah”. with so much darkness and brokenness in this country he has chosen to ascribe meaning to each of the eight candles he will illumine – “the smallest bit of light to push back the darkness”. he includes: advocates of justice and fairness, black americans, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants around the world, the aged, planet earth and our children.
the rabbi continued, “each of us will identify our own lights — on our menorahs, in our windows, or on our trees. however we celebrate, the act of kindling light can be, if we wish it, an act of illuminating the sparks burning in every human being and all created things. when we learn to look at the world and at others — no matter their color, their ethnicity, their gender, their age, their ability, their faith, their education, their wealth, or their politics — and recognize those sparks; and when we accept our responsibility to make them glow again; then we will have taken a first step toward kindling the light and restoring the hope that will heal our dark and fractured world.”
joshua wrote, “the shamash, the helper candle, will represent me — my power to become better in the new year; and through my own moral growth, my ability to spread light in the moral darkness that surrounds us.”
no matter our choice of religious or non-religious belief system, the black and white of it is that we all have the potential of the shamash. we are all light in the middle of twilight, luminous branches in the middle of darkness, in the middle of early-morning dawn, miraculous sparks of change and growth. it is a season of light.
in the land of used-to-be, i used-to-be able to wait entire days before having to find a restroom. back in the day, i could drive in, set up product and play an entire wholesale show, all day, chatting, drinking coffee, playing, selling cds, without having to leave the booth space. thirteen hours after starting the whole process, my body would remind me that the ladies room needed to be a stop before getting back in the car to drive again.
these days are a tad bit different. i would laugh when my sweet momma would complain about this. i’d reassure her and stop and look for a restroom whenever she needed to stop and find one. i’d lightly toss off, “we’re in nooo hurry! no worries!”.
i have become my mother.
and – in the way that the universe is very, very fair – so has david.
our bladduhs are just not the same as they used-to-be.
and so, it is a given that t-h-i-s a-g-e comes with challenges we didn’t have to deal with when we were younger. it is a given that timing out a roadtrip will need take into account pitstops along the way. it is now a given that walking in the ‘hood will sometimes mean having the key ready-and-aimed for the doorknob.
the snow swirled outside the floor to ceiling glass – the city was blurry beyond the wind. it was brief. it didn’t stick. it was a statement. fall was gusting a bit of winter. everyone shivered, glad to be inside during the band of squall.
there is much still to be done. time seems to have raced by and we chose trails instead of pruning, talking in adirondack chairs in disappearing sun instead of packing away. procrastinating, holding onto the last vestiges of warmth and perfect autumn days, we opted to do the minimum, knowing the rest would need to be done in the colder days; the season keeps moving on.
we rise now in early quiet morning, without multitudes of birds out the windows, without sunny-the-chipmunk calling from the fencepost, without the sun beckoning us, “outside, outside.” we check the temperature…24 degrees…we reluctantly turn the heat up a smidge. we re-stock the nespresso pods, choose warm holiday teas for the coffee-pot-canisters over the counter, and seek out new soup recipes. we think about placing the shovel by the back door, its winter home. we crack the window just a bit now and sleep with an extra quilt.
the mums bow in the hush of the brisk mornings, chillier daytimes, less sun, more clouds, frost at night, all delivered by the magic wand of the calendar marching on. they are still beautiful and, from this view, we see the intricacy of the bud, sepals nestling and supporting petals, protecting the pink. we dig out my miracle mittens, his warm gloves, earmuffs, scarves, baselayers.
we talked about the silence this morning. it is still and the sun is trying. it may snow.
there were tiny flurries as we walked on the sidewalks of chicago, down coats and gloves, our heads bowed to the wind. it’s time to be inside more and we recognize – in the way of the universe – that we are much like the mums.
i suppose this is one of THOSE things – when you look back and see, with more clarity than you could ever have had in the moment, that you were nudged, pushed, prodded, indeed, shoved along. as you stood resolutely in the spot to which you were dedicated, something prompted change and things were no longer the same nor would they ever be. one of THOSE things.
i remember the early days of hearing garth brooks singing the country song “unanswered prayers”, decades ago now. he released the song and it exploded on radio not too long after i moved to wisconsin, away from family, away from two jobs i loved. i stood outside my then-husband’s workplace and gazed out at soybean fields wondering where i had landed, what on earth i would do. i went to the grocery store and wept in the pasta aisle; no mueller’s pasta to be found. i read the local paper and was disconcerted. i found solace in long-distance letters from my mom and brought lunch to the office at the local airport every day, the place my husband worked. i was lonely and lost.
but the universe had a way of catching up to me and consoling my soybean-cornfield-factory-town angst. that next year, my beautiful daughter was born – my first baby, i found new friendships, and a job i loved in a community of people who grew to be important to me. my amazing son was born in years to follow and then, in serendipitous ways, i started recording albums and i looked back and knew that, though my discomfort in – literally – moving was justified, life would not have been the same had i not moved. the complacency i had earlier adopted was not going to be enough and life had some gaps to fill in. nevertheless, i still sometimes wonder how it all would have turned out without the big jostling-along-to-wisconsin. for that matter, i still sometimes wonder how it all would have turned out without the big jostling-away-from-new-york. things to ponder and never know.
i will never know – really know – how it came to be that i am sitting next to this lovely man right now, writing separately together. how we each have grown and how we each have struggled and sorted through our figurative attics and basements, stuffed with things that have happened, things we have saved, things we have discarded, things we’d rather not remember, things we celebrate. how, from two entirely different places in this vast country, we found each other. i suppose love has a way.
time and again the understanding of events, situations, disappointments, things-that-are-really-hard is delayed. in-the-moment it – the why – is not clear. sometimes it is never clear or perhaps it’s just that by the time clarity arrives, it is far, far after the fact. so far that we have forgotten our dismay or our agnostic questioning or, in those that seem synchronistic miracles, our awe. it is in the looking-back, the time-line reflections that we might parse and question and realize that there was a reason, a cause and effect, maybe a prayer or two gone unanswered. though i could still list those and wonder why – through actions of others, good and bad, or decisions i’ve made, good and bad, or stuff that just happens, good and bad – i would guess that somehow the puzzle fits together in the end. no doubt the discomfort brings learnings we may not have signed up for, given the choice. the story is a mystery.
as i find myself in yet another nudged-pushed-prodded-shoved place, i’m trying to remember to stand still for a moment. to take it in – the discomfort – and to be open to what might be. and, in watching what shows up, in really looking and studying and listening, to take baby steps and move. maybe later on it will all make sense.
“rather than being a fall away from beauty, ageing can be the revelation of beauty, the time when the inherent radiance becomes visible.” (john o’donohue)
perhaps i would have noticed these leaves in the prime of their life, clotheslined on the branch, hanging in the sun. their verdant green might have captured my attention and the focus of my camera. but i kind of doubt it. for, indeed, they would have blended into the rest of the woods, the rest of the underbrush, the colors, the shrubbery, the landscape.
in the autumn of their lives, these leaves are ravishing. they gesture to the camera and invite my study. their ageing is their invitation to relish their presence, the visual “hey! look at me!”.
these days it is predictable. there is something – each day – we will say that is a reminder, though gently and with soft humor, of the very fact that we are ageing. we poke at ourselves, with self-deprecating comments about wrinkles or crepey skin or bellies changing or achy joints. we roll our eyes and then one of us reminds the other to be present in it and joyful and grateful, mostly grateful. we are not eloquent in those moments. they involve words like “sheesh!” or “stahhhhhhhhp!” or comparisons “but look at MY wrinkles!”. to suggest we are ageing gracefully is to ignore the american cultural emphasis on youthfulness, with ageing depicted negatively. in contrast, ageing in japan is revered. the elderly have the utmost respect. in the autumn of their lives, turning toward mid-life and beyond, the flaws earned throughout life are considered the very things that intensify beauty. shibui, it is said, is an aesthetic turn toward subtle and unobtrusive beauty, textural in elegance and roughness, diverse in spontaneous and restrained, a balance of simplicity and complexity, understated but not innocent, gorgeous words about meditation over spectacle. (wikipedia)
yesterday, in the middle of thinking about kneeling on the stripes, i found myself stumbling upon hearts. there was the heart – a random piece of ripped tissue – on the hinged lid of the stainless wastebasket. the hearts on the shower curtain, light somehow filtering through the holes holding curtain rings, reflected down onto the curtain itself. the heart leaf on the sidewalk. this morning the heart, shaped from the skin of the potato, on top of the tiny wedge of breakfast potato. it was a little uncanny. but was it?
or perhaps it is some kind of universe message – raising its voice over the din of flaw-noticing and in-the-pause-thinking and liminal-space-white-noise – reminding me of being loved. in this autumn-of-my-life. that the fuchsia is showing up, is a statement in the middle of a dense forest, raising the ordinary to extraordinary, the natural presence of shibui.
the old radiator in my studio was its home for years. i picked it up at a wholesale show…an old fencepost with equestrian leather…i couldn’t resist. it was perfect next to my piano. shh. quiet. ponder. dream.
it’s outside on the back deck now, really for the same reasons. shh. quiet. ponder. dream. it reminds us to take those moments and just be.
in the middle of the night last night we talked for a few hours. it was a big discussion…about life, about existence. we agreed that life is merely about those rare and outstandingly idyllic moments – a collection you might store in a little special box or place in photographs-in-the-round for a viewmaster – ready, at any time, for you to look at, review, be reminded of, hold close. not usually the gigantic stuff, but the slides of tiny, even silent, markers, instants you recognize as mica.
we had another water episode a few days ago. it seems the theme this summer. once again, drains in the basement yielded water instead of no water. a really lovely young man from the sewer-drain company came; it was their second time in just over a month. the tree roots they had cleared likely had left behind another piece. it doesn’t matter. he cleared it out and we moved on. it wasn’t without a ton of unexpected work…clearing all of david’s paintings out of the space to protect them, moving any and every thing out of the way of the water and allowing room for the technician to work without feeling nervous about anything around him. after he left and we cleaned everything up it was back to quiet.
we exercised down there again yesterday. it’s a peaceful place, even though it is a basement. being surrounded by the muse of david’s time at his easel brings a certain life to it. i imagine he wishes this little sign was in his studio, but there is a hush nonetheless, even without the sign.
our studios – places where time fills in the gaps between noise.
in the middle of existential questions about my wrist and hand, a screeching halt to occupational therapy imposed by the insurance company (don’t get me started), questions and the after-effects of betrayal, a silencing of my professional work, i have not sat there much. i enter to allow in light and fresh air, gaze at my piano and walk out. another silent day.
each morning, for at least a week, as i have sat with pillows propped sipping coffee, the window beside me wide open, i have been visited by a chipmunk. it sits atop the fence post across the driveway right opposite the window and looks in, chirping. i named him ‘sunny’ as it is often that the sun is just reaching that fencepost as he sits and the first time he was bathed in rays of light as he held his spot and said whatever he was saying to me in chipmunk i could not understand.
today, in the quiet of the morning, sun not even yet beginning to stream in the window, sunny was out there, chirping to wake us. i called out the window to him a good morning greeting. we chirped back and forth a bit before he left, satisfied he had awakened me. i watch for him now each day as the sun starts to rise.
three times in a twenty-four hour period over the last weekend i heard or saw the words “everything will be ok”: once written, once spoken and the third time bob marley sang it in the woods as we hiked the river trail.
sunday as we sat at the table on the deck in waning light a not-oft-seen hummingbird came directly over and hovered right in front of me. a couple days later as i stood on the deck, david watching, a monarch butterfly flew over to me and circled less than a foot above my head. and sunny, a chipmunk on a fence post, greeting me each day.
i guess that sometimes the universe is quietly whispering, “it’ll be ok. everything will be ok. shh.”
i have sat on the edge of this deck and prayed many a prayer. i have wept and i have laughed. i have sat against the wall, warmed by a winter sun, sipping coffee. i have sat under the umbrella in hot summer sipping cold wine. i have read books and letters, texts and emails. i have written manuscripts and lyrics and poetry and correspondence. i have learned and learned again. i have had hard conversations and gleeful announcements. i have sat – all alone – in the wee hours of the night and i have entertained many, many parties, many rehearsals, many gatherings of relatives, of friends. i have played with my beloved children and potty-trained puppies. i’ve shared a fort with my girl and pushed my boy on swings. i’ve checked kids’ hair for lice and i’ve played basketball and i’ve caught fireflies. i’ve grown black-eyed susans and lavender and hosta and ferns and grasses and basil and tomatoes and weeds. i’ve grown grass and dug out grass and grown it again. i’ve caught snowflakes and i’ve had waterfights with hoses. i’ve dug a pond at our big-dig and carried home rocks to lay around it. i’ve bird-watched and star-gazed and fallen in love with pond-frogs and watched for the owl and studied a cicada’s transformation and cheered on chipmunks. i have strummed ukulele and sang with a community of people i have called family. i have lugged keyboards and amps and music stands out and played with a band. i have danced to music from a record player plugged into the outdoor box. i’ve stared at the firepit and roasted marshmallows. on this deck. on this patio. in this backyard. i have full-spectrum-lived out there.
it doesn’t look like what you think of when you hear the word “sanctuary”, particularly if you have been even remotely involved with any sort of religious institution. but it is indeed a sanctuary. it is a place of refuge and safety. it is a holy place. no less than any building i have ever been in, it offers introspection and meditation, time for wonder and gratitude, moments to connect directly with serenity and my faith, chances to ask the wisdom of the universe hard questions and listen for the answers. it has not ever let me down. though my questions have not always been addressed, though i have unanswered prayers, though i ponder layers of existential, this sanctuary has always embraced me.
i walk out and it whispers to me that it is there, simply waiting. to others’ eyes, it may not appear this way – beautiful and inviting – it may not be pristine or perfectly landscaped, it may not be tended with a keen hand, but it is ever-perfect. it is unfailingly omnipresent, undeniably not ulterior. it calls to me without agenda, without intent, without chance of betrayal. it is inclusive of all who have ever walked there, of all who would ever take time to sit. it is consistent. dependable. a constant.
it is a sanctuary beyond reproach. a place of peace. outside, under the dawning morning and the galaxial sky, the heavens holding us.
it is – as i have learned – everywhere we go, under every rising sun and waxing moon. we are held to mother earth by gravity and the grace of spirit difficult to describe. this great big sanctuary.
it’s a mystery. grace. it falls on us like morning dew, each and every day. we rise, buoyant or troubled, joyous or grieving, in clarity or murky, in the light or in the dark.we step into next, knowing we have yet another chance. (nov. 22, 2019)
we live within the grasp of lake michigan. we can feel its power, its potency, its glassy peace, its lostness when fog envelops the horizon line and any sense of direction is blurred. the water draws us to it. it is a magnet, especially on blurry days.
things feel a little blurry right now. people all across the globe are struggling, with a wide spectrum of sickness, of loss, with devastating blows to their lives, their families, their homes, their towns, their countries, causes too many to list. blurry and disoriented and lost. existential questions beckon. yet answers are elusive.
there is something about staring at water. taking us out of the moment. each iridescent drop of water lapping at the shore, the mountain stream in the woods, the ocean waves breaking, the jets of water in the park, the pond in the backyard, the tiny fountain in the sunroom. even in our own blurry it reaches us. water. granting a little peace, a little grace.
i just got a card in the mail from one of my beloved nieces. she wrote, “one day it will all fall into place.”
i suppose grace really is like that. mysterious and ubiquitous. it falls on us. like a new day. unexpected and welcome. like a card in the mail. like a surprise text or an unexpected call. it rains down on us and gently re-directs us into next.
we are aware of how often water has shown up in our last year. not peaceful water that we passively have looked at, admiringly. instead, water that demands our participation. water pouring into the basement from a suddenly-broken pipe gasket. water dripping under the sink. water leaking out of the freezer-bottom-fridge, ice having formed from some drainline issue. water coming up from the storm drains downstairs after a heavy rain. water squirting all over from a suddenly broken shower head.
each time water has taken us out of the moment and propelled us into a different moment, in reality, a series of different moments…hours, even days. instead of being where we were, we were cast into roles working together sopping up, plugging the hole, rube-goldberging the fix, figuring out how to deal with the issue at hand and still maintain a sense of humor.
were i to think the universe was watching our every move, i might suggest that these occurred during times of blurry bleary-eyed-ness when perhaps a little re-direction was a good thing. water that washed us past that very time into next. it forced the change in our focus. gave a little clarity when unmoored seemed the the theme. helped us remember that all will fall into place. grace.
neil degrasse tyson said, “where there is water on earth, you find life as we know it.”