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Early November gratitude

What I started to write a few days ago but have not returned to because of Halloween and because of a large bodied young man loping around the house, is that Benjamin is feeling much better. (He is that loping guy.) Thank you for your prayers.

Swiss heart

 

What I wanted to say a few days ago, but have been too timid to write it, is that I get so very worried about my kids I pray the paint off the walls, and though it makes me feel better, makes me feel that I am not the only one keeping the wheels on the car, all those random elements like drivers in correct lanes, flu viruses and recreational activities, blood composition and cranial vaults, hormones and integrity, will behave as they behave. Whether my prayers influence any of these things, I hardly really care frankly. My prayers help me, and so I pray.

 

But what do we do when, again, our community suffers the loss of another kid? This one a college freshman, walking home with two buddies back to campus, struck by a drunk driver. The kids were walking. The driver was drunk. And of the three young men, one is dead and two are seriously injured.

*Pause here to do what you do, light candles, kneel, look at a tree, fold your hands over your heart…for his sweet life ended, for his family. I don’t know them at all, but believe me, loss does not need proximity to be shared.*

Every single community in this nation wrangles with loss; tragic, mundane, daily loss. The varying levels of loss, the extreme violence that is generated by all the -isms at play in our society, and the school incidents we weep over, yet cannot find a way to curtail-all of these realities get run through the washing machines of our hearts. We take them in, all the details we can fit. We wash them with tears and ministrations, and we set them out again to dry. How how how do we carry on?

Fall evening

This was the topic of our dinner conversation last night. My daughter, a high school senior, has philosophic leanings, just like her brother, and by virtue of proximity, my husband and me, too. We were considering something of the question of “what gets you out of bed in the morning, knowing, as you do because you are human, that you will die, if not today, some day, maybe sooner, maybe later. Why get up?” While this may sound morose, it digs pretty efficiently to the heart of the matter of what we makes each of us tick. And since my kids are old enough now to get them selves out of bed and in to their respective days, the answers become more and more interesting.

For me, it is a question of faith in goodness.

I grew up thinking it was God with a capital G, with a white beard and pearly gates and the Bible is a record of fact. I have come to believe a wider truth today. And because I am human and because I believe we are here for a reason and because I know the healing that comes to broken hearts because of the power of love, I get out of bed intent on loving bigger than I did yesterday. And praying to a power greater than myself helps me know how to do that.

I came upon this in Mirabai Starr’s book about Teresa of Avila:

 

“Remember:

if you want to make progress

on the path

and ascend to the places

you have longed for,

the important thing

is not to think much

but to love much,

and so to do

whatever

best awakens you to love.”

 

 

What best awakens you to love?

I trust that readers of Laundry Line Divine might answer this question in a myriad of ways. Yesterday, my she-ro Anne Lamott batted the question of faith and fear around in an excellent post, in which she concluded that in the face of all these odds, she would, “…flirt with every old lonely person I see,” along with a few other things to which I would add, “…go hang my wash out on the line in the sun and plant a few rows of garlic.”

along the river

I return to this question of faith over and over again. My Lutheran minister Grandfather seems to have a hand in this inner debate because he modeled for me a man of faith and consequence, an imperfect man doing what he believed to be God’s work, who left a lot of unfinished business in his wake, who, among other things, raised pigeons for lab research and grew lots of gladioli to sell (I guess), but who, towards the end of his ministry started to participate in Baptist services. The man was a seeker, a blustering red-faced pulpit speaker who just did not settle on one way of seeing things. I was too young to know more about him before he died. Much of what I know I learned by asking my mother and her siblings, but even they are not forthcoming with stories. I don’t think life with my Grandfather was easy.

But, this yearning to “love much” leads me to a theme I learned long ago in Al-Anon, the 12 Step program for families and friends of alcoholics. In those rooms filled with people of so many different faiths and religions, atheists and anarchists, the one common cup we could all drink from is gratitude. And it is through gratitude that I have found my way in to a prayer practice that connects me to spirit, that presence which comforts and preserves me outside of radiology rooms where my kid is being scanned or at my mother’s bedside where her breath slows to her very last. I can say thank you to every single human being, no matter what our language, religion or belief.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is “thank you,” that would suffice.”

-Meister Eckhart

I want to get to this because “thank you” is what leads me to loving much. Like Anne Lamott smiling at all the old people she sees while out walking her dogs in Marin County, I find that offering thanks in real time, in letters and cards, in phone calls, in person at the drug store, at the Doctor’s office, in the ER, saying thank you seems to be the connection point between humans. It is where smiles spring up.

So today, on this Monday, a cool but warm-in-the-sunshine fall day, I am so very grateful for Benjamin feeling better and an acupuncturist who could see him on a Sunday. I am grateful for each and every kid who showed up on our porch for tricks and treats on Saturday evening, especially the tiny ones who my son would kneel down to meet and treat instead of them encountering our scary-as-shit table prank that my Halloween collaborators and I cooked up.  (see below) I am grateful for my husband being patient with me when I am not the most loving I could ever be. And I am grateful for him in the moments when he is doing his best, though not what I would have planned had it all been up to me.

A video posted by Suzi Banks Baum (@suzibb) on

 

I guess the point of this writing is this: The goodness and grace of daily life exists in all cases. When I tune my attention towards it, my ability to keep going is fueled, motivated-this force is generative and a certain salvation.

People get hurt. As William Stafford says in his luminous poem, The Way It Is:

 

“Things happen. People get hurt

or die, you suffer and get old,

Nothing you do can stop times unfolding.”

 

But, we get to wake up again on the next day and decide how to use our time, no matter what the prevailing conditions or our marital status or the laundry outlook,

we carry on.

 

How we carry on, in what state our hearts are, how connected we are to what is true and real and beautiful and whether or not we get to have our say about that, let alone perhaps make art in response to that, is exactly why I get out of bed in the morning.

I wake up curious.

Usually have to pee.

But once done, I am deeply attentive to the first signs of light.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here is much love to you each.

From my laundry line to yours,
S

 

Grief

Rose by SBB

Summer is so sweet and so full of life.
But grief has arrived and she cannot be ignored.

We have to speak about loss.

In my community, there has been a terribly sad loss of a teen-aged girl. She is the daughter of people I don’t know well, but know in the way you know people in a small town. She is the niece of our friends, she is the cousin of my daughter’s close friend, her name is Maia, and though I don’t know that I ever saw her as a grown-up kid, I remember when she was born, the ripples of happiness that spread through her extended family and touched those of us further out from that center.

What do you do in the face of this or every other sadness we encounter on a daily basis? The surprising losses like Maia who drowned while snorkeling with her father, or the shattering devastation at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina? Each loss reveals more about us than we’d like to admit. Here, this tender dear girl who resembles so many of her cousins, thick eyelashes and a smile that stops traffic. I sense the utter sadness of her parents and I want to claw my children to my chest. I hold my prayers like shoulders leaning in to my heart. In Charleston, layers of revelation about the sinister presence of past and present oppression continue to disrupt communities. Street names, place names, flags and habit patterns bear not-so-subtle reminders of terrible sorrow.

What do we do? How broken open do we have to be before we start to take steps, remove flags, rename streets, extend a hand to another who cannot even speak for the sadness that has stopped us in our tracks?

Holliston Lilies

This past week, I gathered with my sisterhood of bookmakers. We painted papers and built journals and sat in sacred circle where we wrote and shared. In that quiet held space, grief sat among us and carved a bigger space in our hearts for each other. Sitting there with bare-boned knowing, grief rubbed elbows with celebration and the agonies of our lives return from exile.

 

How do you sit with grief, yours or someone else’s?
What do you do?
In my town, we start cooking. People trodden down with sorrow need to eat and drink, so we utilize the online tool of Meal Train and the family eats.

In the lushness of summer, grief joins us. She edges in like a dog soaked with skunk, fragrant and impossible to ignore.

It is Sunday morning.
From the church of my heart, I send you love.
xo S

 

 

My apologies for the earlier draft of this post that misnamed Charleston. Yes, I am right with you #Charlestonstrong.

 

Love and Grief

Forgiveness offering

“Love means never having to say you are sorry?”

Really?

This brain worm-y song has plagued me since high school. Until this week that is.
The Lettermen and every high school chorus who spread that pitiful platitude in to the minds of teenagers like me have done us all a disservice.

It took me until about yesterday to really know, in my bones know, in my cells know, that the power of an authentic apology can change the way I feel deep inside my body where I hide my darkest secrets. I suspect that it also changes the cells deep inside the person to whom I offer my apology. I feel changed when I am on the receiving end of an apology.

 

Over the past few days, a river of forgiveness has ribboned through my thoughts.

I am in a book group reading, Daring Greatly, together. Our conversation about shame and forgiveness opened a door in my heart. We talked about risking being emotionally naked when we speak our vulnerabilities. I think that owning up to feeling upset by something someone else has done or hearing that I have done something to upset another are moments that make us who we are. I have a choice to be truthful and current with what is happening or I can duck and cover. Clam up. Bury the hurt. Bathe in blame. Fester.

Or I can carve a new path and speak to the hurt.
Risk being emotionally naked.
This begins to define a sense of emotional maturity that I desire in my life.

When powerful ideas enter my world, the Universe starts offering me things to ponder.

Yesterday, I read this in Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift.

“To atone and to forgive are complimentary acts. In forgiving a sin, he who has been sinned against initiates the exchange that reestablishes the bond. We forgive when we give up attachment to our wounds.”

This past weekend, I mistakenly offended someone.
I took the opportunity to listen to her anger.
And then, to apologize.
I could not fix the situation for her or take away her feelings.
All I could do was express my remorse.
She accepted my apology.

It took me another day to understand my own feelings about the mistake that contributed to her upset. And, later that next day, she had the grace to send me a note telling me she was feeling much better and had sorted out a few things that contributed to her feelings. Those factors had nothing to do with me. She initiated an exchange that helped me recover. Or gain new ground.

 

Myth illustration by Suzi Banks Baum

Then, earlier this week, I found myself saying, “I am sorry” again, only this time I spoke to a close friend who is grieving.

Same words, different melody.

What do you say when you stand with someone in grief, raw broken open grief or long-lived with grief that has become an entity, bears a scent and has an address?

Saying, “I’m sorry” can be enough, if what you offer with those words is the fullness of your presence. The walking-a-mile-in-your-shoes feeling that can only be truly shared when you stand still long enough to listen, to watch your friend’s face change. See how the weather of deep emotion moves across the open prairie of her being. I am not great at this, but I am getting more comfortable with grief.
Truly, you may not ever walk more than a block in her shoes, you may never really know how her loss fits around her heart, caged in pain and remembrances, but you can imagine that unimaginable. And that imagination makes an impact.

On Wednesday evening, in my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions writing workshop, I wrote along with the group. I don’t always do this, but this week, there was room for my words at the table. We used Judyth Hill’s poem Wage Peace as a common ground to stand on. Then, we made spoke graphs centered on questions we asked ourselves.

“What do you require for your own well being?”

“What do you require for inspiration?”

“What do you require for connection?”

From those three graphs, we looked at what words were common between them. Using a selection of those words, we used the format of a recipe to write directions for something we felt a yearning for in our lives. (If this explanation is hard to follow, come join me sometime to write and we will do it together)

This is what I wrote.
And, having lived with these words for two days, I wondered if they might come in handy for you.


 

For the application for plasters in the event of heartbreaking grief

When you come upon a friend who stands before you in sorrow, breathe a sigh of gratitude for the onlyest time you can truly help her. Hold her cheeks in your hands and apply the warmth your mother gave you. Ask the clenched teeth to release, that knot at the top of her jaw under her ear to soften.
Kiss her forehead.
Rub your thumbs under her chin gently.
Lean your forehead against hers and recall Judyth’s words, “Think of chaos as dancing raspberries and grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.” Step inside with her; take shelter from the wind and passersby. Lean on a wall, a column or a tree and notice what holds you both to the ground. Clasp her left hand softly in your own and if time allows and space and aloneness in the picture of this savage moment, rest your hand on the adventure of her heart. Say grace.

 


 

 

 

 

Myth illustration by Suzi Banks Baum

How do you handle apologies?
What do you do when you witness a friend’s grief?
What does an authentic response to an offense look or feel like to you?

 

 

Here is to more tea and trees and time together,

 

S

 

 

Start Where You Are: Thursday

The Blood Moon from Housatonic where writers and singers gathered at the library on Wednesday evening.
The Blood Moon from Housatonic where writers and singers gathered at the library on Wednesday evening.

I am edging towards the four-year anniversary of my mother’s death.
Tomorrow at 6 AM I want to be out in the rain or the moonlight in the morning.

It all pans out to this: starting where I am finds me some times in grief. At others, in joy. And most times, where I start is on the tendon that stretches between those two ecstatic places.
So, I start here.

self portrait
self portrait

I spent the middle of today with two of my collaborators at Storm King Sculpture Park across the Hudson. It was a glorious day to be out in the golden light.

I shared with them the work I have been doing with my Powder Keg Painted Prompt cards. I want to share them with you here.

Powder Keg Prompts laid out

Pick three words from this collection.
Use them as writing prompts.
What would you write?

Happy last hours of October 9th.
xo S

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