Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A life of magic and love

Connie and her great-grands, Adriana and Lily
I was heartbroken not to attend my Aunt Con's funeral, the opportunity to say goodbye and be with all of her children, my fun-loving cousins, and their children and grandchildren. So, I'll say it in my own way, by remembering her from the heart.

There isn't a time I don't remember my mother's younger sister, Connie. She's been a solid fixture all of my life. Tragedy struck her early. With four young children, her husband died suddenly, stranding her in Boise, Idaho, without other family. To survive, she moved back home to Indianola, Iowa. That's where I remember her. First, in the small, grey house across from the Hy-Vee grocery store. Mostly I recall the one big living room and a soft couch filled with cousins and playfulness. To me it seemed like the best place in the world. A kind of Pee Wee's Playhouse filled with love and warmth where not much was off limits.

Con's house on C Street and those recently gathered
Then, the family moved to C Street. I used to think it was named for Connie. Easy enough to remember as a kid. So many of the streets in Indianola are neatly aligned, assigned letter names and dotted with pastel-colored houses. Con's (as we named her in our adulthood) was a neat brick cape that appeared as one story from the front, but three from the steep backyard. I loved the sometimes treacherous rock steps down. When we visited, we all but lived in two rooms: the living and dining. There were concerts (Connie was an accomplished violinist who taught orchestra in the local schools; her children all played strings), movie marathons long conversations, family dinners, pancake and cinnamon-roll breakfasts and, always, plenty to go around. Like she waved her wand and there was more than enough. I've often wondered how that was possible on a single-parent salary. How she could take on extra mouths when my twin sister and I would visit for a month each summer,

This house was the perfect setup for kids. Upstairs were two large bedrooms, separated by a small hall and bath. One was for the two girls, twin cousins conveniently only a year older than me and my twin and two boys: one our age and another, two years younger. Perfect playmates. Unless the genders were warring, in that case, we would jump from room to room, being careful not to knock the coveted fan turned to whichever room was winning at the time. The girl's room was light and airy; the boys, dark and cold. Each perfect for whatever mood you were in.

Me and Connie
We'd spend our days wandering from our grandparents' house to Aunt Anne and Uncle Bill's and visiting more distant relatives; downing Green-River phosphates at the corner sundry; saying we would make midnight runs for donuts with our grandpa, but never being awake enough; lounging in the local pool when the mercury hit 100 and listening to Connie's silly student Phillip recite Shakespeare in the shallow end; popping in on summer string lessons; playing in our favorite park and almost passing out on the playground merry-go-round; stuffing ourselves with Maid-Rites and never learning the secret ingredient even when one of our girl cousins worked there; feeling important waltzing into the local newspaper, where our grandfather was part-owner and our uncle worked the camera room, and always thrilled to get our names spit out of the type machine. You can tell it was magical time. That doesn't cover opera season.

Our mother's youngest sister, Anne, was an opera singer and teacher at Simpson College. During our junior-high years, summer opera opened and we were welcomed to rehearsals and opening nights. Pretty heady stuff for young teens. One time, the girl cousins and my sister and I, all dressed gorgeously, we supposed, in long flowing gowns, walked home to Aunt Con's after a performance, only one of the girls had forgotten the key. We had the bright idea of breaking in the front window, located high above the bushes. What a sight we much have been, dressed to the nines and one shimmying up and into the house!
Connie and her clan

If Grandpa's house was where to go to get one-on-one time and Anne and Bill's to be spoiled, Con's was the one for fun and adventure. Can you imagine a month rotating among all of that?

Now, Con is with her parents, Anne and her husband. But she'll never leave my memory or heart.

• How do we remember those who've left their mark of love on us?
• Who contributed to our childhood magic?
• How has that shaped who we are?
• What imprint does that person have on our lives?
• How do we say goodbye?

something was
going on

Connie in her
jammies baking
rolls or cookies

someone practicing
or playing piano

movies and

sleepovers and
choosing sides

it was the place
you wanted to

was there,

filling it
with her
magic and love

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Death's companion

On holiday this week, death has not taken a vacation, creeping in unexpectedly and unwelcome.

I was stunned the second day away to learn that a member of my faith community ended her life. I'd just had a conversation with her the afternoon before and the news left me dumbfounded and, beyond worrying about her husband and family, profoundly sad that we'd had such a shallow encounter. Why hadn't I'd known she struggled? What hadn't I taken the time to get to know her better? God, why did you let me make stupid comments about her cute, new hairstyle? Why didn't you give me something thoughtful and life altering to say to her? Then, I was reminded that I had said something important to her several months ago. Something I'd been meaning to tell her. Had I not had that opportunity, I'd be distraught. Boy, I was making this all about me when my real questions was: God, why did this have to happen at all?

There will probably never be an answer. It never was my job to save her; I just wish I'd paid more attention to this person. Gotten to know her and, maybe, listened to her. I am supposed to be a gifted listener. Somehow, I believe others in my community provided that. I am certain her family did. That's the lesson: to listen to everyone, even those that seem prickly. As Quaker's profess, there is that of God in everyone.

Arch Street Meetinghouse, Philadelphia
I was reminded of that yesterday at the Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, the Quaker motherhouse for the states. After depositing my girls at the neighboring Starbucks – they were weary of visiting yet another historic site and we had already stopped in earlier, our visit cut short by times tickets for Independence Hall – I cut my way through a throng of tourists and their loud guide droning on about Quakers. I wanted to say: "Hey, buddy, I'm a real live one and all I want to do is get in this meetinghouse." When I did enter, the woman tending the front desk was engaged in a loud conversation. Well, she wasn't loud, but the visitor was. And long-winded. I never did get a chance to speak to her, so I wound my way around the open rooms and, finally, settled in on the old wooden bench in one section of the worship space that was not roped. And I poured my heart out for the Cincinnati Quaker woman who'd felt life was too much. As I was centering, I heard the Arch Street Quaker tell the visitor what we believe about God being in everyone. It was a gentle reminder and deepened my worship.

Worship helped me let go a little.

I'd seen that my mother had left a voicemail that afternoon and one the day earlier. When I eventually retrieved them, I discovered she and my father and headed to Iowa to be with her sister, who lay in s hospital bed near death.

There it was again. 

My wonderfully creative, caring and silly Aunt Con uncommunicative with my mother at her bedside, her four devoted children and cadre of lively grandchildren nearby with death standing vigil. She's winding down, I thought and shared it with my close friend and Philadelphia hostess. Jean would know. She was with her spouse less than two years ago as he transitioned from this world to the next. Thank God, he wasn't alone, we both confessed. She admitted she was afraid and uncertain of what was happening. Yet she accompanied him lovingly.

Who was with my Quaker friend in Cincinnati? Who is with my Aunt Con right now? I have to believe Spirit in some way or form is death's companion.

• What is my experience of death?
• What has it taught or opened in me?
• When has it intruded on life?
• How has it shaped my spiritual beliefs?
• Where do I believe Spirit is in death and the process of dying?

it was cute and sassy,
so I told her

it was something
I thought she needed
to hear from me

I'm not sure why

I've never been
totally comfortable
with her – we clashed
once when she was new
and I felt unheard

later, when she was
pounced on a bit
carelessly and
zealously, I
wanted to tell
her that it wasn't
her fault

that she was new
and trying to
learn the
unwritten rules

that chat had
a much more
than the one 
over how she looked

wish I'd have
been able to ask her
how she felt

not that it
could have
made a difference

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reversing the backwards Golden Rule

I skipped my usual Friday post out of busy-ness and lacking a pressing or compelling topic. Usually I have no trouble in that department.

So, here it is Saturday morning and I have a list a mile long to accomplish before my daughters and I undertake a weeklong jaunt to Philadelphia and the Delaware coast. In my desire to meet everyone's needs, I had mentioned a possible day trip to NYC, then recanted when I recognized that 7 hours of travel time, even on public transportation that frees me from responsibility, was just too much given our tight schedule.

And here I sit, showing up to blog. I feel a responsibility to my twice-weekly mantra. I think my subject lays in the last paragraph ... the part about desiring to meet everyone's needs and trying to cram everything in at some expense, usually my own.

Being a mother with the "helper" enneagram type feeds right into meeting everyone else's needs. I've performed this way for years unaware, craving the likability it brought me. If I did this one more time or managed to squeeze that in, it would endear me to whomever the task was aimed. I suppose that began as a child, a twin competing for parental attention. I became the "good" girl, who could wait, do what she was told and stay out of the way.

Boy, did I set myself up for tough times ahead: performing so I would be liked. Of course, I always could draw the line at integrity, well, except once. In fifth grade, a new girl arrived and she was different: kept to herself, talked to herself and dressed rather shabbily. In myself mode, I would have befriended her. But, for some reason, I bowed to the group mentality – a group where I felt high likability – and, one infamous afternoon on the playground, we followed her around ... all in a long line. Saying nothing. I think we were mocking her, instead of inviting her in. I am still ashamed of my behavior. I felt instant guilt and remorse and never did it again. It spurred me to try to get to know the new girl personally. Several years ago, I encountered her working in a super market. I went out of my way to be friendly and ask how she'd been; making up for that hurtful act.

I can't think of another time since that I've treated another as other. That was a huge lesson for me at a tender age. And it drives me crazy when I see so many arbitrary divisions in society based on superficial characteristics such as appearance, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, intelligence, dress, manners, etc.
Artsy Fartsy kids being themselves

Yesterday, I spent time in the nearby subsidized-housing complex from which Artsy Fartsy* draws most of its participants. This is a pocket of other as far as general society is concerned. Things happen here most of us could not imagine, me included. I hear the kids talk. They latch onto me when I show up, which I do with some regularity. Art, for them, provides an escape and means to express a confusing world. I've also met some very dedicated parents attempting to better themselves and their kids' lives. I can see the hungriness and innocence in these kids. Their deepest desire is mine: to be validated for who they are, not what they can or can't do.

Over the years, I have begun to unwrap my helper persona, leaving  parts of it behind. The parts that diminish me. I believe God is really intervening to help me ... like a few weeks ago when she directed me to lay down on the pew at a Quaker worship other than my own and surrender.

Cathy, you don't need any props (a book, a studio, turtlebox,  art program). Lay down and surrender. Lay it down.

After much consternation, I did. I am still discerning what the IT is. Luckily for me, I have a seasoned, ministry-care committee meeting with me the night after we return from vacation to listen to exactly where Spirit is in all of this. I suspect it's ego and the destructive web of identity it has created for me.

The command to surrender has brought me much peace over the past weeks. Peace in the midst of uncertainty. This week as I plowed through a vital grant application, laboring over the budgeting, I flinched and periodic spates of panic have emerged. What if I don't get the grant? What happens to Artsy Fartsy? Will I get enough to have a salary? If I don't, do I continue to donate my time?

At Monday night's Artsy Fartsy advisory board meeting, one member remarked how at peace I seemed with the unknowing. I was until I had to look at numbers ... as if they have a dulling effect on the joyfulness of this work. The draft of the grant is done while I go away, though I am taking it to mull over, but not too much.

Artsy Fartsy has been a labor of love; ministry God has directed. Not my ego telling me to do something to please others. If it becomes that, I want to be able to lay it down.

• When have I given too much of myself away?
• What does that leave me, exactly?
• How does my persona direct my life?
• What happen when I let God in?
• What has Spirit asked me to surrender?

I learned the
Golden Rule

do unto others
FIRST, then
do unto yourself

because then,
they'll like you.

And you'll
drain yourself.

A better approach,
I've discovered, is
the airplane-oxygen-
mask lesson:

Breathe yourself
first, so then you
can help others.

* Artsy Fartsy is an arts exploration for 4-6th graders in my neighborhood who would not have this opportunity otherwise.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The beat of oneness

Last week and, again, today, I felt as if I were transported somewhere exotic as I finished up my morning laps. Conversations in Cantonese revved up just as I was winding down.

I had heard a lot of loud talk in another tongue as I was showering, but a later summer schedule makes me personally privy to the two Chinese couples catching up as they warm up. I love the international flavor the pool unexpectedly brings.

Thursday, I had an extended conversation with Lisa as we shared a lane. She’s been in this country over 30 years. Her daughters, all in medical fields, live together in Columbus, where they graduated from Ohio State. I think she said one is a family practitioner, one a nurse and the other a physical therapist. She beamed as she spoke of Holly, Joyce and Helen with VERY American names. Lisa confided that she had trouble finding a job when she first arrived. Sewing was all she qualified for. Eventually she went to work in a local Chinese restaurant and advised her daughters to get an education so they were employable.

I told her about my Russian friend, Svetlana, an economist (and fellow swimmer) who lost her job during Perestroika, immigrated and could only dip ice cream at Graeter’s. Both of these women are intelligent, yet I believe Americans can’t often hear past the accent to understand they are speaking fine English. All it takes is a little patient listening.

I was annoyed several years ago when some white Caucasian at the gym suggested “they, these Asians, don’t know our swimming etiquette here.” Have you ever even smiled or greeted them, I wondered

Lisa mentioned another woman swimming in the outside lane was her neighbor, though they’ve never conversed at the gym. It’s no wonder the conversations between the two Asian couples seem so lively. No one else talks to them.

I don’t even really remember how Lisa and I got acquainted. I think I told her I’d be happy to share a lane with her once and we gradually began to greet one another. She welcomes me like an old friend. I’m a little more shy with her husband, although, when Lisa was absent several weeks, I enquired about her. His placid face lit up as he excitedly said she was in Hong Know visiting family.

I believe diversity is the spice of life and I embrace it in my lily white suburb. A year or so ago, I saw what appeared to be an Indian family walking down the street. I wanted to chase them down, welcome them and ask where they lived. I was afraid I’d scare them off.

I learned the diversity lesson well as part of Neighbor To Neighbor, a local group that formed in response to the 2001 Cincinnati riots. I was distraught and sitting home with an infant when the Enquirer encouraged residents to organize and host a conversation. That, I can do, I thought. Little did I know 12 years later the group would still be meeting. I bowed out after a few years, but treasure the lessons and friendships that grew there. Frank taught me that racism can be transformed one heart at a time. He’s so very right. Any hatred can be conquered that way. Curly insisted that bigotry is rampant, just undergound these days. They and others patiently and, sometimes, angrily shared their stories. As they did, I began to see my complicity and legacy of silent, white privilege. The experience really opened my heart. I believe it planted the stirring for Artsy Fartsy, the arts exploration I host for kids in Milford’s only family subsidized housing. Last night someone mentioned I could make money if offered it to families who could and would pay dearly for these sessions. Not interested … it’s just not where my heart calls me.

I prefer to hang at the edges, meeting folks marginalized and welcoming them into a kinder, gentler world as well as my heart. I think that’s would Jesus would do.

• How do I greet people some consider foreigners?
• What makes someone a stranger and another a friend or neighbor?
• When have I been the Good Samaritan?
• How does my heart call me to the marginalized?
• How do I respond to Jesus, the Inner Teacher?

setting my own
pace, gliding
through the
warm liquid

giving up
that autonomy
when another
needs a space

together, we
refind our
not an easy

but, as
we merge,
our hearts
the beat
of oneness

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Flowing dreaminess

My life seems to be working in reverse today. I awoke when I fell asleep and in waking, I am dreaming. What I am experiencing has that liminal quality of the sweet space between sleep and wakefulness: grogginess, ease and contentment.

I was up earlier than anyone and settled into a cup of strong coffee and prayer. The candle flame nudged me in and my gliding pen and journal were ready to capture the moment. My heart was filled with gratitude for this place of deep joy. As if I had detached and really begun to see my life, all of its blessings, and that the frustrations and difficulties only make it richer; that hardness hides a bounty.

I understand that the adversity in my life emanates from two sources: myself and my journey. I am learning to surrender the difficulty I wreak, discovering the doubt and comparison are ego’s inventions to keep me trapped and beholden to it. I don’t want that life anymore. I want my life; to live authentically as only I can. I desire to follow my path, not the path parts of me think I should walk because it casts me in a better light, nets me greater success or wealth or would look good to others. And, as my true path becomes clearer, though usually only one step at a time, I sense that it is the road less traveled. That is it a more difficult path, but one that will shape me as Spirit desires and bring deep joy as I travel toward wholeness.

Dreaming/pastel on paper
As the sun was shedding its rest and my body began to quicken, I lay with important messages filtering in and out. I’ve forgotten the details, but not the residue nor their importance. I jotted this in my journal:

This place of rememberings, of snippets of dreams, I was feeling them, knowing their truth. Not sensing worries as if that had been my auto-pilot mode. Waking as if to remember because I had forgotten. Forgotten that I have a good life – a VERY good life. Something shifted me beyond the reach of everyday worry. Like I regained something that I had lost sight of … remembering freedom and not being confined by fear and worry … even the uncertainty in my life seems like a gift. I have new eyes; eyes of appreciation, gratitude, possibility, love and creativity. This is being present.

The idea of spiritual gifts has been on my heart and mind as I prepare to lead a workshop touching on the subject next month and have drafted a proposal for a full-day retreat this fall. I am uncovering my gift of healing, experienced its presence during the Quaker mystics weekend and am experimenting with directing it within. I resonate with the wounded-healer archetype and can tap its resources best if I fathom it within myself first. It’s much easier to listen to someone else’s wounds when ours have been [ad]dressed.

After journaling, I read the daily Henri Nouwen devotion, another part of my morning meditation:
Becoming Food For the World 
When Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, he summarized in these gestures his own life.  Jesus is chosen from all eternity, blessed at his baptism in the Jordan River, broken on the cross, and given as bread to the world.  Being chosen, blessed, broken, and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. When we take bread, bless it, break it, and give it with the words "This is the Body of Christ," we express our commitment to make our lives conform to the life of Christ.  We too want to live as people chosen, blessed, and broken, and thus become food for the world.
I have felt chosen, blessed and broken on my journey. Now, I am ready to be given as food for the world.

• How do my dreams [in]form me?
• What truth have they imparted?
• How do I experience the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness?
• When can I detach from fear and worry and see my life as it really is?
• How does that stir me to gratitude?

A quiet house
a single cat
wafting cup of coffee
candlelight and
a chilly July morning

appreciating the
little things

time with God:
heart to heart

believing in a
new gift, born of
pain and experience,
faith and abundance

recognizing the beauty
in my life, like being
cured of a gripping
illness that rendered
me absent

this flowing
dreaminess is the
reality, unlike the fear,
panic and constant


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