Apples

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Couple of thing going on … my time of ministry at the Pawlet Church will come to a close at the end of October. From then on I’ll be doing some pop-up preaching — check back here to keep track of where I’ll be showing up.

We’ll be be doing a lot of skiing this winter thanks to the magnanimous and magnificent Cyrus Schenck, whose generosity (and genius, check out what he makes) will have me on these incredible boards this year. My son, Nate, built a pair of skis with Cyrus for his senior project a few yeas ago and since then we’ve all watched with glee as his terrific idea for how to build a better ski has become a respected force in the industry.

Working in nursing homes and hospice care has taught me much. Right now it’s this: today I have legs that work so I damn well better put them to good use. I’ll see you slopeside at the lovely and very local Magic Mountain this winter, and too at Stowe, where I’ll be at the Mt. Mansfield chapel doing the Sunday afternoon service from time to time.

I’m honored to be among the many wise and intelligent women presenters at Senator Leahy’s Economic Opportunity Conference for women this October. Sign up and join us.

I have already begun to fill my officiating calendar for weddings in 2020; do get in touch if you know anyone tying the knot next year. I am also taking on small photography gigs. Happy to travel for those good things.

There is a lot swirling, a lot changing, not the least of which are all the beautiful colors around us. Both of my boys have September birthdays; in October my folks are moving back to the place they left 25 years ago, back to our hometown. No doubt we’ll be returning to the sea soon for another surfing session.

So much to be grateful for, so much to look forward to. So many lovely surprises and plot twists.

Enjoy the cider, enjoy the apples, soak up the sun. Be with your kids, express gratitude, be kind.
That’s all. For now. xomo



Surf

I didn’t capture the best shot of the day. It’s always so hard to know when to bring the camera and when to leave it behind., when to pick it up and when to just look. This is an on-going struggle/question, and it should be: how much are we missing when we are behind a camera or a phone, determined to capture a moment we’re not actually participating in? I have struggled with this for as long as I’ve loved photography.

We went to the beach early in the morning and I stood on the shore and watched her ride wave after wave, getting churned by the ocean, falling down off the board and getting back up again. She never got tired, never gave in. I had to suggest, after a few hours, that we get some breakfast and even then she feigned patience and gobbled some yogurt so she could get back to her sea.

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There was a slow lead-up to the best shot of the day. I saw, from my blanket on the beach, the cop with the fancy cop boots on — equestrian boots, it looked like — walking down the beach with a man who looked pissed-off. He looked like the kind of guy who hates it when people don’t follow the rules.

I watched the two of them stop and gesture to my daughter to come out of the water. I wondered if she had offended someone in her unrelenting quest to carve out her ocean space. Had she hit someone with her board? Was she not following some kind of unspoken surfer rule or regulation? Secretly I kind of loved that she might be getting in trouble, that she was just enough surfer renegade already to warrant a visit from the police.

She emerged from the water and walked over to them; talking ensued. Half of Mom me wanted to go over and find out what was happening; the other half knew it best to let my teenager handle it herself. Board in hand, she came toward me. “You’re not allowed to surf between 11 and 5,” she said, with her brand new surfer girl petulance.

I got it; we both did, the beach was getting crowded, though there seemed to be more than enough ocean to accommodate swimmers and surfers. There’s enough room on the mountain for skiers and snowboarders, right? I watched as the angry man walked away, seemingly pleased with the outcome. And I got my kid back on the blanket, but it wasn’t the same.

Helen Cooper Hood Eyre has been gong to the sea since she was born. Maybe even way before that. She came here with salt water in her veins, so happy is she in the waves, so content to be part of the tides. She would have surfed from sun-up until sundown if not for the rules.

”Being out there, even when I was just sitting waiting for a wave, that was the most peaceful I’ve been in a long time,” she told me later. We knew she had found her way right to the very thing she’s supposed to be doing, surfing the waves of the oceans of this world.

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Me, fraidycat lady, swallowed up once by a powerful undertow, slashed by a man-o-war, won’t swim unless all is calm, prefers to watch from the shore … apparently I gave birth to a mermaid.


Bittersweet

I don’t think I have ever seen the geese flying south over the Atlantic. Usually I’m standing near a field somewhere in Vermont when I first hear the honking then see the miraculous formation. It never ceases to amuse me, the way they fall in line, how there’s almost always one that needs to catch up. The incredible fortitude with which they carry out the task, year after year.

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In what feels like just a few minutes she will be starting high school. And not long after that both boys will graduate from college. How funny, this passage of time, changing of the seasons, boys to men … girl power exploding in all directions. The funny, funny way that life proceeds, whether we want it to or not.

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We have come to the sea to get our bearings before we enter into this new season. Last week I made the decision to step away from the church in the fall and my folks seemed to have sold their house in southern Vermont. One day officially on the market and a young family swooped in and made an offer.

Mom and Dad built that house, side-by-side, Mom getting the tools, sweeping the floors, making sandwiches; Dad building a home out of nothing, from the ground up, wood and concrete and glass and stone. Cabinets, countertops, tile, a view that always made everything OK. Sam took some of his first steps there; Christmas mornings, Nanny’s pie, starry summer nights, the sound of the stream down at the bottom of the hill. Sledding, the boys on skis for the very first time. So many wonderful beginnings there, and now comes an ending.

Our hearts are heavy with these transitions, but as we know all too well, life is nothing if not a series of lettings-go. Letting goes? I don’t know; we are always and forever being called to let something go. I’m pretty sure that it’s in our willingness to respond with gratitude and grace where we find some measure of peace, but none of us has enough grace to fill an entire day. Bring on the ocean with its powerful and healing tides, reminding us of just how much can change in the course of one day.

The Pawlet Community Church will continue to stand tall; the new family will plant gardens where we once caught fireflies, my kids will graduate from everything and maybe even one day make babies and start the cycle all over again. We are a blip, our lives here a nanosecond, so keep looking for the funny and love each other up a lot, OK?

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Yesterday it was these birds, perched on the roof all afternoon, seaside sentinals, waiting for the dropped potato chip, maybe. Soaking up the last of the summer sun, just like us.

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It’s another beautiful day here in Maine. I hope it is where you are, too.


Life

I was thinking about how when we went to Montana in February it snowed and snowed and snowed. Every day, all day. There was so much snow everywhere. It seemed like the Bozeman road crew just kind of gave up — there was really nowhere for the snow to go after a while.

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It was so pretty outside, all that white. Except that Nate’s magnificent girlfriend, Gretta, was in the hospital and we had to drive through all that snow each day to get there. Also, I had to drive Nate’s trusty Subaru Outback through a bunch of that snow to get us the the emergency room the night she had a seizure and it scared the heck out of all of us, but we got there and Gretta got better and eventually winter turned to spring and Nate and Gretta (whose names we almost always mash up into one: Netta or Grate) came to Vermont and we all played outside in the warmer, longer days and the whole family fell in love with Gretta and with Nate being in love with Gretta.

We got this new car recently, also a Subaru Outback, and Coco and I were thinking about what to name it because we always name our cars. We settled on Gretta because the car is trustworthy and reliable and sporty and strong, like our human Gretta. Then we learned that Gretta is kind of a derivation of Margretta, which means the pearl and because the car is pearlescent white the name took on another layer of significance.

It was kind of funny, thinking back to all that snow and driving the Suby in Montana and our Gretta, how white everything was. Now we have this pearly white Suby of our own, The Gretta, here in Vermont.

Life is funny, right?

A couple of days ago I walked into the room of one of the people I serve in my role as a chaplain in an elder and long-term care place in Saratoga Springs. A bunch of the person’s family members were there, visiting and being together. It turned out that one of them had been Coco’s teacher back in Charlotte, Vermont, a whole bunch of years ago. We were amazed and awed and delighted to have returned to one another, all these years later, in a totally unexpected place.

A few weeks ago I walked in to the office of the organization I work for in Bennington and was wandering around meeting the staff, turned a corner and saw the familiar face of someone I had worked with about twenty years ago when I was a teacher in Manchester. Here we are, all these years later, both of us having raised and launched our boys, gotten divorced, gone back to school to learn how to do something different, working together again.

I mean. Life. Wow.

I have found myself many, many times this summer, marveling at all of it. The bees that showed up in the Saratoga backyard, the incredible green of Vermont, the chilly perfection of Lake George, the quiet of the dirt road in the morning, the birds singing so sweetly, the babies! There are babies again … Frida and Brooklyn and Keene. Thank god for those babies. Fireflies, fireworks, evening fires … woodsmoke and honey and summer sun, brown skin and baby drool, music and art … I mean … come on!

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I gave a talk to a group of new hospice volunteers the other day, about my work as a chaplain. I told them stories of all the amazing things I’ve experienced over the years, in the company of the dying. I talked about the sacred nature of the work, the holy endeavor they were choosing to pursue. There were a couple of college students in the group: a Sam and a Beanie. It made me think of my Sam, somewhere in Croatia at the moment, and my Beanie (Nate), hunkered down in Montana and headed out on the road soon (with the human Gretta), touring the Pacific Northwest in search of a potential post-graduate home.

I told those hospice volunteers a bunch of things, I probably talked too much. Most importantly, what I told them was to stay curious. To keep all of their senses awake and to stay curious about all of it, all of life. And about all of death. “Because we are all deeply interconnected … us, the natural world, the animal world and the spirit world.”

Magical things will happen, I told them. Be grateful and curious and good and magical things will happen.

For certain, I promise.

Church, Croatia.

Church, Croatia.


Sceptical

For a number of years I chose suffering as a way of life. I mistakenly thought that, in order to be a good healer, a good minister, fair-minded and available to all, I had to take on a lot of pain and grief. A lot. I walked through this world as a sponge, soaking up everyone’s suffering. I thought that I needed to be poor in order to serve well a God I believe in and trust. I thought that becoming ill, suffering misfortune, being endlessly forgiving and constantly shoring up the lives of everyone who needed shoring up was simply part of the drill.

I did not think that it was possible
to find peace
to be content
to make a decent living
to be respected, honored and heard in love
to wake up delighted and not filled with dread

I had become so used to settling for so little in life that I had become the very worst thing one can become: sceptical (I use the British spelling because I like it).

The way the world felt, the way my life felt, with calamity and chaos playing out in all directions; upheaval, disconnection, dis-ease holding a starring role in my daily existence, I began to think that this was a less than desirable place to be, that maybe the other world would come as a kind of relief. Death can easily become the norm, a compelling option for an exhausted hospice chaplain. What’s worse still, when I expressed this to someone I loved, his response was essentially, I will not be held responsible for your happiness.

But of course. We carry trauma from our difficult childhoods and, when unresolved, spend our adult days giving that away in the form of shitty behavior toward others. We are tethered to and slaves of our devices and our addictions. We slip into a trough in this life and ride it out until we take that last gasp of the air that fills this world and depart for someplace that sounds much nicer, from what I can glean from my friends who have died.

I’m still here, you may have noticed.
What happened?

As is so often the case with any re-routed trajectory in life, I had had enough. I reached the point of saturation; I was tired of being tired but not so tired that I truly wanted to sleep the big sleep. Tired enough that I was ready to make some changes. I spent time walking these dirt roads alone, praying, meditating, Reiki-ing the heck out of myself. I talked with my kids, the best healers I know. I looked at art, wrote stuff down, ate lots of fruit.

I looked around for the good teachers in my midst. I could tell who they were by the way they looked me right in the eyes, were not in a hurry and always liberal with their warm and genuine hugs.

I cleared space, did the difficult work of The Ending. Closed chapters, gave away a ton of stuff, relocated myself away from toxic spaces and told the Great Universe I was ready for better to arrive (the Great Universe already knew this, but it was my job to say it anyway).

I took responsibility for my own well-being. Instead of seeking out others to poke or prod or listen to me, diagnose and prescribe, I taught myself how to heal myself.

Good things came, good people, honest and real people, ones whose feet are on terra firma and whose hearts face True North. Vocation and purpose became clearer; I am doing everything every day that I love with all of my heart. The sun became warmer, the lakes cooler; my nights are filled with deep and replenishing sleep. Heck, I even got a new car, a white one, my chariot.

No one congratulates us on our deathbed for having thrown away our lives, given away our joy, sucked up all the pain in our midst, settled for anything less than a truly satisfying life. It is, in large part, about a willingness to own all of one’s own-ness. To heal brokenness, to dispose of the worn-out tape playing over and over about who we are and what we do or don’t deserve in this life.

I am whole, present and strong and on any given day you can come to me to spit shine your aura or tie-dye your chakras. I will do my best to channel the light of this world in your direction. I am learning to do this without giving away my peace or the entire bandwidth of divine love and grace flowing through me. I will share, though, I promise. I got this, and you do, too.

Happy, happy, happy summer days.

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