beauty, nostalgia, remembering

Quiet

“There’s a kind of hush, all over the world, tonight, All over the world tonight, people just like us are falling in love…” Les Reed and Geoff Stevens

The rain has been falling for days here in California. Notoriously dry, the weather here has brought storm after storm this winter. We are grateful. And also, we are hearing news reports of mud slides in the Santa Cruz Mountains, people without electricity for day, highways closed when lanes become impassable to traffic. When I first moved to Northern California from the Midwest, I expected sunny skies – every day. In the winter of 1981-1982, though, it rained day after day; I’d arrived to this sunny place in an El Nino year, famed for bringing storms.

But this year is different. Weather forecasters describe these storms as coming from an “atmospheric river,” or the “troposphere.” Moisture starved farmland is now flooded. Ever since New Year’s Eve, a parade of showers – even thundershowers, a rarity here – have me checking the weather app on my cell phone by the hour to see if it’s safe to go for a winter’s walk. Most days, I manage a few walks during breaks in the storm.

Rainstorms don’t bring the kind of quiet that accompanies certain snow falls in the Midwest, which I remember nostalgically every winter.

One New Year’s Eve before I arrived in the Bay Area, a group of friends and I – women and men – gathered at a friend’s apartment on the East Side of Milwaukee, a beautiful, flat area of the city whose streets are lined with homes and apartment buildings built early in the last century, to call in the New Year together. That New Year’s Eve, it snowed. The snow came down in a particular, quiet, soft way – no wind. And so the lot of us put on our coats and boots and went for a walk before the passing of the year at midnight. As we walked, the snow covered the sidewalks and our boots made dark patches on the sidewalk where we’d passed. Our voices were muffled by the snow. We left our mark, but only for a few minutes, as the snow gathered – gentle – again, covering our path behind us. Our voices were dimmed by the presence of the snow, covered, also.

When it’s cold out – really cold out, not Mediterranean cold, like here in the Bay Area – it’s pleasant to sit inside a warm, cozy house to gaze out at the quiet snow falling. Not many storms come in like that, most accompanied by strong winds and ice forming as quickly as the snow falls.

Quiet. Like cozy, and like the heart rending moments of Indian Summer, I miss that certain quiet.

Shadows, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 12/2022

beauty, community, reflecting

Christmas to Me

On the Saturday evening of the weekend before Christmas, my husband and I spend the evening with a group of people together in the sanctuary of a small, aging church building in Albany, California, north of Berkeley. In an area of the country where more folks are “unchurched” than in areas where hundreds of people – young and old – gather in large auditoriums to hear loud, drum-backed music while strobe lights flash overhead – we sit together for two hours in old wooden pews, taking in Christmas.

A Tongan woman dances to a song from her people as a two year old, born in the United States to parents whose native language is Tamil, born and raised in the South of India, runs behind the dancing woman, up the stairs to the chancel, where a Christmas tree stands at the center, its lights changing from white to multi-colored, and the little one dances in front of the tree as the rest of us smile and giggle at her antics.

A line of Filipinos, the women all wearing the same plaid winter shirt, sing a song from their country. A Korean choir proudly sings “He is Everything to Me,” standing in a line. A five year old girl – the oldest in the group of children who stand before us – sings all the verses of “Feliz Navidad,” the smaller children fidgeting, not sure where to look, as the mother of a two year old walks her little girl up to sit with the other children, all dressed in their Christmas best. A Tamil couple who spent most of the past year in India with family sing a song in their native language.

All the while during the concert unfolding before us, toddlers meet in the center aisle of the church, looking into each others’ faces, holding hands and swaying to the music they hear. Their parents smile as they watch their children, at the same time, their heads nodding to the Christmas music, the other entertainment of the evening.

A well dressed, handsome young man – accustomed to being in the spotlight – walks to the front of the sanctuary, where he reads “Mood of Christmas” by Howard Thurman, (November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981; American author, philosopher, theologian, mystic, educator, and civil rights leader). The young man graces us with the African American Gospel song, “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child,” and as he leaves the front of the sanctuary, he is followed by a couple from India, singing the Malayalam Song, “Christmas Raavananja Neram.” Their daughter, 2 months old – a child they had waited many years to welcome into their lives – sleeps in the infant seat her mother had carried with her to the front of the church.

We are grateful when the Pastor, a native of Korea and a professor of preaching, uses his time at the pulpit to offer a few words of Christmas blessing, and then sits again among the rest of us in the pews. Not much needs to said when we see Christmas unfolding here, right before our eyes.

Over the course of the evening, we hear Christmas songs and carols in 10 languages.

And then – as the music quiets – Korean women, all dressed in red for the occasion, pass out little white candles, and we sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night…” The lights are darkened as the candles are held high, sparkling.

Soon, we crowd into the center aisle of the small sanctuary, greeting one another, many with elbow-bumps – in honor of Covid – and we are filled with joy, gratitude, for being together to bring Christmas to one another, a gift.

Christmas Lights on View Place, December, 2022, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert

beauty, Uncategorized, wisdom

Just live your life…

Sometimes, a few words fill a void that has been within for a long, long time. Sometimes, I have heard those few words in a story, real or imagined.

“The Island” is a Russian language movie that tells the story of the sailor Anatoly and his captain, captured by a German vessel during World War 11. To save his own life, the Russians instruct him to kill his captain, Tikhon; afraid of death, Anatoly complies.

The next day Anatoly, who has survived, is saved by monks on the shore. Filled with guilt over his choice to kill his captain, Anatoly becomes the stoker – the keeper of the fire – for the monastery, and as the years pass, he also provides wisdom and healing to people who come to the monastery.

Many years later, an Admiral brings his daughter, possessed by a demon, to the monastery for healing. Anatoly exorcises the demon. Anatoly learns that the father of the girl is Tikhon, the man he thought he had killed to save his own life. Tikhon forgives Anatoly.

Within days, Anatoly prepares for his death. The monks bring him a coffin, and he lies in the coffin, apparently awaiting his death. A monk – a man who has frequently had difficulties with Anatoly, leans into the coffin and asks Anatoly for some words of wisdom, words that he might now have, as he faces imminent death.

Anatoly speaks: “Just live your life, and try not to sin too much.”

photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 10/26/2021, Bahlert Lake, Beaver, WI

beauty, poetry, remembering

This morning, a walk up Mount Wanda

This morning, a walk up Mount Wanda,

summer brown – early this year. 

Up the long path to the top –

A windmill, high and lonely,

Turns and listens

As the earth crunches beneath our feet,

and as we circle, again and again,

The azure sky draped overhead.

Here, tired from the climb, the trees our companions –

our lives have come to this! –

We stop! We breathe. —Mary Elyn Bahlert, 6/2021

On Mount Wanda, photo by Mary Elyn Bahlert, 06/2021






		
beauty, nostalgia, poetry

Longing

Days before she died, 
Mom sat, legs over the side of her bed, 
gazing out the window onto the sunny street: 
"I wish it would snow once - just for me," she said.
I think that, too, sometimes.
There is a longing in this dry place:
when life is dry, empty.
I'd love to see the snow then,
flakes falling, silent, to the ground,
the heavens shaking their down pillows.
I'd like to be in that quiet place for a few moments,
surrender my busy mind to it,
welcome the holy silence, the emptiness -
                     all that space. 
          
Mary Elyn Bahlert, February 27, 2022




Full Moon – Moments Before Sunrise, 10:00 AM, Sunday, December 27, 2016
Unalaska, AK – photo taken by meb