Make a Joyful Noise

So fellow travelers, navigating major highways in heavy rain requires a kind of intense focus which you don’t realize is exhausting until you arrive at your destination.

It’s an apt metaphor for the level of focus and energy my job has required for several weeks now. Often at the end of the day I arrive home so thoroughly spent, a nap is required to take Delilah out for our afternoon walk. Bless her sweet soul, she has learned to be patient, curling up on the couch with me. She even developed the habit of gently nudging me awake after about half an hour which is about the longest I allow myself to rest so I won’t be up too late that night. When I wake, no matter how tired I still feel, we leash up and head out, whether on a brief patrol of the neighboring streets or a longer hike of a nearby trail to scout for birds (me) and woodland critters (Delilah) these walks help me hit the reset button. A sudden scattering of light through newly leafed trees, the bright call of a warbler, a sight of an osprey gliding high overhead on a lakeside trail, auditory and visual moments of joy and wonder. They serve as reminders that the failings of the educational system are not the be all and end all of my purpose.

As I drove through the rain I let a whirlwind of thoughts rattle around in my brain like raw stones in a tumbler, hoping some gems of wisdom or at least chips of sparkling insight might emerge.

They didn’t.

The drive took a bit longer than anticipated; I had just enough time to check in at my Air B&B, change for the concert and head to the venue where I found two of my friends had graciously saved me a seat. My mind was still a swirl of contradictory lines of thought so it was just as well we did not have much time to chat before the first somber measures of Verdi’s masterpiece drifted over us.

Choral music is rarely my first choice for musical repose, even when I am inclined to listen to classical music, which I do fairly often. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have had the good fortune to hear our friends perform in. This performance was a rare opportunity to see all three friends singing together. One sporano, one tenor and one alto tucked among over two hundred members of four diverse community choral groups, accompanied by talented student and long term musicians of the Putney Orchestra under the superb direction of Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson.  (rehearsal photo courtesy of The Keene Chorale.)

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Seated just a few rows back on the ground level of Bennington College Greenwall Auditorium, we had a close-up view of all four star soloists. Cailin’s emotive movements did not “conduct” so much a conjure a vortex seeming to suspend the reality of space and time. Transfixed, we who listened were drawn into the swells of despair and hope as the music poured into every fiber of our presence. We felt the wrenching sorrow of Verdi’s grief, terror of final judgement and healing angelic blessing of grace as the words and music wound through the text of the Catholic Funeral Mass on which he based this tribute to his friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a much loved and publically revered writer of the time.

How significant to realize friendships had brought me to this moment even as friendship had driven a creative force so powerful and moving it was impossible to experience without feeling the Divine Presence behind Creation itself. I know I felt Grace and Healing completely enfold not only my own weary spirit but the entire performing space and every soul within it. Music affects me deeply, but rarely as profoundly as this performance. One week later I sense I am still absorbing the impact. My dreams have been intense and vivid, my sleep deeper and more restful than it has been in months and the fallout from continued chaos at work has rolled off my consciousness like wax dripping down the side of candles on an altar.

To remain under the grace of this experience for whatever time I am granted I remain profundly grateful for Verdi’s gift born from profund loss. I wish him Lux Eterna.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Seismic Shifts

So fellow travelers, five weeks to go in the final stretch of this school year.

Like marathon runners “hitting the wall” going into the last quarter of the run, our team is digging deep to find the energy and willpower to see this through. Resources depleted, we keep each other refueled and focused as best we can. Requests for additional support and questions we ask go unanswered but recent events may force some issues to a critical point. Time will tell and until it does, we forge on.

Cold wet weather was keeping me and my trusted four legged companion Delilah off the trails and slowed the return of spring migrants to a trickle. No hiking, sparse birding, minimal walks had me plodding along in a fog until a sudden tragedy jolted me back to awareness.

We received news a close friend suffered a tragic, unexpected loss leaving her family reeling in shock. Tragic news has a way of setting seismic shifts in motion. When a friend is in need, all concerns about other matters are dispersed by the call to be of assistance; it does not matter whether this assistance takes the form of action or the gift is simply being present to listen. To be silent and strong when someone feels their world shatter around them, to be the one who can take action when others are immobilized by shock, anger or grief is what it means to “be there” for someone reeling in disbelief at the chaos life has sudden thrown at them.

To be present for others requires us to shift our focus outside ourselves even as we reach within for strength and compassion.

As the priest spoke of departed souls being near in times of loss, three large turkey vultures swooped over the trees. The black messengers circled the graveside gathering of family and friends several times gracefully spiraling higher and higher into the air carrying with them the prayers of the grieving and heart broken.

I no longer pass off such moments as mere coincidence and in the instant of accepting the sign, comfort took form in these words.

Dark raptors soar high

Ancestral spirit blessing

One soul welcomed home

There can be lessons in times of loss. Healing and grace, forgiveness and awakenings, gifts embedded within grief.

Walk gently on the path my friends and  if you too are grieving a loss, may peace settle on your hearts.

Perspective

So fellow travelers, on the road this weekend again and I’m struck by the picturesque contrast of bright spring greens against stark hillsides.

Persistent rain and swaths of fog veiled the views in light too flat for decent photos but I did catch one image at a rest stop on the way to Philly for the weekend’s family brunch to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Cold wet yuck to some

Life giving rain to others

Perspective matters

I’m grateful to be spening the weeken with my Mom, even as I count the days until I can visit with my own daughters whom I miss so much when we gather as a family here. Yet some close to me are struggling with the heartache of loss as Mother’s Day arrives. Whether recent or over years a loss suffered in motherhood or from mothers now gone becomes more acute at times when so many are celebrating. If tears, like rain must come, my wish they bring healing to those whose hearts ache an this healing blesses the life still waiting to be lived.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

The Twenty-first Crossroad

So fellow travelers, people often speak of kids growing up “in a flash.”

That has not been my experience as a parent.

The passage of three decades from the birth of our first child to this moment of Favorite Youngest Daughter reaching adulthood has felt more like a marathon, one I ran far more willingly than any actual foot race. My husband is the marathon triathlete. I am more likely found on a 5 mile hike than a 5-K run (yes, I am fully aware 5K is actually 3.1 not 5 miles.) But I digress.

Anyone who has undertaken the daunting responsibility of raising kids knows that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Yet nothing in this life I have accomplished has been as rewarding as the adventure of watching our two daughters grow from curious high spirited little girls into creative, independent young women.

 

 

And even as we skyped with Favorite Youngest Daughter last Sunday on her 21st birthday, it’s clear the adventure is far from over. In many ways our lives are beginning a new phase of this grand journey, a stage where my daughters and I relate as women, supporting one another as we take on the dreams and goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Still, as a awesome writer and friend of mine recently blogged “We are never quite the same after someone we’ve loved leaves our everydays.” While Ms Dingle is referring to her grieving the recent passing of a cherished family member, it occurred to me as I read her post I too have been grieving. I realized this process began the morning I left Favorite Youngest Daughter standing on the platform in a train station in Tokyo, two years and six months almost to the day of her recent hall mark birthday.

The memory is a vivid as if it has just happened this morning. I can still feel the effort it took to walk away after giving her a long hug goodbye.  My eyes tear up just as they did that moment,20150831_212415 as I willed myself not to look back, knowing if I did I might run back to stay with her and make the parting impossibly difficult for both of us. This was her moment to step onto the path she had chosen, I had to be strong enough to let go because letting go said “You can do it, I believe in you.”  Still, sitting on the train which would bring me back to our hotel, I had wild thoughts of not getting off, of riding the train until it circled back to her station, of  not going to the airport or getting on the flight that afternoon which would take me and my husband back home. My heart hurt so much I could barely speak when I did arrive at the hotel where my husband had remained to check out while my daughter and I made a pilgrimmage to a sacred memorial which held special meaning for both of us.

In retrospect I see now that was the moment when the heartstrings of full time motherhood fully broke. Yes once a mom, always a mom but from that moment on I would have to learn how to be a long distance mom for both my daughters.

Favorite Youngest Daughter had stepped into independence in a way far different from her older sister. Favorite Older Daughter’s crossing into independence was more gradual, evolved closer to home and by the time she left for college, she had already found her ally and partner for life, the devoted young man I now refer to as Favored Son-in-law. The moment those heart strings began to release came as I watched them get ready for her senior ball. In the way only a mother’s heart can know, I sensed it was a glimpse into her future.

 

 

Our younger daughter’s break from home came as an all-in-one major leap of faith which took her half way around the world for her first solo flight. She has never looked back. Oh, she’s been home a few times and those visits have been deeply rewarding, as have our visits to Portland each summer when we reconnect as a family with our older daughter and her husband.

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Recently the inevitable goodbyes felt surprisingly harder; I hugged my kids tighter, longer, my tears stung sharper. Insights from my friend’s writing granted me a fuller awareness of the grief embedded in this change from full time motherhood to long distance mom. Looking back I find it’s been there in my writing for a while.

With clarity comes the gifts of perspective and acceptance. Those “everydays” Lisa writes about are the void we must reframe and reclaim as our own and as I said before, our adventures as women on life’s path are far from over. Acceptance allows me to see the sign posts pointing the way to undiscovered adventures and whether I walk those paths alone or with friends and family I am eager to set forth on this next stage of my own journey.

 

 

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See you on the trails.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

The Final Disappearing Act

As a rescue volunteer, stories like Merlin’s always touch my soul.
That he had a second chance is a gift granted by special people. I hope Dianes post inspires others to give another dog a second chance.

Merganser's Crossing

The story goes that Merlin’s tail saved him.  He was born in South Carolina, and just before his move to the Northeast, he lived in a cage in a barn with a bazillion other unwanted dogs.  A dog rescue worker had been through the barn and made a list of the dogs she wanted to pull and send to rescue organizations.  Merlin was on another list.  The list for dogs to be euthanatized.  He wasn’t even a year old.  We don’t have the story about how he ended up there.  I imagine that he was a handful and just wasn’t wanted.  But the rescue worker noticed something about him that she couldn’t ignore.

His tail never stopped wagging.

He was hungry for attention and made it known that he was really a good boy despite his youthful energy and inability to pay attention for more than 3 seconds.    She said…

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Hidden Losses

So fellow travelers, sometimes the trails I traverse are haunted.

Footsteps crunch on snow

Hidden birds burst from branches

Regrets and losses

Scatter like feathers

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Inside Out

So fellow travelers, I’ve been feeling besieged by storms of many origins.

Outside the wind howls

Ice pelts windows while inside

Faith flickers but holds

Truth is I miss my daughters

I miss my backyard birds

I miss my favorite trails

I miss my sanity

Well not entirely, not yet.

There’s some still left holding on by a few threads strengthened by revelations shared from the hearts of others.

Wisdom and hope, beacons of truth and insight like lanterns illuminating a dark passage.

Where there is will there is a way.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Zen Moment: Deep Freeze Sunrise 

So fellow travelers,  a deep cold  snap has settled over our humble home.

My little pond has become a skating rink for the resident squirrels who slide across the surface to drink from little pool which forms around the heated aerators. Below the ice, fish sleep suspended in hibernation until Spring.

Last night when howling winds woke me I thought I was hearing voices singing. The clock showed just past 3am but no ghosts of Christmases past, present or future appeared. Still the eerie chorus must have echoed in my sleep, strange images swirled in my dreams until dawn, fueled a bit by the dynamics of  processing the stress from the last month at work and balancing the logistics of family gatherings throughout the holidays.

I’ve been feeling the impact of some personal losses this season too so when I caught the radiant light of sunrise this morning it stirred a desperate longing for peace giving words to this haiku styled prayer.

 

I want to believe

In every sunrise promise

Dig deeper for faith

Breathe in reach for hope

Deep in my soul I know each of us will find our way forward through challenging times.  We have strong bonds of love woven by family and friends near and far. A new year is coming and although it is “just a flip of a page on the calendar,” as someone rather jaded recently pointed out, for me at least it is still a chance to review our direction and reset our course as needed.

The glowing Light of sunrise is my daily reminder every day brings the hope and promise of  a new beginning.  I will greet this coming year holding strong in my resolve to believe the journey always brings us to where we belong.

 

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

Grave Thoughts

So fellow travelers, many years ago I bought my first house, a compact two bedroom cape at the edge of the city I still reside near. One day a few weeks after moving in, I took a walk around the area with my dog and discovered a cemetery about a half mile from my quiet little street. It quickly became my sanctuary for walking meditation, a practice I was just beginning to include in my routines.

Perhaps because I visited one often as a child, cemeteries have always held a curious place in my awareness. Certainly I sensed the aura of sadness and loss surrounding the adults during these solemn graveside visits, but my experience was infused with a deep feeling of mystery. Most likely this is because any questions I might have asked would have been answered with “This is not something we talk about.”  So other than grasping the idea we came to honor people who were no longer alive, I was left to ponder on my own the significance of the vast variety of grave markers and tombstones, and wonder how those we honored knew we were doing so or for that matter exactly where they were, other than “no longer with us.”

 

 

 

One thing I did know with certainty from those visits was cemeteries are havens of bird habitat. Those Sunday morning visits might be the source of my initial interest in birds, because I remember seeing and hearing birds not found in our tiny backyard and wondering about them. So it is cemeteries still remain associated with mystery to me.

Since my mother-in-law’s death last year, I have become the person who, by both choice and default, tends to her grave.

I chose a simple flag to mark the site as Joan’s tombstone has not been set in place yet. 

Each visit, I take some time to absorb the restful serenity of the sanctuary. It’s evergreens and ancient oak trees are prime bird habitat throughout the seasonal changes and I can always count on a few cheerful songsters greeting me as I walk the quiet paths.

On my most recent visit I noticed how many graves had seasonal decorations. Sparkling wreaths, miniature Christmas trees, artificial poinsettias (real ones would perish within hours in our chilly weather)  and it occurred to me what I was seeing was a tremendous expression of love.

 

 

In fact this little community cemetery is full of grave sites that are decorated year round, vibrant statements standing in defiance of the emptiness of death.  There is a feeling of tenderness which brings life to a place which otherwise would instill sadness.  It’s truly a tribute of love’s power to transcend death.

Loss is pervasive

So is love its everywhere

even in graveyards

Over the years I’ve realized elaborate tombs and stone markers mean nothing to the deceased. Graves are points of reference, symbols to reassure the living that the dead have not been forgotten and tending to those sites is an active expression of love.

While there are also cemeteries in Asia, many Asians have small altars in their homes where the deceased are honored.  My mom has one by a big window in their apartment. Small dishes of water, food or salt (a symbol of purification) are set before photos of my grandparents. I cherish the way this tradition makes the deceased part of the daily lives of the living, so I created one in my home too. It is a meaningful way to integrate loss and the process of grief into the fabric of daily life.

Tending my ancestral slater and mother-in-laws grave are both acts of love, different but honorable. In this holiday season when an empty chair at family gatherings hits hard they are reminders that love lives on in our hearts.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready