flowers, grief and e.e. cummings

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It’s a grey, chilly, winter day in Lowndesboro.  I’m not sure why, except that I love them both, but my friends, Liz and Bob, have been on my mind. It is around this time that Liz lost her beloved nephew quite a number of years ago now.  For Bob, the loss came suddenly, much more recently: a man who could say “sugah” better than anyone I ever met,  with his wonderful art, his dogs, his foibles, his infinity of tchotchkes, was Bob’s love and companion.  None of us ever know, really, because most of us learn to carry it well, how disorienting, how grey and colorless grief can be for years on end.

I pulled on my funny-silly Wellies, the ones I bought for 19 dollars at Tractor Supply and still look good and work good too. Then, I headed out to capture tiny bits of color that have found their way to Lowndesboro already.  The forsythia bloomed early, fast and fierce this year, so fast I almost missed the bloom.  The peach and white flowering quince are also blooming; the camellia bush is about to explode in its riot of pink.  And the daffodils. My Lord how I treasure those sweet, ordinary daffodils, with their yellow insistence that bleakness does not have the last word,  nor death. I took these pictures for my friends and for anyone who grieves and finds the world too awash in gray and grim these days.

we need to remember, we need to remind each other: that queer old balloonMan whistles. even now.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Camp McDowell

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Yesterday morning, Maria sat next to me while I filled out an application for her to attend summer camp at Wonderful, Wonderful, Camp McDowell. Earlier in the week, I’d had a great conversation with the director of Special Session at McDowell , a camp program for people with varying abilities. Although her behavior will need to continue to be stable, and she’ll certainly need to keep her little self out of the Psych Unit, if all works right, Maria will come here for summer camp in June.

Camp McDowell has been the heart of life in the Diocese of Alabama for decades—when we lived here in the late 80’s, I heard a lot about it and resisted going to McDowell on principle—anything mainstream Episcopalians in Alabama liked was suspect to this angular, combative person who wanted nothing more to do with the church. We left and the mission and focus of McDowell continued to expand and become more generous. It hosts the Alabama Folk School now, has an amazing working farm and programs on environmental stewardship. Then, Kee Sloan, our current Diocesan, became a bishop after years and years ministering with tenderness and insight to special needs folks. On his watch, a few years ago, McDowell made the circle even bigger, more bold and generous, so it now holds space in a new area, Bethany Village, where all kinds of people with special challenges have a place to play and experience Sabbath and community at its best.

That’s why Maria will, God willing, be there in June. In July, it looks like I may get to serve as chaplain for another program, Bethany’s Kids Camp, which is brings together special needs children in elementary school, with ‘mainstream’ children and together, they get to have camp like camp’s supposed to be—filled with laughter, mosquitos, new friends, funny songs, swimming, canoeing, a little bit of homesickness and grace.

I am tired of wringing my hands and getting into a lather over each worrisome bit of news that comes from Washington. I am doing what I can (which isn’t a whole lot) to let my elected leaders know where I stand on the issues. I’ve taken off work for Maria’s visit; these days at home with our beautiful girl, I am being reminded of the urgency of working with, and supporting the people and community efforts where even the most vulnerable have a place at the table. It’s in those places I find my humanity stretched, and I hope, formed more truly in the image of the One who created us.

Writer Gonna Write

I’ve been on Facebook for a bunch of years now. Around 2011, Facebook became a ‘portal’ for my efforts to write—a quick and easy way to point people to the blog I’ve kept for 6 years now. It has also been an incredible tool to reconnect with people I had completely lost touch with. Perhaps the moment of greatest Facebook glory came in 2012 or so, when I went to a mini high school class reunion in Fort Lauderdale; that would never have happened without Facebook. I have gotten to read amazing pieces, learned a whole heck of a lot and made new friends through this social media giant. All those things make me grateful.

Today, a post of mine got too close to doing harm and sowing division I had not intended. I took the post offline and realized, this just isn’t how I want to do things. I will continue writing on my blog (www.revrosa.org) about once a week. It’s a blog folks can subscribe to if they want to keep track of my musings, for what they’re worth. I won’t, however, link any more blog posts to my FB account. I’m not completely dropping out either; I will check FB about once a week as well. I belong to a couple of groups that are really important to me and I can see where, from time to time, I might send someone a PM. Now though, the work I have is to  keep writing my book. Life is short and I hope to practice more kindness and truth. There are better places to do that than Facebook.

So, Another Yes

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Earlier this afternoon, I submitted my application for another summer writing workshop at Collegeville. This one is a continuation of the workshop with Lauren Winner I got to participate in last year. The title for the workshop she’ll lead in June is Revision, Christian Spirituality and the Writing Life. The focus of this one is the painstaking, less glamorous and yet, profoundly spiritual work of trying again, then again, and then one more time,to get closer to what the writer has intended to write so the words really shine, really illuminate, really draw the reader onward in pilgrimage.

Hitting the send button, I felt the same trepidation that made it almost impossible for me to complete my application last year. I am as insecure as ever, though now I am doing more to overcome the nasty little voices of ‘no’. I have been able to achieve some clarity and peace about the low-residency MFA program Lauren encouraged me to consider as part of a move towards greater depth and professionalism in my writing.  This year I have learned to say out loud that writing is an essential part of my vocation. I have also come to see that the bottom line for now is, I can’t start on that MFA. Maria still has enormous needs. I see my dad’s fragility daily, and I have learned I can’t anticipate when he will need more of my time and attention. Work is endlessly surprising and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the work I want and need to do to honor and serve a community that’s put their faith in me as a member of the leadership team. And most of all: the time I have with my squirrel-whispering guy is beyond precious to me. I don’t take it for granted.

So, I am not jumping into an MFA. What I am doing is finding other ways to sharpen my skills and become a better writer. I have found a person who is well prepared to serve as a writing coach and does so incisively and with love. I’m putting together the reading list of a Creative Writing MFA program and I will work through it on my own time table. I’m pushing myself to keep writing even when it seems those shitty little negative voices scream louder when I get closer to breaking through another barrier to luminescence, which is what I aspire to, in my writing.

Like last year, I have no guarantees. All the workshops at Collegeville are rather fiercely competitive.   Now though, I’ve been, I’ve seen just how much I received because I kept taking the risk of rejection. I will keep writing, while I wait to hear, sometime in March, if there will be a place for me this year. And in the meantime, I know, having also gotten their gentle no in the past, how life and writing will go on. It’s a whole string of yeses of my own that now ground my work.

This is the way I have to begin a new year, “filled with truth and grace” as the prologue to John promised once again on Christmas Day.

Then There Was Rocky

When I woke up this morning, there was a message that had come in late last night.  A neighbor’s daughter’s cat had gotten a baby flying squirrel. At first, Kelli thought the end was near but the little one had rallied. I checked in with her after I read the message and heard he was still alive.  Baby squirrel has now come to join our menagerie and is comfortably settled in Mama Sherod’s pocket. I am waiting for the roads to get a little safer (had us some freezing rain/sleet last night and my temperature gauge says it’s 21 degrees outside) before I trek into town for some more formula.  Kelli got to name this little one.  Meet Rocky.  

My Town

The population of Lowndesboro is under 150. I can drive through it in less than 5 minutes.  And it seems there’s always something new to discover. I had heard there was a very small graveyard in town and had tried to find it a couple of times before.  A week or so ago, with the leaves all fallen and a better line of vision, I got a glimpse of a small building and fence in the general location where I’d been told I could find the cemetery.  Yesterday, I went exploring.  This is my town.

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Under the Shadow of Thy Wings

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This Christmas was no different from others, stars of joy against the quiet darkness of solitude and sorrow. My daughter far away and we here, my dad’s grief in the absence of my mother, for whom Christmas was all light and wonder.  Those flashes of joy still light up the night, a thoughtful email, the laughter that just can’t stop when old friends fuss and then make up. There have been deaths, as certain as the birth we remember; one defined the age-old meaning of blessing—to die rich in years and descendants. The other two are tragic, totally unexpected, incomprehensible. All of it the night sky.

For the most part, I am the celebrant at the Wednesday evening services and I have come to deeply love those services, held in our small chapel, usually with very few people; it is more participatory and more flexible, much more reflective than other services we hold week in and week out. This picture was taken in the chapel on Christmas Eve. It  captures the beauty of light and dark, simplicity and shocking color that receive us each week. These days, even when things feel rocky, unsure, so terribly confusing, with the darkness of winter gathered around our small congregation of night visitors, it is as if we are enfolded in wings of mighty and gentle strength.