Say “Good Morning” [on DR Thursday]

My dad always kept a garden. He grew up in a farm community. I watched as he attended to his fruits and vegetables and it seemed innate, second nature. Without thought, he knew what to do. His garden knowledge did not find its way to me so I am grateful that Kerri’s thumb is green. Her potting bench is alive with tomatoes and basil.

This is the first summer of my life without my dad and I am finding in the tomatoes a deep sense of reassurance. Connectivity to my dad that transcends time. He loved his garden as Kerri loves hers. In her garden, he stands.

Kerri’s mom and dad watched birds and cardinals were special to them. In the past few years, cardinals have taken up residence in our neighborhood. Brilliant red, salmon, antique pink…Gorgeous. When one stops to visit, I say, “Beaky’s saying ‘hello.'”

I suspect connectivity is what we experience when we slow down. It’s hard not to realize how deeply interconnected we are when stopping all motion to watch the sunset. It’s impossible not to realize how small and passing we are when taking the time to gaze through a telescope at the night sky.

I am taken by surprise by the tomatoes, though I should have seen it coming. I love that each day, I take a break and go to Kerri’s bench. I stop all motion, feel the sun, look for the new growth, and whisper, “Good morning, Columbus.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW GROWTH

Touch Back. Look Forward. [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In stories of impending change, as in life, it is common for the protagonist, before stepping off the edge of the known world, to first turn, reach backward in time, and touch their past. When Tom Mck knew he was en route to leaving this earth, he took me on drives to show me the location of his family ranch, the creek he played in as a boy, the cemetery that held his ancestors. We spent long evenings together as he told me and my tape recorder stories, that, although were meant to be stories of the lost boy, Johnny, they were more accurately stories of the lost boy, Tom. The keeper of the legacy. “I have a promise to keep to Isabelle,” he said of his great grandmother, a woman he never met but knew as intimately as if their lives had crossed. “I have a promise to keep.” We spent many, many days and nights reaching back so that he might have some peace when taking his next step.

I came down from the upstairs office to find Kerri, a dedicated holiday-white-light girl, untangling strings of colored lights. “These were my mom and dad’s” she said with more than a little excitement in her voice. “I’ve put together a strand with bulbs that still light up! I think we should put them on the railing out front.” What could be better, as we turn our eyes to the future than having Beaky and Pa alight at our front door.

Touch back. Look forward. Build a bridge – live a bridge – from one dot to the next.

This morning I dug through Columbus’ record collection. We brought it home with us and, quite suddenly, I wanted to find his holiday albums. I took out our little suitcase record player, and put on the carols of my youth. Julie Andrews. Vic Damone. A Firestone Christmas album sang to us through our breakfast. Columbus filled our house with his good music.

Now, with Beaky and Pa at the front door, Columbus filling up our home with cheer from Christmas past, we relish our touching back. And, I think we’re both ready, as we breathe-in what was, to turn and take a solid step toward what will be.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLORED LIGHTS

Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Row

may-you-be-small-crop-jpegSometimes the way forward is akin to rowing a boat: facing backward is the only way to get proper leverage. Today, to stir my pot, to get some leverage and new energy, I revisited three books that I wrote but never published (or limply offered to a tiny audience). It was a revelation. It’s as if the man who wrote those books in the past meant for me to read them today. The man who wrote them was not ready or clear enough to birth them. The man who read them today knows just what to do (including rewrite some odd bits). Here is the introduction to the first of the three books:

I’ve generally stepped in every pothole, tripped over every opportunity, broken the family dishes, and made every mistake a person can make. I feel fortunate to be alive. I used to try and hide the mess behind a veneer of “knowing.” Eventually I realized that in order to find what I was seeking I had to stop pretending that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. I now recognize that the more I learn, the less I know. Life is not about knowing stuff. Life is vibrant when engaging with the un-known. Seeking is messy business. Being human is messy business. To pretend otherwise is…well, to pretend.

One day, while exhausting myself pretending, I realized that I was telling myself a story of fear. I realized that I was the only person invested in my fear story. I realized that I’d cast all the other people in my story as dangerous characters. I believed that if they really knew me they’d shame me. I realized that I was the only person in my story feeling pain, frustration and exhaustion. So, why was I telling myself this story? This was not the story that I wanted my life to tell. That day I began changing my story.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the story of our lives. When we do, we have the choice to retreat further into hiding or to take off the mask, turn around, and walk toward the thing we fear the most. This is to seek the bear.

Every human being who has walked the face of the earth has come to the same crossroad; those that faced their bear left behind clues about how to do it. They left us messages about how best to stop hiding, how to turn and walk toward fear, what to do when it is time to stand in front of the bear’s cave and how to welcome the encounter. The clues and messages are found in the stories they left for us. The stories are maps for navigating our inner geography.

Our ancestors understood that stories are a participation sport. Our lives are mirrored in the tale of adventure. We know what to do in our personal story because we identify with the heroine/hero in the story. Their journey of transformation is a guide to our journey of transformation. Their follies and foibles give coherence and direction to our messy passage. Their death and rebirth is a map for our death and rebirth. Their story is a call for us to step more fully into our adventure-story.

As is true in all life-lessons, it’s a perfect loop. I’m back where I started (apparently) only with new eyes and a few more years of experience. Order from chaos, chaos from order, I suspect we are all, one way or another, rowing in a perfect circle.circle-peace-earth-jpeg

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