Category Archives: Magic

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.

Why I Buy Myself Flowers Each Week: Everyday Magic, Day 813

photoOnce again, I received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from one of the ones I love. Each Friday, I go to Dubai Dillons aka Euro Dillons aka Dapper-Not-Dirty-Anymore Dillons on 19th and Mass., and voila! I buy myself the bunch of blossoms that says, in no uncertain terms, “Take me, I’m yours.”

I didn’t always buy myself flowers each Friday, and actually, I’m not even sure when I started, but it was sometime in the last five or so years. I’ve always loved receiving flowers, but like many of us, it wasn’t as if a weekly floral offering was in my horoscope. I remember being in a play in high school, and my father, who was anything but outwardly loving (or inwardly much of the time) knocked my socks off by getting me a bunch of daisies. Many years later, I recall being in a large room where someone was giving a talk when I saw my new boyfriend, who has since become my old husband, walk in with a single black-eye Susan. I fell in love and just kept falling.

But it wasn’t really until my father-in-law that I got in my head that I should have flowers often. Whenever roses were on sale, he would go out and buy a dozen for his wife and a dozen for me. Because he always had a key to where he lived, he would go to my house, and put the flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. No note was necessary. “You left me flowers?” I asked. He just shrugged. “Well, I had to because my no-good son was going to get you some,” he joked. I was elated everyday and also blown completely away, having grown up in a family where my own dad didn’t express (or feel) affection. It also seemed, as he got older, that flowers were on sale all the time.

I do grow some of my own, and some weeks, I don’t need to pony up the $10 or so at Dillons to have a bouquet of Asian lilies or daffodils. But most weeks, I find a way to give myself these weekly messages from heaven. Having a super-sonic sense of smell (both a gift and a curse, depending on what ally I’m walking down), the scent of so many flowers brings me exquisite joy. I’m grateful to be gainfully employed enough to treat myself to these beauties each week.

For years, I beat myself up for not resting on the sabbath, truly taking a day off electronic devices (seems I can’t go for more than half a day without “needing” to check something) and other work and making a proper Shabbat. Now I realize the flowers have been bringing me Shabbat, showing me the divide between the workaday world and world waiting just under the surface, each petal a reminder that life is vastly more beautiful than I can fully comprehend.

Ellis Island, Where Past Generations of Us Came First: Everyday Magic, Day 810

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Forest, about to enter the building his great-grandparents passed through to make a life here.

Yesterday, Forest and I went, for the first time, to Ellis Island after a suitably long but fast-moving line for tickets, then security, then the ferry brought us there. Here is the place where my grandmother Molly, fresh from Poland and alone at age nine, landed in the early 1900s, and where my grandpa Dave landed as a young kid, although he had parents and grandparents in tow. All of them fled pogroms and other waves of discrimination against Jews to take their chances on America.

IMG_1074The first floor displays highlighted various waves of discrimination that rained through our history. The second floor was another story (literally). Standing in the great hall, the large registry area, I was blown away by the beauty, vastness, and history of the place. From the basket-weave design of the ceiling to the ornate but functional columns, the place just exhaled a million stories, both of those who passed through here, and those who created this place.

My hair saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island
My hair saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island

I thought about what it must have been like in the first decade of the last century for my maternal grandparents (from Poland and Lithuania), and about 20 years earlier, for my paternal great-grandparents (from Russia and Romania), especially my grandmother. Considering our current news stories on all the kids arriving alone to America, it’s no surprise to find, at Ellis Island, that flinging yourself (or being flung) hundreds or thousands of miles from home to land here is an old American story. This article from Mother Jones that came my way when I got back from Ellis Island affirms such a tradition, most of the children leaving everything and everyone they loved to escape pogroms and other threats, just as we have so many children over the border today, sent here to escape drug-trafficking, enslaved prostitution, and other kinds of deaths.  As the Mother Jones article concludes:

And of course, many of those kids grew up to work tough jobs, start new businesses and create new jobs, and pass significant amounts of wealth down to some of the very folks clamoring to “send ‘em back” today.

Meanwhile, yesterday still reaches us with its hunger and pain, loss and risk, and all else that brought so many of us here today, privileged to live with freedom and opportunity.

When An Evangelical Christian Makes a Jewish Poet Pump Iron: Everyday Magic, Day 809

IMG_0959For the last two years, I’ve met with Kevin almost every week at the gym so he could kick my ass. He was my trainer, pushing me to lift more weight than I thought my arms could support, do more repetitions of leg lifts or the dreaded split squats, and push the prowler (a heavy iron sled loaded with weights) further than my legs, back and arms knew was possible. There’s been all manner of dumbbells and rubber bands, bending and standing, pushing and pulling. Most days, I would walk in thinking, “What have I got myself into?” only to walk out telling myself, “I’m a total badass” (maybe an effect of the refreshing protein shake I was rewarded with at the end of a session).

Kevin and I have, at least on the surface, little in common. He’s an evangelical Christian, and I’m a practicing Jew. He’s less than half my age, never lived through the era of the Monkees or without computers around all the time. I lived through the 60 and 70s, danced with Sufis, chanted with Hare Krishnas, and don’t even get us started on our differences when it comes to the more polarizing social issues of the day.

Under the surface, we’ve found all manner of alignment in our concern for community, belief in a just world, urgency in acting for what we see as bringing about change, and love for being alive. During arm lifts, while he tapped the muscles in my upper back to remind me to get out of my shoulders, we discussed, debated, found and lost common ground in theological issues. In the endless 30-40 seconds I would be holding still in a plank pose, I would beg him to tell me his wedding plans to distract me from the overwhelming urge to collapse. Occasionally, I would joke with him, when he gave me something especially impossible to do, “Is this because I’m not a follower of Jesus?” We laughed almost as much as we talked. Interfaith weight-lifting, anyone?

Last week, we did our last — at least for a while — session together. The need for a new roof on our house, and my urge to explore a far less expensive group training sessions, pull me away from one-on-one training. Hugging Kevin to say goodbye, I was grateful not just for how much stronger my arms, legs, core and gluts are, but my heart too. We are meant to lift difficult issues together with grace and humor, acknowledging the hard work, talking deeply and lightly with people very different from us, and, at times (as I once told Kevin), accepting the quandary of irreconcilables.

Sneak Preview: Marching with Zombies (from POEM ON THE RANGE): Everyday Magic, Day 808

IMG_0806At 7 p.m., Tues., July 29, we’re launching my new book, Poem on the Range: A Poet Laureate’s Love Song To Kansas through a reading at The Raven Bookstore. I’m honored to be co-launching with Roy Beckemeyer and his fine collection of poetry, Music I Could Once Dance To (both Coal City Press publications). Please join us  for some reading, some stories, some poems, a bit of wine and some cookies, and a whole lot of celebration! In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview from my book.

Undead Poet Laureate of Kansas,” I had Ken magic-marker onto a white shirt, and then, with a purse full of bookmarks to commemorate the occasion, I waved goodbye to my live husband and went with my eldest son to march with the undead. The Lawrence Zombie Parade brought together well over 500 of the living dead, including the undead Santa, undead Harry Potter, undead Batman accompanied by undead cowgirl, and many undead brides sporting rubber intestines spilling out of their satin and lace gowns.

The organizers in the gazebo at South Park gave everyone a lesson on how to shamble — drag one leg while leading with the other — and appropriate roars and groans worthy of a zombie. Then we were off, heading toward Massachusetts Street.

A woman holding the leash of an invisible zombie dog worked hard to keep her invisible pooch from attacking live dogs. Zombie parents pushed zombie babies. A toddler with perfect red horns growing out of his tow head giggled loud while someone said, “What an adorable little devil baby!” Drunken college kids brushed fake blood stained arms against old-time zombies. Outside the Toy Store, a team of employees, equipped with Nerf guns, kept the zombies at bay while a dignified zombie couple carried their live (and quite beautiful) chickens past the tattoo parlor.

My favorite was the entire undead cast of Gilligan’s Island. A zombie dad dragged his zombie daughter while everyone laughed. A hip couple walked by with a zombie ferret (make up was particularly impressive). Zombie 1950s dads walked by reading zombie newspapers.

Meanwhile, whoever read my shirt or bookmark, connecting what “undead” had to do with the state of the arts in Kansas, laughed and occasionally applauded. On this night, it was okay to be in a program that’s undead, particularly because I believe it will cross over from this hazy hemisphere into pure life. Besides, on nights like this one, I’ve got a lot of vivid company.