Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Dreaming light and waking in the dark - We
Perpetually relive the Fall
Eternally recreate Creation 
Receive revelation
both asleep and awake -  all

Lost in the belly of the whale
Riding a bull over ocean swells
lying in rushes under the weight and white of a swan
Going the arduous path to the underworld
Emerging into starlight

It’s all true for you and me (and everyone we know)

Look, and see if is not so
deep within from before time, before we unlearned
We have carried the images, the experience
of paradise, of exile and the longing to return

Amid polarities hope and despair
shame and pride do we trod the earth--an armed race
With fire that can illuminate or incinerate.

Isn’t this why we became human in the first place?

Monday, June 16, 2014

On This Ground

     
     It comforted Nora to think that, on the very ground he took his last breath, Indians had once danced, but she didn’t find that out until later, after the burial, after staying inside all summer and fall wondering if she had somehow imagined it all.  She had slept on the sofa since that rainy evening, waiting for him to call, to see him walk past the front window, to open the door for him when he came home.
When she got to the accident scene, she saw the chalked outline of his body on road.  She reached for the grey sweatshirt among the personal effects given to her just an hour before at the hospital where she had identified her son: car keys, a lighter, a wallet, an iPod, some change, and an arrowhead he had always carried with him. She pulled it over her head, holding the hood around her face and inhaled.  Then she lay down inside the chalk outline and sobbed.
     Did he suffer? Did he think of her, call out for, pray in the last moments, or was he already unconscious when he hit the pavement?  Did he know he would die, hope he would live?  Nora lived with those questions, spoke them in the midnight hour, wrote them down over and over until one morning in late December when she awoke to that grey stillness before snow.  She remembered that now, after winter solstice, there would be longer days ahead. Then, it came to her so clearly that today she must go to that place again, where the chalk outline had long faded and no trace of metal shards or shattered glass remained. 
     Only burning grief remained, which still surprised her whenever she awoke--morning or night, but this morning she would be moved. It would be a long walk she knew, but she would go.  This morning she had to give over to time and reason.  He will not call; he will not walk up the front path, and he will not come home no matter how long you lie on the sofa and wait.  She went to pull the shades down on the front windows and locked the door.  
      When her daughter called, Nora said, “I am taking a walk this morning.”
     It was a revelation to Addie, who was partly elated that her mother was doing anything other than what she had done for the past months, and partly concerned at the sudden change. “That’s great, Mom.  How about if I come over and we can walk together like we used to?  It's really cold and windy today, and snowing off and on already; maybe we should wait until tomorrow”
      “I know, but I'll be fine. I have to go today. I'm leaving now for Three Island Cove.”
      “Mom, wait, I'll be right over. Don’t go without me. I should be with you,” 
      “Now, don’t worry about me. You’ve been telling me to do something different, and now I am.” She hung up the phone before her daughter had finished.
      “I want to go with you.”
      Nora was sorry she had told Addie where she was going and hoped she would not just show up.  She wanted to be alone, knew it had been hard for Addie too, but grief was a private affair, to protect and not share with anyone, not even her own daughter, “her favorite,” as Andrew would say. 
     She went into his room, where all remained as it had been the night he left and never returned: curtains drawn, clothes on the unmade bed; shoes on the floor; papers, CDs, empty cigarette packs, matches and batteries on the table beside his bed, piles of neatly folded laundry still on the dresser. Job applications, resumes and notes on his desk next to the laptop reminded her that, in his slow, deliberate way, Andrew had been ready to make a change in his life.  
     Every night and morning she would open his door to whisper in a good morning, and every evening a good night, but not today.  She went straight for the box given to her at the hospital, which she had placed in one corner of the room. Taking out the folded grey sweatshirt, she held it to close to her once again, lifted it to her lips for a moment and slipped it over her head. Stepping out into the cold, she felt she was emerging into a new world, but looking around thought, it’s really just the old world I don’t recognize, where people have been living their lives, going places and doing things as usual. For her there was no “usual,” no place to go, and no life either to live.  Grief was her world--deep and vast, with no exit. 
     Snow flurried, sparkled a moment on the sidewalk, then disappeared; icy branches moving in the wind were the only sound to be heard.  She was aware of her quickening heartbeat and her breath frosting into a mist in front of her as her stride widened. Everything is so quiet, so white and pure.   
     She felt disoriented by the openness of this forgotten environment and a sense of her changing inner landscape--unwanted and unwelcome. As she began the ascent up the steep hill, there seemed to be a thread being cast backwards in time, attaching itself to images, people, events, places--connecting her with her son.  She wanted to turn around and run back to her safe and familiar place of stasis, but the intensity of this experience compelled her with intimations of truths, both light and dark. Somehow she knew that, only by physically moving forward, could the past be revealed and lead her to the present, and maybe beyond.  It was as if the long days and nights of sameness, the ritualized sorrow had been preparing the ground for all that came out of her now.  
     Something was shifting--what, to where or how, she didn’t know. Though her grief was still palpable, underlying everything, she was distracted from it.  No longer was it overflowing, gushing in torrents so that she felt at every moment she was about to go under, breathless and suffocating.  Her focus went to each new strand of thought, feeling, and memory being woven, without power to stop it, had she wished to.
     In the quiet, deserted street, passing houses and trees still lit with holiday lights, she was remembering her lost child had been unwanted at first, coming many years after Addie. Her arrival had justified all manner of pain and redeemed her past transgressions--nothing else was needed. 
     I don’t know why, but when Addie came, it made me feel normal and whole again, brought me down to earth, put things into perspective, but Andrew, more than anyone or anything else forced me to reach down to discover, or build up strengths I didn’t even know I had.  Addie was a beautiful gift. She took away the darkness and made everything light and bearable.  I can see now that the joy she gave me took away that burden of guilt and shame or displaced it somewhere. Or did I just trade one myth of sorrow for another of redemption.  I know I tend to make things too dark or too light--I know that. Matt told me that, and I knew it was true.
     The widening circumference of memory touched many truths, exposed illusions, brought things into focus.  Andrew was a contented baby, but was less responsive to affection, both received and given.  He was dreamy, independent, willful and often irritable, which tried her patience.  More than that, though, as he grew, it’s as if he challenged her to see who he was, to find what he needed and to change herself, which was hard--maybe impossible. 
     I failed in every way. With Addie, I felt I’d always known who she was, what she needed. It was easy.  But I took on Andrew as “my task,” which his father took no part in initiating or directing.  He wasn’t interested in my one-woman show. I excluded Matt and everyone and everything else.
     Andrew, who began to show early on that, while he may not have been “awake,” as she felt, he had extraordinary insights about the essence and purpose of things, knew more than she did in some ways. He was a puzzle and paradox.  His intuitive, sensitive nature engendered in her a love as deep and wide as the love she felt for Addie, but an uneasy love.  Something was asked of her in exchange.  She was convinced his inherent wisdom was meant to guide her and Matt to--something, at least some bit of self-knowledge, which she thought they both lacked, if they would allow it.  His father did not allow it, but Nora thought she had.
     Of course, Andrew was also a gift to me, but he forced me to look into the darkness, own it, and transform it into light. "Oh, cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right,” she would think, but still attempted to strive toward that end. She regretted leaving her husband, but had convinced herself she had to so she could concentrate on what she felt had become her life’s work, but the threads of memory and desire revealed to her that she did not have to leave, and should not have created her own Greek tragedy.
     I thought Matt stood in the way of my striving and knowing, and I put Andrew first above all things.  I thought Addie had lifted my burden, maybe an imaginary one after all, but now I see I just placed it on Andrew who carried it to his death, and tried to on Matt too, but he refused to accept it.  It was not his, so why should he? So, Andrew had not only to bear the weight of his father’s leaving, but our move away from the only home he had known. He resented me for all of it, rebelled against it and never forgave me. Can you forgive me now?
     By the time she reached the top of the hill, where she dreaded, yet longed to be, a perfect imagination had been formed--perfect, in that it was a finished work woven in reverse from moments in time, expanding outward to encompass the lives of mother and son--and a family. When she came to rest, she noticed a sign on the side of the road, one of those placards noting some bit of history. How had it eluded her notice until now? She had driven past it many times, but seldom walked the hill in the few years they had lived in the town.
     In an instant, she felt herself engulfed, small but whole within her creation, which held everything that was and is and would be.  She both saw and was the bare trees, the grey sky, the flakes of snow drifting around her, this ground where Andrew was lost.  
     She read: "SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN. Due east from here on July 16,1605, the Sieurde Monts sent Samuel de Champlain ashore to parley with some Indians. They danced for him and traced an outline map of Massachusetts Bay."
     Nora stood for some time, looking up at the sign. She bent down to touch the ground.  Something extraordinary had taken place here long ago--an exchange, a sharing, a trust, a true meeting.  This was the place strangers had arrived, met other souls who danced to welcome them to a foreign shore; had shared their knowledge of the land, which also lived inside them. It was also where another soul, one who Nora had both striven to know and to become more like, had lifted off of this plane to join those who had occupied it for a time.  Time, just another illusion. We are all here. It is then, and now and the future.
     How long she stood in this reverie, within that imagination, in the light of the knowledge the placard had shed, who knows?  She turned, glanced back once, as a few snow flakes floated in the air like feathers.  Feeling the cold more than before, even though the winds had subsided, she began to walk quickly downhill.  She saw Addie coming toward her smiling and waving, making her way among the lights twinkling from the trees and houses along the street.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Measure of the Universe


In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God spoke the world into being, and “in the beginning was the Word.” So we are given the imaginative truths that speech/sound has formative power, bringing substance into being and that “the Word,” or Logos has always been.  We also find in Shelley’s epic play, Prometheus Unbound, that Prometheus, a demi-god who stole fire from the gods and gave it as a gift to human beings (and was punished for it), also “gave man speech, and speech created thought, which is the measure of the universe” (II.iv.72-73). He was essentially a link between heaven and earth
     I think of language that way--a mediator between humanity and divinity.It is what separates us from the rest of the living world, not in its ability to simply communicate information or feelings, but in what John Ciardi called, "the interplay of its structures," which includes rhythm, sound, evoked images, allusion, symbolism and associations, as well as the many subtle and nuanced layers of language, which create meaning, and thus thought.  In this way, language builds and expands consciousness and conscience.
Although I do not participate in organized religion, I was brought up in Catholicism until the age of 10, for which I am grateful, however, not because of memorizing the catechism, but, rather, for the beauty seen and felt, laying the foundation for my inner life. Much of that beauty was visual. The interior of the church inspired awe and reverence: the soft, matte whiteness of the marble alter; the gleaming red votives; the forms and fragrance of flowers; the brilliance of colored light streaming through stained-glass windows mingling in open spaces.  There in the quiet and darkened, echoing church, in the presence of the figure on the cross, the sombre saints and silent angels, there was something strangely familiar.  I felt at home in wonder, which the Greeks tell us is the beginning of wisdom.
More significant for me, though, was the beauty and meaning in liturgy, prayers and hymns.  I recall my first apprehension of the spiritual dimension--being lifted above the ordinary in moments that can only be described as profound, although I could not have put that name to it back then.  It came through one of the Latin prayers that we also recited in English. Once heard, it reverberated in my (and still does).
Dòmine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanàbitur ànima mea.
Oh, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Only say the word and my soul will be healed.
“Only say the word and my soul will be healed,” was a revelation to me as a child, as it is now: that words can and do heal, that they shape wisdom-filled thoughts and have a life I can breathe in.  Such thoughts impart a sense of hope and renewal, are felt as light, and can be called upon again and again as a source of strength, and even of actions I might not otherwise take, had I not been inspired by words.
As an adult I found a life inseparable from language, as an English teacher and writer, grounded in the Trinity of Language: power, beauty, meaning. It planted a seed within me, and I imagine that, if such a thing could observed, the palest shade of green would have been seen through the thin shell of my young soul—ever so pale, but green, green and growing.

Whitsun

June 8, 2014

You didn't see, couldn't know
How a sliver of ocean
A luminous blue gem glowing
A streak of white light at the horizon
Touched the sky
At sunrise
This morning
And the birds ~ all the while
Singing it in!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

GOD IS LOVE


The colors and forms blurred and faded into each other: trees of pale green into the blue sky fading to grey, brown rocks edging the road into yellow grasses lining the fields. Wisps of clouds emerged from the horizon as he travelled toward it.  This was how he remembered it in the cold season. The road stretched far ahead, his anxiety building--like when he had first imagined forever--or tried to envision the universe expanding ever outward--into what, into where?

He was going back and had to keep on, even if he didn’t know what he would find or even what he was looking for. There was a place at which he would eventually arrive, to which he’d planned to return one day, ever since he left so many years ago, closing a circle “whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.”

Early next morning, he saw it: the house rising dark against the brightening sky.  His eyes fixed on it, as he turned onto the narrow dirt road leading to it. He marked that the fencing was all but gone, broken in some places, missing in others. Some of the sheltering trees, living only in his memory until now, still stood on either side of the front porch, its unpainted, wooden steps sagging into the dark earth.  Tall weeds, twisting bramble and vines obliterated the many gardens that once grew in sunny spots.  

Easing around toward the back of the house along a rutted curve, he saw parts of yellow and green farm equipment strewn across the barn yard.  The barn roof was partially collapsed on one side.  The familiar, though weather-faded image covering the top half of the barn side facing the house, came into view. It was the first thing that had appeared to him each morning from his bedroom window: a red cross against shafts of light, over which floated the words, “GOD IS LOVE.”

He sat with his eyes closed for some time, then emerged to make his way to the house, observing cracked windows, siding bare of paint and fallen roof shingles that all but blocked the sidewalk as he made his way to the back door. To clear the low door frame, he had to bow in a forced gesture of humility as he entered.   

In the kitchen the wide stone hearth still held charred ends of logs across a blackened grate.  Moving through to the next room, he half expected to see the harvest table that he and his sister would help prepare for Sunday dinners and holidays; he stopped and touched the place where it had been.  In the front room, he faced the ceiling-to-floor windows to the west;  He took in the whole scope of the room, scanning it camera-wise, recalling it like a once-seen but forgotten film.  The windows’ wavy panes, coated with a fine yellow film blown from the fallow fields across the way, diffused the widening morning light through the empty room, which smelled of earth and cold, and felt like pain.

He imagined this room as it had been on that summer day he left, when no words were spoken, no forwarding address given. There was a rocker on one side of the fireplace; a cabinet on the other against the wall, containing books, a radio and an outdated record player.  The window seats were laid with cushions his mother had made. There he would sit and read in the late afternoons where breezes would lift the white curtains into the room like the sails on a schooner and sun lighting up the space.  There was a sofa facing the fireplace and his father’s wooden chair, straight backed with a worn, crackled black leather seat   A round marble-topped table between them held a lamp of frosted glass painted with peonies, like the ones on the wall paper--now  worn in large areas down to the plaster.  All the while, his mind projected a tableau of random, intimate vignettes from the past. 

He had arrived--returned from another world to speak to his God-fearing family who had fed and clothed him; raised him to work hard and long hours and made sure he went to school, at least as long as it took to learn to read and write well enough to run the farm.  Gone now, they had waited years in grief for his return. He felt that in some way he would be heard by those who needed to hear and were still awaiting the reunion. His voice would soon fill this room where they had gathered in the evenings.

The wind kicked up; it blew through the house with that shrill, whirring sound, jarring and rattling the remaining shutters.  It was late winter, and his fingers, though gloved, were numb with cold.  Outside, vortices of golden dust rose up here and there, as he looked for bits of kindling and fallen branches to make a fire. Once the fire blazed up, creating one last warmth in the frozen house, he stood directly across the room from it, as he conjured up his imaginary truth and reconciliation commission:  his mother seated at the windows gazing out, his father standing at her side, his sister curled on the rocker next to the fire, his abandoned lover on the threshold to the room facing the back of the house. 

He had wanted to say: Call me Ishmael, Gilgamesh, Oedipus.  I have seen the white whale, entered the cedar forest, solved the famous riddle, but that was an inner experience he never could articulate.  He would speak in plain language they would have understood, though those epic figures were part of him, the foundation for a way of thinking which had allowed him to understand himself and the world.  Though he did not think of himself as a hero, he did think that living life was heroic for those who are aware of and survive all that comes against it and develop all that it takes to contend with it.  He had survived.

Though battle-weary, he could trace his path to consciousness and conscience, more certain of and clearer in his judgements and actions, precisely because he had freed himself and dared to leave the known for the “undiscovered country.”  He had developed a vision of what it means to be human, which his first readings and musings had begun to suggest.  And he strove toward that vision, though he was flawed, still so flawed, he thought. These things he wanted to convey to them, as he unraveled his tale, partly in sorrow without remorse, partly in victory without joy, so that he himself could hear it, grasp it and, in some feeble sense, atone for the pain he had caused those whose souls he would now address.

He wanted to say that he wasn’t ungrateful, or at least never connected what he did or didn’t do with ingratitude.  He just knew he couldn’t live out a replay of his father’s life.   He wanted to acknowledge that he had betrayed his sister, after all the confidences they had shared, and that he knew he had left her utterly alone in the life they both hated. He would kneel before his mother, asking forgiveness for his mysterious disappearance, for her never having heard from him again, for his not being able to fulfill her reasonable expectation that her family remain near, insuring that life would go on in the same way ever after. He would say he was sorry to the beautiful young lover whose face he could not remember.  She had told him that if he ever left her she would hang herself from the barn rafters.  “No, no you won’t.” he had shouted. “I can’t be held hostage to save you.” Then, he did the only thing he could do. 

He would recount how he had to veer off that set trajectory, how he had created his own, though he had been blown off course many times.  He would say that he had to travel to where he would see water that was not just in irrigation ditches or in the form of rain--or the small stream of the river that was not a river running through the nearest city that was not a city.  He had thought of this place as God-forsaken, though his mother had told him, "God is everywhere the eye can see and the heart can feel--horizon to horizon." If that was so, then he would recognize Him in other lands and landscapes, which he knew would serve to form, shape and grow something still small inside himself. He would see, hear and feel the blue ocean, stand before and climb mountains, meet and get to know people that were not like him--who would be God and His angels in disguise--strangers who would become his guests.

He finally landed on that island on the wide Hudson, “The City” where long, black limos stopped in front of hotels, theaters and restaurants, and, where downtown, he mingled with those who had lost their way, but not their souls--those who carried the sum of their lives in carts or plastic bags and hid the countenance of their sainthood beneath blank and sombre stares.

He would ask the conjured visions now assembled for his homecoming: Can you ever understand that I had to trade predictable for the possible, security for spontaneity and comfort for experience?  He felt their memory of him beyond his boyhood was of a selfish dreamer, a fool, a doubter, a lazy sinner, and a bad influence on his sister, with all of his wild ideas about journeys and trials he got from the books he read, when he should have been working--ideas that, for him, became ideals to be acted upon--light-filled thoughts that opened up all colors, dreams and initiated his plan of escape for body and soul. 

When a boy, he loved this house, family birthdays, Christmas and 4th of July celebrations, picnics and Sundays of prayers and hymns.  He had wanted to be good, to be grateful to God for creating him and everything around him, to obey and please Him and to honor his father and mother.  He would concede that, but also that he needed to feel alive and that he had found and believed in something as surely as they trusted in God’s Word, and it was this:  We did not come to earth to fulfill the expectations of God or man, yet, he knew that through his not doing so, he had somehow nevertheless, by default or destiny, managed to achieve the self-same thing. 

He now believed that if there was a God, that He intended that we be disobedient, that we be cast out of the Garden we are born into, that we lose our innocence in order to gain the knowledge of good and evil, both of which God had brought into being himself.  He knew that God would have it no other way, because evil and good are all mixed up, and one can be mistaken for the other, because one often results in the other, no matter what we intend.  That’s why he thought that, if a God allowed a Satan to roam the earth, it was not just so that we resist temptation, or try to eradicate evil.  He had once read something as true as any Bible verse: “Evil is not something to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.” 

Maybe some people could be content to remain in the place where they were born, but not him.  He was a wayfarer, took the road less travelled, finding fulfillment and loss in that dark-haired woman he loved too much.  She had painted a portrait of him in blue and red after they had a child born with his spine outside of his body.  Then, on the first anniversary of the child’s death, when he arrived home on that snowy evening, she had vanished like the snowflakes melting on the window he stared out of all that night.  Disappeared--just as he had from the forlorn farm house he now stood in, triumphant.  

He was the cynic who burned the red and blue portrait with the letters he had written to her every day for a year, with nowhere to send them.  He lived alone, not knowing what do with the remaining love for the dark-haired woman and the dead child, until he took in and looked after the young man in rags with wild, violet eyes, who danced nightly in the streets of St. Mark’s Place in a stained, suede vest, asking nothing for his performances of grace and beauty, but a witness.  

All this he meant to speak out loud into the quiet of the cold room to those who waited and listened.  

When he started to speak, his voice sounded hollow and weak in the gaunt, high-ceilinged room. All at once, what he had left behind appeared before him as a sacrifice to become human, to arrive at a state “of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.” Or had he forfeited the simple for the sublime, the facts for the hard-won truth? And peace descended upon him.  His frosted breath became visible when he said only this: “Peace be with you.” And he felt that it was so.

The fire had gone out, the wind had died down. Across the fields, the afternoon sun was low in the sky, but shone through the darkened spaces of the room as the figures vanished in its illumination.                                            

Thursday, January 23, 2014

TRUE MINDS



He pressed his forehead against the cold window until the pane fogged over. When he got home that evening, the front door was locked, and his key didn’t open it.  The back door didn’t open either, but through its window he could see that the kitchen furniture was gone.  Going around to the bedroom window, the only one not covered over with vines, he peered in to see that nothing remained of what had been in place when he left that morning. A feeling came over him of being telescoped to a distance above the cottage.  He watched himself make his way around to the front where he found the sign: “FOR SALE” under the willow tree on the side lawn. He headed for the pub in town.

Only a few places were left at the bar. He took the one furthest from the door, as the wind rushed in with the last of the autumn debris and flakes of snow that had begun to fall. Inside, the warmth and dim lights were a familiar welcome. The sound of the end-of-week heightening chatter was filling the space. To avoid seeing himself in the mirror behind the bar, he fixed his eyes upon the array of bottles in various shapes, sizes and colors below it. He was trying not to remember when he had come here with her every Friday night, taking one of those cozy side tables, where other young couples now sat smiling at one another.

Back then, they would each chose different cocktails; some were creamy pink or green. Others were clear, sweet and fruity or amber-colored, dry and bitter. It was all amusement as they sipped from the other’s glass. He couldn’t recall when it was he had begun coming here alone, first at lunch and then most nights.  Now, she was gone. He couldn’t think about that, and after the second double vodka, he wasn’t able to, his mind and memory clouding over, and his heart a cold stone. He drank until the bartender leaned into him, so no one else nearby could hear her say, “It’s time to go.” He got up this time without protest, setting his course for the few blocks home. Home, home, home swirled through his mind, and the frozen flakes swept around him.

He had already decided that he would stay at the house. Stopping out front to get a blanket out of car--the one that had been there since his children were small enough to fall asleep in the backseat.  He grabbed it and crunched over the frozen walkway to the kitchen door.  Cracking a window pane with his fist, he pulled out a few shards of glass, edged his hand inside and unlocked the door. He stumbled into the empty bedroom and fell to the floor with the meager blanket printed with elephants and balloons.

With the morning light, memories and self-reproach, warded off the night before, flooded in with a brilliance, like the sun shafts on the bare wall in front of him. He made his way to the bathroom to splash his face. On the floor were pieces of the white cup with painted blue sailboats, matching the ones on the wallpaper, dropped in the haste of packing--a small, shattered vessel in nowise repairable or any likeness of its former self. He wanted to make himself presentable, make a plan, make some calls, get this all straightened out once and for all, but he returned to wrap the blanket around him as he eased back down to stare at the ceiling, where, it seemed, memories began to appear like holographs--sometimes bitter and dark, sometimes too sweet and too light to bear.

The Meeting: He saw that she was lovely, vibrant, open and gentle. She was lonely and ambitious. So was he, both of them with the necessary illusions about life and themselves. Even though they both grew up in the same small seacoast town in New England, they hadn’t ever talked to each other, or traveled in the same circles. She went to a private school off the island. He had thought her snobby; she thought him arrogant. They had mutual friends, but not until they were home on holiday from university did they really see each other for the first time.  

That summer came with the thrill of newness and wonder at the place they had lived all their lives, rediscovering it together: the wooded paths they had walked as children were now “Arden forest itself,” she had said. Together they lulled on warm beaches, chatted on the sunny decks of cafes overlooking the harbor, and climbed rocky shores. She felt herself to be in a Matisse painting. He thought her interest in him must be a mistake.  She read Shakespeare sonnets to him, challenging him to imagine and think beyond their place and time, for which he adored her; he urged her to see and be where they were, here and now, the simplicity of which she respected and felt was true. In short, she was him trying to get in and he was her trying to get out, and thus they filled the void of the other.

She was just then enthralled with the philosophy and writings of Albert Camus, even though she often felt panic and anxiety setting in when she read him. “He says that by the time we are thirty, we should know all our faults and the way we are. Isn’t that incredible?”

He struggled to understand, "What's the point?"  

“Listen,” reading from one of the books she always had with her, “Camus says a person, ‘should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures--be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.’ What do you think of that?”

“I think it’s impossible, but I guess we still have a few years to get there, if that's the goal, but I don’t want to spend my time trying to ‘foretell my failures.’ I’d rather move toward my successes, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah, sure, but if we don’t get some perspective now, I mean--Oh, look! something out there just beyond the waves.”   He also spotted the brownish-grey form bobbing up and turning just above the surface of the water. They got up and started to run along Old Garden Path, keeping their eyes on the figure as it appeared out of and disappeared back into the blue-green sea. Further out, white sails drifted all in a row. The rocky cliffs dropped off from the path to small slivers of seaweed-strewn beaches.  They lost sight of the unidentified, sleek and shiny creature in the shower of sun rays reflecting off the water.  Hot and tired, they dropped to the ground, held each other and laughed; He had loved that laugh, long since silenced.

They had spoken of settling nearby that path someday with an ocean view, but only after they established careers in Boston, in law for him and journalism for her. A wide scope of plans came into focus that summer, then stretched out over the years and blurred, after they had married earlier than imagined, once the first baby was on the way.  

He closed his eyes, turned over and sat up. He noticed the sun had moved across the room. He meant to get up, but, instead, opened his eyes and lay back down, waiting to see what other memories might appear, as if he had no control over their direction and content.

The Marriage: There she was, still young, fresh, beautiful. He could smell her scent; feel her softness, hear her voice, see her gestures and movements--all light and gentle and fine.  He remembered his urgent desire, fierce and fiery; his resentment that she had neither his intense and frequent appetite nor the capacity for the intimacy he yearned for.  

Then came images of the once well-kept cottage with its manicured gardens; the salt air palpable; the changing moods and colors of the sea and sky; children laughing; white sheets billowing out from the clothes line like the sails of a schooner--the ocean-air fragrance of them tucked into the newly-made bed, always covered with a white duvet with blue hydrangea or sailboat designs. They had brought the babies home and lay with them there, she nursing and singing them to sleep.

With her support doing free-lance writing after the children were in bed, he was able to finish law school, but couldn’t find a “suitable” Boston law firm. He insisted on a practice in town, safer and close to home--a curse ever after on himself, the town and his family. For her, the children came first--their care, then the house, the chores, the yard work, the private schools, everything first but him, he felt sure. The months expanded into years, blotting the vibrance of their dreams to a dull gray, until it became clear that neither one had measured up to the expectations of the other, or of themselves.

He tried to push away the memory of her refusals; her excuses; the way he knew she merely tolerated his lips, his hands, his weight; and the way that she knew that he knew.

How many lovers develop the capacity or wisdom to learn the absolute law of relationship--that no one ever gets what was expected, what was longed for, or what he thought he had wanted or deserved? Yet, that  realization can be imparted in a moment, or take a life time, if it comes at all. Lovers’ illusions and self-deceptions, unfounded rationales, too much pain and sore need--all intertwined like the ivy growing and spreading unnoticed until it covered the entire cottage they had first rented, then inherited from an aunt who had died unmarried with no children of her own.   

Infinite are the means of creating that glittering shell of appearance, while the core of suffering goes unacknowledged by or unknown to the other. What sorrow, devices, defenses and denials mask the myriad and deep roots reaching in every direction, beginning to compromise a once solid structure. Silence, silence, silence--hear the vines growing.
Again, he rolled over, propped himself up, wanting to leave that house now, but once more lay down to allow the last acts of the bittersweet dumb show to play out.

The Shattered Vessel: On a business trip last year, he had visited old friends. On the last evening of his stay, he had dinner with them in their back courtyard, edged with a variety of plantings, one of them a fragrant, night-blooming jasmine whose foliage was all dotted with white, like miniature sparkling stars in the torch light. He heard how she spoke to him, saw how he deferred to her. Then, on the way to his room that night, he saw them through a half-opened door in gentle embrace, she in a white, flowing robe, leaning into him--their gestures toward the other tender with the fullness of a promise.  
 
The San Francisco breeze drifting in was warm and balmy through the house.  When he wandered into his room and closed the door behind him, he felt the light and the weight of the evening. What he experienced and saw was a revelation to him, conveying its essence, but also an irrevocable blow. That night he dreamed that his wife came to him in the dark in a white robe. When she drew near to him, he could see that it was made of jasmine flowers, and he inhaled the odor of their perfume.

Meanwhile, the cottage was deteriorating: roof, cedar siding, chimney, picket fence, stone walls and gardens--all in need. His town office was damp and cluttered and his dealings fraught with compromise and rumor. It had been a long, slow decline: the business, the cottage, his marriage--he begging her to love him, she begging him to save the practice, his reputation and his family. Words were exchanged and resonated ever after, boring themselves into the secret and ever-widening space in their souls.

They had once been vessels pure and smooth waiting to be filled to the brim with all they lacked, longing to be seen, to share what was known, to learn from the other what yet was unknown. What was missing in the other, the longed-for "potion" was at first sweet and welcomed as a gift to be tasted and savored. Its essence, with time, became diluted and sour with resentment--more like a poison, exposing a deficit, a void in the other. Don't see me as I really am. Don't change me. When a marriage ends, who is there to remember or to understand?
 
He got up, still wrapped in the blanket, went into the bathroom and picked up the pieces of the shattered white cup with the blue sailboats and put them into his pocket. He walked into each room, lingering for a moment, then went through to the kitchen and covered the broken window with his children’s blanket. Under the only magnet left on the refrigerator which read: "If you're going through hell, keep going," he left a note. "I am a wandering bark." 

Outside, the sun had melted last night’s snow. Making his way along the broken sidewalk toward his car, he pulled at a strand of ivy clinging to the cottage wall until it loosened, roots and all in his hand.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Graduation Address – Class of 2003


The Waldorf High School
Lexington, Massachusetts
June 8, 2003


Good afternoon everyone.

I am so happy to be here today among my former colleagues, parents, families and friends of the Waldorf High School, and most especially my former students to join you in celebrating the graduation of the class of 2003.  Congratulations on your accomplishments.  
  I also feel very privileged to have been here for each of the graduations since the inception of the H.S.  I believe the world is and will be a better place for these and other Waldorf students going out into the wider world with this very special education—and of course, with the love and support of their families and friends, and their own inherent and unique gifts and potential.
  I want to thank all of the high school students for teaching me so much, and giving me such hope and affirmation of my long held belief that ideas are real and beautiful and powerful.
  When I was a young girl I spent a lot of time in the library.  Back then I chose a book by its cover.  One I remember had a fuchsia cover with black silhouetted figures carrying little umbrellas, and strangely shaped letters that read, Silk and Satan Lane. I felt it was a book about everything that was not me and my world.  And, indeed, it was a book about a Chinese family living on Silk and Satan Lane.  I remember another book too, with a picture of a young girl, not much older than I was at the time.  Her eyes shone with a sadness and kindness and, though I didn’t realize it then—a wisdom way beyond her years.  I took that book home, and that is how I learned about the Holocaust.  It was The Diary of Ann Frank.  
     And while I learned about the worst that humanity could engender, at the same time, I also learned the best.

     It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality…I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder….It’s a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals; they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart…. I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!

     This insight impressed itself upon me so strongly then and has been a touchstone ever since.  There was such a certainty in her belief that an idea can become an ideal.  She not only believed, but KNEW that realizing ideals is possible—even if she herself could not realize them in a certain place and time.  That certainty is a power that moves and shapes lives, and has moved and shaped lives throughout the history of humanity.
     We could say that she was just a young girl, just as we sometimes dismiss the thoughts and feelings of young people today.  Most of us have heard that quip:  “Hire teenagers while they still know everything,” which reflects the frustrations we may feel at times with their growing independence and wish to do things their own way.  But there is a lot of truth in that little phrase:  It isn’t so much that teenagers know everything, it’s just that we forgot how much we “knew,” or, at least, held as ideals when we were this age.
     Last year this class and I took up a question that became a theme for the year, in all of things we read and discussed.  The theme was “What is Truth?”  We approached that question through the essays, stories, books and poetry,  bringing in historical, social, political and psychological perspectives.  And I imagine that in every one of their courses, the high school faculty also approached this question as well, in one way or another.  We had a lot of fun, but also delved very deeply into how one knows, if one can know truth.  They thought, felt, spoke and wrote most profoundly on this topic—truth being another way of looking at ideas that become ideals—Ideals which expand souls and become the potentiality of deeds (Steiner).
     Did we answer the question?  No, of course not. Truth cannot be defined, it can only be known by a very individual, self-reflective and world interactive experience.  Knowing what is false or untrue allows us also to grasp and embody truth.  It’s been noted that:
     The search for truth is but the honest searching out of everything that interferes with truth.  Truth is. It can neither be lost nor sought nor found.  It is there wherever you are, being with you. Yet it can be recognized or go unrecognized.

  I feel certain that Max, Soren, Katie, Dado, Daniel, Sara, Chloe, and Malcolm all have recognized truths about themselves and about the world and have begun to explore and make those truths their own.  No one else can do it for us can they?  It is a great responsibility and a lifetime’s work to do so.  It begins with education—and education that has as its intention that human beings become free and moral both according to a process of self knowledge. There is a story told     that: 

     God and Satan were walking down the road.  God bent down to pick something up.  He gazed at it glowing radiantly in his hand.  Then Satan became very curious and asked, “What’s that you have there?”
 “This,” God said, “is Truth.”
 “Satan said, “Here, let me have it; I’ll organize it for you.

     If I have any words of wisdom—they would be:  Don’t allow anyone to organize truth for you.  That is too easy and too dangerous for your morality and for your freedom.  That would mean that you abdicate responsibility for acting on those ideals.  You can only act on ideals that are truly part of your being.  Einstein said:
     To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made
me authority myself.”

  Fate has made all of us authority for ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. We do not have to act out of instinct, genetics, desires or fear, or handed down traditions or perspectives. Rather, each one of us must reflect, see our relationship to the world, to each other to our true self and live out of that orientation. 
  This is what we have discussed in our classes.  Class, this is what you have been given in the great works of the philosophers and authors, but more significantly, through your own humanity--living and acting out of ideals that you have made your own, becoming your own moral guide and authority.
  Remember in your main lesson with Mrs. Wells, you read The Divine Comedy.  After Dante comes through the inferno and purgatory, he stands at the top of the mountain, and his guide, Virgil, now leaves him, but not before he gives him a crown and mitre—symbolizing that he is now the priest and king of his own life—He is now authority himself—not as a matter of course, but through seeing and understanding the consequences of abdicating that right and legacy which he was shown and learned through his journey  
  At every moment, here and now, you are the only who can recognize truth, take ideas, make them ideals and live them.
     I would like to close with a poem as a gift to the class of 2003. Excuse me while I turn to the Class. 

Here and Now

Now when there is no truth
Here where everything and nothing is real
When and where all paths lead to everywhere
And nowhere
You have refused to stand at either pole
Or be forever lost in between
You know one thing is clear
You are the fixed star
You navigate with your soul consciousness
Whoever, wherever you are
Above, below, around—and into all things
All things exist in relation to you
Orbit in your sphere
Are held in balance by you
Live by your warmth and light
You have become the Sun
Here and now!