Night Gifts

fruitI think these are peaches growing in a neighbor’s front yard.

flowersThe bromeliads are in bloom all through the neighborhood.

podsAnd even the sidewalk itself is exquisite in the fading light.

The scent of jasmine is almost overwhelming along the way.

And walking home long after the sun had set, I listen to Christian Wyman read one of his poems.

Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

Lost, found, disassembled, rearranged

rings

In the middle of summer, afternoons in South Florida are usually at least overcast and usually, rainy.  We have our own version of monsoon season.  It was a cloudy summer afternoon when I drove into our gated community after work on a Monday in 1998.  It didn’t register that the cop cars in front of our house might have something to do with us.  But Sherod was out waiting on the curb for me and as soon as I got out of the car he explained that our house had been broken into during the workday and it was pretty badly trashed.

There was mess and spilled out drawers most places I looked, and weird empty spaces as well.  Most people who’ve experienced a break-in share the same sense of desecration, of how things that were holy and lovely have been defiled and made dirty.  Sherod finally had a good job and I had received another promotion at FedEx so  we’d just bought new furniture including a dresser, finally, a really nice dresser with a mirror.  It came with a jewelry tray that  went across one of the top drawers.  I had carefully put all the beautiful jewelry I inherited from my grandmother and received from my mother.  Antique, very fine jewelry I took for granted.  The day before, a Sunday, Sherod and I had been out sailing on our good vessel Promise and because it’s dangerous to wear jewelry when you are handling lines and raising and lowering sails, I had taken my wedding band  off and put it in the jewelry tray; earlier I’d taken off the diamond circlet Sherod had given me as an engagement ring and I’d left it with my makeup in a bathroom drawer.  That morning I left for work in a hurry and forgot to put either ring back on.

So all that jewelry, fine and meaning-laden, was all there, literally offered up on a tray to the thieves.  And of course, they took it.  I spent the day after the break-in scrubbing everything down in my house, reclaiming my home.  The cops had suggested I start visiting all the local pawn shops to see if I could buy back any of my jewelry.  After walking into one and almost throwing up, I let go.  I thanked God for the beauty of the pieces I had had, especially the ones I wore on my wedding day, and asked for the grace to move on, not clinging to anger or bitterness for things I’d lost.  After all, they were just that—things.  I consoled myself because they had not found my engagement ring; surely, that had to count for something. Occasionally, when I am dressing up for a special occasion, I remember one piece or another and wish I still had the jewelry.  But that happens less and less.  .

Sherod got a band to replace the one I had lost and though I can’t forget it isn’t the circle he slipped on my finger the day we made our vows to each other, the new one is a perfectly good replacement.  Life went on.  I also started putting on the weight.   A whole lot of weight—enough that my engagement ring got tighter and tighter till I finally took it off.  Occasionally, I would wear it again, squeezed on and uncomfortable.  And then, one day, about 4 years ago, when I went to get it out again, I couldn’t find it.  I searched frantically for that ring, berating myself for my carelessness and not having a single place to hold my jewelry.  When I told Sherod I couldn’t find it,  he didn’t get angry.  It was worse—his face was pure disappointment and he was quiet for days afterwards.  I kept searching with no luck.

This Christmas, I gave him a rifle for Christmas and he gave me a diamond ring.  It’s one of those 3-diamond rings that represent ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’.  The ring is beautiful, it sparkles and shines.  Even more, I am keenly aware of Sherod’s forgiveness and willingness to move past his disappointment in me.  I wear it fairly frequently and it also spends quite a bit of time in the safe in our house—I never take it off without putting it into that safe.

This morning, I went back into the safe (It is quite large—large enough for the rifles and stuff Sherod uses for hunting).  Something caught my eye and I looked down.  There, on the red lining of the safe lay the circlet I had lost.  I put it on and walked over to show my hand to Sherod.  I’ve worn all three rings all day today and sitting on the tailgate of Sherod’s truck with Maria earlier this evening, I joked that all those rings made me feel really, really, super-duper married to Sherod and we laughed together.  At the end of the visit with our daughter, we went to Costco to buy a Roomba because our Lab, Boo, is shedding so much the white tile in our house is constantly layered with a coat of black dog hair and we can’t stand it any longer.

All day long, I have fooled around with the three rings, trying to figure out which one should go first, which one on top?  How do they all fit together?  There is certainly quite a lot of sparkle when it’s all of them at once.  But in the end, what I really prefer is just wearing my wedding band. It’s the one that has our initials engraved inside and a date, July 9, 1988–the essential facts about us with no capital “S” statement or diversion or flash.  This replacement ring, both as good as the first one and not, reminds me that marriage is about loss and discovery, how, in the sentimental words of Alan Jackson we are all disassembled and rearranged, not once, but constantly, by love.  Endurance and perseverance.

Perhaps what I like best is this is also the ring that fits most loosely on my finger.

What We Must Choose

Wrestling_With_God_SQ

I have been having a very strange, recurring dream of late, one that pulls me awake in a panic.

First a bit of background without getting into the space of TMI.  A few years ago, I had to have a minor medical procedure for health reasons.  Although I was already 48 years old by then, my doctor made a point of telling me that after this procedure it was critically important that I not get pregnant, that in fact, I would face certain death if I did.   At the time, I had a hard time keeping a straight face when she said those things to me with such gravity in her voice and eyes.  The absurdity of that warning was too great to even begin to explain to her.  So I thanked her and promised I would make sure not to get pregnant.

This is the dream:  In the midst of perfectly normal, ordinary time, (and it is never clear how I find out, but it is made crystal clear to me), I realize I am pregnant.  There is an immediate rush of exultation, followed instantaneously by the most suffocating fear imaginable because I am faced with a choice.  I must immediately choose my own life by terminating the pregnancy or stay pregnant knowing I will die but may be able to carry the child for long enough for it to live.  I wake up gasping and in a sweat, almost in tears, each time I have that dream.

When Sherod and I were going through premarital counseling, round about this time 25 years ago, the question of us having babies came up.  Sherod had a son and daughter from his previous marriage and after his second child was born, had taken steps to make sure there wouldn’t be a third.  He was adamant that he did not want any more children.  I was madly in love, I did not know myself and I did not know how to be honest when that meant risking a relationship I desperately wanted to work.  So I very blithely said that was fine since I was a feminist and didn’t need a child to confirm my identity and value to the world.

I’m old enough now that I can look back on those decisions without getting mired in regret, though I was most certainly not  truthful with anybody, least of all myself.  I am grateful beyond words for my husband, for his willingness to join me in parenting María when her path crossed ours.  To have welcomed her and loved her as completely as he has, and at no small cost to himself, is part of what makes Sherod one of the most honorable, generous, good human beings I know.  I have been blessed with so much.  And even without the kinds of regret I worked through about 15 years ago, the truth continues unwavering.  I would have loved to bear a child.

So now I am having this dream, this intense and intensely disturbing dream and trying to understand why.  I guess no matter how much we’ve made our peace with decisions made in the past, as we reach new places in our lives, we double back and need to bring that peace to bear on life as it is now.  That may be part of what this is all about.

I also know some more things now.  More than ever, I understand T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, how, looking back on the journey to visit the Christ child, they asked themselves:

were we lead all that way for:
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

As life unfolds I imagine we all come to see how inextricably birth and death are bound together.  But it is the fact that I am so certain in the dream that I must choose, and I must choose between my own death and the death of the child I know in my waking I will never have but in my sleeping still dream of.  That we might have to make such choices in life.  That is what I am wrestling  with these days and nights…

Here and There in the World

 

united way broward

and now and then in ourselves, there is a new creation (Paul Tillich).

Yesterday’s post was quite morose and filled with self-pity.  Oh foolish one.

Earlier this year, I prepared and submitted what felt like the mother of all grant applications ($70K/year over the next 3 years) to our local United Way agency to help fund the school success programs we have been carefully growing over the past few years.  In a time when the financial challenges are so daunting as the Episcopal Church learns to be not only the church of the privileged but also a church that serves on the margins, finding new ways of funding ministry is critical.  I took no news yesterday to be bad news.  The recipients for this grant cycle were to be announced yesterday and by the late afternoon I took no news to be very bad news.

I was hasty.  I even went so far as to follow up with my contact person at UW to say I realized we were not recipients and wanted to know who I could meet with to get feedback about our application and how to better prepare ourselves for the next time around.  I got an auto-reply from her mailbox advising me she would be out of town till the 29th.  And then, another note.  Saying we had won the grant.  Congratulating us.  Making real any number of new possibilities and dreams.

On the advice of my colleague and friend, Joe Duggan, the leadership of NRRM has spent the beginning of every meeting for the past month or so, doing a very powerful reflection process based on the passage in Luke about the Annunciation.  Mary asked, “…how then, can this be?”…

 

This

This not only after the tornado, but after a pretty significant ministry setback.  A grant that would have made a major difference to our way forward is not going to be.  In some ways, pitiful and paltry disappointment in light of so much that is so much more overwhelming.  In other ways, still having much to do with waiting, the kind of waiting described in this poem.  It will be a long walk tonight.