A Startling Implosion: Everyday Magic, Day 876

I went to see McCollum Hall, a 10-story dorm, being imploded without knowing why, but drawn in like thousands of others.  After all, how often do you get to see a massive thing disappeared? At the same time, I knew I was a bit of a hypocrite for going: for months, I complained about the impending destruction of a building that had (at least to my uneducated eyes) good bones but needed a lot of work. Why not turn it into a high-rise bevy of artist studios or, despite and because it’s in the middle of a bunch of dorm, housing for the homeless?

Getting closer to the implosion site, arriving just a few minutes beforehand and half a block away, I found an old friend, Kelly,  someone I was very thankful to hang out with. Everyone and their dog were there: crowded of families gathered for the the oncoming holiday, gaggles of students and locals, some in flocks and some solo, many with cameras, cell phones and i-pads aimed toward the site to capture what would happen. An extended Mennonite family flanked us on one site, and a bunch of teenagers on the other.

Kelly reminded me about a quote from Marx about how capitalism thrives on destroying perfectly salvageable things to create perfectly new things. We were catching up on people we knew, meeting his co-workers, talking about how crazy this all was until the explosions began banging out their steady blasts, 16 in all, each one reverberating through our bodies and the bodies of all around us. Then the middle of the building poured down, bringing with it the right wing and then the left until everything was hidden in thick smoke. When it cleared, from the angle where we stood — which hid the new debris — there was nothing but the buildings behind McCollum.

Walking back, continuing to catch up with Kelly, I realized I was scared by the implosion, even knowing it would happen. We talked of the historic resonances: 9/11, bombing in Beirut, terrorist attacks around the world then and now. By the time I reached my car, I felt no joy, relief or excitement, but only a door slightly open into the kind of terror many in the world face, the setting off of dynamite and other explosives right before something terrible happens. At the same time, I can understand the joy, the sense of that-was-fucking-amazing! that permeated the crowd. I also know it’s just a building, one being cleared away after two new dorms were recently built nearby. So I don’t mean to channel Debbie Downer here, but given the news reports everyday of the ways in which explosives break lives, I drove away sad and startled.

When the Ocean is There, Jump In: Everyday Magic, Day 875

IMG_0511Yesterday, I jumped into the Gulf of Mexico in my clothes because it was there, the water was shining and warm, and occasionally I’m no fool. Today, I waded into the Atlantic Ocean, this time with in a bathing suit thanks to my mom reminding me I might want a towel (which made me remember that the swimsuit is also a nifty idea).

Living in Kansas, where both swimming in salt water, let alone oceans, and seeing dolphins (which I saw both days) is usually something only accomplished through lucky dreamed sleep, I didn’t want to let all that seawater slip away from my skin, let alone the wild and swift rolling surface. Today, Ken and I were slammed by wave after wave coming up behind me. Sometimes we jumped in time, sometimes the rush of salt water soaked our heads at high speed. Whatever the case, I felt more than my body lifting toward shore and pulled back out by the undertow. Although I could be bias from having grown up near the shore — close to Coney Island in Brooklyn, and later the Jersey shore — I believe our beings have evolved with a yearning to home in when it comes to large bodies of water.

Such bodies also help me remember my own in the literal meaning of remember: to bring back together our extending-outward members (legs, arms) to the oneness we are individually, and in the case of breathing, swimming, or otherwise interacting with the world, the oneness we are with this planet. When I walked into the quiet Gulf waters yesterday, everything blue lit gold by the light, I was a little frightened to lean forward into swimming, which is a lot like leaning forward in a dream so that we can fly. Maybe it was the baby shark we saw a fisherman tossing back in earlier, but I suspect it was simply that process of forgetting and remembering ourselves at once in surrendering to such a large being: the life force of ocean. Once I did, my feet were hesitant to reach for the ground again.IMG_0483

Today, each wave that broke right before it gathered me up, and each wave that rose me up in its breaking felt like what it was: such a gift. Two days, two bodies of water that are really one (not to mention all those the water gives life to in the sea and land), and I can still taste the salt on my fingers. Within a few days, back in the prairies, which once were an inland ocean, I’ll remember this, and as best I can, keep remembering myself back together.


Give Me Your Huddled Masses: Everyday Magic, Day 873

IMG_1068While reading news of so many American governors proclaiming that Syrian refugees aren’t welcome in their states and, over the last two days, giving presentations on the Holocaust, I keep thinking of two things: how this very country refused Jewish refugees during Hitler’s reign, and this famous quote from an Emma Lazarus poem that adorns a plaque on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Anne Frank
Anne Frank

The resonances are everywhere. The Washington Post today reprinted a poll from Fortune Magazine in July 1938 that reported that 67.4% of respondents leaned against opening our doors to refugees from Germany-occupied countries. Even more alarming is a statistic I shared with participants in my K.U. Osher class based on my book Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other: according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, between 1933-1943, there were 400,000 unfilled immigration slots for European Jews, including even a request from Anne Frank’s father, Otto, to get his family to America.

How this all adds up is obvious here, a place in which refugees overran, stole from, murdered, and greatly damaged the native peoples living here, and made of them refugees in their own land. My people, like your people, found or lost refuge here (found in the case of my eastern European grandparents). Although there’s plenty now that’s an overwhelming mess of infinite proportions, especially regarding how we treat each other, America and so much of the rest of the world is a constant experiment in bringing together people who otherwise wouldn’t find each other. We are each other’s huddled masses, and one way or another, we always have been.

Tipping Points: Everyday Magic, Day 872

IMG_0424The trees have held onto their leaves long beyond most Novembers although many of the leaves are darkening in color and lightening in weight. A good storm or two, a strong cold front, and we’ll have tipped into winter or at least its early scouts.

More or less, we’re at a tipping point all the time, always on the cusp of change, but sometimes it just seems more so this way. Sitting in at Unity Village where Kelley and I are about to lead replenishing Brave Voice retreat, I’m more aware of how things seem to be swiftly preparing to change. A lot of travel and work-related overwhelm behind me is smoothing out for a winter, I hope, that includes more time to sit in one place, read a novel, and hold the cats. Many projects of house renewal are done: walls painted, floored tiled or pergo-ed, a porch cleaned, and many multitude of Ikea things snapped or screwed together. My stint as acting program director of the Goddard Graduate Institute is winding down in about six weeks, and I’ve managed to dull some of the sharper edges of that learning curve. The retreat Kelley and I have been dreaming up together is about to start and unfold, giving me time to hold the space for others and myself to pay more attention to the real world. And night is about to reach the tipping point of day.

There comes a moment in all tipping points when the weight shifts just enough for one thing to turn into another, and here we are — always — on this bright and dark November night with gratitude and curiosity for all.


30th Anniversary for the Royals and for Us: Everyday Magic, Day 871

1395194_10151778218117684_495372906_nA bit over 30 years ago, just a few days before we got married, Ken and I jumped up and down, screaming and hugging each other and a bunch of his cousins in a Kansas City basement. The  Kansas City Royals staged a wild and unlikely comeback to win the 1985 World Series. A few night ago,  when the Royals did it again, we leaped out of our chairs to kiss and jump around, this time in a small cabin in the woods where we went to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but not without buying a radio so we could hear the game. Helluva anniversary gift, and one that’s been making me think about marriage and baseball.

Of course, there’s huge differences. Marriage is not about winners and losers, unless that marriage is not really all about marriage. Marriage isn’t dependent on superstar power, one savior to rescue the game, but then again, neither are the Royals. Baseball is a sport, multi-million-dollar-paycheck business, and it won’t do your dishes or laundry or remind you to change the oil in the car. But both are institutions imbued with certain habits and values:

  • In baseball and marriage, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, everything happens.
  • Even in the nothing happens moments, there’s a lot of work to be done: throwing yourself into the wall to catch the pop-up, staying up late to resolve the stupid argument about who is more exhausted, and making contact with the ball — whatever is speeding toward us at the moment, even and especially when the pitch is tricky.
  • It almost goes without saying that working together as a team is essential in both enterprises although in marriage, it’s not so much that you’re working together against a common opposition, but for a common proposition.
  • Watching what happens with great awareness, curiosity, care, and tenderness is vital to both. If you screw up, if your partner or teammate screws up, you need to walk it off, work it off, brush it off. That requires a lot of on-the-fly forgiveness: letting go of grudges (even if they resurface later on) and aiming your attention toward what’s possible with all the strength and courage you can muster to make happen right now.
  • Celebrating the wins and mourning the losses — honoring the rituals of the life cycle as they unfold — speak at the core of marriage and baseball although I haven’t (yet) dumped a cooler full of iced Gatorade on Ken.
  • Begin again: while this is the best slogan I know for life, it’s obviously deeply inherent to baseball 12191709_10156164857440484_2573764896691263636_nand marriage. We will completely fuck up in horrendous ways sometimes. We will unwittingly hurt each other out of laziness, fear, anger, or grief. We will forget the one essential ingredient for the big meal and have to go back to town, miss the doctor’s appointment, eat the wrong thing and suffer the consequences, say the worst thing without meaning to, wear the shirt inside out when giving a public presentation, just miss the car in the lane we switched to, and give the wrong directions. Likewise, baseball players will miss the easy catch, strike out all four times at bat in an evening, get nabbed stealing a base, lose it and call the umpire a name that gets them thrown out of the game, say mean things to players on the other team or their own, and do all manner of mistakes. Each game, each day, each inning, each series, each trip into town, each night we crawl into bed exhausted — all are moments we begin again.
  • Comebacks are mysteries, but then again they’re not. My marriage, like any marriage tattered and shined up by many years, has had lows lower than I can fathom, particularly one afternoon many years ago when we were driving through desert in western Colorado, and I was sure this marriage wouldn’t survive this family vacation (then again, we’ve had a lot of lows — and outrageous highs — on family vacations).  But we found our way back to each other and through a morass made of inertia, anger, exhaustion and fear. The Royals have shown us throughout this series improbable comebacks, like the last game when, in the 9th inning, Eric Hosmer’s steal — diving into home base to score the tying run. It was composed of instinct, running fast, thinking that this was a stupid move, and sheer guts. It may not always be so dramatic with millions of fans around the world cheering when we turn back to each other for a comeback — walking into a room for marriage counseling, stopping in the middle of a fight to apologize, taking the other’s hand when we’re sure such vulnerability will break us open — but it’s a comeback all the same.

So here’s to holding it together and looking for the magic everyday in marriage, baseball, and all else that gives us the same possibilities: friendship, good work, following our passions, awakening to the beautiful earth, loving our animals, and celebrating our turns around the seasons together, alone, in community, and in our hearts.

Time-Travel into Fall: Everyday Magic, Day 870

Over the last month, I’ve been time-travelIMG_0056ling backwards through fall. I started October in Vermont, where the temperatures lingered in the 30s at night and barely crested the 50s in the days. The cooler turned the maple leaves green to rust, occasional splashes of yellow and red up and down mountainsides. I’m told that sometimes in Vermont, if you hit the fall foliage just right and if the magical balance of rain, sunshine, cool days but not too cold all coalesce, the mountains look psychedelic. The fall trips I’ve taken to Goddard College, where I teach, tend to land me there in more muted years, but still, mountains of maples in fall create an autumnal world of wonder, color, and light.

Going backwards in fall a bit, we drove the long way up and back last weekend to Madison, Wisconsin to see our son. The roadside greenery get distinctly yellower.IMG_0250 By the time we got to Madison, the trees were dazzling red, orange, and tumbles of every shade of gold and green. The prairie we walked last Sunday, just east of Mount Horeb, shone blond with the grasses starting to show glimpses of red. I shivered some standing on a porch without a coat one night, yet by mid-day, the crisp air warmed and cooled me at once.

IMG_0280Now it’s edging toward the end of October, and Lawrence, like all the other places I visited, is late is autumn. Our mid-October peak hasn’t yet arrived, and what has is quieter than many years because of a very dry September and not quite the perfect balance of temperature and moisture. Yet the slowness of fall falling shows its speed across trees that span dark green to dark orange in one fell sweep.

All my life, I’ve loved fall, watching the waking world swirling IMG_0275itself from one thing to another. Sure, there’s the hit-over-the-head symbolism of age and death coming, beauty changing to bareness, and all that letting go-ness. But there’s also “a certain slant of light,” to quote Emily Dickinson. The blues of the blue sky are bluer, setting sharp the contrast with all that brightening, fading, and falling.

Why Would Anyone Leave Lawrence, Kansas?: Everyday Magic, Day 869

Last night I dreamed that we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where our oldest son now lives, because Ken got a kick-ass job directing a nature center. As soon as we arrived at some friend’s house and brought in a suitcase, I started crying uncontrollably. Ken was sad too, and eventually, a friend from Lawrence showed up for a walk that ended up at the curb outside a Walgreens, where all three of us were very sad. I woke up thinking what I often think when anyone I know leaves Lawrence, Kansas, center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t mean to put down anyone’s decisions to live elsewhere and call it their own center of the universe, but there’s something about Kansas that got a hold of me a long time ago, and there’s no place I would rather live. Yes, there’s the politics, more despicable these days that the worst most of us could imagine. There’s the weather, sporting stretches of summer where the temperature barely falls below 90 and can top 100 for days, tempered by ice storms and sub-zero winters. There’s the chiggers, public enemy #1 for many of us who step into fields in summer. There’s also far too many conservative Christian Republicans for my taste, and slim chance of finding a real bagel, let alone a bialy. There’s rattlesnakes, cougars, and too many mosquitoes.

But there’s also this: the wind right now pouring through the Osage Orange around the porch. There’s people throughout the state who would, if your house caught fire or car broke down, show up to help build you a new house and trouble-shoot your car for hours. There’s pie to die for. There’s long and curvy roads as well as endless horizon roads where your own company is the tallgrass prairie, wind, sky and an occasional coyote. There’s a panoramic view of wild weather, the thrill of lightning striking all around you, the purple flash it ignites, and the very rare tornado that wakes us all up and sends us outside to watch (close to a basement of course). There’s our Free State history along with the history of the Kaw, Osage and many other tribal peoples so resonant in this land. There’s Castle Rock, the whole town of Lucas, wonderful neighborhoods in Wichita, amazing Vietnamese food in Goodland, and the best fried chicken in the universe in a St. Francis gas station.

In Lawrence especially, there’s long brunches at the Roost while sitting outside on Mass St., the most beautiful floor tiles I’ve ever seen at Kring’s, astonishing fabric at Sarah’s, and coconut cream pie at Ladybird after a great pizza at Limestone. There’s the river and our many walks across the Kaw alone or with big groups of friends. There’s swirls of goldfinch reflecting back the light, bluebirds and eagles in winter, and indigo bunting exploding from tree to tree to summer. There’s the gorgeous Snow Hall building on campus with Snow White lettering, and thousands of iris in spring down Jayhawk Drive. Of course, there’s basketball, fireworks, the old-fashioned Christmas parade, the Final Fridays when the streets fill up with art and a building in east Lawrence is flooded with blue lights. There’s Clinton Lake in kayaks while the moon rises, and the Baldwin Woods in early spring when the Spring Beauties appear. Mostly, though, there’s a sense of community and magic made of knowing many of us are in for the long haul and eventually, we’re run into each other at Liberty Hall and dance to the music of Kelley Hunt like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also tomorrow.

While I love visiting the places my work and kids have drawn me to in my life — amazing cities like Burlington, VT., Minneapolis, and Madison — along with the city I’m from, New York — it turns out that this place, battered by history and politics and once a microburst, is my place.