Monthly Archives: August 2016

remember the ancestors…

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From time to time, I search online photos of the streets I lived as a child. We can do that now. When I see the photo of the address of the house I lived in from Kindergarten through the 4th grade, the picture is framed to look right down the alley that ran alongside the flat on Ring Street. As a little girl, I played in that alley with other kids in that working class neighborhood. I was Dale Evans to Randy Larson’s Roy Rogers.

As a girl, I watched as my small grandma, wearing a long, black coat, her hair covered with a babushka, slowly walked to our house through that alley, her eyes toward the pavement, while I hung perilously over the edge of the upstairs railing. Grandma did not speak English well, and so I don’t remember having conversations with her. Was I afraid of her, this strange woman only a generation removed from me, illiterate in both Ukrainian and English? I don’t remember.

I have only a few pictures of my Ukrainian grandma, but one is a favorite. The year is 1955, and the photo is in black and white. I am sitting at the kitchen table of that flat on Ring Street, the table ringed with little girls, paper crowns atop our heads, celebrating my birthday. I have dark circles under my eyes. In the chair behind me is my Grandma, and I see in her eyes a brightness, the brightness I might see in the eyes of a child. Did she love me? Was she happy to be at the party? Did she enjoy the little girls gathered in that small and dark upstairs kitchen? Only that picture frames the possibility that she had a light in her, a light that even years of alcohol and violence could not, did not extinguish.

As I grow older and encounter the lessons of this time of life, I remember those I have loved who have not been with me for many, many years. I think about their lives, and sometimes I remember something I had not remembered before, a long-ago moment with dust on its edges, which I rub off with my hands as I remember. Sometimes, my memory does not shift; the details I have carried with me for many years remain the same. Sometimes, I know something I have always known, although that knowing has never been spoken, not even by me. Sometimes, a feeling accompanies the memory, and I am sad again, and again.

This much is true: the ancestors are in us, in our genes and in our memories, in our eyes and in our hearts. They live in us. They live, bigger than our memories. I like to think of them hanging out in my life, observing, without judgement, who I am. They are there for all of us, but it makes my life richer and deeper to remember them being there for me, too.

I love my Grandma. I always did, and I always will.

Rising every time we fall

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Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. – Confucius

For those who need hope today, I offer you this reminder, which has been present in human beings for all time: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

So often, we value being positive above truly living. So often, we want the world to see our best face, as if we have never failed. So often, we do not really live, because we have not fallen into the darkest places in ourselves, and risen, free.

We limit ourselves. We limit ourselves by holding back, on the edge of our despair and discomfort, on the edges of our lonely and lost places. We limit ourselves when we are clear, always, on how to act and how to not act, on what to choose, and on what not to choose; we limit ourselves when our greatest value is to hold on to those rules of etiquette that were given to us as children, and which we cherish, holding tightly to them. We hold our breath. We hold back our true selves, our deepest selves, our richest selves.

We drown, really, in the great waves of despair that threaten to overcome us, when we fight those waves of despair. When we ride those waves, when we go down, into the darkness and depths, we rise again, our faces radiant, our hearts bursting, our eyes shining with the knowing that we have faced the very worst, and we live, we live! Then, we shine our eyes toward others, and we see and know their despair, also. Until we have gone into the darkness, our hearts cannot open to the pain of the world.

It is difficult to totter on the edge of the abyss, that difficult, tear-filled place within ourselves, to always be careful never to break the rules we were taught as children: “Be careful!” “Don’t be mad!” “No tears, now!” Or we totter on the edge of the abyss when we are confronted, once again, with a memory that reminds us of an angry parent, the silent bitterness of that place we left long ago, that place that still has the power to haunt our lives. Yes, it is difficult to totter on the edge of the abyss, that place that has us balancing, using our vital energy just to stay afloat.

In this drought, I watch the dry plants wither in the summer sun, and I know, without a doubt, one green shoot will stay alive, catch the tiniest drop of moisture from the winter rain, and come to life again, surely, in the spring.

Today, if you are lonely, if you are in pain, give yourself the gift of relishing that loneliness. Revel in it. Go for it!

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

How Beautiful It All Is –

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“…thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world.”  – “The Sweetness of Dogs,” by Mary Oliver

I’ve been thinking of how beautiful this world is, this world I see from my front window, the world I see as I walk under the branches of slender trees on city streets, this world of flowers that blow in the gentle summer wind as I pass, and as I acknowledge them, note their presence in my world.

This is a beautiful world.  I note this fact with gratitude, joy and humility.  I did not create this place, yet here it is, right before my eyes, these eyes that have seen many things, including death, and now, this singular beauty.

In my religious training, I did not hear much about beauty.  Did I hear of beauty at all?  Did beauty enter into the meanings of things, the value of things, the value of life, of my life, of all lives?  I think not.  And yet as I recall the words of the people of all faiths, I know there have been some among us, some ordinary human beings – like me, like you – who have searched, always, for the answers to life, and who have also witnessed to the beauty of the world.

A woman I admire greatly and I were speaking one day.  I mentioned the beauty of things to her.  She stopped short, reprimanded me, in a way, reminding me of the awful things that are present in the world.  I agree.  I know the suffering of this world, have known some small measure of it myself, have seen it in the eyes of those I love who were meeting death.  I remember, often, the flow of refugees, people like me who have lost their homes to war that is not their own, people who set off into the night with a few belongings and those they love, to find a place where they will be welcomed.  My heart grieves for them, also.

And so I witness to beauty on their behalf, and in my witness is a longing, also, for their time to witness this beauty.

My friend’s short response is a response we all know, very well.  As soon as we grant ourselves the gift, the moment, the abundance to witness beauty, our mind clicks into gear:  “how can you take this time, when there is so much important work to be done?”  “Why notice beauty when others are suffering?”   “And what will you do to make this a world where there is justice, where there is enough, for all?”  My mind works that way.  I’ll bet yours does, too.  And so we set upon our important work, this work that will change the world.  And we fail to see beauty, that ever-present gift that we are given, now, in this moment.

As I write, a single bird calls, frantically, outside my window.  This, too, is beauty.  I am grateful for this song.   The voice of the bird brings me back, to this moment.

I am grateful for the poets, and for their trail of words that speak to beauty.  I am so grateful for their words.  Often in my life, their words have given me hope.  And now, in my own witness to beauty, there is this hope.

Sometimes I think about the years I have lost, those years when beauty surrounded me, and I was too busy, too tired, too involved in matters of importance, to see that beauty, that gift, that creation, this creation.  As for now, I have this beauty.  I am grateful.