Friday, February 29, 2008

In a nostalgic mood tonight

Today is February 29th. Two months ago tonight, on December 29th, I was in El Escorial, a small city outside of Madrid with Leticia, Eduardo, Alvaro, and Leti's mother, Marta. I took these three photos at various times that evening. Another glorious, sunny, cold, clear, absolutely perfect day in Spain. I miss being there with them. I miss Spain and Italy.

This afternoon I was reading a book entitled Living Prayer, written by Robert Benson. Fabulous book about the life of prayer, the way that prayer can shape our lives. Our messy, unpredictable, ordinary lives can be made extraordinary through prayer. The simple acknowledgement that there is Someone greater than us who oversees our lives and guides our path allows us to live life more attentively and more hopefully. If someone else is in charge, then there is something here for me to see and consider. Prayer, solitude, and silence allow us to clear space in our lives to learn the lessons and be transformed by them.

(To those of you who don't believe in God, I ask that you at least consider the possibility that there is more to us, to this world, to the lives we live than only what we can see. Give yourself an hour or two per day in which you ponder the possibility.)

Benson's chapter entitled "The Road Leads Here" put into words my near constant yearnings to travel, to get away and alone. Here are a few blurbs that have already been copied into my reading journal:

On page 90, he speaks of "paying attention to the beach clock. In fact, I can tell you now that it will go off in July and October next year. I am so certain that I even made reservations already. But this other clock was one that I did not know about for a long time. It is the one, I have come to discover, that calls me to silence and to solitude and to retreat."

Those words almost knocked me out of my seat at Starbucks: somebody else gets me, understands this near deafening internal scream for separation from all that places demands on my time and energy, and for reconciliation with all that makes me whole and strong and fully me.

"The way we live our lives in our cities and towns simply assaults most all of us most all of the time. The sheer unadulterated noise level is enough to make us crazy. Most of the time, we do not even notice. It has become so commonplace, so ordinary, that we are oblivious to it. Perhaps there is a contest going on that I was not told about, the prize going to the person who can tolerate the most noise."

Am I alone in my quest to turn off the television and the radio and the music? In search of silence? Even now, I am at home alone, writing, listening to the quietness of the house and the tick of the keyboard - wishing I could silence that noise as well. Why is there music playing or a television blaring everywhere: in Starbucks, at the supermarket, in elevators, and in the dentist and doctor's offices? Doesn't anyone ever want there to be moments of silence - or have we so tightly bound such moments to the honoring of the dead that we think that being intentionally silent is a harbinger of death?

"The constant assault and agitation drains us and diminishes our spirits. We are just kind of sucked into it and it pulls the life and energy from us. We just talk louder or turn the volume up and try to keep dogging our way through it.

"Every so often, a clock seems to go off in us, or a question, and we find ourselves hungry for some bit of silence and solitude and rest and quiet. But we are on the road or in a meeting or booked solid and we not have time for it and we do answer its call."

Have you ever looked up half way through a meeting or a meal and decided that enough was enough - that it was time to turn off the noise and tune into silence? Have you ever declared one day per week as a sabbath day, as a time when all work ceases, when rest is the rule, and quietness is broadcast over the house stereo system?

"Twenty one weeks is the absolute maximum amount of time that I can go without some meaningful silence and solitude, or else my nerves get shaky, my work suffers, and my relationships start running on empty... I need time to listen, to examine, and to confess, time to take off some of the hats I wear. I need time to listen for the Voice, if for no other reason than so I will recognize it more clearly in the ways it speaks into the noise and bustle of the life I lead."

I wonder what my maximum is. Not more than four or five weeks, I think. I must have at least three solid hours of solitude every month... that seems like precious little when I write it like that. Time to sit alone, sipping coffee, reading, writing, unwinding, reflecting. Where no one knows me or speaks to me - other than to tell me that my coffee or bagel order is ready. I suppose that by "meaningful silence and solitude," he is referring to a few days strung together. That kind of time is dishearteningly rare for me - hence my annual solo treks and my biweekly evenings of nostalgic journal reading, photo album perusal, and moon gazing.

"The silence that I seek must be nurtured until it lives in me no matter where I am at the moment. It was easy to find silence on the mountain at Sumatanga, but what do I do now that I no longer am required to go there? How is one to hear the Voice if one cannot even hear oneself think?

"The silence that I seek cannot merely be the absence of the numbing noise and debilitating detail of life in our society. It must be something more. It must be a solitude that is transcendent, a stillness that can be found in midst of the noise, a silence that is portable."

This is what I seek: portable silence, perpetual stillness, and transcendent solitude.

This is what I hear: The call to the road. The call to silence and solitude. The call to living my daily life carrying the silence and solitude within.

I hear the call. Again. But tonight, I have to settle for looking at photos of El Escorial. Photos from my latest trek on The Road.

Added on Sunday, March 2 - check out this link to a site with great quotes about solitude.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Signs of New Life

It has been one of those weeks.
So many thoughts. So many questions.
What if I had...?
What if I hadn't?

What would I definitely do if I could do it again?
What would I definitely not do if I could do it again?

Why am I feeling this way?
What am I going to do about it?

What are my dreams?
What are my hopes for my future and the future of my family?

As I prepare for teaching class and leading the retreat in April, so many topics come to mind. So many signs of new spiritual and emotional life that are growing in the soil of my soul.

So many new trails - not to follow, but to blaze.
So much that I am learning as prepare to teach. isn't that always the case?
So many worries about hypocrisy - how can I teach this stuff when I have doubts of my own?
How can I explain this stuff to anyone else when I still have so many questions?
If they knew all that I wonder about and the many ways that I want to wander, would they trust anything i have to say?
Or perhaps, they will trust me more because my life, my quest, my confusion, my desires, and my queries are not so different from their own.

I am beginning to suspect that the reason they come to class every week,
that the reason they ask me back to speak is that they can tell that I still believe that there is hope.
I believe. There is hope.
There it is again: the audacity of hope.

Sometimes I think I'm crazy. Much of the time I am certain of it.
After all, who does what i do? who lives this way?
who travels alone, leaving behind spouse and children?
who craves more and more alone time rather than less and less?
who homeschools and teaches two other classes besides?
who journals like mad and tries desperately to convert others to do the same?
who persists in writing and sending her crazy questions and thoughts out into the blogosphere?
whose sends emails and text messages into the great virtual beyond on a wing and a prayer - hoping that this one will land on fertile soil? That this one will matter?
who hopes and loves and dreams and prays when all hope and love and dreams and prayers stop making sense?

Answer: Get over yourself, Gail. Everyone does. That's what human beings do.
We hope and dream and wander and wonder and pray that we matter.
To someone. To anyone. To the world. Even if only for a short time. For the time it takes a daffodil to bloom and die. We want someone to notice us, to pay attention, to reach out, and to love us.

And even if I were alone in my insanity, I would maintain this crazy hope
that something different is possible. that new love, new hope, new connections are possible.

In the face of a year-long drought and this morning's snow flurries, these flowers testify that there is hope. The tulip and daffodils bulbs that we buried two years ago don't know anything else to do: push. open up. grow. Sure, the drought will shorten their lives. Deer will come out of the woods and most likely eat many of them before they are in full bloom. Ultimately, though, they have no choice but to burrow their way out of the dry, hard-packed earth and dazzle me with their glorious blossoms.

When will I learn to do what they do?
In the face of all that I face, push, open up, grow.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All My Children: A Photo Essay

Kristiana has a new best friend: her camera. They are quickly becoming inseparable. She is the creator of all of today's images.

(Aside here: I must be bringing her up with a serious iron fist. The other day she asked if it was okay for her to go outside and take pictures. My favorite answer to questions like that is, "Why would I say 'no' to something like that?")

This first photo is for her most recent photography class project. She needed to photograph something that begins with the letter "a"; she chose "argyle." So she, Daniel, and I donned argyle socks...

Three self-portraits.

And three photos of her brother - who came home from an evening out with his father. With his hair highlighted. No comment.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Day After...

It's official. He has an ear infection in his left ear.

Our dearly beloved Dr. Brockman expressed genuine surprise at seeing us in the office again. Let me explain: We have lived in Charlotte for over five years. In those five years, we have visited the doctor's office for sick visits only once - Kristiana had poison ivy. Daniel and Kristiana had their annual check-ups in December. So for her to see us again less than two months after his check-up is highly irregular. Unheard of, actually.

Once we established that, she examined Daniel's ears, quickly diagnosed his ear infection, and then sat down to explain to us that the reason why Daniel has this problem (apart from all the illness going around) is that he is "a school virgin." This is his first winter of exposure to all the illness and contagion that run rampant in schools at this time of year. So while other kids may be battling the flu, Daniel is dealing with a childhood illness that his schoolmates dealt with years ago. (Here's where I hope and pray that all the salad and fruit and whole wheat bread and homemade sweet potato chili and orange juice we consume around here and the 15 months of drinking mama's milk eleven years ago will serve to keep his immune system strong!) Yet another benefit of homeschooling acknowledged by a physician: less illness!

So he's on amoxycillin tablets twice per day, drinking Airborne with water, and washing his hands as often as I ask.

Kristiana has snapped out of her funk and is her usual quiet, smiling, low-maintenance self.

Here's how our day went: Kristiana and I dropped him off at school just before 7:30 am. (On the way there, we watched the woman in the minivan in front of us put rollers in her hair. Seriously! Every time traffic stopped she grabbed a handful of hair and rolled it. We talked about the craziness of rushing around like that in the morning.)

Then Kristiana and I went to a coffee shop near her photography class and relaxed for 45 minutes. Off to class for her. We came back home for three hours of homeschooling. I left her here to get more of her school work done when I set out to go get him at school. From school to the doctor's office. Then back to school. I sat in the parking lot and did some writing and reading of my own until his day was over. Then I drove him from school to CVS to get his pills. While we waited for the prescription to be filled, we walked across the parking lot to Trader Joe's to pick up some Vitamin C and hummus.

(Aside here: as we entered TJ's, I noticed a woman and a young boy entering the store. I told Daniel that the boy was blind. He didn't believe me, so he walked back to where they were to observe. When he returned, he said, "I wish I was blind." I know Daniel well enough to know that it's not a morbid or flip curiosity. That son of mine is the single most compassionate, tender-hearted human being I have ever known. He truly wants to know the sorrows of others so that he can understand their situation and pray for them. With that, he took hold of my arm and walked back across the parking lot, into CVS, and all the way back to the pick-up counter with his eyes closed. [He is a robust pre-adolescent, so he asked me to tell him if I saw any pretty girls. He didn't want to miss out. I told him that if he were really blind, he'd have to appreciate the beauty of girls through their voices and kind personalities. Whatever, Mom...] This is the same boy who, when we were in Spain nearly three years ago did not want to get onto a subway train until a man on crutches who was behind us could get there. I was too impatient to wait, so we got onto the train anyway. Daniel wept.)

Back to my story of today: We are here at home, and they are both doing their homework. We made it!

One great blessing about the busyness of this day and all the run-around I had to do is this: I had time alone with each of my children, time to talk and laugh and be. Time to tend to their emotional and physical needs. Time to ask and answer their myriad questions. (On the way to school, Daniel wanted to know why people who throw bombs - I explained the concept of grenades - don't get hurt by them. I told them that sometimes those people do get hurt by the grenades they throw. That led to a discussion of the horrors of bombs and grenades and land mines and all things related to war. Later on, he wanted to know why he couldn't sign the form at the doctor's office or the credit card pad at Trader Joe's.)

As for me, I stayed up late last night writing in my journal and reading and talking myself through much of what was ailing me yesterday. I woke up this morning with the resolve to receive each event of the day with patience and gratitude. I was determined to remind myself repeatedly that I have two marvelously strong and healthy kids, that this illness is an aberration from that, and that together we would work it all out. Thanks be to God that we were able to handle all that came our way... and nothing we faced today was worth the angst I felt yesterday.

Plus this morning I had a chance to spend nearly an hour talking to another homeschooling mom who lives in our neighborhood. Many laughs and realizations and lessons learned and words of encouragement to someone else whose perspective on childhood, learning, and family togetherness mirrors my own.

A mug and a half of a mixture of rooibos sweet amore and plum harvest teas sweetened with German rock sugar didn't hurt either.

On this, the day after a serious pity party, all is well.
I am well.

Life is good.
God is good.

Addendum at 11:15 pm -
Did anybody see the lunar eclipse tonight?
Absolutely amazing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This Is My Life Tonight.

It's 7:50 pm. In ten minutes the kids will come to my bedroom, and we will pile into the bed and watch "American Idol." We will cheer and laugh and criticize their outfits and hairdos. We will give the singers our own commentary and determine whether or not each one chose the right song.

When it's over, I will send them off to their respective bathrooms to brush their teeth and take care of their other evening customs. Then we will pray together before they fall into their normally deep and sound sleep.

Then I will settle into a short time of journaling, reading, final preparations for tomorrow's journaling class, and then I'll go to sleep. Alone.

Steve is away this week. Well, not exactly away. He's staying in a local hotel for the next few nights. No, we haven't officially separated. He's involved in a work-related conference that requires him to stay in a hotel with the rest of the team. (It's the same place I stayed in last year and wrote about on August 27, 2007: The Ballantyne Resort.) Less than ten minutes from home by car. On an ambitious morning, I could probably walk there. Anyway, he's seven minutes away. And I'm right here.

This is my life tonight.

Daniel is suffering with a cough and head cold. He's not feeling well at all. As evidence, he has asked to go to the doctor to have his achy left ear checked. Lisa Ottman knows first-hand that for Daniel to ask to go to the doctor, he must truly not feel well. So tomorrow morning I will call to see if Dr. Brockman can see him.

Kristiana has been a teenage girl today. Not disrespectful, not mean-spirited. Not uncooperative. No, none of those things. Just unsure of herself. A little sad. Morose, even. Perhaps it's hormonal. Perhaps it is just her being her: a teenage girl.

Me? I am feeling jittery, a little shaky, very much like everything and everyone is riding on me tonight. Final computer set-up issues - we got a new Dell computer tower yesterday. (As long as we have had computers in our family, I have been the one to set them up. Same with VCRs, DVD players, and all that sort of thing.) Dinner. Reading to and with the kids. Homework checks. Laundry folding (although Kristiana helped with some of that). Figuring out how I will juggle it all: getting her to her photography class by 8:30 am, then call the doctor, get him there, perhaps go see Katie at mid-day for half an hour of peaceful Lenten meditation at noon, and then get back to South Charlotte for the rest of our day. Did I mention that he wants to go to school anyway? There are classes he doesn't want to miss due to projects and assignments, but he wants to get his ear checked at some point in between those classes. Oh yeah - I teach my class tomorrow night.

This is my life tonight.
Tonight I wish I had 48 hours for this day.
Tonight I wish I didn't need to sleep.
So that I could get a lot more accomplished before morning.

But for now, I will go watch American Idol with the kids.
Journal during (and probably between) the commercial breaks.
Remember that this is my life tonight.
And give thanks. Anyway.
This is my life.
All shall be well.
All is well.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Did you dare?

In an earlier blog I mentioned that on this last trip to Rome, I visited the Pantheon several times. There is something about that huge hole in the roof, that space that lets in rain and sunshine that touched me in a different way this time. As I've thought about it, I am reminded of the risks of being open, of letting in love and anguish, joy and sorrow, of telling stories and sharing secrets. There is great risk, yes, but there is also great joy. Life may get messy because of it, but I wouldn't trade my messy, sticky, prickly, untamed, unpredictable life for a neat, tidy, simple, unruffled, uncomplicated existence ever. Ever.

Again I ask, did you dare?
Did you tell someone you love them?
Did you laugh long and loud?
Did you smile openly and warmly?
Did you hug and cuddle?

Did you send a note, an email, a text that left no doubt about your love?
Did you send a note of thanks to those who did that for you?
Did you call the ones who live too far away?
Did you reminisce about the loves of your life, the many loves you have known?
Did you give thanks for each of them, the many lovely, beautiful, handsome, dear friends and loved ones with whom you are traversing this life's journey?

I love this Bernini statue in Rome. It makes me want to stand there and shout about my joy, my love, my heart. It reminds me of that commercial where the man stands in the Piazza di San Marco in Venice and shouts, "I love this woman." Or is it the woman who shouts, "I love this man"?

I did!
(No, I didn't go to Venice and shout about my love,
but I did tell some dear ones how dear they are.)
It felt great.
I'm not done with sharing the love yet - and that feels great too!

PS. It's not too late to spread some love today.
Every day is Love Day - if we will it to be.
Who are you gonna love today?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's Love Week

Isn't young love sweet?

I love love.
I love love stories.

What about you?
Do you love love?
What else do you love?
Who do you love?
Who have you loved during your lifetime?

Romantic love.
Platonic love.
The love of friends.
The love of siblings.
The love of spouses.
The love of people and their "best friends."
The love that shows up in laughter and joy.
The love that shows up in touch and tenderness.
The love that shows up in tears and strong shoulders.

This is my mother, Eleanor (on the left), and her sister, Delia.

I challenge you this week, as I challenge myself, to think about love.
To talk about love.
To tell love stories.
To remember past loves and celebrate them.
To imagine future loves and prepare for them.
To write a love letter to someone you love.
To make little love notes and leave them for your loved ones to discover unexpectedly.
To share a story of love with someone you love.
To tell them why you love them.

Forget store-bought cards, cheap teddy-bears, and mediocre chocolates;
share your love in hand-written, hand-made form, and deliver it in person.

That's a candid shot of Daniel gazing at his sister as she told a funny story while we were on a walk a few months ago. As you can plainly see, he adores Kristiana; I think the feeling is mutual. What a joy it is for me to watch them when they are together.

Be generous with compliments this week.
Be generous with hugs and kisses.
Be generous with yourself too.
If not now, then when?
If not you, then who?

I love this man!

(FYI: We are really the same height, but every now and then, I will sidle up next to him and squat down so he looks and feels taller. He likes that tiny show of submission a lot. Oh, the sacrifices we make for the ones we love.)

It's love week.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Once again, Gail, keep it in perspective...

Blog surfing this morning.
Went over to Jen Lemen.
Followed her link to Jen Ballantyne.
Followed her link to Meg.

Followed all that up with prayer.
For healing for Jen Ballantyne.
For more time with her sons.
For family and friends and others who care to surround her.
For the light of life to shine on and in her.
For a friend I know who is desperate to have a child.
For another who is pregnant with her third child at a time when neither she nor her husband have jobs.
For someone I know who is struggling with ongoing, low-grade, but persistent depression.
For those who are facing layoffs, repossession of homes and cars, and growing piles of bills.
For the families that lost their homes and loved ones in yesterday's storms here in the South.

Followed all that up with words of thankfulness.
For the great bounty of food we enjoy.
For our warm and strong home.
For our health and strength.
For the friends who love and encourage me, those near and far.
For soap and lotion and toothpaste.
For shoes and shirts and skirts.
For birds and squirrels and little Maya.

Once again, Gail, keep it in perspective.

PS. The top and bottom photos were taken by Kristiana, my quick-learning in-house photographer.
The middle one is a salad at Copper, our favorite Indian restaurant in Charlotte. That was taken while on a lunch date with Lisa and Kristiana.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

One of those days...

In the clouds - literally and figuratively - on my way back from Italy.
And yesterday as well.

Ups and downs.
Highs and lows.

Singing and watching and crying along with Obama's video.
Worrying about what will happen if we start another war in another nation.

Helping Kristiana with her math and Spanish assignments.
Figuring out how we will get back and forth to a basketball game that starts at 8:30 tonight; the game is 45 minutes away. We are playing against a team that has two gyms in a Catholic church less than ten minutes away. It's a school night. What were the organizers thinking?

Helping Daniel make some final changes and corrections on a paper due yesterday. Encouraging him to stay strong and do his best on his exams this week. Wishing he could just stay home and avoid the entire exchange.

Cleaning the house and setting everything up before and then cleaning everything up after the Super Bowl party. Feeling sorry for myself: "Why do I have to do everything around here?"

Maya makes everyone who enters our home laugh and smile and want to play with her. But she still leaves wet and lumpy "gifts" around the house. Only once a month or so - just often enough to make me crazy.

Notice a pattern?
Me feeling sorry for myself.
Not standing up for myself.
Not taking care of myself.
Me, me, me, me.

Take a really deep breath, G.
Go read a book.
Go drink tea.
Write in your journal.
Pray. Meditate.
Remember the great blessings of your life.
Reminisce about the recent journey.

That was a delicious sandwich, consumed as I sat under the portico of the Pantheon on a rainy day in Rome.

Reread your gratitude journals.
Prepare for the journaling class and those beautiful, smart, expressive women who await you.
Reach out to your sisters online, on the phone, and in spirit.

Yesterday was one of those emotionally stormy, "feel sorry for myself" days.
Today is a new day. Some of the clouds still linger, but the sky within is clearing.
I am slowly reminding myself, remembering this simple truth:
All is well.
All is well.
All manner of things shall be well.

I had a really yummy sandwich in this tiny restaurant in Trastevere;
that's the funky, independent, not-so-touristy part of Rome on the other side of the Tevere River.
Can you find me in this picture? (I like these "seek and find photos," don't I?)

This photo is the perfect metaphor for what I need to do right now:
Cross the river. Find a quiet place. Ignore the hustle and bustle.
Eat. Pray. Love.

Off to have lunch and "find myself"- my joyful, peaceful, wise, loving, gracious self - again.
Peace. Out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Yes, We Can!

I saw this amazing video (click on the title of this post) over at Jen Lemen's blog. (Without exception, when I go to her blog, that amazing woman's thoughtful, careful, loving words and photographs and cards and candles and posters inspire me and excite me. Thanks for adding this beautiful video to your blog.)

Yesterday, the Giants faced The Patriots and thought: "Yes, we can" win the Super Bowl - and they won! I am nobody's Giants fan, but I must admit that I am more excited about the outcome of last night's game than I was last year when the Colts won - and I am a big fan of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. There was something about the Patriots with their "we are a team with a destiny," "this is a perfect season and dynasty in the making" stuff, the laughter at the mere mention of the possibility that the Giants could win and hold them to only 17 points, that turned me off. Plus it's pretty cool that those two brothers, Eli and Peyton, were MVP quarterbacks of back-to-back Super Bowls.

Last week, Lisa wrote to various organizations, thinking to herself, "Yes, we can" make a difference in the face of this tax refund gimmick that is meant to encourage us to spend more money, rather than save it or give to those who are in greater need. When will we stop believing that going deeper into debt as individuals somehow helps our economy which staggers under its greatest debt load in all of American history? My trip to Target or Payless Shoes will help solve our nation's problems how exactly???!!!

Last month, a group of women began gathering in room 242 on Wednesday nights at our church, all thinking to ourselves, "Yes, we can" tell the truth of our own lives without having to hide or lie or be ashamed of who we are. I love watching them write and doodle and flip through their books, and fill pages with the words that flow from their hearts and pens.

Last year, my son made the decision to leave our nest and fly on his own: into the big, bad world of "real school." Once he successfully navigated the admissions process and was accepted at Charlotte Christian, we sat down as a family thinking, "Yes, we can" do what it takes to make this a good year for him and for our family. And whether he decides to continue at Charlotte Christian next year or come back home to "real school," he and I will spend some quality time together figuring out ways to make his education the best it can be. We have always done that and "Yes, we can" - and will - continue to do just that.

Last century, nearly five decades ago, freedoms fighters, marchers, bus riders, sit-in demonstrators, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, nurses, homemakers, firefighters, police officers, voting officials, school officials, parents, children, politicians, neighbors, maids, bus drivers, faced each other in sometimes violent, always tense confrontations, each thinking to him or herself, "Yes, we can" win this war for and against the Civil Rights of millions of disenfranchised Americans.

Thanks be to God that justice prevailed, that righteousness trumped power,
and as a result of their bold actions
people like the mesmerizing Barack Obama can speak to thousands,
inspire individuals to action,
and run for President of These United States of America.

Yes, he can.
Yes, we can.