Tag Archives: reflection

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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We Have a New Mantra, Ladies…

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You know the scientific symbol for female, the one that’s the circle with a cross coming down from the bottom.  And then, there’s the male symbol, the slightly more wonky circle with an arrow flying out of the top.  The female one is steady, anchored down, because our reproducing tidbits stay put.  It’s the male bits that leave and fly all over the place, hence, the wonky arrow.

This is how they define male and female in organisms with different more unrecognizable features.  The male flower spreads, the female flower stays, anchored and waiting, in fish, in mosses, in humans.

In some ways I feel like this is accurate.  I stay … at home.  Daily life mostly revolves outside me, kids leave for school, husband leaves for work and I am anchored somewhere in the middle.  People return to me.

But in most other ways I feel that this is highly inaccurate.

Because if there is one thing we women do, it’s change.

We get our periods.  And we keep getting them. Then we have babies.  Our bodies change and our bodies go back, or don’t quite, as the case may be.  Then we lose our periods and, according to many trusted sources, continue to deal with ebb and flow of hormones … FOREVER.

We change. And most of this volatility is within us.

Pregnancy for me is pervaded by a sense of betrayal.  My body becomes a mysterious stranger waiting to sabotage me with a heavy club of nausea around any appropriately smelling corner.  Three times now have I been amazed anew at the way my body stretches, the way it opens, and stunned at how stinking long it takes to get back to normal!

I say it when I’m pregnant.  I say it at least once a month, “What is happening to me?!”

I’m a woman.  I change.

Perhaps this is why men are known for their distinct mid-life crises and women are not.  We do it by bits.  We aren’t overthrown by time all at once.   We get it in phases.

Phases!  Everything since my first son was born has been a “phase”.  Sleepless nights, clinging babies, teeth razoring their way to the surface have all been “phases”.  I have been beset by so many phases that I don’t think I’ve had a lick of normal in six years.  Do we talk of phases to make each other believe that there is a normal somewhere?  Thinking that there’s a normal somewhere that I’m missing is rather depressing. Do we want to believe that things will go back?

I can never go back to many things, my old bra size, my ability to sleep through anything, my ignorance of four other peoples’ bowel movements.   I am more efficient, more ambitious, and I’ve learned how to work.  I don’t want to go back.

I, then, hereby vow that I will not utter the deceptive phrase “It’s a phase” to any Momma, anymore.  I will instead choose to believe that we are in a boot camp of the most intense kind.

I will learn to duck and weave and roll.  I will become a delicate ballerina.  I will let it make me a master of change.  Like anything else in life that’s well practiced it will become a habit with me.  So, when the gray hairs come and I find my shirt still clean at the end of the day; when it’s finally time to get off this crazy monthly roller coaster of fertility, I will not be overcome.  I will be anchored in something steadier than myself.

It’s what we’ve been given to practice, Ladies.  Let’s do it well so our sisters, daughters, and daughters-in-law can do it better.

Our new mantra can be, “Normal is not a thing!”

And …

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On Saturday night I stayed up irresponsibly late watching a movie with my husband. In our defense, we didn’t know it was three hours long when we started it. And for the prosecution, we don’t really have the luxury to be careless about such things. At any rate, we were dozing off at about one in the morning. I lay in bed, in the dark, feeling the dark edges of sleep creeping in to pull me down.

And that’s when the baby starts crying. I wait for a moment, just long enough to verify my husband’s regular breathing and that this isn’t going to be the one-percent-of-the-time when baby puts himself back to sleep. So, I climb out of bed and step into my house slippers. I’m frustrated because I should’ve already been sleeping for hours. But he smells so good when I scoop him out of bed, the warm sleepy baby smell that is only my baby. And I’m so tired, I can still feel the sleep on me, but he’s so precious as I pull a blanket over both of us. And I’m suddenly struck with the realization. “You’re my last baby,” I whisper into the fuzz on his head. “You’re my last baby,” I whisper into his neck.

And only we two know so well where the spot lies in the crook of my arm that is the best for his head. And my milk is long to come. It’s been getting thinner lately and he’s becoming less interested. His eight baby teeth tighten and I wince. And I think with thankfulness how we won’t be doing this much longer, at some point these feedings have got to stop. And his fingernails scratch me so that I have to take his hand and hold it in a tiny fist on my chest. I kiss the dimple at the end of each finger. And I think with sadness how we won’t be doing this much longer and at some point these feedings are going to stop.

And I try through the dark, through the sleepiness, to remember this. I pray that God will help me remember this. But I know I won’t, not like I want to. Because I have already forgotten that particular baby smell that was the other two, the unique line of cheek that would one day be the hollow between face and throat, what it felt like to hold their tiny newborn heads in the palm of my hand, sleeping on my chest. Haven’t I already learned that this moment is not for remembering? It’s for living in. And, suddenly, it’s so much, right there, up close, too much right there, up close.

And I know there’s a reason that the women who tell me to “enjoy it” and remember” are farther away from this where the picture is bigger, there isn’t so much, anymore, right there, up close. You need distance to see. And that reminds me of earlier.

We went for a walk to Land’s End Lookout. The sun was bright and the breeze was chill. I felt my spirit inflate with the first waft of eucalyptus and sea salt. The long line of ocean beach ran away from us on one side and the prehistoric foliage of the Presidio towered over us on the other. And there was a red tailed hawk above me, motionless, belly riding the wind that, like the surf, had traveled across the Pacific to break over the sudden rocks and jutting trees. And I thought how nice it must be to pull up whenever you need to get away and grab a look at the big picture, when you can’t see the mice for the trees and for all that is there, right there, up close.

And church this morning was about Paul and how Jesus asked, “Paul, Paul, Why do you persecute me?” not “followers”, or “apostles”. He said “me”. And right now, in this moment, Jesus is victorious and weary, joyous and saddened in a planet’s population of ways. So much right there, up close.

And, and, and … Thank Jesus he understands being “both-and”.

And I think of my hawk, how the same wind that is pushing him down is the same wind that is lifting him up and holding him right there in that moment, still.

Like me in the dark with my baby, held motionless in this particular now.

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Land’s End

A Biology Lesson…

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We’ve been here for five weeks now and, not surprisingly, we’re still trying different churches.

We thought for Easter Sunday we’d try a new church that we had enjoyed going to the last time we lived here. They didn’t have much of a kids’ program at that time, but it has since grown, so much in fact that their single Easter service was being held in the Davies Symphony Hall downtown.

We were a tad late thanks to the combined efforts of our three children and the complexities of downtown parking. And it turned out that the church wasn’t exaggerating their need by renting the hall. James and I were relegated to the second tier.

It was rather magnificent sitting that high, our backs to the curved dome of the roof, looking down into the gold and light glittering hall with its full orchestra and forty-person choir.

I’ve heard a lot said from various people against big churches, but let me tell you, whether you like it or not we belong to a very big church.

And yesterday I recognized it. There was a low rumble of seats from top to bottom when everyone stood. There were people from every heritage, a global throng echoing in unison, “He is risen, indeed!” It was an impossibly large crowd in an impossibly beautiful space reflecting light from every surface and confessing in one voice, one baptism and one Lord.

I gloried in the foretaste. I reveled in the promise that I was not alone. I was just one facet of a church that began long before me and extended to peoples beyond my imagination. And one day I would see his kingdom come, more perfect still than this poor reflection, of one voice but known individually and fully.

It was a beautiful service and afterwards we picked up the kids and began walking the six or so blocks through downtown to a friend’s house where we’d be eating Easter brunch.

The neighborhood we live in is well out of downtown and, as yet, we hadn’t run into the mass of city’s homeless. But we did now.

We passed several people holding signs before my son tugged my sleeve.

I gave him a dollar and his sister got a dime and they approached a man and placed the money in his cup.

There were men sleeping on the sidewalk lined up in front of a building providing some type of services. A woman with no teeth in a wheelchair glowed to see us coming in all our Easter glory and crooned at the baby as we got closer. She noticed the kids looking at the man passed out, half-dressed on the sidewalk next to her.

“Oh, don’t look at him. You don’t want to see him. Look at me, oh, don’t you all look so nice! You enjoy ‘em, Momma, they grow up so fast.”

I nodded and said, “Happy Easter.”

The buildings were stained, the sidewalks were dirty and here I walked with two kids in Sunday clothes managing to rub their bodies and arms over every available surface. A man in a wheelchair greeted us grandly before selling a bag of crack to a customer. The customer loudly admired the kids’ clothes before opening the bag to make sure the crack was, indeed, in there. My daughter decided she was done walking and collapsed to the sidewalk and laid her face down on the stained pavement. We passed a man cursing in his sleep, pants not completely on, surrounded by the sum of his soiled belongings. My son began making a list of ways to make money to help give people houses.

At one point, I turned around to discover my daughter playing in the small square foot of dirt surrounding a city tree. Next to her in the dirt was a rotting apple core. And I could see the pee stain on the tree above her head. I called her over as I carried baby, diaper bag, and everybody’s coats, but she’s three, so she didn’t come and when James finally pulled her up, there her thumb went, straight in her mouth.

Hadn’t I just come from the glistening promise of heaven, a world washed clean? Now here I was walking my little bits of purity through the present reality of a very dirty world.

My personality is such that these things affected me. A preoccupied mind on Barbara looks a lot like moodiness and general irritability. Lord bless the family of the artist!

So, I was a pill for the rest of the day and my husband decided to take us all to the beach, the two not being unrelated. He knows how to handle my moods and doses me with beauty and nature until the symptoms of my philosophical malaise abate.

So there I found myself, sitting on the dunes of Ocean Beach watching a long line of fog obscure the transition in hue between sea and sky.

Have I mentioned that I was a biology major?

I know it seems unlikely, but it happens to be a bachelor’s of art. My husband likes to tease that only I could get an arts degree in a science. And he might very well be right, so there.

At any rate, as I was walking along the frigid beach I remembered my ecosystems class and specifically the bit about the intertidal region. The beach and tide pools had always seemed so peaceful to me. I remember being surprised at realizing how treacherous life there was, covered in water at high tide, baked in the sun at low tide, every day, four times a day, living in extremes.

I saw the evidence of this as I walked the line of highest tide, where no greater wave would come to clear away the broken pieces of half masticated crab or the clear gelatinous drops that had once been jellyfish. There were shards of shells, broken sand dollars, parts of seaweed, feathers, and driftwood, the detritus of another world. Even the sand beneath my feet was a finely ground testament to the wearing power of persistence.

And God stroked my hair and put the image cupped in front of my eyes. This is where you live, Barbara, the harsh intertidal region between worlds. Heaven may be like the still deep ocean. Earth may be the rough baked rock. And the Christian walking this world in hopes of another suffers the rub of one against the other.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Church bells pealed welcome all over the city to believers of all languages to declare the same God, and him risen. It was also 4-20-14 and a giant pot celebration was happening in Golden Gate Park. This is where I live.

Last biology lesson:

Do you know how a barnacle feeds? He opens his little door and reaches out a wispy foot into the water to catch the plankton floating by. And when the tide goes low and leaves the barnacle exposed he tucks his foot back in and closes his doors, now self-contained with enough water to make it until the sea comes back.

And so we live, buffeted without, tucked in with sufficient water, maybe, waiting in faith that the sea will come again.