Virtually Useless

When the world sort of ground to a stuttered, bewildered stop; when plans were canceled one by one, many scrambled to translate formerly physical events into online experiences.  Online school, church services, counseling, book clubs, science camps, church camps, even our kids’ school field day activities were exclamation-pointed and hyped and promoted enthusiastically; maybe over-enthusiastically, begging to be an exciting alternative in the year of the plague.  It was an extended reach for normalcy, to not lose too much.

75394793_10158937019263352_4697287872719271344_oBut I, odd bird, dove in to the quiet, the natural flow of time un-chopped.  Between cooking for my large brood of children who were ever-present and ever-hungry, I delved into mask making and new handicrafts.  I studied Norwegian, took long walks on local trails, picked berries, played board games, and had good chats with my chickens, parakeet, rabbits, and bees.  I learned to carve spoons, weave rugs, make apple cider vinegar, and currant jam.  I realize, of course, that my experience is a privileged one; not everyone has the opportunity to stay home, nor to enjoy nature at leisure, nor to have a spouse that is supportive and takes over childcare so I can care for my introverted self.  I speak only from my experience, that is all.107813278_10158983117753352_9066970786895427250_n116009563_10159024014663352_876588903092333129_n115821103_10159024520013352_6824405005164446328_o104175277_10158910998598352_7990901495297894568_o115838314_10159017029438352_1263168622830738558_n105289766_10158901948193352_5396233565335013744_oSome felt that the world had gone mad, but for me it felt as though the world was exorcised of the soul-crushing Demons of Hurry, of Hyper-Schedule, of Busy.  Even if it was a forced hard stop, it felt like an opportunity for reflection, meditation, and appreciation of all that we normally speed past.  I barely breathe in our harried culture; I was finally breathing deep.

But for others the lockdown was like prison; deprivation, loss, stress, and some anger.  Okay, a lot of anger.  We experienced some of that, especially navigating online schooling with spotty internet, borrowed devices, and missed Zoom meetings, not to mention the mess of papers, books, cords, uncapped markers, and so on.  That was unpleasant indeed, and I feel no need to spin it otherwise.  No exclamation points necessary.

Once school was finished I felt free; gone were the screens, the frustration, the cords which tripped me.  In my email inbox came the invitations to Virtual This and Virtual That, and I knew beyond a doubt that for me, they were Virtually Futile.  In order to experience in the smallest way an online event required a massive coordination of efforts.  We live in a small, old, three bedroom home, all eight of us, and there is always someone yelling, laughing, screaming, or needing something.  We have a separate studio space that would seem ideal for such, but our wifi doesn’t stretch that far, so our one device (an eight year old laptop with a cracked screen), cannot be of use there.  I tried using my husband’s phone (I do not have one), but it had other issues and I’ve yet to make a Zoom meeting function without panic and sweat.

In order for me to participate in anything I need to be physically there.  My home is too loud and too little equipped with technology, and also…

I need to be where my body is. 105612122_10158923356963352_6139099048337089654_o106903425_10158958428083352_9181716869868902619_n107589414_10158983117828352_7730809835030596938_n109345405_10159005296478352_6912392869239024676_n110046319_10159013716168352_1212632757072360117_o114890932_10159023108563352_1017798727818814836_n115811952_10159023108333352_2971481073923495345_nIn this I do not argue for a return to normal; heaven forbid while the plague still rages!  But I do suggest that we live with loss as gracefully as we can.  That we give thanks for all we can do rather than manufacture virtual substitutes thereof.  That is just my opinion; I give you plenty of room to appreciate online offerings to your heart’s content, but maybe too, leaning into the loss and seeing what gifts it offers when it takes.

 

A Covid Ode

Do ever you wonder

What threw us asunder

While chasing the lightning

Outclamoring thunder?

Well

A tiny contagion

Drop by drop passing

Each breath off-gassing

Infections amassing

So

Did your breath catch

When the world hit the brakes

And calendars snapped, and dumped out their dates

There

Spray, wipe, gel, and mask,

Fatalities counted, buried so fast,

And the news keeps ticking the count.

But also, attend…

Waving to neighbors with smiles so joyous

Seeing background as foreground, stranger as us

The world that lay hidden beneath all our hurry

It stares back and it smiles.

Chalk your walk, make a sign, bring a soup

Pour more wine

Call Grandma, stitch cotton, give food, sew a button.

Intubate, regulate, wince at sore ears

Hold up devices for last goodbyes through your tears.

Exhaustion deep-reigning, Zoom meetings so draining,

Where can I find toilet paper, oh where

Then

At some hour we turn to our beds, sleep claiming

All protestation, all thought, all blaming

Theories, conjectures, outrage, upbraiding

Quiet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Desert with Mary of Egypt

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Borrowing a line from the Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”
My children fidgeted and rolled around the living room rug.  A small, cracked laptop screen was a window into their beloved church, but it didn’t make it believable, livable; they were not awed by such a small window.  When they lay on their backs they didn’t see prophets overhead, nor the Pantocrator, wide across the dome.  They are used to the embodied faith, touching all the senses, and though we lit candles and burned incense, though we tried, we could only attain a small reflection of a great Light.  We unashamedly need our church family, our clergy, our holy place with all of it’s helps to tie our heart to Him.
I have always had a great love for funerals.  There, for a span of time, all trivialities, all rancor, all distraction is set aside and quieted.  We open our eyes to see clearly, what matters, what doesn’t.  Each body we tuck lovingly into the earth plants also a seed in our hearts; “Remember your death. What will you do with your life?”  During trials we see more, and we are seen more.  Our souls are revealed; our insecurities, our egos, our fear, our courage, our long-suffering.   When it began I saw the extraordinary love and selflessness, people reaching out to one another.  As the weeks passed I was reminded of the Israelites who had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and now were pining and complaining in the desert, ready for revolt.
My dear saint, Mary of Egypt, knew the desert well.  She could not commune, not stand in the company of others, not sing the Divine Liturgy.  But she could pray, she could wrestle with temptation, she could be tested by the harsh environment and the deprivations that constantly reminded her of what she once had and could easily return to.  Mary of Egypt, pray for us, that we might fight the good fight in circumstances that stretch and test us.

Love In The Time Of Corona

Heaps of masks in stages of production; pleats, pins, patterns

Teachers’ voices in my home, made small by laptop speakers, children fidgeting in chairs they sit in to eat and play board games

Context all askew and no one can find the good pencils with intact erasers.

The heroes brave the front and we rally around them by being not around

Dodge an enemy we can’t see

Stare down graphs and projections and curves

And count the rolls of toilet paper  and wonder.

Placed in the center of my heart are those dear ones who cannot weather such a viral blow.  I keep looking in on them, in my heart; are you yet well?

I am not afraid, I lift my head to you to say; I am not afraid to die

I look back into my heart, I would not have them die, not because of idiocy and obstinacy; not so very unnecessarily.

My heart bearing them, I go to cook; everyone seems doubly hungry and Lenten fare does not settle heavy in restless and unsorted bellies.

Prayer as I breathe.90785132_10158570610643352_7485858827032592384_n

 

 

Orion, My Friend

If you’ve made a friend of a constellation, then we need not bother to say much; you know what it is to scan the night’s sky for the telltale groupings of ancient light that have accompanied all of your stories.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, well, there is still time.  Or, maybe that is promising too much, but you could still look up and lay bare your heart, drowning it with awe.

I remember Orion peering at me over the edge of a snowbank, the cold seeping steadily through my snow pants, my breath obscuring him; his light and the light of the moon making luminous the quiet snow.  The snow below, the stars above, held between, Orion looking, steady and silent; “I will always have you, Orion.”

He is used to me coming to him with all of my tears.  I don’t like to cry with people, nor indoors, but with my Orion as that imperturbable anchor that he is, I could endeavor to grieve bodily, loudly.  Frustrated, hurt, jealous, furious, despairing, overwhelmed, I again and again sought the comfort of his easily found shape.  “Did Homer speak with you too, Orion?”

I walked endlessly tonight; there was never enough sidewalk for my strides to devour.  St. Paul’s stained glass windows caused me pause.  On the front of the church they depicted Christ the Good Shepherd, and on the side Christ in Gethsemane.  He who holds us also prayed with tears; He too asked to be delivered.  I took hold of that and I walked on.

My feet relinquished the sidewalks, relinquished their ceaseless pounding forward and I stretched out on my back to find my friend Orion.  He looked at me, and I looked at him, pinprick of light by pinprick of light.  “Hello, Orion.”

silhouette of woman standing on rock near body of water during night time
Photo by Baraa jalahej on Pexels.com

 

Untimely: Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  coming, said, done, etc. before the usual or proper time; premature, unseasonable  (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language)

It is a perfect storm of reading:

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather:  A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda McGurk

The Hurried Child by psychologist David Elkind

Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger
At first glance, perhaps the first two would seem related, but the third not so much.  Yet all three have a common concern:  stress.  Hurry.  Busyness.  They delve into how chronic haste and stress can manifest in development,  mental health, and our physical bodies.
McGurk observed the changes brought over her American children when they spent several months in her native Sweden, spending most of their waking hours exploring the woods with friends.  They went from iPads to mud pies with alacrity, and she writes convincingly of the importance for all of us in being outside, not commuting from activity to activity, hurried.
Elkind was ahead of his time in addressing the pressure parents are putting on kids to excel, overloading them with extracurriculars, eroding free time.  He was dismissed when the book first published in 1981.  With the rise of teen suicides and depression, his book is now finding a receptive audience.
Dr. Rediger explores the factors surrounding spontaneous healing of various incurable, fatal diseases.  Many of those who made miraculous recoveries drastically reduced the busyness and stress from their lives, along with eating whole foods and exercising.
I’ve written before on the subject of busyness here and here, but I often feel like I’m speaking to a wall.  Our culture is suffused with this idea that movement=progress=success, so everyone is chugging along at breakneck speed so that they, and their children, don’t “fall behind”.  I feel like a mother walking her children through a meadow; we examine the flowers, the bugs, we feel the wind on our faces, and watch the slow drift of the clouds.  Past us flies a high speed train full of families, baseball bats and ballet slippers, sheets of homework, and bags of fast food are barely visible as they fly past to the town we’re slowly walking to.  They do get to the town first, but it seems like they don’t even walk the town, they run through it, hit the shops, and hop back on the train to the next place.  I am stubbornly insisting that racing through life doesn’t win you anything.  It may in fact cost you everything.
56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o51540122_10157396442668352_632964388566859776_oimg_4921img_0767 So my equation is slowness=presence=living fully.  I do not think this will secure for me any guarantee of perfect health, nor worldly success, nor that my children be superior to anyone else’s, only that I will be present within my life, within this time; that I will live in wonder and enjoyment, that peace will not be illusive, that my children will see this way of living which relies not on breathless hurry, but stillness, joy, and open time.

 

Preserve or Enjoy? Thoughts on Physical Objects

time2The creamy white wool blanket I found in the Goodwill bargain bins last week is still airing out on the wash line. It takes a good while for the moth ball smell to fade.  Some dedicated person embroidered their initials on it, and trimmed the edges in blanket stitch, in red.  Every time I go to a thrift store I find hand-embroidered table linens, handkerchiefs, and table runners.  There is pain and beauty in that; beauty in the handiwork and pain in the likelihood that the one who stitched it has passed, their careful, skillful work donated by family who didn’t appreciate it.

There was fine Irish table linen; the tablecloth and eight napkins in fine brocade.  It still had the noble, ornate label on each piece.  It sat among the broken laundry baskets, hangers, shoes, and textbooks like a queen atop a trash heap.  It was over fifty years old, but never once used.  Always saved for the most special occasion?  An occasion that never came?  It reminded me of a character in a  book I read long ago, which I’ve failed to track down.  She lay dying in her bed, and went on and on about her best sheets and linens being in the bureau; that she’d never used them; that they were in some way markers of her worth and good repute.  That to die without fine linen that had never been used would be shameful.

We were given a piece of blue and white china by a great aunt.  She explained that it had always been in her corner cupboard, with the other pieces of the set, never used.  Her mother had kept them in the same way, in another corner cupboard on the farm, only taking them out for a dusting once a year.  Beautiful dishes that never once held food, nor served at a meal.  This was strange to me.

One Christmas I was gifted a collectible Holiday Barbie.  She was magnificent, in a white sparkling ballgown, her blonde hair cascading in perfect curls.  I had asked for her, so earnestly, and there she was!  I went to open the box and was told not to; it was explained that she wouldn’t be worth anything if I took her out and played with her; that she was an investment of sorts.  I stared through the shiny plastic window at a toy I’d never get to play with and was perfectly miserable.

It wasn’t too long until I secretly freed her from her packaging and triumphantly (albeit guiltily) played.  I promptly lost her shoes, her brush, and her hair bore signs of brushing and handling.  My parents felt like it was a loss, but I felt as though it was finally a gain.

Preserve or enjoy?  I tend towards enjoy, I tend towards giving things stories and life.  I favor the Velveteen rabbit’s snags and bare spots, a loved object is more beautiful to me than a perfect one.

 

On Aging, Being Nearly 40

83243858_10158347247968352_8534731982934900736_nIt’s a battle I’m supposed to be fighting, I gather, from the women’s magazines in the checkout lines.  The enemy roster is long:  wrinkles, cellulite, gray hair, extra weight, saggy skin, drooping eyelids, age spots, untoned muscles.

The weapons of war are proferred up in glossy ads:  botox, implants, hair dye, alpha-hydroxy serums, specialized diets, plastic surgery, teeth bleaching, kickboxing.

But, what if I don’t see a battle at all?  What if I marvel at how the light reflects from the silver strands in my hair?  What if my wrinkles remind me of how many days I’ve spent squinting into the surf, riding waves, and laughing hard, with my whole heart?  What if my soft abs remind me of the many babies who lived within me; of being a house for another soul?

Tuesday I’ll turn 40 and I am terribly excited.  I never expected to live so long. 167181_10150133539543352_4641677_n

My last turn of the decade was celebrated in Peru with a fantastic party put on by my fellow missionaries including dance performances, plays, and a concert by the kids.  It was glorious fun.  I didn’t mind turning 30; I was excited, even though I only had a few rogue gray hairs and just the hints of wrinkles.

It is okay to be happy in one’s skin; it’s okay not to buy any of the fancy weapons of war, it’s okay to skip on the battlefield and look at the wildflowers.

#bloginstead: Party Line

It could bear any title

As long as it were free

To snap to position all parts

Notch into notch, smooth gears agreeing

Mind the party line.

 

Well, unwelcome shock

Well, intruding doubt

Well, whole heart half-living

Well, quiet now,

Mind the manual, chapter 14, article 11, clause 3A.

 

The important thing is to move

Move the machine

The machine deserves

Power, please don’t question

And turn off the light.

 

Are we making the Kingdom?

Hopeful gears think now and then

To themselves as they fit together

Click, click, click

The main thing is moving intone the machinists

Move your piece, forfeit peace, axel grease.

onebreah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#bloginstead: The Hermit’s Lament

I cannot wring water from stone

There is no kneading of air to make my bread

And words, like water, must have a source

 

There has never been a carrot tempting enough, perhaps

To make me pump for water, rather

Than spill what must overflow anyways

 

A writer…I cannot deny it

But, the joy is all in the spilled writing, see it?

The math of my exultation, thoughts+attention+neural acrobatics=a translation of what is, filtered through one soul, though small, bringing some light, some beauty

 

Well suited to be a hermit

Lend me a shovel, for I have a talent I’d like buried

Why?  It is easier.  What if I offered it and they said it had no light, no beauty?

 

Who can put out their own heart on the auction block?

Tell me, how do you get the hermit

To give her littlest light?  To give such small beauty?

 

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