Tuesday, March 12, 2013

And The Cardinals Usher In Spring

You can tell that it's spring. The cardinals have returned.

This is a picture of a bunch of men in really cool hats trying to figure out how to fuel the stove in the Sistine Chapel so they don't get a backdraft and inhale excessive amounts of black airborne carcinogens. I am fond of the pez like nature of their heads. Still, I prefer the Peeps version of this scene myself, because in the overall scheme of things, in the great explosion of the universe as it expands exponentially faster and faster into the Vast Unknown, it's more accurate to the relative importance of the event it represents.

And I have a soft spot for Peeps.I mean, who doesn't? LOOK at them.

You see, I so very much wanted to be a dedicated blogger. I intended to write every day - or at least every week - or at least bimonthly - or - well, screw it. It was January. And now it's March. The fact that the pope decided to bag it actually makes me feel much better about this personal decision. I'm writing now, so that will have to do for the moment. There are bigger fish to fry.

Don't get me wrong. I don't feel that we should all collectively duck out of our responsibilities, or our obligations, or our dreams. I am not a quitter. No, that's not true. Sometimes I am a quitter. But I will never quit KNOWING that I am sometimes a quitter, and so in that respect, I continue to flaunt my shiny, tinny self-righteousness. Such as it is.

I don't think people should just quit things. But I do appreciate the occasional bravery that comes with realizing that the horse, after all, is dead. Bury the poor thing and start walking.

Benedict XIV was not the greatest pope. He was an excellent academic, a voracious learner, a prolific writer, and, just looking at him from the outside, probably not a bad guy. He had nice hands. But he was certainly not the greatest pope. Now that he is dedicating his life to being in seclusion and in prayer, it's entirely possible he might not be the greatest at that, either. He can certainly put a whole lot of items in the "been there, done that" column of his life, and..?

Well, therein lies the question. And....? And what exactly? And he was a failure? And he was a success? And he was some old dude who decided it was just not his gift after all, so he returned it?

And. I think this is one of the most important words in the English language. But not for the reasons automatically assumed.

I think most of us (and I include me in this) crave the "ands" of our lives. I am a teacher and a musician and a wife and a writer and a daughter and a stepmom and a well-liked employee and a Catholic and an honorary Presbyterian and a dog owner and a taxpayer and a Subaru driver. And I have all my own teeth. I am all that and a bag of chips. Bet you feel pretty special right now, being so privileged to know wonderful, wonderful me. I like all those "ands". They make me feel adult and respectable. But this version of "and" - the one that is all about the more-ness of things - this is not the version that has done me the most good up to now.

The version of "and" that has done me the most good up to now is this one: I am a pacifist Christian and I fantasize about blowing up terrorists by the hundreds. Sometimes I blow up entire countries in my mind, depending on the latest newscast. I am a teacher and I am woefully ignorant. I am a clown and a jackass and I can be as black inside as that gunked up stove in the Sistine Chapel. I pray like a saint and swear (ok, alone in my car at stupid stupid stupid stupid f-ing drivers) like a sailor. I diet regularly on fresh veggies and bowls of ice cream, which I anoint with little beanie hats of peanut butter, and I eat them just before bed. I pride myself on my patience and I imagine myself, as I am stuck behind slowbies in the grocery aisle, smacking them silly with their own extra large blocks of Velveeta. And then eating their extra large blocks of Velveeta, right in front of them. I laugh at jokes about women with baggy upper arms and giant asses and then make sure I myself am never seen in cap sleeves and am always photographed facing the camera. I love my parents and sometimes I want to drop them off a bridge. I am a decent human being, and I am also a complete disaster of a wreck.

Benedict was pope, and then he wasn't. For all we know, probably at the exact same time.

Wouldn't it be so much more real, not to mention so much easier on the soul, to just live with the ands and lose the red beanies and smoky stoves? Let go of the certainty that we will get this right, and trust that someone else, someone, oh, I don't know, maybe someone with credentials like God, perhaps, let's start there - that Someone else can be certain for us, and we can just be?

Someday, when the end of the world is just a memory of a long ago "boom" and we are all wherever the heck we will wind up, there will be no more "ands." We will have finally reached the end of all things, and the beginning. Crap, that's an "and." Well, there you are. No avoiding it, perhaps we should all get used to it now, while we still are on the practice fields.

In the meantime, I will quit writing. And I will begin again. See you in June.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Years Resolutions

I am resolved to be a very fit African American man who runs so fast he has to blow a parachute out his butt to slow himself down for a photo op.

Perhaps not.

Well, I made it through the insanity that is creating Christmas. I say "creating Christmas" because the occasion which we celebrate, the Incarnation, is a done deal. Finished. Complete. Tada. But this annual parade of concerts, gift buying, cookie making, family visiting, house decorating, worship-service-coodinating, yuletiding, card writing, festivity-planning, Hallmark-television-special-watching and packing of calendars with potentially volatile and guilt-inducing events is a creation of our own making that, for some reason I don't really understand, we feel compelled to create over and over again, lest we have no spirit of love within us, we stop being able to hear jingle bells, and Santa only brings underwear until we die.

Don't get me wrong - I love the Incarnation, the idea that God knew we'd screw it up so much on our own that he had to step in and do something about it. I love the whole baby-in-a-manger thing. I love the thought of shepherds freaking out on hillsides. I love the Incarnation, but after all the merrymaking, I am not yet so sure I am in love with Christmas. Nonetheless it does not need my affection in order to triumphantly blow its way in and out of my life for one more year, and it has been successfully - or at least acceptably - created, photographed and boxed up for another twelve months. I have to admit to my own sense of deep personal satisfaction that a 13 foot dead tree in my living room is completely bedecked with trinkets which I picked out and stuck on the branches just so. So there. Shoot me with candy-cane bullets, I deserve it. It's definitely a love-hate thing.

On to New Years. Another creation of ours, since I am convinced the universe couldn't give a rat's ass whether or not we think its time to call it a wrap and start the clock over again.

On New Years Day, both my parents had coughs. By the morning of Jan 2nd, I was driving them to urgent care. By the afternoon of Jan. 2nd I was ferrying back and forth between their retirement home, work, the pharmacy, and the hospital. Dad was admitted for the flu, mostly because he's 91 and the doctors don't like the odds for old dudes running around on the streets with upper respiratory infections. Mom, who is 89, was sent home with bacterial bronchitis, a massive amount of antibiotics and tamaflu, and a prescription for bed rest and fluids.

The rest of the week was hospital visits, full of consultations with pharmacists and doctors and nurses and techs. Discussions with the parents went something like this:

Me: Dad, how are you feeling?
Dad: Meh. Where's mom? (He never refers to her as Grace anymore, just mom.)
Me: She's at home, with bronchitis.
Dad: (looking confused) But aren't we home right now?
Me: No, dad, you're in the hospital. You have the flu.
Dad: (shaking his head.) Well.....
Me: Don't worry, you'll be home soon. Now drink some of this juice.
Dad: I don't have my wallet.
Me: That's right. I have your wallet and keys. Would you like some of this juice?
Dad: I don't have my keys.
Me: Yes, that's right, I have them. How about some juice?
Dad: Where's mom?
Me: She's at home with bronchitis.
Dad: (looking confused) But aren't we home right now?

You get the idea.

Me: Hi mom, how are you feeling?
Mom:  I'm squeak squeak croak croak cough cough cough
Me: I'm sorry, mom, I didn't get that.
Mom: Squeak squeak my croak croak cough cough cough
Me: Ok, I'll do the talking. Dad is doing better. I'm going to stop by later. Is there anything I can get you?
Mom: (holding the phone further from her face) COUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGH

You get the idea.

So, what about the African American dude with the fanny parachute?

Just this. I am not that guy. Nobody is that guy. And if anyone really is that guy I can guarantee I'd probably find that guy enormously annoying. Who has time to tie a parachute to their butt and run around for the friggin wind resistance? Isn't life complicated enough as it is? Must we hear jingle bells AND have parachutes wafting out our asses?

I am not as misanthropic or cynical as it sounds. Really, I am not. In fact, I have decided to start yoga classes later this month. I will make my creaky knees bend to the dog-saluting-the-sun position, and I will try mightily not to fart with the effort. I will make graceful figure eights with my arms in the hopes of eventually achiving, not nirvana, but a modicum of balance and fitness. I will wear yoga pants in an effort to slow the winds of time propelling me inexorably towards the days when my health will come out of a small brown bottle, my mind will wander, and my butt will be big enough to be its own parachute.

I suppose that's what the holidays are about anyway. Taking stock. Buying a yoga mat. Giving it your best shot, whether or not the jingle bells are ringing. Saying things to people with the hopes that they will hear them, and if they do, that they only hear the smart parts and not the stupid stuff that invariably follows right before I shut up.

So happy Incarnation, folks. And a not too repellent new year. Now move over and make room for my mat. I'm coming in.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thinking About Stuff.....


Well here it is, almost the end of another year. And what have I learned?
I have learned how to make sauerkraut.
I have learned how to take a day off and do absolutely nothing.
I have learned how to admit mistakes.
Well, most of the time.

I have learned how to ride tandem with vertigo, without falling off, or wanting to barf.
I have started to relearn Spanish.
Aprendo espanol. Un poquito.
I have learned what I look like in a photo with thirty more pounds on me than I should, and after those thirty pounds have gone away.
I have learned I still need to lose another thirty pounds.
I have learned yet again that failing does not mean instant death.
Just instant recognition of my fundamental gooberness.
I have learned the perfect time to give unsolicited advice.
That time is never.
I have learned how to master Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.
But the Moron Test is still master over my teeny brain.

I have learned I take too many photos of my husband and dog.
I have learned that this pleases me, and I do not care.
I have learned that Pokemon can be cool, lame, cool, lame, and then cool again.
Which gives me hope.
I have learned how to fit cowboy boots.
And how to enjoy wearing a fancy-schmancy western belt.
I have learned that my life is pretty ordinary, pretty mundane, and therefore priceless.

Not bad in 365 days.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and plenty of seratonin for one and all.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jury's Still Out On Christmas.

Tis the season.

Hallmark begins the deluge of offerings such as "The Meaning of Christmas" and "The Heart of Christmas" and "The Family That Forgot Christmas Until A Cute Street Waif Appeared on Their Doorstep Holding A Scruffy Puppy And They Both Had Cancer" and of course, my personal favorite, "A Christmas Carol With Kareem Abdul Jabbar."

We have an average of seventeen magazines in our mailbox every day, and they mostly contain farting Santas and Thomas Kincaide treetoppers. They are trying to convince me that I need twelve of them, but I doubt that I need more than three.

Still, somewhere in this next thirty-plus days I am hoping that I can hang onto the - dare I say it? - real meaning of Christmas. I do not want to say that "Jesus is the reason for the season" in any other way except this individual paragraph. However, I am hoping to sidestep the Black Friday bloodlust and circle quietly around the sticky sentiment and excessive use of sleighbells. No doubt we will have a tree, and ornaments and gifts and errant bows escaping under the couch. After all, I do live in the greatest country on earth, and these are essentials in order to affirm patriotism.

What I am looking for is an inner silence. I am looking for the quiet certainty of holiness that rests between the branches of the cedars outside the window. I am listening for the deep silence that falls between the chirrups of the squirrels. I'm standing under maple trees, waiting for the leaves to fall, so I can hear what they have to say just before they come to their final rest. Even the slow breathing of the dog has that elusive peace in it that I am hungry for. Winter is supposed to be a time of regrouping, of slowing down, of listening to the snow fall and finding renewal in just resting and waiting. I am a walking ear, constantly straining to hear that complete and lovely shush.

When I was a kid, I would wait for the Sears Toy Catalog to come in the mail. It was about the size of a local white pages, usually with a red cover, and filled cover to cover with useless plastic objects that I honestly felt I could not live without. Rock tumbling kits. Sponges that turned into dinosaurs when you dropped them in water. Tiny replicas of ovens, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, farmhouses, entire supermarkets. I could not begin to imagine wasting my time looking at anything else other than the contents of that magical catalog, with all its multi-colored, Chinese-origined Barbies, Play-Doh sets, Legos and pogo sticks. It was magic. It was everything that made my heart beat fast. I pitied anyone who was too old and tired to understand the sheer majesty of a toy-encrusted Christmas.

Now, I have turned into someone else entirely. Don't get me wrong, I'm not that crusty old lady who thinks kids are horribly spoiled and everyone should be happy with getting a sock or a baked potato for Christmas. I'm not complaining, and I don't think that everything that comes from WalMart is inherently evil. I mean, last month I was celebrating because the local neighbor kids fell in love with my plastic zombie. I enjoy a good spiritual Twinkie with the best of 'em. But you can only shop and tinsel and wrap and ship via UPS and bake and twinkle for so long before you get lonely.

I think maybe that's a good sign. If I had to take a guess, I would guess that it means that peace is becoming less of a spiritual abstract that I hear about in sermons, and more like an essential. Like caffiene. Without it, I get a headache. You could say I am falling in love with peace. And I am wondering if I can find it this Christmas.

I know its there. I just have to get past farting Santa to touch it.

So that's why the jury is still out. Can I get past the stuff I do because 'tis the season' and find the stuff that lasts until the new leaves start to unfurl? Maybe. Maybe. I'm hopeful. I've also hedged my bets by starting my shopping ridiculously early, in the hopes of finishing before I grow to hate it. Before I find something else in a catalog I can't imagine living without.

Before I forget how to listen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ok. It's official. I love Halloween again.

Ok. I stopped loving Halloween about twenty years ago. I know, I know, I sound like an epic party pooper, an old biddy lady who has given up on her childhood and become boring and slightly bitter. But after I turned 30, I gradually stopped embracing the mystery and tingly fear of the night, and starting thinking instead about how expensive candy is, and how noisy twelve-year-olds are and how parents, although cute while doting over their panda toddlers and pumpkin babies, made me feel lonely and childless as they walk away holding those chubby baby hands in their own.

So since I passed thirty, I still handed candy out - well, most years. And I sort of decorated; I bought the pumpkin, and sometimes, I made it into an actual Jack-O-Lantern. I helped my brother pass out candy at his home when I didn't have the "oomph" to do it in my own. I went to an occasional party or two; I didn't exactly turn my back on the holiday - I just lost the magic of it.

Until tonight.

I live in a regular residential area, but since our house was here before the rest of the residential complex, we have a 700-foot long, heavily wooded driveway with gravel instead of asphalt, potholes the size of small lakes, and undergrowth of ferns, bracken and wild grasses that makes the driveway its own ecosystem. And it is dark. Very, very dark.

Which has made it a perfect blank slate for a Halloween Path of Doom.

With a few well-placed plastic spiders, candles, and styrofoam tombstones, the driveway gave itself wholly into the drama of imagination. A rustling leaf became a hidden ghoul. A shadow across the gravel became the shape of a grasping hand. Those branches over there? A skeleton! That rock? A troll's head bursting out from the ground! The driveway took my cue  - "be scary and fun!" -  and effortlessly magnified it into magnificent goosebumpiness.

So, who dared to walk through the 700 feet of danger, thrills, and chills to get to the cotton-webbed house for the sumptous reward of a mini-Kit Kat? A middle-school giant walking taco. A three-foot tall Darth Vader. Cleopatra. A fifth-grader, now the walking dead. A bean-skinny shadow, who remained perfectly silent as he (she?) shook a silk pillowcase in my general direction. Two clowns, a princess, and that kid who always wears a white tee shirt. Balding dads with achingly adorable first graders, so proud of their courage, so greedy for a sweet.

I can't tell you what happened to me this evening between six-thirty and eight-thirty. Something tickled my soul and reawakened the giggly kid. Maybe it was the generosity of the exclamations of delight over my small contribution to the magic. Maybe it was my stepdaughter, dressed in nurse's scrubs, with her lovely face painted like a horrific bloodsucking zombie, shouting "HAH!" and laughing as she handed out candy. Maybe it was the parents who told me that when their kids are just a year or two older, they want to come hide in the driveway and shout "boo" to others who dare to come down it. Maybe it was the sweet scary kindness of the wild grass, the ferns, the rabbits and mice who live in this lovely driveway and let me play with them for this one night. Maybe it was the candlelight, shining off the potholes, puddly from this afternoon's rain. Maybe it was the moment that the five year old shouted, "WOW!" I don't know.

But tonight, I got the magic back, in one big flood of joy. And I still don't like Halloween.

I LOVE Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Anyone else out there envious?

Anyone else out there envious of this face?

This face is not contemplating the anticipated results of the presidential election.

This face is not concerned about global warming, or the Frankenstorm on the east coast.

This face is not registering concern over the suppression of basic human rights in Myanmar or China, or agonizing over the rampant violence in Syria, or twisting itself into a pretzel trying to understand the fall of the Euro.

This face does not care that Disney just bought Lucasfilms and therefore there will someday be a Star Wars Episode Twenty-Four, or that red dye 40 is still alive and well and sitting in your box of Skittles, or that Iran is working on developing its nuclear power or that Afghan teenaged girls are being shot at because they want a book, or that all the bees of the earth are mysteriously disappearing, or that Justin Bieber may release another album and barf on stage again.

This is just a sleepy face.

There are times when I am deeply envious of this face, for what it does not know.

And for what it does know.

Anyone out there agree?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

So Are YOU Ready?

Nah. Me neither. Jon and I went to Winthrop, WA for our 5th anniversary. Which is an amazing thing, being both a confirmed lifelong bachelorette and being married to the love of my life for five years now. Just goes to show you - you can't really be prepared for anything.

I find this oddly comforting. I have been raised to be a very responsible adult. Responsible adults are prepared, like Boy Scouts. We make sure we're wearing clean underwear in the event of an accident. We floss. We pay our bills on time, and if we can't pay our bills on time, we pay them in the grace period. We look before we leap. We never fail to plan, because otherwise you are planning to fail. We invest. We have life insurance policies. We dust under the couch. We measure our words, think before we leap and save our pennies for a rainy day. We purchase canned food for the apocalypse when it is on sale, well before the zombies arrive. For heaven's sake, I'm freaking Catholic. I'm a responsible adult with a lovely patina of guilt.

Except that just below the well insured and suitably groomed adult surface lies the completely unprepared mess. At least, that's what's under my groomed surface. Look closely, and you will see some genuine sloth, a smattering of fear, a heaping tablespoon of righteous and completely ignorant indignation, and a gelatinous blob of apathy. And that's just under my right pit.

Confession is good for the soul, they say. Well, I suppose that's true, once you get past the disappointment of realizing that your sins are just as average as your virtues, and the Big Hairy Problems of Your Life are pretty much peach fuzz.

No, I am not prepared for the apocalypse. I am not even prepared for a good long hike. But I took the trek poles along, so I'd look like it. See? Pay no attention to the sweat caking my bangs to my forehead.

Something weird is happening to me. I am slowly becoming prepared to be unprepared. I think this might be why I didn't mind being out of breath and out of shape, yet still heading up a three mile hike with a 2800 ft. gain. In sandals. In the rain. It was hard, I was unprepared, and it was FUN.

I am learning that there is a lot of life I am not prepared for, and probably a whole lot more that I thought I was, but really wasn't. Finding Jon? Nope. Inheriting stepdaughters? Nope. Turning 50? GOD, no. Watching my anatomy slowly succumb to gravity? Nope, not that either.

There's gonna be a lot more I'm not ready for. Parents passing on. Grandkids. Health issues. Presidential elections. Dogs dying of old age. Dreams dying of old age. New dreams popping out like dandilions all over my nicely groomed lawn of expectation. Technological advances. Gas.

So what is the point of this rambling? I want very very very very much to have the honest humility to be completely unprepared for whatever comes next. I know for a fact I'd be terrified to be a huge success at something, much more than I would be to be a complete failure. But I'd like to be okay with being terrified, because it's a sure sign you weren't prepared. I want to let go of the last vestige of thinking I actually know what the heck is going on. Because if I truly believe that God is in charge of my life, then I have to assume that I am not. You can't have it both ways, after all.

I guess you could call it a prayer of surrender. But you could also call it just a reality check. In the end, I want to choose to trust in God and in my own complete lack of ability to fill His shoes. I want to be ok with going barefoot instead of trying to tie His sandals. I want to be a complete and authentic nimrod, going where the trail goes because that's where it goes. I want to do this new every day. Being unprepared like this means being open to surprise, amazement, embarassment, wonder, and awe. Kinda like finding yourself on the trail in sandals, in the rain, with a dopey smile.

I'll be passing on those canned goods for now. When when the zombies come, can I show up at your door? I'll lend you my cool trek poles.

If I remembered to bring them.