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Cherishing Christmas

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This Christmas Day I cherish my friends. I am so grateful to the many who have invited me into their Christmas festivities after I lost my Mom and brother.

I cherish my family: my nephew, his wife, and his four children. There can be no greater joy than to be smothered in hugs of greeting and cries of “Auntie Mel, Auntie Mel!!”

I cherish my sister and my niece and her family, and I cherish my cousins from Connecticut to Canada, from Florida to South Africa — those I rarely see but to whom I am connected by that magical thread of history, memory, and love. Together we hold the memories of those who have gone before.

I cherish my old friends, high school and earlier, who have known me at my worst and love me still. Being with them is like soaking in a bubble bath of love and acceptance.

I cherish the gentle, generous hearts of my church family and the twenty-plus-year journey we have shared in search of the ineffable.

I cherish our beautiful planet and the millions of activists who give their time and heart to protecting her.

I cherish creatures and plants great and small, each of which reflects the glorious divine imagination.

I cherish this country I live in, broken as it is. I cherish the ideals and hopes on which it was founded, and I cherish the dreams of justice and compassion that “keep hope alive” in dark times.

I cherish the little community I’ve been blessed to live in for thirty years, a small cooperative founded by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and based on the ideals of cooperation and volunteerism.

I cherish my life, my one-time-in-all-history chance to add love to the universe. I pray that I would get better at that.

I cherish YOU, blog friends, and I pray that you will experience gratitude more and more each day in the coming year.

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating today!!

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Cedar Ridge Community Church

Thanks to WordPress for the prompt — yep, cherish.

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Home, Heart, and Tkei

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The rain pounded on my windshield and the trees at the side of the road began to thrash as I watched the huge black cloudbank to my left turn an ominous yellow and begin to elongate at the bottom.

I told myself that watching The Wizard of Oz the night before had agitated my imagination: I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and not in Kansas with Dorothy and Toto. Still, the images of twirling houses and flying cows would not be banished.

“There’s no place like home,” I said out loud, though I was alone. This made me laugh, which was good, and then there was a sudden burst of sun, and a brief but brilliant rainbow splashed across the darkness.

The rainbow gave me courage, and I decided to nix the idea of a hotel and push on towards home, though New York City’s Friday afternoon traffic had cursed me with several extra hours behind the wheel.

I just wanted to be home.

Theoretically Home

The concept of home is near-mystical to me, even if the reality conjures up never-ending lists, especially in the summer when I shuttle between New Hampshire and Maryland trying to keep up two houses. Mow lawn, buy groceries, do laundry, feed birds, water plants, pay bills.

I’m theoretically home now, back in Maryland. Yet I also feel I’ve been ripped away from home, having left my nephew and his four kids at our house in New England. spring nh 2013b 026.Lillys I have friends in New Hampshire as well, and I miss them when I’m not there. I want to keep up with them, to be a part of their lives, not just a drop-in visitor.

Divided Hearts

They say home is where the heart is, but it’s not that simple.

You see, hearts can be divided.

I’ve got bits of my heart all over the world. People own my heart, places own my heart, animals own my heart — even memories own my heart.

I suspect that memories own an increasingly large part of our hearts as we age.

In the months before my elderly mother passed on, she asked over and over, “Is it time to go home yet? Can I go home now? “ She was clearly torn. Although she was in familiar surroundings with her children, the bits of her heart invested in memories were beginning to outweigh the here and now.

She talked to her father, she talked to her Godmother, and she talked to an old friend. One night, she told my uncle in no uncertain terms, “I know you’re my big brother, Rolphie, but I’m not ready to go yet!” Her conversations and joyful reunions spooked her night nurse, but I found them comforting. I truly felt she had another home, and that she was preparing to go there.

So Where is Home?

The traditional definition of home points to a place — a dwelling or residence or village.

But Dorothy was right when she said, “There’s no place like home.” Home is more a state of mind than any one place. A sense of safety and belonging and familiarity, regardless of where you are.

An etymology dictionary will tell you that the “full range and meaning” of the concept of home “is not covered by any single word.”  That’s true, but I think the early Indo-European root word, tkei, comes close. It means “to lie, to settle down.”

That’s what Mom wanted. To settle down and be done. And that’s what I was pining for on the Jersey Turnpike. To be done with the doing. To rest.

Home is a spiritual and emotional space where you can let down your guard and just be. Even when you’re busy at home, your soul is lying down, at rest.  Familiar routines lower your stress level. Chores and errands aren’t fun, but they are comfortable.

No matter how colorful and exciting Oz seemed to be — what with the dancing Munchkins and talking apple trees and appearing and disappearing witches — from the moment Dorothy arrived, she just wanted to get back to her routine.

For most of us, that familiarity does belong to a place, even though it’s not the place itself that is home. It’s the belonging.

In your home space, people truly know you — they don’t simply tolerate your shortcomings, they smile at them. Their voices plug into well-worn tracks in your brain; their laughter is like an old favorite song.

I am blessed to have more than one of those home spaces.

If I’m blessed with old age as Mom was, I imagine I’ll start feeling less and less at home in any earthly place. Many of those familiar voices and songs of laughter will be just memories.

Then I’ll follow the yellow brick road home for good.

Who, what, and where is your home space?

An interesting related post:
http://james9butler.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/theres-no-place-like-home-in-the-wizard-of-oz-but-what-is-it/

How Not to Screw Up Your Holidays

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I guess they are officially here now.

The Holidays.

And you know what that means.

Crazy busy…OMG, I’m so stressed out…I’m so behind with my shopping…Oh no, not another open house!

Stuff We Don’t Need

Every year since my mother died – it’s been four now – I slip away around Thanksgiving to get myself mentally prepared to bow out of the madness. I spend a few weeks at my little writing retreat in New Hampshire and arrive home serene and centered, only to be met with a rush of busyness that knocks me over like a gust of arctic air. No one can stand against it.

This year I am determined. I bought lots of nice chocolates and some calendars – no unneeded gifts, no Christmas cards that waste paper and burn fuel as they jet across the country.

I’m thrilled that my neighbor is making Christmas dinner, so I don’t even have to clean my house, let alone get my pots and pans all dirty.

My Gift to You

Red Christmas Present

To Blog Friends, From Santa

My gift to you, blog friends, is a wonderful essay written this summer, which seems particularly salient as we approach December.

Here are a few excerpts, but I do hope you’ll click on the link and read the whole thing.

  • “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”

This is a crucial distinction. We are not victims. This busyness did not happen to us. If you feel too busy, you are likely choosing that. I’m not talking about the people who are working three jobs just to make ends meet; most of us choose our lifestyles, our material “needs,” and our activities, and we can change our minds about what we’ve chosen. We can also change our approach to the holidays.

  • It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.”

I was a part of this dynamic when I worked as an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill. I bought into it and tried to live up to it.”Really? You’re not working this weekend?” Or, “You’re leaving already?” There can be an added undertone of righteousness when the work is not-for-profit. At Christmas, it’s about competitive shopping and competitive social calendars.

  • Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day … I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Wow – right between the eyes. I could not agree more. This is especially poignant at a time of year when we should probably be reflecting on the deeper meaning of our lives. Maybe that’s why the pace increases!

  • Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain … The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

This is one of the reasons that becoming a writer attracted me. It gives me “permission” to withdraw from the busyness, for the sake of my creativity. It seems you have to have a special waiver to escape the busyness trap.

  • “I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.”

This is the wonderful gift of a well-lived Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. We get to spend real, honest, spacious, wondrous time with the people we love.

People I Love

You Can Do This

Here’s the full blog by Tim Kreider – I hope you’ll take the time to draw a few deep breaths, put your feet up, and read this:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

While you’re at it, here’s a timely piece about the strikers at Walmart, trying to strike a blow (so to speak) for sanity and time with family over the holidays. It’s written by a pastor who points out that Americans work more than any other people in the industrialized world. Perhaps as much as A MONTH more each year. Ponder that.

Thanks and giving: Why Wal-Mart “Black Friday” strikes are important – Guest Voices – The Washington Post

Do yourself a favor. Make a holiday plan now, and schedule in downtime. Alone time to reflect. Leisure time with your family. Face time (not racing-between-parties time) with your best friends. You can do this. (I’m talking to myself as much as to you!)

I wish you peace and happiness and idle time with people you love. Merry, Happy, and Blessed…

hanukkah icon menorahChristmas tree decoratedkinara  Kwanzaa Candles

photo credits to Clipart and : <a href=”http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=13063&picture=inside-a-christmas-shop”>Inside A Christmas Shop</a> by Petr Kratochvil

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