Tag Archive - Life

Regarding Oscar

There is a certain magic in good storytelling; a chance to slide inside another’s skin for a space; to see the world through new eyes.

Mine is a great heritage of story, from my grandpa, from my mom. Perhaps that’s why I love it so. I love it any way it comes: across a table, around a fire, or flickering across a screen in a dark room with sticky floors and a prevailing scent of popcorn.

For several years now, it has been my objective to see all the best picture nominees before the Academy Awards. In a good year, I will have already seen a few before the candidates are announced. In other years, well, let’s just say January and February get really busy.

While I am no expert, I offer herein a few thoughts on the nine films nominated this year for best picture. They appear in the order in which we saw them.

La La Land
In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Emma Stone said La La Land is a film for dreamers. That description is pretty apt. In a year when most of the films are heavy, when life itself has been heavy for many, it is a gift to spend a couple of hours with two creative, passionate people who are giving their all to pursue those callings that are uniquely theirs. It doesn’t hurt that all of this is wrapped inside some fabulous music, enchanting dance numbers, and a generous dose of whimsy. It also doesn’t hurt that it features two of my favorite actors. While it lacks the happy ending one might expect, it concludes in a way that feels honest and right.

Moonlight
Moonlight is a courageous film that took me inside a world completely foreign to me. A world of complex, nuanced characters: a mother who is doing her best, except when drugs turn her into a monster; a drug dealer who becomes an unlikely protector and father figure; a best friend whose love is sometimes called into question and other times takes unexpected forms; a little boy who has to figure out how to navigate between all of them to build some kind of life. Juxtaposing this raw, rugged world against an exquisite classical soundtrack is disorienting, yet it bespeaks the epic nature of the questions being explored. This film stretched me. In a good way.

Manchester By the Sea
Grief and guilt are experiences common to us all. This film dives deep into these, and into the idea of family loyalty and responsibility, and how love sometimes makes unreasonable demands, and how taking care of another might be the only way to move past the stain of the past and learn to live with yourself. The bleakness of the landscape mirrors the interior landscape of our main character, played compellingly by Casey Affleck. I have to say I found the ending abrupt and frustrating. Given some time to ponder it, I suspect this might have been intentional. One last device to allow us to completely enter into the bitter desolation.

Lion
Lion is a love story. It is a story about the love that compels a mother to make profound sacrifices for her family; love that causes a boy to bring his little brother along on a great adventure; love that causes a man and woman to make a home for a chosen child born in a far away place and make him their own; love that persists; love that seeks out; love that gives wings; love that returns. The film is gorgeous and generative and inspiring. The one great horror was coming face to face with the plight of the many thousands of children who are lost and misused in the world every year. I have not been able to forget about them. I hope I never will.

Hidden Figures
Marianne Williamson says, “…There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

If you have ever doubted that, you must see this hero tale about three women of extraordinary intellect, tremendous courage, and indomitable human spirit, who work inside an impossible system of prejudice that every day attempts–without success–to steal their dignity. Still, they shine. They “make manifest the glory”, and their elegant nobility elevates everyone around them. A beautiful, heartening film.

Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is a modern day iteration of the classic western. We find ourselves cheering for a couple of outlaws because we know they have been hard used, and we believe the establishment to be in the wrong. Our lawmen, who do in fact wear white hats, are sturdy and honorable, but not invincible. We get glimpses of their soft underbelly, but this makes sympathize with them. The film offers an intriguing exploration of the concepts of honor and loyalty, and just how far we will go for each.

Fences
I can’t make myself like Denzel Washington’s character in this film, but his performance is spectacular, as is that of Viola Davis. His long, gin inspired rif early in the film where his words come so fast and furious I can’t think how he has time to figure out what to say next is pure genius. That said, I found the story heavy and hard. Troy and Rose Maxson seam to have far more than their share of heartache, and his unfairness to his son is almost unbearable. And yet, there is generosity here. And great strength. I imagine I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, though I strongly suggest you have La La Land queued up to watch after just to make your heart stop hurting.

Arrival
To be honest, this was the film I was least interested in seeing. However, it surprised me. The premise is far more complicated than it first appears, but you don’t understand this til near the end. Also, there is a whole lot in here about language and words and who doesn’t love that? 🙂  It will mess with your mind a little, but it’s a good kind of mess.

Hacksaw Ridge
War movies are hard for me because I abhor the gore. But this one is so noble and inspiring that it is worth enduring those terrifying images. Andrew Garfield turns in an Oscar worthy performance as army medic, Desmond Daws, the first man in American history to win the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. His strength of conviction and his dauntless courage have much to teach us all about what it means to be truly human.

We the People…

PotusMy eighteenth birthday fell in an election year. I had the distinct pleasure of helping elect Ronald Reagan to his second term. An auspicious beginning. Inspired by my grandparents who made the long drive into town for every election, despite the fact that for decades they cancelled out one another’s vote (she voted democrat, he republican :)), I have never missed an opportunity to exercise this important right and responsibility.

Out of the nine presidential elections in which I have now voted, my candidate has triumphed only four times. That means that today, for the fifth time, a man I did not choose will be inaugurated to the highest office in the land.

Never has my heart been heavier at that prospect.

And yet…

Today, Donald Trump becomes MY president. As such, he merits a certain measure of respect. As such, he will be remembered by my congregation, and many others, at each liturgy in our prayers for “the President of the United States and all civil authorities and our armed forces everywhere”. As such, he will receive my own personal prayers that he will grow into the office he has attained, that it will call something out in him that none of us know is there. As such, he should be accorded something I have so often needed myself, grace.

Does this mean I am done disagreeing with him? Certainly not. Our forefathers–none of them perfect either, by the way–were wise enough to craft a system that makes space for challenge, that limits the powers of one individual to wield position as a weapon. It is our duty and the duty of those we have elected to speak out against injustice.

Truth is, we have had some legendary Presidents; individuals worthy of emulation and accolade. And we have had a few that were abysmal. While these may have left a certain havoc in their wake, they did not single-handedly destroy our nation.

Today I choose to be curious; to wonder if behind all the bluster and hyperbole is a man who, whether for reasons altruistic or just his own personal legacy, will find creative ways to help those desperate and disillusioned people who saw him as their best hope.

Today I choose to be hopeful; to imagine that the gravity of the position, once it lands squarely on his shoulders, will make him more circumspect and more generous. That as he is charged with the duty of protecting all the people, his borders will become broader and he will remember that one of the most radiant characteristics about this grand nation has always been its colorful and delicious diversity.

Today I choose to be responsible; to do my own bit in making the world better right where I am. Because, while presidents certainly have the ability to shape the world in large gestures and policies, most of the work that truly changes lives happens on the ground, in communities and families, in simple stubborn kindness and the messy work of loving.

 

Memento…

pepe

It all started with the Pepé Le Pew ornament. As I placed it on the tree, I tumbled down a rabbit hole of remembrance. Each ornament from your box carried me further and further…

Perhaps you thought you would get away without a birthday post this year, since Dad, Josh and I spent that day driving across the state to be with you, then trotting all over Knoxville trying to find some establishment willing to feed us on Thanksgiving, then hugging you and saying goodbye and driving home. No such luck, dear one. Your old mama is too full of recollection for that. 😉 Our life together has been composed of so very many sweet moments. Here are a few personal favorites…

friends

Let’s begin with Pepé… When you were a little boy you had this wonderful habit of hugging everyone. You might see someone you loved across the church foyer. You would start running, picking up steam along the way, and crash into them with all that love. Even if the object of your affection was slightly terrified, he or she couldn’t help but be delighted. While your physical approach has become considerably more refined, you still only know how to love full on, with everything you have. It is one of your most endearing qualities.

img_3968

Somewhere, there is a picture of you, walking stick in your hand, dogs around your feet, as you explored our farm. Those were delicious days of discovery. The misadventures of “bloody peaks” were more than redeemed by the “tree of wonder”, skipping rocks in the creek, and the ancient tobacco barn with its mysterious tunnels and its steady supply of bones and fur and snake skins. That explorer is in you still. Whether trekking along the Appalachian trail or the trackless wilds of Alaska, you seem to be more yourself in untamed places.

Do you remember when we adventured abroad for the first time, and ate warm Viennese rolls every morning, and traipsed through nearly every art museum in Paris? I could hardly look at the art for watching you look at the art. Always, it seemed to me that you were seeing something I could not see. The intensity with which you connected to those glorious works was mesmerizing. And that moment, on the airplane, as we were flying home–I asked you what was your favorite part of the whole trip–and with this long, slow, exhale, you closed your eyes and breathed out “standing in front of the Mona Lisa.” I would have flown all the way to Paris just for that.

joel

It’s not surprising, of course, because you have always been an artist. Even in pre-school, teachers at church would remark on your extraordinary abilities. And drawing was necessary to your well-being somehow. I remember once, we went away for a few days and, inexcusably, I forgot to bring your drawing materials. As we were driving home, you were almost trembling as you talked about getting back to your pencils and paper. The way you call into being that which is not, simply by moving your hand across paper, is miraculous. I have never stopped being in awe of it.

img_2463

Then, of course, there is your love affair with music. When you were little, it was all about speed. Every piece. Even the ballads. Didn’t matter. Only fast, all the time. 🙂 Later, you became the ultimate pick-up man playing piano, saxophone, guitar, banjo, accordion, melodica, mandolin… And every gathering of family or friends, usually ends up with you attached to some instrument and–whether it’s “Boots and Cats” or bluegrass, or something in between–there will always be music.

img_4042

How fun it has been to cook for you (and with you) lo these many years! To explore the culinary world with you, at home and abroad; to have you introduce us to the gastronomic standouts of your adopted city; to watch the exquisite delight you take in food, have all provided me with great joy.

img_8997

There are a thousand other memories rollicking around my brain right now, and you know I could wag on forever. But in the interest of brevity, I won’t even mention Legos, Redwall, gymnastics, cub scouts, camping, long talks into the night… I will only say that my world is richer and deeper because there is you. I love you immensely.

jakebday

I thank my God every time I remember you. ~Philippians 1:3

The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph…A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments…

~T.S. Eliot
Little Gidding, Four Quartets

bof5

Franklin, Tennessee is a town steeped in history. And we never tire of telling, and retelling, our stories. We preserve old houses, we name our streets after fallen heroes, and we do a brisk trade in antiques.

Why this preoccupation with the past?

Because we understand that stepping inside the lives of these real flesh and blood people who lived in a time very different from our own ironically helps us to see ourselves more clearly.

bof3

Studio Tenn Theatre Company is presently retelling one of the most poignant and heart-rending of our stories in their first completely original play, The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided.

On November 30, 1864, 20,000 federal troops met 20,000 confederate troops in the town of Franklin (which at that time had a population of less than 800 persons). A bloody five hour battle, most of which took place after dark, resulted in 10,000 casualties.

These are formidable statistics, but they are just numbers. Pete Peterson, writer of the screenplay, takes us deep inside the human story. The focus is primarily on the family of Fountain Branch Carter whose home, requisitioned by General Jacob Cox as a headquarters for the union army, will be at the very epicenter of the battle. To add to the drama, Captain Tod Carter, beloved brother and son is out there somewhere in the battle, and has finally come home…to die.

bof

It is Tod, in his guise as Mint Julep, who tells the story. This is appropriate since one of his duties during the war was as a correspondent for The Chattanooga Daily Rebel. Tod is only ten years old in the first scene and fresh off a day on the river with his young friend Henry, a slave. Henry will be an important character in the story, as will the river. In this very first scene we taste tensions present within the family; tensions that parallel those festering in the nation.

Fact and poetry are creatively woven together to convey a story that plunges directly to the heart. The spiritual We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder roots the story in time, while haunting new compositions from Patrick Thomas give voice to longings, dreams, and prayers. Instrumentation is appropriately spare enabling us to hear every nuance of anguish in the voice when Carrie Tillis sweetly sings the wistful I Will Comfort Thee.

bof2

The play also gives a glimpse of the excruciating plight of slaves, even those who are “well treated”. The otherwise sensitive Mary Alice prattles on to Retha about needing a husband that is as easy to control as Henry and laughingly asks Callie her secret, much to Callie’s obvious discomfort. When Henry is told to tear up his copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with its radiant words “thenceforward and forever free”, I involuntarily gasp. And when Callie stands all alone on the stage and exquisitely renders a lament for a life of hurt, and a plaintive plea on behalf of her husband, my heart aches.

callie

The story is, of necessity, solemn, but not without hope. Taking a cue from Eliot, the play explores the cyclical nature of life and how revisiting our stories, even the difficult ones–perhaps especially the difficult ones–is necessary because each visitation helps us see farther and deeper.

Time rolls ever on as we repeat our forgotten histories. And in its turn it reveals the faithful freedoms that bind and keep us. It brings us face to face with all we tried so hard to push away until, in a whirl of apocalyptic vision, we see clearly, if only for a moment, and do our best to remember what we’ve seen.

~A.S. “Pete” Peterson

Do not miss this important and compelling play. Tickets for remaining shows are selling fast. An extra show has been added to accommodate high demand, but I encourage you to act quickly. Find tickets and more information HERE.

*Music links in post feature composer Patrick Thomas and are available for purchase. All photos property of Studio Tenn.

 

 

Vincible: A Riff on Aging…

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cardiologist’s office offered me an appointment on the same day I was seeing the dentist, I figured this was efficient. I would already be out — and showered (never a given).

I did not realize that these two were engaged in a secret conspiracy to steal my invincibility.

__________________________________

Despite the fact that it has been five years since my last visit to the dentist, (Don’t judge, I have trauma issues.) I am praised for my hygiene. No cavities. Hardly any plaque.

“There is, however, the matter of these silver fillings. While they will last forever, they are much less flexible than your teeth and with the passage of time have begun to cause cracks. If left untreated, you will begin to have breakage. We need to replace them.”

“Wait, what?! Let me get this straight. Because I am old, I am going to need to come in once a year for the next four years to have silver fillings dug out of two teeth at a time, and those same two teeth fitted with crowns?!”

“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”

“Awesome.”

I walk out into the stifling heat feeling seriously deflated. And old. I think back to my check-up a couple of years ago where the answer to every question I asked was “Well, at a certain age…” I contemplate taking up day drinking. Then I remember the cardiologist and think better of it…

__________________________________

I had my first episode of tachycardia when I was a teenager. My mom and I were sitting in the living room having a pleasant conversation when my heart abruptly went from beating 70 beats a minute to more like 180. As if someone had flipped a switch. It lasted about five minutes, then was over. It was weird, but I didn’t think a lot of it. I have continued to have these episodes randomly, and infrequently, ever since.

The impact on my life has been minimal for the most part. Only twice has it been problematic. The first time was when I was pregnant. A woman’s heart rate naturally accelerates because of pregnancy. In me, this translated to more frequent episodes that sometimes lasted an hour. I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem and taught me ways to help restore my rhythm.

The other time it was a problem was when I had an issue with my thyroid. But that only lasted about three months. In the ten years since, I have been back to the old pattern of infrequent and short.

Until the morning of July 6th.

That morning, Kenz and I were on our way to explore the playhouses at Cheekwood when I had an episode while driving. It was so severe that I had to pull over til it stopped. Over the course of the morning, I had four more episodes, the last of which persisted almost two hours until, at my doctor’s direction, I went to the emergency room and had it corrected forcibly. (Mike had joined us by then and was driving, lest you fret.)

Because there was no obvious explanation for this sudden craziness, my doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist.

________________________________

Dr. Estrada is calm and laid back, and I think to myself that this is going to go well. He sketches an illustration of the heart and its valves and shows me how the several types of tachycardia work, including the one he believes I have. It is not as dangerous as some of the others which is good.

“However, with age, these random episodes like you had a couple of weeks ago are likely to become more frequent, and possibly more severe. At that point they can cause damage to the heart and you may find yourself in the emergency room more often. We don’t have to fix it now if you want to wait and see how it goes. But it is probably just a matter of time.”

________________________________

When friends and family have asked about, and even challenged, what they perceive as an overly rigorous commitment to eating healthy and to exercise, I have explained it like this: There are a lot of things about our health we can’t control. Mike and I both have strong family histories of diabetes and heart disease, for example. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to be wise about the things we can control.

That is what I have said.

But apparently, what I actually believed was this: If I do all the right things, I will be invincible. The ravages of age will have no authority over me.

I was wrong about that.

meteora

Wise men and women in the Church have always urged us to be very aware of our mortality. It is a potent reminder to be fully present in the moment. For this reason, it has been common practice in many monasteries to keep the bones of those who have gone before on display. As I understand it, this awareness should be a voluntary practice. Failing that, I suppose some of us must have it thrust upon us.

__________________________________

And so, I am working to come to terms with the fact that I am vincible. Yes, that is a word. I looked it up. I spent yesterday morning in the dentist chair getting thirty year old fillings ground out of two molars and am now sporting fine, fashionable new crowns. And while I still believe that we have a responsibility to steward well the bodies we have been given, I am being disabused of the illusion that this guarantees a life free of physical adversity.

There is a price to be paid for the wisdom that hopefully comes with age. All that learning takes a toll on the body. And maybe the toll itself has a wisdom in it.

I’ll let you know.

In her eyes…

daddy

In her eyes, he is brave and strong. He rises early and goes off to work. He builds things and brings the electricity. He is smart and can do anything. When it’s time for him to come home, the mama scrubs the children and combs their hair and makes sure dinner is warm and ready, and this tells her that he is important. He feeds the cattle and looks after the calves, and when the pond freezes in winter, he chops a hole through the ice so they will have water to drink.

In her eyes, he is music. And church. He sings in the car and the field. And he plays piano and guitar, and occasionally a little harmonica. He shines his shoes every Sunday morning, then sits with his Bible across his lap and prepares to be with God. At church, he holds a hymnal in his hand and stands in front of the choir and they follow him. He is the closest thing she knows to a celebrity. He has to stay late sometimes for deacon meetings, and even though she does not know what a deacon is, it sounds weighty.

In her eyes, he doesn’t understand. He can’t see that she has gotten older and needs to test her wings. He is reluctant to let her grow up, to let her go all the places, all the time. She doesn’t understand. Yet.

In her eyes, he is no longer infallible. And yet, she sees wisdom there that she was too young to see before. As she brings her own babies into the world and watches them grow, more and more becomes clear. And she watches him with them; as he takes them onto his lap to drive the great John Deere tractor, as he pulls an apple off the tree or berries from the vine and piles them into their eager hands, as he drives across the state to be there for birthdays and graduations and plays.

In her eyes, he is aging well. He is learning to rest; something that has always been a challenge for him, as for her. He is learning to make accommodation. When standing too long in the garden or field makes his legs hurt, he recruits the four-wheeler for part of the work. He uses a grabber to pick up fallen apples, and a dolly to roll the heavy five gallon pails to the cider press. Still, he is productive. Still, he travels and feeds his curiosity. Still, he is needed.

His is a good and valuable life,

in her eyes.

family

Happy Father’s day, daddy! I love you. Always.

Far Above Rubies

anniversary

When I was a little girl, I used to pick peonies from my mother’s own garden and give them to her for Mother’s Day. The irony of this completely escaped me at the time.

However, Proverbs 31 says to “let he own works praise her.” So, as it turns out, I am once again choosing to give my mother a gift that she has already given. I have taken some liberties with this familiar passage concerning the virtuous woman to give you a little glimpse of how my dear mother has lived it out before us.

mom

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She helpeth him clear the land and fashioneth a home for their young family. She stretcheth every dollar and selleth encyclopedias to help make ends meet.

12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She careth for him in sickness and speaketh well of him, and always chooseth to see his best self.

13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She goeth to the fabric store with her daughter who is growing too tall too soon and selecteth fabrics and trims for a new Easter frock that will be long enough and, for a moment, will make her feel prettier than she is.

14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar; from Darnell’s, and Goldston’s, and occasionally from the day old bread store. And from wild blackberry bushes and the muscadines that grow out in the woods.

15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She assembleth her famous meatloaf the day before and putteth it in the fridge to bake early the next morning. She cooketh cornbread and potatoes and sweet corn, wrappeth them in towels, and placeth them in the “hot cooler” to keep them warm for homecoming dinners.

16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard…and lettuce and onions, and acres of green beans, and tomatoes and cucumbers, and a yard full of beautiful flowers.

17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms…mostly by wielding a hoe and shovel, and carrying five gallon buckets full of beans from the garden, and wrestling the huge, scary pressure cooker.

18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night…because she might need to get up with a sick child. She might need to rub Save the Baby on her chest and warm a towel over the stove and wrap it around her. She might need to clean up vomit, administer crackers and ginger ale, then sing that little one back to sleep.

19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She picketh up the firewood as her husband cutteth it and tosseth it into the back of the truck to insure that their family will be warm. She driveth the pick-up through the hay field to help her husband and children collect winter sustenance for the cattle.

20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She taketh them food and visiteth them when they are sick or sorrowing.

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. And because the freezer is full of corn and apples and berries, and the shelves are stocked with jars of green beans, sauerkraut, tomato juice, and assorted jellies.

22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. She quilteth and seweth and teacheth her daughter, and granddaughter, to do the same.

23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. He ith a lucky fellow. 🙂

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. She bravely goeth to college once she hath all her children in school. She getteth her teaching degree and poureth herself out for classrooms full of lucky students.

25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come…even when things are very hard. When she receiveth the cancer diagnosis, when she loseth a precious grandson much too early, when she careth for her beautiful mother in the difficult last days.

26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She teacheth her children how to give a proper handshake and the importance of having a plan when you go on a date because unplanned time getteth one into trouble. She readeth them stories and showeth them, by her example, how to esteem others.

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. And when, on the day of her fiftieth wedding anniversary, her son and daughter-in-law presenteth her with her tenth grandbaby, she still hath the energy to play with this new little one and invite her to sleepeth over.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her…though not nearly so much as she deserveth. Sometimes, to be honest, they taketh her for granted. And still, she loveth them.

29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. The longer I liveth, the more I knoweth this to be true.

30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

family1

Nothing I can say could possibly exceed all that you have said to us with your life. I am grateful for you. Happiest of Mother’s Days, Mama! I love you.

The Halftime Report…

birthday

As of today, I have breathed upon the earth for 50 years. Given that this birthday comes just five days short of my grandpa’s 100th, I am choosing to see this as roughly halfway. 🙂

For someone with my disposition, it is impossible to arrive at such an auspicious waymark without a fair amount of reflection and rumination. You might expect me to share with you some of the wisdom I have acquired over low these many years. And while I do pray that I am wiser than once I was, mostly I find myself overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude for the beautiful adventure that has been my life, thus far. So much more than I could ever have thought to ask for…

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name. ~Luke 1:46,49

For planting my roots in Appalachia…
For lightnin bugs and cold swimmin holes
and the Christmas trees we dragged from the woods
Bare feet in warm soil, scent of freshly turned earth
Wobbly-legged calves still glistening and new
For tender lettuce and onions in hot bacon grease
Wild muscadines eaten right off the vine,
I thank you

For a mama who read stories to me in that voice
that will always be my favorite
Who wakened in me a love for the piano and then
showed me how to make the magic
Who sewed my clothes and permed my hair
and dried a million tears,
I thank you

For a daddy who worked two jobs to make sure we had enough
and brought treats home in his lunchbox
Who taught me to be curious
and to work hard
and to sing
and to never stop learning,
I thank you

For my brothers and cousins
For painting with poke berries
and traipsing through wild places
For all the bicycle rides
across the honeysuckle bridge
through the woods
to the store on the highway
And for the rides home
eating candy necklaces
from our sweaty necks,
I thank you

For the church that smelled of cedar
and teaberry gum
tent revivals on summer nights
hymns and Hallelujahs sailing out into the dark
For foot washins and singins
and dinner on the ground
and all the people
and the way I first learned to love You there,
I thank you

For every teacher
every mentor
who saw something in me
that I could not see
and ruthlessly drew it out,
I thank you

For that adorable 22 year old boy
who scurried into my life on a Sunday morning
and stole my heart
and upset all my plans
and became God’s provision for me
Who has stood with me
in cathedrals and canyons
and emergency rooms
Who meant it when he said better OR worse
and has loved me more than I deserve,
I thank you

For a warm, sweet bundle of joy
who exploded all boundaries of love
when she made me a mommy
and who continues to teach me about love
daily
with her life,
I thank you

For the first boy child
grabbing life by the horns from the get go
For music and hikes and food
and long, deep talks into the night,
I thank you

For the baby boy
who is taller than us all
For the way he makes life a celebration
For his courage and curiosity
his talent and his zeal,
I thank you

For the wee one
For the way I am meeting the world
all over again
through her
For the way she teaches me to wake
each morning
eager and expectant,
I thank you

For all the beauty…
For the delicious agony of words
and the excruciating ecstasy of music
For the grandeur of mountains and vastness of the sea
For lavender, and butterflies, and red tailed hawks
For cardinals in winter and the first blossoms of spring
For the wildness of summer storms
and the silence of snow
For glaciers and rain forests
and the stark loveliness of the desert
For the extraordinary places all over the world
where it has been my privilege to stand,
I thank you

For found friends in far flung places
who have knit themselves into my heart
And for friends nearby
who love relentlessly
who see what could be
and make it so
who have made my life immeasurably rich,
I thank you

For faith
that has traveled long and endured much
and just when I least expected it
blossomed into something so rich and wide
that I will never come to the end of it
For all that is mystical and sacred
For the gift of Your Presence,
I thank you.

 

*And for you, dear reader, wherever you may be, for visiting these pages from time to time and sharing your life with me. Thank you.

A Pilgrim Tale: epilogue

IMG_5172

It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.

~Selma Lagerlof

Mike and I take the bus to Finisterre. It is the first time I have ridden in a motorized vehicle in five weeks. It feels strange. We pass a lemon tree, and I realize I can’t smell it. A woman works in her garden, but there is no scritch scratch of the hoe. When we first glimpse the sea, I don’t smell the salt, or feel the ocean breeze, or hear the birds. Everything is at a remove. Like I am watching the world pass by on television.

IMG_5169

Long before the discovery of the “new world”, Celts and Romans called this westernmost town of Galicia Finisterre because they believed the world ended here. They named the coastline el Costa da Morte, Coast of Death, because so many ships sailed from here, never to return. Finisterre was a place of pilgrimage even before Santiago as ancient peoples came here to see the place where every day the sun died.

It is not uncommon for Santiago pilgrims to continue to Finisterre and/or Muxia. We do not have time to walk it, so we have chosen to ride here for a couple of recovery days before flying home. Jan and David, on the other hand, began the walk this morning, and we made our most difficult goodbye yet, waving to them from the window til we could not see them any longer.

IMG_5116

The Hotel Langosteira, feels like a little slice of heaven. Bright, light-filled rooms decorated in white and blue with whimsical touches of colored glass, mosaic, and reclaimed wood. And our balcony overlooks the sea. All for just 40 euros/night. Oh yeah, and we have a bath that we do not have to share with anyone! I take LONG, HOT showers just because I can. 🙂

IMG_5136

On our second day, we walk out to Cape Finisterre. Here we see the Faro Lighthouse, a cross, a bronze boot, and several burn sights where pilgrims have incinerated various items they do not plan to take home. Mike and I seat ourselves on a rock and are looking out over the sea when I sense someone approaching us from behind. Suddenly a familiar voice says, “It’s really pretty, huh?” Jorge! We knew they were heading this way sometime today, but figured the odds of our running into one another were low. But what does camino magic care about odds?

endoftheworld

We follow him round the hill to find Steph and Kathy, both of whom ceremonially toss their boots into the sea. Or thereabouts. 😉 Jorge launches a pair on behalf of Catherine who has already begun her homeward journey. We take one more crazy group photo and give one last round of hugs. Then, Mike and I watch them walk up the hill. I can’t look away until the last of them has vanished into the sky. And I know this pain of leaving is part of the price of having known and loved such amazing people. It is a price worth paying.

IMG_5171

Mike and I carefully make our way down to a large rock near the foaming surface where we can feel the spray against our face. Here we sit for a very long time without saying anything, just letting all of this–the excruciating beauty, the accumulated fatigue, the hard letting go, the satisfaction of completion, the whole extraordinary experience of these last few weeks–have its way with us.

IMG_5153

IMG_5163

We walk back to town and have a late lunch near the harbor. I spend the rest of the afternoon journaling. Trying to capture the stories while they are still fresh in my mind. Hoping the rough notes I have written in snatches here and there, along with the photos, will help me remember. Because they are stories worth telling. Of this I am sure.

finisterre

Recollection is the final discipline of the pilgrim-poet-traveler, which entails recalling the vows taken before departing, revering the idea that once we have been blessed with the gift of the journey, so now we must bless. We can continually recall beauty through the practice of memory, through daily acts of imagination that seize the moments that once seized our hearts…

The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously, elegantly. What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.

~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

*Thank you, Jorge, for the group photo.

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-three

I don’t remember rolling up my sleeping bag or packing away my gear for the last time. I don’t remember walking down the hall to brush my teeth, or lacing up my boots. But I am sure I did all these things.

I do remember that the sky was the color of rose petals. And the air was cool, but soft. And we walked mostly downhill, til we were in the city. There was a monument. Then the city was like any other.

And not like…

sunrisesantiago

We breakfast at a cafe where we see the familiar tortilla. And the very unfamiliar rose tea. And all the tables are indoors and everything is clean and bright and the owner moves about calmly and easily and some people look like they are dressed for the office. And I wish we were bumping into one another and sitting out on the sidewalk and the owner was bustling and something about the place was a little run down, and friendly.

Jan, David, Mike and I stop at the inn where we will share a room tonight and drop off our backpacks. It feels wonderful to be walking without them. It feels strange to be walking without them.

We decide to head to the pilgrim office straightaway before the line gets too long. This turns out to be a good idea. But we almost miss Jorge, Kelly, Otto, Jose, and gang. Almost. We had walked with Otto for a while earlier this morning, but he and Jose went on while we were leaving bags. And yet, like iron filings to a magnet, we seem to be drawn to one another.

IMG_5051

We find Jorge and Kelly, Kathy and Catherine in the square just as several others arrive. We hail Otto who is walking away and take a group photo. This picture will be one of the treasures of the Camino for me. Then we run into Nathadeo who we haven’t seen since we sang with the nuns in Carrion de los Condes.

IMG_5117

This is one of my favorite stories from the Camino. These two gentleman walked the whole 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, just like we did. All the mountains and valleys, all the rocky terrain and narrow, briery paths, all the puddles and cow patties. Here is the difference: the fellow on the left, he’s blind. Watching them move in concert is like listening to a duo that has been singing into one another for so long that they breathe together. Some friendships are given to us as examples, to know just how far love can go. This is one of those.

The Cathedral is undergoing renovations which means that we cannot access the Portico of Glory. We walk round to the other side to enter. We queue up to “hug” the statue of St. James. Then, we walk down to the crypt to venerate the body of our Lord’s own apostle. This is a solemn moment.

IMG_5104

Coming out of the cathedral, we run into Paul and Lasse who we haven’t seen for days. Mike is not with them. He too will arrive on this day, but we will not see him. Jan and David will find him in Finisterre, though. AND we see Adam, our friend from Poland, with whom we also have lost contact for a bit. We have one last beer with the boys and share a few final tales of the road. Bittersweet.

tapas

We choose from a dizzying array of tapas for lunch, pop our head into a few shops looking for gifts for our kids, our granddaughter and our godchildren, then go back to the inn for a little rest. We head over to the cathedral around 6:00 to snag a seat for the 7:30 pilgrim mass and who should we find resting just outside, but Damien, Psicobeta, Filipe and Claudia! They have walked 40 kilometers today to be here for the evening mass. It is SO GOOD to see them.

Shortly before the mass begins, a feisty little nun comes out to teach us a couple of responses we will need later in the service. Then the mass begins. Like all of the masses along the way, this one is in a combination of Spanish and Latin, so I understand little. But it is nice to know the responses.

IMG_5058

You may or may not have ever heard of the Botafumeiro. It is an inordinately large censor. Incense has been used in worship since the pre-temple days of the Old Testament. It is still essential in the practice of Orthodox and Catholic Christians today. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen a censor quite like this one. The story goes that part of the reason for its size was to help cover the stench of the pilgrims. This, I believe. (The above photo is its support structure.)

The Botafumeira is not used at every mass as the cost of the incense is prohibitive. But we have heard that it is commonly used on Friday night. So we are glad to be here on Friday. Still, it’s not a sure thing. Til we see the men in red cloaks, one of whom carries a shovel (as in a garden shovel, you understand) full of charcoal and incense. Then we know.

However extraordinary you imagine it would be to stand here, it is a thousand times more so. I have provided you with a taste. But only a taste. The music, our prayers arising as incense, the weary bodies so full of miles, the stories, the love that has knit so many of us into one another…

And then it’s over. Except it’s not. We walk out into the night to find our young friends again: the newlyweds, Damien and Psicobeta, and friends Claudia and Felipe. We talk about their long walk today and they ask us if we remember the spiritual Mike and Paul sang at Granon. “We have been changing it up a bit as we walked,” they say. And right there, in the gathering dark outside a cathedral in Spain, they sing…

I believe it too.

Go with God, dear friends!

I miss you already.

IMG_5029

Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

~John O’Donohue

Page 1 of1012345»...Last »