Thursday, September 25, 2014

JAPA











“If there had been only one Buddhist in the woodpile” 
That cynical idealist, realist poet of the people once pondered.
Substitute Waco, Texas with any and all complicated, absurdity of violence
Before then, until now and beyond tomorrow. 

If Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, protector of all, had been in the woodpile in Iraq
Could the children have been saved-- the Christians, Yazidi, Sunni,
or the young men killed by the soulless murderers
wearing  black masks to cover mocking faces of defiance

Isis: they have taken your name in vain and perverted your purpose.

Could any power prevent the mass murders, carnage, brutality? 
It didn’t, it hasn’t, it couldn’t.
Only consciousness can.
Not Bodhisattva- or saint-like consciousness
But the tiniest bit of wonder before the infinite universe
A modest intimation of human spirit
One clear glimpse of beauty, goodness, love
In an instant could engender compassion for the other:

Her fear and suffering, his sorrow and joy

That glimmer of consciousness might have asked: 
"With my life, here and now, what will I do? 
What do I wish to bring into being, to experience? 
Supreme power over everything and everyone?
Shedding blood of innocents with the arrogance of zeal?"

Their answer is “yes.” The men of war have ever said thus: 
“I will assert and secure my power over the weak and helpless
Through terror, torture, rape and death

Speaking threats with hearts of stone
Claiming credit for mass murders

Such is the history of the world--a "nightmare from which we are trying to awaken,"
And what will the warriors rule over--these modern hoards at the gates of civilization--
Chaos and devastation?
Keeping watch, lest the same thing befall them
Born of the pain and malice they engendered in others?

And the nations’ military deus ex machina descends upon them
While the Buddhist and we wait and meditate

Clapping one hand

Monday, September 1, 2014

Untitled













Parts of me are missing
I don’t know what they are or where to look for them
I only sense sometimes--the gaps, the spaces that keep me from wholeness
standing under the stars last night, the tide coming in, the wind blowing, restless
preferring the familiarity of my small room
where I am reminded of the what I could not name in the dark mystery of the infinite. 

Why?
I fold the laundry, wash out the green glass, sweep the leaves from my doorway, put everything in its place
except the fragments of myself--out there somewhere, or in here
so near, but deeper than I can see or go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Boo













Mary "Boo" Budash - Crossed the Threshold in May 2014

You, poised at the bank of the Seine, alone
like a country girl innocent in blue 
Madone de la rivière you seemed
full of grace

We did not know you then
but sensed in the friend and poet you became
the beauty and goodness emanating from you--in that image.

Your inward gaze, the water's serenity
flowing from and to
that moment you left us
all that transpired and transformed along the way
visible to us now

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

True

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 a whale
On the back of a bull 
gliding over ocean swells
Lying in the rushes, under the white weight of a swan
Traveling to the underworld
Emerging into starlight.
 
It’s all true for you and me (and everyone we know).

Look--see if is not so
We became human
Amid polarities
hope and despair
shame and pride 



And we have trod the earth--an armed race
With fire to illuminate or incinerate
 
Forever, deep within
We carry images and experience
of paradise, of exile
And a longing to return





Monday, June 16, 2014

ON THIS GROUND

It comforted Nora to think that, on the ground he took his last breath, Indians had once danced. She didn’t find that out until later, after staying inside through summer and fall, wondering if she had somehow imagined it all. She slept on the sofa every night since that rainy evening, listening for his call, always kept the shades up to watch for him to come up the walkway and waited to open the door for him when he came home.
When she arrived at the accident scene that night, she saw the chalked outline of her son’s body. Only an hour before she had been at the hospital to identify, his body bruised and young face at peace. She was given a blue plastic bag with his grey sweatshirt, keys, cigarette lighter, wallet, iPod, some coins, and an arrowhead he had always carried with him. She picked up the shirt as she got out of the car, held it to her face, inhaled the scent of him, and pulled it over her head. Then she lay down within the chalked outline on the wet, leaf-strewn sidewalk and sobbed.
In the last moments, did he suffer, think of me, call out, pray? Did he know he would die, hope he would live? Was he already unconscious when he was thrown from the car?  These were the questions Nora asked since that night and sometimes spoke them out loud, or wrote them over and over again on sleepless nights. She thought of all the times she had held him, comforted him when he was a little boy and fell or was ill, but in the end he was alone.
Then one morning in late December, she awoke to the somber stillness before a snow. When she remembered that this day marked the winter solstice and longer days were ahead, it also came to her so clearly: She had to go to that place again, where the chalk outline had long faded, where no trace of shattered glass remained. Only burning grief remained, which still surprised her whenever she awoke--morning or night. This morning she would be moved. This morning she would give over to time and reason. He will not call; he will not walk past the window. He will not come home, no matter how long I wait.
She dressed quickly, pulled the shades down on the front windows and locked the door. The phone rang, which irritated her She knew it would be her caught, and hesitated, but answered it with a quick, “Hi, Addie.”
"Hey Mom, how are you?”
“Good, I’m good, how about you?
“Okay, pretty good. They’re calling for snow today.” 
  “Oh?” She looked out the window. “I see it’s flurrying already here. You’ll be happy to hear that I’m going out for a walk.”
It was a revelation to Addie, who was partly elated to hear her mother was doing anything at all, and partly concerned at the sudden change. “What, where? I mean that’s great, Mom. How about if I come over, and we can walk together like we used to?  It's gonna be snowy and windy….Maybe we should wait ‘til tomorrow.”
“I know, I know, but I’ll be fine. I have to go today. I’m leaving now for Three Island Cove," instantly regretting telling Addie where she was headed. "See you tonight though, right?”
“No, I mean yes, you will see me tonight, but Mom, wait! I'll be right over. Don’t go there without me. You shouldn't go by yourself.”
“Now, don’t worry. You’ve been telling me to get out and something different, and now I am, so don’t worry. See you tonight., then.”
“I…I wanna go with...”
Nora hung up the phone before her daughter had finished and hoped Addie would not show up at the Cove. She wanted to be alone. She knew it had been hard for Addie too, but grief was a private matter—to be protected not shared, not even with her own daughter—“her favorite”—as Andrew used to say.
She went into her son's darkened room, where everything remained as it had been on night he left and never returned: curtains drawn, clothes on the unmade bed, shoes on the floor. CDs; empty cigarette packs; matches and batteries on the bedside table; folded laundry on the dresser. The job applications and resumes on the desk reminded her that, in his slow, deliberate way, Andrew had been ready to make a change in his life.
Each morning since the accident she had opened his door to whisper “good morning,” and every evening, “good night,” but not today. Today, she went straight for the box she had placed in one corner of the room. Taking out the grey sweatshirt, she held it close to her once again, lifted it to her lips for a moment, then slipped it on. She hurried to the hall closet to grab her coat, hat and gloves and stepped out into the cold.
She felt as if she were emerging into a new world. It’s 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 she wanted to go, and no life to live. Grief had been her world--deep and vast, with no way out. With her head down against the wind, she watched snowflakes sparkle a moment on the sidewalk and disappear. Icy branches stirring in the wind and her quickening breath were the only sounds. As her stride lengthened, she became aware of her pounding heart, an icy burning in her chest, and her breath frosting into mist in front of her. Everything is so quiet, so white, so pure.
Disoriented by the openness of the forgotten world outside of herself, she had a sense of something shifting within—unwanted and unwelcome. As she began the ascent up the steep hill, there seemed to be a thread being cast backward in time out of her own inner landscape, attaching itself to images, people, events and places—connecting her with her son. She wanted to turn around and run back home to the familiar stasis. But the intensity of the experience compelled her to keep going, with intimations of truths, both light and dark. What was this feeling of expanding and contracting at the same time? 
Those long days and nights of sameness, those rituals of sorrow—had prepared the ground for all that flowed from her now? Yes, something was shifting—what was it, to where and why? She couldn't know. She did sense that the overflowing grief was no longer gushing in torrents as it had been until she felt each moment she was about to go under, breathless and suffocating. Though it was still palpable, just beneath the surface, there was also a distraction from it. She became aware of each new strand of thought, feeling and memory—all weaving together, without power to stop it.
In the quiet, deserted street, passing the houses and trees still lit with holiday lights, she was remembering she hadn’t wanted a second child. That was twenty years ago. I don’t know why, but when Addie was born, I felt normal and whole again, as if she brought me down to earth. A beautiful gift, took away the darkness, made things light…bearable again. Nora had always believed Addie was a redemption, somehow justifying her past transgressions—nothing else was needed. When Andrew came, I felt had to reach into myself…. find strengths I didn’t even know I had. Was I deluding myself again? Matt always told me I made everything too dark or too light. I knew he was right, but I never wanted to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that he knew me that well.
The widening circumference of memory touched many truths, exposed illusions and brought forgotten memories into focus. As a baby, Andrew had been content, but was less responsive to affection than was Addie. He didn't like to be held, and was ill much of the time. He was dreamy, independent, willful and often irritable, which tried her patience. More than that, though, as he grew it was as if he were asking her to change herself in order to see who he was, to discover what he needed, which was hard—maybe impossible.
I failed Andrew in every way. Matt said he was my project, and wanted no part in. He wasn’t interested in my one-woman show. I excluded him, and everyone and everything else.
Andrew, who began to show early on that, while he may not have been “awake,” as Nora had felt, he had extraordinary insights about the essence and purpose of things, saw them differently than she did, appeared to know more about life than she did. He was a puzzle and paradox. His intuition and sensitive nature engendered in her a deep love, but it an uneasy one. Something seemed to be asked of her in exchange. She needed to figure out what it was, but she never did. She was convinced Andrew's inherent wisdom was meant to guide them to find parts of themselves that were missing, to some semblance of self-knowledge, which she thought they both lacked. His father did not entertain that possibility, dismissing Nora’s idea that anything at all had to be done, except to just live their lives. 
I didn’t have to push Matt away like that….I shouldn't have. “I miss him terribly,” she said out loud.”There, I’ve said it. He was right.” He said I was good at creating my own Greek tragedy, that I stood in my own way, and in Andrew's too. It wasn’t a good place to be: above all things like that. I felt Addie had lifted a burden, but I placed it on Andrew who carried it to his death. It was poor Andrew who bore it all--my hovering and smothering; Matt's leaving; me trying to be father and mother, our move away from the only home Andrew had ever known and loved. He resented me for all of it.
“Oh, Andrew, can you forgive me?" she whispered.
By the time she reached the place she had dreaded, but longed to be, a perfect, almost visible imagination had been formed—perfect in that it was whole, woven in reverse from moments in time, expanding outward to encompass the lives of mother and son, and a family—then, now and forever.
Looking up, she saw a sign post rising from the pavement—one of those placards noting some bit of history. Why haven’t I seen this before? Was it always here?
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 reached down to touch the ground. Something extraordinary had taken place here long ago—an exchange, a sharing, a trust, a true meeting with strangers that had arrived. They had encountered other souls who danced to welcome them to a foreign shore and who shared their knowledge of the land—a knowledge which also lived inside of them.
And it was here, too, where another soul had departed—Andrew, whom she had both striven to know and become more like. Has he united with the others from another time? In an instant, she had become the bare trees and the grey sky from which snow was beginning to fall—a small but integral part within creation, which held everything that is, was and ever would be.
“Time,” she laughed, “another illusion. We are all here, then and now and tomorrow.”
How long she stood in this reverie of her own creation and in the light of the knowledge the placard had shed, who knows? She turned, glanced back once, as a few snowflakes floated down like feathers. Feeling the cold more than before, even though the wind had subsided, she began walking quickly downhill. 

There was Addie coming toward her smiling and waving, making her way amid the lights twinkling from the trees and houses along the still, quiet street.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Measure of the Universe


  In Genesis, God spoke the world into being.  In the New Testament, we have “In the beginning was the Word.” We are given these imaginative truths that speech or 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 demigod who stole fire from the gods also “gave man speech, and speech created thought, which is the measure of the universe” (II.iv.72-73). What these two sources suggest is that language is a mediator between humanity and divinity.
Language is what separates us from the other sentient beings, not only in its ability to simply communicate information or feelings, but also through its many subtle and nuanced layers (rhythms, sounds, evoked images, and associations), language creates meaning and, thus, thought. In this way, language can build and expand our consciousness and conscience.
Although I am not a member of an organized religion, I was brought up in Catholicism until the age of 10.  I am grateful for those early experiences which helped create a foundation for my inner life—experiences of seeing, hearing and feeling beauty.  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; light streaming through the warm colors of the jeweled stained-glass.
I loved Saturday confessions, not for the act of confession itself, but before and after sitting quietly in the darkened church. Each sound echoed through the gaunt space.  In the presence of the figure on the cross, the somber saints on the side alters and silent angels in paintings on walls and ceiling, there was something strangely familiar. I felt at home in wonder, which the Greeks tell us is the beginning of wisdom.
I listened on Sundays, Holy Days and at funerals to the liturgies, prayers and hymns. I recall my first apprehension of the spiritual—being lifted above the ordinary, although I couldn't not have put that feeling into words back then, but it did come through words in one of the Latin prayers that was about the power of the word. Once heard, it reverberated through and in me (and still does): Dómine, non sum dignus, ut inters sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanábitur anima mea. We also recited it in English:
Oh, Lord I am not worthy that thou 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 both express and shape wisdom-filled thoughts and have a life which I could breathe in! Such word-thoughts impart a sense of hope and renewal, are felt as light, and can be called upon again and again as a source of comfort, strength, and even of actions I might not otherwise take, had I not been inspired by them.
As an adult, I found a life inseparable from layers of language as an English teacher and writer, grounded in the “trinity” of language: power, beauty, and meaning, which long ago planted a seed within me. I imagine that, if such a thing could be 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


Driving for hours, he started to imagine that the road stretching straight was endless, his anxiety building—like the first time he tried to grasp the idea of “forever,” or envision the universe expanding outward—into what, into where? Colors and shapes blurred and faded together:  tree branches into sky; grey gravel edging the road into fields of yellow cornstalks. Wispy clouds lined the glowing horizon at sunset as he travelled west.  This was how he remembered it in the cold season.
  He was going back after so many years. He didn’t know what he would find, but he would close the circle “whose center was everywhere and circumference nowhere.”
Early next morning, he saw it: the house rising darkly against a brightening sky. His eyes fixed on it as he turned onto the narrow dirt road. The fence around it was broken in some places, missing in others. Some of the once-sheltering oaks trees were gone. They had been living only in his memory, but the ones on either side of the front porch still stood guard over the farmhouse with its wooden steps, unpainted and sagging into the damp earth. Tall weeds, brown twisting bramble and vines had obliterated the many gardens that once grew in sunny spots.
Ahead loomed rusted parts of yellow and green farm equipment abandoned near the barn, whose roof had partially collapsed on one side. There was the familiar, though weather-faded image covering the top half of the barn facing the house. It was the first thing he had seen each morning from his bedroom window: a red cross against shafts of light, over which floated the words,
GOD IS LOVE.

He sat in the car for a long time with his eyes closed until he shivered from the cold. When he emerged to make his way to the house, he observed the broken windows and warped siding. Fallen roof shingles all but blocked the path as he made his way to the back door. He hunched over in a forced gesture of humility as he entered through low doorway.
In the kitchen the wide stone hearth still held charred ends of logs across a blackened grate. He passed through to the room where he half expected to see the long table that he and his sister help to prepare for Sunday dinners. He stopped, putting his hand over  the place where it had been. Moving on, he took in the whole of the front room, scanning it camera-wise, but recalling it as it once was. The long windows lining  the wall to the west were coated with a fine yellow film diffusing the morning light through the empty room, which smelled of earth and cold and felt like pain.
There he would read in the late afternoons stretching out on the window seats—a warm breeze lifting the white curtains like sails above his head, imagining he was drifting to a sun-soaked Greek isle.
He saw , not  an empty room, but as it had been on the summer’s day he left, with no words spoken, no forwarding address given: a rocking chair on one side of the fireplace; a book shelf on the other, the bottom half of which held a radio reserved only for listening to hymns broadcast on     Sunday evenings. A sofa was opposite the fireplace, a wooden straight-backed chair with the black, crackled leather seat stood next to a marble-topped table. On the table had been a lamp with a frosted globe painted with peonies like the ones on the wall paper—now worn in places down to the plaster.
All the while, his mind was projecting a tableau of random, intimate vignettes from the past into the room as he remembered it. 
He had arrived—returned from another world to speak to his God-fearing family who had fed and clothed him, raised him to work on the land, made sure he was educated (at least enough to be able to run the farm). Gone now, they had waited years for his return, but he believed that here, in this room, in some way, he would be heard by those who needed to hear and still awaited a reunion. He would fill this room with his singular presence, where once the family had gathered.
Outside, the wind was kicking up, blowing through the house with a shrill, whirring sound, jarring and rattling the remaining shutters. His fingers, though gloved, were numb with cold. He headed outside where vortices of golden dust rose up here and there, as he looked for bits of kindling among fallen branches. Inside he built the final fire to blaze in frigid house, and, as he stood in its growing warmth, he conjured his imaginary family with thoughts of truth and reconciliation: his mother seated at the windows gazing out, his father standing at her side, his sister Anna curled on the rocker next to the fire, his abandoned lover waiting on the threshold of the room with her back to him. He could not recall her face, only her despair.
He had wanted to say, “Call me Ishmael, Gilgamesh, Oedipus. I have seen the white whale, entered the cedar forest, solved the famous riddle.” Those were  inner experiences; they would not understand. He would speak in plain language. Still, he felt those epic figures were part of him, the foundation for thinking about life and the world. Though he did not think of himself as a hero, he did believe that simply living life is a heroic adventure—a struggle to contend with all of the forces coming against it. Those who managed to survive still have far to go.
He thought of himself as battle-weary, as one who had sought to his own path to consciousness and conscience. He was more certain of and clearer in his judgements and actions precisely because he had set out as those great heroes had, freed himself to leave the known for all there was to be discovered. He had acquired a vision of what it means to be human, which his youthful readings and musings had begun to suggest. He had striven toward that vision, though he was flawed, still so flawed, he knew. These things he wanted to convey as he unraveled his tale, partly in sorrow without remorse, partly in victory without joy. He himself needed to hear it, to grasp it, so in some feeble way, he might atone for the pain he had caused.
He wanted to say that he wasn’t ungrateful, or at least never connected what he did or didn’t do with ingratitude. Early on, he refused to be a replay of the old record of his father’s life. He wanted to acknowledge that he had abandoned his sister, after all the confidences they had shared. Was she left utterly alone in the life they both hated? He would kneel before his mother, asking forgiveness for his mysterious disappearance, for her never having seen him again, for his not having fulfilled her reasonable expectation that her family remain near with life going on in the same way ever after. 
He would say he was sorry to his young lover whose beauty and innocence he knew must have longings faded. He thought of her of the last words to him she had screamed to him. "If you leave me,  I’ll hang myself from the barn rafters.”
“No, no you won’t,” he had shouted back at her. “You're not going to hold me hostage to save you.” The next day, confused, but determined, he did the thing he had to do.
He did not regret veering off the trajectory set for him or creating his own course, though he had been blown off it many times. He was compelled to travel to where he would see water that was not just in irrigation ditches, 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 this place as God-forsaken, though his mother had said to him so many times, "God is everywhere the eye can see and the heart can feel—horizon to horizon." If that were so, he would believed he would recognize Him in other lands and landscapes—ones that would better serve to shape and grow something still small inside himself. He would see the blue ocean, stand before and climb mountains, meet and get to know people not like him, people who might be God and angels in disguise—strangers who would become his guests.
When he finally arrived on that island in the wide Hudson, he felt he had found his place, where some rode in long, black limos stopping at hotels, theaters and restaurants. He found his way among them, but preferred to mingle with those who had lost their way, but not their souls—those who carried the sum of their lives in carts or plastic bags, disguising their sainthood beneath blank and somber stares.
He began to speak out loud to the conjured visions now assembled for his homecoming.
”Here I am, come back to…to say I know what I did, what I had to do…trade the predictable for …for what might be possible? Here, yes, I was secure and comfortable, but…I didn't want that….I….I didn’t know what I wanted…but I needed the unpredictable. Mother, you said I was a selfish dreamer, a fool, a doubter, a lazy sinner. Father, you said I was a bad influence on Anna, with my wild talk of journeys and trials…that I was wasting my time reading what you called those ‘foolish books.’”
He paused, more aware than ever how the ideas in those books became ideals to be acted upon—light-filled thoughts that opened up all the colors of dreams that initiated a plan of escape for body and soul.
  “When I was a boy, I loved this house, the picnics, Sunday prayers and the hymns, and I always loved you, knew what you wanted for me, and I wanted to be good, to be grateful…for God for everything around me.” He remembered that he tried to obey and honor his father and mother, the commandment he had been told was most important.
As time went on though, he believed more in the burning deep within him to feel alive—to live life as it came to him. “I guess I…I had to learn things the hard way. I tried, but I just couldn’t believe all the things I was told…or live up to what was expected of me.” 
Now he believed in something as firmly as his mother had trusted in the Word of God, and he spoke it, “We do not come to earth to fulfill the expectations of God or man.” Yet, he knew that through his rebellion he had, nevertheless, by default or destiny, managed to achieve the self-same thing.
He reasoned that an all-knowing God would have known Lucifer would rebel, that Adam and Eve would be disobedient, that they must be cast out of the Garden to lose their innocence, as he had, in order to become fully human. He spoke the truths he had lived, maybe more to himself than for those whom he had left behind: “To be human is to….choose the good in freedom, not out of command or fear. I became one with the Father. If I didn’t leave, how else would I know good and evil—how they’re all mixed up together, how one can be mistaken for the other because one often results in the other, no matter what we intend.” 
  He came to think God allowed a Satan to roam the earth, and it was not for us to simply resist temptation. He had once read something he knew was as true as any Bible verse: “Evil is not something to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.” 
  “Can you understand, I had to live with the mystery of good and evil—even though I thought I left everything to find fulfillment, and for a time, I thought I had.”
He found it with the red-haired woman he loved too much.     “There was a woman who painted my portrait in blue with a gold halo around my head. That was before our son was born with his spine outside of his body. On the first anniversary of his death, I came home to find….” A sudden realization came to him. She had vanished, just as he had from the sad farm house in which he now stood. He had never spoken about it out loud and his voice drifted off—his last words, “she was gone,” were only mouthed into the cold air.
  He burned the portrait, along with the letters he had written to her every day for a year, with nowhere to send them. What would he do with the remaining love for a woman and a dead child? He lived alone with that mystery until he took in the young man in rags with wild, violet eyes who danced nightly in the streets of St. Mark’s Place, asking nothing for his performances of grace and beauty, but a witness.
  He could say no more of the years of roaming the streets of the city to find others in need and would return again to the city after this pilgrimage to the past.
“Please,” he said, “maybe some souls are content to remain in the place where they were born. I…I’m a wayfarer in the world, even if on the narrow path of my own limitations. I found fulfillment once….then it was gone, but somehow, I found what I was meant to find…to do.  I left to find life, but, I guess it found me….”
He had meant to speak his whole story and all of his thoughts into the quiet room to those he imagined had waited and were now listening. But, when he started to speak again, his voice was hollow and weak in the gaunt, high-ceilinged room. Suddenly, somehow, all he had experienced appeared before him as a sacrifice, forfeiting simplicity for the sublime, the facts for hard-won truth.
With this vision, a warmth and calm filled him. His frosted breath became visible when he spoke, "I am sorry for the pain I caused…and…I hope you are at peace…now and forever.” He felt it was so.


  The fire had gone to embers; the wind had died down. Across the fields, the evening sun was low, but shone through the darkening room as he allowed the imaginary figures to vanish in its illumination.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

TRUE MINDS

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” (Shakespeare)
He pressed his forehead against the cold window pane until it fogged over. The front door was locked, and his key didn’t open it, or the back door either, but, through the 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 and saw that nothing remained of what had been in place when he left that morning. He felt himself telescoping to a distance, as if above the cottage looking down on it. He watched himself make his way around to the front where he found the sign: “FOR SALE” next to the willow tree.
  He headed for the pub in town.
Only a few places were left at the bar. He took the one furthest from the door, where the wind rushed in with the last of the autumn leaves, wet with snowflakes. Inside, the warmth and dim lights were a familiar welcome. The sound of the end-of-week heightening chatter was filling the space. Avoiding the mirror behind the bar, he fixed his eyes on the array of bottles in various shapes, sizes and colors below it. He tried not to, but couldn’t help thinking about those early years 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.
He remembered how they each time they chose different cocktail; some were creamy pink or green. Others were clear, sweet and fruity, or amber-colored, dry and bitter. It was all amusement as they took turns sipping from the other’s glass. He couldn’t recall how many years it had been since he started coming here alone, first at lunchtime and then most nights. 
    Now, she was gone. He couldn’t let himself think of her, 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 nearby could hear her say, “It’s time to go.” He got up this time without protest, setting his course for the few block home. 
Home, home, home swirled through his mind, like the frozen flakes sweeping around him.
He had already decided he would stay the night at the house. When he arrived, he stared at the little cottage, trying to bring it into focus, remembering the familiar sounds and warmth of it when he arrived home just the night before, unsuspecting. Now, it would be quiet and cold. Unsteadily he made his way to his car to grab a blanket, the one that had been in the back seat since the children were small. He crunched over the frozen walkway to the back of the house. He hit the window in the back door with his fist, pulled out a few shards of glass, edged his hand inside and unlocked the door. He stumbled into an empty bedroom, wrapped himself in the meager blanket printed with elephants and balloons and fell to the floor.
After a fitful sleep, he woke to early morning light. He felt wide awake, despite a headache, as the memories and self-reproach, he had 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, probably dropped, he imagined, in her haste of packing. There it was, a small, shattered vessel in nowise reparable, no longer the shape 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. Instead, he returned to the bleak room, and eased back down and stared at the ceiling, where memories began to appear like holographs, some bitter and dark, some too sweet and too light to bear.

The Meeting
  He saw that she was lovely, vibrant, open and gentle. She was lonely; so was he. Both of them were ambitious with the necessary, youthful illusions about life, love and themselves. Even though they both grew up in the same small, seacoast town in New England, they hadn’t traveled in the same circles. She went to private school off the island. He had thought her snobby; she thought him arrogant. They had mutual friends, knew of each other, but not until they were home on spring break that year did they really “see” each other for the first time.
That summer arrived with the thrill of newness and wonder in 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 whiled away days on warm beaches, chatted on sunny cafe decks overlooking the harbor, and hiked on rocky paths along the ocean shore. She felt herself to be in a Matisse painting—bright with shapes and vibrant color. 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 be in the here and now, the simplicity of which she respected and felt was true. In short, each had sensibilities and qualities the other needed; thus they felt a void in them was being filled.
That summer she was reading everything by Albert Camus, even though she often felt a sense of panic and anxiety setting in at what she found in his writings. As they sat resting along Old Garden Path, she took a book out of her backpack. “Listen to this,” She began to read. “At 30 a man 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?”
He struggled to understand, "What's the point? I think it’s impossible, but I guess we still have a few years to figure it all out before we 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 above the surface of the water. They got up and started to run along the path, keeping their eyes on the figure, appearing out of and disappearing 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. Then 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 could hear it now. He loved that laugh, long since silenced.
They often spoke of settling nearby the 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, but stretched out over the years, it blurred into a vanishing point, after marrying earlier than they had imagined—their first baby on the way.
He turned his eyes away from the ceiling, closed them for a moment and sat up. He noticed the sun’s rays had moved across the room. He meant to get up, but instead, he lay back down waiting to see what else would be revealed to him, as if he had no control over the apparitions.

The Marriage
  There she was, so 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; and later, his resentment that she had neither his intense, frequent appetite, nor his need for intimacy.
Then came images of the once well-kept cottage inherited from her  her aunt, who had never married. His senses seem to fill with images of the manicured lawn; the hydrangea and lilac; 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 in the bay below. He remembered the ocean-air fragrance of them tucked into the bed, neatly covered with a white coverlet. They had brought their babies home and lay with them there on that bed—she nursing and singing them to sleep, he yet unaware that changes were coming—slowly, but things had already shifted.
With her free-lance writing after the children were asleep, she helped finish law school, but he 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, with his once-promising career languishing in his lethargy, and talk of his questionable dealings and compromises. The vibrant color of their dreams faded to a dull gray until it became clear: neither he nor she had measured up to the expectations of the other, or of themselves.
As he lay gazing up at the ceiling, he tried to push away memory of his desire for her, even now; despite her refusals; her excuses and 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 they do not get what was expected, what was longed for, or what they thought they wanted or deserved. To grow separately, yet to live and grow together—how? Maybe that wisdom can be imparted in a moment, or take a lifetime, 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.

  Infinite are the means of creating a 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 roots reaching in every direction, compromising a once solid structure.
Silence, silence, silence--hear the vines growing!
Again, he rolled over, propped himself up, wanting to leave that house, but once more gave over to allowing the last scenes to play out in between thoughts of What if I had?” “Why didn’t I?” "If only I could have.”

The Shattered Vessel
  On a business trip last year to San Francisco, he had dinner with an old friend who had recently remarried. They couldn’t wait to show him the courtyard they had designed and created together. It was edged with a variety of plantings, the most prominent of them a fragrant, night-blooming jasmine whose foliage was all dotted with white, like miniature stars in the torch light. He heard how they spoke kindly to each other. He saw how he deferred to her, how they finished each other’s thoughts
     On the way to his room that evening, 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 were tender with the fullness of a promise.
  The bay breezes were drifting in warm and balmy as he wandered into his room and closed the door behind him. He stood for a long time, unable to move, with the light and the weight of the evening coming as a revelation, but also an irrevocable blow. That night in a dream his wife came to him in the dark wearing a white robe. When she drew near to him, he saw that it was made of jasmine flowers, and he inhaled the fragrance of their perfume. As he reached for her, she vanished, and he found himself in an empty room, cold and alone.
  When he awoke, he thought of the deteriorating cottage: roof, cedar shingles, chimney, picket fence, stone walls and gardens—all in need. When he returned to his law office he began to see his life in a different way. His office was damp and cluttered; he had heard rumors of his dealings being fraught with compromise and incompetence. He began to see himself and his marriage in a different way—the way it had become, but slowly almost unnoticeable. There was nothing to be done and he did nothing.
     It had been a long, slow decline: his practice, the cottage, the 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, and the space between their souls was too wide.
They had once been pure vessels 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, a gift to be tasted and savored. Its essence though, with time, became diluted and sour with resentment, exposing a deficit, a void in the other. Don't see me as I am. Don't change me. 

  He got up, still wrapped in the blanket. He saw the room was grey now, the daylight faded. He went into the bathroom, 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. He covered the broken window with his children’s blanket. Under a 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. Rivulets of water ran in little streams along the broken walkway. Making his way toward the street, 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, leaves him, but not before he gives Dante 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!