Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love Sorrow

Okay, I promise. This is the last blog for a while about my mother. I left her this morning, coming to her bedside to kiss her goodbye.  I touched her forehead, as this poem suggests, and smiled all that I could so that she would feel less alone.  But I wonder about my own loneliness, now 600 miles from her?  In the dance of daughters and mothers, who abandoned whom first, and ever again and again?

My mother in her dementa is strange, mute, difficult and sometimes unmanageble, but in this sleepless night I see her as a beautiful child of this world.  I recall her good years before she began to slip away how we went for walks, upon walks.  I would help her put on her coat, wishing her to feel the warmth in my heart.  In those days I never, ever considered that I would lose her in this way.
I suppose she isn't lost really, for she is my own dear love sorrow.  Ever with me, achingly so. 
I think I'll go for a walk with her as soon as the morning light lessens this current darkness.  Who knows then what amazing things may happen - a growth in love sorrow for tomorrow and for all beings.

Who or what is your love sorrow?

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the Evening, in the Pinewoods - November 29, 2010

Who knows the sorrows of the heart?
God, of course, and the private self.
But who else?  Anyone or anything else?
Not the trees, in their windy independence.
Nor the roving clouds, nor, even, the dearest of friends.

Yet maybe the thrush, who sings,
By himself, at the edge of the green woods,
To each of us
Out of his mortal body, his own feathered limits,
Of every estrangement, exile, rejection - their
Death-dealing weight.

And then, so sweetly, of ever goodness also to be remembered.

Over this Thanksgiving weekend we think of gratitude.  In sermon, blog, and blessing I speak with others of how developing a practice of gratitude may breed social resilience and satisfaction in life and work, if not happiness.  How I long to practice what I preach.  I have found gratitude challenging in the face of my mother’s dementia and my loss of her.  Yet here on the long drive home on Interstate 95 surrounded by grey clouds and even greyer strip malls I am hearing not just the song of estrangement coming from the heart, but also the goodness that underwrites the score for all music.

For a gratitude practice then, today, may we list the goodness resounding within all death deals.  For whether we hear death and sorrow, or joy and happiness, the music is ever sweet.

My mother, in her painful, housebound, lonely days I hear the song of how she could not be where she is today without her drive for fun, ease, and autonomy.  She sings of  her desire for love ever still.  So how can I keep from singing?

Where do you hear the harmony of goodness and disconnection or despair?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

When I Cried for Help

Where are you, Angel of Mercy?
Outside in the dusk, among the flowers?
Leaning against the window or the door?
Or waiting, half asleep, in the spare room?

I’m here said the Angel of mercy.
I’m everywhere – in the garden, in the house,
And everywhere else on earth – so much
Asking, so much to do.  Hurry!  I need you.

Ah, the old joke.  A man is in the middle of the flood and has retreated to the high ground of his house’s roof.  The water is rising and he begins to pray to God, “Please save me!”  As he is praying a boat comes by and offers him a ride, and he refuses.  He awaits God’s hand to save.  He returns to praying as the water now laps against his ankles on the roof.  A helicopter hovers overhead and offers a life line down. “No thanks he says, God will save me.”  He returns to praying as the water rises to his waist, his neck, and finally over his head. He is swept away and to his death. Up in heaven the man confronts God. “I believed in you my whole life.  I prayed every day. When I needed you the most I asked that you come save me and you let me down. Why didn’t you help me?” God responds, “My son, who do you think sent the boat and the helicopter?”

We all are the hands of mercy.  So what am I doing writing this blog entry when the pleas for help abound?  There is so much to do. What are you doing reading this?  Hurry and wake up – the world need us!

Where do you see the hands of mercy evident in your life?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meadowlark Sings and I Greet Him In Return

Meadowlark, when you sing it’s as if
You lay your yellow breast upon mine and say
Hello, hello, and are we not

Of one family, in our delight of life?
You sing, I listen.
Both are necessary
If the world is to continue going around
Night-heavy then light –laden, though not
Everyone knows this or at least
Not yet,

Or, perhaps, has forgotten it
In the torn fields,

In the terrible debris of progress

I am at my mother’s where because of her cognition level and inability to walk has care takers who come into the home 15 hours a day.  The caretaker is late so I take the “baby monitor” into my room so I can detect if my mother awakes and needs help.  I hear her breathe through the monitor as I do my daily meditation.  It is hard to concentrate on my breathe as her breathe is so close to my ear, as are her occasional snores.  After a while we breathe together, one family in our respiratory cycle if barely in waking hours.  Her slipping away into a world of silence I suppose I must admit is part and parcel of the cycle of life. I am not enlightened enough to be at peace with this. It seems terrible debris of the circumstances of living that brings her to this.  My heart is torn, yet in that opening I find that the bird held close to my breast and the unheard song is every more dear.

What do you struggle to accept as part of the way of life, of reality?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Of Goodness

How good
That the clouds travel, as they do,
Like the long dresses of the angels
Of our imagination,

Or gather in storm masses, then break
With their gifts of replenishment,
And how good
That the trees shelter the patient birds

In their thick leaves,
And how good that that in the field
The next morning
Red bird frolics again, his throat full of song,

 And how good
That the dark ponds, refreshed,
Are holding the white cups of the lilies
So that each is an eye that can look upward,

And how good that the little blue-winged teal
Comes paddling among them, as cheerful as ever

And so on, and so on.

How good it is that we travel from one side of the family to the other
On this Thanksgiving weekend

Disappearing fathers on one wing and diminishing mothers on the other
We soar down Interstate 20 and 95
Like an eagle, seeing, and taking in all
Cheer, yes, there is some to replenish the spirit
But what I would give to see a teal to deal
With the heartache and the loss
And so on and so on.

What would you see today to replenish your life?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This Day, and Probably Tomorrow Also

Full of thought, regret, hope dashed or not dashed yet,
full of memory, pride, and more than enough
of spilled, personal grief,

I begin another page, another poem.

So many notions fill the day! I give them
gowns of words, sometimes I give them
little shoes that rhyme.

What an elite life!

While somewhere someone is kissing a face that is crying.
While somewhere women are walking out, at two in the morning –
many miles to find water.
While somewhere a bomb is getting ready to explode.

Newsweek’s cover story this week speaks about the “Dinner Divide.”  In this article they compare the nutritious, varied, and stimulating foods some can afford, and then how in the USA, 17% suffer from “food insecurity.”  They don’t know if they will have enough resources to secure food from month to month.   Also, the quality of their food is not of the nutritious kind, but of the fat/salt/carbohydrate kind.  I fall into the elite category, s I think of our choice of almond milk, high fiber cereal, mycoprotein “fake” turkey, and the recent purchase of 32 weeks of local, organic farm products. 
When out for a walk this morning visiting my spouse’s family in Carrollton, GA we passed a household where there was a recent addition to the home. The grandparents had added on to their home so their children and grandchildren could live with.  The parents though died in a car accident, so instead of 3 generations living in a home, there are two.
During our lunch Thanksgiving meal today, amidst our abundance, my spouse’s sister spoke of her difficulty in adopting a child from the Congo, Africa where there are 5 million orphans.
What are we to do with this privileged life in the midst of some many tragic stories happening to someone somewhere?
I believe that the grandparents and my sister-in-law have the response to which I wish to commit myself.  If I find myself with extra gifts – plenty of calories and nutrition and resources – may I find a way to give them in turn to someone somewhere.  This day, and probably, hopefully tomorrow.

What do you do with your elite life?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who Said This

Something whispered something
that was not even a word.
It was more like a silence
that was understandable.
I was standing
at the edge of the pond.
Nothing living, what we call living,
was in sight.
And yet, the voice entered me,
my body-life,
with so much happiness.
And there was nothing there
but the water, the sky, the grass.

Once when on a plane traveling back from conservation work in Guatemala, a voice entered me.  I had been spending all morning out tramping through the grass of cow pastures, climbing, protecting, and loving parrots and their nest trees.  The final nest inspected before I sped to the capital city to board the plane contained two chicks whose parents had died or abandoned the nest. They were hungry and thin, and were bound to die if we did not intervene.  They were much in my heart as I sat on the plane reading my veterinary journals.   The voice spoke my name, "Kim" and continued to call out to me. I never did discover who said the word, but I had gotten up and inspected every inch of the cabin and there was no one there whom I knew.  I suspect though that the voice was someone I knew, my inner wisdom which is the love of earth and all her beings. The voice told me to move to Guatemala and at first I refused. But by the end of the conversation I relented, and such an overwhelming since of love came to me and staid for many months. In that moment I knew that there was nothing more important than love.  There was nothing else there in my life that mattered, except the expression of love. This moment of "awakes on a plane" altered my body-life and has directed me sometimes in no more than a whisper over the nearly 20 years since. 

What voice has come to you to tell you of wisdom?  Has it whispered, laughed, or screamed?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mornings at Blackwater

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
it was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
 feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
 the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond
or the river of your imagination
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.

Synchronicity once again comes to me through this couplet of poems.  I wrote yesterday that though anxiety comes to we mortal beings naturally enough, we are capable of choosing another way.  But to do this we must be willing to go where ducks go, into the mud, slime, and goo of our pasts so that the we might see the flower blooming out of the pond's murkiness. 

This pond lily is the Buddhist lotus flower.  Though it grows in muddy water, it rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty.  At night it closes and sinks into the murk below. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment, ever repeated and never perfected.

The pond water is the Sufi's wine.  The metaphor of drinking wine for a Sufi means to become intoxicated with spiritual love as we let go of the ego.  While swimming in the Ichetucknee, I am at nose level with the wood ducks along the way, and also with the gar, bass, mullet, and turtle.  Though by accident, I take in the spring water, sprinkled with traces of fish, bird, and the swimmer ahead of me. 

May I rise up today beyond the mud of my ego and intentionally drink deeply of the world around me.  I will never get this perfect.  But by the grace of wild things, may I know that now is the time to breathe in the fluid of mother earth's womb.

What do you wish to drink in today?

Swimming, One Day in August - November 22, 2010

It is now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.

Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.

I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.

About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit.

Wendell Berry has a poem that mirrors Mary's: The Peace of Wild Things:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Like Mary, I go to the sea to be held in the waves so that my spirit may heal.  It is as if I am in the womb of life, rocked gently by the tides of eternity.  Except while in the waves I find that I am never quite relaxed, for I am on the lookout for the rogue wave, the shark, the jelly fish, and the rip tide.  Like Wendell, I also go to inland water.  While there, such as swimming in my favorite body of water, the Ichetucknee, I also do not relax totally, for there are water moccasins about and though rarely seen, there might just be a large alligator stalking me. 

Am I just an anxious sort?  Or am I gifted with a true sense of reality, knowing that ease and peace are only temporary?  I suppose the answer is yes to both.  For I am a wild thing, evolved to be ever vigilant for finding food, and not becoming food.

I am also human and believe that through intention and practice I can still the brain's primitive anxiety as I meld into the world.  Even though I am destined to be some being's lunch, target, or nutrient I can come into a state of presence that says there is no me that is not river or gator.  Let me run today towards fierce predator or drowning surge so that for a time I may be the peace I wish in the world.

Where do you go to ease your spirit?  Or is it possible?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And run as fast as you can
Along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then trust.

I am channeling Mary, or so I wish.  Yesterday I ended with a reflection that leads right into this poem. You may even think that what I wrote yesterday came from me reading a few poems ahead. Not so.  I have not read any of these poems before and I hold myself back to one poem a day.  So I am surprised as you are that I spoke of running and chasing leaves, and then lying down to bury my ego into the ground. 

Now that I think of it, perhaps it is not Mary’s soul that is seeping through me after this nearly year of rising with Mary’s poems, but Percy’s.  But then the Buddhist in me says, “Remember either soul is the other soul, and is the universal soul. Trust in this.”

Last night I attended the “Transgender Day of the Dead” on the Boston Commons.  There was such a diversity of bodies, expressions, and experiences.  I’m glad I went, for in their soul wrenching stories of loss and oppression, I found my own soul loving a little harder and my heart running a bit faster as I marveled at how others can trust so deeply that we all share the same, eternal deep, beauty.

May we rest in this truth today.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


So long as I am hanging on
I want to be young and noble.
I want to be bold.

So said the great buck, named Swirlet,
As he stepped like a king past me
The week before he was arrow-killed.

And so said the wren in the bush
After another hard year
Of love, of nest-life, of singing.

And so say I
Every morning, just before sunrise,
Wading the edge of the dark ocean.

Me too!  I want to be the great prince of the forest that never dies.  I also don’t want to be in the wren category that only gets to live a few hard years. Even more so, I don’t want to deer to be hunted, wrens and children to know only a few years of singing, and for Mary to die.  It’s frightening to think that one day Mary will go for one of her walks, and she won’t come back to put beauty to pen.  She will be out brooding on the shore, imaging drowning and yet relishing the warm sun and the sandpiper chasing each wave in their daring games. Then, the ocean will rise up, grab on to her with a clutching wave, and take her back into the dark womb of everything.  The sandpiper looks on astonished, perhaps thinking, “could have been me today.” One day it will be. 

In Mary’s poem of yesterday she suggests that we be prepared for this goodbye.   

Here I awake in Boston and recall yesterday looking out on the Boston Common where the last golden leaves fell before me as I walked through the park.  Today I swear that I will act on my desire to run and chase the leaves, instead of brooding that soon winter will come.  And perhaps, if I am strong enough, I will lay myself down into that crisp grass, and let the waves of joy and sorrow take me. For I am yours, dear earth, dear ocean, dear life, and dear death.

What desires are alive for you today?

Friday, November 19, 2010

We Should Be Well Prepared

The way the plovers cry goodbye.
The way the dead fox keeps on looking down the hill with open eye.
The way the leaves fall, and then there’s the long wait.
The way someone says we must never meet again.
The way mold spots the cake,
The way sourness overtakes the cream.
The way the river water rushes by, never to return.
The way the days go by, never to return.
The way somebody comes back, but only in a dream.

You’d think we’d be well prepared with all the goodbyes in our lives for the very next one.  Looking back on some of those really painful times, “the last times,” I see that we are so busy avoiding the next goodbye, we can’t be ready for something we don’t want to happen.  What’s the alternative?  Are we to prepare for the worst all the time so we will be ready?  Do we in this way say goodbye too early instead of holding on to the treasure that is before us on a given day? Can we do both - mourn the constant loss and sing our death song while holding fiercely to joy and that which we love?  I’m guessing that in each of our lives we have had such periods in our lives like this – where “parting was such sweet sorrow” and that during those times we felt really alive. 

I am recalling the death vigil of my father.  He was in the hospital on life support when my mother asked all my siblings and myself to fly home. We did and then disconnected the machines.  My father continued to live for another 24 hours. During that time I only left his room to go to the bathroom so that I would be with him when he died. I was.  That whole time leading up to his last gasp my heart was torn open and my gut ached.  Every irregular difficult breath he took was almost too intense to bear as was the knowledge that the lives of all of us was about to change dramatically.  Yet, it was a time of flowing, of belonging, and of knowing what was really important: love, life, presence. 

My challenge, this day, is to be willing to have my heart break open with every breath so that I may say hello to flowing, belonging, and knowing.

Can you think of a time when you were saying goodbye and yet felt really alive?  What does this tell you of how you’d like to live this day?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Both Worlds

Forever busy, it seems,
With words,
I put the pen down

And rumple
Most of the sheets
And leave one or two,
Sometimes a few,

For the next morning.
Day after day’
Year after year’
It has gone on this way,

I rise from the chair,
I put on my jacket
And leave the house
For that other world’

The first one,
The holy one
Where the trees say
Nothing the toad says

Nothing the dirt
nothing and yet
what has always happened
keeps happening:

the trees flourish
the toad leaps
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise

I have been over 40 hours in transit to get home from Central America to Northern Florida.  I leave one world where life seems evidently harsh no matter where you turn to this world, where abundance hides the sacrifice of others. 

While waiting in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport yesterday I met an owner of a Honduran banana plantation. He and I swapped stories of violence in the daily lives of Guatemalans and Hondurans, including vengeance killings, gangs, narco lords, assassin squads, murderous politics of militaries and governments, gunfights, and people bound and thrown into rivers to die with no threat of penalty or discovery.  To me he seemed hardened by the life he had led, willing to do whatever it took to protect his interests. 

Then we began to speak of birds and he smiled for the first time .He stood up as his very soul seemed to become lighter. He spoke of how he loved birds and how he enjoyed taking his children to a bird park in Honduras.  It was like we had been transported to another world, this one of light and not of darkness.   We shared a magic moment where we had both reminded each other of the light within and without.

The theme of light came up in a movie I also saw yesterday in transit, “The Christmas Cottage.”  In it a character says that there is a light within us all and goes with us down all roads.  It ended with an artist painting a snow covered house, brightly lit up from within and without.  This image brings me back to Mary’s poem of yesterday where there are many roads leading from home.

We all travel far in our lives, one way or another.  How often we tragically forget that the light stays with us, no matter our paths, no matter the brutality and cruelty we encounter.  In this mess of our lives, life with daring audacity, flourishes.  Why should we not as well? 

Where do you travel between two worlds?

In the Pasture

In the first day of snow, when the white curtain of winter began to stream down,
The house where I lived grew distant and at first it seemed imperative to hurry home.
But later, not much later, I began to see that soft snowbound house as I would always remember it,
And I would linger a long time in the pasture turning  circles, staring
At all the crisp, exciting, snow-filled roads that led away.

Memories are inconclusive. With each recall, our brains change the version of the previous until we cannot know for sure what happened.  We can only know how we interpret events of the past in the present moment.

Given this, it does seem as if we can change the past. For we have today to place a shroud of memory over our regrets, our misgivings, or our loss.  We can let go of the stories of disconnection or hyperindividualism and infuse our stories with the meaning of interdependence.

For instance, perhaps you recall a time when a friend said or did something that resulted in harm to you.  Each time you bring up that pain or discomfort from the past, you augment your judgment about the friend, yourself, or the human species as a whole.  You withdraw from that relationships or close your heart to them and to yourself.  It is like burrowing into a cold house where you wish for life to be different .  Looking out of the frosted windows of our heart, you spin fantasizes of how it should be. 

Today though let go of blame and instead see how you are the other person.  There is no wrongdoing or right doing from the perspective of the pasture, only a field where we see the beauty that is the world, is also each of us.  We each choose strategies to meet the same beautiful needs of love, connection, and community. Some of these strategies are more skillful and produce more benefits than harm. Other strategies are disasters.  Regardless, beauty dwells in each of us and motivates our actions.

With this in mind, we open up new possibilities of choices in our relationships. Perhaps you will choose to call your friend, or to be at peace with what happened.  We are neither victim nor evil perpetrator. We are each other and this beautiful world, and we can choose how to act from this day forward. We may take roads that  lead away from memories that bind us.

When have you seen a memory change over time?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I want to sing a song
For a body I saw
And without a name

But clearly someone young
Who had not yet lived his life
And never would.
How shall I do this?

What kind of song
Would serve such a purpose?
This poem may never end,
For what answer does it have

For anyone
In the distant
Comfortable country,
Simply looking on?

He had a weapon in his hands
I think
He could have been no more than twenty.

I think whoever he was
Of whatever country,
He might have been my brother
Were the world different.

I think
He would not have been lying there
Were the world different
I think

If I had known him
On his birthday,
I would have made for him
A great celebration.

Were the world different?
Alas, I can mourn, dream, wish, and make concrete requests
Of the world.
But what would this carrying on amount to?

Were I different
I would know that all beings are my family
And I would make for this day
Every day
A celebration of birthdays
Singing my death song.

Were the world different what would you have it be? If you were different, what would you be?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not This, Not That

Not anything,
Not the eastern wind whose other name
Is rain,
Nor the burning heats of the dunes
At the crown of summer,
Nor the ticks, that new, ferocious populace,

Not the President who loves blood,
Nor the governmental agencies that love money,

Will alter

My love for you, my friends and my beloved,
Or for you, oh ghosts of Emerson and Whitman,

Or for you, oh blue sky of a summer morning,
That makes me roll in a barrel of gratitude
Down hills,

Or for you, oldest of friends: hope
Or for you, newest of friends: faith;

Or for you, silliest and dearest of surprises, my
Own life.

I see a turning outwards of Mary in this later run of poems.  She speaks of power, politics, environmental and species lost and suffering, and what we humans might do in response.  Today she tells me that though the world seems to suck the life from us as ticks in the summer, we still have the ability to love, to be grateful, and to have hope, faith, and perspective on the insignificance of our own lives.

Okay, let’s see if this list of responses is at all possible.   Last night I led a count of Yellow-naped Amazons at a roost site in the south coast of Guatemala.  Fifteen years ago there were during this time of year about 250 parrots that spent the night there.  Last night we counted only 8.  Decades of poaching chicks from the nests and habitat loss have taken their toll.  Though  the birds are becoming as flying ghosts over the desert of sugar cane crops, I love them still.  Gratitude is a bit harder to touch this morning, yet, I am glad that I can still know love,  In that love I have hope that the beauty of birds and our world will win out, perhaps ending in extinction, yet, also giving rise to something newly created that will give birth a  different beauty.  I don’t have faith that we will save this land, but I pray and meditate so that I may grow my faith that I am not separate from any being. 

May that faith help me see my  own life with humor, curiosity, and precious acceptance – which fills me with gratitude.  The circus of my own life brings me full circle.

I end with a poem that my spouse sent to me that captures the gratitude in the midst of so much loss.

Thanks - W.S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

What helps you have perspective in your life, and gratitude?