Friday, April 28, 2006

To make a house a home

Twenty-three acres of black dirt, a four-room house, a pecan tree, a walnut tree, cotton, and the woods - I still think of it as home though the house is gone and none of it belongs to me any longer. We moved from there to a tiny village at the last vestiges of the Appalachian Mountains in the North of Mississippi - to my great grandmother's home. My first boyfriends visited there; my brother died in Louisiana and his body was brought there to rest while we grieved. I still think of that white house as home even though a chain link fence surrounds the equipment that now stands on that place. I even wrote a poem about that home.

I've lived in more places than I can remember since then, but what I've learned is that "home" is a place where I feel safe, where the walls themselves seem to wrap around me when I need hugs. Only two other places seem to fit that definition.

In Columbus, Mississippi, my Mom lived in a rambling old house with nine rooms, an attic and a basement. The attic was filled with such wonderful stuff that my friends' scavenger hunts always passed through there. I lived there periodically during most of my adult life. It was a safe place to be, and the sofa-bed in the attic was my retreat; I could look over the roof tops and feel my worries float across the tree tops as I rested there. It still feels like home, and I sometimes catch myself saying "Columbus", when I mean another city.

In Winston-Salem, a brick ranch house with what used to be an overflowing basement was home. My soulmate and I began our life together there; dreaming of years to come and things we would do, but mostly just being. Our friends joined us there for food and companionship. God was certainly present in that home.

Now I live somewhere else, somewhere that isn't home yet. Someday this house will be safe. But as Edgar Guest wrote in "Home":

IT takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fer 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything.
Home ain't a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it's home there's got t' be a heap o' livin' in it;
Within the walls there's got t' be some babies born, and then
Right there ye've got t' bring 'em up t' women good, an' men;
And gradjerly as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn't part
With anything they ever used -- they've grown into yer heart:
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore
Ye hoard; an' if ye could ye'd keep the thumb-marks on the door.
Ye've got t' weep t' make it home, ye've got t' sit an' sigh
An' watch beside a loved one's bed, an' know that Death is nigh;
An' in the stillness o' the night t' see Death's angel come,
An' close the eyes o' her that smiled, an' leave her sweet voice dumb.
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an'when yer tears are dried,
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an' sanctified;
An' tuggin' at ye always are the pleasant memories
O' her that was an' is no more -- ye can't escape from these.
Ye've got t' sing an' dance fer years, ye've got t' romp an' play,
An' learn t' love the things ye have by usin' 'em each day;
Even the roses 'round the porch must blossom year by year
Afore they 'come a part o' ye, suggestin' someone dear
Who used t' love 'em long ago, an' trained 'em jes t' run
The way they do, so's they would get the early mornin' sun;
Ye've got t' love each brick an' stone from cellar up t' dome:
It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home.
Edgar Guest

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What I meant was:

Okay, what I was trying to say is: There was this house, and I lived in it. And, then I didn't live in it for a while, and I sort of ceased to be for me because I wasn't there. All of a sudden someone is telling me that I don't live there any longer; someone else does. And, the numbers in my bank balance went up because I don't live there any longer. But, it wasn't real to me any more; so the money isn't real to me either. There's a part of me that just doesn't understand what this is all about, and there's a part of me that understands perfectly. I just wish they would get together.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The unreality of money

Barter was a great system as long as someone wanted what you had to offer. You were trading something real for another real thing. If I raised cabbage, and you wanted cabbage, then you might offer me a chicken for a certain number of heads of cabbage. Even then life was a gamble; what if no one wanted cabbage? You could be poor overnight. Then a frost would wipe out the upcoming vegetable crop, and you might be back in business again. You could do some research and find out what your neighbors wanted to eat. You might even work up an agreement among yourselves about who would grow what.

Then the world got bigger than your village, and your cabbages wouldn't keep long enough to trade them for that new tent being made over the mountain. And, getting the cabbages there would be a problem. So barter got more complicated. You had to trade your cabbages for something that would keep long enough to get over the mountain. Your trade also had to be something that the tentmaker would want.

Then along came money, the universal barter chip, along with the stock market, and cash futures. Somewhere in there money became unreal. No longer a gold piece or a silver dollar in your pocket, money was bits of paper and worthless metal. And, it's value fluctuated more often and more unpredictably than the tides.

How much a US dollar will buy in any country changes on a daily basis (or even more often). Buying cash futures is betting on what the dollar will be worth on some given day in the future. A lottery has much more to offer; you know very quickly if you've made money or lost it.

Raising cabbages became more complicated, too. In a good season you had to get people to help you plant and tend and harvest your cabbages. In a bad season, you didn't need much help for the crop, but you might help others. You could borrow fertilizer and other stuff from your neighbors with the promise to pay it back when your crop was ready to trade.

Today's job market fluctuates as much as cash futures and much more than needing help to raise cabbages. You can't count on finding the help you need to make your barter item. You can't count on being able to borrow from your neighbors. You try to find out what is going to be needed in six months, but hurricanes and tornados can change those needs. Even the interest rate on home mortgages can change those needs.

A butterfly lifts its wing in Africa and the result is a rainstorm many months later in New Bern, NC. Our world is not static; life moves and desires and needs change. People make mistakes and people make good decisions. Sometimes even life becomes as unreal as money.

We spend our time trying to guess how many cabbages our neighbors will eat next season, but we have no assurances that they will want any cabbages. Maybe they'll be eating mustard greens and pinto beans.

Our lives are changed by a person in France buying a pair of jeans or someone in Japan needing a tourguide at the Grand Canyon. People we will never see or know are affected by things that we do. If I buy green beans grown in South America by a farmer who can't afford to keep enough to feed his own family, then I have changed the lives of many people. We are linked to our global population by sensitive lines that bind us into a sometimes unwilling community. We will never know the results of our actions and our decisions. Life is unreal and yet so tangible.

I breathe, I eat, I earn, I spend...and what is it exactly that I'm exchanging for those green beans? A piece of paper valued at $1.00 this minute. If I wait until next week, will I get more green beans for that piece of paper?

I don't understand money, but I do okay at the grocery store and in my garden. I can figure out this rate of exchange. What I have trouble with is that my home now belongs to someone that I have seen once, by accident. If I hadn't been cleaning out the garage that day, I would never have met the people who will soon live in my home. The value of that home is being credited to my bank account. I won't even get those pieces of paper called money; all I'll get is a different number when I pull up my bank account on the computer screen. It will mean that I can have more of almost anything I want until that number of the computer screen goes to zero.

I don't understand. I think I've missed something between the cabbages and the computer screen.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nothing is enough

Simplicity seems to be a major theme of spiritual and literary magzines lately, though most editors admit that nothing is really simple, that life is amazingly complex. One person's definition of simplicity is to be happy with enough.

Whatever is enough? I know that I have more than enough, much more than enough, and I enjoy every bit of it. I delight in the things I own, the beauty I create, the wonder all around me, the relationships, the pull and push of God. But, I confess that, while all of this is more than enough, none of this is enough. I want more.

I yearn for the roller coaster life of ups and downs, peaks and valleys of my younger years. Now I have no extremes, just a gently peaceful joy, and I miss those edges. How can I be wildly daring or frankly creative when I can't see the edge. The horizon keeps retreating and I keep being happy and serene.

Most of my stories are about the edge, about times when I walked the narrow path along the abyss of nothingness or gloried from the peak of a dare-well-done. My past is a gathering of the odd folks of life and their strange and awe-filled lives. When I was living those stories, I didn't think about them as part of the saga of my life; they were just what happened that day. And, I wallowed in the emotions, both elated and despairing, sucking them dry of their energy and using them to fly along the next day or the next week. The laws of physics worked well for me; emotions generated heat and heat was energy and energy generated more actions and more actions generated more emotions...and so I kept going.

I'm not sure what keeps me going now that my emotions don't have those treacherous highs and lows. I drift in calmness and wonder, and the strange feeling of being someone else. I never dreamed that life could be like this; I'm not sure I ever wanted this much happiness. And, now that I have it; what do I do with it? I fear becoming bored with contentment.

When will the natural beauty of this creek fade from my seeing? Just how many different ways can that water look and still be beautiful? Will I cease to notice the brightness of the red-winged black bird's shoulders?

Right now I feel that I could marvel at that bonanza of color and movement that lies outside my door for the next fifty years - if I had fifty years. Part of me wonders how long that will hold my attention; that's the part of me that moved from place to place and job to job. My fear of success kept me going away from the good things that happen after you've been in a place for a while. Now I have no need to fear success; no goals demand my talents and skills. I am required only to enjoy what I have.

Some days that is enough. Some days nothing is enough.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Today I was reading a post from a mother in Iran, a mother whose daughter wanted to pierce her nose. The mother disapproved, and the daughter replied, "Piercing your nose is no big deal. Maybe I will in the end regret it, but that's not the whole world. It is a small wish. By banning it, you're turning a small wish into my ultimate dream. Why do you want me to have such insignificant dreams? If I can fulfill these small wishes and not grow up with such trivial dreams, don't you think I will have a better life waiting for me?" (p15, The Sun, April 2006)

Growing up with large dreams brings abundant life, the kind of life that I believe God wants us to have. I wonder what small wishes were denied me that grew into trivial dreams? And, did those trivial dreams prevent me from envisioning a larger, more abundant life? Worse, do we deny ourselves small wishes even now and let those small wishes become burning desires that we impulsively fulfill - perhaps at the wrong times with the wrong people?

Perhaps adulthood means being able to hold these small wishes alongside the larger dreams and know that someday they may all be true. Small wishes give us day to day pleasure, but large dreams draw us into the future and into abundance. The trick is to keep the small wishes as small wishes and not let them become burning desires or trivial dreams. And, that is hard to do, especially if you have no means to fulfill even the small wishes.

How then are we to keep the forward-looking perspective, to see the forest and the trees? I find my small wishes most often when I'm making gratitude lists. Someone in a 12-step meeting once said, "All I ever wanted was MORE." And, that's what I find when I'm counting my good things. I want just one more small wish. Sometimes that wish involves doing good for and with others; but mostly my small wishes involve just me and material goods.

At the same time that I'm wishing for these small things more, I'm continuing to be thankful for the ones that I have. I can separate these small wishes from my large dreams by recognizing how much I already have. And, my large dreams are gradually being fulfilled - one good move at a time - moves by me, moves by my county, moves by my nation and other nations.

And, so my small wishes do not become burning desires when I am able to look at them and see that they are only sprouts in the forest. Important sprouts because a good forest provides living matter in all sizes and shapes, but they are not the trees nor the underbrush. Together, the small wishes and the large dreams make a viable forest for living creatures like you and me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Whatever happened to Faye Wray?

There's a line in a song from Rocky Horror Picture Show that I love, "What ever happened to Faye Raye?" Not sure if I spelled her name right, but she was the woman in the original King Kong, and all I remember about her is that line from the song and her slinky satin gown. Fame is fleeting, and I as I work crossword puzzles from the 70s and 80s, I realize that most of the people mentioned there are like Faye - they have faded into the mists of time. Our memories are short.

Today I saw a Vespa scooter and talked with the young man riding it (of course, he had gray hair, but he was younger than me, okay?). I recalled a time when I rode a Vespa all the way across Phoenix wearing only a mostly see-through orange harem outfit. I won $50 for doing it. What fun! And, what about the time I climbed the pear tree next to my apartment in my red negligee? Another bet won!

What ever happened to Margi? I suspect the same thing happened to Margi that happened to Faye: we got older, the world changed and we didn't change quite fast enough. But, today looking at that Vespa, I could feel that 20-year-old Margi still inside me - still wanting to take those dares - still wanting to make people shake their heads in laughter - still wanting to be brave. And, I still want to dye my hair that gorgeous wine red that the kids nowadays wear! I'm afraid it would turn out pink on my white hair though - and I hate pink. It's a wimp color for me. Margi wasn't a wimp and neither am I now, whoever I am.

And, if I wonder whatever happened to Margi, I wonder even more whatever happened to those people who issued the dares I took, who laughed with me, who shared my love of life. Where is Tommie Lee Chism with whom I put out a grass fire for an old lady one day when I was 15? Some of these friends are dead, and some have faded like Faye, and I may never know "Whatever happened to the Faye Wrays of my life?"


Although I seldom watch television, I was caught by 60 Minutes interviews with jailed terrorists. One man's only regret was that he had not been able to kill more of the enemy. He said that, if he were released, he would kill again if ordered to do so. In a women's prison, the elected leader said that she was a kind woman, that she regretted that human life had been taken, but she also said that the death of the young boy she lured over the internet and kidnapped was a "good thing for my people".

Those last two words seem to be the key to terrorism - my people. It's gang warfare on a global scale. My people versus your people. If you take an eye, then we take and eye and a leg; so that we're better off than you are. It's one-up-manship in its harshest manifestation.

Each person, family, clan, ethnic group, nation in the world wants to believe that it is better in some way than all the others. The Hebrews believed that, as sons and daughters of Abraham, they were a chosen people. The Christians believe that they inherited that classification of chosen people through their savior Jesus Christ (who was a Jew). Islam teaches that following Mohammed is the only way to be a special people.

Yet, all people are special people; each person has his/her own wonderful contribution to make to this diverse world. Each family can be bonded strongly together and yet live and work with other families who are different.

Terrorists have been bred in hate that says, "Because you are different, you do not deserve to live, and we will kill you." Some right wing activists and some left wing liberals think that the only way through life is the one they believe is correct. Compromise is beyond them.

We must stand up for the sanctity of difference and tolerance for others. But, I believe, we must do something more important. We must love our enemies and pray for them. We must love the terrorists so much that we pray for their well-being. God, the one God of us all, can sort out that business of who is best or has the most or does the most. We don't need to be concerned about that. We need to be concerned that we love one another.

I don't know exactly how we do that, but I'm not sure that war or violence or bombing is the answer. Although I oppose most of President's Bush's initiatives (possibly from my own ignorance in some cases), I do think he has one idea that is superior, and that is to pray. I trust that he will keep praying just as I will keep praying. I trust that he will love our enemies and pray that they will see God's will for them. I also hope that what they see as God's will is the same thing that I see as God's will. I'm afraid that is not the case, and that's what scares me.

So, I pray in the knowledge that God loves all people; I pray that we can someday be God's people - not my people and your people.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Is Heaven Air Conditioned?

Yesterday our temperature went into the 90s, and I turned on the air conditoning. The fan blew air and I assumed it was working okay. I was wrong. The compressor is not working; the fan was circulating air from within the house. The house got hotter and the fan blew hotter air. But, blowing hot air was better than being outside and better than no air at all. I stood in front of the refrigerator with the door open quite often. That's when I wasn't spread eagled on the bed absorbing as much cool from the fans as I could. And, I found cool wet cloths to be helpful.

Yesterday was also Holy Saturday, a particularly black day for Christian's Holy Week. And, having the day off before Easter for many workers makes it a holy day, whether they are Christian or not. So, we didn't call the air conditioning repair people. We toughed it out.

Does the air conditioning always work in heaven? I can tolerate cold much better than hot; I can usually put on enough clothes to stay warm, but I can never take off enough to get cool. So, even if the AC doesn't work perfectly in heaven, I think it's a better bet than the alternative, which I understand is much warmer than our 90 plus degrees yesterday. But, that question made me wonder about others.

What was the climate control situation in Eden? Can we blame global warming on Adam and Eve? If all they wore for clothing after they'd eaten the apple was fig leaves (pity them for the rash they must have gotten from those rough leaves), then it must have been pretty warm. In fact, I'd say, they bordered on needing air conditioning then.

Remember that river that flowed from Eden? I've seen lots of rivers in my wanderings, and I wonder, "Was it muddy? Was it clear? Was it tea-colored like our creek? What was the temperature? Perfect when it came out of Eden, of course; but what was it like 50 miles farther on?

In my theology of heaven and hell being in the here and now, when the creek is dry, it's hell. When the creek is good, it's heaven. When the temperature is in the 70s and 80s, it's heaven; when it goes above 90, it's hell. I just blame it all on Adam and Eve.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Do Your Thing

Today was bikers' day all around our area. The sun was shining, the weather was moderate (at least this morning), and the bikers were riding...Harleys, Hondas, Yamahas, choppers. They were mostly men, ranging from a few 25-year-olds to a large number of 50/60-year-olds. I looked at the men with graying hair and pot bellies and bucket helmets, and my first thought was, "Grow up." Then I remembered that I'm sixty with a pot belly, too. And, if I wanted to ride a bike on a beautiful day, I would do just that.

So, now I'm saying to myself and everyone else, "Do your thing no matter how it appears to others." Now I'm not advocating violence or crime or even gentle abuse (an oxymoron?), but I am advocating that we cast aside our worries about what others will think of us and do the things that please us. Most of the people whose opinion we truly value would agree with this, and the others don't matter. That old lady driving down the road watching your pot belly wiggle or your cellulite jiggle is not your concern, even if she is your mother. Let her get a life - a life that doesn't include criticizing you for what you appear to be or what you are doing.

I'm going to wave at the next set of bikers who come down my road with their rattling, purring, and reverberating noises. And, I hope they will wave back at this old lady bending over pulling weeds out of her flower bed and showing the world just how broad her backside really is.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Creek

The creek is as wide as some rivers, especially here, and an osprey couple have nested across the creek in a tall pine tree. I can watch the creek, the geese, the osprey, and the boaters for hours. And, when no boats ripple the water, I watch the breeze as it dimples various areas and leaves some places smooth.

Once I speculated that the smooth places were the deeper water, the channel where boats could safely pass. Then I realized that the smooth water changed areas, and the changes didn't seem to be related to tides or wind or anything that I could discern.

Our lives are like that. On some days, the smooth water in our lives indicates that we are having a peaceful day with plenty of water to take care of any disturbance. On other days, the smooth water moves, and we have trouble finding our peace spots. The wind of humanity ruffles our space and changes how we feel and think. Some days, the peace spots are just clogs in our veins, times and places where we think we are at peace, but then we find that we're merely stagnating. The difficulty lies in knowing what the smooth spots or the dimpled spots or the rough spots mean. And so, we just go along accepting what is and acting "as if" and, sure enough, the smooth spots change places; we come around to find that our boats of life keep moving on.

Black Dirt

Some years ago I visited the homeplace in Mississippi and filled a Rubbermaid tub with many pounds of black dirt. That loess (as that particular black dirt is called) is some of the finest dirt for growing things, and I wanted some of it for my yard. I wanted to sprinkle it like holy water on the clay soil that didn't drain well and was hard to till.

Finally, I chose the spot and tilled the clay until it was as fine as I could get it, and I spread the tubful of black dirt across the spot. For two days I could see the outline of the black, now turning grey, and then it was absorbed into the clay and disappeared. But, I believed that plants would grow better in that spot.

And, they did - both weeds and grass and the few plants that I set out. At least they grew well until we accidentally mowed them all down...not once, but twice. And, so ended the growing of plants in the soil anointed with black loess from the Mississippi homeplace. Grass grew over the spot and a solitary metal butterfly on a stick marked my "memorial" garden.

Sometimes I try to enhance my faith by sprinkling a tubful of bold prayer over the rationalization. And, the prayer just sits there for a few days and molds itself into the insanity of disbelief. I keep praying, but sometimes the grass just grows over the prayers and I'm back to apathy, questions and considering the absurdity of Christianity.

I'm much safer letting the grass grow, and tilling the soil is a lot of work. Never mind keeping the weeds out. So I read the prayers and I see that I'm growing farther away from the garden.

Fertilizer won't help. I think my garden of faith needs a complete overhaul - dig out the weeds, pull up the grass, till the soil and add the good stuff (lots of it) to the clay. Then maybe I can plant the flowers and spreading plants that will bring me closer to God - closer through giving the gift of a garden of my life.