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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

love and marriage

the author's

the author’s

Today would be my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. I think… :) They were married after the war — mother a beautiful divorcée, working in my father the captain’s recruiting office. Well in to a tumultuous marriage, they divorced. Then remarried each other. Not the kind of rôle models you want for marriage, really.

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My father was as handsome as they come, and about as clueless in terms of marriage, I suspect. His own mother once told me — on her deathbed, no less — that she never should have married my grandfather. But she was a young spinster bluestocking, and her parents were, from what I understand,  very ‘enthusiastic’ (re: demanding?) that she marry Grandfather. I should have gone to live with Nona [her sister] in California, she told me.

My mother adored my father. Even when they fought — which wasn’t uncommon — she was proud of her hero of a husband, tall & gorgeous in his dress whites. And she loved traveling to the places Daddy was posted, at least at first.

the author's

the author’s

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But marriage — even the best of marriages, and I doubt theirs was — is very hard sometimes. And neither my mother (whose own mother was twice-divorced — once from my grandfather, an alcoholic, and later from a man who was abusive) nor my father had what we would now consider ‘healthy’ marriages. What they had was love & passion. And often that was enough.

What I learned, watching them, wasn’t always what they probably intended. I learned that love is fragile, and that surprises should be good ones — a baby elephant in a parking lot — not bad ones — you should talk about moves, not simply assign them. I learned that passion isn’t enough, but it can get you through bad moments. And that children shouldn’t be the major focus in a marriage — there must be the bond between the two partners, as well.

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I also learned that love ages, just as the partners do. What drew you together in your 20s will not keep you together in your 60s. Perhaps that’s what my parents discovered, when they divorced, and then remarried. Even now, these decades later, I wonder about the love my parents shared. So very different from my beloved in-laws’ marriage. Love is as idiosyncratic as voice & fingerprints, DNA. Unique to each set of lovers.

Today, thinking about my beautiful, damaged parents, I am grateful they loved each other enough to stay with us, their four children. I’m happy I was able to know them — as the flawed & yet wonderfully charming — couple they were for so many years.

bowl mended in kintsugi manner

bowl mended in kintsugi manner

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The Japanese have an art form — kintsugi — in which they mend broken bowls with gold. Akin to the philosophy of wabi-sabi, in which imperfection is seen as having its own ephemeral beauty, in kintsugi ceramics, the break is mended with a mix of lacquer and powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This highlights the broken places. Christy Bartlett, in The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics, notes that:

The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.

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Highlighting usage, the passage of time, and the hard edges of life with a richly beautiful seam of gold is what I think of when I reflect on my own mended bowl of a marriage. It’s what I learned from my parents, ultimately — that love need not be perfect. It need not even be comprehensible to anyone outside its circle. And perhaps its fissures, the pieces shattered by this tragedy or that wrong, are highly visible. Certainly my parents’ were. But if you make it through — if love mends those broken places — love need only be what it is — the indefinable reaching out of one heart for another. Then those cracks & chips & fragments & shards go through a kind of transformative alchemy, so that the loss of a child eventually becomes a sharing, not a breaking. And the passage of a dark & bitter year becomes seasoning, not destiny. And love? Love becomes a rare & lovely thing — gold highlighting all the breakage behind you. Its own kind of kintsugi, love, turning loss to gold that holds those places together.

 

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summer, and the greying of hours

the author's

the author’s

The thing about summer sky is that it’s inimitable. Spring sky has a pale, watercolour to it: blue is creeping out from under its drab winter coverlet, needing light. Autumn? It’s the sky that ‘lambent’ was invented for — light as thick and gold as honey. While in winter, light as sharp & bright as a knife blade. But summer… Summer sky is filled w/ clouds (at least in Oklahoma, where we’ve had the wettest late spring & early summer in history!), behind which a rich blue prairie sky serves as backdrop.

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When I’m feeling healthy — when my arthritic fingers will clasp things, and my cranky knees & feet will carry me without complaint where and when I want to go — I can still taste the summer of my life. But to be honest, I’ve entered Autumn, when the vivid greens begin to incandesce and light takes on an incendiary glow.

the author's

the author’s

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It’s always been my favourite season, fall, at least until I’m heartily sick of winter, and the first cheeky robins begin their loud begging in the front yard. Something about the last hurrah before winter’s dark curtain falls, the flame of leaves and the smoke of frost.

So that’s what I’m trying to think about, as I turn the corner from the summer of my life into autumn. The vivid brilliance of a grandchild, the unfolding of time like saffron autumn crocus petals. And the knowledge that it doesn’t last, life. It moves through its own seasons, at its own pace. Even though we still say If I die — meaning, if I die before you. Because of course we’re going to die. It’s the basis of Buddhism, this knowledge of our inevitable demise. It’s what the Buddha found so hard to understand — how we can live beneath the burden that all we love is transient. And ultimately, it’s what gives each day its own inutterable poignancy — that icy blade edge of death beneath it all.

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Which is fine, if you aren’t expecting to live forever. These days, it seems I am more & more aware of hourglasses — time & life as sand running through what seems like a pretty darn WIDE passage, they move so fast. In the meantime, I still get mad when people are cranky with me, even though I know life is short, and mad fixes so little. And I still roll my eyes when people do & say dumb things. Even though I know that no one wakes up in the morning wondering how best to be an idiot.

via wikicommons

via wikicommons

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This weekend my beloved & his sister are moving my mother-in-law, as I mentioned earlier. My mother-in-law — she who took a master’s degree in Chaucer & Shakespeare, she who wrote the entire family history in a book — often has no idea who they are. She is locked inside a mental landscape w/out familiar landmarks — at least the ones that have names, that walk through her room. My own mother died curled into a quiet, wordless shell of herself — like a many-chambered nautilus w/out the sea creature at the centre. So I’m familiar with this fugue state, and know it may well be my own destination. Winter, for me, may be another blank landscape, obscured by relentless icy needles. The colours of autumn — which I can name, savour, inhale — are far preferable. And infinitely precious, since I know that whatever happens come winter, this bright autumn will pass.

My point? Beginner’s heart, folks. It knows you haven’t the time you want, much less the time you think you need. So breathe slowly. Look around. And if autumn is on your own personal horizon? Enjoy the colours. Enjoy the light.

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tea parties (for no reason)…

the author's

the author’s

We all know how I L❤️VE tea parties. But today’s post is to remind you just why you may want to have a tea party, or comparable celebration.

Because today.

Seriously — life is worth celebrating, even when it feels like it’s not. Right now — even as I write — we are trying to move my dearest mother-in-law into a more secure Alzheimer’s facility. She’s not doing well. The move, however (despite how good it will be for her long-term) is no small thing: paperwork, doctors, state orgs, insurance, fee structures… It will make you crazy, I promise. At least short-term.

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Hence tea parties.

the author's

the author’s

I invited my two local sisters, and a niece w/ accompanying infant to tea, to visit with my sister-in-law & me. My sister-in-law is in to help settle Mom, obviously. And a tea party was probably not on her very hectic agenda. But she humoured me. The adorable baby helped… 😉

I made bruschetta, scones, and hummus — it was, after all, high tea. Americans think all afternoon teas are ‘high’ teas, but a high tea subs for supper. It’s not the lacy dainty fare of afternoon (or cream) teas. I bought lemon, chocolate chip, & almond tea cookies (they are sooo good!). I picked up toasties for the bruschetta & hummus, as well as veggies. And meat pasties, too! (Really Cuban meat pies, but they look like pasties…)

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I made two kinds of tea — my niece’s fave (the house Panyang Congou) — and a Madagascar vanilla I like. There was Devon double cream, and honey, & two kinds of jam. It was heaven!

And it forced everyone to take time from their days — in our case, not such pleasant days, lately — and breathe. Savour tea, scones. Nibble crisp, buttery cookies. Stoke the energy embers w/ protein (pasties & hummus!) and eat summer tomatoes.

2011-05-30 14 39 48

the author’s

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You need to do this, folks. Celebrate this summer, this day, without the company of drugs or alcohol — something Americans aren’t so good at. We think celebrations need alcohol, at the very least. Champagne, summer margaritas. And sure — those can be fun too. But then there’s the inevitable who’s driving? et al. With tea, it meant sister 2 talked to sister 3 all night, practically (she’s not used to drinking tea at 5 p.m.!). No problem, a little sleepy. And there was plenty of extra food to take home for guys who didn’t make it.

Here’s your day, today. And there is tea, or coffee, or lemonade. If you have time, home-made is cheaper and great. If not? Buy some Oreos! Or whatever rings your celebration bells. Just don’t forget: this is all we have for sure, folks — this day, this now. And if you take the time to breathe? Drink some tea? It’s more than enough. I promise.

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when people you love hurt

via google

via google

I have never known what to do when people I love hurt. Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, all I know how to do is hug, soothe, and cook. I prescribe what works for me: flowers, tea, chocolate. Cookies. Time spent watching birds.

It meets w/ spotty success, I confess.

And of course, as any Buddhist wannabe, I practice tonglen. I practice as my beloved Pema Chodron teaches: when my husband is suffering from his incessantly difficult knees, I remember how my own hands ache from arthritis, and how my own knees give out in the stiffness of early morning. I identify with his pain, breathe it in, and then breathe out peace. Comfort.

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I also make a nice pot of tea, and buy salted dark chocolate caramels. Not as good for my karmic profile, I know, but sooo tasty!

When my young girlfriend speaks of her few difficulties w/ her new baby, I think of when I wake up mid-sleep and can’t relax, over-thinking my life. I breathe in her anxiety — worried as she may be that she won’t be able to handle this new, infinitely complex job — and breathe out comfort. I also pick up Starbuck’s, in case she needs some added energy. :)

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Tonglen may be what best defines Buddhism to me: the desire to make the world better on a person-by-person, every day to every day, basis. And then practicing that desire: breathing in pain, breathing out comfort. As one source notes, it begins with befriending ourselves: noting our own pain, our own grief & loss & fear, and sitting with it for a moment. Then realising — on a bone-deep visceral level — that ALL human beings feel pain, grief, loss & fear. That alone is pretty amazing stuff.

But to move from that recognition to the desire to change this, to use our own dark places to heal those of others? How incredibly wonderful is that impulse?

Today, if you’re blue, or wondering how to help someone you love weather a difficult time? Don’t think. Just breathe. In< pain/ out> comfort. It’s really that simple.

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