The color of things…

IMG_0667Overlooking the Bering Sea, Unalaska, AK

Life is the color of things:

of place, of thoughts, of people, of sky and trees.

(I have lived in gray, know that place well, for which I am grateful –

for its gift is to know, for the first time, the color of things).

Life is the color of things, and

it is good to breathe the riches of sky and earth,

of shadows across sky, of green grass that carries earth’s fragrance,

of long autumns and bright maples, of spring melting snow banks,

of a navy blue awakening, dawn.

The color of things lives in the eyes of friends, when sadness lurks,

when pain is not covered with dull happiness.  The color of things, this gift, earth, and all

that is in it,the heart, and all that is in it.

 

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Exquisite moment, this moment

Life is simply, in its purest form, one exquisite moment – this moment, this moment, this moment, this…

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A few days ago, I captured one shining moment, right here, in my own backyard!

I happened to go into the bedroom, just as the sun was bringing to autumn life this tree.  I saw it!  For that, I am grateful.  I was enraptured by this tree, this shining, exquisite partner in the creation.

From Thomas Merton:  ‘As if the sorrows of this world could overwhelm me now that I realize what we are. I wish everyone could realize this. But there is no way of telling people they are all actually walking around shining like the brightest sun.’

When I think about my life – our lives –  our one wonderful, pain-filled, deep and rich life, I sometimes have the glory of knowing that life is one shining moment after another.  Mostly, I don’t see the shining moment.  I am preoccupied.  My inner state takes precedence over what I could witness if I became present.  I am busy.  I have too much to do, and so little time.  I am sad.  I have better things to do.

Sometimes, though, I witness one shining moment, and I remember that all is “shining like the brightest sun.”  This is a joy.  I don’t want it to end.  It is rich and deep and – ordinary – all at once.  I can only be present to it.  That is all I can do:  be present.

How difficult!  And how simple!

After I took this photo, I ran to the front of the house, to see how “my tree,” that wonderful witness to my later years, was taking in the shining moment of the setting sun.  Her west-ward leaning branches were shining, too.  I almost left the room to hurry to the back of the house to get my iPad so that I could take a picture.  But I didn’t.  Because of the witness of that shining tree in the yard, I plopped down on the sofa, instead, and watched, as moment to moment, one leaf after another, shone, and then dipped into twilight.

Sometimes life is so beautiful that I can hardly bear it.  I am grateful.

“Time passes much too quickly, when we’re together laughing…” Chicago, “Beginnings

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When I was a girl, my father would say from time to time: “my life has gone by so quickly.” I would look at him, just little, and wonder what he meant, and how that could be. I could not relate. Some people say that time goes more slowly for the young, when all the years stretch out beyond, when growing up is something to be yearned for and in the yearning, of course, time passes slowly. But my memory is of that question or wondering that was in me when I heard my father reflect. Later, he would quote again and again, this verse: “A thousand years is but a day in the eyes of the Lord.” Apparently, my beloved dad did not stop thinking about the passage of time.

Just last evening, I was telling a new friend about some of the favorite days of my life.  Those days were on my visits to Milwaukee to see my mother, after I had moved to the Bay Area of California.  My mother lived in a small upper floor apartment on a busy street close to the center of Milwaukee, and I would stay in the cramped second bedroom, the noise of the busy thoroughfare keeping me awake nights.

Both mom and I were “Milwaukee girls.”  We had grown up in the flats that line the streets of poor and working class neighborhoods of the North Side.  Those flats are there, still.

We knew the streets, the bus lines, the parks, and we knew the sense of small town-ness that Milwaukee cherished for a long time.  We knew the particular kind of diversity of that place – the streets where Eastern European communities lived, the place where the Italians built their church, now a Cathedral to welcome the Bishop from Rome.  We knew the part of town where people from Mexico came to live among others who spoke their native language.  We knew how to navigate to new places, too, in that city laid out in a grid.  I have never understood how to find new places in new places, new cities.  How can addresses not make sense, like they do in Chicago and Milwaukee, a small Chicago?

On my visits to see Mom, before the dementia took her away from me, we set aside a day to “do Milwaukee.”  After coffee and breakfast, we backed her car out of the garage and onto the busy street.   We had no particular plan, except to explore some new places, to make our way to the Milwaukee Art Center at some point, to have lunch out, and maybe to do a bit of shopping along the way.  I loved those small adventures.  I loved the fun we had together:  “that’s the fun of it!” was one of my mother’s expressions.

On one adventure, we discovered again a small section of town filled with Ukrainian immigrants.  My mother’s first language was Ukrainian, and so we ventured into a small bakery, a store-front, and she stumbled to say a few words to the man behind the counter.  He understood, all right, and soon we found ourselves in another cramped space, the family’s living room, complete with an altar adorning a corner.  They were Ukrainian Catholics, and a candle burned in that corner, lighting up the features of the Virgin Mary, her eyes cast down, her blue gown ending at her bare feet, on a sphere covered with stars.

On another adventure, I gazed at my mother as she gazed at one of her favorite paintings in the Milwaukee Art Museum, The Wood Gatherer, by Jules Bastien-Lepage.  Later, Mom told me her wonderings about the scene that painting depicted, her own story fleshing out the art.   I still own a print of that painting.

One day at lunch we found ourselves in an old Italian neighborhood for an Italian lunch, another at a Jewish deli across from a synagogue.

As the years passed, it was harder and harder for mom to enjoy those days, until the last time we set out.  Of course, we did not know it was the last time, but something had changed.  We returned home to her apartment right after lunch.  Soon enough, I’d have to move Mom out of her apartment and into assisted living in the Bay Area, a move which she made bravely and with great trust.

I suppose some part of me thought those adventures would go on forever, that those times when we laughed and remembered and noticed would not end.  But all times end.  Now, those days are distant memories, and I continue to cherish them as some of my favorite times.

Here, I find myself years later, remembering those small adventures, remembering the tilt of Mom’s head as she laughed, remembering the narrow streets we knew so well, remembering driving her blue Tercel all over the city we loved.  I’m in the memory time for so many people I have loved, so many experiences, so many grievances that had filled my life over the years.    All of those beloved people, all of those rich days are a memory, now.

 

 

Who we are is there, all along.

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As I enter the journey to the elder years, I seem to be myself more than ever.
In the shedding of what was not me – what was given to me by others, to shape me into who they would have me be – I become, every day, more myself.  And even though, in the living of life, I wondered if I was being true to myself, I see now that I have only come back – through the shedding of others’ image of me – to me.  To me!  To me!

I have vivid memories of being a young girl – 8 or 9 – playing alone in my first bedroom of my own.  The small bedroom was at the back of the flat, a narrow window overlooking the city backyard and the alley.  To the right of the window, adjacent, was the dark wooden door of the small closet – my own!  The narrow Jenny Lind bed – second-hand, my mother had refinished the wood to a deep cherry – was to the right of the closet, its foot at the door when I entered from the kitchen of that narrow flat.  I had room for a desk – plain wood stained to match the bed, directly ahead of the room’s entry, to the left.

I still like to play alone!  An introvert, I have often had extroverted work in my life, and I’ve had a need to rest – alone.  In my memory, I play at being a teacher, in that small, dark room. .  First of all, I make up files for each of the students in my class.  I use the names of real classmates, to be sure, and I file them in the deep filing drawer of the desk on the left.  I alphabetize the files, too.

I still do that first, in any job, in any endeavor.  I get organized, my pencils in order in the zipper case, books lined up and even.  I like to have my files in order.

Then, I stand to face the class – the full-length mirror – a luxury! – that graces the back of the door.  I teach.

I suppose I have always been a teacher.  Always.  I emulated the teachers I knew from school, imagining them, how they dressed, how they walked back and forth, how they projected their voices, to teach.  They were my models to another life, another path, a reality I did not know in that flat, but that beckoned to me, by purpose, by expectation, by education, which I would have to learn how to traverse, step by step.  Sometimes, I had role models – like those teachers in their navy and white polka-dotted dresses – and sometimes, I did not.  Sometimes, I made the path up on my own.

Though shy as a young person, it has never been difficult for me to speak to a group.  I discovered that in high school, when we were privileged to have forensic societies in my large urban school.  For me, those privileges of public education in the 1950’s and 1960’s began to shape my life.  What teacher could have imagined that shy girl, big green eyes taking in every movement, every word, challenged by new ideas, would make her life as a speaker, a preacher, a teacher of the inner life?

What did those teachers see in each one of us, some of us hungry to learn, some of us not able to speak a word out loud in class, some of us abused at home, some of us hungry – for food, and for knowing?  What did they see – and not see?

Now I see that the gifts that are mine have been mine all along.  I only had to discover them, to have the privilege – a privilege, surely – to live the gifts out in my life.  I suppose we all do.

The little girl who dreamed – and didn’t even know she was dreaming – in that little room at the back of a Milwaukee flat – is a teacher, still.  She always was…