Elegy for Young Elm Trees

Six young elm trees have volunteered over the years, taken root right up against our home, as if protecting us from unwelcome forces of nature that might come from any direction. The tallest among them hugged the west side, and provided welcome shade from a summer afternoon sun that seemed to hang in the west for an unnatural number of hours, baking the house and its inhabitants. But it was starting to dislodge the roof shingles, and I had put the tree work off as long as I could.

 

IMG_2552So last night at dusk I took  a chunk of my favorite dark chocolate (Icelandic, 70%) and a handful of ceremonial tobacco and circled our city lot in clockwise fashion. I made my offerings to the young elms. Gave my thanks for their shade, their anchoring and protection, and suggested to them that they might want to loosen their roots a bit in anticipation of the saws that would arrive this morning.

This morning Excel Tree Service made quick and noisy work of the whole thing.

 

Tonight I grieve the elms. This plot

of land is altered, atilt, ill at ease. I am

exposed, off balance, as if someone has made quick

and noisy work of me. These rough-hewn lines

stand. I run

my hands over their rough bark.


A Hymn to the Plants:  https://alifeofpractice.com/musings/915/

 

Hitting the jackpot looked different from what I expected

Our household has always been full of treasures. I have learned this has nothing to do with market value. Still, I had hoped to hit the jackpot.

The sorting process began in April with the easy-to-let-go-of stuff – one drawer, one shelf, one closet at a time. Shredding went out of the house to a post-tax-season event. Clothing and useable household items – there were  three trips to the Wise Penny with donations.

On to the basement, where vintage and antique dolls from four generations, my maternal grandmother’s to my kids’ – were wrapped in yellowing paper. China, Effanbee, Madam Alexander, Storybook Dolls. Dollhouse and furnishings top to bottom – including a built-in bookcase for the livingroom, a navy leather chair, and an old-fashioned school-desk (with my kids’ names scratched in under the lid) I had made myself.

Cookie cutters, candy molds, and materials for making large panorama Easter eggs from sugar, all materials for my gingerbread business, Confections Unlimited. Boxes of Christmas ornaments going back to my and my kids’ childhoods.

Real wooden toys from before Playskool went plastic. A bin of stuffed animals – the still-collectable Steiff, all missing the distinctive ear button that increases their value. Eddie the estate liquidator said kids tend to bite them off. Hand puppets. Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore. Paddington and an assortment of other bears. All this was a pantry of memories.

In less than an hour Eddie and his buddy carted it all away, writing me a modest check, which allowed him to forgo charging me to also haul away old luggage, a slightly bent metal file cabinet, a hardly-used trampoline, a 1941 Royal typewriter,  a movie projector, old insulation, and more.

Eddie wasn’t so interested in the vintage books, so I drove out to Gramps’ Attic in Ellicott City, where I had purchased several of them. In 10 minutes “Gramps” had deftly picked through the four boxes in the trunk of my car, offered me $100 for 15 books, and placed the cash in my hand.

More than anything, even the dollar gap between my hopes and the reality, it was the transactional nature of these encounters that jarred me.

The coins I took to Mr. Merrill – I tracked him down online because I had remembered the small friendly fieldstone building that he had occupied for years, and I always told myself he’s the one I’d go to when the time came.

There were some silver dollars my grandfather had given me as a kid, a handful of Indian-head pennies, a stash of Soviet coins, and envelopes of coins from countries around the world that I had never visited.

Like Gramps, he quickly and deftly sorted through the items, separating out the ones he would buy from those he recommended passing on to a kid. He told me that’s how he had gotten interested in coins – fascinated by what they taught him about history and place and economics.

Here’ s the thing. Mr. Merrill was interested in stories.

He wanted to hear about my great uncle William Newman, who had traveled by train and buggy and early automobile, taking colored glass slides, and returning to the US to tour Masonic Temples with his travelogues. He wanted to hear about my trip to the Soviet Union, how I met up with refusenik families to deliver photos and letters, how my wallet was stolen in the Hermitage Museum and the danger that posed for them, considering just what combination of foolish and courageous I was.

Every item that went out of my house had a story attached  to it, dusty with childhood and motherhood and entrepreneurial memories. I had hoped to hit the jackpot, something that would put a large chunk of cash at my disposal.

The real jackpot was that one transaction that was more than transactional: the one that was alive with story.


More on expectations: https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/the-healing-i-needed-not-the-one-i-wanted/

 

It’s not about anything but love

It’s curious how I’ve been drawn back repeatedly to an area in the Catskills that I have visited regularly for close to forty years. Clearly it has been home to me in some way I have not been able to name.

There is a “there” there, but what is its nature?

Spiritual initiations and awakening, weeks of study and following ashram discipline, Jewish Renewal retreats, gatherings with healing colleagues, meditation and prayer and practice – and family events. For the past eight years the family events have included pilgrimages to Stagedoor Manor, a camp for serious theatre geeks from which my grandson will “graduate” in a few weeks, then head off to college.

But what is it really that has drawn me back over and over again?

As I drove south through Sullivan County a few days ago, returning to Baltimore after a camp performance week-end, I once again considered this question. When my daughter and I arrived on Friday afternoon, we had been greeted with a double rainbow. The weather had been sunny and pleasant with a few heavy downpours. As we left were still under the influence of Saturday evening’s gloriously silver full moon. Nature was certainly at its kindest this trip.

And we had been inspired by six shows from Friday through Saturday evening, full of gifted and spirited acting and song, and enjoyed the particular dance that happens every summer as various family members and friends disperse go to different shows and come back together to exchange “wows!”

….and then I heard these words spoken in the voice of one of my teachers:

It’s about love.

It’s always been about love.

It’s not about anything but love.

When I thought it was about wisdom, it was about love.

When I thought it was about skill, it was about love.

When I thought it was about duty, it was about love.

And what is the nature of that love?

The nature of that love is action, not sentiment.

In Hebrew, the word for love is Ahava, which has a numerical value of thirteen. The word for One is Echad, which also has a numerical value of thirteen. Coupled, in relationship, their value is 26, the numerical value of the Unpronounceable Name of God.

And so it goes: we think that we travel, we think we gather and disperse, we think we study, we think we perform on stage or off.

While what we really do is love.

Receive and give over and over again.

Express the One – endlessly and concretely. Humanly, that is to say imperfectly.

Sing the Unpronounceable with our imperfect human actions.

 

 

A Who-Is meets the Caterpillar

 “Who are you?” said the Caterpillar

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,  Lewis Carroll

 

Who I believe myself to be

I have been captivated by this question since Alice’s Adventures were first read aloud to me as a kid: “Whooooooo are youuuuuuuuuu?”

Here’s how I might answer the Caterpillar. Most days there is a Who-Is who gets pissed off when I am interrupted, a Who-Is who calms when my cat curls up in my lap, and a Who-Is who avoids looking too closely in the mirror when I wake up in the morning. I trust these parts of me are always somewhere in the room of my Life, even when the proper stimulus has not provoked them to appear. These are things that I think I know about who I am.

It is only practice that has me look more deeply, to see their stories.

The Interrupted One tells this story:

Whatever it is I am doing is important, more important than answering the phone, the door, a question, a request, a demand, an urgency. It’s about getting this thing, whatever it is, done. It’s also about maintaining my preferred feeling-state: the pleasure I have from completion; the nourishment I receive from absorption in my work, in the moment; feelings of usefulness and worth. And avoiding the discomfort, anxiety, even panic, at leaving something unfinished, hanging in mid-air.

Sometimes there is wisdom in turning my back on the interruption. What I am doing actually is more important than the interruption. At other times my task-persistence is a limitation that keeps me from connecting with a real need, a real movement of life. We could call this limitation habit, or compulsion, or even denial. It binds me, and has had some some harmful consequences for the people in my life. Because…

The Interrupted One’s story conveys limitations and wisdom both

What I truly cannot bear is the disruption to my sense of self, my very continuity, which so much of the time hitches a ride on my tasks, activities, and feeling-states, the very idea that I have a self, or am a self.  If I stop, I will go out like a candle flame in a breeze of the unknown. Everything I identify as myself disappears. The “I” disappears. Annihilation is complete.

This story is mixed and mixed up. It carries my neuroses, my personality difficulties. It carries my female lineage, with its theme of abandonment. Those are limitations. This story also bears the wisdom of existential truths:

I am a do-er, a feeler, a thinker, a relational being.

I am a concealer and magician – who makes parts of myself appear and disappear.

I – and the world I live in remain full of mysteries – some of which will be revealed and become known to me, new Who-Ises to be invited in. 

Some of the mysteries, “interruptions” like suffering and death, will remain unsolvable.

And I remain a being of Mystery that, when I remember it, I can approach only as I approach the Great Kindness, with awe and gratitude.

Make room for the Problem-Solver!

There is another Who-Is that gets into the mix: My Problem-solver.

She shadows the one who invites everything in,  wanting to – oh, just clean up the parts of me that show up, make them a little more presentable – or, as my healer once said to me – keep them in the entrance hall, and never quite let them into the house without a shower and a clean set of clothes.

The Problem-Solver also sees the Unknown as an enemy, so she keeps pushing me to discover more about myself or about puzzling or horrifying aspects of Life – wisdom, there. Her limitation: she doesn’t know when to stop. She does not recognize her powerlessness when she is up against the unsolvable, or up against the Great Kindness.

I arrive at a true answer to the Caterpillar as I invite them all in

So, Problem-solver, welcome, please come in.

The Interrupted One, come in.

The Concealer and Magician be welcome here.

Come in all of you, with your stories about who I believe myself to be.

And as I stay with this dance of acceptance and change in this way, I may lose my ready answers to the Caterpillar’s question. But  the Great Goodness has my back, helps me to be in my life just as it is, and to change what I need to change.