Blessed Are the Daily Bloggers

Over eight years ago, I started writing in this little corner of the internet with nothing more than a silly name and a struggle to understand my mother’s dementia.

I wrote nearly every day. It was as if some unseen floodgate opened. A tidal wave of stored-up words poured out.

Three years later, at Laity Lodge, I shyly told a then-new-now-old friend about my blog.

“How often do you write?” she asked.

“Every day,” I replied.

Every day?!” she repeated.

I realized then that blogging every day isn’t normal. Or expected. I started giving myself more permission to skip days.

Over the years, though, I wrote about my mother’s decline, my father’s health struggles, my brother’s death, my mother’s death, my children, my grandchildren, my husband. I wrote about writing. I wrote about spiritual things. I wrote when I was angry, sad, confused, grieving, joyful, content, challenged.

It’s rare when I write these days. I have 255 drafts in my draft folder today.

I start. I stop. I think it’s all stupid. A few days pass, and I repeat the process. 255 times.

The exception to my lack of posting has been April’s A-to-Z Challenge. Give me a task and a schedule, and I’m much more likely to get something done.

Lately, in the mornings, I’ve been thinking on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5 — the Blessed-are-the’s). I’ve also been doing some local research.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Cooperstown High School’s 1922 yearbook, called “The Pathfinder.” A graduating student had rewritten the Beatitudes for Cooperstown students:

I don’t know what a V.P. in deportment is and I don’t think the punctuality prize is awarded anymore. But the Ruggles Essay contest — where every student in the Junior class writes an essay on the topic of their choice and the top essays are read to the entire student body who votes on the winner — is still going on today. (The earliest account of the Ruggles’ Essay contest that I could find was 1896, but it could precede that date.)

My favorite of Emily’s Beatitudes was #6 — “Blessed are they who knowing nothing do not give you wordy evidence of the fact” — probably because it’s one of my biggest fears as a writer.

All this is to say that for June, I’ll be sharing an A-to-Z of beatitudes.

Or at least I’ll be trying.

Either my draft folder will expand to 281 or I’ll give you wordy evidence of the nothing I know.

The Adult Swim Lesson

I stood in the warm water of the teaching pool helping Nahla (not her real name) float on her back. It was my second time giving adult swim lessons, and, honestly, I love it.

Nahla had grown up in another culture, one that didn’t have access to swimming pools and swimming lessons. She wasn’t the person who started me thinking about immigration, but it has been weighing on my mind. I’m too much of a news junky not to think about it, but I’m always frustrated with the one-sided telling of the story.

“What do you think of immigration?” I asked a wise friend a few days later.

Jonathan paused before he answered me. “That’s a big question,” he said.

I had made a quick trip to Washington, DC, and gotten together with some people I know from Hutchmoot. I knew that I would get a thoughtful answer.

My own experience is limited. It is, perhaps, a downfall of living in a small, rural community. A few weeks of international travel opened my eyes, but certainly has not made me an expert on much of anything.

Doug, the other person at the mini-moot in Washington, joined in by telling a story about something that had happened when he was working with refugees. Then he told a story about his father, followed by a story from Sweden. He strung the stories together with the common thread of immigration. Some revealed one side of the issue; others revealed the other.

Never once did he tell me what I should think. Nor did tell me exactly what he thought.

His and Jonathan’s stories made the topic of immigration multi-dimensional. I could walk around the issue while I thought about it — kicking the tires, tooting the horn, taking it for a test drive.

On the other hand, memes — and I feel like I’ve been inundated with memes lately — take a complex issue and flatten it into a pithy saying.  Sometimes the pith is crumpled, fed into a cannon, and fired at those with opposing views. Those who agree laugh and A-men. The targets become offended and angry.

Memes are not conversation, nor are they conducive to conversation.

Last week, a picture showed up in my Instagram feed that showed a young woman holding a sign that said, “Behind millions of successful women is a an abortion they don’t regret.” Frankly, I found it offensive.

I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who do have regrets about their abortion.

I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who didn’t choose to have the abortion, and yet are still successful.”

And how do you measure success anyway?

Then I thought about the fact that the woman holding the poster has a story, too. I need to hear her story — with open ears and an open mind. She probably won’t change mine, and I won’t change hers, but we’ll be one step closer to understanding each other.

I thought about the pro-lifers who wave posters showing gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. I’ve wanted to tell them about my friend who 30-some years ago had a late-term abortion because complications with the pregnancy were causing her kidneys to shut down. She and her husband had to make a Sophie’s choice. They don’t need their noses rubbed in it.

Oh, how we need to hear each other’s stories!

So I stand in the teaching pool, gently supporting Nahla’s back, encouraging her that it’s okay because I’m right there in the water with her.

A thousand thoughts run through my head — thoughts on immigration and fear and courage and the struggles women have and how grateful I am for this moment.

Mostly, that’s it — I’m grateful.

 

 

 

New Memory

This morning I received a notification — “You have a new memory.” I laugh at those notifications. They seem so silly.

New memories — pshaw. Memories are, by their very nature, sort of oldish.

This morning, though, I paused to look at my “new” memory.

Two years ago today, I was in Normandy.

Two years ago today, I first heard the story of British gliders landing in Normandy to take the Pegasus Bridge — gliders whose pilots used stopwatches and compasses to navigate, some landing a mere 47 yards from their objective. I’m still amazed at that feat.

Two years ago today, I stood in the Canadian cemetery in Normandy, France, and grieved for those young men whose names were carved in the stones there. So brave. So young. But such a beautiful place.
Five years ago today, I was watching Karl play tennis. He and his partner, Michael, were killing it.

Five years ago today, at about the same time, 1400 miles away, my first grandson was born.

I didn’t need a photo app on my phone or Facebook to remind me of that memory. I woke up thinking of him. (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HENRY!!)

On the other hand, my father needed the memory prompts.

“Remember our trip to Normandy,” I asked him.

“When was that?” he replied.

“Two years ago today we went on our first tour.”

I handed him the photo book and memorabilia I had put together from that trip.

His eyes grew misty as he leafed through it all. He carefully unfolded the maps of the cemeteries and of Paris, studied them, and then folded and placed them back in the pocket of the book. I couldn’t tell if he remembered or not.

“That was a good trip,” he said.

It was a good trip.

As we travel down this other road of forgetting who, what, and how, I often think, We’ll always have Normandy (and Paris, I suppose).

 

Unraveling

In the un-
ravel-
ing
perhaps
a (truer) story
is told
that may
(or may not)
include
roses
and warmth

essentials
remain
untouched

we die
are reborn

pulled apart
re-knit
by the sharp beak
and pointy talons
of a wee bird




Do I blame it on spring and the return of the birds —
These thoughts of “No Roses for Harry” —
Or is it
Simply the way my knowledge of Thomas Merton
Is unraveling —

Looping around
Traveling back
Covering the same themes
From different perspectives
Different times
Different media

Stories retold
Made new

 

Z is for Zen

Where there is carrion lying, meat-eating birds circle and descend. Life and death are two. The living attack the dead to their own profit. The dead lose nothing by it. They gain too, by being disposed of. Or they seem to, if you must think in terms of gain and loss. Do you approach the study of Zen with the idea that there is something to be gained by it?… Where there is a lot of fuss about “spirituality,” “enlightenment,” or just “turning on,” it is often because there are buzzards hovering around a corpse. This hovering, this circling, this descending, this celebration of victory, are not what is meant by the Study of Zen…

Zen enriches no one. There is no body to be found. The birds may come and circle for a while in the place where it is thought to be. But they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the “nothing,” the “no-body” that was there, suddenly appears. That is Zen. It was there all the time but the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey.

Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite



Circling, circling, circling — riding the currents high above the Frio River


More than any other quote, I struggled with this one — probably because I struggled with Merton’s interest in Zen and eastern mysticism. It seemed like a betrayal of Christ.

John Coleman, in his article “Thomas Merton and Dialogue with Buddhism“, said,

Merton who early on in his career showed a keen interest in dialogue with the religions of Asia (Hinduism, Sufism as well as Buddhism) tended to think such dialogue should, primarily, focus on practice and experience and less on doctrine or beliefs, as such.

Yes, that’s what I was hoping. As part of Thomas Merton’s search for contemplative experience, he stepped outside Christian tradition, but not Christian faith. It wasn’t about doctrine; it was about experience.

Goodreads said about Zen and the Birds of Appetite, “Never does one feel him losing his own faith in these pages; rather one feels that faith getting deeply clarified and affirmed. Just as the body of ‘Zen’ cannot be found by the scavengers, so too, Merton suggests, with the eternal truth of Christ.”

Below are two pages from Day of a Stranger, a book where Merton tries to describe a typical day in his hermitage. The book contains musings, thoughts, an imaginary conversation, and, best of all, some of his photographs. If you read these two pages, though, you’ll see that he doesn’t directly answer the questions regarding Zen — and it makes me think that, like the scavengers not finding the carrion because it wasn’t the right prey, perhaps we aren’t asking the right questions.

from Day of a Stranger by Thomas Merton
from Day of a Stranger by Thomas Merton

 

X is for eXactly

The monastic body is held together
not by human admirations and enthusiasms
which make men heroes and saints before their time
but on the sober truth
which accepts men
exactly
as they are
in order to help them become
what they ought to be.

Thomas Merton, The Silent Life


Can you imagine if we all lived like that — accepting people as they are, in order to help them become what they ought to be ?


from the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik