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I’m sitting on the weathered wooden deck behind my cottage in rural New Hampshire watching an orange butterfly flit among orange day lilies and admiring my orange toenail polish. Presidential candidates not withstanding, orange can be a nice color. This deck is my “safe place,” the place I bring to mind when I’m working with my therapist and need to get centered and calm.

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon, but let’s be real. I am not. Instead I am in that sought-after but rarely found state of mind referred to as “mindfulness,” “being in the present moment,” or “abiding” in pastor-speak. A human being rather than a human doing. Care-free.

Usually the soundtrack in this safe place is the chiming of the grandfather clock through the open window, the chittering of goldfinch and chickadees at the feeder, and the ssshhhush of leaves being caressed by the wind. Today though, I also hear my nephew’s kids chatting over board games and reading each other comics — at least one is engaging in that fave teenage pastime of rifling through the fridge to see if there might be different snacks than there were five minutes ago.

Choosing to Be Childlike

This week marks the beginning of my annual month of hosting Jeff and his four kids here at Quiet Hills, just as my aunt hosted me all my growing-up years. Being with kids reminds me of how glorious it is to be a child, and I grow younger when I’m with them. I feel carefree.

Budding Archaeologist

Budding Archaeologist

 

Field trip to a local quartz-mica mine

Field trip to a local quartz-mica mine

Of course there are cares I could entertain, such as two un-done sermons, my cluttered home and overgrown yard at home, an upcoming meeting with my new financial planner who thinks I am insane for keeping this old house and would no doubt disapprove of the ice cream budget this month — or even the fact that a narcissistic orange megalomaniac might become president. But today right here, right now, I choose to set aside those grown-up cares and be carefree.

I’ll Save the World Next Month

I have yet to process or write much about the Wild Goose Festival that I attended just before coming here, filling my head and heart with the cares of the world: poverty and hunger, oppression and injustice, racism and white privilege, homophobia. I have pages of notes from workshops and dialogues, and the margins are full of scribbled ideas for next steps I can take to nourish my soul and save the world. There is no shortage of work for those of us trying to bring hope and healing to a hurting world — “plotting goodness” as my friend Brian calls life with Jesus.

But this month is about peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and maple walnut ice cream, day trips to the swimming hole and late-night story times, evening walks to the beaver pond and midnight-marathon board games.

Story Time

Story Time

Thanks for the carefree word prompt, WordPress Gods of the Blogosphere.

Predictably Unpredictable America

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Unpredictability. Not my favorite thing. It feels dangerous, risky. I don’t mind being seen as unpredictable myself, mind you — that seems charming, whimsical, youthful, fun. But I want to be in charge, I want to know what to expect next. I cherish the illusion that I can somehow control what happens around me, which of course is a fantasy. One never can. Especially these days.

A truck might plow through a celebratory crowd, or your office holiday party might turn into a killing field, or you might be held hostage or murdered at a night club. Or your kid could be shot at her elementary school or your husband be shot by a rogue policeman.

Or a mentally unbalanced, completely unqualified orange man who is also a pathological liar could be elected president. Anything can happen in 2016.

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Like most people I know, I cringe when I fire up the computer each morning or turn on the radio. What awful thing has happened? In fact, the bad news — the violence and hate and racism and vitriol — has now become completely predictable.

We feel uprooted, unprotected, aghast at our world.

But maybe, just maybe, being uprooted is precisely what we need.

As the good-hearted but disengaged people of America become jarringly aware of what is happening to our collective human spirit, perhaps they will be shaken loose from their complacency. Perhaps the orange vomit of hatred that is polluting our nation has finally caught the attention of the millions of people who have been privileged enough to ignore the simmering hatred up until now. The shock of Orange Man’s success may finally disrupt the status quo.

“We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, from the Pogo comic strip.)

At the same time, an old geezer from Vermont has awoken the sleeping masses of young people in America with a call to get involved and fight the corruption and corporate control of our nation’s political and economic systems. Who saw that coming?

Unpredictable.

I don’t know what will happen, but I think there’s a chance that as we all stand mired in this putrid, stagnant swamp, some of us will sense a new but ancient stream moving somewhere deep below, and we will thrash and kick and roil the muddy waters and make waves until we bring up fresh, clean water that everyone can drink.

Digging Up and Looking Up

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I haven’t told you about the rosebush. Well, it’s more like a rose sprig at the moment, but it’s shooting up like a gangly adolescent, having grown almost a foot in the five weeks since I prayerfully dug up the three tiny leaves and as much root as I could get.

I had planned to dig up a number of Mom’s plants before I sold her house — three heritage roses, a quince, an azalea given to her by my late friend in honor of my father, a bleeding heart given to her by my best friend in honor of Mom’s sister, a hydrangea from her best friend, mounds of snowdrops and daffodils.

But the house sold fast, I had a broken arm, and it was too emotionally painful to go over there. Life happened, and when I next drove by, the garden had been done away with and nothing remained but a few trees and a smooth expanse of grass.

There!

I was invited to a party at the house in June, my first time back in a year. It was haunting and strange to walk through my childhood home, completely renovated and all but unrecognizable. Late in the afternoon, I wandered over to where the roses had been for sixty-plus years and ran my fingers through the young grass, hoping against hope.

At first I found nothing, but then . . . there! Three miniature rose leaves, so small they might have belonged to a fairy-gardener.

I asked the new owners if I could come by with a shovel and dig it up and they agreed. I hurried over the next morning, fearful that another lawn mowing would be the end of it. I talked to the tender sprout as I dug around it. Please live. I talked to my mom’s spirit and asked her help. Why not, right? She loved those roses.

I have never seen a plant respond the way this one has. Deciding it was too risky to plant it mid-summer, I put it in a pot and have been watering and spritzing it daily. I’ve even hauled the heavy container with me on a few road trips. Tomorrow we head back to New Hampshire.

Here’s the rose on its first trip to New Hampshire in June, just a week after I dug it up.

Life Force

Life Force

This week’s blogging photo challenge is Look Up. So I thought I’d share my rose’s resurrection story and a photo looking up into the glorious blooms of my mother’s magnolia tree, which, thank heavens, the new owners have seen fit to keep.

Glory

Glory

Mourning into Dancing: Wild Goose Festival

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I want to tell you about the little blonde girls wearing summer dresses, dancing barefoot in the shiny mud. I want to tell you about the weeping African-American woman clutching my hand, chanting “I am, I am” to the Sabbath sky. I want to tell you about the writhing shadow figures circling the bonfire, moving rhythmically to our midnight drumming. And about the white unicorn waving his hooves, singing Holy, Holy, Holy under the Beer & Hymns tent.

I want to tell you, I want to show you, I wanted you to be there. Wild Goose Festival 2016.

But it’s all too much right now.

I arrived home last night, my heart bursting with hope and gratitude despite the darkness that’s descended on my country and around the globe. I have been reminded that we are all one. We just forget. But I know that love is stronger than hate, that love is stronger than fear, and that love will win.

It starts with me. It starts with you. So go do something loving today, and try to stop yourself if you are about to do or say or write or even think something unloving. And that will be enough for today. Once I process the amazing grace I have been living inside for the past four days, I will write more. I will try to tell you.

Peace.

A Face of Hope

One Face of Hope

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/spirit-on-the-wing-scaring-the-hell-out-of-christians/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/spirit-on-the-wing-ii-the-high-cost-of-flying/

@WildGooseFest

Bits O’ Blog

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I don’t seem to be able to finish a blog post lately. My thinking is fractured, what with all the shootings and bombings, the Brexit vote and the ensuing financial chaos, the potential of violence at the upcoming political conventions. Or it could be my late-night binge-watching of Downton Abbey. More than likely, though, it’s Donald Trump’s fault . . . most things are.

Anyway, all I can do is offer you fragments of what were to have been several brilliant and insightful blog posts, possibly capable of moving you to tears or laughter or a personal epiphany.

One: A Memory

I remember the moment. I was nine years old, crunched between my older brother and sister in the back seat of our Dodge Dart as we drove along a main street in Miami Beach singing along with Petula Clark on the radio at the top of our lungs. “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go, DOWNTOWN. When you’ve got worries all the noise and the hurry seem to help I know, DOWNTOWN.”

My Dad glanced in the rearview mirror, probably deciding at what decibel level he should intervene. My mother rubbed her forehead.

“DOWNTOWN!”

“OK, enough,” Daddy said.

My sister Lannie let out a dramatic teenaged sigh and said, “I just loooove the city.”

old-city_M1l1s18u_L

I heard my voice say, “Not me, I like the country much better,” and then I froze. I couldn’t believe I had disagreed with her. I worshipped my big sister and always tried to emulate her taste in food, music, clothes, movie stars — everything. Even though I spent my afternoons squatting on the muddy banks of our backyard pond catching minnows and frogs while Lannie spent her afternoons sunbathing by the pool slathered in Johnson’s Baby Oil and reading Glamour magazine, I still aspired to grow up to be just like her.

I think this memory sticks because it was the first time I expressed an opinion all my own without first hearing what everyone else thought. I’m sure that psychologists have a term for this — differentiation or some such thing. That moment as a child when you realize that you are not actually part of one family organism, you are separate and can have different opinions . . .

Two: Afraid, Afraid, Afraid

Going back to work. A phrase that strikes fear into any “fake retired” person’s heart. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the words for months now, to decide what they mean and how I feel about them and why.

I’m afraid, that’s for sure. Afraid I’ve forgotten how to apply myself, afraid I don’t have enough energy, afraid I won’t take to someone telling me what to do, afraid I have lost all ability to learn, afraid I won’t be able to master new technologies, afraid people won’t want to hire an “older” worker, afraid I won’t be able to muster the confidence for interviews. Afraid, afraid, afraid.

Even so, I think that taking a seven-year break in the middle of my working life has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, if you can call it a decision. In a way, it just happened. I definitely decided to leave my career as an environmental lobbyist, and then I decided to go back to school for a Masters in writing, but did I envision leaving the working world for seven years? No, I don’t think so. I didn’t have a plan . . .

Three: My First Day Back at Work

I wake up thirty minutes late for my first day at my new job, can’t find the number to call the supervisor, curse myself, step in cat vomit on the way to the bathroom, and then burst into tears while brushing my teeth.

This anxiety dream woke me at 6:10 a.m., five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Flooded with relief that I had not actually overslept for my first workday in seven years, I turned off the alarm, made it to the bathroom without incident, and brushed my teeth. Victory!

The next challenge was making lunch. I figured PB & J would be fastest, but then noticed mold on the lovely multigrain bread I’d bought at a little bakery in upstate New York a few days earlier. Oh well. I quickly boiled some eggs, tossed them in a brown paper bag with an avocado, a banana, and half a cucumber. So they think I’m eccentric. At least I’ll be on time.

Now I’m at my desk in the front office of my housing co-op. I’m feeling capable, if somewhat winded.

cal-retroart-0814-306_L

So far today, I’ve dealt with phone calls or visits from co-op members who have asbestos in their basements, ants in their kitchens, mildew on their aluminum siding, burst pipes in their bathrooms, and clogged sinks in their kitchens. Phew!

I look at the clock, figuring it must be about lunchtime. It’s 9:30 a.m.

Contractors come to fix the internet, pick up a broken computer, drop off gutter-cleaning reports. A guy comes in to say his brother has died and he has to rehab his home. How should he proceed? I do not tell him my brother died. This is progress, I think. I am (at last!) more than someone who has lost a sibling.

I am given a tour of a back room lined floor-to-ceiling with bulging folders and files and binders. I feel at home here amidst the piles of papers in this old-fashioned, uncomputerized office. I can hear the clicking of a keyboard, but I haven’t turned on a computer all day. I like that.

Finally, it’s noon. I feel shell-shocked and ready to escape. I did not get a chance to meditate or pray or journal this morning, and I’m a little off-kilter. I’m surprised how much more introverted I’ve become in the past few years. It’s tiring having to deal with all this humanity . . . 

Four: A Blackjack Poem (Three Lines of Seven Syllables)

Involuntary:

Soon they will take me away

I will protest as I’m dragged:

“It’s not hoarding, it’s just books!”

Stack of vintage books isolated on white

I Can’t Tolerate Tolerance

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I Can’t Tolerate Tolerance

I was talking to some folks about Orlando this morning, and the sense of helplessness and sadness and even despair that many of us feel in the wake of yet another preventable tragedy. People look at the National Rifle Association’s power to completely override common sense and they say, “Could our country be any more broken?” and then they look at Donald Trump and realize that our country is way more broken than anyone ever imagined.

America, “land of the free,” is now held hostage by paranoia, anger, and division, all fueled by fear and hatred of “the other.”

You call your God Allah? Other! Your skin is darker than mine? Other! Are you speaking Spanish? Other! You are sexually attracted to someone with the same type of genitalia as your own? Other! You are a hunter? Other! You are a vegan? Other! You are a {Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party, Democratic Socialist}? Other, other, other!!!

I don’t need to tell you that candidate Trump stokes these sentiments. He’s like some sci-fi monster that feeds on other people’s fear and anger and grows more and more grotesque and powerful with each hateful Tweet, Facebook post, and blog. He can’t abide truth or tolerance — they make him grow smaller and lose his magical powers to control people.

photo (50)

He’s like the opposite of Jesus, whose power and influence in the world grows stronger each time someone chooses love over fear and compassion over judgement. Each time someone chooses tolerance over division . . . but wait. Tolerance?

Teaching Tolerance

Why yes, of course. Isn’t that what the solution is? “Teaching Tolerance,” they call it. Well, I’m sorry, but I call B.S. on that. Jesus never said, “Tolerate one another.” Jesus said to love one another. And so have many other spiritual sages throughout human history. Loving someone is more than just putting up with them, just tolerating their existence. That may be a necessary beginning for some people, but I think we should aspire to more than tolerating one another.

Be the Change

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Jesus said.

Maybe that’s the place to start — maybe we have to learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others; embrace ourselves, not just tolerate ourselves. We need to look honestly at our inner thoughts, motivations, and promptings, especially the ones that we don’t like, or that confuse us or make us feel ashamed. We need to talk about them with someone else. Pray about them if we are praying people. Let the darkest stuff out into the light so we can see it and heal it if need be.

We can’t change what happened in Orlando, but we can change ourselves. Be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

It’s worth a try, right? Because people who shut off or hide parts of themselves can turn into angry people. They can have heart attacks. They can fall into depression. Some of them might buy guns. They might hurt other people emotionally or physically. They might vote for Donald Trump.

Finding the Beauty in Grief and Loss

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In light of yesterday’s mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, I am republishing this 2014 post on finding the beauty in grief and loss. Perhaps it can lighten your load today.

RAINBOW US FLAG

It’s amazing what happens when you invite people to talk about grief and loss. It’s as if everybody walks around with a lid on their pain until somebody gives them permission to take it off.

I led a spiritual support group discussion last week and suggested the topic, which won’t surprise you, dear reader, since I’ve offered you virtually nothing else since my brother passed away ten weeks ago.

biff among the cards

But I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about losing a job and not being able to find another one. I know several people who have been in that ego-crushing situation, and it can lead to serious depression and anxiety issues if the loss is not given its due.

I’m talking about having an intimate relationship slowly fizzle out until you find yourself attached to someone you barely recognize. There’s no “crisis,” yet all your dreams of how life could be with this person are lost. You’re left with a gaping hole that you may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, busyness, shopping, porn – anything to numb the loss that you don’t want to confront.

I’m talking about lost friendships that fade out when one of you moves or leaves a job, or a broken friendship that can’t be mended even if you both try because essential pieces have been lost, most often trust.

Grieving over lost health was a common theme in our support group. One minute you’re an employee, a parent, a sibling and you’re cleaning, fixing, planning, and generally living life, and the next you are a patient being cut open or pumped full of poisons that are supposed to cure you.  You lose who you thought you were.

And of course there’s death. One person in our group lost her father to suicide at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-one, she had also lost her brother in a helicopter crash and her sister and mother to cancer. Although we all knew her at least superficially, none of us in the group had ever heard this before. She had a lid on it.

What resonated most with me at that meeting was a woman who said, “I know it’s weird, but I love grief. I live grief.” She said she couldn’t really explain what she meant, but I think I have a clue.

Grief Makes Us One

For one thing, grief is universal. It is something we all share, and it can bring us together. Not always, of course – I’ve heard countless stories of siblings whose relationships imploded on the death of their parents. But in general, we nod, we empathize, we hug each other. We know.

The Bible says that the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s why it’s important to take time alone to process your grief, to take the lid off and let God in, because there’s cosmic comfort there if you ask for it. And it’s a universal spirit of comfort that we can all share with each other. Depending on the day, God’s comfort can knock you off your feet or set you back on your feet.

Grief Makes Us Real

Similarly, grief elicits authenticity. After September 11th, I had a strange feeling of not wanting to leave that cocoon of grief, that sacred time of national mourning: it was a rare time of authentic community for our nation.

We often feel we don’t know what to say to a bereaved person, but that’s because we’re called upon to be totally real. Everyday words don’t seem adequate. Most of the sympathy cards atop my piano start off with, “I don’t know what to say” and then go on to say something lovely. And real.

Real Words

Real Words

Grief Leads Us Towards Our Truth

Grief is deep – it leads us into our true humanity. It drowns out the TV, the advertisements, the ringing phone, and the beeping computer. If we are courageous enough to take the lid off our pain and share it, we can reach our true self – and go there with others.

We all “live grief,” as my friend said. It’s very much a part of being human, and it teaches us to search for meaning and a larger perspective on our little human lives. It teaches us to open up to God and to love one another.

What have you learned from grief and loss?

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