Chief Warrant Officer Mallow, 1968
I feel an aching sadness for General Petraeus, Ms Petraeus, their children and for Ms Broadwell and her family, tonight, the eve of Veteran’s Day. There will be plenty written and said about moral failure and self-destruction and disappointment. Much of what has been and will be said is fair and true. The bewilderment is understandable.
It is also true that I know only too well that war costs and some of the wounds from combat are almost invisible and don’t ever heal. On more than one occasion, I have woken up to see my spouse surge from the bed and nearly fly to the other end of the room. A dream, a single sound, keys off an old warrior instinct honed on too many dark nights in Vietnam, and he is back in combat mode, ready to take that helicopter of his back up into the air. The ways of the heart, and mind and spirit are unfathomable even in the best of circumstances. You don’t just walk away from war and shake off the dust.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. We do well to remember that war costs. It costs a lot.
I minister in a fragile community that is learning to cross cultural and language divides. Convinced that among other things, this work is about nation-building, I consciously avoided any kind of political discussion in my workplace during this election season. That was not always easy. On a personal level, given our current financial realities, I was not in a position to make any financial contribution to the campaign of Barak Obama, as I did last time. That also was not easy but I am grateful to have been able to do a bit of campaigning on his behalf week before last.
This morning, I read an article by Frank Rich (how I love and envy his writing) that captures far better than anything I can say, why this election mattered. Those of us who are bridge people have an obligation, even now, when it would be so easy to simply move on, to try to find a way to keep talking across party lines.
If you have the time, this article is worth reading: Frank Rich and the 2012 Elections
My first response was of mild and sarcastic disgust. Really, I asked myself? But the night was crisp and cool and I could feel the holidays gathering themselves up for their annual visit. I felt more than a little ashamed of my self-righteousness in the face of someone’s desire for magic, playfulness and maybe, even joy.
I continued on my walk, giving myself the gift of another of Krista Tippets’ podcasts. This one was a conversation with Joanna Macy, a fascinating woman who worked for the CIA as a very young woman during the Cold War, who later lived in India with her husband and family and was drawn by the wisdom and grace of Buddhism and who has been an ecological activist for most of her adult life. That was all interesting. But what was mesmerizing to me about the conversation was her work as a translator of Rilke.
We each find the way to light up the darkness. This was mine last night:
Go to the Limits of Your Longing
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours, I 59, R.M. Rilke translated by Joanna Macy
I got this in an email this morning. The picture was taken on December 25th, 1983 in Cali. It was the Christmas I talked about in this post, when I went home for just 5 days in the middle of my chaplaincy internship. When I looked at the picture, I was struck by my mom: how vivid and clearly her personality came through. She was younger in that picture than I am today and that just blew me away. It’s a great picture of my brothers—they were both so elegant and graceful. My dad’s expression is weird—very much not him. And then, there’s me. Wearing a dress I had very proudly sewed myself—I had very little money that year and was trying hard to be more financially independent. Still so uncomfortable in my own skin, trying so hard simply to be a good girl and be liked. I had almost erased myself in the process. I didn’t dwell long on the email, too much else to take care of today.
Tonight, I got to go out and walk after several days not being able to. My mind slowly settled into the rhythm of my rambles and then, the flashbacks were back. And the grief. At first, I thought it was the picture. Then I figured out the date. November 5th. One year and five months ago today, my mother died. No wonder. The body knows.
Here are a few pictures from Bowen Island. I may post a few more in the next couple of days. The one with the still water and ducks is of the place where I watched some salmon spawing on Wednesday. Still amazed at all that…
I’ve started the journey back. After 3 days sharing a room with a charming new friend from Ohio, I am luxuriating in the silence of a hotel room I get to have all to myself. My little introverted self can only take so much togetherness and then it’s time to call it a day. The conference was illuminating, I learned some new skills I look forward to using at work and return home deeply saddened and troubled by much about the Episcopal Church. We had lively and engaged discussion about the conversation the church needs to have with itself. But we skirted around an enormous issue related to power, who has it, how it is shared (which also means how it’s relinquished). And the absences were as important as who was present.
I reconnected with some folks I’d met earlier this year who are doing some really good, innovative work, met others who are doing other intriguing things. But by and large, we are folks who work out on the edges, where our power is very, very limited. Our dear friend Tom is working hard to find a place for us at the big boy/big girl table, but I seriously doubt that those who have the power are willing to listen, let alone face into the amount of power they must give up, in order for new ways of being the church to thrive. Hard stuff to consider, harder still to discern how I can be faithful to my convictions, to the fragile, bumbling and beautiful little community I serve, and to a God who I most often find not in the order, but in the chaos.
Ah well, the ruminations that happen when one is tired, sitting in silence, missing all that is dear about home. I hear I may have a “gravel path” in the air tomorrow with some clear air turbulence and I thought I remembered booking my flights through LAX and instead have a 3 3/4 hour layover in Houston. But. There will be some tailwinds that will move the plane through the air faster. Plus, I will get to slip into my own bed tomorrow night and that is good. I love my bed…
This place is lovely. I’ve already said it, I know. But it is. I took some pictures yesterday and they were lost even to the mind of God when I tried to download them from my camera to my laptop. I am disappointed because some of the pictures were pretty good. This is the first time my Mac has really let me down, but there you have it. The picture I’ve used comes from my iPhone.
There’s also the kindness of the leader of our gathering and the hospitality of the people who are helping him. It turns out that Tom gathers in “peeps” from all around the church, people of all ages and backgrounds. Some of them are brand new, tender and radiant shoots of hope for our denomination, there are others of us who’ve been in the trenches for a while and are tired, some who are really wise and have an amazing way with words. He gathers us together to learn and figure out some new stuff, but also to give us time to take care of each other and be taken care of in a way that doesn’t happen a whole lot out where we do our work.
Yesterday I learned something about salmon. Right now, the salmon are running here on Bowen Island—I got to see some of them who have been out in the Pacific for four or more years and have come to spawn where they themselves were born, the one last, emphatic yes before death. At some point late in life, a salmon is in the general vicinity of the creek that held him or her safe till birth. It is when he or she gets a taste—a miniscule taste—of the stream that he or she came from, and recognizes that taste as home, that the salmon knows where to go; that taste keeps guiding him or her to what had been the beginning and is now the end of life.
I am filled with awe to think that the water of a creek is particular enough, distinct enough, that even in the ocean, where it meets an unimaginable amount of other water not of the same source, that creek is still so recognizably itself that it can call its own back home. I am awestruck as well with the notion that a small taste can tug and pull a creature back to the only place it truly belongs, or at least belongs enough to both be born and die there.
Today is my birthday and I am pretty far removed from everything that is most known and familiar to me. That seems fitting today. I figure I’m like the salmon who is still far, far out in the ocean. I’m thankful today for how vast that ocean is and how far I have travelled.