Category Archives: Magic

A Little More Light, Please, Oh, Hanukkah: Everyday Magic, Day 830

The nights get longer, snowIMG_2159 is on the wing, and the days have been overwhelmingly pewter-colored in monotone clouds. Sometimes you just need a little more light, and this year, I’m craving any shard or streak of brightness. In the last week, I lost Jerry, an dear friend (see previous post for more on that), and my mother-in-law remains in a cardiac ICU as our extended family wraps around her, working and praying for a good outcome. Add to this the usual end-of-semester and pre-holidays-rushing-in pressures, and I’m not ready for prime time.

I seem to have gotten through the day of constant crying, followed by the day of crazy anger, all punctuated by intense bouts of forgetfulness or exhaustion. Lucky for me, I recognize from past losses that this is what grief looks IMG_2156like, lots of unpredictability bathed in a warm bath of sadness with big handfuls of crazy thrown in. I almost want to put a sign on me that says, “Approach with care, bearing tempura or cookies.”

Which brings me to Hanukkah, and not just because of the fried food and sweets. This is the holiday of ushering back in the light, a little at first, and then more as we add a candle each night. Usually this holiday is all I need to balance back my winter mojo, but this December, I’m taking no prisoners, so we dug out the Christmas ornaments (including Hanukkah ones), cut a tree from the field, dragged it in, topped it with a squirrel, and strung seven strands of lights around it. As a special memorial to Jerry, I also covered the tops of the cabinets with cedar and more lights.

IMG_2158Beyond these strung lights, there’s the big light we live in and around, and very soon, it flips, lengthening the days and truncating the nights. It’s all fire, one way or another, forging our spirits and lifting our days. My world is Hanukkah-ing itself, and all I need do is hang on, plug in lights and strike matches for the menorah. And remember that we’re all lighting our path in one way or another.

Bonus video: Peter, Paul and Mary singing the passionate Hanukkah song, “Don’t Let the Light Go Out.”

Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 829

10858376_10152644835063208_4719828656362117011_nWe were unlikely friends. He talked slow, walked slow, thought slow and deep. I tend to run fast. I can’t even say when I met him, although I know it was through the Kansas Area Watershed Council, our local and long-lived bioregional community, and sometime, somehow, we became great pals. By 2001, we were doing the lion’s share of the work to organize the Continental Bioregional Congress on the Prairie — Jerry in charge of bookkeeping, travel arrangements and registrations, and me in charge of the program, publicity, and the overall coordination. For the next two years, we spoke on the phone or emailed often 4-5 times each day, just about finishing each other’s thoughts about how to handle any issue that arose.

10858644_10152644832843208_4356927544652366850_nHe went from Jerry Sipe to Jerry to Jer, aka #7 (his and my favorite number) on my speed dial. He was around us often, and quickly became the only adult my three children — through teenage years and beyond — always hugged. I hugged him a lot too, both of us close to the same height, as I felt his heart beat in mine.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, I discovered what many already know about wandering through the world of serious illness: some people fall away, and some people run toward you, ready to help in any way possible. Jerry just about moved in with us, joining us so often for dinner that when I fetched groceries, I aimed for his favorites along with our own. He was quiet, patient, and utterly present. The night before my final surgery, he called to find out what time I was going to the hospital. “But don’t you have to work?” I asked, knowing he had taken off a lot of time already for my previous surgeries. “Work? There’s no way I can go to work tomorrow,” he answered, and sure enough, he was there with other close friends and family, praying, singing, chanting and lifting me through surgery and its aftermath.

From there, he built our front porch with Ken. The project that was supposed to take a few months took over two and a half years, and although it was slow-going, the craftmanship is superb as was his installation of our pellet stove, which kept him hanging out at our place for months. There are signs of Jerry everywhere, not the least of which are the photos he gave us over the years,IMG_2135 each visionary and perfect in what he shows us of wind, spider webs, the moon and sky.

Jerry seemed quiet from a distance, but up close, he could be a regular chatterbox, although not in the conventional way. When he started to tell a story, like the time he went AWOL in the early 1970s because he no longer believed in the Vietnam War, it was advisable to get comfortable because he had a lot to say. When it was his turn in the circle — at KAW Council or other bioregional gatherings — he often had a lot to say about what the earth and sky were saying to him. It was obvious he had long conversations with the natural world. He often told me of fields, including the field just south of our house, that he was friends with, and how, in the presence of such places, he entered into deep communion.

10858388_10152644834493208_8539725373344188220_nEach morning, at least for many, many years, Jer would step outside, lift his arms overhead, close his eyes, open his heart and then his arms out wide, asking the living earth to tell him what its will was for him today. “Thy will be done,” he answered the call.

For many years, I counted him as one of my besties, yet in the last three or so years, we were at a bit of a distance. To be honest, I was pissed at him for not getting all possible medical and other healing help for what sure seemed like major memory issues to me. I wanted him to put up a good fight, reach out for support, and be relentless in his own healing. Like others close to him, I was also worried about him living alone and how, in time, he might be found close to death in his apartment. I didn’t understand that he, being himself and not me, was making his own choices and/or that his health issues may well have precluded him from choosing differently. A man close to the earth, he basically, as one dear one of his remarked to me recently, went to the woods to die. He was found last Sunday in his apartment, profoundly dehydrated, having lost close to a third of his body weight, and suffering from double pneumonia and other issues.

This last week, any distance dissolved. I’m eternally grateful to Jerry for this gift of forgiveness, intimacy and friendship. He held tight to my hand while, in his hospital room, I sang prayers and chants, off key and scratchy-throated, to him. One night, I sat close to him for a few hours, sharing song after song from my phone. When I got to James Taylor, particularly “Blossom” and “You Can Close Your Eyes” — music I knew he loved — he opened his eyes, lifted his eyebrows, and looked for moment, even while on a ventilator and in ravaged body, peaceful. He also looked into my eyes as well as into the eyes of many of us who visited with a kind of intensity I’ve only seen in the eyes of my son Daniel right after his birth and in the eyes of my father a few months before his death.

I remember telling Jerry about that moment with my father, and how my father asked if I recognized him. “Yeah, you could have said, I finally recognize you,” Jerry told me. With Jerry, it wasn’t an issue of “finally” recognizing him or being recognized by him. Jerry was born to see, evident in his photos of the prairie as well as his friendships and family connections.

10347556_10152644834623208_7289269370764009355_nHe was also born to make it rain. He once told me that according to a native person he knew, each of us had to make it rain at some point in our lives — we had to save lives and land in some small way. Jerry said that shortly after learning this, he was marching with others to save the Haskell Wetlands when a car sped through the intersection toward the marchers. Jerry saw that the car was about to strike a woman and her baby, riding in a  stroller. He left his slow ways behind and raced into action, positioning himself right in front of the car to save the mother and child. Then he stared into the eyes of the driver, who hit his brakes in time. “I made it rain,” Jerry told me.

Tonight, a little over a day after he died, he may be making it rain again, in the hearts of many of us who love him and also all around us as a very unusual December thunderstorm moseys on in, slowly. It hurts so much that he’s gone, but I’m so grateful for this rain, feeding the parched earth and and reminding me that love heals, always.

“Listen, This Day is MAGIC,” She Said: Everyday Magic, Day 827

“Listen, this day is MAGIC and I’m not kidding,” Kelley Hunt wrote today on Facebook, and I knew at once the truth of such moments.

It helped that I’m tunneling out of one of those bad colds that makes a gal feel like she’s been lost in the underworld with only some chicken soup, a lot of over-the-counter meds, and old movies of a young Brad Pitt fly-fishing in Montana (which isn’t a bad way to be lost). It also helped that the first phone call of the day was from one of my dearest and oldest friends who, that several projects I’m involved in are going remarkably well, and that the bath was the hot and coffee was strong.

Yet what Kelley wrote spoke to me not just about this day. Everyday, without cliche-ing the point, is magic in its would-be form, kind of like what I describe poems as for students: those little capsules you drop into water so they can expand into a sponge animal you couldn’t have anticipated. In a sense, every day given to us is its own poem: something we can open our wide perception and soften our big heart toward to find what’s beyond the obvious, hear the rhythm of the life force in our most local realms, and see image after image of reality in its singular, moment-by-moment originality. It takes a tilting of the head, willingness to let go of what we think the world is to connect with what actually is, and, most of all, gratitude.

I don’t say this lightly. It’s been a helluva fall with many deaths, lots of funerals, sad stretches of news, heart-breaking wreckage of the world in Ferguson, Syria, Liberia and other points, and sometimes, anguish in watching our beloveds suffer. Because of how fragile we are, how unpredictable life is, how difficult the journey and how strange the changes that insert themselves in our days, the gratitude to feel the magic of a moment, any moment, matters more. It helps us see in the dark, and as William Stafford writes, “It will take you into/ yourself and bless you and keep you.” So here’s to listening to the day and its magic even and especially when it’s hard to hear beyond what hurts.

For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid

There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot—air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.

~ William Stafford

What Can a White Person Do?: Everyday Magic, Day 825

Ferguson, Missouri is about a four-hour drive east of where I live, and yet it seems a world apart. In my town, which is far more white, there’s no news reports of riots, burning drug stores, people shaken and weeping from tear gas thrown at them, or the hometown agony of what happens when a police officer kills a teenager for what’s commonly summed up as “acting out.” Like much of America, it might be easy to think Ferguson is someplace else, part of another, more broken country.

That’s the thing about privilege: it’s invisible. When I hear from friends of color that they often face discrimination, that — according to one friend on Facebook — “it’s just another day in America,” part of me is always surprised because as a white person, I don’t see racism on a daily, weekly or even occasional basis. Part of me is never surprised because I do hear about racism regularly when I read statistics about how men of color disproportionately fill our prisons, when friends tell about being pulled off “for driving while Black,” and when people I know tell me their stories, which isn’t about the occasional inconvenience of racism, but the enduring pain.

“You have idea how hard it is being Indian in this town,” a Navajo friend told me years ago. She went on to say how the police regularly pulled her over, a mother of three, to check her license and registration, and how some store owners watched her carefully when she perused the silk shirts. I was wrongly assumed that because we had the largest inter-tribal university in Lawrence, native people would feel more at home here, but this friend was only the first of many who told me otherwise. “It’s a daily thing,” another friend said. Sometimes it was subtle, just an eyebrow raised or head turned away, but it was often daily.

I had no idea, not because I don’t care or look away, but because it’s not something running through the screen of what I see each day. Sure, I experience sexism on occasion (don’t get me started on the publishing industry). Yes, I’ve run head-on into anti-Semitism, but never in ways that put me direct danger (hearing someone say, “Don’t Jew me down” or other little indignities). Overall, though, in a land where race and class play big time in the suffering of human kind, I have an abundantly easy ride. Not so for my Latino, Native American, African-American and other friends of color. Not so for my friends with children of color, who carry the immense weight of educating their sons especially on appearing to be as non-threatening as possible.

It is easy and outrageously common at the moment for people to jump into the Mike Brown murder and Ferguson riots with subsequent pontificating, one-dimension analysis, and lots of detailed scenario-playing. I’ve read reports and listened to people, for the most part white people, explain how, although Brown didn’t “have it coming,” he acted foolishly, and Darren Wilson, although impulsive, acted in self-defense; that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about racism; that there’s also black-cop on white-teenager abuse and black-on-black crime. All of this reasoning seems bent on 1) Not understanding the power dynamics of having privilege and not having privilege; 2) Not understanding what it is to be Black or Latino or Native or otherwise not-white in much of America; and 3) Not understanding that what lit the fuse here is the systematic fire, that this one incident follows so many others, not the least of which is Trayvon Martin, another Black teenager, and this one not “acting out” in any way.

This is all a way of saying that while it’s fine for white people like me to have our opinions, we are making up our opinions from a place of blindness. Most of us (especially if we’re not married to or parenting people of color) don’t get to see everyday what it is to be looked at with suspicion, judged by the color of our skin, or held to a higher standard. I’ve heard many white people say, “Well, I just treat everyone equally and with respect,” which is great and what the best in us should always strive for, but at the same time, those of us saying this don’t see, hear, know how white privilege comes at the expensive of people of color.

So what to do about this for most of us white people? Ask and listen. Open up our perception more to try to see what it’s like more to not have such privilege. Lean into the story behind the story. Learn what’s happening that fuels such anguish, such rage, such widespread feelings of powerlessness. Ask, when you’re in a room or meeting or community that’s mostly or all white, why that is. Start at the beginning of plans for events, readings, conferences, happenings to involve people of color who might otherwise be overlooked. Reach out of our comfort zones. Be scared and confused about what to do, but grapple with opening our hearts more to understand what life, in its minutiae, is like for people of color in our workplaces, groups, communities.

Ferguson is part of the broken heart of this country where we live, no matter where and how we live. How to heal this broken heart? Remember that it belongs to all of us, and we have all have something we can do.

Loving Rachel Rolfs: Everyday Magic, Day 821

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Rachel, her brother Micah and mom LaVetta in 1983

This was a girl who grew up in the background, preferring to help others shine and sing. She was existentially kind. She was enduringly generous. Her presence made all things possible wherever she landed, and where she landed, she rooted down, making herself a sheltering tree that cleansed the air and strengthened the soil.

This was a girl I watched grow up, meeting her first at the Kansas Area Watershed Council in 1982 when she was dark-haired, quiet, and sweetly attentive to the younger kids. She helscan00241ped in the kitchen. She brought her loving ways to all our circles and meals, laughing at the antics of her younger brother Micah and the crazed stories of elder Bob Lang. From that time on, I saw her quarterly at all the gatherings, growing up on the outer edge of our crowd, fully there without tak248581_195740060472851_3679981_ning up much space.

This was a young woman with immense capacities. She could balance a budget and keep complex books for several projects and businesses at once. She could herd a crowd of children with story and crafts. She could make an intricate rainbow invitation of color and fold for her wedding. She could navigate her divorce and new wave of life with grace and fortitude. When Micah was dying, she sat by his right shoulder, singing to him for hours into the night. At his memorial service, she stood tall and broken-hearted, holding all who held her. Her hugs were legendary — the last time I experienced one was in front of the kale at the Merc, and as I leaned into her, I felt enveloped by softness and strength.

10556528_729637390416446_9124468400539768559_nThis is the woman who died too young by most of our expectations of life and justice. Told by a gaggle of doctors last summer to pack her bags and prepare for the end, she politely replied, “No, thank you,” and instead sought out whatever would bring her the best chance to live a long and lively life. Even upon getting her diagnosis, she found a solid name for her condition reason enough for gratitude and had her mom, friend, and Verne dress up at the hospital to celebrate.

In her last months, she sought out healing and traveled from the background to the center of her own story. She let herself be utterly loved. She spoke up about what she needed and didn’t need. She brought every ounce of gumption and grace to the daily struggle of intense pain and a bevy of shifting ailments and limitations. She shone the light on her innate and well-practiced courage, there all along and now visible to all of us as a lighthouse is to ships on the approach. She made her own choices. She embraced language that named all this on her own terms, asking her to breathe along with her. In concert with her wishes, Verne and LaVetta put this on the gofundme site that helped many of us support the out-of-pocket expenses of her care:

This interesting healing crisis/opportunity also provides each of us who know and love her, an opportunity to breathe in love, and breathe out fear. We can learn, live and grow, allowing positive thoughts and words of healing to be gifts to ourselves, as well as each other. What a beautiful gift to be on this journey with such a beautiful warrior goddess.10659262_767838069929711_7467646888006635553_n

This is a woman who took on serious illness, dying and death as a journey into and beyond deep healing. We gather around her fire of courage, her sheltering tree of life, her autumnal garden of blossom and falling, her beautiful face and clear eyes, and say goodbye to this girl, this woman, this beloved one.

Happy Rosh Hashana: Everyday Magic, Day 817

The days of awe come exactly when they’re supposed to, launching with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and ending with breaking fast on Yom Kippur, the day of repentance. This 10-day span is a time for soul-searching, forgiveness,  and recognition of ways we need to make right what we’ve done, thought and been that was wrong in the last year. We land in this clearing in the woods, break in the crazy-making weather, sojourn to enough stillness to understand what’s always in motion.

As usual, the Jewish holidays creep up on me at a time that’s beyond overwhelming. In the past week, I’ve immersed ever fiber of my being in organizing/putting on with others on the Power of Words conference. My new book Chasing Weather was released, and I’m sorting through a tangle of emails to arrange readings. The dishes are piling up. Someone needs to take the cat litter out, and I’m busy with catching up on assorted things for my teaching at Goddard College job. There’s more going on, but my mind refuses to look full circle at all that occupies and will occupy me in this time. I also have a cold, persistent and fueled by too much adrenalin, too little sleep, questionable coffee to wake and pills to sleep, and bad food choices.

All of this makes the onset of Rosh Hashana feel like slamming on the breaks after a months-long road trip at 77 mph. It also makes it hard to summon up enthusiasm for even sorting out what to dress to synagogue tonight and practicing the cello to play alongside our musical service-leading group, Shiray Shabbat. So instead I write about it while admiring the banked-steel blue of the clouds, the twirling of Cottonwood leaves, and the cat sleeping on a pile of pillows. Breathe, life says. So I do, knowing it will take many breaths to unravel me from my worker-bee-on-high-alert mojo.

The days of awe come exactly on time, and in time, they will land me where I need to be also. Wishing everyone sweetness and peace as you’re inscribed in the book of life.

 

A Good Rain in a Time of Cancer: Everyday Magic, Day 814

I’m sitting in the middle of my screened-in-porch while thunders roars to my east, and wind swooshes from my west. The sound of the rain is as deafening as, just an hour ago, the sound of the cicadas, roaring so loudly that our conversation with friends had an added soundtrack. September poured in with the storms last night after a week of big heat, and now, there’s another storm, reminding me how much can change so fast.

For the last week, I’ve felt like many in my community were living in a cancer minefield. A close friend’s adult daughter, facing stage 4 liver cancer, pours heart and soul into what her family calls an ultimate healing journey. A dear one navigates difficult days and nights with advanced breast cancer. Another friend faces complex treatments for prostate cancer, and another endures the reality of an unstoppable cancer growing slowly in his spine. News of diagnoses land in my heart in the bakery or at a gathering, across the Facebook feed and through the phone lines. Knowing that one in three of us will have or already has had some form of cancer is knowing that we live in a cancer epidemic, but most of the time, the urgency of this crisis doesn’t drive the bus of my life.

I have no doubt based on research and the wisdom of many who have studied this extensively as to how much this epidemic comes from what we as a species have done to this earth. How could we not be shaped and infused by our poisoning of air, water, earth? Stephanie Mills, one of my favorite writers, says it well:

Our behavior toward the land is an eloquent and detailed expression of our character, and the land is not incapable of reflecting these statements back. We are perfectly bespoken by our surroundings.

So there is this: dear ones trying new combinations of traditional chemotherapy and holistic medicines, or just trying to feel their way in the dark through what’s unfolding, healing whether or not a cure is possible, in their time. But there is also this: an early autumn rain, and the sound of that rain as well as the air it permeates blessing whatever and whoever it touches.

The rain reminds me that my job is to open my eyes and heart, easier when the weather is luscious and my community is thriving. How we treat one another, how we treat ourselves, matters even more when the stakes are high, losses unfathomable, and beauty of simply being alive so exquisite. The sweetness of this moment, as well as the snippets of sweetness in the hardest moments, lands everywhere. The rain lessens, then stops with all its remnants dripping from the edge of the porch and steady trees. A cricket makes its music. I wait between the words I write, loving as best I can.