Gratitude List: 1. H, who sort of styles himself as a tough guy came to my room yesterday: “Miss! I thought of you! I was at the library and I saw a book by Maya Angelou. I checked it out. I haven’t started reading it yet, but I plan to this week. It’s full of poetry!” I’m getting chills just writing about it. I have missed this. 2. This web of community that is supporting and praying for teachers and students and schoolfolks and our families right now. I can almost see the golden threads in the air around me 3. My friends’ photos of groundhog babies and hummingbirds and owls and flowers and children. Such a joy to wake up to. 4. My 8th period class, who are so full of energy and presence and joy. I needed that shot in the arm at the end of the day yesterday. 5. The next step–all I have to do is to put one foot down, then the next, then the next. Breathe and step, breathe and step.
May we walk in Beauty!
“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” ―Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’” ―Kurt Vonnegut
“I know there are people who don’t read fiction at all, and I find it hard to understand how they can bear to be inside the same head all the time.” ―Diane Setterfield
“Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” ―Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” ―Diane Setterfield
“”What we need is a tough new kind of feminism with no illusions. Women do not change institutions simply by assimilating into them, only by consciously deciding to fight for change. We need a feminism that teaches a woman to say no — not just to the date rapist or overly insistent boyfriend but, when necessary, to the military or corporate hierarchy within which she finds herself. “In short, we need a kind of feminism that aims not just to assimilate into the institutions that men have created over the centuries, but to infiltrate and subvert them. “To cite an old, and far from naive, feminist saying: “If you think equality is the goal, your standards are too low.” It is not enough to be equal to men, when the men are acting like beasts. It is not enough to assimilate. We need to create a world worth assimilating into.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich
“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” ―Thomas Merton
Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (and now around the world), told a story about a hummingbird.
When the great forest was on fire, and all the animals were fleeing for their lives, the tiny Hummingbird zipped to the river, gathered a beakful of water, and zipped back to release the water onto the raging flames. Again and again, she carried her tiny beakfuls of water to try to put out the flames. The other animals noticed, and told her how futile her efforts were, but Hummingbird kept on and on, believing that it was her duty–no matter what–to do her one little thing.
Perhaps some of the other animals were inspired to get down to work, to do their own little thing, to pass on the hope of a thousand small actions. Perhaps the fire raged on despite their efforts. Perhaps they held it back. Perhaps they even put it out in the end.
During these days which, in the deepest of the dark insomniac nights, feel a little like the Beginning of the End of Things, Hummingbird has been sipping sweetness from the petunia basket outside my window, resting sometimes on the wire, nabbing gnats out of the air, hovering right at the window and peering in at me.
When I brought my first baby home from the hospital more than 14 years ago (a world ended and a world began with his birth), I settled into the recliner, exhausted and full of great satisfaction and wonder, to nurse the tiny person who had entered our world. Looking up from the babe, I saw Hummingbird hovering at the window for what seemed like ten seconds or more (an eternity of seconds), and she seemed to be watching the New Person, and marveling with me. In the succeeding years, I have marveled back at the wonder of her own young, at their tenacity and resilience, surviving lashing storms in their bottle-cap-sized nest. At their first fledgings. At the blur of their wings as they sip sweetness. At the self-contained unself-consciousness of their existence.
And now, in a time when I am bending all my mental and emotional and physical will toward resilience and tenacity, when I am terrified for my children, my students, my parents, my self, I have Hummingbird in my days, quietly doing her thing, going about her business, checking on me through the window.
She leaves me with questions. Perhaps you want to ponder them, too: * What, in these days of going back to school, will be your sips of sweetness to fuel you through the moments of high challenge and frustration and worry? * What, as Wangari Maathai asked, is your “one little thing”? What is that thing you will do to stem the tides of destruction, even when it seems like only a beakful of water? * What does resilience look like to you? (For me, I want to picture myself in my classroom BEING tenacious and resilient.) * In the story, Hummingbird simply did her work and did not ask for help. I am not Hummingbird, and she leaves me with that question, too: How will you remember to ask for help when you need it?
So. Whatever our tasks in this time of great trouble, whatever our capacities to meet the challenges before us, let us fly with strength and power, knowing that we are doing our part. Around us are so many who are joining in the work. Let us be resilient and vulnerable, earnest and tenacious, willing to ask for help when we need it, offering to give others a spell when they reach exhaustion.
As the Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Gratitude List: 1. Messages from Hummingbird 2. Help from a friend when I didn’t even think to ask for help 3. Colleagues. I love my colleagues. 4. The custodial staff at my school. They make me feel safe. They care for the building and the spaces we inhabit. And, they’re so good-humored. 5. Air conditioning in my classroom. If, on top of everything else, I had to go into a 90-degree classroom to teach in my mask, I think I would have given up. I don’t think I could have mustered that much resilience. Air conditioning! I have air conditioning in my classroom!
May we all do our Little Thing, doing justice loving mercy, and walking humbly.
“By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first spinning and splitting of the stars.
“Thus the greening of the self helps us to re-inhabit time and own our story as life on Earth. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands. Beneath the outer layers of our neocortex and what we learned at school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us survive.” —Joanna Macy
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” —St. Augustine (I’m not usually a great fan of St. A, but I find this really moving)
“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” —Wendell Berry
“Literature irrigates the deserts that our lives have become.” —C.S. Lewis
“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” —Fred Ross
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. —Wendell Berry
I am suffering from some serious internal whiplash these days.
Within the past week, I have experienced some incredibly healing times safely social distanced with some of my best beloveds, looking into twinkling eyes, hearing laughter and wisdom and articulate questions. I have had some deeply reviving time in nature despite the heat.
And at the same time, one thought can set my nerves jangling, twanging the wires of anxiety, clashing and clanging waves of worry. School.
While teaching students to read and write–to communicate, to learn to express emotion and articulate new ideas–is clearly my vocational mission, I have an underlying agenda which is just as important as English Language Arts: To create a safe space for young people to explore who they are and learn how to be comfortable and confident in the world. In the spring, when we were sent home to do our learning, we lost that safe space together. I lost the opportunity to make eye contact in the halls with someone who worried that nobody would ever notice them, lost the chance to listen to a student come into my room ranting about some injustice they wanted to remove from the world, lost the chance to watch laughter displace worry or sadness or fear, lost the chance to tell someone that they are stronger than they think.
And now, we’re planning to meet again in the fall, and I will get some of that back on a limited basis, but I don’t feel safe, for me or for them, for our families and beloveds. This virus has stripped us of our safety. I want so desperately to return to classes, but something in me feels like it isn’t yet time, like my Safe Place is still unsafe. I find myself hoping that the governor calls off school again, so we won’t have to navigate these waters, so I won’t have to add to my duties the policing of students’ spacing and masking in the halls, so I won’t have to worry that every sneeze or cough could result in someone’s grandmother fighting for her life, so every day won’t feel like a risk.
I know that we need to open schools again when it is safe to do so. I know that many students’ mental health depends upon it. But it feels like a dangerous experiment with our physical health, and the health of our families to do it now, when my state can’t seem to get its numbers under control, when adults who should know better are refusing to do the simple things to keep us all safe.
I breathe a lot to ground myself, during these days when I struggle through allergies to catch the deepest breaths and yawns. I go to my beloveds, online and in safe circles. I anchor myself in the green and the blue, in earth and air and water. I search for Beauty, and find my grateful center. It helps me a little, a least to ride the top of the anxiety waves. It’s harder than usual to hold onto a calm center, when grief and rage and worry knot themselves into a little ball inside my spirit.
Some Things to Be Grateful For: 1. The twinkling eyes of my beloveds 2. Blue and green, and golden sun 3. Birdfolk 4. Water 5. Laughter.
May we walk in Beauty!
“May hope rise within you. May peace wash over you.” —Charlene Costanzo
“You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories.” —Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson
“A poem is not a puzzle, even if it’s puzzling at first. Instead, it’s a highly selected parcel or capsule of language meant to burst into your psyche and change you in some way. Poetry is the life blood of our language, and it’s meant for everyone, not just academics or young people in school. Poetry is in a word: consciousness.” —Cathryn Hankla
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. —Leonard Cohen
Tom Joad, from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…
As long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.
Gratitude List: 1. Last Day of School, and I think I am going to get everything done on time. Saturday is graduation, so I will get to see and say goodbye to so many students I love, so that’s some closure, even if this online business feels like leaving an open wound. (Hmmm. That seems to decrease the import of the gratitude, doesn’t it? It’s just that the yuckiness of ending this way is the reality I cannot escape, so I am grateful for an alternative method of closure that’s more real while still being safe.) 2. The smells! Yesterday I was walking and suddenly I was hit by a wall of scent. I know that they’re terrible for the trees, but one of the climbing multiflora roses whacked me in the nose with its scent as I passed. So beautiful. And then when I got home, I spent some time communing with the opening peonies. Their scent reminds me of the grandmothers. 3. The Faerie Grove. That little grove of trees down by Skunk Hollow Lane where the wild rose is exploding into bloom is where I have seen the cedar waxwings twice. At the base of the trees is the rooty log of another tree that fell years ago, with plenty of nooks and crannies for a hundred apartments for small living things. I often see goldfinches congregating there. And the vultures tend to kettle over that field. 4. Rain. It feels just right to have rain on the last day of school. Change, movement, shift. 5. The coming days are full. There’s so much writing to do, knitting and bookmaking, reading (so MUCH to read!), house projects, walking, hanging out with Jon and the kids.
May we walk in Beauty!
Words for Today: (and Maya Angelou reaches through the veils of time to hold us in the way that only she could)
“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” —Sinclair Lewis
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” —attr. to Richard Feynman
”The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world—we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.” —Joanna Macy
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ―Maya Angelou
“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
You think you’ve got your hand on the valve, naming the emotions as they come, sorting and categorizing them, giving them their due. And then something comes along and stops up the pipe, impedes the flow, and all those wild emotions start to splutter and spray all over the place. Your carefully controlled flow becomes a torrent.
And then the pipes are cleared out, the weeping and raging is done for a time, and you’re. . .drained.
I had been holding it all so tearlessly, tending my emotional valves, calling it anxiety and simple sadness. And then the governor announced we wouldn’t be going back to school this year, and I was blindsided by the grief. When I started to let myself cry, I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop pouring it out, couldn’t stop it gushing forth. I knew I had been experiencing sadness, but I had no idea how it would drown me when I started to give it voice. By day’s end, I felt like I’d experienced a death.
And that brings on the guilt. This is not a death. My losses are small. But this grief is not mine alone, and much of what I hold is grief for all the losses my students are experiencing, for those (mine and others all around the world) who will fall through the cracks, who will have to call on every ounce of their resilience to make it through, those who will be marked by this in lasting and terrible ways.
Were I not me, I would tell me that it’s okay to let yourself feel, to experience the emotions that come, to give voice, to weep, to rage, to break down. I would tell me not to be embarrassed or ashamed for the gushing of words and of pain. I would tell me that it’s necessary to open the valves so they don’t really explode. So I will call yesterday a necessary day, gather myself, tend to the work I left undone in the fog of grieving, mend and build and cleanse.
Today is for tending and mending, for quiet feeling.
Gratitude List: 1. These humming people. Jon goes about his work at home, humming and singing. Ellis scats along with the music in his headphones. Josiah bounces into a room humming (his two favorites seem to be the guitar riffs from “Seven Nation Army” and “Burn This Whole House Down”). 2. All the goldfinches! Fluttering through the milder winds of yesterday’s scouring, there must have been ten or twelve at the feeder at once, and so many bright ones! 3. I love the way the purple is wearing out of my hair–it’s fading to blue-grey on the ends where I’m greyest. Right now, I could mail order ALL the colors and experiment. It’s not like I’m going out in public any time soon. 4. This Ethiopian coffee a dear young person brought back from her trip home last Christmas. I have been allowed to go back to the classroom to get essential items that I had left behind, and last time I was there, I put this coffee in my box. It’s a connection to that part of my life, and it has a hint of cardamom which gives it mystery, and it tastes soooo delicious. 5. A four-day weekend. I didn’t get much of anything yesterday in the fog of sadness. Now I have catch-up time, and a chance to begin reconfiguring my long-term plans.
Walk in Beauty!
“Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.” —Hafiz ***** “The problem is that you think you are separate from others.” —Richard Rohr ***** “You have to want a thing enough to reach out for it.” —Lailah Gifty Akita ***** “To wait within the moment for the coming dawn, To breathe the single breath of all that lives, To walk the web on which we all belong, To face the newborn day with love instead of fear. To listen for the whisper of the Spirit’s wind, To feel Creator’s heartbeat in the world around, To hear the grace of the Beloved in my neighbor’s voice, To embrace the sacred space between the past and change.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider ***** “Hope is a dimension of the soul. . .an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . .It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” —Vaclav Havel ***** “When time comes for us to again rejoin the infinite stream of water flowing to and from the great timeless ocean, our little droplet of soulful water will once again flow with the endless stream.” —William E. Marks ***** “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I suppose that technically our self-isolation begins today. No church tomorrow. No school for two weeks. Someone whose handle is @Sarkor posted a lovely social media thing yesterday, encouraging people to think of it not as “self-isolation” but as “Exile for the Good of the Realm.” I am taking that on with gusto, while also keeping an awareness that for many people this is an extremely difficult time.
Now is the time to keep our eyes on our neighbors, to check in with working people whose children must stay home, to check in with elders who will be even more isolated. Such care we must take in these days, such deliberation. We wash our hands and we meditate on hope and on goodness. We check in with those for whom this exile is costly, and we wash our hands again.
My up-the-road neighbor works in healthcare. Maybe I will wash my hands and bake her some break this week and leave it at her door. What about our neighbors whose livelihoods depend on People Showing Up? I was glad to hear one of the speakers in the PA governor’s address yesterday talk about buying gift cards from local small businesses to use when we’re back out in society. Also, we need to eat. We will wash our hands and get as much of our needs from Flinchbaugh’s and Sue’s, the local farmer’s market and small grocery, in the coming days, and to Jillybeans Sweet Shop, a marvelous little bakery in Wrightsville. And then we will wash our hands. I might wash my hands and go get a coffee at The Cycle Works’ coffee shop. I’ll maintain exile and precautions as much as possible, while doing my best to support those around me who depend on People Showing Up.
Also, let’s use this time to make our social media spaces places where people can feel connected and involved, places where we can help each other through our isolation and distance. Let’s share photos and poetry and stories. Let’s manage our anxiety so that we can express our worries without Feeding the Fears. That’s easier for me to say this morning than last night, when I was comparing my feelings of direness to the way I felt on 9/11. That’s a little how it felt: out-of-body unsettled. Let’s keep connecting to the deeper rivers of joy and satisfaction and memory and gratitude that carry us through difficult times, and let’s help each other find those rivers.
And here, on the farm, I will relish the introverted time, the time with the boys, the burgeoning spring, the cat cuddles, the sunrise and the birds calling. As someone who gets wobbly and rudderless without a schedule, the promise of daily school tasks in this work-at-home environment is a welcome diversion. Last night, we saw a daily schedule someone had made for student-people during the Exile. My younger son immediately constructed his own. I am going to make my own, looser, schedule, to include several hours of focused academic work, time exercising and being outside, time for art and making things, tidying time, limits for myself on screen time (while also giving myself a bigger breathing space for blogging/writing).
If you, too, are in Exile for the Good of the Realm, I wish you peace, joyful contemplation, productive work, and moments of satisfying connection with others through computer or phone. Let’s look out for each other. If it gets to be too much, reach out to someone. (If we’re not friends on Facebook, you can look me up there, and check in–I’ll give you a virtual high five and we can help each other to breathe through this.)
Gratitude List: 1. GREEN! The chickweed is up and vibrantly glowing with green life force. The highway medians and fields are shining with verdancy. 2. Blue: The speedwell is up, and parts of the yard are carpeted in blue. And the sky is the shade of a robin’s egg. 3. Coming to Terms. I acknowledge my anxiety. It sits there in the room like a large bear waiting to be acknowledged. (Welcome, Friend. Let’s get to know each other while we are here together in Exile.) If I ignore it, my imagination makes it so much bigger and scarier, but if we sit and have coffee together, we can figure each other out a little bit. This is a time to practice living with that particular friend and learning how to recognize her. 4. While I recognize that this time is really challenging for many people, the truth of the matter is that two weeks of being at home on the farm with the kids and the cats while having structured work to do each day is close to ideal for me. I am grateful. 5. Puzzles. Last weekend after we had brunch at Cafe 301 to celebrate Jon’s birthday, we went down the street to the Re-Uzit shop, where Jon bought several little puzzles. We’ll enjoy putting them together over the next couple of weeks.
May we walk in Beauty! Be safe. Be well. Keep connected.
Gratitude List: 1. How silence enters the body when you sit very still and watch it approach 2. Adaptability. The ability to adapt and change and transform. 3. That thing some cats do, where they roll over and pet their own faces. Sometimes a little face rub is just the thing to add a little stress reduction. 4. I stayed late at school after our staff development day on Monday to clean my unmanageable stacks. It’s much easier to actually work in my room now. 5. Today, all my classes are doing slightly longer personal introductions as community-building exercises. I love these moments of setting up the class connections. I need to remember how vital it is at the beginning of a semester to give a little serious time to helping them connect to each other and create a safe working group together.
May we walk in Beauty!
Quotations for the Day:
Oneiric: of or relating to dreams
“I am dogmatic in one way: I really do see no alternative than the cultivation of crazy loving humility—a visceral sense of ever-renewing wonder in the face of the Great Mystery.” —Rob Brezsny
“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” ―John Dewey
“I’ve learned for a long time that, to heal my wounds, I had to have the courage to look at them. — Paulo Coelho
“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. Here we are moving toward the exit of the 20th century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963)
“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not… the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than justice.” —Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963
“Beauty is a form of genius—is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation.” —Oscar Wilde
“Regardless of our beliefs, we all suffer from ignorance, and we all have projected our losses and fears onto each other in one way or another. This is my dream of the beloved community: that we can at least find a way to talk to each other, to talk past the fear, the separation, and find another way to live.” —Sallie Jiko Tisdale, “Beloved Community”
“Satire is meant to ridicule power. If you are laughing at people who are hurting, it is not satire, it is bullying.” —Terry Pratchett
Gratitude List: 1. Feeling my wings 2. Grades are ready to submit for Quarter 1. How have we gotten here already? 3. Breath. It’s always there when I need it, and more effective than sugar or coffee for a quick lift. 4. Keeping the resolve 5. The tunnel to Faerie up in the orchard, between the pear and cherry trees.
May we walk in Beauty! Breathe.
Sit in a quiet place, calm and undisturbed. Shift yourself into place. Let your upper body fidget a bit. Shrug and stretch, stretch your spine upwards, making little breathing spaces between all the bone. Sigh. Yawn. Sigh audibly. Settle your bones, making sure your ribcage is straight, your shoulders are restful, your hips are aligned.
Now begin to notice your breath as it enters and leaves the space of your body. Notice where your body rests on the chair, the floor, the earth. As you hold your awareness on your points of contact with earth, begin to draw the breath into your whole body. Breathe not only into your lungs, but into your stomach.
Feel the breath enliven your ribs and your gut. Breathe into the muscles and bones of your arms. Draw it down over your shoulders, swirling down your arms and down to your fingertips. As you breathe out, feel the breath flow out the tips of your fingers.
Draw breath down your spine. Let it flow out the base of your spine. Breathe it into your thighs and down your legs. Wiggle your toes and ankles as the breath fills your feet and trickles out the soles of your feet into the earth.
Breathe. And breathe. And breathe
Now shuffle your upper body once again, like a bird re-adjusting its feathers, and find your way to stillness, letting the breath continue to circulate through you.
Bring your attention to your back. Sit up a little straighter and pull your shoulders back. Can you sense your shoulder blades back there? These are your wingbuds. Breathe into them and out through them. Shift your shoulders as you need to, to maintain your awareness of them.
Feel or imagine them beginning to itch, to swell, to pulse with life. Feel the moment when a small, folded pair of wings bursts through the surface, like the tiny curl of a plant breaking through soil, or a small bird breaking out of an egg. As they grow larger with each breath, notice their color, their texture. Don’t rush to unfold them. Let them develop. Feel them in the space behind you. Roll your shoulders forward. Shrug. Give them space.
Then, when you are ready, on a breath, lift them upward and out. Feel their strength. Feel the way they lift you. Practice opening them and folding them. Notice how they become invisible when you fold them up, how you will be able to go about your normal life with your wings folded against your shoulders and back, and only those who Know will know.
Now when you need them, to give you strength, to help you move from one stuck place to a new open field—when you need to escape—when you need to see something from a distance, to change your perspective—now they will be there for you. All you have to do is to breathe into them, hear them rustle in the space behind you, stretch, and open.
One thing I love about being part of The Academy (I like the pompous sound of that, more than “school system”) is that twice a year I get a fresh start. No matter how badly I feel about myself at the end of a semester, there’s always a fresh, uncharted page coming up, and I can write myself onto that page as solidly and competently as I possible. There’s a hopefulness, a sense of lightness and release. Maybe I can do this, after all. After the slog at the end of the semester, suddenly, there’s a burning fire of creative juices, and a little chorus of inner voices, saying, “You can do this thing!”
Some semesters are harder than others, and this past semester got caught up in the grind of my slip into the year’s shadow. It was harder this year than it has been for a long time. So there’s a soberness to the creative fires that are sparking for the new page before me. And I still have all that work to finish up from last semester. Still, I love the bright shine of that empty page ahead, stretching out before me like the fields of snow I woke up to this morning.
Gratitude List: 1. The beautiful singers at my school. They’re so brave, these young people who get up on stage to perform for their whole school. I am grateful for my colleagues in the music department who offer our kids such a powerful music education. I have tried not to push my own child into the music classes–I want him to be free to take whatever he wants, to explore all his interests–so I am really delighted that he is taking chorus and two different bands this semester. 2. This week’s birds: kestrel hovering, vultures everywhere (as usual), two bald eagles, blue heron, owls calling in the bosque, and crows and geese winging across the sunrise skies. My soul is stirring, too. 3. Tabula Rasa. The fresh page. 4. Snow. 5. The magic of air filling lungs. I listened to a Shakespeare scholar talk this week about how a line of iambic pentameter is just the right number of beats to fill the human lungs. I might have to start reading Shakespeare sonnets to wake up in the mornings.
May we walk in Beauty on the Fresh Page of Today.
“This is the season of owl, of winds that howl through the hollow, the season of the sharp bark of the fox, voicing longing in the bosque.
This is the season of bitter, of fierce flakes feathering cheeks and hands, the season of crystal, crisp and cutting, of beauty that will slice you open.
This is the season of rising, thin and pale, into the dawn air, but also of burrowing, huddling deep into the layers that hold you.
Walk the thin line of today with care, one foot precisely placed, the other. . .
Perhaps you will notice, when you raise your eyes for a moment, how the line curves out ahead of you, bringing you always back home.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (1/13/16)
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” —Robert Frost
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet
in order to learn how to do it.” —Vincent van Gogh
“Have you been to jail for justice? Then you’re a friend of mine.” —Anne Feeney
“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.” —Naomi Shulman
“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” —Maya Angelou
“Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.” —Louise Erdrich (via Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog)
“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told
at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
“In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.
“The unconscious wants truth, as the body does. The complexity and fecundity of dreams come from the complexity and fecundity of the unconscious struggling to fulfill that desire.” —Adrienne Rich
I don’t know if anxiety dreams should count in the collection of images I gather for the coming year. Last night’s dreams were all about being unprepared, about having to wing it in front of school administrators and donors. Considering how helpful and supportive my school’s administrators are, it’s clear that these dreams are about my anxieties about myself rather than about my school. I suppose it’s important not to ignore the deep truth of these dreams–that I do not feel adequate to the task of teaching. This is not a revelation. It’s part of my every day reality. Whenever someone depends on me, I feel the weight of not performing, not mastering, not being perfectly suited to the task. No matter how much daytime work I do to convince myself that I am being sufficient to the tasks of my life, my dreams always tell me how much more work I have to do. Sigh.
In last night’s dreams, I actually did fairly well teaching a chapter from a book I had never read while administrators (they were clearly from my dream-school, not recognizably from my real life school) looked on. Then I gave a group of very sleepy donors a run-down of the work we do in our Advisory Groups. It actually woke them up and got them participating and laughing, even though I diverged into some topics I really knew nothing about. So maybe I will look at those dreams and remind myself: I am sufficient to the tasks I must accomplish. But today, at least, will be another day of stepping away from the necessary tasks I must complete in order to be sufficiently prepared to return to school next week.
Gratitude List: 1. My Christmas robe. It’s soft and toasty warm–the perfect thing to cope with winter. 2. Family. I know not to take these people in my life for granted. Family can be our greatest joy or our most intimate agony. If the latter is your story, I wish for you the discovery of healthy, joyful family that is formed by bonds not of blood, but of circumstance and friendship. 3. Time out of time 4. Darkness and light 5. Music of resistance
May we walk in Beauty!
Words for the first day of Kwanzaa: Joyful Kwanzaa to my friends who are celebrating the first fruits: Today is Umoja, or Unity. Reflect on ways in which we can bring unity in divided situations in the coming year.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” —Mary Oliver
“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ―Susan Sontag
“People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.” —Wendell Berry
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.” —Mary Oliver
“When you understand interconnectedness, it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying.”
—Robert A. F. Thurman
“It’s quiet now. So quiet that can almost hear other people’s dreams.” ―Gayle Forman
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh