Steadfast

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (St Augustine)

St. Benedict of Nursia is considered the founder of the kind of monasticism we are most familiar with in Europe and the Americas. In the mid 500’s, Benedict wrote what has come to be known as the “Rule of Life”—a detailed blueprint for the ordering of life in a monastery community. The Rule is broad in scope and also incredibly detailed. Although I bridle at a lot of the more patriarchal requirements and expectations, I find myself drawn to much of what it describes about communal life.

Recently, I was looking at a certification program in spiritual direction that led me down a rabbit hole that felt right to explore. Even today, a person wishing to become a Benedictine religious must go through a year-long probationary period. At the end of that time, if the person continues to feel called to this life and is found to be able to do so he, she or they takes a binding vow. In Latin, the vow is “stabilitate sua et conversatione morum suorum et oboedientia” (stability, conversion of manners, and obedience).

In the midst of so much that is being reordered and rearranged in my life these days, it was the commitment to and promise of “stabilitate” that most intrigued me. Although the easiest translation for stabilitate is stability, I think a there’s a synonym that better reaches for the intention of this promise: steadfastness. In practical terms, for people making this Benedictine vow, it means they willingly choose to remain for the rest of their lives in the monastery community within which they take this vow.

In my previous post, I described the restlessness and mobility that has shaped life for many in my family from one generation to the next. I described the reassurance I have felt when I thought, “well, I’ll just move” as a means for trying to reinvent myself, as a way getting closer to doing and being what I thought was more true to who I am. Now, I also see how much I was guided by the impulse to “run away from,” which, wrapped in nice paper, gets described as “getting a fresh start.”

Something strange, and increasingly lovely, has happened as Sherod and I have made this little homestead ours. We don’t have a very big circle of friends here but we are so grateful for the ones we have. They are friends for life. It isn’t only that I claim this place as home, but that this land, the trees, the sunshine early in the morning, even the coyotes howling at night, have made a claim on me as well. I pay attention now in ways I never did in other places I have lived.

The day the small tornado hit Lowndesboro, Sherod and I, who were spared, took less than a minute to hightail it back home to cook lunch for the folks who were gathering to start responding to the damage in our small town. It wasn’t but a couple of hours after my dad died before the food, and flowers, and care started pouring in.

Things are also asked of me by the land because of what I see. A few Sundays ago, the morning was crisp and cool in the sunlight as I headed to church on Old Selma. This is a winding country road with very, very little traffic. It finds its way through fields and wooded sections, where the tree canopy grows across this somewhat sorry excuse for a paved road making it beautiful, no matter how sorry or full of potholes. My path constantly intersects with the journeys of wildlife.

This particular Sunday, right before I got to one of three creeks the road goes over, I saw something making its way across the road, painfully slowly. I know what comes with this time of spring into summer—right about now, love is a burnin’ thing for turtles around here and they are on the move. I’ve known that for a while. When I first moved here, I only recognized turtles after I had passed them on the road. Then, I became more aware and more careful, slowed down, went around them, and thought, ‘hurry little one.” But seeing turtle ‘road kill’ became heartbreaking. I now keep a travel pack of handy wipes in my car and I do whatever I need to make sure to help those little ahistoric creatures get off the road. Turtles carry a lot of salmonella so after I’ve carried one across the road in the direction it was traveling, I make sure to clean my hands carefully. Turtles can also bite so how I pick one up matters.

On another Sunday, a great big turtle was crossing but I realized I needed to go a bit further to park my car safely. As I got out, I saw a jeep come to somewhat of screeching halt right behind the turtle. The guy got out, lifted and carried the turtle to the other side. When I thanked him, he said he’d figured that’s why I had stopped too. I have no idea who this person is and yet now, in a way I don’t really understand, it feels like we are neighbors and kin.

I get anxious thinking about aging out here in Lowndes County, especially if I am widowed. I have landed in a very unlikely place for a liberal, feminist immigrant with family scattered across continents. The impulse to move, to leave, to start anew, is still in me. But I have claimed this place as home, and now this home makes more and more of a claim on me. I am privileged by that claim. And I am slowly, as slowly as a turtle crossing Old Selma road, making a vow of steadfastness, of Benedictine stabilitate. Restlessness little by little giving way to peace.

In My Garden

Wright Hall, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Lynchburg,  VA, 
West Hall, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Lynchburg,  VA, 
Edificio Santa Fe, Calle 64, Bogotá, Colombia, 
Buddig Hall, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA, Jena Street, New Orleans, LA 
SPO 84, Sewanee, TN
Elkins Ave, Nashville, TN,
Prince George Drive, Huntsville, AL
Briargate Lane, Madison, AL
Joslyn Street, Memphis, TN
Bay Pointe Drive, Memphis, TN
SW 152 Ave, Miami, FL
SW 75th Ave, Miramar, FL
SW 23rd Ave, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Brown Hill Rd, Lowndesboro, AL

These are all approximate addresses of the places I have moved to since I left Colombia in 1978. Some were just about moving to a different house in the same city. A lot represent significant dis/relocations. They paint a picture of our very mobile society. They also part of the arc of my family’s story. For at least 4 generations, as my ancestors became adult, they left their home in Sweden. One went to Germany, though my great grandfather ultimately returned to Sweden with his family.  My grandfather Knut moved to Côte D’Ivoire, and then to France, before emigrating to Colombia with my grandmother, Rosa. Vera and Hans, my maternal grandparents emigrated to Panamá and eventually moved back and forth between Sweden, New York, where my mom went to school, and Panamá. As a young child, Dad was shipped off from Colombia to go to school in Sweden and did not come back to Colombia until he was in his mid-twenties to take over my grandfather’s business in Cali. On a visit from New York, to meet her Colombian fiancé’s family, my mom ran into my father at a party and within 18 months, the previous engagement had been broken off and she and my dad were married and settled in Colombia. With one brother in England and the other in Holland, and me in Alabama, the tradition of generational resettlement has continued.

I think restlessness, hard family realities, curiosity, and, perhaps, even some courage and hope about starting anew, have shaped this wanderlust. There are achingly difficult moments that are inevitable with a scattered family. Yesterday, I was busy when I got a text from Hans, my Dutch brother. He wanted us to FaceTime at 4. Right on the dot (because that Swedish punctuality matters!), he called. Hans had read the leaked Supreme Court document in the morning and wanted to know if I was OK. It was sweet and thoughtful. Four o’clock in Alabama is 11 o’clock in Tilburg; Hans looked exhausted. But we had a lovely conversation and I would have given just about anything to actually sit with him, to live close enough to visit with him regularly. I miss him.

For all the challenges, those life decisions that’ve been made from one generation to another run deep in me. Recently, some friends who are Sherod’s age and have serious health issues moved into an Episcopal retirement community in Asheville NC that offers a full continuum of care for the elderly. I had already been thinking about the years ahead. Fourteen years younger than my spouseman, I know it is realistic to anticipate that I will survive him. As I age into those terribly vulnerable years when life is drawing to an end, I ask myself, “who will I turn to for care?” Hearing about the place our friends have moved into, my immediate thought was—there it is! That’s it! I will get the care I need without imposing on anyone. I’ll be safe. I won’t be alone. Whew! I’ll just move there.  

Yes. Just move, tear up roots, leave the roses, the pecan grove, the quiet Alabama mornings, the dazzling stars I love to look at out in our small homestead in the country.  Move. Again.

As the political and cultural rifts in this country widen more and more, as less and less feels sure and trustworthy, I also wonder: should I try to leave, emigrate again? I could very easily get residency in Spain and Sweden, I could go back to Colombia, I could go back to Panamá. I could. I could move again.

Now, that answer to fear and a desire to have some say over the final years of my life doesn’t work. Deerfield offers every bit of the gracious loveliness that our years of saving, our inheritances, and the performance of the stock market can afford an aging person.  And, it is safe because it has insulated itself from the rougher edges of life. I’d be surrounded by folks very much like me. My life could be curated and distilled into everything that is comfortable and easy to love.  I gulp when I think about that possibility. I don’t find any real hope in other countries either, especially given my daughter, that extraordinary young woman, who has such needs, who is so fragile.

In the meantime, our small farm/homestead has become a place of unending joy for me. These days I get up around five. I do my daily ‘Liturgy to the Gods of Good Coffee” and sit in my favorite spot for quiet, reading, and reflection that ends with me saying Morning Prayer.  By then, it is 6 in the morning and there’s light outside. I take my shears and my trug to do the rounds of the flower beds and our vegetable garden. Sunny and Gilbert, our barn cats, follow me. Usually so does Tux . Occasionally, Mo is with us too. The thing is, after a quick breakfast, Mo loves nothing more than to jump on our bed so he can have a nap before getting up for the day.  I think he also likes cuddling with his fast-asleep human. No matter who comes along, this daily pilgrimage proceeds in fits and starts with a whole lot of gamboling on the way. 

Mostly, I just look, pull the occasional weed, marvel that now that the nights aren’t so cool, things are growing so fast. The roses are blooming with an astounding exuberance so a good part of the time is spent ‘dead heading’ and gathering flowers.  I laughingly shared with a friend that it is here, in West Central Alabama, that I have discovered my inner Baptist self. There’s a hymn beloved around these parts of the world, with an opening verse and refrain I have too have come to love for what it tells me about these daily pilgrimages:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

Time out of time. Heaven on earth.  Every single last thing I could ever hope for. Life abundant. An invitation to consider the Benedictine Rule of Life. To be continued