sermons

"Home, Sweet Home" by Lizbeth Bullock Humphrey
“Home, Sweet Home” by Lizbeth Bullock Humphrey

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #236)

"Home, Sweet Home" by Lizbeth Bullock Humphrey
“Home, Sweet Home” by Lizbeth Bullock Humphrey

Save your sermons for someone that’s afraid to love
If you knew what I feel then you couldn’t be so sure
I’ll be right here lying in the hands of God
If you feel angels in your head
Teardrop of joy runs down your face
You will rise

~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Lying in the Hands of God) ♫

"Home, Sweet Home" by Lizbeth Bullock Humphrey
“Home, Sweet Home” by Lizbeth Bullock Humphrey

Earth Day

Image of earth from space: NASA

One sweet world
Around this star is spinning
One sweet world
And in her breath I’m swimming
And here we will rest in peace
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (One Sweet World) ♫

The earth itself assures us it is a living entity. Deep below surface one can hear its slow pulse, feel its vibrant rhythm. The great breathing mountains expand and contract. The vast sage desert undulates with almost imperceptible tides like the oceans. From the very beginning, throughout all its cataclysmic upthrusts and deep sea submergences, the planet Earth seems to have maintained an ordered rhythm.
~ Frank Waters
(Mountain Dialogues)

a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

My next post was supposed to be about furniture arrangements and home decorating, but I’ve stalled big time. I’m hoping this week will be more productive as many things are sliding here on the home-front. Had a very annoyingly busy week and then when the time finally came to get back to finish moving the furniture I became glued to the TV, trying to comprehend all that was and still is happening in Japan. Sometimes the mundane things in life start to feel pointless. But then I guess that’s the horror of it, so many people with their lives interrupted or cut short – it’s overwhelming to try to take in… I don’t know anyone there, but I know that each life lost was the most important person in the world to somebody, and for them my heart breaks.

“Japan’s recent massive earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded, appears to have moved the island by about eight feet (2.4 meters), the US Geological Survey said.”

“The quake probably shifted the position of Earth’s axis about 6.5 inches, said Richard Gross, a geophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.”

These numbers boggle my mind. In one sense we’re safely spinning through space on our relatively little blue spaceship, but when the planet starts readjusting itself it abruptly reminds us of how precious this life is, and how precarious in the grand scheme of things, whatever that scheme ultimately proves to be.

I feel something like a Who on the speck of dust in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” We feel so very small in the face of this. Such a pale little blue dot, our earth. But such a cataclysmic upheaval of our big beautiful and often frightening planet.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
~ Carl Sagan
(Pale Blue Dot)

As I’m writing this some of the lyrics of Pig, one of Dave Matthews’ older songs, one of my favorites, come back to me with added poignancy:

Isn’t it strange
How we move our lives for another day
Like skipping a beat
What if a great wave should
Wash us all away
Just thinking out loud
Don’t mean to dwell on this dying thing
But looking at blood
It’s alive right now
Deep and sweet within
Pouring through our veins
Intoxicate moving wine to tears
Drinking it deep
Then an evening spent dancing
It’s you and me
This love will open our world
From the dark side we can see a glow of something bright
There’s much more than we see here
Don’t burn the day away
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Pig) ♫

All we have is this moment.  Let us not burn our days away…

that’s okay

postcard by Frances Brundage

Well, I have to say that it wasn’t the Thanksgiving trip and visit I was envisioning, but I did find the love in it. As luck would have it, half an hour into the ride I got a sore throat. And it would not turn out to be a little episode of scratchiness announcing a common cold, but rather developed into the worst sore throat I’ve had since I had mononucleosis thirty years ago. (Is it possible to get that twice?) And no one else got sick!

There are bad times
But that’s OK
Just look for love in it
Don’t burn the day away
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Pig) ♫

A few relatives recommended “Throat Coat” as a remedy, so Tim went out to find some for me. It did help my throat a little for an hour or so at a time. But it took me a few days to figure out that it was also triggering the migraines that kept starting for no other apparent reason. When I stopped the “Throat Coat” they disappeared. So I went back to my green tea and honey.

Thankfully everyone else seemed to be having a good time and I enjoyed watching the goings-on while curled up in a corner of the living room. When I retreated to the bedroom I received frequent visitors, including nine-year-old Khari who was especially sympathetic and attentive. He’s such a thoughtful little guy! And of course Fran was spoiling me by cooking special dishes to accommodate my wheat-free, milk-free, hormone-free diet. The rice stuffing with dates, chestnuts and figs was extra delicious, even if it did hurt to swallow it!

This is now the eighth day of this monster cold virus… throat is improving, but I still have three huge canker sores on my tongue and my voice is still very hoarse. Tucked in at home now with tea, honey, laptop and Tim.

Growing Hope for America

John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Neil Young

Been meaning to write this blog all week, another rough week, migraine and Auntie recovering from surgery… Taking some refuge in listening to music…

Saturday night I had a treat – I got to watch the 25th Farm Aid benefit concert on Direct TV! I’ve wanted to go to one for years, but they’ve usually been held at locations too far away for us to attend. In 2008, Larisa and I were so excited when we learned that it would be held in Massachusetts, about an hour and a half from here. Unfortunately for us, the tickets (20,000 seats!) sold out in 5 minutes and we didn’t get to go… As far as I know, that was the only time it was held in New England.

This year it was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I got to see and hear everything! And I think it was probably more enjoyable listening in the comfort of home, with an unobstructed close-up view of the stage. And with earphones the music sounded very good! It must have been cold there because many of the performers and people in the audience were bundled up. The host, Tavis Smiley, even had a scarf wrapped around his neck!

Farm Aid is a worthy cause, celebrating the positive, sustainable future that family farmers are trying to cultivate with their hard work every day. It supports family farms to stand their ground in the fight against factory farms, which are ruining the quality of our food supply, spreading diseases, and polluting the environment. Listening to the information presented between performances renewed my resolve to buy local and buy organic. It’s nice to know so many people are fighting for the future of our planet.

And I didn’t know Willie Nelson had a son who has his own band… Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real. He’s a very intense and energetic performer, first riveting my attention during his band’s set. It wasn’t until he came back to perform with Willie at the end that I connected the dots and realized they were father and son. Lukas has his own psychedelic bluesy folk rock sort of sound.

Of course my favorite part was Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, who did Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, and then Dave’s Don’t Drink the Water, Save Me, You & Me, Gravedigger, and Crush. Willie Nelson came out and joined them for Gravedigger. By the way, Willie’s cover of Gravedigger is very good. I refer to Gravedigger as Dave’s genealogy song, as it seems to describe the contemplating genealogists tend to do as they meander through cemeteries.

Just as rock and roll is loud and proud, so is Farm Aid. Farm Aid’s greatest accomplishment, I believe, is in the spirit. It’s the fact that we represent the spirit of the good fight, to keep something good happening. It just keeps getting stronger and stronger….
~ Neil Young

Thank you, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, and all the guest artists who donated their time and resources, for keeping us focused on the important role of family farmers in America.

eternally terminal

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
wheelchair ramp built by my son and my brother-in-law ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.

Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
woodland garden ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!

Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
dianthus ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.

So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
captain’s bell ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!

Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.

Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
spruced up space to store canned foods ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it.  🙂

In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!

The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
potted succulents on stone wall built by my dad ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Eyjafjallajökull

photo by David Karnå
Eyjafjallajökull – Image: David Karnå

Watching the news last night, about all the flights grounded because it is too dangerous to fly through volcanic ash clouds, got me thinking… Years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

One of the things I loved about reading Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken was how Sigrid Undset portrayed the characters waking up in the middle of the night and knowing what time of night it was by the subtle sounds they heard outside and the feeling they got from the depth of darkness around them. Imagine being that in tune with the earth!

In Jane Smiley’s book, The Greenlanders, a mother poignantly explains to her son why his grandfather doesn’t have to do any chores:

After a long day, folk rest at night. After a long summer, folk play games and sit about in the winter. After a long life folk sit about the fire and stay warm, for the chill of death is upon them, and even the thickest bearskin can’t keep off the shivering.
~ Jane Smiley
(The Greenlanders)

Life is a mixture of positive and negative things, a delicate balance. On a walk in the woods we see the process of death and decay right along new growth and mature life. It’s more natural than a garden, where unwelcome plants are weeded out, and dead ones discarded as soon as possible. Once we went to a butterfly conservatory where my young friend asked a curator how long the butterflies lived. Usually a day or so was the answer. What happens to the ones that die? They’re swept up every morning. So all we see is the beauty, the dying part is hidden from our awareness.

I’ve been hesitant to blog the past couple of weeks because so many “negative” things are disrupting the rhythm of my life, and it seems a shame to whine about it. But perhaps negative things can be discussed without whining? More as part of the ebb and flow of life? Sometimes I think we pay a price for trying to carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe we need to go to bed when it gets dark early, maybe we were meant to sleep more in the winter. Maybe we need to accept the universe and stay home when Mother Earth says we should not be flying…

Our little spaceship creates some very big dark clouds sometimes. So why should we expect to sail through our lives without limits on our plans and our share of disappointments and grief to endure? Yes, it would seem I’ve got a rather large dark cloud following me lately, but in the words of my favorite songwriter…

Isn’t it strange how we move our lives for another day
Like skipping a beat
What if a great wave should wash us all away?
Just thinking out loud
Don’t mean to dwell on this dying thing, but looking at blood –
it’s alive right now, deep and sweet within, pouring through our veins
Don’t beat your head, dry your eyes
Let the love in there
There are bad times, but that’s okay
Just look for love in it

~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Pig) ♫