Lately the world seems like it’s spinning out of control. People who in years passed could “agree to disagree” now act ready to destroy anyone who fails to share and to celebrate their point of view. So, in large part, I’ve gone pretty silent. I think many people have; that makes me weary and sad. And confused. No matter which way you go, it feels a little dangerous out there.
When I was a girl, I can remember sitting quietly in a chair at my grandmother’s, listening to my Daddy and my uncles talk animatedly about politics, religion, how high the mower blade should be set so the grass won’t brown out in the summer heat. Their voices would raise and lower, there were long pauses. Then they’d talk over each other, louder and louder, things like, “Nonono, you got it all wrong on that one …” It was bold, lively, and strong. One thing it never was is hate filled. Or mean.
When they’d finally had enough–because no minds were changed during their debates, or if they were no one admitted it at the time–the men headed to the kitchen for another cold beer. I was still in my chair; I could hear them popping off the beer caps and laughing together.
For me as a kid there was something so reassuring and grounding about those eavesdropping episodes. I learned that the people I loved most could fiercely disagree, and still throw their arms around each other. I learned that when hearts are good and true, the opinions carried by those who love each other do not stand as executioner of relationships when positions don’t line up. My Uncle John and Uncle Jim, Uncle Ferd and Uncle Leo were no less connected to me and mine after those conversations than they were before. In fact, the experience of being a seven year old “fly on the wall” taught me that these moments were the fire that forged stronger relationships, not weaker ones. Those men were staunchly opinionated, but they could also laugh at themselves when they needed to. Looking back I realize that I learned something else on those afternoons at grandmother’s: to not take myself seriously.
Today, Uncle Leo is the only one still with us. I was thinking about that crew this afternoon, and I wonder: are there still people on this planet who engage in Sunday afternoon discourse, where they share ideas and different points of view with passion, but with no fear of retribution or retaliation? Are there people out there, anywhere, who love each other enough to risk disagreement? Are there people it’s safe to trust? Can anyone disagree without becoming the enemy, or being verbally belittled? Is it safe to be oneself anywhere?
I don’t know the answer. But here’s what I wish: I wish every kid could climb into a chair in their grandmother’s living room on a Sunday afternoon, and listen to the men in their lives verbally duke it out. Then I wish they could observe those same men head to the kitchen for a cold drink, laughing and cutting up as if nothing had happened. Because the truth is, so much happened. It’s a heart-deep lesson about how people truly love, how they navigate, how they get into and out of verbal challenges with their relationships, and their integrity, intact.
And it’s about the importance of leaving the grass at least four inches long in hot weather.
There are countless books available that promote ways in which we can heal our Selves. Some books are dedicated to traditional medicine, some prescribe alternative or holistic treatment, some are based on a myriad of psychological approaches, and some reveal processes and rituals of ethnic or religious origin. Each of these practices holds at least an element of validity, and all share in a common goal: to bring us to holiness.
The word holiness takes many by surprise. It causes some to pull back in reaction to a word that has traditionally been tied to religion. But holiness actually means wholeness; being truly whole. Knowing the truth about who we are, feeling loving and gentle toward our authentic Selves. We can call it many things, but when we reach this place of wholeness we are, indeed, holy.
There is nothing sweeter than a new baby; in its presence our entire demeanor changes. We speak in hushed tones; we walk softly, we move slowly, touch gently. We feel a reverence for the newness, the sweetness, the innocence of this tiny being. We are in awe of its perfection. We are beholding a holy one. And we are remembering our own holiness.
We learn, very quickly, to “become” whatever the rules say we must. We are good little soldiers, good children …we follow directions, or not; but the world continues to shape us, and teaches us to lead with our acceptable “‘personas” − caricatures of who God created − that carry us far from the holy selves who arrived here in the beginning.
And now, during this season of holiday, “giving” is in full swing. We watch the children in our lives, and the child in each of us awakens. We are, once again, those newborns; we are those “holy ones.” We embrace the chance to participate in a tidal wave of open hearts, of tender thoughts, and of uplifted ideals. We are individuals, certainly; in addition, however, we are a collective of all the things we ever imagined, of our deepest held dreams. Our wildest sacred hopes take wing in the December air. Is it possible? Could it be? If only … just maybe .… this is the stuff we’re made of; it’s the stuff of miracles.
The world has taught us to forget this, but it is true. This season of remembering takes us home to that truth. How sweet, how holy a world it will be when we choose to stay awake; to stay connected with our “original truth.” For that is, after all, where our holiness resides.
Have you ever considered the pristine beauty, the mystical significance of an empty bowl? Or even the hands that created the bowl itself? I hadn’t, until this past weekend.
An empty bowl is an important symbol in Buddhism. The bowl points to the monk’s way of life; they go from the monastery into the village each morning, bowl in hand, and ask for alms from the lay people. Whatever they receive, food or alms, is prayed over with thanksgiving, and counted as “enough;” “plenty” for that day.
As a prompt during a writing class recently, we were asked what we would need to fill our bowl.
I sat with my hand holding a pen, suspended over the page. My mind was blank. Just when I thought, “This is not working,” I heard my father’s voice.
My dad used to say, “Your mother could feed a family of eight on a potato and an onion.” And looking back, I realize that’s exactly what she did. She’d dice them, and boil them in a large pot of water; season them, and leave them to simmer on the stove. She’d put small pieces of Velveeta on the collection of bread heels, and run them under the broiler just long enough for the cheese product to melt across the surfaces of the bread, and start charring around the edges.
We loved potato soup night. It came after meatloaf night, and was followed by fish stick night, which was always on Friday. There was also tomato soup and grilled cheese night. There was bean and cornbread night, which was followed by chili night, because the leftover beans went into the chili.
When I recite the menu − this litany of how my mother fed six children on my dad’s hard earned but meager income − I am struck by a couple of things:
Regardless of where she kept her heart, regardless of how disconnected she seemed from the rest of us, she got up every day and did what needed doing to keep the children fed.
The process of creating a meal is a spiritual act. It is a prayer. Just saying grace over two such ordinary things as a potato and an onion − trusting that these will become the loaves and fishes on your children’s plates − that is a mother’s hope. An act of faith.
And I will say that doing it once makes it an event − marks its significance above the commonplace. But through my years of growing up, sitting as I did at that table every night, I can tell you this: the miracle of plenty was ever present there.
So when I consider what will fill my empty bowl, I humbly request one potato, one onion, and the power of my mother’s prayer.
This road it’s
To ride the dream
But in the in between
The blacktop seems to go forever
The days come
The days go
But it’s the nights I live for
Sometimes there’s a
Who makes it even better
Now the band’s kickin’ off
I’m walkin’ on
Crowd’s goin crazy
We’re killin’ this song
There’s a girl in the second row
She’s holdin’ a big old sign
Says I heart you
Baby don’t you know that I heart you too
Cause I know Oooooh
I couldn’t do what I do without you
This song is a shout out to
The girl in the second row
She’s on her feet
She’s dancing reaching out her hands
And I can almost touch her
Then some nights
Like this night
The whole room disappears
And we’re alone and singing only to each other
I know it’s a gift
Moments like this
They keep me lovin’ this life I live
I know it’s a gift
Moments like this
They keep me lovin’ this life that I live
This song is an I love you to
The girl in the second row
I’m sitting at my kitchen table, studying the palm of my hand, and waiting for snow.
The house is warm, but my nose is cold. The wintry chill around the edges of the house drives me to the center so I’m here, at this table. And thinking of building a fire.
But these lines. They’ve been on my palms since I grew hands while in my mother’s belly. Had I known them to reveal things, had I known there was a map, I might have done life differently. I might have checked the highway that starts at my wrist and curves up to the center-point between my thumb and forefinger.
I would have read the road signs held in the two that cross from left and right.
Years ago I went to a palm reader in New Orleans. I was newly divorced and trying to figure out how to navigate in the world as nobody’s anything. The palm reader looked at my hands, traced the lines she saw, and nodded.
“Three children.” I shook my head.
“No. Only two. Two children.”
“Oh well,” she said, still looking at my hand, “You will have a third. There are three children here.” She looked up and smiled.
I paid, left as quickly as I could, got outside, leaned against the wall, folded into myself, and tried to breathe. Apparently my palms didn’t show the complete hysterectomy I’d had the week of my twenty seventh birthday. There would be no more children. But I could still feel her fingernail tracing that line. I looked at my palm. How could she see that? How did she see the one I lost? How is that written there? I choked back sobs, slouched against a building in the French Quarter. I’m teary now, just writing the words. So be it. The question I had, and still have, is this: is my story really written here? Right here? And how I could never read it, never even know it was here to be read?
I had wanted a house filled with children, but looking back – even through the grief of loss – I can see it all came together exactly as it should have.
Life is a fascinating tapestry of love and its heartbreak, growth and its pain, choices and their consequences … and the freedom to know that all things work for good in the hearts of those who believe.
So I sit here, check the weather forecast, watch The King’s Speech, and … realize that I’m idly running my finger across the line. The one that told her there were three. And I remember: whatever any of us might think we know about anything, we don’t know everything … we simply cannot. We’re inside it, looking out. There’s a certain relief in that, really. And how exciting it is to be aware that there’s always more to learn, reasons to wake each day, eager to wrap our arms around this miracle of life.