Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Value the Passing Time

This morning I read a review of Roger Rosenblatt's book Making Toast (Ecco) in one of my favorite newsletters, Shelf Awareness.  Rosenblatt's book, according to the review, goes "beyond the 'tragedy memoir' genre.' It becomes a celebration in the face of sorrow, and every emotion will surface as you read this testament to what love, in the hands of an extremely talented writer and true father, can accomplish."  In 2007 the Rosenblatt's 38-year-old daughter died suddenly. The memoir is a book about continuing to live. He says, "As far as I can tell, this is how to live- to value the passing time."

I have always appreciated the beauty and grace of spare writing which tells the truth. Always, such writing is powerful, evocative, and even haunted sometimes by so much more emotion than a word can hold on a page. This, the felt and unseen, is part of its beauty. Hemingway is famous for such spare words and intensity of emotion. Raymond Carver. Others. Think, then, of a style in the form of Garcia Marquez, the "magical realism" of the famous 100 Years of Solitude (which I loved). 100 Years was first published in Spanish in 1967. Marquez's book awakened within me an excitement and deep comfort which I had not felt before in the mountains of fiction I'd read to that point. The lush, evocative jungle he created with such precision was so inviting to me. My mind recognized the thick density of emotion and sensory beauty, yet craved the simplicity of style which did not have to "spell it all out."

I look forward to reading Rosenblatt's book. I have grown to appreciate and value the passing time, too, in my 40+ years (multiply by 3). As Rosenblatt comments to his interviewer, it's no longer a role, it's life. As I have watched the newscasts over the past week, relaying the tragedy and courage and challenges of the earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath, I've felt the heartbreak and admired the courage. I've appreciated the frustration so many have felt, with the challenge of logistics and the lack of basic survival supplies. Tempers flare. Compassion is evident in so much and so many. As Rosenblatt says, it's not just about "moving on." When somebody dies, the only true memorialization is memory. Children learn language to tell the stories already in them.

"In no way am I more reminded of this than when I look at a small conch shell I have kept since I was a child. The shell, nothing extraordinary, contains for me a distillation of blissful days I spent on the beach when I was young. Years later, I recall those happy times, holding the shell to my ear, listening. I believe I hear the rush of surf hitting the shore, the crash of breaking waves. It is a universal fantasy, shared by every child ignorant of the facts of science, but it is also the truth. In the voice of seashells, in the echo of blood rushing through our veins, the waters of life, the sea, are singing."  (Waters of Life, Deborah Cramer, 42-3)

One image today stays in my mind, on top of others. In an instance of looting and anger shown on a downtown street, one little boy was hit in the head by a rock. His head was red with blood, and he was clearly dazed. He rubbed his face with his hands, as we see children do so often when they're in bathtubs or swimming pools, wiping water from their eyes so they can see. His were red with blood. He looked at his red hands and rubbed again and again.

As I think of loss, of life, of love, faces and feelings and memories crop up. I remember my Dad's sweet face the day before he died when my brother and I were visiting him at the Nursing Home. Dad asked simple questions about what was happening in the news. Mike mentioned the Super Bowl, and said, Dad, do you remember what the Super Bowl is? Dad smiled that wonderful smile and shook his head. I used to, he said. He valued the passing time always. He taught me to think about this more. His philosophy of life was for the living, and for the appreciation of dying, too. They are part of the same cycle of change. Religion, especially as my parents lived their religious faith and philosophy, taught me to think on this cycle of change. Spiritual Philosophy taught me to understand eternal life as energy and to value what religion aims to do. This I love.

I think of Dad's face, the way his skin moved, and the way he made faces, raising his eyebrows (Brezhnev, as we called him when he did so), the way he spontaneously began to sing. He cared about the lives of others.

In my rush to accomplish tasks sometimes, especially now, I have to be reminded of the energy of life itself, and the beauty of this energy, why we must honor it and cherish it, nurture ourselves as we live and share our lives.  Each memory of love slows me down, quickens my heart and mind.  "You can't pray a lie," Huck Finn said, and he's a character in a book! He knows the truth.

Dad reminds me still, value the passing time. Love. Each image shows me. Begin by loving the self that you are. "In the positive emotional approach to our lessons we consciously feel the excitement and enthusiasm of our physical experience rather than seeing our physical experience as a negative event or crisis. Lessons can then be consciously learned in happiness, peace, and joy. When we begin to accept personal responsibility for our beliefs and behavior, we will be consciously choosing to live from our emotions of love and caring." (Healing Ourself, by Kathy Oddenino, 97)

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Recently I finished reading Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpa. The final story in the collection, from which the title got its name, is a powerhouse of a finish. It made a great impact within me now, too, as I’ve been thinking a lot about my father and his trip to Rwanda in 1994. 1994 was the milestone in Rwanda for the genocide which is almost unimaginable to grasp. According to records, over the course of about 100 days (April – July), at least half a million people were killed, and estimates have suggested as much as 20% of the Rwandan population. Tribal tensions were built into bonfires of fear and aggression, and the history of the trail of thought into action is a fascinating one, just as each person’s path, creating “points of power,” can be fascinating to study as we live our ives. The Nigerian with the “underwear bomb” is one example I think of, as I watch the news and the stories continue to unravel a history, a life, a path of one man’s mind and its ripple effects as a living energy in the world today. I haven’t yet seen the film Invictus, but watching the trailers, seeing Morgan Freeman in the role of Nelson Mandela, absorbing the scenes and the energy ripples of South Africans who lived these times and the changes they were willing to make to “better” their world, inspires me. What courage! “Taking the high road,” staying the course of the Ethical Values which make us human is not always an easy task, yet its rewards are infinite, and everlasting.

I looked up "Invictus" and learned the Latin definition ("unconquered") and also found William Ernest Henley's 1888 poem. The poem's title, "Invictus," was added by Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1900 (The Oxford Book of English Verse). History says Henley wrote the 1875 poem from a hospital bed (he had tuberculosis of the bone, and his leg was amputated below the knee.)The last two lines of the poem are, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." One main Google reference to this quote is Napoleon Hill's best-selling "Think and Grow Rich." It feels good to connect the dots to deeper layers of history, knowing, culture...dig deeper...

As 2010 begins, I think of these examples. I feel the very real horror, fear, and despair so skillfully displayed by Akpan in his stories of these African children, and "their" adults in the throes of change. I feel the weight within our history of these atrocities, and the call within us to rise to a “higher order” of life and living. To keep the peace and calm within my own life, as I love the laughter that rises inside, is to cultivate and nurture the ethical energy within me and in my world. Children trust love as true. They remind us what broken promises mean, how such broken dreams crush the vision and world we imagine is real. As my mother was dying I watched her absolute will to love, as she resolved to eat when she could, because she knew she must, and because she knew her twin sister loved her as she fixed something she might want and that might satisfy in that moment of need. When I feel small frustrations within me, with some detail of my life, I remember these things. I feel the courage of love, the absolute power of simply being guided by love. I take another sip of delicious black coffee, and thank those who grew the harvest, and those all along the way who brought it “to my feet.” What a pleasure.

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Day

Thank you, all of you pioneers, you creative beings! You know who you are...

As the last few weeks of 2009 have wound down, I have been thinking a lot about originality and creativity.  I remember flashbacks of moments in my life when I have felt absolutely creative, full of the untouchable spark that lights the moment like a comet in the sky of daily activity, just as I remember the sensations of weaving the tapestry of “ordinary” moments, time ticking by.  I remember once many years ago (eons) when I was visiting a musician friend (Tom W) in Madison, Wisconsin.  I’d never been to Madison, and had never visited my friend in his old “haunts” there. We’d met in graduate school. He was, and is, a musician extraordinaire, a tinkerer, an inventive mind, a family man, someone whose thoughts hum always, and his fingers follow, his voice humming too.  One night during the visit a number of his friends dropped in, and each of them seemed to play different instruments.  There was a piano in the room, so I wandered to the bench and listened. The room was rather dark (it was winter, so very cold outside), lit by lamps, and so many hands, voices, people playing different instruments was its own cacophony which delighted and fascinated me. The hum of creativity and their complete attention to the music-making in the moment was wonderful. I looked around for some sheet music. (I’d studied piano.) I was inspired and encouraged to join in. Yet I realized the block in my mind of, without the music, what could I add?  These were all musicians, each playing, doing “their thing.” I’m no musician. The thought surprised me, and I’ve thought about it since, whenever prompted – by the comet spark of Music within me, by the joy of others’ in their delight of creating, by the disparity of those who revel in it and those who keep to the more “ordinary” moments as though they have no music within them.  We are all made of music.

I love encouragement. Visiting my family during Christmas, I had the privilege of basking in the beautiful creative joy of my almost three-year-old niece. Her wonder, delight, expressed in laughter, her soft inquiring voice, that insistent smile, and the way she moves – all reminded me of the joy of just expression, when shared as the love of life.  As she anticipated the arrival of her grandparents, she ran to the door, carrying her doll, looked through the panes to see if the car was theirs, then jumped up and down with absolute delight, saying, This is Fun!!!  I laugh every time I think of her, and of her joy which she shared so freely.

I resolve to celebrate and share ever more these moments of life, and the joy of health, laughter, family, friends, creation itself and all I can add to it.  To the sweeping strokes of blue I’ve felt this year (2009), I will add more of the gold, the glints of light and white cloud which so delight me as I capture the images of sky above and around me.  My mind is ready for more, the nuances of exploration as we think through and live the joys of creation.  Here’s to the music makers within us all! The art of expression.  Art encourages us to live beautifully – as a friend pointed out last night, the four levels of us as energy encourage us to consciously choose, to live, to know – who we are, who we want to be, the potential within us, and the joy of understanding that we are Spirit beings learning to be human. Happy New Year(s)!