In the kitchen, ginger scones remain on tray. A triple layered server still holds peppermint bark and chocolate biscuits. Various leftovers decorate the dining table. It’s the night after the annual Girlfriends Holiday Tea.
I started this years ago — I don’t even remember how many. It’s what I do instead of presents: make three big pots of tea (China black, a second — tonight we had both Lapsang Souchong & a Temi Sikkim — and a decaf English breakfast blend) in the family silver and good china. Set the table w/ tiered servers & silver flatware and holiday linens, load it w/ homemade scones & quiche & chocolate biscuits (English — NOT homemade!), and kick back w/ my girlfriends.
Most of my friends are teachers. Over the years, we’ve become as close as extended family. Shanedra & Sherry have gone through their doctorates. Stephanie was a brand-new teacher when we first met; now she’s a district teacher leader. My best friend Pat has moved 1/2 way across the country, but we were lucky enough to have her last night. We’ve seen Jo through her divorce (and now 2nd time around dating); Robin is pregnant with her 2nd child (a boy this time!) & Donna has retired. We have history!
It’s late. The house is quiet — dogs snuffling softly, one on the sofa beside his master, the other curled by the heating vent. On the Christmas tree, the lights glitter as if they have tiny wings — iridescent, brilliant.
And there’s family, of course — my sisters come. One of my nieces comes, and brings her BFF (who is a bit like another niece by now). My sister bringsher bff. We drink waaay too much caffeine, talk fast & furious and in multiple layers, like a complex sound track. It’s heaven.
I can’t imagine how the few women I know who lack female friends & family manage. So many times my girlfriends and/or my sisters (and in my case, they’re often the same) have saved me ~ given me a shoulder to cry on, told me stupid jokes when I needed a laugh, been resource and conscience and compassionate ears. Not to mention that we have enormous fun, of course!
What do women w/out girlfriends do? This time of year, when I count my many blessings, the many wonderful women in my life — from my young nieces to my older mentors — are some of the most important. As the poet Gina Meyers writes, “the way/ my heart shatters/ a little each time/ I think of my friends/ & how lucky in life/ I’ve been to get/ to know them,/ to have/ had the time to laugh &/ drink & dance & to argue...”
I have nothing to say after a tragedy of this magnitude. My heart hurts — I have to catch my breath, thinking of sending a child or children off to school, and never seeing them again… My mind races: what have we come to? How did this happen? What can we do to stop these horrific tragedies?
I have been breathing for the families whenever I remember. And Newton, Connecticut has been in my thoughts often today… Tonglen helps, but it doesn’t stop the anger or the grief. When I become incensed with someone on FB who sees the national outrage as a threat to her right to own a gun, I try to channel that reaction for the families, whose anger & horror and grief so certainly outstrip anything I can imagine…
And when I’m missing my younger son, who will not be coming home for the holidays, I channel that, for these families who will be missing a child every holiday from now on…
I offer only this: great sorrow. Deep breaths. And a heartfelt hope that somehow, we find a way to stop these tragedies…
This week’s UU Weekly has a piece on the baby Jesus. We know very little about the historical Jesus, as the essay notes. The Christian Bible is the source for most of our Jesus history, and it’s not necessarily an historical exercise — that isn’t its purpose.
Author Meg Barnhouse makes the case that the story of the baby Jesus is, perhaps, what she calls a ‘soul story.’ “A soul story is a dream from the depths of a culture, not an individual,” Barnhouse writes.
I love this. The writer in me is seduced by this eloquent metaphor, even as I realise that members of my own family believe devoutly in the actual birth of Jesus, the Nativity story, and the subsequent Christian narrative. But for me, the inclusive, poetic Buddhist Unitarian I am, I love this ‘baby Jesus as metaphor for the soul’s journey’ idea.
Yesterday my doctor asked me — during a discussion of my mother’s skin cancer history, among other things — if I believed in the baby Jesus story. I had to confess I didn’t, pretty certain he wouldn’t disown my medical care, but still not sure how he’d take it.
If he asked today I would have a much better answer. Because today, thanks to Meg Barnhouse, I have another take on ‘belief.’ Each of us — I do believe — has a soul, a fragile seeking heart clothed in all the layers of protection we can amass. For me, my seeking often takes place on a page, or a screen. In a poem, an article, a blog post. Sometimes even in a piece of a class lecture or prep for one. For me, words are like the clear white stones Hansel & Gretel threw behind them in that other soul story. Words will take me where I need to go, almost always. If not my own, I can count on those of others.
Yesterday a friend posted that he loves reading the reflections in his students’ portfolios. Students will tell you that a class in poetry — in writing about their own growth, or the growth of others — changes their lives. I told him that I really believe poetry can save lives. It saved mine, certainly, at a time when nothing else could get through.
So the idea of the soul as a tiny baby, born naked & trembling into a cold dark night, poor in material goods, but rich in blessings…? That is beyond appealing. And it is, I realise, what lies at the heart of so many Christians’ beliefs — the ‘Jesus Christians,’ as I call them, not the Leviticus ones who seem to believe only in punishment…
This winter holiday season (Christmas! Hannukah! Bodhi Day! Kwanzaa!), I wish you a journey of redemption. I wish for you a soul journey that culminates in transcendence. And I hope your days are full of light.
Tomorrow is Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu ~ the celebration of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, the transformation of the man into the spiritual teacher we know as the Buddha. I’ve written elsewhere about Bodhi Day, here and here. But it bears repeating. 🙂
Because we all need a wake-up call. We need to remember how ephemeral life is, how transient both pain and joy, and pay attention.We need to remember that we can do this.
It seems a bit disingenuous to note, once again, that everything passes. And that a certain sadness underlies much of life. It’s a human state of mind, this suffering — Proverbs 14:13 details it lyrically: Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness. Buddhists call it dukkha — not exactly sorrow or suffering, more like the ‘heaviness’ Proverbs references.
So Bodhi Day is a time of celebration — someone got beyond this. Not a god, or a demi-god, or an angel or anyone divine. A guy. And that means there’s hope for me. Which in the middle of a chilly grey day, when the sun seems like it might well have gone to sleep for the winter, is a warm & lovely thought.
Hence the wake-up call idea… It’s so easy for me, this time of year, to whine about my 1st world problems: putting up the tree is such a hassle… shopping for stuff they might not even like… cooking… wrapping… All in the middle of my everyday life. But this IS my everyday life — this moment, this day. Today, it’s going to be working on an upcoming deadline project — not something I love, but something I committed to finishing. And I’m going to try (hard!) to remember how much I’ve learned doing this task that is far more complex than was billed. 🙂
I’m going to wake up to the little enlightenments that now & then wing through my days like bright birds. If, as Thích Nhất Hạnh says, we pay attention to — are mindful of –what we are doing, then small daily tasks can become amazing: the smell of fresh warm laundry on a cool evening, taken from the luxury of a dryer that works. The oceanic whisper of a dishwasher, once loaded and turned on. Even the crisp white path a mop makes over a grimy floor, or the cool sweep of sheets shaken over a bed. Each of these will never come in the same way again.
Bodhi Day — Rohatsu, if you’re Japanese 🙂 — isn’t until tomorrow. But it’s not too early to get ready. So ahead — streeeettttch… And wake up!