Sunday, August 26, 2018

2018.08.26 Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

You would be 107 today were you still alive. Happy Birthday wherever you are, Dad. I miss you. I’ve read that images of loved ones fade overtime, and that the face is the last to disappear from the mind's-eye memory. I still remember your face, Dad. I can see without a photo—lucky  because the scan of a very old photo didn't work. I also remember your personality and your influence on my life.

I wrote a lot about you in my memoir, especially the moments of spiritual understanding you gave me, times when you’d call me Lynda, the name you chose for me at birth. You chose the spelling, so you could call me Lyn, but then you and Mom called me Lynnie.

You called my Lynda when you were mad at me, like the night I tried, almost successfully, to sneak out to meet my teenage boyfriend, just to see if we could get away with it. We didn’t. You spotted my absence and hollered into the night from the front door of our suburban house: LYNDA!  It was louder than the blast of a train’s horn. I tore back home, feigning annoyance, but feeling secretly protected. Getting caught was less threatening than teenage sex in a car.

You called me Lynda when we had political fights, and then too when I told you I aspired to be ordained an Episcopal priest. I stammered to explain my sense of vocation. You stopped me and simply said: “I understand, Lynda.”  I was almost forty years old then, but I felt adult. I suppose a parent always feels like a parent even with a grown child and the reverse, but this time I felt truly dignified. Thanks, Dad.

Yes, I remember your  sarcasm. I’d been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. You said:  “There must be some mistake” then immediately said you were kidding, but it stung. I will say, however, that I didn’t give it much pain-time or credence, knowing that nasty humor was martini-generated. I also knew it was probably a critique you, the fifth child of a mother who abandoned her own aspirations to be an opera singer in order to have children, had heard about yourself. You and I, however were worthy of praise.

There was one time though when your silence, not your words, hurt me and shaped my self-image. I was five, a shy child, an introvert, like you. I wanted your praise and Mom was always in the way with excesses of adulation—compensatory for your silence, and mine I think. She complained to you about my refusal to greet the cheery doorman with cheer.“What’s wrong with that child?” she said.  You, Dad, said nothing.

You could be too quiet like me, but when you spoke you were honest. Do you remember the time you and Farmer Kurtie worked together with cattle prods to coax an angry bull onto a ramp and up into the truck that would take him home after the stud affair? You were a city guy. This was not your thing. I watched in horror, sure that ferocious bull would charge and kill you; instead he relented and ran onto the truck. I was so relieved and impressed. “Daddy,” I said, “”you were so brave! Were you scared?”  You said, “Scared as scared could be, Lynnie." I hugged you so hard, just for telling the truth.

So, Dad, on your natal anniversary, I will remember you in these ways:
    I will sit in your huge red leather chair and pound the arm with my fist, as you used to when you wanted to make some point. I love your chair, and I love that I have it.
    I will say your favorite phrase: “What’s the point?” during the day and in my prayers. It was the last thing you said to me when you were dying. I will resist trying to answer that question and assume you know the answer, and that you were wise to ask it over and over.
    I will re-read my memoir chapter:”The Old Sweater” about how I wore your old torn golf sweater around for a couple of years after you died. The sweater’s sleeves hung down to my thighs when I let them. You loved that old sweater, Dad, and I loved you.

Today I discovered the answer to “What’s the point?” Celebrating my 80th birthday with my four adult children with me in the middle (Robert William III, Jill Barlow, Beverley Ann, John Thomas) was a perfect day—good weather, good food, good conversation, good company, good laughter, good sharing, good love and Love. That’s the point, isn’t it, Dad?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

2018.08.19 Two Sisters In a Basket?

Here is a poster by Maggie Meredith, Nantucket artist and poet (1922-2012). I have stared at it and smiled for some years. It reminds me of a feline version of me and my sister.
The poster hangs in the living room of our little timeshare cottage in Nantucket—the one Dick and I purchased in 1985 just before we were married in November, 1986. We change, our little cottage stays the same.

My interest in this poster is that it is expressive and whimsical. The kitties remind me of me and my younger sister Laurie—our personalities and different stances towards life. It cracks me up.

The white one looks alert and ready to pounce with a purr or a claw at whatever she has to do to manage things at a moment’s notice. Sometimes she pounces or springs into action too soon. When this happens it can be, well, messy or aggressive, though always well-intentioned. She protects people or defends them against injustices. That’s her strength and can be heroic, like a “knight in shining armor.”  Sometimes her power overwhelms.

I am more like the black kitty. I am just as alert but more worried about things in general, and sometimes about my sister’s ardor, especially if she is trying to protect me, and especially if I don’t need it. My ways are more cautious, considered, wise.

Sometimes I wait too long to jump in with assertions or actions, but when I do, I am focused and persistent, like the time over 20 years ago when Laurie and I collaborated on a book, and the publisher accepted my prose but not her poetry. I knew it would hurt my sister, but, after consulting with many people and praying like crazy, I accepted the publishing offer. Laurie felt left behind and crushed, her assumptions being that we were at work on our relationship, getting closer. I felt selfish and selfish-er, assuming we were at work on a book only. Our relationship suffered great pain and wounding I imagined was inflicted by me on her. Our needs were very different, though we didn’t know it then.

Many times we have fought over our differences; broken our relationship; striven to heal; tried to understand, and wounded our relational esteem. I have envied her, and she me. We are now able to tussle and burble, giggle and grin, then, sighing, sink into old age free of the stink and stench of envy or competition—dark forces that have shadowed our love and obscured the grace of God in our midst.

Still, we are in the same basket together, so we’ve tried to fight hard—and honestly. We’ve tried even harder to reconcile—honestly. It only took 70+ years.

Laurie uses her power wisely; I use my wisdom powerfully. Both of us agree that our efforts have paid off, and both of us are grateful to the God of our Christian faith whose Love heals all wounds and cares for each of us exactly as we are.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

2018.08.12 Art Is Memory

"Art is memory. It is the excavation of so many memories we have had - of our mothers, our best and worst moments, of glorious experiences we have had with friends or films or music or dance or a lovely afternoon on a sloping, green hill. All of this enters us and, if we are artists, must be shared, handed over to others. This is why it is so important to know what came before you. It is also important to understand that things will follow you, and they may come along and make your work look pedestrian and silly. This is fine; this is progress. We have to work with what life presents to us, and we have to work as well as we can while we can.”  Martha Graham, modern dance artist (1894-1991). Photo portrait by Yousuf Karsh, 1948.
We are in Nantucket, a place of memory—over 50 years of it. Everyone’s memories are different. Everyone’s creative expression is unique. Everything passes into memory. Nothing will ever be the same. Graham calls this progress. I call it the way of the Spirit—creating, re-creating, re-membering, over and over and over again in multiple shapes and sizes.

Isn’t this what the art of Scripture is—re-member, re-create, re-call, re-invite?  Nothing is new and everything is new, generation by generation of interpretation. Know where you came from and hand it all over to others. That’s how it lasts. Graham sank into a major depression after she left ballet. Her wisdom came out of this darkness; she re-created her art and her life in choreography until her death in 1991. 

Is this what Mary of Nazareth did when she found herself pregnant? She raced off alone to see her cousin Elizabeth. What woman would set off on such a difficult and arduous journey in that vulnerable condition? Wasn’t Joseph available? Oh, that’s right he didn't know yet. This unbidden state of affairs had to be frightening. We don't know if Mary was depressed, but the story tells us she felt a familiar spiritual assurance before she fled into the hills.

I remember a time when I thought I was pregnant and wanted to flee like Mary. I was in high school. I was going steady with the man who in time became my first husband. We shivered in fear—together. He would call me every single day to check on my menstrual status. Our code was: “Are there carp in the H’s pool?” Really! No meant I had not gotten my period, and yes that I had. If I answered yes we planned to sneak into the H’s pool, a neighborhood rarity in the 1950s, and take a big fat illegal bloody swim—quietly in the dark.

That’s how crazy we felt at the prospect of our tender young lives being possibly over, or at least so disrupted that we would be rent asunder by parental rage, or worse, divine wrath. My mother caught me sobbing, so I confessed my fear. She sent us to the local GP who told us the facts of life—again. Then he suggested that our fears had caused us to imagine a scientific impossibility. (We hadn’t even had intercourse, just got overheated, and imagined the worst, something like the sin of the biblical Onan who spilled some sperm, but in our case we imagined that such spillage could defy the law of gravity and travel upward and into my womb.) 

The kindly doctor might as well have been God, because his word alone dispelled our fears, and, miraculously, induced my menstrual blood the very next day. Mary of Nazareth discovered that Joseph would marry her, and that her elderly cousin had an irregular, postmenopausal, pregnancy.

My story isn’t the same as Mary’s, but I re-membered hers and re-created it in my own. As Graham wrote:  “Art is memory. Artists have to work with what life presents to us, and we have to work as well as we can while we can.”  That’s what God the Artist does.

Scripture is art, and art is memory, and memory keeps us alive and dancing.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

2018.08.05 Dear us, Happy Birthday!

Dear Us,

On  August 7th one of us will be 80, and the younger and more vulnerable one of us will be 77—snake eyes with sevens! Seven is a spiritual number, traditionally of some magnitude, so we are lucky to have been born on the very same day. Obviously we are not twins, but we are marriage partners.

With the same day of birth we are both Leos! We have roaring leonine moments.

We met first in the driveway of a parish rectory in Maine. No, correction, we first met through a parish profile large parts of which I, the female part of this duo, wrote. It was humorous, even including cartoons and unique. You, the male priest of some years, were intrigued—enough to submit your resumĂ© to an Episcopal parish in Connecticut.

I was on the search committee and not very impressed with your profile. Others, thought you were still young enough (late 30s) to do vigorous youth work. This you listed as a strength, when really it wasn’t your druthers.

The next time we met was on the phone when I called to see if a few members of our committee could pay a visit on Labor Day weekend in 1978. You felt attracted to my voice, something you’ve never been able to explain. Was it timbre, rhythm, my laugh? Did I sound like Greta Garbo or some other siren? Or were you just unconsciously and suddenly caught up into the third heaven, like St. Paul?

So back to the driveway in Maine. I was wearing a dusty pink top and white slacks. (Why do women so often remember what they wore when something important was happening?)  I was flirting. I didn’t know something important was happening. I imagined myself a vision in dusty pink and you smitten. Even now I check online to seek something dusty pink to wear—even a sweatshirt.

Our committee in time interviewed you and elected you the parish rector. It was not unanimous, despite reports to the contrary. Three people voted against you. One later married my sister; one came to be your fan; and the third remained disgusted that your name was Italian and not French 

So it went and so it goes. We have been married 31 years now and happily so. The romantic myth of love at first sight is perhaps bullshit, but still, we were both born on August 7. Stars count.

I bet we're one of the few couples who . . .
    -resist the temptation to binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy though we do watch it
    -rap theology before breakfast
    -cry in movie theaters over popcorn
    -delight in each other’s preaching, but only if it’s from a pulpit
    -fight like lions and purr simultaneously
    -communicate like a tornado and a block of granite in love
    -agree that “Naked Lunch” is a great thing to act out literally for family charades
    -find laughter healing, even at religion, God, theology, Christ, Scripture, and other heavenly hilarities
   -love critters as much as stars, the moon, chocolate, and the kindness of people