Peace in a War Torn World

It’s Tuesday now as we pull into the Salem station. The pale yellow glow casting its way across the inlet lights up the buttress of stacked granite, square upon square, that keeps the water down and the land up. Dotting that water’s surface are gulls and other shorebirds, gliding past or poking around in the mud for breakfast. And here, in the train car, sleepy passengers poke into their bags, fire up their laptops, read their papers or listen to whatever is coming through their earbuds. We arrive at the newly poured and formed “high level platform,” as it was just announced, and everyone is easing into the day.

It’s peaceful to do this routine and it stands in sharp contrast to the stories that must be screaming from the pages of the newspaper which I, too, have tucked into my backpack. Half a world away and closer, we open and close our days parsing violence we can’t understand with peace we wish could infiltrate the places we can’t see as well as ones we can.

Last evening in the comfort of the town school’s cafeteria, just over 100 people gathered for a Special Town Meeting. Business had evolved since the Annual Town Meeting, usually held in May. These meetings are “democracy in action” said the Reverend as, after standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we sat and he prayed in a public building before a public meeting. My mind wandered back to that May meeting because I am pretty sure a story about legislation on prayers before these gatherings made that day’s news. But in my town these prayers then and now go right on as it’s probably been done for 375 years. I noticed no one in the room seemed to mind; there were even a few amens.

So the meeting commenced. The people heard explanations of items and voted to spend amounts of less than two hundred dollars and sums of several thousands. Paving the parking lot at the new water plant was the only contentious issue: it required a hand count to ensure a two-thirds passage. As of this morning’s commute, our Selectmen will get their air conditioning fixed, someone will get their vacation pay, the sprinklers in the library will be tested, the town docks will be repaired, and veterans will receive some support. A hearty round of applause went to a town business that plans to donate and place some kind of hydraulic lift in Town Hall, taking that budget item off the agenda. After the final vote to receive back funds set aside to restore the historic mill, now to be funded privately, the people voted to adjourn, got up to fold those wicked stiff, maybe cast-iron chairs that would “knock you out if they knocked your noggin’,” and filed out in time to get home for the game.

It’s Tuesday and I am grateful for this steady routine, the pale yellow glow that is lighting our way into town, and for the simple freedoms so many people are fighting for us and others to know, some for the very first time. Perhaps some struggle for a freedom of the soul, as much needed there as between the largest of nations.

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Potpourri Friday

What a week. It feels good to have it behind me as we wind our way home together on this commuter train. As I look west, a large part of the sky has an great shiny, creamsicle kind of orange glow and flow. A few darker clouds lurk on the far horizon, reminding me of the current state of world news (I fear). But the streaks of clear blue sky also stretch out, and remind me that, overall, my re-entry from my week long trip back to the heartland has been full of good catch-up and resettlement. It was a solid visit with family and friends, of getting things done including a side trip out to the deeper corn country of Iowa. Now I’m back to the research questions, change of seasons, splashes of autumn welcome to the eyes, and many borders that need to be readied for their colder sleep to come.

I could write about the warm rain Wednesday or the full moon this week, but those descriptions wouldn’t do justice to how well these natural things fit into the week. Or I could muse about the long list of To Do items I crossed off my list once back: rewarding, but so over now. No, it’s better to reflect on two small things: how wonderful it is to be reading Wendell Berry again, and an overheard tune from two weeks ago that I still find rumbling out at unexpected moments.

Going to Berry’s Port William is a trip to the best of the past and a hope for the future. There I meet some of my own past, and wonder again about the hard-working folk that form my stock. I aspire to be like them and wonder how to achieve it.

As for the mysterious tune, who knows why it came floating down the subway platform for all to hear? The day was gorgeous and warm, the underground tunnel even warmer. The tune came out of a device full blast, landing on all waiting ears, like it or not. And yet the oddest thing happened: that old, self-paced, soulful melody made more than my head turn. Did the tune sharer know this would happen?
Two weeks and many, many miles later, there is no earthly reason why I should run errands or do chores with ‘Stone in Love with You, (oo oo’!) leaking out of my brain.

But there you have it. Hum along, and Happy Friday!

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Time for Neither Books nor Blogs

Many weeks have elapsed since the height of summer, and now the annual autumnal nip in the air signals the change in weather and routine. It feels like it should be later than it is in September; not even mid-month are we, yet those beach-like days and the trip to Yellowstone seem miles away. Why have no words or thoughts come to mind to be shared in these weeks? Is it a block not only on writing, or thinking, but on life?

No, that sounds too drastic. While days are filled with work, and jobs at work undone, and new half-priced perennials we can’t seem to plant, and weeds everywhere, and paperwork required for our car problems, a more accurate picture would simply be: transition. Fewer walks taken with the dog on the marsh mean fewer pensive thoughts, except for the other day when I dreamed of writing a new book entitled, The Art of Living. I envisioned exploring the art of conversation, observation, writing, reflection, in short: all those things which require the time we seem to lack in spades. But never fear; the critique from one member of the family plus all this household administration have choked out the idea, probably for the best.

So I scratch my head for things of significance to post. Thankfully the local grocery store blight from the summer is resolved; the world is seeing much trouble; our kids are trying to settle into their new places and stages; we are wistful for peace. I should remind myself big things take time, and there is much wonder in the small, after all. If I close my eyes, I can just about conjure up those vistas of clear running water, sauntering bison, and spots of smouldering Earth.

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I Don’t Mind Hauling my Tent

The morning already shines brightly on the marsh this late August morning; small birds dart on the close cut channels, tall reeds sway in the slight breeze. The final week of a summer, most would probably say, gone by in a blink and full of hard news and troubling times all juxtaposed with the small-not-small annoyance of the local grocery chain saga here in New England. With so much life at stake in other places, why can’t these folks work it out?

But today I return to the train car carrying my small red borrowed tent, just in from a week camping with students and staff in Yellowstone. It would take volumes to convey the beauty and grandeur of such a marvelous place. Steam rises from bubbling mudpots next to cold, fast moving streams, ones where anglers dare to dream they will tie the fly and catch their catch. Mountains, meadows, valleys, rocks of the ancient Earth pushed up to meet a changing sky; it is a place that had to be protected, and so it was by the explorations and senses of men of a different time.

We all know that each season and location has its own beauty. Sometimes we need practiced eyes and an open mind to see something greater than what we expect to see. As I catch up on the news, I hope all of us will soon see peace where there seems to be none, and stability where much of life itself is not protected but destroyed. Right now I am fortunate to be able to close my eyes and see in my mind’s eye the vistas I just left. This is gift but I want more. I want more lands protected so that others may see, and I want them, the others, alive and able to see them.

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Chaotic Love

Some readers will know we’ve had great joy in the marriage our of daughter nearly two weeks ago. Just yesterday a friend who attended remarked upon it, quoting Chesterton: “Break the conventions, keep the commandments.” Upon reflection, the bride and groom did dispense with some of the “customs” (throwing bouquets, cake, first dances); I, and probably most people there, never missed them. Instead we were treated to a couple who concentrated on their vows and consecrated to God their future life together. Doughnuts replaced cake, a surprise solo replaced the dance, and all shared conversation and good wishes under a warm June sun.

But in all this joy, one of the most meaningful gifts I received was during the groom’s remarks at the Rehearsal dinner. I’m not familiar with a custom of a groom thanking his parents, the bride’s parents, and then saying a few things about the bride. If this is not a popular practice, it should be, since his thoughts that night and those shared by others, set the table appropriately for the joy and solemn occasion about to happen.

My now son-in-law, like me, my daughter, and many others, has read most of the Madeleine L’Engle books out there. When he thanked my husband and I for our family and its life, he likened us to the Murry family in A Wrinkle in Time. As he spoke I could recall vividly Meg, Charles Wallace, Mr and Mrs Murry, her science lab, the large dog Fortinbras, the storm, the kitchen, Mrs. Whatsit and all the rest. This is high praise indeed: our family, like the wonderful Murrays?

The youngest of my four is now 17, my oldest, nearly 28. All are in those more seasoned stages of transitions: work, degree completion (or beginning); married life, and (one) having children in her own family. It seems like yesterday they were young children gathering, as they still do, around the kitchen table or streaming, as they still do, through the house and all its disrepairs and clutter to find their next adventure.

When my husband asked me later why I was so moved by this comparison, and what it meant, the only and first words to drop from my lips were those above: Chaotic Love. It’s not that the love is chaotic, rather, there is somehow, mysteriously, what I hope is a balance: the chaos of surroundings—the laundry piles, the wren nesting in the house frame, all the un-done around us- these do not overshadow the gravitas of deep love.

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18 Hours

Yesterday was a day full of everything. It’s easy to rise well before 6:00 in the early morning light of such long days, and work well into the evenings. Suddenly the small numbers on the laptop can read 11:45pm. One can hardly believe the day is still going on and you are still in it!

Early starts lead to much accomplished: the wedding tent permit, pool chemicals, printed-out photos of the parking space in question that generated a two hundred dollar ticket the night before. Because the avalanche of laundry seemed to teeter despite the careful balance of baskets on brackets, we made a run to the local laundromat, which resulted in lines of flapping shower curtains and other odd bits hanging out back. A quick run to the grocery for supplies to deal with the carpet issues. Throw in an evening meeting down to the school. Take a call from the fire department chief back Kentucky way, and then set to the “real job” finding theses in Paris and Ohio for the geology team.

It was when I lay down stiff as a board at midnight that I realized I’d basically been running for 18 hours. The lushness of no moving parts was like a mechanical pencil laid to rest. I drifted off into sleep without our trusty fan (that had been deployed to try and deal with the carpet issues) and although the sleep was not ultra deep, it got the job done. Perhaps sheer exhaustion helped my mind set aside the broken transmission, the broken dishwasher and that pesky parking ticket. The day had been glorious sun with lovely breeze. Is anything so lovely as a day in June? My mother thought not judging by the times I heard that old rune.

Now on the train home I drop my pass as I doze off, my fellow bench passenger coming to my rescue. As I put on my sweater, a moth files out. I pick up my new library book, Sweeping Beauty: Contemporary Women Poets Do Housework and already feel some kindred spirits may emerge. Will they share my deep thoughts of late, such as true love doesn’t mean you need to be together all the time, but rather that you can be apart? Will they reflect on saying Yes as a parent when you can, so you can say No when you have to? Perhaps one of the poets will inspire me to figure out what I meant when I scrawled on a napkin now posted on my bulletin board: “soul grabbing but not gut wrenching.”

Ah, full days, full evenings, full of summer sun on the best of days, and with a breath of breeze on the perfect ones. I know our world hurts and many people in it, and I raise a note of praise to those who work while others sleep, or read or write about their wonderful days while wishing life was full of them for everyone.

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Blue Flame

Days of summer are nearly upon us. I say nearly since, although here in New England we had a spectacular weekend, today and later this week our low temps will be in the 50’s once again. This means the armaments of our wardrobe have expanded rather than permanently contracted: the fleece and thick socks remain and the mud boots and baseball caps (for those of us who can’t find the umbrellas: everyone in my house) are front and center, and the shorts continue to be exhumed. Still, it’s a welcome transition, and reflects, I suppose, the speed at which our own household is changing.

Our youngest is nearing the middle of a 3 week school trip to France and Germany via Switzerland. The “middlers,” as they are affectionately known, are here at home until the elder middler marries in a little over 2 weeks. She and I have flown to Texas and back, my husband has flown to LAX and back, and elsewhere in the mix, the real oldest and her husband moved their household of 3 to a relative’s basement as they await a more permanent move out of the Rockies into the Corn Belt. All are on the move.

So here enter the blue flame, the indigo bunting we saw dart across our path at least 3 weeks ago on the morning marsh walk. Fast and flighty, he was quite the contrast to the majestic eagle of the last post. In his, different way, this little bird lit up the air, rushing into the lush greenery for another bug, another perch, or, perhaps, a rest.

For rest he does need occasionally, and so do we all. Days are full and we fill their extended light with so many things to which we need attend. Thus it is good to consider, even for a brief moment, the blue flame and the wake that follows. His image has simply stuck with me through all our own flights. In my mind’s eye I can still see him, and then he’s gone.

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