Coasting

So fellow travelers, grab some sunscreen and a towel, we are going to the beach!

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There is something sacred embedded in that moment of catching a first glimpse of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, that first glimpse came while riding the Coaster, a local train which runs between San Diego and Oceanside. The train is a local icon; numerous residents I met spoke of how much their kids/grandkids loved to ride it. Jon Foreman has song in his repertoire called Southbound Train, it ran as a continuous loop in my head while I took in the scenery up to Oceanside.

Those moments of sacred connection would manifest in unexpected ways through my week on the coast.

 

Blessings and grace beyond anything I could have anticipated or dared to expect.

Pack Lighter, Go Farther

So fellow travelers, packing ten days of traveling through multiple climates into one carryon and a backpack was easily the most difficult logistic to solve of this entire trip. My husband would be bringing a larger suitcase for the PNW segment of my travels so I had to coordinate which things to send ahead and which I most needed for the coast.

Which ones to pack or wear.

Space vs comfort.

Decisions, decisons.

 

Planning extended adventures is not new for me; last year’s was a road trip to mark my sixth decade, a pilgrimmage if you will, to Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay Long Island. Friends called me brave for setting out on my own, yet I don’t seem to see my solo expeditions in that way. My determination to experience new vistas stems from the wanderlust embedded in my soul during my family’s travels in my childhood and teenage years. If there is something that peaks my interest, having to go alone rarely prevents me from exploring, whether it is an art class in town or a chance to tour the hometown and studio of my favorite band.

When I decided to get to the Bro-AM event at the end of June, I had the option to sign-up for a series of special events with the band. I’ve done “meet and greets” at previous concerts before. Those events are about much more than the autographs; they are opportunities to thank them all for the inspiration their music contributes to our deeply troubled human existence. The “Switchfoot Getaway” events would be a sequence of more extensive time with the band in a variety of settings, including a give back day where everyone attending would participate in a service project in nearby San Diego.

So I gathered my resources, both factual and financial and set the logistics in motion. After the Switchfoot Getaway* event in Oceanside and a side trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I would fly to Portland and meet my husband for our annual summer visit with our kids. The trip became the guiding Light at the end of the long dark tunnel of the final weeks of the school year; I seriously doubt I would have gotten through without it. I don’t toss that platitude out there lightly. I am at a point in my career where I can retire at anytime, but just because I can does not mean I will. It would take a significant calamity to push me to the point of leaving my team and my students. We drifted perilously closer and closer to that point. This was my chance to stand on the home shores of the music which pulled me back from the under currents over and over again.

 

As the process of preparing unfolded, I realized the lighter I packed, the easier it would be to find the Light I sought on this quest for renewal. You cannot move forward towards hope if you are weighed down by the burdens of anger and despair. Like Jon Foreman* often says “Don’t let the past rob the present of it’s potential for beauty and joy.”

Time to let the chaos of what had been fade into the brilliant rising sun of the present moment.

 

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

*You can watch a 2016 Ted Talk Jon gave about living our inherent purpose here.

Bookends

So fellow travelers, today marks the start of a new solar year in this grand adventure of life. Reflecting on the bookends of the first and last days

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Team Fairbanks-Rahalski at the summit of Pinnacle Peak Trail in Rainier National Park

I can see the origami of insights and growth created by the challenges weathered in-between two foundations: friends and family. As I embark fullspeed into the coming years of this sixth decade of solar returns I have my sights set on the adventures made possible by that foundation.

The road we travel

is made lighter by the Love

carried in our hearts

To all the beautiful points of Light in my community of family and friends here is a heartfelt haiku of gratitude for the love and support which has and will continue to bless my journey. You are the best gift anyone could ever receive.

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

Fading West*

So fellow travelers, a friend who reads my blog posts commented on the line I used at the end of a recent entry. Their point was well taken.

“Nothing in (my) life would ever be the same” is indeed a rather sweeping claim. Being aware of the hyperbolic aura it casts, I did not use it lightly. In fact I rewrote, deleted and retyped it several times, eventually coming to the conclusion it accurately reflected the impact of the week I spent in California.

Since writing is how I process my experiences, I am sometimes bound by self-inflicted parameters. An example of this is the prolonged stretch (five weeks, the longest gap since I began the blog in August of 2013) in my posts between the Verdi Requiem weekend and my current series of posts. When I returned home from that regenerative time with friends, I walked back into a malestorm of situations at work which rapidly escalated and deteriorated. It took every ounce of energy to stay focused, professional and compassionate. At day’s end I literally had enough left in me to walk our dog, eat a decent meal and tend to a handful of chores around the house, pond or garden before collapsing into bed.

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On weekends, my work at the dog rescue where I volunteer became my therapy; making a difference in one arena compensated somewhat for the frustration of not being able to get responses at work.  The affection and acceptance of these dogs who had been through so much in their quest to simply find a home where they would be loved became a beacon of Light and hope in a time of tremendous frustration. The sincere gratitude of the rescue staff for every hour I could contribute was a reminder that what I was able to do mattered, whether it was answering phones, cleaning crates, folding laundry or taking a challenged dog on a long respite walk.

Every Sunday morning I would rise early and write for a few hours but due to the confidential nature of my position (I work as a special education assistant in our local high school) what I wrote could not be posted. That I wrote at all came from the advice of several of my creative tribemates.  “Write,” they said “whether you can publish it or not, write for your own sake. Eventually you will find a way to share what you need to say.” I stopped worrying about the extended gap in the published blog posts.

 

So I wrote and walked dogs and got through the weeks, day by day and I focused on what became an even bigger adventure than going to Switchfoot’s 14th Bro-AM concert at Moonlight Beach. I signed up to spend four days with the guys who created the music which had kept me going for so long so I could thank them in person.

 

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

*The title FADING WEST is a reference both to the direction I traveled for my great adventure and a movie/music project the band undertook during their 2012 world tour. You can watch the trailer for the film, released in 2013  at this link .

 

Listen

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout. Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks*!” King Lear Act 3 Scene 2 

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So fellow travelers, like many of my creative tribemates I write to process my experiences.  Yet, sometimes our experiences overwhelm our capacity to express what we feel.  Raging storms of emotions inundate the landmarks which guide us on our journey; chaos threatens to consume the weathervane* compass points we rely on to help us find our way.  If we cannot find ways to express what we feel, we will drown in our emotions or, worse yet, become so numb we move through life like the walking dead.

In those times, music and art can become the life lines which guide us back. This is the backstory of how I found the music which kept me afloat when swells of chaos and confusion threatened to engulf me and pull me under.

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When Favorite Oldest Daughter was a teenager, she used to make me playlists of music. This being back in the times before kids were perpetually hooked into their earbuds I could actually hear what she was listening to when she worked on the desktop computer in the family room. When there was a song she listened to often I would ask her to put it on one of the CDs she made for me. This is how I first heard the song 24 written by Jon Foreman**.

To this day the song moves me to tears; they maybe tears of loss, regret, confusion, relief, or happiness, yet most often they are tears of deep abiding gratitude.

When I listen to Jon’s music, whether it is from one of Switchfoot’s ten albums or a solo project like Wonderlands which created the 25in24 project no matter what state I am in, the emotion which inevitably rises to the surface is gratitude. Gratitude for glimmers of hope in times of doubt, for grace in times of failing, for healing in times of suffering even for humor to wake me from the hell of taking everything including myself far too seriously.

For over a decade now this music has been a Presence on my journey. At first a background harmony, then after my first Switchfoot concert experience (NYState Fair Chevy Court, August 23, 2009) a balance point during unsettled times and finally, in the past four years, a life raft carrying me through the tsunami of changes happening in and around me.

Since my first live experience in 2009 I have felt these musicans are more than a band and I have gone to as many shows as possible which came within a days driving distance. I have done meet and greet sessions with the band and Jon (who does tours of his solo projects) not because I am star struck but to have an opportunity to thank them for the gift of their songs, for being the ones who put words and rhythm and harmonies to the emotions I felt so deeply yet did not understand or could not find ways to express.

But there was one live experience I knew of, which I had not found a way to get to,

yet

so, when the chaos at work began to escalate and I needed set a Light to reach for I put a plan in place find my way to Bro-Am 2018

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(to be continued)

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

**listen to 24 by Jon Foreman on Switchfoot’s 4th album The Beautiful Letdown here

Poem: Even Madness Has Its Story

So fellow travelers, while the last few months ran with a kind of Alice down the Rabbit Hole feeling, the chaos often left me too perplexed and exhausted to find the words to process my experience. I was often blessed to find meaning through the writing of other members of my creative tribe. I am sharing this recent post from Tom Atkins with gratitude he found words to express what I cannot.

Quarry House

3_resizeEven Madness Has its Story.

There is fiberglass in the corner.
Battens balanced on an old beam.
A wooden woman pirouettes.
dust settles over it all,

a strange sort of museum,
no pattern, no themes, items on display
in odd corners and contrasts,
too like your own life,

and yet, in time you begin to see
that even madness has its story to tell
and a logic that becomes comfortable:
not quite true,

but beautiful none the less.

About this poem

Somehow this poem went from a poem about settling into a schedule, to whatever this is. Mondays do weird things to us sometimes.

The picture was taken at Salem Art Works.

Tom

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Push to the Finish Line

So fellow travelers, returning home from the Verdi road trip I received an enthusiastic greeting from my devoted trail companion Ms Delilah

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Granted I am blessed to be greeted in a similar manner when I come in from a trip to the grocery store. A greeting shorter in duration with less yapping perhaps, but just as effective at refueling my heart with the glow of unconditional love dogs radiate into our lives.

Delilah has been a placeholder for love and acceptance through the recent challenges of my journey. Whether I  arrived home and immediately grabbed a leash to head for a mind clearing walk or collapsed on the couch under the weight of incomprehensible stress, Delilah followed the cues. She even learned to gently nudge me awake so those naps did not stretch out to interfere with deeper sleep I would need later.

Because of the confidential nature of my work with special ed. students at our local high school it is not possible for me (at least not at this time) to detail the specifics of what our team was dealing with.  Suffice to say, there were connected situations which had been evolving for two years which had reached a point of tremendous concern for the team I was on.  What was most disconcerting was the struggle we faced trying to have those concerns heard by people in a position to address the issues. In my nineteen years working with students of diverse needs and abilities from elementary through high school I had never experienced anything like what we were being asked to tolerate as acceptable for our students as well as our teaching team and support staff.

20180626_131101Mural in Artists Alley Oceanside CA

I found myself asking  how long does one remain in a setting where it no longer seems possible to make a difference?

When you follow every protocol and send clear, well documented reports that help is needed and the response is dismissive, when you hear the policy statements about the importance of mental health but see nothing done when a crisis point is reached repeatedly, when you hear and are told to teach the message “if you see something, say something,” and you do say something, day after day, but it results in no actions, how long beyond these tipping points do you stay?

Reaching the end of the year, feeling discouraged and depleted I knew leaving my position now (which I could easily do by retiring a year ahead of schedule with minimal financial impact) would feel more like quitting than “retiring early.” I am many things, but I am not a quitter. I was mindful too of the impact leaving would have on my co-workers, many of whom I am grateful to also call my friends.

Through all of these challenges, there has been a soundtrack playing which kept me going even when I was sure I could not face another day of chaos. It is a soundtrack filled with songs of the restless quest for meaning, of reaching for hope in the face of doubt and a search for light when plunged into darkness. So two days after dragging myself across the finish line of unresolved dilemmas, I headed West to spend some time with the band who writes those songs.

Nothing in my life would ever be the same.

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

Kateri’s Wisdom

So fellow travelers, setting the dial on the way back machine (any Rocky and Bullwinkle fans still out there?) we find ourselves on the road home the morning after the glorious Verdi experience.

Bennington Community Art Center

I’ve grown fond of the quiet college town of Bennington and it’s little sister North Bennington, home now to several friends from my creative tribe. It also boasts the distinction of being home to my favorite pizza restaurant in the world : Marigold Pizza.

My friends and I have shared many good meals of Marigold’s locally sourced (right down to the flour for the pizza crusts and the bottled sodas) ingredients and that afternoon was no exception as several of us gathered for a post Requiem reunion.

I eagerly took in the news of recent travels, new homes, photos of grand kids, funny ‘how me met’ stories and deeply appreciated the post performance reflections of both participants and patrons. I had a clear premonition this time together was a sandbar in a rising tide of looming stress.

What I did not foresee was the tsunami of chaos that would hit within days of my return to work.

Yet somewhere within me must have been an awareness of Something of Significance because on my drive home the next morning I made a spontaneous decision to detour off the highway to seek out a spot I had wanted to visit for decades.

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Kateri National Shrine Auriesville NY

Kateri Tekakwitha (also known as Flower of the Algonguins – Lily of the Mohawks) lived in the Mohawk Valley region in the mid 1600’s (1656-1680) I have been intrigued by her story since I heard of the shrine located near her village.

It is a quiet humble site with several trails, a chapel and museum with detailed and well documented accounts of the Native American history indigenous to the area as well as Kateri’s own story. Serene, simple and rife with the odd juxtaposition of Native American and Catholic (Franciscan) heritage.

Yet from the tangled weaving of two seemingly opposed cultures, Kateri’s devotion to both her people (most of whom rejected her) and her adopted faith shines like a golden thread. I thought of how much suffering she endured to follow the Spirit that spoke to her heart. Orphaned, scarred and nearly blinded by smallpox, she managed to reach for Hope and Light. Perhaps this Saint, canonized in 2012, might have some guidance to offer me.

So I climbed the path that lead to the statue which stood high on the hill overlooking the grounds below.

If I am a believer in Anything, it is that Truth and Light can be found on many paths. No religious or spiritual belief system holds all the answers for every soul. None of them are perfect because all of them are orchestrated by humans and we are inherently both flawed and fearful. We are also given to profound moments of compassion and grace. Not all Christians are judgemental; not all Buddhists are non-violent.

Anyone who has followed my thoughts here knows I am more apt to find wisdom in the walking woods than sitting in a wooden pew. Still I have often been moved by the energy and insights I’ve been blessed to discover when visiting sacred sites. So I sat on the bench, taking in the view, waiting, wondering, listening.

Warblers sang

Crows called

Leaves rustled

Dogs barked

Children laughed

A baby cried

Sounds of life flowing forward undeterred by the growing storm which loomed ahead. No Voice with a Message, just a reassuring sense somehow Everything Will Be OK.

Accepting this seemed a form of madness in itself in the face of a situation we were facing at work. But I left a shiny coin at Kateri’s feet in gratitude, hiked down the hill and drove home.

Buddha rock encounter

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

Hell Fire and Brimstone

So fellow travelers, hello from the depths of Joshua Tree National Park where an early morning walk brought me to this impressive view.

Look closely. To get a true sense of scale, I stepped back to include the little bench on the trail.

When I arrived last night the desert sky was mind boggling mass of stars and those giant trees seemed to be reaching up to grab them.

It was a long drive (made more palatable by a joyful dinner reunion with a friend) from the coastal paradise of Oceanside where I have spent the past week immersed in an adventure of unexpected grace and healing. More of that story to come.

Longer still was the journey through the inconceivable hell of the last weeks of school. Hence the absence of posts here for the past month. Some things are better left unsaid~ at least for now~ so let the Giants of the desert speak for us.

Giants born in hell

Reaching Heavenward in Hope

Guided by the stars

Three weeks of hell.

One week of grace.

Strength to move forward.

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

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.)

cailin

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.