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Realizing Why I Am Here

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Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

Lyrics by George Harrison, from Beware of Darkness

I’ve always loved that song. It is George’s aching cry to us (and I think to himself) not to be swallowed by the darkness. Sitting in my high school bedroom hiding beneath clunky headphones and a veil of Marlboro smoke, I would crank up the volume on the mournful/hopeful song, attempting to drown out the world. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I raged. I was a teenager.

In my young adulthood, I decided that feeling was too hard, so I anesthetized myself in myriad ways. I learned to deny the darkness and numb my sadness, not realizing that hiding from it simply makes it stronger.

Light in a World of Shadows

A large part of my spiritual journey has been coming to terms with the darkness in the world. I still don’t understand it, but — on a good day — I can accept the “both/and” nature of life: light and darkness, despair and joy, life and death. I have realized that in this world of shadows, my job is to turn determinedly towards the light and to absorb it into myself so that I radiate it back out into the darkness.

I may fall into sadness sometimes, but I know deep down that George was right — “that is not what I am here for.” The light that lives inside of me is stronger than the darkness that’s in me and around me.

This is one of the things that appeals to me about the person of Jesus. He is said to have mourned and wept and to have been “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” yet he is described by all his friends as full of light. His best buddy John said that he was a light for all people and that his “light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” So that’s where I turn to absorb my light.

The Hungering Darkness

In his book The Hungering Dark, one of my favorite authors Frederick Buechner speaks eloquently about the darkness. This passage seems even more relevant today than it was thirty years ago when the book was written . . . uncertainty, fear, conflict.

Buechner begins with a quote from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. I’ve chosen an Isaiah translation from The Message version of the Bible:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows — light! sunbursts of light!”

Then Buechner goes on to say:

“In one respect if in no other this metaphor of Isaiah’s is a very relevant one for us and our age because we are also, God knows, a people who walk in darkness. There seems little need to explain. If darkness is meant to suggest a world where nobody can see very well — either themselves, or each other, or where they are heading, or even where they are standing at the moment; if darkness is meant to convey a sense of uncertainty, of being lost, of being afraid; if darkness suggests conflict, conflict between races, between nations, between individuals each pretty much out for himself when you come right down to it; then we live in a world that knows much about darkness.

Darkness is what our newspapers are about. Darkness is what most of our best contemporary literature is about. Darkness fills the skies over our own cities no less than over the cities of our enemies. And in our single lives, we know much about darkness too. If we are people who pray, darkness is apt to be a lot of what our prayers are about. If we are people who do not pray, it is apt to be darkness in one form or another that has stopped our mouths.”

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

Day nine in my efforts to blog every day.

Birthday Grief Update: Laughter and Love

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In honor of my brother Biff’’s sixty-sixth birthday, I’m gifting you with a short update on my grieving process. (Honest, short.)

When I started this blog three years ago, I did not plan for “grief and death” to be the largest and most popular category. I’m not sure what the vision was, but it wasn’t that. Still, I really had no choice: if I was going to write, that was all I could write.

Over the past nineteen months, I have reached out in desperation and bled all over these pages, only praying that my experiences might help someone else. So I deeply appreciate the people who have told me that my vulnerability during this time helped them grieve.  

I am also grateful to the people who have shared their own stories of loss with me. It’s so important to know we’re not alone. Solitary grieving kills, trust me — it killed Biff.

My main lessons so far:

  • you may feel like you’re losing your mind, but you’re not;
  • you should pray for wisdom and do what feels best for you because everyone’s grieving is different;
  • you should also listen to the people who love you most, because sometimes you can’t see what’s best for you
  • talk (and write) about it as much as you need to — your real friends (and readers) will stick around.

Thanks for sticking around.

Today I Am Well

Today I can tell you that I am well. I will never be “over it,” but I’d say that I am more than three-quarters of the way “through it.” I am happy most days. I have survived what I thought was unsurvivable. So if you are in the throes of grief, take courage. It will get better.

I laugh again, perhaps not quite as much as I used to, but a lot. Yesterday, someone told me I was a “cheery” person. I like that.

I have conversations where I don’t mention my brother. This is nothing short of a miracle. I no longer feel compelled to say things like, “oh – apple pie – that was Biff’s favorite,” or “Biff always liked the rain,” or “Biff had a sweater that color.” I’m sure that my friends are as relieved about this as I am.

I no longer have to tell checkers at the drug store, strangers in the produce aisle, and tellers at the bank that my brother died. His passing defined me for a long time, and was forEVER the answer to “How are you?”

I can choose when to entertain thoughts of Biff, rather than having them pounce on me and pierce my armor. Sometimes – and this is quite recent – I even smile when I think of him. There seems to be a gentleness seeping into my grief. The lasting love is starting to outweigh the acute loss.

I’ve lost a teensy bit of the larger perspective one has during times of grief, which probably isn’t good. I get annoyed at traffic, I grouse about humidity, and I get impatient with people for not doing what I think they should do. For a while, nothing seemed to matter when measured against The Loss. Now, stupid stuff matters again. I no longer live in the metaphysical.

Over the Rainbow

My relationship with music remains complicated. I prefer silence; it’s safer. Music can shoot directly through your consciousness and into your heart, and I don’t need that kind of heartache. Plus, music was an integral part of life with Biff — there are some musicians I doubt I’ll ever listen to again.

Even so, with the exception of Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole’s achingly beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, it’s now rare that a Biff-song will catch me off-guard and cause me to flee to the ladies’ room in a restaurant or pub. (And when is that 1993 song going to be taken off everybody’s playlist???)

Then there’s Christmas — the anniversary — but we won’t think about that because it will come and it will go and it will all be OK.

So I just want to give a shout-out of amazement and praise to the Power of Love that I call God for getting me this far, for teaching me so much, and for surrounding me with the most wonderful friends and family who have listened and listened and hugged and hugged and waited with me for the laughter to come back.

Thank you.

And happy birthday, dearest Biff – I look forward with joy to seeing you somewhere over the rainbow!

1451345_10202673589991568_1331444760_n.me and biff

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

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Stupid, stupid week. Stupid. I’ve been doing so well with my grief and have felt quite happy for more than a month. Phew! Out of the woods after a year of crashing through the underbrush of my brother’s death. I’ve been de-cluttering my house a bit, setting up filing systems, taking care of some boring financial and estate matters — you know, being all normal and stuff. Woo hoo!

Then I got this stupid sinus infection and then a stupid itchy rash in reaction to the antibiotics I took, and I’ve had a stupid headache for weeks, and all of a sudden I’m sitting at the IHOP in front of a plate of blueberry pancakes and I’m weeping again. Again. Still.

It was a song that did it, one that has caught me off-guard several times in the past year, and always in a restaurant where I can’t escape. From the first chords of “Let Her Go” by Passenger, my throat closes up and my eyes fill, and I think “Oh shit.” The song was played incessantly as my brother reached the end of his life. It’s the type of song that he always loved, poignant and full of longing.

“Well, you only need the light when it’s burning low,

Only miss the sun when it starts to snow,

Only know you love her when you let her go.

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low

Only hate the road when you’re missing home

Only know you love her when you let her go…

And you let her go.”

Gets me every time. Somehow I feel connected to him when I hear it. And right now when I’m sick and sad and itchy, I just want the person who loved me the most. And he’s not here.

I drafted a blog last week about how well I was doing with my grief, how happy I was. I also drafted three other blogs that I thought were brilliant – or at least passable – when I wrote them at 1 a.m., but by 10 the next morning, they had lost their sheen and needed work and I just didn’t have the energy to fix them. One is about my dead neighbor, one is about alcoholism, and one is about the word ratiocination. So they’ll be along at some point.

But for now, you’re just getting this stupid blog about a stupid week and I’m not even going to edit it because that would be stupid since it’s stupid anyway.

Please stay tuned — the regular me will return shortly.

IHOP

Wild Goose Part Two: Mud, Music, and Exploding-Head Syndrome

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The giggling girl seemed to speak for all assembled at the Wild Goose Festival as she splashed barefoot up to the sunshine-yellow popcorn tent. “A little rain doesn’t have to spoil a good celebration!” she said to the long-haired, bearded young man in the tent. He laughed and handed her a popcorn bag almost as big as her umbrella. Shoving their hands deep into the bag and trailing yellow kernels behind them, she and her friend headed off in the direction of some electronic thumping that might have been music.

All Smiles

All Smiles

On the first day of the recent Wild Goose celebration of faith, justice, music, and the arts in Hot Springs, North Carolina, everyone tried to stay dry during the periodic rainstorms, darting under tents or escaping into one of the few pubs and restaurants in town.

On the second day, we all flailed around with umbrellas and tarps for a while and then gave ourselves over to the rain. Everyone was drenched and laughing, and the kids were up to their knees in mud puddles. It was Woodstock redux, except there were no drugs, people kept (most of) their clothes on, and we did not come close to running out of food.

The food and drink tents were surrounded by throngs of wet people — sweaty when they weren’t rain-soaked — day and night. You could have popcorn for breakfast, french toast for dinner, and Yerba Mate energy drink any time of the day or night. The beer pavilion was ground zero during the daily thunderstorms and the nightly Beer & Hymns gathering.

Music floated over the campground from 8 a.m. until midnight, from the main stage and from several huge tents that pulsated with drumming, electric guitars, and electronic new age recordings accompanied by lava lamps the size of giant popcorn bags.

A special shout-out to the Carnival tent, which produced power for its musical performances with bicycle-generated electricity!

Pedal power!

Pedal power!

Tie-dye tees, temporary tattoos, and sparkly hair implants were popular draws, and the smell of vanilla and rosemary aromatherapy oils mixed with heavy smoke from many damp campfires.

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Serious Pursuits

But Wild Goose wasn’t all fun & frolicking in the mud.

One of the biggest attractions for this largely intellectual crowd was the book tent, stacked high with hundreds of titles like Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God and How to Be a Christian without Going to Church. The biggest seller was We Make the Road by Walking: A Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Action, by Wild Goose perennial favorite, Brian McLaren.

Lining the muddy lanes that ran through the campsite were dozens of informational tents and tables, some colorful and bold: WHO WOULD JESUS TORTURE? and others nondescript and looking rather lonely: explore your calling to seminary. 

There was less heavy theology-talk this year than last, and more passionate justice-talk. Food justice, job justice, racial justice, sexual justice, LGBT justice.

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Although this year’s crowd was more multicultural than in years past, reflecting a serious effort by the organizers “to be culturally accessible to an ever broadening audience,” the crowd was still largely white. Baby steps.

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Reverend William Barber, founder of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” protests

Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (me) might suffer from exploding-head syndrome after a few days at Wild Goose. So much was happening that they had to print two separate programs to fit it all in — more than one hundred pages of small print. At any given moment, you could be down by the river doing yoga or art therapy or a writing workshop, or under one of a dozen tents learning about white privilege, the death penalty, or post traumatic church syndrome.

Each night I would peruse the schedule for the following day and dutifully wield my red pen, and each afternoon I would throw up my hands and simply wander from presentation to presentation sipping my Yerba Mate. A lot of people were doing this, sampling a bit of this and a snip of that and finally settling down to a panel discussion or a few sets of music.

In one tent, this young lady explained to me that if I spun the wheel, I could find a new image of God for myself:

Spin the wheel to find your image of God!

Spin the wheel to find your image of God!

Here’s what the wheel came up with for me — not bad: a wise old woman. Her nose was not on fire, by the way, it’s just a lousy picture.

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On one of my wandering afternoons, I came across this amazing fellow who wrote poetry for passersby.

Poetry on Demand by Eddie Cabbage

Poetry on Demand by Eddie Cabbage

I gave Eddie Cabbage five bucks and a theme, and he produced this sweet piece in five minutes:

Loss/Grief/Redemption:

The heart broken

The eyes holding

oceans of tears

The emotion spilling

and the sorrow

a tipping rain

The long road home

The dreams and the wisdom

found when the

wounds begin

to heal

The strength and the power

Inspiration to carry on

The scars now just

flesh tattoos

of a hardship

you came

shining through

Eddie’s offering alone was worth  my trip to Wild Goose this year. See more photos and read more about the festival in part one of this post. Won’t you join us next June?

Don’t Miss the Parade!

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Not Yet. Not Right Now.

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I don’t go to concerts anymore,

At least not yet.

Classical, I mean – real concerts.

It’s too hard.

Mom has passed on.

 

Mom has passed on,

But not before passing on her love

Of the concert hall to me.

My whole life, I watched her fill with that love,

Even if it was just a record on a turntable.

 

She would breathe deeply and close her eyes.

Her head would sway gently,

and then she would begin to conduct with just the slightest lilting motion of her wrist,

as if her hand was filled with helium and could not resist.

 

When she was young,

She sang soprano

With the Philadelphia Orchestra.

She gave up those dreams

To have us. Three of us.

 

Even when she was old and had lost most of the rest of herself,

She still swayed and conducted.

Sometimes I heard the music;

sometimes only she did.

She might get a little smile, like she had a secret with the universe.

 

So, no, if you ask me to describe how it feels

To hear a beautiful piece of music,

I won’t . . . OK?

Not yet; not right now.

Mom has passed on.

 

The WordPress Daily Prompt:

Describe what it feels like to hear a beautiful piece of music or see a stunning piece of art.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/daily-prompt-beauty-2/

The Music of Life: A Poem and a Picture

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I’ve mentioned before that I don’t consider myself a poet. I wouldn’t know an iambic if it bit me in the pentameter. Nevertheless, I do from time to time write things with funny line breaks. So here, for your reading pleasure, is one of those things.

First, here is the lovely painting that inspired it, “Morning Music Detail” by Rod MacIver at Heron Dance art studio.

Sing Life

Sad? Sing.

Sing despair, sing way deep.

Sing anger at Mystery;

Sing loud into Empty.

 

Afraid? Sing.

Sing lost, sing hollow.

Whistle, if that helps;

Whistle into  Alone.

 

Joyful? Sing. Sing!

Sing light, sing golden.

Sing honey into Our Oneness;

Sing laughter at Big Questions.

 

Confused? Might as well . . .

Sing high, sing low.

Sing “How should I know?”

 

Bored? Hum.

Hum monotone, if you must;

Still, hum.

▶ You Hold the Key to Love and Fear

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“You hold the key to love and fear. All in your trembling hand.”

Do those words sound familiar? Do they unleash a rush of images and emotions? Probably so, if you are of a certain age. They surely do for me. Actually, the song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods makes me cry. It brings on a sense of longing that I’ve written about before.

Back in the sixties and seventies when I was growing up, there were these beings called hippies. They dressed in bright colors and denim and had big hair that smelled like patchouli oil, a scent that still intoxicates me and makes me feel instantly alive and in love.

Back in the day with George & Arlo

Back in the day; in love with George & Arlo

Mostly, though, hippies made beautiful music. They sang about love and peace and togetherness; and here’s the thing – they BELIEVED in it. They were imperfect people like you and I, and most of them were “just kids,” at least that’s what politicians and corporations supporting the Vietnam War called them to belittle their demands for peace.

Songs of Peace

Songs of Peace w/ Dennis & Mike

But  those kids believed. They thought if they just took over enough college admin buildings and held enough sit-ins and boycotts and rallies and marches on Washington that they could end that war. And they did. They dragged their aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and eventually the politicians towards peace.

We Believed

We Believed

That’s why The Youngbloods song makes me sad. Because I still want to believe in the power of love and peace that they sang about; I still want to believe that if the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow.

Look at Us

But look at us now. Look. Look at the bombs, look at the destruction, look at the trillions America spends on spreading fear and death – I can’t even keep track of the number of wars we’re engaged in.

Lately I’m hearing dire warnings from the Pentagon that if their budget is cut, they “won’t be able to go as many places or do as many things.” Read: “We won’t be able to kill as many people.”

Look at the assault weapons spraying our schools with bullets and the arsenals being built up in private homes and the hate speech on the TV and the radio.

We are going the wrong direction. The Youngblood’s message didn’t take. Or it hasn’t yet.

Keep Hope Alive

I’m a Christian. I believe that Divine Love runs through every human being. If we allow it, this mighty river of love will wash away our pride and fear and ego so that we can become little rivulets of Divine Love in the world.

Rivulets run together and become rushing rivers that become oceans. This gives me hope.

That’s why I’m a Blogger for Peace — to join other rivulets of peace. This month, we’re issuing a challenge to raise the visibility of peace in the blogosphere.  If you blog, please join us by clicking here. You just need to blog about peace once a month – inner peace, family peace, world peace – just speak for peace. If you’re not a blogger, would you please consider stopping by the Be 4 Peace blog and “following” it? It doesn’t sound like much, but it didn’t sound like much when the hippies held their first sit-in either.

C’mon People — Unlock Peace

You hold the key to love and fear

All in your trembling hand

Just one key unlocks them both

It’s there at your command

So c’mon people now, smile on your brother – everybody get together, try to love one another right now.

This month Bloggers for Peace suggested we write about music and peace. That’s what prompted this post, and it’s why I’m asking you to listen to this beautiful anthem and then say a prayer that you might use your key to unlock love, not fear. Please listen:

 

Related Posts:

Here’s a nice post for peace from a fellow blogger for peace: http://bluegrassnotes.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/letter-to-divine-creator-monthly-peace-challenge/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/the-bombs-bursting-in-air-330000-lives-four-trillion-bucks/

http://everydaygurus.com/2012/12/20/we-can-make-a-difference-right-here-right-now/

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