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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the dark threads, reprised

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

I have a copy of this tapestry, one of my favourites. The idea that women made this — centuries ago — that they sat together for probably a decade (1495-1505), creating this thing of such intricate loveliness, among them? I’m awed.

I’m also awed at how little light there is in the tapestry: the unicorn, the meadow  flowers, a lighter shade for the woods of the fence & tree trunk. Mostly? Dark threads.

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When I bought my copy, I was very young — mid-20s. I had to pay it for a year. And what I loved about it, of course, was the magical unicorn — glowing almost as if lit. Now, knowing far more about life and its dark places, I value how the dark threads allow the bright ones to gleam, to reach out to us.

Of course it’s a metaphor. Christians & pagans both claim the unicorn, but I claim the balance between dark & light threads. What Eastern thinkers term the balance between light & darkness. Note that there are far more dark threads in my tapestry than there are bright ones; life’s often like that, isn’t it? But what we focus on — humans that we are — is the light.

That’s as it should be, ever optimistic be. :) But it does help, when things are their normal imperfect selves, to remember the ratio. And that w/out the dark framework and background, the unicorn would disappear…

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It’s still National Poetry Month. Here’s one of my very favourite poets, W.H. Auden, on the unicorn:

New Year Letter

~ W. H. Auden

O unicorn among the cedars
To whom no magic charm can lead us,
White childhood moving like a sigh
Through the green woods unharmed in thy
Sophisticated innocence
To call thy true love to the dance…

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hope’s feathers

Via wikipedia

Via wikipedia

Just a poem today, as I wrestle with a body intent on discomfort. Which leads to thoughts of mortality, of course. And the grateful realisation that I’m basically pretty healthy.

Not so my aging mother-in-law, who drifts through twilight days unmoored, like feathers in the air.

Here’s a poem that captures far better than I can how Hope, that thing with feathers, isn’t always pretty:

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Hospital Writing Workshop
Rafael Campo, 1964

Arriving late, my clinic having run
past 6 again, I realize I don’t
have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them,
these students who are patients, who I lead
in writing exercises, reading poems.
For them, this isn’t academic, it’s
reality: I ask that they describe
an object right in front of them, to make
it come alive, and one writes about death,
her death, as if by just imagining
the softness of its skin, its panting rush
into her lap, that she might tame it; one
observes instead the love he lost, he’s there,
beside him in his gown and wheelchair,
together finally again. I take
a good, long breath; we’re quiet as newborns.
The little conference room grows warm, and right
before my eyes, I see that what I thought
unspeakable was more than this, was hope.

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sick leave, or, big sky mind

salmonella via wikipediaFood poisoning is the pits. Actually, I can’t think of a publicly permissible word that truly describes the experience. Suffice to say? Horrible.

It sneaks up on you, after what seemed like a normal meal, and suddenly you’re sicker than you can remember being. Fever, cold sweats, all the other less-talked-about elements. Miserable.

But here’s the deal: it’s kind of an exercise in beginner’s mind, if not heart: it does pass. It just takes far longer than you’d like. I came down sick sick sick Friday evening, and am only today feeling quasi-human.

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Ugh.

And was it salmonella? I have no clue. It might have been listeria. Or campylobacteri. Or who knows what?? It wasn’t anticipated — like most bad things. And it wasn’t welcomed. And it took forever to pass. But? It did.

And that’s the point to most of the trials — and even the bigger tribulations — in my life: they do pass. It just sometimes takes them forever, and the process is pretty painful in the meantime.

via google

via google

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Still, big sky mind is the rule: the clouds come, the clouds go. Only the sky remains.

The next time pain intrudes — whether the physical ache & nausea of food poisoning, or the wrenching tears of grief, or the sharp pangs of unwanted loneliness, remember: they’re all clouds. Like salmonella, they will pass. Treat them w/ proper attention — rest, rehydration. And then get back up, and prepare to watch the sky. That lovely clear sky (sometimes blue, sometimes black with night) that is always there for us, just beyond the clouds & storms we obsess over…

 

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in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy

the author's

the author’s

Today is my father’s birthday. He would be so old: 98. He’s been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him — beside the spotless blue&white Buick, tall and still trim, dressed in tropical whites. He was, to me, the handsomest of men.

We didn’t always get along, my father & I. We were both stubborn, sure we were right, and unwilling to compromise. I remember a food fight over the Nixon election that had everyone else at the table in tears. Not me & Daddy — we were slamming our fists on the table for emphasis, until the food was flying.

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I don’t miss my father the same way I do my mother, daily. I miss my father when certain things happen I know he’d appreciate, or when I wish I could ask his opinion on things. While my mother was a very smart woman — she had a Top Secret government clearance in WWII — she read historical fiction, not history. Sang jazz songs instead of reciting poetry. My father was a scholar manqué, always learning from a book about something. I take after him that way.

I still have his Kipling, the child’s Shakespeare by the Lambs that he gave me. His multi-volume collection of Twain I gave to one of my sisters. I also have the oddities he loved: the ashtray made from a tiger’s skull, inlaid w/ silver in the mouth & eye sockets. My father was never politically correct. The brass gong, the brass dinner bell rung before many dinners. A tattered photo album he brought my mother from Shanghai.

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the author's

the author’s

It would be in adulthood that we would reconcile, when I became a journalist, or right before. I would have lunch with him at the small hotel where he had a suite, in a small town north of my own. I worked on the paper there, and Daddy would come visit me from the community college where he built a rifle range, where he taught gun safety and related courses. Sometimes I would accompany him to various gun shows, watching as he charmed everyone he met w/ his big laugh and intent listening. Everywhere he went he gathered people to him like a magnet gathers iron filings.

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When I was 16, I got in trouble that could have cost him his job. It wasn’t my fault, but he didn’t know that when he told me not to worry — we’ll be okay, he said. It meant everything to me. I was important, something I wasn’t always sure, in the shuffle of one move after another. Years later, when I was pregnant w/ my elder son, Daddy would come visit me while I was on bed rest, telling me stories of men long dead, of battle sites now green w/ grass. It would be years later yet, as he faded, before we were again as close. When I tended him, now confined to his bed. When he needed me, finally, as I had needed him always.

The world talks much about how our mothers shape us. And they do. Certainly my mother is a huge influence on who I am. But fathers are just as important. My father, through his own life, gave me literature, history, music. He taught me that you are there for your family & friends, even if it’s inconvenient, and even when they make you crazy. He passed on his wanderlust — his love of the next adventure around the next corner. And probably some of his not-so-stellar traits, as well (I’m still verrry stubborn!).

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Happy Birthday, Daddy. When I watch the boys — grown men now — I see you in the elder’s face. I hear you in the younger’s sense of humour. Both of them adore music, as you did. Both of them love rifles, as you did (One year I shared my bedroom w/ my father’s gun collection. The smell of gun oil takes me right back…). You would be so very proud of them both. As I am, of you. If my beginner’s heart is growing, much of that is due to you, and all you taught me.

I miss you. Still.

Previous Posts

the dark threads, reprised
I have a copy of this tapestry, one of my favourites. The idea that women made this -- centuries ago -- that they sat together for probably a decade ...

posted 2:11:09pm Apr. 28, 2015 | read full post »

hope's feathers
Just a poem today, as I wrestle with a body intent on discomfort. Which leads to thoughts of mortality, of course. And the grateful realisation that I'm ...

posted 7:00:35pm Apr. 27, 2015 | read full post »

sick leave, or, big sky mind
Food poisoning is the pits. Actually, I can't think of a publicly permissible word that truly describes the experience. Suffice to say? Horrible. It sneaks up on you, after what seemed like a normal meal, and suddenly you're sicker than you ...

posted 5:16:20pm Apr. 26, 2015 | read full post »

in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy
Today is my father's birthday. He would be so old: 98. He's been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him -- ...

posted 8:42:11pm Apr. 23, 2015 | read full post »

anticipation
Sometimes I think what I love best about vacations is the anticipation. The planning, the tour guides, cruising websites, learning all I ...

posted 5:15:55pm Apr. 21, 2015 | read full post »

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