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Abstract Children

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ABSTRACT CHILDREN

I don’t have children, which is usually fine with me. Every once in a while, I think it might have been nice. Once a long time ago I had a dream of my daughter. She was freckle-faced with wispy blonde hair and we were standing on a cliff in the wind. My heart nearly burst with love for her. Sometimes I wonder if she exists in an alternate universe.

But most of the time I’m quite happy to be in this universe, psychically and emotionally independent. I greatly value my freedom, and I am just as glad not to have large pieces of my heart galavanting around the world getting hurt or getting into trouble. I have way less to worry about than parents do, and I’m grateful for that.

I joke about not liking children in general — they can be noisy and they are often covered in jelly or chocolate — but every time I get to know one as an individual, I fall in love. The love affairs started with the birth of my nephew and niece, continued as the children of my friends grew into beautiful, fascinating beings, and is now in full blossom as the oldest of my six grand nieces and nephews start their college days.

Children in the abstract I can take or leave, but children in the flesh make my heart sing. Not much makes me happier than watching little ones dance around our church sanctuary each Sunday, “making a joyful noise to the Lord” on tambourines and cymbals and drums. Even if they are covered with raspberry jelly and bits of doughnut.

A New Direction

So although it has come as a great surprise to me, I suppose an observer might not be at all surprised that I have chosen substitute teaching as the next step in my circuitous journey toward becoming my best self. It makes sense that I would eventually be drawn to spending more time with real, actual children, even though I am intimidated when packs of the older ones stampede down the hall, jostling each other and causing lockers to vibrate with their riotous laughter.

Yesterday, I began my new career at a nearby Quaker school by joining a class of 1st and 2nd graders that I’ll be subbing for next Thursday and Friday. Never having done the classroom thing before, I wanted to watch a real teacher in action. Ms. S was impressed that I volunteered my time to get to know the kids, and she was generous with her time in preparing me. I ended up spending the whole day with her fourteen students, rather than the three hours I had planned.

Stay tuned for further adventures in the life of a CIA clerk turned Sierra Club lobbyist turned freelance writer turned pastor turned teacher.

As Dr. Seuss says, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose!”

On the Journey

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Inside the President’s Head: A Poem

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INSIDE THE PRESIDENT’S HEAD: A POEM

Through the president’s head swarm nightmarish images known only to him. Mostly recently, he saw that black president we had — you remember, the one who ruined America? — scurrying through the halls of trump tower, listening at doors and wiretapping phones.

Or something.

The president’s supporters attempt to stay abreast of their hero’s nightmares so that they can protect and defend him. Tweeting paranoid delusions as if they are truth, calling in to radio talk shows to decry the latest outrage, sharing alternative facts on Breitbart’s comments page.

It keeps a person busy! You hardly have time to think before you make your rally signs:

Did she think this was funny?

For those of us still living in what I think is reality, here is a poem in response to the word prompt: swarm.

Swarms of Mexican rapists and drug dealers descend on innocent golf courses, stealing landscaping jobs from hard working Americans, while hoards of black hooligans hidden under hoodies swarm our hellish cities, torching trump™ hotels and ruining the gold drapes.

Swarthy Iranians — or maybe they are Indians — swarm college campuses, pretending to be students, while boys who used to be girls and girls who used to be boys swarm school bathrooms and try to recruit our kids to turn gay.

IRS officials swarm West Virginia, hauling away coal miners for not buying Obamacare, while EPA officials swarm small businesses, forcing nice white men to fill out forms in triplicate and stop dumping toxics in the rivers.

Illegals, dead Democrats, and people in pink hats swarm polling places and vote for nasty women, while swarms of paid protesters, pretend judges, and dishonest reporters keep harping on about the so-called Constitution.

Looking for Clues

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“The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest clues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are, even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t ‘found God’ is that we are not looking in the right places.”

I read this little excerpt from Frederick Buechner this morning on one of the spiritual email lists I subscribe to but don’t usually read. The little blurbs have nice inspirational titles like A Pause for Beauty and Inward/Outward and Contemplative Living, but they mostly just look like clutter in my inbox. When I bother to click, though, they often contain gems like Buechner’s.

I suspect Buechner’s quote resonated with me because I’ve been having a lot of these moments lately, these “clues” that make me feel as if I’m in the flow of life, rather than fighting against the current as I often seem to be. Sometimes I recognize them as clues, sometimes I don’t.

If you’re one of those people who “don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet,” perhaps you wouldn’t see these as clues. I get that. The world is an effed up place in many ways, and I can see why some people don’t believe in a loving God.

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Here’s why I think Buechner’s “clues” point to God:

  • “The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips.” I experienced this the other night at a gathering of old environmental lobbyist friends, many of whom I worked with for twenty-plus years. Since I retired six years ago, I rarely connect with any of them except for an occasional Facebook comment. I find this odd, since I had felt so integrally connected with them all. I know how it is, though — I remember the busyness and how Capitol Hill eats your life so that nothing else seems to matter. And part of the separation is my own choice — I haven’t had much time to connect, being so busy with school and taking care of my sick brother. At any rate, as I passed through the crowd the other night, I heard my name over and over. “Melanie’s here . . . did you see Melanie? Remember how Mel used to say . . . ?” Every time I heard my name, I could feel my spirit-self relaxing into a warm, comforting bubblebath, a bubblebath of belonging. They know me, they remember me, I belong here. I think the magic word belonging is one clue to God: we were created as one spiritual whole; we just get disconnected. God puts the longing in our hearts for the unity, the oneness, the belonging. Sadly, it is often organized and compartmentalized religion that causes the disconnect.
  • “The good dream . . .” Oh yes, please. We often remember scary dreams and dreams of loss and fear, and although these can be great teachers if we take the time to work with them, it’s such a gift and a blessing when a “good dream” comes along. These dreams, I think, are a sign that there’s a spirit of goodness floating around in the ether and it communicates with our subconscious. I remember when my older sister, who is vehemently anti-God, told me that she had discovered that the Universe is Good. This filled me with joy because she’s a serious introvert with few connections, so the fact that she ran across this lovely truth through her private meditations meant to me that the good spirit in the ether had taken the initiative to connect with her.
  • “The odd coincidence.” These are the strangest, because the exact same thing could happen to a God-believer and a non-God-believer and their conclusions would be completely different. I love coincidences because they remind me that there’s a plan. That when I’m in the flow, weird little things happen that I could never have dreamed up on my own, like lovely sun-warmed boulders in the river of life on which I can rest for a short time and get a better view of the journey.
  • “The moment that brings tears to your eyes,” reminding us that we are all human and we all share emotional bonds that buoy us up and carry us through the hard times. I tear up a lot, whether it’s sharing someone else’s pain, watching a little girl bang a tambourine and dance at church, or laughing with my friends till we cry and then our eyes connect and we know that we are blessed to be in each other’s lives. Through our tears, God reminds us that we are not alone, that joy and grief are universal. Plus, I think it’s awesome that our creator made tears to lower stress, elevate mood, and carry away toxins from our bodies. How cool is that?
  • “The person who brings life to your life.” Hmmm. I suppose this line could make me sad, since I don’t have one particular person that “brings life to my life” at the moment. No lover, no kids. And it makes me miss my brother, who was also my best buddy. But somehow it doesn’t make me feel sad — I feel like I have a huge community of people who bring life into my life. Different ages, different races, different backgrounds, different interests. I love my life. I’m crazy-blessed. I suppose Buechner’s point here is larger — it’s about love. Unconditional, absurdly generous love. And that, my friends, is the biggest clue to God. We’re swimming in it, if we “look in the right places.”

 

Late Summer Dream

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This essay appears  in the new issue of Outside In Literary and Travel magazine.  http://outsideinmagazine.com/ Enjoy!

LATE SUMMER DREAM

by Melanie Lynn Griffin

Early this morning, I woke to the sound of a Barn Owl emoting outside my window. It was a harsh, jarring sound, but not as harrowing as the murderous fisher cat squalling that sometimes fills my cabin here in the woods. Still, I was glad to be awakened; glad to leave the dream of my brother’s death. I had been anticipating this dream with trepidation, ever since the heart failure diagnosis two years ago.

It wasn’t a nightmare, oddly enough. I was mostly fascinated by the fact that Biff’s facial hair had stopped growing. He said that’s how he could tell he was dead. I was finding it hard to move from denial to grief, given that he seemed pretty much the same as always, except without the five o’clock shadow. And also, I couldn’t find my Toyota in the parking lot, which was somehow more unsettling than my brother’s death and apparent resurrection.

The dream came the first night I arrived at my summer cabin in New Hampshire, following eight days at a suburban D.C. hospital where I bustled around Biff’s bed, restlessly rearranging Kleenex boxes, Styrofoam cups, and wilting gladiolas.

“He’s going to end up here more and more often,” forecast the funereal-faced cardiologist, “unless he has the mitral valve operation.”

“It’s all a scam,” my brother insisted. “They just want me hooked on their drugs and sucked into their surgery machine so they can make money off me.” He left the hospital for the second time in as many years without the operation, but with a bag full of meds he probably won’t take.

I fled.

Having been woken up before dawn, I figure I deserve to take the day off. I’m going to rest, indulge my Henry James phase, and try to remember to breathe more deeply. Sitting on my back deck, I bite into an intoxicating late summer peach I got from the farmer down the road. The sweet juice flows down my chin and lavishly adorns my t-shirt. The browning meadow is dotted with goldenrod, and I think there’s the tiniest twinge of crimson in the sugar maples. Apple leaves, tired of hanging on through the long drought, drift down onto the deck as yellow warblers bicker in the branches.

The ancient hydrangea bush begins to sway, and I’m startled when a dappled fawn materializes from behind a veil of white blossoms. The animal seems deep in contemplation, as it gently plucks up and delicately chews its vermillion breakfast of Indian Paintbrush. It seems late in the year for a fawn – too close to hunting season. I consider worrying, but decide against it. It’s my day off and besides, I’m not in charge of life and death.

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