Through Advent and Beyond!

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This year, I’m not mailing Christmas Cards.

This year, the Advent season has been different for me. Instead of running around full throttle in the joy and anticipation of the holiday, seeking people, parties and presents I am seeking solitude. At first I thought this was my bah-humbug year, but I have determined that it is actually my season of connection.  I have so much to be thankful for, but in the wake of hardship and tragedy I have no desire to gloat about it.

This year, I approach the season with dictionary.com’s description of Advent:  “a coming into place, view, or being; arrival.” I am coming into a place of balance, with a determined point of view – a renewed sense of being.  I feel as though I have arrived, full circle, to a place that draws on my experiences, passions and abilities to create a life and a world with love and hope.

This year, I quietly anticipate the arrival of family to cocoon in the warmth of the holiday glow – to hold each other and feel peace. We will send that love out into the world and I hope that you will feel its touch.

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OK. Done with the existential crap now. In 2013 I plan to travel.  I also plan to continue working to rebuild New Jersey and will go wherever early responders may be needed. I will also fight vigorously for sensible gun control and to make our urban death zones safer.

If you want to help,  please visit these sites:

www.umcor.com

www.bradycampaign.org

 Wishing you much love for Christmas and the New Year. DSCF0435

Bah Humbug

I’m having trouble finding the Christmas Spirit this year.  It all started with a trip to Target.

I was recently part of an Early Response Team in New Jersey.  I spent 3 days working in the name of God.  Throwing families personal possessions to the curb for the back hoe to dump into the semi headed for Pennsylvania’s land-fills; ripping out the floors, walls and souls of well loved homes, and mucking through black sludge in a hazmat suit not really wanting to know what that smell was.

Upon my return I desperately needed razor blades. As I walked into Target that morning I was immediately struck by the intensity of the lights in the place and the absurdity of the muzak humming in the background.  I have made jokes about being a “Stepford Wife” in the past, but this time I REALLY felt like one.  So much so that it made my stomach retch. The copious quantities of crap that assaulted my eyes as I walked to the health care aisles offended my sense of being. I picked up my pace, grabbed my $15 4-pack of Venus cartridges and fled to the great outdoors.

In the parking lot I stood, waiting for my head to stop spinning.  Breathing – panting at first actually. But eventually my breath returned. I went home and showered.

Two weeks later and my home is the warm, cozy winter retreat that it always is – some decorations up, roaring fires in the evenings and gentle music to soothe away the day. But I still don’t have a tree up and I’ve only casually considered Christmas Cards.  And baking? Really not happening.

But in this moment that all seems OK.  Maybe I really have found the spirit this year that I never really had before.  Advent is about waiting, finding the joy, feeling the love and welcoming the child. A light is burning in me, just casting a different glow this year. A softer one. A glow found in the anticipation of something new: the love, peace and serenity of a clean-shaven life.

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Open Yourself To Maybe

Another sweet lesson today from my yoga instructor.  Instead of asking us to set our own intentions at the beginning of class, this time she asked us to “just open yourself up to maybe.”  Those few words started my mind racing – not the usual way I like to start my yoga practice, but that’s OK, because I’m not quite the “asana, Namaste, third eye blind” kind of practitioner anyways. I do like to practice yoga for all its therapeutic benefits, but I prefer a different playlist to most and I refuse to breathe loudly.

Many people that know me well would attest to the premise that I have always opened myself up to yes.  Just jumping in head first, unprepared, yet perfectly willing to make anything work – eventually.  But the concept of opening myself up to maybe seemed so foreign, yet so seductively alluring to me.  It intimates a sense of restraint. It would require a consciousness of every moment – a predetermined acceptance of whatever.

So when Dawn (the instructor) asked us to twist one leg over the other, one arm around the next, then squat (in much more sensual terms) – I thought “maybe.” But then I thought about a lot of recent maybes.  Maybe I should take ERT training, maybe I should start writing again, and maybe I can knit a sock, mend a relationship and work on new ones. Maybe I can pursue my interests, help my children, change the world. Maybe I should rest.  Then Dawn cooed “down-dog”, then “child’s pose”.  I melted to the floor and gave my racing brain a pause.

Mentally exhausted and physically stretched I gave in to child’s pose and realized that all maybe’s are yes’s with a conscience. That in reality, each yes I have opened up to started as a maybe.  That life doesn’t require intense preparation, eternal consideration or even necessarily restraint. It just requires an awareness of each moment and a desire to make it work.

As my mind eased in child’s pose, Dawn came behind me and gently massaged my neck and shoulders with eucalyptus oil. I let go. My shoulders hit the floor, my spine stretched in two directions, my breath eased and tears welled in my eyes. Maybe my tree pose will be a little more balanced today.

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Simple Genius

I took a violin lesson last week. I gave fair warning to my friends in University Circle to head for the hills. I’m pretty sure I cleared every cat from the area in a 2-mile radius. I did however have a fabulously good time.

I introduced myself to Gerald a bit early as neither of us seemed to have anything to do 45 minutes before my lesson. Gerald looked cool – had a laid back air about him. Didn’t fit the stereotypical “violin teacher” persona. He didn’t say much – which made me think he was quietly sizing me up.

Later, as my lesson commenced, I unpacked the instrument, which I have had since junior high school. Gerald tuned it for me then asked me to play it. That’s it – just start. I was mortified; I hadn’t played the thing in at least 15 years. He was supposed to teach me. But he kindly picked out an easy piece and we were off. My ear could still pick out every bad note (which were most of them at first), my bow arm felt like a tension rod scratching the hairs across the strings and my left hand fingers suddenly atrophied and felt like unbending talons searching for notes.

But eventually, muscle memory returned and it started to sound like I was playing the right notes. It felt good.

I think it was around mid-point of the lesson when Gerald simply said “just make music – pull the bow across the strings and put feeling into it.” He demonstrated that even the playing of open strings, with the right attitude, could sound like glorious heartfelt music. He expanded to tell me that playing the violin shouldn’t be about just playing the notes, it’s about making music.

That simple turn of phrase, “just make music”, has stuck with me since. I seem to find examples proving the difference between just playing the notes and making music in everyday events. The first was last Sunday at Hannah’s dance recital. In comparing the dancers (which I know all mother’s do) it was perfectly clear which dancers were just going through the motions and which were experiencing the art form. The most flexible, nubile young girl executed each movement with precision, however I couldn’t feel her dance. The best dancer among the group was the one willing to let go, take risks and feel each movement. She was beautiful and she soared.

I saw how the kind of music we make during our days could affect our lives. I could see the Sousa march in the man in grocery aisle, I could feel the Jaws theme in the kind of creepy guy at Panera, I noticed when people were going through the motions of their day without a tune.

“Just make music” is the perfect metaphor for a life well lived. I often just float through my days with nary a thought to the events of the day or my actions therein. But now I think I’ll try to make music with my life. I hope to make each moment sing and set the tone of my life to a happy tune.

Gerald’s words were simple genius. I’m off to practice making music and I can’t wait for this week’s lesson.

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Everyday Heroes

EVERYDAY HEROES

At first glance this ragtag group of road-weary travelers looked unsure of how they were going to be able to work together and accomplish anything. A seemingly disparate group of personalities made up the cast of characters that would in short order create an impenetrable bond of love, strength and hope. Slowly eyeing one another and trying desperately to break the ice it soon became clear that each one would share a personality and many talents that would cement our bond to see us through the next few days.

Al and Joe. The first friendly faces that greeted me at the Saturday orientation meeting. Their kindness and charm was supported by a determination to do whatever needed to be done. Again on Monday they sat next to me in the Red Bank Fellowship Hall that first evening and I am so thankful to have had them beside me for the week.

That first night I immediately felt the presence of, then saw the eyes of the person that was to become my great friend. Kathy had the strength and fortitude to guide the “newbie” through her first ERT experience and quietly and firmly demonstrate the meaning of our “Christian Presence.” At first it seemed that we had to have been sisters in a former life. But when it was clear that we had the same sense of humor, the same sensibilities (or lack thereof) and similar ways of dealing with what life throws at us we concluded that we must be twins separated at birth. After mucking out a four-foot crawl space for several hours and sharing our stinky joy with the folks at Starbucks, Kathy and I affectionately dubbed ourselves the “Tramps of Joisey” and gave up the quest for any familial connection.

There was Greg, the Lone Ranger. The quiet type, capable of exerting immense amounts of strength, persistence and fortitude regardless of personal pain and demons. To me, Greg demonstrated the kind of determination that comes from learning to compartmentalize your life in order to do what needs to be done, not capable of self-care until the job is done. This skill becomes a tremendous gift when used in service to others.

Dear, sweet Susie has such a kind way with compliments. Her quiet voice and soft encouragement were a meditative retreat from the physically hard and emotionally exhausting work of our days.

I watched in awe as our youngest member Reagan, metamorphosed from a painfully shy young girl into hard working, integral part of our team.

Nora and Mary had the ability to keep the energy level high enough for all of us to tag along for the ride. These farm girls to the core have such big hearts and I believe that Nora may have saved the life of a man close to the edge.

I will always remember the care and patience that Debby took to painstakingly go through picture frames and old family photos, carefully lay them in the sun and take the leap of faith that they would be there for our friends, intact. I will always be able to see the light in her eyes as she told us about her kids that made Christmas Tree ornaments for her to bring and the joy in her voice as she told us about delivering them to a classroom where the children had received a donated tree just the day before.

Doug, a self-professed “non-athlete” proved he had the strength of Hercules. I believe he even surprised himself in the process! His power at the work sites along with his character and charm radiating from his journaling closet each morning were an inspiration. I had to peek in and disturb his space on our last day in order to take home with me the vivid visual of an artists’ contemplation in the midst of chaos.

Dry humor Don. Loved this guy’s quiet calm, his acerbic wit and his stalwart determination.

And last, but by no means least, Jason. Jason is an outstanding leader. He so very effectively took this immensely divergent group of strong personalities, helped bond them together with loving guidance to create a Christian presence that provided comfort, care and unbelievable physical accomplishment to the survivors we touched. Even on our first day, when we were ready to dig in, get dirty and get moving, and the Grace UMC just wasn’t able to make decisions, Jason reassured us of our mission, negotiated the tasks and contacts which were needed and led us patiently through our restlessness. Jason was our gorilla-glue.

At the church where we stayed I had a couple of angels. Not sure who they were, but so very thankful for them nonetheless. The first was my coffee angel. I am not a pleasant human in the morning without my coffee and someone so kindly had it made by the time I dragged myself down to the kitchen for it. Thank you. Another was the CPAP angel. This particular angel made sure that all who needed them remembered their machines. The windows never trembled and I never needed earplugs (of which I had a generous supply.)

I remain awestruck by the serendipity of our first day and the accomplishment of our team. In our waiting at Grace Methodist we were joined by Brian from Quebec. Although I spent 2 1/2 days riding around with and working beside Brian, the only things I really know about him is that he was born and raised in Quebec (even though he never once said “eh”), his wife is from Philadelphia and he has a 2 year old child. After Thanksgiving with his wife’s family Brian felt the need to help in New Jersey. He sent his family home and by virtue of fate hooked up with us to work for a few days. Brian stayed elsewhere at night, he showed up just after breakfast each day and left us as quietly as he came on Thursday. The chainsaw gang and a couple others also joined us in our waiting on Tuesday morning.

Then we performed our “flash mob”. We descended on the site of our other half and all of us chipped in to get at least 2 days of work accomplished in one. I should have been clocked with at least a couple of swinging pieces of trim. Others should have been gored by tile shards, choked by airborne particles or injured by flailing hammers. But there were no injuries. There were no arguments. There was hard work, laughter and teamwork that allowed a young boy to get off the school bus and exclaim that his demolished first floor looked so much better than the chaotic mess of the last three weeks.

Sorry Floyd, we never pulled out our puppy cards. We thought of creative ways to get around our given assignment. We certainly mentioned the cards and the probability that we should have used them. But we were such a loving, cohesive family that we really didn’t need them. We knew grace last week.