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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dreams Crossing

I brake for dreams. I do. Waking dreams, I mean. My nocturnal dramas come and go at will. They roam freely during the hours of darkness. No, I’m talking about the waking dreams that dart into my mind with no forewarning, startling me into frantically braking my cerebral carousel lest I hurt the little dreamling.

I would be mortified, despondent, if I were to inadvertently crush a wayward dreamlet. Each is dear to me, precocious though these waking dreams may be. I never know when a dream may choose to scamper into mind. They’re random, rambunctious things, these daylight dreams of mine. I remain vigilant, ever shifting my attention from matters at hand to memories and reveries…waiting and hoping for a glimpse of any sweet and precious dream...for each brings delight, or a sigh, or a smile of remembrance of pleasures past.

What is the stuff of these dreams, you may ask? Well, they wouldn’t mean much to anyone but me. A partial inventory of dream inspirations includes a green house, sweet red wine, grilled steaks, soft kisses, freckled shoulders, aromas and emollients, songs resonating on a late-winter day, chocolate-covered strawberries teasing sensitive nipples, rain falling gently outside open windows, a taxi ride, whispered promises, smoldering eyes, footsteps in an atrium, sunflowers, rolling prairies, hash browns, a beautiful young boy, a sun so bright it pierces the eye, mud-caked shoes, lacquered toe nails, a shower head too low for comfort, a rear view on an escalator, a disarming dog, a ghost ship, a poem or two and tulips (there are more…many, many more)...things ordinary made extraordinary. Dreams begging to be savored all the more knowing, as I do, that they are fated to disappear someday into oblivion.

As I said, I brake for dreams.

* * *

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Finding a Way

There are questions, conflicts, catastrophes and heartaches that I simply cannot think my way through. It really doesn’t matter how long or how assiduously I apply myself. Sometimes I have no recourse but to feel my way through to the answer or the other side.

The only way out is through,” sings Alanis. But it’s not all that straightforward a process, this feeling one’s way towards understanding and acceptance. The heart must somehow find its light...its North Star, and all one can do is give it the time and space it needs. And some things…well…some things you just have to live with…

* * *

Make Me Hear You
By Reginald Gibbons

When my Aunt Lera – tiny now,
slow moving and slow talking –
wanted to tell me about
her life, she began by saying,
“Curtis and me had just one…
year…together.” Curdiss
(the way she says it) was
a genial great man by all
remembrances of him, and the two
of them, just married, would go
fishing in the evening from
the banks of the Pearl,
the green stream in Mt. Olive,
Mississippi. A year of that –
quiet aloneness together
after supper, things each showed
the other, the bed turned down –
and then Curtis’ father
came to live with them
in their tiny house and while
Curtis was away at work
in the mill the old man would
find his way out to the yard
and have fits, twirling around,
falling, so she’d have to
pick him up and carry him
back inside, and that was
how they lived till
Curtis died, and then his father.
The pain that Lera wouldn’t
cry of now is like what I’m
now the cause of: the things
gone in time that you and I
held only as sweet memories
of towns, walks, rivers,
beds, kingdoms, I took away
a second time when I killed
your hopes – and mine,
and mine
– for more sweet days
to come, and I left that
best time locked in the past.
Dead Curdiss is Lera’s
old ghost who’s flown with her
into every day, the lost chance
to live alone with him as he was
and could have been, and you’re
the ghost who’ll fly alongside
me into the ruins and rooms
I decided we would never
share again – hovering up just
when you see the thing you want
to show me, and unable to hear
me say back to you, Oh, Love, I would
never have seen that without you.


* * *

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Musings at Easter

I think I’m spending too much time hanging around my cats. I find I’m becoming ever more reclusive.

I spent Easter alone. By choice. The entire weekend felt like some extended religious meditation. The History and Discovery Channels kept repeating programs about saints, martyrs, Judas, the Last Supper, crucifixions, relics, miracles, early Christianity, etc., etc. I listened to the programs in the background as I puttered about doing my chores. It all slowly seeped into my brain through some ill-defined process of distracted osmosis. Religion is potent stuff.

* * *

My mother suffered a stroke earlier in the week. This one (she’s had several) did real damage. She lists precariously to her left. There’s practically nothing left of her brain. She has become a 94-year old vestige of a human being. There’s so very little left of her aside from tortured heartbeats. She clings to life…barely.

She is afraid to die.

* * *

I’ve always felt ambivalent about Easter. It is not one of my favorite holy days, even though it truly should be. Easter is a celebration of the Resurrection. It is a celebration of life. It is an homage to the eternal soul.

I think it's the juxtaposition of suffering and death-by-crucifixion followed by a joyous celebration two days later. It’s the duality of emotion that confuses this holy day. Add to that: copious amounts of refined sugar, a palette of pastel hues, and a surfeit of bunnies and eggs. Is it any wonder that Easter tends to be some bi-polar/hyperglycemic hodge-podge of religious expression and pagan bacchanal?

* * *

I was struck by all the blood. I felt drenched in blood. The weekend’s programming placed a heavy emphasis on Christian suffering. The detailed forensic examination of crucifixion as a means of punishment was followed by a retelling of Christ’s last days, which segued to stories of heroic martyrdom that served as a backdrop to recaps of the Church’s violent history. Saturday evening, one could even view Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” I didn’t have the stomach to watch.

Why the emphasis on blood, suffering and death? What purpose is served?

I love the Gospels for their message of peace and love. I love the Gospels for the hope and wisdom embodied within the parables, and the show-cased examples of compassion, mercy, modesty, faith, kindness, forgiveness and redemption.

Why the emphasis on suffering and damnation?

* * *

I always felt sorry for my mother. She was the embodiment of Catholic guilt, self-abnegation and fear of damnation. Although my mother led an exemplary life of Catholic virtues, piety and morality, she fears death. I sensed that she was virtuous mostly out of fear, rather than living virtuously as an expression of boundless love and charity bursting from within (that sounds harsher than I mean it to sound, but I am trying...artlessly, it seems...to make a point). I think she missed out on true joy. Maybe she was possessed of it before the war. I'll never know. What I witnessed was a piety based on fear. She truly fears eternal hell fire. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind for us.

* * *

I wondered how many people would read my Maundy Thursday thoughts about washing my beloved’s feet and think: “Now, there’s one sappy, hyperbolic romantic.” I suspect that a great many Christians would never think to wash another’s feet, even though Christ Himself provided us with a simple example of the way we should treat each other. Why not follow His example literally? Why do we not take Christ’s loving words and actions to heart?

* * *

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Daylight Savings Time

The whole world seems to change, almost instantaneously, when we move our clocks forward each April. The sense of change is heightened greatly by the fact that the time shift occurs when all of Nature begins to wake from its long winter hibernation. We bask in sunlight as life blossoms all around us. Spring is filled with magic and rejoicing.

Not for me. Not this year. For the first and only time in my life, the miracle of spring has filled me with deep, deep melancholy and longing. I suffer a yearning buried so deeply within me that every cell seems to ache. I literally cannot take a deep breath without suffering a catch in my throat. It is an orphan’s insatiable hunger swaddled in sorrow.

I cannot think of a single poem that captures this longing in words. Perhaps there are no words. Music seems to come closest to capturing the emotions. I find myself drawn to thoughts of mournful adagios. I find myself thinking about Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique.” I may even listen to it again someday.

I invite you to read about this symphony here.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the first three movements. I’ve listened to this symphony so many times, over so many years, that I can “hear” it in my mind. These three movements have always resonated within me, particularly the idée fixe that Berlioz employs to convey our hero’s longing for his beloved. The music expresses passion made manifest as yearning. I am most drawn to the 3rd movement the “Scene aux champs”…the shepherd’s lonely flute dying in the night.

I’ve always intensely disliked the 4th and 5th movements. The idée fixe becomes a taunt, a mockery…a death sentence. Although I’ve come to know (all too well, I’m afraid) the truths contained in the last two movements, I feel no urge to revisit those emotions. I prefer to limn my heartaches within the music of the first three movements.

Let the orchestra play on. Let our hero dream, hope, exult, yearn and slowly pine away. Let the solitary strains of the flute fade to silence. And, when all is over and done, let us remember that it is the love and joy that once filled our very marrow to bursting that serves as the root for the pain. If the heart is to be rooted in something - let it be love. The consequences are what they are.

One must have faith that there will come another spring...someday.

* * *

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Maundy Thursday

(Forgive me. I'm a day early)

Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter. It was the day Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, sharing a meal with them that Christians, today, revere as the Last Supper.

In those days it was customary for a servant to wash the guests’ feet upon arrival. This day, no servants were present and none of the disciples volunteered for the menial task. Ever the teacher, Jesus got up and washed his disciples’ feet, giving them an object lesson in humility, service and love.

In the Roman Catholic Church, priests conduct a ceremonial washing of the feet of twelve men on Maundy Thursday in commemoration of Christ's act. The word "maundy," itself, comes from the command given by Christ at the Last Supper: that we should love one another. In Catholic churches the hymn Mandatum novum do vobis (“A new commandment I give to you”) is sung on Maundy Thursday.

* * *

I loved the Masses conducted during Holy Week. I loved the Maundy Thursday Mass best of all. I’m not going to comment on the whole washing of men’s feet only thing; my head is in a completely different place. I’m thinking about the washing of feet as an act of humility, service and love. I’m dreaming about a particular woman’s feet.

Foot fetishist does not appear on my lengthy list of peculiarities. I don’t swoon before feet. I do like them, though. Practical things, these feet of ours.

I really loved her feet, though. I thought they were incredibly sexy. Their angularity complemented the angularity of her face. Her feet were strong (as was she). The tendons stood out in stark relief. One could see impressive vascularity. These were the feet of an athlete, exuding strength and purpose. These were the feet of a woman, the arches curved gracefully, the bright red toenails reminding the beholder of the passions constrained within.

I loved her feet and I loved her. I would willingly fall to my knees and wash her feet. If my hair were long enough, I would gladly use it to dry them. It would truly be an act of humility…service…and love. It would be most deserved...and most appropriate. Both feet and souls would benefit.

* * *

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Gnostic Gospels

I’ve grown increasingly interested in the Gnostic Gospels. I only came to know of their existence and contents in the past year or so. These curious gospels, banned by the “Christian Church” around 200 A.D., present another side of the Christian experience. The newly translated Gospel of Judas raises even more profound questions.
I watched a well-done program about the Gospel of Judas last night on the National Geographic Channel. I found it so interesting,
I watched it again (given that it was immediately repeated). I believe Peter Coyote was the narrator.

Before Constantine, before Catholic Doctrine became the official religion/doctrine of the Holy Roman Empire, Christians came in a wide variety of flavors and sentiments. The Gnostics and Essenes practiced very different, very spiritual hybrids. The Gospel of Judas sheds a bit of light on this. In this Gospel, Judas is presented as the most favored apostle, the most pure, innocent and brave. For this reason, Christ selected Judas to play the fateful role of "betrayer." In one passage, Christ pulls Judas aside and whispers that he will reveal the truth about the kingdom of Heaven...but only to him. He then whispers that it resides inside each of us. Take a moment...breathe this in. Isn’t this what Buddha taught?

Other Gnostic Gospels raise additional interesting questions. For example, the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) presents a far different picture of Mary than current Christian characterizations. She is not Mary, the repentant whore. She is Mary, a beloved apostle and confidant...an equal.

It’s my understanding that about thirty gospels once constituted the Christian canon but, since the 2nd century, only four gospels were retained in the New Testament. I find this all so thought provoking. Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I find it…convenient…that the four gospels retained by the church stress an acceptance of the cruelties of life in expectation of a better afterlife. The four retained gospels stress submission to a higher power. Women, once again, are relegated to second-class status. Mary Magdalene an apostle? No, the patriarchal church elders would have none of that. The four gospels glorify the Resurrection of the Christ. The Gospel of Judas doesn’t mention the Resurrection at all. The message of Judas’ gospel is that Jesus sought to be freed from his mortal coil…to become, once again, the infinite spirit…the spirit residing within each of us.

The Holy Roman Catholic Church proved well suited as an instrument of social control, a tool of empire. How different would this world be if we dedicated ourselves to finding God/Heaven solely within ourselves? Buddhists, by and large, are a peaceful and contemplative bunch. So, too, I would guess, were the Essenes and the Gnostics. Unfortunately, these tribes were slaughtered, exiled and left behind in the dust of history. Have we missed something important here?

* * *

Interestingly (coincidentally) enough, Bernice opened my eyes to a beautiful poem today, just as I was trying to marshal my own thoughts. I think it fits quite nicely.

From Blossoms
By Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

Oh, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

* * *

By the way, the very BEST peach I ever had came from a roadside stand in Vermont. I had been criss-crossing New England on another one of my periodical hajj's when I stopped at a small fruit stand in the Vermont mountains. I bought a peach, just slightly smaller than a basketball, and...when I bit into it...the juices flooded my mouth, my shirt, my consciousness, my very soul. I remember that exquisite peach well. We all deserve to feast on a peach like that, if only once in our lives. It is a good thing to taste, and experience, jubilance.

* * *

Friday, April 07, 2006

Let's Dance

I offered a few musings about dancing a while back. Thoughts of dancing course through my gray matter often. I think it’s because dancing, to me, seems a perfect metaphor for life. How I wish we could all dance through life!

Here’s a poem I love dearly. It’s called:

Homage: Doo-Wop
By Joseph Stroud.

There’s so little sweetness in the music I hear now,
no croons, no doo-wop or slow ones where you could
hug up with someone and hold them against your body,
feel their heart against yours, touch their cheek
with your cheek – and it was OK, it was allowed,
even the mothers standing around at the birthday party,
the rug rolled back in the living room, didn’t mind
if you held their daughters as you swayed to the music,
eyes squeezed shut, holding each other, and holding on
to the song, until you almost stopped moving,
just shuffled there, embracing as the Moonglows
and Penguins crooned, and the mothers looked on
not with disapproval or scorn, looked on with their eyes
dreaming, as if looking from a thousand miles away, as if
from over the mountain and across the sea, a look
on their faces I didn’t understand, not knowing then
those other songs I would someday enter, not knowing
how I would shimmer and writhe, jig like a puppet
doing the shimmy-shimmy-kokobop, or glide from turn
to counterturn within the waltz, not knowing
how I would hold the other through the night
and across the years, holding on for love and dear life,
for solace and kindness, learning the dance as we go,
learning from those first, awkward, shuffling steps,
that sweetness and doo-wop back at the beginning.

* * *

I mentioned earlier that I am not overly burdened with regrets. I’m not. I am, however, possessed of wistful dreams. Here’s one: I never danced the night away with “Amazing Woman.” Sigh.

Such a pity. We were meant to dance.

* * *

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wheels Go Round...

...and here we are again…talking about loving and cherishing. Welcome to the circular thinker's brain.

So. I’ve blithely thrown about the term cherish. I’ve written that there were those who did not cherish me (and those whom I did not cherish), without really explaining what I meant. My thoughts keep circling back towards definitions and meanings. I want to understand this web of feelings myself.

My mother loved me fiercely, of that there is no doubt. She dedicated her whole adult life to being a good mother to her two children. My parents sacrificed a great deal for us. We were poor. As a child I saw my parents sacrifice so many of their own wants and needs for the sake of ours. I always knew my parents struggled and strove to ensure a better life for me. I always revered that about them.

Something was missing on my mom’s side, though. I can’t reduce this discussion to a few paragraphs and do justice to the truth. There were so many causes and factors that I cannot hope to portray my relationship with my mother accurately without writing at least a novelette. It would be wrong of me to describe her in black and white terms. She was a riot of colors.

What I’m trying to get to is the missing ingredient in our love for each other. We did not cherish each other. My mother was a devout Catholic. She was an actress and a scholar and an orphaned refugee. She adopted her role as mother as the great calling in her life and she applied herself to her duties diligently. She did all the things anyone could hope a mother would do. She prepared me for life. Here’s the thing, though: it was as if she reduced our relationship to one of roles. She the mother and I the child, forever playing our respective roles.

As a youngster, this was no big deal. I was the sponge, she was the water, and I just soaked everything up. My perspectives began their tectonic shift once I grew older. I began to think for myself. I developed my own unique tastes and sensibilities. I embraced a moral framework that worked for me; I pursued studies that interested me. I became an adult.

Now, my father took a great deal of interest in this creature called his son. He was obviously fascinated by what he saw in me. The feelings were mutual.

My mother, on the other hand, never tried to get to know the man I had become. In her eyes, I was ever the child…someone who had to be taught all the rules of good behavior. She loved the adult who followed her dicta. She never understood (nor tried to understand) the man who lived his life on different terms. She never came to know me. And, I, in turn, never came to truly know her. We are both the poorer for that.

This brings me back to the term cherish. One can only cherish a person by knowing all there is to know (or can be known) and still holding the cherished being close to one’s heart. Friends and lovers come to cherish each other by sharing their lives (the good, the bad and the stupid) and their love freely. To feel truly cherished, one must first reveal one’s true face to another and have that person respond with unconditional love. That’s the key, isn't it? To bare one's soul and still be loved unconditionally. There is no better feeling than feeling cherished. It’s not enough to be loved for one’s successes, possessions, bank account, or trappings. That’s all just facts, stuff, and patina. Beneath all of that exists a human being…a heart, mind and soul…and human beings are complex things. I dearly love and cherish those who took the time and trouble to get to know the true “me” and did not turn away.

There is no better feeling than to know that one is truly loved and truly cherished, despite the fact that one can be (and often is) unlovable.

* * *

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Eulogies

It appears my mind wants to follow a darker path…a rarely trod tract, overgrown with thorns. The path of dark thoughts. So be it. My mind will go where it wants. It always does (because my heart remains the all-powerful puppeteer).

I don’t know about you, but funerals always elicit thoughts of …well…funerals, in me. What else should one do, while sitting patiently, quietly, in a simple display of support for the bereaved, but contemplate the occasion and the scene? I think of the ritual, the emotional comfort inherent in ritual at times of great sorrow. I think back to eulogies given (I’ve presented two, myself), thoughts expressed, displays of kindness and charity. Every funeral is different, often reflecting on the character of the deceased…and the bereaved. I think our rites have power, great power, to comfort and heal.

My thoughts turn to my mother. She and I have been engaged in that “long good-bye” that Alzheimer’s represents. Spending days, weeks, months and then years roaming the halls of an Alzheimer’s ward affects the brain. The sights, the sounds and the smells bore inside the skull, becoming an ever bleeding, open sore.

Let’s get back to eulogies, shall we? I heard that Greeks would eulogize their honorees by asking (and answering) only one question: “Did he have passion?” That seems reasonable to me. Don’t our passions define us?

I’d say almost all eulogies highlight accomplishments, distinctive character traits, passions (to one degree or another), and all the beauties and joys that the individual imparted to others. It is a good thing, truly, to reflect on all the good within your average human being.

But then, if one wanted to truly define who someone was, can you (should you?) avoid mention of the darker sides? My mother is a case in point. She was, in many ways, a truly remarkable woman. Both angels and demons drove her, though. She is, without a doubt, the person who molded me the most. Her handprints are all over me. And…her self same demons and angels make themselves felt in me. If I were to try and explain the impact that my mother had, I could not avoid relating how all her varied facets imprinted themselves on me.

My mother taught me the difference between loving and cherishing.

* * *

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Which Way?

My mind is bogged down right now, as if my brain were a car stuck in a four-foot drift. Thoughts are blizzarding (I know that’s not a word, but it works for me) in my head. Most are personally significant, some interesting, some vital to my survival.

I attended a wake and funeral this weekend. Another member of my parents’ generation had finally found peace. I’m at that stage of life where I come to meet old friends and acquaintances at funerals. It used to be that weddings served that function; then baptisms, christenings, first communions, high school, then, college graduations. Now it’s funerals.

So I met with old friends and acquaintances and we talked of things that mattered: sorrows, fears, memories and family. The subject matter blended well with the solemnity of the occasion. I now find myself sitting at my keyboard not knowing even where to start.

It’s not that the funeral single-handedly overwhelmed my brain. It (my brain) has been running in "hyper-drive" for quite some time...my entire life, in fact. I’m still pondering the “hearts in hands” metaphor, chewing on matters of faith, and oftentimes reminiscing. These reminiscences are vital to my survival, like the thoughts of home that succor the refugee lost in a foreign land. That’s what I am – a refugee, an exile. It’s just that I’m a refugee of the heart. "Have you returned to Kabul? You wouldn't recognize the place!" My heart is pretty much like that. It's been bombed and tortured and ravaged such that even I can't recognize it any more. I find solace in dreams of past loves.

There’s a lot to think about, a lot to dream about, and a lot to write about. Where to begin? Which way do I go?

* * *


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